That Out-of-Town Medical Bill Gets Bigger!


Last month, after much contemplation, I decided to remain in North Carolina rather than driving over two hundred and sixty miles back to Maryland for an unexpected medical test.

I was all set to pay a higher price for that procedure and called in advance to receive a quote. Unfortunately, on the day of the scan the hospital could not confirm the quoted price.

My original $550 estimate went right out the window. It was too late to choose a different facility, (the test had to be performed within a specific time frame), so I proceeded without any idea of what I might actually owe.

Well the first bills have arrived and my final cost is twice the original estimate! The quoted $550 procedure was correct, but an additional and completely unexpected charge of $330 was included in my bill along with an additional doctor’s bill of $268. The ugly total; a whooping $1148!

On top of that my insurance company has denied the claim due to lack of preauthorization. I knew that I would pay the out-of-pocket total but I hoped that out-of-network rates would apply and that the final payment would be added to my yearly deductible. As of now, no such luck.

For those wondering I did ask the doctor’s office requesting the exam to seek preauthorization from the insurance company a week before the test was scheduled. They called twice and were told on both occasions that preauthorization was not necessary. So my only recourse is to appeal the denial and hope that the claim is reprocessed.

Despite this rather hefty medical bill I am still happy with my decision to stay in North Carolina on the day of the test. My family was in town with me that week and I did not tell them about the scan. I don’t like them to worry necessarily. If I had gone home I inevitably would have told them or lied to them about my need to return to Maryland.

It would have been a six hour drive each way, which would have been a twelve hour round trip, not including the time at the doctor’s office getting scanned or a twelve hour drive plus an overnight stay in Maryland away from my family.

If the outcome was poor I would have spent six hours driving alone contemplating those results, which would have made for a rather somber and depressing ride.

I am certainly not happy paying over $1100 for a procedure that should have cost nothing more than a $30 copay. I am still hopeful that the claim can be properly appealed and that the final cost will be closer to five or six hundred dollars.

It was certainly not the frugal choice, but if I choose the frugal options all along the way, then every once in awhile I should get to select an option that makes sense in ways that aren’t financial. At least that’s what I’m telling myself to help me feel better.

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September 7, 2014 at 11:01 AM Leave a comment

How to Save Money on Lawn Care

Lawn care is expensive when you’re trying to keep it green, weed-free and healthy. It becomes even more costly when you’re using a lawn care service. There is nothing wrong with being frugal about landscaping and lawn care expenses. The treatments that you can make yourself cost pennies compared to paying a professional service or using bottled chemicals.

Use Natural Weed Killers

Natural weed killers use items that most families already have on-hand. It just takes a proper mixture of each ingredient to make a great weed killer.

Ingredients needed:

  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar per gallon of water
  • ½ pound salt per gallon of water
  • 20-percent dish soap per batch
  • 1 cup citrus oil

It is best to use slightly warm water to get the ingredients to mix. Use a sprayer or garden hose attachment to spray an even amount on the entire lawn. This will help to kill existing weeds and will help prevent new ones from growing back.

Household Items Keep Insects Away

You can use a simple solution of citrus oil or vinegar and water to keep insects away. You’ll just want to make a weak diluted blend with a 3:1 ratio. Three parts water to 1 part citrus oil or vinegar.  If you are using the combination above for weed killer, it will also work to keep insects like ants and grubs from ruining your lawn.

Do the Maintenance Yourself

It is always better to save money and do your own yard maintenance. Of course it takes time away from other things but it is also relaxing to do your own yard work.  You can easily purchase a used push mower for smaller yards used online. Most sell for between $20 and $100 depending on brand and condition. Other lawn tools are also inexpensive in used condition. The good thing is you can make lawn maintenance a family affair making the entire process go much faster.

If you use a quality grass seed for your lawn, chances are you’ll just need to keep it mowed and trimmed neatly. Low-quality grass seeds have a tendency of becoming weed ridden. You’re also likely to have grassless spots in the yard or areas where it just looks thin and unhealthy. Make the commitment to maintain your own lawn for a fraction of the amount it would cost to hire lawn care companies. The equipment doesn’t take up much space in the storage area either.

September 4, 2014 at 4:37 PM Leave a comment

Preparing Your Finances For Your Retirement

Preparing your finances for your retirement

For many people, stopping work is enough of a change in lifestyle without financial worries being added to the equation. I have read many stories in the press about people who have to spend a lot longer working than they had planned simply because their finances will not cover their expenses if they stop work or because their retirement plan has not performed as expected. However, I am going to suggest a few steps for those of you approaching retirement, to prevent this from happening to you.

Planning retirement savings

First of all you need to be very aware of what your expenses are and if they are going to change in any way once you have retired. Then you need to figure out how to build your nest egg to ensure it meets your needs. For most people, this nest egg will have to deliver an amount that is a reasonable percentage of the salary earned before retirement. For some, this could be anything between 70 and 90%. Then work out how much you need to save in order to achieve this. Getting the assistance of an experienced financial advisor could help here as professional advice can help you to make the most of your savings.

Figuring this out in advance means that there will be no nasty surprises once retirement has happened. All too often people do not consider what their needs will be when they finish work and just assume that their pension plan will be able to cover the cost. By working it all out in advance you can determine where changes will happen and if you need to make any further adjustments to your savings to compensate.

Workplace pensions are a good thing to get into. In most cases the employer will match the contributions made by the employee so in actual fact you can add a great deal more than you would expect to the retirement pot. In fact, having a variety of savings plans means that there is more potential for taking advantage of great interest rates and tax-free savings schemes such as a Roth IRA. Not all employers have workplace pensions and employees are not always offered them so it is worth asking for details as soon as you can.

Taking advantage of tax-free savings schemes is a good way to maximize savings for retirement but this is only something that can be done with a great deal of forward planning. It is important to get the right advice on where to put your money for maximum growth and returns. Not all saving schemes are created equal!

Budgeting is essential once you have retired. These lump sums that you have been building can be very tempting but spending it all at once is not a good idea. Make sure that you have a planned budget that you can stick to in order to make the funds last for as long as possible.

Retirement accommodation

Those of you living in a larger home might want to consider downsizing and moving to one of the modern retirement villages. This means that some of the capital tied up in your original property can be released and will help to fund retirement. Having the right accommodation when you are retired will also have a positive effect on your health, thanks to the relaxed atmosphere promoted by these villages. You can make new friends and have a very active lifestyle in comfortable surroundings and this in itself can help you to stay happier and healthier.

There are also cost savings to be made from living in a retirement village so this can dramatically reduce retirement expenditure. For example, there will be no need to adapt the living accommodation to the needs of an elderly person as retirement villages are planned with this in mind, with features such as elevators, higher electrical sockets and hand rails in places such as the bathroom. Consider this when you are planning.

With so many ways of being able to save for your retirement years, it does mean that there is a plan out there to suit everyone, no matter where they live, what their income and how much they are going to need. As with most aspects of retirement, there are many options open to you so consider all of them carefully before you make a decision. You need to plan for a long and happy retirement so that you can make the most of every moment without feeling as though you are missing out on anything.

September 3, 2014 at 2:24 PM Leave a comment

My Advice: Unequal Financial Gifts for Grown Children

A few days ago I posted a reader’s question about unequal financial gifts for his children. I thought I’d follow up with my advice. Here is the email I sent in response:

Up until this point I have only received comments and emails about this subject from grown children and I appreciated hearing from a parent’s point of view.

I have not experienced financially inequality from my own parents, but I have witnessed it many times via extended family members.

Here is the issue… Hypothetically, f I work hard, stay on track and save my money I can afford a house in a nice community. If my sibling does not do these things do they “deserve” the same life that I live? Do we not make choices in our life and have to live by the choices we made? For example, if I choose to become a software engineer than I may earn a lot, but I might not enjoy my job. In that case money wins over enjoyment. If my sibling chooses to become an artist they may love their job but not be able to afford a house in a nice community. I believe resentment grows when a sibling sees a child getting the best of both worlds; a life they enjoy and financial success (in the form of money from their parents).

Similarly if a child goes through his late teens and early twenties enjoying life and running up debt, while another sibling settles into a career and starts working, is it really fair to even the financial score. That sibling had the time of his life and ends up right on track with their sibling who had to work hard and make a way in their lives for themselves. Resentment breeds when perception says “I didn’t enjoy the last ten years the way my sibling did and now they are on equal footing.”

You also have to take into account “perceived” need versus “real” need. Is your son really in such a dire predicament. Does he really need to move into a new, nicer community if he cannot afford to get their himself? I have seen parents who believed their children “needed” an SUV because they had two children. There are many families who drive smaller cars and get by just fine with that. Only you know if he really needs help, but it is important to realize that your dreams for his life may not match up with his salary and lifestyle.

Having said all of that I love my son more than anything I ever could have imagined in life. I am going to send him to preschool next week and my heart breaks for the couple of hours that he will be away from me each week. While I know that it will be good for him to play with other children I hate to let him go even for just a little bit. The love we have for our children is strong and as parents we want to do everything in our power to protect and help them. Ultimately you have to follow your heart in your decision and if you believe your son needs help then you will probably provide it to him.

I would suggest talking to your daughter about the situation though. From what I’ve seen a lot of the pain comes from misunderstandings between parents and their children. The child who receives money feels loved. The child who does not feels left out. If you plan to give your son money I would have a very frank and open conversation with your daughter about your choices and how it ultimately effects her. She may be perfectly fine with your decision but even if she’s not she will appreciate the fact that you were concerned over this topic, that you thought of her feelings and that you reached out to her before doing anything. Let her know that you are concerned that she will not receive equality in this situation, but that you love her so much that you wrote a comment seeking advice :)

My son is not even three, but one of my goals in life, (and I sure hope I’m able to remain on task), is to provide a level of transparency into the decisions we make for him. If we don’t understand motivations we may come to resentment them.

Thanks again for leaving a comment and sending an email. I do hope you will let me know what you decide and how things work out. I wish you the best of luck.

September 1, 2014 at 5:41 PM 1 comment

Reader Advice: Unequal Financial Gifts for Grown Children

Over the years I’ve written a lot about unequal financial gifts for children. In response I’ve received many personal emails asking for advice. Up until this week all of those posts came from grown children in these situations, but a few days ago I received this comment from a concerned parent.

I thought I would repost his comment and ask my readers for advice. What do you think this concerned father should do?

We very much love and have been trying hard to treat both our now adult children equally. We paid for their education, though they paid for their living away from home.  They love and trust each other, and this is very important for us.

Our daughter worked hard in school, got a university diploma and has been working tirelessly, even now, while raising her three teen/pre-teen children.  They have their own house with a large mortgage, but they live comfortably as both she and her husband have good income, and need no financial support.

Our son, several years younger, had a couple of false starts at college but eventually got a minor degree, while engaging in a more liberal and financially less responsible lifestyle, accumulating a sizable debt.  We cleared most of his debt with a “loan” at one point, most of which was left unpaid.  At the time we made it clear that it will be considered  in the distribution of our estate whenever…  Many years later, after getting married and having one child, he lost his job (not his fault…), and had a hard time finally finding one, which is still just an unpaid “Internship”, hoping it leads to a reasonably paying full time position.  Now their second child is coming, and they still live in a rented apartment, in an area not preferred for raising children.  Their savings are not enough for the down payment on a reasonable house.  We live frugally, but would be willing to help him out from our limited retirement savings.  However, it would be difficult to justify giving an equal amount to our daughter now, as our savings were meant for our old age, so we should have no need to rely on our children’s help.  In a way, we would like to equalize the chances of our grandchildren.

So, what to do, and how to do it?  We would love to hear from you, the contributors of this blog “on the other side of the coin”.

August 30, 2014 at 9:30 AM 3 comments

Designing a room for kids to grow into – looking ahead to save money

There have never been as many exciting pieces of furniture designed especially for kids as there are today.  We all know what pester power can be like and it’s tempting to give in, splash out and give kids just what they want for their dream rooms, but this isn’t just expensive in the short term – it also leads to long-term costs.  Most pieces of furniture like this are not designed to accommodate growing bodies, so sooner or later they will need to be replaced.  What’s more, as passionate as kids can be about the things they love, they also tend to be fickle, and if you’ve indulged a love of pirates one year, they won’t understand why you can’t stretch your budget to switching to a space theme the next.  A much better strategy is to choose furniture that will suit growing kids.  This saves on the cost of replacement furniture and there’s no reason why it can’t still be fun.

The basics

The first thing to think about is how to decorate the walls and floor.  Paint is best for the former – not just because it’s easy to change the color, but because it’s easy to redo small areas to make it look neat again when taking down old posters or shelves.  Paint doesn’t have to be plain or dull – using stencils makes it easy to create patterns or pictures, or you can work with your child to create a mural based on their favorite themes of the moment.  You can also add accessories like friezes, posters or glow-in-the-dark stars.

For flooring, one of the best options is carpet tiles, which can easily be replaced if stained, damaged or simply no longer appropriate for your child’s tastes.  They’re cheap to buy, easy to mix and match and generally designed to be hardwearing.  An alternative is to choose a neutral carpet and add colorful or interestingly shaped rugs of your child’s choice.

Accounting for size

One thing you can’t stop your kids from doing is get bigger, so it’s advisable to buy larger items of furniture that they’ll grow into.  A big bed can be made to seem friendlier to a small child by filling up the extra space with toys.  A large closet will have room for a growing number of clothes and any short-term fear of monsters hiding in it can be dealt with by turning it into a den for playing in.  A large beanbag can be fun for a toddler to roll around on and still make a comfortable lounging spot for a teenager.  A sofa bed can be a good place for young kids to sit while playing board games on the floor, and can provide sleeping space for visiting friends when they’re older.

Make fun themes easy to change

Creating themes using paint and accessories makes them easy to change and can be a fun way to get creative with your child.  Over time, what that child wants will change, and you may feel a twinge of regret, but ultimately you’ll enjoy seeing the room change as your child grows and gradually becomes an adult.

August 27, 2014 at 3:38 PM Leave a comment

31 Days of Giveaways


Are you gearing up for Back-to-School? Educents is celebrating with the 31 Days of Giveaways!

Not familiar? For the entire month of August, Educents will host MONTH-LONG giveaways for all of your Back-to-School needs, including an Apple iPad Mini, ink & toner for the whole school year, a family vacation, curriculum and MORE!

Make sure to enter the grand prize!

August 20, 2014 at 1:34 PM Leave a comment

Book Review: What Counts Most is How You Finish

What Counts Most is How You Finish

About the Book:

What Counts Most is How You Finish is a book of short essays that shares ideas for addressing life’s challenges. The book (which uses experiences from the author’s life and the lives of others) is written with two ideas in mind: 

• Each person has to find his or her own way in life
• We can learn worthwhile things from each otherTo make it easier to find an essay that can help the reader address life situations in real time, What Counts Most is How You Finish is divided into seven topic areas: Being You, Taking Care of You, Dealing with People, Overcoming Challenges, Staying Focused, Achieving Success and Making a Difference.

While the primary audience for What Counts Most is How You Finish is people between the ages of 16-25, the book has received positive feedback from many older than that who say it’s a good reminder for them.

Finalist of The Next Generation Indie Book Awards, What Counts Most is How You Finish is filled with insightful lessons.

My Thoughts:

Although this book is a completely different genre from To Hold the Sun it reminded me a lot of that story. Probably because I recently read and reviewed it, but also because both authors attempt to impart life lessons upon their readers.

The style of this book is very different from To Hold the Sun and I thoroughly enjoyed Shelia Payton’s narrative. Her ability to relate events from her own life into stories for teenagers and young adults made the book an easy read with valuable life long lessons. I think we all need feel good stories in our lives. We often read these as children, but I think the 16-25 year old crowd, (the intended audience of this book), is often forgotten.

But isn’t this the time when we begin leaving our parents nest and forging out onto our own? Isn’t this the time when we begin to create a life for ourselves; learning how to navigate life while keeping our head above water?

As a parent of a two year old son I can only imagine what he will be like fourteen years from now. As he begins to form his own theories on life and forge his own path into this world I would definitely hand him a copy of What Counts Most is How You Finish.

This books speaks to the character of being a good person. It focuses on learning how to form relationships with others without losing the most important part of ourselves. I think this book would make a great gift for those graduating from high school or college. It’s the kind of book that focuses on the good in being human.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book for free, but the opinions I have expressed are my own.

August 18, 2014 at 8:00 AM 1 comment

A Follow Up to That $440 Question


I decided to spend the extra money to avoid the twelve hour round trip drive from our vacation spot to my doctor’s home office. I’m frugal enough in other aspects of my life to weather the $440 bill. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the hospital the clinical staff could not confirm the cost of my test. I was told that my initial estimate was probably correct, but that the hospital could not provide the exact cost. Apparently the hospital farms out their billing processes to a third party who could not be reached to provide an estimate either.

I asked if I could receive the total cost and pay cash up front and in advance to receive a discount, but since they couldn’t provide a price they had no way of making this happen. So I have no idea if the bill will be larger or smaller than the $550 I was originally quoted. This gets a little scary when it comes to medical procedures because something that should cost $550 may very well end up costing me $3000.

At that exact moment in time I had no choice but to move forward with the test. I could not reschedule a test closer to home within the necessary time frame required by my doctor.

When my doctor received the results of the exam they told me I would need to have it repeated. While the test revealed a number of items the doctors were looking for, it was inconclusive about one specific issue.

A commenter on my blog asked if the test might need to be repeated and while I knew it was a slim chance I nearly laughed out loud when the nurse told me they only trust their own technicians.

The day after I return from vacation I will drive to the doctors office for a repeat scan. At least I know I’ll only owe a $30 co-pay this time around. I am a bit terrified that this last scan is going to cost me an inordinate amount of money!

Photo Credit

August 17, 2014 at 4:37 PM 2 comments

Planning Her Dream Quinceanera on a Budget

Preparing for your daughter’s quinceneara is, for many parents, the joy of a lifetime. Your little girl’s 15th birthday not only marks her transition from childhood into womanhood, but it provides you with the opportunity to prepare a proper celebration for the community that supported you while you raised her. Unfortunately, not every family has an infinite amount of money with which they can throw a party befitting their daughter. Thankfully, a dream quince can be had on even the slimmest of budgets, as long as you’re willing to plan ahead and do some of the work yourself. Here are several tips and tricks that will ensure you plan and throw a fabulous quinceneara without losing your shirt in the process.

Hire a Seamstress to Recreate her Dream Dress


Most budding young women have more than a small notion about the dress they dream of wearing to their quinceanera. After all, to a 15-year-old girl, fewer details at any party are as important as what she’s wearing. Whether she spied it online or in a fashion magazine, find a local seamstress who can work with you to recreate it. While it won’t bear the designer label, a skilled seamstress can save you hundreds of dollars, while ensuring that the dress your daughter most desires is the dress she gets to wear.

Limit the Guest List

While it can be exceedingly difficult to limit the number of guests you invite to your celebration, doing so will save you countless hours — you’re doing a lot of this quinceanera work yourself, remember — and plenty of cash. Instead of inviting your entire parish, just include those members who have been instrumental in your daughter’s life. Skip your co-workers unless they’re family friends, and in general, only include people who have a personal connection to you or your daughter.

Book Early and Choose an Off-Day

Saturdays are the most treasured day for almost any event and for good reason. Most people have their weekends free, which allows for easier travel to and from weddings, parties, graduations and the like, and few people have to wake up early for work the next day, which means they can celebrate with abandon. If you’re looking to book a banquet hall in Los Angeles, consider booking well in advance and choose an off-day, like a Friday or Sunday. Days that are less likely to be booked often come with a price break — even if it isn’t listed. Venues and banquet halls will usually negotiate fees when they know they might not book that date otherwise, so there’s no harm in asking.

Borrow a Car


Chances are you know someone whose fancy car would put a rented limousine to shame. While the limo ride to the party has become synonymous with the guest of honor’s quince arrival, there’s no reason you can’t top that tradition and save money in the process. Find a classic car somewhere in your network of family and friends and see if its owner wouldn’t mind showing it off on your daughter’s big day.

Prepare Your Own Food

A quinceanera wouldn’t be a party without plenty of delicious food, and while hiring a caterer would certainly make your life easier, not hiring a caterer will probably save you thousands of dollars. Plan ahead with a detailed menu and make sure you solve the difficulties of transporting the food to the venue and serving it. Recruit friends and family to join in the fun by asking them to create the dishes they’re most known for. Many hands make light work, and if you ask enough people ahead of time to pitch in, making your own food won’t just happen, it will also taste delicious.

Hire a Student Videographer and Photographer

Videographers and photographers make sure your daughter’s celebration is recorded for posterity, and skipping either would probably break her heart. But there’s no rule in place that says you have to hire a professional to get professional-quality work. Place a notice on the bulletin board in the art department of your local community college or university for a videographer and photographer. When someone contacts you, treat her exactly as you would a professional. Ask to see her work and inquire about her work ethic as well as the time it will take for her to get the photos or video edited. If you find someone who seems like a good fit, negotiate a price you can afford that is still fair to the amount of time she’ll need to put in.

Planning and pulling off your daughter’s dream quince without going broke will take plenty of planning and a firm hand, but with enough time and effort there’s no reason you can’t succeed. From hiring a student videographer to enlisting the help of a seamstress to recreate her dream dress, your daughter’s quinceanera can be just as regal, celebratory and memorable as one with a bigger budget, and no one needs to know about the money you saved but you.


August 14, 2014 at 4:15 PM Leave a comment

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