Ways To Help Deal With Medical Expenses

Medical Expenses

Medical expenses are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy proceedings in the US.  In 2007, 57 million people were in families who had problems paying their medical bills according to this article by Peter J. Cunningham.  However, there are ways to cope with the rising costs of medical care.  I was born with Spina bifida in 1979, and I’ve had a lot of experience in the medical care “system”.  I have a few tips to share with you, and by following them some of your burden will be lifted.
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Save On Your Car Insurance With Proper Emergency Savings

car-insurance

We already know the importance of adequate savings don’t we?  Well here’s an additional benefit for having savings – You can save on your car insurance!

You know about your car insurance deductible? This is the amount you have to pay on an insurance claim before your insurance kicks in to pick up the repairs.  Say you have a $500 deductible.  You get into a fender bender and file a claim to have your bumper repaired.  An estimate for the repairs is $1500.  You have to pay $500 and insurance picks up the $1000.  If your deductible were $1000 then you pay $1000 and insurance covers $500.  Get it?

So why not make the deductible as low as possible?

Sounds reasonable. You would rather your insurance pay more and you pay less.  Things is though, the lower your deductible the higher your premium is!  You pay more on your plan when your deductible is low.  This is the insurance company’s way of getting that extra cash layout back before an accident.  The opposite is true too.  The higher you make your deductible the lower your premium payments are.Continue Reading

9 Ways To Save On Baby Costs

Baby Feet

So you’re expecting?  Congratulations! A new baby is an exciting event in one’s life (how’s that for understatement of the year!).  In preparing for the little one’s arrival you’ll start to think of all of the things you are going to need for the baby as well as the costs!  But it doesn’t have to always be expensive.

Here are 9 ways to save on baby costs:

1) Shop at wholesale stores

Places like BJ’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club will be your friend when it comes to shopping for your baby.  We love the big boxes of diapers and wipes that we get at BJ’s.  They also have great deals on car seats and strollers from time to time.  Do your homework on what you expect prices to be of course, but we find that things like diapers are always worth getting at a wholesale store.

2) Reach out to friends, family, and co-workers

If you know anyone else who had a baby before you then talk to them about what they have.  Not only can they give you some practical advice on what they bought but odds are they have a ton of stuff that’s relatively new that they would be happy to give you!  Baby stuff takes up space and parents love to clear out the clutter.  We’ve gotten tons of clothes (it’s great when you can be clothing kids close to free), toys, bassinet, high chair, swing, and much more from friends and family.  Sometimes it was to keep while others said just give it back when we’re done.  Understand that many items will be used for a baby for a few weeks or months and will still be like new!  Heck, there was a time when we had to rush to put our little guy in clothes before he outgrew them.  Seriously, reach out to friends, family, and co-workers!

3) Check Craigslist and local Mommy forums for toys and furniture

Remember my point above about parents wanting to get rid of clutter?  Same idea here.  A parent buys X for their baby, uses it for a couple of months, and now it sits in the garage practically new.  We picked up a huge toy chest for $25 that originally cost about $75.  It looked like new and the Mom was more than happy to have us take it off her hands.  Bargains like that are all over the place!  You want to be careful with something like a crib or anything that the baby would be supported in to make sure it’s fully intact and has all the parts.  Safety first!  Bargains second! (Car seats may not be a good idea to get used as they wear out over time).

4) Breastfeed

This one is a personal choice for sure.  But by breastfeeding you don’t have to buy formula!  Plus it’s natural and better for your baby.  But what about a pump?  First, you may not need one, it depends on your situation.  Second, you could rent them out if needed or possibly you may have a friend that doesn’t need theirs anymore.  My wife bought her pump when her daughter was born.  It was well worth the money as it was used for our son and will be used for the little one on the way.

5) Set Up a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account

If your employer has this option you can set up flexible spending money to be taken out of your paycheck pre-tax for child care expenses.  If you already have a plan but re having an additional child you can make flexible spending account changes to account for costs on the additional child.  You then apply with a receipt to get the money back.  The benefit here is this money isn’t taxed!  The limit is $5000/year when I last checked.  That’s a lot to not be taxed.

6) Set up Health Care Flexible Spending Account

Same idea as dependent care but this can be used for things such as prescription medication and doctor’s visit co-pays.  Check with your employer for the contribution limit.

7) Set up a 529 plan for the little one

A 529 plan doesn’t only save for college in the future.  Many states offer tax benefits now for money you contribute to a 529 plan.

8 ) Sign up for a baby registry

I’ve heard parents-to-be say that they don’t want a baby shower; that they don’t like the idea of a registry.  But the truth is this is one even in your life that people genuinely want to help you start off on the right foot and want to contribute to your child’s well-being!  You don’t know who may be planning a surprise shower for you or who wants to send you a gift.  One thing they’ll ask about is a registry to get you something you need.  You don’t have to get a baby registry.  But it could also leave with a TON of onesies, bibs, and clothes as gifts rather than items you really need (nothing wrong with onesies, bibs, and clothes, but there comes a point where it too much).  Maybe your aunts and uncles will chip in to get you a crib?  Perhaps your college roommates will get together to buy you a car seat?  You don’t know!  Give them the option.  Also, most places that have a registry make it very easy to return gifts.  You’re going to find that you have extras you don’t need or items you thought you needed but don’t use.  We had a registry and were still fortunate to get two car seats!  We returned many a bib that we never used too.

9) Check product forums and sites like Amazon for reviews

If I’m making a big purchase I scour the web for product reviews!  I want to know what everyone is saying.  I’ll try to get as much information as I can.  I want to know the pros and cons of an item from people who are not salespeople in the store.  There are a ton of choices out there for expecting parents and it can be a daunting task trying to figure out what is best.  Do your research!  You may find that for some items spending a little more will save you in the long run.  I’m thinking about products like strollers which take a lot of abuse.  Amazon Bonus: They now have a program called Amazon Mom that offers discounts and free Amazon Prime for a time.

There you have it! 9 ways to save on your baby costs.  Can you think of any more?

Creative Commons License photo credit: lepiaf.geo

Frugal Ideas To Help Your Home Sell

Robie House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright 1909

We recently put our home on the market to sell. Man, do we have a lot to do to get the place in ship shape!  We have been busy for the past couple of weeks doing what we could to make the place look more appealing to a potential buyer.  Living there for so long we didn’t realize how much stuff we had and how many little things could be fixed.  I’d be lying to say we weren’t concerned about getting a good price in today’s market!

Our goal is to make our home look as clean, big, and attractive as possible without breaking the bank!  Fortunately there are many things we can do to help achieve this.

These are inexpensive ideas to help sell your home:

  • Paint (@MoneyMatters) – We hired someone to paint most of the place for us.  It wasn’t that expensive and it’s made the place look so much bigger and brighter!  We used light, neutral colors that would be appealing to most (our prior colors were great but too dark for most people’s tastes).  This could be done yourself to save more.  We just didn’t have the time to do it ourselves (and we got a great deal on a local painter).
  • Replace Light Fixtures – We replaced our dining room, bathroom, and the bedroom’s light fixtures.  We bought them at Home Depot and they weren’t that expensive.  Combined with the new paint job, the apartment looks much bigger than before.  Add to that we used fluorescent lights so we can tell prospective buyers that the light costs will be lower.
  • Remove Clutter (@nomorespending)- We’ve already removed all of our CD’s and their shelves as well as our books and bookshelf.  It’s really opened up the place (I have a LOT of CD’s).  Remove, give away, put in storage whatever you can.  Get down to the bare minimums to make the place look as big as possible and let a buyer step in and imagine it as theirs.  This will also help you when you move as you will have less to box and bring with you.
  • Clean Carpets/Wax Floors (@thepassivedad) – Renting a machine for the day to clean your carpets can be inexpensive.  Same is true for a floor buffer.  There’s also less expensive cleaners you can use that may require more elbow grease but can be as effective.  If you’re able add no base board molding.  Basically give a buyer the thought that they don’t have to do any work on the floors if they don’t want to!
  • Landscaping (@misformoney)- If you have a garden or lawn space do what you can to spruce it up and make it lively!  New plants don’t have to be expensive and can make the front of your home look much more inviting!
  • Take Great Pictures (@pffirewall) – Your home will most likely be online somewhere for sale and you will need photos of it.  Make sure the photos are good quality taken at the time of the day the light is the best.  Wait until you have everything ready and use a good camera.  If you have a friend who’s a photography buff ask him to come over and take a few shots for you.  You want big and clean!  I’ve seen people post photos of cluttered rooms that make me instantly go to the next listing on the site.
  • Re-Grout Wall and Floor Tiles - This sounds like more work than it really is.  I’ve discovered it takes some elbow grease but doesn’t cost too much.  And new grout will make your tiles look almost new again.  Go ahead and take a close look at how dingy they may be…  I’ve been slowly re-working the tiles in our bathroom!
  • Replace Old Sinks, Cabinets, Faucets – You can go crazy replacing these items and spend thousands for sure.  But sometimes if yours are beat up and old an inexpensive replacement will look much better than what you have.  New usually equals clean and that helps a buyer!
  • Replace Outlet Covers and Light Switch Covers – Over the years these can get beat up and dirty.  But they cost little to replace.  Put these in after you have painted to keep them clean.
  • De-Personalize Your Home – Put away all of your photos and pictures.  You can leave a few up to display but you want a buyer to walk in and imagine the place as theirs.  Seeing your face all over doesn’t help that.  It also helps remove the clutter too!
  • Read Magazines/Watch TV (@nodebtplan)- No, I’m not saying you should sit around and be lazy.  What you can do is look at what homes look like in advertisements and shows.  There are also plenty of home shows on TV these days to give you ideas as well.  You can get a good idea of what a model home should look like.
  • We Need More Light! – When you are showing the home turn on the lights to make the place look bigger even if it’s during the day!
  • Bake Before a Showing – This one is a bit cliche but you would be amazed how well it works!  We had friends over and one was helping me install a new dining room light.  At the same time my wife happened to be baking a cake.  It smelled amazing and really made the place feel “home”-ey. (And really how much do those instant bake cookies cost?)
  • Build a Website – A friend mentioned that when he was selling his Manahttan apartment he put up a quick website with some pictures and contact forms. Six months hosting isn’t very expensive and a lot of hosting companies will give you a free domain name and web site kit.  He ended up selling the place himself!  You can also list your home on Craiglist.
  • Clean, Scrub, Sweep, Repeat – Clean like a madman.  Then go do it again.  Then ask a neighbor or friend to point out what still seems dingy and hit the cleaners again.  Make the place sparkle!  The cleaner the better.  A clean place tells a buyer that you take care of the home (and it makes it look great).
  • Empty Those Closets - As best you can clean out the closets.  Again, live with the bare minimum that you need and get those closets looking as big as possible.  Buyers will want to see how much of their stuff they can put in them not how much of yours!
  • Visit Other Homes In Your Area – Take an afernoon and go visit the open houses in your area.  See what their homes look like and what they offer and the price they ask.  If you see a similar place as yours take note; this is your competition and you want your place to look better!  Is it cleaner? Newer?  You may be surprised to find out it won’t take much to make your place look nicer.
  • Replace the Toilet Seat – Seriously!  People will notice that it’s sparkling clean which will get you big points.  Either they don’t need to get a new one themselves or they believe you keep things super-clean, you win.

Yes, it takes some work on your part to do these things. But if it will help you sell then it will more than pay off!!  A couple of years ago you might have had a bidding war for a home that wasn’t all done up.  But in today’s economy you have to put your best foot forward just to get the sale!  Don’t let something small keep a buyer from wanting your place.

Any other ideas?


Creative Commons License photo credit: mach3

9 Year End Tax Savings Tips

It’s December and the year will be ending before you know it. Don’t fret, there’s still time to take advantage of some tax saving tips to make your tax burden next April a little less.

Here are 9 year end tax savings tips:

Max Your 401(k)

If you can afford to take the paycheck hit now you can up the percentage of your 401(k) contribution.  Your contributions are tax-free and will lower your taxable salary.

Open or Contribute to a Traditional IRA

For some a traditional IRA may be a better option than a Roth IRA.  With a traditional IRA you get to deduct your contributions from your taxable income.  Have have until April 15th to contribute.

Sell Losing Investments

The sold investment losses can be deducted to offset gains or to reduce your taxable income.  The limit is $3000 though.

Donate to Charity

Donations before Dec. 31st can be deducted on next year’s return.  You have to itemize your deductions to claim this.  Bonus benefit: You might be helping some people out!

Prepay Bills

If you prepay some bills such as mortgage payments or medical bills you can write them off on next year’s return.

Second Chance Economic Stimulus Payments

Some who didn’t qualify for economic stimulus checks earlier in the year may qualify this time due to a life change (marriage, birth, change of income…).

Job Search Expenses

If you searched for a new job (in the same industry you’re in now) you can deduct expenses you incurred such as resume preparation, career counseling, travel, and phone calls.

Tax Relief for Foreclosures

Normally if your home was foreclosed or the mortgage was reduced or restructured you would have to pay taxes on the amount reduced.  Recent legislation has made it so you may not have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount.

Use Up Flexible Spending Plans

You contribute to a flexible spending plan to save on taxes.  But if you don’t use up the contribution amount then you lose the ability to claim it back.  Make sure you claim the full amount before the deadline passes (check with your HR department to see when your company’s deadline to claim is).

Most people don’t like to pay taxes.  You still have some time to take advantage to lower your tax burden.

Bonus Tip (because I thought of it after I first published):

Max out a 529 plan for your kids. Many state plans offer tax advantages for contributing! (check the specific plan for details).

These tips are in part courtesy of our friends at Intuit and TurboTax who were kind enough to provide them.

Never Mind A New Economic Stimulus Package – Save Yourself!

There’s been a lot of talk in the news about a new economic stimulus package.  Some are talking about a new one being approved this year while others speculate that it won’t happen until President-Elect Obama takes office.  There’s been talk that a new economic stimulus package would be more infrastructure and not checks as the last package was.  And there definitely has been a lot of talk of whether we even need a new economic stimulus package; questioning if it even makes a difference.  Here’s what I say:

Never mind a new economic stimulus package – Save yourself!

Don’t count on the government to come through with legislation to help you make ends meet.   That attitude will never get you ahead.  You need to take matters into your own hands.  If you are in a bad financial situation you need take control and ownership of the problem and fix it yourself.

Here are 12 ways you can take matters in your own hands and save yourself:

  • Make sure you excel at your job.  Unemployment is the highest it’s been in quite a while and I’m sure there will be many more layoffs to come.  Don’t be the robot at work that does just enough to get by.  Get yourself interested and make yourself valuable to your company.  Don’t just get your job done – get it done well!  If layoffs are coming you may be able to save yourself from the chopping block.  Hey, maybe you could even get a promotion?
  • Build networking relationships with friends and co-workers.  Sometimes, as unfair as it seems, it’s not what you know but who you know.  Keep up with co-workers when they move to other jobs.  They can be your foot in the door if you leave your current job.  Stay in contact with friends as well.  Even if they don’t work in your industry they could prove to be a valuable contact.  Network!
  • Pay your bills on time.  Lenders are getting shy about giving out their money these days.  If you pay late you may find your interest skyrocketing.  Universal default allows one credit company to raise your interest rate if you’re late on a different company’s card.  A late payment can make all of your credit cards have high rates.  If you aren’t paying off your balances every month you can find yourself sinking faster into debt.
  • Put money away for emergency savings.  Really you don’t know what the future holds and as the saying goes: “when it rains it pours!”  What happens if you find yourself out of a job?  Then the car breaks?  Then you need a doctor’s appointment?  Hopefully you don’t need your savings but put yourself in good shape by having savings in place.
  • Make sure your credit report is clean.  Errors on your credit report can be costing you in higher interest rates on your credit cards and loans.  Make sure your credit report is accurate.
  • Check you credit score.  Your credit score is like your code of honor among credit agencies.  A low score means higher interest rates and could also mean you won’t get a needed loan or credit.  Credit scores are also used in housing and in job hunting.  Get that score up!
  • Cut costs.  Remember that emergency savings?  A way to help build that up is to cut costs.  Cut a few corners here and there and you can find yourself with significant savings!
  • Analyze your tax withholding.  Are you paying too much?  Pay what you need to and no more.  Many like to get a big tax refund but you’re better off having that money in each of your paychecks instead.  You don’t earn any interest when the government is holding your money!  Adjust your tax withholding so you maximize your paycheck.
  • Re-evaluate your holiday spending.  The holiday spending frenzy is starting.  Don’t get caught up in the current!  You don’t need to spend exorbitant amounts on every person you know this holiday season (here’s a challenge: see if you can keep a $100 holiday).  What really the point in spending so much if it puts you in a bad financial situation?  Budget what you can spend on gifts and don’t go over.  Make sure your budget is within reason of your financial situation (don’t spend more than you have!).
  • Go to school.  Yes, school is an expense.  But taking some extra courses or pursuing/finishing up a degree can help make yourself more marketable to employers.  This can be as simple as taking an advanced Excel course to working on a higher degree.
  • Work on building alternate sources of income.  Try your hand at blogging.  Work on developing a hobby that could earn money such as photography.  Other streams of income are a good thing, especially when money is tight.  And you never know, what you start could develop into something bigger.

It always sounds nice when the government offers to give us money back but we have to remember there’s a price to this.  It could mean less services somewhere else or more taxes down the line.  Remember the money has to come from somewhere!

Don’t hope the government will do something to ease your situation.  Get a hold of your finances and take care of it yourself!

What other ways could we take financial matters in our own hands?

Best Financial Advice You’ve Received

Father and son surf lesson in Morro Bay, CA 12 of 12

There’s a meme going around that I saw at The Digerati Life who got it from Sound Money Matters.  It’s basically asking everyone to answer:

What’s the best financial advice you ever received?

Probably one of the best pieces of advice I received was from my dad.  When I go my forst credit card he told me to be careful and not go into debt with the cards.  “Pay off your balances every month,” he said.  Unfortunately I was young and headstrong and had to learn mistakes the hard way.  I’d go onto opening numerous credit cards – Macy’s, Bloomindale’s, two CitiBank cards, and others.

At first I was real good with my cards and paid them off.  But as I got older with more responsibilities the balances started to grow (that and I couldn’t keep my hands off buying “stuff”).  In the end I had debt in the thousands.  I was able to slowly pay everything off with a little help from my family as I moved back in with them for a while.

I was foolish for not taking my dad’s advice to heart.  I’m sure many people out there have a similar story.  They know what the right thing to do is but somehow their credit card debt got out of hand anyway.

If you’re one of these people – You can get out of debt! It may take a while but small steps will lead to big changes over time in paying back your cards.  Start now!

If you’re not in credit card debt then make sure you stay that way!  Be responsible with your charges and make sure you can pay back everything once the bill arrives.

I’m not one of those who thinks that credit cards are evil. The mistakes I’ve made with them I take full responsibility for.  They can be very useful in fact.  But you have to be responsible with them.

I’m tagging the other members of the Money Life Network to answer the question: What is the best financial advice you ever received?  (MiB Smarter Money, Bible Money Matters, Sense To Save, Remodeling This Life, Prime Time Money, and Milk Your Money).

If you’re reading this then consider yourself tagged too!  Write about it or drop a comment here.

What’s the best financial advice you ever received?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

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