Monthly Archives: November 2013

How I plan to get a new tooth for half the price

So earlier this year, one of my teeth that has been a pain in the mouth for several years finally failed and had to be taken out. My dentist (and everyone else I talked to) said an implant of a new false tooth was the way to go. There was one wild card: I might need an extra procedure that would cost several thousand more, and they wouldn’t know until their initial work had time to heal.

Yesterday I got the news I was dying to know one way or the other, but it was not what I hoped: I do need the extra procedure. Now, figuring out insurance coverage is its own kind of crazy logic puzzle, but I think I’ve got it right: I’ll probably owe about $5046 when all’s said and done. Yikes!

But instead of moping about it, I’m trying to look on the bright side. First of all, without dental insurance, the cost would be more like $7646. Even insurance would have only brought the cost down to about $6546 if I’d had the procedure this year (December was the month the dentist initially suggested), because with the extraction of the original tooth and the first bone graft, I’ve nearly maxed out the $1500 that MetLife will cover.

So I asked if I could put the procedure off until after the first of the year. That way MetLife will have to pony up another $1500, bringing my estimated out-of-pocket to $5046.

That’s still a lot, but I’m going to see how much I can take off of it.

First of all, I made sure to get all the diagnostic testing done before my flex-spending open enrollment ends at work, so I could set aside the money pretax. I had a momentary setback when I found out there’s now a $2500 limit to how much an individual can set aside in FSA money. But then someone tipped me off to the fact that since I’m married, my husband can set aside $2500 in HIS account and use it to cover the expenses of any qualifying family member, even if they’re not on his plan.

So that’s great, we’ll be able to pay for nearly all of the procedure pretax. But I wondered how much that would really save us; was it worth the hassle? I found a 2012 federal income tax table and looked at the tax on what I thought our taxable income might be without the FSA deduction, then at what it would be with. The difference in tax we’d have to pay? Over $1200! I also checked a Minnesota state tax table and found that we’d owe about $350 less in state taxes too. So just by taking out the max in flex spending, we save at least $1550 in taxes! That benefit will mostly be realized gradually over the year through the offsetting of flex deductions by a lower tax withholding, so I don’t have to wait all year to experience the benefit.

So that means the actual cost of my implant will be $3496. But I’m not going to stop there! I’ll be trolling for credit card bonus offers when my bills start rolling in, so I can pay the bills with credit cards that will reward me for the payments.

I don’t know exactly what bonus offers I’ll find, but I can usually find a minimum 20% bonus. Several cards, for instance, have standard introductory offers to spend $500 and get $100 back. (If I only find this type of offer, I can open several cards from different carriers and pay my dental bill in $500 portions to instantly hit the spending amounts needed to receive the bonuses. I’ve done this in the past with big medical bills.)

So, since my estimated out of pocket (separate from the tax benefit) is about $5000, I can expect to get at least $1000 in bonus cash from credit cards just by paying my bills.

Add that to the tax savings, and subtract from the estimated out of pocket, and I’ll only really be paying $2496 for my tooth! Now that’s still more than I’d  like to spend on one tooth, but it sounds like a bargain when you consider the alternatives:

  • $7646 if I had no insurance
  • $6546 if I had insurance but had the procedure done this year
  • $5046 if I wait until next year but don’t set aside FSA money or use credit card bonuses

I know not all of these options will fit every medical situation (we’re at the insurance company’s mercy for the recent ER visit my husband had), but it’s a textbook example of being as strategic as possible and using multiple methods to defray a big expenditure and soften its sting.

teeth

 

Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Fine-tuning my life (and my financial outlook)

The past two months have been quite eventful for me and my family, so I took a short break from blogging. Now I’m back, hopefully on a regular schedule! (Although I’m also attempting to complete a novel for NaNoWriMo, so we shall see about that.)

The most significant event to affect my financial life was one family member’s health crisis. Not only are we still waiting to feel the full impact of the hospital bills, but it changed our outlook on budgeting. Not significantly, but it’s made a substantial difference in our lives already. It’s a great example of how small adjustments can feel huge.

The crisis was at least partly brought on by exhaustion and stress. And even though only one of us was afflicted, we realized that all of us are overstretched at the moment. So the first time we adults had to really sit down together and think things through, we started talking about anything we could take off any of our plates to make our busy lives a bit less all-consuming.

We made some non-financial commitments to moving chores around, being less hard on ourselves and each other, and communicating more clearly about what we wanted others to do and when anyone felt they needed help. But I also admitted that some of my money management added a bit of stress to all our lives. I’m so focused on our larger goals that I can be pretty tightfisted about unplanned spending, even the kind that’s inevitable in anyone’s day-to-day life.

So for my part, I made a couple of financial commitments to my family:

  • We have a hefty monthly surplus in our budget, and I used to jealously guard it so we could put it all to our big-picture goals. But we’re already ahead of schedule on our goals, and even if it took longer than the arbitrary deadline, so what? So I’m going to be more willing to pull some of the surplus out of my coffers and apply it judiciously to help alleviate some stress.
  • I’m not going to gripe about the grocery budget going over by a few bucks every once in a while. We’ll try to stick to the spending limits, but if we go over, we go over.
  • Healthy things like yoga are important. So when someone wants to do something healthy, I’ll pull money from the surplus.
  • If there are little things someone in the family wants that takes money and we don’t have a specific category for it, I’ll pull from the surplus to pay for it. Examples include the occasional cab ride after attending a night work event with a long bus ride waiting at the end, things around the house that would replace something that doesn’t function as well as it could, clothing that needs replacing when the person doesn’t have enough spending money to replace it themselves, dinner delivery when everyone is feeling extra exhausted, etc.
  • I’ve rejiggered my big-picture goals to be less strict about how much per month I need to come up with, exactly when I need to hit them, etc. I’m still going to track debt repayment and keep all my spreadsheets going; that would stress me out more to stop than to keep going. And I still want to achieve everything that we have planned for the next couple years. I just wanted a more flexible way to express and track them.
  • I’m not going to get upset about whatever hospital bills are coming our way for the health crisis. Whether it’s $1,000 or $10,000, we’ll find a way to pay for it without making ourselves crazy. It was worth it for the peace of mind of knowing my husband is all right.

It’s been almost a month since I made these commitments, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve dipped into our surplus only minimally. Giving ourselves more freedom has not turned us into big spenders overnight. In fact, we find it’s even a little easier to stick to our desired spending limits because we’re used to it from all the years of being strict about it, but now we don’t feel like it’s another chore or obligation. We’re all on board with what we want for our future, so we’re not going to sabotage it with rash spending sprees.

I’m not sure there’s a specific lesson to be learned here, except that once budget control is achieved, it’s possible to lighten up without destroying everything you worked for, even if you had a terrible track record (ahem, like me) in the past.

yoga lady

 

Image courtesy of tiverylucky  / FreeDigitalPhotos.net