Happy Monday! Here Are a Few of the Things I’ve Been Up To.

Nothing to do with the post, but I just had to use this badass photo by my man, Jean-Marc! – Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

Happy Monday, Everyone! Here are some assorted thoughts and experiences I’ve had lately. I hope you find them amusing or enlightening in some way.

Clean your fucking house if you’re single!

Seriously, I was just eating dinner the other night, just like any of the other thousands of times I’ve done it, when suddenly, I found myself choking. Total freak thing. Somehow, something went down the wrong tube. Thankfully, I was able to cough it all back out. But if I hadn’t been able to, it could very easily have been lights out. And I’m a very healthy man in his thirties. Aside from having an extremely stressful job, I’m nowhere near being part of an “at risk” population. But fate doesn’t care about probability. And if I hadn’t coughed that stuff up, someone would have been walking into a mess since I’ve been on the road so much lately that I haven’t had time to keep up with things like I should. Food for thought.

Everyone knows JD Power awards are bullshit…right?

With football season upon us again, I’m watching some tv again. And with watching tv comes seeing those heinous Chevy ads with that guy I find incredibly irritating. Don’t get me wrong; he looks like a very nice, mild mannered, incredibly beta guy who wouldn’t hurt a fly because he doesn’t have the balls. But there is something about that man that makes me sincerely wish he would die painfully. And soon. A grossly excessive response? Probably. But at least for now, I’m still free to think what I want. Anyway, the ads always feature said annoying man preaching to “real people” about how Chevy wins basically every JD Power award on the planet.

First of all, if you haven’t found it already, head over to Youtube and search for Zebra Corner for a little therapy. The channel has tons of videos where a guy hero named “Mahk” sits in on these commercials and singlehandedly takes them from painful to hilarious. The only thing funnier than his absurd accent is his relentless criticism of Chevy and the situation he’s found himself in. There should probably be a law requiring that Mahk’s work be played on tv in place of the original commercials because it would make the world a better place. Just saying.

Second, JD Power awards are 100% bullshit. They’re based on survey results and those surveys are about “initial quality.” That’s the first 90 days of car ownership. Call me when you’re talking to people about their cars five or ten years down the road and we can talk. But 90 days? I’d be shocked if even a Chrysler product had any issues that quickly. So basically, JD Power verifies that people still like the cars they chose to buy…90 days ago. If you know much about psychology, you know how pointless that exercise is. Also, there is absolutely a financial incentive involved. Chevy, and any other car company that wants to use the “awards” in their marketing, pays to do so. Plus, the proof is in the pudding. Chevy builds mostly crappy cars and would have gone bankrupt a decade ago if it hadn’t been bailed out. If the company is winning awards, those awards obviously have no credibility on those grounds alone.

If you want to find out which cars are good, talk to a mechanic you trust. Or do your research online from a variety of reputable sources (keeping in mind that reviewers may not be paid directly by manufacturers, but if they give out a bad review, they’re not going to be reviewing that particular manufacturer’s cars for very long) and then draw your own conclusions. Ignore all advertising. I cannot stress that enough. Marketing people are clever little bastards who know how to manipulate your mind, even if you’re on the intelligent end of the spectrum. Ignore everything they say. Not a word of it is credible.

SoFi still rocks.

A while back, I recommended the SoFi checking account. While I did provide my referral link, I would only do something like that for a product I myself use and feel comfortable recommending, regardless of financial incentive. Recently, I was using the bill pay feature and I thought of a couple suggestions that I felt would improve it. Ever since I first got the account, I’ve been meaning to try out the “Email the CEO” link at the top of the page. I figured this was as good a time as any, so I emailed him my suggestions. The very next day, which was a Saturday by the way, I got a phone call from someone in his office. She told me that Anthony occasionally answers the emails himself, but that whether by him or a member of his executive team, every single email is answered. As a man with thousands upon thousands of unread emails in my various inboxes without being the CEO of a large corporation, this impresses me. She discussed my suggestions with me a little, thanked me for both them and my being a member, and told me to watch my account because they may be implemented. I’m excited to see if anything has changed the next time I pay my monthly bills.

But whatever happens, it means a lot to me that I can get a response that quickly. And I think it says a lot about the way the company is run. I am reiterating my recommendation of the SoFi checking account and if anyone is interested, here is my referral link. https://www.sofi.com/share/money/2015744

Speaking of customer service, Marriott is on notice with me.

Lest you think I’m some shill who only gives glowing reviews, I had a very disappointing experience at a Marriott recently. At roughly 9:30AM, someone put a key in my hotel room door and proceeded to open it. If the safety lock hadn’t been there, he would have been in my room looking me dead in the eyes as I toweled off in the bathroom, having just stepped out of the shower. As it was, he had the door open a few inches. There had been no warning of any kind – no knock, nothing verbal, etc. I quickly stepped out of the bathroom, slammed the door back shut, and advised the gentleman in no uncertain terms that the room was occupied and a second attempt to enter it would not be met with as kind a response as the first had been. His response, which was not apologetic in the slightest by the way, was to tell me that management had told him all the rooms on my floor were empty. Admittedly, I was angrier than I otherwise would have been since I was literally standing there naked. However, this guy was in the wrong, and by a wide margin. If it had been a naked woman in the room, there is a good chance he would have been leaving in handcuffs. He may well have been anyway if I had chosen to call the police. So I was a little surprised he couldn’t muster even a half hearted “I’m sorry.”

When I told the hotel manager what had happened, her response was even worse. She told me that a notice had been given to me that they would be cleaning the carpets in the rooms that morning (it was not – I even went back and checked my email to see if maybe it had been sent out that way – and if I had received such a notice, I would certainly have made a reservation at a different hotel) and that I needed to let them in. The fact that there had been two and a half hours until check out when this unauthorized entrance attempt occurred was deemed irrelevant. And there wasn’t even a hint of an apology in anything she said. Needless to say, I told her to cancel the second night of my reservation, which to her credit, she did. However, upon further review, it appears that the rate on my bill was increased by $20.

For a little context, I stay in a lot of hotels – probably about a hundred nights a year on average over the last few years. So I know how things work. The “do not disturb” sign goes on the door before I even set my luggage down upon checking in. But occasionally, a member of the housekeeping staff, no doubt in a hurry to get the job done, does try to walk in before check out time anyway. I’ve even had the safety lock disengaged once and had someone succeed in walking in before realizing her mistake. However, she was immediately apologetic in that case, as was the hotel manager when I informed her what had happened. She refused to charge me a penny for the night and assured me that they would be retraining immediately. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that caliber of response, because it was exceptional, but in this case, the manager’s response to the situation was utterly unacceptable.

I called Marriott’s customer service number immediately after that. The woman who answered was very professional and kind and took down all the pertinent information. She was very sympathetic and ultimately told me I would be receiving a response in 3-5 business days. That’s a little disappointing given that my complaint was in regards to a safety issue, and an egregious one at that. Had this man made it into my hotel room, the outcome would have been one or both of us leaving in an ambulance and a lawsuit being leveled at anyone in any way involved by the most vicious attorney available. It seems to me a much more immediate response by customer service should have been in order. But I will give them until the middle of next week to respond and report back when they do. If the response is less than satisfactory, I will not be staying at a Marriott property again, which would be a sad outcome given that by and large, my experiences with them have been good. I will also be researching which government agency (or agencies) is responsible for overseeing hotels and making a complaint to them. Stay tuned, folks.

The Illusion of Security – Part 2

Good morning everyone! Today’s post is the conclusion to my post from last Monday. Whereas that one exhibited more of an “old testament” tone, today’s is more in the “gospel” direction. It felt good to write it and I hope it feels equally good to read it.

I believe I’ve used this picture before, but I don’t even care. It’s an awesome message that tends to come true more often than not.

But just like with anything else, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. I’m on track to be a millionaire by forty if I continue to work that long and I still spend sleepless nights envisioning what might happen if I lose my job. I get worked up over relatively small setbacks that pose almost zero threat to my long term success in any area of life. Through hard work on my mindset and rapidly improving actual circumstances, I have gotten better about this. But my desires are still way too close to the security end of the spectrum. As far as I can tell, there are at least two antidotes to this problem.

One is to assess your position and worst case scenario from a rational viewpoint. Think about things as if an average, unbiased observer was watching your life on tv. In my case, if I lost my job, I could live on cash for at least six months without that income and if I needed to go further, I could liquidate enough in other assets to extend that by years. It is pretty difficult to imagine a scenario where I wouldn’t have another job by the time all my assets were exhausted and it wouldn’t even have to be a remotely comparable job to my existing one since my living expenses are less than $30k a year and I could cut them by half and still have everything I technically needed. But if none of that worked out, I have friends and family. I’m not the easiest guy on earth to get along with, as you may have guessed by reading my blog, but there is almost a zero percent chance that no one would take me in while I worked to get back on my feet. Even if no one would, there are organizations and programs dedicated to people in such dire circumstances. And even if none of that helped me, I see homeless people on the streets every day; they are surviving somehow. Almost the entirety of this analysis is absurd because I’m relatively unlikely to take the very first step down the path I’ve just described. I’m well educated and intelligent, I have a good work ethic, there is a (generally) high demand for people with my skillset, and thus far, my income has increased rapidly and consistently.

Another approach is to look at things from the opposite point of view. Since graduating from college, my income has risen over 20% on an annualized basis and while obviously not infinitely sustainable, the rate has only increased as the years have gone on. While I’m on a strongly upward trend in my current job, it is fairly common knowledge within my industry that my employer offers more of an experience building opportunity than a wealth building one and as such, the pay is on the low end of the market. I occasionally get calls from recruiters throwing out numbers $50-100k higher than my current total compensation in an effort to get me to interview for positions I’m getting more qualified for every day. Those calls are getting more frequent over time and in the next year or two, it’s likely that the right one will come. I have a profitable side business that I will likely be able to scale up as large as I would ever want to. My investment account balances grow pretty rapidly since I’m adding a huge portion of my income to them on an ongoing basis. I have a great network of past and current coworkers, many of whom I count as friends. And I have talents besides the ones I’m currently using to bring in money that I have only barely begun to explore. A strong argument could be made that I am likely to have substantially more resources for the foreseeable future – not less, and certainly not none.

All in all, I’m an extremely fortunate guy and a hell of a lot would have to go wrong in this world before I’d be on the street. Your situation may be better or worse than mine but working through the analysis would likely make you feel better if you’re a chronic worrier like me. If it doesn’t make you feel better, then figure out what would and start setting some goals that will help you move in that direction. But the bottom line is this: time spent worrying irrationally is time that could have been spent enjoying the buffet of happy experiences and growth opportunities life offers every day.

My Current Storm and the Adjustments I Need to Make

This is actually from Hurricane Ike, but last week’s tropical depression and subsequent flooding caused substantial devastation in Houston as well. Image courtesy of Jean-Marc Buytaert

I’ve reached a critical point. The stress of my situation has increased to such a degree that I need to address it in a very purposeful way in order to keep it from destroying me. It has literally begun to manifest itself in physical symptoms – terrible headaches that refuse to go away, shortness of breath at times, my heart rate speeding up for no apparent reason, etc. Obviously, I need to first acknowledge that I’m creating the symptoms by handling things the way I am on a psychological level. Then I need to figure out exactly what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what changes I need to make. I have the entire day (I’m writing this on Sunday) to dedicate to doing just that while I also work on the usual chores everyone has to do to keep life moving along smoothly. As part of that, I decided to write a post about the situation. I’m hoping that it will both help me to see things in a different way and inspire someone else to work through something of their own.

The heat is up about as hot as it can go. My employer’s firings have continued and while we’re being reassured that anyone left is safe, that, of course, means nothing beyond that the company has an interest in tamping down the panic among its remaining employees as much as possible. Already a couple they didn’t intend to lose, including our perennial number one rep, have escaped and the consequences to the bottom line will be severe. They’ve done it to themselves with their panicked reaction to the circumstances – and it goes way beyond simply firing a large percentage of the sales force. I’m very happy for him because it sounds like he is in a genuinely better situation with enormous potential. But guys like that will always have employers lining up to pay them basically whatever they want. For me and most of the other reps who have neither been fired, nor found the door on our own, better options aren’t necessarily available, especially at a time like this.

Every last one of us is looking, of course. But it’s not so simple. Over the last year or so, our broader industry has been absolutely devastated by a massive oversupply problem that has crushed revenue, putting hundreds of small, medium, and even large businesses under and thousands of people out of work. If one of us were to find a job at another company within the industry, we would very likely be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. You never know the reality of a job until you’re actually doing it and under the current circumstances, that reality is very unlikely to be a good one – no matter where you go and no matter how much a biased recruiter gushes about how great the opportunity is. Every company is dealing with its own version of the same problem right now.  

So how about getting a similar job in a different industry? No dice there either. First off, most of us are finding that there is very little interest in our services in other industries because even though our skillsets are extremely valuable in the right circumstances, we are not exempt from the fact that most employers these days want someone who is already doing exactly the same job they are applying for. While this is obviously a short-sighted attitude that has made hiring quality people more and more difficult and caused significant structural problems in our workforce, it’s still reality. Besides, even if I could get into a different industry, it probably wouldn’t solve my problem for long.

Why not? I’m in a barometer industry. When things get ugly, we tend to get hit first. When things improve, we also tend to see that first. So if I leave now after fighting a year of industry wide recession, I will probably find myself in rapidly worsening conditions as the recession spreads to my new industry. And to make matters worse, my current industry will likely be in recovery mode by then. But having just changed jobs, I would be taking a huge career risk at that point by doing so a second time in a short timeframe. It is best to be in that 3-5 year tenure range before you make a switch if at all possible. Anything less is likely to produce a suboptimal outcome in a variety of ways.

So what should I do? I believe my best option is to continue to stand and fight. I’ve made it this far and besides, bailing out doesn’t appear likely to be possible, or even profitable. Going back to the beginning of this post, since I can’t adjust the outside circumstances, I need to look inward to improve the situation. I’ve already made the disappointing decision to stop taking flying lessons. I was really enjoying them, but I simply can’t afford the time the overall process was taking up anymore and it’s not something that can be “half-assed.” I’ve also cut back on writing for this blog, although I did so a little more than intended, dropping from three posts a week to one. I intend to get that back up to two as I had planned.

The biggest thing I need to work on is to focus on optimizing everything I can control and not letting the things I can’t stress me out the way they have been. That means doing all those things that I know are crucial to my continued success to the best of my ability every day. It also means shutting out the noise. Or, as one of my more senior colleagues told me, in times like this, you just have to keep your head down and work. This is one of Stephen Covey’s seven laws and if you haven’t read his book, I strongly recommend that you do.

I have to be as mentally strong as I possibly can right now. The pendulum is going to swing back the other way for us. It always does. For all I know, it could happen as soon as a few months from now. Even if it doesn’t, it is almost certain that we’ve seen the worst of things. It would be a tragedy to fight so hard for so long and then fall apart so close to the finish line – the equivalent of being among the last soldiers killed in a battle that has already been materially won. I’m not going to let that happen to me. And on the other side of the finish line? A scenario where the market is improving again and anyone who survived the purge is well positioned to take advantage. Every hardship I’ve ever faced has made me a better man in some way. This one isn’t going to be any different.

By the way, it appears this is my 100th post on this blog. Thank you to everyone who has been along on this journey with me and I hope you all have a great day!

The Illusion of Security – Part 1

One day, all evidence of this “mighty civilization” will be gone.

Good day to you, folks. I’ve got some serious philosophical rambling to do today, so let’s get right into it! I don’t care what the context is; security is no more real than the fairy tales people tell their kids where everyone lives happily ever after (the American versions, that is; the German versions are a whole different ball game!). A bike locked to a rack is a bolt cutter away from being stolen. A lifetime employee is a disappointing trip to the boss’ office from being unemployed. A decades long marriage can be ended by divorce or death on any given day. No matter how secure a home may seem, it can still be robbed, burned down, hit by an asteroid, etc. Even something as big and powerful as a country can, and eventually will end. And of course one day, we will all die. In my case, this was, and still occasionally is, a very difficult concept to accept. But it is an integral part of life and in fact, without it, life might not even be worth living.

When I was a kid, I remember the kind of fantasies I would have about my future. I would be a pro athlete, a rock star, an astronaut, the usual stuff. But for me, there was a unique element. Instead of romanticizing the excesses or glorious moments of these “dream” lifestyles, as I’m sure many people do, I lusted after mostly one aspect – the security. Sure, I would have whatever I wanted. But that was a footnote. The real draw was that no one could ever take my dream life away or put me in any real danger at all. I could cordon myself away from the world and never be exposed to any problems again. I would simply be too rich, too famous, too powerful to take down. Obviously this wasn’t realistic. Living any of those lives, I could still have been taken out by a plane crash, a car accident, or cancer. Rich and famous people are killed by all of these, and by plenty of other things, on a regular basis.

As a young adult, I had similar, but more scaled down dreams. Gone were the fantasies of fame and fortune. I didn’t need admirers or a mansion or a fleet of Italian sports cars. I just wanted a decent house with a decent car and a wife who loved me for who I was. I thought the fact that I only wanted “enough” made me enlightened. But I still had the same illusion that one day I would have this elusive security, if only I could accumulate enough money to protect me and provide for a reasonable set of wants and needs for the remainder of my life. And make no mistake; this is a personal demon that I have to contend with to this day. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, enough money will buy me security. And that has led me to chase and hoard money relentlessly. I have been very successful in this pursuit; but at times I’ve taken it to an unhealthy degree, especially in my thought processes. There is a word that sums this all up well – fear. My mind tries to tell me I’m not strong enough to win out against the problems I face in life. It tries to tell me my only option is to outrun them.

But that option doesn’t really exist and even if it did, it wouldn’t be the right one, or even a good one. The people who get closest to having no problems at all have bad outcomes at several times the rate of people who don’t. Lottery winners often squander their newfound wealth in a matter of years and end up less happy than they were in the first place. Genetic lottery winners (pro athletes) often suffer a similar fate once they’ve retired. Musical lottery winners (rock stars) destroy themselves with drugs at a much higher rate than that of the general population. What goes up will inevitably come down and if the ascent is abrupt and rapid, the descent is likely to be the same way.

Of course, balance is crucial in life. Just because security isn’t possible, it doesn’t mean you’re going to leave your car running in the driveway with the doors open or visit the darkest alley in the most dangerous part of town at 2am with neither a weapon nor a companion. It also doesn’t mean you adopt the “I might die before retirement anyway so why bother saving anything” attitude. There is a reasonable range of security levels in life and your ideal point within it depends on your unique situation. But step one is to get to a point somewhere within it.

To be continued…

Why I Like to Buy Used Cars

Driving my last car along the beach on South Padre Island on a beautiful morning

Happy Monday, folks! As I mentioned on Friday, I bought a car last week. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to be peppering in some posts about that process – both my general philosophy/methodology and how this latest purchase played out. Today I’m going to talk about why I like to buy used cars. The biggest reason to buy a used car versus a new one is obviously cost. But if you do it right, you can go beyond that and follow my core financial philosophy of keeping costs down WITHOUT sacrificing quality. When you think about cars, you want to think about the total cost per year. That includes, and typically in this order from largest to smallest, depreciation, gas, insurance, and maintenance/repairs.

Depreciation is your largest, most important cost. And the larger your acquisition cost, the more you’re going to pay in depreciation in most cases. But the depreciation curve almost always behaves in a fairly predictable way. For example, a typical $40k car will lose about $20k of its value in five years. But in the next five years, it will probably only lose another $10k. And in the next five, probably only $5k. Obviously different years, makes, models, etc depreciate differently. But that is the general pattern.

My favorite way to exploit this is to buy cars at about the five year mark, drive them another five to ten years, and take good care of them. You can usually still find one that age with 50k miles or less on it and with today’s cars, assuming the previous owner has taken care of a car reasonably well, that is basically the same as new. Just about any car, besides the crappy brands I simply don’t advise you to buy at all (I posted about the best and worst brands here), is going to go around 200k miles if it’s maintained decently and not driven excessively hard. And furthermore, I’ve done very little besides regular maintenance on vehicles with 50-150k miles on them. So to me, that is the range I want to own a vehicle for. By buying and selling when I do, instead of paying roughly $30k over 100k relatively trouble free miles for that $40k car, I pay half that for the same.

So by taking advantage of the differences between the depreciation cost curve and the maintenance/repair cost curve, I save a ton of money and get to drive essentially the same cars I otherwise would. But in order for that to work, I have to be very confident I’m starting with a good car. That requires first doing the proper research and then knowing and identifying the signs of a car that has been taken care of versus a car that hasn’t been. I’ll get into that plenty more before my series of car posts is complete. But that’s enough for today. Stay tuned for more of these posts and I’ll work my way through the entire process. And get your week off to a great start!

This Week, A Little About Time Management, and a Small Change to this Blog

There has been precious little time for visiting places like Jerry’s Dome lately.

Happy Friday! You may have noticed I didn’t post on Wednesday this week as I had planned to. That’s because I haven’t had as much time available as usual, which isn’t much anyway (more on that in a minute), because I spent a few days of this week test driving cars and ultimately buying one. With that fiasco behind me, I will return to regular posting again next week. And I will post about that experience and some new things I learned about car buying in the coming weeks.

That said, going forward, I’m going to be posting twice a week instead of three times. My plan is to do it on Monday every week and then again one other day. I may try out different ones over time and choose a particular one to stick to if I notice it working better than the other possibilities. I am enjoying what I’m doing with this blog and I’m certainly going to follow through on my commitment to see it through for at least one full year. However, my life has gotten significantly busier over the last several months. Please note that I’m not complaining; I choose how I spend my time according to my goals and desires. But I’ve been struggling to keep up lately and finally I’ve had to accept that it’s because of simple math.

My job has evolved and now involves significantly more time and travel than it had earlier this year. I figure I’m putting in 60-70 hours a week now – roughly 10-12 hours per weekday and about that many total over a typical weekend. I’m doing my best to dedicate adequate time to my new hobby of learning to fly, which involves attending ground school once a week, reading every day, watching videos, and of course the flying lessons themselves. That’s about another 10 hours a week. My 10 hours a week in the gym (including time spent in the sauna after some of my workouts) are non-negotiable and I feel that’s the bare minimum I’d like to spend there. I spend about twenty minutes a day working on learning Spanish and at least maintaining my current level in German, which adds roughly 2 hours a week. For those keeping score at home, that’s 82-92 hours per week that are already accounted for on what I consider to be essential activities. Given that it takes me about 9 hours to attain my goal of 7.5 hours of sleep on a good night and that sleep is crucial to health so also non-negotiable, that leaves me with 13 to 23 hours per week to do literally anything I haven’t already mentioned – social activities, writing for this blog, you name it.

Simply put, I’m scraping the upper limits of what is possible for me without making sacrifices I believe would hurt me in the long run. I’m passionate about everything I’m doing and I don’t want to give any of it up. But that only leaves me with two options. One, I can find ways to be more efficient. That pursuit is already a regular part of my life and unfortunately, while I’m obviously not 100% efficient, I don’t think there is a lot to be gained in that area either. Two, I can make some cuts. There are occasionally opportunities to ease back on the work time, although that’s already accounted for in the range I used. Aside from that, any savings has to come from much smaller sources and thus, in much smaller amounts. And to add up to a meaningful difference, there need to be several of those small amounts which means nothing non-essential can be held sacred. Each post I write for this blog takes roughly an hour. And while I’m enjoying doing it, I’ve decided to re-purpose one of those three hours. I will give it a try and see how it goes for a while and adjust as necessary from there.

Is this a lengthy explanation? Sure. But in addition to wanting to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing, I thought tallying up my weekly hours was an interesting exercise that might inspire someone to try something similar and figure out something imporant. Have a great Friday and weekend, Everyone!

What I Do About Medical Expenses

I’m going to reuse this picture because I can’t think of a better way to caption “What I Do About Medical Expenses.”

Happy Tuesday, folks! I hope you enjoyed your Labor Day. As for me, I made a point of NOT laboring and instead, I enjoyed some relaxation time. I’ve been going very hard lately so I was due for some. Anyway, today I’m going to talk about medical expenses. Over 2017 and 2018, I spent an average of $900 in this category. Keep in mind that I don’t include health insurance in this number since I already accounted for it in my insurance category. Most of the spending that brought that average up was in 2018 when I spent months in physical therapy working through a herniated disc in my back. I’m very lucky to have good insurance, but that $50 copay per appointment still added up over time. I also sprained my ankle, making it a very unlucky health year for me. I’ve decided to write this particular post in list form for a change of pace. So here are my tips for saving on medical expenses, in no particular order (although the first one is definitely the most important and you can probably already guess what it is).

  • “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

There is no better way to save on medical expenses than to avoid getting sick. This means investing time, effort, and occasionally money consistently. There is a reason this is one of the first posts I wrote on this blog. In a good year, I spend little or nothing in this potentially very dangerous category. And that is no accident.

  • Understand how your insurance and the medical billing system works and mitigate things as much as possible.

Learn about how deductibles, copays, out of pocket max, etc operate and pay attention to them. Occasionally you can do yourself a favor here. For example, if you need something done and the timing is flexible, you haven’t met your deductible yet this year, and you’re close to the end of the year, wait until next year. That way, you’re giving yourself a better chance to meet next year’s deductible rather than simply throwing the spending away on this year’s, which you won’t meet anyway.

Make sure you know something is covered BEFORE you get the service done. As a young lad of nineteen, I had my wisdom teeth removed, foolishly assuming my insurance would cover it. Later, when a bill for a few thousand dollars showed up, I ultimately learned that it did not – at least not in the particular way I had it done. I don’t remember the details now. But as a kid that age, that was a tough financial hit. More on that later.

Also, understand that medical billing is a very inexact science and that it’s done by humans, who do make mistakes. Pay attention to what’s on your bill and if something doesn’t look right, call and find out what’s going on. You will definitely encounter some of the “it’s them, not us” game between doctor’s offices and your health insurer, but every now and again, you can get something resolved and avoid paying for something you shouldn’t have to. Plus, in the process, you will gain a valuable understanding of a system that intimidates a ton of people.

  • Use your life experience to your advantage and apply what I call the 1-2 week rule.

Back in the days when insurance that covered basically everything was commonplace, I would go to the doctor for basically anything that came up – a minor rash, a cold that lasted a little longer than usual, a strange pain in my knee, etc. But somewhere along the line, I noticed a pattern. More often than not, the outcome seemed to be “give it a week or two and come back if it hasn’t improved.” And those doctors usually knew what they were doing since in most cases, no return visit was necessary. Fast forward to today, when many people have to pay at least $25 for an office visit and some have to pay the entire cost, and my approach has evolved. As long as something doesn’t seem serious (I use a combination of feel, past experience, and Dr Google to make that determination), I just self impose that week or two. Whatever the issue is, it almost always goes away – no copay necessary.

  • If you don’t have insurance, there are work arounds.

Most service providers have a cash price, and if you don’t have insurance, you should ask for it. From what I’ve heard, there is some leeway, especially if you’re going to pay up front. And here is a gem on the prescription side: www.goodrx.com. If you’re not familiar with it, give it a try and thank me later. I have no clue how it works, but somehow it does. I’ve even successfully used it when I had minimalist insurance through a very cheap employer that had a deductible on prescription coverage. One other thing. Remember my wisdom teeth mishap from earlier? I didn’t have a few thousand bucks laying around back then. But the doctor’s office was happy to set up a payment plan for me and six painful months later, the lesson had been paid for in full. They didn’t even charge interest, which I thought was very decent of them. From what I’ve heard, this willingness to set up no cost payment plans is common practice.

  • As usual, Costco can help.

If you haven’t heard, Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand is both awesome and incredibly cheap. Since moving to Texas, I suddenly have allergy issues in the spring and the fall. It’s just one of those things. But their nasal spray works wonders for me – and costs about the same for five bottles (enough to get me through probably a decade or so) as the name brand does for one. And this is just one of many, many examples. I would go so far as to say that area of the store is the most underrated of all. Oh. And with most regular household stuff like ibuprofen or that allergy medication I just mentioned, you can pretty much ignore the expiration dates. Sure, the effectiveness may go down slightly over time, but not to a noticeable degree in my experience. I have an entire bathroom closet full of expired stuff that always gets the job done when needed.

There is only one magic bullet with medical expenses: prevention. And it isn’t actually magic; it requires work and discipline. Beyond that, anything else is going to cost money. But there are ways to keep things from getting out of hand. Hopefully there is an idea or two in this post that will help you. I hope your short week is off to a great start and I’ll be back with my regularly scheduled Wednesday post tomorrow.