Happy Friday! I know most of you are in a hurry to get work over with and go home, so let’s get right into this. Recently, my employer’s HR department sent out the dreaded annual insurance email – you know, the one where they tell us how much more we will be paying for coverage in the new year and how much worse said coverage will be. To some extent, I’m lucky and thankful to be joking because at least with the health insurance, our coverage is actually relatively excellent and the company makes a very serious commitment to keeping our contributions towards the premiums very reasonable for what we’re getting. But nonetheless, we do pay at least a little bit more for less every year, just like at every other company I’ve worked for over the last several years. What can I say? Combining government and healthcare was a very, very poor decision some power hungry, vote buying politicians made a long time ago and we’re all going to continue paying for it until someone with very big balls comes along and fixes that mistake.
Anyway, this year, the health insurance only changed to a different insurer while the coverages and premium contribution stayed about the same. That’s a win in my book. But for whatever reason, the company has never had a great dental insurance option. This year, the deduction stayed the same: $20 per pay period ($40 per month). However, the $100 “lifetime” deductible we had with last year’s insurer turned into a $100 deductible without the lifetime language with this year’s. In my mind, $580 is too much to be paying for two dentist appointments a year and even in the unlikely circumstances I would need anything more than those two appointments, the insurance has the same stingy $1500 cap as last year’s.
So this year, I decided to do some checking and see if I could improve the situation. And boy, was I surprised. When I called my dentist’s office to find out how much appointments cost, it quickly became apparent that I had struck a nerve. She described a dystopian clusterfuck that basically involves providers getting screwed by the same insurers that are screwing the patients on the other side, much like health insurance. It sounds crazy, but by my not having insurance, my dentist can literally charge me less money AND make more.
How much? The standard annual protocol is one cleaning/exam/x-ray appointment and one cleaning/exam appointment. And the costs? $80 for a cleaning, $42 for an exam, and $46 for x-rays. In other words, for the $580 I paid last year, I was getting the equivalent of $290 worth of appointments. That means I was paying $290 to insure against the chance of incurring up to $1210 in additional costs. And keep in mind that if there were additional costs above $1500, I would have been paying for them anyway. And the last time I had a non-routine dentist appointment? Probably when I had my wisdom teeth removed about fifteen years ago. To sum it up, I’ve been getting robbed for however long I’ve been paying anywhere close to this much for dental insurance.
But wait, I can hear you saying. I won’t save a full $290 since the $480 in premiums would have been tax exempt, thus costing me closer to $300. And that’s true, but I’ve got it covered. In conjunction with declining the dental insurance for 2020, I also began contributing $30 a month to an FSA (flexible spending account), which is also tax exempt. Mind you that I don’t like FSAs since they are “use it or lose it” money. But in this case, I know I will use $360. $290 of it can go to the dentist appointments I just mentioned (yes, dentist appointments are FSA eligible). The rest is spoken for by a regular prescription I have. So while I will lose a tiny bit of tax shield, it will only be to the tune of $120 a year or roughly $50 in actual dollars. In the end, I will be saving about $240 in 2020 thanks to getting rid of my ripoff dental insurance.
The brilliant part? Anyone can do this kind of thing. I absolutely don’t recommend doing it with health insurance, as that would be unacceptably risky. But in the case of dental insurance that would only cover a max of $1500 a year, it’s a pretty solid win. And if you’re lucky enough to pay a lower tax rate than I do, all other things being equal, you save even more than I am. This is why I’m not terribly concerned about inflation. I can almost always find little ways to cut expenses without losing any value whatsoever. This tiny adjustment saves me close to 1% of my annual spending by itself! With just a few more like it, I will easily recoup the 2-3% inflation is likely to take away. Brilliant. Have a wonderful weekend!
I haven’t done an annual expense post in a while and the year is quickly winding down, so I need to get back on track. The next three expense categories on the list, Memberships, Other, and Supplements, are pretty uninvolved, so I’ve decided to combine them into a single post. Over 2017 and 2018, I averaged $300, $2400, and $100 in these categories, respectively.
Of the $300 I averaged on memberships, roughly $180 a year
went to my gym membership. It’s a 24 Hour Fitness membership I got from Costco.
They usually sell a two year membership for $400, but it occasionally goes on
sale for $360. And that’s when I pulled the trigger. As a bonus, based on my
research, it appears that once my membership expires, I’ll be able to repeat
the feat. The offer is only for people who are not current members at 24 Hour
Fitness. However, according to many forum posts, you can attain that “not a
current member” status in a single day. I will certainly give it a try once my
membership expires next year. 24 Hour Fitness isn’t the nicest gym I’ve ever
used. Many of the locations aren’t all that clean or well kept up. Don’t get me
wrong; they’re not terrible. I’d say they’re squarely mediocre. However, they
are cheap, they have all the necessary equipment, and they have tons of
locations all over in Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio – a huge value to me given
my frequent traveling. 24 Hour Fitness also has locations in many other states
so I recommend checking them out if you’re looking for a cheap, decent gym with
The remaining $120 a year was split evenly between my AAA membership and my Costco membership. AAA seems to be a pretty decent company and as someone who travels by car a lot, I’m likely to need the service eventually. When I do, based on my research, I expect to save a significant amount of money on one roadside service or another. Even if I don’t, I appreciate having some peace of mind. I have this instead of a similar service through an insurance company because I don’t trust insurance companies and like most people, my premiums are high enough already. Maybe using the service wouldn’t be treated as a claim and everything would be fine. But I wouldn’t want to bet on that with an industry that is well known for both jacking up premiums and screwing its customers at every possible opportunity. I tend to be a little cynical for sure, but I haven’t found many more crooked industries than insurance and will do whatever I can to avoid letting it take advantage of me even more than it already has, and still does. AAA has been around a long time and has a pretty decent reputation. That’s enough for me until my experiences indicate I should change my view.
As for the Costco membership, I’ve written about my favorite store many times on this blog – in fact, it saved me money in both of the other categories in this post and no, that was not intended. I would estimate that the $60 membership pays for itself at least half a dozen times per year. It is actually likely more than that. It would be difficult to overstate the value here.
I avoid putting expenses into the Other category if I can,
opting instead to add more specific categories as necessary. When I do use it,
it’s for something I don’t expect to do often. In the case of 2017 and 2018, I made
a cross country move from Wisconsin to Houston, Texas. My employer generously
paid for most of it. However, as part of the process of recovering
psychologically from my 2016 divorce, I decided to get rid of almost everything
I owned and replace it once here in Texas. It wouldn’t have been right to ask
my employer to pay for that since it was voluntary, although they would have if
I had. It wound up costing me about $4800, mostly on some middle of the road
quality furniture, resulting in an average of $2400 over the last two years.
As for supplements, I don’t use many at this point in my
life, although I’ve used almost all of them over the years. So this category
used to be a much bigger one. Today, the vast majority of this spending is on
protein powder. And I’ve been using less and less of that in favor of ingesting
as many calories as possible in real food form. The protein powder I do buy, unsurprisingly,
comes from Costco. Their deals are normally pretty competitive, but if you wait
for their sale prices and then stock up, you will blow any other options out of
the water. And this is coming from a guy who has bought almost every supplement
and checked out almost every possible option over time.
That’s it for today. Yes, it was kind of a mundane post. But
even here, there is plenty of potential savings if you happen to be
overspending in these categories. As usual, I get everything I want, rarely
compromise on quality, and pay as little as possible. Overall, it works out to
approximately an upper middle class lifestyle for the cost of a lower middle
class one. Have a great week!
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
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
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
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.
Good morning ya’ll! Here are quick reviews of a couple of books I’ve read recently that I felt were pretty worthwhile.
Sleeping Your Way to the Top: How to Get the Sleep You Need
to Succeed by Terry Cralle and W. David Brown (2016)
I was really impressed with this book – and not just because
of the cheeky title. In fact, that cheekiness continued throughout the book to
the point of getting a little bit old. But somehow, some way, this book kept me
interested and engaged for almost three hundred pages…of talking about sleep.
Tons of recent research definitely points to sleep being much more important
than we as a society have ever fully understood. This book puts a bunch of it
together to illustrate just how badly some of us, who have disregarded our
sleep far too often over the years, have screwed ourselves. It had me stunned
and horrified several times as I realized that some of the issues I’ve had in
my life, and still have in some cases, could very well have been self inflicted
wounds. But it did it in a way that not only didn’t totally crush my spirit
(even though I may have it coming in this case), but made it a very easy book
to keep reading.
My only criticism is that I wish the book had included more
specific solutions. I did try two ideas that it gave me, but in both cases, I
quickly realized that I was in way over my head. And now I’m considering
consulting a professional, which may be a very beneficial outcome for me. I
think this is a very important book that almost anyone could benefit from
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are
High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, and Laura
This is a grudging recommendation on my part. Why? Because I
liked the authors less and less the more I read this book. It could be that I
was just in a bad mood one day when I was reading it and my perception
snowballed from there, but I came away feeling like it was very condescending.
Many of the examples provided seemed flimsy at best and the authors loved their
ideas so much that they were repeated over and over and……….
Anyway, the fact that I basically hated the experience of
reading this book should give my recommendation of it that much more weight. In
spite of my feelings for it, the book really did get me thinking critically
about the way I approach my “crucial conversations” – and contentious, high
stakes conversations are almost a daily part of life for someone in my line of
work. It gave me some excellent ideas and I’ve already noticed myself being
more effective and getting some better outcomes as I’ve made a conscious effort
to integrate what I read into my tactics. This book could benefit just about
anyone – not just in a business context, but also in all sorts of other
relationships. It’s a great reminder that we don’t have to personally like the
source of information to benefit from it – a point that probably won’t be lost
on some of my readers…
Have a splendid day and if you’re in Houston, let’s all keep doing our best not to drown! I’ve never seen so much fucking rain in my life and I hope I never do again. But it’s still nowhere near as frustrating as the four to six months of hell people in Wisconsin call winter. Anyway…
Another Friday is upon us! It’s been a long time since I’ve
spent my weeks lusting for Friday and the weekend that follows it quite like
this. That probably means something…
I don’t always just write about finance. I’m also big on
self improvement. It seems like most of the world has already discovered this
app but for anyone who hasn’t, I highly recommend that you check it out. Learning
a language is a very rewarding way to spend a little time. In addition to the
positive feelings that result from building a new skill or improving an
existing one, language learning forces your brain to exert itself in ways that
everyday life often doesn’t. Brain science is still so young but we already
know that doing things just a little differently makes lasting changes that
will benefit just about anyone in any stage of life.
Plus, Duolingo isn’t anything like your high school or
college foreign language classes. Believe me, I despised those! I’m decidedly
ungifted in this particular area for some reason. But this app actually makes
it a reasonably enjoyable process and it teaches pretty effectively as well. I’ve
been rapidly improving in both German and Spanish and it just doesn’t suck as
much as I would have expected, for lack of a better way to describe it. I’ve
only used the cell phone app version but I’m told it has a great web based one
as well. I will also note that recently, a new feature appeared – the leaderboard.
It has added a fun element by getting my competitive juices flowing. And
judging by watching other people on the app, I’m not the only one who feels
As always, I’m not getting anything from this. I haven’t
even added a link. I just think this is an awesome app that can really enrich
one’s life and I wanted to recommend it to anyone who hasn’t already given it a
I’ve been reading a book about sleep lately (review coming
soon) and mostly it has solidified what I already knew; sleeping affects damn
near everything about your body, mind, and life. It’s a little mind blowing how
many of the issues I’ve struggled with could potentially be affected, if not
completely caused, by this one problem. As a lifelong insomnia sufferer, this
is both good news and bad news. The bad news, of course, is that I’ve probably
done an incalculable amount of damage to myself by not getting this taken care
of much sooner. But the good news is that everything I’ve accomplished in my
life has been accomplished in a severely handicapped state; and now that I know
this, I can remove the handicap and see what happens!
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been very focused on
getting more sleep in general and I have definitely accomplished that. I’ve
been averaging well over seven hours per night, as measured by a Fitbit, for
most of that time. That’s around an hour more than I’ve ever averaged with the
same Fitbit previously and probably even more of an increase over what I’ve
done over most of my life. So that’s good and it has definitely been reflected
in how I feel. But I’ve noticed that even post improvement, my deep sleep is
consistently near the bottom of the range and my REM sleep never even touches
the bottom of the range at all. So there is still something left to fix.
Based on my research, I’ve purchased a mouth guard on
Amazon. Yes, one of the $30 ones the dentist I only went to one time assured me
wouldn’t help me one bit as she attempted to sell me a $600 version of the same
thing. But there were several reasons I didn’t go back to that dentist for a
second appointment, the reviews on this mouth guard are excellent, and I have an
easy way to measure my results against plenty of my past data. Worst case
scenario, I’ve wasted $30. Best case scenario, I’ve moved closer to fixing a
lifelong problem that has been much more serious than I wanted to believe all
along. I’m always willing to try an experiment with that kind of risk/reward proposition.
I’ll give ya’ll an update on how it works out in a couple of weeks or so.
Holy cow are we in some suddenly dark days! I’m seeing some genuinely good people and businesses getting hurt and some being taken down altogether and it is all happening so quickly. And this, of course, only intensifies my problems. I’ve seen this recession coming on paper (or at least screens, the 2019 equivalent) for a couple of years now and while I may have made some early calls, I would much rather have been early than late. And more importantly, I believe we are now almost definitely in it. I see more real world signs of it every day and I hear similar reports from my contacts all over the country. If you haven’t started preparing yet, I strongly recommend doing so right now because you won’t get a better opportunity. Anyway, mercifully, another Friday is upon us and here are some random observations and anecdotes from the week.
Don’t Let Car Dealerships Take
Advantage of You Because You’re Lazy
In spite of
what I wrote above, I have been quietly watching the market for my next vehicle
for a while. I’m not saying I will pull the trigger any time soon, but as I
believe I’ve mentioned before, I typically watch the market for months before I
so much as set foot on a dealer’s lot. I don’t just want to take the internet’s
word for it; I want to know for a fact whether a price is good or not. Plus, I
predict some amazing recession discounts on cars this time around. Plus, I
enjoy the research. Yes, because I’m weird like that.
Anyway, I’ve noticed that these “no haggle” dealerships have gotten very popular. I’ve also noticed something else; their prices are absurdly high! I’m talking 10-15% higher than average in most cases! After doing a little googling and perusing some forum posts, I’ve confirmed that this is exactly what it appears to be – another example on the long and growing list of times American companies have had the balls to fairly openly exploit laziness for profit – and succeeded at it. Two quick notes on this.
One – and I
know this doesn’t apply to all of them, but only some of the very most millennial-ly
ones that may as well be throwing in a year’s supply of avocado toast with their
overpriced cars – but any dealership that will not let you inspect a car in
person first at a minimum, needs to be avoided at all costs. Cars, particularly
used ones, are not commodity items. If you aren’t going to test drive one
before you buy it, you deserve whatever you get. And if you’re not willing to
spend a hundred bucks or so to have a qualified mechanic check a used car out,
you’re taking an awfully huge risk. Sure, you may get lucky. But you could also
wind up out thousands and thousands of dollars. And sure, some of these “dealerships”
allow returns. But do you really want to stake that kind of money on these
policies being honored? Better you than me if you do. But then, I’m just a car
freak who has done extremely well with car purchases over the years. Not only
have I had to do almost zero repairs beyond preventative maintenance, I have
even pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of selling one car for a profit
after driving it over a year and another for exactly what I paid after driving
it for several months. But then, I don’t like to toot my own horn…
dealers literally believe they can overcharge people by thousands of dollars
because the average person either doesn’t even have the courage to sit and talk
to a salesman (or woman), or is too lazy to do so. Are you really willing to
validate that theory for them? For the sake of all of us, I hope not. But based
on the fact that some of these companies appear to be extraordinarily
successful, it would appear the mob has already spoken. In any case, at the
risk of sounding like your parents, do you want to get ripped off just because
a million other people have been?
Aldi Now Accepts Credit Cards
This could be old news, I don’t know. I stopped going to these stores years ago because I didn’t like playing roulette with the possibility of getting stuck waiting in line for fifteen minutes because there was one employee in the entire store. Also because I don’t do business with anyone who doesn’t accept credit cards outside of incredibly rare, possibly life threatening circumstances. Anyway, I stopped in to an Aldi for the hell of it recently and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the company has joined the rest of the civilized world in accepting credit cards. Someone must have had a eureka moment and realized that not accepting by far the most popular payment method on earth to save a few nickels per order, which could easily be accounted for in the pricing of everything (again, like the rest of the civilized world does it), might not be quite the brilliant business tactic they had once thought it was. No, no sarcasm here at all. And by the way, speaking of spare change, I genuinely believe the quarter deposit thing they do with their carts is brilliant. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one freely roaming a parking lot en route to damaging someone’s several thousand dollar vehicle because someone else is a lazy, entitled asshole. My goodness, I’m in an interesting mood today. But I promise this is happy, if cynical. Remember, Friday.
line thing still happened. As it turned out, the only employee in the store was
in the bathroom. There was a line about half the length of the building when he
came out. I probably won’t repeat this experiment anytime soon. But if you’re
looking for absolute bottom line grocery prices, this store may be worth a
visit for you – especially now that you don’t lose out on 3% of the
purchase price (it’s actually 5% until the end of June with Chase Freedom)
because management doesn’t believe in pricing its products according to the
costs of doing business with the vast majority of all possible customers. Seriously,
charging credit card users extra is basically like installing pay toilets in
the bathrooms since a few people may have a phobia of using public bathrooms or
something. Or in the case of shady gas stations, who tend to discount their
cash prices by several times anything approaching a possible credit card
merchant rate, putting up a giant “IRS, please audit me!” sign outside one’s
place of business. And not accepting them at all? Well, it’s their business,
not mine. Yes, as old fashioned as I can be, I get incredibly irritated when
people fail to adapt to the overwhelming convention of the times in this
particular area. We are all hypocrites; the only difference is that some of us
are at least willing to admit it. Anyway…
Time to Make a Dietary Change
Sugar is the devil. We all know it deep within our sad little souls and just in case we’re intentionally ignorant anyway, there are about forty million studies rightly screaming it. Recently, I finally accepted that I’m weaker than I need to be at standing up to its cocaine-esque charms. So I’m cutting it out. No, not all of it. We all have to find a balance that works for us in life. In this case, I need to be somewhere between excessive, gluttonous consumption at will, where I have been for much of my life, and eating only what I grow on my isolated, non GMO (if that is even possible given the selective breeding that has gone on with just about all crops for hundreds, if not thousands of years – but I digress), 100% organic farm in the middle of some God forsaken backwater town no one ever visited, let alone lived in, on purpose.
The logical choice seems simple. I’m not going to try to police every gram of sugar out of my life. Cutting out only the stuff that is primarily sugar (cookies, my beloved Nutella, my even more beloved Freddy’s chocolate custard concrete mixers with various mix ins, etc) will amount to a major improvement for me. I recall reading somewhere that habits take seven weeks to form so I’m going to do two months for good measure. I started on Tuesday so that means I’m going until July 28. I’m hoping that by then I won’t even want the stuff anymore. But we’ll see how it goes.
I occasionally hang out with early retirement minded people. Some of them have already taken the plunge, some are thinking about it more and more as I am, and some are much earlier in their financial journeys but are intrigued by an alternative to the “work till you’re either dead or wish you were” program that has been the standard for far too long. Easily the most common question I hear being asked of the people who have already retired ten, twenty, or even thirty years before the traditional age, is “what about health insurance?”
And I admit that was one of my first questions as well. Most
people I’ve met answer this question in one of a few disappointing ways. Some
were able to negotiate some sort of arrangement with their final employers,
some have a spouse that is still working, and many are structuring their incomes
in such a way as to be eligible for subsidies on individual coverage under the
Affordable Care Act. None of these is workable for me. My current employer will
likely be neither willing, nor able, to make any deal with me, I don’t have a
spouse who can keep working so I can “retire,” and I can’t stomach exploiting
badly written legislation for personal gain – particularly not when I’m
currently paying a substantial share of the associated bill.
After I recently learned of some significant challenges my current employer is facing, which threaten not just my job and those of many of my colleagues, but the company itself as a going concern, I’ve been thinking a lot about my options. I could find a similar job at another company. Since I started my latest job search, there have certainly been some encouraging signs that this will be a viable option – although nothing has come to fruition just yet. But aside from maintaining the status quo as an employee/entrepreneur hybrid, I’ve been looking at other, more adventurous options. One common thread among many of them would be stepping out from under the umbrella of having an employer at all. And this has brought the health insurance question back to the forefront.
But as I’ve begun to explore the issue, I’ve actually been
very pleasantly surprised by what I’ve learned. It turns out individual health
insurance is both fairly straightforward and less expensive than I had
anticipated. I acknowledge that things would likely be different if I had dependents.
But at roughly $15k per child, per year, for as long as one is willing to keep
the financial umbilical cord intact, having children is one of the most expensive
financial decisions a person can make. That is one of several reasons I’ve
personally opted out.
Anyway, I searched around and Blue Cross Blue Shield appears to be king of individual health insurance in my neck of the woods. By simply entering my birth date, non-smoker status, and zip code, I was presented with a menu of options ranging from the most minimalist plan at roughly $320 per month to something approaching the top of the line plan I have now at nearly $700. I didn’t see an annual payment option but if one is offered with a decent discount, it would amount to an awesome churning opportunity. One nice thing that I believe came out of the ACA is that it appears all plans now cover the one annual preventative appointment we should all be going to. Of course, that is priced into the premiums. But I digress. Beyond that, as a relatively healthy young adult, I’m almost certain to spend somewhere in the $0-1500 range per year on health care expenses, meaning paying an extra $400 a month for a high end plan that would cover most of that doesn’t make sense. I will note that there are subsidies offered for people with surprisingly high income limits. Sadly, I’m in the group that pays handsomely for those subsidies to be offered, and don’t anticipate that changing, so I’m paying full freight for my own coverage no matter what. But your results may be different – particularly if you have kids. And as the birth rate continues to decline, it is very likely that we will all see the government using more mechanisms like this to force people like me to subsidize your procreation efforts. For what it’s worth, that will likely offset at least a portion of the additional costs you would face in areas like this.
Ultimately, my choice would be a plan that costs $332 per
month because it is the cheapest HSA eligible option. With a deductible of $6k,
an out of pocket limit of $6650, and no prescription coverage until the
deductible is met, I would almost definitely be paying all of my costs beyond
the annual preventative appointment. In most cases, I would probably not even
use the insurance, instead opting to negotiate directly with doctors since my
insurance would effectively cover nothing anyway. I’ve heard there is often significant
room on the pricing if you aren’t forcing the provider to deal with an
But this is where it becomes important to calculate things out for yourself. If you tend to spend a lot in health care costs, it may make sense for you to go with a plan with higher premiums but more coverage. One thing to consider is that it’s not necessarily the end of the world if a plan doesn’t offer prescription coverage (it can’t if it is HSA eligible). Thanks to a wonderful website called Good RX, anyone can pay much less than retail prices for prescriptions whether or not they have insurance. Don’t ask me what kind of sorcery makes it possible, but this can be an absolute godsend if you don’t have prescription coverage and yes, I did use it back when I worked for an employer that offered a very minimalist coverage option.
I’ve mentioned “HSA eligible” twice now. Why? HSA stands for
health savings account and it’s a hidden financial gem. Unlike an FSA, which is
garbage unless you have health care costs you can forecast very reliably, an HSA
is a tax advantaged account that can be built into quite an asset. To put it
simply, it is a miniature Roth IRA for health related expenses only. This year,
an individual can contribute $3500 into one. The money can be invested in
whatever you want, provided you’ve chosen a good provider, and as long as you
don’t spend it, it will grow tax free just like a Roth IRA. It does ultimately
have to be spent on health care expenses, but given the state of the industry,
I don’t believe any of us will have too much trouble accomplishing that. In
fact, remember that quarter million dollars the media is always screaming about
you having to pay for your health care expenses during your traditional
retirement years? Well, if you contribute the max to a Roth IRA for twenty or
thirty years and don’t use any until you retire, that is more or less covered –
without dipping into your other assets. As usual, a little knowledge can go a
long way towards putting out the fires of mainstream ignorance. The important
thing to keep in mind with HSAs is that only certain more minimalist health
insurance plans are eligible for them. If you have a lot of health care
expenses now, you may be better off with a “Cadillac” plan paired with an FSA.
No one can tell you definitively without specific information; I recommend that
you run your specific numbers yourself to figure it out.
But in my case, a disaster only health insurance plan and an
HSA are a home run combination. The only problem is that pesky “Cadillac” plan
I have now. But given that I’m kicking in well under $100 a month for it, and
that’s tax deductible by the way, it’s obviously the best option available to
me as long as I’m with my current employer. However, once that relationship runs
its course, likely by the end of this year, it’s nice to know I will have some
great options available to me and that they won’t be nearly the financial
disaster the media would have folks believing they are.
There is no denying it; a good diet is key to both physical and mental health. For years I fought against that concept, insistent that if I worked long and hard enough in the gym, I could “have my cake and eat it too.” And while I was successful at staying in above average physical shape that way, I ran into two problems. First, I could never completely outwork an overindulgent diet. The only way I have ever gone from good shape to great is by being disciplined about what I eat and when. Second, as I’ve gotten older (I’m in my early thirties now), the degree of difficulty has increased. Dietary sins I could easily have shrugged off in my early to mid twenties result in significant punishment today – both in my appearance and in the way I feel.
In my experience, eating enough good stuff isn’t too
difficult. I love eating protein so getting enough of that is easy, although I
mostly stick to chicken and fish with beef being an occasional treat. I force
two to three servings of fruit and three or more servings of vegetables down my
throat each day in the form of green smoothies in the mornings and evenings.
From there, I just make sure there is some sort of vegetable element included
with most meals and I have that covered. I make sure to get a moderate amount
of decent quality carbohydrates, which is easy since I enjoy them. Making
things as automatic as possible and minimizing the number of decisions I have
to make helps me to maintain a solid baseline diet.
But one area has always been a thorn in my side. I love junk
food. And I’m not one of those people who has only a sweet tooth or only likes
salty/savory snacks. I’m an all of the above kind of guy, and a gluttonous one
at that. So I want to talk about what I’ve done to combat that – what has worked,
what hasn’t, and what I’ve learned from it. It probably won’t all apply to you
but if any of it gives you an idea that helps, then I consider this post a
success. So in no particular order, here we go.
1. Some things have
I loved soda (that’s “cokes” for my native Texan friends) as
a kid. Thankfully, I wasn’t allowed to have it at home very often but when I
was out of the house – hanging out with friends, for example – I went to town!
I distinctly remember being “up north” (a Wisconsin term to describe “vacationing”
in an even colder, more economically challenged place than your actual home,
which is more than likely easily characterized by both of those already) as a
young lad with some relatives when I consumed five sodas in a single day and
wound up throwing up multiple times that night. I loved the stuff. But in my
early twenties, I learned that it’s basically poison and almost immediately, I simply
stopped drinking it. At no point have I felt any urge to “relapse” and as a
result, I haven’t had any soda in a very long time. I’m almost exclusively a
beer or wine guy when it comes to alcohol, so no, not even in mixed drinks. I
have absolutely no idea why this was so easy for me but sadly, that hasn’t been
the case with other forms of junk food.
2. Moderation has not
been a successful approach at home.
Over the years, no matter what I’ve told myself, I’ve
learned I simply can’t keep junk food at home. I’ve tried everything I can
think of and the result is always the same; I start with the best of intentions
(I will make this last two weeks…), then make little bargains with myself (I
will eat tomorrow’s allotment today, but then NONE tomorrow), then break them
in favor of other less restrictive ones (It’s football season – I’ll eat the
rest of this bag this weekend, but then I won’t open another until next
weekend), until finally, I simply accept reality and wolf down whatever is
left, swearing to never buy it again. The take away here is pretty simple; I
don’t keep junk food at home. Lack of access has proven very effective.
3. Associations can
I don’t believe in drinking milk. At all. I wish I had known
what I know now as a child when I guzzled it like water. Clearly my Mother hadn’t
done as much research on milk as she had on soda; or perhaps the science hadn’t
gotten as far with one as it had with the other. But live and learn. Anyway, at
one time, my ultimate junk food weakness was Oreo’s – a product (note, I didn’t
even use the word food) that requires milk in order to be enjoyed properly. It
was very rare for a package of those evil things to last three days. If I was
doing well, I could limit myself to a single ROW at a time. And I didn’t often
do well. Thankfully, when I stopped drinking milk, Oreo’s no longer did it for
me. I even tried once but without milk, it was like going to the beach without
it being warm outside. It just didn’t make sense. So in that case, cutting out
one bad thing made it much easier to cut out another. This is a concept that
could probably be useful elsewhere…
4. There are
definitely degrees of bad choices when it comes to lunch options and my body
knows the truth.
As an outside sales rep, restaurant lunches are a reality of
life. This was before my working days, but I went to a McDonald’s in 2010 for
the first time in many years. I was involved in a big group activity, we were
in a hurry for lunch, I was not in charge of the group’s decisions, apparently
there was no decent alternative anywhere in the vicinity, there was peer
pressure, etc. It happened, and I paid the price. Almost immediately, I felt
like my stomach was going to explode. And it lasted for the rest of the day
until I gave in, went to the bathroom, and threw up. I didn’t have to try to do
that so much as I just had to stop preventing it from happening. My body’s
tolerance for the purest form of garbage food had been gone for some time.
Today, all I can think of when I see those golden arches is that experience and
I have not repeated that mistake again.
I do go to fast food restaurants sometimes, but only if they
serve some form of actual food. For example, I go to Chick Fil A and get just
about any of the entrees, a large superfood side salad, medium fries, and
water. That’s a pretty decent meal for a hungry, athletic man. If I want a
burger, I go to a place where they cost around ten bucks but you get actual
meat. Five Guys used to be a good example, although based on the last few times
I’ve visited, it seems like they’re going downhill. Also, Five Guys is
definitely a bulking phase only restaurant and even then I only order the small
versions of everything. I enjoy the abundance of quality fast casual options
here in Houston which, again, serve mostly real food. Or I go to any of a
handful of good sub shops – or if there are no good sub shops around, I resolve
to plan my day better, sigh, and go to Subway. Every now and again, I will go
to Freddy’s and splurge big time. If you’re not familiar with Freddy’s, you’re
both missing out and lucky at the same time. I fully prepare for a rough
afternoon on those days (although still not McDonald’s rough), but Freddy’s is
5. A balanced
approach works best for me – but again, not in the house!
Lately I’ve settled into a system that seems to work pretty well. I have a good “base” diet that covers the important things as I described in the second paragraph of this post. I eat in around a ten hour window, which is a relaxed version of an experiment I tried that was way too effective at weight management for a guy that looks and feels best carrying some extra muscle and is willing to sacrifice the exposed six pack look to do it. Seriously, if you want to maintain an extremely low fat/low weight build, this is almost definitely one way to accomplish it. From there, I enjoy life without letting things go off the rails. I get myself a coffee in the lobby of my apartment at least once a day (free and great quality – just one of the many perks of living where I do) and if I want to also indulge in one of the cookies they regularly have out, I do. Same goes for Costco samples. As long as it’s not IN my home, it doesn’t become excessive.
I generally eat nutritionally decent, but enjoyable food,
but I do allow myself a single cheat meal per week, complete with the happy
ending. No, I’m not talking massage parlors, you degenerates. I haven’t had to
pay for that stuff…yet. I’m talking dessert. For a guy in his early thirties
that spends a lot of time in the gym and wants to look like it, but also wants
a little of what Joe Rogan, a man I actually couldn’t stand as an MMA hype man
but love as a podcast host, regularly refers to as “mouth candy,” it works. For
now. But keep in mind that things are significantly more difficult for me today
than they were five years ago and five years from now, I will probably have to
re-balance what I’m doing to adapt to the continuation of that trend. Whatever
happens, I will try to maintain some food related enjoyment, even as it will
almost certainly dwindle closer and closer to none.
Anyone who read my previous Costco post knows I love the company. But in what I promise wasn’t an intentionally malicious act, I forgot to mention some very significant ways the store can save you a ton of money. Recently I was reminded of two of them in particular. So this post is more an addendum than a standalone but I felt it was important to correct my oversight.
Do you ever have occasions to give out gift cards? Or do you
just like going to a nice restaurant every now and again? Then you may want to
take a trip to Costco. Somewhere in the store (sometimes near the checkout
area, other times near the frozen food aisles, and still other times in some
other totally random place), you will find a display with a bunch of gift
cards. These won’t be that same assortment you find in nearly every store on
earth. This is Costco, so most of them will be for more upscale restaurants and
other services. But upscale is only half of what Costco is known for – with the
other half being almost impossibly low prices. And these gift cards are no
exception. Most of them are for $100 but will only cost you somewhere between
$70 and $80. Many of them also come packaged in the form of two $50 cards in
case you want to split them into two smaller gifts. And of course you can also
use them for yourself if you want a serious discount on a nice meal or two.
But one gift card in that section has saved me more than any
other – the 24 Hour Fitness one. Since I sold all my gym equipment before I
moved across the country and since even the nicest luxury apartment gyms never
seem to include a proper squat rack (usually just a smith machine), I needed a
gym membership when I came here. Planet Fitness is the cheapest but given the
company’s notorious “serious fitness people need not apply” attitude, I don’t
consider that a valid option. 24 Hour Fitness seems to be the best one in the
area for me. It offers all the necessary equipment at a reasonable price and
has many locations, many of which have extras like swimming pools, saunas,
basketball gyms, yoga studios, etc. But why pay full price if you don’t have to?
A basic level 24 Hour Fitness membership is going to run $35-40 a month –
fairly typical in the world of gym memberships but a tough pill to swallow for
a previous owner of a commercial quality basement gym that cost only an initial
investment of about $3k.
But Costco to the rescue! If you don’t need to go to a Super
Sport/Ultra Sport location, and most people don’t since there are plenty of
Sport and Active ones (but check your area out first before you buy), you can
get a two year membership gift card from Costco for $430. That works out to $18
per month – a savings of about 50%! If you do need the Super Sport/Ultra Sport
membership, Costco offers that as well at a similar savings. And as the late,
great Billy Mays said, “But I’m not done yet!” If you’re a pro level Costco
shopper like me, you know that just about everything is significantly
discounted at some point. When I got here, I only had to wait a month or two
before the membership was on sale for $370 – or from $18 a month to just over $15!
This is a great example of how I live an upper middle class lifestyle while
paying for a lower middle class one. I go to the exact same gym other people do
but I pay less than half as much. And this stuff is available to anyone who
wants it and requires virtually no hassle or sacrifice most of the time.
But there was still one loose end that had been lurking at the recesses of my psyche for some time. What happens when the two years is up and (gasp!) I have to start paying more than double for my gym membership? 24 Hour Fitness is still likely the best deal in the area even at the regular price. But still, paying full price? How could I tolerate such a travesty? Thankfully, after a little recent googling, I’m confident that I won’t have to. While it’s true that the Costco deal can only be used by someone who does not have a current membership, it turns out that this is even easier to get around than the “promotional pricing” game the ISPs play. Once your membership has expired, even for a day, you are no longer a current member. It can’t be that simple, can it? According to scores of posters online, it absolutely is. I read enough posts from people who have done this two, three, or even more times, to be confident it works. How did people do anything before the internet?
So there you have it. If you buy two or three $100 gift cards (or four to six $50 ones) in a year, your Costco membership pays for itself. If 24 Hour Fitness is in your area and you’re serious about making the most important investment of them all, the membership pays for itself every three to four months on an ongoing basis. And that means the hundreds of dollars (or more) you save on other purchases throughout the year are pure profit. Have a wonderful Friday and an even more wonderful weekend, everyone! And no, Costco still doesn’t have me on the payroll – although I should probably look into that…
With this post we’ve reached a milestone on Health, Wealth, Power. By my count, this is post number 50. So far, readership has been going up steadily and that has been very exciting. To those of you who have been coming here for a while, I’m glad to have you along on this journey. To anyone who has started reading more recently, welcome. Today I want to highlight both some of my most viewed posts and some of my favorites that haven’t been seen as much – in many cases because I posted them before many people were reading the blog at all. Thank you to everyone for reading and here’s to the next 50 posts (and many more) to come!
A window into my raw thought process on a recent night when
I got some seemingly devastating news about my career. I wrote this almost
immediately when I got home so I would have a good record of my immediate
reaction to look back at later. I’m still in the midst of dealing with this
situation but I have a very exciting recent development that I’ll be sharing
This is one of my personal favorite posts so far. It is a
nostalgic look at the way the most difficult event of my life so far has
spawned so many wonderful changes. While I and my life will never be quite the
same as before it happened again, that is mostly a good thing.
Health and fitness is a topic that’s near and dear to my
heart. Medical science is keeping people alive longer and longer today. But
what is it worth? My argument is that we’ve long since passed the point where
quality is much more important (and elusive in many cases) than quantity. This
post is my attempt to lay out the basics for anyone who feels similarly and
wants to do something about it.
I’ve written a number of posts on this theme now – the value
of finding the positives in situations that don’t seem very positive at face
value. But this was one of the first. As someone who has put a ton of work into
thinking more positively and seen firsthand how dramatically that mentality
shift can change life in often unexpected ways, it is very important to me to
share my experiences in this area.
I wrote this post for people who struggle with depression or
have in the past. It’s not comprehensive and I’m no mental health professional,
but it’s a discussion of some tactics and information that have helped me in
the past when the weight of the world seemed to be crushing me with no sign of
relief. If it helps one person, it was worth far more than the time it took to
I’m trying to be less of a bastard in life. But I do tend to
temporarily suspend that effort when it comes to fighting back against what I
view as unethical tactics. In this post, I illustrate how I’ve been mostly
successful at keeping the shenanigans of those damn ISPs from succeeding in
robbing me blind.
Simply put, the methods I described in this post have saved
me five figures by this point in my life. One of the many benefits of living in
the richest country in the history of the world, particularly at a time when
technological advancement has been unprecedented as well, is that extremely
marginal compromises can result in enormous savings. There is an almost constant
chorus in the media about the retirement crisis in the United States. That
means that for most of us, there is no excuse for not taking advantage of
opportunities like this to get so much in return for so little.