Saving Money On Medical Expenses

This entire post is born out of a recent frustrating experience we had with ProMedica, one of our local health systems. We had to go to a specialist and in the process he suggested we get 3 different tests done to eliminate possibilities. The tests were scheduled and we had a idea of the cost of them in our mind (and from doing some research). One of the tests was to be done at the office of a different specialist. While at the other specialists office, they did an additional test that we weren’t aware they would be doing. It’s their standard practice to perform the test on new patients.

When we received the bill later, there was a huge charge with a general description (it literally said “General” with the name of the department in the title). Turns out it was for this additional test they do for new patients. Before insurance, the test would have cost over $4600, and after insurance it still cost $2100.

We’ve went back and forth with them for a couple of months now, trying to explain the craziness of this situation, especially when the same procedure could have been done other places had we known we needed it, for a fraction of the cost. I’ve talked to multiple different people at ProMedica – some of them call you back, others you have to keep following up with and sometimes you still don’t receive a call back.

What I’ve Learned

Ask What Will Be Done

When scheduling the appointment, ask what they will be doing as part of the appointment. This will give you an idea of the procedures involved which will help with the next tip. If they can give you the procedure codes, it may make looking them up easier too.

If you’re talking to a scheduling person, they may not know the procedures that will be done. In which case, talk to someone in the office, perhaps even their billing person.

Ask About the Cost

I know, this may feel uncomfortable. You may say, “but the doctor said I need this, if I ask how much it costs, does that mean I don’t care about my or my loved one’s health?” No! Look at it this way. If you ask how much it’s because you’re budget conscious. If you need multiple procedures or tests, wouldn’t you rather spend less so you can get ALL of the ones you need done instead of only a few because you’ve spent too much on the first ones?

If the person you’re talking to can’t tell you the cost, then ask to talk to the person who can. I’d even suggest getting it in writing.

Shop Around

Insurance providers sometimes provide a cost tool that tells you all the providers in the area that can do the procedure or test and how much it costs to go to them. Find a lower cost provider, check their ratings on various sites, and then go there if it checks out.

If you can’t get pricing information from your insurance provider, then do a search online for other providers and call them to see what they charge.

Ask Again

When you arrive for the appointment, be sure to ask again what they will be doing and how much it will cost. I know this sounds crazy, but the best time to make sure you get the best price is before they charge you for it. You may even need to do what you would do when negotiating a large purchase, and walk away. I know that seems extreme, but it’s incredibly difficult to get them to do anything after the procedure is done. They have all the power at that point, and absolutely no reason to negotiate it afterwards.

Conclusion

An informed consumer, is a dangerous consumer – dangerous for those selling the goods and services. Healthcare is no longer competitive because we tend to believe that “if it’s for my health, how can I say no?” However, it’s that kind of thinking that causes us to overpay and not question it, which allows healthcare systems to build bigger hospitals, fancier office buildings, while neglecting customer service.

Money Saving Win of the Week – Broken Washer

laundromat

Our 12 year old washer started throwing out an error code recently and wouldn’t complete a wash cycle. I ended up looking up the code online and it pointed to the washer pump not working correctly. I checked all the hoses and the trap for something blocking it, but couldn’t find anything. The pump did seen to be making a weird noise as well.

At this point, I could have called an appliance repair company and paid easily over $100 to have them come out, order a part or two and repair it. Instead I went on Amazon, found a replacement drain pump and bought it for less than $24. A quick search on YouTube uncovered a video on how to replace it. After it arrived, I had it replaced in about 10 minutes and it was working again.

Since then we’ve gotten a different error code at the end of the wash cycle from time to time. Everything still works, but the error code comes up. I contacted the seller and since we couldn’t quite figure out the cause, they refunded me the money for it and didn’t require me to return it. In the meantime, we’ll leave it in since it seems to be working most of the time and if we need another one, I know where to get one for about $25!

How we got paid $11 for 3 months of cell phone service

cell phone

Let me start by saying this isn’t a scam. We were able to make money on a month’s worth of cell phone service using many of the things I’ve described in this blog.

We’ve used Total Wireless for our cell phone service. There is no reason to go into a lot of detail here because you can read about it in other blog posts (here and here and here). The result is that we pay $62.27 a month for 2 lines and 15GB of shared data.

You’re probably thinking that sounds like I’m paying them, and that’s true. However, I recently determined a way where I could get paid for a month of cell phone service.

The Math

This might get a bit confusing, but essentially I found several deals that when piled up on top of each other, I actually made money for a month worth of cell phone service. To start, Total Wireless was offering 30% off of a phone and month of service bundle. I also was able to use eBates to get a 11% refund through the Total Wireless site. Here is how the math works out.

  • $199 iPhone 6
  • $60 2 line 15GB shared plan
  • $259 subtotal
  • -$77.70 30% off Total Wireless discount (Code found on slickdeals.net)
  • $181.30 discounted total
  • $13.99 taxes
  • $195.29 total paid by us to Total Wireless

At this point, we were out $195.29, but received a month of service and an iPhone 6 in exchange. Now comes the fun part.

  • $219 iPhone 6 sale on eBay
  • -$28.55 eBay and PayPal fees
  • -$6.50 shipping
  • $183.95 total received from the sale of the phone

If you do the math so far, you’ll see I’m out $11.34. Still not a bad amount to pay for a month of cell phone service.

The Missing Pieces

Remember how I said I used eBates to get a refund? That amount came out to be $15!

So when you subtract $15 from $11.34, you’ll see we were actually paid $3.66 for a month of cell phone service!

I didn’t just buy one iPhone 6, but actually purchased 3 of them and did this 3 times to get 3 months of service. The second phone I sold on eBay for a little less and actually spent $0.16 for the month of service. The third phone I sold through a Facebook garage sale site, and made over $8. When you add it all up, I made over $11 and got 3 months of cell phone service in exchange!

Experimenting

Before putting down this much money, I did a small experiment a few weeks earlier by buying a refurbished phone for $9.99 and using the same discount code along with eBates. I was able to prove that even if I didn’t sell the phone, I would still save $8.88 on a month of service. I did end up selling the phone for twice what I paid for it. After fees and everything, we saved $20.14 on a month of service. That’s when I decided to research doing larger deals to see if it would work.

Pretty crazy, right?!?! What do you think? Would you try something like this? Let me know in the comments below.

Early Retirement – What does it mean to you?

I think many people fall into two groups when they think of an “early retirement lifestyle”.

One group thinks that since you’re not going to save for the same amount of time as everyone else (30-40+ years), you’re likely going to retire with very little. If you retire with very little, you’re going to live a very meager existence so you don’t burn through all of your savings quickly.

The other group may think it’s possible to save enough to have a nice retirement in a shorter time period, but that means you’re going to have to live an incredibly frugal life now. Personally, I think living frugally is what allows you to have margin in your life for the things you want, even if that thing you may want is early retirement.

I don’t believe that saving for early retirement needs to be either of the extremes above. Life is short, and anything can happen between now and early retirement, so you need to be able to enjoy life now as well as in the future. An important balance needs to be struck so chaos doesn’t rule.

Many of the topics I’ve written about up to this point have been about how to save money on a variety of things such as internet, cell phones, and even a trip to Disney World. If you’ve followed any of the advice, you’ve hopefully got some extra financial margin in your life. If you haven’t decided what to do with it yet maybe now is the time to go on this journey with me.

Perhaps you’re in a place where you really can’t imagine working for the next 20, 30, or 40 years and you question whether you’ll have enough to actually retire in the end. If that’s the case, than exploring this topic may help you realize you can make plan and live it out for a better future.

There may be some of you who aren’t in either of those two categories, and if that’s the case, that’s okay too. Let me know in the comments below what kinds of questions or skepticism you have. I’ve read stories in the past of people “retiring” by the age of 30 and figured that their situation was different from mine and that’s why they were able to pull it off. I’m 33 now, so I’ve already passed the age that some of these people were able to retire by. It’s never too late to step on the gas pedal and accelerate full speed into the future that we want. No one is going to do it for us!

Photo by Tax Credits

Early Retirement? Why Not!

Over the past several months, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of early retirement. Just the term early retirement can bring up a few different questions.

What is early?

I consider early to be anytime before when most people would retire. A quick search on the internet brought up a US News article where they surveyed 5100 employees and only 2 percent expected to retire before the age of 55. So we could consider anything before the age of 55 to be “early”.

What is retirement?

Well, that’s a different thing to different people. I view it as no longer having to do the 8-5 anymore. Essentially, financial freedom to do what I want when I want. It’s the point where investments and assets are making enough money to cover our everyday living expenses. At that point, we could do what we want, when we want without living like paupers.

What’s next?

I’ve learned a bit and plan on reading more on the topic from different sources. One authority on the topic is Mr. Money Mustache. Another that my wife found recently is The Money Habit.

Do you know of any authorities in early retirement? Is it a dream of yours to one day quit your 8-5? Let me know in the comments below. I plan on writing more about this topic as I learn more and develop a plan of my own.

It’s also the time of year to start planning what you want to do next year. Let me know what you’ve got planned in the comments concerning your financial future.

Simple trick to pay down debt slightly faster

We’ve got one last debt to pay off… our mortgage. We’ve made pretty good progress, but I wish it were paid off yesterday. A while ago I came up with a plan to pay it off slightly faster than we were, but without messing up our budget or putting us in a crunch.

I ran by my wife the idea of increasing our mortgage $2/month every month. It doesn’t sound like much, but $2 is enough that over the remaining payments, it can start to add up. It’s also small enough, that we don’t really have to find something to cut out each month to make it work. We just slowly keep putting a tad bit more on there. One month it’s $2 extra, then $4, $6, $8 – you get the point.

Every month I put it into the amortization calculator (because I’m that guy) to figure out the type of impact that extra $2/month has. So far, it has dropped an extra payment off at the end of the mortgage almost ever time if we were to stop adding anything more and just keep going at the new amount forever.

It pretty much follows the rule that if you do a small change over a long period, it has the potential to make a big impact. In this case, the impact is on our mortgage.

You could use this technique with any debt payoff, building savings, or investing. Are there any techniques you’ve found to pay off your mortgage faster? Let me know in the comments below. I’d definitely be interested in hearing about them.

Photo by GotCredit

You Need A Budget!

Unless you’re independently wealthy, we all have a limited amount of money to go around each month. Without paying attention, you can easily run out of money before you run out of things you need to spend it on.

That’s where a budget comes in. For quite a long time, we used Microsoft Money or Quicken to keep track of what we had in our checking and savings accounts, but we never really did a budget.

I ended up creating a spreadsheet for us to track what we spent on groceries, eating out, fuel, and other things. We used this method for a while.

When Quicken recently decided to start making yearly updates, I decided it was time to start looking again at all my options. I wanted something that had the following features:

  • We could enter transactions on a mobile device and it would sync up with the desktop software.
  • It had to track both the budget and the amount in our accounts so we only had to enter a transaction in one place.
  • The budget amounts had to roll over from month to month. A lot of programs have a “budget”, but it resets at the beginning of each month back to $0.
  • I didn’t want to have to buy it again each year to get the latest features.

After some research, the product that best fit what we were looking for was You Need A Budget. It took a little while to make the conversion, but after using it for over 3 months I’ve been very happy with it. I’ll point out some of the highlights below:

  • Mobile Application – The mobile application is great. It doesn’t have all the features of the desktop software, but it downloads and syncs the budget and transactions so you can see them anywhere. When you enter in a transaction, it can track where you are using the phone GPS so the next time you enter a transaction in the same place, it will automatically fill out all the fields except for the amount.
  • Budget – The budget comes preloaded with some common categories, but you can add and delete them to meet your needs.
  • Online and Email Courses – Along with buying the software, you can enroll in a number of the classes they have to offer. Some of them are online and some are email courses where they send you new information each day to read through. These are includes at no additional cost.
  • Support – Got a question? Just send them an email. You can try emailing them before you buy the product to see how responsive they are. They also have forums where users can post questions and answers on how they use the software.
  • Backup and Syncing – The software uses DropBox to sync between different devices. This also means that you’ve always got a backup of your budget in the cloud if something happens.

While the software seems complicated, it’s actually very simple and flexible. The budget screen allows you to divide your money each month to the different categories. You’ve also got the account registers. When you enter a transaction into a budgeted account, you will pick the budget category the transaction goes against. The budget immediately updates to show the new amount available.

Everyone makes mistakes and overspends from time to time, and the software makes it very easy to move money from one budget category to another. If you can’t do that, it will simply reduce the money you have to budget next month to cover the overspending.

If you’re on the fence about doing a budget, or using software to manage it, they offer a 34 day trial to get you started. When you’re ready to buy you can get 10% off of You Need A Budget through this link: http://ynab.refr.cc/NG5M8W2 (Full Disclosure: I’ll earn $6 for the referral somehow if you use the link.)

Do you have a budget? How do you manage your budget? Do you have any question about how to use You Need A Budget? Let me know if the comments!

What is this Home Energy Audit from Columbia Gas Anyway?

Columbia Gas of Ohio Logo

We’ve had icing issues on our roof the past few years and I know it’s because we live in an old house that lacks the proper insulation. So a couple of months ago, I called a local insulation company to get an estimate. He asked if I had the Columbia Gas audit done yet. I told him no. He explained that it’s actually a good deal and that I should go that route first.

If you’re a Columbia Gas customer, you’ve probably received several the letters telling you about how you use way more energy than your neighbors and you should consider a home energy audit. Of course when we usually get them, they get filed with the rest of the junk mail. However, this time we decided to give them a call.

The audit itself costs $50, but Columbia Gas will help to pay for somewhere around 40% of the work that is recommended by the audit if you have it all done. That can be a significant cost savings, especially if you’re already considering having the work done anyway.

So I scheduled the appointment to have the energy audit. It took a few hours and was pretty thorough. The auditor would have installed a programmable thermostat if we didn’t have one already and new shower heads if we had a gas hot water heater, all at no additional cost. He hooked up a blower door to find air leaks in the house, and used an infrared heat camera to see where there was and wasn’t insulation in the walls.

In the end, we got a report saying what we should have done and the estimated cost, the rebates that Columbia Gas would give us including an extra $150 if we got the work done within a certain time period after the audit, and the amount of time it would take for the improvements to pay for themselves. It was then our responsibility to call the recommended contractors to come and give us quotes for the work and pick the one we wanted to go with.

So, what’s the catch? I wondered that too and asked the person doing the audit, who actually works for Conservation Services Group, not Columbia Gas. He said that Columbia Gas’s lines are essentially running close to or at capacity. They aren’t as big as they should be to service everyone. They could tear them up which would take a lot of time and a lot of money, or encourage their customers to use less and pay them to do so. You’d think the gas company would want you to use more gas, right? Maybe if they were selling you the gas, but they’re really just in the transmission business of getting it to your house and the natural gas comes from another company.

So if your house isn’t as comfortable you’d like or you’re looking for ways to possibly save money in the long-term, you may want to consider giving them a call the next time you receive one of the flyers in the mail.

Looking for a good deal today?

Woot! Logo

If you’re like me, you may look at buying something for a while before you take the plunge. For me, I need to know that I’m getting the best deal possible.

One of the places that I check on a daily basis is the deal-a-day website Woot.com. Originally, when I had started shopping their site, they only offered up one item each day in a few different categories. Now, they offer up deals in several different categories.

Their strategy is pretty simple. Put a new item up at a deeply discounted price each day. The item is up for 24 hours and may sell out before the time is up. Oh, and shipping is always $5 no matter how big the item.

We’ve bought several different things out there including a laptop, television, and memory foam mattress. We’ve been pretty happy with what we’ve bought so far and their customer service is great.

The one thing about Woot (and other deal-a-day web sites) is that you don’t get a wide selection each day, but you do get a good deal. It’s helpful to keep an eye on the site so you get an idea of the types of items that show up in the rotation. Then when you’re ready to buy something, you’ll know whether they’ll eventually offer it up for sale.

There is one exception to the “deal-a-day” and that’s when they run a Woot-off. This is when they’re clearing their shelves of all the items that haven’t sold when they were originally up for sale. Items will go on sale until they’re sold out in a Woot-off. After that the next item goes up. These types of sales can sometimes run for days with different items up for only minutes at a time.

Of course, every item may not be a deal, so it’s best to do your research. Do some checking around the internet to see if you could get the same thing at almost the same price somewhere else. If you can, then it may not be worth buying it from Woot. Don’t forget that thinking you’re getting a deal can sometimes cause you to make a purchase without fulling researching it to make sure that it’s what you want.

Where do you shop to get a deal? Is there anything that you’re looking for that you want help finding a deal on? Let me know in the comments below.