Sunday, October 25, 2015

Frugal Living: Take the ToothBrush, Leave the Dental Plan

Finally, after three days of getting up to scurry out the door to the car for a 1-hour drive north for a legal conference, today I am linger at home over coffee.  An article in my beloved NY Times catches my eye.  After reading and dreaming, I share it with my husband (electronically). If a family of 5 can live in that small of space, why do we have what we do?  Where can we find that kind of community and living in our city?  The wheels are turning, looking ahead.

Looking back, you can sum up the conference with "I'll take the free toothbrush, but leave the pricey dental plan.".  Yes, when lawyers gather for mandated legal education, vendors flock to sell us things. From fancy technology to insurance, all offering endless swag -- the free junk none of needs, but all of us seem to enjoy carting home.  My efforts to purge 2,015 items this year helped me just say no to the free stuff.  With one exception, our oldest child was in need of a new toothbrush -- an item on the shopping list tucked into my black bag.  And here one was sitting on an insurance table.  Selling all sorts of insurances to lawyers, from long-term care to dental I happily took the tooth brush, but turned down the offer to buy dental coverage.  It took a strong no for the sales person to get it though -- in the area of teeth, we are private pay.

When it comes to our teeth, we shun dental coverage.  When we've done the math, the monthly premium appears to be ironing out the spike costs from routine visits and repair.  Yes, dental an be expensive, but if you are frugal and in control of your money, private pay can be less than the monthly plans that add up for months and years.  Here is how we keep it frugal when it comes to teeth:

  • emphasize good daily cleaning with all family members -- prevention is powerful
  • select a dentist that offers a 5% discount if you pay with cash/check (it also offers 3% if you use credit card, but we go for the bigger savings)
  • obtain cost of cleaning, filling, etc. when setting appoint and build that into the monthly budget
  • each month contains an allotment for general medical costs for unexpected visits (admit it, life happens, plan for the unexpected)
  • should we have an expense that is too large and unexpected for our household budget, we turn to our Health Savings Account.  This is similar to an IRA, but is specific to health expenses.  Each year we max out what we can set aside, and then avoid using it.  Part of the funds are invested, parts of liquid.  It is a pot of money that receives a tax break going in, is tax free if used for medical (including dental) going out, and in retirement we can use the balance for anything.
When we've done the math, and trust me we have, this approach is far more economical than a monthly dental plan.  But I did appreciate the free toothbrush!


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