Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bunny Has Hopped Away

OK, this post is going to be very different--and very personal. If you've been reading my blog, you know me to be a "Texas Woman" meaning that (to quote the movie The Rookie) "I don't need no man around to keep things running." I'm pretty methodical, talking about finances and giving practical advice.

With the exception of a few chick flicks and the time I broke my foot on a toy vacuum cleaner, the kids have rarely seen me break down and cry. I don't know if it's all these years as a fighter pilot's wife, where I had to remain calm when a jet went down in the squadron (he just had a fire light go off in the cockpit last week.) Or it could be the fact I was raised with the responsibility of an adult. But I'm just not usually a typical girlie girl--at least when it comes to tears. All of that changed this past week.

After I followed all my own advice and got our daughter ready for college (scholarships, books at http://www.campusbooks.com/, dorm room gear at the site to store of http://www.walmart.com/) it was actually time for her to leave home. She's the first girl I've launched.

I've been crying a bit since Bethany (aka Bunny) left on her college road trip on Weds morning. As I think about her, I realize that she has only been a joy and delight. Yes, we argued about grades, picking up her room and the occasional 'tude when her evil twin, Stephanie, showed up. But unlike the arguments I've had with some of the guys throughout my life, Bethany was never mean. She was never cruel. She was always a delight.

She's where she belongs, at Moody in Spokane and then she'll go to MBI in downtown Chicago--all tuition paid. Bob and I worked ourselves out of a job--preparing her to launch out on her own and follow her unique path in life. She is surrounded by a great group of young women who are very sweet, seem to be thoughtful and others-centric. As a farewell gift, Bunny gave me a beautifully framed photo of her and I at her "farewell" dinner where Bob and I took her to a fave restaurant. It was a really good pic, we are both smiling and happy. She also gave me a tear-wrenching note, thanking me for what I've done for her. It is very special.

When our oldest son left for college there was grief at the bittersweet changing of seasons. When our next son left, he was in such a state of readiness to launch out on his own that the greater grief would have been for him to stay. I thot it would be "hardest" to send the first to college and I knew it would be somewhat hard to send off my daughter, but I was surprised by grief. I seem to cry constantly.

I go to the grocery store and start to get Gala apples because they are Bethany's favorite. Then I realize she's not home. I start to take out the trash and look around the floor for one of many of Bethany's pairs of shoes to throw on while I walk outside (she's notorious about leaving them lying around). But they are all gone. I'm doing stuff at home and realize I need to go check the mail out at the post office and don't have time, so I think I'll just ask Bethany to stop and do it while she's out. But she's not just out running errands--she's not here.

She's only, always been a delight and joy.

Ellie Kay
"America's Family Financial Expert" (R)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Break a Leg! -- Or Not!

A year ago today, I fell off a three foot platform while speaking to a packed audience. Yep. There was an optical illusion on the stairs and afterwards, the usual speaker for that facility said, "Wow, I've been worried about doing that myself for years, it's so hard to see those stairs!" Well, ya think ya coulda' warned ME about it? I didn't break any bones, but the trauma triggered a "frozen shoulder" and all kinds of nonsense MRIs, x-rays, surgeon consults, etc. It's taken a year to recover. PLUUZE...no "how couldyou fall for that?" jokes, OK? I'm just glad I had insurance!
According to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, if you or your child broke a leg, you would incur costs in excess of $15,000. It’s no wonder that in my experience with mainstream American families, I’ve found that the greatest financial concern they have is how find affordable health insurance.

Be Healthy
The best protection against rising medical costs is still prevention. First Place (http://www.firstplace.org/) http://www.weightwatchers.com/ are fabulous health programs for men and women of all ages. Using a support system that incorporates balanced eating and exercise plans, these groups provide the accountability and opportunity to change your life. A healthy lifestyle can also have other advantages. Many health insurance companies offer a refund on an annual premium if the insured can prove that they have attended a health and fitness center three times a week, or by being a member of Weight Watchers.

Be Wealthy
There’s no need to pay more than necessary for health insurance. Compare plans and prices by going to a non-intrusive site such as http://www.progressive.com/ , http://www.netquest.com/ or http://www.ehealthinsurance.com/ . It’s possible to get a relatively anonymous quote instantly without the intrusion of a salesperson calling your home or office. It’s also a good place to compare plans by remembering that you shouldn’t buy what you don’t need. For example, if you do not need maternity benefits, eliminate them from the plan you choose.
If you can consider a higher deductible, then the money saved on premiums could go into a Health Savings Account (HSA), which is basically a health insurance policy you can bank on. When an HSA-eligible policy is purchased in conjunction with an HSA account, then the Health Savings Account is funded with pre-tax dollars, and taxable income is reduced at the same time. The money in this account is used, tax-free, to fund healthcare related costs including prescriptions, insurance deductibles and over the counter medications. The money that is not used in this account is rolled over from year to year and can serve as a retirement plan.
You do not have to insure all family members on the same policy. If there’s an employee benefit in a group plan, it doesn’t mean all family members have to be covered on the same plan. An average family can save as much as $2500 a year by pulling family members out of pricey group plans and purchasing individual health insurance. The exception to this would be if the family member has a pre-existing condition (such as asthma, a heart condition, high cholesterol, etc) that might be temporarily or permanently excluded in an individual plan. In that case, it would be better to pay the higher premium in order to keep the comprehensive coverage consistent.

Be Wise
Know the difference between health insurance and discount health or medical “cards.” According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, many companies are selling so-called discount health cards to consumers seeking affordable healthcare. Usually for a monthly fee, the cards claim to save subscribers money by offering discounts on physician visits, hospital stays, prescription drugs, dental work, eye care and other treatment. The CAIF says that, “Discount health cards are spreading rapidly. Many may offer valuable, money-saving benefits for people without health insurance. But these cards can also be confusing, because they are not insurance. You still must pay the medical bills yourself. These cards simply offer lower prices on services that accept these discounts.” If you have a question about a policy or a card before you buy, go to www.insurancefraud.org to make sure you’re being wise in your choices.
Finally, for the 45.8 million uninsured Americans, who may feel they cannot afford health insurance, go to the non-profit arm of a previous site found at http://www.ehealthinsurance.org/ to see what services and benefits are available for your particular situation and in your state and community.

Here's to a Healthy Fall!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bargaining 101

If you save money by paying less on consumer items, you could “earn” anywhere from $100 to $10,000 a year. It’s just a matter of learning how to negotiate on everything from shoes to salaries. The key to asking is to learn how to bargain without embarrassing yourself, your friends or your family. Here are a few successful strategies to try:

· Compare –Furniture, phone plans, electronics, jewelry and appliances are all highly negotiable. Find your desired item on a search robot such as Froogle.com, MySimon.com, NexTag.com and eBay.com or in sale circulars from the Sunday paper. Then print out the price, take it into your store and ask them to match it. Some stores, such as Wal-mart, will match competitor’s ads (even on food items).

· Compensate – If the salesman cannot match the price, then ask for other freebies such as complimentary delivery, free accessories, or an extended warranty.

· Continue – If the salesman grants extra perks, don’t stop there. After you’ve secured these, ask for the manager and ask her to match the competitor’s price.

· Counter – It never hurts to counter a price, if you ask for 20% off and they offer 10%, then counter with 15%. When it comes to salary negotiations, you shouldn’t accept the first offer. Most salaried professionals ask for 10% to 12% more than what they're offered, and often settle for 7% to 8% more. If you did this with your first salary, it could add up to $500,000 by the time you are 60 years old!

· Consideration – Don’t limit the odds of success by asking for too much. The store has to make a profit. Small appliances are usually marked up 30%, while larger ones such as washing machines are marginalized by only 15%. However, most large furniture items and jewelry are increased by a whopping 100%!

· Communication – Learn to say: “Is this your best price?” “Was this recently on sale and can I have the sale price?” “Do you think you could ask your manager, I’ll be happy to wait,” “Hmmm, this item is a little damaged (makeup on the collar, an already opened box, a ding or scratch) could it be marked down?” and last but not least, “Thank you, I’ll be back!”

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)