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#AskFAFSA – Financial Aid Twitter Chat

Got burning questions about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? You’re in luck! The knowledgeable folks that work at the Department of Education do a #AskFAFSA Office Hours on the last Wednesday of each month, on Twitter!

#AskFAFSA Office Hours

You don’t need a Twitter account to follow along with the conversation (though you will need one if you want to ask a question). You can also browse past #AskFAFSA conversations (where your questions might have already been answered!) on the #AskFAFSA Storify page.

Next #AskFAFSA Office Hours: September 28th, 5-6 PM Eastern Time

Topic: Countdown to FAFSA (it opens up on October 1st this year!)

Countdown to (an earlier) FAFSA

You can also check out the Federal Student Aid event schedule for more upcoming #AskFAFSA events. You get this one opportunity a month to ask the experts your questions about filling out the FAFSA form, so take advantage!

(Feel free to tag me, @stephonee, in your questions!)

Who’s Right? I Want to Contribute to Retirement Throughout the Year, Husband Wants to Wait Until the Last Minute

Can you afford to wait? (Photo by Eric Rothermel)

My husband and I have a little disagreement going about retirement contributions. It’s not about how much to contribute – I’ve run the numbers on that, and given our ages and how much retirement money we’ve socked away already, the usual rule-of-thumb of 12% of our gross earnings will do just fine to give us 80% replacement when he (the older one) reaches retirement age. Of course, if we want to retire early, we’ll need to do more than 12%… but again, the contribution amount is not our argument.

The argument we keep having (the civil, calm, disagreement where I assure you no plates are thrown or furniture flipped) is when to put the money into the accounts. I like to hop onto my Vanguard online account as soon as I get some money coming in, and set up an immediate transfer into my IRA for 12% of whatever amount I just got. Husband, on the other hand, has a savings account specifically titled “$5,500 for Retirement,” in which he hopes to save up the 2016 maximum contribution amount, and then once he has all of it, dump it all at once into his IRA.

The Husband does this because he likes to keep a lot of cash on hand for emergencies. He knows that once the money is in the IRA, it’s much harder to access than in that savings account, so he’d like to wait until the last minute (generally the April 15th yearly deadline or close to it) to lock up his cash. I, on the other hand, argued that he might be losing out on some compound interest with this practice.

So who’s right? Or does it even matter? Is there a difference between transferring money right away versus saving up until you’ve got your amount for the year and depositing it all at once?

Yo, MATH, you wanna help us out here?

Math to the rescue

Let’s say that you end up contributing $165,000 over 30 years. That’s probably about right for what The Husband and I might contribute (each), it’s also $5,500/year (which is the current IRA contribution limit), and it’s an example I got from a Vanguard article on this very subject (“Delaying IRA contribution until April can cost you“) which comes with a handy-dandy graph for me to borrow, too!

Vanguard compared two scenarios: investing the yearly amount ASAP (January of the tax year of your IRA), vs. waiting until the absolute deadline (April of the following year). The difference they found:

Procrastination Penalty Chart

Source: Vanguard

The Early Bird nearly doubles their initial investment over 30 years, with $158,967 in earnings (in addition to the $165,000 in contributions). Meanwhile, the Procrastinator loses out on nearly 10% of that, and gets only $143,467 in earnings (not peanuts, but definitely lower).

“Less time means there’s less opportunity for your investments to benefit from the power of compounding, which is when you generate earnings on top of earnings,” said Stephen Weber, an investment analyst with Vanguard Investment Strategy Group. “Losing even a few months can weaken the potential effects of compounding.”

Now of course, I can’t actually put the full $5,500 yearly contribution into my IRA every January (who can?) – I have to do the best I can by contributing a good amount each time I get paid. But doing it sooner, rather than later, still avoids as much of that “procrastination penalty” as possible.

So without bragging too much…

HAHAHAHA I WAS RIGHT, SUCKER!

Now go put some money into your retirement account.

How I Spend $20 (or less) Per Year Streaming Movies and TV

Streaming video doesn't have to break the budget

[I’ve been talking to an old college friend (ha! old! college was like 7 years ago!) about how much he spends on certain things and services that, well, the rest of us pay probably-way-too-much for. When he said that he paid $20/year for all of his streaming video, I dared him to prove it, in writing, here on the blog. So here you go – his anonymous guest post on how he does it:]

I don’t own a TV and I don’t pay for cable television. I don’t subscribe to Netflix because I don’t watch enough to justify the $7.99/month cost. I used to subscribe to Amazon Prime but $99/year is more than the service is worth to me. Hulu doesn’t have the content I want (I mostly watch films rather than television). The service that has the greatest number of interesting titles is Netflix’s disc-by-mail service, which would be great, if not for the fact that it costs the same $7.99/month as the streaming service (or $4.99/month for max two discs per month). I watch perhaps one or two movies in a month, want to spend about $20/year for that purpose, and I certainly can’t be bothered to walk to a physical Redbox.

So, how can one spend only $20 per year on movies and television? Well for starters, with free trials, of course!

New customers can get free trials of:

There is some content-overlap between services, so you could cancel your existing subscriptions, and still watch some of the same things while trying out these other options. [Editor’s note: I highly recommend checking CanIStream.it to see which streaming services your favorite shows are on!]

And it’s surprising how often free trials come around for previous (and not just first-time) customers (although I had been a Netflix subscriber on-and-off between 2006 and 2012, which perhaps explains why they give me free things so often.) Within the last three years, I have received free trials of these services without being a new customer:

  • Hulu, August 2016
  • DVD.com (Netflix disc service), May 2016
  • Hulu, April 2016
  • Netflix (Streaming), October 2015
  • DVD.com, September of 2015
  • DVD.com, December of 2014
  • Hulu, November of 2013

Another thing to watch for is completely free content, like:

But let’s say you’ve run through that list and you’re out of things to watch for free. As someone who doesn’t watch a whole lot, the service I really want is one where I can pay per movie, and not for a monthly or yearly plan. Like I said, I watch one or two movies in a month and don’t want to spend more than $20/year. Paying $3 per film on Amazon Video or YouTube seems a bit much, so what I really want is a service where I can pay just one dollar to watch a movie.

Enter VidAngel

Utah has a history of birthing innovative content solutions, presumably because they have a disproportionately high share of the “family values” market that wants “clean” versions of popular movies and television. Utah-based companies CleanFlicks, Play It Clean Video, ClearPlay, CleanFilms, and VidAngel were all created to sell edited versions of popular releases with sex, swearing, etc. removed. Some of these have been shut down after lawsuits from major motion picture corporations, others have played a pivotal role in the passing of new legislation regarding content distribution, and some legal battles are still ongoing. But putting aside both copyright lawsuits (a subject which I find fascinating) and content filtering (a subject I find delightful and endearing), I want to focus on the payment plan of VidAngel.

The way VidAngel works is that you pay $20 to buy (not rent!) a movie … but then you can sell it back to them for $19. (The oddities of copyright law are at the root of this strange distribution model.) Your next movie also costs $20, but since you have $19 in credit you only pay one dollar out-of-pocket. So basically what this means is that you pay $19 as an initial one-time membership cost, but then every subsequent movie you watch is only one dollar.

One dollar to stream a movie!? Perfect! Doing the math, two movies a month plus the upfront cost is $43/year—already cheaper than even the cheapest plans on Netflix and the like—and after two years the cost of two movies per month averages out to $33.50/year, to about $30/year at three years, and to under $30/year after four years. And even if you watch three times as many movies than I do, VidAngel is cheaper than Netflix even watching six movies each month! (By $4.88 after one year, or $14.38/year over a two year period, etc.)

So having run these numbers I said to them, “Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.” With my digital dollar metaphorically in hand, I started browsing the catalogue. The selection of television is minimal, but the movie selection is actually quite good (better than Amazon Prime or Hulu, and even includes noteworthy titles not on Netflix).

I figured I should try out their content filtering while I’m at it, since that’s their main jam. What to watch? Game of Thrones without violence? Wolf of Wall Street without profanity? Star Wars: Episode One without the 208 shots containing Jar-Jar Binks? (All real filter options, by the way.)

In the end I decided to finally watch Mulholland Drive, with 7 out of 138 available content filters removing sex and nudity. The content control is ridiculously fine-tuned. You can just click “nudity” to take it all off (har-har), or you can enter the drop-down menus to distinguish between full nudity vs. nudity obscured by a shower door, human nudity vs. nudity depicted in statues, etc.. (And by way of apology to David Lynch fans offended by the notion of editing his directorial vision: Think of this experiment as a meta-critical reflection on Lynch’s thesis, “No hay banda.”)

The streaming quality was comparable with other services. I was annoyed that a VidAngel commercial (about how to sell back the movie) began playing before the end of the credits, but after griping about that in a feedback survey a VidAngel customer service representative sent me an email just a few minutes later explaining that this video only plays after the first movie you watch on your account. I was not expecting any response to a generic feedback survey: color me impressed!

Now, having sold back the movie for $19 in credit, I can pay just one more dollar to watch any movie in their library, which I can then sell back for $19 to repeat the process ad infinitum. They also provided me a referral link by which I can earn free movies, so if you’re interested in either screening a family-safe version of your favorite film or just having a cheap pay-per-movie streaming service, check them out at this link:

https://www.vidangel.com?vip=umx07jm9

Happy streaming!

[Well, there you have it! The proof is in the pudding, or, the blog post, I guess. Do you have any questions for my anonymous friend about his streaming habits? Or would you like to hear about some of his other money-saving ideas? For example, I believe he told me last week that he spends less than $40 per year on his cell phone plan. If you’d like to hear about any of that, let us know in the comments!]

Photo Credit: Steinar La Engeland

Net Worth Update: August 2016

I’ve never been much of one for hot weather (I’m from the frozen north originally, after all), but during this record-breakingly hot August in northern Virginia, I noticed something: I have more tolerance for it than the dudes in my life who grew up in this region. What’s with that?

Well, let’s see what my tolerance is for this month’s numbers update:

Change: +$671 or +2.23%

August Net Worth TOTAL: $30,728

August 2016 Net Worth Graph - PoorerThanYou

Not bad increases if you can get ’em! 😉 And what I mean by that is, 2.23% in a single month is really rather great. If I were able to keep that up consistently, that would be 26.76% per year. At that rate, my net worth would double approximately once every two-and-a-half years!

Still, we’ll see if there’s any chance of consistently making those kinds of gains over the next several months. I’m more than two-thirds of the way through my Obamacare pregnancy now, so I’m still staring down the barrel of the gun of a huge ($4,000+ probably) delivery bill in a few months.

So there’s the expense of the delivery coming up, but there’s also the loss of income to contend with. Another side effect of being self-employed, besides paying for my own health insurance, is that I don’t get any form of paid maternity leave. (And same for my freelancer husband as well: no paid paternity leave.) So we’ve been squirreling away cash in our designated “Time Off Fund” joint savings account at Capital One 360, trying to build as big of a cushion as we can before my water breaks.

But there’s some very good news, something I teased about in last month’s net worth update

Living Off One Income

It’s a very, very good idea when expecting a child to start trying to live off of just one partner’s income, and save the entirety of the other partner’s income. That way, you know you can do it if necessary when the child arrives, and you’ve saved up some money to help you through any unexpected (or expected) time off.

This wasn’t something we’d tried before: in our weird hybrid version of combined-but-not-completely finances, I was paying all of the bills out of my checking account, and asking my husband to give me half of the total expenses each month from his checking account, and we were both saving separately or contributing separately to joint savings accounts.

Because we’d never deviated from that system before, we just moved to a bigger (more expensive) apartment, and our income is irregular from all the freelancing, we weren’t entirely sure that we could live off just one income right now. So, I did the math. First, I estimated the averages of all of our expenses. Mint.com is really helpful in this, because it can tell you what you have been spending in every category, including groceries, gas, clothing, etc.. I didn’t make a strict budget, but I did need to know what our expenses are to know if one of us could reliably bring that much in each and every month (despite our irregular incomes).

And by golly, the math worked out. For the time being, we’re living off my income (which is usually a little higher because I have more clients – I’m winning!), and saving 100% of his after-tax income. So I’m paying all the bills now, without asking him for his half, and he’s stuffing our savings with the money he earns.

When the baby comes, we’ll reverse it: all of the bill payments and expenses will come out of his earnings, and anything I manage to make will be banked into savings (again, after taxes). That way, all the bills will get paid without having to tap too much into the “Maternity Leave” savings, except for any time he wants to take off as paternity leave. And hopefully, by not having to tap those savings too much, we can shift whatever’s left into retirement/long-term savings when I’m ready to work again.

But most importantly, this will enable me to not have to rush back into working before I’m ready. There’s a good chance that I’ll start working from home sometime shortly after the delivery (because I’m an antsy person who always has to be working on some project or another), though I have no idea how long “shortly” will really be, how much work I’ll really be able to pull off, etc. etc.. We shall see!

Using Our HSA as a Retirement Account

Back at the end of June, when I went through your answers to a poll about what I should do with some extra money after paying off my car loan, I talked about the idea that you can use an HSA (Health Savings Account) as a de facto retirement account. Because the money is tax deductible when you put it in, and tax-free when you take it out to pay for qualified medical expenses, it actually beats out tax-deferred or tax-advantaged accounts like a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA.

This month, we put the month’s entire retirement contribution into our HSA. Our IRAs will be a bit neglected, until we reach the contribution limit for the HSA anyway ($6,750/tax year for a family). The advantage is that the money will be in there if we need it for pregnancy costs, or the baby’s medical care, or medical needs any time in the future (including in retirement). And after we hit age 65, the HSA becomes like a Traditional IRA, in that we can take the money out for any reason without penalty, provided we pay taxes on any money taken out that isn’t for a qualified medical expense. (Because qualified medical expenses will still be tax-free!)

Of course, the hope is to take as little back out of the account as possible, and let the money stay in the HSA, invested in a low-cost Vanguard S&P 500 index fund, for many years to come. But the money is there if we need it for medical expenses, which – let’s face it – we just might, if my insurance company’s estimates of my out-of-pocket delivery costs are anywhere close to accurate.

Buying Stuff for Baby

We are still trying real hard not to buy this kid anything until we actually need to, and until after the baby showers so that we don’t end up with duplicate stuff. In August we bought a few things anyway, despite our efforts, because we were blinded by the clean, modern lines and efficiency of an IKEA. Damn you, cheap Swedish homewares!

But seriously, all we bought (for the kid) was $10 worth of a colorful bowl/plate/cup/cutlery set, and $21 in picture frames for some art we already had to hang in the nursery (we were buying frames for all of our art to hang around the apartment anyway). So we did break the rule, again, but only because we don’t really see ourselves managing to get back to IKEA before the baby is born, and then we certainly don’t want to go back to IKEA with a baby.

This level of self control to not buy every cute bear hat I see has been a part of what has enabled us to keep increasing my net worth (so far) and save up for the things the baby will really, actually need. Such as an R2-D2 hat.

That’s it for this month’s net worth update! When next we check in on the ol’ net worth numbers, I’ll no longer be a 20-something blogger. That’s right: I’m turning 30 this month. Wish me luck!

Also, if you’d like to see how I stack up against other personal finance bloggers, be sure to check out The Ultimate List of Blogger Net Worths over on Rockstar Finance!

Complainers

I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT WE'RE YELLING ABOUT

A few weeks ago, Yahoo Finance ran an article on Mr. and Mrs. 1500, detailing how they retired early after setting a goal of doing so in just 1500 days. Yahoo screwed the pooch with the title, “How one couple saved $1 million in 4 years to retire by age 43,” implying that they raised the full million for retirement in those 1500 days, when in reality there were 17 years of hard work and flipping houses before that.

As you might predict, the comments were basically a shitshow. People went bananas, mostly over the title, claiming that it was LIES DAMN LIES and basically a scam. Here are some of the more civil ones, to save you wading through the comments section to look for them:

“Boy, these articles are usually good. This one is a bit degrading, and completely misleading. They started with a portfolio of $570,000? Makes the entire article moot. They didn’t save a million in 4 years. But they did save over $100k a year, which tells us their income is far, far greater than the American median household salary of $53k.

“So what’s the point of the story? If you’re both work-a-holics with high paying jobs you can retire early? Great.”
– Commenter Scott

“Here we go again! Yet another bullsheet story courtesy of Yahoo. This article is soo full of holes is not even funny. If it is true, then they were extremely lucky to hold on to their jobs for ten years or more, during the worst recession in 50 years, in this day and age when the economy and job market is so volatile. In any case, here are some holes: This is the 8th or 9th similar ‘story’ in the last two months. Really yahoo? Are we to believe all this BS?

“First, this is nothing but an advert for investment companies.

“Second, -if this fairy tale is real- “putting $2,000 a month toward their investments, which stood at $570,000 when they started,” Here we have it. They didn’t EXACTLY started with $40. This is akin to Donald Trump when he said that he made his billions alone. His father only gave him $1 million to start with. Well. …”
[Whoops! Cutting this comment WAY off (it goes on, and on and on…) because it fails to actually fulfill that “more civil” promise I made to you. But the TL;DR of the rest of his comment? “YAHOO DIDN’T REPRINT THEIR ENTIRE BLOG IN ONE ARTICLE SO I COULD SCRUTINIZE ALL OF THEIR INCOME AND SPENDING WHICH IS READILY AVAILABLE TO ME IF I WOULD JUST LOOK BUT I WON’T BECAUSE RANTING ON YAHOO IS MORE FUN.”]
– Commenter “Antichiterra

“Whatever. “started with $570,000″ ?? Well at age 38 if you have that much you’ve already been investing a #$%$ load and you probably make a lot of money. Your probably in the top 10% income earners in the US. I’m 37 and have $2,800 in my retirement account. #$%$ loads of student loan debt and I am not able to get a job in my degree. I make about $2400 a month and live in LA where about 60% of my income goes to rent. After student loan bills, phone and regular bills I have nothing l have nothing left for retirement… THIS IS BS! Only for the rich to read.”
– Commenter BrandonM

None of these commenters seemed to check out the 1500s readily available blog about all this where, with just a small amount of reading around, I was able to learn that Mr. 1500 graduated from school with $60,000 in student loan debt. They spent 17 years building up from less-than-nothing, mostly by flipping houses.

But it reminds me of something else that happened on a Yahoo Finance article, years ago (what is it with the comments on Yahoo Finance?): Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt, wrote an article there about some of her frugal money-saving habits, and though I found it tame compared to the lengths I had gone through that year to save money, some commenters ripped her apart for writing the article, and called her life of buying secondhand clothes and having no television “miserable.”

Interestingly enough, Mr. and Mrs. 1500 also got comments like this:

“…You can save a lot of money if you go on no trips and do nothing on your free time besides work, work, work. until you get your goal to retire. But life can be the pits if you do not life a little and go on a trip or two. But if it works for them, that’s good but not everyone can do it.”
– Commenter “Jim”

“Hey, great.. nothing to do but “log expenses” and spend time trying to trim household costs further…with 40 or 50 years to live, without cable and “expensive phone plans”…”
– Commenter “masondixon”

“OK, but they’re not really retired. So shouldn’t the article be titled how we saved $1M to work from home and live a substandard lifestyle. …”
– Commenter “Amelia”

Which makes it seem like some people understood that financial independence isn’t magic, at least.

First, let me get this out of the way: You can say whatever you want (within the Terms of Service of the site you are commenting on). Feel free to complain away, cry foul, yell, scream, rant, and do as you please. Freedom of speech, or whatever.

But.

You are not doing yourself any favors by responding to articles like these with a bunch of complaints about how “normal people can’t do that.” Every single person has their own advantages and disadvantages. The genetic lottery is not equal or fair to us all. I grew up in a rural area, across the street from a cornfield, born to parents who themselves didn’t have the grasp of good financial practices to be able to pass along to me. Some people have parents who teach them a lot, and they learn to save early. Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth and get a large inheritance.

None of these real-life “How They Did It” articles are ever going to be a turn-by-turn road map for you to follow. But all of us who want to achieve financial independence without a big, big inheritance? We can all do it, and there are only three ways to get there:

  1. Earn More
  2. Spend Less
  3. Earn More AND Spend Less

That’s it. Those are the options. Everything that can be done to achieve financial independence falls somewhere in there. Even if you win the lottery, you’ll only be financial independent if you figure out how to not spend it all right away.

It’s hard work, and some of the frugal choices that the 1500s, or Anya Kamenetz, or I, have made… well, they’re not for everyone. Just like how you may not be willing/able to go down to one car like my husband and I did last year, my husband and I are equally not able/willing to move to a lower cost of living area.

If you read an article like the one about the 1500s and you can’t find a single takeaway for your own life, that’s fine. They may be so very different from you that you simply could not replicate a single thing they did. But… I doubt that. They are normal people. Anya Kamenetz is normal. I’m normal. We’re all just folks here, and though no one can do exactly what I or the 1500s have done, 99.999% of people can do some of the things I’ve done, and some of the things that the 1500s have done, and form your own plan to reach your unique goals.

If you read an article like that one and all you can feel is anger, envy, and insecurity, it’s because you are missing the forest for the trees. That’s also true for people who pity me for my “miserly life” without cable television and a second car. Choices the 1500s have made put them on the path they are on, and choices I have made have put me on my path. But we’re all on a path of one type or another.

You can choose to take away useful lessons for your own life from any “How I Did It” article. Or you can brush people off and say “it can’t be done!” Those are choices, too, though. Which one do you think is going to help you on your own financial path?

Photo credit: yell by thorntocon on Flickr

Pregnant on Obamacare: The First Trimester

The true costs of being pregnant on Obamacare

I’m pregnant, I’m self-employed (as is my husband), and we’re on the absolute cheapest Healthcare.gov (a.k.a. Healthcare Marketplace, a.k.a. Obamacare) plan. So, what’s it like being pregnant on Obamacare? What’s it cost? Now that I’ve received all the bills from my first trimester care, I’m going to divulge all of the information from my experience:

Disclaimer Thing: The following information is all 100% accurate (as far as I know), but it is only one example of one woman (me!) being pregnant on Obamacare. Your mileage will vary, based on the health insurance plans available in your state and your zip code, your individual medical situation, and pure simple luck. I provide this information because I felt discouraged before my pregnancy by not being able to find examples of how much a pregnancy really costs on Obamacare – so now that I’m in a position to provide that example to others, I’m happy to do so.

Also, I’m just going to call it “Obamacare” from here on out because that’s the most commonly used term. Plus, it gives me lots of opportunities to make “Thanks, Obama!” jokes, and I do love me some referential jokes.

My Health Insurance Plan

My health insurer calls my plan a “Bronze Basic” plan, because Bronze is the lowest level available in the Healthcare Marketplace. Not only did I pick a plan in the lowest tier, I picked the cheapest plan available in that tier. It’s a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP), which means I do pay for most things out of pocket (though anything that’s “preventative care” is supposed to be fully covered). But also, having a HDHP makes me eligible to contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA), which makes me happy because HSAs are da best. The local chain of hospitals are all “in-network” on my health plan, which is part of why I felt comfortable taking the bottom-of-the-barrel plan: if the hospital literally down the street is in-network, that’s about all I need as a relatively young healthy person.

My husband and I don’t qualify for any subsidies on the plan, so we pay full price out-of-pocket for our premiums: $372.99 per month for the two of us. We also pay $27.15 per month for dental insurance (also obtained through the Marketplace, also one of the cheapest plans available to us), so my half comes out to $200.07 per month.

I mention dental insurance for two reasons: A) I consider it a part of my overall “health insurance” that I pay for out-of-pocket and B) dental health is a part of pregnancy, since gingivitis can lead to preterm birth (yikes!), so it’s recommended that pregnant women get an extra dental cleaning during pregnancy, and most dental plans (including mine) cover that extra pregnancy cleaning.

According to my plan’s documents (the “Summary of Benefits and Coverage” or “SBC” – a standardized document across all health insurance plans these days), here’s what my plan covers for pregnancy:

Obamacare Insurance Pregnancy Coverage

What my insurance plan covers – Click to enlarge

Basically, this says that I should pay nothing out-of-pocket for routine prenatal (pregnancy before delivery) care, and then that I’ll be on the hook for all of the delivery and postnatal (after delivery) care until I hit my deductible ($6,850 in my case), for in-network doctors and facilities.  If I were to visit an out-of-network doctor or facility, I’d pretty much be on the hook for everything from that bill, because my out-of-network deductible is a whopping $20,000.  So… in-network it is!

The nice thing about these SBCs is that they all also include some coverage examples, and one of those examples is… having a baby! Works out nicely for me. Here’s what the example looks like in my health insurance’s SBC:

Obamacare Insurance - Pregnancy Coverage

Coverage example from my health insurance – Click to enlarge

There is also a disclaimer that says “Sample care costs are based on national averages supplied by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and aren’t specific to a particular geographic area or health plan.” So the first part, “sample care costs” estimated at $7,540, are a national average for routine pregnancies and deliveries. Fair enough. The second part, “patient pays,” is what’s applicable to me and my plan, and so the estimate is that a routine pregnancy will cost me $5,400 out of pocket on this plan.

My Real First Trimester Out-of-Pocket Costs

Let’s get down to brass tacks! The first trimester is usually defined as the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy, and actually includes a few weeks before conception. So I’m including all of my pregnancy-related expenses from the first 12 weeks, starting with the 2-pack of home pregnancy tests that I picked up at CVS when my period was 4 days late. (Spoiler alert: the result was positive!)

Doctors’ Visits: $397.90

The “Doctors’ Visits” category is higher than I would like, considering the information above about what my insurance is supposed to cover for routine in-network prenatal care (i.e. I should have paid nothing). I was shocked (shocked!) when I got a $377.90 bill for my first visit to the obstetrician (OB). So I did the thing that I know you’re supposed to do, but is pretty hard for me personally: I picked up the phone and called the insurance company to ask what the deal was.

Usually, calling your insurance is a good way to clear up mistakes and save yourself some money that you don’t actually need to pay. Unfortunately, there’s no such happy result here: the charge was legit. Even though all of my prenatal visits are supposed to be covered, since this was my very first visit to the OB’s office (I was not so much a “going to the doctor” person before my pregnancy), the first visit was coded as a “new patient visit” (which it was). New patient visits? Not covered by my insurance, so I had to pay the whole bill. At least it counts against my deductible! (Every little bit counts, right?)

The other $20 in the “Doctors’ visits” category was for my primary care physician – because I was on an Obamacare high-deductible plan, they charged me a $20 deposit that they don’t normally charge to other patients. Twenty bucks is not a big deal, of course, but it was a directly-related-to-my-Obamacare-plan expense.

Lab Work: $204.46

No real surprises in the lab work itself: my bodily fluids have been tested for all sorts of things, from the pregnancy test my primary care doctor ran after I first got my “2 lines” on the home kit, to the blood-typing test my OB ran to find out if I’m one of those lucky pregnant women with a negative blood type (which I already knew – I am!), to a urinalysis that came up positive for a urinary tract infection (common in pregnant women, and in my family in general, so the only shock there was I hadn’t felt it!). But financially, no shockers.

Drugstore expenses: $46.09

Totally reasonable, since this covers everything from the home pregnancy test, to prenatal vitamins, to the prescription for that UTI.

Altogether…

Doctors’ visits: $397.90
Lab work: $204.46
Drugstore expenses: $46.09
TOTAL: $648.45

All in all, not too bad – manageable considering I have my HSA to pay for anything I can’t cover strictly out of pocket. But still, higher than I anticipated, since I went into it knowing that all of my prenatal visits would be covered.

Will the trend hold up for the second and third trimesters? Stay tuned – I’ll give a second trimester rundown once I can be sure that all the bills have come in for that time period. And the third trimester? Well, you’ll have to wait until after I’ve delivered my little bundle of poop-and-snot for that, of course.

Have you gone through a pregnancy or other major medical expense on Obamacare? If so, I’d love it if you shared some info about the costs you incurred in the comments below. Or if you have a low-cost Obamacare plan – do you have any questions for me or others about our experiences?

How to Share a Credit Card with Your Spouse

[It was only recently, after a year and a half of marriage, that my husband and I got our first shared credit card. We’re still working out the kinks, and considering adding my husband as an authorized user to some of my frequently-used rewards cards as well. So I was over the moon when Joshua Heckathorn of Creditnet.com reached out and offered to write a guest post on the very subject. Take it away, Josh!]

You probably share your home, bed, and maybe even your toothbrush from time to time with your spouse. But what about your credit cards?

If you haven’t quite taken your financial relationship to this level yet, but feel like you’re finally ready to take the leap, follow these tips to make sure you do it right and avoid the most common mistakes.

How to Share a Credit Card With Your Spouse

Add Your Spouse as an Authorized User

The easiest way to share your credit card with a new spouse is to call your credit card issuer and simply add your significant other as an authorized user. Your spouse will then receive a new credit card in his or her name, although you will both share access to the same account and the same credit limit.

Before making the call to your credit issuer, it’s always wise to sit down and have a conversation with your spouse about what types of monthly expenses will be charged to the card and how much of the available credit limit you plan to use each month. In order to maximize each of your FICO credit scores, you’ll want to ideally keep your credit utilization ratio under 10 percent, so take the time to talk through the numbers before you both begin using the card.

Don’t be afraid to communicate openly about spending habits and the importance of sticking to your outlined budget. Trusting each other’s spending habits is vital to the process, and if the trust just isn’t there yet then maybe you still need more time before taking the next step.

Set Up Mobile Access and Text Alerts

The biggest red flag to watch out for is an unexpected charge that doesn’t fall in line with the budget you previously discussed. However, the great thing about credit cards is it’s so convenient to track all spending on your account.

Make sure you set up mobile access from your phones so you can check charges 24/7, and you may even be able to set up text alerts for any charges above a certain amount. If so, do it. This will allow you both to stay on top of your spending and immediately discuss anything that doesn’t seem to fall in line with your agreed upon budget.

Review Accounts Together on a Monthly Basis

Credit cards also make it extremely easy to review your spending on a monthly basis. So set aside 15 minutes each month to log on to your online account together, review charges, compare to your budget, and talk through how you did.

Did you stick to your plan and stay within your budget? Awesome. Go out and celebrate by doing something inexpensive that you both love.

Did you miss the mark for this month? Don’t be argumentative or point fingers at who made what mistake. Instead, make a new plan of action together and do a better job of tracking all charges during the following month. Understand that it can take some time to sync spending habits in a marriage, so don’t expect your spouse to change overnight.

Communication is Key

The biggest mistake couples make is failing to have a detailed discussion up front regarding monthly expenses and what types of things will be charged to the credit card. It seems simple enough, but many married couples just ignore this step, which often results in some fairly unpleasant conversations down the road.

So do yourselves a favor and talk through your budget, set expectations, and track your monthly expenditures together. If you do so, sharing a credit card can be an excellent way to not only improve both of your credit scores but also enjoy earning some great credit card rewards along the way.

Joshua Heckathorn runs Creditnet.com, a free resource to help consumers learn more about credit and compare credit cards online. He is a credit expert and has been featured on CNNMoney, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, The Street, and many other national publications during the past ten years. Joshua resides in Seattle and holds an MBA and B.S. in finance.

 

Net Worth Update: July 2016

If you (or I) thought June was craaaaazy, it was nothing compared to July. At the very end of June, we found an apartment we liked and put in application to take possession of it on July 1st… and found out we’d been approved just in time to sign the lease on July 1st. We spent the month of July packing, moving, cleaning… and then we skipped town and went to Disney World. True story.

Change: +$55 or +0.18%

July Net Worth Total: $30,057

July 2016 Net Worth Graph - PoorerThanYou

Not so bad – up, but barely, closer to “flat” really. But hey, with a full apartment move to a bigger place and a Disney World vacation in the month of July? I’ll take flat. I’ll totally take flat.

Moving

So we signed the lease (obviously), packed up all of our stuff, and moved. This time around, we decided to hire both professional movers and a cleaning company instead of DIYing/bribing friends with the ol’ pizza and beer. We still had a little bit of help from my brother (who happened to have a day off work on the day of our move), but that was pretty much necessary to replace pregnant-me, who couldn’t be very helpful. (I carried some pillows I think, and packed the hanging clothes boxes, and pointed a lot to say where things should go.)

I haven’t done a good run-down yet of the total costs, but we did shop around for both services using Thumbtack.com, and that seemed to save us some good money. We’ll see when I run the math (in a future post), but Thumbtack definitely made it easier to compare different providers, so I’m pretty happy with that aspect of it.

DIDNEY WURL!

DIDNEY WURRRRLLLL - PoorerThanYou

Yup, this is us, at Walt Disney World.

With everything that’s been going on… how could we afford to just up and go to Disney World this month? Easy: saving, and travel hacking. I’ve never talked about travel hacking on this blog before, and this was my first real attempt at it (I did some very basic travel hacking back in 2014 by signing up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, which was offering a $400 sign-up bonus at the time, and putting the costs of my Ireland trip on that card to easily meet the spending amount needed to get the bonus.

But since then, I kinda forgot about the entire idea of travel hacking until my sister tried to organize a family trip to Disney World this year. There just seemed like no way we could pull together all the money for another Disney trip (husband and I went there for our honeymoon in late 2014 and dropped a good deal of cash to do so), until I remembered that travel hacking is a thing.

Again, this is the sort of thing that deserves its own post (or a whole series of posts, more likely), so I won’t dig any deeper into the topic right now, to spare anyone not interested in travel hacking. But the proof is in the pudding: we went to Disney at the end of July, and we moved to a more expensive place, and bought stuff for the new apartment, and yet… my net worth stayed steady.

Baby Stuffs

Oh right – still pregnant! We actually bought just a couple of things for our upcoming bundle of joy (read: bundle of poop and vomit, more likely – I harbor no illusions about motherhood): two “bodysuits” (Did you know that “onesie” is actually a trademarked term owned by Gerber? Just a little tidbit from my product copywriting business!), in 6-month size. Because I don’t believe in buying newborn sized stuff except a couple of plain white outfits, until I have proof that my baby will be newborn sized. And even if the kid is born small enough to need newborn-sized clothes (unlikely in my family of tall folks), most kids don’t need clothes in that size for long. So why buy the cute stuff in a size they’ll instantly outgrow?

UPickVG Baby OnesieBut aside from 2 adorable “one piece baby outfits” (including the one above, designed by a good friend for our charity fundraiser), we have still managed to not buy anything else for the bun in the oven. Hoping to keep that up until September, when we’ll be less than 2 months away from the arrival date, and the baby showers are done (so we can see what stuff we actually need).

That’s it for July – with moving and our trip, there really wasn’t time for anything else! But stay tuned, because August is already shaping up to be an interesting month. You see, we figured out something really extraordinary about my income and my upcoming maternity leave… but it won’t be relevant until we see how August all shakes out. 😀

Also, if you’d like to see how I stack up against other personal finance bloggers, be sure to check out The Ultimate List of Blogger Net Worths over on Rockstar Finance!

Net Worth Update: May 2016

Last month, I revealed my pregnancy and the fact that my expenses will be going up. So how did everything shake out for the month after that? Let’s dive in and see the numbers!

Change: +$4,370 or +15.92%

May Net Worth Total: $31,818

May 2016 Net Worth Chart

Building Up Cash Reserves for the Baby

This month’s increase can really be attributed to just one thing: I’m building up my cash reserves right now. (So is my husband, but our net worths are not combined for these blog updates.) With a baby coming in November, building up extra savings is an obvious thing to do.

Speaking of the baby – I now know what my total costs for the first trimester have been! Medical costs, anyway – we haven’t bought a single thing for the baby yet. No crib, no clothes, no toys, no adorable baby what-its of any kind. This is, in my mind, a good way to keep the costs of a new baby down: don’t buy anything until just before you actually need it. And until after you see what gifts you will get, because honestly there’s no sense in throwing money away and ending up with duplicates of some things. I’m not trying to be gift-grabby or expecting people will give us lots of gifts – I’m just being realistic about the fact that babies (especially first babies) are gift-giving occasions. Plus there’s the fact that I know so many people with slightly older children, so some hand-me-downs are to be expected in my case as well.

But back to medical costs – for the entire first trimester, including pregnancy tests, prenatal vitamins, and all doctor visits, the total out-of-pocket costs for weeks 1 – 12: $648.45. I’d say that’s pretty good, all things considered… where the “all things” to consider is that I’m self employed, and therefore on the cheapest Bronze-level Obamacare health insurance plan that was available to me. I was expecting a higher bill, due to being on the lowest rung of the health insurance ladder.

I’ll dive deeper into the numbers in a future blog post series about being pregnant on Obamacare – because honestly? Before I was pregnant, I started trying to do research into how much pregnancy would cost out-of-pocket on an Obamacare plan, and I couldn’t find much information, nor hardly anyone giving examples with concrete numbers. It sucked, and I’m happy to help someone else out by at least putting my concrete numbers on the internet. Of course the situation will be different for someone else’s pregnancy, but I just feel like examples should be shared. And you guys know how much I like to share numbers. 😉

UPickVG 5 is Coming

We also hustled pretty hard this month, knowing that next month will require us to take a few extra days off from the usual hustle, because we’re producing a weekend-long livestreamed internet game-a-thon. 48 hours straight of livestreaming takes not just the 3 days of the weekend that the fundraiser is live, but also some shoulder days for setup/breakdown, and rest and recovery. Not to mention we’ve already begun donating some of our own money to the fundraiser (cause it’s hard not to also want to kick in when you’re hustling so hard on behalf of a charity) and anticipate donating more during the event itself, so we’ve been trying to build up the “Charity” savings account to prepare for that.

In fact, by the time this post is actually posted, the UPickVG 5 fundraiser will already be over. The game-a-thon and its prep time are just too close to the beginning of the month of June for me to have all of May’s numbers and everything posted before I have to completely transition into “Showrunner” mode and focus all of my attention on UPickVG. So… I could tell you how the fundraiser did in the end here, but I won’t. I’ll save that for the update it belongs in: next month’s June update. You’ll just have to wait. 😛

Extra $200/month?

I’ve left the poll up for how I should save/spend the extra $200/month I’ll have, starting in July, due to the end of my car payment. I’ve left this poll up even though, in reality, it’s becoming clear that those dollars are all going to go toward rent for a bigger place than my current 1-bedroom/1-bath apartment. Because even if we don’t strictly need more space for the baby during the first 6 months of their life, I’m a big believer that we will need a second toilet. Somehow, my husband and I have thus far avoided any “both of us managed to get food poisoning at the same time” catastrophes (ala Bridesmaids), but with a third human in the home, I feel like we’re just asking for trouble with only 1 toilet. Even if that human won’t use the toilet for several years. Just askin’ for trouble.

So, the new apartment (with at least 1.5 bathrooms) search has begun.

But you can still vote in the poll, which has now become an interesting hypothetical to discuss, for an alternate universe version of Stephonee, where I am not pregnant and apartment shopping right now. So feel free to place your vote for what Alternate Universe Stephonee should do with her extra $200/month starting in July:

I’ll discuss my thoughts in the June update, but I will say that so far… the poll has been going in a very interesting direction, in my eyes.

Holiday Tree FOR AMERICA

We’ve updated our holiday tree to its summertime-long decorations, which will cover Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day:

Holiday Tree - Summer Patriot

O beautiful for spacious skies…

The flag that’s on top of the tree is pretty special to me: it’s from a Tweetup on the White House lawn that my husband and I went to years ago (when we were just friends), where we got to stand in the rain and see President Obama in person, as well as the President of South Korea. Well, not that the flag isn’t always special, but this exact physical object holds additional meaning in my life

Oh! And to give you the full effect of the fireworks lights…

Holiday Tree - Fireworks Animated Gif

Ooooo…… ahhhhhhhh!

That’s it for May! Check back next month for another update, and the discussion on the $200/month poll… and who knows what else!

Also, if you’d like to see how I stack up against other personal finance bloggers, be sure to check out The Ultimate List of Blogger Net Worths over on Rockstar Finance!