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Dental Deal

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Remember last summer when I had some dental stuff pop up?

I never gave details before, but I went in for a routine cleaning and was told I’d need a new front tooth because my root was dead. The dentist recommended getting 6 porcelain veneers to remedy the situation. (Note: this was the first time I’d ever gone to that dentist, and I had selected them because they had a new patient special).

Well, I thought that was total crap. Instead, I decided to seek a second opinion. But, before going in, I chipped a back tooth. I’m so glad I went for the second opinion because the new dentist was awesome! He did an exam and x-rays for free and suggested that for the front tooth we take the “wait and see” approach because, although the root was dead, there was no sign of decay. He also said that IF further action needed to be taken, that the best thing to do would be a root canal and a single cap (a far cry from the 6 porcelain veneers the last dentist recommended!)

Anywho, I did need to get a filling on my chipped tooth to protect it from potential cavities but that was it, and cost a grand total of $171 (we don’t have dental insurance and pay out-of-pocket).

It’s now been 7 months and is time for another teeth cleaning.

This time around, I started by checking out a bunch of the dental discount plans in my area. Only….I wasn’t really thrilled with any of them.

The one that sounded best “on paper” I found out had TERRIBLE patient-reviews. Like, an average of 1 star out of 5. Plus it was clear across town.

Then I looked up one that’s nearby with better reviews, but the prices really didn’t seem that great and they don’t have a pediatric dentist for the girls (they really need to start going to the dentist soon!)

The dental discount plan is 100% worth the money if I can get hubs to go, but this month has been insane with his schedule. And its really not that great of a deal if it’s just me and I’m going just for a cleaning. After talking about it with hubs, we decided that I’ll pay out-of-pocket for a cleaning this month, and we’ll look back at dental discount programs next month. Hubs promises to make it a priority to get to the dentist next month. (He’s one of those people who needs some time to wrap his mind around the idea of going to the dentist – he’s never been a big fan.) Stay tuned next month for my “Year of Becoming Adults:  April Update” >>>hopefully I can report on hubs having completed some much needed dental work!

Anyway, given my pleasant experience last time with dentist #2, I decided just to go back there. I figured most teeth cleanings are in the $100-$150ish range so I anticipated an expense of that size (and right now we have plenty of dental savings to cover it). But when I called and scheduled the appointment, I decided to ask the receptionist about it just so I would know up-front what to expect.

And guess what….

Apparently they have a deal going on right now for an x-ray, exam, and cleaning for $50 for new patients. Now, I’m not new, and they’ve already given me an x-ray and exam (for free last time!!!), but they said they’d honor the discount and give me the cleaning for only $50!! Can you believe it?! Oh, how I wish this dentist participated in a dental discount program because they are awesome – from the dentist to the staff – they are all so friendly and accommodating!

At least I’ll be getting my cleaning this time around for a reasonable price. Who knows what’ll happen next time around (dental discount plan? Out-of-pocket?)

But it just goes to show – never hurts to ask about prices!

Have you ever saved money by simply asking for a better price? If you pay out-of-pocket, about how much did you spend on dental care last year?


Never Going Back: Homemade Yogurt

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One thing that is consumed A LOT in our house is yogurt.

We can have yogurt just about any time of day….

For breakfast I’ll often serve it with fresh fruit and wheat toast for the girls/raw oats for me (don’t knock it ’till you try it. It actually tastes really good, and way healthier than super sugar-fied granola!)

I’ll sometimes serve it as an accompaniment to lunch. Particularly on days that the girls are in preschool I like to send yogurt since its a good source of protein. The girls’ preschool is meat-free, so I sometimes struggle with protein-based options (peanut butter gets OLD after awhile). Yogurt as a side is always a good option.

And yogurt is just about everyone’s favorite snack.

MMMmmmmmmm yogurt!

Until this point I generally spent a good $5-6 on yogurt per week. Maybe more (okay, probably more).

But no more, my friends!

I have discovered how incredibly EASY and DELICIOUS homemade yogurt can be! Who knew?!?

I used this recipe and followed it to a T, so I won’t rehash all the recipe deets, but I wanted to give some commentary on my experience making my own homemade yogurt for the first time.

The Basics

Okay, so read the recipe, but to give you the gist, you’re going to pour a gallon of milk into a crockpot, heat it up in your crockpot for nearly four hours, then cool down to a specific temperature (which can take another hour), add a yogurt “starter” (you need the live yogurt cultures…this could be store-bought or leftovers from your last homemade batch), then let it sit for up to 12 hours.

Whew! That’s a lot of time!

My Thoughts.

First, you’re going to have to plan ahead to make your own yogurt. I tried for 3 consecutive days to do it, but time got away from me and I ended up having to put it off until the next day (because making it in a crockpot takes HOURS to do). Sure, there are faster ways (like stove-top), but I liked the leave-it-and-forget-it method of the crockpot and I didn’t have a timeline for when I needed the yogurt, so I just pushed it back a couple days until the timing worked out. But just a heads up that it DOES take some pre-planning.

Second, Stephanie mentioned how the “tang” in homemade yogurt might surprise you. I’ve had plain yogurt before, so I wasn’t at all surprised. If anything, I thought my yogurt was less tangy than what I’d expected. As she mentioned, the longer it sits the tangier it gets. I’d left mine for about 10.5 hours, so it would have been tangier if I’d left it longer.

The Taste.

In my opinion (and the reason I’m Never Going Back <<the title of this post), the taste of homemade yogurt is WAY superior to store-bought! OMG, it tasted so decadent and delicious! I could close my eyes and almost have an out-of-body experience, pretending to be in some super swanky brunch spot enjoying a freshly prepared yogurt parfait. Dramatic? Yes. True? Yes!

Plus homemade yogurt costs PENNIES per portion, compared to store-bought yogurt that often costs up to $1+ per portion!

Storage.

You should note that homemade yogurt doesn’t last as long as store-bought yogurt. This makes sense since there are no preservatives (or other icky stuff for that matter). According to google, it can last for up to 2 weeks in your fridge, and 3 months in your freezer. Not too shabby if you consume as much yogurt as we do. Bonus – the frozen homemade yogurt can be thawed OR eaten frozen (duh! Like frozen yogurt!)

I store my yogurt in glass mason jars that I keep in the fridge. If you’re going to freeze it, however, you may want to put it in a plastic container (sure, glass freezes, but I’ve had more than my fair share of “oopsies” after accidentally breaking a frozen glass container)

Fruit Options.

There are a ton of ways to eat yogurt. I’ve used plain yogurt before as a substitute for sour cream in various baking recipes (healthier and cheaper). I also enjoy plain yogurt, but most people probably prefer to add in a little fruit.

I made a strawberry-banana yogurt that was TO DIE FOR (ahem, if I do say so myself *brushes shoulders off*)

All I did was take a very ripe banana and some strawberries and put in a large container. I used a potato smasher to “muddle” the berries and basically worked everything into a pulp. Then I stirred in the yogurt and mixed everything well. It’s important to note that once fruit is muddled like this, it immediately starts to break down (meaning:  decompose). So you cannot do this if you plan on putting it in your fridge for 2 weeks. But, its perfectly fine for a few hours. In fact, allowing the flavors to meld for a few hours is what makes it really taste like HEAVEN! I did this in the morning and then served it as an afternoon snack and it was the perfect amount of time.

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Fruit in the bowl before muddling

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All together now!

You could do this with any of your favorite fruit combinations, or you can always just serve the plain yogurt with whole or sliced fruit, too.

I honestly can’t decide what’s best:  the money I’ll be saving making homemade yogurt from now on, or how good I feel about healthify-ing one of our favorite foods!

Most people already think of yogurt as a pretty healthy food (it can be, though lots of the stuff sold in stores is loaded with sugars and additives), but it really doesn’t get any healthier than making it yourself! I used rBST-free 2% milk when I made mine (you can use any type you like), which I thought was perfect! I’d imagine that whole milk would provide an even richer taste, while skim milk will obviously save you some calories. Since my kiddos are some of the biggest consumers of yogurt, I like to buy 1% or 2% so they can get some of the healthy fats from the milk (and/or yogurt), but you can use whatever you prefer.

Let me know if you try your hand at making homemade yogurt and what you think!

Do you make any “fun” foods homemade? I’ve toyed around with the idea of doing homemade cheese but I’ve been scared of dealing with the rennet. I’ve also thought of doing homemade pasta one day, but it also seems so prep-intensive that I’ve been scared off for now. Maybe one day. : )

 


Out Sick

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Sorry folks, I got a pretty nasty cold this weekend and I’ve been out of commission for the past couple days. I won’t have a weekly debt update per usual today, but I will have one up on Thursday once I’m feeling better.


Breast Versus Bottle: A PSA

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Hi friends! I’m taking a little time today to blog on something totally unrelated to debt as a little public service announcement (PSA).  Even though unrelated to debt, I really want to spread this message and encourage any/all of you to do the same. This is something that isn’t talked about nearly enough, but is quite near and dear to my heart. Mention it to a new Mom or Mom-to-be. Or just talk about it amongst friends. If this message reaches and helps even a single new Mom, then this post will have served its purpose. Thank you for your patience with this interruption to regular blogging. I’ll be back later with a more relevant post.

One of my lifelong best friends called me the other day.

I could tell instantly that something was wrong. She was clearly holding back tears, just trying to keep it together.

My friend Alice* (*not her real name) is a first-time Mom. She brought her sweet baby home from the hospital a few days ago, and is having a very difficult time with the transition. Although it’s totally normal to have your hormones all over the place in the early days and to feel some level of angst, Alice’s feelings were a bit amplified compared to most. As we spoke, I could tell that she was near-panic. My heart ached for her as she told me about her anxiety and feelings of helplessness.

What was Alice’s biggest problem?

Breastfeeding.

Alice’s baby was refusing to latch. She’d seen multiple lactation consultants in the hospital, but was experiencing continued problems. The doctor noticed it and even had her stay an extra day in the hospital, hoping the extra time would help.

Exhausted and feeling defeated, Alice turned to formula while at the hospital. Now at home, she was still trying to breastfeed, but was working herself into a terrible mental state due to her difficult and unsuccessful experiences.

She called me to seek some solace from our friendship and to ask about my experiences (I’m a huge breast-feeding supporter. I breastfed my girls for 6 months and attended a weekly breastfeeding support group religiously). I gave her some suggestions and talked about my experiences. Every person is different. Every baby is different. When I first had my babies I’d planned to breastfeed for a full year. I fought tooth and nail to make it to 6 months. I won’t go into all the details, but it felt like a daily battle and I struggled the.entire.time. It never came easy or naturally for me and my girls.

Here’s the thing. We all know that “breast is best.” We’ve all read the studies, heard it from nurses, pediatricians, etc. We have had it beaten into us that breastmilk is the best thing we can give our babies. I am not arguing with that.

What I would like to say though, the message I really want to spread, is that it’s not all about what’s best for the baby. There’s another very important person in the equation:  the mother.

Yes, we all know about the studies showing how important breastmilk can be for supporting a baby’s health (see here or here for an overview). But do you know how incredibly important maternal mental health is for her growing baby? A recent meta-analysis discussed the many varied ways that maternal depression can negatively effect a child long after infancy (see here).

I want to be clear that I’m not a breastfeeding-basher. If a woman can breastfeed then that is fantastic! I’m totally pro-breastfeeding! I’m just saying that there are many cases where trying to breastfeed may actually cause more harm to the child than formula-feeding would. One of these cases, specifically, is if the woman is battling severe anxiety and/or depression as a direct result of breastfeeding complications. We all have these ideas of what it will be like when we have a baby, and rarely do we think that one of our biggest troubles will be feeding the baby! Experiencing difficulty with breastfeeding is actually quite common. But if these complications translate into perpetuating a state of anxiety and depression in the mother then, “Houston, we have a problem!”

I liken this to being on an airplane. If the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks come down, we are instructed to put on our own oxygen mask FIRST! We do this BEFORE helping anyone else (including children and/or elderly) because if we don’t help ourselves then we aren’t in a position to be able to help anyone else!

If a woman is struggling with depression, then she’s unable to mother as effectively as she would otherwise. This can negatively influence the growing child’s affective and behavioral development in a number of ways (higher rates of depression and psychopathology, behavior problems, and altered biological stress reactivity profiles). In short, if a new mother is depressed, it’s bad for her child. I would argue that the effects of maternal depression are much worse (and longer lasting) than the effects of being formula-fed as opposed to breastfed.

Many people don’t look at it that way. They look at a new baby and if the mother is feeding the child formula, then she’s often judged. Why would you not want the best for your baby? But maybe offering formula IS the best choice for the baby.

I’m not a trained counselor nor am I a trained medical professional, but I gave my dear friend my own personal advice (this, coming from someone who is pro-breastfeeding, but also pro-mommy’s mental health). I told her not to give up yet. Try to pump so baby can still get breastmilk that way. Try to nurse (like, really try….could take a good 30-45 minutes) at least once a day. See another lactation consultant. Try a nipple shield. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But I ended the conversation with this:  If, after you’ve exhausted all other options, you are still finding yourself in a state of panic and depression, unsuccessful with breastfeeding….then you give your baby a bottle of formula. And you do NOT feel bad about it for one second. You are doing the best thing you can for your baby. You are taking care of YOU!

I know this is a controversial topic and you may not agree with me and that’s just fine. But I  urge you all to open your minds a bit about this topic and consider not just what’s best for baby, but what’s best for Mommy?

In my opinion, this concept (what’s best for Mommy) is not discussed nearly enough. Think about it. Keep it in the back of your mind when you offer a new Mom suggestions or advice. Remember that each person is different; our babies are different; our experiences are different; and let’s be sensitive toward each other in our choices about breast versus bottle because it’s not always the clear-cut choice that everyone makes it out to be. We’re all just trying to make it through life doing the best we can. Let’s offer each other a little bit of grace.

Thank you! I hope you’re having a fabulous day and will check back later for a more debt-related post. In the meantime, tell me one of your favorite things about your best friend. My dear friend Alice is so incredibly generous. She always thinks of others before herself (really to a fault), and over the years has taught me to be a more caring and giving individual. I am a better person for having her in my life.


Dental Care – Teaching Style

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I think almost every blogger here on BAD has had some sort of dental emergency and got caught without insurance or some help to cover it.  So I thought I’d weigh in on what we do.  Full disclosure, the twins do have full dental coverage and I have utilized that quite a bit, especially when they first moved in since they had never been to a dentist and had to learn more about personal hygiene.  But we are caught up now, and are mostly in maintenance mode.

For several years, I carried a stand alone dental policy for me and the littles.  It was $75 per month, covered 100% of basic maintenance except fluoride and gave us about a 20% discount on other services.  We have been blessed with good dental health and as I weighed the cost of the insurance against what I was spending, well, it just didn’t make sense.  So the next year, I signed up for my dentists own in office plan which for about $600 for the 3 of us, all the basic maintenance including sealants and fluoride were covered.

Then last year, I know, bad mommy, I decided to forego dental anything.  We didn’t go to the dentist at all.  Again, bad mommy moment but forking over that money is the midst of debt pay off, well, I just couldn’t stomach it for what we needed.

Now we are here, and I think a year without at least a check up is long enough SO we’ve decided to visit the local community college dental hygiene school.  For all of us to go, get thorough exams by the students (under faculty observation,) get fluoride treatments, sealants as needed, xrays, etc….it’s going to cost me a whopping $65!  I am so excited about this.  And they are just 15 minutes from my house.

I set it up several months in advance so we can all go at once.  It will be several hours for the appointment as it is a teaching facility, but compare to the $1000+ , then $600+ and now to $65 for what we’ve been getting the last four years, I am super excited.  Obviously, if issues are found, I will have to revisit our previous dentist, but since we just recently had ortho appts and they found no cavities, I’m feeling pretty confident that it’s just the $65 this time around.

Anyways, just wanted to share my dental win!  Appointment is still several weeks away, but I just received their brochure and confirmation card in the mail this week so thought it was a good time to share.

For those who chimed in on my braces post, we’ve decided to hold off on braces.  All the kids know the end game of this debt pay off journey and know that adding the braces payment to that could really set us back a bit.  I did let each of the twins choose independently on how important it was for them, with weigh in from me, and I think we’ve reached a good compromise on all sides.  We’ll revisit my daughter’s in the next year, hopefully with some help from her dad, and let her decide with some parental input.


Bad Things Come in 3’s

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That’s the saying, right? Bad things come in 3’s. So apparently the God of the “bad things” has trouble counting because I’m pretty sure we’re on bad thing #130903480 in the past couple months. Sure, it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but some more crap has gone down.

First, on Monday while I was driving my front left tire blew out. I’ve been a passenger in a car when a tire has blown out before but this was my first time driving when one occurred and it was scary! Luckily nothing too crazy (I was going about 45 on a regular street, not on the highway), but it swung me into the center median pretty hard before I regained control of the car and was able to safely navigate to the side of the road. I’m so, so, so glad I just hit the median and not another car! Yikes!

Four new tires + an alignment later (oh yeah, plus it needed new brakes too), I was coughing up $1100 for car maintenance. All relatively necessary. The car (5 years old) has never had new tires so we knew we’d be needing some in the coming months but didn’t realize the day would come so suddenly. The tires weren’t completely bald or anything, so the blow out was a huge surprise. I guess the thing to be grateful for there is that the blowout occurred while only I was in the car (no kids in the car), in our own town (not on the road somewhere between Tucson and Austin), and no one was hurt. The alignment was necessary because its good to do when you get new tires plus I had really whacked the sh*t out of the front blown tire when I rammed the curb. Not sure if that can mess up the alignment, but I’m sure its not good. Alignments are relatively inexpensive anyway. The only thing I think we could have gotten cheaper were the brakes. Husband knows how to do brakes and I would have liked to have had him do them, but they were all rusted and corroded (so weird because the car is well maintained and we rarely have rain in Tucson?? but we bought it used so the rust could have been from before we owned it), and hubs said to just have them replaced since he’s been so busy with work and wasn’t sure when he’d have a chance to do them before our Texas trip.

Oh yeah, and remember how we used up our full vehicle maintenance savings fund last month when husband’s car needed maintenance? Yeah, so we’ve got nothing saved for it.

Then the second thing occurred this morning. Husband always wakes up before me (he’s usually out the door by 7am, and I only wake up at 6:30-6:45ish). Today, though, when he woke up he went to the bathroom and came back out, gently shaking me awake. I open my eyes and see…..a swollen cheek.

I’ve seen this before. This is the same mother-freaking swollen cheek I saw last time husband had a bad tooth that required a root canal. Correction. This is the same swollen cheek he had the time before last time. Last time was just this past July (remember??), and his mouth never swelled up that time.

Seriously, world? SERIOUSLY?!!?!?!!?!

He says it came out of nowhere; that it hadn’t been hurting or anything. But he’s now in serious pain and the situation is going to require immediate attention (side note for long-term readers: yes, it’s not really “out of nowhere” because we knew he had a few teeth that really needed root canals and we’ve just basically been putting them off, trying to save up money and pay down some debt first).

So this morning he had his helper meet at our house so the helper could take the truck and get started working. Husband went to the dentist and had some preliminary stuff done (he did get a prescription for some antibiotics, too, but apparently the infection wasn’t bad enough to preclude some of the initial root canal stuff – like taking a mold of the tooth or whatever happens? I’ve never had a root canal so I don’t know). But here’s where I get really pissed. I’ve had a couple people (real life friends & readers) comment on how awesome these dental discount plans are. I’m familiar with these plans and, back in July when husband had his last root canal, I had suggested he buy one of these plans.  Husband said that the office showed him their rates with the plan, but they were able to match the plan’s price without having to actually purchase the plan. If you’ll recall, back in July we paid $1600 for the root canal + crown.

Welllllll…. I was b*tching about this to a friend today on the phone and, again, she brings up the dental discount plan. She urges me to check it out myself, practically insisting on it, even though I tell her that husband already saw all the rates while at the dentist’s office. I get off the phone and do a little internet research and – lo and behold – guess what guys! The dental discount plan could have saved us nearly $600! Yes. Root canal + crown for just under $1,000. We paid $1600 (and that’s the same quote we got for the current root canal, too). WTF!?

So now I’m conflicted. We already owe the dental office from their work today (to the tune of $800), but now what? Try to find an in-network dentist to do the crown at the discount rate (of about $500), or just finish up with the dentist we’ve started with? Husband is in immediate pain and has already had the process started at this current place so he just wants to finish there. But I feel like they’re basically swindling us out of money! It’s our fault because we should have researched and learned that different offices have different rates (husband & I both assumed the rates he was shown for the “dental discount plan” would be comparable at all Tucson dentists), but it just makes me angry! We’re basically hemorrhaging money around here!

I feel like Murphy  (of Murphy’s law) is testing us. How dedicated are we to this whole get-out-of-debt thing?

Guess what, Mr. Murphy! Pretty f-ing dedicated. Why don’t you just pack up your bags and take a hike?!

In the meantime, we’ve spent $1900 and counting (that’s $1100 on the car + $800 on the tooth, and between another $500-800 to go). Thankfully, we do have some savings in our dental insurance savings fund, but not nearly enough to cover the full procedure (we have about $500). So, I’m breaking my living-on-last-month’s income rule. I’m raiding our bank account to cover these costs so I don’t have to dip into additional Emergency Funds to cover the deficit.

December looks like it’s turning out to be quite profitable for husband’s business so I think we’ll be okay. Meaning, I think that even after paying these expenses we’ll still have enough to “live on last month’s income” for January (so we won’t have to start over on that). Essentially, January would have seen a great debt payment. Instead, it will get an average-sized debt payment and a lot of what would have been surplus will be going to pay car maintenance and dental procedures. Big bummer. But at least no new debt is incurred and we’re still making progress on our existing debt.

This also impacts how I’ll be budgeting in 2015. I still need to find the time to go over everything and really analyze our spending, but now I’ll be able to know a precise number to save for dental expenses or car maintenance, etc., instead of just randomly selecting a number out of thin air to save (which, as it turns out, has not been enough). So, live and learn.

And…no more bad things. We’re capped out on bad things right now.


Keeping my (cheap) health insurance!!!

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So excited with some information I learned!!!

It was several months ago when I mentioned that I realized I was probably going to have to get a new insurance in 2015. This sucks (bad) because we currently pay $350/month to insure our family of 4. It’s not the best insurance in the world (very limited vision coverage and no dental), but when I was pricing comparable coverages for our family the quotes on other insurances were closer to the $1,000+ range! Whoa! That’s a huge difference!!!

Why the increase??

Our current plan was an older plan that existed pre-Affordable Care Act and is not compliant with today’s mandated standards (specifically, it does not provide any prenatal coverage). I’m not planning a pregnancy so this makes our insurance cheap and its a win-win since we’re not paying for coverage we won’t need. Although we were allowed to keep our plan through the end of 2014, we knew it would expire on December 31, 2014 and force us to find a new plan for 2015. Womp, womp!

But(!) some of you had mentioned that our plan may have been grandfathered in for another year. I (finally) looked into it further and discovered that our current plan will be good for one more year (until end of 2015….though some plans have been grandfathered in until 2017)! What a blessing that we won’t have to budget an additional $650/month toward insurance starting in January! It’s such a relief! Whew! (Side note:  with any luck, I’ll have landed a full time job complete with benefits like health insurance and 401k matching before the end of 2015 when our current insurance is set to expire)

If you haven’t yet, I definitely recommend anyone whose wondering or curious to look into whether they can renew their old insurance for another year, too. I know there are several specific rules and they vary from state to state so its best to call your own insurance company to figure out what works best for you.

How much does health care cost you per month? We pay the $350/month insurance premium, but we were still paying hospitals/doctors $150 monthly for bills incurred from my husband’s health scare back at the end of 2013, so together we were paying $500/month for health care. BUT, we just paid off a $75/month bill last month so now we’re down to $425/month. More than I like, but not too shabby compared to what it could have been!