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Open Enrollment Completed

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Thank you so much for all the tips and comments on my Open Enrollment post! I really found the comments to be insightful and incredibly helpful as I decided on my plans.

In the end, I opted to keep my current insurance (a PPO) and a flex spending account for both health and dependent care purchases. I may still switch to an HSA in the future, but didn’t feel comfortable doing so without any EF whatsoever right now. So it will be a consideration in future years, but not at this time.

I increased the amount of deductions for my health HSA but reduced the deductions for my dependent care HSA. And the cost of my medical insurance went up a little as well.

In the end, here are the benefits-related deductions I’ll see per paycheck:

In my open enrollment post, I’d posted all of my paycheck deductions (including required investment, taxes, parking permit, etc.) But to do an apples-to-apples comparison of just the benefits-related deductions (including health insurance, dental insurance, and the two FSA contributions), here’s how things stack up:

2016 per paycheck deduction = $382.90

2017 per paycheck deduction = $340.33

So I’ll be saving a little bit per check, but its really a pretty negligible amount. I also hope to reduce the amount of taxes taken out (pending the CPA’s review), so I may be able to “add back” a little bit more money to my take-home pay after our 2016 taxes have been finalized.

All in all, it’s still a pretty large deduction per paycheck, but I have excellent insurance and am happy with our coverage thus far. I pay for my dad’s health insurance (albeit out of his own funds, but I am the money-manager), and he pays $1,000/month for private insurance for a single individual with crappy coverage! Ugh! So I know I am really very lucky to have such good coverage at such a great rate! And as an aside, my Dad’s birthday is in March and at that time he’ll be eligible for Medicare. So hopefully that means a big reduction in his  health insurance costs.

I just wanted to follow-up to let everyone know what we’d decided regarding open enrollment. Thanks, again, for all your helpful suggestions!

~Ashley

 


Open Enrollment

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First, thanks so much for the many thoughtful (and kind!) comments on my budget post. When I saw the comment count shoot up it made me nervous to read through them, but almost everyone was really very kind and forgiving (and generous in offering support, tips, advice, etc.) THANK YOU!

Speaking to one of the common comment themes I saw – many people asked about my take-home pay. For a $95k salary, my take-home ($2440/biweekly) is pretty low. The reason for this is that I have a LOT of things withheld and/or paid from my check pre-tax. This list includes the following (all numbers from my most recent paycheck):

  • Medical insurance ($125.50/check)
  • Dental insurance ($52.28/check)
  • FSA – Health ($68.37/check)
  • FSA – Dependent Care ($136.75/check)
  • Retirement account (required and already investing at the lowest amount so no chance to reduce – $256.91/check)
  • Parking permit ($38.45/check)

Plus, of course, all my taxes as well ($552.13 from my last check).

If I added this all up correctly, that comes to a whopping $1230.39 taken from my check before it hits my direct deposit! WHOA! That’s a third of my check!

So the question came up – can I change some of these things so I can get back more money per paycheck. And the answer is – YES! Right now is my open enrollment period and I’d LOVE to have some help with figuring things out! Let me address things one at a time.

Taxes

I can likely lower my tax withholdings per check, but have opted not to make any changes right now. Taxes are not part of my open enrollment, so I can change those at any time. Based on what feels best to me (and many comments/advice I’ve received), I’m going to do our 2017 taxes ASAP once the new year hits. That will give us a better feel for how much we really owe and we can make adjustments accordingly. Given our huge tax debt (that we’ll be paying on for what feels like a lifetime), we’ve opted NOT to reduce our withholdings for the time being. We’re likely over-paying a little this year, but we feel okay with that – any extra money can go to help reduce the tax bill and we can re-adjust after the CPA has gone over everything.

Retirement, Dental, Parking

These are all pretty well “set” and cannot be changed. We have limited options for dental – I can decline the insurance, but we use it and need it. So it stays. In terms of parking, I live too far to walk/bike and don’t have anyone living nearby to ride-share with. So unless I switch up my Mom car for a motorcycle (never happening), this bill is pretty much “set” too. Retirement is required by my employer. I used to invest a full 10%, but have reduced down to the minimum (7%) already. No way to make this any lower.

Medical 

So here is where I could REALLY use some advice. Currently, we have a PPO plan and this entire year I’ve been thinking that, come open enrollment, we’d switch to a HSA. But when I started really doing some research to compare the two options, I think we’d end up spending MORE with the HSA. Yes, we’d save on monthly premiums, but the out-of-pocket costs and deductibles are much higher.  Here are some side-by-side comparisons I put together. What do you think?

Health Savings Account PPO 
Per-paycheck Premium $61 $150 (note: this is more than listed above because premiums are going up)
Overall Deductible In-network:

$1300/employee; $2600/family

In-network:

$500/employee; $1,000/family

Other Deductibles Non-preventive prescription coverage:

$1300/employee; $2600/family

None
Out-of-pocket limit In-network:

$2,000/employee; $4,000/family

In-network:

$1,000/employee; $2,000/family

Not included in out-of-pocket limit Premiums and health care not covered by the plan Premiums, drug co-pays, and health care not covered by the plan
Annual limit on what the plan pays None None
Costs for common services with in-network providers.

Primary care to treat illness or injury

Specialist visit

Other practitioner office visit

Preventive care /screening

Diagnostic (x-ray, blood work)

Imaging (CT/PET/MRI)

Mental health

Generic drugs

 

 

10% co-insurance

10% co-insurance

10% co-insurance

No charge

10% co-insurance

10% co-insurance

10% co-insurance

non-preventive: 100% until deductible is met. Preventive: $10 copay

 

 

$15 copay

$30 copay

$10 copay for OB/GYN

$15 copay primary care; $10 OB/GYN

No charge

No charge

$15 copay

$10 copay

 

I receive biweekly pay (26 checks/year). So the HSA annual premium is $1586. The PPO annual premium is $3900 (a difference of $2314). But if we’re having to pay $2600 for our family health deductible + $2600 for the prescription deductible (compared to a $1,000 deductible for the PPO plan), I think it’s just too much money out-of-pocket! (though, caveat, I’m no expert with healthcare – does the out-of-pocket max only apply to healthcare, or would that also include prescription coverage??)

My thought is that we’d be better to stay in the PPO. It also scares me to think of paying 10% of any imaging, diagnostic, etc. We’ve been lucky thus far (knock on wood), but we have young kids – broken bones are a given at some point, right?

Those more experienced than I am – thoughts?

Flex Spending Accounts

The dependent care account contributions will decrease in 2018 and even moreso in 2019. Right now, we still have hefty monthly bills. Our girls are in kindergarten and, though half-day kinder is state-subsidized, the state does not cover the costs of full-day kinder. We pay that. The total was actually right about $1,000/month, but we paid out of our FSA a huge chunk for one of our kids’ entire semester of tuition (for which we received a discount). We’ve been paying the remaining costs out-of-pocket (the dependent care FSA was depleted months ago).  For next year, we’ll only have one semester worth of full-day kinder costs (the second half of the year they’ll advance to first grade – totally free!), plus the costs of care for summer and after-care, as needed. (Note: several people have suggested that hubs take over childcare so I just wanted to address that here:  hubs does handle the bulk of childcare. Where we live, half-day kinder is 8:30-11:30am. Hubs is in classes full-time that extends well beyond that timeframe. The full day kinder program is 8:30-3:00pm. Currently, hubs gets the girls at 3:00pm every day except Wednesday – his long day – so we pay very little in “after care” at the present time. Just one day per week. This arrangement is unlikely to change for the rest of the academic year).

Bottom line, we should be able to lower the amount of FSA money withheld for dependent care for next year, thus increasing the size of my take-home pay.

The health care FSA is entirely dependent upon whichever medical plan we choose. If we get the HSA, we’ll use the health savings account. If we keep the PPO, we’ll keep a flex spending account for medical expenses. This year, we put $1750 in our health FSA and it was not nearly enough. If we keep the PPO, we’ll increase our health FSA contributions probably to about $2250-ish (though I’d need to crunch numbers first).

So the big question is…..HSA or PPO (with a FSA)? Pros and cons? What are your thoughts and why?


Free Family Fun!

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I love this time of year because it always seems to be jam-packed with free things that we can do together as a family! Our area hosts monthly movies in the park, live music in the park, fall festivals, and more!

This weekend we took the girls to do something I’ve been wanting to do with them since they were babies….I took them to compete in their first race!

I love running. It’s my therapy of choice (False. I actually go to “real” therapy, too. But you know what I mean). I do compete in some races – typically one or two per year – but otherwise most of my running activities are nearly free because I already own plenty of running attire and it’s totally free just to run around outside in the neighborhood and/or on neighborhood trails! I figure it’s much cheaper than a monthly gym membership and I enjoy being outside much more than pounding out miles on the dreadmill (oops, I meant treadmill).

This weekend was the TMC Get Moving race series. I have serious history with this particular race. It was my first EVER 5K run nearly a decade ago. It was also my first post-baby half-marathon (my second half-marathon overall). It’s a very family-friendly race and this year we decided to “compete” in the FitKidz Family 1-mile run. Best of all, it was 100% FREE!

We registered the kids so they had official race bibs and received kid t-shirts. Parents were permitted to join kids on the course (also free), but no shirts or bibs for us. 🙂

The race was so well done, I was quite impressed! Hubs and I did the divide and conquer approach: he stayed with one kid and I stayed with the other. I didn’t think they’d finish the whole mile but, to my surprise, they both ran the entire way! I was so impressed and proud of their hard work (though to be fair – there’s no way the course was an entire mile. I didn’t map it on my Fitbit, but I’d guess it was closer to .6 or .7 of a mile. Either way, it was perfect for kids!)

At the finish line, all kids received a finishers ribbon and were treated to snacks (bags of chips or pretzels, water bottles, and eegees < a Tucson thing kind of like a slush/snow cone hybrid). They also had a big bounce house set up and a clown doing face paint and balloon animals. And again – all 100% free! I was seriously shocked at the number of amenities for this event! (Note: the race series also included a 5k and half-marathon as well < not free).

Hubs and I split up during the mile race because one child was naturally running a little faster than the other. I stuck with the leader and hubs stayed behind. The smile on my kids’ face as everyone cheered her on toward the finish line was absolutely priceless! I was running with her (and going much faster than I’d thought she was capable!!! I was impressed!), so I wasn’t able to get a picture of her, but after finishing we stood together at the finish line to cheer on Dad and sis. The smile on her face says it all. Proud mom moment here, folks!

Running is such a passion of mine, so it’s extra exciting to be able to share it with my kiddos! We will definitely be looking into this race again in the future! Most of the fun runs I’ve seen are not free, so the fact that this is offered (and so well organized! plus so many amenities!) totally free is a real perk!

Plus, look at these smiles! You can tell how proud they are of themselves! I love the confidence-building aspect of the race!

And a good weekend was had by all! 😉

What kinds of free Fall events are offered in your area? Do you have any annual favorites you look forward to?


No Spend Week Check-In: Days 3 & 4

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Wednesday was Day #3 of our No Spend Week Challenge.

Day #3 (Wednesday) Notes:

I used the last of the bread for toast at breakfast. BUT, a small miracle occurred when I recalled that the local grocer had recently sent out coupons. There were two coupons, in particular, that were totally FREE items – no purchase necessary! One for bread and one for a Dole Salad Kit! Score!

I was going to try to make it all the way until Friday without purchasing anything at all (I still had all $13 in my wallet), but then I was thwarted when, about 1pm, I got a phone call from the kids’ school. Both kiddos had fevers and were being sent home. On my way to pick them up, I swung by the grocery store. I used my free coupons to get bread and a salad kit. In addition, I picked up a couple fresh fruits that were on sale, but I also had to spend some of the money on children’s Tylenol and I got some juice, since I thought the vitamin C wold be good for the kids. I had to be extra cautious (and had to make decisions: putting back a bag of apples in favor of a less expensive fruit option), but I ended up spending $13.08!! I was pretty pumped to have spent exactly what I had left for the week (the 8 pennies came from my wallet).

I don’t know what sickness is ailing the kids, but there’s no puke (*fingers crossed*) and they both slept well all night (thank Jesus!), so I’m hoping I won’t need any additional illness-related items. They’re staying home today (Thursday, Day #4 of the No Spend Week). Fingers crossed they’ll be well enough to go back on Friday and, also, that I manage to get some work done from home today.

Wednesday’s Meals:

Breakfast:  Smoothie (now running low on frozen berries), half a piece of toast (uneaten from one of my kids’ breakfasts)

Lunch:  Chicken and cheese bagel sandwich (chicken was the last of the leftovers, repurposed in a different way; cheese from fridge, half a bagel from a bag I’d had in the freezer); tortilla chips on side.

Dinner:  Chicken tenders with frozen mixed veggies (from freezer) and homemade rolls on side.

 

Day #4 (Thursday) Notes:

Today (Thursday), will be different than originally planned given that now all 3 of us girls are going to be home. It makes work tough, but will likely make our food situation easier because I can utilize the oven/microwave to have food for lunch that would be impractical to make for the kids’ lunches.

Thursday Meals:

Breakfast: Bagel and cream cheese

Lunch (planned): Leftovers from dinner Wednesday night.

Dinner (planned): Orange chicken (Costco package in freezer) with jasmine rice (from bag in pantry) and fresh broccoli (just purchased).

 

Jury is still out on whether additional expenses are necessary for illness-related medication. We literally have no money at this point, which really sucks. We have credit available, but the whole goal of this month was to STOP spending on credit. My tentative plan is a “wait and see” approach with the kids. It’s still early here in Tucson and so far, the kids seem okay. If by about 9-ish they’re not doing well I’ll go ahead and schedule a doctor’s appointment and take them to be seen. I get paid tomorrow (Friday), so if any purchases need to be made I’m planning to pay with my debit card, but to have it run like “credit.”  That way the charge is “pending” for a couple days and by the time it officially goes through I’ll have money in the bank. I know this is a totally sad and ridiculous way to go about life – having to play games to delay payment until pay day. I know. We’ve got a lot of work to do still. But at least we’re making every effort to right the ship we’re on and to stop taking on additional debt!

Wish me luck with both the money situation and the kids’ illness situation. OF COURSE, hubby is scheduled to be out of town the next 4 days (Thurs – Sun) so I’m single-parenting it over here with the sick kids. Normally it’d be no big deal, but I have a HUGE work deadline next week (I have to submit a dossier for my promotion & tenure committee, so it’s kind of a big deal – directly affecting my ability to promote). I’m pretty stressed about potentially NOT being able to work the next 4 days while the kids are sick and hubs is gone. Times like these, I sure wish we had family around that I could call for help/backup!

How are your No Spend Weeks going? Any unexpected expenses come up? How have you handled the situation?


First Paycheck = FAIL!!!

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I received my first full paycheck at my new rate of pay. I was shocked that it was much lower than I had anticipated (even after using a couple online calculator programs to try to accurately predict take-home pay).  My expectation was that I’d earn somewhere between $5-6,000/month take-home.  The reason for the large range is that I have a LOT of money coming out in pre-tax deductions, including:  medical and dental insurance, Flex Spending Savings accounts for health and dependent care, and 7% retirement investment (required and matched by my employer). In total, I have 20% of my check removed pre-tax. Taxes remove another 20% of my paycheck. So when looking at my base weekly salary compared to my take-home pay, I’m only actually bringing home 60% of what I earn (to be fair, I’m saving money by being able to pay a portion of medical and childcare from our FSA with pre-tax dollars, but our FSA has caps that we exceed, so some of those expenses are still paid out of my take-home pay post-tax).

After all deductions, my first full paycheck was for a total of $2269. I get paid bi-weekly, so we’re talking about $4500/month for most months (except for the odd month with 3 pay periods). This was a huge shock, given that we’ve been quite accustomed to budgeting for literally double that income amount.

I’ve never shared exact income numbers before on the blog because it made my husband feel uncomfortable for his business earnings to be shared and analyzed. But now that he’s shut his doors down and it’s all me – I feel fine with sharing my personal income. Guess what, y’all….my salary is $95,423/year. That’s with my big raise. I was originally hired at $55,000 two years ago. I guess there’s some disconnect in my brain or something because I thought $95k sounded like “BIG MONEY.” When I got my raise I was overjoyed – I was expecting a huge, wild difference in my rate of take-home pay. Under $5,000/month was NOT what I was expecting. Call me spoiled or privileged of whatever else you want (and I own that I am some of those things – I’m lucky to have the job I do), but this was a huge shock.

So although it feels like “starting over” (although it’s not!!! We’re still down nearly $80k in debt over the last 3 years), it’s definitely a come-to-Jesus moment. Hubs and I have had to totally start over on our budget with fresh eyes. Thinking about how to continue making progress on our debt reduction journey while simply surviving (here, we thought we’d be “thriving” with this huge raise). Some tough realizations have been made:

  • Hubs must keep earning an income somehow. Hubs has run a successful flooring business for almost a decade, but recently quit to go back to school. Many people have commented that he should keep his business going for some side-income, but it just doesn’t work that way. Unless you’ve owned a business in the construction trade before, you probably don’t realize how expensive it is just to maintain the proper insurances, licenses, etc. Hubs is NOT the type to do business under the table without the appropriate certifications. It’s a big problem in his industry (and where we live, in particular), and he was not about to go that route. But to just keep his insurances and licenses up to date cost several thousand a year. When we looked at what he was bringing in part-time versus the costs to keep the company legal, it just wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile. And, maybe surprisingly, the flooring trade is not as flexible with a school schedule as we need. Hubs’ first semester back was this past Spring and he had many stressful calls from employees (or worse, home-owners) with issues that demanded immediate attention, while he was still stuck in class for many hours to come. All in all, this was a losing proposition for our family. So now we’re trying to think of more flexible and accommodating ways that hubs can earn some side-money while in school. So far brainstorming has included: driving for uber or lyft, doing some type of food delivery, and perhaps trying to become a personal trainer. Remember – hubs has been big into health and fitness the last couple years, so the latter is his preferred method, but it will also take the longest to get started and requires additional research first. Any other ideas?
  • Food consumption has to get under control. A friend recently posted on facebook to inquire about how much her friends’ families pay per month for groceries. The most common number I saw was $250/week. I have to say, for the past couple of years since I’ve been working 2 jobs, our food budget has been way over $1,000/month (including groceries + eating out). I mean, $1,000/month was a GOOD month. But remembering back to when I first started blogging, it hasn’t always been this way! In fact, my original grocery budget was only $400/month!!! And I stuck to it! To be fair, it was never easy. I would spend a TON of time researching sales, carefully planning meals around sale items and food we already had in our pantry or freezer. I would easily have to go to 2-3 stores per week to get the best priced items (Walmart does their ad matching, but our local Walmart doesn’t have great quality produce). I’d also make a ton of items from scratch. Everything from breads and homemade granola bars to fruit leather and yogurt – even baby wipes I made myself for cheaper than could be bought bulk at Costco. Between ad searching, meal planning, grocery shopping, food prepping, and scratch baking, I probably spent a good 10-15 hours/week on my efforts. It paid off big-time in terms of money saved, but I just simply lacked the time when I started working full time (plus kept my part-time job, on the side). When I accepted my big raise I had to sign a non-compete so I had to leave my part-time job. So even though I still work full-time, I have significantly more time in the early morning/evening/weekend hours to try to devote to some of my old grocery-saving ways. I don’t know that it’s reasonable to get back to only $400/month. But I think if I shoot for $550-600/month (again – that’s for all food: groceries + eating out), it would be a huge savings over our current spending. I’m going to give it an honest effort for the month of August and see how I do.
  • The budget, in general, needs to be slashed. It’s scary how easy it’s been for things to creep up over time. When I first started blogging all our gifts were in the $10-15/range. Recently our gift-giving has been closer to $25-35+/gift. Hubs and I have both rejoined a gym. It’s very important to hubs (and he spends legitimately a ton of time there), but maybe I’ll cancel my own membership to try to save some money since I’m perfectly happy to run outdoors for free as my preferred form of exercise. I also had a friend recently mention that some health insurance companies offer discounts for gym memberships? I need to call Blue Cross, Blue Shield to inquire about this. Spending across the board needs to come down.
  • Debt payments??? Probably the hardest thing to accept is that our debt payments are going to drastically decrease. We’d grown accustomed to throwing thousands a month toward debt! I’m talking many months where we were paying $2500-$3000/month toward debt!!! Obviously if I’m only bringing home $4,500, there’s no room for a $3,000 debt payment. It’s just not possible. So we have to adjust expectations, adjust our 2017 financial goals, and just keep plowing forward, making as much progress as possible with what we have to work with.

So, ultimately, we need to cut our expenses AND try to find a way to increase our income. There’s not much wiggle room for me (since I can’t pick up side work in my current industry), but I think we can try to find solutions to get hubs some part-time side gigs. My focus will be best spent on trying to reduce our food expenses, since that tends to be our #1 monthly expense (cumulatively speaking. And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it’s true).

So there you go – I’ve laid it all out on the table. Next up will be formulating a solid budget plan and figuring out how to juggle our debt payments. Especially now that we owe $1,000/month to the IRS from our poor planning last year. Ugh! But baby steps here – if I think about everything at once I become overwhelmed so it’s one thing at a time. We now have a solid “income” figure so we know what we’ll be working with in terms of take-home pay. Now it’s time to figure out how to make our outflow match with our inflow and to find additional areas to cut back.

 

How much does your household spend per month on groceries (and how many people are in the household)? How do you save money on your food budget?


The True Cost of a Deck

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Thanks for all the comments on my latest post about motivation. I’ve taken the comments to heart and am really doing some serious pondering and life planning for moving forward. I’m trying to minimize the financial bleeding this summer, and then jump back full-force in August with some renewed energy. I wanted to try to go gung-ho this month, but with my lower pay and some unexpected expenses (see below) I just don’t think I can even reasonably expect to try to create a $3,000/month budget for the month of July. We’re going to take on more debt. Sigh. But in August I’ll have my first full month of new salary and our bills will have hopefully stabilized enough for us to create a new budget. From what I’ve figured, I think my take-home pay will be around $6,000/month when my new raise goes into effect. So far the budgets I’ve been playing with are still around the $7,000ish range, so I’ve got to figure out how to come up with an extra $1,000 month (or, alternatively, how to cut an extra $1,000/month from the budget). I’ll write up a post soliciting advice soon.

In the meantime, let me tell you about my latest unexpected expense in a story I call “The True Cost of a Deck.”

My mom and stepdad still live in the same home that I was raised in from the time I was 10-years-old. The house is in a highly sought-after area in Austin, TX and has appreciated well during the time they’ve owned it. It’s beautiful and I love it, but it no longer serves my mom and stepdad’s needs. It’s too large, taxes are too high, and it’s too-tall (two story, when they’d prefer a single story).

The plan has been to put the house on the market this coming spring. My mom, a real estate broker, has tried to dedicate much of the last year to putting in updates that were needed to bring the house up to modern-day and to maximize the amount they can list it for when it goes on the market. They’ve done updates in the bathrooms, the kitchen, and with the floors. The last remaining big thing has been the deck.

My mom’s house is built on the side of a hill. When you walk in the front door it’s at ground level, but then the ground slopes steeply so when you walk to the back door of the house (still on the first floor), all the sudden you’re an entire story above ground. They’ve had a back deck that you could walk out on with stairs leading down to the backyard grass below.

The deck is entirely made of wood and it has been heavily used and abused across time. At this point, parts of the deck are warped and rotted and it is unsafe to be on. Many of the surrounding homes had similar problems and all have had their decks redone at some point in the past 5-10 years. My mom, the last hold-out on the street, felt the time was finally right to replace their deck as it could raise safety concerns for potential homebuyers.

My stepdad, a very intelligent academic-type who likes to think himself a DIY-er, spent months thinking up plans for the deck. Finally, they decided to shell out the money to have a professional draft the plans and provide a list of materials needed to complete the project. The plan was for my stepdad to do the work himself. Once plans were procured, my stepdad went to work. Literally on Day #1, before anything else had been done, he got up on a ladder to cut down the limbs of an overhanging tree. When the large branch fell, it took out the ladder my stepdad had been standing on. Chainsaw in hand, all 3 (stepdad, ladder, and limb) fell to the ground. What could have ended in serious disaster (I shutter to even consider the possibilities), ended up not too terrible. My stepdad sustained a severe tear of his rotator cuff that would require surgery. After meeting with multiple specialists (he didn’t want to accept the truth), he begrudgingly agreed to hire out the rest of the work, given that he required immediate surgery and a lengthy recovery. Any plans for future deck-building were gone. In fact, he was told, the muscles in his arm/shoulder would likely never be the same again.

My Stepdad’s surgery was this past Friday afternoon. Early Saturday morning, my sister (an RN) went to visit and check on my stepdad’s bandages/dressing. While there, my Mom encouraged everyone to go outside to see the progress being made on the back deck – now being completed by a hired contractor. Outside, everyone admired the deck. It’s costing an arm-and-a-leg ($20k compared to the $5-7k DIY estimate), but it’s going up quickly and looks beautiful!

Everyone started walking back around the big hill toward the front of the house when my mom tripped on a piece of debris from the construction, fell, and landed hard on her arm. My sister said the “pop” was audible and unmistakable. My mom’s arm was bent backward and sideways, an unnatural direction that can not occur with healthy, intact bones. An x-ray at the ER later verified the extent of the break. My mom was in so much pain that she almost passed out a couple of times: during examination and immobilization.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 2.56.53 PM

My mom had surgery today. Now both people (Mom & Stepdad) have an arm immobilized, recovering from very recent surgery. Neither can drive due to high dosage pain medicine, nor can they do much of anything on their own. In the time between my Mom’s break (on Saturday) and her surgery (today), my Mom has been in such excruciating pain that she’ been nearly helpless, even with her good arm. Meanwhile, my stepdad’s surgery went well but he’s been battling nausea and vomiting due to the pain medicine he’s on (even after having the doctor call in a lower dosage pain medicine). It’s just a mess.

My sister, now 7 months pregnant, is the true hero of the story. She took off almost a full week last month to help move my dad to his new facility. And she’s taken off almost a full week this month to help with my Mom and Stepdad. She’s gone over daily to make meals, take out trash, clean dishes, etc. etc. She had taken over a case of waters and literally had to pre-open all of the bottles because neither parent could seem to do it one-handed. I mean, it’d be comical if it weren’t my parents!

So this deck that was only going to cost about $5,000 to replace will now likely end up costing over $30,000. It’s about $20,000 for the deck itself, then the out-of-pocket max will be hit for both parents due to their ER visits and surgeries, not to mention loss of work (for them and for my sister). I booked a flight and will be arriving on Friday afternoon. I don’t have the money to go and I really don’t have the time, either. But I have to be there for my family. I just have to.

I’ll be in Austin from Friday-Monday. I’ll be back in Tucson in the office on Tuesday, and then I immediately leave for a work conference trip from Wednesday through Saturday. Then the plan is to round the family up and hit Disney later that week.

So the month of July is turning out to be totally nuts. And it’s costing an arm and a leg two arms! (groan, har har).

At least we have our health freedom, right?

Stay safe out there, DIY-ers! I’ll catch you from Austin on the flipside!


FTD Awareness

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Hi, friends! Thanks for all of your comments on this post! I have loved reading your success stories. It has been so helpful to read about so many who have successfully navigated a mid-life career change and come out on the other side better for it. I so appreciate your support!

Today I’m re-posting an old blog (originally published here). Partly because I’ve been dealing with some serious FTD-related issues lately. The short story is that my dad has now turned to self-harm when he becomes frustrated (which is always). It’s created several mini-emergencies, as he’s cut himself with a razor, hit his head with a hammer in Walmart, and frequently punches himself in the stomach/gut area. My siblings and I are panicked trying to get these symptoms under control. He has a psychiatrist appointment today so – fingers crossed – we can tweak some meds and help reduce some of his anxiety and frustration. I just cannot even convey how sh*tty this disease is. And it gets virtually NO attention. There’s no funding for medical research whatsoever and, currently, there are NO medications available to help slow the disease’s progression. It’s just heart-wrenching to watch.

So, while I have this platform with a little bit of readership (thanks for reading!) I just want to do my part to try to raise awareness. You may also be interested in seeing this very short clip from the Today show. An expert in the field answered some questions about FTD, discussing key differences between FTD and Alzheimers. Check it out if it interests you.

Have a great day!

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It’s October. We all know what that means. Breast cancer awareness month, right? Pink everywhere!

Which is fantastic! We all know someone who has been affected by breast cancer.

But do you know what other “awareness” week is going on right now?

Frontotemporal degeneration awareness.

Fronto-What?

Frontotemporal degeneration. Fronto (as in the frontal lobe), temporal (as in the temporal lobe) degeneration (as in…degenerating).

So, I guess the cat’s out of the bag. This is what my Dad’s got.

It’s a terrible, dehumanizing, crippling disease. It destroys the very essence of the human being.

Right now there is no cure. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, there aren’t even any treatments to slow progression (just meds to help manage side-effects, such as OCD-type qualities or anti-psychotics to help assuage delusions/hallucinations).

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. I’ve read plenty, but we’re still relatively new to the disease as a whole, so I’m not going to spout off a lot of statistics at you. You can read about it for yourself. 

Initially I wasn’t even going to post anything. I’ve never revealed my Dad’s illness. But why suffer in silence? This dementia is the second most diagnosed dementia for people under the age of 60. And there is a serious lack of funding right now for it. Mainly because (I can’t help to think) no one has heard of it! What is it, even!? What does it do?

In short? It wreaks havoc. It causes the person’s thoughts and behaviors to change. It will likely force the diagnosed individual into early retirement (or could precipitate an untimely termination). It robs the person of his or her very essence, changing fundamental personality traits.

Frontotemporal degeneration awareness week spans from October 4-11. As you are inundated with breast cancer awareness messages in social media, maybe take a moment to think about this lesser known disease that is every bit as crippling and debilitating. This disease for which there is no chemotherapy or radiation treatment. For which those diagnosed are rarely seen as heroic; no imagery of warriors “battling” the disease. Instead, most are ostracized. Their odd patterns of behavior cause people to cut social ties, forcing them into an increasingly withdrawn, sad, and lonely world.

Given the closeness to home, you can bet that this is going to become something very near to my heart. As we get out of debt, I’d love to be able to start donating to the Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration to raise awareness and provide funds for research. With any luck, one day we’ll have medications to help slow the progression of this wretched disease. Seeing the physical and mental anguish it causes is nothing short of heart-breaking. Research is needed. So spread the word.

Hugs to all!

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” (source)


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