Retirement Remedies: Fourth Quarter Report

Despite worries and hefty expenses, this year is actually ending on a better note than it appeared we could possibly hope.  I'm so happy to report that and I feel optimistic about the coming year.

In October, I discovered my lab costs were not being paid by the insurance company.  It seems they were not a preferred provider.  I was shocked.  Six months of labs every other week and sometimes weekly had really added up to a hefty cost.  I'd have loved to have known this information early on, but apparently even the hospital was unaware of it.  I reluctantly changed to the preferred provider and the insurance is now paying all but pennies of each bill.  I haven't yet received billing from the hospital but I did tell you all in late September that bills trickle in.  I'll stand in trust that when the billing arrives we'll be able to pay it.

I'm currently paying down an inpatient bill in increments but each month we've just managed to have a nice sized enough payment to satisfy the billing service and we've not dipped into savings nor increased our loan in order to pay any bills.  I have a small medical bill fund that I add to each month and it's always just enough.

In November the doctor told me I could stop testing twice daily and check my blood sugars just twice a week (or when I was sick or eating something highly unusual for my diet).  That meant my current supply of diabetic supplies has lasted well and will carry me into the first three months of the New Year.  It is a welcome change in my health and costs overall and is a help.

John visited the same doctor in October.  Unfortunately no one mentioned to him that the doctor did not accept John's insurance even though he submitted his paper work well ahead of his appointment...So we paid a rather hefty fee out of pocket for that.  After looking at the preferred providers list and reviewing what his out of pocket deductible is and taking into account his general good health we've decided we'll just stick with this doctor.  The out of pocket to a non-system provider is only slightly more than the cost of his deductible if using a preferred provider.  We really like this doctor and his overall approach to a more natural medication, which is beyond refreshing and appears to be far more beneficial to our health.

We were again pleasantly surprised by what we refer to as 'those little policies', this time the vision insurance John picked up at the beginning of the year.  I think we pay $30 per pay period which mightn't sound like a lot to some nor so little to another but both those policies have more than paid for their premiums in savings to us.  We've just been for eye exams ($10 co-pay only) and discovered the policy pays $150 towards frames plus a portion of other costs.  We paid a large sum out of pocket and I'll warrant we'll figure out a way to change that next time but we'll be keeping those two policies as long as we can.  I just wish they offered medical insurance!

I had a small earnings from my booth in September and a very good month in October.  November I did nothing at all but I'd earned enough in October to pay rent through the end of the year.  I've prayed long and hard about my little booth and I've felt a strong urging to keep going through September of this year, which is when my fiscal year starts afresh.

I realized as I worked with my booth notebook this past month that I have been abysmal in my book keeping and I've allowed the booth to languish with my health issues including that horrid old cold that held on for 6 weeks.  I hope in the coming year to do better on all counts.  I've plenty of stock on hand here at home and can afford to wait for the odd yard sale or good thrift store trip to purchase any further items to keep the stock fresh.

I managed better with surveys and such with the new satellite service.  I was able to access MyCokeRewards account once again and purchased $20 in gift cards through those earned points.  I earned $15 with Pinecone research, $20 from NFS and about $75 from Swagbucks.  All these were great helps in purchasing supplements and supplies, and a few household needs, as well as a gift or two.  I also redeemed Coke Points to purchase another Christmas gift.  All told I'd say close to $200 was earned from these

The financial help we'd extended to our family member was repaid in full, a very pleasant surprise for us.  We spent a portion of that money on glasses and eye exams for John and I.

I managed to pay well over the minimum payment on our loan each month and with holiday pays we were able to put a little towards savings each month as well and while it's less than I'd like it's more than we'd managed throughout the third quarter.  This helped to offset our annual withdrawal for Christmas gifts to our children, which we slightly decreased this year.  It's all a point of balance and that worked for us.

I was able to continue with my current health insurance plan but it's a slightly higher cost for the very same plan I had.  It will likely rise a little more when I report income at end of year, because despite the lack of overtime and raise we've somehow managed to come in at about the same annual income as before.  John was convinced he'd make less, and I was too for that matter, but he didn't and there you are.  I'd worry about how much the premium might end being but I've found myself giving up those worries far more easily of late with God making it so plain that these things are handled in His own wonderful way.

I've been very near the adjusted grocery budget amount (back to $350) three months running (just slightly above).  I've talked over with John a few changes in what we purchase based on what he likes and what I can afford and he's been very amendable about the suggested changes. He's taught me to compromise and I've found he's very willing to work with me if I can offer an alternative that allows him to have some of what he wants while helping control our grocery budget.

Our last meat purchase was in October and that was both chickens (whole ones from the market in the next town that I kept into pieces) and beef.  We managed to pay for that with the 3rd pay period  we had in October.  I've continued to slowly try and restock our pantry but it's been a few cans here and there with a lot of outages in other areas.   I did a freezer inventory this week and I have enough chicken to last about 2 weeks and enough beef to last a month.  I've noted the chickens continue to run that $.88/pound.  I'll start setting a little aside now as we've got holiday pay this month.

I worked on a freezer challenge this month to try and clear out some of the space eating items from the freezer in order to restock with low priced options like turkeys to see us into the new year.  I hope to purchase two or three which is sufficient for our needs as a couple.

As for the pantry outages, I feel I have to address this. Despite trying to restock I've found that even with $350 each month I'm struggling to replenish all the outages and low points we encountered earlier this year.    We're talking basic basics here not the nice to haves and I'm setting aside $100 from the holiday pay checks to just especially address those outages (coffee, olive oil, flour, grape juice, pet foods, etc.)  I did well at a CVS sale with coupons and ECBs and earned more ECBs to stock up hard on toilet paper in November.  I'm not quite where I want to be with that but I'm watching sales.

I've cleared a whole lower shelf in the pantry that held mostly junk and am dedicating that to paper products only.  I guess what I've really done this quarter is create room for more stocking up, because I've worked on emptying the freezers of odds and ends that took up unnecessary space to hold things like whole turkeys.

Project this quarter was the front porch which isn't finished even yet.  We had a lot of rainy days and when it wasn't raining I was without the time or funds to do more. At least the porch flooring is painted at long last and that alone has helped the looks of the porch a great deal.  Adding a trash can on it's side to house Blossom didn't do it any favors.  John and I've discussed options to make the pets housing elsewhere but no good solution has come to light yet.

I've started a mental list of things to do this coming year, and I have jotted down notes on several items.  I think lists are as good a tool as any and they help keep me on track.  To that end I've also started a list of purchases to be made this coming year.  I'm happy to say that I turned Swagbucks earnings into Lowes gift cards which will purchase the next two upgraded blinds for the house.  That leaves me with just one more room's window and the bath and kitchen windows to dress. It's taken me nearly two years all in all but I've about got it done.

I've lost a little more weight.  Thanks to swaps going on in our family I haven't purchased a thing but a purse, a scarf and a necklace in three months. I bought a pair of pants but took them back to the store.  Mama gave me some things she'd never worn that had tags attached including a nice winter coat, Virginia brought me a few items, the jeans Katie gave me fit perfectly just now, as do the sweaters she brought as well.  John gifted me some money and I bought bras in my new size.  Mama even gifted me three night gowns and just at the point where I could no longer wear the ones I had because they had gotten so much too big.  It's all been a huge blessing.  I cleared my closet of things that didn't fit me.  Bess happily acquired a new pair of shoes, I moved one pair that neither she nor Virginia could wear to the back door to become my yard shoes.  Virginia got the bulk of my clothing which was a boon to her wardrobe and I've a pair of jeans that very shortly will be going to Katie.  She'd already received a few cardigans, a pair of shoes and a scarf.

Three holidays this quarter for us which started with Thanksgiving in November.  I was able, thanks to a customer courtesy card I use about twice a year at a distant store, to purchase a very good all natural turkey for $.56/pound, a price even lower than the best purchase at Aldi which was the lowest I'd seen until I went into Ingles.  It's opened my eyes, that turkey to be aware of other stores where I shop occasionally.  We went into Walmart this past pay period and I discovered a very good price on several pantry items that beats the best price I've seen in other stores.  I'd just never thought to shop there.

Back to the holidays:  that was the only special purchase made for the holiday meal.  I did use my allowance to purchase some pretty amber colored glasses and salad plates to use on the dining table.  Everything else used on that table was on hand and it really looked lovely.   Chanukah we kept low key.  Mostly it was all about lighting the candles, and I was happy to share that with my youngest son, his bride and little boy.  I did buy the quality chocolate gelt at Aldi (Choceur chocolates are some of the best I've had in my life and I urge you to try them when they are available).  Cost $6 for three bags which we passed out as treats (I still have one for Katie).

And finally Christmas.  John has an amount of money going into savings each month that is automatically withdrawn from his pay.  Mostly we don't touch that money but we do use it to fund Christmas.  We sat down and planned what we'd give to each family and so gifts were covered.  I used the gift fund to purchase a gift for the two babies I'll get to see, merely because I wanted to watch a baby rip paper.  I kept those gifts at low cost to us.  The house was decorated using what we had on hand.  With the purchase of fresh flowers, I think I figured it as $16 spent overall.  Like at Thanksgiving, I am very pleased with how it all came together and have really enjoyed 'making do'...If anything these two holidays and the little freshening of decor I did in October for fall, really made me aware that I can do a lot with what I have on hand and don't really need to purchase lots of new things.  I think this is true because I tend to buy what I love at thrift stores when I see it and I have space to store it so that I can tuck it away and bring it out years later (i.e. Blue and White china). I also lean hard towards classic things which give long life as well.

I have had some insights, for all that I am a lifelong frugalite.  I've learned a few things here and there, realized a few savings I might have made when I thought I'd truly worked things out to the last possible few pennies.  For instance, I realized a few days ago that when I was de-glazing a pan to pour the resulting juices over the dog's food, that I might save those juices for soup. Not a huge savings by any means but a possible savings to look at in the future.

I was surprised how creative I got with bread end pieces in November.  We're still eating croutons and my family is smitten with them, etc. and there have been no complaints.  I often tease John that I have Ninja skills but I don't and the next paragraph is proof.

Foolishly, I wasted the last of the funds from my little personal account on a whole lot of nothing at Target.  It wasn't a great huge sum of money but I might have done something really useful with it like finish the front porch project or gotten the dining room chairs recovered and painted or...Lots of useful things I might have done, but I didn't.  I spent it on a few groceries here and a few vitamins there and a whole lot of dollar spot items that I might well have lived happily ever after without. Just showing you all that though I might be frugal I still do silly things.  I put those purchases on my credit card and when the bill came due I had to pay up.  Not one item benefited the house, the wardrobe, the pantry or even the library!  It was just a lot of stuff I might have lived without.  I forgot one key thing, a question I try to make it a point to ask when I'm shopping: Is this making my money work hard for me the way I work hard for it?  Had I asked that one question, I'd still have that money in the bank.  I threw it away.

I did a lot of paper work in between Thanksgiving and Chanukah, mostly looking ahead at the coming year.  I've a few ideas and brainstorms and goals I'll share a bit later.  I realize that technically this quarter doesn't end until December 31, but honestly I'm not expecting huge big changes between now and then so I feel safe reporting for this quarter a little early.  Now I look forward to Christmas and 2016.


Lana said...

That really stinks about the labs and the insurance!

We ended up the year very well here. I have enough funds for our kitchen renovation that we will do in Jan and Feb. It feels good to be able to do that project without touching savings. Christmas was all covered from the amount that I save each month all year long and we have money left for our traditional tickets for live music to each other for next year. We plan to see the Glenn Miller Orchestra in January. We were also able to give to some charitable organizations that we like to support.

The pantry is very well stocked from all the sales. In November I went over by about $60 but that put me at $310 so not bad. This month I will likely go over by about $25 for holiday food and all the kids being here. I do not feel bad about it since I often only spend $200 a month and and put the remaining $50 aside for all the home projects we are doing. For anyone in the SE, do check out Jenny does the ads and coupon match ups for just about any store you would want to shop at. That site saves me a ton of money and helps me to keep my pantry well stocked.

We are looking forward to a new year and a possible house move. This big house and acres are too much for us and we look forward to what the Lord has in store for us.

Nathalie said...

I really enjoyed this post, Terri, it's a very good recap of your past year. You've analyzed everything, good and bad, and seem to have a clear plan in mind for the new year. I've been very impressed with your determination (and follow-through!) to get healthier and lose weight so you could get off medications and have to do less testing, which of course saves you a lot of money in turn. If you don't mind my saying, though, I do see a theme with your unexpected medical costs/bills: you don't seem to know much about what your insurance will or won't cover or which providers might or might not included. I do agree (oh, do I agree!) that the doctor's office should have warned you that they didn't take your husband's insurance, but the sad reality of the health industry in our country is that customers are their best (and sometimes only) advocates. We all need to do our due diligence and ask questions and not make assumptions. Again, I'm not excusing the system (I hate it myself!) but that is the sad reality. So I would advise that, for the new year, you check the documentation from your various health plans (you must have something available to you, either in print or online) and endeavor to understand what is available/not available to you and under which conditions. Also: when thinking about making an appointment or getting a lab done or what not, ASK QUESTIONS and then double check with your insurance provider. Don't just blindly accept what the doctor's office clerks tell you. They won't be the ones stuck with paying the bills. Train your husband to do the same. If you have another major health crisis and are unable to perform those duties yourself, you need to trust that he will be able to do the same so as to avoid significant medical (and possibly avoidable) expenses. Just my 2 cents. I wish you continued improved health in 2016!

Great job turning all those reward programs into gift cards for Lowe's and such. I have decided to change my Swagbucks earnings from Amazon gc to Walmart gc. I find Walmart really expensive compared to Aldi, but if I can get foodstuff for free after coupons, gift cards and even get money back with Ibotta and such rebate apps, it becomes cheaper than Aldi :) But I wish SB had other grocery store gift cards in stock. Publix would be great!

I like your idea of asking myself whether buying something makes my money work for me. I sometimes have a similar problem as your Target Dollar Spot problem but with Dollar Tree! Overall, though, I have been much more mindful of my spending this past year. I've bought several items from Goodwill and a local thrift store which improved our lives and cost us a fraction of what I would have paid at a retailer. I've upped my Swagbucks earnings and used those to reduce my grocery bill even more, purchase presents and necessities and used my credit cards' reward programs strategically to earn gift cards that I used for reducing my gardening costs and again my grocery budget. It's been an eye-opening year, even for someone who had thought herself as being so frugal for all these years!

I'm pleased to see that the personal loan you extended to a family member was actually paid back and in record time, it seems! Not much is harder than money issues between family members. Clearly you extended yourselves in providing the help and thankfully that person was responsible and realized that you indeed needed it back. Kudos to them and also to you for being so generous.

I look forward to continuing to read your frugal adventures! Happy Holidays!

Lana said...

Off the subject but, go to Pinterest and search on Magic Cookie Bar recipes. There are lots of varieties but more importantly ones made with pretzels! The salty and sweet your family liked! I am going to try those after Christmas. I am not messing with tradition without a trial run.

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