Getting My Shit Together – With Money!

Getting My Shit Together – With Money!

Phew, it’s getting a little dusty around here. What’s been up the last few months? Well, my ramped up emergency savings certainly came in handy. This year, as it turns out, has not been kind to my mental and physical well-being. After a couple months of aggressive saving and a couple of months of significant travel, I spent most of May and June getting my shit together after just about everything started to hit the fan.

May Happened

  • At the beginning of May we had a semi-planned, but still expensive home repair that Mr. G and I paid for jointly. The results were great, but it was the beginning of a very costly month.
  • A few days later, my car suddenly started displaying ALL OF THE WARNING LIGHTS, which was a “fun” surprise! It turned out to be some rodent-induced electrical issues, requiring three trips to my local garage, a trip to the dealer, and about $750 in repairs and maintenance. I am finally warning light-free after a two month debacle. (Although my car still has to go back to the dealer for a recall issue…)
  • Less than a week after my car started acting up, I inexplicably developed an abscess on my gums, which resulted in a trip to the dentist, the endodontist, and ultimately the oral surgeon. A molar had died and gone rogue, and the endodontist said we could try a root canal, but it may fail after a year or two and then I’d have to have the tooth extracted anyways. After two opinions from dentists and a significant amount of crowdsourcing from friends far and wide (thanks again, Maggie!), I determined that extraction was the best route to go. It was also the cheapest route, with my out-of-pocket costs coming in under $150, compared to at least $1000 out-of-pocket for a root canal.
  • I also had a heart-to-heart with my physician about the unshakeable anxiety that I’ve been experiencing for the past 6 months. It was a long time coming, and took some serious soul-searching and help from writers like Cait in order to come to terms with the state of my mental health. This aspect of getting my shit together was actually the most affordable, with physician and counseling co-pays being very reasonable under my health insurance. I am not very good at talking about mental health, but if you are suffering, I want you to know that you’re not alone, and that it can and does get better. Taking that first step is hard, but I’m here to listen if you need someone to talk to. (And I thank those in the PF community who have listened to me and helped me in the past few months. Seriously. Thank you, thank you, thank you if you have reached out or shared your experiences.)
  • All of this, of course, was compounded by additional life craziness – traveling to see family, coming to terms with some family health issues, drama at Mr. G’s work, several community activities (seriously, so many), and the start of summer – which is always a busy time in my office.

June Was Better

  • June was still expensive, but I also earned a little additional money from side hustles and selling some stuff that helped cushion the blow of car repair credit card bills.
  • Unsurprisingly, 6+ months of depression and anxiety has lead to a fair bit of weight gain for me. Too much booze and eating out, coupled with a complete lack of motivation to exercise are not compatible with the goal of “I would like my pants to fit.” My goals for the summer have been to slowly increase my activity levels (which happens pretty naturally for me with warmer weather and longer days), in addition to being more proactive about healthier meals (especially lunches).
  • My weight gain has also made it so that I have almost no workout clothes that fit. You may suggest that the frugal way out of this would be to exercise in whatever shorts I can find and a crappy t-shirt, but maybe you’ve never experienced the glorious chafing induced by Midwestern summer humidity, or the discomfort of working out in a bra that wasn’t created for exercise. Instead of suffering through another bike ride while wearing a regular bra, I spent about $150 on a couple of new sports bras and a few workout tops. Plus-size workout clothes are not cheap, even after taking advantage of a few sales and coupons. (I surfed Poshmark, eBay and other sites for gently used items before buying new, but didn’t find anything.)
  • June also brought the one-year anniversary of this here blog. No promises for the year to come, but I would like to become more regular in sharing my experiences and thinking out loud in this space. Life feels very busy right now with community commitments, but also very good. So it goes.

ALICE and the ACA

Recently I was introduced to a project through the United Way called ALICE, which studies how low- and moderate-income working people make ends meet in various parts of the country, and looks at the challenges they face as citizens and consumers. ALICE stands for asset-limited, income-constrained, employed – people that are working, but don’t have significant assets and typically live paycheck-to-paycheck. I’ll write more about ALICE in the future, but the last few months have left me wondering about the challenges that ALICEs of the world would have to overcome should they be faced with a scenario that resembled my May and June. Would ALICE have to use a credit card to pay for medical costs? Would he or she suffer from declining health due to delaying medical or dental procedures? Would ALICE have to deal with strife from his or her employer due to health and transportation-related absences? The last few months of my life could have been a lot shittier were I not in the privileged position that I am in with respect to my job and my finances. And there are millions of American ALICEs facing that reality on a daily basis.

For example, during my month-long toothstravaganza I read this article about the difficulty of obtaining affordable dentistry for people without dental insurance. (About 40% of Americans do not have dental insurance.) The realities that many Americans face when confronted with a health or dental emergency made me truly, truly grateful for decent insurance, accessible care, and a healthy emergency fund to cover co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. We know from various studies that almost half of Americans cannot cover a $400 emergency expense without going into debt. I recognize that even $150 in unexpected medical/dental costs could be difficult for someone to cover, let alone the $500+ that consultations, x-rays, and extraction would have cost without insurance. During grad school, when I was making about $20k a year, I wasn’t always able to pay for dental care, but I still managed to get cleanings every couple of years and cover the out-of-pocket expenses for the occasional filling. Even the slightly negligent dental care of my 20’s left me dealing with an expensive and painful situation a decade later.

In addition to dental care, I’m feeling thankful for a kind and understanding general practitioner who is willing to listen to my concerns, an extremely affordable co-pay, and medical services that are close to my work. Accessible services made it possible for me to ride my bike to doctor appointments when my car was in the shop. This would be impossible for someone who worked far from home or lived in a rural area. With at least seven trips to the doctor and dentist(s) in May and June, I’m also thankful for a flexible job that gives me ample sick leave, and an understanding supervisor that lets me take it when I need it.

My point is that I am extremely lucky to have good insurance, accessible healthcare, the ability to take time off to deal with my health issues, and the ability to pay for out-of-pocket expenses without going into credit card debt. I feel like I have hit the damn lottery this month with respect to how fortunate I am to have such great care, and how dealing with the triple whammy of vehicle, dental and mental health issues all in the same month didn’t put me deep into debt. The ALICEs of the world have probably faced similar situations without insurance, without an emergency fund, without transportation alternatives, and without a job that offers sick leave and flexible hours. It’s not difficult to imagine that ALICE could have suffered lost wages for needing time off, in addition to having to pay for dental services without the assistance of insurance. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that ALICE could have lost her job if she was facing several weeks without reliable transportation.

We are at a pretty pivotal point in the US for discussing the rights of Americans to have access to these services in an affordable fashion. I went to grad school and got a good job, yes, but I don’t deserve better healthcare affordability or access just because I went to grad school and got lucky with a job that has great benefits. In this country, people shouldn’t die of preventable, treatable diseases and shouldn’t have to face financial devastation upon becoming ill. With various Senate health care plans (zero of which lower premiums or deductibles, or improve care or access) lurching their way to a vote (maybe), I’m worried that I’m not always going to be this lucky, and that someday the system is going to fail me. And, since various versions of the bills include mechanisms that allow states to waive essential health benefits (including mental health care), I have another reason to worry. As Ms. ONL reminds us, health isn’t something we can completely control. And that lesson has certainly been drilled into me this summer.

 

Looking Ahead

May and June were tough, but looking back, I feel good about handling wave after wave of health and car and financial crises without crumbling into a non-functioning ball of anxiety. Things are pretty good right now. My car is in good shape, my tooth is no longer exploding, I’m feeling much more in control of my emotions, I’m getting more exercise, and I’m eating better. I didn’t have to reduce my retirement savings to make ends meet the last few months, and only had to dip into emergency savings a little bit. It’s work digging myself out of that hole, and there are still hard days. But there are also a lot of awesome days, and I know that I’ve had a hand in doing some great things for my community over the past few months. I’ve got a lot of fabulous friends helping me out of this hole, and for that, I am eternally grateful. And that’s enough right now.

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