Saturday, January 13, 2018

Fighting Insurance Confusion

Since January is when a lot of us are dealing with insurance policies, I thought I'd share a little tip I've picked up.

We had a delightful piece of mail come in a couple of weeks ago. I went to the doctor last month and before scheduling the appointment, I asked if they accepted my new insurance. They said they did. After the first appointment, they called the insurance to ask if they covered the procedure I had done. I was told it would be covered 100%. I had it done and all was well until I got the Explanation of Benefits stating that they weren't paying a penny because it wasn't in network. They said that the nurse practitioner that performed the procedure was in network, but the office wasn't. Unfortunately, they had filed the claim under the office. The insurance company had completely drained my health fund and said I still owed $600. I called the insurance company and filed an appeal. I'm still waiting to find out if I win. If I win, the amount in my health fund gets rolled over to my plan this year, so this issue is worth $1100.

We got a new insurance plan through my employer (Our 3rd insurance company within 6 months. Woohoo...), so I was worried about having a similar experience. Most of my coworkers have found that their doctor's aren't in network (My boss has gone to the same doctor for 22 years and now has to find someone new) or that all of the doctors at the office except one are in network. It is very frustrating and overwhelming. I went to the website to search for my providers as I usually do when I noticed a disclaimer stating that just because a provider was listed was no guarantee that they were in network. Wait, what?

I did my search but wanted to get good proof in case of dispute. I found a link where I could live chat with someone from the insurance company. I explicitly asked if the doctor's office (with address and phone number) and each of our primary care doctors were in network. They explicitly told me they were. I asked about the hospitals that were in network and verified the ones that we would be most likely to use. They explicitly said they were. There was a button at the bottom that let me download a transcript of the chat with the date, time and name of the rep. I save these in a folder and rename with a description: "Primary Care", "Dr. xxx", etc.

Before I made another doctor's appointment, I asked again about the office and the doctor. I also asked explicitly for information about what my plan covers and how it is processed since some plans have limits on numbers of treatments per year, or will charge a different coinsurance rate.

If I get billed improperly from now on, I will have a lot more supporting evidence in my appeal. It only takes a few minutes once you know where to look. You can even bookmark the page to live chat.  If taking five minutes here and there saves me from another $1100 mistake, it will be a great hourly rate.

Good luck out there!

Monday, January 8, 2018

This Week...Beyond Money 12/18 - 1/7

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
Gardening:
* My pothos cuttings are growing new leaves but haven't grown water roots yet. It is still super cheery sitting on my bookshelf. Update: We have roots! Almost time to put into pots.
* The houseplants are taking over everything. Woohoo!
* I am regrowing some green onions in a little glass of water.

All 12 bags for $10!
Cooking/Groceries:
* Oh my goodness, did we go grocery shopping. In preparation for a massive cooking day, we hit our secret produce wholesaler. It was unreal, as always. I got huge heads of bok choi for $1.39 each, kiwi 6 for $1, ginger for $2/lb, trail mix for $3/lb and a HUGE bag of lettuce, cleaned and chopped for $1. Then, the deal of the century (not to be dramatic): 1 lb bags of sweet lunchbox peppers were $1! However, if you bought a whole flat of 12, it was $10! So, less than $.85/lb for peppers that we sold for $5/lb at the farm. They weren't seconds either; these were absolutely perfect.
* We hit Kroger the evening before Christmas Eve and lucked out. There were plenty of manager's specials. We got a huge pork butt for $2.50/lb, ground beef for $2.50/lb, chicken thighs for $1.80/lb, a big bag of snowball rolls for $1.50/dozen, and chocolate chip cookie dough Klondike bars for $2.80/6 pk (Chocolate chip cookie dough is Trucker's favorite, so I had to).
* I hit the salvage grocer on the way to work one day. I got some amazing deals. I got 5 lb whole wheat flour ($.50), 2 lb bags of self-rising cornmeal ($.50), cinnamon/apple and maple/brown sugar bread ($.50/loaf), tartar sauce ($.50/bottle), small red beans ($1.39/2 lbs), granola bars (~$.15/each), cooking wine for $2/bottle (I have been craving shrimp scampi and plan to make it for my family for New Year's), and little bottles of ginger ale($.25 each; this is by far the best ginger ale I've ever had-spicy enough to make you sneeze!).
* We made rice cooked in stock and stir-fried vegetables for dinner one night.
* I made homemade hamburger helper. We used some ground turkey, with sauteed onions and peppers, the last of a box of pasta, some powdered cheese, the last of a bag of cheddar, a little milk and some homemade stock.
* I used our frozen food preps to make dinner. I made an epic meal in about 15 minutes: egg drop soup (homemade stock, 1 egg and green onions), crab rangoon and egg rolls (frozen; texture was not perfect, but it was my first time making them from frozen; they were still great), stir fry (variety of veggies from the frig with some shredded pork from the freezer) and rice (cooked in stock).
* We used the rest of the baggie of pork to make BBQ pulled pork sandwiches with caramelized onions (frozen in ice cube trays) and sauteed peppers (frozen in ice cube trays). This is such a great time saver. It took about 5 minutes to make dinner.
* I love my SodaStream. It is generally considered a luxury item, but we save money and materials with it. We buy the syrups at the salvage grocer: $99/bottle of 36 servings. It is the equivalent in price per ounce of $1.50/12 pack (including carbonation), which is half the cost on sale here. I use it to make flavored waters and homemade seltzer. It doesn't save over buying seltzer at the salvage grocer when they have it. The salvage grocer sells it for $.05/can. Flavored seltzer at home runs around $.12/12 oz, but would save money if I had to pay regular grocery prices for seltzer. Either way, we don't produce as much waste.


Food Preservation:
* We did great on the food preservation front this week. We spent one entire evening freezing food for quick, easy, cheap and healthful meals in the coming months. I did little bits here and there for the next few days.
* I sauteed about 3 lbs of onions. I caramelized another 6 lbs in the slow cooker. These were frozen in ice-cube trays and then bagged.
* We froze 12 lbs of sweet Lunchbox peppers. Some we sauteed in rings and strips. The strips were mixed with the sauteed onions and frozen in ice cube trays. These will be pulled out a cube or two at a time for omelets, pizza toppings, sandwich fixins, etc. The rings were frozen on a cookie sheet and then packed into a freezer bag loose so we can pull out exactly what we need. Over half were cored/seeded and frozen whole. These will be used for mini stuffed peppers and pepper poppers. We can also chop them if we run out of chopped peppers first.
* We cooked up 2 lbs of ground beef. We had tacos for dinner and used half a pound. The rest was divided into 4 bags. 2 bags unseasoned, 2 bags taco seasoning with added peppers and onions.
* I pulled out all of the whole frozen tomatoes from the growing season. When I got overwhelmed or when we took a trip, I'd just chucked the fully ripe tomatoes into the freezer to deal with "later". I skinned them (the skins went into the stock pot) and cooked them down into a flavorful sauce with seasonings from the garden (frozen and dehydrated). I froze it for later.
* I used all of our veggie scraps from the day as well as all of the veggie scraps in the freezer and tomato juice strained from sauce making earlier this season to make veggie broth. I added some flavored vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. It smells heavenly. I cooked it down for a more concentrated flavor.
* I also cooked up 2 lbs of ground turkey. We used a little for lunch and froze the rest.
* I froze 3 medium-sized loaves of zucchini bread.
* I cooked a pork butt in the slow cooker. The meat was bagged up and frozen for future meals. The lard was rendered. The cooking liquid was saved to use in soup/rice making.
* We made a massive batch of crab rangoon and egg rolls (around 75 and 25 respectively). We used a few for our dinner that night and froze the rest. I will let you know how they turn out.

The artist took pictures of 8 different people
and then painted them. It is so beautiful.
Fun:
* It is winter break! I am so happy to get 10 days off work. We get paid for the work days we have off.
* Trucker and I went thrifting together. We found some nice things for friends and family. We don't do Christmas gifts, but these will be given throughout the year as the need comes up. We found some cute baby clothes for my sister who is pregnant, a cute mini photo album for a wedding (I plan to fill it with pics of my sister and her fiance for their wedding),an owl basket for mom, and a book on dog grooming at home for my dad (who just bought clippers, so really this gift is for their dog! haha). I grabbed some items for everyone else at after-holiday sales just so they weren't left out. We got a camo-themed hygiene set for my outdoorsy bro-in-law (shower gel, shampoo, cologne and loofah), a body spray set for my other sister, and a couple bags of candy for the soon-to-be-bro-in-law. We don't generally exchange gifts for the holidays, but will give them to them sometime soon. My family doesn't expect gifts and are all frugal enough to appreciate used gifts.
* We went out to brunch with our besties. We were all off work for once. We went to a local restaurant. It is always so nice to see Daisy and hubs. They are lovely humans. Daisy's hubby had to get to sleep (3rd shifter), but she went thrifting with us for half off day. Afterwards, we hit the Asian grocery. I got wonton and egg roll wrappers, snacks and chili sauce. I also saw that they had frozen blue shell crabs for $1.99. I may have to go back.
* One particularly frigid day, we went to an antique mall. It was so much fun to run around and look at everything. Plus, we got our walk in! We also stopped at a comic book store for their end-of-the-year sale. Comics priced $4 and under were $1. Trucker got several that he needed to fill in gaps. He collects Punisher stuff. I'm not into comics, but he is, so I like going with him to sales to help hunt for comics he doesn't have. He builds his collection slowly and frugally.
* We went to a free 5-piece bluegrass concert at the library in the neighboring town. They were really good and I enjoyed hearing some of my favorite songs.
* We went out with my parents, siblings and bro-in-laws for one of those game places. We had a good time with everyone, but it won't be a regular part of our entertainment. However, we did get to do several fun things: laser tag, go-carts, bumper cars, mini bowling, two rounds of putt-putt, and an hour of unlimited video game play. It was $39 each, which is enough to almost bring me to tears, but my grandpa and great-aunt had given us money to have fun with for the holiday, so out-of-pocket cost was $9/each. Afterwards we all went out to eat. Trucker and I bought dinner for my parents. We used a coupon for BOGO entrees, so the cost was around $12 plus tip.  It was the most expensive outing of the break, but since we didn't go out of town like we'd planned, the overall cost of the break was fair.
* I went to the bookstore with Daisy for their 20% off sale. I found several books that Trucker and I wanted, on clearance or very low-priced. The highest priced book was $4. Afterwards we went out for coffee and talked.
Lilly is a constant blur of motion.
* We toured a candy factory. Life is beautiful. It is a 65-year-old local company. The tour cost a whopping $2 each and you got a $2 voucher for the gift shop. It was so cool to watch them make different kinds of candy and watch the machinery in motion. Afterwards, they gave us each a buckeye. We found the mistakes boxes of candy that sells for half price. We each got a little box (milk chocolate crunch for Trucker and dark chocolate creams for me) for $4.45/each, or $2.45 after our voucher. Not a bad date!
* Gallery hop night! It was barely over 0 degrees, so Trucker found out that the convention center has an epic art collection and gives free tours. We enjoyed hearing about local artists and pieces and got to be inside where it was warm. Afterwards, we were able to walk through the skywalk to a posh hotel that housed part of the collection. We did walk around the neighborhood to hit a couple of our favorite galleries. It is always such a wonderful night. Each time I think it is the best one yet. I love the talks we have about technique, message, emotions and artists. We went to my favorite gallery and found that "Bill" wasn't there (this is the washing machine sculpture that I adore). Trucker asked the gallery owner if he had sold, and she said they had just rotated him out for a bit. She told us more about the artist (Jack Earl, for those are interested). He is 82 years old and has a wicked sense of humor. He has started painting now, so it was fun to see his relatively new medium. She said that "Bill" had been at the local art museum before it came to this gallery. I read somewhere that Earl is in the Smithsonian, so I think a road trip is in order.
Big Sis Rosebud is an
absolute sweetheart.
* Trucker uses an app from the library to check out ebooks for free. He is getting a lot of reading in by having a book or two on his phone to read while waiting in line.
* We went to my Grandpa's house on New Year's Eve. I made dinner for everyone. I made shrimp scampi with angel hair, roasted potatoes, carrots and garlic, and a salad. It was really yummy. Afterwards, we played pool and ping-pong in the basement and laughed a lot together. Then we went to my parents house to play Wii and hang out with their adorable goldendoodles. When it was time to watch the ball drop, we couldn't get the station in, but Dad found a star trek episode ending. He laughed that it was almost midnight since the show was over. I shouted "30 29 28..." Dad and I laughed hysterically as we counted to zero which was perfect timing. We decided that next year we would tell my new bro-in-laws (who weren't there this year) that that is our family tradition. Mom still wanted to see the ball drop, but I couldn't find the video. I tried to sneak a 2016 ball drop video past her, but she caught on. Overall, it was a nice evening.
* We went to a small town outside of the city for the first concert of their cello festival series. We got to enjoy 2 hours of various artists from several states and a couple countries. It was a free event at the senior center. Afterwards, we walked to a local coffee house and enjoyed warm drinks and our books. Then we stopped at an agrotourism dairy. During the warm season, there is mini golf, batting cages, petting zoo and more. Since it was hovering just about zero, none of that was open, but they did have ice cream! I got a scoop of cow patty (decadent double dark chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips, toffee and cookie bits) and Trucker got chocolate chip cookie dough (his favorite and since it was the flavor of the week, he got two scoops for the price of one). Not including gas, our date cost $12.

Nature:
* Nature is a million miles away. I enjoy it exclusively through art and houseplants when it is below freezing. LOL

Frugality:
* Trucker's office chair broke out of the blue one morning. We decided to hit some thrift stores to look for a replacement instead of rushing to the office store. We went to three thrift stores and at the last one, found a perfect chair. It was the right size, more comfortable than his last one, and a beautiful earthy brown to go better with our living room. Price? $10.
* I bought two new travel coffee mugs at the thrift. We had a set that my sister gave us 8 years ago. We definitely got a lot of use out of them, but the bottoms were falling apart and rusting and water had gotten inside the insulated part. It was time for some new ones. Trucker got a nice metal one with a blue lid and I got an amazing salmon colored (my favorite!) one. We paid $1.50 each. Mine looks brand new: no wear, no stains.
Funny finds (not purchased haha!) at the
antique mall
* My credit score raised another 9 points this month.
* We got an oil change with a coupon to save about $10.
* We line dry our clothes inside. This saves electricity, but also increases humidity in the house. The laundry room is home to some houseplants that like a good bit of humidity, so this helps them a little. Trucker has taken over laundry duty for the most part and has created an amazing system for getting a full load up in the small amount of indoor space we have.
* I used rewards points towards my credit card balance.

Waste Reduction:
* We took a couple boxes of household items to my parents' house for my sisters to look through. We let them take whatever they wanted and donated the rest.

House and Home:
* We did a little decluttering, but not nearly as much as I'd told myself I would do.
* I did crazed kitchen cleaning with my melamine foam. It is amazing how easily grime wipes off with these things.
* I cleaned out the vent covers for the furnace and bathroom exhaust fans. I try to do it at least once a year.

Work:
* I enjoyed the break away from work. It was much needed. Trucker also took a break from his work to hang out with me. Whenever he had to knock out a project, we did it together so we got more time together.

Health:
* It is much to cold to walk outside (at least for us), so we have tried to find active outings that allow us to walk a lot indoors, even if that means walking the aisles at the grocery.
* I got a bit of a workout shoveling the driveway and sidewalks.
* I weighed in and realized that I have lost 11 lbs in the last 9 months. That was really exciting, since I'm now on two meds that can cause weight gain.
* My arms are still recovering from my medical procedure almost a month ago. The arm that had the procedure had to rest for a couple weeks, by which time my other arm was worn out from picking up the slack. Here is hoping for arm comfort this week!
$4 silk flower bouquet was
much nicer than $4 worth
of real flowers and it
lasts longer.

Setbacks:
* We hit a deer right after leaving my parents house on New Year's Day. Fortunately, I got slowed down enough that it just smashed up the bumper but didn't bust the radiator. We weren't sure if anything was damaged to make it unsafe for us to drive 50+ miles home, so my parents let us drive Dad's truck and they took my car to my cousin to look it over the next morning. The next morning I drove the car 3 miles round trip to get supplies for a house repair. I got a flat tire as I turned onto our street. There wasn't a spare in the truck, so they drove it out to us. Dad and Trucker changed it in 2 degree weather. When they first got there, dad unloaded his tools as soon as he got there. When he and Trucker headed back out, Trucker asked where the tire was. Dad had a brain slip for a second and thought he had left it at home. He was almost in tears and Trucker said, well let's check the car. They had a good laugh when they saw it in the trunk. Poor Dad. He is so kind to help us out. We all enjoyed some hot chocolate afterwards to warm up.

Community:
* My mom told me one day that an old family friend was in the hospital in my city. This is around 1.5 hours away from where they live. Her sister (her only remaining family) doesn't drive. Since she went into the hospital a couple days before Christmas, I didn't expect that a lot of people would have the time to devote 4+ hours to drive out to visit since they would be doing holiday stuff. Trucker and I stopped at a thrift store and found a beautiful silk flower arrangement for $4. Since she was in ICU she couldn't receive real flowers, and these will be just as beautiful next week as today, plus she will be able to take them home with her. She was so excited to get visitors and loved the flowers. She wanted lots of hugs and we talked with her for a bit until she started falling asleep again.
* We were really thankful that my parents helped us after the deer incident. I don't know what we would have done without them.

How was your week?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Miss out

We suffer from a fear of missing out. We are terrified that if we don't check our phones constantly, we will miss out on the next thing. We will miss a trending hashtag, a viral meme or the latest gossip. We do the same thing in life. We buy the latest phone because we don't want to miss out on the new features.  We read magazines that keep us from missing the latest fashion. We plan our days around television showtimes so we don't miss out on what the gang is up to. It costs a lot, both in terms of money and of life energy and time.

I'll let you in on a little secret. We all miss out on things all the time. Every choice for one item or direction means choosing against one or more others. Every time you go to work, you miss out on spending time with your kids, or sleeping in, or taking a day trip, or working on your book, or catching up on chores. Every time you choose not to work overtime, say in favor of date night with your partner, you are missing out on the money that would have brought. That money could have knocked down debt, bought a needed household item or paid for an outing for the kids. Every time you eat according to your diet, you miss out on chocolate cake or ice cream or French fries. You're darned if you do, darned if you don't.

Or are you? Going to work instead of staying home may mean you miss out on sleeping in, but maybe it also means you miss out on homelessness. Sticking to the diet means you lose out on the chance to eat your favorite treat but may add many happy years to your life.

Missing out isn't the worst thing that can happen. Living a life that doesn't align with your values and desires is. Choose your loved ones. Choose your freedom or your security. Choose to live in the moment. Chose to sacrifice for the future you want.
Choose what you miss out on and what  you wouldn't miss for the world. Your life depends on it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 11/25 - 12/17

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
Gardening:
* I bought three houseplants when we stopped at Meijer for something else. I recently joined a houseplant hobbiest group on FB and they are bad influences. I got an Ingrid Ivy, Dragon's Tongue and angel wing begonia (It was not labelled, but someone from the group IDed for me) for $2.99/each. I am really enjoying this hobby. Given my time constraints these days, it is hard to find time for any pleasurable pastimes. This takes relatively little time each day, but I have a lot of fun with it. Plus, it is a great air purifier!
* The lavender plant appeared to be dying, but when I inspected it today, there were some tiny new shoots. Glad I didn't jump the gun and dump it.
* I put some more pothos clippings in water to root. I want to have more beautiful plants all around the house.
I love this little plant I found in a coffee shop.
I can't wait to find a fun bottle to try it myself.
* I hit the Lowe's clearance rack. Oh. My. Goodness. It is amazing. I got 3 begonias ($1 each), a croton ($1), a dracnea ($3) and a fern ($3). It is so exciting! Trucker got a Venus Fly Trap. It wasn't on clearance, but it was only $5. I think it is a small price to pay to get him on board with my jungle. He isn't into botany like I am, but is very supportive of me. I do so want him to get bitten by the gardening bug so he goes buck-wild with me when we garden at the next place.

Cooking/Groceries:
* We have relied on quick and easy meals: spaghetti with sausage and tomato sauce, soup from the freezer, deli meat sandwiches, baked potatoes.
* Trucker brought me breakfast in bed one morning. He woke me up with a glass of juice and freshly brewed coffee (He always tries to plan his consumption so a fresh pot is ready when I wake up). Then he brought up his wonderful french toast with eggs and banana. We sat in bed and talked while we enjoyed our feast. He is so kind and thoughtful.
* We made homemade taco hamburger helper. I sauteed onions and peppers (peppers were already chopped in the freezer), then added hamburger (leftover from the freezer). I made a cheese sauce using cheddar cheese powder, chili powder, paprika, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and the last of a container of chipotle cheddar dip we had leftover. I also added the last of a bag of shredded cheese. I mixed in half a can of refried beans. I mixed all this together with 3/4 lb macaroni. This was incredibly filling with the addition of the beans and lasted for several meals. For those wondering, you couldn't tell there were beans in the mix, except that a small portion was insanely filling.
This piece was done entirely with a palette knife. No brush!
* I pulled a large container of taco soup out of the freezer. It was enough for 4 meals that were quick heat-and-eat affairs. For the last bowl, it wasn't quite enough for a meal, so I added some crumbled tortilla chips from the bottom of the bag.
* We made Trucker's taco dip (In hindsight, it does appear we eat nothing but taco-inspired dishes). We had a layer of refried beans, then sour cream and cream cheese, lettuce, peppers, onions, cheddar cheese and black olives. We had it with tortilla chips while we watched a movie. There were enough leftovers for a few more meals.
* We bought a container of crab dip/spread on manager's special for $1.30. We used that to make several sandwiches. It was very flavorful and satisfying.
This piece we saw at the gallery hop is far
beyond my skill level, but was so inspirational.
* We found a manager's special on ice cream. It was PB&J ice cream in back-to-school packaging, so they were clearing it out. It was $1/half gallon. When I was young, I used to get a scoop of vanilla ice cream, add a huge dollop of peanut butter and a spoonful of jelly for what I considered to be the most decadent dessert ever. I had completely forgotten about that until I tried this ice cream.

Fun:
* We walked at the mall one day when it was too cold to walk outside.  We had a good time laughing at weird fashion.
* We went to the gallery hop. It was magical as always. We got Thai food beforehand using a Groupon. There was a show of scratchboard pieces. I used to scratchboard years ago. Trucker encouraged me to try again. Later that week I made a couple of simple pieces. Two of them were of horses. My work friend recently got a horse so I gave them to her as a celebratory gift.
* Trucker planned an amazing date for us. We have had a crazy few weeks and hadn't really had much time together to connect. He found a free craft class at the Urban Art Space. We made mobiles. Trucker made a phone. A mobile phone. I adore him. After that, we went out for coffee and reading. We brought travel mugs so our coffee was only $3.50. Trucker said that there was a Greek restaurant near his agent's office and every time he drives by he thinks he needs to take me there. We were right down the road and when I checked my coupon app, we had a BOGO coupon. We got giant gyros and an order of fries to split. By then it was dark, so we went to a local park downtown along the river for their lights show. We got a couple miles walking in and enjoyed the jazz music playing from the speakers. It was an amazing date and all in cost $15.
* I did a little drawing and found that it is not like riding a bicycle. I won't give up though!

Frugality:
* I got my insurance packet for the new year. Now that they updated my completion of our wellness program, the cost is actually lower than I was initially told. We will pay $9.50/week ($494/yr) for all insurance needs (health, life, short and long-term disability, AD&D, vision, dental, etc).
* I noticed that the life insurance policy was pending approval for Trucker. I called and they are supposed to send me the forms to fill out.

House and Home:
* I bought a bed, finally. We have never found a good bed at a good price, so we have just had a mattress and box springs on the floor. I found a local woodworker selling beautiful pallet beds for $170 for a full. It is a little rough, but has potential. I'll need to send it down, apply fungicide (just in case), stain and seal it. It will take some work, but even with the supplies it will cost around $190. They said that the pallets aren't chemically treated, but just in case, I let it off-gas in a well-ventilated part of the house for a couple of weeks with windows and doors open and exhaust fan on whenever possible. I will add a couple layers of polyurethane. I think that should take care of any issues.
* We rearranged our bedroom to accommodate the bed and get a fresh feel.

Work:
* My job gave us a pizza party one day to celebrate a quality achievement. We got a slice of pizza, a soda or water and a cookie.
The city looks magical at night when the moon
is full. Even on chilly nights, the gallery hop
never fails to revive my spirits. Thankfully, it
happens every month!
* Another day they had the annual holiday meal. We got turkey and cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed carrots, roll and pecan or pumpkin pie with a soda or water.
* I've been working some overtime.
* Trucker's boss bought them pizza for lunch a couple times.
* Awhile back, I signed up to donate to a local homeless shelter directly through my paycheck during our United Way drive. I was able to select a shelter near where we live. They gave us a punch card for a free drink each month at the cafeteria. I have used that for days that I get to work super early and read in the cafeteria. Each time I do this instead of stopping at a coffee house, I save $1.70.

Future:
* Trucker is in another film. This is a local one. He got cast as a cop, but when he got to filming, they also had him put a ski mask on and do a robbery scene. The next day the director called him and said he did amazing and asked if he could come in for a second day of filming. He got to do a few roles and several scenes.

Health:
* I got free preventative exams.
* We switched to 90 day refills on our prescriptions to save $80-100/year.
* I had a minor procedure done. I'm in a little pain, but it will be fine in a couple days. I feel very fortunate because after insurance and my employer-sponsored health fund, I didn't have to pay anything out of pocket for a procedure that would have cost over $600 without insurance. After having lived so long without insurance, I am thankful every time I can get quality health care instead of having to struggle through home remedies. While I still certainly aim to stay healthy and use some home remedies, there are certain things that aren't practical or best to diy. For example, I once super glued a finger tip back on. It worked out okay and I have no bad numbness or tingling in it, but would prefer to never have to do that again.

Community:
This lovely picture stand
cost a whopping $3!
* I took my sister out thrifting for her wedding. We found about $300 worth of decorative items for $35. We also stopped at our booth and we gave her a few items that hadn't sold (a cake stand, compote and cloche). I was so excited to be able to help her with it. We stopped back at the house and I made soup and grilled sandwiches for a really cheap lunch. I tried to expose her to some sauteed cabbage but she wasn't digging it. It worked out wonderfully for both of us. She was able to save a ton of money while still getting a pretty wedding and it was so reviving to feel needed and like I was valued.
* Daisy offered to let my sister borrow some of the decorations from her wedding. She is so kind and I am very thankful for her.
* We got a new guy in my area. He mentioned that he wanted to catch a ball game, but it was pricey. I ran over to the cabinet where I had left the Entertainment book for coworkers to browse. I showed him a whole page of coupons for sporting events and told him to take whatever he wanted.
* I had a scary doctor's appointment and was really nervous leading up to it. Trucker came with me to the appointment and afterwards, when I tried to turn left to walk back to the car, he turned me right. He said that a donut would make everything better. We went to a local treasure that makes an epic Buckeye donut (yeast donut with chocolate icing and peanut butter). For just $2.50, we had a nice mini-date that made me feel cherished and distracted me a bit. (For the record, all is well, so I can go back to not worrying).
How was your week?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money ???-11/24

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.

Sorry, yet again for late/missing posts. The work schedule has been rough and the DST blues hit me particularly strong this year. I think I've made it through the worst of it.
Gardening:
* We got our first snow. The garden is done for the year.
* I took clippings from my golden pothos plant and rooted them in a vase of water. The house is turning into a jungle, and I like it. We are getting some great health benefits from all the greenery and it definitely helps make me feel more alive while I'm cooped up indoors.
* I dug up a lavender plant from the garden and brought it inside. It was accidentally left in the garden over last winter and not only survived, but thrived. It is huge compared to the potted lavender I remembered to bring in last fall. I put it in a fairly large pot. Hopefully I didn't kill it. It's root system was a lot larger than I expected and I think I ripped up some of it.
* Lavender update: It seems to be doing fine. No new growth, but it hasn't shriveled up and died. I had some shells left from when we bought stuffed clams (I cleaned them really well) and used those to cover the soil to retain moisture. It looks nice.
Cooking/Groceries:
* I had a couple decent sized heads of red cabbage so for my after-work meal/snack, I have often sauteed them in a little butter and drizzle with balsamic reduction. Easy and delicious.
* We made tacos one night with the last of the $.75/lb ground pork from the freezer.
* We had baked potatoes often.
* We got a ton of eggs. Like, 10 dozen. We gave some away, but then I had a coupon from Meijer for $.35/off a dozen eggs and they were on sale for $.49/dozen. How could I pass up $.14/dozen eggs? That's right. I couldn't. So, we have hard boiled them by the dozen. Trucker eats them while I'm at work. I struggle to get him to make meals for himself, so this is an easy way to make sure he is getting some nutrition while I'm away. We also used several to make goldenrod eggs.
* I made fried cheesy eggs with some gorgonzola.
* I made stock with frozen scraps. It was delicious.
* I used the stock and some leftovers to make a taco soup: ground pork, poblano and jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, onion, garlic. I also added a jar of salsa and a can of creamed corn. Out-of-pocket cost was around $.75 for a dozen meals.

Fun:
* We went out with my parents a few times. Once, we took them out for pizza at a local pizzeria. Another time we took them out for coffee at Panera (and used our rewards card) and then Dad took us all out for Steak n Shake. We had a coupon in our entertainment book for BOGO entree salads, so that is what Mom and I did.
* Mom and I met up one day before work for lunch. Afterwards, we went shopping for a trip she had coming up. I had a coupon for 10% off at a thrift store where she found a couple pairs of jeans. I didn't buy anything.
* We went to the gallery hop. I do so love the whole affair: the street performers, the art, the bustle. It is the only time of the month that I am glad that I live in the city.
* We went to my family's one evening. My parents are out of town, so we and my siblings (and significant others) had a movie night. Batman Begins and Guardians of the Galaxy 2. I brought snacks. I made popcorn (buttered, BBQ and Nacho). I also brought crackers with manager's special cheese (garlic ginseng jack and ranch cheddar and chipotle cheddar spreads). We made mocktails with orange juice and 7up (surprisingly good). It was one of the nicest evenings I can remember. We got to play with their dogs (3-year-old and 6-month-old Goldendoodles).
* I went out with coworkers a couple times after work. It is the closest to socialization I get most of the time, since my free waking hours after from 1-5 AM. I don't drink and just get a cheap appetizer or a lemonade.
* I got to go out with Daisy one afternoon before work. We went out for Panera. It was so wonderful to spend time with her and her adorable little. She gave me a hysterical gag gift.

My coworker spotted this lil friend when we
were going into Roosters. How cool!
Nature:
* We went out for a walk at the audobon one day before work on a rare warm and dry day. We did another day for a couple hours. It is on the way to work, and is great to get a little outdoors time since I am indoors pretty much all the time I'm not driving these days.

Frugality:
* We completed our wellness checklist to get the maximum discount on insurance.
* I redeemed points to pay down a credit card. I am carefully using the credit card. I make payments every few days to pay off whatever I spent and a little extra. Those points are helping to knock down the balance.
* I get to check my credit score for free through one of my banks. Over the last couple of months I have been working hard to knock down the credit card debt we incurred after the accident. Just in the last two months, I have raised my credit score by 33 points, raising from the fair to the good range. I intend to keep going strong.
* I checked my retirement account and it looks pretty good. Not factoring in my other retirement accounts (at some point I do plan on consolidating them), at my current contributions (I also have it set up for contributions to increase by 1% every January for my entire career and have some good sized raises coming over the next several years), I will have about the same income level as I have now, assuming the market performs average. I do plan to save more, because you never know, but it is nice to see that I'm catching up from my rough years. I had saved a considerable amount for the first several years that I was on my own, but saved nothing during the recession and the few years after.
* I had a certain percentage of my paycheck put into savings and  401k each week.

House and Home:
* Steve got more vent deflectors to keep the warm air from going right against the windows. This definitely makes the house feel warmer at the same thermostat setting.

Health:
* We got our biometric screenings done.
* Trucker got a phone call from the dental school. He had an appointment for next week to get some dental work done, but the students are starting to panic because they need their hours in to graduate. Three different students offered to do a quarter of deep gum cleaning for free (He has the other quarter getting done next week). He also gets a few more free visits and cleanings.
* We switched to 90 mail-order prescriptions for our maintenance meds. That reduces our cost from $5/month (plus an up-charge of 10% penalty after 3 refills) to $10/3 months.
Community:
* Our coupon book is expiring soon, so I brought it in to share with my coworkers. I noticed a stack of coupons on my boss's desk. Another coworker said that he is taking his little girl out bowling over the weekend with one of the coupons.
How was your week?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

This Week Beyond Money 10/2 - 10/22

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.


Gardening:
* The garden is petering out. I am harvesting a couple cherry tomatoes and the occasional pepper or medium-sized tomato. It is almost time to pull everything out, level out the ground and sow grass seed. I also need to tackle the front garden. There is still some poison ivy in there (This is obviously super-hero strength poison that cannot be killed by any earthly means) so I dread the inevitable rash that will accompany weeding (even with gloves/long clothes/showering immediately after). Then I need to plant some fall bulbs and mulch heavily so springtime landscaping efforts will be minimal.
* Trucker did the autumn pruning.
* I harvested some baby carrots, turnips and a few more peppers.

Cooking/Groceries:
* We made loaded baked potatoes with a slice of bacon, crumbled, cheese, sour cream, butter, scallions and seasoning. Frugal and amazingly satisfying.
* Trucker bought me a loaf of seeded sourdough rye. It was amazing. I have been enjoying it with fried eggs as my after-work meal/snack. I froze half the loaf because I don't eat a ton of bread anymore.
* I made cheesy pasta with veggies: peppers, onion and garlic.
* I had some ground pastured lamb in the freezer. We used 1/3 lb to make meatballs to serve with pasta. We browned the rest for later use.
* We made gyro bowls with the rest of the lamb. I stopped at the all-night kroger on the way home from work. I found tzatziki for $1.89, garlic hummus for $1.50 (I got two), a cucumber for $1 and a small head of lettuce for $.67. Kroger usually sells all the varieties of lettuce for $1.99/lb. I buy the smaller heads so they don't go bad before we can finish them. I also had parsley and cherry tomatoes from the garden. The gyro bowls were fantastic and filling. We had enough for 6 meals with plenty of ingredients leftover for other meals.
* I found a half rack of ribs at kroger on managers special for $3. They were precooked, just needed reheated. I got them for trucker's dinner while I was at work. He really enjoyed them.
* We got a couple steaks. They were around $7/lb, but we found some packages with BOGO coupons on them, making them cheaper than the cheapest ground beef. We also found a huge package of stuffed clams for $4 (around 1.25/lb), salmon stuffed with crab stuffing ($5/lb, around 1/2 lb), a seasoned pork shoulder (2 lbs at $2.89/lb) and gorgonzola (6 oz for $3.50). We froze the steaks and salmon. We had the clams for lunch one day.
* I cooked the pork in the slow cooker. I strained off the cooking liquid to use as a soup base. We used the pork for tacos and pulled pork sandwiches (with gorgonzola, saurkraut and pickled peppers). I froze some of the pork for later.
* We hard boiled 2 dozen eggs for trucker to eat during the week. We got them for free at Meijer with a coupon.
* I went to a produce giveaway at the end. I got items that would otherwise have been thrown away. I got 3 large red cabbages, 10 lbs potatoes, 5 lbs apples, 3 cantaloupes, 10 ears of corn, 18 sub rolls and 6 dozen small eggs.

Food Preservation:
* I made caramelized onions in the slow cooker and froze in ice cube trays for winter use.The cooking liquid was frozen for soup making.
* I blanched and froze 6 ears of corn, cut from the cob.  I froze 6 sub rolls.

Fun:
* After our crazy busy weekend, we spent a couple mornings before work just watching movies from the library and eating. The rest was much needed.
* We went to the gallery hop one Saturday. It was amazing. It has been a long time since we were able to make it to one, so I appreciated it all the more.
* We went on a few coffee dates.
* We went to a play that a new friend was acting in. It was a nice evening and so nice to see her again.
* We went with my sister and her boyfriend to the art museum on the free day. We had a good time and great talks. Afterwards we went out to get and used a BOGO coupon. Each couple spent around $20 total for the date.
* Trucker checked out a special film for me from the library. It was a shocking film made by Salvador Dali, my favorite painter.

Nature:
* We went to a state park that was once a farm operated with rotational pasturing, French drains and other soil-building methods.
* We went to the arboretum for an afternoon.

Frugality:
* I needed some new jeans as my one remaining nice pair is starting to look a little on the tired side. I went to a thrift store and bought three pairs of jeans. Each pair was the half off color tag. I paid $5, $3 and $1.50 for decent brand jeans in good condition. Trucker also got a pair of very nice jeans for $7.50 and a pair of dress slacks for $2.
* I updated our health tracker to earn gift cards and a discount on health insurance through my employer.
* I paid off the credit card with the highest interest rate. It had the smallest balance, but I am still excited to have a minor victory. I also made extra payments on the credit card with the next highest balance.
* Every pay day, I look at my bill calendar and see what bills will come out before I get paid again. I subtract that from the current checking balance. I estimate what we will need to spend on living expenses for the week. I give a little wiggle room, and the rest is transferred to extra credit card payments.
* I continue to have money from my paycheck automatically put into both my savings account and 401k.
* I got signed up for insurance for next year. I signed up for the cheaper plan for a few reasons. First, it is hundreds cheaper in premiums each year and the deductible and max out of pocket is the same. Finally, if I don't spend a lot on health care in a given year, some money rolls over for future years. Any money in the account when I retire goes with me then. I signed up for a health savings account and have a small amount from each paycheck put in. I could get free dental insurance or pay $2.29/wk for better insurance. By getting the better insurance, i I don't have a deductible. That essentially drops the cost to $44/yr and we each get an additional $500 in care for the year. We get free vision, life and disability. I made sure to get a waiver since Trucker doesn't have an offer of health insurance elsewhere. That saves us $1800/yr in premiums. I made appointments for our biometric screenings. That is the last thing we have to do for our wellness discount of $1000/yr. All told, I will pay $780/yr for our health, dental, vision, disability and life insurance. This is by far the best part of this job. There are some aspects of the job that I don't like (primarily the commute and the shift), but the realities of the benefit package outweigh those costs.

Waste Reduction:
* I have a very fun vintage necklace that I adore. One of the beads had a crack in the finish. I knew it would eventually chip off and since it is the most prominent piece, the necklace would then be worthless. I got my mod-podge (left over from other projects) and painted over the bead. It dried clear and will keep the crack from getting worse. It was only a $3 necklace, but I like it.
* While we watched a movie from the library, I mended some of Trucker's clothes. Two shirts needed buttons. One shirt had a spare, but the other didn't. We were able to find a close enough match in my button stash. Two other shirts had small tears that I mended.
* I used saved food containers to give food to people.

House and Home:
* We are eating down the pantry. We are wanting to get it more organized and have it take up less real estate. We will also save a good amount of money by eating from the pantry instead of buying everything.

Work:
* I've been working some overtime. Lots more coming.

Future:
* We stumbled upon a perfect farm at an absurd price. We set up everything to go see it and confirmed we could afford it, only to find out the next day that the house had gone into contract days previous and the listing hadn't been updated. It was disappointing, but we had planned on looking in spring so we would be in a stronger financial stance going into our second home. I did have a good talk with our REA about what we want and told him if he finds a place that meets our needs at around the same price, we want to go look immediately. It will likely be a year until we find such a place again, but it is exciting to be starting to look.

Health:
* We are active on our days off. Lots of active activities, such as walking around an art neighborhood for a couple hours or hitting the parks.
* We are eating lots of produce now. I do food prep when I can so adding produce is easy.

Community:
* My mom sends out cards. A lot of cards. She sends thousands of cards a year for birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and just because. We joke that she alone keeps their tiny village's post office open. She wants to make sure people feel appreciated and remembered, but it does cost her a lot of money over the year. I know what kinds of cards she likes, so when I'm out thrifting, I look for boxes of cards at a good price. I found 4 boxes this week at about half the price at the dollar store and they were really nice cards.
* My coworker and I exchanged snacks.
* I gave another co-worker some kraut. He has been having some digestive problems, so hopefully that helps.
* I gave a friend half of the items I got at the produce giveaway. We had a great time talking with her and her boyfriend.

How was your week?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

This Week...Beyond Money 9/25 - 10/1

For me, a life beyond money is making choices so that you can live the best possible life, regardless of your income level. Obviously, you have to make a living, but there are many ways to improve your quality of life without increasing your income levels and correspondingly your expenses. This regular post will be some of the ways that we improve our quality of life beyond just trying to make more money.
Gardening:
* I harvested a few cherry and medium-sized tomatoes and a few Christmas Tree peppers.
* I planted more mustard micros.
* I harvested some micros.

Cooking/Groceries:
* I made a strawberry apple crisp pie. I used a boxed pie crust (again, bleck) to use it up. The apples were from my parent's trees and the strawberries were just a few left from snacking that needed to be used soon. I made a crumble topping. I didn't add any sugar other than to the topping, so it wasn't overly sweet, but made for nice breakfasts.
* I made a cheesy pasta using up a box of elbow macaroni (store brand on manager's special, $.50/lb), the rest of the cheese and milk (to use up before our trip), two onion halves (I had previously cut into one not realizing I already had a half in the refrigerator), sweet peppers, hot peppers, cherry tomatoes (sauteed) and carrots. We used it for lunches for a couple days.

Food Preservation:
* I froze several medium-sized tomatoes. We were leaving on a weekend trip and they were going to turn before we had a chance to use them. I tossed them, skin and all into the freezer.
* I froze portions of the pasta dish to use later.
* I froze some shishito peppers (sauteed) for later.

Fun:
* We had a long coffee date one day before work. Trucker had to run errands afterwards and I had to go to work, so when we got hungry we decided to order food there. I had a coupon that if I placed my order online I got $5 off. We ordered online and just walked up to the counter to pick it up. After the coupon and taxes, the meal was $2.75. Not too shabby for a pretty filling meal for two. We used our travel mugs to get a discount on the coffee.

Nature:
* I loved spending time on the beach. Letting the water crash in around my legs. Climbing rocks. Watching that awesome sunset. I got a cold from getting wet but it was totally worth it.

Frugality:
* Trucker has opened a couple of micro-investment accounts. One he has a small portion invested each week. The other rounds up his purchases to the next dollar and invests that money. He also has a Roth IRA that he has money transferred automatically each month. I ran the numbers and just at those three accounts, he is putting away 10% of his after-tax income. He also saves a variable amount into a savings account. I make more than he does, and he does more around the house than I do (especially important as we are working at getting the house sale-ready). However, between the two of us, we are saving a good percentage of our income and making progress.
* Between debt repayments and savings, including retirement, I saved 30.3% of my after-tax income in September.

Work:
* I worked a bit of overtime most days.

Future:
* Trucker filmed for a new movie this week. He played a villain and got shot!
* He also had another audition.

Health:
* We ate way too much during our weekend trip. Back to the diet now!
* My blood pressure is decent.
* Trucker is running a lot at softball. I am really proud of him.

Setbacks:
* One day while organizing we found a paper that was supposed to be sent to the insurance company for our new house insurance policy. I called to let them know what had happened and that I'd be sending it out that day. It was a good thing I called. Apparently, they did an inspection, saw the unused dog kennel out back that I hadn't gotten around to dismantling ("evidence of a dog"). Since my application didn't state we had a dog (since we don't), they didn't know whether the breed was on the restricted breed list or not, so they assumed it was and cancelled my policy (but had never contacted me for clarification and I hadn't gotten the cancellation notice). I explained the situation and am waiting to find out if my policy is going to be reinstated. The woman I talked to said that time was of the essence, but seemed to think that it would be reinstated.

Community:
* Two of our dear friends got married this weekend. We took a weekend trip so we could be there. Originally, I was supposed to work the day of the wedding and wouldn't have been able to get there until the reception was wrapping up. Thankfully, work was cancelled the day before. As his gift to them, Trucker was the officiant for the wedding (He got ordained online and paid a $10 fee to be licensed in our state) so he went up the night before for the reception. I got off work at midnight and drove 2.5 hours to the hotel (Used hotel.com and earned two nights towards a free one). The next day we went to the wedding. It was a brilliant affair. Their friends let them borrow their beach-front house and the neighbors let them set up the dinner tent on their yard. We ate tacos (taco bar) and pizza (they got a pizza truck with mobile wood-fired oven!). The ceremony was beautiful. Trucker did a great job. Afterwards, we stayed for several hours playing Cards Against Humanity, nibbling leftovers, and I ran out into the water and climbed rocks along the water front (despite the fact that it was frigid!). They are two of the most lovely people I know and I was so glad they each found such a perfect person to spend their lives with. I couldn't be happier.
* I wanted to share a sweet thing I witnessed. It was the birthday of one of my coworkers this week. His family is all in Puerto Rico and he is really worried. So one of my other coworkers (the amazing woman who is always taking care of everyone) decided to make it the best birthday she could. She brought in homemade salsa and chips and birthday cake (she had the boss sneakily chat with the guy to find out what kind of cake was his favorite). It meant so much to him. It was beautiful to see her do something to bring some joy to a stressful birthday. There is good in the world.
* That coworker and I brought snacks for each other. I gave her some Israeli snacks that I got at a salvage grocer (Which she liked until her daughter's friend told her the texture reminded her of fried mealworms!) and another day brought her more Korean crackers since she said her grandson adored them. She brought me Rice Krispie Treats the next day. The snacks I bring don't cost a lot, but she feels appreciated and we are building a friendly sharing relationship.
* Her grandson went into the hospital while we were at work one day and she mentioned that her husband had taken him to the hospital in her car. I offered to drive her there after work, but her daughter's boyfriend picked her up.

How was your week?
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