Jul 27, 2008

5 Ways to Save Money on Car Insurance

Got a car? Then you have car insurance, a requirement for drivers everywhere. That insurance can range in cost vastly depending on your age, the length of time you've been driving, the type of car you drive, and a variety of other variables.

While you can't change the time since you've gotten your license or reduce the number of "bad driver" points you have on your record, I've recently found out some ways to reduce your yearly payment.

1. Call your auto insurance company twice a year or so and just ask if there's anyway to lower your rate. Mention you're shopping around. If they've started a new program for discounts, they'll likely not offer up the information unless you ask.

2. How far are you really driving to work each day? Many car insurance agencies charge you more for the amount you drive per year. But they base this on the miles you drive to and from work. It's never good to lie, but if you have moved closer to your job, or if you think the miles you noted in past are too high for how much you actually drive (or maybe you work from home a few days a week now), call up and ask to change the yearly mileage noted on your account. You'll notice that your yearly fee will be reduced.

3. Did you know that the cost of car insurance changes based on your zip code? Out of curiosity, I recently talked to an agent and asked her to plug in some different zip codes within my county, and found out that where I used to live, and where I'm still paying for, costs $50 more a year than most of the other zips in the county. Again, lying here is probably pointless, but if you're looking to move, it might make sense to call up your insurance agent and find out if your insurance price will go up or down with the move. You can always change your address to a friends if they live in an area that's cheaper.

4. Check out that auto billing. I thought my pay was on auto billing because I've set it up to pay automatically from my bank account, but for some reason I didn't do it through my insurance company, so they were still charging me $4 a month to send me bills. Not only did those mailed bills go straight to the trash, it turns out that I was wasting $48 a year on them.

5. Every year, take a half-hour or so to shop around to see if you can get a better deal with another company. Look at the small insurance companies and the big ones. Just be careful with ones that offer six month rates, as this means they can change your rate after the first six months.


Jul 25, 2008

The Costs of Being a Girl... Without Health Insurance

(First of all, I want to apologize for being so behind on updating this blog. My life has gotten quite busy, which is a good thing, but I definitely haven't updated this site as often as I should, or as often as I've wanted to. I do hope you'll bare with me until I can make more frequent updates.)

Today's post is brought to you by The American Health Care System. Due to failures in the system, this post is vastly underfunded, but luckily I've got plastic to pay it off...


One you've started bleeding (down there) or having sex (down there) - if you're a girl - which I am - you're supposed to go to the gynecologist once a year to get the basic test. Swab in, swab out. Needle prick. No sir you have no STDs, thanks for coming. The whole nine.

Prior to getting super-high deductible health insurance (with a $3000 deductible, so I count that as no insurance at all), I didn't think twice about scheduling my yearly paps. The co-pays for the appointment, tests and pills were a bit annoying, but nothing that set me back any large sums. I barely went to the doctor anyway, so this wasn't a huge deal.

Then came contract life. It took me forever to get accepted for any health insurance at all. Finally, I got accepted to a high deductible program. That sounded like a good idea. I'm young. Somewhat healthy. Well, I know what's wrong with me, PCOS - ie, polycystic ovary syndrome - and the likelihood of my falling to the floor in pain due to anything other than a ruptured cyst is near zilch. That's what the high-risk insurance is for. Accidents. Not day to day, or year to year stuff. That's all out of pocket.

So my yearly health insurance, which covers nothing except a hospital visit (after I pay $3000), costs me, oh, $1600 or something like that. $1600 in case I fall down and break myself. That's important to have.

But it's not going to help me make sure I don't have cancer or any other life-threatening illness. It's not at all about prevention. It's about post-intervention.

Ok, so I'm really sensitive to screening before things happen right now because my dad was just diagnosed with prostate cancer. And while I know that I'll never have prostate cancer, I'm still very concerned about being at high risk for ovarian and uterian cancers due to PCOS and having, like, 2-3 periods a year (sans bc pills).

I want to be "good" and get tested yearly. I'm 24, nothing should be wrong, but it's good to be safe. Plus, I like to have STD screenings every once in a while, just in case an earlier one was wrong. It takes like 6 months for some of those diseases to show up on tests. And sometimes tests lie.

Anyway, today I was scheduled for my annual pap and checkup with a gynocologyst I had seen about a year ago when my cyst ruptured and I felt like death. She did an ultrasound on me then, and perscribed me - tylenol. At the time, it was cheaper to perscribe me it because I had good health insurance and I got a cheaper price to buy it under the cover as opposed to over. Those days are, apparently, long gone.

Although a few weeks ago I had a very, very painful period and pre-period period, and felt little alien slugs were attacking my innerds, I opted to avoid spending $200 on another ultrasound that would likely end with the words "take tylenol." Instead, I figured it made sense to schedule my annual pap with the doc, and then to ask her what was wrong with me then, or at least inquire as to what could be wrong with me given my symptoms, and go from there.

When I called up the gyno's office, they told me the annual appointment, sans insurance, would be $180. Ok, so $180 isn't a big deal. I mean, it is, but when you consider the cost to get better insurance that would actually cover that sort of thing would cost me about $180 A MONTH more, it wasn't so bad.

But when I got to the office today - I was running late - it turned out I missed the appointment with the doc. Which actually was a good thing, because I was soon informed that the $180 for the appointment did not include any costs of labwork. Umm... isn't that THE POINT of having a pap? Let's just scrape my cervix for fun, why don't we? Use the swabby stick as a paintbrush and have a little creative fun on the wax paper I'd be sitting on, sounds like a plan. Totally worth $180.

No one could really tell me how much the tests would cost. I guess they're not used to seeing people without insurance. Or with crappy insurance, like my insurance. I got such mixed answers today. The lady at the front desk said 100s, and then the nurse pratictioner who I finally went in to see said the basic pap test would be only like $35 - $50. I don't trust ranges.

What I really needed today, urgently, was treatment for my likely UTI. Yup, I have and have had a full-blown, painful urinary tract infection for over two weeks now. (TMI? Sorry.) I knew I needed antibiotics. I know when I have UTI. I get them all the time. This one was caused by drinking about 6 large glasses of iced tea and promptly getting on public transportation for about an hour. Lets just say my bladder was not a happy camper, and it made me pay for what I did to it.

At the doctor's office, I ended up getting a "talking" appointment with the nurse practicioner because she happened to have a cancellation. They had me pee in a cup to test my urine for the UTI. Again, no one told me how much this would cost me. I was told - well, the doctor will look at your pee, then decide if we need to send it out. And sending it out - would be a lab fee. Ok, how much am I looking at? $50? $100? More? Can't someone just give me antibiotics? I've been having UTIs all my life, I know I have a god damn UTI, I can tell you exactly how it happened. I can even reproduce the situation. Got any iced tea???

Well, I went into the examining room, and the nurse practioner came in to talk. She was really nice, but I could tell that she didn't exactly love that I was wasting her time. Well, I wasn't wasting her time, because she ended up charging me $65 for the appointment, but at least I left with a perscription for some generic antibiotics. Not sure how much those will cost me, but she said they're and old brand and should be cheap. Right now I'll pay anything for antibiotics, as that's what I really, really need.

However, this doc told me that it prob makes sense for me to go to Planned Parenthood for my pap and checkup, since it'll likely be cheaper. I was thinking of calling Planned Parenthood but I figured my income bracket would prob be too high for getting treated there. But this nurse gyno lady convinced me it might be best, and since I've never had an abnormal pap before, she didn't seem to think there was any urgent need for me to get the test done.

Maybe she's right. I'm 24, I have cysts on my ovaries, I get a period once in a blue polka-dotted moon and a UTI when the moon is full and white. What else is there to know?

Still, I want to get tested. So I left the doctor's office $65 poorer with perscription in hand.

... a few minutes ago I called up Planned Parenthood to schedule an appointment. I was told by a friend that it's better to tell them you have no insurance if you have high deductible insurance so they will see you. As, again, my insurance has such a high deductible it's pretty much no insurance, I didn't feel like that was much of a lie.

So I called and asked for the appointment. They proceeded to survey me about my age, ethnicity, and income. When they asked how much I make, I didn't know what to say. The truth would surely be too high for any sort of affordable care. But I kind of did tell the truth. I told them I'm a contractor. Which is true. They asked how much I make per month. I said, well it ranges. She asked what the low end was. I picked a number out of the air. $2500, I said. The truth is the low end is like $400 when I don't have a job and the high end is like $5000 when I do have a job. So I averaged it. What's $2500 a month? $30k a year? Not quite poverty, I guess, but the only way to get reasonably costed checkups in this country is to be poor, apparently. Not that I'd wish for that, but when I was making less than $30k, I had health insurance, like real health insurance. And now... well, you know... not so much.

So I figured on a sliding scale, $2500 a month income might get me some discount on all the tests. I was told, by someone else, that she basically got free care at planned parenthood. And she had money, it's just that she wasn't making any money. She was a grad student, but she had money, somehow. Anyway...

I was told I didn't qualify for a discount. So their pap would cost $300 (which, I think, includes lab services) which is MORE than what I was going to pay at the doctor's office this morning... she was going to do the exam for $165 plus lab fees. Well, she said the lab fees were "$35-50" - whatever that means. Maybe it'd be about the same. Still, so much for finding cheaper care.

Meanwhile, I found out that at Planned Parenthood, you could get birth control pills without a full exam. It'd just be $30 for an appointment and $22+ for the pills, depending on which ones you want. I guess most of planned parenthood's funding is really about not making babies, not, not having cancer (which makes sense. It's not Planned Ovarian Health Org). And the cost of a full STD screening at my "level of income?" $150.

I think all of this has me rethinking my career. I love my job. It's wonderful. But I just need REAL health insurance. So maybe I'll start looking for a job that provides that. I hate to do that. My company seems to have health insurance for "full time employees" (not contractors who work 40 hours a week) but even their health insurance, I think, is high deductible. I'm not sure, I haven't really looked into it, but it sounds like they all have HSA plans which means they must be high deductibles, I think. They're a small 8ish person startup, so they can't afford good health insurance. Can't blame them for that. But I don't even get that. Everything comes out of pocket. And my pretty good contract rate starts looking less and less good...

It's just hard to figure out the total cost of everything when it comes to healthcare. And in this case, the comparision between a year of being on crappy healthcare at $140 a month and having to pay for all health costs out of pocket and working as a contractor where I can work from home on some days and save on gas money, versus getting a "real job" with a salary and benefits, and having to go in every day and spend money on gas and extra travel time and being miserable and needing to spend money on a therapist.

It's impossible to really compare that. Maybe I should just pay $300 something a month for an HMO. I can't decifer if it's worth it. I have an HSA plan but haven't even opened an HSA account yet because that kind of seems like a joke. They charge you a fee to open the account, and to maintain it. It's basically another RothIRA, but I go for index funds, and then I have limited choice in investments, and - the kicker is it's not even tax-free in California. So...



Jul 16, 2008

Late on Prosper

So right now I have 8 active loans on Prosper.com, for $50 each. Up until this month, each borrower has paid on time, which had me starting to believe in the power and potential of PSP lending.

Then, one of my borrowers went late. She's still less than 15 days late, so it hasn't even got to a collection agency yet, but I'm a little worried.

The good news is that I made $25 in a Prosper referral and between that and the interest I'm making on the other loans (as long as they don't default too, knock on wood) means that I'll end up making back the $50. But that kind of defeats the purpose of investing, if I end up barely back where I started.

Maybe this listing just had too many warning signs. The woman had to relist 3 times in order to get her listing funded. The debt-to-income ratio was way too high for the measly 13% interest rate it got funded at.

well, I'll remain hopeful that this woman is just having a bad month and she'll pay me back. But I've learned my Prosper lesson - only lend to people who are employed (students are not good investments, even if you want to help them study abroad!) -- The people who really should be getting funded on prosper are those who have full time jobs, make more than they spend, and are trying to pay off high-interest credit cards. Then you're really both helping each other out right now.


Jul 6, 2008

Live Within Your Means

While being interviewed for a television news feature about frugal living and saving money, I realized that despite being fully aware of ways to save, I'm just not doing enough when it comes to saving money. With gas prices rising, and my rent being what it was, I was breaking even at best most months, or covering the prior month's expenditures with my next month's savings.

While that's better than going into debt, it won't get me the things I want to save for - getting my teeth fixed ($10k), laser hair removal ($6k?), a condo/house (an $80k downpayment?), and grad school ($120k?). That's a lot of money I have to save above and beyond the basic emergency fund and other living costs.

As many of you know, my rent was skyrocking up to $1300 this year and while I could pay that with my current income, it would basically cost me my savings plan.

So I left my apartment, without knowing where my next home would be. This month I'm staying with a friend for a measly $350, as she's being so kind to let me crash in her spare bedroom. That's helping me make up a little of what I spent on my vacation in Israel... I spent way too much there, figuring I could make it up when I returned and found a cheaper place to rent. That, indeed, is what I'm going to do.

I found a place that I like, and it has a lot of the features I was looking for. And my rent is going from $1050 to about $670 per month, after utilities (except internet/cable). I'll be splitting the internet & cable bill 3 ways, so instead of it costing me $100 per month, it will be just $30. Total savings, based on last years rent, is about $350 per month, or $3750 per year. Based on the rent I was supposed to pay this year, I'm saving $600 per month, or $7200 per year.

While that's not the $80k I need for the downpayment on a house, or even the $10k to get my teeth fixed, it's a lot better than wasting that money on rent.

My new room is small. I'll be sharing a bathroom. I'll be paying a bit more in gas to actually get places since it's close to a freeway but not that close to work. Biking to work is no longer an option. But the place, for the price, is rather nice. It has a washer and dryer in unit, plus a dishwasher, and a nice community pool. The complex is a mix of owners and renters, so the property is well maintained. The owners of the specific condo that I'm renting are supposedly nice (I haven't met them yet) and haven't even raised the rent in a while - much better than the money-hungry apartment management company that took over my last complex and those $250 a year rent increases!

So... while my savings has depleted itself a bit during the last few months, I'm confident I can make back most of that money within 12 months. Or at least I hope I can. And then the real saving will begin.