This post is by staff writer Honey Smith.

Just because two people hear the same word or phrase, doesn’t mean that they are conceptualizing the same thing. For example, I live in the desert, so when I say that it’s “cold,” it’s a pretty safe bet that I’m talking about something different than the person who lives in Vermont. Similarly, if I say it’s “humid,” I am probably not thinking about the same thing as the person who lives in Florida.

It comes down to the difference between denotation and connotation. “Denotation” refers to something’s definition or literal meaning. “Connotation,” on the other hand, refers to what we associate with the use of a particular term. Connotations can be cultural in nature, though they may be based on personal experience. They can also evoke strong emotions (positive or negative), in both the speaker and the listener.

I have noticed this tendency come into play right here in the comments of GRS. “Get Rich Slowly” is the name of the site, but what do those words mean? What, exactly, is “rich”? What do I think “slowly” means? Is that the same time frame you have in mind? Why does it matter, anyway?

What it means to “get rich”

Does “rich” mean a million bucks? Does it mean homeownership? Does it mean financial independence? Is being rich even something that can be restricted to money? “Financial independence” seems to be rising to prominence as the preferred term in personal finance circles these days (as opposed to a term like “retirement”). I think that is in part because it assumes a more encompassing understanding of the term “rich” than simply money. For example, “financial independence” assumes something about how you spend your time.

For one thing, “financial independence” assumes that you may still be interested to work. However, when you no longer have to spend nine hours a day earning the money you need to survive, then you are free to spend that time on other things whether it’s part-time work, a change in fields, volunteering your time to a cause that’s near and dear to you, or spending time with friends and family.

“Rich” implies something else completely, at least to me. When I think of “rich,” I always think of Scrooge McDuck swimming in his vault of gold coins. In other words, to me the term “rich” has a tinge of selfishness. It calls to mind someone who has more than enough money to do anything they want, but who doesn’t give — of time or money. Given the connotation I apply to the terms “rich” and “financially independent,” I know which I’d rather be.

What it means to get rich “slowly”

At what pace do you have to be moving to be slow? If you’re still in the debt-payoff phase, should you allocate all your discretionary spending possible toward that goal in order to get out of debt as quickly as possible? Do you have to be gazelle-intense, or is it okay to pay off your debt at a slower pace so that you can allocate some funds toward wants?

And if you’re in the asset-accumulation phase, is it okay to act like a corporation, obligated to make every decision with an eye toward shareholder profit? Do we have a duty to live up to our potential? Or is it okay to take a lower-paying job that you enjoy in order to create the life you want? What if it means that you are still dependent on a paycheck and may have to work until you reach retirement age, or even later?

It’s like the saying goes, anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot and anyone who drives faster than you is a maniac. As long as you are moving at a pace that works for you, why does it matter to you what other people think of your progress? Why would you care about the pace of other people’s progress? Does it make a difference if they’re your friend or family as opposed to a stranger? Does it matter if they have dependents, or if they’re dependent on others? Is there morality in personal finance?

Why you should do what works for you

Do what works for you is one of the fourteen core tenets of Get Rich Slowly. At the end of that article, J.D. Roth says:

“Don’t listen to anyone who tells you there’s just one right way to do something. Each person is different. What works for one person may not work for another. Be willing to experiment until you find methods that are suited to your life.

“Make informed choices, understand the consequences, and focus on your goals.”

This doesn’t mean that you don’t have things to learn from other people. I think it’s always important to consider how other people’s methods and circumstances can inform your own. Sometimes, you’ll find the best tips and tricks come from those you have a lot in common with. Other times, you’ll find that stories from someone in completely different circumstances and with radically different values can change your perspective for the better.

Doing what works for you means letting go of your fears about what other people might think about your decisions. However, it means letting go of your fears because you have carefully considered all the options and are making the best decision for you and your circumstances. It means that your spending matches your values. Being certain that you are doing what works for you doesn’t mean that you become certain about what other people should do. It doesn’t mean your way is the only way.

Final thoughts

In a way, the key to success is selfishness. Don’t be influenced by the connotation “selfishness” has for being a bad thing. It can be good! “Selfishness” means that you shouldn’t be afraid to take tips or learn from anyone who might help you reach your goals. You also shouldn’t let your goals be dictated to you by friends, family, or society at large. However, if being selfish means being primarily concerned with your own welfare, then it also means not judging other people for having different priorities than you (assuming their priorities don’t harm others).

What does “success” mean to you? What does it mean to be rich? Is it okay to get rich slowly? How slowly? What if you never want to be rich, or you want to get rich as quickly as possible?

This article is about Basics

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Some reader stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income. Want to submit your own reader story? Here’s how.

I don’t spend lavishly on clothes, hair appointments, or travel. I drive a 12-year-old Honda Civic. I got into debt by trying different business investments, including real estate and selling refurbished tablets. I also took out a student loan that I really didn’t need but couldn’t turn down the money I automatically qualified for. Those are the main sources of my debt.

My debt payments began to total more than $1,100 a month. I moved in with an aunt and uncle to make ends meet. When they wanted to raise the rent, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was fed up with my situation. I couldn’t even afford to rent a room anymore.

I took a drastic measure, which I know most people won’t agree with. I decided to move into my car. But that wasn’t all. There was no way I was going to live in my car for any length of time and come out in the same situation.

I buckled down and reviewed Dave Ramsey’s system. I was familiar with his program but had never really studied it or applied it. I made a commitment to live differently from that month on (September 2013). It took two months to save up $1,000 for an emergency fund and to pay off my seven smallest debts. The third month, I brought current a credit card that was three months behind. Life felt so much more manageable. I could answer the phone again without trepidation. Eight months later, I paid off all three credit cards.

It wasn’t just living in my car that did it, though. After I made the commitment, I got an insurance payout for damage to my car, a refund from the doctor, and some other small financial blessings here or there. All of that “extra” money went toward my debt. Before, it would have gone toward … who knows?

For the winter months, I moved in with a friend and rented a room for less than what my aunt and uncle charged me. She has been really understanding and was helping me out. However, in one month, she will need her room back. Since starting this journey, I’ve lost a job, faced medical emergencies and car breakdowns, and learned new survival skills.

Only two of my friends know about my situation. I’ve worked hard to keep it hidden from coworkers and family members. They will only worry about me, and they can’t give me the help that I really need. I have blogged about my experience anonymously. I’m bracing myself for the negative backlash from readers – “You’re stupid. That’s dangerous!” Still, I am excited to be on this temporary journey and just thankful that I have the independence, the mental fortitude, the creativity, and the good health to make this happen for myself. I am $10,000 richer so far in less than one year!

[Editor’s Note: This is an amazing story; but we wanted to understand Livinginmyhonda’s reasoning on some things, so we asked:

Q. Why did you take out a student loan that you didn’t need?

A. I took the student loan because it was free money and I also wanted to continue investing in real estate -- ultimately it helped me sell the two properties I owned. I had to bring money to the table. Not what I had in mind originally. Dave Ramsey would call it a stupid tax, and so would I.

Q. Where are you living in your car? Do you live in a WalMart parking lot?

A. I park my car in hospital parking lots (lots of security cameras, guards on patrol, and employees coming and going all hours of the night). I also park on the street outside an apartment complex that I used to live in. There are no parking restrictions there and I feel relatively safe in that neighborhood. (I know that no neighborhood is perfectly safe).

Q. Are you currently working?

A. I'm a teacher. Three months after I started this debt-free journey, I was blessed to lose my job. It turned out to be a blessing because I got a job that pays 35 percent more (even though I loved the first job dearly).

Q. How do you manage grooming, etc., to go to work each day or to go to job interviews?

A. I got a gym membership so I would have a place to shower. After leaving the gym, I go to my storage unit and change clothes. Then I go to work. I spend the rest of my time in parks, libraries, fast food restaurants, or staying late at work.

Q. You say you are $10,000 richer. What do you mean? Is it because you have paid off your loans or by saving money in an emergency fund?

A. I feel richer because of the debts paid off so far and because of the security that a starter emergency fund gives. After paying off credit cards this past spring (three months ahead of schedule due to the new job), I started a car replacement fund. My car is 12 years old, and I consider this fund to be my way of paying off debt in advance.

Q. Do you plan to find a place to live?

There was no answer to this question, so we have to hope that Livinginmyhonda will once again find a stable and safe living situation.]

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. It can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a paid or professional writer and is just learning about money like you are. Unduly nasty comments on readers stories will be removed.

This article is by staff writer April Dykman.

My personal finance education began here at Get Rich Slowly. I went from owing more money than I had to being debt-free (although now I have a mortgage). And along the way, I learned about money on websites and blogs. I used Mint to get my spending aligned with my goals and to track debt repayment. I opened and started managing my husband’s and my Roth IRAs online too.

Basically, I did it all via the Internet, no human contact involved. That really worked for me, both because I’m a research-nerd and because, as a perfectionist, I wasn’t about to tell a soul that I had credit card debt. And even when I had the money to start putting toward retirement, I still didn’t get advice from an adviser because I didn’t think the amount I was investing was significant enough. I thought only people with real money hired advisers. Also, I just preferred to set up a target date fund and be done with it, rather than risk hearing a sales pitch or feeling pressured.

I guess when it comes to personal finance, I’m a Lone Wolf McQuade, if you will. (Sorry, I’ll stop now.)

But according to a new Gallup poll, I’m in the minority, at least for now. “Even as access to the Internet has become ubiquitous in the U.S. and data analytics is highly touted for use in finance, U.S. investors are more likely to have a dedicated financial adviser than to use a financial website to obtain advice on investing or planning for their retirement, 44 percent vs. 20 percent*,” writes Lydia Saad for Gallup.

Furthermore, 35 percent of investors use a financial advisory firm with an advice call center and 29 percent rely on a friend or family member. So using financial planning and investing websites comes in dead last. Shocking, I know!

And of course, it’s not like investors are getting advice from one and only one source.

“Overall, 79 percent of investors report using at least one of the four financial advice resources tested, while 21 percent don’t use any of the four,” writes Saad. “The largest percentage of investors — 40 percent — rely on just one source, but almost a third (30 percent) rely on two, 7 percent on three, and 2 percent on all four.” (Wait — 21 percent of investors polled don’t use any of those four sources for investing and finance information? I’d sure like to know more about that!)

Who’s afraid of online investing?

Not surprisingly, there’s a good reason why most investors are weary of the web even though everyone you know uses it for everything they do.

According to the Gallup poll, it’s investors with significantly more invested ($100,000 plus) and retirees who are most likely to use a financial adviser human. They have more money at stake, for one thing. Also, a lot of it is generational. Among non-retirees, 66 percent were somewhat or very comfortable investing and getting financial advice online, compared with just 35 percent of retirees.

Help! I need somebody…

At least for now, the majority of investors want advice from an expert to help them and give them advice.

“Despite lots of buzz about online financial tools that allow users to submit their portfolios to computer algorithms, most investors still feel more comfortable involving a human, whether in the form of a dedicated personal adviser or a financial advisory firm that gives them access to live counselors in a call center,” writes Saad.

But ideally, investors would use a combination of methods. “[This shouldn’t be an either-or situation,” she writes. “Investors who want the best of both worlds can probably get it by seeking a partnership with financial advisers who are tapping into the same powerful analysis tools being offered to consumers online. In fact, such a marriage of humans and computers could be a strong selling point for the financial services industry — bridging consumers’ reluctance to go it alone online with their desire for a human connection and the best possible performance for their investments.”

*Poll findings are based on a sample of U.S. investors with $10,000 or more in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or in a self-directed IRA or 401(k).

So, readers, are you Team Human, Team Robot, or do you use a combination of the two? And if you prefer to go it alone online, would you change your mind if you had $100,000 invested or were near retirement?

When we asked you how to improve Get Rich Slowly, you told us you’d like an article on “The horrible, terrible, no good, very bad reality of paying for fertility treatments.” We can’t fit all of that into one post, but we did ask Joanna Lahey, who gave us a series on health insurance, to give a broad overview of the issue in this guest post.

Joanna Lahey is an associate economics professor at the George H. W. Bush School of Government and Public Service and a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the aforementioned institutions.

When I found out I suffered from infertility, I was lucky enough to be living in Massachusetts and was covered by a Massachusetts health insurance plan. Lucky because Massachusetts is one of the few states in the United States that mandates coverage of infertility treatment. Every test my husband and I went through and every treatment I underwent was completely covered by my insurance. After a year and a half of poking and prodding and medication and monitoring, I knew exactly what was wrong with me. My doctors were able to give the most conservative treatment options so I wouldn’t have to worry about risks with names like “overstimulation” or “rupture” or “triplets.” My only out-of-pocket costs were for HPT, OPK, and a fancy thermometer. [1]

That’s not the situation here in Texas, where it is mandated that infertility treatment be “offered” but not “covered.” What that means is that group insurers must offer at least one plan that has infertility treatment coverage as an option (at any price) and the employer may choose that plan or may choose another (usually less expensive) plan. What that almost always means is that insurers choose the less expensive plan that does not cover infertility. For the most part, people in Texas pay out of pocket for infertility treatment.

The Resolve website has a full listing of the states that mandate “coverage” or “offering” of infertility treatment for health insurance. Even if you live in one of the states that mandates coverage, you may still not be covered. State health insurance mandates do not cover firms that self-insure, so large companies (if they do not buy health insurance from an outside provider like Blue Cross/Blue Shield) don’t have to offer infertility coverage if they don’t want to. In some cases small firms are exempt from state mandates as well. Some states only require that HMOs cover infertility treatment. Some states put age limits on who can use the coverage or limit to specific treatments in their coverage. Even if you live in a covered state, the best thing to do is to check your employer’s plan to see what is and is not covered and what the rules are for that coverage before starting treatment.

How much does treatment cost?

As with all medical expenses, cost is going to vary tremendously with what the specific condition is, how intensive your treatment is, and where you live. In the case of infertility treatment, it also matters how much you can pay and who pays. That’s because if you can afford it or if someone else is paying, you may move to more intensive (read: expensive) treatments faster, whereas if you’re paying out of pocket and don’t have the money, you may wait and try less intensive treatments longer.

Sometimes insurance companies will cover parts of infertility treatments even if they don’t cover infertility. In general, if the diagnosis or treatment fixes a problem that’s not infertility, they are more likely to cover it, even if fertility is a side effect of the treatment. They may cover procedures that diagnose or treat endometriosis or amenorrhea. They may cover various surgeries. They may cover some medications but not others. They almost always cover medications related to thyroid, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or diabetes, even if those medications may result in your becoming pregnant. The important thing is that the doctor’s office codes the treatment with the non-infertility-related code if one is applicable (so coded as “amenorrhea” if the problem is you’re not cycling, rather than “infertility”). Most doctors’ offices are good about this, but it’s something to ask about just in case.

For ovulation stimulation, the first-line treatment is generally Clomid. Clomid itself is not very expensive — it’s generic and you can generally get it for under $30/prescription (note: all costs are for the U.S.). Doctors often recommend 4-D ultrasound (u/s) monitoring with Clomid, and monitoring costs can get up into the upper hundreds to low thousands, depending on how much your clinic charges for u/s. Another popular drug for ovulation stimulation is Femera (note that this is an off-label use of an anti-cancer drug). This drug is more expensive than Clomid. If your insurance covers it, you only pay your co-pay; but if not, the cost is usually somewhere in the lower hundreds of dollars. These medications are sometimes combined with Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), which can cost from a few hundred dollars to the low thousands of dollars.

The most expensive Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) treatments are In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT) and Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer (ZIFT). Costs for these procedures are generally $10,000 to $15,000 or more. When discussing these costs with your doctor, it is important to ask whether the medications for ART are included in the transfer cost or if they are an additional $3,000 to 6,000 in expenses. Additional costs will occur if you need to move to using donor sperm, donor eggs, or donor embryos. Genetic testing adds additional layers of cost, though these are often covered by insurance.

The direct costs of fertility treatment aren’t the only costs that you should be considering. Estimates of the cost of infertility treatment per live birth range from $38,000 to $800,000. That top number includes the increased costs of birth complications and multiple births, both of which are more likely with fertility treatment. Once the baby has been conceived, most insurance will cover these costs — but you should look at your individual coverage to see what your out-of-pocket expenditures will be assuming these scenarios. Additionally, according to one study by Stanford University medical professor Michael Eisenberg and colleagues, infertile women seeking treatment spend a median of 51.5 hours on infertility-related activities over an 18-month period. Those hours aren’t consecutive, so you can’t just take a week-long vacation to get it over with. (Obviously, having a baby takes time too, but that’s true whether or not you use infertility treatment!)

Are there ways to lower the costs?

There are some ways that the costs of infertility treatment can be lowered. If your medical costs are more than 10 percent of your gross income, you can deduct the additional amounts on your taxes. That may also be something to think about as you time your more expensive treatments.

If you have to pay out of pocket, you can shop around for drug providers since different pharmacies often have widely varying costs. You can even shop around for sperm if you need it. Different reproductive clinics will also offer a variety of “deals” on fertility packages, but whether or not those are good deals is too complicated to address in this rather lengthy article. Another way to potentially save money is to get enrolled in a clinical trial. These trials will often pay for some or all of your expenses; but you generally don’t know if you’re in the treatment group or the control group — and if you’re in the treatment group, it could be the next amazing intervention or it may not work at all.

Is infertility treatment worth going into debt over?

Personally, having experienced the heartbreak of infertility and the joy of a much-desired child (or two!), I would lean toward “yes” in many cases. However, in an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to debt-finance infertility treatment even if insurance doesn’t pay for it.

When someone reaches that third stage of personal finance, doesn’t want to stop working, and wonders what’s the point of saving more, I always tell him or her to keep saving because unexpected expenses and opportunities will find you. Infertility treatment is one of those potential unexpected expenses. Being able to take the stress of debt-financing out of the equation because you’ve saved for a rainy day means one fewer stressor to deal with during a very stressful time. And it leaves you in a much better position if and when you bring home your bundle(s) of joy.

[1] For the uninitiated: HPT = pregnancy test and OPK = ovulation predictor test, which is kind of like a pregnancy test except there’s always two lines. The second line gets darker when you ovulate. Fun times.

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