Ask the Readers: How Do You Manage Health Care Costs When You’re On Your Own?

Sometimes reader questions force me to learn about aspects of personal finance that are outside my realm of experience. For example, I don't deal directly with health insurance. We're covered under my wife's plan, and I've never had to think about it before. But insurance is a pressing issue for many people. New reader Eric writes with his predicament:

My wife and I are both self-employed — we value the freedom to continue working for ourselves above all else. Therefor, we view living expenses as evil and always to be controlled.

Topping our list of expenses is this seemingly unmanageable, irreducible item: health care. Our combined monthly insurance premium is just shy of $900, to which we add a separate premium for dental coverage, and a variety of co-pays and deductibles. Even though we're both young and reasonably healthy, our health care costs exceed what we pay for rent, car insurance, and gasoline combined. Continue reading...

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How a wellness coach whipped me into shape

Three months ago I wrote about the high cost of being fat. I had spent $4500 over four years because of my weight. The problem wasn't just costing me money — it had caused sleep apnea, a torn ACL, and mild depression, three conditions which eroded my quality of life.

Then a reader issued a challenge. Lauren Muney wrote to provide her services as a wellness coach free for one month: "I'm offering this to you because I've been reading your blog daily and I want to give back," she said. She continued:

Most people think that coaching is bull. It's amazing how much money people will spend on diet books, fad equipment, diet pills, and the like — and never budge an inch. I just talk to my clients. They drop 10, 20, even more pounds of weight, plus they retain the weight loss and make life changes they never thought possible. But it is they who do the work and they who take the glory. I know you understand the value of getting rich slowly but carefully. It's the same with fitness and lifestyle changes — the good stuff is slow, but it sticks.

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The high cost of being fat

I am fat.

I am fat, but I am not obese. I do not pause to catch my breath when climbing stairs. I do not avoid hikes or sports for fear of failure. But — no mistake — I am fat. I am far above my normal weight. I carry 205 pounds on a frame built for someone forty pounds lighter. [PDF: Body mass index and health, from the USDA.]

How does this relate to personal finance? Your health is your most important asset. Not your house. Not your car. Not your job. Not your retirement account. These are secondary. Your health is your most important asset. Even someone as young as I am (37) can face serious financial repercussions from being overweight.

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Why Don’t Doctors Know How Much Their Services Cost?

Three years ago I had surgery on my knee. I'd done a typical out-of-shape middle-aged man thing and played soccer (or football, for you international types) when I was not fit. A wrong step on uneven ground caused me to rip out my ACL and tear up some cartilage.

The thing that amazed me about the medical treatment wasn't the quality of the doctors, nor the amazing advances in medicine (they took a ligament from a dead person and transplanted it to my knee through a tiny incision!), but that nobody could tell me how much the procedure would cost. It was exasperating.

It's no wonder U.S. health care costs are out of control. (Are they out of control in the rest of the world, too?)

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How I finally defeated dandruff

Here's a tip I cannot believe I'm sharing in public.

For years I've battled dandruff. I mean I've had it bad. Recently it's reached nightmarish proportions — my scalp was like North Dakota in January.

I tried all sorts of remedies. I tried Selsun Blue. I tried Head and Shoulders. I tried Denorex. Nothing worked. I even tried not washing my hair at all. That didn't help the dandruff and just created the added grossness of greasy hair. Continue reading...

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How to Walk for Fun and Profit

In the United States, we value our cars. We've become a nation of drivers. It rarely occurs to us that walking might be an option, even for short journeys. One-quarter of all automobile trips in the U.S. are less than a mile in length; forty percent are less than two miles (one source of many). Looked at another way: of all trips less than a mile in length, eighty percent are made by car (source).

I know a man who drives to work, even though he lives half a mile from his office. Why does he drive? Because he may need the car for some errand during the day. How many errands did he run during the workday last week? None. The week before? None.

I have a family member who will spend time circling a parking lot, looking for the perfect space. In the time it takes her to find these utopic spots, she could usually have parked farther from the entrance and burned some calories by walking a few hundred feet to the store.

Another friend lives just over a mile from her brother. She never walks to see him, but always drives. Why? Because walking would take too long. (The drive takes five minutes because of the road layout; walking takes less than twenty minutes.)

Walking offers tremendous health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, walking can help:

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26 cheap camping tips

Backpacking and camping are awesome frugal activities. It costs nothing to take a hike. It costs a bit more to camp overnight, but even that can be done inexpensively. While browsing the web for camping stuff, I stumbled upon a great list of frugal suggestions that were originally posted to the Usenet group rec.scouting on 03 December 1994!

According to the original poster:

These low-cost equipment/ideas/fixes for Scouting and camping in general [were] originally found on a F-Net Scouting board and [were] reposted on Fidonet on Nov 11/92 by Steve Simmons. The file evidently originated with BSA Troop 886 in the USA.

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A Brief Guide to Better Sleep

Good sleep is one of the best free investments you can make in yourself. I spent much of last year on a quest for improved sleep, and eventually found it. Here's how.

In The Owner's Manual for the Brain, Pierce J. Howard summarizes sleep research with the following lists:

To get to sleep more quickly:

  • Consume dairy products (the warmer the better).
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid food additives.
  • Avoid caffeine within six hours of bedtime.
  • Keep to a regular bedtime.
  • Consume carbohydrates and fats; avoid protein.
  • Read or view unexciting material.
  • Avoid exercise within four hours of bedtime.
  • Sleep in absolute darkness and complete silence.
  • Take melatonin.

To get better quality sleep:

  • Lose weight.
  • Avoid alcohol within four hours of bedtime.
  • Drink water after alcohol consumption.
  • Plan sleep according to sleep cycles and circadian rhythms.
  • Do aerobic exercise regularly, but not close to bedtime.

To get back to sleep after waking:

  • Write down what's on your mind.
  • Read something unexciting.
  • Drink warm milk and honey.

Some of these concepts merit further discussion. (Note: while most of what follows is in my own words, some sentences are lifted verbatim from Howard's book.)

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