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6 Tips to Save on Healthcare and Fitness in the New Year

6 Tips to Save on Healthcare and Fitness in the New Year

Feeling good, looking good, and living the lifestyle you want are just a few of the well-known benefits that come from improving your physical fitness. But did you know that getting in shape can also boost your finances?

Here are six ways to get fit and save on healthcare in the New Year:

1. Use a Health Savings Account (HSA)

Surveys continue to show that too few Americans take advantage of health savings accounts, or “HSAs.” Either they just don’t know that they exist or they underestimate how much they save on healthcare.

You’re eligible to contribute to an HSA when you’re covered by a high deductible health plan. High deductible plans are becoming more popular because they’re more affordable. The higher your deductible, the lower your premium will be.

The beauty of an HSA is that as long as you spend it on qualified medial expenses, the funds are never taxed. Contributions to an HSA, other than those from an employer, are deductible on your tax return, no matter if you itemize deductions or not.

That means that if your average income tax rate is 25%, you get an immediate 25% discount on all your out-of-pocket medical expenses. That’s huge!

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You can take distributions from the account to pay for medical expenses—such as doctor co-pays, prescriptions, and supplies—before your deductible is satisfied and your health benefits kick in. But if you spend money in an HSA on non-qualified expenses, the amount you withdraw will be subject to income tax, plus a 20% penalty.

You can also use HSA funds for a long list of other types of expenses, even if you don’t have insurance for them, such as going to a dentist, ophthalmologist, chiropractor, or psychologist. One of my favorite ways to use HSA money is to get new pair of prescription sunglasses every couple of years.

Another benefit of an HSA is that you don’t have to take any distributions each year; you can let the savings accumulate indefinitely without penalty.

Find out if your health insurance qualifies as a high deductible plan. If so, open up an HSA and begin funding it as soon as possible so you can get a tax break on your next medical expense. For 2017, you can contribute up to $3,400 if you have individual coverage or $6,650 for a family plan.

2. Use a Health Flexible Savings Arrangement (FSA)

Flexible spending arrangements have some similarities to HSAs, but are only offered by employers. An FSA allows you or your employer to make contributions on a pre-tax basis, usually through payroll deductions. For 2017, eligible employees can contribute up to $2,600.

As long as you spend FSA funds on qualified medical expenses, they’re never taxed. So, just like with an HSA, you save an amount equal to the income taxes you would have paid on the money.

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But unlike an HSA, an FSA is a “use-it-or-lose-it” plan. That means you generally must empty the account every year or else only carry over a small amount, while funds in an HSA can roll over from year to year without penalty.

3. Get Healthcare Subsidies 

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, mandates every American to have health insurance. Even if Obamacare is eventually repealed, you’re required to have it until changes are officially made. If you can afford heath insurance but choose not to buy it, you’ll be subject to a tax penalty.

Depending on your income, the state where you live, and the number of people in your household, you may be eligible for financial assistance to save on healthcare. In most states, if you earn less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, you can get a healthcare subsidy, which reduces your monthly health insurance premium.

The open enrollment period to get health insurance for 2017 began on November 1, 2016 and ends January 31, 2017. So if you remain uninsured, don’t miss the opportunity to get the coverage you need to protect your health and your finances. Use the Obamacare Subsidy Calculator to estimate your monthly health insurance costs.

4. Max Out Your Health Insurance Benefits

Health insurance benefits, such as free preventative checkups and deductibles, are tied to an annual schedule. That means you need to pay attention to the calendar in order to max out your benefits.

For instance, if you burn through your health deductible and need a medical procedure, make sure to get it before the end of the year. If you wait until the following year, you could end up paying more than you have to.

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In other words, take advantage of the time each year after you reach your deductible so you can get your insurance company to pay for as much of your medical expenses as possible.

If there are capped benefits, like a certain number of therapy sessions or an allowable amount of dental work, get part completed in December and the rest in January, in order to take advantage of 2 years’ worth of benefits.

And don’t skimp on the free preventative appointments, like annual physicals, well-woman visits, mammograms, prostate screenings, dental cleanings, and eye exams.

5. Claim Medical Tax Deductions

The IRS allows you to save money by claiming medical expenses as deductions on your tax return. However, the catch is that you must itemize deductions, instead of taking the standard deduction for your tax filing status.

When you itemize, you can claim medical expenses paid for yourself, your spouse, and dependents, unless they’re already excluded from your taxable income, paid for using your HSA or FSA, or were reimbursed to you. In other words, you can’t double dip and get a tax deduction twice.

Another important point with medical deductions is that you can only claim amounts that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. For example, let’s say your AGI is $50,000 and your medical expenses for the tax year are $6,000. You could deduct the amount over $5,000, or $1,000. If your medical expenses are less than 10% of your income, then you can’t deduct any of them.

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There’s a long list of expenses that qualify for a tax deduction, and some of them, such as acupuncture, weight-loss programs, and transportation, may surprise you. You can even claim the cost of your health insurance premiums if you pay them as an individual—but not if they’re paid on a pre-tax basis from your paycheck at work.

I encourage your to take a look at the full list of deductible costs found on IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses. There are probably many medical expenses that you might not realize are deductible.

6. Review Your Medical Bills Carefully

My last tip to save money on healthcare and fitness is to review your medical bills carefully. If you don’t understand a charge, don’t pay it until the medical provider and your insurance company can explain why you owe it.

If you believe that a health insurance claim has been denied in error, perhaps because of an administrative or coding error, fight for your rights and file an appeal if necessary.

Laura Adams is a personal finance expert, award-winning author, and host of the top-rated Money Girl Podcast. To learn more and connect, click here.

Featured photo credit: Little Perfect Stock via shutterstock.com

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Personal Finance Expert & Analyst

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. And that’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways on how to set financial goals and then actually meet them with ease.

5 Steps to Set Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task but if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps:

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal (let alone financial) without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream. And this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it is for. It could be anything like kid’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives, however small they may be, that you foresee in the future and put a value to it.

2. Keep Them Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going out of the line will definitely hurt your chances of achieving them.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic in nature for it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said – “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman”. And this quote sums up the best what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore account for inflation whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far away in the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years hence, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is mere 3%. So always account for inflation.

4. Short Term vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach towards achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It is important to bifurcate goals in short term and long term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal, which is due in next 3 years should be termed as short term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short term vs long term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

More on this later when we talk about how to achieve financial goals.

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5. To Each to His Own

The journey of setting financial goals is an individualistic affair i.e. your goals are your own goals and are determined by your want to achieve them. A lot of times we get on the bandwagon of goal setting only to realize later on that it was not meant for us.

It is important that your goals are actually your goals and not inspired by someone else. Take a hard look at this step at all the goals you’ve set for after this step, you will be on the way to achieve them.

By now, you would be ready with your financial goals, now it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

11 Ways to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a 2 step process –

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough; and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals. So let’s get down to ensuring healthy savings.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self realization is the best form of realisation and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your monthly expenses. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you would be surprised to see how small expenses add up to a sizeable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different bucket so that you know which bucket is eating the most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pump up your savings rate.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classical mistake which almost everyone of us do. We pay ourselves last!

Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and then manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement is to put the savings on automatic mode i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (for example – mutual funds, retirement corpus etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will make us lose control of our money and hence will compel us to manage in what’s left with us thereby increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick with It

Budgeting is the best to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be made.

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Nowadays, several money management apps and wallets can help you do this automatically. It’s easy and who knows, you may just end up doing what people fail to do.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Rise Again Even If You Fall

Let’s be realistic. It’s not like the world will come to an end if you made one mistake. This isn’t called leniency but discipline.

If you fail to meet your budget for a month, don’t give up the entire effort just like that. Instead, start again.

Remember that flexible plans are the most realistic plans. So go forward and try to follow your financial goals as planned but if for some reason, the plan gets out of hand for you, do not give up on it just yet. This has a lot to do with your psychology rather than any material commitment.

All you have to do is to stay on the road and vow to stay on it, no matter how much you fall down.

5. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make Savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counter intuitive to many but there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Usually weekends are expensive. Make it a habit and you would in turn be saving a great deal.

If you are travelling buff, try to travel during off season. Your outlay will be much less.

If you go out for shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

So the key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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6. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission. And it would be rather easy to lose the grip over your discipline.

Therefore in order to stay the course, it is advisable that you keep yourself surrounded with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

7. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

So if you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

Use this journal to write down all essential points such as your short term, mid term and long term goals, your current sources of income, your regular expenses which you are aware of and any committed expenses which are of recurring nature.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energised to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot more easier for you to follow you and track your progress.

At this point, you should be ready with your financial goals and would be doing brilliantly with savings; now it’s time to talk about the big daddy – Investments.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However savings when invested wisely can do wonders and we are at that stage where we will talk about making smart investments.

8. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investments doesn’t come naturally to most of us therefore rather than dabbling with it ourselves, it is wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

9. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about them.

Just like “no one is born a criminal”, no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference.

Do you remember we talked about bifurcating financial goals in short term and long term?

It is here where that classification will help.

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So as a general rule, for all your short term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less as compared to equity instruments.

10. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding,

Compound Interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.

So make friends with this wonder kid. And sooner you become friends with it, quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

Start investing early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

11. Measure, Measure, Measure

All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments; taking stock of how our investments are doing.

If there is one single step where everything (so far) can go wrong, it is at this step – Measuring the Progress.

If we don’t measure the progress timely, then we would be shooting in the dark. We wouldn’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not; whether financial advisor is doing a decent job; whether we are moving closer to our target or not.

Do measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

The Bottom Line

This completes the list of tips for you to set financial goals and actually achieve them with not so great difficulty.

As you can see, all it requires is discipline. But guess that’s the most difficult part!

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