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Flex-Ed: Prioritizing wellness with FSA funds

It may be early in the year, but now is as good a time as any to start planning ahead so that you're not scrambling to use it all at the last minute. And if you're looking for a good way to utilize FSA funds, wellness is a good place to start. Keep in mind that your FSA funds can be used for your spouse and dependents too, so you can prioritize wellness for the whole family.

Although we're talking about using FSA funds in this article, you could also use HSA funds for any of these scenarios, too. But without yearly deadlines, there's isn't a need to figure out ways to use up an HSA. In the meantime, let's focus on flex spending.

Alleviate pain and protect your joints

Does "snap, crackle, pop" remind you more of your knees than a breakfast cereal? You can, of course, use your FSA to cover the out-of-pocket costs that go along with things like orthopedic care or physical therapy. But your FSA can go well beyond that when it comes to alleviating muscle and joint pain.

Although most supplements can't be purchased with FSA dollars, Glucosamine/chondroitin supplements are an exception (as are prenatal vitamins). You don't even need a doctor's note, although it's always wise to talk with your doctor before starting to take any sort of supplements.

Ergonomic items — like height-adjustable desks that allow you to stand while you work, anti-fatigue mats, and specialized keyboards — can also be purchased with FSA funds if you obtain a letter of medical necessity from your doctor. And things like knee and wrist braces, lumbar supports, and neck supports can be purchased with FSA funds even if you don't have a letter from your doctor.

And don't forget over-the-counter medications for pain relief that are fully eligible for purchase with FSA funds. For those looking to go the medicine-free route, there are a variety of drug-free pain relief items that can be purchased with an FSA.

Extra pump parts – Because no two people are the same, standard breast shields that come with your breast pump may not fit correctly. This means you'll have to purchase a smaller or larger shield. Yes, they make them in different sizes, and no, they aren't cheap. You may also need to replace some of the pump's other parts, like the membranes or tubing. But you're in luck. According to the IRS, supplies that assist lactation, such as pump replacement parts, are also covered.

Milk storage bags – A must-have for the breastfeeding mom if she plans to pump or be away from her baby for any longer period of time.

Disposable nursing pads/ nipple shields – No one likes a leaker. So, it's a good thing breast pads are FSA-eligible. Trust me, you'll need them. Nipple shields fall under the supplies that aid in lactation category, making them a qualifying expense.

Support pillows – Breastfeeding pillows (like the Boppy) are not FSA-eligible, though most moms say they're must-haves. That said, an orthopedic neck support pillow might be comforting for new moms during some of those late nights and early mornings.

Nursing bras, tops, covers, or other apparel – Bad news. Nursing bras, shirts, and other apparel are not qualifying expenses for your FSA. (The exception? The hands-free bras used for pumping, though it's not designed for use as an everyday bra.) So, wait for sales, because those bras are expensive.

Now if only your FSA could pay for a night nurse. But, with any luck the above list will save you some money through tax-free spending, freeing up some cash to pay for those other child-related expenses. You know ... like college.

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