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Living Well

Real Money: Let's talk baby skin

Yeah, we've gone a little "baby crazy" lately, but summer is full of travel and outdoor activities, and parents need to be ready for anything that can happen in the warm weather. Especially if your kids have sensitivities.

My son has eczema, and it's no walk in the park. In fact, it seems to be exacerbated whenever we go outside in the heat like -- well -- to the park. Between swapping out skin care items like lotions, detergent, and diaper rash creams, to trying several brands of sunscreen, we've definitely bought our fair share of products, many of which are FSA-eligible.

From baby acne to eczema to prickly heat to stubborn diaper rash, here are our picks for the best ways to combat baby skin issues. Some are even FSA-eligible. Score.

Eczema

While buying a good eczema cream is a must for babies suffering from this skin condition, it isn't the only product you'll need. Since many sunscreens can aggravate the issue, you'll likely try a few different types of zinc-based baby sunscreen until you find a formula that doesn't irritate their skin.

Worth noting: Anything branded specifically for babies tends to be more expensive, so it's a good thing your FSA has you covered.

You also may need to change up other items your little one's skin comes into contact with, like detergents, lotions, or cleaning supplies. And if all else fails, your child's pediatrician may provide you with some prescription-level relief, also FSA-eligible.

Baby acne

Babies aren't always at their cutest. But what makes the situation worse? A case of baby acne. This skin condition affects about 20% of newborns, and looks like tiny white pimples or even whiteheads. There's really not a definite cure, other than keeping their skin clean and patting it dry. Use a gentle baby cleanser for that.

If the condition worsens or doesn't go away on its own, it may warrant a visit to your child's pediatrician, who may prescribe a 2.5% benzoyl peroxide topical treatment.

Other skin issues

Heat rash is another common skin issue in babies, especially during the summer . Also known as prickly heat or miliaria, this crops up when baby gets a bit too warm. This rash looks like raised red bumps or even tiny blisters under the skin, and happens more often in babies because they can't sweat as effectively as adults. Plus, they have those wonderfully chunky arm and leg rolls.

Troubleshoot this issue by keeping baby out of the heat, giving them a lukewarm bath, and avoiding lotions. Though if he or she seems itchy, some FSA-eligible baby powder might help.

While common, diaper rash can be one tough rash to kick since your baby is likely sporting a diaper 95% of the time. Try an FSA-eligible diaper rash cream like A&D; ointment. Another cure for diaper rash? Going sans-diaper for a few minutes a day around your house or outside. This one works wonders—if you're willing to risk it, that is.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Eligibility

Asked and Answered: How can I keep my stomach in check during July 4 barbecues?

Maybe you're getting off work a little early today. Maybe some all-day parties are on the horizon. Maybe you're just planning on watching some fireworks... with a few beers and pounds of barbecue. While all of this sounds fun (because it is) excessive eating can also mean a stomach problem waiting to happen.

Even if you're not competing in the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating contest -- because no one should do that, ever -- July 4 barbecues can catch up with you if you're not careful. Let's start with the preventatives -- things you can buy with your FSA before you celebrate Independence Day harder than Will Smith and Bill Pullman.

Probiotics are your friend...

...or friends, we should say. Probiotics are the millions of naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts in your body that help with the digestion process. Sounds kind of gross, but these little guys are really helpful when it comes to breaking down food and boosting your immunity.

While we're already filled with lots of good probiotics, sometimes it's nice (and necessary) to get a little help. Probiotics can be found in tons of common foods like yogurt, chocolate and soft cheeses. If you have a more diverse palate, they're also found in sauerkraut, kombucha and even sour pickles.

But, If these foods don't excite you, or if you're having digestive troubles, a medical professional might prescribe (FSA-eligible with prescription) probiotics, or other digestive health remedies.

What if it's "too late?" …

If you've already eaten 20 hot wings (after promising you'd stop at three), or if you had a fun night out after getting back from an entire day out -- don't panic. There are solutions, and they come in the form of digestive aids.

Digestive aids are over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that can treat anything from diarrhea to heartburn to gas pains. They come in a wide range of forms like antacids, laxatives, antidiarrheals or anti-gas medicines, all of which can help what's bothering you (and all of which can be FSA-eligible if prescribed by your doctor).

And if this becomes more of a recurring problem, then maybe there's more to it. Instead of turning to temporary solutions, a doctor might recommend a change in your sleeping habits. Thankfully, there are awesome elevated acid reflux pillows that can alleviate a lot of the discomfort. Just by raising your sleeping position, acid stays where it belongs, and you start enjoying the benefits of a restful night sleep... even if you still overdid it at the fireworks display.

If it's a little more serious ...

If you don't have a simple stomach ache and are dealing with more long-lasting gut pain, your FSA can still help. After speaking with a doctor (which you should do whenever experiencing stomach pains of any kind) and targeting the the source of your discomfort, you might be given some OTC meds to help.

Gastrointestinal medications are FSA-eligible when prescribed, and can treat ailments associated with conditions like Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), liver disease, ulcers, stomach cancer and many others.

For those dealing with these sorts of problems, this time of year can be hard as is, so make sure you protect yourselves from the potential discomforts that can be caused by eating heavier, greasier foods and by stress.

Stomach issues are going to happen, especially if you plan on multiple July 4 barbecues this year. But they shouldn't hinder your life -- and with a little proactive, preventive treatment, they don't have to.

Probiotics

Acid Reflux Pillows

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From FSA basics to the most specific account details, in our weekly Asked and Answered column, our team gets to the bottom of your most-pressing flex spending questions. It appears every Wednesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Living Well

Real Money: How your FSA can lead to better sleep

Getting enough sleep can be a constant battle. If you struggle, you know how much it impacts every day of your life. It can mess with everything from your hormones to brain function. Sleep problems may even contribute to major health problems like obesity and depression.

Lack of sleep may cause a lot of havoc, but luckily, there are ways to try and fix it. If you are worried about the money, consider using your flexible spending account (FSA). It's a great way to spend tax-free dollars on getting some shut-eye. Here are four FSA-eligible options you may not have considered.

Improve your sleeping environment

Sometimes, adjusting your bedroom environment can make a big difference. You don't have to break the bank with a full-scale renovation. Try experimenting with a few small changes over time.

If you can't add room-darkening blinds, try blocking out light with a pain alleviating sleep mask. This lavender comfort wrap not only reduces pain through hot or cold therapy, but as a bonus it helps promote relaxation. If you are a light sleeper, try a white noise machine or earplugs to block out extra sounds.

It's a good idea to avoid gadgets, electronics, and bright lights. You should replace your mattress every 5-7 years and invest in comfy bedding. Experts say the ideal sleep temperature is around 65 degrees.

Are digestion issues keeping you awake?

It's common to experience acid reflux or heartburn after a big meal. But if this happens often, it could be gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If you are pregnant or overweight, these symptoms may be even more likely.

If it happens at night, while you are lying down, a wedge medical pillow may offer some relief. These pillows keep your stomach acid at bay by elevating your head, shoulders, and torso.

Too anxious or stressed? See a professional.

Sleep issues are often linked to mental health problems. Your poor sleep may be the result of anxiety, substance abuse, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These issues may not go away on their own. Lack of sleep may be making your symptoms worse. If you suspect one of these issues may be your underlying problem, don't be afraid to seek treatment.

Consider a sleep study

If you have made a bunch of lifestyle changes and still struggling, consider a sleep study. These tests can measure your sleep cycles to find out where your patterns are being disturbed. A sleep study may help your doctor diagnose one of these common problems:

  • Chronic insomnia
  • Narcolepsy
  • Periodic limb movement disorder
  • REM sleep behavior disorder
  • Sleep apnea
  • Other unusual sleep behaviors

If your doctor uncovers one of theses issues, they may schedule a follow-up appointment. From there, they can recommend further treatment options to try and resolve the problem.

You don't have to suffer through chronic sleep problems

If you have been suffering from sleep problems for a while, you know how devastating the effects can be. It's tough to slog through every day feeling exhausted, with no relief in sight. If you have already tried a bunch of things, with the same disappointing result, it may be time to speak with your doctor.

With any luck, they may diagnose the problem and get you started with a treatment plan. Before you know it, you may finally achieve that elusive good night's sleep.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.




Eligibility

Flex-Ed: Gift yourself some health this Father's Day

Father's Day is this Sunday. While the dads reading this probably have received their share of personalized mugs, new ties, or even a homemade pencil cup, there's a good chance they aren't getting things they actually need to keep them safely and happily "dadding" throughout the year.

And since you can't use an FSA for anyone but yourself and eligible dependents, it's the perfect time to get yourself something that promotes better health. We decided to break from the norm with this week's Flex-Ed to highlight some top FSA-eligible picks for all our favorite dads this year. Because the last thing you need is another grill apron.

Ultimate Foot Circulator with Remote

This foot circulator delivers prescription-strength relief, treats stiff muscles, and increases circulation in both your feet and ankles. It even comes with its own remote. A few nights with this awesome form of relief and you'll be back in those lawn-mowing shoes in no time. After all, no one mows symmetrical stripes in a lawn quite like dad.

CPAP Mask and accessory cleaner

Like it or not, you probably snore. In fact, about 40% of men are snorers. (That's compared to only 24% of women, but who's keeping track?) But jokes aside, snoring can be indicative of more serious (and even life-threatening) conditions like sleep apnea.

This Father's Day, perhaps it's time to come to grips with this sobering fact and look into CPAP therapy for your own snoring. If doctors agree you'd benefit, you can use your FSA to invest in a CPAP mask and accessory cleaner, which uses UV light to kill 99% of the machine's bacteria in just five minutes.

Maybe it's not the most fun item on this list. But there's nothing more enjoyable than a healthy dad and a good night's sleep (for everyone).

Acid reflux relief system

If dad's not already grilling, Father's Day often ends up in a nice dinner out -- usually at one of his favorite chain restaurants. Think Applebee's, Chili's, or if you're feeling fancy, The Olive Garden. And let's face it, the never-ending breadstick bowl can result in some pretty gnarly heartburn.

That's where the MedCline Acid Reflux Relief System comes in. It creates the ideal inclined, left-side sleeping position to help ease the pain while promoting better digestion. It's also really comfortable and ergonomic, so dad wins twice on this one.

Nausea bands

Traveling this Father's Day? Chances are an amusement park is on your short list of destinations. Remember when you used to be able to ride roller coasters and not need to sit down immediately afterward? Yep, those were the good ol' days.

Since your kids will likely show no mercy when you take them to an amusement park, you'll need the Reliefband 2.0 Nausea Relief band. It's a drug-free, fast-acting way to relieve the effects of motion sickness. It also kinda looks like an Apple Watch, so there's that.

Owlet Baby Monitor

And for you newly minted members of the dad club out there, perhaps investing in the Owlet Smart Sock 2 Baby Monitor. This isn't just your run-of-the-mill baby monitor. The sock portion wraps about your baby's foot, tracking heart rate, oxygen levels, and sleep then sends the info to the base using Bluetooth technology.

While you probably won't be getting much sleep with a new baby at home, this will help everyone sleep a bit easier. Because it's probably going to be a few years before you're putting your child to sleep with your arsenal of dad jokes.

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New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our Flex-Ed column gives you a dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.




Sun Care Center

Top 10 FSA-eligible products for year-round sun and skin care

As you probably know by now, sun and skin care is a year-round concern. But you can keep these problems away if you use a few precautions. And sun or snow, you're always at risk of getting rays directly from the sun, and UV hitting you from all directions. Science!


Supergoop! Day To Day Value Set


Let's get right to it -- if you're looking for complete, year-round sun and skin care this Supergoop! kit is a great place to start. Inside, you'll find everything you need to easily incorporate sun protection into your day-to-day routine, for complete sun protection throughout your day.

And we mean "complete" -- the set includes: City Sunscreen Serum, Advanced Anti-Aging Eye Cream, Forever Young Hand Cream, AcaiFusion Lip Balm, Everyday Sunscreen and even a zippered "Hello, Sunshine" pouch.

Australian Gold Lip Balm

You might have noticed lip balm in the previous entry - that's because your lips are as prone to sun damage as any other part of your skin. Not only do FSA-eligible lip balms keep them hydrated, but they also offer high SPF protection for the coverage you need year-round.

Australian Gold SPF 30 Lip Balm is comprised of regional fruits, coconut oil, natural moisturizers and more, without using parabens, PABA or even gluten, making it safer for a wider range of users.

Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Spray

If you're looking for complete sun protection without resorting to chemicals and unnecessary additives, mineral sunscreens are a very popular choice. Not just because they're skin- and earth-friendly, but also because they work really well without all the excess you don't need.

Sun Bum's Mineral Sunscreen Spray is an easy to apply, water-resistant, zinc-based spray that provides broad spectrum SPF30 protection, proven to fight off UVA/UVB rays. Environmentally conscious and chemical-free without sacrificing protection? Sign us up.

Derma E Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 Stick

If you want a little more control over where your sunscreen is applied, take a closer look at the Derma E Natural Mineral Sunscreen Stick. This lightweight, antioxidant-enriched formula glides on evenly and absorbs quickly to provide broad spectrum UVA/UVB sun protection while being hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free.

Plus, this light, water-resistant (for up to 80 minutes!), non-greasy formula contains antioxidants and vitamins to soothe and help skin recover after sun exposure.

Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Sun Continuous Spray

When it comes to sunscreens, the word "lightweight" is used a lot. And with good reason -- who wants to feel sticky and weighed down, just to ensure sun protection? Most of our available sunscreens are suitably lightweight for almost any user. But then there's the Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc spray, which takes things even further.


This spray blocks UVA and UVB rays while providing 80 minutes of water and sweat resistance. It's also hypoallergenic, suitable for sensitive skin, is kid-safe, free of dairy, soy and gluten, and 100% fragrance-free. In short - if you're worried about a specific irritant in your sunscreen, there's a good chance it's not in Babo Botanicals products.

Gold Bond Ultimate Healing Skin Therapy Lotion

After getting some sun, it's always good to get ahead of potential skin damage. And if there's any brand synonymous with skin relief, it's Gold Bond. Their Ultimate Healing lotion is specially formulated to help heal extremely dry, rough and problem skin, through seven intensive moisturizers tested to provide 24-hour moisturization.

Plus, it contains vitamins A, C and E to reinforce the healing and repair, but manages to pull it off without feeling greasy or sticky.

Hibiclens Antiseptic Skin Cleanser

If you do end up getting a little more sun than expected, or just have a few winter scrapes, you'll need a quality skin cleanser and antiseptic. Hibiclens is both!. With 24-hour protection (even after drying) Hibiclens kills germs while remaining gentle enough to use everyday, even on sensitive skin.

Whether you have a rough-looking wound or just want some reassurance that a little sunburn doesn't get any worse, this is a great product to have on hand.

Supergoop! Forever Young Hand Cream with Sea Buckthorn

Forever Young Hand Cream SPF 40 defends against the signs of UV-induced aging with an innovative blend of antioxidants and super broad spectrum protection. Formulated with omega-7 fatty acids to help lighten dark spots, and skin-nourishing oils, this moisturizer improves skin's elasticity and texture while safeguarding skin from future sun damage.

New-Skin First Aid Antiseptic Liquid Bandage

Speaking of unexpected falls, some can be worse than others. Thankfully, when certain scrapes need more than a standard bandage, there's New-Skin. This liquid bandage goes on smoothly, and dries rapidly to form a tough protective layer that's antiseptic, flexible, waterproof, and allows your skin to breathe.

Just brush on with the included applicator and protect wounds by keeping out dirt and germs that cause infections.

Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Treatment Mask with Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask Activator

We couldn't resist throwing in one of our hi-tech health products. And we think you'll agree with the choice. Featuring the same technology as dermatologists use in their acne treatments, the Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask uses concentrated light therapy to clear acne and allow skin to heal itself.

This one-step acne treatment covers your face and is easy to use. Just sit back and relax for a quick 10 minute treatment, after which the unity will shut itself off. With regular use, you'll see clearer, healthier skin without chemicals or damaging UV rays.

Sun Care Center

Making the leap to eco-friendly skin care

I'll admit it. I used to be a fan of aerosol hair products, and my skin care routine was filled with products with ingredients I couldn't pronounce, let alone learn their potential effects on my body. But once I became a mom, I started to become a lot more cognizant of whether I was using clean or eco-friendly beauty products.

The reasons were twofold. First, I became extremely aware of the products and chemicals that were coming into contact with my skin and by extension, my son's, especially while I was breastfeeding. And two, I started to consider the effect my self-care habits might have on the Earth's environment – an Earth he'd one day inherit.

After all, putting a recycling bin out by the curb doesn't exactly make you eco-friendly. Here's how I switched up my beauty routine with the environment in mind.

Update your sunscreen

We live in Florida, so sunscreen is a daily part of our routine. But did you know that when you wear sunscreen in the ocean, chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate get into the water and can damage coral reefs?

Enter reef-friendly sunscreen. Marked by the absence of oxybenzone and octinoxate, these sunscreens are a greener sun protection option. And they're starting to become more popular. In fact, Hawaii has already banned the sale of sunscreen containing these two chemicals. And when you consider that half of the Great Barrier Reef has died since 2016, this is one small lifestyle change that could make a big environmental impact.

Mineral sunscreens are also another great alternative. Regular sunscreens create a chemical blocker – in other words, a combination of chemicals like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate to create a chemical barrier between your skin and the sun's damaging UV rays. Some studies have shown that these chemicals can disrupt hormones, which can have a whole host of negative effects on your body.

Mineral sunscreen, however, uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, (and sometimes both), to form a physical barrier between your skin and the sun's rays. Usually, the ingredients in a mineral sunscreen are cleaner, but be sure to read the ingredients carefully, since they can still contain some harmful chemicals.

Clean up your beauty routine

You've probably heard of clean beauty product brands like Beautycounter, or at least scrolled past a sales pitch or two on your Facebook feed. While I don't sell these products, I am a huge fan of the clean beauty movement.

One study found that on average, women use 12 different products with 168 ingredients daily. It also found that one in every 13 women is exposed to likely human carcinogens daily through their personal care products.

I started using cleaner beauty products about six months ago when I was breastfeeding since a lot of the ingredients in regular anti-aging products are not recommended for this demographic. Today, my skin looks great. Plus, I also like the fact that I'm not slathering hundreds of chemicals on my face or exposing myself to carcinogens every day.

Use less plastic

Another green skin care habit to pick up? Don't wear makeup every day. My pre-baby self would have never done this. After all, I was working in an office five days a week and felt the need to look put-together at all times. But since becoming a work-from-home-mom, I don't feel the need to put on a full face of makeup every day. Plus, it doesn't last long in 90-degree Florida heat.

The benefits are cyclical. When I forgo makeup, my skin improves. Then I feel like I can go makeup-free more often. This decreases my monthly spend on beauty products. And since I'm using less product, I'm also contributing less to the plastic that makes its way into our landfills. Fun fact: 40% of plastic waste is made up of packaging, which is used only once then discarded.

You may not be ready to take the full clean beauty leap just yet. But try going greener in just one aspect of your self-care routine, whether it's using reef-friendly sunscreen or using a cleaner product. The Earth – and your face – will thank you.

Basics

[WATCH] What's an FSA letter of medical necessity?

In short, an LMN is like a doctor's note. Having an LMN can help you get FSA reimbursement for any product or service that falls outside the IRS definition of "medical care" (but can assist the treatment of a condition).

In other words -- LMNs can be really helpful in getting you the products and services you need with your tax-free funds, without having to try and explain it in a reimbursement claim after the fact. But why explain it in text when our team does it way better in our latest video?

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And for a closer look at LMNs, along with a healthy dose of everything flex spending, check out the rest of our Learning Center!

Living Well

Real Money: Why you might want to stop putting off medical specialist visits

A few weeks ago, I was running late for my dermatology appointment and for the third time that day, I questioned why I was at the doctor's office at all. It felt like a hassle — making the appointment, driving across town to the office and finding parking. But once I sat down with my doctor and the skin check began, I remembered why I prioritize these appointments.

Three years ago, my primary care physician suggested that I see a dermatologist because I'm prone to freckles. I made the first appointment with my dermatologist and had my first skin check.

Two years ago, I had two moles removed due to my doctor's concerns that they might be cancerous. It turned out that the moles were benign and my skin was healthy. Last year, I went for another annual check-up with my dermatologist and got a clean bill of health. This year wasn't quite as simple.

At my most recent appointment, my doctor told me that there was a small bump on my face that she needed to remove. She removed a tiny sliver from the bump that she could send to the lab for a biopsy.

I'm still waiting for the results, but I know that no matter what the doctors say, I did the right thing by acting early. Even if the skin is cancerous, it can easily be removed without scarring. But I might not have been so lucky if I had skipped my annual dermatologist appointment.

Here are some of the doctor's appointments I plan to make this year, along with some reasons why you might want to consider doing the same. Remember, you can use your FSA to pay for them!

1.Dermatologist

I might be biased, but if you have a history of skin cancer in your family, use (or used to use) tanning beds or have an unusual amount of moles or freckles, then it's probably a good idea to see a dermatologist for a check-up. Even if you don't have any concerns about sun damage, dermatologists can also help with acne, rashes, breakouts and any other skin concerns.

2. Dentist

Whether you have pain in your mouth or just need a six-month cleaning, it's important to visit your dentist at least every six months. Not only does your dentist take x-rays, clean your teeth and check for cavities, he or she will also check on your gum health. The longer you wait to visit, the more pronounced potential problems might become.

By staying on track and visiting every six months, you'll increase your chances of a clean bill of dental health and decrease your chances of receiving a big financial bill.

3. Optometrist

Whether you wear glasses or not, it's important to get an eye exam every 1-2 years. Regular eye exams will make sure that your eyesight doesn't get worse without treatment. Plus, it's always fun to see how well you can read the chart! Don't wait until you start getting headaches or can't see your notes in a meeting to make it happen. After all, the best defense is a good offense.

4. Therapist

Overall health includes both physical and mental well-being. In other words, it's important to prioritize your mental health too. Whether you've been feeling down lately or are experiencing some low-level anxiety, it might be a good idea to check in with a therapist.

There's a misconception that therapy is something that lasts for years on end, but the truth is that you might just need a quick check-in or tune-up. Either way, be sure to take care of your mental well-being.

5. Primary care physician

Yeah, I know - we're cheating. But, even though your primary care physician isn't necessarily a specialist, it's just as important to make (and keep) your appointments with your primary doctor. Annual wellness exams are an important part of preventative care because your doctor might be able to see things that you haven't noticed yet.

No one wants unnecessary doctors' visits. But medical specialists exist for a reason and it's important to prioritize every part of your health. Plus, doctors' appointments and any associated copays are FSA-eligible. In other words, making a specialized medical appointment should be an easy "no-brainer" -- don't potentially put your health at risk by putting them off.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Accounts

Flex-Ed: I owe money on my tax return... an FSA could have helped

My jaw dropped when I received the email from my accountant. I stared at my tax bill in disbelief for a few minutes, but reality quickly set in: I owe the IRS over $3,000. As it turns out, I'm one of the taxpayers who had insufficient tax withholding throughout 2018 and now owes money due to the Tax Cuts and Job Act that became official last year.

As it turns out, I'm one of the estimated 30 million Americans who owe money on their taxes this year. I'm lucky enough to have the funds to pay my bill in full, but it's still painful to part with the money. In many ways, I should have known better. Because here's the truth: I did not have an FSA in 2018.

It's embarrassing to admit because I thought I had already learned my lesson about tax-free health accounts. But once again, life happened. So as a result, I missed the boat on opening an FSA in 2018, and now I'm paying the price (literally).

It's too late to change what happened, but it's not too late to learn from it. Here's how much money I might have been able to save on taxes if I had opened an FSA.

My health care costs

After tallying my health care expenses — doctor's appointments, prescription medication, dental treatment and FSA-eligible supplies — I spent nearly $2,500 on health care in 2018. Nearly half of that came from unexpected dental treatment, which was FSA-eligible.

But the truth is that I thought I spent much less on health-related expenses last year. In fact, when I estimated how much I would spend on health care in 2018, I thought that I would spend $700. In other words, I thought I would spend $800 less than I actually did. Yikes.

My optimistic estimate about my health care expenses is actually part of human nature and our overly optimistic predictions for the future. It's often known as the optimistic update bias. This is important to understand because it can help us plan more realistically for the future.

The FSA calculator

I was shocked when I finally sat down to look at how much money I could have saved with an FSA last year. According to the FSA Store calculator, I could have saved $1,816 on taxes. That doesn't mean that I would necessarily owe less in taxes (although I probably would because it would have lowered my overall taxable income) but I would have paid less in taxes upfront.

The real kicker is that my 2018 net pay would have been nearly $2,000 higher if I had put $2,500 into my FSA. Plus, according to the calculator, I could have "broken even"—not saved or spent any extra money—if I had spent at least $684 from my FSA. In other words, even if I had set aside $2,500, but only spent the $700 I thought I would need for 2018, I wouldn't have gained or lost anything. (Although I probably could have used my extra funds to buy FSA-eligible health supplies…)

How to avoid these mistakes

The truth about my health-related finances is that I fell into the trap of short-term planning. I had a lot of financial goals for 2018 — investing, travelling, preparing for graduate school — and I wanted to save as much money as possible, and in my effort to cut costs, I actually ended up spending more money in the long-run.

It's great to be optimistic about the future, but if there's one thing I learned this year, it's that a healthy dose of skepticism (and number crunching) is better for my budget and my sanity.

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New to FSAs? Need a refresher course in all things flex spending? Our weekly Flex-Ed column gives you a weekly dose of FSA Living 101, offering tips for making the most of your tax-free funds. Look for it every Thursday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center.

Living Well

Real Money: 7 things parents should do (for themselves) before baby's first birthday

If you're just emerging from the weeds after your first rewarding (read exhausting) year of parenting, you might have neglected a few things when it comes to your own health.

For example, when's the last time you went to the dentist or had a good workout? While you're at it, be sure to check in on your mental health. Those postpartum hormones are no joke. Another item that should be on your to-do list? Time to rest . But let's get into some ways to be healthy and happy around baby's first birthday.

Get an annual physical

Baby or not, this is one thing that should top your to-do list every year. During an annual physical, your doctor will check your vital signs, perform a physical exam, and even draw blood for testing.

It's relatively painless and can be a major factor in detecting any minor health issues before they become big problems. Plus, you can make a day out of it. Stop for coffee and a treat after your appointment.

Go to the dentist

Did you know that pregnancy can lead to dental issues like gum disease and a higher likelihood of tooth decay in women? All the more reason to make going to the dentist a priority in the months after your baby arrives. (of course, this applies to Dad, too!)

Plus, it won't be long before you start brushing your little one's teeth and taking them to their first dentist appointment. What better way to teach them about good dental hygiene than by leading by example?

Treat that nagging back and neck pain

Your baby may or may not be walking, but either way, you've probably spent the better part of a year toting them around. Whether it's via baby wrap, structured baby carrier, or simply in your arms, carrying around a tiny human has likely done a number on your back.

Now's the time to look into FSA-eligible treatments, like massage therapy and chiropractic care to help ease that pain. Just be sure that your doctor recommends them as a treatment for back or neck pain since you'll need it in writing for FSA reimbursement.

Don't forget about your eyes

Does anyone else treat the recommended wear period for contact lens as a suggestion, rather than a requirement? (Guilty!) But now that your baby is on a more predictable schedule of napping, eating, and wake times, it's time to squeeze in an annual eye appointment.

Need more motivation? Vision exams, eyeglasses and contact lenses, even vision-corrective accessories are all FSA-eligible. Your FSA can also be used to offset the cost of vision care for your baby. Is there anything cuter than baby glasses? I think not.

Check your mental health

It's no secret that a new mom's hormones are all over the map in the months after baby's birth. Here's why: Once your baby is born, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body drop quickly, which cause chemical changes in your brain. This can lead to – you guessed it – mood swings.

While you may be feeling like your old, pre-baby self again, you may not be there yet. And that's OK. Check in with a visit to a mental health professional. It's FSA-eligible, which means you can stop stressing about the money and start focusing on what's really important – your health and happiness, and enjoying your new addition.

Get some sleep

By 9 to 12 months old, most babies should be sleeping 11 hours at night and 3 hours during the day. If this sounds like a dream to you, it may be time to consider sleep training for your baby – and perhaps some FSA-eligible sleep aids for yourself.

You could always try an FSA-eligible sleep aid, or even a pillow that stays cool throughout the night. Hey, at this point, you'll probably try anything to get some shuteye.

Get away with your partner

Personally, this one took a bit longer for my husband and I. We're just now planning a getaway sans baby, and our son just turned one. Everyone's timeline is different, but this is one item on your to-do list that you should definitely check off.

Connecting with your partner, getting some uninterrupted sleep, and logging some serious relaxation can do wonders for your stress levels. Can't stomach the idea of leaving your baby with a sitter overnight? Recruit the grandparents. You'll get to relax, and they'll get to bond with baby – it's a win-win.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Spring break health essentials for teens and kids

Spring break is normally associated with long days at the beach and lots of sun, but for working parents the reality is much different. For parents with school-aged children, spring break is a hectic time when childcare is up in the air. Instead of spending eight hours at school everyday, kids are suddenly free for a week or two.

In other words, childcare is suddenly a concern. But there's some good news for parents with school-aged kids — your flexible spending account (FSA) and dependent care flexible spending account (DCFSA) might be able to help. Here's some things to know about spring break health essentials for teens and kids.

Consider day camps for children under 13

If your child is normally at school while you're at work, then spring break throws a wrench into your usual routine. Instead of panicking and hiring a babysitter, consider a day camp instead. Day camps can include anything from sports camps to learning how to code. Regardless of what your kids are interested in, you'll be able to find something that interests them. Plus, zoos often offer both day and night camps for kids.

The best part is that you might be able to use your dependent care flexible spending account to pay for it. Depending on your tax bracket, that might mean you'll get a savings of 20% or more on spring break camp expenses because you do not have to pay taxes on DCFSA-eligible expenses.

There are a few rules for using DCFSA funds to pay for day camps. For example, kids under 13 years old are eligible and the parent (that's you) needs to be working full-time, in school full-time, or trying to find a job. In other words, stay-at-home parents can't use a DCFSA to pay for day camps.

Make doctors appointments for your teenager

Whether it's a physical your kid needs for high school spring sports, acne treatment from a dermatologist or the annual checkup that's been forgotten, spring break might be the perfect time to get your teenager up to date on their appointments.

Even though you might have to take time off of work to go with him or her, you don't have to worry about coordinating your work schedule with his or her school schedule. Instead, you can make appointments for the time that suits you best. Plus, you can use your FSA for copays or prescription costs.

Get eye exams before the summer rush

A lot of parents wait until summer to schedule doctors' appointments, but the truth is that spring break is actually easier. It's a shorter time period and every school district is on a different schedule, so doctors' offices won't be as busy. If your child is due for an eye exam, or has complained that his or her glasses no longer feel right, then spring break might be the perfect time to visit an optometrist.

You can use your FSA to pay for the visit, and you can use it to pay for prescription sunglasses. Prescription sunglasses may seem like a luxury but they're a necessity for teenagers who have a driver's license, especially during sunny summer months, which are right around the corner.

Bottom line

If you're stuck at the office while your kids are on spring break, don't fret. There are plenty of FSA- and DCFSA-eligible ways for you to create a healthy and happy spring break for your kids or teens, and help you save money along the way.

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Real Money: Getting proactive about your heart health (and your FSA)

When it comes to maintaining your heart health, being proactive about prevention is key. So, for starters, you should be discussing your heart health with your primary care physician on a regular basis. It's important for your doctor to be aware of your current baseline heart health so they can keep an eye open for any changes that may indicate a serious complication.

Also keep in mind that you can use your FSA to cover any part of your preventative heart health care that isn't already covered by your insurance.

A quick word on your heart health

If you ever suspect you might have a heart problem, it's important to get to your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner treatment is received, the better your chances are of minimizing any serious damage to the muscle and getting on the right track to improve your heart health.

It goes without saying, we're not doctors -- make sure you speak with your doctor before making any heart-related purchases or using any of the products mentioned here. Our recommendations are suggested only for people who have been advised to use these products as part of an approved care and prevention regimen.

Heart health at home

After seeing your doctor, it may be recommended that you purchase home diagnostic equipment to get a better picture of your overall heart health. This will allow you to be more proactive in managing your health. It'll also help your team of doctors come to a quicker diagnosis should any further problems arise.

Some of these helpful items might include:

  • Blood pressure monitors - If you're at risk for hypertension or heart disease, there's a good chance your doctor will want you to keep a close eye on your blood pressure as it's a big indication of your heart health. There are a ton of options out there - from small monitors that you wear on your wrist to more traditional units, there's an option out there to fit your preferences. And these monitors are FSA eligible expenses.
  • Pulse oximeters - These are small devices that provide you with a convenient and noninvasive way to keep an eye on oxygen saturation levels in your blood as well as your heart rate. Some units even sync with smartphones to make data tracking simple, and they're totally FSA eligible.
  • Stethoscopes - If you have a heart irregularity, your doctor may recommend that you use a stethoscope to monitor heart sounds. There's a huge variety of high-quality stethoscopes that are all FSA eligible.

Emergency planning

It's important to have a plan in place should an emergency arise. As in any emergency, the first step is to call 911 so the medical professionals can treat the condition as quickly as possible. But there are some things you can keep at home that can save a life in the minutes before the ambulance arrives.

Keeping these things on hand can help save lives in the event of a cardiac emergency:

  • 911 emergency alert wearables - Wearable emergency alert devices are great for anyone likely to suffer from a medical emergency, particularly people that suffer from a chronic condition or who lives alone. These devices can call for help even if the user can't get to the phone. And this life-saving device is FSA-eligible.
  • CPR masks - CPR masks are a must have in every home medicine cabinet. These simple devices make performing CPR safe and simple and can be the difference between life and death if someone stops breathing.
  • HeartStart defibrillators - AED devices are used to deliver an electric shock and restart the heart after cardiac arrest. These machines can save lives when the worst happens - and they're FSA-eligible.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Eligibility

That's Eligible?! Allergy season is coming and your FSA is nothing to sneeze at

Allergy sufferers, unite. No one understands our pain like another sneezing, sniffling, watery-eyed counterpart. While you may be dreading the upcoming pollen – I mean, spring – season, there are ways to help lessen the allergy blow. (See what I did there?)

As always, first see a doctor before changing your medication routine. But if you're one of the 50 million Americans who deals with allergies each year, you might have some success with our own FSA-eligible fixes. Speaking of doctors...

Get tested

First, you need to establish what you're actually allergic to. Allergy testing, while sometimes tedious, can be a great way to figure out your allergy triggers and help you avoid – or treat – them in the future.

Keep in mind that an allergy test usually isn't done during an initial visit. You'll likely have to visit your general practitioner, who will refer you to an allergist if your allergy symptoms aren't eased by over-the-counter medication. During your first visit with the allergist, he or she will delve into your family history and your allergy symptoms before jumping to any allergy testing.

Allergy testing, which is both FSA- and HSA-eligible, can be done in one of three ways: via skin prick test, during which a small needle is inserted into the forearm or lower back. This test can detect allergic reactions of 40+ allergens, ranging from pollen to mold to pet dander, even common foods.

A skin injection test is similar to a skin prick test, in that a small amount of an allergen is injected under the skin, then examined 15 minutes later to check for a reaction. This test helps detect allergies to substances like penicillin or bee stings.

Patch testing is another method. It's used to detect contact dermatitis, which means that you have a reaction when your skin touches a certain allergen. If you opt for this test, you'll wear a patch with 20-30 allergenic extracts to determine what you'll allergic to. These patches are worn for 48 hours and test for allergies to latex, dyes and even fragrances.

Steam inhalers

Before diving into medications (which require a prescription for eligibility), consider treating your allergy symptoms with something as simple as warm, humid air. These simple machines can work wonders on clearing stuffy nasal passages and soothing congestion throughout your head.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible steam inhalers for both adults and children that can help open nasal passages, and clear the nasty buildup that causes sore throats and stuffy heads, while also alleviating some of the pain that comes with them.

Get the right medications

Let's say you've established your allergens. (For me, it's a combination of pollen, dust, and the dreaded feline friend.) Now, it's time to tackle treatment. Good news. Allergy medications are also FSA-eligible with a prescription.

Allergy medications take many forms: pills, nasal sprays, inhalers, even eye drops. You've likely heard the term antihistamine. But do you know what histamine actually is, and why you're trying to avoid it?

Basically, histamine is a substance produced by your body when it comes into contact with an allergen, like pet dander. Histamine is what causes those trademark allergy symptoms. You know, the sneezing and itchy, watery eyes that make your life miserable come spring.

The most common types of allergy medications include:

  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines prevent the effects of histamine by blocking receptors throughout your body.
  • Decongestants: These fight off nasal congestion and act as an anti-inflammatory.
  • Steroids: These prevent allergy symptoms from cropping up by blocking the body from creating histamine.
  • Bronchodilators: Also known as inhalers, these help treat any breathing problems that may crop up as a result of allergies.

Ask your doctor about air filters

If you know that you're allergic to dust, pollen, or pet dander, then you may want to start with the air inside your home. An air purifier can help rid the air of contaminants. Your FSA or HSA may be able to cover all or a portion of an air purifier if you have a medical need. Speak with your benefits administrator if you think this type of expense is one that may qualify in your situation.

When is the last time you changed your home's air conditioning filter? If you can't remember, then it's probably been too long. Changing out your A/C unit's air filter can help rid your home's air of potential allergens. In fact, researchers have found that air filtration is recommended for those who suffer from allergic respiratory diseases, like asthma.

But notice that we said "may qualify" -- without an explicit medical need, verified by a doctor, filters are rarely deemed eligible. Still, that's not a "no" … just a reason to explore more options than only the obvious remedies.

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Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates every Monday, so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.