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Living Well

Real Money: How to protect your kids from allergies (without putting them in bubble wrap)

Allergies. There's no better way to say it: allergies are the worst for parents and kids alike. It can prevent kids from having fun, especially if your child has a serious (even life-threatening) allergy. When I used to be a teacher, I had a student who was allergic to eggs and dairy, so whenever birthdays rolled around, she was left without a piece of cake.

As a parent, I want to do whatever I can to protect my child. It's not realistic to hover over him or wrap him in bubble wrap, but there are other ways to protect your child with allergies.

Practice asking questions

If your child is older, have them practice asking questions about the food he's eating. That way, it ensures that your child will be self-aware about what situations they may encounter that may have foods they're allergic to.

Some questions to have them practice include asking about what's in that dish, or mentioning your child has an allergy and asking to see the ingredient list. It could also include what else was in the kitchen at the time when the food was prepared in the event of cross contamination.

Of course, it goes without saying that you need to alert all necessary adults, but you never know if your child is playing with another child and they unknowingly offer a piece of "forbidden" food.

If your child is too young (or is just a quiet kid in general), consider giving them a tag or something similar that clearly states what their allergies are. If you're traveling to a foreign country, you can make an allergy card, one where you can point to in order to indicate what your child's food allergies are.

Keep a kit handy

You always want to have provisions on hand. It's not a bad idea to make a couple of these kits - one in your child's backpack (if they're allowed to bring it), one in the car, and in your purse (or bag). You already know that allergy reactions start quickly, so you'll want to be ready.

These products can include:

Another tip: make sure the bag is bright and clearly labeled. The last thing you want to do is ruffle through your belongings when your child has an allergic reaction.

With these tips in mind, you won't be able to prevent all allergic reactions. However, you can prevent them from making a bad situation worse.

Basic allergy essentials

Healthsmart Kids Steam Inhaler

This cute cow-shaped steam inhaler was created with kids in mind.

PediaMist Pediatric Saline Spray

Protects, cleans, moisturizes and soothes your child's delicate nasal passages.

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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.

Living Well

Real Money: What you need to know about adoption and your FSA

The process of adopting a child is both exhausting and exhilarating. But above all, it's life-changing. We've talked a lot about FSA-eligible items for children and even how to use your dependent care FSA (DCFSA) to save money on child care, but we haven't talked as much about adoption and how it relates to your FSA.

Let's start with the obvious: Adopting a child is expensive, and even though you can't use your FSA to pay for adoption fees, you can use it to pay for related medical expenses and pre-adoption counseling. Plus, once you've completed the adoption process, you'll be able to use your tax-advantaged accounts to pay for doctor's visits and other eligible medical expenses just as you would for a biological child.

While you're going through the legal process of adoption—applying, meeting the physical requirements, home checks and more—there are unique regulations about what is FSA-eligible and what isn't.

Adoption fees are not eligible

Unfortunately, fees associated with the adoption aren't FSA-eligible. This means that you can't use your FSA to pay for them. But be sure to check for other benefits from your employer that might be able to help with the initial costs though. (For example, some companies offer a small stipend to help offset some of the cost of adoption.)

Pre-adoption counseling is eligible

Pre-adoption counseling is similar to regular counseling and is the process of talking with a professional about your hopes and fears. Of course, the difference with pre-adoption counseling is that it's specifically related to your feelings about adoption.

Most certified mental health professionals (like licensed marriage and family therapists) are able to provide pre-adoption counseling. This expense is similar to any other mental health expense—you'll be able to apply for FSA reimbursement through your employer (although we always recommend checking in with your FSA administrator before incurring the expense to see exactly what types of documentation they'll require and to find out about any potential plan limitations which would not cover this expense)..

Pre-adoption medical expenses are eligible

Prospective parents who apply to adopt a child are often required to complete physical exams and even blood work. If medical tests are required through your adoption agency or the county, you'll be able to apply for FSA reimbursement through your FSA administrator just as you would for other medical expenses.

After the legal adoption

When it comes to adoption and how it affects your taxes (and pre-tax accounts) there are few specific requirements that must be met before your adopted child can qualify as a tax dependent.

Here's what you need:

  • Adoption decree
  • Social security card
  • Amended birth certificate

Once you have all of your documents and your child becomes a legal tax dependent, you'll be able to pay for your child's medical expenses with your HSA or DCFSA, if applicable. If you have an FSA and/or HRA, your child will qualify regardless of tax dependent status.

Dependent care is eligible

Once your adopted child is a legal dependent, you'll be able to use your dependent care FSA (DCFSA) to pay for childcare or after-school programs while you're at work. Here are the requirements—your child must be under age 13 and you and your spouse need to be either gainfully employed or seeking gainful employment.

You can contribute the maximum per year towards your DCFSA, which is $5,000 per household, or $2,500 if married and filing separately. Utilizing your DCFSA is a great way to save some money on childcare expenses, which can add up fast.

Enjoy this new chapter

There's a lot to think about when it comes to adoption, but the most important thing to remember is that this is a special time in your life. Welcoming a child into your home is a wonderful gift for both you and the child. Plus, here's some good news—you're already one step ahead by being financially prepared.

Some Baby Care favorites!


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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.

Living Well

Real Money: Sleep training isn't just for babies

It's no secret to new parents – Whether you support the "cry it out" method, take a gentler approach, or fall somewhere in between, getting your baby into a good sleep cycle is one key to successful parenting.

Maybe your baby still gets up every two hours like clockwork and you haven't had a full night's sleep in months. Or perhaps your little bundle of joy sleeps through the night, but you're desperate to get them on a solid nap schedule so you can have a few hours a day to yourself to work, do laundry, or – I don't know – eat?

Sometimes, shushing and rocking can only get you so far. Sleep training your infant can be tough for new parents, but there are several FSA-eligible resources you can take advantage of to get some much-needed rest. For example, sleep training coaches are gaining popularity among new parents , but they can be pricey.

And babies aren't the only ones who can use a little help getting sleep. Approximately 30% of American adults suffer from sleep disruptions like insomnia or sleep apnea.

Of course, we're not doctors -- if you think you or your child has more serious sleep issues, see a doctor immediately. But many of us are parents, so for some anecdotal advice from our own experience, read on for how your FSA can help you and your baby get some much-needed rest.

For babies

We'll focus on baby's sleep help first, since we all know that if the tiny humans aren't getting any sleep, you certainly aren't, either. You may already know that an FSA can help offset the rising cost of raising a child. Things like regular visits to the pediatrician, over-the-counter medicines, even antibiotics and humidifiers for the inevitable first sickness are FSA-eligible.

You've tried it all. Rocking, shushing, white noise, lullabies, the works. Nothing seems to put your little babe to sleep. But did you know you can use your pre-tax dollars to help get your baby to sleep? From the Moms on Call method to Babywise, there are countless books and schools of thought when it comes to getting your baby to sleep.

But if the books don't do the trick, the next step may be to hire a sleep coach for your fussy babe. While this industry is relatively new – and unregulated – for many parents, it's become a necessity.

While a sleep coach for your new baby may not be expressly covered by your FSA, you may be able to gain eligibility under the health institute fee category, which cover the fees of attending some health-related courses, retreats, workshops and the like.

This approach requires a letter of medical necessity (LMN), but you'll want to check with your FSA administrator before going through the work of getting one from your doctor to be sure that's what they'll require and that they'll indeed allow for the expense under your FSA. Sleep training for your baby may also be FSA-eligible under the newborn care category.

And since the cost of hiring a sleep coach for your little one can cost thousands, getting that expense reimbursed by your FSA may be worthwhile.

For parents

Even though you're exhausted, it still can be hard to turn your brain off and get some much-needed sleep once the baby is down for the night. Here's how to achieve the quality, restorative sleep you need as a new parent.

For the occasional bout of sleeplessness, you might consider sleep aids like Unisom, which are FSA-eligible. You could also invest these items to improve your sleep, or maybe a new pillow will do the trick.

If your sleeping issue is a bit more serious, sleep deprivation treatment can be an option. There are a few different types of sleep deprivation treatments – stimulus control therapy, which eliminates any outside factor that can prevent sleep; making lifestyle changes to help facilitate sleep; environment changes, such as installing blackout shades or wearing a sleep mask; even relaxation training. The good news? All are FSA-eligible.

Still can't drift off to dreamland? Your FSA covers acupuncture and even sleep studies to help you finally get the shut-eye you need.

And for all those first time parents out there who wake up like clockwork to check their baby's breathing? Perhaps it's time to invest in a baby movement monitor – FSA-eligible, of course.

Baby Monitor

Make sure your little one is sleeping soundly with our wide selection of baby monitors.

Sleep Aids

Sometimes sleep is hard. Get the full night's rest you deserve.


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.

Basics

Real Money: Why your FSA doesn't let you stock up on products

An FSA is a "use-it-or-lose-it" plan, which means if you don't spend all the funds in the account before the end of the year, you lose that money. So, what happens if it's December and you still have a lot of money left in your FSA account? Can you stock up on eligible products to make sure that you don't lose those funds?

The answer is no. But, there are still some options that can help you avoid this situation, so let's take a look at how you can take advantage of all your FSA benefits before year's end, while doing so within the guidelines of your FSA.

What does "stockpiling" mean with an FSA?

While the term hasn't been fully defined, according to informal remarks made by an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) official, stockpiling eligible items under your FSA means that you buy more items than you're able to use before the end of the taxable year.

Buying any more than three of the same item could be considered "stockpiling." By the very nature of FSAs, any product you buy should be to fill a need for you, your spouse or a qualified dependent. Because of this, the IRS doesn't let you to stock up on eligible items with your FSA, and your administrator can usually figure out that you're stockpiling by analyzing how many items you bought towards the end of the year.

Let's say it's December 1st and you still have $600 left in your FSA. You realize that you're running out of nasal spray, so you decide to buy 25 packs of your favorite saline solution, so you can stock up for the rest of the year and into the next, and use up the remaining balance in your FSA.

The problem is that unless you're somehow going to use all that saline solution in the next 30 days, your FSA administrator may flag that purchase as stockpiling.

If you stock up at the end of the year, your FSA administrator is probably going to send you an alert to inform you that this kind of spending isn't allowed and that those purchases wouldn't be eligible for reimbursement.

Take advantage of rollover and grace period options

The best way to avoid stockpiling is to spend down your FSA balance before you get to the month of December when the mad scramble to use your benefits tends to hit the hardest.

But if you find that you can't quite pull that off, it's important to know that some FSA plans allow you to carry over up to $500 of unused funds into the next calendar year. If your plan doesn't offer that rollover option, it may offer a grace period of two-and-a-half months at the end of the plan year.

This grace period carries over the remaining balance in your FSA into mid-March of the next calendar year for those running on a calendar year plan, which gives you more time to spend that money before you lose it.

At the beginning of the plan year, make sure you ask your FSA administrator whether your plan offers a rollover or a grace period option so you can plan your spending well in advance.

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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

Real Money: How I've handled career transitions and insurance options

Career transitions are difficult and expensive, but they also provide you with a unique opportunity: a chance to reflect. My previous job offered excellent benefits (including FSA and HSA options), great coworkers and a supportive boss. But here's the deal—I knew I wanted to switch careers.

At the time, I was working in digital marketing and writing. It was fun work, but I realized that I wanted to move from sitting behind a desk to standing in front of a classroom. I wanted to be a teacher.

After a grueling year of graduate school and student teaching, I made the switch. A lot will change as a transition into my new career, and one of those changes will be my health insurance options.

As we approach open enrollment for 2020 (no, it's not too early to think about that already), here's what I'm considering about FSAs and HSAs as I plan for my new health insurance reality. But more importantly, here's everything I've learned along the way and how you can avoid my mistakes.

Learn the lingo (even when it's hard)

Here's a confession: I didn't know what the terms "FSA" or "HSA" meant during my first full-time job after college. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I remember sitting in orientation and zoning out during the explanation. It sounded complicated and I already felt overwhelmed by options.

But even beyond that, I had no idea that I just entered a new tax bracket (up until that point I had only worked part-time jobs). If I had understand the potential tax savings offered by a HSA or FSA, I like to think I would have signed up for one, but the truth is that I didn't, and as result, I missed out on upwards of $5,000 of savings during my time at that job.

Whether it seems complicated or not, it's worth it to listen during orientation and read your benefits packet once you're home. After all, you could save thousands of dollars. It's a lesson I had to learn the hard way, but that doesn't mean you have to.

Plan for the future

Throughout my year in graduate school, I missed out on a bunch of employer benefits — retirement accounts, health insurance, life insurance, and access to a FSA or a HSA. But I also promised myself that I would never again intentionally opt out of employer benefits.

So, while I was in school, I made a point of learning about different accounts and the benefits of each: health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, dependent care flexible spending accounts, limited purpose flexible spending accounts and more.

Here's a quick refresher of the eligibility requirements for each account:

  • HSA: In order to utilize a HSA, you must be enrolled in a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and have no other disqualifying coverage.
  • FSA: As long as your employer provides an FSA and you meet the requirements that they offer for you to enroll (such as being a full-time employee or enrolling in a health plan, for example), you are qualified.
  • Limited Purpose FSA: These accounts are often only for people who have a HSA and are used to cover dental and vision expenses. However you may be offered a "limited" FSA in other situations as well.
  • Dependent Care FSA: This account is used to pay for child care or after school care for children up to 13 years old, and to pay for care for qualifying adults. If you meet the requirements of your employer, have a qualifying child under the age of 13 and you and your spouse are either gainfully employed, seeking gainful employment or go to school full-time, you will qualify to participate

Each of these accounts serves a specific purpose and the maximum contributions vary, but enrolling in one of the accounts is not complicated, and could save you a ton of money over time.

(And to be completely honest, as a teacher, I will take every possible opportunity to maximize my funds.)

Read the fine print

Once I was employed again, it was time to put my hard won knowledge to the test. I spent about 30 minutes reading through my new benefits package and familiarizing myself with the different options. Here's the truth—I still felt the urge to just simply select a health insurance plan and ignore the other accounts, but I resisted the urge and read the fine print.

Not wanting to deal with something doesn't make you lazy. All you can do is acknowledge the feeling and then do it anyways. As for me, I'm excited to save money on my medical expenses this year.

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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.

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.

Living Well

Real Money: Preparing to travel without your baby (for the first time)

Leaving your baby behind for a much-needed weekend away can be nerve-wracking. Calm your senses a bit by making sure your caretakers are prepared.

Educating them on your child's schedule, dietary needs, and likes and dislikes is all well and good, but don't forget about their medical needs. We go over what to leave behind for your child's caretakers, from basic first aid supplies to feeding gear, even some useful items in the off-chance your little one comes down with a cold.

And don't forget to have a few extras of everything on hand. Trust us, something will inevitably get misplaced.

The basics

Take our advice: Stock up on more diapering must-haves than you think you'll need. That includes diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream. Amateur diaper changers always go a little too heavy on the wipes, am I right?

With FSA-eligible items like ointment, gas drops, and a hi-tech baby monitor to your arsenal, and you'll be more than ready to leave your little one. And if you're not ready, go anyway. Having a little time apart is good for both you—and the baby.

Outdoor must-haves

If your caretakers plan to take your little one on an excursion of two (don't panic—even the most novice babysitters can handle a walk around the neighborhood in a stroller), be sure they have all the goods to keep baby protected.

Be sure you have some infant sunscreen (keeping in mind sunscreen recommendations by age), a good water bottle and a sunhat. You may even want to spring for some sunscreen with bug repellent.

Feeding supplies

If you're little one is still breastfeeding, be sure to leave behind enough pumped milk or formula for the entirety of your time away, plus some extra. An FSA-eligible breast pump can help you save up some liquid gold for your little one. And don't forget to take your pump—along with some nursing pads, trust us on this one—on your weekend away. If your baby is formula-fed, be sure to have a few canisters on hand, as well.

Don't forget to leave specific feeding instructions on ounces, frequency, even which bottle your baby prefers (yes, this is very much a thing). While feeding your baby is like second nature to you, it's a whole new ballgame for anyone else.

Sickness remedies

Kids get sick at the most inopportune times. Let's face it, it's usually when you and your spouse finally have a trip planned for some much-needed R&R. But don't cancel your trip on account of a few sniffles. Instead, stock up on some must-haves like Boogie Wipes, a nasal aspirator, and a humidifier.

Once you have the supplies to ensure both baby and babysitter will be well-taken care of, it's time to take care of you. And that means getting away, sleeping in, and maybe even having an adult beverage or two. After all, you won't have your tiny alarm clock rousing you at 6:00 the next morning.

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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.

Basics

That's Eligible?! Planning transportation expenses with your FSA

If you're ever been alone and needed medical treatment, then you know the concerns about being unable to get help. The last thing that should be on your mind is how you'll get there, much less how you'll pay for it.

Regardless of your situation, it's a good idea to plan for the possibility of a medical need, and how you plan to get to and from these treatments. And we're not just talking about medical emergencies. As long as you're traveling to a doctor's office, hospital or other medical facility for necessary treatments, your transportation costs might be FSA-eligible.

As with most FSA-eligible purchases, there are some specific rules. Here's everything you need to know about FSA-eligible transportation expenses.

Rideshare apps, buses and more

Unlike some purchases (hello, sunscreen!) you can't use your FSA debit card to pay for your transportation expenses. Instead, you have to submit a claim for reimbursement to your FSA administrator.

Many expenses related to common modes of transportation—Uber, Lyft, planes, cars, ferries, taxis, rental cars, buses and more—can be FSA-eligible. But that doesn't mean you can charter a private jet next time you need to visit your doctor.

In general, your mode of transportation should be reasonable for the medical care you are receiving. If you're home alone and very ill, then a rideshare app, like Uber or Lyft, is probably the best option, especially late at night.

Do it yourself

One of the most common FSA-eligible forms of transportation is driving a personal car. When it comes to driving your own car and using your FSA to pay for it, there are few things you'll want to keep in mind.

  1. The medical care you're travelling for must be FSA-eligible. (Driving to a spa day with your friends doesn't count.)
  2. You can be reimbursed for eligible tolls, fees and gas OR submit for reimbursement of the allowed mileage deduction of 18 cents per mile.
  3. You could also claim a mileage deduction for medical purposes, but not if you've already received FSA reimbursement for it. This is a tax write-off that you claim on your annual tax forms and is different from a reimbursement claim.

What isn't eligible

Unfortunately, your FSA isn't going to cover your daily commute and regular driving. Automobile depreciation, insurance, repairs and traffic tickets -- even if they happen on the way to appointments -- all come out of pocket. Also, any travel that is done for personal reasons (even if it includes a doctor visit in another city) isn't eligible.

Stay organized

Staying on top of your transportation expenses ensures you're filing for all necessary reimbursements. This helps to prove FSA eligibility if asked to do so by your company, or the IRS.

The best way to keep track of your receipts and expenses is to create a separate file for all FSA-eligible transportation expenses. This can be a digital file on your laptop or a physical file that you store in your home. The most important part of the process is you -- the system only works if you use it.

I bet you're probably thinking back to every time you've sat in traffic on the way to a doctor. Well, you can rest easy knowing that travel for future medical visits can be covered with your tax-free funds.

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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: 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
Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

Real Money: What's the deal with FSAs and weight loss programs?

Maintaining a healthy weight has a whole heap of benefits, one of which is warding off medical conditions. Diet and exercise is important whether you're just looking to fit into your jeans or keep up with your little ones. Sometimes you need a little push and signing up for a weight loss program could help keep you accountable and increases your chances of success.

Well, weight loss programs don't qualify for FSA reimbursement at this time. You can only use your FSA funds for weight loss programs in very limited circumstances, and even then, you will likely need to provide extensive documentation in order to be reimbursed. Before signing up for any type of weight loss program in which you plan to use your FSA funds, make sure to talk with your FSA plan administrator.

So, what weight loss products and services are eligible?

Like any other health care product, you're only able to use your FSA funds for a weight loss program if the purpose is to treat, mitigate, cure, diagnose or prevent a specific illness. This condition needs to be diagnosed by a physician and may include conditions such as obesity, heart disease and hypertension. In short, if you're doing it to fit into those jeans, that's not going to make the cut.

Once your physician does state that you should lose weight specifically to treat an illness, there may be related expenses that will qualify for FSA reimbursement. (Emphasis on "may.") This may include membership fees for a weight loss program and attending meetings. Gym, health club and spa memberships could be tougher to get approved, but you may be able to use your FSA on fees for weight loss activities with supporting documentation submitted to your administrator.

If your physician prescribes food that will help you treat your illness, you may be able to deduct a portion of that expense as well. The food can't just be part of your regular diet and must be for the purpose for treating the illness.

In other words, diet pills and meal substitutes probably won't count as an FSA-qualified special food. If there is a special food specifically prescribed to treat your condition, and the cost of that food is more than the cost of a similar food, you may be able to be reimbursed for the difference in cost.

Some FSAs may require a letter of medical necessity or similar form of documentation in order to be able to be reimbursed for these expenses. This letter basically verifies that your weight loss program or special food is specifically for the treatment of a disease. As each FSA administrator has different requirements, you'll want to check with them first on exactly what this letter will need to include.

How much can I submit for FSA reimbursement?

You can only submit FSA expenses that qualify for reimbursement as outlined previously, and only up to the amount you have elected to contribute to your FSA.

If you're interested in losing weight for health reasons, it's best to speak with your doctor beforehand. He or she will be able to assess your situation and see what programs or regiments will help. And if you're interested in involving your FSA with that weight loss goal, you definitely want to check in with your FSA administrator on what might qualify.

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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.

Living Well

Real Money: Flex spending from a parent's perspective

As a parent of a young child, making sure he's taken care of is my absolute top priority. Even though I'm not chasing after fancy private schools and designer clothes, raising a child isn't cheap.

According to USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, parents in the U.S. spend an average of $233,610 from birth until 17 years old. We're talking basic necessities like food, child care, housing and transportation. Most parents will understand some of the unexpected costs that crop up - many more expensive than anticipated.

One expense that new parents need to consider is health care. I'm not just talking about yearly checkups, flu shots and occasional trips to the emergency room. There's everyday essentials such as breastfeeding products, cold medicines, and even bandages with the cute little cartoon characters all over them.

All of the above makes an FSA an even more attractive choice, especially when it comes to your budget. Contributing to an FSA means you're saving money on taxes and the ability to purchase qualified medical expenses tax-free.

Here's how you can make the most of your FSA to budget for those unexpected (but inevitable) child health expenses.

Watch out for "just in case" items

We're all concerned about running out of diapers, band-aids or medicine when our child needs it most. But if you're buying items in bulk, chances are you may be wasting your money.

I learned the hard way when I bought boxes of baby wipes from the local warehouse club only to have them dry out on me. Or when I got a few bottles of supplements for my toddler only to realize he hated the taste. In theory, I was saving money. In reality, many of these items went to waste.

Before purchasing anything, see if you actually need them and how much you actually need. Scrutinize each and every expense and purchase so that you're not throwing money down the drain.

Make savings a priority

While most of us say we want to save money, in reality it's the opposite. It's not because we don't try. Maybe we're too sleep deprived and forgot to thaw out the chicken for tonight's dinner. Or we saw a really cute outfit that'll look great on our kid.

But if you want to max out your FSA, you can't leave it to chance. Sit down with your partner and figure out how you want to save money on medical care. And determine both your short- and long-term savings goals.

Having a clearer picture of these answers will help when you just don't feel like cooking instead of eating out or getting gourmet coffee for the third week in a row.

Focus on preventive care for yourself, too

Being a good parent doesn't just mean taking care of the baby. You need to be on top of your own health to do the job right. Plus, healthier parents end up saving more money in the long run.

First, you're not spending money on extra health care costs now or in the future. If your diet is less than stellar, you could be looking at a whole host of conditions such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. These could cost you a fair chunk of change just to maintain optimal health.

While having an FSA is great, so is not needing to spend the cash each month on avoidable health needs. Instead, there are simple things you can do to take care of your health now. This includes eating a healthy diet (that doesn't just mean switching to diet soda), exercising regularly and kicking bad habits such as smoking.

Children model their parents behavior, so if they see you making your health a priority, so will they. You'll save money on medical expenses, your overall budget and live a much healthier life.

You likely already knew that having a child was going to be expensive. But there's no reason to just give up trying to save money every chance you get. Whether it's for an appropriate everyday items, or an unexpected trip to the ER, your FSA might be more important than diapers and baby wipes…

(Well, we'll let you make the call on that one...)

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it on Tuesdays, 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.

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Living Well

Real Money: How to make the most of employee wellness programs

Employee wellness benefits and reward programs are on the rise. According to a recent study from the Society of Human Resource Management, 75% of companies offer wellness resources and/or employee wellness programs.

But here's the deal — even though "wellness benefits" might sound like a great perk, a lot of employees don't know what the benefits include or how to use them. Part of that is because these benefits are relatively new. In fact, the same study found that 44% of companies increased their employee wellness offerings in the last twelve months.

Here's some tips to help you make the most of your employee wellness rewards program.

Games, challenges and fitness trackers

Have you ever received an email from human resources with details about fitness games or walking challenges? If so, your company might have a wellness rewards program. Wellness rewards programs vary from company to company, but usually include things like health assessments, fitness challenges, biometrics tracking and wellness education. The details might change depending on your company, but the rewards and incentives are usually similar.

Here's how it works — employees are able to earn rewards for completing health assessments or challenges. The aim of these challenges is to increase employee health, and as a result, lower health care costs for the employer. It's a win-win. In order to incentivize employees to participate, employers usually offer rewards.

Sometimes the rewards are things like discounts for monthly health care expenses, but occasionally, the rewards are points or "dollars" that can be redeemed for health-related items.

Products that can make your workday better

Once you've earned rewards or dollars through your employee wellness programs, and you have a qualified plan, put those dollars to work. The best part about these rewards is that you can use them to buy health-related products that you would have needed anyways. Here are three products you can buy with your wellness rewards. The best part? These products will help improve your health and your workday.

Be prepared with the pain relief bundle

Whether it's a killer headache or bad cramps, it's never fun to experience pain, especially at work. But the worst part about having mild pain is that it's more of a nuisance than an actual health concern. That's why the pain relief bundle is the perfect kit to store in your desk at the office. Next time you feel a headache coming on or experience foot pain from uncomfortable shoes, you'll have exactly what you need to feel better quickly.

Get comfortable with shoe insoles or inserts

For some people, work involves a lot of standing or walking. Even though it might be good for your health to walk around throughout the day, it's hard on your feet. That's why it might be a good idea to invest in foot insoles or inserts. The best part about inserts is that they help even the most uncomfortable shoes become more comfortable.

Get organized with a pill box

Whether you're trying to remember to take prescription medicine or have the goal of creating a vitamin routine, an organizational pill box is a great way to ensure that you stay on track. Get organized for the week and leave the pill box in your desk at work. By creating a routine that incorporates your work day, you're more likely to actually remember and follow through.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it on Tuesdays, 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.