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Living Well

Real Money: New year, no gym membership

It's no surprise that in the first few weeks of January, the gym's packed and there's no lettuce left at the supermarket. While having a "get healthy" new year's resolution is great, a $50-per-month, 5-day-a-week gym membership doesn't always fit nicely into a busy life schedule. That's why I came up with an alternative.

Welcome to my "I don't need a gym to work out" workout.

(Please Note: I don't have a Ph.D. or an M.D., and can't tell you how to work out. But I also don't have a gym membership card -- this is just what works for me. Maybe it can help you, too!)

Find your own "I workout and don't go to a gym" lifestyle

If you're a busy mom of three, a full-time student, or crunching the numbers at your 9-5 (actually, 9-9), finding time to go to the gym can be tough. That's why I have what I call, "The Apartment Hustle."

I live in a small city apartment (and work in Manhattan) so there's never time to do much because of long commutes. So, I started doing lunges on my way down the hall, sneaking in a few sit-ups while my next Netflix episode loads and even running (yes running) up the stairs to the apartment. It's everything you could want in a workout without having to go to the gym and work out.

However, once I'm done with the Apartment Hustle, I need a bit of recovery (because I'm actually a retired and very injured athlete at 21-years old). So, when it comes time to make sure I'm feeling A-OK, Paincakes are pretty great. These little ice packs stick to you for optimal recovery and you can just pop them back in the freezer for the next time you run up the stairs a little too hard and sprain your ankle.

(Not like I've ever done that.)

Healthy doesn't always mean gym membership

An intense, sweat-inducing workout can feel good, but it's not always about the physical. You may look good but it's about the mental part, too. Whenever I'm not feeling up to a 10-minute sit-up routine, I'll go for a long walk, break out the skateboard, or even play soccer (hence the retired athlete).

Finding a hobby to do can help make the "getting healthy" lifestyle a bit easier. You can get the exercise you want while still doing something other than lunging your way to the bathroom just to get toned legs.

(Shameless plug: We know just the place to get some pain relief if your activity gets a little intense.)

Check out these gadgets

With technology today, there are so many apps to use when you're working out (or to remind you when you're not). It really pushes me to stay on top of my workout (only because the notification won't go away). There are apps you can set up to remind you, apps that keep track of your heart rate, and even apps that track your workout if you run or take a certain number of steps per day.

If the hi-tech apps aren't up your alley, we have other products to keep you in the hi-tech-healthy circle. We have smart blood pressure monitors, TENS units, and a bunch of other connected pain-relief products, so getting healthy can be a tech lovers paradise, too!

Here's to a great year

Maybe it's a little late in January to still be saying, "happy new year," but I'm going to do it anyway. Even though some of those resolutions might be on the back burner already, it's not too late to set new ones.

If you're sold on my Apartment Hustle workout, it's available for the low price of $50 a month (just kidding). But, you can get the best workout and healthy lifestyle no matter what gym you go to, or what at-home substitutes you decide to take on.

It's all about doing what makes your body feel good and if the pain or injuries you thought were gone three years ago (oops, that's me too) we're here for the pain relief you need.

Athlete essentials

Basics

Real Money: A quick refresher on better ways to use your FSA

Have you given your FSA a good look? Whether you just opened an account for 2020, or are a self-proclaimed "flexpert," it's always a good time to check your spending, to see if you're staying on budget, and more importantly, to see if you're getting the most out of your money.

Obviously, there's no "right" or "wrong" way to use your FSA funds (other than to ignore and forfeit them) but we think it's always good to assess where you are, and where you might want to be by the deadline. Regardless of whether you want to use it now or later, here are a few smart ways to make the most of your remaining FSA funds for the year.

Make sure you're covered on essentials

We cover this a lot, but there's no harm in reminding you that your cabinets should always have a good amount of the products you use most on the shelves. You can use your FSA money far more than you realize. Essential household items like bandages, sunscreen, first aid kits, and reading glasses are all FSA-eligible.

Some over the counter medications like pain relief and allergy medications may also be eligible, with a prescription.

Take advantage of available savings

Smart shopping isn't limited to groceries and BOGO shoes. While we don't usually consider healthcare a "shopping" experience, there's plenty of money to save by checking in with the websites and stores you visit most.

Check to see if the pharmacies or retailers where you make your healthcare purchases offer a customer loyalty program. With rewards programs (like this awesome example), you earn points for the money you spend, which often translates into discounts on future purchases.

You can also sign up for newsletters, where additional coupons and discount codes are featured. Even if these discounts seem like a small amount at the time, small savings here and there can add up quickly.

If the items you're purchasing aren't needed immediately, wait until a discount or rebate becomes available. Rebates on medical equipment usually only require you to mail in a copy of the receipt after you've made your purchase.

Save for the unexpected

Maybe you're the frugal type. Maybe you're holding on to your funds for those inevitable "just in case" moments. We get it -- life is unpredictable, and there's no way to know what might happen in the future.

And yes, one of the best ways to make the most of your FSA money is to save it for unexpected expenses. It's easy to think that you'll never find yourself in that type of emergency, but as your teachers probably told you, always be prepared.

(And if emergencies do arise, you'll be glad you have a financial safety net to reimburse you for qualified expenses.)

Make sure you're not saving your FSA for too long though; remember that FSAs have deadlines by which you need to use your funds or risk losing them.

One small tip? If you're planning on saving the money, make sure you're keeping detailed records of your qualified expenses. Receipts fade quickly, so take pictures or scan them, and keep a corresponding document or spreadsheet. That way, you won't have to scramble for the proper documentation if you ever decide to reimburse yourself for older expenses.

With a little bit of planning, you can stretch your FSA money a lot farther than you probably thought you could. And when you have a good strategy in place for your funds, you can either spend intelligently on qualified expenses today, or save for future costs tomorrow.

Band-Aid Sheer Adhesive Bandages

Breathable protection in a variety of sizes.

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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 to navigate Healthcare.gov when you're expecting

Few surprises are more exciting than learning your family is pregnant. There are endless calls to make, photos to share, and parties to plan. Once the thrill of the news settles down, the reality of your growing family may shift your attention to the expense.

As one of my colleagues covered last week, having a baby isn't always easy, especially without an employer to help cover the bill. So, let's revisit the topic for new parents. Thankfully, there are steps you can take now to soften the financial sting later.

Maternity care is covered

If you're expecting and don't have health insurance there's good news. Because of the Affordable Care Act, you're covered even with a pre-existing condition. This means insurers can't turn you away for being pregnant. Open enrollment is officially underway, so now is the perfect time to sign up through Healthcare.gov or your state's exchange.

Other new parent needs

Plantar Fasciitis Bundle

$109.99

Elvie Double Electric Breast Pump

$499.99


How a lower deductible plan pays off

All Marketplace plans cover pregnancy and having a baby. The problem is, each plan's coverage is different. The only way to find out specifics is by digging into the plan's Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC).

A couple of bronze plans with similar monthly premiums could have different out-of-pocket expenses. In my case, both plans have a $7,900 limit on how much you will pay out-of-pocket. But there are major differences before you get there.

One plan covers 100% of services after hitting their $7,900 deductible. The other's deductible is a little lower at $7,000, but you're still on the hook for 50% of services after that. As you can imagine, you may owe more if any part of your pregnancy doesn't go as planned. Or you pick out-of-network providers.

To cut back on costly surprises, consider paying higher monthly premiums for a lower deductible. Because maternity care is so unpredictable, you may reach the deductible quickly. If you're feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to read through our ultimate guide to open enrollment.

Stick with providers in your network

One of the perks of shopping for health insurance on Healthcare.gov, is you can filter plans by specific doctors and hospitals. Knowing who you want to see and where you want to go now may save you from heartache later. When making appointments, always confirm specialists are covered — even when they work at an in-network hospital.

You can change your plan after the baby is born

Once the baby's here, you have the choice to stick with your current plan or pick a new one. That's because giving birth kicks you into a Special Enrollment Period. If you prefer a plan with lower premiums and a higher deductible, this is your opportunity to make a change. When you give birth, the clock starts ticking, and you have 60 days to decide.

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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: Taking stock of your family's health during American Diabetes Month

Tired of Halloween candy yet? Well, as you probably know, the dietary challenges are just beginning for many people around the country. Now that the holiday season is upon us, you may be wondering about how your waistline is going to handle all the food. As tempting it is to eat gobs of food and lay around on the couch, this behavior could have far reaching consequences: your child might copy you.

You're probably thinking what's wrong with indulging. And there isn't really anything wrong with indulging unless you do this all the time. Since young children tend to be impressionable though, thinking that it's okay to overeat - and unhealthy food on top of that - means there could be a risk for some pretty serious health issues long term if your children learn bad habits at a young age.

Are you serious?

Considering 1 in 7 youth between 6 and 17 years old are considered overweight, yes. Of course, having a little extra baby fat isn't a major concern, but if this is a result of unhealthy habits, then the chances of those children being susceptible to diseases increases.

So yes, laying around and eating junk food can have far-reaching consequences, especially when maintaining a poor diet and lack of physical activity become a habit. These consequences include increased risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Children who are overweight could also suffer from low self-esteem and are more likely to be hospitalized than children who have a healthy weight.

What's more, overweight children are more likely to become adults who are overweight, potentially leading to diseases like cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Who knew that the candy might be the scariest part of Halloween?

Before we start an unnecessary panic, know that we're not saying the occasional treat is a problem. Kids are kids, and it's okay for them (or anyone) to overindulge once in awhile. It's when the candy and sweets become a regular part of a person's diet that the problems start to surface.

What can I do?

I'm not a doctor, but I am a parent. And for me the simple answer is to encourage more physical activity into your child's daily routine as well as eating healthier diet. The reality is that it can be much harder to implement.

Instead of implementing a lot of things all at once, start small - in your home. As a family, you can all talk about what being healthy means and the benefits of that could look like. For example, it could mean being able to walk for a whole day around the zoo, or feeling less tired during the day. The important thing is to discuss this as an entire family so that everyone is more more motivated to make changes.

Something else to consider is to change your immediate environment. What this mean is setting visual cues to implement a healthy habit or eliminating vices from your home. For example, if you want your child to eat a better diet, start by eliminating sugary and highly processed foods from your pantry. It could also mean turning meal times into a fun event by teaching your child to cook using simple recipes so he or she understands what goes into each dish.

Also start small when it comes to implementing a better physical regimen. You and your family won't stick to something it means hours of strenuous activity - it's probably not a good idea to start off by signing everyone up for a half-marathon. Instead, start with simple stretches or walking to run errands instead of driving all the time.

No matter how you plan in integrating a healthier lifestyle, you want to make sure it works for you and your family. Again, we're not doctors, and don't mean to offer medical advice -- always check with a medical professional before making any diet and lifestyle changes. Making sure you get (FSA-eligible) preventive screenings with your doctor once a year so if there are potential issues, you can address them before it's too late.

Diabetes essentials

One Touch Ultra 2 Blood Glucose Monitoring System

Results are delivered in just 5 seconds.and it's easy to manage around meals.

$28.99

Kendal Sharps Container

Fits into present blood drawing trays for the efficient disposal of needles.

$3.99


Living Well

Real Money: 5 common new mom injuries (and what to do about them)

Have you ever heard of mother's wrist? Don't worry, I hadn't either ... until I became one. In fact, I had no idea about the plethora of aches, pains, and ailments I'd experience during the first few months as a new mom – completely unrelated to -- you know -- the actual act of giving birth.

Read on for five common new mom injuries – from mother's wrist to back injuries to breastfeeding issues – and how your FSA can help offset the cost of treating them. And as always, be sure to consult with your doctor before pursuing any sort of medical products or treatment.

Mother's wrist

For the record, it's called De Quervain's tenosynovitis (memorize that - you'll be quizzed later) This condition is caused by holding your baby with your wrist bent, or overuse of your wrist and thumb. You know, from the around-the-clock feeding, burping, and changing of your new bundle of joy.

While I've read that resting your overused wrist is probably the best way to cure De Quervain's tenosynovitis, that's probably not in the cards for any new mom. So, try sporting a wrist brace or an acupuncture wrist band during the day. Then once your baby goes to sleep, apply a cold compress – all FSA-eligible, of course.

Back injuries

For at least the first six months, your baby's sole source of transportation will be, well, you. If you're blessed with a baby who hates any sort of carrier (like me, for example), then you'll be carrying the baby the old-fashioned way – cradled in your arms.

Then, once they get more head control, you'll likely balance them on one hip. These carrying positions can really do a number on your back, especially if you have a 23-pounder like I do.

This issue can be compounded by the simple fact that your back likely isn't back to normal after the last trimester of pregnancy. Did you know your spine actually changes shape when you're pregnant to help balance out your bump? Not to mention what happens during labor and delivery. Ouch.

Luckily, massage therapy and chiropractic care are both FSA-eligible if your doctor recommends them to treat your condition (remember to have them put that in writing in case you need it for FSA reimbursement). Can't bear to leave your baby? Give it your best shot. Carving out some time for self-care is a good thing for both of you.

Hip problems

You may have your hips to blame for your newly-minted motherhood backache. Most moms carry their baby primarily on one side, and it can shift the alignment of your hips. Add all the lifting you'll be doing as a new mom, from transporting your little one in and out of his crib, bouncer, or activity gym, and you may really find your hips out of whack.

My suggestions for solving your hip pain? Try taking an appropriate dosage of breastfeeding-friendly acetaminophen. Or consider physical therapy if the pain gets unbearable. Bonus: both are FSA-eligible (acetaminophen will require a prescription).

Yoga is another great way to get your body back in alignment. While not typically FSA-eligible, if you're solely doing yoga to treat your medical issues, speak with your FSA administrator about what they might be able to cover.

Postpartum depression

Some experts estimate that 20% of new mothers experience some sort of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum anxiety/OCD and postpartum psychosis. That's why it's important to pay attention to how you feel after bringing your new baby home.

If something doesn't seem right, or you have thoughts of hurting yourself (or your baby) then seek help immediately. It's nothing to be ashamed of – your hormones are on overdrive after being pregnant, giving birth, then becoming a mother. Don't be afraid to seek FSA-eligible mental health therapy if you think you might benefit from it.

Breastfeeding issues

Unlike what you've been led to believe from the serene images of a mother breastfeeding her new baby, it's hard. If you choose to breastfeed, you may struggle at first with your baby's latch, which can lead to painful, bleeding or cracked nipples. Fun, right?

Let's say you get past that. It's smooth sailing for six months or so. You're nailing this whole breastfeeding thing. Then your baby pops his first, adorable tooth. You take approximately 167 photos of said tooth. You can't help it; it really just adds to his already off-the-charts cuteness.

Then one day while breastfeeding, you feel a sharp pinch. You yelp, then realize your sweet, innocent baby, whom you've been sustaining and nourishing purely from your own body for months, (years, if you count pregnancy) has bitten you.

Don't panic. Items ranging from breast pumps and accessories to breast pads to nipple shields are also FSA-eligible.

Now, if only your FSA covered the cost of wine…

New mom essentials

Battle Creek Ice It! Deluxe Wrist Wrap System

The first line of defense in controlling pain, swelling or inflammation.

$21.99

Tylenol Extra Strength Pain Reliever & Fever Reducer

Temporarily relieves minor aches and pains and reduces fever.

$15.49

Living Well

Real Money: Genetic testing and a life-changing discovery (Part 2)

Last time, I shared my experience of being diagnosed with a BRCA1 mutation -- a genetic condition that makes me more susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. The doctors I spoke with recommended prophylactic surgery to remove my breasts, ovaries and Fallopian tubes.

Until I get the surgeries, I'm supposed to get a blood test, vaginal ultrasound and breast MRI every six months. The cost of these screening tools can be expensive, especially if you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) like I currently do. The average cost of an MRI is $2,000, whereas the ultrasound is several hundred dollars. Even the CA-125 blood test can cost $200.

I didn't have to worry about the cost of the procedures immediately. My husband and I somehow qualified for reduced expenses through our medical insurance, so everything from the consultations to the MRIs would be covered for now. But I also knew we had plans to move out of state in a few months, meaning I'd lose that affordable coverage.

Even before I found out my BRCA results, I knew I would want to get the preventative surgeries as soon as possible. I'm an anxious person by nature, so the idea of cancer hanging over my head was enough to give me panic attacks.

Some women are comfortable with surveillance and regular screening, but not me. Every doctor I spoke to recommended surgery as soon as possible since I'm not interested in having kids.

A major life decision

Not all women go that route. Many are scared of having surgery and believe they can detect cancer early enough. That may be true for most breast cancers, but ovarian cancer is different. Symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague and can be confused with PMS or stomach problems. I don't like the idea of freaking out every time I'm bloated or feel discomfort in my abdomen.

Of course my HSA should be there to help. Right now I'm maxing out the family contribution limit of $6,900. We have an HDHP right now, but plan to sign up for a gold plan next year with lower premiums. And it's the right move for us today -- we'll save approximately $4,000 by doing so, but it means we won't be able to contribute to an HSA. That's why I'm planning to save as much as possible this year.

I also won't be able to open an FSA because my husband and I are both self-employed. Currently we are a partnership according to the IRS and plan to transition to an S-corp next year. Neither of those is eligible for an FSA. If I were able to open an FSA, then I would contribute to that account as well to pay for any other outstanding costs that insurance wouldn't cover.

Right now I'm hoping my HSA will have enough money in it to cover the costs of surgery. There might even be some left over in case I need follow-up appointments the year after.

If I wasn't getting surgery next year, I would keep my high-deductible plan and save more money in my HSA to pay for the costs of screening. There are no right answers when it comes to this situation, but approaching the financial side with a level head has helped me to feel more confident for the future.

No one can ever be emotionally prepared for this news, not even someone who's researched so much about breast and ovarian cancer. Some days I still wake up angry at my diagnosis. Some days I think maybe screening is better than surgery. But I always come back to my decision.

Thankfully, the financial aspect of BRCA is easier to swallow. Setting up my budgeting for success means I'll only have to worry about recovery and not how I'm going to pay the hospital bill.

Portable health needs

MedAngel ONE Wireless Thermometer

This Bluetooth thermometer is easy-to-use, compact, and connects to your smartphone, allowing you to store and transport your medications at the right temperature.

$49.99

BioWaveGO Wearable Chronic Pain Relief

BioWaveGO is superior, non-opioid, FDA cleared, and wearable pain relief technology, now available to anyone in pain without a prescription.

$299.99

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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 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: Genetic testing and a life-changing discovery (Part 1)

Gene research is at the cutting edge of medical science. Researchers are realizing that genes can tell a lot about your body - from the most effective ways to exercise, to the best way to manage your diet, to which diseases and conditions you're more likely to develop.

With that in mind, I decided to take a test in 2017 to determine whether or not I had a mutation on the BRCA gene. In short, such a mutation would put me at a severely increased risk for certain types of cancers. Shortly after submitting the test, I received a positive result.

Here's my story: How I found out, what I did to address it, and how I plan to pay for it all.

How I found out

Almost a year ago, I read an article in the New York Times about the BRCA gene, which is responsible for suppressing tumors that can cause breast and ovarian cancer. If you think you've heard of it before, it was probably in 2013 when Angelina Jolie wrote an essay about her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy because of her BRCA mutation. When I tell people I have a BRCA mutation, I usually preface it by asking if they remember Jolie's decision.

The Times article said that Jewish women had a one in 40 chance of having a mutation on the BRCA gene, and therefore being more susceptible to these types of cancers. I'm Jewish on both sides of my family, and the news hit home for one important reason - my grandmother died of ovarian cancer at 42.

I also used to work at a cancer agency. I learned how deadly ovarian cancer can be, and how difficult it was to go through treatment for even comparatively "mild" types of cancer. Every day I saw people suffering physically, mentally and financially, with no assurance that things would ever get better.

After reading the article, I asked my doctor about getting tested for the mutation. She didn't think I had enough family history to qualify, despite coming from a Jewish background, so she denied my request for a referral. I have very little family history to begin with, so this distinction seemed odd to me even at the time.

One testing option...

A few months later I discovered Color, an at-home DNA testing kit similar to 23andMe. Color offered a BRCA specific test for only $100. I'm a frugal person by nature and hated the idea of spending $100 out of pocket. Because my doctor didn't recommend the test, I couldn't even use tax-free funds to pay for it.

Providers only consider DNA tests as qualified medical expenses if a doctor recommends them. Usually, if the doctor suggests a BRCA test, it has to be done at their office. They can also write a letter of medical necessity if you want to purchase a DNA test for home use using FSA funds.

A few weeks after submitting my saliva sample to Color, I got my results: I had a mutation on my BRCA1 gene. In short, that means I have an 81% lifetime risk for breast cancer and 54% lifetime risk for ovarian cancer.

My head started spinning and my stomach sank. Thankfully, I was on the phone with one of Color's professional genetic counselors. She told me my next steps were an appointment with a clinical geneticist, who would then refer me to an OB-GYN and breast surgeon.

She also said I'd need a breast MRI, vaginal ultrasound and a specific blood test every six months until I got my surgeries. Most BRCA-positive women get their ovaries and Fallopian tubes out once they're finished having kids, or before age 35.

That may sound extreme, but ovarian cancer currently has no effective screening method. A vaginal ultrasound will usually only pick up cancer once it's advanced, and the blood test has a high false-positive and false-negative rate. In short, by the time you get diagnosed it might be more severe than expected.

Next steps...

The testing was only the beginning of my BRCA journey. Next, I had to figure out how to pay for all the additional tests I would need - and especially how to cover the cost of surgery. Be sure to check back to see how this journey is affecting my health and financial planning for the next year.

Eligible testing and diagnostics

LetsGetChecked Basic 3 STD At Home Test

The home STD test detects the presence of the 5 most common infections.

$120.00

EZ DETECT - Early Warning Signs of Colorectal Disease

Simple Home Test for detecting the early warning signs of colorectal disease.

$8.99


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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 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: There's still time to map your FSA spending for the rest of 2019

Didn't 2019 just start last week? January 2020 may be closer than the previous one, but for many of you, FSA spending is still something you're planning for the remainder of the year.

You may have spent more of your FSA funds than you planned to early in the year. But before you start kicking yourself for overspending, you have plenty of time to still budget the remainder of your 2019 -- and use this planning to create a sustainable budget for next year, so you truly make the most of your funds each month.

Re-examine your monthly needs

We're all guilty of it -- starting a year with a budget in mind, then seeing that full allocation of funds and spending it early in the year. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, if that's your game plan. But many FSA users will agree that setting a budget for each month's needs allows these tax-free dollars to go a little further.

If you're interested in making a monthly budget for your FSA funds that can last you throughout the rest of the year, start by creating a list of your monthly necessities, take stock of what items in your home need to be replenished in the future (such as bandages, over-the-counter remedies, etc.), and set limits each month on how much you'll spend.

Need to replenish your cabinets?

Band-Aid Adhesive Bandages

Breathable protection in a variety of sizes that stay in place better.

$4.29

Claritin 24 Hour Non Drowsy Allergy Relief

We make it easy for you to find all of these Rx items in one place.

$23.99


See if there are changes to make

Since it's open enrollment season, also take some time to calculate how much you think you'll spend on qualified medical expenses. Our FSA Calculator can help you estimate your health spending!

The calculation takes into account:

  • Out-of-pocket expenses such as co-pays and deductibles for medical services including routine office visits, specialist office visits, and even hospitalization or acupuncture.
  • Over-the-counter FSA-eligible items and prescriptions.
  • Dental care and vision care.

Visit your doctor

If there's one extra expense you should always factor in, it should be medical appointments -- even basic trips to your primary care doctor to get a full assessment of your current state of health. With a clean bill of health in hand, you'll be able to settle into the winter (and have a much better idea of what your medical spending will amount to over the course of next year, to help your budgeting for the year ahead).

Buy items online as you need them - look for seasonal care, over-the-counter FSA items that you use often, and discover just how many products are FSA-eligible. Note that certain over-the-counter products will require a prescription to be reimbursed under your FSA.

By planning ahead, you'll easily avoid buying products in bulk (or unnecessarily stockpiling) and instead enjoy a variety of items - rather than ending up with multiple pairs of eyeglasses, or unneeded boxes of bandages (which isn't recommended ever, because the IRS frowns upon you buying more of one item than you would need for any given plan year)..

Think beyond prescriptions and standard appointments

Depending on the availability of your preferred physician and your need for prescription drugs, you may have limited ways to spend your FSA dollars. Review the rules of your plan and you may find out that you may be reimbursed for qualifying diagnostic devices and even smoking cessation and weight loss programs when needed to treat a diagnosed medical condition and prescribed by your doctor, chiropractor medical services, and many other types of expenses.

Even if you're healthy as a horse, don't forget to plan for the unexpected during these last few months of 2019. When putting together your budget, be sure to still leave about 10-20% of your funds aside to cover unexpected medical expenditures.

Whether this is for the cost of medication, an emergency room visit, or a trip to a specialist, this will give you additional breathing room to put toward major medical needs with your tax-free funds.

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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: Cancer prevention, screenings and FSAs

One of the most important components of preventative health care is screening for life-threatening diseases like cancer. And when it comes to beating cancer, detecting and treating it early on can dramatically increase your chances of survival.

The goal of these preventative screenings is to catch any signs as early as possible, which gives your medical team the best chance of effectively treating - and defeating - the disease.

September and October represent awareness months for several types of cancer, and that means prevention. Since the ACA has ruled that preventive care is covered by insurance, additional costs don't often occur when it comes to cancer screenings. If there are any additional costs, however, they should be eligible for FSA reimbursement.

(Please note: All plans are different. Be sure to check with your administrator to see what your plan will allow.)

What kind of screenings are done?

Since there are so many different kinds of cancer, there are a variety of different screenings that can be done as a part of preventative care. Depending on factors like age, gender, and family history, your doctor will determine when and how often you should be screened.

Self-screening is important too, and your doctor will advise you on what to look out for and when you should report to a medical professional for further tests. Some common examples of cancer screenings include:

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, as well as amongst young people. So doctors recommend that you regularly check your skin for irregular growths and schedule an appointment right away if you notice anything of concern.

People who spend a lot of time in direct sunlight are at an even higher risk for the disease, so this is even more important to do if your job or recreational activities have you outside on a regular basis.

To test for skin cancer, a dermatologist will examine your skin. If it's suspected that an area might be cancerous, a biopsy of the tissue will be conducted. Any costs associated with these tests will be eligible for reimbursement.

Breast and gynecological cancer

For women, breast cancer and ovarian cancer screenings are an important part of regular preventive care. It's recommended that healthy women with few risk factors begin getting screened regularly at age 40, but a doctor may recommend that these screenings begin earlier if you have certain risk factors.

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, your doctor may recommend a BRCA test, which is a blood test that checks your DNA for mutations in certain genes which can indicate whether you're likely to develop cancer. Unlike other genetic tests, the BRCA screening is done solely for medical purposes, so it's eligible for reimbursement without a Letter of Medical Necessity (although we always advise that you check on your FSA details with your plan administrator or HR department to ensure that your plan covers all qualified medical expenses).

Other screenings, like mammograms and digital infrared thermal imaging, are also eligible for reimbursement.

Prostate cancer

Men, on the other hand, should be screened for prostate cancer. Most medical professionals recommend that screenings begin regularly by age 50, but may also suggest that screenings begin earlier if certain risk factors are present.

To screen for prostate cancer, your doctor may recommend a Digital Rectal Exam, which identifies abnormalities in the gland, as well as a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, which is a blood test that measures PSA levels. Elevated levels can be a sign of cancer or an enlarged prostate. If your insurance doesn't cover any of the costs associated with these types of screenings, they should be eligible for reimbursement.

Colon cancer

Colonoscopies are done to determine whether or not polyps are present in the colon. Polyps can evolve into malignant tumors, so detecting them early on is important. Depending on risk factors, most doctors recommend that people start getting screened for colon cancer on a regular basis by age 50.

Since a colonoscopy is a preventative screening, it should be covered by your primary health insurance plan. Any additional costs will be eligible for FSA reimbursement.

Home medical essentials

Nima Gluten Sensor - Starter Kit

Know if your food is really gluten-free. Put food into a test capsule, put the capsule in the sensor, and push start. See your result in 2-3 min!

Caring Mill Digital Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor

A lightweight and compact device that is easy to use on the go and to travel with.

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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

Real Money: Why I regret not researching my health care options more

As a self-proclaimed money nerd, I sure made a big financial mishap - not researching my health care options more carefully. By essentially hiding under a rock when it came to health insurance, I lost hundreds of dollars in the process. Worse, it could have cost me much more if my family and I had to visit the doctor more often last year. I don't even want to imagine what it'd be like if we had much higher medical expenses.

Using "overwhelmed" as an excuse

To be frank, I didn't really need to worry about health care options in the U.S. until about two years ago. As a Canadian living overseas, either the government took care of my basic needs or my employer overseas did. When my husband and I made the decision to move to the U.S. I felt overwhelmed at starting a new life in another country, transitioning into full-time self-employment and learning how to be a parent to a young child.

While each individual situation itself would have been stressful enough, the combination of all three sent my stress levels through the roof. Instead of listing out my priorities and figuring out what I needed to do (and in which order), I just picked the first health plan that looked decent.

I lost quite a bit of money

What I didn't realize was there were many opportunities to save on health care costs. Not only that, but on taxes as well. If I had know about the benefits of an HSA or FSA, I would have taken some time to budget more carefully and contributed to those accounts.

Lowering my taxable income would have been awesome, since I was spending money left and right moving to a new country. From rental deposits, to new furniture, to childcare options, it would have been great if I could have saved some money to pay for my health care expenses in the process.

If I had set aside money in an HSA, I could have lowered my taxable income, and paid less taxes. Those savings could have gone towards other things like stuffing my emergency fund and assorted moving expenses.

What's more, it wasn't until I moved again that I realized I could have opened a dependent care FSA. As someone who uses drop off daycare facilities and enrolled her son into part-time preschool, I could have opened that account (assuming my last health insurance plan allowed it), saved money on child care fees and lowered my taxable income.

While there is no point in shaming myself and living in total regret, I can take this as a lesson learned. Sure, I was stressed, but my health needs are equally as important. For the future, I'm going to do some careful research, way before open enrollment so I'm well prepared and informed of what I'm getting into when it comes to health care options.

This also includes taking stock of how I used my plan this year, what my long-term goals are with my funds (e.g. is it just for health care expenses or will it to help me with retirement purposes?) and what I can do to ensure that I am making the best choice for me, given my current life situation.

FSA-eligible must-haves

Supergoop! Splish Splash Kit

An FSAstore.com/HSAstore.com exclusive! All the SPF you need for living your best and brightest life.

Owlet Smart Sock 2 Baby Monitor

The Owlet Smart Sock gently wraps around your baby's foot to track and trend their heart rate, oxygen levels and sleep using clinically-proven pulse oximetry.

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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: 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.