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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: 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.

Living Well

Real Money: Let's talk baby skin

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

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

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

Eczema

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

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

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

Baby acne

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

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

Other skin issues

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

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

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

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

Eligibility
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

That's Eligible?! Must-haves for your baby's first road trip

My husband and I recently took our first road trip with our baby. While I had visions of listening to the perfect road trip playlist while my baby slept peacefully in his carseat, the reality was a bit different.

What was supposed to be a peaceful 10-hour road trip to visit family ended up as an 18-hour drive, replete with a minor car accident and later, a trip to the emergency room.

Don't worry, we're all fine. But we learned quickly what items and preparation were needed to make the next road trip a bit more bearable – and safe. After all, traveling with a child is anything but predictable.

A little due diligence...

Before booking a major trip, ask yourself the question: is this type of trip appropriate for my child, given his or her age, any medical conditions, or special needs? Are the necessary travel hours doable for their age? How long can they realistically be expected to sit still, whether strapped into a car seat or on a plane with hundreds of strangers?

If you've always longed to camp at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite, or dreamt of taking your little one to Paris to picnic under the Eiffel Tower, that's all well and good. But would your child enjoy it, as well? And would you realistically be able to enjoy the trip, with a baby and necessary gear in tow? (I'll go ahead and answer that for you… no.)

Say you're planning an epic cross-country road trip. You'll need to schedule ample bathroom and snack stops, and it wouldn't hurt to book a few nights at a hotel with some kid-friendly attractions, like a pool or indoor water park, either.

Same goes for flying. If you're looking at a 10-hour flight, maybe breaking it up into two flights with a layover in a fun, family-friendly city makes more sense.

Make like a scout and be prepared

No one wants to think of the worst-case scenario when planning a vacation with their family. But it happens. Case in point: During our road trip, my son scratched his cornea (darn those tiny baby nails!) and my husband and I found ourselves at the local children's hospital at 6 a.m. our second day there, with one very grumpy baby in tow.

We were fortunate that the nearest emergency room was at a top-ranked hospital, but that was pure luck. Next time, I wouldn't take that chance. Being prepared goes beyond packing a first-aid kit, white noise machine, sunscreen, and a thermometer -- most of which (with the exception of the white noise machine) are FSA-eligible, by the way.

It's a no-brainer to booking the usual hotels, rental cars, and activities for your next trip in advance. But when traveling with kids, creating a medical map is also a must. It should include the nearest hospital, urgent care, and 24-hour pharmacy at your destination, as well as those along the route.

It's also wise to call ahead to the hospital to ensure they accept your insurance, and if any emergency room visits are FSA or HSA-eligible. Add your medical map, as well as the addresses of any retailers that could ship necessary meds or first-aid supplies overnight, to a folder the contains all the details for your trip.

Another item to include in your master folder? The name and phone number of your car insurance policy, as well as details on your coverage. You know, just in case your husband backs into a pole during your epic road trip. (This is a purely hypothetical situation, of course.)

It's also wise to include printouts of your route (in case your phone's GPS doesn't work), as well as a list of intended stops, including food/fuel stations, and hours between said stops. While "winging it" may be romantic and spontaneous when you're young, the less you leave to chance with a baby, the better.

While this may see like overkill, no one wants to be frantically Googling in the middle of the night with a sick or injured child on vacation.

Caring Mill Comprehensive First Aid Kit

The Caring Mill Comprehensive First Aid Kit has everything you'll need to respond quickly in an emergency situation.

Coppertone Kids Sport Sunscreen

Coppertone Kids Sport Sunscreen is designed to support kids when they're active outside in the strong sun.

Kinsa QuickCare Smart Stick Digital Thermometer

The Kinsa QuickCare Smart Stick Thermometer offers not only fast and accurate temperature readings, but also provides personalized tips for recovery.

An ounce of prevention...

Politics aside, knowing your stuff when it comes to recommended vaccines before travel is also a must when traveling with children. Some overseas locales even require certain vaccines. Worth noting: vaccines are also FSA-eligible.

Also take into account environmental dangers to prepare for, such as wildlife or poisonous plants, even extreme heat. Be sure to get any necessary vaccinations, preventative care, or appropriate gear well in advance of your trip. And if you or your child take a daily medication, such as allergy meds, be sure to stock up beforehand.

And if this vacation is sounding more and more like work than a much-needed vacation, you're not alone. But trust me when I say that experiencing new places and sights through your child's eyes makes it all worth it... we think.

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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: 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.

Eligibility

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

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

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

Ultimate Foot Circulator with Remote

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

CPAP Mask and accessory cleaner

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

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

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

Acid reflux relief system

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

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

Nausea bands

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

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

Owlet Baby Monitor

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

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

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




Basics

Flex-Ed: 4 common FSA misconceptions

We get it. FSAs can be confusing. Between the eligibility lists, the potential to roll over some of your unused funds, even contribution limits, your FSA may be more stressful than anything else. (Though there are some FSA-eligible items that can help combat that.)

We compiled a list of four common FSA misconceptions, from where your unused FSA funds end up to the real rules about stockpiling. The more you know, the farther your FSA can go.

Misconception #1: It's your employer's decision to reclaim your unused FSA funds if you miss the deadline.

This rule comes from powers greater than the occupants of the corner offices. According to IRS rules, any FSA funds that aren't spent before your plan deadline (or after a grace period, if your plan has one) goes back to your employer. This money can also roll over to the following year's account, giving users even more flexibility with their flex spending

Did you know that more than $400 million in FSA funds are lost by FSA account owners each year? If you remember nothing else about your FSA, remember this: use it or lose it.

Misconception #2: Your company can spend your unused FSA funds however they want.

Your company uses reclaimed, unused FSA monies to help offset the cost of administering the FSA plan or to pay off any deficits. They can also return the money to employees via what's called pooling. But the latter is rare, so don't count on it. (Sorry.)

Sure, it can be frustrating that your company gets first dibs on your unused FSA funds. But keep in mind that they may take a loss by offering an FSA plan to employees. For example, if you use all your FSA funds in the early part of the year then leave the company, your employer has to shoulder that balance.

Misconception #3: I can wait until the end of the year, then blow my FSA funds on the eligible items I'll need the next year right before the deadline.

While not expressly forbidden by the IRS, this is definitely frowned upon. Here's why: Your FSA was made available to purchase the products you need for the specific timeframe, like the copay for your annual physical, your monthly supply of contact solution, or the sunscreen you'll need for your beach trip this summer.

FSAs are meant to alleviate the day to day financial burden of health-related items and services, like picking up a prescription, grabbing cotton balls, buying your allergy medication. They're not intended to be a means for buying a year's supply of nasal spray in one fell swoop. Plus, that stuff expires, anyway.

Misconception #4: As long as my purchase is similar to an FSA-eligible item, I should be covered.

While this misconception is understandable, the rules about what is FSA-eligible – and what isn't – are pretty cut and dry, and there isn't much ambiguity. For example, prenatal vitamins are covered because they're considered medically necessary for healthy pregnancies. But traditional vitamins aren't, because they're not directly connected with diagnosing, preventing or managing a specific medical condition.

Diapers are also confused, since standard diapers don't qualify, but training pants (like Pull-Ups) do, because they're used to prevent bedwetting and incontinence.

These are just a few examples. Check out our eligibility list if you're unsure, because it's better to be FS-safe than sorry.

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

Sun Care Center

Making the leap to eco-friendly skin care

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

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

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

Update your sunscreen

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

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

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

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

Clean up your beauty routine

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

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

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

Use less plastic

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

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

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

Eligibility
Photo by Alex Pasarelu on Unsplash

Flex-Ed: How FSAs can benefit new moms

This one's for the moms who just got started, navigating life with a newborn and all a new child entails – sleeping, soothing, and feeding their brand-new family member.

Do you know how much breastfeeding costs? It's free, right? Well, not so fast.

While breastfeeding may allow you to save on formula, the costs associated with breastfeeding are many, from breast pads to nipple guards to nursing bras, just to name a few. You may even opt to purchase a breast pump, which is usually covered by insurance (but not necessarily the model you want).

But there are some little-known breastfeeding-related items that are eligible for flexible spending account (FSA) reimbursement, giving new moms the opportunity to save big. Here are a few of the breastfeeding necessities covered by your FSA (with some notes on which ones aren't).

Prenatal vitamins – The name may imply otherwise, but prenatal vitamins are still recommended for breastfeeding women. Good news: prenatal vitamins and glucosamine are two of the only vitamin types approved for FSAs.

Breast pumps – While your insurance will likely cover a bulk of the cost, you may be left with a remaining balance, especially if you choose a nicer model, like one that comes in a nondescript bag for toting to and from work. But you're in luck -- the IRS lists breast pumps as a qualifying medical expense.

Storage bottles – Yes, you still need bottles when you breastfeed. Here's why: Many pumps require a bottle to catch the expressed milk from pumping. Also worth noting is most mothers pump at some point if they plan to return to work or spend more than a few hours away from baby. One thing to keep in mind -- storage bottles are FSA-eligible, but bottles used just for feeding are usually not. Be sure to check with your administrator if you have any questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prenatal Vitamins

Get everything you need to support your little one with prenatal vitamins.

Breast Pumps

Pumping made easy for moms everywhere. Choose from electric or manual for a personalized pumping experience.

Nursing Pads

Absorbent, ultra-soft nursing pads help keep nursing pain at bay while preventing leakage.

Breast Pump Accessories

From milk storage to pump cleaner, FSA-eligible breast pump accessories are guaranteed to keep mommy (and baby) happy.



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Eligibility

That's Eligible?! How I got serious about spring skin protection

Did you know that Florida has the highest skin cancer rate in the country? That's why when my family moved to the Sunshine State, I knew it was time to start taking my skin health seriously -- especially this time of year.

You might already know that sunscreen is FSA-eligible. But did you know that trips to the dermatologist, protective lip balm, even some sunscreen/bug spray combos are also on the eligible list? Here's how to form healthy skin care and protection health habits – without skipping the sunshine altogether.

Use sunscreen everyday (no skipping)

I knew it was time to change my skin protection habits when I'd make it a habit to cover my son in sunscreen from head to toe before we went to the park, beach, or zoo – but I'd completely forget to cover myself.

Now, I keep a basket of sunscreen by my front door. Baby sunscreen for him, and sunscreen and protective lip balm for me. We also both usually wear hats when outdoors, which the CDC says can help reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Find the right sunscreen

Sunscreen is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Take advantage of the many FSA-eligible sunscreen options, from mineral sunscreens to quick-drying formulas, even extra-hydrating options.

While some busy parents buy a jumbo bottle of sunscreen and slather it on the whole family, most sunscreens are too strong or irritating for a young child's skin. Experts recommend that kids' sunscreen be SPF30+, have UVA and UVB ray protection, and is water-resistant.

Another reason it's important that you find a sunscreen just right for your little one? Just one blistering sunburn during childhood can nearly double skin cancer rates.

Invest in other types of sun protection

Your sunscreen options aren't just limited to sprays and lotions. Stock up on protective sun clothing for the whole family. Many retailers offer sun shirts, bathing suits and sun hats with SPF50 or higher, offering one more layer between your skin and the sun's damaging rays.

Also worth considering? High-quality sunglasses that offer UV protection for your eyes. Prescription sunglasses are eligible, as long as the lens also provide vision correction. And don't forget about your lips. Protective lip balm is another FSA-eligible way to keep your skin in top shape this summer.

If you want more bang for your buck, try investing in an SPF15+ sunscreen/bug repellent combo. Since bug spray alone isn't covered by your FSA, this is a great chance to kill two birds (er, bugs?) with one stone.

Always turn to the professionals

No, we're not talking about professional sunbathers. One of the most important steps you can take to take care of your skin is to visit your dermatologist at least once a year for a skin cancer screening. During the screening, your doctor will check for changes in size, shape, or color of moles or freckles, or look for other changes in your skin, which could be an early sign of skin cancer.

If the idea of stripping down to your skivvies and letting a stranger inspect your moles at close range doesn't top your to-do list, keep the facts in mind. It might just save your life.

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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 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.

Eligibility

Asked and Answered: Are ride-sharing services (like Uber and Lyft) FSA-eligible?

Owning a car is no longer a given, especially in today's ride-sharing economy. In fact, the number of Americans forgoing car ownership altogether is on the upswing – from 8.9 to 9.1% from 2010 to 2015, U.S. Census data shows.

Ride sharing services are also on the rise – Uber, now available in 600 cities across 65 countries, had 41.8 million users in March 2018 alone, while Lyft had about 23 million users as of January 2018.

So, whether or not you can use your FSA funds to pay for rideshare services like Uber or Lyft is an important concern, especially for millennials and those living in larger cities who don't own a car.

What's covered?

You already know that transportation expenses incurred to receive medical care are eligible for reimbursement with your FSA. Expenses incurred must be primarily for and essential to medical care, and include mileage, rental car, bus, taxi, train, plane and ferry fares, as well as ambulance services. Parking and tolls are also included, as are out-of-pocket expenses like gas, provided you're using your car for medical reasons (and you can't request gas AND mileage for the same trip).

Eligibility doesn't just apply to the person receiving medical care. Parents and guardians, as well as nurses are caregivers are also covered. But this doesn't mean you can claim travel expenses to and from a girls' spa weekend or to pay for a Marie Kondo-inspired getaway – even if it does improve your mental health.

So, when can I ride share with my FSA funds?

In some major urban areas, many people are using public transportation or ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft as their primary means of transportation, and that includes medical-related travel.

For example, let's say you live in a major metropolitan area. Your home is within walking distance of your workplace, your grocery store, even your local park and gym. Springing for a monthly subway pass (or even a round-trip ride) just to travel to and from a monthly doctor's visit may not be the most cost-effective option, especially compared to Uber or Lyft.

So can you claim expenses like Uber if it serves as your primary form of transport? Like many questions of FSA eligibility, there isn't a black-and-white answer. It will likely depend on your plan administrator's take on whether an Uber is legally considered a taxi, since according to the IRS, taxi fares are FSA-eligible. In short, Uber can be FSA-eligible, but there's no guarantee.

Worth noting: if you use Lyft or Uber to obtain medical care, you're not the only one. In fact, data from Lyft shows that 29% of the ride-hailing app's users have used Lyft to obtain healthcare services.

Other travel considerations

When using your FSA funds to pay for medical-related travel expenses, you can't simply swipe your FSA-issued debit card. Instead, you'll have to pay expenses like your Uber ride upfront, then submit receipts for reimbursement later on down the line.

In this case, it pays to be organized. Consider an electronic filing system of all your transportation costs related to medical care.

Apps like Stride can keep track of expenses like mileage and receipts, allowing you to ditch the "receipts-in-a-shoebox" method once and for all. Marie Kondo would be proud.

FSAs are not the same as Transit and Parking Accounts

After all of this, you may be wondering about that account you have to pay for every day transit costs to and from work or for parking, unrelated to your medical care. These are traditionally called Commuter Benefits, and include transit and parking plans that allow you to set aside pre-tax money to pay for qualified expenses. These plans serve a different purpose and are not to be confused with a qualified medical FSA.

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

Living Well

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

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

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

Get an annual physical

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

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

Go to the dentist

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

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

Treat that nagging back and neck pain

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

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

Don't forget about your eyes

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

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

Check your mental health

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

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

Get some sleep

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

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

Get away with your partner

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

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

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