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FSA Inside Scoop - September 2018 - How to ensure your FSA budget is even better in 2019

It's probably too early to start discussing 2019 open enrollment, right? Well, maybe not -- especially if you're planning to have (and make the most of) a flexible spending account (FSA). Because, if you're like many of us, there's a good chance your current year FSA spending is a little different than what you originally planned for.

So let's get ahead of it. For 2019, use a few of our best tips to budget your 2019 FSAs. As you'll learn, a little planning will give you the opportunity to better use your funds for the products you need, and not worry about losing leftover funds when your deadline hits.

Map a 2019 budget (while still wearing shorts)

If you approach your next year's budget with an understanding of what your paycheck contributions will be for your FSA, you already have a key piece of planning in place for knowing how much you have available to spend in any given month.

The IRS hasn't yet released FSA contribution limits for 2019, but we can use 2018's limit of $2,650 to illustrate our point. If you have straightforward, "no-surprise" medical expenses each month, here are two easy rules of thumb for choosing an FSA contribution amount:

  1. If you spend more than $221 out-of-pocket on qualified medical expenses each month — or roughly $2,650 a year — you should strongly consider contributing the maximum to your FSA.
  1. If you don't contribute the maximum, consider adding as much as you can to make the most of these funds.

But if your medical expenses are lower (or at least less predictable), you should calculate your estimated total annual copayments, alongside your dental and vision expenses for next year. This should give you a fairly good estimate of what amount will cover your needs.

If it helps, we offer a pretty handy FSA Calculator to help you along the way.

Come up with a monthly spending approach

We know it's tempting (especially with so many eligible products at your fingertips) but we don't recommend emptying your FSA funds each month. Sure you might have stuff you need, but this doesn't account for those "unexpected" expenses that pop up.

What types of events, exactly? Well, remember that one year when your entire family got a mutual flu, and you went through enough decongestant to fill a bathtub? Or that fateful ski trip when you weren't ready for that "sudden" jump? Yeah, those moments are when your FSA can help the most.


What you can do is take stock of FSA-eligible items you expect to purchase regularly. The goal with a spending framework is to plan for regular purchases in advance on a regular basis. Maybe it's monthly, maybe bi-monthly or quarterly – as long as you're tracking and adhering to the plan, and leaving enough wiggle room for emergencies.

Like we've said before - life is unpredictable, and things can happen. Make sure your FSA is there to straighten the course.

Avoid the end-of-year rush

We know there's a level of fun that comes with rushing to spend your tax-free funds. You might give yourself something bigger than planned. You might use it for a long-overdue medical treatment. But this surplus often means you haven't properly used your funds throughout the year.

(And you tell us what's better -- a momentary spending spree at the deadline, or a full 12 months of knowing you're getting the most of your funds?)

Even if you've already put thought into what you regularly need and researched different products that are FSA-eligible, there are probably a few in the mix you didn't even realize qualified for FSA spending. Check out our eligibility list for a complete listing of products and services.

Be healthier in 2019

If there's one area that deserves more attention in 2019, it's your health. We're not doctors and can't tell you what to do, but in our experience it's best to do more than just preventive care checkups. With a clean bill of health, you'll have a much better idea of what your medical spending will be over the course of the coming year.

Eligibility

WATCH: Who decides FSA and HSA eligibility?

Our FSA Store learning series is back with another video! This week, Ijeoma Iruke, our Consumer Education Specialist, answers one of the most-common questions we get from our readers -- "Who decides what's FSA- and HSA-eligible?"

Plus, Ijeoma also covers why products and services are eligible, so you can be sure your expenses qualify before you make a purchase.

No fluff, no filler. Just the info you need to make the most of your tax-free funds. FSAstore.com is everything flex spending. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to get all our video updates.

Basics

New to FSAs? Here's what you need to know ... in less than one minute [VIDEO]

In case you didn't know, FSAstore.com is on YouTube these days. In these quick and helpful clips, Ijeoma Iruke, our amazing Consumer Education Specialist, walks you through the basics of flexible spending accounts, so you can make smart decisions about your healthcare spending.

No fluff, no filler. Just the info you need to make the most of your tax-free funds. FSAstore.com is everything flex spending. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to get all our video updates.

FSA Inside Scoop - Don't let motion sickness get in the way of your summer

Water is surrounding you in all directions. The sun is shining. Friends are hanging out on a boat...and you're forced off to the side because of motion sickness.

Whether by land, air or sea, motion sickness can conquer the best of us. Long car rides, small boat trips, roller coasters, flights…you name it, and it can cause motion sickness if you're not prepared.

But, we're not here to just present problems. Let's talk about a few ways to help alleviate these annoying (and vacation-ruining) motion sickness symptoms.

What actually causes this?

Motion sickness is what happens when the motion sensed in your inner ear is different from what you're visualizing. Basically, your senses don't match up...and what happens next is never fun.

What typically starts out as an "off" feeling, accompanied by dizziness and sweating, and… well, we don't need to go into the gory details. Just know it will probably put a damper on your whole day. If you have these symptoms, you're hardly alone -- motion sickness affects up to 90% of people at some point or another. Here are some simple, precautionary measures to help you stay ahead.

Choose your seat wisely

Depending on how you're traveling, there are different things you can do to keep yourself feeling good and balanced.

If you're in a car, sit up front. (We don't recommend driving when feeling queasy). On ships, reserve a cabin in the front or middle of the ship, or on the upper deck. If you're flying, ask for a seat over the wing. These sections tend to have less motion and vibration, while also offering a better view of the horizon.

Eyes up, captain!

If you're starting to feel those tell-tale symptoms of motion sickness, look up and focus on the horizon or on a distant, stationary object. This can help your body focus and adjust itself to fight off the nausea. Also, make sure to not read anything or stare at your phone, since this usually makes the symptoms worse, thanks to your body's equilibrium having an even harder time recalibrating.

The problem? It's tough to keep perfectly still when the car hits bumps in the road, or the people next to you keep getting up from their seats. But when you can, try and keep your head still, while also resting against a seat back to steady yourself.

If you need a hand (or a wrist, anyway), drug-free wrist bands can be a big help if you can't avoid taking certain trips. These handy items target pressure points, specifically those on your inner wrist, which have proven to relieve motion sickness by sending pressure messages, which usually reach the brain faster than the ones making you queasy.

Don't ask for trouble

Keeping motion sickness at bay is an ongoing challenge, and even though you might not be leaving for a trip for a few days, you still need to prepare for the worst by avoiding things that could lead to problems. For example, smoking is one trigger, so don't (for this and so many other reasons).

Even if smoke bothers you, it's going to be way worse when you're feeling a little "off." Try to avoid being near smokers whenever possible. Outdoor concerts are a huge culprit - make sure you schedule your concerts and trips with enough recovery time in between, whenever possible.

Also, even though it might seem obvious, when you're traveling, you probably don't eat as well as you should. It's hard to avoid, but try and show a little restraint by being smarter about meals before and during the trip. This means avoiding spicy/greasy foods and alcohol.

(Sorry to all of you who enjoy wings and beer on every trip… it's time to embrace a good road salad instead!)

You might want to skip those wings and beer competitions, too, since overeating is another huge trigger for motion sickness. You definitely want to have something in your stomach, but we're thinking a sensible meal, not a pound of chicken slathered in ghost pepper sauce.

When all else fails, let your tax-free funds help…

Not only are those wrist bands we mentioned pretty effective, but there's also something to be said for medicines you know and trust. Nausea medicine is an eligible over-the-counter (OTC) medicine with a prescription from a doctor, using your FSA health savings account (HSA) or a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA).

Just follow the easy FSA Store Prescription Process and you'll have an entire summer's worth of qualified, FSA-eligible relief available, tax (and nausea) free.

Settling the score on sunscreen myths

"I know the most powerful sunscreen to buy…"

"I use it whenever I go to the beach…"

"I used the same sunscreen on my husband and baby…"

As a site dedicated to offering the widest selection of FSA-eligible products, we naturally get a lot of questions about the sunscreen we sell. And we also hear a lot of differing opinions about the right and wrong ways to use it.

It's summer. There's a good chance you're planning to spend some time in the sun over the next few months. You're going to need sunscreen -- and you really need to be sure you're choosing the right kind.

The good thing is that proper sunscreen use doesn't have to be a confusing. Let's dispel a few suncare myths and misconceptions before getting down to choosing the right sunscreen for you and your family.

The sun isn't that dangerous

Yeah, we started with a silly one. But there are some people who genuinely believe the sun's rays are harmless, and that a steady suntan is good for long-term skin health.

The sun's ultraviolet (UV) light is actually made up of two different types: UVA and UVB. The Skin Cancer Foundation defines them the following ways:

  • UVA rays cause skin damage that leads to tanning as well as skin aging and wrinkles. The shortest wavelengths of UVA rays also contribute to sunburn.
  • UVB rays cause sunburn and play a key role in developing skin cancer. A sunscreen's SPF number refers mainly to the amount of UVB protection it provides.

Sure, that tan looks great on you. But before you lay out for an extended tanning session, think about what's causing that tan, and take the right measures to stay safe.

Higher SPF = better sunscreen

SPF is a measurement of how long the sun's UV rays will take to impact your skin when using sunscreen, as compared to not using any at all. Though it's not a perfect science (slathering an unmeasured amount of lotion out of a tube makes it a little hard to gauge) following some general rules should help keep you safe this summer.

An SPF 2 sunscreen really only helps to protect your skin against 50% of harmful rays. A lot of tanning enthusiasts use these products, and using them is certainly better than nothing at all. But there are just too many sunscreens available that do more to make us want to take the risk.

(Plus, sunscreen is only FSA-eligible if it has an SPF of 15 or higher, so there's that…)

However, there's just as much confusion about the highest SPF sunscreens. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, once you're at SPF 15 with broad spectrum protection, you're blocking approximately 93% of the sun's harmful rays. SPF 30 is good for approximately 96-97%, and so forth. But even if you put on an SPF 90, which blocks roughly 99% of those damaging rays, there is no such thing as "complete" protection from extended sun exposure.

And using a higher SPF doesn't necessarily mean you have a hall pass to stay in the sun that much longer. Between water, sand, sweat and towels, there's no guarantee the areas you covered earlier are still protected.

Don't get us wrong - when used properly, today's sunscreens are fantastic, with proven protection and water resistance to help ease your mind while enjoying your time outdoors. The best course of action is to reapply sunscreen early and often, especially if you plan a lengthy day in the sun. But be sure to spend some time in the shade, or at least covered up whenever possible.

You only need sunscreen at the beach or pool

This is a big mistake. Unless you plan on covering yourself in long sleeves and ski masks all summer, you're probably going to be outdoors. Which means you're exposed to the sun. Even on quick trips to the store, those summer rays can still get to you, so get ahead of them by having sunscreen with you wherever you go, reapplying every few hours to be sure.

Even though this article is all about safe summer fun, the sun doesn't pay much attention to the thermometer. UVA and UVB rays can harm your skin year round, and even find their way to you through cloudy days, and while reflecting off of snow! In other words, if you're planning to escape the heat with a trip to the southern hemisphere, still be sure to have sunscreen at the ready.

All sunscreens are alike

You might think adding adult sunscreen to a child's skin is a good move, since it probably has a higher SPF level. But they make children's sunscreen for a reason; the ingredients used in adult sunscreen are designed to absorb differently into the skin.

The US Food and Drug Administration and The Skin Cancer Foundation recommend using sunscreen only on children older than six months, and to keep babies out of direct sun for their first six months. That's always the safest course of action. If that's not possible, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends applying sunscreen to small areas of exposed skin in infants younger than six months old.

Slightly older children are known to have more sensitive skin, which is why different sunscreen formulas are necessary. Not only should you be more aware of buying hypoallergenic products, but their skin is also more sensitive to the sun, and are at greater risk of sunburn.

Bottom line: Adult sunscreens are made for adults, whose skin is more receptive to the lotion, and less likely to be irritated from various ingredients.

(As always, check the instructions on your sunscreen bottles and talk to your pediatrician to be completely sure it's the right product for your needs.)

--

Summer's meant to be fun. Summer's about enjoying the outdoors. Summer's when you should relax and just enjoy good times in warm weather. So, just be smart -- have sunscreen with you at all times, and use it as much as you think you should (maybe even a little more). Because nothing's more relaxing than letting go, and not having to worry about safety along the way.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen

This lightweight sunscreen protects you from harmful UVA/UVB rays while having an ultra-light, non-shiny finish.

Coppertone WaterBABIES Sunscreen

Coppertone provides strong protection from the sun's most harmful rays and is gentle enough for delicate skin, with 80 minutes of water protection.

FSA Insider: Ban the burn! How your FSA can put GERD to rest

Just a few years ago, I had no idea what a good night's sleep felt like. Thanks to a few years of poor diets and all-night excursions, waking up from acid reflux pain was a regular part of my routine.

Instead, I just accepted that heartburn and acid reflux were something I had to deal with through medicine … likely for the rest of my life. Sure, I took pills to fight off the discomfort -- and they definitely have their place -- but I wasn't listening to some very obvious advice.

And because of that, I didn't realize that my condition wasn't just heartburn, it was gastroesophageal reflux disease … we'll just call it GERD.

First, a super quick overview of GERD

GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the ring of muscles between the esophagus and stomach. These muscles are normally tight, but when you eat or drink, the muscles relax so food or liquid can enter your stomach, before closing off again.

In people with GERD, however, the muscles are weak, which allows stomach contents to come back up into the throat, leading to that extremely uncomfortable burning, sour sensation.

The condition is more likely to develop in people who are pregnant or overweight. It may also affect people who have certain health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes. But there are some easy ways to help fight GERD symptoms:

  • Eating smaller meals
  • Avoiding spicy foods
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol use
  • Quitting smoking
  • Elevating your head while you sleep

Most of these are fairly straightforward tips. But let's discuss that last one a little more.

Solving GERD... while you sleep?

This sounds a little silly, considering there are quality medications for acid reflux and GERD. But if stomach acid regularly escapes into your throat while lying horizontally, the best medicine might just be gravity.

By keeping the upper body -- specifically your head, shoulders and chest -- elevated, acid is less likely to work its way back up your throat, keeping your stomach contents where they belong.

But don't start putting your bed on cinder blocks just yet. By using a simple, ergonomically designed (and FSA-eligible) wedge pillow, you can comfortably raise your upper body up to eight inches above your mid-section, no matter if you're a back- or side-sleeper. By combining the incline with more natural sleep positioning, an elevated wedge pillow can offer drug-free, all-natural relief from GERD symptoms.

In other words, while you should definitely see a doctor about your GERD conditions, you should also seriously consider this simple, FSA-eligible solution for dealing with acid reflux. Not only can it relieve those awful nighttime symptoms, but you might just find yourself having your first restful night's sleep in a long time.

FSA Insider - Shedding some light on hi-tech FSA-eligible products

"Wait, that's FSA-eligible?"

We hear this question a lot from our customers. And we understand why; many people are so happy to offset their monthly costs for items like bandages, OTC medications and sunscreen, that they might not realize there is a growing collection of cutting-edge wellness products to consider when shopping with tax-free funds.

Take, for example, our Hi-Tech Health section, which contains items that bring today's leading medical technologies right into your home, through smart, connected, truly modern devices that are 100% FSA-eligible.

This month, we're sharing three of our favorite hi-tech health products with Insiders. And these three are particularly intriguing, because -- despite their advanced technology -- they offer relief through the natural power of light.

Nuve N72 Deep Penetrating Light Therapy

While heating pads and wraps are great for addressing pain, this deep tissue light treatment goes beyond the surface to improve blood circulation, alleviate swelling, and relax muscles. Users will enjoy near-immediate relief from pain, right at the source, within seconds of using the device.

But this is no portable heating lamp. Deep penetrating light (DPL) treatment uses an advanced form of energy to reach deep into your body, helping to heal while helping you eliminate nagging pains. The Nuve N72 has a wide range of uses, for most external parts of the body.

Deep Penetrating Light Therapy Gum Device

DPL therapy isn't limited to arms and legs. This therapeutic gum device uses the same concentrated energy technology to ease oral pain and stiffness -- even pain coming from abrasions and cuts inside the mouth. This drug-free treatment is 100% natural and non-invasive, with simple functionality and zero side effects.

dpl II Panel Professional Acne Treatment System

For years, dermatologists have championed the use of photodynamic therapy to help improve skin health and complexion. From acne breakouts to color/tone improvement to anti-aging treatments, this simple, non-invasive technology has been a huge win for those seeking better skin health.

But, what was once only available in doctors' offices is now available at home. The dpl II Professional Collection Light Therapy Panel can be used on any external part of your skin, offering a full body treatment -- including face, neck, chest, hands and back -- in a matter of minutes.

Creams, lotions and masks work fine. But for thorough, efficient treatment of skin problems, the dpl II is a fantastic way to spend your FSA funds.

As you can see, there's a lot more to FSA spending than you might think. If your idea of hi-tech health is a calorie tracking phone app, check out the light therapy products above, not to mention the entire Hi-Tech Health section. You might just find a unique way to use your FSA money ... treating yourself to something a little special along the way.