Archive for September, 2010

The non-medical, medical expenses

My youngest had her routine appointment at SickKids yesterday. She has been diagnosed with Lupus for 3.5 years.

While the appointment was her regular check-in with the specialist, she’s been going downhill over the last few weeks, and by yesterday, the hospital was the right place for her to be. Lupus is an auto-immune disease. It stands to reason that by the time she’s back in school for three weeks, those 1800 other kids have passed around versions of this and that bug, and she’s usually in rough shape.

Although she’s still sick today, at least she’s home. I’m confident that the plan of action we have for the next seven days will help her to rally back to almost her ol’ self.

As I was counting my blessings in the waiting room yesterday, and wondering if they’d admit her or not, I was pondering how ready I was for her to be admitted. For a moment, my mind turned to my cash flow spreadsheet.

This is a lifestyle I’ve lived now for a number of years, and I’m reasonably accustomed to it. Not saying I love it, just saying I have a reasonably good handle on what comes with the territory of a loved one being hospitalized.

When this happens, my expenses can be hit pretty hard. Have you thought about the non-medical expenses that may occur if there’s a significant medical event in your house?

Here’s where I get hit:

  • Increased “dining out” expenditures: If my daughter is an inpatient, they feed her. Since she is still within the demographic of SickKids (they top out at 18), they encourage parents to stay with the patient. (I never had to be encouraged, I just did). There’s been times I’ve been there for two weeks. Nobody feeds me. I’m responsible to fend for myself. This means I’m using their cafeteria and prepared food outlets within the hospital. My parents haven’t been in the country to provide me with back-up during these past episodes, and my ex-partner wasn’t able to support me in this way very well.
  • Increased communications expenses: My cell phone plan allows X number of minutes for voice and data until a premium rate kicks in.  That plan is sufficient all of the time, until I start using it to call friends and family all the time with health updates. The last time she was an inpatient for a longer period of time, I signed up for a Rogers Rocket Stick so I could do some resemblance of staying connected to my job and the outside world. That’s a contract that’s still active at $42/month. I do use it, and when I need it, I REALLY need it. This started out as a non-medical expense related to a medical emergency.
  • Increased transportation expenses:  Yesterday, I spent $41 on cab fare to and from the hospital, because my daughter literally could not walk. When we got to the curb of the hospital, we found a wheel-chair. If she’s an in-patient, I need to come home and refresh our pajamas and clothing reasonably often, and just have a shower. Yep, sometimes a good stiff drink. For folks who may have a loved one admitted to a hospital in another town, this would amplify even more. In the days when I drove, I’ve paid hundreds of dollars in parking fees.
  • Lost wages: When I can’t show up to my part-time gig, I don’t get paid. Many people may have this situation with their regular source of income. I’m lucky, I still received an income from my full-time gig.
  • Increased needless spending: There’s been times, I’ve just spent money on random things in the hospital, probably because I just needed a hug, not that I needed the purse/jewelery/book, etc. I’m more disciplined about that now.
  • In-patient entertainment: for some hospitals, there’s an additional fee for television services, in-room phone for local calls, etc. SickKids happens to be outstanding in this department, because their clientelle were raised with TVs, you can find them everywhere. No charge. That’s not the same when your loved one is an adult.

In Canada, we’re so lucky to have the health care we do. I’ll never complain about my taxes in this country. I’ve already benefitted from some amazing services for my family.

For those of you with drug and other medical coverage, just don’t lull yourself into believing that you’ll never have any medical costs. While the hospital room and the medications might be covered, there’s a lot more that comes with it.

For today, I’m thankful that we’re home, and hopeful that tomorrow will be a brighter day than yesterday!


Still need new glasses

I’m sad to report I’ve returned my new glasses to My experience with them as a customer has been great, but my experience with being a customer wearing progressive lenses is a bit more challenging.

My new glasses arrived when I was away at a conference last week. I was notified that either the frames or lenses were out of stock shortly after I ordered them, so I expected the delay. Although, when I placed the order the order form indicated otherwise. There was no great urgency, so it wasn’t a problem.

Once they arrived, I put them on and went for a short walk. Inside about three minutes, I knew it wasn’t going to be that straight forward. Just the way the lenses felt, I knew no amount of adjusting would make a difference. So I called them up and told them my story.

“Did you measure your pupils?” asked the customer service rep.

“Yep, sure did” I replied.

“What method did you use to measure them?” she continued.

“With the ruler you provide on your website. I printed it out and followed the instructions and entered in the measurement on my order form.”

“With progressives, it’s different. You have to measure from one pupil to the bridge of your nose, then from the other pupil to the bridge of your nose, and enter in those two different measurements rather than the straight distance from one pupil to the other.” she remarked

“Well” I sighed. “No where on your website did it prompt me to measure my pupils differently even though I had selected progressives”

“It’s better if somebody else does it for you” she added.

“On your website, you clearly state how easy it is to do it yourself” I chime in.

“It’s different for progressives” she repeats.

“That’s where your website was silent”

She sent me a label to return my glasses for a full refund, and I’ve put them back in the mail. At some point in our conversation, she mentioned that a lot of people with progressives have this issue. You’d think there’d be a clearer message online, wouldn’t you?

Strangely, while I went to the post office to return this pair, I got a Facebook notification that they’re giving away 5,000 pair of glasses the very next day – FOR FREE! Hey, that’s cool, right? I’m an early bird, I figure I can get in and order a new set of glasses again, except this time get a really good deal.

When I went to the website early that morning, I see there is absolutely no where on the website that gives me an option to enter in two distinct pupil measurements.

Suddenly, my frustration factor maxes out, my youngest isn’t feeling well, the kittens are running around like bandits, and I have a TON of work to do to prepare for another busy day. One point later in the day I go back in, and a business call distracts me and I totally miss the opportunity.

By Sunday, I get an email that tells me it’s not too late to get a great deal, I can get 50% off on Sunday. Sunday I’m still working, have preparation work to do for an important presentation, the kid is still sick and I truly don’t have time to spend another second messing around with this thing.

I’ve convinced myself if I wore straight lenses, or perhaps even bifocals, this would be an awesome website to do business with. When you wear progressives, it’s a mystery to me how to take advantage of their great prices.

Since last Sunday, I’ve now visited two different optical stores, and haven’t found any frames I like as much as the one’s at my Optometrist’s office.

Despite their price tag of $600+, I’m thinking of ordering them. Right now I’m just spinning my wheels. It’s been three weeks since I’ve gone to the Optometrist, and I can see no better now than I could then. My time has a value too, and I’m really thinking I’ve spent enough of it.

I would totally recommend if you just wore a regular lens. Perhaps all I needed to do was place my order by phone, but in this last week, their promotions and my schedules didn’t align to make that possible. I had already spent quite a bit of time on hold waiting to discuss returning my existing pair.

If I call and order the pair I like, I know I’ll feel a bit defeated over this particular journey. Perhaps I’ll sleep on it another night. Either way, I gotta do something about it this week. I’m taking a bit of a holiday next week, and I have books I want to read!

Whirlwind couple of weeks

I’m on a total high right now! Despite having worked in one capacity or another for the last 14 days straight (and counting), I’m just feeling totally awesome about almost everything these days.

Over the last week, the organization who gets my full-time attention had their annual gathering of the team. We worked hard, played even harder. We literally laughed and cried. We had such a great gathering I’m still pumped about it. Not only was it a great corporate success, but we had an opportunity to recognize some individual super stars too. I have the privilege of working with some great folks.

I was honored to be the recipient of kind words and an overwhelmingly generous gift certificate for a rather nice spa here in Toronto. My worries about where to get my hair cut or if I’m going to get a massage or not are over for a while. I was totally speechless.

In my part-time world, there too I was honoured to be part of an annual gathering of those folks from our particular region. It was a total shock to me when my name was announced, in front of 500 of my co-workers, as being the individual who had best delivered our service vision to our clients. I was shocked and so thrilled.

Isn’t it great to hear that the work we do is actually good and meaningful? Whether or not that comes with a reward or trinket, the result is the same – at least it is for me. Just let me know that I’m on the right path, and it’s easier for me to stay on it. Even a hug from a kid when you put her ironed clothes on her bed is an amazing reward.

As I look down the hall and see the mountain of laundry that is still left to do, and the growing grocery list on the fridge, I still feel like the luckiest person on the earth. Despite my look ahead to the end of the month and my confidence that I’ll finish in the red, I know that I’m making a difference in our household finances.

My lesson this month: even though the route is scenic, and there are perpetual detours, as long as you know where you’re going, you will arrive.

Away this week…

Oops, forgot to let you know I’d be away this week. I’m at a work related conference. We’re having fun, and getting stuff done too.  See you next week!

My Hydro bill is past due?

When you don’t have a lot of bills coming in, sometimes the mail is pretty dull.

Yesterday, I actually had an envelope in the mail that was really addressed to me. Seems rare these days. I get my the usual utility bills, and my visa bill, and the odd notice that the interest rate on my mortgage has gone up when Bank of Canada adjusts their overnight lending rate. Otherwise, I get a lot of opportunities to save money on pizza, home repairs, sushi, fitness centres, daycare, etc. The realtors in my neighbourhood encourage me to sell my home about 15 times each week.

My envelope yesterday was from Toronto Hydro.  I wasn’t really expecting to hear from them in September. Toronto Hydro bills every alternate month now, and I paid my bill September 1.  So I thought.

Their short, polite note advised me that as of September 10th, my bill of 206.25 had not been paid. They asked me to give them a call to discuss my payment options.

What? This letter must have been addressed to me in error. I checked the name on the envelope – yep, it was mine. Thought I’d better check my online bank statement and my budget spreadsheet.

My spreadsheet confirmed that I paid $206.25 on September 1. Why the heck did they not receive it 9 days later? Then I logged into my bank account. Yep, I had a payment of $206.25 on September 1. As I clicked through for the details, I see I paid Toronto Utility, not Toronto Hydro.

Cripes. They bill even less frequently at quarterly. So, it seems my water and garbage bill will have a credit balance when it comes in December.

I called Toronto Hydro, and told them apparently I was drinking when I paid the bill.  The service representative laughed and said “you wouldn’t believe how many people give their hydro money to Toronto Utility!” Then she said “I have no idea why that happens.” When I suggested that the list of bills that a person has in their bank account is listed alphabetically, it’s likely an easy mistake to pay the wrong bill that starts with TORONTO.

I’ve now paid Hydro, what seems like déjà vu to me, but it’ll be the first time for them. Instead of $206.25 spent on utilities this month, I’ll have spent $412.50.

At least the very polite customer service rep said “you’re a great customer with a history of paying your bills in full and on time. When you see your next bill with a late charge, just give me a call back and I’ll waive that for you. I wish I could do it in advance, but I can’t do that until the bill is issued.”

Nice. She gets my gold star for yesterday. Imagine having fun talking to a customer service rep about an overdue bill?

Guess I’ll knock that estimated $200 off my utility bill for December.  Maybe I had an ulterior motive. Can’t think of why $200 bucks extra would come in handy in December!

Headlines make my head spin

There have been a few recurring and evolving stories over the past couple of years about rising consumer debt; about growing rates of obesity;  about elevated sodium intake in our diets; about people with no work-life balance who are stressed out to the max; about how we live pay cheque to pay cheque.

As I read the Toronto Star this morning, I had one of those moments when each story line collided into one, big, issue.

The story that got me by surprise this morning was the report that Canadians are snacking more.  Apparently, we’re more likely to select fruits, yogurt and healthy snacks than our neighbours to the south, but we’re also in love with potato chips. Is it any wonder when yesterday this story about a nutrition expert who ate a steady diet of twinkies lost 10 lbs?

Are we eating junk food because we don’t have time to prepare a healthy snack or wash an apple because we’re too busy working? Are we reaching for the sugary, high glycemic stuff to give ourselves a little sugar high to temporarily escape the hustle and bustle of it all? Are we working too much because we have all that consumer debt to pay off, and our mortgages are too high and we’re running scared that the Bank of Canada is going to increase the key lending rate for a fourth time in 2010? Is our sodium problem related to all those potato chips?

Did we get ourselves in debt because we forgot how to cook and we’re eating out and buying snacks and not preparing our own meals at a fraction of the cost and a hundred times more nutritional punch?

I’m not pointing any fingers. I’m guilty of some of those things too – believe me. Most of the time, I feel reasonably balanced. Sometimes I come unglued. Just ask my kids.

If my pay cheque suddenly stopped, I’d be among the 60% of Canadians in trouble. I’m working on fixing that problem, but I haven’t “arrived” yet. I’m not sure how long it will take for me to sock away 6 months of expenses.  A few more years, I suspect. Perhaps the difference between those of us who are creating an emergency fund and those who aren’t, is the ability to recognize that like most big tasks, it begins with one step forward. Then another, then another, until you arrive at your goal. Sure, it may take a long time. Why wait? Depspite not having that 6 month cushion tucked away, I’m a lot less stressed because I know it’s in progress, and I know it will continue to progress in the years ahead.

Not too many years ago, I was about 70 pounds overweight. Ouch. Now, I’m at an ideal weight with a healthy BMI. It’s been a journey to get here, but the biggest journey is to STAY healthy. I’d lost weight lots of times, I was never successful at keeping it off. If I gain weight now, I’d have to replace my entire wardrobe, from my winter coat to my lingerie. That’s a lot of money.  Guess who’d be going deeper into debt? Yep, that’d be me. Staying at a healthy weight, or even maintaining a healthy bank account takes effort every day. There is no freeze-frame button when you arrive at a goal. When you get there, you have to keep doing the things that it took to get you there in order to stay there. If we believe that old behaviors can resume after we arrive at a place we got to with new behaviors, we’re doomed for failure.

The whole health/money/stress stuff is one big news story. It’s worth taking the time to account for our finances, to be accountable for food that goes in our mouths, and the energy we expend at work and home, in order to focus on doing the things that align with our values. There is no quick fix, but I can say from experience, it’s a lot less stressful than doing the same behavior and just hoping the outcome is different.

Here’s hoping you do something today that is good for your health, good for your financial sustainability, and good for us all.

The agony and ecstacy of the cosmetics counter

Eaton's Cosmetic Counter 1929. Image courtesy of Glenbow Museum, Reference No. NA-3992-20

Ever since I became 40-something (a bunch of years ago), my need for moisturizer on my face has increased at an exponential rate. This isn’t just a desire to rid myself of fine and not-so-fine lines on my face (although it’s a great idea too), it’s just that my face often feels like sandpaper.

OK, I exaggerate a little, for effect. In my teens, I recall struggling with oily skin. Fast forward to now, and I’m struggling to keep my skin hydrated.

A couple of years ago I found a good size bottle of a product that I came to love – Aveeno’s Positively Radiant moisturizer. It was about $7 or $8 for a pump bottle. It felt great on my face. When it ran out about 8 months ago, I couldn’t find the same product anywhere. Trust me, I looked. Even had my Mother hunt for it in South Carolina when she was there. No sign of it. Yes, Aveeno has a Positively Radiant line of products, but they’re all teeny tiny sizes with big, fat price tags. My big pump bottle that was under $10 has gone the way of the dinosaur. I suspect too many people bought that, and not enough bought the micro-bottle at four times the price. I wrote to Aveeno inquiring about the product and where I could purchase it. Only silence came back from Aveeno. This confirmed my theory over too much demand at too low a profit margin.

Early this summer I caved and brought another Aveeno moisturizer product, with SPF. While I like the feel of it on my face, at some point through the day, the SPF always hits my eyes and they water and turn red. Seems no matter how hard I try to keep the stuff away from my eyes, eventually it finds a way in.

My vision isn’t that great, I really don’t need watering and red eyes on top of it all.  A week ago I went on the hunt again.

One evening, I was about 15 minutes early for my part-time gig, so I popped into The Bay. The nice lady at the Lancome counter offered to help me find something. As I told her my story about the hunt for a moisturizer that kept me hydrated, that didn’t have any SPF in it, and was good for sensitive skin (and eyes), she kindly sat me down to put a couple products to the test.  First there was this serum of some sort. It promised to do all sorts of magical things, which I’ve totally forgotten. Finally, the new moisturizer got applied. “Great for women of my age group” she said, “not only moisturizing but also reducing the look of those deeper lines”

I had already told her that I’d be living with the product on my face for a few hours, just to see how it felt over time. She knew she wouldn’t have the sale right then. She wrote down the products name and price on the back of her business card.

The fancy serum was $90! The moisturizer – wait for it – $170!!  Can you imagine?

As I walked down the street to my part-time gig, I actually started to laugh.  How weird would it be for me to tell my friends, my kids, even you that a single mom struggling to be debt free just spent about $300 on two of the smallest bottles of face cream ever invented! Would you believe me when I told you they’d last me for about 3 months, therefore, a particularly good deal?  Nah, I didn’t think so. I didn’t buy it either.

The most hilarious thing was the comment made to me by my work-buddy at the end of our shift, when she said “why are you so shiny tonight?”  I told her the story of the $170 moisturizer. She also buckled over with laughter.

Honestly, who buys this stuff?

With the hunt still on, I went back to Shopper’s Drug Mart to look again. After spending some time with a helpful sales clerk, I came home with a product from Vichy. At $36, it was more than I would have paid prior to my experience at the Lancome counter, but I don’t mind it. The sales clerk threw in a bunch more free stuff and samples, which helped a bit.

Do you have a moisturizer product that you swear by? Any outrageous cosmetic counter stories to share? I’m up for a chuckle!