Archive for the ‘money’ Category

My Costs for Pregnancy and Labor   Leave a comment

I have found myself missing blogging very much during the past year. On a regular basis my mind comes up with ideas for blog posts, but the reality of being a new mom has meant that I never managed to get any of those ideas typed up. I’m hoping to resume blogging, maybe on a monthly-ish frequency, now that Conan is a year old.

Shortly before Conan’s first birthday, I finally got resolution from my health insurance company regarding coverage for the cost of his birth and I’ve been wanting to write about my experience with the cost of homebirth. I must emphasize that this is my experience and should not be generalized.

Cost was not a significant reason for why I chose to give birth at home in the first place, and it probably doesn’t make an difference to someone who is not comfortable with the idea of homebirth. In retrospect I feel that within my values it is a strong plus in the homebirth column, though. There is a lot of complaining going on now about the cost of health care, and this is an example of how we have the power to make choices that affect the cost of health care for ourselves and others.

When I looked up the cost for a normal vaginal delivery last summer while writing my grievance letter to my insurance company (story to come later), the estimated range for Sacramento was $10k-21k. Checking again right now the website says the estimated range for three major hospitals in Sacramento is $15k-23k (approximately $3k of that out-of-pocket and the remainder paid through insurance). My total cost was $4,955, with $2,932 of that ultimately out of pocket. Yes, my cost was $5k. Between one fifth and half the cost of a normal hospital birth. My out of pocket expenses ended up being on a par with what they would have been for a hospital birth, but that is because I fought for reimbursement.

What was included in my total cost?

  • Midwife care (13 prenatal checkups, attendance of 2 midwives for the birth, 6 postnatal mother & baby checkups)
  • Two ultrasounds (nuchal translucency and 2nd tri)
  • Genetic Disease Screening Program
  • California Newborn Screen
  • Other lab tests
  • Birth kit
  • Six visits to a chiropractor

Nearly all of our costs were initially out of pocket. We paid our midwives out-of-pocket because the total fee is less if you pay out-of-pocket instead of having them go through insurance. And since I assumed that my insurance company would reject the claim, it just made sense to go the route with less cost even if it meant more effort on my part (to submit a member claim to insurance). I have a high deductible health insurance plan, so for the first $1.5k (in-network) each year it is all out-of-pocket, and the only thing that put us over that deductible was the charge for midwifery care.

When I submitted my member claim, my insurance company applied the charge to the out-of-network deductible ($3k) and stated that only half of the fee was allowed for the procedure. I submitted an appeal arguing that since there are no in-network midwives I couldn’t choose an in-network provider so I should not be penalized and the cost should be applied to the in-network deductible. I also pointed out that even applying the cost to the in-network deductible and reimbursing me at that rate, their total cost is still significantly lower than it would have been had I had a hospital birth. I’m guessing that the reason their allowed cost was so much lower than my actual cost was because their allowed cost was for the “childbirth, normal vaginal delivery” procedure only. When I got a $2k reimbursement check I figured that was good enough.

I did get a laugh when I got the response to my appeal. It read: “This administrative decision represents an exception and does not change Anthem’s position regarding plan benefits, as detailed in your EOC form. … Please note that your EOC specifically states that if there are no contracted midwives you may call customer service for a referral to a participating OB/GYN. …” Why on earth would I trade the awesome care I received from my midwives in my comfortable home for mediocre care by a doctor in a medical facility? (No offense to the vast majority of people who prefer birthing in the hospital. I’m just a li-i-ittle bit jaded about medical doctors having had more negative experiences than positive.)

Posted February 1, 2014 by mayakey in money, pregnancy

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Passing On the Best Gift I Ever Received   1 comment

What do I consider to be the best gift I’ve ever been given? The gift of college, fully paid by my parents (well I did have a small scholarship). Especially in today’s world I am incredibly grateful to have been able to go to the university of my choice, focus on my classes without needing to work during the school year, and get a college degree without having a loan to pay off afterwards. This is a gift that I really, really, really want to be able to pass on to my children as well. My parents did this using savings in bank accounts and CDs. We’re going to add another investment option to our arsenal: a 529 plan. Years ago when I first heard about 529 plans I didn’t think they were that great because I thought it meant you were picking the state where your kids would have to go to school. Having been given the choice to go anywhere in the country, except for schools located in-state or near home, I couldn’t imagine setting that kind of limitation for my kids. But when I realized that the invested money can be used for qualifying education expenses anywhere, I changed my tune.

To be honest, we’re not fully taking advantage of all the potential benefits of a 529 plan. Really the only benefits we’re taking advantage of are the tax-exempt nature of the distributions and the hopefully higher rate of return than a simple savings account or CD. Depending on the state there are other benefits available (I think typically only to residents) like tax deductions. This will seem kind of random, however, but we’re not enrolling in the California 529 plan, or the New Mexico 529 plan. We’ve enrolled in the DC 529 plan. It’s because SRI (socially responsible investing) is very important to me, and the DC plan is the only one (as far as I know) that is managed by an investment firm dedicated to SRI, Calvert. My Roth IRA is through Calvert and I really like the work that they do. TIAA-CREF, the plan manager for California ScholarShare, has some SRI funds but I don’t know that those funds would be part of the 529 plan. I don’t know if Oppenheimer, the plan manager for The Education Plan (NM) has SRI funds. By investing through the plan managed by Calvert I can rest assured that all of the funds in the plan are SRI funds. And I know that I am comfortable with the positive and negative screens that the company uses, and with the shareholder activism in which they engage.

Now we just have to manage to put enough money into savings in the next 18 years to be able to pay for whatever college will cost in 2030.

Posted October 17, 2012 by mayakey in conscious living, money, pregnancy

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Marketing In Social Media/Blogosphere   Leave a comment

This is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately for some reason. Generally speaking, I ignore advertisements. In fact, I’m a perverse person who is more likely to avoid a product that I have seen advertised on TV than go out and buy it. This started early, with my subscription to Consumer Reports for Kids back when I was a kid. One of the major foci of the magazine was teaching kids to be critical observers of ads, and not snookered by every slick saying. I took the lesson to heart. Plus I seem to remember my parents discouraging logo t-shirts as just free advertising for a company. So something has to be really important to me before I’m willing to tout a shirt/bag/whatever with a logo. Looking in my closet and drawers I see logos for my alma mater, the University of Michigan, and that’s it. (Although some of them have small sponsorship logos on them). As of last week, however, there’s a new one. Calvert has started a new campaign called the “Too Big To Fail” campaign, and I was immediately captivated. So I was willing to take a photo, have it uploaded to Facebook with me tagged, and liked Calvert on Facebook for the t-shirt saying “Too Big To Fail” under a giant graphic of the earth.

This makes Calvert only the second company to make it into my “interests” on Facebook. Now I’m not sure what I want to do about it. I do like Calvert, which is a good thing since my IRA is with them and we plan to open a Washington DC 529 plan since that’s the one they manage. Social investing is really important to me. But am I willing to be free advertising for them? Not sure. On my website I have a short list of online retailers that I like. I put it there because I used to get asked a lot where I go to buy organic clothing, etc. I had forgotten about the list but now I think I’m going to take it down because, again, I’m not sure I’m willing to be free advertising for them.

On the other hand, is it really a compromise of my values to promote companies that align with my values? I can walk around in jeans all day every day without anyone realizing that they are organic cotton and entirely made-in-America, so just buying the jeans doesn’t help expand the LOHAS market base much. But, adding a third hand here, promoting a company doesn’t necessarily improve awareness of an issue, which in the  case of the jeans would be intense pesticide use on cotton and sweatshop labor. That’s theoretically what this blog is for (among the hundreds of similar blogs out there).

All this just to decide if I should “like” the companies that I purchase from on Facebook. I think I think too much! What do you think? 🙂

Posted November 18, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, money, musings, shopping

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Leveraging Charitable Donations   Leave a comment

Every year in November, my co-workers and I get lots of reminders that we have until the end of the month to submit our charitable contribution matching forms for the year. I don’t know how common it is for companies to match their employees donations to charitable organizations, but it comes to mind now as a great offer to take advantage of if you are one of the lucky. Sometimes I feel silly sending in my piddly little check to be matched. It almost feels like there’s no point in matching such a small amount (relatively speaking). But then I remind myself that if I’m donating $40 to the scholarship fund, the fund is getting $80. It may still be a small amount, but it is less small.

The employer matching program is just one way that I try to leverage my charitable contributions. Another is a credit card that makes a donation to charitable organization(s) for every purchase that you make, or one issued by a community lending bank. A frequent topic (or side-topic) in personal finance blogs is shopping for rewards cards in such a way as to maximize your benefits. I, on the other hand, deliberately chose a credit card that gives charitable donations to a whole list of companies. (Although at some point in the last couple of years it also seems to have gained some kind of rewards points.) To me that is the reward: lots of charitable donations to a wide variety of organizations. Granted, some of them are organizations that I wouldn’t personally donate to, but when I vote each year on the amount that goes to each charity I just don’t vote for them. There’s at least one phone company (CREDO) that does the same for cell phones and long distance. And then there’s the list of over a thousand companies that participate in “1% for the planet” or some other kind of give-back. That’s a lot of ways to facilitate financial support for charitable organizations.

I also like the back-door method, which is to deliberately purchase products from companies that “do good”. That’s a major point for fair trade certification. That’s also one of the benefits to buying something made by someone locally rather than from a factory in a cheap-labor country. I consider that spending a little bit more on a product so that the producers make enough money to not need charity or other outside support, is a good thing.

Posted November 8, 2011 by mayakey in fair trade, money

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Do You Like Your Energy Utility Companies?   1 comment

When I was renting my house, I liked my electric utility, SMUD. The rates seemed fine, especially compared to PG&E rates that would occassionally get published in the newspaper in a summer-time story about someone getting a $2,000 electric bill. I was very happy that SMUD has 50% and 100% Greenergy options (renewable energy). It should be obvious that we’re enrolled in the 100% Greenergy program. I knew that they ranked well in customer satisfaction surveys (according to the website: 1st in California and 2nd in the nation for 2010). And I hadn’t had any negative experiences myself, nor heard of any from friends or coworkers.

Then we became homeowners. Now I have to say that I love my electric utility. And that started right away. This house actually didn’t have an electric meter installed before we bought it due to a lien on the previous owner or something like that. But in order to close on the house with an FHA loan, the electric connection had to be restored. How/why none of the real estate agents, appraiser, or loan officer didn’t catch that slight detail before the week we were going to close, I don’t know. To make a long story short our agent somehow managed to get a building inspector out to the house the following morning (usually takes 1-2 days), and then a SMUD installer out that afternoon (usually takes 7-14 days). I don’t know how she did it, or why SMUD was actually willing to send an installer on such short notice, but I am very grateful. (The rush was an attempt to meet the June 30 deadline for the first-time homebuyer tax credit.)

After we bought the house we had to buy appliances. Since we weren’t replacing anything we couldn’t take advantage of any of the Cash-for-Appliances programs; but SMUD had a separate rebate for an energy efficient washing machine. And when our water agency ran out of funding for their half of the joint rebate program for the washing machine, SMUD sent us the application for an alternative rebate program. Then we planted two free shade trees in our front yards, with possible plans to plant a third this year. Then I got this home energy audit, which is a $500 home energy audit that cost me $99 because SMUD reimburses the contractor for the remainder. I know there are other rebates, some of which we might be able to take advantage of like the Cool Roof rebate (since we are looking at having to reroof anyway), or whole house fan rebate. And if I ever decide to buy carbon offsets, I can look into their carbon offset program.

One of my only disappointments has been the slow roll-out of new smart meters. I probably shouldn’t complain since PG&E’s earlier roll-out was a disaster with lots of defective meters. But now we have a smart meter, and hopefully we’ll be able to get detailed/down to the hour energy usage data through our online account soon.

Posted July 21, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, environment, home, money

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Put Your Money Where Your Values Are   1 comment

This time of year the air is filled with… “donate now and save on your taxes.” The emphasis on donating near the end of the year has always amused me. The holidays are already busy, so why add the stress of last-minute charitable donations? For me personally, a system of donating throughout the year works quite well. With a few tweaks here and there I’ve been using the same system for the last decade.

After I graduated from college I quickly learned that it is really really easy to get inundated with requests for money from both good and questionable organizations, and that a strategy was necessary to balance limited money/requests for money. I decided to go with a charity-of-the-month type system. It allows me to donate small amounts of money to a variety of organizations; and it gives me time to research those organizations and an excuse to say “no” to the more questionable organizations.

How to select those 12-or-so organizations? That has been mostly half-hazard, and I’m not exactly satisfied with the current list. Every year I review the list, and it has evolved over time, but it really comes down to the fact that I’m not putting my money where my values are. At least not all of them.

In the category of education (and also the category of I-use-them-a-lot) is the local NPR station and Wikipedia. These are both invaluable to me on a daily basis, so I donate money to them. We don’t watch much PBS right now, but that may change in the future with kids.

We also give money to organizations that work to alleviate domestic and global poverty through active work, activism, grants and microfinance; that support victims of abuse; that provide college scholarships, and that support soldiers stationed abroad. Oh, and one environmental organization: California Native Plant Society, of which I am a member. Why haven’t I donated to Rocky Mountain Institute, or NRDC, or Environmental Working Group? I don’t know, since these are organizations that I support in theory. I do volunteer time with Weed Warriors/American River Parkway Foundation, but I haven’t donated any money.

And then there’s my church, which feels like a wallet vacuum cleaner, even though I know first hand that the money is desperately needed. It is definitely time for me to re-evaluate my list and make some changes.

Posted December 11, 2010 by mayakey in money

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SRI Is Not All Negative   Leave a comment

I recently read a magazine article that mentioned and dismissed SRI on the grounds that negative screens aren’t a good tool for finding good investments (in all senses of the word). I am so sick of seeing and hearing SRI dismissed as useless because people only think it involves negative screening! Or I’ll have someone tell me that SRI funds invest in Wal-Mart (or whatever), proving that they’re no different from any other fund. Yes, they do invest in Wal-Mart (or whatever), so that they can engage in shareholder activism.

For those not familiar with the terms, SRI means socially responsible investing or sustainable & responsible investing.  It is essentially based on the theory that companies that do good (or don’t do bad), do well financially in the long term. It is also based on the theory that as part-owners, investors have a responsibility to push companies in a positive direction. This usually revolves around social, environmental, and corporate governance issues. There are three basic strategies to SRI: negative screens, positive screens, and shareholder advocacy.

Negative screening means excluding companies that do not meet a specific criteria. For example, there are funds that exclude companies involved in tobacco or weapons manufacture. Or divestment strategies like the one used to help bring about the end of apartheid in South Africa, where investors stopped investing in companies that supported the apartheid.

Positive screening means including only companies that meet specific criteria. For example, investing only in companies that have effective pollution prevention programs or that have good health and safety track records. Some funds invest only in companies involved in renewable energy, or companies demonstrating gender equality around the world.

Shareholder advocacy means using the power of part-ownership to push for change. Shareholders can introduce and vote on shareholder resolutions. I’m not well versed in the rules for such things, but apparently if a shareholder resolution wins as little as 10-20% of the vote that is usually enough to cause the company’s management to address the issue. Shareholder resolutions can be about things like preparing a greenhouse gas inventory, limiting executive compensation, or promoting diversity.

Personally, I just invest in a couple of funds that use SRI strategies since I’m not comfortable getting into individual stock investments with my limited knowledge (and time). There are lots of options, and you don’t have to sacrifice financial returns. The green fund in my retirement plan at work is recovering from the recession more strongly than the other funds in the plan. It really is possible to have your cake and eat it too. Check out the Social Investment Forum for more info.

Posted November 24, 2010 by mayakey in advocacy, conscious living, money

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