Guest post: how to save money on your health insurance costs

HOW TOAs discussed in Wednesday’s post, our home budget has been a real focus for me as we kick off this new year and I shared a few of the tips and tricks I’m currently using to keep better track of our finances. For us, health insurance was one thing we couldn’t cut back completely given J’s therapy needs, but I really believe in trying to get the best bang for your health insurance buck – so the nice folks at Health Insurance Comparison have penned this guest post on ways you can save money on your health insurance costs. Belinda xx

If you’re looking to cut back on your outgoings, you may be wondering what kind of health insurance you can get for your money. While it’s true that you won’t be able to afford top level health insurance on a budget, there are ways to make your cover go as far as possible.

Buy As Soon As You Can Afford To

The Australian Government’s Lifetime Health Cover (LHC) initiative means that when you buy private hospital cover affects the amount that you’ll pay for it. For every year that you delayed beyond the age of 30, a 2 per cent loading fee is added to your premiums. Waiting until you are 4o will mean that you ultimately pay 20 per cent more for your health insurance compared to someone who bought their cover before the age of 30.

Review Your Cover Regularly

As your family’s situation changes, your health insurance needs will also be affected. This can be a good time to downgrade your policy to get rid of services that are no longer important but you may also need to look at upgrading your cover to avoid out-of-pocket costs for hospital and/or Extras services that are now needed.

At a bare minimum, you should assess your policy at least once per year to check that it’s still covering the most appropriate services for your needs. Where possible, it pays to try to second guess which services your family may need in the coming year to avoid being caught out by waiting periods. Major Dental and Orthodontics are two areas of Extras cover that typically have a 12-month waiting period, for example.

Downgrade Your Cover

If you’ve already got health insurance, you may be paying for services that you don’t need. This is often the case with top level health insurance policies, which may have been bought for obstetrics. Once you’re at the stage whereby you no longer require obstetrics services, you may be able to switch to a lesser level of cover without compromising on the services that you do need.

Top level cover will also include a range of age-related services such as joint replacement surgery, cardiac services and cataract surgery; all of which become more likely as you get older. Downgrading to a mid or basic level policy that does not need include these services is another opportunity to save on your premiums without affecting your cover.

Pay By Direct Debit

Some health funds will offer a slight discount on your premiums if you agree to pay them by Direct Debit. This is typically around the 4 per cent mark.

Is Budget Health Insurance Worth It?

Even if you’re not particularly bothered about having hospital cover to skip the queues, the financial benefits may appeal. An eligible hospital policy will exempt you from paying the Medicare Levy Surcharge, if your household income means that you will otherwise have to pay it. An ‘eligible’ hospital policy is one that has an excess of $500 or less for singles and $1000 or less for couples and families.

Bear in mind that Medicare does not cover many out-of-hospital services, including dental and optical (except for eye tests performed by qualified optical specialists), many forms of therapy and emergency ambulance (in some states). Some degree of Extras cover is therefore advisable to avoid out-of-pocket costs if your family needs to access services that are not available through Medicare. Basic Extras policies will have relatively low annual limits for services, which can lead to out-of-pocket costs if you go beyond them.

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At HealthInsuranceComparison.com.au, we’re all about helping you to understand health insurance so that you can find the best cover for your needs and budget. Whether you’re just trying to get a feel for the type of policies that are out there or you’ve already got a good idea of what you want, we’ll help you to get the best value for money.

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How to live on a budget (without your head exploding)

howtoliveonabudgetSo now that I’m in the land of self-employment, I’ve recently updated our family budget to make sure we can cover the essentials while my income has become more intermittent.

Jumping from a decent fortnightly part-time wage to a scenario that relies on payment of invoices required me to a complete rethink of what’s necessary for us as a family and what’s not and how being more mindful with our money has lots of far-reaching benefits, that really have nothing to do with how much money is actually entering the bank account.

The fact that first got me thinking about this was when last year I took on an extra day in the office and although I had an updated budget and we hoped to whittle away a bit of savings, it really didn’t happen and we ended up living pay to pay just as we had been. What was happening was that I was so stretched in terms of time and the stress of juggling it all, that our mindless spending went through the roof – an extra day of buying lunches as I wasn’t organised at home, extra coffees at work, a few extra takeaways here and there, last minute dashes to shops. All things that I wasn’t necessary budgeting for and that were not the best use of our money. While I knew that my change to self-employment would be tough financially – at least initially – I was looking forward to getting to know our money a bit better and making it work for us, rather than the other way around. 

Now, almost a month into the new regime and I’m starting to get into the rhythm of our new budget and I thought I’d share what’s working for us and how I’m trying to make it as stress free as possible.

Creating a family budget

My first step was to create a realistic budget based on our regular income to cover our day-to-day expenses and make it all add up! I have always used an excel spreadsheet for this, but this year I decided to look around at budgeting apps for something more portable and easy to update. I found Good Budget through some googling and browsing the app store and I like how it was simple to set up and use. I set it up with our weekly income amount and then created ‘envelopes’ of budgeted amounts for each of our expenses. As the money is spent, withdrawn or direct debited from our bank account, I go into the app and withdraw the money from the appropriate envelope. It’s super simple and gives me a snapshot of what’s been paid and what’s left each week ( you can set it to whatever your pay period is). For me, it’s working a whole lot better than my previous spreadsheet system and it’s working well to keep me accountable – the next step is for Mr P to download it to his phone, so he can also check in on what’s been paid and what hasn’t yet.

Tracking your bills

The next part of my system is tracking our bills. I’ve now got a system that as soon as the bill enters the house, the amount and due date are entered into another app I found (look, I’m a bit app crazy!) called Pocket Expense. This then lists and totals the bills coming up in the next 30 days and I set a reminder for each one, so I don’t miss it. Using these two apps in tandem is working for me at the moment – as I know one is for day-to-day spending and one is for longer term bills and for us these are coming from different accounts so it seems to work quite well for now. Having one place where the list of upcoming bills sit has helped me feel more organised and plan these payments in advance.

Menu planning and grocery shopping

Mr P’s pay cycle is weekly, so I’ve moved from doing a fortnightly shop to weekly and only buy what I need for the week ahead. This has meant I now write a quick meal plan on our whiteboard and then a corresponding shopping list. As much as I loathe grocery shopping, the weekly shop is much quicker than my previous fortnightly shop and having a strict budget to stick to means I try and make the most of specials and seasonal produce. I’ve actually been enjoying cooking much more since making this change and taking into account what activities and social events we have scheduled for the week, and planning the menu accordingly, affects what menu I plan and what we spend.

Having fun on a budget

Knowing we only have a certain amount of money to spend on outings and social activities means that we look for things that are free or really cheap and the good news is that there’s heaps out there to do that doesn’t cost a cent. Our big goal this year is to spend more time outdoors with the kids and already this year we’ve been exploring national parks near home, walking and bike riding on local tracks and packing picnics to enjoy in the park. We’ve been inviting people around for no-frills barbecues that don’t require heaps of money or prep and really focusing on what matters to us – spending time with each other as a family and catching up with friends more regularly.

Keep an eye on your financial goals

A good motivator for me is what the end goal of sticking to this budget and keeping our family debt to a minimum will be. At the moment the big goal is to be able to sustain my business in its start-up stage so I can keep working for myself. This might not seem like a big goal, but for us it’s the one that most aligns with our family goals. Once my income from the business is more steady, it will be time to set a new, measurable goal. Think about what you’d most like to achieve right now? Is it reducing household debt, saving for a new car or getting a certain amount of savings in the bank? This is a good way to set your intention and motivation.

So that’s a bit of an overview of how we’re attempting to live on a budget this year – I’m sure to keep you updated with how we’re going, but for now I’d love to hear from you – what are your best tips for living on a budget? 

Towards mindful family living

Mindful Family LivingHappy New Year, my fellow Sanity Savers!

I always love the freshness of a new year. It always feels like the slate can be wiped clean and you can start the year in the way you want your life to be. I know new year resolutions can get a bad rap, but I relish the holiday down time to slow down and make some intentions for the new year. This year is one I know will be different and that’s due to some big changes I made as 2014 drew to a close.

I quit my job

In the dying days of 2014 I walked into my boss’s office and quit my job. I’d love it if it was that simple, that one day I decided that I would resign and marched right in there and did it. However, I am never that decisive so the move followed months of weighing up pros and cons, of planning, budgeting, dreaming and scheming. All the layers of my decision making process intertwined and proved to me beyond reasonable doubt that it was the move I had to make – for myself, for my family and for my career.

The final weeks of 2014 were a flurry of tying up loose ends, farewells and Christmas planning so sitting here now feels very much like a new beginning. While previously I’ve been a freelance writer on the side of my part-time job as a journalist, this year it’s all up to me as to how much money I earn and what my work/life balance looks like. While I’ve been hankering for this kind of freedom for a long while, it also presents a myriad of challenges – how to live an inspired life on less, how to stay motivated when working from home and how to create an organised and distraction free home (as it will now also be my place of business!). 

Towards Mindful Family Living

If I was to sum it all up, my big goal for this year is to create a mindful family life – living with intention and making choices that support our family’s values, aspirations and dreams. A big part of that is continuing to look for ways to stress less and look after myself so that I can be the best mother I can to my boys. I want to introduce systems that tame the chaos of our family life. I want to live adventurously and explore new outdoor activities as a family. I want to make the best use of my time and free myself from frazzled. I want to stick to a budget that allows us the means to plan for our future. I want to make good food choices for myself and my family. And lastly, I want to share how I go about that with you, so you too can start to explore what mindful family living looks like for you.

So, who’s with me? I’d love to hear what the new year holds for you and what changes you want to make to live more mindfully in 2015.

Photograph: Alicia Summer Photography.