Today’s post is for the ladies. I hate clothes shopping. I don’t love spending money. There are many things on which I’m not willing to spend much money, but there are three items that I will absolutely not be skimp on: bras, annual exams, traveling alone at night.

Buy Well-Fitting Bras
I know, you can go to the drugstore and get a bra in a cardboard container for $15, but I don’t suggest it. I’m also not saying you need to spend $300 on the La Perla lace dream. However, you should make a point of visiting a store to be properly fitted at least once a year and plan on spending at least $50 on a good, basic, well-fitting bra. Trust me, it’s better for your body and your other clothes will fit better. Wearing an ill-fitting bra not only makes you look dumpy.

How to Get Fitted
You’ll have to comfortable having a woman measure you, but this is okay. I recommend visiting Nordstrom or a specialty bra store known for fitting women of all sizes. Nordstorm saleswomen go through extensive training before they start fitting bras. Victoria’s Secret says they fit bras, but they don’t carry all sizes, so they can’t truly fit you for the correct size.

Each brand will fit a little different, so you may have to go up or down one cup size for a proper fit. That’s fine. Don’t, however, buy the claim that you can wear a 36A if they’re out of 34Bs. The cup may be the same size, but the bra isn’t. Visit a store that has your size.

Get Annual Exams – Even If You Don’t Have Insurance
If you don’t have insurance, your annual pap smear can be expensive. Given the discomfort involved, you might see your lack of insurance as a boon and opt to skip the exam. Don’t. Most communities have low-cost women’s health clinics or you can visit Planned Parenthood (they provide all kinds of care involving reproductive health.)

You should get an annual exam even if you don’t need birth control, have been monogamous, or aren’t currently sexually active. A pap smear is still the only way to check for cervical cancer. Although most cervical cancers are caused by HPV, some aren’t, so you need to be checked even if you’ve never had HPV. You’ll also receive a breast exam while there, which is another key to maintaining good health.

Stay Safe When Traveling Alone at Night
When I’m in a big city, I don’t mind walking or taking mass transit, except at night. If I’m traveling alone at night, I opt for a cab. Yes, the subway is cheaper than a cab, but it’s not safe to ride alone late at night. You never know what might happen. You should be safe on the bus, but waiting at a deserted bus stop can be dangerous.

If you’re driving along the highway late at night, don’t stop at rest stops to use the restroom. Always wait for a restaurant or gas station with a 24-hour attendant. People have been murdered at rest stops during the night. Don’t take the chance. If you have to buy something in order to use the bathroom, do it. The cost of a cup of coffee or a candy bar is a small price to pay for safety.

I’ll admit that I’ve bought cheap bras and been tempted to ride the subway at night. Fortunately, I let my comfort and safety outweigh my desire to save money. Ladies, if there are three areas where you sacrifice frugality for your greater good, these are them.

I have generous health insurance through my employer, which covers me and my spouse (and dependents, were I to have any) without cost to us. My husband also has free coverage for himself through his employer. That’s served us well in the past when our employers bought insurance through different insurers. My insurance counted payments from his primary coverage toward his deductible under my plan. They also covered the portion we would have paid as a deductible under his plan. They then covered the 30% gap in coverage, so we paid almost nothing for his care. Unfortunately, that will all change in January when we will both be covered through the same insurance company, but under different employers. Depending on how your coverage works, double coverage could save you a small fortune, or it could cost you one.

Choosing a Primary Insurance Provider
If you and your spouse both have coverage, you can opt for double-coverage under your plans. Some employers require you to pay to cover a spouse and dependents, some don’t. However, there are some tricky aspects to choosing a primary insurance provider. Your employer’s insurance is your primary, and the same for your spouse’s insurance through his or her employer.

If you have children, you can add them to either or both plans. If you had them to both plans, the insurance for whichever spouse has the earlier birthday in the year will be primary. If you were born May 5 and your spouse was born May 6, your insurance would be primary. The year of birth or age of the spouse is irrelevant.

Paying Deductibles
Deductibles can be tricky. Some will use deductible payments under one plan as deductible payments under the other, and some won’t. Now that my husband and I will have insurance from the same insurer, we’ll have to pay two deductibles in order for him to receive coverage under both plans. That brings our total out-of-pocket from $500 to $750 if we use both plans for him.

The Co-Pay Gap
Typically, you’ll pay the basic co-pay when you visit a doctor and the insurance pays the rest. This is true even with double coverage (only one co-pay is required, not two.) However, most plans only cover a portion of non-basic care, tests, etc. For example, my plan covers 90% and I pay 10%. My husband’s covers 70% and he pays 30%. Under our old double coverage, my insurance picked up that other 30%, so we paid nothing. Under our new double coverage, my insurance will only pay the gap between mine and his, so they’ll pay 20%, leaving us to pay 10%. Frankly, my employer is getting cheated on that one.

When Does It Make Sense to Use Both Policies
Since we’ve already covered our deductibles for the year, those will carry over to the new plan until the end of 2009. My husband can continue to use both policies to cover 90% of our costs. Once we get into 2010, we’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to submit claims under the secondary insurance. So let’s do the math:

Basic care: Same co-pay, same coverage. There’s no benefit to using both plans for basic care.
Prescriptions: Same co-pay, same coverage. No benefit.
Expensive tests: Here’s where it could get tricky. Let’s say he needs a test that costs $1000. If it’s his first test of the year, we’d owe $500 and his insurance would pay the rest (the 30% is included in the $500). If we also submitted my insurance, we’d actually pay $750 for it.
Surgery: What if he needed surgery, which could easily run into the thousands of dollars. We’ll say $12,000 to be conservative. If his deductible hadn’t been met, we’d pay $500 for that, plus $3100 for his contribution. If we then added my plan, we’d pay $750 for the two deductibles, but the secondary insurance would kick in an additional 20%, so our contribution would only be $1200. In this case, the double-coverage would save us $1650.

Alternative Care: Most policies will cover a portion of a certain number of chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy, or mental health visits in a year. With double coverage, he can get covered up to the combined limit for both policies, so rather than 24 visits, he qualifies for 48. However, first we’d have to figure out whether the additional deductible would be less than or equal to the amount covered by the secondary insurer.

If you can get free secondary coverage from your or your spouse’s employer, you should consider accepting during your next open enrollment period in case a major emergency arises, but be careful how you use it on a regular basis. Make sure that the coverage gap will cost more than the extra deductible before you submit that second claim.

I’m extremely near-sighted and have sensitive eyes, so I’m fortunate that my employer provides vision insurance. If you don’t have it, it may not be worth it to buy it on your own, but you should take advantage of it if your employer offers it. Ask your HR department for details of your plan, but this is a review of what it typically includes.

Vision Insurance Benefits
Although the exact levels of coverage vary, most policies cover at least the following:

Optometrist Exam and Fitting
If you wear glasses or contacts, then you should visit the optometrist annually. Even if your vision is fairly stable, your prescription may change slightly from year to year. If you wear glasses, it may not be too noticeable, but it can be very noticeable with contacts. Most vision insurance plans cover the exam and follow-up visits for fitting, with a reasonable co-pay of $10-$25.

Glasses
You can buy the frames and lenses directly from your optometrist. Most plans offer at least a $100 reimbursement towards the cost of glasses or contacts. Some plans will cover select frames and lenses in full.

Contact Lenses
Most plans will reimburse up to $100 a year if you opt for contact lenses in lieu of glasses. Some plans will cover two sets of contact lenses (four boxes) in full if you buy brands that are included in the brand. If you need specialized lenses, they will typically reimburse a portion.

If you have both glasses and contacts, consider which is the better benefit. You may not need to replace the frames every year, in which case four boxes of contacts may be cheaper than new lenses for your glasses. Or maybe you need new glasses, and can spread your contacts purchase throughout the year to take less of a hit up front.

Individual Vision Insurance
If you have an individual health plan rather than insurance through your employer, you may not be offered vision insurance. Even if you are, it may not be worth it unless it’s less than $10 a month. If you have to pay more than $10 a month for the coverage and only have a $100 materials reimbursement and an exam co-pay, you’d save about $100 a year if you choose expensive contacts. If you choose cheap contacts, then you might save $40 a year. If you only receive a discount on services and lenses, then vision insurance isn’t worth the cost. You’d probably be better off buying a Costco membership and receiving vision services there.

If you have employer-provided health insurance that doesn’t include vision insurance, your best bet is to put aside money each month for your vision needs rather than attempting to buy a vision plan on its own.

This post is for the ladies. Men really only have one birth control method available to them: condoms. Women have many more options available, but as most women can tell you, birth control isn’t typically cheap. If you want to save a little money without risking parenthood (or another child), here are some cheap birth control options that are also reliable.

Generic Birth Control Pills
If you can tolerate a generic brand of birth control pills, then they may actually be a frugal option. Now before someone argues that generic medications are just as effective as non-generics, that is true of generic birth control pills. However, from personal experience and my doctor’s experience, I can tell you that generic versions often produce negative side effects. One of my doctors refused to prescribe generics because she had too many patient complaints.

Free Sample Birth Control Pills
If your OB/GYN is nice, she may agree to give you free packs of pills every few months. They receive tons of samples, and are usually willing to give them to patients who ask. Since most non-generics cost at least $35 a month, several months of free samples can save you serious cash.

Fertility Awareness Method
Once you know the method and have a basal body thermometer, this method is free (well, you’ll need a pencil and paper, too.) Basically, the Fertility Awareness Method (AKA Natural Family Planning, NFP, or FAM) tracks your morning temperature and other fertility signs like cervical mucus and cervix position to determine when you’re fertile and when you’re not. You either avoid sex or use a backup method like condoms when you’re fertile.

Note, I only recommend this birth control method for committed couples in long-term relationships because it does carry a higher risk of accidental pregnancy if you misread the signs or get carried away by the moment. If you want to learn more, read Taking Charge of Your Fertility  (the library should have it.) You can also check out Fertility Friend for free online tracking, or Ovusoft for affordable software ($39 one-time.)

The advantage to this method is that you can immediately start using it to help you conceive once you’re ready to have a baby. You’re also not pumping artificial hormones into your body.

This is not the same as the Rhythm Method. That relies solely on the calendar. Since most women don’t ovulate on exactly the 14th day of their cycle and sperm can survive up to five days in the female body, it’s also very ineffective. You also can’t get by with taking your temperature only. Your temperature confirms ovulation, but it doesn’t predict ovulation. You must use both temperature and mucus tracking to be accurate.

Condoms
Condoms are pretty cheap and are 98% effective when used properly. Unfortunately, most of us do not use them properly. Read the instructions on the box to see whether you’re actually using them right. If you are, then they’re a perfect option for you. If not, start using them correctly.

Those are pretty much all of the cheap birth control methods. Some people will also mention Withdrawal, but I don’t recommend it. Some couples choose to combine the Fertility Awareness Method with the Withdrawal method (during fertile times.) Teenagers are also foolhardy enough to use this method. Technically it’s free. However, it is also frequently results in pregnancy. Abortions or babies aren’t free. Don’t use this method. Don’t even think about it.

Diaphragms, IUDs, implants, and cervical caps are generally effective, but they’re not cheap. They may be cheaper than non-generic birth control pills, though. An IUD is about $150-$500 to insert, but it lasts for several years. If you plan to use it for more than five years, then it starts to become a cheap birth control method.

Obviously, if you’re not in a committed, long-term, monogamous relationship, then condoms are your only safe option. It’s a good thing they’re pretty cheap. If you’re not willing to risk a baby, then the Pill is more affordable than other options. If you and your partner are willing to accept a slightly higher risk of pregnancy and are comfortable with your body, then FAM is the best cheap option.

If you have a flexible spending account that operates on a calendar-year, then you need to make sure you’ve spent down the entire balance by December 31. Any funds left in the account will vanish on January 1. Here are some tips for spending down the balance in the last few weeks of the year.

Visit the Doctor, Dentist, Etc.
Co-pays and doctor fees qualify as flexible spending account expenses. If you’ll soon be due for a physical or need a dental check-up, eye exam, or anything else that involves seeing a medical professional, schedule those appointments to occur before December 31. School breaks are very popular times to take the kids to the doctor, so call to make your appointment now.

Buy Medical Supplies
Check your stock of contacts and order more, even if you won’t need them for a few months. This is also a good time to replace your glasses. You can also spend FSA funds on things like contact solution, bandages, OTC medications for allergies and other defined conditions. If you visit CVS, they print the total of eligible expenses at the bottom of the receipt. Use your CVS card so you can log-on to check the amount of eligible purchases.

See a Psychiatrist or Psychologist
The holidays can be stressful. If you’re feeling the need for therapy, squeeze in a couple of appointments before the end of the year.

Quit Smoking
If you’ve been wanting to quit, this is two ways to save money. Not only can you use FSA funds to pay for the program, but you’ll save money on future cigarette purchases. At $5-7 a pack, that adds up quickly.

Refill Prescriptions
Although most prescriptions can only be filled once every 30 days, you probably have time to fill each one at least one more time. Even if it’s a medication you don’t take frequently, refill it now to help draw down your balance.

Get Acupuncture or See a Chiropractor
Do you have allergies? Back pain? Stress? Many FSA programs cover acupuncture and chiropractic. See these specialists now to start treating your issues. I know from personal experience that both can be extremely effective for certain issues.

Thinking about LASIK?
If you have a lot of money left and have been thinking about LASIK, go for a consultation. If you qualify, and can fit in the appointment for the last week of the year, you’ll not only spend down the balance, but be able to receive treatment without missing a lot of work or taking additional vacation time.

Your plan may allow additional items, so review your limits carefully and then head to the nearest discount store to stock up medical supplies that qualify. Just make sure you don’t buy so much that it will expire before you can use it up.

If you have trouble spending down the balance, consider putting away less next year. Although it’s nice to be able to reduce your taxable by contributing to a flexible spending account, it doesn’t work in your favor if you lose the money at the end of the year.

Yesterday was pretty exhausting for everyone. So, today’s post focuses on the things we can do something about, like checking on our open enrollment periods and fighting back against commercials that assume American consumers are idiots.

Open Enrollment Reminder
Guardian Unlimited produced a video starring Mia Hamm about open enrollment. You might not want to check your 401K holdings this week, but you should make sure your health insurance still meets your needs.

Who is KFC Kidding?
I can’t find the commercial on YouTube yet, but last night I saw a horrifying KFC commercial. The “$10 Challenge” featured a family going into a grocery store with a calculator to try to make a fried chicken dinner for less than $10. The young daughter asked the butcher “Seven pieces of chicken cost how much?” Then a whole package of flour went into the cart. The  young son mentioned the 11 herbs and spices. Then the mom triumphantly held up her calculator and announced that KFC’s $10 meal was cheaper than cooking yourself.

Seriously? Are they kidding? Sure, if they had to buy every ingredient every night, eating out would be cheaper. Last time I checked, fried chicken doesn’t require five pounds of flour and a whole chicken can be had for around $7 (four pounds). Odds are pretty good that the average family already has most of the fried chicken ingredients on hand for their dinner. So, KFC’s target demographic is apparently customers who throw out all remaining ingredients after they make a single meal.

Even if I could eat KFC (which I can’t due to food intolerances), the insulting nature of this commercial would be enough to make me stop. But in case anyone doubted, yes, you can make dinner for four for $10. The fine Top Chef contestants managed to do it, and it was even gourmet. If you want a KFC-style dinner with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and homemade biscuits,  open your pantry. You probably already have the ingredients you need except for the chicken and potatoes. Go one better than the commercial and use real potatoes, not potato flakes. Maybe, if you’ve got a buck left after the “exorbitant” cost of fresh, whole ingredients, serve green beans or another fresh vegetable, too.

Who is Big Corn Trying to Fool?
And then there are the new high-fructose corn syrup commercials. Once again – really? Who are they kidding? Are they really trying to convince us that their product is natural? How dumb do they think we are?

So now you’ve done something productive and transferred your rage to something new. What’s, besides the Bailout/stock market/news/Wall Street has your blood boiling?

What have you decided to take control of in your life?

When people hear “massage” they either think of an overpriced spa or the kind that comes with a happy ending. You may be surprised to learn that you can find affordable massage therapy without visiting the red light district. I did just that and am very pleased with the results.

I was in a car accident several years ago and my neck never fully healed. Every year or two I’d spring for a pricey spa massage, which helped, but it always left me wanting more. This year, I received a spa gift certificate, but I wanted a facial, too. So, I booked myself two appointments – one at a spa where I used the gift certificate for an expensive facial, and a second at an affordable massage center I drive past every day, but had never visited. It changed my life. I didn’t suffer neck pain for months after that first visit. When I did have a sudden spasm, I returned to the same therapist and he worked it right out. I now plan to visit every three months or so. Being pain free is worth $240 a year.

The Benefits of Massage Therapy
Most people are familiar with some of the benefits of massage therapy – such as the instant relaxation – but there are actually many more health benefits than most people realize. Massage is known to:

  • Improve circulation and flexibility
  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Release tension in the neck and shoulders (especially common with desk workers)
  • Shorten the duration of labor (if you have pregnancy massage)
  • Shorten injury recovery time
  • Boost the immune system (because it activates the lymph glands)
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Reduce symptoms of depression

If you’re always busy like me, a massage also provides much-needed quiet time. I lay there, listening to the music, and let my mind drift. I walk away mentally and physically refreshed.

How to Find Affordable Massage Therapy
You can Google for affordable massage therapy, but there’s an even easier way to find it: just keep your eyes open. Look for signs that say “Massage Therapy $39″ or something similar in mini-malls in the nicer parts of town. There are at least two chains of affordable massage therapy chains operating in the Los Angeles area. Smaller cities have them. My mom reports seeing them in her suburb.

If you don’t see one while out and about, I recommend looking at Yelp. Enter “massage” and your zip code. When you’re offered options to refine your search, click the single dollar sign box. That will list the affordable options in your area, and the reviews will help you make a final decision.

Why Are They Affordable?
These centers keep costs down by reducing the frills. My place doesn’t have a locker room or shower. You just change in the massage room and go home to shower. They also don’t have a luxurious waiting room or a large product line to sell.

Once you’re in the massage room, nothing is different. The therapist has the same training as a spa therapist. They’re usually paid the same amount per massage, too. The massage table is just as comfortable, the music is the same, and the lighting is equally dim. I usually tip the same amount I would for a spa massage, because I’m receiving the same service, but it’s still affordable.

The only difference I’ve seen is a longer massage. Rather than the 50-minute hour most spas offer, a 60-minute massage at my center is 60 minutes.

My massage center charges $39 for a regular massage and $49 for a deep tissue massage. At those prices, can you afford not to get one? True, it’s not “cheap,” but it’s certainly more frugal than waiting until your pain, stress, or tension develops into a problem requiring medical care.

Most people remember to check their investments, retirement accounts, and financial goals at the end of the year, but you should also check-in with your finances in the middle of the year to make sure you’re on track. This weekend, take a few minutes to check the following areas.

Retirement Accounts and Savings
If you’ve invested your retirement in index funds, you probably won’t need to do any mid-year rebalancing. You should avoid tinkering with those accounts more than once a year unless one of your investments has collapsed or changed hands. However, this is a great time to increase your retirement savings if you received a raise since the beginning of the year or make a deposit in your IRA if you’ve fallen behind.

Non-Retirement Investments
You should monitor your non-retirement investments more often. If any investments have exceeded your goals or your portfolio is out of balance, now is the time to rebalance. The market is jittery at the moment, so avoid making fear-driven changes, but you may want to remove funds or investments that have changed managers or focuses. If you started with a value fund, and now it’s a growth fund, it’s probably not doing what you want it to do. Replace it with another value fund you’ve carefully researched.

Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts
Some employers enroll employees in HSAs and FSAs in the fall while others do it at the beginning of the year. Regardless of when yours opens to new funds or permits changes in the plan, review your remaining balance now. If you have an FSA that loses the remaining balance at the end of the year, make plans to spend the balance down by the end of the year. Schedule a physical, make an eye appointment, schedule that procedure you’ve been putting off.

If you have an HSA, you don’t have to worry about spending down the funds, but you may want to reconsider your annual contribution if you have a large amount leftover or don’t have enough to get you through the year.

Financial Goals
I check-in with my financial resolutions every month. At the minimum, see how you’re doing with yours at the middle of the year. Are you falling behind on your savings or debt repayment goal? See where you can cut back spending. Have you received a raise? Direct the additional funds toward your goals with automatic deposits and payments. If you’ve already met your goals, set new ones.

Taxes
Has your tax situation changed? You might be subject to a different tax treatment if the following apply:

  • You or your spouse returned to the workfore
  • You or your spouse left the workforce
  • You had a child
  • Your child graduated from college or turned 24 before January 1 of this year
  • Your child started college
  • You or your spouse received a raise
  • You bought or sold a house
  • You started or closed a business
  • You received a bonus or taxable windfall.

If any of the above apply, use the withholding calculator to make sure you’re withholding enough from your paychecks to cover the taxes. If you’re withholding too much, file a new W-4. If you’re not withholding enough, file a new W-4 or start setting money aside in a savings account. Visit the IRS website to determine whether you need to make quarterly payments.

If you take just a few minutes to check in with your finances now, you’ll have fewer surprises at the end of the year. That financial peace of mind will make your summer much happier.

As I said yesterday, voters in six states have had their say on the 2008 presidential candidates. As always, the presidential election is important, but voters this year face very serious issues. No matter where you stand on the issues, it’s important to consider all the candidates and then choose the one who best matches your beliefs.

In advance of Super Tuesday, I’m presenting summaries of the candidates’ statements on economic issues. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order. In order to be included on my list, they must still be in the race and be listed in the national polls at RealClearPolitics. In general, that means they’re polling above 2% nationally.

Most of these are copied from the candidate websites directly, although I had to search the internet for some statements. I relied on CNN’s election center and OntheIssues.org for most of the answers I couldn’t find on the candidates’ sites. Some statements are rephrased for length or clarity (or to cut the campaign rhetoric). I haven’t injected any personal commentary.

Mike Huckabee

Taxes

  • Eliminate all federal income and payroll taxes
  • Supports the FairTax, which will replace the Internal Revenue Code with a national sales tax
  • Provide monthly rebate for sales taxes on purchases up to the poverty line.

Healthcare

  • Make health insurance more portable from one job to another
  • Expand health savings accounts to everyone (currently limited to those with high deductibles)
  • Make health insurance tax deductible for individuals and families
  • Provide tax credits for low income families buying insurance.

Retirement

  • Provide personal retirement accounts proposed by Bush.

Economic Stimulus Package

  • No immediate plan available

Foreclosure

  • Pressure lenders to refinance loans so rates will rise more slowly and affordably
  • Increase regulation of the mortgage industry
  • Ban low teaser rates and stated income loans.

Rudy Giuliani

Taxes

  • Make Bush tax cuts permanent
  • Repeal estate tax
  • Tie Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation.

Healthcare

  • Provide tax deduction of up to $15,000 for families without employer-based health coverage
  • Institute Health Insurance Credit for low-income Americans that can be coupled with other revenue sources such as Medicaid and employer contributions to make coverage more affordable to millions who are uninsured
  • Require availability of low-cost insurance options
  • Repeal state regulations that limit coverage options and increase costs.

Retirement

  • Expand tax-free savings accounts
  • Eliminate the double taxation of individuals’ current savings.

Economic Stimulus Package

  • No plan available

Foreclosure

  • Supports government assistance for victims of predatory or fraudulent lenders.

John McCain

Taxes

  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
  • Make the Bush income and investment tax cuts permanent.

Healthcare

  • Eliminate the tax code bias toward employer-sponsored health insurance
  • Provide all individuals with a $2,500 tax credit ($5,000 for families) to purchase health insurance
  • Allow individuals who buy multi-year policies that cost less than the full credit to deposit remainder in expanded health savings accounts
  • Allow families to purchase nationwide insurance to increase competition and reduce costs
  • Allow individuals to buy insurance through any organization or association that they choose
  • Promote preventative care.

Retirement

  • Supplement the current Social Security system with personal accounts.

Economic Stimulus Package

  • Cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent
  • Allow first-year deduction, or “expensing”, of equipment and technology investments
  • Establish permanent tax credit equal to 10 percent of wages spent on R&D.

Foreclosure

  • No plan available

Ron Paul

Taxes

  • Exempt members of America’s armed forces from income taxes
  • Pass the Liberty Amendment, which repeals the 16th Amendment (income tax amendment)
  • Repeal capital gains and dividends taxes
  • Repeal estate tax
  • Repeal taxes on tips
  • Adopt the FairTax plan, which replaces income tax with national sales tax.

Healthcare

  • Institute medical savings accounts where consumers can save pre-tax dollars
  • MSA would be used to pay for health care expenses, with the patient negotiating directly with the physician of their choice for the care they choose
  • Ensure major-medical insurance policies remains available and affordable for catastrophic care
  • Allow families to claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for the rising cost of health insurance premiums
  • $500 per child tax credit for medical expenses and prescription drugs that are not reimbursed by insurance
  • $3,000 tax credit for dependent children with terminal illnesses, cancer, or disabilities.
  • Waive employee portion of Social Security payroll taxes (or self-employment taxes) for individuals with documented serious illnesses or cancer and suspend Social Security taxes for primary caregivers with a sick spouse or child.

Retirement

  • Ban government borrowing from Social Security trust fund
  • Allow young people to stop contributing to social security
  • Reduce contributions and allow people to invest money themselves
  • Repeal taxes on social security benefits.

Economic Stimulus Package

  • See tax and foreclosure plans.

Foreclosure

  • Repeal tax on mortgage debt discharges (currently, forgiven loan balances are taxes as income)

Mitt Romney

Taxes

  • Repeal tax on interest income, dividend income, or capital gains earned by people earning less than $200,000 a year
  • Make Bush tax cuts permanent
  • Reduce lowest tax rate from 10% to 7.5%
  • Repeal estate tax.

Healthcare

  • Encourage states to eliminate the cumbersome insurance regulations that increase costs and reduce competition
  • Make all health care expenses tax deductible
  • Reduce uninsured emergency room expenditures
  • Use savings from reduced emergency room expenditures to help the needy buy private insurance
  • Support tax deductions to help individuals buy private insurance.

Retirement

  • Support personal retirement accounts
  • Would consider indexing social security benefits to prices rather than wages.

Economic Stimulus Package

  • Institute immediate 100% expensing of equipment for two years
  • Permanently reduce the corporate tax rate
  • Introduce immediate retroactive tax credit reflecting the lower 7.5% tax rate for 2007 earnings to employees who earned less than $97,500 in 2007.

Foreclosure

  • Reform and expand Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan portfolio limits to allow larger loans to homeowners
  • Reduce required down payment
  • Allow FHA to help nonprime borrowers who may not be able to meet the current requirement
  • Raise the maximum loan amount for borrowers in higher-priced areas
  • Expand NeighborWorks foreclosure avoidance initiative.

Apparently the third Monday in January is the saddest day of the year. Researchers determined this because this is the day you’ll receive holiday credit card bills and this is the day most people realize those resolutions have failed. Here are some tips for renewing that resolution to get in shape without busting your budget.

Find a Gym Near Your Office
If you ran out and joined a gym near your house, see if they have a branch near your office that you can either switch to or use as well. That way you can visit the gym on your lunch. Not only does it fit well into your schedule, but you’ll find that you’re more productive in the afternoon. I’m fortunate that I can walk to my gym, but if you don’t have one in walking distance, look for a five-minute drive or less. That will give you enough time to do some real exercise.

Get a Guest Pass
If you haven’t already joined a gym and want to, ask for a one-week guest pass before you join. If you don’t use your guest pass much during that week, don’t join the gym. You can get fit with other options instead

Join with Family Members
Family members usually get a discount, so have yourself added to your spouse’s membership if you’ll actually visit that gym or chain. Not only can you encourage each other, but the second membership will be cheaper and probably won’t require start-up fees.

Ask for a Discount
Gyms are always running specials. Ask for one. If they don’t give you a good deal, walk away. Then go home and research offers online. Most chain gyms display their offers right on their website. Print it out and then go back to talk to the manager.

Hire a Trainer for a Few Sessions
Trainers are expensive, but I was in the best shape of my life after working with a trainer once a week for six months. Alas, I couldn’t maintain the expense, but I did hire one for five weeks recently to show me how to use new machines and learn new techniques. Most gyms have an introductory training special. My gym, 24-Hour Fitness, offer 5 sessions for around $50 for first-time buyers. Yes, you’ll get pressured to buy more sessions, but you can say no.

At the very least, take the free introductory session offered when you join. They’ll cover the basics on using the machines and recommend the right machines for you. Don’t watch other members to learn how to use them because most people use them improperly. At best, you won’t see much improvement. At worst, you’ll get hurt.

Trainers will also help you fine-tune your cardio exercises. Most people do that wrong, too. You don’t have to go at top speed the whole time. In fact, you’ll lose more fat if you vary the pace and change machines from time to time.

Quit if You Hate It or Don’t Go
Most gyms have a cancellation fee, but that fee is much lower than the cost of continuing to pay out the rest of your contract. If you’re simply not going to go, bite the bullet and pay the cancellation fee.

Exercise at Home
As I mentioned yesterday, it’s possible to get in shape at home. All you need is a plastic stool and some free weights. You might also want resistance bands or a balance ball. You can find most of this stuff at Target or a local sporting goods store. Watch the Sunday newspaper ads for sales, or check online. Free weights are usually $1 a pound, but I’ve found them for half that during sales. I recommend the neoprene-covered weights because metal weights can be slippery. Now go online to women’s magazines, men’s magazines, and fitness sites to find free workouts you can print out. Some sites allow you to enter some data to customize them to your needs. Look for routines with pictures or videos so you can see how to do the moves properly.

If you have cable, check your On Demand menu. Mine has several exercise programs, and some of them are very tough. Try several until you settle on one you like. Since these programs are already included in the cost of your cable, this is a free option. Most of the shows don’t require any accessories. You can also check your library for exercise videos.

Walk
If you don’t want to exercise at home or at a gym, consider walking. All you need are walking shoes, a ski hat for colder days, and maybe a sports bra for women (change in the office bathroom.) Most walkers don’t work up a sweat, so you won’t need to shower afterwards. You can easily do it on your lunch hour. If you live in a wet or snowy climate, you can also walk in the mall. Just make sure you leave your money and credit cards in your office, not in your wallet!

Consider Buying Wii Fit
If you already have a Wii, then consider getting Wii Fit. It’s expected to cost around $70 and release later this month. It offers a variety of programs and will track your results. You can also compete with family members. It’s definitely cheaper than joining a gym if you already have a Wii. If the Wii is in your family room, it’s also harder to avoid than the gym.

I work out part time at the gym and part time at home. The combination works well for me. Even if you don’t want to spend a lot, you can find a way to get in shape and keep your budget in good shape, too.

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