Tales from the Wallet: Flexible Spending Plans, Health Spending Plans, and More!

DEUX LUX Jax Glitter Zip WalletWe’ve talked a bit about how you can save big money by making use of different employer-offered perks, such as flexible spending plans, health spending accounts, and more. But as 2012 starts to wind down, and people make their decisions for 2013, I thought now would be a great time to have an open thread. Here are some questions to get the discussion rolling:

  • How much do you put into an flexible spending plans (FSA)? What have you used it on in the past; what will you use it on in 2013?
  • Do you use a Health Spending Account (HSA)? How much do you put into it every year?
  •  What other year-end housekeeping are you doing to your financial health?  What else are you doing to get your ducks in a row for 2013?

(Pictured:DEUX LUX Jax Glitter Zip Wallet, available in four colors at Lord & Taylor for $60.)


  1. Last year I didn’t contribute nearly enough to my HSA – I needed new glasses and we had a lot of visits to the pediatrician. Since my husband will probably need new glasses I’ll be sure to put in enough to cover that. Also, I put in the full amount allowed ($5000) in the dependent care account for daycare expenses.

    I also review how much I owed on each of my students loans from Jan to Dec. The totals are so pathetically similar I generally try to squeeze out a little extra in lump payments at the end of the year as well as increase, however slightly, the monthly payments for the new year.

  2. I have a healthcare FSA and a commuter parking fsa. These days the healthcare FSA covers less and less, but I’ve used it to buy 2 pairs of glasses, prescriptions and sunscreen. When I left my last job, I had $30 left in the account so I immediately went out and stocked up on sunscreen. The glasses I’m wearing now were my last purchase on the FSA I had with the previous employer.

  3. K...in transition :

    The one year I had the option, I knew I was going to have lasek (yep, lasek, not lasik) so I paid in the full amount possible and used it all (and then some) for the procedure. If I ever have it as an option again, I think I’ll try to get a good guess of what I’ll do or need to do before contributing. Though it’s great if you use it, I’ve known too many who waste money at the end of the year just trying to use it before it’s gone, which is really wasteful to me!

  4. I Do Not Like the Cone of Shame :

    I never really got into Flexible Spending Accounts – it stressed me out too much to try and use it up by the end of the year. I’m single, and don’t have many medical expenses.

    But Health Spending Accounts (HSAs) rock. My last employer had them – basically, your insurance plan has a really high deductible (which didn’t count for certain annual wellness exams). Both you and your employer contribute pre-tax (combined maximum allowed by the IRS is $3,100 for a single person in 2012). For my employer, they offered a HSA and a regular insurance plan – the HSA I contributed $25 a pay period (which went into the HSA, and the employer contributed also, all adding up to $3,100 a year) or for the regular insurance I contributed $50 a month (which went nowhere).

    But here’s the best part – if you don’t use up the $3,100 HSA in that year, it rolls over. So you could theoretically bank a giant HSA fund (and it’s all pre-tax, baby) and use it in future years when you are older and theoretically sicker. You could switch back to a regular insurance the next year, and still use those HSA funds. You can leave the employer, and still use those HSA funds.

    The giant deductible was hard to accept initially. It’s more palatable if you don’t use medical services that often and can bank up a lot in your HSA before something happens. As luck would have it, I broke my leg on the third day of being in the plan. But there are ways to deal with it – such as you pay the deductible, and later get reimbursed by the HSA when the funds build up over time.

    • I Do Not Like the Cone of Shame :

      (Corrected version)

      I never really got into Flexible Spending Accounts – it stressed me out too much to try and use it up by the end of the year. I’m single, and don’t have many medical expenses.

      But Health Spending Accounts (HSAs) rock. My last employer had them – basically, your insurance plan has a really high deductible (which didn’t count for certain annual wellness exams). Both you and your employer contribute pre-tax (combined maximum allowed by the IRS is $3,100 for a single person in 2012). For my employer, they offered a HSA or a regular insurance plan:

      (1) HSA I contribute $25 a pay period (which went into the HSA, and the employer contributed also, all adding up to $3,100 a year)


      (2) Regular insurance I contribute $50 a pay period (which went nowhere).

      So I picked the HSA. Here’s the best part – if you don’t use up the $3,100 HSA in that year, it rolls over. So you could theoretically bank a giant HSA fund (and it’s all pre-tax, baby) and use it in future years when you are older and theoretically sicker. You could switch back to a regular insurance the next year, and still use those HSA funds. You can leave the employer, and still use those HSA funds.

      The giant deductible was hard to accept initially. It’s more palatable if you don’t use medical services that often and can bank up a lot in your HSA before something happens. As luck would have it, I broke my leg on the third day of being in the plan. But there are ways to deal with it – such as you pay the deductible, and later get reimbursed by the HSA when the funds build up over time.

  5. Diana Barry :

    We have an FSA thru work – they put in $1000 and we can submit receipts. I usually do them all in a chunk and use up most of it. They sometimes deny things for no good reason, but I lack the time to deal with that.

  6. When my now ex-husband had braces, flexible spending was a godsend. For me by myself, it’s just not worth it. I planned pretty carefully when I had it and never had a problem spending the money. I keep all of my receipts from Walgreens and Target and they mark FSA-eligible items.

  7. Hi All,

    So after following the IUD conversation, I thought I might prod the hive for advice on a reverse situation. I am dating a new guy, and he is just fabulous. I have known him for 6 months and liked him since day 1. We met in a group setting and spent time around each other for the first month or two. Then went on a few outings together. About 3 months ago, we started casually dating. It has been very very slow moving. Dates that end in a modest kiss. Finally, about a month ago we started going out regularly and getting more physical.

    Anyway, I have wanted to jump this guy since the day I met him! And I have never dated a guy who has taken such a long time courting. We are now officially dating and he is ideal BF material – very attentive, affectionate, caring etc. And now we are full blown and he is staying over 3-4 nights a week. But, here is the kicker. We have not had a full fledged garden party. There is a lot of messing around. And I am certainly enjoying myself. But he seems to not be ready, in a very physical sense. He is 44, so I am not sure if this is an age thing. But basically, he is not able to get going. He says he is really enjoying himself and is very attracted to me. He says he really wants to do it, but just cannot seem to.

    I am trying very hard to be understanding (and not take this personally). I know he has been under a lot of stress for the past few months and might be coming out of a slight depression. I want to be supportive, but I also am not sure if I should push things (like going to a doctor). It is strange to be dealing with this right at the start of the relationship and I fear coming off too strong. How long should I wait before it is OK for me to make demands, such as, “hey, I really want a garden party so we need to figure out your issue and move forward” – not in those words exactly, but it is just killing me to have all this foreplay and not the rest.

    Any advice you have would be appreciated

    • I could be wrong, but I would guess that this is not a new issue for him. Everyone is different in terms of when they want to start a sexual relationship with someone, but the fact that he’s said he wants to but can’t, suggests to me that there’s something mental or physical going on that he needs to address, either with a doctor or a therapist. Could be anti-depressants (that’s usually my first guess), a medical condition, or a fear of intimacy. But regardless, he needs to get it checked out.

    • Sounds to me like his mental and physical states are not matching up. He’s probably embarrassed about it and confused about it as well. If it’s been a while since he’s been in a relationship, he might not even have had this particular problem before and might not know what to do about it.

      I do think you should discuss it, and just so you aren’t coming on too strong perhaps you could do it on one of your sleepovers when you are relaxing after, say, drinks in the pergola. If you tell him everything you have told us, and let him know how much you want to have a full-fledged garden party, and that you understand and want to help him, he may be OK. But don’t start A Conversation about it. Let it happen naturally and in a low-key way.

      • Nonny – you hit the nail on the head. He says it has been a really long time since he’s been in a relationship. And that this has never happened to him before.

        And, recently, in a post ‘drinks in the pergola’ moment, we discussed wanting to do more, but his inability to do so. Surprisingly, he seems just fine talking about this – another indication that he is just an all around great guy and perfect BF material – but he is not doing anything to fix it. And shoot, I want it fixed! I just don’t really know what to do, in a practical, pragmatic sense.

        Maybe this is just my own insecurity coming through. And my inability to trust that when he says, “I am enjoying this” and “I do want more with you, but cannot” that he really means it.

    • karenpadi :

      So many things could be going on here. Two possible culprits:
      1) He is nervous.
      2) He has the Dan Savage “Grip of Death”. It’s google-able and Dan Savage has a treatment plan.

      Have you talked about medication or c-rings? Both of those could help. I had an ex with similar issues. He refused to get help and we broke up (there were other issues too). I tried not to push him but part of me wishes I had been more clear that this was a “very bad thing” for our relationship.

    • anon for this :

      I will offer a differing point of view. When I met my now husband, we could not have s*x because I had vaginismus… absolutely no p*enetration possible. I didn’t know it at the time but knew something was wrong and just felt too paralyzed to do anything about it. Luckily hubby was understanding even though he had a very high l1bido and often felt disappointed in our relationship. Nonetheless he didn’t want to break off. It took me a year after we were married to get a diagnosis and start getting therapy and another couple of years before we could have s*x. Now you may not be looking for a long term relationship with this guy in which case you should let him know how you feel and what you need. But in case you think there’s long term potential, I wanted to share my story since it’s possible the guy may have some medical or physical barriers and may just need more time and support

      • Anon, thanks for mentioning this. I really should use my regular handle but am not quite ready to go public yet. I have had a similar issue that started soon after I met my now husband. Ladygarden parties are possible but very painful for me. Not sure that this is really relevant to the original post, but it is nice to hear that someone else had a similar issue.

        • I know what you mean. I am a regular poster but this is still something I don’t share with anyone, even though I have overcome it now. Are you on any online support groups? Those were the breakthrough for me as I got lots of advice and tips. If you are interested, send me an anonymous email address and I can send you a list of resources – groups, products etc. Hang in there!

      • thanks for this post. I think he is worth it. So I will wait it out. It is just a very odd way to start out. And add to that, the fact that I waited months to get to where we are. Probably I am just being too impatient and need to ratchet it down a notch.

        • I can’t help wondering if you’re dating my ex (the age and description (including the issues) fits to a tee). Sigh.

    • Anon for Realz :

      I would not rule out that this is an age thing, especially since you said he has not had a relationship in awhile. Without being too graphic, is he aroused at other times, i.e. mornings? that could be a clue.

      My DH and I have struggled with this issue in regards to us TTC. He says he feels lots of pressure to perform now that we are trying to have a baby. Two things we’ve tried with success:

      1. Zero alcohol for DH, sad but it IS a depressant
      2. Taking the little blue pills to get over the anxiety – its most likely a placebo effect b/c he does not take them all the time – but who cares if it works!

      Good luck and I think its great you want to be supportive. Its really hard to remember its *not* you/or a rejection of you. Also, its hard not to get caught in a bad feedback loop, i.e. you feel rejected, so you get upset, causing his anxiety to get worse, etc.

      • He drinks regularly, and quite a bit, so I think this is the source of the problem. Have tried to keep him off the booze – or just get physical before he starts drinking for the evening. I guess he needs to decide that having a garden party is more important than a drink…

    • One of the most important things, going forward, will be that you both agree that this is important to solve. My ex and I did not agree on that and it was one of the things that killed our relationship. I wanted more (or just for it to work) and would ask him to discuss it with his doctor. He said he did and there was nothing wrong physically so it must be psychological, but then he didn’t seem to care about doing anything about it. I was, honestly, furious about that. Why wouldn’t he care that it didn’t work and not want to do anything about it? I understand that it’s embarrassing for a man but he has to want to do something about it.

      As for age, my current SO is in his early 60s and has no problems at all in that regard. Depends on the guy.

      • Anon for This :

        Oh… wow. I’m simultaneously relieved and worried after reading all this. My SO (25) whom I have been seeing for almost 8 months has the EXACT same issue with wanting to do more but literally not being able to. It’s not all the time, but it’s a big part of the time, and he’s already addressed this with the doctor (who basically told him it’s performance anxiety and/or he can go see a urologist for all kinds of specific testing, which he doesn’t want to do).

        He is capable of performing, but only under specific (very situation specific, non-anxiety inducing) circumstances (which basically equivocates to me putting any personal pleasure on the side-burner/faking it), and it’s really starting to be a drain on our relationship. For what it’s worth, I truly care for/about him and we have a great relationship in all other aspects, but my (I can’t believe I let it go on this long; especially me, the one who vowed never to sacrifice in this particular way!) willingness to sacrifice any pleasure from our physical relationship is wearing very thin and similary to another commentor’s post above, he seems “unwilling/uninterested” to do anything about improving this issue (although is annoyed that I’m losing interest in garden parties generally speaking).

        We’ve spoken about it numerous times, but this past weekend it became a bit of a rip roarer when I wanted to confront his unineterest in solving/working on the issue. Long story short, he revealed that this has been a MAJOR issue in past relationships (something I vaguely knew of, but not how much it impeded and actually destroyed some) and that he is “uncomfortable” talking to a sex therapist/therapist about this.

        We did discuss other relevant issues (overuse of p*rn, trouble distinguishing between reality and what’s represented in most p*rn he’s exposed to, and his expectations of physical relationships in general), and left off that we are now both willing to address this and that HE needs to let me know what HE wants to do to solve this issue. In the end, the anxiety is more his than mine, and is now becoming a major issue for me and our physical relationship. So far, he hasn’t really given me an answer about how he wants to approach this…

        So, yeah, that was a lot, and I guess I just wanted to chime in and say this isn’t something that’s only age-specific, but maybe even more common for other reasons in younger generations, and that IT REALLY DOES BITE THE BIG ONE when it doesn’t work out the way you wish it would (just sparks flying and fireworks and all that), especially when everything else is so perfect!!

  8. Joan Holloway :

    I haven’t been particularly impressed with my husband’s HSA. His company only contributed $250, and we had to reach an $11,000 out-of-network deductible before getting a mere 60% reimbursement for out-of-network service providers. One feature I DO like about HSA’s, however, is that they can be used to pay up to $650 (I think) of long-term care insurance premiums until you turn 50. After 50, they can be used to pay even more.

  9. Blonde Lawyer :

    I estimate how much I will pay in prescription, doctor and DME copays/deductibles (including chiropractor), glasses and dental work and put it all on the FSA up to the limit. My FSA comes with a “smart” debit card. If I am buying a prescription and beauty supplies at the drug store, I can swipe my FSA card and it knows to just pay for the prescription. I only have to provide receipts if I use the debit card somewhere other than the doctor or pharmacy. Charges that are the same each time (like my chiro copays) I only have to receipt once and then it knows. I have a nice handful of medical conditions so I use all my FSA money. Even though the pre-tax money comes out of my paycheck we got used to the new paycheck amount. The FSA money feels like “free” money even though it isn’t. It is nice to have medical expenses coming out of something other than my checking account. If I had money left over, I was going to get some food allergy testing done that is not covered by my insurance. Turns out, I won’t have any left over. Maybe next year.

    For massage – anyone know if you need a prescription for it from your primary?

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      Called my benefits provider. Massage requires letter of medical necessity.

      • SF Bay Associate :

        Yep. For my FSA, there’s a form. I PDF it to my doctor all filled out as she and I had discussed, except for her signature, she looks it over, determines if she agrees, and signs and PDFs back to me. I then send it to my FSA. I use this for personal training and massage, which I need for my tendonitis, a medical issue, so my doctor is willing to sign the form.

  10. If you have kids, how does having a dependent care FSA vs. the child care tax credit work? Should you always put the max amount into the FSA if you know you will use it up – b/c that reduced the amount of the tax credit you get, correct? I’ve been meaning to research this, but hopefully they smart women here can give me a quick rundown.

    • Yes, by using the FSA pre-tax benefit, you reduce the childcare credit you’ll get after you file, but this just means that you’ll be taking the credit during the year, not waiting for Uncle Sam to give it back to you come spring.
      If your expense exceeds the allowed FSA amount, you’ll get childcare credit for the difference, provided you are still eligible for this credit based on your income.

      • In expensive regions, childcare is so expensive that you’ll likely be able to benefit from both (based on income). As an example, I pay about $1200/mo. for child care in DC (which is scarily below average), and we can take advantage of both the dependent FSA and tax credit. I work for the federal gov’t and hubby is a teacher, so our income is under the phase-out. My friend in Houston pays much less (about $700/mo if I remember correctly) and can benefit from only one of the credits though they have the same household income.

  11. We have Dependent Care and Health FSA. For people with kids, dependent care FSAs are very useful. Childcare expenses are usually more predictable than health spending and everyone can use a tax break.

  12. karenpadi :

    We have the option of an HSA or a Flex (FSA) account depending on which insurance plan we have (high deductible vs PPO). I honestly chose the HSA because I am very uncomfortable with the “use it or lose it” aspect of Flex accounts. I really stress over “wasted” money.

    I contribute the maximum allowed to the HSA because I might someday have lots of babies who each have their own deductibles. My nightmare is having twins on my insurance and suddenly owing three deductibles (>$10k + whatever insurance arbitrarily decides to deny coverage for) when I can only contribute $3100/yr to my HSA.

    Other year-end minutiae: see if I am “on track” to going part-time on a scuba-friendly tropical island when the cats die and curse my 401(k) provider for somehow managing to lose money when the Dow went gangbusters. I usually end up moving money from a money market account into a mutual fund of some kind to fix my allocation. I start a folder for documents that will be helpful for filing taxes.

  13. I use the government FSA and it is awesome! Im going to do more this year. I pay for prescriptions regularly and it just automatically puts it into my checking account. Same for copays and procedures.

  14. I love my FSA. When I had contacts/glasses, I put a huge chunk in. Now that I had lasik, I put in a much smaller amount. I just estimate doctor copays and prescriptions. Sure, it’s only a small amount but to me, I feel as though I’m saving a bit from Uncle Sam, after all, it’s there for me to use. FSA is use it or loose it, but I’ve used all of mine every year.

    I also have a commuter spending account; my monthly garage parking is greater than the allowance, so that’s a no brainer to put in the entire amount. This one is refundable, should I for some reason not use all of it.

  15. Blonde Lawyer :

    I also just looked up the rule for 2013 for married couples. If my sources are correct, the $2500 limit applies per employer. So, even if I am the only one in my family with the medical bills, I can put $2500 in mine and my husband can put $2500 in his and we both have equal access to those funds. Apparently if an individual works for more than one employer that offers the plan they can also put $2500 in each plan. The FSA is better for me than the tax deduction b/c you have to spend more than 7.5% of your AGI on medical expenses before you can claim the deduction. Even then, you can only claim the expenses greater than the 7.5%. I (knock wood) have never met this threshold since it takes both my and my husband’s income into account as we file jointly.

  16. I only put $450 in my FSA, to cover expenses I know I will have, like routine dental and gyn co-pays, plus the co-pays for my maintenance scripts, as well as contact lenses.

  17. I do compliance work for a benefits consulting company. If there were no such thing as an HSA, I would kind of understand the appeal of FSAs. But there are so many downsides to FSAs, (use-it-or-lose-it rule!) that if you’re thinking about it, and there’s an HSA option available, go with the HSA. FSAs are risky for the employers too (I didn’t know until I started doing compliance work that the entire FSA balance is available to the employee for the whole year–you can elect to take out $100 a month for the year in January, take out the whole $1,200 in February, and quit in March, and the employer doesn’t come after you for the balance).

    Not only does the HSA balance roll over, but you can take it with you when you go to another job. I’m going to participate in my company’s HSA next year and then my husband and I will start treating them like 401(k)s for health care. It’s a tax-free savings account, what’s not to love?

    I will say though that word on the street is that the IRS might get rid of use-it-or-lose-it sometime in the future, which would make FSAs a lot more attractive to me.

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      I thought you couldn’t have an HSA if you have a traditional health care plan. I have an FSA because I have an HMO.

      • Correct – you have to have a qualified High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) in order to contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). I think gref is saying if you have the option for both an HSA and a FSA, then you should do the HSA.

        And, if possible, you should do both. If you have a HDHP (whether or not you do the HSA), you can have a limited FSA. It is limited to dental, vision, and out of pocket medical expenses over $1200 (which is the lower limit deductible to be considered a HDHP). So, if you know you will have certain dental/vision expenses, then I’d run those through the FSA, and then contribute to HSA and use for the more unpredictable expenses.

      • Anonymous :

        You have to have an HSA-compatible high deductible health plan. Sounds like your HMO is not HSA compatible. Not every employer offers an HSA plan, but they’re getting really common.

  18. wolverine :

    How does one plan for FSA if you are currently in the early stages of pregnancy? I don’t even know what type of expenses to plan for??

    • Call your insurance company. They will be able to tell you the approximate associated expenses for childbirth. I did this, and my estimate was pretty close to what I paid. If it is any help, I had a PPO type plan and put $5,000 (the max at the time) into my account. That amount just about paid for everything (I had a planned c-section). If you have baby early in the year, it is a lot less expensive to have health care the rest of the year due to maxing out your deductible. That allowed me to get therapy for my PPD at a significantly lower cost than I would have paid pre-deductible.

    • Research, Not Law :

      Definitely contact your insurance provider. My first was born (vaginally, no complications, 3-day stay) under a PPO for <$1,500 OOP including prenatal labs and u/s. My second was born (vaginally, no complications, 2-day stay) under an HMO for a whopping $100 OOP, plus maybe $50 for labs and u/s.

  19. We will be TTC this year- any advice on how much to put in FSA?

    • 2013, that is.

    • Maddie Ross :

      Not specifically, but I would check with your insurance as to what and how much is covered for maternity care. I found out too late that my insurance is actually not that great for maternity coverage. I only get one covered ultrasound and a lot of testing they consider optional. Find out so you can put away money for those types of things, if not covered for you, too.

    • lucy stone :

      Glad you asked this and also interested in answers.

  20. anon as well :

    I pay for therapy out of pocket, which is about $5k per year. I max out my $2,500 FSA and seriously wish it were bigger.

    • locomotie :

      This is what I do as well! Love my FSA since I always put in the max, use it for therapy and for glasses. My provider for therapy is fantastic and not in any medical insurance network

  21. recent grad :

    Need some advice from the hive: what is a good gift(s) to get a couple that is expecting twins?

    • Motoko Kusanagi :

      A cute set of onesies (not expensive) and a generous gift card to a grocery store that delivers.

    • They of course need basics (diapers, clothes). If you’d like to be sentimental but useful, how about two baby books with blanks for the parents to fill in the information? The mother will probably want to do baby books but is unlikely to have the time, so this would aid her greatly. I second the grocery store idea – it’s amazing how little time they’ll have!

  22. I also use my company’s FSA. For this current year, I used up $550 – mostly used on doctor visit co-pays, prescription meds and even got to use it for counseling sessions. My company gives us a Mastercard that is associated with that balance, so it’s easy to keep track. I may have some chiropractor expenses, so I’ll be increasing the amount.

  23. So not that you need it, but just a PSA – my mother put in $500 in her flex spending last year and $500 in her dependent care account thinking that it would be flex spending for my elderly stepfather…. And $500, down the drain.

    Anyway, I never used this, but hoping to this year. I am thinking that with all the claritin I buy and routine co pays, I should set aside about $500. But also thinking that maybe I will visit a dentist and if there is anything I need done that’s not covered, maybe I should set aside extra. I am considering getting dental implants – not sure if they’re necessary but I think it might be wise, long term, so going in for a consult. I would love to hear from anyone with experience on this front!

  24. Sarandipity85 :

    I have had the “honor” of having an HSA before, as well as an FSA. And while I can understand the appeal of the HSA rolling over, and the fear of losing money in the FSA, I found the high deductible portion of the HSA almost unbearable. It worked as intended–really makes you examine whether you “need” that doctor visit or not. I know, I know, you should just be saving the difference in deductible, but having to shell out $200 for a doc visit when I got sick, and paying MUCH more than “regular” HMO insured Rx prices was killer. At least for me, it made me try to avoid medical services at all, if I could help it. My company now pays all the premiums for an HMO, and we have an FSA, which I find much easier to handle. I have fairly normal medical expenses, and now when I’m sick, I know what the office visit and Rx will cost me, which is MUCH less than with the HSA plan. If you can estimate your medical expenses every year, I would go for the FSA. It’s much easier on the mind for me, knowing if I get sick, I will just go to the doc, and walk away with a $20 co pay and a $20 copay on Rx, instead of hundreds of dollars that you probably were not planning on.