for retirement, save for an emergency (e.g., a job loss/change), save for kids, save for college, save for a house. The idea of saving money for future events is generally drilled into our heads from the time we can walk and talk. Whether it is saving our allowance or hard-earned babysitting money for a rainy day, new sneakers or a favorite charity, the idea is there. However, it's often impossible to know how much to save, and often the expenses of life get in the way. I never thought we would find ourselves having to deal with this issue and had we known just how things would turn out, I might have lived on ramen for the past 13 years. The past few months have taught me that even when you think you are doing everything right, it can still fall apart with the utterance of 5 words. With today's news, I am now just beyond frustrated with the situation.
To recap, due to the needs of the service, we had all but given up having Pete around for the year. We had moved ourselves 3,000 miles, sold our second car (*sigh*), moved back into our old neighborhood into a new house (+ new mortgage), purchased approximately 2K worth of needed items for Pete's move to Iraq (mostly a new laptop, which was necessary) and tried to settle in. While we try to be financially savvy, living in places like Iceland and San Francisco were not kind to our wallets. The up-side? We loved living in both places and wouldn't trade the experiences for the world. The down-side? Especially after residing near San Francisco, we needed to do a good bit of bill-paying and up our savings.
Now we had been saving in some respects: for retirement, a (short) rainy day and college. We have allocated to the TSP (USG version of a 401K) and even when the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008, it wasn't the end of the world. It felt like it at the time, but we are slowly inching back to where we were before.
Now one might think that moving across the country (or around the world) on the USG's dime leaves one's wallet completely intact. It is true that we are given decent moving benefits, however, there are always, ALWAYS unexpected expenses that crop up. We figured since Peter was leaving the country, we would sell the Accord. Not only did we end up with a small sum to help defray moving costs, but we were saving a good 1K by not shipping a car we didn't need (ha!) across the country.
We started settling into the new house and purchased a new computer for me, as the laptop was not doing so well (3+ years old) and we knew that reliable Skype access to Peter was a must. We spent that small sum prepping Peter and then he was off. While we were in a new house, our expenses were minimal. I was too busy with the kids to go nuts decorating, energy is SO much cheaper here (lower electric and gas bills), Peter was on his own, so no worries about food, commuting, suits, or extra little expenses for him. I started a plan to rapidly pay off what debt we had acquired in CA (yes, we had fun, sue us) and we also started to max out the contributions to the TSP. We had been contributing a good sum, but tripled it in light of Peter's increased paychecks.
Then October 6 hit. The financial reality didn't occur to me until a few weeks after Pete came home. I was so wrapped up in doctors appointments and other things that I was fuzzy at best on all things financial. Finally, two weeks after he came home, I realized I needed to change things up and quickly. The fast-track bill-paying went out the window. We had made good progress, but had to quickly stop the huge amounts. We also changed up the TSP and within a month, the contribution was one-sixth of what it had been. While we couldn't afford to stop contributing, there is no way we could continue at the same level.
The changes worked for a while, and we were still easily able to pay the bills, the mortgage, the Montessori, the college funds and have a bit leftover. Then I truly came to grips with reality and realized that there was no way Peter could go back overseas. He applied for and received his new job at headquarters. While it is incredible, and we are very grateful for a position he loves, it has also required monetary investment. New suits and shoes without a doubt and let's not forget time spent commuting. There were also other expenses that popped up just by virtue of me being 'sick'.
While our location was ideal for us as a family, it makes for an interesting commute by public transportation. While Peter is far less stressed by taking the bus and metro (and is paid back by Metrochek for his commuting efforts), we have realized that this easily adds 1.5 - 2 hours to his work day. On a good day, he leaves the house at 5:30 a.m. and is home by 7:20 p.m. We had considered reaching deeply into savings and adding a second car, but after Saturday, have almost put everything on hold.
When we first researched doctors, we verified everything. We even reviewed some doctors under two different insurance plans, as we were afraid that the plastic surgeon might not be covered under the new plan. However, now we have an indictation that he might not have been covered under the original plan, which we are still using.
We have, as you can only imagine, a nice collection of EOBs (Explanation of Benefits) from the insurance company. Most of them we open, review and file. Occasionally, we have to fill out an extra form or survey, mail it back in and then the claim is complete. Yesterday, I received two ominious looking EOBs from BCBS. They both had to do with appointments with the plastic surgeon and both indicated that neither visit was covered as he was "not participating". How could this be? We checked and double-checked. We checked again and this time found nothing. However, both of these bills were from 2010 and given that it is 2011, it is impossible to search the old provider directory.
We have never received a bill from the doctor, but now wonder what will come in the mail soon. Did we misunderstand them when they said they took BCBS (we asked, they answered "Yes")? Did we only imagine seeing the names on-line in some sort of stress-induced haze? Did we have to get these in the mail on a Saturday when no one was around to answer our questions? If somehow we completely screwed up, then we not only owe them a small fortune, but also have to cancel my implant-exchange (which I was actually excited about) and start the plastic surgeon search all over again. Very few doctors do the type of reconstruction I want to have eventually, and I can only hope I find one who gave me the level of comfort that I had with Dr. X.
The irony is that we had just finally come up with a financial plan that worked to ease my worries about our near future. We originally had three college plans (pre-paid tuition plans in VA) for the kids. However, the combined contributions were making us crazy without the extra income. Since we had envisioned Peter would be gone for a year (and making extra $$ in OT, etc.) we weren't concerned. We were planning fun trips, to include a family vacation overseas (to Italy and Iceland...) as well as upgrades around the house, such as badly needed windows and flooring upgrades. All of that has since gone out the window, and we again revamped things savings wise.
We finally decided to close Nicholas's plan, and apply the proceeds to Caitlin's and Kelsey's plans. This move will completely pay of Caitlin's and pay down a bit on Kelsey's. It means we have to start over with Nicholas, but he is young and this will free up a good chunk of change on a monthly basis. However, then we received the EOBs and I now fear we are back at step one, all over again.
No, we aren't destitute, I suppose far from it, but I think it's reasonable that I am feeling overwhelmed by everything, because the future now seems so...murky. I am dreading tomorrow's follow-up conversation* with the doctor's office and am scared to death to see the bill that might soon show up. We are going to have to get a car, so hopefully can find something reasonable with a low monthly payment. Keeping our savings (yes, we have a good bit, but it was more an emergency fund) intact as possible is the new goal. We even toyed with the notion of taking Nicholas out of Montessori, given that we only put him in since we would have the extra income (and I needed a bit of free time each day). However, he loves it, is thriving there and I may need that time for doctor's appointments and treatments. Removing him now would probably just do more harm than good, though I guess we'll have to consider it as another savings option.
In the end, I just don't know what to think. I finally thought we had everything together, that things were finally going according to some plan. I guess I thought by giving up the year with Peter, I was somehow being given a get out of jail free card on bad stuff happening to us for a year or so. Instead, it's just the opposite...when it rains, it pours.
I know it could be worse, and honestly, that's what I fear at this point. I know we will manage for the time being, but worry about not going overseas next year or something else going wrong. I just don't even want to think about what...and yes, to answer the obvious question, I think about going back to work. However, I then add up the costs with daycare, summer care, possible treatments, commuting and throw in Peter's schedule and it just doesn't work. We may also switch insurance plans, to one that offers both orthodontia (we can see the need miles away) and increased alternative care benefits. I may cut down on the massages, but can't give up their theraputic benefit entirely, as it just does my body too much good.
So, I will try very hard each day to remember the good things, like Peter deciding to work for the government. While his paycheck might not go up this year, it won't go down. Even with the gigantic amount of sick leave he used, he still has 5 weeks + left and a month of vacation saved. We may not go overseas this year for a family trip, but we might be able to eke out a few days at the beach. Also, without a doubt, we live in an area that is exciting enough that we will have plenty to do this summer, whether it be visiting museums, sailing or just plenty of outdoor fun.
The entire scenario has also given me an idea, a way to pay it forward for someone else who may end up struggling to figure out their future (or present) far more than we are. After all, we have been given so much by friends and family, and I haven't forgotten that aspect. I am not entirely sure of the plan, but will hopefully come up with something that will give a much needed lift to someone else when they find themselves in similar circumstances. Honestly, I just hope that no one else ever has to go through what we have been through the past three months; no one deserves this kind of worry and stress, financial, medical or otherwise. Excuse me while I shuffle off to weep over the latest EOB from the surgery...
*Peter had one conversation with them today when he could finally reach the person in charge of insurance at the doctor's office. "Oh, of course you are covered!" Funny, the EOB received today indicates minimally at best. I can only hope tomorrow we hear that there was some giant mix-up and we only owe a tiny amount...fingers crossed, as I'm not sure how much more I can handle with regard to this very costly (time, money, sanity...) medical issue.