A few months ago I talked about TSA PreCheck and the convenience of having it if you travel a lot, even if it’s not a money saving proposition. This time around we’re going to look at upgrading your flight arrangements to see if it’s worth doing so monetarily.

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Martin J. Gallego. Siempre enredando via Compfight

First, let’s get the good stuff out of the way. In my mind there’s no doubt that if you can fly first class you should do it. It’s not much of a big deal if you’re flight only lasts an hour but if you’re flying two hours or more it’s definitely worth it physically.

I’m around 6′ tall, so it helps having a lot more legroom. I’m also not a small guy, so having more space around my body is also quite comforting. It never hurts getting a bit more attention from your relatively personal flight attendant, as well as the upgraded snacks, but it’s also nice knowing there’s an exclusive bathroom for your area also. 🙂

With that said, I’ll acknowledge that sometimes first class costs a bit more money than it’s worth. That is, unless you travel often and have a travel card. Many airlines offer first class upgrades for free once you reach a certain level, and a discount on the upgrade if you haven’t reached that level.

Sometimes first class isn’t available, either because it’s sold out or because your flight might not have first class seats on it. Unless you’re on a puddle jumper, most flights still have seats reserved that offer extended legroom. Usually they’re closer to the front of the airplane, which is perfect for someone like me because that’s usually where I want to be.

Here’s where the savings and extra convenience comes into play. First, if you’re upgrading your seats for more legroom, it depending on the airline it could go anywhere from $15 to $30. Not only do you get a more comfortable seat, but you usually get your first checked luggage bag for free and you’re allowed to get on the plane earlier than everyone else other than first class and member flyers. The second becomes a benefit because getting on early means you get to store your baggage above you before there are no slots left. Even with a more comfortable seat, there’s nothing better than knowing you’ve got all your stuff in the carrier above.

If your airline seats are near the lower cost then you’ll end up saving money for the convenience you get. Even if it’s a little bit more, the overall convenience can be worth it.

First class upgrades also vacillate a bit. In my experience they run from $25 to $75 (I’m only talking domestic travel). Many airlines will give you two checked bags for free, and at $25 a pop you’ll either save a little bit of money or pay a little more for the ultimate upgraded experience. Not only do you get on the plane first but first class has its own baggage area, and it’s much bigger than the areas further back in the plane.

As with most things there are some caveats you might have to deal with. If you booked your flight through a service like Orbitz or Expedia the airlines might not share potential upgrades with you if you didn’t pay for them up front because sometimes you don’t get to select your seats when you book them that way. If you have a membership card you can usually go back in on the airline’s site later on and change your seats, but it’s not a guarantee.

I won’t say I was a hero in my wife’s eyes when I upgraded her to first class to fly from Syracuse to Las Vegas and back in first class, which cost $49 each way, but she was happier than I could have dreamed for being comfortable for those 8-hour flights each way. 😉
 

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About 3 years ago I wrote a post here recommending that people shop around locally for pharmaceutical deals and talked about some of my experiences. Based on a recent news story about the rising costs of insulin and all the complaints people are making it seemed like it was a good time to bring this up again.

2014/365/307 Eight Bottles
Creative Commons License Alan Levine via Compfight

In the story, it talk about how over the course of just 4 or 5 years the cost of insulin has gone over $400 to $500 a month from around $100 to $200. Yet, when I wrote my initial post in 2013, my insulin at Walmart has remained at the same price, that being $24.88 per vial, still less than $50 a month.

This tells me that my original point about shopping around for medications hasn’t taken hold. It’s probably because many people are relying on insurance to help them bring down the costs of their medications instead of looking for out of pocket deals, which often brings lower rates. For instance, when I first went to Walmart with a prescription my out-of-pocket cost would have been $75 a month for pen needles, which wasn’t bad for those things, as they cost a lot, but it was still higher than going to vials and learning how to inject via syringes instead.

A couple other things have changed since I wrote that initial post. The first is that the cholesterol medication I was on at that time (which I wasn’t taking) that I was getting for free suddenly wasn’t free anymore and had jumped to $40 a month. After having another conversation with my physician (and another physician and a pharmacist lol) because I didn’t have high cholesterol and didn’t want to take the medication, I got them to switch to a different prescription at a lower dose that now costs me $10 for a 90-day refill at a different store.

Also, as I’ve been on Metformin for diabetes for closer to 7 years now and the price changed where I was previously getting it, I called around and found that a store I usually go to, which had other pharmaceuticals at a higher price and forced me to get them elsewhere, offered this particular item for $10 for a 90-day supply; yeah! 🙂

Here’s the deal. Almost every community has multiple pharmacies that you can call and ask the price of specific prescriptions. There are also multiple grocery store chains that have their own pharmacy, and some of them produce their own products like Walmart does. All you have to do is pick up the phone and make the call, and you could possibly save a lot of money on prescriptions.

One last thing is that you can go online and find many deals for items related to your disease. Whereas I’d never buy pharmaceuticals via eBay (I don’t even know if they sell them), I do buy my diabetic test strips through there. You can usually get a great deal on an item that’s close to expiring, and you can get even greater deals on expired strips. That’s okay because, it turns out, most testing strips are good even after a year or two past expiration date. For my money, I’ve purchased strips within 6 months of their expiration date and gotten a lot (100 or more) for as low as $10, and found that they’re still accurate (based on the tests my endocrinologist does).

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about diabetic stuff because that’s what I have experience with. You can still call around for prices on whatever it is you’re taking, whether or not you have insurance, to see who’s offering you the best deal. I recommend that you do; you could save a lot of money!
 

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The concept of paying bills automatically goes back a lot of years. In the past there was only one way of doing it, that being to set up a payment plan with whomever you needed to pay bills to and allowing them to automatically draw money from your bank account.

lots and lots of bills
Sarah Gilbert via Compfight

For some things that’s still the only way you can go. For instance, life insurance payments have to come out of your checking account and some car loans do the same based on the organization. Luckily, these days it’s not the only option; you can also set up bill payments through your bank.

The question is which way is better and why, and do you want to do it in the first place.

My wife and I both have careers that sometimes leads to being away from home for periods of time. That can make it difficult to make sure all bills are paid, especially for her because she can be gone up to 3 months at a time, whereas I get to come home whenever I want to. This has led us to explore these options, and we handle them differently.

The way I handle most of my bills is to set up accounts online so I can pay them when I want to. Instead of giving them my bank account information, I use my bank debit cards, all of which are Visa, and set them up that way instead. I always know when my bills are due and you get at least a one day leeway so this works perfectly for me.

My wife isn’t so tech savvy, so she set everything up through her bank to pay the bills on a certain date every month and for specific amounts. This way she doesn’t have to look at any of the bills and, for the most part, everything’s taken care of without her having to run interference.

The only time this doesn’t work is when we’re paying something jointly. For instance, we split the mortgage, but the mortgage company won’t let each of us pay separately online. This means I pay my half in person while she pays her half via her bank.

That one works out okay but when it comes to our car insurance, they won’t accept payment from her bank if it’s not the full payment of what we owe. Therefore, she deposits money in one of our joint accounts and I write a check for her amount and another check for mine and pay in person.

As you can see, we’ve chosen a different route than setting up accounts to automatically with the companies we owe money to. It might be a convenient way to pay one’s bills, but it comes with complications.

One, you can only set it up to pay exactly what you owe. I like to pay a bit more than what I owe because sometimes it lessens how much I owe later on, in case I need that extra bit of cash in a crunch.

Two, there’s no way to account for times when your incoming pay might be late. That happens when you’re a contracted worker every once in a while, and if you haven’t built up your bank account amounts yet it can cause you double banking fees and an immediate increase in your interest rate; that’s never fun.

Three, it’s sometimes hard to stop those automatic payments from coming out even when you don’t owe them anymore. My wife bought a new car but for some reason the company she’d been paying the warranty to on her previous car continued taking the money out for 4 months, even though they knew she didn’t have the vehicle anymore. Even when they finally stopped doing that, it took another 2 months to get her money back.

Can you tell I’m leaning towards telling you about using your bank for automatic payments? As I said, I don’t use it but my wife swears by them, and here are the reasons why.

One, if you want to you can go in and change the amount your bank will take out of your account to pay your bills as often as you like without a penalty. Obviously the amount owed a creditor each month isn’t always the same, so having this kind of flexibility is nice.

Two, you can suspend payments every once in a while and, once again, no penalties. This has benefited her when we’re way ahead on a bill and I can tell her she can skip a payment for a month and use that money for something else.

Three, it’s easier for her to manage her account because when there are discrepancies she can contact the bank and easily take care of issues more quickly.

Four, these types of bank transfers are more secure than giving your bank account number to other parties. These days when so many companies seem to be getting hacked, this is probably the safest way to set up your automatic bill paying process.

If you’re someone who forgets to pay bills on time but you’re confident that you’ll always have enough money to pay them, using one of these methods makes sense to help protect your credit rating. At least now you have the information you need to make the best decision for yourself.
 

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