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The Rules of the Half Birthday May 27, 2008

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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  1. You are entitled to call a celebration of your Half Birthday, which occurs exactly 6 months after your regular birthday.
  2. You must remember your own Half Birthday, plan your own celebration, and invite those you wish to attend with plenty of time for them to make arrangements to come.  Parents/guardians can perform this duty for minors.
  3. Those invited are obligated to attend.  If any invitee does not attend, he forfeits his right to his next Half Birthday celebration.  He may, however, communicate his reason for non-attendance to you, who have sole-discretion to accept or to reject this excuse.
  4. No gifts are to be requested and no celebrant is obligated to provide one.
  5. The Half Birthday celebration cannot be unreasonably costly, and all celebrants are to pay their own way.  The celebrants are not obligated to pick up the tab for you, either, per rule #4.
  6. If anyone in your circle of invitees has an actual birthday that falls on your Half Birthday, you must defer your celebration to the following day.
  7. If you forget your Half Birthday or forget to invite sufficiently in advance of the party, you must forfeit your Half Birthday celebration until the following year.

If you don’t pay May 19, 2008

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If you don’t pay your bill for internet access and the cable company cuts your service off, can you still pay online?

Truth in Advertising May 14, 2008

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This truck has been parked outside our neighbor’s house for 2 days now…Busted!

Comments enabled May 13, 2008

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I changed the blog settings to allow comments from people who are not logged in (you!).  Since I post to this blog at least twice per year, I’ll be expecting you to do the same now.

Medical insurance – easier, cheaper, and better than I thought May 13, 2008

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.

Switching to my own business means that I’ve had to purchase medical insurance on my own, and because any post on insurance is bound to be a crowd pleaser, I thought I’d share my learnings with you.

First, I’m looking for a policy that covers the 5 of us, ages 31, 30, 5, 2, and infant.  No one is a tobacco user or has any major medical problems.  Because we are pretty healthy, we decided to look for a high deductible health insurance policy that included some preventative care coverage.  

This is a pretty big change for us, because when I was working in the corporate world, I was used to the company-subsidized plans that were essentially socialized medicine: it cost me a total of $30 to have each of my first two kids because the insurance picked up the tab.  Of course, the monthly premiums for that kind of coverage were pretty insane – well over $1000/month for the family.  The part of it that was deducted from my paycheck was a lot smaller (more like $150/mo), but the part that the company picked up ($850/mo) was a cost to them and can be understood as the portion of my salary that I never saw.  (That’s equivalent to more than $10,000/year in salary that was disguised as the “employer’s portion” of my insurance.)  I never really got a positive return on investment.  In exchange for losing $10,000 in salary, I got medical coverage that would allow me to pay for any problem for just $30 out of pocket.  But because we are pretty healthy, we don’t abuse the insurance, and we can only have so many $30 babies, we paid a lot more in premiums than we ever took out.  I cannot say the same for some of my coworkers who smoked, who went to the ER with every little problem, and who otherwise engaged in behavior that drove up my premiums.  In the corporate world, every family was paying the same amount for the same plan, regardless of how much they used the plan.  Because a $30 copay is so affordable, the obvious reaction for the more hypochondriacal among us was to seek medical assistance, even when it wasn’t needed.

My goal in seeking insurance now that I’m on my own was to save some money on premiums and buy insurance that would cover the family for things that we truly need insurance for:  catastrophic events that we would not be able to pay for out of pocket.  If I get the flu, either my body will heal itself or I will need to see a doctor and get some medicine.  The former costs me nothing out of pocket.  The latter has a small cost, which I’d be willing to pay out of pocket in exchange for saving more money on my monthly premiums. 

I did my shopping through the plans offered by Extend Health, which I found out about on the Sam’s Club website.  You don’t have to be a member of Sam’s to buy these plans.  I called Extend Health and talked to one of their advisors who explained the differences in the high deductible policies – which ones were “hospital only”, which ones were compatible with health savings accounts, etc.  I decided on a plan from Humana that has a $10,400 deductible each year for the family and pays 100% after that.  This means that if I get in a car wreck and have $6000 of medical bills, I will have to pay that $6000 myself.  If I get a major illness, I will have to pay $10,400/year and the insurance will pick up the rest.  Yes, those seem like big numbers, but consider the following:

  • Insurance is a bet I make with the insurance company.  I’m betting that I’m not going to get a major illness any time soon.  Yes, it could happen, but in all likelihood, it won’t.  If it does, I’m covered  for everything beyond $10,400, so my liability is limited.
  • My monthly premium for the entire family is only $225.  That means that I’m saving nearly $800/month off of the premium my former employer was paying for me.
  • The amount that I save on premiums can be saved in a Health Savings Account, which belongs to me and allows me to put aside money for medical expenses tax-free.  Note that if I’m saving $800/month, I can save $10,400 in just 13 months, and I do not expect to have a major illness every 13 months.
  • Our medical plan covers preventative care (up to $300 each, per year, before the deductible), so I don’t have to pay for annual physicals or well baby coverage out of pocket
  • Any medical expenses that I do have must come out of pocket, and these can be paid for from the HSA.  For these expenses, I am a “cash payer”, which means that I can shop around to different doctors and hospitals and find those who are willing to give me better deals.  Note that it is not uncommon for doctors to give a 50% (or more) discount on service fees to cash payers, simply because they do not have to deal with the insurance companies…therefore, my out of pocket liability drops even further.  (Quick story:  one friend on a similar high-deductible plan told me that when he planned to have a baby, he called around to the nearby hospitals, told them he was a cash payer and asked them for rates on baby deliveries.  He found that the rates were about 1/2 of what they were had he been using insurance to pay.)
  • If I’m not feeling intrepid enough to do this kind of shopping around, I can always take advantage of the pre-negotiated rates offered through another Sam’s Club program.  This program doesn’t cost anything beyond being a Sam’s Club member, and that membership is something we’d have anyway.  Therefore, if I go to a doctor who is in the network of the Sam’s Club pre-negotiated rates, I can take advantage of the lower costs for cash payers without having to do my own shopping around.

So, at the end of the day, I’m going to pay $225/month for catastrophic coverage and preventative coverage for the 5 of us.  I’m expecting to pay for everything else out of pocket, but since I can put what I’m saving on premiums into an HSA and use that only when necessary, we will quickly build up the amount of money needed to cover the $10,400 deductible *if* something major does come up.

But wait, there’s more!  Although we don’t expect any of us to get some major illness, we do recognize that we could be in an auto accident that could result in medical bills in the thousands of dollars.  To account for this, we turn to our car insurance.  Car insurance (at least in Texas) includes PIP coverage, which pays for the medical expenses you have as a result of an auto accident.  Our auto insurance company, Progressive, tells me that we can increase our PIP coverage to $10,000 for $3/month.  That’s not a typo.  What this means is that if we are in an auto accident, we will be able to cover up to $10,000 in medical bills with our PIP.  Our medical insurance would then kick in for everything over $10,400, which means that even for a bad accident, we’re only out $400.  

If I count that $3/mo. PIP coverage as a part of my medical insurance premium, my total monthly premium  becomes $228, and it covers the following:

  • All preventative care 100%, no deductible
  • All medical expenses resulting from auto accidents 100%, no deductible (ignoring, for the moment the $400 difference in the PIP and the medical insurance deductible)
  • All other catastrophic events 100% after the deductible (an event we are betting doesn’t happen)
  • All other non-catastrophic events 50% (assuming that’s the discount we get by being cash payers.

I haven’t talked about prescription drugs here, but I would point out that all of the drugs that any of us have been prescribed over the last 10 years, plus any drugs we expect to be prescribed in the next few years, are all on the list of drugs that Walmart and several other retail pharmacies are offering for $4.  Again, it is a wager on our part that we will not face expenses for drugs that are much more expensive, but for this stage in our lives, it’s a pretty safe bet.

All told, my medical insurance is going to cost me $228 per month, plus whatever out of pocked expenses we have each year, typically on the order of a few hundred dollars per year.  Let’s say that that brings my total cost of medical coverage for our family of 5 to around $300/month.  That’s less than some people spend on a monthly payment for a new truck or home entertainment system, and sometimes, those are the same people that claim that medical insurance is too expensive.  I would say that for us, it is not too expensive – that it’s actually very reasonable.  With a little bit of shopping around and with the decision not to smoke or do other things that result in major medical expenses, we give ourselves a raise with the money we save and we get rid of most of the stress and hassle of dealing with insurance companies.

You may be eligible for up to $2,000 in compensation! November 26, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Uncategorized.
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I received a call this morning from some doctor’s office informing me that I may be eligible for up to $2,000 in compensation and asking if I’d like to schedule an appointment.

The salesperson made the following points on the call:

  • I was involved in an accident
  • I was not at fault
  • I may have suffered injuries
  • I may be compensated up to $2,000

If I agreed to schedule an appointment, they agreed to provide a free medical examination. 

All of this, even after I’ve communicated both to my insurance company (Progressive) and the at-fault person’s insurance company (Traveler’s) that I had not suffered any injuries and did not desire medical attention.  The person on the phone told me she’d gotten my information from the Austin Police Department’s report of the accident.

I think this type of solicitation is spurious and fraudulent.

Update 1:  Edited $20,000 -> $2,000.

Update 2:  Marcus Mitchell from San Antonio leaves a voice mail that says I may be eligible to receive PIP!

One more thing to be thankful for November 20, 2007

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While we’re at it, let’s add another reason to be thankful – that neither I nor any of the other people involved in a 5-car collision this morning seem to be badly hurt.

 I was running an errand this morning when I got stuck in traffic on Mopac.  I came to a complete stop and the second car behind me plowed into the rest of us.  There were five cars involved all together.

The wreck happened around 9:30am.  Since then, this has gone smoothly:

  • The police showed up within 10 minutes and had the report filed within another 30.
  • I drove back to the office a little after 10, called Progressive, and gave them all of the details of the other cars.
  • I came back to my desk at 10:30 to find that Progressive had already emailed me to let me know my claim was viewable online.
  • A local Progressive agent called at 10:45 and set up a time to come look at my car at 1:00.

Not the way I want to spend every morning, but I’m glad no one was seriously injured, and I hope the dealings with Progressive continue as smoothly as they’ve been so far.

A good time to give thanks November 19, 2007

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Thanksgiving is a great holiday – in fact, it is one of the best.  It’s a time to give thanks for your blessings, and all of us have something to be thankful for.  Here are some of the things I’m thankful for:

  • The blessing of knowing the Lord and being in His project
  • That I live in a country where I’m free to speak openly about what I think
  • That my family loves me
  • That I have children who are healthy, smart, and talented
  • That I have a good job

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate and remember the time our ancestors gave thanks for the mighty deliverances the Lord had given them in the New World.  Even 386 years later, we have no less reason to give thanks.

The Christmas Creep November 4, 2007

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Today, a waitress told a crying Weston, “Stop crying…Santa Claus is coming.”


It’s only November 4 – not even election day yet!  Surely Santa Claus is not already coming – doesn’t he have something better to do?  Like getting a nice shave or going shopping at the local Big & Jolly Man shop?

Yes, my friends, what we have here is the 2007 incarnation of the Christmas Creep – that is, the progressively earlier dates at which people begin to anticipate this holiday each year.

Now, all of you know that I don’t exactly have “Yuletide” tattooed across my back, but even so, I think we should invoke the Thanksgiving Rule, which states that Christmas anticipation can begin no earlier than Black Friday.

On a related note, I’ve read that it takes 73% of people 6-12 months to pay off their Christmas debt each year.  That means that the family starting their Christmas planning at the first of November will have about 2 months to plan, plus about 6 months to pay it off, for a total of 8 out of their 12 months every year.  Here are a few other pretty unbelievable stats about the holiday (not to mention the meta unbelievable-ness of yet another entire article devoted exclusively to tips on avoiding holiday stress):  http://www.worldwidehealth.com/article.php?id=239

As for me, I’m doing my part to reduce or eliminate holiday stress for me and those around me.  I hereby promise not to go into Christmas debt that will take me 12 months to pay off.  I also hereby ask that I receive no gifts, which will help you avoid going into Christmas debt on my behalf.  (This request is always a crowd-pleaser, I know.)  🙂

Finally, Santa, if you are indeed coming right now – please chill out for a few weeks while I’m voting and cooking my turkey.

From unionized sign-holder to software developer September 13, 2007

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I’ve had a soft place in my heart for labor unions ever since my freshman American History professor hijacked our entire semester at Rice to talk about the influence of unions on our history.  This was, of course, infinitely more important for all of us to learn than subjects such as, say, the Revolutionary War, the Monroe Doctrine, or the presidency of Lincoln.

Yesterday,  a friend – and very talented software developer – told an interesting story.  His first job was a “sign holder” for a steel company in Indiana.  It was a union job, and his job was to stand in a certain place, hold a sign on a pole, and rotate the sign to instruct the passing steel trucks whether they should “Slow” or “Stop”.

(I asked him how performance reviews went.  Example:  “You know, we’re really looking for something more in a perpendicular.” or “More angular momentum!”)

In this job, he made $16.50/hour.  He said he had to pay union dues but they were small enough that he didn’t remember it making a material impact on his paycheck.  Thus, he was making about $33,000 / year (now close to $48,000 / year adjusted for inflation) doing nothing but holding this sign.

He left his job as a sign holder and started writing software…for $10 / hour.  That’s close to a 40% pay cut, for migrating from unionized sign holder to software developer.

I am thankful that he shared this story, because it has completely changed everything I previously thought about unionized labor.