Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

How to Save Money: Get Sick!

Heeee! The AMEX bill, which regularly exceeds $1200 (that’s in a good month…), came in at a piddling $955.02.

Hot diggety! I don’t remember when I’ve seen a bill for discretionary expenses under a thousand bucks. And how did this magical event occur?

Simple: being flat on my back half the month kept me out of my car! Not riding around in a car every day or two meant not going into stores. And what can you NOT do when you stay out of stores? Yup…NOT spend money.

Most to the point, I think, it kept  me out of Costco, where I can drop two hundred bucks without blinking an eye. Interestingly, that $955 included stocking up on expensive commercial dog food — I’m sure I spent at least a hundred bucks, trying to stash enough to last until I would feel like making real food for the pooches again, which I figured would be about a month after the surgical fact. It also included stocking up on food for myself: the chicken and the lamb shanks I prepared and froze, for example. And, come to think of it, a major wine run: at Total Wine I bought enough cheap, low-alcohol wine to last for the rest of my life.

Speaking of the which, I finally found not one but two reds that are more than respectable as table wines despite a fairly low alcohol content:

Château Bois Redon Bordeau Supérieur. 2012. Alcohol content: 13%, right on the upper border of acceptable. Flavor and bouquet are excellent. It’s a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. This stuff, while not expensive, does not normally fall into the “dirt cheap” range we covet. Total Wine has it on sale just now — I got it for around ten bucks, definitely worth the price.

Bellini Toscana Sangiovese. 2013. Alcohol content 12.5%, a little high but still better than any California reds you’ll see on the market. I also found this wine made a very nice accompaniment to steak, and later to some cheese and fruit. Got it for under ten dollah.

Red wines do not  benefit from lower wine content — in terms of palatibility, that is. However, these two specimens show it’s possible to make a decent red with less than 14% alcohol content.

Right now I have another sangiovese open: Pietro Sangiovese di Toscana. 2013. Its alcohol content is also 12.5%. I’d rate it as good enough for government work: not the greatest wine that ever came out of the cask, but an adequate table wine. It was very cheap: well under ten bucks.

For all around light swiggling, I continue to favor the Gazela vinho verde, a Portuguese white wine with an alcohol content of just 9%.  Sometimes this stuff can be slightly effervescent. It’s always light and crisp  — perfect for a warm day. Can’t wait till the weather gets hot: this will be the drink of choice for an Arizona summer afternoon.

So okay. Back to the subject at hand: the automobile and its influence on the average American’s finances. To wit: mine.

I decided to junk the scheme to buy a new vehicle and instead try to keep the Dog Chariot running for another 20,000 miles. So, the clunk is down at Chuck’s as we scribble, getting a new set of brake drums. Reasons for that decision:

1. I have NO clue how much the Adventures in Medical Science will end up costing me, and neither, it develops, does anyone at the Mayo. They just do not know, so complicated is our ludicrous pushmi-pullyu healthcare system. The only way to find out will be to wait until the last of the Medicare and Medigap payments come in and then pay whatever remains on the Mayo’s books. Though I’m told I may be able to negotiate that amount down, I figure it’s likely to come to four or five grand. That will bite into the car-buying budget… And not knowing to what effect, I think that’s one cliff I’d just as soon not jump off right this minute.

2. The five hundred bucks it’s going to cost to fix the brakes and the current oil leak? That’s a far cry from 26 or 30 grand for a new car! Why should I spend that kind of money while I still have a functional vehicle? One excuse I like to trot out, by way of justifying the scheme to buy a new car, is that I don’t trust the Chariot to drive around on day trips. But…hey…for 30 grand I could rent an awful lot of nice cars to bucket around the state!

3. I’m hardly driving the car anymore. Commuting to campus was the main mileage-burner for that crate. And now that all my courses are online, that cuts out three or four 20-mile trips a week. And while I was convalescing from the surgery, I think I made all of one (count it, 1) trip — down to the church — in more than two weeks.

That happened because I had stocked in food and household necessaries carefully, in preparation for what I expected would be a prolonged incapacitation. Once all that stuff was in the house and in the freezer, I didn’t really have to go anywhere. So I’m thinking I need to make that a regular habit: each month figure out what will be needed for the next 30 days, and avoid jumping in the car at short notice to run down to Costco or Safeway, both of them sinks of impulse buys. I think a lot of the overspending happens because I drive out whenever I think I want something rather than planning what I’ll need and restricting purchases, as much as possible, to trips dedicated to laying in what’s really needed.

4. In 2016 —  just another year or 18 months — the lightrail route that will come right past the ’hood will finally open. If the car runs another 20,000 miles, it should operate handily for two years…perfect.

I dislike riding public transportation, particularly when it passes through an area lined with dangerous slum apartments that house not only thugs and hoodlums but people who are crazy as loons and make pests of themselves. However…

Now that I’m old, I can get a monthly cut-rate pass. It surely does cost a lot more than gasoline…but the longer it staves off having to lay down 30 grand for a new car, the more money it saves me.

That lightrail line will go past a Sprouts (which I will shop in), an Albertson’s (don’t shop there; but Albertson’s has changed hands and so that store might be improved), a Fry’s (also probably a little too dangerous to shop there), a Target, a Costco, and (lo!!) the beloved AJ’s at Central and Camelback. With a motorized cart (which they’re required to let you take on the train!), I could in theory get a great deal of shopping done without ever burning an ounce of my own gasoline.

And, also in theory, I could ride the train down to Maryland and walk a mile and a half to the church. That would give me three miles of walking each Sunday — wouldn’t dream of doing it at night, because that would be insensately unsafe). But at this time of year it would be easy and pleasant.

5. In 2016, I will be required to take a required minimum distribution from my big IRA. That could easily be as much as the proposed car would cost. Thus the car could double my taxable drawdown in 2015. And that does, decidedly, not sound like a very cheerful prospect. If I rent a car for day trips or longer junkets around the Southwest and use public transit for routine shopping, the Dog Chariot’s projected driving lifetime of 20,000 miles could last even more than two years. Possibly a lot more than two years. If, say, the vehicle didn’t have to be replaced for another four years, then I myself would have (at that point) a projected driving lifetime of about six or eight years. And then it would actually make sense to buy a used car that would tide me over to the end of my driving days, for a lot less than going out today and buying a new car that would run dependably until I’m 80 or so.

NEWS FLASH! Chuck just called to say the brake drums will only cost about $260, a far cry from his estimate of $500 a couple of months ago. He must be feeling sorry for me. 😉

He does have to figure out where the oil leak is and fix that. But I’ll betcha the whole job comes in at less than five hundred bucks.


Author: funny

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  1. Always thought that was the sensible thing to do – hold on to the current vehicle. There’s lots of life left in it. I am running the same car at a 99 model and still going strong. Because of the plastic on the bottom, the rusting is minimal.

  2. I thought you lived in Arizona? I must have misunderstood because that would be quite a train ride to Maryland.

    • LOL! Maryland is a road about three or four miles down the main drag that separates my ‘hood from the desperate tenements to the west. That drag, locally known as The Conduit of Blight, is about a mile and a half or two miles from the church. So to get to the church by the train boondoggle, I’d have to walk about 3/4 of a mile to the new train station in the War Zone, ride down to Maryland, walk another two miles to Central: that’s almost three miles on foot. Round trip, a visit to the church would entail six miles of walking.

      Real practical, huh?

  3. I don’t mean to be nosy but I’m mystified as to why these medical procedures are running you so much money. It seems you have already paid out a couple of grand and expect to pay at least as much more. And you have, not only Medicare, but a Medigap policy.

    My husband just had a knee replacement done through Medicare and we paid not one single penny. To anyone. For anything. Surely cancer, or close to it, should count for even more points with the guvmint accountants. ??????

    • The Mayo doesn’t accept Medicare assignment. For certain services, then, it can charge whatever the market will bear. Apparently by law they HAVE to accept what Medicare will pay for hospital charges, but surgeons’ and other physicians’ bills may run significantly higher than the Medicare allowances.

      I understand that Medigap does not cover what Medicare will not cover, in these cases.

      Some things that are not covered fully by “traditional” Medicare (it’s an 80-20 plan) ARE covered by Medigap, of course — that’s why you buy Medigap insurance. However, apparently if a doctor or an institution declines to “accept Medicare assignment,” it means that in some instances you can be charged more, and then you’re stuck with the bill.

      Complicating matters, when an outfit does not “accept Medicare assignment” (this is the jargon; the phrase actually means rather little to me — all of this sh!t is as incomprehensible and illogical as tax law), then it does not accept direct electronic payment from EITHER Medicare or your Medigap insurer. This means that these worthy institutions emit vast flurries of tiny checks in amounts ranging from around $15 to several hundred dollars. There are so many of these and there is so little connection between what they’re paying and what you are billed that you have no chance (especially when you’re sick and not up for this kind of hassle) of figuring out what they cover and what they do not cover.

      This is further complicated by the fact that SOME charges are paid by direct electronic deposit. What the difference is defies comprehension — I think if it has to do with the hospital, then they ‘ll take the money, but if they don’t, then you have to collect 87 gerjillion little checks from Medicare and Medigap, deposit them individually, and remit the funds to the Mayo.

      So yes, I probably have paid around two grand, but much or all of that was (or probably was) sent from Medicare and Medigap. Keeping track of that is beyond my arithmetical skills — really, all I can do is pass along what comes in, hope it was all delivered to my house and not misdelivered to my befuddled neighbor who throws out my mail when the idiot mailman leaves it at his house, and then pray that not too much will be left for me to pay out of pocket.

      Each of the three lumpectomy attempts cost around 11 grand. I do not know what they charged for gouging out the hematoma — by the time that was over I was pretty much out of it, psychologically. The mastectomy cost something in excess of 22 grand. So it looks like bills were or will be charged for a total of something like $55,000. Or more.

      At this point, really, I do not know what they will cover and what they will not cover. I do not know how much will be left for me to pay after all the dust settles. Hope it won’t be much, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be something. It could be quite a lot of something…

      This is the penalty for electing “Cadillac Care.” If you want fairly consistent competence in your doctors and you live in Arizona, it behooves you to have insurance that will let you go to the Mayo. Only three or four hospitals in the entire state rank high in national ratings. This is not a subjective assessment: in fact when you hire a doctor here, you get a pig in a poke. Some of them are astonishingly incompetent, and the results of that can be grievous, indeed.

      You get what you pay for.

  4. Couple of things….Three Cheers for Chuck the mechanic!!! When I get calls from my mechanic …it’s the opposite of your experience…ie. the brake line repair that “should be $25 or so”….that wound up being $165. To be clear the line was 2 feet long with 2 connections…I was dumbfounded…and this guy didn’t get a Xmas card.But keeping the Chariot going may make perfect sense. Like you I have found that I drive less per year. This is partially a result of combining trips when gas was over $4 a gallon . We just hit $1.99 so this is twice as nice!!! I have/had the same urge as you when my truck celebrated it’s 12th B-day. I went on line and shopped a bit… even the most basic of trucks is now…$3oK. So that’s not happening.
    As for the bills from the medical procedures, as crazy as it sounds it pays to NOT pay the bill right away. With my Dear Dad’s cancer treatment anyway….the invoice for treatment is in their mailbox almost instantly. Add to this…. it’s usually wrong and then there is a NEW invoice….Then Medicare catches up and pays basically when they feel like it. BUT if the “gap” insurer get’s invoiced before Medicare pays the invoice the claim is denied. And a letter stating so is sent… followed by a letter stating the claim is under review …followed by a letter that the claim has been paid…So I would advise to only pay out of pocket when you get a court date in “Small Claims Court”…LOL.
    I swear, these things, for whatever reason seem to iron themselves out but it takes time…sometimes a lot of time.

    • LOL! Hang onto your hat, Jestjack: Last week I paid ONE DOLLAH AND SIXTY-SEVEN CENTS for gasoline at Costco. The fill-up tab was a little over $17…almost fainted dead away!

      Yes, I’ve discovered that already with the Mayo’s exploits. In fact, one of their billing department employees advised me to hold off trying to settle up the bill — he said essentially the same thing you did.

      At one point, when I was certain that Medi-Everybody had paid up, I settled the bill so as not to have a balance hanging over my head, which I just hate. BIG mistake: more money came dribbling in, and THEN the Mayo would NOT refund the credit it had on its books! Their excuse was that more adjustments would likely be made.

      I never did get the balance back — presumably it was applied to this most recent Adventure in Medical Science.

      Now what I do is when checks come in from the various insurance entities, I deposit them in checking, wait until they’ve cleared; then call the Mayo, charge exactly that amount to American Express, and then immediately pay that figure to AMEX electronically. That way I don’t diddle the money away before the AMEX bill comes in, and I’m sure I’m not paying them anything more than Medigap/Medicare have reimbursed me.

  5. Wow …. $1.67…ya got me beat. I tell ya this whole Medicare thing has taken a turn for the worse here. It seems when one goes onto the Obamacare website in this neck of the woods more often than not the applicant is placed on Medicare. Therefore the State can say they had signed all these folks up for healthcare….but the majority of the increase is in Medicare. Then when they try to get treatment they discover their Doc doesn’t take Medicare and are hard pressed to find a new Doc that does accept new patients with Medicare. Add to this that we have a new Governor….a Republican Governor…who after looking at the books declares “we’re broke…spending beyond our means” and wants to cut the payment to Docs for Medicare…PERFECT.
    Will share that I share your fondness for AMEX. The benefit to double warranties has just helped me once more. This time with a paper shredder that “dropped dead” when it was one year and 3 weeks old. As the nice lady at the manufacturer shared that “unfortunately” warranty was only good for one year. BUT the very nice gal at AMEX agreed with me and that indeed my warranty was for two years with my Amex card. After review they credited my account and thanked me for the patronage…Best Company ever!!!!