Those Occasional Expenses

Bills that come in every month are predictable and easy to cope with. The ones that can throw us off are those that come in less often.

Insurance premiums, property tax, back-to-school, Christmas, and heating oil are predictable. But they fall outside the normal pattern of monthly payments. There are several ways to build up the money for these bills. You can use a Christmas club account for Christmas. You can also use it for anything due near the end of the year, such as property tax.

Another way is to divide the amount of the bill by the number of months between payments, such as six for a twice a year insurance bill. Subtract that amount from the check register each month. Then add it back when the bill comes, and write the check to pay it. If you have a separate savings account, you can actually move the money instead of just subtracting it in the check register.

For a while, I added up ALL of the irregular bills. I added an amount to save for a possible condo repair or car repair. I divided the total by twelve, and put that amount aside every month. With rare and minor exception, this method let me always have the money to pay each irregular bill as it came along. That year I bought a refrigerator, a wall air conditioner, and a (very cheap) used car, all for cash.

Some banks offer a program where each time you use your debit card, they transfer a dollar to your savings account. This can be an easy way to build up some savings. You do have to remember to subtract that extra dollar from the check register.

Staying ahead of this type of expense lets you avoid getting behind.


52 Weeks: Wills, etc – Life Insurance

The purpose of life insurance is to protect your financial dependents from serious financial problems in the event of your death. Sales persons try to sell whole life insurance to young people with no financial dependents. They’ll tell you the premiums are so much lower when you’re young, get it while it’s affordable. My own opinion is that unless you are absolutely sure your income will never be interrupted, so that you can’t pay the premium and lose all or most of what you’ve paid in, it’s too risky. My income has certainly been interrupted several times over the decades, by layoff, illness, overwhelming expenses.

Term insurance is far, far less expensive than whole life. It gives the most death benefit for the money. The large fees and commissions on whole life, variable life, and universal life put them completely outside my comfort zone. Universal life is sold as an investment vehicle. The thing is, if there comes a time when you can’t pay the premiums, within a few months the whole value of it is gone. That is beyond risky. Making those payments into your own 401k, mutual fund, bank account, or IRA is much, much safer. If you lose your job and stop paying into an IRA, you still get to keep all the money you put into it before.



Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.

52 Weeks: Transportation – Those Little Scooters

From my book: “In the past few years, I’ve seen more people riding those little Chinese 49 cc scooters. I looked into it. In this area anything less than 50 ccs doesn’t require a motorcycle license. And even better, as long as you wear a helmet you don’t have to have insurance. They supposedly get eighty to ninety miles per gallon and cost around $800. This is the least costly vehicle with a motor that I’ve yet heard of. . . . In July 2013, I bought a cheap Chinese 49 cc trike.

The scooter had a top speed (with a tailwind and downhill) of forty mph. After every stop, there’s a long slow process to return to speed. Even traffic on residential streets would build up behind me. I went to a bicycle shop and bought an orange flag and some bright orange stickers to make it visible to other drivers. I needed them to realize that wasn’t as fast as it looked. (It actually looked very cool.)

The expected life of the motor is about 20,000 miles if you change the oil every thousand miles. A long trip puts a strain on the motor. These little scooters are best for short local trips, maybe up to five or six miles from home. I could buzz over to the library or to any nearby store whenever I felt like it.

The gas gauge was inaccurate and stopped working within a week, and so did the headlights. I kept track of the miles and bought gas about every 65 miles–it’s a one gallon tank. The chain guard broke and a fender came loose within the first 600 miles. I bought some black duct tape. Later I had the fenders removed altogether. The ignition had to be replaced because it wasn’t designed to keep water out. After several more expensive repairs, I sold it to a mechanic. Only a mechanic could love that scooter.

I think it would have been better if I had paid about three times as much for an Italian-made version of the 49cc scooter, or for a Honda. I believe that would have spared me the expense and trouble of having so many repairs. Please talk things over with a motorcycle expert before you buy.”




Marie Brack is the author of Frugal Living for the 21st Century: Adventures in Using Your Money Wisely. It’s available on in both Kindle and paperback versions.

Fall in to the Gap

That phrase used to be an ad for The Gap clothing store. Now I think of it as the rip in the social safety net. Many people I know assume that everyone in this country now has access to medical care, by one route or another.

Hoping to avoid debate about the Affordable Care Act, I just want to mention something about it that many people don’t realize. A lot of people don’t know that the subsidies are only for a certain income range. Below a certain level, the ACA website puts you through to the Medicaid site for your state. Fine and dandy, but states differ in who is eligible for Medicaid.

At this writing, there are still twenty states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage to bridge the gap to ACA. In Florida, to get Medicaid you have to be a child, a pregnant woman, certain impoverished parents of children, in long-term care, or in hospice. Ordinary adults are not eligible no matter how low their income is.

The three sources of health insurance that I can think of are employer benefit, government program such as Medicare or Medicaid or VA, and buying it yourself. None of those work for me, so I use

Sounds silly, but I have gotten sharp discounts on dental and chiropractic care through Groupon. For a long time, my back has been really bad. I can stand, but only for a few minutes. I can sit, but only for an hour or so (except in my recliner). I can walk, but only a few yards. I got a really great deal on x-rays and two chiropractic adjustments through Groupon.

Wow, no wonder! My lower vertebrae are bristling with arthritic spurs, noticeably out of alignment, and quite close together due to disc compression. It’s like a six-bone pile-up in there. The compression is why I’m an inch shorter than I used to be. It’s called “degenerative joint disease with retrolisthesis of L2 upon L3 and L3 upon L4.” The two Groupon adjustments will ease the worst of the symptoms. By the time it gets bad again, maybe there’ll be another Groupon offer.

On the way home I stopped off and gave blood. That got me a mini physical. My blood pressure and pulse are normal, temperature my usual low normal, cholesterol lower than it usually is, probably the liver tonic.

There are ways to cope without traditional medical care. Indeed, when I hear about hospital-borne infections and fatal medical errors, I’m downright grateful that I have to seek out alternatives.