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Savings, Loss or Scam: Is Pet Insurance Right For You?

petvetI’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months looking at pet insurance and seriously considering the pros and cons of it. With two new puppies in the house and having gone through added medical costs in the last months of Roxie’s life, I decided I really needed to investigate the pet insurance options.

Pets are an investment. Pets are expensive to care for; they become valued members of our family. So how can we best protect them and be prepared for emergency situations?

Pet insurance seems like an easy solution, right? Well, maybe. It’s not as affordable as you might think. It also doesn’t cover everything you’d hope it would. In fact, reading through some policies will leave you scratching your head, wondering exactly what it does cover.

Unfortunately, navigating your way through the various policies, coverages and fine print is as complicated for pet insurance as it is for human health insurance. Many options, deductibles, varying premiums depending on the coverage; lots of exclusions and vague language that suggests many of the policies won’t pay out– at least, not the way you would expect. You don’t always get what you pay for.

A Financial Decision

The idea of pet insurance sounds like a good investment… but is it worth it? It’s always a good idea to educate yourself before making such an important financial commitment, no matter how logical it sounds to you initially. Do the numbers, compare and read before you sign.

Coverage could be the best way to go for people on a tight budget, that might not be able to afford a large unforeseen expense. It’s also a good option for people that, by making a monthly payment, will give them a sense of security and peace of mind.

For people that can afford an immediate and unexpected outlay of cash; coverage may not be beneficial. Especially, if your pet lives a long, healthy, incident-free life.

injured-dog-278x218There are two main options to consider first: pet insurance and/or a wellness plan. These are two different protections that do not cover you for the same expenses. Some companies offer one or the other and some offer both options– charged separately. Pet insurance starts with a chosen deductible amount and can cover medical care, surgeries, emergency procedures and some medications– BUT, what is covered depends on the individual policy.  A wellness plan does not carry a deductible (in any of the examples I have found) and can cover many of the reoccurring, yearly costs of preventative care. These can include: health check-ups, vaccinations, heartworm, flea and tick preventatives, spaying or neutering, and sometimes even discounted grooming services. All plans are different, as are the costs. Many I found are $25-$40 a month per pet.

Pet Insurance

Most companies offer plans with deductibles of $0, $100 or $500. The better the coverage, the more it costs. Most companies do not cover preexisting conditions. Yearly wellness and preventative care are not covered by any of the pet insurance policies, from any of the companies I researched. When looking at insurance, make sure you read the complete policy to be sure all your concerns are covered. There are many exclusions you would expect to be covered. Several companies also provide additional coverage (riders) for more specified health concerns, adding to the cost of your plan.

The least expensive plans I could find, providing what I would consider average or basic coverage, was just over $2,000 a year, with a $500 deductible, per pet. Policies easily climb in cost up to around $6,000 a year.

In the long run, most pet owners do not benefit from the coverages. In some cases, the policies are written in a way that the companies could legally avoid any actual payout. It’s legal– but I still consider it a scam. Negligence is subjective. Most policies will not pay for services that are needed as the result of what they consider owner negligence. Many accidents and incidences such as the ingestion of foreign objects, could easily be classified as negligence.

I also found that, except in the most extreme circumstances, most people pay more for insurance coverage than if they paid for medical care out-of-pocket. In most of the cases, this costs pet owners $2,000-3,000 more annually for the insurance, even if minor unexpected medical services were needed.

Is-Pet-Insurance-Necessary-01Wellness Plans

One of the main benefits of a wellness plan is that you pay a monthly premium that spreads the costs of preventative care over the course of the year as opposed to all at once. On average, the cost of a wellness plan is pretty much equal to what you will need to spend each year on your pet anyway. Some wellness plans offer discounts for multiple pets so there could be a savings there. If you have a wellness plan that covers all office visits, you might find you are more likely to be proactive regarding any early signs of possible illness.

Insurance is a gamble. You put out a sum of money now, in the hopes that it will pay off (protect you) in the future. If you carry insurance, pay monthly premiums and actually need medical treatment, then it’s could be worth it.

Important to Note

I’m purposely avoiding too much discussion on specific companies.  I recommend doing a review and complaint search online before you commit to any company.

I do have to point out that where most policies’ deductibles cover annual costs, Trupanion’s deductibles are per incident. I did not even notice that fact until it was pointed out to me in one of the articles I read. Each accident, illness or incident would require you pay a deductible for each, prior to insurance paying for anything.

I found a really good article in Consumer Reports you should look at before purchasing pet insurance. It will help you along the way, give you some idea of what to look for; and help in deciding whether this is the best decision for you and your pets. It compares several polices and gives several incident scenarios that might help you decide.

002qi1cdgy6l5o97izq68Alternative Options

If you are disciplined enough, you might want to consider putting a certain amount aside each month, maybe opening a savings account; to accumulate funds in case of an emergency or to cover future expenses. There’s always the risk you might be tempted to use the money elsewhere; but if you end up not needing to use the funds over the lifetime of your pet– the money is still yours.

I also found a company called Pet Assure that offers a 25% discount program, for an annual fee, on all services. They have rates for individual to unlimited family pets– which could provide a huge savings. There are no exclusions with this plan. The program does require services through participating facilities. There may be other programs out there you might want to look into providing a similar savings.

Our Decision

Michael and I decided that at this point, neither pet insurance nor a wellness plan was the right decision for us. We might sign up for a discount program in the future; but again, at the current time it does not benefit or protect us financially, in a way that we need.

I hope this helps some people considering coverage. Coverage is a personal decision. Never let anyone pressure you into committing to a policy that makes you uncomfortable. The most important thing is that you do the very best you can to keep your furry family healthy, happy and safe.

 

Coupons: Savings or Time Waster?

Do you use coupons? Are you obsessed with it? Do you avoid coupons because they are more of a nuisance or are you embarrassed to use them?

If any of you have seen TLC’s Extreme Couponing, you’ve seen people buy hundreds of dollars in merchandise for pennies on the dollar. I’ve heard for years of people doing this but seeing it in action makes me crazy. First, the people literally spend hundreds of hours collecting and sorting coupons and then they have whole rooms dedicated to storing their treasures. Most all the stories I’ve seen, feature people that have stores that double the coupon value, enabling them to get items for free or close to it. I have yet to find any local stores that do this, making these kinds of savings in my neck of the woods, nearly impossible.

Does anyone really need 500 tubes of toothpaste or 700 rolls of paper towels? The people on the show call it stocking up but I call it hoarding. In their defense, many of the extreme couponers keep only what they need and donate much of what they buy to local food pantries, which I think is an excellent idea. My question is: Why can’t I find these bargains?

I actually helped a friend move a few years ago and they had tubs and bins of deodorant, soap, razors, etc. that were purchased with coupons. Most of those items have a long shelf life– but they also had an overstock of perishable items that had expired. I, of course, gave them a hard time about it and we had a good laugh over it– but seriously– when is a bargain really a bargain?

I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like to save money. The trick with coupons is knowing if you are really saving money. Coupons are a marketing gimmick. Manufacturers use coupons to entice you to either try a new product or switch brands. The questions you need to ask yourself are: 1) Do I need, or would I purchase this anyway? and 2) Is this brand a better value than my regular or store brand? Consumer confidence plays a big role in purchasing but many people don’t have the luxury of buying certain name brands. The bottom line is that people make purchases that they feel comfortable with.  Another importance part of perception is quality vs. quantity. Are you really getting the same value?

Where Do You Shop?

There are many options out there when it comes to grocery shopping– and again, a lot of the choice has to do with people’s comfort and perception. Local chains, discount markets, buyers’ clubs and specialty markets all have their pros and cons. Most will accept manufacturer’s coupons and some will take coupons from other stores. You have to know the individual store’s policies ahead of time. I’m finding I can’t just go to one store anymore for a number of reasons. First, I might not like the quality of all their selections or they may not carry particular brands. Second, I’m trying to increase my fresh and healthy eating and the most convenient local grocery chain has serious issues with the freshness of their meat and produce. I can’t shop once for the week there because the fresh products will spoil. In fact, I won’t buy fresh meat unless I’m going to use it that day because too many times the meat has turned by the next day.

Another thing to consider is value. Buyers’ clubs are not always the cheapest. I think that is a misconception I’ve run in to on multiple occasions. You can save substantially buying some items in bulk but not others. Chances are individual items are the same price or slightly more expensive at buyers’ clubs than other stores because they believe you’ll pay the higher cost because of the convenience and savings on your overall bill.

My Coupon Experiment

So for the past six months I’ve been trying to be conscious of shopping sales, couponing and finding the best values. The best way to save is often by combining the store sales with the coupon discounts. Many times I’ll find a comparable product that is a better value than the sale, the coupon or both combined. The biggest mistake is to go and buy a product just because you have a coupon for it. Another thing I’ve found is that many items with coupons are not on sale the week the coupon comes out but might be on sale the following week. Most manufacturer coupons have an extended expiration date. So if an item isn’t on sale, you may want to save the coupon to use at a later date with the chance that it might go on sale, saving you more money.

I get most of my coupons online. There are various sites that offer weekly coupons from various manufacturers that you can print yourself. There are also a number of coupon groups on Facebook that will alert you to special saving opportunities. You can get coupons from manufacturers’ websites as well — but be aware that the price you pay is more advertising email in your inbox.

When I shop, I do try to shop the sales and stock up on non-perishable items to get me through to the next sale. Soup, for instance, is often on sale for $1 a can, so why would I pay $2.69 for it when it’s not on sale? This also goes for drinks. There is a lot of competition for water, ice tea, juices, coffee and sodas. They aren’t always on sale but when they are– I stock up on them because I know I’ll drink them. I also know soda will always be on sale around holidays, so that’s a great time to stock up.

I had several coupons for sunblock and suntan lotions and thought I’d check out the prices for my upcoming cruise in December. I was lucky to find one product ( a small tube) on clearance– regularly $9.99, clearance was $2.19 plus I had a $1 coupon saving me nearly 90%! I found another coupon for the same product but when I went back to the store it was back to regular price so I didn’t buy it. These are the kind of deals that you want to watch out for.

Last week, I bought 10 packages of shredded cheese, good until the end of the year, that was on clearance. (We are on a low carb diet so we eat a lot of cheese.) It so happened that the manufacturer was also running a deal that gave you a coupon for a future shopping trip. In this case, buy 10 items and save $10 on your next trip. So the cheese was marked clearance at $1.49 (reg. $2.79), I spent $14.90 and got a coupon for $10. Ten 8oz. packages of cheese for $4.90. That was a great deal.

I went shopping today with my fist full of manufacturers’ coupons, my $10 off coupon from last week, a $3 off store coupon and watched out for the sale items. I only used a fraction of the coupons I took with me but saved 47% on my entire purchase. $19.05 was from manufacturer’s coupons. Not bad for an amateur.

Remember a bargain is only a bargain if it’s something you can really use.