I am fortunate to work for an organization that provides a generous benefit package, including access to a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). If you’re unfamiliar with FSAs, they’re an elective employer-sponsored account that allows an employee to set aside a portion of their earnings tax-free for qualified health care expenses. (Some FSA programs even include child care among the qualified expenses.) The downside of an FSA is at the end of the plan year, unspent funds are forfeited.
Even after several years of taking advantage of this benefit, I’ve still never mastered calculating the perfect amount to set-aside annually. I either end up over – or under – the amount needed to cover all of my out of pocket health care costs. But these are “use it or lose it” funds, so in those surplus years I’ve found some practical and creative ways to spend those extra dollars:
- Medical, dental and vision co-pays and prescriptions. Of course, if you are also lucky enough to have a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), try to reimburse through this account first before tapping into your FSA.
- In 2011, regulations changed to exclude over-the-counter medications, except when prescribed by a physician. No longer can you use that remaining balance to stock-up on pain reliever or allergy medicine, but items like saline nasal spray, Neti Pots and hot or cold wraps for pain, remain on the approved list.
- In addition to eye glasses and contact lenses, contact solution is an eligible expense. I use that tax savings to justify splurging on a hydrogen peroxide based cleaning solution, which has helped me extend the life of my contacts. And if you have a big balance close to year-end, you could consider spending it on Lasik.
- Items specific to infants and the elderly seem to be the most universally covered. I don’t have dentures, but I do have a removable retainer, so I make sure to submit my receipts for the denture cleanser I use to sanitize that.
- Family planning items are on the approved list, including condoms and contraceptives as well as ovulation predictor kits and pregnancy tests. And while I’ve found that not all vitamins and supplements are covered, prenatal vitamins are. A little extra folic acid and DHA in your daily vitamin can’t hurt, even if your current lifestyle is more centered around happy hours than play groups.
- Channel your inner survivalist or favorite Walking Dead character and order a comprehensive emergency and first aid kit for your home and smaller versions to keep in the trunk of your car and your desk at work. Another item I wouldn’t have necessarily bought otherwise was a good thermometer.
- It may be winter now, but in preparation for those pool days ahead, go ahead and fill your medicine cabinet with sunscreen, which is covered. Occasionally, I’ve also found lip balms and acne treatments marked as FSA eligible.
Like all other purchases you make, be sure to maximize your FSA expenses by using a shopping portal to earn points, miles or cash back. MrRebates.com and Ebates both currently feature generous rebates when shopping at Walgreens.com, which has a FSA eligible landing page and qualifying items clearly marked:
And while my FSA administrator has provided me with a debit card to use for qualifying purchases, I use my personal credit card to earn even more points and miles (you know, in order use that sunscreen I just bought someplace tropical). Just be sure before submitting your receipt or other documentation that it clearly indicates what items are eligible for reimbursement and the purchase date falls within your plan year.
A healthy body and healthy finances are symbiotic. Invest in taking care of yourself. It will pay dividends.