How Being Money Smart Will Make You a Better Paramedic

I’ve talked about this topic a few times before, but I think I really need to explain the importance of having your finances in a good place. Our personal problems are going to stay with us when we show up to work, there’s just no way around that. Yes, we are told to “check our bags at the door”, but can we really do that with the overwhelming stress of our personal lives lingering around in our head?

The problem with financial trouble, is that it puts a mental and sometimes physical barrier up that prevents you from thinking about anyone but yourself. Why do you think wealthy people build hospitals and schools? Because they have the means to do it and they aren’t worried about their personal financial situation. It’s really hard to be generous when you’re needing help.

So where does this come into play in the world of EMS? Allow me to tell my story:

The Worst Financial Day of My Life

Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

To get the whole picture, I would recommend checking out the first #MoneySmartMedics article where I talk about my back story. Here’s an excerpt from that article describing my breaking point:

Having no money or food wasn’t always the end of the world for me. After all, the local hospital fed us lunch and breakfast for free and many of the hospitals in the neighboring city provided all kinds of snacks and meals. You can say I was quite the connoisseur of the free EMS handouts. However, forces much stronger than my resourceful skills made sure that I never came anywhere near any of the hospitals. By 2 pm I was starving. My partner sensed that something was wrong and offered to buy me lunch. I lied and told him that I wasn’t hungry.

At one point in the late afternoon, I arrived at the station just in time to see a tow truck pulling into the employee parking lot. My heart sank. I knew for sure he was there to take my car. After all, I had been ignoring the bank’s calls for weeks. My spirits were lifted a little bit when I realized he was just using the driveway to turn around. Still, I knew it was coming and seeing that truck gave me a level of self-disgust that I had never felt before.

2 hours later, my phone shut off. Fortunately I was able to sweet talk Verizon into giving me 3 more days of service with an empty promise to pay off the entire balance by the weekend. Of course, I did this while hiding in the back of one of the ambulances in fear of one of my coworkers hearing me.

The final straw was getting a call from the local courthouse to inform me that if I didn’t pay my traffic ticket off within 48 hours, a warrant would be issued for my arrest.

I lost it.

I cried, I prayed, I begged, I did everything I could hoping that God would snap his fingers and make this horrible situation go away. What I didn’t realize, is that he was doing just that.

How It Carries over to Our Line of Work

After reading the above story, where do you think my head was? Do you think I was genuinely concerned about the problems of my patients? Or do you think I was on auto-pilot? I wasn’t just on auto-pilot, I was was doing a terrible job. Auto-pilot would have been an improvement.

As I experienced so many times throughout my career, I simply can’t be the best medic that I’m capable of being when I can’t see past my own problems. It’s just not possible.

3 Things You Can Do Right Now

Paying off bills, becoming debt free and planning for the future are all essential to achieving financial peace, but they take time. Getting your finances in better shape doesn’t require paying off all of your debt. You can get organized and eliminate your financial stress RIGHT NOW. Try these 3 things TODAY and I promise you that you will see a significant improve in not only your work performance, but your overall attitude in life.

  1. Get on a written budget:
    There is no prerequisite to budgeting. All you need is a piece of paper and something to write with. Figure out how much money you have on hand and start dividing it into categories. Get out a calendar and write down all your due dates for bills. Knowing exactly what’s going out and when it’s going out will eliminate more stress than you could possibly imagine. Trust me on this, it was a major turning point for me.
  2. Take out cash for essentials:
    Don’t let credit card payments and other bills prevent you from eating. Every time you get paid, pull out enough cash to cover food and transportation costs. One of the biggest causes of stress is not knowing how you’re going to pay for your next meal. By doing this, you no longer have to worry about that unexpected automatic payment eating up money you needed to survive. This HAS to be your number-one priority. If you do nothing else to better your financial situation, do this.
  3. Set money aside for good deeds:
    Every heard of karma? OK, maybe you don’t believe in it, but I can assure you that being generous and giving every now and then will change the way you look at life and money. It will also directly affect your performance as a paramedic. This doesn’t have to be much. Try setting aside $25. If that’s too much, try $5. Try buying your partner a cup of coffee, paying for a random stranger’s meal or just give it to someone in need. I am a firm believer that things come full circle. When you start doing acts of kindness for others, it will come back to you.

An Exciting Announcement

OK, so this isn’t in context with the article, but I need to get the word out. I have started 2 free financial wellness groups. One on Facebook and one on Google Plus. It’s really simple and it’s free. If you’re looking for a support system as you work towards achieving your financial goals, then get in touch with me so that I can add you!

I’ll be posting motivational messages, money management tips and answering your questions EVERY DAY. It’s a great way to get like-minded people with similar goals together in one place. We’ll be holding each other accountable, lifting each other up, sharing knowledge and answering questions.

If you’re interested in joining one of these groups, please e-mail me at sean@medicmadness.com or comment below. Let’s take action today!

How to Stay Money Smart with a Peer Pressure Partner

I don’t think there is a person on this planet that doesn’t understand that it’s important to control spending. Well, except congressmen, but they don’t really count as people. It’s kind of like personal health. Everyone knows that they should stay in shape, but many just lack the will power or motivation to make it happen. How many times have you told yourself that you’re going to start eating better? If you’re like me, that mindset didn’t make it past your first outing with your friends. Seeing people around you devour plates of artery-clogging goodness usually leads to you just caving in “just this once” and ultimately falling off the wagon. Well, spending habits aren’t any different.

Allow me to share my weakness:

Tacos and pizza. These fall under both the health and financial side of the discussion. I freaking love them. No matter how much I tell myself that I don’t want to spend the money or ingest the calories, I just can’t resist the amazing sight and smell. Now, I can usually avoid this by just avoiding the places that sell these slices of heaven. However, being in a station full of guys that eat this stuff on a daily basis, I’m forced to face my temptation head on.

Now, imagine spending your entire shift with a partner that enjoys delicious fast food. This situation can make it very hard to stay in control of your spending. I know this because I live it every day. I know that the only way I can overcome my temptation is to beat myself at my own game. I know my weaknesses and therefore I know how to avoid them.

So without further delay, here are my 3 ways to stay money smart with a peer pressure partner:

Image credit: http://www.patrickschneiderphoto.com/

Image credit: http://www.patrickschneiderphoto.com/

Leave the Debit Card at Home

This one may seem obvious, but like our smart phones, we can’t get more than 20 feet away before the separation anxiety starts to kick in. Ever turned off social media for a week? Remember how freeing that felt? Well, imagine life without the temptation to spend your hard-earned money on junk food. If you bring your food to work, there’s no need to bring your debit card. Trust me, you’ll survive. If it’s that much of an issue, then leave it hidden in your car. If you’re working at a station where you’re cooking food, then bring an “emergency sack” with some snacks or something to hold you over in the event that you’re stuck out running calls. If you don’t have the means to spend the money, you won’t. It’s that simple.

Bring Your Lunch

OK, I know I covered this in the previous section, but you have to actually do this or you’ll never get to the point where you stop swiping your freaking debit card every time you get hungry. If you work 10 shifts a month, come up with 10 different lunches that you can bring. That way, you aren’t getting discouraged by eating the same ham sandwich every day. Actually, take it a step further and learn to make something that you actually look forward to eating. That way you won’t be green with envy as your partner takes the first bite of their delicious slice of pizza.

Reverse the Roles

Who said that your partner has to be the “peer pressure partner”? Why can’t YOU be the influence? While your partner is rubbing it in your face about how amazing his fast food tastes, you can turn the tables and talk about how amazing it feels to not have a car payment or debt. Or better yet, get really good at cooking at start making food that other people want to eat. I started doing this a while back and now I save all kinds of money because my partner and I often split the costs of cooking at the station. This is a great strategy, but it only works if you’re good at cooking. Otherwise your coworkers might pay you NOT to cook…but I guess there’s a decent financial strategy in that too…

Conclusion

The big strategy here is just knowing your weaknesses and figuring out how to avoid them. Figure out a system that works for you and stick with it!

What are some things you do to avoid spending temptation at work? Please leave a comment and let’s get this discussion started!

3 Reasons EMS Isn’t Ready to Refuse Care

I’m not sure that there’s a single person working in EMS that doesn’t wish we had the ability to tell people that they “don’t need to go to the hospital”. The 2am calls for stubbed toes and restless leg syndrome have frustrated us all. Even worse, sitting in the back of the ambulance with a patient complaining of constipation as you here an ambulance from the next town over being dispatched to a cardiac arrest right by your location. It’s irritating, it’s frustrating, it’s annoying, and it’s a misuse of healthcare. I’ll be the first to admit that something needs to be done to fix it. However….

We aren’t ready to start refusing care.

er-sandwiches

Go ahead, sharpen the pitchforks, light up the torches and wake up the mob, but please hear me out before you come storming my village. I’m going to give you 3 reasons why we aren’t ready to refuse care to our patients, and then I’ll follow it up next week with another article giving 3 solutions to the problem.

Image Source: bigmedicine.ca

Image Source: bigmedicine.ca

We Aren’t Trained for It

Having the natural ability to say “this dude doesn’t need to go to the hospital” doesn’t count as a skill. Let’s face it, we have never been formally trained to decide who needs treatment and who doesn’t. Our educational requirements are severely lacking and to think that we are ready to be the end of the road in our patient’s course of treatment is unrealistic at this point. Do I think we need to get to a point where we can do this? Absolutely! We just aren’t ready right now. 

Here’s the thing, as it currently stands, aside from the select few bold EMS systems out there, only ER doctors are telling patients that their complaint isn’t an emergency. Nurses aren’t doing it, PA’s aren’t doing it and we really shouldn’t be doing it either without some serious increases in educational requirements. Emergency departments (in most states) have the ability to refuse care to non-emergent patients, they just don’t. Even in those instances where they do, they still require a medical screening exam by a physician to determine if the patient is having a medical emergency. What’s the point in all this? No matter what, they’re going to see a doctor and that doctor will ultimately make the decision.

No Legal Protection

Following a protocol isn’t going to be enough to protect us and our medical director. We need some serious documented training to back us up. I also firmly believe that we need some serious tort reform to ease some of the legal burden from us. 

Medical malpractice is a funny thing. If you honestly try to do the right thing, you’re generally OK…at least as far as EMS providers go. When we are refusing to treat and transport a patient, that starts a whole new ball game for us. We can point to our protocol all we want, but we ultimately have to make that judgement call and we have to be ready to back that decision up should we find ourselves in the hot seat. No matter how you try to spin it, that’s going to be tough to do if the patient suffered because they didn’t receive treatment.

We Aren’t Designed to be the End-Point in Treatment

This goes hand-in-hand with my training argument. All of our treatment protocols have one thing in common: They all end with us handing our patient off to a physician at an emergency department. This is a big reason why we are allowed to do all the things we do, because a physician is ultimately going to take responsibility for the care of our patient. By refusing treatment, we are essentially discharging our patient and establishing ourselves as the end-point in their treatment plan. That’s a big deal. 

Like I said, I firmly believe that we need to get to this point. However, it needs to be done by raising the bar in our industry and holding ourselves to a much higher standard. Actually I’ll go as far as saying that EMS will have to start doing this at some point unless we want our systems to be completely overrun with cases that should be handled by a personal physician.

If we want to establish ourselves as a true community healthcare provider, we have to start stepping our game up now. Let’s push for higher educational standards and a culture of real professionalism.

Don’t agree with me? Comment below and let’s get this conversation going!

4 EMS Pension Plan Myths Debunked

I catch a lot of grief when I bring this up, but that’s OK! I’ve always believed that if you aren’t making somebody mad, then you aren’t doing it right.

Anyway….moving on….

In this week’s installment of #MoneySmartMedics, I want to talk about pension plans and how they aren’t everything you might think they are. Now, let me go on the record saying that I’m not against pension plans. I personally have one and I think they are an awesome benefit. Having said that, I still have to warn you about using them as your only means to plan for retirement. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around in regards to retirement plans in EMS and public safety and it’s going to be in your best interest to explore your investment options and start planning ahead.

Most of us understand what a pension plan is, but there’s a lot to them that you might not know. Hopefully I’ll be able to clarify some common misconceptions that we often have when it comes to retiring with a pension, especially in EMS.

 Here’s my list of common EMS pension plan myths:

Image Source: dmnewsi.com

It’s the Only Way to Retire

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually, I typically advise people not to depend on their pension plans at all when planning for retirement. When you rely on pension plans, you are putting your retirement in the hands of your employer. For many people, this works out OK, but for many others, it ends up in disaster.

I have seen people leave EMS jobs that they love for the single fact that they aren’t provided a pension plan. I’m sorry guys, but this is crazy. Putting 15% of your income into a ROTH IRA and investing that wisely will provide a very healthy retirement. It also gives you the freedom to change jobs if you want. Have you ever seen a disgruntled employee stick around 5 years longer than they should just to make sure they collect their pension? Don’t be that person!

I look at my personal pension plan as the gravy on top. When I’m planning for retirement, I act like my pension doesn’t even exist. If all goes well and I collect a full pension from my current employer, I’ll either turn that money into a very nice travel fund or pull out the money and invest it on my own. If I decide to leave at some point, it won’t affect my retirement outcome at all. Trust me, taking control of your finances will give you more freedom than you could ever imagine!

It’s More Secure than Investing

People have this fear of the stock market crashing and their retirement funds shrinking, and that’s a legitimate concern. However, we aren’t talking about investing in single stocks. We’re talking about things like mutual funds that are actually huge bundles of stocks tied into a “fund”. You have to understand that these funds come with a much lower risk than single stocks. You can find funds with 20+ year track records of consistent growth. Is the stock market going to drop? You bet. But it always bounces back up. This is one of those things that you just have to sit back and let do it’s thing. It’s actually good to have periodic drops in the market because your 15% contribution is able to buy up a lot more shares, and those shares will be worth a lot more as the market returns.

Pension plans aren’t immune from dips in the market either. Most plans have a guaranteed rate of growth. Mine is 7%. Employers aren’t just shelling out 7% to grow your account, they’re investing the money conservatively to let the market grow it for them. The problem is, if the money isn’t invested right and they don’t make the 7% return, they have to pay the difference. If they don’t have the money to offset the market losses, that can lead to under-funded pensions, which can lead to huge problems as groups of people reach retirement age.

Another thing you have to consider is the risk of losing employment or the ability to work. You have a lot more to worry about than just market growth when you rely on pension plans. If you lose your job or become unable to work due to injury or illness, you lose your employer pension contributions. Also, depending on how long you’ve been working at your job, you might not be eligible to collect large portions of the fund if you aren’t fully vested. Can you see how this could throw a huge wrench in your retirement strategy? You maintain 100% control when you setup your own investment accounts. Given the rate of back injuries in EMS, this is especially important to factor in when planning for retirement.

It’s Better than a 401k

This is not always true. When you invest in a 401k, you actually have some control over how your money is invested. With pensions, you have none. Many 401k plans have some awesome mutual fund options. Not to mention the fact that they usually come with an employer match.

People often assume pensions are “better” because of the guaranteed payout. Here’s the problem with that mindset: While a guaranteed payment sounds nice, it often results in a missed opportunity to grow your investment. If your money is invested in a pension plan, you will receive a flat payment regardless of how the market performs. While many of us would think this is a good thing because we won’t lose money, we have to remember that we also won’t gain money. Here’s a little secret: Your pension fund isn’t losing money. The companies that manage these funds aren’t stupid. They offer a guaranteed payment because they know the fund is going to grow and they’re going to make a profit on it. When you have control of your funds, YOU earn all the profit.

The key thing to remember is that control is everything when it comes to personal finance. Do you want your employer to be in control of your retirement or do you want control?

It’s Guaranteed

No investment is guaranteed and this is especially true when it comes to pension plans. What many people don’t realize is that pension funds are actually assets of the employer, NOT the employee. If the company remains stable and continues to grow, this won’t be a problem. However, if the company runs into problems with taxes or files chapter 7 or 11 bankruptcy, your pension account may be depleted to pay off creditors as they liquidate assets. Don’t believe me? Ask the folks who worked for and retired from Enron.

Government employee pension plans can be even worse being that they are managed by politicians. I mean, we all know how well politicians handle money. This is especially important for us in EMS to remember because many of us leave to go work for fire departments so we can “get that pension”. With personal investments you essentially have one thing to worry about: Market performance. With pensions you have to worry about market performance, and the health of the company or service that you work for. With a government pension plan, you now have to worry about all of that plus the possibility of your governing boards changing or even canceling the plan. When you rely on public pension plans, you are literally one politician’s pen stroke away from drastically changing the course of your future. Do you really want the fate of your retirement in the hands of a city council?

Conclusion

Like I said, pensions aren’t a bad thing if they’re taken for what they’re worth. Have a plan that doesn’t involve your employer managing it for you. You can’t experience financial freedom if you don’t have control.

Don’t let a pension plan determine where you work for the rest of your life. Find a job that you love and be smart about your retirement.

If Herman Munster Was a Paramedic

In the spirit of Halloween, I think that Herman Munster would be a perfect fit for the Celebrity Medic Series. He may be hundreds of years old, but still perfectly able to perform the required duties of a paramedic. So lets ask ourselves the question of this dark, spooky, holiday:

What Kind of paramedic Would Herman Munster be?

herman

Shifts:

Given Mr. Munster’s super-human abilities, there would be no doubt that he would able to respond to emergency calls 24 hours a day. The fact that he works at a funeral home might be a little old-school but it would be the perfect place to start an ambulance service.

Vehicle:

Obviously the only choice for an emergency transport vehicle would be the classic Munster Mobile. It’s already configured as a hearse and can achieve speeds in excess of 150mph. Needless to say, a Road Safety system would not be used.

Scene Safety:

Herman wouldn’t need to worry about scene safety as he is known to be nearly invincible. Reflective vests would not be required as he would be unharmed in the event of a vehicle striking him. As a matter of fact, the vehicle would crush upon impact.  Obviously he wouldn’t have to worry about combative patients or even weapons.

Lifting Assistance:

Being that Herman has the ability to lift a wrecking ball and a large vehicle with a single hand, it would be needless to say that he would not require any assistance with extrication. He also wouldn’t need any special tools for rescue operations as he could rip apart any vehicle with his bare hands.

Response Area:

Herman’s response area would be based out of “Mockingbird Heights”, the area in which the Munster Family lives. Their main office would be located at 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

Uniform:

I would think that finding a uniform large enough to fit Herman would be very difficult. Therefore I think his standard sports-coat and slacks would be acceptable. He would of course need a patch that reads “Mockingbird EMS”.

Conclusion:

Herman’s freak-like strength, kind heart, ability to withstand any amount of trauma, and incredibly fast vehicle all make him an excellent candidate for an EMS professional. Happy Halloween everyone!

What the Ebola Scare Has Done for Me as a Paramedic

It is my opinion that the Ebola scare is just that; a scare. I think it’s a serious concern, but the widespread hysteria and end-of-times predictions are just ridiculous. Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think we need to take this seriously and we need to be prepared for ANY deadly disease that may head our way. What I don’t agree with, is the constant plastering of the non-existent epidemic on TV and social media.

Having said all that, I must admit that the Ebola scare has certainly opened my eyes to a few things and I believe it has made me an all-around better paramedic.

Here’s why:

Image Source: CNN.com

Image Source: CNN.com

The Value of Life

Seeing healthcare workers in my own city contract a deadly disease has certainly put things into perspective. It has reminded me that we are never guaranteed tomorrow and neither are our patients. I’ve also been reminded of just how important and dangerous our job is. After 12 years in EMS, it’s easy to become complacent and forget about the fact that we really do have a risky line of work.

This whole thing has helped me to think about what’s best for my family when I’m out and about and it has reminded me of how important it is to be in a good place emotionally, financially and spiritually. Knowing that one wrong move could completely change the course of my life will do funny things to man…

Paying More Attention to Detail

Up until recently, I never really made it a habit to ask patients if they had left the country recently. The sad part about this, is that it shouldn’t take an Ebola scare to motivate us to do thorough assessments and ask the right questions. I’m now asking more questions, looking for signs and symptoms of ALL the infectious diseases that I can think of and I’m paying closer attention to potential hazards.

The last thing I want, is to harm myself or my patient because I missed the opportunity to avoid an exposure. We owe it to ourselves, our families and our patients to stay on the ball when it comes to infectious diseases.

Stop Taking Stupid Risks

I hate to admit this, but I haven’t exactly been a beacon of good practice when it comes to infection control. I’ve gone into many scenes without gloves on, intubated many times without a mask or eye protection and brushed off simple safety precautions that could very easily save my life. There’s simply no excuse for this. It’s stupid, plain and simple.

Seeing healthcare workers come down with deadly infections has really put my daily routines into perspective. Now I always make sure to A) have the appropriate PPE on my truck at the start of the shift, and B) actually use the life-saving gear that’s issued to me.

So what has this Ebola scare done for you as an EMS provider? Please feel free to comment below. I would love to hear from you!

3 Things Paramedics Spend Too Much Money On

In EMS we like automation, which is interesting because we also like control. The two don’t usually go hand-in-hand. We like our LUCAS devices to deliver CPR for us, our ventilators to deliver oxygen for us, our PCR’s to automatically update with our times and our heart monitors to automatically send vitals and ECG readings to our computer. We also hate being told what to do. We hate restrictive protocols, and we despise being told that we have to ask for permission to administer any treatments.

We may not realize it, but this mindset also carries over to our personal finances. Allow me to elaborate:

We often feel like we aren’t in control of our finances. We feel like we don’t make enough money and that we have too many bills. But, once again, we also like automation. We like our automatic payments, our payroll-deducted taxes with that big refund check at the start of the following year and our employer pension plan. What we tend to overlook is the large amount of money we are giving away each month that could be used to pay off debt or build our savings.By taking ourselves off financial auto-pilot, we can gain control of the money going out every month and start building up a decent savings for emergencies and retirement!

Here are 3 expenses that you might not realize are eating up your paycheck:

Taxes

OK, so this one might be obvious to some, but you would be surprised how many people seriously over pay on their taxes. I don’t care what anyone tells you, tax returns are NOT a good thing! You have allowed the federal government to borrow your money and pay it back interest free. It’s the equivalent of handing your partner 20% of your paycheck every 2 weeks and asking him to give a portion of it back sometime next year when it’s convenient for him. I work with people that do these transactions with tens of thousands of dollars. It’s outrageous! In a lot of cases, people are overpaying enough to fund a VERY healthy retirement plan.

This is money that you’re already paying to the government! Take control and stop overpaying. There are plenty of tools to help you figure out the appropriate deductions to claim. “Tax Caster” by Turbo Tax is a good start. Do the math and figure out what you need to claim in order to either break even or owe / get back less than $200 at the end of the year. Once you figure out what you need to claim, go to payroll and have your deductions changed. Now, you can either have payroll deposit the difference in a savings / retirement account, or have it deposited to your checking and start throwing it at debt!

Vehicle Insurance

This is one of those things where people often find that they are paying entirely too much money. We tend to subscribe to the “set and forget it” mentality and it often results in thousands of dollars wasted every year!

Here are 2 ways that you can start saving on vehicle insurance:

  • Deductibles
    Once you have your $1,000 emergency fund saved up, go in and raise your insurance deductibles to $1,000. This can often result in a significant lowering of your monthly premium! Remember, the purpose of insurance is to limit your exposure to expenses in the event of accident. If you have an emergency fund, you might not need a lot of the coverage that you are paying for.
  • Premiums
    This is huge. Every 6 months I like to shop around to see what I can find for insurance rates. The last time I did it, I wound up saving over $70 a month on my premium by switching companies. Don’t believe me? Try it. Try talking to an insurance broker or check out Zander.com and click on “auto / home”.

Life Insurance

If you don’t have life insurance, get it. Like, RIGHT NOW. We are at a much higher risk for at-work deaths than most people, so we MUST make sure that our families are taken care of. I’m not talking about the little $20,000 free policy that many employers offer, I’m talking a policy for 10 times your annual income.

Why 10 times your annual income? Because your family could take that policy money and stick it in a good mutual fund or investment account and the interest would pay around what your annual income is. They would be covered for life. For most of us, this policy is going to cost under $30 a month….if you do it right.

Here are 3 things to look at when it comes to paying for life insurance. 

  • Term vs Whole Life / Cash Value Plans
    I ALWAYS recommend using term insurance. I know some people are going to argue with me, but there is simply no reason to ever use whole life or “cash value” life insurance policies. They are ridiculously expensive and the rate of return on the money that you “invest” rivals the IRS tax return. Not to mention the fact that the “cash value” is more often than not kept by the insurance company after you die. There’s just no need to put any extra money into life insurance than what you need for a good term policy. Get term insurance and put the money you would be putting in a whole life policy into an investment / retirement account. You’ll get a better return on your investment and you can leave it to your family when you die. Of course, NEVER cancel a policy without getting a new one first.
  • Pre-Tax vs Post-Tax
    Some employers offer pre-tax insurance policies. Don’t do it. If you die, the payout on your policy can be subjected to income taxes. You would be much better off getting a policy on your own and paying the $30 premium with post-tax money as opposed to being slapped with a tax bill on a $500,000 payout.
  • Check Premium Rates
    Many employers offer term life insurance, and that’s awesome! However, you’re not always getting the best deal when you do it this way. Shop around. Head over to Zander.com and get quotes. If you find a deal that’s cheaper than what you’re paying now, go for it! I ended up saving a bunch of money by switching to my own policy. If you wind up saving money, put the difference into your savings or throw it at debt!

Can you think of anything I missed? What are some items that you have found ways to save money on?

3 Money Smart Tasks I Want You to Do This Week

If you’ve been following the #MoneySmartMedics series, you have seen articles on how to get caught up on bills, write your first budget, master the art of budgeting, save for emergencies, plan for the future and even some tips on saving money while on shift. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from readers, and that’s awesome! What I haven’t seen, is anyone saying that they’re actually trying any of the money management strategies that I’ve laid out.

Trust me, I completely understand.

If you’re anything like me, it takes a lot of time and a lot of reading before you actually jump in and try something. For me, it took some time before I really dived in and started getting serious about finances. It’s like looking at myself in the mirror knowing that I need to start working out, but for some reason lacking the drive to actually show up to the gym and do it. We come up with all kinds of reasons to delay these things. We say things like “I’ll start this next month” or “I’ll wait until I get paid again”. I know this because I do it all the time.

Well, let’s make this week different. Let’s jump in and take action! Nothing huge, nothing impossible, just action. I want you to do these 3 money smart tasks THIS WEEK. That’s right, starting TODAY. I don’t care where you are financially, or how much you have in your bank account. These are 3 tasks that anyone can do and they will be a great starting point in your journey to becoming a Money Smart Medic.

Step 1 – Write Down Your Debts

Yes, this can be painful, but it has to be done! Don’t be afraid of the truth. We can’t fix our problem until we know where we stand. So here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Gather up your bills, credit card statements, loan statements, etc and put them in a stack from smallest to largest. This doesn’t cost anything!
  2. Write them down on a piece of paper from smallest to largest. I really want you to put this on paper and not just a spreadsheet or Word document. It needs to be in physical form.
  3. Post that paper on your fridge or somewhere that you’ll see it every day. Every time you pay off a debt, you’re going to cross it out with a big red marker. Trust me, this is really motivating and it’s a good reminder to stay focused on your goals!

If you want, you can download this free “debt snowball” calculator spreadsheet that I found. Unfortunately, the free version only allows you to list 10 debts, but it will give you a date that you will be debt free! If you’re looking for something more comprehensive, then you’ll have to shell out a few bucks. You can try Dave Ramsey’s online debt-snowball tool for free by going to: http://www.daveramsey.com/specials/mytmmo-gazelle-budget/?ictid=hp.myt&income=Choose+an+income 

Free debt snowball spreadsheet: http://www.vertex42.com/Calculators/debt-reduction-calculator.html

Step 2 – Budget the Money You Have on Hand

Whether you have $5 or $500 in your account, you can do this step. I want you to create a budget for the money that you currently have in your possession. If you get paid in 2 weeks, write a 2-week budget. If you get paid Friday, write a 5-day budget. I don’t want you to spend another penny unless you have a written plan for it!

Let’s face it, you’re not going to have any more money until you get paid, so why not try telling it where to go? If this is your first time writing a budget, you probably won’t perfect it, but that’s OK! It takes practice.

Now here’s the thing…

I want you to have something left over when you get paid. You need to put SOMETHING away for emergencies, even it’s just one freaking dollar. You have to start somewhere. Find a jar, shoe box, penny bank or savings account and just start putting whatever money you can away. Like I said, it doesn’t matter how small the contribution, just start doing it.

Step 3 – Switch to Cash for One Week

I know, I know, I love my debit card, too. But if what you’re doing isn’t working, it’s time to change. Take the money you budgeted for food, entertainment and anything that normally requires you to swipe a debit card and put them in separate envelopes. Now, you don’t have to carry all that cash with you. You can leave it at home and just take what you need with you when you leave the house. Try leaving the debit card at home for a day. It won’t kill you!

I’m confident that you will find that you spend a lot less when you put your cash in envelopes and only spend what you have budgeted. It’s a week, people! You can do this!

If you need help with writing your budget, you can use Dave Ramsey’s free budget forms by going to: http://www.daveramsey.com/tools/budget-forms/

You can also download YNAB (You Need A Budget) IF you have the money to spare in your budget. If you head to http://www.medicmadness.com/youneedabudget you will get $6 off your software purchase.

Let Me Know How You’re Doing!

I’m here to help! I want to encourage you every step of the way and be there for you if you need anything. I’m serious! Post pictures of your cash envelopes, tag me in posts, send me e-mails, or just get my attention to let me know that you’re on your way to becoming a Money Smart Medic!

You can do this, I promise.

How to Fit EMS into Our Budget

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When I talk about fitting our jobs into our budgets, I’m usually met with looks of confusion. Yes, it may seem counterintuitive being that we come to work to make money, but let’s face it, this job comes with expenses. Licensing fees, continuing education, meals and transportation costs are all expenses that we often overlook when writing our budgets.

In this week’s article, we are going to address some of the common expenses we see in EMS, talk about how to prepare for them and save money while we’re doing it.

Start Meal Planning

It’s no secret that bringing your meals to work will save you money. The problem is, it’s not always practical in EMS. If you’re working in system status management, you probably don’t have access to a refrigerator, and if you’re pulling station shifts, you never know when you’re going to get a chance to cook or sit down to eat. When working these kinds of shifts, it’s usually easier to just grab a quick meal either between calls or while sitting at post. Unfortunately, this usually leads to excessive spending and before we know it, we’ve spent over $300 for the month on fast food just while we’re at work!

Before we even get into planning for meals, we need to budget for it. I don’t recommend tying your work meals into your regular monthly food budget. You need to get a handle on what you spend while you’re at work and it’s hard to do when your work and home food budgets are combined. I recommend setting a work-spending budget for each pay period. If you find yourself working a lot of last-minute overtime, then set your budget assuming that you’re going to work extra hours. Any money that’s left over can either be carried into the next pay period or applied towards debt-reduction.

Meal planning when working EMS shifts can be a bit tricky, but it’s not impossible. We just need to understand the challenges that we face in order to adequately prepare. If you’re working station shifts, you simply can’t go wrong with a crock pot, sandwich materials and anything that heats up quick. Also, be sure to either keep a small pack of snacks in the ambulance, or keep a $5 bill clipped to your medic license in case you find yourself away from the station for extended periods of time.  For system status shifts, invest in a decent cooler and pack a couple sandwiches, some fruits, and various snacks.

Setup a per-Meal Budget

For some of us, bringing our food to work just isn’t going to happen. Whether we’re running on a tight schedule each morning, or just lack the motivation to do meal planning, we sometimes find ourselves slipping back into our old habits of just swiping our debit card 3 times a day for meals and feeling bad about it at the end of the paycheck. While I strongly recommend bringing your food to work, I also understand that it isn’t always an easy task. If you’re going to be spending money at work, at least set a cap on what you’re going to spend each meal. Even if we are going to spend the money, we can still be intentional by setting per-meal budgets.

This simple strategy will save you tons of money (although not as much as bringing your food). Actually, the savings from this strategy alone could fund your retirement plan. Every time we swipe our debit card at a fast food restaraunt, we easily spend anywhere from $7 to $10 dollars. On most EMS shift schedules, that will easily exceed $300 a month. That’s way too much money to be spending at work considering that we could easily feed ourselves for the month on that kind of money if we were to shop smart.

I recommend setting a maximum $5 per-meal budget when you’re at work. This will exclude just about every “value meal”, so you’re going to have to be creative when you order. With the exception of McDonalds, the drink is what would break your per-meal budget. To beat this, bring your own drinks. Try investing in one of the 64-ounce travel mugs that most of the gas-station markets offer. You might be surprised to find that just about every gas station and truck stop has a standard refill price of under $1. That includes drinks of all sizes, including the kidney buster that I just mentioned. Trust me on this, I own a 100-ounce one and I’ve never paid more than $1 to fill it up. These mugs are really well insulated and will easily last you an entire 12-hour shift. I just don’t recommend filling them up with soda for obvious reasons.

To help develop the habit of sticking to a $5 per-meal budget, leave your debit card at home and bring just enough $5 bills to get you through the shift.

Plan for Work Expenses

While meals are usually our biggest expense when it comes to working EMS, we still have other things to plan for like transportation, continuing education and license fees.

Fuel costs are easilly overlooked when writing a budget which typically causes us to under fund that category and put us in a tight spot towards the end of the pay period. It’s not uncommon to see EMT’s and paramedics travel long distances to report for work so it’s important to plan accordingly. I completely understand this challenge as my station assignment changes every month. Depending on the month, I’m driving as little as 3 minutes and as much as 45 minutes to get to work. To prepare for these expenses, I did the math and figured out how much gas I use to get to each station. This makes it really easy for me when I sit down to write my fuel budget each pay period.

License renewals and continuing education are due the same time every 2-4 years. Don’t let these expenses sneak up on you. Create a “license and continuing education” budget and put money aside every pay period for these expenses. Schedule CE classes regularly so you aren’t cramming at the last minute to keep your license current and aren’t having to shell out excessive fees for last-minute roster spots. I use Google calendars to send myself reminders of renewal dates and to remind me to schedule regular CE classes. Planning for these expenses should be one of your top priorities being that your job is what provides you and your family with an income.

Conclusion

Healthcare and public safety are unique in that we have a lot of costs associated with our jobs. While most of these expenses are tax-deductible, that doesn’t do us a lot of good when we’re down to the wire and don’t have enough money to pay for a license renewal or a tank of gas to get to work. Just like everything else, we need to be prepared and make sure we have enough money set aside so these expenses don’t catch us empty-handed at the last minute.

I want to hear from you guys. What are some expenses that you have when it comes to working in EMS?

Money Smart Medics Part 6: Life After Debt

freedomSo far in the #MoneySmartMedics series, we’ve talked about getting caught up on bills, writing our first budget, mastering the budget and getting out of debt. So what happens when the smoke clears and you’ve achieved what you once thought was impossible?

Try to imagine a life with no car payments, no credit card bills, no past due accounts, and having plenty of money saved for emergencies. Think your outlook on your EMS salary might be a bit different?

Once your debt is paid off, there are all kinds of neat things that we get to do with our money that we never imagined. Setting up retirement, planning for emergencies, paying cash for vacations and truly breaking the “paycheck-to-paycheck” cycle are just a few. It’s now YOUR money, you can do what you want with it. Having said that, it’s going to be extremely important that we continue to be intentional with our money and continue to live on the budget. We have to remember what got us into our financial troubles and make sure that we don’t slip back into our old ways. We also need to make sure that we get the most out of our money.

This is one of the best parts of the process, because the pain is over. We won the battle and now it’s time to enjoy the rewards of a debt-free life!

Building Up an Emergency Fund

Remember the $1,000 we put away for emergencies in our sinking fund? Well, that was just a small amount to provide us with some security while we paid off debt. That was for things like unexpected car troubles, ER co-pays, etc. That doesn’t really last long if you lose your income or have a truly catastrophic event. Once our debt is paid off, we can really prepare for the worst. Now we can plan for a potential loss of income.

While I’m sure you will want to treat yourself to something nice after paying off all your debt, we will need to get back on track soon to build up a nice reserve of cash for emergencies. This step in the process is going to alleviate stress and anxiety that you never knew existed. The majority of us live our lives literally one missed paycheck away from hitting rock bottom. While we tend to accept this as normal, we can’t really understand the toll this takes on our mental and emotional well being until we finally get to experience life without it.

If you’ve read Dave Ramsey’s baby-step process, you can see that he recommends saving up 3-6 months worth of expenses. Due to the high risk of injuries that we face in EMS, I would strongly recommend that you save up closer to 6, if not more. If you’re still in debt as you’re reading this, that number may seem impossible to you. Just remember that anything is possible when it comes to money. By using the same intensity that we used to pay off debt, we can easily fund our emergency fund in no time. Before you become discouraged, actually do the math and see for yourself. Be reasonable with yourself. Add up all of the monthly expenses that you would need to be reasonably comfortable. Add up essential items like rent, utilities, transportation, insurance and food. You can even throw in some luxury items like internet. Add up the total amount, multiply it by 6 and BAM, you’ve got yourself your first major savings goal.

While it may be tempting to skip over this step, trust me, you need to stay focused and do this. Remember, you’ll never regret saving money, but you will certainly regret not doing it.

Start Contributing Toward Retirement

I’m going to briefly touch on this subject as this is a huge topic and I’ll be covering it extensively in later articles. Pension plans and employer-contributed 401k plans are awesome, but we aren’t going to depend on them. Remember that whole financial independence thing I keep telling you about? Well, it’s kind of hard to consider yourself independent if you’re tied down to a pension plan. We need to setup a plan for retirement that’s completely separate from what our employer provides us. We’ll consider anything we get from pension plans and 401k matches to be extra.

There’s all kinds of investment options for you depending on how many years you plan to stay in the workforce and there’s simply no way to cover them all in this section. What I will say, is that you need to start putting away 15% of your income to invest for your future. I HIGHLY recommend putting the maximum allowed amount into a Roth IRA. One of the benefits of a Roth over a traditional IRA is that your funds go in after-taxes, which means you won’t be paying whatever astronomical tax rate our lovely government comes up with by the time you retire. The other HUGE perk of the ROTH IRA is that you don’t pay capital gains taxes on your earnings. You’ll understand why that’s so awesome once we dive into investments and compound interest.

While I’ll be able to give you the basic knowledge you need to make investment choices, you will really need to sit down with an experienced financial adviser to make sure you get the most out of your money.

Start Saving for Your Child’s College

This may or may not be easy depending on how old your children are. If your children are still very young, then I would recommend speaking to a financial adviser to get you setup with a college fund. There’s a lot to cover here as well, so I’m not going to dive into the specific options that are available until a later article.

I will say that you should be planning to send your child to a college where he or she will pay in-state tuition and get the most for your money. Ivy league schools are like brand new cars. They’re great if you can afford them. You know as well as I do that the workforce will care far more about skill sets and experience than they will about which school your child attended.

We’ll be doing some serious discussion later about furthering education not only for ourselves, but for our children as well. Until then, I would highly recommend reading “Smart Money Smart Kids” by Dave Ramsey and his daughter Rachael Cruz.

Learn to Live off Last Month’s Income

This can be confusing at first, but I promise you that it will make sense soon. For most of us, money leaves our hands shortly after it lands there. Living on last month’s income is where we truly break the “paycheck-to-paycheck” cycle.

When I explain to people how living off last month’s income works, I like to compare it to owning a spare battery for your cell phone (sorry iPhone users) or a portable battery bank. If you only have one battery in your phone, you’ll find yourself having to plug it in at the end of every day to keep it running. Well, our paychecks are no different. If we live off our current paycheck, we run the risk of running out of money and having nothing until we get paid again.

If we have a spare battery charging at home, we can swap out the batteries when we get home. That way we have a fully charged phone to get us through another day while the other battery charges. When you live off last months income, your budget is your battery. Still confusing? Hang in there, it will make sense soon.

Getting to a point where we are living off last month’s income isn’t as easy as just buying a new battery. It’s going to take a little of bit of time. What we have to do is figure out exactly how much we make every month and work to save up that amount in a “buffer” category or envelope. That is going to be our spare battery. Now once we get it saved up, we write our next month’s budget for that amount and use that money to fund our categories or envelopes. Now as we get paid throughout the month, we use our paychecks to fill that envelope back up, just like the battery that’s sitting on the charger at home. Starting to make sense?

If it’s February 1st, we should have every dollar we made in January sitting in our bank account or in our envelope. We will have budgeted that money to spend throughout the month and use our paychecks in February to fill the account or envelope back up. We repeat this process every month. When we do this, we are essentially 1 month ahead on our finances. This means the days of wondering what bills come out of which paycheck are a thing of the past! You’ll find this to be huge relief if you’ve been working a 24-hour shift pay cycle when you have short and long pay periods.

Conclusion

I want you to really take some time to think about what it’s going to mean to be at this step in the process. A month ahead in your finances, a fully funded emergency fund and a plan for retirement and your children’s education. Now I want you to ask yourself if finding a job with a pension plan or higher pay is really going to be what’s important to you, or if you’re going to be more concerned with finding or staying in a job that you love and that makes you happy?

This is what financial peace is all about folks, and it can be achieved by anyone.