Posts filed under 'General'

Using Online Medical Resources Wisely

search_online_150x150As medical costs and insurance deductibles continue to rise, most people would welcome help to save on medical expenses. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of information available online to guide us in making decisions about when to see a doctor and what we can do ourselves at home. Granted, it is not likely you will be the next one saving someone’s life by Googling their symptoms online, however if used wisely, these sites can be a tremendous help.

I saw recently on the news that a man went to a medical emergency care facility in a shopping center for a minor cut, and was shocked to see how high his bill was. He didn’t realize that the location he chose away from the main hospital campus offered the same level of care as the hospital emergency room, with treatment by physicians using expensive testing equipment. He could have visited a CVS MinuteClinic Walgreens TakeCareClinic, or Target Clinic instead, where family nurse practitioners and physician assistants provide care at a lower cost, and all of these clinics do accept insurance. Or, better yet, perhaps he could have looked online for instructions to clean and bandage the wound at home.

The best online resources

A 2012 Neilsen survey found that 60 percent of all patients consulted the Internet before calling their doctor about any condition. Most of them found the information useful to assess the severity of their symptoms, educate themselves, and develop questions to ask their doctors. But finding a reliable source is important, because there are many questionable sites that should be avoided. These five sites differ in their focus of information, but are all recommended for their reliability and accuracy.

  1. WebMD is, in my opinion, the very best source of medical information that I use. Their Symptom Checker helps me find a list of possible conditions to match the symptoms I’m looking up, and provides details about what to expect, any self-treatment I can administer, how common the condition is, and when to see a doctor. In addition, the site also has proactive recommendations and health news articles. You can join WebMD for free to save your Symptom Checker history, manage your family’s vaccinations, or track weight loss.
  2. Everyday Health also has a symptom checker, and can provide links to specialists in your area that treat the specific conditions you are researching. The site also includes reliable information about drugs, health issues, and fitness.
  3. The Mayo Clinic site’s Health Information section lets you easily search alphabetically for information about symptoms, diseases and conditions, drugs and supplements, or tests and procedures. There are tools and information for healthy living, as well as outstanding first aid information to help you during a medical emergency.
  4. The CDC or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site posts information like news about virus outbreaks, necessary traveler’s vaccinations, and weather-related and aging issues. The subtle alphabetical index in the blue bar near the top of the page links you to the conditions and topics described on the site.  The section on Life Stages includes good information for parents about safety and possible diseases and conditions at every stage of a child’s development, while the Milestones and Schedules include immunization recommendations and health screening topics.
  5. MedlinePlus is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health and features health topics, drug information, and an online medical dictionary.  While the information is reliable, I didn’t find the site as easy to use as the others. You have to look up everything alphabetically or by browsing the list of topics. There’s a very good tutorial here to help you identify trusted sites providing medical information.

Pet care resources

Any pet owner will tell you that pet care is expensive and the cost of pet insurance prohibitive. Most people don’t realize that veterinarians are as highly trained as their doctors of human medicine counterparts in specialized areas of treatment, while they don’t earn nearly the same salary. With advances in pet care, many of them have to invest in costly equipment. Internet resources can help you care for your pets, too, and save some money on unnecessary veterinary bills.

Both of these two sites offer helpful information that is approved by veterinarians, and are worth checking out before you rush your pet to the vet’s office or emergency care. Proactively checking their ears, trimming their nails, and observing their behavior can greatly reduce the number of office visits. I recently learned that cleaning a scratch or wound with peroxide will delay the healing process, and I should use alcohol and antibiotic cream instead.

  1. Web Vet’s information covers dogs, cats, birds, and other small animals. The site posts blogs and free downloadable PDF “Pet-Pod” topics. You can search for a specific symptom or read comprehensive guides by breed. Articles cover general health, holistic care, travel, and training.
  2. Pet Health Network offers tips for owners of dogs and cats about behavioral problems and proactive care. It provides a list of what to expect for your pet by age.

Remember that online information is not a substitute for medical care. Consult the sites you can trust to educate and help you decide when a condition can be managed with self-care or will require a doctor’s attention. The greatest value of Internet resources is to learn the basics, and know when to let healthcare professionals do the hard work.

Add comment January 28th, 2013

The Buxr You Don’t Know ($50 Giveaway)

buxr_girl_170Buxr will be turning 5 years this coming December, time flies! Over these years it survived two reincarnations and quite a number of updates. Most of them are things we added to the site because you asked for them and naturally all these awesome features are put to a good use by you guys,.. or are they? In fact this recent topic started by a Buxr old-timer equipurple made us wonder if this is really the case. This blog post is meant to be a refresher on all the tools that Buxr offers to help you with bargain hunting.

Coupons Page

The coupons page deserves more attention than it gets for one simple reason: it offers some ways to slice deals no other part of Buxr does. The menu at the top is your friend. By varying the selection and combining it with tags on the right you can see (among other things) all printable coupons, printable grocery coupons, or all printable coupons for a store of your choice (say Payless Shoes). Naturally you can browse online-only coupons as well, but you probably already knew that. ;-)

Home Page

The home page consists of several modules with each performing its own task. My favorites are ‘Daily Quote’, ‘Activity Badges’, ‘Bargain News’, and ‘Upcoming Deals’. If you are logged into your Buxr account (and there is not really a reason why you shouldn’t) then you can configure these modules to your liking, add new ones or delete some you don’t want. You can also flip the deal module sorting between time, votes and popularity. I love sorting deals by popularity as it helps me see what is getting hot even before it starts collecting votes.

Buxr Wiki

If you ever get lost around Buxr, the place to go for help is Buxr wiki. It has a great deal of information about Buxr and shopping deals in general. Some pages worth checking out are Getting Started, Birthday Freebies, Money Making Sites, and a lot more!

Deal Alerts

Too busy to browse deals? You can set up an alert to notify you whenever a deal that you are interested in is submitted. For example you could get an email whenever someone posts an Kohl’s coupon, or a specific product that matches your price criteria. This wiki page has more information on how you can do it.

Deals Page

Not many know that you can customize the deals page to show/hide expired deals, sort deals by date or latest activity, and even filter out deals that get negative votes. This can be done using the controls on the right hand side of the page. In addition you can use the menu at the top to, say, see just the freebies, or only upcoming deals.

Other Pages

Here is a few more places around Buxr that might be of interest to regular members and occasional visitors alike:

  • Badge Awards – the list of recently awarded members. The badges are in recognition of various activities members perform around site, things like sharing a deal or visiting the site for several days in a row.
  • Daily Quote – a list of all daily quotes ever featured on the Daily Quote home page module.
  • Top Users – top 10 most active Buxr-ites and some stats for each. Call it the Buxr “Hall of Fame”! :)
  • Overview Video – a bit old but still useful overview of Buxr in under 7 minutes
  • Buxr Blog – we post every week covering a wide range of money saving topics. Also, this is where we announce monthly contest winners and keep you updated about what is happening in our community.

Do you have a favorite part of Buxr? Please share in the comments to this discussion thread. As you do so, take the poll for a chance to win a $50 cash prize. Good luck!

Add comment August 13th, 2012

10 Items I Never Pay Full Price For

red_sale_bagAs an adult, once I began managing my own finances, I always watched my budget closely. I clipped coupons, carefully shopped the sales, and made sure I mailed in those rebates. I considered myself a pretty savvy shopper. However joining Buxr has changed my life! Now I won’t go anywhere or buy anything without checking the site for coupons first! In fact, there are many things I absolutely will not EVER buy at regular price. Here are my top 10:

  1. Groceries may be the the number 1 way our family saves money. We’ve always planned our menus around what’s on sale, buying the seasonal items that are at their peak quality and best price. We use grocery coupons as much as possible on the items we buy regularly, but never buy any item only because we have a coupon for it. Using our loyalty cards at grocery stores gets us instant savings on many items plus high value coupons mailed directly to us, as well as cash-back coupons that print with our receipts. Another benefit of shopping with a loyalty card is the discount we get when we buy fuel. We always buy paper goods and other staples in bulk at warehouse clubs or whenever they’re on sale.
  2. For clothing, I always check out the sale section in the stores or online, and combine my purchase with a coupon as often as I can. I usually get advance sale notice and some extra coupons through the mailing lists from my favorite stores, so I can plan ahead. A lot of casual wear is also available at the warehouse clubs, because they get special purchases that they can offer at reduced prices.
  3. Gift cards can be bought online below face value at sites like Plastic Jungle or Gift Card Granny, and usually have no expiration dates. I can also sell any unwanted cards that I received as gifts. Then I can wait to combine the discounted gift cards with advertised sales.
  4. Dining out is a nice treat for our family, and we never pay full price for a meal. We purchase Restaurant.com certificates only when they’re 80% or 90% off, and redeem coupons we’ve received by mail, email or online. I signed up every member of the family for the mailing list of our favorite restaurants, so everyone gets a free coupon for their birthday.
  5. Magazines are very high on my list to cut costs. I used to think that I was saving money over buying single copies by signing up for subscriptions. That was before I discovered that I could get so many of them for free or only a few dollars a year.
  6. Books are my passion and everyone in the family likes to read, but I hate to pay a lot for them. Nowadays I see new hardcover books in the grocery store for 40% off list, great prices on Amazon, and even better ones on eBay, where I can often buy a used book lot shipped for under a dollar a book. I can sell them or swap with friends after we’ve read them. Any others that I can’t find at a cheap price, can be checked out from the public library for free.
  7. Video games are cheaper on Amazon or if you buy them used at the game stores. You can always find perfectly good last-generation games on clearance in the electronics department as soon as the new titles are released.
  8. Classes and activities that we would enjoy are offered so often for half price or less on the daily deal sites. We signed up at various sites to get a daily email of their offers in our area.
  9. Movies in the theater have gotten so expensive that I never thought we’d be able to save so much on them. But there are lots of free screening opportunities, discount tickets through daily deal sites or bought in bulk online, theater card discounts, and lower-cost matinees. Several theater clubs post weekly coupons on their Facebook pages for free or BOGO refreshments.
  10. Movie DVD rentals are cheap to begin with, but there are so many discount codes available that you can often get one night’s rental for free. Family night with a movie and pizza (bought with a coupon, of course!) is one of our favorite treats.

What’s on your list?

1 comment April 23rd, 2012

Are Home Heating Costs Freezing Your Budget?

house-insulation

Did you know that heating your house in the winter can account for more than a quarter of your home’s total energy costs? And weather analysts are projecting that many parts of the U.S. will have periods of below-average temperatures with above-average snowfall this year. If you add higher fuel costs to that prediction, those expenses can really impact your budget. The US Energy Information Administration projects that this winter, from October 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, the cost of propane and heating oil will be 9-10 percent higher than last winter. But, while you have no control over the weather or the price of fuel, you can definitely control your energy costs. Here are some tips how to lower your heating bills:

Insulate

  • About 15% of an average home energy bill goes to heating water. You can save by setting your hot water heater’s temperature to 120 degrees, and add an insulation jacket for as little as $20. That will prevent the water heater from working overtime to keep standing water warm, and cut heat loss in half, for a savings of 4% to 9%.
  • Keep the warmth of your forced-air heating system moving in the right direction by sealing and insulating the air ducts. Pay special attention to duct work in unheated areas like attics, crawl spaces and garages. A system that loses warm air to leaks on the way to your rooms, can add up to 20% to your bill.
  • Most older homes could use additional insulation, particularly in the basement and roof. Insulation degrades over the years, and newer options are more energy-efficient. Add insulation in attics, floors over unheated spaces such as your basement, any crawl spaces, and your garage. You actually lose more heat through poorly insulated floor spaces and basements in the average house than through drafty doors and windows. Add more insulation that has an R-Value according to these recommendations, specific to your location and type of heating system. The savings can be as high as $500 a year!

Seal

  • You may be able to cut heat loss in half when you seal and weather strip windows and doors, ensuring a tight fit to reduce drafts. Don’t forget the weather-stripping on your attic and basement doors to prevent heat from escaping there. Seal the openings where pipes, cables and other utilities enter your house. The cost to buy sealing products for $25-$50 will more than pay for itself with an energy bill savings of up to 20%, according to the EPA. Sealant, caulking and weatherstripping are all easy to use for do-it-yourself projects. Check out the EPA’s do-it-yourself guide for advice on closing off air leaks here.
  • Installing exterior or interior storm windows can reduce heat loss through the windows by 25-50%, and glass fireplace doors help stop heat from being lost up the chimney when the fireplace is not in use.

Service

  • Schedule a tune-up for your heating system annually by a qualified professional. Natural gas, propane and oil heating systems create combustion deposits when they burn, that can build up and make the system both unsafe and inefficient.
  • Clean your furnace filters; dirty filters slow air flow and make your heating system work harder. This increases your energy bill and shortens the equipment’s life.
  • Install a programmable thermostat and set it to conserve heat during the night or while you’re away from home, and then warm things up shortly before you awake or return. For every degree you set your thermostat back over eight hours, you’ll save about 1 percent on your heating bill every year. You can try to remember to turn it down manually 10 degrees when you go to sleep or leave the house, but using a programmable thermostat does that for you automatically.

Free heat

  • During the day, you can open shades and curtains on west- and south-facing windows to let in the sun’s natural warmth, and then close them at night.
  • Turn your ceiling fan to run on a low speed in reverse (clockwise), to push rising warm air back down from the ceiling. Limit the use of ventilation fans over stoves or in bathrooms so hot air will not be drawn out of the house unnecessarily.
  • Keep shade trees from blocking the sun’s rays into your house by pruning any branches that block the sunlight.
  • Move furniture away from any exterior walls to put some space between you and the cold walls. This makes the house seem warmer and leaves room for the warm air to circulate around the furniture.
  • Leave the oven door open after baking, after you’ve turned it off. This adds warm air to the kitchen area.

Other ways to keep warm

  • Close off the attic, garage, basement, spare bedrooms and storage areas. Heat only those rooms that you use. Add area heaters to warm just the occupied rooms and keep the rest of your home at cooler, more economical temperatures.
  • Put an extra blanket on the bed when you turn down your thermostat at night. An electric blanket is much less expensive than heating your bedroom.
  • Wear warm layered clothing indoors during cold weather, so you can set your thermostat to the lowest possible comfortable setting. Some of the new lightweight synthetic fabrics are the best for thermal layering.

This option doesn’t really save money, but you can ask your gas, oil or electric company to put your account on a level billing contract. This spreads your utility costs out over the year with equal monthly payments to help you budget for the heating season and make your heating bills more affordable.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the typical family spends as much as $1900 a year on home utility bills, but a large portion of that is wasted. You can view or download their online booklet of tips to save energy and money, up to 25%. If you haven’t already taken advantage of it, a tax credit up to $500 is available for energy-efficient home improvements installed before December 31, 2011. See this link for details, and look for IRS Form 5695 when it becomes available in a few months, at tax preparation time.

Add comment November 14th, 2011

Sweet daily deals, sour aftertaste

Groupon Pole Dancing DealThe growing number of new group deal sites gives money-saving buyers a false sense that every day can bring them fantastic deals equivalent to Black Friday. Since 2010, more than 600 such sites have been created, offering what appear to be extreme savings of half off or more on everything from products to services.

The ease with which shoppers are able to take advantage of the offers presented to them in daily emails by simply clicking a button, prevents them from researching the value of the deals before committing to buy. This kind of impulse buying goes against the idea of having the discipline to shop with a list and stick to it, encouraging you to buy more than you need. And, even worse – analysts estimate that, while consumers who buy these deals will spend more $1.25 billion dollars this year, 20%-30% of them will go unused!

Have you ever experienced buyer’s remorse over any of these deals? We’ll tell you what makes these deals so attractive, what you should know about group deal sites to avoid bad deals, and what to do if you regret your purchases.

Why the deals seem so irresistible

  • Daily emails bring the deals to your inbox, you don’t even have to search for them. Subscribers receive targeted or personalized offers available in their area.
  • It’s online shopping with just one mouse click from the email message, you don’t even have to go anywhere or search for the products online.
  • The limited number and time limit on each deal creates an urgency to grab the deal or be left out. The sites promise savings of 50% or more if enough people sign up and pre-pay before the offer expires. But it’s very likely that, if you miss this deal, you would still get another opportunity to buy it when a similar offer turns up on a different deal site.
  • At some sites, there’s also the option for buyers to share with friends to get their own deal for free. So if you didn’t get the offer directly, your friends will talk you into it anyway.
  • The offers introduce consumers to experiences like skydiving or pole dancing, that they might not otherwise consider if they weren’t deeply discounted. This makes buyers focus on the savings, instead of the fact that this is money they otherwise would not have spent at all.
  • The extra charges or restrictions may not be apparent in the glowing deal description, until you read the fine print. For example, shoppers who used Groupon to sign up for an FTD Valentine’s Day voucher last February discovered that prices on the special voucher-redemption page were $5 to $10 higher than those on the regular FTD site.

How you can avoid wasting your money

  • Use a bit of self-restraint. It’s only a good deal if it’s something you really need or use regularly. Think the purchase through carefully before committing. If a deal for classes is too popular, it will be difficult to schedule and use the voucher before the expiration date if classes fill up.
  • Don’t grab something you don’t need because you want it at the moment, deep savings on boot camp workouts aren’t for you if you hate to exercise.
  • Research the site you are buying from, as well as the business redeeming the offer – see how long they’ve been around, what are their policies, and if they have any complaints posted online or with the Better Business Bureau. You haven’t saved anything if you never get the deal you bought. It’s easy for anyone to start up a deal site, but many of them don’t survive.
  • Compare the offer to market prices to be sure it’s really a bargain, check out the merchant’s regular promotions, and find out whether the voucher has to be used in a single transaction or at a specific location. A recent Tippr offer for $100 worth of product from VistaPrint for $35 sounded appealing, but it’s actually not a good deal. The voucher would apply to full price items plus shipping, and the company frequently offers the same items for free if you just pay the shipping costs.
  • Send the deal site offers to a separate email address. Don’t even check the emails unless you have extra money to spend.
  • Decide how you will use the deal and how you will pay for it. If you charge it on a credit card with an ongoing balance, you’ll pay more for everything you buy.
  • Determine whether you’ll be getting a gift card or a coupon before you buy. Gift cards cannot expire for at least five years, as required by federal law, but codes and vouchers don’t fall under that law and can be short-dated. Check out 10 things daily deal sites won’t say at SmartMoney.

If you regret your purchase

  • Offer it to coworkers, neighbors, friends or family.
  • Check policies of the deal site, many of the larger sites have a “no-questions-asked” refund policy and will refund the purchase value within 30-60 days. They will also refund if the merchant fails to honor the offer.
  • Recycle. Now group deal resale sites are popping up, operating as clearinghouses, to link unhappy deal holders with potential buyers who wanted but missed those particular deals. However, if you’re a buyer looking to score some of these the second time around, it’s important to make sure these resale sites also offer some form of guarantee or protection if the coupons turn out to be bogus or used. Avoid sites that don’t manage the sales, if you have to contact the seller on your own, the risk of fraud is greater and you have no protection at all.

Don’t forget that group deal offers are just marketing strategies and a form of advertising by merchants, to bring in more customers for times or products that are slow in their business. In the essence, these deals are designed to solve the retailer’s problems, not yours. But if you’re careful, you can still use group deal sites to stretch your budget and get some great offers. Follow our tips, and you can avoid those impulsive buys that you’ll later regret.

Add comment August 29th, 2011

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