Money And Health: Money Should Never Be Top Priority

Money is important.  I don’t focus this blog exclusively on money or finance related articles, because I’ve been doing it for quite a few years now.  I just don’t have it in me to crank out post after post about why everybody needs an emergency fund or how to get a mortgage.  Those are great topics.  But, there’s so much more, including some hard looks about money and health.

Sometimes it takes life to remind you that while money is certainly important, it isn’t your number one focus in life.

The Phone Call

A week ago Sunday, the family was out for breakfast when my phone rang.  I looked and saw it was my parents.  I sensed something was odd because we typically don’t talk during the daytime hours.  We usually reserve our chats for the evening so that it’s a good chance that everybody is home and settled in.

I answered and when talking to my dad immediately knew that something was wrong.  It turns out that my step-mom had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.  She had developed sudden shortness of breath and had a hard time breathing or talking.

mb-2016-03-ambulanceI talked to my dad for a couple of minutes to find out if her breathing had been better when they took her (it was), if she was responsive and coherent (she was), whether my dad wanted me to come get him (he didn’t) and what hospital she was being taken to.

Shortly later, I dropped the family back at the house and drove to the hospital.

The Tests

When I got to the hospital, they directed me where to go and once I got there, they were running the first test of the day, a chest X-ray.

I was able to say hi and see that she was breathing but definitely shaken up by what was going on.  My stepmom is not one to complain, so we knew that this needed to be checked out.

I found a little bit more info as to what had happened, and around this time, they took her for her second test, a doppler scan on her legs.  She had developed blood clots about two years ago, and was on medication for about six months afterward, and it seemed that was the suspicion that they were leaning toward.

After she got back, an ultrasound tech came in and did a detailed scan of her heart.  You could tell that she was quite interested in several areas as they can take ‘snapshots’ and she was there for quite some time.

After this, they came in and told us that they suspected that she had blood clots and that they think some had traveled to her lungs.  They wanted to do a CT scan to test, and she was taken away for that.

When she came back, we talked to them about family history where my stepmoms sister had a similar situation, but had bleeding on the brain that was not diagnosed, and she ended up not making it when they treated the clot and the brain bleeding worsened.  (Different hospital, FYI)  After hearing this, they took her for a second CT scan to check out her head.

Treatment: The First Hours

The diagnosis was confirmed with all of the tests.  She had lots and lots of blood clots on her lungs.  Because the lungs weren’t able to take as much oxygen as needed into the blood, the heart was overcompensating.  Her blood pressure was 170/120 and the resting heart rate was around 130.  This was dangerous to heart.

The treatment option was to insert a catheter into her body and have it go through her body to her lungs.  She would be infused with clot busting medication that would basically be administered at its source.  It’s an aggressive treatment plan with quite a few risks that basically tie back to that if you have bleeding anywhere on or inside your body, it’s going to get worse.  But, the scans and such showed that this risk was minimal, so they advised this to avoid potential damage to her heart.

The importance of doing this sunk in when they told us that they had to page the team to come in to do this procedure, as it was a Sunday and the staff was not there.  I think it home for me at that point just how close of a call this was.

But, the procedure took about two hours and everything went as expected.

Treatment: Night 1 through Day 3 

She was moved to the ICU and we were allowed to see her.  At this point it was around 7pm, roughly 9 hours after she got to the hospital.  Almost right away, you could see that the numbers were improving.  Still, they had her on the infusion medicine as well as regular liquids and also other blood thinning medicine.  She had at least six different machines all clicking and thumping and beeping, and it didn’t allow for much rest.

Early the next afternoon, the administration of the infusion meds was complete.  As the doctor said, the numbers told the story that it was working, as her heart rate and blood pressure were completely normal.  The catheter was taken out, and about 2/3 of the machines were taken out.

They kept her in the ICU for another day until she was moved to another room.

Treatment: Day 3 – Day 5

At this point, they began stepping down her treatment.  By Day 4 they switched her blood thinning medication from an IV administered medicine to a pill.  She’ll be on that indefinitely.

One complicationdeveloped that may have extended her stay by a day or two.  It was bruising.  She’s been susceptible to bruising, and with the blood thinners, it caused bruising at many places on her body.  She had bruises anywhere where pressure had been applied during the course of her stay.  Her entire left upper arm was bruised almost from elbow to shoulder.  Since that was where everything had been done, blood pressure and such, it was very bruised.

So, they spent some time making sure that the bruising wasn’t spreading, but by Thursday morning they were pretty sure that she would be able to leave, and by Thursday afternoon she was back at home.

Money And Health: What Matters

In all this, did money matter?  No.  She’s got great insurance, having worked for a government agency for many years, and having retired with great insurance.  So, hopefully the time spent will not cost much out of pocket, but it wasn’t like my dad was even checking or it was discussed.  The goal was just to get her healthy again.

In the end, money is a priority and a very important one.  When it’s all said and done, money doesn’t matter compared to health.  You want to see your loved ones healthy.  That’s what’s important.  If we’re not healthy, all the money in the world doesn’t make a single bit of difference.  Not a penny can be enjoyed in life if we don’t have health.

This was a trying week.  My stepmom has been told that she’s not allowed to scare us like that again.  She used up her quota for a good long while!

Now the goal ist to take this as a reminder to make sure to cherish what’s really important.  Each other.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

How To Calculate The Value Of An Annual Membership

Do you have an annual membership or pass to any local attractions?

Many families find annual memberships to be a great way to save money on favorite places or attractions.  They can be especially valuable for families.  We have young kids, so we have four different memberships that we take part in:

  • Detroit Zoo
  • The Henry Ford Museum
  • City Park  (for the beach)
  • Robot Garage

It’s a pretty well rounded group of attractions.  The first three are pretty self explanatory.  The last one is a local business that recently opened up that offers classes and drop-in opportunities where kids build with Lego, gears, wheels, pulleys, motors and all kinds of other nifty materials to create things that walk, roll, open, close and other cool things.

First Questions To Ask

Figuring out whether to buy a membership is a multi-step process that involves asking a series of questions.

  1. Did you like the attraction?
  2. Do you see yourself or your family liking it as much after a few more visits?
  3. Do you have time to fit this into your schedule?
  4. Can you commit to going at least as many times as it takes to get to the break even point?
  5. What is the break even point?

Making sure that the answers to the first four questions are all YES is very important, understanding that you might not know the exact answer to #4 without knowing #5.  Still, the first three questions will largely get you there.

But, say you do answer yes, and you want to know what your break even point is. That’s the important question of the day from a financial perspective.

Calculating The Break Even Point

The number you are looking for is the number of visits at which you need to hit to reach your break even point.

You’ll need to:

  • Calculate the cost per individual visit
  • Get the cost of the annual membership

Divide the annual cost by the individual cost and this will give you the break even point as far as the number of visits that you need to exceed for the membership to ‘pay for itself.’  When the number comes out as a fraction, you round up to the nearest whole number.  That’s the simple method and it works for most cases.

Sometimes, it gets a little more complicated, as you’ll see with our examples below.

Detroit Zoo

Per Visit Cost:mb-twenty-201308
2 Adults @ $14 each: $28
2 Kids $ $10 each: $20
Parking: $5
Total: $53

Family Membership Cost: $79

In this case, $79 / $53 = 1.5
Round up, and you see that it takes 2 visits to break even.

We go at least 10-15 times per year so this is well worth it.

The Henry Ford:

Per Visit Cost:
2 Adults @ $21 each: $42
2 Kids @ $15.75 each: $31.50
Parking: $6
Total: $79.50

Family Membership Cost: $160

In this case, $160/$79.50 =2.0
We don’t need to round up, so the number of visits to break even is 2.  

We go here at least 6 times per year, so we’re more than happy to renew this.

City Park Membership (Beach)

Per Visit Cost (car entry fee): $6

Annual Pass: $30

This one is a very simple calculation in that we have to go 5 times to break even.

In all the years we’ve gone, every year but one we’ve gone at least or more times, and I think one year we missed it by one visit (it was a chilly summer and also right after one of our kids was born, if memory serves), but typically we meet this one without a problem.

Robot Garage

This one is a little more tricky because the benefits come in a couple of different areas.

Per Cost Visit Drop-In Play: $8 
Class Discounts:$11
Camp Discounts: $8

Annual Membership: $99

In this case, we have to estimate three different areas:

We take our kids around six times per year, meaning that we get $96 worth of drop-in visits.  Wow, we’re almost there!

Our son typically goes to 2 classes per year, and while the $11 per class is an estimated savings, the $22 is enough to definitely push us over the edge.

We also sent our son to a week long ‘camp’ and members get a small discount (note: it’s actually listed as more, but since they offer an early bird special to non-members only, the net benefit is what I list): $8

So, for the $99 membership, we offset with a savings of  around $126.

Not great, but we do calculate that we’re at least breaking even.

Using Numbers To Make Decisions On Each Annual Membership.

With the information we have above, we can see exactly how we’re doing.  Putting together this analysis is easy and it’s also something you should do regularly.  You can use it not only to estimate up front if you think you’ll get value from the membership, but to see if you’re actually using it when it’s time to renew.

Say you loved the beach the one time you went and had every intention of going a whole bunch…on the day you signed up.  But, when you came back at the end of the year, you realized that you only went twice.  You’d know that renewing might not be your best option moving forward.

Annual memberships can be a great way to save money and create lots of great experiences for you and your family to enjoy.  Understanding just how they fit into your budget and how spending money can save you money in the long run is great knowledge to have.

Readers, do you have any annual memberships?  Do you sit down and do a cost benefit analysis to ensure that you’re ‘making back’ the cost of the actual membership?  

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Bummer News About Our Cat Boomer

Last week wasn’t the best week in our house, as we had to put our cat Boomer to rest.

Boomer was my companion for a little over fifteen and a half years.  When he came into my life, I wasn’t looking to be a cat owner to another cat.  I already had one, and had recently lost a second one.  A girl I was seeing at the time also liked cats, and I must have mentioned something about missing the other cat, because as a birthday present she decided to get me a kitten!

I was a little shocked, but the moment he walked in, laid down on a pile of blankets next to the couch, and fell asleep, I was hooked!

(For those who are wondering, the relationship only lasted a few more months, but by then the cat was part of the family!)

Boomer got his name because, as a kitten, he loved jumping up and down off furniture and made quite a loud thump, or BOOM, every time he hit the floor.  And so was Boomer!

Temperamental Cat

As Boomer grew from a kitten to a cat, there were a few characteristics that became evident.  First, the cat loved to eat more than any other cat I knew.  Second, he was not as friendly as most cats.  He pretty much turned into a one-person cat.  Luckily, that person was me!  Third, he developed a pretty well known temper.  If he didn’t like you or what you were doing, he would have no hesitation to hiss at you.

Hungry Cat

As I mentioned, Boomer loved to eat.  So much that without realizing it right away, I soon found that I had a big old fat cat!  He weighed in around 20 pounds, and I knew at some point that this was not the way it was supposed to be.  See, having two cats previously, I figured all cats were the same in that if you gave them a bowl of food, they would take what they wanted, and come back later when they were hungry.  That worked pretty well, until Boomer came along.

Turns out he had the appetite of a dog.  If you filled up the food dish, he would simply empty it.  I knew that I was filling it more frequently, but never realized until the vet alerted me that he was way over his weight.

So, Boomer got to go on a diet (and so did the other cat, much to her chagrin *lol*).  Feeding was limited to several small meals throughout the day.  After that, Boomer got back closer to his ideal weight, normally around 10-11 pounds, although he scavenged for food as much he could.  He would go through the trash can, beg for food at the table, and would always scour the kitchen for crumbs or droppings.  We only made the mistake of leaving bread within his reach a couple of times, because he would literally eat a hole through the bag and eat himself a couple of slices!

Fun & Happy Cat

From the telling so far, it might not sound like he was the happiest or fun cat.  But he really was.  While easygoing ormb-2016-01-mycat lovable weren’t the first words that came to mind, he really did enjoy life.  He loved me and anytime I sat down on a couch, he would wander over, jump in my lap, and get a few minutes of petting time in.  When the weather turned to the winter, he would spend many a night at the end of the bed keeping my feet warm.

He loved looking out the back window.  We have lots of squirrels and he always made sure they weren’t getting into too much trouble.  He’d also chatter at chirping birds.

As a kitten and young cat, he loved to play.  He would chase toy mice around until he ran out of breath.  He’d actually stand there and pant.  As he got older, the playfulness waned but never fully went away.  He’d still get bursts of energy and a toy mouse was always at the ready.

When he was a kitten, he got a little stuffed hedgehog as a gift, and he loved that throughout life. He would pick it up and carry it around the house, meowing at it, and Hedgehog always seemed to be near where Boomer was.

Constipated Cat

Around the age of 3, Boomer began having some issues with going to the litter box in that, well, he couldn’t.  He suffered from constipation and this plagued him throughout his life.

Some of the early episodes were rather unfortunate and probably scarred him.  One time, he was coming back from the vet and they’d treated him, but he hadn’t gone by the time he left.  Unfortunately, he didn’t make it home and was in his carrier in the car when disaster struck.  Only it got worse.  When I got home, I realized that I’d left my keys locked in the house.  Here was poor Boomer, covered in a smelly mess, only wanting to get inside, and he couldn’t.  Hosing him down while I waited for someone to bring me a key technically helped him out by getting rid of the flies that he was attracting, but he sure didn’t see any positives!

Thankfully, we had a vet that, after the initial problems developed, was able to really help us manage the problems.  Special diet and medicines really helped.  Over the next twelve years, I became pretty good at spotting when a bout was coming on, and we managed to get in front of things.

Every episode ended pretty quickly and he was back to his normal self.

This Time Was Different

This was the routine for over twelve years and it went well…until recently when it didn’t.

I won’t go into the messy details, but essentially a few weeks ago he had an episode that was worse than normal.  He got straightened out and seemed to be back to his normal self, except that unlike every other times, he didn’t start going again on his own.

We had a few different treatment interventions, and made some adjustments to his diet and medicine, but nothing we did ultimately brought him back to ‘normal’.  It just kept getting worse, and even after getting him to go, the level that he bounced back and the time which he stayed well before starting to decline again all was going in the wrong direction.

After a few weeks, I could see just by looking at him that it wasn’t working.

I had a heart-to-heart with the vet and they put it in a very meaningful way.  Basically, they pointed out that all of the medicines and food and everything else we did was designed to assist his body in the function of going, but that the body still needed to do the work.  Essentially, the medicines and diet couldn’t take over and make things happen.

I looked at my cat and realized that, although he fought a courageous battle for over twelve years, he wasn’t going to win the fight this time.  I also remembered a conversation years back that I had with my vet, when he first started getting sick.  At the time, I asked how long a cat with his condition would be expected to live.  She said that it could vary, but that between 10-12 was pretty normal.  I always kind of kept that in the back of my head.  When he made it to past 15 and 1/2, it comforted me to know that he got quite a bit of, maybe, ‘extra’ time.

Final Time With Him

I talked to the vet and talked to my wife and we made the heartbreaking decision that nobody ever wants to make, but that pet owners must eventually face.  We scheduled the appointment for the next day.

Once I did that, I made the decision that I was not going to wallow in sadness.  Instead, I wanted to give him a great day.  And we really did have a great time together.  He got a few more sits in my lap.  He got to eat as much and as often as he wanted.  I gave him two plates of macaroni and cheese, his favorite ‘people’ food.

He went to the door wall and found a perfect square of sunshine to lay in and take a nap.  Before we left, he went up on his blanket and lay down.  I sat next to him and started petting him and started talking to him.  I told him how much I loved having him as my cat.  Then, I was just talking to him about things I remembered throughout his life.  He fell asleep.  It was a blessing to get that opportunity to say goodbye. It was heartbreaking to take him in a couple of hours later for the visit that you know he won’t be coming back from.  But really, those last 24 hours will be time I’ll always treasure.

In Almost Twenty Years

I’ve had three cats over the course of nearly twenty years.  Losing Boomer was the first time that I didn’t have a cat still waiting for me.  Losing him meant companionship and the routines and everything else that you just get used to.

We’re going to take a little time and decide what we want to do as far as getting a pet.  We haven’t ruled anything out or made any plans one way or another.  This is a new chapter in our lives, and we’ll see how the story plays out.

For now, though, we all miss Boomer, though we are already making sure to cherish the memories above all else.  He’s no longer here but he’ll always be part of our family.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Cider Costs: What The Apple Is Going On Here?

Fall and apples go hand in hand here in Michigan, as I know is the case in many other parts of the country.

We have always enjoyed many of the activities that fall brings, and those centered around apples have always been favorite, specifically going to the cider mill and also apple picking.  Both of these things have been traditions of our families for the last few years.

But, we noticed this year that things are just out of hand!

Cider Prices

Who doesn’t love cider and donuts?  I know everyone in our family loves these things.  Still, the price of cider these days is through the roof.  A gallon is now around $8 at most local cider mills!  This pricing came about in kind of a sneaky way.

In 2012, Michigan had an incredibly warm March.  Temperatures averaged low 70’s for roughly a two week period. This was about 30 degrees warmer than normal.  The apple trees started blooming earlier than normal, as is normal with these temperatures.  Unfortunately, when the cold weather came back in, many trees were damaged for the year.

In short, the harvest in 2012 was a dud, and prices of apples and cider went up as the crop was down 75% in many areas.  Prices for a gallon of cider went up from around $5 to $7.

Now, 2013 and 2014 produced bumper crops of apples, but do you think the prices went back down?

Nope.

I really get bothered by these types of opportunistic price increases, but they’re not surprising, and even though I’m sure there wasn’t direct collusion between cider mill owners, I’m sure that they all just decided to put out their prices as they were the year past and see what happened, and unfortunately nobody complained.  And now we’re left with cider prices that are much higher than they probably should be.

And, to top it off, some of the cider mills have gotten greedy.  There’s one local mill (Long’s Family Farm) that actually charges you for plastic cups if you want to buy your cider and sit outside.  Talk about greed!

Picking Prices

Long’s was also our favorite spot to pick apples.  They had a pretty sweet setup where you came in, parked, and took a hayride out to the picking area.  Our family generally got a large bag.  The fun and experience, plus the apples, were worth the $25 or so.

mb-2015-10-appleSadly, it’s not that easy anymore.  They now have a policy where every person that goes to pick apples has to buy their own bag.  Even kids.  So, instead of our family buying one large bag for around $25, we could get four small bags for roughly the same price. The only problem is that you end up with roughly half the amount of apples in four smaller bags as you do with one larger bag.

And, to add insult to injury, it’s been reported that when you go back, if your bag is above the top line, they’ll charge you for yet another bag!  After all, if you’re going to effectively double the price of your product, why not effectively throw sand in their face while you’re at it?

Sadly, our annual visit to this mill and orchard was crossed off the list.

Our Alternative

We found a new cider mill that we tried this year (Rochester Cider Mill).  The prices were around the same, but there’s no getting around that, but it was very laid back.  They had areas for the kids to play, and while you were in there, you didn’t get the sense that they were looking at you with dollar signs in their eyes, as has turned into the case with other nearby mills and orchards.  We loved it!

We ended up skipping apple picking this year.  Hopefully we can resume this at some point, but it will either have to be at a new orchard or if the old place we went to changes their minds.  This year, we have gotten our apples at the grocery store.  It’s not as much fun, but in the end, we’re satisfied with the product and we can justify the prices.  Our goal is to still have fun, just maybe in other ways.  The kids are now old enough that they can help bake pies or make crisp.  Yum!

A Deep History

Many of the mills and orchards in our area is that they are very old, with decades of tradition and history.  That’s all great and it makes for great stories.  However, I can’t help but think that charging for cups and napkins goes against the established traditions.  Was this kind of business what the founders had in mind?  It seems awfully hard to believe.

Readers, do you love apples and fall like we do?  Have you seen your local businesses stay true to their history or has commercialization and profit taken over?  Tell me your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.