You go to work to make money, not spend it. But after the commute, morning coffees, lunch meetings, afternoon pick-me-ups and happy hour drinks, your paycheck barely makes it home.
Sure, you can pack your lunch or carpool. But what if you’re already doing that, or those options just aren’t practical? Ginger Scherbarth, human resources and corporate wellness expert and owner of ANOVIA, says there are many “big picture” ways to save on work-related expenses, such as looking at your healthcare and personal wellness plan.
First and foremost, Scherbarth says you should know your plan. “It is important to know what will be covered before getting a treatment, going to a doctor or having a prescription filled,” she explains.
“This is especially important if a plan only has in-network benefits or if the benefits are significantly reduced if you don’t go to a network physician.”
And, unlike the fashion world, “generic” isn’t a bad word when it comes to healthcare. Scherbarth says you should ask your doctor about a generic version of your prescription. “Generic drugs are the same prescription, same strength and same dosage as brand named drugs – and they are FDA approved,” she says.
Also, take the time to annually review your benefits package and selections. Scherbarth says you should ask yourself the following questions each year: Has your family situation changed? Does it make sense for a married couple to each carry their own coverage through an employer or would it be more cost effective to have one spouse cover both? Is it now time to sign your baby up for dental insurance?
If your company offers a health reimbursement account or flexible spending account, sign up! Scherbarth says these plans save you money by allowing you to get tax savings on the normal items such as deductibles, copays and prescriptions and also you get savings on many over the counter medications are covered.
One of the best ways to reduce healthcare costs is to take care of your health. “Eat five to nine veggies or fruits per day, limit fats and drink lots of water,” Scherbarth says, “enjoy a twist of lemon or orange to spritz it up!”
You don’t completely need to overhaul your diet to have a healthier lifestyle. Scherbarth says just going for a walk or taking a short break can help reduce stress. But, she highly recommends hitting the gym when you can. “Exercise is great for your heart and your head and keeps the doctor visits at bay,” says Scherbarth. “Keeping yourself healthy means you reduce the likelihood of getting ill or having some preventable disease, such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer.”
Not having a plan can mean havoc on your diet and your pocket. “On Sunday, before the work week begins, think of what you will be doing for lunch and for snacks during the days to keep your energy up,” says Scherbarth. “Lean Cuisine meals (and the like) are a good quick fix option. Add some of your own mixed veggies to up the nutrition value.” Scherbarth cautions to watch the sodium content, though, as some of the quick meals have a full day’s alottment in just one serving. Other ideas include natural peanut butter and jelly on whole grain bread, leftovers from dinner the night before. Even a slice of cheese pizza can fit into your diet, she says, but just supplement with a piece of fruit.
“Stay away from the drive thru voodoo!” warns Scherbarth. “There are low fat options out there, but you have to do your homework to make sure there aren’t hidden fats and calories in the sauces and additives. Don’t just drive up and order what you’ve always ordered without thinking of the impact to your health.”
Consider good snacks, instead of that overpriced, unhealthy vending machine options. Scherbarth says nuts, yogurt, pretzels, low calorie granola bars and fruit are good options. “Pack a few snack bags on the weekend and you’ll be rarin’ to go when you need a little mid-morning or afternoon ‘pick me up,’” says Scherbarth.
A Workable Plan
So, you have a way to watch your healthcare and nutrition costs, but you still need a tangible way to see how much you can save from these changes. Well, get out your pen, paper, calculator and thinking cap. Draw four columns. In the first column write down all your expenses and in the second column write down the cost per week for that item listed. Your expenses may list some of the following items:
- Car parking
- Drinks after work
- Afternoon snack
- Gym fees
If you have other expenses, add them in so you get a personal snapshot of your own living expenses. In the third column, identify the expenses you can change:
- Y for yes, can change
- N for no, cannot change
- P for possible change
- D for definite change
In the fourth column, consider a cost saving value to provide a dollar value of the saving. For example, now that you know how much things are costing you:
- Can you do with less babysitting? How much less? What will your saving be?
- Do you need to purchase a coffee every morning before work? Can you make your own? Can you cut down to just one Starbucks per week? What would your saving be?
- Instead of eating out for lunch, can you make your own? Are there less expensive places to eat lunch? What would your saving be?
- Do you need to rely on quick pick up snacks? Can you organize your meals differently? What would your saving be?
- Do you need to spend as much on new clothing? What can you do without or what can you change? What would your saving be?
- Do you use the gym efficiently and cost effectively? Do need to change your membership to reflect a change in use? What would your saving be?
Costs You May Be Able to Deduct
So, you know how much you can save year-round. But now that it’s tax season, you’re probably wondering how you can capitalize on work-related expense tax deductions. According to Monster.com, you can deduct a wide variety of employment-related expenses, including:
- Transportation and Travel: Sometimes considered unreimbursed costs, and therefore deductible. For example, commuting costs cannot be claimed, but the expense of getting from a job with one employer to a second job with another is deductible. The per-mile reimbursement rate varies according to activity.
- Meals and entertainment: They may be deductible but only at half the actual cost. As with many deductions, scrupulous records are required. Work-related doesn’t mean the pizza you ordered at your desk is tax-deductible. It implies you were with colleagues or clients and discussing business matters.
- A computer or home office: If used exclusively for work, they may be deductible.
- Union and professional dues and work-related licenses, legal fees and medical examinations.
- Uniforms, tools, supplies and magazine subscriptions: They may be deducted if not reimbursed by the employer.
- Work-Related educational expenses: Deductible if the coursework is required by your employer or helps you maintain or improve your qualifications in your current line of work.
- Job search expenses: Generally are deductible, but only to change jobs within your current field.