Getting braces: the real pain comes from the orthodontist’s bill

After a trip to the dentist this week we discovered my daughter’s overbite is causing damage to the backside of her upper, permanent teeth, and the schedule for her getting braces should be moved up. We had already consulted an orthodontist, but we all agreed she could wait until she was a little older (giving me a little extra time to save for the cost for braces).

Based on what our dentist advised, this is no longer an option. Obviously, the news doesn’t help my efforts to get out of debt and build a healthy emergency fund. Over the last day or two I’ve had time to digest the painful news and devise a plan of attack to cover the cost of braces for our daughter. After all, what parent wouldn’t sacrifice for straighter teeth and an improved bit?

The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. At least that’s what all the personal productivity gurus tell us, right? The idea does have some merit, particularly in the area of personal finance. For instance, in the days immediately following the last-minute Christmas shopping hangover my wife and I agreed next year we would plan for Christmas expenditures instead of trying to cash flow them out of each paycheck from October to Christmas Eve.

We opened an online savings account and committed $25 a paycheck (biweekly) be diverted to that dedicated “Christmas Club” account. We plan to take the same approach to getting braces, only the dollar amounts will be significantly higher and I’ll have to come up with a more foreboding name than “Club” to attach to the ledger identification. This was the option we settled on, but there other strategies we strongly considered.


Our first thought was to fund the cost of braces using our flexible spending account at my employer. This might still be an option, but I had three reservations. First, I would need to investigate the IRS regulations to determine if orthodontics were covered as an FSA-eligible expenditure.

Second, our FSA is tied to a debit card and all charges must be run through that system. I planned to do some negotiating with the orthodontist using cold hard cash. Thirty Benjamin Franklins laying across the table look a lot better than a Mastercard debit card when trying to broker a discount.

Finally, agreeing to have $150 deducted from each of my twenty-six paychecks would cause a significant hit to the monthly budget. Of course, one could make the argument that I’ll have to set up the deductions to some sort of savings vehicle anyway, so why not get the tax deduction associated with creating a pre-tax flexible spending account. Good point.

We could finance the cost for orthodontics directly from the orthodontist. This discussion didn’t get very far because my wife and I are committed to taking on no new debts, even for braces. Putting the braces on a credit card, taking out a loan, or using the orthodontists in-house financing just did not appeal to us.

In the end it appears saving biweekly amounts in our online savings account fits best with our current financial strategies (keep it simple, no new debt!). Like other decisions we’ve made with finances, it may not make the most sense mathematically, but it makes the most sense personally. That’s why they call it personal finance.…

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