What’s the secret to bedroom body confidence? Can you get addicted to stress? You ask the questions. We called the experts. Their answers ahead.
Q: My parents are getting older, and while they don’t live with me, I’ve had to pick up more of their medical bills as their health declines. What can I do to lighten my financial load?
A: First, know you’re not alone. A study from AgingCare found that while an estimated 34 million adults provide care for elderly family members, 63 percent of them don’t have a game plan for paying their aging parents’ bills. Instead, most caregivers wind up dipping into their own pockets for their parents’ prescription drugs and nursing expenses.
One way to lessen your financial burden is by taking advantage of federal and state aid. Make sure your parents are getting all the senior citizen benefits they’re entitled to by logging on to BenefitsCheckup.org, a service of The National Council on Aging. The site allows you to find and apply for government and private programs that help pay for expenses including health-care bills. For local resources, check with the Eldercare Locator service and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
One final note: Many employers offer dependent-care flexible spending accounts (which allows one to pay for a dependent’s expenses with pretax dollars), but you can only take advantage of it if your parents live with you at least half of each year that you claim them as a dependent.
Q: Every time I make a big-ticket purchase (like a flat-screen TV), the salesperson pushes an extended warranty. Is it a good idea?
A: Not usually. Retailers push these warranties because they provide profit margins of 50 percent or more, but electronics rarely break down within the time frame of such warrantiestypically, two to five years from the date of purchase. Even if a machine does need repair, in many cases you’ll spend the same amount of money fixing it as you would have spent on the warranty. Plus, most products come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty and some credit cards (usually the gold and platinum kinds) provide a one-year warranty after that has expired, so you’re already well-protected.
If you still want to go for it, look at the fine print because coverage varies widely; for instance, some parts may be covered, but not others. Even on an expensive item like, say, a plasma TV, consider the warranty only if it’s less than 5 percent of the purchase price and offers full coverage.
Q: I admit it: I’m a shopaholic. Lately I can’t seem to control my impulse purchases. Help!
A: You can get a handle on your shopping binges by doing two things: Leave your credit cards at home, and use the “24-Hour Rule”if you see something you “have to have,” wait a day before buying it. You’re less likely to spend freely when you pay with cash, and taking a 24-hour cooling off period will cut your impulse buying, too.
Another resource to tap: your family and friends. Set a budget for yourself, and take a buddy shopping with you who will get you out of the mall once you’ve hit your limit. If these strategies don’t help and you also tend to feel depressed after you shop, talk to a licensed therapist. Compulsive shopping can actually be an addictive behavior. A therapist can help you get your impulsive buying under control.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox is a personal-finance expert and author of Investing Success and Your First Home: The Smart Way To Get It and Keep It.