Creative Ways to Use Your Flex Savings Account for Fitness

I am on my third of year of working my first Big Girl Job but it was only this past year that I learned about a health savings account.
 
In short, a Flex Savings Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) works like this: pre-tax money is taken out of each paycheck and put into a separate account. Money from that account can be used to pay for qualified health expenses. The upside to this is that it reduces the amount of your taxable income. If you have family or a chronic health condition, this could mean thousands of dollars. Let’s say for example, if I make $50,000 a year and I sign up to put away $3,000 this year in a health savings account (HSA). I can use the money from that account to pay for health related expenses, and my taxable income is then $47,000.
 
The downside is that you have to predict at the beginning of the year how much you want taken out, and if you don’t use it all up by the end of the year, you lose it.
 
In December 2012, I signed up for a Flex Savings Account and told them how much I wanted for the year. This was my first time using  amount was calculated based on how much I thought I’d spend on copays and the fact that my birth control cost $30/month. Then in January 2013, my health insurance decided to make my birth control free. Great news. However, this mean I had a lot of extra money to use up in my FSA.
 
Other than the usual co-pays and prescription costs, these are the things I successfully used my health funds on last year:
  • first aid kids or supplies – band-aids, neosporin, etc
  • contacts solution – not exactly fitness related, but my most frequent purchase
  • chiropractor and physical therapy – the copays that my insurance doesn’t cover 
  • compression sleeves & socks – Surprisingly, sports compression socks are covered. Shipping fees for any eligible medical needs is also a covered expense, so I was reimbursed for the compression socks and the shipping fees. I bought compression socks on Groupon and that was reimbursable too. 
  • feet stuff – orthotic inserts, bunion and blister treatments, callous removers
  • sunscreen and sunburn products
  • my big purchase: Garmin GPS with heart rate monitor!
 
These are some expenses that I have not tried but might be helpful to fitness nuts or people needing to lose weight:
  • acupuncture
  • crutches if you get injured
  • electrolyte replacements – the description says “Examples include: Pedialyte”; I’m not sure how this would apply to a sport-related electrolyte drink like Nuun or Gatorade.
  • Fitness programs, weight loss programs, gym memberships – My spending acccount states: “Fees paid for a fitness program may be an eligible expense if prescribed by a physician and substantiated by his or her statement that treatment is necessary to alleviate a medical problem.” I wonder if you are overweight or obese and your doctor writes you a prescription that you need to lose weight, your gym fees would qualify as a health expense. 
  • weight loss surgery such as bariatric, gastric bypass, or lap band

So there ya go. Now you know what else you can buy if you are in danger of not using up all of your health funds.If you haven’t signed up for an FSA/HSA, remember to do it during open season! If you are lucky to not have any chronic health issues, you can still use it like I did for general fitness stuff. 

 

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Fat Tuesday

Even though I live in Rhode Island and I am not even Catholic, my husband and I met while in school at Tulane so we try to do a little Mardi Gras every year. This year, I had a few coworkers with New Orleans roots so we had an office-wide Mardi Gras party. This was the only festive thing I could find to wear:

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There were treats. Lots of treats. I made pralines which came out amazing.

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There was also king cake (from Whole Foods! Who knew?), Gooey Bars, and some weaksauce jambalaya. But I ate it all. Plus a slice of crappy pizza, because we are in Rhode Island after all. I have been binging way too much lately and my stomach didn’t feel so good after eating so much sugar in the span of like 3 hours.

For dinner, I made jambalaya as planned. Emeril’s is the best recipe for jambalaya. I’ve made it many times and everyone approves. Tip: I always make it with wayyyy less meat than it calls for. Like half or even less. Since I had already inhaled all of that bad stuff, I made myself a cauliflower-rice version. Two pots going at once:
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Making two versions of the same recipe took a lot of coordination, timing, and a million more dishes to wash. I’m usually alright with subbing cauliflower for rice but this was one dish where I was really, really missing the rice. It was just too mushy:
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Random side story: The bowl on my food processor broke. It turns out my only choices are to pay $65 !!! for a replacement bowl + cover or $90 for a whole new food processor. $65 for a plastic bowl?! I am so annoyed by this.

A couple of weeks ago we made Red Beans with cauliflower rice and it went together well:
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Mardi Gras should be a national thing. Put it on your calendar for next year.

My heart is a yankee but my stomach must be a Southerner. I’m going down to Charleston this weekend where the southern food glutton-fest will continue. I hope i can keep my waistline under control.

Running on fumes

I ran just over 4 miles on Saturday. This was my longest run since the marathon. I only started back up with running 2 weeks ago, and during that time I was fighting a cold. I’m feeling down right now because I feel like I haven’t had a “good” run since restarting. It sucks because after I completed the marathon I felt on top of the world, like I was ready to run another one as soon as my knee healed. And now I’m down in the dumps again.

I have a 5k coming up on March 16, so I hope I can have some GOOD runs in the next 2 weeks before that. I’d hate to finish this 5k in the same amount of time as my very first 5k two years ago. At the rate I’m running right now, it might happen.

Last week I went to a local running club. I had done a “beginner running group” at a store and they encouraged us to come to their weekly group run. As soon as I got there, I wanted to run far away from there. People started showing up and it was all men, mostly late 20’s into 30’s; in other words peak running age. I was grateful that I knew the coach from before, and I think he sensed what was going on and he apologized. There ended up being two other women there, and they ran together at a 10 minute pace. At my 12 minute pace, I was DEAD LAST in the group. The women running the 10 min pace? They were second to last. That’s how legit these runners were. Lucky for me, I was the only person who ran the 3 mile loop so no one could see me. Everyone else opted for 5 or 7 miles and we all finished around the same time. I was spared the embarrassment of having everyone waiting at the finish for me.

Sidestory: A New Balance rep was there and let us try out the brand new Fresh Foam sneakers during the run. Yes, I got to put on a new pair of sneakers for the run and I had to give them back at the end. It was fun to getting to try new sneakers for a whole run.

Back to my night: For the first 10 minutes of the run I wanted to cry and die of embarassment. But then, once I got into my groove of running, I truly did forget my nervousness. I told myself over and over that this was just like any other weeknight run when I’m by myself, it’s just a different route. Then at the end, I surprised myself by feeling like I would come back to this group run. Despite being dead last, I think I still want to try it. To be honest, I’m surprised at myself for not giving up this time. However, another admission is that with the string of bad running days, I am a little bit considering giving up running.

Natural and Cheap Alternative to Protein Powder

This may seem like a no-brainer, but as I was thinking about how to add protein to my smoothies without processed, chemical-filled, expensive protein powder, it dawned on me that yogurt is a perfect substitute for protein powder. Why didn’t I think of this before? Because I was brainwashed!

To compare:

1 serving of Perfect Fit Protein Powder = 15 grams of protein for 70 calories.
1 single-serve container of nonfat Greek yogurt = 15 grams of protein for 80 calories. 

And yogurt is ridiculously cheaper. Perfect Fit, which is organic, costs over $1.30 per serving at its cheapest. A 32 oz tub of organic yogurt costs $4 which would be around 63 cents per serving. So-called health companies are tricking you into believing that their products are special and you need them, but as usual, whole foods can deliver the same benefits. Making a smoothie takes more effort than mixing a shake but you don’t truly “need” the entire smoothie production. You could just swallow a damn yogurt and get the same amount of protein. Chugging plain unflavored yogurt doesn’t sound any worse than chugging chalky, gritty ass protein powder.

Ditch your protein powders and buy organic, plain, no-sugar-added yogurt.

Winter Funk

I am smack in the middle of deep winter. The sidewalks are covered in horrible ice and snow, so I can’t do any running. The ground is frozen so farmer’s market veggies are minimal. As a result, I’ve been uninspired and the blog shows it. Meanwhile it’s not worth it to sign up for a gym at this point because I keep telling myself “just 3 more weeks” and I should be able to run outside again.

Valentine’s Day was a nice little pick me up; a little light on this winter darkness. When I came home from work, my bunny greeted me with flowers and this plate of bakery goodies:

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And I gave him two kinds of chocolate from Brooklyn (not intentional). Mast Brothers and Raaka:

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Then we broke tradition and went out for dinner. We usually don’t go out on Valentine’s Day because I get annoyed with crowded seatings and limited menu. But this year one of my favorite nicer restaurants that I don’t get to go to very often had a really great special. I stupidly waited until Tuesday to decide, so by the time I called my only option for a table was 5:15 or 9:30. Since I had to be at work at 7am Saturday morning, we said yes to the Early Bird Special. It turns out no one wanted to eat at 5:15 because we sat against the back wall and this was our view for most of the dinner:   vday14_1

The sun hadn’t even set yet.

Have you ever been to fancy steakhouses where they have a “Steak for 2”? This is so nerdy: I’ve always wanted to do that, but it’s always too expensive. Cook and Brown had it on their Valentine’s Day menu for a very reasonable price ($65 for the steak, salad, and sides) so I was really excited to get it. I’ll skip over the salad picture because it was a salad. (Albeit, a fantastic salad with toasted barley on top.)

This is the glory of our 30 oz steak:

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Behind the steak is a huge portion of bone marrow, another thing I have never had but always been interested in. I am pretty adventurous with food, but even I had a little hesitation over how… real it looked. Know what I mean? It’s clearly a big freaking animal bone sawed in half! And here I am, scooping out the insides with an espresso spoon. I described it to a co-worker the next day and realized that it probably sounded like the grossest thing in the world to her. Oh well. This is food. This is real life. How did it taste? Like eating butter. Beef-flavored butter. If that’s what dogs taste when they’re chewing on bones, I get it.

The early dinner time actually worked out well. We left the restaurant at 7:30 which gave me time to come home, eat my desserts with a glass of cognac, and be in bed at my normal time for work the next day. Man, I hate myself for saying a 5:15 dinner was perfect scheduling. Old people. For real.

The next couple of weeks will surely pick up again because I’ve got some traveling to do but I definitely need to get in more exercise with all of the eating I have in store. I never thought about Valentine’s Day being a diet wrecker but this one was big.

Happy Valentine’s Day, happy 3 day weekend, and happy school vacation weeks to you all.