"The trick is to stop thinking of it as "your" money." - IRS auditor

Time Flies and It’ll Cost You

By , February 7th, 2013 | One Comment

time flies

Last year there were changes to our health insurance plan. The employer has always used a high deductible plan and they have always been kind enough to contribute $2,000 toward that deductible. The money has always been available at the first of the year. Well, last year, they got a new plan. It’s still a high-deductible plan and they still contribute $2,000 toward the deductible, but the catch now is that instead of putting the full 2K in at the beginning of the year, they put $1,000 in at the first of the year and only give you the remaining $1,000 in July, if you have met certain requirements and earned enough “points” through the wellness plan. (The wellness plan gives you points for completing activities like getting your preventive screenings, taking a health assessment, listening to health related podcasts, and signing up for programs like nutritional counseling, weight loss, etc.)

In the first year of this program, too many people waited until the last-minute to accrue the required points. Since it takes a while to get scheduled for physicals and screenings and many of the other activities involve checking in over the course of a month, many people didn’t earn enough points and so lost out on the extra $1,000. The way the program is set up, it’s impossible to wait until the last-minute and hope to get enough points. And that’s sort of the point of the program. The insurer/employer wants you continually taking care of your health, not just going on a points blitz over one weekend and forgetting about it.

When the money didn’t appear in people’s accounts, there was the predictable uproar about how it was unfair and ridiculous to lose that money just because they didn’t get the points. How were they supposed to remember this stuff, or do it when they were so busy? Time got away from them and it wasn’t fair. Some said the employer should have sent out reminders, or walked them through the points activities.

To some extent I sympathize. It is hard to remember sometimes when a program suddenly changes. It can be hard to remember to do the things you need to do when so much else in life is more pressing or fun. At the same time, however, the program changes were announced more than a year in advance. People had time to set up calendar reminders, to go to the new website and get a feeling for how long each program would take and how long they would need to get the required points. The employer was treating the employees like adults by saying, “Here’s what’s happening and it’s your responsibility to meet these requirements.” That time got away from the employees is their own fault, not the fault of the employer or the insurer.

Time does indeed fly by faster than we realize. It seems like one day you’re celebrating New Year’s and the next it’s Memorial Day. And then you’re asking yourself how did Christmas come around so fast again. It happens to all of us. But when money is on the line, you have to make a conscious effort to keep up with what day it is and make certain you meet your obligations. Otherwise both time and your money will fly out the door.

This is true for many money matters, not just insurance programs. Rebates have to be redeemed within a certain period of time or you’re no longer eligible for the money. Coupons expire. Taxes must be filed by a certain date. Bills have to be paid or you incur late fees. Many benefits (government and those provided by your employer) have an “opt in” or enrollment period during which you have to change your elections or stick with the same thing for another year. Many money matters are time sensitive.

And then there’s the biggie: Retirement. You think time flies when you’re trying to redeem a rebate or complete an insurance program, think how fast it flies when it comes to your retirement. One day you’re twenty-two and just out of college and then seemingly just a few months later you’re forty-two and retirement is no longer so far away. It’s barreling down on you. Seemingly a few minutes later and you’re sixty-five and you’re there, ready or not. This is why financial gurus harp on people to start saving with their first jobs. Not only can you earn more interest that way, but it’s all too easy to put it off for too long. When you put it off and then wake up at fifty, it’s impossible to catch up unless you’re earning a huge income. You have to be on top of it from the beginning because time will fly by, and what seems like an eternity in the beginning looks like five minutes on the other side.

It’s up to us to manage the passage of time. We may not be able to slow it down, but we can take charge and make certain that we’re doing what we need to do when we need to do it. Start saving for retirement early. Make lists or spreadsheets of important financial dates so you’re constantly reminded that they are coming up. Frequently check your coupon binder for expiring coupons that you want to use. Leave rebate forms in a conspicuous place so they get turned in. When a new program is announced that’s time sensitive, don’t put off learning about it. Figure out what you need to know immediately so you know the requirements and can plan your time accordingly to meet those requirements.

Of course, all the knowledge in the world won’t help you if you still insist on procrastinating. Not only do you have to make yourself aware of time sensitive issues, you have to overcome your natural tendency to put things off until the last-minute. But if you can do those two things well, you’ll never leave money on the table because time got away from you.

(Photo courtesy of aussiegall)

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