2-Day Trip to Algodones, for Mexico Dental Work

Algodones is a bustling little town full of white-haired Americans saving money and having fun! American dollar are so important there, it's probably the safest place in North America!

Algodones is a bustling little Mexican town full of white-haired Americans saving money and having fun! American dollars are so important there, it’s probably the safest place in North America!

A few posts ago I talked about getting health insurance, but that’s only part of the health picture because many policies don’t cover dental, eyeglasses or even prescriptions. If they do cover them, you’ll still end up paying a lot because of the deductible. My solution is getting all those things done very cheaply in Mexico, so cheaply it’s much less than most insurance deductibles or co-pay. Every year about this time I go down and get it all taken care of at once.

I just made my first trip of the season down to Algodones on Dec. 17 to take the next step of finishing my Dental Implant procedure (you can read about the first step here: http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/quick-trip-algodones-mexico-dental-implants-review-dr-rubio/). Plus, my eyes have been in a rapid state of change so I was desperate for new glasses. Finally, it was time to get another years worth of prescription drugs.  All in all, it was past time to go!

Dental Work

If you remember, I’m right in the middle of getting Dental Implants which is a four or five step  process:

  1. A Dental Implant is screwed directly into the bone, however, if there isn’t enough bone left you need a bone graft to build it back up. Then you have to wait 4 months for the graft to heal. I had a graft done on my lower molars last year and it’s now healed so I’m ready for the next step.
  2. Once the bone is thick enough, a hole is drilled into the bone and a post is inserted into it. The post is below the surface of the gum so you can’t damage it while it’s healing. This too has to be left for 4 months to heal. The bone actually grows around the post and it becomes as strong as the original bone, root and tooth. I had this done last year on my top Implant, and I had it done this week for the bottom one.
  3. After the four months,  another post is screwed into the post that is healed into the bone. this one is actually above the surface of the gum and I can feel it with my tongue. It needs to heal for one month. That’s where I am now on the top Implant, waiting for it to heal.
  4. After the month you go back and  have an impression made for the crown that will be attached to the outer post. On January 21st, I’ll go back down to Algodones and get the impression made for the crown. It’ll take two weeks for it to be ready
  5. Two weeks later I’ll go back and have the crown attached and the top one will be all done.

Because it’s such a long process, if you’re thinking about getting it done in Algodones, you really need to be located  pretty nearby. Here in Quartzite/Ehreneberg I’m about 100 miles away so driving down and back in a day is not difficult. But if you are far away, it could be a lot of driving or flying.

algodoens-map

Also, if you’re in a van you need to plan around the heat, being in 100 degree temperatures in a van is a misery I avoid at all costs.  If you  need a bone graft, it’ll take a total of about 10 months and you will be there when it is extremely hot. If you don’t need a bone graft it will take almost 6 months and you may be able to avoid the extreme heat. Here’s a schedule to get it done in one season. Every year is different and it could still be extremely hot in either November 1 or April 15 so you just never know. Generally this is your best chance to avoid the heat. And, if worse comes to worse, you can stay at a cheap motel while you’re there and use it’s air conditioning.

  • November 1 — get your first post into the bone
  •  March 1 — get the 2nd post that is above the gum
  • April 1 — get the impression for the crown made
  • April 15 — get the crown attached

Or, you can do what I did and spread it out over two seasons. I was never there when it was really hot. In fact this last trip was cold and rainy so I wore a coat the whole time. The entire process costs $1600 and by spreading it out over two seasons you only have to pay half at a time; last December, 2013 I paid $800 and this trip I paid the other half. My dentist, Dr. Rubio, does take credit and debit cards. You can get it done cheaper in other places in Algodones, but I consider Dr. Rubio to be by far the best and so I was willing to pay a little extra. Here is my blog post about why I chose DR. Rubio and how you can find him:  http://www.cheaprvliving.com/blog/quick-trip-algodones-mexico-dental-implants-review-dr-rubio/

Many snowbirds go across the border just to have a cheap lunch and people-watch.

Many snowbirds go across the border just to have a cheap lunch and people-watch.

Glasses

My eyes have been getting worse so I’ve bought a new pair of glasses every year for the last 4 years. I’ve always gone to the same shop but this year I changed and went to Best Optical, they have several stores in Algodones.  My glasses cost $109 total price and that includes the eye exam. In the USA, if you go to Walmart, the eye exam alone is $65 so I only paid $44 for the glasses. I got:

  • Titanium frames: I don’t know for sure if they are or not, but they are very light and I can bend them to the shape of my head. Because I molded them to fit me, these glasses fit me extremely well and are staying on better than any other pair I’ve ever owned.
  • Bifocals: The tech did a very thorough job with the exam and my eyesight is perfect with them! He was also very careful with where he put the reading part; I’ve had some techs put it too high or too low but these are just right.
  • Transition: They go from clear glass when I’m in a dark place to dark glass when I’m outside or in a bright place.

I also paid $20 more to get a second pair with the same frame but just with reading glasses. When I’m reading I like a full pair so I don’t have to tilt my head.  The glasses turned put great, they fit me perfectly and my eyesight is as good as new! I’ll go to the same place next year.

Prescription Drugs:

There isn’t much too say about getting your prescription drugs down there. They are the same drugs as in the USA except they are pennies on the dollar. I always buy a years supply so I don’t have to buy them again. There’s no prescription necessary so you don’t even have to go a doctor if you already know what you need.

There are rules about bringing them back into the USA:

  • No prescription is necessary.
  • You can only bring back a 3 months supply per trip
  • You can only buy for yourself, you can’t buy for anyone else.
  • Of course, you need a Passport to go back and forth into the USA.
  • I’m sure there are extra rules for heavily controlled drugs, but I’ve never bought them so I don’t know. I have bought anti-depressants for a friend and they are no problem.

Those are the rules, but the way it works is that if you don’t take too many, they won’t ask any questions. The only time I’ve had a problem was my first trip through before I knew I could only buy for myself. I bought a big sack full of drugs for my mom, my step-dad, my sister and myself. That big bag got the Border Patrol agents full attention! He asked if they were all for me and I said no, they were also for my family. He could have refused to allow me through with them but he let me go but said don’t do it again. I never have!! On this trip I has a total of 15 bottles on each trip, 10 were for me and 5 were for friends, and the Border Patrol agents didn’t bat an eye at that so I had no problems.

Camping and Parking

Pretty often you’ll have to stay overnight and fortunately there’s an abundance of BLM  land so finding a place to camp is easy. You get off of Interstate 8 on exit 166 in California to go to Algodones and right on the corner is the Q Casino owned by the Quechen Indian Tribe. You can camp at the casino or there are many places along the road on the north and south side of the freeway. I like more privacy so I get off on Exit 164 and camp on BLM land near there. You can see that in the map below.

Yuma_Camp-001

To cross the border I always park at the Quenchen Indian Tribes Parking lot and walk across. They charge $6 for the day but it’s so close, easy and safe I always do it for the convenience. There are many Mexican police officers in town and everyone is polite and friendly. I’m convinced you’ll never have a safety issue at Algodones! All the barkers trying to sell you stuff takes some getting used to but it’s not a problem for most people. Because  it’s so much fun, and  extremely safe, you won’t regret the trip.  Best of all, you’ll save lots of money!!

Posted in Budget, My Daily Life

Living and Traveling in a Pop-Up Aliner Trailer

The author originally pulled  the Aliner with this 2.4l Chevy Cobalt until this year when he switched to a F-250 in preparation to getting a bigger trailer. The Cobalt’s gas mileage drops from 31-34mpg to 22-25 when towing.

Ups and downs of an Aliner (pun intended)

(As you may know, I don’t recommend pop-up trailers or campers for full-timers because I believe their disadvantages outweigh their advantages. However, the Aliner pop-up trailer solves all the problems but has all the advantages. They’re highly recommended.  My friend Chip graciously agreed to write this review of his Aliner)

After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast I decided to look for a bug-out camper that my family (2 adults, cat, dog and bird) could evacuate with and live in indefinitely. Since I only had a 4 cylinder car at the time I needed something small and lightweight that it could safely handle. On top of that, we didn’t like the idea of a pop-up tent camper – especially in foul weather (as in peripheral winds and rain associated with a hurricane.) This meant that it had to have hard (preferably well insulated) sides. It also had to be lightweight, with a small frontal area so it could be tow-able by my 4 cylinder car. We wanted a self-contained unit with a shower, potty, kitchen, and a big comfy bed. OK, we wanted a lot in a small package and I thought it unlikely I would find something that met all the above criteria that we could afford, as we only had a $10k budget.

That’s when providence stepped in AH-AH-AH (angel sounds) and I found a camper meeting all my stringent criteria and more – a barely used (protective plastic still on the stove and shower curtain – indicating they had never been used) 2006 Aliner LXE at a nearby dealer well within my budget.

My F250 diesel gets 17-19 mpg towing. The 125cc motorbikes in the bed get 100 mpg and will hit 60 mph.  Here you see me at a rest area along the road. The Aliner takes 30 seconds to pop-up on the side of the road for quick lunch and potty breaks. Setting up a complete camp takes longer, of course. Popping up and over-nighting in roadside rest areas is a piece of cake, something you would probably not want to do in a cloth sided pop-up that takes maybe 20-30 minutes to get fully set-up and break-down.

Aliners feel very safe and secure in foul weather and are more comfortable in extreme temperatures than a cloth sided pop-up. We found this out when Hurricane Gustav hit the coast and we evacuated the family to N. Alabama to escape the brunt of the storm. Though the wind still blew so hard it shook the trailer, we stayed safe and dry. The campground we stayed at was naturally overfilled due to the storm, so they only had one small campsite with 15 amp a/c power available (basically a tent site.) No problem! We fit in just fine and a small extension cord (Aliner normally uses a 30 amp pedestal) was enough to power our 5,000 Btu window air conditioner, fridge, and everything else in the camper, including our little TV/DVD player. Though the power did go off for a few hours during the storm, we had our camper battery and propane tank to fall back on.

Morning in the Smokies. With the high roof and abundance of windows, it “feels” much larger than it actually is.

We simply threw a rope over the top and secured it fore and aft (to prevent the roof halves from separating in high winds) and we were good to go. Though Aliner warns of erecting them in high winds, once up, they are sturdy. A simple rope cinched tightly with a motorcycle tie-down will keep the roof halves together in all but the worst conditions. There are several commercially available “wind kits” available that offer even more strength and protection, but our cheap rope has served us well so far, and we’ve been through some pretty high winds – especially on the top of Mt. Magazine, the highest peak in Arkansas that really rocked the camper with 50-60 mph gusts, yet we were safe and comfy inside.

There is very little room to move around inside our fully loaded LXE model, but you never feel claustrophobic because the ceiling is so high. I’m 5′ 11″ and I can’t even reach the peak inside even on tiptoes – and I have the low wall model. The high wall model has even more room inside, as do larger models with a dormer.

A typical campsite showing the little beak awning I designed and built. It uses a frame made of 1/2” plastic pipe that screws to the camper, pops together and erects in a couple minutes.

The frame for the awning. It’s not clear from this angle, but the beak comes out far enough to open the door.

The foam seals and bungie cords holding the roof halves together need to be replaced every few years as they will weather and age over time. This is a simple and inexpensive procedure you can do yourself from foam weatherstripping and bungies from a big box hardware store. All campers develop small leaks over time that will need to be calked. The Aliner probably less than most. The older models have been known to leak at the corners, so if buying a used one check for this. After 2005 Aliner switched their flooring from plain luan (glued pressed wood) to Performax (a superior flooring substrate that is very water resistant) so models made in 2006 and later years don’t have the soft floor problems older models were plagued with.

Overall it has proven to be very durable and reliable. I have towed it for about 40,000 miles all over the country with few problems. Of course bearings have to be packed once or twice a year, brakes adjusted, the battery kept charged and watered – normal maintenance with any trailer.

Here’s a picture of the kitchen, galley area. Note microwave, 3 burner stove and 3-way freezer/fridge that runs off of propane, 12v d/c and 110 a/c power.

To the right is the shower/cassette toilet area seen here. The cassette is easily removable from outside and holds about 1 week’s of bodily waste. Its easy to clean and dump at any dump station or toilet (like in a rest area) – you don’t even need gloves like a typical RV, though washing your hands afterward is just good hygiene.

I made a few drawers to increase the usable storage space inside. Here’s a silver wear and frying pan drawer I built between the stove and microwave. There’s room for a flashlight, TV remote control and a few other things I like to keep handy.

Here’s a handy pull-out drawer I built under the sink for food and sundry storage as well as a pot, coffee pot, plastic bags, aluminum foil, etc.

Finally, a big drawer under the couch area for linens, a screen half door I built and other infrequently used items.

The couch and dinette folds out to make this huge king bed that DW and Ddog is laying on. I have since added a 1” memory foam topper and sewed 2 sheets together to make a giant “pillowcase” to keep it clean and tear free.

Here’s one with the bed folded up and the couch and dinette visible.

I attached quick removable Reflectix over all the windows with Velcro strips for insulation and privacy. I also installed the wire shelf (for bread, chips and other light weight items) and the small, portable florescent light in the picture for direct lighting over the stove area. It run off my camper’s house battery and has its own internal battery supply as well so I can unhook it and move it around as needed.

Here’s another shot of Reflectix just pushed into the bubble windows on the roof. You can also see a couple computer muffin fans I installed in the roof vents above the skylights to aid ventilation. You can get them with Fantastic Fans too, but that is pretty much overkill in such a small camper.

 

I added a small inverter to run the TV off of battery power.

 

I mounted this 19” TV/DVD player in the rear bubble over the couch. The bottom folds out for use and is secured with the curtains when in travel mode.

Times like this – Fall in the Smokies – makes it all worth it.

Overall we’ve been very happy with our choice of camper. Though for 2 people it gets a little crowded inside (my DW says cozy.) Compared to a van, it’s a mansion on wheels. If one were to pull it with a van, or truck with camper, utilizing both spaces, it would be a an ideal “marriage saving” solution to a full-timing couple’s privacy and mental health needs.

Now that the patent has run out there are other companies other than Columbia Northwest (the original Aliner folks) and Chalet (a high quality licensed A-frame clone) are producing their versions. So there are now plenty varieties and sizes on the market to choose from at different price points, so you are sure to find a model that suits your needs.

Chip

For more info about Aliners, go here:

http://www.aliner.com/

http://www.chaletrv.com/folding-trailers/

Posted in Which Vehicle to Live In?

Overcoming Consumerism: Alternatives to Gift Giving at Christmas:

I’ve struggled with and suffered from compulsive spending all my life and in that time I’ve learned a thing or two about it. I suspect a few of you reading this struggle with it also, so in the next few posts were going to look at specific tips to overcome compulsive buying and over-spending. If you want to become a vandweller, and adopt a simpler more minimalist lifestyle, I hope we can learn a few things together.

But because it’s Christmas, and many of you are probably struggling more right now than at any other time of the year,  I want to offer you some alternatives to Christmas shopping. My goal is to help you avoid going deeper into debt and filling your lives with more stuff you don’t really need and may not really want.

How we’re Brainwashed to Be Addicted to Spending

The majority of Americans struggle with over-spending whether it could be classified as an addiction or just a strong  compulsion. I suspect most of you saw the evidence of that when you tried to move into a van. The reason we’ve become a nation of compulsive over-spenders is we’re systematically brainwashed from birth to connect love and things.  Whenever I write that, I hear from people who insist that they haven’t been brainwashed. But at Christmas the incredible hold things has over us is so obvious it’s very easy to see. To the American mind, things equal love and so, we give gifts of things to say “I love you.” I think it’s helpful if we understand just how powerful the hold gift-giving has over our national psyche.

There is no resisting this kind of brainwashing that repeated a dozen times a year every year of your developing life.

There is no possibility of resisting this kind of brainwashing that’s repeated many times a year every year of your developing life. It’s amazing we aren’t all more addicted to things than we are. 

We’re brainwashed in two ways, 1) Cultural traditions, 2) Powerful stories.

1) Cultural traditions.

To understand how we’be been brainwashed by cultural traditions, you have to go back to the first year of a babies life and see that the child is constantly trained that gifts=love and therefore no gifts=no love:

  1.  At birth the baby is brought home and there are all the gifts from the baby shower. The people that love mommy expressed that love with the gift of things. If they love her, they gave her gifts and lots of food. Gifts of Things = Love
  2. A little while later, it was Valentines day and Daddy and mommy love each other so they celebrate and prove their love by giving each other gifts and food. Gifts of Things = Love
  3. Next comes Easter and we learn about the ultimate act of love in our societies dominant mythology that god loves us so he gave us a gift. Of course we celebrate the love by giving gifts of  little pretty things. Gifts of Things = Love
  4. In the summer gramma comes to visit and she brings gifts to prove her love. Gifts of Things = Love
  5. Throughout the year mommy, daddy and babies siblings have birthdays, and each time we celebrate how much we love them by giving them gifts. Gifts of Things = Love
  6. Later, daddy goes on a trip and when he comes home he needs to prove he still loves baby, so he gives baby some gifts. Gifts of Things = Love
  7.  Then in October we rejoice that god proved his love for us by giving us the gift of a good harvest. We celebrate by giving each other little gift treats of food. Gifts of Things = Love
  8. Finally comes Christmas and in the dominate religion of our culture we celebrate Love by a gigantic orgy of gifts of things. The more we love, the more we give. We compete with each other to show our great love with greater and greater gifts. Of course quantity is every bit as important as quantity so we go berserk in our giving. Gifts of Things = Love
  9. A little while later it’s babies birthday so we celebrate and prove our love for baby with a party with lots of food and gifts. Gifts of Things = Love
  10. Every day baby sees daddy and mommy going to work to get money to buy things. Baby soon learns that money and things are more important than family because they abandon her every day to go get it.

This pattern that began in babies first year will be repeated every year of his or her life. All by itself it’s plenty to make certain that we all grow up addicted to things and are convinced to the core of our being that things mean love and without things we aren’t loved. All any human being really wants is to know he is loved and by totally connecting love with things we are guaranteed to be addicted to things and will crave more and more stuff all our lives.

Story-telling is the oldest and most powerful tool to influence behavior. And we systematically and scientifically use it’s full power to make us addicted to things.

2) Powerful Stories

But our conditioning to be addicted to things doesn’t stop with just those cultural patterns; as babies mental capacities grow, she/he is subjected to continual electronic brainwashing to love things. Since humans first learned speech, every culture has conveyed their values and history with stories. Storytelling is the oldest and strongest way of conditioning members of a group to conform to the groups traditions, values and ethics. Very soon after birth, baby is sat down in front of a screen to watch  stories from TV and videos that convey the deepest American  ideals and beliefs. And the one things he sees in all of them is that happy and loved people have stuff and lots of it. And if they don’t have stuff, they are consumed with the effort to get it. Some work hard and devise schemes to get more stuff, others lie, steal and cheat; some even kill to get more stuff. Baby learns that stuff is all important. 

Then, during the morality plays on the importance of stuff, commercials come on and they show baby all the happy people with all their happy stuff and every single one of them makes it clear that without stuff, you can’t be happy but with it, life is wonderful!Just like it has for the last million years, the stories work, baby believes that stuff equals love and happiness. Of course before the rise of civilization the message was just the opposite, that things are not important and that people and the tribe is all-important. But stories work just as well for a terrible message as a good one.

Alternatives to Gifts at Christmas:

After a life-time of these powerful brainwashing techniques it’s no surprise that you and your family struggle with being addicted to stuff.When you say to them, “Let’s not give Christmas gifts anymore.” What they hear is “I don’t love you.”  They are going to resist giving up gifts because being loved is the most important thing in our lives. It’s worth trying, but if it doesn’t work you can try to slowly wean them away from gifts by offering other alternatives. If you do, hopefully they’ll hear, “I love you, but I want a better way to show it to you.”

  1. Give to charity instead of each other. Most Christmas traditions have nothing at all to do with being Christian, so offer to get back to the true meaning of the holiday and say instead of giving gifts to each other, you’ll spend the same amount of money but it will go to people in true need to meet basic necessities and not luxuries.
  2. Set dollar limits on gift spending. In these bad economic times, most people are open to reducing Christmas spending. Negotiate the amount as low as you can and next year try to reduce it even further.
  3. Get rid of stocking stuffers. Many stocking stuffers are cheap junk that are going straight into the landfill. Try hard to put your foot down and eliminate that very bad habit.
  4. Homemade gifts. One way to give gifts and still minimize the harmful effects of consumerism is to make it a rule that you only give gifts that each person has made himself. One objection will be that a person isn’t creative and can’t make a gift. For those people you can suggest they give homemade gift cards with services you will render like give a back-rub or do the dishes.
  5. Buy from a local craftsman. Another way to give gifts and still be green is to make it a rule that every gift must be made by-hand locally. This is a win-win situation for everybody: your friends and family get unique and wonderful gifts, the local economy is enhanced and a local artist is blessed. Eliminating mass-production and transportation makes it much greener.
  6. Insist on One Quality gift. All too often we get fixated on the number of gifts under the tree and end up buying many cheap gifts that will soon break or wear out. Everybody losses when that happens. Instead, insist on one high quality gift that is going to last for many years. In the long run, everybody wins.
  7. Make it a “Green” Christmas. Tell everyone that each gift must be green and do the minimum harm to the earth. If they aren’t open to that, take responsibility for yourself and think green before every purchase. Consider all the factors (packaging, transport, durability, recycle ability, etc.) and make the greenest, most environmentally friendly purchase possible.
  8. Make a list and stick to it. Just going to a store and buying on impulse is a sure way to buy too much and probably something without any emotional impact. Instead, give careful thought to the person you are buying for and give a gift from the heart that will truly express your love for them. Once you’ve figured out what to give to who, make a list and stick to it. Go to the store, buy from that list, and nothing else.
  9. Restrict gifts to gift cards.  If the cards are to practical places that someone was going to shop at anyway (Walmart for example) chances are some of the money will be spent on practical items (like groceries) that the person would have bought anyway. There are numerous advantages to this. First, in these bad economic times, the person might be very grateful for a practical gift. Second, there will be less frivolous luxuries produced, reducing the harm done to the Earth. Third, shopping is a whole lot easier and maybe you can actually enjoy Christmas.
  10. Buy gifts that are good for the Earth in the long run. For example, if you give a Kindle E-book reader, there will be many less trees cut down to make paper books. Or, give a gift of rechargeable batteries and charger, and many less batteries will end up in the landfill.
  11. Give used items as gifts. Many products like books, clothes, electronics and furniture hold their value extremely well even when used and could make good gifts. Some of your friends and family may resist this, but try hard to convince them that there is nothing wrong with used gifts, that it’s good for the Earth and does not express less love than a new gift. It’ll help if you use terms like “antique” or “vintage”. This may take some time (maybe even years) so be patient and persistent in explaining it to them.
  12. Start an alternative tradition. For example, if your family is religious suggest they each volunteer to work for charity instead of giving gifts. Maybe you could say that you will volunteer once a week at your churches soup kitchen for the entire year as a Christmas gift to Jesus. If they aren’t religious suggest they celebrate the Solstice instead. December 21st is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.  For many thousands of years native/aboriginal peoples have celebrated the solstice as a magical time of year. Unfortunately, modern people have become so isolated from nature, and our true selves, that we have lost touch with the magic that exists all around us. If need be you can make it clear this is not a religious thing, it’s strictly for the mental and physical health benefits of connecting to nature. Strike a bargain with your family that if you give gifts at Christmas, they should get back to nature with you on the Solstice. That day take time out from the terrible busy-ness of the season and go outside. Find a quiet place in nature, and try to reconnect with it, yourself and your family. Make a commitment to pursue a life filled with nature.

You may want to let your family read this post so that they can see that they  have been the victims of brainwashing, and much of what they’ve been doing is not of their free-will. Perhaps then you can all begin to make change at Christmas, and the rest of the year, that will improve every aspect of your lives.

 

 

Posted in Budget, Inspiration-Spirituality, Minimalism, Simple Living--Getting Rid of Excess Stuff

I got Health Insurance! Open Enrollment at Healthcare.gov

 

The healthcare.gov website. It's not nearly as bad as people say, anyone reading this can get signed up and probably get cheap health care. You owe it to yourself to give it a try.

The healthcare.gov website. It’s not nearly as bad as people say, anyone reading this can get signed up and probably get cheap health care. You owe it to yourself to give it a try.

(Because we’re in the annual enrollment period for Obamacare I’m going to write about health care. I don’t pretend to understand most of this stuff, in fact, much of what I know I learned from a fellow blogger. For that reason I encourage you to go to her blog and read one of her posts. Hopefully she can  help clarify all this for you.   http://www.wheelingit.us/2014/11/25/health-insurance-sd-domicile-are-there-any-options-left-for-younger-fulltime-rvers/ 

I finally did it, I signed up for Health Insurance. I didn’t want to but the time has come and I just felt like had no choice. Obamacare is so confusing to me that last year I decided I would rather pay the penalty than try to figure it all out, so I didn’t sign up. But this year I’ve decided to bite the bullet and sign up for four main reasons.

  1. This year I’m going to turn 60, and that is a very, very scary number! Most young men suffer from a feeling of invincibility, “I won’t get sick” and I think that describes me. However, the idea of turning 60 has a strong psychological power that’s broken through that. I’m finally ready to believe that statistically, in the next decade, I probably will get sick or injured. After that, when I’m in my seventies, a major illness is nearly a certainty. Health insurance is starting to sound pretty good!
  2. The penalty is going up and it’ll cost me nearly as much as simply paying for insurance. There is a minimum penalty, which isn’t bad, but if you make more than the poverty level the penalty increases. Because I actually have a taxable income, my penalty could be fairly high.
  3. I think I have a little better idea of what’s going on with health care. I’m actually a fairly slow learner and over the last year I’ve pieced together a basic understanding of Obamacare.
  4. Right now through December 15, 2014 is the open enrollment period for Obamacare at healthcare.gov. If I’m going to do it, now is the time.

For all those reasons I’ve decided to get it and I just went through the process of signing up. I’m still no expert, but since it’s an important topic for all of us I thought I’d share my experience. But don’t take my word for everything you see here, do your own research and reach your own decision on what’s best for you.

I don’t want this to turn into a debate about Obamacare, like it or not, it’s here to stay and my goal is to help people take advantage of it and not to fight about whether it’s right or wrong. Those comments belong on another website, not this one. Only helpful comments will be allowed.

Here are the basics as I understand them:

  • You have to have health insurance of some kind or pay a penalty. There are a few exceptions, but not many. If you’re covered at work or have Medicare or Veterans benefits, you’re covered already so you don’t need to do anything. This post only applies to people who are not covered by some form of health insurance.
  • If you’re low income, the Federal government is offering subsidies to help you pay for health care. As usual, the less you make the more help they give you. But, don’t think you have to be at the poverty level to get it, you don’t. I make $26,000 a year and I qualified for a monthly subsidy of $324. I found a very cheap plan that cost $419 and so my monthly cost out of pocket is only $95. You might be throwing away money the government wants to give to you; you owe it to yourself to go to the site and find out.
  • To get the subsidies, you have to go to healthcare.gov and enroll (click here: https://www.healthcare.gov/). Like most of you, I was concerned that it was going to be a nightmare to get through it, but really, it was no big deal. You just answer all the questions, and do what you are told to do and before you know it you’ve set up an account. The hardest thing was they ask you a series of questions to verify that you really are who you claim to be.  Some of them were negative, in other words they asked me a question and the answer was none-of-the-above. Apparently they are tied into the IRS database because they asked, “Which of these did you ever work for…” about an employer I had back in the 70s-80s. No one would know that but me.
  • Some of the questions they will ask is about your expected income for 2015. Since I’m self-employed, that was a little bit of guess-work, but I answered based on what I made last year and a little bit more. Once you’ve told them your expected income for 2015, they’ll tell you how much of a subsidy you qualify for, which in my case was $324 a month.
  • Once you’ve set up your account and determined your subsidy, you’ll see a button to take you to the Marketplace/Exchange where you chose an insurance plan and enroll in it. As far as I know, the only way to get the subsidies is to go through this process and chose one of the plans that they list for you. There are many other plans available off of the Exchange, but these are the only ones that you can get a subsidy for.
The plan I selected. You can see they take the government subsidy off and I don't owe that, just my balance. Be aware that next year if my income is more than I expected, I'll have to pay back the subsidy they over-payed.

The plan I selected. You can see they take the government subsidy off and I don’t owe that, just my balance. Be aware that next year if my income is more than I expected, I’ll have to pay back the subsidy they over-payed.

I chose a plan (you can see it in the picture above) and clicked on the “Pay Now” button, but it didn’t work. So I called them to find out what to do next. They said that they would mail out a copy of the policy and instructions on paying and I’d get it in a few days. I didn’t like that, I’d rather pay on-line and have it over with but I wanted this policy so I guess I’ll just have to wait.

Two important considerations when choosing an account:

1) Consider a High Deductible Policy with a Health Savings Account

I can’t tell you what you should do but I wanted the cheapest policy I could get and that’s a High Deductible, Catastrophic care plan. I don’t want health insurance to cover my annual, non-emergency medical needs. If I decide I want them, I’ll just pay for them myself. What I do want is health insurance to cover the catastrophic care that will either kill or bankrupt me. Things like a major accident, heart disease, cancer, strokes or diabetes. Many of those things are fairly treatable, but the cost is astronomical and will ruin you. I want insurance to cover those things and nothing else, so the plan I chose has a $6,250 deductible and it will cost me $95 a month after the government subsidy. I don’t ever plan to use it until a major disease or accident strikes. When, not if, that happens I want it to cover all of my costs and this plan does. After the deductible, it will pay 100% of all my costs, period. That’s exactly what I want.

The policy I selected. It has a very high deductible but that le's me pay a very small monthly payment I can afford.

The policy I selected. It has a very high deductible but that let’s me pay a very small monthly payment I can afford.

One thing you might want to consider is getting an account that’s eligible for a Health Savings Account (HSA). The best way to think of an HSA is as an IRA that’s not for retirement, it’s for health costs. Once you have an eligible High Deductible Health Insurance Policy, you go to a bank and open an HSA. Every year you can deposit up to $3300 as a single or $6250 as a family. It’s main advantage is it’s tax-free. So if you deposit $2000 into your HSA, you get to take a $2000 deduction on your taxes even if you don’t itemize deductions. Once the money is in the account it’s yours and you are in control of it. You can spend the money on any qualified medical expense and you will never pay taxes on it. Think about that, you never pay any taxes on that money. For some people, that’s a huge advantage.

But you can easily spend the money on non-medical costs. For example, let’s say your van breaks down and you have to take $1000 out to fix it. No problem! There are no penalties, but you will have to pay taxes on the $1000. So you deferred the taxes but didn’t avoid them. That means you have nothing to lose by putting the money in an HSA, but you may gain significant tax advantages. Any interest the accounts earns stays in the account and is yours to use tax-free for medical expenses. At the end of the year all the money in the account rolls over to the next year. The idea is that you will build it up over the years until you have enough in it to cover the high deductible on your Insurance Policy. Since my policy doesn’t cover dental or glasses, I can use the money from the HSA to cover them, effectively making them a tax deduction whether I itemize or not.

The Health Insurance Policy selected doesn't have a nationwide plan, but they do pay 50% of costs even  in other state.

The Health Insurance Policy I selected doesn’t have a nationwide plan, but they do pay 50% of costs out-of-network which includes other state. They will also pay to get me back to Nevada if I’m out-of-state where I would have 100% coverage after I pay the deductible.

2) Look for a Nationwide Policy.

Obamacare is complex for all of us, but if you live in a van or an RV it’s exceptionally complex. Why? Because most insurance companies only cover you if you go to a Doctor in their network and their network is only in your home state. If you live full-time in one state and don’t travel much, that’s not a problem for you at all; you just find a doctor near you and stay with him. But because many of us travel a great deal, we may not often be present in our home state. For example, many full-timers are residents of South Dakota, but can go years without being in the state. I’m a resident of Nevada, but I haven’t set foot in the state in over two years. If an insurance policy won’t cover me when I’m out of state, and I’m always out of state, it’s worthless to me.

I’m a Nevada resident, and none of the health insurance companies in Nevada offer a nation-wide plan. My problem is this is the only open-enrollment period for this year so I must enroll now and that doesn’t leave me time to move my state of residence. What I’ve decided to do is roll the dice and get the cheapest plan I can find  under the pretty safe assumption I won’t need it this year. Then, this coming year, I’ll change my residency to a state that is RVer friendly and has a company in it that offers a Nationwide Health Insurance Policy.

There are three top states most of us choose as our residential domicile: South Dakota, Texas and Florida. Fortunately, both Texas and Florida are so large they have several good insurance companies that offer nationwide plans on the Exchange so I can get government subsidies. Unfortunately, South Dakota (one of the most popular states for full-timers) does not. For that reason, many full-timers are planning to move their state of residence to either Florida or Texas, including me. I’m planning to visit my mom in February and while I’m there I may become a Florida resident. Escapees is now in Florida so I will use them as a mail service and my mom’s house as my residence. Then, next year during open enrollment, I’ll change insurance companies to a Florida plan. Florida has many policies on the Exchange that offer nationwide plans and they have just about the cheapest insurance in the country.

My standard advice has been to choose a state of residence based on how close it is to your normal travels; which is why I chose Nevada; they don’t have any income taxes or vehicle inspections which met my most basic requirements, but just as important, I’m usually within a few hours of it. For example, right now I’m near Quartzsite and I can be in Laughlin, Nevada in less than three hours. I spend a lot of my summers near Flagstaff, AZ and that’s only 4 hours from Laughlin. So for about half my year I can easily get to Nevada for my health care needs.  What about the other half when I might be far away? The plan I chose pays half of your costs even when you’re out-of-network in another state, so no matter where I am in the country, I get some insurance. But they also pay to transport you to an in-network facility.

I wasn’t clear on exactly what that meant so I called and asked a representative and she told me  it means that if I am in a different state, they will pay 100% of emergency room and 50% of everything else after the deductible. But, they also cover the costs of medical transport to get you back into the system. For example, if I’m in an accident in Las Vegas and I’m taken to the nearest hospital that isn’t in the system, after I’m stabilized, they’ll pay to transport me to a hospital that is in the system where they’ll pay 100%. So I told the representative that last year I was in Alaska, and asked her if I had a heart attack while I was there, would they pay to transport me to an In-System facility in Nevada? Her answer was they would deal with it on a case-by-case basis depending on which would be the least expensive. If flying me back from Alaska was tremendously expensive, they would simply cover the cost of paying for my care in Alaska until I was able to get to Nevada on my own and see an In-Network doctor. While that isn’t a true nationwide plan, it may be very nearly as good. If it is, I might be content to remain a Nevada resident and keep this policy.

I know that’s a lot of information, but if you currently don’t have any health insurance I think you really should take a little time and go to healthcare.gov and set up an account. You might be very pleasantly surprised at how affordable health insurance can be with the governments subsidies.

 

Posted in Budget, My Daily Life, Planning for the Future

My View of Christmas

(This month I’m going to be doing posts on how our society got so addicted to stuff as evidenced in Black Friday and Christmas shopping in general. I’ll offer explanations and suggestions about what we can do about it including alternative ways to celebrate Christmas without the orgy of greed. This is going to make some of you angry and I’m very sorry about that. The most common reaction is going to be that, “I live in a house and buy gifts but I’m not like what you describe!”  Let me acknowledge I’m not describing every single American, I know that. But I believe the message is so important, and our ears are so closed to it, I must use exaggeration to get through to our hearts and heads. At least I know that’s the way it was for me, only extremely difficult circumstances could break through the magical spell of material possessions.

Let me use the analogy of how you boil a frog; you can’t just drop it in a pot of boiling water, it’ll simply jump out. So instead you put it in cool water and slowly turn up the heat. It slowly adjusts to the temperature until it’s too late to jump out. That’s exactly what’s happened to our society. The heat of consumerism started slowly and pleasantly but now it’s just on the edge of being too hot for us to jump out and killing us. We’re like addicts who say “I can stop anytime I want” but then when circumstances force us to stop, we realize just how addicted we are. Those circumstances are here, and the time to stop is NOW! I believe this is an unpleasant, but critically important message and it’s worth the risk of offending some of you with some hard words and even exaggeration.)

It’s December, the time of the year when most Americans turn the majority of their time and attention to the idea of buying each other gifts of more and better stuff. Of course it has a much longer background as a religious and spiritual Holiday, but the honest truth is that for most of us, that has been long since been lost. Instead it’s turned into a massive orgy of shopping, buying and accumulating possessions. We give lip-service to “peace on earth and good will toward men” but when we head out for our Black Friday shopping, we see the truth. The pushing, shoving and fighting reveal what’s really important to us: more and better material goods. We may hide it under the pretense of giving “gifts” to others, but the honest truth is if we exchange a list, and agree to buy each other what’s on the list, we’re buying more stuff for ourselves and meerly convincing ourselves it’s for them

For vandwellers, this is an important topic because more than most people we’re extremely aware of the power and hold that “stuff” has over us. When the day came to reduce our precious belongings so we could fit all of it in a van, most of us were amazed at how difficult it was (if you’re in an RV, this applies to you as well, you just got to keep a little more of your precious stuff). As we agonized over whether to keep each thing, we discovered just how much we loved and treasured our stuff; we often found it had a power and hold over us that is so mesmerizing we can barely break free. If we’re honest, most of us came to the point where we wondered if we could do it and if vandwelling was worth the sacrifice.

But we decided it was and we finally got moved into our vans only to discover we still had way too much junk! It was piled everywhere in the van and we had to keep moving it around constantly to find what we needed at the moment. Necessity forced us to reduce it down even more. As time went on we discovered that much of what we had brought was not really useful; it was doing us more harm than it did us good. That was a life-changing lesson!

Happy, happy, happy Holidays!!

As we enter into what should be the most spiritual and moral time of the year in our society, I want to explore how it has transformed into the most materialistic and self-centered time of the year. Why are we so enslaved to “things?” How have they become our Lord and Master instead of our tools? We bought them thinking they would make our lives better and easier but instead they became a pretty prison that overtook our whole lives—they didn’t serve us, we served them:

  • We worked at a job we hated with people we didn’t like, to buy more stuff we didn’t really want. Why did we have to keep buying more and more? Because it never satisfied us! In fact all it ever did was make us want more! We had an insatiable craving for MORE!
  • We had no choice but stay at that miserable job just to pay for a place to store all that crap. Of course as we got more stuff we had to buy a bigger place so we had to work even harder at a job we hated. So we sucked up to our miserable boss to get a raise or promotion–we simply had to have a bigger house for more stuff! Eventually the house or apartment became a prison that ensnared us. Most of our time and energy went to paying for it, not for our happiness or well-being.
  • We heated and cooled that place so our Master, our stuff, would be safe and happy.
  • We cleaned and washed the house and our stuff and did anything necessary to take care of it. We gave away the only thing that we had in this world that is truly ours to it, our time and life-energy.
  • We locked and barred every door and window and trembled in fear behind them for fear that people would come and steal our precious stuff. Our stuff was so much more important to us than other people that we bought guns and were ready to kill for our stuff just like we were sure they were ready to kill us to take it.

None of that is normal or healthy behavior for human beings!! It’s a sickness of our civilization in the twenty-first century. Today, our highest value revolves around the accumulation of stuff for ourselves, but it was not always so.

black-macys-1

For most of human history our highest value was on generosity and caring for the tribe. For a million years no member of any tribe went hungry if another member had food; that idea was unthinkable. Each member of the tribe knew his life depended on every other member, and if my neighbor was hungry, and I didn’t feed him, I was going to suffer in the long run too. The day would come when I needed him to save me from a tiger, or when he had food and I didn’t. “Good-will toward all” wasn’t a slogan we spouted once a year, it was a deeply lived way of human life. That’s our genetic inheritance, and not the love of things.

Beyond our need for each other, for nearly all of our history, most humans were nomads and when it came time to move having more stuff was not a blessing, it was a curse because they had to carry all that crap! And often you had to carry it a very long ways and at high speed. Rather than allow it to control their lives, they simply discarded everything that wasn’t essential, then, when they got to the new location, they simply made new things to use in their daily life. In that way, things and stuff had no value to us, in fact it was viewed as a hindrance to survival and happiness. We used and owned things, they didn’t use and own us. That too is our genetic inheritance, it’s written into our DNA code.

So how have our most basic and fundamental values as a human beings been totally reversed in less than 10,000 years? Through systematic brain-washing.

Every society since civilization began has created its own morals and values and devised ways to persuade its members to fully adopt those standards and beliefs. The highest value in Twenty-First century America is to get all the stuff you can for yourself and not think of anybody else while you’re doing it.

Before you deny that, consider that more than a Billion people are starving to death right now on this planet and 16% of Americans don’t have enough to eat. How many Americans ever give that a thought? Very few! How many Americans are constantly thinking about the newest and latest gadget and how they can get it for themselves? Nearly all!

How many Americans give a thought to or take any real action about the incredible environmental damage we are doing to our eco-system? How many are willing to give up any of their stuff or luxuries for the sake of future generation’s health on this planet. Almost none! No, we are much too concerned with ourselves and our stuff to sacrifice anything for any reason.

The message of this website is that there is an alternative way to live that breaks free of the orgy of greed and is good for us as humans and for our environment: the minimalist, nomadic life. The remarkable thing about it is, you will be healthier and happier if you choose it.  So follow along was we take this ride together.

 

Posted in Inspiration-Spirituality, Minimalism, Simple Living--Getting Rid of Excess Stuff, Vandwelling Philosophy

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