Budgets. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, nearly everyone finds them to be a necessary tool at some point in their life.
The basic principle of budgeting is simple: plan out what you need to spend, compare that to the amount of income you expect, then decide what to do with the rest (if there is something left over.) However, in practice, sticking to a budget can be very difficult. Even people with strong planning skills can often run into sticky situations where spending decisions become tough.
It’s often in those moments that truly important purchases — like your semi-annual dental cleaning and examination — can get pushed to the back burner and neglected.
There’s no denying the importance of preventive dental care. In addition to its impact on your overall health, the fact that it keeps your smile bright, your teeth strong, and your gums healthy is reason enough to prioritize this visit every six months. But, just knowing it’s important doesn’t automatically make budgeting for it easy. Dental care can be expensive, and many Americans live on already tight budgets as it is.
Review the following list of tips from budgeting experts to discover what they have to say and consider how one or more of their ideas can help you properly prioritize your dental care.
Tips from budgeting experts
While not all of these tips were originally published in relation to dental care specifically, you can see the application of their recommendations regarding any planned expense you prioritize.
The Budgeting Basics
- Set a clear budget and stick to it - Granted, this broad tip is easier said than done. But it is one of the most common pieces of advice from every financial expert tasked with helping individuals organize and prioritize their finances. “Putting your budget on paper or in a simple spreadsheet is essential if you want a healthy financial future,” according to the Financial Education team at Visa, Inc. Jessi Fearon, (aka The Budget Momma) urges, “Be the person that cares enough about their future to make sticking to a budget a priority.”
- Focus on a specific budgeting goal - To help strengthen your determination to stick to a budget, focus it on a particular goal. It could be to get out of debt, to save for a particular purchase, or to make it possible to change your work situation. Kristin Wong, from TheWildWong.com, explains, “When you give [your budget] a purpose, you put yourself in control. You make it work for you, instead of the other way around.”
- Start by tracking your spending - If a budget is going to work, it’s going to have to be based on true, realistic numbers, not just ideals. Michelle, from Making Sense of Cents, recommends, “tracking your income and spending over a few months (at the least), to see what your actual budget categories are like.” Then, you’re in a much better position to start deciding where changes can and should be made to get your spending in line with your priorities.
- Make saving a habit - More often than not, tucking money away in a savings account or investment vehicle becomes the pie-in-the-sky goal. By treating your savings goals just like every other planned, routine expense, you can prioritize it and make sure it happens consistently. With a focus is long-term savings toward retirement, Andrew from Family Money Plan offers a ton of interesting and exciting facts that can help motivate you to start saving today.
- Stay flexible and reasonable - One of the biggest complaints from people who have tried and failed to stick to a budget in the past is that real life rarely cooperates with our carefully laid plans. The fact is, unexpected things happen all the time and a solid budget needs to be flexible enough to absorb those changes without falling apart. According to Shane from BeatingBroke.com, “Don't feel like you have to find a template and stick with that template. Rearrange, modify, and adapt whatever you start with until you find something that works for you. The better it works for you, the better you'll stick to it.”
Budgeting Tips for Dental Care
Beyond the basics outlined above, here’s what the experts had to say about budgeting for high-priority events and purchases that can’t be neglected (like your semi-annual visit to the dentist.)
"By treating your savings goals just like every other planned, routine expense, you can prioritize it and make sure it happens consistently."
- Schedule the whole family’s visits together - It’s easier and simpler to handle similar expenses at one time rather than spreading them out over the course of the year. Dave Ramsey, well-known consumer financial consultant and author, commented, “scheduling a single week or month in which you all go to dental and vision appointments makes them easier to remember, as well as budget for.” Ramsey also provides the following three tips regarding budgeting for dental care when insurance doesn’t cover it:
- Search for a deal - Do your due diligence by scanning the Internet and/or calling around to local dentists for new client specials. Dentistry is a competitive field and particular offices may be willing to offer a deal to gain a new patient.
- Get a second opinion - If you receive a diagnosis and treatment plan that’s going to require a lot of money, like a root canal or braces, get a second opinion to be sure it’s truly necessary. Then, shop around for prices on the procedure at other offices.
- Use your HSA - If you have access to a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account — options that have become popular in recent years as healthcare insurance premiums have risen — you can use them for a variety of things such as fillings to cleanings and crowns to dentures. This provision allows you to pay for dental care using pre-tax dollars, essentially saving a large percentage on every purchase.
- Explore dental discount options - In many cases, savings on a particular service (whether general or specialized) can be obtained using a dental discount plan. These plans offer significant discounts off the normal retail cost of services at participating dental offices, and require a low monthly or annual membership fee to qualify. (For example, the Dental Solutions program offers 20% to 50% off nearly all dental services for the entire family for just $9.95 per month. Get more information or join here.)
By following these 10 expert budgeting tips, you should be able to ensure you are getting the best deal on vital dental care, and that you’ll have the money available when care is needed. Then, it’s just a matter of making your oral health care a routine part of your budget.
For example, to cover preventive cleanings and examinations every six months, once you know what it’s going to cost each time you visit the dentist, just divide that amount by 6, and commit to setting that amount aside in a savings account every month specifically to pay for those semi-annual visits. Your mouth and your finances will thank you.
Special thanks to MoneyGoody.com for their excellent roundup of budgeting experts that inspired much of this post.