My grandmother was a very frugal woman who often told me “if you will mind your pennies your dollars will mind themselves.” I hope to share here some of her wisdom and the wisdom of others I have learned over the years

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Over on my “See the USA the Mystery Shopping Way blog I recently posted an article on the importance of communication in doing mystery shops.  At that point I mentioned that good communication is essential in all areas of life.

Today contained a prime example of how simply asking questions, and having good communications skills can help you save a LOT of money. 

Those of you on the Dave Ramsey list already know that we’ve been having a series of highs and lows over the fact that my son just changed to a much higher paying job.

The highs of course are the better pay, better benefits, and in a field he truly loves working in.  The low was his previous employer—who shall remain nameless at this point—cut off his medical insurance the minute he walked out the door.  We are finding this is a VERY common practice.  So common is it I have no doubts that some of you reading this post have found yourself in the exact same situation.

While my son qualifies for COBRA the cost of it is high.  The insurance at the new company will kick in September 1, so he only has 45 days to cover.  Normally he wouldn’t worry about it, but he takes numerous medications daily and had just placed an order for them when the insurance was yanked out from in under him. 

No matter which way we figured it with/without insurance we were looking at close to $1,000 for either COBRA and co-pays for the prescriptions he needed immediately or to simply pay for the prescriptions without insurance.  PANIC!!! 

Normally we would have had that in our emergency fund, but we’ve had several Murphy hits the last few months that had nuked that fund big time. 

So we had to come up with a better game plan, and believe it or not we did—simply by communicating with the powers that be.  No not COBRA or the big chain pharmacy we normally use, but with individuals on the Dave Ramsey list, my son and with our doctor’s office. 

First up we decided to ask the doctor if he had any samples of the medicines that ds could have.  YES!  One for certain, maybe another one too next week.  The one I picked up today is normally $300-$400 each for a one month supply and the doctor gave us TWO of them.  Talk about a huge savings!

The receptionist said anytime you find yourself in a financial bind like this ALWAYS ask if the doctor has any samples of any medicines you take that do not have a generic substitute.

Next we discussed with ds what meds he REALLY needed asap, and what ones wouldn’t run out for a bit, or wouldn’t cause him major withdrawal symptoms if he missed out on them for a FEW (as in less than a week) days.  He broke them down into must have now, would be better off having, and could stretch without them for a SHORT time.

Because we always do generics when possible two of the ones in the last two categories fell into the $4 category at a local pharmacy—that we could handle no problem.

Some one on the Dave Ramsey list suggested checking with our different insurance companies for a discount card—we found both our Farm Bureau and AAA insurances had them and they were good at our pharmacy.  A note here, we could have used only one or the other but not both for the discount.

Remember those samples I picked up today at the doctor’s office?  Well while I was there picking them up I thanked the receptionist profusely for them.  I mean the savings on that one alone was a Godsend beyond belief.  But what she told me then was truly a huge blessing.

It started off with my thanking her and then explaining why we needed the assistance.  She said they heard that story day in and day out because of this economy and then asked me if I had checked the prices on his rx’s with this one certain pharmacy.

She said they were known for lower prices than the big chain place, but a little inconvenient to get to.  Turns out they are actually very close to where ds now works.  She then gave me their phone number and suggested I call them for the remaining rx’s.

I armed myself with a list of ds’ rx’s including the dosage and strengths and then called the number she provided. 

I swear I nearly had to call 911 to revive myself after I got the price differences.  On just the first two rx’s there was over $250 difference in the cost! If we considered all his rx’s the total cost was going to be roughly $200 vs the $1000 we had been previously looking at! All because I decided to talk to the receptionist!

We had that much on our flex pay card that we could use to pay for them. You can bet we were doing the Snoopy Dance at our house tonight.

The pharmacy tech also told me that one of ds’ rx’s was going generic in just two weeks and that if he could get samples from his doctor or stretch his current rx that far (which he can) that the price for it would drop over $150 from their price and even more from the big chain pharmacy’s price.

A third prescription they didn’t carry because it was a mixture of two drugs.  However, she said, if we could get our doctor to write two separate rx’s for the two drugs we could get them both for $20 vs the over $100 ds was currently paying.  The doctor agreed to this immediately.

We discussed all his meds and she responded with helpful suggestions that brought our cost down by 75% over the big chain pharmacy.  She said it was because they based their prices on what the medicines actually cost them rather than the overhead the big chains had (franchise, employees, advertising etc). 

So if you find yourself in a similar circumstance, ask your doctor about help.

Also, as one friend found out, sometimes it pays to simply do comparison shopping for all your medical needs.  She had discovered her small local pharmacy was cheaper than the big name chain quite by accident.
So at this point I suggest if you take monthly prescriptions to do a price comparison with pharmacies once a year or so, just as you do (or should do) with your auto and home insurance.  You might be as amazed as we all were.
Another friend was without insurance and needed a lot of medical tests done, and had no insurance.  He discovered very quickly that most labs have two price brackets.  Those with insurance, and those without.  By making phone calls for specific tests he saved literally thousands of dollars by having his tests done where he chose rather than where some insurance company chose. 
He also spoke frankly with his doctor and asked which tests truly needed to be done and which were just add on's because the insurance companies usually require them before getting a second set of different, and sometimes more expensive, testing done.  Any test you don't truly need is money saved in your pocket.

 I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about asking about pharmacies before.  After all when we are preparing to buy anything I call repair shops to find out what appliance/car/tv what have you they see the most and which one they would recommend for the least amount of repairs.  So why not ask a doctor about pharmacies?  Duh!

This is not the first time I’ve gotten a huge discount simply by asking.  Many years ago—during the gas lines time period.  We were without insurance and one of my children had health issues that needed weekly visits to a doctor.  Only, as we all know, doctors and the prescriptions that go with them are expensive.  The kid really needed the medical care.  So I spoke to the doctor and worked out a bartering system with his office.

They saw both my children and gave us samples for the meds needed in exchange for me making child size hospital gowns because they hated using paper gowns for their patients during exams.  As time went on I did some sewing for a church play they were involved with and personal sewing for the doctor and his wife. It was a winning situation for all involved. My children had excellent medical care and they got quality products from the fabric they provided.

Once at Lowe’s I found some shade cloth I wanted but the price was higher than I wanted to pay, another color of the exact same shade cloth was on a tremendous sale, but not my color.  I approached the store manager and asked for a discount.  At first they were hesitant, then using a ploy I had often done with fabric when I had a sewing business, I told them I’d take the whole bolt, if the price was right and would allow them to simply “count folds” to figure the number of yards/square feet rather than have to roll it all out and measure it.  For those of you who don't know generally on a bolt of fabric you can count the folded edges of the fabric on a bolt and on average 3 folds will equal a yard. They took me up on my offer.  I ended up getting far more shade cloth than I thought I had and at a VERY good price.

When we are doing building projects I ask if they have damaged materials they will sell at a discount.  The odds are 50/50 on this but when they do the stores will often discount the materials for as much as 75%. Often the damage is slight, like a corner broken off a full sheet of sheet rock, or a knot hole on the end of a board, or mis-mixed paint.
Same goes for scratch and dent appliances.  We’ve purchased many a piece of furniture over the years with a scratch, or a broken piece of glass for pennies on the dollar.  A little shoe polish often will cover the scratch and a trip to a glass store will often net a scrap piece of glass for little to no money. 
A safety note here.  NEVER short cut on the quality of glass, especially where furniture is concerned.  While safety glass may cost you a bit more in the beginning if someone puts their hand through it in a fall later you will save yourself a trip to the ER, or possibly the morgue, if you have safety glass. 

Where the coffee table glass was concerned I called the glass store from the furniture store before we purchased it to determine the cost of the replacement glass.  It was too high for my purchase budget, but it gave me a negotiating tool.  Before it was over I got the table at the discount I wanted, AND the store replaced the glass for free—seems they knew their store insurance would cover it all along.
Think about where your new appliance is going to go.  If it has a dent on the side that will be next to a wall, does the dent matter? Not in this house, especially when it can lower the price and NOT affect the warranty.  Out of sight, out of mind.  That scratch on the free standing stove side that is between two cabinet tops is NEVER going to be seen by anyone except me when I'm cleaning behind the stove--and that doesn't happen often.
I’m not above asking grocery stores for discounts for foods that are near date that I will either use immediately or can, dry or freeze immediately.  Most would rather sell it at a discount than throw it out. So if the quality is still good, why not ask for the discount?
When we were Rendezvous Traders we were literally that, traders.  If we found something on someone’s trade blanket we wanted.  We’d ask price and then barter goods from our blanket for theirs—or someone else’s.  Some items might require lining up 3 or 4 trades to get to the item we wanted, but we did it.
We always made certain everyone got a fair price for their goods in the long run and we had a reputation for being very honest in how we represented our trades.
Even today if there is a certain heirloom seed I’m looking for I’ll put out a notice that I am looking for it, then work out a trade (only in the states where the law allows the import of seeds—CA in particular has some VERY strict laws so be sure and check them out if you decide to do this) for those seeds whenever possible.
It all comes down to communication.  You need work done on your car, maybe the mechanic needs a repair done to his home.  You will never know if you don’t communicate.
One couple I know does webpages professionally, they barter that skill for all sorts of repairs.  Another does computer repair, the list is endless.
So the moral to this story is COMMUNICATE, all the other person can say is NO. Asking questions like “Do you barter?”  “Would you be willing to let me (fill in the blank with whatever skill you have--keep it clean folks) to pay for the repair?” can save you a lot of cash.
As they say, there is no such thing as a dumb question.
After all any pennies you don’t spend are pennies earned.
Jan who is happy to know she not only solved her immediate prescription problem, but now will have a new pharmacy at much lower prices in OK


  1. While I know this has been nearly a year ago, I thought that someone searching for lower cost answers might stumble upon this. We have been in the COBRA insurance choice situation 3 times over the last 12 years- 45-90 days of coverage needed. As you mentioned COBRA cost is very prohibitive- for us and our 3 children $900-1300 per month depending on the insurance that we had in effect. Although we are healthy, we have 3 active children, we live in a rural area, and we commute quite a distance. This all adds up to mean that we CANNOT take a gamble and go without medical insurance. I was panicked the first time we were hit with the COBRA situation. It was amiable change of job, so I talked to both the employer's (old and new) to try to come up with a solution. They very politely told me that their hands were tied, and explained why. I spoke to the medical insurance company that we had, and they essentially told me to suck it up and pay their fees. Then I had the idea to call the medical insurance provider who would be picking us up with the new employer. It was a large conglomerate and I found myself explaining our situation over and over as I wove my way through their phone channels. I'd like to say that all the time spent on hold paid off with them waving the time restraint or something equally affirming. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. I had been able to climb beyond the call center for help, but was stuck on hold at the lower corporate level. I found myself once again explaining the situation, but this time to someone's personal assistant's assistant or the cleaning lady. By that point I wasn't really sure. She said to me, "Honey, why don't you save yourself the headache and buy short-term coverage?" Wait, what!?! She gave me a website- from the company I had spent 3 days and 8 hours on the phone with- who would be our new insurance provider. Turns out we could get high-deductible 90 day gap coverage medical insurance for our family for $600. All three months for $600 and the certificate of coverage so that we didn't have to worry about lapsing and being denied coverage. Since then we have bought short-term gap medical coverage twice more at a huge saving over COBRA. No you can't just run to the doctor on it, but if something big happens the family is covered! Obviously this doesn't help with prescription coverage, but it is perfect if you have to worry about "preexisting conditions" or if you have an active, growing family.

    1. See what I mean about asking and listening! I didn't know about gap insurance, even with all the research I did. Thank you so much for adding this comment to my post. I hope it will help many people in the future. Jan who is now preparing to wind her way through the medicare system because her husband is now 65 in OK