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A fresh start

Jan. 1, 2018
Anne Guignon, RDH, says other alternatives may be better than signing up for a gym membership.
Personal Finances
Resolving money issues and investing in personal health are great ways to start 2018


Every time New Year’s rolls around, gyms fill up. Some start a new diet, and others scramble to reduce life’s stressors. As the year starts to develop, it’s a good time to take stock about where you are in life as well as reevaluating your professional career goals.

It’s hard to develop and sustain good habits. Within a few weeks or months, many of us settle back into our old routine. So nothing really changes.

Imagine the positive benefits if you took just one step towards ensuring a healthier career.

Imagine what would happen if you focused on having a less complicated life.

Imagine how a simple change in how you work could reduce your stress.

Imagine how life could change if you decreased your reliance on how much money you must make every day just to keep afloat.

OK, it’s time to hit the pause button and turn what you are imagining into a real action plan. Let’s put the focus on some concrete approaches that can put you more in charge of what is happening in and around you.

Since most of us are not independently wealthy, we rely on wages to support our lifestyle. If money is the primary goal, any downturn in income increases stress. Think of money as a tool, a tool that can support a balanced life. How can we make better use of this tool and let it work for us, not against us?

The first thing that comes to mind about saving is putting money away for a big-ticket item or a lifestyle change. Savings could mean planning for a great retirement or a big purchase such as a new car or a home.

Retirement Plans

In today’s world, very few dental professionals have employment-based retirement plans. If you are one of the lucky ones, though, and have an opportunity to match your employer’s contribution, discipline yourself to maximize your contributions to the fund. If you have nonemployee income from a side job, consider opening a solo 401K or a SEP IRA and again, put as much money as you can into those plans every year. Don’t forget about annual contributions to a Roth IRA. Even if the amounts are not huge, regular contributions add up.

Sadly, many dental hygienists have a short supply of readily available cash. Financial planners understand the value of having liquid cash resources that can be used immediately to bridge the gap when an unexpected illness, job loss, an accident, or an unplanned expense plays havoc with our finances. It is recommended to have a minimum of three to six months of cash readily available. Having a year’s worth will provide even more security.

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew that you were not a financial hostage trapped in a bad job, bad location, or bad relationship? Having six months to one year of income socked away is a small price to pay to be free to make a change, a change that could result in a happier existence. Reaching this kind of goal takes discipline, and it takes making a promise to yourself that you will not touch this nest egg unless it will be used to make a necessary life change. To reach this goal, tuck away an extra $100 a week. The savings will mount quickly. When you are serious about not being held captive in a negative situation, it is easier to follow this discipline.

Speaking of cash, credit cards are not the same as cash. It is easy to get sucked into using plastic to cover every purchase. Unless you pay your bills in full every month, however, you’re handing over lots of hard-earned money to a credit card company. Credit card companies love customers who carry a balance. Those are the folks who keep credit card companies in the black. Either delay the purchase, or pay the balance every month. You don’t need friends like this who always cost you money.

Another trick is to live within or below your means. Is that new car or bigger home worth the additional expense? Yes, it’s nice to have a fancy new car, but will your current one still get you where you need to go? Both homes and cars come with big price tags, so most people finance a portion of these purchases. The bigger the down payment and the shorter the contract, the less money one will spend on interest and other fees. If a financial windfall appears, consider using the money to pay off a portion of the principal left on the loan. It feels great to get a clear title to either a home or a car.

Disability Insurance

Hygienists ask about disability insurance all of the time. Insurance can be complicated, and, in all honesty, insurance companies are in business to make money. They are making a calculated bet that you will not make a claim. It can be grueling to try to make a claim stick, especially when it comes to an injury. Ask any dental hygienist who has tried to make a worker’s compensation claim or tried to get an insurance company to honor a legitimate claim. There is no incentive for the company to pay out, so often policy holders get worn out and end up dropping out before they see a dime or settle for a pittance rather than get fair compensation.

There are two types of disability plans. One is short term and the other is long term. The goals of the policies are very different. Short-term policies cover short gaps in income, while long-term plans are created to provide financial support from long illnesses or serious accidents. To further complicate the picture, some policies will only provide payment if the insured can’t work at all in any capacity. That is very different from a plan that provides coverage if you are not able to continue in your current occupation as a dental hygienist.

Both your health and your financial future are up to you.

One of the simplest ways to keep the cost of any insurance plan down is to take a higher deductible or select a longer waiting period. Another strategy to keep disability premiums low is to purchase a policy when you are young and select a plan where the cost can’t be adjusted on an annual basis or when you reach a certain age. The concept of self-insurance also comes into play when deciding on whether to take out a plan at all. These ideas are simply based on having enough money to get by or enough resources to cover costs for a specific period of time. In the end, you keep more money in your pocket rather than paying higher premiums or any premium at all.

Investing in Equipment and Own Health

More and more hygienists are now investing in their own equipment like loupes, lights, saddles, instruments, and even mobile dental equipment. While this is a controversial concept to some, it does change the mindset of those that choose this pathway. The direct benefits include more physical comfort in the work setting, a safer work environment, and less trips to the doctor to fix a broken, stressed-out body. Imagine trading your health-care dollars for equipment that supports your health.

Other personal investments that can have a huge pay off are regular exercise, meditation, stress-relief techniques, balanced diet, nutritional supplements, and adequate sleep. In technology, the acronym BIOS, stands for basic-in-and-out-system. Everyone has heard the phrase, garbage in, garbage out. Are your giving your body’s BIOS what it needs to stay sharp and healthy? Most of us can stand a bit of improvement in this arena.

And are you taking advantage of alternative therapies, like chiropractic care or therapeutic massage, strategies that can support or even improve health? It’s one thing to keep your musculoskeletal system strong and supple using regular self-care as opposed to running in for an adjustment when your neck is so stiff you can’t even turn it enough to drive a car.

Obviously, there are a lot of pathways each of us can take to save money, create financial freedom, and just enjoy life more. Both your health and your financial future are up to you. Developing a sound plan and sticking to it has many benefits: increased confidence, reduced stress, and more enjoyment from the simple things in life. Enjoy a fresh start.

ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971, and can be contacted at [email protected].