I’ve Paid For This Twice Already…

Frugal living and debt reduction tips for a better financial future. This is one family’s story.

January 21st, 2008

There’s No Shame In Not Being Able To Afford It

In a perfect world, we would all have well-funded emergency funds at all times, and it something unexpected came up, we would be able to handle it and then quickly replenish said emergency fund and be prepared for the next emergency.

Wouldn’t it be nice if things were perfect.

In the real world, sometimes we’re just not prepared for everything. Maybe you had a series of emergencies in short succession. Maybe you’re getting out of debt and don’t have a fully funded emergency fund. Maybe you’ve just recently realized you need to turn your financial life around and are still trying to undo years of mistakes. There are a whole host of reasons as well as a combination of reasons why a financial emergency can leave us in the lurch. Whatever the reason, sometimes we’re just not prepared.

Something I have been trying to drill into my own head lately is the idea that there is no shame in not being able to afford something. I recently had a very expensive car repair totally wipe out my emergency fund as well as any reserve funds I could come up with, and then some. Not even a week later, I got the definitive news from my dentist that I need all four of my wisdom teeth out, and after some investigation I am about 98% sure that my dental insurance doesn’t cover it. My dentist expects me to schedule and get the teeth out before my appointment to put a filling in at the end of February. But at that appointment in February, he’ll get the news that I’m not having them out until September. He’ll think I’m putting it off because I am scared, because when he told me I need them out, he interpreted my negative reaction to be fear. It was fear, but not fear of the procedure – fear of the bill. And although at the time I let him assume he was correct, I now intend to set him straight on that fact.

There is no shame in the fact that I have to budget to pay for an expensive medical procedure, and I don’t intend to act ashamed about it. I am human and life happens. The timing of these events are unfortunate, and necessitate me spacing them out to some degree. I don’t intend on being without an emergency fund, and I don’t see my wisdom teeth coming out as a true emergency that has to happen right this second. Yes, they need to come out sooner rather than later, but they can wait several months. I refuse to be ashamed about the fact that I don’t intend to go into more debt to fund this.

Sadly, the reality is, I still feel embarrassed about it in my head. But I am practicing talking to my dentist. I am practicing simply explaining that I can’t afford the procedure at this time and I am budgeting for it and will have saved the money by September. Because there is no shame in the truth, and the truth is – we have to budget and save over time to make this work. I get so hung up on “appearances” and the idea that money would cause me to put this off makes me feel like I can’t keep up the appearance that we’re doing just fine. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because doing things this way is a much better alternative than just going into more debt and hoping we can fix it later.

And if more things happen to further derail our plans, we can adjust and go from there. I’d rather live in full awareness of reality and be a little embarrassed than in a fantasy world I create with available credit. And by budgeting, I can slowly build up the funds to have the teeth out and not have to worry about paying for it later. Worrying about paying for it beforehand is a much better place to be.

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73 Responses to “There’s No Shame In Not Being Able To Afford It”

  1. Thanks for sharing that story, I think you express many of the feelings that we all feel but rarely talk about.

    Most people would go ahead and put that kind of expense on their credit card, I think your decision is the harder one to make and the right one.

    Having to eat a bit of humble pie, from time to time, makes you stronger in the long run, at least for me.

  2. I think this is a great post. Linking it into a previous post of yours, it also sets a great example to the children, that even as an adult you cannot always get what you want.

  3. Really, there should be no shame in having sensible personal finances. Even the best funded emergency funds can’t cope with everything at the same time. Be proud that you’re doing the right thing.

  4. I had a similar experience with my new dentist — love the office but it’s funny that they keep reminding me that they have financing options available.

    I had some work done and it wasn’t covered by insurance; I told the billing receptionist that it was okay, I had put aside my bonus as “dentistry needs” funds.

    And while I’d love to get Lumineers (again, the dentist said, “they’re ~$5k, but we have financing for that…”) I told him that was definitely out of my financial picture for several years.

    It actually made me feel good to say no and that I wouldn’t take financing for something I don’t really need.

  5. (love your site)

    I had a similar thing happen with my teeth and the dentist. Fortunately, after confessing to him that I was putting of the appt because I couldn’t afford to pay, he was willing to put me on an interest free two year payment plan.

    If I hadn’t broken down and told him that it was a money issue, I probably would’ve just put it on the charge card and added to my debt. Admitting I couldn’t afford it saved me a ton of money in the end.

  6. Your honesty humbles me and you speak for many of us.

    Thank you for this……

  7. What a “wise” post!

  8. As I said before, your your words are an inspiration for me. You are wise beyond your years! I am an older woman who has always struggled to keep afloat financially due to life events beyond my control. I really appreciate your young and thoughtful voice.

  9. Great post here. We have reached the no shame point.

  10. Great post. I like the way you think.

    When my wife and I were getting out of debt, we went through the same stuff and had to say “we can’t afford it right now” many times.

    Years later, and debt free, we often choose not to do something or not buy something that we CAN AFFORD. It’s just something that’s not very important to us and we choose to spend our money on other things. The funny thing is others often interpret this as we still can’t afford it.

  11. crazypumpkin Says:

    January 21st, 2008 at 9:16 am

    It took me the weekend to remember these two things. You could always look in your area to see if there is a dental research place near you. I got all 4 of my wisdom teeth out for free through a pain study at the National Institutes of Health. The provided everything for me, including the medications for afterwards.

    You could also ask your dentist for a discount since you are paying for this out of pocket. He may appreciate not having to handle insurance and will probably earn more from you paying it to him directly. Just like we can ask for discounts on cable and phone bills, we can ask the dentist for the same.

  12. I need to tell myself this when I want to go out to eat for the 10th time…or when I see something that one of my friends tells me that I deserve at the mall…

  13. I echo what crazypumpkin says. Check out if there is a dental research college that will do it cheaper. Back home in Birmingham, Alabama, they had such a place. Fourth year students would perform the procedure under the direction of their professors.

    It was very cheap.

  14. One of my friends has pretty much paid for everything herself since she was 14. When she had to get a cavity filled, (or some other dental work), she told the dentist she couldn’t afford it and that it would have to wait. She was about 20 at this time and didn’t have health insurance. So they talked and agreed on a price. When she finally had it done and went to pay, the receptionist told her it was taken care of.

    Moral of the story is, maybe you have a nice dentist too, who could tweak the price a little bit. :-D

    Oh, and after I found that out I started going to her dentist! haha

  15. Thanks for all the comments!

    This was actually a sort of painful yet cathartic post to write. I get hung up on “keeping up appearances” – not trying to keep up with my neighbors in terms of possessions or anything but keeping up the idea that we are living comfortably with no financial pressures. Hah, I say!

    I am going to seriously look into alternative plans for the dental work. I am going to wait until after my appointment at the end of February though – after I explain my situation to the dentist, I am going to see if we can work something out. If we can’t, I’ll look into if it is feasible where I live to have the work done at something like a dental college.

    Thanks everyone for the support and the encouragement and the insights. You rock! :)

  16. There IS no shame in not being able to afford it. LOVE the swagger! I know inside it feels bad but you’re so focused and you have a PLAN!

    Lets hope you can find an alternative to having the work done but if you cant then September it is. Talk to the dentist and then be done with it. You’ve had to deal with a lot recently in terms of emergencies so relax and it will all work out.

  17. I know exactly what you mean. I still get that feeling in the pit of my stomach when we can’t afford to do something, and I don’t want to admit it.

    I recently exchanged a belt I got for Christmas for a larger size. The two feelings of shame resonated in my mind as very similar. I hope you can strike a deal with the dentist so you don’t have to wait quite so long.

  18. Really inspiring post. Today I was feeling frustrated as I put on one of my 5 “nice” shirts. I have 5 nice shirts and 2 nice pairs of pants and that makes about 8-9 outfits (not all the shirts go with both pants) total I can wear to work. It’s ok, there’s no shame in buying wisely for work…but sometimes I feel that way anyway.

  19. There’s nothing wrong with affording it. Also sometimes if it’s outrageous, like this summer a dentist telling me, I needed 3-4 crowns, I said I couldn’t afford that and was getting more opinions. Heck at $2k/crown you bet I’m researching what I really need to get done! And it’s not just about affordability, but who wants that much work done.

  20. What I don’t get is why the author of the article didn’t ask his dentist how much this is going to cost and ask for a payment plan. Wisdom teeth (along with car repair etal) need to be taken seriously. If the author puts it off his health can be in serious danger. If he has an expensive car repair, that has to be dealt with too. There are ways of COMMUNICATING with the people we meet in order to come to a good medium.

    I went to Aspen Dental (Stay the f away from them)and they were rejected by my insurance company for periodontial work. I thought this had to be done immediately and they opened a health account for me and wanted to charge $1500. I went back and told them NO. Then I found a real dentist and he’s doing it …no charge to me. My health insurance said they’ll pay $500 a year so I had half my mouth done in December and the other half done in January. Cost me nothing.

  21. If you can afford it right now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put it on the credit card anyway. It makes the reward miles sweeter when you are on the plane!

  22. @Dental Work –

    if you read the linked article to the dental work, I did indeed ask how much the cost is. $1600, approximately. The office thought my medical insurance would cover it because my dental insurance says “submit to medical insurance” on it. So I didn’t ask about a payment plan then. I called both my medical and dental, and they both deny responsibility for the procedure. Oh, and the car’s done. $3700. Most paid with cash up front. Which is why the dental work funding is not quite there now.

    When I go back in february I’ll find out what the dentist offers for payments – but I don’t plan on using a payment plan. I plan to save for it over the next 9 months and pay for it then. Yes it is important, but I feel it can be put off at this time for a short period of time. There’s no infection or pain or pressing issue that has to resolve immediately, and no impaction.

    Thanks for coming over from reddit and hope you stick around to look deeper next time :)

  23. I think pliers could pop those out pretty cheap. The only issue is if they break, then you’re in some trouble. Okay, it’s better to have a professional do it but when insurance can’t cover it, it falls on out of pocket cost. I know how you feel when you have to figure out a way to pay for necessary dental procedures. My teeth are really bad and I have spent several grand to get them fixed. Now I’m having crowns put over the ones that are so bad they won’t last much longer. Each crown costs a grand and I have to pay half the cost. One has been done last year before my insurance ran out, and I have three more to go yet. I want to space them out during the year and my dentist is willing to work with me on a payment plan.

  24. Well said! It takes alot of personal integrity to not worry about what others might think in light of your current financial situation and to do what you know is in your best interest. Hats off to you my blogging friend!

  25. The last line — “Worry about paying for it beforehand vs. after”.. definitely something I agree with, but need to REMEMBER the next time I am consumed with the latest thing on my “want list”. Thanks for the motivation.

  26. No shame at all, and I wish more people felt this way. Great post.

  27. Something to look into is some health insurance plans cover the removal of wisdom teeth. It depends on the carrier, but be sure to check your health insurance in addition to your dental insurance!

  28. Hmmmm,

    I think you are on the border of cheap and frugal here. Make sure you are keeping the gums around your wisdom teeth clean, via brushing, flossing, and pick up a pocket cleaner (a little bottle with a syringe like applicator you can squirt mouthwash or water directly into the gums & pockets in the back of your mouth).

    Make sure the decision to defer the procedure does not in the end cost you in the future.

    My dentist was on my case to get mine out but I never bothered until the detected decay forming in the pockets around mine and they showed me an X-Ray that showed they thought the decay had starting infiltrating my jaw bone. Perhaps they gave me a snow job but this is what spurred me to finally getting them out. Lord knows it cost me in terms of pain, co-pays, vacation, etc but I don’t want a future of root canals and similar.

  29. @ Marcus –

    I’m honestly not being cheap or frugal. It is not that I am not willing to spend the money – I don’t have the money. I can’t magically make the money appear. I’m thought about it, crunched all the numbers, worked it out over and over again, and this was the most expedient plan I could come up with. Maybe I’ll be able to save more money faster and be able to do it sooner – I am open to that. But debt is killing us. We just can’t take on more of it unless the situation is extremely dire. Honestly, waiting 8 months to me isn’t dire. We’ll see what the dentist says.

    On that, I probably should have had them out years and years ago, but as I said, I am convinced now my last dentist was a quack. He would say “You need your wisdom teeth out” and I would say “why?” and he would say “Because it could cause trouble in the future” and didn’t expand on what kind of trouble, even when asked. Well, now I know, but at the time I figured he just wanted money. lol This dentistactually showed me xrays and explained everything. Now I know why – and now I can make it a priority.

  30. I think your dentist will be able to work something out with you, assuming you have a decent relationship with him already.

  31. I love this post! It is so true, but I’ve only recently come to understand this. I only wish I had had this wisdom in my early 20′s, when I was too embarrassed to tell my friends I couldn’t really afford the vacation/fancy dinner/hair cut in Beverly Hills.

  32. CEO fo the Sofa Says:

    January 24th, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    So true. I wish I had realized this in 1990:
    No, I can’t afford to send my kid to private school.
    No, I don’t need a new car.
    No, I didn’t need to buy diamonds for Christmas.
    No, I didn’t need to live like a king while working on the road.
    No, I didn’t have to go out to eat with my “wealthy” friends (and pay my share).
    I didn’t have the money! And now, until I get out of debt, I really don’t have it!

  33. Great post! I went through something similar recently. My 11 year old daughter needs braces. Her dentist referred us to a local orthodontist, who gave us an estimate of $5,400! My aunt works for a dentist in another town and told me she thought that seemed high. And a good friend of mine lives in a VERY expensive town, and her orthodontic estimate was the same (usually expenses are much less in my town). So, I really wanted to “shop around” and find a more reasonably priced orthodontist, but I was embarassed to make the phone calls. Embarassed that I “couldn’t afford it”. Well, I got over it, made some calls, and found a good orthodontist with an estimate of $4,200. I’d say $1,200 is worth a little embarrassment! :)

    Good luck! And thanks again for posting!

  34. I would advise you to see if he could do a payment plan (as others have mentioned). I would also discourage you from doing it at the dental college. Wisdom teeth removal is a pretty intense surgery — even if done correctly, they can cause nerve damage, or as in my case over-stretch your jaw tendons and you end up with TMJ. This is not the place to be frugal.

  35. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing it. I plan to include your article in my weekly carnival review this Friday.

    Best Wishes,
    D4L

  36. Thanks for sharing this. I wanted to get Lasik surgery done, did the research and went for a consultation to make sure I’d be eligible for the procedure before I started to save for it. I asked about a cash discount and got a very surprised look from the eye doctor. He said they could probably arrange that, and then started pushing their 0% financing option. I told him I’d look at all the paperwork, figuring I might be able to cashflow it (the premise of clear vision is SOOOOO enticing…). A week later, they called to offer me $500 off if I booked an appointment that week, and I said I couldn’t afford it yet. The rep was absolutely flabbergasted when I said I wasn’t willing to do 0% financing and wanted to pay cash in full. I felt a little weird about it, but I’m really glad now that I stuck to my guns–had I gone with the financing option, I’d be stuck with a large nasty bill now since my circumstances changed from a year ago. I’ll still get it done, someday, but I’ll do it on my terms.

  37. It depends on what the procedure is. Some medical (including dental) procedures are worth debt financing. I hope it goes without saying, but it’s hard to know. Wisdom teeth, perhaps , are something that can be put off without any harm.

  38. I don’t know how I missed this post! I normally read every one of yours!

    I am in the EXACT same situation, except my wisdom teeth (I only have 2) are pushing on my bottom teeth and causing me some discomfort. My uncle the dentist does not do this, and being a student I do not have dental insurance.

    I am going to call the “other” university in my state that has a dental school. A few years ago my roommate had a root canal though them for next to nothing- but she did have to wait almost 4 months.

    Maybe by explaining your situation to your dentist he can help you find a place with reduced cost to help you get it done faster. My uncle helps people all the time get procedures at reduced cost (so they can afford is sooner) at a University near him.

    I agree, truth is the best answer- and it might help you in unexpected ways!

  39. If more people were unashamed to go into debt out nation would be better off. There are some things that I would like but do not go into debt for, so I have realized that those were not needs.

    For needs it is important to have an emergency fund.

    An emergency fund shouldn’t be used for misconstrued needs… like a kitchen remodel, new designer bag or vacation. If you have saved for it without neglecting other things then there really is no shame.

  40. I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed a month ago. It is a very traumatic surgery, particularly if your teeth are impacted. (I imagine that they are.)

    Because your insurance does not cover this procedure, I recommend you find a surgeon who can offer a payment plan. The more you put this off, the worse the recovery from your surgery will be.

    Wisdom teeth can cause incredible (and expensive) damage down the road if not dealt with properly. It’s OK if you can’t afford to pay in cash for the surgery, but either find a payment plan or begin saving now.

  41. It may have already been suggested, but have you also considered shopping dental insurance plans? Many of them have a six-month waiting period, but you might find one that would cover it in September AND save you a ton of dough!

    Just an idea if the other suggestions don’t pan out, but there have been some great ones!

    Honestly, most people would just go ahead and charge it, but I think waiting and saving for a non-emergent medical/dental procedure is so smart I could just hug you!!

  42. Somehow I missed this post earlier.

    I’m impressed with your decision to delay getting your wisdom teeth out. And you might be surprised, the doctor might be impressed that you are waiting to do it when you can pay with cash :)

  43. Interesting post, and I agree with your philosophy though also with others’ points that some types of medical/dental treatment cannot or should not be postponed. My sense (and personal experience), though I have no expertise in this area (beyond that experience) is that wisdom teeth safely can be.

    I had been advised to get mine out, but waited until they started causing me pretty excruciating headaches. I then had them out with just novacaine; one took about 2 hours and the (roughly 70-year old) dentist told me afterward — he had to break it into little pieces to get it out — that he had “never seen one in quite that position.” Huh! Anyway, the procedure wasn’t a big deal; other than having my mouth open for a long time, I didn’t feel a thing. Take chapstick and ask to get your prescriptions — probably a pain killer and an antibiotic — before your appointment so you don’t have to deal with getting them filled (as I did) after getting your teeth out when you feel sore and tired. Then you’ll be sore a few days, but it’s no big deal. I sucked on cloves (the herb), which are a “folk” remedy for tooth pain and found that helped during my recovery — placebo effect or real, who knows, but cheap and as far as I know quite harmless.

    It’s probably not feasible now, but another thing that could be helpful to cover these costs would be to plan ahead and set funds into a medical flex account so you could cover them tax free. I’m not a regular reader and don’t know if you have access to such an account through your employer, but if you do it might even be worth waiting until the next calendar year to take advantage of this. If the procedure costs $1600 and you are in the 25% federal tax bracket, this will save you about $400.

  44. Well written! We have cited it as one of our favorites in our Sunday Review #5. Keep up the excellent blogging!
    Cheers,
    FIRE Finance

  45. There is nothing wrong with you saying to the Dentist that you can’t afford it; I’m in the same predicament myself, and I am determined not to borrow money for it; my goal is to pay cash and be done with it. I’m scaling back on everything while paying off my debts and dealing with these other major expenses, but it can be DONE!!!! I appreciate your blog

  46. Most adults need their wisdom teeth removed. We should, as a society, create a fund into which we pay to help people pay for it. Adults could be taxed around $20 a year. When it comes time to get them out, we would pay a little money out of pocket (because not everyone needs them pulled, so they could get a little break), and the fund would pay for the rest. Nobody would need to suffer the indignity of not being able to afford a medical procedure that doctors consider necessary.

    We could call it Medicare W, for wisdom.

  47. “Can’t afford” sounds so negative, so poor.

    Just say, “I haven’t saved up for that yet.”

    If it’s something you don’t really want and someone else is being pushy, then say, “I’m not going to save up for it, either, because I have other priorities right now.”

    If it’s a current consumable, like dining out with friends, “Sorry, I didn’t budget for that! Maybe next time.”

    The art of the brush-off using empowering budget concepts instead of deflating too-poor language!!!

  48. I find that the more things I voluntarily ‘can’t afford’ the fewer times I am pushed into that position.

    I don’t write a money blog, but I think I have other things worth saying.

  49. It’s amazing to me how often we are driven by the need to “look good” in front of people we don’t know. This isn’t just about money, necessarily, but everything. Congrats on sticking to your guns and not letting the dentist freak you out and into debt because he wants you to have the procedure done at a certain time…

    I like Kentucky Liz’s POV as well: rephrasing your your statements to reflect that you’re choosing one option (save for the procedure) over another (go into debt) puts you in the power seat, not the “victim” seat. As Dave Ramsey often says, there’s a difference between broke and being poor: you’re just broke right now, and you’re choosing the path that’s going to get you to financial security. No shame in that at all! (And ultimately, it’s none of the dentist’s darn business how and when you have your wisdom teeth pulled. If he wants it done sooner perhaps he’d be willing to pay for it! :) )

    I’m so impressed by your honesty and and openness on this blog, btw! Great post. (I only wish I’d found it sooner! :) I’ve subscribed and will be readin’ you from here on out!

  50. Find out what condition your wisdom teeth are in. Two years ago I was told that mine were fine, but they’ve since switched directions. If yours aren’t causing you pain, and there’s no fractures on the x-ray, you might be able to wait a few months. Even with a two year wait, mine took less than 15 minutes to pull. Also, $1600 sounds insane. I only did two at once, and it was $100 (with insurance). Definitely shop around, and look into insurance.

  51. partgypsy Says:

    May 14th, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    To avoid embarrassment, simply say “it’s not in the budget”. That way you are not lying whether you don’t have the money for it, or do have the money but haven’t budgeted for that particular expense in your budget. It’s good to learn to say no.

    I was in the same situation, needed all 4 out. My advice: look into teaching colleges; I was quoted 1200-1600 from private dentists, but got all 4 out for $425 (inclusive) at the teaching college. I did have to wait 2 months for a slot but as I had already put it off for years the extra 2 months didn’t make any difference.

  52. Hello
    My dentist told me too I need to take out my wisom teeth. Thats what he said but I say if it don’t hurt I don’t need to take them out. My parents had theirs for years no problem. I look it as more money for the dentis. You know the saying if it ain’t broken don’t fix it.

  53. Just wondered how you’re going on saving towards your wisdom surgery?
    Forgive me if you’ve posted about it since January, but I was digging in your archives and loved your honesty in this post.

    It amazed me how many commenters totally missed the point of your post, or just didn’t bother to read it properly. It wasn’t about saving money or scrimping on your finances.

    I salute your struggle to avoid credit and further debt. It really is a struggle these days, as it seems that every purchase we make is met with an offer of further credit.

    We are working towards the same goal as you, and I agree wholeheartedly with your philosophy.

    Congratulations on being brave enough to say no to the cult of consumerism. ;)

  54. I admire your honest approach to your own financial situation. I also think it’s worth pointing out that you did a good job distinguishing what constitutes and emergency and what does not. Taking out wisdom teeth after years of having them in is unfortunate, but it is not really an emergency. Too many people feel compelled to deal with problems as soon as they arise, even when they can be deferred to a more convenient time. Being able to endure some hardships to avoid debt will help you come out better on the other end.

  55. I just revisited your site – and wish I had never left! I always appreciate your honesty.

    Dental schools can do work cheaper. Plus/minus:

    When I went to the dental school, several students and professors looked at my procedure before the designated student touched me;

    (another plus, you get one persone ‘working’ on you for each procedure);

    Saved a TON of money. Now for the minus:

    It is a SCHOOL. Sometimes the school is on vacation or the student is off on an emergency (that’s life) so that will slow you down.

    Overall, a good experience. Schools are used to payment plans, so no problem.

    I wish you the best with your teeth and life for you and yours.

  56. For got to say, the students/professors look over each STEP of any procedure. they talk ad infinitum and all look before anything is pulled, drilled…

  57. I love this! I have found the best thing to say these days is “The economy is bad – I can’t afford it.” Then….I LAUGH! People around me think I’m nuts for saying it out loud, as if it’s some kind of horrible thing – and then they give that sigh of relief that says “I’m so glad she said that, money is a little tight right now.”

    The truth is – I have money in the bank and I’d like to keep it that way. I have bills that I am paying off and that’s not something I’m willing to sacrifice so I can have expensive coffee with friends every day – no thanks, I would like to pay for my kids’ college someday!

  58. I have no job,and I have terrible tooth ache. Actually it is loose and has been loose for some time now. It just got worse the other day. Now it is harder to even eat a thing without pain. Since I have no job I have no insurance either. Can someone help get this tooth pulled. I do not have very many teeth, and I can’t smile and feel good about myself.

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