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How We Paid Cash: Braces… Not a Car

We paid cash!

A testimony from Karen

After six years of living cash-only on a modest salary, I thought I had learned all the lessons this way of life had to teach.

I was wrong.

Two years ago we decided that with two aging cars, we needed to begin saving. After a year we were close to having enough for a decent used car.

However, while refinancing our house we discovered an outstanding credit card debt that somehow had fallen through the cracks. We needed to use the car savings to pay that debt.

While that was difficult, we knew for certain at that point that after three years of hard work we had paid off over $200,000 in debt and were now debt free except our mortgage.

With my teacher husband home for the summer, I took on a full time summer job so we could save more; and in 4 months we were able to save $4,000!

We began to get excited and projected that in a few months we would be able to buy a car.

And then we learned our daughter needed braces. Not the vanity kind of braces to make good teeth perfect, but the palette-expanding-there’s-not-enough-room kind of braces. After insurance we owed $4.700.

My husband and I had meltdowns. It wasn’t pretty. You see, along with a car there are many things on our wish-list. House projects. Vacations. Retirement funds. College Savings. Not braces.

We outlined our options and made the difficult decision to use the car savings to pay for the braces.

Here’s why:

  1. The orthodontist offers an 18 month no-interest payment option, but because they also offer a discount if you pay in full, that option really costs $250 – the amount of the discount. Technically, this is borrowing.
  2. We could pay for the braces out of our emergency fund and keep the car savings on track, but this wasn’t an emergency. We don’t need a car, we want one. If one of our cars breaks down, then we’ll have a real emergency and can consider those funds.

So we start again at ground zero, armed with two valuable lessons.

Appreciation

It was through the experience that I was able to make a mental/spiritual shift from focusing on what I didn’t have to an honest, deep contentment for what I did have.

I realized that if I never had anything more than I had at that moment I would be happy because I was blessed beyond measure in so many ways. How could I truly think I needed more?

Living Our Values

Making the tough decision to delay buying a car forced us to examine our values and make the choice that supported those values.

We have done it for years every month when we make our budget, but had never thought about the fact that we were doing it.

It feels good.

Much better than a new car would!

Karen Lasher is a chef and writer who teaches how to bring peace, calm and serious creativity to everyday meal preparation at Joyful Dinners.

Have you saved up and paid cash for something — large or small? Submit your story for possible publication here.

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30 Comments

  • Lana says:

    Good for you! We did that pay in full discount for 4 of our children and it saved as a ton of money because ours offered 10% off. Three of those four badly needed braces for reasons like your child so it was not an option to not do so and one of them had braces twice, once at age 7 and then again at age 12. You will be glad you did it.

  • Melissa says:

    We are finding ourselves in this situation. My son needs his upper jaw expanded and then braces. We’re working to save up the $3,300 after insurance that we’ll need to pay. The orthodontist offers an interest free monthly payment option, but we want to avoid payments.

    If you don’t mind me asking, how long did it take you to save up for the braces, and what strategies did you use? Thanks!

    • Melissa

      It took us about 6 months to pay for the braces. We had previously gotten our monthly expenses to a level that I would consider frugal living without any frills. Any income over this basic level went directly into savings. Every little windfall we had, every little extra went into saving. I even worked hard to make sure I had money left over in my very meager grocery budget so that I could put extra in savings. One of our best strategies for savings has always been to set an intention, the goal. It’s amazing how just that process keeps us on track and we’ve always been able to meet our savings goals. Good luck!

  • Roxanne says:

    Depending on how long you are receiving orthodontia services, I would not look at paying as you go as borrowing.

    When my daughter had braces, the first few appointments were different scans and measurements. Then the inital braces were put on, then monthly appointments where the wires, springs, and rubber bands were replaced, then a retainer….

    Regardless, it is a year (or longer) of ongoing service and ongoing receipt of medical appliances.

    We did pre-pay for the discount, but I would never tell someone who is paying as they went along that they were borrowing or in debt.

    I pay my hair stylist each time I get my hair cut, not in advance for the year. I haven’t borrowed from her.

    • You make a good point and I know that everyone has to make decisions that are right for them. With the orthodontist it may take a long time for service to be rendered, but if I decided to stop half way through I would still owe the whole amount. What if half way through our situation changed and we could no longer afford the monthly payment? To me that always feels like debt.

      Thanks for bringing this up.

  • Lynne says:

    I would love to hear more about how Karen and her family paid off $200,000 debt in 3 years. I think it would make another great guest post!

    • Leah says:

      I so agree! That’ amazing.

    • Kathryn says:

      Me too! When I read get out of debt inspiring stories they just don’t feel all that applicable to me since we owe 5-10 times as much! It was like a breath of fresh air to read that part alone! Please please please consider sharing more of thus journey!

      • Wow, I am touched that you all want to hear more of my story. I know that when we were in the middle of the debt nightmare I would read stories of how people paid off $25,000 and feel so defeated instead of inspired. I never read a single story about someone who had the kind of debt I did and I daily questioned whether it was even possible. But we had faith and knew we were on the right path.

        I’ll work on how to tell the story further! Thanks.

  • Brighid says:

    Having gone through planned and unplanned medical/dental bills with my children, I can say that if you have a high deductible health insurance plan, look into getting a Health Savings Account through your local bank, employer, etc. These accounts are not the “use it or lose it” type that you might have through your employer. You can keep the money from year to year. It does give you a small tax break too. The catch is that you need to have that high deductible health insurance in order to qualify.

  • Stephanie says:

    My daughter just got her braces on today, so I can totally relate. We first checked out what dental insurance we could get and found out that we could pay $250 more per year and they would cover $750 per year, so that’s a $1000 savings over the two years our daughter will be in braces. We also got a discount for paying the balance in full and we, thankfully, had enough in our emergency fund. My poor daughter has a beautiful smile, but she has a cross bite, three sets of molars don’t even touch. 🙁

    • Stephanie – that’s great work on the insurance side of things. I looked into that too but our only option was what we currently had. Isn’t it great to have an emergency fund? It gives me such peace that I only want to draw from it when I really, really have to and then we repay the money as fast as we can.

  • I get even more inspired when I read stories such as this to continue our frugal way of living. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kristy says:

    My son just had braces put on in January. Our orthodontist had a similar pay in full option, but we decided it would be more cost effective to put the payment amount into our health savings account each month. Since the money comes out of my husband’s paycheck before taxes are taken, we’re saving money that way. my daughter will be in braces in a few months, so we also included her payment in the HSA too. It’s like a car payment each month, but it seems like every parent has to do it at some point. 🙂

    • Becky says:

      Depending on how your HSA works, you may be able to take advantage of both options. I used my Flexible Spending Account (FSA) dollars to pay for my braces. Near the end of the year, I got a quote on how much my braces would cost (my ortho also has a discount if you pay the amount insurance doesn’t cover in cash upfront). Then, when I selected my FSA contribution for the next year, I included that amount in what I wanted to set aside (it actually took up almost the full amount since there is a cap on FSA contributions). Even though I pay into my FSA account from my paycheck all year, the funds are available at the start of the year. I got my braces put on in Feb and paid my cash portion with my first appointment. I was able to submit the expense immediately for reimbursement. By doing this, I was able to save 10% for a cash discount, plus use FSA money which is not taxed – every little bit helps!

  • Lana says:

    Another thought from our experiences with braces is to shop around. Some of our local orthodontists charged twice what ours did. If you went to the expensive one first you would not even know that you could have the same care for half the price.

    • Ann says:

      I second this!! My oldest daughter will be getting her braces off next month. We compared two different orthodontists and one was literally HALF what the other one charged. He may not have the fanciest office, but the treatment she is getting is just as good. Most will offer a free consultation, so it sure doesn’t hurt to look around.

    • Suzanne H says:

      Agreed. When our son needed braces, I was honest with our dentist and asked him for recommendations based upon price (but obviously not someone horrible). I called around and got basic quotes, decided on two to get actual consultations from and went with one of those two. Our initial estimate was $5000; we paid $3600 (after a 10% discount for paying in full) by shopping around and I was very happy with the orthodontist we ended up with! We will probably take our youngest there when his time comes. His dentist looked in his mouth at 2 years old and said, “Better start saving now” so I can only imagine…

      • Leah says:

        Oh, boy! Those are words you really don’t want to hear. 😛

      • Becky says:

        I heard those same word when my son was 2. He inherited my over bite. He is 8 now and we now know that he and his older sister (10) got my husband’s lower jaw issues (and my over bite) and both have had teeth pulled to make space for the ones that have no room to grow in. and the younger is 2 and has an extra baby tooth so who knows what other issues we may have with that as they won’t do X-rays til he is 3. I am sure we are going to be VERY friendly with that office and staff. The daughter got braces in October. The office had a Facebook special that was cheaper still than our original estimate we got that included a cash discount. No cash discount allowed with the Facebook special but I was so glad I drug my feet on it because waiting a few months saved me a few hundred dollars.

  • Tiffany says:

    I’m a long time reader of MSM and I have to say this has to be one of my favorite “we paid cash” stories! So encouraging!

  • Elizabeth says:

    I want to say it was 2013 we ran into having to pay cash for braces also. The choice was the credit or the discount and we had the money in the ‘Oh Sh** Fund’. Same ordeal of palette spacers, pulling the teeth forward, pulling them back… we actually have another appt today she’s got 5 years of scheduled orthodontist appointments. It hurts a lot but health first! And not having a monthly bill coming in is always nice and knowing it is over and done.

  • Kimberly says:

    I just want to say to all the moms out there dealing with orthodontic bills for your kids: It will be so worth it to them in the future. They may not be grateful now, and may complain about the pain, but know that you are putting your money in the right place. I wish my parents had made my dental care a priority. I need major orthodontic work, but as an adult, no dental insurance covers it.

    • Jill says:

      I agree with you Kimberly. I am in the same boat. It is expensive as an adult & not covered. I wish it would have been a priority to my family, but now as a parent it is a top priority for me. I’ve learned the hard way.

  • Amy says:

    What an inspiring story! And as the parent of a child who will almost certainly need braces, it’s interesting and slightly terrifying to read how much braces cost!!

  • We were in the same boat a few years ago. We had decided to use our tax return to have new countertops installed. Went and picked out the slab of granite and everything. Then, we pulled the plug and used the money to pay for braces instead. It was the right choice for us. The green countertops work just fine for now;0)

    • Oh Jayleen! I’m not sure I could have survived that kind of disappointment!! I’m not really a car person, so for me the real disappointment was knowing that for us replacing cars comes first and then I can think about a new kitchen, so to delay the car just means more delay for the kitchen. As a chef with a horrible 1970’s kitchen I am humbled daily and have to focus on gratitude. If I was that close to new countertops and then…..well that would have been a monster sized meltdown for sure. Let me know when you get that countertop – I’ll celebrate with you!

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