Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hara Hachi Bu

I have a coworker who makes it a known fact that she dislikes exercise and strenuous activity of any kind. When the ladies in her department go for their daily walk she always refuses to join in, preferring to remain inside eating her lunch and reading her book. She doesn't seem to be overly conscious of eating healthy; her lunch usually consists of macaroni and cheese, noodles in a Styrofoam cup or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, yet she maintains her weight. I have always wondered how she does this; if I miss even one week of exercise my weight shoots up a pound or two.

At a recent retirement party, I sat next to this coworker and must say I am now onto her secret. After eating only half her plate of food, she pushed the uneaten portion aside claiming she was full. She did eat one small appetizer and a half a piece of cake, but only because others forced it upon her. In comparison, I ate five or six appetizers, my entire plate of food and a whole piece of cake.

So there you have it, she is as disciplined with her food as she is with her work. Now that I think about it, I have never witnessed her eating a single treat others have brought into the office and I would know since I am usually the one eating the majority of these treats.

In Okinawa they have a term for this, Hara Hachi Bu, "eat until you're 80 percent full." In addition to maintaining their weight, Okinawans have the lowest rates of heart disease, cancer and stroke - and one of the highest life expectancies - of any population in the world. Stop eating when you feel only slightly full; within 15 minutes you should be satisfied.

I can’t say in the weeks since this party that I have changed my eating habits, but I have become more conscious of portion size and have made small attempts to quit eating before I am full. It’s a start.

Enough said.

Just wondering why?

1. The smudge proof mascara I buy is never really smudge proof.

2. My health club has to charge extra for Pilates and yoga classes. Isn't my monthly membership fee enough to cover the cost of these classes?

3. Every time I buy new eyeglasses, the only frames I like in the entire store just came in and are not on sale.

4. These same eyeglass frames looked much better when I was trying them on than when they contain my actual prescription.

5. Pottery Barn’s earthenware dinnerware is stamped microwave & dishwasher safe when in actuality it cracks if placed in the microwave.

6. Our local retail establishments refuse to keep extended hours and even choose to close early on a whim. I really do try to patronize our local Mom & Pop shops, but it is extremely frustrating to rush across town after work only to find they closed 15 minutes early. And they wonder why they can’t compete with the large discount retail chains.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Saving Money on Prescriptions

In most discussions concerning the rising costs of our company’s medical insurance, our agent gives the aging population of our workforce and their ever increasing quantity of prescription maintenance medications as one of the contributing factors. To help our employees manage these costs his assistant gave a presentation on “Ways to reduce the cost of prescription drugs”.

Suggestions given:
Ask the pharmacist how much the prescription would cost without your insurance card. I was utterly shocked to hear if a prescription costs $6.99 and you handed them your drug card, the pharmacist may charge you the $10.00 co-pay instead of the actual lower $6.99 cost. Employees at her firm discovered this was happening when their company switched to an HSA insurance plan and employees began paying the full cost of prescriptions out of their own pocket. (Later many of our employees did check the cost of their prescription drugs only to find the actual cost to be well above their co-pay).

Ask for free samples at your doctors’ office. Drug reps hand out samples to doctors weekly. Most clinics save them for the needy, so you may have to ask for your free samples.

Go Generic. When a drug loses its patent, other companies can sell the drug at deeply discounted rates. If there is no generic, ask your doctor if there is another form or an older form that is less expensive. Pharmaceutical companies continually refine drugs to keep customers on the brand name drugs longer.

Split the pill. Pharmaceutical companies often charge the same amount per pill regardless of its strength. (Example- Lipitor 20mg and 40mg cost exactly the same.) Buying ½ the number of pills and splitting them saves money. Note: not all medications can be split, ask your doctor.

Pharmacies are business – yes, you can negotiate pricing with your pharmacy. Shop around for competitive pricing. (Don’t forget Wal-Mart has $4 prescriptions on certain meds).

Mail Order – If you need your medications on an ongoing basis, check out your mail order drug program, save on co-pay and have them delivered to your front door.

I recently attempted to read the book, “Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs” by Melody Peterson. Unfortunately as much as I wanted to read this book, I wasn’t able to read more than 50 pages because it was just too darned depressing. What I did read helped me formulate a cost saving suggestion of my own:

Do not watch, read or listen to any advertisements for prescription drugs; not only are the pharmaceutical companies buying off our doctors but are using advertisements to convince us we have medical conditions we don’t have and to persuade us to ask our doctor to prescribe the latest most expensive wonder drug when a much cheaper generic version would work just as well.

Enough Said.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Dreaded Medical Insurance Renewal

My company has just completed our medical insurance renewal. Once again, our current carrier has increased our medical insurance premiums for the upcoming plan year. The 12% increase was not astronomical, but accompanied with the current soft sales forecast, an increase in our business insurance that was astronomical (40%), and increases in fixed costs; utilities, shipping etc. our owners felt they had no choice, but to pass the increase in medical insurance cost on to their employees.

They did look at alternatives:
- Switching carriers. Another insurance carrier submitted a quote with a similar plan design for a total cost decrease of 3%. Unfortunately, this new carrier did not offer adequate preferred provider organization (or “PPO”) coverage for all our locations. Also, this same group of employee’s medical expenditures would be subject to usual and customary charges. In the long run, our owners decided this carrier was essentially buying our business for one year. Most likely next year, they too would increase our premiums and we would be in the same situation we are in now.

-Our agent did use this more attractive quote as leverage against our current carrier in an attempt to persuade them to lower their original quote down from the 12% increase, but they refused to budge.

- Offering a dual plan choice; our current plan plus an HSA Health Savings Account. Surprisingly, the premiums for the HSA plan were not that attractive. That, in addition to the additional work involved in rolling out such a plan, they decided against it.

The Final Decision:
After much discussion, our owners decided to stay with our current carrier, tweaking the plan design so that the plan would be more affordable. The deductible was increased along with the maximum total out-of-pocket cost. And of course the % of premium the employee pays out of their own pocket was increased. To soften the increase a flexible spending account, was added to the total benefit package.

How the employees responded:
The employees accepted the announcement of higher medical costs with few complaints. I asked one of our more outspoken employees why he was so complacent this time around. He responded by saying, “This increase comes as no surprise. I read the newspapers. There are articles almost daily about the rising costs of medical insurance. Our company is not alone. I talk with my friends who work at other companies. They are experiencing increased costs and a reduction of benefits as well. I don’t like, it but there is nothing I can do about it."

Enough Said.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Tina Fey on "The Way Women are Perceived as Leaders"

In the article, “Tina on Top” found in the May 2008 issue of Marie Claire magazine, Amy Poehler asks Tina Fey to tell readers a little bit about a play she wrote while in Chicago in the early ‘90’s about Catherine the Great.

Yes. yes. I used to take playwriting classes, and I wrote a one-act play – I can’t remember the name of it, but it was really about the way women are perceived as leaders. In the play, Catherine the Great would say things like, "You know, John F. Kennedy had extramarital affairs and no one says anything. But I bang one horse and now I'm a horse-banger for all eternity? That's it? That's what I am? I think Hillary Clinton's got to relate to that.

Enough said.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Advice for the Accounting Grad

You may not make 65K your first year out of school, but the future job outlook for accountants is good. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) beginning in 2008, 22 million workers who are 45 or older will start leaving the workforce, primarily due to retirement. One of the job categories expected to see higher than average departures in that age group are financial managers as well as bookkeepers and accounting and auditing clerks. I have already begun experiencing this at my organization. As members of my staff retire or move on to better opportunities, I have found it increasingly difficult to fill their positions. Recent accounting grads do not even consider accounting clerk positions. I firmly believe they are holding out for better opportunities and are finding them.

How to be more marketable:
Don't overlook summer intern or seasonal tax preparer positions in hopes of a permanent job. If you perform well you will most likely be hired permanently in the fall or when a permanent position becomes available. If at all possible get experience in public accounting. More employers now require public accounting experience. Join business fraternities and professional organizations, and become an active participant. Recently during a CPE workshop sponsored by my accounting organization, a member practically hired a student attendee as a summer intern on the spot.

Get your Certified Public Accountant CPA or Certified Management Accountant CMA certification:
At this same meeting, an accounting student asked whether or not she should take the CPA exam; her boss had advised her against it saying she didn’t need it to be an accountant. Hello, maybe not to work for him, but a lot can happen over the course of a career. The CPA designation comes with a lot of honor and recognition. He is correct it is not a requirement in order to work as an accountant but it does make a difference. It has certainly opened a few doors for me. Also, don’t rule out the CMA exam. When I was in school, it was all about the CPA exam, now my boss wants to know why I never got a CMA.

Which Offer Should I Take?
One of my college professors advised that if you had the luxury of receiving two like job offers to take the one in which you liked the people the best. You will be spending at least forty hours a week with your new co-workers; if you don't like them, your working life has the potential to be miserable.

In closing, a respected CPA I worked with early in my career found the best accounting professionals to be highly motivated and committed to continuous learning. Remember, now that your classroom time has ended you are responsible for keeping your skills and knowledge current and for managing your own career, not your employer.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Do you type?

This morning, the President of my company popped his head into my office and asked, “Do you type?” When I responded affirmatively, he handed me a confidential form that needed typing. Taking the form, I walked to the empty cubicle that housed our old typewriter, sat down, aligned the form, and began to type. As I was typing, I became overcome with a sensation of deja vu.

When I was in high school I took several secretarial classes; Typing I, Typing II and Shorthand I. I'm not sure why I took these classes, I don't recall anyone telling me that I had to take them, asking me if I wanted to take them or even if I liked them. They were the elective classes girls in my high school enrolled in. I abhorred typing. I don’t recall my typing speed ever reaching much higher than 50 wpm. It was not unusual for me to turn in my assignment with a hole or two in the paper from attempting to correct my mistakes with a typing eraser. I found the entire typing class experience to be unenjoyable and stressful. Shorthand was worse. I dropped that class after one semester. It is hard to believe I was on a career track to do this every day for the rest of my life.

Then came career day; our guidance counselor stood in front of the classroom jotting on the chalkboard the future plans of myself and my classmates. We came up with four items. Here they are listed in order:
1. Get married
2. Get a job
3. Get a vocational degree (secretary or beautician for the girls, welder for the boys)
4. Get a college degree (engineer for the boys, teacher for the girls)

Luckily for me; shortly afterwards, I had a conversation with a kind neighbor concerning my lack of enthusiasm for a future career in typing. She talked me into attending a four year college and getting a B.S. degree. This same neighbor would eventually become the guidance counselor at my old high school.

After I graduated from college, with my new B.S. degree in hand, I went off to the employment agencies to find a job. At each agency, the first question the interviewer would ask me was, “Do you type?” which was followed by a typing test. Amazingly, I passed one of those tests, just squeaking by with 42 wpm. That led to a series of temp jobs, most of which involved typing letters and forms. Eventually, I would type an invoice or two, allowing me to add a new skill; Accounts Receivable, to my resume. Thus my accounting career had begun and the rest is history.

The following quote by James Burke of Fortune Magazine is appropriate: The typewriter also freed women from the drudgery of the kitchen to become involved in the drudgery of office work. And more important, it conferred on women the social power denied them by men and provided the dynamic to push for political emancipation.