When you are a 22-year-old graduate, just released into the world, your understanding of financial management may be a little off. For example, I had no idea what an emergency fund was, nor that you needed one at all times. You can imagine my shock when I had to pay for a root canal right out of college as a new transplant to New York City.
You know the saying, you live and learn? Well I definitely learned through this ordeal. Hopefully I can pass on some of my lessons so you don’t make the same costly mistakes I have made.
If I could have lived through the process again there are a few things I would have done differently to have saved myself the huge costs. Here are some tips that will hopefully help you if you are ever in this situation, or even prevent you from getting into the situation.
1. Be prepared, plan ahead
Not expecting added costs was my biggest mistake in the whole dental process. Upon graduation, I had responsibly set aside money for my move to NYC and even enough to live job-free for a few months. After the shock of paying first and last month’s rent plus deposit, my fund was crushed, but I still had enough to get by for a few months. Then I started getting earth shattering headaches and pain in my tooth — anyone who’s had tooth pain knows I’m not exaggerating.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t set aside three to six months income for situations like this and did not have dental insurance. This toothache came at an epically bad time, but sickness and accidents typically do.
2. Shop around for doctors
After consulting Yelp, I found a doctor who was very accommodating to those without health insurance and was close to where I lived. When I went to visit, he told me that he could waive the X-ray and consultation fee, which saved me about $150. I instantly trusted him, imagining all the other things he could “waive” for me. At the end of the visit, he confirmed my fears and told me that I indeed needed a root canal.
Here is where I made my second big mistake — I decided just to go with this doctor because I trusted him, had a good experience and decided it was easier than meeting with multiple dentists.
3. Calculate the FULL price
This seems like a pretty obvious step when you have such a big payment to cover. But as a naive college graduate, I just asked how much the root canal would cost. Whether I was naive or the dentist wasn’t transparent, is up for debate, but he only told me the cost of the root canal procedure which was $1,900 without insurance. You can imagine my surprise and anger when I found out the follow-up procedure for a new crown to cover the tooth would be an added $1,200!
I got the first procedure at this office, but to help pay for the follow-up procedure with the crown, I decided to get a second job.
4. Set up a payment plan
I decided to pay for my root canal through a company called CareCredit, a credit card for health care procedures. After seeking the advice of my parents, I set up a plan where I paid $200 a month until my first procedure was completely paid off.
Although, I initially wanted to knock out the payments as quickly as possible, I was advised to do smaller payments over a longer amount of time. This worked out better because as long as I completed the payments by a set date, I would not have interest paid on the card.
Tip: A credit card that has an introductory no-interest offer can also help. Just make sure to pay it off before the APR kicks in.
This plan is not available at all doctors’ offices and you may not be eligible for one of these no-interest plans.
5. Look for yearly insurance plans
This may not be for everyone, but this plan I’d found though Careington, an insurance plan site, ended up being my saving grace. The only reason I trusted Careington was because a co-worker recommended it. Sites like this need to be thoroughly investigated some may not cover the procedures you need, or work with the doctors you need.
After paying $70 for the entire year, I was able to get my second procedure for $600 as opposed to the $1,200 it was originally going to cost. I did, however, need to get the second procedure done at a different office that accepted this plan.
All in all, I ended up saving $530 on the second procedure. When you’re a broke college grad, $530 is a lot of money. Had I known about this plan earlier, I could have paid $580 for my root canal as opposed to the $1,900 I shelled out in the first place.