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How to crash spend your Flex account

Remember the Nickelodeon Super Toy Run? That contest from the 80s where a sweepstakes-winning kid got to run through a toy store with a shopping cart for five feverish minutes and keep everything he could knock off the shelves?

That’s what came to mind earlier this month when I got a letter from our benefits department informing me I had extra money left in my Flexible Spending Account. I had a chunk of change, and if I didn’t use it by the end of the year, I was going to lose it. I started dreaming about a pharmacy version of that shopping spree, only with Tylenol and NyQuil instead of Pogo Balls and Cabbage Patch Kids.

I know. It’s silly. It’s my money, and it was dumb of me to put too much aside. But still. BAND-AIDs!

Then I remembered that some changes went into effect in 2011 that changed the eligibility of some of the items. Now, instead of just submitting a detailed receipt with your reimbursement forms, some expenses require an accompanying Letter of Medical Necessity or a doctor’s prescription.

OK, so that knocks NyQuil and Tylenol out of the equation, along with most other things I might actually use. (Though BAND-AIDs would still be OK).

So then I had this other brilliant idea. I may not need a walker, a cane, hearing aid batteries, magnifying eyeglasses or any of the other fun stuff that’s still eligible without extra documentation, but plenty of people do. I thought it would be a great idea to do an end-of-the-year drive where people could use their leftover flex spending dollars to buy things like adult diapers, first-aid kits and breast pumps and donate them to individuals or organizations that need them.

But my hopes were dashed when I found out that’s legally a no-no, because the items are only supposed to be used by you or your dependents.

So I talked to some HR experts and checked in with FSAstore.com – that’s a website that sells nothing but FSA-eligible products. If you’ve got leftovers, here’s what they recommend:

Talk to your company’s benefits department. Employers are now able to offer either a 75-day grace period or the option to roll over $500 in flex spending dollars to be used the next year. Or your company can choose not to offer either of those options. Your HR peeps will set you straight.

Start calling your doctors and begging to make last-minute appointments. This is a stretch, because there is less than a week left in the year. But you never know when someone might make a cancellation.

Our dentist got my husband in last week for a full cleaning and even some fillings! And we have until March to submit the receipts and get reimbursed, since the actual work was done before our deadline.

Try accupuncture. Yep, it’s covered under many plans (just check first).

Get a flu shot. Make your spouse get one, too.

You can walk into just about any pharmacy and get a flu shot on the spot. Flu shots are an eligible expense and don’t require any extra documentation. Easy peasy.

Visit FSAstore.com. You can search products by eligibility, by category, and there is also a breakdown showing what items do and do not require a doctor’s prescription or letter.

Once you start surfing around, you’ll find items you never thought of: high SPF lip balms, contact lens solution, baby thermometers. It’s not the super toy run, but it’s still some pretty fun shopping.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com

I had a chunk of change, and if I didn’t use it by the end of the year, I was going to lose it.