By the end of the year, most of us are shopped out. But for those of us with Flexible Spending Accounts, there are more purchases to be made before Dec. 31.
Close to 35 million Americans have Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) as part of their medical benefits. (The accounts let employees set aside pre-tax money from their paychecks to spend on healthcare expenses not covered by insurance policies.) When you have a qualified health cost, you can pay for it with the pre-tax dollars in your FSA.
But estimates are that hundreds of millions of FSA dollars go unspent at the end of each year, because in many cases, people don't use up all the funds they've deposited. Experts say some consumers simply forget, while others are confused as to what and what doesn't qualify.
In this economy, nobody wants to waste money. Easy ways to use remaining funds (without trying to get in to see your doctor) include vision exams and prescription glasses or contacts at Target, Sears, Wal-Mart and other big box stores.
Under some plans, FSA cash can be used for alternative treatments, such as acupuncture or chiropractic sessions, so if you can schedule an appointment in the next week, you can get rid of that holiday stress and spend down some funds.
You can also use the money for health and medical-related products, including first aid, baby care, diagnostic equipment and more. While rules for 2012 made some over-the-counter medications ineligible without a prescription or letter from your doctor, there are still plenty of items that qualify without any authorization from your physician.
But figuring out just what those are can be a challenge, says Jeremy Miller, founder and president of FSAstore.com, an online store featuring hundreds of FSA-eligible items.
"Some people think that all over-the-counter items are no longer covered without a prescription and that's just not the case," says Miller. "Consumers can use their funds to buy many of the daily health products they need."
Like over-the-counter reading glasses. If you find yourself squinting at the fine print, stock up. Condoms. First aid kits. Hearing aids and hearing aid batteries. Off the shelf orthotics, like Dr. Scholl's insoles. Contact lens cleaning solution.
Weekend warriors can stockpile ace bandages, hot and cold therapy packs, arm and leg supports and braces. Boo boo strips for the little ones qualify — even Band-Aid's Disney Fairies strips.
Diabetes supplies. Pregnancy tests. Glucosamine supplements for achy joints. Disposable latex or rubber medical gloves. Denture adhesive creams and cleaners like Fixodent and Polident. Sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher — all qualify.
Dry winter air got you all stuffed up? Vaporizers qualify, as do the all-popular netti pots and netti pot solutions. Nursing a new baby? Breast pumps, pads and other breast feeding supplies qualify as well.
CVS and other pharmacies identify FSA eligible products by marking them with an "F" on cash register receipts so you can keep track of your purchases. When youshoponline, look for products flagged as "FSA Eligible." At FSAStore.com, qualifying items have a big, red "FSA Eligible" checkmark.
Miller says FSAStore.com sees a big bump in sales this year as consumers scramble to clean out their funds.
"We're coming up on the 'use it or lose it' deadline," says Miller. "We'll be getting calls and orders right up through New Year's Eve."
Some employers offer an extension of up to 2.5 months to spend down FSA funds, which means you might until mid-March to use up your funds. FSA product reimbursement eligibility is determined by specific plans. Be sure to check with your FSA administrator on your specific plan expiration dates, limits, and terms.