Getting Braces: The Real Pain Comes From the Orthodontist’s Bill

After a trip to the dentist this week we discovered my daughter’s overbite is causing damage to the backside of her upper, permanent teeth, and the schedule for her getting braces should be moved up. We had already consulted an orthodontist, but we all agreed she could wait until she was a little older (giving me a little extra time to save for the cost for braces).

Lindsey by bredgur on Flickr

Based on what our dentist advised, this is no longer an option. Obviously, the news doesn’t help my efforts to get out of debt and build a healthy emergency fund. Over the last day or two I’ve had time to digest the painful news and devise a plan of attack to cover the cost of braces for our daughter. After all, what parent wouldn’t sacrifice for straighter teeth and an improved bit?

The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. At least that’s what all the personal productivity gurus tell us, right? The idea does have some merit, particularly in the area of personal finance. For instance, in the days immediately following the last-minute Christmas shopping hangover my wife and I agreed next year we would plan for Christmas expenditures instead of trying to cash flow them out of each paycheck from October to Christmas Eve.

We opened an online savings account and committed $25 a paycheck (biweekly) be diverted to that dedicated “Christmas Club” account. We plan to take the same approach to getting braces, only the dollar amounts will be significantly higher and I’ll have to come up with a more foreboding name than “Club” to attach to the ledger identification. This was the option we settled on, but there other strategies we strongly considered.

Covering the Cost for Getting Braces

Our first thought was to fund the cost of braces using our flexible spending account at my employer. This might still be an option, but I had three reservations. First, I would need to investigate the IRS regulations to determine if orthodontics were covered as an FSA-eligible expenditure.

Second, our FSA is tied to a debit card and all charges must be run through that system. I planned to do some negotiating with the orthodontist using cold hard cash. Thirty Benjamin Franklins laying across the table look a lot better than a Mastercard debit card when trying to broker a discount.

Finally, agreeing to have $150 deducted from each of my twenty-six paychecks would cause a significant hit to the monthly budget. Of course, one could make the argument that I’ll have to set up the deductions to some sort of savings vehicle anyway, so why not get the tax deduction associated with creating a pre-tax flexible spending account. Good point.

We could finance the cost for orthodontics directly from the orthodontist. This discussion didn’t get very far because my wife and I are committed to taking on no new debts, even for braces. Putting the braces on a credit card, taking out a loan, or using the orthodontists in-house financing just did not appeal to us.

In the end it appears saving biweekly amounts in our online savings account fits best with our current financial strategies (keep it simple, no new debt!). Like other decisions we’ve made with finances, it may not make the most sense mathematically, but it makes the most sense personally. That’s why they call it personal finance.

2010 Update: We wound up going with the in-house financing through our orthodontist because it was interest-free, and our dental insurance covered the first $1,000 cost of her braces. That left us with about $3,000 out of pocket, which we’ll pay interest-free over time. Getting braces is painful enough, so figuring out a way to not pay interest made it a little easier to bear.

I’m happy to report that the braces are nearly paid off and my daughter’s bite is much improved. Now I’m told she’ll need a bottom set of braces – here we go again!

If you are looking for San Diego orthodontist services, I recommend Dr. Safarian.


  1. You’re doing the right thing. No new debt is the way to go!

    I guess getting braces is a crappy deal for the kids and parents! ūüôā

  2. I do not agree. Braces are a wonderful thing, you are saving costly dental, and gun work later for your kid, and that a good investment. Also she will have a better self confidence and outlook on life and will be able to go father then she would have.

  3. Wow I disagree with this one.

    1)FSA’s equal an automatic savings of whatever your tax rate is. (Figure 25% at least). Use it.

    2) This IS taking on debt- it just doesn’t look like it in the checkbook register. Don’t mess with dental health. It has repercussions decades later. Just because “no new debt” made you feel more comfortable now doesn’t make it the right thing to do.