Burning out before 30 … an HSA story

It's easy to take health for granted in your 20s. Late nights, lack of sleep, and poor diet may seem like they're easy to overcome. But your body can wear down like a neglected machine. I know because this happened to me — before the age of 30.

After years of traveling and working 70-80 hour weeks, fatigue set in. Even the longest nights of sleep weren't enough. My short-term memory lagged and anxiety made basic tasks impossible. Through the flood of confusion, one thing was clear: I was burning out and becoming depressed.

Paying for healthcare myself

When I was ready to face my illness, I uncovered a costly surprise — no mental health coverage. A couple of tearful calls to my health insurance provider confirmed it. If I wanted therapy, I would pay every penny myself. With no emergency fund and little room in my budget, my journey to recovery was over before it began.

I started ruthlessly slashing expenses left and right — shopping, eating out, and partying all had to go. Soon, there was enough to cover a reasonably-priced therapist. A combo of talk therapy and medication improved my symptoms within a few months.

With a clearer mind, I ramped up my savings and finally built a six-month emergency fund — about $20,000. It wasn't a lot of money, but it gave me the confidence to quit my stressful job. I spent a few months resting to repair the damage from burnout.

My first high-deductible health plan (HDHP)

Quitting my job offered many benefits. The time to focus on health was priceless. The only downside was losing my group health insurance. I found an HDHP I could afford through a local broker. The premiums were low, but like many, I worried about the out-of-pocket expenses.

A few months later, I picked up a part-time contract job to ease back into the working lifestyle. The extra cash flow was comforting. As time went on, I realized it wasn't enough, though. The reality of my high-deductible plan was more obvious with each medical expense. A few costly doctor's bills put a major dent in the emergency fund I worked so hard to build.

Adding a health savings account (HSA)

It wasn't long before I started looking for ways to save. A little digging online uncovered the world of health savings accounts (HSAs). As long as I kept my HDHP, I could save on taxes by contributing up to my annual limit.

I could also invest the money and withdraw it tax-free for future medical expenses. Best of all, changing health plans wouldn't stop me from using the money if I needed it.

My health emergency fund

As I started making more money, maxing out my HSA became a priority. Over the past few years, I've resisted the urge to tap the balance. $10,736 isn't a ton of money to some, but it could cover minor health emergencies like a relapse in depression.

In a few years, there may be enough for a bigger expense. And if I stay consistent, I could have almost $300,000* in 30 years for healthcare expenses in retirement. (*Assuming monthly contributions of $291, compounded monthly at 5% for 30 years.)

I've come a long way since I quit my job. I devote a lot more time to physical and mental wellness, and will never take health for granted again. But things change when you least expect it. Because of this, funding my HSA is now an integral part of my monthly budget.

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