I’m still in the messy middle of this money story.

written by Bari Tessler December 19, 2018

I share a good amount of my personal money life publicly.

As a Financial Therapist and creator of the year-long Art of Money program, it feels important to me to share some of my personal money stories.

I want to show people that I, too, am “walking the talk” that I teach day in and day out around money.

You see, there’s so much secrecy and shame around money. And as Brené Brown says, “shame cannot survive being spoken.” That’s why I try to model honesty, transparency, and vulnerability around money — even the hard bits.

But I also share my stories because I want people to know I’m human, too. I think it’s bullshit when money teachers try to convince us they’ve got it all figured out or have outgrown all their money issues. That doesn’t serve anyone!

We’re all works-in-progress, when it comes to money. Myself, included.

Like everyone, I have strengths and challenges with money. Each year, I’m growing and fine-tuning and updating — on emotional, practical, and spiritual levels. (And I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

But there are some money stories and bits that I don’t share. (Usually.)

I don’t usually share nitty-gritty financial management details, for example. As a Financial Therapist, not Financial Planner, I spend more time talking about the emotional and psychological aspects of my journey.

I don’t usually share how much we pay in taxes (a lot.) Or what type of life insurance we have. Or where we’re investing for retirement and how socially responsible we are with our funds or where and how much we donate each year.

I’m not hiding these things. In fact, if interviewers ask about them, I’m often an open book. It’s just that these personal financial planning details aren’t common topics of conversation, even in my financially-focused world.

Also, I try to wait until I have a deeper understanding before I share stories. (Again: usually.)

I think and reflect and feel deeply, before sharing a story. I take questions on hikes and dig into the story beneath the story, waiting to know what’s really going on, before sharing. I usually try to offer tools and teachings, to support anyone facing similar challenges.

But … (you knew that was coming, right?) …

But every so often, I feel compelled to share the messy bits with you.

Those messy middle parts of the story where I haven’t yet found the solution or teaching or golden nugget.

So. Buckle up, because this is a personal money story that I’m still sorting through. But it feels important — and urgent — to share with you. Because this is real. And we all face these messy middles, my friend.

Recently, an interviewer asked me about my health insurance choices, given our broken health care system.

Now, this is one of those nitty-gritty details I often don’t go into — so I could easily have declined to answer. But it’s pretty rare for me to say, “I’m not going to answer that.” Again, I try to be as open as possible.

So I chose to go forth, knowing I was venturing into sensitive territory — especially given a big health insurance decision my family had just made.

When I answered this question, I spiraled into some money shame I can’t fully find my way out of yet.

And I’ve been spiraling in money shame, ever since. Going through layer after layer of questions, trying to see how I can reconcile this health insurance decision that my family made last year … and whether my values align with this choice or whether I’ve been fooling myself.

You see, after 20+ years of paying into traditional health insurance, I hit a wall.

I’ve had many types of health insurance over the years, from Kaiser to Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Cigna. Every year the premiums go up and up. Plus, I still have a high deductible, co-pays, and tons of out-of-pocket expenses for the health care I really wanted, like acupuncture and chiropractic.

Sound familiar, anyone?!

Last year, we were told our premiums were increasing again and would be in the $1400-$1500/month range for a family of 3.

As soon as I saw that amount, a switch flipped inside me — and I’d had enough.

I was furious to be paying into the black hole of a corrupt health care system. It felt criminal and I didn’t want to participate any longer.

So, I started researching other options.

I had friends who had wonderful health insurance plans through their employers — which sounded like a dream to me (but wasn’t an option, as a family of creative entrepreneurs).

Some friends had Obamacare, but we made too much to qualify for financial assistance.

I knew other people who chose to not have insurance, at all. When they had hospital emergencies, they were able to negotiate down their medical bills and pay 60% of the original bill.

I also knew of friends who had signed up for health share programs: not considered traditional health insurance, but were considered a “health share ministry.”

I didn’t see a lot of options. But I knew I needed a break from traditional health care.

This is complicated territory for so many of us.

I’ve always been attracted to alternative solutions and pathways. I’ve done this in my business: when I was getting cashflow going in the first few years, I bootstrapped and did a lot of trade and barter. I love how economist Bernard Lietaer talks about this “yin currency system,” and how I could make it work side by side with a yang currency system.

After going to a traditional university for my undergraduate degree, I was grateful to find Naropa University for my graduate degree in Somatic Psychology, which integrated Eastern and Western philosophy and teachings into their curriculum. It was the exact alternative type of training and education I needed to become a therapist.

I could tell many stories like this: I love to find the alternative routes. Even though I choose to play inside some systems, I’m usually happy to find other pathways.

OK, back to healthcare.

I had been hearing about health shares for a while as an alternative option. The ultra-short version: members pay a monthly share and get reimbursed for medical care — but there are no networks and it’s not traditional health insurance.

At first I was very skeptical, for many reasons. But more and more people in my community were signing up for Liberty health shares, and I kept hearing about their good experiences. People were truly getting reimbursed for health challenges; customer service was good; and I learned they also covered acupuncture, chiropractic, and lab work.

So, these were the health insurance options on the table:

  1. Traditional health insurance: $1400-$1500 per month (as a family of 3). With a high deductible + co-pay + tons of out of pocket expenses.
  2. Obamacare (which we earn too much to get)
  3. No insurance
  4. Liberty health share

One more (important) bit: I had been frustrated for awhile by the family practice office we were going to. It was hard to get in for an appointment, and care was OK … but not great.

Meanwhile, we kept hearing about a new medical co-op in our Boulder community, Cloud Medical. A small group of doctors and nurse practitioners had joined together to create a new practice that provided old-school care. Members paid a monthly fee and could get in to see a doctor quickly (even on the weekend). Plus, we could text the doctors our questions when needed and get quick responses — and they even provided 70% of emergency room services.

So, a new solution that kept rising to the top of the heap was getting Liberty Health Share ($429.00 for a family of 3) for catastrophe insurance and joining Cloud Medical, the local co-op, ($278 for a family of 3) for our more acute health issues and concerns. This felt like a decent solution, for now. Not perfect. But OK.

One of our big hesitations was that we knew this particular health share, Liberty Health Share, was Christian-based and required us to agree to some Christian principles. But when I read the principles in their guidelines book, they felt like basic spiritual principles to me, and I felt comfortable saying yes to them. I called their customer service, asked a lot of questions, and felt good with their responses.

We signed up and went forward with our new, not-perfect, alternative plan.

Fast forward to almost a year later.

I’m hearing more and more good stories about Liberty health share. More people are signing up. More people are going through big health scares and being reimbursed for the expenses. Plus, I was impressed that Liberty reimburses for home births, 12 acupuncture visits, 12 chiropractor visits, and some lab work and hospital stays — plus stem cell transplant and many other things that I’m not listing here.

But they don’t reimburse you for birth control, abortion, or gender reassignment surgery.

I had heard some talk about these exceptions, but hadn’t focused on them when I originally looked at the guidelines. At the time, I was more concerned with the Christian principles and whether could I agree to them.

I realize now that it was a privilege that I wasn’t looking at those details when I was signing up.

I also wasn’t looking in the guidelines for whether they accept same-sex marriage as a family. I don’t remember seeing anything in the guidelines about “if you are gay you can’t be a member.” But recently, it was brought to my attention that Liberty will not accept same-sex couples as married under their married or family rate.

I called Liberty last week to ask about this directly. The customer service guy was very kind when I told him that I have some same-sex married friends wanting to join Liberty, and he said, “I’m sorry that we don’t acknowledge same-sex marriage in our guidelines, so they can’t sign up as married couple (with the married discount). But they can join with the individual plan.”

When I joined, I didn’t see anything in the guidelines saying, “if you are LGBTQ, you are not allowed to join.” I didn’t realize that they didn’t cover same-sex couples under their married/family discount.

I now realize, again: this was my privilege at play.

I didn’t ask about this from the beginning because I am cis-gender and in a straight marriage.

I’m always teaching that there are many factors when making a money and life decision. Yes, it’s very important that it’s in alignment with our values and the world we want to see and create.

And I also teach that, in a long life, we may not be in alignment with all of our values in all of our earning, spending, saving, giving and investing, at all moments. I know this can be the goal, for many of us.

But life is imperfect, and so are the decisions we face. I remind community members to stay connected with their values as much as possible — AND that, sometimes, we may have to cut ourselves some slack, when we can’t quite reach them.

Yes: aligning every money decision with our values is a wonderful ideal to some to strive for. But there are money decisions — and phases of life — when we can’t hit the mark on every single level. And I am exactly zero percent interested in shaming any of my students or community members for this.

If I look back at my decision to sign up for this health share, I can see that I made it inside a bubble. I was at the end of my rope with the corporate health care system, and I wanted a new solution.

Looking back, I can have some compassion for myself and the choice I made: there aren’t a lot of good options out there — if any.

Looking back, I know I took into account all the good I could do with the money I would save by not spending so much on traditional health care: I could increase our donations to places like The Southern Poverty Center.

Looking back, I can see that I made this decision being acutely aware that we pay a lot of money for taxes (the community pot) each year.

So many factors go into money decisions: the numbers, the timing, our values, our phase of life, and on and on. We weigh the options and choose the best we can. And there are so very, very many money decisions to be made in a given week or month or year.

But this one money decision, in isolation?

Looking back at this money decision, I see I am a hypocrite.

I have always had a strong connection to the gay community. Growing up, I was very close with my gay uncles: Steve and his partner Pat. They helped raise me, and had so much influence on me. When I was in high school, they moved from New York City to Chicago (where my family lived) to open gay bars with my parents. I worked in gay bars in my early twenties and was part of a wonderful community.

I am deeply sorry to my LGBTQ friends and community.

I now see that I made my choice from a place of privilege.

I am even more aware that there are not great health care options and that the system is broken, truly broken.

I realize that I did a good amount of research on the Liberty Health Share, but it was not thorough enough. And while it was and is a decent option for me and my family, it does not include many of you that I care deeply about.

I know this is challenging and frustrating territory for so many of us.

I wish there was wonderful health care for everyone in this country.

I wish there were health shares that honored same-sex marriage as marriage, because I certainly do.

I hope one day soon to come back here with some better health care solutions for all of us.

But right now, I have no alternative to share. I have no tool or teaching to offer. No silver ribbon to wrap up in a bow around this story. No tidy ending.

Some money-and-life decisions are tough and complicated.

I’m still in the messy middle of this one.

You might also like: