The Most Expensive Consumer Cost of All

Had you known that filling up your tank earlier last year was going to cost close to $80, (if not over $100), but soon get back down to the Land of Normal (under $2 a gallon), what would you have done differently?

Maybe you'd have started adjusting your monthly spending to compensate earlier, or you would have chosen to buy a different car. What today's Consumer Price Index changes (down overall .74%) can tell us about price-of-life down the road is this: we're getting mega bargains on our clothing (down .94%) and energy (down 8.32%) but we have to take these discounts and shore up for potentially tremendous medical and education costs (up .28% and .31%, respectively).

As we've seen this week with our stories on theUnitedHealth settlement and prescription drugs, the costs of staying healthy and getting treatment are larger than many of us imagine, even with health insurance. It's safe to assume that, even with the next administration and the changes sure to come, the potential tens of thousands of dollars each of us could end up owing a hospital won't go away, but go up.

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Handle your health care costs as you would any large purchase, like a car or home. Scour paperwork, make phone calls, go for discounts and freebies (did you know you can negotiate your hospital bills down?), and admit when you need help. Medical billing advocates can talk down what you owe and protect you and your finances when you need it most—when you're sick.

We can't talk down the price of a gallon of gas, but this is one consumer cost where your voice can save you dollars.