Personal Finance 

How to Spend Down Your FSA

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Clever Cupcakes: Doctors, Nurses, and HospitalsWith the end of the year rapidly approaching, chances are you still have a few dollars left in your Flexible Spending Account (FSA), if you have one. The old backup solution is to stock up on over the counter supplies but that might not be the most effective use of your FSA dollars. OTC products are great as a backup, but there are a few things you should try to do before just buying a million bottles of Advil.

This post is part of the Bargaineering Annual Financial Review week series where we take a closer look at the four major facets of personal finance and see if we can do better. This post is part of day four – beating back the tax man.

Visit the Doctor, Dentist

Last year, I wrote my last minute FSA ideas post three days before the end of the year, which was cutting it way too close (it was accurate though, certainly last minute!). Since it’s early December, I recommend that you try to spend it on a visit to the doctor for a regular check-up or the dentist for a cleaning.

I used to hate visiting the dentist and getting my teeth cleaned. Very few things are worse than lying back helplessly as someone scrapes your teeth with sharp metal picks, ugh. But I made two changes that made the process so much better – I began flossing regularly and I went to six-month cleanings. By going more often and flossing, the process was faster and much shorter.


Chiropractor visits, if they are medically necessary, are FSA eligible, so make an appointment if this applies to you. I had never been to a chiropractor before I was adjusted in September, and it was awesome, but easily a dozen people have told me that visiting one helped them immeasurably. Many of them had been in minor car accidents that threw their back or neck out of alignment and a few visits to the chiropractor beat months of taking pain medication and using other remedies. A good place to look for a chiropractor near you is the Planet Chiropractic practitioner directory.

Contact Lenses, Eyeglasses

If you wear contacts, you could always buy an extra box or two with your extra FSA money. The downside to buying it a la carte like this is that most manufacturers will give you a rebate if you buy a year’s supply of contacts, so you’ll be paying more per box this way. That being said, you know how often you go through contact lenses so they won’t just sit in your closet for months.

Over the Counter

When all else fails, you can always stock up on OTC drugs and other medical supplies. I usually buy all my stuff from because they have an “FSA store” and label FSA eligible products with a blue and white check mark. While most OTC drugs are included, I find it easier to look there and see on a page what’s eligible, rather than checking a list. That being said, here’s the list:

  • Contact lens solution
  • First aid kits
  • Band-aids, blister band-aids
  • Motion/sea/car sickness pills
  • Pain relief – Advil, Tylenol, Bayer, etc.
  • Electric heating pads
  • Thermometers
  • Allergy medicine – Loratadine is always good to have, it’s the antihistamine in Claritin, at a fraction of the price.
  • Healing lotions
  • Acid reflux, Acid reducer drugs
  • Smoking cessation products
  • Braces, supports, ACE bandages
  • Ice packs – for those sprained ankles
  • Blood pressure monitor
  • Defibrillator

How do you spend down your last few FSA dollars?

(Photo: clevercupcakes)

{ 20 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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20 Responses to “How to Spend Down Your FSA”

  1. “… Defibrillator ”

    Uh, good one. I wouldn’t have come up with the idea on my own 🙂

    There’s a huge amount of debates about the merits of chiros, from the extreme of people saying they can cure things like cancer to the other extreme of people calling them quacks.

    Personally, my chiro has fixed my left shoulder 3 times in the last few years. The first two times, it just took a few treatments to get back to normal. The last time took a bit longer because of the damage (I was clinging to the roof with one arm and trying to nail a piece of trim back into place with the other – putting my body in a somewhat awkward position).

    Hopefully I can avoid doing something stupid/careless/unlucky this year and avoid having it fixed again 🙂


  2. ziglet19 says:

    Thanks for the post. I have some money left in my FSA and I was just trying yesterday to determine what I could use it on. I will probably just order extra contact lenses, that should use up most of it.

  3. Adam says:

    I have two fall backs, my wife is a volunteer EMT and needs to replenish her kit regularly. I use the leftover FSA funds to stock up on non-perishables at then end of each year. Last year due to a typo in my enrollment forms, she ended up with a new stethoscope.

    If she hadn’t the need for a fresh kit, I’ve contemplated purchasing over the counter items and donating them to local organizations. (Can’t claim the donation as the money used was already tax free).

  4. Evan says:

    You can use them on prescription sunglasses, not just eyeglasses. I used some extra flex $ to fund a pair of Pradas. B-)

  5. eric says:

    Stocking up on over the counter stuff is good. They last a long time and you’ll always need them eventually.

  6. saladdin says:

    Don’t laugh, but what about condoms?


  7. Izalot says:

    While not in the spirit of using a FSA, how does the government keep track of people buying items then returning the item and still use the receipt for the FSA? If there is no tracking, I can see someone buying a defibrillator one month for $1000, returning it, then turning in the receipt to their FSA to pocket the amount(10-35%).

  8. Chris says:

    My favorite, copay for a therapeutic massage…

  9. James says:

    You can also claim transportation expenses. Calculate mileage to your doctors with the standard mileage rate — whatever the IRS declares it is. You can also claim for bus, subway/metro, train, even airfare. As long as your doctors aren’t too close to your house, that can add up to quite a bit.

    I think you should do that before stocking up on nonperishables that you don’t really need. Get cash!

    Contraception for both men and women falls under FSA, but not hygiene stuff.

    When you’re in the doctors office, and he or she suggests that you take or do something that involves nonexempt items — ask the doc to “prescribe” it (write it down on official stationary) and you’ll be able to claim items that are normally not-exempt (but are used for a medical purpose). For example, if you have eczema, ask the doc to prescribe you skin moisturizer.

    And one odd thing *I think* is FSA-able is eyeglass repair or cleaning kits (for prescription eyewear). I’ve claimed that before because my plan at the time listed it.

    But, correct me if I’m wrong, I think the list of stuff you can get can vary depending on your FSA administrator. For example, dual use items (for exempt and non-exempt purposes) are up to the admin to deal with — and some just don’t bother with it. Some will only partially reimburse dual-use items. So check with them before trying anything in the gray area.

    • Shock says:

      My FSA administrator accepted 3 claims and denied one all for the same prenatal meds my wife was taking. The first two were accepted, third denied then fourth accepted. I submitted all the required paperwork. I can’t figure that one out!

      • Jim says:

        Call, they could’ve made a mistake. Sometimes I think there’s too much leeway in the person who processes your paperwork!

  10. James says:

    postscript to previous message:

    re: airfare — I’m pretty sure the IRS/FSA admins don’t take kindly if you get your teeth cleaned in New York just so you can get tax-free airfare. Didn’t mean to suggest any kind of abuse. Airfare is probably only applicable if you see a specialist that doesn’t exist in your city.

  11. Jlibby says:

    Can I purchase more than a year supply of contacts with my FSA money?

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