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Stress-Free Zone | Simplify Your Life

She's Got Too Much Information

July 27, 1998|ELAINE ST. JAMES

Stress is a major factor in many of our health-related problems. A key way to reduce stress is to simplify. By reducing clutter, commitments, tasks and expenses, your life will streamline into the Stress Free Zone. Elaine St. James tells us how.

Dear Ms. St. James: One complexity I feel overwhelmed by is keeping up with information, particularly in consumer, health and financial areas. I'm expected to evaluate telephone, electricity and gas providers, 401(k) investment options, banking and refinancing possibilities, and insurance, medical and dental plans. By the time I've informed myself and made choices, the cycle starts all over again because of changes in these industries. I'm often expected to make important decisions based on glossy brochures with little content.

Do you have any advice for these stress-inducing issues?

--Deanna Bradshaw

Hermosa Beach

Answer: I was a real estate investor for 15 years, and even for one actively involved in these areas, making these decisions was often challenging. But, as with every other area of simplifying, we can make life easier by minimizing the options.

With utility providers, if it's not broke, don't fix it. You might save a few pennies by switching, but your time is worth more than that process demands. Ignore the switch pitches.

With investments, select a long-standing, reputable family of mutual funds with a good track record. Vanguard and Fidelity come to mind, though there are others, which you can find listed in Money magazine. Stick with that one family of funds--forever--diversifying within the family if you desire. One family means one statement, one phone call, one file folder in your drawer. Check with Money magazine from time to time to see how your family of funds compares with other top funds. Leave the stock-switching to professional investors who are paid to get ulcers.

If you have a strong, locally owned and operated, conveniently located, full-service, customer-oriented, reputable FDIC bank, go with it and stay with it. If you don't have such a bank nearby, pick a conveniently located full-service biggie. In either case, get to know the bank manager and call her every year or so to ask how they're doing. You might learn about a merger or change of ownership that could potentially affect your account.

Use these same principles with a large, local insurance agent who can handle all of your insurance needs. Keep notes in your insurance file folder and review your overall coverage with your agent every two years. Go with small deductibles. If you have a claim, this will save you a lot of money; if you never have a claim, the additional charge for the lower deductible is minimal and worth the peace of mind.

When it comes to mortgages, put your effort toward mortgage pay-down rather than mortgage refinance. If you must refinance, check with friends who have refinanced recently, the loan officer at your full-service bank or a knowledgeable real estate broker you trust to refer you to a mortgage broker who can help you through the maze.

Given the incredible number of ever-changing options and the confusion surrounding them, selecting a medical plan is perhaps the hardest task. Get recommendations from colleagues, employers, friends, your friendly pharmacists or people you trust in the medical field. You want a plan that provides for a reasonable number of standard medical conditions at competitive prices and whose physicians are connected with hospitals or institutions with first-rate reputations and accreditations.

Understand that what these plans basically do is insulate you against major financial loss in the event of catastrophic accident or illness. Then self-insure by staying well. Adopt a healthy diet, exercise at least three times a week, brush and floss, limit stress and create joy in your life. If you need nonurgent medical care, consider exploring alternative resources first: acupuncture, reiki, homeopathy, herbal and vitamin therapy, affirmations and visualization. Use traditional medicine and prescription drugs as a fallback. Again, check references, credentials, training and experience carefully. And always use common sense and listen to your intuition when dealing with any health practitioner.

Keep in mind that you'll never have all the answers, and approach these kinds of decisions as calculated risks. And here more than ever, it's often not what you know, but who you know. Asking the right person can make these decisions easier.

* Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111, or e-mail her at estjames@silcom.com.

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