When Dental Work Eats Up Savings

A grad student with limited reserves finds herself strapped for cash.

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In response to my story that recommends 20-somethings create an emergency fund for themselves (while acknowledging how difficult that can be), I got a note from Veronica, a 24-year-old graduate student in Brooklyn, N.Y., on just how important it is to put even a few hundred dollars away for unexpected expenses. She writes:

Even though your article in this week's magazine talks about 20-somethings not being able to really have an emergency fund, I learned the importance of having an emergency fund this month. A few weeks ago, my tooth was bothering me. I had to go home to New Hampshire to get a consult with my family dentist and he referred me to a root canal specialist.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get an appointment in a timely fashion and went back to New York to take care of some schoolwork and work at my externship. I went back to New Hampshire the following week for a consult, and the estimate put me into cardiac arrest. I went back to New York to take care of some more schoolwork and then returned to New Hampshire at the end of the week. I do have dental insurance through my mother, but my portion of the bill was $1,661 after I maxed out my dental benefits for the year.

I had to seek financing from Capital One in order to pay for it. The three round trips, even though I took the bus for most of them, have eaten up almost $200 of my savings...not to mention expenses that occur when I'm at home, such as putting gas in my sister's car. At least I had the money to pay for the transportation costs.

This would be a tough spot for anyone, but it is especially so for a graduate student on a limited income. Readers, if you have any tips for Veronica or others in her situation, please share them.