If you have health insurance that includes a Flexible Spending Account, it’s time to make sure you spend as much of it as you can before the end of the year so that you take full advantage of that benefit. Many people will use any leftover money in their FSAs for things like glasses, optional-but-nice medical procedures or tests, and certain medications. My recommendation? First aid supplies. They’re the sort of thing we often don’t really think about until we’ve cut ourselves making a midnight snack and can’t find any band-aids. Some of them are expensive too, and using tax-free funds is a good way to get your money’s worth on them. Here are a few common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid as stock up on those items:
Not knowing what to buy. It’s tempting to just pick up a kit or two. After all, some professional must have put them together, so they must have everything you need, right? Not quite. Standard kits are often very general, and use lots of small items to up the number of things in the kit so it looks like a good value: “100 pieces, only $5.99!” If you dig deeper, you might find out that 45 of the pieces are different kinds of small and medium band-aids, and that there are only 4 alcohol swabs in the whole bag. That’s great if you’re sealing up paper cuts, but less useful if you’re interested in cleaning up all of those cuts and scrapes you seem to get every time you got hiking, or dealing with the massive trauma that can come with a woodworking shop accident. And trauma kits often make questionable choices in order to meet price points. That personal blow-out kit might have a tourniquet that hasn’t been recommended by CoTCCC (the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care, the standard-setters for emergency trauma care) because they wanted to put in something cheaper or smaller. That’s all okay, as long as you know exactly what is in those kits and what you might need to supplement.
Not buying the right stuff. Like most everything else these days, you can find low-priced versions of many medical supplies from unfamiliar manufacturers or retailers. Sometimes, that’s okay. After all, the common worst-case scenario if you buy a cheap band-aid that falls off easily is that you have to put another one on. Other times, it’s much more problematic. Counterfeits have become increasingly common for items like tourniquets, and the consequences can be fatal when a buckle or strap fail unexpectedly. It’s okay to bargain-hunt for some things, but for others, saving a few dollars today could mean paying with someone’s life or limb tomorrow. Buy the important stuff only from reputable manufacturers and retailers, and not from the cheapest source you can find on the Internet.
Not knowing what to do with what you buy. Of course, you might not know if a kit is incomplete if you don’t know how to deal with medical emergencies and how to use various medical supplies. While you’ll likely get a little instruction booklet with any kit you buy, or perhaps some diagrams on the box of any other product, they won’t give you all of the background and skills you need to use the tools. A first aid kit is not a talisman that will immediately heal all harm if you bring it out and wave it over the injury. There is some argument that having the supplies on hand will help if there’s someone who shows up and can make use of them. If that’s the case, why not stack the odds in your favor and be that person? Then you’ll know that the kit you buy or put together, perhaps by supplementing a commercial kit with your own preferred supplies, can be fully used.
Not opening what you buy. Many medical supplies come in packaging that is optimized for shipping, not for real-life use. You’ll need to get into those kits to find everything that’s included, make sure nothing is missing, and get the contents set up in a way where you can get to what you need, when you need it. Plastic wrappers should come off items that don’t need to be sterile, notches cut on the edges of sterile or vacuum-sealed pouches to make them easier to open later (one of my friends likes pinking shears – brilliant!), and tourniquets staged for easy application. This isn’t just for when everything arrives. You should be checking your supplies on a regular basis to take stock of what’s been used up, expired, or damaged, and needs to be replaced. It’s especially important to do so for kits that multiple people have access to, and for kits that might be exposed to non-ideal conditions like riding around in your car or bag.
Not having supplies where they’re needed, or not having enough of them. How often have you been out running errands or on the range, and seen or experienced something that made you wish you had the necessary medical supplies to deal with it? It’s perhaps the best argument to stock up not just on one kit, but on several so that you can scatter them around all of the places they might be needed. That doesn’t mean you have to carry a full trauma kit with you everywhere, but perhaps slipping a “boo boo kit” in both your purse and your backpack could be a good idea for when you bring one and not the other. Or maybe you can drop some extra bleeding control equipment in your car so that you’re not dragging it along with you, but can reach it more quickly than additional help might arrive.
Of course, all of this assumes that you have some general knowledge about dealing with medical emergencies. If you don’t, then you’ve got to get some training first. My recommendations? I’ve trained with the folks at Lone Star Medics and Penn Tactical Solutions (and they have an online store you can purchase from with code onherown for a small discount), and hear nothing but excellent things about Dark Angel Medical. You won’t be able to spend your FSA dollars on those classes, but they’ll be well worth the investment so that you can make the most out of what you can spend that money on.