Healthcare is a major expense for millions of working Americans, and opening a flexible spending account, or FSA, is a great way to make it just a bit more affordable. As a quick refresher, here's how FSAs work: You contribute a certain amount of money to that account up to the annual limit (currently $2,700, though it's rising to $2,750 in 2020), and that money goes in on a pre-tax basis. That means the IRS can't tax you on the amount you put in.

Here's how that might play out. Say you contribute $2,000 to your FSA and you're in the 24% tax bracket. That translates into $480 of tax savings.

The problem with FSAs, however, is that they require you to use up your funds by the end of each plan year. If you don't, you risk forfeiting your remaining balance. And you're generally required to determine your FSA contribution during open enrollment, before your plan year kicks off. This means that unless you experience a qualifying life event (like the birth of a child), that contribution is set in stone for the coming year.

Woman pouring pills from pill box into her hand


As such, it's not uncommon to find yourself with funds left over in your FSA as the new year rapidly approaches. To avoid losing out on that money, here are a few ways you can put it to good use instead.

1. Stock up on prescriptions

You can't predict whether you'll get sick in 2020 and need an antibiotic. But if there's a medication you've been taking for quite some time, you can probably anticipate whether you'll still be taking it in 2020. If the answer is yes, you can try renewing prescriptions just before the end of the year. This way, you'll be eligible to use your FSA funds to get reimbursed for your copays.

You can also see about ordering medications you typically renew monthly in a 90-day supply, instead. Doing so might save you some money on your out-of-pocket costs while allowing you to spend down your FSA balance.

2. Refresh your eyewear

If you wear prescription eyeglasses, you can use your FSA to buy yourself a new pair of frames -- even if those frames are a designer brand. If you're struggling to use up your FSA balance, investing in a new pair of prescription eyeglasses or sunglasses is a good way to deplete that account, since having a backup pair buys you some insurance in the event your go-to pair breaks.

3. Purchase next year's medical supplies

Chances are, you regularly buy medical or medical-related supplies that are FSA-eligible. If you have leftover money in your account, you can use it to stock up for next year. The items you can buy with FSA funds include, but certainly aren't limited to:

  • Bandages
  • Contact lens solution
  • Hearing aid batteries
  • Heating pads
  • Pregnancy tests
  • Prenatal vitamins
  • Sunscreen

You can consult this list for a complete rundown of FSA-eligible purchases and see what it pays to buy for the coming year. But pay attention to expiration dates -- you don't want to throw out money by buying things that'll go bad before you use them. 

4. Push up medical appointments

If there's a diagnostic test or medical appointment you're due for in early 2020, ask your doctor if moving it up to late 2019 is acceptable. If so, you'll be able to use your FSA to cover your copays. Keep in mind, however, that your insurance company may not cover the cost of certain tests or procedures if you do them too early, so find out what flexibility you have before shifting your healthcare schedule around.

The last thing you want to do is forfeit funds in your FSA, so if that's the scenario you're facing, use the above tips to spend down that balance. Before you do, however, see if your FSA offers some leeway in using up your funds. Many plans these days either give you a couple of extra months in the new year to deplete your balance or let you carry a certain amount of that balance forward and use it up at any point during the new year, so see what options are on the table before rushing to use up your funds.