Shop around for car insurance

What company do you buy car insurance from? Chances are, it’s the same company that your parents bought from. People rarely shop around for car insurance. But that could be costing you hundreds of dollars each year. Car insurance is one of those things we would rather not think about or deal with. With complicated terms like comprehensive coverage and lease payoff coverage, most without specialized knowledge of the insurance industry are left in the dark about what types of coverage they need.

I want to get you thinking about car insurance before you might ever need it. With a couple hours of your time, you can research the basics of insurance plans, evaluate your insurance needs and shop around for the best price.

To brush up on your insurance vocabulary, go to Carinsurance.com and study their glossary of terms. For an explanation of the different types of coverage, they also have that for you here.

There are two basic types of insurance: Liability coverage and Physical Damage coverage. First I’ll cover Liability.

Liability protects you if you are found at-fault in an accident. It can be broken down into two types: Bodily Injury and Property Damage. Bodily Injury covers you if you cause injury or death to another during an accident. It pays for medical bills, loss of income or to protect you from lawsuits filed against you as a result of an accident. Property Damage covers you if you cause damage to another’s property — usually their vehicle but could also be fences, buildings, etc.

Physical Damage protects you if you are not at-fault in an accident. It includes two types of coverage: Comprehensive and collision. Collision insurance covers the cost to repair your car after an accident, and comprehensive covers damage caused to your car from anything other than a collision (theft, inclement weather, etc.)

There is a third type of coverage you may want to consider: Uninsured or under-insured motorist coverage. If you’re the victim of a hit-and-run or if the at-fault driver either doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough, your policy will step in and pay for your medical bills and car repairs, up to your policy limit.

An important step in buying car insurance is to evaluate your needs. Do you have an older car that isn’t worth much? If so, you should consider dropping Comprehensive and Collision coverage and going with Liability only. Do you have a lot of assets? If so, consider increasing your Liability coverage. Many insurers offer roadside assistance for a small fee, which could be worth it if you’re not a member of AAA. Also, before buying a car consider the cost to insure it.

Comparing rates is easier than ever. Sites like Insurance.com and Netquote.com allow you to see personalized quotes from several insurers all at the same time. All you have to do is enter in some of your basic information. Be sure to check which discounts the various insurers offer, including:

  • Good driving, if you’re accident-free for a number of years
  • Anti-theft devices and anti-lock brakes, if your car has these
  • Multi-line, if you have another type of insurance with the same company
  • Good grades, if you have a student on your policy
  • Defensive driving, if you’ve taken a course
  • Payment in full, if you pay your entire premium up front rather than in monthly installments

Insurance companies have different formulas for determining your premium. So one company may quote you $75 a month, while another may quote you $110 for the same level of coverage. This shows the importance of shopping around to compare prices.

The purpose of car insurance is to protect you financially if you are in an accident. Being proactive by evaluating your insurance needs and shopping for the best price is the best way to protect yourself and your wallet.

Could leaving early save you money?

Yesterday we looked at whether leaving early could make you a better person. I concluded that by leaving for your destination a few minutes early you set yourself up to be in the service of others. Today we’ll look at this issue from another angle: Could it also save you money?

Consider that the typical automobile built today peaks in fuel economy at about 55 miles an hour. By going as close to that speed as possible you are getting the most out of the money you spend on gas. Even as a male in my mid-twenties, I’m a fairly slow driver. On highways where the speed limit is 70 mph I tend to go about 64 or 65. If you’re a speed demon who frequently exceeds the limit, try slowing down a little and see how it affects your overall mileage. Going under the speed limit also keeps you from getting a ticket. This not only saves you the cost of the ticket but the resulting increase in insurance premiums as well.

Slowing down gives you more time to react behind the wheel, thus decreasing your chances of getting into an accident. Auto accidents cause all sorts of financial headaches, including dealing with your insurer, trying to get a rental, and possibly hospital bills. Not to mention any liability you may face by driving recklessly. By leaving early you can afford to slow down a little and potentially avoid the costs associated with an accident.

Say you have a habit of stopping in to buy a book every time you pass a bookstore. And there just so happens to be a bookstore on your way home from work. What if you could allow a little extra time to get home, take a detour, and completely avoid the bookstore? By finding a way around the bookstore, you have eliminated a daily temptation to spend money.

Leaving early can also be a boon for your career. It can be the difference between arriving on time and being late for a job interview. And when you start your career, showing up early for work shows your employer that you are motivated and responsible, which could lead to promotions and/or raises.

In addition to giving you opportunities to serve others, leaving early can save you money in all sorts of ways. It allows you to slow down and save on gas and avoid accidents. It can help you avoid spending temptations. And it can be great for your career.

Could leaving early make you a better person?

At church this past Sunday, I listened to a lady give a talk about service. She spoke of how service to others was an important aspect in her life, and she pointed out an interesting way she sets herself up to serve. She would leave her house about 10 minutes early everywhere she went. Whether it was a doctor’s appointment or an athletic event, she would plan her days so that she could leave 10 minutes early. Why did she do this? She explained that by giving herself more time to get to her destination, she felt less rushed. She would arrive at least a few minutes early anywhere she went. Less rushing around led to less stress, which caused her to be in a better mood.

On several occasions, she was able to stop and help others on the way to her destination. In one instance she passed by some high school kids who had missed the bus. She stopped and gave them a ride, which saved them from having to walk a long way to school. On another occasion, when she had arrived at her destination, she saw someone who looked lost. Because she wasn’t in a hurry, she was able to help by giving directions. Had she been in a hurry, she noted, she probably wouldn’t have stopped to help in either case.

As I listened to her talk, I thought of all the times recently when I waited until the last possible minute to leave the house. I was simply focused on my destination. I hadn’t considered that by doing this, perhaps I was missing out on great opportunities to serve others.

I found her method of daily service to others to be inspiring, especially today when everyone seems to be in a hurry. Her example shows that service doesn’t always have to involve formal, scheduled events. Doing service in small spurts can have the same positive impact.

Circumstances may not always allow you to leave early. I doubt, for example, your boss would agree to let you go home 10 minutes early every day for this reason. But by occasionally leaving early, even the busiest among us can do their part to make our world a better place.

Why I ditched cable TV

According to the NY Times, Americans spent about 34 hours a week watching TV in 2010. That’s nearly 5 hours a day. It’s becoming more common to watch TV on computers, handheld devices and video game consoles. So while you may not spend 5 hours in front of an actual TV, chances are you’re watching more than you realize.

Television is a form of passive media. There isn’t much required on your part other than to sit there and take it in. You’re not required to turn a page or pause for a second to think. You’re not required to actually do anything. The news anchors analyze the facts and do the thinking for you. The television stars entertain you without a grain of input from you.

People often argue that after a hard day at work they deserve to watch a little TV when they get home. The problem, though, stems from sitting mindlessly for hours in front of the TV at the expense of important family relationships or taking care of housework that needs done.

Watching TV for long periods of time has been linked with higher rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and other serious chronic health conditions. Eating in front of the TV can cause you to eat more than you intended because you’re focused on the show rather than taking time to enjoy each bite.

Cost is another factor. It’s not uncommon for a cable package to cost $100 or more each month. When you add in extras like movie channels or sport packages, that cost can quickly grow. Cable companies like to offer bundles which include TV, internet and phone service to make it appear you are getting a better price for TV, when really you’re paying a higher total cost than buying only what you need. Does anyone really use a home phone anymore?

When we moved recently, I discovered a little trick that is saving me about $20 a month. Since I only subscribe to internet service from my local cable company, I assumed we wouldn’t get any channels on the TV. However, I found that by connecting my TV to the cable jack I’m able to pick up several local broadcast channels for free! Most newer TVs have digital antennas, allowing you to skip the bunny ears. Ironically, the signal for these channels is actually better than what you get with paid service because the signal isn’t compressed.

To satisfy your TV and movie fix, why not try a less expensive alternative? Netflix offers instant streaming for $8 a month, with DVDs by mail for $8 more. Hulu Plus also offers streaming of movies and TV shows for $8 a month. Amazon Prime has unlimited streaming for a $79 yearly membership, which includes free 2-day shipping on most Amazon.com orders. For a quicker fix, Blockbuster Express and Redbox  have kiosks in convenient locations like grocery stores or drug stores.

When looking for entertainment or news coverage, try engaging in more active media, such as books, newspapers or the internet. This allows you to actively pick and choose your content rather than have cable channels dump it in your lap. If you’re looking for a way to clear your mind after a rough day, why not take a 30 minute walk or a short nap?

So why did I ditch cable TV? I ditched cable to improve my health. I ditched cable to eliminate one of my monthly bills. In short, I ditched cable to free up my time and money to spend on other, more important aspects of my life.

Five hours a day is a lot of time. I challenge you to spend one hour each day that you would have spent watching TV doing something to improve yourself or your situation.

What I’m thankful for

This Thanksgiving Day I thought it would be appropriate to step away from discussing ways to save money and instead focus on what I’m thankful for in my life.

Each day I try to keep a grateful attitude for what I have and what I’ve been given. Being grateful can be difficult sometimes because it takes a lot of patience and a lot of self control. While I’ve made great strides recently in controlling my wants and desires, I admit I’m not the most patient guy out there. I believe it takes patience to be thankful because you can’t always have what you want, when you want it. Patience with yourself helps you keep a long-term perspective and keeps you from being too hard on yourself when you fail. Patience with others helps you look past their shortcomings and helps you appreciate everything that is done for you, no matter how small.

Here are a few of the things I’m thankful for:

I’m thankful to live in a country that allows me to express my thoughts and opinions without fear of repression.

I’m thankful for this beautiful planet we live on.

I’m thankful for my wife, who loves me unconditionally, and for our bright future together.

I’m thankful for my parents who raised me to be kind, to look out for the well-being of others, and to do the right thing. I’m also thankful for my wife’s parents, who treat me like their son.

I’m thankful for my sisters, who allow me to be their big brother, and for their unique personalities.

I’m thankful for my passion for learning and all the opportunities it opens up.

I’m thankful for travel, which opens my eyes and my mind.

I’m thankful to belong to a church that sets me in the right direction spiritually and always makes me a better person.

I’m thankful to be able to serve others, and for their service to me.

I’m thankful to God, who loves each one of us individually, and for Jesus Christ, our savior.

Happy Thanksgiving!

7 ways to spend less on groceries

Food prices at the grocery store are projected to rise 4 to 5 percent this year, according to the USDA. Some of the factors causing this increase are higher energy prices and growing global demand for food. This comes at a time when many Americans are struggling with stagnant wages (for those lucky enough to have a job) and high unemployment. With a little planning though, you can avoid paying more at the grocery store.

1. Plan ahead. Check newspaper fliers before your trip and create a weekly meal plan based on sale items. Use your meal plan to make your shopping list. If you don’t subscribe to the paper, try Sundaysaver.com, which lists weekly sales circulars from most major grocery chains.

2. Don’t go when you’re hungry. You’ll find yourself putting more than you intended into your cart.

3. Shop at hard discounters. Aldi, Save-a-Lot and others fall into this category. You can save 40% off your typical grocery bill by shopping at a hard discounter. These stores may not appeal to some though, because they tend to have a limited selection, carry mostly store brands, don’t accept credit cards (in most cases), and you have to bring your own bags. We don’t have an Aldi near where we live, so I get a little giddy when we are out of town and find one. My wife finds humor in my excitement, but I get the last laugh after all the savings!

4. Stick to your list. You have a list for a reason. You’re on a mission — don’t allow yourself to deviate from what’s on your list.

5. Use coupons. Sunday papers are the best source, but there are some great coupon sites out there as well. I like Coupons.com and Hip2Save.com. The latter alerts you to not only grocery coupons, but deals at other retailers and free samples as well. When combined with your frequent shopper card, using coupons will yield considerable savings.

6. Give store brands a try. If you find that you prefer the name-brand, fine. But most store brands taste just as good and are of similar quality.

7. Pay attention to unit price. Generally you’ll get a per-unit discount when buying in bulk. This is the magic of the warehouse clubs. But this isn’t always the case. By comparing the unit price of different items you’ll know if you are getting a deal. Most stores list unit prices on the shelves, which makes your job easy. A word of caution though: don’t buy a larger product just because the unit price is lower. Buy only what you will use up before the expiration date, because throwing away expired food defeats the purpose.

Budgets are tight right now. By having a plan in place you can make the price increases irrelevant in your life.

Do you still have a landline phone?

The poor, unloved home telephone. It seems that every year more people leave you for greener pastures known as cell phones. In fact, I don’t know anybody my age who has a landline telephone in their home.

When I was growing up in the late 80s and into the 90s, I remember having to keep my phone conversations short because someone else in the house was expecting a call. I’d be in mid-conversation and hear the beep that told me my time was up. A new call — and it was someone else’s turn on the line. I’d have to log on to AOL and finish my conversation through instant messaging.

Now though, I have my own line and can talk all I want, assuming it’s after 9PM (Nights & Weekends!) My wife and I have joined a large and increasing faction of cell-only households.

Home phone service from a local phone company can cost about $35 a month. That’s $420 a year for something you probably don’t use. I want to suggest a few alternatives to landline service that can save you big money.

Ooma is a VoIP service that plugs into your high-speed internet connection. All you need is high-speed internet, your home phone and an Ooma device, which costs about $200. After that though, you get free local and nationwide long-distance calling for the life of Ooma. You pay only a small amount for taxes and fees each year. Consumer Reports just ranked Ooma #1 in call quality, above even typical landline service.

Another option is magicJack. Just plug the magicJack device into your computer, connect your home phone, and you’ll be able to make calls over the internet. There’s one caveat though: your computer has to be on to use it. The quality may not be as good as with Ooma, but the magicJack costs only $40 for the first year, which includes one year of service. Each additional year of service is only $20. You get a local phone number, and if you travel overseas your friends and family can call you just like you’re down the road.  They’ve just come out with magicJack Plus, which doesn’t require a computer to use. All you need is high-speed internet, your home phone and the magicJack Plus device. I haven’t heard much about this new device — only time will tell if it measures up to Ooma and the original magicJack.

With both alternatives you have the option of transferring your existing home phone number. In some cases you may have to pay a fee for this service.

Finally, if you don’t do a lot of calling, why not go cell-only? That would eliminate one more bill from your life.

One misconception people have about switching to internet-based phone service is that when calling 911 in an emergency, the dispatcher won’t know where to send help if for whatever reason you’re unable to give them your address. During the sign-up process with Ooma and magicJack you’ll be able to register your address. With cell phones, a technology known as cell tower triangulation helps the dispatcher know your general location, although this technology is still developing.

What could you do with an extra $420 a year? Why not cut the cord and find out!