Money Problems – Day 8: Insurance


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Today, I am continuing the  series, Money Problems: 30 Days to Perfect Finances.   The series will consist of 30 things you can do in one setting to perfect your finances.  It’s not a system to magically make your debt disappear.  Instead, it is a path to understanding where you are, where you want to be, and–most importantly–how to bridge the gap.

I’m not running the series in 30 consecutive days.  That’s not my schedule.  Also, I think that talking about the same thing for 30 days straight will bore both of us.   Instead, it will run roughly once a week.  To make sure you don’t miss a post, please take a moment to subscribe, either by email or rss.

On this, Day 8, we’re going to talk about insurance.

What is insurance?  Insurance is, quite simply a bet with your insurance company.   You give them money on the assumption that something bad is going to happen to whatever you are insuring.  After all, if you pay $10,000 for a life insurance policy and fail to die, the insurance company wins.

A more traditional definition would be something along the line of giving money to your insurance company so they will pay for any bad things that happen to your stuff.   How do they make money paying to fix or replace anything that breaks, dies, or spontaneously combusts?  Actuary tables.  Huh?  The insurance company sets a price for to insure—for example—your car.  That price is based on the statistical likelihood of you mucking it up, based on your age, your gender, your driving history, and even the type of car you are insuring.  What happens if a meteor falls on your car?  That would shoot the actuary table to bits, but it doesn’t matter.   They spread the risk across all of their customers and—statistically—the price is right.

What kinds of insurance should you get?

Homeowner’s Insurance

For most people, their home is, by far, the largest single purchase they will ever make.  If your home is destroyed, by fire, tornado, or angry leprechauns, it’s gone, unless you have it insured.   Without insurance, that $100, or  200, or 500 thousand dollars will be lost, and that’s not even counting the contents of your home.

Homeowner’s insurance can be expensive.  One way to keep the cost down is to raise your deductible.  If you’ve got a $1500 emergency fund, you can afford to have a $1000 deductible.  That’s the part of your claim that the insurance company won’t cover.  It also means that if you have less than $1000 worth of damage, the insurance company won’t pay anything.

You can get optional riders on your homeowner’s insurance, if you have special circumstances.  You can get additional coverage for jewelry, firearms, computer equipment, furs, among other things.  You base policy will cover some of this, but if you have a lot of any of that, you should look into the extra coverage.

Auto Insurance

Car insurance is required in most states.  That’s because the kind caretakers in our governments, don’t want anyone able to hit you car without being able to pay for the damage they caused.  To my mind, I think it would be more effective to just make whacking someone’s car without paying for it a felony.  If someone is a careful driver or has the money to self-insure, more power to them.

Auto insurance comes with options like separate glass coverage, collision, total coverage (comprehensive), or just liability.  Liability insurance is what you put on cheap, crappy cars.   It will only pay for the damage you do to someone else.


I’ve never had rental insurance.  The last time I rented, I could fit everything I owned in the back of a pickup truck with a small trailer, and it could all be replaced for $100.   Heck, I had the couch I was conceived on.  Err.  Ignore that bit.

Almost everything you can get homeowner’s insurance to cover will also cover renter’s insurance, except for the building.  It’s not your building, so it’s not your job to replace it.

Life Insurance

If you care about your family, you need life insurance.   This is the money that will be used to replace your income if you die.   I am insured to about 5 times my annual salary.   If that money gets used to pay off the last of the debt, it will be enough to supplement my wife’s income and support my family  almost until the kids are in college. You should be sure to have enough to cover any family debt, and bridge the gap between your surviving family’s income and their expenses.  At a minimum.  Better, you’ll have enough to pay for college and a comfortable living.

Life insurance comes in two varieties: whole and term.  Whole life…sucks.  It’s expensive and overrated.     The sales-weasels pushing it will tell you that it builds value over time, but it’s usually only about 2%.  It’s a lousy investment.  You’re far better off to get a term life policy and sock the price difference in a mutual fund that’s earning a 5-6% return.

Term life is insurance that is only good for 5, 10, or 20 years, then the policy evaporates.  If you live, the money was wasted at the end of the term.  The fact that it’s a bad bet makes it far more affordable than whole life.  It doesn’t pretend to be an investment; it’s just insurance.  Pure and simple

Personal Liability Umbrella

An umbrella policy is lawsuit insurance.  If someone trips and hurts themselves in your yard, and decides to sue, this will pay your legal bills.  If you get sued for almost anything that was not deliberate(by you!) or business related, this policy can be used to cover the bill.

If you call your insurance company to get an umbrella policy, they will force you to raise the limits on your homeowner’s and auto insurance.  Generally, those limits will be raised to $500,000, and the umbrella coverage will be there to pick up any costs beyond the new limit.

A little-known secret about umbrella policies:  They set the practical limit of a lawsuit against you.  Most ambulance chasers know better than to sue you for 10 million dollars if you only have a policy to cover 1 million.   They will never see the other 9 million, so why bother?  They’ll go for what they know they can get.

The flipside to that is that you should not talk about your umbrella policy.   Having a million dollars in insurance is a sign of “deep pockets”.  It’s a sign that it’s worthwhile to sue you.  You don’t want to look extra sue-able, so keep it quiet.

Insurance is a great way to protect yourself if something bad happens.   Today, you should take a look at your policies and see where you may have gaps in coverage, or where you may be paying too much.

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    1. If I remember correctly, I believe there are some term life insurance plans that will pay back some money when the term is over. Albeit it isn’t as much as you put in, but it may be enough to soften the blow of the policy ending and realizing how much you spent on it.

    2. One biggie that you didn’t mention is disability insurance. I have heard that people are more likely to become disabled and unable to work and earn an income than to die. Disability insurance may be more important to protecting your family than life insurance. I have both.

      • I too was going to mention this. Disability insurance is especially important when you have a very specialized job and a specialized salary. It protects you so that you don’t end up being given a job that is worth half of the pay.

    3. Was there a reason you left out health insurance? I realize it is generally associated with employment, however it is probably as important or more important than some of the other insurances. Why? Medical bills have caused more people to file for bankruptcy than almost anything else.

      • I’d love to say it’s because I thought it was too big of a project and deserved its own post, but I can’t. 🙁

        I forgot.

        But hey, health insurance is a big topic and worth its own post, so guess what’s coming!

    4. I’m extremely conscious of how I spend every single dime, but I’m also a big believer in preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best. Insurance is simply one of those things that needs to be budgeted in and, unfortunately, it gets pretty pricey. One good habit is to look at rates before your current policy is up. For example, at the end of my 6 month car insurance policy, I check out prices from other companies and, if I find something cheaper, I ask my provider to match it. If they don’t, then it’s time to move on. Also, getting a bundle of policies isn’t just a scam for insurance companies to get more money out of you. It really does cut costs!

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