We’ve made it through four of the seven deadly sins of personal finance and touched on many good topics so far. The first few were easy – have an emergency fund , don’t raid your retirement , budget , and plan and project for the future . We’re starting to get into a bit of the hazier areas of personal finance, where the answers are quite so clear cut and where much of it depends on you and your specific situation. You could argue that failing to budget isn’t so bad a sin, the reality is that math will do the budgeting for you if you decide you don’t want to. When you run out of money, you’ve hit your budget. 🙂
I doubt anyone can argue against today’s deadly sin…
Being Improperly Insured
The reality is that insurance is a very difficult subject to tackle because it provides you protection against the unknown. Since you’re protecting against the unknown, it’s difficult to know how much protection you’ll actually need. Insurance is also very temporal. When you pay the premium for the month or the year, that protection is gone once the insured period passes. I’ve been driving for nearly five years and never once made a claim. That’s five years of auto insurance premiums gone. (I’m not complaining, I consider myself very lucky!)
But you can’t look at insurance that way and many people do. Insurance is a hedge against unknown events that could potentially bankrupt you and it’s a way for you to purchase peace of mind. So, how do you ensure you have the right amount of insurance? How do you avoid getting too much coverage or too little? Sadly, it’s mostly a judgment call but here’s how I approach it.
My approach towards insurance is that it should protect against catastrophic events . Not everyone is like that and that’s certainly not the “right” or “best” way to approach it, I don’t know what the “right” or “best” way is (or if there even is one). My tolerance of risk is such that I’m comfortable with assuming some self-insurance (high deductibles) in order to pay lower premiums.
How should you approach it? I can’t answer that other than to say that you have several factors that will affect how you adjust your coverages and deductibles:
- Assess your financial situation. If you have a fully funded emergency fund, consider increasing it and self-insuring through higher deductibles. If your current automobile insurance has a deductible of $500, increase it to $1000 and put the premium savings into your emergency fund. If you work in a volatile industry or have irregular income, consider adjusting your insurance so that any negative events don’t cause extreme financial distress.
- Known your own “riskiness.” If you’re a bad driver who is prone to accidents or mishaps, lower your deductible. There’s no sense in being prideful and making the wrong financial decision by increasing deductibles or removing certain coverages. If you live in a dangerous neighborhood, lower your homeowners deductible so that you’re better covered in the event of a break-in or fire.
- Know the statistics. Some cars are burglarized more than others, some neighborhoods are rougher than others, and some ethnicities are more prone to some medical problems. Be aware of these statistics, many of which can be found online, and use them to adjust your coverages.
- Your tolerance towards risk. If peace of mind is priceless to you, adjust your insurances so that you obtain that. You can’t quantify stress and all we know about its effects are that it’s bad on the body. Paying a few extra dollars so you can sleep better at night and prevent a few gray hairs is money well spent. Frugality is important but your health is more important.
I’m sure there are actuaries who know insurance backwards and forwards who would disagree with me, if you are such an actuary I invite you to let us know what you think.