Insurance 
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Cheapest Cars to Insure

When you buy a car, the biggest number you see is the price. The sticker price, the invoice price, and the price you paid to get that car onto your driveway or into your garage. Savvier buyers also look at the total cost of ownership, which includes the price but also adds in the cost of driving, maintaining, and insuring the car.

The easiest way to determine the total cost of ownership on a car is to turn to online calculators, like this True Cost to Own calculator from Edmunds.

If you’re curious just from an insurance perspective, Forbes has published a list of the least and most expensive cars to insure according to data provided by Insure.com. They quoted rates for a 40-year-old male who commutes 12 miles to work with your fairly standard insurance limits. $300k/$100k injury limits, $50k property damage, and $500 deductibles on collision and comprehensive.

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 Personal Finance 
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Playing House: Prepare By Pretending

Tea Party inside a dollhouseWhen we were looking at houses a few years ago, I was paying about $600 a month in rent. I was splitting a $1189 per month, 2-bedroom apartment with a friend and my half was a little less than half. $600 a month in rent is fantastic in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area and I was thrilled to be able to save up some cash for a house, despite housing prices soaring back then. So, when I started looking, the prospect of paying a $1500 mortgage was downright scary.

That’s when I learned the technique of “pretending” as a way of preparing yourself for major purchases. I should “pretend” I currently have that mortgage and see how it affects my financial situation.

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 Personal Finance 
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Free Consumer Information Guides from the Federal Citizen Information Center

Consumer Action HandbookI just learned that it’s National Consumer Protection Week and the featured resource is the very book I mention below, the Consumer Action Handbook!

Did you know that the U.S. General Services Administration’s Federal Citizen Information Center offers hundreds of publications that you, as a consumer, could benefit from? Each year, they send out a catalog of their pamphlets and booklets and I received mine last week. I now receive it because I once ordered a copy of their Consumer Action Handbook, yet another entirely free publication. I never order anything because all the documents are available online (and if it’s available online, why waste the paper printing it out and the fuel on shipping it to me?).

Let’s take a look at some of the publications in their “Cars” category:
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 Cars 
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What To Do After A Car Accident

Car AccidentA few years ago, I was driving from one office building to another when a Dodge Durango ran a red light and totaled my car. I was fine, as the Durango hit me at a forty-five degree angle, but my car was destroyed. The passenger door was dented in, the front quarter-panel was crushed, the frame was bent, and the wheel was crooked on the axle. If that wasn’t enough, both airbags deployed – my Acura Integra was kaput. I was fortunate in that accident because I wasn’t at fault, the other driver was calm, a witness stopped, and the police handled the situation expeditiously. The end result was that I got a check and needed a new car, but the process as quick as could be expected.

There was one good thing about that experience, it taught me how to properly respond in the event of an accident. Accidents are very scary and it’s very easy to lose your calm. They are exactly like those “controversial” Volkswagon “Safe Happens” commercials (I embedded two at the end of this article, they are very shocking). One minute you’re minding your own business, the next you’re being violently interrupted.

Here’s what I do immediately following an accident, I’ve written little notes down to myself on a piece of paper in my wallet to remind me. (In fact, I got the idea from Geico, which writes a sub-set of these instructions on what you should do immediately following an accident)

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 Shopping 
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5 Lesser Known Perks of Costco Membership

Costco SignEveryone knows about the cheap Costco gas and the wonderful Costco return policy (though on electronics it has certainly lost some of its teeth), but there are a lot of lesser known perks that members should try to take advantage of. Here are just five of them.

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 Insurance 
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Lower Insurance Premiums By Threatening To Leave?

A classic tip for those looking to lower their cable television bills or their credit card interest rates may work in the world of auto insurance. I was reading a Consumerist post about USAA’s website technical issues and their response to, for a few hours, “losing” a woman’s IRA when I saw this little gem in the comments:

xspook: I had their auto insurance for many years. I decided to shop around and found a much cheaper (over $600 a year savings) policy elsewhere. When I called to cancel, they offered to lower my policy, but couldn’t match the price I got elsewhere. That actually pissed me off, because, as a 10 year loyal customer I should’ve been getting the best price. Now that I tell them I’m leaving, they reward my loyalty with a lower price. Adios USAA. (emphasis mine)

Insurance is a tricky business that I know only a little about. In reading the Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders, the traditional payout on insurance premiums always seems to be in the 90′s (they make money by investing the float between when premiums are collected and claims are paid). That confirmed something I’ve always believed, that a large component of my car insurance premiums were dictated by risk. Riskier car? Higher premiums. Some accidents or speeding tickets? Higher premiums. Fair enough, that’s why I get insurance, to protect me.

But this little anecdote showed that threatening to leave your car insurance (or any insurance provider) can lower your premiums. I imagine the game that gets played is that all the organizational discounts, good driver discounts and such are up for grabs if a CSR can get you to stay. Who knows?

Either way, shop around for insurance and try twisting some arms to see if you can get a better rate.


 Taxes 
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5 Reasons You Should Donate Your Car

Donate Your Car - Free Towing!If you’ve bought yourself a new car and are looking to get rid of your old one, or simply want to get rid of a car, consider donating it to an organization that accepts car donations. Selling the car will almost always be better than donating from a financial standpoint, but donating offers benefits that may trump the money depending on your situation. After detailing five reasons why you should donate your car, I’ll give a few scenarios where donating is better than selling.

Here are five solid reasons why you should donate your car:

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 Frugal Living, Retirement 
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We Bought Schwinn Midtown Bikes

Schwinn 26This week, my wife and I went to Costco and picked up two bikes that we’d been looking at for quite some time. Some cycling purists would say that you should always get a bike from a local bike shop. While I agree that the personal service at a local bike shop is far better than at Costco (no explanation necessary), the reality is that there are two reasons we are getting these bikes and neither involve hardcore mountain biking or racing.

First, our little suburban area of Columbia is designed for biking. All the little shopping centers and parks and lakes are separated by an intricate network of walking and bicycle paths. On Wednesday, I rode around a nearby lake, through some paths, and popped out beside a little shopping center with a Subway to eat lunch with my wife and her co-worker. On the way back, I did some exploring and easily found the right path to take if we ever want to bike to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Hunan Manor, as well as our gym. Forget walkability scores, bikability is where it’s at.

The second reason is that I work from home and find myself doing a lot of intra-city driving to places where I am taking small roads. Why not replace the use of my car with a bike? Lower my already relatively small carbon footprint, get some exercise, and enjoy the fresh air! I’m not ready to sell my car but I’m certainly going to be using it less and less now that I have a bike.

The bikes were a good $200 a piece. While in the pantheon of bicycles, $200 is considered cheap, in the pantheon of bicycles I’d be willing to buy, $200 was about the limit. I understand that you get what you pay for and a “good bike” costs in the thousands, but I don’t know and cannot appreciate the difference. My wife doesn’t know and cannot appreciate the difference. For now, we can enjoy the heck out of our $200 bikes and then upgrade if necessary. We are acting our age financially.

For security, we bought two OnGuard Bulldog STD 5010LM Bicycle U-Locks as they were the highest rated sub-$30 lock by Scott Elder of Slate.com. He wrote about his experience trying to break into a whole bunch of bike locks and this one was the best of the bunch under $30. Again, you can spend much more for a beast of a lock (and those with $5000 bikes should buy a beast of a lock), but these should fit our needs just nicely.

Do you own a bike? Any tips or suggestions?


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