Gas prices are soaring again in what has become almost an annual spring ritual, although it’s starting earlier this year. Just ten months ago, we did a post on what you can do about rising gas prices – and the information in there is worth another look. This year, though, spurred by rumors of more conflict in the Middle East, gas prices look set to rise more than they have in several years, possibly even above the record high of $4.11 reported on July 17, 2008. What else is different this year? Well, you can now download a variety of apps for your smartphone to help you find the cheapest gas in your neighborhood. Gasbuddy.com in particular is a useful site either online at home or on the go with a free app. The data is submitted by local users so keep an eye on the date of submission to make sure you’re getting the most recent info.
Why do gas prices fluctuate so much? This overview explains How Gas Prices Work. Essentially, it’s a complicated interlocking chains of supply, demand and crude oil prices. Any slight hitch in this chain can cause our prices at the pump to jump or fall in a crazy pattern that seems to make no sense. One thing does seem certain, though and that’s that we’ll continue seeing higher prices at the pump for the foreseeable future. What can you do to lessen the impact of gas prices on your life? Experts say that the easiest first step is making sure your tires are properly inflated. Over and under inflated tires waste gas, as do dirty air filters, so consider replacing yours more frequently. Yahoo news reports that gas prices are higher on the weekends, so try to buy gas in the middle of the week. And stay away from highway gas stations! Buy your gas in smaller neighborhoods, where prices are likely to be lower.
There’s an old nursery rhyme that reminds us that March winds and April showers bring forth May flowers. Just as the unknown poet says, early spring can bring more than the beauty of blooming flowers. High winds and unpredictable weather are a hallmark of spring in the United States. If the past weekend’s high winds are any indication, spring may be ahead of schedule this year!
The greatest danger in high winds is the damage that they can cause to trees. High winds cost millions of dollars each year, mostly through fallen branches and trees. Even if a tree doesn’t land on your house or car, cleanup can be costly, which is yet another good reason to make sure that you, the homeowner, have a sufficient emergency fund available. If a tree or branch does fall on your house or car, what should you do? Call your independent insurance agent immediately.
Many people believe that if the affected tree was originally on their neighbors’ property, the neighbor should be the one to call, since their insurance will pay for it. This is not true. Your homeowners or car insurance policy will cover the damage regardless of who owned the tree. The Insurance Information Institute says “In most cases, an insurance company is not going to spend time trying to figure out where a tree or other item originally came from.” Even if there’s clear evidence, rather than accusing your neighbor, you can leave the bickering to the insurance companies, who may try to collect from the neighbor’s insurance company in a process called subrogation.
However, while nobody can guarantee that a bad storm won’t cause damage, healthy, well maintained trees are much less likely to succumb to storms. What can you do to protect your property against fallen trees and branches? Keep an eye on all your trees to make sure trees are healthy with this handy checklist. If you’re not sure, it’s always a good idea to have an expert opinion, so consider an expert tree inspection. If you’re not sure who to call in your area, the International Society of Arborists maintains national lists of certified arborists. This initial consultation with an arborist, particularly for first time home buyers, can save thousands later on.
If the worst happens and your roof has a large limb or tree on it, don’t try to fix it yourself! Call your insurance agent immediately and then call in a professional. If the tree limb has gone through the ceiling, you’ll want to make sure that the contents of the house are secure. Remove everything from the affected room and seal the area off from children and pets.
This short video clip from the Insurance Information Institute (III) offers a brief rundown on the basics of Business Owner Policy, or BOP, which covers your business for property and liability and helps keep your assets safe. For more detailed info, see What Does a Business Owners Policy (BOP) Cover?, also from III.
Everyone’s favorite time of year, tax deadline, is rapidly approaching. While there are still a few weeks left before it’s time to get out the balloons and party hats, it’s always a good idea to be over rather than under prepared for your yearly taxes. As you’re thinking about the past year, make sure to consider any property losses you may have incurred in 2011. Many people up and down the East Coast suffered losses due to Hurricane Irene, which was by most estimates one of the top ten most destructive and deadly hurricanes to hit the United States since 1980. Irene was a tragedy, but the silver lining is that according to the IRS, losses may well be deductible.
Keeping the terminology clear may help you understand which losses are deductible and which are not. Remember, a casualty occurs when your property is damaged as a result of a disaster such as a storm, fire, car accident or similar event. A theft occurs when somebody steals your property. A loss on deposits occurs when your financial institution becomes insolvent or bankrupt. Any losses incurred as a result of hurricane damage are considered casualties, particularly since Hurricane Irene was one of the many federally recognized disasters in 2011.
However, while losses are deductible, it’s important to know that if you have insurance, you must have filed a timely insurance claim. Any reimbursement you received from insurance must be taken into account and subtracted when figuring your loss. This includes any expected reimbursement even if you have not yet received it. This booklet on Casualties, Disasters & Theft from the IRS (PDF) will help you decide if the casualty, loss and theft deductions apply to you.
Taxes are never fun, but being prepared for all eventualities helps whether the disaster is a hurricane or a Form 1040. Make sure your accountant is aware of any losses you may have suffered in 2011.
Presidents’ Day weekend is traditionally a big car buying time. Manufacturers and dealers roll out incentives and discounts galore to lure buyers into a purchase. Is it really a good time for consumers to buy? The best time to buy is when you can afford it and when you’ve done your research. Rather than acting impulsively on any of the deals, you should plan your budget, your purchase goals, and do your research in advance – then, if any deals coincide with your pre-established budget, criteria, and goals – terrific! Step by Step: Buying a new car – a good guide from Consumer Reports that covers choosing a car, what to expect at the dealership, getting the best price on your new car and your trade in, financing tips, closing the deal, and post-sale tips. Safercar.gov Vehicle Shoppers – Consumer resources from the U.S. Department of Transportation, including 5 Star Ratings, which measure the crash worthiness and rollover safety of vehicles. Five stars is the highest rating, one is the lowest. The site also offers information on child safety, tire safety, safety technologies, and other topics. Watch out for scams
One other thing to watch out for: The head of Consumer Affairs in Boston says to be on the alert for questionable fees. “NewsCenter 5′s Susan Wornick obtained the results of a new state surveyin which state regulators, posing as consumers, called 180 car dealers across the state and found 130 charged some questionable fees that can drive up the final cost by hundreds or even more than $1,000.”
Just another reason not to rush into things! Other car-buying research tools Consumer Reports: Step-by-step: Buying a used car Edmunds True Cost to Own Vehicle Calculator Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Picks for 2012 Autos Myths and Truths About Timing Your car Purchase
The Insurance Information Institute (III) is showing the love this Valentine’s Day, insurance style. They’ve created a themed Pinterest board to celebrate the day. For those of you not up on your social media trends, Pinterest is the popular “virtual pinboard” that lets you clip and share things you find on the web.
III has gathered some fun images and reminders about showing your love, insurance style… such as making sure that any expensive gifts are insured and practicing safe shopping when making online purchases for your sweethearts.
They also posted a series of three quirky video clips – life insurance promoted by fruit flies. Yes, fruit flies – you will have to watch them to see for yourself. This is part of an informational campaign called Insure Your Love, which is sponsored by the Life Foundation, ostensibly to create some buzz (ahem) around life insurance. If you are wondering what life insurance has to do with fruit flies, you can learn more at Fruit Fly Q&A, which features more clips with Frank and Fran, the stars of the fruit fly campaign.
Valentine’s Day is a tradition going back to 496 A.D, with its actual origins tracing back to St. Valentine’s execution 269 AD for marrying couples against the mandate of the Roman Emperor. Since then, Valentine’s Day has become a gold mine for retailers. According to the US Census Bureau, jewelry stores sold $2.27 billion in merchandise in February 2011. While that number might seem staggering, the National Retail Federation is expecting jewelry sales to hit $4.1 billion this year. Their survey results show that over eight in ten men are expected to buy jewelry for their significant other this year, the highest amount their survey has ever reported, leading to the purchase of lots of expensive jewelry that could easily become lost or stolen.
Contributing to “the big spend” is the fact that Valentine’s Day is the third most popular time for couples to get engaged, lagging behind only Christmas and New Years. According to a survey conducted by Bride’s Magazine last year, the average cost of a wedding ring is $4,647. In today’s tough economic times that would not be easy to replace, nor would any of the other lavish gifts couples buy this time of year. Jewelry is popular with thieves
If you do splurge for the holiday, or have a lot of expensive jewelry lying around already, it might not be a bad idea to investigate your insurance options. Most burglars are looking for accessible items of value that can be easily transported, making jewelry a prime target since items are often left out or kept in easy-to-grab jewelry boxes. The Insurance Information Institute offers the warning that jewelry and other expensive gifts may only have minimal coverage under standard homeowners insurance policies and offers tips for how to properly insure your valuables.
Looking for some last minute ideas to wow your Super Bowl party guests on Sunday? Why not try your hand at creating a Super Bowl stadium replica from deli meats or from Twinkies? Check the link for a few other samples to give you some creative inspiration.
If food platter architecture is a little more than you feel you can tackle (ahem), maybe you might consider something along the lines of a Super Bowl themed cakes, cookies or sandwiches. Also check the Food Network’s Big Game Bash page and Winning Super Bowl Recipes from AllYou. We particularly like the look of these football shaped peanut butter swirl brownies. Have fun, but remember – Super Bowl Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk
Everyone loves a party, but don’t let fun run away with you. Our best party tip is to remind you that it’s important to be responsible hosts so that you or your guests don’t end up in the local headlines on the day after. Rest assured, law enforcement and DUI patrols will be doing double duty to catch impaired drivers. And if you are a party host, you may have liability if your guests drink and drive.
The NFL, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and other groups have all teamed up to raise awareness about drunk driving in a Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk campaign. This site offers two guides of safety precautions and tips, one for if you’re a Super Bowl party host and the other if you’re a party guest at one. In both situations it is important to take precautions for the safety of everybody.
Other safety tips and advice for hosting parties, planning for designated drivers, and more can be found at the HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers.