Gas Prices soaring again.

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. 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.

Unclaimed property

There’s a total of more than $32 billion in the nation’s unclaimed property pools representing more than 117 million accounts. It’s mostly money or assets that were either forgotten or abandoned – and in many cases, the abandonment occurred when the account holder died and nobody else knew the account(s) existed. Don’t let your property become part of that pot!
We’ve previously talked about the importance of updating your beneficiaries on insurance polices and other financial records. Just like changing batteries in your smoke detector and getting your car inspected, you should set a routine time to do this annually – failing to do so might leave your loved ones wrangling with court proceedings – or even totally unprotected. The importance of planning cannot be overemphasized. Not to be grim, but you simply never know when your time will be up. For a statistical assessment, see our prior post What are the Odds where we have a lot of risk tools that you can play with. They range from actuarial tables to to calculators for finding out your relative risk of dying in the next year or being attacked by a shark.
OK, you get the point. Planning is important. This past week, the Wall St. Journal featured an excellent and very helpful article in their finance section about The 25 Documents You Need Before You Die – alternately titled as “Designing your death dossier,” which makes it sound pretty fancy. The article makes the point that it is not simply enough to ensure that your policies are updated – it’s also critical that somebody in your family knows what and where all your important documents are.
We counted more than 25 important documents referenced in the article – but it is unlikely that all will be relevant to your situation. Nevertheless, it’s a great reference article to bookmark and keep as a checklist for your annual planning.
Oh, and about that unclaimed $32 billion, if you think any of it might rightfully belong to you, here’s a good place to check: The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators will let you conduct a free search.

Extreme holiday decorating: tips to stay safe

Are you one of those people who goes to extremes for your holiday decorating?
You certainly aren’t alone. Below, we’ve posted some of our favorite video clips featuring extreme holiday home light shows — but first, we’d be remiss in our role as insurance advisors if we didn’t offer a few words about the importance of safety. In Deck the Halls But Do It Safely When Working with Electrical Lights, EHS Today notes that, “during the 2 months surrounding the holiday season, more than 14,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms due to injuries related to holiday decorating. In 2010, the National Fire Protection Association stated that holiday lights were involved in an average of 150 reported home structure fires per year during 2004-2008. Those fires caused an average of eight civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $8.9 million in direct property damage per year.”
If you are doing decorating outside your house, their article offers the following handy tips on safety from

  • Never throw holiday lights or other decorations into trees near power lines
  • Be especially careful when working near power lines attached to your house. Keep ladders, equipment, and yourself at least 10 feet from all power lines
  • Use only lights, cords, animated displays and decorations rated for outdoor use. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use them
  • Cords should be plugged into outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs)
  • Use a portable GFCI if your outdoor outlets are not equipped with them
  • Do not staple or nail through light strings or electrical cords, and do not attach cords to utility poles
  • Outdoor holiday lights are for seasonal use, up to 90 days. Bring them inside after the holidays
  • Avoid decorating outside on windy or wet days. Choose to decorate in favorable weather conditions and during daylight hours.

Later this week, watch for indoor decorating safety tips.

Shopping this week? Be safe on Black Friday

If you plan to hit the stores or the websites to shop this Thanksgiving weekend, you should give a few minutes to thinking about your safety before you do. People can get wacky over a baragain, particularly in these tough economic times. Plus, thieves love crowds – it’s a perfect time for snatching purses or wallets, or stealing sensitive info that can lead to identity hijacking. Crime prevention experts suggest that You Need A Personal Safety Plan for Black Friday
Here’s a few more things to watch out for and tips to stay safe:
Crowd tramplings, mobs, incidents of rage
Purse and wallet snatchings
Prevent Identify Theft & Fraud – online & off
10 tips to prevent ID theft when shopping online
If you should have a theft or an accident, report it to the police, and be sure to call your insurer or your local independent insurance agent to file a claim.

Tomorrow is one day that your boss might be happy to hear you say “I quit”

Tomorrow is the Great American Smokeout Day. Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, yet more than 46 million Americans still smoke.
In addition to the toll that smoking takes on health, there are financial costs to smoking, too. There’s the cost of the cigarettes, of course – which adds up to serious money over a year or a few years. Smokers also pay more for life insurance. Plus, many employers are beginning to charge smokers higher rates for health insurance. Some employers have a smokers need not apply policy.
There are other, less obvious costs. Smoking is bad for your computers, it can hurt the resale value of your car, and it can cause serious damage to your home, even making it harder to sell.
If you are still smoking, why not try quitting – at least for one day? The American Cancer Society offers a Guide to Quitting Smoking. There are also several excellent free quitting help linescall 1-800-QUITNOW.