Friday, 28 September 2012

Shopping for car insurance

While it's crucial (it's the law, really) to have car insurance, it isn't good enough to simply commit to a company haphazardly without knowing that they are offering you the best value for your money. Most people don't realize how much variety there is from one insurance company to another until they have to file a claim. Noticing the disparities between the way their company is handling the matter versus the way another party's company is handling the same issue might be their first glimpse into that reality.
What makes finding a good insurance company such a difficult task is the fact that most people don't get a lot of experience doing this. It isn't something that's taught in school or at home in your childhood; it's not something you even hear about until you're old enough to drive...and even then, your parents are still typically looking after it for you.

By the time it becomes your own responsibility, all you really know about it is that it has to get done. It's highly unlikely that anyone has told you the importance of finding the right insurance company, much less how to go about doing so. If there's nobody in your circle of friends and family with helpful advice on this matter, are you without any luck? Certainly not! Who should you talk to then? A good start would be trying to seek out someone who might have experience dealing with a variety of insurance companies, like an auto repair shop. After all, if the repair is the result of a motor vehicle accident, then you can bet that insurance companies are involved. If you've made a list of insurance companies you're considering, it might not be a bad idea to ask such people about their experience dealing with the companies on your list.

Since many insurance companies offer the option of a free quote, this is a great way for you to compare prices. Additionally, any insurance company you are considering should be more than happy to sit down with you and attentively consider what would be in your best interest, while answering any questions you may have. If there's something about a company that makes you uneasy, address the issue, and if it's not resolvable, heed your red flags.

Try not to be daunted by the task. A little bit of effort on your part will actually go a very long way.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Don't chew gum and walk at the same time

Of course, we're kidding about that...but what does chewing gum and walking at the same time have in common with walking around with your nose in a book? If you guessed “walking plus something” you guessed correctly. While it may seem strange to devote a post to walking, stick with us for a few moments more and you're sure to see the logic of doing this.

We hear a whole lot about distracted driving, but not as much about distracted walking. While it may be argued that there is no comparison between the dangers involved in walking and those involved in driving, this hardly seems a reason to dismiss the dangers associated with walking altogether; it is, after all, a form of transportation. And much like driving, it can be abused. Recently, the number of pedestrian injuries involving youth between the ages of 16 and 19 years has skyrocketed. The non-profit organization, Safe Kids Worldwide, determined that there was actually a 25% increase in those injuries from 2006 to 2010. 

The reason? According to Safe Kids Worldwide, youth are growing more and more preoccupied with their personal electronic devices. While that statement hardly comes as a surprise to most people, what is staggering is the fact that the degree of distraction is enough to be causing them harm. Certainly, we expect that distracted drivers are likely to make errors that cause them to hit pedestrians, but we don't often think of it the other way around, where the culpability rests with the pedestrian. However, this is precisely what is happening. 

Pedestrians who are distracted by electronics-related tasks like texting are not stopping to survey intersections before stepping out into them. They're simply drifting along, regardless of whether it is their turn or not. The oncoming traffic, for whom it is the right of way, is traveling at a much higher speed comparatively, and thus will have little to no time to react accordingly. The result? A devastating accident with increased insurance rates—both of which were entirely preventable.

For the most part, people like to root for the underdog. We side with Davids over Goliaths. We prefer the cause of the little guy over the big one...but in the car-pedestrian relationship, it isn't that simple. We can't continue to assume that because the car is bigger—and therefore capable of more damage—it must somehow be more culpable than the comparatively small pedestrian. It's time we do our part as pedestrians to make the roads safer for all.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Trying to teach an old dog--I mean, driver--new tricks

Most drivers are—at least to some extent—confident in their ability to get behind a wheel, and manipulate their vehicle so that it safely moves from point A to point B. And this confidence is not a bad thing; after all, can you imagine the mayhem that would ensue if every driver on the road was riddled with terror at the prospect of sharing the road with other drivers and pedestrians? Indecision isn't exactly a trait that is prized for the promotion of safe roads. That said, however, there is a point where the confidence becomes something of an excess, and this is when we let all aspects of our driving become second nature to us.

The danger here is that when you are sloppy with details that you think only new drivers need to pay mind to, you are ingraining—both in your subconscious, and in your muscle memory—behaviours that leave you open to risks. For example, when you make a habit of rolling through stops, you may go through two years of doing this without the slightest bit of consequence; and each “successful” roll-through will just enforce (in your mind and body) that this is how you should be driving.

The problem is that when you finally do get pulled over, or do get involved in a collision of some sort that could have been avoided by making a complete stop and observing the intersection before you, simply resolving to “start driving better” isn't going to help you. By that point, your habits will be quite set, and it will take tremendous effort to reverse them. Sure, when you are consciously thinking about your driving, you may remember to come to a complete stop, but when your mind flits in and out of the road you're driving on, your body will revert to what it's been programmed to do over the years.

A penny saved is a penny earned, so doing your part to avoid increased auto insurance premiums makes good cents—I mean, sense. If there are techniques for safe driving that you learned in driver's ed but haven't been practicing, do yourself a favour and get your mind and body in training now.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Your property: priced to sell

Are you in the position of getting ready to sell your property? If so, then chances are you fall into one of two categories: those who don't have much choice (owing to factors such as job transfers and other such obligations) and those who have somewhat of a choice (with your reasons for selling being along the lines of wanting to change neighbourhoods, or a desire to upgrade or downsize the home you live in). At any rate, your top two goals in selling your house will be: to get the best price that you can, and to sell as quickly as possible. The two are somewhat linked as well. The longer your house stays on the market, the less desirable it will seem, which will lead to lower offers. Thus it follows that in order to sell your house at a good price, you need to sell fast.
One piece of advice that real estate agents are giving to reduce the gap between “for sale” and “sold” is difficult for most home sellers to receive because it seems to go against the desire to get a good price: agents are now recommending that serious home sellers price their homes at 15% less than the market value right from the get go. On the surface, this advice seems unappealing for a few reasons. One objection is that—assuming the house is sold at the asking price of 15% below its market value—it means throwing away 15% of the money you would have had. Another objection is related to the negotiation aspect of selling a home: if the starting point is 15% lower than the home's actual value, doesn't it follow that once all of the offers and counter offers have been made, that the final figure will be even lower than that?
It turns out that these objections—while completely understandable—are actually based in oversimplifications. To begin with, when you place your property on the market at 15% lower than its actual value, you can very quickly weed out absurdly low bidders. Because your offer is so good, it is definitely within your bounds to say that this is a firm price. This will save your time, and the potential buyer's time as well, which will give your property appeal.
Secondly, pricing a house at 15% below market value does not necessarily mean you are throwing away 15% of your revenue: if you begin by pricing your property at its full market value, you are likely to part with a sum just as much by the time the process of negotiation is complete. Moreover, low opening bids actually stimulate buyers' interest, and when you excite several buyers at once, you are likely to have many enthusiastic bidders who may very well end up in competition for the highest bid. If this happens, you may not only recover the 15% you sacrificed, you might exceed it as well.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

What does money have to do with trees (aside from not growing on them)?

We all know the old adage: “money doesn't grow on trees.” But there are times when this is untrue; that is to say, there are situations in which trees are—however indirectly—a source of money for you. Conversely, there are situations in which they are a drain on your money. Trees are one of the most often overlooked aspects of home ownership, and yet they have a significant impact on the finances involved therein.

When money (sort of) grows on trees:
Energy consumption: planting shade providing trees on your property not only shields you from nosy neighbours, but from the sun's burning heat as well. This translates into savings in your energy costs, as your air conditioner will not need to work as hard to maintain a cool temperature in the house.

Property value: one factor that raises the value of any given property is the presence of mature trees. In some instances, healthy trees can actually add 10% to the value of a property. If you didn't know this at the time you purchased your house, you may have unknowingly been investing in trees. This is a fine investment to make, as their benefits are numerous, but now that you know how much of your property's value is linked to the trees it's home to, it gives you pause to think: just as you would protect your home from damage with insurance, you should be protecting its extensions—particularly the ones that give it value—from damage as well. Obviously this will require some investigation: you'll need to figure out if your trees are, in fact, valuable, and just how much they are worth. You can do this by having them appraised (an arborist or a real estate agent would be qualified to do this, though the real estate agent's assessment would hold more weight). Once you know the value of the trees, see your insurance provider to find out how you can protect yourself against the financial loss associated with damage to those trees.

When trees are a money sink:
Property damage: if you have a sick tree on your property, and if it loses a branch—or even collapses altogether, the likelihood that it will damage a part of your home or other articles sitting on your property is quite high...and unfortunately, your insurance policy will not likely cover that damage. Nor will it cover you if your tree causes damage to a neighbour's property. Prevention is key here: monitor your trees closely and regularly. Trim branches so that you reduce the risk of them growing too heavy, and subsequently breaking. Keep a close watch for sickness too. Once a tree gets sick, its physical integrity is really compromised, so you should remove it as soon as you can.

Knowing these things about trees, use them to your advantage. If you have just moved into a new home and plan to stay a while, consider planting trees to increase the future value of your home. Research native species to increase your chances of success in growing healthy trees. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Attitudes to nix in preparing for disaster

In the routine of the everyday, it can be very difficult for most to think ahead to being prepared for disasters; after all, disasters aren't guaranteed to happen, so why detract time from real-life present day responsibilities for hypotheticals? This type of outlook, though completely understandable, is dangerous, and is fortified by several erroneous evaluations we unconsciously allow ourselves to find security in. Here are some of those false securities:

Being prepared is too hard so I shouldn't bother trying. It can be very easy to adopt an attitude of passive perfectionism when it comes to preparedness, with a mindset that determines a thing should either be done well, or not done at all. That simply isn't the case with preparing for a disaster. To begin with, it isn't nearly as intimidating as you might think because others have done it before you, and are willing to share their advice. Websites like Canadian Red Cross and Health Canada offer good starting points. Furthermore, it's better that you do a partial job than none at all: one household may have enough to eat for three days, while the other has none. In a crisis that leaves them stuck at home for five days, is either perfectly prepared? No...but who would rather be?

There's always 911. While it's true that emergency response crews will do all they can in a situation of crisis to assist those that depend upon them, when disaster strikes, their ability to respond will be restricted: for one thing, you can expect that you won't be the only person relying upon them, so there will most definitely be delays in their response to you; for another, depending on the nature of the disaster, they may be physically deterred or altogether prevented from access to you if major roadways have been damaged or blocked off. This is not to say that you should not call 911 if you have suffered serious injuries in a widespread disaster, but in forming a plan, this should definitely not be your only course of action.

I can just print off a checklist of what I need to have and that will be enough. Checklists are definitely a wonderful starting point for disaster preparedness, but don't assume that this will suffice. You and your family are going to have slightly varying needs from those of others. For example, if there are certain medications that must be taken daily, make sure to have a small backup supply in case you run out of a current round in the middle of disaster. Monitor your family's needs over a week or so, and make notes about what is indispensable for you. Use those notes to augment your list, and subsequently, your kit.

Insurance will cover everything. While insurance exists to protect you, this entails doing your part to make sure you are covered for the sort of disasters that you could be exposed to. Many people haphazardly purchase a plan they haven't given much thought to, and then have unrealistic expectations about the amount of coverage it provides. They imagine that in the aftermath of a disaster, their life will be perfectly rebuilt top from bottom in a matter of days to its exact state pre-disaster. Unfortunately, the reality is a far cry from that. Insurance policies vary greatly in what they do and do not cover, so it behooves you to do your research. Even if you end up not opting for certain types of disaster-related insurance, you should make sure you know beforehand what you're covered for. This way, when you are met with disaster that you are not covered for, your world won't fall apart a second time when you receive the nasty surprise of learning this.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Cars are not real estate: their resale isn't as lucrative

Most people can call the exhilaration of passing their driver's test, and the expected freedom that would ensue upon getting their license...but getting that license just moved them to the second phase of fantasy: dreaming of the day they would no longer need to borrow their parents' cars, and owning cars of their very own. Determination to make that dream a reality involved finding a car within budget, and then working to save funds in the amount of the car's sale price. For those who were long-term planners, the dream went as far as eventually re-selling the first car—the car that served as a modest beginning—and redirecting the funds towards a better car in the future. While the general idea behind this plan is prudent, determining exactly how much of your investment you will get back involves considering costs that are often forgotten in the tallying of car ownership expenses:

Sales Tax – like any other consumer good, new vehicles are taxed. In Alberta, this amounts to five percent; when you are talking about thousands of dollars, five percent is not a negligible amount. If you are buying a used vehicle, however, this expense may not apply, provided it is a private sale.

Insurance – Car insurance costs vary greatly, and you are likely aware of several of these variables such as age, gender, etc. However, what most people don't realize is that certain inexpensive cars actually cost more to insure. If there is a certain make and model of car you are considering, it would be worth getting in touch with your insurance broker to determine if your vehicle of consideration is such a car.

Fuel Costs – as gas prices continue to rise, so will the cost of using your vehicle, even after you have purchased it.

Maintenance and repair – oil changes, filter changes, tune-ups, paint jobs, unexpected brake replacements, etc, are expenses that you will have to budget for in addition to the initial cost of the vehicle.

Interest – if you are financing your vehicle, then you will be paying interest rates in addition to the actual value of the car.

Depreciation – if resale is your ultimate goal, you should bear in mind that the value of your vehicle will depreciate from the time you purchase it to the time you sell it. Unlike real estate, which usually increases in value over time, cars typically decrease in value over time.

It is important for you to consider your spending in these categories both in determining the affordability of buying a vehicle, and in discerning how much of your spending you will recover through resale.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Location, location, location: what about it?

We all know that when it comes to buying your dream home, finding the perfect house is only half the battle; much of its true worth comes from “location, location, location.” The perfect house in the wrong neighbourhood ceases to be the perfect house. This is one reason why aspiring home owners seek to buy a desirable lot of land and build their home there: it gives them control over those variables. But what exactly is it about location that you should be investigating before pursuing a particular neighbourhood? Which aspects of location deserve a bit of your time and research?

Schools – if you plan on sending your children to publicly funded schools, then their schools will likely be assigned to them on the basis of neighbourhood boundaries. If you're at a loss as to which neighbourhoods to begin looking in, do a bit of digging to learn what schools have good reputations, and programs that will best suit your children's academic and extracurricular needs.

Crime – many municipalities' police forces now post interactive crime maps online, giving you access to information such as the frequency and locations of homicides, robberies, sexual offenses, assaults, break-ins, thefts, drug related issues, and traffic violations. Reviewing these statistics can help you determine if there is truth to long standing reputations; oftentimes, neighbourhoods deemed as unsafe are actually not, and vice versa.

Technological accessibility – many families opt to set up their dream house in a remote, scenic setting like a farm, or a wood, where trees abound and neighbours are far. Oftentimes, the price they pay for this is having limited access to technology. There may only be dial-up internet available. Cell phone reception may be poor. If your family relies heavily upon the use of cell phones and internet, then it may not be favourable for you to forego such amenities.

Future developments – having more or less decided on a neighbourhood of interest, try and learn what plans for future development are in store there. For example: is there a very large tract of land that has just been purchased by the city to use for the creation of roadways that will increase traffic to and from your neighbourhood? This may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your priorities. If such a development increases the accessibility of your neighbourhood, then it will likely cause an overall increase in the future value of houses in the neighbourhood, which is is definitely in your favour. However, if you are drawn by the peace and quiet, such a development may detract from your desire to be there. Are there plans for the house next door to be demolished and replaced with a multi-family complex? Will the new building block out the sunlight from the bright kitchen you love so much? If your dream home will only be your dream home for one year, do you really want it? Conversely, if your “good enough” home will turn into your dream home as a result of future developments, could you live with “good enough” until that happens?

Surveying these criteria will help you to avoid being swept away by the charm of an attractive home, only to be displeased with it later.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Travel expenses: make your money go the extra mile

Among the hypothetical items listed in things people would spend on if they'd won the lottery, there's usually some mention of an indulgent vacation. People often equate travel with luxury, and with good reason: it can be very costly. Despite our knowledge that we need breaks, that we need rest, and that vacations are something we should build into our budgets, the reality is that with mortgages, tuition, and car payments, it's often just not a priority. There are definitely ways, though, to minimize the costs of traveling, which would increase the likelihood of you being able to afford it:
Be proactive: time is money; spending a little time upfront planning out the details of your trip will most certainly save you money. If you decide well in advance on a vacation time and destination, buying your tickets long beforehand will cut the costs of airfare substantially. The same holds true for accommodations. Using sites like Hotwire can help you compare prices to make sure the rate you get is the most competitive. Planning will save you on just about every aspect of your trip, big or small. It could be something as trivial as planning to pack snacks for your wait at the airport and for layovers (even packing meals for the plane ride) to ensuring that you have the appropriate clothing and equipment for your destination already packed in your bag. Having to buy these items at the mercy of airport shops and tourist stores guarantees markups for you. The savings may seem trivial if you don't give the matter much thought, but if you actually record the savings and add them up, you'll be surprised to find that it's no small amount. The more planning you are able to do, the more you will save.
Be creative: consider substitutions for your vacation that you might not have planned for in your traditional vision of the ideal vacation. Take advantage of a friend's vacation property; stay in hostels; find out what free activities the locals rely on for good entertainment.
Be prepared: anticipate hardships during your travels so that when they occur, you are equipped to deal with them (and Murphy's law will show you that if you are ready for bad things to happen, they won't happen). Knowing the health risks associated with travel to your destination, get the appropriate vaccinations before you go, and save yourself the agony and the expense of being sick abroad. That said, vaccinations don't guarantee perfect health when you're abroad, so make sure to invest in adequate traveler's insurance so that you're not confronted with an enormous medical bill in the event of illness or injury.
Be flexible: Although vacation dates are usually dependent upon when we are able to book time off of work, if you can, try to travel off season. Seasons and dates that tend to see the highest airfares are the summer months, Christmas, spring break, and Thanksgiving. If it's possible, try to book your vacation away from those times. Also, flexibility in the days of the week, as well as the times of day that you fly could be a further source of savings. Saturdays tend to cost more than Tuesdays or Wednesdays, for example, and red-eye flights (if you're up to it) tend to cost less than those that run mid morning to mid evening.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Play at Work

On top of health insurance benefits packages, as has become a standard in the workplace now, there is a growing trend among employers and business managers to take their interest in their employees' health even further. Doing what you can to secure the well being of your employees is a win win situation: it's beneficial to employees because it ensures that their health is upheld, and that in turn is beneficial to employers because a healthy, satisfied, and fulfilled employee is likely to be far more productive than one who is laden with ailments and resentment towards a supervisor who is pushing them beyond their physical limits.
The creativity of workplaces in meeting their goal of catering to the health of their staff is impressive. It is common now for companies and organizations (such as hospitals and schools) to use professional days, or time allotted to professional development, to that end. Where that time used to be filled with presentations and activities directly linked to workplace productivity, some of that time has been reassigned to staff wellness. If you are interested in organizing something like this in your workplace, one format that works well for a large staff is to have various sessions that cover a range of interests set up, that staff can sign up for as they please. You may, for example, have stations set up for sports and hobbies, so that people can spend the afternoon engaging in an activity that excites them, that they may not get to engage in often. You could also have stations devoted to activities like yoga, exercise, or even presentations on nutrition and mental health. You could even have a tea room, or a healthy cooking class. There is no limit to the number of themes and ideas you could introduce; if your employees will enjoy it and come away from it refreshed, then it counts towards wellness.
If you have a smaller staff, stations may be harder to coordinate. In this case, deciding on a “wellness-promoting” activity together may be the way to go. But there's also a really cool piece of software you could introduce to the workplace intended to promote workplace health, and it would work well with any number of people. It's called Keas. The way it works is that staff form teams and engage in competition with each other for points, which are earned through various activities: taking quizzes related to nutrition, taking work breaks to combat stress, and setting (and meeting) goals each week for healthier eating (especially including more fruits and vegetables). The cost for the software is $12 per year per user, which comes out to a dollar a month. It's economical, novel, and fun. It may be worth considering if you're in a workplace health rut.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The importance of research

Did you have a good chuckle this morning when you read about how Alberta's human services minister, Dave Hancock, was mistakenly attacked in a US political ad campaign? For those of you that missed it, the (presumably Democratic) advertiser's intention was to target a Republican candidate in Minnesota with the same name. The mistake made was that it was a photo of Alberta's Dave Hancock that appeared in the ad. Our human services minister, in commenting on the incident, gave a chuckle and a remark about the importance of knowing your opponent. The story made for good comic relief this morning, but it also gave us pause to think: how many important decisions do we rush into, believing that our knowledge of the matter is complete when in actuality, this is not the case? The following is by no means a comprehensive list of lifestyle-decision categories that often suffer as a result of poor research, but these are the first that come to mind:

Insurance – you knew we'd say that, right? But in all honesty, purchasing insurance (home, renter's, car, travel, health) is a decision that most don't research thoroughly. In fact, the general approach taken towards the purchase of insurance, whether it's for one of the compulsory categories, or whether it's optional, is usually, “I've done it, and that's good enough; I don't have to think about it anymore.” There are good reasons why this is the case: trying to understand the nitty gritty of each category of insurance can be really intimidating; also, you are probably already heaped with responsibilities that demand your time, and hardly have any left to spare on researching insurance. Both of these reasons make a compelling case for you to see a specialist. That way, you can figure out quickly and effectively whether you are unnecessarily frittering away money.

Food – if you are what you eat, are you sure you want to be fd&c blue 2 aluminum lake? Me neither. Food is one of those categories where we unwittingly spend a considerable amount on substances that are actually harmful to us (and the irony here is that food should be nourishing us). The good news is that the kind of “research” that can help guard against that is very quick, and very easy: before you add something to your cart, read the ingredients, and read the nutrition label—even if it's something you've been buying for a long time, but never bothered to check before. You'd be surprised what you find (and don't find) in there; especially in products that are touted as being healthy in a way that masks their health risks (for example, “natural” protein bars that are made with high fructose corn syrup, or “fat free” frozen yogurt that makes up for the fat calories in obscene amounts of sugar).

Social commitments – it seems that most of the people I talk to lately feel overwhelmed with the amount of social obligations they have to keep up with. Activities they thought would take two hours end up taking six, they suddenly don't have any free nights in the week to decompress because they've agreed to be on a couple of committees (which seemed so modest at the time, but which both turn out to be very demanding). Before you agree to being somewhere, know where you'll be, and for how long. Then you can assess beforehand whether what you thought would be a good cause, or a good time, is really just a time sink.

The propensity for research doesn't come naturally; it's often easier to just take decisions as they come, and make them on the spot. But you should think of research as an investment: you can do a little bit now, or you can do a lot of it later.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Wealth Building Behaviours

Insurance isn't just the plan you buy to protect your “stuff;” certain behaviours can act as a type of insurance for you, securing your financial stability. Now, I remember listening to a talk recently about how easy it is to retire as a multi-millionaire, provided you exercise some self restraint each month and are devout about investing a set portion of your income regularly. Even a modest investment, at a return of 10%, when compounded with monthly contributions, would snowball into that multi-million retirement fund, and you could spend your elder years sipping martinis by a pool with an ipad for each hand. Wait, what? A return of 10%? Where on earth, in this day and age, does one find a guaranteed return of 10%? A rate like that might be achievable through investments in mutual funds, but mutual funds are in no way guaranteed. In fact, it's pretty common for people to lose money on them—significant amounts of money at that. And yet despite this well hidden “if only” that in actuality is nothing short of an impossibility, the talk was just eaten right up by listeners.
The appeal, of course, is the message: if you do your part, it will pay off. And this is an important message; in fact, having this as the underlying point made up for the glaring quandary of how to go about finding a guaranteed return of 10%. We are in a low-yield age now, certainly, but that doesn't mean our financial health is beyond our manageability. Attention to three areas of our financial habits will optimize our ability to keep ourselves financially sound:
Savings: because returns are currently lower than they used to be, we need be saving more. This is much easier said than done. It's hard to commit to a regular contribution to your savings that's higher than the one you're currently making because of the awareness of how it will affect your lifestyle. But before you assume that you're doing “well enough,” consider inflation, and whether what you are currently setting aside will be sufficient in light of that. If not, then the situation demands positive action on your part.
Investing: in all fairness, there was a time when that 10% return seemed perfectly reasonable, and so we could be a little more careless with where we put our money because chances were, wherever it was, it would make something, and that something would be more than enough. But now that this isn't the case anymore, we can look at investments as an area in which we can save as well. One way to do this is to look for investments that have the minimum amount of fees associated with them.
Spending: you might be quite adept at living within your means (and if not, then you have your work cut out for you right there), but that might not do: learn to do with less. You might not be able to afford all of the trinkets you want now to ensure that you're getting three meals a day when you retire.
Anything that smacks of austerity can be daunting at first, but the good news is that it is within your grasp to make sure that your money is working for you.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Are solar panels right for you?

With the “greenification” of our culture, if you will, would you expect there to be an increase in interest in installing solar panels? And based on that supposition, how much of the world's energy would you guess is being sourced from solar? While you're at it, why not make a guess at how the cost of solar panel today compares with what it was a decade ago? Did you guess that it increased? You're in for a surprise. The reality is that the cost of solar power today is even less than 20% what it was ten years ago, and currently only about 1% of the world's energy is solar. That's pretty incredible, given trends that are moving more and more towards sustainability and economy. Circumstances like these make the prospects of delving into solar panel energy very attractive.
Installing solar panels is pricey upfront, but like energy efficient washing machines, the payoff is huge, and it kicks in right away. That said, because of the substantial initial investment, this is a decision you want to make carefully. The first and most sensible thing for you to consider is your weather. If you live in a place prone to long stretches of gray skies, it might not be your greatest source of alternative energy. If, however, you live in a region where there is some sun nearly daily, you have that in your favour. Another weather-related piece of criteria to consider is the frequency and severity with which you are the target of storms—and that includes wind storms, snow storms, rain storms, and hail storms—any inclement weather that could cause damage to your panels. If this is the case, insurance coverage for your panels may be a little higher than in an area that isn't so storm-laden. The reason for this is that it is more likely that your panels will need replacing or repairs due to storm-incurred damage.
Interestingly, though, the bulk of insurance claims for solar panels are actually related to theft, so the type of neighbourhood you live in may have a role to play in the cost of insuring your panels. That said, there are ways to protect against theft, and lower the risks (and thus the insurance rates) associated with it. For example, there are some panels designed with triggers that are activated when the cutting of wires is attempted, alerting multiple security personnel instantly of the attempt in moments via their phones.
It should be clarified, though, that solar panels don't always mean higher insurance costs. In fact, they can often lower your home insurance rates. One line of reasoning is that those concerned with environmental impact have a strong sense of responsibility generally, and are likely to take good care of their property.
It's not a decision to take lightly, but it definitely deserves some consideration...and with government incentives that encourage consumers to save energy, there may be a rebate in it for you too.