Insurance Poor and Self-Insuring

by Mr. Cheap

I had a grandfather who would worry about the potential problems that might crop up in life, and bought extensive amounts of insurance to try to protect himself. He felt this was the prudent, safe way to navigate life. In part due to the extensive insurance coverage he purchased, he was never able to save very much money, had to work at an intensely physical job (he was the caretaker at a cemetery) well into his late 60’s (because he couldn’t afford to retire) and died from a heart-attack on the job.

Who says hard work never killed anyone? That’s why Mr. Cheap avoids work like the plague (and because of this has a pair of the softest hands around…).

An alternative approach to life may have been to purchase insurance to deal with catastrophes, save all of the other money that you may have spent to insure against minor emergencies, then dip into these savings if a minor emergency occurs. This is called self-insuring and it’s a very good idea.

A series of commercials out right now (in Toronto anyway) show an insurance agent going about their life when they’re approached by someone who enthusiastically starts asking them about all the things insurance protects them from, then starts brow-beating the reluctant agent to sell them some insurance. In real life (off the TV), insurance agents tend to be very hard-sell. People work hard to sell you things you don’t need. I rarely get the hard sell when I’m looking at bread and eggs in the grocery store.

Future Shop / Radio Shack / Best Buy type stores push their extended warranties hard. They do this because it’s a bad deal for consumers and is likely to be pure profit for the store.

Years ago a woman came to visit my parents and tried to convince them to buy life insurance on my father (who was the sole breadwinner at the time). My mom told the sales-woman that she’d completed teachers’ college and that her diploma was all the insurance she needed if something happened to my dad (she’d go back to work). The saleswoman didn’t have an answer to that and that was the end of that sales pitch.

Look over your insurance and see what you can live without. If your DVD player breaks, are you going to be in dire straits? No, then don’t get insurance. If your car breaks a headlight, can you afford to pay $75 to get it repaired? Yes, then raise your deductible. Are you a couple with two incomes, no kids and life insurance? Why would the surviving spouse need cash in case of death? Would the bulk of your wealth go up in flames if the family home burned down? Then maybe it’s a good idea to get insurance with a VERY high deductible to deal with that risk.

If your view of insurance is “wouldn’t it be nice to get a bit of cash if this happened?” then you aren’t purchasing insurance, you’re gambling. And much like casinos, the insurance company has a lot of very smart people working very hard to make sure they come out ahead of you. Sunlife and Manulife employ so many nice people (who will reluctantly sell to you if you beg them), maintain such large buildings and pay such a nice rising dividend because they take in more money then they pay out. An insurance company couldn’t operate if this wasn’t the case.

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