The apartment complex that we lived in for our first year in Austin experienced a fire the other day, and lost a whole building. 24 units. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but about sixty people lost everything they owned, and thirty of them are still displaced, just in time for the holidays. Not everyone lost their homes in the fire: the rest of them had everything they owned destroyed by smoke, sprinklers, and firefighting efforts. We only moved out of there five months ago, so we know that complex requires tenants to carry $100K rental insurance policies, but that wasn’t a hard sell for us: we are big believers in maintaining insurance.
Our renter’s insurance policy, when we had one, cost us $363 annually, or a little more than $30 per month. We have come to view insurance as an inextricable cost of whatever we’re insuring: If we can’t afford to insure a car, for example, then we believe we can’t afford the car at all. Around here, health insurance comes before restaurant meals and entertainment, life insurance takes priority over gifts or travel for family visits, and homeowners insurance gets paid before we buy things for the house. Because before we get anything new, we want to make sure that an accident or illness wouldn’t cause us to lose what we’ve already worked so hard to achieve.
It’s not easy to watch our hard-earned money vanish into the ether every time we make an insurance payment. We’d much rather get a newer car, or at least get the ones we have detailed, than pay for insurance we hope we’ll never use. The amount of the annual checks we send for our term life insurance policies could pay for a weeklong tropical vacation every single year (The longer you wait to buy it, the more it costs. And you’ll never be any younger than you are today). And we would each be sporting pretty stylish wardrobes if we chose not to spring for our own “affordable”health care coverage each month.
But here’s the thing: If we were to drive without car insurance, say, we would be subjecting ourselves to hefty fines (in the neighborhood of a year’s worth of full coverage) just for failing to produce evidence of insurance at any routine traffic stop. An accident that totalled one of our cars would leave us without the transportation that is an integral part of our ability to earn money and be self-supporting. And in the event that we found ourselves damaging someone else’s vehicle or causing them bodily injury, we could be sued for damages, and lose everything we have. Similar or worse scenarios play out when one considers forgoing health insurance, renters or homeowners insurance, and life insurance. One moment of distraction, once suspicious lump, or in the case of the apartment fire, one cigarette on someone else’s balcony that isn’t fully extinguished, and any one of us, without insurance, is looking at total financial ruin. So, we’re willing to shell out some money to protect ourselves from those potential outcomes, even when it means giving up on some of the other things we want.
Insurance isn’t sexy or fun. But if something bad happens and you’re uninsured, it could be years, even decades before you (or your survivors) are in a position to do anything sexy or fun at all. So before you leave your uninsured home to put your uninsured body into your uninsured car and drive to the mall to spend the $830 that the average American will spend on Christmas this year, consider spending some of that cash on covering your assets. Because however little you think you have, it is guaranteed to cost a lot more than you imagine if you were to lose it all.