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A Good Defense is Always the Best Offense

We’ve discussed how car crashes in the United States each year impact our economy and society. Sure, they lead to higher car insurance costs for each of us, but their impact goes much deeper, and they remove almost 2.5% from our gross domestic product (GDP) each year. We’ve also discussed how they can impact individuals on a deeply personal level, since crashes can result in the loss of life. But despite all of the statistical data that gets thrown our way, one thing is perfectly clear: the vast majority of these crashes, collisions and so-called accidents are preventable.

We’re not kidding. Most automobile accidents are preventable. If every single driver employed the basic techniques of defensive driving, the number of crashes would be dramatically reduced.

What is Defensive Driving?

If you’re like a lot of people, you may be wondering what the actual definition of defensive driving even is. To put it simply, defensive driving is the act of applying driving rules and techniques that can help motorists reduce risks and anticipate dangerous situations. Below are some tips on how to be a better defensive driver.

Focus on the Task at Hand: Driving

The first step in becoming a defensive driver is to recognize that you can control how you drive. You should be thinking safety first. You can’t rely on others on the road to make your safety a priority. That’s your job. So, wear your seat belt, don’t drive aggressively and keep your full attention on the task at hand: driving.

Visualize Everything

Constantly scanning the road with one’s eyes is another habit of good, defensive drivers. This means checking the front, left side, right side and rear with all of your mirrors. Make sure you’re scanning far ahead, not just casually looking around you. This will give you time to react to any situation that could be coming your way. Keep your eyes peeled for other vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles or pedestrians even pets and wildlife should be on your radar.

Always Have an Escape Route

This means not following too closely and not getting boxed-in. On multiple lane roads, such as freeways, center lanes are preferred, as they maximize your ability to go left or right.

Don’t Tailgate

Most driver guides insist on leaving a two-second space between yourself and cars you are following. This doesn’t go far enough. Allow for at least three-to-four seconds of space between yourself and the car you are following. Anything less is too close. Having this space cushion will allow you to react to any situation.

Don’t Speed

Your speed should always match conditions, which means sometimes the posted speed limit is too fast. Wet or icy roads and limited visibility may decrease the time you have to react to other drivers, so keep that in mind as you’re driving.

Be Aware, Not Paranoid

Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed by dealing with too many risk factors at the same time. Only concentrate on those that seem to have the biggest chance of disaster.

Don’t Become Distracted

A defensive driver is not a distracted driver. Anything that takes your mind off of the task of driving is a distraction.

Overview

Overall, these are the basics of defensive driving. Remember, you are in control of your own outcomes. Take matters into your own hands and don’t rely on other drivers to always do the right thing. In addition to being much safer, employing these practices will also help your auto insurance policy by helping reduce the number of claims on your file.

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4 Ways to Get Financially Fit in Your 40’s

Many people in their 40s are facing an uncomfortable fact: They simply aren’t where they’d hoped to be financially. Fortunately, all their life experience can help correct for past mistakes.

“There’s a different trigger moment for everybody,” says Jay Howard, financial advisor and partner at MHD Financial in San Antonio, Texas. “But regardless of when it comes, people find themselves looking down the barrel of a gun as they consider retirement.”

One challenge is that it’s impossible to advise 40-somethings based on tidy “life stage” demographics. Some are just starting families, while others are sending offspring to college. They’re married, single, divorced, and just about everything in between.

But for those still grappling with financial instability, these four principles can help in moving forward with confidence:

1. Acknowledge what you’ve done right.
It could be one great decision sandwiched in between some fails, or just a single good habit that can mitigate the impact of a host of wrongs.

Take the example of Kiera Starboard, a 46-year-old controller at a San Diego software firm. A mom to two adult sons and a teenage stepson, she always made having sufficient life insurance—both term and permanent—a priority, the result of her previous training as a financial advisor. “Even if it was tight, I made the payments,” she says. “It was a priority for my family’s sake, and for my own peace of mind.”

Unlike the 40% of Americans who have no life insurance, Starboard was protected when the unthinkable happened last August. Less than two years into her marriage, her husband, Steve, was killed while riding his motorcycle to work—one month after they purchased a small, additional life insurance policy to supplement his employer coverage.

“To have had to deal with financial stress on top of everything else, it would have been unbearable, incapacitating,” says Starboard. “My stepson and I are certainly in a much better position today than we would have been, had Steve and I not followed the advice I used to give to others.”

2. Take action to shore up the decades ahead.
For many, the hardest part can be learning to put your own long-term future first—sometimes for the first time in your life.

“I see people focusing on their kids’ college savings, and not enough on retirement or an emergency fund for themselves,” says Starboard. Many advisors point out that kids can borrow for college if necessary, but no one can borrow for retirement.

The most important step is clear, says Howard: “You must have a written financial plan, period. Because that plan will dictate what you must do to be successful for the entirely of your life.

“The financial plan is your road map,” he continues. “In it will be your portfolio requirements, your savings goals, and your insurance-related needs.”

Finally, make sure your plan takes inflation into account, commonly estimated at 3% a year. Says Howard, “Inflation is the silent assassin that eats away at your nest egg.”

3. Apply the hard-fought wisdom you’ve gained.
“Treat the numbers determined by your plan—such as monthly savings—as bills that need to be paid,” advises Howard. When money comes in, it’s easy to start thinking of a new kitchen or a trip to Tulum. “Just be patient and keep the bills paid.”

Using that wisdom also applies to the big stuff. As the executor to her husband’s estate, Starboard has held back making any major decisions. “In a prior loss, I committed to real estate transactions and other things prematurely. At the time, it really felt like the right thing to do but my grief clouded my perception. I had a painful, expensive learning lesson.”

4. Focus on your shining future—really.
Forward thinking is an essential part of your financial plan, says Howard. “Get help really envisioning what kind of retirement you want. For each aspect, really drill down. For instance, where do you want to live? Do you want to be near your grandkids? Will you have the money to go see them? How often? It’s not just financial planning, it’s life planning.”

If all that forward thinking feels presumptuous, Howard recalls the eminently quotable Yogi Berra, who once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

And finally, remember the simple refrain: it’s never too late.