Is insurance a commodity? Agents make the difference

Many media campaigns position insurance as a commodity, suggesting that price is the only main difference there is to offer. Perhaps the actual dictionary definition of the word can help dispel that myth:

   noun com·mod·i·ty \kə-ˈmä-də-tē\
1. a good or service whose wide availability typically diminishes the importance of factors other than price

Companies that only focus on the cost of insurance give little to no consideration for the dramatic differences among policies and the many factors to consider besides price. Unfortunately, many consumers end up paying more in the long run once a claim is made and the reality of their woefully inadequate coverage from a cut-rate carrier comes to light.

With help from a trusted independent agent when making a buying decision, these same customers would have discovered that coverages like SECURA’s MILE-STONE Gold are, in fact, priced fairly when comparing apples to apples, and that they could have had proper protection, not to mention the service that goes with it.

Independent agents have the advantage of knowing the companies they represent. They know the substantial coverage and service differences that various policies offer.

More importantly, they know you, their customer. With each policy comes a personal advisor and, in many cases, a personal friend. It’s not unusual to see your local independent insurance agent while shopping at the grocery store or cheering for your high school football team.

Individual attention is something the big-name direct sellers can’t offer. That in itself shows a marked difference among companies and policies, and demonstrates once again that home and auto insurance is far from a commodity.

Contact your independent insurance agent today. They have your best interest at heart and can customize your insurance to properly protect and save you money in the long run.

Your must-have road trip packing list

A road trip is a wonderful adventure and a way to create great family memories, but even minor mishaps can replace months of anticipation with disappointment and frustration. Through careful planning and packing, you can recover from most road trip challenges and salvage a vacation.

For the car
  • Pack your standard emergency kit to include a flashlight, road flares, canned tire sealant, and jumper cables.
  • Add basic tools, fuses, duct tape, WD-40, automobile fluids, disposable funnels, gloves, and rags for quick fixes. The DMV recommends reflective vests for roadside repairs.
  • Make sure the jack and lug wrench are where they belong.
  • Bring necessary documents including proof of insurance, registration, auto club card, or roadside assistance information like SECURA’s Roadside RescuerSM.
  • Hide spare keys somewhere on the car inside a strong magnetic key keeper.
  • Take adapters and chargers for all your digital devices.

For health and comfort
  • Pack a first aid kit.
  • Add sunscreen, anti-itch cream, hand sanitizer, wipes, tissues, and paper towels.
  • Bring over-the-counter medicines for pain relief, allergic reactions, and car sickness.
  • Remember prescription medications, refill information, and insurance cards.
  • Bring spare contact lenses, sunglasses, and prescription glasses.
  • Remember rain gear, jackets for unseasonably cool conditions, and a weather radio.
  • Bring a sewing kit.
  • Keep water and non-perishable food handy.

For financial and logistical security
  • Place cash, checks, and credit cards in several places in case of theft.
  • Bring tickets and reservation confirmations for hotels, restaurants, and attractions.
  • Pack paper maps in case there’s no GPS signal for navigation devices.
  • Have phone numbers for trusted neighbors back home.
  • You might also download handy travel apps for navigation, gas prices, food and lodging, attractions, scrapbooking, and audio books. 
Lastly, to make sure you don't come home to any surprises, keep your vacation itinerary and location off social media. Thieves look for that information and could target your home while you’re away.

3 keys to parking lot safety

Despite our familiarity with parking lots, they hide numerous dangers. Whether backing out of a stall or walking to your vehicle at night, here are some simple safety strategies to protect you and your vehicle:

1. Pedestrian safety
According to the National Safety Council Journal of Safety Research, 2,057 work-related deaths occurred in company parking lots between 1993 and 2003. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that 52 percent of all back-over injuries and 17 percent of all fatal back-overs happen in parking lots.
•    Don’t assume drivers can see you.
•    Use crosswalks and sidewalks when possible.
•    Be alert for danger signs: engines starting, back-up lights.
•    Avoid cutting between vehicles where pedestrians are especially hard to see.
•    Hang onto young children.

2. Driving safety
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety records show that 14 percent of all collisions that cause vehicle damage happen in parking lots.
•    Drive slowly.
•    Don’t cut across aisles.
•    Watch out for drivers who are speeding or rushing to pull into a parking space.
•    Stay away from cars parked at odd angles.
•    Avoid parking at the end of an aisle, unless it’s protected by an island.
•    Park so you can pull forward to exit.
•    During the daytime, park farther away from the building to avoid traffic.

3. Personal safety
The Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that annually 2 percent of all violent crimes and 2.3 percent of all property crimes occur in commercial parking lots.
•    At night, park close to the building in well-lit, visible areas.
•    Avoid rear or side entrances after dark.
•    Walk confidently, look around, and keep hands out of your pockets.
•    Don’t use headphones or earbuds when walking at night.
•    Walk to your car with coworkers when possible.
•    Have keys ready so you can quickly enter your car and lock it again.
•    If you have any valuables in your car, hide them out of sight.

Indoor seed starting hacks and tips

There’s a resurgence among homeowners to get back to the land, even if it’s only in the form of a few potted plants on the back patio or a raised vegetable bed. You can get a head start by planting seeds indoors so they’re ready to transplant outside when the danger of frost is past.

While seed packets share important information about planting depth and germination time, there are supplies that can make your plantings more successful, and some money-saving hacks, too.

Seed starting mix
When starting seeds indoors, use a sterile seed-starting mix. Peat pellets are also an option. Never use garden soil as it can harbor pests and diseases, and is too heavy for tender young shoots to thrive.

Grow lights
It’s not necessary to spend a lot on expensive grow lights. For most home gardeners, standard fluorescent shop lights work just as well. If you want to save on your electric bill, consider LED lighting. Remember that fluorescent tubes are considered universal waste, so they are not accepted in most curbside programs. Recycle your tubes, or check with your local hardware store — they may take unbroken lights.

Seedling containers
Instead of spending lots of money on small pots, try using old strawberry or blueberry containers. They’ve already got drainage holes and the cover creates a mini greenhouse effect.

Heating mats
Adding bottom heat to your seed trays will help them germinate more quickly and successfully. Heating mats made specifically for starting seeds are available, but expensive. Instead, head to your local thrift store and purchase an old electric blanket with a temperature control knob — just put a plastic shower curtain between the blanket and your seed trays to avoid getting the blanket wet. Set it on low and monitor soil temperatures — the ideal being between 70-75 degrees.

Plant markers
Cut-up mini blinds and a Sharpie work great — so do Popsicle sticks or plastic knives.

When watering your seedlings, put them in a larger tray with water and let the containers soak up moisture from the bottom. Directly watering from overhead can wash out tender shoots and expose roots.

Getting started
Once you have your supplies, you’re ready to get started. Some seeds prefer to be planted directly outdoors, while others like a head start inside. It’s hard to know how deep to plant some seeds, so follow the seed packet instructions. Several reference books are available on the topic as well. Good luck!

Tractor safety is no accident

If you grew up on a farm, you know how important tractors and other machinery are for getting the job done. But it's what you don’t know about your machinery that could hurt you.

A dangerous job
In the United States, agriculture is one of the deadliest jobs — more dangerous even than mining and construction. In 2012, 374 farm workers died in work-related injuries (20.2 deaths per 100,000 workers).

Every day, 167 agricultural workers suffer injuries that cause loss of work time, and 5 percent of these injuries result in permanent impairment.  According to the National Ag Safety Database, one-quarter of farm accidents involve machinery running over a victim, and one-half involve an overturned tractor or ATV. Other common farm accidents involve entanglement in machinery, PTO shafts, and augers.

Youth and agricultural accidents
Since 1969, the U.S. Department of Labor has declared that many ag-related jobs are hazardous to youth. Even now, about 75 young people under the age of 16 die in farm-related accidents each year. Federal law now requires that 14- and 15-year-olds be certified through a tractor and machinery safety course to be employed for farm work. Some states even require this certification for youth working on their own family’s farm.

Courses benefit youth and adults
Tractor and machinery safety courses are essential for youth, but can be great refreshers for adults too. Courses typically cover the types of risks and regulations related to agricultural health and safety; age-appropriate tasks; safe clothing and protective equipment; first aid; operation of tractors, skid steers, and ATVs; and connecting and using implements. While many instructional resources are available online, including student manuals and videos, a class must have a hands-on skills and driving test to offer certification.

You may typically find these courses through area 4-H clubs, a school’s FFA, technical colleges, or university extensions.