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Personal finance tips: When to skimp on insurance, and more
Three top pieces of financial advice — from the consolidation conundrum to counting expenses like calories
 
Keep track of that cash.
Keep track of that cash. (Thinkstock)

Insurance you don't need
Sometimes it makes sense to skimp on insurance, said Aaron Crowe at Daily Finance. "You could almost insure every step you take in life," but that doesn't mean you should. Getting life or health insurance is a no-brainer. But in other cases, it might make more sense to start an emergency fund instead. Buying rental car insurance from the rental agency is often redundant — and expensive — since your credit card or auto insurance may cover you anyway. And speaking of cars, if you're all paid up on an old car, skip the collision insurance. "If a car is totaled in an accident, insurers only pay the current value of the vehicle." If your old clunker isn't worth much, "you're better off putting that collision premium in a fund to help you buy a new car when you need one."

The consolidation conundrum
Debt consolidation loans can be a catch-22, said Gerri Detweiler at Credit.com. They're a helpful "lifeline" for people with bad credit, but you need good credit to get one. Lenders typically factor in how much of your available credit you use, your debt-to-income ratio, and your payment history before approval. The first step toward improving your odds is to evaluate your credit reports "to see where you stand." Once in the market, avoid products like payday loans, which carry high interest rates, and home equity loans, which may not be helpful if your equity in the home is low. Personal loans are a good bet, but "just make sure you are dealing with a reputable company." And if all else fails, consider signing on with a credit-counseling agency. "You'll only have to make one payment a month to the counseling agency, which in turn will pay all your participating creditors."

Count expenses like calories
Are you making a basic budgeting blunder? asked Hank Coleman at Daily Finance. Believe it or not, even the most diligent bookkeepers can fail to track all their expenses. And one of the trickiest things to monitor is cash, which "has a way of leaking out of your pocket. You don't remember where it went, and it's easy to toss or misplace receipts." The best way to keep your spending in line is to count expenses like you would calories. That means writing every transaction down in a notebook or on a spreadsheet. Once you've mastered the habit and gathered enough data, "analyzing several months of bank statements will show you where your money is going."

 
Sergio Hernandez is business editor of The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for The DailyProPublica, the Village Voice, and Gawker.

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