One trick to traveling cheaply: flexibility Shield Insurance Agency Blog

One trick to traveling cheaply: flexibility

By SAM KEMMIS of Nerd Wallet July 14, 2021

So you want to travel on a budget. Who doesn’t? Yet it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the cheap travel tips, hacks and strategies out there that promise unbelievable deals on airfare and hotels.

In reality, there’s only one important tactic for traveling cheaply: being flexible with your travel dates, destination and plans. It might sound simple — or even simplistic — but you would be surprised how few travelers are willing to take this piece of advice to heart.

To be fair, this flexibility-first mindset requires a paradigm shift for many in terms of how they start planning vacations. It requires moving from this type of planning:

“I want to go to Amsterdam from Sept. 5th through 13th.”

To this:

“I want to go somewhere fun in September.”

For some, this degree of flexibility is simply impossible. Yet for those who can loosen their preconceptions about how to plan travel, it can lead to big savings — and maybe even more fun — whether you’re paying with cash or using points.

WHY RIGIDITY IS SO EXPENSIVE

The cost of travel depends on the interplay between many factors, including:

— Demand.

— Supply.

— Randomness.

— Number of options.

When you make specific plans from the get-go, you essentially constrain the last variable — you give yourself fewer options. This means that the cost of your trip will depend entirely on the first three variables, which are completely outside of your control.

This economic interplay will sometimes fall in your favor, and you’ll score a good deal on the exact destination and dates you wanted. But more often than not, you’ll end up paying more than average simply by starting with a severely limited set of options.

HOW TO PLAN TRAVELS WITH FLEXIBILITY

You can still set some boundaries around your search. Example parameters might include:

— I want to travel in the fall.

— I want to sit on the beach.

— I don’t want to spend more than $X.

From here, you can begin weighing different destinations and dates to see which could maximize your preferences. For example, you might start with flights to Hawaii, but notice that airfare is through the roof. So you switch to the Caribbean, narrow your interest to a few destinations with cheap flights, then start researching hotel prices.

Finally, you can find the dates and destinations that offer the best combination of price and features, then book your travel.

Think about how many times you (or someone you know) have gone about it the other way — by starting with dates and a destination, then accepting whatever costs come up.

THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB

As this flexible travel approach gains in popularity, travel booking sites and services have begun offering helpful tools specifically designed for the task.

AIRFARE DEAL ALERTS

Click her for the rest of the story

Read More
Don't Wait to Renew Your Passport Shield Insurance Blog

Don’t Wait to Renew Your Passport

Americans planning international travel face processing delays

by Larry Bleiberg, AARP, Updated July 19, 2021 

En español | If you’re planning an international trip, check your passport’s expiration date now. It could take more than four months to get a new one.

The U.S. State Department projects a wait of up to 18 weeks for renewals, and some customers are reporting even longer delays. Those paying an extra $60 for expedited service can still expect to wait up to 12 weeks for their document. Those processing times begin the day the department receives your application, not the day you mail it.

And appointments for last-minute, in-person processing are extremely limited.

The problem is — what else? — COVID-19.

In March 2020, when pandemic restrictions were first imposed, the State Department sent most employees home, and severely scaled back processing applications. When workers began to return to the office, in June 2020, they faced a backlog of applications. Now, a year later, they still haven’t caught up with the demand, a State Department spokesman said. There are also mail delivery delays, according to the State Department website, which notes that the 18-month processing-time estimate includes up to six weeks for mailing.

As more people get vaccinated and begin to plan international trips, the backlog is likely to grow, resulting in even longer processing delays. “Put your forms in as fast as you can,” says Jeremy Scott Foster of TravelFreak.com, a travel advice website. “Unfortunately, there is no workaround. All queues are long.”

The passport delay has caused some travelers to cancel trips. For example, Samantha Meabon, a physician assistant from western Pennsylvania, needed a new passport because of a name change. The process took four months, forcing her to cancel a planned trip to St. Lucia and Martinique in the Caribbean in May. “Although we planned much further ahead of time than we normally would, we ended up having to continue to postpone international travel,” she says.

Another reason to renew early: Some countries won’t admit travelers with passports that expire in less than six months.

How to apply for or renew a passport

Travelers can renew their passport online at travel.state.gov, but first-time applicants and those replacing a lost or stolen passport must apply in person at an acceptance facility. The standard cost in all cases is $110, plus a $35 application fee.

The State Department does offer limited in-person immediate processing at its 26 regional passport agencies for life-or-death situations or for travel within three business days (both require documentation). But travelers must have an appointment for this service, and because staffing has been scaled back in some areas due to COVID-19, they can be difficult to obtain. Travelers are apt to find that the closest agency with an open appointment is hundreds of miles away.

In the past, travelers could pay private passport courier agencies to handle these rush requests. But since the pandemic hit, many businesses have stopped offering the service because the State Department has sharply reduced the number of last-minute appointments available, says David Alwadish, CEO of New York-based ItsEasy Passport & Visa.

Alwadish’s company is one of many that provide such services; other popular options include RushMyPassport.com and PassportVisasExpress.com. The State Department notes that because these businesses are not government agencies, using them adds to the fees charged by the government. In addition, applicants won’t receive their documents any more quickly than if they applied in person at a passport agency office.

Click here o the rest of the story…

Read More
CR's Guide to Getting Better Internet Without Busting Your Budget | Shield Insurance Agency Blog

CR’s Guide to Getting Better Internet Without Busting Your Budget

How to solve WiFi problems and trim your monthly bill. Plus, what CR is doing to get everyone faster, cheaper broadband.

By Consumer ReportsJuly 13, 2021

Over the past 18 months, our home internet connections have helped us reach family, friends, and colleagues. They’ve been both practical tools and a needed source of entertainment during a difficult time.

That may be why 76 percent of Americans agree that internet service is as important as electricity or water, according to a February nationally representative Consumer Reports survey of 2,514 U.S. adults (PDF).

But using the internet at home can be frustrating, too, as many people confront dropped video-calls and sputtering movies—along with confusing bills and poor customer service. The good news is that some broadband problems are easy to fix. The following information can help you do that and maybe even help you save a bit of money.

To learn more about the issues that affect internet customers, Consumer Reports is launching a project called Broadband Together along with several other nonprofit organizations to collect and analyze tens of thousands of internet bills. You can read more about the project, and then consider joining the effort by taking an internet speed test, sharing a bill, and providing us with some basic information. 

The information we gather will help us learn how much people are paying in neighborhoods across the country, whether they’re getting what they were promised, and whether prices are fair.

If the internet is glitchy in your home, the first step toward a solution is to pinpoint the problem. And it helps to understand how online material—be it a Netflix show, Zoom call, or social media post—gets to you.

As you can see in the illustration below, movies, email, and other data are funneled by internet service providers (ISPs) through a series of cables and wires to homes with wired service. 

If something’s not working, the problem could lie outside your home and may require a call to the company to fix. Or the trouble could be with your home WiFi network, which distributes information wirelessly to your computers, TVs, and other devices.

Which is it? To figure that out, an easy first step is to test your internet speed.

How to Test Your Speed For Better Internet

It’s useful to know how fast data moves into and out of your home. To find out, you can check your speed at Measurement Lab or Speedtest. With a click or two, you’ll learn your download speed (how fast data such as a movie streams into your home), and your upload speed (how fast data like your end of a Zoom call streams out). The numbers, measured in megabits per second (Mbps), will vary a bit each time. If possible, first run a test with a computer that’s physically plugged into your router using an Ethernet cord. The results may vary a bit each time you run the test. But if the speeds are consistently much slower than the maximum speeds promoted by the ISP for your plan, call the company. Then do the same test wirelessly (over WiFi) throughout the house. If it’s only the WiFi speeds that are slow, focus on your router to find a solution. 

Is Your Service Level Fast Enough?
ISPs generally offer several plans, each promising a different range of speeds—the faster the connection, the more you pay. So which plan is right for you?

It depends on how many people you have at home and what they do online. You need only around 1 Mbps to listen to a Spotify song and 4 Mbps for a Zoom call—but 25 Mbps to watch a 4K movie on Netflix.

The numbers are cumulative. If two TVs are streaming 4K movies at the same time, that’s 50 Mbps.

Every ISP has its own tiers, but you can use the speed ranges below to see where you fit in. Many people may pay for more speed than they really need.

Up to 100 Mbps
This is plenty for two or three people with routine needs. That includes Zoom calls, high-definition movie viewing, and some online game play.

100 to 300 Mbps
These speeds should accommodate even a data-hogging family that plays several 4K movies and taxing online games all at the same time.

300-Plus Mbps
Few households need more than 300 Mbps. If you have internet problems, the solution is probably not to slap down the plastic for your ISP’s priciest superfast service.

Make Your WiFi Better

Let’s say you’ve signed up for the right internet service tier, and your speed testing confirms that your ISP truly is delivering the speeds it has promised. If your internet service is still acting finicky, the problem very likely lies with your WiFi network. You can probably fix things by fiddling with the equipment in your home. Below, CR has four expert tips to help, starting with the simplest and cheapest. And we have more detailed WiFi advice, as well. 

1. Try Moving Your Router
Tempting though it may be to banish your router from public view, exiling it to a cabinet or the outskirts of your home can hinder performance. That forces the WiFi signal to pass through more walls and other barriers, and to cover longer distances, to reach every corner of the house.

Place the router out in the open, away from corners, and high in the room. (The signal tends to be stronger below the router than above it.) Also, locate the router as close as possible to the middle of your home. You may be able to move it yourself, or you might need some help from your ISP or a handy friend.

2. Use an Ethernet Cord
If you’ve ever had a movie night derailed by sputtering WiFi, you know the feeling (major letdown). Need a more stable signal? A $10 or $20 Ethernet cable can save the day, linking a TV, streaming video box, or video game console directly to your router.

3. Use an Inexpensive WiFi Extender
Need to push a WiFi signal a little deeper into your home? A $30 palm-sized WiFi range extender could be the answer. Plug it into an outlet midway between your router and, say, the comfy reading chair in your bedroom, and it stretches the signal. There’s a catch, however: That extended signal can be only half as fast as the rest of your WiFi network, making this a great fix for emails, but maybe not movies.

4. If Needed, Invest in a Mesh Router
If you’re looking to improve WiFi coverage throughout your home, a mesh router system may be the way to go. Unlike a traditional router, which toils away on its own, a mesh router uses multiple units—a hub and one or two satellites—that work together to spread the WiFi network from one end of your abode to the other. If there’s a dead zone in the den, you can move the satellites around to eliminate it. You can also add satellites to broaden the network’s reach. Mesh routers used to cost up to $500, but prices have fallen in the past 15 months. You can now find highly rated mesh routers for less than $200.

Avoid Overpaying

Click here for the rest of the story…

Read More
How to transform your backyard | Shield Insurance Agency Blog

How to Transform Your Backyard Into a Restaurant-Worthy Oasis with Outdoor Lighting

How to Transform Your Backyard Into a Restaurant-Worthy Oasis with Outdoor Lighting

We asked the pros how to install magical, twinkling outdoor lights — on a budget.

This year’s hottest venue? Your own backyard. Maybe you’ve got the plants and furniture down, but you want to take the space truly over the top, so it looks just as incredible as your favorite restaurant’s outdoor dining setup. Short of splurging on a fancy firepit area building outdoor awnings, there’s a functional, budget-friendly move you can make that’ll totally set the mood. And that’s installing outdoor lighting like a pro.

Many restaurants hire lighting companies to put up their twinkly string lights, but that can set you back thousands. With the right tips and tricks, you can totally DIY. That’s why we turned to event and experience production company Cloth and Flame. Their team is so adept at installing lighting, they can rig it up in the even the most remote places (think: the top of the Grand Canyon or the middle of a dessert). Here is their creative, resourceful advice.

Choose the Right Type of String Lights

Google “string lights” or “café lights” and hundreds of different varieties will pop up. Nathan Lesueur, the lead designer at Cloth and Flame gives us guidance.

Avoid interior lights. Stay away from Christmas lights or anything that’s labeled as an interior light, because these won’t be weather-proof.

Read buyer reviews. Amazon and Costco are great sources for inexpensive string lights, but terms on sellers’ pages like “industrial” or “commercial” don’t mean much. “My only reliable source, no matter what I’m buying is doing the research and reading verified reviews of what other people have experienced that item,” Lesueur says.

Make sure the bulbs are generic and replaceable. Bulbs might break when you install the lights, and they’ll burn out over time. You want to make sure that you can buy generic replacements that screw in. Proprietary bulbs will be more expensive and harder to source down the line.

Buy long strands instead of connecting strands end to end. 25-feet-long lights are the most common, but for safety reasons there’s usually a limit to the number you can plug together. To achieve lots of light yardage, look for 50-foot or even 100-foot light strands.

Use warm light, not cool light. “Warm bulbs are more natural and better on skin tones that bright white daytime lights or LED bulbs. Warm light is like the glow of the sun as opposed to a bright refrigerator light,” explains Lesueur. Plus, warm light photographs better than cool light. “It’s fun to create a sanctuary at home that’s also photographable so people want to share it,” says Lesueur.

Install Your String Lights with Upcycled Materials

There’s no need to buy a crazy expensive lighting kit. Instead, there are some simple, inexpensive ways to repurpose items around your home as lighting poles. “The best things you can use are practical, everyday things and are also reusable for other functions,” Lesueur says.

Some smart ideas? Home Depot sells flagpole yard inserts, which lots of people use. You can also buy inexpensive electric polls that are usually used as conduits. Home Depot will cut these lightweight polls to whatever height you’d like — they’re easy to mount to a wall, stick in the ground in your yard or even secure upright in an umbrella stand. If you prefer a wooden look, head to Ikea, and snag some wooden poles.

If you don’t want to hang your lights between poles, use natural suspension points like the side of your house or the support beams underneath a deck ceiling.

One thing to keep in mind? You should hang your lights so they fall in arches. “I’ve noticed with a lot of installations of this type of light, people trying to pull the lights too tight and that causes tension issues on the poles,” Lesueur explains. Plus, allowing the lights to drape down adds dimension from multiple angles — above you and to the side of you.

Make Your Setup Pop with Other Lighting Too

Click here for the rest of the story… and some great photos too!

Read More
7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive Shield Insurance Agency

7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive

7 Tips For Finding Flight Deals Now That Everything Is So Expensive

It feels impossible to book cheap flights at the moment, but experts say there are still deals to be found.

If you’ve tried to book a flight lately, you might have noticed a couple of things: The prices are looking high, and the options are looking limited.

This isn’t particularly surprising. On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration says, it screened 2,167,380 passengers at airport security checkpoints, the highest volume since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, airlines have not yet resumed offering as many flights as they did pre-pandemic, after making schedule reductions over the past 15 months. The result is higher demand and lower supply ― ergo, expensive tickets.

“As of June 2021, it seems flights have rebounded back to their pre-pandemic pricing,” said Rocky Trifari, travel blogger at The Rocky Safari. “In some cases, I’m noticing flight costs are even higher than they were during the summer of 2019. I believe prices are especially expensive at the moment because of all the last-minute travelers who are looking to take advantage of the summer to travel now that many domestic and even international destinations have reopened.”

Although air travel is generally pricier now compared to a year ago, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a deal. Below, Trifari and other experts share their advice for securing cheap flights.

Prioritize cost over date and destination.

“To book cheap flights, you must make cheap flights a priority,” said Darci Valiente, a senior member operations specialist at Scott’s Cheap Flights.

“All too often when people think about booking a vacation, they first sit down and think about where and when they want to go,” she explained. “Imagine you and some friends are planning to take a trip together and it is decided, ‘Let’s go to Greece for the last two weeks of August.’ As a result, when you go to book your flight, you’ll likely end up paying $1,200 round-trip for one ticket to Athens for your dates.”

It’s common to prioritize destination and dates over cost, particularly for families limited by school holiday schedules. But if you’re able to take another approach, Valiente advises beginning your search by asking, for example, “Where are there cheap flights to out of our airport?” and “Are there any destinations that are cheap in August?”

“In [this] scenario, you might find that there are $480 roundtrip fares to Rome available for the first two weeks of August,” she said. “You and your friends book these tickets instead, have a great time in Italy, and save $720 per person on airfare.”

Use flight search engines.

“If you’re looking to find affordable flights, you should always use a source that aggregates flights from numerous airlines so you can compare the rates,” Trifari said.

This can be useful for search purposes even if you intend to book through the official carrier ― though you may change your mind.

“You may find certain websites can shave a bit off from the bottom price, scoring you an even better deal than had you booked directly through an airline’s own website,” Trifari said.

He advised checking out websites like SkyscannerExpediaGoogle Flights and CheapOair to score good deals. Brian Kelly, CEO and founder of The Points Guy, told HuffPost he recommends OrbitzTravelocityHotwire and CheapTickets as well.

In addition to comparison-based search engines, there are other tools aimed at helping travelers find affordable options.

If you’re willing to give up “some of the comforts of travel such as taking direct flights, you can use booking tools like Skiplagged to discover connecting flights that have layovers to secure a better deal,” Trifari suggested. “The trade-off is that it will take you longer to arrive at your destination, since you may have to stop at one or two other airports along the way.”

Set up alerts.

Click here for the rest of the story…

Read More
Japan bans fans at Tokyo-area Olympics venues due to virus Shield Insurance Blog

Japan bans fans at Tokyo-area Olympics venues due to virus

Japan bans fans at Tokyo-area Olympics venues due to virus

TOKYO (AP) — Fans will be banned from Tokyo-area stadiums and arenas when the Olympics venues begin to open in two weeks, the city’s governor said Thursday after meeting with organizers of the pandemic-postponed games.

That means the Olympics will be a largely TV-only event, after the Japanese government put the capital under a COVID-19 state of emergency because of rising new infections and the highly contagious delta variant.

The declaration was made by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, and the spectator ban was agreed to by Japanese Olympic organizers, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee, and the metropolitan government of Tokyo.

It was a serious blow for Japanese taxpayers and local organizers of the games, which already had been postponed from 2020 by the coronavirus. Hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket revenue will be lost, and that must be made up by the government. Fans also have endured months of uncertainty about whether the Olympics will go ahead.

“Many people were looking forward to watching the games at the venues, but I would like everyone to fully enjoy watching the games on TV at home,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said after the meeting. “It’s gut-wrenching because many people looked forward to watching at the venues.”

Fans from abroad were banned months ago, and the new measures will mean no spectators in stadiums and arenas around Tokyo — both indoor and outdoor venues.

The ban covers Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures — Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba. A smattering of events in outlying areas, like baseball in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, will allow a limited number of fans.

The state of emergency begins July 12 and runs through Aug. 22. The Olympics, which open July 23 and run through Aug. 8, fall entirely under the emergency period, while the Paralympics open Aug. 24.

“Taking into consideration the impact of the delta strain, and in order to prevent the resurgence of infections from spreading across the country, we need to step up virus prevention measures,” Suga said.

In principle, the July 23 opening ceremony at the new $1.4 billion National Stadium will be without paying fans, although some dignitaries, sponsors, IOC officials and others will be allowed to attend.

“We will have to review the situation about the dignitaries and stakeholders,” organizing committee President Seiko Hashimoto said of the opening ceremony.

“No fans was a very difficult decision,” she added.

Hashimoto acknowledged some regrets, particularly about the decision coming so late.

“We had no choice but to arrive at the no-spectator decision,” she said. “We postponed and postponed, one after another. I have done some soul-searching about that.”

The emergency declaration made for a rude arrival for IOC President Thomas Bach, who landed Thursday in Tokyo for the games. He attended the virtual meeting on fans from his five-star hotel for IOC officials where he was self-isolating for three days.

“What can I say? Finally we are here,” Bach said, sounding upbeat as he opened the late night meeting that ended close to midnight. “I have been longing for this day for more than one year.”

Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the organizing committee, said many sponsors, federation officials and others would be considered to be “organizers” and thus would be allowed to attend venues. He said some might occupy public seating, but he said he did not know “the numerical details.”

Organizers had expected to generate about $800 million in ticket sales. Any shortfall — and it could be almost the entire amount — will have to be made up by Japanese government entities.

Japan is officially spending $15.4 billion on the Olympics, and several government audits say it’s much larger. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

Two weeks ago, organizers and the IOC allowed venues to be filled to 50% of capacity, with crowds not to exceed 10,000. The state of emergency forced the late turnaround, which was always an option if infections got worse.

On Thursday, Tokyo reported 896 new cases, up from 673 a week earlier. It’s the 19th straight day that cases have topped the mark set seven days prior. New cases on Wednesday hit 920, the highest total since 1,010 were reported on May 13.

The main focus of the emergency is a request for bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to close. A ban on serving alcohol is a key step to tone down Olympics-related festivities and keep people from drinking and partying. Tokyo residents are expected to face requests to stay home and watch the games on TV.MORE ON TOKYO OLYMPICS:

“How to stop people enjoying the Olympics from going out for drinks is a main issue,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said.

The rise in infections also has forced the Tokyo city government to pull the Olympic torch relay off the streets, allowing it only on remote islands off the capital’s coast.

“The infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it,” said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser.

He urged authorities to take tough measures quickly ahead of the Olympics, with summer vacations approaching.

Omi has repeatedly called for a spectator ban, calling it “abnormal” to stage an Olympics during a pandemic.

A government COVID-19 advisory panel on Wednesday expressed concerns about the resurgence of infections.

“Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas,” said Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The Olympics are pushing ahead against most medical advice, partially because the postponement stalled the IOC’s income flow. It gets almost 75% from selling broadcast rights, and estimates suggest it would lose $3 billion to $4 billion if the Olympics were canceled altogether.

About 11,000 Olympians and 4,400 Paralympians are expected to enter Japan, along with tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, sponsors, broadcasters and media. The IOC says more than 80% of Olympic Village residents will be vaccinated.

Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared with 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain.



More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Read More
Safeco Off-road ATVs: Coverage for your off-road ATV Shield Insurance Agency Blog

Off-road ATVs: Coverage for your off-road ATV

Safeco® Off-road ATVs: Coverage for your off-road ATV

Do you have an off road vehicle? Safeco will insure all-terrain vehicles with four or six wheels, a wide variety of utility-terrain vehicles (UTV), side-by-sides, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, golf carts, and other select off-road vehicles. Talk with a Safeco agent to get details about all the vehicles types we cover. Connect with your Safeco independent agent today to get the details and determine the best coverage options for your off-road vehicle: http://spr.ly/6053yTUUv Disclaimer: Subject to policy terms, conditions, and limitations. Discounts and savings available where state laws and regulations allow and may vary by state. State insurance requirements apply. Insurance offered by Safeco Insurance Company of America and affiliates, Boston, MA.

Read More
Get the Most Out of a Tank of Gas Shield Insurance Blog

10 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Tank of Gas

10 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Tank of Gas

Rising gas prices and summer travel highlight the need to squeeze every mile out of a gallon of gasBy Jeff S. Bartlett

Published May 13, 2021 | Updated June 2, 2021

Summer travel season is underway, and gas prices are on the rise. Pump prices over Memorial Day weekend were the highest since 2014, and the current national average is $1.05 above this time last year, according to AAA. Now is as good a time as ever to fine-tune your driving strategies and techniques to maximize your fuel economy and ease the squeeze on your wallet.

Consumer Reports experts pulled together the following series of test-proven tips to help drivers save money.

Fuel-Economy Tips

1. Stay at half: 

Keep at least a half-tank of fuel at all times while there is a risk of shortages. If gas becomes scarce in your area, having gas in the vehicle will give you options. 

2. Check online: 

Apps and websites such as GasBuddy can show local gas prices, making it easy to find good prices in your area or if you need to travel. Generally, gas stations well off major highways and away from city centers tend to have better prices, as do warehouse stores and some major travel centers. 

3. Minimize travel: 

If you can delay errands or other activities, you will preserve the gas that you purchased and reduce overall consumption for the region, helping in some small way to reduce the gas scarcity. 

4. Obey speed limits: 

When you drive, follow the speed limits and drive smoothly. Your driving habits can play a significant role in fuel economy.

A recent CR test shows this: We measured gas mileage while driving at a steady 55, 65, and 75 mph in a Nissan Altima and Toyota RAV4. We found that reducing speed from 65 mph to 55 mph improved fuel economy by 6 mpg in the Altima and 8 mpg in the RAV4. The penalty of cruising at 75 mph, rather than 65 mph, was almost 7 mpg in the Altima and 6 mpg in the RAV4. Higher speeds exact a toll in fuel consumption. Another way to look at it: Speeding up from 55 to 75 mph is like moving from a compact car to a large SUV. Beyond fuel concerns, speeding is, of course, a safety risk.MORE ON FUEL ECONOMYHow Your Car Can Make the Air CleanerMost Fuel-Efficient CarsMost Fuel-Efficient SUVs

5. Drive evenly: 

Avoid hard acceleration and braking whenever possible. In our tests, frequent bursts of acceleration and braking reduced an older Toyota Camry’s mileage by 2 to 3 mpg. Once up to speed, maintain a steady pace. The harder you accelerate, the more fuel you use. Unnecessary braking wastes the fuel you used to get up to speed. Drive smoothly and anticipate the movement of traffic. Smooth acceleration, cornering, and braking also extend the life of the engine, transmission, brakes, and tires.

6. Pay attention to aerodynamics:

Click here for the rest of the story…

Read More
Pandemic’s Bolstered Claims Technology Shield Insurance Blog

Pandemic’s Bolstered Claims Technology

Workers Expect Savvy Claims Technology: Here’s How the Pandemic’s Bolstered Claims Technology During Uncertain Times

The COVID-19 pandemic sped up the adoption of claims technology, but many tools were already in place and poised for growth.

Even apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a significant year. According to the NOAA, 22 separate weather events including severe storms, wildfires, and cyclones totaled $95 billion in damages.

While many types of insurance bear the brunt of these disasters, workers’ compensation carriers, tasked with critical care needs that affect workers and their families, need special strategies to deliver care when catastrophe strikes.

For many organizations, these strategies utilize technology, built-in redundancies and, stepped-up conveniences like a direct deposit to ensure continuity of care, no matter the weather.

“We have to be ready for it all — hurricanes, floods, fires,” said Mark Bilger, CIO of One Call.

“In general, disaster recovery and business continuity are a staple of well-run IT management for any organization. Specifically, in claims and insurance, it’s heightened because of the critical care for injured workers.”

Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, workers’ comp claims teams were challenged with the immediate expansion of remote work, resulting in necessary changes that are likely to endure even after the pandemic concludes.

“Before work from home, One Call had a few concentrated contact centers,” Bilger said.

“After work from home, we look a lot more like the internet. We’re dispersed and we had to make major upgrades to our virtual private network, essentially 10-fold. We went from 1 gigabit to 10-gigabit capacity. We strengthened our endpoint protections and it went from firewalls in our locations to everybody’s home becoming the One Call network.”

This growth in gigabit capacity is not isolated to the workers’ comp industry; reports indicate that pandemic-related growth has resulted in an estimated global wireless gigabit market size of $19 million in 2021 and is projected to reach $70 million by 2026.

In tandem with the global wireless market, gigabit size is the growth of cloud computing. Gartner forecasted 18.4% growth in a 2020 report to a total of $304.9 billion, noting that “the proportion of IT spending that is shifting to the cloud will accelerate in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, with cloud projected to make up 14.2% of the total global enterprise IT spending market in 2024, up from 9.1% in 2020.”

Workers Expect Claims Tech

Expectations have been set by regulation and digitization in the 21st Century that even in the wake of a natural disaster, services will continue.

“One of the technology solutions that we have had for a few years but that we pushed during COVID and any other type of catastrophic event is our claimant app, MyCare,” said Michael Jamason, SVP, business operations at CorVel.

“It gives the injured worker the ability to manage their pharmacy information, phone numbers for points of contact regarding their claim, information about payments being made to their accounts, and they can even establish their direct deposit in the app.”

Pharmacy information is especially important during disaster when medications are destroyed due to property damage or lost in an evacuation.

“We were able to utilize our partnership with our PBM to allow people to get early refills, and with mail order, we were able to even change the amounts of medication given,” said Melissa Burke, head of managed care and clinical, AmTrust.

“We expanded into other needs like telemedicine, ensuring that we have different types of providers available. We were able to expand that and ensure access in all of our states where allowed by regulatory governance, including digital doctor networks. Something important there too is transitioning injured employees. Typically a telehealth solution would be either on the frontend or the backend of a claim. We wanted to make sure that we could go back and forth depending on the state of the catastrophe,” Burke added.

Indeed, telemedicine expansion is at the forefront of many workers’ comp claims organizations’ radar. According to Mitchell’s “The Future of Technology in Work Comp 2020” industry survey, “many respondents believe that telemedicine will have the biggest impact on the industry within the next five years (32%), followed closely by artificial intelligence (30%) and predictive analytics (20%).”

The survey was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, which likely would have boosted telemedicine’s impact on the results due to significant expansions.

For many industry leaders though, the specific technological solution is not as significant as the strategy behind the solutions. “We have to ensure continuity of care and benefits,” said Michele Tucker, CorVel’s VP of EC operations.

“Any interruption — whether it’s a natural disaster or anything else — impacts many lives and families. We’ve been doing some regular testing with payments and system recovery so redundancy is set up, and if we have an office impacted, our system allows for immediate replication and the pickup of services by another office.”

Growth Brings Security Risks

Click here for the rest of the story

Read More

Stop by the Farmers Market in Hudsonville!

TODAY June 2, 2021 9am to 1pm

at the Terra Square

Stop by to meet Joe, Sean and his wife Kat, and register to win a robot vacuum or local gift cards!!

All the details can be found at the Chamber website be sure to check it out and visit the market!


TERRA SQUARE FARMERS MARKET Shield Insurance Agency

The home of Hudsonville’s Farmers Market.
Hudsonville farmers are passionate about bringing the community together over farm fresh produce they have been growing for generations. The Terra Square Farmer’s Market will be a place where we inspire healthy, full, and abundant living. Growing together, food and community.

Click here to visit the web site for all the detais !

Read More