CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Barry Miller figured he was saving $100 a month when he scaled back his disability insurance. After all, he was healthy.
"It just looked like the policy was too expensive," said Miller, who was paying for his own disability insurance carried over from a previous job. "Sometimes you don't know what will happen."
What happened was this: In January, he was diagnosed with Bell's palsy, a condition that causes facial paralysis. Now, at 61, he has left his job as a sales manager for a girls' accessories company, and the Ridgewood, N.J., resident is out $3,000 a month in disability payments.
This is the summer of the new frugality. Americans everywhere are clipping coupons, searching for freebies and finding all sorts of creative ways to save money. Saving money is chic; another way to impress the neighbors. But others are making far tougher choices that threaten to cost them far more than they save.
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Reducing insurance coverage, whether it's a consumer or a small business making the cuts, does mean instant cost savings. But it's proving to be problematic for some people, leaving homes and businesses underinsured and their owners facing huge monetary losses should disaster or illness strike. It's also making families vulnerable to financial hardship because some are giving up their life insurance.
"The economy is prompting a lot of people to reassess or re-evaluate everything everywhere and they are looking to make sure they are getting the most for their money," said Mark Gibson, assistant vice president of advertising for State Farm Insurance Cos. "Our industry is no different."
That creates something of a buyers' market. Many consumers are shopping around for the best price.
After receiving a rate increase notice last year for polices on two automobiles and two homes, Justin Gregonis decided to leave his current insurance provider and go with a cheaper company. Gregonis, of Phoenix, said he was able to get the same amount of coverage without changing his deductibles for a savings of about $1,200 a year.
"I was willing to go with whomever was going to get me the best rate and have the best coverages," he said. "Insurance in itself is just basically like playing the lottery. It's just a gamble, but you have to have it."
Consumers' willingness to abandon their insurers is making some companies work with customers to try to retain them.
Companies like Allstate Corp. and Travelers Cos. are introducing new discounts and lower priced products.
Insurers don't release figures on how much their customers are reducing or ending their coverage. But according to an Insurance Resource Council survey that questioned 1,000 adult consumers by telephone in December, 28 percent with at least one vehicle shopped for lower auto insurance rates, while 9 percent said they had canceled or decided not to renew their auto coverage.
Five percent of homeowners surveyed said they had canceled or not renewed their homeowners insurance, as did 14 percent of renters.