17 Things You Should Never Skimp on for Safety Reasons


Every year, bad financial decisions kill or injure millions of people. While we can all stand back and shake our heads at cheapskate Darwin Award winners, poverty, poor planning, or straight up lack of awareness put many people in harm's way.

Are you cutting corners that shouldn't be cut?

1. Cab Fare

It's one thing to risk your life in the line of duty. It's another thing entirely to risk your life commuting. If your commute home is dangerous — say you have to walk through a sketchy part of town to your stop — take action to reduce your risk. Look at reducing spending on other budget categories in order to free up money to pay for safe transportation. If you cannot afford to hire a cab or Uber driver, find a commuter buddy who is willing to carpool even part way or escort you on public transportation to safety.

Or, ask your employer if you can adjust your hours to avoid walking home while it's dark. Being safe can mean walking to a subway stop that's further away because the route is better lit or more populated or walking around the perimeter of a park rather than through it. A short cut home doesn't save any time or money if you end up getting mugged.

2. Car Maintenance

"You know, you can bring your car for repair while it's still drivable," was the sage advice from my mechanic. Like many magical thinkers, I fully embraced the idea that, like the human body, my car would just repair itself… somehow. Then I broke down on the on ramp leading from the 10 freeway to the 405, which may be the busiest freeway interchange in the nation. Really, it shouldn't have taken a near-death experience to turn me into a responsible car owner, but there you have it. I am grateful to this day that no one was hurt.

Car maintenance is expensive, but it's generally cheaper than paying for major repairs caused by neglect.

3. Child Safety Seats

Car seats are expensive and annoying to install, so many parents think that it's okay to use an old, hand-me-down seat for their new baby, as long as they've checked that the model hasn't been recalled. However, car seats have expiration dates for a reason — plastic becomes brittle over time, especially when repeatedly exposed to the extreme heat and cold of a car's interior. The force of even a small fender bender can cause the plastic components of a car seat to shatter, with fatal results.

Looks are deceiving. Since damage to car seats is often not visible, it's also important to know a used car seat's history. If a car seat is involved in a collision, that car seat should be replaced.

4. Ear Protection

Hair cells in the inner ear are responsible for hearing and balance. Alas, just like brain cells, hair cells do not regenerate. Once you lose them, they are gone forever. Loud noises, certain drugs, and smoking all damage hair cells. Wearing $3 earplugs to concerts will help ensure that you can enjoy music for your entire life. Also, if you are a music lover, invest in properly fitting headphones or ear buds that will let you listen to music without having to crank up the volume. Or take a cue from airport maintenance workers and wear Noise Reduction Earmuffs over your ear buds so you can listen to your tunes in blessed sonic isolation.

5. First Aid Kit

The mass shooting in Tucson that took the lives of six people and injured seven others, including Representative Gabby Giffords, could have been even more lethal were it not for the prep work of Tucson SWAT team medic David Kleinman. Although it is unusual for police officers to carry first aid equipment used by combat medics in Iraq, Kleinman had designed individual first aid kits that included such low cost items as gauze strips soaked in a coagulant for Tucson police deputies to carry. Since it's possible to bleed to death in mere minutes, these bandages literally kept people alive during the six minutes it took for the paramedics to arrive on the scene.

The Tucson shooting is an extreme example, but first aid kits for the home and the workplace should be assembled with horrible emergencies in mind, and checked regularly for expired contents. Since I live in Los Angeles and have survived my share of evacuations due to earthquakes, fires, and riots, I also like to keep a first aid supplies in my car as part of my emergency kit.

6. Fruits and Vegetables

Even in this rotten economy, every year, more and more people are dying from diseases of affluence, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, due to a sedentary lifestyle and a diet that is high in fat and sugar. Luckily, there is an easy and delicious way to stave off a number of chronic illnesses: eat more fruits and vegetables. Several long-term health studies have found that people who eat more than five servings of fruit or vegetables per day, lowered their risk of stroke and coronary heart disease by 20%.

Unfortunately, access to fresh produce isn't a given for everyone, so it is important to note that frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are a nutritious and often cheaper alternative. Another great way to get more fruit and vegetables into your diet is to grow or glean your own. Consider joining forces with a few neighbors to share the work of growing a victory garden. Use Craigslist and Freecycle to find people who have surplus fruit. Fallen fruit causes vermin problems and everyone hates to waste food, so often people will give you free fruit just to keep it from falling on the ground.

7. Gun Safe or Gun Lock

About one-third of American children live in homes with guns, and 1.7 million children in the United States live in homes with guns that are loaded and unlocked. Data from the Center for Disease Control shows that, on average, 62 children die from unintentional shootings each year. However, when researchers for Everytown looked at publicly reported gun deaths, they found that from December 2012 to December 2013, at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings. And 65% of these deaths took place in a home or car that belonged to the victim's family, most often with guns that were legally owned, but not secured. Most child gun deaths are tragically preventable. As of April 2015 there were at least 110 child shootings in America. That's one accidental shooting every 36 hours.

Responsible gun owners keep their guns out of the hands of unsupervised children, and they talk to their kids about gun safety.

8. Immunization

Remember that time you got polio? No, you don't, because your parents got you vaccinated. Ironically, the fact that vaccines have rendered many once common diseases rare has lead to the opinion among some parents — who are too young to remember the terrible disabilities and death toll associated with preventable illnesses like diphtheria, measles, and mumps — that immunization is not necessary.

Although the last two generations of Americans have largely grown up without experiencing first hand the human cost of preventable illnesses, there are plenty of stories that explain what a miracle vaccines are for people all over the world. For example, the yearly Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race in Alaska commemorates the 20 men and their dog teams who transported diphtheria serum by dog sled 700 miles, in blizzard conditions, to stop an outbreak of the disease in Nome, Alaska. The 20 men who volunteered were postal workers; normal, everyday people. They agreed to a suicide mission because they knew that the vaccine would save the lives of 1400 people. These men were willing to lose their hands and noses to frostbite because they lived in a time when diphtheria killed many, many people.

Across the globe, immunization has proven to be one of the most successful and cost-effective medical treatments. According to the CDC, vaccinations will prevent 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years. In addition to saving lives, vaccines dramatically reduce the cost of medical treatment. Although anyone who has watched Masterpiece Theater knows that polio can cause paralysis, a lot of Americans don't know that diphtheria can cause permanent heart damage, measles can cause deafness, and tetanus can cause brain damage.

Translated into money terms, vaccines will save $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in societal costs!

The Affordable Care Act has made immunization available to more people. Vaccine coverage is available at no cost for eligible children through the Vaccines for Children Program.

9. Knife Sharpening

It seems counter-intuitive, but dull kitchen knives are more dangerous than razor sharp ones because you have to push the knife harder to get through the food. Although I bring my knives to a professional knife sharpener for convenience, knife sharpening by hand is not a hard skill to master. Most home cooks only need to sharpen their knives with an electric knife sharpener or a whetstone twice a year.

Contrary to popular belief, that honing steel that gets a lot of pro chef action on cooking shows, and might even be part of your knife set at home, is not a sharpening stone. Sharpening stones work by removing a tiny layer of the blade to restore the sharp edge. Honing steels realign the blade by pushing it back to center and straightening it. A properly aligned blade cuts more efficiently. Honing should be done often to keep knives in top condition.

10. Mammograms

For a routine medical treatment that all women over 40 are supposed to get yearly, mammograms are horrifically expensive. But breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, and 75% of breast cancer deaths occur among women who do not get regular mammograms.

Mammogram costs vary widely depending on insurance coverage and technology. To cut costs, it is very important to speak to your insurance about what is actually covered under your policy. For example, under my insurance, the basic breast cancer mammogram screening is 100% covered. Alas, what is not covered are the radiologist charges, other doctor fees, and the diagnostic follow-up sonogram that I also must endure because I have dense breast tissue…which pretty much renders images from a standard mammogram useless. Mammograms that are coded Diagnostic are typically much more expensive than those coded Preventative or Screening. Some insurance companies will also not cover mammograms that use alternate, but otherwise completely standard, screening technology such as ultrasound, MRIs, or even 3D mammography machines.

11. Rags

Leaving oily rags in a pile can cause them to spontaneously ignite, and even washing them in the laundry can lead to a fire. While throwing away rags might seem counter-intuitive, certain common chemicals like acetone are highly flammable and pose a risk to your safety if stored improperly. Reusing oily rags isn't environmentally friendly or financially smart if that practice results in a structure fire.

Rags that have been used to apply oils such as linseed oil or turpentine should be submerged in water inside a covered metal can (such as a paint can), and taken to your local hazardous waste disposal center as soon as possible.

Finally, read the material safety data sheet before using any product marked flammable. It could save your life.

12. Running Shoes

Running can be one of the cheapest forms of exercise, but depending on your feet and your running style, running shoes can feel like a costly investment. Running shoe manufacturers recommend replacing shoes every six months or every 400 to 600 miles. I used to stretch the mileage limit to save money, but then I broke a bone in my foot while training for the Florence marathon — because I was running in old shoes. Take it from me, very little ruins the romance of Italian cobblestone streets more than having to hop on them with your one good foot.

Of course, these time and distance recommendations are easy to follow if you are a regular runner who keeps track of mileage. For everyone else, it's more of a guessing game. And, even if you are in training, how fast your shoes wear out depends a lot on how much you weigh and your running style. For example, because my running style has been described as "Helga, the stomping mare," my shoes have a lifespan of 300 to 400 miles.

Instead of these generic mileage rules, I now pay attention to what my body tells me. For me, sore arches let me know when the midsole of my shoe is no longer protecting my feet and legs from injury. Do not ignore these signs — they can turn into a permanent injury if you try to run through them.

One of the easiest ways to check if you need to replace your shoes is to go to the shoe store and try on the same shoes you've been training in. If you can feel the difference in support between the new shoes and your old shoes, it's time to replace your shoes.

13. Sleep

Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic. According to the CDC, over 35% of Americans get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night, and a terrifying 4.7% of Americans reported nodding off or falling asleep behind the wheel at least once in the preceding month. The National Department of Transportation estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for 40,000 injuries and 1550 deaths each year in the United States. In addition to car crashes, insufficient sleep is also linked to disasters such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and even the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

Sleep deprivation can also alter the immune system, making you more susceptible to major diseases such as hypertension, depression, and even cancer. Recent medical studies have shown a link between lack of sleep and obesity.

14. Sunglasses

Most people don't think about their eyes when they think about sun damage. Unfortunately, long-term sun damage can result in cataracts or macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in America. In addition to protecting your vision, sunglasses protect the eyes against cancer and corneal sunburn.

Just like sunscreen, sunglasses should be worn year around, even on overcast days, as clouds are not an effective barrier against UV light.

Not all sunglasses are created equal when it comes to sun protection. Look for sunglasses that block at least 99% of UVA and UVB light. The best sunglasses also block HEV light. Size matters. The more skin around your eyes that you can cover, the better.

15. Sunscreen

Skin cancer is now the most common of all cancers. Medical research shows that most skin cancers can be avoided by protecting your skin against sun damage. If you were only trying to avoid getting a sunburn, then sunscreen wouldn't be vital to your health.

However, your skin can be damaged by long-term sun exposure, regardless of whether or not you see a burn. Everyone, including people who tan easily, have dark skin naturally, or already have a "base tan," should wear an SPF of 15 or higher.

Sunscreen is very effective when used properly. Unfortunately, most people do not use sunscreen properly. To be most effective:

  • Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before going outdoors, anytime you will be exposed to the sun for more than 30 minutes.
  • Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours while outdoors, even if the product claims to have "all day protection." If you get wet or sweaty, sunscreen should be applied more often, even if the product claims to be waterproof.
  • Sunscreen should be applied in a thick layer on the surface of the skin. The most effective sunscreens actually act as a physical barrier to the suns rays. This means that you need at least two tablespoons of sunscreen (a shot glass full) for your body and nickel-sized blob for your face alone. To avoid looking undead, you can buy tinted sunscreen to match your skin tone or wear sunscreen under make-up.

16. Tire Maintenance

Tires are the only contact between your car (or bike) and the road, so tire maintenance is an important safety function. Under inflation is the leading cause of tire failure, which can result in accidents. Most drivers don't realize that a car tire can lose 50% of its pressure before it looks visibly flat, so it's a good idea to check your tires (including the spare) once a month. Cars driving on tires under inflated by more than 25% are three times more likely to be involved in a crash than tires with proper inflation. Under inflation also negatively impacts tread wear and handling.

17. Windshield Maintenance

Many car manufacturers now count the windshield as not only a safety feature, but also part of the structural integrity of their vehicles. Those tiny, star chips from road gravel are more than just an aesthetic nuisance. When deployed, front airbags are designed to bounce off the windshield to better protect the motorist. Chipped windshields are more likely to explode during accidents, making airbags less effective. There are insurance companies that offer free windshield replacement, but most require that you opt-in to that coverage. Even if your insurance does not offer free windshield replacement, if you live in a place like Arizona where chip sealing or gravel damage to cars is prevalent, it is worth it to pay a small annual premium for glass replacement.

Also, don't wait to have visibility issues before you change your windshield wipers or clean the inside of your windshield. Sun and console glare are a common cause of car versus pedestrian accidents.

Have any of you been saved by a small ticket item or service that didn't make this list? Please share your story in the comments section!

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