I'm so used to reading about rising prices for everything -- real estate, college tuition, health insurance, gasoline -- that I was surprised recently to learn that some critical forms of insurance that many of us buy are experiencing price drops.

Life insurance, for instance, has been falling in cost. The reason? Longer life expectancies, for one thing. (Life expectancies have advanced almost two full years in just the past decade.) The insurance companies are enjoying longer periods, on average, before they have to cough up benefits.

Another factor is hurricanes, of all things. This year's hurricane season has surprised most people by being so mild, and that has translated into major gains for insurers, who haven't had to pay to rebuild various parts of the country. (They've also been collecting much higher premiums in the past year, having increased their rates post-Katrina.)

So with insurers not feeling financially pinched and with life insurance costing them less, it's an excellent time to shop around. Spend a little time on the phone gathering some quotes, and ask your current insurance provider to reconsider your rates, as well. You stand a good chance of lowering your insurance costs by at least $100 per year.

Syndicated columnist Frank Greve has noted that "many insurers can afford to be generous, having prospered in a year of mild hurricane activity, almost no big payouts for terrorism and high auto-insurance premiums. Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRKa) (NYSE:BRKb), for example, which sells catastrophic insurance and owns Geico, the large auto insurer, recently reported more than four times the third-quarter net income it declared last year."

As Greve noted, even auto insurance is in a promising period, with cars having gotten safer. The rate of collisions is falling, and baby boomers have become, in general, safer drivers.

So go ahead and shop around. You can do so online at sites such as insure.com and www.term4sale.com. If you can save a total of $500 per year and you invest that amount, it can grow substantially over time. Shares of Disney (NYSE:DIS), for example, have grown at an average annual clip of 12% over the past 20 years. That's enough to turn one $500 investment into nearly $5,000, while Target's (NYSE:TGT) 16% rate would have yielded more than $10,500.

While you're shopping around, take a few minutes to assess your personal insurance needs and see whether you're under- or unprotected in some areas. Doing so might be much more important and profitable than looking into an insurance company stock. If you fail to protect yourself on a critical front, you may end up wiped out, or at least severely hurt, financially.

Learn more about the not-exciting-but-still-critical topic of insurance in our Insurance Center. You may not have thought about some kinds of insurance, such as disability or long-term care insurance, but they're vital for many people. And, of course, properly insuring your property is vital, too. Take a little time to learn more and, if some calamity occurs in the future, you may be very happy you did.

These articles may also be of interest:

Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. To see which other stocks are making Tom and David Gardner's list, take a 30-day free trial of the newsletter.

Berkshire Hathaway is an Inside Value recommendation.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool has a full disclosure policy.