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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP

    WASHINGTON -- A rising stock market and climbing home prices boosted Americans' net worth to a new high in the first three months of the year.

    The Federal Reserve said Thursday that the value of Americans' stock holdings, real estate and other assets rose to $84.9 trillion from $83.3 trillion in the final three months of last year. Stock portfolios rose $487 billion, home values by $503 billion.

    Still, households remained cautious about borrowing. Total household debt, which includes mortgages, credit cards, auto loans and other borrowing, rose 2.2 percent, the slowest pace since the end of 2013.

    The Fed's figures aren't adjusted for population growth or inflation. Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of homes, stocks and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts.

    Household net worth has steadily recovered after the Great Recession wiped out nearly $13 trillion in wealth. Total net worth has since surpassed the pre-recession peak of almost $68 trillion.

    Greater household wealth can lift spending and economic growth. When consumers feel richer, they are more likely to spend from their wealth, rather than just from income.

    Still, the typical household isn't necessarily benefiting. The stock market's steady climb since it hit bottom in the spring of 2009 has been the primary driver of household wealth. Home prices have increased, but not by as much.

    As a result, the rise in total U.S. net worth has primarily benefited wealthier families. Just 10 percent of the richest households own 80 percent of stocks, according to research by Edward Wolff, an economist at New York University. Housing wealth, which is more widely owned, hasn't recovered as much as the stock market.


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks climbed Thursday as retail sales data lifted the outlook for consumer spending and as health care shares gained.

    The S&P 500 health care index gained 0.5 percent and was among the day's best-performing sectors, led by shares of Eli Lilly.

    Eli Lilly (LLY) hit a 14-year high, closing up 4.1 percent at $86.59, with investors anticipating data from an extended trial of an experimental Alzheimer's drug that could become available to doctors in the coming weeks.

    S&P utilities rose 0.7 percent, the day's strongest sector, as U.S. bond yields retreated. Utilities and other dividend payers tend to compete with bonds for investment money.

    U.S. retail sales increased 1.2 percent in May, more than expected, as households boosted purchases of automobiles and a range of other goods even as they paid a bit more for gasoline. The S&P retail index was up 0.2 percent.

    "You had good retail sales today and slightly above expectations. Remember how weak retail sales were in the winter, so you would expect a bounceback here," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 38.97 points, or 0.2 percent, to 18,039.37, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 3.66 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,108.86 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 5.82 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,082.51.

    Solid retail sales data followed robust May job growth numbers and stabilizing manufacturing activity, suggesting the economy is gaining momentum after a slow start in the second quarter.

    Caution remained over Greece. The International Monetary Fund said its delegation had halted negotiations in Brussels and flown home because of differences with Athens.

    Movers and Shakers

    Citrix Systems (CTXS) rose 6.7 percent to $70.39 after shareholder Elliott Management said the software-maker should sell some units, cut costs and buy back shares.

    Krispy Kreme (KKD) soared 13.9 percent to $19.81. The doughnut chain raised the bottom end of its 2016 profit forecast.

    Hess (HES) rose 4.9 percent to $68.83. The oil and natural gas producer said it would sell half of its Bakken midstream assets to a private equity firm for $2.68 billion.

    After the bell, shares of Twitter (TWTR) rose 8.5 percent as it said Dick Costolo is stepping down as chief executive.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,866 to 1,204, for a 1.55-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,403 issues rose and 1,348 fell for a 1.04-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 31 new 52-week highs and two new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 118 new highs and 27 new lows.

    About 5.7 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 6.1 billion daily average for June so far, according to BATS Global Markets.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Labor Department releases the Producer Price Index for May at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The University of Michigan releases its preliminary index of consumer sentiment for June at 10 a.m.


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    Public Pensions Kansas
    John Hanna/APKansas Gov. Sam Brownback
    10 years ago, Harper's Magazine columnist and "What's the Matter With Kansas?" author Thomas Frank dropped a bombshell on his home state.

    Blasting politicians from the Sunflower State for leaving their poor and middle classes to wither on the vine, Frank argued that politics in the Heartland favored the rich. Kansas, wrote Frank, had created "a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining."

    10 years later, Kansas is doing it again.

    Heartless in the Heartland?

    Last month, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law legislation that will, among other things, forbid welfare recipients from spending government financial assistance to purchase massages or manicures, cigarettes or cruise ship excursions, jewelry, liquor or lingerie. Agree or disagree with these restrictions, there's one line in Kansas's new law that should simply shock the conscience of taxpayers -- be they conservative, liberal or none-of-the-above.

    From now on, Kansans subsidized by taxpayers under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program will be forbidden from withdrawing more than $25 a day from their ATMs.

    Supporters of the restriction argue it is designed to make it harder for TANF recipients to spend money on luxuries, to focus instead on the necessities, and, as Kansas State Sen. Michael O'Donnell, the Wichita Republican who sponsored the bill, put it, to thereby achieve "prosperity." "This is about having a great life," the senator said.

    But things may not work out quite as well as proponents intend.

    TANF Isn't Food Stamps

    Like the similar food stamp program (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), TANF funds are disbursed via electronic debit card. Unlike SNAP though, which can only be used to purchase food, TANF is designed specifically to provide low-income families with money to pay for electric bills and other utilities, rent and bills for other necessary goods and services. TANF cardholders can withdraw cash from ATMs for these purposes.

    Indeed, thanks to Kansas' new law, they may have to make a lot of withdrawals.

    Consider: If a cardholder uses her TANF card to pay the $750 rent on an apartment, for example, then under Kansas' new $25-a-day withdrawal rule, it would take 30 separate trips to the ATM to withdraw enough cash to make the entire rent payment. That's literally an ATM visit a day, every day of the month, just to make one transaction.

    And even that may not be enough.

    Welfare for Bankers and Bureaucrats?

    You see, the Kansan government charges TANF cardholders a $1 fee for every withdrawal they make from an ATM, and notes that "the ATM may also charge an additional fee." According to, ATM fees charged by banks now average anywhere from $2.77 to $4.35 a transaction, depending on whether the ATM is "in-network," and whether the person withdrawing the funds is a customer of the bank.

    As a result, for every $25 TANF card withdrawal, combined state and bank fees could eat up anywhere from 15.1 to 21.4 percent of the cash withdrawn.

    That's a huge transaction cost on TANF. It's also a huge diversion of financial benefits that taxpayers are paying to subsidize our least-well-off fellow citizens. Instead of going to the needy, these taxpayer dollars will be diverted to the pockets of government functionaries ($1) and the banks that own the ATMs ($2.77 to $4.35). Suffice it to say, this isn't likely what Kansas voters were looking to accomplish when they approved the $25 daily-withdrawal limit on TANF cardholders.

    And it makes us ask, again -- emphatically if rhetorically -- "Seriously, folks. What is the matter with Kansas?"

    Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith counts it as a claim to fame that he actually read "What's the Matter With Kansas?" before writing about it. He doesn't own shares of any of the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool doesn't, either. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    Paying cash
    Getty Images
    Remember those funny green rectangles that you used to exchange for goods and services? Those dead Presidents are dying off.

    The last refuge of cash is transactions between individuals, where credit and debit cards don't make any sense. A series of apps are chipping away at that last cash realm by allowing people to transfer money electronically to each other -- otherwise known as peer-to-peer, or P2P, payment. PayPal has been in the field for some time, but Venmo, Square Cash and Google Wallet are all competing for your P2P transaction business. Even Facebook will be entering the fray soon with the ability to send money through its Messenger app.

    Here's a look at the current contenders, all of which run on both iOS and Android systems.

    PayPal: PayPal is the longest-established option, with many familiar users via the eBay connection and an established record overseas. Create an account and link to your preferred method of payment and transfer. Credit and debit cards are charged a 2.9 percent fee plus a 30-cent transaction fee, but bank account transfers are free.

    If both parties have PayPal accounts, simply use the "Request Money" tab and you will be prompted to fill in the necessary information. You can place/maintain a balance in your PayPal account to pay others, or accept payment into your account and transfer to your linked bank account at any time.

    Venmo: A newsfeed, similar to Facebook, makes Venmo different from all the other options. Part payment system and part social media outlet, Venmo is popular enough that it has become a verb to younger users. We will not be surprised if "just Venmo me" becomes an advertising campaign.

    After downloading the app, you will need to set up an account. Add your banking information of preference -- credit card transactions cost 2.9 percent while debit cards and bank account transfers are free. Add friends to create a network through which you can send or receive money.

    Money passes into your Venmo account in a way similar to PayPal and is held there for payments to your Venmo friends. To bring your funds out of Venmo you "cash out" into your bank account. Transfers take place within one business day and limits are $300 a week or $2,999 with ID verification; weekly cash out limits are $999.99 without ID verification and $19,999 with.

    Keep in mind that Venmo can make your transactions public; if you prefer privacy, make sure you select that option for transactions.

    Square Cash: Square Cash is based solely on debit card transactions. Its advantage is that an account isn't required. Simply send your debtor an e-mail with the amount to be paid, along with any other information you want to include and CC the address You will both receive a secure link to enter banking information. The transfer takes place within 1-2 business days. Transfer limits are $250 a week or $2,500 with ID verification.

    Square Cash is perhaps the easiest to use but there is one concern that the other options do not have -- make sure your debtor understands Square Cash or they are likely to assume the e-mail is a scam.

    Google Wallet: Google Wallet is as much a money management system, including gift and loyalty cards, as it is a payment method. It allows you to attach payments to any Gmail message by using the dollar sign symbol in the toolbar. Both parties need Google Wallet for the transfer to take place. Transfers may take up to three days; limits are $10,000 per transaction or $50,000 per any five-day period. Debit and credit card transactions incur a 2.9 percent fee, but bank transfers are free.

    All four apps address security by maintaining compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard and offer 24-hour services for fraud/protection issues. All four use either PINs or security codes to allow transactions. However, it is wise to limit the use of these apps in public, unsecure places.

    There may be a simpler alternative to all of these apps if both parties in the transaction use the same bank. Larger well-established banks have their own apps for online banking and those portals typically allow you to transfer funds directly to another account within the same bank. Funds are usually available within 24 hours, and transfer limits will vary by bank. You will need to initiate the transaction as the sender and may need account information.

    As a rough distinction: Venmo appeals to those who like the social media aspects, Square Cash's appeal is in convenience and simplicity, PayPal is well-established and works around the world, and Google Wallet appeals to those who like the associated money management extras. Check out all of the P2P payment apps available to see which one is right for you.

    However, you may still want to keep some of those funny green rectangles around just in case. Systems do go down on occasion, and believe it or not, there may be an occasion when you are stuck without your phone.


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    How to Reduce Your Housing Costs in Retirement
    Getty ImagesFrom downsizing to living with others, here's how you can slash one of your biggest monthly bills in retirement.
    By Emily Brandon

    Housing is likely to be your biggest retirement expense. But there are a variety of ways to pay less for housing in retirement. Here's what you can do to bring down your housing costs after you retire.

    Pay off your mortgage. Paying off your house eliminates one of your biggest monthly bills. Insurance, taxes and maintenance costs are likely to be only a small fraction of the amount you were paying for your mortgage. For example, homeowners ages 65 and older in Jacksonville, Florida, pay a median of $1,271 in monthly housing costs if they have a mortgage but just $433 monthly if they have a paid-off home, according to Census Bureau data. If you don't have the resources to pay off your mortgage before retirement, you might be able to reduce your interest rate by refinancing. "If your interest rate is high, you can look to refinance to take advantage of lower rates," says Christopher Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "Nowadays it's not uncommon for people in their 50s and 60s to refinance to take advantage of lower rates, and they are extending the time they are going to be paying their mortgage well into retirement."

    Downsize. Once your children grow up, you no longer need multiple bedrooms or an expansive yard. And you may not want to take care of a large property that only one or two people use. Downsizing to a smaller house can add money to your nest egg and free up the time you would have spent mowing a large lawn and cleaning several stories of rooms. Downsizing from a $300,000 home to a $150,000 house could add $100,000 to your nest egg, even if you spend $50,000 on selling and moving costs and home improvements. "After their kids move out, a lot of my clients downsize their home, and then they put the surplus into an investment account so that it can start growing," says Angela Dorsey, a certified financial planner for Dorsey Wealth Management in Torrance, California. "This reduces their mortgage, their utilities, their property taxes, and they're really at a point in their life when they don't want to maintain a larger home." You may also be able to generate some extra cash by selling off the furniture and appliances from your former home.

    Relocate. Retirees don't need to live in expensive cities that are close to their jobs or in high-cost suburbs with good school districts. You are finally free to live anywhere in the world that has the entertainment options and amenities you desire. You might choose to live near the beach or in a place where you can play golf every day, or you could relocate to a sleepy college town with a low cost of living. If you move to a place where housing costs significantly less than where you live now, you can use the extra cash to help pay for your retirement expenses. "Many people sell their home in California, and then they pay all cash for a home in another state," Dorsey says. "They are able to move to Texas or Florida and buy a home all in cash, and now have no mortgage, and they usually end up with a bigger home." For example, if you sold your home in San Jose, California, for the median home price of $636,900 and purchased a home in Austin, Texas, for the median home value of $192,000, you could add over $300,000 to your nest egg, even after accounting for transaction costs. Senior citizen homeowners also qualify for property tax discounts in many parts of the country, which can further reduce your housing costs.

    Become a renter. Homeownership can be expensive and a lot of work, especially if you live in an older home in constant need of repairs. Becoming a renter in retirement frees up the equity in your home to use for living expenses, might allow you to relocate closer to the city center where you could walk to shops and local attractions and makes someone else responsible for the major upkeep of the property. The downside of renting is that your monthly rent could be increased significantly each time your lease is renewed, which can be difficult to cope with on a fixed income. "To sell your home and then rent gives you a nice cash infusion, but [retirees] have to be careful because there may be tax consequences, and you're not protected from inflation because your rent can go up," Dorsey says. And you could be asked to move, which creates the burden of finding a new place to live.

    Reverse mortgage. Retirees ages 62 and older can use a reverse mortgage to tap their home equity to pay for retirement expenses while remaining in the home as long as they live. But reverse mortgages also have a variety of fees, and if you move or sell the home, the loan becomes due. Plus, your children won't be able to inherit the home unless they repay the loan. "A reverse mortgage removes the obligation for monthly payments going forward, and under certain circumstances it might provide tremendous financial security, but it's something that should be used as a last resort," Herbert says.

    Share your living space. Many retirees eventually find themselves living alone, especially after a spouse passes away. It can improve your finances and your social life if you live with others. You could rent out a room in your home and use the money to help defray retirement expenses. "I live in a college town, and a lot of people will rent out their house on game weekends during football season," says Roger Pine, a certified financial planner for Briaud Financial Advisors in College Station, Texas. "That reduces the overall cost of ownership." Or you could take on a roommate for part or all of the year. Moving in with your children or grandchildren is another option that can benefit both parties financially, especially if you thoughtfully negotiate who will be responsible for what chores and expenses ahead of time.

    Emily Brandon is the senior editor for Retirement at U.S. News. You can contact her on Twitter @aiming2retire, circle her on Google Plus or email her at


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    What You Need to Know About LED Lighting

    By Marilyn Lewis

    "Smart" LED lightbulbs are one of the coolest new technologies for homes. These bulbs are brighter than incandescent bulbs and about 90 percent more efficient, meaning that they use far less electricity. They also have lifespans of up to 20 years or more. (Here is how to shop for LED lightbulbs.)

    But there the resemblance between LEDs and old-style bulbs ends. For better and worse, these LED bulbs are poised to change life as we know it. That's because LEDs can be embedded with computer chips, transforming lightbulbs into "smart" devices that can be networked and, through networks, controlled remotely. So what, you say? Read on.

    Networked Lightbulbs

    Already, you can buy LED bulbs that can be controlled with an app or through a home network to change the color of your bulb's light or dim without a dimmer wall switch. CNET reviews 10 smart bulbs currently available (cost: $15 to $200) and describes their capabilities, costs and networkability.

    It's early days for smart bulbs. Not all are ready for prime time. Thus, "When you turn over control of your lights to an app, the basic act of turning on a light can become slow or ludicrously complicated," The Wall Street Journal says.

    At Home

    Dimming and changing color are parlor tricks compared with what's to come. Smart bulbs use Visible Light Communication technology to communicate with a smartphone and pinpoint your location more accurate​ly​ even than GPS," Marketwatch says.

    At home that will allow, for example, the lights in your kitchen to turn on when they sense your smartphone is nearby. The Journal article says that LED bulbs:
    ... can be programmed to wake you in the morning, turn on when you're coming home or change the mood to 'romantic dinner' with a click on your phone. They can sync up with other electronics in your home like thermostats or TVs, manage themselves to save electricity and even alert you if there's a fire.
    At the Store

    In the grocery store, the smart bulbs will be able to transmit a code to your smartphone's camera, sending you personalized offers for products as you pass a shelf display. Marketwatch says:
    ... the accuracy is down to 5 to 10 centimeters while other location-finder technologies are accurate only to within a few meters. That means that when consumers opt in to a retailer's app, the retailer can send to their phones product information or promotions tied specifically to the item they are interested in, especially when there are many other items showcased nearby.
    "Another potentially huge application would be keeping tabs on food expiration dates, to minimize spoilage," according to Heather Clancy, who writes commentary at Forbes.

    As smart bulbs link the ability to identify us with our history of purchases and preferences, they will be increasingly able to anticipate our wants and needs. "In the future, the smart network could track everyplace we go, everything we buy, everything we do, all the time," says LEDs Magazine. It continues:
    This successful data-mining might initially seem intrusive, but as the app adapts to the individual user's patterns, more and more of the offers begin to actually fit our lifestyles, predicting when we're in the shopping mode, and what we might actually be shopping for.
    As these ubiquitous networks get to know us better, the magazine says,
    Our personal wearable technologies, whether the simple RFID in our employee badges or more complex data communication from our bio-monitoring smart watches, will be used to correlate our presence and status with our learned preferences to deliver everything from customized lighting scenes to optimized temperature and humidity levels.
    Always On, Always Watching

    LED streetlights are more than streetlights: Because lights are everywhere and already wired into electrical networks, smart bulbs are naturals to act as always-on data collectors. They will "forecast the weather, improve parking in cities, heighten security, and facilitate communication," writes Digital Trends. This article describes GE's plans to use LEDs as centers for command and control of home, industry and public spaces:
    Networked LED streetlights will have the ability to direct drivers to available spaces with the help of built-in sensors and wireless transceivers, GE explained. The same streetlight could serve as a sensor and give warnings in the event of a hurricane or other events through a public-address speaker concealed within the light post. Or direct first-responders.
    Already, San Diego and San Jose, California, and Jacksonville, Florida, are investing in LED streetlights that promise to repay their cost in energy and money saved. "Existing LED lights can be retro-fitted with sensors to monitor pollution, measure snowfall and sniff out a dirty bomb before it can spew radiation," reports CBS News.

    The Challenge to Privacy

    To see the LED future in action, CBS visited a Silicon Valley building where "40 lampposts in the parking lot [hold] 83 LED lights, and they're connected to seven cameras in a seamless grid that tracks and records people's moves." The cameras record license plates and follow individual people's movements. All this data can be accessed from the cloud by authorized users.

    Smart bulbs will include built-in cameras and sensors connected through a wireless network. At Newark Airport, where smart lights recently were installed, bulbs can monitor security, point out an unattended bag and keep an eye on the flow of foot traffic, CBS News says.

    "There is no end to the kind of information you could gather," CBS learned.

    The challenges to personal privacy are obvious yet "technology is evolving faster than our policies to control it," Linton Wells, of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., tells CBS.

    Without that evolution, it would be difficult to envision the precise nature of the threat to privacy. Now that we can see the technology's potential, there is an opportunity for privacy management, Hugh Martin, president of Sensity Systems, a Silicon Valley company at the forefront of LED technology, explained to CBS.

    What's your reaction to the privacy challenges of smart bulbs? Would you mind trading the loss of some privacy for the convenience they offer? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!


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    young couple trying to save their piggy bank
    Getty ImagesDon't get caught off guard by these fees and fines.

    It's almost impossible to get through life without running into the occasional unfair fee or fine - those you feel are unnecessary or excessive.

    So what can you do?

    Actually, that part is relatively easy. Over and over, you hear from consumers and financial experts that if you get slammed with a fine or fee you feel is unfair, stand up for yourself. Talk to whomever you need to. Don't give up, at least not right away.

    What's less obvious is how to recognize that an obnoxious fee is coming, or to even notice it in the first place. So as you make your monthly payments and navigate your finances, keep an eye out for fees and fines in these scenarios.

    The unfair fee buried in the legitimate fees. Sometimes, when you pay for a service or product, it comes with fees, and that's just the way it is. Think of some airlines, or when you invest money or buy a car.

    Buying a house is also an experience notorious for its closing costs, which are a series of fees: a survey fee, an appraisal fee, a commitment fee, an administration fee and the beat goes on.

    Kim Parr, a part-time optometrist in Cortez, Colorado, who blogs about financial issues at, says that a few years ago, when she was refinancing her home, she was looking over the extensive list of fees, and there it was: a courier fee.

    "Since everything was done electronically, I thought it was pretty odd that we were being charged for a courier," Parr says.

    She was only charged 12 bucks, but as Parr says, "We paid thousands in closing costs ... I was not about to pay extra for a fee that became obsolete years ago."

    It took some back and forth, but Parr wore down the lender and the fee was removed.

    The easy-to-misunderstand fee. Todd Brabender, who owns a public relations firm in Lawrence, Kansas, says that he and his wife, Trish, were recently in Florida, watching their daughter compete in a collegiate dance team competition. When Brabender was at the baggage claim, his wife went to the counter of the rental car agency.

    The sales clerk said she could "give you an upgrade at a discount," which the Brabenders took to mean they were getting an upgrade and a discount from the $38-a-day price they found through a booking service. So they thought they'd be paying less than $38 a day.

    They were upgraded from a Toyota Corolla to a convertible Mustang and then charged an additional $38 a day, on top of the initial $38.

    Apparently, the clerk meant that without the discount, they would have been charged even more than $38 for the upgrade.

    "My wife noticed the charge on the credit card bill and had to call them five different times before they fixed it, and we got the refund of the overcharges," Brabender says.

    The fine print fee. Marilyn Santiesteban, an assistant director of career services at Texas A&M University, says that when she was paying for an expensive home renovation, she was hammered with fees from a big-name bank.

    "I moved money into my checking account from another account at the same bank. I waited two days, and then wrote some big checks for materials and to the electrician, plumber," Santiesteban says. "A few days later, I was shocked to get hit with bounced check fees."

    The fees totaled over $300.

    When Santiesteban wrote her checks, she knew her money was still in "pending," but the website she'd been looking at said it took two days to transfer. She had neglected to look at every page on the bank website. If she had, she would have noticed the fine print that mentioned that while it usually took 24 hours to make a transfer, sometimes it took five days.

    But adding insult to injury, the money did show up on the same day that the checks came through. The bank, however, processed the checks first, and then put her money into the account.

    Despite being a customer at the bank for over 20 years and knowing everyone at the local bank, the manager didn't reduce or refund the fees. Santiesteban left, choosing a small regional bank and hasn't paid an overdraft fee since. That was seven years ago.

    The rules-have-changed fee. If you don't know that the rules for a bank, credit card or some other service have changed, then there isn't much you can do. (Life is too short to be on the lookout for every tweak a business makes in how its customers pay.) But if you do know that changes are coming, watch out. It may be that the service you're using feels you've been getting by far too long without paying an extra fee.

    For instance, Gary Frisch, a Philadelphia resident who also owns a public relations firm, says that his mortgage bank had a grace period for late payments, so that if you didn't pay on the first of the month, you had until 3 p.m. on the 16th to pay, and you wouldn't be late.

    But a couple of months ago, he says his mortgage lender revamped its website and the online payments page.

    "That month, I went online [at] about 11 a.m. on the 16th to make the payment. I was concerned that the new payment page only gave me the option of the 17th as my payment date, but I continued anyway," Frisch says. "Wouldn't you know my next mortgage bill included a $47 late fee?"

    Like so many consumers before him, Frisch argued his case, telling everyone he could at his mortgage servicing company that just because the payment processing system was changed without warning, he shouldn't be held liable for a late fee. It took talking to several people along the ladder, but eventually Frisch found a supervisor who was willing to reverse the charge.

    The invisible fee.​ Those are the fees that may be legitimate, but there is nobody and nothing around to alert you of their presence, and you have absolutely no reason to suspect they would exist. Still, if it happens to you, maybe you'll feel better knowing that you aren't alone - and that you should try and fight this scenario.

    For instance, Judy Williams, who works for an emergency fire and water restoration company, moved three years ago to Racine, Wisconsin, parked her car in front of her new house and was soon given a parking ticket.

    She was perplexed and drove to the police department to ask why she had a ticket. "To my utter surprise, I was informed that there is alternate street parking, and I had been parked on the wrong side of the street," Williams says.

    She mentioned that she hadn't seen any street signs. The officer's response: "Well, there are no signs. Everyone knows about it."

    Two months later, Williams showed up in court to contest the $20 ticket (it was the principle of the thing), stressing that she was new to the neighborhood and couldn't possibly have known about this. The judge sided with her, but apparently the rules of the court forbade him to eliminate the ticket altogether. He did reduce it, however, to 10 bucks.

    "It was the best that was going to happen, so I had no choice to agree to it," Williams says, "though it seemed like I was being penalized for not knowing the rules, yet they didn't make the rules visible."

    The rule didn't make much sense either. Naturally, Williams asked why she couldn't park on her side of the street. She was told that cars couldn't park there to free up space for snow removal.

    It was July.


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    Twitter Costolo
    Jae C. Hong/APTwitter CEO Dick Costolo

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, who helped turn the trendy messaging startup into a global town square, is stepping down amid criticism over the company's disappointing financial performance and a recent stock slide.

    Co-founder Jack Dorsey, who served as CEO during Twitter's early years, will temporarily take the reins while the San Francisco company looks for a permanent replacement.

    Investors greeted the move with enthusiasm, driving Twitter shares (TWTR) up nearly 6 percent in late trading after the announcement Thursday afternoon. Both Dorsey and Costolo, however, expressed confidence in the company's direction and said the board isn't seeking major changes.

    I believe in the course the company is on and the management team's ability to fulfill that and execute on it.

    "I believe in the course the company is on and the management team's ability to fulfill that and execute on it," Dorsey, who is also board chairman, said during a joint conference call with Costolo and Wall Street analysts.

    Both men characterized Costolo's departure, effective July 1, as voluntary. The 51-year-old Costolo said he began talking with Twitter directors about leaving last year, although he did not say what he plans to do next. He won't receive any severance.

    Costolo had been Twitter's CEO for five years and led the company through a successful stock market debut in 2013. Though he once worked as a stand-up comedian, Costolo has a degree in computer science and led three earlier tech startups, including one that he sold to Google (GOOG). He was hired as chief operating officer for Twitter in 2009, three years after its launch.

    His efforts to turn the once-quirky messaging service into a significant industry player, and a major venue for online advertising, made Costolo a respected figure in Silicon Valley. Two years ago, Time magazine named him "one of the most influential minds in tech."

    But even though Twitter Inc. had $1.4 billion in revenue last year, primarily from digital ads, it hasn't made a profit as a public company. And its shares haven't recovered since they lost almost a third of their value after the company's last quarterly financial report in April, when it missed Wall Street revenue estimates and prompted some analysts to question the company's leadership.

    At that time, the company also lowered its financial outlook. On Thursday, Dorsey said the company is making no further changes in its financial projections.

    While Twitter reported 301 million monthly users in the first quarter of this year, up 18 percent from a year earlier, it hasn't seen the kind of growth that its bigger rival Facebook (FB) has enjoyed.

    Under Costolo, the company introduced new advertising products and user features, including Periscope, which allows users to post live streaming video. But if its fans are fiercely loyal, critics say newcomers still find it daunting to learn Twitter's quirky terminology and customs.

    "The vast majority of people who signed up no longer use the service," said Nate Elliott, a social media analyst at Forrester Research. "They need to do a much better job at giving people a reason to come back every day and making marketers happy."

    "There were lingering concerns among some investors around the leadership capabilities of Mr. Costolo," added stock analyst Colin Sebastian of RW Baird, in a note to clients after the announcement.

    Costolo will remain on Twitter's board of directors. Dorsey said the company will consider internal and external candidates for his permanent replacement.

    According to a company filing, the board won't decide until later this year if he is to receive extra pay for taking on the CEO duties. The 38-year-old Dorsey said he'll also continue to run Square, the payment processing startup he founded after a previous stint as Twitter's CEO ended in 2008.

    Costolo tweeted about the change Thursday afternoon. Greeting Dorsey by his Twitter handle, Costolo wrote "Welcome back, @jack" and linked to the official Twitter announcement.

    While Dorsey said a search committee will set criteria for selecting the next CEO, he added, "We're looking for someone who really uses and loves the product."

    -Technology Writer Mae Anderson contributed from New York.


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    The Cinderella Castle
    A day at one of Disney's (DIS) Florida theme parks isn't cheap. The family entertainment giant bumped one-day admissions for its flagship Magic Kingdom to $105 earlier this year, and it recently sent a survey to park guests to see if they would be willing to pay as much as $125 to visit the park during peak period.

    However, a trip to Disney's theme park haven doesn't have to break the bank. Let's go over a few of the ways to save some money on your next trip to the self-proclaimed happiest place on Earth.

    1. Reschedule Your Trip

    Party poopers will argue that the easiest way to save money on your next trip to Disney World is not to go at all. That's cruel, but there's at least some logic to putting off your trip beyond the peak summertime tourist season.

    Disney charges the same prices for its theme parks all year long -- for now -- but that doesn't apply to its resort hotels, where there is tiered pricing throughout the year. A standard room at the resort's newest Art of Animation property has a rack rate of $183 on weekdays and $214 on weekends this summer, moving even higher during holiday weekends. That drops to just $129 on weekdays and $156 on weekends beginning Aug. 16, when kids start heading back to school.

    A welcome perk of hitting the parks during the off-season is that the crowds will also be smaller, even if that also means that the operating hours of the theme parks could be shorter.

    2. Stay at a Non-Disney Resort

    Disney makes it awfully tempting to stay at one of the more than 30,000 rooms that it makes available at its massive resort. It offers guests complimentary transportation to its parks, saving them $17 a day in parking. It opens select parks an hour earlier or keeps them open two hours later for resort guests only. Disney also lets booked guests reserve access to expedited FastPass queues before day guests and annual pass holders.

    However, you can naturally get a lot more bang for your buck by staying at a hotel just outside of Disney World. As many rooms and hotels as the family entertainment giant makes available, there are far more options outside the resort. This also makes the non-Disney resorts more competitive and promotional.

    You have to work the math, of course. You have to take parking and on-site perks into consideration. However, you will also be staying near a broader range of cheaper restaurants and attractions.

    3. Eat Smarter

    Getting hungry at a Disney park isn't a cheap proposition, but there are ways to stretch your dollar. For starters, you may consider having lunch instead of dinner at sit-down restaurants, since pricing does change at many locations. Selections and portion sizes change, too, but it's a lot easier to settle for dinner at the counter-service eateries that stick to the same pricing all day long.

    Another thing you can do is bring your own food to eat at the park. This doesn't have to be some clandestine smuggling operation. Disney allows guests to bring snacks and other food items that don't require heating, and there are plenty of tables around the park to host your unlikely picnic.

    You can also eat outside the resort. Arrive when the park opens -- and that's naturally a great idea since park lines are their shortest early in the morning -- and you may be done by dinner. Families with young children often take a break during the day to go back to the hotel and get some rest or hit the pool, and that can also accompany an outside meal.

    4. Make Off-Site Meals and Attractions Even Cheaper

    Those staying outside Disney property -- or resort guests with cars to explore the area -- will discover a wide array of mini golf venues, go-kart racing tracks, and dinner shows out there. Orlando has overtaken New York City as the country's top tourist draw, and there's no shortage of diversions available.

    There's also no shortage of ways to make many of those experiences cheaper. Complimentary coupon books are available outside many restaurants, gas stations, and hotel lobbies. They may look cheap, but the markdowns are real.

    Another smart thing to do is to check into Orlando deals through Groupon (GRPN), Living Social, and other sites that offer prepaid vouchers for discounts on meals and attractions. Don't be the family that pays full price for an airboat ride or a round of putt-putt!

    Yes, a Disney World vacation isn't cheap, but there are plenty of ways to make it less expensive.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. He's also spending the summer in Celebration, Florida, covering the industry at mouse level. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    Producer Price Index
    David Goldman/APMaria Cantellano tosses a Watermelon to her daughter as they load up a customer's pickup truck at their stand at the Atlanta Farmers Market in Atlanta.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer confidence surged in early June on expectations that a tightening labor market would spur big wage raises, which could further stimulate spending and overall economic growth later this year.

    The upbeat consumer sentiment survey Friday capped off a week of strong economic data and was the latest indication that growth was regaining momentum after a sluggish start to the second quarter.

    The rise in sentiment came despite higher gasoline prices, which contributed to producer prices recording their biggest increase in more than 2½ years in May.

    Strong consumer confidence, together with a tightening labor market, bullish retail sales and firming inflation pressures may provide the Federal Reserve reassurance about the U.S. economic outlook amid expectations it will hike interest rates this year.

    The U.S. central bank's policy-setting committee meets Tuesday and Wednesday.

    "While more progress needs to be seen before the Fed feels sufficiently confident in the sustainability of the recovery, they will certainly take comfort in the fact that things are beginning to move in the right direction," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    The Fed has kept its benchmark overnight lending rate near zero since December 2008 and is not expected to raise rates before September.

    The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index rose to 94.6 in early June from 90.7 in May.

    Consumers were the most favorable about their personal financial prospects since 2007, with households expecting the largest wage gains since 2008. Consumers also expected inflation to remain low over the foreseeable future.

    "We could get more good news on the spending front in the coming months," said Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York.

    The economy contracted in the first quarter, weighed down by a host of factors, including bad weather, port disruptions and a strong dollar. Growth estimates for the second quarter were raised this week to as high as a 3.2 percent annual rate.

    U.S. financial markets were little moved by Friday's data as traders focused on the latest twists in Greece's debt crisis. U.S. Treasury debt prices were higher, while the dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. U.S. stocks indexes also fell.

    Inflation Stabilizing

    In a separate report, the Labor Department said its producer price index for final demand increased 0.5 percent last month, the largest gain since September 2012. It followed a 0.4 percent decline in April.

    The data suggested an oil-driven downward drift in prices was nearing an end. The stabilization in inflation, together with tightening labor market could see inflation rise back toward the Fed's 2 percent target.

    Inflation pressures have a heartbeat and should rise further over the next year as the economy is at or very near full employment levels.

    "Inflation pressures have a heartbeat and should rise further over the next year as the economy is at or very near full employment levels," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

    In the year to May, the PPI fell 1.1 percent, marking the fourth straight 12-month decrease. Prices dropped 1.3 percent in the 12 months through April, the biggest fall since 2010.

    A sharp decline in crude oil prices since last year and the strong dollar have weighed on producer prices.

    Last month, gasoline prices surged 17 percent, the largest increase since August 2009. Food prices rose 0.8 percent in May, the biggest gain in just over a year, snapping five straight months of declines.

    Higher food prices were driven by a shortage of eggs after an outbreak of bird flu led to the culling of millions of chickens. Wholesale egg prices soared a record 56.4 percent last month.

    Higher gasoline and food prices are likely to feed into the May consumer price index. May consumer price data will be published next week.

    The volatile trade services component, which mostly reflects profit margins at retailers and wholesalers, increased 0.6 percent in May after falling 0.8 percent in the prior month.

    May's rise likely reflects improving profit margins at services station, which had been pressured by falling gasoline prices.

    A key measure of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services slipped 0.1 percent last month after ticking up 0.1 percent in April. The so-called core PPI was up 0.6 percent in the 12 months through May.


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    Gadget Show Future of TV
    Jae C. Hong/APJoe Clayton, president and CEO of Dish Network, debuts Sling TV last January in Las Vegas.
    This has been a defining year for streaming television services. It kicked off in February with the launch of Dish Network's (DISH) Sling TV. Since then we've seen the arrival of PlayStation Vue and HBO Now, and now even Showtime is jumping into the fray with its own stand-alone online platform.

    Consumers want to cherry-pick the shows and movies that they want to see -- and perhaps just as important, they want to dictate exactly when they want to watch their desired programming. That's enough to send shock waves through the realm of cable and satellite television providers, but an unlikely industry may come to save the day for the cable providers and spoil the party for consumers.

    You can't stream content without connectivity, and we're starting to see mobile and broadband companies turn to data caps as a way to combat the spike in traffic that they are experiencing as a growing number of video buffs access chunky TV show and movie files.

    Going Down the Rabbit Hole

    Comcast (CMCSK) is the country's largest cable provider, but now it has as many broadband customers as it does video subscribers. That finds it in a complicated situation where it's losing pay-TV customers, yet offsetting some of the "cord cutting" sting by selling folks speedy access to the growing number of streaming TV offerings.

    Comcast began testing data caps in Nashville three years ago, where it limits the amount of included data, charging extra for additional consumption. It expanded the test last year. Limiting home Internet accounts to as little as 300 gigabytes a month may not seem like such a big deal. That's a lot of data by today's standards. However, the improving quality of high-def streaming is going to find more people bumping up against that ceiling in the coming years. The arrival of streaming TV will be even more taxing to consumption as folks rely on bandwidth instead of cable or satellites to deliver content.

    Now that Netflix (NFLX) has warmed up to Ultra HD 4K for some of its content, data caps will be put to the test. After all, streaming 1080p in all of its intended glory on Netflix takes 4.7 gigabytes an hour, but that quadruples to 18.8 gigabytes an hour in 4K. Unless there are bandwidth-saving workarounds in place, we're talking about going through an entire month's worth of data within a single day of binge viewing.

    Deeper Into the Rabbit Hole

    The widening data files and increasing appetite for streaming TV could be a recipe for disaster, but that's where mobile and broadband companies can start to turn to the different premium TV platforms to pitch in. AT&T (T) raised a few eyebrows last week after asking the Federal Communications Commission to block a request made to prohibit wireless carriers from granting data cap exemptions to streaming TV services.

    AT&T already has a sponsored data plan in place where businesses pay to be excluded from the data tally. Companies send money to AT&T so that the meter stops running when someone's on their site. Given AT&T's seemingly low ceilings of 150 gigs a month for DSL and 250 gigs a month for U-verse, that could be a pretty compelling point for companies serving up chunky media files.

    This is the kind of plan that would seem to be working in favor of consumers, but the request that AT&T is trying to block was actually made by a consortium of businesses and consumer advocacy groups. How is that so? Well, the fear here is that streaming TV services will have to charge consumers more to cover the broadband subsidies.

    This places us at the doorstep of a challenging tomorrow as the dominant broadband and mobile Internet providers often double as pay-TV providers. It's easy to see why they would want streaming TV to fail if it means losing customers paying fat monthly cable and satellite television bills. It's a small problem today, but it could be a big problem tomorrow.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Want to make 2015 a winning investment year? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    Earns EBay
    Paul Sakuma/AP
    By Bob Sullivan

    The Federal Communications Commission sent a letter Thursday to PayPal that was highly critical of the firm's robocalling and robo-texting fine print, which I first chronicled earlier this month. The letter says PayPal's new terms of service "raise serious concerns for the [FCC] enforcement bureau."

    In a report last week, I described an update to PayPal's user agreement that is set to take effect in July, when the payment firm is set to split from corporate parent eBay (EBAY). In those terms, the firm says users must agree to grant PayPal the right to robocall or robo-text them at any phone number "you have provided to us or that we have otherwise obtained." The calls and texts can be used in attempts to collect debts, for marketing purposes or a host of other reasons, the agreement says. On its Facebook page, PayPal recently told a consumer that there was no opt-out for the provision.

    In a letter signed by Travis LeBlanc, chief of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, the agency said much of the policy could violate federal law:
    "FCC requirements directly prohibit requiring a consumer to consent to receive autodialed or prerecorded telemarketing or advertising calls as a condition of purchasing any property, good, or service, and the company must give consumers notice of their right to refuse to give such consent," the letter says. "PayPal 's amended User Agreement does not give consumers notice of their right to refuse consent to calls that require consumer consent from PayPal, its affiliates, and its service providers. If PayPal fails to include this required notice and/or fails to allow its users to refuse such consent, we are concerned that consent is in fact a condition of purchase of PayPal's service and thus violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and could subject PayPal, its affiliates, and its service providers to penalties of up to $16,000 per call or text message.

    "Second, we direct your attention to the requirement that the written agreement must identify the specific telephone number(s) to which the consenting consumer gives his or her consent to be called or texted," it continues. "A blanket User Agreement that purports to apply to 'any telephone number that [consumers] have provided us or that we have otherwise obtained' does not meet the level of specificity required by law. Many consumers have more than one telephone line. Consumers have the right to choose on which line(s) they wish to receive telemarketing or advertising calls, if they elect to receive such calls at all.

    "Finally, the Commission has ruled that should any question about the consent arise, the seller will bear the burden of demonstrating that a clear and conspicuous disclosure was provided and that unambiguous consent was obtained," it says. "We direct your attention to this statement because it underscores the importance of complying with federal law when structuring your agreements to collect the prior express written consent of consumers."
    The letter was addressed to Louise Pentland, PayPal's general counsel.

    "We have received a letter from the FCC and look forward to responding," PayPal said in a statement. "We strive to be as clear as possible with our customers and clarified our policies and practices last week on the PayPal blog."

    In that post, Pentland noted the robocalling and robo-texting language isn't new, and consumers can opt out, though the post doesn't explain why PayPal said previously there was no opt out.

    "We value our relationship with you and have no intention of harassing you," it read, in part. "Our contacts with you are intended to benefit our relationship. For example, we may contact you as part of our fraud prevention efforts to keep your PayPal accounts safer and more secure. In reaching out to you for account service purposes, such as fraud alerts, we occasionally use technologies that allow us to contact you efficiently. To use this approach we seek your permission through our User Agreement.

    "Our goal is always to create clarity in our communication with our customers. We're sorry if this wasn't the case. We aim to give you the information you need and hope this blog post helped to clear up any confusion," she wrote.


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    ABJREK Las Vegas, Nevada, America
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the leading burger chain posting another month of negative comps and an overseas digital music platform upstaging the consumer tech giant's latest push into premium music.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Winner

    The leading premium streaming video service continues to be a globetrotter. Netflix announced that it would be expanding into Italy and Portugal in October. A strong push overseas has helped push Netflix to more than 60 million global subscribers with a third of those located outside of the U.S. market.

    Another reason that Netflix is a winner this week is that it made the third season of "Orange Is the New Black" available on Thursday night, several hours before it was supposed to be released.

    Harley-Davidson (HOG) -- Loser

    The leading motorcycle company is slowing down. Wedbush analyst James Hardiman downgraded his rating on Harley-Davidson, slashing his price target from $75 all the way down to $57.

    Hardiman's opinion soured after channel checks showed unimpressive demand through April and May, particularly on the entry-level end of the market. With kind weather and the relaunch of Harley's Road Glide, this should have been a strong springtime for Harley-Davidson, but at least one analyst doesn't see it playing out that way.

    Spotify -- Winner

    This was supposed to be Apple's (AAPL) week to make waves on the digital music front. The consumer tech giant used its annual WWDC expo for developers to introduce Apple Music, a streaming platform that incorporates the best of its existing offerings.

    However, Spotify quickly found a way to deflate Apple's balloon by announcing that it now has more than 20 million paying subscribers. Getting folks to pay for music online has been the industry's biggest challenge, and it's where Spotify is clearly excelling.

    McDonald's (MCD) -- Loser

    We're not getting any closer to a turnaround at McDonald's, at least when it comes to its stateside restaurants. The world's largest burger chain posted another month of negative store-level sales on Monday with year-over-year comparable-store sales declining 0.3 percent worldwide in May. Things got even worse at its struggling domestic eateries, where comps clocked in with a 2.2 percent slide.

    Making matters worse, McDonald's recently announced that it would stop providing monthly sales data starting next month. In other words, we'll have to deal with quarterly snapshots out of Mickey D's. It's true that having monthly updates was a luxury for investors, but it sure seems as if McDonald's is suspending the practice because it's tired of dishing out bad news.

    PepsiCo (PEP) -- Winner

    The world's second-largest carbonated beverage company is bringing back a cult fave. PepsiCo strongly suggested that it's bringing Crystal Pepsi back after YouTube celebrity L.A. Beast turned to his more than 1.2 million followers to help him bankroll a campaign that was anchored by 15 billboards and an active online presence.

    It's a smart move, even if Crystal Pepsi only had a brief shelf life that lasted between 1992 and 1993. It's not just about the appeal to the folks who are old enough to have tried the original. The buzz will naturally smoke out a lot of younger soda drinkers to check out the clear and caffeinated beverage.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple, Netflix and PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    Cracker Barrel, 10/2014 by Mike Mozart of TheToyChannel and JeepersMedia on YouTube #Cracker #Barrel
    Few restaurant chains seem to convey retro charm the way that Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (CBRL) does. It's a blast from the past, with rocking chairs swaying on the front porch, general stores selling old-school trinkets and treats and a menu loaded with comfort foods from the South.

    Stepping into one of the chain's 634 restaurants can feel like falling into a time capsule, as kids buy peppermint sticks by the retail store register and dining guests play wooden triangle peg games as they wait for their food to arrive.

    Everything about Cracker Barrel seems to convey old-fashioned themes and that's apparently just fine for today's consumers. The restaurant and country-store operator posted blowout quarterly results last week, with strong performance at both its dining and retail businesses.

    Back to the Future

    Revenue climbed 6.3 percent during its fiscal third quarter compared to the same springtime period a year earlier. The uptick was the combination of a 5.2 percent increase in comparable restaurant sales, a 4.5 percent uptick in comparable retail sales and the continuing expansion of the concept itself.

    There aren't too many table-service eateries posting that kind of year-over-year growth and things have been even hairier for traditional retailers. Cracker Barrel credits the strength to springtime weekday lunch promotions and the success of its Wholesome Fixin's menu, which features various entrees that pack fewer than 600 calories apiece.

    The Wholesome Fixin's menu is a departure from the decadent comfort-food fare that many associate with the Cracker Barrel experience, but it's been able to make it work with items including pecan-crusted catfish and an oven-baked "fried" chicken.

    This doesn't mean that Cracker Barrel is keeping a strict calorie count to every menu decision. Discussing the new summer menu additions during the call, Cracker Barrel singled out a strawberries-and-cream French toast breakfast entree and a slow-roasted rib platter that aren't going to woo too many health nuts.

    On the retail front, Cracker Barrel credits its success to strong sales in women's apparel, candles and accessories. It continues to focus on merchandise with multigenerational appeal, leading it to turn to embroidered apparel, fedora hats and nautical-themed wares for the summer.

    Marketing the Mood

    Cracker Barrel doesn't spend a lot of money on TV advertising. It prefers the "always on" nature of billboards, and that makes sense when one considers that the chain strategically places its restaurants on major highway exits and well-traveled intersections. Most casual-dining chains live and die on the flow of locals, but Cracker Barrel's appeal is also strong to travelers passing through. There aren't too many casual-dining chains that reserve the back of their lots for RV and truck parking.

    Add it all up and it's working. This doesn't mean that you can't teach an old food company some new media tricks. Cracker Barrel also credits its success to its digital advertising efforts and its music program. One way that the chain combined the two earlier this year was with the Country Checkers Challenge, offering an online checkers contest that culminated in finalists using real-life checker pieces including country music stars Kellie Pickler and Thomas Rhett during the annual Academy of Country Music awards show.

    Cracker Barrel isn't perfect. It has courted controversy over the years for everything from alleged discriminatory practices to siding with notorious celebrities. However, consumers seem to like the combination of retro charm, value pricing and Southern staples. It's working at a time when many of its casual-dining peers are battling operational indigestion.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell Friday as Greek debt talks hit a stalemate and as concern over how soon the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates kept investors cautious.

    Energy shares dropped as oil prices fell for a second straight day. The energy index, down 1.2 percent, led the day's decline, followed by a 1.1 percent drop in the healthcare index.

    Upbeat consumer sentiment and other data added to views the economy may be regaining momentum, which increased anxiety for investors ahead of next week's Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the U.S. central bank's last meeting before September.

    Also of concern, a day after the International Monetary Fund quit bailout talks with Greece, EU officials said they had held their first formal discussions on the worst-case scenario for the country.

    "It's the Greek situation again, and that's been played out on a day-to-day basis, where you had a huge rally followed by a decline, predicated on whether they are coming closer or moving further from a resolution over this situation," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 140.53 points, or 0.8 percent, to 17,898.84, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 14.75 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,094.11 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 31.41 points, or 0.6 percent, to 5,051.10.

    For the week, the Dow was up 0.3 percent, the S&P 500 was up 0.1 percent, while the Nasdaq composite fell 0.3 percent, its third straight week of declines.

    Consumers More Upbeat

    U.S. consumer confidence surged in early June. The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index rose to 94.6 from 90.7 in May.

    The upbeat report capped a week of strong economic data and was the latest indication that growth was regaining momentum after a sluggish start to the second quarter.

    That added to investor caution, "particularly in light of the fact that we're just days ahead of the Fed meeting," Luschini said.

    Higher rates will tighten the flow of easy money. Economists and top Wall Street banks expect the Fed to raise rates in September, in what could be its first hike in almost a decade.

    Twitter (TWTR) shares were up 0.2 percent at $35.90, a day after CEO Dick Costolo said he was stepping down.

    Lilly Drops

    Among the biggest decliners in health care, shares of Eli Lilly (LLY) ended down 2.7 percent at $84.21. It hit its low for the session and volume spiked after Reuters reported the Alzheimer's Association may not offer an early look at trial data on an experimental drug from Eli Lilly.

    News of the impending release had led to a jump in the company's shares. Eli Lilly's stock had gained 10.3 percent from Monday's close to Thursday's finish.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,945 to 1,075, for a 1.81-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,586 issues fell and 1,146 advanced for a 1.38-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The benchmark S&P 500 index posted five new 52-week highs and eight new lows; the Nasdaq composite recorded 73 new highs and 28 new lows.

    About five billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 6.1 billion daily average for the month to date, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

    What to watch Monday:
    • The Federal Reserve Bank of New York releases its survey of manufacturing conditions in New York state for June at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Federal Reserve releases industrial production for May at 9:15 a.m.
    • The National Association of Home Builders releases its housing market index for June at 10 a.m.


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    bottled water bottles
    By Kyle James

    Products with ridiculously high markups exist because somebody, somewhere, is willing to pay that price. Whether it's because of convenience, perceived value or simple ignorance, is up for debate. The good news is that with a little forethought, most of these markups can be avoided, or at the very least lessened. Here are nine of the biggest, along with some common sense solutions and workarounds.

    1. Bottled Water. If you're buying designer bottled water brands like AquaDeco or Fine, you're getting nailed by an unbelievable 280,000 percent markup. Although, if you're reading Wise Bread, I'm guessing you probably don't buy designer brand water. But you probably do buy bottled water from the grocery store or warehouse club on occasion, in which case you're paying a 4,000 percent markup compared to tap water.

    Solution: Buy a Brita water filter pitcher and filter your tap water from home. You can then take the filtered water with you when you're on-the-go by using a reusable BPA-free water bottle.

    2. Pre-Cut Vegetables/Fruit. Veggies and fruit that are cut up and ready to go are definitely convenient, especially for busy families. But did you know that you're easily paying a hefty 40 percent markup on the pre-cut varieties?

    Solution: Shop your local farmer's market and grocery store for deals on fresh vegetables and fruit. Solve the convenience aspect by cutting them all up at once and store them in Ziploc bags. This is a great way to save money and have healthy snacks ready to go for school lunches and quickly-thrown-together family meals.

    3. College Textbooks. According to CollegeData, the average student spent over $1,000 on textbooks and supplies for the 2014-15 school year with markups hovering around 200 percent for brand new textbooks.

    Solution: If you plan on reselling your textbooks at the end of the semester, you should consider renting, instead of buying, from websites like Chegg an TextbookRentals. Also, if you plan on buying them, always ask for used textbooks at the college bookstore, or buy them in gently used condition from websites like and (See also: 20 Places to Buy or Rent Textbooks)

    4. Designer Handbags. The average name brand handbag carries a markup of well over 100 percent. Brands such as Coach, Dooney & Bourke, Kate Spade and Michael Kors have built a luxury brand reputation based solely on consumer perception.

    Solution: Always buy handbags on sale. Because of the 100 percent markup, you'll often see 50 percent off sales on handbags at department stores. Also, shop at discount stores such as T.J. Maxx and Marshalls for name brand handbags at heavily discounted prices. You might not find Coach or Louis Vuitton, but you'll still find very high quality brands at good prices.

    5. Designer Jeans. According to The Wall Street Journal, designer jeans often come with a markup in the 260 percent range. For example, the fact that someone would spend $208 on a pair of jeans from 7ForAllMankind, tells me that for some people, being fashionable at any price is the number one priority when it comes to covering your legs with denim.

    Solution: Shop discount clothing stores and thrift shops for denim. On several occasions I have found designer denim on the rack at thrift stores for pennies on the dollar. Sure, they were a little worn, but most of the designer jeans bought brand new are quite worn, or even have holes in them. Some even have paint all over them like these $575 jeans from Neiman Marcus.

    6. Prescription Drugs. Prescription drugs can be incredibly expensive, especially if you have sub-par health insurance and get stuck footing most of the bill. According to AHIP Coverage, the price markup on prescription drugs is at a whopping 443 percent.

    Solution: Ask for free samples while at the doctor's office. A few years ago I was prescribed Lamisil, an expensive prescription drug, which at the time cost $30 a pill and had no generic equivalents. On a whim, I asked the nurse on the way out of the office it they had any free samples. She went and looked and returned with a bag full of Lamisil samples. She told me to come back when I ran out as she didn't have enough for a full treatment plan. Simply by politely asking she saved me over $500 on prescription drug costs.

    Also, when approaching the pharmacy window, always ask about generic alternatives to your prescription. Often times the doctor will unknowingly prescribe the name brand drug, and by switching to the generic, you can save significant money.

    7. Eyeglass Frames. Eyeglass frames have a ridiculously high markup in the 500 percent range. I recently discovered this when I needed a new pair of glasses and decided to buy them directly from the optometrist as my vision insurance was going to pay for them. But after looking through my choices, and the hefty price tags, I quickly realized that you'd be crazy to buy directly from the doctor if you have little or poor insurance. The frames I eventually chose were close to $350, and after doing some research, I could have gotten them online for $125.

    Solution: To avoid the markup as much as possible, always shop eyeglass frames and lenses online as well as warehouse clubs including Costco and BJ's Wholesale.

    8. Coffee and Tea. When you hit the Starbucks or local coffee shop, know that you're getting hit by a 250 to 400 percent markup. Sure it's a nice treat from time to time, but visiting everyday can really be a budget buster.

    Solution: Start brewing at home and take your morning cup of joe with you.

    9. Furniture. According to CBS Money Watch, most furniture stores markup their prices about 80 percent. This is especially true at boutique shops and high-end department stores like Macy's and Nordstrom.

    Solution: Because of the high markups you should always try to negotiate a deal, even if the price is already discounted, as the majority of furniture stores have plenty of room to come down in price and still make a profit. This is especially true if you're paying with cash as the store won't have to pay credit card fees.

    By knowing what products have the highest markups, you can learn to avoid them whenever possible. Sure, you'll get stuck buying a $5 bottle of water on occasion, or splurge on a $4 cup of coffee, but by developing smart long-term spending habits you can really save significant money. Money that can serve you much better by paying down debt, building that emergency fund, or saving for retirement.

    What product markups drive you crazy and how do you avoid them?


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    Clients going over paperwork with consultant
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    By Casey Bond

    Most financial planners have no interest in working with millennial clients, according to a recent survey by Corporate Insight, a consulting firm. The survey of 500 advisers found just 30 percent are attempting to gain clients under age 40.

    The reason: millennials for the most part don't have any money. And financial planners make their living by advising wealthy clients.

    But millennials aren't exactly keen on financial planners, either. Here's why:

    1. The Financial Industry's Reputation

    Millennials are a skeptical bunch in general, but no industry has felt their collective distrust as heavily as the financial services sector. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Bank Transfer Day made it clear Generation Y has little faith in the people who manage our nation's money.

    "Millennials have watched their parents' retirement take a major hit, so it becomes harder for them to see the value in traditional financial planning," said Aaron Hatch, a certified financial planner and co-founder of Woven Capital. "It's understandable that millennials don't trust financial planners because frankly, they haven't served them well."

    Andrew Wang, senior vice president of Runnymede Capital Management, said millennials value transparency from the people and companies they interact with. "Traditional financial services companies on the whole are not delivering on those things," he said.

    2. Confusing Jargon

    Although varying levels of skepticism have caused a disconnect between millennials and financial planners, education surrounding the industry is another major divider. "The industry is very confusing to consumers with the ubiquitous title 'financial adviser,' " Wang said, "which actually includes a very diverse group of professionals such as brokers, financial planners, insurance agents, investment managers and bankers -- each paid differently."

    Some millennials who would be excellent candidates for financial planning services never take advantage because they don't understand what it entails, the benefits of hiring a financial professional or even what type of professional they need.

    3. Financial Planning Fees

    Then there's the matter of payment. Young adults also tend not to work with traditional financial planners for the same reason these advisers dismiss them: money (or lack thereof).

    Stephanie Genkin, an independent fee-only financial adviser who teaches personal finance classes popular with millennials, said the problem is the traditional fee structure of the industry. "Most financial planners earn their living from assets under management and charge a percentage of their clients' investments." She noted that clients with smaller portfolios are typically charged a higher percentage to compensate. "This works against millennials who are at the early stages of building an investment portfolio."

    4. Cultural Differences

    Diversity isn't a word often associated with the financial services industry. While there are financial planners of all nationalities, genders and backgrounds, a good portion are old, white men. InvestmentNews says 76 percent of financial planners are male. Just 8 percent belong to a minority group. That doesn't discredit these advisers by any means, but it does make it that much more difficult for today's 20-somethings to find any kind of connection.

    Age alone plays a major role in millennials' unwillingness to work with financial planners. "There are more CFPs over age 70 than under 30," noted Andrew Mohrmann, a certified financial planner and founder of Modern Dollar Planning. "This generational gap means that most planners simply can't relate. Try discussing the dating challenges of Tinder and with a 70-year-old!"

    5. Financial Planning Information Is Free Online

    As the first wave of digital natives, millennials are an incredibly resourceful generation who would rather seek information for themselves than be told what is true. Therefore, Gen Y is more apt to gain financial knowledge and insight from sources outside of formal planners.

    "Many turn to the Internet, close friends and family for advice and help gaining entry to the market," said Alison Novak, professor in media studies and production at Temple University. "This type of independence from formal financial organizations helps them assert independence from the financial sector."

    Financial Planning for Millennials Can Work

    Despite all of the challenges preventing millennials from working with financial planners, there are plenty of reasons why younger generations should pursue professional assistance with their finances. Fortunately, leaders in the modern financial planning industry are making that possible by changing the old business model.

    "There are now hourly and subscription-based financial planning models that can allow planners to work with people that haven't accumulated a big portfolio that needs managing," explained Eric Nicewarner, a certified financial planner. "It also allows those people access to the other benefits a planner can provide, like debt reduction strategies, saving and budgeting techniques and insurance planning."

    And for the Internet-averse millennial crowd (yes, they do exist), working with a traditional financial planner still has its advantages. "Millennials who are interested in working with a financial planner should seek out a credentialed planner who charges an hourly rate," said Genkin." Millennials would benefit from an initial series of meetings and then annual or semiannual checkups, unless their situation changes, such as a new job, new business venture, home purchase, marriage or a baby."

    Despite all the reasons millennials and financial planners have to avoid working together, those reasons are largely based on assumptions. The best thing a person in need of counsel can do, regardless of age, is schedule time with a financial planner and talk. Most planners offer free consultations; the worst thing that can happen is you waste an hour, but you could end up gaining invaluable insight from a pro.

    This article originally appeared on


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    Retirement savings golden nest egg
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    By Molly Triffin

    If you were offered the choice to go to Paris next week or -- for the same amount of money -- take a whirlwind tour of 10 European countries 10 years from now, which would you choose?

    The future getaway is the better and likely more fulfilling deal -- but few of us would be able to resist the draw of strolling along the Seine seven days from now.

    Unfortunately, that inability to delay gratification is what's keeping many of us from building up a healthy nest egg.

    Since retirement doesn't feel like an urgent need, people find excuses to put it off, and instead use the money for something they want right now.

    According to an April survey of higher income households by SunTrust, 44 percent of people say that current lifestyle spending on things like dining out and entertainment prevents them from saving for the future. Among millennials, it jumps to 71 percent.

    "A large portion of my clients struggle with planning an event that's often at least 30 years away," explains Jeff Maas, a certified financial planner and co-founder of Retirement Security Centers. "Since retirement doesn't feel like an urgent need, people find excuses to put it off, and instead use the money for something they want right now."

    Of course, it doesn't help that we're programmed to be highly driven by the amygdala, the emotional part of the brain that seeks pleasure and controls short-term decision making, says Brad Klontz, a certified financial planner and managing partner at Occidental Asset Management.

    And let's not forget that we live in a pervasive "get it now" world. "Social media has created a culture that's incredibly focused on instantaneous satisfaction," Maas explains. "I joke that we even tap the microwave [impatiently] while making popcorn because it takes too long."

    So if we've got biological and societal influences working against us, how can we focus on saving for a far-off, nebulous retirement?

    This strategy involves creating an investment plan with your retirement dreams in mind, rather than chasing a specific return. By focusing on what you're saving for, you're helping retirement feel like more than a large (and often intimidating) number to reach -- thus making it harder to ignore.

    "Very organized people -- who have color-coded sock drawers and check the air in their tires every month -- probably don't need that extra nudge to get on a pragmatic savings plan," Maas says. "But most of us just get in the car and drive until there's a problem. We defer [saving], saying we'll do it next year -- but we need a dose of reality to force us to take action. We need to feel the urge to save."

    How to Get Your Goals-Based Saving Strategy Going

    One of the biggest reasons people have a hard time socking away money is that they don't identify with the wrinklier, grayer version of themselves kicking back on the beach. But once the connection is made, better savings habits just might follow.

    Case in point: One well-known Journal of Marketing Research study asked people to allocate money across several financial goals -- including retirement -- after viewing avatars of themselves. Some saw representations of how they looked at that time, while others were presented with digitally aged versions of themselves.

    Those who saw their future selves put more than twice as much money toward retirement -- and goals-based investing helps achieve a similar effect by making retirement more tangible and personal.

    "When I'm working with a client, the first thing I do is have them envision their life in retirement and define what is and isn't important to them," Maas says. "This gets people excited about their future."

    So take a cue from the Beatles song "When I'm Sixty-Four" and start envisioning some details -- like a life filled with Sunday morning drives, gardening, grandchildren and a cottage rental in the Isle of Wight.

    It may seem humorous, but painting images like these can help you figure out what may be important to you in two or three decades -- and get that pesky amygdala on board. And the more you can describe who you're with and what you see, hear and feel, the better.

    "This practice actually changes your biochemistry by increasing levels of [the happiness-inducing neurotransmitter] serotonin," Klontz explains. "And if you evoke a very vivid image, your brain can't tell the difference between it happening in the present or the future -- and will react accordingly."

    Sort your goals into three categories: most important, moderately important and least important. This will help you determine what's a retirement need-to-have versus a nice-to-have.

    In other words, your brain will be jonesing to stash more in your 401(k) because it will be so psyched about your golf trips.

    UCLA professor and behavioral economist Shlomo Benartzi offers up a more structured visualization approach in his book "Thinking Smarter: Seven Steps to Your Fulfilling Retirement ... and Life."

    He suggests writing down your retirement objectives while asking yourself these questions: What do you care about? What are your goals and values? What matters most to you? This could result in a list with items as general as wanting to help pay for your grandkids' college or as specific as buying a $450,000 second home in Aspen.

    Next, he says, you need to uncover your retirement blind spots.

    Benartzi's research found that the most commonly shared retirement goals tend to fall into 12 categories: financial independence, health care, housing, travel and leisure, lifestyle, a second career, self-improvement, family bequests, giving back, social engagement, ending life with dignity and maintaining a sense of control.

    After reviewing your list, are there any goals you may have overlooked? If so, add them to the list.

    Finally, sort your goals into three categories: most important, moderately important and least important, using the assumption that you have limited resources to allocate to each of the goals. This will help you determine what's a retirement need-to-have versus a nice-to-have.

    Now that you've got your goals in place, your next question is likely to be: What does this mean for my portfolio?

    Here are some important considerations to keep in mind when viewing your retirement strategy through goals-colored glasses.

    1. Your target retirement number may need to shift. One general rule of thumb is to strive for a nest egg that can replace about 85 percent of your annual income in retirement. Goals-based saving can help you have a clearer picture of your retired lifestyle, so you can decide whether you can live on less -- or may need to save more.

    "If you want to take two big-budget trips every year, you may need to save very differently from someone who plans to retire in a little cabin in the forest," Maas says.

    So once you have a handle on how much you may need to cover day-to-day costs and essentials, tack on cost estimates for your various retirement dreams, making sure to account for inflation. If a first-class vacation to Europe costs $10,000 today, in 30 years that would come out to more than $24,000, assuming a 3 percent inflation rate.

    If those price tags seem daunting, keep in mind that your golden years likely won't be all get-up-and-go.

    "The first 10 years of retirement, from ages 65 to 75, may be considered the 'go-go years,' when you still have plenty of energy to pursue your goals," Maas says. "Ages 75 to 85 are the 'slow-go years,' when people tend to focus on family -- and 85 and onward are considered the 'no-go years,' when you typically stick close to home."

    If you want to take the whole family on a cruise one year into retirement, you may decide to take a more conservative approach to your portfolio than if you planned the trip 20 years into retirement.

    And make sure to include one-time goal-related costs. Maas, for instance, had a pair of clients who wanted to open a hardware store in retirement, so they had to factor those start-up costs into their retirement number.

    2. Your goals could impact your risk tolerance. Although risk tolerance is often thought of as an investing "personality trait" that's hard to change, looking at your investments through the lens of a goal could make you more or less inclined to take on risk -- especially as you get closer to your retirement date.

    For instance, if you want to take the whole family on a cruise one year into retirement, you may decide to take a more conservative approach to your portfolio than if you planned the same trip 20 years into retirement, says Maas.

    Likewise, how much flexibility you have for the goal itself may also figure into your portfolio moves.

    Let's say you've set aside $10,000 of your retirement savings toward a one-month trip five years into retirement. With a more aggressive investment approach, you may end up with enough to splurge on a more expensive dream spot -- but if a less prime locale would suffice, you could take a more conservative approach to saving.

    "In the end, you enjoy a month-long vacation regardless -- but the desire to take on additional risk for a potential additional reward might impact your investment strategy," says Maas.

    3. Your goals can change and you may need to rebalance. What's important to you now may shift in response to changes in your life, which is why Maas suggests revisiting your goals once or twice a year to determine if you need to rebalance.

    Maybe your son just had another kid, so you want to help with future college costs. Or perhaps, on second thought, downsizing your home is more appealing than staying in your current one.

    Of course, some of your goals could be met through avenues besides your nest egg.

    Maas, for instance, works with a wealthy client who grew up poor and, because of that experience, wants to make sure both of his kids will inherit $2 million. But bequeathing them cash isn't the only option he has to achieve that goal -- there are also life insurance policies, leaving them property or giving them investments.

    The bottom line? With a goals-based strategy, as your present life evolves and your dreams get clearer, it can help you better plan for that future you.


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    Businessman with Paper Airplanes Made from Money
    Getty ImagesEarning a lot of money doesn't make you wealthy, but these strategies do.
    By Kimberly Palmer

    Several years ago, New York Times Wealth Matters columnist Paul Sullivan opened up his finances to a group of high-powered, high-net worth investors known as Tiger 21. Members gather regularly to discuss investing strategies and at one meeting, Sullivan asked them to critique his own -- relatively meager by their standards -- financial life.

    "Given what I do, I thought [my wife and I] had a handle on it, but what I learned from that meeting is that we hadn't thought enough about the risks in life," Sullivan says. Those risks include declining incomes and the unexpected death or disability of a household wage earner. As a result of that meeting, Sullivan and his wife took out life and disability insurance policies and sold off a condo in Florida that had been a vacation home for the family.

    "They were so direct and harsh about that being a possible drain, if we weren't able to sell it if something bad happened. That was a wake-up call," Sullivan says.

    The lessons he absorbed from that wealthy, exclusive group of over 300 members across the U.S. and Canada led Sullivan to write his new book, "The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy." The title refers to the security that can come from knowing you're prepared for a negative event, like a layoff, no matter how much money you have or earn. "The people in the book who I call wealthy, whether they're a teacher or a hedge fund manager, are wealthy because they have security. They have behaviors around money that let them be in control of their lives when something bad happens," he says.

    Those behaviors, Sullivan says, can be learned or even adopted later in life. As someone who grew up without much money, he says it took him a long time to have a healthy relationship with it. He would avoid credit card debt and overspending so assiduously that he often wore threadbare clothing and skipped even affordable purchases he would have enjoyed. "You should be able to spend money on things you enjoy. If you love $4 Starbucks lattes, then buy it," he says.

    If you're looking to adopt some secrets of the wealthy, Sullivan suggests the following strategies:

    1. Focus on the things you can control, not what you wish you did in the past. "Too many normal Americans think, 'I wish I bought Apple stock 15 years ago' -- that's the wrong way to think. You can't control that," he says. But you can control how much money you save each month. So instead of fretting over specific stock picks, just put your money into a broadly diversified portfolio and forget about it while it grows slowly over time.

    2. Load up on insurance. Term life insurance is very cheap, Sullivan points out. While there is a low probability of a family breadwinner dying early, it would be disastrous if that were to occur. Sullivan suggests asking, "How many years will the surviving spouse need to get back on his or her feet?" Paying around $400 to $500 a year for a basic policy can help alleviate that risk​.

    3. Don't worry so much about taxes. "People waste a lot of time obsessing about taxes," Sullivan notes. Instead, he recommends sitting down with an accountant to figure out your tax rate -- ​and then accept it.

    4. Find a fee-only financial adviser. "A bad adviser is worse than no adviser, so find an adviser who is really going to act in your best interesting," Sullivan says. Fee-only advisers are obligated to work in clients' best interest and aren't paid based on products they sell to clients.

    5. Get your 401(k) benefit. Take advantage of any 401(k) plan your workplace offers, Sullivan says. If you put in even a small percentage of your paycheck each month and your employer matches it, you'll slowly build a nest egg for retirement.

    6. Spend on what makes you happy. After the Tiger 21 meeting, Sullivan says he became mindful of the purchases that brought him joy​. "What I really like is to go out to dinner and have a nice bottle of wine once or twice a month," Sullivan says, so that is what he and his wife do.

    At the end of the day, Sullivan says, it's not earning a lot of money that makes you wealthy. "There are people on the wrong side [of the thin green line] at the top of their earning potential," he says. Even from where he sat at a tennis club near his home in Connecticut during the interview​​, he says, "there are people all around me who are in the process of making horrendous decisions every day. They have too many cars, giant homes. But it's a house of cards. If the bonus doesn't come in, they could be in a lot of trouble when they shouldn't."

    In fact, he says, one of the wealthiest people he knows is his aunt, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. "She has a pension, some investments and she gets to do everything she wants. She volunteers at a church, spends time with her grandkids and goes on one big vacation a year," he says. You're truly wealthy, he adds, when you have enough money to do all the things you want to do.

    Kimberly Palmer is a senior editor for U.S. News Money. She is the author of the new book, "The Economy of You." You can follow her on Twitter @alphaconsumer, circle her on Google Plus or email her at


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    Uber Portland
    Eric Risberg/AP
    Uber has turned the taxi business on its head since being founded in 2009, but that's far from the last industry the company intends to interrupt. It has quietly been testing product delivery services in cities like New York and Washington, D.C., over the past few months, delivering everything from handbags to toilet paper.

    The move could make it easier to shop online and get quick delivery of products, and it might also make Uber an indispensable app for millions of people around the world.

    Location-Based Shopping

    Uber has tested two concepts in the past year, one called Corner Store and the other called Uber Essentials. The latter was a Washington, D.C., test that offered "the everyday items you need in 10 minutes or less." Apparently that includes things like a folding snow shovel ($20), an Uber branded umbrella ($15), DayQuil Cold & Flu ($10 for a 16-count pack), and Charmin Ultra Strong Toilet Paper double roll ($4 for four rolls). Uber didn't announce any statistics indicating whether Uber Essentials performed as well as planned or not, but executives did say "the more you love it, the more likely it will last," and since it was shut down after about a year of operation, it likely wasn't a big hit among customers.

    Uber Essentials was just the beginning of Uber's merchant plans, though. The company recently launched UberRush, a rush ordering service in New York. Order an item from any number of merchants and Uber will pick it up and deliver it to you. The service can even send documents, much like a local courier service will do. With Uber you can see where your package is and get confirmation when it's delivered.

    Merchandise may not be the biggest business Uber has today, but it's showing the power of the company's location services.

    Uber's Plan to Take Over the World

    Just think of how many applications location services have beyond the taxi. The two-way location platform Uber has built not only lets a service provider know where you are, you can tell where they are as well.

    If built into businesses correctly, this could be great for pizza delivery, the cable repair truck and logistics in industries like long-haul trucking. You could track nearly anyone delivering goods or service you need with Uber's technology through a smartphone. That's why it has opened up an API (software that allows developers to tap Uber's technology) for third parties and is moving into new markets like product deliveries.

    The grand vision is to have so many drivers and so many vehicles on the road that Uber becomes a go-to for both your transportation needs as well as deliveries. Tying those drivers in with the location-based infrastructure is where Uber's true value could lie.

    I think Uber deliveries will eventually be integrated into thousands of merchants, just the way Apple (AAPL) Pay is trying to integrate itself, and Uber will be a delivery option. Of course, this would only be for local deliveries, but if you want a sandwich in 20 minutes or don't want to drive to the store for an item you need right away, maybe Uber can fill that need.

    Will Uber Be the Merchant of the Future?

    Considering how successful Uber has been as a taxi competitor and how many drivers are on the road, I have no doubt it will be able to transition into a delivery service as well. As of early 2015, Uber had 160,000 active drivers on the road, four times what it had a year ago, and was signing up 40,000 new drivers a month. That's an incredible network to build from.

    With that said, it probably doesn't make sense for Uber to stock products itself and it will instead be an integrated player with other merchants in areas where offerings like UberRush are available.

    If it's successful, Uber could be even more integral to our daily lives than we know. If the number of drivers it has continues to grow, the possibilities with Uber are endless.

    Motley Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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