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    Boy and girl watching father open Father's Day gift
    By Louis DeNicola

    Dad deserves more than a tie, cuff links, or electric shaver this Father's Day. If he's the DIY type, a hands-on gift is a three-fer: You give him a kit with all the necessary components (gift No. 1); he tackles and completes the job with relish (gift No. 2); he then uses and enjoys his creation (gift No. 3). You can hunt down all the parts on your own or take advantage of the growing popularity of DIY kits sold online, at brick-and-mortar crafts shops, and at local crafts fairs. Each of the following 10 ideas leaves opportunity for creativity and customization.

    Homemade Jerky. Present dad with a variety of spices and a slab of fresh meat along with jerky-making instructions found on the Web (WikiHow is a good source.) The process is straightforward: Cut the meat into strips, remove the fat, marinate the slices, add seasonings, and dry in a dehydrator or oven. Total elapsed time: a bit more than a day. DIY jerky is often made with flank steak, which currently sells for less than $8 a pound. (This is a good, cheap cut to throw on the grill, as well.) Marinade and spice mixtures cost less than $15, and there will be plenty left over for repeat performances.

    Vegetarian Delight. If the idea of homemade jerky is bound to churn your father's stomach, there's always a meat-free alternative: DIY tofu. The website UncommonGoods sells a tofu-making kit for $19 that comes with GMO-free soybeans, a mold, and cheesecloth. The only other supplies this DIY Father's Day gift requires are a blender and a lemon, and the only choice dad will have to make is how firm the tofu should be. The 1-pound brick will be ready in less than an hour and can be used to enhance a stir fry, slapped on to a grill, or marinated and baked for snacks or salad toppings.

    Man-Style Terrarium. An enclosed garden may not evoke a mainstream image of a Father's Day present, but these miniature wonders are just the right gift for DIY dads with a green thumb. Once complete, it can brighten his day at work or his favorite room at home. Terrarium kits start at $10, and you can always enlarge the scope by adding unique finds -- a special moss from the garden center or a few trinkets from a flea market, for example. Some kits come with the container; if not, buy a Mason jar at the dollar store or a decorative glass vessel costing $10 to $20 at a crafts store. Send him to sites such as Etsy and Pinterest for inspiration.

    Hand-Built Camera. Dad's smartphone may have a camera, but there's still something special about using a device specifically made to take pictures -- especially when dad makes the device. Fotodiox's Lomo Camera kit costs $15 on and comes with all the parts necessary to build a working twin- lens reflex, 35mm camera. The DIY Father's Day gift kit earns 3.5 stars in customer reviews, with users generally saying assembly is fun (heads up: "springs C and D are swapped," according to one post), although reports are mixed about photo quality. Film is not included.

    Homemade Infused Liquor. A bottle of store-bought whiskey is just too bland to serve as a Father's Day gift. Instead, let him infuse the liquor with flavors he likes. The site Boozed + Infused offers several recipes, from a classic limoncello to the more risque habanero honey whiskey. Infusing takes anywhere from a day or two to well over a week, depending on the recipe; The Homemade Gin Kit ($50) comes with all the herbs necessary to transform vodka into gin in 36 hours. For a more customized finish, he can use fresh produce from the farmers' market and follow the steps laid out in the Infuse Your Booze post found at Bon Appetit. Either way, you'll need to buy the booze (don't bother with the good stuff); a fifth of serviceable vodka costs $8 to $12.

    'Barrel' Aging. For the father who likes the peaty things in life, barrel aging adds an extra touch of mellow to dad's preferred spirit. The website UncommonGoods sells two barrel aging kits: the $20 version is intended for DIY dads who might want to age a bottle of whiskey or rum already on hand; the $35 version comes with a glass bottle that's meant to hold a favorite cocktail mix. Place the wooden staves from the kit inside a full bottle of whatever and let it sit for one to three weeks, according to taste.

    Soap. The Web is loaded with recipes and instructional videos for making soap, but there are also soap-making kits. The Lorann Oils Soap Making Kit ($24 on, for example, includes glycerin soap base, liquid colors, cocoa butter, fragrances, and a mold. Or, assemble a DIY Father's Day gift kit on your own. You'll need lye (available at the local hardware store), oils, fragrances and textures (e.g., dried flowers), mixing bowls, protective glasses and gloves, and a plastic or silicone mold, PVC pipe, or a cardboard box lined with freezer paper. Include very specific instructions because working with lye can be dangerous. Although the cost of ingredients and tools for a single batch adds up, the per-bar cost is about $2 and there'll be soap enough for months. The Art of Manliness suggests adding walnut or coffee to make the soap more "manly."

    Hot Sauce. The popularity of hot sauce has skyrocketed over the past decade compared with other condiments. The website Grow and Make sells a kit for $30 that contains the ingredients (spices, sugar, peppers, vinegar) to whip up three different hot sauces or three bottles of one type. Supplies (funnel, gloves, bottles, labels, and cleanser) are also included. An extra $5 buys a larger kit that yields six bottles.

    Fresh Coffee. A new mug that says "Best Dad" -- so ordinary. If coffee is the special-day theme, consider Sweet Maria's stovetop roasting kit ($41.50). This DIY Father's Day gift contains everything needed to roast coffee at home: a 6-quart aluminum popper with a hand crank, a thermometer, 10 valve bags, and 4 pounds of green coffee beans (choose from espresso or regular; decaf beans are also available). If the kitchen isn't already stocked with a coffee grinder, you can buy one for less than $20.

    Homemade Bacon. Pork in all its glory -- and that would be bacon -- is the food of the moment. So why not present dad with a DIY Father's Day gift that lets him partake at a very basic level? The Original Bacon Kit costs $23 and comes with a curing bag, the cure, maple sugar, a thermometer, and directions. All you need to add is 5 pounds of pork belly, currently selling for about $5 a pound at a local butcher. Dad can make the bacon in an oven or a smoker and the entire family can reap the benefits of his hard work.


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    Life Insurance
    Getty Images
    Have you ever wondered what the reasons are why you may have been declined for life insurance? There are actually many reasons, but here are the top 15 reasons.

    These are in no specific order, since the importance of each will vary from one life insurance company to another.

    1. Overweight or Obese. These are a red flag for life insurance companies because they are conditions that often lead to severe health complications, particularly cardiovascular issues. In addition, your weight -- or more specifically your height-to-weight ratio -- is also a strong indication of your overall health and fitness level.

    While being overweight or obese may not always be a cause for a decline in and of itself, it will usually result in higher premiums. And if it exists in combination with other health risks, a decline is highly likely.

    2. Income Limitations. Some life insurance companies won't write a life insurance policy for someone whose income is below a certain level. That level will vary between insurance companies. The reason that they impose this restriction is that they don't want to insure people below a certain income level, since it can result in issuing a large number of small policies that produce reduced premium flows. The companies see this as a method of cost containment.

    Another reason that lower income can impede your approval is that the insurance companies have to justify the policy. If you want a million dollar life insurance policy but have no assets and make $20,000 a year. There is a good chance that you won't receive coverage.

    3. Alcoholism. This isn't about casual drinking, but more about a positive alcohol marker indicated when liver functions are high. The combination of damage to health that occurs from alcoholism, as well as the potential for engaging in life-threatening activity is enough for many life insurance companies to issue a denial.

    If alcoholism is a current problem, the best strategy in applying for life insurance will be to delay your application until you have ceased drinking, and enough time has passed that the claim of being sober can be substantiated.

    4. Elevated Cholesterol, Lipids and Triglycerides. The main concern here isn't necessarily high cholesterol, but rather the combination of high LDL cholesterol, and low HDL cholesterol. The combination puts you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

    5. Elevated Liver Function. Elevated liver function can indicate inflammation or damage to the liver cells. This can cause the cells to leak above normal levels of certain chemicals into the bloodstream. Most typically, the elevation is mild, and the condition is temporary. But sometimes it can be an indication of more serious liver problems, and that's what concerns life insurance companies.

    One of the difficulties for an applicant, is that they may become aware of the elevated liver function only after taking a life insurance medical exam. In that case, there's no way to know if the condition is temporary or something more serious, since you haven't had the opportunity to get follow-up medical attention. The life insurance company however may assume the worst and deny your application.

    6. Blood or Protein in the Urine. From a life insurance standpoint, the existence of blood or protein in the urine could be an indication of kidney disease. But it can also be caused by extreme physical exercise. In either case, there is no way to know unless you have follow-up medical treatment. But that won't help you in connection with a life insurance application, unless the insurance company is prepared to wait for the additional medical information before proceeding with your application.

    7. Hazardous Occupation. Some occupations carry a higher degree of danger than others. This can make life insurance companies reluctant to approve policies if you are working in an occupation that is considered particularly hazardous.

    Forbes magazine produced a list of The 10 Deadliest Jobs:
    1. Logging workers
    2. Fishers and related fishing workers
    3. Airline pilots and flight engineers
    4. Roofers
    5. Structural iron and steel workers
    6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
    7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
    8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers
    9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
    10. Construction laborers
    If you work in one of these occupations, don't be surprised if your life insurance application is denied.

    8. Hazardous Extra-Curricular Activities. For some people, it's not what they do for a living that gets them in trouble with life insurance companies, but rather what they do when not working. Just as some occupations are more hazardous than others, there are also extracurricular activities that are considered hazardous, and carry a higher risk of premature death. If you participate in any of them, you may find it difficult to get life insurance.

    Exactly what extracurricular activities are deemed hazardous varies considerably from one life insurance company to another. But some of the more common ones include skydiving, scuba diving, flying (recreational pilot) and base jumping. Though you may see these activities is entertaining, a life insurance company may consider them to be unacceptably dangerous.

    9. Drug Use. Though marijuana use is slowly gaining acceptance among life insurance companies due in no small part to the fact that it is being legalized in more states, confirmed use of stronger drugs are typically an automatic decline when you apply for life insurance.

    Just as is the case with alcoholism, if you have a drug habit, the best strategy is to get off the drugs, and to begin establishing a history of a drug-free life. In most cases, this will take up to three years.

    10. Your Driving Record. Much like participating in hazardous extracurricular activities, a spotty driving record can indicate that you live a dangerous lifestyle. This is not to be underestimated, as auto accidents are one of the leading causes of death, and especially prevalent among young people.

    A history of multiple accidents or tickets, or certainly of repeated DUI/DWI episodes is a cause of concern for a life insurance company. You may find it impossible to get life insurance until you can demonstrate a reasonable history of clean driving.

    11. A History of Cancer. Even though cancer outcomes have been improving dramatically in recent years, life insurance companies continue to see cancer as a high risk situation. Much will depend upon the type of cancer that you had, how far it progressed, and how long it's been in remission.

    Less serious forms of cancer, such as skin cancer, are typically approved by life insurance companies. The more severe forms, such as breast cancer, may receive more scrutiny.

    12. Previous Declines on Life Insurance Applications. You can blame the Medical Information Bureau for this problem, but life insurance companies subscribe to this system, which enables them to share information on approvals and denials with other insurance companies. The main purpose of the system is to alert insurance companies about applicants who lie about their health conditions. Such applicants often go from one insurance company to the next, hoping to be able to pull off the big lie, and get they policy they want.

    But it can also be a snare for anyone who has applied for life insurance in the past, and has been declined for a medical reason that may no longer exist. It's important to understand that just because you've been denied for a life insurance policy the past, doesn't mean that you can never be approved by any other life insurance company.

    13. AIDS or HIV. Even though AIDS and HIV are better understood now than in the past, and even though survival rates have improved dramatically, some life insurance companies still see them as red flags and may deny your application. But there are companies out there that will provide life insurance, and those are the ones that you need to apply to.

    14. High Levels of Glucose or Blood Sugar. High levels of glucose or blood sugar can be an indication of diabetes, and that opens up the possibility for a host of other medical outcomes that many life insurance companies prefer to avoid.

    This is another one of those conditions that often is not discovered by the applicant until they undergo a medical exam for life insurance. This is because high levels of glucose or blood sugar usually have no symptoms, especially in the early going.

    15. Hepatitis. Hepatitis B or C that has already been diagnosed and treated is typically not a reason for denial once treatment is complete. But it can be a problem with a life insurance application if the condition has only been recently discovered, or if it is revealed by the life insurance medical exam itself.

    In order to get life insurance, you'll first need to begin some sort of treatment, which could make you eligible for life insurance approval at a later date.

    What Are Your Choices If You Are Declined For These or Any Other Reasons?. The point of this list isn't to tell you why you can't get life insurance, but rather to provide the most common reasons for denial, and more important -- what you can do about it.

    The first step is to find out the specific reasons for the denial. Be sure to get this information in writing, as it may be very specific, and list more than one reason. You'll need this information in order to determine your next course of action. That usually involves applying to another life insurance company. But you shouldn't do that until you know what the denial reasons are, so that you can avoid a repeat denial.

    Get copies of your medical records. Order copies of any medical records that were used by the life insurance company in declining your application. You'll need to check these records carefully to make sure that they do not contain false or questionable information. Should you come across any, you'll need to make sure that the information is corrected, as it will appear in the database that virtually all insurance companies have access to.

    Work with an Independent Insurance Broker. This is probably your most important strategy. There are literally hundreds of life insurance companies, and each takes a somewhat different view of various health conditions. Where one company may deny you, another may approve your application and welcome your business. For example, some life insurance companies take a more favorable view of smokers than others.

    The trick, if you are a smoker, is to apply only to those companies that have a favorable view of smoking and will give you more affordable life insurance rates. But since you do not work in the industry, you can't know who those companies are. An independent insurance broker will know who they are because he works in the industry. And because he employed by any one company, he can place your application with any company that is likely to approve it.

    That will save you time and money -- because it won't cost you any more to use an independent insurance broker than it will if you applied to a life insurance directly on your own.


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    Paying bills with a check
    Getty ImagesPayments by check have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2000, according to the Federal Reserve.
    By Paul Sisolak

    Check writing has become a lost art. There used to be something official about writing a personal check that made even the most minor transactions feel more important when you had to physically write out the recipient's name, dollar amount and sign your name in the bottom right corner.

    In 2015, the personal check isn't what it used to be: Newer and more convenient payment methods have taken its place. According to a 2013 Federal Reserve study, payments by check have dropped more than 50 percent from 2000 to 2012, while electronic and card payments tripled. In a GOBankingRates poll last year, nearly 38 percent of 1,500 respondents admitted leaving their checkbooks completely unused.

    At the same time, there's been a fivefold increase in the Google search term "how to write a check" over the last decade, according to an April article in The Washington Post. The Fed also reports that over 18 billion checks are written per year, which is proof they still have a place in this world.

    So why have checks been on the decline? Here are a few reasons:

    Mobile apps do the job faster and better. Checks are rendered nearly obsolete when peer-to-peer money exchanging and payment come into the picture. Smartphone apps such as Venmo, Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Tilt allow users to easily transfer money from one account to another. This is big business, not a passing trend. Venmo alone handles more than $1 billion in peer-to-peer payments annually, Business Insider reports. As for the mobile payment industry, a recent Business Insider analysis predicted Venmo will reach $86 billion in the next three years.

    Retailers are phasing out checks with tech. Mobile technology has pushed out checks from the point of sale. Major brands such as Whole Foods Market, Old Navy, Gap and Lululemon Athletica have eschewed checks, while most online retailers (i.e., don't offer checks at all as a payment option. Checks take time and money to process, so more stores and businesses are introducing tablet- and smartphone-based payment options at the cash register, such as Square Cash or LevelUp.

    Online banking offers more incentives. Referred to as "eChecking" or "green checking," an increasing number of brick-and-mortar banks and credit unions are pushing paperless checking to save money and conserve trees. Customers might be swayed to make the switch with the added bonus of earning a higher interest rate on balances or zero fees for giving up traditional checking. Other online-only financial institutions -- such as Ally Bank, Bank5 Connect and Barclays -- don't deal in paper banking at all.

    Checks haven't held up over the years. As consumers continue to embrace these new, convenient banking technologies, traditional check writing has naturally begun to die off with each passing generation. The 2014 GOBankingRates poll shed light on this pattern: Over 60 percent of respondents ages 18 to 24 said they never write checks, compared to roughly 75 percent of people ages 55 and up who still go the paper route.

    Paper checks require mindfulness. While having a paper trail is great for documentation purposes, checks open up a host of potential security issues. A checkbook can be lost, giving anyone with a thieving urge to forge a payment with your account and routing numbers at their full disposal.

    How to Write a Check

    There may come a time when there's no Wi-Fi or Web access right when you need to complete a transaction, and writing a check is the best solution. You might also find yourself in a situation when a check is necessary, like making a rent payment. Despite the obvious benefits of electronic payments for tenants and landlords, 70 percent of U.S. renters still pay their monthly rent by paper check, according to PayLease, a company that collects rent payments for property managers.

    Even if you never pay with a check for the rest of your life, you should always know how to fill one out the right way and be ready to do so. Here's a quick step-by-step guide:

    1. Write the date in the top right corner. Make sure you enter the complete month, day and year on the line labeled "Date." You can write out the date in full (i.e., June 11, 2015), or use numbers (6/1/15 or 06/01/15).

    2. Enter the name of your recipient. On the line labeled "Pay to the Order of," write the full name (first and last) of the person/group/company you're paying by check. Make sure to spell it right!

    3. Enter the dollar amount. To the right, on the line with the dollar sign, write out the exact amount the check is payable for. Don't round up or estimate. A check for $122.51 should be written in that amount, not for $123.00.

    4. Repeat the dollar amount, written out. On the line under your recipient's name, repeat the amount the check is for -- but this time, write it out in full. For example, you should write $122.51 as "One Hundred Twenty-Two and 51/100" (with the change amount written as a fraction). If it's an even amount, you can simply write "Two Hundred" if the check is for $200. If there's empty line space remaining, take this safety precaution: Draw a single line to the end of the field to prevent someone from adding new digits and altering the amount.

    5. Fill out the Memo space (optional). The bottom left-hand corner of your check includes a space to tell the recipient what his or her payment is for. It could be "Air Conditioning Repair," "Pet Grooming," "Happy Graduation," etc. Take note that this space is optional, except when specified by the recipient; if it's a bill payment for cable, utilities or rent, the company or property manager may specify that you must enter your account number in the Memo field for ID purposes.

    6. Sign your check. Your check is invalid if you don't sign your name on the line in the bottom right-hand corner. Remember, don't sign your name on the back of the check -- that space is meant for your recipient to sign when they receive it. When they do, and the check is cashed, its dollar amount will be deducted from your checking account.

    Paul Sisolak writes for, a source for the interest rates on savings accounts, CDs, mortgages, auto loans and more.


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    France Cannes Lions
    Lionel Cironneau/APTwitter CEO Dick Costello, who resigned last week, is scheduled to speak Tuesday at the Bloomberg Technology Conference.
    From a new video game console with extra storage capacity hitting the market to the latest earnings report out of the speedy parcel delivery specialist, here are some of the things that will help shape the week that lies ahead on Wall Street.

    Monday -- Tech on Deck

    The 2015 Bloomberg Technology Conference: Code and the Corner Office kicks off Monday. The two-day expo features some heavy hitters including Marissa Mayer and Dick Costolo.

    You can't get into the conference; it's sold out. However, you can be sure that the more colorful comments and developments will make the rounds -- and not just on Bloomberg.

    Tuesday -- Xbox Marks the Spot

    Microsoft (MSFT) will ship a new Xbox One model Tuesday. The new gaming console will offer a full terabyte of data storage, double the capacity of the current system. It will be priced at $399, and the current 500-gigabyte model will see its existing $349 promotional price become a permanent move. Storage capacity has become a big deal for consoles as the industry shifts from disc-based games to digitally delivered diversions.

    Microsoft's Xbox One hit the market a week after the PS4, but it was introduced at a higher price. It also didn't help that its arrival was accompanied by bad press about restrictive features that Microsoft abandoned just ahead of the launch. Beefing up its specs while keeping pricing competitive should serve the console well heading into this year's holiday shopping season.

    Wednesday -- Delivering More Than Just Earnings

    FedEx (FDX) reports quarterly results Wednesday morning. There's plenty of money to be made in the speedy delivery of parcels. Analysts see FedEx checking in with $12.32 billion in revenue, 4 percent more than it did during the same period a year earlier.

    FedEx is a compelling company to track. It's a great proxy for the economy in general, as parcel deliveries rise and fall depending on how open consumers and companies are to paying a premium for shipping.

    Thursday -- Supermarket Dash

    There aren't too many companies reporting financial results this week, but one of them is Kroger (KR). Wall Street sees the chain of 2,625 supermarkets and other stores earning $1.22 a share for the quarter, well ahead of the $1.09 a share it rang up a year earlier. That may seem like ambitious growth for a sleepy grocery store operator, but Kroger has actually beaten analyst profit targets every single quarter over the past year.

    Friday -- Pixar Strikes Again

    Disney's (DIS) latest animated feature -- "Inside Out" -- hits theaters Friday. Pixar's release carries a plot that may be a harder sell than its earlier blockbusters. We're talking about following around the five emotions that govern a young girl's mind.

    This will be the first year that Disney's Pixar puts out two movies. "The Good Dinosaur" was supposed to hit a multiplex near you last year, but its release got bumped to the 2015 holiday season.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends FedEx and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days, and check out our free report for one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    California Drought
    Nick Ut/APA sign encourages people to save water at an April news conference in Los Angeles.
    By Sandra Block

    Kiplinger's spoke with Daniel Sumner, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California-Davis, about the effects of California's drought on produce prices over the long-term. Here's an excerpt from our interview:

    California is in its fourth year of drought. Why haven't we seen big price increases on produce from California farms?

    Start with the geography. Many crops for which California is the major supplier -- lettuce, strawberries, avocados -- grow along the coast, which hasn't been as severely affected by the drought.

    What about prices for crops grown in the hard-hit Central Valley?

    Most of the acreage cuts are in field crops, such as cotton and alfalfa, which have a limited effect on food prices. Some produce crops are affected; cantaloupes could get cut back a bit, so there may be a period this summer when they're more expensive. But farmers are doing everything they can to move water. Groundwater is scarce, but farmers have enough stored in aquifers so that, when they're hit with these severe droughts, they can usually pump a little deeper. Water is incredibly valuable for crops that are crucial to U.S. produce supplies (think carrots, tree fruits, grapes), so a farmer will idle a thousand acres of cotton, cut back on alfalfa or grow only 60 percent of his usual rice crop. Given a very complicated set of rules and regulations, farmers are being really innovative

    Is that sustainable long-term?

    We can't go on pumping water forever like we have over the past few years. If this drought continues, we'll gradually have to cut back water even for more-valuable crops.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that fresh fruit and vegetable prices will increase between 2 and 3 percent this year. What do you think?

    I'd agree. Competition from other countries, such as Mexico, and even other states, such as Arizona and Texas, will keep prices from rising more. But there's a lot of weather yet to happen before the year is over.

    What about California wine? Will we have to pay more for cabernet sauvignon?

    Farmers aren't cutting back too much on the vineyards. But the drought could affect lower-priced wines, which tend to be made from grapes from the Central Valley. You might eventually pay more for those wines but probably not this year. The weather in the spring seems favorable for high yields and quality. And the strong dollar means that some wines from Chile, Australia, France or Italy will be a little cheaper, and that puts pressure on wine prices here.


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    Senior couple reading text message
    Getty Images
    By Jane Wells

    The higher your age, the lower the price. Kinda makes getting older sound better.

    Even as companies chase millennial spending dollars, they recognize that older Americans actually have money. They know baby boomers appreciate a good value.

    Here are some of the Top Best Most wonderful discounts for seniors. By the way, can we pick another word? Senior sounds so old. Maybe we should call them Smarter Citizens?


    Most airlines provide discounts to fliers who are at least 65 years old, if you ask for them.

    Once you're on the ground, The Senior List has discovered that Hertz (HTZ) and Avis (CAR) provide AARP members discounts of up to 25 percent, and Budget will help your budget with discounts as high at 30 percent.

    Marriott (MAR) provides 15 percent discounts for customers who are at least 62, but some Hyatt (H) hotels will boost that discount to as much as 50 percent.


    Shopping during the week? Good.

    Ross Stores (ROST) discounts purchases by shoppers ages 55 and over by 10 percent on Tuesdays. Kohl's (KSS) provides 15 percent discounts on Wednesdays. Banana Republic will discount sales 10 percent if you are at least 63.


    The list of restaurants that provide discounts to seniors is very, very long. Many of them will knock 10 percent off the price of your meal.

    However, Outback Steakhouse discounts meals 15 percent for AARP members, excluding booze (dang!). Jack-in-the-Box (JACK) provides discounts of up to 20 percent.

    Dunkin' Donuts (DNKN) will give you a free donut with the purchase of a large cup of coffee (at participating stores).

    PapaJohn's discounts online pizza orders by 25 percent for people who are at least 55 years old if you type "AARP25" in the promo code.

    Groceries and Drugstores

    Publix knocks 5 percent off the price of your groceries every Wednesday if you're at least 55, except in Florida.

    In the Northeast, Waldbaum's will discount orders of $30 or more by 5 percent for shoppers ages 55 and older, usually on Tuesdays. You need to present a coupon.

    For prescriptions, AARP discounts of up to 38 percent are recognized at 64,000 participating pharmacies, so ask.

    Chains like Rite Aid (RAD), CVS (CVS), and Walgreens (WBA) have special programs that may cost a small fee to join in exchange for discounts on some prescription and generic meds.

    Target (TGT) has a prescriptions savings plan that saves 10 to 50 percent on certain prescriptions at participating stores. You don't even have to be a senior citizen to join! So it's not really just a senior discount, it's just a great discount. The bonus here: Other members of your household can use the card, and you can earn reward points toward in-store discounts after filling five eligible prescriptions.

    And for dessert ...

    If you are at least 60 years old, The Senior List reports you can get 10 percent off your Ben & Jerry's ice cream. That totally makes turning the big 6-0 worth it.


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    Gas Tax Lowered
    Rich Pedroncelli/AP
    By David Randall

    NEW YORK -- The average price of regular grade gasoline rose by 3 cents over the last two weeks, the smallest gain in more than two months of steady increases, according to the Lundberg survey released Sunday.

    "Prices appears to be peaking," said Trilby Lundberg, publisher of the survey.

    Drivers paid an average of $2.87 a gallon, 82 cents below the average price paid at this time last year. If strong U.S. gas supply continues and oil prices stay steady, then pump prices will likely stop rising for the first time since April, Lundberg said.

    The lowest average-price gasoline in the survey of cities in the lower 48 states was found in Tucson, Arizona, at $2.45 a gallon. The most expensive was San Diego, at $3.62 a gallon.


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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street Shopify IPO
    Richard Drew/APShopify officials celebrate the company's IPO in May on the New York Stock Exchange.
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    Shopify (SHOP) -- Up 23 percent last week

    Recently public Shopify moved higher after an expansion of its "buy" button test on the leading social media network. Shopify offers a cloud-based commerce platform, and the market's excited about the potential of its alliance with Facebook (FB) as the social network tests Shopify's "buy" buttons, where merchants can complete transactions with shoppers never having to leave Facebook.

    Shopify went public at $17 last month. It's been a hot debutante, and last week's pop now finds the stock nearly doubling in less than a month of trading.

    ITT Educational Services (ESI) -- Up 20 percent last week

    A better-than-expected quarterly report sent shares of the provider of technology-oriented postsecondary degree programs higher. As with many for-profit educators, revenue did clock in lower than it did a year earlier. However, ITT's profit managed to nearly triple to 44 cents a share. Wall Street was braced for a year-over-year decline.

    Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (KKD) -- Up 16 percent last week

    Another big mover on earnings news was Krispy Kreme. The home of decadent doughnuts saw its revenue climb 9 percent, fueled by brisk expansion and a 5.2 percent uptick in comparable-store sales. Yes, those glazed circular treats are bad for you, but folks apparently can't get enough of them these days.

    The sweetness carried all the way down to the bottom line: Krispy Kreme's adjusted profit rose slightly to 24 cents a share. Analysts were only holding out for net income of 22 cents a share, making this the first quarter in a year that Krispy Kreme has beaten analyst forecasts.

    LeapFrog Enterprises (LF) -- Down 29 percent last week

    The losses and sliding sales continue to mount at LeapFrog. The company that a generation ago raised the bar in the realm of electronic learning toys is struggling to remain relevant in this era of cheap tablets and even cheaper educational apps.

    Consolidated net sales plunged 36 percent since the prior year's quarter. LeapFrog was hoping that new products that it introduced last year -- a video game console and a fitness tracker for kids -- would help offset waning demand for its earlier educational playthings. It obviously didn't happen. LeapFrog got schooled, again.

    Boulder Brands (BDBD) -- Down 23 percent last week

    Boulder Brands got rocked after announcing that its co-founding CEO had resigned effective immediately. It also warned that sales for the current quarter would clock in lower than in the same period a year earlier. This is the first time that Boulder Brands will be posting a year-over-year decline in quarterly sales in years.

    Boulder Brands may not be a household name, but many of the company's health and wellness food brands are supermarket staples, including Smart Balance buttery spreads and EVOL natural frozen foods. It's also a big player in the gluten-free market with its Glutino and Udi's product lines.

    Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV) -- Down 16 percent last week

    At least one homebuilder is feeling the pain of a real estate rally that appears to finally be losing some steam. Hovnanian slumped after posting uninspiring quarterly results. Revenue inched slightly higher, but the developer's quarterly loss has widened since last year.

    Cancellation rates held steady and its backlog of home orders has improved, but the market's concerned about its inability to get out of the red. It has posted a loss in four of the past six quarters.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and LeapFrog Enterprises. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook and is short Boulder Brands. 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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    Ford Explorer
    M. Spencer Green/APA Ford Motor employee works on the engine assembly of a 2016 Ford Explorer at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. industrial production unexpectedly fell in May as manufacturing and mining activity remained weak, a sign that a strong dollar and spending cuts in the energy sector continued to constrain economic growth.

    The softness in the production side of the economy contrasts starkly with recent upbeat data on retail sales, employment, and small business and consumer confidence, which have pointed to a growth pickup after a sluggish start to the second quarter.

    Signs of spring remain largely absent in the industrial sector. The challenges of the stronger dollar and drop in energy prices linger.

    "Signs of spring remain largely absent in the industrial sector. The challenges of the stronger dollar and drop in energy prices linger," said Tim Quinlan, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    Industrial output slipped 0.2 percent last month after declining 0.5 percent in April, the Federal Reserve said Monday. Industrial production has been weak since December, and economists had expected output to rise 0.2 percent last month.

    The data was likely to get the attention of Fed policymakers who meet Tuesday and Wednesday, economists said.

    The U.S. central bank isn't expected to raise interest rates at this week's policy meeting, but rather to wait until later this year.

    Industrial production last month was held down by a 0.2 percent drop in manufacturing output. Manufacturing has been whacked by a strong dollar, which has eroded the profits of multinational corporations.

    Companies like Microsoft (MSFT) and Procter & Gamble (PG), the world's largest household products maker, and healthcare conglomerate Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) have warned the dollar will hit sales and profits this year.

    The dollar has gained about 13.2 percent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since last June largely on expectations of tighter U.S. monetary policy.

    U.S. financial markets were little moved by Monday's data as investors kept a wary eye on Greece, which inched closer to defaulting on its debt. U.S. stocks were trading lower, while the dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. Prices for U.S. government debt rose.

    Weak Orders

    Although motor vehicle production, machinery, and computer and electronic products increased last month, it was not enough to offset the drag on manufacturing output from declines in the production of electrical equipment, appliances and components, fabricated metal products and wood products.

    Manufacturing, which accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. economy and more than 72 percent of industrial production, was also weighed down by falling output of nondurable goods such as food and petroleum products.

    It is likely to remain weak in the months ahead.

    In a separate report, the New York Fed said its Empire State general business conditions index dropped to a reading of minus 1.98 in June from 3.09 in May.

    That was the weakest reading since January 2013 and the second negative reading in the past three months. A gauge of new orders contracted, while shipments edged down. Though a measure of unfilled orders increased last month, it remained in contraction territory, indicating order books remained weak.

    "Manufacturers will continue to struggle with the impact of the dollar's rise for some time yet," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

    But given manufacturing's small share of the economy and recent signs of a sharp pickup in growth in the non-factory sectors, Ashworth said "there is every reason to believe that GDP growth will average between 2.5 percent to 3 percent annualized over the rest of this year."

    That upbeat assessment was bolstered by a third report showing confidence among homebuilders vaulted to an eight-month high in June, suggesting the housing market recovery was gaining traction. Housing is expected to take up some of the slack from weak manufacturing.

    GDP contracted in the first quarter, slammed by bad weather, port disruptions, dollar strength and energy sector spending cuts.

    Last month, mining production fell 0.3 percent, the fifth straight monthly decline, as oil and gas well drilling and servicing fell 7.9 percent after plunging 14.5 percent in April.

    That took the cumulative drop since the end of 2014 to 51.8 percent. But the pace of decline in oil and gas well drilling and servicing is moderating, suggesting the worst of the spending cuts is over.

    Companies like Schlumberger (SLM), the world's No. 1 oilfield services provider, and Halliburton (HAL) have slashed their capital spending budgets for this year.

    Oil and gas production, however, increased 0.5 percent in May. Unseasonably warm weather last month lifted demand for air conditioning, leading to a 0.2 percent increase in utilities production.

    The amount of industrial capacity in use last month fell to its lowest level since January 2014.


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    Target will sell its pharmacy and clinic businesses to the drugstore chain CVS Health for about $1.9 billion in a deal that combines the resources of two retailers seeking to polish their health care reputations.

    The acquisition allows CVS Health to reach more patients and expand its in-store MinuteClinic brand, which it has been growing aggressively for the past several years. It also gives the nation's second-largest drugstore chain a retail presence in new markets such as Seattle, Denver and Salt Lake City.

    Target customers, in turn, will gain access to CVS Health Corp.'s pharmacy care programs that help them manage their prescriptions, find low-cost generic drugs and buy specialty medications, a rapidly growing slice of the pharmaceutical market.

    Drugstore chains, grocers and big retailers such as Target and Walmart (WMT) have all pushed deeper into customer health in recent years, in part to serve the aging baby boom generation and the millions of uninsured people who are expected to gain coverage under the federal health care overhaul. They've added walk-in clinics to their stores and, in some cases, expanded the care those clinics provide to include monitoring chronic conditions like diabetes.

    Retailers also are putting more health care products on their shelves.

    Drugstores have long-since slowed their push to grow by building new stores and shifted to expanding what their existing stores offer. That includes groceries and other non-pharmacy items, aside from health care products, as they try to attract customers who are looking to buy more in a single stop.

    CVS Health gained national attention last year when it announced it would pull tobacco from its store shelves as part of a push to improve its reputation as a health care provider. The drugstore chain also changed its name to CVS Health from CVS Caremark last year as part of its increased focus on health.

    Target had already quit selling tobacco in 1996.

    The deal announced Monday includes more than 1,660 pharmacies in Target stores that will be branded as CVS/pharmacy. The agreement also calls for new Target stores to include a CVS/pharmacy if they are going to offer pharmacy services.


    Target Corp.'s nearly 80 clinic locations will be rebranded as MinuteClinic. CVS Health will also open up to 20 new clinics in Target stores within three years of the deal's closing.

    In addition, Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health and Minneapolis-based Target plan to develop five to 10 smaller stores over two years. The stores will be branded as TargetExpress and include a CVS/pharmacy.

    Target has nearly 1,800 stores and also sells products through its website. The retailer, which caters to customers who have a little more money than Wal-Mart shoppers, is trying to reinvent itself as a more nimble and innovative company and is trying to reclaim its reputation as a cheap chic retailer under CEO Brian Cornell.

    It expects after-tax proceeds of about $1.2 billion, which it plans to use buying back stock, among other capital priorities.

    CVS Health will pay for the deal with new debt and has lowered its share repurchase guidance for this year to $5 billion from $6 billion. CVS Health runs 7,800 drugstores and nearly 1,000 walk-in medical clinics, a total it plans to expand to 1,500 clinics by 2017. It also operates one of the nation's largest pharmacy management businesses, which runs prescription drug coverage for insurers, employers and other big customers.

    Shares of CVS Health (CVS) climbed 66 cents to $102.88 Monday before markets opened, while Target (TGT) rose 52 cents to $79.99.

    -AP Business Writer Michelle Chapman contributed to this report from New York. Murphy reported from Indianapolis.


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    How to Keep Your Couch Looking Like New
    If your couch has seen better days, you can restore it for just a few dollars. Here's how.

    To fluff up your back cushions with a material called polyester fiberfill. They sell it at most craft stores for about $20. Just unzip the cushion on the back of your couch and fill it to your liking. It will work on your throw pillows, too.

    If you're tired of seeing a permanent imprint on your seat cushion, pick up a bag of quilt batting for around ten bucks. Simply remove the cushion from its cover, wrap a few layers of quilt batting around the cushion, and then put it back in its cover. This is a quick and easy way to bring comfort back to your couch.

    Before you send your saggy couch to the curb, save your cash and your cushions, with these simple fixes.

    View Poll


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    Earns Gap
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
    NEW YORK -- Gap plans to close 175 of its namesake stores and 250 jobs at its headquarters as the company tries to strengthen the struggling brand.

    Gap Inc. (GPS), which owns Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, said Monday it will close about 140 Gap stores in North America in the fiscal year that ends Jan. 31 -- and the remainder afterward -- based on factors that include location and performance. The San Francisco company also is closing an undisclosed number of stores in Europe. And it's cutting jobs at its headquarters in an attempt to make it faster and more decisive.

    The moves are the latest attempt by the once high-flying company to improve the shaky performance at its namesake brand. The brand that used to be a go-to for generations of khaki pants wearers has suffered in more recent years as it's failed to keep up with the right design trends.

    To help right the ship, Gap has shaken up its management ranks: Art Peck became CEO in February and leadership of the Gap and Banana Republic brands was changed. The company also has been working to overhaul its fashions to improve their appeal. And it got rid of its Piperlime line.

    The latest moves are aimed at making the company more nimble. Gap said the job cuts at its headquarters, in particular, are intended to make it faster and more decisive. In total, Gap said store closings and job cuts will save it around $25 million a year. The company said it will take about $140 million to $160 million in charges related to the moves.

    The stores that will close, which won't include Gap Factory or Gap Outlet locations, have about $300 million in annual sales out of Gap's total of $16 billion. After the closings the company will have about 800 Gap stores in North America, down from around 960 now. The company declined to say how many people work in those stores. The company also did not say whether those workers would be laid off or displaced.

    Gap doesn't expect the moves to affect its other brands, most of which have been performing better than Gap stores. In fact, Gap Global President Jeff Kirwan told The Associated Press that the company will apply lessons it's learned from its Old Navy brand, which has been a bright spot, to Gap.


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    PepsiCo Marks 50th Anniversary At New York Stock Exchange
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    By Rodrigo Campos

    NEW YORK -- Stocks fell Monday on Wall Street as investors fretted over the consequences of a possible debt default by Greece, but talk of multibillion dollar health care deals buoyed shares in the sector, cutting into the market's loss.

    After Sunday's breakdown of the cash-for-reform talks between Athens and its creditors, Greece has two weeks before facing a 1.6 billion euro repayment due to the International Monetary Fund that could leave it out of cash. On Monday, positions among negotiators hardened.

    This market is moving toward the position of an increasing probability that there is going to be a Greek default.

    Indexes had opened sharply lower on the Greek developments but cut losses through most of the session.

    "This market is moving toward the position of an increasing probability that there is going to be a Greek default. That's what started us off so badly," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.

    "We've never had a country part of the euro currency system default, so we don't really know what the impacts are going to be. Away from the consensus you got to become a little cautious thinking what the derivative reactions are going to be."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 107.67 points, or 0.6 percent, to 17,791.17, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 9.68 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,084.43 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 21.13 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,029.97.

    Health Care Lends Support

    Cigna (CI) shares jumped as much as 19.4 percent to a record high of $164, buoying the health sector, after The Wall Street Journal reported Cigna rebuffed a takeover offer from rival Anthem (ANTM) that valued it at about $45 billion. Cigna closed up 11.7 percent to $153.43.

    The WSJ story said UnitedHealth could be also eyeing deals with Cigna or Aetna. UnitedHealth (UNH) shares rose 1.1 percent to $118.98 and Aetna (AET) added 4.4 percent to $121.01. Humana (HUM) previously seen as a target from Cigna, fell 2.8 percent to $206.58.

    "This is another indication of the growing importance of clout, or better negotiating power, in the health care market," said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia, which counts Aetna among its largest holdings.

    "You're seeing insurers combine for more power to negotiate with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies."

    A deal that was announced involved drugstore operator CVS Health buying Target's pharmacies and clinics. The $1.9 billion deal should help CVS bargain with drugmakers for lower prices. CVS (CVS) shares edged up 0.4 percent to $102.58 while Target (TGT) gained 1.2 percent to $80.45.

    Shares of United Technologies (UTX) weighed the most on the Dow industrials, down 2.5 percent at $114.61. It said it is exiting the helicopter business and would decide whether to spin off or sell its $8 billion Sikorsky unit, the U.S. military's largest helicopter maker.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,983 to 1,075, for a 1.84-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,639 issues fell and 1,149 advanced for a 1.43-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 5 new 52-week highs and 12 new lows; the Nasdaq composite 98 new highs and 55 new lows.

    About 5.84 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 5.98 billion daily average so far this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • The Commerce Department reports housing starts for May at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • Federal Reserve officials begin two-day meeting on interest rates.
    • Adobe Systems (ADBE) reports quarterly financial results after U.S. stock markets close.


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    Expectant couple shopping for a rocking chair
    Getty Images
    By Cameron Huddleston

    Are you thinking about redecorating your bedroom or sprucing up the den? If so you're probably in the market for some new furniture. To stretch your home makeover budget, plan ahead and buy furnishings during the times of year when prices tend to be lower.

    New furniture models are released in February and August each year, so retailers tend to have furniture sales in January and July. However, the January sales often extend through Presidents Day weekend in mid February, when price cuts are particularly steep, says Sean Graw, of Brad's Deals, a website that tracks deals and coupons. Furniture sellers including IKEA and slash prices as much as 70 percent on select items during Presidents Day sales, he says.

    If a new mattress is on your shopping list, Memorial Day sales offer the biggest discounts and the best selection on mattresses, says online shopping expert Brent Shelton, of, a coupon and deal site. CEO Howard Schaffer says mattresses can be discounted 50 to 80 percent during holiday-weekend sales, though Shelton says you can usually count on getting an extra 10 percent off during Memorial Day sales versus other holiday weekends such as Presidents Day and Labor Day.

    Need a new television to go along with the new sofa and recliner in your redecorated family room? If price is more important than quality, the week of Thanksgiving is the best time to get a great price on a basic high-definition TV, says Graw. Most off-brand sets are discounted 30 to 50 percent. For big-screen TVs from name-brand manufacturers, look for sales that coincide with the Super Bowl, says Schaffer. Prior-year models will be discounted to make room for new models, which are released in February. Data from, a website that predicts the best times to make purchases based on historical sales, shows that sets are 30 to 40 percent off during sales in mid-January through February.

    And don't neglect the outside of your home when redecorating. Rock-bottom prices on patio furniture can be found in October and November, says Schaffer, when retailers try to clear out the remaining inventory of summer merchandise. Shoppers can expect discounts of up to 85 percent then, he says. However, the selection will probably be pretty limited by fall. So if you're more concerned with style than savings percent, try shopping in late summer, when retailers begin marking down patio furniture, says Kristin Cook, managing editor of Ben's Bargains, a website that specializes in finding online deals. Discounts will be smaller, but choices will be greater.


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    For Rent Sign & House
    Getty ImagesRenters have opportunities to build wealth, but much of that hinges on their self-discipline to save money.
    By Joanne Cleaver

    Home might be where your heart is, but it isn't necessarily where your wealth grows.

    With American homeownership in a steady decline, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, many households aren't living in the passive asset that is a house.

    Homeownership is a long-term play, and for most families, true wealth only materializes when the mortgage is nearly paid off. Renters have an array of alternative strategies for building wealth, but doing so requires an extra dose of self-discipline to save money in the absence of a mortgage that converts an essential cost of living to an asset.

    The costs of ownership are so high in so many areas that it does make sense to rent -- if you can invest the difference.

    "The costs of ownership are so high in so many areas that it does make sense to rent -- if you can invest the difference," says Rachel Podnos, a financial planner with Wealth Care, based in Merritt Island, Florida.

    Start by validating your decision to rent, recommends Yuval D. Bar-Or, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

    "Map out those two scenarios so you can make a detailed comparison," Bar-Or says.

    Bear in mind that property appreciation must be weighed against the costs of property ownership, Bar-Or says. Those include property taxes, maintenance, improvements, homeowners insurance and the fact that you'll lose about 6 percent of the value of the property when you sell, thanks to realty commissions.

    Still, many Americans view a mortgage as a forced savings plan that converts a basic cost of living into property ownership. If that's not part of your plan, you'll want to think about how to integrate similar long-term asset growth into your strategy.

    "The more diversified your assets, the more choices you have in the future. Real estate is a traditional mainstay among asset choices. By not investing in your own home, you're taking direct ownership out of your nest egg," Bar-Or says. "So the question is, how can you get diversification with the same characteristics of real estate?"

    Advisers sketch two ways to capture long-term gains: equities and real estate.

    Bar-Or recommends two categories of equities that are likely to diversify the typical retirement portfolio and serve as a stand-in for home equity: foreign stocks and domestic small-cap stocks.


    Another route is to approach real estate ownership purely from an investment standpoint, advisers say.

    The two ways to accomplish this are through investment vehicles or direct ownership.

    Real estate investment trusts and real estate-based funds invest in real estate, as opposed to stocks. Typically, REITs hold commercial and large-scale rental properties, although some specialize in portfolios of single-family homes, and others, in the stocks of publicly traded homebuilders.

    Directly owning rental properties is closer to home -- maybe too close, experts say. Renting while owning rental properties is, in some ways, the worst of both worlds, says Bar-Or, because you can't control your landlord's decisions about the rent you pay, while you are, in turn, a landlord at the mercy of your tenants. "If you're nearing retirement or very busy, this may be the last thing you want," he says. "But on the positive side, if you are able to identify a good business investment -- a good price, good location, and build equity with profitable cash flow -- then if it's a good business decision, it stands on its own."

    One key consideration, he adds: Is there, or will there soon be, sufficient cash flow to hire a property management firm to buffer you from the daily headaches?

    Consider testing your tolerance by owning a single property. If it's worth the hassle, buy several more rental properties and "gain economies of scale" that let you farm out maintenance and management, he suggests.

    Rental Stigma

    Check your assumptions about the investment returns on owning single-family rentals. According to recent research conducted by Velma Herbert, an associate professor with the College of Family and Consumer Services at the University of Georgia, houses that are rentals when they go on the market typically sell for 8 percent less than similar houses. That's only the case for properties that haven't been rentals for long; properties that have been rented for years don't suffer the same discount.

    The difference might be explained by landlords' reluctance to polish properties they know they will be selling soon, or it might have to do with how such properties are presented and marketed, Herbert says. But the implication is that you might get less than you think if you buy a house that has been owner-occupied and figure you'll capture some rental income while local values increase. "You need to pay attention to the longer term and to the whole span of investment," Herbert says.

    Even if you think you might want to buy a house eventually, renting can give you some perspective on home economics, Podnos says. She says long-term returns for real estate are about 2 percent, while long-term returns for equities are about 6 percent. "All you have to do is look at that and say, 'I understand I want a home, but it's not an investment,' " she says.

    "Building equity is not the same as gain through investing," she says. "You might sell at the right time and make a profit, but you can't count on it. Your motivation for buying a home should not be that it's an investment. Do it because you want the security of having a home and building equity."


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  • 06/15/15--22:00: Long-Term Care Goes Virtual
  • Filed under: , ,

    cheerful senior african...
    ShutterstockSome systems allow seniors to record health information in an app then share it with family members and health care providers.
    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    Every morning, Marion Berg measures her blood pressure and heart rate and then uses a tablet to relay the results to her health care team. At 101 years old, the Sun City, Arizona, resident says the system is a change for her, but one she likes.

    "Using a tablet is new to me, but my health care coach is helping me learn every week when she visits my home," Berg says.

    Berg participates in the Banner iCare program, and her experience is one example of how long-term care plans are integrating technology as a way to reduce costs and improve quality of life.

    How Long-Term Care Is Using Technology

    Virtual long-term care services can vary significantly, and almost all programs can be used in combination with a home health aide or other home care.

    We see this as an affordable way to extend [a caregiver's] budget.

    "We see this as an affordable way to extend [a caregiver's] budget," says Danna Gomez, founder and co-owner of Managed Senior Care in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She notes that home health aides can cost an average of $21 an hour in her area. By using a remote monitoring system, a caregiver may be able to reduce the number of hours an aide needs to be in the house without sacrificing a senior's safety.

    While technology-based care systems can be set up in many ways, they usually fall into one of three categories:

    1. Independent-Use Systems. Some systems are used independently by families to record information that can then be shared with health care providers or used to keep other family members informed of a loved one's condition.

    For example, eCaring is software that can be downloaded as an app and set up for independent use. Family caregivers or seniors themselves can enter information such as what they ate, what medications they took and how they are feeling.

    "We needed to create something simple," says Robert Herzog, founder and CEO of eCaring, "so we invented language that uses symbols for caregivers to enter information about a patient."

    Authorized family members or health care professionals can access the information, and customized alerts can be sent to notify a caregiver of potential safety concerns, such as when meals are skipped or a blood glucose reading is too high.

    2. Virtual Reporting Systems to Complement Home Health Care. This category of care combines some level of virtual monitoring with traditional home health care visits. Deborah Dahl, vice president of patient care innovation for the health care nonprofit Banner Health, says Banner iCare uses this type of delivery system to keep seniors at-home and healthy.

    "We are focused on the chronic, complex patient population who have five or more conditions," Dahl says. "Our objective is to keep them living at home."

    To do that, Banner iCare uses a number of tools. The program may set patients up with a Philips Lifeline system, so they can easily call for help, and Samsung tablets are typically installed in each patient's home. Through the tablet, vital statistics such as blood pressure, heart rate, weight and other data can be transmitted to health providers. Two-way video conversations may be also be used to gauge how a person is doing that particular day. While the technology does the daily monitoring, a home health aide may visit once a week to provide personal follow-ups as needed.

    3. Twenty-Four Hour Remote Monitoring. For those who want to maximize their peace of mind, Gomez says the Cadillac of virtual long-term care is a remote-monitoring system like that offered by grandCARE.

    With this system, activity sensors are placed in a senior's home. To use grandCARE, Managed Senior Care first evaluates what a typical "good day" looks like for a senior and sets alerts accordingly. For example, if a senior typically has breakfast by 9 a.m. and the refrigerator hasn't been opened by that time, an alert may go out to a caregiver.

    As with Banner iCare, seniors using the grandCARE system are set up with a tablet. In this case, it's an oversized tablet that can be remotely activated. If a caregiver needs to check on a senior, he or she can open Skype which will activate the camera and microphone on the tablet. At that point, the caregiver can look for the senior and call out to him or her to determine whether help is needed.

    "One of the reasons we like this product is because it's respectful of the senior," Gomez says. "You know when people are watching. There is no secret monitoring."

    Benefits of Virtual Care Services

    Both Herzog and Dahl say data show virtual care services are having an impact, both in terms of cost savings and patient outcomes.

    "We save over $4,000 per patient per year and avoid hospital visits and readmissions," Herzog says. From 2013 to 2014, Banner Health tracked the outcomes of newly enrolled iBanner members and compared that to claims data from the year before their enrollment. They found the program resulted in an overall 27 percent cost savings of $788 a month for each patient. Hospitalizations also dropped to 6.3 per 100 patients per month six months after enrollment from 11.5 per 100 patients per month in the year prior to enrollment.

    While virtual care and remote monitoring systems may never be appropriate for people who require intensive hands-on help, health care professionals say these systems are making a significant impact on the lives of many seniors.

    "We feel really good that we're keeping people out of the hospital every week," Herzog says.


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    Angry businessman on the phone
    Getty Images
    The FCC will soon vote on a proposal that would allow phone companies to selectively block calls to customers.

    The proposal by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler authorizes "do not disturb" technology that would block unwanted communications such as robocalls.

    The FCC, which enforces federal regulations such as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, is scheduled to vote on the proposal when its members meet Thursday.

    If the proposal is approved, providers of both cellphone and home landline phone services could offer such technology to their customers, according to a two-page FCC document filed about Wheeler's plan.

    Unwanted calls and texts are the top consumer complaint to the FCC, which received more than 215,000 complaints related to the TCPA last year.

    The TCPA authorized the FCC to establish the National Do Not Call Registry in 2003, but scammers and telemarketers have used technology to circumvent the federal law, CBS News reports.

    Spoofing, for example, is the practice of using apps to alter what appears on the call recipient's caller ID or cellphone screen, allowing scammers to impersonate government agencies like the IRS.

    Linda Blasse of Dallas, who is on the Do Not Call list, told federal lawmakers during a hearing Wednesday:

    "These people call my business three times a day. I tell them to stop calling and they keep calling."

    The FCC proposal doesn't address whether or how much phone companies would be allowed to charge their customers for call-blocking services. CBS reports that Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill predicts the services would be popular:

    "If they [phone companies] came out with an ad, 'We're going to block robocalls,' I mean, I don't think they could handle the business they would get."

    While waiting for the proposal to be approved, you can find out how to stop robocalls by reading "8 Tips to Stop Annoying Robocalls."

    Would you be willing to pay for robocall-blocking services? Sound off below or on our Facebook page.

    How to Save 50 Percent on Your Cell Bill


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    Scott Roth/Invision/AP'Shark Tank' star Mark Cuban will play the president of the United States in the third installment of the goofy 'Sharknado' TV movie series, set to premiere next month.
    By Stefanie O'Connell

    Mark Cuban, billionaire investor, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and mainstay of the hit show, "Shark Tank," is known for his business savvy, work ethic and penchant for turning fledgling startups into multimillion dollar ventures.

    Before becoming a self-made billionaire, however, Cuban worked a series of odd jobs as a student at the University of Indiana, including giving dance lessons and hosting disco dance parties. After graduating, Cuban transitioned into a sales job at a Dallas software company before getting fired.

    Seeing an opportunity to make a huge deal, Cuban pursued it, even though the CEO told him not to. "I thought when I showed up with a $15,000 check, he'd be cool with it," Cuban told Forbes. Instead, the CEO fired him on the spot for insubordination.

    Cuban told Forbes that this unpleasant encounter served as the catalyst for his first major self-driven business endeavor, MicroSolutions, which he sold in 1990 for $6 million. His next venture,, made him a billionaire after selling to Yahoo in 1999 for $5.7 billion in stocks. With Mark Cuban's net worth now estimated at $3 billion by Forbes, he has remained an icon of entrepreneurship and financial success ever since.

    This self-made business mogul also has quite a bit to say about fiscal responsibility and money management. Cuban is known for being outspoken and often shares his thoughts on personal finance. With a strong track record of self-driven financial success, it's certainly advice worth considering. Here is money advice from Mark Cuban that you can put into action today.

    Mark Cuban's Top Money Management Tips for 2015

    1. Live cheaply so you can use resources to pursue opportunities. Before his billionaire days, Cuban spent his early adulthood living on the cheap -- crashing on the couch (or floor) with five roommates in Dallas and splitting the $750 rent six ways. In his book, "How to Win at the Sport of Business," Cuban wrote:

    "It doesn't matter how you live. It doesn't matter what car you drive. It doesn't matter what kind of clothes you wear. The more you stress over bills, the more difficult it is to focus on your goals. The cheaper you can live, the greater your options."

    Cuban is a reminder that living within, and even below your means when possible, is less about sacrifice and more about opportunity. Find ways to cut expenses, both luxuries and the necessities, to reduce your total cost of living and free up your resources -- time, energy and money -- for the pursuit of greater goals.

    2. Prioritize paying off debt for a guaranteed return. In a 2014 interview with Business Insider, Cuban revealed what he wished he'd known about saving money in his 20s:

    "That credit cards are the worst investment that you can make. That the money I save on interest by not having debt is better than any return I could possibly get by investing that money in the stock market. I thought I would be a stock market genius. Until I wasn't. I should have paid off my cards every 30 days."

    Cuban not only emphasizes the importance of paying off of debt and using credit responsibly, he also warns against overzealous investing. Getting loan and credit card balances down to zero is a straightforward strategy for increased wealth that, as Cuban notes, requires no investment risk for a great return.

    3. Use the job you have now to get the job you want in the future. Cuban's journey -- from his first job selling garbage bags, to teaching disco, to getting fired, to founding a business and becoming a billionaire -- is a reminder of the power of the "hustle" and the importance of constant growth. On his blog, Cuban quoted an interview in which he said:

    "I worked jobs I didn't like. I worked jobs I loved, but had no chance of being a career. I worked jobs that barely paid the rent ... I knew I would end up owning my own business someday, so I figured my challenge was to learn as much as anyone about all businesses. I believed that every job I took was really me getting paid to learn about a new industry."

    Every job is an opportunity to develop a new skill set and learn about a new industry, both of which can be leveraged for future career success while getting paid in the present. Reap the benefits of diverse work experience by staying open to any and all job opportunities - engaging in your career, income and personal growth throughout.

    4. Stick to what you know when investing. Cuban is notoriously skeptical of traditional financial advice and investment vehicles. "I create offbeat advice; I don't follow it," Cuban said in an interview with Forbes. "I rarely take third-party advice on my investments."

    Instead, he encourages saving and puts money into ventures he knows well -- benefiting from the "information advantage." While seeking advice from financial professionals can be helpful, be sure to build an understanding of the accounts and investment vehicles holding your assets to ensure they serve your best interests. Handing complete financial control over to anyone and agreeing to a strategy with blind trust can result in big fees at best, and huge losses at worst.

    5. Cultivate wealth for yourself -- and others. It's unsurprising that as a man of means, Cuban is an advocate for cultivating wealth. But his position is not just about what wealth affords him personally, but the power it gives him to help others. In a 2011 blog post titled "The Most Patriotic Thing You Can Do," Cuban wrote:

    "Being rich is a good thing. Not just in the obvious sense of benefiting you and your family, but in the broader sense. Profits are not a zero sum game. The more you make, the more of a financial impact you can have."

    Building wealth enables meaningful giving as much as meaningful living. When you have wealth, you're better positioned to make an impact. Foster prosperity through the pursuit of increased income endeavors, investment growth strategies and financial education. In cultivating your own monetary success, don't forget to give back to others.

    6. Use money as a tool to meet your goals. When asked if money can buy happiness Cuban replied, "Absolutely not," reports Entrepreneur magazine. He continued:

    "To me, success isn't defined by your wallet. It's defined by waking up with a smile on your face, knowing it's going to be a great day. But, sure, money can make your life a whole lot easier."

    These days Cuban can basically buy whatever he wants, whenever he wants -- but his happiness began long before by setting goals and accomplishing dreams, like being the first in his immediate family to graduate college. Why else would a man worth billions continue working?

    Don't count on an arbitrary financial threshold to hold the key to happiness. Money should be what helps you reach the goal, not the goal itself. Instead, work toward goals and dreams with concrete actions you can implement immediately. Acknowledge and celebrate your progress toward future prosperity, and find happiness in each small step toward success.


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    Young woman shopping in supermarket
    Getty Images
    By Jennifer Liu

    Planning to fire up the grill this summer? Brace yourself for costlier grocery runs.

    According to recent research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the price of many meats -- along with other key food staples -- are set to skyrocket this season.

    To start, retail beef prices are already at record highs and are expected to jump close to 7 percent -- even after adjusting for inflation. The same goes for white meat, with poultry prices seeing an uptick of at least 3 percent this year.

    Those looking to load up on fresh fruits and veggies this season should be prepared to shell out a bit more, too. That's due, in part, to the ongoing drought in California. Some of the produce that will see the biggest price increases: Grapefruit, which rose 10 percent already, strawberries, up 11 percent, and broccoli, ballooning 7 percent.

    Egg prices have also started to surge. That's thanks to the recent bird flu outbreak -- credited as the worst in history -- and will mean a summer of high prices and emptier shelves.

    Here's the good news, though. Minus these basics, the USDA predicts food price inflation overall to stay pretty average this year.

    And for those grill masters looking for a more budget-friendly summer barbecue option, you're in luck. Pork fell close to 4 percent in price in the past year -- and is expected to only continue to drop.


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    Increase In Housing Starts At End Of Year Signals Housing Market Recovery
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. housing starts fell in May after a hefty increase the prior month, but a surge in permits for future construction to a near eight-year high suggested the pullback was temporary and pointed to underlying strength in housing.

    Groundbreaking dropped 11.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 1.04 mullion units, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That partially reversed April's large gain. April starts were revised up to a 1.17 million-unit rate, the highest since November 2007.

    Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts falling to a 1.10 million-unit pace last month after a previously reported 1.14 million-unit rate.

    Permits for future home construction increased 11.8 percent to a 1.28 million-unit rate, the highest since August 2007. Permits have been above a 1 million-unit pace since July.

    Home building has regained ground lost during a harsh winter and there are signs activity will accelerate this year as tightening labor market conditions spur strong wage gains and encourage young adults to move from their parents' basements.

    A survey on Monday showed confidence among builders vaulting to a nine-month high in June, with measures of current sales and buyer traffic increasing solidly.

    Economists anticipate that the housing market strength will take up some of the slack of the struggling manufacturing sector and support economic growth this year.

    Groundbreaking for single-family homes, which account for the largest share of the market, fell 5.4 percent to a 680,000 unit pace. Starts for the volatile multifamily segment tumbled 20.2 percent to a 356,000 unit rate.

    Groundbreaking fell in all four regions, declining a steep 26.5 percent in the Northeast after April's spectacular gains. Starts in the South, where most of the home building takes place, fell 5 percent.

    Single-family building permits increased 2.6 percent to their highest level since December. Multi-family building permits soared 24.9 percent.

    Permits for buildings with five units or more increased to their highest level since January 1990.


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