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Articles on this Page
- 11/10/15--08:30: _Why Banks Want You ...
- 11/10/15--08:45: _4 Career Mistakes Y...
- 11/10/15--09:06: _Doing the Transitio...
- 11/10/15--09:30: _Breaking Up With Yo...
- 11/10/15--21:00: _Oops! 6 Holiday Cos...
- 11/10/15--21:00: _4 Things to Know Ab...
- 11/11/15--02:21: _26 Veterans Day Fre...
- 11/11/15--07:32: _Can myRA Bring Reti...
- 11/11/15--08:30: _High-Tech Means Hig...
- 11/11/15--08:42: _3 Things About Home...
- 11/11/15--21:00: _How to Win Black Fr...
- 11/11/15--21:00: _How to Afford Your ...
- 11/11/15--21:00: _4 Tax Tips for Free...
- 11/12/15--21:00: _How to Invest in We...
- 11/12/15--21:00: _What to Do When You...
- 11/12/15--21:00: _6 Ways to Save Mone...
- 11/13/15--03:35: _How to Buy Dress Sh...
- 11/13/15--04:42: _How to Make Raising...
- 11/13/15--04:50: _Three Ways to Curb ...
- 11/13/15--07:15: _How Americans Reall...
- 11/10/15--08:30: Why Banks Want You to Drop Mint
- 11/10/15--09:06: Doing the Transition Math: The Costs of Transition
- 11/10/15--09:30: Breaking Up With Your Advisor for a Robot
- 11/10/15--21:00: Oops! 6 Holiday Costs We Forget to Budget For
- 11/10/15--21:00: 4 Things to Know About Real Estate Investments
- 11/11/15--02:21: 26 Veterans Day Freebies
- 11/11/15--07:32: Can myRA Bring Retirement Planning to the Masses?
- 11/11/15--08:30: High-Tech Means Higher Sales for Many Small Retailers
- 11/11/15--21:00: How to Win Black Friday
- 11/11/15--21:00: How to Afford Your Next Cold
- 11/11/15--21:00: 4 Tax Tips for Freelancers, Dog Sitters and Airbnb Hosts
- 11/12/15--21:00: How to Invest in Wearable Technology
- 11/12/15--21:00: What to Do When Your Spouse Is Sabotaging Your Finances
- 11/12/15--21:00: 6 Ways to Save Money on Holiday Meals
- 11/13/15--03:35: How to Buy Dress Shoes That Last -- Savings Experiment
- 11/13/15--04:42: How to Make Raising Kids Less Expensive
- 11/13/15--04:50: Three Ways to Curb Holiday Spending
- 11/13/15--07:15: How Americans Really Feel About Financial Risk-Taking
Millions of people share their bank account passwords with third-party sites and apps that help them track their spending, but some of the biggest financial institutions, wary of hacking risks, are trying to scare people into not using them.
JPMorgan Chase & Co and Capital One Financial Corp, for example, warn on their websites that customers could be liable for any fraud in their accounts - even though federal regulations say otherwise.
Capital One's site (here) tells users: "If you choose to share account access information with a third-party, Capital One is not liable for any resulting damages or losses."
Chase (here) admonishes, "If you give out your chase.com user ID and password, you are putting your money at risk."
The warnings were enough to cause Morris Armstrong, a registered investment adviser and enrolled agent in Danbury, Connecticut, to recently close his account with Mint.com, a so-called aggregator website and a division of Intuit Inc.
"People are hacking left and right. You don't want to make it easier," Armstrong said.
However, the same warnings infuriated heavy Mint user Mark Ranta, head of digital payments at ACI Worldwide Inc, who says the banks are far more worried about competition from these aggregation sites than about electronic safety.
"Mint makes it so I don't have to go to the individual bank sites," said Ranta. "They [banks] don't have the opportunity to cross-sell me."
The banks' warnings, however, are off base.
Federal banking rules known as Regulation E (here) sharply limit customers' liability for unauthorized electronic transactions from their accounts, provided they report the fraud promptly.
The rules say that customers' negligence - such as writing a PIN on a debit card - does not increase their liability.
A customer would be on the hook for unauthorized transactions if she gives her card or credentials "and grants authority to make transfers to a person (such as a family member or co-worker) who exceeds the authority given," the rules say. Customers are fully liable for the transfers until they notify the financial institution that the person is no longer authorized to use the account.
That is the passage that Chase and other banks point to when warning people they may be liable if they share credentials with a third party.
But Lauren Saunders, associate director and managing attorney of the National Consumer Law Center, calls the banks' position "ridiculous." Sites such as Mint collect data about transactions but typically are not authorized to make transactions, said Saunders.
"When you give Mint your bank password, you don't give them permission to make transfers," Saunders said. "You don't need to be a lawyer to understand that you are not a consumer who 'grants authority to make transfers.'"
Even when people use a bill-pay app that does move money, they are granting access to the app - not to hackers who steal their credentials.
"You are still outside the provision about giving someone an access device because you didn't give the hacker permission," Saunders said.
Who would be liable, though, is an unsettled question of great concern to banks. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that JPMorgan Chief Executive Jamie Dimon discussed with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Richard Cordray the security risks posed by aggregators.
Chase and the CFPB declined comment. Intuit declined comment on the banks' warnings, saying in a prepared statement: "Delivering secure and seamless connectivity is a shared priority across Mint and thousands of our financial institution partners."
It is worth pointing out that Mint has never had to announce a security breach - unlike Chase, which last year reported a cyber attack had compromised 83 million of its accounts.
Making people reluctant to use account aggregators could just make them more vulnerable to fraud. Mint and other account aggregators can help people spot unauthorized transactions that might otherwise go unnoticed, said independent journalist and technology expert Bob Sullivan, author of "Stop Getting Ripped Off."
Rather than scaring people, the financial sites and banks should work together to create a common secure standard for sharing information - one that might involve app-specific passwords, Sullivan said.
(Corrects paragraph 7 to "payments at" instead of "payments company")
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Steve Orlofsky)
Filed under: Careers
By Rachel Grumman Bender
When publicist Jennifer B.* was just starting out in her career, her job was so demanding that she tried to take a few shortcuts.
"I was pitching all the major beauty and fashion publications, and I cut-and-pasted the same pitch into about 50-plus e-mails," she recalls. "I ended up addressing two top editors with the wrong names, so it was clear I was 'mass' pitching. It made me look incompetent and lazy. Huge mistake."
Whether you're just starting out in your career or you've been working for decades, everyone messes up now and then.
Sure, it's mortifying.
But making some missteps and mistakes early on in your career is actually a critical part of growing-both professionally and personally.
That's why we rounded up career pros to offer their insights on the workplace faux pas that have the potential to actually make you a better employee.
Mistake #1: You Botch a Big Project
You and your team have worked for months to finish an important initiative at work-only to discover that you made a big error and the project is way over budget.
So instead of feeling triumphant about doing a great job, you're now worried about getting fired.
What You Can Learn From It: "How you react can really make a difference in terms of how people view you from that point on," says Cheryl Palmer, a certified career coach at executive coaching firm Call to Career.
Her advice? Go into damage control right away-and be sure to come clean with your boss and your team.
"People respect it when you say you made a mistake," says Jessica Bacal, director of Smith College's Wurtele Center for Work & Life and author of "Mistakes I Made At Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect On What They Got Out of Getting It Wrong." "So have the conversation with your boss and own up to it-without being overly apologetic. You can say, 'This is a good lesson. And here's how I'm going to address it in the future.' "
Mistake #2: You Do Something to Get Demoted
There was a time when you were your supervisor's go-to person, but lately you've noticed that you aren't being asked to certain meetings-and other staffers are getting assignments that should be yours.
You've been unofficially demoted.
Aside from it being a hard-to-stomach blow to your ego, it can make you wonder if your job has hit a plateau-or worse, is on a downward spiral.
What You Can Learn From It: This can be an opportune moment to take a step back and do an honest assessment of how you've been doing at work.
Is it possible you've been dropping the ball lately, and that's why your supervisor is giving you fewer responsibilities? Are you feeling so overwhelmed that it's affecting your productivity and the quality of your work?
Whatever the case, it can be helpful to your future career if you learn how to identify when things are derailing-and immediately take action to get your job back on track.
Another wise move? Consider having a frank conversation with your boss about your concerns and ask for constructive feedback, suggests Bacal.
Bottom line: You won't be able to turn things around if you aren't clear on what exactly the problem is.
So if you think you're in hot water because you've taken on too much, says Bacal, you can work with your supervisor to help you figure out which important tasks you should tackle first.
"You can say to your boss, 'I really want to make sure I'm prioritizing correctly. Right now I'm working to get X done, and this additional assignment would push things back slightly,' " suggests Bacal.
With this nuanced tact, you're not only managing expectations that your boss may have but also hopefully getting the guidance you need.
"It's better to communicate and speak in an enthusiastic way about your career values and goals," she says, "than to under-communicate and watch things get taken away at work."
Mistake #3: You Pretend to Know What You're Doing
When you're starting a new job-or taking on a new role at your current gig-it's natural to have a case of "impostor syndrome."
Translation: You feel like you don't quite know what you're doing, but you don't speak up about any concerns you may have out of fear.
Well, it turns out that this predicament isn't necessarily a bad thing.
What You Can Learn From It: For starters, know that everyone feels like they are faking it at work at times.
"Whenever you're making a change and learning new skills, especially if you're in a leadership role, you're going to feel like an impostor," Bacal says. "It's part of the learning curve."
But it is a mistake to think that just because you feel like you don't fit in, that automatically means the job isn't right for you.
"It takes a long time to find your stride," Bacal explains. "It's O.K. to feel like that-and it doesn't mean there's something wrong with you."
Eventually, if you give yourself time to build confidence, that impostor syndrome will fade and you'll feel secure in your ability to do your job.
Mistake #4: You Stay in a Job Too Long
In a tough economy it's understandable to be grateful to have a job-any job.
But that doesn't necessarily mean you have to suck it up and stick with a gig that doesn't fulfill you on a personal and professional level.
What You Can Learn From It: If you do feel like you're in a career rut, Palmer recommends shaking things up by discreetly doing some research.
Talk to people at your level in other companies to see if they are having the same experience, she says, so you can better assess if what you are going through is comparable in your industry-or if your situation is uniquely problematic.
"This is especially important for people who have gotten a job right out of college because they have nothing to compare it to," she adds. "So talk with others and get a reality check."
And if you know you need to finally move on, don't beat yourself up over it, thinking you wasted precious time taking the wrong job in the first place.
"People think they have to immediately find the perfect job, but in your 20s, you're still information-gathering," Bacal says. "In reality, each job will add to your skill set-even if it teaches you that you don't want to do anything like it again. That's a good mistake to make."
*Name has been changed.
Filed under: BudgetingBy Chris Taylor
When Sara Davis Buechner began her transition from man to woman, she knew there were going to be emotional hurdles, like dealing with her family.
But there were financial costs, too. And she knew they were going to be forbidding.
Medical procedures like facial electrolysis cost $20,000. There was a year of therapy, required at the time to make sure Buechner, a renowned pianist, was a suitable candidate for transition - at $80 a session.
Since American options were just too pricey, Buechner opted for surgery in Thailand. The tab? $10,000, including flights.
This was in the early 2000s, and none of those costs were covered by insurers. She sold one of her two pianos, a Yamaha, to help foot the bill. "I emptied all my accounts," Buechner remembers. "And I consider myself one of the lucky ones."
Buechner was more than willing to pay those high bills, because it was the culmination of something she had known since childhood: She was female, despite having been born as David.
Transgender issues are more openly discussed these days, such as Caitlyn Jenner's transition from Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner. But the costs of transition can be overwhelming, especially for a population that is already marginalized.
The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, for instance, lists menus of procedures for both male-to-female transitions and female-to-male that total well over $100,000.
Meanwhile, corporations have been slow to help. According to the 2015 Employee Benefits Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, just 5 percent of employers offer gender reassignment health care coverage to their staff.
That is up since 2011, when only 2 percent of companies did so. But progress has so far only been incremental.
Among larger companies, the numbers are more encouraging. One-third of Fortune 500 firms now offer healthcare coverage including transgender surgery and related medical costs, according to the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index report.
In addition, the provisions of Obamacare - as well as state-specific laws in places like California, New York and Oregon - have been pushing plans towards transgender-inclusive health coverage, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
"The policy environment is changing for sure," says Jody Herman, a scholar of public policy at UCLA's Williams Institute. "The way anti-discrimination laws are being interpreted is moving in the direction of saying that exclusions to trans-related healthcare are not acceptable."
The costs of transition are not just medical, though. Buechner started losing recital engagements when venues found out about her personal story. She also had trouble booking any new ones.
When she applied to become a music teacher at more than 30 U.S. colleges, she didn't get a single response. (She is now an associate professor at Vancouver's University of British Columbia.)
No wonder so many transgender Americans are economically vulnerable. Fifteen percent report making less than $10,000 a year, according to the Center for American Progress, quadruple the average poverty rate.
The No. 1 tip from financial advisers: Start financial preparations early.
"Plan ahead, know what your costs are going to be, and what your insurance will cover and what it won't," says Paula Heichel, a financial adviser with Wells Fargo Advisors in Washington, D.C. who has counseled transgender referrals on their finances. "These cost are not to be taken lightly, and you have to be able to pay as you go."
Indeed, with a long enough timeline, it might be worth the effort to seek employment at one of the 418 major U.S. companies which offer at least one transgender-inclusive employee health plan (here). Otherwise, the costs could be very significant indeed.
"Just imagine, you have to take every stitch of clothing you own and put it in the garbage," Buechner says. "The best analogy I tell people is, 'What if you moved to Bolivia tomorrow, how much would it cost to start a totally new life?'"
"The costs are enormous. Start counting."
(Editing by Lauren Young and Cynthia Osterman)
Filed under: Financial Advisors
By CHRIS TAYLOR
What do you tell your financial adviser when you are leaving for an algorithm?
Joe O'Connor, a 52-year-old Connecticut salesman, had to have this conversation recently. It was delicate business explaining why he was ditching the planner he had been with for over a decade, to put his money in the hands of what is known as a robo-adviser - a web-based service that automates the allocation of your investment portfolio.
There were the usual responses: "But why?" "Was it something I did?" "What can I do to make it right?"
And of course, there is the timeless relationship classic line: "It's not you, it's me."
"It wasn't fun," O'Connor said.
That kind of awkward conversation is taking place more frequently these days, thanks to the rise of robo-advisers, which have about $20.1 billion in worldwide assets under management for new entrants, according to Switzerland-based research firm MyPrivateBanking.
Of course with total U.S. investable assets at $33.5 trillion, that is barely loose change under the couch cushions, industry analyst Michael Kitces points out. But projections are for heady growth with new robo-advisers expected to grow to $42.6 billion in 2016 and $86.7 billion in 2017.
Looking strictly at fees, robo-advisers offer certain advantages. Prominent site Betterment (betterment.com), for instance, charges .25 percent on accounts between $10,000-$100,000, and .15 percent above that. Competitor Wealthfront (wealthfront.com) has a similar cost structure, charging .25 percent for accounts worth $10,000 or more.
Personal Capital (personalcapital.com), which Joe O'Connor uses, offers more of a blended service, combining its automated recommendations with humans (albeit primarily via video chat or email), charging .89 percent on portfolios up to $1 million.
That is in comparison to traditional financial planners, who charge around 1 percent or more of assets annually. (Fee-only planners have their own payment structure, billing per planning session instead of charging a percentage of assets.)
The low-fee logic of robo-advisers may work admirably for young savers starting out. In fact many users are converted Do-It-Yourselfers or Millennials with little investable cash, rather than mid-career professionals who have switched from existing planners, Kitces points out.
You may gain something by opting for low-fee robots - but you lose the long-term financial planning aspect.
"I had a client recently leave for a robo. I told them robos are not financial planners," says Kashif Ahmed, an advisor in Woburn, Mass. "A robo will not call you when markets are going through a rough patch, and you can't call a robo to discuss your protection needs, or to ensure your estate documents are in order."
As you age, and financial responsibilities start piling up - raising kids, dealing with insurance questions, running a business, coping with elderly parents, and so on - the advantages of dealing with an actual person become more evident.
"At that point, when money has grown substantially, you may opt out of robo-investing and go find a real person," says Maggie Baker, a Philadelphia financial therapist and author of the book "Crazy About Money."
Of course, it is not always fees that cause breakups with financial planners. Far from it. In fact, the number-one reason cited by millionaires for switching advisers is due to them not returning client phone calls, according to a report from research firm Spectrem Group.
In cases like that, a robo-adviser is obviously no upgrade. After all, it is hard to get on the phone with an algorithm.
HAVING 'THE TALK'
Baker's advice for ditching your existing planner: Just be honest. It is likely that some negative event has caused you to look elsewhere - subpar returns, maybe, or a general lack of communication - and it could be something you can talk through and resolve.
In fact, thanks to technological advances, you may not have to break up at all. Many firms, like Vanguard (vanguard.com) and Charles Schwab Corp , are gravitating towards two-tiered solutions - offering robo-allocations as a starter level, but also providing flesh-and-blood advisory services as a premium option.
With more investors considering robots to steer their finances, though, you cannot escape the regret and bitterness that linger over broken relationships.
"When a client decides to leave, I don't do anything," says Richard Colarossi, a planner in Islandia, New York. "If a client leaves to go to robo-adviser, let them go. My experience tells me that a majority of robo clients will shoot themselves in the foot."
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Diane Craft)
By Susan Johnston Taylor
The National Retail Federation predicts that the average spending on food, gifts and other holiday costs this year will reach $805.65 per person, just slightly higher than last year's average of $802.45.
Whether you're planning to spend more or less than average, forgetting to factor in extras like the holiday ham or a gift for your great aunt Mildred could derail your budget. Fortunately, there's still time to set aside some extra cash and plan your spending.
Here's a look at several items we forget to include in our holiday budget.
1. Holiday dinner. Hosting a holiday party? Expect your grocery bill to spike, especially if it's a sit-down dinner. "If you're going to have a ham or pork roast and have 20 people over, that can be really pricey," says Deacon Hayes, financial expert with WellKeptWallet.com and U.S. News My Money blog contributor. To minimize costs, make the meal potluck or BYOB, or serve appetizers or desserts rather than a full dinner. Also try to buy meat when it's on sale, as that's often the priciest part of the meal.
2. Travel costs. Airlines for America, an industry trade organization, projects that the number of air travelers will rise 3 percent during this year's 12-day Thanksgiving travel period - averaging about 65,000 more passengers a day compared to last year - driven in part by lower airfare made possible by greater competition.
If you're planning to fly in November or December, then cheaper airfare is welcome news. But with a growing number of airlines now charging for checked baggage, fees could wipe out the savings. If you're planning to check bags (maybe to carry presents or cold-weather apparel), Hayes suggests factoring that into your airline choice. "If you're a family of four, $50 extra per person is an extra $200," he says. (Remember, that's one-way.) Southwest Airlines lets passengers fly with two free checked bags, and you also may get free checked bags if you have an airline credit card or elite status with a particular airline.
3. Self-gifting. Holiday sales can create the urge to "self-gift," buying items for yourself you might not normally buy while you're on the hunt for others on your gift list. NRF predicts that more than half (55.8 percent) of holiday shoppers will splurge on themselves and/or others for non-gift items, spending an average of $131.59.
Even the experts aren't immune to this temptation. "I know that if I walk into Best Buy, I get distracted with all the cool gadgets in there," admits Kathleen Grace, a certified financial planner and managing director at United Capital's office in Boca Raton, Florida. "I was in there buying a tablet for my daughter's birthday, and I walked by the Fitbits." (She resisted the temptation but also dropped hints to friends in case they're looking for gift ideas for her.) Grace tries to shop online for this reason. Another way to prevent overspending on self-gifts is to give yourself a cooling off period. The desire for the item often dissipates a few days after you've left the store and given the purchase more thought.
4. Festive outfits. Holiday party invites can bring the urge to buy a new outfit or two, whether for a black-tie dinner with clients or an ugly sweater party with roommates. "Is it necessary to buy a new outfit?" Grace asks. "It goes back to needs versus wants." If it's within your budget, it could make sense to invest in a few timeless, high-quality items you'll re-wear or inexpensive accessories that dress up items you already own.
For trendier items you'll only wear once, consider swapping dresses or accessories with friends or renting through services like Rent the Runway. And for ugly sweaters, hit your local thrift store. You can always embellish with ribbon or fabric scraps if you want to up the kitsch factor.
5. Extra gifts. If you're a planner, you've probably already set aside cash to buy gifts for close friends and family. But sometimes gifting needs creep up on us. "People forget about the one-off, the uncle or the aunt or the neighbor to give a gift," says Kimberly Foss, a certified financial planner and president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management, which has offices in Sacramento, California, and New York. "Or going to holiday parties, they don't plan the expense to bring a gift." She suggests making a list of how many gifts you need to buy for the holiday season so you're not caught off guard.
Surprises can still happen, like when you discover last-minute that your cousin's friend's roommate is coming to Christmas dinner or your co-worker surprises you with an unexpected gift card. For situations like this, Hayes suggests having a gift box in which you keep generic gifts in your house like candles or bottles of wine. "Another way to make sure everyone gets a gift without breaking the bank is to make some caramel popcorn, divide it into multiple smaller bags with ribbons on them and attach a small little personalized note," he says.
6. Credit card interest. If you forget to plan for these items and go over budget, then credit card interest could be another unintended consequence of holiday spending. If you must carry a credit card balance, try to use the card with the lowest interest rate, or take advantage of a 0 percent introductory period and pay off the balance before the grace period ends.
Foss recommends that clients shop with cash only so they can't overspend. She also suggests using Acorns, an Android and iOS app that automatically rounds up everyday purchases and invests the spare change for you. "I've done that for a year now, and most people are amazed [how quickly it adds up]," she says. That way, you won't have the guilt of extra credit card bills come January.
By Simon Constable
If you own your home, should you buy real estate securities? It's a reasonable question because for many people, their home is a large portion of their overall wealth.
A family with $500,000 in savings, including stocks and bonds, and a home valued at $300,000 would seem to be heavily invested in real estate. But that's probably not the best way to look at things - although your home may act as a store of wealth, history has shown it likely won't do much better than keep up with inflation. It probably won't beat the returns you'd get from the stock market.
Here's why and how at least some real estate securities have a place in your investment portfolio.
You can diversity your portfolio. Returns on real estate investments have low correlations to other investments, such as the broader stock and bond markets, says Jay Jacobs, director of research at exchange-traded fund provider Global X in New York. When the Standard & Poor's 500 index of large-capitalization stocks increases, you could see real estate stocks move up or down in price, or simply not move at all. That lack of correlation makes the value of an overall portfolio more stable over time. Given that investors view moves in value as a measure of risk, the lower the overall swings in a portfolio, the less risky it is considered.
It can provide great dividends. Your home might give you psychic dividends, but your real estate investments can pay handsome cash dividends. Take real estate investment trusts - they tend to pay high dividends, with the Vanguard REIT ETF (ticker: VNQ) yielding close to 4 percent. It owns a basket of 144 REITs and has low annual expenses of 0.12 percent, or $12 per $10,000 invested.
Real estate provides tax benefits. REITs are also advantageous from a tax perspective, Jacobs says. As long as the REIT distributes at least 90 percent of its income to stockholders, it pays no corporate tax. Instead, the investor pays the tax of the dividend as ordinary income. Most Americans are in a lower tax bracket than the statutory 35 percent corporate rate, so the only loser is the Internal Revenue Service.
Don't overdo it. Jacobs says alternative investments, such as commodities, master limited partnerships and real estate should make up only 20 percent of an overall investment portfolio, with real estate being only a quarter of that. So overall, real estate investments should be no more than 5 percent of your portfolio, he says.
If you decide to buy individual REITs, you need to know that there are many different types, not just REITs for office buildings such as Brookfield Office Properties (BPO), says Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago. Some invest in college dorms, such as American Campus Communities (ACC), which has a healthy 3.9 percent dividend. Another, Sun Communities (SUI), operates mobile home parks. There are other types, as well, for those inclined to look for specific exposure.
For most people, buying a fund might make better sense. Ablin says investors might want to consider the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate ETF (IYR), which holds a wide basket of 119 real estate securities, mainly REITs. It yields 3.7 percent and has expenses of $43 a year per $10,000 invested.
Outside of the REIT structure there are also homebuilder stocks, such as those held in the SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (XHB) and the home improvement retailers like Lowe's Corp. (LOW) and Home Depot (HD.) Such stocks are closely linked to the fortunes of residential markets, which are also dependent on the availability of credit to finance purchases. It is also a volatile sector, as the XHB ETF has underperformed the broader markets over the last decade. (That period included the housing crash.)
Another advantage of buying securities is that it is possible to get exposure to foreign markets. "Globally, we are seeing the most attractive real estate opportunities in southern Europe - the economies have bottomed out," says Brian Schmidt, head of U.S. real estate at the Minneapolis-based institutional investment firm Varde Partners.
While Varde is an institutional investor, the rest of us can look to funds that focus on specific geographies, such as the iShares Europe Developed Real Estate ETF (IFEU), which holds 97 stocks and annual expenses of $48 per $10,000 invested.
By Andrea N. Browne
Many establishments will salute current and retired military members on or around Veterans Day on Wednesday, November 11, by serving up a variety of freebies -- from free meals to free haircuts.
SEE ALSO: 7 Food and Drink Freebies and Deals in November
We've rounded up a list of 26 special offers available to all veterans and active-duty military who show a valid proof of service on the designated date/time of the promotion. Take a look:
Free Food for Veterans
Applebee's: On November 11 (from open to close), dine-in customers can eat for free from a limited entree menu. Meal options include a chicken tenders platter, a chicken penne pasta dish and a 7-ounce sirloin steak meal. Special excludes drink and gratuity.
Bar Louie: Get a free appetizer or entree up to $12 in value on November 10 and November 11.
Bonefish Grill: Visit a participating location during normal restaurant hours and receive a complimentary order of Bang Bang Shrimp on November 11.
Cheeseburger in Paradise Bar & Grill: Score a free burger with fries when you dine in at a participating location on November 11.
Cracker Barrel: Get a complimentary double chocolate fudge Coca-Cola cake dessert on November 11.
Craft Works Restaurants & Breweries: The craft brewery restaurant chain, which includes restaurants such as Gordon Biersch, Rock Bottom and Old Chicago Pizza, will offer a free craft beer to dine-in patrons on November 11. Participating locations that are prohibited from serving free craft beer will provide a free appetizer instead.
Denny's: Visit a participating location on November 11, from 5 a.m. to noon and receive a free "Build Your Own" Grand Slam breakfast when you dine in.
Ikea: Starting November 8 through November 11, get a free entree meal, which includes a sandwich, hot dish or entree salad, when you dine in at the Ikea restaurant.
Krispy Kreme: Pick up a free doughnut and small coffee on November 11. Offer valid in-store only.
Little Caesar's: Stop by a participating location on November 11 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to receive a free lunch combo meal. This includes four slices of Little Caesar's Detroit-style deep dish pizza and a 20-ounce soft drink.
Max & Erma: Dine in to receive a free America 3-Course Combo meal, which includes a cheeseburger, your choice of a cup of soup or side salad, fries, and a cookie on November 11, at participating locations.
Olive Garden: Enjoy a free entree from a limited menu that includes cheese ravioli, chicken parmigiana and lasagna when you dine in. Any family members that dine with you will receive 10% off on their meals.
Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt: Get one free 11-ounce cup of froyo any flavor (including the new Pumpkin Spice Latte and Salted Caramel Latte flavors) on November 11 at participating locations.
Outback Steakhouse: Enjoy a free bloomin' onion and a beverage on November 11. Also, military personnel and their families get 15% off their orders starting November 12 through December 31.
PDQ: Get a free sandwich or three chicken tenders on November 11 at participating locations.
Red Lobster: Starting November 9 through November 12, get a free appetizer or dessert during normal restaurant hours. In addition to veterans and active-duty military, reservists can also get this freebie.
Red Robin: Visit a participating location on November 11 to receive a free Tavern Double burger with bottomless steak fries.
Spaghetti Warehouse: Buy one lasagna or original recipe spaghetti entree and get another free with this coupon starting November 9 through November 11.
Starbucks: Pick up a free 12-ounce (tall) cup of hot brewed coffee on November 11 at participating locations.
Texas Roadhouse: Dine in at a participating location on November 11 and get a free lunch entree from a special Veterans Day menu, plus a soft drink. Meal options include country fried chicken with two sides, pulled pork sandwich with fries and a sirloin steak with two sides.
White Castle: In-store customers at participating locations can pick-up a free breakfast slider and a small coffee or small soft drink on November 11.
Free Services for Veterans
GetBellhops.com: Need help with a big move or lifting boxes around the house? Get the use of two free "bellhops" for one hour of work -- no strings attached -- to help you load/unload a truck, move items into a storage unit or even rearrange furniture around your house. This offer is valid starting November 13 through December 15.
Great Clips: Stop by a participating location on November 11 to receive a free haircut card that's redeemable through December 31.
Meineke: Get a free basic oil change on your vehicle on November 11.
National Parks: Admission into all National Parks sites is free on Veterans Day.
Sports Clips: The men's hair salon chain will be serving up free haircuts on November 11.
Filed under: Retirement
By MARK MILLER
The United States needs a sleek new vehicle for workplace retirement saving, something that covers the millions of workers who do not have a 401(k) or traditional pension. But on Wednesday, the White House rolled out a kid's bike with training wheels instead, otherwise known as the myRA.
The U.S Treasury has been beta-testing the plan for the past year and just now is rolling it out nationally to address the serious problem of so many workers not having retirement plans.
In 2013, just 40 percent of U.S. households owned any type of retirement account - IRA, 401(k) or traditional pension - down from 48 percent in 2007, according to the Federal Reserve Board's triennial Survey of Consumer Finances released in September 2014.
The myRA is a nice start, but only if it leads to something bigger - much bigger, in fact.
One problem is that the accounts are not designed to generate meaningful retirement savings on their own because they cannot hold balances higher than $15,000. At that point - or earlier - accounts must be rolled over to a private Roth account.
As a starter account, the myRA functions as a federally sponsored Roth IRA. The accounts are open to workers with annual income up to $131,000 (single tax filers) or $193,000 (filing jointly). They are subject to the usual annual IRA contribution limits: $5,500 for individuals, or $6,500 for savers age 50 or higher.
Some employers will offer their workers access, and take contributions through payroll deductions. Individuals can also sign up on their own through myRA.gov (myra.gov) or by calling 855-406-6972. Accounts can be funded from a paycheck, bank account or a federal tax refund.
Like any Roth, the contributions come from post-tax money and contributed funds can be withdrawn without tax or penalty. The earnings can be withdrawn penalty-free in certain situations before age 59-1/2.
But unlike most IRAs, there are no fees or minimum contribution levels, and the principal is guaranteed by the Treasury - you cannot lose money.
HELPING PROBLEM SAVERS
Here is another difference between the myRA and garden variety Roth and traditional IRAs: There is only one investment option. MyRA accounts earn interest at the same variable rate paid on the Government Securities Fund offered to federal employees in the Thrift Savings Plan. That fund returned 2.31 percent in 2014 and has had an average annual return of 3.19 percent over the 10-year period ending December 2014. That is barely enough to keep even with inflation.
So where is the powerful vehicle we need - or at least a racing bike?
One solution that could work is a national auto-IRA, which the Obama administration has been asking Congress to approve since 2010 - an idea that has faced opposition from Republicans because of its mandatory participation feature.
A similar program created in the United Kingdom in 2008 has already signed up 34,000 employers and 2.5 million workers, and it features mandatory employer matching contributions, with accounts invested in target-date funds. Some U.S. states are also trying their own solutions, particularly California and Illinois.
"MyRA is a tool - state initiatives are a solution," says David John, senior strategic policy advisor at AARP.
John thinks myRA will work with the audience it is targeting - people who have not been in the habit of saving - especially because of the guarantee that you cannot lose money. "Saving is like exercise. It's a habit you get into and build. So long as you have a positive experience, you get acclimated and keep going."
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and Jonathan Oatis)
Filed under: Small Business
BY JOYCE M. ROSENBERG
NEW YORK (AP) -- An independent retailer may not look like the cutting edge of technology, but these small businesses increasingly turn to apps and sophisticated software to connect with customers.
Small retailers use high-tech innovations to build relationships with customers; they often can't compete with big chains on prices, so they aim at better, individualized service. Some of the technology is designed for smaller companies, while some retailers find ways to turn a widely-used computer program or app to their advantage. They're also able to implement technology faster than many giant retailers because they're not operating hundreds or thousands of stores.
"Using technology enables the small business to cater to a customer's needs," says Michael Moeser, a retailing executive with Javelin Strategy & Research, a consulting company based in Pleasanton, California.
One example: an app called Belly that lets shoppers accumulate rewards points at thousands of small businesses. It helps create an emotional connection between the store and shopper, Moeser says.
Another app called Dolly helps a retailer arrange for merchandise to be picked up from a store and quickly delivered to a customer, saving the shopper from lugging home big packages.
More ways that small retailers use technology:
GO WHERE THE CUSTOMERS ARE
Some small retailers sell on online marketplaces that specialize in one type of merchandise. The sites are similar to Etsy, the marketplace that focuses on goods like jewelry and clothes made by artisans.
Cream City Music sells more than 1,800 items from guitar picks to vintage instruments on Reverb.com, a musical equipment marketplace. The retailer began selling on Reverb.com two years ago.
"People on that website are specifically looking for (musical) products," says owner Brian Douglas, whose company is based in Brookfield, Wisconsin.
Cream City Music has a brick-and-mortar store and a website, but wants to take advantage of any sales opportunity it can. It's getting results, Douglas says. Sales from Reverb.com are growing by double digit percentages each month.
AN ONLINE PERSONAL SHOPPER
Soon after online shoppers land on the websites for O'Neill Clothing and Metal Mulisha, the retailers' software starts suggesting products to buy. The recommendations aren't random; the software, a computer program called Reflektion, finds out where the shopper is located, and a few clicks on surf or motorbike clothes tells the system enough to start suggesting more merchandise. The more a customer clicks, the more information the system gathers, and the more likely O'Neill and Metal Mulisha are to make a sale, says Daniel Neukomm, CEO of the retailers' parent, Irvine, California-based La Jolla Group.
The software is more advanced than programs on other sites that make suggestions based on a shopper's order history, Neukomm says. If a shopper is looking at garments designed as active wear rather than fashion, the software will take that into account. If someone from Wisconsin visits the site, the software is likely to suggest hoodies rather than surfing shorts.
The number of visits to O'Neill and Metal Mulisha that result in sales has increased 25 percent because of the software. The more time a shopper spends on the sites, the more likely the program is to select an item a customer will buy, Neukomm says.
"Like a good wine, it gets better with age," he says.
TEXT YOUR WAY TO A SALE
Tara Mikolay and her sales staff send hundreds of individual texts to her jewelry store's customers each week. About half lead to a purchase.
Mikolay, owner of Desires by Mikolay in Chappaqua, New York, tailors each text to a particular customer, sending reminders to husbands about their wives' upcoming birthdays and including photos with suggestions about what they might buy. She texts women customers with photos of new merchandise that fit their style.
While individual texts are labor-intensive, they're more effective than mass texting would be, Mikolay says. Even when a customer doesn't immediately make a purchase, they're likely to buy when the next big occasion like an anniversary comes around.
"I could place full-page ad in a newspaper, but my chances for making a sale are next to none," she says. "But I spend time manually doing texting and get great results. It's a no-brainer.
Filed under: Real Estate
By Cathie Ericson
For many, buying a home can feel like childbirth: It's incredibly painful in the moment, but all is forgotten once you take delivery of that new (split-level) bundle of joy.
Others, however, recall every excruciating detail-even some 10 years later.
Regardless of what specifically you remember about the last time you bought a home, if you're planning to jump back into the market, there are some key changes you should know about.
Don't worry-there's good stuff in store, like the fact that the mortgage process has gotten a bit easier to manage.
So if a new home is on your wish list for the new year, we're giving you the 101 on three programs that may help make the home-buying journey less bumpy,
The 101 on ... "Know Before You Owe" Mortgage Disclosure Docs
With all the rules and regulations that typically come into play, it goes without saying that it can be tricky-and frankly overwhelming-to navigate the mortgage process.
A 2014 study from Discover Home Loansfound that although 87% of respondents were confident that they could get a mortgage, fewer than half had calculated their down payment. And only 51% even knew what their projected monthly mortgage payment would be.
But new mortgage-disclosure forms introduced on October 3 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should help make the mortgage process a bit more transparent.
The Details: You'll now have more information-and more time to review it-thanks to these three new forms that would-be buyers receive:
Your Home Loan Toolkit This 28-page document serves as a primer for the entire buying process. It provides definitions of mortgage terms, background on how mortgage insurance and closing costs work and more.
Loan Estimate This new form is designed to make it easier for potential borrowers to compare different types of loans, including estimates of the monthly payment, the total amount owed, what you could expect to pay in closing costs and whether your interest rate could rise after closing.
Closing Estimate The new rules require that the estimate be provided to a buyer three days prior to closing, so you can fully assess what you're committing to. It enables you to check the final numbers against your loan estimate and spells out your total monthly outlay-including taxes and insurance-so you're crystal clear on how your new mortgage will affect your monthly budget.
Keep in mind ... Consumers may find that the closing process is lengthened by about 15 days as lenders and settlement agents adjust to the new forms, says Chris Polychron, president of the National Association of Realtors.
Filed under: Black Friday
Holiday shopping season is upon us, and this year, it's going to be capital-B Big. The average American plans to spend, on average, $1,128 this season, according to a recent survey by RetailMeNot. Broken down, that's $141 per person for eight people total.
Translation: Expect your friends and neighbors to be out in full force on November 27, looking to scoop up the best deals. To help you keep your holiday spirit, despite the crowds and frenzied energy of the day, I've compiled a few of my favorite tips for Black Friday shopping. Try them out, and you'll not just survive the day, but you'll score the best bargains with the least amount of stress.
Be the first to know: By signing up for stores' email lists in advance, including Target, Macy's, Best Buy and Toys "R" Us, or by downloading their shopping apps, you can get a sneak peak at their best deals before the circulars hit your doorstep. That may give you just enough of a head start to do your research on the sale items, so you can sort out the good from the not-quite-as-good.
Make a list: Black Friday is not the day to browse or get ideas for the loved ones on your list. It's the day to just get in and get out. So don't even think of entering a store without a crystal-clear objective. In other words, knowing you want to get your son a new flat-screen TV isn't enough. On Black Friday, you should know the brand and model number, too. That may mean going to the store before Thanksgiving to determine which one you'd like to buy. The more focused you are, the more successful you'll be in achieving your goals.
Map the store: There's nothing quite so stressful as walking into a large store and having to circle the place several times, through the crowds, to find what you're looking for, especially when what you're looking for is only being sold in limited quantities. Rather than wander aimlessly, go the store on any day before Black Friday, so you know at least in general where, say, the toy section is in relation to electronics.
Bring snacks: Think of shopping on Black Friday as an endurance sport. You've got to be smart and quick, as you'll also likely be on your feet for hours and hours. To avoid wasting time in line for sub-par soft pretzels or a slice of barely warmed frozen pizza, take along your own energy snacks. Bring some trail mix, a handful of almonds or a couple of granola bars to nibble on while you're standing in line.
Choose the best line: There's no bigger retail buzz kill than finding the perfect gift and then waiting in line for an hour just to pay for it. (Anyone who's ever been to Ikea surely knows this.) Two things to keep in mind, here, though: First, if you see a single monster line snaking to the back of the store but leading to multiple registers, rest easy. Those types of lines, known to queuing theorists as serpentine lines, where the first person is distributed to the first available cash register, look the longest but are the fastest. Second, f it's up to you to choose the best line, you may be better off heading to the left, according to "The Math Geek" by Raphael Rosen. "Approximately 90 percent of the population is right-handed, and so they tend to naturally head to the right," he writes. "So heading left is worth a try."
Score a plum parking spot: It's easy to waste your precious time and your equally precious patience looking for a good parking spot. Here's the key: Don't try following a shopper with bags to her car. If she cuts across the lot, even to just one row over, you'll have wasted your time. Also, don't keep circling in hopes that a spot right next to store's entrance will miraculously open at the exact moment you're passing by. Your best bet, according to the International Parking Institute: Commit to a row, any row, and then pull into the first available spot you see in it. Even if it's farther away than you'd hoped, you'll spend less time walking to the store than you would trolling for a closer spot. You'll also be able to start your shop in a good, rather than rageful, mood.
Boost your buying confidence: To help you get the best deals and save the most money, download RetailMeNot's app before you shop. It gives you instant access to any available coupon at thousands of stores. No clipping (or printing) required. Just flash the code on your phone to the cashier to instantly save bucks.
Just buy gift cards: Okay, so it's the not the cutest or most glamorous gift you could give, but it may in fact be the most thoughtful. According to the National Retail Federation, six in 10 people say they'd love to receive a gift card, making it the most frequently requested present for the past nine years running. The best part: Since you can order them online anytime, or pick them up when you're shopping for your Thanksgiving feast, you can spend Black Friday at home, relaxing with your loved ones.
Procrastinate: If you just don't want to brave the crowds, that doesn't mean you'll miss every last great deal. There's always Cyber Monday, after all, and if you have a computer, iPad or smartphone, you can shop that sale at home in your pajamas. No lines, no crowds, no stress. Have fun!
Filed under: Budgeting
By Jon Lal
If germs are hitting your home with a vengeance this time of year, you might be feeling the impact on your bank account. Taking care of yourself or a loved one when you're under the weather can be pricey. From stocking up on cold medicine to potentially missing out on work (and the related paycheck), the expenses add up quickly. Here are some ways to help keep those costs down while still taking care of yourself.
1. Do what you can to prevent getting ill in the first place.
First, consider getting a flu shot. Depending on your health coverage, it can be free or low cost. Look for opportunities to get one in your community or at a local pharmacy. Often no appointment is necessary. Even if you must pay a small fee for the shot, this investment in your health could protect you from wasting more time later in the winter season.
After all, you could fork over the same amount to visit a doctor or more if you need to go to the hospital, and spending a little now can prevent your need to purchase medicine or take time off work. Using the same reasoning, you might want to consider investing in vitamins and healthy food, too. Simple steps, like washing your hands frequently, can also help reduce the chances of exposure o germs turning into a bigger deal.
2. Prepare through well-time purchases.
If you do come down with an illness, don't count on cold medicine being on sale when you need it. Instead, stock up when it's on sale. Take a moment before you go to the store and look at the weekly ads to see what's on sale. Then look for a coupon. You might even be able to use a coupon on an item that's already on sale for additional savings.
Another way to save on medicine is to purchase the generic version. Each store usually has their own brand that uses many or all of the same ingredients and comes with a lower price tag.
3. But don't necessarily buy the cheapest item.
A word of caution before you buy the cheapest medicine you can find: When selecting medicine to buy at the drugstore, you might notice that the same drug is packaged in multiple size boxes and prices range from $5 to $20. Calculating the cost per dose will likely reveal that the larger package is a better value. Colds can last up to a few weeks; if you buy the smaller package, you may be back at the store to purchase a second box or bottle of medicine before your cold symptoms have gone away.
4. Get rewarded.
Now that you've selected a bottle or cough syrup or a box of decongestant, don't forget to rack up the rewards when you pay the cashier. Many drugstores - including Walgreens and CVS - have free memberships where you can accumulate rewards that are later redeemed for dollars off your future bill.
If you're the kind of person that doesn't like carrying around keycards, then you have the option of downloading an app, like Key Ring, that tracks your loyalty programs for you. That way, you just need your phone handy when you're checking out at the register.
5. Look for other discounts, too.
Sometimes you'll also find manufacturer coupons can also reduce your final price. In addition to over-the-counter cold medicine, you might be soothing your illness with items such as hot water bottles, heating pads and herbal tea. Before stocking up on those items, you can check your paper's circular on Sunday for any available discounts. If you see them even when you're not sick, you might want to consider stocking up, just as with cold medicine. That way, you'll be prepared and guarantee yourself the best deal - plus you won't have to venture out when you're feeling lousy. Having a few cans of chicken soup in your cupboard doesn't hurt, either.
I hope these five strategies help reduce the pain you feel in your wallet when you next come down with a cold. With any luck, you'll be able keep any illnesses to a minimum this season, for both yourself and your loved ones.
Filed under: Taxes
By Tony Armstrong
With the increasing popularity of the so-called sharing economy, more people than ever are getting paid for tasks like giving someone a lift, playing with dogs while their owners are on vacation or simply running an errand.
Here's one task this new breed of freelance workers must not forget though: setting aside some cash for Uncle Sam.
"People get into this and think, 'Here's an easy way to make a few extra bucks,'" says Robert Reed, a financial advisor in Columbus, Ohio. "It is. But you also become independent contractors."
Nearly 54 million Americans, more than one-third of the U.S. workforce, did some type of freelance work in the past year, according to a 2015 report from Freelancers Union and Upwork. Unlike traditional employees - those who get a W-2, for example - independent contractors don't have income taxes and Social Security automatically withheld from their pay.
That means those who earn income via the sharing economy need to give at least 30 percent of their profits back to the government, depending on their tax bracket. This includes people receiving income from companies such as Uber, Airbnb and DogVacay, which enable people to connect with customers via apps.
Many first-timers don't fully understand their tax obligations and get an unpleasant surprise come tax season. Avoid that shock and minimize your tax burden by planning ahead. These four tips will help you do so.
1. Do your research.
A simple Google search of "taxes, Uber" (or Airbnb, or TaskRabbit, or Etsy) will present you with at least a dozen articles, including common expenses you can deduct and what to do with the 1099-K form you may or may not receive.
Doing a little upfront research will put you a step ahead of most people who join the sharing economy, says Chris McDevitt, a tax professional and certified financial planner in Edmonds, Washington.
"Most people ignore taxes until after the first year," McDevitt says. "It's a big, big surprise."
2. Think like a business owner.
You might not consider yourself a businesses owner - after all, you're just doing odd jobs or watching puppies - but the IRS sees it otherwise. Thinking of your side gig as a company, rather than a hobby, will help you get in the mindset of tracking income and expenses.
McDevitt suggests setting up a separate bank account for your business and funneling all payments through that account. If you drive for Uber, for example, deposit any fares into your businesses account, and pay any business expenses such as gas, insurance and maintenance from that account.
Keeping detailed records doesn't just apply to money coming in and going out. Sharing economy participants who use their car for business also need to log their mileage, separating business-related driving from personal use, for deduction purposes.
Services such as Uber and DogVacay send tax forms to drivers and hosts, but only if they meet a certain earning threshold. For DogVacay, that limit can be as high as $20,000 or 200 transactions, meaning a lot of hosts won't receive a 1099 form to file their taxes.
That doesn't mean you don't need to report the income, though. Keeping detailed records will make it easier to sort out what you earned for the year, after expenses are deducted.
3. Seek out a tax pro.
If this is your first time having to file taxes with anything other than a traditional W-2, consider working with a professional tax preparer.
"Make sure you're hiring a real professional and not someone who just does this for two months out of the year for tax season and that's it," says Reed, who notes that tax law around the sharing economy is still evolving.
A seasoned tax professional can help you identify business-related expenses to deduct, beyond more obvious ones such as gas or dog food.
Yulia Blyndiuk, 25, makes a living as a sitter through DogVacay. After hosting her first clients, two huskies, Yulia realized she needed to fence in her yard. That expense could be deductible, along with the postcards she sends to clients and any toys she purchases for the pups she hosts.
Working with a professional to prepare taxes your first year will help make you attuned to expenses and deductions. It will also familiarize you with the new set of tax forms you'll be dealing with, such as a 1099-K, a Schedule C or a Schedule E. Then, in future years, you'll likely know enough to do it yourself, if you choose.
"Typically, once you know what's going on, the bookkeeping is usually pretty darn simple," Reed says.
4. Pay quarterly.
The IRS expects the self-employed to pay their taxes over the course of the year, rather than in one lump sum on April 15. This typically applies whether you're a full-time business owner or you simply make a little extra cash on the side.
These quarterly estimated tax payments are due annually on 15th day of April, June, September and January. Not paying these on time could result in fees and penalties, even if you're due a refund at the end of the year. Tools such as QuickBooks Self-Employed can help you calculate and pay your quarterly taxes.
If you have questions about tax forms, expenses, deductions and the like, don't bury your head in the sand. Ask a financial advisor now, and save yourself a headache come April 15.
Filed under: Technology
Even that cartoon-strip cop Dick Tracy, with that fancy two-way wrist radio in 1946, could never have envisioned that folks would be trotting around 70 years later with digital fitness devices and miniature computers strapped around their arms.
"You don't have to look far to catch a glimpse of someone wearing the latest wearable technology, such as an Apple watch (ticker: AAPL) or Fitbit (FIT)," says Terence Pitre, an accounting professor at Saint Mary's College of California. "It's logical to wonder just how good of an investment in this technology would be."
Then again, that's not exactly an issue your tech bauble can surf the Internet to answer - not even Apple's over-the-top watch, complete with a 38 mm, 18-karat yellow gold case and bright red belt buckle that retails for $17,000. (But there's free shipping!)
No matter how many of those fly off the shelves, or waddle pretentiously, it takes a different measure to determine how watches and fitness devices in the 21st century translate to value for the companies that make them. And a good place to start is with Fitbit, which got into the game well before anyone, in 2007. Its pantheon of products, which track data including steps walked, sleep quality and heart rate, helped the company go public in June.
Apple and Fitbit are at the top of the heap. Fitbit controls almost a quarter of the wearable tech market, according to Pitre. And that slice of the pie has been mirrored by solid Wall Street performance. Since going public, Fitbit has seen its share prices jump more than 20 percent.
One appeal of Fitbit is that its products work with Android or Apple devices, whereas the Apple Watch ... well, you know the drill. "Additionally, firms like Fitbit have since added text capability and music to their products, thus rendering both models comparable in functionality," Pitre says.
Yet Apple's new gizmo, which starts at $349, hasn't been a flop, either. For the year, Apple's revenue grew an astounding 28 percent to nearly $234 billion, after its fiscal fourth quarter profit rose 31 percent. And in its earnings statement, CEO Tim Cook singled out the Apple Watch as part of the recent success.
That said, the stock bounce factor is harder to measure for behemoth companies where a watch or fitness device represents one in a large line of products. "Even if it's a hot product, they often make up a minuscule percentage of the total sales," says Will Hsu, managing partner of Mucker Capital, a venture capital firm in Los Angeles.
In fact, sales of the Apple Watch will create three to four times as much revenue as Fitbit models. But as Pitre points out, "The financial impact to Apple will barely register the proverbial blip on the radar screen. ... Investing in Apple or Samsung (SSNLF) because of their presence in the wearables market would be like buying a hamburger for the lettuce."
Looking ahead. As for taking a tasty bite of the future, "We're just beginning to scratch the surface of what's possible, says M.S. Krishnan, professor of technology and operations at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. "The key is going to be how relevant these applications are going to be." Krishnan predicts innovations in the health care market could arrive first - and indeed, that could be a very profitable frontier in the years ahead.
"The next big step for wearables will be a shift toward medical grade sensors for health care," says Carla Kriwet, CEO of Philips Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions "Today's devices are able to successfully track data, but this alone is not enough to improve patient outcomes and won't lead to broader, healthier changes overall - as these devices are not yet helping meet the very real medical needs of patients who would benefit most."
But there have been advances. Healthwatch Technology, for example, has come out with a shirt that employs electrodes to monitor vital signs for patients with cardiac issues and interfaces with a smartphone app. It promises to not only help hospital patients and outpatients, but also drive sales.
"The greatest benefit will be the fact vital information can be collected over time, allowing health professionals a better view into potential problems of the patient using actual data points and trends," says Eric Spackey, CEO of Bluewater Defense, a company that mass produces combat apparel and equipment for the Department of Defense.
Already seeing a top? Some experts already spot tech fatigue settling in among everyday consumers.
"We are starting to see performance degradation in favor of feature-rich devices," says TJ Dailey, national products manager at TCC, a retailer of Verizon premium wireless products. "Where is the tipping point, and when is too much connectivity too much?"
"One of the challenges with wearables is whether or not someone will actually wear it," adds Joel Evans, vice president of mobile enablement at Mobiquity, a professional services firm in the mobile and digital sectors.
So let's say you already wear a Seiko or Timex "dumbwatch" you love. Chronos is expected to release $99 smartwatch disc in the spring. "It attaches to the back of the watch you already like to wear, lasts 36 hours and brings many of the features that a traditional smart watch will bring, even responding to taps and gestures," Evans says.
But whether that propels Chronos to an initial public offering is another story. And not all wearables have caught on. Some major companies that tried wearable technology in athletic clothing have tanked, including Adidas (ADDYY) and Under Armour (UA), says Steven LeBoeuf, president and co-founder of Valencell, a provider of biometric sensor technology in fitness gear.
That said, things could get exciting over at your favorite consumer electronics store. "Be on the lookout for 'hearables,' smart wearables worn at the ear," LeBoeuf says.
Or if you prefer: Keep your ear to the ground.
Filed under: Budgeting
And maybe you're right. After all, you know your situation far better than anyone. Maybe a divorce, bankruptcy or foreclosure is looming.
But many experts say that if your spouse is constantly behaving in ways that are wrecking your budget, there is a thought process to adopt and steps you should take to see if you can keep your household finances from completely falling apart. So before you give up on your significant other - and the idea of ever getting your finances under control - try this first.
Change whomever is paying the bills. There are many ways someone can mess up a household budget, or, to be blunt, commit financial abuse. If your spouse is the one mucking things up by paying bills late, then take the reins. Likewise, if your spouse doesn't pay the bills, and is going on shopping sprees and never paying attention to the bank balance, consider suggesting that he or she begin the bill paying.
It may sound like a crazy idea, putting the reckless spender in charge of paying the bills. But as Paul Moyer, a Greenville, South Carolina, resident who has a personal finance blog, SavingFreak.com, and does financial coaching, says, "the best progress I've seen from budget saboteurs is to have them start making up the family budget."
At least for a while, it may be worth testing out. "By putting them in charge of drawing up the budget, they get a full view of exactly what their spending is doing," Moyer says. "The vast majority of people do not want to put their family in trouble."
Accept that you may be to blame, too. This one is hard, especially if you know you're a responsible person who doesn't impulse shop and monitors the money carefully. But maybe you monitor the money a little too carefully, causing resentment in your spouse, who then subconsciously or purposefully tries to spend his or her way to freedom.
Or maybe you never communicate with your spouse, leaving your significant other in the dark and unaware of your tight budget.
That latter scenario happens a lot, says Anthony Leonardi, founding partner at Paladin Family Wealth in Rye Brook, New York. "Typically one spouse - normally, but not always, the male - takes the lead on areas involving finances, while the other spouse handles the nonfinancial aspects of running the household," Leonardi says.
Of the partner who has no clue what's going on, he adds: "Either they trust that their spouse has everything under control, or they just don't care to know, preferring to keep their head in the sand."
So if you've been ignoring red flags for a while, maybe you need to accept some responsibility for what's happened as well.
As April Masini, online advice columnist at AskApril.com, says, "What most people consider sabotage doesn't usually happen in a vacuum. And if you say it happened behind your back, ask yourself if you turned your back."
She says that if you've been willfully ignoring a husband or wife's "questionable financial moves, it's unfair to call it sabotage. Both spouses have a responsibility to stay informed."
Ban your partner from paying the bills. Maybe your hair is sand-free, thanks. Maybe you haven't ignored anything. Maybe your significant other has a real problem with money, but is otherwise your soul mate (or close enough).
Then it may be time to take charge, completely. Some couples do it.
Betsy Pass, an operations coordinator at TrueWealth LLC, a wealth management firm in Atlanta, says that a co-worker had a client implement an envelope policy. "The spouse received a monthly cash allowance that was kept in an envelope; whenever the allowance was spent, that was it until the next month. Surprisingly, the spouse liked this method because he or she knew the exact amount of money he or she could spend and plan accordingly," Pass says.
Gary Borowiec, a financial advisor at Atlas Advisory Group in New York City, has a client whose husband gambled, and 17 years ago, the wife ultimately had to take over the finances. Today, the husband still attends Gamblers Anonymous and is a highly respected professional at a great company, Borowiec says.
"Only a handful of people ever knew what happened," Borowiec adds.
"The key is to identify the problem, get help for the addict, and then take care of the financial damage as soon as possible," says George Guerin, a certified financial planner in Denver, who has also worked with clients married to gamblers.
Communicate. If there's a theme in all of these steps, it's to talk to your spouse about your money problems - or his or her money problems.
Mathew Dahlberg, who owns the wealth management services company Main Street Investments, in Kansas City, Missouri, says he's seen his share of scenarios in which one partner is committing some sort of financial abuse with the household budget. He believes these problems can often be solved by talking things out and considering each other's point of view.
"I often advise couples that unless they get more in tune with one another's feelings toward money and their marriage, they will not continue to be married for much longer," Dahlberg says, adding that couples are often shocked to hear this from him, since he isn't a marriage counselor.
But he probably almost could be. At least, you can't argue with his logic when he says that while talking things over is crucial, it's easier said than done, and it can take time to sort through everything.
"The communication problems in these [types of] cases are more deeply rooted," Dahlberg says. "There can be years of layers of misunderstandings, misconstrued intentions and ultimately resentment that needs to be peeled away and discussed."
Filed under: Holiday Shopping
The cost of food over the holiday season may be among your biggest expenses through the end of the year. As you get busy making plans to entertain your guests and put together that holiday food shopping list, don't overlook opportunities to pare down some costs of that grocery bill. There's still time to find great deals on specialty ingredients, baking items and other holiday recipe must-haves.
Here are six ways you can save some money on holiday meals.
1. Plan around seasonal ingredients. Whether you're cooking up casseroles or whipping up a few baked goods, make sure the majority of the recipes you choose use in-season ingredients. Sweet potatoes, zucchini, winter squash, pumpkin and cranberries are some of the most versatile ingredients you can cook and bake with over the holidays. Incorporate them into your sweet and savory dishes to save money on the cost of core ingredients for those much-loved holiday recipes. You could also make these dishes well ahead of time and freeze them to save on meal preparation time later.
2. Stock up on nonperishables. Avoid running out of essential items when stores close early around the holidays or run out completely as holiday event planning gets underway. You can stock up on nonperishable items that you plan to use this year and also for your regular recipes after the holidays are over. Shop your grocery store for specials, and make a trip out to a warehouse club to buy bulk items such as flour, sugar, canned goods, chocolate, candy and other foods you can keep in the pantry for at least a few months.
3. Schedule your turkey pickup at the right time. Paul Socia, CEO and president of Miramar Federal Credit Union, suggests postponing the turkey pickup until closer to holiday meal time because turkey can be found at a discounted price around Thanksgiving Day. However, if you're worried that your local store might run out, consider buying turkey and other meat well ahead of time - even as early as a few weeks before - and freezing them for holiday meal prep.
4. Take advantage of in-store holiday deals. Whether you're in charge of baking large batches of Christmas cookies this year or preparing the entire holiday meal, start checking store flyers and circulars each week for the best prices on all those holiday recipe must-haves. Stock up right when a store is running a promotion, and take advantage of in-store coupons. Socia also suggests stocking up on holiday pantry staples that you can use for a few months, pointing out that cranberry sauce, black olives and pureed pumpkin "will be just as welcome at Christmas and New Year's." Shopping for these items around Thanksgiving may be the perfect time to take advantage of buy one, get one free specials, manufacturer's coupons and other discounts.
5. Do your holiday baking from scratch. As convenient as it may be to buy pre-made cookie dough, cake mixes and other baking necessities for your holiday baking productions, you will pay a premium for store-bought foods. When you outline the cost of baking ingredients such as flour, sugar, butter and cocoa powder - especially when you buy in bulk - you will find that the total cost of making those tasty treats is significantly less than any pre-made dough. Lifestyle blogger Kristy Howard of Kristy's Cottage blog points out how it costs just 41 cents to prepare yellow cake mix versus spending $1 to $2 or more for a cake mix from a grocery store.
Make a master plan for your holiday baking so you can calculate exactly how much of each ingredient you will be using. Estimate the costs to break down the price of each recipe so you can see how much you are saving.
6. Host a holiday potluck. Take some of the pressure of food buying off your shoulders by asking guests to pitch in by bringing a meal to share. You can create a master menu and have guests choose a dish they want to bring, or brainstorm some ideas with guests beforehand to delegate dishes for the holiday gathering. Taking care of the turkey or main meal, and then having guests bring side dishes, desserts and drinks can help you offset some of the costs of a traditional holiday spread.
There are three things to look for when buying new dress shoes. The first one is quality leather. Check for little scars or imperfections in the hide. These blemishes could be a sign of untreated leather that won't last as long. Next, check the stitching, it should be neat and be barely noticeable. And lastly, the soles should be made out of leather and at least a quarter-inch thick.
Spending a little more on a good pair of shoes can really pay off in the long run. Experts recommend paying between $150 to $300 to get the best value. Do your homework and see what works for you.
Now that you know how to find the perfect pair, it's important to know how to maintain them to make them last. Keep your shoes on a shoe tree. This will allow them to contract and dry out to their ideal shape. And if your brand new shoes stain from water, snow or salt, there's no need to worry. Just dip a soft-bristled toothbrush in white vinegar and gently rub your shoe to remove the stain.
Before you run to the shoe store, remember these tips. You'll see that buying new dress shoes doesn't have to tread on your budget.
Having a child is a major commitment - a commitment that requires spending a significant amount of money. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates parents with a baby born last year will shell out an average of $245,340 to raise the child to age 18.
There's no denying children cost money, but not everyone agrees parents have to spend a quarter million to raise a baby to adulthood. U.S. News spoke with four experts to see how parents can save on kid-related expenses at every stage and age.
In the Beginning: All They Need Is Food, Diapers and Love
When babies are born, they don't need much more than food and diapers, says Sandra Gordon, founder of the savings site BabyProductsMom.com. And even those necessities can often be bought for less.
Feed babies inexpensively. You can't beat free, and breast-feeding is the cheapest way to nourish an infant. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends moms breast-feed exclusively for the first six months and then continue to nurse until children are 12 months old. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, health insurance companies are required to cover the cost of electric pumps for mothers or other nursing women who need them.
Gordon is quick to affirm that breast-feeding is best to save money, but she also notes not every woman is able to nurse her child. "If you have to use formula, don't feel guilty," she says. While brand-name formula is pricey, Gordon says the Food and Drug Administration requires store brands to be nutritionally equivalent and can cost 50 percent less.
Give cloth diapers a try. Today's cloth diapers are a far cry from those your mother or grandmother used. Pins and plastic pants are a thing of the past, and modern cloth diapers have Velcro or snap closures and come in cute patterns.
According to Gordon, parents could spend as much as $2,500 on disposable diapers for a child from birth until toilet training, or they could invest $300 in a cloth diaper stash. "The downside is you have to do a lot of laundry," she says. "There is some sweat equity involved."
Forget the expensive nursery. "The nursery is the thing people get obsessed over," Gordon says. However, she argues there is no reason to spend thousands on an elaborately decorated nursery when all a baby needs is a crib, a firm mattress and maybe a changing table.
Parents should also consider the future when decorating a nursery and make sure it will easily transition to suit an older child. Inexpensive décor can be found at Goodwill or discount stores like HomeGoods.
Buy secondhand to save. Bob Gavlak, a father of three and wealth advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners in Columbus, Ohio, encourages parents to buy gently used items whenever possible. "A 1-year-old doesn't need a brand-new wardrobe from the Gap," he says.
Infants quickly outgrow clothes, accessories and toys, which means many items sold used are actually nearly new. Gavlak notes his daughter was too big for her newborn clothes, and he and his wife ended up selling them for a quarter of what they initially cost.
The 'Need-This' Kid Stage: Rethink Those 'Must-Haves'
Once kids move out of the baby and toddler stage, their wants may expand, but don't confuse what they'd like with what they need. "Sometimes we spend money we didn't have to," says Denise Daniels, a psychologist and child development expert. "Kids don't need things; they need you."
Skip blowout birthday parties. At some point, birthday parties transitioned from pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey followed by cake and ice cream to elaborate affairs complete with princess carriage rides and fake snow for sledding in the summer. However, a Merrill Edge survey of 1,001 adults in September found that 22 percent of parents wished they spent less on nonessentials in the last five years. "As a parent myself, when we talk about expensive toys or parties, I know I 'm guilty of it," says Sharon Miller, an executive with Merrill Edge.
Your child may want to have a party every year at the local jump house or ski resort, but save those for milestone birthdays and have low-key parties with family and close friends on the other years. "There's nothing wrong with saying 'no' to your child," Daniels says.
Carefully consider child care. "The cost of child care is through the roof," Daniels says. "That's a big nut for parents to swallow." However, it might not be a necessary expense.
Child care can cost as much as a mortgage for some families. In fact, a 2015 Care.com report found the national average for two children in day care is $18,000, while housing is $17,000. Gavlak says parents may want to consider whether they actually come out ahead by having both parents work. If extra income is needed, working an opposite shift as your spouse, while not ideal, is another way to eliminate or reduce child care costs.
Parents should also do the math before paying someone under the table to watch their children. An unlicensed child care provider may be cheaper, but parents could miss out on a child care credit that could save them a significant amount at tax time.
Let kids share a room. Housing is the biggest expense related to raising kids, according to the USDA. It may seem as though your house needs to grow along with your family, but there is no reason every child needs his or her own room.
While scientific research on the issue is in short supply, plenty of anecdotal evidence points to room-sharing as being a tolerable, and even positive, experience for siblings. If storage is an issue, work with children to declutter toys and clothes so they will fit in a smaller space.
Teens: Everything Gets Expensive
By the time kids hit their teen years, parents may be buying cellphones, cars and other big-ticket items. Insisting an older teen get a job and pick up the tab for some expenses is one way to rein in costs, and here are three more.
Limit extracurricular activities. Club sports, music lessons and other interests can cost families thousands of dollars in fees, equipment and travel expenses. Despite the cost, Daniels says it's no surprise parents make these activities a priority. "They want to give their kids the best," she points out.
Unfortunately, overscheduled teens not only cost their parents money, but they also lose the opportunity to gain important skills. "Back in the day, kids used their imagination and creativity in a way they don't nowadays," Daniels says. For families stretched thin, limiting extracurricular activities to one per season or year may benefit a household's wallet and sanity.
Ask others to pitch in. Grandparents have long been giving savings bonds to help with college funds, but today's crowdfunding websites open up new possibilities for kid-related fundraising. With a parent's help, teens can set up fundraising accounts for whatever major purchase they have in mind, whether that's a study abroad program or a new car. Then, they can request donations in lieu of birthday or holiday gifts.
Parents can also use crowdfunding to simplify school and activity fundraising and eliminate the need to hawk overpriced goods to friends and family. "One thing people love about [crowdfunding] is that they don't have to hassle people," says Mary Yap, a program manager with crowdfunding site Tilt.com. Other popular sites include Piggybackr, GoFundMe and DreamFund.
Focus on less expensive college options. Remember that $245,340 figure from the USDA? It is missing one very large expense: college tuition. Depending on the school your child chooses, that could cost you another $3,400 to $32,400 per year plus room and board, according to the College Board's 2015-2016 rates.
While a private school may be prestigious, a community college or state public university may provide a degree at a fraction of the cost. In addition to selecting a lower cost school, families should look for scholarships and grants. "It's important children apply for financial aid," Miller says. Even if you don't think you're eligible, "it doesn't hurt to try."
Kids cost money, but you may be surprised by how little they actually need. Daniels recalls one year when her family's house burnt down Christmas Eve. Even though they lost everything, the community rallied around them. "We look back at that year as one of the best experiences," she says. It's proof kids may not be as attached to their stuff as we think they are.
Filed under: Holiday Shopping
Ah, the holidays. A time to get together, celebrate with family and make questionable life choices.
Whether it is drinking way too much egg nog, or bringing up old resentments at the dinner table, something about the holidays switches off the usual filters in our brains.
But new survey data reveals the dumbest choice of all: Many of us are drawing down emergency funds, or even raiding retirement accounts, to pay holiday bills.
Some 62 percent of parents admit to spending more than they should over the holidays, according to the 2015 Parents, Kids & Money Survey by Baltimore-based money managers T. Rowe Price. To compound the hurt, 9 percent of parents are tapping emergency family cash to do so, and 7 percent are dipping into 401(k)s or IRAs.
Dads are the biggest culprit, with 11 percent admitting they dipped into emergency savings and retirement accounts to make it through the holidays. In comparison, only 6 percent of moms tapped emergency funds, and barely 3 percent made withdrawals from retirement funds.
"People feel like if they don't spend, spend, spend, it means they aren't doing anything," said Stuart Ritter, a senior financial planner with T. Rowe. "That 'all-or-nothing' mindset is used to rationalize buying more than they really should. As a result, a huge percentage of people say they end up overspending."
While every family's financial situation is unique, there are some tips everyone can use to keep out of spending trouble.
The typical American household spends around 1 percent of pretax income on holiday shopping, according to Hersh Shefrin, a professor and behavioral economist at Santa Clara University. Low-income families are slightly more than that, at 1.5 percent, and high-income families slightly less, at 0.5 percent.
Stick to those guidelines to make sure your purchases are not spinning out of control. Shefrin suggests starting early to avoid overspending and the stress of last-minute shopping.
"Then throw in something small and meaningful for yourself which you earn at the end of the holiday season, but only if you stick to your budget," he said.
Spending with discipline means fewer family arguments. Half of those who overspent reported having money squabbles, according to the Parents, Kids & Money Survey. Among those who did not overspend, only 27 percent argued.
Remember that the most thoughtful presents usually do not come with a big price tag: Hand-make a photo album, for instance, or put together a genealogy tree.
Another idea: Offer family members a book of certificates they can cash in to do favorite activities together. After all, kids value your time most of all, even if they are too cool to say so.
Form a united front with your partner to keep you both from overspending. After all, the less your spend on holiday gifts, the more you will have to fund other key goals like college savings, family vacations, and retirement accounts.
"Don't think of cutting back as getting less of the things you want; think of it as getting more of the things you want," said Ritter.
You can also use peer pressure to your advantage. Make it public, so you cannot backtrack on your savings goals.
"Tell someone whose respect you crave what you plan to do, and ask them to check in with you at the end to see if you lived within your budget," advised Shefrin. "There's no pressure like peer pressure from people whose respect you crave."
(Editing by Beth Pinsker and David Gregorio)