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DailyFinance.com

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    Smiling senior couple at breakfast table
    Getty ImagesYou should feel confident about your finances on the first day of retirement.
    By David Ning

    It's an achievement to make it to retirement. Years of hard work pay off once you have saved enough and get to hand over a resignation letter to your boss. You say farewell, and there may be a few tears as you part ways with your former life. But there's also the excitement of finally starting the new leisurely chapter of your journey.

    The next day there's no reason to get up before 10 a.m. You feel so grateful you no longer need to wake up early just to get ready for boring morning meetings. You get up and go downstairs, brew a morning cup of coffee and sit down at the table and ask, "Now what?"

    The start of retirement is a time of exploration for some people. There is a new life routine to figure out. Here are a few questions to ponder as you enter retirement.

    Do you plan to reduce stock exposure? It's commonly accepted that you should gradually decrease the risk in your portfolio as you age and accumulate more assets to protect. Many people do this by adding bonds to their portfolio in order to reduce volatility during retirement. Unfortunately, there isn't a simple asset allocation that fits everyone's circumstances. Adding more bonds might help you sleep well at night because they reduce volatility, but you also risk outliving your money if you live a long life. You could add more stocks if you have a long time horizon, but a bad sequence of return at the beginning of retirement could cause your portfolio to be depleted prematurely. There's no way to determine the optimum split between stocks and bonds unless you can predict the future, so the key is to be flexible with your spending and never follow any rigid rules. You also want to avoid staying away from stocks completely, because one of the biggest enemies for retirees is inflation. Price increases don't seem like a huge problem now, but there will be a time when the eroding effects of inflation are noticeable again. Almost every retiree will need some stock exposure to fight off the wealth destroying power of inflation.

    What is your strategy to withdraw money to meet daily expenses? You spent years accumulating the assets to retire and employing investment strategies to grow your nest egg. Most people spend too much time thinking about how to tweak their portfolio for maximum gains and too little time optimizing how they will withdraw their assets in a tax efficient manner. You need to give just as much throught to the withdrawal phase. Decide how much you need to spend regularly and where the funds will come from. Without a paycheck and with your assets spread between pre-tax, post-tax and taxable accounts, you want to know exactly how to take money out without paying more in taxes than is absolutely necessary.

    What do you plan to do with your assets? The flip side of not outliving your money is the opportunity to leave money to your heirs once you pass away. You could leave it to your children or grandchildren, donate the sum to charity or something else. Put together a plan to make sure your cash gets used in a way you approve of. You may also want to start gifting while you are still alive so you get to see the fruits of your contributions.

    What do you plan to do every day? Finances are an essential part of retirement, but this question may be the most important one to answer. It's easy to start relaxing and slow down once you retire because no one is pushing you to stay active. However, those who don't keep busy could see their health erode, and no one wants to age prematurely. By staying active, you will have the energy to pursue physically demanding activities, but leisurely ones will be more enjoyable with fewer aches and pains as well. Staying active can make even being a couch potato more enjoyable.

    As you linger over that first coffee of retirement, hopefully you are off to your next activity with a perfectly clear idea of where the money to fund daily life is going to come from. You've already spent years contemplating retirement's toughest questions. It's now time to enjoy it.

    David Ning is the founder of MoneyNing.com.

     

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    human hands exchanging money  ...
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    Chances are you'll be spending about $805 this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.

    But chances are high you won't be using mobile apps to pay for presents and party favors.

    According to Bankrate.com, mobile payments just aren't catching on with U.S. consumers of age groups. "Just 14 percent of U.S. adults who use a smartphone or a similar handheld device plan to use services such as Apple Pay or Android Pay even once this holiday shopping season, including 19 percent of millennials," Bankrate states. "Among those who don't plan to make mobile payments, the top reasons were 'not secure enough' (36 percent) and 'other payment methods are more convenient' (31 percent)."

    About 70 percent of shoppers will use cash or debit cards to pay for holiday purchases. 22 percent will use credit cards, Bankrate reports.

    What's interesting about consumers and mobile payments is that the most common fear linked to digital payments -- angst over security breaches -- might be overblown. "The most common misconception surrounding mobile payments is that they are not secure," says Mike Cetera, an analyst at Bankrate. "Truth be told, fraud is much more likely to occur on ordinary credit and debit card transactions. And of course cash can be lost or stolen without any consumer protections."

    Other experts say Americans will use mobile payments this holiday season, but with strict limits. "Currently, the vast majority of payments using mobile wallets are for low priced goods below $20," says Bob Bentz, president of Purplegator, a mobile-first digital agency located in suburban Philadelphia. "That could be because restaurants such as McDonald's (MCD) and Panera (PNRA) are well-known users of proximity mobile payments or that users are reluctant to pay for more expensive good with mobile wallets."

    Bentz does see clear sailing ahead for mobile payments, once consumers grow used to the technology. " Digital wallets and mobile payments just make sense and their added convenience and security will ultimately lead to greater use," he says. "People carry their smartphones everywhere they go. Now, in addition to being their primary device for music, taking pictures and accessing the Internet, the smartphone can now also be their wallet."

    Is there really a need for having all those plastic cards in a wallet when the mobile phone can pay for things?

    James Goodnow, a Phoenix-based attorney and recently named one of "America's Most Techiest Lawyers" by the "ABA Journal," says that level of acceptance won't be happening anytime soon. "14 percent of Americans using mobile to buy holiday purchases actually seems high as the validity and security of mobile payments is still really an unknown," Goodnow says.

    "People are skeptical, and the early adopters are really the 'beta-testers' -- there's no track record yet. Combine this with last season's highly publicized Target security breach -- which included my information -- and it's easy to see why people are hesitant to jump onboard," he says.

    Some mobile technologies offer better consumer protections than others, and eventually they will drive digital payment growth. "Apple Pay actually makes simple financial transactions more secure," Goodnow says.

    "The Apple Pay mobile payment system on your iPhone requires a fingerprint for security verification. Apple Pay on your Apple Watch requires the device to be on your wrist so the heart rate sensor can sense the rightful owner's heartbeat. A stolen wallet is thus a treasure trove until someone shuts those cards down, but if someone steals my phone or watch, they can't use my Apple Pay without my fingerprint or heart rate," Goodnow adds.

    While technology firms work out the security kinks, and as consumers grapple with security concerns, mobile payments shouldn't be a huge factor this holiday season, if Bankrate (RATE) is right.

    Given the hoopla surrounding digital commerce, and the prevalence of smart phones, that's a surprising takeaway this holiday season.

    Maybe, just maybe, mobile's big breakthrough will come in 2016, or even 2017 -- but it's just not happening in 2015.

     

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    Twelve Days Cost
    Phil Coale/AP
    By JOE MANDAK

    PITTSBURGH -- Lords a-leaping is the U.S. economy slow to recover!

    The cost of 10 lords a-leaping increased 3 percent over last year, but nine of the other 12 gifts listed in the carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stayed the same price as last year, according to the 32nd annual PNC Wealth Management Christmas Price Index released Monday.

    The index is a whimsical way the Pittsburgh-based bank tracks inflation.

    The set of gifts spelled out in the final verse of the song would cost $34,131 this year, or 0.6 percent more than the adjusted 2014 price of $33,933. PNC decided to adjust the historic prices of turtle doves and swans after realizing the prices quoted by vendors didn't reflect the birds' overall value on the open market over the years.

    "The headline, I think, is that inflation in this economy, with the sort of tepid recovery we've seen, is almost nonexistent.

    "The headline, I think, is that inflation in this economy, with the sort of tepid recovery we've seen, is almost nonexistent," said Jim Dunigan, chief investment officer of PNC's asset management group.

    While the good news is that the price of consumer goods isn't rising very much, it also means demand for those goods is down, at least partly due to wage stagnation.

    The government's Consumer Price Index has pegged inflation at about 0.2 percent, Dunigan said.

    The only other items to increase in price since last year were a partridge in a pear tree and two turtle doves.

    The bird in the bush rose 3.5 percent overall, mostly because partridges now cost $25 each, up from $20, because partridges are increasingly popular as gourmet food. Pear trees inched to just under $190 up from $188.

    Turtle doves increased 11.5 percent, to $290 from $260, mostly due to increased grain prices that pushed up feed costs.

    The lords a-leaping are more expensive because labor costs increased their price to $5,509 from $5,348.

    PNC calculates the prices from sources including retailers, bird hatcheries and two Philadelphia dance groups, the Pennsylvania Ballet and Philadanco.

    A buyer who purchased all the items each time they are mentioned in the song would spend $155,407.18.

    The full set of prices:
    • Partridge, $25; last year: $20
    • Pear tree, $190; last year: $188
    • Two turtle doves, $290; last year: $260
    • Three French hens, $182; last year: same
    • Four calling birds (canaries), $600; last year: same
    • Five gold rings, $750; last year: same
    • Six geese-a-laying, $360; last year: same
    • Seven swans a-swimming, $13,125; last year: same
    • Eight maids a-milking, $58; last year: same
    • Nine ladies dancing (per performance), $7,553; last year: same
    • 10 lords a-leaping (per performance), $5,508; last year: $5,348
    • 11 pipers piping (per performance), $2,635; last year: same
    • 12 drummers drumming (per performance), $2,855; last year: same

     

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    Shutterstock
    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.

    Avon Products (AVP) -- Up 27 percent last week

    Shares of the iconic direct seller of beauty and home products moved higher after a bullish analyst note. Citi (C) issued an upbeat take on Avon, slapping a price target on the stock that suggested 44 percent in upside.

    Citi visited Avon's operations in Brazil, the country that has become the direct seller's biggest market over the years. There are challenges there, but Citi observed underlying strength in a country where it has 1.5 million reps selling its products.

    Movado (MOV) -- Up 18 percent last week

    The clock is ticking at Movado. The maker of watches moved higher after posting mixed quarterly results. Its profit of 92 cents a share on $185.6 million in revenue fell just short of Wall Street expectations, but its guidance -- calling for per-share earnings to clock in between $2 and $2.10 on $590 million to $600 million in revenue -- finds it landing just ahead of where the pros are perched.

    We may not be wearing traditional watches the way we used to, but Movado's encouraging guidance suggests that it will be a better-than-expected holiday shopping season for its timepieces.

    TrueCar (TRUE) -- Up 15 percent last week

    A change at the top apparently looks good for TrueCar. The online marketplace -- where customers are offered haggle-free prices on cars available locally -- moved higher after announcing that Chip Perry will take over as CEO in two weeks. Perry was formerly the CEO at Auto Trader. TrueCar's founder and CEO Scott Painter had announced that he would be stepping down back in August and the market clearly like the move to tap a seasoned outsider to take the wheel.

    Abengoa (ABGB) -- Down 64 percent last week

    Last week's biggest loser was Spain's Abengoa, shedding nearly a third of its value after initiating insolvency proceedings. The renewables giant thought it had found a savior earlier in the week, but that investor decided Wednesday not to inject new capital into Abengoa. The insolvency proceedings began the following day.

    Daktronics (DAKT) -- Down 17 percent last week

    It was another losing quarter for the scoreboard maker. Daktronics fell short of analyst profit targets, but that's not really a surprise. It has fallen short on the bottom line every single quarter for more than a year. Net sales also clocked in 9 percent lower than a year earlier.

    Pure Storage (PSTG) -- Down 12 percent last week

    A bad earnings report will trip up a stock, but sometimes it's also enough to slam a competitor. Enterprise data flash storage specialist Pure Storage took a hit after rival Nimble Storage (NMBL) served up unflattering financials. The fear here is that the entire sector is in a funk. We'll know for sure if the selloff was warranted, as Pure Storage reports quarterly results for the same period on Thursday.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Movado Group and TrueCar. 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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    Gift wrapped piggy bank on red white background.
    Getty Images
    By Mitch Lipka

    If you end up with a massive money hangover after the five-day holiday shopping mania that stretches from Thanksgiving Day through Black Friday to Cyber Monday, the antidote is Giving Tuesday.

    The one-day charitable giving promotion -- hashtag #GivingTuesday on social media -- was launched in 2012 to galvanize people around a less gluttonous pursuit.

    Since most charities generate the vast majority of their contributions at the end of the year, Giving Tuesday opened the door to a more organized effort on a specific day that any organization could step into. And it worked.

    While still in its early stages compared to its retail counterparts, Giving Tuesday has already produced spectacular results for many non-profits. That has led more than 30,000 organizations in 68 countries, from non-profits to corporations to governments, to participate. And the hashtag was mentioned more than 750,000 times on Twitter in 2014.

    Reuters spoke with the founder of Giving Tuesday, Henry Timms, who is executive director of New York City's 92nd Street Y (a prominent cultural and community center).

    Q: Why do you think Giving Tuesday has caught on?

    A: It speaks to the most American of values. America is the most generous country in the world. Giving Tuesday was a beneficiary of that strand of DNA. It spoke to a sense of a lot of people around the holidays that we need to ritualize how we think of others. And you never need more than six words to explain what giving Tuesday is: Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday.

    Q: How much do you have to do to keep Giving Tuesday going?

    A: The success of Giving Tuesday has been with the partners around the country and around the world. That's the real engine behind Giving Tuesday. We've seen a lot of local strategies starting to develop. The secret sauce of Giving Tuesday has been community. The reason it has grown is because the Giving Tuesday community has found a way to do it quite publicly.

    Q: Do you think it could have come to fruition if there was no Twitter or Facebook?

    A: I think it has been critical. We sometimes get a bit too obsessive about social media as an end unto itself. Giving Tuesday has technology as an engine, but it is driven by humanity.

    Technology allows that network to grow. It's simply providing a catalyst and a link for people to do good things in the world at a greater scale. The most powerful way to raise money is to have a friend ask a friend. Increasingly we see peer-to-peer movements taking place. We see the shift from donors to owners. We have to create things that leave space for people to give their own touch. They've made it more about their cause, their community, the things that matter most.

    Q: Do you think the idea of Giving Tuesday has changed giving patterns and brought in any new giving?

    A: It's a big opportunity. It's really interesting to see how technology is going to shift giving. Facebook is now experimenting with giving. That could be transformative. There are new apps coming out relative to Giving Tuesday.

    Q: What is your feeling about Giving Tuesday as a year-round venture rather as a once a year counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

    A: We've certainly seen people use other Tuesdays throughout the year. It has been really amazing. Lots of organizations on Giving Tuesday are trying new ways of engaging.

    (The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

     

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    Existing U.S. Home Sales Rise to Second-Highest Since 2007
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Lucia Mutikani

    Factory activity in the Midwest shrunk in November and contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes rose marginally, the latest suggestions that economic growth will probably remain modest in the fourth quarter.

    The raft of weak economic reports isn't likely to stop the Federal Reserve from hiking interest rates next month provided job growth doesn't slow significantly in November, economists say.

    "It suggests that there is no obvious uplift for growth in the near-term," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    The Institute for Supply Management-Chicago said its business barometer fell 7.5 points to 48.7 in November as new orders tumbled, pushing the index back into contraction territory for the sixth time this year. A reading below 50 indicates contraction in the Midwest manufacturing sector.

    New orders plunged 15.3 points to 44.1, the lowest reading since March. Production also fell sharply, but remained just above the 50 level. The survey, however, likely exaggerates the weakness in the factory sector.

    Data on business capital spending plans and factory output have suggested that manufacturing's decline has bottomed.

    That was also supported by a separate report on Monday showing the Dallas Federal Reserve's manufacturing index rose 7.8 points to -4.9 in November.

    A report Tuesday from the Institute for Supply Management could shed more light on the health of the nation's factories.

    Housing Softening

    Manufacturing, which accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. economy, has been slammed by a strong dollar and spending cuts by energy firms.

    In a third report on Monday, the National Association of Realtors said its pending home sales index rose 0.2 percent in October. While the increase ended two straight months of declines, it was far below economists' expectations for a 1 percent rebound.

    U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

    We saw resilience in existing home sales in the third quarter, but pending home sales ... suggest a slowing in existing home sales ahead.

    The pending home sales and factory reports added to tepid consumer spending data in suggesting that the economy remained in moderate growth mode early in the fourth quarter. The economy grew at a 2.1 percent annual pace in the third quarter.

    Pending home contracts become sales after a month or two, and last month's small gain implied home resales will probably remain weak after falling 3.4 percent in October.

    Also coming on the heels of weak housing starts in October and a drop in homebuilder confidence in November, the report suggested a moderation in overall housing activity.

    Home sales are being constrained by tight inventories, which are pushing up prices. Sales activity has also weakened in areas heavily dependent on oil-related jobs.

    "We saw resilience in existing home sales in the third quarter, but pending home sales ... suggest a slowing in existing home sales ahead," said Derek Lindsey, an analyst at BNP Paribas in New York. "Additionally, the flat trend in mortgage applications suggests little pickup ahead in home sales activity more generally."

    Pending home sales are up 3.9 percent from a year ago. In October, contracts rose 4.5 percent in the Northeast, which the Realtors group said hasn't experienced much of the drastic price appreciation and supply constraints afflicting other parts of the country.

    Contracts fell in both the South and the Midwest, where low inventory continues to drive up prices.

     

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    FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, file photo, Tashalee Rodriguez, of Boston, uses a smartphone app while shopping at Macy's in downtown Boston. For the first time, analysts predict more than half of online traffic to retailer sites will come from smartphones than desktops during the busy Black Friday holiday shopping weekend. And though it�s still a small fraction of online revenue, mobile sales are jumping too. Larger phone sizes, improved retailer apps, more online deals and shoppers� increasing comfort with shopping online are driving the trend. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
    Michael Dwyer/APA shopper uses a smartphone app while shopping at Macy's in downtown Boston.
    By MAE ANDERSON

    NEW YORK -- Shoppers traded bricks for clicks Monday, flocking online to snap up "Cyber Monday" deals on everything from cashmere sweaters to Star Wars toys.

    Now that shoppers are online all the time anyway, the 10-year-old shopping holiday has lost some of its luster as online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday pick up. But enough shoppers have been trained to look for "Cyber Monday" specific sales to ensure the holiday will still mean big bucks for retailers.

    It's too early for sales figures, but Monday is still expected to be the biggest online shopping day ever, likely racing up more than $3 billion in sales, according to comScore (SCOR). Adobe (ADBE), which tracks 200 million visitors to 4,500 retail websites, said $490 million had been spent online as of 10 a.m. Eastern time Monday, the latest data available. That's 14 percent higher than a year ago.

    "A lot of people wait to see if deals are better on Cyber Monday," said Forrester Research analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.

    New Yorker Anna Osgoodby was one of the many online shoppers who spread her purchases throughout the holiday shopping weekend. On Black Friday, she took advantage of a 35 percent sale at online accessories retailer ashandwillow.com, buying earrings, a necklace and bracelet. Then she bought earrings and clutches Monday during its 40 percent off sale.

    "That extra 5 percent convinced me to buy a few more," she said.

    Some hot sellers were in scarce supply by early afternoon Monday. At Target (TGT), a Swagway hoverboard was sold out by early afternoon. The electronic transportation gadget had been $100 off at $399. Drones and some Star Wars toys were hard to find as well.

    "There are certain hot products, hover boards seem to be a phenomenon, they're selling out everywhere," said Scot Wingo, chairman of ChannelAdvisor, which provides e-commerce services to retailers.

    Adobe found 15 out of 100 product views returned an out-of-stock message as of 10 a.m., 2½ times the normal rate.

    And there were a few brief outages at sites like Neiman Marcus and Target and online payments company PayPal reported a brief interruption in service.

    Retailers have been touting online deals since the beginning of November. And they no longer wait for Monday to roll out Cyber Monday deals, either. Amazon (AMZN) started "Lighting Deals" on Saturday and Walmart (WMT) beginning all of its Cyber offers at 8 p.m. Sunday.

    'Digital Deals'

    "It's no longer about one day, but a season of digital deals," said Matthew Shay, president of retail trade group The National Retail Federation.

    That seems to have taken a toll on brick-and-mortar shopping. Frenzied crowds seemed to be a thing of the past on Black Friday -- the busy shopping day after Thanksgiving -- and sales fell to $10.4 billion this year, down from $11.6 billion in 2014, according to preliminary figures from research firm ShopperTrak.

    "Consumers are recognizing the Internet is the place to go for a deal any time, any day," said Gene Alvarez, managing vice president of research firm Gartner (IT).

    "I personally skip Black Friday just to shop Cyber Monday," said Mark Flores, a parks and recreation director from Lynwood, California. But this year, he started online shopping on Black Friday, buying five pairs of Sorel and Uggs shoes for gifts and eight Chromecasts that were two for $50 instead of $35 off. He planned to shop on Cyber Monday too, but did not find compelling deals. "Nothing standing out so far," he said midmorning on Monday.

    Research firm comScore expects online sales to rise 14 percent to $70.06 billion During the November and December shopping period, slowing slightly from last year's 15 percent rise. Online sales make up 10 percent of overall retail sales, but that increases to 15 percent during the holidays as online shoppers snap up Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, according to research firm Forrester (FORR).

    The name "Cyber Monday" was coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation's online arm, called Shop.org, to encourage people to shop online. The name was also a nod to online shopping being done at work where faster connections made it easier to browse. Now, even with broadband access, Cyber Monday continues to be a day when retailers pull out big promotions.

     

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    Dollar drain
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    Money is an important part of our lives. We buy what we need with it, we fund our future with it and we support others with it.

    Unfortunately, there are a number of bad habits that can sabotage our financial well-being. Some of these habits won't destroy our finances right away, but over time, we may find ourselves in a dire situation with little hope of recovery.

    Let's take a look at some of these bad habits and how you can avoid or conquer them as quickly as possible.

    1. Smoking. According to the CDC, "Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States." Talk about bad for your finances and your health.

    Let's pretend for a moment that the only cost from smoking is what hits your wallet -- not your lungs. OK, how much will you be spending?

    Let's say that a pack of cigarettes costs you $4.49 -- although the price widely varies from state to state. And, let's say you smoke two packs a day. That's $8.98 a day.

    There are 365 days in a year, so that'll cost you about $273.14 a month. That's a lot of money -- especially when you figure that you could have invested that money. Let's say you invest that amount of money every month for 10 years with an 8 percent annual return on your investment. You know what that comes to?

    $51,280.92. Yeah, that's serious money.

    Another way smoking can hurt your wallet is with life insurance. A client was looking to obtain term life insurance from me and in the process I learned that he was a smoker. While I was shocked to find out I was even more shocked to see how much more life insurance is for smokers. In his case, his life insurance policy was more than three times more expensive than someone that doesn't smoke.

    Remember, we're just figuring in the cost of the cigarettes on your wallet. How about the health consequences? The cost of medical procedures and the lost opportunities when you're on chemotherapy are staggering.

    Avoid smoking. It's one bad habit that kills more than your financial well-being.

    2. Using credit cards irresponsibly. How many credit cards do you have in your wallet right now? Two? Five? Eight?

    While it's not necessarily a horrible thing to have credit cards, it is a horrible thing to use them irresponsibly. And, unfortunately, that can be easily done.

    Sure, you can earn some pretty nice rewards by using credit cards on a regular basis. But remember, if credit card companies weren't making money by giving away some money, they wouldn't do it. That means that the average guy or gal can't win by using credit cards. The average guy or gal would pay more in interest on their credit cards than they would make through the rewards programs. No good.

    Okay, so you think you're above average. That's cool. You're going to need to prove it by following one little tip. What's the tip? I never thought you'd ask ...

    Pay off your credit cards every single month.

    That's right, before you use your credit cards, you need to make sure that you will be able to afford the bills that come every month. And really, for many people, the only way to do that is to get on a budget and make sure that you have the money before you spend it.

    So if you're going to use credit cards, get on a budget and pay off those credit card bills like clockwork. Get in the habit of doing the right thing with your money, not the wrong thing.

    3. Eating out during your lunch breaks at work and making other small miscellaneous purchases. It's just too easy to head down the street, swipe your card and get a meal. The problem is that it can end up costing you a lot of money.

    Let's say you spend $7.50 a meal four days a week. That could come to about $120 a month or $1,440 a year. That's a lot of money, honey.

    Keep in mind that eating out on your lunch breaks alone probably won't kill your finances, but if you add to that getting your morning coffee at your favorite java joint, buying that bagel to go with it and picking up some candy bars after work, now it's starting to look like a bad habit that will inevitably kill your finances.

    Of course, this entire article is assuming you don't have a money tree growing in your back yard (if you do, I recommend keeping it out of sight). If you're the average American, living like the average American and making little purchases throughout the day just isn't an option if you want to have a decent retirement and leave some money for your kids when you reach your final destination.

    Don't discount this tip. Entire industries thrive by selling low-cost goods. Don't let these little expenses sneak up on you and destroy your financial situation.

    There is some "good" news if you're in the habit of making multiple small purchases every day. You know what it is? It's that you probably won't experience a sudden downfall due to your spending behavior. It will happen slowly over time without you realizing it. Perhaps that's not such a good thing after all.

    4. Buying a new car every couple of years. Every time I hear of a person buying a new car every couple of years, I almost roll my eyes. There are worse things, but not much is worse than forking over $20,000 every few years.

    Driving older cars can save you so much money it can make your head spin. Now, I'm not recommending you drive something from the '50s, '60s or '70s. Hitting your head on a metal steering wheel probably isn't much fun -- just saying. The cars I'm talking about driving are maybe five or 10 years old. These cars have depreciated enough and are safe enough to represent tremendous value in your life -- especially to your finances.

    Mechanics will tell you that new cars like hybrids and electric vehicles aren't quite yet cost-efficient. Why? The batteries. When the batteries have to be replaced every few years, you might end up spending more than you'd save by not having to purchase gasoline. So next time you try to convince yourself that you "need" a new car because of the efficiencies involved, make sure to do your math first.

    If you haven't noticed, newer cars cost a whole lot more to cover with auto insurance than older cars. Plus, when you have newer cars, you're probably going to be tempted to raise your comprehensive and collision coverage -- and those coverages cost a pretty penny.

    Be smart when it comes to vehicles. Your finances will thank you over time.

    5. Winging it (financial planning) and hoping for the best. I have clients step into my office all the time to ask how much money they need to save every month for retirement. Do you think I tell them all the same thing? Of course not. How much they need to save depends on their current financial status, what the future holds, and their goals.

    For example, I'd want to know how much money they think they could live on in retirement and then I'd need to account for inflation. Then we'd have to look at what they can expect from various investments from now until they retire and beyond. I'd also need to know about any major expenses that they have coming up. The list goes on and on.

    True, you can drive yourself crazy accounting for every little data point in the process. But it's certainly worth some exploration. After all, you don't want to retire only to realize five years later you blew it by quitting your job.

    That's why I recommend meeting with a financial adviser who can help you create a financial plan. Now, I'm not just talking about investing, you're going to need a professional who will help you look at the big picture.

    It's also worth your time to understand how financial advisers get paid. They need to demonstrate their value to you before you sign on the dotted line.

    When it comes to financial planning, don't wing it. Hire a professional, educate yourself, and make a plan.

    By overcoming these bad financial habits, you'll find yourself enjoying a healthier bank account and more time to do the things you want to do in life. Don't let money rule your life -- you tell it what to do.

     

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    Markets Open In New York As Global Stocks Rise
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK - U.S. stocks slipped Monday, led by declines in health and consumer shares, as investors braced for policy news from central banks.

    The three major stock indexes posted a second straight month of gains, however, helped by financial shares, which were up 1.7 percent, while utilities were down 2.8 percent for the month.

    Retail stocks were down on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year. The S&P retail index was down 1 percent, while Target shares fell 1.3 percent to $72.50 after its website faced an outage due to heavy traffic.

    Shares of brick-and-mortar stores were down following Black Friday, including Walmart Stores (WMT), down 1.8 percent at $58.84, and Macy's (M), down 2.3 percent at $39.08.

    Sales on Cyber Monday, the busiest day of the year for internet shopping, were up 14 percent from a year earlier, according to data.

    Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is due to address Congress on Thursday and give a speech on the economic outlook the day before.

    While the U.S. central bank could raise interest rates in December for the first time since 2006, the European Central Bank is expected to unveil fresh monetary easing measures Thursday.

    Friday's non-farm payrolls report could give further clues on the direction of policy ahead of the Fed's Dec. 16-17 policy meeting.

    "There's apprehension on the part of investors to make any big commitments ahead of the data and potential policy moves coming up," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

    The The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 78.57 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,719.92, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 9.65 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,080.46 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 18.86 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,108.67.

    For the month, the Dow was up 0.3 percent, S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent and the Nasdaq gained 1.1 percent.

    Market Movers

    The S&P health sector's 1.3 percent fall led the decliners, with biotech stocks down the most. Consumer staples were down 1 percent, while discretionaries fell 0.8 percent.

    Other U.S. data expected during the week include November manufacturing and auto sales reports.

    Among other retailers, Staples (SPLS) fell 1.9 percent to $12.07. The New York Post reported U.S. antitrust regulators were preparing to block Staples' acquisition of smaller rival Office Depot. Office Depot (ODP) was down 2.4 percent at $6.59.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,752 to 1,325, for a 1.32-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,516 issues fell and 1,327 advanced, for a 1.14-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 15 new 52-week highs and 7 lows; the Nasdaq recorded 127 new highs and 55 lows.

    About 7.6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, above the 6.8 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • At 10 a.m. Eastern time, the Institute for Supply Management releases its manufacturing index for November and the Commerce Department releases construction spending for October.
    • Automakers release vehicle sales data for November.

     

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    Home Depot Raises Profit Forecast as Housing Market Lifts Sales
    Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Terence Loose

    In 1978, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank were fired from Handy Dan Home Improvement Centers -- and that might have been the best thing to ever happen to them. Fourteen months later they opened the first two Home Depots, the start of an international success.

    Today, Home Depot is the world's largest home improvement retailer with more than 2,200 locations. But while the store might offer some of the best deals on home improvement products, some of its products are less than stellar. Click through to learn about the best and worst Home Depot deals.

    The 10 Best Deals at Home Depot

    From grills to ceiling fans, Home Depot is home to some of the best deals for home improvement items. Here are 10 Home Depot deals you don't want to miss.

    1. Char-Broil gas grills. Home Depot is a great place to channel your grill master, with their Char-Broil gas grills getting high marks, according to Coupon Sherpa savings expert Kendal Perez. One model in particular, the $400 Char-Broil Gourmet TRU-Infrared, came in second only to a Weber in a Consumer Reports rating. "Just make sure to read reviews and research what features make for a quality grill before you buy," said Perez.

    2. Tool and truck rentals. If you're a DIY fanatic, you'll love Home Depot's dependable and affordable tool and truck rentals. "It's a perk greatly appreciated by DIYers who don't want to purchase a tile saw for their bathroom floor renovation," said Perez.

    For example, a small tile saw costs around $50 to $60 a day depending on the size you need. "You can also rent a truck for $19 for the first 75 minutes of use, a great deal if you need to transport heavy items from the store to your local project site," she said.

    3. Weekly workshops. Renting a tile saw is one thing. Knowing how to wield it is another. For that, Home Depot offers free classes from repairing drywall to installing kitchen faucets and laying tile. "These complimentary classes are great for homeowners looking for in-person instruction from professionals, as well as an opportunity to ask questions," said Perez.

    4. Behr paint. "Whether you're repainting a bathroom or updating your outdoor siding, Behr paint is among the top-rated paint brands and is only available at Home Depot," said Kerry Sherin of Offers.com. "According to Consumer Reports, Behr Premium Plus Ultra is top-rated among satin/eggshell and flat/matte interior finishes, for $32 to $34 per gallon."

    5. Patio furniture. Home Depot offers a fantastic selection of outdoor living gear and patio furniture, said Sherin. "If you're looking for the best time to buy, purchase in fall months like October and November. Typically you will see prices fall for these popular summer items during cooler months," she said.

    6. Lighting and ceiling fan fixtures. Lighting, a cool breeze and stylish fixtures can make a room, but they can often bust a budget. But not if you shop smart at Home Depot, said Lindsay Sakraida of DealNews.com. "Home Depot almost always has a clearance sale going on that includes lighting and ceiling fan fixtures, which means that shoppers can frequently get such items at discounts of 50 percent to 80 percent off," she said.

    7. LED light bulbs. New light fixtures demand new light bulbs, and while LEDs can be pricey, Sakraida said that Home Depot regularly sells individual and multipacks at competitive prices. "We've seen sales that slash up to 70 percent off select styles, and we've also seen the store offer 20 percent off coupons as well. The benefit to getting a deal on LED bulbs is your smart shopping will translate into energy savings too," she said.

    8. Vacuums. "If Home Depot doesn't come to mind when you think of vacuums, it should," said Sakraida. "The store frequently offers the best price on certain models, although, as always, you should do a price check before making a purchase. It's not unusual to see sales that knock up to 40 percent off both cleaners and general floor care items," she said.

    9. Plants. Landscaping often gets the short stick in the budget war when it comes to home renovations, but Home Depot can really help, said savings expert Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com. "Wait for Home Depot's Spring Black Friday, typically in April. Past years have seen veggie plants and eight-packs of annuals at five for $10. Join Home Depot's Garden Club to get exclusive coupons like an additional $5 off your $50 purchase," she said.

    10. Military discount. Don't forget: Home Depot offers discounts for military personnel. "Home Depot used to limit the military discount to holidays such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day, but in recent years the discount was changed to be valid year round," said Regina Conway, consumer expert for SlickDeals.net. "Military members and their families can get a 10 percent discount year round by showing a valid military ID."

    The 10 Worst Deals at Home Depot

    Despite Home Depot coupons and discounts, the store shouldn't be your top choice for certain items. Grilling accessories and home decor are among the worst deals at Home Depot, for example. Click through to see what topped our list.

    1. Grilling accessories. While you can score a great grill at Home Depot, Coupon Sherpa's Perez said to leave the grilling accessories where they lie. "Grilling accessories are often a better buy at Walmart, Target or online at Amazon," said Perez.

    She said price is the main factor. "So if you find an identical product for less, Home Depot will match online prices. However, they will not offer an extra 10 percent off like they do with local competitor's prices," she said.

    2. Wall art and home decor. "Home Depot doesn't specialize in home decor and its selection and pricing reflect that," said Perez. "You can find better inventory at World Market and Bed Bath & Beyond, both of which offer storewide coupons for extra savings," she said. Her favorite places to buy art include T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods and Ross. "These discount retailers offer large pieces of art for less than $50, which is a steal," she said.

    3. Cleaning supplies. Cleaning up after a home improvement project is vital, but don't let it add too much to the price of your upgrade. "Home Depot offers a selection of cleaning products, but it's not nearly as extensive as what you can find from such big-box stores as Target and Walmart. The pricing isn't competitive either, so skip this purchase," said Perez.

    4. Off-sale charcoal. If you choose to go old school on your barbecue and embrace the smoky, raw charcoal taste, pick your times to buy charcoal at Home Depot, said Coupons.com's Pavini. "Wait for a holiday weekend and you can get charcoal for around 50 percent off. For example, shop on Memorial Day weekend and stock up on enough charcoal to get through grilling season." You can also use a Home Depot coupon code to slash the price of a bag.

    5. Kitchen accessories. Things like frying pans, silverware and knives at a giant warehouse that also sells everything from lumber and toilets to plants and fertilizer might not be your best move. "You will find limited supply and higher prices on kitchen accessories like pots, pans and cutlery," said Sherin.

    6. Brinkmann grills. While the right Char-Broil Gas Grill might be a steal at Home Depot, some Brinkmann grills are no deal, said Sherin. "My husband and I gifted Brinkmann-brand grills to both our parents because we got a great deal at $200 each. Both grills basically rotted out from the inside after two to three years," she said. Consumer Reports gave low ratings to the Brinkmann Elite 810-3660-SB and Brinkmann Medalion 810-4580-SB.

    7. HDX paper towels. If you thought a specialty paper towel from a home improvement store would be tough, think again, said Sherin. "When it comes to dirty jobs, strength and absorbency are key, and unfortunately HDX-brand paper towels from Home Depot are not a good buy. Instead, stick with a brand that is known for quality, like Bounty's DuraTowel," she said.

    8. Select humidifiers. Consumers often correlate higher price with higher quality, but that's not typically a good idea, said Sherin. Such is the case for humidifiers at Home Depot.

    "One of Home Depot's Essick-brand console humidifiers (Essick EP9R 500) received the worst score from Consumer Reports and actually cost $50 more than the top-rated console humidifier from the retailer, the Essick MA1201. Again, it pays to read reviews before you buy," said Sherin.

    9. Home legend flooring. You might be tempted to opt for store-brand solutions for your next home renovation, like the Home Legend series offered by Home Depot. But Sherin said that might be a costly mistake. "It's important to research user reviews on these products. A recent evaluation by Consumer Reports did not give this line favorable results, so consider spending your flooring money elsewhere for the best value," she said.

    10. Glidden paint. While Behr paint is an excellent value from Home Depot, the lesser-priced Glidden brand isn't worth your dollars, said Sherin. "Painting is a big job and the last thing you want to do is re-paint because you can't remove a stain or notice inconsistencies in coverage. Glidden just isn't as high quality as Behr, and you'll save money in the long run by purchasing the latter," she said.

    This story, 10 Best and Worst Deals at Home Depot, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Woman holding money and a red purse
    Getty Images
    By Dan Rafter

    According to a recent survey from the National Retail Federation, holiday shoppers are planning to spend an average of $805 on gifts this holiday season. The same survey found that shoppers plan to spend an average of $463 on family members. That's the highest this figure has ever been.

    To make sure that you don't overspend this year -- no matter your target number -- be sure to create a holiday spending budget. That way, you're far less likely to find an unpleasant surprise when that credit card bill shows up in January.

    Here are five things you shouldn't do when planning your holiday shopping budget.

    1. Don't Let Guilt Break Your Budget

    Maybe your sister-in-law buys your kids three gifts each. This doesn't mean that you have to do the same for hers. If your budget calls for just one gift for your in-laws' kids, stick to it. It's easy to let guilt lead you to overspending during the holidays. But don't feel like a scrooge because you aren't spending as much as your other relatives. If your budget is tight this year, don't break it in a misguided attempt to keep up with the spending of others.

    2. Don't Add Last Minute Gifts to Your Shopping List

    When making a holiday spending budget, you'll need to list the people for whom you want to buy a gift. As the season moves along, you might feel a temptation to start adding names. It's one thing if you forgot to place Aunt Sally on the list -- but it's another if you decide at the last minute to buy a $25 gift card for the mailman.

    The late additions of folks who aren't friends or family members can quickly bust your holiday budget. Those small extra gifts -- even if they're $5 worth of lottery tickets -- can add up. You are under no obligation to provide a gift for your dog sitter, mail carrier, or children's karate instructor if you don't have enough room in your holiday budget.

    3. Don't Count on a Holiday Bonus

    You might receive a holiday bonus every year -- but you still shouldn't count on that bonus when setting your holiday budget. Instead, create a budget based on your normal monthly income. What if you overspend only to discover that this year your company is not passing out holiday bonuses? Suddenly, you're in a financial hole. And if you do get your bonus as expected? It's better to invest that extra money or use to it to pay off credit card debt than it is to spend it on holiday presents.

    4. Don't Just Go Through the Motions

    Retailers want you to spend, spend, and spend some more during the holiday season. Your holiday budget should provide you with the blueprint you need to ignore this noise and spend only what you can afford.

    Unfortunately, too many consumers make budgets but then never follow them. Once they spend more than they can afford, they turn to their credit cards. This is a huge mistake. If you put too much on your credit cards this shopping season, your holiday gifts will be long forgotten before you pay off your high-interest debt. When making a budget, actually do it in good faith. If you deliberately break your spending budget, what's the point of even making one?

    5. Don't Forget Other Holiday Expenses

    You might not overspend on anyone's gift this year, but that doesn't mean that you won't break your holiday spending budget. The holidays encourage all manner of overspending. You might be traveling to visit relatives, which might require you to spend on hotels and gas. Maybe relatives will be visiting you, which means you'll be spending more on food. Make sure to plan for these sometimes forgotten expenses when making your holiday budget. If you don't, you might shatter it.

    Do you make any of these holiday budget mistakes?

     

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    401(K) Plans: What You Need to Know

    By Emily Brandon

    Contributing to a retirement account qualifies you for tax breaks and employer contributions, both of which will grow your nest egg faster. Here's how to take full advantage of the 401(k) and individual retirement account perks you're eligible for in 2016.

    Max out your 401(k). Workers can contribute up to $18,000 to their 401(k) plans in 2016. To completely max out this account, you will need to save $1,500 a month or $750 every twice monthly paycheck. A worker in the 25 percent tax bracket who tucks the full amount into a 401(k) plan will save $4,500 on his federal income tax bill. Retirement savers in the 35 percent tax bracket will save $6,300 on the same contribution. Income tax won't be due on this money until it is withdrawn from the account. And if you drop into a lower tax bracket in retirement, you will pay that lower rate on the distributions. If you withdraw that $18,000 while in the 15 percent tax bracket, you will only ultimately pay $2,700 on that contribution.

    Make catch-up contributions. Workers age 50 and older can contribute an additional $6,000 to a 401(k) plan in 2016, for a total contribution of $24,000. "If you will turn 50 this year, that's an additional $6,000, and it's all deferred income from taxes," says Helga Cuthbert, a certified financial planner for Cuthbert Financial Guidance in Decatur, Georgia. Hitting this 401(k) limit requires saving $2,000 a month. Saving this much will reduce your tax bill by $6,000 if you are in the 25 percent tax bracket and $8,400 if you pay a 35 percent federal income tax rate.

    Financial Plans
    Getty ImagesFrom your 401(k) to IRA, these tips will help grow your nest egg faster.
    Get an employer match. If you can't save enough to take full advantage of the 401(k) tax deduction, at least aim to save enough to claim any matching funds your employer offers. If your company provides a 401(k) match up to 6 percent of pay, remember to set up withholding for that amount. This means saving $200 a month if you are earning $50,000 and $500 monthly if your salary is $100,000. Some companies automatically enroll employees in the plan at 3 percent of pay, and you will need to take action to adjust your withholding if you want to take full advantage of the match. "If you get a raise next year, I would increase your savings rate now so your take home pay is the same as it was before the raise, and instead put that money in your company retirement plan," says Francine Duke, a certified financial planner for Aqua Financial Planning in Chicago. "You won't even notice the difference."

    Take full advantage of IRAs. In addition to saving in a 401(k), you can defer income tax on another $5,500 that you contribute to an IRA in 2016. Workers age 50 and older are eligible to contribute an extra $1,000 for a total of $6,500. Maxing out an IRA requires saving $458 a month if you are 49 or younger and $542 a month for those 50 and older. If you have a 401(k) account at work, you won't be able to claim the full tax deduction for an IRA contribution if your modified adjusted gross income is between $61,000 and $71,000 ($98,000 to $118,000 for married couples), or any deduction if your income tops these amounts. If you are married to someone with a retirement account, the tax deduction for IRA contributions is phased out for couples earning between $184,000 and $194,000 in 2016.

    Consider a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs have the same contribution limits as traditional IRAs, but the tax treatment is different. There's no tax deduction for Roth IRA contributions, but the investment earnings in the account aren't taxed and withdrawals after age 59½ are tax-free. "You can just let that Roth IRA grow in value tax-free and use it as a source to take out money later in life," says Chris Falvello, a certified financial planner for Navigate Financial Advisors in Ocean View, Delaware. "You get the money back tax-free." Roth IRA eligibility phases out for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income is between $117,000 and $132,000 ($184,000 to $194,000 for married couples).

    Claim the saver's credit. If you save in a retirement account and your adjusted gross income is less than $30,750 for individuals, $46,125 for heads of household and $61,500 for married couples, you might be eligible to claim the saver's credit. Contributions of up to $2,000 ($4,000 for couples) could earn you a tax credit worth between 10 and 50 percent of your retirement account deposit.

    Emily Brandon is the senior editor for Retirement at U.S. News. She is the author of "Pensionless: The 10-Step Solution for a Stress-Free Retirement." You can contact her on Twitter @aiming2retire, circle her on Google Plus or email her at ebrandon@usnews.com.

     

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    Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit - Day 2
    Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune/Time Inc.Billionaire investor Warren Buffett
    By Nicholas Pell

    Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, is pretty much a one-man investing machine. If you're going to follow anyone's example of how to invest, it should be his. But with shares of Berkshire Hathaway trading at over $200,000 each, you can't exactly hitch your star to his wagon. So how do you invest like Buffett in a way that makes sense for your budget, circumstances and family? Lend us your ear.

    Don't Pick Stocks

    Of course, picking stocks is how Buffett made his fortune, but it's not going to work for you. "If you're not an expert at picking stocks, you have no business picking stocks," says Maz Jadallah, founder and CEO of AlphaClone, a company that uses technology to help people invest wisely. He advises people who aren't experts at picking stocks to throw their money into the S&P 500 (^GSPC) with a 10 percent cash cushion and leave it. "It's so simple it takes your breath away, and that's why it appeals to so many people." It might not be as sexy as day trading, but it's probably what Buffett himself would tell you to do. In fact, it's what's going to happen to his money after he dies.

    "If you want to be a passive mutual fund investor, index funds are the place to be," says Steve Wallman, CEO of Folio Investing. "They offer low fees and are reasonably diversified. You're not going to knock it out of the park, but the S&P isn't going to drop to zero like Enron stock."

    Still, Wallman admits that there are people who both want a higher return and want to be more engaged. Ultimately, what you can do depends on several factors, including your current income, projected income and responsibilities. Wallman notes the world of difference between a family where two people are working and earning a decent wage with no kids against the same income level with three kids and aging parents to support. In the former case, there's more risk tolerance. In the latter, there's less. "Should you be doing a little bit more or even a little less with your money?" he asks. "It depends on your circumstances." Still, no matter what you decide, Wallman thinks you should have an index fund as part of your investment strategy.

    Manager Selection Is Even Harder

    "The biggest pain point is manager selection," says Jadallah. Because even when you concede that you're not the best person to manage your money, that doesn't mean you know who the right person to manage your money is. AlphaClone's entire business model is helping people to pick competent money managers based on their previous track records using current technology.

    He points out that there are basically three problems when investing. Market risk is the risk of the overall market. This is an area where you have zero control. Company risk is the risk specific to the company your manager is investing in and can be mitigated by picking the right manager. Finally, there's the manager risk, which is where the rubber meets the road. So look for a manager who isn't putting all your eggs in one basket and knows how to mitigate market and company risk.

    Don't Go All Long or All Short

    Jadallah says that one mistake people make is that they go "all long." This means they put all their money into an exchange-traded fund that tracks an index like the S&P 500. And while Buffett is bullish on the ETFs, urging investors to put 90 percent of their money there, he also keeps a 10 percent cash cushion in the form of short-term bonds. For his part, Jadallah suggests that you increase that to 20 percent. "If the market has a 40 percent drawdown event, it takes years to recover," he says. "You want to align with what the market is doing over a long-term trend." Do that, he adds, while also having something to protect you in the event of a major drawdown event.

    Find Funds that Are Diversified

    One of the main reasons the S&P 500 is such a safe bet is that it's diversified. "Having 10 airline stocks isn't being diversified," says Wallman. In fact, it's an incredibly concentrated way of investing, but that doesn't stop a lot of investors from investing primarily in tech, energy or other industry-specific stocks. Here you're not getting much of the benefit of an index fund at all. You're sharpening your overall market risks, because when you invest heavily in one specific industry, the entire economy doesn't have to have a downturn -- just the one that you're in.

     

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    closeup portrait of grumpy...
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    The holidays can be a social landmine. There are so many emotions and expectations tied up in gift-giving. Rather than risk offending someone, we often go overboard and end up with a gift list nearly as long as Santa's.

    Whether your budget is stretched thin or you have had it up to here with Christmas commercialism, there are simple ways to reduce the number of gifts you're giving without looking like a skinflint.
    Following are five tips for doing this successfully.

    1. Start with the low-hanging fruit. I'm talking about the people you give to out of habit or obligation. The nephew you haven't seen in three years who never says thank you for the holiday check? Cross him off the list. The neighbors who moved in 2008 and are your Facebook friends now? They don't need a gift either.

    Likely, many of the people who fall into the casual acquaintance category aren't expecting a gift and won't even notice if you stop mailing them the annual fruitcake.

    In the event you do get caught off-guard with a present from someone you crossed off your list, it is always a good idea to have a couple of relatively inexpensive, but nicely presented, gifts at the ready.
    For example, soap that is beautifully wrapped with a sparkly bow, a bottle of wine in a gift bag, or goodies such as jam or candies can make great presents.

    For more inspiration on how to use holiday deals to buy discounted presents for the entire year, check out Tips to Score a Year's Worth of Gifts at Rock Bottom Prices. You can also find cheap gift ideas on our Deals page.

    2. Tackle the family and office Christmas party. Gift-giving expectations run the gamut during family and office parties. Some parties may not include any gift exchange while others operate under the expectation everyone will be gifting to everyone else.

    If yours falls into the latter category, it's time to rein in the madness. The key is to find a couple of like-minded people on your side. If you have a co-worker or cousin living on a tight budget, he or she could be your ally.

    Once you have a couple of people who are ready for a change, approach the person in charge to propose an alternative. It could be your boss, the HR director or the grandma who hosts the holiday party each year.

    Be sure to stress you have loved past parties but budgets are really tight this year -- or your kids simply have too much stuff. Then, propose something different, such as secret Santa arrangements or the "white elephant" game.

    3. Consider the creative use of cards. You may like some people, yet don't interact with them on a regular basis -- the postman, co-workers the next department over or the custodial staff at your kids' school.

    Rather than eliminate them completely, move them from the gift category to the card category. Read The 20-Cent Greeting Card for ideas on making something that's both inexpensive and impressive.
    If you're short on time, hit your local craft shows to find some handmade cards -- in my area, you can regularly find crafters selling cards for $1-$2 each. Then write a heartfelt note and attach a piece of candy to the outside.

    4. Use charitable donations with caution. Giving charitable donations in someone's name can come across as either very thoughtful or very cheap.

    Typically, I only recommend this strategy if you know of a cause that is particularly dear to the recipient. For example, if Grandpa Joe died of cancer this year, you could make a donation to the American Cancer Society or a hospice in the name of the "Smith Family."

    5. Keep it real with those who understand. Finally, don't be afraid to be open and honest with good friends and close relatives. Tell them you love the holidays but hate the commercialism. Or explain you lost your job and are flat broke this December. Perhaps you simply have too much stuff.

    Whatever the reason, ask if you can skip your traditional gift exchange. You could suggest going to the Christmas concert, seeing the latest blockbuster or maybe even ordering pizza and hanging out for the night instead.

    Have you cut back on your holiday spending? Who got the boot and did they notice? Tell us about it in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

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

    Reasons You Keep Blowing Your Holiday Budget

     

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    GM November Sales Up 1.5% Vs. 2.3% Est.

    By DEE-ANN DURBIN

    DETROIT -- November used to be a slow month for U.S. car sales. Not anymore.

    Black Friday promotions -- some of which began well before Thanksgiving -- were expected to push last month's sales to near-record levels. Car buying site Edmunds.com predicted sales of new cars and trucks will hit 1.33 million, eclipsing the previous November record set in 2001.

    General Motors (GM) sales rose 1.5 percent over last November, while Toyota (TM) and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) each saw 3 percent sales gains. Hyundai's sales jumped 12 percent, while Nissan's were up 4 percent. Ford's sales were flat.

    Car sales
    Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
    Honda (HMC) sales fell 5 percent, hurt by lower CR-V sales. But the biggest sales declines were at Volkswagen. VW's U.S. sales plummeted almost 25 percent, hurt by the company's admission that its diesel vehicles cheated on emissions tests.

    November was a notoriously slow sales month until about five years ago, when car dealers joined other retailers in promoting Black Friday, according to Edmunds analyst Jessica Caldwell. Now, like Amazon (AMZN), Walmart (WMT) and others, dealers started promoting "Black Friday" deals as early as Halloween. Jeep offered zero percent financing for up to 75 months. GM teased savings of up to 20 percent of for its Buick, Chevrolet and GMC brands. Hyundai offered an extra $500 on the Sonata sedan between Nov. 20 and Nov. 30.

    Ford's U.S. sales chief Mark LaNeve said sales got progressively stronger as November progressed, and the last day of the month was one of the best days this year.

    Deals can be dangerous for the auto industry because they cut into profits and lower vehicles' resale value. Incentives have been creeping upward since 2011; in November, they rose an estimated $172 over last year to $3,066 a vehicle, according to the car buying site TrueCar.com (TRUE).

    But Eric Lyman, vice president for industry insights at TrueCar, says the gradual increase isn't a worrisome trend for the industry. For one thing, companies are making more profit per vehicle than they used to because they're selling more SUVs and trucks. The average sale price of a vehicle last month was $32,966, up 1 percent from the previous month.

    Automakers are also trying to capture as many sales as they can in the boom years before sales inevitably slow. Rising interest rates, higher gas prices and other factors are all expected to stall auto sales sometime in the next few years.

    "It's kind of like, make hay while the sun shines," Lyman said.

    And the sun is certainly shining. Last week, sales forecasting firm LMC Automotive said sales are now likely to reach a record 17.5 million in 2015.

    For November, automakers said:
    • GM sales rose 1.5 percent to 229,296. Chevrolet and Cadillac brand sales were up but fell at Buick and GMC. Sales of GM's best-seller, the Silverado pickup, rose 5 percent.
    • Toyota sales rose 3 percent to 189,517. In a sign of the impact of lower gas prices, sales of the RAV4 SUV jumped nearly 30 percent while Prius hybrid sales were down 10 percent.
    • Ford sales were up less than 1 percent to 187,794. A 10-percent increase in F-Series pickup sales couldn't overcome lower sales of key vehicles like the Escape SUV and Fusion sedan.
    • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sales rose 3 percent to 175,974, powered by a 20-percent increase in Jeep sales. Ram truck sales rose 1 percent. Dodge, Fiat and Chrysler sales all fell.
    • Honda sales fell 5 percent to 115,441. The company was hurt by an 18-percent decline in sales at its Acura luxury brand.
    • Nissan sales rose 4 percent to 107,083. Truck and SUV sales jumped 15 percent, but Leaf electric car sales dropped 60 percent.
    • Hyundai sales rose 12 percent to 60,007. Sales of its newly redesigned Tucson SUV nearly doubled over last November.

     

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    Price-Tracking Tools for Holiday Savings
    This holiday season, many of us will be shopping online to find the best deals on holiday gifts, but online bargains can frequently fluctuate many times over the course of a day. Here are a few tools you can use to prevent you from overpaying.

    First, when it comes to shopping on Amazon, the key to saving is to knowing a product's price history. Sites like CamelCamelCamel show you how the price of the item has gone up or down over time. Simply paste the Amazon URL or product keyword and you'll instantly see how prices have changed. And if you sign up for a free account, you can get alerts about when the perfect time to buy is.

    Next, check out Invisible Hand for deals with some of the biggest web retailers. For deals with over 600 supported stores, simply download the web browser extension and Invisible Hand will discreetly notify you if the product you're shopping for is available for less from another retailer. And, as an added bonus, Invisible hand works with hotels, rental-cars and flights, too.

    Finally, for the browsing extension that can do it all, check out PriceZombie. This tool combines the best of the previously mentioned tools by showing you a product's price history while also telling you where it's being sold for the lowest price. If a price drops on a product you've already purchased, PriceZombie will notify you with enough time to request a refund for the difference.

    There are a lot of great price tracking tools out there -- these are just a few. Give one of them a try this holiday season to save money while you're gifting.

    View Poll

     

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    US-FINANCE-ATT
    Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty ImagesRandall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T and chairman of the Business Roundtable.
    By Nick Carey

    CHICAGO -- For the third consecutive quarter, U.S. CEOs expressed growing caution about the country's economic prospects in the short term and more said they expected to curtail capital investments over the next six months, according to a survey released Tuesday.

    The Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index -- a composite of CEO projections for sales, investment and hiring plans over the next six months -- fell 6.6 to 67.5 points in the fourth quarter, its lowest level in three years.

    The long-term average for the index is 80.1 points.

    The proportion of CEOs who said they expected their capital spending to decrease over the next six months rose to 27 percent from 20 percent in the third quarter.

    Sixty percent of CEOs surveyed said they expected sales to increase over the next six months, down from 63 percent during the previous quarter.

    CEOs said that regulation was the top cost pressure facing their business, followed by labor and health care costs.

    Randall Stephenson, chairman of the Business Roundtable and CEO of AT&T (T), said in a statement that if "we really want to see the U.S. economy and hiring really take off, Washington needs to adopt a smarter approach to regulation."

     

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    Volunteers serving healthy hot meal at soup kitchen
    Getty Images
    By Mitch Lipka

    When it comes to giving to charity, women are in the driver's seat.

    A recent survey conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) found that women are more generous than men when it comes to charitable giving, especially with respect to decisions about volunteer activities and smaller financial donations.

    Large financial donations are often made jointly.

    Reuters asked Lorna Sabbia, managing director and head of retirement and personal wealth solutions at Merrill Lynch, for insights into giving and issues surrounding philanthropy among families and women.

    Q: How much are women really driving giving decisions compared with men?

    A: Many men and women are both highly altruistic. However, our research shows that more women than men contribute financially and volunteer their time to causes.

    The difference may be explainable by their motivations. Women are more likely than men to say helping people in need brings them greater happiness than spending money on themselves, and women are more likely to define success by generosity versus wealth.

    Q: How much do issues within a family affect giving, such as children concerned about parents giving away their inheritance?

    A: The best way for children not to feel slighted is by involving them in the giving process. Not only are you making them personally invested, but also teaching them important life lessons about generosity.

    You can involve children and grandchildren in a number of ways, such as a starting a volunteering tradition -- the holidays can be a great time to do so -- providing a "giving allowance" that is donated to a nonprofit of their choice, or asking them what causes they are passionate about and finding a way to incorporate it into the family's philanthropic planning.

    Q: What sorts of causes, or types of causes, do women tend to favor?

    A: We don't see many differences between the type of causes men and women give to, which is not surprising.

    It isn't about gender - we have found, it's about the individual and their life experiences. For instance, someone whose family member has been affected by cancer might give to cancer research.

    However, we did see generational differences. For a long time religious organizations have been the largest recipient of charitable dollars, but millennials are giving to educational and art/culture causes at higher rates - signally a potential shift in the future.

    Q: At what age do donors tend to become more active and why?

    A: Retirement is the best time in life to give back, according to our recent study.

    Retirement often presents the perfect recipe for giving -- more time, more savings and more skills. As people stop working full-time and "empty nest," they gain unprecedented amounts of free time. Combine that time with a lifetime of experience, skills and talents, retirees present us with the most available and skilled volunteer workforce.

    Retirees also have accumulated more net worth and therefore give the highest average amounts to charities. To be specific, retirees account for 31 percent of the adult U.S. population, but contribute 42 percent of money to charity and 45 percent of total volunteer hours.

    Q: How significant for non-profits is the potential of donors donating their time in addition to their money, or instead of it?

    A: For those without the means to financially give, volunteering can be a great way to experience the benefits of giving back without writing a check. This is particularly true among retirees, who might be on a fixed income, but have free time and a lifetime of skills to offer. Nonprofits that recognize this opportunity and can tailor their programs to involve retiree volunteers will benefit the most.

    (The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

     

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    Manufacturing
    Nam Y. Huh/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. manufacturing contracted in November for the first time in three years as the sector buckled under the weight of a strong dollar and deep spending cuts by energy firms, but robust automobile sales suggested the economy remained on solid ground.

    Other data released Tuesday showed a sturdy increase in construction spending in October, which should help offset the drag from manufacturing on fourth-quarter economic growth. With manufacturing accounting for only 12 percent of the economy, analysts say it is unlikely the persistent weakness will deter the Federal Reserve from raising interest rates this month.

    Manufacturing is being pummeled by the stronger dollar and the weakness of global demand, but the other 88 percent of the economy continues to perform well.

    "Manufacturing is being pummeled by the stronger dollar and the weakness of global demand, but the other 88 percent of the economy continues to perform well. This won't prevent the Fed from raising interest rates at the mid-December meeting," said Steve Murphy, a U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

    The Institute for Supply Management said its national factory index fell to 48.6 last month, the weakest reading since June 2009 when the recession ended, from 50.1 in October. While a reading below 50 indicates a contraction in manufacturing, the index remains above 43.1, which is associated with a recession.

    Factory activity has also been undercut by business efforts to reduce an excessive inventory build, which is putting pressure on new orders. The ISM said a gauge of new orders tumbled 4 percentage points to 48.9 last month.

    Inventories at manufacturers continued to shrink and their customers reported stocks of unsold goods were too high for a fourth consecutive month.

    Ten out of 18 manufacturing industries, including apparel, machinery, primary metals, electrical equipment, appliances and components and computer and electronic products reported contraction in November. Five industries reported growth.

    Manufacturers cited dollar strength, slower Chinese and European growth and lower oil prices as headwinds. Recent data on business capital spending plans and factory output had offered hope that the worst of the sector's woes were over.

    But with auto sales and construction spending remaining robust early in the fourth quarter, economists still expect U.S. gross domestic product to expand at around a 2 percent annual pace, almost matching the third-quarter pace.

    Though November auto sales dropped to a seasonally adjusted annualized 18.19 million-unit pace from October's brisk 18.24 million rate, according to Autodata Corp., they kept the industry on track for record sales this year.

    Strong Domestic Demand

    "The good news is that the much more important services sector continues to do very well, benefiting from solid domestic demand. In that environment, the Fed will begin to raise interest rates at the upcoming meeting," said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Research in New York.

    Fed officials meet on Dec. 15-16 and are expected to raise benchmark rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

    Prices for U.S. government debt rose, while the dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. stocks ended higher.

    In a separate report, the Commerce Department said construction spending increased 1.0 percent to a seasonally adjusted $1.11 trillion rate, the highest since December 2007, after rising 0.6 percent in September.

    Construction outlays were up 13 percent compared to October of last year. Spending in October was buoyed by a 0.8 percent rise in private spending, which touched its highest level since January 2008. Outlays on private residential construction hit their highest since December 2007.

    Investment in private non-residential construction projects rose 0.6 percent to a near seven-year high, with spending on manufacturing plants rising a robust 3 percent.

    Public construction outlays jumped 1.4 percent to a five-year high as a surge in federal government spending offset a dip in investment by state and local governments.

    "Despite the free fall in oil patch activity, total construction in the rest of the economy is doing quite well," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks started December stronger Tuesday as health and consumer shares bounced back while auto sales suggested upbeat growth in November.

    The S&P health care index jumped 1.7 percent, while the consumer discretionary index was up 1 percent, both retracing Monday's losses.

    UnitedHealth Group (UNH) shares rose 3.1 percent to $116.26 after its chief executive defended the company's possible withdrawal from the Obamacare health insurance exchanges. Shares of Anthem (ANTM) were up 4.2 percent at $135.82.

    Strong domestic auto sales in November kept the industry on pace for a record year in 2015. Shares of Ford (F) were up 1.6 percent at $14.56, though General Motors (GM) shares were up 0.2 percent at $36.26.

    We get a feeling the consumer is still there though it's not shopping brick-and-mortar as much. Cyber Monday results were certainly more positive than Black Friday results.

    The S&P retail index rose 1 percent. Amazon.com (AMZN) was up 2.1 percent at $679.06.

    "We get a feeling the consumer is still there though it's not shopping brick-and-mortar as much. Cyber Monday results were certainly more positive than Black Friday results. Christmas hasn't been canceled, and that's been reflected in stocks today," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities in New York.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 168.43 points, or 1 percent, to 17,888.35, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 22.22 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,102.63 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 47.64 points, or 0.9 percent, to 5,156.31.

    Other data showed a sturdy increase in construction spending in October. Offsetting the upbeat economic news, though, was a report showing manufacturing contracted in November for the first time in three years.

    Anticipation

    Investors are watching data closely ahead of next week's Federal Reserve meeting, where the central bank could decide to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

    The main economic report this week will be Friday's November employment report, which is expected to show that the economy added 200,000 jobs during the month. Analysts say a strong report virtually guarantees a rate rise this month.

    Investors are also awaiting Thursday's European Central Bank meeting, when the bank is widely expected to ramp up its trillion-euro bond-buying program.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 2,183 to 899, for a 2.43-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,629 issues rose and 1,185 fell for a 1.37-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 26 new 52-week highs and five new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 114 new highs and 65 new lows.

    About 6.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, slightly above the 6.8 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Sinead Carew contributed reporting from New York.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • Automatic Data Processing (ADP) releases the ADP Employment Report at 8:15 a.m. Eastern time. The Labor Department releases revised third-quarter productivity data at 8:30 a.m.
    • The Federal Reserve releases the Beige Book survey of regional economic activity at 2 p.m.
    • American Eagle Outfitter (AEO) releases quarterly financial results after U.S. markets close.

     

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