Category Archives: U.S. News & World Report

Living an Eco-Friendly Lifestyle On a Budget

Combating a number of medical problems, greenliving-e1349182295634including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and severe reactions to chemicals and artificial products, Kimberly Button decided to adopt eco-friendly living habits in 2001, which not only improved her health but also paid off financially. She started using natural cleaners like vinegar and baking soda, which meant no harmful chemicals and no fragrance residues. She also gave up sodas and prepared drinks and began drinking only water.

A lot has changed in the 12 years since Button, a freelance journalist based in an Orlando, Fla., and author of “The Everything Guide to a Healthy Home,” modified her lifestyle. Over the past decade, enhanced technology and growing consumer demand for natural products and organic foods have transformed the way many U.S. manufacturers do business. Even the razor business has gone green: Schick, for example, now sells a $10 “intuition naturals sensitive care razor,” with a shaving solid that’s made from natural Aloe and Vitamin E. The product’s packaging is manufactured with no artificial colors and is 100 percent recyclable.

Looking to go green? Click here for effective ways to live an eco-friendly lifestyle without wrecking your budget.

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How to Make Sense of a Credit Card’s Terms and Conditions

A zero percent introductory interest terms_conditionsrate sounds great. So does a juicy rewards program. And who couldn’t use a sweet $100 sign-up bonus? We’ve all seen credit card commercials touting such offers, but most close with those dreaded words: “terms and conditions apply.”

Digesting the high volume of information contained in a credit card offer is not only time-consuming for many people but headache-inducing. While it’s up to you as the consumer to make sense of the fine print, you can avoid most of the grunt work by asking issuers these right questions. Click here to read on.

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Who Says Personal Finance Software is Dead?

With the proliferation of online money-management-software-packagemoney-management tools, many consumers assume financial desktop software is defunct and worth burying in the graveyard of outdated computer products. A number of experts, however, say desktop products are arguably more important now than ever for keeping your financial information secure.

Storing your sensitive information online can put you at risk, says Jill Duffy, a writer and software analyst at PCMag.com. Duffy says websites that don’t offer “bank-level” encryption and security features may be vulnerable to hackers. Consequently, managing your money offline can help prevent your finances and identity from being compromised. And thanks to a selection of sophisticated software, tasks like creating a budget, strengthening investing strategies and saving for retirement have never been easier – as long as you know which programs to use and how best to use them.

Click here to see four software programs that can help you take more control of your money:

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The Financial Benefits of a Stay-at-Home Parent

Before Lance Somerfeld’s son was born in baby-mom-readingJuly 2008, he was working as a sixth-grade teacher at a high-need public school in the Bronx, earning a salary of roughly $45,000. He left his career to be a stay-at-home dad, wanting to be involved in his boy’s early milestones—milestones Somerfeld’s own father missed while he worked a full-time job throughout Somerfeld’s childhood.

The decision to become a stay-at-home dad also made sense financially. “For a quality day care or a nanny, it would have cost us about my take-home salary,” Somerfeld says. “Why would I pay someone else to take care of my child when I can do it for the same cost?” His wife’s job as a corporate actuary also served as a financial cushion.

The decision for a spouse to become a stay-at-home parent has significant financial consequences. In many cases, losing a source of income is too much for a household to bear. However, for families like the Somerfelds, the monetary benefits and the extra time spent with their children outweigh the costs.

Click here for more on the financial benefits of becoming a stay-at-home parent.

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Gambling Addicts Seduced By Growing Casino Accessibility

Before 2005, Sandra Adell had never set gambling addictfoot in a casino. But when a friend of the then 59-year-old professor at the University of Wisconsin—Madison asked Adell to accompany her to the Ho-Chunk casino about 45 minutes away from her home, she obliged. As Adell walked through the casino floor, she thought to herself, “Why in the world are all these people here?” She sat down at a machine, and by the time she got up, she was hooked.

“I thought that the casino had become my personal ATM,” says Adell, author of “Confessions of a Slot Machine Queen.” Early winnings convinced her the casino was where she belonged. She quickly distanced herself from her social circle, foregoing meals with friends and family to spend time gambling. “All I wanted to do was play the slots,” she says; it was all she could think about.

Gambling addiction can grab hold of people and morph them into someone who only cares about their next bet. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, an estimated 2 million adults in the United States meet the criteria for “pathological gambling,” and 4 to 6 million are considered “problem gamblers.”

For more on gambling addiction, click here to read the article.

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What Monopoly Can Teach You About Smart Investing

You’ve landed on the dreaded “Go directly Monopoly carto jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.” You may be locked up for three turns, but even from your perch behind bars, you can pick up skills on how to become a smarter investor.

Monopoly, that beloved board game you from your childhood, provided hours of entertainment, but it may also have taught you valuable lessons on risk assessment, timing and diversification—all useful tools for investing in the real world. In the eyes of Philip Orbanes, there’s no better financial starting point.

Orbanes, author of the new book “Monopoly, Money, and You: How to Profit from the Game’s Secret of Success,” has spent more than 30 years judging the United States and World Monopoly Championships. He knows how the game is played; now, he’s sharing his knowledge of its intricacies to show what investors can learn from a few hours spent handling multi-colored money and building little green houses.

Click here to read the Q&A with Orbanes and watch him discuss the book in our video interview.

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Is Twitter the Next QVC?

Rather than waste time and money driving Twitter-shoppingto a brick-and-mortar store, many shoppers prefer to make purchases with a few keystrokes and a click or two of a mouse. To keep up with customers’ shopping behaviors—and the widespread demand among consumers for convenience—credit card companies are beginning to target a new area of commerce: social networks.

Some 16 percent of online adults use Twitter, according to a 2012 report by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, yet social platforms offer a region of e-commerce that’s been largely untapped by credit card companies. American Express is one company that’s encouraging shopping on social networks; it launched a program in February that enables its customers to buy products directly on Twitter.

The service—available to those with Amex credit cards and a public Twitter account (prepaid and corporate cards are exempt)—is a simple process. Members sync their credit card to their Twitter account, then they can tweet special hashtags for products they wish to purchase. For example, last month American Express offered $25 Amex gift cards for $15. By using #BuyAmexGiftCard25 in a tweet, customers received a reply tweet from the @AmexSync account containing a confirmation hashtag. The customers had to tweet that hashtag within 15 minutes to purchase the product, which was subsequently shipped to their billing address.

Click here for more on the tweet-to-buy business model and whether experts think it will take off.

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What It’s Really Like to Live on a Shoestring Budget

Finding it hard to keep your money Shoestring Budgetin your pocket? With today’s tight job market, rampant student debt, and high unemployment rate, many Americans are in a constant struggle to live within their means. Had you grown up in the Economides household, however, you’d know what it’s like to live on tight budget.

Steve and Annette Economides, authors of America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams, may be the definition of shoestring budgeters. The couple acquired frugal-living habits after marrying in 1982. Although Steve was only making $13,000 a year at a printing company, Annette wanted to be home to raise the kids. To make it work, the couple used creative methods to live off one income, such as Annette learning how to sew to make her own maternity clothes. They found that, even on limited financial resources, they could still afford some of the discretionary expenses they longed for; all it took was discipline. “We had to save three months to go out to dinner at Benihana, but we got there,” says Annette.

Thanks to their clever spending strategies, the Economides kept their household of seven financially stable on a shoestring budget. Click here to read how they did it.

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Is an Online Financial Adviser Right for You?

While online banking continues to expand male-executive-on-laptoprapidly, financial advising has just begun transitioning to the Web. The gravitation toward online wealth management represents an interesting shift in the financial services industry, but the question on many consumers’ minds is whether they feel comfortable entrusting a program—or a person they’ve never met—to pilot their investments.

For many, it’s not an easy decision, but a number of financial industry experts believe online advising can be useful for a segment of the population that’s largely untapped by traditional wealth-management firms: the lower to middle class. “These websites provide financial advice to people with less money to invest, and at a lower price point,” says Robert Stammers, director of investor education at the CFA institute, a global nonprofit organization of investment professionals. Since traditional firms require clients to have substantial financial assets (some a portfolio size of at least $1 million), many cash-strapped Americans can’t afford to hire a financial adviser.

Targeting that demographic are online-only financial advising startups like Personal Capital, LearnVest, and FutureAdvisor. Click here to read about their approach and why wealth management is moving to the Web.

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Cures for Pre-Retirement Anxiety

While some think retirement will be a Seniors_AnxiousPensioner_452x339_170512dream come true, many baby boomers who are almost there don’t feel the same.

According to a recent AARP survey, approximately 72 percent of not-retired baby boomers expect to be forced to delay retirement due to a financial roadblock—and half have little confidence they will ever be able to retire. Retirement worries are also echoed among the upper class. Only 46 percent of not-yet-retired boomers with investable assets of $100,000 or more feel confident they’ll be able to afford basic living expenses in retirement, according to a recent survey by Ameriprise Financial, a wealth-advisory firm.

“It can be difficult for individuals to envision a future that is undefined,” says Suzanna M. de Baca, Ameriprise’s vice president of wealth strategies. De Baca describes the average pre-retiree as a “deer in the headlights” when they try to picture their financial stability in the years ahead. However, de Baca says worries about funding retirement make up only a fraction of the anxiety most people nearing retirement experience.

Whether they’re worried about losing their yacht or paying next month’s rent, retirement can prove challenging for any demographic. “A lot of people see the future as full of problems as opposed to possibilities,” says Nancy K. Schlossberg, author of “Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose.” Schlossberg says a pre-retiree’s trepidation typically derives from elements they think are outside their control: What will I do with my time? Who am I now that I’m no longer a lawyer (or an accountant or a teacher)? Am I going to fade into oblivion?

For strategies that can serve as antidotes to a pre-retiree’s anxiety, click here to read the article. To watch an interview with Robert P. Delamontagne, author of “The Retiring Mind: How to Make the Psychological Transition to Retirement,” click here.

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