May 31, 2016
Going Abroad? Is Currency a Work of Art?
As Squared Away readers scatter to the winds this summer, those going overseas should take a close look at the currencies in their travel destinations.
There are some gorgeous currencies out in the world, in places like Sao Tome & Principe off of the coast of Gabon in West Africa. June begins peak season for the island country, which The Lonely Planet says has a relaxed “leve leve” vibe to go with its miles of beaches, “swaths of emerald rainforest, soaring volcanic peaks and mellow fishing villages.”
Sao Tomean Dobra
Currency as art is a refreshing contrast to U.S. currencies, with their button-down images of presidents and buildings. Try the red-billed kingfisher bird on Sao Tome & Principe’s 50,000 dobra – or the curved bow of the boat on Norway’s 100 kroner note.
These were among the currencies selected by the coupon website, Couponbox.com, for its recent spotlight on the world’s “10 most beautiful banknotes.” To see the others, click here. …Learn More
May 3, 2016
Housing, Health Are 1/2 of Elderly’s Costs
How will your spending change once you retire? Will you be able to afford your needs? Will healthcare drain your budget?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides some clues in its data on the spending patterns of older Americans. The pie charts below show the percentage of total household budgets in 2014 that went to everything from housing to entertainment for two older age groups.
The two age groups selected highlight how spending changes between one’s final years in the labor force (ages 55-64) and retirement (the over-75 group). (Note: a household’s age is determined by the age of the individual who responded to the survey.)
The pie charts tell part of the story. Here’s what the BLS report adds to our understanding of spending among older Americans:
- Housing. Nearly 70 percent of elderly homeowners over age 75 have paid off their mortgages, while only a third in the 55-64 group have. But there are other costs associated with homeownership, such as maintenance. And a large minority of older people are renters. The upshot: housing gobbles up about one-third of older households’ yearly budgets, regardless of their age.
- Healthcare. The share of the 75-plus elderly population’s total spending that goes toward health care (15.6 percent) is nearly double that of the younger group (8.8 percent). …
January 21, 2016
Seniors Vulnerable to Drug Price Spikes
Total U.S. spending on prescription drugs by individuals, insurers and governments jumped 13 percent last year – the largest increase since 2001. One in four Americans report having difficulty paying for medications.
Older Americans are somewhat shielded from the full impact of rising drug prices by Medicare’s Part D program, which greatly expanded their coverage. Since Part D’s implementation in 2006, seniors’ average out-of-pocket spending on medications has actually declined, from $708 to $564 annually in 2012.
But a recent trend of price spikes for specialty drugs might be a snake in the grass for seniors on fixed incomes. Since most take multiple prescriptions, they face greater odds of needing at least one of these expensive medicines.
Drug cost stability for seniors “is starting to reverse as newer specialty drugs come into the marketplace,” said Juliette Cubanski, a senior Medicare policy researcher for the Kaiser Family Foundation. Part D plans “are covering these drugs and people are taking them, but the costs are going up.”
They include new breakthrough drugs that cure – rather than just treat – Hepatitis C, as well as medications for rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. Kaiser estimates that a senior who takes one of the 12 specialty drugs it analyzed can pay anywhere from $4,400 to $12,000 per year out of their own pockets, even after taking into account Part D’s subsidies. …Learn More
December 17, 2015
Social Status in the Age of Vermeer
A Lady Writing
By the 17th century, the Netherlands had developed a major financial industry and thriving maritime commerce in goods produced by the country’s textile mills, dairy farms, herring fisheries, and sugar refineries. The resulting large and diverse middle class supplies the rich subject matter for a portrait exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
The paintings in “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer” are grouped into one of the three classes: the upper crust, the middle classes, and the laborers and indigent.
The Dutch elite – nobility, textile merchants, and wealthy landowners – commissioned portraits “to express and affirm their status,” according to exhibit materials. These paintings are replete with class symbols, such as the gleaming armor worn by princes to highlight their privilege as well as military prowess. The status symbols in the exhibit’s signature 1665 painting above by Johannes Vermeer, “A Lady Writing,” go beyond the silver inkwell and pearls on the woman’s writing table. Status is also implied in what she is doing: “The very act of writing tells us she is educated and literate and has the leisure time to write letters,” the exhibit states.
But in the Golden Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer, the true sign of prosperity was the Dutch middle-class, which was the largest and most highly stratified class. This big tent took in everything from trained professionals and skilled artisans to modest shopkeepers. Middle class people might be extremely wealthy shipbuilders, successful goldsmiths, respected barbers (who performed minor medical procedures), or modest tailors and bakers. They were also often defined by “the [investment] capital at their disposal,” which distinguished them from the rich who inherited their wealth and the poor who earned low wages by selling their unskilled labor.
The Shipbuilder and his Wife
“The very top of the middle class” can be seen in the above 1663 masterpiece, “The Shipbuilder and his Wife.” The shipbuilder, Jan Rijcksen, an investor in the Dutch East India Company, was so well-off that he could afford to commission a portrait by the most fashionable painter in Amsterdam: Rembrandt van Rijn. In the painting, Rijcksen is receiving an urgent letter from his wife, Griet Jans.Learn More
December 10, 2015
How Couples Deplete Retirement Savings
Americans who save for retirement throughout their working lives often hold tight to that savings after they retire. A new study shows they eventually do spend much of this money and sheds light on where it goes.
The study focuses on the retirement spending patterns of couples, adding to similar past studies on single retirees. While both spouses are alive, the researchers found that a couple’s wealth remains relatively stable over time – until they start paying for medical care, nursing homes, and other major end-of-life expenses.
The researchers examined spending patterns for more than 4,600 households over a 15-year period using a subset of the Health and Retirement Study that collects data on the health and wealth of people over age 70. Wealth included savings and retirement accounts, investments, and home equity.
Couples in two different income groups were compared: the average couple at the 20th percentile has about $14,000 in post-retirement income and $70,000 in wealth at age 74; the 80th percentile couple has more than $30,000 in income and $330,000 in wealth.
Here are the study’s main findings:
December 9, 2014
Fewer Still Paying Off Last Christmas
‘Tis the season to acknowledge progress!
The share of Americans who are still paying off credit card debts they ran up during the year-ago holiday has dropped for a second consecutive year.
According to an annual Consumer Reports survey, conducted during the first week in November,
7 percent of Americans still had unpaid Christmas bills left over from last year. That’s down from
10 percent in 2013 and 13 percent the year before.
One likely explanation is the drop in the U.S. unemployment rate, to 5.8 percent last month from
7 percent in November 2013. Plummeting gasoline prices have also left more cash in shoppers’ wallets. But did a lackluster Black Friday – retail sales were down a whopping 11 percent, despite the stronger job market and falling gas prices – mean something else? Are shoppers just delaying their purchases, or could this be a sign of restraint?
This holiday, the vast majority of people plan to spend the same or less than they did last year, says a poll by the Consumer Federation of America and the Credit Union National Association. And here’s a suggestion for the 2014 holidays that could also help: pay cash.Learn More
October 23, 2014
How Emotions Meddle with Money
Our 401(k) retirement system requires most workers to save for the future. But it’s difficult to reach this increasingly important goal, because our emotions – overconfidence, pleasure, fear of loss – get in the way.
“We believe our own nonsense,” is how Daylian Cane, a professor in the Yale School of Management, explains financial behavior in a new public television program, “Thinking Money: The Psychology Behind our Best and Worst Financial Decisions.” The short video above is taken from the program.
Further clouding our judgment are a vast array of consumer products, and the stress produced by how easy it is to purchase them with a credit card swipe and how hard it is to pay off the cards.
“Thinking Money,” a production of Maryland Public Television, covers many topics covered by this blog, including help for people trying to overcome their emotional obstacles.
“Thinking Money” is scheduled to air in its entirety on public television stations around the country in coming weeks. Click on “Learn More” for a list of broadcast dates in major cities. …Learn More