August 28, 2014
Stark Differences in U.S. Cost of Living
The Squared Away Blog’s focus is on how informed financial decisions can improve one’s personal finances or retirement prospects. But much that impacts our standard of living is not in our control.
One example is the cost of consumer goods, healthcare, and renting or buying a home, which vary widely from one city or region to another. To highlight this variation, the Tax Foundation in Washington, D.C., used recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis to create the cool interactive map below, which shows locations with the highest cost of living (bright orange) and the lowest (bright turquoise).
Running a cursor over the map displays metropolitan and rural areas and their comparative living costs, measured in terms of what $100 will purchase. In the Manhattan-New Jersey area, for example, $100 buys the equivalent of about $82 worth of goods, healthcare and housing, while it will buy $119 worth of the same stuff in central Kansas.
Source: The Tax Foundation.
The least expensive city is Danville, Illinois, where $100 buys $126 in consumer goods, followed by Jefferson City, Missouri; Jackson, Tenn.; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Rome, Georgia. The most expensive metropolitan areas are the usual suspects, in this order: Honolulu, Manhattan, Silicon Valley, the Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut, area outside Manhattan, and Santa Cruz, California, which is south of Silicon Valley.[A second map compares states.] …Learn More
July 10, 2014
In-Home Senior Care – a Lot to Learn
The first baby boomers will turn 80 in 2026. Arranging in-home care by nurses, home health aides, physical and occupational therapists, or social workers will become a pressing concern for growing numbers of Americans. To sketch out the home care landscape, Squared Away interviewed Carol Levine, director of the families and health care project at the United Hospital Fund, a New York non-profit. She’s written widely on long term care, from academic articles to her new book, “Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies.”
Is it logical that baby boomers will try to avoid nursing or assisted living facilities and will view home care as the way to go – at least for as long as possible?
You’re right. Most people, regardless of age, want to stay in their own homes. They think, “I don’t want to be in a nursing home. Therefore I’ll have home care” – as if they’ll both provide the same level of support or assistance. Home care may be even more complicated than nursing home care or assisted living, because it takes place in your own home, and because there are so many varieties.
Describe the two main types of care: skilled and personal.
The kind of care you need depends on your health condition and your abilities to manage your household – to get around, cook, shop. A medical condition that requires a nurse visit is one level of care. A lot of home care that is paid for by insurance comes after a health problem that lands you in the hospital. If you’re on Medicare, your doctor will have to document your need for skilled care, which means at least a nurse visit a few times a week. You may get a home health aide as well. If you just need someone to help out and monitor what’s going on, make lunch, do the laundry or do tasks like bathing, it’s called personal care. …Learn More
May 13, 2014
Spending Cut When Job Threats Rise
A new study provides important insights into American workers’ household budgets.
The study found that when workers sensed a growing likelihood they might lose their jobs, they quickly pared their spending on a large and diverse basket of discretionary consumer goods. These included both standard purchases and big-ticket items, from gardening supplies and vacations to cars and dishwashers.
The analysis was based on a survey of some 2,500 workers who were asked about their spending patterns and also asked to estimate their own chances of becoming unemployed over the coming year. The survey was conducted between 2009 and 2013, when the U.S. jobless rate at one point approached 10 percent. …Learn More
February 6, 2014
Lottery-like Prizes Spur Saving
Jessica Smith, mother of four, was never much of a saver. But a credit union that dispenses prizes has changed all that.
She now saves $150 every month out of her pay and bonus as a restaurant buffet manager. Each $25 deposited into her account gives her one more entry in a monthly drawing for cash prizes at the Communicating Arts Credit Union in Detroit.
Jessica Smith and her winnings.
By coincidence, she won three times last fall – a total of $100 in prizes. But in contrast to throwing money away on a lottery ticket with bad odds, she earns a little interest on her credit union account.
These so-called prize-linked accounts aren’t a new concept: one of the first appeared in 1694 in the United Kingdom to help people pay off war debts. Today in this country, nearly 18,000 individuals like Jessica participate in Save to Win programs. Launched in 2009, they’re offered at more than 60 credit unions in four states.
Michigan handed out $100,000 in prizes last year, including six $10,000 grand prizes; Nebraska, North Carolina, and Washington each gave out between $25,000 and $50,000 in a year. …Learn More
January 9, 2014
iPad Shoppers: More Likely to Buy?
A new study out of Boston College finds that e-shopping for products while grasping an iPad increases the feeling of ownership of that product – and may make you more likely to buy it.
The findings expand on a financial behavior issue explored in a popular Squared Away blog post about how the Internet has made it much easier to shop – and spend money. The new research distinguishes among the various technologies available to online shoppers and finds that the urge to buy may be even stronger when holding a touch screen device than when using a laptop or desktop computer.
The way this works is that the tactile experience of holding a product – whether taking it off the store rack or grasping the device that’s displaying it – imbues some sense of ownership, making it harder to give it up and resist buying it.
Here is an edited excerpt of an article explaining the research; the article appeared in Chronicle, a publication for Boston College faculty and staff. …Learn More
December 17, 2013
Spouses and Their Money: Getting in Sync
Money matters can get complicated for couples who may not see eye to eye. In a recent interview with Squared Away, Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, author of the new book, “How to Give Financial Advice to Couples,” shared her tips and insights for couples trying to meet in the middle.
Q: In a relationship, is money about more than just money?
Kingsbury: Money is often a reflection of our feelings about security, respect, love, power – it really symbolizes these things, whether we’re aware of it or not. So how a couple talks about money and manages their money is a reflection of how they relate to each other in other areas as well.
Q: Explain “money beliefs”?
Kingsbury: A money belief is a thought or attitude toward money that influences your savings, spending, investing and gifting every day. These beliefs tend to reside in our unconscious thought. Because we live in a society where money talk is taboo, we often don’t identify these attitudes. But money beliefs are formed between the ages of 5 and 15 by observing the financial behavior and attitudes of parents or people around us. And these money beliefs tend to be oversimplified, because they were formed in a child’s mind.
Q: Why is it important for husbands and wives to compare their beliefs?
Kingsbury: When couples are arguing about money, they may be arguing about which bills to pay or how to pay for a daughter’s college. But what’s really going on is they’re hitting up against their different money beliefs.
A: What’s an example? …Learn More
December 12, 2013
Navigating the Gift Card Thicket
Too many financial products are far too complex. The pre-loaded cards that people give as gifts during the holidays are a multi-billion-dollar example.
When buying these cards, it’s very hard to know what you’re getting and giving. The big things to watch out for are expiration dates and fees. This isn’t easy.
The federal CARD Act of 2009 covers cards issued by retailers for purchases in their stores and cards issued by banks for use in many places. The law bars these gift cards from expiring for five years after their purchase. They must also maintain their full value for a year. But after the first year, the CARD Act permits one fee per month, and a $5 monthly fee can chew up a $25 gift card’s value pretty fast.
It’s difficult to tell the difference between gift cards and prepaid cards, like Wal-Mart’s Bluebird or the RushCard, sold side by side on grocery store racks. But prepaid cards are not regulated at all by federal consumer protection law, while retail and bank cards are, said Christina Tetreault, an attorney for Consumers Union, the non-profit affiliated with Consumer Reports.
State regulations often offer further consumer protections – and add a layer of complexity for consumers. A card that works one way in a state with strong regulations, such as California, may have few protections if you mail it to a relative in Texas.
The following is just a sample of the intricacies of state regulations. …Learn More