From 1998 to 2013, the number of Fortune 500 companies offering pensions to their employees fell from 60% to 24%, according to The Washington Post. With the decline of unionism and loss of employee bargaining power, corporate managements have aggressively replaced pensions with profit-sharing plans, essentially transferring the risk of retirement planning and investment management to their employees. It is possible that the Social Security program will be similarly transformed, making retirees responsible for investing funds through private accounts. However, the truth is that few people are prepared to manage their own retirement funds – as Howard Gold writes in MarketWatch, “Most investors have no idea of what they’re doing.”
“Would you like the AppleCare Protection Plan for your computer?” asked the salesman. I had just purchased a new 27-inch iMac at my local Apple store. The plan, available for $169, would extend the manufacturer’s warranty from one to three years and would include technical support, as needed. The cost seemed reasonable, especially since I was spending more than $2,000 for the iMac. I had to ask myself, “Will I need the extra protection?”
How Extended Warranties Work
If your holidays and family gatherings are stressful and often disappointing, it is time to try something new. Using the holidays to confront family members in yet another annual sparring match is a certain recipe for a ruined celebration.
Instead, look at the holiday season as an opportunity to make peace with estranged family members, experiment with low-stress celebrations, and put yourself and those you care most about first. Try employing the following tips to help you reduce stress and enjoy the festivities more than you have in years past.
How to Better Enjoy the Holidays
According to USA Today, the number of U.S. undergraduates studying abroad was almost 290,000 in 2014. In fact, approximately 9% of U.S. undergraduates study abroad at some point. Attending a foreign university can be a life-changing and valuable experience for a number of reasons, not the least of which include developing a better understanding of different cultures and improved communication skills.
Recognizing these and other benefits, numerous American presidents have promoted the value of foreign education exchange programs:
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower advised on January 27, 1958, that “the exchange of students should be greatly expanded. Information and education are powerful forces in support of peace. Just as war begins in the minds of men, so does peace.”
Want to see the world and experience other cultures? The Peace Corps may be right for you. Each year, approximately 15,000 to 18,000 Americans apply to serve. While locales vary from year to year, present opportunities range from the islands of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, to the mountains of Nepal and Peru. Volunteers serve in China, Madagascar, South Africa, and 50 other countries around the world.
According to the 2015 edition of AAA’s Your Driving Costs, the average annual cost to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. is $8,698. This includes fuel, maintenance, tires, auto insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation and finance charges – but not the cost of vehicle storage or parking your car at a meter.
Even a small sedan like a Honda Civic or Ford Focus can set you back $7,606 annually, while a large vehicle like a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee has a yearly expense of $11,931. The cost of owning and operating a single car can exceed the monthly food costs for a family of four, while operating two cars in a family can generate costs greater than the average mortgage payment in the United States.
“Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.” Those words of American economist Thomas Sowell from his book “A Conflict of Visions” sometimes offend new parents who, looking at their precious bundle of joy, can’t imagine the stubbornness and temper tantrums that await them. Infants are born demanding their parents’ full attention. They are easily frustrated and often defiant. Fortunately, as they grow, they are capable of learning empathy, cooperation, and sharing – skills that are essential as they mature and interact with others.
In 1931, historian James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” The growth of America’s middle class, especially after World War II, seemed to validate the premise that wealth and security were within the grasp of anyone who worked hard. Between 1945 and 1979, gross domestic product growth averaged 10.69% a year, and the number of families in the middle class exploded. According to figures from the Economic Policy Institute, productivity and worker compensation grew together until 1979 when the link between productivity and wages and salaries was severed. For decades, the formula worked.
Americans who pay Social Security taxes for at least 40 quarters of employment are entitled to retirement benefits. The amount you receive depends on the taxes you paid and your number of years of enrollment. In addition, spouses are entitled to Social Security payments, which are equal to one-half the benefit earned by a working spouse.
Many people are entitled to a benefit based upon their own earnings, as well as a spousal benefit based upon their partner’s earnings. However, only one benefit at a time can be claimed.
A Pew poll from March 2015 reports that more than 80% of Americans are concerned about their savings, and seven out of ten worry whether they have enough money to cover their expenses. Yet since 1960, the personal saving rate in the United States has been inconsistent and generally trending downward, ranging from a high of 17.0% in May 1975 to a low of 1.9% in July 2005, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis as reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. In April 2015, the rate clawed its way up to 5.6%.