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Budget
05/13/2010
IconGas prices are going up over $4 per gallon in some areas of the country. The solution?' Get a scooter!'One "scooter-ite" bought a Vespa GTS that uses about $7 of fuel every two weeks.' Wow!Consider the cost of a 50 mile round-trip commute based on a fuel price of $3,79 a gallon:' the scooter (Vespa S) would cost $2.65 per day; a Honda Accord, $6.10 per day, and a large SUV (Ford Expedition), $10.50 per day.' A Vespa can travel 80 miles on a gallon of fuel.There is a downside to scooters, however:' dealing with potholes, having to get a motorcycle license in most states, no protection in bad weather, and vulnerability around other vehicles, which are usually a lot bigger.' Nonetheless, scooter sales have gone up 25% in the past year.' Scooter prices range from $3,000 to $9,000, depending on size and "fanciness."In 2005, the latest year with complete data, the death rate for scooter riders was 129 per million scooters registered, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.' In comparison, the death rate was 78 for cars and light trucks, and 645 per million motorcycles registered.'I believe this is a growing trend.' It's not an accident that you've been seeing so many more motorcycles and scooters on the road.' In addition to being more cost-effective, it's fun and "cool" to be on a scooter.' I have a Harley-Davidson Road King that's been converted to a trike for safety.' I had it "muralized," and it's a show-stopper.' I've had a Vespa scooter, too, and that's also a fun ride. More >>

Tags: BudgetFinancesSAHM stay at home mom
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05/13/2010
IconBack in the day, people believed it was morally correct and pragmatically smart to save for a rainy day.' These days, folks prefer to spend what they have to "enjoy the moment."' It turns out that most Americans say they're not saving as much as they should, but apparently, they're not very worried about it.' Talk about living in dreamland!It is sad to receive a call to my daily radio program from a hard-working young couple with children who are frustrated with their parents who spend, spend, and spend some more and don't worry at all about retirement or medical issues they might face as they age.' These young families are frantic, concerned about their obligation to parents who are doing nothing to provide for themselves.' And then there are the young men who are making babies, "shacking up," and/or marrying young women they are in no financial position to support.Somewhere along the line, we've lost the notion of personal responsibility, and have substituted a sense of entitlement - i.e., that our families or our tax-paying communities should be paying our way.According to federal economic data and a recent survey by the Pew Research Center's Social' and Demographic Trends Project, 3 out of 4 Americans admit they aren't saving enough.' While you constantly hear people complaining about their finances, these feelings don't seem to motivate action:' Americans now save, on average, less than 1% of their incomes , and the saving rate has been in almost continuous decline for more than twenty years! This lack of fiscal planning is equally evident for men and women.' From the lowest income level to the highest, the admission of not saving enough ranges from 78% to 71%, indicating that level of wealth is irrelevant to notions of saving.Interestingly, the group most involved in saving is....senior citizens!' Only a narrow majority (54%) of those ages 65 and older say they aren't saving enough.'Necessity is the mother of frugality. More >>

Tags: BudgetFinancesPersonal Responsibility
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05/13/2010
IconWe already have taxes levied on cigarettes, purportedly to pay for education to stop smoking.' So, what's so wrong with a tax on fast food to subsidize education about "eating less and moving more," considering that two-thirds of the American population is fat or obese?Lawmakers in New Jersey are considering such a tax, and planning to use the revenue from it to fund struggling hospitals.' Obviously, the old hat argument comes out that condemns such a tax as specifically aiming at the poor. When you want to budget money for eating, why not consider eating at home and brown-bagging it for lunch?' Everyone knows that this is a cheaper and more nutritious alternative.As one taxpayer pointed out, "It costs $12.86 for fries and this little chicken wrap...." This taxpayer was complaining about adding a tax.' Yipes.' This taxpayer should have been complaining about how much money he's wasting on such a menu.' He did also comment that "if they raise it [i.e., the price with a tax], I'll stop buying it." Brilliant!' If it's unhealthy, he'll eat it.' If it has a "sin tax," he'll stop.' I think that's a good enough reason for the tax. More >>

Tags: BudgetEat Less-Move MoreEconomyObesitySocial Issues
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05/13/2010
IconSenator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) is adamant in his support for abortion on demand.' Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) is as adamant in his support for the illegalization of abortion.' However, as odd as it may seem, they have joined forces in a bill (S1810), the "Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Condition Awareness Act."' Their bill would require parents faced with pre- and post-natal diagnoses of disability to receive "timely, scientific, and nondirective counseling about the conditions" as well as "up-to-date, comprehensive information about life expectancy, development potential, and quality of life" for a child born with Down syndrome or any other genetic disability, as well as "referrals to providers of key support services." Their hope is that when parents receive a more complete picture, more of them will welcome their disabled babies into the world, instead of choosing termination.' Nice bedfellows. More >>

Tags: BudgetChildrenEconomyFamily/Relationships - ChildrenParentingSex
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05/13/2010
IconReuters' Julie Steenhuysen wrote a news essay recently which was a real shocker.' She quoted Janis Wolak of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham: A lot of the characterizations that you see in Internet safety information suggest that sex offenders are targeting very young children and using violence and deception against their victims.... Especially since social networking sites became popular, people are suggesting that these offenders are using information to stalk and abduct their victims.' We are not seeing those types of cases.' The great majority of cases we have seen involved young teenagers, mostly 13, 14, 15 year old girls who are targeted by adults on the Internet who are straightforward about being interested in sex. From the perspective of the victim, these are romances. Among the study's other findings:* Internet offenders pretended to be teenagers in only 5% of the crimes studied.* Nearly 75% of victims who met offenders did so more than once.* Youths at risk have "buddy lists" including strangers, and they discuss sex online with strangers.* Boys who are gay or questioning their sexuality are more susceptible to Internet-initiated sex crimes than other populations, resulting in 15% of criminal cases.Other than religious institutions, there is virtually nothing in our society that elevates sexuality to a spiritual status.' This is the result of a society which takes kids out of school (without parental notification) for abortions; which has peer sex classes showing how to put condoms on bananas; which has "sex fairs" at major colleges and universities; which has porn as mainstream, primetime television and advertising; which has practically naked models in store windows for Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria's Secret; which has families repeatedly torn apart by busy, "two parent career" homes, divorce, re-marriage, shack-ups, and other adult misbehaviors that emotionally devastate children who look elsewhere for love and comfort.'What is normalized is yearned for by children who want to be "adults." More >>

Tags: BudgetEconomyFamily/Relationships - TeensInternet-MediaInternet/MediaSexSocial NetworkingTeens
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05/13/2010
IconAn essay by Sara Schaefer Munoz in the "Home and Family" section of The Wall Street Journal (February 12, 2008) caught my eye.' The essay, entitled "For Single Moms, Access to Better-Paying Jobs is Key," talks about how difficult it is for single mothers to balance work/life issues.'First of all, it never distinguishes between widowed, divorced, and never-bothered-to-be-married moms.' The issues are quite different:' insurance, spousal and child support, his extended family's continual involvement, and so forth.' Contrast that to a woman who simply got pregnant by some guy.' The latter situation is far different and each of them requires its own newspaper column.' They are generally lumped together because of "political correctness" (no judgment and no hurt feelings), and not because the three situations vary widely due to the financial situation and the well-being of the children.The essay did the usual by suggesting available careers and child-care possibilities.' It was the "Readers Say" portion that requires a response from me. One reader wrote: "Maybe if more men took accountability for proper birth control, there would be fewer single mothers working two jobs to make ends meet." I just can't let this one go.' Oh my, are we unfairly picking on the woman?Here's how I see it:' it is in the woman's body that the miracle of conception, gestation, and ultimate birth of a new human being takes place.' It is legally the woman's prerogative to kill it or bring it to term.' No man has any legal say in the life or death of his child's first nine months of existence.' These two facts give the woman the overwhelming preponderance of responsibility.There are too many never-married mothers, because women have become more casual about sex (abortion is just another form of birth-control), and more casual about children (they don't really need a daddy). The children pay the price:' no dad in the home, and they're in day-care (which I call "day orphanages"), so momma can hopefully find a job.So, to get back to the title of the essay, "better-paying jobs" is not the key.' Marriage is. More >>

Tags: BudgetFamily/Relationships - ChildrenMoneyParenting
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Tags: BudgetEconomyMarriage
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05/07/2010
Icon Expensive Legal Documents The Dollar Stretcher by Gary Foreman www.stretcher.com gary@stretcher.com Do you have any recommendations on how to set up a living trust without paying high priced lawyer fees. I figure by the time we are done working with our local lawyer who has a good reputation it will run just over $1,000. We have children and need to make plans just in case. Julie in MI  Julie is to be congratulated for making 'just in case' plans. Far too many parents assume that nothing will happen to them and fail to take the necessary precautions. Unfortunately, the simple answer to her question is "no" I don't advise trying to set up a trust without a lawyer. But let's look a little deeper into Julie's question. Perhaps it won't be as expensive as she thinks.  We'll begin by considering a frugal truism. Avoid making expensive mistakes. A problem with your will or some trusts are almost impossible to correct. There's a reason that they call it your "LAST will and testament". Once you're dead you cannot amend or revoke it.  Being a sharp consumer doesn't mean always taking the least expensive alternative. In fact, doing that can sometimes cost you more in the long run. This is probably one of those cases.  In fact, not only should Julie contact an attorney for her will or trust, she'd also be wise to find one that specializes in estate planning in her state. There are some nuances that an attorney who works in another area of law or another state might not know. In fact, if you move to a new state it's important to see if your estate plan should be updated.  Let me be clear about this. I'm not a big fan of attorneys. Wills and trusts are more complicated than they need to be. And attorneys are a large part of the reason that they're so complicated.  But the unfortunate truth is that it does take specialized knowledge to do them so that problems don't crop up after your death. Not only with federal taxes, but also with state laws. And much as I don't like paying lawyers, the cost of doing it wrong could be very expensive for my children. So finding a lawyer who knows estate planning is likely to produce the right document at the lowest cost.  Julie might be tempted to consider some of the do-it-yourself will kits available. No doubt that some are quite good. Just remember that you'll die believing you did a great job. A problem won't come out until some judge says that your will or certain portions are invalid. So make your selection carefully.  So what should Julie do? She doesn't say so, but it could be that her concern is simply for her children's welfare. If that's the case a living trust probably isn't required.  A living trust is often used to avoid federal estate taxes. And that usually isn't a problem until you have over $500,000 in assets. So if Julie's goal is simply to make sure that if she and her husband die that the money goes to her kids and that she gets to select the children's guardian, then a living trust isn't necessary. Typically a will, which costs less, can handle the job.  Selecting a guardian is important. Remember that each state sets an age where a child is considered an adult. Until that age they cannot manage their own financial affairs. The guardian could be an individual (for example your sister, friend or attorney) or a corporation (a bank or trust company). There are various ways, including trusts, to set it up legally. You also have the option of letting the guardian control the money even after your children reach adulthood. Discuss it with your attorney.  Another reason this process, called estate planning, is important is that if you don't make your wishes known in writing before you die, the state will follow its own laws and make the decision for you. Not only as to managing the money, but who will raise your children. Your irresponsible bachelor brother could be asked to care for them. This is also a good time for Julie to talk with her choice and make sure that they're willing to accept the responsibility.  One final word of caution. I am not a lawyer and this isn't a place for amateurs. All I can do is warn you of the potential dangers. So before you make any decisions, contact the appropriate experts. Yes, experts do cost money. But this is one area where saving can be very expensive.  Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who currently edits  The Dollar Stretcher website  and newsletters subscribe@stretcher.com  You'll find thousands of articles to help stretch your day and your dollar. Copyright 2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. all rights reserved. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com. More >>

Tags: BudgetChildrenmoneyParenting
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