MONEY Debt

The Hidden Threat to Your Retirement

More older Americans are approaching their golden years with heavy debt loads.

When Wanda Simpson reached retirement a couple of years ago, the Cleveland mom had an unwelcome companion: Around $25,000 in debt.

Despite a longtime job as a municipal administrator, Simpson wrestled with a combination of a second mortgage and credit-card bills that she racked up thanks to health problems and a generous tendency to help out family members.

“I was very worried, and there were a lot of sleepless nights,” remembers Simpson, 68. “I didn’t want to be a burden on my children, or pass away and leave a lot of debt behind.”

New data reveal that Wanda Simpson has company—and plenty of it.

Indeed, the percentage of older Americans carrying debt has increased markedly in the past couple of decades. Among families headed by those 55 or older, 65.4% are still carrying debt loads, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). That is up more than 10 percentage points from 1992, when only 53.8% of such families grappled with debt.

“It’s a two-fold story of higher prevalence of debt, and an uptick in those with a very high level of debt,” says Craig Copeland, EBRI’s senior research associate. “Some people are in real trouble.”

To wit, 9.2% of families headed by older Americans are forking over at least 40% of their income to debt payments. That, too, is up, from 8.5% three years earlier.

The only bright spot in the data? The average debt balance of families headed by those over 55 has actually decreased since 2010, according to EBRI, from $80,564 to $73,211 in 2013.

Still sound high? It is especially so for those heading into reduced earning years, or retiring completely.

The primary culprit, according to Copeland: rising home prices and the longer-term mortgages that result, often leaving seniors with a monthly nut well into their golden years.

Seniors are even dealing with lingering student debt: 706,000 senior households grappled with a record $18.2 billion in student loans in 2013, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

It’s not an easy subject to discuss, since older Americans may be ashamed that they are still dealing with debt after so many years in the workforce. They do not want to feel like a burden on their kids or grandkids, and so keep their financial struggles to themselves.

But financial experts stress that not all debt is automatically bad. A reasonable mortgage locked in at current low rates, in a home where you plan to stay for a long period, can be a very intelligent inflation hedge.

“I always suggest clients consolidate it in the form of good debt, like a mortgage on your primary residence,” says Stephen Doucette, a planner with Proctor Financial in Sherborn, Massachusetts. “You are borrowing against an appreciating asset, you don’t have to worry about inflation increasing the payment, and the interest is deductible.

As long as this debt is a small portion of your net worth, it is okay to play a little arbitrage, especially considering stock market risk, where a sudden decline could leave older investors very vulnerable.

“A retiree who has debt and a retirement account with equity exposure may not have the staying power he or she thinks. The debt is a fixed amount; the retirement account is variable,” says David Haraway, a planner with LPL Financial in Colorado Springs, Colo.

It is important not to halt 401(k) contributions, or drain all other sources of funds, just because you desire to be totally debt-free. Planner Scot Hansen of Shoreview, Minn. has witnessed clients do this, and ironically their good intentions end up damaging years of careful planning.

“But this distribution only created more income to be reported, and more taxes to be paid. Plus it depleted their retirement funding source.” he says.

Instead, take a measured approach. That’s what Wanda Simpson did, slowly chipping away at her debt with the help of the firm Consolidated Credit, while living off her Social Security and pension checks.

The result: She just sent off her final payment.

MONEY home prices

The Surprising Thing That Will Boost Your Home’s Value

Starbucks coffee shop, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
John Greim—LightRocket via Getty Images

New research finds that a Starbucks opening in the neighborhood helps local property values.

When searching for a new home, buyers usually consider the usual suspects: square footage, number of bedrooms, amount of sunlight.

Vanessa Pappas had another factor in mind as well: coffee shop proximity.

When Pappas and partner C.C. Hirsch recently closed on a three-bedroom property in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, it didn’t hurt that her favorite macchiato place was only a half-block away.

“Coffee is important,” says Pappas, 36, global head of audience development for YouTube. “It’s our daily ritual, and we always go to see our friends who work there. It makes us feel like part of the neighborhood.”

It turns out that easy access to quality java has broader implications. Call it the Starbucks Effect: Proximity to a local coffee shop has a very real, and positive, effect on home values, new data shows.

“We looked for certain markers for where homes appreciated faster than others,” says Stan Humphries, chief economist at real estate marketplace Zillow and co-author (with chief executive Spencer Rascoff) of the book The New Rules of Real Estate.

“Coffee houses emerged early on as a big predictor of future home value. Within a quarter mile, close enough to smell the coffee brewing, that ring appreciates faster than rings further out,” Humphries says.

How much faster? Over 17 years tabulated by Zillow, leading up to 2014, homes adjacent to the local Starbucks almost doubled in value, up by 96%. Those further out appreciated by 65% over the same period.

And apparently not all coffee shops are created equal. Zillow researchers compared homes near Starbucks locations to those near Dunkin Donuts.

Dunkin Donuts-adjacent properties also outperformed the wider market, rising 80% over 17 years, but they lagged those in the shadow of Starbucks.

Of course, there is a chicken-or-egg question here: Are coffee shops causing a boost in home values, or are the popular chains merely locating in promising neighborhoods that are already on the upswing?

Humphries’ discovery: Within the first few years of opening, Starbucks locations are actively helping local home values. After that, the outperformance of the broader market tends to diminish.

Whole Foods Effect

The coffee shop is hardly the only symbol of neighborhood gentrification. Researchers have found other amenities can have an even more powerful effect on home values.

Nearby specialty grocers, for instance, can lead to a 17.5% home-price premium, according to Portland, Oregon-based real estate consultancy Johnson Economics. That compares to a more modest 4.5% for coffee shops.

In that sense the Starbucks Effect might be more accurately be termed the Whole Foods Effect, according to the firm’s principal, Jerry Johnson, referring to the natural food supermarket chain.

Also significantly affecting nearby home prices, according to the Johnson Economics study: cinemas, wine shops, and garden stores.

Given Starbucks’ massive resources, it is perhaps not surprising that the Seattle-based chain is adept at picking out promising spots. After all, the company employs entire teams of professionals devoted to pinpointing optimal locations.

“Where we choose to locate our stores is as important as how we design them,” says Michael Malanga, Starbucks’ senior vice president of store development.

For potential homebuyers, it’s like heading into an exam with the answer key. Assuming that significant market research has gone into every store opening, buyers can piggyback on those positive conclusions.

“There are substantial resources spent by Starbucks headquarters to figure this stuff out and find where the best locations are going to be,” says Zillow’s Humphries. “So for homebuyers, you can essentially draft off the work that Starbucks has already done for you.”

As for YouTube’s Pappas, she’s not a fan of Starbucks. She prefers her local Brooklyn spot—Krupa Grocery. But she isn’t surprised that coffee shops turn out to be a reliable predictor of home-price appreciation.

“Especially in New York City, you want to be able to walk to everything,” says Pappas. “Having a coffee shop within eyesight is a big plus.”

MONEY first job

How These 4 Celebrity Chefs Broke Into the Kitchen

In any field, you need to start at the bottom. In the restaurant business, that can mean some dirty work.

If there’s one thing Reuters has learned from a year of asking celebrities about their first gigs ever, it is that you never forget your first job. No matter how famous or powerful they have become, America’s foremost achievers all remember that very first moment of bringing home a paycheck.

This month, to coincide with the monthly jobs report, we talked to the celebrity chefs who have taken over our airwaves. Before they started creating gourmet meals, they began at the bottom just like the rest of us.

  • Bobby Flay

    Bobby Flay works the line at Gato, his new restaurant, rated No. 9 on the New York Times' year-end list of the city's best new restaurants, on June 3, 2014.
    Evan Sung—The New York Times/Redux

    First job: salad chef

    “After getting kicked out of high school once, I finally dropped out as a sophomore. My dad said, ‘If you’re not going to school, you have to get a job.’ He wasn’t asking, he was telling.

    “He was a partner in a Broadway-district restaurant called Joe Allen, and I filled in as a busboy for two weeks. I was literally walking out of the restaurant when the chef said to me, ‘Do you want a job in the kitchen?’ I said ‘OK, sure.’

    “So I put on my cook’s whites and started working at the salad station. One day I woke up and thought, ‘I can’t wait to go to work today.’ I knew something was different.

    “I was paid $190 a week. I remember opening my first paycheck and being shocked at the amount of taxes they took out: $46. It was criminal. But this was around 1981, and with $144, I felt like I could do anything I wanted. I could buy all the beer I could possibly drink.”

  • Thomas Keller

    Chef Thomas Keller arrives at The French Laundry’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, Saturday, July 5, 2014, Yountville, CA.
    Alex Berliner—AP

    First job: dishwasher

    “I started out washing dishes, which turned out to have a huge impact on my life and career. This was at a restaurant in Laurel, Maryland called the Bay & Surf, which was run by my mother. The dishwashing station was next to where they cooked crabs, so sometimes I got to help the chefs.

    “I think my brother and I got paid a little something, but we were far too young to be on the payroll – I was only in 6th or 7th grade.

    “As a dishwasher I may have been considered the lowest person in that restaurant, but I learned that I was just as important as anybody else. If I didn’t do my part, then nobody else could do their jobs.”

  • Emeril Lagasse

    Chef Emeril Lagasse
    QVC

    First job: bakery assistant

    “I worked at the Moonlight bakery on Bedford Street in Fall River, Massachusetts. I used to go there with my parents, and one of the owners took a liking to me and gave me a job a few days a week after school. It was mainly washing pots and pans, and I made a dollar an hour.

    “I was infatuated with baking: the smells, the bins, the flour and sugar and eggs. Not a lot of guys there spoke English; these were hardcore Portuguese bakers. But I guess they liked me, because I started going on deliveries, and eventually they taught me how to bake.

    “By the time I was 14 I would work in that bakery from 11 at night until 7 in the morning, and then go to school all day. I would sleep after school, my parents would wake me up for dinner, and then I’d go back to the bakery to start all over again.”

  • Michael Chiarello

    Chef Michael Chiarello
    Dave Kotinsky—Getty Images for NYCWFF

    First job: dishwasher

    “If you ask chefs of my generation, probably at least half of us started out as dishwashers. I grew up in a small farm town in California’s Central Valley, and there weren’t many restaurants around, but I walked right into one of them when I was 14 and asked for a job.

    “Once the dishes were done, there was nothing to do, so at some point the cook asks you to help out. That was the goal, since I always wanted to be a cook.

    “I made less than minimum wage, and spent the money on fishing and hunting gear, since I was a country boy. Eventually I put myself through chef’s school by raising litters of golden retrievers.

    “Dishwashing is actually one of the most respected positions around. It’s the heart of the kitchen, because as that area goes, so goes the rest of the restaurant.”

MONEY Sports

Why a Trip to the Super Bowl May Not Be Worth the Staggering Cost

Travelers walk past Super Bowl XLIX logos at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on January 19, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The NFL Super Bowl XLIX will be held at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Febrauary 1, 2015.
Christian Petersen—Getty Images Travelers are already being greeted by Super Bowl XLIX logos at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Of course if you're a die-hard Patriots or Seahawks fan, none of this math might matter.

How much is it worth to watch the Super Bowl in person?

That is the question thousands of American football fans have been wrestling with the last few weeks. Do you take a once-in-a-lifetime plunge and spend perhaps tens of thousands of dollars to get yourself to Glendale, Arizona, to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots?

Or do you kibosh such a massive expense, and earmark that sum for more sober purposes, like saving for retirement, paying down debt, or getting ready for April’s tax bill?

Ron Yeh, who was keen to see his beloved Seahawks win a second straight title, decided go this year after weighing the pros and cons.

The 40-year-old gastroenterologist from the Seattle area and a friend found a package from warehouse club Costco Wholesale Corp that included tickets, lodging, shuttles and tailgate parties—$8,000 for two.

“I’ve been following the Seahawks ever since the fourth grade, when my family moved here from Taiwan,” Yeh says. “But this is my first time going to the Super Bowl. It’s going to be exciting.”

Obviously, a Super Bowl memory does not come cheap. The average resold ticket has been going for $3,046, according to data provided last week by StubHub.com. That is up from $2,527 last year, when the game took place in New Jersey’s MetLife stadium.

Ticket sales on StubHub.com have ranged from $937 to $11,500. Those prices do not include ancillary costs—flights, hotels, food and drink, and memorabilia.

Besides his $4,000 package, for instance, Ron Yeh spent another $950 on a round-trip flight from Seattle.

Arizona’s tourism authority is betting that Super Bowl attendees will spend roughly double that of a normal conventioneer, upwards of $600 a day during their stay. Last year attendees spent an average of $141.75 each on food, drink and merchandise just at the game itself, according to SportsBusiness Journal.

At the top end, the cost can be staggering. Take a look at this package recently offered by private jet charter company Magellan Jets: prime tickets, round-trip flight, access to celebrity parties on Super Bowl weekend, and more. The eye-popping tab: $35,000 for two.

“It’s clearly not an event for a regular middle-class family,” says Victor Matheson, a professor and sports economist at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

But the Super Bowl is a rare and special event, and missing out can haunt people. Take financial planner H. Jude Boudreaux, who was ready to see his New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts back in 2010, but sold his tickets to a friend at the last minute.

“I do regret it every year when this time of year rolls around,” he says.

Of course, the cost does not have to be exorbitant. Scout for tickets in the nosebleed section, rather than on the 50-yard line. Bunk with friends in the area instead of paying insane hotel markups. Take redeye flights with connections.

Also, do not expect too much. You can forget about seeing every replay from 10 different angles, to be debated by panel of ex-pros in a luxury booth.

Instead you’re going to be outside, probably a long way from the action, without your trusty flatscreen and no fridge full of snacks.

That is what financial adviser Keith Singer of Boca Raton, Florida, found when he saw the Philadelphia Eagles at the Super Bowl 10 years ago.

“It was really hard to see the game from where I was, and I missed all the pregame shows because I was at the stadium,” he says. “I probably wouldn’t go to another Super Bowl again. There’s no better view than in front of your giant TV, with all the refreshments and food you could want right at your fingertips.”

But even folks watching at home are preparing to fork out for the big day. The National Retail Federation’s Super Bowl Spending survey estimates that 184 million viewers will be spending a combined $14.3 billion—an average of $77.88—on food, gameday gear, decorations and TVs.

MONEY Kids and Money

3 Ways To Help Your Kids Become Good Gift Givers

Cashew-caramel brownie in baking pan, elevated view
James Baigrie—Getty Images

Children spend a lot of time thinking about what they'll get for the holidays. Use these tips to turn them into givers too.

Ah, the holidays. The season for time-honored traditions like decorating the tree, lighting the menorah, wrapping gifts … and wondering whether you have raised the most selfish kid in the world.

Almost every parent has felt this at one time or another, as toddlers and teens obsess over accumulating more and more holiday stuff. Robin Gorman Newman is no different.

“Like any kid, my son loves to receive,” says Newman, mom to an 11-year-old in Long Island, N.Y, and founder of the organization Motherhood Later for moms over 35.

“They’re all obsessed with getting, especially when they’re younger,” Gorman says. “If you saw my basement, you would know what I’m talking about.”

Which is why Newman embarked on a campaign to shift her son’s mindset from getting to giving. First on the agenda: Baking brownies to bring to the local firehouse, and to families of sick kids staying at the local Ronald McDonald House.

For parents who are trying to encourage giving instead of getting, it can often feel like shouting into the wind, especially at this time of year. American adults are planning to splurge an average of $861 on gifts this holiday season, according to a new survey by American Research Group.

That’s up 8% in a single year, surpassing 2007 numbers for the first time since the recession hit. As a result, little Johnny and Janie can expect to rip the wrapping paper off more boxes over Christmas or Hanukkah.

But don’t despair. There may be hope for turning kids into givers.

According to data from Allowance Manager, a service that helps parents automate allowance payments and track their kids’ spending, many children are setting aside a surprisingly healthy amount for gift-giving.

Roughly 9% of allowances are allocated for gift purchases, a figure that spikes in November and December. And that does not even include charitable donations, which account for an additional 6% of allowance use.

The key question: How do you trigger that mental shift, to get kids thinking of others rather than just themselves?

Have Them Use Some of Their Own Money

Obviously, young children are not going to have a lot of financial resources to tap. But even if it involves very small amounts, have them use some of those resources for gifting.

It drills in the critical personal-finance habit of setting up different buckets for different purposes, one of which should be devoted to others.

“Handling money is best learned through first-hand experience,” says Dan Meader, CEO and co-founder of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.-based Allowance Manager, which has over 200,000 users. “So we think it’s important that kids get the chance to use some of their own money for gifts, instead of just using their parents’ money.”

Enforce Artificial Limits

Since we’re dealing with modest sums like allowances, you don’t want kids spending everything they have on holidays gifts, or feeling inadequate for not being able to purchase very much.

One elegant solution: Set a hard cap on how much can be spent, advises Ron Lieber, the “Your Money” columnist at the New York Times and author of the upcoming book The Opposite of Spoiled.

“See how may things you can buy for under $20, or figure out the most fun you can create for under $20,” he says. “If you put a cap on it that way, kids can be generous in spirit, without spending every cent they have.”

Set Up a Matching Program

To maximize your kids’ giving, consider what many charities do to supercharge donations: Create a matching program.

If your child saves $5 for family gifts, match it dollar-for-dollar, suggests Lieber. Then take it up a notch: If they save $10, contribute $1.50 for every dollar. If they reach $20, match each dollar with $2 of your own.

“That way it ratchets up, so the more generous they’re willing to be with their own funds, they will have exponentially more impact,” Lieber says.

Encourage Non-Monetary Gifting

There’s no rule that says more spending equals more thoughtfulness, despite what all those TV commercials might suggest. As every parent knows, some of the best gifts don’t come with any price tag at all.

But it may require some creativity. One idea from Lieber: A ‘coupon book’ of handwritten gift certificates that family members can give each other. “A dad might give a coupon to drop whatever he’s doing and play a game, or to ditch work once in the next 12 months and do whatever the kid wants to do,” he says.

“Things like that don’t cost anything, and are often incredibly memorable.”

Indeed, when Robin Gorman Newman looks around her house, her most cherished gift from her son wasn’t bought in a store at all. It’s an acrostic of the word ‘Mommy,’ with each letter standing for its own phrase such as “M is for Making Me Smile.”

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Newman says. “That’s worth a million bucks right there.”

MONEY financial advice

Tony Robbins Wants To Teach You To Be a Better Investor

Tony Robbins vists at SiriusXM Studios on November 18, 2014 in New York City.
Robin Marchant—Getty Images Tony Robbins with his new book, Money: Master the Game.

With his new book, the motivational guru is on a new mission: educate the average investor about the many pitfalls in the financial system.

It might seem odd taking serious financial advice from someone long associated with infomercials and fire walks.

Which perhaps is why Tony Robbins, one of America’s foremost motivational gurus and performance coaches, has loaded his new book Money: Master The Game with interviews from people like Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett, investor Carl Icahn, Yale University endowment guru David Swensen, Vanguard Group founder Jack Bogle, and hedge-fund manager Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates.

Robbins has a particularly close relationship with hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones of Tudor Investment Corporation.

“I really wanted to blow up some financial myths. What you don’t know will hurt you, and this book will arm you so you don’t get taken advantage of,” Robbins says.

One key takeaway from Robbins’ first book in 20 years: the “All-Weather” asset allocation he has needled out of Dalio, who is somewhat of a recluse. When back-tested, the investment mix lost money only six times over the past 40 years, with a maximum loss of 3.93% in a single year.

That “secret sauce,” by the way: 40% long-term U.S. bonds, 30% stocks, 15% intermediate U.S. bonds, 7.5% gold, and 7.5% commodities.

Tony’s Takes

For someone whose net worth is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars and who reigned on TV for years as a near-constant infomercial presence, Robbins—whose personality is so big it seemingly transcends his 6’7″ frame—obviously knows a thing or two about making money himself.

Here’s what you might not expect: The book is a surprisingly aggressive indictment of today’s financial system, which often acts as a machine devoted to enriching itself rather than enriching investors.

To wit, Robbins relishes in trashing the fictions that average investors have been sold over the years. For instance, the implicit promise of every active fund manager: “We’ll beat the market!”

The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of active fund managers lag their benchmarks over extended periods—and it’s costing investors big time.

“Active managers might beat the market for a year or two, but not over the long-term, and long-term is what matters,” he says. “So you’re underperforming, and they look you in the eye and say they have your best interests in mind, and then charge you all these fees.

“The system is based on corporations trying to maximize profit, not maximizing benefit to the investor.”

Hold tight—there’s more: Fund fees are much higher than you likely realize, and are taking a heavy axe to your retirement prospects. The stated returns of your fund might not be what you’re actually seeing in your investment account, because of clever accounting.

Your broker might not have your best interests at heart. The 401(k) has fallen far short as the nation’s premier retirement vehicle. As for target-date funds, they aren’t the magic bullets they claim to be, with their own fees and questionable investment mixes.

Another of the book’s contrarian takes: Don’t dismiss annuities. They have acquired a bad rap in recent years, either for being stodgy investment vehicles that appeal to grandmothers, or for being products that sometimes put gigantic fees in brokers’ pockets.

But there’s no denying that one of investors’ primary fears in life is outlasting their money. With a well-chosen annuity, you can help allay that fear by creating a guaranteed lifetime income. When combined with Social Security, you then have two income streams to help prevent a penniless future.

Robbins’ core message: As a mom-and-pop investor, you’re being played. But at least you can recognize that fact, and use that knowledge to redirect your resources toward a more secure retirement.

“I don’t want people to be pawns in someone else’s game anymore,” he says. “I want them to be the chess players.”

MONEY Savings

Is Outliving Your Savings a Fate Worse Than Death?

Most people are worried about running short of cash in retirement, surveys show. But with a little planning, and a bit more saving, you can ease those anxieties.

When faced with the prospect of outliving their money, most people might toss and turn at night or obsess about where to slash their budgets.

Others have a more extreme reaction: wishing for early death.

“I can always put a bag over my head when the money runs out” was what Jeannine Hines’ husband told her when she asked what he planned to do if their cash ran out before they died.

“He would rather die than be left penniless,” says Hines, a 58-year-old piano teacher from Maryville, Tennessee.

Her husband has company. A new survey from Wells Fargo shows 22% of people say they would rather die early than not have enough cash to live comfortably in retirement.

Other surveys bear those numbers out. One by financial-services company Allianz of people in their late 40s found 77% worried more about outliving their money in retirement than death itself.

Of that survey’s respondents, those who are married with dependents are even more terrified, with 82% saying that running out of cash is a more chilling prospect than death.

“These are pretty sobering statistics,” says Joe Ready, director of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It speaks to the overwhelming stress people have about money.”

Financial planners like Rose Swanger of Advise Finance in Knoxville, Tennessee, hear about these extreme money fears all the time.

But Swanger says she does not believe people have an actual death wish; they just do not know what they will do if they outlive their cash. “So they get scared, and freeze up, and become irrational,” she says.

In one respect, collective despair is simply an acknowledgement of how much—or rather, how little—we are saving.

The Wells Fargo survey also discovered that 41% of those in their 50s are not putting anything aside for retirement, and 48% admit they will not have enough money to survive in their golden years.

Experts suggest taking a deep breath and refusing to let money fears overwhelm you. Social Security awaits in old age, and friends and family to help get you through lean times. And you can deploy multiple strategies to help prevent a penniless future.

SETTING GOALS

Instead of throwing up your hands, set a goal that is actually achievable

“Save a small amount, then a little more, and once it starts to add up, you will see your levels of stress and worry start to lower,” says Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the book “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.”

There are other ways to gain control of the situation.

“You may have to delay retirement by a couple of years, you may have to find ways to supplement your income, and you may have to reduce your standard of living both now and in retirement,” says Wells Fargo’s Ready. “All of those are ways of focusing on the reality of where you’re at, instead of just giving in to despair.”

But is this death wish that emerges in surveys really about us? Dig a little deeper into people’s anxieties about outliving their money, and you often find out it is all about the kids.

Parents feel like failures if they cannot leave an inheritance, and they certainly do not want to become financial burdens on their adult children.

“To a lot of people that’s a fate worse than dying,” says Norton.

So instead of worrying yourself into paralysis, let go of all that parental stress and anxiety.

You do not have to leave behind a huge estate; the kids will be fine. And if you have to lean on your family in old age? Hey, it is what humans have done for eons.

Our retirement challenges may be formidable, but they are certainly no reason to hope that death arrives any sooner than it has to.

More about retirement:

How much money will I need to save for retirement?

Can I afford to retire?

How should I invest my retirement money?

MONEY Budgeting

How to Keep Fantasy Football from Fouling Up Your Finances

Fantasy Football
iStock How much does your weekend pastime cost you?

Make sure your weekend hobby doesn't wreak havoc on your budget—or your marriage.

Allison Lodish used to be a huge football fan.

Her affection for the game evaporated when her husband got fixated on fantasy football, a leisure pursuit where participants draft their own dream teams and compete against each other, based on how those players fare.

Before she knew it, he was in three leagues of fantasy football. Then, it became 10. “It was crazy,” says the 41-year-old personal stylist from California’s Marin County.

Crazy not just in terms of time expended, but money. Since many fantasy leagues charge fees for entering, trading players, or picking up free agents, the sums involved can be substantial.

At the height of her husband’s involvement, the hobby was costing north of $1,000 a year, Lodish estimates.

Indeed, the fantasy game has plenty of fans, with more than 41 million players in North America, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. That’s up from 27 million in 2009, with the typical player dropping $111 a year on the hobby, and others, far more.

In an era of stagnant incomes and rising prices, it’s no wonder some spouses are alarmed by the amounts involved. The average player spends more than eight hours a week perfecting his or her team, the trade group says.

So, is there a fix for the obsession?

Experts say the first steps toward resolving familial conflicts around a fantasy sport involve turning off the TV for a few minutes and not obsessively checking statistics. Then, start working through marital differences that can easily spiral out of control.

“You have to figure out the crux of the problem,” says Sharon Epperson, CNBC’s personal finance correspondent and author of a financial advice book for couples, The Big Payoff. “It may be about the money, or it may have nothing to do with that. It may be the amount of time being spent away from the spouse or the children that is really annoying the other person.”

If a partner feels neglected, or the cash involved is being drawn from other family pots, that is a problem, says Matthew Berry, ESPN’s senior fantasy analyst and author of Fantasy Life, which chronicles the exploding interest in the field.

“Everything in moderation,” he says. “I don’t think fantasy football is different from any other couples issue. It’s about communication, and understanding what’s important to the other person.”

Here are some tips that may safeguard the family budget, or your marriage, from an unchecked fantasy-football fetish:

Family needs come first

“I don’t think spending money on fantasy sports is a bad thing—as long as you can afford it,” says Epperson, herself a devoted Pittsburgh Steelers fan who grew up watching greats like Franco Harris and Lynn Swann.

But if that cash is being siphoned from other critical needs, it’s a guaranteed recipe for marital discord. So before you sign up for multiple fantasy leagues, get your other bases covered.

Epperson’s advice: Stay current on all monthly bills, save 20% of your income in long-term vehicles like 401(k)s, and another 10% in short-terms savings like a household emergency fund. Then you can set aside 10% of income for “fun money”—and that’s where your fantasy-sports budget needs to come from.

Avoid secrets

Everyone likes to spend a little time and money on personal passions, whether it’s fantasy sports or designer shoes. And that’s okay – unless that information is being hidden from your significant other.

“It’s only a big deal if you are not telling your spouse,” says Epperson. “That’s like loading up a credit-card that your spouse doesn’t know about. That’s financial infidelity, and that’s a big problem in marriages.”

Involve your partner

If your spouse pushes back against your fantasy-football interest, take it as a compliment: They want to spend more time with you. So here’s an elegant solution: Get them involved, if you can.

“My advice is always, ‘Try it, you’ll love it,'” says ESPN’s Berry. “My wife now plays in my fantasy league. That way, Sunday becomes a day you can spend together, instead of apart.”

Hand over the winnings

If your spouse has zero interest in fantasy sports, here’s a novel approach: Pledge that any cash you win will go directly into their bank account.

“That’s what I did with my wife originally,” says Berry. “Whatever I won, she got to spend. So when I won my league, she got a brand new purse. It worked out great. Nowadays, if I’m falling behind in third place or something, she tells me to get it together and start studying up.”

Still, the outcome may not always be so collegial.

Allison Lodish eventually set up a website for fellow fantasy-sports “widows” and ended up splitting with her husband.

“It should be a fun game that brings people together,” she says. “But if it’s driving people apart, that is where you need to take a hard look at it.”

MONEY Budgeting

This Hangover Cure Will Make You Richer

People paying for drinks at bar
Roy Hsu—Getty Images Do you know much money you waste by getting wasted?

Okay, you may not want to give up drinking just to save a buck. But if you're having trouble trimming your budget, add up what you're spending on wine, beer, and liquor. You may find the numbers sobering.

Would you give up alcohol to help balance the family budget?

I posed that very question on social media recently. These were some of the answers I got:

“Yeah, right.”

“Gosh no – it’s what gets us through the week.”

“As if that would ever happen.”

And so on, in the same vein. Most responses ranged from sarcastic to outright incredulous.

But one other answer stood out, which got to the heart of the matter:

“I quit drinking – and it was like we won the lottery!”

And there’s the rub. We all tend to complain, in an era of stagnant incomes and rising prices, about how we just can’t make ends meet. There is just no place we could possibly find more savings.

But is that really true? Consider this: The average U.S. household spent $445 on wine, beer, and spirits in 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That amounts to roughly 1% of our household expenditures, and it compares with an average household figure of $268 in 1993.

That is more than we spend on all nonalcoholic beverages combined, by the way. Keep in mind those averages include nondrinkers, too. That means some households are spending much, much more than that already-hefty average on alcohol.

So let’s be honest with ourselves. It is not always the case that we can’t squeeze any more savings out of our budgets. It is that we choose not to, because we just don’t want to give up the booze.

When New York City’s Jenna Hollenstein sat down one day and calculated what her drinking was costing her, she was shocked.

The 39-year-old dietician used to enjoy a nice bottle of wine or some gin after work, and it was starting to add up. “Even if it was only a $15 bottle of wine, three times a week, that was $45,” she remembers. “That’s $180 a month, or over $2,000 a year.

“That’s a significant amount of money—and that’s not even including going out for cocktails with friends.”

Hollenstein finally decided to give up her pricey habit, and even wrote a book on her experiences, Drinking to Distraction. But she is hardly alone in having a taste for a nip after work.

After all, 64% of American adults report drinking occasionally, according to Gallup’s most recent poll on consumption habits. Through boom times and bust, one of our most consistent national traits is that we enjoy our booze, and are not willing to give it up.

“We’ve been asking this question since the 1930s, and the numbers are remarkably constant,” says Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. “Even in an era of huge demographic changes, the percentage of drinkers just doesn’t seem to budge.”

Our Beverage of Choice

Beer is America’s beverage of choice, by the way, followed by wine and then spirits. The average drinker enjoys a shade over four alcoholic beverages a week, according to the Gallup poll.

But 9% of people have more than eight drinks over the same period, and 5% of folks are guzzling more than 20. And that can get very expensive indeed—especially if you do your drinking in restaurants or bars with high markups.

We might not even realize how much we are spending on this habit, since it drips out in relatively small increments—a beer or two here, a carafe of wine there. Personal-finance expert Tiffany Aliche, author of The One Week Budget, suggests forcing yourself to do the math—just as Hollenstein did—before tossing back yet another nightcap.

“Let’s say you drink three nights a week and spend $30 each time,” she says. “That’s over $4,000 a year, or as much as a trip to Paris or Rome.”

It is not an all-or-nothing proposition, notes Aliche, who is not a drinker herself. You don’t have to become a teetotaler in order to realize massive savings. “Instead of drinking three times a week, just drink twice—and then go on your vacation, too,” she advises.

As for Hollenstein, who had a long and complex relationship with alcohol, she thought it was best to give up drinking altogether. She did not necessarily do it for the money—but when she did, she noticed that her finances changed overnight.

“As soon as I gave it up, the money thing became so clear,” she says. “Drinking was just a mindless, habitual thing I did on a daily basis. And I didn’t really notice it—until I got my credit card bill or looked at my bank account.”

MONEY Kids and Money

The Financial Challenges of Solo Parenting After 40

Single mother in her 40s at grocery store
Slobo—Getty Images

More single women over 40 are choosing to have children, a new study finds. Why taking on that cost on your own can be daunting.

Monica Kipiniak doesn’t think of herself as a statistic. She just thinks of herself as a doting mom.

The 46-year-old attorney from Brooklyn, N.Y. is indeed part of a societal trend: Single women by choice having kids past the age of 40.

“It used to be seen as such a radical thing,” says Kipiniak, mom to a 10-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter. “But now it’s almost commonplace. If somebody’s not married by the age of 40, and they want children, they just go ahead and do it.”

Indeed, the numbers bear out her observations. Birth rates for unmarried women over 40 have been heading up in recent years, according to new data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control.

In fact, in 2012, the rate was a full 29% higher than just five years earlier.

The reason why that figure leaps out: In other age groups, the rate of births to unmarried women has been heading in the exact opposite direction.

“The gist of the report was that nonmarital childbearing has declined recently,” says Sally Curtin, a statistician and the report’s co-author. “For all women under age 35, rates are down.”

A Costly Endeavor

To be sure, ‘unmarried’ can mean a lot of different things. It can mean single and never-married, or divorced, or coupled and co-habiting but not yet hitched.

What is common to many over-40 single parents: the financial challenges involved.

“There’s no question that raising two kids by myself in New York City is a struggle,” says Kipiniak, who had children via anonymous sperm donor. “Often I’m flying by the seat of my pants, waiting at the end of the month for checks to come in.”

After all, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a middle-income family having a child in 2013 will lay out more than $240,000 before the kid turns 18. And that’s not even including college.

Such costs are obviously towering, even for married couples comprised of two earners. For single parents who are raising a child on their own, the challenges can be even more formidable.

Financial planner Carolyn Ozcan of Ithaka Financial Planning in Mattapoisett, Mass. helps many clients in this position and has tabulated some of the costs.

  • In-vitro fertilization, for moms who choose that route: $15,000 per cycle, sometimes requiring multiple cycles, which may or may not be covered by insurance.
  • Adoption: between $10,000 and $40,000.
  • Daycare or nannies, since working singles may not have partners to help cover childcare gaps: between $1,000 and $2,500 per month.

That means many single-mothers-by-choice are facing unique and significant costs right out of the gate. As a result, Ozcan says they need to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to planning and budgeting.

“A woman planning for single motherhood should have a sizable emergency fund,” Ozcan says. “I would recommend a year’s worth of living expenses, including childcare expenses in case of job loss or extended illness.”

Another tip from Ozcan: Secure disability insurance. It tends to be inexpensive if acquired through a workplace plan, and rather pricey for individuals ($200 to $500 per month), but well worth it in the long run.

“The worst nightmare is for the mother to get an illness or injury that prevents her from working,” Ozcan says. “If she could not work for years or ever again, she needs to have to have income protection to provide for herself and her child.”

What’s Behind the Numbers

So what’s behind the baby blitz among over-40 singles? A combination of medical advances and lessened social stigma of having a baby outside of marriage make middle-age childbearing more prevalent than in the past.

It’s also true that those who feel prepared for such a challenge are those who have been able to accumulate some financial resources, and are still in the prime of their careers.

“There is now less stigma overall linked with births outside of marriage,” says Jennifer Manlove, a senior research scientist at the Bethesda, Md.-based research center Child Trends.

“Nonmarital births are becoming increasingly normative,” Manlove says. “And some of the largest increases have been to the most advantaged women – older women, white women, and more educated women.”

Even pop culture has been helping to expand traditional images of motherhood, with boldface names like Sandra Bullock and Charlize Theron raising kids as single moms.

One key difference: Hollywood stars tend to have massive financial resources at their disposal. For regular folks like Monica Kipiniak, to achieve her dream of motherhood, it’s been much more of a financial hill to climb.

“But one of the great things about becoming an older mom is that you’re so grateful for it and love every moment,” Kipiniak says.

More on the cost of raising a child:

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