MONEY Google

10 Ways Google Has Changed the World

Google Earth view
Google

It's been a decade since Google went public. Here are 10 ways the company has transformed the market—and our lives— since.

Back in 2004, investors weren’t entirely sure what to make of Google, and skeptics abounded. Fast-forward to today, when we can look back at how far the company has come, in ways that inspire both awe and concern. Below are 10 examples of its influence.

1. It has changed our language. Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, there’s a reason “Bing” never caught on as a verb, let alone as a beleaguered anthropomorphic meme. The phrase “to Google” is so popular that the company is actually worried about losing trademark rights if the term becomes generic, like “escalator” and “zipper,” which were once trademarked.

2. It has changed our brains. Recent research has confirmed suspicions that 24/7 access to (near) limitless information is not only bad for human discourse—it’s also making us worse at remembering things, regardless of whether we try. And even if we aren’t conscious of it, our brains are primed to think about the Internet as soon as we start trying to recall the answer to a tough trivia question. Essentially, Google has become our collective mental crutch.

3. It set the stage for Facebook and Twitter’s sky-high valuations. Yes, lofty valuations based on mere speculation were also common back in the dot-com fervor of the ’90s, says Ed Crotty, chief investment officer for Davidson Investment Advisors. But Google broke new ground by proving that even just the potential for a huge audience could pay off in a big way.

“In the early days, when people were thinking in terms of web portals, the barriers to entry didn’t seem high for search,” Crotty says. That meant Google’s competitive advantage wasn’t clear. But “the tipping point was when Google was able to scale up their audience enough to attract ad agencies, and then further improve their algorithms, since those get better with scale. That’s partly why you see tech companies now willing to forgo profits for a period of time in order to build an audience.” And also why investors are willing to throw money their way.

4. It has taken over our cell phones. Since the first Android phone was sold in 2008, Google’s mobile operating system has bulldozed the competition. Today it claims nearly 85% of market share, nearly doubling its hold over the last three years. Next stop, self-driving cars?

5. It has transformed the way we use e-mail. Gmail was invented a decade ago, before bottomless inboxes were a sine qua non. It’s hard even to remember those dark ages when storage space was sacred—and deleting emails was as tedious-but-necessary as flossing. Today our accounts serve as mausoleums, housing long-forgotten files, links, and even whole relationships. Google itself has touted alternative uses for Gmail, such as setting up a virtual time capsule for your newborn—though in practice accounts can’t be owned by anyone under 13. But even that last point is about to change.

6. It’s changed how we collaborate. Back in 2006, Google acquired the company behind an online word processor named Writely. With that bet, Google created a world where it’s taken for granted that people can collaborate on virtually any type of document, whether for work, play, or (literally) revolution.

7. It has allowed us to travel the globe from our desks. Yes, MapQuest was popular first. But Google Maps (and Earth) has become much more than a tool for measuring travel routes and times. Since Google Street View came onto the scene in 2007, it’s been possible to “visit” distant destinations, give friends a virtual tour of your hometown, plan ahead of trips, and waste even more time on the Internet. Of course, the more popular a tool, the more useful it is to those who’d like to spy on us.

8. It has influenced the news we read. Ranking high in Google search results is serious business and can have a profound effect on the success of companies, media outlets, and even politicians. When I just Googled “how SEO affects journalism,” this link was at the top of my search results. How is that significant? Well, for one, that story itself has been so successfully search engine optimized that it still tops the list despite being four years old.

But most importantly, many of the concerns raised in the piece have not gone away—such as the pressure to “file some pithy blog post about the hot topic of the moment” at the expense of covering stories that would be prioritized based on traditional measures of newsworthiness. What that means for you, the reader: more headlines like this and this.

9. It has turned users into commodities. We all love free stuff, but it’s easy to forget that services offered by companies like Google and Facebook aren’t truly “free,” as data expert Bruce Schneier has pointed out. Remember that all of your data (across ALL of the services you use, and that includes Calendar, Maps, and so on) is a valuable good that Google is packaging and selling to its real customers—advertisers.

10. It’s changed how everyone else sees YOU. Unlike your Facebook profile, the links that turn up when potential employers (or love interests) Google you can be near-impossible to erase. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google uses the fear of embarrassing search results to encourage people to manage their image through Google+ profiles.

Related:
4 Crazy Google Ambitions
The 8 Worst Predictions About Google

MONEY income

The 10 Richest Counties in America

Jackson Hole, WY
A Jackson Hole mansion in Teton County, Wyoming. Jonathan Adams—Getty Images

Newly released IRS data shows where in the U.S. top earners live.

Teton County, Wyoming, tops the list for highest average income in the United States, according to updated Tax Stats data just released by the IRS.

The average income in Teton—known for hiking, skiing, and multimillion dollar Jackson Hole ranches—is nearly $300,000. Compare that with $62,483 for the average American household.

Of course, average income figures don’t give you a good picture of how much a typical resident makes, since super-rich outliers can skew the data (median figures were not released), but this list gives you a good idea of where many of America’s millionaires and billionaires hang out.

Sterling, Texas, places second on the list and carries yet another distinction—the highest average tax liability in the country. Only 600 returns were filed in the county, but the average tax owed was a whopping $97,387.

County State Average Income
Teton Wyo. $296,778
Sterling Texas $266,563
McMullen Texas $211,059
New York N.Y. $191,847
Pitkin Colo. $173,299
Fairfield Conn. $157,601
Glasscock Texas $145,031
Marin Calif. $143,333
San Mateo Calif. $143,203
Westchester N.Y. $137,695

 

Note: Dollar figures represent mean adjusted gross income for 2012, the most recent data available.

MONEY

SEC Halts Trading of Social Networking Stock That Gained 25,000%

A Specialist trader watches his chart while working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Brendan McDermid—Reuters

Regulators have halted trading of over-the-counter stock CYNK Technology, a social networking company with no revenue or members that inexplicably gained about 25,000% in recent days — and reached valuations of more than $5 billion.

According to the OTC Bulletin Board, the halt is “SEC related,” and a bulletin from the SEC further explains that it has “temporarily suspended trading in the securities of CYNK because of concerns regarding the accuracy and adequacy of information in the marketplace and potentially manipulative transactions in CYNK’s common stock.” The halt will end at 11:59pm East Coast time on July 24.

Federal securities laws allow the commission to suspend trading in any stock for up to ten days when the SEC “determines that a trading suspension is required in the public interest and for the protection of investors.”

Earlier today Business Insider reported that the OTC Bulletin Board classified the halt as U3, which is when FINRA determines an “extraordinary event” is affecting the market for a security. As of 9:30am, the halt was reclassified as H10, an SEC trading suspension.

Watch the video below to see MONEY editor Pat Regnier explain why you should watch out for stocks like CYNK.

MONEY Taxes

Potato Salad Kickstarter Guy May Have to Swallow $21,000 Tax Bill

potato salad
Let them eat... potato salad? Denise Bush—Getty Images

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to make some potato salad. It started as an attempt at irony but has now raised more than 70,000-completely-serious-dollars — inspiring awe, anger, less-successful copycats and plenty of jokes.

For those wondering where all that money will go, the Tax Foundation has an (at least partial) answer: The taxman.

According to the think tank’s calculations, project founder Zack Danger Brown should owe federal taxes of $8,632, Columbus city taxes of $1,510, Ohio state taxes of $1,712, plus $9,313 in payroll taxes. That all adds up to a whopping $21,167 — and that assumes donations stop after $70,000. (Spoiler alert, the total figure has already jumped $1,000 in the last couple of hours.)

The reason for this big bill is that funds raised on Kickstarter are considered income and can generally be offset only by expenses directly related to the project.

So unless Brown is adorning his potato salad with Wagyu beef, white truffles, and gold leaf, he could be looking at a 32% effective tax rate.

If he does as many are suggesting and donates any leftover cash to charity, he might be able to offset some of that with a charitable contribution deduction — though the Tax Foundation says he’ll still be liable for payroll taxes.

MONEY Economy

4 Takeaways from the Fed’s Big Meeting

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen arrives for a news conference at the Federal Reserve in Washington
Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen Susan Walsh—AP

This afternoon, the Federal Reserve released minutes from its mid-June meeting, providing a slightly more detailed picture of what chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues are thinking about the future of interest rates and monetary policy.

The June meeting itself had been a big shrug: The economy was getting better but not quickly enough to justify raising short-term interest rates; the Fed also said it would continue slowly tapering “quantitative easing,” the massive program of bond buying that’s meant to ease credit and stoke economic growth.

But here are three new things we’ve learned from the minutes.

1) Look for “quantitative easing” to end in October

We already kind of knew this, since the Fed has been reducing its purchases as a steady rate, but the minutes fill in a detail:

Some committee members had been asked by members of the public whether, if tapering in the pace of purchases continues as expected, the final reduction would come in a single $15 billion per month reduction or in a $10 billion reduction followed by a $5 billion reduction. Most participants viewed this as a technical issue with no substantive macroeconomic consequences…

But:

… participants generally agreed … it would be appropriate to complete asset purchases with a $15 billion reduction in the pace of purchases in order to avoid having the small, remaining level of purchases receive undue focus among investors. If the economy progresses about as the Committee expects, warranting reductions in the pace of purchases at each upcoming meeting, this final reduction would occur following the October meeting.

Bear in mind that this just means the Fed will stop buying bonds. It will still own over $4 trillion worth of them.

2) The Fed is divided about how to read inflation data

In a press conference after the meeting, Yellen said that although inflation seemed to be picking up a bit, the numbers were too “noisy” to conclude that inflation would go above the Fed’s 2% target for long.

The minutes of the meeting suggest that the other Fed governors and regional Fed presidents are divided on this. Some are worried that inflation is still far too low, indicating an economy that’s still too slack. And it looks like the recent strong jobs numbers, released after the meeting, which brought unemployment down to 6.1%, won’t change the minds of the inflation doves.

Some participants expressed concern about the persistence of below-trend inflation, and a couple of them suggested that the Committee may need to allow the unemployment rate to move below its longer-run normal level for a time in order keep inflation expectations anchored and return inflation to its 2 percent target, though one participant emphasized the risks of doing so.

But there’s still a vocal hawk team. Although price increases are very low, their main concern is that the Fed won’t be able to react fast enough when the economy turns.

… other participants expressed concern that economic growth over the medium run might be faster than currently expected or that the rate of growth of potential output might be lower than currently expected, calling for a more rapid move to begin raising the federal funds rate in order to avoid significantly overshooting the Committee’s unemployment and inflation objectives.

3) The Fed is worried that it’s being taken for granted.

…participants also discussed whether some recent trends in financial markets might suggest that investors were not appropriately taking account of risks in their investment decisions… [and] not factoring in sufficient uncertainty about the path of the economy and monetary policy.

What’s the problem with that? There’s always concern that easy policy will stoke an asset bubble. But Yellen has said that while she’s keeping this on her radar, it’s not a major concern yet. One good reason to think so: The housing market, the source of the really dangerous bubbles, is hardly frothy.

Despite attractive mortgage rates, housing demand was seen as being damped by such factors as restrictive credit conditions, particularly for households with low credit scores; high down payments; or low demand among younger homebuyers, due in part to the burden of student loan debt.

4) The labor market still looks weaker than it should be.

Although unemployment is down, some participants in the Fed meeting feel that many workers are still struggling to find work—they note that many workers have dropped out of the labor force altogether—and those with jobs still aren’t in a strong position to demand higher wages.

MONEY Portfolios

For $50 You Can Push For More Female CEOs — But Is It a Good Investment?

Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo.
Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Two new products let you invest in companies led by female executives. Whether this is a good idea depends on what you hope to achieve.

On Thursday, Barclays is launching a new index and exchange-traded note (WIL) that lets retail investors buy shares — at $50 a pop — of a basket of large U.S. companies led by women, including PepsiCoPEPSICO INC. PEP -0.0972% , IBMINTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINES CORP. IBM 0.1563% , and XeroxXEROX CORP. XRX 0.3634% . This should be exciting news for anyone disappointed by the lack of women in top corporate roles.

After all, female CEOs still make up less than 5% of Fortune 500 chiefs and less than 17% of board members — despite earning 44% of master’s degrees in business and management.

The new ETN is not the only tool of its kind: This past June, former Bank of America executive Sallie Krawcheck opened an index fund tracking global companies with female leadership — and online brokerage Motif Investing currently offers a custom portfolio of shares in women-led companies.

The big question is whether this type of socially-conscious investing is valuable — either to investors or to the goal of increasing female corporate leadership. Is it wise to let your conscience dictate how you manage your savings? And assuming you care about gender representation in the corporate world, is there any evidence that these investments will actually lead to more diversity?

Here’s what experts and research suggest:

Getting better-than-average returns shouldn’t be your motivation. Beyond the promise of effecting social change, the Barclays and Pax indexes are marketed with the suggestion that woman-led companies tend to do better than peers. It’s true that some evidence shows businesses can benefit from female leadership, with correlations between more women in top positions and higher returns on equity, lower volatility, and market-beating returns.

But correlation isn’t causation, and other research suggests that when businesses appoint female leadership, it may be a sign that crisis is brewing — the so-called “glass cliff.” Yet another study finds that limiting your investments to socially-responsible companies comes with costs.

Taken together, the pros and cons of conscience-based investing seem generally to cancel each other out. “Our research shows socially responsible investments do no better or worse than the broader stock market,” says Morningstar fund analyst Robert Goldsborough. “Over time the ups and downs tend to even out.”

As always, fees should be a consideration. Even if the underlying companies in a fund are good investments, high fees can eat away at your returns. Krawcheck’s Pax Ellevate Global Women’s fund charges 0.99% — far more than the 0.30% fee for the Vanguard Total World Stock Index (VTWSX). Investing only in U.S. companies, the new Barclays ETN is cheaper, with 0.45% in expenses, though the comparable Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO) charges only 0.05% — a difference that can add up over time:

image-29
Note: Projections based on current expenses and a $10,000 investment.

If supporting women is very important to you, you might consider investing in a broad, cheap index and using the money you saved on fees to invest directly in the best female-led companies — or you could simply donate to a non-profit supporting women’s causes.

If you still love this idea, that’s okay — just limit your exposure. There is an argument that supporting female leadership through investments could be more powerful than making a donation to a non-profit. The hope is that if enough investor cash flows to businesses led by women, “companies will take notice” and make more efforts to advance women in top positions, says Sue Meirs, Barclays COO for Equity and Funds Structured Markets Sales in the Americas. If investing in one of these indexes feels like the best way to support top-down gender diversity — and worth the cost — you could do worse than these industry-diversified offerings. “Investing as a social statement can be a fine thing,” says financial planner Sheryl Garrett, “though you don’t want to put all of your money toward a token investment.” Garrett suggests limiting your exposure to 10% of your overall portfolio.

MONEY Travel

7 Great American Vacation Spots (That Won’t Bust Your Budget)

Our mission: to find a geographically diverse group of top U.S. destinations where your summer travel dollars can — with a little bit of planning — go a very long way. Then: recommend particular attractions, eateries, and places to stay that will make the most of your visit without breaking the budget.

Nashville, TN

If Bristol, Tennessee, is the birthplace of American county music, Nashville is where it moved after growing some sideburns (or curves). Soak up live performances any night of the week and spend your days investigating Nashville’s many other artistic, gustatory, and historical delights.

140703_EM_TRAVEL_4
Johnny Cash Museum

Do: During the daytime, get heady on harmonies at the Johnny Cash Museum — where you can see the singer’s handwritten lyrics and Martin guitar ($15 entry) — and the Country Music Hall of Fame, which just underwent a $100 million expansion ($25; $2 off with a visitmusiccity.com coupon). Then hit a Grand Ole Opry live radio show (from $29.50, three days a week) for big names like Blake Shelton, as well as old-school and up-and-coming performers. For a taste of Nashville’s noncountry scene, check out the Stone Fox for the nightly live performances, many with no cover charge, and $1-off happy-hour specials. If visual art is more your speed, you can enjoy works by Goya, Hopper, and Wyeth at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, located in a renovated Art Deco post office ($10), and take tours of 135-year-old letterpress shop Hatch Show Print — during which you make your own print to take home ($15).

Eat: Go for a handmade pasta, like garganelli verdi with heritage pork ragout ($17), at Rolf and Daughters, which opened last year in a 100-year-old factory building in Germantown. Then there’s Pinewood Social, a restaurant/karaoke bar/bowling alley, great for treats like hot sweetbreads ($13) and pork-belly salad ($12). But no matter what else you eat, don’t leave town without trying Prince’s Hot Chicken, which is nothing short of a buttery, crunchy, fiery revelation ($7.65 for a half chicken). It’s a few miles northeast of downtown, on the way back from Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage estate. Newcomer 400 Degrees, near the Hall of Fame, is a close second ($5.86 and up).

Sleep: If your timing is flexible, you can snag discounts at hotels that reward you for longer stays. The Hutton, where rooms typically range from $200 to $300 per night, offers 15% off three-night stays and 20% off four-night stays this summer. Save even more by staying farther from downtown: A new branch of Homewood Suites in the Vanderbilt area, just west of center city, costs 30% less than the downtown Homewood Suites in August — $180 a night compared with $260.

Splurge: Good cowboy boots ain’t cheap, but you can allay the sticker shock by checking out the bargain section of French’s Shoes and Boots. Before bed, grab a nightcap at The Patterson House, a gorgeous speakeasy (and celebrity hangout) serving up class, sass, and incredible cocktails.

 

Portland, OR

Portland has a well-earned hipster rep, but it’s also become a buzzy culinary hotspot. Isn’t it time you went to taste the hype for yourself?

140703_EM_TRAVEL_7
Danita Delimont—Alamy

Do: Get your bearing with a free walking tour from Secrets of Portlandia, billed as a “stand-up comedy about Portland’s history and culture (twice a day through September 3). You’ll get a rundown of various neighborhoods, see the city’s best known street art, get bar and restaurant recommendations, and more. Still feeling a little of that World Cup fever? Get tickets for the Portland Timbers, the popular local Major League Soccer team. Of, if you’re after a more intellectual pursuit, head to Powell’s City of Books, the flagship of the world’s largest independent chain of bookstores. The store is always hosting interesting readings and book clubs, so check the calendar to see what’s on while you’re in town.

Eat: Portland is a foodie favorite known for two things: creativity and affordability. Start your noshing with the city’s famous food carts. Go to Foodcartsportland.com (or download their 99 cent app) to get the scoop on where to find the most mouthwatering options. One to try: Gastro Mania, home of the $8 foie gras burger. Check Under the Table with Jen, a local food blog run by Jen Stevenson, for sit-down eats. For an evening of wine, cheese, and charcuterie, Stevenson recommends Cyril’s: “It has a ‘secret’ patio, and they just added a bocce court.” Finally, don’t leave town without a stop at the legendary Voodoo Doughnuts, one of the originators of the creative doughnut craze.

Sleep: Portland has some great hotels, but if you’re traveling mid-summer, you’re unlikely to find a well-located place for less than $250 a night. For a more affordable option, try the Everett Street Guesthouse, which is an easy walk to many restaurants and cafes and a six-minute drive from downtown. Rooms start $100, including breakfast.

Splurge: If you’ve ever watched IFC’s Portlandia, the Portland-based comedy starting former SNL cast member Fred Armisen and musician Carrie Brownstein, you remember the “Put a Bird On it” sketch. That scene was filmed at Land, a store/gallery that carries a range of affordable gifts and artworks made by local craftspeople. No matter your taste, you’ll likely find a goodie worthy of a spot in your suitcase.

 

Santa Fe/Albuquerque, NM

New Mexico perfectly captures the spirit of the Southwest — and is full of fun, affordable activities. Start in Albuquerque, then drive an hour northeast to Santa Fe, home to one of the most vibrant art scenes in the country.

140703_EM_TRAVEL_6
http://www.visitalbuquerque.com

Do: With among the highest concentrations of Native Americans in the country, New Mexico is a great place to learn about Navajo and Zuni Pueblo culture. In Albuquerque, catch a dance performance and read about the history of the state’s 22 tribal communities at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center ($6 admission). If you’re visiting in August, try to catch the Santa Fe Indian market, where more than 170,000 people gather each year to learn about and buy contemporary Native American arts and crafts. For a dose of 20th century Americana, check out Santa Fe’s Georgia O’Keeffe Museum ($12 for adults, free for youth under 18) — and don’t leave the state without catching a dramatic sunset on North America’s longest aerial tram, the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque ($20).

Eat: Enjoy the kitchy décor and savory diner-food-with-a-twist at Owl Cafe in Albuquerque; try the sumptuous green chili cheeseburger ($5.25) and the onion loaf ($4.95) — a plateful of thin, golden rings piled high. Up in Santa Fe, there’s something for everyone at Harry’s Roadhouse, where the saucy and delicious tacos, burritos, and enchiladas can all be made vegetarian. Generally, top-rated Mexican food abounds, so you just have to remember one rule: Dip those sopapillas in honey.

Sleep: Even nicer hotels in Albuquerque are much less expensive than their counterparts in other cities: The Hotel Parq Central, top-rated on TripAdvisor, charges less than $150 a night for stays in August. Santa Fe is considerably pricier, so go for a bed and breakfast instead, like the whimsically decorated El Paradero Inn, where rooms are available from $155.

Splurge: Take advantage of the hot-but-dry desert weather at the outdoor Santa Fe Opera, which shows original works alongside classics like Carmen. Ticket prices range based on dates and seats from $30 to $300.

 

Long Beach Island, NJ

Don’t be misled by the Jersey Shore GTL stereotype. While there is certainly plenty of fist pumping in some New Jersey beach towns, Long Beach Island is more of an old-school family getaway, complete with salt water taffy, mini-golf, and 18 miles of beach.

140703_EM_travel_1

Do: Climb the 217 steps of the Barnegat Lighthouse for panoramic views of the island and Barnegat Bay ($3 entry fee). You may even be lucky enough to be in town when the lighthouse is open for a “night climb,” which happens just a few times per summer (check the schedule). When you’re ready to hit the water, try a lesson at LBI Surfing. Non-surfers may want to try an SUP—stand-up paddling—class instead. Group lessons are $55 per person. Finally, don’t forget to grab a beach pass; they start at $5 a day.

Eat: You’re on vacation, so eat some fried food. Locals like The Clam Bar in Beach Haven. Try the fried flounder and fry platter for $12.95 or go old school with Clams Casino ($9.95). The line can get long, but you can always call ahead for take-out (and no matter what you do, mind the no cellphone policy!). For another fun indulgence, head to the infamous Chicken or the Egg, once featured on the Man vs. Food show on the Travel Channel. You’ll have plenty of egg dishes to choose from, of course, but the casual eatery is also known for its chicken wings, which come with a choice of 16 sauces.

Sleep: Rather than overpay for a funky beach hotel, look into renting your own place. A recent search of AirBnB turned up 1-bedroom condos starting at $160 per night, and a 4-bedroom cottage for a manageable $190 a night. Bonus: Many rentals come with bikes, grills, and beach chairs.

Splurge: Go to the original Ron Jon Surf Shop, opened in 1961. You know you want a new pair of board shorts or sunglasses, so pick them up at this massive, wonderfully cheesy beach emporium.

 

Yellowstone National Park, WY

America’s national parks are a shared treasure — and Yellowstone is the granddaddy of them all. Check an important item on your domestic bucket list and pitch a tent here.

140703_EM_TRAVEL_5
Neal Herbert—NPS

Do: Swim, hike, and horseback ride through the two-million-plus acres of our country’s first national park, containing the world’s largest collection of geysers and hot springs — which come in every color of the rainbow. Bring binoculars to get the best view of Yellowstone’s wild fauna, including bison, elk, bobcats, coyotes, moose, mountain lions, wolves, and bears. And of course, catch a glimpse of Old Faithful erupting. The park’s $25 entrance fee is good for a week’s stay, and seniors older than 62 (and their families) and military families can get in for free.

Eat: Nothing beats the smell of barbeque mingling with the fresh outdoor air, so cook outside in one of the park’s designated picnic areas for pleasure — and savings. If you need a break, grab a seat in the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, located right next to the famous geyser, and order the smoked bison and pheasant and chicken sausage ($15.95) or make your way to Roosevelt Lodge for some farm-raised trout ($18.75).

Sleep: Hotels and cabins are available within the park, but you should decrease the hit to your wallet and up the excitement by pitching a tent in one of Yellowstone’s tent and RV campgrounds. Whereas a room at the Old Faithful Lodge can go for $124 a night in August, camping sites are only $21. There are five grounds where you can reserve spots online, and seven that are first-come, first-served.

Splurge: Bring along some high-quality thermal underwear — the park is surprisingly cold at night, with average lows in late August dipping below 40 degrees. And if you make any gift shop purchases, avoid this book, unless you want to spend your evenings dreaming about bear attacks.

 

New Orleans, LA

Despite its reputation as a party city, New Orleans is much more than beads and bachelor bacchanals. The city is rich with culture, food, lore, and one of the most American of musical genres — jazz.

140703_EM_TRAVEL_3
Viewminder—Flickr

Do: Get to know New Orleans and its history intimately with one of Free Tours By Foot’s two-hour walking tours, after which you tip the guide whatever you’d like. Start with the French Quarter tour, where you’ll learn about the city’s founding (details are delightfully macabre and salacious) and see historic spots like the Tennessee Williams house. Then branch out with the cemetery or Garden District tours, where you might glimpse a celebrity pet. In the evening, unless you are a dead serious jazz enthusiast, forgo the long line and $30 ticket prices at Preservation Hall and enjoy a live performance at effervescent (and free-of-cover) Fritzel’s.

Eat: Trying the sweet, fluffy beignets at Cafe du Monde ($2.65 for three) is a crucial rite of passage for NOLA visitors, as is ordering a po’boy from one of the city’s many worthy shops. Wash down the grease with the quintessential New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac, at the quintessential New Orleans bar: the Napolean House ($7).

Sleep: Skip chain hotels like the Marriott or Hyatt, where prices typically top $200 a night, and soak up local charm by staying at a family-owned bed and breakfast. At the 1830s Creole-style Bourgoyne Guest House on Bourbon Street (just north of the hubbub) you’ll pay only $95 a night for studios overlooking a quiet inner courtyard. The plates in the attached kitchenette come in handy to collect crumbs from a late-night muffaletta.

Splurge: Reward yourself for hours of walking — or dancing at The Spotted Cat — with dinner at romantic, atmospheric SoBou. An appetizer of sweet potato beignets is fancied up with foie gras fondue, duck debris, and chicory coffee ganache ($12).

 

Chicago, IL

Always one of America’s most exciting cities, Chicago really comes alive in summer, when residents can finally shed all those layers and get out and enjoy their town.

140703_EM_travel_2
Stephanie Lamphere—Flickr

Do: No matter what part of the city you’re itching to explore, you’ll find an intriguing itinerary at ChooseChicago.com. The site runs down a weekly calendar of what’s going on, and suggests routes through 51 different areas. You’ll also find a bevy of free activities throughout the city this summer, including 30 concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. For more culture, seek out one of the dozens of shows put on by small theater companies every weekend. Tickets usually range from $15 to $35 and Chicagoreader.com offers current listings. Finally, no one with even a passing interest in America’s Game should skip Wrigley Field. Check the schedule and get tickets—some at as little as $20—at the Cubs’ website.

Eat: Start with the classic: a Chicago-style hot dog topped by sport peppers, tomato slices, and bright green relish from Hot Doug’s on the North Side. Or, for the type of neighborhood joint locals love, Stephanie Callahan, of food blog Stephanie Eats Chicago, suggests Home Bistro in Lakeview. “It’s a cozy, BYOB place that always has the best ingredients and freshest flavors,” she says. Want a $20 a person dinner (including tax and tip)? Get away from the downtown Loop for a range of ethnic food, including Mexican, Indian and Vietnamese.

Sleep: Hotels in the city center are pricey in summer, but you can save by choosing a B&B. Check out options in Chicago’s North Side neighborhoods, such as Andersonville, Old Town, or Wicker Park. The Wicker Park Inn, for instance, has rooms in July for $159 a night and occasionally offers special rates as low as $99.

Splurge: Reward yourself for a day of serious sightseeing with an al fresco cocktail at Shanghai Terrace, in the Peninsula Hotel. A Green Tea Mojito or Sour Cherry Old Fashion goes down even easier with a cool breeze and sweeping skyline view.

Need more ideas for summer sojourns? Take our quiz: Which Movie Matches Your Travel Style — and Dream Destination?

 

 

MONEY 401(k)s

Get the Most From Your 401(k) at Any Age

To get the most out of your retirement savings, put the right amount in and take the right steps at all stages of life. Here's some advice to follow, whether you're just starting out or further down your career path.

 

Millennials

Millennials Start small, then auto-escalate. Less than half of workers ages 22 to 32 are saving for retirement, despite how painless it can be. Socking away 3% of a $50,000 salary ($1,500 before taxes) costs you less than $22 a week in take-home pay. Then take baby steps by auto- escalating your savings by one percentage point a year. In plans with auto-enroll and a 1% auto-escalate feature, nine in 10 participants are able to safely generate 60% of their age-64 income, adjusted for inflation, according to EBRI.

Take the easy way out. More than two in five millennials in retirement plans aren’t familiar with their investment options. No problem: Just go with a target-date fund, which automatically adjusts your portfolio to be less risky as you age. The worst-performing target-date investors at Vanguard earned 11.8% annually over the past five years, far outpacing the worst DIYers, who gained just 2.1%.

Roll over as you go. Twentysomethings typically spend 1.3 years at each job. And Fidelity says nearly half cash out 401(k)s when leaving. That triggers income taxes and a 10% penalty, depleting the amount that can compound. The box shows what that really costs you.

Gen Xers

Gen Xers Keep the bottom line top of mind. A funny thing about investing: The more you save and the bigger your balance, the more fees you have to pay in dollar terms. So now that your account has some serious money, shifting to lower-cost options such as an index fund is an easy way to save big (see chart). If you have $100,000 saved by 40 and underlying returns average 7%, the savings by 65 of switching from a 1.2%-fee fund to 0.3% is $102,000—nearly a whole second nest egg.

Shoot for 17%. How much you need to save depends on how much you already have. But 17% is a good mental anchor. That’s the number Wade Pfau of the American College of Financial Services came up with for folks starting from scratch at 35, with a 60% stock/40% bond portfolio, to safely fund a typical retirement goal. You might be okay saving less if the markets go your way, but Pfau’s number is what it takes to get there even with poor returns. That’s far more than the average 401(k) contribution of around 6% to 7%. But take a deep breath. That number includes the contributions from your employer.

Resist the urge to borrow. About 22% of participants between 35 and 54 in plans run by ­Vanguard have borrowed from their retirement accounts. Compared with other forms of debt, a 401(k) loan isn’t the worst. But the amount that you borrow is money that’s not compounding tax-deferred.

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers Save in bursts. Neither saving nor spending runs along a smooth path. For example, you may have to pare back savings while paying the kids’ college bills. The good news is that “after 50 is when people should be able to save the most, as their kids are moving out, they’ve paid off the mortgage, and they should be in the highest earnings years of their lives,” says economist Wade Pfau. Starting at 50, you can also make extra 401(k) contributions of up to $5,500, on top of the normal $17,500.

Prep for the spend-down phase. Once you retire, you’ll have to spend out of your nest egg regardless of market conditions. Even if stocks do well on average, a bad run early on can deplete your portfolio. So “start taking a couple percent of equities off the table every year in the five or 10 years leading up to retirement,” says financial adviser Michael Kitces.

Readjust your target. According to polls, Americans expect to retire around 66. But the actual age of retirement is 62. Things happen: You may run into health issues or be forced into early retirement. Now many 401(k) savers use target-date funds. As you gain more visibility on your own retirement date, adjust the ­target-date fund you use. As the chart shows, it can make a big difference. Notes: Cash-out growth assumes a 5% annual return. Fee calculations are based on total costs, including forgone gains. sources: Morningstar, T. Rowe Price, SEC, MONEY research

MONEY Taxes

Same-Sex Couples Need a Good Accountant More Than Ever

Just Married car with flowers
James Baigrie—Getty Images

Now that the IRS recognizes gay marriages, all newlyweds have to tackle new tax rules come filing time.

Soon after last June’s Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the IRS ruled that same-sex couples legally married in any state must file federally as married, starting with the 2013 tax year. That holds true even if you live in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

So gay couples getting married this year will have to decide whether to file jointly or separately next April. Or if you were married last year or earlier and filed for an extension for 2013, you have until Oct. 15 to sort this out. “Most married people are better off filing a joint return,” says CPA Paul Herman of White Plains, N.Y. That’s because married couples filing separately miss out on a bunch of write-offs, including educational tax credits, the student loan interest deduction, and the ability to claim child- and dependent-care costs.

In a few circumstances—say if one spouse makes far less and qualifies for a generous write-off like the deduction for medical expenses—filing separately might lower your tax bill. Test both methods to be sure, says Herman.

Switching from two single returns to one joint return could raise or lower your total tax bill, so you may want to adjust how much is taken out of your paycheck by filing an updated Form W-4 with your employer. If marriage means a name change, alert the Social Security Administration well before you file your taxes to ward off a potential problem with your return.

Long-married gay couples may want to look into amending past federal returns, if you haven’t already. You can do so for up to three years after the return was filed, or two years after the tax was paid, whichever is later. But high earners are probably better off keeping those old single returns, says Melville, N.Y., CPA David Frisch. That group can be hit by the “marriage penalty,” which subjects more of your income to taxes than if you filed as two singles.

Also, the IRS rules do not apply to state tax returns. If you live in a state that doesn’t recognize gay marriage, you will still have to file an individual state return for each spouse. The laws are still a patchwork (and one that frequently changes), as this map from the Tax Institute at H&R Block shows.

State laws for same-sex marriage
H&R Block

 

What’s more, as this report from the Tax Foundation illustrates, in those states that don’t recognize gay marriage, the rules for how to figure your state taxes vary widely. Bottom line: When you get back from your honeymoon, call your accountant.

 

MONEY Markets

The Real Reason You Should Care About Insider Trading

Martha Stewart leaving court after conviction
Businesswoman Martha Stewart, 62 leaves federal court in New York City on March 5, 2004. Stewart was found guilty on all counts over a suspicious stock sale. Jeff Christensen—Reuters

A new study suggests insider trading is even more rampant than anyone thought. But it's not so obvious why individuals should be concerned.

Between Michael Lewis’s takedown of high-frequency traders in Flash Boys and a new study finding that one in four M&A deals are preceded by insider trading, Wall Street’s public image is looking more “sell” than “buy” these days.

But how much does insider trading actually harm the average Joe? Even if Gordon Gekkos are running amok, do cheaters pose a real threat to those who play by the rules? The answer might surprise you.

1. Insider trading won’t hurt you if you don’t trade. Just like front-running high-frequency traders, those who trade on secret information are unlikely to hurt the portfolios of buy-and-hold investors, says Rick Ferri, founder of Portfolio Solutions.

In theory, an individual who frequently trades could be unlucky and end up buying or selling just as market-riggers are doing the opposite. But holding a diversified portfolio of stocks over long periods of time dilutes that damage; if you hold an index fund for a decade, you’d likely lose no more than pennies from trading inequities, says Ferri. “Getting upset about insider trading is like getting upset about the NFL draft,” says Ferri. “It makes for juicy headlines, but unless you’re a professional, it’s not really going to affect you.”

2. Insider trading could even help you. The presence of cheaters in the market could, coincidentally, benefit uninformed investors who just happen to land on the right side of a trade, says Santa Clara University finance professor Meir Statman, who has studied investor perceptions of insider trading. Let’s say you need to sell a stock in a company to free up cash, says Statman: If that happens to coincide with an insider trading-driven run-up before the company announces a merger or acquisition, you could actually win out.

3. Nevertheless, these cheaters are destroying the American Dream. Pundits have used the points above to argue that insider trading should be legalized. But the so-called “victimless crime” claims at least one victim, says Statman: confidence in the market. “A belief in fair play is part of good American culture,” says Statman. “The stock market is supposed to be an emblem of the American Dream: the belief that if you work hard and do your research, you’ll be rewarded. It’s not supposed to feel like the lottery.”

In his research, Statman has found that people living in economies riddled with more corruption, like India and Italy, are twice as likely as Americans to deem insider trading acceptable.

insider
Meir Statman, “Is It Fair? Perceptions of Fair Investment Behavior across Countries,” Journal of Investment Consulting, 2011.

There are a few key takeaways: If we want to keep our markets fair, it’s important that cheaters are caught and punished. But news headlines shouldn’t prevent you from investing, as long as you do it wisely — with diversified index funds and minimal trading. “Trading is like going into the jungle,” says Statman.

“There will always be beasts who are larger than you and thus able to devour you,” he says. “So go in as rarely as possible.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,425 other followers