MONEY

3 Stupidly Simple Ways to Make Sure You Never Ever Pay ATM Fees

Bankrate ATM fees
Image Source—Getty Images

A new Bankrate report shows that the cost of using an out-of-network ATM is growing. Here's how to avoid those charges completely.

Using an ATM that’s not run by your bank will now cost you about as much as a latte at Starbucks.

Consumers now fork over, on average, $4.35 per transaction on out-of-network ATMs, according to Bankrate.com’s just-released 17th annual checking survey. That’s a 5% jump over last year and a 23% increase over the past five years.

“ATM fees have been going up for a long time,” says Bankrate’s chief financial analyst Greg McBride. “It’s low hanging fruit for the banks.”

The fee you pay for these types of transactions comes from two sources: The ATM owner charges you a surcharge for using the machine, and your bank charges you for going out of network. The former fee advanced 7% to $2.77, while the latter climbed 3% to $1.58.

Together these costs add up to a decent chunk of change: One trip to a non-sanctioned ATM a month costs more than $50 a year.

For consumers, this is a completely unnecessary outlay, however.

“There are steps people can take to avoid ATM fees, regardless of how long they keep rising,” says McBride. “Plenty of people out there not paying fees at all.”

1. Have a Treasure Map in Hand

Download your bank’s mobile app, if you haven’t already. Chances are it contains a feature that lets you see nearby branch or ATMs that won’t charge a fee.

Make a habit of checking before you stick your card into somebody else’s ATM—there may be a cheaper option closer than you think.

2. Get Cash Where You Buy Your Groceries

Many stores—including pharmacies and supermarkets—allow you get cash back at the point of sale. If you’re getting something, why not also make a habit of getting cash on these trips, since this basically functions as a free ATM withdrawal.

3. Go with a Bank that Won’t Punish You

Not the type to remember to use your bank’s ATM? You might want to trade in your brick-and-mortar bank for an online one. Ally and Schwab do not charge you to use another bank’s ATM (since these institutions don’t have their own) and they will reimburse you for any ATM fees.

And since digital financial institutions don’t service branches, fees tend to be lower and you can even receive interest on your checking account. Ally currently offers 0.10% on balances under $15,000. In a way, you could say they’re paying you to use another bank’s ATM.

MONEY portfolio strategy

Why Rats, Cats, and Monkeys are Smarter than Investors

Ms. Kleinworth goes short in the Treasury Bond market.
Ms. Kleinworth goes short in the Treasury Bond market. Nora Friedel—RatTraders.com

A performance artist in Austria piles on to the case against "active management" by finding yet another animal that seems to invest better than humans.

An Austrian performance artist claims to be breeding and training rats to be able to beat the investment returns of highly educated and paid professional investors.

The artist, Michael Marcovici, says he trained the rodents to trade in foreign exchange and commodities. He did so by converting market information into sounds and rewarded the rats with food when they predicted price movements correctly and inflicted a small electric shock when they didn’t. (If only hedge fund managers could be compensated in similar fashion.) The rats are placed in a Skinner Box with a speaker, red and green lights, a food dispenser and an electrical floor to deliver the shock.

Marcovici says rats can be trained in three months, are able to learn any segment of the market and “outperform most human traders.” This may seem like an outlandish claim, but this kind of thing isn’t altogether new.

UK’s The Observer held a challenge in 2012 between a “a ginger feline called Orlando,” a pack of schoolchildren and a few wealth and fund managers to see which could produce the biggest returns over the course of the year.

The cat won.

Long before Orlando’s victory, Princeton economist Burton Malkiel wrote that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s financial pages could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts,” in his book “A Random Walk Down Wall Street.”

Add this to the overwhelming evidence that largely unmanaged index funds — that simply buy and hold all the securities in a market — often outperform professional stock pickers.

Just this month S&P Dow Jones Indices Versus Active funds scorecard for the first six months of the year, which showed that 60% of actively managed domestic large cap funds underperformed their benchmarks.

That’s in addition to 58% of domestic mid-cap and 73% of small cap funds losing out. If you extend the record out five years, more than “70% of domestic equity managers across all capitalization and style categories failed to deliver higher returns than their respective benchmarks.”

What does this mean for your portfolio? As Morningstar.com’s John Rekenthaler noted in a recent article, active funds may not have much of a future.

Passively managed mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, Rekenthaler points out, enjoyed 68% of the net sales for U.S. ETFs and mutual funds over the past year. That leaves 32% for active funds. Meanwhile, target-date funds account for $30 billion of the $134 billion in inflows for active funds over the past 12 months. Even on this front, passive target date funds sales are growing.

In fact, the only real growth area for actively managed funds are in so-called alternatives that invest in things like currencies and that charge annual fees of close to 2% of assets. That’s a lot of cheese.

You’re generally better off staying clear of professional security pickers.

No, this doesn’t mean you should find a rat, cat, or monkey to manage your 401(k). Instead, go the passive index route and select three basic building block funds from our MONEY 50 selection (like say Vanguard Total Bond Market Index, Schwab Total Stock Market Index and Vanguard Total International Stock Index) and you can achieve basic diversification at a price that won’t make you as poor as a church mouse.

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why I’m a Millennial Parenting Cliché

140919_FF_DadBlog_LukeTepper
Luke Tepper

More proof that I’m just like everyone else my age — and you probably are too.

Mrs. Tepper and I like to play a game from time to time that I imagine captivates most new parents. It’s called, “What Will My Child Be Like?”

Our clairvoyant visions alter slightly whenever we play, but recent examples include: a painter, a guitarist, and an astrophysicist (in the Neil deGrasse Tyson mold.)

In short: a creative type. That seven-month-old Luke currently has an imagination consumed by putting any and all things (especially wires and stroller wheels) as far into his mouth as possible doesn’t really matter. Right now, in these glorious months when he can’t tell us what he wants, we are free to speculate on what kind of person he might become. Of course our projections say more about ourselves than him.

Parents everywhere — no matter race, religion, education or age — place greater importance on teaching responsibility and hard work to their children than any other values, per a recent Pew Research Center survey. But when you peer into the data and look at less obviously appealing characteristics, you see just how similar your values are to other people like you.

Take creativity. As shown above, my wife and I care about creativity. Well so do most millennials, per Pew. In fact 78% of parents aged 18-to-29 believe creativity is an important characteristic to instill, six percentage points higher than parents aged 30-to-64. More than one-in-six of people in my age bracket view creativity as one of the most important traits to teach their child.

Religious faith also highlights how similar the Teppers are to other millennials. We spend our Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays immersed in all sorts of activities – from laundry to playtime at the park to consuming Korean barbeque. Of all the locales in Brooklyn that you might find us on a weekend, a church, synagogue, or mosque doesn’t make the list. Only four-in-10 millennials believe religious faith is a value especially important to teach children, 15 percentage points lower than parents between 30-to-64, and 25 points below parents older than 65.

The survey also distinguishes respondents by education – from college graduates to those who have some college education to people who have a high school diploma or less. Everyone values responsibility, independence, hard work, and good manners. College graduates, though, de-emphasize obedience and prioritize curiosity, persistence, and empathy. (Although all three groups rate helping others as important.)

I don’t know why parents of a certain race, age, educational achievement, or religion view one character trait as more important than another. Everyone, it seems, values good ol’ fashioned American hard work and responsibility. Why a secular, college-educated millennial, though, weighs persistence more heavily than obedience is better answered by social scientists.

What I do know is that the value I assign to these traits illuminates some parental wish fulfillment. Often I yearn for the ability to play Chopin or explain black holes with dexterity and wit. I think I’d be a better person if I were only a bit more curious or empathetic for my neighbors. I can, sort-of, right that wrong with Luke.

But this is a fool’s errand. I know I haven’t been in charge for long, but how do you teach your kid creativity? What does that even mean? What would that look like?

Parents simply have less control over the people our children become than we like to think as Judith Harris argued in her book, The Nurture Assumption.

As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in a New Yorker review of Harris in 1998:

If adolescents didn’t want to be like adults, it was because they wanted to be like other adolescents. Children were identifying with and learning from other children, and Harris realized that once you granted that fact all the conventional wisdom about parents and family and child-rearing started to unravel.

I think parents often fail to remember how little influence their parents actually had on their development. And so as soon as we become parents we imagine all the great things our child will become with only a slight nudge or word of encouragement from mom and dad. If we “teach” creativity, then he will become creative.

There’s a reason that I chose to believe the fantasy. This indulgence in harmless fan fiction shields me from the terrifying reality that before long my seven-month-old infant will be 17 and too big for my arms.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

MONEY The Economy

China is Slowing. What If Its Housing Bubble Bursts?

Even if the real estate market in the world's second-biggest economy were to collapse, the repercussions may not be bad as you think.

While global investors covet China’s growth — as evidenced by the buzz surrounding Alibaba’s IPO — the Chinese economy is actually slowing down.

In 2013, the world’s second largest economy grew at an annual rate of 7.7%. By 2015, according to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, that will drop to 7.3%. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy’s growth rate is projected to increase by almost one percentage point.

What’s going on? Well, China’s industrial production gains in August slowed to their lowest level since 2008 and retail sales growth declined by a few percentage points year-over-year.

Perhaps most important, the nation’s newly built home prices only grew by 2.5% in July, after surging by 10% at the beginning of the year.

The notion of a housing crisis in an economy more than three times the size of France brings back flashbacks of 2008 and probably a few chills down every investor’s spine.

“A property price crash in the world’s second largest economy would have global implications,” says Wells Fargo Securities economist Jay Bryson.

But those global implications wouldn’t be as worrisome as the U.S. housing collapse six years ago, per Bryson. Here’s why.

The Worst Case

To play out this thought experiment you have to assume that at some point in the near future China’s home prices will experience a decline on the order of what the U.S. experienced over the past decade. (Bryson played out this scenario in a recent report.)

Currently, residential investment makes up a pretty decent portion of the Chinese economy – about 10% of nominal GDP. To put that in context, that ratio was closer to 6% for the U.S. in 2006.

So housing is a big deal in China. If they experienced a value decline like we did, Bryson estimates that would lop off about one percentage point of growth. But the pain wouldn’t stop there.

A collapse in housing prices would result in fewer construction jobs – estimated at around 60 million people in urban China. Jobless workers would spend less, which means that those goods and services the now-unemployed construction workers would normally purchase would not get bought.

If out-of-work construction workers reduce their spending on food and entertainment, the businesses that produce that food and entertainment will make less money and then some of their workers may face unemployment too. Since my spending is your income, lower spending means people have less money in their paychecks, and the nation’s GDP suffers.

Moreover, if housing goes in the tank, banks will see losses, which means they’ll tighten credit, resulting in fewer loans for people to start businesses.

Let’s not forget the actual homeowners. If home prices fall, homeowners’ equity declines as well. (See: Sell, Short). And when people’s chief asset is suddenly worth a lot less, they’re not going to spend as much on other, discretionary items. “Although the lack of data makes it impossible to quantify the wealth effect in China, researchers have found that there is a statistically significant direct relationship in the United States between changes in wealth and changes in consumer spending,” per Bryson’s report.

Lower demand from China means that countries which sell goods to China (think Chile and Australia) will sell less stuff. As corporate profits are squeezed, a global bear market may result.

“Although China may not be as important to global economic growth as the United States, the global economy clearly would not be immune to a major property market downturn in China,” says Bryson.

The Not-So-Bad Case

Freaked out? Breathe deep and take solace in the fact that despite this potentially harrowing dénouement, the world probably wouldn’t endure another global financial crisis. And that’s thanks to responsible Chinese borrowers.

Chinese households usually have to put a lot more money down – 30% on their first home, up to 60% for an individual’s second – than Americans. So if prices were to decline substantially, Chinese homeowners would be in a much better position than Americans back in 2007 to deal with the crisis. For example, household debt-to-disposable income has grown substantially in China since 2007, but it’s still about one-third the size of U.S. households back in 2007.

The world will also feel less of a pinch. When mortgages started going bad in the U.S., foreign financial institutions lost close to $750 billion of the more than $2 trillion in write-downs resulting from the crash. That was because foreign banks owned a lot of U.S. mortgage-backed securities. Not so here. “Chinese mortgages are generally held by Chinese financial institutions in the form of whole mortgages.” So if prices were to drop, Chinese banks would suffer while U.S. one’s most likely wouldn’t.

Lastly, the Chinese government wouldn’t sit on its hands while its economy came crashing down. Beijing’s debt-to-GDP ratio is around 15%, so it has a lot of room to recapitalize its banks if needed.

So what’s an investor to do?

“I don’t lose sleep at night worrying about China, nor should other people,” says Bryson. “But they may want to keep an eye on it.”

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why Millennials Should Have Kids—and Soon

Luke Tepper
Yes, he costs a ton, but he's worth it.

There are plenty of financial and lifestyle reasons to not have a child, but there are also costs to delaying or forgoing, notes MONEY reporter and first-time dad Taylor Tepper.

I finally realized that I’m no longer in charge of my own life a few of weeks ago.

It was a Tuesday at 9:45 p.m. I had arrived home from work at 7:30, just as my wife was putting our son to sleep.

I cooked dinner for the two of us. We ate together on our small dining room table and then spent the rest of the night preparing for tomorrow. Mrs. Tepper collected Luke’s toys and straightened up around the house while I programmed the coffee maker and started to load the dishwasher… only to discover that we were out of soap. Sigh.

I jabbed my feet into my slippers. The dishes needed to be washed, so I found myself headed outside in my pajamas.

As I plodded to my neighborhood grocery store, it dawned on me that I wasn’t running this chore because I wanted to, but because our delicate family ecosystem demanded that the dishes get washed at night. Otherwise, the milk bottles and containers wouldn’t be ready by the morning, meaning my wife wouldn’t be able to pump at work and my son wouldn’t be able to eat.

This two-hour spell of cleaning, organizing, and readying felt like the actualization of a Millennial nightmare.

I had handed over the keys to my liberty to an infant. Before Luke was born, I could sleep all morning, grab a pint whenever I wanted or fly around the country to visit friends. I could quit my job, write a novel, start an artisanal pickled beet company or simply toss a Frisbee in the park all day.

Those days are over. Full stop. But the real question is: Would I ever want them back?

The opportunity cost of having kids

Most people of my generation aren’t like me. In fact, just over one-in-four Millennials tied the knot between the ages of 18 to 32, according to Pew Research Center. That’s 10 percentage points lower than Gen Xers at a similar point in their lives in 1997 and more than 20 points below Baby Boomers in 1980.

Further, research by Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania’s Stewart Friedman seems to indicate that the majority of my peers aren’t interested in kids. Friedman’s study looked at the views Generation Xers had toward bearing children as they graduated college in 1992 and Millennials in 2012. Almost eight in 10 Gen Xers said they planned to reproduce, Friedman found, compared to only 42% of Millennials.

Parenthood comes with a price that Millennials may not be eager to pay. According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it will cost middle-income moms and dads an average $245,340 to raise one child up to age 18—a stunningly large figure for those who are already burdened by student debt and who graduated into a nasty Recession.

It doesn’t help that America is one of two countries without any kind of paid maternity leave and childcare is very expensive.

Another factor that might dissuade Y women: Mothers who alter their career paths to care for their children can lose out on a lot of potential income. Economist Bryan Caplan pegs the opportunity cost as high as $1 million.

And, of course, there are the non-financial opportunity costs of bearing children: less freedom, less time, and less sanity.

The payoff of having kids early

I understand all of this. I’m living it. My wife and I spend the vast amount of our weekends doing the laundry, sweeping, mopping, shopping and organizing. We schlep and push and haul all day long. Not to mention the $1,600 a month we’re giving to someone else to care for our child. We could have put that money toward a dream vacation, a starter home… or alcohol.

But conceiving a family in your 20s comes with certain advantages. For instance when Luke leaves the nest, my wife and I will be in our mid-40’s and just entering our peak earning years. That means while he’s off at college, we can power save to boost our retirement portfolio.

Plus, you’re more likely to have flexibility at work in your 20s, since you probably have a more junior position with less responsibility. The higher up you get on the food chain, the tougher it is to leave early to go to a parent-teacher conference or soccer game (or so my older colleagues tell me).

There’s also the fact that your ability to actually conceive children decreases as you age, per the Mayo Clinic, while the risks of complication—from C-sections to pregnancy loss—increase in your mid-to-late 30’s. And complications typically mean more money for health expenses.

Look, there are many reasons not to have a child. You may simply not want one—and that’s fine.

But to dismiss the idea of raising a child, or raising him now as opposed to ten years in the future, because you haven’t yet traveled the world or written that magnum opus slightly misses the point of it all. When you raise a child, especially with someone you’ve committed your life to, your self-interest becomes tied up in theirs.

To put it another way, what a lot of people don’t think about is that there’s an opportunity cost to deciding not to have a child: You don’t get to experience the sublime joy of yielding your wants and desires for the happiness of the people you love.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

MONEY Jobs report

How the Fed Will React to Today’s Surprising Jobs News

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altrendo images—Getty Images

The fact that employers created fewer jobs than expected in August only emboldens the Federal Reserve to keep rates low for the time being.

The Fed is unlikely to raise interest rates this year — and not just because of Friday’s disappointing jobs report.

Though the economy fell short of adding 200,000 jobs in August — as it had in the six prior months — the unemployment rate remains at a better-than-expected 6.1%. Consumer confidence, meanwhile, rose in August and the economy grew by a robust 4.2% last quarter.

Many have long-waited for the time when the economy picks up and the Federal Reserve raises interest rates along with it. Even the presidents of the St. Louis and Philadelphia Federal Banks recently said the nation’s central bank should raise interest rates sooner than expected thanks to job gains and slightly rising inflation.

But given muted inflation and the growing concerns in Europe — where the economy threatens to slip back into recession and central bankers are still slashing rates in a desperate attempt to jumpstart business activity in the region — Fed chair Janet Yellen was unlikely to act soon. And today’s Labor Department report, showing that only a modest 142,000 jobs were created in August, only reinforces this.

Jobs

The unemployment rate has already dropped more than half a percentage point this year.

US Unemployment Rate Chart

US Unemployment Rate data by YCharts

But that’s just one way to look at the labor market. Another is the labor force participation rate. Since younger Americans tend to go school, and Baby Boomers are beginning to retire en masse, you can look at the participation rate for workers between the ages of 25 to 54. Before the recession almost 80% of those Americans were working or looking for a job. Now, 77% are. To put that into perspective, 81% of prime aged workers in France participate in the labor force.

Another, more inclusive, employment metric is the so-called U-6 rate of unemployment — which includes unemployed workers, Americans who want to work but have stopped looking for a job, and part-time workers who’d rather put in full-time hours. The U-6 rate has dropped from about 17% after the recession to 12% now, but that’s still close to four percentage points higher than before 2008.

u-6

Here’s Yellen from her Jackson Hole speech a couple of weeks ago:

At nearly 5% of the labor force, the number of such workers is notably larger, relative to the unemployment rate, than has been typical historically, providing another reason why the current level of the unemployment rate may understate the amount of remaining slack in the labor market.

Inflation

Despite predictions of increased inflation thanks to unorthodox monetary policy, deflation has been a bigger concern since the recession than inflation. Nevertheless, some central bank officials are still worried about an unexpected rise in prices thanks to an improving jobs situation and want to head off that potential rise with higher interest rates.

As Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser said on a Bloomberg Radio interview, “I would rather us get started raising rates sooner and raise them more gradually than put them off and have to raise them very quickly.”

The Congressional Budget Office disagrees. The non-partisan agency predicted that over the next 10 years inflation will only rise around 2% a year, in a recent report. “CBO anticipates that prices will rise at a modest pace over the next several years reflecting slack in the economy and widely held expectations for low and stable inflation.”

Right now core inflation, according to the Federal Reserve’s preferred measurement, grew by 1.5% in July over the previous 12 months. That’s well below the Fed’s target rate of 2%.

Europe

Depressed Americans need only look across the pond to see how badly our recovery could be going. The Euro zone area experienced no growth in the second three months of 2014. Combine that with ultra-low inflation and you have the recipe for economic stagnation. Even the vaunted German economy stalled.

This three-year experience of little economic traction follows the European Central Bank’s decision to raise interest rates in 2011 during the sovereign debt crisis in order to fight inflation. Quash it they did. Prices recently rose by an annual rate of only 0.3% in August in the 18-country Euro zone, prompting ECB President Mario Draghi (who wasn’t in charge back then) to drop interest rates to an all-time low of 0.05%.

Eventually American consumers will see raises and go off and spend that extra cash. Demand will not stay depressed forever, and the Fed will one day raise interest rates. That decision, though, is more likely to be later than sooner.

MONEY

24 Things to Do With $10,000 Now

$10,000 bundle
Grafissimo—Getty Images

Got 10Gs burning a hole in your bank account or withering away in your 401(k)? Here's how to deploy that money wisely.

1. Stash your cash in a CD. Really.
Believe it or not, putting a portion of your emergency fund into a CD looks like a decent idea. Synchrony (née GE Capital Retail) Bank offers 1.05% for a 12-month CD of $10,000. Meanwhile, a one-year Treasury yields 0.11%. And Vanguard’s Short-Term Investment Grade bond fund returned 2.6% over the past year, which is not a lot of compensation for the greater risk.

2. Write the book that will launch your career
Julia Child’s first cookbook helped turn her into a star. Follow her recipe, but get to the table faster by self-publishing. You can hire an editor, designer, and formatting expert for some $6,000 via BiblioCrunch.com; use the rest of the $10K to pay a publicist.

3. Create a D.I.Y. home theater
The average home theater costs $26,000. But Dave Pedigo of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association helped MONEY put together this one for under 10 grand, with wiggle room for extras like 3-D glasses, movies, and a gaming console.

Seats: Novo Home Viewpoint (around $1,400)
Screen: LG’s 55-inch LED TV ($3,300) or Stewart Filmscreen ($1,200 to $1,500) plus Epson 5030UB projector ($2,499).
Sound system: Sonos Playbar ($699) plus Sub subwoofer ($699) and a pair of Play:1 speakers ($199 each)
Concessions: Nostalgia Electrics vintage popcorn maker ($370) and Avanti’s 3.1-cubic-foot stainless- steel beverage cooler (around $230).

4. Go to the jungle
Traveling with four or more gets expensive fast. But a trip to Ecuador can help you stretch your budget. Since the opening of a new international airport in Quito, airlines have instated new routes to the city and are offering roundtrip flights from the East Coast for as low as $400, says Smartertravel.com’s Anne ­Banas. G Adventures was recently advertis­ing a nine-day tour of the country, including a visit to the Amazon jungle and hot springs, for $1,599 a person, down from the usual $1,999.

5. Give like Gates
Create your own mini version of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—without administrative hassles or billions of bucks—by opening a donor-advised fund. Fidelity lets you start one with as little as $5,000. You don’t have to decide which charity gets the money right away, “so you can be more intentioned about the giving,” says Burlingame, Calif., wealth adviser Sean Stannard-Stockton. But you get to write off up to 50% of your income this year—which is especially valuable when you’re at your peak earnings.

6-8. Snap up an income property
In some locales, a $10,000 down payment gets you a three-bedroom home that will rent for twice your mortgage payment. “For a strong pool of renters, jump into a market with a big student population,” says Daren Blomquist of RealtyTrac. Here are three:

Income property

 

9-10. Put Paul Bunyan in your portfolio
A tighter labor market may ramp up wages and lead to higher prices. Stocks can help you hedge, but for an unexpected support, try trees. Timber is a commodity, so it rises with inflation. Also, it’s used to make houses, and housing prices rise when investors seek shelter in hard assets. Global investment firm GMO predicts that timber will be the best-performing asset class over the next seven years, with gains of 5.4% annually after inflation, vs. 2.1% for high-quality stocks and 0.5% for U.S. bonds. Get your lumber through the Guggenheim Timber ETF CLAYMORE ETF TST 2 GUGGENHEIM TIMBER ETF CUT -0.7336% and ­iShares Global Timber and Forestry ISHARES TRUST S&P GLOBAL TIMBER & FORESTR WOOD 0.0363% .

11. Lock in a great deal on a ski vacation
Ski resorts are eager to get people to book early, before there’s a sense of what kind of winter it will be, says Leigh Crandall, managing editor of Jetsetter.com. For example, Ski Holidays Canada recently offered a 10-day 2015 hotel and ski package in Banff, Alberta, for $4,000 for a family of four, about 40% off the regular rate. Flights to the Calgary airport from the East Coast start at $500 a person in January.

12-14. Get your house ready to sell
If you want to sell next spring, focus on amping up curb appeal, starting now. For $10,000, you could revamp the plantings. Replace what’s along the foundation with a mix of evergreen shrubs of different textures ($2,000 to $4,000), add beds of colorful perennials with different bloom times ($500 and up) and put ornamental trees at the house’s corners ($500 to $1,500 each). Or paint the exterior, which can help your house sell faster, which usually means a better price, says Pasadena architect and realtor Curt Schultz. Or add, upgrade, or replace a deck or patio—since buyers “like to be able to step right outside onto an outdoor room that feels like part of the house,” says Schultz. You might be able to get a 20-by-40 deck, a 20-by-20 deck with a barbecue or a fire pit built in, or a 10-by-10 patio with a roof for 10Gs.

15. Give your investments a boost
Research has demonstrated that certain stocks—those that regularly grow divi­dends, have stable prices, are undervalued compared with fundamentals, or have re­cent­ly appreciated—tend to outperform. Split your $10,000 among these characteristics as follows:

16. See Europe by boat
The market for travelers who want to explore the continent by boat is growing exponentially, says Colleen McDaniel of CruiseCritic.com, but the launch of two dozen new ships last year has created competition to fill cabins. Recently you could get a seven-night late-fall cruise on the Danube for about $1,500 a ­person (a savings of $1,360). Nonstop flights from the eastern U.S. start at around $1,200. So a little over $10,000 would have a family of four out on the river in style.

17-19. Buy a great used car
Check out these three picks for $10,000 from Patrick Olsen of Cars.com:

  • 2008 Ford Fusion: The roomy Fusion— which is “great for a small ­family running errands around town,” according to ­Olsen—has a V-6 engine and gets about 23 miles per gallon.
  • 2008 Kia Sportage: While no-frills, the Sportage is one of the few quality SUVs at this price point. “It’s good for small-business owners and parents whose kids play sports,” Olsen says.
  • 2007 Toyota Prius: This second-genera­tion Prius “is good for those who have a long commute,” says Olsen. “You’ll save a lot of money on gas.” It gets 46 mpg.

20. Practice living in your retirement town
To determine whether a place is really a good fit for you, you need to visit different times of the year and stay for longer periods, suggests Miami financial planner Ellen Siegel. Allocate $10,000 to travel and costs to stay for, say, a month in the summer and a week in the winter. Rent a condo or house in a neighborhood where you want to live and get to know area residents to make the simulation more real.

21. Make yours a chef’s kitchen

Many homebuyers love the industrial looks of pro-style appliances, but a Wolf range can ring in at $10,000 and a Sub-Zero fridge might cost $16,000. And if you invest in one or two high end appliances, but stick with economy versions for the rest, buyers will likely penalize you for that old dishwasher more than they reward you for the gleaming “prosumer” cooktop, real estate agents say. “Still, you don’t need to invest that much to get the professional look in the kitchen,” says Mechanicsburg, Pa., kitchen designer John Petrie, who’s president of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “Moderately priced brands like Jenn-Air, Kitchen Aid, and Whirlpool have jumped on the commercial trend.” So, you can now outfit the entire kitchen—and cook like a semi-pro—for under $10,000.

22. Chase a market sector before it’s over

Since we’re late in the sixth year of the bull market, many analysts think it’s nearing the end. Certain sectors perform well in the last year of a bull run, including energy (34% average returns in last year of bull), health care (27%) and tech (23%), according to research by Ned Davis. Both energy and technology companies have a lower forward p/e than the S&P 500, and are expected to outgrow the market over the next five years. Meanwhile, “the outlook for the health care sector is promising,” says Eddie Yoon, a portfolio manager and research analyst for Fidelity Investments, “based on factors including an aging global population, an expanding middle class in many emerging markets, and a strong product innovation style.” Look to Money 50 funds Sound Shore SOUND SHORE FUND I COM USD0.01 SSHFX -0.1902% , which allocates almost half of its holdings to energy, technology and health care, and Primecap Odyssey Growth PRIMECAP ODYSSEY F TRUST UNIT POGRX -0.3891% , which has two-thirds of its holdings in health care and technology companies.

23. Invest in the frontier
BRICS is so 2012. With emerging markets countries (recent case in point: Russia) struggling to sustain economic growth, it may be time to look toward faster growing smaller countries (like Ghana and Vietnam). These “frontier” nations have been expanding fast: iShares Frontier 100 ISHARES INC MSCI FRONTIER 100 ETF FM -0.656% is up 15% this year, but is still less expensive than the S&P 500. (The MSCI Frontier Index forward p/e is 13.6). Moreover, an index of frontier funds has actually been less volatile over the past 15 years than its emerging markets counterpart, says Morninstar’s Patricia Oey.

24. Sprechen Deutsche
If you work for a firm that does business internationally, becoming fluent in another language may pay off. A second language is correlated to an average 2% to 3% increase in annual income, according to research from Wharton and LECG Europe. Chinese provides the highest return. But if you don’t have it in you to learn an entirely new alphabet—and your company is trying to land clients in Deutschland—try learning German, which is correlated to 4% higher pay. One way to get up to speed: A language vacation. LanguagesAbroad.com offers language immersion programs for travelers in 35 countries. An intensive two-week course with 20 group lessons and 10 private lessons in Berlin is $2200, not including airfare or accommodations. On a $100,000 current salary, it would only take you three years to recoup a $10,000 investment.

Related: 35 Smart Things to Do with $1,000 Now
Tell Us: What Would You Do With $1,000?

 

MONEY Sports

How College Football Sacked the NBA and MLB

Houston football fans singing the National Anthem
Dave Einsel—AP

With the college football season upon us, it's time to take stock of just how valuable this "amateur" sport has become.

Want to know how rabid fans have become for college football?

Well, the season kicks off in earnest tonight when the South Carolina Gamecocks (ranked 9th in the country) take on the Texas A&M Aggies (ranked 21st).

The game will be played in Columbia, South Carolina, in front of 80,000 screaming fans — an amazing feat given that Columbia has a population of just 133,000. The Aggies, for their part, play in Kyle Field, which in 2015 will be able to hold almost every single College Station, Texas, resident.

Last year, the Gamecocks opened with a game against the University of North Carolina, and 3.7 million people across the country tuned in. That may not sound that impressive, but consider that Columbia is just the 77th largest television market in the U.S., behind cities like Omaha and Toledo.

There’s no doubt about it. Americans love football.

More people watched the NFL Sunday Night pregame show last year than watched the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. In fact, professional football games comprised all but four of the 50 most-watched sporting events of 2013. The National Football League is the most popular spectator sport in America.

What’s No. 2? Not the NBA, not Major League Baseball—but college football. And with college football introducing a new-fangled playoff system this year, expect America’s infatuation to only grow.

Here are a few measures of its influence.

Ratings

The 2013 NBA finals featured perhaps the most popular athlete in the world, Lebron James, as his super team battled against the San Antonio Spurs for seven unforgettable games. An average of almost 18 million viewers saw James secure his second NBA title. A few months later, 15 million baseball fans saw the Red Sox win their third championship since 2004.

How many viewers watched Florida State beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS title game? Twenty-six million, per Nielsen ratings.

This isn’t a one-off event. On average, 2.6 million people watched NCAA regular season football games last year, according to Nielsen. Take Saturday, October 5, 2013. Both the University of Georgia and Tennessee were enduring less than stellar seasons. Nevertheless, 5.6 million people tuned in to see the two Southeastern Conference schools play each another on CBS.

Viewer demand is only likely to increase. Starting this year, college football will institute a four-team playoff to decide the national champion, and rejiggered rules allow the biggest football programs more control over their finances. According to USA Today, these developments will lead to the biggest schools earning 71.5% of the $470 million annual television revenue for the playoff.

Baseball and basketball simply don’t attract as many eyeballs. About 700,000 people watched an MLB regular season game on television in 2013, and 1.4 million watched a non-playoff NBA game in the 2012-13 season. (All are based on nationally televised games.)

The total attendance for 835 NCAA Division I football games was a little more than 38 million, with a per-game attendance of 46,000. The NBA, which has almost 400 more total games in its season, drew 21 million people, while the MLB attracted 30,500 per game. (Major League Baseball has almost three times as many games and brought in a total of 74 million fans.)

Reach

Part of college football’s popularity might be its reach. While the NBA and MLB have 30 teams collected mostly around large metropolitan areas, college football programs exist where there are colleges – which is everywhere. Consider that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco have 15 professional baseball and basketball teams. That’s a quarter of all the teams in only four cities.

Now look at NCAA football. The top five teams play in Tallahassee, Tuscaloosa, Eugene, Norman, and Columbus. While it’s true that a number of the West Coast schools play in big cities (UCLA, Stanford, and the University of Washington), most of the big-time schools are the only game in town. If you live in Boise, Idaho, do you really care about anything else the way you care about Boise State Broncos football?

Riches

There is something a bit unsettling about college football’s popularity, and corresponding affluence. A college football coach is the highest paid public employee in 27 states – including South Carolina and Texas. Alabama’s Nick Saban made more than $5.5 million last year, despite the fact that his and every other team’s players weren’t paid anything. (Many were given athletic scholarships, but those can be taken away if a “student-athlete” becomes injured. Just for some perspective: the University of Texas’s football program earned $82 million in profit last year.)

Plus, football is a dangerous game, and it’s an open question whether an institution of higher learning should even be in the business of promoting a sport that causes severe head trauma. (Google: Owen Thomas.)

College football, though, is inexorably linked to American history. The first intercollegiate game took place four years after the end of the Civil War, and the college game itself was saved by then President Teddy Roosevelt.

Otherwise normal, hard-working Americans revert to 20-year-old fanatics every fall Saturday afternoon and cheer on their alma maters. Tonight’s game in Columbia is just another page in the never-ending story of America’s love with her second-favorite sport.

MONEY Investing

13 Things to Do with $100,000 Now

domino stacks of $10,000 bills
Ralf Hettler—Getty Images

Oh, if only six figures landed in your lap tomorrow. Hey, you never know. In case it does—or in case you're lucky enough to have 100 grand put away already—you'll want to have these smart moves in your back pocket.

1. Say “yes” to a master
Unless you live in one of the few areas where the real estate market hasn’t come to life, the decision of whether to move or improve is likely tipped in favor of remodeling, says Omaha appraiser John Bredemeyer. A new bedroom, bath, and walk-in closet may cost you $40,000 to $100,000. But it’s unlikely you’d find a bigger move-in-ready abode with every­thing you want for only that much more, especially after the 6% you’d pay a Realtor to sell your current home.

2. Burn the mortgage
If you’re within 10 years of retiring, paying off your house can be a wise move, says T. Rowe Price financial planner Stuart Ritter. You’ll save a lot of interest—$24,000, if you have a $100,000 mortgage with 10 years left at 4.5%. Eliminating the monthly payment reduces the income you’ll need in retirement. And as long as you’re not robbing a retirement account, erasing a 4.5% debt offers a better return than CDs or high-quality bonds, says Ritter.

3-5. Buy a business in a box
One hundred grand won’t get you a McDonald’s (for that you’ll need 10 or 15 friends to match your investment)—but there are a number of other good franchises you can buy around that price, says Eric Stites, CEO of Franchise Business Review. Here are three that get top raves in his company’s survey of owners:

  1. Qualicare Family Homecare (a homecare services firm)
  2. Window Genie (a window and gutter cleaning service)
  3. Our Town America (a direct mail marketing service)

6. Tack another degree on the wall
On average, someone with a bachelor’s degree earns $2.3 million over a lifetime, vs. $2.7 million for a master’s and $3.6 million for a professional degree. The payoff varies by field: In biology a master’s earns you 100% more, vs. 23% in art. So before applying, find out how much more you could earn a year, research tuition, and determine how long it’ll take you to recoup the investment.

7. Make sure you won’t be broke in retirement
More than half of Americans worry about running out of money in retirement, Bank of America Merrill Edge found. Allay your fears with a deferred-income annuity: You pay a lump sum to an insurance company in exchange for guaranteed monthly payments starting late into retirement. Because some buyers will die before payments start, you get more income than with an immediate annuity, which starts paying right away. A 65-year-old woman who puts $100,000 into an annuity that kicks in at age 85 will get $3,500 a month, vs. $600 for one that starts this year. In the future you could see deferred annuities as an investment option in your retirement plan; the Treasury Department just approved them for 401(k)s.

8. Get a power car that runs on 240v
For just over $100,000 (after a $7,500 tax rebate), you can be the proud owner of an all-electric Tesla Model S P85, with air suspension, tech, and performance extras. Yes, that’s a pretty penny. But you’ll help the planet, eliminate some $4,000 a year in gas bills—and get a ride that gets raves. “The thing has fantastic performance,” says Bill Visnic of Edmunds.com. It goes from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds and drives 265 miles on a charge, which requires only a 240-volt outlet.

9-12. Put hotel bills in your past
Think you missed the window on a vacation-home deal? True, the median price has jumped 39% since 2011, according to the National Association of Realtors. “But while you can’t buy just anything, anywhere, for 100 grand anymore, there are still decent deals out there in appealing ­places,” says Michael Corbett of Trulia.com. Here are four markets where the price of a two-bedroom condo goes for around that amount:

  • Sunset Beach, N.C./$96,000
  • Fort Lauderdale/$116,000
  • Colorado Springs/$117,000
  • Reno/$117,000

13. Tone up your core
The average American saving in a 401(k) has nearly $100,000 put away ($88,600, to be exact, according to Fidelity). With this core money, you’re likely to do better with index funds vs. active funds, says Colorado Springs financial planner Allan Roth. “The stock market is 90% professionally advised or managed, and outside Lake Wobegon, 90% can’t be better than average.” His three-fund portfolio: Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index, Total International Stock Index, and Total Bond Market.

Related: 35 Smart Things to Do With $1,000

Related: 24 Things to Do with $10,000

Tell Us: What Would You Do With $1,000?

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why You Should Bring Your Baby to a Bar

Luke Tepper

And other tips for new parents who are eager to re-enter the adult world.

My wife and I had returned from the hospital 10 days earlier with our new son, Luke, in tow. While every moment of parenting a newborn combines equal parts fear for his safety and surpassing love, those first couple of weeks test your capacity as a human being.

There are bound to be growing pains when you incorporate a helpless thing into an ecosystem calibrated to childless adult behavior. Despite the hours we spent decorating his room, organizing his dresser, positioning his changing table, and the like, caring for our new son overwhelmed us.

So we hunkered down. Our two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment became a green zone in an otherwise hostile terrain. Except for quick trips to the neighborhood doctor, Luke did not leave his new home those first 10 days. We escaped only for the occasional quick jaunt to the grocery store.

Since everything is so new when you have a baby, you instinctively try to pare down your world to give yourself a sense of control. You don’t want outside influences to make an impression on your child until you’ve had the chance to know him first. You’re scared that the second you introduce something new, the whole façade will crumble.

After 10 days burrowed on the 8th floor, we felt he (and we) were ready. Perhaps Mrs. Tepper and I were just tired of being confined. Either way, we layered jackets, hats, and blankets over Luke and went to the park. My wife fed him and I held him and we returned home proud of our achievement.

Fast-forward six months and all that’s changed. Luke has transformed from a delicate six-pound newborn into a crawling, climbing, rolling, hair-pulling maniac. He used to sleep soundly in my forearm. Now he wants to bite my arm and clasp onto my lower jaw with his indomitable grip. Agoraphobia is no longer an option.

Plus, receiving approbation from friends and onlookers on your baby’s cute outfits compensates for sleepless nights.

So, where does one take a baby? Of course parks, sing-a-longs, and grandma’s house are all viable options—Luke loves pulling up grass by the root. They can also become stale. We are both more than a year from entering our thirties and would like to have a taste of our pre-baby lives.

After six months of careful research and experimentation, I have discovered three ironclad rules for new parents when it comes to bringing children into the world.

#1: Bars Are Better Than Restaurants

Restaurant patrons often forget that they themselves were once babies. Despite their infant origins, your fellow diners will not display patience and bonhomie if your toddler cries. They will instead sneer and glare and otherwise signal passive-aggressive frustration.

And really, you won’t have fun either. Restaurants are expensive and best enjoyed leisurely. There’s nothing leisurely about eating with a baby. You’ll order fast, eat faster, and hope to escape the trattoria before an episode unfolds.

You are better off eating at home and then going out for a pint or two. Bars are louder than restaurants, and the ambient noise will muffle your baby’s sobs. Also, beer is less expensive than dinner, which means you’ll minimize your sunk costs if you have to leave in a hurry.

#2: Show Up Early

If friends invite the whole family over for dinner, arrive as close to the proposed time as possible. People without children have the luxury to treat their time casually. Those with children should know better. A baby’s placid demeanor has a short shelf life, and if you want to maximize your time amongst adults, you’d better take advantage of it.

We recently brought Luke to a lunch our friends were hosting. They told us to arrive around 2 p.m., so we did. Four hours later, when it was time to return home and put Luke to bed, we reflected on a rather full afternoon of fun.

#3: The More the Merrier

Barbecues are heaven—especially ones full of friends and family. You may tire quickly of Uncle Joe’s jokes, or struggle to swallow your pal’s new berry-infused home-brewed beer, but you’ll love it when they snatch your little tyke from your enervated hands and (temporarily) release you from the yoke of parenting.

For 20, even 30, minutes at a time you’ll be able to enjoy your hamburger in peace. Whenever someone new comes by and requests to hold the baby, be magnanimous. Your car ride back to the land of “No Time or Will to Do Anything” is closer than you realize.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

 

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