We should be looking at smaller "starter" homes as our "stay put" homes.
If there is one thing we have been trained to fear about retirement, it’s crippling medical bills that threaten to force us out of our homes and decimate our nest eggs. But it turns out that we might be better off worrying about our future housing expenses, as these costs are the single largest category of spending in retirement.
Moreover, the costs of maintaining a home remain stubbornly high as we age, according to a new analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. For those 75 and older, housing expenses accounted for a whopping 43% of spending, even as other expenditures (except for health care) dropped.
Time was that retirees were supposed pay down their mortgages or drastically downsize their homes before retirement. But that behavior has changed, perhaps as a result of the refinancing boom or the housing crash—or both. According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, more people are carrying mortgage debt into their retirement years, up from 22% in 2001 to 30% in 2011.
Even as the rate of homeownership has remained stable, the median amount owed on mortgages for people aged 75 and older increased 82% during that same decade, from $43,000 to $79,000. Delinquency in paying mortgages and foreclosures also greatly increased for seniors from 2007 to 2011.
The lesson in all this is that while financing one’s home can be hugely beneficial, mortgages can grow into significant burdens when you’re living on a fixed income. The time to stretch yourself financially on a home is not when you’ve already left the workforce and have no way to make more money.
It’s not just larger mortgages that saddle retirees—it’s everything that comes with homeownership, including property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, home repairs, housecleaning, gardening and yard services. At the same time, transportation, entertainment and travel expenses all tend to decline as a natural course of retirement.
It seems that people have an easier time forgoing vacations and restaurant dining than they do square footage and lawns, which is understandable. The comforts of home can bring great stability during a time of transition. But as we struggle to figure out how much money we will need in retirement, we might need to consider how to defray the expense of these patterns.
For those in mid-career, now is the time to get control of our mortgage costs. As a recent study by Pew Charitable Trusts shows, Gen X has lower wealth than their parents did at their age, in large part because they hold nearly six times more debt, including student loans, unpaid medical bills and credit card balances. And that’s despite having generally higher family incomes than their parents did.
Given these headwinds, we may want to rethink the American way of constantly trading up to larger houses through our 40s and 50s. The more we grow accustomed to more luxurious living, the harder it will be to downsize when it makes sense. Perhaps instead of looking at smaller houses merely as “starter homes,” we should be looking at them as “stay put” homes instead.
Millennials face a different challenge. After taking longer to get started in their careers, they will end up buying houses later in life, which means they risk carrying significant mortgages into retirement. They would benefit from not biting off more than they can chew—putting more cash down than the minimum, not buying more house then they can really afford, and making sure to max out out their 401(k)s or IRAs. Home equity can be an excellent investment, but only if it enhances rather than jeopardizes financial security—now and in the future.
Many homeowners have missed out on big savings by not refinancing, new research finds. Here's why.
Until recently, I’d never seen a mortgage rate south of 6%. Of course I’d heard that rates had dropped to almost half that, and yet, for a variety of reasons, I did not take advantage of them by refinancing my existing mortgage. Though illogical, my inertia is not uncommon. According to a recent paper by researchers at the University of Chicago and Brigham Young Unversity, the “failure to refinance” strikes approximately 20% of homeowners who could greatly benefit from the lower interest rate environment.
The costs of this failure can be sizeable over time. Say you had a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage of $200,000 at an interest rate of 6.5%. If you refinanced at 4.5 % (approximately the decrease between 2008 and 2010), you would save over $80,000 in interest payments over the life of the loan, even after accounting for refinancing transaction costs. If you had refinanced in late 2012, when rates hit an all-time low of 3.35%, you would save $130,000 over the life of the loan.
Failing to refinance isn’t completely irrational. Refinancing is a difficult transaction requiring extensive paper work, an appraisal and hefty fees. All of which triggers what the researchers call “present bias,” a psychological phenomenon that makes it harder for people to make decisions that may have upfront costs but longer-term benefits.
My own story illustrates the way that present bias impacts behavior. When I bought my current home in 2007, my rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage was 6.625%. As rates began to drop, I was never entirely clear how to calculate at what point refinancing would make sense financially. At the same time, I was receiving mail offers promising to save me money merely by increasing the number of mortgage payments a year. That made me wary of being taken advantage of by lenders looking to make money in transaction costs off of unsuspecting buyers. (This wariness has also always made me distrustful of any loans with “points.”)
By 2011, however, rates had clearly fallen enough to justify a refinance. But by that point I was considering moving, and I didn’t want to go through all the paperwork and hassle if I was going to be selling soon anyway. Then, like many others, I found that my house’s assessed value had fallen sharply from my purchase price. Given the weak real estate market at the time, it made more sense to stay put. Even though I knew that refinancing would still benefit me, the uncertainty about my future brought about by market forces only delayed my decision more.
Finally, in 2013, I refinanced. I wound up borrowing more as part of another financial transaction, but at an interest rate of 3.46%, my monthly payments are almost the same as they were before. I have since heard of wise colleagues who, instead of lowering their monthly payments, refinanced from a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year mortgage and as a result will own their homes outright in half the time while making about the same payments.
Which, if you think about it, means that they overcame “present bias” twice: first in the act of refinancing, and then by forgoing having extra cash on hand to spend now in order to be debt-free in 15 years. At the end of the day, refinancing isn’t just about saving money; it’s about what you do with that money that can make a huge difference to your long-term financial security.
Two new studies underline housing and income challenges facing older Americans.
Monday marks the sixth anniversary of the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers, a key event in the Wall Street meltdown that led to the Great Recession. The recession wreaked havoc on the retirement plans of millions of Americans, and two studies released last week suggest that most of us haven’t recovered well.
To be more precise: Middle- and lower-income Americans haven’t recovered at all, while the wealthiest households have done fine.
The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS) issued its findings on the challenges we face meeting the housing needs of an aging population in the years ahead. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board released its triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), a highly regarded resource for understanding American households’ finances.
The Harvard study found that our existing housing stock is ill-suited to meet seniors’ needs, including affordability, accessibility, social connectivity and support services. And high housing costs are eating into the ability of low-income older adults to pay for necessities like food and healthcare.
Housing is the largest expenditure in most household budgets, and so is a linchpin of financial security and well-being. “It’s really at the nexus of your financial health, physical health and healthcare,” says Jennifer Molinsky, research associate at the JCHS and principal author of the study.
Harvard found that a third of adults over age 50 pay more than 30% of their income for housing—including 37% of people over age 80. Harvard defines that group as “housing cost burdened.” Another group of “severely burdened” older Americans spend more than 50% of income on housing. That group spends 43% less on food, and 59% less on healthcare, compared with households that can afford their housing.
Homeowners are much less likely to be cost-burdened than renters, the study found. But more homeowners are carrying mortgages well into retirement. More than 70% of homeowners aged 50 to 64 were still paying off mortgages in 2010.
The Federal Reserve findings on middle-class retirement prospects are equally troubling. Despite the economy’s gradual mending, the SCF found a widening gap in income and net worth. The top 10% of households was the only income band registering rising income (up 2% since 2010). Households between the 40th and 90th percentiles of income saw little change in average real incomes from 2010 to 2013. And the rate of homeownership was 65%, down from 69% in 2004 and 67% in 2010.
Ownership of retirement plan accounts also fell sharply. In the bottom half of income distribution, just 40% of households owned any type of account—IRA, 401(k) or traditional pension—in 2013, down from 48% in the 2007 survey. The Fed attributes the drop mainly to declining IRA and 401(k) coverage, since defined benefit coverage remained flat. Meanwhile, coverage in the top half of income distribution was much higher. In the top 10%, 95% of families are covered.
Overall, the average value of retirement accounts jumped a substantial 10% from 2010 to 2013, to $201,300. The Fed attributed that to the strong stock market and larger contributions. But for the lowest-income group that owned accounts, the average combined IRA and 401(k) value was just $39,100—and that is down more than 20% from 2007.
Considering the stock market’s strong performance in the intervening years, that suggests many of these households either sold while the market was depressed, drew down savings—or both. Meanwhile, upper-middle-income households saw a gain of 20% since 2007.
In Washington, lobbyists and policymakers have been debating about whether a retirement crisis really is looming. The various sides typically filter the data to support their viewpoints and agendas. But it’s difficult to think of two sources aligned than the Federal Reserve Board and Harvard. The SCF, in particular, is widely viewed as a gold standard survey that will be relied on for many economic reports in the months ahead. It includes information on the household balance sheets, pensions, income and demographic characteristics of about 6,500 families.
The JCHS study was funded by the AARP Foundation and The Hartford insurance company, so there’s a possible agenda there, if you doubt Harvard’s independence as researchers. (I don’t.)
Taken together, the studies paint the portrait of a widening divide in the retirement prospects of working Americans. No matter how the data is sliced, we’ve got problems that need to be addressed.
More than half of teens would give up social media for a year and do double the homework if it guaranteed they’d be able to buy a house when they're older.
During the Great Recession, home ownership took a beating as the ideal for the American dream. The median home nationally lost a quarter of its value, prompting adults of all ages to adopt other elusive goals—like retiring on time for boomers or working on their own terms for millennials.
Just 65% of Americans own their home, down from 69% pre-bust. And four out of five Americans are rethinking the reasons they’d want to buy a house in the first place. But Generation Z—also known as post-millennials, born after the 1990s Internet bubble— seems to prize home ownership like no generation since their great-grandparents.
An astounding 97% of post-millennials believe they will one day own a home; 82% say it is the most important part of the American dream, according to a survey of teens age 13 to 17 by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. More than half would give up social media for a year and do double the homework if it guaranteed they’d be able to buy a house.
This yearning stands in starkest contrast to the aspirations of millennials, older cousins who pretty much created the sharing economy and in large numbers prefer to rent. The housing bust and foreclosure epidemic scarred millennials, probably for life, as some watched parents and neighbors lose everything. In a key part of this generation—heads of households age 25 to 34—renters increased by more than 1 million in the years following the crisis, while the number who own a home fell by 1.4 million.
Post-millennials saw the carnage, too, though at a tender age that left them more confused than traumatized. Where millennials hardened and vowed never to repeat the errors of their parents, post-millennials sought the comfort of family and togetherness, says Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens. “Many of these Gen Z teens were 7 to 11 years old when the recession hit,” Chris said. “At that age, children equate home with stability.”
The innate quest for stability leads them to prize a family home above things like going to college, getting married, having children, or owning a business, according to the survey. And the dream appears firmly grounded in reality. Chris observed that today’s teens have more information than any previous generation at their age and show early signs of financial awareness. Asked for an estimate of what they might spend on a house, the 97% who aspire to be owners gave an average response of $274,323—strikingly close to the median home value of $273,500.
Half say they know more about money than their parents did at their age. Two-thirds attribute their knowledge of money matters to discussions in the home, and two in five credit discussions in school. Three in five teens have already begun saving, the survey found. Post-millennials, on average, aim to own a home by age 28—three years earlier than the median age of first-time homebuyers reported by the National Association of Realtors.
These are encouraging findings. A home remains most Americans’ single largest asset, and while the housing bust will have lingering effects, home prices nationally tend to rise every year—and have been trending up again the past few years. Not all of the news is good: Only 17% of post-millennials believe stocks are the best long-term investment; half prefer a simple savings account, TD Ameritrade found in a survey that defines the generation as slightly older (up to age 24).
But the TD survey also found that post-millennials have half the post-college credit card debt of millennials. And the Better Homes survey suggests that our youngest generation is at last learning more about money at an early age, which is the goal of a broad public-private financial education movement. A generation of financially adept youth who begin to save and gather assets that will grow for four or five decades is the surest way to avoid another meltdown and solve the retirement savings crisis.
Because it's all about location
A new luxury development in New York City is pushing Manhattan’s gilded real estate market to new heights.
Some parking spaces in the development will be selling for $1 million a pop, the New York Times reports, in a city where every square foot of space is fast becoming a luxury.
The new housing unit rising above the cobblestoned streets of the SoHo neighborhood will sell 10 parking spaces in its basement at a rate of $5,000 to $6,500 a square foot, or a few thousand dollars more than the three-bedroom apartments upstairs. Because parking, perhaps even more so than real estate, is all about location, location, location.
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:
- Qualicare Family Homecare (a homecare services firm)
- Window Genie (a window and gutter cleaning service)
- 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
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.
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Looking ahead, the rate of home price growth may slow even further, especially if mortgage rates increase.
While housing prices continue to rise, the rate of that growth nationally slowed in June, according to a leading gauge of the real estate market.
The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed that home prices throughout the country increased 6.2% since last year. Meanwhile, separate indexes that track 10 and 20 large U.S. cities showed gains of 8.1% during the same time period.
Though decent, those gains were a far cry from the double-digit growth in home prices late last year. Moreover, all three indexes showed deceleration from the prior month, and every city measured experienced lower year-over-year price growth.
“Home price gains continue to ease as they have since last fall,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “For the first time since February 2008, all cities showed lower annual rates than the previous month. Other housing indicators — starts, existing home sales and builders’ sentiment — are positive. Taken together, these point to a more normal housing sector.”
Blitzer also cautioned that an increase in interest rates, which Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen hinted at last week, may mean further deceleration if they lead to higher mortgage rates.
“Bargain basement mortgage rates won’t continue forever,” he said. “Recent improvements in the labor markets and comments from Fed chair Janet Yellen and others hint that interest rates could rise as soon as the first quarter of 2015. Rising mortgage rates won’t send housing into a tailspin, but will further dampen price gains.”
To be sure, home prices are still going up across the board. All cities reported higher prices for the third consecutive month, and price growth in markets such as Dallas and Denver has continued unabated.
Nationally, average home prices in June are back to Spring, 2005 levels. But city composites are still roughly 17% down from their peak prices in June/July of 2006.
Pet dating services? Dog selfies? "Pre-pups?" The world of pampering pets has hit new heights. Like: outer space. Literally.
In recent years, pet owners have been tempted—perhaps guilted—into treating their beloved dogs and cats to products and services that run the gamut from $350 doggie strollers to pet tattoos, luxury doghouses , and gourmet pet cuisine. And how can anyone forget about the fitness-tracking dog collar and the Grumpy Cat-endorsed line of bottled coffee? (The latter was created for human consumption, natch.)
At some point, it would seem like pet marketers simply must run out of every dog-gone idea under the sun. But based on American pet spending—a total of $56 billion last year, and forecasts call for $60 billion in 2014—for entrepreneurial players in the pet economy, the best time to roll out new pet-related products and services is always right meow. Here, in celebration of National Dog Day on Tuesday, are some of the latest options to trot onto the scene.
Personal Trainers for Dogs
Crain’s New York recently reported on some of the latest ways New Yorkers are giving their dogs the very best, including organic artisanal food and the hiring of specialized dog trainers. Not simply traditional trainers who will do the basics like teach a dog to sit, but ones who will run pooches throughout a calorie-burning workout like personal trainers do with humans. Other trainers give dogs swimming and Frisbee-catching lessons, or teach them tricks like taking their own selfies with an iPad. (Warning: Once your dog knows this one, your iPad will bear traces of a wet nose. But the resulting images are probably worth it.)
In-Home Pet Suites
Home builders such as Standard Pacific Homes now offer optional in-home pet suites as part of new construction designs. “The optional pet suite can be customized with a pet shower and removable shower head, built-in cabinetry and other conveniences,” a brochure for one design in a residential community in southern California explains. Pet suites add an average of $8,000 to a home, but more extravagant ones, with flat-screen TVs and a pet door that opens up to a dog run, can go up to $35,000, the Los Angeles Times noted.
Pet Memorial Space Flights
At long last, you can send your deceased pet’s remains into space thanks to Celestis Pets, “the world’s first pet memorial spaceflight service.” The company, which already offers a similar service for human remains, expanded into the pet market this summer. Services range from the basic “Earth Flight,” in which only a symbolic portion of the pet’s cremated remains are sent skyward before returning to earth, to the top-of-the-line “Voyager,” which for $12,500 takes the remains into the deepest space for eternity.
Pet Dating Services
The Associated Press covered the rise of pet-friendly dating services such as PetsDating.com and YouMustLoveDogsDating.com, where like-minded pet-loving singles are supposed to find matches. Love isn’t necessarily the goal, though; PetsDating, “an online community for pet owners who want their pet to enjoy a long, healthy, and fulfilling life in the company of another pet,” has pets rather than human hookups as the primary focus. People who meet through the site could wind up dating, but they also might simply be looking for doggie play dates or someone (and some dog) to go for a walk in the park with. Yet another service, DateMyPet.com, is indeed all about making love matches—within one’s own species, to clear up any confusion about the name.
Companies like Fort Lauderdale’s Synergy Labs are “tapping into the worldwide trend to humanize pets,” according to the Sun Sentinel. The company sells a kennel’s worth of atypical pet merchandise, including a lineup of Pooch Scents (basically: perfume for dogs, with scents like POSH, Rain Fresh, and STUD), high-end organic shampoos and conditioners, and a forthcoming one-of-a-kind toothbrush “designed with three heads to clean the inside and outside of the mouth and the pet’s face at the same time.”
A survey by the Securian Financial Group found that nearly 20% of pet owners have made financial plans for the wellbeing of their pets if the owners pass away. Of those, 13% had bought annuities that named the pet’s caregiver as the beneficiary.
The rise of couples battling over custody of their pets when they break up—seen this summer with the split of Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, who wants to get their three dogs in the divorce settlement—has raised the profile of “pre-pups.” Like it sounds, the pre-pup is part of a prenuptial agreement that specifies who gets ownership of a pet in the case of a breakup. More attorneys are specializing in pet issues including custody disputes, and apparently there’s quite a need. Data cited by the Daily Mail indicates that one-fifth of separating couples with pets said figuring out who gets the dog was just as stressful as determining who would get custody of the children. Yahoo News reported that without a pet prenup, pets tend to be viewed in the eyes of the court as furniture or any other possession owned by the couple, and bidding wars often determine which party ultimately gets to keep the pooch.
These moves can make you smarter, healthier, happier—and richer.
4. Grab the last of the great TVs
While they’re considered superior to LCDs—for having deeper blacks and any-angle viewing—plasma TVs haven’t been profitable enough for manufacturers, so most are curbing production. LG is one of the last in the game, and its 60-inch 60PB6900 smart TV (around $1,000) has apps to stream digital content and 3-D performance besting its peers. Get the extended warranty, since a service company would have to replace the TV if parts are no longer available.
5. Kick tension to the curb with yoga…
Half of workers say they’re less productive due to stress, the American Psychological Association found; worse, research from the nonprofit Health Enhancement Research Organization found that health care expenses are 46% higher for stressed-out employees. Regularly practicing yoga can help modulate stress responses, according to a report from Harvard Medical School. Classes cost about $15 to $20 a pop, which means that $1,000 will keep you doing downward dog twice a week for about half a year.
6. …Or acupuncture
A recent article in the Journal of Endocrinology found a connection between acupuncture and stress relief. Your insurer may cover treatment, but if not, sessions run $60 to $120 a piece. So you can treat yourself to around 10 to 15 with $1,000.
7. …Or biking
Research suggests that 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. So take a bike ride after work. The Giant Defy 2 ($1,075) is one of the best-value performance bikes out there, Ben Delaney of BikeRadar.com says.
8. Give your kids a jump on retirement
Assuming your kids earn at least a grand this year from a summer job or other employment, you can teach them the importance of saving for retirement by depositing $1,000 (or, if they earn more and you’re able, up to $5,500) into Roth IRAs in their names. Do so when the child is 17, and it’ll grow to over $18,400 by the time he’s 67 with a hypothetical 6% annual return, says Eau Claire, Wis., financial planner Kevin McKinley.
9. Get over your midlife crisis
Would getting behind the wheel of your dream vehicle make you feel a teensy bit better about reporting to a 30-year-old boss? Then sow your oats—for 24 hours. Both Hertz and Enterprise offer luxury rentals; you can find local outfits by searching for “exotic car rental” and your city. Gotham Dream Cars’ Boston-area location rents an Aston Martin Vantage Roadster for $895 a day.
10. Iron out your wrinkles
For a safer and cheaper alternative to going under the knife, try an injectable dermal filler. Dr. Michael Edwards, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, recommends Juvéderm Voluma XC, which consists of natural hyaluronic acid that helps smooth out deep lines and adds volume to cheeks and the jaw area. It lasts up to two years and costs near $1,000 per injection.
11. Live out a dream
Play in a fantasy world with these adult camps, which cost in the neighborhood of $1,000 with airfare: the four-day Adult Space Academy in Huntsville, Ala. ($650); the Culinary Institute of America’s two-day Wine Lovers Boot Camp in St. Helena, Calif. ($895); or the one-day World Poker Tournament camp in Vegas ($895).
12. Hire someone to fight with your folks
Is your parents’ home bursting at the seams with decades of clutter … er, memories? Save your breath—and sanity—by hiring a professional organizer (find one at napo.net) for them. Mom and Dad may listen more to an impartial party when it comes to deciding what to toss, says Austin organizer Yvette Clay. Focus on pile-up zones, like the basement, garage, and living room (together, $500 to $1,500).
13. Launch you.com
A professional website will help you stand out to employers, says Jodi Glickman, author of Great on the Job. Buy the URL of your name for about $20 a year from GoDaddy and find a designer via Elance.com or Guru.com; $1,000 should get you a nice-looking site with a bio, blog, photos, and portfolio of your work.
14. Become a techie—or just learn to talk to one
Technical knowledge isn’t just for IT folks anymore. “Digital literacy is becoming a required skill,” says Paul McDonald, a senior executive director of staffing agency Robert Half International. Get up to speed with one of these strategies. Understanding how websites, videogames, and apps are built is useful to almost any job dealing in big data or search algorithms, says McDonald. Take a course in programming for nonprogrammers at generalassemb.ly ($550), then get a year’s subscription to Lynda.com ($375) for more advanced online tutorials.
15. Get tweet smarts
Take a class to give you expertise—and confidence— in using social media and analyzing metrics. MediaBistro’s social media boot camp includes five live webcast sessions for $511, and you can add four weeks of classroom workshops with pros for $449. #olddognewtricks
16. Buy the Silicon Valley gear
Need a new laptop now that you’re a tech whiz? To best play the part, go with Apple’s MacBook Air ($999) or its big brother the MacBook Pro ($1,099). With a long battery life and powerful processors, the Air and Pro are the preferred picks for developers, coders, and designers, says PCmag.com’s Brian Westover.
17. Save your cellphone camera for selfies
Your most important memories shouldn’t be grainy. Get a digital SLR camera featuring a through-the-lens optical viewfinder, “which is still essential for shooting action,” says Lori Grunin of CNET. Her pick, Nikon’s D5300 ($1,050). Its 18–140mm lens produces sharp images shot quickly enough for most personal photography.
18. Class up your castle
Interior decorating can cost a fortune—insanely priced furnishings, plus a 30% commission. Homepolish.com, launched in 2012 and now in eight metro areas, upends the model. The site’s decorators charge hourly ($130 or less) and suggest affordable furnishings.
19-21. Hire a good manager
With only 10 C-notes, your mutual fund choices are limited by minimum investment requirements. Besides simply letting you in the door, these actively managed funds have relatively low fees and beat more than half their peers over three, five, and 10 years:
Oakmark Select large blend; 1.01% expenses
Schwab Dividend Equity large value, 0.89% expenses
Nicholas large growth, 0.73% expenses
22. Primp the powder room
Get a new sink and vanity for a refresh of your guest bathroom without a reno. You can find a combined vanity and sink set for under $650; figure another $100 to $200 each for faucet and labor.
23. Replace light fixtures
Subbing in new lighting in the dining room, the front hall, and possibly the kitchen can take 20 years off your house, suggests Pasadena realtor Curt Schultz. You’re likely to pay $100 to $400 per fixture, plus $50 to $100 for installation.
24. Swap out the front door
It’s the first impression guests and buyers have of your home. Look for a factory-finished door—possibly fiberglass if it’s a sunny southern or western exposure without an overhang. You could pay $1,000 for the door and the installation.
25. Catch up on retirement.
If you’re 50 or older, you can put in $1,000 more in an IRA (above the $5,500 normal limit) each year. Do so from 50 to 65, and you’ll have $27,000 more in retirement assuming you get a 6% annual return, per T. Rowe Price.
26. Fly solo to see the Northern Lights
As more companies package deals to Iceland, prices are dropping, says Christie McConnell of Travelzoo.com. You could recently find four-night packages with airfare, hotel, and tours for $800 a person. Go in late fall to see the Northern Lights.
27. Hit the beach in Hawaii
The islands are still working through the overbuilding of hotels that began before the recession, says Anne Banas of Smartertravel.com. Three-night packages for fall with hotel and airfare start around $500 a person from the West Coast.
28. Give your car a makeover
You can’t get a new set of wheels for 1,000 smackers, but you can make your old car feel new(ish) again with this slew of maintenance fixes: A new set of tires ($600), a full car detail ($100), new wiper blades ($50), a wheel alignment ($150), and a synthetic oil change ($100). You’ve likely been putting these off until something breaks, but there’s good reason to do them all at once. Besides giving your car a smoother ride, “this preventative maintenance will help you nurse your car longer, while also saving some gas,” says Bill Visnic, senior editor at Edmunds.com. New car smell not included.
29. Make like (early) Gordon Gekko
Wall Street buyout firms KKR and Carlyle are inviting Main Street investors into private equity funds for $10,000 and $50,000, respectively. Want to play the game with less scratch? Invest $1,000 in Blackstone GroupBLACKSTONE GROUP LP, THE BX 0.0597% . Shares of the private equity giant have a 5.1% yield and a cheap P/E of 8.5, plus Blackstone is a top-notch alternative-asset firm, says Morningstar’s Stephen Ellis.
30-32. Put your donations to work where they’ll do the most good
Groups that focus on improving healthcare in the developing world have some of the best measurable outcomes of all charities, says Charlie Bresler, CEO of The Life You Can Save. Many of the supplies used to improve and save lives, like vaccines or mosquito nets, cost pennies to produce, he says, and surgeries that cost tens of thousands in the U.S. can be performed for a few hundred bucks overseas. Three great organizations working in those areas: SEVA Foundation, which works to prevent blindness; Deworm the World, which seeks to eradicate worms and other parasitic bacterial disease; Fistula foundation, which provides surgical services to women with childbirth injuries.
33. Defend the fort
An alarm system can pare as much as 20% from a homeowner’s policy, and the latest ones have neat bells and whistles. Honeywell’s LYNX Touch 7000 (starting at $500, plus $25 to $60 a month) links to four cameras that stream live video. It randomly switches on lights to make an empty home look occupied—and can detect a flood and shut down water.
34. Enjoy a buffet of entertainment
The average cable bill is expected to hit $123 a month in 2015—or $1476 a year—according to the NPD group. What if we told you you could cut the cord, redeploy $1,000 of that to getting two years worth of the following digital libraries, and still bank about 500 bucks? Yeah, we thought so.
For old movies and TV shows…get Netflix ($7.99-$8.99/month). Analysts estimate the company’s library is much larger than that of Amazon Prime.
For current TV shows…watch via Hulu ($7.99/month), which offers episodes from more than 600 shows that are currently on air.
For music…stream with Spotify Premium ($9.99/month). The premium version lets you skip commercials and listen to millions of songs even offline.
For books…read via Kindle Unlimited ($9.99/month). You can access the company’s library of more than 600,000 ebooks and audiobooks with one of its free reading apps, which work Apple, Android or Windows Phone devices.
35. Protect your heirs.
For about $1,000 you can have a will, durable power of attorney, and health care directive written up. Find an estate planner at naepc.org.