MONEY

25 Ways to Get Smarter About Money Right Now

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John Lund—Getty Images

Small steps that can make a big difference.

Retirement planning is serious business that requires diligence and patience. But a quick tip, or even an irreverent one, can sometimes be helpful, too. Here are 25 observations from my 30 years of writing about retirement and investing that may spur you to plan more effectively (or to start planning if you’ve been putting it off).

1. If you’re not sure whether you’re saving enough for retirement, you probably aren’t. You can find out for sure pretty easily, though, by going to this Am I Saving Enough? tool.

2. There’s an easy way not to outlive your money: die early. But I think most people would agree that coming up with a realistic and flexible retirement income plan is a more reasonable way to go.

3. If your primary rationale for doing a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA instead of a traditional version is that “tax free is always better than tax-deferred,” you need to read this story before doing anything.

4. Some people put more thought into whether to have fries with their Big Mac than deciding when to claim Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, giving short shrift to that decision may put those same people at greater risk of having to work behind a fast-food counter late in life to maintain their standard of living.

5. Yes, stocks are risky. But if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be able to generate the high long-term returns that can help you build a sizeable nest egg without devoting a third or more of your income to saving.

6. Just because the mere thought of an immediate annuity makes your eyes glaze over doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider one for your post-career portfolio. When it comes to retirement income, boring can be beautiful.

7. What do rebalancing your retirement portfolio and flossing have in common? We know we ought to make both part of our normal routine, but many people don’t get around to either as regularly as they should.

8. Lots of people (especially in the media) complain that we’d all be better off if companies would just go back to giving workers check-a-month retirement pensions instead of 401(k) plans. But that’s not gonna happen. So focus your efforts on how to maximize your 401(k) or other savings plan.

9. Target-date funds’ stock-bond allocations can’t match your risk tolerance exactly. But guess what? You don’t need an exact match to invest successfully for retirement. And for most people an inexact target-date portfolio is a lot better than anything they’d build on their own.

10. A really smart fund manager can beat an index fund. Problem is, there’s no way to tell in advance whether a manager is one of the handful who’s truly smart or one of the many who look smart but are just lucky or having a few good years. That’s why you’re better off going with index funds in your retirement portfolio.

11. Your employer’s 401(k) match isn’t really “free.” It’s part of your compensation. Which makes it all the more puzzling why anyone wouldn’t contribute at least enough to his 401(k) to get the full company match.

12. Investing in a fund with high fees is like betting on a racehorse being ridden by a fat jockey. Sure, the horse could still be good enough to win. But do you want to put money on it? A low-cost fund effectively allows you to boost your savings rate and gives you a better shot at building an adequate nest egg and making it last throughout retirement.

13. Every time you move to a new house or apartment do you leave all your furniture and other possessions behind? Then why do so many people fail to consolidate their old 401ks into their current plan or a rollover IRA? (Okay, if the old plan’s investing options are unmatchable, that’s a reason. But seriously, how often is that the case?)

14. A reverse mortgage can be a good option to supplement retirement income if your other resources are coming up short. But be sure to consider a trade-down as well. In fact, you may be able to trade down and then do a reverse mortgage in the future.

15. No rule of thumb can be a substitute for detailed retirement planning. But some rules of thumb are better than no planning at all. And going with a rule of thumb may at least help you get on track toward a secure retirement until you decide to get more serious about your planning.

16. Many people are skittish about investing in bonds these days because they’re worried they’ll get clobbered when interest rates rise. But you know what? Pundits have been predicting bond Armageddon for years and it hasn’t happened. Besides, as this research shows, even at today’s low yields bonds remain an effective way to hedge equity risks and diversify your portfolio.

17. People peddling high-cost variable annuities know that retirement investors love the word “guaranteed.” Which is why as soon as you hear that alluring word, you should ask what, exactly, is being guaranteed and who is doing the guaranteeing? Then ask how much you’re paying for that guarantee and what you’re giving up for it. The answers may surprise and enlighten you.

18. No retirement calculator can truly tell you whether you’re on track for a secure retirement because no tool can fully reflect the uncertainty and complexity of real life. Of course, the same goes for the most sophisticated software and human advisers, too. The reason to fire up a good retirement calculator isn’t to come away with a projection that’s 100% accurate. It’s to get a sense of whether you’re on the right course and see how different moves might improve your prospects.

19. You don’t have to be a financial wiz to invest successfully for retirement. But understanding a few basic principles can improve your investing results. Try this investing quiz to see how much you know.

20. Getting fleeced by an unscrupulous adviser or ravaged by a severe bear market can certainly wreak havoc on your retirement plans. But for most people it’s basic lapses in investing and planning that diminish their retirement prospects the most.

21. Many experts say the 4% rule is broken, that it no longer works in today’s low-return world. Fact is, the 4% rule was never all it was cracked up to be. To avoid running out of money in retirement, plug your spending, income, and investing info into a retirement income calculator capable of assessing the probability that your money will last—then repeat the process every year or so to see if you need to adjust your spending.

22. Diversifying your portfolio can lower risk and boost returns. But if you try to get too fancy and stuff your portfolio with investments from every obscure corner of the market and all manner of arcane ETFs, you may end up di-worse-ifying rather than diversifying.

23. Many retirees pour their savings into “income investments” like dividend stocks and high-yield bonds when they want to turn their savings into reliable income. But such a focus can be dangerous. A better way to go: create a low-cost diversified portfolio that generates both income and growth, and then get the income you need from interest, dividends, and periodic sales of fund or ETF shares.

24. The next time wild swings in the market give you the jitters, don’t look to bail out of stocks and huddle in bonds or cash. Market timing doesn’t work. Instead, do this 15-minute Portfolio Check-Up, and then take these 3 Simple Steps to Crash-Proof Your Portfolio.

25. Financial security is definitely important, but retirement satisfaction isn’t just a question of money. Lifestyle matters, too. Among the lifestyle factors that make for a happier post-career life: maintaining your health, staying active and engaged through occasional work or volunteering, cultivating a circle of friends…and, yes, regular sex.

Walter Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.com. If you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at walter@realdealretirement.com.

More from RealDealRetirement.com:

Social Security: Your 3 Most Pressing Questions Answered

5 Questions To Ask Before Hiring A Financial Adviser

How To Tell If You Can Afford To Retire Early

 

 

 

TIME apps

10 Google Maps Tricks You Need to Know

Google Maps Returns To Apple's iPhone
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images The Google Maps app is seen on an Apple iPhone 4S on December 13, 2012 in Fairfax, California.

How to save an offline map, zoom with one hand and delete your travel history

Navigation apps are one of the most useful features of smartphones, and Google Maps is widely considered the cream of the crop — at least among free options. But chances are there are some features tucked away in Google Maps that you don’t know about. They could make mapping out your next vacation easier, or even improve your daily commute.

Here are ten tips and tricks to help you get the most out of Google Maps on iPhone and Android:

Create Offline Maps

If you want to be able to conserve your mobile data or check out a map when you can’t access the Internet, Google lets you save maps to be viewed offline. Simply zoom the map to the level of detail you want, then write OK Maps in the search field to save the map (you can also tap the microphone icon by the search bar and say “OK Maps”).

Alternatively, you can search for a specific location, select it to bring up the location’s information card, then click the menu icon in the top-right corner to bring up the “save offline map” option.

Launch Navigation Mode Faster

Turn-by-turn directions are one of Google Maps’ most helpful features. Usually it takes a few button presses to launch the feature, but you can start it on Android immediately by holding down the blue transportation icon in the bottom left corner of the app. The icon appears by default as a person, a car, a train or a bicycle depending on the mode of transportation Google thinks is most appropriate.

Zoom in With One Hand

Pinch-and-zoom is the typical way to hone in on a location with Maps, but if you’ve only got one hand free you can double tap the screen to zoom in quickly. If you hold your finger on the screen after the second tap, you can swipe up or down to smoothly zoom in or out.

Find ATMs

Next time you’re desperate to find an ATM, click the Google Maps search bar (make sure the field is blank) and press the ATMs button at the bottom of the screen. Maps will show the ATMs that are near your current location. You’ll find gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, car washes and other businesses in the same menu of options.

Save a Cool Location to Remember It Later

Next time you discover a cool new bar, search for the location on Google Maps and click “Save” on the business’s information card. Saved places appear as starred locations on your maps and can be accessed by selecting “Your Places” from the Google Maps menu.

Avoid Highways and Tolls

If you’re trying to avoid toll roads, select “Options” after you’ve pulled up driving directions to a location. You can check three boxes to avoid toll roads, highways or ferries.

Check Train and Bus Schedules

There are many dedicated apps for tracking public transit schedules, but often Google Maps is all you need. Ask for directions to a given location and Maps will automatically queue up a variety of public transit options, including the scheduled departure times for different buses and trains. You can also press bus, train or subway icons on the map itself to view departure and arrival times.

Share a Location With Friends

If you’re in a place devoid of streets and easy landmarks, like a large park, it can be hard to meet up with friends. Google Maps lets you easily drop a pin on any location and then share that location with friends. Simply press the spot on the map where you want the pin to appear, press the pin itself, then press the “share” button. The link to the spot can be sent via text message, email or social media.

Plan a Multi-Stop Route

If you’re headed on a road trip, you can use the desktop version of Google Maps to get directions for multiple stops on a single route. Click the search field box in the top left corner of the screen, then click “Directions.” After you input the first location you want to travel to, a plus sign will appear below the last destination. Click the sign to input the next location on your trip. When you’re done, Maps will calculate the total mileage of the trip and offer step-by-step directions that are easy to print.

Delete Your Maps History

Google uses a feature called Location History to track the track the movements of Android users who are logged into their Google accounts. You can see your own Location History map here. If you didn’t know you had the feature enabled, you might find it to be a useful tool to retrace the steps of your last wild night out — or you might suddenly feel a bit like Will Smith in Enemy of the State.

To disable Location History tracking, you can navigate the labyrinthine menus of your Android device (I found the Location History option by going to Settings, then Location, then Google Location Reporting on my Motorola Moto X running Android L) or by visiting Google’s Account History website, which lets you toggle various data gathering services on or off.

Read next: Here’s How to Enable Offline Maps in the Google Maps App

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MONEY renting

The Top 14 Things Landlords Wish Tenants Knew

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iStock

Pay your bills, respect your neighbors, and please hide your weed. Please.

Sometimes the landlord/tenant relationship can be a difficult one. But it does not have to be that way, and it certainly does not have to start out that way. As landlords, we try to get this relationship off to a good start and keep it that way by taking care of our properties and tenant concerns.

But some tenants, perhaps due to past experiences, prepare for the worst and thus approach the relationship ready for a fight. Maybe they have never had a decent landlord. Maybe some just do not know how to act. Whatever the reason, here are 14 tips from our 12 years as landlords to tenants everywhere for a decent landlord/tenant relationship.

1. Pay your bills on time. Seems fairly obvious, I know, but many tenants believe they can pay every other bill before they pay the rent. Want to stay on our good side? Please pay your rent on time.

2. Always try to be polite. I will, too. Being polite and calm really does go a long way. You would not like it if I left you snarky or angry screaming messages on your voicemail. I know sometimes issues can seem to linger on and on, but we really are doing our best to get things resolved.

3. Listen to our instructions. We tell you things for a reason. If we show you how to trip a breaker or turn a gas valve off, listen. It may just save your butt. If we tell you there will be a hard freeze tonight and to please let your faucet drip, don’t call us the next day and complain that your pipes have frozen and you need to do laundry. I can’t control the weather, so you will just have to wait until it warms up.

4. Help us. We try to take care of our properties, but we can’t be everywhere all the time. Is there something we need to know about? Tell us. Is something broken? Let us know. Help us by being our eyes and ears.

Related: How to Find a Tenant in Any Market: A Comprehensive Guide

5. Tell the truth. Did you or your kid flush something down the toilet and stop it up? Then tell us the truth so we can get the problem resolved as quickly as possible. After a dozen years in this business, we can almost always determine the culprit anyway.

6. Please just leave me a message. If we do not answer your call, do not hang up and call over and over again. There are times we simply cannot take your call. How do you think we are going to feel when we finally answer you after you have called five times in a row? It had better be a matter of life or death.

7. Understand that we have a lot going on. Sometimes other tenant’s issues may take priority. We know about your issue, and we will get to it just as soon as we can. We might for example need to make sure everyone has heat before taking care of your dripping bathroom sink.

8. If you get in a bind, talk to us. Communication is key! Tell us what is going on. Did you lose your job? Has your roommate gone off the deep end? We have been there before, and we know what it is like. But if you do not talk to us, there is no way we can help you. Please do not put your head in the sand and hope whatever problem you are having will go away. It will not, and things will only get worse.

9. Treat my property and the people who do work for me with respect. You would not believe how many people are just plain rude to the people we send over to try and fix their problems. Plus, how do you think we are going to react if we see that your place is a mess or that you are causing damage? Disrespecting our properties or our help is a sure way to create an adversarial relationship.

10. Work with me. We know you have a busy schedule. So do we, and trust us, we want your issue resolved as quickly as possible too because we have a dozen or so more to deal with. It all goes much easier if you work with us on times and arrangements. You might have to put up your dog for a day or allow us into your apartment on your day off. We hate to disturb you, but we will be done and out of your hair just as soon as we can.

11. Trust me. We are not going to steal your stuff or try and stiff you. Yes, we know some landlords might, but not us. If we say we need to get into your home, it is for a legitimate reason.

Related: Here is the Best Indicator of Tenant Quality… Hands Down

12. Follow the rules. They are there for a reason. They were explained to you when you moved in, and you agreed to follow them. It just makes life harder for all of us if you choose to ignore them. If you could not live with the rules, then you should not have moved in.

13. Respect your neighbors. Would you appreciate a loud party the night before you need to make a major presentation at work or before your final exams? No, you would not. Remember that you live in an apartment building, and you have neighbors — sometimes very close neighbors. Think about how your actions might affect them. I’m not saying do not have any fun; just try to be considerate.

14. Hide your weed. Just please do this. It is technically against your lease, and you really never know when there will be an emergency and who will need to access your place.

A lot of the above is just common courtesy and common sense. But for those few — and you know who you are — please review and follow the above and let’s make your stay with us as pleasant as possible.

This article originally appeared on BiggerPockets, the real estate investing social network. © 2015 BiggerPockets Inc.

More from BiggerPockets:
I Quit My Day Job, Retired Early & Started a New Venture Using Real Estate: Here’s How
3 Smart Ways to Make an Extra $1,000 a Month Through Real Estate Investing
5 Habits of Highly Miserable Real Estate Investors (and How to Kick Them)

 

 

TIME advice

How to Tackle Every Type of Party Stain

stained shirt
Getty Images

Easy solutions that will make the next couple months of merriment a little bit easier on your closet

Being a clumsy girl is a way of life, but all of the public stumbles and splats never get any less embarrassing. They just happen, and the klutzes among us deal with it. But, this time of year brings up a very specific set of challenges; one rife with cranberry-colored punch bowls, delicious-but-oily finger foods, and celebratory libations that can up the clumsy ante exponentially.

Thankfully, Charles Ickes is an expert who can help a lady out when she’s splotched her new party gear with stains. As Rent The Runway‘s vice president of operations, he oversees the care of the company’s 65,000 ready-to-be-rented garments, including the regular cleaning and intensive stain treating performed by RTR’s in-house “spotters.” A recent Fast Company feature cited “a methodical 20-step process most spotters use to attack a stain to avoid ruining clothing.” Luckily, Ickes’ tips ahead are much more DIY-friendly, and two steps, tops.

We provided Ickes with the most common of clumsy party fouls — ones we’ve committed ourselves — in search of easy solutions that will make the next couple months of merriment a little bit easier on the most prized items in our closet. Party on.

Party Punch
You didn’t mean to gesture to the windows or the walls with your mulled wine in hand. But, you did didn’t you? And, now your pastel ensemble is splotched with deep-red dribbling and your friends have already started with the bib jokes.

The Clean Up
“If the punch is made up of natural juices,” or tannins, as Ickes explains, “acids will help to remove the stain. Good acids around the house would be vinegar or lemon juice. If the juice has red dyes, you may need to let soak overnight in Sodium perborate which is the key ingredient in Clorox 2. Always test a hidden area on the garment [first] to test if the acid will affect the dye.”

Nail-Polish Nicks
If you don’t give yourself a manicure at the 11th hour, you don’t give yourself a manicure at all. But, because of your last-minute primping, you’ve also failed to avoid the fibers on your sweater as you tied on your winter scarf. Nope, sadly that is not festive confetti on your top.

The Clean Up
“This one may seem like a no-brainer: Nail polish remover (acetone) removes nail polish,” says Ickes. “That said, it’s especially important that you check a hidden area of the garment before trying this method out. Also, be [sure to] check the label: If the fabric is acetate, DO NOT use acetone as it will dissolve the fabric. For instance, many slips are made of acetate, so you could end up removing the stain, but putting a hole in the slip.”

The Makeup Ring
It’s 4 a.m., you just got home, and the only thing you want to do is rip off your clothes and hit the hay. But, because of your neglecting to remove your perfectly crafted makeup look, you awake to discover that your dress has removed it for you. That’s…thoughtful?

The Clean Up
“This is a tough one that you may need to bring to an expert,” says our own expert. “Start with water, detergent, and a brush. Hit the fabric with the brush rather than a back and forth motion — this will loosen up the stain. If the bronzer fails to lift, you can try some rubbing alcohol. You can also try Clorox 2 overnight or use a bit of peroxide to remove the stain. Always test the peroxide on a hidden area to make sure the dyes in the garment are unaffected.”

Glitter Overload
In your defense, Clumsy Girl, everyone else at the bash was doused in rainbow glitter, too. And, you won’t be the only one finding it in your favorite knit — or around your apartment — for weeks to come.

The Clean Up
“Glitter is an insoluble soil so it doesn’t break down. Your best bet is to use extra detergent to lubricate the glitter, remove it, and flush it out,” Ickes advises. “Do multiple rinses in the washer with detergent then a final clean.”

Greasy Hors d’Oeuvres
It’s a special occasion and you deserve to go a bit H.A.M on the passed apps if you so choose. And, by H.A.M. we mean prosciutto-wrapped everything, shiitake spring rolls, and all the mini artisan grilled cheeses you can handle. But, watch where you wipe your shiny, post-snack fingers — oops, too late.

The Clean Up
“Dawn dishwashing liquid is a brilliant degreaser,” Ickes tells us. And, for additional help pulling oil from fabric, try sprinkling the spot with baby power and letting it sit for a few hours or overnight before treating the stain. This writer swears by that method.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

TIME Parenting

Tips for Every Age: How to Raise Grateful Kids

Carlina Teteris—Getty Images/Flickr RF

How to talk to your kids without sounding preachy

The weeks after the holidays can feel like a big let down. After all the expectation—and stress—of the season, both parents and kids may feel a sense of disappointment after all the gifts are opened and the treats are eaten.

But is it possible to flip that script? Can parents encourage kids to stop thinking “what have we got to look forward to now?” and start concentrating on everything they’ve just enjoyed?

We talked with Christine Carter, director of the Greater Good Science Center Parenting Program at UCBerkeley, and author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, to get her practical tips on unleashing the power of gratitude.

The list of the benefits of gratitude is so long “it’s almost ridiculous,” Carter says. “People who are consciously practicing gratitude sleep better, have more energy, and feel more connected to other people.” One study has even proven that kidney function improves when people practice gratitude. And the good news is that it’s contagious. “If I’m feeling strong positive emotion, and I’m sharing that with somebody,” Carter explains, “those emotions spread person to person” through the whole family.

So how can parents get the gratitude conversation started? These are her tips, for any age.

Elementary school kids may be too young to think in terms of classic gratitude, which requires remembering something from the past. But “they understand what a good thing is,” Carter says. “Don’t worry about the time frame. Just ask them to name three good things about their day.” And no matter how old or a young a child, don’t correct them when they express gratitude. “Let them be grateful for whatever they’re grateful for.”

Middle school kids have often learned to be grateful for material things, because they’ve been trained in the etiquette of writing thank you-notes. So it’s good for parents to model being grateful for intangibles, like health and family, or a beautiful day. And as kids mature, questions about what they’re grateful for become more complicated, Carter says. If a parent asks, “what are you grateful for?” a child may feel burdened by everything they owe their parents. So non-verbal expressions can be helpful at this age, Carter suggests, like art projects that focus on gratitude. And parents can also help kids to focus on what they’re grateful for beyond the family, by helping them express words of appreciation about other people around them, with questions like, “What do you enjoy about your friends? Or your teachers?”

High school students can begin to think of gratitude in a much larger context. And context, Carter says, is actually key to gratitude. Relative to many other cultures, many children in the U.S. “live in tremendous abundance,” she points out. And that creates what researchers call an abundance paradox. “We’re much more likely to feel disappointed or even resentful when we don’t get what we want,” Carter explains, “than grateful when we do.” How to cut this knot? Studies have shown that “gratitude only arises naturally without cultivation under conditions of scarcity,” Carter says. So high school kids who have been exposed to scarcity, by doing activities like serving at a homeless shelter, will far more grateful than those who don’t.

And it turns out, sad old truth that it may be, the best way for all of us to feel grateful may be to give, rather than to get.

Share the Knowledge: A Time for Family subscription gives the whole family their news the way they like best. Click here to find out more.

TIME Music

8 Spotify Tricks That Will Change the Way You Listen to Music

Spotify
Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images Spotify app

There's a secret visualizer and a way to download songs that aren't on the service

Music fans are plenty familiar with Spotify, the online streaming service that lets users listen to millions of songs on-demand for free or with a no-advertisement subscription.

However, with Spotify’s myriad settings and apps that extend its functionality, you might not be using it to its full potential. Here, TIME rounds up 8 tips that will help users see Spotify in a whole new light:

Hide Your Guilty Pleasures From Friends

The ability to follow friends’ musical habits is one of Spotify’s best features. But maybe you don’t want everyone to know exactly how many times you listened to “All About That Bass” this summer.

On the desktop version, you can select “Private Session” from the main Spotify menu to stop broadcasting your musical selections for a certain period (the same setting is found on the “social” menu within settings on the mobile version). To permanently stop sharing your listening choices, go to the “Spotify” menu, then “Preferences,” and uncheck the boxes for “Share my activity and what I listen to with my followers on Spotify” and “Share my activity and what I listen to on Facebook.”

Improve Your Search Queries

Navigating Spotify’s massive catalogue can be a chore. Next time, try using qualifiers to narrow your search. They work much in the same way as Google search queries. You can specify searches based on artist, title, genre or year. So if you’re looking for just Jay-Z’s output in 1997, “Jay-Z year:1997” to pull up the desired results. Here’s a full list of the search qualifiers you can use on Spotify.

READ MORE Spotify Now Makes Playlists Based On What Your Friends Listen To

Use Folders to Organize Your Music

One criticism of Spotify is that people’s music collections often devolve into a jumble of playlists and favorites songs. Consider using folders to provide more order for your playlists. On the desktop app, go to “File” and then “New Playlist Folder” to create a new folder. Then you can place any playlists you like within the new folder.

Toggle High-Quality Streaming On or Off

Spotify Premium users have the option to enable “high-quality streaming” from the Preferences menu on the desktop, which plays songs at a bitrate of 320 kbps rather than the standard rate of 160 kbps — making everything sound better.

On mobile, songs automatically play at a lower bitrate of 96 kbps to conserve data. All users can bump that figure up to 160 kbps, and premium users can also use the 320 kbps setting. Just be careful, since a higher bitrate will eat into your mobile data plan faster.

Add Songs That Aren’t on Spotify And Listen to Them Offline

Spotify’s catalogue is hardly comprehensive, but users can easily add songs from outside sources to their libraries and listen to them within the Spotify interface. Simply go to Preferences and enable showing tracks from local sources. Those sources can include iTunes, the Downloads folder on your computer, or specific folders that you select.

Even better, if you have a playlist filled with non-Spotify songs and toggle on the “Available Offline” option at the top of the playlist, you can download the songs to your phone for offline listening.

See the Lyrics to Every Song

Trying to prep for your next karaoke session? Turn on the musiXmatch app (you can find it in the “App Finder” tab on the left-hand sidebar) and you can see the lyrics of most songs as they’re playing within Spotify. There are lots of other handy apps in the “App Finer” menu, including recommendation apps that offer features like curated music lists from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone.

READ MORE 6 Biggest Tech Debuts to Watch in 2015

Add a Visualizer

If you miss the cheesy visualizers from your days using Windows Media Player or Winamp, Spotify has you covered. In the search bar, just type in “spotify:app:visualizer” to bring up a range of different visual options that will play in time with your tunes.

Link to a Specific Part of a Song

Want to send a friend “Free Bird,” but skip the pretenses and get right to the guitar solo? Spotify makes that pretty simple. If you’re sharing the URL of a song (a special kind of Spotify-specific link that only works within the Spotify app), add a “#” sound to the end of the character string and then the timestamp you want to zoom to. To get to the “Free Bird” solo at 4 minutes and 25 seconds into the song, for example, you’d write this: spotify:track:1xt1TX045OgURfw0MAcVNF#4:25.

MONEY Holidays

Who Do You Tip Around the Holidays?

The mailman, the haircutter, and the doorman: Who do you tip? What do you give? MONEY's George Mannes asks people in New York about their annual tipping tradition.

TIME psychology

How to Eat Healthy: 5 Easy New Tips From Research

utensils
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You know you should eat healthier. But it’s not easy. Temptation is all around and willpower, well, isn’t.

The solution is in making better choices. Psychology. But most of the answers we hear aren’t legit.

So I called a guy who knows the real deal: Brian Wansink.

He leads food psychology research at Cornell University and the White House chose him to revise US dietary guidelines.

He has a great website and is author of two smart books on the subject of tricking yourself into eating better:

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

I posted about his work before but this time I wanted answers straight from the man himself. And, man, did he ever deliver.

What you’re going to learn in this post:

  • The easy thing to do while shopping that prevents you from buying junk food.
  • How to not fall for the tricks and traps of restaurants.
  • The 2 secrets to not snacking too much at the office.
  • How to stay disciplined at events and holiday gatherings — without making the host feel bad.
  • How superheroes can help you make better food choices.

Yeah, I said superheroes can help you eat better. Seriously. In fact, let’s start there…

Ask “What Would Batman Eat?”

Cookies calling your name? Ask yourself “What would Batman eat?”

Brian’s research showed this got kids to pick apple slices over french fries. Here’s Brian:

We found we could get kids to choose the healthier food much more often if we simply asked what their favorite superhero or their favorite princess would do. Even if they responded “french fries”, half the time they took the apple slices. It simply causes an interruption in their thinking that causes them to pause, hit the reset button inside their head and think again.

Sound crazy? Research really does show that thinking about fictional characters we love can help us make better decisions.

In fact, thinking about superheroes can even make you physically stronger. (I’ll be asking “What would Batman lift?” at the gym tomorrow.)

But some of you might be thinking, “He said that works for kids, Eric.”

Doesn’t matter. It’ll work for you too. Here’s Brian:

The same thing works for adults. If you’re faced with a decision like, “Should I eat dessert?” think of an admired person in your life. Say to yourself, “What would my cool friend Steve do?” You’ll find that about a third of the time it will be easier for you to make healthier decisions.

Ladies, feel free to envision Wonder Woman — unless you’re more the Catwoman type. (Hey, I don’t judge.)

(For plenty more awesome tips from Brian’s books click here.)

Okay, so you’re thinking about Batman when you eat. (I’ll bet you look dashing in a cape.) But the food war is often won or lost at the supermarket.

So what can you do to make sure you’re buying the right food in the first place?

Chew Gum While You Shop

Crazy, right? Believe it or not, a stick of gum in your mouth prevents junk food from entering your shopping cart. Here’s Brian:

We found that when people popped sugarless gum in their mouth it made them less hungry. It soothed cravings and some people even reduced how many snack foods they bought by about 90%.

Here’s the important thing to remember: not all gum is created equal. Go for sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Other kinds can actually increase appetite. Here’s Brian:

But one of the things we also found is that it can’t be sugared gum or even flavored gum because that can work in the opposite direction. The stuff that works best is sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Those are the two craving killers.

(For more on how the magic of gum can change your life — including make you smarter — click here.)

With superheroes on your mind and gum in your mouth you’re well on your way. But what about when you’re in a restaurant?

Now you need to think like a real estate agent: location, location, location.

Navigating The Treacherous World Of Restaurants

Watch where you sit. Did you choose a booth? You’re 80% more likely to order dessert and 80% less likely to order salad.

Sitting by the TV? You’re much more likely to order BBQ. Sitting closer to the bar? Guess who’s going to be drinking more than they thought?

Where are you safe? Head for a window seat. Here’s Brian:

People who sat in booths were about 80% more likely to order dessert than people sitting in a normal table and you’re about 80% less likely to order salad. People sitting near windows were much more likely to order salads. People sitting at tall tables were almost two to three times as likely to order chicken or fish. If you’re sitting within ten feet of a TV set you’re much, much more likely to order barbecue than not. If you are seated at a table close to the bar, on average, your table’s going to be ordering three more beers than the table that’s farther from the bar.

And those menus aren’t haphazardly thrown together. They are often marvels of psychological trickery.

Anything highlighted, in a box or a different font is going to catch your eye and you’ll be more likely to order it.

Be careful when reading the descriptions. Clever names and appealing adjectives make you 28% more likely to pick something. Here’s Brian:

Anything that’s in the corners or in a box or highlighted or in a different font or has an icon next to it has a huge leg up in its likelihood of being chosen. The description of a menu item has a tremendous impact not only on whether we’re going to order the item but also on how much we’re going to like it. In our research we found a real difference between calling something “Succulent Italian Seafood Fillet” instead of just “seafood fillet.” People are about 28% more likely to take it. And they’re also willing to pay about fifteen to twenty percent more for it.

So how do you find something that’s healthy and tasty? Ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” Here’s Brian:

If you want to get something a little bit healthier ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” You don’t want to say “What are your healthiest things?” because all she’s going to do is point at salads.

(For more of Brian’s advice on how to eat smart at restaurants, click here.)

So you’re good in the supermarket and at restaurants. But what about all that eating you do at work?

How To Stop Snacking At The Office

Keep two words in mind: distance and happiness.

As we’ve talked about before, distance is a big, big deal. You eat less when food is farther away and more when it’s closer. Here’s Brian:

People ate half as much if we simply moved the candy dish off their desk and placed it six feet away.

Simple barriers have the same effect.

As Dan Ariely said in my interview with him, when Google’s New York office put M&M’s in containers people ate 3 million less of them in one month:

Here’s an experiment that Google did recently. The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.

So that’s distance. What about happiness? It’s important to understand the psychology of workplace eating.

When you aren’t having fun at work you often tell yourself you deserve to eat more because you’re working hard.

If you enjoy your job more (or have fun going out to eat with colleagues at lunch) you’ll find this happens less. Here’s Brian:

You see food as a reward you deserve because you’re doing something you don’t want to do. “I’ve been working all day so I deserve a snack” or “I deserve more to eat tonight at dinner.”

(For more on how to be happier at work, click here.)

And now we come to the most sinister and dangerous of all the scenarios: get-togethers, dinner parties and holiday gatherings.

Say “no” to food and you could insult the host… and that often turns into an excuse to binge. What to do? Brian has answers.

How To Avoid Gorging At Events And Holiday Gatherings

Here are the two tricks:

  1. Only eat the food the host prepared themselves. No chips, pretzels or stuff out of a box or bag.
  2. Take a tiny amount of what they prepared — but make sure to ask for seconds. You don’t eat much, but the host knows you liked it.

Here’s Brian:

Our research found that people ate 11% of their calories at Thanksgiving before they even eat dinner. The peanuts, the Chex Mix and stuff like that. One of the biggest reasons that people say they overeat at Thanksgiving is they don’t want to offend their host. So the easiest way to not offend your host and eat 10% less is just don’t eat the stuff that she bought at the store. And the second thing is that nobody remembers how much you take of something but they do remember whether you asked for seconds. So just take a little bit the first time but make sure you ask for seconds and that she hears you. All she’s going to remember is that you really appreciated what she made and asked for more.

(For more tips on how to handle eating at gatherings, click here.)

Armed with these tips you should be ready for anything. Let’s round them up and get more insight from Brian.

Sum Up

Brian’s great tips for healthy eating are:

  1. Ask “What would Batman do?” (Fill in the name of anyone you admire… though Batman is an excellent choice, in my utterly biased opinion.)
  2. Chew sugarless bubble gum or mint gum while you shop for groceries.
  3. At restaurants, be careful where you sit and watch out for menu tricks. Ask the server for popular lighter options.
  4. Enjoying your work and distance from food can prevent you from overeating at the office.
  5. At get-togethers only eat what your host actually prepared. Eat a small amount but ask for seconds.

Research shows we have a crazy relationship with food sometimes. But you can overcome a lot of this with simple deceit and trickery.

What makes this so much fun is that the person you need to trick is you.

Brian and I talked for a while so there are a number of other great tips that I’ll be including in my weekly email (including the one sentence that helps people stop overeating immediately.) Join now to learn more.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 145,000 readers and get my free weekly email update here.

Related posts:

How To Get In Shape Using Psychology: 6 New Tricks From Research

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MONEY Holidays

The Ultimate Guide to Holiday Tipping

Want to give a holiday tip, but don't have a clue how much to give? Here are some helpful guidelines from the etiquette experts.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but instead I often find myself stressed when I realize I have no clue how much to tip my hairdresser. Or my housekeeper. Or my garbage collectors. If you’re like me, you have a list of people you want to thank for helping to make your life easier throughout the year. If you’re also like me, you have no clue about what gratuity levels are considered typical, stingy, or even generous.

That’s why this year I reached out to a couple of highly regarded experts to get the inside scoop. Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas says, “The first rule of thought is to gift and tip within your budget. No one wants to see you struggle to tip through the holidays if you have just lost your job, or you are having trouble paying the rent.”

“Tips are subjective,” adds Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Mass. “Tips are dependent on your relationship with the individual and the norms for your area, as well as your budget.”

With that in mind, here are some helpful guidelines from the experts to help you (and me!) navigate gratuity gifts as the year comes to an end.

Home Services

These are the people who help out around the house, so you have more time to earn money to hire people to help out around the house!

  • Babysitter: Cash or gift card equivalent to one or two night’s pay. I talked to someone who used to sit for my kids and she told me, “It’s nice to know you’re appreciated. A small gift is a nice token of appreciation and helps keep a sitter loyal to a family.”
  • Nanny/Au Pair: The equivalent of one week’s salary and a handmade gift from your child. “A live-in nanny or a nanny that spends most of the day with your children is invaluable,” says Gottsman.
  • Housekeeper: A cash gift equal to one week’s pay. “If you use a service, and you don’t see the same person on a regular basis, or the person is brand new,” says Gottsman, “you may not feel obliged give a tip at all. If you have a relationship with the person(s), or they come weekly, consider a gift card per person or a tip equivalent to one visit.”
  • Pet Sitter: One day to one week’s worth of service. “Our pets are our family and someone that takes care of them while we are on a trip, or walks the dog on a regular basis is worth their weight in gold,” says Gottsman.

Apartment Living

You’ll want to keep happy all those folks who make apartment living nice.

  • Doorman: Between $20 and $200. (This range seems huge to me. I’ve never lived in an apartment with a doorman so I’d love to hear those of you who do ring in on this one.)
  • Custodian/Superintendent/Handyman: $20 – $100. “If they have saved you in the middle of the night when your toilet was overflowing or jumped your car more than once when you forgot to turn off your headlights,” says Gottsman, a holiday tip would be helpful.”
  • Parking Attendant: $10 – $50
  • Landlord or Building Manager: $50 (cash or gift card)

Homeowners

While homeowners don’t typically have doormen to tip, they do have a host of service providers to gift.

  • Garbage Collector: Between $10 and $25 per crew person. In many areas, tips left taped to the trashcan lids can be stolen (I’ve had several friends tell me this happened to them.) If you miss your crew during the day, Gottsman suggests arranging to drop the gift off at their corporate office.
  • Lawncare: $10 per crew person.
  • Snow Removal: $10 per person.
  • Pool Cleaner: One week’s pay.

Work

These gifts are more personal than those traded during the office Secret Santa.

  • Your Boss: $0 or a group office gift. “It’s not necessary to give your boss a large or expensive gift,” says Gottsman. “Consider an office gift pool or bring a tray or holiday goodies for the office.”
  • Your Office Assistant: A bonus, gift card, or small gift.

School

Show teachers and staff you appreciate all their efforts to educate Junior (even if Junior doesn’t).

  • Your Child’s Teacher: Many schools encourage parents to contribute to a class gift. If your child’s school doesn’t, consider a small gift with a note and/or a handmade gift from your child. A teacher friend of mine told me, “I always love and save handwritten notes. If they come with a gift or gift card — to anywhere at all — that is appreciated, too. But, it’s the notes that keep me going.”
  • Classroom Aide: If there is not a group classroom gift, a small gift with a note and/or a handmade gift from your child.
  • School Lunch Attendant: $20 per attendant, if you have a child with special dietary needs, and school policy allows such gifts (check with your child’s school office to be sure). Says Gottsman, “A lunch attendant who is vigilant when it comes to your child’s food allergy is worth their weight in gold.”
  • School Secretary: A small gift or gift certificate.

Personal Care

The people who keep you and your family looking good should know you appreciate their work, too.

  • Hairstylist: The cost of one session or a gift. “Hair stylists become our confidants,” says Gottsman. “It would be uncomfortable to arrive empty handed the last week of the holiday season.”
  • Shampoo Attendant: A small gift or $5 – $20.
  • Manicurist: The equivalent of one visit or a gift.
  • Massage Therapist: The equivalent of one session or a gift.
  • Personal Trainer: The equivalent of one session or a gift. According to Gottsman, “Personal trainers often double as counselors. A tip of one service or a gift that has personal significance would say happy holidays.”
  • Pet Groomer: The equivalent of one service or a basket of treats from your pet.
  • Personal Healthcare Nurse: The equivalent of one week’s pay.

Gift Wrap Your Gifts, Too

When preparing your holiday gratuities, Smith says, “Tips should be crisp, new bills placed in an envelope with a card or note of appreciation.” For the financially strapped, Smith suggests a heartfelt note of thanks along with a thoughtful and inexpensive gift like homemade cookies. Gottsman agrees and offers further suggestions like a pot of fresh herbs from your garden or a basket of scones with homemade jelly.

When to Skip the Tip

Gottsman also suggests adjusting your tips according to level of relationship and frequency of service. “Everyone has different lifestyle preferences and providers,” says Gottsman. “One person may use a hairstylist once a week while another person may visit the salon every three months. If you don’t see them regularly and they can’t remember your name, you may opt to skip the tip.”

If the relationship is solid, though, Smith says that skipping the tip is akin to telling your service providers they’re not valued or to imply they’ve done something wrong. If a gratuity is not in your budget for this year, consider the alternative suggestions above. However, “when your finances are fluid again,” Smith suggests, “please do tip them.”

Related:
Who Can You Get Away With NOT Tipping Over the Holidays?

Read more articles from Wise Bread:

How to Wrap Gifts with Leftovers
Regifting: A Simple How-To Guide
25 Great Gifts for $5 or Less

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