You don't have to be an expert to manage your money and prepare for life's unexpected twists and turns
If you're like most people, your New Years Resolutions have already expired. You haven't lost 10 pounds, you're not going to the gym five days a week, and when was the last time you called your mother?
Chances are, your financial goals have fallen by the wayside too. I don't want to discourage you from paying down debt, saving a downpayment for a house, or any of those big goals that you may have set for yourself at the beginning of the year. But if you sort of tuckered out on the big things (or even if you're still going strong--go you!), maybe it's time to set some more achievable goals. Here are ten things you can do in an hour or less apiece to make yourself--or your household--more financially sound.
1. Join Mint I'm an unabashed fan of the site, and not just because they do some great data-mining on their blog. (Don't worry, all at the very aggregate level). It will track and aggregate your spending for you, showing you where the money is going, and what's happening to your net worth over time. If you have sort of complicated finances--as I do, living in a two-journalist household--then it's an absolute godsend at tax and expense time. And in the last year they've added goals, allowing you to set your spending, saving, and debt-reduction goals and then track how you're doing with a thermometer. It's surprisingly motivating, and it's free.
I probably spend 20 minutes a week in Mint, categorizing our expenses and monitoring our financial position. But even if you don't put in that kind of time (and most of you don't have to keep track of which meals are tax-deductible), it's still incredibly helpful at tracking the broad outlines of your spending.
2. Get your papers together If you die, someone is going to have to clean up the financial aftermath. Make it easy on them by putting everything in one place where they can find it. Dave Ramsey calls this a "Legacy Drawer", and suggests putting in a cover letter and letters to your loved ones as well as the financial papers. But we're trying to keep this under an hour, so the notes are optional. Here's what it should contain:
A list of every financial account: loans, bank accounts, investment accounts, 401(k)s, whatever. Security experts will kill me for saying this, but I'd say this list should have the account numbers, the PINs, and the passwords.
Deeds and titles to any property you own (cars, land, etc)
Birth certificate and social security card, if you have them
Information about your will/estate plans: who has them, who the executor is
Funeral instructions (if any; mine are "cheapest coffin you can find")
A list of your major recurring expenses (so people know which bills to pay)
Start by putting this in a drawer; eventually, you should move this to a safe-deposit box, and tell whoever's likely to be taking care of your final details where to find the key. This should only take you an hour--if it takes you longer than that, well, you really needed to get these documents while you could find them anyway.
3. Buy life insurance If you're single, you don't need this unless you have a kid or someone else depending on you--your job usually offers you enough to bury you. If you're married, I think you do need a little, even if you don't have kids. Married life is usually built on the expectation of two incomes: a mortgage (or lease), the cars, all sorts of other recurring expenses. At a minimum, make sure your partner will have enough to bury you and pay off any outstanding debt--including not only mortgages and cars, but credit cards and student loans in their name alone, if you own property. You don't want to have to hassle with someone coming after their half of the house or car to pay off their unsecured debt. Obviously, if your partner is at home, or makes very little money, you're also going to want to replace some of your income.
You do not want "whole life" insurance, "return of premium" or any other product that promises you to give you some or all of your money back--all this is is a savings vehicle with bad rates of return, bundled with expensive term life insurance. Buy a simple term life policy for 20 or 30 years--long enough for you to accumulate enough assets to take care of your partner if you die. You can compare rates online or mosey down to your local insurance office, but either way, this shouldn't take you too long provided that you resist the blandishments of insurance agents who will attempt to upsell you "features" you don't need. Stand firm, buy term.
4. Cancel stupid recurring expenses Remember when you thought you'd try Stamps.com? How about that credit monitoring service you signed up for eighteen months ago? The dual subscriptions to Netflix left over from before you moved in together? For many of you, I am sad to say, your gym membership also falls into this category.
Whatever it is, if you haven't used it in three months, cancel it. Cancel it whether or not you think you should be using it. You can always rejoin the gym after you've developed a burning desire to actually go. With the hundreds of dollars you will save between now and then, you will easily be able to afford any re-initiation fees.
5. Ramp up for retirement Unless you are already at the legal maximum, increase your 401(k) contribution by 1% of your income. Unless you are already pinching pennies so hard that Abraham Lincoln is actually screaming in pain, you can afford to put an extra 1% of your pre-tax income into your 401(k). Then every time you get a raise, you increase your contribution by another 1% until you hit the legal limit ($16,500) or 15-20% of your income. Almost painless, and you'll feel a lot safer in retirement. (Of course, if you want to save faster, you can--try 2% or 3%).
6. Start Saving If you don't have an emergency fund, you need one. Here's how to do it so that you almost won't notice: set up an automatic transfer into your savings account from every paycheck. Figure out how much can you afford, but even if it's only $25, transfer it from every paycheck, and resolve not to touch that money unless it's an actual emergency. (Emergency: my car won't start. Not an emergency: I really need a break, so I'm going to the beach for a week.)
The ideal way to handle this is to have a separate account that isn't linked to your other bank accounts, and to have the transfer done as part of your auto-deposit. That way, you never see the money--and I think you'll be surprised to find that you don't much miss it. But if you don't want to go to the trouble, you can do this with your regular savings account, as long as you're resolved not to touch the money in that account for anything but an emergency: just use online banking to do a recurring transfer on the same day as your paycheck hits the account.
Over time, increase the amount that you're saving. Eventually you'll have a tidy nest egg, and because the money was never in your checking account, you won't have been tempted to spend it on incidentals.
7. Rebalance your portfolio If you already have substantial assets, it's time to make sure they're correctly structured for your priorities. Are your mutual funds allocated the way that you want them, or over time, has one grown faster than the others, leaving your portfolio lopsided (many companies now automatically rebalance, but you should check.) You should also be thinking about your portfolio's life-cycle. If you're in your fifties, you should already be transitioning some of your money to bonds.
I know what you're going to say: you'll never be able to retire at those kinds of returns. My response is a piece of wisdom that I picked up from my driving instructor: "If you left late, you're going to get there late." Trying to flout that simple equation only gets you in trouble. Just as it's a bad idea to race through red lights in the hopes of making up the lost time, it's a bad idea to leave your assets in 100% equity because you're hoping that higher returns will still let you retire in comfort at 65. Risking destitution now is just compounding your earlier planning errors.
8. Make a Will If your finances are pretty simple, you can do this in half an hour with something like Quicken Willmaker, which took Lifehacker half an hour. LegalZoom will also do it for you for a pretty modest fee. If your finances are complicated--well, okay, this won't take under an hour, and you need a lawyer. But if your finances are complicated, you really need a will. If it freaks you out too much to meditate upon your own death, pretend that you are preparing this will so you can drop out of sight and assume your new identity as Agent 007 of Her Majesty's Secret Service.
9. Fix your withholding Are you looking forward to a nice big refund from the IRS this year? Don't look so happy--that refund means that you made the government an interest-free loan for most of the year. And if you're like many freelancers, and you owe the government a hefty chunk, then you may be liable for interest and penalties.
The easy way to fix either problem is to adjust your withholding. HR can help you do this. If you're getting a big refund every year, raise your exemptions; if you're having to pay, lower them. (If they're already as low as they can get, look at what you owe this year, adjust for what you'll owe next year . . . and start making estimated payments every quarter.)
10. Shop for better deals Can you get a better interest rate on your credit cards? How about your bank accounts? You don't have to follow through, if you decide thePITA factor isn't worth it. But it's worth taking fifteen minutes on the web to find out. Also worth doing: threaten to cancel your cable. You don't have to actually do it--though with Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime's new subscription service, it's possibly worth it. But if you call to cancel, they'll usually offer you a better deal.
In federal court and the public consciousness, his moralizing accelerated the cultural backlash against him and provided evidence that would be used against him at trial.
On Thursday “America’s Dad” was convicted of sexual assault.
Cosby’s image as a wholesome sitcom dad and moral exemplar had been irreparably tarnished in the past few years by dozens of women coming forward with stories of drug-induced sexual assault, some new, some raised a decade ago. But the conviction will define his legacy forever, even if he never spends a day in prison. He went from selling pudding pops and gelatin, from being a comedian who told “clean” jokes and coaxed children into saying funny things, to becoming a symbol of how society allows sexual abuse by powerful men to go unpunished.
And if it hadn’t been for his decision to scold poor black Americans for their moral failures while decades of sexual assault allegations had remained hidden, it’s possible none of Cosby’s victims would have gotten their day in court.
In a rambling interview, the president threatened to intervene in the Justice Department, disclosed “very, very secret” meetings with North Korea, and revealed that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican.
Updated on April 26 at 10:21 a.m.
President Trump isn’t great at avoiding trouble. On Thursday alone, his nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronny Jackson, withdrew amid allegations of misconduct; Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is set to be grilled about allegations of misconduct on Capitol Hill; and his longtime fixer Michael Cohen was set to appear at a court hearing in Manhattan, a day after saying he’d invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a suit in California.
But if Trump can’t avoid problems, he can at least try to grab the spotlight himself when they crop up. That’s what the president did during a wide-ranging and characteristically bizarre call-in to Fox and Friends Thursday morning. It was the president’s first television interview in some time—he called in to another Fox show two months ago—and he didn’t hesitate to make news, if not sense. The hosts seemed shell-shocked when it was over.
To get a job at the Museum of Ice Cream, hopeful future employees show up at the weekly casting call, Tuesdays at noon. They head to the former Savings Union Bank in San Francisco’s financial district, where pink banners announce, in minimalist font, the name of the employer-to-be. Inside, there are giant animal cookies on carousel mounts. Gardens of gummies. A minty scent wafting through a jungle of mint leaves. Each day, roughly 1,700 people pay $38 a ticket to march through the maze of rooms, licking pink vanilla soft-serve cones, following instructions from a cotton candy server to text someone in their life whom they consider the “cherry on top,” and, all the while, angling for photos. It is as if Willy Wonka had redesigned his factory for the selfie age.
Today marks the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On April 26, 1986, technicians conducting a test inadvertently caused the fourth reactor to explode, causing the world’s worst civil nuclear disaster.
Today marks the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On April 26, 1986, technicians conducting a test inadvertently caused the fourth reactor to explode. Several hundred staff members and firefighters then tackled a blaze that burned for 10 days and sent a plume of radiation around the world in the worst-ever civil nuclear disaster. More than 50 reactor and emergency workers were killed at the time. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people from the area, including 43,000 from the city of Pripyat. Below, recent images from Chernobyl and nearby ghost towns within the exclusion zone, as well as memorials held in Ukraine and Russia.
Americans don’t realize how fast the country is moving toward becoming a better version of itself.
I have seen the future, and it is in the United States.
After a several-year immersion in parts of the country that make the news mainly after a natural disaster or a shooting, or for follow-up stories on how the Donald Trump voters of 2016 now feel about Trump, I have a journalistic impulse similar to the one that dominated my years of living in China. That is the desire to tell people how much more is going on, in places they had barely thought about or even heard of, than they might have imagined.
In the case of China, that impulse matched the mood of the times. In the years before and after the world financial crisis of 2008, everyone knew that China was on the way up; reporters like me were just filling in the details. In the case of the modern United States, I am well aware that this message runs so counter to prevailing emotions and ideas as to seem preposterous. Everyone knows how genuinely troubled the United States is at the level of national politics and governance. It is natural to assume that these disorders must reflect a deeper rot across the country. And indeed, you can’t travel extensively through today’s America, as my wife, Deb, and I have been doing in recent years, without being exposed to signs of rot, from opioid addiction to calcifying class barriers.
A spate of #MeToo comeback stories—including a rumor about a confessional TV show hosted by Charlie Rose—ask uncomfortable questions about who deserves redemption.
In sitcoms, there’s a thing that will sometimes happen when a new character is introduced to the show: The newbie, often but not always a fleeting love interest of one of the main characters, will arrive on the scene … and then promptly be dismissed as narratively expendable. Tasha on Insecure, Emily on Friends, the Mother (her name is pretty much irrelevant) on How I Met Your Mother: They are good characters who serve, in the end, primarily as foils for the people the audience already knows—the people the audience has been trained, episode after episode, to care about. Issa. Rachel. Robin. So: After Ross, reciting his wedding vows to Emily, pledged his undying love to Rachel… Friends proceeded to treat the bride’s anger not as an eminently reasonable reaction to this turn of events, but rather as proof of her unfitness to become a permanent member of the tight-knit group at the show’s core. (This despite the manifest evidence that Emily’s love life, too, is DOA.)
The rapper and president are bros now. Here’s why.
The scandals are like sediment in the delta of Kanye West. Each new controversy—each paparazzi fight, each “BILL COSBY INNOCENT,” each repackaging of ratty apocalypse couture as expensive fashion, each “multiracial women only” casting call—instead of burying him, only builds up higher and higher until it somehow becomes the very thing that grounds him. It’s worth wondering if, some untold number of years in the future, contemporaries will reflect on West and struggle to remember past the questionable comments and erratic behavior to even recognize his brilliant artistic contributions. The rapper and producer has become a pulsar of nihilism, an object to be followed closely only if one wants to have their faith in humans tested.
The conviction of the actor and comedian is a testament to the power of #MeToo.
“Let’s face it: She went up to his house with a bare midriff and incense and bath salts. What the heck?”
That was one of the jurors in the 2017 trial of Bill Cosby, in which the actor and comedian defended himself against charges that, in 2004, he had drugged and then raped Andrea Constand, at the time a Temple University employee for whom he had served as a mentor. The jury in that trial, after more than50 hours of deliberation, found itself unable to reach a conclusion about the facts of the case. And that anonymous juror suggested to the Philadelphia Inquirer why the jury couldn’t bring itself to convict Cosby: It wasn’t clear to all 12 members, it seems, that the sex that took place between Cosby and Constand wasn’t consensual. After all: the bare midriff. And the incense. What the heck?
In an echo of past controversies, the EPA administrator initially denied approving salary hikes for his top aides, but admitted he did so when questioned before Congress.
In the hierarchy of Donald Trump-era scandals, from the brazen to the boorish, pay raises in a low-level agency shouldn’t crack the top quartile. But on Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt managed to spin his hiring practices into a cobweb beyond his control—leaving some reporters to question whether a low-stakes snafu could now be the “end of the line.”
In his hearing before the House energy panel, Pruitt struggled to answer questions about salary hikes given to two of Pruitt’s closest aides. As The Atlantic first reported earlier this month, Pruitt bypassed the White House to give raises of 33 percent and 52 percent to Millan Hupp and Sarah Greenwalt, respectively, both of whom had worked for Pruitt while he was attorney general of Oklahoma. At the time, Pruitt denied any knowledge of the raises, telling Fox News’s Ed Henry that he didn’t know who on his staff had authorized them. Democratic lawmakers quickly questioned Pruitt’s account, prompting the agency’s inspector general to start digging. Pruitt has also been under scrutiny for leasing a condo from the wife of a lobbyist and for spending more than $40,000 for a soundproof booth around his office.