Budgeting

Using Flexible Spending Account Dollars at the Drugstore

Here is a nice article by Kimberly Lankford of Kiplinger:

 

By Kimberly Lankford, Contributing Editor   

 

August 22, 2017

 

The rules changed a few years ago to limit use of tax-free FSA money for nonprescription drugs, but there are plenty of items you can still buy without a prescription. 

 

Q. I know that the law changed a few years ago so you can no longer use tax-free money from a flexible spending account for over-the-counter medications without a prescription. But I saw your article about using FSA money for sunscreen. Wouldn't you need a prescription for that?

 

A. You can use FSA money for sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, and you don't need a prescription.

 

In the past, you could use tax-free FSA money for prescription and nonprescription drugs. You can still use FSA money for prescription drugs, but the law changed in 2011 to prohibit the use of FSA money for over-the-counter drugs with an active medical ingredient without a prescription. There are a few exceptions. For example, you can use FSA money without a prescription for insulin, prenatal vitamins, and glucosamine and chondroitin supplements for arthritis treatment, says Jeremy Miller, CEO of FSAStore.com, which specializes in selling items that are FSA-eligible.

 

But there are also many drugstore items that are FSA-eligible without a prescription because they do not contain any medicated ingredients, says Miller. For instance, in addition to sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, you can use FSA money for blood pressure monitors, orthotic shoe inserts, knee and back braces, breast pumps, nasal aspirators, bandages, first-aid kits, thermometers, heat and cold packs, and contact lens solution. For lists of FSA-eligible items that do and do not require a prescription, see FSAStore's lists of FSA-Eligible Products & Services.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

10 Most Expensive Cities to Live In

Here is a nice article by Dan Burrows of Kiplinger:

 

By Dan Burrows, Contributing Writer / May 2017

 

Costly cities are costly for a reason. Be it climate, geography, culture, economic prosperity or all of the above, the most expensive U.S. cities to live in offer amenities and opportunities for which residents are willing to pay a premium to access. It’s simply the price of admission to enjoy the advantages a desirable place has to offer.

“It's all about trade-offs and opportunity costs when choosing to live in one place over another,” says Jennie Allison of the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness, a nonprofit research and policy group. “In Hawaii, this is called a ‘Paradise Tax,’ and in Florida many people are likely familiar to the reference of the ‘Sunshine Tax.’” On the plus side, notes Allison: Wages are often higher in these cities, too, which makes a steeper cost of living more manageable.

We compiled our list of the most expensive U.S. cities to live in based on the Council for Community and Economic Research's calculations of living expenses in 288 urban areas. Its Cost of Living Index measures prices for housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services such as getting your hair done or going to a movie. Take a closer look at the nation’s most expensive cities.

(The Cost of Living Index is based on price data collected during 2016. City-level data on populations, household incomes and home values come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Metropolitan-area unemployment rates come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and represent 2016 averages. For the purposes of finalizing this list, the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn were treated as separate cities; Orange County, Calif., was screened out because it contains multiple cities with large populations including Anaheim, Santa Ana and Irvine.)

 

Most Expensive U.S. Cities to Live In 2017

 

10. Seattle

 

•Cost of Living: 44.9% above U.S. average

•City Population: 684,451

•Median Household Income: $70,594 (U.S.: $53,889)

•Median Home Value: $452,800 (U.S.: $178,600)

•Unemployment Rate: 4.5% (U.S.: 4.9%)

 

Coffee isn’t the only thing that’s strong in Seattle. The local economy is, too, and that's putting upward pressure on prices. As one of the nation's fastest growing cities, Seattle’s housing market is hot, driven in part by a booming tech scene. (Microsoft and Amazon are both based in the area, as are many smaller high-tech companies.) Housing-related costs for renters and homeowners are nearly 80% higher than the U.S. average, according to the Cost of Living Index, and they're only going up. Real estate-tracker Zillow expects home prices in the Emerald City to rise another 5.6% in 2017.

 

9. Stamford, Conn.

 

•Cost of Living: 45.7% above U.S. average

•City Population: 128,874

•Median Household Income: $79,359

•Median Home Value: $501,200

•Unemployment Rate: 5.0%

 

With its close proximity to New York City, Stamford has long been home to wealthy commuters. In fact, despite its relatively small population, the Connecticut city has one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the country. But as expensive as Stamford’s living costs are, they are still less than the Big Apple. (More on the cost of living in New York City later.) If there's another upside to be found, it's in transportation costs. Extensive commuter rail links to New York and its position in the Northeast rail corridor help make getting around only 11% more expensive than the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index.

 

8. Boston

 

•Cost of Living: 47.9% above U.S. average

•City Population: 667,137

•Median Household Income: $55,777

•Median Home Value: $393,600

•Unemployment Rate: 3.4%

 

With its unparalleled collection of universities, hospitals, historical sites, and tech and biotech employers, it's easy to see why Boston is such an appealing place to live. And while there’s no question the city’s popularity comes at a high cost, it’s not nearly as high as some East Coast cities that are often mentioned in the same breath as Boston. After all, the high concentrations of students, recent grads and young professionals require some level of affordability to get by while they’re starting out. Groceries, for example, run just 6% above the national average in Boston, far less than residents of the other cities on this list pay. The median home value, while high relative to the U.S. median, is the lowest among our expensive cities.

 

7. Oakland, Calif.

 

•Cost of Living: 48.4% above U.S. average

•City Population: 419,267

•Median Household Income: $54,618

•Median Home Value: $458,500

•Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

 

Oakland anchors one corner of a sort of Bermuda Triangle around San Francisco Bay where affordable prices go missing. The second corner is San Francisco, as famous for its sky-high real estate as it is for Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf. The third corner is Silicon Valley, home to high-tech giants handing out six-figure salaries like candy on Halloween. Compared to its neighbors to the west and south, Oakland might seem a bargain. But consider this: The median household income in Oakland is about the same as the U.S. median, yet median home values are 2.5 times the U.S median. And after rising 9.6% over the last year, Oakland home prices are expected to climb another 2.9% in the next 12 months, according to Zillow estimates.

 

6. Washington, D.C.

 

•Cost of Living: 49% above U.S. average

•City Population: 681,170

•Median Household Income: $70,848

•Median Home Value: $475,800

•Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

 

The nation's capital is a tale of two cities when it comes to living costs. Housing-related expenses including rents and mortgages are by far the most burdensome at more than double the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index, but other expenses aren’t too far above average. In fact, D.C. health-care costs are slightly below the national average. A wide-ranging bus and metro system makes getting to and around the District of Columbia affordable. The Circulator bus, for example, costs just $1 and its routes reach popular spots including Georgetown, Union Station and the National Mall. Numerous museums and historical sites are free to visit.

 

5. Brooklyn, N.Y.

 

•Cost of Living: 73.3% above U.S. average

•City Population: 2,629,150

•Median Household Income: $48,201

•Median Home Value: $570,200

•Unemployment Rate: 4.8%

 

Technically, Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City, but in recent years it has emerged as something of a metropolis onto itself. Indeed, if Brooklyn was an independent city, its population would be on par with Chicago, the third-largest city in the nation. Not so long ago, Brooklyn was considered a viable alternative for those who couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan. Not anymore. Housing-related expenses including rents and mortgages are three times the national average. Any yet, the median household income in Brooklyn is more than $5,000 below the U.S. median and nearly $25,000 shy of the median household income in Manhattan.

 

4. San Francisco

 

•Cost of Living: 77.2% above U.S. average

•City Population: 864,816

•Median Household Income: $81,294

•Median Home Value: $799,600

•Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

 

Years of relentless growth driven by high-paid tech workers have given San Francisco some of the highest living costs in the country, meaning even those with fat paychecks can struggle to make ends meet. Home prices are famously high, an obstacle for aspiring homeowners, and renters fare little better. The average rent for an apartment in San Francisco is $3,548 a month, according to the Cost of Living Index. That’s 3.5 times the national average. or three times the national average. Yes, median household income is the second highest on this list, but even then it's easy for San Franciscans to feel the financial strain.

 

3. Honolulu

 

•Cost of Living: 90.1% above U.S. average

•City Population: 992,605

•Median Household Income: $74,460

•Median Home Value: $580,200

•Unemployment Rate: 2.8%

 

Remember the “paradise tax” that Jennie Allison of the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness talked about? Well, it’s collected in spades in Hawaii. To enjoy the perks of living in such a remote Pacific paradise, Honolulu residents pay more than they would on the mainland for pretty much everything -- and it’s not hard to understand why. Most goods sold in Hawaii must arrive either by boat or by plane, which jacks up the price considerably. Honolulu has the most expensive groceries of all 288 urban areas surveyed for the Cost of Living Index. Eggs, for example, cost two-thirds more than the national average and margarine costs double. Gasoline goes for 30% more than it does in the continental U.S.

 

2. Sunnyvale, Calif.

 

•Cost of Living: 122.9% above U.S. average

•City Population: 151,754

•Median Household Income: $105,401

•Median Home Value: $790,300

•Unemployment Rate: 3.8%

 

Either play the lottery or brush up on your computer coding skills if you hope to survive in this pricey California city. Sunnyvale and its Silicon Valley surroundings are famous for being home to some of the biggest tech companies in the world -- and for being home to exorbitant living expenses. Yahoo is headquartered in Sunnyvale and tech behemoths such as Google, Apple, Intel and Tesla are based nearby. No wonder overall housing-related costs are the highest in the land, according to the Cost of Living Index, running 375% above average. A six-figure median income, tops in the U.S., helps Sunnyvale's citizens bear the financial burden.

 

1. Manhattan, N.Y.

 

•Cost of Living: 127.8% above U.S. average

•City Population: 1,643,347

•Median Household Income: $72,871

•Median Home Value: $848,700

•Unemployment Rate: 4.8%

 

If you’ve ever been to Manhattan, you don’t need us to tell you that it’s an expensive place to visit. It’s even more expensive to live there. With space at a premium and location paramount, the median home value in Manhattan is the highest among our expensive cities. So, too, is the rent for an apartment, which averages a staggering $4,239 a month. The budget-busting doesn't stop there. Residents pay a premium of 43% at the grocery store, health care is a third more costly than average, and transportation is 30% above average. Want to see a movie? Ticket prices are nearly 50% higher, on average, than is the norm in the rest of the country. Oh, and you’ll need to like crowds if you hope to make it in the Big Apple: Manhattan packs in nearly 70,000 residents per square mile, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

9 Places to Find Free Money

Here is a nice article provided by the Editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance:

 

By the Editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance | August 2017 

 

State treasuries and other agencies are holding more than $40 billion in unclaimed assets, according to the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA). Some of it could be yours.

Unclaimed assets, often from accounts that have been inactive for a certain period of time, can include checking and savings, payroll checks, utility deposits and tax refunds. They may also include stock certificates, certificates of deposit, insurance benefits, pension payments and safe-deposit-box contents.

This article will point you toward resources that will help you track down your missing money.

 

The Unclaimed Property Clearinghouse

 

Whether you’re just curious or you suspect that you or someone in your family has missing assets, the best place to start your treasure hunt is Missingmoney.com. The national database is endorsed by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators (NAUPA), as well as 41 U.S. states. You just need to enter a last name and state to start your nationwide search.

 

Your State's Unclaimed Property Program

 

For a more targeted search, you can try NAUPA's www.unclaimed.org. The site connects you directly to each state's program. It also includes links to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and a few Canadian provinces. The specific search can help you avoid getting overwhelmed by MissingMoney's nationwide results, especially if you have a common name. Just be sure to check all the states in which you've ever lived.

 

The Internal Revenue Service

 

The Internal Revenue Service is a treasure trove of lost loot. In 2017, the IRS reported that more than $1 billion in refunds were waiting to be claimed by people who had not filed 2013 returns. The average unclaimed check is for $763. You have three years to file past returns and claim your refund—so you have until April 17, 2018, to file your 2014 return. And you will not be penalized at all for filing late if you get a refund.

If you did file your return and have yet to receive your expected refund, go to the IRS's Where’s My Refund? page. You need to enter your Social Security number, your filing status and the amount you were due as shown on your tax return.

 

Your Old Insurance Policy

 

Over the past decade, some major insurers, such as John Hancock, MetLife and Prudential, have demutualized. That is, they converted from mutual life insurance companies, owned by their policyholders, into publicly traded firms, owned by shareholders. In this process, the firms give their policyholders shares of stock or cash. The size of the payout depends on the face value of the policy, the length of time the policy has been in force, and the total amount of premiums paid.

However, many of the insurers couldn’t find policy owners. If you suspect that you or family members might be affected, contact the insurance company and ask about the possibility of missing demutualization money. The firm may have already surrendered the unclaimed assets to the state, in which case you can try tracking it down via Missingmoney.com or www.unclaimed.org.

 

Your Forgotten Stock Portfolio

 

Another common missing asset, old stock certificates, may be harder to track down. If you have the CUSIP number—an identification number used for stocks and bonds—call your broker and find out the value of the security. If you don’t have the CUSIP number but know the name of the company, try the investor-relations department of the firm and ask the registrar to help you.

If the company already surrendered your unclaimed assets to the state—if it failed to locate you after it was acquired, for example—again you can check for the funds through Missingmoney.com or www.unclaimed.org. Just be sure to look for your name in three states: where you lived at the time of purchasing the stock, where the company was based and where it was incorporated.

 

Your Former Employer's Pension Plan

 

Were you a participant in a pension plan offered by a company that went out of business or closed its plan? Millions of dollars of pension benefits go unclaimed because those owed the money can't be found.

When your former employer can't find you, your pension money goes to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government agency that protects retirement income. Check the PBGC's unclaimed pensions database to see if you're on its list of people owed benefits.

 

Your Old Bank

 

If your bank or financial institution closed and you didn't claim the funds in your account, you still might be able to get your money. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has a list of unclaimed insured deposits at firms that were shut between 1989 and 1993. Post-1993 bank assets go directly to state treasuries.

Using the FDIC's BankFind tool, you can also trace what became of the old bank—for example, if it was absorbed by an existing financial institution that you can contact.

 

The Treasury Department

 

Savings bonds are more often forgotten than lost—billions of dollars of matured savings bonds have never been cashed.

To track down lost bonds, submit the Fiscal Service Form 1048, Claim for Lost, Stolen, or Destroyed United States Savings Bonds to the Treasury Department with dates of purchase, names on bonds and other pertinent information.

 

Credit Karma

 

Credit Karma, a consumer website that offers free credit scores and tax prep­aration, recently launched a tool that lets you search for unclaimed property in 20 states. The company plans to add more states; if you click on one that’s not included in the program, you’ll be directed to that state’s own unclaimed-property website.

You don’t have to be a member of Credit Karma to use the tool. However, if you become a member, Credit Karma will notify you of future unclaimed-property reports that match your profile. Membership is free; Credit Karma makes money when you sign up for recommended products, such as credit cards and car loans. 

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

The Best Rewards Credit Cards, 2017

Here is a nice article provided by Lisa Gerstner of Kiplinger:

 

By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor | From July 2017

 

Rewards credit cards keep getting more and more rewarding. For the past several years, card issuers have been hustling to attract customers with generous sign-up bonuses and ongoing perks that have the potential to line your pockets with hundreds of dollars a year. The six largest credit card issuers are spending more than twice as much on card rewards than they did in 2010, according to a study by personal finance site MagnifyMoney.com. Chase pumps the most money into its cards, and it shows: Five cards issued by Chase grace our latest list of the best rewards credit cards. Plus, the release of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card last year shook up the market for premium travel rewards cards—those with fees in the hundreds of dollars annually and perks to match—spurring competitors to beef up their offerings or introduce new cards.

As you choose the card that suits you best, take stock of your spending habits. Do you rack up big grocery bills to feed your family? Burn through a lot of gas on your commute? Travel frequently? We’ve selected top cards in those categories and more. Also keep in mind that if you don’t pay off your credit card bill in full each month, a rewards card probably isn’t for you. Interest charges will likely cancel out any earnings that you capture.

To help you evaluate the winners, we calculated a typical annual rebate for each card, drawing on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey to determine average spending in various categories and assuming a total of $22,000 spent on the card annually. Except where noted, the rebate doesn’t account for sign-up bonuses or annual fees if they are waived the first year; earnings do not have caps or expiration dates; and the travel-oriented cards do not charge foreign-transaction fees.

 

Best Rewards Credit Cards for Flat-Rate Cash Back

 

Winner: Citi Double Cash MasterCard

Interest Rate: 0% for 15 months, then 14.49% to 24.49%

Annual Fee: None

Typical Annual Rebate: $440

 

If you like to keep a simple but lucrative cash-back card in your wallet, Citi Double Cash is tops. You’ll earn 1% when you make a purchase and an additional 1% when you pay the bill, for a total of 2% on everything you buy. The redemption options are flexible: Once your cash-back balance is $25 or more, you can request a check, an account credit or a gift card. Or you can have the money deposited into a Citi checking or savings account, or into any checking account from which you’ve paid your credit card bill at least twice. Rewards expire if you don’t earn any cash back for 12 months.

Honorable mention: The Alliant Cashback Visa Signature card (10.99% to 23.99% annual percentage rate) pays a whopping 3% cash back on all purchases the first year of your card membership, with no annual fee. After that, the cash-back rate drops to a still-exceptional 2.5%, and a $59 annual fee kicks in. Redeem cash back as a statement credit or as a deposit into an Alliant checking or savings account. The typical annual rebate the second year is $491, which tops the Citi Double Cash card, but you must become an Alliant Credit Union member to get its card (you can join by making a one-time, $10 donation to charity Foster Care to Success and opening a savings account with a complimentary $5 deposit from Alliant). Plus, cash back expires from four to five years after you earn it.

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for Cash Back for Savers

 

Winner: Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature

Interest Rate: 14.99%

Annual Fee: None

Typical Annual Rebate: $440

 

Earn cash back at a rate of 2% on all purchases if you deposit the rewards into an eligible Fidelity Investments account. You can divide your earnings among up to five qualifying accounts—including a brokerage, retirement, Cash Management or 529 college-savings account—and you can even direct rewards to a friend or family member’s account. Rewards are tracked as points, and after you’ve accumulated 5,000 points you can redeem them as a cash deposit. You can also exchange points for gift cards and merchandise, but generally you’ll get a return of about 0.5% if you choose one of those options.

Honorable mention: Some cards juice up the rewards if you also have a checking or savings account with the issuing bank. The BankAmericard Cash Rewards Visa card (0% for 12 months, then 13.99% to 23.99%) pays back a standard rate of 3% on gas and 2% on purchases at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to a combined $2,500 spent quarterly in those categories) and 1% on everything else (typical annual rebate: $308). If you're a Bank of America Preferred Rewards customer who maintains a $100,000 combined balance in checking, savings, and Merrill Lynch and Merrill Edge investment accounts, you’ll get a 75% bonus on card rewards if you redeem the points into a BofA checking or savings account. That makes the effective cash-back rates 5.25%, 3.5% and 1.75% per category, respectively. (Any customer who redeems rewards into an eligible Bank of America checking or savings account can earn a 10% bonus. Preferred Rewards customers earn a 25%, 50% or 75% bonus, depending on their combined account balance).

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for Cash Back in Rotating Categories

 

Winner: Chase Freedom Visa

Interest Rate: 0% for 15 months, then 15.74% to 24.49%

Annual Fee: None

Sign-up Bonus: Spend $500 in the first three months and get $150 back; add an authorized user along with your first purchase and get an additional $25 back.

Typical Annual Return: $334

 

Freedom offers 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in categories that change each quarter. In the first quarter of 2017, the Chase card offered the maximum rebate at gas stations and on local commuter transportation; in the second quarter, it offered the max on groceries. In the third quarter, cardholders get 5% back at restaurants and movie theaters, and holiday-related spending earns the max rebate in the final quarter of the year.

Honorable mentions: The U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature card (14.99% to 23.99%; typical annual rebate: $330) pays back 5% on up to $2,000 spent quarterly in combined purchases from two categories you choose. Among the options are cell-phone bills, car rentals, ground transportation and fast food. Choose one category among gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores to earn 2% year-round, and get 1% on everything else. Cash back is redeemable as a deposit into a U.S. Bank checking or savings account, as a statement credit or as a Visa prepaid debit card. Rewards expire three years after you earn them.

Also worth a look: Discover It (0% for 14 months, then 11.99% to 23.99%; typical annual rebate: $314) offers 5% back on up to $1,500 spent in categories that change each quarter. The maximum-rebate categories were gas stations, ground transportation and wholesale clubs in the first quarter (note that you can pay only with Visa credit cards at Costco registers), and home-improvement stores and wholesale clubs in the second quarter. Restaurants qualify for the max rate in the third quarter, and Amazon.com in the fourth quarter. All other purchases get 1% back. The first year, Discover matches the rewards you’ve earned, doubling your cash back.

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for No-Fee Travel Rewards

 

Winner: BankAmericard Travel Rewards Visa

Interest Rate: 0% for 12 months, then 15.99% to 23.99%

Annual Fee: None

Sign-up Bonus: 20,000 points if you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days.

Typical Annual Rebate: 34,500 points, worth $345 in statement credits for travel purchases

 

If you’d like to bank your points for travel purchases without worrying about an annual fee or spending categories, this card will serve you well. You’ll earn 1.5 points on every dollar spent (three points per dollar on purchases you make through Bank of America’s Travel Center shopping portal). After you accumulate at least 2,500 points, you can redeem them at a rate of 1 cent apiece for a statement credit toward travel purchases you make on the card—anything from flights and hotel stays to taxi rides and amusement-park visits. Points are worth 0.6 cent each if you redeem them for cash; point values for gift cards vary. This card is eligible for a rewards bonus if you bank with BofA.

Honorable mention: Discover It Miles (0% for 14 months, then 11.99% to 23.99%; typical annual rebate: 33,000 miles, or $330 in statement credits) doles out 1.5 miles per dollar on all purchases, and you can redeem miles in any amount at a rate of a penny per mile for either a statement credit on travel purchases or cash. At the end of your first year of card membership, Discover matches the miles you’ve earned, doubling your miles for the year.

 

Best Rewards Credit Cards for Travel Rebates Worth the Fee

 

Winner: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard

Interest Rate: 16.99% to 23.99%

Annual Fee: $89, waived the first year

Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days

Typical Annual Rebate: 46,200 miles, or $462 in statement credits for travel purchases

 

You’ll earn two miles for every dollar you spend with this card, and once you build up at least 10,000 miles, you can redeem them at a rate of a penny per mile for a statement credit on a travel purchase of $100 or more that you’ve made in the past 120 days. Qualifying purchases range from flights, hotel stays and car rentals to fares for train, bus, taxi and ferry rides. Each time you redeem miles, you’ll get a 5% bonus on the number of miles you trade in. Miles are worth a half-cent each if you redeem them for gift cards or statement credits on non-travel purchases.

Honorable mention: The Capital One Venture Visa card (13.99% to 23.99%; $59 annual fee, waived the first year; typical annual rebate: 44,000 miles, or $440 in statement credits for travel purchases) also pays out two miles per dollar on every purchase, redeemable at the full penny-per-mile value for statement credit on travel purchases made within the previous 90 days (miles are worth a half-cent each if you get a check or a non-travel statement credit). Or book travel with miles through Capital One’s Rewards Center.

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for Flexible Travel Redemptions

 

Winner: Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa

Interest Rate: 16.74% to 23.74%

Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year

Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months; add an authorized user along with your first purchase for an extra 5,000 points

Typical Annual Rebate: 29,095 points, or $364 in travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards

 

Frequent travelers should fare well with this card, earning two points per dollar spent on travel and dining and one point spent on everything else. Points are worth 1.25 cents each if you use them to book travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, or you can transfer them at a 1:1 ratio to several partner airline and hotel programs, including Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus and Marriott Rewards. If you go for gift cards or cash back instead, points are worth a solid penny apiece. (But they’re worth just 0.8 cent each if you use them at checkout at Amazon.com.)

Honorable mention: The Amex EveryDay card (0% for 12 months, then 13.99% to 23.99%; typical annual rebate: 32,521 points, or a $325 value for certain travel redemptions) is a no-fee avenue to earning American Express Membership Rewards points, which you can exchange at a penny-per-point value for flights, gift cards for Airbnb and some hotels, and Uber rides (some other redemption choices offer lower point values). You can also transfer points to participating frequent-travel programs, including Delta SkyMiles, at a 1:1 ratio for most programs minus a fee of 0.06 cent per point converted to a U.S. airline program. You’ll earn two points per dollar spent on up to $6,000 in supermarket purchases and at the American Express Travel shopping portal, and one point on everything else. Plus, if you make at least 20 purchases per billing period, you’ll get a 20% point bonus. The card charges a 2.7% foreign-transaction fee.

 

Best Rewards Credit Cards for Premium Travel Rewards

 

Winner: Chase Sapphire Reserve Visa

Interest Rate: 16.74% to 23.74%

Annual Fee: $450

Sign-up Bonus: 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in the first three months of card membership.

 

A credit card that charges an annual fee north of $400 may seem extravagant. But if you travel frequently, the supersize rewards that premium cards offer could outweigh the hefty fee. One of the card’s best benefits is a reimbursement of up to $300 each year for travel purchases you make on the card.

Travel and dining purchases earn three points per dollar spent, and other spending gets one point per dollar. Points are redeemed at 1.5 cents per point for travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, or you can transfer them at a 1:1 ratio to partner loyalty programs. Other features include a credit of up to $100 for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee, a free Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, discounts with National Car Rental and Avis, and daily breakfast and late checkout at Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection properties.

Honorable mention: The Platinum Card from American Express is also worth a look. It recently upped its annual fee from $450 to $550, but it also goosed benefits for jet setters. Cardholders now earn five Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar on eligible flights and hotel purchases and one point on everything else. The initial bonus is 60,000 points if you spend $5,000 in the first three months. You’ll also get free access to a host of airport lounges, including Centurion, Priority Pass Select, Airspace and Delta Sky Club lounges (when flying on Delta). Among other perks: a $200 annual credit on incidental fees (such as checked bags or in-flight meals) with one airline of your choice, a $15 monthly reimbursement for Uber rides (plus an extra $20 in December), a fee credit of up to $100 for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application, and Gold status with the Starwood and Hilton hotel loyalty programs.

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for Dedicated Flyers

 

Winner: Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Visa

Interest Rate: 16.74% to 23.74%

Annual Fee: $99

Sign-up Bonus: 60,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months

Typical Annual Rebate: 31,000 points

 

Pile up extra points toward free flights with this card, earning two points per dollar spent on Southwest flights, gift cards and Southwest Airlines Vacation packages, as well as at hotel and rental car partners. All other purchases earn one point per dollar. Each year, on your cardmember anniversary, you’ll get a 6,000-point bonus, which “just about covers the value of the annual fee,” says Brian Karimzad, director and loyalty analyst of MileCards.com. (Point values may vary but a $400 Wanna Get Away fare class ticket equals about 27,000 points.) Along with booking flights on Southwest Airlines, credit card customers can use their points for hotel stays, car rentals and gift cards.

Honorable mention: Especially for an airline card with no annual fee, the JetBlue World MasterCard (12.99% to 25.99%; typical annual rebate: 35,196 points) offers an outstanding payback: three points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, two points at restaurants and grocery stores, and one point on everything else. Cardholders also get in-flight food and cocktails for half price.

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for Hotels

 

Winner: Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

Interest Rate: 16.24% to 20.24%

Annual Fee: $95, waived the first year

Sign-up Bonus: 25,000 points if you spend $3,000 in the first three months

Typical Annual Rebate: 30,000 points

 

This card packs even more punch now that Marriott International has acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Cardholders earn up to five Starpoints per dollar at participating Starwood hotels (including the Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis brands), two points at eligible Marriott properties, and one point on all other purchases. Use points to book free nights at Starwood hotels, or transfer them to a linked Marriott Rewards account at a ratio of one Starpoint to three Marriott points. Another appealing option: Convert points to frequent-flier miles with more than 30 partner programs (most conversions are at a 1:1 ratio of Starpoints to air miles, but the United MileagePlus ratio is 2:1). For each 20,000 Starwood points that you transfer to an airline program, you’ll get a 5,000-point bonus. Cardholders also get free, in-room premium internet access at participating Starwood hotels. Points expire if your Starwood card account is inactive for a year.

Honorable mention: With no annual fee, the Hilton Honors Card from American Express (16.24% to 20.24%; typical annual rebate: 95,256 points) offers seven Hilton Honors points per dollar spent at participating Hilton properties, five points per dollar at restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and three points on everything else. You’ll get 500 bonus points each time you use the card to both book your hotel stay online and pay for it. Cardholders get automatic Silver member status and are upgraded to Gold status if they spend $20,000 or more on the card in a calendar year. The card charges a 2.7% foreign-transaction fee.

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for Grocery Rebates

 

Winner: American Express Blue Cash Preferred

Interest Rate: 0% for 12 months, then 13.99% to 24.99%

Annual Fee: $95

Sign-up Bonus: Spend $1,000 in the first three months and get $150 back

Typical Annual Rebate: $381

 

Although Amex raised the annual fee from $75 to $95 last year, this card has big potential if groceries eat up a sizable portion of your budget, with a 6% rebate on up to $6,000 spent annually in supermarket purchases (super­stores such as Target and Walmart don’t qualify) and 1% thereafter. You’ll also get 3% back on gas purchases (excluding gas stations at supermarkets, superstores and wholesale clubs) and purchases at select department stores, and 1% on all other spending. Redeem cash back in $25 increments as statement credits.

Honorable mention: The no-fee Consumers Credit Union Visa Signature Cash Rebate card (12.74% to 23.74%; typical annual rebate: $321) offers 3% back on up to $6,000 a year in grocery and convenience-store spending—which may include superstore purchases, depending on how Visa classifies the transaction. You’ll also get 2% back on gas you buy at any automated fuel dispenser and 1% on everything else. Total cash-back earnings are limited to $6,000 a year. You can join the Consumers Credit Union by paying a one-time, $5 fee to the Consumers Cooperative Association and depositing $5 into a savings account.

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for Payback at the Pump

 

Winner: PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa Signature

Interest Rate: 9.49% to 17.99%

Annual Fee: None

Sign-up Bonus: Spend $1,500 in the first 90 days and get $100

Typical Annual Rebate: 37,930 points, or $448 in travel bookings

 

Earn five points per dollar spent on gas purchases made at the pump, three points at the supermarket and one point on everything else. To get the best return, trade points at an average value of 1.18 cents per point for travel bookings through PenFed (gift cards and merchandise come at a rate of only 0.85 cent per point). Points expire five years after the month in which you earn them. You can join Pentagon Federal Credit Union by making a one-time, $17 donation to Voices for America’s Troops or the National Military Family Association and depositing $5 into a savings account.

Honorable mention: Looking for a generous yet simple rebate on gas purchases? The Fort Knox Federal Credit Union Visa Platinum card (10% to 18%; typical annual rebate: $197) delivers 5% cash back on gas when you pay at the pump, with no restrictions on what type of stations qualify. The only other category that earns cash back is retail merchants, at 1%. Cash back is automatically refunded to your account each month. You can join Fort Knox Federal Credit Union by paying a one-time, $10 fee to the credit union, depositing $5 into a savings account and becoming a member of the American Consumer Council (free for Fort Knox customers).

 

Best Reward Credit Cards for Shopping

 

Winner: Amazon Rewards Visa Signature

Interest Rate: 14.99% to 22.99%

Annual Fee: None

Sign-up Bonus: $50 Amazon.com gift card upon approval

Typical Annual Rebate: 29,012 points, or $290 in Amazon purchases

 

This card has become especially enticing for Amazon Prime members ($99 annual membership fee), who get five points per dollar spent on Amazon.com purchases, two points at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores, and one point on everything else. Not a Prime member? You’ll still get a healthy three points on Amazon purchases. Use points to pay for all or a portion of purchases at Amazon.com (one point equals 1 cent), or trade them for cash, gift cards or travel bookings.

Honorable mention: Members of Costco Wholesale (annual membership fee starts at $60) can apply for the Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi card (0% for seven months, then 16.24%; typical annual rebate: $428), which pays back 4% on up to $7,000 spent on gas per year, 3% on dining and travel purchases, 2% on Costco purchases, and 1% on everything else. Each February, you’ll receive a check for the previous year’s earnings, which you can exchange at Costco for merchandise or cash back until December 31 of the year the check is issued.

 

Best Rewards Card for Students

 

Winner: Discover It Chrome for Students

Interest Rate: 0% for six months, then 13.99% to 22.99%

Annual Fee: None

Sign-up Bonus: A match of all cash back earned after one year, doubling your rewards

Typical Annual Rebate: $40 (assuming $200 spent monthly; $60 rebate includes a bonus for good grades)

 

Besides offering 2% back on gas and restaurant spending (up to $1,000 in combined purchases quarterly) and 1% on everything else, Discover It Chrome for Students tucks in some nice features for students. The cardholder gets a $20 cash bonus each school year that he or she achieves a GPA of 3.0 or higher. And Discover takes it easy on a student who slips up and misses a payment: There’s no late fee for the first offense and no penalty APR. You can redeem rewards in any amount at any time, as a statement credit or bank account deposit—or use them to pay for purchases directly on Amazon.com. The card charges no foreign-transaction fee—handy for students studying abroad.

Honorable mention: The Capital One Journey Student Visa card (20.99%; typical annual rebate: $30) comes with extra incentive for a student to manage the card wisely: The cardholder gets a standard 1% back on all purchases, but Capital One increases the total payback to 1.25% each month that the student pays the bill on time. After five on-time payments, you can access a higher credit line. Request cash back as a statement credit or check, or set up automatic redemptions when the balance reaches a certain threshold, starting at $25. The card charges no foreign-transaction fee.

 

Best Rewards Card for Small Business Owners

 

Winner: Chase Ink Business Cash Visa

Interest Rate: 0% for 12 months, then 13.99% to 19.99%

Annual Fee: None

Sign-up Bonus: $300 after you spend $3,000 in the first three months

Typical Annual Rebate: $375

 

Earn 5% back on up to $25,000 spent annually at office supply stores and on cell-phone, landline, internet and cable bills. Plus, get 2% on up to $25,000 spent yearly at gas stations and restaurants and 1% on everything else. If you travel a lot—and can justify a $95 annual fee—consider Chase Ink Business Preferred Visa (16.74% to 21.74%; typical annual rebate: 35,850 points, a $264 standard value or $353 value for travel purchases through Chase Ultimate Rewards after subtracting the annual fee). It charges no foreign-transaction fee and earns three points per dollar on the first $150,000 spent per year on travel, shipping, internet, phone, cable and certain advertising expenses, and one point on everything else. You can exchange points (at a rate of 1.25 cent per point) for travel purchases through the Chase Ultimate Rewards shopping portal, transfer them to partner frequent traveler programs at a 1:1 ratio, or trade them at a rate of a penny per point for cash or gif t cards. If you pay cell-phone bills with the card, you’ll also get up to $600 per claim in insurance coverage for damage or theft to phones on plan. When you apply for a Chase Ink card, you must provide your business name and type, tax identification number, and years in operation.

Honorable mention: With the Amex SimplyCash Plus Business card (0% for nine months, then 13.24% to 20.24%; typical annual rebate: $352), you’ll earn 5% back on up to $50,000 spent yearly on cell-phone bills and at office-supply stores, 3% on up to $50,000 spent annually in one category of your choice (including gas, dining, airfare or hotel stays), and 1% on everything else.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

10 Best Values in U.S. Colleges, 2017

Here is a nice article provided by Kaitlin Pitsker of Kiplinger:

 

By Kaitlin Pitsker, Staff Writer | March 2017

 

To help you sort through your college choices, we present the creme de la creme of our annual list of best value colleges and universities. These 10 schools are the top-scoring schools in our combined ranking, which compares private universities, private liberal arts colleges and public colleges (using-out-of-state costs) to help you see your options side by side. As always, we look for schools that meet our definition of best value: a blend of academic quality and affordability. Among our criteria for academic quality are a competitive admission rate, a high four-year graduation rate and a low student-faculty ratio. We look for schools with a reasonable price tag, generous financial aid for students who qualify, and low student debt at graduation. We’ve also included future earnings data, based on the median earnings of workers who started at a particular college 10 years earlier, to give you an idea of what attending a particular institution may mean for a student’s post-graduation salary.

 

In 2016-17, the average sticker price of a private college or university is $45,370, according to the College Board. The average sticker price for out-of-state students at public colleges is $35,370. Despite their higher price tags, private liberal arts colleges and private universities dominate the top spots on our combined list. Private colleges perform well in our rankings because they typically have higher graduation rates and more generous financial aid than public institutions – making a private education at some colleges more affordable than the in-state cost at a public school. But attending a public college – even one outside of your home state – can be a great value, too. Please take a look.

 

1. Swarthmore College

 

Location: Swarthmore, Pa.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,586

Four-year grad rate: 87%

Total annual cost: $64,840

Avg. need-based aid: $44,256

Avg. graduating debt: $18,262

10-year salary yardstick: $48,500

 

High-quality academics and generous financial aid help Swarthmore College move up four places this year to head our 2017 combined best values list. This small college, located 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia, also leads our list of liberal arts colleges for the sixth time. Despite an annual sticker price of nearly $65,000, generous need-based financial aid, awarded to more than half of students, makes Swarthmore surprisingly affordable for many families. And Swarthmore’s financial aid package keeps loans off the table: All financial aid is awarded in the form of scholarships and grants. One-third of students still borrow, but the average debt at graduation among those students is about 40% less than the national average ($31,400) among private school borrowers.

This 152-year-old school with Quaker roots is highly competitive. Swarthmore accepts only 12% of applicants. Nearly two-thirds of incoming freshmen score 700 or higher on the critical-reading and math portions of the SAT. Once on campus, students can choose from more than 600 courses in more than 40 areas of study or select additional courses through the school’s agreement with nearby Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges as well as the University of Pennsylvania. Outside of class, Swatties can explore the school’s 425-acre campus, which includes Scott Arboretum and Crum Creek, or hop a train from the station on the edge of campus for the 30-minute ride to Philly’s bustling Center City.

 

2. Davidson College

 

Location: Davidson, N.C.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,784

Four-year grad rate: 90%

Total annual cost: $62,923

Avg. need-based aid: $40,140

Avg. graduating debt: $19,929

10-year salary yardstick: $51,800

 

After breaking into our combined top 10 list last year, Davidson moves up two places this year to nab the second spot on our combined list. This tiny liberal arts college’s 22% admission rate and 90% four-year graduation rate have both improved in recent years, aiding the school’s climb. Davidson’s broad-based liberal arts curriculum allows students to select from more than 850 courses each year, with 26 academic majors, ranging from chemistry to religion. Life on Davidson’s 665-acre campus is governed by the school’s honor code, which emphasizes responsible behavior and trust between students and faculty. More than 80% of Davidson graduates go on to earn graduate or professional degrees.

The Wildcats have something else to cheer about: The school’s average need-based aid award has more than kept pace with increases in the school’s sticker price. And financial aid awards from Davidson don’t saddle students with debt. In 2007, the school became the first liberal arts college to eliminate loans from financial aid packages. Among the 27% of students who do borrow, the average debt is about $11,500 less than the national average among private school borrowers.

 

3. Princeton University

 

Location: Princeton, N.J.

Undergraduate enrollment: 5,402

Four-year grad rate: 90%

Total annual cost: $61,140

Avg. need-based aid: $44,890

Avg. graduating debt: $8,577

10-year salary yardstick: $77,900

 

Outstanding academics, generous financial aid and low student debt help Princeton University excel in our combined rankings. This Ivy League institution also earns top honors on our list of private universities for the third time in as many years.

Princeton’s slim 7% admission rate makes it one of the most selective schools on our list of 300 colleges. Nearly 70% of accepted students choose to enroll, and 97% of freshmen return for their sophomore year. Further solidifying the school’s place on our list: impressive test scores among incoming freshmen (72% score 700 or higher on the critical-reading portion of the SAT, and 79% score 700 or higher on the math portion) and the highest four-year graduation rate in our combined top 10. Once on Princeton’s 500-acre campus, about 50 miles from both Philadelphia and New York City, students can choose academic courses in 36 areas of study and sample some 300 student organizations.

An average need-based aid award of nearly $45,000 cuts the school’s annual sticker price by 73%. And Princeton’s definition of financial need may surprise you: Some of the nearly 60% of students who receive need-based aid come from families with an annual income of $250,000 a year or more. At Princeton, borrowing isn’t part of the deal. In 2001, the school became the first institution to establish a no-loan policy. Roughly one in six families report borrowing on their own, but the average debt for students who do borrow is among the lowest on our list of 300 colleges.

 

4. Duke University

 

Location: Durham, N.C.

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,639

Four-year grad rate: 86%

Total annual cost: $66,963

Avg. need-based aid: $44,725

Avg. graduating debt: $19,104

10-year salary yardstick: $76,700

 

Despite having the highest sticker price on our combined top 10 list, Duke University climbs seven places this year thanks to the school’s top-notch academics and generous financial aid awards. The Blue Devils rack up points in our rankings for strong academics, including a competitive 11% admission rate, high test scores among incoming freshmen (two-thirds scores above 700 on the critical-reading portion of the SAT, and 73% score 700 or higher on the math portion) and a six-to-one student-faculty ratio, which ensures that students get plenty of face time with their professors. More than half of undergraduates complete faculty-mentored research projects, and 83% of students go beyond their major to earn at least one more major, minor or certificate.

On the financial side, Duke’s average need-based aid award cuts the school’s sticker price by 67%. Like all schools in our top 10, Duke meets 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need. About one-third of students borrow, but the average debt of $19,104 is about 40% less than the national average for private school borrowers.

 

5. Washington and Lee University

 

Location: Lexington, Va.

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,854

Four-year grad rate: 88%

Total annual cost: $61,447

Avg. need-based aid: $42,322

Avg. graduating debt: $21,683

10-year salary yardstick: $72,900

 

Ample financial aid awards, combined with strong academics, help this small liberal arts college land the fifth spot on our combined best values list. More than 40% of students qualify for need-based aid, and the average need-based aid award cuts the school’s sticker price by more than one-third. W&L, which was named for Virginians George Washington and Robert E. Lee, also offers merit aid to 13% of students who don’t receive need-based aid, at an average of $33,756 per year in non-need-based aid for students who qualify.

The school’s campus, which is nestled between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains in the historic town of Lexington, Va., attracts exemplary students. Nearly 90% of incoming freshmen score 30 or higher on the ACT, and the eight-to-one student-faculty ratio generally translates into small classes. Students can select from 37 academic majors and join any of more than 130 student organizations. Students abide by the school’s honor code, which allows students to proctor their own exams, and a “speaking tradition” that encourages students and faculty greet everyone they pass on campus.

 

6. Harvard University

 

Location: Cambridge, Mass.

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,699

Four-year grad rate: 86%

Total annual cost: $64,565

Avg. need-based aid: $46,409

Avg. graduating debt: $16,723

10-year salary yardstick: $95,500

 

Outstanding academics – including a highly competitive 6% admission rate and high test scores among incoming freshmen – help this Ivy League institute secure its place on our best values list. Of the students who are offered admission, 80% of students enroll (the highest yield in our top 10 on the combined list). Harvard also boasts some of the highest test scores in our combined top 10: 78% of students score 700 or higher on the critical-reading portion of the SAT, and 79% score similarly high marks on the math section.

Harvard’s $35.7 billion endowment helps the school meet 100% of financial aid for students who qualify; nearly 60% of students receive need-based aid. Generous need-based aid awards, which on average cut the school’s annual sticker price by 72%, can make a Harvard education one of the best bargains in higher education. Like many of our top contenders, Harvard doesn’t include loans in financial aid awards. About three-fourths of families avoid borrowing – and the average debt among students who do borrow is about half of the national average for private school borrowers.

 

7. Thomas Aquinas College

 

Location: Santa Paula, Calif.

Undergraduate enrollment: 377

Four-year grad rate: 81%

Total annual cost: $32,500

Avg. need-based aid: $14,977

Avg. graduating debt: $16,901

10-year salary yardstick: $30,200

 

Thomas Aquinas College’s sticker price – which is about half that of many private colleges on our best values list – and generous financial aid awards propel this pint-sized, Catholic liberal arts college up 15 places on this year’s combined best values list. A tuition freeze that has been in place since the 2013-14 academic year and will continue through at least the 2017-18 academic year has kept the school’s annual sticker price, including room and board, from climbing. And yet few families will pay the sticker price – 75% of students qualify for need-based aid, and the average award brings the school’s net price to $17,523 per year.

Located 65 miles northwest of Los Angeles on the edge of Los Padres National Forest, Thomas Aquinas combines a classic curriculum with a religious emphasis that adheres to the morals and traditions of the Catholic Church. The school’s “great books” education focuses on analyzing the works of Aristotle, Homer and Shakespeare, among others. Thomas Aquinas admits 75% of applicants, and 56% of those who are admitted enroll.

 

8. Vanderbilt University

 

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,883

Four-year grad rate: 87%

Total annual cost: $62,598

Avg. need-based aid: $40,267

Avg. graduating debt: $21,506

10-year salary yardstick: $60,700

 

Located a mile and a half southwest of downtown Nashville on a parklike campus with ancient oaks and magnolia trees, Vanderbilt University racks up points in our ranking for its strong academics, including a competitive 12% admission rate, high test scores among incoming freshmen (92% score 30 or higher on the ACT) and an eight-to-one student-faculty ratio. Students can select from 69 majors, ranging from biomedical engineering and child development to economics and musical arts, and choose among more than 510 student clubs and organizations.

Thanks to generous need-based aid awards and the school’s no-loan policy, more than three-fourths of students graduate without taking out student loans. Among the 22% of students who report borrowing, the average debt at graduation is about $10,000 less than the national average. Nearly half of students qualify for need-based aid, and the average need-based aid award reduces the school’s annual sticker price by 64%. The school also awards non-need-based aid to 20% of students who don’t qualify for need-based aid.

 

9. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

 

Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Undergraduate enrollment: 18,415

Four-year grad rate: 82%

Total out-of-state annual cost: $46,576

Avg. need-based aid: $17,244

Avg. graduating debt: $20,127

10-year salary yardstick: $51,000

 

The Tar Heels continue their climb on the combined best values list, moving to number nine on this year’s list. Chapel Hill also deserves special kudos for topping our list of public colleges for in-state students for the 16th straight time – a clean sweep of Kiplinger’s public rankings. Solid academics, including a 30% admission rate and an 82% four-year graduation rate, combined with modest cost increases and robust financial aid awards, help this public research university continue to be a sweet deal.

Although UNC’s annual out-of-state sticker price is higher than the national average for out-of-state cost of attendance at four-year public colleges ($35,370), need-based financial aid awards cut the school’s annual out-of-state sticker price by 37%. Carolina and the University of Virginia (number 46 on our combined list) are the only two public colleges in our rankings to meet 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need – and much of this aid is awarded as scholarships and grants (which don’t have to be repaid) rather than loans.

 

10. Wellesley College

 

Location: Wellesley, Mass.

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,355

Four-year grad rate: 86%

Total out-of-state annual cost: $65,016

Avg. need-based aid: $44,218

Avg. graduating debt: $12,455

10-year salary yardstick: $56,500

 

This small women’s college, with a 500-acre campus that includes a private lake and a golf club, lands on our combined top 10 list this year with an improved four-year graduation rate and strong financial aid awards that help keep student borrowing in check. Wellesley College also stands out for its low, seven-to-one student-faculty ratio, 30% admission rate and an alumni network that has been called “the world’s most powerful women’s network.”

Need-based aid awards, which are awarded to nearly 60% of students, cut the school’s annual sticker price by an average of 68%. The school’s financial aid awards keep borrowing to a minimum – eliminating or reducing loans for some students, but keeping the total loan amount to no more than $15,200 over four years for all students. About half of Wellesley students report borrowing, but the average debt among graduates who borrow is about 40% of the national average among private school borrowers.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

7 Signs You Are Buying a Counterfeit Product

Here is a nice article provided by Andrea Browne Taylor of Kiplinger:

 

By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor | June 2017

 

You love the finer things in life -- designer clothing, precious jewelry and top-of-the-line electronics -- but can't really afford them at retail price. So you take to the internet or pound the pavement in a sketchy downtown shopping district in search of deep discounts. You, dear reader, are a counterfeit merchant's dream come true.

 

The counterfeit market is big business for scammers looking to take advantage of consumers by selling low-cost, low-quality replicas of luxury goods and brand-name products. Last year, the number of counterfeit seizures by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) totaled 31,560 -- up 9% from 28,865 in 2015. The most popular product categories on the CBP's seizure list include apparel and accessories, electronics, footwear, watches and jewelry, and handbags. The total estimated manufacturer's suggested retail price for those items (if they were authentic) was $1.4 billion, according to the CBP.

 

Consumers who get duped by counterfeit goods aren't simply left holding a fake bag. You also expose yourself to identity theft by unscrupulous merchants now armed with your credit-card numbers and other personal information. Perhaps even worse, you risk allergic reactions to the unorthodox ingredients -- such as urine (in fragrances) and high levels of aluminum (in makeup) -- often used in counterfeit beauty products, warns Bob Barchiesi, president of the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit organization that helps combat product counterfeiting and piracy.

 

We spoke with several experts about how to detect a fake product before buying it -- and possibly losing a couple hundred dollars in the process. Here are seven signs you're buying a counterfeit:

 

The Price Is Too Good to Be True

 

Before shopping around for the best deal, look up the manufacturer's suggested retail price on its official site or the site of an authorized retailer. Also evaluate the generosity of any discounts or sales. Then, as you navigate further to unverified sites selling what appears to be your desired product, you'll know what the real item should cost. A near-identical product that costs significantly less is likely fake, Barchiesi says.

For example, a Louis Vuitton Montaigne Monogram leather tote bag retails for $2,570. We found a merchant selling replica versions through online marketplace Alibaba.com for as little as $26 per bag.

 

The Product Is Imperfect

 

If you're contemplating spending a few hundred dollars on a luxury item, a quick glance at an online image or a once-over inspection at a brick-and-mortar consignment shop isn't enough. "Not only can the external appearance of an item be copied, but so can the internal serial numbers and authenticity cards," warns Susan Scafidi, founder and academic director of the Fordham University School of Law's Fashion Law Institute program.

That's why it's important for shoppers to research a desired item -- down to the exact shape of the hardware [for example, on high-end luggage] and the type of zipper pull on an interior pocket, says Scafidi.

As sophisticated as counterfeiters may be in replicating high-demand products, there's usually at least one giveaway if you look closely enough. Anything that looks sloppy, such as uneven stitching or sloppy edge dye, is a telltale sign of a fake, Scafidi says. Counterfeit products are designed to fool the eye -- not the fingertips: For instance, real "leather looks, feels and smells different than pleather," she adds.

Other features commonly found on fake goods, such as designer handbags, and rarely ever on authentic versions include hangtags, plastic sleeves on handles and masking tape used to protect the feet of a bag, says Graham Wetzbarger, authentication director for luxury consignment website TheRealReal.com.

 

The Product Doesn't Come With Official Packaging

 

Perhaps one of the biggest warning signs of a counterfeit operation is the lack of official branded packaging. You'll typically see this with third-party online marketplaces, Barchiesi notes, where the product listing may state that there's no packaging available with the item. This should raise a red flag immediately, because "legitimate brands spend a lot of money on their packaging," he says. For example, many high-end accessory brands will include a dust bag, which helps protect the exterior of leather goods, such as handbags, from dust and dirt when not in use.

Keep in mind that some counterfeiters will actually take that extra step to include packaging; you should request pictures of it so you can examine it, too. Often, the packaging that comes with fake goods will have misspellings, or the ink will be smeared or the graphics will be blurry, Barchiesi adds.

 

The Seller Won't Respond to Customer Inquiries

 

Manufacturers often publish lists of authorized retailers on their websites or include it in their packaging materials. For example, electronics brand Samsung's site provides a list of more than 100 online and brick-and-mortar retailers who are authorized to sell Samsung products.

Not sure if the cheap online vendor you've discovered is an authorized reseller? Ask a question. Legit sellers should respond to your inquiry swiftly and clearly. If you're dealing with a merchant who is unwilling to answer a simple question about, say, the source of a particular item for sale, use common sense and don't purchase it, says Michael B. Walsh, director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection intellectual property rights division.

 

The E-Commerce Site Doesn't Assure Product Authenticity

 

Reputable consignment sites and tech resellers that aren't necessarily authorized retailers -- such as TheRealReal.com, Portero.com and TechRabbit.com -- guarantee product authenticity or that products sold meet the manufacturer's specifications. Look for a site-wide guarantee on the home page or on the site's FAQ or About Us page.

"Many [fraudulent] websites will mislead shoppers with phrases such as 'guaranteed original' or '100% new'" [on individual product listings], says TheRealReal's Wetzbarger, "or may not mention anything at all."

 

The E-Commerce Site Doesn't Provide a Secure Checkout

 

When shopping online, make sure that you're buying from retailers that provide a secure checkout experience, such as Nordstrom.com and NiemanMarcus.com, which are authorized retailers for many popular brands including Ray-Ban and Fendi. If paying with a credit card, look for a small lock icon in front of the website address, followed by https (versus http for an unencrypted site). Sites that take this measure are helping to protect your personal information from scammers who may use it to open fraudulent credit card accounts or steal your identity. Or shop at consignment sites such as ThredUp.com and Tradesy.com that also offer a secure checkout process via PayPal.

"Websites selling counterfeit or pirated items will often not have secure checkout systems in place," Walsh says. These types of systems cost online merchants extra money to maintain. The lack of a secure checkout, he adds, is a red flag that the merchant may not be trustworthy.

 

You're Buying It on the Street

 

Many major cities have areas that are known as hot spots for counterfeit dealers. These areas are usually located in compact downtown shopping districts and have dozens of walk-up establishments that only accept cash. Some of the most notorious include New York City's Canal Street and Los Angeles's Santee Alley.

Year after year, unsuspecting shoppers -- often, tourists who don't know the shopping district's reputation -- flock to these areas thinking they are scoring huge deals on everything from fine jewelry to high-end skincare products to designer sunglasses, when in fact they're buying fakes. Remember, authentic items aren't sold on street corners, Scafidi says.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

13 Secrets Shoppers Need to Know About Aldi

Here is a nice article provided by Andrea Browne Taylor of Kiplinger: 

 

By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor   | Updated June 2017

 

For many shoppers who are serious about spending less on groceries, a trip to discount supermarket Aldi is a weekly ritual. The chain, founded in Germany, credits its rock-bottom prices to low labor and operating costs, a limited selection of mostly inexpensive private brands, and a no-frills store design. Merchandise is often stacked in the aisles and sold straight from the cardboard box it was shipped in. Essentially, it's a grocery store that's the size of a convenience store.

 

If there isn't an Aldi near you, don't be surprised if one pops up soon. With nearly 1,500 stores already in 32 states (mostly along the eastern half of the U.S.), the discount grocer recently announced an aggressive growth strategy, which it's projecting will usher in 100 million customers per month to its various locations. The strategy includes dedicating $1.6 billion to remodeling 1,300 of its existing storefronts by 2020, as well as investing $3.4 billion to expand to 2,500 stores nationwide by 2022.

 

Never shopped at Aldi before? Here are 13 things you should know before your first trip.

 

Trader Joe's Is Part of the Family

 

Trader Joe's and Aldi are owned by sister companies Aldi Nord and Aldi Sud. Aldi Nord owns Trader Joe's, which it acquired in 1979, and operates Aldi stores in Europe. Aldi Sud operates Aldi stores in the U.S. The first one opened in Iowa in 1976.

Aldi was founded in Germany by brothers Albert and Theo Albrecht. The brand name is a combination of the first two letters of their last name and the first two letters of the word discount. The brothers, now deceased, launched their grocery empire right after World War II, but chose to split the business in 1961 reportedly due to a dispute over whether to sell cigarettes.

 

It's One of the World's Biggest Retailers

 

Aldi might not be a household name in the U.S., but it's well known around the globe. In the 2015 Global Powers of Retail Report, which identifies the 250 largest retailers in the world by retail revenue, Aldi ranked eighth globally, finishing ahead of Target and Home Depot. Walmart topped the list; Costco came in a distant second.

In the U.S., Aldi's nearly 1,500 locations outnumber better-known supermarket chains including Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Publix, Meijer, Food Lion and Giant. Albertsons (thanks to its acquisition of Safeway) and Kroger each operate more locations than Aldi, which plans to open 25 stores in Southern California by July as part of a westward expansion.

 

You Have to Bag Your Own Groceries

 

As part of its low-price business model, Aldi keeps a limited number of staff on the clock at any given time (typically just three to five people). This means that certain conveniences common at larger supermarket chains, such as having groceries bagged for you, is the responsibility of the customer.

You'll want to bring your own reusable shopping bags to pack up everything you've purchased. Otherwise, you'll have to buy shopping bags when you're ready to check out. At Aldi, plastic shopping bags can cost 10 cents each, while paper can run 6 cents per bag.

 

You Need a Quarter to Use a Shopping Cart

 

While shopping carts at most grocers are free for the taking, Aldi requires a 25-cent deposit to use a cart. The cart rental system is simple: To release a cart for your use -- the carts are chained together -- insert a quarter in the coin slot on the cart and the locking mechanism will disengage. When you return the cart and reinsert the chain, the quarter is returned. (Watch this YouTube clip to see Aldi's cart rental system in action.)

Why all the fuss over a quarter? Aldi says it saves money, which it passes along to shoppers in the form of lower prices, because it doesn't have to pay employees to wrangle stray shopping carts from the parking lot. If you want to avoid the 25-cent deposit altogether, it's OK to bring your own collapsible 

 

Nine Out of 10 Items Are Store Brands

 

More than 90% of the products found at Aldi stores are private brands, including organic and gluten-free brands. The company gets many of its store-brand products from the same food manufacturers that make name-brand products, says Lauren Greutman, founder of frugal living Web site IAmThatLady.com, meaning quality and taste are often comparable.

Aldi carries far fewer products than a typical supermarket -- 1,300 items versus 30,000 -- so stores are smaller and cheaper to operate, allowing the savings to be passed along to customers. "[Aldi] typically focuses on the most popular product items and package sizes," says Jon Springer, retail editor for Supermarket News magazine.

Shoppers can find a small inventory of name-brand products, too. Name brands stocked by the chain include Coca-Cola, Oscar Mayer, Gatorade and Tide, says Liz Ruggles, the company's director of public relations.

 

Store Brands Are Cheaper Than Name Brands

 

Aldi claims shoppers can save up to 50% by switching to its store brands from national brands, based on its own price comparisons. We decided to put Aldi's claim to the test. At a Washington, D.C.-area Aldi, a 13-ounce bag of Clancy's restaurant-style tortilla chips cost 99 cents, while the same size package of Tostitos cost $2.98 at a nearby Walmart. A dozen Goldhen eggs costs 99 cents at Aldi, while a comparable carton of Sunny Meadow eggs totaled $2.48 at Walmart. A 10-ounce container of Little Salad Bar Classic Hummus was $1.99 at Aldi, while Sabra hummus cost $2.98 at Walmart. Bottom line: The three items we priced were 53% cheaper at Aldi than at Walmart.

Everything isn't always cheaper at Aldi, however. Since you can't use coupons at Aldi, Cindy Livesey, founder of Web site LivingRichWithCoupons.com, says you may be able to find better deals on such items as cereal and paper goods at a grocery store that does accept them. This is especially true when you combine manufacturer coupons with supermarket sales.

 

Not Satisfied? Get a Replacement and a Refund

 

Aldi's "Double Guarantee" policy is designed to ensure that customers are completely satisfied with their purchases. Say you buy a box of store-brand cereal from the discount grocer and end up hating it compared to your usual name-brand cereal. Simply return the cereal, including original packaging, to the store manager to receive a full refund and a replacement item.

Note that Aldi's guarantee does not apply to certain items including alcohol and national name-brand products.

 

Multiple Bar Codes Make Checkout Faster

 

You'll notice that all of Aldi's store-brand products have multiple barcodes on them. This is intentional, says Ruggles, the Aldi spokeswoman. The design allows for a quicker checkout, because Aldi cashiers don't have to waste time searching for a single barcode to scan on each item in your shopping cart.

That's not the only way Aldi shoppers can save time. Since product selection is limited, stores are smaller than traditional supermarkets, and layouts are consistent from store to store, it can be faster to find everything on your shopping list at Aldi.

 

Checks and Coupons Aren't Accepted

 

If you're planning a trip to Aldi, remember to leave your checkbook at home. As part of its effort toward speedier checkout, the grocer only accepts cash, debit cards and (as of March 1, 2016) credit cards for payment. Remember, too, that coupons aren't accepted.

If it's any consolation, these restrictions can get you through the line faster since the person in front of you won't waste time filling out a paper check, fishing for an ID or scanning multiple coupons.

 

Stores Are Only Open During Peak Hours

 

Aldi locations operate during peak shopping hours, which typically means they aren't open as early or late as larger competitors. The company's rationale: "Staying open later would simply add to labor costs -- and raise our prices."

The Washington, D.C.-area Aldi store we visited operates weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. The nearby Walmart Supercenter is open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight.

 

Best Things to Buy: Kitchen Staples

 

Heading to the supermarket for some basics, say a gallon of milk, a dozen Grade A eggs, a loaf of white bread and a jar of peanut butter? Strictly judging by the bottom line, you may want to give Aldi a shot.

We priced out these four kitchen staples at an Aldi in Northern Virginia, and then compared the everyday, non-sale prices to similarly packaged store brands at three other nearby grocery retailers: Giant, Harris Teeter and Target. Here are the results (from cheapest to most expensive):

 

Eggs: Aldi, 39 cents; Harris Teeter, $1.39; Target, $1.49; Giant, $1.99

Bread: Aldi, 85 cents; Harris Teeter, 97 cents; Giant, 99 cents; Target, $1.64

Peanut butter: Aldi, $1.49; Target, $1.79; Giant, $2.19; Harris Teeter, $2.29

Milk: Aldi, $1.49; Target, $2.98; Giant, $3.49; Harris Teeter, $3.59

 

Worst Things to Buy: Non-Food Items

 

Savings experts say it’s best to steer clear of most toys, home goods, cleaning supplies and other non-food items at Aldi. But if you’re tempted -- every so often, Aldi will score national-brand products and put what appears to be amazing prices on them -- first pull out your smartphone and price-compare.

“Make sure you check the price on these as they tend to be higher prices on lower quality items at Aldi,” says Brent Shelton of money-saving website FatWallet.com. “Plus, you can often find coupons for these types of items at other stores, even grocers, which would make buying them elsewhere a smart thing to do.” Aldi doesn’t accept coupons.

When we compared prices on a roll of paper towels, for example, Aldi’s price of 99 cents was the same as the price at Giant and Target. However, coupons and loyalty discounts could’ve brought down the price more at the latter retailers. (Aldi doesn’t have a loyalty program, either.)

 

Mixed Reviews: Fruits and Vegetables

 

Like most of Aldi’s goods, fruits and vegetables are typically sold from the bulk boxes they were shipped in. No fancy, bountiful horn-of-plenty displays. And unlike major chains, the bulk of Aldi’s stores don’t refrigerate produce.

“Produce [from Aldi] can spoil more quickly,” says Tracie Fobes, a money-saving expert at the website Pennypinchinmom.com, “so buy only what you can eat within a few days.”

Also, Aldi pre-packages many of its fruits and vegetables in bulk, so if you want, say, an apple you need to buy an entire bag. Most big supermarket chains sell similar produce loose. The latter approach allows shoppers to pick out the freshest individual items available.

However, Aldi is rolling out changes at new (and newly remodeled) stores aimed at fending off competitors including Whole Foods’ offshoot discount chain, 365 by Whole Foods. On top of better lighting and wider aisles, Aldi’s new store format puts fresh produce center stage and includes refrigerated units for the likes of greens, perishable fruits, and premade soups and dips. Bulk packaging still rules at new stores, but that’s a big reason why Aldi can keep produce prices so low.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

Where Millionaires Live in America

Here is a nice article provided by Dan Burrows of Kiplinger:

 

By Dan Burrows, Contributing Writer | May 2017

 

A million dollars ain't what it used to be, but it still earns you entry into an elite group. Only 5.5% of the country, or about 6.8 million households, qualify as bona fide millionaires. That means they have investable assets of $1 million or more, excluding the value of real estate, employer-sponsored retirement plans and business partnerships.

 

Large populations and lucrative industries make New York and Los Angeles home to the most millionaires in America. No surprise there. However, it might surprise you that neither of these metropolises places among the top 10 cities with the highest concentration of millionaires.

 

Phoenix Marketing International, a firm that tracks the affluent market, ranked 915 urban areas, both large and small, based on the percentage of millionaire households in each. The following list of cities is limited to metropolitan areas with at least one urbanized area with a population of 50,000 or more. We will examine small cities with big millionaire populations in a separate story. Here are the 10 largest metropolitan areas boasting the highest concentration of millionaires in the U.S.

Estimates of millionaire households provided by Phoenix Marketing International. Investable assets include education/custodial accounts, individually owned retirement accounts, stocks, options, bonds, mutual funds, managed accounts, hedge funds, structured products, ETFs, cash accounts, annuities, and cash value life insurance policies. Metropolitan-area data on household incomes and home values are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Living costs are based on the Council for Community and Economic Research's Cost of Living Index .

 

10. Anchorage, Alaska

Millionaire Households: 11,299

Total Households: 147,919

Concentration of Millionaires: 7.6% (U.S.: 5.5%)

Median Income for All Households: $78,326 (U.S.: $53,889)

Median Home Value: $290,500 (U.S.: $178,600)

You don't have to be a millionaire to live in Anchorage, but it certainly helps. The city's remote location and limited local resources mean you'll pay a premium for most goods and services. Add it all up and Anchorage turns out to be one of the pricier U.S. cities in which to live, with living expenses running 30% higher than the national average, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research's Cost of Living Index. Be forewarned that if you want to mingle with Anchorage's millionaires, they might not be in such a good mood. Persistently low oil prices have sunk Alaska into its worst recession in 30 years.

 

9. Lexington Park, Md.

Millionaire Households: 3,097

Total Households: 40,097

Concentration of Millionaires: 7.7%

Median Income for All Households: $86,987

Median Home Value: $297,200

The economy of St. Mary's County, and in particular Lexington Park, hinges on military spending. The Naval Air Station Patuxent River is situated there, and the Pentagon is less than two hours away by car -- even less by helicopter -- making the area ideal for defense and aerospace research. A host of military contractors including DynCorp, KBRWyle, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing account for thousands of high-paying science, technology and engineering jobs. With such a highly educated, highly skilled workforce, it should come as no surprise that there are so many millionaire households in and around Lexington Park.

 

8. Napa, Calif.

Millionaire Households: 3,941

Total Households: 50,890

Concentration of Millionaires: 7.7%

Median Income for All Households: $71,379

Median Home Value: $466,800

The wines produced by Napa's famed vineyards make the area a popular destination for casual drinkers and serious oenophiles alike. Roughly 475 wineries and 700 grape growers dot the Napa Valley area. Cult wines from renowned makers such as Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate can command prices ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars per bottle. Taken all together, the local wine economy is a $13-billion-a-year business and accounts for 46,000 jobs, according to Napa Valley Vintners, an industry trade group. And fine wine and tourism look to be lucrative businesses, judging by Napa's concentration of millionaires.

 

7. San Francisco, Calif.

Millionaire Households: 138,272

Total Households: 1,756,619

Concentration of Millionaires: 7.9% 

Median Income for All Households: $88,518

Median Home Value: $718,400

Years of relentless growth driven by high-paid tech workers have given San Francisco some of the highest living costs in the country, meaning even those with fat paychecks can struggle to make ends meet. Home prices are famously high, an obstacle for aspiring homeowners, and renters fare little better. Overall, San Francisco's cost of living is 77% higher than the national average. Still, those plump incomes help a healthy chunk of San Franciscans sock away serious savings. Out of the nearly 1.8 million total households in the metro area, fully 23,000 have more than $5 million in investable assets.

 

6. The Villages, Fla.

Millionaire Households: 4,538

Total Households: 57,165

Concentration of Millionaires: 7.9% 

Median Income for All Households: $51,335

Median Home Value: $243,500

Located an hour's drive north of Walt Disney World, smack-dab in the middle of Florida, you'll find The Villages, a sprawling retirement haven made up of multiple communities with town squares, stores, restaurants and recreational facilities. Well-heeled retirees who like to hit the links can play for free on any of the 36 executive courses at The Villages; plus, residents enjoy free membership at a dozen championship country club courses. If you prefer to hobnob away from the clubhouse, The Villages also sports a polo stadium. Retiring baby boomers with comfortable nest eggs are helping to make The Villages one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country.

 

5. Honolulu, Hi. 

Millionaire Households: 26,146

Total Households: 327,356

Concentration of Millionaires: 8.0% 

Median Income for All Households: $74,460

Median Home Value: $580,200

If you're looking to rub elbows with millionaires in an idyllic setting, Honolulu is the place to be. But the privilege comes at a steep price. Blame Hawaii's remoteness. Pretty much everything in Honolulu is more expensive than it would be on the mainland because it all has to make the long journey by boat or by plane. Overall living expenses in Honolulu run 90% above the national average, with costs for housing and utilities coming in particularly high. You can also blame the so-called Paradise Tax, says Jennie Allison of the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness, a nonprofit research group, referring to the premium residents are willing to cough up to live in such a paradise.

 

4. Oxnard, Calif.

Millionaire Households: 23,170

Total Households: 277,756

Concentration of Millionaires: 8.3% 

Median Income for All Households: $80,032

Median Home Value: $528,700

Also known as Ventura County, the Oxnard metro area includes the pricey locales of Thousand Oaks (median income: $100,946), Moorpark ($99,777) and Oak Park ($120,696). Its proximity to Los Angeles helps explain the large concentration of wealth. So does the number of celebrities who call it home, a list that over the years has included Clark Gable, William Shatner and Cher. It also appeals to millionaires looking for alternatives to Santa Barbara and Malibu, which bracket the Oxnard area to the north and south. With its Mediterranean climate and miles of relatively uncrowded beaches, it's easy to see the appeal.

 

3. San Jose, Calif.

Millionaire Households: 57,826

Total Households: 675,455

Concentration of Millionaires: 8.6%

Median Income for All Households: $101,980

Median Home Value: $823,700

As hard as it is to fathom, a million dollars might not be enough to get by in Silicon Valley. The cities that make up this metro area -- including San Jose, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara -- are famous for being home to some of the biggest tech companies in the world. They are also famous for being home to exorbitant living expenses. Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel and Tesla are based nearby. No wonder overall housing-related costs are the highest in the nation, according to the Cost of Living Index. A six-figure median income helps cushion the burden, but just barely.

 

2. Washington, D.C.

Millionaire Households: 197,103

Total Households: 2,283,117

Concentration of Millionaires: 8.6% 

Median Income for All Households: $93,294

Median Home Value: $401,500

The District of Columbia and its close-in suburbs such as Arlington, Va., are magnets for the highly educated seeking high-powered jobs. Luckily, many of those ambitious folks are highly paid. Fat paychecks come in handy considering rents and mortgages are more than double the national average, making the nation's capital one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. But if you can find an affordable place to live in the area, other living expenses are more manageable. D.C. health-care costs are slightly below the national average, for example, and a wide-ranging bus and metro system makes getting to and around the District surprisingly reasonable. And don't forget about all the free museums and monuments.

 

1. Stamford, Conn.

Millionaire Households: 30,227

Total Households: 348,421

Concentration of Millionaires: 8.7%

Median Income for All Households: $86,414

Median Home Value: $420,900

With its close proximity to New York City, Stamford has long welcomed wealthy commuters who make their livings in the Big Apple. Residents can also earn a good salary closer to home. The metro area, which includes Norwalk and Bridgeport, is the base for many hedge funds as well as prominent public companies such as Priceline and Pitney Bowes. And on top of Stamford being home to the highest concentration of millionaires in the nation, the state of Connecticut has the second-highest concentration of millionaire households after Maryland. You'll find the toniest of the tony population in Greenwich, a small town where the median household income tops $128,000 a year and the typical home is worth nearly $1.2 million. So forget millionaires. If you're looking for billionaires, this is the place to go.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

14 Secrets to Shopping at Costco

Here is a nice article provided by Andrea Browne Taylor of Kiplinger:

 

By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor | Updated April 2017

 

14 Secrets to Shopping at Costco

 

A Costco membership opens doors, quite literally, to a vast selection of bulk-size groceries and household goods selling at discounted prices. But buying potato chips and toilet paper by the case is just the start. The warehouse club also stocks everything from tires and furniture to electronics and jewelry. With so many items to choose from, Trae Bodge, a consumer expert who specializes in smart shopping strategies, says it's critical to shop Costco with a list to avoid overspending.

 

List or no list, shoppers seem to like the savings and selection. Costco boasts 84 million card-carrying members worldwide, and the worldwide membership renewal rate is 88% (91% in the U.S. and Canada). The chain ranks first in customer satisfaction among specialty retailers, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, comfortably ahead of rivals Sam's Club and BJ's Wholesale.

 

Thinking of taking the Costco plunge? Here's what you should know before investing $55 in an annual membership.

 

You Don't Actually Need to Be a Member to Shop

If you’re not ready to commit to a year-long membership, there are still ways to shop at Costco. Members are allowed to bring up to two guests. So if you want to check out the warehouse club to see the selection and compare prices, ask a friend or family member with a membership if you can tag along. Want to buy something? The Costco member will need to make the purchase for you -- cashiers check membership cards at checkout -- but afterward you can simply pay the person back.

If you want to shop on your own without a membership, give that same friend or family member the money to purchase a Costco Cash Card for you. These cards are treated like cash and can be bought for as little as $25 (and go up to $1,000 in value). Non-members can use a Costco Cash Card to enter, shop and pay at any Costco location.

And if you prefer online shopping, anyone can make a purchase at Costco.com. However, the product selection is limited for non-members, and non-members also may face an additional surcharge on orders.

 

Membership Fees Are Going Up

You’ll soon be paying more to enjoy the perks of belonging to the warehouse club. Effective June 1, Costco is raising its annual membership fees between $5 and $10 in the United States and Canada. Fees for all Gold Star and Business memberships will increase by $5, bumping up to $60 from the current $55. A Gold Star card is available to anyone and can be used for personal purchases. The membership includes a free additional household card. The Business membership, available only to verified business owners, permits business purchases and bulk purchases for resale.

The annual membership fee for Executive-level members will see a $10 hike to $120 from $110. In addition to the basic privileges outlined above, Executive members can earn an annual 2% reward on most purchases (up to a maximum of $1,000 starting June 1) that can be applied toward future Costco purchases. Executive-level members also receive discounts on various Costco services including travel services.

Costco says the membership fee increase will affect about 35 million of its members with half of them being Executive-level members.

 

You Can Get a Good Deal on a Casket

Caskets are often the single most expensive item purchased for a traditional funeral service, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The average cost of a casket bought through a funeral home is more than $2,000, but depending on the finish the price can climb as high as $10,000. Costco offers a cheaper alternative.

Costco members in the process of planning a funeral can purchase a casket online through the warehouse club's website. Provided by Universal Casket Company, caskets at Costco range in price from $950 to $1,900. Those interested in buying one must first call the casket provider at the number listed on Costco.com to confirm product, pricing and shipping/delivery details before the order will be processed.

Standard shipping is included in the cost of the casket, but expedited shipping is available for an additional fee. Both the shipping address and the billing address must be in one of the 36 states (plus the District of Columbia) approved for casket sales.

 

The Store Return Policy Is Generous (Except on Caskets)

There isn't a time limit on returns or exchanges on most products sold at Costco. However, big-ticket items such as televisions, computers and smart phones must be returned within 90 days of purchase in order to receive a full refund.

That's still a much more lenient policy compared to other mass retailers that sell similar electronics. This includes Best Buy (most items must be returned within 15 days of purchase), Target (items must be returned within 30 days of purchase) and Walmart (most electronic items must be returned within 15 days of purchase). See our story about Retailers With the Most Flexible Return Policies for more.

Among the few exceptions are alcohol and tobacco, which can't be returned where prohibited by law. Diamonds over 1 carat must be authenticated before a refund is approved. As for the aforementioned caskets? All sales are final unless damage occurred during shipping.

 

You Can Even Return Your Membership

Shopping at a warehouse club isn't for everyone. If, after joining Costco, you decide you aren’t getting the best value on the products you buy or you simply don't shop enough to justify paying the annual fee, you can cancel your membership anytime and get your money back.

All you have to do is visit your local Costco, go to the membership desk and request to close your account. As part of Costco's "Risk-Free 100% Satisfaction Guarantee," your membership will be cancelled and you’ll receive a full (not prorated) refund of the annual fee on the spot -- no questions asked and no cancellation fee.

 

1 in 5 Products Are Costco's Kirkland Signature Brand

About 20% of the items found at Costco are from its Kirkland Signature private-label brand. The product line includes everything from home goods and apparel to food and liquor. You can even buy a 72-pound wheel of Kirkland Signature cheese. Costco strives to make its branded items as good as or better than national brands, going as far as manufacturing its products in the same factories used by national brands. According to Bodge, the shopping expert, you can often save a few bucks by opting for the Costco brand over a national brand. However, compare quality as well as price. In quality testing, Consumer Reports gave low marks to Kirkland Signature toilet paper and facial tissue.

We put prices on a few Kirkland Signature items found at a Washington, D.C., area Costco to the test against similar name-brand products. Here’s what we found: A 30-roll pack of Kirkland Signature 2-Ply Toilet Tissue (425 sheets) cost $15.99, while a 30-roll pack of Charmin Ultra Soft 2-Ply Toilet Tissue (231 sheets) was $21.99. A 48-ounce container of Kirkland Signature Arabica coffee cost $9.49, while the same size can of Folger's Classic Roast Coffee rang up for $9.99. A 12-roll pack of Kirkland Signature Premium Paper Towels (160 sheets per roll) was $15.69, while the same size package of Brawny Paper Towels (156 sheets per roll) priced at $15.99.

 

Some Kirkland Products Are Really Good Values

Many store-branded products appeal to shoppers because they are cheaper than national brands. But cheaper isn’t always better. In an effort to identify some of the best Kirkland Signature products to buy at Costco, we homed in on items that are not only less expensive than national brands but also on par in terms of taste and quality. Here are a few of our favorite Kirkland products.

Kirkland Signature bacon, for example, bested top national brands including Oscar Mayer in testing by Consumer Reports. In a quality study of olive oils conducted by the University of California, Davis, Kirkland olive oil was one of only a few imported oils that met international and U.S. standards. Kirkland batteries might not last as long as name brands, but they’re a better value once you factor in quality and price, according to Consumer Reports.

 

You Can Buy Low-Priced Organic Foods

Costco may not be top of mind for many shoppers when it comes to buying organic foods, but it might be soon. The warehouse club surpassed Whole Foods as the top seller of organic food. Costco sold $4 billion in organic foods last year compared to $3.6 billion at Whole Foods.

We spot-checked Costco's prices on organic items such as milk, brown eggs and salad mix and compared them with prices at traditional supermarkets. Here's what we found: A 16-ounce container of Earthbound Farm organic spring salad mix cost $4.39 (unit price: 27 cents per ounce) at Costco, while a four-ounce bag of Whole Foods' 365 brand spring salad mix was $1.99 (unit price: 50 cents per ounce). That's practically double the price at Whole Foods.

A two-dozen carton of Costco's Kirkland Signature Grade A large organic brown eggs was $6.99 (unit price: $3.49 per dozen), while an 18-count carton of Safeway's O Organics Grade A large organic brown eggs totaled $7.69 (unit price: $5.13 per dozen).

If you're buying staples such as organic milk on a weekly basis, it may make sense to buy it in bulk since organic milk lasts longer than regular milk. Costco had a three-pack of 64-ounce cartons of Kirkland Signature Organic Whole Milk for $11.49 ($3.83 per carton), while at Whole Foods a single 64-ounce carton of Whole Foods' 365 brand organic whole milk went for $3.99.

 

You Can Buy a Car, Too

Costco members on the market for a new ride can take advantage of the warehouse club's auto program, which includes an online car-buying service. Members purchased 465,000 vehicles through the auto program in 2015.

Here's how it works: You search Costcoauto.com for a new or certified pre-owned vehicle. Once you know the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) for your desired vehicle, you can then locate nearby dealers who sell it. You'll be prompted to input your membership information and then be connected with a participating dealer. The dealer will contact you directly to schedule an in-person meeting where they'll provide the Costco member price -- no haggling required. Costco estimates that their member price is typically $1,000 below the average transaction price and varies based on location, desired vehicle make/model, options and accessories selected.

Costco's auto program also allows members to save 15% on automotive parts and services on any of their household vehicles at participating service centers.

 

You Can Fill Up Your New Car With Kirkland Signature Gasoline

With gasoline prices on the rise, a Costco membership can help you score lower prices at the pump. Select Costco locations have on-site gas stations for members that carry store-branded regular unleaded (87 octane) and premium unleaded (91 octane) gas.

During a visit to a Washington, D.C., area Costco location equipped with a gas station, the price of regular unleaded was $1.97 per gallon. Premium unleaded totaled $2.45 per gallon. The cost of regular unleaded gas at a nearby Exxon station was $2.29 (an extra 32 cents), while premium unleaded cost $2.89 at Exxon (an extra 44 cents).

Costco's gas stations are self-service, and there's only one way in and out to speed up transactions. Members can pay using a debit card or Costco credit card. Anyone including non-members can fill up and pay with a Costco Cash Card. Cash and checks are not accepted.

 

Leave the Manufacturer Coupons at Home

Coupons offer shoppers a great way to save. Combining coupons from manufacturers with supermarket sales is a particularly effective strategy to lower your grocery bill. It's also a strategy that won't work at Costco. The warehouse club doesn't accept manufacturer's coupons or discount coupons from outside retailers.

There is some consolation for Costco members: The company issues its own coupons, which can be found in a monthly printed booklet sent in the mail or on Costco.com. Costco's coupons also can be viewed and redeemed either in-store or online via the warehouse club's smartphone app. Recent Costco coupons offered discounts on products ranging from toothpaste to televisions.

 

Leave Your American Express Card at Home, Too

For years, American Express was the only major credit card accepted by Costco. AmEx even backed a variety of co-branded rewards credit cards for warehouse club shoppers including the American Express Costco TrueEarnings Card and the American Express Costco Platinum Cash Rebate card. That exclusive arrangement is no more. Effective June 20, 2016, Costco switched to Visa as its only accepted major credit card.

Costco members who previously used the co-branded American Express card have been automatically transferred over to Citibank’s new Costco Anywhere Visa card. However, it’s up to individual members to decide whether to activate their new cards. Costco will now accept any Visa card, not just the co-branded card from Citi. In addition to Visa credit cards, club members can still use cash, debit or Costco Cash cards to make purchases.

 

Get Groceries Delivered to Your Doorstep

You can order some groceries online at Costco.com, of course, but you might need to wait up to five days for delivery. Faster express delivery in a day or two is available on certain items for an extra charge. But if even a day or two is too long to wait, then consider using an online grocery delivery service that will send a personal shopper to Costco to fill your order and rush it to your front door.

Just keep in mind that the speed and convenience don’t come cheap. A service called Instacart, which operates in 19 states and the District of Columbia, promises to deliver your Costco grocery order in as little as one hour. You don’t even need to be a Costco member. Instacart charges a delivery fee -– the amount varies depending on your order –- plus the prices you pay for your groceries might be higher than what Costco members would pay in-store.

Another service, called Shipt, offers unlimited home delivery of groceries from multiple retailers including Costco for $99 a year. The app-based service aims to be in 50 U.S. markets with more than 30 million households by the end of 2017. In March, Shipt started testing Costco grocery delivery in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, before expanding the offering to other cities.

 

Buying in Bulk Isn't Always a Good Deal

Buying household essentials in bulk seems like a no-brainer. Not only can you save money but you can also save time by avoiding frequent trips to the market. But unless you're shopping for a large family or group, paying to join a warehouse club solely to gain access to bulk-packaged products might backfire, says Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert for Coupons.com. If the items you purchase in bulk expire or spoil before you finish using them, that's money poorly spent.

In fact, in our story 12 Things You Should Never Buy in Bulk we highlight several staples to steer clear of at warehouse clubs. The two main reasons: Either they have a short shelf life or you can typically find better prices on them elsewhere. Examples of risky bulk purchases include liquid bleach (its effectiveness diminishes after six months), cereal (sale prices at traditional supermarkets are usually less per ounce) and skincare products (they lose effectiveness over time, plus the risk of contamination rises the longer a container has been open).

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

10 Cheapest US Cities to Live In

Here is a nice article provided by Dan Burrows of Kiplinger:

 

By Dan Burrows, Contributing Writer | May 2017

 

When it comes to cheap living, don't mess with Texas. The Lone Star State is home to the two most-affordable cities in America. But Texas doesn't have a monopoly on low living costs. Five other states make an appearance on our list.

 

If you’re thinking about relocating to one of these cheap cities, weigh the pros and cons. A low cost of living is attractive, but the allure lessens if jobs are hard to come by, paychecks are small or the town offers little to do. Research your potential destination online, and plan an extended visit to ensure the city fits your lifestyle.

 

We compiled our rankings based on the Council for Community and Economic Research's calculations of living expenses in 288 urban areas. Its Cost of Living Index measures prices for housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, health care, and miscellaneous goods and services (for the last item, think going to a movie or getting your hair done at a salon). We screened out small cities with populations below 50,000.

 

Take a look at our 2017 list of the 10 cheapest places to live in America.

(The Cost of Living Index is based on price data collected during 2016. City-level data on populations, household incomes and home values come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Unless otherwise indicated, metropolitan-area unemployment rates come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and represent 2016 averages.)

 

10. Oklahoma City

Cost of Living: 15.5% below U.S. average

City Population: 631,346

Median Household Income: $47,779 (U.S.: $53,889)

Median Home Value: $138,600 (U.S.: $178,600)

Unemployment Rate: 4.2% (U.S.: 4.9%)

The largest city in Oklahoma offers remarkably affordable prices for its size. The biggest reason: Housing costs run 28.8% below the national average, according to the housing component of the Cost of Living Index, which takes into account both home prices and apartment rents. And yet as a metro area with 1.4 million people, Oklahoma City offers a lot of big-city attractions, from a philharmonic orchestra to the National Softball Hall of Fame and Museum. At the professional sports level, the Oklahoma City Thunder remains one of the most competitive teams in the NBA.

 

9. Conway, Ark. 

Cost of Living: 15.6% below U.S. average

City Population: 64,980

Median Household Income: $47,504

Median Home Value: $160,400

Unemployment Rate: 3.5%

Conway is home to a number of high-tech companies, such as digital marketing firm Acxiom, and post-secondary educational institutions, including the University of Central Arkansas. Close proximity to the Arkansas River and Lake Conway make the city ideal for fishing and water sports, and there's ample space for hunting. Yet you can drive to the state capital of Little Rock in a half-hour or so. While Conway's median home value is the highest among the cities on this list, the figure is still below the U.S. median, and housing-related expenses, including utilities, are modest. Relatively low costs for health care also contribute to Conway's affordability.

 

8. Jonesboro, Ark. 

Cost of Living: 15.9% below U.S. average

City Population: 73,907

Median Household Income: $41,688

Median Home Value: $141,400

Unemployment Rate: 3.4%

Best known as the home of Arkansas State University—Go Red Wolves!—Jonesboro is a college town with a degree in affordability. Putting a roof over your head costs 28.2% less than the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index. Health care is very reasonable, too. You’ll save about 18%, on average, on a visit to the doctor and 25% on a visit to the dentist. A trip to the optometrist costs 30% less than the national average. And when you feel the need to escape to a big city, Memphis is just an hour's drive from Jonesboro (more on the budget-friendly charms of Memphis later). Jonesboro's unemployment rate is the lowest among the cities on this list.

 

7. Norman, Okla.

Cost of Living: 16.2% below U.S. average

City Population: 120,284

Median Household Income: $51,491

Median Home Value: $160,100

Unemployment Rate: 3.5%*

Speaking of college athletics, Norman is home to the University of Oklahoma, a perennial Big 12 powerhouse. Football is the main draw, but far from the only sports dynasty in town: The Sooners men's gymnastics team has won three straight national titles. Norman is also home to households with the highest median income among the cities on this list. But while household incomes are close to the national average, overall living costs are far from it. The city's affordability is evident in the prices of many staples, from groceries to gasoline. Rent is especially cheap. The typical apartment in Norman goes for a whopping 44% less than the U.S. average. When you need to get off campus, Oklahoma City is just a few minutes’ drive up Interstate 35.

*The unemployment rate for Cleveland County, which includes the city of Norman, as of the end of 2016.

 

6. Indianapolis, Indi.

Cost of Living: 16.2% below U.S. average

City Population: 853,173

Median Household Income: $41,987

Median Home Value: $118,300

Unemployment Rate: 4.0%

Big city living without big city prices is an apt description of affordable Indianapolis, the largest city on our list. The capital of Indiana has a solid economy and is home to several colleges and universities, including Butler, so learning opportunities abound. Kids will get a kick out of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the largest museum of its kind in the world. Advance tickets are just $5 the first Thursday of the month. If a children's museum isn’t the pace you’re looking for, zip over to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The famed track, which hosts the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 races, also boasts a racing museum and a golf course.

 

5. Knoxville, Tenn.

Cost of Living: 16.3% below U.S. average

City Population: 185,291

Median Household Income: $34,226

Median Home Value: $118,300

Unemployment Rate: 4.5%

Thrifty types should volunteer to check out Knoxville, one of two Tennessee cities to make the list for inexpensive living. The city is notable for its across-the-board affordability for everything from food to transportation, according the Cost of Living Index. Consider Knoxville, the original state capital before Nashville, a good mix of city and country living. It is home to the University of Tennessee and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, but Knoxville is also the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains. The Tennessee River runs through downtown. The city was a strategic objective in the Civil War, so history buffs can visit a number of battlefields nearby.

 

4. Memphis, Tenn. 

Cost of Living: 17.0% below U.S. average

City Population: 655,770

Median Household Income: $36,445

Median Home Value: $94,000

Unemployment Rate: 5.3%

To say that real estate is cheap in Memphis is an understatement. You can buy a home for less than $100,000, an amount that barley qualifies as a down-payment in many of the most expensive U.S. cities you could live in. Renters benefit, too. A typical apartment in Memphis rents for one-third less than the national average. There's also good work if you can get it. Proximity to the mighty Mississippi River makes Memphis a hub for the shipping and transportation industries. Three Fortune 500 companies—FedEx, International Paper and AutoZone—call the city home. You’ll also find numerous colleges and universities, an NBA franchise, mouthwatering ribs, and, of course, Graceland.

 

3. Kalamazoo, Mich.

Cost of Living: 20.0% below U.S. average

City Population: 76,041

Median Household Income: $33,009

Median Home Value: $96,600

Unemployment Rate: 4.2%

It's cheap to live in Kalamazoo—and that's a necessity for many residents. One-third of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and low wages and underemployment are problems even for those who don’t. The city has the lowest median household income on this list. Western Michigan University, with its multiple campuses and research facilities, is a major driver of the local economy. Pfizer, the drug company, has a sizable operation in Kalamazoo, and medical equipment maker Stryker is headquartered in the city. As for recreational activities, the Kalamazoo Nature Center hosts free daily activities. Nearby parks offer a combined 140 miles of trails and three swimming beaches. If you want to get away to the big city, Chicago is about three hours by car.

 

2. Harlingen, Texas

Cost of Living: 20.6% below U.S. average

City Population: 65,774

Median Household Income: $34,466

Median Home Value: $80,600

Unemployment Rate: 7.2%

South Texas border towns are known for low costs of living, but not always for happy reasons. In Harlingen, 32.5% of residents live below the poverty line. For Texas as a whole, the poverty rate is 15.9%; for the U.S. as a whole, it's 13.5%. However, just about everything, from groceries to gasoline, costs less in Harlingen. A good cut of steak goes for 28% less than the national average (this is Texas, after all). The median home value in Harlingen is a striking $98,000 less than the U.S. median. In addition to its proximity to Mexico, Harlingen is about an hour's drive to the beaches of South Padre Island.

 

1. McAllen, Texas

Cost of Living: 23.7% below U.S. average

City Population: 140,269

Median Household Income: $44,254

Median Home Value: $115,400

Unemployment Rate: 7.8%

McAllen is about 30 miles west of Harlingen on the Rio Grande. It's a larger and relatively more prosperous city—household incomes are a full $10,000 higher than in Harlingen—yet McAllen's superlow living costs come at a price. The poverty rate is 26.1%, and obesity runs rampant. WalletHub.com named McAllen the fourth-fattest city in America (Jackson, Miss., is number 1). The Mexican city of Reynosa, directly across the border, has been the scene of violence between drug gangs and Mexican security forces. On the plus side, McAllen is famous for bird watching because of its location on a major migration route. The Quinta Mazatlan, a luxury birdhouse with more than 15 acres of birding habitat, is not to be missed.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

12 Secrets to Shopping at Home Depot

Here is a nice article provided by Bob Niedt of Kiplinger: 

 

By Bob Niedt, Online Editor | March 2017

 

Home Depot is probably the first retailer to come to mind when you’re thinking “ubiquitous big-box hardware store.” The rise of these orange-hued home-improvement centers was a revelation to those who grew up with small, neighborhood hardware stores in the 20th century and who became adult homeowners and DIYers in the 21st.

 

Imagine. Every tool under the sun, building materials, flooring, roofing, lighting, appliances, lawn and garden supplies—all in one cavernous warehouse. Amazing! Home Depot has been a boon to consumers but a bane to the mom-and-pop hardware stores of our youth, driving many out of business and leaving only Lowe’s Home Improvement as its head-to-head competitor.

 

What’s left to discover? Plenty. Here are 12 ways to get more value out of your next visit to Home Depot. Have a look:

 

Go Online Before You Head for the Store

Case in point: Recently, I was in the market for a few plants, some seed and mulch for the yard. Who knew I could land a 16-channel, Q-See 1080p 2TB video surveillance system to oversee my fine landscaping work, with eight bullet, two dome and two auto-focus cameras for only $700--a $500 discount from the full price? This happened to be the online deal of the day.

“These limited [daily] discounts are almost always the best individual deals that Home Depot offers,” says Brent Shelton of FatWallet.com, a deals website. “Shoppers will often get 50% off.”

Once you get to the store, check out the in-store overstock section, which can boast top-brand tools and more at discounts of up to 50%.

Says Benjamin Glaser of the deals website DealNews, “If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a coupon code that will stack on top of existing discounts.”

Hint: Lighting is a big selling area at Home Depot, so bounce over to that aisle. Promotions are often rampant.

 

Look to Price-Match

“Home Depot will price-match any major competitor that has the same item in stock,” consumer-finance expert Andrea Woroch notes. “What’s more, as long as the lower price isn’t a special or sale, Home Depot will beat the competitor by an additional 10%. So it pays to shop with them when you find a better deal elsewhere.”

Just bring in the print ad or pull it up on your smartphone at the register. This may entail Home Depot customer service checking out the competing price. And note: Online purchases are not eligible for Home Depot’s in-store low-price guarantee.

 

Check for Rebates

Before heading out to Home Depot to make your purchase, check the online rebate center to see if you can get an additional discount.

When I clicked on the rebate center, it was loaded with deals on home furnaces and Wi-Fi-enabled smart thermostats.

Often, says Shelton of FatWallet, the rebate center features offers on remodeling and building materials, home appliances and Energy Star products.

“Some of the bigger rebates will get called out on the FatWallet Hot Deals forum, especially during seasonal sales, when Home Depot offers 30% to 40% off major appliance purchases,” says Shelton.

 

Lumber for Up to 75% Off

Handy Dans know a good deal on wood when they see one, especially for small projects.

Toward the back of the cavernous lumber section, Home Depot stores typically have a place for the castoffs: pieces of lumber custom-cut in-store from larger pieces that customers have bought.

You can often buy these castoffs for a song—up to 75% off full price, says Saeed Darabi of the money-saving website MoneyPantry. Check for cracks or warping, but you can often find a bargain.

“The good thing is that even the ‘bad’ pieces are usable because they are either not that crooked or cracked, or they are long and have a few feet of totally fine wood for smaller projects,” says Darabi, who salvaged enough good wood from one trip to the discount lumber section last year to build a flip-top tool stand.

 

Know the Secrets Hidden in the Price Tags

As with Kohl’s, there are secrets in the price tags at Home Depot, too. It pays to know the code.

Any item with a price ending with .06 means it is on clearance, says Darabi of MoneyPantry. A price ending in .03 means that’s the lowest final price for that item. If it doesn’t sell within three weeks, it will be removed from the shelves.

 

Yes, You Can Haggle for a Lower Price

Not every employee has the power to lower prices, but it’s worth a try. Consumer-finance expert Woroch said she scored an additional $50 off a washer and dryer that were already on sale at Home Depot. All she had to do was ask.

“The sales associates usually don’t have the power to give you a better deal, but if you ask to speak to a manager, he or she may be more willing to negotiate with you to seal the deal,” says Woroch. “Use tactics like reviewing [with the manager] recent sales that you missed or upcoming ones that you may qualify for.” Same with Lowe’s, by the way.

 

Already Bought Something at Home Depot? Track the Price

Home Depot stands by its prices – for two solid weeks. If you buy an item from Home Depot, especially something costly, and it goes on sale elsewhere, Home Depot will give you a price adjustment if the transaction is within 14 days of your purchase.

 

Coupons? Really?

Twice a year, customers who have signed up for e-mail notifications or text alerts will get coupon offers good for $5 off store purchases of $50 or more, or for $10 off a $100 buy.

Join the Garden Club, opt in for text messages with exclusive deals, and just by signing up, you’ll score a $5 Home Depot voucher, plus exclusive coupon offers all year round.

Says Darabi, “What I really like about it is that you actually get worthwhile deals. In the past few years that I have been a Garden Club member, I have received dozens of exclusive coupons that saved me anywhere from 10% to 50% on many items. I have also gotten a few free plants and flowers.”

 

Peruse the Paint Desk for Bargains

Just like the Island of Misfit Toys, Home Depot’s (and Lowe’s) paint department relegates mixing mishaps to an “oops” section. There, you’ll find paints that didn’t match expectations or were abandoned by customers who ordered but never picked them up.

So why would you want such rejected paint? Because you can get it for 25% to 75% off, says Darabi. The paints are perfectly fine.

It may not be exactly the color you want, but if it’s for, say, a spare bedroom, closets or other space that’s rarely used, the option just might work at a lower cost.

 

Take Advantage of the DIY Workshops

At every entrance to every Home Depot, there’s a chalkboard with a menu of upcoming workshop sessions in the store (and if you aren't old-school-chalkboard, find the workshops online). These 90-minute sessions provide how-to classes from remodeling pros on home repairs, installation, paint tips and more.

These can save you money or time by letting you know what to buy in advance and how to properly budget a home repair project. After all, it will be much more expensive to bring in a contractor after botching a home improvement project you informed your significant other you could do perfectly fine on your own. (Yes, I’m speaking from firsthand experience here.)

 

Get Free Online Shipping – to Your Home Depot Store

If you see something on Home Depot’s website, you can get it shipped to your neighborhood store at no cost to you. This includes finding something online when it’s out of stock in the store.

Also: “Home Depot sells some online exclusives, but you can dodge the shipping cost by selecting to have the items shipped to your local store for free pickup instead,” says Woroch.

 

Buy Expensive Power Tools at Low Prices

From time to time, Home Depot will offer display tools, or ones that are slightly damaged, at discounted prices. Perhaps there is a scratch or a dent, or perhaps a tool is missing a minor assembly piece. You can save 50% or more compared with fresh-in-the-box prices, says Darabi.

“A few months ago, I picked up a DeWalt DWE7480 contractor’s saw that sells for $399 for around $195,” Darabi says. “The only thing wrong with it was that it was a display item, so it was missing the screws that hold the included wrenches.”

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

15 Surprising Benefits of Amazon Prime

Here is a nice article provided by Bob Neidt of Kiplinger:

 

By Bob Neidt, Online Editor | March 2017

 

Many of us first signed up for Amazon Prime years ago to take advantage of free two-day shipping, and stayed with it as the giant online retailer edged the annual fee toward the triple-digit mark. But what are you really getting with your $99-a-year Amazon Prime membership? A lot more than you’re probably using.

 

I recently dove into my Amazon Prime account when I realized my renewal was fast approaching. My relationship with Prime had mellowed. I wasn’t ordering as much from Jeff Bezos’s baby, and I felt it was time for a change.

 

Boy, was I wrong. I use Prime services more than ever after I realized the bounty I had let go fallow in years past. Some of these wide-ranging free perks might even goose the rate of your Amazon Prime usage so you get more value out of your annual membership. Have a look.

 

Free Same-Day Delivery

Free two-day shipping is so 2005, the year Amazon launched Prime. Today’s Amazon Prime is all about getting more stuff to members at an ever-faster pace. Free same-day delivery doesn’t apply everywhere, mind you, but 5,000 eligible cities and towns and counting is a fairly wide swath. If your ZIP code, which you can check out right here, offers same-day service, when you order before noon and choose the same-day shipping option at checkout, Amazon says the package will be delivered by 9 p.m. that night (Sundays included, and don’t be surprised to see the U.S. Postal Service delivering). If you order past noon, an option is next-day delivery. Two caveats: The same-day order must total $35 or more, and not every product Amazon stocks is eligible (though the company claims over a million items are).

 

Free Two-Hour Delivery

Talk about impulse shopping. Amazon’s Prime Now service delivers the goods to Prime members for free within two hours, in 28 select markets (located near Amazon warehouses, naturally), including Atlanta, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Antonio and Virginia Beach. Can’t wait that long? You can get the goods in an hour in some areas, but you have to pay a $7.99 upcharge. Prime Now specializes in delivering a mix of more than 25,000 items ranging from food and pet supplies to electronics and beauty products. And, of course, Amazon-only products, including Kindles. The service will also deliver food from member restaurants in select cities to your door in an hour at no extra charge.

 

Get Paid for No-Rush Shipping

Hey, if you can slow your roll on some of your orders, it just may pay off. If you choose no-rush shipping, you can earn Amazon credits and still get your order in five days or less. You can use your amassed credits to snag movies on Amazon Instant Video, buy e-books and more. Credits are applied after your no-rush order ships. Typical givebacks include a $5 credit toward purchases on Prime Now or Prime Pantry each time you choose no-rush shipping.

 

Membership Sharing

This was a new one to me: You can share your Amazon Prime membership. Here’s the catch: Your Prime benefits can be shared with one other adult in a household – as long as you both agree to share your payment methods. That’s fine for, say, a spouse, but giving your roommate access to your credit or debit card might be a deal-breaker. Your partner in Prime has to have a separate Amazon account to be able to be added to your Prime membership. You’ll then be able to share certain Prime perks including free two-day shipping.

 

Dash Buttons

You can replenish scores of everyday products from Amazon at the touch of a button – no computer required. The secret is the Dash Button, a freestanding plastic device about the size of a thumb drive that’s tied to a specific product. Let’s say you’re running out of toilet paper. Simply push the Charmin Dash Button mounted in your bathroom, watch for the green light to flash, and in two days you’ll get more rolls in the mail.

I tested two Dash Buttons: one for Tide detergent and another for Slim Jims (don't judge). Once the buttons arrived by mail, it was a snap to connect them to my home Wi-Fi network using the Amazon Shopping app on my smartphone. Each button costs $4.99, but the money is credited toward the first order. I placed the Tide button in the laundry room, of course, and the Slim Jim button near the beverage fridge.

 

Access to Exclusive Brands

Amazon is expanding its private-label offerings – an area that holds huge business potential, as we pointed out in our story about grocery chain Wegmans. Amazon Elements products, for example, are already available only to Prime members, and the company is rolling out other exclusive private-label brands. Also unique about Elements: Scan a special code on the product – using your Amazon Shopping app – and you will see where every ingredient in the product was sourced, down to the water in the baby wipes. The Amazon Elements line also include vitamins and nutritional supplements.

 

Prime Pantry’s Flat Fee

You can do your weekly grocery shopping, or a good chunk of it, on Prime Pantry, an Amazon Prime perk where members shop for groceries and household products. For a flat fee of $5.99 for shipping (plus the cost of the products), you fill up a box online and wait for delivery. Looking for free shipping anyway? Shop the Pantry and look for products that qualify for free shipping. Add five to your box and bingo: free shipping.

 

Unlimited Photo Storage

Amazon Prime members can skip the $12 fee paid by non-members to get unlimited photo storage. It’s accessible from any device anywhere you can tap into your Amazon Prime account. If you’re like me, doubling down by having an Amazon Prime account and paying Apple $9.99 a month for cloud storage for those precious photos, it may be time to trim some costs.

Oh, and no worries about tagging photos. Amazon’s scary servers will automatically sort your photos. Want to free up storage on your phone? Use the Amazon app, upload them to Prime Photos and delete them from your phone. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Prime for Students

Just right for sitting around the dorm room and streaming “Game of Thrones” during study breaks, here comes Amazon Prime Student. It’s free for the first six months with a legit .edu email address (along with proof you’re actually taking at least one legit class). The free trial includes free two-day Prime shipping (textbooks and Doritos don’t buy themselves), free same-day pickup and unlimited movie streaming. After six months it costs $49 a year for Prime Student, and the paid upgrade comes with unlimited streaming of Prime Music.

 

Free Music

Why pay for ad-free Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music when you’re already making beautiful music with your Amazon Prime account? Included in Amazon Prime Music is free access to more than a million songs. The drawback? Music fans argue that Amazon’s free playlists and stations aren’t as deep as those of competing streaming services – and it’s true. But before you fork over an extra $9.99 a month for Apple Music or Spotify, download Amazon’s music app and take it for a test run. It might be all you need. If not, an upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited, which features tens of millions of songs including new releases, runs $7.99 a month for Prime members.

 

Free Books, Magazines, Audiobooks

Here’s a new one: You don’t need a public library to get a free loaner when you have Amazon Prime. That's because Prime members have access to a fairly wide collection of books, magazines and audiobooks nestled in Prime Reading. I clicked on The Atlantic magazine and the right price came up: $0. I didn’t need a Kindle to get it. I could have it delivered to my iPhone or iPad.

As a bonus, Prime members also get free access to certain podcasts and other audiobooks and series through Audible Channels, a limited version of Audible. You need to download the Audible app and log in with your Prime account to start listening. Otherwise, a subscription to the full version of Audible, owned by Amazon, costs $14.95 a month.

 

Binge on Your Favorite Shows

Look at you, Amazon Prime member. Binge-watching at no charge “The Man in the High Castle” (an Amazon original series) or “10 Cloverfield Lane” … wait, that’s me. Yes, I am increasingly taking advantage of watching free movies and TV series via Amazon’s streaming service, Prime Video. If you have a newer TV, like me, the Amazon app comes built in, so click on it and boom! I’m in Hollywood. Oh, and don’t you worry. While you’re watching Prime Video, Amazon is watching you. The “personal recommendations based on your viewing history” can be both creepy and convenient. You can even download movies and TV shows to mobile devices for later viewing.

 

Early Access to Lightning Deals

You like your deals fast and hot. And you want to be at the front of the pack getting them. Amazon Prime members enjoy access to those one-off, deeply discounted Lightning Deals 30 minutes before the great unwashed. Lightning Deals are only good for a few hours (or as long as supplies last) so if you really want what’s on sale the early access is an advantage. But even then, Amazon warns that some deals could sell out during the early access period, before opening up to the general public. Recent Lightning Deals ranged from hair dryers selling at an 85% discount to a “no bark” dog dollar going for 78% off.

 

Something for New Moms and Dads

The former Amazon Mom has morphed into Amazon Family, a Prime perk that includes 20% off diaper subscriptions, free shipping and free returns, which we don’t want to think about when we’re talking diapers. Oh, and Amazon Family has lots of other nice perks, meaning discounts on kid-friendly items and unlimited streaming music plans for families of up to six.

 

Say Hello to Alexa

If you own an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, your Prime membership allows you to place orders through Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant. For example, if you just ran out of batteries for your flashlight, say “Alexa, order AA batteries” and a 20-pack of AmazonBasics will arrive on your doorstep two days later. Shipping is free for Prime members, naturally, and Alexa is already aware of your Prime status. Amazon was recently offering 20% off when you order through Alexa.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

8 Things Home Buyers Will Hate About Your House

Here is a nice article provided by Pat Mertz Esswein of Kiplinger:

 

By Pat Mertz Esswein, Associate Editor | February 2017

 

As a home seller, you don’t want to let the small stuff sabotage your sale.

 

These eight problems are among the biggest buyer turn-offs, and most of them are easy to fix without spending a ton of money. Take a look.

 

1. Haunted-House Landscaping

If your yard looks like the Addams family owns it, you need to tidy up. Otherwise, buyers may drive by but never come back.

Besides mowing the lawn, your to-do list should include trimming scraggly trees and shrubs and removing anything that's dead or beyond resuscitation. Edge, weed and mulch garden beds. Plant annuals in a plot or pot for a splash of color (see Cheap Ways to Improve Curb Appeal).

Cost to fix: Around $95 for a landscaper to prune and groom a small tree and a couple of shrubs, according to www.diyornot.com. If you’d rather be packing boxes than mowing the lawn, you'll probably pay a lawn service $40 to $50 for up to a half acre, but you might get a neighbor’s kid to do it for less. Of course, you can always spruce up the yard yourself.

2. Your Personal Paint Palette

Paint over colors that reflect your taste but may put off potential buyers, such as a scarlet-red accent wall, a lemon-yellow child’s bedroom or a forest-green den. "Fun colors are for living, but neutral colors are for selling," explains home stager Chrissie Sutherland, of Ready Set Stage, in Greensboro, N.C.

Avoid using stark-white paint, though. Choose a warm neutral color -- beige, ivory, taupe or light gray -- that makes your rooms look inviting, larger and brighter. Redo painted trim in white.

Cost to fix: A pro can prep and paint a 10-by 15-foot room with two coats of latex paint for anywhere from $400 to $927, according to www.homewyse.com.

3. Popcorn-Finished Ceilings

Anyone who has lived with this outdated mode of room-top styling knows that it accumulates dirt, defies cleaning and is hard to paint. Worse, if your home was built prior to the mid-1980s, it may contain asbestos (it was banned in ceiling products in 1977, but existing supplies may have been used later).

If you have any concerns, have the ceiling sampled and tested for asbestos by a licensed inspector. For more information, check out the EPA's Asbestos: Protect Your Family fact sheets. If the test result is positive, hire an asbestos abatement contractor who is federally or state trained and accredited (not the same company that tested the ceiling) to seal it with spray paint if it's in good shape (not peeling or crumbling) and unlikely to be disturbed, or to remove the ceiling treatment and properly dispose of it -- an expensive proposition.

Removal is usually a messy and laborious process, with or without asbestos. The material must be wetted down and scraped and the underlying wallboard wiped clean. Once the popcorn is gone, the ceiling often must be repaired with joint compound and repainted. Even if there’s no asbestos, you probably should hire a drywall or painting contractor for the job. (For a glimpse of the process, visit www.ronhazleton.com.)

Cost to fix: About $100 to $150 per sample to test for asbestos (multiple samples may be required), and if it’s present, about $2 to $6 per square foot to seal it or $54 to $64 per square foot for removal, according to www.fixr.com. If you can get by with a painter, expect to pay about $1 to $3

4. Wall-to-Wall Carpeting

Buyers these days expect hardwood floors, even in starter homes. If carpet hides your home's original hardwood floors, remove it, even if the wood isn't in the best condition. Even if you don’t have hardwood, you may want to consider having it installed in a first-floor living area. If you must keep the carpeting, make sure it looks and smells its best by having it professionally cleaned, especially in high-traffic areas or if you have pets.

To find a cleaner certified by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, visit www.certifiedcleaners.org. Talk with your agent about the best strategy: whether to replace carpet or give buyers the option to choose what they want.

Cost to fix: A pro can clean 500 square feet of carpet for about $174 to $230, according to www.homewyse.com. The cost to refinish 500 square feet of hardwood flooring runs about $2,000, including labor, while the cost to install new hardwood runs from about $3,660 to $5,762. Pre-finished laminate flooring will cost somewhat less to install.

5. Brass Fixtures

From switch plates to chandeliers, builder-grade, shiny yellow brass is out. Replace it with chrome- or satin-nickel-finish fixtures for a contemporary look, or an oil-rubbed bronze or black finish to update a traditional room. This is a pretty straightforward do-it-yourself job.

For instructions, watch these YouTube videos: How to Replace and Install a Chandelier from Build.com and Buildipedia DIY's How to Replace a Light Fixture.

Cost to fix: You could buy two chandeliers (to put, say, over the kitchen and dining-room tables) and a few flush-mounted lights for $200 to $400 at a big-box store such as Lowe's or Home Depot. After that, it’s DIY.

6. Faux Crystal Faucet Handles

Acrylic knobs in the bathroom look cheap and can be hard to use by young, aged or soapy hands. Replace them with a faucet and handle set that matches the existing fixture's configuration (centerset or widespread) and meets the standard of the Americans with Disabilities Act with flipper- or lever-style handles. Polished-chrome finish will cost you the least and still be durable. Plus, the National Kitchen & Bath Association says that the finish is enjoying a surge in popularity over brushed or satin finishes.

Cost to fix: You’ll pay at least $26 for a centerset faucet, plus $75 to $150 for a plumber’s minimum service charge (or twice that much or more if there's corrosion or some other difficulty), according to www.costhelper.com. You can replace a tub-and-shower faucet set for about the same amount.

7. Vanity Strips

Nothing says 1970s like a Hollywood-style strip of bare, round lights over your bathroom mirror. Replace it with a fixture that includes a shade for each bulb or a bath bar in a style and finish that complements your faucet set.

If you have a one-person mirror, you could replace the vanity strip with a wall sconce on either side of the mirror to achieve better lighting for shaving or applying make-up.

Cost to fix: A three-light fixture with shades runs $28 to $100 at www.lightingdirect.com. You should be able to handle this job yourself.

8. Clutter and Dirt

Ugh. You want buyers to imagine living in your home, not to wonder “How can these people live like this?” when they come through the front door.

Pack up your tchotchkes and other non-essential stuff (store the boxes neatly in your garage or other storage area). Then thoroughly clean your house and be prepared to keep it that way until you move out.

If your house has unpleasant odors—say, from smoking or pets--that will turn off buyers, too. You may want to hire a specialist to help you (see www.iicrc.org).

Cost to fix: Nothing but the cost of cleaning supplies if you supply the elbow grease. For pro cleaning, you can expect to pay from $188 to $234 for a 2,000-square-foot house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, or $269 to $335 for a 3,000-square-foot house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, according to www.homewyse.com.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail  info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

10 Secrets Trader Joe's Shoppers Need to Know

Here is a nice article provided by Andrea Browne Taylor of Kiplinger:

 

By Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor | Updated March 2017

 

Trader Joe's is well-known to its fans for low prices on unique food items, ranging from cookie butter to turkey corn dogs. The chain is also known for its quirky culture. Employees, easy to spot in their Hawaiian shirts, go out of their way to be helpful, and plastic lobsters are used to decorate stores.

 

The unconventional touches make shopping at Trader Joe's a far different experience than shopping at a typical supermarket. Stores are smaller and selection is limited, so you might not be able to cross off every item on your list. Trader Joe's stocks about 3,000 products, versus the 30,000 carried by traditional grocers. However, you can find basics such as bread, milk and eggs, as well as some produce and meats.

 

This is just the tip of the Trader Joe's iceberg. If you've never set foot inside one of its more than 400 locations, here are ten things you should know before you make your first shopping trip.

 

1. Aldi Is Part of the Family

Trader Joe's was founded in 1967 in Pasadena, Calif., by entrepreneur Joe Coloumbe. It was acquired in 1979 by Aldi Nord, a German company that also operates Aldi grocery stores in Europe. Aldi Nord's sister company, Aldi Sud, operates Aldi stores in the U.S.

Despite the corporate ties, the two chains have distinct marketing strategies. Aldi is price-driven and undercuts competitors by selling cheaper private-label versions of the most popular items at traditional supermarkets, says Jon Springer, retail editor for Supermarket News. Trader Joe's also aims for affordability, but its driving force is uniqueness. It focuses on its own line of mostly prepackaged products in unusual flavor combinations that you won't find anywhere else.

 

2. There Are No Sales or Coupons

Most supermarket chains put select items on sale every week. But at Trader Joe's, what you see is what you get when it comes to price, says Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert for Coupons.com. That means you won't find any Trader Joe's deals listed in your Sunday circulars.

The grocer claims that because it already offers the lowest prices it can every day, there's no room for sales, specials or coupons. To test this claim, we compared the price of Speculoos Cookie Butter (Trader Joe's most popular item) with that of a similar cookie spread found at Target. At a Trader Joe's we visited in the Washington, D.C., area, the Speculoos Cookie Butter cost $3.69 for a 14-ounce jar. At a nearby Target, the same-size container of Lotus Biscoff Creamy Cookie Spread cost 30 cents more.

 

3. Eight Out of 10 Items Are Store Brands

Eighty percent of the products carried by Trader Joe's are store brands, says Alison Mochizuki, the company's director of public relations. These include items with the Trader Joe's, Trader Jose's and Trader Ming's labeling. The grocer says the heavy emphasis on store brands helps keep costs low because it buys direct from suppliers whenever possible (no middleman markup) and then passes the savings on to its customers. "Most stores charge their suppliers fees for putting an item on the shelf," Mochizuki adds. "This results in higher prices, so we don't do it."

Health-conscious customers should know that the company claims all of its store-branded food and drinks are free of artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, synthetic colors and genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.

 

4. Its Prices Aren't Always the Lowest

To find out whether Trader Joe's really does offer lower prices versus other stores, we visited one of its Washington, D.C.-area locations to do some comparison shopping. We looked at the cost of everyday essentials such as milk, fruits and vegetables, and priced them against similar items available at Whole Foods, an upscale grocer, and Aldi, a discount supermarket.

Despite Whole Foods' reputation for high prices, a half-gallon carton of its 365 brand organic whole milk cost $3.99, the same as a half-gallon of Trader Joe's brand organic milk. A 16-ounce bag of Trader Joe's brand organic baby carrots cost $1.99, while at Whole Foods and Aldi the same same-size package of organic baby carrots was $1.49. At Trader Joe's, a four-pound bag of navel oranges rang up for $3.49, while the same same-size bag of oranges cost only $1.99 at Aldi.

Another thing to keep in mind, says Cindy Livesey, founder of LivingRichWithCoupons.com, is that a lot of Trader Joe's produce items are prepackaged, which doesn't allow shoppers to choose how much they actually want to buy.

 

5. Products Come and Go From Store Shelves

It's easy to get attached to your favorite snack. Just be warned that at Trader Joe's those snacks might not be around forever. Petits Palmiers -- puffed pastry cookies that had been on Trader Joe's shelves since 2003 -- were discontinued in 2015 due to declining sales. Last year the company also dropped round sweet potato tortilla chips, which had been around since 2011, but quickly replaced them with new and improved sweet potato tortilla chips that are triangular in shape.

Trader Joe's rationale? Because store space is limited and new products are introduced every week, items that don't catch on quickly with customers are wasting valuable real estate. Besides poor sales, Trader Joe's says a product might be discontinued if it's seasonal or if the cost of producing it increases significantly.

 

6. You Can Sample Anything Before Buying It

If you see something that piques your interest, but aren't totally sure you'll like it, Trader Joe's allows customers to have a taste on the house. Seriously. Simply ask an employee to open up whatever it is you're considering purchasing, so you can try a small sample before forking over your hard-earned cash. If you don't like it, you don't have to buy it.

Trader Joe's also has a no-questions-asked return policy. If you purchase something, try it at home and decide you don’t like it, simply bring whatever you haven't eaten back to your local store for a full refund.

 

7. Checking Out Can Take a While

You might need to set aside more time for a trip to Trader Joe's than you would a stop at your local supermarket. Depending on when you shop, you may very well experience an especially long wait in the checkout line, says Lauren Greutman, founder of IAmThatLady.com, a blog about frugal living.

While doing our comparison shopping, we made three separate trips to Trader Joe's. The first was on a weekend and, as you might expect, it was packed. The checkout line on a Saturday afternoon snaked through the store, and it took 25 minutes to reach a cashier. The second visit was mid-afternoon on a Thursday, and the wait at checkout was less than five minutes. We went back on Thursday night, about an hour before closing time, and again the wait was just five minutes.

The lesson: If you're in a hurry or need to do a big shop, go during off-peak hours. Trader Joe's tends to be busiest on weekdays right after work and on weekends. If you can, shop early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds.

 

8. A Ringing Bell Means Help Is on the Way

Unlike most supermarkets that use intercoms to summon assistance, Trader Joe's has a bell system. In keeping with its kitschy maritime theme (remember the plastic lobsters?), the grocer uses actual bells located near the checkout area to signal to employees that help is needed.

One ring lets employees know that another cash register needs to be opened. Two rings mean there are additional questions that need to be answered at the checkout area. Three rings signal that a manager is needed for further assistance. While this system may be a bit odd, shoppers seem to like the chain's eccentricities. Trader Joe's ranked number one in customer satisfaction among supermarket shoppers, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index's 2016 Retail Report. Publix was second, Aldi ranked third and Walmart finished last.

 

9. Stores Donate Unsold Food to Local Charities

While offering customers quality products is a top priority for Trader Joe's, so is giving back to the community. On its corporate website, Trader Joe's states that its "long running policy is to donate products that aren't fit for sale, but are safe for consumption."

Each store has a donation coordinator who is responsible for working with local food banks and soup kitchens to arrange daily donations. "Store crewmembers evaluate products every day and if they feel something isn't safe for consumption, they will not donate it," says Trader Joe's Mochizuki.

In 2016 , the grocery chain says it donated $341 million worth of products to charities across the country, up from the $321 million in goods Trader Joe’s donated the previous year.

 

10. No Trader Joe's Near You? Ask for One

If you're now curious about visiting a Trader Joe's only to find out that there isn't a store near you, you have some recourse. Potential shoppers interested in bringing a store to their area should visit the Request a TJ's in My City page on Trader Joe's website and fill out the short questionnaire.

While Trader Joe's can't guarantee it will open a store in every requested city, if consumer demand is high enough in a particular area management vows to give it serious consideration. In 2016, the grocer opened 17 new stores ranging in location from Westfield, N.J., to Bellevue, Wash., and has nine more stores scheduled to open later in 2017 ranging in location from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Diego.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail  info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

10 Kirkland Products You Should Buy at Costco

Here is a nice article provided by Bob Niedt of Kiplinger:

 

By Bob Niedt, Online Editor | January 2017

 

Years back, retailers got wise to the ways of store brands. You know the drill: Grocers stock their shelves with food items packaged just for them, from pasta sauces to pinto beans. For most, gone are the days of those products signaling to customers that yes, they’re less expensive than national brands -- and less tasty. I’m looking at you, old-school A&P with your Ann Page line of goods. Rest in peace.

 

Even warehouse clubs are mastering the game, none better than Costco with its Kirkland Signature line, which includes traditional grocery-list staples as well as non-traditional items such as clothing and luggage. In fact, high marks from readers on the quality of Costco’s store brands helped the bulk retailer place sixth in Consumer Reports’ supermarkets ratings, behind Market Basket, Fareway, Trader Joe’s, Publix and, the No. 1 chain, Wegmans.

 

Costco has turned on its head the notion that a store brand is a notch below a national brand by using its coast-to-coast strength to strong-arm suppliers to put quality as well as value into its Kirkland Signature offerings. We took a closer look at 10 Kirkland Signature products getting accolades from customers and critics. You should check them out, too.

 

1. Kirkland Bacon

Consumer Reports actually ran a “bacon test program” and saved Costco’s bacon, so to speak. The respected publisher and product tester awarded its highest score, based on flavor and texture, to the Kirkland Signature brand of regular sliced bacon. In Consumer Reports’ own words, the sliced bacon you can find at Costco “crisped up nicely, with a balance of fat and meat flavors, complemented by wood smoke and a hint of sweetness.”

Oscar Mayer’s thick-cut bacon finished a distant second in testing.

2. Kirkland Batteries

We’ve long recommended buying batteries in bulk at warehouse clubs for the simple reason that you’ll pay a lot less per battery than you would buying smaller packages at supermarkets or drugstores. You’ll save even more at Costco if you opt for its store-branded batteries. While the Kirkland Signature AA Alkaline batteries tested by Consumer Reports didn’t beat out Duracell or Rayovac on quality alone, Costco batteries did earn the coveted “Best Buy” rating, which is based on a combination of quality and value.

3. Kirkland Beer

Yup, beer. And beer aimed right at my sweet spot: light. None of those fancy craft beers. Kirkland Signature Light Beer is your basic watery light, with a hint of plain ol’ light beer taste, without Bud Light’s off-putting (in my opinion) aftertaste. We’ve seen it at very nice prices in 30- and 48-packs. Yes, please.

In fairness, Kirkland’s heartier handcrafted ales rate higher on BeerAdvocate.com, but I’ll stand by the light stuff.

4. Kirkland Coffee

Consumer Reports plugs Kirkland Signature Colombian Supremo whole bean coffee as a “Best Buy,” noting the medium-dark roast has a chocolate edge, with a “hint of dried fruit and some burnt notes.” The review went on to say that the coffee is “moderately bitter” (a good thing) despite exhibiting “a trace of woodiness” (a bad thing, apparently). They already lost me at bitter.

A handful of Colombian coffees scored much higher on taste, including a couple of coffee lines from Whole Foods, but none could compete with Kirkland’s price.

5. Kirkland Ice Cream

At $11 for two half-gallons, it’s a bit pricey in my world considering you can usually find a leading ice cream brand such as Breyers on sale at the supermarket for a lot less. Coupons can bring down the supermarket price even more. (Costco doesn’t accept manufacturers’ coupons.) Still, Costco’s Kirkland Signature Super Premium Vanilla Ice Cream earned a “Best Buy” rating from Consumer Reports, which called it “full and dense with big dairy flavor and complex vanilla-extract flavor,” though “sometimes slightly gummy.”

Vanilla ice creams from Ben & Jerry’s and Haagen-Dazs scored far higher than Kirkland’s, based on flavor and texture, but you’ll shell out a lot more for both of those brands. Further proof that you get what you pay for: Even though you can find it cheaper, Breyers scored much lower than Kirkland in taste testing.

6. Kirkland Golf Balls

Golfers got giddy over Costco’s new line of golf balls, so much that they sold out, were restocked – and sold out again right before Christmas. What’s the what? Kirkland Signature Four-Piece Urethane Cover Golf Balls are getting compared by the pros to the vaunted Pro V1 golf balls from Titleist, according to Golf Digest.

As of the first week of January, Costco’s hot new line was still listed as out of stock on Costco’s website. When you can find them, the balls come 24 to a pack, selling for $30. Dick’s Sporting Goods is selling a 12-pack of last season’s Titleist Pro V1 golf balls for $40.

7. Kirkland Greek Yogurt

Sour cream notes and slightly chalky texture,” opined Consumer Reports in its comparison of Kirkland Signature Greek Yogurt (plain, nonfat) to like brands, and noted it was the “best tasting nonfat.” It landed a “Best Buy” label. Fage scored higher than Kirkland on taste, but you’ll pay nearly twice the price for the brand-name yogurt.

If you’re a Walmart shopper, the big-box retailer’s Great Value Greek Yogurt trailed Kirkland yogurt only slightly in both taste and cost.

8. Kirkland Olive Oil

Costco’s olive oil rises to the top, notes the University of California, Davis, which conducted a chemical and sensory study of olive oils. Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil was one of only a few imported oils that met international and U.S. standards for extra virgin olive oil. The many brands that fell short in the testing were diluted with cheaper oils and exhibited problems with quality and flavor.

9. Kirkland Salmon

I’ll put it up front: While I eat no fish or seafood (or much meat, for that matter), friends and family swear by the freshness, taste and bargain price (compared to Whole Foods and elsewhere) of Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon. The fillets come individually wrapped, and a three-pound package of salmon runs about $29. A recent check found wild caught Coho salmon fillets selling for $17 a pound at a Whole Foods in Northern Virginia.

10. Kirkland Vodka

Wine snobs are already familiar with Kirkland Signature wines, but spirits snobs might still be in the dark about Costco’s store-brand booze. Costco isn’t allowed to sell liquor in all its stores; many states limit the warehouse club to beer and wine. But some states do give the green light to Costco selling liquor, and its vodka is a hands-down winner, raves Bon Appetit.

I stumbled upon Kirkland Signature Vodka while shopping at a Costco on Florida’s Gulf Coast last fall. Not that I’m so into vodka, but I do know good from bad. Kirkland’s vodka ranks up there with my American fav, Tito’s.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

7 Habits of People With Excellent Credit Scores

Here is a nice article provided by Lisa Gerstner of Kiplinger:

 

By Lisa Gerstner, Contributing Editor | February 2017

 

Want to improve your credit score? Take a page from the best. People with excellent scores know that following a few basic rules is the key to success. Adopting their habits could boost your score into the stratosphere, opening the door to the best interest rates and terms on loans. And capturing the lowest loan rates can save you a bundle of money in the long run.

 

The two big consumer credit scoring companies are FICO, whose scores are most commonly used in lending decisions, and VantageScore, a company created by the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) whose scores have been gaining ground among lenders. The latest models of both scores operate on a scale of 300 to 850. Generally, a score of 750 or higher is considered excellent.

 

Once you know your score, you can start taking steps to raise it by following these seven habits of people with excellent credit scores.

 

1. They Pay Bills on Time

The most influential factor in your credit score is your payment history, so staying on top of bills is crucial. Just one late payment (overdue by 30 days or more) can damage your score. FICO recently reviewed the profiles of consumers it calls high achievers (those with scores in the 750-850 range) and found that 72% of those with scores from 750 to 799—and 95% of those with scores of 800 or higher—had no late payments on their credit reports.

To ensure that you pay bills on time, consider signing up for automatic payments from your bank account or credit card. Or set up reminders of upcoming due dates on your smartphone (or mark your paper calendar), suggests Heather Battison, vice president of TransUnion. Budgeting site Mint.com can also alert you when bills are coming due for accounts you link to its tool.

2. They Watch Their "Utilization Ratio"

The amount you owe on your credit cards as a proportion of your card limits—known as your credit utilization ratio—is another important score component. FICO high achievers with scores from 750 to 799 use a median 10% of the credit available to them, and those with scores of 800 or higher use just 4%. There are no hard-and-fast rules to pinpoint the optimum ratio, says Can Arkali, principal scientist at FICO. But in general, the lower your utilization, the better. As a guideline, experts often recommend using no more than 30% of the credit available to you to show lenders that you can manage credit responsibly. But if raising your credit score is a priority, keep utilization under 10% on each credit card you have, says Beverly Harzog, consumer credit expert and author of The Debt Escape Plan.

Paying down your credit card balances multiple times per month can help keep your utilization down, says Jeanine Skowronski, managing editor at Credit.com. Your card issuer may allow you to set up e-mail or text message notifications when your balance reaches a level that you specify. Another tactic: Ask your card issuer to raise your credit limit. If you've been using the card for several months and paying your bills on time, the issuer may grant your request. But be sure that you have the discipline not to increase your spending, too, cautions Harzog.

Even if you stop using a credit card, it's often smart to keep it open so your score benefits from the available credit. However, if the card tempts you to overspend or carries an annual fee, closing it may be better.

3. Keep Balances Low

People with FICO scores of 800 or higher have a median total revolving credit balance of $1,446, compared with $2,040 for the U.S. population overall (who have an average score of 700). In a study of its users, Credit Sesame, which provides free VantageScore credit scores to consumers, found that those with scores of 800 or higher had an overall average credit card balance of $1,181; those with scores of 600 or lower carried $3,625.

The takeaway? Maintain firm control over your spending, charging only what you can afford to pay in full each month on your credit cards. That way, you'll also avoid incurring interest, which can quickly pile up.

4. Give It Time

Having several years of credit usage under your belt also elevates your score. The average age of revolving credit accounts among FICO high achievers is a little more than nine years for those in the 750-799 range and almost 12 years for higher scorers. That may give older folks a leg up, but "it's important to note that you can still have a good score even if you're not a longtime user of credit," says Skowronski. Length of credit history accounts for 15% of your FICO score, compared with 35% for payment history and 30% for amounts owed (including credit utilization). If you are just starting to establish a credit history, set yourself up for success by using a credit card to make small, manageable purchases, such as gas and groceries, says Battison. She also suggests that renters ask their landlords to report rent payments to the credit bureaus to help start a credit history.

Opening new credit accounts may shorten the average age of your credit history, but closing accounts won't affect account age right away. Accounts that were closed in good standing may remain on your credit report for up to 10 years. Still, it's not a bad idea to keep your oldest credit cards open to help maintain your credit history.

5. Apply for Credit Sparingly

Applying for several credit cards in a short period sends a signal that you may be a risky credit prospect. Each time a potential lender checks your credit, the action shows up on your report as an "inquiry" -- and the appearance of several inquiries at once can ding your credit score. (If you're shopping for a mortgage, auto loan or student loan, however, FICO ignores all inquiries that such lenders have made within the past 30 days. VantageScore counts auto loan and mortgage inquiries made within two weeks of one another as a single inquiry.)

Having a mix of account types helps increase your score, and people with FICO scores of 800 or higher have a median 10 revolving credit lines on their credit reports, more than those with lower scores. If you do open new credit cards regularly, Harzog recommends waiting at least six months between applications.

6. Choose the Right Credit Cards

Look for cards that reward your spending patterns. If you buy a lot of gas, for example, a card that pays 5% cash back on fuel purchases will serve you well. Cash-back cards often let you use the rewards you've accumulated as a statement credit toward purchases, lowering your bill. A card that carries an annual fee may be worthwhile, but first do the math to decide whether the rewards you earn will outweigh the fee. Some cards waive the annual fee for the first year, giving you time to determine whether the card works for you. (See Best Rewards Credit Cards for Your Wallet.)

If you are just getting started with credit (or bouncing back from a bankruptcy or other serious delinquency), a secured card, which requires you to make a deposit as collateral, can help you build a credit history and score. Retailers may offer you enticing discounts if you sign up for their store credit cards, and retail cards are often easier to obtain than other cards. But keep in mind that both cards often come with low credit limits—meaning that your credit utilization could easily push past the recommended 30% mark when you use the card to make purchases.

7. Monitor Your Scores and Credit Reports

By keeping an eye on your credit report and score, you will be aware of any negative changes that pop up and can act quickly to correct them. According to a survey from credit card issuer Discover, 76% of those who had checked their credit score at least seven times in the past year saw their score improve, compared with 38% of those who had checked their score once in the previous year.

At AnnualCreditReport.com, you're entitled to a free yearly credit report from each of the three major credit agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Scan each report, looking for possible errors or signs of fraudulent activity, such as an incorrect credit limit on a card or an account that you never opened. (If you spot a problem, you can take steps to dispute and correct it. If you suspect fraud, you should also take measures, such as enacting a fraud alert.)

A host of other websites also offer free credit scores to help you gauge where you stand. One of our favorites: CreditKarma.com, where you can view information from both your Equifax and TransUnion credit reports as well as your VantageScore from each bureau. Credit Karma also lets you sign up for alerts of changes in your TransUnion credit report. Discover Credit Scorecard offers a free FICO score (based on data from your Experian credit report) to everyone, not just Discover card customers. Your bank or credit card issuer may provide customers with free credit score updates, too.

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

8 Things You Must Know About Grocery Shopping at Publix

Here is a nice article provided by Rebecca Dolan of Kiplinger:

 

By Rebecca Dolan, Online Community Editor | February 2017

 

If you’re going grocery shopping in Florida, you’re probably headed to Publix. With more than 750 locations, the regional chain isn’t just ubiquitous across the Sunshine State, it is popular, too. The grocer ranks #2 (and has done so for four straight years) in research firm Market Force Information’s annual “loyalty index” that measures shopper satisfaction; in 2016, only Wegmans, which doesn’t operate any stores in Florida, ranked higher.

 

Based in Lakeland, Fla., Publix is the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the U.S.-- it has more than 350 locations outside Florida, for a total of 1,100 -- and it is one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For. If you’re not from the Southeast and have ever wondered what all the Publix fuss is about, you may soon get a chance to see for yourself. The chain is slowly migrating up the East Coast, with 12 new Virginia locations planned for late 2017 and beyond.

 

Find out what Floridians have known for ages. Here are eight things you need to know about shopping at Publix.

 

1. You Can Save Big With Coupons

If you’re a coupon clipper, you’ll get more mileage at your local Publix. “Publix has a very generous coupon policy compared with so many other grocery retailers across the country,” says Josh Elledge, chief executive of SavingsAngel.com, a money-savings website.

Manufacturer’s coupons, internet coupons and coupons from nearby competitors are good at Publix. (Look for a list of acceptable competitors at your local store.) Publix also allows you to “stack” your coupons, using more than one coupon per item, including a competitor’s coupon.

“The best deals almost always involve stacking multiple discounts,” says Elledge. “If you can stack a BOGO [buy one, get one] sale, a manufacturer’s coupon and a store coupon, you just might walk out of Publix with your groceries at 80% off or better.”

Filling a prescription? The Publix pharmacy also accepts prescription coupons from all local retail pharmacies.

2. It May Not Be the Cheapest Grocery Store In Town

Hold on to all of those coupons -- you might need them.

We compared prices for a basket of store-brand grocery items -- including a jar of peanut butter, a jar of pasta sauce, a box of spaghetti, a can of tuna, a half-gallon of milk, a cup of plain yogurt, one dozen grade A eggs and a bag of frozen corn -- at a Publix, Trader Joe’s and Walmart in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. Total cost: $12.30 at Publix, $11.62 at Trader Joe’s and $9.24 at Walmart.

A similar exercise conducted by Charlotte Observer reporters as Publix expanded in North Carolina in 2014 revealed Publix to be about 2% cheaper than Harris Teeter but 20% more expensive than Walmart.

3. Publix Makes It Easy to Locate Items

There’s no need to wander the aisles at every location in town if you’re looking for, say, a specific type of cake mix for Junior’s birthday party. Publix, as do some other grocers such as Wegmans, makes it easy to see if your preferred location stocks a specific item before you leave the house. Check the Publix online product catalog, which lists products that are carried by each store.

Already at your local Publix? Use the store’s app to identify the aisle in which any item you seek is located.

4. You Can Return Anything

Yes, even if it has already been brought home and opened. Food, too. That’s the Publix guarantee: “If for any reason a customer is not satisfied with their purchase, he/she can return the item and we will cheerfully refund them the entire purchase price,” says Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix.

5. The Shelf Tags Are Written In Code

At Publix, those little tags under each item are meant to do much more than simply relay the price of each item. Using a variety of icons – look for the colored circles – the labels will tell you such things as if the item is organic or made with organic ingredients; if the product is made without artificial preservatives, flavors or colors; if the item is eligible for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) funds; and if the item is eligible for flexible spending account (FSA) funds.

6. The Deli Will Make You A Sandwich Your Way

If there’s one thing that makes Publix so beloved among its devotees, it’s the made-to-order deli sandwiches. The menu of “Pub subs” includes typical cold-cut options, as well as subs featuring the store’s popular chicken tenders.

But the staff will make a sandwich out of anything in the deli area, including the vast array of prepared salads or cold cuts not listed on the menu. This sandwich-lover’s secret isn’t advertised in stores or online, but Publix’s Brous says: “Publix is all about customer service. And, yes, our deli associates are known to go that extra mile to make our customers happy.” So go forth and design the sub of your dreams.

7. New Parents and Pet Owners Can Enjoy Extra Savings

Whether you’re a new parent or a pet parent, there’s a savings club for you. Join the free Publix Baby Club to score coupons on baby products (until a child turns two), as well as a free copy of the book Caring for Your Baby and Young Child for first timers.

If your child is of the furry variety, there’s also the Publix Paws club. Members receive monthly coupons for pet food, toys, treats and more. You’ll also get a heads-up on sales of pet products.

8. There's No Savings Club

Unlike other grocers, Publix does not offer a loyalty card that triggers extra savings at checkout on select items. “We do not have a loyalty program, as we believe every customer should be entitled to the same shopping experience,” says Brous. “[Publix is] all about saving our customers money with our programs, including our weekly BOGOs… and competitive pricing.”

 

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles. Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

Starting Out: Begin Funding for Your Financial Security

Congratulations! You’ve graduated from school and landed a job. Your salary, however, is limited, and you don't have much money (if any) left at the end of the month. So where can you find money to save? And, once you find it, where should this cash go?

Here are some ways to help free up the money you need for current expenses, financial protection, and future investments -- all without pushing the panic button.

Get Out From Under

For most young adults, paying down debt is the first step toward freeing up cash for the financial protection they need. If you’re spending more than you make, think about areas where you can cut back. Don't rule out getting a less expensive apartment, roommates, or trading in a more expensive car for a secondhand model. Other expenses that could be trimmed include dining out, entertainment, and vacations.

If you owe balances on high-rate credit cards, look into obtaini ng a low-interest credit card or bank loan and transferring your existing balances. Then plan to pay as much as you can each month to reduce the total balance, and try to avoid adding new charges.

If you have student loans, there's also help to make paying them back easier. You may be eligible to reduce these payments if you qualify for the Federal Direct Consolidation Loan program. Though the program would lengthen the payment time somewhat, it could also free up extra cash each month to apply to your higher-interest consumer debt. The program can be reached at 800-557-7392.

What You Really Should Buy

How would you pay the bills if your paychecks suddenly stopped? That's when you turn to insurance and personal savings -- two items you should “buy” before considering future big-ticket purchases.

Health insurance is your first priority. Health care insurance is now also mandatory under the Affordable Care Act. If you're not covered under an employer plan, look into the new state or national health insurance exchanges, which offer a variety of coverage options and providers to choose from. You may also qualify for a subsidy if your taxable income is under 400% of the federal poverty level.

Life insurance is the next logical step, but may only be a concern if you have dependents.

Disability insurance should be another consideration. In fact, government statistics estimate that just over 25% of today's 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire. 1  Disability insurance will replace a portion of your income if you can't work for an extended period due to illness or injury. If you can't get this through your employer, call individual insurance companies to compare rates.

Build a Cash Reserve

If you should ever become disabled or lose your job, you'll also need savings to fall back on until p aychecks start up again. Try to save at least three months' worth of living expenses in an easy-to- access "liquid" account, which includes a checking or savings account. Saving up emergency cash is easier if your financial institution has an automatic payroll savings plan. These plans automatically transfer a designated amount of your salary each pay period -- before you see your paycheck -- directly into your account.

To get the best rate on your liquid savings, look into putting part of this nest egg into money market funds. Money market funds invest in Treasury bills, short-term corporate loans, and other low-risk instruments that typically pay higher returns than savings accounts. These funds strive to maintain a stable $1 per share value, but unlike FDIC-insured bank accounts, can't guarantee they won't lose money. 2

Some money market funds may require a minimum initial investment of $1,000 or more. If so, you'll need to build some savings first. Once you do, you can get an idea of what the top-earning money market funds are paying by referring to iMoneyNet, which publishes current yields. Many newspapers also publish yields on a regular basis.

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Build Your Financial Future

Some long-term financial opportunities are too good to put off, even if you are still building a cache for current living expenses.

One of the best deals is an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) plan, if available. These tax-advantaged plans allow you to make pretax contributions, and taxes aren't owed on any earnings until they're withdrawn. What's more, new Roth-style plans allow for a fter-tax contributions and tax-free withdrawals in retirement, provided certain eligibility requirements are met. Another big plus is direct contributions from each paycheck so you won't miss the money as well as possible employer matches on a portion of your contributions.

Don't underestimate the potential power of tax savings. If you invested $100 per month into one of these accounts and it earned an 8% return compounded annually, you would have $146,815 in 30 years -- nearly $50,000 more than if the money were taxed annually at 25%. 3 Bear in mind, however, that you will have to pay taxes on the retirement plan savings when you take withdrawals. If you took a lump-sum withdrawal and paid a 25% tax rate, you'd have $110,111, which is still more than the balance you'd have in a taxable account.

If you're already participating, think about either increasing contributions now or with each raise and promotion.

If a 401(k) isn't available to you, shop aroun d for individual retirement accounts (IRAs), both traditional and Roth, at banks or mutual fund firms. In 2016, you can contribute up to $5,500 to traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs. Generally, contributions to and income earned on traditional IRAs are tax deferred until retirement; Roth IRA contributions are made after taxes, but earnings thereon can be withdrawn tax free upon retirement. Note that certain eligibility requirements apply and nonqualified taxable withdrawals made before age 59½ are subject to a 10% additional federal tax.

Stop Waiting for the Next Paycheck

Beginning your working life with good financial decisions doesn't call for complex moves. It does require discipline and a long-term outlook. This commitment can help get you out of debt and keep you from a paycheck-to- paycheck lifestyle.

Source(s):

1.  Social Security Administration, Fact Sheet, March 2014.

2.  An investment i n a money market fund is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Although the fund seeks to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in the fund.

3.  This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only. It does not represent the performance of any actual investment.

Required Attribution

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Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.

 

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

Things You Should Never Buy at Aldi

Here is a nice article provided by Bob Niedt of Kiplinger: 


Haven’t shopped at an Aldi supermarket yet? That could change soon. The German chain, famous for its no frills and low prices, is in the midst of a boom. After steadily expanding its footprint in the eastern part of the country over the past 40 years – the first U.S. store opened in Iowa in 1976 – Aldi is now adding locations in Southern California. By 2018, the company expects to have close to 2,000 stores nationwide, up from fewer than 1,600 today.

If you’re new to Aldi’s minimalist approach to grocery shopping, you’re in for a shocker. You pay a refundable quarter to rent a cart. You bag your own groceries. Oh, and you’ll even need to pay for those bags unless you bring your own. There are few shelves, few employees and none of the amenities you’ve come to expect from the likes of Wegmans or Whole Foods. Still, discount shoppers have proven willing to accept the trade-offs. We compared prices and reached out to shopping experts to identify some of the best things to buy at Aldi based on cost, quality or both. We also identified some of the worst things to buy. Have a look.

1.  Buy Kitchen Staples

Heading to the supermarket for some basics, say a gallon of milk, a dozen Grade A eggs, a loaf of white bread and a jar of peanut butter? Strictly judging by the bottom line, you may want to give Aldi a shot.

We priced out these four kitchen staples at an Aldi in Northern Virginia, and then compared the everyday, non-sale prices to similarly packaged store brands at three other nearby grocery retailers: Giant, Harris Teeter and Target. Here are the results (from cheapest to most expensive):

Eggs: Aldi, 39 cents; Harris Teeter, $1.39; Target, $1.49; Giant, $1.99
Bread: Aldi, 85 cents; Harris Teeter, 97 cents; Giant, 99 cents; Target, $1.64
Peanut butter: Aldi, $1.49; Target, $1.79; Giant, $2.19; Harris Teeter, $2.29
Milk: Aldi, $1.49; Target, $2.98; Giant, $3.49; Harris Teeter, $3.59

2.  Don’t Buy Fruits and Vegetables*

Like most of Aldi’s goods, fruits and vegetables are typically sold from the bulk boxes they were shipped in. No fancy, bountiful horn-of-plenty displays. And unlike major chains, the bulk of Aldi’s stores don’t refrigerate produce. While I’ve found Aldi’s fruits and vegetables generally top notch, others disagree.

“Produce [from Aldi] can spoil more quickly,” says Tracie Fobes, a money-saving expert at the website Pennypinchinmom.com, “so buy only what you can eat within a few days.”

Also, Aldi pre-packages many of its fruits and vegetables in bulk, so if you want, say, an apple you need to buy an entire bag. Most big supermarket chains sell similar produce loose. The latter approach allows shoppers to pick out the freshest individual items available.

* This advice applies to most of Aldi’s older existing stores. New (and newly renovated) stores are another story…

3.  But Do Buy Fruits and Vegetables at New Aldi Stores

Aldi is rolling out changes aimed at fending off competitors including Whole Foods’ offshoot discount chain, 365 by Whole Foods. On top of better lighting and wider aisles, Aldi’s new store format puts fresh produce center stage and includes refrigerated units for the likes of greens, perishable fruits and (shocker!) premade soups and dips. Bulk packaging still rules at new stores, but that’s a big reason why Aldi can keep produce prices so low.

If you’re produce shopping at an Aldi store that hasn’t adopted this new format – which means most of them – there are workarounds.

“Aldi’s fruit and vegetables are usually the lowest price compared to other grocers, and they rate as good quality, especially if you shop early mornings when stock is full to choose from,” says Brent Shelton of money-saving site FatWallet.com. “A good tip to improve shelf life is to make sure you wash any produce as soon as you get home.”

4.  Buy Aldi’s Name-Brand Knockoffs

You won’t find many name brands at Aldi. About 90% of the items it stocks are private-label products wedged into a mere 15,000 square feet of space (about one third the size of a standard supermarket).

Yet, as you walk Aldi’s aisles, a lot of the packaging will seem familiar even if the brands aren’t. That’s not by accident.

“A good majority of Aldi’s private-label products are actually name-brand products, just repackaged,” says FatWallet’s Shelton, “so quality is high, and price is usually lower than the brands available at regular grocers.”

Fobes of Pennypinchinmom.com says quality is especially high in Aldi’s canned goods, pasta, condiments and almond milk, which is “smooth and creamy, but more affordable.”

5.  Buy European Novelty Foods and Drinks

Aldi wears its German roots proudly. Look no further than the strudel in the freezer case for proof. You’ll find German and other European chocolates on store shelves, too. According to Fobes, specialty chocolates, in general, are among the best things to buy at Aldi because they are “smooth and creamy at a much lower cost than most other stores.”

Aldi loyalists also rave about the inexpensive, and interesting, selections of wines and beers, as well as the selections of Italian and French sodas and lemonades. Look for packaged gourmet cheese, too.

Prowl the aisles to find more European products that aren’t carried by other U.S. grocers. Keep checking back, since Aldi tends to rotate stock at a high rate. Many products are here today, gone tomorrow.

6.  Buy Organic and Gluten-Free Products

Aldi has been stepping up its game with organic and gluten-free products, especially as it escalates its war on Whole Foods with the redesigned stores.

“They have a huge variety [of organic and gluten-free products],” says Fobes, “which is much less expensive than the name brands.”

And if, from a health perspective, you’re concerned about the quality of Aldi’s private-label foods, there’s been a major change over the past year.

Aldi has removed from the majority of its private-label goods such healthy eating no-nos as partially hydrogenated oils and MSG, says Shelton. The company has also removed growth hormones from its dairy products and carries a line of packaged meats labeled “Never Any!” that is free of added antibiotics, hormones and animal by-products.

7.  Don’t Buy Anything You Can’t Eat or Drink

Savings experts say it’s best to steer clear of most toys, home goods, cleaning supplies and other non-food items at Aldi. But if you’re tempted – every so often, Aldi will score national-brand products and put what appears to be amazing prices on them – first pull out your smartphone and price-compare.

“Make sure you check the price on these as they tend to be higher prices on lower quality items at Aldi,” says Shelton. “Plus, you can often find coupons for these types of items at other stores, even grocers, which would make buying them elsewhere a smart thing to do.” Aldi doesn’t accept coupons.

When we compared prices on a roll of paper towels, for example, Aldi’s price of 99 cents was the same as the price at Giant and Target. However, coupons and loyalty discounts could’ve brought down the price more at the latter retailers. (Aldi doesn’t have a loyalty program, either.)

“Paper products are not always less expensive [at Aldi],” agrees Fobes. “You may find a better deal and quality at the big-box stores.”


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.



The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

10 Reasons You Will Never Make $1 Million Dollars

Here is a nice article provided by Stacy Rapacon of Kiplinger: 


Wealthy people usually aren't born that way. Most spend their lives amassing their fortunes by working hard, spending little, saving a lot and investing wisely. It may sound like a simple strategy, but the fact that the vast majority of Americans fall short of millionaire status proves that it's easier said than done.

Then again, 10.4 million households in the U.S. have $1 million or more in investable assets, according to market research and consulting firm Spectrem Group, and their ranks are growing. So it's not impossible.

Read on to learn what you might be doing to keep yourself out of the millionaire's club. More importantly, find out how you can change your ways and build your own seven-figure nest egg.

1.  You Picked the Wrong Profession

Accumulating wealth starts with your first paycheck, and some jobs can get you going faster than others. According to consulting firm Capgemini's World Wealth Report, many wealthy people today work in technology, finance and medicine—fields that are well represented in our list of the best jobs for the future. Positions in these areas have generous salaries and are in high demand. For example, among our top jobs is nurse practitioner, which has a median salary of more than $97,000 a year. In contrast, a door-to-door sales worker, among our worst jobs for the future, can expect to make about $20,700 a year. Of course, given enough time and the right saving and spending habits, you can build a fortune even with a small salary. But a higher income can certainly make it easier to save more, faster.

What you can do about it

If you're still in school, majoring in a promising field can put you on the path to a lucrative career and help make you a millionaire. But remember: You'll have an easier time working hard for the rest of your life if you have a legitimate interest in your chosen profession.

If you're past your college days, you can still learn some skills to advance your career and increase your earning potential with free online courses.

2.  You Fear the Stock Market

Cash stuffed under your mattress or even deposited in a savings account won't keep up with inflation, much less grow into $1 million. In order to maximize your gains, you need to invest your money wisely. In many cases, that means putting your money mostly in stocks.

Consider the math: According to Bankrate.com, the highest yield you can expect from a money market account right now is 1.26%. If you put away $10,000 in one and added nothing else, in 10 years, with monthly compounding, you'd have about $11,340 total. But if you invested that $10,000 and earned a 6% return, you'd have almost $18,200, or $6,860 more.

What you can do about it

There's no denying that the stock market can take you on a bumpy ride, so your fears are understandable. But steeling yourself and diving in is well worth it. Over the long term, stocks have marched upward and proved to be the investment of choice for expanding wealth.

Savings earmarked for retirement are particularly well suited for the stock market. With a long time horizon, you have time to recover from market dips.

3.  You Don’t Save Enough

If you don't save money, you're never going to be rich. It's hard to get around that obvious (but often ignored) principle. Even if you earn seven figures, if you spend it all, you still net zero.

What you can do about it

Begin saving as soon as possible. The sooner you start putting your money to work, the less you actually have to save. If you start saving at age 35, you'll need to put away $671 each month in order to reach $1 million by the time you turn 65, assuming you earn an 8% annual return. If you wait until you're 45 years old to start saving, you'll have to save $1,698 a month to hit $1 million in 20 years.

How can you start saving? First, you need a budget (more on budgeting later). Lay out all of your expenses to see where your money is going. Then, you can figure out where you can trim costs and save. Any little bit you can muster is a good start. And whenever you get a bonus or some extra cash—for example, after selling some belongings or getting a generous birthday gift—add it to your savings before you have time to think of ways you can spend it.

4.  You Live Beyond Your Means

Spending more than you earn can put you in a dangerous hole of debt. On the bright side, you won't be in there alone: According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, one in three American households carries credit card debt from month to month. And among those balance-carrying households, the average credit-card debt is $16,048, according to financial research firm ValuePenguin.

What you can do about it

Again, you need to have a budget to make sure you have more money coming in than going out. With the availability of credit, it's easy to fall into thinking you can afford more than you actually can. But, as Knight Kiplinger has pointed out, "the biggest barrier to becoming rich is living like you're rich before you are."

Even once you are rich, you may still want to live like you're not. According to U.S. Trust's Insights on Wealth and Worth survey, the majority of millionaires don't actually consider themselves "wealthy." If you don't think of yourself as well off, and you maintain the same lifestyle after your income and savings increase, you can put away even more for your short- and long-term goals without losing an ounce of comfort.

5.  You overlook the value of nickels and dimes

No, we're not suggesting that you search for loose change under your sofa cushions. Rather, cutting seemingly insignificant expenses—such as baggage charges on your flights, late-payment penalties on your bills and out-of-network ATM fees on your cash withdrawals—can add up to substantial savings.

Investing fees attached to mutual funds and 401(k) plans can be especially detrimental. For example, let's assume you currently have $25,000 saved in your 401(k) and earn 7% a year, on average. If you pay fees and expenses of 0.5% a year, your account would grow to $227,000 after 35 years. But increasing the extra charges to 1.5% annually would mean your account would grow to just $163,000 over that time.

What you can do about it

More than you realize. Pay attention to the fine print, and avoid those sneaky extra charges. You can skip airline baggage fees by packing lightly and bringing only a carry-on or by flying Southwest Airlines, which allows you to check two bags free. If you make a late payment on a credit card, ask the issuer to waive the fee. Long-time customers who usually pay on time are often given a pass. For more, see How to Avoid Paying 21 Annoying Fees.

For your 401(k), you can see how it rates with other plans at www.brightscope.com. You can select low-cost mutual funds to lower your investing costs. (Check out the Kiplinger 25, a list of our favorite no-load funds.) Also consider talking to your employer about the possibility of lowering the plan's fees.

6.  You are drowning in debt

Again, debt can be a danger to your financial well-being. If you're constantly paying credit card bills and racking up interest, you won't have a chance to save any money.

But not all debt is bad. Borrowing to go to school, to get professional training or to start your own business can help boost your career and income potential. Especially in a low-interest-rate environment, the investment can be well worth it. In fact, borrowing funds is one of the most preferred funding strategies used by high-net-worth individuals with 60% opting to use bank credit before tapping their own holdings for quick cash, according to U.S. Trust.

What you can do about it

If you already have some debt troubles, be sure to devise a repayment plan. One strategy is to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. The sooner you clear that away, the more you save on interest. Another strategy is to pay off the smallest debt first to give yourself a psychological boost and encourage you to keep chipping away.

If you're considering taking out new loans—to go back to school or seed your business, for example—make sure you understand all the terms, including your interest rate and repayment details, so you can decide whether it's truly worth it.

7.  You neglect your health

You need to work to make money, and you need to be healthy in order to work. The rich understand that, and 98% of millionaires consider good health to be their most important personal asset, according to U.S. Trust.

What you can do about it

Take care of yourself—and do it on the cheap. You can take advantage of free wellness programs offered by your employer, as well as free preventive-care services guaranteed by federal law, such as blood pressure screenings, mammograms for women older than 40 and routine vaccinations for children. Also try to quit any bad health habits, such as smoking or excessive drinking, that can cost you dearly. 

8.  You don't have a budget

Without a budget, it's easy to lose track of how much you're spending and live beyond your means. Working toward financial goals, such as saving for a vacation, buying a house or funding your retirement, can also prove difficult if you don't have a well-thought-out plan.

What you can do about it

Do what the majority of millionaires do: Establish a budget. Knowing where your money is going helps you identify ways to keep more in your pocket. Break out the pencil, paper and calculator to lay out your income and expenses.

Or go digital with your finances by using a budgeting Web site such as Mint or BudgetPulse to help you track your spending. With Mint, you provide your usernames and passwords for bank accounts, credit cards and other financial accounts, and the site organizes your money movement for you. Your bank or credit card issuer might offer similar tools to help you analyze your spending habits.

9.  You pay too much in taxes

Did you get a tax refund this year? Receiving that lump-sum payment from Uncle Sam may seem like a good thing. But it actually means that you've loaned the government money without earning any interest.

What you can do about it

Adjust your tax withholding. You can use our tax-withholding calculator to see how much you can fatten your paycheck by doing so. If you got a $3,000 refund (about average for 2015), claiming an additional three allowances on your Form W-4 can boost your monthly take-home pay by $250. The extra money, which can be invested in stocks or deposited in an interest-bearing account, should start showing up in your next paycheck.

Such a sum may not lend itself to millionaire status on its own, but being mindful of taxes is important to increasing—and keeping—your wealth. Indeed, 55% of high-net-worth investors prioritize minimizing taxes when it comes to investment decisions. A couple of smart tax-planning strategies you should consider: picking the right tax-deferred retirement savings accounts and holding investments long enough to qualify for the lower, long-term capital gains tax. Even choosing the right state to live in can have a big impact on your finances when it comes to taxes.

10.  You lack purpose in your life

There's more to life than money, and wealthy people know it. According to U.S. Trust, 94% of millionaires say they have a clear sense of purpose in their lives. "Whatever that purpose or direction happens to be—whether it's their family, their family legacy, philanthropy or stewardship of a business—[knowing their purpose means] they have the emotional maturity to focus on it and make decisions in the context of what's most important to them," says Paul Stavig, managing director and wealth strategist of U.S. Trust.

What you can do about it

Entire religions and philosophies are dedicated to helping people figure out what they're meant to do in this life. We won't try to compete. But we will note that a clear purpose can help motivate you to make and save more. Indeed, 76% of millionaires recognize that money can give you the opportunity to create change and fulfill your life's purpose.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail info@diversifiedassetmanagement.com.



The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.