Day: February 11, 2020

Personal Finance Daily: More Americans feel confident about taking on debt and there’s some scientific truth to ‘happy wife, happy life’

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Happy Tuesday, MarketWatchers! Don’t miss these top stories:

Personal Finance
There’s some scientific truth to ‘happy wife, happy life’

Having an optimistic partner can stave off cognitive decline, research suggests.

What your real estate agent won’t tell you about buying a home near water

5 things to know about flooding and rising sea levels before spending any money.

The ‘double pay penalty’ that many Asian-American and Pacific Islander women experience

Feb. 11 is Asian American/Pacific Islander Equal Pay Day.

More Americans feel confident about taking on debt — here’s why they should exercise caution

That could change with the new FICO credit score model.

Two years after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — who are the winners and the losers?

There’s a disconnect between who actually benefited from the TCJA and who thinks they benefited.

I am 34, have $500K, own several properties and plan to retire by 40. My girlfriend bought a Mercedes — and says my savings will be enough for both of us

‘Am I being overly protective of my financial goals, or is she out of line for expecting to enjoy the benefits without making the sacrifices?’

5 ways these Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of a marijuana dispensary are marketing geniuses

One troop sold 230 boxes in four hours. Another scout sold more than 300 boxes in under six hours.

‘We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby.’ Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar speech will be welcomed by America’s growing army of vegans

Dairy milk sales have fallen by $1 billion.

T-Mobile-Sprint merger clears hurdle — NY AG says it’s ‘a loss for every American who relies on their cell phone’

Opponents of the tie-up argued that the deal would reduce competition and cause higher prices for subscribers.

Women’s salaries are growing faster than men’s because they hold more high-skill jobs

Women now hold more jobs in fields where ‘fundamental’ skills like critical thinking and negotiating are essential.

Elsewhere on MarketWatch
Your next president: Donald Trump Jr.?

Donald Trump Jr., who was just coming off a campaign stop for his father in New Hampshire, visited “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday morning. He had plenty to say.

Job openings in the U.S. fall to 2-year low — ‘not a good trend’

The number of job openings in the United States fell to a two-year low at the end of 2019, reflecting a slowdown in hiring tied to a softening economy. Job openings sank to 6.42 million in December.

We must fight pandemics as if we were preparing for war

Rather than thrashing around every time a new pathogen surprises us, we should simply deploy the same resources, organization, and ingenuity that we apply to building and managing our military assets.

Warren Buffett had a tough year — how might he explain it?

We’ll know Feb. 22, when Berkshire Hathaway earnings and Warren Buffett’s shareholder letter are published.

The Margin: There’s some scientific truth to ‘happy wife, happy life’

This post was originally published on this site

Your partner’s mindset might prevent your own cognitive decline.

A new study released by Michigan State University this week suggests that there’s some truth to the old saying “happy wife, happy life.”

Researchers followed almost 4,500 heterosexual couples (average age 67) from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Health and Retirement Study for eight years. The subjects’ optimism was assessed at the beginning of the study, and their brain function was measured every two years.

And the experiment found a possible link between having a partner who is optimistic, and delaying the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, as people with happier and healthier partners often lived longer and staved off cognitive decline.

“We spend a lot of time with our partners. They might encourage us to exercise, eat healthier or remind us to take our medicine,” suggested William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study, in a statement. “There’s a sense where optimists lead by example, and their partners follow their lead.”

He noted that lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight and getting plenty of physical activity have been shown to help prevent cognitive decline. “When your partner is optimistic and healthy, it can translate to similar outcomes in your own life,” he wrote. “It looks like people who are married to optimists tend to score better on all of those [physical and mental health] metrics.”

What’s more, the study found that when couples remembered a shared experience together — like in Google’s GOOG, +0.01%  tear-jerking “Loretta” commercial during the Super Bowl — richer details emerged from those memories. In the sentimental Google spot, which features a real couple, an elderly man uses his Google Assistant to help him remember things about his late wife, Loretta, who loved going to Alaska and eating scallops.

“There is science behind the Google ad,” said Chopik. “Part of the types of memories being recalled were positive aspects of their relationship and personalities.”

There’s other research to suggest that you’re better off, physically and financially, if you look on the bright side more often. Pessimists are 35% more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke than optimists, according to a recent meta-analysis of data from 230,000 men and women in the U.S., Europe, Israel and Australia over 14 years.

People with greater optimism are also more likely to achieve “exceptional longevity” and live to age 85 or older, according to a recent study from the Boston University School of Medicine.

Optimists are far more likely than pessimists to make smart money moves, according to a survey of more than 2,000 people released last year. It found 75% of optimists have gotten creative with ways to save money versus just 60% of pessimists; and 61% of optimists have started an emergency fund, compared with just 43% of pessimists.

Read more: Rich people approach problems like this — and it helps explain why they’re wealthy

2015 study also found that optimists earned about $3,000 more than cynics over nine years, while another report suggested that people who wear rose-tinted glasses are promoted more, in part because they work so well with others.

Libra Vice Chair Unconcerned By High Profile Departures

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Libra

Dante Disparte, Vice-Chair of the Libra Association, said that he was unconcerned by recent high-profile departures from the project just two weeks after Vodafone became the latest name to ditch the proposed digital coin.

Speaking to CoinDesk at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Disparte said that the Libra project was picking up pace despite huge regulatory resistance to the project and the departure of several of the association’s initial supporters, namely Mastercard, Visa, and Vodafone. He also said that the door remains open for those firms to return to the project in the future, as well as praising the open-source nature of Libra as a means for companies who are not part of the association to still participate in developing Libra.

“The technology standard that we’ve built is open,” said Disparte. “So irrespective of whether an organization is a part of the association or not, there is an opportunity among them to develop on top of this network without having to be a part of the start-up efforts of the project or the governance of the project.”

Vodafone pulled out of the Libra Association in January, bringing the total number of early backers to withdraw from the project to eight. However, while firms such as Visa and MasterCard quit the project over regulatory concerns, Vodafone said it instead intends to focus on developing M-Pesa, its well-established digital payment; the company is looking into expanding beyond the six African nations currently served.

>> Tether Grows as Algorand Finally Adds USDT Tokens

Last week, MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga said he pulled his company from Libra after his attitude towards the project deteriorated over proposals to link the coin with its own built-in wallet, Calibra, as well as the lack of a clear business model. However, Disparte said last week that “you know, the firms that have left, I think, have left with a door wide open for future opportunities to engage in collaboration […] there’s zero love lost and we very much believe that open technology permits future engagement at a later stage.”

What do you think?

Featured Image: DepositPhotos © poringdown@gmail.com

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Trump’s budget proposal won’t reduce your Social Security check, but it could lower your quality of life and health care

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President Trump’s 2021 budget proposal takes swipes at entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security — and targeting those and other programs could adversely affect older Americans and their quality of life, experts say.

The budget, if it were to pass as is (which is seen as very unlikely), would trim about $505 billion from Medicare over a decade, and $35 billion from Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, according to the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The proposal calls for tightening eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, and toughening Medicaid eligibility requirements, such as enforcing asset limits.

The good news for Medicare and Social Security retirement beneficiaries: These cuts don’t directly affect participants’ benefits. The bad news: provisions within the proposal could undermine retirement security all the same.

The plan supports combating the opioid epidemic, increasing vocational training for high school students, assisting incarcerated persons with reentering communities and increasing security at the U.S. borders, among other recommendations. The plan would make a “big dent” in the federal budget deficit, said Russell Vought, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget acting director.

See: This could be the most important retirement savings vehicle for 2020

Some of the reductions to Medicare would actually help beneficiaries, said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The Medicare spending reductions along with reforms to prescription drug pricing would amount to roughly $600 billion in savings, which could lead to lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

The downside for Medicare participants: some of the changes could affect health care choices for patients. The proposal suggests a reduction of payments to health care providers — such as doctors and hospitals — and if the payments are cut too much, some providers may not participate in the Medicare program, said Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. If that were to happen, seniors would have limited options for selecting their own doctors, he said.

The plan would also extend the time beneficiaries need to spend in intensive care units before they’re authorized to have long-term care at skilled nursing facilities thereafter, said Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. Right now, the requirement is three consecutive days (not including the day of discharge), but the proposal changes that to eight days.

The budget doesn’t focus too much on Social Security’s old-age benefits, which pay out retirement benefits, but it does make changes to Social Security Disability, which affects Americans of all ages, and Supplemental Security Income, for seniors with limited income or resources. The proposal includes promoting work for SSDI and SSI beneficiaries, which is unlikely to happen, Goldwein said. Beneficiaries who claim disability insurance are usually severely disabled, and attempting to move them off the system would be “draconian,” Adcock said. “It stacks the deck against them by trying to push them out of the program.”

Older Americans are disproportionately affected by cuts to disability programs, Morrissey said — especially those who haven’t turned 65 yet and therefore can’t receive Medicare coverage. “The problem is those who will never work again,” she said.

Additionally, retroactive benefits would be reduced from 12 months to six months for disability beneficiaries, Goldwein said. Other savings come from funding for SSDI and SSI program integrity, such as attempting to limit fraud or double payments.

Don’t miss: This word describes Social Security — but not everyone wants to hear it

Some of these changes, such as ones to Medicare, would help sustain the programs, Goldwein said, and ideas found in the proposal have been echoed in Democrats’ proposals, too. “The reality is, the cost of Medicare is high and growing fast,” he said. “We have to make changes soon and these are good ideas with bipartisan support.”

There are recommendations that highlight assistance to seniors in other ways, such as creating approximately 1,200 housing units for low-income elderly and persons with disabilities.

Medicaid is also in the spotlight — the proposal reintroduces asset limits and restricts eligibility for able-bodied adults, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The budget proposes slashing certain programs that benefit older Americans’ quality of life, including those that give them jobs and nutritious meals, Adcock said.

The proposal eliminates federal block grants that support Meals on Wheels, the program that delivers healthy meals to seniors who may otherwise be socially isolated, as well as eliminates the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income families pay for energy bills and keep their homes warm during cold months.

The budget, if passed as is, would also eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which assists low-income and unemployed Americans 55 years and older with finding part-time training for jobs at nonprofit organizations. “The program is a lifesaver to a lot of seniors,” Adcock said, adding that many older Americans are at risk of running out of retirement savings and could use a salary to prolong their finances.

Also see: Trump’s election year gamble: Slashing the social safety net

Under the proposal, SNAP participants would be required to have 20 hours of work, training or community engagement in order to receive benefits. “We don’t think of those as programs for the elderly, but they are important ones for retirement security and those who can’t work,” said Shawn Fremstad, senior policy fellow at the Center for Economic Policy and Research.

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has suggested cutting funds to entitlement programs. The White House made similar suggestions for fiscal years 2020 and 2019. But this is an election year, and Congress members up for reelection may be hesitant to vote for cuts to these programs, Fremstad said.

The proposed cuts also come less than a week after the president said he would protect Medicare and Social Security during his Feb. 4 State of the Union speech.

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The ‘double pay penalty’ that many Asian-American and Pacific Islander women experience

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Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women had to work until Feb. 11 to earn the same amount of money the average white male made in 2019, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank.

“Put another way, the average AAPI woman needs to work almost an extra month and a half to make up for the shortfall in annual earnings relative to the average non-Hispanic white man,” the nonprofit said in a blog post about Asian American/Pacific Islander Equal Pay Day.

Asian-American and Pacific Islander women face a “double pay penalty for their race and gender,” EPI wrote. On average, they make 92 cents for every dollar their white male counterparts make, according to the EPI’s analysis of 2019 government data — higher than the roughly 82 cents earned by women overall. But certain subgroups of AAPI women fare far worse, the think tank pointed out: Hawaiian/Pacific Islander women, for example, make just 68 cents.

See also: Women’s salaries are growing faster than men’s because they hold more high-skill jobs

“Further, Asian American women can’t just educate their way out of the pay gap,” the EPI added. “Asian American women have higher levels of education than white men, and when comparing wages of workers with the same level of education, the disparities are much larger.” Asian-American women with only a bachelor’s degree earn 78 cents on a white male dollar, while those with an advanced degree earn 86 cents.

The National Women’s Law Center, drawing from multiple government data sources, estimates Asian women’s wage gap to be 90 cents on a non-Hispanic white male dollar. This stacks up to an annual loss of $6,007 a year, the organization estimates.

Many groups within the AAPI umbrella must contend with larger pay gaps, the NWLC adds: Women in the Nepalese, Burmese, Fijian, Cambodian and Bangladeshi communities make 60 cents or less on the white male dollar, for instance. Hmong women make 61 cents, Samoan women make 62 cents and Hawaiian women make 63 cents.

And though a handful of ethnic subgroups (Chinese, Indian, Taiwanese and Malaysian women) make greater than or equal to their white male counterparts on average, some still face gender pay gaps within their own communities, the NWLC said. Chinese women make 83 cents on every dollar their Chinese male counterparts make, for instance, while Indian women make 73 cents on every dollar their Indian male counterparts make.

The National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, a grassroots organizing and policy advocacy group with offices in multiple cities, says that the model-minority myth about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders “views AAPIs as a monolith, falsely assuming that we all have socioeconomic stability.”

“The ‘model minority’ myth, or the idea that all AAPI women are the same and are all high-achieving immigrants with stable incomes, furthers the misconception that we don’t need additional resources or support,” the group says.

“In reality, many AAPI immigrant women can’t afford quality health care because of racial wage disparities, which are obscured by this myth and hidden in non-disaggregated data, and by policies that turn immigration status into a barrier.”

Of course, other groups of women face sizable gender and/or racial wage gaps, as well. Black women working full-time and year-round make about 62 cents on a white male dollar, while Native women make 57 cents and Latinas make 54 cents, according to the NWLC.

The Equal Pay Day observance for all women falls on March 31 this year. Aug. 13 will mark the point at which the average black woman’s earnings catch up to a white man’s 2019 earnings, while Oct. 1 will mark that occasion for Native women and Nov. 2 will mark it for Latinas, according to Equal Pay Today, a project of the gender-justice organization Equal Rights Advocates.

More from MarketWatch

Tether Grows as Algorand Finally Adds USDT Tokens

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Tether

The crypto sphere has developed at a remarkable rate over the course of the past half a decade, and one of the biggest developments has been the emergence of stablecoins like Tether (USDT). Despite skepticism from many in the crypto space, the stablecoin has continued to grow, and in a new development, it has been added by Algorand.

Major Details

This is a significant development for USDT, but it remains to be seen whether there is any rally in the stablecoin in the coming days. Algorand is one of the most innovative projects and operates a proof of stake blockchain that is totally permissionless.

This is a major development for the simple reason that it will result in greater use of USDT and also grow Tether’s supply considerably in the crypto space. In addition to that, Tether will also be available over a wider range of networks, and that is something that almost all tokens aspire to.

The supply of USDT has grown exponentially in recent years, and at this point in time, it has a total supply of 4.7 billion. It is trying to make use of a range of networks in order to further boost its supply.

The Chief Technology Officer of Tether spoke about the collaboration with Algorand and said how it is going to be mutually beneficial, explaining, “Our latest collaboration with Algorand leverages the speed and security of Algorand’s protocol to give traders fast settlement and reduced counterparty risk in their fiat to digital asset transactions.”

>> Bitcoin (BTC) Soars to 4-Month High, Crosses $10K Mark

Over the past few years, USDT has become an integral part of many exchanges and is often used by traders as a trading pair. However, it is now looking at ways to further boost the supply and use cases of USDT. In that regard, the latest collaboration agreed by Tether is a significant development.

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The Margin: 5 ways these Girl Scouts selling cookies outside of a marijuana dispensary are marketing geniuses

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Girl Scouts are smart cookies.

Each winter and spring, the troopers go door-to-door (and office-to-office, and supermarket parking lot-to-supermarket parking lot) selling boxes of the organization’s iconic treats to support their community projects and to teach the young women entrepreneurial skills such as goal-setting, decision-making, money management, people skills and business ethics. More than 1 million Girl Scouts sell more than 200 million boxes of cookies each year, earning about $800 million.

And some are thinking outside of the cookie box. Last Sunday, three Brownies (ages six to seven) went viral for setting up shop outside of the Dispensary 33 marijuana dispensary in Andersonville, a neighborhood on Chicago’s north side. They sold 230 boxes over four hours. At between $4 to $5 a box, that’s around $1,000 — not bad for grade-school entrepreneurs.

Abigail Watkins, the dispensary’s marketing manager, told local news organization Book Club Chicago that the partnership was a no-brainer. “The cookies they’re selling and our clientele, it’s a great match,” she said. “As a former Girl Scout, I admire the hustle.”

A photo of the three girls (and two adults) selling the cookies outside of the dispensary went viral on Facebook FB, -1.84% and Reddit, with one commenter musing, “Remember when the idea was we protected kids from ‘the malign influence of potheads’? And now we need to protect potheads from exploitation by small children.”

They’re not the first troop to scout out cannabis users to spark cookie sales, of course. In February 2018, one anonymous San Diego scout sold more than 300 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in less than six hours by setting up shop outside of the Urbn Leaf legal marijuana dispensary.

A Portland Girl Scout also went viral in 2016 for selling her baked goods outside of the Foster Buds Marijuana Dispensary to raise money for a summer trip to horse camp. She easily exceeded her 35-box goal.

And in 2014, Danielle Lei and her mom sold 117 boxes in two hours on Presidents’ Day by standing outside of the Green Cross medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco. “It’s no secret that cannabis is a powerful appetite stimulant, so we knew this would be a very beneficial endeavor for the girls,” a dispensary staff member told Mashable at the time.

Related: The Girl Scouts called out Boy Scouts for trying to recruit girls. Here’s how they’re different

Of course, Ross (played by David Schwimmer) famously pioneered the sales tactic in an episode of “Friends,” where he helped a scout sell 517 boxes of cookies to stoners outside of a planetarium after a Pink Floyd laser show, as well as by the New York University dorms around midnight. “The key to my success: The munchies! … I am selling cookies by the case,” he said. “They call me ‘Cookie Duuude!”

All kidding aside, this week’s Best Sales merit badge goes to the Andersonville scouts. Here’s what veteran salesman and former marketing manager Kyle Boze told MarketWatch that we can all learn from these Girl Scouts’ targeted marketing strategy.

  • Find your niche. While many people crave Girl Scout cookies, increased appetite is a common, well-known side effect of marijuana use. So it’s elementary to target customers who either already have — or soon will be suffering — a serious case of the munchies. “One of the biggest challenges for sales reps and marketers is knowing who [their customers] are and what they do,” said Boze. And these girls have found a clever way to reach their target market directly.
  • Location, location, location. Once you’ve targeted your audience, set up shop where you’re most likely to catch them — such as a dispensary for medical marijuana that enjoys high foot traffic, and that will support your sales efforts on site. “Timing is everything,” added Boze. “One of the biggest challenges sales reps face is hearing the word ‘no.’ This … is especially prevalent when the consumers are not in the right state of their buying cycle.” And these girls have found a way to get to their consumers right when they were ready to make a purchase.
  • Scout out new markets. “The traditional way of selling Girl Scout cookies is trying to go door-to-door, or utilizing friends and family networks,” said Boze. And these girls are using creativity to find a new market that hasn’t been tapped as much yet.
  • Look for loopholes. In the case of the San Diego Girl Scouts in 2018, booth sales weren’t supposed to start for another week. Yet the young women are allowed to sell from wagons if they have a parent or guardian with them — which is how this clever girl got a jump start on sales. It should also be noted that while there has been some debate over whether Girl Scouts should be allowed to sell cookies outside of dispensaries (the Colorado chapter previously banned it before overturning the ban), the Chicago scouts got permission from both the dispensary and the Girl Scouts organization beforehand.
  • Take advantage of free advertising. Many of these girls lucked out by getting the dispensaries they worked with to post their positions on social media. Dispensary 33 featured the Andersonville scouts on Twitter TWTR, -0.31%  and Facebook. San Diego’s Urbn Leaf snapped a pic of the anonymous scout (with her face covered) hugging boxes of Thin Mints and Tagalongs outside of the store to drive traffic. And they created a mutually beneficial relationship in the process. “This [San Diego] girl did a fantastic job of utilizing Urbn Leaf to use their existing customers to purchase cookies, and was able to create publicity and business for their company,” said Boze. And Dispensary 33 revealed it plans to have different troops selling cookies outside the store every weekend through February.

This story was originally published in 2018, and has been updated with the Chicago-area Girl Scout troop.

The Margin: Shaq to his 15 million followers: Who wants to buy my California mansion?

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Shaq is looking for an assist from his fans.

Yes, Shaquille O’Neal’s Bell Canyon, Calif., mansion is on sale for $2.5 million, and he’s hoping that one of his 15 million Instagram followers will bite.

Five bedrooms, state-of-the-art gym, a pool, Jacuzzi, walk-in closets, and, perhaps the biggest selling point of all, especially for Lakers fans, the opportunity to do business with an NBA legend.

“It’s in a premier cul-da-sac offering privacy,” the caption reads. “It’s an open floor plan with a two story foyer leading to a formal living room with vaulted beam ceilings off a formal living room with porcelain flooring and chef’s kitchen.

Take a tour, via Shaq’s Insta account:

There doesn’t appear to be any shortage of interest with the video garnering about 3 million views and almost 17,000 comments.

Records show that Shaq paid $1.8 million in 2018 for the property, which has been on the market for nearly three months, according to Zillow.

Encore: Slight increase in life expectancy is good news

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A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that life expectancy at birth increased for the first time in four years. For decades, life expectancy had been on an upswing, rising a few months every year. But from 2014 to 2017, it actually fell, as deaths due to overdoses and suicides soared.

Although suicides continued to remain high, declines in deaths from drug overdoses and cancer led to an overall improvement in 2018.

While the news is definitely good, life expectancy at birth is not a number I usually look at. Many critics of Social Security, however, often cite this statistic to demonstrate how much the beneficiary base has increased since the program started in 1940. In 1940, life expectancy at birth was 61.4 for males and 65.7 for females, and the age for full retirement benefits was 65.

These statistics make it sound like people would pay in a lifetime of contributions but never collect benefits.

Today, life expectancy for men and women has increased to 76.7 and 81.4, respectively. The implication is that the period over which benefits need to be paid has increased by about 16 years for both men and women.

That characterization, however, is extremely misleading. The low life expectancy at birth in the early decades of the 20th century was due mainly to high infant mortality. And someone who died as a child would never pay into or collect benefits from Social Security. The more relevant question is the probability of living to 65 once having attained adulthood. And, even in 1940, 54% of males and 61% of females could expect to live to 65 if they survived to 21. Indeed, the population age 65+ consisted of about 9 million individuals in 1940. Today, almost all adults live to 65.

The more relevant issue for Social Security is the life expectancy of those reaching 65 — that is, the period over which the average person could expect to receive benefits. As shown in the figure below, life expectancy at 65 has increased from 11.9 years for males and 13.4 years for females in 1940 to 18.2 and 20.7, respectively — a gain of roughly seven years.

Increases in life expectancy at 65 are one reason that costs continue to increase going forward even once the ratio of beneficiaries to workers stabilizes.

But the main message here is that life expectancy at birth is rarely — if ever — a helpful concept in Social Security discussions.

Next Avenue: Save time and money when you travel with these tips from the experts

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This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

You may be thinking about making your 2020 vacation plans right about now. Before you do, however, read below what I heard from four experts at last week’s New York Times Travel Show. During their sessions, they shared savvy advice on how to save money and time when you travel this year; how to travel more sustainably and the best places to go on vacation.

How to save on airfare, hotels, tours and currency

Getting the best deals on flights and lodging is getting harder; blame it on AI.

As Julie Weed just wrote in the New York Times, travel providers are increasingly using artificial intelligence software (known as hyperdynamic pricing) to change their prices at dizzying rates. Her story noted research from the airfare prediction app Hopper showing the average price of a domestic flight now changes 17 times in two days.

So, what’s a traveler to do?

Pauline Frommer, co-president of Frommer Media and editorial director of Frommer’s Guidebooks, said at the Times Show that Frommer’s recent study of the best airfare search engines, aggregators and booking engines turned up a new winner for 2020: the aggregator Skiplagged.com.

“It consistently found the lowest fares,” she said. But, Frommer added, “it does so normally, and in a way I don’t approve of.”

The Skiplagged method Frommer eschews: hidden-city airfares, sometimes called skiplagging. That’s the gambit where you, say, plan to fly from New York City to Milwaukee but plan to save money by taking a flight to Chicago with a stop in Milwaukee and hopping off. Some airlines have taken action against skiplagging fliers. To use Skiplagged and get airfare deals the way Frommer prefers, “you need to uncheck the Hidden City option,” she said.

Matt Kepnes, aka “Nomadic Matt,” had three other online recommendations to search for flight deals: Momondo.com, Google Flights and Scott’s Cheap Flights. “Scott’s sends an email about flights from my local airport every day,” said Kepnes, who’s based in Austin. “A few years ago, I went to South Africa for $600 round trip.”

The travel gurus disagreed about whether there was a best time to book flights for the lowest fares. But Frommer offered this tip: “Don’t book too far in advance — four, five or six months before you’ll fly. If you do, the airlines know they’ve got you.” And that means they’ll charge you more than you need to pay.

For the lowest hotel rates, another Frommer study came up with another new winner. “Last time, we said Booking.com was the top hotel site,” Frommer said. “But no longer. This time, HotelsCombined.com found the best prices most consistently.” And if you find a cheaper rate after you’ve booked with a site listed there, HotelsCombined — an aggregator — will refund the difference.

Frommer also recommended Kayak.com and Booking.com for hotel deals. (Kepnes is a Booking.com fan, too, and suggests HotelTonight if you’re looking for a last-minute room. He used HotelTonight for his New York Travel Show visit, got a Courtyard room for $100 a night “and it was not a dump,” he added.)

But “you may want to book your hotel directly with the hotel,” she added. “Major hotel chains have made a promise that if you book directly through their loyalty programs, they will match and undercut any rate out there. And it’s a promise they are keeping.”

If you’re considering staying at a home rental, Frommer advised checking out Airbnb, HomeAway, Flipkey or Vrbo (it stands for Vacation Rentals by Owners) — with a caveat. “The deals aren’t as good as they used to be because of the fees they are charging,” she said. “I was looking for a place in Zanzibar and the cleaning fee doubled the cost of the night. This is happening more and more.”

Kepnes is a fan of hostels to save money on lodging.

“My mother thinks I’m crazy to stay in one,” says the 38-year-old travel expert. “When people went backpacking around the world in the ’70s, hostels were dirty, smelly cheap places to stay. Nowadays, they are really nice. Some have private bathrooms and bars and restaurants.”

What’s more, Kepnes said, you get to meet interesting people staying at the hostel and get smart, local tips from the employees. “The hostel staff is focused on budget travelers, so they tend to know what’s going on that’s cheaper or free in the city and where to eat that someone working at the W hotel might not know,” said Kepnes.

To find free opportunities when visiting a city, Kepnes said, “search ‘free things to do in x’ and you will definitely find them. He’s especially keen on free walking tours to get the lay of the land and ask questions of local guides. “Most major cities have them,” he added.

Check, too, to see if museums or galleries offer free visits during dates and times, said Kepnes.

If you’ll need to exchange dollars for local currency when traveling abroad, Angel Castellanos, aka The Travel Ambassador, and Kepnes urged avoiding airport foreign-currency cash machines.

“They pay terrible exchange rates or charge high fees,” Castellanos said. “And the worst place to get cash is at an airport currency counter.” Instead, he advised, “if you desperately need local cash, go to Customs and get on the other side of Security to find the proper bank-owned machines.”

Travel insurance? Frommer recommended always buying it for big-ticket travel like a safari or a cruise, but not for just a hotel room or a flight. Frommer’s favors purchasing a policy through an insurance market site like Squaremouth.com or Insuremytrip.com or Travelinsurance.com.

“Never buy travel insurance from your travel provider,” Frommer said. “If they go out of business, you’ve lost your insurance, too.”

Related: 6 inspired ideas for traveling smarter this year

Kepnes noted that although high-end credit cards offer customers travel insurance, “that only covers what you purchased on their cards and they don’t have high coverage limits.”

How to save time when you travel

Castellanos had a few wise words about saving time when you travel, too. “I think of travel as an exercise in time management,” he said.

When traveling abroad, Castellanos advised, get the U.S. Customs’ Mobile Passport app. “You answer the five [inspection] questions you’re supposed to answer when you’re returning to the U.S. and then you get a QR code [a bar code] on your phone,” said Castellanos. “When I touch down, I immediately make a beeline for the Mobile Passport line. Typically, I find no people in it.”

You can use Mobile Passport at 27 U.S. airports and cruise ports. The app is free but there’s also a $14.99/year paid version — Mobile Passport Plus — that stores your passport information into the app.

Castellanos also recommends saving time by buying a city sightseeing pass to bypass lines at museums and other local attractions. “Go to the tourist information office or ask your hotel for a sightseeing pass,” he said. “Some of the passes bundle sites to save you some cash. But more importantly, they can save you some time.”

You might also buy The Sightseeing Pass for one of 16 cities around the world, including Washington, D.C., San Francisco and London.

How to travel more sustainably

Traveling sustainably was a big topic at this year’s New York Times Travel Show. That’s not surprising, given the growing “flight shaming” movement leading more travelers to find ways to offset their carbon footprint on vacation.

Seth Kugel, the former Frugal Traveler columnist for the Times and author of “Rediscovering Travel: A Guide to the Globally Curious,” gave an entire lecture on how to be a sustainable traveler.

Also see: A majority of Americans view the coronavirus as ‘a real threat,’ but most think the U.S. government is ‘doing enough’

Kugel’s definition of sustainable travel: causing a positive, or the least possible negative impact, on the earth and on a local destination’s physical environment, society, culture and economy.

Flying is the least sustainable way to travel, since planes burn so much fuel, especially reaching altitude and descending. That’s why Kugel advised against taking short flights. Instead, he said, hop on a bus. “Sometimes, buses these days are pretty comfortable,” Kugel added. (During Frommer’s talk, she noted that the Kayak travel search engine can now tell you when you can take a train or a bus instead of a plane, to lessen your carbon footprint.)

Kugel also urged fliers to pack lighter. “If you put less luggage on a plane, that means the airlines save on fuel and you’ll save on baggage fees,” he said.

Before renting a car for a trip, Kugel said, call in advance the agency where you’ll pick up the car to specifically reserve a compact or subcompact.

Where to go on vacation in 2020

Finally, if you’re looking for ideas about where to travel in 2020, Frommer had a few recommendations here and abroad — some will likely surprise you. They came from her contributors’ Frommer’s “Best Places to Go in 2020” list:

The Bahamas:  “We chose this because a lot of people wrongly think the Bahamas is not open for business” due to Hurricane Dorian in 2019, said Frommer. While Dorian was perhaps the worst hurricane in history, only 30% of the 700 Bahamas islands were hit, Frommer said. “This is a nation that really depends on tourism and prices are plummeting there.” (Abacos and Grand Bahama still need time to rebuild, Frommer’s reports.)

Emilia-Romagna Italy:  Never heard of it? If you’re a foodie, you may want to make plans for a visit to Italy’s breadbasket, north of Florence. “Everybody wants to eat well and see where food is produced and you cannot go to a better place for it than Emilia-Romagna, Italy,” said Frommer. The area — which includes Bologna, Parma and Modena — is known for salumi, cheeses, handmade pastas, meat sauces and balsamic vinegar. There’s even a pork museum.

The Poles: “Sadly, this is a climate change-related suggestion,” said Frommer. Warming oceans have made some itineraries to Antarctica and the Arctic possible. “You want to see this part of the world before it changes forever,” Frommer added. “It’s very expensive, but we think it’s worth it.” Cruises to Antarctica can cost $6,000 to $25,000, excluding airfare, the Frommer’s site notes.

Indiana: “America’s newest national park is the Indiana Dunes National Park, off one of the Great Lakes,” said Frommer. “And Indianapolis is a cool city that’s having its two-hundredth anniversary this year. It has fabulous museums.”

Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of “How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis” and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS Moneywatch. Follow him on Twitter.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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