Wednesday, April 30, 2008

HSA experiences

Here's a story on some realities of Health Savings Accounts that makes me glad I didn't choose one, and is decreasing the likelihood that I'll choose one for next year's medical plan.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Shopping at an estate sale

Have you ever shopped at an estate sale? Do you want to? Estate sales are a nice way for the mass affluent to obtain classic artwork or classic antique furniiture. Just do some homework before you drive the van an hour hoping to load up on bargain luxury goods.

For sale listings, look at newspaper classifieds and sites like But you can also type your city and "estate sale services" or "estate sale liquidation" into a search engine to find local firms. At these companies' websites you'll find info on coming events and may be able to sign up for e-mail alerts.
I've found that Craigslist also occasionally has the skinny on an estate sale. The N.Y. Estate Sales homepage has links to estate and tag sale directories. Scroll to "Search for estate & tag sales throughout the entire United States".

If the estate sale is held on a weekend, the best bargains will be had at the very end of Saturday and Sunday. You risk missing out on some pieces if you wait until the end though.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Can you avoid cruise ship crowds?

Have you ever had an experience while vacationing in the Caribbean?

In fact Trunk Bay is one of the most popular St. John outings with Carnival passengers, not to mention the rest of the two million cruisers who visit the U.S. Virgin Islands each year. By noon the ships had arrived, and several hundred people made a beeline for the beach, their towels covering the sand like wall-to-wall carpeting. The sunbathers next to them were so close, says Blair, "they could have literally reached over and pulled a drink out of our cooler." Even trying to snorkel with the crowds turned out to be a dangerous proposition — something that became painfully clear to Blair's wife, Lela, when she was conked in the head by a fellow swimmer's flipper.
Not my idea of a fun time on vacation. The article in SmartMoney has more facts on cruise ship impacts on onshore vacationers, and the Caribbean islands they visit. It offers some tips to cope:
But many locals and frequent travelers to cruise hot spots have a different take — like the Blairs, who now set foot on Trunk Bay beach only before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Some swear by web sites like to clue them in on when cruise crowds will be where. Some hotels, like Tortola's Mongoose Apartments, keep guests up-to-date by posting the weekly cruise schedule. Susan Shevlin, a Caribbean specialist at Linden Travel in New York, says she advises clients to avoid heading to an island's downtown on heavy cruise days or even to schedule a day trip to another island altogether. She also suggests booking outings well in advance, since the popular activities often sell out when several ships are in port.
The subscription is $3 a month, or $25 for the year.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Chances of being taxed on Roth IRA withdrawals; use tax diversification

The question to Walter Updegrave isn't phrased quite like the headline, but that's what I was thinking as I read the story. The questioner is actually worried that tax rates will fall, and that a pre-tax traditional IRA is a better bet than a post-tax Roth IRA. Updegrave's sage advice is:

But given how difficult it is to forecast future tax rates, I wouldn’t want to put all my money behind the assumption of higher or lower rates. Which is why I advocate “tax diversification.” The idea is that, come retirement time, you want some money in tax-deferred accounts that will be taxed at ordinary income rates. Some in Roth accounts that will be tax-free. And while you’re at it, I think it’s a good idea to have some investments in taxable accounts that are subject to the long-term capital gains tax rate.
I try to practice this advice. My reasons for this are a little different than one might think. I believe there is no way in heck that future tax rates are going to be lower. I don't put it past Congress to somehow tax Roth IRA withdrawals. Therefore, why not keep some money in traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, if you're going to get taxed anyways? Better to save some on the tax hit now. (Don't bring up that if Roth IRAs get taxed, traditional IRAs could just get taxed more, and I'd be in the same boat no matter once. I'll be the first to admit I have a weak argument here.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

What kind of home $400,000 will get you

The Journal has a story on how much house $400,000 will buy you throughout the country (free WSJ Digg link). Your dollar goes farthest in Detroit. Too bad there are no jobs there because the American automakers are tanking.