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Can making money be joyful?

Published 6/29/15

Can making money be joyful? By Peter Andrew

The trouble with having money is that you usually don't. Have money, I mean. Okay, you may keep a wad of banknotes or bag of gold coins somewhere safe, but generally speaking the only joy people with money have comes from bits of paper from their banks and brokers. In fact, in the digital age, they often have to print out their own bits of paper if they want hard-copy statements.

Now, I'm not for a second denying the warm feeling a person can get from seeing lots of zeroes in balances on high interest savings accounts and on portfolio statements. But the emotions involved are generally low-key: those of satisfaction, pride in achievement and the sort of contentment that comes with financial security. Excitement and joy are much rarer, except when a killing's just been made.

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4 ways to stop a wedding invite from breaking the bank

Published 5/28/15

4 ways to stop a wedding invite from breaking the bank By Peter Andrew

If you're like me, you're going to be a sucker for weddings. No quantity of divorce statistics or doubts about the gene pool from which one of the happy couple was derived is going to stop me loving every second. And I really don't care whether it's an over-flowered church affair followed by a reception at a fancy country club, or a bland, city hall ceremony with a party in the back room of a bar afterwards. It's the whole atmosphere of happiness and well-being that gets me. You'd be amazed how often I get something in my eye, just as someone I care about is saying "I do."

So I'm truly disappointed on those occasions when I have to turn down a wedding invitation. But I sometimes do, just because I can't afford to attend. Every year, American Express publishes a survey about the cost of attending nuptials as a guest, and be prepared to be shocked by the results of the latest edition from April, 2015:

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The idiot's guide to saving for retirement

Published 5/14/15

The idiot's guide to saving for retirement By Peter Andrew

Early in April, 2015, a British doctor revealed results from years of medical research around the globe. People, he concludes, who are overweight (but not obese) live longer that those with a body mass index in the normal range. I immediately went on Facebook to complain. My personal retirement strategy has always been to live unhealthily and die young, but scientists keep moving the goalposts: Things (caffeine, red wine, excess weight…) that were once supposed to be certain bringers of death now look set to prolong my life. If they find cigarettes are good for you (I quit only relatively recently), I could go on till 100+.

I'm not asking for sympathy. I'll get by in my twilight years: I'm debt-free, own my own home without a mortgage, have some modest savings and do the sort of work that (providing some genius in Silicon Valley doesn't come up with an app that writes financial advice) I can continue to do for the foreseeable future. In fact, I plan my last conversation to be with the funeral home crew hovering at the end of my deathbed: "Hang on, guys. I just have to post this feature article and I'll be with you."

My point is that what you're reading now is a "do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" piece. It also means I know all about how difficult it can be to save for an event way in the future when the current demands on your money seem irresistible.

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How to fix a broken savings strategy

Published 4/3/15

How to fix a broken savings strategy By Peter Andrew

The only thing that stands between me and my being a good saver is my inability to differentiate between things I want and things I need. Show me something that it would be nice to have, and I'll show you the spectacular display of mental gymnastics necessary to turn that object of desire into a necessity. It's not that I'm a noticeably stupid person in most respects. It's just that my brain seems to have a blind spot when it comes to impulse control.

Either that or I'm too stupid to recognize my own stupidity. Looking around though, it appears I'm not alone in having impulse control issues when it comes to spending.

Most Americans financially unhealthy

Fifty-seven percent of adults in this country say they struggle financially, and 43 percent of U.S. households find simply keeping up with bills and finance payments a real challenge. Those numbers come from a new study from the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), which seeks to better understand people's "financial health," something it defines as occurring "when an individual's daily financial system functions well and increases the likelihood of financial resilience and opportunity."

Two other figures from the study show just how important savings are to achieving such health:

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Traveling abroad? Know these 5 credit card facts

Published 3/16/15  (Modified 3/20/15)

Traveling abroad? Know these 5 credit card facts By Peter Andrew

Do you believe that 41.8 percent of adult Americans failed to take a single vacation day in 2014? And that another 16.1 percent took fewer than five? Those figures, which comes to you courtesy of the Skift travel website, are derived from an online survey with a sample base of 1,500, so they're hardly bulletproof statistically. But do you share my sneaking suspicion they could be correct -- or at least pretty close to correct?

It wouldn't be surprising. In 2013, the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a list of the paid vacation time provided in each of the 21 most advanced economies. The U.S. was alone in providing none. Add paid holidays to paid annual leave, and some countries were startlingly generous. You won't be surprised by the 31 days in France, but how about the 34 in Germany and Denmark or the 27 in Australia and New Zealand? Even the Japanese are guaranteed a minimum of 10 vacation days a year.

But not Americans. And yet vacation time can have an important influence on how we feel about ourselves. A few months ago, Gallup found some amazing results when it asked survey respondents about taking proper breaks from work.

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Easy and cheap ways to boost your home's value

Published 1/30/15

Easy and cheap ways to boost your home's value By Peter Andrew

Regular readers may be shocked by my grubby little secret: I can waste hours online reading about, looking at floor plans and pictures of, and fantasizing over other people's very expensive homes.

What do I get out of this? Some of my motivations may be shameful, and driven by insecurities about my own modest accomplishments. It's fun to see how the ultra-rich can expend vast sums of money on spectacularly garish -- almost Trump-esque -- monuments to vulgarity, ostentation and bad taste. Though one has to admire the equal-opportunities ethos of those who employ interior decorators who must surely be legally blind.

But the main pleasure I get is imagining what I'd do to the homes were I to be able to afford to buy them and then remodel with money-no-object budgets. Short of a lottery win or the discovery of a previously unknown and recently deceased billionaire relation, these fantasies are unlikely to come true, but I enjoy them. Still, it's embarrassing, so I'd be grateful if you keep my little secret strictly between the two of us.

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