Professional sports: A waste of time, money, and energy?

You know what I like to do on a beautiful fall day? Sit on a couch and watch other people exercise! Furthermore, I cheer for a bunch of people I'll never meet, representing a team based in a city they didn't grow up in. Heck, I myself haven't lived in that city for many years.

Yep, I'm talking about watching professional football — in my case, cheering for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, since I grew up in nearby Clearwater, Florida. However, at this point, I've spent most of my life living outside of the Tampa Bay area. But that doesn't change the emotional connection I have to a team I watched as a kid, taking the bus from Clearwater Mall to Tampa Stadium to watch Lee Roy Selmon, Doug Williams, Jimmie Giles, and those ‘70s-inspired creamsicle uniforms.

But I don't watch football as much as I used to. I certainly don't get the NFL Sunday Ticket like I used to, which allowed me to watch every and any game I wanted (at a cost of $299.95). With a bunch of kids, I just don't have the time. And, frankly, I feel more and more like it's kind of ridiculous.

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More about...Frugality

Why You’ll Likely Need Less in Retirement

Older couple gathers vegetables in garden

Ultimately, retirement planning is like a math equation -- you input several variables and estimate whether what you'll have will pay for what you will need in retirement. The challenge is that many of the variables are future values that are unknowable today.

But that doesn't mean you can't make some educated guesses. So let's examine the “what you'll need” part of the equation — that is, how much the retired life will cost you each year -- to see if we make the murky crystal ball any clearer.

How much do retirees need?

The standard rule of thumb is that retirees need 70 to 80 percent of their pre-retirement income. Fortunately, we can examine how spending changes as we age by looking at the Consumer Expenditure Survey that is produced every year by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That can help us figure out if this 70-to-80-percent estimate has any basis in reality.


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More about...Retirement

Make the Choice Not to Decay

It's that time of year — time to weed out all the stuff in the Brokamp household to get ready for the first yard sale of the season. It's a great way to de-clutter, make a few hundred bucks, and sadly realize how many of the past Christmas' presents are already collecting dust from non-use.

While culling the bookshelves, I came across Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You're 80 and Beyond, which came out in early 2005. While I was still in my 30s when it came out, it was one of the first books that got me thinking about how I need to start taking better care of myself. After all, if I'm going to spend decades saving for retirement, I want to be healthy enough to enjoy retirement once I get there.

Unfortunately, as we age, we accumulate some aches and pains, don't have the energy we used to, and eventually rely on Lipitor, Celebrex, or some other drug that sounds like the villain in a science-fiction movie. Well, that's just part of getting older. Continue reading...

More about...Health & Fitness, Retirement

Is Retirement Just Too Dang Risky?

I've been saving for retirement since my mid-20s, and I write a retirement-planning newsletter every month. Yet here's the thing: I don't plan to ever fully retire. And while most people list “retirement” as their number one investing goal, I don't think most other people should retire, either — at least not at age 64 for men and 62 for women, which are the average retirement ages these days, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

I question the value and wisdom of retirement for financial reasons, for health reasons, and for “why should we encourage people to sit on their butts all day” reasons. However, in this post, I'll question retirement from a risk perspective: Can anyone really be sure that their savings and benefits will last for a few decades? Let's take a closer look.

1. Social Security has “issues.”
I've written before that all the talk of people getting nothing from Social Security is overblown; everyone will get something. But there are enough problems to suggest that younger and wealthier people should expect to get much less than their currently projected benefit. Not that the current benefits are enough to buy beachfront property; the average annual Social Security benefit is just $14,172. If that weren't scary enough, according to the Social Security Administration, more than half of elderly beneficiaries receive 50% or more of their incomes from Social Security; for 22% of married couples and 43% of unmarried beneficiaries, Social Security provides 90% or more of their incomes. The fact is, most Americans do not do a good job of planning for retirement.

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More about...Investing, Retirement

11 Things You May Not Know About Retirement Accounts

I don't know you personally (yet), but my guess is that you own an IRA or employer-sponsored retirement account such as a 401(k) or 403(b). Such accounts are where the majority of Americans hold their longterm savings. However, like anything governed by the Congress and the IRS, there are plenty of rules, exceptions, and quirks. Here are some lesser-known facts about retirement accounts.

1. The deadline for 2011 IRA contributions is April 17, 2012.
It's too late to make a 2011 contribution to your 401(k), but you have until the tax-filing deadline to contribute to an IRA. That's usually April 15, but it's been extended to April 17 this year since April 15 falls on a Sunday, and April 16 is Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia (as well as the birthday of Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie in A Christmas Story, but I don't think the IRS cares about that as much).

2. Contribution limits are up for 401(k)s, not for IRAs.
The most you can contribute to an IRA in 2012 is the same as the limits for 2011: $5,000, with an additional $1,000 for those age 50 or older. However, the amount you can contribute to a 401(k) has been increased to $17,000, with an extra $5,500 for the 50-and-older crowd. So if you maxed out your 401(k) in 2011 and want to contribute the max this year, you'll need to increase your paycheck withholding.

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More about...Retirement, Taxes

The Follies of Fortune Telling

I grew up watching “60 Minutes” Sunday evenings, so like many people, I was saddened to hear of the death of commentator Andy Rooney last month. He was occasionally too curmudgeonly even for me, but he presided over the final minutes of a show that was a fixture in our household. One of my favorite segments aired a few years ago, when Rooney replayed bits from a 1986 CBS News series that previewed what life would be like in 2001. Experts predicted that the Russians would land on Mars, cars will be commanded by operator's voice, Americans would work just 30 hours a week, cows would be the size of elephants, and pigs would be five feet tall.

It hasn't quite turned out that way. Cows and pigs are still the size of cows and pigs, and my car doesn't respond to my voice — not even the expletives I shout in traffic. It's important at this time of year to remember how hard it is to predict the future, because soon we'll begin to see articles in media featuring various experts' guesses for what the stock market will do in 2012.

As evidence of the value of such forecasts, let's travel back to a Jan. 2, 2002 article in USA Today. The article featured the predictions of eight top Wall Street analysts and where they thought the S&P 500 would be at the end of 2002. The article began by pointing out that not one of the analysts polled a year earlier were right about 2001: Each had predicted a positive year for the S&P 500. Instead, it declined 13%. Did they do a better job in 2002? Nope. The average prediction was for an 11% gain. As you may recall, the S&P 500 declined more than 22% in 2002.

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More about...Investing

Empower Your Willpower

One of my fundamental beliefs about money is that it mostly comes down to self-control: Making yourself do the right things and preventing yourself from doing the wrong things. I've discussed this before in these cyber-pages and cited the work of Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State (where I spent a week back in 1986 for Boys State — was it really that long ago?). Along with New York Times science columnist John Tierney, Baumeister recently published Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. I recently interviewed Dr. Baumeister about how willpower can be strengthened and used to improve our finances and beyond.

Robert Brokamp: Can I change my willpower or am I just born with the willpower that I have?
Roy Baumeister: That is a crucial point. Willpower can be improved. It works like a muscle, so when you exercise it, it gets stronger. We haven't tested the other side — that if it gets weaker if you don't exercise it, but I imagine that that is true. That is really important news because psychology has really found just two traits that predict success across most or all walks of life: intelligence and self-control. As for intelligence, we haven't been able to find improvement beyond a little short-term boost. So improving self-control and willpower is a crucial way to make your life better, and we find in our studies that even as adults, you can improve your willpower by regular exercise.

Brokamp: Explain the concept "ego depletion" and how when you exercise willpower, you tire it out.
Baumeister: Yes, exactly like a muscle, that as you exercise it, it will get tired. If you really wanted to carry some heavy loads right after you have been working out, you will find it more difficult to do that, but if you work out regularly, when the loads come along, you will be in better shape and better able to handle them.

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More about...Psychology

The Many Ways to Know and Control the Flow of Your Dough

How do you know what it costs to be you? That's my question for the day, dear GRS reader.

I've come a bit full-circle in what I think is most important when it comes to financial success. When I was a young, low-paid teacher, I focused on penny-pinching and budgeting. As I got older, I spent more time on investments. Now, I'm coming back to the importance of keeping tabs on expenses. Perhaps it's because investing hasn't been as rewarding over the past several years. Perhaps it's because it seems like financial security seems a bit more precarious these days. Maybe it's because the way I think about the whole kit-and-kaboodle — whether you call it budgeting, or cash-flow management, or a spending plan — a bit differently.

After I left teaching, I became a financial adviser with one of those big-name, full-service brokerages. During our three weeks of training in the Big Apple, we never learned about budgeting — it never even came up. Neither did debt management, financial calculations, or how to choose the right investment account. We only learned about investing (sorta), how to find clients with lots of money, and how to sell, sell, sell.

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More about...Budgeting

A Closer Look at Bonds

Yawning Cat
Bonds may seem boring, but you need to know about them!

It was more than a year ago that Wharton business school professor Jeremy Siegel, author of the classic Stocks for the Long Run, co-wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal called “The Great American Bond Bubble.” Siegel and Jeremy Schwartz caused a stir with their claim that the “possibility of substantial capital losses on bonds looms large.” If 10-year interest rates rose from 2.8% to 3.15%, bondholders would lose capital equal to the current yield. That's because as rates rise, the value of existing bonds fall.

In an interview with from last July, Siegel brought up the article, saying, “That happened to be a nice call.” Well, not really. Yes, stocks have outperformed bonds since the article's publication in August 2010, but the average bond fund still made money. As for this year so far, stocks are down and bonds are up.

Yes, with rates so low, there are risks to owning bonds. But I find that there's a good deal of misunderstanding out there. So before you sell all your bonds (if you own any), let's take a look at how the market works and what could happen if rates rise.

Play the fooly-wed game!

One of the first articles I ever wrote for The Motley Fool was actually co-written with my wife, who also then worked for the Fool. It was more than 11 years ago (which is 77 in Internet years), and we hadn't yet marked our first anniversary. We called it our “Couples Manifesto,” and it ended up being one of the more popular articles on the site that year. That inspired a bunch of Fools to create the “Couples and Cash” online seminar and, eventually, a book of the same name.

Fast-forward to 2011, and my wife now is a mental-health counselor and children's book author, and besides my job as a newsletter advisor, I'm the financial planner for Motley Fool employees. I recently met with a colleague and his fiancée, and thought I'd bring along an article that was pulled from that old seminar. We called it the Fooly-wed Game, based on the classic game show “The Newlywed Game.” The show is still on TV, but its heyday was the 1970s when Bob Ewbanks was the host. For the kids in the audience, here's a taste:

Unlike The Newlywed Game, the Fooly-wed Game was not designed to cause violence between couples and was not an excuse to say “make whoopee” on TV. Rather, it's a way to get couples to discuss money, possibly identify problem areas, and maybe have a little fun.

The Audi

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More about...Planning