Making the Most of Your Money NOW

Quinn’s guide to personal finance covers the usual terrain: budgeting, consumer debt, mortgages, college funds and investments. However, not every financial writer is blessed with Quinn’s charm-a blend of Pollyanna and Mary Poppins with a snappy wit thrown in-and her sensible approach to streamlining one’s financial life make this a stellar entry in the genre.
—Publisher’s Weekly

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When oil hit $100 a barrel last year, consumers yelped and the media headlined the number as major news. After a few weeks, journalists moved on to other stories, prices stayed high, and we got used to it.

With civil war raging in Iraq and the northern oil pipeline to Turkey in the middle of the firefight, deliveries are down prices are up to $115 a barrel, so far. The southern pipeline from Basra might also come under attack. the U.S. is producing more oil but we’re ruled by the global market price, and global demand is rising faster than new supplies are discovered and delivered. Future oil prices will bruise consumers even more than they do today.

We have to live smarter. Move closer to where to you work or where you can take public transportation. Buy a Chevvy Volt or some other hybrid. Put solar on the roof (tax breaks will help pay for it). Tighten up your house. Reduce your personal dependence on oil. You’ll have to do that eventually, so might as well start now.

UPDATE: Three more stories in the past two days:

All careless-gun-owner shooting deaths are tragic, but this one really got me. In Panama City, Fla., a young couple gathered with relatives to welcome home their 3-day-old baby. The guy next door picked up his gun by the trigger and, no surprise, it fired. The bullet shot through the walls of both houses, killing the new father. http://bit.ly/1sqKa21 http://bit.ly/1sqKa21

In Montoursville, Pa., the guest of honor at a birthday party took a friend upstairs to show him a gun. Same old story: “I didn’t know the gun was loaded…” The birthday boy shot his friend in the head, killing him. http://bit.ly/1nR8xkh

I find this one just funny: A Macon, Ga., man was trying to holster his pistol while he was parked at a gas station. He accidentally fired it, hitting himself in the penis. I shouldn’t find it funny — he might have shot the person in the next car. But…

ORIGINAL POST: The more people carry guns, the more dangerous it becomes for the rest of us. I’ve been collecting the tragic stories of children who kill themselves or other kids with loaded guns they find around the house (more to come, in another post). But any one of us can get shot by a stupid or careless gun owner out on the town. Here are six examples.

In Chester County, Pa., a man fired a gun randomly from his porch. It hit an 8-year-old boy who happened to be bicycling by. Luckily, the child was hit only in the leg. The shooter said he keeps guns in the house for his own protection. That, and a little bit of … more

Stock prices generally follow a four-year pattern linked to the presidential election cycle. The first two years after the election coincide with the slowest market growth while the second two outperform. The third year of the cycle is the best.

Academic researchers have tried to find fundamental, economic reasons for this cyclical behavior, without success. It doesn’t correlate with historical patterns of earnings or economic growth.

So they fall back on assumptions. Presidents or Congresses supposedly stabilize policies in the year leading up to the election, or cut taxes, or raise spending, or make promises, or wave a wand. It’s pure financial astrology. The embarrassing fact is that — for whatever the reason — the pattern persists.

The midterm year — where we are right now — typically yields the lowest returns. And it’s bumping into the start of another unexplained cycle known as “Sell in May.” On average, stocks are at their weakest during the six months from May through October. They outperform … more

Researchers at the Chicago Federal Reserve took a look at how health care reform in Massachusetts, in 2006, affected consumer finances. Turns out, it made people better off. Your financial life has a better chance of working out if you’re protected from the devastating effect of high and unexpected medical bills. No surprised, but it’s nice to see it show in a controlled study.

The Fed found that having health insurance lowered the instances of people incurring debt. It improved credit scores, reduced the amount of past-due debt and lowered the probability of going into bankruptcy.

The effect on the country as a whole probably won’t be as marked as it was in Massachusetts because, there, the law covers everyone. The ACA leaves millions of people out — for example, those in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. Nevertheless, for those whom the law does cover, life is more secure. The newly insured can make plans, including early retirement plans, without fearing that a single accident or illness will wipe them out.

If you’ve always had health insurance, you can’t imagine the scariness of doing without. Wondering how sick you had to be before going to a doctor. Struggling with the huge bills charged by emergency rooms. Foregoing treatments that might have improved or extended your life. Fearing for your children’s health. ACA insurance is still expensive but this study shows that, nevertheless, it improves life financially as well as emotionally.

The study is called The Effects of the Massachusetts Health Reform on Financial distress. You can read it here.

Here are the latest stories about people like you and me, going about their own business, and endangered by guns. Sometimes the “responsible” gun owners among us accidentally shoot themselves, sparing their neighbors. Sometimes they shoot others. The more that guns are accepted socially, the carriers, the more accidents, and the more deaths during arguments. Here are some situations that almost any of us could have been in:

1. In Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., nine people were wounded in a restaurant. An off-duty corrections officer was carrying a loaded Glock in his pocket. When he reached for his money and his valet parking ticket, the pistol fired, ricocheting off the table and injuring diners. A 75-year-old woman was taken to the hospital with bullet fragments in her buttocks. The restaurant, by the way, is called the Shooters Waterfront Café. http://bit.ly/1r5iCJv

2. In  Dallas, Tex. a man shooting at targets in his back yard missed. The bullet flashed through a neighbor’s window, hitting a 9-year-old in the head. She was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Twice before, another neighbor had called the police about hearing gunshots in the shooter’s yard. http://bit.ly/1gHj3VL

3. In West Bend, Wis., a man was handling a rifle in the first floor of a building. It discharged, sending a bullet through the ceiling and wounding his upstairs neighbor in the stomach. Luckily, the neighbor will be OK.  http://bit.ly/NwG3iz

4. In Orlando, FL, a man giving — yes — a gun safety demonstration accidently discharged the pistol and shot a 12-year-old seated in a passing car. Startled by the discharge, … more

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The Number by Lee Eisenberg

THE book to read, when you’re puzzling over how much to save for retirement.

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Jane Bryant Quinn is a nationally known commentator on personal finance, with books and columns read and trusted by millions.
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