The 6 Numbers You Need to be Smart With Your Money


That’s the amount that gets withheld from the median household income of $46,000. Do you know how big a bite gets taken out of your paycheck for federal tax withholding, Social Security, and Medicare combined? How about the amount that’s left after state and city taxes and other deductions for insurance and retirement? To calculate how much you net, pull out your pay stubs for the past month (if you’re married, grab your spouse’s docs too). You can’t even begin to get a grip on spending and saving if you don’t have a clear picture of what you’re bringing in. Now you know.

100 minus your age

The difference equals the percentage of your investments that should be in stocks; the rest should be in bonds. So a 35-year-old woman ideally has 65 percent of her money in stocks and 35 percent in bonds. Don’t let recent market trends scare you–those who wait out the rocky times end up with more money than those who switch up their investments out of fear. If the market tumbles, you’ll have time to let your portfolio rebound. You want to grow your money aggressively until you get close to needing the funds, which is why the ratio should slide toward more conservative, less risky bonds as you age. Reset the balance once a year on your birthday–or consider a “target date” mutual fund, which does it for you automatically.

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Multiply that by your salary to determine how much life-insurance coverage you need, and your partner should do the same. Some employers offer group life insurance plans, but they’re rarely customizable to fit your family’s specific needs, and typically only pay for coverage equal to one to two times your salary. Compare rates for term-life policies that will protect your kids until they’re grown at


This is the national average for credit card interest rates. If you’ve got a card in your wallet with a higher rate, pay that balance off first, because you’re getting slammed with major charges. The good news: Interest rates are generally negotiable. If you regularly pay at least the minimum on time, try haggling your way to a better rate, or consider moving the balance to your card with the lowest one–but do that only if you won’t get socked with hefty fees for the transfer.


It’s the minimum percentage of your salary that you should contribute to your 401(k) plan. Roughly 41 percent of workers at businesses with retirement plans get a match of up to 6 percent, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; many companies put in between $.50 and a dollar for every buck you save. So if you make $50,000, you could be getting an extra $3,000 every year if your employer contributes dollar for dollar. Whether your company has a matching program or not, sock away up to 10 percent if you can–but start by making sure you never leave any free money on the table.


It’s the maximum you can contribute to an individual retirement account, or IRA, each year. If you have a 401(k) through your job, make sure you’re contributing at least 6 percent there. Then, if you can swing it, aim to put away the full $5,000 in an IRA to further expand your retirement savings and get sweet tax breaks. There are two types: a traditional IRA, which lets you defer paying taxes on the money and what it earns until you retire, and a Roth IRA, where you pay taxes on the contribution now, but the earnings are tax-free. My advice: Go with the Roth (which is only an option for couples earning less than $183,000), because it lets you tap into that money without penalty, if you need to, before your golden years.

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Time is a precious commodity, but it’s even more treasured because it is
fleeting. As soon as a day, an hour, or even a minute passes, it is gone

While that might be stating the obvious, it’s an important concept to reflect
on during the often-hectic holiday season. So this holiday season – regardless
of which holiday you celebrate or if you celebrate any – remember to focus on
and spend time with the people around you, including family, friends, and even
coworkers or clients.

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When TV personality and kid expert Art Linkletter was asked about the idea of
spending time with loved ones this is what he said:

“I once asked a five-year-old what he would take with him if he were going to
Heaven. He replied, ‘I would take my parents because I think that up there they
would have more time with me’… nuff said.”

The good news is, it’s actually possible to slow time down in a way that
seems to lengthen special events like a day of fishing with your child or a
special dinner with a good friend. The key is to consciously honor the person
and the event as you experience it. To be in the moment.

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In the days and weeks ahead, remember to recognize the people you care about.
You don’t need to do or say anything specific, nor do you need to spend any
money. You simply need to spend time with them. So consider setting aside two
hours one day for coffee with a friend. Or if you have children, make special
plans to take each one out individually for their own dinner. You can even set
aside a short amount of time each day to call some of your special clients to
see how they’re doing and personally wish them a happy holiday. And when you do,
avoid distractions like technology or worries about what else you need to do
that day.

After all, once the moment passes, you can go back to that checklist of
things to do. But you can never go back to that moment in time.

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Economic Report
Mon. December 05
ISM Services Index
Thu. December 08
Jobless Claims (Initial)
Fri. December 09
Consumer Sentiment Index (UoM)


It’s been said that “slow and steady wins the race.” And
when it comes to the Jobs Report for November, it seems that the labor market
continues to improve at a gradual pace. Read on for the details…and what they
mean for home loan rates.

There was good news, as the headline number for job creations in November came
in at 120,000, with 140,000 private jobs offsetting government losses. What’s
more, some upward revisions to the two previous readings added 72,000 more jobs
than had been reported.

Perhaps even more important, Hourly Earnings grew by just 0.1% – a number
that suggests no threat of wage-based inflation. Remember, inflation is the arch
enemy of Bonds and home loan rates because when inflation rises, investors in
Bonds demand a higher yield to offset the lost buying power inflation imposes on
a fixed payment. And as home loan rates are tied to Mortgage Bonds, this would
mean home loan rates move higher. So the Hourly Earnings number was good news
for Bonds and home loan rates.

Catching the markets by surprise was a rather sharp decline in the
unemployment rate to 8.6%, the lowest unemployment rate we’ve since March of
2009. While this is good news on the one hand, part of the decline stems from
the fact that 315,000 people were removed from the workforce because they
totally gave up looking for work. And with 13.3 million Americans still out of
work, more improvement is certainly needed here.

Similarly, the labor participation rate (which is currently hovering at a
30-year low at 64) needs to move above 66 or it will be difficult for the
economy to grow fast enough to lower our budget deficit. In fact, last week Bond
ratings firm Fitch issued a stern warning to the US, saying that our AAA rating
will be in jeopardy if we don’t soon do something to rein in our own
ever-growing budget deficit.

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It is good news that we’re seeing some slow and steady improvement in
the labor market…and coupling this with other recent positive economic signals,
means we are not near a recession at the moment. 
But our economic health
remains fragile, and any external shock from Europe could easily disrupt the
economic improvement we are seeing.

The bottom line is that the uncertainty out of Europe – and the prospect of
additional Mortgage Bond buying (QE3) from the Fed – should continue to support
Bonds and home loan rates as they will benefit from investors looking for a safe
haven for their money. However, it is also unlikely that Bonds and home loan
rates will improve much further. Inflation, while not yet a problem, is still
elevated…and if it continues to creep higher, this will limit any improvement

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