Category Archives: Personal

Your Tote Bag Says Much About You – WSJ

Someone I love is working with tote bags!
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WSJ 6/13/2017 BY ANNE MARIE CHAKER

THE DECISION ON which of the 29 tote bags stashed in your closet to bring on your Saturday afternoon stroll can spark a minor identity crisis.

Kyle Chayka, a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y., says he owns somewhere between 12 and 20 tote bags. He favors a red one with both long and short straps, from clothing brand Freitag (acquired as a conference freebie) and an especially roomy Christie’s bag which he likes on the weekends.

“They’ve become visible status symbols,” Mr. Chayka says. “It’s like the equivalent of wearing a sports jersey.” A tote shows what style and brands you affiliate with, he says.

Totes are conversation starters, the way noticing the book someone is reading on the subway used to be, he says. “Sometimes when you see a tote bag, you know that person is one degree of separation from you.”

Sturdy, canvas, waterproof or made of recycled material, tote bags take up an expanding part of our lives (and car trunks) as cities, counties and states continue to im- pose fees or bans on plastic bags. Stores either give them away free with purchase or sell them for a couple bucks in the hopes that consumers will like them and carry them—and that others will notice.

“They are walking billboards,” says Ty Haney, founder of Outdoor Voices, an athletic-leisure clothing brand that emphasizes recreational play over performance. Its tote bags, which come free with an instore purchase, carry the slogan “technical apparel for recreation.” Ms. Haney says it is a more cost effective way of advertising than buying online ads because it gets the brand name into neighborhoods and scenes where there are lots of potential customers.

The company’s investment is $5 a bag, and it says it distributes thousands in its stores each month, but declined to specify a number.

Jonathan Hochman, an internet marketing consultant in Cheshire, Conn., says that “for $5,000 worth of bags, you could probably buy 3 to 5 million online impressions.” It takes five views of an online ad for the brand to really register with someone, he says. A real-world logo on a bag, however, “is actually a testimonial,” he says.

When totes are durable and reusable they become longerlived ad campaigns. Swimwear label 6 Shore Road’s founder, Pooja Kharbanda, says that she made 1,000 tote bags to distribute at pop-up stores in Montauk, N.Y., and Newport, R.I., this summer. She estimates the cost is 2.5 times what it would be if she had just chosen paper bags. For a customer who might forget about the brand over the winter, “they could pick it up again and think ‘maybe I should check out what new things they have,’ ” says Ms. Kharbanda.

Some retailers sell the bags to help cover the cost. H& M’s tote bags cost $2 to $4 and help spread the word about its garment recycling program. Customers who trade in old clothing or textiles can get 15% off their purchase. The bags proclaim: “There’s only one rule in fashion: Recycle your clothes” or “Bring it: The lonely sock, the stained shirt, the washed-out dress and it will be reborn.”

“We know that word of mouth is the strongest kind of advertising,” says Marybeth Schmitt, communications manager for H& M North America, which operates 477 stores in the U.S. “And, this is like a form of word of mouth.”

Catherine Depret’s black, Honest Co., glow-in-the dark, Halloween-themed tote has become the daily day care bag for 5-year-old Alexandre, says the Washington D.C., attorney. She originally got the tote with a shipment of diapers.

“The canvas is sturdy and I like the design,” she says. “If it was a brand I didn’t like, I wouldn’t like it as much.”

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How to Raise an American Adult – WSJ

 

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WSJ May 5, 2017

We all know the noun adult. But I was perplexed last year to hear the new verb to adult. In social media, especially on Twitter and Instagram, it birthed a new hashtag: #adulting. As in: “Just paid this month’s bills on time #adulting,” or “Decided I couldn’t watch Netflix 8 hours straight and went to the grocery store instead #adulting.” It even got a nomination from the American Dialect Society for the most creative word of 2015.

“Adulting” is an ironic way to describe engaging in adult behaviors, like paying taxes or doing chores—the sort of mundane tasks that responsibility demands. To a growing number of Americans, acting like a grown-up seems like a kind of role-playing, a mode of behavior requiring humorous detachment.

Let me be clear: This isn’t an old man’s harrumph about “kids these days.” I still remember Doc Anderson standing in the street in 1988, yelling at me to slow down as I drove through his neighborhood in our small Nebraska town. I was 16 and couldn’t stand that guy. Years later, when I had children of my own, I returned to thank him. Maturation.

What’s new today is the drift toward perpetual adolescence. What’s new is seeing so much less difference now between 10-year-olds and young adults in their late teens and early 20s.

As many parents can attest, independent adulthood is no longer the norm for this generation. Data from the Pew Research Center show that we crossed a historic threshold last year: “For the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.” Fully one-quarter of Americans between 25 and 29 live with a parent—compared with only 18% just over a decade ago.

A great many factors have contributed to this shift toward perpetual adolescence. The economy has something to do with it, of course—but social and cultural developments do too. The list of culprits includes our incredible wealth and the creature comforts to which our children are accustomed; our reluctance to expose young people to the demands of real work; and the hostage-taking hold that computers and mobile devices have on adolescent attention.

Our nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis. Too many of our children simply don’t know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one. Perhaps more problematic, older generations have forgotten that we need to teach them. It’s our fault more than it’s theirs.

My wife, Melissa, and I have three children, ages 6 to 15. We don’t have any magic bullets to help them make the transition from dependence to self-sustaining adulthood—because there aren’t any. And we have zero desire to set our own family up as a model. We stumble and fall every day.

Sasse_Family

Sen. Sasse with his children: Breck, age 6; Alex, age 13; and Corrie, 15. Photo: Ryan Nicholson for The Wall Street Journal

But we have a shared theory of what we’re aiming to accomplish: We want our kids to arrive at adulthood as fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving souls who see themselves as called to love and serve their neighbors. Our approach is organized around five broad themes.

Resist consumption. Although we often fail at it, Melissa and I aim to imprint in our children the fact that need and want are words with particular and distinct meanings. When our 6-year-old son points to a toy at Target and says, “I need that,” we let him know that “need” actually has nothing to do with it. His survival doesn’t depend on securing that toy.

In a 2009 study called “Souls in Transition,” Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his colleagues focused on the spiritual attitudes and moral beliefs of 18- to 23-year-old “emerging adults.” They were distressed by what they discovered, especially about the centrality of consumption in the lives of young people. Well over half agreed that their “well-being can be measured by what they own, that buying more things would make them happier, and that they get a lot of pleasure simply from shopping and buying things.”

‘Maturity requires imagining life without material wealth.’
But consumption is no route to long-term happiness, as a raft of studies by psychologists, neuroscientists and sociologists demonstrate. Part of learning to be an adult is figuring out that our real needs can be separated from the insistent call of our wants. Maturity requires imagining life without material wealth, resolving that we could be happy in such a state, and actually experiencing mild deprivation from time to time.

Parents can impart such lessons many ways. The occasional camping trip, off the grid, can teach the basic definition of shelter—and make the comforts of home look like the luxuries they are. You can shop differently too. One of our daughters is a serious runner, so we purchase high-quality shoes to protect her developing bones—but most of her other clothes come from hand-me-downs and secondhand shops.

We want our children to learn the habit of finding pleasure in the essentials of life and feeling gratitude for them. We’d like to think that, when they strike out on their own someday, they’ll have a clear sense of what they really need.

Embrace the pain of work. Many of the same social scientists highlighting the emptiness of consumption point to a very different key to happiness: meaningful work. Over the years, I’ve found that just about everyone interesting I’ve ever met possesses a strong work ethic, focused on doing even humble jobs well, and they typically learned it early in life. They usually have a passionate answer to the question: “What was the first really hard work you did as a kid?”

Character comes before credentials.’
Suggesting that our children should have similar experiences seems countercultural today. Strenuous, unpleasant work seems harsh, potentially scarring. Worse, for middle-class parents hoping to get their children into selective colleges, it might interfere with the “enrichment” activities that impress admissions committees. But character comes before credentials. If our children are to become real adults, they need to know that difficult tasks are things to be conquered, not avoided.

Last year, we sent one daughter to spend a month working on a cattle ranch. She was 14 and surprisingly eager to get her hands dirty. We left her with little advice other than to make us proud by working hard, to ask for coaching and never to let her bosses hear her complain.

Once she settled in, she would send regular text messages about what she’d done that day. It was smelly, wet, demanding work, but she reveled in it: Got an orphaned baby girl to take her whole bottle. (Also got tons of nose slime & snot on my jeans.)

I don’t mean to suggest that there are no hard workers among young people now. But “work” is more than advancement in school. Our children need to appreciate not just the privilege they enjoy in being free from the demands of physical labor but also—especially—their own capacity to fix the messes that life will throw at them.

Start young: Send your 2-year-old to get your socks every morning. It creates a rhythm and pattern that can be easily upgraded to more complicated and “adult” tasks. Re-evaluate every service you’re paying for at home and ask if your children could do it instead. Mowing is a good example; household repairs count too. Babysit together. Make your children learn to change diapers.

Connect across generations. Today, young people’s lives are driven by one predominant fact: birth year. In person and online, teenagers hang out overwhelmingly with friends of the same year in school. Correspondingly, senior citizens live out their years in nursing homes where they interact mainly with their age peers.

A 2014 Boston Globe article neatly summarized much of the recent research on this question. One study found that, among Americans 60 and older, only a quarter had discussed anything important with anyone under 36 in the previous six months. And when relatives are excluded, the percentage drops to just 6%.

Adolescents acquire vital social skills by interacting with people outside their peer bubble.
This isolation is no way to raise responsible adults. The anthropologist Alice Schlegel, co-author of a classic study of 186 preindustrial cultures, concluded that age segregation is correlated “to antisocial behavior and to socialization for competitiveness and aggressiveness.” Social science confirms what parents know from watching older siblings care for younger ones: Adolescents acquire vital social skills by interacting with people outside their peer bubble.

There are many ways to make these connections. The simplest are activities like taking your children to bake cookies with an elderly neighbor or volunteering at a senior center. But the occasional visit isn’t enough. We need to encourage our children to build lasting connections—some degree of friendship and familiarity—with older people who aren’t members of the family.

Perspective is invaluable: It lets your children hear about previous eras, including those first hard jobs, and gives them a longer view of what it means to struggle with hardships and persevere.

Travel meaningfully. Decades ago, the historian Daniel Boorstin drew a distinction between the nobility of travel and what he saw as the boredom of touring, with its large groups and controlled itineraries. What he called “the lost art of travel” involved going out “in search of people, of adventure, of experience.”

When we travel this way, we subject ourselves to the vertigo that accompanies leaving familiar surroundings, customs, language and food. It’s especially valuable for adolescents. Like hard work, it makes them appreciate not just the comfort of their own lives but the satisfaction of trying new and difficult things. It also forces them to look at the material nature of their lives. Do I really need so much stuff when I feel freer away from it?

Children will obviously not all have the same experiences as they learn about travel. Some of us come from more outdoorsy families; others come from wealthier families that can afford the airfare to fly overseas. “Where” isn’t nearly as important as how.

The key is putting children into situations outside their comfort zone, seeing things they don’t ordinarily see. And when you’re done with your trip, don’t just return immediately to everyday life. Pause to summarize the experience and reflect on it.

The average American now reads only 19 minutes a day.
Become truly literate. Reading done well is not a passive activity like sitting in front of a screen. It requires attention, engagement and active questioning. Unfortunately, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American now reads only 19 minutes a day—and the younger you are, the less you read.

That our young people take so little interest in reading is sad, but not just for them. It also keeps them from growing into the sort of engaged, responsible citizens our republic needs. America’s founders understood literacy as a prerequisite for freedom and self-government, and we are paying the price today for failing to take that truth seriously.

The first step is to encourage them to become quantity readers. A friend introduced Melissa and me to a challenge called “The Century Club.” To be a member, you must read 100 books in a year. Quite a few people can read two solid books in a week, but knocking out almost two a week for an entire year is daunting.

With children, you have to start with light books to set them on the path to 100. But as they develop the habit of reading, you can add more challenging titles. Our children haven’t yet hit a hundred in a year, but it has become a healthy, behavior-shaping goal.

Quantity is important, but quality is the bigger, long-term goal. When our girls were not yet teens, we let them pick just over half of the books in their sequence. Now we have them propose a handful of books for us to select from, and if the books aren’t rigorous enough, we intervene more aggressively.

They’re pretty good about wanting to stretch themselves, but we’ve also steered them to especially important books that will help them not just to learn their place in the world but also to comprehend the riches of the traditions they’re inheriting.

What’s on that bookshelf? Other people’s broad headings will vary, but ours include God, the Greeks, Shakespeare, the American idea and markets.

These are just some of the ideas—the habits—that Melissa and I are developing with our children to ensure they won’t be paralyzed by the prospect of adulthood. Other parents will have their own ways of tackling the challenge, but it isn’t a duty that any of us can shirk. The country needs this broader conversation about reaching adulthood, especially in an era of lifelong job disruption.

The analogy that we’ve embraced for parental duty is teaching children to ride a bike. I’m a decidedly “no training wheels” guy. My method: pad them in coats and ski pants, set them off down a slightly declining street and run behind them straddling the back wheel. I gently knock them side to side in the shoulders as we move along, and at some point, they suddenly find their balance, mostly by accident. And then they can ride! It’s a life-changing moment.

Mr. Sasse, a former college president, is the junior U.S. senator from Nebraska. This essay is adapted from his new book, “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance,” which will be published on May 16 by St. Martin’s Press.

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Everything about 401(k) and IRA Withdrawals

Found this very helpful. But of course, it fits my demographic, now. Doesn’t it?
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By LAURA SAUNDERS   WSJ  Feb. 5, 2017 10:12 p.m. ET

If you are one of the millions of Americans with a retirement-savings account, three of the most important letters in your financial life might be these:

RMD.

They stand for required minimum distribution, which is something that the nation’s baby boomers now need to grapple with for the first time. It refers to an annual payout that savers must take from their retirement kitty at a certain point, as required by law.

The first of the boomers (people born mid-1946 through 1964) are just now hitting the age of 70½, when most will be required to pull money out of their 401(k)s and IRAs, but there are a dizzying array of exceptions and deadlines regarding these payouts. For example, some people who are still working at age 70½ don’t have to start taking RMDs from a 401(k).

College Finance Q&A
“I was surprised at how complicated the process was for me—and I’m an expert,” says Natalie Choate, a lawyer with Nutter, McClennen & Fish in Boston who turned 70½ last year.

Here are questions savers are asking about withdrawal requirements, with answers that draw on the expertise of Ms. Choate and another IRA specialist, CPA Ed Slott of Rockville Centre, N.Y.

Why is age 70½ important?

It marks the point when savers must begin taking required annual payouts from tax-sheltered retirement accounts such as individual retirement accounts, Simple IRAs and SEP IRAs. Such payouts are often required for 401(k), 403(b) and other workplace plans as well.

Why are withdrawals required?

Congress encouraged people to save for retirement by providing tax benefits for these accounts, but lawmakers don’t want to shelter these savings forever. So users often must withdraw at least a minimum amount every year after age 70½.

Do all retirement accounts have mandatory withdrawals after 70½?

Most, but not all. Under current law, there are no required withdrawals from Roth IRAs during the owner’s lifetime. Roth IRAs are different from many other tax-sheltered retirement accounts in that savers pay tax on the money they contribute. Then the assets can grow tax-free and be withdrawn tax-free.

There’s also a useful exception for employees who participate in workplace plans such as 401(k)s and are still working after age 70½. If these workers don’t own more than 5% of the company and their plan doesn’t mandate payouts at 70½, then they needn’t take required withdrawals from the plan until they retire.

In addition, if this plan accepts rollovers of the worker’s other IRAs or other 401(k)s, then those assets can typically be shielded from required payouts as well, until the worker retires. Otherwise, those accounts will have required withdrawals after 70½.

How large are mandatory withdrawals?

For most people they begin at about 3.6% of assets and rise with age—although they’re never large enough to empty the account. The withdrawal percentage is lower for savers whose spouse is more than 10 years younger and is the sole beneficiary of the IRA.

The annual percentage applies to an individual’s retirement assets as of the preceding Dec. 31. In other words, a required withdrawal for 2017 is based on assets as of Dec. 31, 2016. There’s no limit on withdrawals—for example, an IRA owner can pull out as much above the RMD amount as he or she wants.

How do I figure the minimum withdrawal?

IRA sponsors are required to compute this amount for savers, but they can make mistakes.

If you want to double-check, the Internal Revenue Service gives tables for making the calculation in Appendix B to Publication 590-B. In essence, savers take their relevant retirement assets and divide it by a life-expectancy factor—which changes slightly every year.

For example, say a 72-year-old single woman had $400,000 of IRA assets on Dec. 31, 2016. According to Table III, her factor is 25.6 years. So she divides $400,000 by 25.6 and learns that she must withdraw at least $15,625 in 2017.

What’s the deadline for taking required withdrawals?

The first payout is for the year a taxpayer turns 70½. This can be tricky, so we’ll use two presidents as an example. For someone like Donald Trump who was born during first half of 1946, the first withdrawal must be taken for 2016. But for someone like Bill Clinton born in the second half of 1946, the first payout is due for 2017.

For most years, the deadline for taking the mandatory withdrawal is Dec. 31. But there’s a grace period for the first payout, and the deadline is April 1 of the following year. Thus, someone born in the first half of 1946 must take the first payout by April 1, 2017, but for someone born in the last half of 1946, the initial deadline is April 1, 2018.

Caveat: Savers who postpone their first withdrawal until the April 1 deadline risk triggering a higher tax bracket, because they will have two payouts in the same year.

What’s the tax rate on withdrawals?

The withdrawal becomes part of the saver’s ordinary income and is taxed at those rates, not lower long-term capital-gains rates.

If the saver has after-tax money in a traditional IRA, then a portion of the required annual payout is not taxable. Figuring this portion can be troublesome and requires good records.

I have several IRAs and a 401(k) plan with required withdrawals. Must the payout for each account come from that account?

This issue causes much confusion. Each payout from a 401(k) plan must be figured separately and taken from that account.

With IRAs, however, the saver is free to take the required payout disproportionately. So he or she can take a large amount from one IRA, a little from another and nothing from others, as long as payments add up to the correct total. A good reason to take uneven payouts might be that one account has more cash than another, or the owner wants to drain a smaller IRA and close it.

But be sure to avoid another common mistake in this area, which is when one spouse takes the entire required payout for both spouses if each has IRAs. Instead, each partner must take such payouts from his or her own accounts.

Must I take withdrawals in cash?

No, it’s possible to take them “in kind”—that is, as stock shares or even a piece of real estate. For an IRA owner who doesn’t plan to spend the money, this move could help avoid commissions for selling and then repurchasing an investment. But it can be complicated, so allow extra time and find out if the sponsor charges fees.

The new “cost basis” in the asset, which is the starting point for measuring taxable gain, is the value on the date of the payout.

How should I time withdrawals?

This is a matter of individual choice. Some savers opt for periodic payments similar to a pension. Others take a lump sum late in the year to delay owing taxes. Retirees often owe quarterly estimated taxes, so consider whether to have taxes withheld.

If a saver dies without having taken the required payout for the year, there can be complications for the person or people who inherit the IRAs. There’s still a required withdrawal, but it goes on the heir’s tax return.

If I take more than the minimum payout one year, can I apply the excess to my minimum payout the next year?

No.

Required withdrawals are showering me with taxable income I don’t need. Are there ways to lower them?

Yes, within limits. Still-working employees older than 70½ may be able to forgo payouts until they retire (see discussion above).

In addition, charitably minded savers often benefit by using IRA assets to make their donations (see related article).

IRA owners can also exclude up to $125,000 of assets from the base for computing required payouts if they use the assets to buy “qualifying longevity annuity contracts,” or QLACs. These are IRS-approved deferred annuities that don’t pay out until the owner reaches age 85, and they help make sure savers won’t outlive their assets.
Finally, the IRA owner can convert IRA assets above the required annual payout to a Roth IRA, which doesn’t require withdrawals during the owner’s lifetime under current law.

The catch here is the cost: Assets converted to a Roth IRA are taxable, and doing a conversion can push the taxpayer into higher brackets. Whether the move is worth it depends on individual circumstances.

Many people who convert assets to Roth IRAs do so in increments over several years in order minimize the tax bill. Often a good time to do such conversions is in the years leading up to age 70½. If the IRA owner has retired and is in a lower tax bracket, the cost of Roth conversions will often be lower as well.

What if I miss a withdrawal or take less than the required amount?

The penalty is 50% of the amount not withdrawn. That’s stiff, but there’s often a remedy, says Mr. Slott. Just withdraw the shortfall right away, file Form 5329 with the IRS, and attach a short statement explaining why. You don’t need to pay the penalty to do this.

Often the IRS will forgive the penalty, he says, and filing the form also starts the clock running for the statute of limitations. “I’ve seen this work in virtually every case,” he says.

Ms. Saunders is a Wall Street Journal special writer in New York. Email her at laura.saunders@wsj.com.

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