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So far we've talked about the parts of retirement saving most under your control: the 401(k) and IRA. Now let's turn our attention to what, for most people, will be a major part of their retirement: Social Security.

Important: for the purposes of this discussion, I'll be talking about Social Security as it is currently configured. Obviously the republicans will be doing their best to dismantle it (as we've already seen this month with their attacks on Social Security Disability) but since I'm not interested in trying to predict the future, we'll assume the program stays more or less the same. Also, all numbers are current as of 2014; since this is now 2015, assume they're probably slightly out of date.

This diary discusses only the retirement part of Social Security, not the disability coverage.


Do you expect Social Security to provide more than half of your income in retirement?

38%168 votes
52%227 votes
1%5 votes
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| 436 votes | Vote | Results

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In part I of this series, I recommended putting your 401(k) savings into an index fund (or more likely, a target date fund that gradually shifts assets from an index fund into bonds). In part II, I ran the numbers for a couple who did just that.

As it turns out, however, an index fund isn't the optimal investing strategy. Then why do I recommend it? Because it's simple, close enough to optimal, and doesn't require any further effort on the part of the investor after it's set up, making panic moves less likely.

On the other hand, what if you're not prone to panicking, can follow instructions without giving in to the fear of lost profits, and can commit to spending an hour each year updating your funds? Follow me over the fold...


Do you hold the majority of your 401(k) in index funds (including bond funds) and/or bonds?

43%68 votes
10%17 votes
5%8 votes
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So you're convinced that you need to be funding your 401(k) (if not, go read Part I). But how much should you invest?

Well, that's an easy one. You should invest as much as possible.

Ok, that's not really what you meant. What you really want to know is, how much do you have to invest in order to have a comfortable retirement?

The answer to that question is a little more complicated.

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Every so often here, there's a diary discussing how terrible the 401(k) is. These diaries inevitably bring up some good points, such as how the average worker is underpaid (true) and financially illiterate (also true) that don't really have much to do with the suitability of the 401(k) as an investment tool. Unfortunately, they may discourage people from saving the money they need to be able to retire. Let's take a look at what the 401(k) can do for you, and how you can use it effectively.


Do you have a tax-advantaged retirement account (401k, IRA, etc)?

60%187 votes
23%72 votes
9%30 votes
2%7 votes
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| 307 votes | Vote | Results

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Just for fun, I went to and put in a household income of $30k (not my actual income) for two adults, both age 34, no children, and got plans starting at $24/month after the subsidy. Looking at silver plans (which tend to be the best option because of the cost-sharing) I see $123/month with a $2600 family deductible/OOP max, $10 drug copay, and $25 doctor copay (until the deductible is reached). I even checked to verify that my current doctor accepts the plan (which took a minute, since there were 789 in-network providers available) and that it covers hearing aids. This is with a $328/month tax credit, in Wisconsin.

I actually get insurance coverage through work - I just wanted to verify that the website is working before I pointed people to it - but it's nice to know that decent coverage is available at a reasonable cost.


I don't usually read a lot of autobiographies, but I'm a fan of Elizabeth Warren and I've heard good things about this book, so I decided to give it a try. I figured I'd start on it this weekend and finish it later in the week, but as soon as I got into it, I was hooked. The writing is very good and I found myself laughing out loud at times (such as when the author describes setting her kitchen on fire).

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In the wake of the unprecedented level of gerrymandering that followed the 2010 elections, as well as the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act and campaign finance laws, it has become very clear that a constitutional amendment may be required in order to preserve the right to vote in this country. While I have not read Stevens' previous book, I've heard good things about his writing, so I've been looking forward to reading his latest offering. It was announced early on that he would take on the second amendment, which guaranteed that the book would be controversial, but I was more interested in the other five amendments he intended to offer. Although Stevens spent nearly 35 years on the high court, he seems to feel that it has taken on excessive power, and here he advocates returning power to the people’s representatives in Congress.

After a quick review of the successful amendments thus far, Stevens proceeds to a discussion of the Supremacy Clause and whether the federal government can compel state officials to enforce federal law, given that the language specifically calls out judges (“and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby”); he recommends adding the words “and other public officials”, with the reasoning that often state officials are in the best position to enforce federal law. Stevens clearly considers this to be a clarification rather than a change, but one which would overturn past rulings of the court.

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Wed Nov 13, 2013 at 09:32 AM PST

Publishing ebooks, part II: Pricing

by wmspringer

Ebook prices are all over the map, from free into hundreds of dollars. For independent publishers, however, Amazon has set the standard: for the highest return, books shall be priced at between $2.99 and $9.99. How do you price your ebook?

This is the second diary in a series; I suggest starting with the first one.

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Since summer 2012, I've published three Kindle books on Amazon; they make enough to pay for a meal out once or twice a month. In October 2013, I had, by far, my best month ever, with 88 sales. This diary collects what I've learned about selling Kindle books.

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In early October 2012, things seemed to be going very well indeed for Mitt Romney. He faced an unpopular incumbent presiding over a still-lethargic economy. He had access to a staggering amount of money (his total spending surpassed the president’s by over a hundred million dollars), although he had limited control over the significant fraction of it that passed through the Romney-aligned Super PACs. Finally, he was in complete control of the first debate, coming out of Denver as the clear winner. Yet a few weeks later, he would lose the election by millions of votes, with the president claiming over 60% of the electoral college.

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Sun Sep 29, 2013 at 09:18 AM PDT

AMA about the Healthcare Marketplace

by wmspringer

While researching my latest book, I've spent a lot of time reading about the healthcare marketplace (aka the exchange). Surprisingly, even with the exchanges opening on Tuesday, it seems like most people still aren't sure exactly how they work.

Have a question? Post it here and I'll try to answer it.

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Mon Sep 23, 2013 at 06:03 AM PDT

Common Questions about the ACA

by wmspringer

Even though the healthcare exchanges are opening in just over a week, many people still don't know about them, and some people haven't even heard about the Affordable Care Act! Even for those who are more informed, however, things can be confusing. What follows are some questions and answers about how Obamacare works.

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