Money Messes

Q: I have a friend who graduated a few years ago, and I’m very worried about her finances. She doesn’t come from a family that knows much about money, but she’s been very successful herself. Now that she’s making good money, she doesn’t seem to know how to handle it. She’s confided in me that her credit is shot. Her retirement savings are nearly nonexistent, and she has invested them in some weird things: she owns a stake in some company her cousin runs, for instance, and she owns some weird collectible coin things (has she never heard of stocks and bonds?).

I want to sit her down and try to help her, but I’m not sure what to suggest or how to suggest it. Any tips?

A: Your friend is facing what is, unfortunately, a very common problem. Many Americans have saved too little for retirement: the average couple has saved only $5,000 combined. Many of us don’t own stocks, despite the fact that investments are the best way to build future wealth: 57% of Americans aren’t in the market. And many of us are in the kind of debt that can cause bad credit ratings, as evidenced by the incredible $1 trillion in credit card debt we hold as a nation.

 

But it’s not too late for your friend to get on the right track. She’s still young, makes good money, and has a friend in you who can gently guide her to the help she needs. Here’s what she should do.

 

First and foremost, your friend needs to get a handle on her debt and her credit situation. Credit experts say that good credit is built over time, while bad credit is easy to create quickly. High-interest short-term debt like credit card debt is bad news, so paying that off needs to be a priority. She should pay off her credit card entirely, and if that means cutting up the card and avoiding spending as she works to pay off past bad decisions, then so be it. There’s no good shortcut here, and she needs to free herself of debt, but debt experts may be able to help her negotiate or move the debt to a card with a lower interest rate while she does the hard work it takes to solve the core issue.

 

Once she’s solvent again, she should of course try to save more for retirement. Having unusual investments isn’t a big deal, but she does need some safer ones, too. Stocks in large companies (so-called “blue chip” stocks), mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that track large groups of stocks at once, bonds, and even gold bullion (which some economists consider more recession-proof than other securities) are all good places to start. A financial adviser can help her with this.

 

As for how to deliver this advice, you’ll want to be careful! Nobody likes to be told embarrassing truths. Make sure that it’s clear that you’re worrying about her and are not eager to lecture her. Suggest that she speak to experts (and don’t act like you think that you’re one yourself). Sympathize with her if she offers excuses, but don’t back down from urging her to seek help and rectify her financial situation: it could really help her out in the long run.

 

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” — Warren Buffett


The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.

Outbreak

Outbreak

Q: I read about an outbreak of mumps in colleges. What more do I need to know about this?

A: Outbreaks of contagious diseases occur from time to time, and recently mumps has been making the rounds. Teachers, parents and students should be concerned, since catching it can keep you out of class, and in severe cases, in the hospital. Fortunately, there are precautions that you can take to keep the risk of infection at safe levels.

Mumps is a virus and spreads through close personal contact and fluid exchange and causes a disease that can be quite severe. Usually, it begins with a couple of days of fever, tiredness, muscle pain, headaches, and loss of appetite, followed by a swelling of the salivary glands. These flu-like symptoms generally arrive around two weeks after you have been infected. This is the high-risk period where the virus can be passed on to others.

Antibiotics are completely ineffective against viruses. Treatment is self-administered. A lot of rest can alleviate the fatigue, and pharmacy pain killers can reduce the headaches and fever. Dehydration is another symptom, so drinking plenty of fluids is recommended. If your glands are swollen, you should apply an ice pack. A change in diet could also reduce symptoms. Eat softer foods such as soups and yoghurt and avoid acidic food and drink.

The disease usually takes around a fortnight to run its course, and you should start to feel better after ten days or so. Mumps is something most people only get once, and your immune system will protect you from further outbreaks unless you have already been vaccinated.

Prevention is always better than the cure, so if you are worried about an outbreak around campus, there are a few things to be aware of. Mumps can be prevented if you have had the vaccine when you were a baby. To find out, you can visit Student Health Services (SHS) for a test. You will need to have had two doses of the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine before your first birthday. SHS is there to help and advise you. There are no cases for legal liability with a disease outbreak such as this one.

The Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine is usually administered to children before they go to school, with the first shot at between 12 and 15 months and the second between 4 and 6 years. Research indicates that the vaccine protects 85% of people from the disease.

Your parents should also have access to your medical records which will show if you have received the vaccination. You can schedule an appointment to get the jabs if you have not already had them as a child.

If you are unsure of whether or not you have the illness, you should wash your hands frequently, avoid close contact with other students, and use gloves if you need to deal with bodily fluids. Respiratory etiquette is also vital to delay the spread of the disease. Always cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, whether you have the virus or not. The contagion is highly infectious for up to two weeks before any symptoms show.

Mumps is unpleasant but not life-threatening. Forewarned is forearmed.

Universal vaccination may well be the greatest success story in medical history… Michael Specter

Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector.


The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.

Beers and Backups

Q: We had a party at my place last weekend, and it almost got me in some very serious problem academically. I’m not talking about disciplinary stuff–I’m talking about my schoolwork itself. It’s all on my laptop, which almost didn’t survive the night. Yes, I know I should have been more careful when I set up for the party, but in the end I left my laptop out in my room, where people were tossing their bags and coats. It wasn’t really supposed to be a big drinking spot, but people were wandering back there with their drinks anyway, and someone managed to spill beer on my laptop. Luckily, a friend told me right away. I wrapped it up in paper towels, dunked it in rice, the whole nine yards–I might have said a prayer or two, too. In the end, it started up fine and all of my hard work–including really important stuff for classes–was intact. But it was a scary moment, because I didn’t have anything backed up! I want to start creating some backups, but I’m not sure I trust “the cloud” (I don’t even understand how it works, really), and I don’t know the first thing about any of this. Help!

 

A: So you’re ready to back up your computer files–a smart decision! Only 8% of us back up our data daily, and a full 25% never do so at all. But as you discovered, it only takes one scary incident to remind us of the importance of having all our key information and hard work in more than one place!

 

There are two basic ways to back up your data: on a storage system that you own, or on a storage system that somebody else owns. Let’s start with the first one. When you back up your smartphone to your computer, the files of your smartphone are being stored in your computer–ready to be recovered if you need them later on. In a similar way, you can use an external hard drive to back up your entire computer. External hard drives are essentially just regular hard drives that have been put in cases and adapted to connect to your computer’s USB port. Many of them come pre-loaded with programs designed to make the back-up process easy. You can leave them plugged in regularly or just connect them periodically when it’s time to back up your data.

 

The other major backup option is a cloud backup. The “cloud” may seem kind of vague and confusing, but it’s actually just more storage–albeit storage that somebody else is holding onto. When you put something in the cloud, you use the internet to store it on a faraway storage device. Companies do this all the time, the experts at Aligned Data Centers tell us–it takes a pretty big company to run its own data centers, and until then, they back up their files and store their data just as you and I do: on someone else’s system. Cloud storage has really caught on on the consumer side, with 1,754 million of us using cloud storage and 2,309 million expected to do so by 2020.

 

Of course, all of this advice almost came to you a bit too late! For anyone in that boat, it’s important to note that a damaged computer–even one soaked in beer–may not be the end of your data. Data recovery experts tell us that data can sometimes be saved even from wet hard drives. Still, it’s always best to skip the heart attack and just back up your data!

 

“You can never have too much backup.” — Terry Pratchett

 

Written by John Regan, former Director of Sales, for equity research.


The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.

Ask the Experts: Facing Fear as a Family

Q: My sister just had a premature baby. Her little boy has to wear a mask on his face to breathe, and he hasn’t been able to leave the hospital yet. My sister is upset, of course, and so are my parents. Meanwhile, I’m still here at school and feeling like the most useless person in the world. I want to help my sister and my family in any way I can, but I don’t know what I could do that would make a difference to anyone right now. They’re out of state, so I can’t visit easily. I don’t even know much about the kid’s condition other than that everyone is scared, and I don’t want to ask my sister right now. I’m worried and I feel awful, and I just don’t know what to do. Is there anything I could do to help?

 

A: Your family’s situation sounds very tough indeed. Premature birth is always serious. It sounds like what your nephew is wearing is a CPAP machine, which uses mild air pressure to air and regulate breathing, your family and your sister and nephews would be the ones who know for sure. Your choice to avoid asking your sister seems wise–she is dealing with the health of her child constantly (as well as her own health–OB-GYNs suggest postpartum checkups), and when she can afford to get away from doctors and hospitals, she may not want to spend that time talking more about the same frightening issues. But since the worry is clearly weighing about you, you may want to speak to your parents and learn more about the situation. Remember, too, that you are not alone in this: 1 in 10 infants in the United States is born preterm.

 

While it’s not necessarily a good idea to ask your sister about the medical details, it is absolutely a good idea to reach out to her and remind her that you are thinking of her and her family. As for what you should say when you call, experts have plenty of advice to share: those who have been through what your sister is going through often recommend saying “congratulations,” a word that far too few parents in this situation get to hear. Your sister is a new parent, and while she’s not going to be in any mood to celebrate, a subdued “congratulations” recognizes the momentous moments and the good parts of this intense experience.

 

Recommendations from experts also frequently include helping with cooking and household chores, two things that easily fall by the wayside in the frantic and frightening days following a preterm birth. But you mentioned that you’re far from your family right now, so what can you do? One option is to send gift cards or order take-out for your sister and family (call ahead so they’re not surprised by the delivery person, and don’t forget to pay the whole bill, including the tip, ahead of time). You may even be able to call in and cover things like your sister’s hospital parking fees. Gestures like this can mean a lot.

 

This is a difficult time for your sister, your family, and yourself, but remember that the overwhelming majority of infants born preterm survive and thrive. Support your sister and stay in contact with your parents, and your family will come through this stronger than ever.

 

“I sustain myself with the love of family.” – Maya Angelou

 

Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector.


The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.

Ask the Experts: Electrical Excess

Q: I live off-campus with a group of my friends, and none of is exactly rolling in the dough. We’re just typical college students without much cash, so we rent a cheap place and drink cheap beer and eat cheap noodles–you know, college kid stuff. But our electrical bill does not fit the pattern at all. It’s like a mansion’s electrical bill, and we can’t figure out how we’re using so much power. We have appliances and stuff, sure, but we try to be good about not leaving lights on and things like that. How can we save money on electricity?

A:

Expert electricians tell us that it is possible for electrical problems like faulty wiring to drive up your electrical bill. But they caution that, in most cases, it’s not the system: it’s the people using it. Take a second look at your habits in your space, and pay careful attention to things like appliances, your hobbies (do they use electricity?), and the use of things like power tools. If you’re still baffled, by all means, call an electrician. In fact, electricians say you should make sure that they’re regular visitors in your space, checking for issues and solving small problems before they become truly dangerous.

 

Assuming that you don’t dig up any old or faulty wiring to blame for your high bills, though, it may be time for you to take a look at your space’s energy efficiency. We Americans are not known for our energy efficiency: the average American uses 313 million Btu of energy, considerably more than the 75 million Btu that the average person from outside the States uses.

 

As a renter, you may or may not be able to get new appliances for your space. But if you can convince your landlord to make some upgrades, you could reap some serious savings. If every home in America had an energy-efficient furnace, for instance, we’d save a collective $171 million.

 

Smaller parts of your electrical system matter, too. Energy-efficient light bulbs can save you money on your bills and also don’t need to be replaced as often. Using the sleep mode on your computers, gaming systems, and other electronics will also make a big impact on your electrical bill.

 

And, of course, you and your roommates won’t be the only ones benefitting from the energy-efficient changes that you make. Across the United States, about 40% of our national energy consumption is going towards generating electricity. That means that a huge part of your personal environmental footprint comes down to how you use electricity. A few smart choices could both save you money and make the planet a little healthier for all of us.

 

“Electricity is really just organized lightning” – George Carlin

 

Written by Martin J. Young, former correspondent of Asia Times.


The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.