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Life after work still needs goals

My wife and I have found that playing "high point-low point" at the end of each day is good for laughs. The object is to agree upon the best part about the day and the worst part about the day.

Retirement should be one extended high point. To live a self-indulgent, eccentric personal lifestyle should be the just deserts for a lifetime of hard work and accomplishments.

Statistics illustrate war on middle class

President Bush recently addressed a dinner group of wealthy campaign contributors by congratulating them as the "haves" and the "have mores."

The New York Times on Nov. 19 pointed out that the top 1 percent of income earners in 2004 had an average income of $940,441 -- up 57 percent from 1990. And that was after adjusting for inflation.

The bottom 90 percent, with an average income of $28,355, has seen a 2 percent inflation-adjusted increase in income during the same 14-year period.

Health care has gone crazy

A good friend mentioned the other day that an operation to repair the rotator cuff in his shoulder cost about $25,000, which was paid mostly by Blue Cross.

Then Blue Cross sent him another check for $9,000. He called to ask if there was some mistake, and was told, "No, you're covered by two policies, so you actually make money on this operation."

Higher taxes are on their way

The Wall Street Journal headline that caught my eye was "Prospect of political gridlock ignites rally."

While the "borrow-and-spend" Republicans may have been checkmated by the "tax-and-spend" Democrats, I think the gridlock started awhile ago, when the government effectively ran out of money.

Take the 700-mile border fence, for example. Although Congress voted for it with much fanfare recently, it is clear that no money has been allocated for it and probably never will.

Basics are key for financial tips

This month marks the end of another year for this column -- a total of 364 weekly diatribes stretching back over the past seven years. And no, I don't use a ghostwriter. Instead, I have a process.

I read a lot because I enjoy the world of finance. Much of my entertainment comes from the fact that truth is stranger than fiction in the world of commerce, and more often than not, we could never dream up what we get to witness. This includes both unlikely successes such as YouTube and abject failures like Enron.

Employees can have say in 401(k)

Workers of the world, unite! This could be the rallying call for employees who may need to seize control of their 401(k) plans.

A growing phenomenon in the world of ballooning 401(k) account balances is the employees' sudden interest in the quality of the investments in their plan.

Considering the new research on the wisdom of crowds, we can conclude that the consensus of a group of employees with larger account balances should be the final arbiter of what plan features and investments best serve their fellow associates.

Defense budget fraught with waste

Typical of what may stand between us and our Social Security benefits is the F-22 Raptor fighter plane and the dysfunctional political process that inflicts these horrendous costs upon us.

The Raptor may not be the worst decision made by politicians subservient to campaign contributors, but it has to rank up there with the greatest of the Golden Fleece Awardees. At least John McCain made an unsuccessful bid to stop it.

Government debt threatens investing

Let's face it. The Bay Area is absolutely booming. I see it among my client base where everyone is running on all cylinders, and business managers tell me they are unable to hire the additional help they need.

I have found that a help-wanted ad on the Internet or in the papers generates no worthwhile responses. Apparently, everyone who wants to work is as happy as a clam at his or her current job. Please call me if you're not.

Index funds make investment sense

"You saw it first at Bloomingdale's!" is the great slogan of the New York City retailer that just opened shop in San Francisco. In the same spirit, here's your first glimpse of a cogent explanation of dividend-based index funds. You saw it first in the Contra Costa Times.

Index funds were invented by economics professors at Stanford who threw darts at the Wall Street Journal and proved that if you bought stocks randomly and didn't pay to have them managed you would beat 85 percent of all other efforts to manage money.

A second look at 'The Number's

"The number" -- the amount of money needed to provide a comfortable retirement -- deserves to be revisited after my previous column on the subject several weeks ago. I said at the time that the number was "whatever the wife says it needs to be."

In a new book, "The Female Brain," author Louann Brizendine points out that a woman's brain is "marinated in hormones" that presumably make women talk more, feel more, understand more and intuit more.

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