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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.

Public should know HP secrets

The Hewlett-Packard obsession with secrecy prompted me to consider one of the worst abuses in corporate America that is picking up steam once again. It is the practice of management teams taking their public companies private.

When this happens, we stock and mutual fund investors are simply being ripped off by the managers and their co-conspirators, the financial community. There should be a law against it, and there is if you take literally the definition of fiduciary responsibility as it applies to corporate directors representing us.

Fees chip away at 401(k) funds

"The king has no clothes" is the best way to describe the army of investment professionals who flood our mailboxes with newsletter junk mail extolling their expertise as investment gurus.

For those of us curious about what these people have actually achieved, we can go to Mark Hulbert, who recently celebrated his 25th year ranking them.

Questions lead to unwanted answers

My summer vacation in Maine offers an opportunity to schmooze with young professionals that are leading exciting lives. Much of what I learned was instructive but also depressing.

First up was a young commodity trader in his 30s who has been based in Singapore for almost 10 years. We talked about what the United States looks like from halfway around the world, and the view was not good.

What would Warren drive?

For the average retired person who drives about 12,000 miles a year, one of these new gas/electric hybrid cars will save roughly $700 a year in gasoline costs. For that savings, you can expect to spend about $3,500 more for the hybrid compared with a conventional car.

So, how does the average person do the math to evaluate this as an investment? They figure out that it takes five years to reach break-even and recover in gas savings the extra money spent on the hybrid. So they opt for the conventional gas-only car.

Ebber's legacy still haunts MCI

Bernie Ebbers lost the appeal to his conviction and will now spend 25 years behind bars.

That's reassuring except that, in my experience, his ghost lives on at MCI (formerly WorldCom). The tentacles of those evildoers have reached all the way to the cul-de-sac in Lafayette where I happen to live. To me, it feels like we've been hit by something coming from the Aryan Brotherhood -- those convicts who manage to run things like dog-breeding businesses from inside prison walls.

Extra insurance can help health

So there I was, enjoying the colonoscopy I had been putting off for about seven years (until age 62). Any enjoyment, however, came from knowing that I was finally getting something accomplished that was foolish to postpone -- especially for a hypochondriac like me.

My concerns about the competence of my practitioners were assuaged when my foreign-born physician assured me that his associates were "the crop of the cream." I figured out what he meant, and he was right. They were excellent.

A 'number' of ways to plan retirement

My analytical golfing buddy, Howard Fuchs, was prompted to wonder what might be a reasonably sized nest egg for a comfortable retirement. The same question has become the obsession of the popular press, and the answer has now entered the lexicon as "The Number." After careful study and tedious calculations, Howard concluded that "The Number" is whatever your wife has decided it needs to be.

Immigration plan waste of money

<p>A recent experience in the trenches of the retirement plan business reminded me of the roach motel ("You can check in, but you can't check out"). In this case, it had to do with the sticky wicket of a company that employed some illegal immigrants.</p><p>We performed our usual educational exercise of explaining to employees why a 401(k) was such a powerful way to accumulate value and gain a level of financial gratification.

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