Airbnb landlords are making a killing ... Want to be happier? Stay off Facebook ... Is your smart TV watching you? ... And more

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Airbnb landlords are making a killing

Around 75% of Airbnb hosts nationally are families sharing their primary residence, Chris Lehane, Airbnb's head of global policy, told Bloomberg. But many others seem to be landlords and professional managers who own and rent out multiple properties on the site. One landlord tells Bloomberg that he brings in around $500,000 per year in revenue from the homes he rents on Airbnb — nearly twice what he would make from year-round tenants.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Many cities, and neighbors in particular, are none too happy about Airbnb rentals. Austin is considering the suspension of short-term rental licenses. And Airbnb just recently defeated a ballot measure in San Francisco that would have limited short-term rentals to 75 days a year. But there's certainly an industry in Airbnb. "There's a huge spike in people asking us whether or not a property is 'Airbnb-able,' " Nathan Tobin, the head of growth marketing at Guesty, told Bloomberg. "Suddenly it's on the checklist of whether to buy a property."
November 24, 2015

Want to be happier? Stay off Facebook

The Happiness Research Institute recently studied the impact of Facebook on happiness. Researchers split up their study into two groups — those who could use Facebook and those who had to quit cold turkey. And 88% of those who were forced to quit Facebook reported feeling more satisfied with their lives. That group enjoyed life more, were less angry and more enthusiastic. The group that still used Facebook? They were 55% more likely to feel "stressed."

SECOND THOUGHTS: Why do people feel happier when they aren't on Facebook? Researchers suggest it's because Facebook highlights the best of everyone's life, which makes people focus on what everyone else has, notes Quartz.
November 23, 2015

Is your smart TV watching you?

Vizio's smart TVs track your viewing habits and share them with advertisers, according to a report from ProPublica. It's called "Smart Interactivity." In a statement, Vizio said customers' "non-personal identifiable information may be shared with select partners … to permit these companies to make, for example, better-informed decisions regarding content production, programming and advertising."

SECOND THOUGHTS: If that's a little too Orwellian for you, don't fret. The feature is turned on by default for the more than 10 million smart TVs that the company has sold. But, fortunately, you can opt out, according to ProPublica.
November 20, 2015

Why aren't women beating men in retirement savings?

It's not for lack of saving. On average, women save more than men in their retirement plans, they are just as aggressive and they invest in stocks, according to a new study by Vanguard. It comes down to the wage gap. Women simply make less, on average, than men do. Because men make more, it's easier for them to save more. Notably, that gap in retirement savings vanishes in some cases when income is taken into account, the study says.

SECOND THOUGHTS: This is a big reminder for women to negotiate pay when applying for jobs or promotions. The pay gap can have a big effect, long after you've stopped working, notes The Washington Post. You also have to make the most of your retirement account, regardless of your gender. Check out these 7 rules for a successful 401(k) retirement account.
November 17, 2015

Remote work is becoming a reality for more workers

Only around 4.5% of full-time workers telecommute every day, but a growing number of companies have gone fully remote, Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, tells CNN Money. That means no company office or headquarters, and staff members can work from anywhere. It's also a good move for companies — no bricks-and-mortar, no rent, no upkeep. The biggest upside for employees is the flexibility it affords.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Remote work isn't for everyone. Those who lack discipline, don't have a dedicated work space, feel isolated at home or simply can't focus working solo may not be cut out for flexible work, notes CNN Money.
November 16, 2015

Growing supplies of crude oil prices push gas prices lower

A surge in production has resulted in a stockpile of three billion barrels of oil around the world, or about a month worth of global production. That glut has pushed the average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline down to $2.19 a gallon according to the AAA motor club. That's 9 cents less than a month ago and 73 cents below the price a year ago. Russia, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states continue to pump more crude even as demand, especially in China, continues to slow.

November 15, 2015

Busy people are actually pretty unproductive

According to a study from David Meyer at the University of Michigan, switching what you're doing mid-task boosts the time it takes to finish both tasks by 25%. In fact, there's an actual bottleneck in the brain that prevents us from concentrating on two thingPreviews at once, notes psychologist and author Travis Brandberry in a post on LinkedIn. "We're so enamored with multitasking that we think we're getting more done, even though our brains aren't physically capable of this," he writes.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Slow it down. Multitasking, writes Brandberry, actually has the opposite effect of mindfulness meditation on your brain. Multitaskers have less brain density in their anterior cingulate cortex, which handles your ability to focus and concentrate.
November 14, 2015

Apple TV wins the streaming media player game

Quartz recently reviewed four streaming media players: Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku 4 and Amazon Fire TV. It's a 10,000-word review, but boiled down, the results point to the new Apple TV as the streaming media winner. Chromecast comes with trade-offs. Fire TV lacks an app store. And Roku is limited to TV and doesn't extend to tablets, smartphones and computers like Apple TV, notes Quartz.

SECOND THOUGHTS: It comes down to what you want and need out of a streaming media player. Apple TV offers the biggest and best overall experience. But if you simply want streaming TV from a lot of different outlets, Roku might be your best bet.
November 13, 2015

Is the new Tesla home battery worth the cost?

Tesla's new Powerwall battery — the one that can power your entire home — costs $3,000. The time it will take to pay for itself largely depends on where you live, notes CNN Money. If you're in the South and have solar panels, it could take you less than three years. If you're in the Pacific Northwest without solar panels, we're talking more like 16 years to make up the cost.

SECOND THOUGHTS: The battery still works without solar panels, and CNN Money notes that you can certainly play the "peak rate" game and charge it when your utility has "off-peak" hours, usually at night and in early morning. But the Powerwall is lot more cost effective with free energy from the sun. People who live in sunny states like California and Hawaii will certainly benefit the most from this tech if they have solar panels. Unfortunately, a medium set of solar panels runs about $15,000.
October 10, 2015

Income rich, asset poor are an increasing segment of the population

The median household income is around $55,000 in America. If you're making more, you're doing relatively well. But according to Quartz, even those making from $50,000 to $75,000 and from $75,000 to $100,000 (considered the upper middle class) are asset poor. In fact, 25% of upper-middle-class 40- to 55-year-olds have less than $17,500 in financial assets. That drops even more when retirement accounts are taken out of the picture. The average upper-middle-class household has just $12,200 in nonpension funds.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Retirement might seem far away, but the clock is ticking. Your last decade on the job is your last chance to get your finances in order before it's too late. Here's what to do as retirement nears.
October 10, 2015

College tuition and fee increases are slowing down

Tuition at four-year public colleges and universities was an average $9,410 this fall — about a 2.9% increase after inflation. That's a far cry from the 2009-2010 academic year, when prices climbed 9.5%, notes The Washington Post. We're no longer seeing sky-high tuition increases. Grants, scholarships and tax credits bring tuition down to around $4,000 for local students at public colleges. Families are taking on less debt. Students and their parents borrowed $106 billion in 2014-2015. That's down 6% from the previous year, notes The Post.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Even with the cost of college slowing, if you want your kid to have a shot at getting there, you'll have to start putting money aside as soon as possible. A state-sponsored, tax-free college savings plan might be just what you need. Here's how to decide if a 529 plan is right for your family.
October 8, 2015

The happier you are, the more productive you'll be in the workplace

Researchers at Britain's Social Market Foundation and the University of Warwick's Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy showed individuals a 10-minute comedy clip or provided them snacks and drinks. Then they followed up with questions to ensure the "happiness shocks" made people happy. After that came tasks to measure their productivity. They said productivity increased an average 12% and went as high as 20% for happy employees, reports Forbes.

SECOND THOUGHTS: More than anything, this should highlight the importance of employee happiness to managers. "Having scientific support for generating happiness-productivity cycles within the workforce should … help managers to justify work-practices aimed at boosting happiness on productivity grounds," wrote Dr. Daniel Sgroi, author of the report.
November 4, 2015

The lump-sum pension offer is becoming more common

If you're lucky enough to have a traditional defined-benefit pension plan, your employer might soon be offering you a lump-sum payout. As pension plans become more expensive for companies, this has become a popular option for employers, notes Bloomberg. About 40% to 60% of those offered lump sums take them, Matt McDaniel, lead of Mercer's U.S> defined-benefits risk practice tells Bloomberg. Yet employees face a potential reduction in retirement assets by taking a lump sum.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Whether you should take a lump-sum payment depends on your health, alternatives, investing expertise and cash needs, notes Bloomberg. But typically, you'll lose out by taking a lump-sum payment. You'll get more by taking monthly payments during the course of your retirement.
October 30, 2015

Your unlimited data plan isn't really unlimited

The death of the unlimited mobile data plan started in 2010, and those still holding such a plan with their carrier are a dying breed. Carriers are starting to push back against unlimited customers. Sprint and T-Mobile both cap unlimited data at 23 GB. AT&T caps it at 22 GB and has reportedly throttled some unlimited customers' download speeds to a snail-like pace. And Verizon just hiked the price of unlimited plans by $20 to $50, and those plans are only available to grandfathered-in unlimited data customers, notes CNN Money.

SECOND THOUGHTS: Unlimited plans are no longer unlimited. But 23 GB is still a lot of data to use in a month. And you can cut down on the data you do use by using Wi-Fi whenever possible. So if you still have an unlimited plan, there's no real reason to ditch it — for now.
October 29, 2015

Once again, the Federal Reserve says 'not yet' to higher rates

The nation’s bank-for-banks once again put off raising interest rates, extending a historic streak of 82 straight months — nearly seven years — in which it has held rates at or near record lows. Because the Fed’s rate-setting committee isn’t scheduled to meet again until December, the Fed’s inaction means at least another two months before yields on certificates of deposit, savings and money market accounts can begin their long climb back to a decent rate of return.

October 28, 2015

Men retire to spend more time with their wives. And the wives?

About 60% of men cite spending more time with their wives as one of the strongest motivations to retire, according to a new survey from Fidelity Investments and Stanford University's Center on Longevity. But only 43% of women say they want to spend more time with their hubbies. Bloomberg reports that 70% of them cited spending more time with their grandchildren as one of the strongest incentives to retire.

October 27, 2015

Arizona State University is offering a free MBA

Next fall, the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University is offering all incoming full-time MBA students a full ride. That's $0. It's an effort to diversify the student body by lowering financial barriers that might discourage students from applying, Amy Hillman, the Phoenix school's dean, tells USA Today College. Full-tuition scholarships will be worth between $54,000 and $90,000, depending on the student's residence status.

SECOND THOUGHTS: If you're thinking about a master's in business administration, apply to Arizona State. If you get in, it's free. For many, the cost of an MBA has trumped its worth. But that barrier is now gone at ASU. "Most people that are thinking about an MBA are thinking about their career and what the education can do for you," Hillman said. "But we think that some others will really start to see the MBA differently because we’re able to take tuition off the table."
October 26, 2015