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    Tesla Introduces Self-Driving Features With Software Upgrade
    David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesElon Musk, chairman and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors, speaks Wednesdayat the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. Tesla began rolling out the first version of 'autopilot' features to owners of its all-electric Model S sedan Thursday.
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the world's top brand in electric vehicles rolling out a compelling new feature and an NFL star taking the world's largest soda distributor and a cereal giant to task.

    Netflix (NFLX) -- Loser

    Shares of the leading premium video service slumped Thursday after it posted uninspiring quarterly results. Revenue and earnings fell just short of analyst expectations, and when your stock has more than doubled this year, you can't afford to not be perfect.

    The most surprising nugget in Netflix's report was that it added just 880,000 more domestic streaming subscribers than it lost during the period, making this Netflix's worst showing on that front in more than a year. Netflix blamed part of the slowdown on newly distributed chip credit cards that resulted in folks unable to automatically renew their monthly subscriptions, resulting in a spike in involuntary churn. Some skeptical Wall Street pros aren't buying it.

    Tesla Motors (TSLA) -- Winner

    We are getting closer to a future of self-driving cars. Tesla vehicles received a software update this week that allows the car to kick into Autopilot mode. Similar to the airplane feature bearing the same name, the mode enables drivers on steady-moving freeways to let Tesla's sensor-driven computer take control. It respects the space around it, and a simple tap of the turn signal results in a lane change at the next viable opportunity.

    Tesla's Model S has won critical raves for years as a car. It's ironic that a car that is reportedly so fun to drive is also the one leading the way to driving itself. Drivers still need to take control on slow-moving roads and city streets, but Tesla says that the truly autonomous car is now just a couple of years away.

    Coca-Cola (KO) and Kellogg (K) -- Losers

    The NFL's leading quarterback is speaking his mind on sugar consumption, and it's not what beverage giant Coca-Cola and cereal star Kellogg want to hear. Tom Brady got a bit animated in an appearance on a Boston sports radio show. He said that Coke was "poison for kids" and that all of the money that Coca-Cola spends on marketing amounts to quackery.

    He also took a bite out of Kellogg, blaming Frosted Flakes as one of the many reasons for this country's obesity problem.

    Coca-Cola and Kellogg fought back, defending their products. It's true that Brady's reputation may be shaky after his alleged involvement in the Deflategate scandal involving underinflated footballs, but he's still one of the league's biggest stars. When he speaks, folks -- and particularly impressionable children -- listen.

    Playboy -- Winner

    In a surprising move, Playboy announced that it would no longer publish naked pictures of women in its magazine. Playboy will rely more on its articles than pictorials and centerfolds come next year, and going the PG-13 route does have it benefits.

    Playboy realizes that it can't compete with free online porn. Access to titillation is too easy in this digital age, and even an iconic brand like Playboy hasn't been immune.

    Cleaning things up will be a gamble, but it's one that will probably result in a broader range of advertisers and possibly even its readership. It's the right call. Playboy had just better hope that it didn't wait too long to do this.

    Twitter (TWTR) -- Loser

    If "pink slips" were a trending hashtag this week, it's probably because Twitter is cutting some of its employees loose. The social media giant dismissed more than 300 of its workers Tuesday. One can argue that layoffs are a natural part of the corporate cycle, but the trimming process has a funny way of drying up morale.

    It's not just some employees who are packing their things and moving on. JMP Securities downgraded the stock. Concerns about slowing usage growth -- and not the layoffs -- are at the heart of JMP's lukewarm opinion on Twitter as an investment.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix, Tesla Motors, and Twitter. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola, short January 2016 $43 calls on Coca-Cola and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    Home-Run Savings at the Stadium
    No matter which sport or teams you're rooting for, going to the big game can mean big costs. Luckily, there are a few ways to go to the stadium without forfeiting your savings.

    First, buying food at the game can quickly eat up your cash. Most concession items are overpriced, and believe it or not, some stadiums will actually let you bring your own food. Before you go, be sure to check your team's policy.

    Next, if driving to the game is your only option, don't park your car at the stadium. Instead, use the ParkMe app to type in the name of your arena and you'll find a detailed map of all the cheaper parking lots in the area. By drafting a game plan, you'll get to the field without getting ripped off.

    Finally, avoid the pricey merchandise from stadium stores at all costs. Chances are you can buy comparable jerseys and memorabilia online or from a local retail store at a fraction of the price.

    Before you head to the big game, remember these tips. You'll see that with a little planning, you can score a home run at the game.

    View Poll


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    Holiday Faster Delivery
    Ted S. Warren/APA worker places an item in a box for shipment during a media tour of the new fulfillment center in DuPont, Wash.

    BETHELEHEM, Pa. -- Christmas won't come early this year, but the gifts might.

    Just in time for the winter holiday shopping season, Amazon (AMZN), Walmart (WMT), Macy's (M) and other retailers are working behind the scenes to make sure they can deliver online orders to shoppers faster.

    Retailers are building bigger warehouses -- some the size of 20 football fields -- to handle shipments. They're also sending orders to shoppers directly from their stores and using sophisticated software that tells them the quickest, cheapest way to get orders shipped. And Amazon is cutting the time it takes to process an order from hours to minutes by using robots to pull items for shipment in its warehouses.

    It's a race for time by retailers as more people shop online. U.S. online sales are expected to increase 12 percent to $371 billion this year, accounting for 10 percent of overall retail sales, says Forrester Research. But as online shopping grows, so does the impatience of shoppers who want their orders fast.

    Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are trying to catch up to, which set the standard for speed with its two-day delivery for members of its Prime loyalty program who pay $99 a year. But even Amazon feels pressure to please customers who have little tolerance for lengthy delivery waits.

    "I would like to plan ahead, but I've been able to wait until the last minute to get things done," said Keri Early, a Clyde, Illinois, resident who orders from Amazon frequently.

    For many retailers, the goal to meet the demands of shoppers like Early for speedy service is to make two-day delivery standard. That's half the average for standard delivery for the top 40 online retailers, according to data company StellaService. But most are stopping short of guaranteeing customers faster deliveries.

    Walmart says it aims to get packages to shoppers who get standard shipping within two days for a majority of the U.S. this holiday season. The retailer now uses 83 of its more than 4,500 U.S. stores to ship to customers.

    The world's largest retailer also is spending $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion in online investments this year and $1.1 billion next year. That's up from last year's $1 billion. The investments are squeezing profit: Walmart stock tumbled Wednesday after it warned earnings would be down as much as 12 percent next year in part because of its heavy spending on e-commerce.

    Still, Walmart is spending to stay competitive with online rivals. Since last year, the world's largest retailer has opened five warehouses across the country in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Fort Worth, Texas, Plainfield, Indiana, and Atlanta to handle online orders. Two more are opening in Florida next year.

    The new warehouses each will ship hundreds of thousands of orders daily, four to five times its dozens of existing smaller warehouses. Each new warehouse has about a million items, five times the network of older warehouses. That will enable Walmart to offer more consolidated orders arriving in fewer boxes.

    More Efficient, Faster

    "This is going to allow us to be more efficient, to do it faster, to do it cheaper and be more accurate with the orders, which is important with the customers," said Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart's U.S. business.

    One of Walmart's two Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, warehouses opened in July and is considered the retailer's crown jewel. It has two towers with four stories of the fastest moving items of the season that can be retrieved through a computerized chute. For example, for the holidays, that would include iPads and swimsuits for the summer

    "By mid-November, this place will be humming," said Justen Traweek, Walmart's vice president of e-commerce operations and fulfillment.

    Other retailers also have built new warehouses to meet demand:
    • Home Depot (HD) opened its third and largest warehouse in Troy, Ohio, in September to handle online orders. The retailer plans to open two others early next year. Together, these warehouses will allow Home Depot to ship to 90 percent of shoppers within two days.
    • Macy's new facility, which recently opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, will enable the retailer to send 90 percent of packages in central western states within two days. By year's end, Macy's says the chain will be able to deliver packages within two days overall, faster than its standard of three to six days.
    • Target (TGT) opened two new warehouses this year. It also is now shipping products from 462 of its 1,800 stores, up from 150 a year ago. Target said online shoppers are likely to get deliveries within two days if the product is delivered from the store, compared with four days from the warehouse.
    • Target also launched a program that enables it to let shoppers know a precise delivery date. That's instead of offering a wide delivery window of four to six days, for example.
    • Nordstrom (JWN) opened a third warehouse in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, to handle online orders. That will eventually allow the chain to deliver orders to half of its customers in two days.
    "You know our friends in Seattle continue to set the standard," Mike Koppel, Nordstrom's chief financial officer, told investors in September, referring to Amazon. "In order to be an exemplar in that, you're going to have to invest in that because that's what people are going to expect."

    For its part, Amazon, which has 50 U.S. warehouses that typically house millions of products, is building a facility in Kent, Washington that will house 20 percent more items.

    Amazon also acquired Boston-based robotics company Kiva in 2012 for $775 million. The robots pull shelves of goods out of storage areas and bring them to workers. Amazon now has more than 30,000 robots in 13 warehouses.

    "We're using software and algorithms to make decisions rather than people, which we think is more efficient and scales better and will be more accurate," Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said in July.


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    Sunset Surfer
    Getty Images
    By Ari Cetron

    It's not enough that they get to surf and drink Mai Tais, people living in Hawaii also lead the nation in financial well-being, according to a study published by Gallup.

    Gallup, along with Healthways, looked at state-by-state surveys conducted daily throughout 2014. The surveys questioned people about their ability to afford food and health care, whether they could afford to do what they'd like to do, and about their feelings related to their finances. Based on the responses, the researchers rated financial well-being on a scale from 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest.

    The national average for 2014, the first year such a study has been conducted, was 59.7. As noted, Hawaii topped the list with a 66. Alaska was second with a 65.1, and North Dakota third with 64.7.

    At the bottom was Mississippi, with a score of 56.1. Other low-scorers were Tennessee at 57.5 and Georgia at 57.8. See a pattern there? It continues: The bottom 10 states were all in the South. Eight of the top 10 were contiguous states in the Mountain West and Midwest, from Wisconsin to Montana, and south as far as Nebraska.

    Gallup notes that differences in income, employment and age may account for the regional pattern.

    Gallup notes that about half of Americans say they are now feeling better about their finances, an improvement from the 43 percent who said that just two years ago.

    Check out more details on the well-being rankings.

    Where did your state rank? Does it match your sense of financial well-being? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!

    Win the Money Game by Avoiding Financial Fouls


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    gm ignition switch recall suv pickup
    Molly Riley/AP
    DETROIT -- General Motors Co. (GM) has another ignition switch problem that can cause engines to stall, but this time it was discovered before anyone got hurt.

    The automaker is recalling about 3,300 big pickup trucks and SUVs mainly in North America to fix the ignitions, which can get stuck in the "start" position and slip into "accessory" if jostled. That causes engines to shut off and disables power steering, power brakes and possibly the air bags.

    The problem is similar to one last year in older GM small cars that cost the company billions and brought an admission that engineers and others knew about the trouble but didn't act to recall the cars for a decade. GM recalled 2.6 million cars worldwide such as the Chevrolet Cobalt to fix the faulty switches, which are responsible for crashes that caused 169 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

    This time, an employee who owned one of the trucks had the problem and informed higher-ups through GM's new "Speak Up For Safety" program, which rewards workers for reporting safety issues, spokesman Alan Adler said. The company moved quickly to recall the trucks, keeping the number relatively small, Adler said. GM had five reports of engines shutting off but no crashes or injuries were reported, he said.

    The recall covers 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra light-duty pickups, as well 2015 heavy-duty pickups and the 2015 Chevy Suburban and Tahoe SUVs.

    The trucks have ignition lock gears with an outer diameter that is larger than specifications, making them difficult to turn. The keys can get stuck in the "start" position at high interior temperatures, and if driven that way, it could slip into "accessory" if jostled or the cabin temperature cools, GM said in a statement issued Friday.

    While the truck problem is similar to the Cobalt, Adler says the cause is different. The Cobalt switches didn't have enough resistance to keep from slipping out of the run position.

    Dealers will replace the ignition lock housing, the GM statement said.


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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended higher Friday, notching a third week of gains, lifted by a jump in General Electric shares and upbeat consumer sentiment data.

    The S&P 500's three weeks of gains marked its longest winning streak since May, extending a rebound from the market's August sell-off.

    GE (GE) shares rose 3.4 percent to $29.98, hitting their highest level in seven years, after the company reported better-than-expected earnings. The stock was among the biggest boosts to the S&P 500 and Dow.

    Mattel (MAT) jumped 6 percent to $23.89 and was the biggest percentage gainer in the S&P 500, even after its sales missed estimates.

    Consumer sentiment data helped. The University of Michigan's preliminary index on consumer sentiment rebounded strongly in early October, suggesting that the economic recovery remained on track.

    "We're in a window right now of roughly between 2,000 and 2,050 [for the S&P] that is fairly important for the market. That's the point at which the market broke down in August. If we can hold above 2,000, that would be good thing," said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

    Also, he said, "we're in the better part of the year from a seasonal perspective. Certainty with the selloff that we've had in the third quarter, it sets up for potentially a good fourth quarter."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 74.22 points, or 0.4 percent, to 17,215.97, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 9.25 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,033.11 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 16.59 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,886.69.

    For the week, the Dow rose 0.8 percent, also registering a third week of gains, while the S&P 500 was up 0.9 percent and the Nasdaq gained 1.2 percent.

    Third Quarter Earnings

    Forecasts for S&P 500 earnings improved slightly as more companies reported results. Third-quarter earnings are now expected to have fallen 3.9 percent, compared with Monday's forecast for a decline of 4.8 percent, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    On the down side, Honeywell (HON) fell 1.5 percent to $97.03 even though it also beat profit estimates. Industrial tool-maker Grainger (GWW) slumped 6.3 percent to $207.65 after results.

    Other domestic data released Friday showed a lackluster industrial production picture, with industrial production shrinking for the second month in a row in September, in line with expectations.

    The Federal Reserve, which kept rates at near-zero levels at its September meeting, is waiting for signs of stabilizing inflation and sustained economic recovery before it pulls the trigger on a rate hike.

    Twitter (TWTR) rose 4.8 percent to $31.15 after Bloomberg reported that former Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer owns a 4 percent stake in the company.

    Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,829 to 1,225, for a 1.49-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,428 issues fell and 1,330 advanced for a 1.07-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 21 new 52-week highs and 4 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 56 new highs and 25 new lows.

    About 6.6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 7.5 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    -Abhiram Nandakuma contributed reporting from Bangalore, India.

    What to watch Monday:
    • The National Association of Home Builders releases its housing market index for October at 10 a.m. Eastern time
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Halliburton (HAL)
    • Hasbro (HAS)
    • IBM (IBM)
    • Morgan Stanley (MS)
    • Six Flags Entertainment (SIX)
    • Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX)


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    Home Sales
    Richard Vogel/APIf you decide to hold an open house, make sure to promote it online and with signs to draw in buyers.
    By Teresa Mears

    Despite all the changes technology has made in how houses are bought and sold, one standard feature of the process remains: the Sunday open house.

    Shortly after a house goes on the market, the listing agent will set aside a Sunday afternoon to welcome prospective buyers (plus nosy neighbors) to see the house at its best.

    It's very, very important you have open houses, especially the first few weeks when [the home is] on the market.

    But has the open house gone the way of the landline and outlived its usefulness? It depends whom you ask. Some agents believe modern life has rendered open houses unnecessary, while others believe they are more important than ever.

    "It's very, very important you have open houses, especially the first few weeks when [the home is] on the market," says Steven Aaron, head of the Steven Aaron Realtor Group at Keller Williams Beverly Hills. "It makes it convenient for the buyers to come and see the house without an appointment."

    Craig McClelland, COO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers in Atlanta, agrees about the importance of open houses.

    "I think it's a great way to expose the house to people who are driving around," McClelland says. "People want that instant gratification. ... People want to see it now."

    But some agents say that, far from finding open houses convenient, today's buyers want to see homes on their own schedule. Kevin Kudrna, a team leader and broker for Redfin in Colorado Springs, Colorado, says he tells his sellers that the chance of selling a home to someone who attends an open house is so small that it's not worth the trouble.

    "In 2015, an open house isn't what it used to be," Kudrna says. More than 90 percent of buyers start their searches online, according to the 2014 National Association of Realtors' Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, and the photos and videos let them rule out many homes without having to visit. "When the Internet started to bring all the listings online, people didn't have as much of a need to go into the houses."

    Kudrna does admit there is an advantage to open houses. "When someone is looking into the neighborhood, it's right there in front of them," he says. But, he adds, "There are so few [open houses] it doesn't provide much opportunity."

    There are no reliable statistics on how many home sales occur because of open houses. The 2014 NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers found that 9 percent of buyers found the home they purchased from a yard sign or open house, down from 15 percent in 2001. But the data didn't split out yard sign from open houses.

    McClelland's brokerage finds open houses so important that the company organizes a monthly Super Sunday and heavily promotes all the open houses via advertising and social media, even having a drawing for $1,000 for one lucky visitor. The firm also developed an in-house training course on doing an effective open house.

    "It's really evolved over the past seven to 10 years," McClelland says. A decade ago, visitors had questions about neighborhoods and schools. Most buyers today have answered those questions with Internet research and are ready to see specific homes.

    "Now they come in much further down that sales cycle where they're more ready to draw up a contract," Craig says. "They already know everything about the neighborhood."

    Marketing Tool

    But Kudrna sees more open house visitors from early in the sales cycle -- people who are looking for homes but haven't narrowed down their options enough to be ready to buy.

    "All of the open houses I do, the majority of the people are neighbors," Kudrna says. Not everyone sees that as a negative, since neighbors may share details about the home with friends and family looking to buy or become clients of the agent later -- though that may not help the current sellers. Critics of open houses have long argued that the true beneficiary of an open house is the real estate agent, who can meet new clients.

    Kudrna deals with a lot of buyers who are relocating and searching from afar. For those clients, he does personal tours via FaceTime or Skype. Even for local buyers, the photos and virtual tours provided with many listings may take the place of Sunday drives through neighborhoods, he believes.

    Redfin lets clients book home tours on its website without making a phone call, though the agent will call back to confirm. "People are wanting that instant access," he says.

    "In Denver and a lot of the markets now, houses are going into contract sometimes within hours," Kudrna says. "People want to be able to get into the house now, not to wait for an open house."

    Regional Differences

    Local custom may also help determine the usefulness of an open house, especially in the sellers' market that is in effect throughout much of the country. In parts of California, for example, agents who are expecting multiple offers on a home may schedule an open house and not make appointments or accept offers until after that date.

    "You end up with multiple offers in two weeks," Aaron says. "You have to have the open house to get the people in there."

    Even agents who see value in open houses don't believe they're a good fit for all homes. Most agents require lookers to be prequalified before they can see higher-end homes or homes owned by celebrities. Some condos or co-ops ban or set strict limits on open houses.

    Keeping the home secure during the open house isn't all that difficult, agents say. "It's not that hard to control it and control what's going on," McClelland says. Valuables should be put away, and Aaron advises his clients to secure prescription medications, money, jewelry and blank checks, not just stash them in a drawer.

    For open houses to be effective, they also have to be sufficiently advertised, both online and with yard signs at major intersections as well as in front of the house, so people can follow the signs in from the main road. The home should also to be well-staged, with both the owners and their personal photos out of sight so the prospective buyers can envision themselves living there.

    "You want to allow them to dream while they're in the house," McClelland says. "It's all about buying a dream."


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    Woman deep in thought while looking at laptop
    Getty Images
    By Jennifer Liu

    Visiting the doctor isn't exactly an enjoyable experience.

    But what feels worse? Opening your mail weeks later, only to face a medical bill that you didn't anticipate.

    About two-thirds of American adults -- or a whopping 155 million of us -- have been confronted by that unpleasant surprise in the past year, according to a Vitals Index survey.

    In many cases, that's because the price tag hadn't even come up. While the majority of survey respondents feel out-of-pocket medical costs impact their budgets "seriously" or "very much," 3 out of 5 don't ask their doctors about the cost of a service they're about to receive.

    Think about that for a moment ... Would you buy a smartphone or a sofa without considering the price?

    Why approach a medical purchase any differently?

    Well, it turns out these cost conversations typically don't happen for one of three reasons: patients believe their insurance will foot the bill; they don't think their doctor knows the cost of the procedure; or they aren't even aware they can ask about the price tag for recommended services.

    Besides having a heart-to-heart with your doctor, you can also reduce your chances of an unexpected bill by getting more familiar with your insurance plan.

    A good starting point is to confirm the amount of your health insurance deductible (something nearly 25 percent of respondents couldn't cite offhand).

    And if you need a health insurance refresher, consult our glossary of 12 need-to-know terms -- and you'll be in better shape to tackle this fall's open enrollment period.


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    Couple using laptop together
    Getty Images
    By Jennifer Magid

    No doubt it's easier to go to the store and buy something than to make it with your own hands. There are a number of reasons to get into the DIY spirit, though. First and foremost, it's possible to save a bundle by doing it yourself. But tackling a project instead of picking up an item off the shelf is also a way save money long term, because you'll always know how to fix it and make another if need be.

    Latex mattress. A high-quality mattress made of natural rubber can cost thousands of dollars. If you're willing to do some research and put in the time, it's possible to build your own version of a latex mattress for a third of the price. Renegade Health offers a tutorial using a latex pad, mattress cover and mattress pad. Before taking on this project, take some time to familiarize yourself with quality latex mattresses. Visit stores and test out the real thing to get a sense of what feels comfortable.

    Sprinkler system. You don't have to install an expensive in-ground sprinkler system to get a green lawn that's the envy of the neighborhood. According the DIY website Instructables, anyone can rig up a sprinkler system with custom-length garden hoses and sprinkler heads on spikes that can be moved around in the yard as needed -- and taken along should you move.

    Speakers. A quality home audio system can bring movies and music to a whole new level of listening enjoyment. It's no secret a good system purchased in store can cost hundreds of dollars. Popular Mechanics recommends that woodworkers (and those who have a drill handy) build their own speakers with wood planks for a quarter of the price of a store-bought version.

    Coffee roaster. Few things smell better than the scent of fresh roasted coffee. True coffee connoisseurs know they don't need to spend hundreds on a gourmet coffee machine or a pretty penny every month on already roasted beans. Wired suggests using a cheap popcorn popper as the base for a DIY roaster. (Beware: The process requires skill with a hammer and nails, wood, and a stovetop.)

    Headboard. A bed headboard is one of those items that can be so easy to make, it's almost embarrassing to buy one. With DIY options ranging from an old door to a wooden fence, the website DIY & Crafts offers 40 inspirational ideas for making your bed extra dreamy for very few dollars.

    Compost bin. Composting is an ideal way to handle the plethora of fall leaves everywhere, as well as reduce your carbon footprint. Instead of buying a bin, be a true recycler by using household items to create a composter. The website TreeHugger suggests using an old garbage can or plastic bin as a composter. Just drill some holes -- and voila.

    Pillows and cushions. A gorgeous accent cushion from a store like Restoration Hardware easily tops $60. Instead, spend a fraction of that amount and highlight your home with self-made cushions. The website Apartment Therapy suggests a technique for padding a window seat that employs scissors, staples and plywood sheets, which even the least sewing-minded folk can handle with relative ease.

    Tasty candy. Admittedly, a bag of candy doesn't usually cost a fortune. But making your own version of your favorite sweets is also cheap and possibly healthier (because you know what's in them). A recipe for homemade gummy bears from the blog Simply Taralynn uses gelatin, fruit, a bit of sweetener and some juice.

    Baby wipes. For anyone with a child, baby wipes are a necessity right up there with toilet paper and soap. Baby wipes range in price, but buying box after box week after week adds up. To save money, make your own (and forget about ever running out) with easy instructions from the blog White House Black Shutters. Paper towels, water, coconut oil, a bit of cleanser and plastic containers are all that's needed.

    Makeup. Get glowing without the exorbitant price tags and chemical ingredients that are part and parcel of so many cosmetics. A list of 22 do-it-yourself makeup recipes from the blog You're So Pretty provides an easy, fun alternative. It's even more cost-effective because you can customize the shades. No more buying a color and bringing it home only to see that it looks terrible without department store lighting.


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    Mother and child having bubble bath
    Getty ImagesWhen choosing a new water heater you should consider not only the number of gallons the tank holds, but also the number of gallons the unit can supply an hour.
    By Teresa Mears

    When Grayson Bell moved into a new home in Raleigh, North Carolina, last year, he planned to replace his 27-year-old water heater.

    The founder of personal finance blog, Bell thought he could save money by installing a tankless water heater. But after consulting more than a dozen plumbers, he found that with an initial cost of $4,500, it would take more than 18 years for the savings from lower energy costs to equal his initial expenses. That was enough to convince him to buy a traditional 50-gallon electric tank.

    "I was dead set on getting a tankless because I heard about how much money you can save," Bell says, but he found that any energy savings would be eaten up by installation costs. He ended up paying $1,200 for a traditional water heater, which included moving the unit, a new stand and a new extended drain. Bell determined a tankless electric installation would save only about $15 a month. "It doesn't really save you that much," he says.

    Most people don't do quite that much research, especially if it's an emergency, but it's good to know your options ahead of time and have an idea of how much each will cost in the short term and long term. Gas water heaters last about 10 years and electric about 15 years, on average, so if your water heater is nearing that age, you might want to investigate options now.

    There are two major types of water heaters: traditional storage tanks that hold 20 to 80 gallons of water and tankless heaters, which heat water as it passes through the unit. Each type comes with variations that can be used with gas, propane or electricity. You can also buy solar water heaters, with an electric or gas backup.

    Most people buy the water heater from the plumber who installs it, though you can buy your own from a hardware store. Discuss options with your plumber and tell him or her about your needs: more hot water, energy savings or other considerations, plus ask for recommendations.

    "If your current water heater is meeting your water needs, your best bet is to replace it with the same thing.

    The most economical option is typically to replace an existing water heater with the same kind and same fuel source, and for most homeowners that will be a storage water heater. Changing fuel source or type can require expensive retrofitting.

    "If your current water heater is meeting your water needs, your best bet is to replace it with the same thing," says Rick Muscoplat, a contributing editor for

    Even if you replace like with like, you may still find yourself facing added costs for permits, upgrading to meet current codes or accommodating heaters that meet new Environmental Protection Agency standards for energy efficiency that went into effect in April.

    "It can almost double the price of what you think it's going to call for," says Mary Kennedy Thompson, a licensed plumber and COO of The Dwyer Group, the parent company of 11 home service franchise brands.

    The changes for smaller storage water heaters are minimal, while tankless water heaters already met the new EPA standards. Storage water heaters of 55 gallons or more will have to use new technologies that make them significantly more energy efficient but also larger. Heat-pump technology, which draws heat from the surrounding air to increase efficiency, has been added to electric water heaters, and new gas water heaters use condensing technology to keep warm air from escaping. While these options are more expensive, they save additional energy.

    When Thompson recently replaced her water heater in Waco, Texas, she opted to stay with a traditional electric storage heater. "I did not put a tankless in because of the cost," she says. "Clearly a tankless water heater is going to be the more expensive route."

    Thompson and Muscoplat say that replacing a storage water heater with a tankless heater only makes sense if your existing water heater isn't meeting your family's needs and, even then, a larger storage heater may be the better option. "Where I think tankless water heaters make sense for retrofitting is if you have a shortage of space and run out of hot water a lot," Thompson says.

    Before committing to any water heater, you should know what will be required to install it. A natural gas tankless heater may require a larger gas line, new flue, new water lines and the addition of an electrical line. Installing an electric tankless heater is likely to require additional electrical work because the tankless heaters draw so much current. There are tankless heaters that use propane, but Muscoplat says they are generally not practical for residential use because a large propane tank would be required.

    All those extras can bring the cost of adding a tankless water heater to an existing home to $8,000 or more. Plus, he says, tankless heaters should be flushed out twice a year with a descaling agent, at a cost of about $175 each time, and the sensors and electronics make them more expensive to repair.

    "Are they saving money? Absolutely not," Muscoplat says. "A tankless water heat in a retrofit costs a fortune to install. Never buy a tankless water heater thinking that you're going to save money."

    On the other hand, tankless water heaters are more energy efficient than their storage tank counterparts and they provide almost endless hot water, so they can be a good choice for new construction or if you're doing a major renovation project.

    Here are three things to look for when choosing a water heater.

    Size. Consider not only the number of gallons the tank holds, but also the "first hour rating," which is the number of gallons the heater can supply an hour. You can find that number on the EnergyGuide label. Remember that a 50-gallon tank will only provide about 35 gallons of water because as you use the hot water it is replaced by cold. If the average eight-minute shower uses 17.2 gallons, that means you can get two showers from a 50-gallon tank with a first hour rating of 35.

    Retrofitting. Most municipalities require a permit to install a water heater, plus some newer water heaters take up slightly more space. When choosing a water heater, consider how much you'll need to spend to make it fit or to comply with current building codes. Some newer gas heaters also require the installation of an electric line.

    New technologies. The newer types of tank water heaters -- heat pump for electric and condensing for gas -- cost more but use less energy. Do the math to calculate whether they're the right choice for you. Interview multiple plumbers and get at least three bids for any type of water heater you're considering.

    Teresa Mears writes about personal finance, real estate and retirement for U.S. News and other publications. She's also written for MSN Money, The Miami Herald, The New York Times and The Boston Globe. She publishes Living on the Cheap and Miami on the Cheap. Follow her on Twitter @TeresaMears.


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  • 10/16/15--22:00: 15 Ways to Save $5 a Day
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    Five dollars
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    By Cameron Huddleston

    It might not seem worth it to go to the trouble to eliminate small expenses from your budget. After all, how much of a hit could your bank account really be taking if you spend a few dollars here or there? A big hit, actually.

    Just cutting $5 a day from your daily spending could save you $1,825 a year. Then, if you were to set aside those savings each year for 30 years, you'd have more than $180,000, assuming a 7 percent annual return.

    Here are 15 ways you could easily save several dollars a day. The actual amount you can save will depend on your spending habits, but these examples show that it is possible to find an extra $5 in your budget daily.

    1. Stop Getting Breakfast on the Go

    Brown bagging your lunch can help avoid blowing several dollars a day on fast food or restaurant meals. But a growing number of consumers are seeking convenience for the first meal of the day, said Kendal Perez, a money-saving expert with Coupon Sherpa. Visits to restaurants grew 5 percent from June 2014 to June 2015, according The NPD Group, a research company.

    Considering that the average cost of a restaurant breakfast is about $5, according to a CBS News report, you'll save by eating at home or creating a stockpile of breakfast items at work. Perez recommended storing low-cost items such as bread, peanut butter, granola bars or even frozen breakfast sandwiches at the office so you won't be tempted to buy a pricey breakfast on your way to work.

    2. Adjust Your Tax Withholding

    If you usually get a big tax refund, you could easily save more than $5 a day by adjusting your tax withholding. That refund means you're letting Uncle Sam hang onto too much from your paycheck each month.

    File a new W-4 form with your employer to claim more allowances -- the more you claim, the less tax that is withheld. has a withholding calculator you can use to figure out how many allowances to claim. If you received the average refund of $2,700, you could get an extra $225 in your paycheck each month -- or about $7 a day -- by adjusting your withholding.

    3. Skip Sodas

    If you dine out for lunch or dinner, you can lower the cost of those meals by ordering water instead of soda. At a fast-food joint or restaurant, you'll pay $1 to $2 (or more) for a soda. If you order a soft drink at both lunch and dinner, you could easily approach the $5 mark.

    Cutting out sodas at home as well -- and opting for water instead -- also could help you save money. A 12-pack of brand-name soda costs about $5. If you currently drink two cans a day and go through five 12-packs a month, you could save another $25 a month by eliminating your soda habit.

    4. Use Discounted Gift Cards

    You can save money on everyday purchases using discounted gift cards for retailers you frequent. Websites such as, and sell gift cards for hundreds of national retailers for less than face value because they buy them at a discount from consumers who don't want them.

    For example, GOBankingRates recently found a CVS gift card with a face value of $40.85 selling for $34.72 at -- an instant savings of more than $6. So, if you stock up on discounted gift cards for drugstores, gas stations, restaurants, supermarkets and other stores, you easily could save $5 a day on your purchases.

    5. Take Advantage of Supermarket Sales

    One of the best ways to lower your grocery bill is to stock up on items that are nonperishable or can be frozen when they are on sale rather than buying just what you need for the week. "When shoppers buy only their weekly needs, they are forced to pay full price for 50 percent to 80 percent of what goes in their cart," said Teri Gault, founder and CEO of

    Once you have a stockpile, you can plan weekly meals around what you have and around perishable items that are on sale at the supermarket. Gault said that members report average savings of $523 a month for a family of four by stockpiling sale items and using coupons. That amounts to about $17 a day in savings.

    6. Find Coupons for Retail Purchases

    Clipping coupons can help you save at the supermarket. But you can use coupons to save on plenty of other everyday purchases -- and you don't have to clip them. Mobile apps such as CouponSherpa and RetailMeNot make it easy to find coupon codes for a variety of items and services when you're out shopping. Simply search for a retailer, and if it is offering a coupon, you can show the barcode on your mobile device at checkout to get a discount.

    Perez said there recently were coupons available on the Coupon Sherpa app for $5 savings at Shoe Carnival, $8 off a full-service oil change from Oil Can Henry's and 20 percent ($8) off a $40 purchase at children's retailer Carter's, for example.

    7. Look for Free or Low-Cost Entertainment

    You might be surprised at how much you're paying for entertainment. The average household spends $2,482 annually on fees and admission, toys, and other entertainment supplies, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's nearly $7 a day.

    There are plenty of ways to cut entertainment costs. Take hikes in nearby parks rather than paying to go to an amusement park. Visit museums on free admission nights. Invite friends over to watch a movie rather than going to the theater or take advantage of free lectures at the public library or a nearby university. Look for activities available in your area that appeal to you and your family.

    8. Stop Buying Bottled Water

    The average cost of one bottle of water is $1.45, according to Statistic Brain Research Institute. If you or your family members drink several bottles a day, you could easily be blowing $5 a day on water that you could get for a fraction of the cost from the tap. In fact, bottled water costs 240 to 10,000 times more a gallon than tap water, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    9. Avoid ATM Fees

    If you've made it a habit to withdraw cash from the nearest ATM rather than one in your bank's network, you're paying a lot for convenience -- about $4.50 in fees each time, according to CNN Money. To avoid getting charged to access your own money if you're not near your bank's ATM, withdraw cash fee-free during your next grocery store visit, Perez said.

    10. Eliminate Cable TV

    With so many free and inexpensive ways to watch TV shows and movies, there's no need to pay for pricey cable TV. The average TV bill is $123 a month, according to The NPD Group, so cutting the cord can save you about $4 a day.

    You can watch dozens of movies and previously aired TV shows for free on and, which also offer their own original series. The major networks, such as ABC, CBS and NBC also let you watch some of their shows for free on their websites. And you can take advantage of your public library to borrow DVDs for free.

    11. Walk More, Drive Less

    Being willing to walk or take public transportation can save you some serious cash depending on your driving habits and gas prices where your live, said Stephen Rischall co-founder of 1080 Financial Group. The savings could add up to $5 a day, he said.

    Or, you could save even more by ditching your car entirely. According to AAA, the annual cost of owning and operating a vehicle is $8,698 -- nearly $24 a day.

    12. Make Coffee at Home

    If you buy a 16-ounce cup of coffee at the coffee shop each day for about $2, it might not seem like you're spending a lot. But it costs only about 8 cents to brew the same size cup at home, according to's coffee cost calculator. If you typically buy several cups of Joe or pricier coffee drinks such as cappuccinos or lattes at the coffee shop, then switching to home-brewed coffee could easily save you $5 a day.

    13. Cut Credit Card Payments With a Balance Transfer

    If you carry a balance on a credit card with a high interest rate, you could lower the amount you pay each month by taking advantage of a 0 percent balance transfer offer. Based on calculations by financial education site, if you transferred a $10,000 balance from a card with a 20 percent APR to one with a zero percent APR, you would avoid paying nearly $1,900 in interest over the course of a year, or about $5 a day.

    You'll need a credit score of at least 680 to qualify for balance-transfer offers, according to To see how much you can save, try the balance transfer calculator.

    14. Refinance Your Mortgage

    If the value of your home has risen since you bought it and interest rates have dropped since you locked in your mortgage rate, you might be able to lower your monthly mortgage payment by refinancing. Some 3 million homeowners could save at least $200 a month by refinancing their mortgages at today's rates, and about 500,000 could save $500 or more each month, Black Knight Financial Services told the M Report. That averages out to about $7 to $17 a day.

    Refinance calculators such as those offered by Mortgage Professor and can help you determine whether you can benefit from refinancing.

    15. Actually Save $5 a Day

    To help her clients save money, certified financial planner Ilene Davis said she tells them to stash $5 a day into an empty soda bottle. This practice guarantees that they're actually saving that amount daily.

    If you don't have the discipline to do this on your own, a free service such as Digit can help. You link your checking account to the service, and then it analyzes your income and spending to determine a small amount that it can move every few days into a savings account for you. Whether you're saving actively or passively, the money will add up.

    This story, 15 Ways to Save $5 a Day, originally appeared on


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    ShutterstockBackdoor contributions to your Roth IRA are important for your retirement savings once your annual income surpasses $131,000.
    By Greg Ostrowski

    Looking to achieve tax-free growth on retirement assets, but think because of your income level, a Roth IRA can't possibly work for you? As a self-employed or high-earning professional, there are several strategies that you should know about that may allow you to create a Roth IRA and enjoy more tax-free income in retirement.

    First, let's talk basics. A Roth IRA is a type of account that allows people to save after-tax, non-deductible money for retirement. Roth IRAs are viewed favorably because they provide tax-free growth on your assets, and tax-free qualified retirement withdrawals with no required minimum distributions.

    If you think that income tax rates will continue to rise, tax-free distributions would be a valuable benefit. However, under current laws, the ability to contribute directly to a Roth IRA phases out completely once your income surpasses $131,000 ($193,000 for joint filers), shutting out many high-earners who would enjoy the greatest benefits from a Roth IRA.

    Fortunately, higher-earning professionals and business owners can take advantage of several perfectly legal loopholes to create backdoor Roth contributions.

    Option 1: Traditional IRA to Roth IRA conversion. The simplest strategy is to contribute the annual limit to a traditional IRA and then convert those contributions to a Roth IRA. To be eligible to contribute to a traditional IRA, you must have reportable income and must be younger than 70½ at the end of the year in which you make the contribution. While some may be able to take advantage of a deduction for their traditional IRA contribution, high-income earners and participants in workplace retirement plans will probably not receive a deduction.

    The IRS removed income limitations on Roth conversions in 2010. This loophole means higher income taxpayers can contribute to a traditional IRA on a non-deductible, or after-tax, basis and subsequently convert money to a Roth IRA with no tax liability.

    Here's how it works:
    1. Contribute the maximum amount to a traditional IRA for 2015 ($5,500 or $6,500 for those older than 50).
    2. Convert the account to a Roth IRA in 2015. If you took a deduction for the contribution, you will owe taxes on the conversion. If you didn't take a deduction, your conversion is tax-free.
    If you already have prior year contributions and earnings in your traditional IRA at the moment of conversion, you may owe taxes on that money, so it's wise to consult a financial professional with experience on conversions before proceeding.

    Option 2: 'Serial' SEP-IRA to Roth IRA conversion. If you're a small business owner or self-employed professional, a SEP-IRA may be a good option for you. SEP-IRAs are attractive to a small business owner because you can still direct your investments, but contribute far more than the traditional IRA's annual limit. Even better, contribution limits aren't affected by participation in a 401(k) or other workplace retirement plan, assuming the SEP-IRA and 401(k) are with two separate employers not under common control.

    While the SEP-IRA's sizable contribution limits can be appealing, it has the same tax disadvantages of a traditional IRA. SEP-IRA qualified retirement distributions are taxed as ordinary income when taken at age 59 or older. Fortunately, as with a traditional IRA, SEP-IRA holders can convert their accounts to a Roth IRA, albeit with a tax liability. A high-income earner could sock away additional savings by first channeling contributions through the SEP-IRA, and doing a subsequent conversion, year after year. The tax liability can be mitigated if you convert in subsequent years, which is where the "serial" part of the conversion comes in.

    Here's how the strategy works:
    1. Contribute the maximum amount to a SEP-IRA for 2015.
    2. Receive the full tax benefit in the 2015 tax year for SEP-IRA contributions.
    3. Convert the account to a Roth IRA in 2016.
    4. Pay taxes on the conversion in tax year 2016.
    Assuming your income levels remain the same or increase, you could repeat this process each year. All things equal, your subsequent years' Roth IRA conversion liability from the SEP-IRA is neutralized by your deductible SEP-IRA contributions for that tax year.

    Option 3: After-tax 401(k) to Roth IRA rollover. In late 2014, the IRS clarified the rules regarding after-tax contributions in a 401(k); as of 2015, you can now roll these over into a Roth IRA. If your 401(k) allows after-tax contributions and allows you to withdraw these contributions each year, you might be able to take advantage of this strategy to help kick-start your Roth IRA.

    Here's how it works:
    1. Maximize your pre-tax 401(k) contributions (typically $18,000 in 2015 or $24,000 for workers 50 and older).
    2. Make additional after-tax contributions up to the IRS maximum ($53,000 or $59,000 for workers 50 and older). Keep in mind that employer matches count toward your annual maximum.
    3. Roll over the after-tax contributions and earnings into a Roth IRA. While your after-tax contributions can be rolled over tax-free, you will owe taxes on the earnings. The IRS currently allows you to choose between converting the untaxed earnings to the Roth IRA now and paying taxes on them in the same year, or rolling them over to a traditional IRA and paying taxes on the withdrawals in retirement.
    Some caveats and addendums. Before you spring into action with any of these strategies, there are some important caveats that you need to understand. The first is called the "pro-rata rule," which dictates the taxation of IRA distributions (including conversions) when the IRA owner has any traditional IRA or SEP-IRA containing both pre-tax and after-tax money (workers can allocate pre-tax and after-tax amounts from 401(k) distributions to avoid this issue). One additional wrinkle is the "step transaction doctrine," which could complicate the tax consequences of a conversion that is done too soon after a contribution to the original IRA. The "serial" SEP-IRA strategy typically works best for a self-employed person with no other covered co-workers.

    The bottom line. On the surface, income phase-outs and contributions limits can make it challenging for high-earning professionals and business owners to save meaningfully for retirement using a Roth IRA. Fortunately, the strategies we've covered in this article offer savvy savers an opportunity to boost the amount they save and potentially increase their tax-free income in retirement. All that being said, every individual's situation is different and details matter. To find out whether these Roth conversion strategies are right for you, talk to a qualified financial professional or a tax expert who specializes in these types of conversions.

    Securities offered through SII Investments Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC. Advisory Services offered through Scarborough Capital Management, a registered investment adviser. SII and SCM are separate companies. Neither SII nor SCM provide tax or legal advice.

    Opinions, estimates, forecasts and statements of financial market trends that are based on current market conditions constitute our judgment and are subject to change without notice.

    This material is for information purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security.

    Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Diversification and asset allocation do not guarantee positive results. Loss, including loss of principal may result.

    Greg Ostrowski is a blogger for The Smarter Investor. Greg is a certified financial planner and managing partner of Scarborough Capital Management, offering low-cost, flat-fee 401(k) management and wealth management to individuals across America -- from millennials to retirees. You can follow him on Twitter at @gostro01 or connect on LinkedIn
    Can Robots Close the Retirement Savings Gap?


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    From the country's largest operator of regional amusement parks posting quarterly results to the company formerly known as Google stepping up with its first financial update since its name change, here are some of the things that will help shape the week that lies ahead on Wall Street.

    Monday -- You Must Be This Tall to Invest

    We're heading into the belly of earnings season in the week ahead. Hundreds of companies will be reporting fresh quarterly results this week, and one of them will be amusement park operator Six Flags (SIX), which reports after markets close Monday.

    Running the country's largest chain of regional amusement parks has its seasonal lumpiness, but this report covers the summer months of July, August, and September. It will be Six Flags' most lucrative quarter. Analysts see modest top-line growth but dramatic earnings improvement. A good report combined with the stock's juicy 4.3 percent dividend yield may smoke out more investors looking to hop on the ride.

    Tuesday -- We're Getting the Band Together

    It's been five years since Activision Blizzard (ATVI) put out a "Guitar Hero" game, making Tuesday's release of "Guitar Hero Live" a pretty big deal. It's not just a matter of slapping new songs into the old platform, where gamers try to play plastic guitars in time to the music.

    From the new six-button layout on the guitar controller to a new in-game layout that uses full-motion video to simulate the concert experience, Activision Blizzard is hoping to reintroduce a classic to new music-loving gamers.

    Wednesday -- McFly Like an Eagle

    Die-hard "Back to the Future" fans know the significance of Oct. 21, 2015. That's the day when Michael J. Fox's Marty McFly arrived to the future at the end of the first film. We've come a long way in the 30 years since the movie came out. We don't have the flying cars or hoverboards depicted in the movie, but the prediction that the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series remains a possibility, with the Cubbies advancing to the National League Championship Series.

    You don't have to wax nostalgic alone. Several movie chains will be screening the "Back to the Future" movies Wednesday. It's a smart call: Wednesday is typically dead at the local multiplex. Check your neighborhood theater for available show times.

    Thursday -- Alphabet Soup

    We'll be checking out Google's first quarterly report since changing its name to Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL) this summer. The name change was done to emphasize Big G's realm beyond its flagship search engine, but we all know that online advertising remains Alphabet's bread and butter.

    Alphabet -- like many dot-com giants that rely on advertising -- has been coping with the challenge to monetize usage on mobile devices. Are advertisers reluctant to pay as much as they used to in generating leads? Are consumers clicking on mobile ads with the same fervor that they did ads on their desktops and laptops? We'll get a glimpse Thursday into those trends.

    Friday -- Rated PG

    Procter & Gamble (PG) wraps up a busy week of earnings reports with its own updated financials. This is the company behind many of the leading brands you will come across as you stroll through the supermarket aisles. We're talking about Pampers diapers, Charmin toilet paper and Crest toothpaste.

    Analysts see Procter & Gamble earning 95 cents a share for the quarter, just shy of the 99 cents a share it served up during the same quarter last year. That's not good -- and it could get worse, since Procter & Gamble has fallen short of Wall Street profit targets every single quarter over the past year.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard and Alphabet (A and C shares). The Motley Fool recommends Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days and check out our free report for one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    ShutterstockHistorically, the S&P 500 index has gained 7.1 percent from November through April versus 1.4 percent from May through October.
    By Kira Brecht

    If you've been avoiding opening your latest 401(k) statement, it's time to pay attention. History says the U.S. stock market is set to break out of the starting gate for its best six months of the year.

    Just like summer changes to autumn and then to winter, the stock market has its own seasons, too. From November through April each year, the U.S. stock market has consistently produced outsized returns over the period from May to October.

    You may have heard the market adage, "sell in May and go away," but the flip side of that is "buy in October," says Jeffrey A. Hirsch, editor at the Stock Trader's Almanac in Nyack, New York. The publication is credited with first recognizing the seasonal phenomenon in 1987.

    Since 1950, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) has gained 7.1 percent, on average, from November through April versus 1.4 percent from May through October, Hirsch says. "Our historical market research revealed that most of the market's gains have been made from November to April, while stocks tend to go sideways and are more prone to downdrafts -- as we have experienced this year -- during the worst six months, May to October," Hirsch says.

    What's drives stocks higher November through April? First, there is so-called mutual fund "window dressing," in which portfolio managers essentially clean house before third-quarter statements are sent to shareholders.

    "Nobody wants to be holding onto a stock that is not doing well. If a company by the third quarter does not appear it will be able to turn around, fund managers move them out," says Sam Stovall, managing director at New York-based S&P Capital IQ.

    The aggressive selling of stock losers generally "sets up the market for a yearly low in the October time period," Stovall says. Historically, he has found that "October has a greater percentage of correction and bear-market bottoms than any other month."

    New money also tends to flow into the stock market at the beginning of each year as pension funds add to their holdings at that time, Stovall says. Also, investors scramble to fund their individual retirement accounts before the April 15 tax deadline, injecting capital into the equity market.

    And some workers have a little extra money to invest at the end of the year. "Year-end bonuses tend to go right into the stock market, which increases cash inflows, stock buying and drives the market higher in the fourth quarter and first quarter," Hirsch says.

    While Wall Street is expecting earnings per share to decline 5.1 percent in the third quarter this year, improvement is around the corner. Analysts are expecting quarterly year-over-year advances of 0.2 percent, 5.5 percent, 7.2 percent, 14.5 percent and 13.9 percent through the fourth quarter of 2016, according to S&P Capital IQ.

    "I do expect fourth-quarter gains this year and a year-end rally. We are currently adding long positions to our portfolio," Hirsch says.

    How do investors capitalize on the seasonal trend? "Investors should start looking to get back into stocks or be more aggressive in October, especially after a sell-off like we had this year. October, though feared from all the crashes and massacres, is the best month to buy stocks," Hirsch says.

    The Stock Trader's Almanac has devised a "Best Six Months' Switching Strategy" that can be employed with exchange-traded funds. "Around September or October, the investor can buy the major market index ETFs: SPDR Dow Jones industrial average ETF (DIA), SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), PowerShares QQQ (QQQ) and iShares Russell 2000 (IWM). And then sell them around the April to May time frame, especially after a nice run-up," Hirsch says.

    During the November through April period, Stovall has found that cyclical sectors, including consumer discretionary, industrials, technology and materials, tend to do well. Sector-specific ETFs include the Consumer Discretionary Select SPDR Fund (XLY), the Industrial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLI), the Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLK) and the Materials Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLB).

    Aggressive investors could consider the S&P High Beta ETF (SPHB), which includes the 100 stocks that have the highest trailing 12-month standard deviation or more simply "the greatest wiggle over the last year," Stovall says. For investors who may be more comfortable riding a potential roller coaster, the S&P High Beta index has outperformed the S&P 500 since November 1990, with an average gain of 12.3 percent from November through April versus an average gain of 8.1 percent in the S&P 500.

    When it comes to investing in the stock market, there are no guarantees, but putting seasonal trends on your side can help boost your odds.

    "I think it's extremely important to pay attention to seasonal patterns and market cycles," Hirsch says. "It can give you an edge in making portfolio decisions. But it is not the only factor I consider, by far. I believe you increase your probability for maximum returns using fundamental and technical analysis in conjunction with seasonal and cyclical patterns and economic readings."

    Kira Brecht is a financial journalist who writes extensively on stock, commodity and foreign exchange markets, investing strategies, the economy and the Fed. She was managing editor at SFO (Stock, Futures & Options) Magazine for 10 years, creating digital magazine, newsletter and online content aimed at the individual investor. She began her career on the floor of the Chicago futures exchanges covering commodity markets for a financial newswire service. Follow her on Twitter @KiraBrecht.

    Recent Market Plunge, Good Time to Invest?


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    Make me sick if I think about money problems
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    By Allison Martin

    At some point, we've all been given financial advice that later left us scratching our heads in disappointment or confusion.

    Unfortunately, it's tough to weed out all the bad information that can be found in books or on the Internet, especially because so many self-proclaimed financial experts abound.

    But there is help to figure this out. For instance, says bad financial advice usually has at least one of the following qualities:
    • Confusing.
    • Comes from someone with a vested interest.
    • Unsolicited.
    • One size fits all.
    • Framed as the only option.
    • Promises quick and easy results.
    Here are six common tidbits of financial advice you may want to ignore:

    1. Credit cards are evil. Credit cards do not have any inherent qualities, good or bad. It is human behavior that determines whether they are beneficial or problematic.

    If you are unable to resist swiping the magic plastic for an extended period of time or if you use it to fund outrageous shopping sprees, your issues go way deeper than a credit card.

    Used responsibly, credit cards offer great rewards and eliminate the need to have a wad of cash in tow. They also provide buyer protections. You just need to be disciplined enough to pay off the balance each month.

    Besides, you will want to keep one around for travel arrangements and online purchases. For both, they are a better choice than using a debit card, because they offer more protections.

    For more on the advantages of plastic, see "10 Hidden Benefits of Credit Cards."

    2. Following a militant spending plan will set you free. Well, not really. What happens to avid dieters who have cravings but continue to suppress the urges until they can't take it anymore? They give up and resort to comfort foods. Lots of them.

    Incorporating mad money into your spending plan is OK. On the other hand, deprivation is not a good idea and will usually backfire.

    If you are trying to curb purchases, be realistic. Take small steps and modestly reward yourself from time to time. Also, begin with the end in mind and incorporate plenty of visual reminders so you will focus on the financial goal you are working toward.

    Need help getting started? Check out "How to Develop an Effortless Budget You'll Stick To."

    3. Sign up for life insurance -- or else. If you are 25 with no dependents and minimal assets, how much life insurance do you really need? The answer: none.

    Money Talks News finance expert Stacy Johnson says:

    You need life insurance if those depending on your income would suffer financially from your death. The most obvious example is when you have kids, debt and a one-earner household, because the death of the breadwinner would be financially tragic.

    When you've paid off the house, the kids are gone, the savings account is topped off, and your death is just an excuse for your remaining friends to get together and have a drink, your need for life insurance is over.

    When it is time to buy, do your wallet a favor and go for a term policy.

    4. 10 percent is the sweet spot for retirement contributions. Saving 10 percent of your income used to be the standard advice, but not anymore -- particularly if you didn't start setting aside money early in your working years.

    If you didn't get an early start, you will need to save a higher percentage of your income to reach retirement goals.

    For example, people in their 40s who have not saved much for their golden years likely will find that 10 percent is not nearly enough.

    How much will you need? Figure out what you will spend on health care, food, shelter and other necessities. Now consider what you will get from Social Security and other sources. Filling in the gap will be your responsibility.

    5. You should buy a house because it is a good investment. Were you around for the last housing crisis? Being a homeowner for several years, I can definitely attest to the fact that homes do lose value and do not always appreciate as rapidly as you would like them to.

    That doesn't mean buying a home is a bad idea. One of the beauties of owning a home is that a fixed-rate mortgage locks you into a set cost each month. You will make the same monthly payment for years while the price of rent goes up.

    Eventually you will own that home free and clear. That is an investment in your future financial security.

    But remember that buying a home is not a surefire path to riches. Take it from me, being underwater -- where your outstanding mortgage exceeds the value of your house -- is not a pleasant place to be.

    6. Home equity loans are a great way to get out of a hole. Under a mountain of credit card debt and looking for a way out? Home equity loans may seem like the perfect solution because of the competitive interest rate.

    But if you fall on hard times and default on the loan, everything goes downhill from there. In a worst-case scenario, an inability to pay back the loan could end up with you losing your home.

    Have you received other questionable advice that I didn't mention here? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

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    The Best Ways to Ensure You'll Have Enough to Retire


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    By Karla Bowsher

    About 1 in 3 Americans gets an annual physical exam.

    But a growing number of doctors now believe the practice is at best wasteful, and at worst potentially harmful, Time reports. Studies show little connection between the practice and disease prevention.

    Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, of Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, argues in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that physicals should be restructured. He also writes that insurance companies should stop covering physicals because that gives doctors an incentive to continue the practice:

    Though on a per-visit basis, the annual physical is not costly, it is the single most common reason that U.S. patients seek care, and cumulatively these visits cost more than $10 billion per year -- similar to the annual costs of all lung-cancer care in the United States.

    Not only do physicals waste money, they waste time. About 10 percent of all visits with primary-care physicians are for physicals, and Mehrotra says the time doctors spend on those visits "might be crowding out visits for more urgent health issues."

    In addition to being wasteful, Dr. Christine Laine, senior vice president of the American College of Physicians, tells Time that annual physicals can be potentially harmful.

    Routine screenings can lead to abnormal findings, but not all such results are indications of health problems. Sometimes abnormal findings are one-off readings or false positives. Laine says:

    "There is more evidence of harm than benefit, especially for executive physicals in which people come in once a year and get a zillion tests whether or not they need them. What usually happens is that they find things that they didn't need to find, and that generates more tests, which generates costs and side effects and worry and all of those things. There's good evidence that those types of exams don't make any sense and are of low value."

    Do you get an annual physical? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

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    How to Fight High Medical Bills


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    By Andrew Josuweit

    NEW YORK -- When you're fresh out of college and bringing home your very first substantial paycheck, it's sometimes hard to remember that some of that money needs to be used responsibly.

    Years later when people are moving to the more "balanced" stage of their lives, their 30s, loan repayments still aren't always top of mind. When you have a robust social life, savings goals, vacation plans, rent payments and a bad Seamless or Uber habit, it's easy to forget that student loan payments should remain a financial priority.

    As someone who has learned the hard way but managed to turn it around, below are five tips to help you stay on track when paying back your college debt.

    1. Research the Best 401(k) Option for You

    Upon landing your first job, there are a lot financial decisions to be made, including signing up for medical insurance through your employer and joining your company's 401(k) program. Depending on your situation -- your total loan balance, monthly payment, and overall income and expenses -- it may make sense to hold off contributing to your 401(k). This choice isn't for everyone as it depends on a variety of factors. For example, it depends on your tax bracket. If you invest in your 401(k), you can often lower your tax bracket. In addition, if your employer offers a matching contribution, it may make sense to invest in your 401(k), otherwise you're throwing away free money.

    Alternatively, you may want to ask your employer if they are willing to contribute to your student loan payments in replacement of a 401(k) contribution. It's important to evaluate whether your investments earn more than your debt. However, if you're really strapped for cash, putting that money towards your monthly student loan payment can help provide a bit of financial wiggle room and help pay off that debt quicker.

    Whatever your situation, it's important to consult your financial advisor before making this decision.

    2. Don't Fear the 'B-Word'

    A lot of recent college graduates flinch when they hear the word "budget," but creating a budget to help you manage your finances is the opposite of scary.

    It's easy to push important financial obligations to the back of your head when you're first out of school. According to research from Student Loan Hero (where I am CEO), a quarter of Americans would prefer to pay for Netflix than student loans, and 23 percent would prioritize social activities.

    Outlining a budget that not only accounts for your bills and loan payments, but social activities such as movies, concerts, and going out to eat with friends, can help make sure you're still paying down your debt each month. With great free services such as Moven, Mint and Digit out there that help you to do this automatically by tracking spending, creating a budget has never been easier.

    3. Focus on Making the Right Decisions on 'The Big Stuff'

    There are many large expenses that are often on the horizon as you move through your 20s and beyond. From marriage, to real estate, to starting a family, these are all big financial undertakings. In order to really make these big financial decisions a priority, try to cut out the small, frivolous purchases and focus on the big-ticket items. Saving for a down payment on a home is obviously more financially important than spending $6 a day at Starbucks.

    Typical housing expenses (rent, utilities, etc.) should never account for more than 35 percent of your monthly income, according to financial expert Jean Chatzky. If you're paying more than this, you may want to consider making a change. If you live alone, consider getting a roommate to cut your rent in half or even Airbnb your room when you are out of town. Though it may be easier said than done, it may also be worth thinking about moving, whether it is to a smaller apartment, or even another city.

    If you're living in an expensive area, like New York City, for example, think about how your expenses may decrease if you change locations. I personally did this and left New York for Austin so I could focus more on my student loan repayments. This, of course, is all dependent on work and your personal flexibility. It could, however, be a huge factor in helping to prioritize your student loan repayments.In addition, it makes sense not to get in over your head.

    If you are saving for a down payment on a home it makes more sense to purchase one that is in your price range rather than purchasing a home that has a mortgage payment that will cause you to drown financially. This means, don't buy the most expensive home or product. If you're looking for a new car, it's best to purchase a used vehicle instead of that new BMW. Prioritizing the most important financial decisions is a key to staying on track with your budget and loan repayments.

    4. Keep Saving

    It's tempting to take extra money you may have each month and put it towards something else -- whether it's for something fun like a weekend away or something more responsible, like continuing to paying down your loan balance. However, it's important not to forget to contribute to your savings account or emergency fund.

    Most Americans can't even afford a $400 emergency fund. According to Dave Ramsey -- the first step toward paying off consumer debt is building a $1000 safety net. Other experts recommend saving 5 to 10 percent of your net income.

    Next, focus on paying off any consumer debt -- credit cards and student loans. Following that, save a few months of expenses up, just in case. There are even tools that can help you do this. For example, Acorns, an app that takes pennies off your purchases and rolls them into an investment account that's easily liquidated. Having these emergency pockets of money set up can ultimately ensure you don't miss a loan payment due to an unexpected emergency.

    5. Pick a Student Loan Repayment Plan

    In order to prioritize paying down your student debt, payments must remain a top priority. Utilizing strategies such as the "debt avalanche" strategy -- where borrowers pay off their most high interest loan first, allowing them to potentially save thousands of dollars on interest -- or the "debt snowball" strategy that is known as the most psychologically rewarding strategy by paying off the smallest principle loans first. Whichever plan is right for you, pick one and stick with it.

    You'll feel a sense of gratification as you continue to see your total loan balance decrease. Beyond that, it may be worth considering refinancing or consolidating your student loans. Companies such as Common Bond, SoFi and Earnest all have options to help refinance, if it is the right decision for you.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor.

    Best Ways to Save On Your Student Loan Payments This Year


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    NEW YORK -- Oprah Winfrey, who has publicly struggled with her weight for decades, is going on a diet again. But this time she stands to gain a lot of money from her efforts.

    Weight Watchers said Monday that it signed a five-year deal with the former talk show host. Winfrey, a co-owner of OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, is paying about $43.2 million for a 10 percent stake in the weight loss company.

    The deal is already paying off: Weight Watchers (WTW) shares more than doubled after the partnership was announced, earning Winfrey about $45 million on paper.

    Winfrey will use the Weight Watchers mobile app and work with a personal coach, the company said. She has also agreed to let Weight Watchers use her name, image and likeness for its products and services. Additionally, she will make appearances on the company's behalf.

    Weight Watchers has given me the tools to begin to make the lasting shift that I and so many of us who are struggling with weight have longed for.

    "Weight Watchers has given me the tools to begin to make the lasting shift that I and so many of us who are struggling with weight have longed for," Winfrey said in a statement. "I believe in the program so much I decided to invest in the company and partner in its evolution."

    Weight Watchers is no stranger to celebrities. It has paid singers Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Hudson to promote its plan. But the deal with Winfrey is a shift to focus on overall health and wellness, rather than just dropping pounds.

    "We are expanding our purpose from focusing on weight loss alone to more broadly helping people lead a healthier, happier life," said Weight Watchers President and CEO Jim Chambers said in a statement.

    The company has been hurt by the popularity of fitness trackers and other health apps. MyFitnessPal lets users track steps, workouts and the amount of calories they eat for free on its app. Buying a FitBit tracker unlocks similar free online tools. Weight Watchers charges for its online food tracking, and weekly meetings and weigh ins have been a hallmark of its plan. Its shares were down 73 percent for the year through Friday. The company's earnings have fallen every year since 2011. To boost its earnings, the company announced $100 million in cost cuts earlier this year.

    Diet Struggles

    Winfrey's weight has yo-yoed over the years, and she's been very open publicly about her struggles with dieting.

    In fact, weight was a frequent subject of her talk show, which ended nearly five years ago after 25 years on the air. In 1988, a thin Winfrey famously walked out on stage wheeling 67 pounds of fat in a wagon, representing the weight she lost. But her weight has fluctuated over time.

    Her weight was still an issue as "The Oprah Winfrey Show" came to an end. She told the TV interviewer Barbara Walters that one of her goals was to "make peace with the whole weight thing."

    Since then, Winfrey has talked about being uncomfortable with being the subject on the cover of her magazine because of her weight gain.

    Winfrey can now trade weight loss tips with her best friend, Gayle King. The host of TV news program "CBS This Morning" told her Instagram followers five weeks ago that she joined Weight Watchers. Last week, King indicated in an Instagram post that she had lost more than seven pounds on the plan.

    Representatives for Winfrey and King did not respond to requests for an interview.

    Meanwhile, Weight Watchers is hoping to tap into Winfrey's ability to turn ordinary products into the latest trend.

    Stamp of Approval

    A stamp of approval from Winfrey during her talk show was powerful. Books she recommended skyrocketed up best seller lists and products shown on her holiday gift guide episodes would sometimes sell out.

    But it might be harder to get her message across now. "She has less contact with people on a daily basis," said Craig Garthwaite, an assistant professor of strategy at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. In 2012, for example, Winfrey relaunched her book club, but it doesn't hold the same power. "Most people don't know that it exists," said Garthwaite.

    Besides the OWN network, Winfrey reaches fans through O, The Oprah Magazine and She also has a strong social media following with more than 29 million followers on Twitter, 11 million on Facebook and 4 million on Instagram.

    The Weight Watchers endorsement is a departure for Winfrey. Throughout her talk show reign, Winfrey did not make money off endorsements, Garthwaite said. Since leaving the talk show, she has also lent her name to Starbucks Corp., which sells Oprah-branded tea drinks.

    Winfrey is buying about 6.4 million shares of Weight Watchers at $6.79 per share. She will also receive options to buy an additional 5 percent of the company's fully diluted shares. She is also joining the company's board.

    Shares of New York-based Weight Watchers International Inc. soared $7.13, or 105 percent, to close at $13.92 Monday.

    -Associated Press writer Michelle Chapman in New York also contributed to this report.


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    Wall street, New York, USA.
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    Oil-Dri (ODC) -- Up 26 percent last week

    There's apparently big money to be made in selling kitty litter. Oil-Dri shareholders purred in delight after the company posted a record quarterly profit of 71 cents a share. Things aren't perfect. Sales fell slightly since a year earlier. One-time items helped deflate its effective tax rate. However, it's still an impressive showing for Oil-Dri.

    TripAdvisor (TRIP) -- Up 22 percent last week

    Shares of the travel reviews website operator took off after it struck a deal with Priceline (PCLN) to be a partner for its Instant Booking platform. TripAdvisor rolled out a "Buy Now" button last summer, allowing site visitors to book hotel, flight, and car rentals right from its reviews-rich listings.

    Both sites will benefit from the partnership, but TripAdvisor shares were the ones that took flight on the news. Priceline's partnership validates the platform, and it will help TripAdvisor generate more commissions without having to worry about fulfillment or following through with customer service.

    Pure Storage (PSTG) -- Up 13 percent last week

    Some IPOs don't get hot right away. Pure Storage went public at $17 two weeks ago and investors didn't want it. The stock closed at $16.01 on its first day of trading, moving even lower the next day.

    It was a different story last week. Dell's big deal to acquire EMC (EMC) lit a fire under other providers of data storage solutions. If the now privately held Dell is on a shopping spree, it may inspire its PC rivals to make big bets on other players in data storage.

    BofI Holding (BOFI) -- Down 29 percent last week

    Online banking is a neat way to shave overhead costs, but last week it was an online banker that was shaved down. BofI -- the parent company of Bank of Internet -- took a hit after a pair of former auditors offered up problematic assessments.

    An internal auditor kicked things off by filing a complaint, alleging that BofI was hiding information from regulators. Another auditor went on to claim that he left the dot-com banker after raising similar concerns.

    Spirit Airlines (SAVE) -- Down 17 percent last week

    There was some choppy turbulence for Spirit investors after the bargain carrier reaffirmed its guidance, but cutthroat competition is keeping fares low through the year ahead. The ho-hum outlook led Morgan Stanley to downgrade the stock.

    Spirit is a controversial name in the industry. It advertises low fares, but then slaps on a wide array of fees. Sometimes a carry-on bag will cost more than the passenger. The airline industry has been on an upswing in recent years as sector consolidation has lowered costs and increased pricing power, but that doesn't mean that everybody's a winner.

    Conn's (CONN) -- Down 13 percent last week

    Finally, we have a meandering consumer electronics retailer continuing to cope with deadbeat customers. In a regulatory filing, Conn's conceded that 11.9 percent of its securitized portfolio has been delinquent for more than 60 days. That's a concern, naturally, and Zacks downgraded the retailer's stock to a "strong sell" rating following the fiscal update.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends BofI Holding, Priceline Group and TripAdvisor. The Motley Fool recommends Spirit Airlines. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.


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    SAN FRANCISCO -- Google is escalating an attack on Microsoft's lucrative Office software in an attempt to hit its longtime rival where it will hurt the most.

    The assault is targeting companies and government agencies paying for Microsoft's suite of word processing, email, calendar, spreadsheet and other Office programs. If they dump Microsoft, Google will give them free use of a package of its competing software that normally costs $5 or $10 for each user each month.

    The price for the "Google for Work" software will be waived for the duration of the defecting customers' existing contracts with Microsoft or any other supplier. The offer is open for the next six months in the U.S. and will eventually be extended to other countries.

    Google is limiting the free usage to 3,000 people for each defecting customer. Even with that restriction, Google will be foregoing $180,000 to $360,000 in annual revenue if a company with 3,000 people signs up for the offer. As an additional incentive, Google will pay up to $75,000 to each company switching to its software to cover the costs of making the change.

    Google, now owned by a newly formed company called Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL), declined to say how much it has budgeted for its latest assault on Microsoft (MSFT). Google says more than 600 companies have at least 10,000 employees using Work software.

    The offer underscores Google's confidence in the quality of its software and its resolve to undercut one of Microsoft's most valuable franchises, said Aragon Research analyst Jim Lundy said. He estimated Microsoft's current customers are paying $12 to $20 for each user under contracts that typically run for several years.

    Microsoft's Office division generated $23.5 billion, or roughly one-quarter of the software maker's revenue during its last fiscal year ending in June. The revenue includes sales of Office to consumers, too.

    Digital advertising still accounts for nearly all of Google's revenue, which totaled $66 billion last year. But the Mountain View, California, company has diverting some of the money it makes from advertising to chip away at Microsoft's dominance in office software since it introduced a suite of competing programs nearly a decade ago.

    At that time, Google was trying a different approach by requiring an Internet connection to use its software instead of installing the programs on the hard drives of individual programs. Now, Microsoft and most other software makers sell subscriptions that allow online access to their programs so they can be opened on personal computers, tablets and smartphones.

    Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, also has been trying to chip away at Google's dominance in Internet search and advertising for the past decade, with little success.

    Google's new business software offer "represents a continuing saga in the battle with Microsoft for control of the desktop and mobile devices," Lundy said.


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