Thursday, April 29, 2010

Start planning for tax hikes now

In the latest issue of Forbes (yes, I am still getting it for free), there is a nice summary of what to do between now and 2013 to try and minimize any effects of the tax hikes that will be hitting all of us.

There will be a new 3.8% "Medicare" tax on investment income and 0.9% Medicare tax on wages.

Here are some of the key points:

  • Next year, money in FSAs, Health Savings Accounts, and Health Reimbursement Accounts may no longer be used for over-the-counter medications  unless your doctor has prescribed you to take them.
  • In 2013, the maximum you can place in an FSA will be decreased to $2,500 per year. 
  • In 2013, there will be an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on gross compensation (before any retirement contributions) above $200,000 (individuals) or $250,000 (couples).  
  • In 2013 there will also be a new 3.8% surtax on investment income for individuals with more than $200,000 in adjusted gross income and $250,000 for those filing jointly.  This will apply to interest, capital gains, annuities, rents, royalties, passive activity income, and dividends.  Except will be retirement account distributions, capital gains from selling your principal residence and business income from a venture.  It will also affect trust income more than $11,200 that you do not distribute.
  • In case you were planning to sell some of your long-term investments in future years for a major bill, consider selling them before the capital gains rate increases. Depending on your tax bracket, your long-term capital gains rate could be going from 0% to 10-20% or from 15% to 20%. Click here to view the table on Wikipedia

The Forbes article has a nice graph showing what the Capital Gains and Income Tax Top Rates have been from 1960 to the present and in the coming years.  Click here to view that graph.

For more details, click here for the article.

To subscribe to Forbes magazine, click here for 12 months (26 issues).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Visit? The Museum of Making Music

The Museum of Making Music is located in Carlsbad, California.  They are open throughout the week except Mondays and major holidays.  Their hours are from 10 AM to 5 PM.

They have exhibits that show a variety of music instruments dating as far back as the 1800s.

Admission is free for children 5 years and younger.  It is $5 to $7 for others.

If you are traveling a fair distance, consider combining this trip with a visit to the "Flower Fields."

Visit? "The Cat House" - Exotic Feline Breeding Compound

The Exotic Feline Breeding Compound is located in Rosamond, California near Edwards Air Force Base.  they were founded in 1977 and are a non-profit organization with their own 501(c)(3) number.

Here are some key points:

  • They are home to more than 70 inhabitants that comprise more than 18 different species.  Click here to see pictures of them.
  • They are closed on Wednesdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and "Feline Follies" day (August 14, 2010 this year). This last day looks like it has limited admission and is used for fundraising.

If you will be traveling from a fair distance, you may want to consider combining this visit with a visit to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve since it looks like they are about 30 minutes apart.

Related websites:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Scenic Day in Yosemite

This is also from Sunset Magazine.  I am just trying to get through the most recent issue so it can be recycled (and out of the office).  No link available here.  I like it because it tries to give you some high-yield places to visit at Yosemite National Park.

You'll need to get an issue if you want the details, but here they are:

  • 6 AM Sunrise at Slaughterhouse Meadow
  • 8 AM to Mirror Lake Junction
  • 9 AM Breakfast at Ahwahnee Hotel's brunch (or simple breakfast)
  • 10 AM to El Capitan Picnic area.  Consider a stop at Yosemite Mountaineering School
  • 11 AM to Yosemite Falls
  • Noon Lunch at the Yosemite Village Store and shuttle to Happy Isles
  • 1 PM Waterfalls:  Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.
  • 5 PM Ice cream at Curry Village Ice Cream Corner
  • 6 PM Tunnel View Overlook
Options to stay:
Park entry is $20 per vehicle which is good for 7 days.

The official website also has a page on planning your visit along with some videos.

I am still getting Sunset Magazine for free and if I read the label correctly, it will be for many more months to come.  I like it so far and am slightly tempted to subscribe since it gives some great ideas for getaways.  Not all of the features or on their website, so you can't rely on accessing the material over the internet.

If you are interested in subscribing to Sunset magazine, you can do so with the following links for 1 year or 2 years.


Update:  When I originally posted this information, I could not find the on-line version.  I later found it and you can find it by clicking here.

Living in Limited Spaces

In the most recent issue of Sunset, there were two brief pieces about living in limited spaces.

The first was about a landscape architect, Andreas Stavropaoulos, who lives in a 1959 Airstream trailer (all 15 x 7 feet of it). He tows his mobile office to his worksite.  The trailer has a Kyocera KD mounted to power is iMac. For more information and pictures, click here.

The next story was about a family of four that moved onto a 1,000 square foot house boat on California's Richardson Bay.  To read about this family and see pictures of what they are doing, click here.

If you are interested, you can subscribe to Sunset Magazine for either 1 year or 2 years.

Visit? Bandelier National Monument

This is also a place to go that was featured for "Families" in the most recent Sunset Magazine issue.

It is near Los Alamos, New Mexico and features a couple of hikes that go around waterfalls and some excavation sites.

This sounds like a really interesting place to visit with not too serious hiking to see everything.  There are some renovations being done to the Visitor's center, but it looks like the hiking trails will continue to be open.

Related sites:

  • Click here for the main website to Bandelier National Monument.
  • Click here for things to do (short hikes, etc).
  • Click here to subscribe to Sunset Magazine for 1 year or 2 years.

Visit? Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona

Got another issue of Sunset Magazine and taking a quick breeze through.

One of the possible trips is to Wahweap Campground at Glen Park National Recreation area.  Their website says they have a combination of sites with full hookups, non-hookups, and group site.

Watercraft rental information can be found on this web page.  It looks like boats are close to $600 per day and kayaks start at $46 per day.

Houseboats are rented anywhere from about $2,000 to $12,000 per week.  Click here to view those rates and features.

If you would rather stay in a building, there are three types of housing, but only one is designated as "family."  You can view it by clicking here.

Click here to view books and maps available on

Click here to subscribe to Sunset Magazine for 1 year or 2 years.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jeremy Siegel: Three phases of fed tightening

In this Yahoo! Finance article by Jeremy Siegel, he describes three steps the Fed must take and why it will be beneficial to our economy (even though it may seem counterintuitive.

  1. Has already taken place and that is increasing the Fed Funds rate
  2. Further increases in the Fed Funds rate and increasing the rate it pays for reserves
  3. Open market sales and further increases in the rate it pays for reserves

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Visit? Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

It is April and we are in the middle of the March to May time where the poppies are blooming at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.

They actually have a page that shows recent photos that you can view by clicking here.  It lists $8 for private automobile parking.  There are discounts for seniors and disabled persons.

It looks like the trail is about 2.5 miles and has a mild elevation of 300 feet.

As long as the drive is not too far, this is probably worth it (especially for the pictures).

Click here to buy poppy seeds from Amazon.


If you are traveling a fair distance, you should consider combining this visit with a visit to "the Cat House" which is only about 30 minutes away.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Visit? America's Greatest Train Rides

The Parade magazine from a recent Los Angeles Times had an article titles "America's Greatest Train Rides."  What child has not had a fascination with trains at some point in their lives?

The article has brief descriptions of longer routes such as Chicago to Los Angeles.  It also has some Day Trips by Region.

Related sites:

Yahoo! Finance: Top 10 Investor Traps / I Dodged the Reserve Fund

The article summary

Yahoo! Finance had an article provided by CNBC that listed the top 10 Investor scams.  They are as follows:

  1. Ponzi schemes
  2. Gold bullion and currency scams
  3. Natural resource investments
  4. Life settlements
  5. Private placement offerings
  6. Real estate investment schemes
  7. Entertainment investments
  8. Short-term commercial promissory investment notes
  9. Speculative inventions and new promises
  10. Leveraged Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs).
Dodging the Reserve Money Market Fund

I would like to add one that I dodged for my mother.  She was "recommended" to move her dormant cash from a regular Money Market fund that was earning about 2.5 percent to a "Reserve" Money Market Fund that was earning about 4.5 percent.  When I reviewed the prospectus to find out what they were investing in, the red flag to me was that it was a "leveraged" Money Market fund.  They listed that they would borrow up to 25 percent for additional investments.  The purpose of a Money Market fund is stability and you do not get that with leverage.  

In 2008, it caught up with them and the "sacred" dollar value was broken.  

Advertisements on KNX1070

Obviously no one is going to advertise that they are selling a Ponzi scheme, but I frequently hear advertisements for Gold bullion and Life settlements.

List of related websites:

  • Click here for the full article on Yahoo! Finance and details on each trap.
  • Click here to be taken to the Reserve Funds website.
  • Click here to read a USA Today article about the Reserve Fund falling below the dollar value.
  • Click here to go to KNX1070.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Visit? Catalina Zip-line Eco Tour / Catalina Express

I ran across a story about a zip-line that has been installed on Catalina Island.  It drops from an elevation of  about 500 feet to 60 feet.  There are five separate zip-lines which are up to 1,100 feet long.  Overall it takes about two hours and there are stops between each zip-line which provide information about the island.

Just looking at their website I saw some ticket prices for $92.50.  While this may be cheaper than a trip to one of the Costa Rica Canopy Zip-line tours, it is not at the level of an "impulse" expense.  If we were to take the Catalina Express from Long Beach, it would cost $66.50 for each of the parents and $51.00 for each of the four children.  This comes to a total of $337.00 just to get to Catalina.  Then add the expense of the zip-line tour and other incidental expenses (food, souvenirs, etc).

Is it worth the thrill? Not now...

Click here to read more at this zip-line tour and to order tickets.

Click here to view the Catalina Express website for rates and schedules.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Visit? Carlsbad's The Flower Fields

A friend of ours recently visited The Flower Fields in Carlsbad.  They feature 50 acres of flowers and it looks like the kids would have loads of fun there.  There would be plenty of opportunity for taking pictures as well.  Be sure to see my recent pictures on my photoblog (click the link on the right side of this blog).

Tickets are $10 for adults ($20 for a season pass), $5 for children 3 to 10 years of age ($10 for a season pass).  Children 2 and under are free.  I guess when you turn 11 years old, they consider you an adult?

Click here to visit their website.

Visit? Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve

Here is another place to view wildflowers per Sunset Magazine's April 2010 issue.  I am currently getting this for free.

This Reserve is near Big Bear and is free to visit.  It looks like a short walk of about one mile.  What will take a while is getting there since it is on the north side of Big Bear.  It is at a pretty high elevation of 7,000 feet.  If going, plan a half-day of day trip there to include at least one meal.

Click here to subscribe to Sunset Magazine for 1 year or 2 years.

Click here to visit the Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve website.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Visit? Limestone Canyon and Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park

This is in Orange County.  It also is listed in Sunset Magazine (which I get for free as of the time of this post) as a place to visit in April.  I guess the fire in this area was in 2007 so it is "bouncing back" with its own assortment of flowers.  It lists $3 for parking.

Click here to to subscribe to Sunset Magazine for 1 year or for 2 years.

Click here to go to the park's website.

Visit? Darwin Falls in Death Valley

Among the magazines I am receiving for free is "Sunset."  They have some recommendations for April. 

One of them is Darwin Falls in Death Valley off of State Highway 190. This stands out for me because I have never been to Death Valley and would like to go at some point.  The visit times are probably limited due to the extreme heat during the summer time.

Click here to support me and subscribe to Sunset Magazine for 1 year or 2 years

Related websites:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Adventures by Disney: Worth it or not?

While at the local American Automobile Association office to renew a car registration, I saw a video on these guided tours targeted for families.  They are run by Disney and I recently checked out their website.

Most of the trips are around a week in length and run in the thousands per person and usually do not include airfare.  If you review the itineraries they look like outstanding "adventures" and great family experiences.  I think there probably is some minimum age for the kids to enjoy this (maybe somewhere between six and eight years of age?).

Even though these look tempting and I am sure the service is superb, with a family of six and the cost per person in the thousands, some of the trips may reach the tens of thousands in overall costs.  It would probably best to review the itineraries and develop your own similar (and likely less expensive) experience.

Click here to go to Adventures by Disney.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Incremental costs: iPad example of fighting the rationalization game

Here's a great article about how a slippery slope can be started by starting with a basic purchase for a low-end model and then "rationalizing" yourself into buying something that costs much more.  I am sure we all do it whether it is something small like food purchases at a grocery store or larger items like appliances (microwaves, refrigerators, etc) and electronics (think TVs, cameras, computers).

Click here to read the Consumer Reports example. (How My $499 iPad Purchase Became a $1,170 Credit Card Bill)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Pandora's "Music Genome Project"

I will admit that sometimes I jump on certain technologies quick, but more often, I drag my feet because I just do not know what to do with it.  For example, I do not own an iPod and I do not sync my MP3s with my phone.

The website and company called Pandora ( has about 25 musicians rate music on up to 400 characteristics.  Then, depending on what a user asks to listen to (IE Elton John), Pandora will recommend music that is similar to what you are listening to.  Similar to TIVO, if you give certain songs a thumbs up or down, it will tweak your own preferences and suggest music according to what it "learns" by your ratings.

The best part is it is free for the users.  They make their money off of advertisements and their commission on iTunes and Amazon MP3 sales.  They pay the recording artists and labels about $0.02 per hour to play their music for the users.

I have not joined for probably a variety of reasons including:

  • Yet another user ID and password to remember
  • Most of the time, I concentrate better and can get more accomplished in a music-free environment
  • Most of the time, I have a ton of stuff to do
  • I have not even checked to see if my phone can stream it
Well...maybe sometime later...  Maybe it will help me "broaden" my music tastes.

Remember that you can support me by buying your MP3s through Amazon.  Click here to: search for mp3 downloads or click on the Amazon Searchbox on the right side of my blog.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Nice Flag Database

In case you are looking for what each country's flag looks like, I found this website that may be able to help you out.

Click here for