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April 2010 Archives

MarkFischer_LL.JPG2010 is the year of the Roth conversion! What is a Roth IRA? It is a retirement plan containing after-tax money / investments. Investments in the Roth and withdrawals from it will never be taxed, as long as money has been there for at least 5 years and you satisfy one of the following: attainment of 59 ½, death, disability, or first-time home purchase. You can fund a Roth IRA with a variety of investments, and therefore defer any combination of interest, dividends, or capital gains from taxes.

Doing a conversion from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA requires paying taxes on the amount converted. So why would you want to pay tax now rather than later? You can save tax money - in the long run - three different ways:

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Congratulations to current Compleat Scholar instructor, Eric Dregni! His book Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy's Culinary Capital received the CityPages best book by a local author award.

Food scientist Tonya Schoenfuss was asked by WCCO news "why is our food so salty"? Read her response and learn about her current research into the salt levels in cheese. Dr. Schoenfuss will lead a "cheesy" Curiosity Camp this summer; during "Cheese, Glorious Cheese!" on June 29 delve into the science and art of cheesemaking.

Rafael Yglesias and Madelon Sprengnether discuss "The Transformative Power of Art" in an audio recording from the April 20, 2010, Great Conversations. Listen online or download the mp3 file.

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About the speakers...
Described by The New York Times as "one of America's most prominent novelists," Rafael Yglesias is a screenwriter and the author of nine novels. His novel Fearless was made into a 1993 major motion picture, for which he also wrote the screenplay. After a 13-year absence, his latest novel, A Happy Marriage, has just been published to rave reviews.

Yglesias's film Fearless was the subject of a chapter in Madelon Sprengnether's acclaimed book, Crying at the Movies: A Film Memoir. A faculty member in the University of Minnesota English Department, Sprengnether is a Regents Professor, the highest honor bestowed on University of Minnesota professors.

MarkFischer_LL.JPGEffective guarantees on income have been disappearing. People used to frequently buy immediate annuities - investments managed by insurance companies - to generate a lifetime of guaranteed payments to supplement their work retirement plans. Retirement plans through work also generally paid income guaranteed to last for the rest of an employee's (and their spouse's) lifetime.

Immediate annuities and lifetime retirement income plans are much less common now, partly because of their high cost to employers and their inflexibility:

You could not turn them on or off when you wanted or needed to. You had no access to your money if you needed it for healthcare or another major expenditure.

You had no control over the investment pool, so your work plan or annuity typically invested your money in lower paying bonds. Your lifetime income was smaller than it could have been if invested in other alternatives that grew at a faster rate.

Your children were out of luck - there was nothing left from these plans at the end for them to inherit.

Now you are more likely to save for retirement through a plan at work - 401(k), 403(b), et al.

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Katherine_and_Elizabeth_Hirsh.jpgAren't some of the very best times those where laughter and being able to be ourselves are key ingredients? The fondness we feel for these times comes from the fact that we weren't worrying about impressing others, being right, or appearing perfect. Instead we were just freely enjoying ourselves and the people around us, casting aside pretense and living in the moment - in other words, allowing ourselves to play the "fool."

In the same way, comedies are funny because the characters, just like us, are not perfect. Children and animals are funny because perfection is a foreign concept to them and foolishness is their natural currency. And we love them for exactly that. In honor of April Fool's Day, let's pay tribute to the fool in all of us. Let's straighten out our priorities and get more of what really matters: FUN! Below are some suggestions to get you started - we encourage you to smile while reading them.

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catherine_watson.jpgIt was going to be a spring-cleaning double whammy: Rake the garden, tackle the basement. I expected to end up, at the very least, with a pile of mulch and some extra shelf space.

I didn't expect a jolt of déjà-vu, let alone a history lesson. But both were in the first box I opened.
Most of the contents were readership studies from my former employer, the Star Tribune. A generation of readership studies, in fact, all done before the Internet was a gleam in anyone's eye.

All had assessed our audience's reading habits; all suggested ways to improve what we were doing, and all ended on hopeful notes - some so hopeful that they made me smile, given the changes the industry has been suffering through.

Something else in that box, though, gave me a sterner pause: A two-page typed letter of complaint from one of those readers. It had somehow been misfiled, and I couldn't tell when.

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Headliners Speaker Chris Farrell large photo.JPGFor the past decade, American consumers have been engaged in a credit-fueled spending binge, lured into an inflated sense of wealth by soaring home values and record-breaking stock prices.

By the time of the financial meltdown, personal debt stood at a staggering $13.8 trillion--nearly $125,000 per household. The ensuing economic crisis accelerated two concurrent national trends of frugality and sustainability.

Now, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, "The Great Recession" is technically over. Following every recession since World War II, penny pinching quickly fell out of fashion as Americans returned to their previous spending habits. Will this time be different? As the economy recovers, will we continue to practice a sustainable lifestyle that's as good for the planet as it is for our bank accounts?

At the April 1 Headliners, journalist Chris Farrell tackled these topics in "The New Frugality." Listen to the audio online or download the mp3 file.

Did you know that the U of M has the largest collection of Sherlock Holmes artifacts in the world? The collection's curator, Tim Johnson, appeared on MPR's Midmorning to discuss the enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes.

Johnson will lead a June 15 Curiosity Camp, "Below the Surface: Treasures of the University Libraries," which will explore the many fascinating collections of the University Libraries.