My house just went “dark.” No cable TV, no internet. I was worried this would happen as the heavy equipment started to accumulate. A new development at the end of the street is going to have natural gas, so our street will be trenched and piped to deliver the gas.
No problem, right?
Wrong. Inevitably, the Time Warner cable was cut. Service crews are on the way. We’ll be up and running by this evening, they say. So I start thinking about alternatives. Could always set up my phone as a hotspot. Could leave for McDonald’s or Starbucks or other nearby places that offer free wireless internet.
I can feel the shakes coming on. Cold turkey internet data withdrawal. No Netflix. No Amazon. No big PDFs to download and read. Just the dark horror of being cut off from civilization.
We still have electricity. The AC is working. Still have water. But even so, without internet, the house seems threatened, possibly unlivable. Maybe we should leave, come back later?
If you are sane, you probably aren’t quite as dependent on internet access as the Burns family is. But the experience reminded me of how much we take constant communication for granted. It also reminded me that I had forgotten an important anniversary--- www.scottburns.com has now been up and running for 20 years, albeit in several iterations.
Back then it was a personal (and primitive) effort, done with Microsoft’s FrontPage program. All I can say about my design skills is that the old pages remind me of clothing from the 1970’s--- things that should never be seen again.
The web is different today, and that’s a good thing. Most pages are easier to read, design is better and, most important, data is presented in multiple forms, often with nearly magical visualization. Here are some examples, websites that everyone with a shred of interest in personal finance, investments, or economics should visit and put to good use.
--- I’ve been doing a regular feature called “The Wealth Scoreboard” for over a decade. The research department at the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank has helped with this, saving me from the heavy lifting. But now you can get much finer detail about where you stand on the wealth scale by visiting www.dqydj.com. The “dqydj” stands for “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” Visit that site, go to their online wealth calculators, enter your net worth and age. Presto, you’ll know your percentile.
You can do the same thing with income distribution, etc.
--- My son Oliver is a go-to guy for radio-based internet service around where we live. He supplies his truck, tools, computer and skills for people in areas without cable. But being a contract worker is tricky. You’re self-employed. A lot of the money coming in has to be put aside for taxes and the whole thing is complicated.
A solution can be found on www.smartasset.com, a personal finance site with very good tax calculators. The younger Burns and I have used the site to estimate how much he needs to put away, month by month, to be a compliant taxpayer.
But the site has far more uses. One is a separate tax calculator for retirees, the only online tax calculator I have found that incorporates the taxation of Social Security benefits. The same calculators can help you see what your total tax burden is likely to be in different locations.
--- Back in 1995 I wrote a column taking Fidelity guru Peter Lynch to task for suggesting that people could be 100 percent invested in stocks and withdraw 7 percent a year safely. I did that column with help from broker friend Ken Bingham and the “Hypo” software he had from the American Funds group. The many later columns on portfolio survival were based on the results found by professional researchers and academics.
Today, you can do that research yourself at www.portfoliovisualizer.com. You don’t need a Ph.D. or MBA to do it, but it will help if you have a working knowledge of investments and interest in the question of how long your money will last. Nervous retirees will find the most relief in testing how their portfolios are likely to do while making Required Minimum Distributions. (Hint: Your spendable income is likely to rise for longer than most people will live.)
All of this, in glorious internet tradition, is free. This is something that just keeps getting better.