Laura writes: I want to set aside money for my kids (twins, 10 years old) to be used for buying a home or getting a head start in their lives someday -- aside from college savings. Do you recommend opening a brokerage account or some other type of investment vehicle?
To help with your answer I tapped Jerry Miccolis, chief investment officer at Brinton Eaton, a fee-only wealth management firm. Given the investment horizon of about two decades he suggests investing in a low-cost index fund, which is a mutual fund that aims to achieve the returns of the securities found in a particular market index, such as the S&P 500. “For a 20-plus-year horizon, there’s probably not going to be any asset class that’s going to outperform equities,” says Miccolis. “That’s probably the best way to grow [this money] and keep it ahead of inflation.”
Your best bet is to choose an index fund that tracks a well-known benchmark, such as the broad S&P 500 Index, the Russell 2000 Index and the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index. The S&P 500, for example, has several index funds that track it, with Vanguard (VFINX) the most notable.
You can open one at any online brokerage like E*Trade, Scottrade and Charles Schwab.
Another advantage to an index fund is that it requires relatively less management than actively traded funds, which means lower fees and expenses. “You can get mutual funds that track the S&P 500 for fees less than 10 basis points,” says Miccolis.
Richard writes: My dog -- a Labrador Retriever -- is getting up in age and I know she will be getting expensive as time goes on. How can I secure low-cost vet care for her?
The best way to give your aging dog the best and most affordable health care is to combine some at-home preventative steps with an overall wellness plan with your local vet.
Dr. Louise Murray, author of “Vet Confidential” and vice president of the ASPCA Animal Hospital, says there are a number of ways to maintain your pet’s health at home. First, feed your dog the best, most nutritious food. “Good quality pet food, formulated under the guidelines of the American Association of Feed Control Officials, is often more cost effective than a homemade diet,” says Murray. Just be careful of how much he’s consuming. “Overfeeding your pet… can lead to obesity and other health problems,” she says.
Brushing your dog’s teeth daily can also help prevent dental disease, as well as heart and kidney problems and the expensive procedures that’ll likely be required as a result. And if there’s a smoker in the house, the secondhand smoke could shorten your dog’s life. “At the very least avoid smoking around your pet. It can cause asthma, bronchitis, lymphoma and oral, nasal and lung cancers. Quit now and you’ll save money on vet bills,” Murray says.
To stretch your dollar on vet care, the first step is to shop around. Prices vary at different animal clinics and hospitals. Ask friends and family for their recommendations first, and when you call around, ask about the cost for typical procedures, like vaccines and checkups. Smaller towns tend to offer cheaper pricing and local vet schools run low-cost clinics for limited-income clients.
Once you choose a vet, commit to a yearlong wellness plan that includes a number of visits and the recommended medications. This can help you budget ahead of time, says Kirsten Theisen, director of pet care issues for the Humane Society. “Have your clinic write an estimate for all these services bundled together and see if you can start making monthly payments now, to make costs more predictable,” she says. Ask the vet’s office if they can place a bulk order or give you wholesale pricing for daily, long-term medications, as well. “In general, the larger the prescription, the lower the cost per dose, so it can save you money to ask for meds in large quantities,” says Theisen.
Finally, never forget to ask for a discount. “In exchange for knowing you’ll be their client for years to come [your vet] may offer a discount on some of the services in your wellness plan,” adds Theisen. If you served in the military or are a senior, you may also qualify for discounts. Just ask.
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