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Saving from Daylight Saving Time

As most people no doubt can notice they are robbed of an hour of sleep. For morning people, Daylight Saving is a drag, depriving them of an hour of tranquil morning light. But for others, “spring forward” brings with it the promise of long, languid afternoons and warmer weather.

Like millions of other Americans who have slogged through an uncomfortably cold winter, I’m looking forward to the change of season. But Daylight Saving Time is an annual tradition whose time has passed. In contemporary society, it’s not only unnecessary: It’s also wasteful, cruel, and dangerous. And it’s long past time to bid it goodbye.

Daylight Saving has been an official ritual since 1918, when President Woodrow Wilson codified it into law during the waning days of World War One. Nowadays, its ostensible purpose is to save energy: One more hour of sunlight in the evening means one less hour of consumption of artificial lighting. In 2005, President George W. Bush lengthened Daylight Saving Time by a month as part of a sweeping energy bill signed that year, citing the need to reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil.

But does Daylight Saving Time actually make much of a difference? Evidence suggests that the answer is no. After the Australian government extended Daylight Saving Time by two months in 2000 in order to accommodate the Sydney Olympic Games, a study at UC Berkeley showed that the move failed to reduce electricity demand at all. More recently, a study of homes in Indiana—a state that adopted Daylight Saving Time only in 2006—showed that the savings from electricity use were negated, and then some, by additional use of air conditioning and heat.

The simple act of adjusting to the time change, however subtle, also has measurable consequences. Many people feel the effects of the “spring forward” for longer than a day; a study showed that Americans lose around 40 minutes of sleep on the Sunday night after the shift. This means more than just additional yawns on Monday: The resulting loss in productivity costs the economy an estimated $434 million a year.

Daylight Saving Time may also hurt people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, depriving them of light in the mornings. “Our circadian rhythms were set eons ago to a rhythm that didn’t include daylight savings time, so the shift tends to throw people off a bit,” Nicholas Rummo, the director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, New York, told HealthDay News. The switchover to Daylight Saving Time is also linked to an increase in heart attacks as well as traffic accidents.

Those of us who have lived with Daylight Saving Time our whole lives might feel disoriented without it. But the millions of Americans in Arizona, Hawaii, and territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have survived just fine without it. Not to mention the billions of people throughout Asia, Africa, and South America.

It’s said that Benjamin Franklin first proposed a version of Daylight Saving back in 1784 as a way to save candles. This, no disrespect to old Ben, should tell us how silly and obsolete the tradition has become. President Obama—and leaders elsewhere in the world—should do the sensible thing and scrap it.

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Save wisely

Americans struggle when it comes to saving for retirement. The most recent data from the Employee Benefits Research Institute show that more than one-third of workers have saved less than $1,000. And those who are able to pull money together, no matter what the amount, are hesitant to invest it. According to Bankrate research, nearly 75 percent of consumers choose safe, but low-yielding, liquid accounts over the stock market.

That’s a problem, says Sophia Bera, a Minnesota-based certified financial planner. “If you’re too conservatively invested in retirement accounts, that makes it hard for your assets to outpace inflation,” she says. “If inflation is 3 percent a year, and you’re only earning 2 percent, you’re actually losing money.”

The solution? Create a mix of investments, called an asset allocation, that keeps pace with inflation, takes an appropriate amount of risk and works for you as you age.

Choose an appropriate account.

If your employer offers a 401(k), and contributes matching dollars, then there’s no discussion here — that is where you start. “If you have that, you don’t want to leave free money on the table, so you want to maximize that first and foremost,” Bera says.

Once you’ve contributed enough to grab that match, often 50 percent on the first 6 percent of your salary that you contribute, you can keep going until you hit the maximum contribution for the year. If you don’t like your investment choices, you can look at other vehicles, like an IRA, or, if you’re eligible, a Roth. Currently, you can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA if you’re under 50; $6,500 if you’re older. To be eligible to make that full contribution to a Roth, you must earn less than $181,000 if you’re married filing jointly, or $114,000 if you’re single.

A Roth is a great pairing with a 401(k) if you’re eligible, Bera says, because you’ll cover two bases on taxes: The 401(k) gives you a deduction on contributions in the year you make them. A Roth comes with no immediate tax deduction, but you can pull out money in retirement tax-free. (Note: These days some employers offer Roth 401(k) options, as well, which can serve the same purpose.)

Run your retirement numbers.

You need to get a handle on how much money you’ll need. “The most powerful tool that people have is really doing some long-term projections,” says Texas-based financial planner Jean Keener. “If you can figure out a baseline projection of how much you need to be saving for retirement, that’s the one thing you should be doing as early in your financial life as possible.” To do that, play around with a few calculators, like Bankrate’s retirement income calculator. I also like the Ballpark E$timate from Choose to Save and the retirement income calculator from T. Rowe Price.

Set an asset allocation.

As I mentioned earlier, this is the mix of investments within your account. You want stocks, fixed income or bonds and cash. The amount of each depends on your age and risk tolerance. Generally, when you’re young, you’ll take more risk. As you approach retirement age, you’ll shift toward less. If you don’t want to make these decisions, you can choose a target-date retirement fund, which allows you to select the year in which you plan to retire. The fund will then invest your money accordingly.

Rebalance.

The aforementioned target-date retirement fund will do this for you. But if you’ve decided to go at it alone, you need to periodically — Bera recommends once a year — check your investments to make sure they’re still on track. If the equity markets do well (as they have lately), you may find that you have too much exposure to stocks. You’ll need to sell some of those winners and put the profits back into categories that are a bit slower-going to bring things back in line.

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