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7 Reasons to Volunteer in Retirement

America is one of the most generous nations in the world. According to figures from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, some 60 percent of Americans regularly engage in some kind of charitable activity, compared to an average of about 40 percent for other developed countries.

A study from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave found that Americans donated $358 billion last year, and most of it came not from corporations but from families and individuals. In addition, Americans offered almost 8 billion hours volunteering for charitable causes, from church activities to political organizations to helping out neighbors and strangers. While Americans of all races and ages contribute their money and time, retirees are the ones who reach out the most. Here's why retirement is a great time to give back.

1. Retirees have the best opportunity. Retirees have the most discretionary time. Their time isn't consumed by working or taking care of children. They have almost twice as much free time as working parents in their late 30s and early 40s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they are looking for something to do with all that extra time. So while retirees comprise a little less than a third of the population, they account for 45 percent of all volunteering hours, Merrill Lynch found.

2. They have the most money. Retirees have the lowest poverty rate among all age groups, and they also have the most savings. They are sitting on more than four times the net worth of their children who are working and raising families. This explains why retirees account for 42 percent of the money donated to charity, according to Merrill Lynch.

3. They find it fulfilling. Retirees say that donating both time and money rewards them with a greater purpose in life. They feel that giving back to society means they make a difference in the lives of others. Some 70 percent of retirees also say being generous provides a significant source of happiness. Most volunteers report that helping others brings them more happiness than spending money on themselves. Retirees who are active in charities also have a stronger sense of purpose and higher self-esteem. They have lower rates of depression as well as lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates.

4. It's a way to make social connections. Another reason retirees volunteer is for the social interaction. After people stop working and their kids are gone, they lose many of the usual social connections. Volunteering helps retirees meet people with similar interests and values. Some 85 percent of retiree volunteers say they have developed new friendships through their volunteer activities, the survey found.

5. Where does the money go? About half of people who make gifts of money and goods contribute to a religious or spiritual organization. About a third donate to relieve poverty, a quarter provide disaster aid and roughly 20 percent give to educational institutions. As the ranks of baby boomers swell, the amount of time and money given to charities is expected to increase. But baby boomers tend to be less religious than their elders, so the future of charity may lean away from religious organizations and more toward human rights and the environment.

6. Giving to family. While some people say that leaving an inheritance to their children is an important goal, today's retirees are twice as likely to say it's more important to pass on values and life lessons than real estate or financial assets. A number of retirees also say it's more important to help out family members in times of need instead of accumulating an estate for their children. Over 60 percent of parents have given some kind of financial support to their adult children. Others have extended a helping hand to parents, siblings, in-laws and grandchildren.

7. Women versus men. It may come as no surprise that women are more generous than men. They are more likely to give money and more likely to volunteer. They are also more likely to say they achieve happiness by giving to others rather than spending money on themselves, and define success in terms of helping others rather than accumulating wealth. Women give out of gratitude, not guilt. And because of their greater longevity, women also exercise control over the family inheritance. Today, about a third of charitable bequests are made by married couples. But almost half are made by women alone.

5 Unique Ways to Save on Your Holiday Shopping

It's almost time to hand out presents.

Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is here. That means one thing: spending money and potentially a lot of it. In a survey by the American Research Group, Americans plan on spending nearly $900 on their holiday shopping. Such an amount can put a significant stress on a budget, leaving families looking for ways to save money.

We all know about the traditional ways to save money on shopping, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday sales. Those discounts can provide nice savings, but they only scratch the surface. There are many other tools and tricks to help you stretch your holiday budget. Below are some unique ones to help you save:

The Four-Gift Rule

The four-gift rule has made its way around the Internet over the past few years. The idea behind it is relatively simple. Instead of overwhelming recipients with a lot of gifts and costing you more, you make your gift-giving more intentional. The rule dictates the following: You buy the person something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

The rule may not work for everyone, as it's particularly angled towards a younger child or perhaps a spouse. With children, in particular, this approach can help avoid excessive gift giving and thus save you money in the long run. It's practical and still also allows for fun and creativity.

Use Apps

Smartphone apps can be a great way to save money on holiday shopping. We all know about popular apps like Amazon that allow you to compare prices in real-time. There are many other apps out there that can help save you money on your holiday shopping needs.

Some of those newer apps are Flipp and Slice. "It rounds up all of the shopping ads and circulars in your local area and presents them to you in a format that's very easy to flip through," says Jill Cataldo, founder of the The Flipp app also allows you to collect local coupons so as to maximize your savings.

I hate it when I buy an item only to find out the price was reduced the following week. The Slice app allows you to set a price tracker, which tracks the amount you spent on an item. If the price drops, it notifies you so you can get the difference refunded from participating merchants.

Use Gift Cards

MarketWatch reports that $750 million in gift cards were unused in 2014. If you have an unused gift card lying around, that is free cash not being spent. There may be a number of reasons you didn't use the card, from not liking the store to forgetting you had the card.

Regardless of the reason, an unused gift card can be a great way to reduce the overall amount you spend out of pocket for holiday gifts. Instead of letting that card continue to collect dust and lose value due to potential inactivity fees, use them to buy gifts. It may feel tacky, but is a great way to save money.

Buy Discounted Gift Cards

Gift cards play a dual role for potential savings. Many who have unused gift cards sell them for cash. This has opened up a market for sites like Card Cash, Raise, Card Pool and others that sell discounted gift cards. Such sites allow individuals to buy gift cards for up to 35 percent off standard price.

Such a service can be a great way to save a little extra money if a gift card is on your shopping list. Just make sure to read the terms and conditions prior to purchase.

Break It Up

Another overlooked way to save money on holiday items is by purchasing an item in bulk. That may sound counterintuitive, but it works. "The set gives you a lower price per unit and you can toss them into a gift bag helping you save without skimping on the gift," says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.

Woroch explains that the item bought at a warehouse club can be broken up and repackaged into smaller gifts while still allowing you to take advantage of the lower per unit cost. If you are giving multiple people the same gift, then this can be a great way to save extra money instead of purchasing higher-priced individual gifts.

The holiday shopping season can be a stressful one financially. It doesn't have to be. With a little planning and creativity, you can avoid being an "average" shopper and become one who saves money.

Home Flippers Get Creative as Competition Heats Up

Property flipping in today's rocky housing recovery means staying one step ahead of the game — a game that is becoming increasingly cutthroat. Foreclosures are drying up and cash-heavy hedge funds are still buying low-end properties to rent. For a home flipper, someone who buys and sells a home in the same calendar year, the pickings are ever slimmer, but the profit can still be high.

"Investors are finding creative ways to pinpoint potential flips in the off-market arena, and on the disposition side investors have a bigger pool of potential buyers thanks to a surge in FHA buyers this year, many of them first-time buyers looking for starter homes," said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, a foreclosure listing and analytics company.

The share of homes flipped jumped 18 percent nationally in the third quarter of this year, compared to a year ago, according to a new report from RealtyTrac. Gross profit moved slightly higher.

Doug Van Soest has been flipping properties in California's Inland Empire region since 2008. He used to buy foreclosures off the local area listing services, but no more. Now he has a new strategy.

"As those became less and less and the competition was getting higher and higher, it was harder and harder to find homes that it made sense to flip. We started mailing directly to homeowners to see if they're interested in selling," said Van Soest, who flips 30-50 properties a year, mostly priced under $300,000.

He targets several different categories, using real estate databases and new real estate apps. He started mailing to small-scale landlords who don't live near the homes they rent out. The hope being that they might be tired of dealing with the property management and just want to get out. He is also going after potential sellers who are not on the market.

"Lately, we've been mailing just to regular owner-occupants. We do filter it down, like we're not going to mail to someone who just bought a house in the last two or three years," said Van Soest. "Usually we're looking for someone who has been there a long time. We like to mail to older houses, and the reason for that is we're trying to find a home we can improve on, that we can pour some money into and add value to it."

For the seller, he says, it is an enticing prospect. They can sell the home without paying commission to a real estate agent and without having to fix it up to show. They don't have to go through any of the grueling, mortgage-dependent sales process that regular sellers do.

"Sell it quickly and be done with it," said Van Soest.

Flipping actually edged out renting as the preferred strategy for investors for the past year, according to, a real estate auction company. Investor demand in single-family rentals has been very strong, as homeownership is now at the lowest level in half a century. As buyers trickle back, however, especially to lower-priced homes, flipping is more attractive.

"Rising prices and extremely limited inventory make a nearly ideal environment for real estate investors who want to buy, fix and flip properties, and that is precisely where we are in today's market," said Rick Sharga, executive vice president at

The average gross return on investment was 33.8 percent for completed home flips in the third quarter, up from 32.7 percent in the third quarter of 2014, according to RealtyTrac. Some markets, of course, are more lucrative than others. Baltimore, Tampa, Florida, and Chicago hold the top spots for gross flipping returns. The largest share of flips goes to Nevada, Florida and Alabama.

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