Parting.com: Funeral Price Comparison Website

parting0Talking about death is always an awkward topic (even though it will happen to all of us), but this is my version of the many similar PSA-type funeral articles you’ll come across in personal finance magazines and columns.

The standard advice: If you are in the unfortunate circumstance that you are looking for funeral services, you should compare prices and services. The same service and products from two different funeral homes can vary by thousands of dollars. Even worse, some funeral homes are quite aggressive at pushing optional services as “necessary”. It is best to shop around.

Here are some good resources committed to educating shoppers:

The problem with this advice: comparing prices is a big hassle. All these pages will tell you to compare prices, as I just did. The government even requires that funeral homes provide their prices upfront upon request. However, they don’t require them to post them in an itemized manner online, so it is still a hassle to call up multiple places and make sure you are comparing prices for equivalent services. Parting.com is the first “price search engine” for funeral homes that I’ve seen that has apparently manually asked thousands of funeral homes for their price disclosures through phone calls, e-mail, and fax. Here is a screenshot for Los Angeles, California:

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I have not actually used Parting before, but I wouldn’t mind using their work to help me get started. Hopefully their reviews database will fill out over time. I came across other pricing sites, but they either had limited quote coverage or they charge an upfront fee (FuneralPriceFinder and I’mSorryToHear).

You may also consider restricting your search to funeral homes that work with the non-profit Funeral Consumer Alliance, if they have affiliates in your area.

The Power of Default Settings: 401(k) Auto-Enrollment

A new ProPublica article by Lena Groeger discusses the power of default settings in our life – from organ donations to computer font settings. Included was an interesting case study of a company who implemented automatic enrollment into the company 401(k) for new employees. Here’s the drastic difference in the 401(k) participation rate (vs. time at company) for the two groups, auto-enrolled (AE) and not:

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Keep in mind, in both cases the employees could have changed their participation status at any time. No change was ever required, only the default initial setting was changed.

The study cited also points out the auto-enrolled default settings could also make some employees save less than they would have otherwise. For example, if the initial deferred percentage is only set at a 2% savings rate however, many people will just stick to that number whereas if they picked on their own it would be higher. People may believe the default setting to be the “expert recommended” or “popular” choice.

The same thing applies for escalation of savings over time. If there is no auto-escalation feature that increases the savings rate as income increases, some people will stay at the initial default savings setting for years or decades.

Suggested Best Practices. By combining their findings, the following best practices are presented as an example.

  1. Auto enroll all current and future employees into the plan.
  2. Set the initial deferral percentage at no less than 6 percent.
  3. Employ an automatic increase of a 1 or 2 percent deferral rate, to a maximum of no less than 15 percent.

Most of have a lot of great goals (eat better, save more, waste less time), but it will always be hard to make the best decisions all the time. We should respect the power of default settings, and use the same concept to help keep us on the right path for the future. For example, at our company retirement plan, we have an auto-escalation feature but we must opt-in manually. If I invest the energy to turn that option on today, we’ll have a better default for future years, knowing we might get lazy in the future.

New Fidelity Rewards Visa Credit Card Review: 2% Flat Cash Back

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Updated with new info for both new and existing customers. Fidelity has (mostly) converted their rewards credit card line-up to a single version - a Visa Signature issued by Elan Financial Services (subsidiary of US Bank). For new customers, the … [Read the rest]

Citi Prestige Card Review: New 40,000 Point Offer, Feature Changes

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Our partner Citi has relaunched the Citi Prestige® Card, their premium ThankYou point rewards card. The sign-up bonus is now 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. Here are the … [Read the rest]

Housing Investment Returns = Price Appreciation + Rental Dividends

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Professer Robert Shiller has a new NY Times article entitled Why Land and Homes Actually Tend to Be Disappointing Investments. He computes the historical, long-term inflation-adjusted returns for both farmland and housing: Over the century from … [Read the rest]

Lifetime Allocation Pie Chart: Learning, Earning, and Returning

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You always see pie charts used to illustrate asset allocation for portfolios. Stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, etc. How about a pie chart for deciding how to allocate your lifetime: This was one of the "life lessons" provided by … [Read the rest]

US Stock Ownership in Taxable vs. Tax-Deferred Retirement Accounts

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If I was going for a clickbait title, I'd say "No one invests in taxable accounts anymore". The Tax Policy Center has a new report by Rosenthal and Austin about how the share of U.S. stocks held by taxable accounts has dropped significantly over the … [Read the rest]

Comcast Internet Essentials Review: Affordable Internet Access For Low-Income Households

Comcast offers an affordable internet access program called Internet Essentials that provides high-speed internet service for $9.95 a month + taxes, a subsidized $150 computer with Microsoft Office, and free digital literacy training to eligible … [Read the rest]

The Continued Decline of Cooking at Home

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Quartz published an article with the provocative title No one cooks anymore, noting that for the first time Americans are spending more money eating out (including bars and restaurants) than at grocery stores. The trend has been very steady for the … [Read the rest]

Ally CashBack Credit Card Review: 2% Cash Back on Gas and Groceries + 10% Relationship Bonus

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If you have an Ally Bank savings or checking account, you've likely been pitched their new Ally CashBack credit card recently. Here are the highlights: $100 bonus when you make $500 in eligible purchases during the first 3 billing … [Read the rest]

Infographic: 401(k) Plan Participation Stats

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As we pass the halfway mark of this year, it was time for my quarterly check-in on my 401(k) account. The best-case scenario for a 401(k) plan is: Company match. A little extra help from your employer is always nice. Good default … [Read the rest]

Google Fi: Simple, Pay As You Go Cell Plan With High-Speed International Data Included

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We recently returned from a family trip to Europe, and I found myself missing my data plan more than ever before. I kept thinking about the slow 2G data that T-Mobile includes in their postpaid plans and how it might power data-light apps like … [Read the rest]