Money Minute: Alaska Airlines Has Good News for Travelers

There's good news and bad news when it comes to flying.

Flying isn't what it used to be. It seems we are constantly being asked to pay more for less. But here's some positive news.

Alaska Airlines (ALK) will soon be offering more carry-on space for your luggage and so far there has been no mention or raising fares. The airline will be the first to take delivery of Boeing's (BA) new 737 and 737 Max, which have overhead bins that can fit 50 percent more luggage than standard bins. That should speed up the boarding process -- and it makes a lot of business sense. A 2008 report found that every minute cut on boarding can save the airline $30. Now here's the bad news. The September 11 security fee is about to be increased and that will translate into a fare hike of up to $22 round-trip. The Transportation Security Administration says the money isn't going to benefit them but going to the Treasury to cut down on the deficit.

Alaska Airlines to offer bigger overhead bins
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Comedian Tracy Morgan who starred in "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live" is suing Walmart Stores (WMT) after one of its truck drivers crashed into his limousine, killing one person and injuring four others. Prosecutors say the driver hadn't slept for 24 hours before the crash and the suit alleges Walmart should have known the driver was sleep deprived and shouldn't have let him work. The suit claims Morgan and the others haven't been able to work since the accident and they may suffer from disabilities that could prevent them from working in the future. The suit is seeking a trial, and punitive and compensatory damages.

Last week on Wall Street investors were rattled by worries about Europe and the major indexes closed lower. The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) dropped 0.7 percent, the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) fell 1.5 percent and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GPSC) lost almost 1 percent.

This week earnings season kicks into high gear with results coming in from some of the major banks like Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM). It's also going to be a heavy reporting week for the tech sector. Analysts at Thomson Reuters believe it will be the strongest performing sector with an average gain of 12 percent in second quarter earnings as compared to a year ago. Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO) and Intel (INTC) are expected to post much higher earnings growth and that could continue to fuel the market higher. The S&P 500 is up more than 6 percent so far this year.

And finally, Swiss chocolate-maker Lindt is breaking the mold other chocolatiers have adopted recently. The Financial Times reports it is in talks to buy U.S. chocolate-maker Russell Stover for roughly $1.5 billion. What makes the deal unusual is that most chocolate-makers are trying to go upmarket right now to cover the rising cost of cocoa and to capture the growing segment of chocolate lovers who want dark and more expensive chocolate. But Russell Stover, which sells mainly to pharmacies in the U.S., caters to a more cost-conscious clientele.

-Produced by Karina Huber.

How I Tuned Up My Finances in 9 Simple Steps
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Money Minute: Alaska Airlines Has Good News for Travelers

Before launching into review our finances, I kicked off with the same Money Organizer Workbook I have my readers or clients use when reviewing their finances. It broke down steps for me to conquer and review one at a time, and allowed me to see the areas I needed to focus on and where I was good to go.

Creating a plan around your finances without having clearly defined goals in akin to getting into the car to drive somewhere without a destination in mind. There's no room for vagueness. My husband and I had to sit down and determine what we're trying to accomplish (aside from just surviving the change wave that is hitting us). We got detailed and created actionable SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). So, instead of merely saying we'll vacation in Europe, we're now "saving $5,000 for a vacation to Europe next summer."
We all know we're supposed to spend less than we make, but are we? Building a budget is the most important part of getting financially organized. You can't create a plan to meet your goals without knowing where your money is going. Start tracking your spending by paying attention to fixed expenses, debt payments and discretionary (or what I call "fun times") expenses. Pinpoint the areas that are prime for reductions if necessary. In our house, we're willing to cut back on dining out in order to build up our travel fund.
Have you added to or reduced debt since the year began? When it comes to tackling debt, either go after accounts with the highest interest rates first (meaning extra money goes towards this balance only) or use the "snowball" method (targeting lowest balances for payoff first) to build momentum. I have clients and readers use the debt spreadsheet in the Money Organizer Workbook to document creditors, outstanding balances, terms, interest rates and minimum monthly payments and prioritize from there. While we make an effort to pay off our credit cards in full each month, knowing the balances we carry in other debt helps us to understand how much mortgage we can afford when we make the move into a house later this year.

If you didn't start on Jan. 1, there are still six months left to maximize retirement plan contributions. The max contribution for Roth and IRA accounts in 2014 is $5,500 -- $916.67 a month, for the next six months.

The max contribution for your Roth and regular 401(k)s is $17,500. That's $2,916.67 a month for the next six months.

As an entrepreneur managing my finances on a variable income, I tackle the funding with ongoing systematic contributions and some lump-sum deposits through the year.

If you haven't been paying attention to your investments, now is the time to check in on allocations and adjust or rebalance to align with your intended strategy. With the market on the move upwards, I took the chance to look at our accounts and the original intended allocation for our funds. With the growth in the market, some funds were out of balance with their intended targets, so I sold and purchased and rebalanced back to target allocations.

You may think "it won't happen to you," but in reality, it could and it might. Having the right kinds of insurance in place for home, auto, life, disability and personal liability is incredibly important. It's even more important to update these numbers as your income fluctuates, your family grows, your career changes, you make large purchases or acquire debt. Many of these numbers are being revamped this month in our household due to my husband's transition to a new job and the adjustments to benefits that we have and need.
Thinking about your death or possible disability is by no means sexy, but it's important. Having the tough conversations and creating documentation for your wishes is a gift of peace of mind for your family. (It's also a good time to tell your spouse who he or she can and can't date if you're no longer around). This is a conversation that my husband and I had a while ago during a road trip, and we have documentation in place, but with family planning on the horizon, it has recently brought up some new questions that we needed to address.
Schedule a check-in for six months from now to track the progress you've made on goals and to review the list of items you've tackled in the previous months. Celebrate your wins along the way. In our house, we have a list of the things we want to purchase (big or small) on the refrigerator. Each time our savings accounts get to a certain amount, we celebrate by allowing ourselves $100 toward one of the items we wanted to purchase. It's a small way to celebrate success and to curb impulse spending.
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