Money: Fab 529'S

Those state-run 529 college-savings plans are all fine and dandy until you discover your state has been offering lousy investment choices for the money you set aside to educate your young genius.

Money: Small-Time Investing

Got $50? Get the investment habit. Even though most mutual-fund companies have been shutting out the little guys, a few solid firms still welcome newbies who commit to making once-a-month investments of at least half a hundred.

Home: Spring Cleaning

When you're cleaning up, you want to get rid of stuff in a hurry, not wait weeks for your classified ad to bear fruit. Some new Web-based tips:Give it away at Freecycle.org, a loose national alliance dedicated to the maxim that one person's junk is another's treasure.

It's Cool To Be Hot

Getting hot is getting easier, thanks to "Hot Spot in a Box," an off-the-shelf Wi-Fi product marketed to small-business owners. Available at stores like Best Buy, the product includes service from Boingo Wireless, a southern California Wi-Fi firm, and a router from Linksys, a division of Cisco.

Good News For Reptiles

Ask Gordon Vadis how business is and he'll tell you, of course, "It's "hopping." His firm, the Bug Company of Ham Lake, Minn., ships roughly 2.5 million crickets a week to pet stores, which sell them as bait and as food for lizards.

Escape From Automated-Phone Hell

"Press 3 if you feel like using the F word." We're not there yet, but a University of Southern California professor is working on a business-oriented voice-mail system that will identify irate callers and move them to human operators.

Travel: Going South For Summer

Larry Fischel and Lorrie Gilbert of Takoma Park, Md., have vacationed in Europe more than a dozen times. This summer, they decided to bag the Continent and take their two daughters to Costa Rica.

Tip Sheet

TECHNOLOGY How I Spent My VacationBy Sandy Lawrence Edry With summer-vacation season rapidly approaching, the time might be ripe to finally ditch your old clunky camera and buy that shiny digital one you've been coveting.

Stocks: Ahead Of The Game

Tempted to try the market but afraid of losing your hard-earned cash? For a mere $19.95, you can play Mr. Big Shot, a stock-market simulator that's recreational, educational and only a little bit annoying.

Finance: Borrow Trouble

It's easy to grab a short-term emergency loan by borrowing from your own Individual Retirement Account. As long as you replace the money in a new IRA account within 60 days, there's no harm, no foul, except maybe your bank charging you a penalty for the withdrawal.But now the Internal Revenue Service is cracking down on people who use IRAs as cash machines and miss that 60-day deadline.

Money: Don't Lose Interest

What's worse than earning less than 1 percent interest on your savings? Losing money. That's what could happen to yield-chasers who have moved their rainy-day funds into investments like mortgage-backed mutual funds, Treasuries and real-estate funds.

TURNSTILE TECHNOLOGY

Ticket scammers, take notice. Futbol Club Barcelona, one of the most popular sports teams in the world, is using new bar-code and cell-phone scanning methods to make sure that season-ticket holders don't give away or resell their tickets.

DIGITAL SECURITY

Messy workers get fingerprints all over their PCs anyway. So why not put them to use? Gateway Inc. is now offering a built-in biometric fingerprint sensor on its latest laptop.

STOCKS: LOW-CARB INVESTING

You bought the snacks; should you buy the stock? Low-carb mania is starting to affect the bottom lines of food companies, and some stock analysts are suggesting that investors look for portfolios with low glycemic loads. "High-carb content has been slowing growth," says David Adelman of Morgan Stanley, who has studied the impact of the Atkins and South Beach diets on food companies.

CHARITY: GET HITCHED AND DO GOOD

You're getting married, and you want everybody else to be as happy on your big day as you are. Share the love by turning your whole wedding into a charitable event.

INVESTING: PEAK YOUR INTEREST

Are you sick of that lame 0.5 percent return your money-market fund has been stuck at for months? You may do better if you use an auto company as a bank.Both Ford and GM have their own money-market funds offering about 2.5 percent interest and check-writing privileges. (GM just restricted its fund, but the limitations are still generous.) General Electric, another big consumer lender, has one, too.The upside is in the return.

MONEY: CONGRATS!--NOW PAY UP

Last week most anxious high schoolers found out whether they were accepted into the college of their choice. If your son or daughter got the fat envelope he or she was hoping for, there's probably been a big celebration in your house--not to mention a little more angst about tuition.

HEALTH: COLLEGE CHECKUP

Graduating this spring? Shop for health insurance now, then worry about getting a job. The day you graduate you lose your eligibility for one of the cheapest plans around.

Pumped Up Prices

It's not the gas fumes that have you choking, it's the prices. A gallon of regular will set you back a near-record $1.72, and analysts are predicting prices that will top $2 just in time for the summer driving season.

HERE COME THE KIOSKS

Retail kiosks may be shrinking in size, but the kiosk business is getting huge. After a few years of so-so growth, worldwide kiosk sales hit $463.7 million last year, up more than 21 percent from 2002.

MONEY: WANNA DEAL? CLICK HERE.

Here's a confession: I don't like going to stores. I'd be more than happy buying everything from toothpaste to my next car on the Internet. The best part is being able to sit at my computer and play retailers off each other.

ONLINE CALCULATORS: YOUR FUTURE? CLICK HERE.

If you had a buck for every retirement calculator on the Web, you wouldn't need any of them--you'd be rich enough to retire. Virtually every broker, fund company, insurance agent, financial planner and more than a few federal agencies have a planner on their sites.

EMPLOYEE PLANS: 401(K)S--THE NEW VINTAGE

It's safe to look again. During the bear market, most investors' 401(k) statements delivered depressing news. Now funds are regaining some ground, and it all makes for good, or at least better, reading.

CAN I DEDUCT MY PJS?

It used to be the bugaboo of the self-employed: claim the home-office deduction and the wrath of the IRS would fall upon you. But over the last few years, the IRS has taken steps to liberalize this deduction in several ways, easing tax burdens on home-office workers who sell their houses and allowing more people to claim the deduction in the first place.

TAXES: HEALTHY BENEFITS

With all the hoo-ha about prescription drugs for Medicare recipients, maybe you missed the really great deal that was hidden in that bill for everyone else.

MONEY: LICKING THE STAMP HABIT

Time to update that old saying "The check's in the mail." For a lot of people, the check's online now. About a third of all households do at least some banking online; one in six is paying bills electronically, according to Tower Group, a research firm.There are plenty of benefits beyond skipping the whole check- writing ritual.

FINANCE: PLENTY OF INTEREST

Mortgage rates are off last year's lows and home prices are higher than ever. If that makes you feel a little bit panicky about getting into your dream house, you're not alone.

MONEY: GOOD JOB! NOW SAVE.

It'll pay to be productive in 2004. Employers say they're going to start awarding their most valuable employees raises of almost 5 percent this year, according to a survey by Mercer Human Resources Consulting.

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