Why It's Time to Stock Up on Stamps, TVs and Insurance
If you use a lot of postage stamps, now is a good time to stock up.
At the end of January, the cost of a stamp will rise another penny. If you buy a so-called Forever stamp for 45 cents today, it will work just as well as the one you will pay 46 cents for starting on January 27. Consider buying enough to last a year or more and you'll not only save a few dollars, but a few trips to the post office, too.
Consider stamps the start of your spend-to-save program. There's a slew of other items, from used cars to flat screen televisions, that may also soon go up in price. Here's a shopping list.
Term life insurance rates fell for years and are near all-time lows, but they won't stay there, says Byron Udell, chief executive officer of the online insurance marketplace Accuquote.
A few carriers have started to push up rates about 5 percent to 10 percent, he says, and he expects others will follow. The best possible life insurance price for a 40 year old male buying a 20-year level term $500,000 policy will now cost less than $400. In 1994, you had to pay almost $1,000.
Insurance prices are rising because interest rates are staying low, so insurers aren't making much on the bonds they invest in during this extended low-interest rate period.
Of course, don't run out and buy life insurance if you don't need it, but if your family depends on you, it's a good time to make sure you have enough coverage.
SMART PHONE APPLICATIONS
Consumers have been gobbling up programs for their phones at an astounding rate - more than 30 billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple App Store alone, many for free or at prices of around $1.
But the good times can't last.
"The days of cheap software are over. Consumers and businesses should say farewell to 99-cent apps and get ready to pay more," says Jordan Stolper, CEO of StoryDesk, an iPad presentation platform.
Stolper notes that it's hard for developers to make money when they sell their software for pennies, and consumers think it will last forever. He expects the model to change, so that users will have to "subscribe" to their favorite games and business apps instead of buying them outright. Instead of paying 99 cents once, you might have to pay 99 cents a month to keep it running.
He also expects developers to close what's become a gaping chasm in pricing between computer software and portable devices: Presentation software Keynote, for example, costs about $20 to use on a Macintosh computer and $10 on an iPad.
A glut of three- to five-year-old used vehicles on the market in 2013 is expected as a renewed demand for new car leases follows what had been a recessionary decline. An additional 484,000 cars are due to be returned in 2013 compared to 2012 - and potentially to go market, according to Lacey Plache, chief economist for the auto site Edmunds.com.
Consumers should see this trend push prices down by spring, according to the auto pricing guide Black Book.
But there is a wild card: "The real question at this time is trying to figure out how many of these drivers coming off leases will realize enough equity in the vehicle to buy out the lease, ultimately keeping that car out of supply," says Ricky Beggs, Black Book's managing editor.
Consumers in 2012 only saved about 11.5 percent by buying a year-old used car compared to a new one, according to auto pricing service Kelley Blue Book. The price gap used to be larger, and is expected to grow once again. Especially because new cars - laden with the latest energy-efficiency and safety tools - are going up in price at about the same time used cars are expected to go down.
As TVs add more premium features, they will get more expensive, says DealNews.com, a technology shopping site. Lower-end models, that are simply a screen and a cable outlet, will become more scarce, while costlier internet-enabled, 3D and ultra high definition models will start to populate store shelves.
If you want the ne plus ultra, prepare to pay as much as $20,000. For that you get an 84-inch screen, the ability to watch in 3D, four times the pixels of a regular high-definition TV, the ability to connect to the internet via your WiFi and the ability to store images and videos to the cloud.
Looking instead for the bare basics as a kitchen or workroom TV? Shop now.
MONEY AND REAL ESTATE
Last but not least, money remains cheap, with interest rates near historic lows. Think of 2013 as your last best opportunity to refinance, get a mortgage, home equity line of credit or a small business loan.
That goes for homes, too. The real estate valuation site Zillow.com surveyed 114 economists, real estate experts and investment strategists, and they largely agreed that the bottom would come this year. There already is some evidence of upward movement. The most S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index shows a 4.3 percent increase in home prices in the 20 cities included in the survey.
Prices are now back to their 2003 levels in the index, so this is a good time to look. But don't hurry up to borrow the cost of a new home, unless it fits the rest of your financial plan. After all, it's a lot more complicated to buy property than it is to pick up 100 stamps.