How to Travel Safely This Holiday Weekend

This weekend, millions of Americans will crowd the roads, rails, and skies as they travel for Christmas.

With snow in the forecast for parts of the U.S., travel conditions could be hazardous, especially if you’re driving.

If you want to be prepared, there are three things you need to do before you leave…

1. Check your car battery and connectors. Car batteries more than three years old are more likely to die in the cold. Auto care centers like Sears will test your battery for free, or you can pick up a battery tester on Amazon for under $20.

2. Keep your tires full. Air contracts in the cold, reducing your tire pressure. This keeps you from having the best traction on slippery winter roads. Many gas stations offer free air refilling machines with built-in pressure gauges, and you can find a station near you at freeairpump.com. (We recommended a portable air compressor last week.)

3. Pack your emergency kit. For your personal safety, it’s also important to keep an emergency kit in your trunk. Include a blanket, road salt, and a flashlight.

We wish you a safe and happy holiday.

Our offices are closed next Monday and Tuesday for Christmas. Expect your next Health & Wealth Bulletin issue on Wednesday, December 26.

Now let’s dig in to this week’s Q&A…

Q: I’ve done a Google search of “comparing olive oil with avocado oil.” The comparisons rate avocado oil as superior in health qualities and for cooking to olive oil. Why do you short-change avocado oil? – D.R.

A: That’s a great question. We like olive oil because it has many more scientific studies behind it than avocado oil. That said, avocado oil does have a good profile of healthy fats similar to olive oil. And it has a high smoke point, meaning it’s better for cooking at higher temperatures (think frying and sautéing).

So our problem really is a lack of well-researched studies. There are two studies we found suggesting avocado oil may change how our livers function, which could lead to fatty liver disease. And there’s a lone Indian study suggesting some avocado exposure might change human DNA in our lymph cells (yikes!). And it’s important to remember, some of the beneficial studies receive funding from “Big Avocado” – the Hass Avocado Board. That doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t any benefits, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Another big deterrent for avocado oil – the price. It’s much more expensive than olive oil despite similar proven health benefits.

If you want to use avocado oil, we’d suggest only using it for high-heat cooking. Keep using olive oil for everything else. And no matter which oil you prefer, remember to avoid processed oils – anything that says “partially hydrogenated.” That’s a sure way to ruin your health.

Q: Radon gas should not be a problem in a home with a walkout basement, correct? – J.J.

A: This is a common myth. Any home – whether has a walkout basement, a below-ground basement, two stories, or a single story – can have radon. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about one in 15 U.S. homes has elevated radon levels.

We spoke with several people whose homes had walkout basements who each needed to have a radon-reduction system. Even if your neighbor’s home has safe radon levels, your home may not.

A radon gas test kit is just $14 on Amazon. If you’re worried about radon in your home, spend a few dollars and find out.

Q: Is there any way to buy and sell without the use of a broker? I remember reading about holding stocks in companies that will allow transfers directly to you, the stock holder, under DRIP programs. Is that a possibility? Minimizing fees or eliminating them altogether seems like a way to increase the returns. But, is it possible? – N.C.

A: Dividend reinvestment plans, or “DRIPs,” are programs where companies sell their stock directly to the investing public. Originally, DRIPs were a way to get around expensive brokerage commissions. At the time, this represented a huge benefit to the investor… In the 1960s and ’70s, commissions represented a significant cost and made small purchases prohibitively expensive… A 10-share stock purchase (for a total of $300) might have another $100 commission tacked on top. The stock would have to increase a huge 33% just to cover the transaction costs.

So companies were pleased when the federal government allowed them to sell stock to individual investors through DRIPs. People could buy their shares and reinvest the dividends, even if they only had a little bit of money to start.

Many companies offer shares through DRIPs at a discount, in which you could automatically reinvest dividends and often start with investing at little as $10 at a time.

But unless you’re trying to get your portfolio off-the-grid, DRIPs are no longer the cheapest or most efficient way to invest.

Nowadays, many companies farm out the administration of their DRIPs to a third-party company, called a “share registry.” These registries act as a transfer agent between you and the company you want to purchase shares from. Over the years, these share registries have increased their fees. In some cases, it can cost as much as $20 to set up the DRIP. You might even pay a dividend reinvestment fee.

And you’ll have to keep up with the paperwork for each DRIP. If you have a well-diversified stock portfolio, that could mean a lot of work for you.

So if you already have an online brokerage account… that standard stock trading platform is the best way to reinvest your dividends. Tracking your positions is easier and more cost-effective. Most brokers don’t charge to reinvest your dividends, and you can often place a trade for under $5.

Bottom line: For convenience and savings… don’t use the old-school DRIP anymore for new money… Instead, go with your online broker’s reinvestment option.

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
Baltimore, Maryland
December 21, 2018