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Remember those high school health class warnings about alcohol killing your brain cells? A recent study by researchers at University College London raises a glass to those who didn't take the pronouncement too seriously. It found that middle-aged people who drink have better cognitive function than those who don't. The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, followed 6,000 London government workers for 11 years, recording their alcohol consumption, then testing five measures of cognitive function, including vocabulary and inductive reasoning. Drinkers were about half as likely to score in the lowest quintile.
Dr. David Knopman, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., isn't surprised by the British group's findings. Drinking is generally seen as a positive health behavior unless it's excessive, he says. Alcohol's accepted ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis may translate into better cognitive function by reducing arterial plaque and strokes, he says. However, Knopman is quick to point out that the study found only an association between drinking and better mental performance -- not a causal relationship. People who drink could just be smarter and better educated than teetotalers, he says. College just keeps getting more expensive. But for investors in 529 college savings plans, there's heartening news on the fee front. Index-fund giant Vanguard -- already a low-cost provider -- cut costs on six options in its Nevada-sponsored 529 College Savings Plan, which is marketed nationwide. Most fund expense ratios are now 0.65%, a 10% to 16% cut. Vanguard says that with assets at $650 million after two years, it can pass along economies of scale. Expenses on its $2.9 billion New York plan will fall when it reaches $4 billion.
Will other 529 plans follow suit? Until the industry adopts a standardized fee schedule to aid in plan comparisons, don't bank on it, says Mercer Bullard, who's president of advocacy group Fund Democracy. With $5 billion worth of gift wrap tossed in the trash each year, reusable gift bags may be an idea whose time has come. Wrapsacks ($3 to $8 at wrapsacks.com) are hand-dyed cotton bags designed to be recycled: Receive a gift in one, use it to give a gift to someone else. Each comes with a unique ID sewn inside. If all recipients enter the bag's whereabouts at the Web site, you can track its travels.