Archive for the ‘Buying Things’ Category

Fashion With a Conscience


2012
05.07


Photo by Esther Havens

Growing up in Alaska, my family owned some of the first videos stores in the state. In the early 1980s, my family pioneered the way for the future and they were the predecessors to the now soon-to-be-defunct juggernauts, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. My older brothers, who had a passion for the silver screen, saw the opportunity to help redefine what home entertainment looked like in the Last Frontier known as Alaska.

My brothers, who opened these first video stores, were highly influenced by our late grandfather Dallas. In the early 1950s, Dallas sold everything our family owned at that time, including a successful family diner that he and my grandmother ran in the Lower 48, to chase his dream of finding gold. Grandpa loaded up my grandmother, my aunt, and my mom and began the long trek up the ALCAN, headed for Alaska. Though our grandfather never became wealthy from mining gold, in the years to come his mining adventures became very profitable to us through the vivid stories he retold to his family. Grandpa infused in his grandchildren the passion to take risks without the fear of failure.

Surrounded by a family of shrewd entrepreneurs, the desire to create was stamped into my DNA long before I ever escaped the womb. Honestly, I attribute this family trait as the reason for my perpetual fascination with new start-ups and why I, personally, became a church planter.

There seems to be something magical about the entrepreneurial spirit. The entrepreneur is a special breed of humanity who needs to make their mark upon the world; they are driven to introduce that something that has yet to be experienced. The only way I know how to describe it is this: that being an entrepreneur is almost like having a sickness — a feverish, insatiable drive to make the world a better place. In many entrepreneurs, one of the common threads that I see is the ability to not compromise the creative dream they posses. There are always compromises to make that dream happen — but never are these compromises to the core dream itself.

Take for instance Fangfang Wu. According to Fast Company magazine, Wu, the founder and CEO of the hottest childrens clothing line in China right now: Greenbox. Wu originally said no to Disney when they approached her about designing a clothing line for their new Disney resort launch in Shanghai. Who says no to Disney? Wu did. In a paraphrased summation of Wus interview, she alluded to the fact that she did not want to lose the identity of Greenbox by only having Disneys name on the label of her clothing. After many months of negotiations, Wu and Disney came to an agreement without Greenbox losing its identity and the project was set into motion.

Wus unwavering compromise of her dream for her company makes me think of another fashion company based here Texas: Good Fair. Granted, Texas is known more for its good ol right-wing evangelical boys who dabble poorly in politics than it is for its trend-setting fashion. However, Shelton Green, the founder and CEO of Good Fair clothing thinks that should not be the case.

Shelton, like me, is an Alaskan-grown-Texas-transplant who not only has a dream to put Texas on the map for its fashion, but to change how the world of fashion makes and produces its products.

With an industry that is plagued with unfair paid wages and slave-driven labor, Good Fair seeks to change the ethos of the fashion world by putting out a quality product as a certified fair trade company — clothing that is slave free.

Before you start envisioning burlap sacks littered with pearl snaps and fugly free shoes sent overseas to kids, let me recalibrate your thinking of what Good Fair clothing is. Good Fair is a high quality fashion line; it is not an ethical knock-off to make you feel better about what you are buying … this is not contemporary Christian music we are talking about. Shelton, risking everything for his unwavering dream, has created a line of fashion that both looks great and is conscious of the people who have created it.

Shelton, since your background is not fashion, how did you get into the fashion business?

It has been quite a journey into the fashion business. The short answer is passion. Passion got me into the fashion business. But not in the way most people are passionate about fashion, design, and the latest look. I discovered slavery exists today and one of the ways it manifests itself is in fashion. In the worst cases, child and slave labor were used to make the clothes I wear everyday. It was passion to do something about the supply chains that churn out fast fashion, change it and support ethical treatment of cotton famers and garment workers.

Your clothing line is called Good Fair — how did you come up with the name of Good Fair? And what does it mean?

I didnt want a name people had to figure out. I wanted to tell our story right from the start. Its our mission. To do good and be fair. Good to the earth and fair to people. It came from the simple idea no one should be hurt for the sake of our fashion and we should take care of the earth when farming the cotton used in our clothes.

Almost like a page from a personal journal, Good Fairs website retells of your fast from buying clothes for a year. Fasting, the stopping of something (like not eating chocolate for Lent), is more of a religious or diet concept — what lead to your decision to the fast from buying clothes for a year?

It was very much like that. I was thinking about new years resolutions as 2007 came to a close and 2008 was about to begin. I had all this stuff in my head about supply chains that treated people horribly, stories of people who had survived modern slavery, stats about a third of the world living on less than 2 dollars day (at that time), millions of slaves all over the world, and I simply wanted to take a break from buying things I didnt need, specifically clothes, and rethink the choices I make as a consumer and what those choices mean for the people who make my stuff.

How difficult was the fast from buying clothes for a year? And how did it influence the creation of Good Fair?

It was a massive factor in starting Good Fair. During 2008 I would go to my favorite shops and clothing stores. Not able to buy anything, I began to look at labels and noticing where things were made. More education ensued. I looked up brands, production in different countries, and deepening my understanding of child and slave labor abuses.

Can you flesh out for us your initial dream for Good Fair? Outsourcing to a fair trade manufacturer for the production of Good Fair products was not part of your original plan. Does your initial dream for Good Fair still stay with you — in other words, do you still have that dream?

The big idea I started with was to create my own production facility in Austin, Texas. Lease a warehouse, connect with skilled garment makers, source organic cotton from Texas farms, ship fabric to Austin from around Texas and the US, and start my own clothing company based on a set of principles where people came before profit. One of the things I was most looking forward to doing was training people to sew and give them a job making Good Fair designs. Connecting with vulnerable local populations and if they wanted to learn how to sew clothes, we would train them. I was mainly thinking about refugees, homeless, and those coming out of various addictions or abusive situations. With everything I have come to understand, I want to make a real difference in the lives of people who are on the margins.

Yes, I still have that dream. I ran into lots of setbacks and into lots walls. I kept adjusting the plan in order to get Good Fair off the ground. The most straightforward way turned out to be equally beautiful as my original vision. I connected with a fair trade certified farmer cooperative and fair trade garment production in India to make Good Fair designs. Now we are part of a growing community of ethical fashion using third party certified fair trade production. I actually live blogged my first trip to India where you can see the farms, farmers, workers, and the factory we use.

What is one of the ways you have seen the effects of working with a manufacturer who pays its employees a fair wage?

We have to continue to tell the stories of the lives we are affecting. The children of the cotton famers we partner with get to go to school because Good Fair and other companies are committed to buying their cotton at a fair trade price. They used the fair trade premium to build a school.

At the present Good Fair specializes in t-shirts and undergarments for both men and women. What was the thought process behind releasing these particular products, instead of, say, a line of denim jeans?

Ha. If I could go back and tell myself to start with different items of clothing I would. I didnt start with jeans because my fair trade supply chain didnt make denim fabric. There are limitations when a company is committed to only sourcing from suppliers who share your ethical ethos. However, it would have been smarter to start with higher margin items that can complete with the market. It is very hard to compete against the boxer market when we sell one pair for $28. The margins are simply tough when you start with fair trade and organic cotton and production. We are rethinking our product line and where we need to put our energy while designing new fair trade fashion.

Shelton, in your opinion, outside being a fair trade clothing company, what sets apart Good Fair from the rest of the clothing industry?

Good Fair exists to change the world of fashion. I want my closet to only be filled with clothing that has not hurt anyone. And I want to offer that same dream to everyone else. Good Fair is a dream, a vision, and a mission to treat people with dignity, respect, and ultimately, love. We offer a better story, a story that can change everything if we let it. A story that will recalibrate how we think about the things we buy and how our everyday decisions can make a difference in the lives of people all over the world.

Who is Good Fair clothing marketed to currently? And do you have any plans to expand that market?

Our goal has been to market to people want to join us in telling a better story. The design and style of our tee shirts and ladies hipster undies are geared towards men and women 18-35. The boxers are pretty ageless, just a classic American style boxer. As we begin to think about new items to bring into production we are rethinking our target market. Plus we would love to appeal to consumers purely on the style and design of the clothing with the ethical and do gooder side being a secondary attraction.

What do you believe is the main source of depravity in the fashion industry? And how can we as consumers help change that depravity?

Clothes are artificially cheap. We consumers have become used to the clothing market and we want it cheaper all the time. That sets off a chain of events and clothing companies have to react or they simply lose business. Clothes should cost more because the vast majority of garment workers and cotton farmers should be paid more. You and I are the problem and the solution. Most companies simply want to fulfill customer demand. If there is sufficient consumer demand for ethical fashion the industry will change.

Help support change: visit, purchase, spread the word about Good Fair products at goodandfairclothing.com

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Places to know in Tucson: The Grey House


2012
05.03

It’s not just stuff.”

Karen Spencer says what she believes any of her co-workers would say about the old tiaras, upholstered chairs, French teacups and the hundreds of other antique items that make up The Grey House.

An American flag flies in front of a small, gray-blue building shrouded by foliage in midtown Tucson. The western wall is mostly covered by a large sign advertising “The Grey House: Antiques and Home DÃcor.”

Co-owned by five women who all have a passion for antiquing, each of The Grey House’s separate rooms is owned by a different woman who is responsible for the items and presentation in their respective spaces.

“It is one business, but we each respect each other’s area within the building,” Spencer said.

Spencer co-owns two rooms in the Grey House with her friend, Sarah Scheerens. One of the reasons the Grey House is unique, Spencer said, is that the committee of owners makes all the decisions.

“There’s more of a sense of ownership amongst all of us to make it successful,” Spencer said. “You sit behind that desk and you’re not just selling your stuff, you’re selling the store.”

The business originally began in 1996 on Fort Lowell Avenue, but moved in October 2008 because the building owner did not want to lease it again.

Stacy Van Dyke owns four rooms inside the Grey House and sells her antiques under the business name “Niche.” She said she really got into the antique business because she collected too many paintings and didn’t have enough walls.

“Everybody has a different look. You can kind of tell from each room what they are attracted to,” Van Dyke said. “I’m fairly eclectic. I like bold pieces and European antiques.”

Indeed, Van Dyke’s rooms are assembled with marble busts of famous leaders, oil paintings, leather chairs and crystal chandeliers. In one room is a 4-foot Mexican statue of St. Francis, dressed in a blue robe and adorned with glass eyes.

“He came from a church, where he was probably on a side altar. Probably in a niche,” Van Dyke said, laughing.

Van Dyke also owns the National Violence Prevention Resource Center in Tucson and picks up a lot of antiques for the Grey House when she travels for work. Four of the women, including Van Dyke, have other full-time or part-time jobs.

“We do it for … Gosh, why do we do it? Because we’re obsessed?” Spencer said.

“For fun?” Scheerens offered.

“We all start this because you start buying things and then you have too many things, and you have to do something with them.”

Scheerens and Spencer met when their sons were both 5 years old. The two women discovered they shared a passion for antiques and started selling antiques at an antique mall in Tucson around 1998, then began renting space in the original Grey House in 2004.

The two display their antiques in the Grey House’s kitchen and back bedroom. Light floods through the kitchen window mid-afternoon, illuminating a flowered stoneware fondue pot, tinted blue teacups and other 1970s-esque items displayed on the tables and shelves.

The floor of the room is painted a black and white checkered pattern on the concrete to make it look like tile, a feature that was original to the house before the business moved in, Spencer said.
The partners try to keep to a mid-century theme with the items in the kitchen, from an old metal ironing board, to a full set of plastic orange plates.

The room is embellished with turquoise and orange, although Spencer said she and Scheerens try to change up the color scheme often.

“Orange is a real hot seller right now,” Spencer said. She and Scheerens tend to buy a lot of turquoise for the room. “Sometimes we look at ourselves and go, ‘OK, we need to branch out’ because if your kitchen isn’t turquoise, you’re not going to be shopping in here.”

The second room the two women own houses miscellaneous items as well as antique wedding dÃcor. A large, glass cabinet harbors dozens of vintage cake toppers and wedding china.

One of the rooms next to Van Dyke’s is run by Linda Manley. Manley used to own an antique store called “Antiques and Fine Things,” on Sixth Street and now rents space in the Grey House.

Manley’s room boasts many foreign antiques, such as French limoge china, Italian purses and a big, red book with “Paris” embossed on the cover. She also has several foreign books and re-upholstered lounge chairs in her room.

“I love textiles,” Manley said. “I like to buy used furniture and have them slip covered.”

One of the largest items in Manley’s room is a framed poster of the Ralph Lauren launch model for “Safari” fragrance released in 1990. Manley said she found the poster interesting because of Lauren’s alleged affair with the model.

Lynn Bell and Gina Judy own the remaining rooms in the Grey House. Bell’s rooms in the back of house are garnished with a wide variety of items, such as chandeliers, oil paintings, varnished end tables and pewter tea sets. Judy carries a girlish theme to her room, filled with vintage tiaras, Vogue posters and racks full of old fur coats, evening gowns and classical accessories a 5-year-old girl would go crazy to play dress-up with.

The Grey House has many regular customers, as well as some new people just stopping in to look around.

“There are antique shoppers who want to hunt for things and who want to dig around in remote corners,” Spencer said. “And then there are other people who walk in and want it presented to them.”

Due to the repeat customer base, the owners often make an effort to change things around in the rooms.

“People have a tendency to shop at eye level,” Spencer said. “Even if it’s the same stuff; if you move it around, people see it differently.”

Each of the owners works at the store one day a week and they rotate who works on the weekends.

“Whoever is working here is excited about what’s in our store,” Spencer said. “It’s not just stuff. We all like it.”

For more info

The Grey House is located at 2301 N. Country Club Road and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm Call 325-0400 for more information.

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Project Glass: Google takes a glimpse into the future with augmented reality …


2012
04.28

Search engine and Internet giant Google recently made a revolutionary move by revealing information about its augumented reality glasses, that would allow people to use all of Googles products, like mail, social network, video call, while taking pictures, sending recorded messages and buying things online. The product, called Product Glass, imagined by many and eagerly awaited by early adopters, is in the prototype phase, but Google has not announced when and whether it would hand out testing prototypes, not when it hopes for a mass market launch.

“A group of us from Google[x] started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment,” writes a statement.

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Consumer Rebel!


2012
04.25

Could you make yourself this challenge and stick to it? Eilleen the self titled consumer rebel did and she says her life is better for it.

Her lounge room and dining room cost her less than $2000 to furnish, yet there is art on the walls, enough furniture for her family to use and it functions as well as any other living room to be found in your average house in Canberra.

Eilleen says it was the standard day to day clutter of things that was weighing her down so she one day she made the resolution and didnt buy anything new for the whole year.

I wanted to have a really good think about why it is I have so much stuff, she said.

On her journey of discovery, Eilleen found that often the things she bought were a projection of her identity and it wasnt the identity she wanted to present to others.

She started by not buying new objects which then developed into her throwing things out when she no longer wanted to repair.

As a mother, Eilleens house is not full of the usual plastic toys, colourful junk collected by the kids or lots of clothes.

Her children follow her rules and nine year old Jade says she enjoys going Op shopping and doesnt mind that she has to give a bag of things to others before she can get one new thing herself.

Eilleens journey is an incredible one that has clear environmental benefits, is great for the family budget but also draws focus to the important things in life.

By not buying things Im experiencing life the way I want to and Im actually living according to my own values, Eilleen said.

By de-cluttering her house Eilleen managed to de-clutter her life, her mind and her priorities spending more time with family and friends and placing more importance on sharing experiences then sharing physical things.

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Little Enthusiasm For Mergers In Q1 – Will Coty Bid For Avon Get Things Going …


2012
04.24

Enthusiasm for mergers or acquisitions in the first quarter of 2012 was low as CEO confidence for doing deals seemed to be missing.

Corporations are still sitting on tons of cash and longer-term interest rates, across the board, remain exceedingly low and funds are available. Yet global Mamp;A activity in the first quarter of 2012 was at the lowest level since the first quarter of 2003.

The biggest concern in the executive suite seems to be that old demon uncertainty. There is uncertainty about the economy; there is uncertainty about where President Obama stands on business; there is uncertainty about events in Europe and the world; and there is uncertainty about the regulatory and legal environment.

This uncertainty is one of the contributing factors to fact that there is not more robust economic growth (see my earlier post). For people to commit, they must have confidence that what they are doing has a good chance of succeeding.

Attitudes seem to be modifying a little. If anything, as someone has described it, there is a general lack of bad news. Not too encouraging, but this can be all right too.

The economy is growing, there are some encouraging signs here and there, and, although there are still major things to watch out for, people do not seem to be expecting major shocks to the system. Monetary policy is relatively benign at the present time and is expected to remain so through the fall election. But the monetary authorities are prepared to respond strongly against any major shock to the economy if such a shock occurs.

Within this environment, more and more discussions about acquisitions seem to be taking place between organizations. Ideas and plans that had been put on the shelf seem to be back in peoples minds again.

Special interest seems to be focusing, not surprisingly, on Europe. The financial crisis of the last few years has drained the continent in many ways and there seem to be quite a few potential targets available at rather good prices.

Along this line, just recently the UKs NDS Group Ltd. was picked up by Cisco Systems (CSCO) and the Netherlands TNT Express NV was acquired by United Parcel Service (UPS).

Starting out a new quarter, following a quarter that saw strong stock performances, comes the news that Coty, Inc. of Europe is making a bid for Avon Products (AVP) even though Avon is more than twice the size of Coty. The importance of this is not so much the deal itself, but the fact that action in this area seems to be increasing. The economy is growing, monetary policy is permissive, cash is available, the stock market has been strong recently, and it is spring!

The main thing to really resolve is the absence of confidence, so you need a couple of people to jump into the bath and say the water isnt so bad in here. -Daniel Wolf, a partner in the law firm of Kirkland amp; Ellis.

Basically, some people have to be brave enough to take the plunge! Then others may follow.

A pick-up in Mamp;A activity may not cause economic growth to increase — in fact, I dont believe that it will — but it may help to spread more confidence around, which will lead people to buy more common stock or pay off more debt. Each of these things will help to confidence to grow and expand — both of which are necessary for the economy to continue on its upward path.

I would expect this to be particularly helpful in causing the price of stocks to rise. The reason for this is that historically, a good time to buy common stocks is when people and businesses are cautious and exhibiting a disciplined approach to what they are doing. It is a good time to acquire when people and businesses are being very selective.

Generally, this means that prices are low and attractive acquisitions can be made. It also means that not everyone is jumping into the pool so that the level of the entire pool is rising. That is, that people and businesses are just buying things without any real reason except that things seem to be going up.

Lets keep our eyes on those corporate cash hoards to see whether or not companies are moving more aggressively into acquisition mode. My belief is that if the pace of Mamp;A activity picks up, this will be a show of confidence that will benefit us all.

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Easter sales are up


2012
04.23

WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Americans are expected to spend nearly $17 billion on Easter this year. That covers clothing, candy, dinner, decorations, and other items. It works out to an average of a $145.28 per consumer according to a survey from the National Retail Federation. More than nine thousand people were polled last month.

Consumers are expected to spend 11 percent more than last year, but some are not following the trend.

Im spending less on Easter this year, said shopper, April Klein.

Klein says Easter isnt about buying things for your kids. It has a deeper religious meaning for her and her family.

I have to two children and I plan on getting them a Bible each and I plan maybe a little bit of candy and thats what I plan on buying and no more than 15 dollars per kid, Klein.

Easter shopper Kelly Moore says shes going to spend about the same as last year. Shes buying for twin girls and expects to spend about $20 on each of them.

I think people are going crazy with holidays in general. I think were losing the meaning of what Easter is and I think by spending down a little bit you can just rewind and not overwhelm kids with its a time for gifts and toys. It might be, but on a smaller scale.

Its not just the candy and clothes that make up all these sales. The National Retail Federation says Americans will spend $5.1 billion just on Easter meals and thats about $45 per adult.

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The Stupid Things You Do with Your Money (and How to Fix Them)


2012
04.21

Stupid Thing #2: You Dont Put Money in Savings Because You Think You Cant Afford It

When you arent bringing in as much as youd like with each paycheck, its hard to reduce that amount by cutting out a chunk thats just going to sit in a bank account and earn minimal interest. In some cases, you may think you cant even afford to save. Neither option looks particularly attractive, but there are numerous benefits to saving even a small portion of your paycheck that you may not realizebenefits that save you even more money in the long run.

While this probably goes without saying, saving money means you have a reserve of cash at your disposal. Its worth mentioning nonetheless because you may not realize that you can end up spending more money in the long run when you dont save at all. This not happens because you can quickly rack up credit card debt by buying things you cant afford, but because using your savings to purchase an item means you have the freedom to spend at the most optimal timesuch as when a good deal comes along. If you dont have the necessary savings when that deal arises, youll have to put it on a credit card that you cant pay off immediately and the interest will quickly negate those savings. If you have cash at the ready, you wont face this dilemma.

You can save money even if you dont have a lot of cash reservesjust start small. If it hurts to take a chunk out of your paycheck each month, consider saving a dollar or two every day. Because you likely spend at least that much cash on a daily basis, funneling it into a jar wont seem quite as difficult as watching about $30-60 disappear each month from your paycheck. Contributing in small amounts will grow your savings slowly, but as you get in the habit you may feel more comfortable increasing the amount. If youre really having trouble finding the money to put in your savings account, consider where you can cut back and use the leftover cash to sock away each month. In the next section will discuss reducing your bills, which is an excellent way to find an explicit amount of extra cash each month, but you can also cut back in other ways if necessary. Cooking at home is one of the biggest savers. If you cut out prepared food and coffee runs on most days, you can save a lot. Buying genericwhich sometimes gets you an identical product for lessis a great way to save money further. You can also save a lot by reducing your electricity usage, which can often be as simple as remembering to turn things off and using more efficient light bulbs. Youll also want to consider what you actually have to buy and what you can reuse. Razor blades, for example, can be used for a couple of years with a simple sharpening technique. Consider what can be kept before you toss it in the garbage.

Contributing to your 401k is another great way to save, but many people avoid this because 1) retirement seems a long way off and 2) they want to build an emergency fund beforehand so theyre ready in case of a problem. There are two issues with avoiding a 401k. First, if your company matches any contribution you make youre basically throwing away money by not taking advantage of that benefit. Second, your 401k can also serve as an emergency fund. In many casessuch the an inability to pay rent or a medical emergencyyou can withdraw money from your 401k early with either a reduced tax penalty or none at all. You will be subject to the income tax, but youd have paid that if you put it in a savings account anyhow. Not every 401k allows for hardship withdrawals, so be sure to check with your plan (or any plan youre considering) beforehand. If you are covered, theres really no excuse to contribute to your 401k right now.

Stupid Thing #3: You Overpay on Bills (and a Lot of Other Stuff)

When you see a price tag on an item you want or receive a monthly bill in the mail, the general assumption is that this price is not negotiablebut thats where youd be wrong. You can end up easily overpaying by quite a bit if you just accept the price you see. Often times there is a less-costly alternative.

When it comes to your bills, there are two things you can do to lower them. The first simply involves making a few phone calls each year to negotiate your rates. If you pay your bills on time and youve been loyal to the company for the last year or more, its not hard to get some sort of discount. I do this twice a year with my cable bill and end up with a discount, a free upgrade, or both. In addition to your cable (or internet) bill, you can target cellphone carriers, credit cards, car insurance, and gym memberships. All you have to do is ask what they can do to help you get a lower price and be persistent.

In the event you cant get a cost reduction by simply asking, you can make some small sacrifices. In general, many monthly services include something you do not need and can easily live without. For example, text messaging plans can be replaced with Google Voice. Cable packages likely include a few premium channels you bought as a bundle but dont need anymore, and a super-thin HD antenna (like the Mohu Leaf) could replace your cable package altogether and even save you some space. Switching to a lesser bundle may not only be cheaper, but lock you into another discount for six to 12 months. You just have to look at what youre currently paying for and think about what you really need. Most often, you can live with less than you think because there are free alternatives available.

As for in-store prices, people tend to think they cant haggle when they often can. Big ticket items like furniture, appliances, and mattresses are rarely set in stone and you can make a deal if you try. This even works at big-ticket retailers like Best Buy. You can negotiate prices on televisions, for example, and often get a lower price and/or free accessories (like those overpriced cables). Cars and home prices are also commonly negotiable, and you can even reduce your medical bills with a simple question. Insurance companies are often ending up with lower rates, so if youre paying your doctor or dentist out of pocket you should see if they offer a cash discount. I get 10% off every dentist appointment for paying with a check. While you dont want to haggle for absolutely everything you buy, when the cost is higher than average it never hurts to ask. You may not get a discount, but if you do that quick negotiation will prove worthwhile.

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The Stupid Things You Do With Your Money (and How To Fix Them)


2012
04.20

(LifeHacker.com) Money. You need it to live, but whether youre a spendthrift or a miser, money can make you do foolish things. Youll waste it trying too hard to save, spend it on things you dont need, and simply overpay on regular expenses every month. Heres how to avoid being stupid with your hard-earned cash.

Stupid Thing #1: You Spend More by Trying Too Hard to Save

Frugality has its downfalls. When you try too hard to save, sometimes you end up wasting your money in the process. This may seem almost impossible, but it happens when you try so hard to cut costs that you stop paying for things you actually need. Doing this leads to more problems down the road–problems that are far more costly.

For example, skipping regular checkups at the doctor and the dentist can save you a few hundred dollars each year, but there will come a day when your lack of preventative care–which is very important–will earn you a much higher bill.

Doing your own taxes with inexpensive software may also seem like a good idea, but if the software makes any mistakes you could end up paying for them later. If youre going to do your own taxes, make sure you have the time and resources necessary or you could run into problems.

Buying cheaply made products is another way to throw away your money. It may save you cash in the short term, but youre bound to find yourself replacing it far sooner than a well-made product. If youve ever purchased a cheap inkjet printer, you know this works. Itll print well for about six months to a year before you start to run into clogged ink heads and other issues. While the printer may be under warranty, manufacturers will often just replace them because its less expensive than the cost of repair. This is not only bad for the environment, but it can be bad for your wallet if you end up paying any of the costs yourself. Its always better to look for a good deal on a well-made product than sacrifice quality manufacturing for the sake of a discount that will possibly cost you more in the long run.

Buying in bulk can also cost you more in the long run if you dont use everything you buy. Bulk food can be great for multi-person households–especially those with children–but buying in bulk isnt necessarily ideal for just one or sometimes even two people. Before you make your way to CostCo or Sams Club, ensure that youre going to actually use everything you buy and that youre actually getting a good deal–because sometimes youre not.

Overall, if you think your purchasing decisions through before you make them you shouldnt have too hard of a time realizing when your efforts to cut costs will actually hurt you in the long run. A little thought is enough to solve the problem.

Stupid Thing #2: You Dont Put Money in Savings Because You Think You Cant Afford It

When you arent bringing in as much as youd like with each paycheck, its hard to reduce that amount by cutting out a chunk thats just going to sit in a bank account and earn minimal interest. In some cases, you may think you cant even afford to save. Neither option looks particularly attractive, but there are numerous benefits to saving even a small portion of your paycheck that you may not realize–benefits that save you even more money in the long run.

While this probably goes without saying, saving money means you have a reserve of cash at your disposal. Its worth mentioning nonetheless because you may not realize that you can end up spending more money in the long run when you dont save at all. This not happens because you can quickly rack up credit card debt by buying things you cant afford, but because using your savings to purchase an item means you have the freedom to spend at the most optimal time–such as when a good deal comes along. If you dont have the necessary savings when that deal arises, youll have to put it on a credit card that you cant pay off immediately and the interest will quickly negate those savings. If you have cash at the ready, you wont face this dilemma.

You can save money even if you dont have a lot of cash reserves–just start small. If it hurts to take a chunk out of your paycheck each month, consider saving a dollar or two every day. Because you likely spend at least that much cash on a daily basis, funneling it into a jar wont seem quite as difficult as watching about $30-60 disappear each month from your paycheck. Contributing in small amounts will grow your savings slowly, but as you get in the habit you may feel more comfortable increasing the amount. If youre really having trouble finding the money to put in your savings account, consider where you can cut back and use the leftover cash to sock away each month. In the next section will discuss reducing your bills, which is an excellent way to find an explicit amount of extra cash each month, but you can also cut back in other ways if necessary. Cooking at home is one of the biggest savers. If you cut out prepared food and coffee runs on most days, you can save a lot. Buying generic–which sometimes gets you an identical product for less–is a great way to save money further. You can also save a lot by reducing your electricity usage, which can often be as simple as remembering to turn things off and using more efficient light bulbs. Youll also want to consider what you actually have to buy and what you can reuse. Razor blades, for example, can be used for a couple of years with a simple sharpening technique. Consider what can be kept before you toss it in the garbage.

Contributing to your 401k is another great way to save, but many people avoid this because 1) retirement seems a long way off and 2) they want to build an emergency fund beforehand so theyre ready in case of a problem. There are two issues with avoiding a 401k. First, if your company matches any contribution you make youre basically throwing away money by not taking advantage of that benefit. Second, your 401k can also serve as an emergency fund. In many cases–such the an inability to pay rent or a medical emergency–you can withdraw money from your 401k early with either a reduced tax penalty or none at all. You will be subject to the income tax, but youd have paid that if you put it in a savings account anyhow. Not every 401k allows for hardship withdrawals, so be sure to check with your plan (or any plan youre considering) beforehand. If you are covered, theres really no excuse to contribute to your 401k right now.

Stupid Thing #3: You Overpay on Bills (and a Lot of Other Stuff)

When you see a price tag on an item you want or receive a monthly bill in the mail, the general assumption is that this price is not negotiable–but thats where youd be wrong. You can end up easily overpaying by quite a bit if you just accept the price you see. Often times there is a less-costly alternative.

When it comes to your bills, there are two things you can do to lower them. The first simply involves making a few phone calls each year to negotiate your rates. If you pay your bills on time and youve been loyal to the company for the last year or more, its not hard to get some sort of discount. I do this twice a year with my cable bill and end up with a discount, a free upgrade, or both. In addition to your cable (or internet) bill, you can target cellphone carriers, credit cards, car insurance, and gym memberships. All you have to do is ask what they can do to help you get a lower price and be persistent.

In the event you cant get a cost reduction by simply asking, you can make some small sacrifices. In general, many monthly services include something you do not need and can easily live without. For example, text messaging plans can be replaced with Google Voice. Cable packages likely include a few premium channels you bought as a bundle but dont need anymore, and a super-thin HD antenna (like the Mohu Leaf) could replace your cable package altogether and even save you some space. Switching to a lesser bundle may not only be cheaper, but lock you into another discount for six to 12 months. You just have to look at what youre currently paying for and think about what you really need. Most often, you can live with less than you think because there are free alternatives available.

As for in-store prices, people tend to think they cant haggle when they often can. Big ticket items like furniture, appliances, and mattresses are rarely set in stone and you can make a deal if you try. This even works at big-ticket retailers like Best Buy. You can negotiate prices on televisions, for example, and often get a lower price and/or free accessories (like those overpriced cables). Cars and home prices are also commonly negotiable, and you can even reduce your medical bills with a simple question. Insurance companies are often ending up with lower rates, so if youre paying your doctor or dentist out of pocket you should see if they offer a cash discount. I get 10% off every dentist appointment for paying with a check. While you dont want to haggle for absolutely everything you buy, when the cost is higher than average it never hurts to ask. You may not get a discount, but if you do that quick negotiation will prove worthwhile.

Stupid Thing #4: You Carry Credit Card Debt

Were lucky enough to live in a world with plenty of great products and so its easy to turn to a credit card to buy them when you dont have the cash. Just because racking up unnecessary credit card debt is common these days doesnt make it a healthy practice. Carrying debt that you take time to pay off can amount in huge interest charges that dont take long to get into the range of thousands of dollars even if you always make your minimum payments. Theres rarely a good excuse to carry debt on your cards, so if you do you its time to put together a plan to stop right now.

If you really have a spending problem, you need to find ways to prevent yourself from using your credit cards. Enforcing a mandatory waiting period on your purchases or switching to a cash-only policy are two practical ways to start, but even ridiculous options like storing your credit cards in a jar of peanut butter or a block of ice can work because they make buying quite a bit more difficult. Simply taping over the magnetic strip and writing DONT USE ME can work as well as a reminder is often enough. However you choose to go about it, take the necessary measures to ensure you dont actually use your cards.

To eliminate the debt, you need to make a plan. Figure out how much you can pay every month and how long paying that amount will take you to become debt free. ReadyForZero is a web app that can help you put that plan together. Once you have your plan, all you have to do is follow it. Debt can seem insurmountable at times because it can take years to pay off, but if youre patient and persistent it will be worth it in the end.

Stupid Thing #5: You Dont Check Your Credit Report

Checking your credit report is incredibly important and yet many people neglect to do it even though its free. Not only is it important to know if there are any negative ratings on your account, but it can help you catch identity theft early on. The Consumerist posted about a man named Mike who found an anomaly in his credit report and it helped him that turned out to be fraud:

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Mining comedy gold from observation


2012
04.19

Jukebox Comedy Club will welcome its very first Taiwanese Texan this weekend when Sheng Wang takes the stage.

Wang, 32, grew up in Houston then perfected his comedy act in the San Francisco area. Now he lives in New York City, where he mines the minutia of daily city life for his comedy act.

Wang will perform Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Jukebox Comedy Club. Ahead of his appearance, Cue questioned the comedian about his most prized possessions, his comedic influences and his previous brush with Peoria.

How did you get into comedy?

I just didnt know what to do after college. I got a degree in business administration (University of California at Berkeley) and was moving more toward photography or poetry. I started telling jokes at an open mike after taking a very basic joke writing class. My friends introduced me to Mitch Hedberg. He has a jazzy vibe with stoner insights, and it was something that really spoke to me at the time. It opened me up to a whole new idea of doing comedy – just being yourself. I didnt know that was an option.

How would you describe your comedy style?

I think it might be changing, but I would say its sort of observational, looking at mundane daily things through a silly or absurdest point of view. Its becoming more narrative, Im telling more personal stories.

If you stepped on stage not knowing what city you were in, would you be able to tell by the crowd?

I find that its not so much about the city itself, its about what part of the city you are in. I recently was in a city, I dont know the name of it, and it couldve been a cool experience if I was in the right part of town, but it was a shopping area. I try not to have possessions and Im not into buying things. It just doesnt interest me. My goal in life is to try and make stuff, figure something out and tell people about it, and hopefully make them laugh at the same time.

So youre not into consumerism.

I mean, I have stuff. Im calling you on a phone. I have a backpack and a computer and clothes.

What are your most prized possessions?

My bike. My mattress. And maybe my roommates toaster oven. I love roasting things. I love cooking in general. I bought a wok recently. I feel like thats so Chinese of me.

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What Boomers, Millennials, Elderly All Have in Common: Money Fears


2012
04.18

Things have gotten even worse when it comes to taking economic responsibility for ones offspring. In 2007, 39% of baby boomers and 28% of silent generation grandparents were very confident that they would be able to substantially help their children and grandchildren to pay for their educations. Today, only 24% of boomers and 20% of silents are convinced that they can help their children and grandchildren. As for millennials, the number of them who expect to be able to help pay for their childrens education has almost fallen by half, from 49% to 25%.

And when it comes for taking care of aging parents, perceptions are even more bleak. In 2007, 33% of boomers were very confident that theyd be able to assure a financially secure life for their parents. Today, only 19% feel that way. In that regard, things dont look good for the boomers, either: In 2007, 29% of millennials were confident theyd be able to financially take care of their parents. Today, only 21% are.

The Futures So Dim

While the general erosion in economic confidence is disturbing, an even more insidious development may be the way in which respondents have reshaped their goals. In 2007, a large number of respondents were dedicated to what could be described as selfless goals, like taking care of ones parents or paying for a childs education. Between 2007 and 2011, however, the number of millennials who prioritized helping their children to pay for their educations fell by 17% and the number who prioritized preserving wealth to leave to their children dropped by 41%. In fact, the only millennial priority that had significant growth was assuring a financially secure life for yourself/your family. The number of millennials who put it at the top of their list increased by 25%.

And the millennials are not the only ones who have scaled down their goals. While the number of boomers who prioritize supporting a charity or cause doubled from 1% to 2%, the biggest growth by far was among those who were concerned with assuring their own financial security. Meanwhile, among silent generation grandparents, most priorities remained steady or decreased, with the exception of assuring that they had enough money to continue their lifestyle after retirement. In that priority, respondents increased by 15%.

Recently, there have been strong signs of an economic recovery: Unemployment is falling, housing starts are up, and consumers are buying things again. But if Ameriprises survey is any indication, the hardest problem to shake may not be financial, but rather emotional. For a generation whose economic experience has been defined by the biggest financial crisis in more than 70 years, the biggest thing to fear may, indeed, be fear itself.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson, or follow him on Twitter at

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