Posts filed under ‘stories’

Financial Realities for Olympians

Have you ever wondered how Olympians can afford to devote so much of their lives to the pursuit of perfection? Have you ever wondered how they pay for all of those coaches and equipment and how they hold down a full time job when so much of their day must revolve around training?

Well, today Smart Cookies addressed the financial realities of a small subset of Olympians. It’s an extremely short article, but a very interesting read.

February 24, 2010 at 3:55 AM Leave a comment

Definitely Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish

On my way back from the UPS store I decided to drive over to a nearby CVS to pick up a few items that were drastically on sale after ECBs and coupons. There are two CVS stores right around the corner from me and I almost never go to this particular one because the parking lot is always packed with cars and each spot is metered.

The UPS store is right across the street from CVS, so just this once I decided to make an exception and drop inside. I searched for some change in the car and placed a quarter, (the only coin I could find), in the meter. I popped right into the store, found the items I wanted to purchase and stepped in line. The line was pretty short and I got to the cashier in no time.

This is where it all went south. Some of my ECBs didn’t ring up properly, because the ink had rubbed off, or the paper was wrinkled, or who knows what. In order to use the ECBs the cashier was forced to enter the numbers by hand. After deducting the coupons and ECBs my total came to less than a dollar.

I handed the cashier a CVS gift card to pay the remainder of the bill. The cashier ran it through the register but the bar code was unreadable. She handed it back to me and said, “this won’t work.” I asked her to try again. She tried again and it still didn’t work.

Now this is where I should have stopped, pulled a dollar from my purse, and paid the remainder of the bill. Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve… the fact is I didn’t do that. Instead I allowed the first cashier to ask the second cashier how to type in the code from the gift card. The second cashier wasn’t quite sure what to do. I was the only person in line at the time so the two cashiers tried a whole bunch of things in an effort to ring up that gift card. They pointed at a whole bunch of things on the monitor, clicked a bunch of buttons, entered and reentered numbers, etc.

At some point I thought, I should just give up and pay out of pocket, or even void the whole transaction, but the two cashiers were determined to figure out how to ring up that card. It didn’t seem like a ton of time had passed since I first stepped in line, but it certainly took a lot longer than I expected. Eventually, they figured out what to do and handed me the bag and receipt.

I thanked them, opened the door to exit the CVS store and found a meter maid staring at the windshield of my car. I could have kicked myself straight in the a**. Once I saw how long it was taking I should have just pulled out a dollar, a credit card, any form of payment I could find and paid. Instead I saved myself less than a dollar and then shelled out $17 for a city parking ticket. Talk about penny-wise, pound foolish, they should just put my photo next to the definition.

July 4, 2009 at 1:30 AM 5 comments

Tonight’s Episode of Frontline: Breaking the Bank

Tonight’s Frontline episode, Breaking the Bank, focused on the details of the Bank of America – Merrill Lynch merger and the government’s actions during the initial days of the financial crisis. If you’ve followed the details of the bank mergers and/or the TARP money you will find this video extremely enlightening.

The show includes in-depth interviews of high-profile players Ken Lewis, CEO and President of Bank of America, and John Thain, former Merrill Lynch CEO. It discusses the pressure to merge the two companies, and the role of then-Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson in coercing CEOs to accept TARP money in an effort to quell the financial market distress.

If you missed tonight’s episode you can watch it online here or through the video below.

June 17, 2009 at 3:30 AM Leave a comment

Compassion for AIG Employees

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the AIG bonuses and the mismanagement of taxpayer money. Today’s Washington Post article finds compassion for the AIG employees from a group of fourth-graders from an elementary school outside of Houston.

April 14, 2009 at 2:33 AM 1 comment

Should Overweight Citizens be Financially Rewarded for Exercise?

According to this weekend’s edition of Parade magazine a number of countries are coming up with inventive ways to fight obesity.

In Japan, health officials are measuring the waists of citizens over 40 and asking overweight individuals to undergo diet counseling. In Germany the government is spending $47 million on healthy-eating, sports programs and tougher nutritional standards for school lunches. The government is also “asking candy makers to stop targeting young children and encouraging software companies to develop games that force players to move.”

While some countries are trying to assist their current citizens, others are combating the financial and health issue by closing their doors on the obese. New Zealand, for example, bans people it deems too fat from immigrating to the country in the first place.

Great Britain is taking a more interesting approach. The country is currently recruiting overweight individuals to wear electronic tags that calculate how much they move and how many calories they burn. As an incentive to exercise the participants are rewarded with store coupons and extra days off work.

This approach seems to be an innovative extension of preventative care. The government hopes to pay a little money now to get people into shape, so that it can avoid paying a lot of money later on obesity related diseases.

It’s certainly an original solution to fighting the epidemic of obesity. The question is this… Is money and/or time off enough incentive to exercise? I bet a lot of individuals would be interested in the money, while others would be more attracted by an extra day off work, but would either incentive provide individuals with enough motivation to actually rise off of the couch?

Either way I can certainly see why Great Britain is willing to give this a try. After all if the individuals don’t exercise there should be little cost involved and if they do exercise it could save the country a lot of money.

February 25, 2009 at 1:00 AM 10 comments

Magazines Cease Publication as a Result of Advertising Slumps

According to an article in today’s edition of the Washington Post a number of home design magazines are unexpectedly ceasing publication. At the end of 2007 Time Inc’s In Style Home, Martha Stewart’s Blueprint, Filipacchi Media’s Home, and the 106-year-old magazine House & Garden all called it quits. Since November of 2008 Time Inc’s Cottage Living, Hearst Magazine’s O at Home, and Meredith Corp.’s Country Living also announced their collapse.

A number of factors can be blamed for the demise including over-saturation of home improvement magazines in the market and the “24-hour availability of design information on the TV, radio and Internet,” but according to the article the “biggest contributor is the economic downturn.”

A number of magazines folded despite an extremely loyal fan base and high circulation. House & Garden had nearly 1 million in circulation when it died. It seems advertisers have chosen to focus their dollars on high-income earners, leaving a lot of magazines focused on lower and middle markets in the lurch.

I would imagine that this will be the first of many industries to be hit by the lack of advertising revenue.

January 23, 2009 at 4:40 AM 3 comments

iPhone Meet My Toilet

My tiny, sleek iPhone popped out of my pocket and into my toilet. The toilet was empty and newly cleaned, but my heart jumped as I watched it splash into the bowl. I reached in with one hand, grabbed a hand towel with the other, and dried it for the next ten minutes. Oddly enough my phone continued to work. I thought I’d dodged a bullet, but less than thirty minutes later the phone showed no signs of life.

So I googled for ‘iPhone in the Toilet.’ From the search results there are clearly a lot of iPhone users who have had the misfortune of dropping their phone in the toilet. I don’t know why but I find this particularly amusing. Perhaps those little phones are too sleek for their own good. Perhaps, they need more traction to keep them in a back pants pocket.

Either way the sites I found suggested putting the iPhone aside to let it dry out for at least a few days. I plugged the phone into the charger and allowed it to sit overnight. Miraculously it started without error the very next morning. “Hooray,” I thought, I don’t have to buy a new iPhone.

But now the phone is intermittently turning off. It seems every time it falls into sleep mode it shuts itself off. So now I’m back to setting up an appointment at the Genius bar and explaining to the poor Apple employee that yes I dropped my iPhone in the toilet.

April 10, 2008 at 3:38 AM 5 comments

Never Retire?

I have co-workers who seemed determined to work forever. When I ask them about retirement they always say they see no need to quit working. Honestly, it’s difficult to determine whether they need the money or they just like going to work each and every day. One sixty year old woman I know says she wouldn’t know what to do with all the spare time in her day. Although that seems a bit insane to me, (I certainly hope to retire well before age sixty), I admire her for coming into work and plugging away in her cubicle.

Today I read about Sally Dickerson a cashier who has been working for Safeway for over fifty-two years. At age eighty-five she has absolutely no plans of quitting her day job. I’m always fascinated by those who never wish to stop working. You can read Sally’s story here.

February 6, 2008 at 2:55 AM 18 comments

Follow Up: The Danger of Lead in Toys

Earlier this week I wrote about the recent problems with Chinese imports including the recall of millions of toys manufactured in China. The September issue of Good Housekeeping provides extensive details on the risk of lead-based toys to children, including long-term learning disabilities and even death. In Poisonous Lead Toys, the author places blame on the U.S. companies that utilize overseas manufacturers:

U.S. companies are buying these items from overseas manufacturers, most of them located in China, who use lead as a low-cost way of adding weight to items like charms. Since lead is also malleable, it can make flexible goods, such as vinyl lunch boxes and backpacks, more resistant to wear and tear. Companies that buy from these makers are either ignorant of this money-saving but dangerous ingredient or turn a blind eye to it.

The article suggests parents be wary of any jewelry made with metal, plastic cords and fake pearls. Also to be cautious of products made in China, where lead is often used in manufacturing. The biggest dangers are costume jewelry, metal key chains, painted toys (which could be covered in lead-based paint), vinyl bibs, vinyl lunch boxes, vinyl backpacks, and jackets with lead-based zippers or buttons.

From 1973 until 1995 federal regulations have banned high levels of lead paint in gasoline, house paint, and piping and soldering in water supplies, but there is no mandatory federal regulations to prevent lead in children’s products and toys. The only exception: toys with lead paint on them, which are regulated by the lead-in-paint law.

Senator Barack Obama and Congressman Henry Waxman did introduce the Lead Free Toys Act in November of 2005. This law would require the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission to ban children’s products with more than trace amounts of lead, but two years later that bill is still in Congress.

August 25, 2007 at 3:20 AM Leave a comment

What Were You Thinking When You Purchased Your Home?

In the Sunday Real Estate section of the Washington Post Michael Rosenwald wrote an article called Was the Mortgage a Mistake. The article discusses Michael’s own decision to purchase a townhouse in Germantown, with an interest-only mortgage, at the peak of the housing market. In essence, just after his purchase the housing market cooled and interest rates began their creep upwards.

So one might wonder, why Michael purchased a home he could not afford. His rationale, an interest-only loan helped us buy a house in an expensive county where we wanted to live and eventually send our children to school. With an interest-only mortgage we could buy a nicer, larger home. Michael admits that he could have lived farther from the District for less money… Could have continued to rent…, but instead he decided he deserved a nice home and reasons he did what we had to do to get one.

He rationalized the purchase saying that he fully intended to sell the home within five years. He assumed that the market would continue to rise and that he would earn a profit just like the previous owners of his home. This thought process makes absolutely no sense. From Michael’s prior statements it is clear that he had no intentions of downgrading to a smaller home at any point in the near future. Let’s assume the housing market continued to rise. Michael would have sold his current home for a profit, but he also would have purchased a larger home that would have cost even more money in the wake of a rising market. It seems to me that Michael would have perpetually dug himself into deeper holes with larger mortgages. Let’s face it, the decline of the housing market has not hurt Michael’s financial situation, Michael has hurt Michael’s financial situation. In fact, I believe the current market decline may have saved him from purchasing an even more expensive home, and getting into even deeper trouble.

What’s even more amazing is that Michael and his wife seem to make a decent living. He mentions that his wife is a physician and that he pays taxes in the highest bracket. Yet Michael hasn’t made any preparations for his loan’s conversion from an interest-only mortgage to a 30-year fixed. In fact, in his own words, he bought a flat-panel television, took a nice vacation, bought a dog, hired a dog-walker, and then we got pregnant. All this while knowing that his interest rate could jump as high as 10.125%.

After talking with a real estate agent and a financial planner Michael now believes he has three options. Save money for the ultimate conversion of his mortgage. Refinance now to a 30-year fixed mortgage, and then refinance again if mortgage rates drop, or sell his home and move to another state where his housing dollars can go a whole lot farther.

Michael’s case is an interesting one. It seems to me that with a little more saving and a little less fruitless spending he could afford his home. While a lot of people are facing foreclosure because they can no longer afford their homes, it seems that there are also quite a few people with high incomes that could afford their homes if they simply stopped spending elsewhere. Either way I think it’s a good lesson for all involved and all those who are watching. No matter how much you love a home, you shouldn’t buy one you cannot afford.

August 19, 2007 at 10:05 PM 6 comments

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