In March, North Carolina’s General Assembly rebuked the city of Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance with House Bill 2, a piece of legislation criticized by opponents as a discriminatory tool aimed at the LGBT community. The conservative right has defended the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act – better know as the bathroom bill – as a means to protect women and children despite the complete lack of evidence suggesting such protections are needed.
The underlying current of the General Assembly’s actions is a fear of change. Depending on which segment of the conservative right you ask, the perceived basis for their intellectual leanings is religion, nationalism or traditionalism, among others. The actual foundation is none of the above, but rather the basic emotions of fear and anxiety.
The Powerball lottery drawing for Wednesday evening currently has an estimated jackpot of $1.4 billion, which equates to a cash value of roughly $868 million. The group that runs the lottery – The Multi-State Lottery Association – estimates the odds at winning the grand prize at 1 in 292,201,338.
Quite possibly the best part of the Powerball jackpot reaching such absurd levels is the cascade of inevitable bizarre probability comparisons that statisticians and journalists seek out. You have better odds of hitting a hole-in-one on back-to-back par 3s, being crushed by a vending machine, becoming the president of the United States and being killed by a random airplane part falling out the sky. My favorite may be that you are far more likely to be struck by lightning while drowning than to win the Powerball.
The first bit of sophisticated financial advice I received came from a neighborhood friend’s father in the early 1990s. My parents had provided me with the basics, such as saving for big purchases and an introduction into budgeting, prior to my teenage years, although I had no concept of the differences between a lease and mortgage. At least until one weekend afternoon when my friend and I overheard her father explaining to her mother then need to maintain a mortgage on their current home. Apparently they had the funds to pay down the debt, but he had no desire in doing so due to the tax deduction involved. In his opinion, getting the tax break in April offset the value in paying the mortgage off and losing the deduction.
My mother is subject to arrive for weekend visits with a box or two full of my childhood memories crammed into the backseat. Some objects resonate with me, providing a brief window into my youth, but most carry far greater importance for her, almost as though she is projecting upon me how she thinks I should remember my childhood. It’s an incredibly motherly thing to do and one full of good intentions.
Early last year my parents came into town to see their grandkids, and once again, a large cardboard box with my name on it ended up in the foyer. Instead of the usual comments dripping with contrary subtext about doing whatever we wish with the contents, this time my mother implored me to check the value of the Star Wars toys included.
My wife recently returned from an extended girls’ weekend to celebrate a good friend’s 40th birthday. They left town on an American Airlines flight just before 7am on a Wednesday and returned around 6pm the following Sunday. Rather standard fare for a trip of this magnitude, although what intrigued me most wasn’t the actual vacation, but the level of planning involved. My wife attempted to quantify the amount of trip prep over the previous year by offering some hard statistics on the communication between the quartet: approximately 150 emails, 300 texts and five planning meet-ups.
These aren’t single women in their 20s with nothing better to do than sit around and plan a five-day trip down to the infinite details. These are professional women with more chores than time available who happen to be mothers of both young children and grown men, and yet they were able to carve out time in their hectic schedules to daydream and plan a short vacation that would serve as a temporary break to their daily stresses and responsibilities.
In theory, consumerism is a basic concept. Whether it’s food, clothing or electronics, you decide what product you need and how much you are willing to pay for the good. Large items, such as houses, automobiles and recreational vehicles, have long been negotiable. Retail store goods, however, come at a fixed price. For years, consumers were tasked with deciding whether or not the good in question was worth that set cost. Retailers began using sales techniques to move products off the shelves for various reasons, ranging from boosting quarterly revenue to clearing space for the next year’s models.
As the retail industry evolved over the years, however, its marketing strategy became more sophisticated. Not only were retailers spending more money on advertising, but they also began capitalizing on their consumers’ cognitive spending biases. As a result, sales have increased to such an extent that it’s impossible to walk into a department store like Kohl’s or Macy’s without seeing sale prices on a large variety of items.
If you consider yourself a rather astute shopper, as I do, then you won’t allow yourself to be swayed by the immediacy of today’s sale on those shoes or long-sleeve tee, knowing full well that such a price will unlikely be limited to a one-time occasion. As it turns out, the illusion of a unique sales event is not as important as the concoction of a random original price. It doesn’t matter if Kohl’s never had any intention of selling that button-down dress shirt for $49. What matters is that the consumer fixates on that price first. Retailers have found that more people are willing to buy a $34 shirt if its marked down 30 percent from $49 than the same exact shirt originally priced $34 with no discount.
The sun rises slowly at our house. My preferred alarm clock most mornings is the creak of a bed down the hallway, followed by the soft thud of my four-year-old daughter’s feet hitting the floor. Next comes the pitter-patter that you often read about in books and hear about in songs, although the sound is even more pure when it’s your child in your home. The footsteps grow louder with each passing second, like an oncoming freight train, although in the early morning hours, my daughter is more fleet of foot than any rolling cylinder of metal. Rarely is there a better way to start the day than with the soft whisper of a child asking, gently, “Daddy?”
She comes to my side of the bed not because she loves me more, but because she knows I require less convincing. Even at her young age, she can effortlessly coax me out of bed to fetch apple juice and a cereal bar as a precursor to breakfast; an appetizer, of sorts. The sensible adult decision as I stagger downstairs in my predawn fog would be to reach over and turn on the Keurig before opening the refrigerator and absorbing that temporary, yet harsh burst of light. Time is at a premium these days. Just read any handful of blog posts and articles detailing the importance of multitasking in manufacturing 26 hours in a 24-hour clock. An early morning start would help accomplish just that.
If you were one of the millions of Americans frantically purchasing gifts for family and friends in the chaotic days leading up to Christmas, your day of reckoning is upon you. Now that the December billing cycle has come to a close, the reality of your purchases come to fruition with the credit card due date that hits around the start of February.
The pure evil genius behind credit cards has gradually been exposed over the last four decades. One example of the dangers of plastic is explained in a paper by MIT economists Drazen Prelec and George Loewenstein published in 1998 – “The Red and the Black: Mental Accounting of Savings and Debt.” At the crux of their findings was the pain of paying concept; the notion that cash purchases “undermine the pleasure derived from consumption.” If you walk into a store with only a $20 bill in your pocket, your selection process for how to spend that money will likely be meticulous and at times stressful. It’s a rite of passage for high school boys to gather their part-time job savings for date night only to have the available fund balance detract from the evening due to constant calculations. Splurge on the molten lava cake for dessert, or save money for popcorn at the movie theatre? Put an extra gallon of gas in the car or use that extra $3 for a shared Coke and say a prayer that you don’t have to call her father to explain why you ran out of gas after curfew?
One critical aspect of the gender pay gap that hasn’t received enough attention, however, is the fact that women earn roughly 90 percent of what men are paid until they reach the age of 35. After that benchmark, the pay gap dramatically increases on average. It’s no coincidence that age tends to be when marriage and children are the focal point of women’s personal lives.
I was early in my formative years in the spring of 1985, although my palate for rock music was already well-defined. Having older teenage brothers has that effect. My most vivid music memory as a child was listening to Dire Straights’ “Walk of Life” over and over again on my Fisher Price turntable record player. The angst I felt in trying to position the brown center knob just right so it wouldn’t fall down while playing my collection of three 45-rpm records was replaced with masculine pride as I belted out verses about topics I knew nothing about.