Tag Archives: online research

A Modest Prom-posal

promProm spending peaked back in 2013 at $1,140. It fell to $978 in 2014, and this year is expected to slip again to $919.

While I would like to think that this means people are being wiser with their money, I have my doubts. There’s something new on the prom scene (well, it’s the first time Visa has mentioned it in its annual Prom Spending Survey, anyway) called The Promposal. Because the invitation to the prom has to be the dopest, raddest, illest event of the season, second only to Prom itself! Thank you, MTV.  The average cost of this nonsense is around $300, or one-third of the total Prom expenditure. If you absolutely have to learn more about this nonsense, go here.

Another sign that we aren’t minding our dollars and cents is that parents, who only kicked in 56% of the cost last year, have gone soft and are parting with 73% this year.

Now, to me, the best thing about the Visa Prom Spending Survey is that it’s not just a way for us to sit in judgment of the poor saps blowing all this money (of course, that IS part of the fun!) but it’s also a teaching tool. Visa has several tips for saving money, and has also published a prom budgeting app that helps you stay on track with your prom spending. Check it out!

How about you? Spending more, less or the same for prom this year? Are the kids chipping in, or not? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page!

Tax Time Trembling

          Hey, maybe MY tax guy should have used a giant mallet!
Hey, maybe MY tax guy should have used a giant mallet!

Many, many moons ago, I went to get my taxes done at one of those famous places. Like, THE most famous one. We had hit a couple of major milestones (buying our first house was the biggest) so it seemed the right time to graduate from the 1040 EZ, do-it-yourself form.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect THIS. My tax preparer was completely incompetent. He was so nervous he was literally trembling. He mumbled and stammered so badly I could barely understand him. And he gave terrible advice, such as “You live in Ohio but you work in Indiana? Oh, it will all even out.” Even I know that, if the city tax in Indiana is 0.9%, and in Cincinnati it’s 2.1%, it’s NOT going to “even out.”

But I was polite (shell shocked, really), paid the guy, and left. Then, I came back the next night and demanded that the branch manager re-do my forms. Believe me, there was a difference – a difference that would have led to penalties.

So, this article in the Consumerist wasn’t really shocking. It’s been 20 years since that incident. There have been so many advancements in software and technology (they have this thing called The Internet now) but one weakness remains: the human element.

An undercover investigation went, um, undercover at 29 different tax places and found all kinds of lapses in the system. Misusing earned income tax credits (EITC), ignoring side income, using incorrect forms, questionable deductions, not understanding the tax software, randomly filling in boxes to see if it magically resulted in less tax owed, and on and on. Sometimes these were honest mistakes…sometimes they weren’t.

Anyway, caution. If you think you are working with an incompetent or dishonest tax preparer, you owe it to yourself to do something about it. Or, you will owe it to the IRS, because if you end up getting caught, YOU’RE the one on the hook, not the tax preparer. So, check out the horror stories in the original piece, share any horror stories of your own at the MindField Online Facebook page, and have a great weekend!

My favorite line of the article: “When she went into a payday loan place to get her taxes done…” Yikes.

Customer Satisfaction: Who Stands Out?

shopcartA big study just came out. It interviewed 10,000 U.S. consumers to rate their recent interactions with 293 companies across 20 industries and then evaluated their experiences across three dimensions: success, effort, and emotion.”

Who are the big winners? Grocery stores, as a whole, get the highest marks. Publix takes the top spot. I have to say, I do like the overall vibe of Publix, but MAN! That experience comes at a high price! Interestingly, the grocery store Aldi also placed highly. Um, has Aldi changed? I remember it as the bare-bones, no-frills store that carries all the foreign knock-offs of your favorite products, e.g., the detergent in the orange box is called “Surf” instead of “Tide.” Must be a price thing? I can see how that would score these days!

Other achievers, getting positive ratings, include fast food, retailers, parcel delivery services, and banks. Meanwhile, Internet service providers, TV service providers, and health plans received “poor” ratings.

As for “movers,” companies that have improved or gotten worse, Residence Inn, US Cellular, and JetBlue Airlines moved up, while Subaru dealers, TD Ameritrade, and Buick dealers went down.

How about you? What do you look for in a retailer? How do you define customer satisfaction? Who’s at the top of YOUR list? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page, and have a great weekend!

Halloween by the Numbers 2014

While these safety nerds probably WON'T get hit by a car, they WILL get hit by 8th-graders!
While these safety nerds probably WON’T get hit by a car, they WILL get hit by 8th-graders!

Our Halloween spending will be up slightly from last year’s average of $75.03.  According to a poll of 6,332 consumers:

More than two-thirds (67.4%) of celebrants will buy Halloween costumes for the holiday and spend $3 billion, the most in the survey’s 11-year history. Two billion dollars will be spent on decorations. The average person will spend $77.52 this Halloween, compared to $75.03 last year. Total spending on Halloween this year will reach $7.4 billion. National Retail Federation

So, slightly up, but still lower than before the Crash. Even so, while you pinch your pennies, don’t forget to invest in safety for your little goblins! In that vein, here’s a classic bit (as if) from years past, “Halloween Safety for Nerds and Other People.”

When I was a kid, Halloween safety consisted of my dad telling me not to accept any apples, because hippies were hiding their drug needles in them. “That’s it! Now go run in the night streets in your dark gray Batman costume!”

So, to pay it forward, I will share a few Halloween safety tips from the National Safety Council.

Motorists: BE COOL! Seriously, I don’t even have kids, but I spend half the night screaming at the idiots driving 45mph on my street!

Parents: Basically it’s your job to suck all the fun out of it. Make your kids tell you their precise route. Give them a curfew time. And make them wear bright or reflective clothing, even if it ruins their Zombie costume.

Kids: Use some common sense! Don’t go to dark houses. Don’t eat your stuff until mom inspects it and steals the Kit Kats. Carry dad’s best flashlight, which you will surely break. And stay out of the abandoned mill, even if they dare you!

OK, enough sarcasm. You should download the list. There are tons of great tips to keep Halloween safe. The alternative is a “Trunk or Treat” in the middle school parking lot…and nobody wants that!

Also, tons of Halloween statistics and charts HERE.

Happy Halloween, MindFielders!

(picture credit: springsgov.com)

Confident Consumers?

The graphics department nails it again!

When I read a headline claiming that consumer confidence is on the rise, I think that the newspaper should include a coupon for that big grain of salt you need to swallow the news.  That’s the problem today. You read that headline and, depending on your politics, you say, “Well, the New York Times says it, so it MUST (or MUST NOT) be true!”

So, let’s just dispense with all that. Let’s look at the numbers, and then you tell me whether you are “feeling it.” OK? OK!

More hiring and fewer firings this year have helped firm sentiment, setting the stage for a pickup in consumer spending that will probably bolster the economy. Middle-income and wealthier households were among those turning more optimistic last week as stocks rose to a record and gasoline prices stabilized. Bloomberg.com

  • The “Consumer Comfort Index” is at 37.6, the highest since Jan 2009
  • Hiring beat expectations in June, and unemployment is near a 6-year low
  • Auto sales are the strongest since 2006
  • Confidence is up for everybody making at least $40,000 a year, BUT, has dropped for those making less
  • All age groups are optimistic, with over-65’s the most so
  • Optimism increased everywhere but the South

So, those are some of the stats. You can read more at the original piece. So what about you? Are you feeling the rosy glow of consumer confidence or not? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page, and have a confident weekend!

Prom Season Spending 2014

Recognize THAT face, Moms?
Recognize THAT face, Moms?

We’re about halfway in to Prom Season 2014. And, while the American family’s average spending peaked last year at about $1,140, a Visa survey says:

American households with teens are reining in prom spending this year. The average household will spend $978 in 2014. That’s down more than 14% from the average families spent on items including attire, limousine rental, tickets, and dinner in 2013. PracticalMoneySkills.com

Still, that’s a lot of money. Let’s take a look at some numbers!

  • Industry volume: $4 billion
  • West coast average spending: $1,125 (highest in US)
  • Midwest average spending: $835 (lowest in US)
  • Chipping in: Parents will pay 56% (down 4% from last year), Kids 44% (up 4%!)
  • Old Dad/Young Dad: Parents UNDER 40 will spend $1074, 30% MORE than parents OVER 40!
  • Divorce benefit: Single parents will pay TWICE what married parents are willing to pay!

And, of course…

  • Percentage that feels “we spend way too much”: 84%

So, what’s it like in your house? Spending more, less, the same? Are you trying to teach ancient concepts like “frugality”, or are you “making memories” – regardless of cost? (No judgement here!) Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page!

Here are some links:

Oh, and by the way… $1150 or $978 might as well be a million dollars to some families. “Community-based programs across the country, like Cinderella’s Closet (here) or the Princess Project (princessproject.org/) offer free dresses to girls who need them. There are also plenty of places for teens to donate their gowns once prom is over (www.donatemydress.org/).” Reuters

Savings for the Month of May!

may savingsThere are unique savings to be had each month of the year. Here are some highlights for May (with bonus dumb commentary!) followed by some links. Enjoy!

  • Thrift Stores: Not going to go into my love/hate relationship with Goodwill (you’re welcome) but now is the time at this and other second-hand stores. They’re stacked to the ceiling with the stuff you got rid of during Spring Cleaning. Have fun buying back your own junk!
  • Refrigerators: Just happens to be the time of year when the new models ship to store. So last year’s gleaming, untouched side-by-side gets kicked to the curb in favor of one that looks exactly like it but costs $100 more!
  • Mother’s Day: Last month was better, but if you have waited this long, skip jewelry. AFTER Mom’s Day, buy jewelry for next year. Then, put it in your hall closet, and never see it again.
  • Memorial Day: Truly, one of the more authentic holiday sales. Real savings, instead of “30% off our already inflated prices!” Best yet, immediately after Memorial Day (act fast!) all of that red, white and blue stuff is waiting to be snapped up, to use for your 4th of July cookout! If you really want to confuse your drunk guests, make sure the banners still say “Memorial Day”!

Those are your savings highlights for May. Check out some more useful links below:

Do you have any May savings secrets to share? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page! And have a great weekend!

Curbing the Impulse

06shopping5Tales of Impulse Buying Horror!

I once knew a girl who bought so much stuff on QVC that they asked her to go on the air and talk to the hosts. She did but, in the middle of the conversation, she remembered that her husband said he would leave her if she bought one more thing on QVC. So she abruptly hung up on air!

I once knew a dude who filled his house with Hoosier cabinets bought at antique stores. He was convinced he was going to someday open a store of his own. There were so many that you had to shimmy sideways down the hall. Otherwise, the house was crammed with other collectible crap because, for some reason, he never thought to put it IN the cabinets!

So, yeah, impulse buying. On a small scale it can be relatively harmless. But when it’s out of control, well, it’s out of control.  For some folks, it’s a serious problem, causing money troubles and conflict in the home. What can you do about it? NerdWallet/ABC News has some helpful hints. As usual, these are just the bullets, with dumb commentary added…

  • Don’t buy with credit (duh)
  • Install a time delay for shopping websites (like, the site won’t load for five minutes after you click.)
  • Make shopping harder (like, when you store all your personal, payment and shipping info on a site to make shopping a breeze? Don’t do that!)
  • Follow the 30-minute rule (just back away…)
  • Unsubscribe from daily deal newsletters (I have wasted SO much money with these)
  • Take advantage of the cooling-off period (You legally have 3 days to cancel)

I like this one, because hey, we’re only human…

  • Keep a splurge fund

Again, much more detail at the original piece, so check it out! How about you do you know any impulse buyers (because, obviously, it’s not YOU)? Is it harmless or out of control? Do you think these tips would help? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page!

ALSO: Shopaholics Anonymous …if you think you need it.

The Evolution of Cashing Out

The statistics don’t lie: in business, in government and in our day-to-day lives, we are using fewer and fewer checks, and more electronic payments. The examples are all around us, starting at the top – the Federal Reserve:

In the 1990s, the number of paper checks processed by the Fed (was) 19 billion. Since then, it has only gone down. In 2000 the number was 16 billion; in 2007, 10 billion and in 2011, just 6.8 billion checks – and of those, almost all were electronic images – were processed by the Federal Reserve.  3pointAlliance.com

In fact the volume of checks the Fed processes is only one-third of what it was 20 years ago. Whereas they once had 45 check-clearing centers in the US, now they have ONE. Meanwhile, the cost of processing checks has gone up by 55% in recent years.

So, that’s the spirit behind the announcement you saw on the MindField Online news page last week:

The ability to cash out using checks will no longer be available starting today. Very few of our members still use this service and it has become too costly and unreliable to maintain effectively.

“Costly and unreliable.” What’s that mean? Well, as we said, the cost of processing checks – even when there are NO problems, is rising. When there ARE problems, though, it gets ridiculous. The Post Office loses your check? Someone swipes it from your mailbox? Suddenly, your $5 cash out check costs MindField $20 to replace!

Is this a huge problem? No, but it’s big enough to be a distraction. And, ultimately, it’s an unnecessary distraction when there are so many other efficient, reliable solutions out there:

We continue to look for exciting cash out options to add to PayPal, Amazon, WalMart and Sam’s online options. We are also looking to add some charitable giving options like St. Jude Children’s Hospital, Make A Wish, or Wounded Warrior programs.

In the end, it’s the price of progress. Check distribution is an avoidable expense, and thousands and thousands of companies have realized it. But we want to hear YOUR thoughts:

If you have cash out ideas, please send them to our support desk, support@mindfieldonline.com. We’d love to know which retailers and charities are of interest to you.

National Home Ownership Month

for sale

It’s no secret that the housing market – and the explosion of bad mortgage loans – was a major contributor to the Big Crisis of 2008. Things SEEM to be improving, maybe kinda sorta. And yet I still hear radio ads for “low interest, zero-down” loans that will only perpetuate the problem. Ehh, what do I know? I’m just a guy who waited until I could actually afford a house, paid the required down and never missed a payment!

Anywayz… it’s National Home Ownership Month, where people from all perspectives come together to boldly agree, “Something should be Done about All the Problems!”

Here are some links for NHOM 2013:

National Association of Homebuilders

Protect Home Ownership

USDA Home Ownership Page

Financial Education is Key

Realty.com Celebrates NHOM

NAACP Celebrates NHOM

Free Homeowner Education from CCCS

So, what do you think? Is the American Dream of home ownership still alive and well – or at least alive? Have you experienced any difficulty getting a loan? Let us know, and have a great weekend!!