The Future of Shopping?

the futureWhen I think of “Future Shopping,” I think of George Jetson trying to give his wife a twenty, but she takes the whole wallet instead! Anyhoozle, there’s an article in the Wall Street Journal on the future of shopping entitled, oddly enough, The Future of Shopping. The basic nugget o’ wisdom goes like this:

Thirty years down the road, much of the change in retail is going to be driven by a complete reformulation of the relationship between how we make the stuff, how we sell the stuff and how we consume the stuff.

Here are some of the predictions:

Malls become “Alls”: I can remember our mall back in the 70s had not one, but two grocery stores in it. That seems ridiculous now but, apparently, it will be coming back. Aside from clothing, food and electronics, you will see “gyms and innovative fitness centers, medical services and even schools, grocery stores and luxury spas”.

Artisanal everything: Handcrafted clothes, furniture, foods, etc.This is about the counter trend of being local. It is about a need to be different and nostalgic for things that are timeless and somehow pure.”

Highly personalized clothing: Super-precise tailored measurements for clothing made immediately by robots. They’re already doing it in Korea!

A Different Kind of “Mobile”: They’re doing this in Charleston SC already. There’s a restaurant on the well-to-do/upscale tourist part of town. They have long waits, so on weekends, this truck full of upscale ladies apparel/accessories parks outside the place to take advantage of the captive. (“Go ahead, honey; I’ll be in the bar.” – Me)

Are you seeing some of these already? Which ones? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page!

The Best Store Brands

shopcartI’ve told this one before, but one of the great lines about the savings – and the stigma – of buying store-brand products comes from the old Rosanne sitcom.

Rosie is leading a home-ec field trip to the grocery store.  She tells the girls about saving with store brands as she reaches for some Brand-X corn flakes.  Her daughter is mortified. “But we don’t buy that…we use the good stuff!” Says Rosanne: “We use the BOX of good stuff. I fill it with this. It’s only SECOND best for MY family!”

Funny thing is, a lot of people don’t consider the store brand as second best anymore. If you’ve got bills to pay (you do, right?) then saving up to 36% on the generic label is pretty attractive! (According to Consumer Affairs magazine.)

Consumer Reports says that 65% of people buy store brands whenever they can. And 63% of those folks “were completely or very satisfied with the quality; only 5 percent expressed even a hint of dissatisfaction.”

All store brands are not created equal, however. Consumer Reports also surveyed items at 68 stores, and found that 49 stores earned average or above scores. Who does the store brand thing best? The overall winner was Trader Joe’s, followed by

  • Wegmans
  • Publix
  • Costco
  • Raley’s
  • Whole Foods Market, and
  • Harris Teeter

So what do YOU think? Do you use a lot of store brands? Like a lot of the folks in the survey, I also use them whenever I can. Who do YOU think does them best? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page, and have a great weekend!

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!

Dining Out Beats Dining In

die out dine inThat squeak you just heard is the dollar amount that we spend in restaurants annually squeaking past the dollars we spend on groceries. That’s right, Bloomberg reports that, for the first time, Americans spend more on dining out than cooking at home, something like $51 billion vs. $50 billion. Twenty years ago, it was 2-to-1, or $30B vs. $15B, home vs. restaurant.

Who is driving the change? One hint: it rhymes with Shmillennials. And the Why of it may sound familiar, as well. Millennials have a talent for turning everything into a social experience, and eating dinner is just one example. Social, as in gathering with friends, and Experience, as in having an admirable desire to try new things.

Meanwhile, the Baby Boomers are going in the opposite direction. 50-to-70 year olds report that, while spending is also up, it is more concentrated on Needs than Wants, necessities over frivolities or luxuries. Why? Because they watched their 401K’s get murdered in the last crisis, and they’re spooked.

How about you? Are you a Boomer, Gen X’er or Millennial? Have your spending habits changed regarding dining out vs. dining in? Why or why not? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page, and have a great weekend!

Tax Day Freebies 2015

free stuffAnd now, a tradition not nearly as annoying as those corporate April Fools’ Day pranks we talked about previously: the Tax Day Freebie! Restaurants, bars, hotels and other retailers love to capitalize on our tax day grief, offering various freebies, BOGO’s and “$10.40”-themed deals on April 15. And the list grows every year! Here are some samples:

  • BOGO meals at Boston Market
  • Free document shredding at Office Depot and Staples
  • Free sandwich at Schlotzky’s Deli
  • Free shave ice from Kona
  • Half-off rib dinner at Sonny’s BBQ
  • BOGO at Yankee Candle
  • Free curly fries at Arby’s
  • Free cupcakes at Cinnabon
  • 15% off at PF Chang’s
  • IHOP kids eat free in April
  • Free breakfast coffee at Micky D’s
  • “Sing for Your Supper” at Hard Rock Café
  • $10 off at Bonefish
  • 15% off at Beef O’Brady’s

And that’s just FOOD. Check out THIS LINK for news about retail locations such as Ann Taylor, Dress Barn, Foot Locker, etc. More links below. Now, I am sure there are limits and restrictions, so be sure to follow the links. So, what’s your favorite Tax Day deal or freebie? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page!

Freebie Links:

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.

Home Improvement Winners & Losers

home improvementThis past Saturday, I was cleaning out the garage (or “rearranging the mess” as my wife calls it.) Meanwhile, wife was potting plants. The lady across the street was laying paving stones on her garden path, and the guy two doors down was planting a palmetto tree. As you can see – in South Carolina, at least – it’s “that time of year.”

Spring home improvement projects… You sit cooped up all winter, and your imagination runs wild. The sun comes out, and where do you begin? Well, as a homeowner, you are trained to do projects that will come as close as possible to “paying for themselves” when you sell your house.

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there to tell you which projects meet that criterion. Here’s one called The 2015 Cost vs Value Report. It gives national averages and also breaks it down by region. Here are some highlights, looking at the national average of mid-range home improvement projects…

Biggest return:

  • Steel entry door replacement: Costs $1200, you will recoup $1250, a 102% return
  • Exterior stone veneer: Cost $7100, recoup $6500, 92% return
  • New garage door: Cost $1600, recoup $1400, 88% return
  • New vinyl siding: Cost $12K, recoup $9700, 81% return
  • Deck addition (wood): Cost $10K, recoup $8100, 80% return

Biggest losers:

  • Master suite addition: Cost $111K, recoup $69K, 62% return
  • Backup power generator: Cost $12K, recoup $7000, 60% return
  • Bathroom addition: Cost $39K, recoup $23K, 58% return
  • Home office remodel: Cost $29K, recoup $14K, 49% return
  • New sunroom: Cost $76K, recoup $37K, 48% return

TONS more info at the original piece, so check it out! So, are you doing any home improvements this spring? Have you had any success stories when you went to sell? Any nightmares? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page!

Easter by the Numbers 2015

lily2 copyFavorite Easter memory: I was about five, and it snowed 6 inches the night before Easter (Ohio, y’all!) I came downstairs Easter morning and my father said, “Look outside!” I did, and I saw giant bunny prints in the snow leading from the street to the house. I was thrilled. It took me YEARS to realize that it had been my dad in his size-13 construction boots, heels-in/toes-out, who had made the footprints. By then, I was 19, and hadn’t been into Easter baskets for over a year.

Simple pleasures, right? And I wonder if that has been lost. That commercial on now – is it Sears? Where the kids run downstairs on Easter morning to find TWO BRAND-NEW BIKES!!! Bikes? I was lucky to get a hollow chocolate bunny! Kids these days…

As Americans, we do holidays big, even when (especially when) we can’t afford it. So let’s take a look at Easter Spending by the Numbers 2015!

  • $16.4 Billion: Total Easter spending. (Up half a Bill from last year)
  • $140: Average Americans will spend on Easter (up $3)
  • 86%: Will have a special dinner, and spend $5 Billion, or $62 per household
  • 87% will buy candy, and spend $2 Billion, or $28 per household
  • $2.4 Billion: Spent on gifts, or $47 per household
  • $1 Billion: Spent on Flowers, or $32 per household
  • $1 Billion: Spent on decorations, or $28 per household
  • $700MM: Spent on cards, or $17 per household
  • $61.00: Spent on Easter clothes per household

Well, that’s the tale of the (register) tape for this year. While we’re at it, let’s not forget that Easter (and Passover!) is a very important religious holiday for many millions of folks. However you spend it, at church, temple, with family or friends, we hope it’s GREAT. Happy Easter and Chag Sameach from MindField Online! Share your weekend plans with us over at our Facebook page!

Sources: Natl Retail Federation,, Forbes

April Foolishness 2015

selfieshoeAs a writer FOR the web, I spend a lot of time ON the web. For me, April 1st is the most irritating day of the year, and it sneaks up on me every time!! I’m reading something (supposedly) serious like and I see, “The President then said farewell, boarded the mothership and returned to his home planet.” And I’m like “Grrr! April Fools!” I might as well go play in the street for the rest of the day.

So I guess I can appreciate when businesses try to have a little fun with the concept. I mean, I might as well. They’re not going to stop just for me, and playing in the street is dangerous. So, here are some noble April Fools’ Day efforts from companies trying to get in on the fun and irritation.

2015 highlights include:

And, for you Game of Thrones fans…

Side note for 2015… Companies have poured some big bucks into these fake concepts. Um, except for Sears. I am in the loyalty program, and I received an email this morning saying “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Then, you click on it, and it says “Just kidding!” Comedy GOLD, y’all!

Here are some links for your further enjoyment!

See any that didn’t totally irritate you to death? Let us know over at the MindField Online Facebook page!