Some things in life are a major rip-off, but we buy them anyway. At the top of the list: movie theater treats, with prices like $6 for a bucket of popcorn and $3.69 for a box of Sour Patch Kids blaspheming the good name of cheap corn syrup and palm oil.
Joshua Thompson of Livonia, Michigan got so tired of being hoodwinked at the concessions stand that he’s filing a class action lawsuit against AMC theaters, for what he considers violations against the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. The suit seeks a civil penalty against AMC as well as refunds for customers who have been overcharged on their Red Vines, tubs of popcorn, and Cherry Cokes.
We all know that movie treats are a major profit boon for movie theaters–some industry estimates claim up to an 85% profit margin on concessions. But is the price inflation really such a big deal? Research from Stanford University argues that by charging more on their secondary product (concessions), movie theaters can keep the prices of their primary product (tickets) lower, which may be good for all moviegoers.
My issue with pricey theater treats comes down to very basic business values. I say theaters are justified in charging whatever they want for popcorn: the theater pops and salts and butters it (or just douses it in “butter flavored” oil) themselves. It’s a product that they actually make and dress up. But when it comes to a box of Junior Mints, the theater didn’t do anything innovative; they aren’t selling a type of candy that you can’t get somewhere else. A movie theater in a rural area that’s 50 miles from a grocery store? I could see some justification in the markup, since customers would be in part paying for convenience. But when theaters sell candy that I could literally buy next door at the grocery store for $.99? I’m insulted.
Or maybe I just go next door and bring a big purse.
Of course movie theater owners aren’t dummies, so they attempt to rig up an artificial supply and demand situation to justify the increased prices by banning Sour Patch Kids and Bon Bons from the Walmarts down the street. Put in a different context, it sounds absurd. “We want people to buy concert t-shirts at our venue, so let’s ban them from wearing their own. You want to wear a Taylor Swift t-shirt in our venue, you have to buy it from us.” Or, ”You can stay at our hotel, but if you want to drink a Pepsi, it can ONLY be from the locked and loaded in-room mini bar.”
Isn’t the goal of running a successful business to beat the competition, rather than eliminate it with uptight rules imposed on customers?
I get the argument against bringing in a bunch of outside food that would make a mess or damage the theater. I once smuggled Cold Stone ice cream into a movie, and if I’d been less agile and spilled that “Love It” waffle cone, I’m sure a few high school-aged ushers would have been pissed. But this obviously isn’t the primary motivation behind movie theaters’ outside food bans.
Ultimately, though, the pricing works if people are willing to pay. Earnings data from Regal Cinemas shows that popcorn and candy sales were actually up 5.5% per person in fourth quarter 2011, so maybe price isn’t holding us back as much as we think.
What’s your take on the popcorn and candy debate? Are you a high-price payer or a rogue candy smuggler?
As for Thompson’s lawsuit, lawyers quoted by the Detroit Free Press say the case will likely be dismissed, as Michigan’s Consumer Protection Act gives exceptions to regulated industries–like movie theaters. I guess this is just another bad example of how our legal system can get as bloated as my poor cankles after a popcorn salt hangover.
New cars are a huge financial commitment, and not a very smart investment on paper. Edmunds.com says a new car loses 11% of its value on average when it leaves the dealer lot. And after the first couples years of ownership you can expect your new wheels to depreciate 20% to 40%. (Depreciation is based on use, which is why those initial miles off the lot decrease the value so much–the value of what once was new gets shocked when use begins.) The problem with such rapid depreciation of vehicles is you can find yourself in an upside-down investment (i.e., the amount you owe is more than the value of the item). This negative equity can be problematic if you want to trade your car in later because you’ll essentially have two car payments–the monthly payment, and down payment, on the new car and whatever is left over from the loan on the old one. The likelihood of upside-down investments may drive new car owners to consider leasing. Well, that and driving a sweet new car every few years. There are, however, pitfalls to leasing and buying, along with many benefits to each. So if you’re in the market for a new ride, here are the highlights to consider.
Down Payment: When you purchase a car the dealer typically asks for a down payment, usually around 10%. Like a house, 20% is the accepted standard to lower your monthly payments. With vehicles, this number serves another purpose. Putting 20% down will essentially cover the first year’s depreciation. This will prevent you from getting upside-down on your first day as a new car owner. If you lease a car, though, dealers may waive the down payment altogether without putting a hurting on your monthly bill.
Monthly Payment: When leasing, you’re essentially renting a car for a period of time, typically 24 to 48 months. In that time, you’re paying only for use, or in other words the depreciation. Compared to paying a loan that earns interest, monthly leasing costs are much less than an owner’s payments and you’ll never go upside-down. However, you’ll also walk away from a lease just as the depreciation begins to slow down, so you would’ve started to build equity at that time had you owned the car.
Number of Payments: The greatest benefit of buying a car is one day you’ll actually own it. At some point the payments will stop. When leasing, you’ll always have a car payment. Granted they’ll be much lower and you’ll be driving a new car more frequently, but the money you’re spending isn’t really working towards anything.
Mileage Freedom: When you buy a car, rack up as many miles as you like. Leasing, on the other hand, may limit your driving habits. The average driver puts about 15,000 miles on the odometer each year, so lease agreements usually specify that drivers cannot put more than 12,000 to 15,000 miles on leased cars per year. 15 to 20 cents per mile is a typical charge worked into lease agreements for additional mileage. For example, if you drive 3,500 extra miles during your lease, expect to pay about $700 when you turn the car back in. Also, if you drive much less than 15,000 miles per year, buying may be the better option because you’re not paying for a predetermined depreciation rate, which is ultimately determined by the “average driver’s” mileage.
Turnover: Leasing a car locks in a resale value, making it easier to trade in. A closed lease agreement means you turn the keys back in at the end of the term and get a new lease agreement and vehicle if you choose. If you love the car, an open agreement will allow you to purchase the car at the end of the term. It’s not so easy when you buy a car, especially if you go upside down. You’ll have to haggle with dealers on trade-in values or try and sell the vehicle on your own. Either situation could leave you with less cash for a future trade.
Buying or leasing really comes down to your long-term plans. If you crave the newest rides and want more cash in-hand, leasing offers less up-front costs and lower monthly payments. Buying a car is more expensive, but if you’re in it for the long haul those payments can eventually work towards something concrete: equity and ownership.
I've never been in a major emergency situation (I even live in the town rated least likely to experience a natural disaster in the United States), and I rarely think about emergency precautions. The devastating tornadoes over the weekend reminded me that if an emergency were to strike, I would be totally unprepared.
It's a little spendy to compile emergency supplies, but the peace of mind is definitely worth the small investment, so I'm starting to shop for the essentials. Here's where to start if you need to get your supply going, too.
72-hour kit. At minimum, the American Red Cross says we should all have a 72-hour emergency kit at home. Kits should be kept in an easy-to-carry bag in case you need to evacuate, be stored in an easy-access location, and include the following items:
- Water (1 gallon per person, per day) and nonperishable food
- Battery-powered radio and NOAA Weather Radio
- Extra batteries
- First Aid kit
- Sanitation/personal hygiene items
- Copies of personal documents
- Family and emergency contact information
- Emergency blanket
See the American Red Cross' full list of basic supplies for more details.
2-week food supply. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross recommend a 2-week supply of nonperishable food items for emergencies when access to food supply is cut off. Although this advice sounds extreme, it's not uncommon for grocery store shelves to get cleared out when disasters strike (and that's if you can even make it to the store), so stocking up is a smart precaution to take.
The key is to build your supply with items that are easy to prepare and that you would actually want to eat. Real Simple has a good list of inexpensive nonperishable food items that you don't have to buy from a camping store. If you have pets, keep some extra food for them, too.
Water. FEMA also suggests storing one gallon of water per person, per day as part of your 2-week emergency supply. For safety's sake, they say commercially bottled water is the best bet. Storing 28 gallon jugs of water in my apartment is probably not realistic, but some is better than none; I have a friend who keeps emergency water under her bed, so I'll probably follow suit and see what I can fit under there. If you have ample basement space, go to town.
Beyond these basics, check out FEMA's list of common natural disasters to learn how to prepare for the most likely culprits in your area.
Check out this video from Ramit Sethi, New York Times bestselling author of I Will Teach You to be Rich. On Lifehacker.com, he presents his "Briefcase Technique" for securing negotiations. I'm seriously considering asking for a raise with this one.
Not every project your city government funds is the result of some dumpy bureaucrat trying to hold onto their job: behind the scenes, you’ll find a plethora of earnest people with really good ideas. Sometimes those good ideas come from people like you demanding that your community take a leap and do something interesting and fresh. In our case, a guy named Michael Waldock came up with a concept that spurred a think tank now called the Historic Albany Recovery Program (or HARP).
As it stands today, Michael is gone and HARP is in the hands of myself and two other 20-somethings. We're trusted with $20,000 from the city (Albany, OR) to figure out how to get economic recovery going in our town. We come up with the ideas, decide the budget, and make things happen: at this point, there’s nobody looking over our shoulder. If we fail, it’s our fault, and we can’t slough off blame to anyone else.
But this isn’t about us. It’s about the idea that got us going, one that can be applied in other communities, states, and even countries to get small towns out of recessions rather than waiting for somebody else to do it. Here’s the rundown of how we got started, and how you could do it yourself:
- Get to know the people active in the community. Get involved with various municipal groups and meet the movers and shakers. You may not always agree with them. You might even think some are complete idiots (not the case for us, luckily), but it’s important to make sure that your ideas aren’t already being pursued.
- Get a plan together. It’s one thing to say “here’s what should happen.” It’s another to say “here’s how we’re gonna do it.” Both are important, but even if you get people hooked on your proposal, that second part is going to be crucial, especially for critics. On that note…
- Expect criticism. When you are ready to bring your plan forward to your city council (or whatever funding agency you’re using), there will be tough questions, and maybe even some snarkiness. People who are trusted with how money is spent are naturally going to be skeptical, and an idea that sounds like a no-brainer for you might sound ridiculous to them. Remember that you’ve been tossing your plan around in your head for weeks and months, but this is the first they’re hearing of it.
- Be persistent. Maybe your idea won’t fly the first time. Or the second time. The key is never to approach the same decision-makers twice without addressing their concerns and coming up with some new ideas. Don’t do the exact same song and dance routine and expect a different reaction.
So you made a plan, and it’s been funded! First of all, pat yourself and your coworkers on the back and holler, “Hells yeah, brahs!” because you’ve done more than most people ever do. But once you’ve poured one for your homies whose plans died in committee, the hard work begins. Here’s my advice:
- Get an amazing staff. Your plan isn’t going anywhere without people to execute it. Be they volunteers or paid personnel, the more out-there and “different” your plan is, the more important that you have dynamic people to carry it forward even when you’re not in the room. You don’t want to get people who are only good at taking orders and following directives: you want people who can self-start their own initiatives and keep the energy going.
- Involve the community. Chances are if your idea has made it out of the file cabinet and into real life, there are going to be like-minded folks who will want to help. Sometimes it’s tough wrangling together volunteers, but if it’s something they truly believe in, it’s likely that they’ll be eager to invest in it as well.
- Think big. Some of the ideas we’re working on: a giant zip line, an international-standard rugby field, a built-from-scratch covered bridge, and project to restore fighter jets to be displayed on the Interstate. Just because it hasn’t been done and critics say it can’t be done doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen. For example, those fighter jets had been in disrepair for years, but with the help of students from an area high school we've worked on them for over a month and made the front page of the paper to boot!
- Prepare to be torched. When you’re funded by a public entity like a city, you will have people who think you’re wasting your time or, worse, think you’re the same type of dumpy bureaucrat you wanted to avoid becoming. Your idea is fair game for angry letters to the editor and anonymous online comments from people who think you and your ideas are full of it, and that’s okay. Ask those people out for coffee. If they refuse and instead continue to call you a Communist-Socialist terrorist, you’ll know you at least tried, and they’ll still be stuck in the basement of small-mindedness while you’re actually making a difference.
If you have an idea for a project or task force that could help your city, you can make it happen. All it takes is planning, perseverance, and genuinely believing that it’s going to make a difference.
‘Tis the season for planning that summer wedding. It’s crazy excitement all wrapped up in a big ball of money. If you think venues are expensive, just wait until you get to the food part of your wedding budget. And here’s the kicker–you don’t ever want to skimp on the food. Wedding guests will put up with a lot, but the one thing they’ll always remember is the quality of the food. But there are a few, if slightly unconventional, ways to keep the cost of your savory celebration under control.
Plan it like a back-yard barbecue with a wedding bonus. Asking friends and family to bring their best dish for the party is a great way to get everyone involved. Obviously this works best for casual afternoon weddings.
Afternoon or evening receptions almost guarantee a dinner service. Instead shoot for a morning or early afternoon wedding. Serving a brunch or lunch reception is likely to be far cheaper than serving dinner. This is where you might get away with a something like a lavish mac & cheese bar–individual dishes with sprinkled toppings like cheeses, chives, or bacon bits.
The football wedding
It’s actually not sports related. It goes back to an old Italian American tradition of making sub sandwiches, which are then traded (or thrown football style) from table to table. Not only can this be fun (if informal), sandwiches as a main course should be much more affordable than a catered meal.
The open bar
Close that puppy up. A closed bar at a wedding might not seem as generous, but guests will forgive a closed bar more than crappy food. If you’re not real wild about either a closed or an open bar, there are shades of grey to investigate. For example, a beer/wine only bar may save you some money. You could also have a half open/half closed bar–free beer and wine, but hard alcohol requires cash. Still can’t decide? Consider setting up a happy hour bar. Free drinks between for a certain amount of time, then it switches to cash.
Servers and bartenders are going to cost extra. You might be able to get away with volunteers from friends and family. They can serve hors d’oeuvres, clear tables, or distribute champagne and cake. I mention bartenders, but it’s probably a better idea to go with the pros for that one. State liquor laws might require a licensed alcohol server at a big reception. Also, a professional can limit liability (another reason wedding insurance is important) by being vigilant about checking IDs (no underage drinking) and cutting off drinks if a party-goer gets in a little too deep. In fact, some venues may require you to use their bartending and security staff for these reasons, to mitigate their own liability. Be sure to ask about this with your venue or caterers.
Always, always take advantage of any connections you have. Many friends and family will be honored to help out at your wedding. Do any friends make wedding cakes? Can you get a discount with a caterer you know? Does your family have connections with a venue? Explore any and all possibilities. For example, my dad is the barbecue king and agreed to cater his best friend’s wedding reception. They had the best prime-rib dinner–at cost. Do you have any idea how expensive that would have been?
The point is that there are plenty of ways to cut corners on price without cutting corners on style or quality.
While the stuffier people in our society turn up their noses at video games, there’s one group of elites that welcomes them publicly over all else: American presidents. That’s right, Commander-in-Chief’s have appeared in more video games than Rob Schneider’s appeared in crappy movies. They may be just trying to cash in youth votes, but hey, at least they know their audience. I’ll vote for any suit willing to don a Big Head and slam a flaming basketball through a hoop.
- 1992: In the early days of gaming, G Dub-ya’s daddy, President George H. W. Bush, “starred” in Operation Secret Storm, an NES title that follows Top CIA-Agent George as he annihilates the Iraqi military. Though H.W. once headed the CIA, the game never reveals Agent George’s true identity as the U.S. president, but the likeness leaves little to speculation.
- 1993: When President Bill Clinton wasn’t macking White House interns off the court, he was ballin’ fools left and right in NBA Jam. There’s no match-up that could veto the Clinton/Terry Porter pick-and-roll.
- 2004: In Fight Club, Tyler Durden says his dream fight would be against Honest Abe Lincoln. The 2004 video game adaptation gave him his chance. A muscled up Lincoln fights shirtless in patriotic suspenders, with lightening sparking from his hands. But, I don’t remember the 16th president having supernatural powers…
- 2008: Presidential hopeful John McCain snagged a Guinness World Record for his 2008 election fail, by being the first to use video game music in an election campaign. Naturally, the former POW chose music from Medal of Honor: European Assault, a war game, if you couldn’t guess.
- 2008: Obama also garnered a Guinness Record for his use of video games. He became the first American presidential candidate to use in-game advertising for his campaign. If you’re cruising along in Burnout Paradise, look for a giant Obama billboard advertisement on the side of the road. You’re being subliminally influenced.
- 2010: Obama continued his video game appearances in Madden ’11 and NBA 2K11. No, he doesn’t “go long” or break any backboards, but winning teams do earn a meet-and-greet with the president at the White House.
- 2010: Apparently Bill Clinton in the original NBA Jam wasn’t enough to keep the political/sports fans happy; they wanted more. The game was remade, with its original star, and also added his wife, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Al Gore, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, John McCain, and George W. Bush. If anything, you could throw out a Republican/Democrat match-up the likes of which no debate has ever seen.
- 2011: Who can forget presidential dropout, Herman Cain. He claimed to have created the perfect 9-9-9 tax plan for the U.S. But anyone who’s played Sim City could tell you that’s the base tax rate for all of the game’s sectors. Oh, and during a debate, Cain stated: ”A poet once said, ‘life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it’s never easy when there’s so much on the line.’” Yeah, that came from Pokemon: The Movie 2000. At least he fessed up to that one eventually.
This video from the "Ask Ramit" video series was posted on Lifehacker.com, and I just had to re-link. In this installment, Ramit Sethi uses his financial genius to script phone call scenarios that could save you hundreds of dollars per year. They're simple negotiation tactics to use on your cable company, cell phone provider, credit card issuer, etc., but what I found most interesting is how easily they could be applied elsewhere in your financial life. Sethi's three main points of negotiation are as follows:
- "I've been a customer for a long time..."
- I'd hate to have to switch..."
- "What can you do for me?"
The main takeaway is that being knowledgeable and assertive will get someone's attention and nearly force them to listen to you. While his tactics address saving money on monthly bills, try swapping the subject in #1. For example, "I've been an employee [or with this company] for a long time..." and proceed to steps #2 and #3. You can use Sethi's method for all kinds of negotiations (e.g., raises, job offers, benefits). It just takes understanding three key components:
- Confidence is essential. Exude it.
- Knowledge is power. Do your homework, whether it's your employment or payment history. Being able to drops props on your own or others' achievements is an attention grabber.
- Never give the person you're negotiating with reason to question your worth or intentions. It's a (not so) vicious circle: to accomplish this you must first do your research to become knowledgeable, which will then give you the confidence to approach any subject.
Kayla Byers is a coworker from the sales department and has more fashion sense than several of our editorial staff put together.
This past weekend I went shopping. Now, considering that I spent my high school and college days working in women’s consignment, it’s a rare occasion that I will actually go to a mall setting to purchase clothing. However, due to the onslaught of weddings that I have to attend this summer, as well as some business conferences, it was time to hit the outlet mall. A couple of days later I was talking to a coworker bemoaning the fact that a jacket I liked at the J.Crew outlet was still $150 when another coworker asked me what qualifications I have when purchasing clothing. I didn’t even hesitate before saying “price, style, and quality.” I have never been one who believes in quantity over quality. I would much rather have a few quality pieces that are classics and will last, than piles of poorly made clothing.
To me, it comes down to the cost-per-wear factor. I could spend $20 on a pair of denim that will probably fall apart after a year, or I could spend $75 on a pair of classic dark wash denim that will last for years and I can wear several times a week without them stretching out. When you take into account how many times you will wear the item and how long it will last, you can figure the cost-per-wear and decide if it’s a good purchase.
Three years ago I bought a pair of $300 boots. It was more than I had ever spent on a single item for my wardrobe. However, the boots are a classic style, made in the USA, and have a reputation for lasting for decades. Figuring that I have already worn these boots about 200 times, my cost-per-wear on those boots is down to around $0.67 a wear. And it’s only been three years. I consider those boots to be a good purchase-even though I almost cried when I bought them because they seemed so expensive.
That being said when I do purchase a trend-of-the-moment garment I will look for an item that is inexpensive, knowing that I will probably only wear it for one season. I love a sequins tank-top as much as the next girl, but it’s not something I am going to spend much of my hard earned money on, because I know that it’s a passing trend.
Knowing how to figure the cost-per-wear on an item can help you decided which pieces are worth spending a little extra money on and which pieces its better to hit Forever 21 for. Taking the time to think about your purchases will save you a lot of money, and heartache when the sequins fall off the tank top you just bought.
It's been a few years since I studied abroad, but I still consider my semester in Paris one of my most memorable college experiences. Here are five (of many) things I learned from study abroad that have stuck with me:
1. Have language compassion
I loved talking to real French people, in France, in French--even when I was botching grammar and vocab left and right. In one instance at a grocery store in southern France, I dropped my ring while the cashier was ringing up my purchase, and it rolled across the counter. I intended to tell her this, but instead somehow muttered, "J'ai tombé mon boulot." This means "I fell my job." Good one. Though embarrassing, my language bloopers gave me more compassion for English-language learners at home.
2. Appreciate cultural differences--even the weird ones
My host mother once told me that she thought it was very strange how uptight we are in America about sexual harassment in the workplace. She swore that flirtatious jokes are good for the office because they make things more interesting! I never came around to her way of thinking, but experiences like his helped me learn to appreciate other points of view--or at least try to understand where they come from.
3. The best things in life are
free less than 5 euros and a carbohydrate
Versailles was once the epitome of luxury and indulgence, and yet even material girl Marie Antoinette found true joy away from it all in her hamlet--a pretend peasant village--where circumstances at least appeared humble. Like so often is the case, I found that some of Paris' most charming pleasures weren't the breathtaking buildings and boulevards, but the simple things: walks along the Seine, people-watching nappers in the park, and 3-euro crepes.
4. Choose quality over quantity
When it comes to gastronomy, the French eat rich, decadent foods--but in small portions that they take their time to savor. This is wise thinking for many aspects of life.
5. Invest in yourself through travel
College can feel like a race to plump up your résumé, but education is more than a tool to get a job. Studying abroad hasn't necessarily helped me earn a higher salary in the workforce, but the resources that went in have paid back rich dividends in life and cultural experience. That's a good investment in my book.
If you can swing it, definitely consider study abroad.
Photo note: I can assure you I've also since learned not to leave bits of lettuce hanging out of my mouth. Cheese, not so much.