By Jens Odegaard on August 26th, 2009 • Stats, Life

Instead of highlighting one single stat this week, I thought, "why not tell my data-deprived readers how to feed their own stat hunger?" The next time you need some quick numbers to fill space in an essay, or want to fact-check that bitter windbag who says he has the stats to prove that pollution is beneficial, you'll know where to get the data.   

  • federalreserve.gov: A great source for economic data, this site has everything from interest rates to our total national debt.     
  • irs.gov: Whether you're wondering how many people file taxes or just want the scoop on how many people are millionaires, this is the place.
  • census.gov: Get the current population of the U.S., see how many people have health insurance and everything in between.
  • ed.gov: The go-to site for education stats, this has everything from how many computers are in the average public school to total school enrollment numbers.
  • epa.gov: Go here for statistics on air pollution and also check the EPA's EnviroFacts.
  • mpaa.org: Learn how many movies were released during the year and how much the movie industry made, among other things--like how much revenue is lost to piracy (not that you'd ever do that).
  • ncaa.org: Find statistics on NCAA-sanctioned college sports--that means everything from what-the-heck sports like rifle and bowling to watch-it-in-primetime ones like football and basketball.

Also, check out fedstats.gov for access to stats from more than 100 government agencies. Finally, just remember that Staten Island has the most statisticians in the U.S.--I have the stats to prove it. 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ms4denmark/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Aside from the revolution of online account services, auto bill-pay is possibly the coolest thing to hit financial institutions since cash. Especially for those of us who tend to procrastinate.

Most of my personal accounts are set up to auto-pay before they're due. But the due dates were different for most of my accounts. My phone bill might be due on the 1st of the month, credit card bill on the 15th, power bill on the 18th and so on. I was always worried that if the timing was off, or if my landlord didn't deposit my rent check right away, I would overdraft, even if I was within my budget.

What I'm now ( finally) doing is making sure that everything processes in the right order. My inspiration came from Ramit Sethi, author of the blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich. He wrote an article on this for brass in this year's Spring issue. Ramit also wrote a blog post about automating money earlier this year--and a guest blog on The Blog of Tim Ferriss--both of which I read and bookmarked for future action. Like most procrastinators, I didn't do anything until my unorganized timing fell on its face and I nearly overdrafted my checking account.

My paycheck was already directly deposited into my checking account. Now, I've set up automatic contributions to my emergency savings account and my IRA; these go out about four days after payday. Two days after that, loans, bills and my credit card take their share of my income. Unfortunately, I can't control when my landlord deposits my check, so I just have to deduct my rent from my balance until the check actually goes through.

Now, all I'll have to do is check back every few days and make sure everything is running smoothly, to keep surprises or mistakes from piling up. For example, a reader recently shared how an address change caused an automatic credit card payment to show up late (check next issue's brass|OFF for her full story).

Whether you're just starting auto-pay or have been doing it for a while, take some time to make sure your dates line up, so you don't have to worry about a bill-pay train wreck.

 

Jason Sadler came up with an idea so simple that we should all kick ourselves for not thinking of it sooner. Sadler has rented his torso out every day in 2009, letting companies pay him to wear a T-shirts with their logos.

The fee is based on the calendar date, so whoever sponsored Sadler on August 1st was only charged $1, while the sponsor on the 31st will be charged $31.

The fee is based on the day of the year, so the January 1st sponsor is only charged $1, while December 31st's sponsor will owe $365.

Sadler posts pictures and videos of him wearing the shirts on his site, iwearyourshirt.com, and others like ustream.tv and twitter

The idea gained such popularity that he has already sold out the rest of the year and almost half of 2010 (even though he's charging twice as much he'll have twice the chargeable dates because he added a second shirt wearer). 

Sadler told Marketing Daily that the idea came to him while thinking about how many companies give away shirts for free. With that mentality, he thought it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to get these same companies to pay him to wear the shirts if he kept the price low enough. 

And how. Sadler has earned $70,000 this year... all from wearing T-shirts.

Maybe someday I'll have a good idea...

-Cody

 

By Cody Wetmore on August 20th, 2009 • Life

Do you want to help your community while earning money to put toward college or to pay back student loans? Consider joining AmeriCorps.

Participants in the program spend 10 to 12 months volunteering either full- or part-time for one of a variety of community service projects. Those that complete the program are eligible for the AmeriCorps Education Award, which gives upwards of $4,725 to be put toward higher education or paying down qualifying student loan debt. In addition to this, participants receive training, student loan deferment and health coverage while they are a part of the program. Some even qualify for a small annual living allowance to cover basic living expenses.

Positions include everything from tutoring kids to responding to natural disasters. Go here to search for programs in your area.

Now may be the best time to research opportunities with AmeriCorps, as the program is slated to more than triple in size. This is due to the Serve America Act. Going in to effect October 1, the 75,000 current AmeriCorps positions will increase to 250,000 within the next eight years.

So consider doing something good for your country while earning money to help further, or pay off, your education.

For more community service opportunities, go to nationalservice.govvolunteermatch.com or read our 2007 article Good Service.

--Cody 

 

By Jens Odegaard on August 17th, 2009 • Career, Economy, Life

You probably saw this coming: pay raises were dead on arrival in 2009. Base salaries for non-executive workers only rose by 1.8%. According to Hewitt Associates, a human-resources consultancy, this is the lowest pay increase since data was first tracked in 1976. Overall, 48% of companies didn't raise salaries at all.  Hourly workers also took a hit. Pay only increased by 2% compared to 3.6% in 2008.

But it wasn't only the peons who took a hit. Most executives felt the cutback too. Executives only saw a 1.4% pay increase in 2009 compared to a 3.9% increase in 2008

But as pay raises dropped like deep-sea divers, bonuses stayed afloat and accounted for 12% of salaried payroll and 5.8% of hourly payroll (see table). Hewitt Associates consultant Ken Abosch explains this conundrum by stating in the report, "Even in the toughest economies, companies are willing to reserve money for top-performing employees as a way to reward their performance and ensure they retain these employees after the job market rebounds."

This makes sense. But what doesn't is that the same reasoning is being used by bailed-out Wall Street firms to justify big bonuses. They say that because they've paid back the bailout money it's OK.

I don't buy it. Bonuses were even being paid out by Wall Street in the middle of the financial crisis.

As was brought up in an article in The Washington Times, bonuses are being paid to reward the same high-risk strategies that helped cause the meltdown. In other words, we all took a pay cut and the fat cats made off with the spoils.

Does that make you angry? Write your Congressperson. Who knows, maybe they can hold someone accountable for once. But don't count on it.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/40883475@N00/ / CC BY 2.0

The first day of school is looming on the horizon. Hopefully, you've managed to save some cash from your summer job; otherwise the prospect of buying new school supplies is probably going to make your wallet scream in terror.

For example, a new TI-83 graphing calculator can run between $100-$130 (ouch!). There are affordable options out there if you dig a little. Searching for  "TI-83 graphing calculator" at amazon.com immediately brings up a variety of new and used calculators that start around $47! Newegg.com is another site thats sells reasonably-priced electronic supplies.

Used books are also much more affordable. Half.com is a great place to start your search, along with amazon.com and bn.com (Barnes and Noble). Why pay $200 for that new biology book when you can get a gently-used one for $20? Just make sure to start your search soon (the cheapest books sell fast) and search with the ISBN number of each book to make sure you get the edition.

When it comes to backpacks, it might be worth shelling out some extra bucks on one that is comfortable and durable versus a cheap one that will kill your back and not survive more than a year. So, put your ratty backback you've had since middle school to rest (your back will thank you later) and check out altrec.com and bagking.com.

For overall school supplies (paper, notebooks, pens, etc.), make a list of what you need and snoop around for the best price. Scour the coupon section of the paper for stores that are having back-to-school sales.

I know the thought of heading back to school can be depressing, but it's best to start shopping for deals now so that you're not stuck settling for leftovers at full price the night before school starts.

 

 

By Lauren Sigel on August 12th, 2009 • Life, Plastic Bags, Stats

Plastic bags are everywhere. You can't drive down a road or walk on a sidewalk without seeing these colorful culprits tangled around telephone poles, trees, and weeds. They even manage to find their way into rivers and other natural areas, resulting in death of animals who accidentally eat or get tangled in them.

Plastic bags are made of polyethylene, a petroleum product that takes 1,000 years to break down. And by "break down," I don't mean that they magically disappear into nothingness.

Plastic photodegrades, meaning sunlight breaks up the plastic into small pieces. These pieces stay in the environment indefinitely and absorb contaminants like PCB’s and DDT, which then proceed to contaminate water and soil supplies. While you digest that fact, here are some others to consider:

 

  • Plastic bags are on the top 10 list of most common trash items along the American coastline (both on land and in the water).
  • Only 5 percent of all plastic bags are recycled nationwide.
  • The production of plastic bags creates enough solid waste per year to fill the Empire State Building two and a half times!
  • Nationwide, grocery stores and pharmacies go through about 92 billion plastic bags a year.
  • Retailers in the United States spend $4 billion a year on plastic bags, which gets passed on to customers with higher prices.
  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That's over 1 million plastic bags per minute.
  • Plastic bags are a $1 billion industry.

Fortunately, U.S states and countries around the world have taken or are in the process of taking action against the usage of plastic bags. In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must pay 33 cents per bag at the register. Stores such as IKEA and Whole Foods either charge a fee for plastic bags or have eliminated them entirely.

If you do end up using plastic bags, try to reuse them. Use them to pick up pet poo, as a trash bag for your car, trash can liners, etc. Then, recycle them!  The best thing you can do, however, is bring your own bag. Buy a cloth or canvas bag and keep it in your car so that you don't forget to use it on your next grocery trip. Sites such as envirosax.com sell trendy, reusable bags; and many grocery stores offer them as well. So, next time you hit up the grocery store, whip out your hip "Save The Whales" canvas bag and maybe you can actually help save marine life.

By Cody Wetmore on August 10th, 2009 • fees, Hotels, Travel, Life

In our August article Eliminate Common Fees, we showed you how to avoid easily avoidable financial fees. But there are plenty of other hidden fees you should be aware of.  Preparing to travel is difficult enough, so here common tricks airlines and hotels use to sucker you out of a few extra dollars when you're heading out of town.

Airlines:

  • Each airline's baggage policies are different, so find out how many bags you can carry on, if you're charged for checking them in, or if you are charged extra based on weight
  • Some charge for preferred seating, so it may pay to sit in the middle.
  • Anything extra could come with a charge, so be prepared to bring you own headset, pillow, and snacks.
  • Booking services like orbitz.com or expedia.com could charge you a $6-$12 fee. Instead, shop around on these sites, then compare prices on the airline's website.
  • Some airlines have started charging for beverages. A good way to avoid this is to bring an empty bottle though the security checkpoint and fill it up on the other side. (You can’t take more than 3oz. of liquid through a checkpoint, but you can fill up water bottles once you go through.)

Hotels:

  • Many fees for services you may consider standard might not be covered at certain hotels. Before you leave home, make sure to call the hotel and ask them to list any undisclosed fees.
  • The night before you check out, get an itemized list of all your charges during your stay. This way you have time to review and point out any charges you don’t feel you deserve before scrambling to check out on time.
  • Know when the check-in/-out times are. You could be hit with another fee if you don’t abide by the hotel’s schedule.

When traveling, companies are quick to take advantage of your lack of time. Plan ahead so you can keep an eye out for hidden fees.

--Cody

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/colorblindpicaso/ / CC BY-NC 2.0

By Lauren Sigel on August 7th, 2009 • Life, Reproduction

Would you pay $8,000 for a couple of eggs?  How about if they resulted in a healthy baby instead of the most amazing breakfast on earth?

A female is born with about 1-2 million oocytes (potential egg cells), but only about 400 mature eggs are released during a woman's reproductive life. These microscopic eggs may not look like much, but to reproductively challenged couples and fertility clinics around the world, they may as well be made of gold.

Egg donors generally receive between $3,000 and $8,000. Throw in good looks and high SAT scores and clinics will pay up to $25,000 or more. But before you start seeing yourself as the goose who can lay golden eggs, you need to qualify first (and it's not easy). Candidates must have a squeaky clean health record and generally be between 20 and 30 years old. They have to take countless genetic and psychological tests, and meet the Food and Drug Administration requirements for tissue donors (which includes no tattoos or body piercings or past residence in various foreign countries). And that's just to get listed on the registry!

Once donor makes it through the selection process, she must undergo weeks of hormone injections to synchronize her menstrual cycle with the recipient's and to stimulate her ovarian follicles (where the eggs are developed) before the eggs are harvested. 

Many female college students are young, bright, and broke, and ad agencies are well aware of this. They frequently place ads for egg donors in college papers across the nation, tempting these young women facing daunting student loans and low checking accounts. Driven by debt, these women are often misled and uninformed about the health risks that can come with donating eggs (including infection at the injection site, risk of organ puncture, and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome).

Despite the risks donors face, clinics have seen a surge in egg donor numbers (thanks to a shaky economy). In 2008, the number of egg donors increased 30%. If you are considering this procedure, remember that there will be a baby out there that has half of your DNA. Make sure you ask yourself these questions (pdf) before making a decision, talk to your doctor about the health risks for you, and to thoroughly research any fertility clinic you are considering.

 

Imagine you’re driving in moderate traffic. Your phone starts buzzing, and you see you have a text message. Not wanting to be rude, you read it and start texting back.

It may not seem like you’re doing anything risky, but you’re actually putting yourself and others in danger. Cell phone use contributes to an estimated 6% of all crashes, and a new study finds that texting raises your risk of crashing much more than previously suspected.

How much more you ask? Twice the risk? Nope. Thrice the risk? Keep going. It turns out that texting while driving, possibly replying to a text about how your friend is ROFL’ing over what happened the night before, raises your risk of accident by 23 times.

Wow. And with 20% of the public admitting to texting while driving in a Nationwide insurance public opinion poll, this is a huge problem that’s made worse by the fact that texting has increased tenfold over the last three years.

So don’t text and drive. And don’t think that just talking on a cell phone is risk-free. According to a 2006 study, using a cell phone while driving can be as dangerous as driving drunk.