Companies use behavioral economics to squeeze our wallets. And, sadly, they're on the bleeding edge of research.
You might have heard about all those little tweaks government officials have thought about implementing in order to make you healthier and save more. You could have companies automatically enroll employees in a 401k plan, rather than have them opt in, for example. Companies that have implemented that little change have seen 401k participation jump to 93% from 76%.
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But, of course, the very best behavioral economic "parlor tricks" aren't all used for good. In fact, it's often the marketing departments of consumer goods companies that implement new research the fastest. Here are a few to look out for.
Thieves may have targeted one 'friend' who announced his vacation online. Be judicious, but good locks are more important.
Reports that a burglary ring in New Hampshire targeted 50 homes and netted up to $200,000 in stolen goods after reading Facebook status updates that the owners would be away have been greatly exaggerated.
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One home might have been targeted that way. Or maybe two.
A ring apparently did burglarize at least 18 homes, but most were chosen the old-fashioned way -- by keeping an eye on the neighborhood and pinpointing houses where no one was home and that were easy to enter. And the home that was chosen because of a Facebook posting that the owner would be away? Well, it seems as if the thief was a "friend" of the victim. Some friend.
Removing footwear makes carpet and flooring last longer. It also keeps you from tracking in some nasty stuff.
Wish I had a piece of the hosiery industry in Anchorage, where you remove your footwear after you enter someone's house. Knowing you'll be unshod regularly means making sure your feet are decently covered.
Once when I was an Anchorage Daily News reporter I took off my shoes at an interviewee's home and discovered a rent in one sock. It's hard to look professional when your big toe has its eye to the peephole.
Obviously Alaska is not the only place where indoor shoe-wearing is frowned upon. People in other cultures live this way too -- and so, increasingly, do U.S. residents, as a quick Internet search indicates.
While some patients are skittish about it, doctor's visits over a computer are becoming more popular.
In Maryland, an 87-year-old woman wakes up each morning and takes her blood pressure in her apartment by slipping her arm through a collar hooked up to a computer -- which sends the results straight to her doctor. In Utah, a family therapist meets online with a mother whose children are acting out and offers counseling. In Hawaii, a 59-year-old nurse with an infected cut on her arm sits at her computer to chat with a doctor and get a prescription for antibiotics.
Welcome to the future of medicine. For some of us, it's already here. But are the rest of us ready for it?
Journalist gives prepaid cards to street beggars to see how they spend the money.
Have you ever wondered what the panhandlers you see on the street would do if you actually gave them a bunch of money to spend?
Like many people, I generally give my pocket change to anyone who asks. I figure that if they have to ask, they probably need it more than I do. (Yes, I know that there are just as many folks who think this is ridiculous, and who never give anything to folks on the street. What can I say? The empathetic J.D. almost always gets his way over the logical J.D. Exception: I never give to aggressive panhandlers.)
Recently, The Toronto Star featured a fascinating article from Jim Rankin about a little experiment he conducted. He actually decided to give a few panhandlers more than just pocket change.
Social network games are big money, and name-brand products are joining the quest to make real dollars from virtual goods.
Do you ever feel as if you're the only person in the world not playing Farmville? We probably should pretend an elitist disdain, but really, the lonely black sheep is SO cute, and I always did like playing with paper dolls.
The truth is that virtual reality games are big business, such big business that major companies are joining up.
Volvo just started working with MyTown, an iPhone game that sounds like a cross between Monopoly and Foursquare. MTV is on MallWorld, a Facebook shopping game (which sounds a lot like paper dolls for adults).
You know that generic products are cheaper than name-brand ones, but are you clinging to the belief they're also inferior?
Save just $5 a day for 30 years, earn 10% on it, and you'll end up with a nest egg of $342,000. Would that make a difference in your life? (By the way, if you're wondering how the heck you can make 10% on your savings, you can't -- at least without risk. It is possible, however: See my stock portfolio.)
The tricky part is saving that $5 without sacrificing your quality of life. And one of many ways of doing that is to pay for name brands only when name brands make a difference. Sound obvious? Take a quick stroll around any grocery store and you'll see that it must not be at all obvious, because the shelves are stuffed with products that cost extra -- sometimes a whole lot extra -- in exchange for nothing more than a name.
Among the clues: Are you afraid to open your credit card bill or look at your receipts? How often do you overdraw your account?
I recently got an e-mail from BillShrink.com identifying 20 signs that you need a financial makeover, and I can't help but pass it along.There's something about it that just says, "Hey you! Stop what you're doing and pay attention! Your money needs you!"
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Some of them are pretty lame, but the majority of them are right on the money and should definitely get you to think. (I had to take a few seconds to research at least three of them to see if I needed a makeover or not.)
Here are all 20 signs. Billshrink's words are in bold, and my comments are in plain. How many do you need to correct?
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