MONEY deals

5 Reasons September Is the Best Month to Go Shopping

Red lawn mower and sprinkler on lawn
PhotoSlinger—Alamy

September is an in-between month for consumers. It's not really a peak period to buy anything—which is why it's absolutely a peak month for savvy shoppers looking for deals on everything from lawn mowers to houses.

You may be still paying off your summer vacation. You may feel the need to start socking away money to cover your winter holiday shopping budget. There may be nothing that your household really needs to buy right now. Even so, there’s a good argument to be made that you can and should be shopping in September—and that you can feel smart, thrifty, and virtuous about it. Here are five reasons why.

1. Summer is over. The need for summery goods such as lawn mowers, barbecue grills, patio furniture, bicycles, bathing suits, and anything related to the beach is rapidly disappearing. So, naturally, stores want all typical summer purchases off their shelves and out of their aisles, pronto. Look for them at increasingly discounted prices until they’re gone. For instance, patio furniture should be listed at clearance prices of 50% to 75% off, according to dealnews. In addition to markdowns on summer items, Consumer Reports noted, shoppers can also expect stores to be discounting snow blowers for a similar reason—they’re just not top of mind for consumers, so some extra incentive is needed to make customers bite.

2. Kids are back in school. Retailers started pushing back-to-school sales in June, before most kids even started their summer vacation, and August is generally considered peak season for back-to-school purchases. But this year, at least, shoppers seem to have wised up to the simple fact that prices drop for those who wait. After a fairly lackluster summer season, stores were promoting early Labor Day deals to pump up apparel sales in particular. Even that wasn’t enough to drive many shoppers into stores.

“Consumers, not stores, are driving the trends these days, which means September will be the busiest back-to-school month this year, contrary to what stores and retailers may think,” the NPD Group’s Marshal Cohen noted recently. Here’s how Cohen explained why consumers have changed in their approach to back-to-school shopping:

Parents are prioritizing by purchasing supplies first, then some basic wardrobe necessities, and lastly following up with fashion, putting summer aside and purchasing clothing and apparel for colder rather than warmer weather. The reason consumers are delaying this significant aspect of their back-to-school shopping is twofold: they want to find out what’s “cool in school” before making their purchases and, looking at the broader trend, consumers don’t want to buy early anymore; consumers today want to buy in season.

Seasonality is just part of it; parents are also hip to the fact that prices are likely to drop on many back-to-school items and fashions once retailers consider peak back-to-school season to be over.

3. New gadgets are coming. Which means that older models will be marked down soon, if they haven’t been already. Consumer Reports suggests September as a great month for buying all sorts of small electronics (MP3 players, Blu-ray players, etc.), and dealnews points out that iPhones currently on the market are bound to be discounted when Apple introduces the new model, which should take place next week.

4. The winter holidays are looming. The overarching reason that stores are extra aggressive with markdowns in September is that they are eager to gear up for the Thanksgiving–Christmas shopping period. Sure, summer is an important season for retailers, but it pales in comparison to the end of the year. Some outlets routinely ring up more than half the year’s sales during the winter shopping season. So they understandably want to be fully prepared to make the most of it. To do so, it helps to start with a clean slate, with little or nothing in stores left over from the summer. Hence, major deals to clear out stores.

5. House hunting slows to a crawl. A new Trulia report explains that September marks the beginning of a sharp slowdown in people searching for homes to buy in most markets. For the most part, the arrival of Labor Day is bad news for owners who have listed their homes but have yet to close a deal with a buyer. On the other hand, fewer buyers in the market means an advantage for those who remain. Sellers who would have laughed off a lowball bid in, say, early June will be much more likely to consider such an offer come September.

MONEY Odd Spending

Meet the Drivers Making Toll Booth Lines Even Longer This Weekend

Line of cars waiting up at a toll
Bay Bridge Joshua McKerrow—AP

For some drivers, the fear of scams, overcharging, and government surveillance still outweighs the benefits of E-ZPass. They pay cash because they like talking to toll takers, too.

“Why would anyone NOT have E-ZPass?”

That question was posted at a Yelp forum … in 2007. The puzzled, frustrated individual asking the question pointed out that E-ZPass is “free and it saves so much time. It also reduces traffic for everyone. Someone, please please please tell me why everyone doesn’t have it?”

And yet, here we are, seven years later, with one of the year’s busiest road trip weekends upon us, and there will still be drivers backed up in gigantic lines at toll booths to pay cash—clogging up traffic in general while they’re at it—because they don’t have E-ZPass accounts. If anything, it’s even more difficult now to get around by car without an E-ZPass or another toll-paying transponder from a corresponding program, what with the expansion of cashless toll roads across the country. So what gives?

The Boston Globe recently reached out and talked with some “conscientious objectors” who refused to get on board with E-ZPass. Their reasons for sticking with cash and enduring longer-than-necessary waits at toll booths include:

They are concerned about government surveillance. They are apprehensive about erroneous fees charged automatically to their credit cards. They disapprove of eliminating good jobs held by toll takers for decades. And they would miss the small social exchanges with toll takers, the face-to-face contact, as they pass over their fare.

Is there validity to these concerns? Well, sure, there’s some. One of the big reasons states are pushing for cashless tolls is because doing so allows them to cut costs by getting rid of toll taker salaries. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to take a stance to help protect these workers and human contact in general in an increasingly cold, impersonal, automated world.

As for privacy and mistakes that could cost account holders money, there’s some evidence that they too are of legitimate concern. Occasionally, credit card errors or payment mix-ups result in huge bills for account holders. In one notorious case in the Seattle area, a couple with a Good to Go pass—a program that’s similar to E-ZPass—got hit with a bill for $8,346.82 because when their bank merged, the pass account was never updated, and tolls went unpaid for months. (The fines for nonpayment far surpassed the actual tolls themselves.)

By far, though, the biggest thing motivating E-ZPass refuseniks is the privacy issue. Bloggers have raised alarm bells by spreading word that the police and other authorities track E-ZPass travels all over metropolitan areas, not just at spots where tolls are paid. This summer, states such as Pennsylvania warned that phishing scammers somehow got hold of the email addresses of E-ZPass holders and were trying to get more personal information via fraudulent messages. The FTC later issued a national warning about phishing scams related to E-ZPass.

“Do I really want the government to keep a paper record on my comings and goings? No,” one E-ZPass-refusing driver told the Boston Globe. “It’s a slippery slope. Where does it end? I don’t like the trend.”

Still, considering the recent history of NSA surveillance programs and the news that a billion passwords were stolen by Russian hackers, it’s not like dumping your E-ZPass account is suddenly going to protect you from all forms of identity theft and other scams. In fact, privacy and Internet security experts generally say that everyday transactions like credit card payments and logging into email and other online accounts should be of far higher concern than using an E-ZPass.

None of this negates the need to be vigilant about protecting one’s personal information, of course. All in all, most people understand the individual’s fear of hackers and discomfort with government surveillance. Most people respect the individual’s right to make a stand about protecting privacy and workers’ jobs. It’s just that the vast majority of drivers would prefer that people wouldn’t be making this stand during Labor Day Weekend, when doing so makes already crowded roads and annoying tolls even more of a pain.

MONEY Sports

Why Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games

Bleachers at Michigan Stadium.
Bleachers at Michigan Stadium. Simon Bruty—Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

With college football ticket prices soaring and expanded conferences leading to less exciting matchups, fans—students in particular—are more likely to watch games from home.

There’s no denying that college football is a hugely successful business enterprise, arguably the second-biggest, most popular sport in the U.S. right now (after pro football in the NFL). But there’s one glaring crack in the armor that college football conferences and storied college programs have been struggling with for years: Fewer and fewer fans are actually buying tickets and attending games in person.

The problem is particularly evident among students, who aren’t buying tickets like generations past. For the upcoming season, the University of Michigan, the winner of no fewer than 11 national championships and 42 conference crowns, projects that student attendance will hit around 13,000—a shocking 40% less than the figure hit last year (roughly 19,000).

It’s not just a problem in Ann Arbor. The Wall Street Journal reported that student attendance fell 7.1% from 2009 to 2013, and that it has even fallen over the past few years at games hosted by perennial powerhouses such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida State, LSU, and the University of Florida. A year ago, observers took note that home attendance was down for the majority of teams in the SEC, even though the conference has thoroughly dominated college football in recent years.

The two most frequently cited reasons for the ticket slump are simply: 1) higher ticket prices; and 2) less interesting games. A student season ticket package at Michigan, for instance, now costs $295, up from $205 not long ago. There are only six homes games in the package, mind you, so that breaks down to just under $50 per game. “There are students who are being priced out,” a Michigan business student named Michael Proppe explained to the WSJ. “People are looking to trim costs, and for a lot of folks, football is an easy thing to cut. It’s not essential to going to college.”

What makes the decision easier for students at Michigan and other schools is the expectation that the games they’re missing aren’t going to be that good. The shifting and expansion of college football conferences has led to incredibly lucrative TV contracts for the programs involved, but it has also meant that traditional rivals don’t play every year like they used to. Michigan’s biggest rivals are Michigan State and Ohio State, but for the first time in nearly 40 years, the Wolverines won’t be hosting either team this season. Instead, Michigan will welcome the likes of Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio), opponents that many fans apparently think aren’t worth paying $50 to see.

As ticket prices have soared, and the quality of the product has declined, it has become more of a no-brainer for fans—poor students in particular—to stay home and watch the game on the couch. After all, this option has gotten cheaper and more entertaining and convenient in recent years, thanks to the declining prices of big-screen TVs and the advent of DVRs, multi-angle replays, and other innovations. Sure, the exciting roar of the crowd may not be there if you watch the game at home, or the frat house, or heck, in the parking lot while tailgating outside the stadium. But the way trends are going in terms of shrinking attendance at games, the crowd might not be all that loud inside the stadium either.

MONEY Gas

Labor Day Gas Prices Are Cheapest in Years

friends consulting a map while sitting on the back of a car
Cavan Images—Getty Images

Gas prices usually drop in the fall. This year, prices at the pump began falling in early summer and kept on heading down, resulting in the cheapest holiday weekend for gas since 2010.

Earlier this month, an Edmunds survey indicated that as many as three-fourths of all Americans were likely to take a road trip before Labor Day weekend marked the unofficial end of summer. According to AAA, nearly 35 million Americans will be heading at least 50 miles away from home over the holiday weekend, and 86% of travelers will be embarking on their journey by car.

This means that roads are likely to be jammed over Labor Day. There is some good news for those stuck in traffic, however. It’s been years since gas has been this cheap over Labor Day weekend. “AAA expects gas prices to have little impact on the number of people traveling for Labor Day, though lower prices could help make travel more affordable,” a statement from automobile association explained.

Gas prices dropped steadily throughout July, with the national average hitting $3.52 at the end of the month. As of Thursday, a gallon of regular gasoline was averaging $3.43 around the country. That’s about 13¢ cheaper than prices were a year ago at this time. In fact, the last time that gas was priced this low leading into Labor Day weekend, it was 2010. Gas prices spiked to around $3.75 for Labor Day 2012, for instance.

Even though gas prices are cheaper, that doesn’t really mean they’re truly cheap. As recently as the fall of 2008, the national average stood at around $2 per gallon, thanks to a falloff in demand due to the economic crisis. In any event, drivers should always be taking advantage of easy ways to save on gas. Two no-hassle strategies to consider: credit cards with 5% cash back on gas purchases, and Walmart’s Rollbacks on Gas program. The latter involves using various Walmart-branded cards (prepaid debit, gift cards, plain old credit cards) to pay for gas, with savings ranging from a flat $25 off to 15¢ off per gallon. These options can save you money at the pump this weekend, but the clock is ticking on both. Walmart’s gas savings program ends September 8, and most credit cards only pay 5% cash back on gas through the end of September.

MONEY Odd Spending

7 Crazy New Products You Can Buy to Spoil Your Pet

BEETHOVEN'S 2ND, Beethoven and Missy, 1993
Dating services can coordinate matches for you--and your pets. Universal—courtesy Everett Collection

Pet dating services? Dog selfies? "Pre-pups?" The world of pampering pets has hit new heights. Like: outer space. Literally.

In recent years, pet owners have been tempted—perhaps guilted—into treating their beloved dogs and cats to products and services that run the gamut from $350 doggie strollers to pet tattoos, luxury doghouses , and gourmet pet cuisine. And how can anyone forget about the fitness-tracking dog collar and the Grumpy Cat-endorsed line of bottled coffee? (The latter was created for human consumption, natch.)

At some point, it would seem like pet marketers simply must run out of every dog-gone idea under the sun. But based on American pet spending—a total of $56 billion last year, and forecasts call for $60 billion in 2014—for entrepreneurial players in the pet economy, the best time to roll out new pet-related products and services is always right meow. Here, in celebration of National Dog Day on Tuesday, are some of the latest options to trot onto the scene.

Personal Trainers for Dogs
Crain’s New York recently reported on some of the latest ways New Yorkers are giving their dogs the very best, including organic artisanal food and the hiring of specialized dog trainers. Not simply traditional trainers who will do the basics like teach a dog to sit, but ones who will run pooches throughout a calorie-burning workout like personal trainers do with humans. Other trainers give dogs swimming and Frisbee-catching lessons, or teach them tricks like taking their own selfies with an iPad. (Warning: Once your dog knows this one, your iPad will bear traces of a wet nose. But the resulting images are probably worth it.)

In-Home Pet Suites
Home builders such as Standard Pacific Homes now offer optional in-home pet suites as part of new construction designs. “The optional pet suite can be customized with a pet shower and removable shower head, built-in cabinetry and other conveniences,” a brochure for one design in a residential community in southern California explains. Pet suites add an average of $8,000 to a home, but more extravagant ones, with flat-screen TVs and a pet door that opens up to a dog run, can go up to $35,000, the Los Angeles Times noted.

Pet Memorial Space Flights
At long last, you can send your deceased pet’s remains into space thanks to Celestis Pets, “the world’s first pet memorial spaceflight service.” The company, which already offers a similar service for human remains, expanded into the pet market this summer. Services range from the basic “Earth Flight,” in which only a symbolic portion of the pet’s cremated remains are sent skyward before returning to earth, to the top-of-the-line “Voyager,” which for $12,500 takes the remains into the deepest space for eternity.

Pet Dating Services
The Associated Press covered the rise of pet-friendly dating services such as PetsDating.com and YouMustLoveDogsDating.com, where like-minded pet-loving singles are supposed to find matches. Love isn’t necessarily the goal, though; PetsDating, “an online community for pet owners who want their pet to enjoy a long, healthy, and fulfilling life in the company of another pet,” has pets rather than human hookups as the primary focus. People who meet through the site could wind up dating, but they also might simply be looking for doggie play dates or someone (and some dog) to go for a walk in the park with. Yet another service, DateMyPet.com, is indeed all about making love matches—within one’s own species, to clear up any confusion about the name.

Dog Toiletries
Companies like Fort Lauderdale’s Synergy Labs are “tapping into the worldwide trend to humanize pets,” according to the Sun Sentinel. The company sells a kennel’s worth of atypical pet merchandise, including a lineup of Pooch Scents (basically: perfume for dogs, with scents like POSH, Rain Fresh, and STUD), high-end organic shampoos and conditioners, and a forthcoming one-of-a-kind toothbrush “designed with three heads to clean the inside and outside of the mouth and the pet’s face at the same time.”

Pet Annuities
A survey by the Securian Financial Group found that nearly 20% of pet owners have made financial plans for the wellbeing of their pets if the owners pass away. Of those, 13% had bought annuities that named the pet’s caregiver as the beneficiary.

Pet Prenups
The rise of couples battling over custody of their pets when they break up—seen this summer with the split of Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, who wants to get their three dogs in the divorce settlement—has raised the profile of “pre-pups.” Like it sounds, the pre-pup is part of a prenuptial agreement that specifies who gets ownership of a pet in the case of a breakup. More attorneys are specializing in pet issues including custody disputes, and apparently there’s quite a need. Data cited by the Daily Mail indicates that one-fifth of separating couples with pets said figuring out who gets the dog was just as stressful as determining who would get custody of the children. Yahoo News reported that without a pet prenup, pets tend to be viewed in the eyes of the court as furniture or any other possession owned by the couple, and bidding wars often determine which party ultimately gets to keep the pooch.

MONEY Sports

NFL Preseason Tickets Aren’t Even Worth $10

Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns scrambles for a touchdown during the third quarter against the St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 23, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Johnny Manziel of the Cleveland Browns scrambles for a touchdown during the third quarter against the St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium on August 23, 2014, in Cleveland, Ohio. Joe Sargent—Getty Images

What do fans think of NFL preseason games? Basically that they're meaningless, to the point that they're sometimes not worth paying $10, or even $5, to attend.

Every year around this time, sports talk radio overflows with rants about the meaninglessness of the NFL preseason. Actually, the anger is about more than just that the games don’t mean anything in terms of rankings or even what fans can expect out of their team in the coming (real) season. Sure, the quality of the games is low due to the fact that starters rarely play for more than a few minutes. But that’s only part of the equation that makes the preseason a magnet for hate.

What also gets fans up in arms is that some of their team’s favorite, most important players might get hurt when they do briefly jump into the action during these meaningless games. And the thing that really drives the most loyal fans nuts is that they are forced to buy tickets—usually at full price—for these matchups that mostly feature players they don’t know and may not see again in the regular season. Anyone who buys season tickets, after all, is required to pay for seats for two home preseason games as part of the package. These are tickets, by the way, that cost an average of $81 apiece at face value last year.

During the regular season, prices on the secondary market for those tickets can and often do soar far above their face value. According to the ticket resale and research site TiqIQ, the average resale price for tickets at most NFL stadiums is more than $200, and tickets for home games for Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots average over $400.

That’s all during the regular season, though. During the preseason, it’s a different story entirely—because, again, fans couldn’t care less. Leading into this past weekend, tickets for NFL preseason games hosted in Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, and Arizona were all selling for $10 or less at secondary ticket sites such as StubHub. Meanwhile, the get-in price on Thursday night in Buffalo, when the Bills host the Detroit Lions in their final preseason game, has dropped as low as $4.50.

Another game this Thursday, in which the San Diego Chargers will host the Arizona Cardinals, is also a matchup drawing a remarkable disinterest among fans. Not only is it a work night, but not much is expected in terms of success or playoff runs from either team this year—plus the two teams are playing again, 11 days after this preseason game, when it actually means something as the Monday Night Football season opener.

Last week, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that tickets to the preseason game were starting at around $6 on the secondary market, with many seats selling for 85% off face value. Prime seats on the 50-yard line were on the market for around $19.

Stating the obvious, Miro Copic, a San Diego State University College of Business Administration marketing lecturer, said to the Union-Tribune that the shockingly low prices of these games “really does create a question about the value of preseason for fans.”

He then offered an interesting suggestion that could turn the preseason, currently a subject of great frustration among fans, into something that could make them happy, and even build the customer base: “It’s almost like the NFL could offer them for free as a PR activity. One of the things that should be considered is how do you make preseason a way to engage fans who otherwise may not afford a Charger game, or are now willing to get apparel?”

MONEY deals

Labor Day Sale Prices Are Here—a Week Before Labor Day Weekend

Banana Republic 50% off promotion
Jin Lee—Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a brutally competitive back-to-school season for retailers, clothing stores like Banana Republic and Abercrombie & Fitch have busted out extra-early clearance sales to the tune of 40% and 50% off everything.

Check out some of the impressive sales taking place right now:

Abercrombie & Fitch: 40% off everything in stores and on the web;

American Eagle: extra 50% off items already on clearance;

Ann Taylor: 50% off a broad range of merchandise;

Banana Republic: 40% off your entire purchase online with the code BRGET40, or $50 off when you spend at least $100 in stores;

Gap: 30% off for everyone (use code AUGUST), or 40% if you have a Gap credit card (code: $40STYLE) now through August 24, plus $25 in Gap Cash for every $50 you spend now through September 1.

If you didn’t know any better, you might have assumed that these big, across-the-board discounts are for Labor Day sales, or for post-back-to-school clearance sales. Heck, 40% off everything has more or less been the standard markdown level to get shoppers to bite on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, renowned as the best sales days of the year.

So why are retailers pushing such hefty discounts at such a seemingly odd time? One reason is that right now is an especially competitive, arguably desperate moment for apparel stores in particular. Iconic retailers like Target, Walmart, and Sears have been struggling mightily of late, and a wide range of clothing stores are trying to cope with consumers’ shifting fashion (and shrinking household budgets) that have brought about the need for deals like $10 jeans.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), household spending on clothes during the back-to-school period is basically flat compared with last year. Shoppers said they planned on spending $231.30 on clothes this season, versus $230.85 a year ago. What’s more, more parents seem to be taking the slacker approach to back-to-school shopping, procrastinating on purchases rather than prudently completing shopping lists long before school starts. As of August 12, an NRF poll indicates, 24% of families hadn’t done any back-to-school shopping yet, compared with 21% at the same time last year. Though fashionistas would disagree, trendy clothing is less of an essential for the start of the school year—kids need notebooks and markers more than new outfits—so it’s a safe assumption that procrastinators have been shying away in particular from clothing purchases, especially if they’ve been avoiding back-to-school shopping because of a tight household budget.

All of these factors add up to a situation in which stores simply haven’t been able to convince shoppers to buy enough clothing yet during the end-of-summer, back-to-school period. They could have waited to drop their big discounts on Labor Day Weekend, but because stores are constantly trying to beat competitors to the punch nowadays, sales tend to start earlier and last longer than ever—hence back-to-school deals beginning in June and Christmas advertising starting just after Labor Day.

Speaking of the winter holidays, they’re a major reason why retailers are being especially aggressive in clearing out summer and fall inventory right now. The November–December period is by far the most important time of year for all of the retailers mentioned above, and to make the most of it, stores want to start with a clean slate (and cleaned-out stores) as early as possible, to prep for the busy months ahead.

In fact, the world’s largest retailer already announced the launching of a holiday season initiative two weeks before Labor Day. “At Walmart, we never stop thinking about the holidays,” a post from Walmart’s Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising and marketing officer, stated in mid-August. And yes, he was referring to the winter holidays: Starting around Black Friday, Walmart plans to have all of its store registers open during peak shopping times, according to a new Checkout Promise introduced by Mac Naughton.

All of which is a roundabout way of explaining why stores are resorting to big, broad markdowns at a seemingly strange time. But before you bite, bear in mind that next week, the sales will probably be even better on whatever merchandise hasn’t already been snatched up. The folks at dealnews anticipate that many stores will offer deeply discounted clothing during Labor Day clearance sales, sometimes with markdowns or 70% or even 80% off.

MORE: Why Parents Should Procrastinate on Back-to-School Purchases

MONEY

Millennials Love This Old-Fashioned Company

The 2014 Ford Escape.
As millennials get older, they're more interested in SUVs and crossovers, like the 2014 Ford Escape. courtesy of Ford

You might think of Ford as the automaker your grandpa stubbornly stuck with for decades. Millennials think of Ford as something else—the auto brand they're most likely to buy right now.

It’s a common belief that millennials are indifferent to car ownership. They aren’t buying cars anywhere near the percentage rates of previous generations, and fewer young adults even bother to get drivers’ licenses. However, none of these factoids has stopped automakers from trying to win over the business of this huge demographic—which might not be flush with cash now but will surely represent a gigantic chunk of car buyers down the road.

A new study from Maritz Research shows that one automaker has been particularly successful over the past few years in appealing to millennials, and the name may come as a bit of a surprise: It’s Ford, the staid, century-old, all-American company from Michigan. According to Maritz surveys—which have been pumped up in a Ford press release—in 2008, Ford ranked fourth among millennials as the brand they’d most likely consider buying. (Honda and Toyota held the top two spots.) By 2012, however, Ford leapfrogged over the competition to grab the No. 1 ranking.

“The jump was really at the expense of the Asian-based manufacturers,” said Maritz Research vice president Chris Travell, who pointed out that General Motors has also improved in the eyes of would-be millennial car buyers. “The North American manufacturers are making better product than they ever have. You can’t say that they’re not reliable and aren’t good quality anymore.”

Millennials have taken notice. They also aren’t likely to have much memory of the auto world of decades ago, when the perception was that American cars were overpriced and would break down quicker and more often than many imports. “Millennials don’t remember the bad stuff,” said Travell. “They’re coming in as mostly clean slates. Ford is not considered the ‘old Ford’ to this generation.”

The automaker has been catching the eye of younger buyers with its focus on techie features (admittedly, not always successfully), and, most important, a lineup of vehicles and price points that appeal to their needs right now. From 2008 to 2013, more millennials became interested in crossovers and SUVs, and fewer wanted compacts and other small vehicles, which is the strength of Asian car manufacturers like Hyundai, Honda, and Toyota. “The trend of millennials starting families comes at the same time Ford is updating or replacing nearly its entire product lineup,” Amy Marentic, Ford global car and crossover marketing manager, said via press release. “These fastest-growing segments—like small utilities—coincide with Ford’s product strengths.”

Ford has also actively targeted millennials and strategically pursued them as customers now and, ideally, in the future. “One thing we recognized is that millennials don’t want to be just fed information and trust it, necessarily,” said Lisa Schoder, Ford’s global small-car marketing manager, according to Forbes. “So how can we be part of their lives and inform them about our brands and products without overtly advertising to them? That has been our critical differentiator. They need to participate in experiences versus just being spoon-fed something.”

Accordingly, Ford introduced Focus Doug, a “spokespuppet” (a sock puppet, actually) in a series of online videos, and used social media in a variety of other unorthodox, irreverent ways to put vehicles like the Focus, Fiesta, and Escape on the radar of millennials. The Wall Street Journal just reported on Ford’s recent efforts to win over female customers via programs like Live.Drive.Love, which invites women to take Ford cars on 24-hour test drives.

What does reaching out to women have to do with millennials? Well, overall among car buyers, less than 4 in 10 of purchases were made by women in 2013. But among millennials, 53% of buyers are female.

Young women who are starting families or just want more space for mountain bikes and other gear are likely to be intrigued with Ford models like the Escape and Explorer. And those with less need for space, or those with simply smaller budgets will be more likely to go with the subcompact route, via the Fiesta. As Ford crowed last summer, the Fiesta has been a big success in the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, and the Ford brand overall increased retail share among millennials by 80% from 2009 to 2013.

MORE:
10 Things Millennials Won’t Spend Money On
Check Out This Revolutionary Car-Buying Advice—Then Disregard It

MONEY

What The Simpsons Characters Taught Us About Money

Tune in to "The Simpsons" marathon for laughs—and also for lessons about careers, consumerism, college majors, and what should and shouldn't be used as toilet paper.

Thursday, August 21, marks the kickoff of an absolutely epic marathon of “The Simpsons” on the FXX channel. Starting at 10 a.m., the network will show every Simpsons episode ever (#everysimpsonsever in social media-speak) back-to-back in chronological order, with “The Simpsons Movie” thrown in as well. That’s a total of 552 episodes—25 seasons of the longest-running sitcom and longest-running animated show ever—running 24 hours per day for 12 straight days, ending on Labor Day, September 1.

In honor of the marathon, we thought it would be fun to reflect on what some of the most colorful and memorable characters on “The Simpsons” have taught us by their good (or, more likely, bad) examples. Here are 11 money lessons from “The Simpsons,” each with a memorable quote to bring the message home.

 

  • Homer Simpson

    Homer Simpson on THE SIMPSONS
    Fox

    Homer: “If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike, you just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.”

    Lesson: Job security can be wonderful thing. Homer said these words to his daughter Lisa during a teacher strike at her school, and they bring to mind how amazing it is that an inept, clueless worker like Homer can avoid being fired from his job at the nuclear power plant. By extension, the takeaway is that workers should not underestimate employment fields that come with decent job security. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer lines of work are immune to forces like the economic downturn and increased automation across all industries. So pretty much everyone should always have an updated resume at the ready, and be prepared to launch a second career at a moment’s notice. Oh, and do try to do your job well rather than “half-assed,” to limit the odds you’ll get fired in the first place.

  • Kent Brockman

    Kent Brockman on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Kent Brockman: “Things aren’t as happy as they used to be down here at the unemployment office. Joblessness is no longer just for philosophy majors—useful people are starting to feel the pinch.”

    Lesson: Choose a practical major and career. TV news anchor Brockman, the face of journalism in Springfield, is known for tone-deaf reports like this one, delivered during a season five episode when a casino was proposed to revitalize the local economy. (A concept that quite a few U.S. communities have glommed onto lately, by the way.) His offhand swipe at liberal arts majors obviously calls to mind how important it is for students to choose a college and college major wisely.

  • Marge Simpson

    Marge Simpson on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Marge: “We were using $50 bills as toilet paper and toilet paper as dog toilet paper.”

    Lesson: Don’t go overboard when success comes your way. Marge is usually the voice of reason on “The Simpsons,” but even she could go off the deep end—like in the casino episode mentioned above, when she became addicted to playing the slots. (Money-hungry Monty Burns, who of course owned the casino, explained that legalized gambling was “the perfect business: People swarm in, empty their pockets, and scuttle off.”) The quote above from Marge was related during a “Behind the Music”-type episode, when the gang reflected on how famous and rich they became at the height of “The Simpsons” craze. The simple moral is: Don’t let success or sudden wealth change who you are, nor what you consider appropriate material for wiping your butt. For that matter, the whole career of Springfield celebrity Krusty the Clown, who built and lost fortunes many times over—once betting everything he had that the Harlem Globetrotters would lose (“I thought the Generals were due!”)—is a cautionary tale about how not to handle success.

  • Waylon J. Smithers, Jr.

    Smithers on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Smithers: “Your new duties will include answering Mr. Burns’s phone, preparing his tax return, moistening his eyeballs, assisting with his chewing and swallowing, lying to Congress, and some light typing.”

    Lesson: Do what you need to do to impress the boss to get ahead. OK, so you might not want to mislead Congress or get quite as up close and personal with your boss as Smithers does with Mr. Burns. (Smithers’s quote is directed at Homer, who temporarily took over Smithers’s duties.) But less extreme ways of buddying up to the boss can yield serious benefits in your career.

  • Bart Simpson

    Bart Simpson on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Bart [speaking as Steve Mobs]: “You are all losers. You think you’re cool because you buy a $500 phone with a picture of a fruit on it? Well, guess what? They cost $8 to make, and I pee on every one! I have made a fortune on you chumps, and I’ve invested it all in Microsoft.”

    Lesson: Don’t be suckered into buying overpriced technology you don’t need. Bart skewers Apple—and trendy overpriced tech in general—by subbing in his voice for Steve Mobs, a turtleneck-wearing stand-in for Steve Jobs, speaking from a big screen to a crowd of over-the-top fanboys at a “Mapple” store. Guess who is also being mocked here? Early adopters who blindly buy whatever gadgets are hottest, most hyped, and splashed in front of them at the moment.

  • Millhouse

    Millhouse on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Millhouse: “I kind of traded your soul to the guy at the comic book store.”

    Lesson: Understand the true value of things. Bart sells his soul to Millhouse for a mere $5, and Bart thinks he took his pal for a sucker in the deal because there is no such thing as a soul. (“It’s just something parents made up to scare children, like the boogeyman or Michael Jackson,” Bart says.) After Bart realizes the error of his ways, it’s too late to get his soul back because Millhouse swapped it—for pogsfeaturing TV alien Alf, of all things. The “joke” here is that both the boys have dramatically and foolishly underestimated the value of the soul, which should not be sold at any price. If indeed the soul does exist, that is.

  • Mr. Burns

    Monty Burns on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Mr. Burns: “Eternal happiness for one dollar eh? Hmmm… I’d be happier with the dollar.”

    Lesson: Some things are more important than money. The richest man in Springfield is the ultimate miser, who loves money above all else and reluctant to part with a dollar even for a seemingly “eeeeexcellent” reason. Mr. Burns probably has more quoted lines about money than any other Simpsons character, including “What good is money if it can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?” and the one above, spoken in response to Homer’s telemarketing plea promising eternal happiness for just a buck. Occasionally, though, Mr. Burns gets his comeuppance for his stingy and crooked ways, most notably when he was shot by Maggie when trying to take her lollipop—yep, he was stealing candy from a baby.

  • Moe

    Moe on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Moe: “Sure, Homer, I can loan you all the money you need. However, since you have no collateral, I’m going to have to break your legs in advance.”

    Lesson: Borrow money responsibly, from a reputable source. After Homer loses all his money investing in pumpkin stocks when they tank after Halloween—another money lesson entirely—he goes in seek of a loan to keep up with his mortgage payments. He deems a loan from Moe, the local bar owner, as less than ideal, before turning to an arguably worse resource: his gruff, spinster sisters-in-law Patty and Selma. They give him the money, but turn him into their servant and make his life a living hell. All in all, if you need help with your mortgage or are dealing with debt collectors, try not to be like Homer, and steer clear of characters like Moe, Patty, and Selma.

  • Apu

    Apu from THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Apu: “Pardon me, but I would like to see this money spent on more police officers. I have been shot eight times this year, and as a result, I almost missed work.”

    Lesson: Have a strong work ethic. The Springfield Kwik-E-Mart seems to never close, and its proprietor, Apu, never takes a day off. Not even when he’s shot on the job. And sure, he’s overworked, but at least his dedication and hard work helps him run a successful business. In the quote above, Apu is weighing in on what Springfield should do with a $3 million fine paid by Mr. Burns for dumping nuclear waste illegally. The town doesn’t heed Apu’s suggestion, and instead falls for the pitch of a mysterious huckster named Lyle Lanely, who convinces Springfield to build a boondoggle of a monorail. There are some lessons to be learned in there too, of course.

  • Lisa Simpson

    Lisa Simpson on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Lisa: “My administration will focus on the three R’s. Reading, writing, and refilling the ocean.”

    Lesson: Your circumstances shouldn’t dictate your ambitions. In episodes that show the future, we find out that Lisa, the bright and plucky middle sibling stuck in the nutty, underachieving Simpson household, winds up being president of the United States. If she can make it given her surroundings, anyone can.

  • Comic Book Guy

    Comic Book Guy on THE SIMPSONS
    FOX

    Comic Book Guy: “I’ve spent my entire life doing nothing but collecting comic books… and now there’s only time to say… LIFE WELL SPENT!”

    Lesson: Follow your passion. While some say that “follow your passion” is horrible career advice, Comic Book Guy, quoted from “The Simpsons Movie,” seems to have no regrets doing what he loves most, even if others think it’s silly. Then again, awkward, friendless Comic Book Guy is basically a miserable character, and at times he admits as much. “Oohh, I’ve wasted my life,” he reflects on one Halloween episode. We still say follow your passion, so long as your passion isn’t a complete waste of time.

  • Making Homer and Marge Simpson Speak French

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