MONEY consumer psychology

What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Money

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ONOKY - Eric Herchaft—Getty Images

Money can be spiritual or divine, by powering whatever positive activity you want to engage in.

Buddhism, which holds that wealth is temporary and no path to happiness, might not sound like the best source for money wisdom.

Not so, says Ethan Nichtern, the prominent Buddhist teacher, who has written a new book, “The Road Home,” on self-awareness and spiritual seeking.

Money is unavoidable and it is people’s attitude to it that causes worry and stress, says Nichtern, who sat down with Reuters to discuss how money fits into a spiritual approach to the world.

Q: Can we escape our connection to money — or should we?

A: We need to have some kind of system for measuring how we consume, produce, and share. So there will always be money in any complex society. And any human who wants to pay the rent has to learn the rules of budgeting.

But it’s not just a necessary evil. Money can also be spiritual or divine, by powering whatever positive activity you want to engage in.

You were raised in money-centric New York City. Did that shape your views?

Growing up on the Upper West Side and in the East Village, I certainly realized how important money was. It determines so much of the structure of our world, and it also brings so much stress along with it. Especially in New York, people feel burdened by the need for the security and status that money brings. That’s why we all need to open up and have this conversation. I’ve never had the (billionaire) Koch Brothers in my class, though – that could be awkward.

Why is money seen as the solution to all our problems?

In life, we are all wandering around in circles, thinking that our next stop will be exactly what we have always been looking for. But we never arrive – it’s an illusion of an oasis. It is the same thing with materialism: The idea that ‘If I get the right stuff, I will finally feel at home.’ But we can never acquire enough stuff.

Why are we so dependent on something so abstract?

First money was gold coins, then it was paper, and at a certain point it just became computer files. Money has become more and more abstract, and we are basically just agreeing that this is the way things are. But that doesn’t make it any less powerful. Even though it is abstract, we cling to it as part of our identity.

People’s foremost money worry is retirement. How can we deal with that anxiety?

Buddhism teaches about cause and effect. So by all means, prepare for retirement. There is nothing wrong with that. But the other way to look at it is, if the mind is insecure, then no amount of money will ever make us feel safe. Even if you saved $50 million, you would just worry about something else, like getting cancer or having a car accident. Just try to remember that everyone else on earth has a similar anxiety. Then you won’t feel so alone. So plan well, and then let go.

How can people use money as a positive tool?

We are taught to use money in ways that isolate us. But money is an exchange. If there was only one person in the world, you could be a trillionaire, but it wouldn’t even matter because all that money would be worthless.

Think about how money connects you to other people. From a Buddhist standpoint, you should think about how to use that money to empower others.

Any final messages about the possibilities of money?

You can be an awakened human being, and also make a living at the same time. When people say money is dirty, then they are just leaving it all to people who don’t have any spiritual practices or values. That is an abdication of our responsibilities. Those of us with compassion actually need to go deeper into these arenas. With money, we can empower some very meaningful things in the world.

MONEY credit cards

Nix Those Sneaky ‘Grey Charges’ From Your Credit Card Bill

Unwanted, ongoing charges added up to $14.3 billion in 2013.

Hey, remember that newsletter that let you sign up for a free trial?

Didn’t think so.

How about that old domain name you registered, or your kid’s gaming membership, or the magazine subscription that was initially offered as a freebie. Forgot about those too, didn’t you?

Rest assured those companies didn’t forget. But they are probably counting on you to do so.

That way they can keep charging your credit card, every year or every month, in perpetuity. And you may not even realize what is going on.

There is even a name for all these sneaky little ongoing fees: ‘Grey Charges’.

“Nine out of 10 people don’t check their credit-card charges carefully,” says Mick Weinstein, vice president of software company BillGuard. “And even if they do, it’s too time-consuming to dispute those charges. So most people simply let them go.”

Such fees are not illegal, per se. But they are designed to keep you on the hook.

The result: 233 million grey charges a year, amounting to a whopping $14.3 billion dollars, according to a 2013 study by industry analysts Aite Group. That is an average charge of $61 per credit card bill.

Just ask Holly Gordon. When the healthy-living consultant from Shawnee, Oklahoma downloaded software called ‘You Need a Budget’, she started discovering all sorts of little charges she had completely forgotten about.

“I was horrified at the number of surprise subscriptions we had,” says the 47-year-old. To wit: Auto-paying for satellite radio since 2009, spending almost $200 annually, along with another $15 every month on various magazine subscriptions on Amazon’s Kindle device.

“Those pesky one-time, quarterly and annual fees just kept popping up, sending my budget into panic mode,” Gordon says.

The most common grey charge, according to the Aite Group report: “Free-to-paid,” where a free introductory period expires and a paid subscription kicks in. Those amount to more than 115 million transactions a year, at a cost of more than $6 billion.

There are plenty of other types of grey charges, too – many with frightening monikers. “Phantoms” are additional products or services tacked onto another transaction. “Zombies” are subscriptions or memberships that keep charging you, even after you have canceled them.

Review Statements

Step one for consumers is to go over your credit-card statement with a fine-tooth comb every month, instead of just blindly paying up.

“Grey charges make it even more important to scrutinize your credit card bill and really look at every charge – especially if you are on auto pay,” says Michael Schreiber, editor-in-chief and chief content officer of Credit.com.

“Often people just scan and look for big charges that they don’t remember making, or just the total amount due,” Schreiber notes. “But those little charges can really add up.”

If you do discover a sketchy charge, take it up with the merchant or the credit-card issuer. Even if they don’t give you credit for past charges, at least you can nix them going forward.

Most of all, don’t think of a grey charge as a minor issue that is not worth your time. After all, even a measly $5 a month turns out to be $60 a year, which turns out to be $300 over five years.

With BillGuard’s smartphone app, you can even let its staff dispute grey charges for you. Chicagoan Zach Moss, for instance, once purchased a one-day Boingo Internet pass – and then started to get dinged $9.99 every month. After a few smartphone taps, BillGuard challenged those charges, and Moss got refunded for three full months.

Indeed, the payoff can be major. In part because Gordon started rooting out and killing all those grey charges – think of it like weeding a garden – she and her husband now expect to be out of consumer debt by the end of the year.

“It’s so easy to put your money on auto-pilot and just zone out,” Gordon says. “But it always comes back to bite you.”

MONEY Pets

Turning Your Puppy Into a Foodie Is Pricey

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Linda Freshwaters Arndt—Getty Images

Americans spent $13.7 billion on high-end pet food in 2014.

Bay-Li, Car-Li and Hay-Li have had a rough day. After a workout on the treadmill, a dip in the pool and some personal grooming, they finish off the day with a gourmet dish of chicken thighs, sweet potatoes, Red Delicious apples and blueberries.

They are Shih Tzus, a dog breed whose name comes from the Chinese word for “lion dog.”

“Absolutely, they know they are spoiled,” says owner Stephanie Patterson of Wooster, Ohio, who feeds her little canine friends Merrick-brand culinary creations. “They are like my children, and I don’t want them eating anything I can’t identify.”

Patterson’s Shih Tzus are not alone in eating like kings and queens. The gourmet pet food on the shelves these days is hardly the tasteless kibble of yore. Instead, pets are downing delicacies that would not seem out of place on a multi-course tasting menu in Paris.

The brand Tiki Dog, for instance, offers wild-caught ahi tuna with sweet potato, crab, egg, garlic and kale. Merrick’s “French Country Cafe” recipe features a blend of duck, carrots, Yukon Gold potatoes and garden peas. Its “Cowboy Cookout” meal is a mélange of beef, green beans and Granny Smith apples, and a case of 12 cans retails for $35.88 at Petco.com, compared with $17.88 for a case of Purina ProPlan.

Weruva brand – advertised as “People Food for Pets” – serves up concoctions like Marbella Paella with mackerel (“Bring Spain to your dog!”), as well as Steak Frites with pumpkin and sweet potatoes ($50.64 for 12 cans at Chewy.com).

Devoted pet owners, it seems, are lapping it up. Premium dog and cat foods are slated to gobble up 51% of the market in 2015, or more than medium- and bargain-priced brands combined, according to market-research firm Euromonitor.

The total food bill for America’s dogs and cats amounted to $27.1 billion in 2014, with high-end fare accounting for $13.7 billion of that.

It adds up to $263 per dog, per year, and $108 per cat, just for food, according to Euromonitor.

That figure is no surprise to Jared Koerten, Euromonitor senior analyst. He owns a Shih Tzu-Maltese mix, Lilly, who is partial to freeze-dried delicacies.

“The trend is called ‘pet humanization,’ or treating them like your own children,” says Koerten. “People don’t want to give their pets anything they wouldn’t eat themselves.”

Indeed, the trend is especially potent with Millennials, who are 18 to 35. They are “coming into the market in a big way,” Koerten says – and while they may not be having kids as early as their parents did, they are definitely “spoiling their little furbabies.”

Gone to The Dogs?

Is all this gourmet pet food – led by popular brands such as Blue Buffalo Pet Products, which just started trading publicly – really necessary? After all, dogs have survived for millennia without Iron Chef-worthy fare.

Pet owners have convinced themselves to hold to a higher standard, says Alexandra Horowitz, who teaches psychology at Barnard College and is author of the book “Inside of a Dog.”

It’s the “perfect convergence,” she says: Anxious owners wanting to give their pets the very best, and manufacturers more than willing to give it to them (and charge them handsomely for it).

In that sense, owners may be overthinking their pets’ dining requirements. Just like fancy pet hotels – with flat screen TVs, four-poster beds and Skype services – heightened expectations likely say more about us than they do about our dogs.

“Prepared dog food itself is a bit unnecessary,” admits Horowitz. “Dogs developed precisely through eating the remains of what their humans were eating.”

Yet owners like Stephanie Patterson are only too happy to pay up for gourmet treats. Her previous dog had numerous health issues and high vet bills, which she suspects was due to cheap dog food.

From her current four-legged diners, she certainly hasn’t had any complaints about the five-star fare: “They love it.”

MONEY Pets

Who Gets Custody of the Family Dog?

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Purple Collar Pet Photography—Getty Images

For divorcing couples, pets can be just as important as kids.

When couples split, custody is one of the hardest issues they have to resolve. And that goes for dogs and other furry family members as much as for children.

Formosa Hsu and her ex-partner Joseph, who did not have kids, spent years in mediation to decide how to split the time of their little beagle mix Pupineya, whom they had adopted when he was 3 months old.

For Joseph, a 33-year-old software engineer, the idea that he wouldn’t see the dog again was the “worst feeling in the world,” he remembers. Hsu, 42, a beauty consultant from Charlottesville, Virginia, says she was “devastated.”

Finally they struck a deal: The dog would split his time between the two, even though they now live on opposite coasts. Six months in Virginia, six months in British Columbia.

Welcome to the tricky and highly emotional world of pet custody.

“I tell attorneys who are handling divorces, number one, ask if they have kids. Number two, ask if they have pets,” says Debra Hamilton, a mediator from Armonk, New York, who successfully handled Pupineya’s case. “These days pets are just as important as kids. Sometimes even more important.”

In the past, the issue of pet custody almost never emerged in divorce proceedings. Now it comes up in about half of cases, Hamilton estimates. About 10% of divorces end up getting “rough and rocky” over dogs and cats, she says.

Indeed, 27% of attorneys report an increase in pet custody cases over the last five years, according to a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The most desired animal: dogs, 88% of the time.

Cats were much less sought-after, with 5% of cases. Even iguanas, pythons, African grey parrots and giant turtles have been fought over.

Why have we become so willing to go to war over Fido or Fifi?

“I think what is happening is that a lot of people are choosing not to have children, but they are getting pets earlier than ever,” says Jacqueline Newman, a Manhattan attorney who has handled multiple pet-oriented divorce squabbles. “Therefore pets become like children – and people will fight for them.”

If a couple does have kids, the typical arrangement is that the dog or cat will go wherever the children go, experts say.

Money issues often follow. After all, raising a dog can be expensive – especially in high-cost urban environments.

In fact, the first year of raising a small dog will set you back an average of $2,674, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Medium-sized dogs will chew through $2,889 in their first year, and large-sized dogs $3,239.

Since not every pet owner makes the same amount of money, that can be a problem.

“I call it ‘doggy support,'” Newman says. She recalls one pug, Oliver, who was “a very expensive dog.” “High vet bills, special food, doggie daycare, dogwalkers. It was more than $1,000 a month,” she recalls

The result: The higher-earning partner ended up forking over more than three-quarters of pet-care costs, despite having Oliver half the time.

That is also what happened with Pupineya, with Joseph handling most of the pet-care costs, including cross-country airplane jaunts. But after years of wrangling, both partners are happy to have the matter settled, so they can enjoy time with their four-legged family member.

Says Hsu: “My life was never complete until adopting the pup.”

 

MONEY Workplace

Matt Lauer Was a Clothes Salesman Before He Got on TV

Today - Season 64
NBC NewsWire—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images Natalie Morales, Savannah Guthrie, Matt Lauer and Al Roker appear on NBC News' "Today" show.

Here's how Lauer, Katie Couric, Savannah Guthrie, Rosanna Scotto and Steve Edwards all got their first jobs.

It takes a special kind of person to be a morning-show host.

Not just the kind of person who can get up at 3 or 4 a.m. every day, but someone with a personality that the rest of America doesn’t mind seeing when they are tired, grumpy and have not yet had a first cup of coffee.

It is easy to forget the nation’s morning-show mainstays were regular folks once. As the latest installment of Reuters’ monthly First Jobs series, we asked a few top morning hosts about how they started their glittering careers.

Savannah Guthrie, Today Show

First job: Busing tables

“It was at a Greek restaurant in Tucson called Acropolis Gyro, and I was only 14 years old. I got paid $1 an hour to bus tables, and since I didn’t even have a driver’s license at the time, my dad had to drop me off in his truck.

“I learned a lot about Greek food, like spanakopita and moussaka. I always had to explain what a gyro was to people: ‘A 60/40 combination of beef and lamb, roasted and served on a pita with tzatziki.’ See, I still remember.

“Once I started gossiping with my dad about what was happening at work, and he said, ‘Savannah, that is called office politics, and if you are smart, you will stay out of it.’ At the time I didn’t know what he was talking about. Now I know exactly what he meant.

“That job catapulted me into another one three doors down at Cookie Incredible, where I gained 20 pounds eating raw cookie dough. But it all started in that little Greek restaurant.”

Rosanna Scotto, Good Day NY

First job: Chyron operator

“My first job out of college was working for WTBS Superstation, which was at the same location as CNN. We used to call it the ‘Ted Turner School of Broadcasting’.

“When you see words scrolling across a TV screen, that is being run by someone called the ‘chyron operator,’ and that is what I was doing. I was okay with names, but with sports scores, I had a real problem. I couldn’t decipher the different teams, I was doing it on the fly while the show was in progress, and I was screwing up left and right. I felt so bad for the sportscaster. Whenever I see him, I still apologize profusely.

“This was in Atlanta in 1980, and at that time and in that place, blond-haired and blue-eyed people ruled the world. There I was with dark hair and dark eyes, coming from Brooklyn, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. I even tried to pick up a southern drawl, just to fit in.”

Matt Lauer, Today Show

First job: Clothing salesman

“My first real job was working for a men’s clothing store in Greenwich, Connecticut, called Richard’s Men’s Store. It’s still there today. I first went in to ask them to sponsor our rec-league basketball team, and eventually they gave me a job as a stockboy and junior clothing salesman.

“It was fabulous. First, because I liked clothing, so that was cool. Second, because as a salesman, it forces you to make an instant connection with the people walking through the door. You have to strike up a conversation, not be overbearing, and figure out how to forge chemistry with a complete stranger. Honestly that skill has helped me my whole life, and with my career.

“They paid me $2.50 an hour, which I probably spent on old 45 records, because I was really into music at the time. I also used it to try to go on dates with girls who didn’t want to go out with me.”

Steve Edwards, Good Day LA

First job: Drummer

“I was in high school, playing drums in a band, and got hired by a small hotel in the Catskill Mountains. We were supposed to be their house band for the summer.

“We had a fantasy of what it would be like: Seeing lots of beautiful young girls, eating wonderful food, hanging out and just being cool musicians. It lasted three weeks. I don’t remember if they fired us, or if we quit.

“In those days there were some famous hotels in the Catskills, but this one was really third-tier. We slept in the same tiny room with all our instruments. We ate leftovers or rejected food from the dining room.

“We wanted to meet girls, but it turned out the average age of our audience was about 87. At 7:30 we would play waltzes and other slow songs, by 8:15 we would switch to rock-and-roll, and by 8:30 the place emptied out. Each night we went to bed earlier.”

Katie Couric, former host, Today Show; currently Global News Anchor, Yahoo

First job: Camp counselor

“My first paid job, after my senior year of high school, was as a summer camp counselor at Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind near Washington, D.C. My sister, brother and I were all counselors at this camp. We came from a pretty ‘Leave It To Beaver’ upbringing, and my mom wanted us to be socially conscious and help people who were less fortunate.

“It was a real cross-section of kids, from real affluent backgrounds in Maryland and Virginia, to the poorest neighborhoods of D.C. It taught me a lot about responsibility, and how to make a fun summer for those kids. We did all sorts of things you might not think of for the visually impaired, like bowling, swimming – even forming a band. I played piano.

“I remember going to see a production of Peter Pan that my sister produced, with an all-blind cast. I was so moved by it. That camp was an extraordinary experience for me, which still has a special place in my heart. It was also a lot of hard work.

MONEY Spending

When It’s Okay to Splurge on Yourself

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Dave and Les Jacobs/Kolostock—Getty Images

"It's a shame to work so hard all the best years of your life, just so you can afford to survive in the worst years of your life."

When Stan Calow was growing up, frugality was a way of life: “You spend as little as you need to, and then save everything else.” So, the 58-year-old engineer and U.S. Army veteran from Kansas City, Missouri always hated spending money.

It took his financial planner, Cindy Richey, to drill the point into him that it was actually okay to enjoy his savings once in a while.

After much prodding, the message finally got through. Calow and his wife just returned from a trip to France, touring the chateaux of the Loire Valley, just like they had always dreamed.

Says Calow, who learned about the fragility of life by serving in Kosovo: “I wanted to live life while I’m still young enough to enjoy it.”

It’s a tricky dilemma for many of us. As much as pundits tell us to scrimp, and save, and sacrifice for the future, when is it actually okay to spend a little on yourself and enjoy this life that passes all too quickly?

Indeed, according to a new survey, many of us are not enjoying it enough.

When Wells Fargo asked affluent Americans about what they regretted most about their finances, 15% said “not having enjoyed their money more”.

It is an honest answer that you do not often encounter in financial surveys. After all, splurging on yourself is typically seen as selfish and gauche.

But as some planners point out, it’s your money, and you should not be made to feel bad about enjoying it occasionally.

“People are so nervous about outliving their money, and sometimes they shoot too far in their saving,” says Joe Nadreau, director of innovation and strategy for Wells Fargo Advisors. “You don’t want to come to the end with $3 million saved, but having sacrificed your whole life along the way.”

Of course, leaving an inheritance is still an important consideration, according to 57% of affluent Americans in the Wells Fargo survey.

But just remember that once the will is read, you are six feet under, and no longer around to witness your family enjoy that wealth.

A Bank of Memories

So try thinking of the concept of ‘inheritance’ a little differently: Instead of purely in terms of dollar bills, consider it as a set of memories, which you can create together as a family while you are still alive.

“We have recently noticed a sizable uptick in clients who are more interested in sharing their wealth in the form of experiential gifts,” says John Fowler, a planner in Keller, Texas.

“It might mean taking the entire family on a cruise, or paying the airfare to fly in to see grandma and grandpa in Arizona, Colorado, or Florida. At the end of the day our clients realize stuff is just stuff, but with a little effort, they can create a memory for their families that will last a lifetime.”

Keep in mind that splurging on yourself doesn’t mean you become miserly with others. It is not an either/or proposition; You can treat yourself once in a while, and also be generous with charitable causes that are meaningful to you.

“People call me all the time to get permission to enjoy their money, which I heartily give them,” says Dave Ramsey, a popular radio host and author of “The Legacy Journey.”

“Often the thing that breaks it loose for people is to increase their giving. Because the more generous you are, the more you get permission to spend on yourselves.”

As for Kansas City’s Stan Calow, he looks forward to traveling the world with his wife, and enjoying future grandchildren. It was hard to get him to enjoy those savings, but now he’s making up for lost time.

This thought, in particular, came to mind when he was walking the streets of Paris recently:

“It’s a shame to work so hard all the best years of your life, just so you can afford to survive in the worst years of your life.”

Read next: When It’s Okay to Splurge on Yourself

MONEY real estate

Seniors Are Seeking Out States Where Marijuana is Legal

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Norma Jean Gargasz—Alamy

The top moving destination in 2014 was Oregon, which voted to legalize marijuana last November.

When choosing retirement locales, a few factors pop to mind: climate, amenities, proximity to grandchildren, access to quality healthcare.

Chris Cooper had something else to consider – marijuana laws.

The investment adviser from Toledo had long struggled with back pain due to a fractured vertebra and crushed disc from a fall. He hated powerful prescription drugs like Vicodin, but one thing did help ease the pain and spasms: marijuana.

So when Cooper, 57, was looking for a place to retire, he ended up in San Diego, since California allows medical marijuana. A growing number of retirees are also factoring in the legalization of pot when choosing where to spend their golden years.

“Stores are packed with every type of person you can imagine,” said Cooper who takes marijuana once or twice a week, often orally. “There are old men in wheelchairs, or women whose hair is falling out from chemotherapy. You see literally everybody.”

Cooper, who figures he spends about $150 on the drug each month, is not alone in retiring to a marijuana-friendly state.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing medical marijuana use. A handful – Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and D.C. – allow recreational use as well.

The U.S. legal marijuana market was $2.7 billion in 2014, a figure expected to rise to $3.4 billion this year, according to ArcView Market Research.

Figuring out how many people are retiring to states that let you smoke pot is challenging since retirees do not have to check off a box on a form saying why they chose a particular location to their final years.

But “there is anecdotal evidence that people with health conditions which medical marijuana could help treat, are relocating to states with legalized marijuana,” said Michael Stoll, a professor of public policy at University of California, Los Angeles who studies retiree migration trends.

He cited data from United Van Lines, which show the top U.S. moving destinations in 2014 was Oregon, where marijuana had been expected to be legalized for several years and finally passed a ballot initiative last November.

Two-thirds of moves involving Oregon last year were inbound. That is a 5 percent jump over the previous year, as the state “continues to pull away from the pack,” the moving company said in a report.

The Mountain West – including Colorado, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000, and recreational use in 2012 – boasted the highest percentage of people moving there to retire, United Van Lines said. One-third of movers to the region said they were going there specifically to retire.

Lining Up for Pot

The image of marijuana-using seniors might seem strange, but it is the byproduct of a graying counterculture. Much of the baby boom generation was in college during the 1960s and 70s, and have had much more familiarity with the drug than previous generations.

Many of the health afflictions of older Americans push them to seek out dispensaries for relief.

“A lot of the things marijuana is best at are conditions which become more of an issue as you get older,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the Denver-based National Cannabis Industry Association. “Chronic pain, inflammation, insomnia, loss of appetite: All of those things are widespread among seniors.”

Since those in their 60s and 70s presumably have no desire to be skulking around on the criminal market in states where usage is outlawed, it makes sense they would gravitate to states where marijuana is legal.

“In Colorado, since legalization, many dispensaries have seen the largest portion of sales going to baby boomers and people of retirement age,” West said.

The folks at the sales counters agree: Their clientele has proven to be surprisingly mature.

“Our demographic is not punk kids,” added Karl Keich, founder of Seattle Medical Marijuana Association, a collective garden in Washington State. “About half of the people coming into our shop are seniors. It’s a place where your mother or grandmother can come in and feel safe.”

Read next: Can You Buy Marijuana With a Credit Card?

MONEY online shopping

What You Can Get for Free If Your Amazon Prime Delivery Arrives Late

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moodboard—Getty Images

You may be entitled to a free month of Prime membership.

Jason Jepson’s love affair with Amazon Prime lasted quite a while. But about a year ago, when some deliveries started going through the U.S. postal service rather than a private delivery service like United Parcel Service Inc, Jepson noticed the service getting spotty.

The 40-year-old communications consultant from Austin, Texas said first it was one package that was delayed, then a second. Then seven. Then 13.

“Finally I called them up and said, ‘Hey guys, this is getting ridiculous,'” Jepson said.

Guaranteed two-day delivery is a big promise, and from Amazon.com Inc, it comes with a pretty hefty price tag of $99 a year (up from $79). But it is a fact of life that packages sometimes get delivered late. In fact, according to a poll by Reuters/Ipsos last year, 10 percent of Amazon shoppers who chose two-day shipping said their packages did not arrive on the expected day.

Granted, that was between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, a busy time of year when many retailers are stretched to their limits. Amazon spokesperson Julie Law cites internal figures showing the percentage of on-time deliveries in the “high 90s”.

So what exactly are consumers entitled to if their Prime shipments arrive late?

It turns out: More than you probably expect.

With Amazon’s promotion for “Prime Day” coming up on July 15 – offering more special discounts than Black Friday, Amazon promises – it is useful information to have handy.

What You Get

When bargain-hunting site DealNews did some digging into the fine print of Prime contracts, researchers discovered that late delivery usually qualifies customers for a free month of Prime membership.

DealNews staffers tested this policy out themselves, and scored that free month not once, but twice – even for shipments that were only a couple of hours late. Customers can call, email or report late shipment on the website.

“Most people don’t even know they can get some redress for late delivery,” said Benjamin K. Glaser, DealNews’ features editor. “They aren’t even aware there is an official policy offering refunds.”

Keep in mind what else might be affecting shipment times, though, such as credit-card charges that did not go through, attempted deliveries that were not successful, or missed order deadlines. But if eligible shipments keep turning up later than promised, you can ask for that free month multiple times a year, DealNews discovered.

“If for some reason our delivery promise hasn’t been met, customers can call or e-mail and we can extend them an extra month of Prime membership,” confirms Amazon’s Julie Law. “But we don’t allow people to abuse that.”

Of course, customer-service reps can also respond to late shipments in different ways, such as offering to expedite new deliveries, as they have often done with Jason Jepson.

In other cases, you might be offered Amazon credits that could be worth even more than the free month membership, noted Glaser. That is not official policy, but depends on a case-by-case evaluation of customer experience, said Amazon’s Law.

And, if you are not in a rush to get your stuff, you can even opt out of two-day shipping for a particular item, and get a $1 video credit for your troubles.

It makes sense that the retailer needs to take good care of its Prime customers. They spend an average of $538 a year shopping at Amazon, or 68 percent more than non-members, according to a survey by RBC Capital Markets. And 61 percent of respondents reported upping their spending after becoming Prime members.

As such, Prime is a critical growth engine for the retailer. Memberships grew worldwide by 53 percent from 2013 to 2014, says Law, and the Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 96 percent were satisfied with the service.

That is why, despite anecdotal reports of late deliveries, the magazine Consumer Reports judges Prime service to be worth the cost. “You look at what you get, and it’s actually quite a lot,” says Tod Marks, the magazine’s senior projects editor. “As annoying as it is to pay the $99, you can earn it back very quickly.”

MONEY Travel

5 Money-Saving Tips for Road Tripping Families

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Blend Images - Jon Feingersh—Getty Images

There's an art to saving money on the road.

With four kids between the ages of 1 and 12, Loralee Leavitt is a cost-savings ninja when she hits the road.

Leavitt, who hails from Kirkland, Washington, estimates that she has gone on more than 30 road trips with her growing family, logging over 60,000 miles, to places like Utah, Colorado, Arizona and California.

From packing their own food, to staying in state parks, to scouring for last-minute hotel deals, the family has made an art of saving money. Their piece de resistance: A trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park that did not cost more than $400 total.

“It is easy to spend more than you expect,” says Leavitt, author of “Road Tripping”. “But if you prepare it right, it can be a lot of fun, and very cheap.”

More Americans are planning road trips around the United States. In fact, 65 percent of those polled report they are more likely to take a road trip this summer than they were last summer, according to a recent survey by booking site Travelocity. And when you single out parents, a whopping 81 percent said they were more likely to hit the road with the kids this year.

Be careful, though. While a domestic road trip might appear like an affordable alternative to traveling abroad, costs can easily spiral out of control.

A recent study by travel site Expedia found that Americans expect to pay an average of $898 per person for a weeklong trip within their own country, hardly chump change.

To keep a lid on summer road-trip costs, we canvassed financial planners for their best tips, culled from personal experience. Here’s what they had to say.

Use Apps to Your Advantage

Not that long ago, travelers squinted at printed maps and missed exits. These days, there is no excuse for not using smartphone apps.

Google Maps, for instance, will get you from Point A to Point B without getting lost and racking up unnecessary mileage. GasBuddy will locate the cheapest local stations where you can fill up the tank. Apps like RoadNinja and Roadtrippers can tell you about local amenities and help plan your route, and HotelTonight or Hotels.com can locate last-minute lodging discounts nearby.

Get Campy

Ditch the hotels, and stay in campgrounds, says financial planner Therese Nicklas of Braintree, Massachusetts.

By camping in state parks with her family of four for around $10 a night, and cooking their own food, Nicklas estimates they save about $150 every single day.

You don’t have to pitch a tent every night. Consider an occasional splurge at a hotel with a pool, hot showers and free breakfasts.

Diehard money-savers might enjoy so-called “dispersed camping” permitted in many national and state forests, where you set up away from designated campgrounds. No amenities, but no fees, either.

Also consider an annual pass from the National Park Service, allowing you access to more than 2,000 sites nationwide for $80.

Hold Money-Saving Competitions

Adviser Niv Persaud of Atlanta has an innovative idea: Make budgeting a game with your kids instead of a chore. “For each dollar they save, on coupons, special deals, or cheap gas, they earn a star,” Persaud says. “The one with the most stars at the end of the trip gets to pick the location for the next family vacation.”

Forget Flights and Car Rentals

Whatever savings you realize by staying domestic could be wiped out by airline bookings and car- or RV-rental fees. So do what David MacLeod did, and schlep to your destination in your own car, even if it’s a long distance away. The planner from Fullerton, California recently took his family all the way from southern California to Montana in their trusty Honda Odyssey, saving $1,000 in the process.

Bring Your Own Food

The silent killer of many family travel budgets: Eating out. Nip that in the bud with a cooler or two stuffed to the brim with snacks and quick meals.

“A simple gallon of milk, box of cereal, yogurts and fresh fruit can provide a great breakfast at 1/4 of the cost of eating out,” says Janice Cackowski, a planner in Independence, Ohio. She also advises eating out only at lunch, when restaurant prices tend to be much lower.

Above all, don’t be scared off by the idea of being in a car for so many hours with your kids. Magic occurs when families actually spend time with each other. “Something wonderful happens: You pay attention to each other,” says Leavitt.

MONEY Workplace

What YouTube Star Michelle Phan Learned From Her First Job at a China Buffet

How To Keep Your Social Media Game Sincere - 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival
Steve Rogers Photography Internet personality Michelle Phan attends How To Keep Your Social Media Game Sincere' during the 2015 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Austin Convention Center on March 16, 2015 in Austin, Texas.

The makeup advice guru and 3 other YouTube celebs dish on their first paid jobs.

Not long ago, Americans megastars only came from places like network television shows or Hollywood films.

These days, they also come from somewhere else entirely: YouTube.

While old-media outlets like newspapers have been losing subscribers, YouTube celebrities have been gaining them by the busload.

For the latest installment in Reuters’ monthly “First Jobs” series, we asked a few of the top YouTube stars to discuss how they came from nowhere to cultivate millions of adoring fans.

Michelle Phan

YouTube subscribers: 7.8 million

Specialty: Makeup advice

First Job: China Buffet host

“I was 16 years old, and wanted to help my mom with the rent. There was a restaurant called China Buffet in Tampa that hung a ‘Help Wanted’ sign outside, so I went in and ended up hosting every Friday and Sunday for $6 or $7 an hour.

“My favorite dish was lo mein, which was so greasy. But I was a teenager then and could basically eat whatever I wanted.

“What I learned from that job was how to greet people and make eye contact. I used to be a very shy introvert and never even spoke to people, so it was that job that first gave me the confidence to talk to strangers.

“That was my first legal job, but even before that my brother and I used to sell candy at our school, charging for lollipops and chocolate bars in the gym and the auditorium. We made a good amount of money, too: In two months, we made $600 that we used to buy computer parts and build our own computer. I have always been a hustler like that.”

Cassey Ho

YouTube subscribers: 2.35 million

Specialty: Fitness tutorials

First job: Candy seller

“Back in middle school, every time I used to trick-or-treat, I would take all the chocolates and microwave them and then make my own little chocolate creations. My friends all liked them, so I started charging them for it.

“Later on in high school I added cookie sandwiches with buttercream inside, and everyone went nuts. It became a whole enterprise, with five employees working for me. I was known as “Cassey the Cookie Girl” all over campus. That business even helped me get a full scholarship.

“It’s ironic that I now run a fitness blog. My friends accuse me of having planned it this whole time, of making them fat and then getting them back into shape.

“I learned that if you create a product that has value, you can definitely start charging for it. I also learned that people not only buy because they like the product. They buy because they like you.”

Matthew Santoro

YouTube subscribers: 4.3 million

Specialty: Amazing facts and top 10 lists

First job: Deli counter

“I worked at a Canadian supermarket called Loblaws, essentially frying chicken for a living. I worked my butt off all the way through high school and university, saving up enough to pay my tuition and graduate with no debt.

“I had never had a job before, and handed in a resume with hardly anything on it. But my mom suggested that I send a thank-you card after the interview, and that must have been what got me the job. It was the only one they got.

“I came in not knowing anything, and just learned on the job. Most of all, I got to know how to deal with angry customers. People would come in just fuming mad, and you had to know how to defuse that situation. That skill translates very well to everyday life.

“The number-one question I got at the deli counter was whether or not I ever got sick of fried chicken. And the answer was always no. It’s tasty and delicious. What’s not to like?”

Bunny Meyer

YouTube subscribers: 5.2 million

Specialty: Beauty tips

First job: File clerk

“My first job was as a clerk at an oil-and-gas company, and I actually got fired at it.

“They hired me to do a special project, putting me in a huge office stacked floor-to-ceiling with boxes, and I had to put sticker labels on them all. They thought it was going to take me all summer.

“But when I get a task to do, I like to see how fast I can do it. So I challenged myself and finished within a week. They were completely surprised and said they had no more work for me. They had to let me go.

“What I learned was how important it is to find a job where you can work at your own pace. I like to work very quickly, uploading videos almost every day.

“These days, that kind of diligence and effort pays off. But before, that just wasn’t where I belonged. I could never see myself having a desk job again.”

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