TIME Consumers

Gas Prices Inch Higher After Months of Decline

Drivers pass by gas prices that are displayed at Valero and 76 gas stations on Feb. 9, 2015 in San Rafael, Calif.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Drivers pass by gas prices that are displayed at Valero and 76 gas stations on Feb. 9, 2015 in San Rafael, Calif.

The steady rise reverses a record 123-day decline that started in September and ended last month

Drivers recently spoiled by falling gasoline prices are now having to deal with a new reality: Higher costs at the pump.

The average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline has increased every day for the past 28 days to a national average of $2.30 per gallon, according to AAA. The steady rise reverses a record 123-day decline that started in September and ended last month with fuel costs reaching a five-year low of $2.03.

A major drop-off in worldwide oil prices drove the four-month long decline. Global oil oversupply cut oil prices by more than half between last summer and the beginning of 2015, but oil prices have slowly rebounded in recent weeks and the price most drivers pay at the pump has risen accordingly.

After slipping below $45 in January, the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil has since climbed by more than 10%. Brent crude topped the $60-per barrel mark earlier this month, but dipped slightly Monday to $58.90.

AAA also notes that fuel prices tend to rise at this time of year due to the fact that seasonal maintenance typically happening at oil and gas refineries tends to put a drag on fuel production.

U.S. motorists are still paying $1.11 less per gallon on average than they were at this point last year. The largest year-over-year savings gap experienced in recent months was $1.25 per gallon. Drivers in Utah and Idaho are currently seeing the lowest price at the pump with an average of $1.95 per gallon in those states. Hawaii, which tends to see the highest gas prices, is the only state where the average price for regular unleaded gas is more than $3, with that state’s residents currently paying $3.04 per gallon.

California is also seeing higher-than-average prices at $2.95 per gallon, while motorists in Texas are paying $2.12 per gallon.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY online shopping

Target Undercuts Amazon and Walmart With Easier Free Shipping

Target sign
Mike Blake—Reuters

Target just cut its minimum purchase requirement to receive free shipping in half, from $50 to $25. That's $10 less than what you have to spend at Amazon or Best Buy for free shipping.

Target has a long history of being in the crosshairs of Amazon, what with the world’s largest e-retailer routinely undercutting Target’s prices, combined with a wide range of strategies to woo moms in particular away from “Tarjhay” with speedy one-click shopping. Perhaps Amazon’s most deadly weapon—causing trouble not only to Target, but nearly all brick-and-mortar retailers—is Amazon Prime, the subscription program that provides free two-day shipping, among other perks, in exchange for a $99 annual fee. Above all, what Prime membership does is dramatically increase one’s spending at Amazon.com because nearly all purchases made on the site will ship for free. And the purchases made at Amazon.com are purchases that are no longer taking place at Target, or via another retailer.

On Monday, Target went on the offensive by tweaking its own free shipping policy, with the hopes of stealing some business back from Amazon, among others. The new shipping policy, Target boldly claims, “Will Change Your Life,” presumably in ways not unlike how Amazon Prime is known to dramatically change one’s spending habits and errand schedule.

The new policy grants free standard shipping (3 to 5 business days) on all Target.com orders of $25 or more. Previously, the purchase threshold for free standard shipping was $50. The minimum purchase requirement for free shipping at Walmart.com, for instance, is set at $50, while Amazon and Best Buy offer free shipping on most orders if the total is $35 or more.

Clearly, the move gives Target a little leg up on the competition, and it could very well start a free shipping pricing war among retailers—a war that would obviously benefit shoppers. But how big of a deal is Target’s policy change really? And is there a prayer it could actually change your life?

The truth is that Target’s new policy won’t affect its best customers at all. That’s because the most loyal Target shoppers are highly likely to be in possession of the Target REDcard, a debit or credit card that providers the user with 5% off on all Target purchases, as well as free, no-minimum-purchase standard shipping on all online orders. What’s more, Amazon Prime subscribers who are happy with the service aren’t likely to be wooed away by Target.com—which has fewer items for sale than Amazon (who doesn’t?), and whose free shipping is slower than that of Prime.

The consumers being targeted by Target’s policy change, then, are those who aren’t regular Target shoppers and don’t subscribe to Prime, or those who do subscribe to Prime but have been thinking that maybe the annual membership fee isn’t worth it. Also, for Target’s offer to seem truly compelling, you must be someone who would regularly want to make online purchases of $25 but not over $35. Once you’ve hit the latter price point, after all, you can get free shipping from Amazon or Best Buy alongside Target, so Target’s free shipping is a wash.

All that said, there are probably some consumers who will view Target’s new policy as an appealing alternative to Prime and Amazon.com in general. Just as Target’s decision to offer a free non-minimum-purchase shipping promotion during the recent winter holidays gave its web business a boost, the retailer will certainly juice e-retail sales by cutting its free shipping purchase threshold in half. Some tiny portion of shoppers will probably “change their lives” by placing a few more small-money orders at Target.com now that shipping is free.

It seems unlikely, however, that the policy change will move the needle much in Target’s ongoing battle against Amazon, nor will it cure Target’s larger problems, including its failed expansion in Canada and the fading of its reputation among shoppers and the industry as retail’s cheap-chic darling.

TIME apps

This Is Google’s Plan to Beat Apple Pay

The Google Inc. Mobile Wallet application is displayed on a smartphone screen at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 29, 2012.
Bloomberg via Getty Images The Google Inc. Mobile Wallet application is displayed on a smartphone screen at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 29, 2012.

Expect to see Google Wallet pre-installed on a lot more phones

Google’s mobile wallet platform is poised to get a much-needed boost through a partnership with AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The search giant announced Monday that Google Wallet will come pre-installed on phones sold by those carriers beginning later this year, as long as they run the KitKat version of Android or better. Google Wallet also requires phones to have NFC (near-field communication) technology.

Google is also acquiring the technology behind Softcard, the carriers’ mobile payments platform, as well as its intellectual property. For now, Softcard will continue to be available as a separate app. A blog post by Softcard says the company will share more information about the app’s future in the coming weeks.

Like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Softcard both use NFC technology to let users seamlessly make in-store purchases with a tap of their phones. Google has never disclosed how many people use Google Wallet, but one estimate by The Guardian pegged the total number of people who have downloaded the app at south of 20 million.

However, the arrival of Apple Pay has spurred the adoption of NFC-enabled point-of-sale terminals at retailers, which benefits Google as well as Apple. With millions more customers soon to have access to Google Wallet when they unpack their new phones, it seems like the app could indeed be a formidable competitor to Apple’s offering.

TIME Tech Policy

Here’s Why Russia Is Cracking Down on Google

A model of the Android operating system logo at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 27, 2012.
Bloomberg via Getty Images A model of the Android operating system logo at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb. 27, 2012.

The search giant's Android platform is at the center of complaints

Google may be running afoul of anti-monopoly laws in Russia. The country’s regulators are investigating the way the search giant bundles its apps onto Android devices in response to a complaint by Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine, according to The Guardian.

Yandex is taking issue with the fact that smartphone makers have been blocked from pre-installing the company’s services, which compete with Google’s, on Android phones in the country. Google restricts which apps can be pre-installed on the most popular version of Android. A fully open-source version of the software, which is used to power mobile operating systems used by Amazon and Xiaomi, is freely available but doesn’t include access to the Google Play store.

Google has faced legal scrutiny in multiple markets for the way it controls the Android ecosystem. In Europe regulators are reportedly planning to launch a formal inquiry into Google’s mandates regarding pre-installed apps, according to Reuters. In the U.S. a lawsuit claiming that Google harms smartphone buyers by forcing Samsung and others to pre-install Google apps on their Android phones was dismissed by a federal judge last week.

Read next: Why Chevron Is Helping Fund STEM Education

TIME food and drink

This Is The Most Surprising Thing About Bacon-Wrapped Pizza

Little Caesars Bacon Pizza
Tony Segielski—Little Caesars

It's not as bad for you as you might think

Little Caesars caused a storm last week when it unveiled its bacon-wrapped pizza, which is available starting Monday. But the pie might not be as bad for you as it seems—at least when it comes to calories.

A slice of Little Caesars’s culinary masterpiece/travesty reportedly has 450 calories. That’s actually fewer than what you’ll find in several popular fast food orders, like a McDonald’s Big Mac or a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme.

In fact, it’s far from the most calorie-heavy dish that you’ll be able to find at popular fast food joints. Take, for example, Burger King’s 1,160-calorie Triple Whopper.

So if you’re craving a slice of bacon-wrapped goodness, here’s a calorie comparison with other fast food items that will make you feel a little less guilty:

But this isn’t to say that the bacon-wrapped pizza is healthy—that’s a whole other story.

 

TIME Careers & Workplace

6 Best Practices for Working From Home

woman-work-home
Getty Images

Get out of your pajamas and dress to impress

More and more entrepreneurs are working remotely. They may have an “office” at home, in a co-working space or even at the nearest coffee shop. Fortunately, technology has allowed everyone — even entrepreneurs who commute to a traditional office every day — to benefit from the flexibility of working from home when it’s needed or preferred.

Anyone who works from home will tell you that it has its benefits, yet also challenges. When I started my business in 1998, social media did not exist, I had no clients and most of my friends worked in a traditional office setting.

After working for a large hotel for nearly six years, I had grown accustomed to being surrounded by people each day. Working from home provided peace and solitude, yet I was lonely.

I had no one to interact with except my yellow Labrador. No humans were around for sharing ideas. I worked long hours, many in my pajamas. No one was there to hold me accountable for my work and I had to force myself to rise at a reasonable hour each morning and develop self-discipline.

But after a while, I set up a regular routine, joined some networking groups and adopted some best practices. Here are some tips to keep in mind to stay focused on your work throughout the day:

Related: 8 Essentials to Get the Most Out of Working From Home

1. Set and keep regular office hours.

Most people who work from home find they work too much rather than too little. Other remote workers struggle to keep a regular schedule — working a few hours one day and pulling an all-nighter the next.

Some interruptions can’t be avoided. Client deadlines may unexpectedly require extra hours. Family obligations can interfere as well, especially if children are home during the day.

Do your best to set work hours and stick to them. Then try your best to leave work at the “office” and turn your phone on silent and enjoy the rest of your day. Give yourself some time to recharge so you can be as productive as possible.

2. Plan and structure your workday.

Structure your workday to maximize efficiency. Take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms and plan your work around your most productive hours.

If you know you focus best in the morning, resist the temptation to check email until 10 a.m. or later. A quick review of your calendar when you first start work can set you up for a productive workday.

Make a list of your most important tasks before you move on to less urgent business. If possible, shut your office door (if you have one) to signal to others that you’re working and don’t wish to be disturbed.

Related: Working From Home? Avoid These Not-So-Obvious Distractions.

3. Dress to impress (even if it’s just for your dog).

As enticing as it is to stay in pajamas all day, this is not the best work habit. The way you dress affects you psychologically.

Taking the time to shower, have breakfast, brush the teeth and dress can make someone feel more confident. Maintain a casual (not sloppy) work wardrobe to help you transition smoothly between home and office — even if they’re in the same place.

4. Set aside a designated work area.

Consistency is an important aspect to working from home. Try to work at the same spot every day. It could be a spare bedroom that you’ve turned into a home office, a desk located in the corner of the living room or even the dining room table.

Make sure your workspace functions efficiently for you, your business and your style. Surround yourself with things that inspire you and make you happy including flowers, music and pictures. Make your workspace a place you enjoy going to each day, an area where you can focus and do your best work.

5. Take breaks.

Schedule time for frequent breaks throughout the day. Rise from your desk, stretch or walk around the house or down the street. Take a lunch break and enjoy a midday meal.

If you need a little socializing, go out to lunch with friends or clients. A major advantage to working from home is having flexibility. If fitness is important to you, a quick trip to the gym can reinvigorate you and make for a productive afternoon.

6. Avoid distractions.

One challenge of working from home is accountability. With no colleagues or partners nearby, it’s easy to become distracted. There are always errands to run and chores at home to do. Do your best to put off household tasks, like laundry and dishes, until you’ve gone “home” for the evening.

Stay focused on work throughout the day to maintain consistent productivity. Avoid online distractions as well. Limit the time spent on email, social media and websites unrelated to work.

Set a timer on your phone or computer if necessary. Don’t waste time or money on meetings or activities that are counterproductive to your success.

Related: It’s Time to Let Go of These 7 Work-From-Home Myths

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

10 Things to Consider Before Investing In a New Project Idea

business-presentation
Getty Images

Following through on the wrong project ideas can be a big waste of resources

startupcollective

Question: What is one thing you ALWAYS do before green-lighting a new project or biz idea?

Test Assumptions

“There are lots of great ideas, but it’s easier to devise them than to execute them. So before you go off and try to execute new plans, it’s imperative you test some basic assumptions. If you already have customers, speak with them directly about the idea and take their feedback to heart. If you don’t, set up a landing page with an AdWords campaign to test response and prove the market exists.” — Adam Callinan, Beachwood Ventures

Ensure It Aligns With KPIs

“Before giving the go-ahead to a project or idea, it’s critical for me that the project aligns with our key performance indicators. If a project doesn’t drive to one of our key metrics, it’s likely not a worthwhile pursuit or use of resources. To have these kinds of checks and balances, it’s important to establish KPIs early on. Once in place, it’s a useful rubric to green-light ideas.” — Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

Take a Step Back

“The worst thing you can do is pursue a new project or business because it sounds like an exciting opportunity. The problem is that pretty much every new idea seems like an exciting opportunity at first, but only the best of the best maintain that excitement weeks or months down the road. Set it aside and don’t think about it for a while. If you pick it back up and get just as excited, go for it.” — James Simpson, GoldFire Studios

Analyze the Pros and Cons

“I’m always thinking of new projects or business ideas to help grow our business, so I’ve developed a system to green-light them. First, I write them down and let them marinate for a few days. If the idea still seems legit, I’ll set up a call with my partner, discuss the plan/implementation in detail and write out a pros/cons list. We then analyze the data to make the final decision.” — Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings

Run the Numbers

“Before moving forward with any new project, I want to make sure that it’s worth our time and the ROI is there. Numbers don’t lie. Financial projections are an essential tool for determining ROI and helping us make business decisions based on fact, not gut.” — David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

Ask If It’s What People Want

“I see so many entrepreneurs, especially in the startup world, creating new businesses and products without even determining whether there’s a market for them or if people really want their product. Before green-lighting any new idea, I survey people, hold focus groups, run market tests through AdWords and even call people.” — Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

Organize the Project First

“Before green-lighting a project, you should take the time to organize it. It is prudent to the success of the project or idea to know how long it will take, how it should be executed and who will be responsible before committing to a launch.” — Fabian Kaempfer, Chocomize

Define What Success Looks Like

“Without a clear definition of what success will look like for a given project, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s on track or even finished. By making a point of defining success before we even get started, we can decide how to measure a project and tell if it’s reaching the necessary goals.” — Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting

Run Some AdWords Tests

“Google AdWords is fantastic at validating market interest. I’ll run a few different ads over the course of a few days or a week to test how well they convert and at what rate. That tells me how crowded the space is and how strong the market interest is. Usually I don’t even create a landing page. Instead, I’ll send them to one of my other sites.” — Jared Brown, Hubstaff

Talk to Real-Life Customers

“Always test your ideas by talking to people in the real world before you invest tremendous amounts of time, energy and money. Don’t be afraid of anyone stealing your ideas. Get feedback in the wild. Even if it’s simply by sending an email to your customer list asking if it’s something they’d be interested in, that’s a start.” — Cody McKibben, Thrilling Heroics

This article was originally published on StartupCollective.

TIME Careers & Workplace

The One Crucial Trait All Successful People Possess

flower-growing-desert
Getty Images

Often other people make it difficult to maintain this trait, but that's why you need it even more

Inc. logo

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Anyone can succeed without capital, without a business plan, without a marketing plan, and even without a great idea.

But no one can succeed without one essential ingredient.

Think about the keys to business success: plenty of capital; a comprehensive business plan; a thorough market analysis; remarkable employees.

Each is definitely important. But there is one trait every successful entrepreneur possesses:

Irrational optimism.

Why? To be successful you must embrace belief, which means pushing aside all those self-doubts: Feeling you aren’t smart enough, dedicated enough, adaptable enough, or simply that, in spite of your best intentions and best efforts, you won’t succeed.

Often other people make it even harder to maintain that belief. Family and friends tend to shoot multiple holes in your ideas, not because they want to bring you down but because they care about you and don’t want to see you fail.

That’s why people rarely say, “Hey, that’s a great idea. You should go for it!” Most people aren’t wired that way. Most people—myself definitely included—are a lot better at identifying and listing potential problems. We like to play devil’s advocate because that makes us seem smart.

And that’s why you need to be irrationally optimistic: Not because the odds are stacked against success, but because irrational optimism helps you succeed in ways capital, business plans, and marketing savvy can’t.

Of course you can take irrational optimism too far—but then again, maybe you can’t.

Think about sports, the ultimate zero-sum game. Only one individual or one team can win, but great athletes still go into every game believing they will win—because if they don’t believe they can win, they’ve already lost.

Is complete self-belief irrational? Sure. Is it also a requirement for high-level athletic success? Absolutely. Great athletes push aside doubt and disbelief.

So do great entrepreneurs.

If you listen to the naysayers you’ll never start a business, never expand, never work and struggle and overcome—and never succeed. If you don’t believe in yourself, however irrationally, you will not succeed.

Although no amount of self-belief is enough to ensure success, the smallest bit of doubt can ruin your chances.

In Bounce, Matthew Syed quotes Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, one of the most successful football (soccer) coaches in the English Premier League, on how athletes must approach competition:

To perform to your maximum you have to teach yourself to believe with an intensity that goes way beyond logical justification. No top performer has lacked this capacity for irrational optimism; no sportsman has played to his potential without the ability to remove doubt from his mind.

The same is true for entrepreneurs—and, really, for everyone. Be smart, be logical, be rational and calculating, and never stop trying to improve your skills. But most important, be irrationally optimistic.

Belief in yourself will take you to places no external forces ever can.

TIME

Why Nobody Believes Cheap Gas Is Here to Stay

A Chevron gas station pump in Vallejo, Calif.
Paul Sakuma—AP A Chevron gas station pump in Vallejo, Calif.

We're bracing for the end of $2-per-gallon fill-ups

Drivers are enjoying the extra money in their pockets after a trip to the gas station, but economists can’t figure out why we’re not going crazy spending all those extra bucks. Now, two new reports reveal what Americans are really thinking: We don’t believe this cheap gas is here to stay.

A survey released las week by the Consumer Federation of America finds that 57% of Americans say the miles per gallon they’ll get out of the next car they purchase is “very important,” and almost nine in 10 say it’s either very important or important. That’s probably because, on average, we expect gas prices to hit $3.20 again in two years, and shoot up to $3.90 in five years. (The highest gas has ever been was in the summer of 2008, when the national average hit $4.11 per gallon.)

Another recent report yields similar findings. The J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Avoider Study finds that, for the fourth year running, a majority of new car buyers say miles per gallon plays a leading role in determining which car they buy. For 14% of car buyers, gas mileage was the top reason they picked their vehicle — trumping other important factors like looks and performance. “At the segment level, gas mileage is the primary purchase reason among buyers of compact, small and midsize cars and compact MPVs,” the release notes. And 16% of car buyers rejected a particular vehicle because it didn’t get good mileage, the second-highest reason people kick a car out of consideration.

In spite of low gas prices today, the pain of future fill-ups is never far from drivers’ minds. “Clearly, consumers are considering the total cost of ownership when selecting their new vehicle,” Arianne Walker, senior director of automotive media and marketing at J.D. Power, says in a statement.

The CFA’s analysis of how much we drove and how much we spent over a five-year period suggests we’re on the right track with this kind of long-term thinking, too. If you’d gone out and bought a gas guzzler that got 15 miles to the gallon back in January 2009 when gas averaged $1.84 a gallon, you would have paid $153 a month to fill up the tank (assuming you drove roughly 1,250 miles a month). That’s not so bad, but when gas prices rose, all those fill-ups would add up.

After five years, the CFA says you would have paid over $6,400 more on gas than if you had purchased a car that got 25 miles to the gallon instead. “Buying an inefficient vehicle during periods of low gas prices condemns the consumer to… a whopping overall increase in lifetime gas costs,” CFA director of research Mark Cooper says in a statement.

TIME Companies

Apple’s Crazy-Expensive New Data Centers Will Be Totally Green

Apple's European headquarters in Cork, southern Ireland.
Paul Faith—Getty Images Apple's European headquarters in Cork, southern Ireland.

The company’s biggest ever investment in Europe anticipates a massive rise in demand for cloud-based services

Apple Inc. said it would spend 1.7 billion euros ($1.9 billion) to build two data centers in Europe that would be entirely powered by renewable energy and create hundreds of jobs.

The investment, Apple’s biggest ever in Europe, will power Apple’s online services, including the iTunes Store, App Store, iMessage, Maps and Siri for customers across Europe.

The new centers are intended to meet what is expected to be a massive rise in demand for remote data storage in the medium-term, as both consumers and businesses come to depend more and more on Cloud-based technology.

The investment is set to be evenly divided between Athenry in Ireland and Viborg in Denmark, with the Irish government confirming that €850 million would be spent in Ireland. The two data centers are expected to begin operations in 2017.

“We’re thrilled to be expanding our operations, creating hundreds of local jobs and introducing some of our most advanced green building designs yet,” CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.

In a sign of how important Apple’s investment in Denmark was, the country’s trade and development minister issued a statement mirroring that of the iPhone maker’s, adding the two data centers would be among the largest in the world.

Ireland’s government also reacted to the announcement, saying 300 jobs would be added in the county of Galway during the multiple phases of the project, a boost as it seeks to cut the unemployment rate below 10 percent this year.

“As the Government works to secure recovery and see it spread to every part of the country, today’s announcement is another extremely positive step in the right direction,” Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said in a statement.

The tech blog Gigaom speculated that the decision could boost the company’s appeal to business customers, which are more inclined to insist on local storage of data for their software solutions, particularly since the disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. In Germany in particular, the Snowden leaks have made public and government opinion openly suspicious of U.S. companies abusing the vast amount of data they hold.

A spokesman for Apple declined to comment on whether issues around privacy and regulation had played any part in the decision to locate the centers in Europe, rather than the U.S..

In addition to privacy and legal issues, the biggest concerns that affect such choices usually include things like electricity prices and low network latency (the ability of local internet infrastructure to handle massive traffic volumes at high speed), according to analysis by consultants Gartner Inc. Gartner also points out that locating centers in a colder environment (and both Ireland and Denmark fit that description) can cut running costs significantly, given the amount of power needed for cooling.

Denmark also has some of the lowest electricity costs in the E.U., thanks to massive (and generously subsidized) investment in wind power in recent years which means that the country is often a net exporter of electricity.

Ireland’s electricity prices are only in line with the E.U. average, according to Eurostat data, but the company already has an extensive footprint in the country after previous investments. The company’s relations with Ireland have, however, come into question. The E.U. last year opened an inquiry into Apple’s tax arrangements in Ireland, alleging that its tax treatment was so generous as to constitute illegal state aid. That investigation is still ongoing.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.

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