MONEY Odd Spending

This Is How Much Summer Will Cost You

To mark the unofficial start of the season, MONEY reveals the results of its summer spending survey. Bottom line: Budgeting for warm-weather fun is no day at the beach.

MONEY Odd Spending

Tom Brady Merchandise Sales Have Doubled Since He Was Suspended

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's jersey on the rack at the Olympia Sports store in Medford, Massachusetts.
Charles Krupa—AP New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's jersey on the rack at the Olympia Sports store in Medford, Massachusetts.

The NFL's surprisingly harsh crackdown on Tom Brady in the Deflategate scandal seems to have given sales of the Patriots' quarterback jersey a shot in the arm.

Some football fans and players think that the NFL’s handing out a four-game suspension to Tom Brady over Deflategate was fully warranted. Many others, however, have reacted to the judgment with a sense of shock and unfairness (the evidence against Brady is thin), even outrage. Still others think the decision demonstrates how warped the NFL is, in light of how softly and haphazardly the league has cracked down on players accused of abusing women.

When the Wells report was first released and Tom Brady was essentially portrayed as villain who must have at least been “generally aware” of improprieties involving the deflating of footballs for a playoff game, the consensus was that Brady’s “legacy” would be a little tainted. He’d likely be suspended, or at least face a fine. Some predicted that Brady jersey sales would plummet too.

One day after the NFL suspended Brady, however, it looks like the effect on Brady merchandise sales is just the opposite. The sports apparel specialist Fanatics.com is reporting that since Monday, when the suspension was announced, Brady gear sales are up 100%.

As of Tuesday, the site’s top-selling NFL jerseys belong to Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, the #2 and #1 pick, respectively, in the most recent NFL draft. Holding the site’s #3 spot is 37-year-old, four-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Prior to the suspension, Brady had the sixth-most gear sales on the site.

Apparently, it isn’t simply fans in New England who are scooping up Brady gear after the suspension. Fanatics.com says that fans in 22 states have purchased Brady merchandise over the past day, with Massachusetts, Florida, California, Washington, and Michigan recording the most sales.

It’s also worth noting that while the NFL may not seem to be happy with Brady of late, the official NFL Shop doesn’t seem to have a problem with him; the shop currently lists 127 Brady-related items for sale.

MONEY Odd Spending

Mother’s Day is Big Business for Everyone…Including Hooters

With Mother's Day spending expected to top $20 billion this year, here's the holiday by the numbers.

MONEY Odd Spending

People Are Paying Thousands (Even Millions!) for Phone Numbers

Phone number on napkin
Getty Images

Somebody just paid $2.2 million for a set of digits.

Over the weekend, a United Arab Emirates telecom called Du hosted an auction in Dubai, inviting customers to place bids on 70 desirable mobile phone numbers—ones that end in a string of 2s, say, or multiple 5s in a row. Apparently, some people will pay quite a pretty penny for such standout numbers.

The crown jewel of the auction, 052-2222222, began at a price of Dh250,000 (about USD$68,000), but was bid up immediately to Dh1,000,000 ($272,000), and eventually sold for the equivalent of $2.2 million in U.S. currency. “Yes, I’m going to use the number, with pride,” said the man with the winning bid, Mohamed Hilal.

While it’s unclear why anyone would feel a phone number—even a pretty cool one—is worth such a huge sum, the phenomenon is hardly limited to one specific country or culture. In 2003, a Chinese airline paid $280,000 at auction for the right to use the number 8888 8888. Many Chinese believe that 8 is a lucky number, so an eight-digit number consisting only of 8s is presumably doubly lucky—or perhaps lucky by a factor of eight.

Various versions of arguably the best-known phone number in American pop culture history, 867-5309—thanks to Tommy Tutone’s 1981 hit song—have gone up for sale over the years. One New Jersey DJ, who says he got the number 201-867-5309 simply by requesting it, and received dozens of random phone calls daily from total strangers, placed it up for online auction in 2009. The asking price was pushed up past $365,000, but apparently some of the bidders weren’t legitimate. The number sold for $186K, reportedly to an ’80s-themed fitness chain called Retrofitness.

Last week, the Washington Post reported on how services such as PhoneNumberGuy.com enable anyone to “Buy Your Own Awesome Phone Number!” Sometimes, all this means is having the “cool” area code—310 in Los Angeles, 212 in New York City, 202 in Washington D.C., and so on—rather than the newer, B-list area codes more commonly given out nowadays. Getting any old phone number with the extremely in-demand 212 area code in Manhattan will run at least $75, according to the site 212AreaCode.com.

Some businesses especially feel it’s important to have an “original” area code to be taken seriously in their city. And when a popular area code is paired with an “awesome” number that is super easy to remember (seven of a kind of all the same digits, say, or a simple pattern), or that ends with four digits that translate to a desirable word (HOME, PAIN, HURT), sales can easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Yet as the San Francisco Chronicle reported over the weekend, the FCC maintains that no one actually owns their phone numbers in the U.S.—and that selling them is illegal. “Numbers are not for sale,” an FCC spokesperson explained. “There are rules about this.”

Ed Mance, who runs the Phone Number Guy, told the Chronicle that he is simply “offering a service” that covers the “search, activation and account transfer” of a number, but that technically, no sales of phone numbers are taking place. His site’s FAQ page insists that the service is “Completely, 100% legal.”

The site lists hundreds of “Vanity” numbers, ending in four digits that spell out HEAT, CARE, SOLD, ROOF, or LIMO, for $299 and up, and at last check 14 different “Seven of a Kind” numbers are available for $17,999 to $35,000. Mance says that if a seven-of-a-kind number featuring all lucky sevens (777-7777) ever went on the market with a Las Vegas area code, that could be a true payday—summoning as much as $150,000.

MONEY money well spent

The Best $25 Gift I Ever Gave

pedicure illustration
Mark Matcho

It was just a simple pedicure, but its impact still resonates.

In 2007 there was little money could buy that distracted me from the central drama in my life: My husband was undergoing treatment for leukemia. That June my sister, Ann, drove from her home in Vermont to mine in New Jersey to entertain my 12-year-old daughter, Becky, so I could spend the weekend in Joe’s Manhattan hospital room. When I returned home, I wanted to offer a token of thanks. “Let’s get pedicures,” I said. “My treat.”

I expected Ann’s usual balking about any gift, large or small. Instead her answer caught me by surprise. “I’ve never had a pedicure,” she said.

Eureka! I drove Ann and Becky to my favorite nail salon and murmured a message to the proprietor: My sister is a pedicure virgin. Please, give her the best. After the three of us selected our polish, Ann and Becky were shown to the pedicure chairs at the back of the salon. I, meanwhile, settled on the bench, turning on my iPod to drown out my heartache as I waited for a chair.

Eventually, I noticed the owner at the cash register, and unplugged my music to go pay. That’s when I heard a familiar voice: “Oh, my God. This is heaven!” I looked down the row of chairs and there was my sister writhing in ecstasy. When I caught Ann’s eye, she shrieked my nickname. “Meus! I can’t believe how good this feels! Why didn’t anyone tell me? Oh, my… God…” There’s no other way to describe this: My baby sister was having a pedi orgasm. Her delighted cries had everyone in stitches. The staff. The clients. My daughter. And now, for the first time in months, me.

The bill for my sister’s pedicure was $25, plus tip. That modest tab would prove a gift that kept giving—for me. The following year, at age 49, Ann was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She leavened her chemo treatments with salon pedicures. Late in the summer of 2010, confined to bed, she called to say she was looking forward to her daughter giving her a pedicure. A few days later, 14 months after my husband’s death, Ann died.

Now, whenever I settle into one of the cushy chairs in my favorite nail salon, I close my eyes and hear my sister: “Meus! I can’t believe how good this feels!” Each time, every time, I smile.

Jill Smolowe is the author of the memoir Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief, and other books. Do you have a purchase you consider Money Well Spent? Email us about it and what it means to you at wellspent@moneymail.com.

MONEY Odd Spending

7 Things You Won’t Believe Were Sold for Only $1

Copies of the New York Daily News are displayed on a newsstand in New York's Times Square
Brendan McDermid—Reuters Copies of the New York Daily News are displayed on a newsstand in New York's Times Square March 31, 2015.

An offer is on the table to buy the New York Daily News for just $1, which on the surface seems mind-boggling. Bizarrely, many big-ticket items have been known to trade hands for just a buck.

As Reuters reported on Tuesday, Cablevision is preparing to make a bid for the struggling New York tabloid the Daily News. The bid is expected to be a grand total of just $1, which sounds insane until you factor in that the paper reportedly loses $30 million annually and needs an investment of $150 million in its printing press.

Here are a few other noteworthy things that have sold a for just a buck. Some are amazing deals, while others aren’t remotely bargains, even with a mere $1 asking price.

Historic Homes
Grand old homes have been known to sell for just $1, often with the catch being that the new owners must handle the cost of moving the building to a new location. In other instances, the list price of $1 is the result of the property being a fixer-upper, to put it mildly, as well as in an undesirable location.

Timeshares
Timeshares occasionally are put on the market for dirt cheap, typically by owners who want to unload the property’s costly maintenance fees. The properties are often sold for $1, though most of RedWeek’s Bargain Timeshares roundup are listed at $0.

Cars
A used car dealer in New Zealand hoped to get about $3,000 for a 1994 BMW in an online auction, but due to a mistake a customer wound up purchasing it at a Buy-It-Now price of $1. The dealer actually honored the sale price too. Meanwhile, at least one car dealership in Texas listed a few $1 mystery cars on his lot as part of a Black Friday promotion in 2013.

Flights
When $1 flights appear, travelers must act immediately and be flexible about when they can fly. For obvious reasons, deals like this are available in extremely limited quantities. Over the years, carriers such as Nature Air (in Costa Rica), TigerAir Australia, America’s Spirit Airlines, and Europe’s Ryanair have been known to sell flights for $1, or about that much in the local currency.

Newsweek
A few months after Newsweek stopped putting out a print edition in 2013, the brand was purchased by IBT Media for $1. It had previously been sold to the wealthy philanthropist and businessman Sidney Harman, also at a price of $1, plus liabilities.

Dinner
Last summer, the on-demand food delivery service Spoonrocket tried to break the Guinness World Record for largest ever virtual dinner party, and it used a $1 dinner promotion as enticement to get consumers to join in the cause. Too bad the site crashed during the PR stunt and countless people found it impossible to get their $1 dinner.

Hotels
The Public Chicago hotel periodically offers hundreds of hotel rooms at a special rate of $1 per night. How and when the rooms go on sale is something of a mystery, however, and anyone hoping to snag the deal would have to sign up for promotional emails from the hotel. In years past, the Hoxton Hotel in London has run a similar promotion, though its rooms were offered at £1.

MONEY Advertising

At Last, You Can Buy Wallpaper and Sheets with Big Macs on Them

Big Mac sheet set
courtesy of BigMacShop.se While visions of hamburgers dance in your head...

Call it fast (food) fashion. McDonald's just launched a home goods and apparel collection featuring oversized Big Macs on sheets, thermal underwear, wallpaper—even pet clothing.

Perhaps even stranger than the existence of the new Big Mac Shop collection is the fact that sales are currently limited to one country: Sweden.

The collection was introduced on Tuesday at a “McWalk” fashion show in Stockholm. The range of products includes Big Mac bedding, Big Mac thermal underwear, and Big Mac wallpaper, priced at the equivalent of about $47, $58, and $54, respectively. All items feature the same picture-perfect image of a Big Mac that you only see in ads—never in the restaurant when you buy one—repeated hypnotically over and over.

Yes, this has all the makings of an April Fools gag. But it’s not April 1 yet. And based on the reporting of AdAge and AdWeek, among others, these are indeed actual products that are actually for sale, in Sweden at least. (Alas, we tried to make a purchase on the site but were shot down with the message that delivery was not available to the U.S.)

AdWeek clarified that while the Big Mac collection wasn’t a joke, it was “part of a global day of McDonald’s hijinks” called imlovinit24 that took place earlier this week. The campaign called for 24 marketing stunts in 24 cities around the world, including a huge Big Mac jigsaw puzzle in Madrid and a tollbooth in Manila that dispensed free McDonald’s food to drivers. Profits from Big Mac Shop sales will be donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities.

At last check, bedding, thermals, and wallpaper from the collection were still available to interested Swedes, but it appears as if the collection’s rubber boots, raincoats, and dog clothing are already sold out.

MONEY Odd Spending

How Much Do Street Musicians Make? More Than You Think

Brass band, Jackson Square, French Quarter
Kylie McLaughlin—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image Brass band, Jackson Square, French Quarter

A San Francisco duo earns over $21 an hour busking on the street. But it's not quite as good a business as that number makes it seem.

Ever wonder how much people playing music on the street pull in? Speculate no longer.

Over at Priceonomics, Mark Sandusky, one half of the music duo The Dirty Little Blondes, has made his financials public. During 12.5 hours of performing, the pair made a total of $532, which works out to $21.22 per hour each.

Assuming a 40-hour work week, that’s an annual salary of $44,137. But before you quit your day job, know that even the pros can’t hit the streets and pull in that much cash every day. (And as the Sandusky notes, you’re not going to make any money if your music isn’t good.)

Sandusky has learned to pick his spots, performing on the streets of San Francisco, where the band is based, almost exclusively on Friday through Sunday and generally in the evening. The above revenue came over the course of an entire month, meaning any aspiring 9-to-5ers hoping for similar results are probably out of luck.

“It’s also not as if I can walk out on the street and make $21.22 an hour whenever I want,” the guitarist writes. “The big numbers all came between the hours of 5pm and 10pm on days before weekends or holidays. Even out of those 10 prime hours, we could only comfortably play 6 of them (3 a day) before our voices, fingers, and general energy level started to break down.”

How important is good timing? On their least lucrative Friday night, the Blondes made $98 in two hours. On their worst Monday afternoon, the group made just $3 in the same time period.

Sandusky recommends picking areas where your type of music is going to get the best reception, and cycling through multiple spots to make sure you don’t overstay your welcome. He’s not the only performer to discover the importance of location. Joshua Bell, the renowned violin soloist and conductor, tried busking in a busy Washington Metro station and was rewarded with only $32.

The Blondes‘ preferred venue? Next to a crosswalk, which grants at least 20 seconds of a captive audience.

Check out Sandusky’s entire post here.

MONEY Odd Spending

Get a Vasectomy and Have a Ball Watching March Madness

Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Michigan State Spartans to win the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City.
Elsa—Getty Images Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Michigan State Spartans to win the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City.

Yes, timing your vasectomy to coincide with the NCAA March Madness tournament is a thing.

“Get your vasectomy, then sit on the couch for 3 days watching sports–Doctors orders!”

That’s part of the pitch for the “Vas Madness” deal currently being offered by the Texas-based Urology Team. The special package costs $595 and includes an initial consultation and the surgical procedure that’ll stop you from getting anyone pregnant. But sorry sports fans, “consultations and vasectomies cannot be performed on the same day,” the promotion warns.

As bizarre as it sounds, the idea of getting snipped around the time of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is not new. Vasectomy clinics report spikes in appointments around March Madness, presumably from men who feel that there’s no better period than tourney time to recover from the briefly painful procedure. The recovery involves little more than a few days of guilt-free sitting and icing one’s nether regions. And since you’re immobile for a spell thanks to doctor’s orders, why not see if there are any good games on TV?

One year, a clinic in Cape Cod even threw in free pizza as part of its March Madness-themed vasectomy package.

The vasectomy-March Madness connection dates back at least a half-dozen years. Many people credit the seemingly odd concept to the Oregon Urology Institute, which ran a “Snip City” radio ad in the late ’00s, encouraging men to have a little “snip-snip,” followed by “doctors orders to sit back and watch nonstop basketball.”

Who are the men who time this sensitive, life-changing procedure in such a way? “They are the clever ones, the men who put some thought into when they scheduled that not-often-discussed elective surgery,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported back in 2009. “Their wives might even wait on them.”

At the time, one Cleveland-area urologist told the paper that his schedule was completely booked with vasectomies timed to coincide with March Madness. And he said he fully understood why men timed it so: “If they’re going to have a day off, it might as well be on a day when they would want to be watching basketball, as opposed to watching ‘Oprah.'”

MONEY Odd Spending

10 Supposedly Irish Things That Aren’t Remotely Irish

Green Beer
Alex Hayden—Getty Images

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, millions will be embracing all things Irish. Wait, make that faux Irish—because many St. Patrick's "traditions" have nothing to do with Ireland or Irish culture.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, millions of Americans get their Irish on and partake in all sorts of seemingly Irish practices. They sing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and drink Guinness-infused concoctions with colorful names. Heck, some even start the day off with a bowl of magically delicious Lucky Charms because, you know, there’s a leprechaun on the box and all.

We hate to it break to you, but many St. Patrick’s Day mainstays are pure Americanized nonsense, including the following:

Shamrock Shake
Let’s hope you didn’t think this fast food favorite actually had Irish roots. The artificially green, mint-flavored McDonald’s Shamrock Shake first appeared in 1970—in the U.S., of course—and it’s been a periodic limited-time-only menu cult hit every year around St. Patrick’s Day ever since. For a brief time in the mid-1970s, McDonald’s used an obese furry green character named Uncle O’Grimacey, who looks like a mix between Grimace and Oscar the Grouch, to promote the Shamrock Shake. The 550-calorie product wasn’t available nationally until 2012, and McDonald’s Ireland lists the Shamrock Shake as “NEW” on its menu.

Killian’s Irish Red
Like a few other seemingly imported beers that are actually made in the U.S.A., Killian’s Irish Red ale has been brewed exclusively in America for decades. Coors purchased the name in 1980, and the suds are made in factories in Colorado.

Lucky Charms
Um, no. Despite this cereal’s magically delicious leprechaun mascot and his over-the-top brogue, Lucky Charms is made by the giant Minneapolis-based food manufacturer General Mills and has nothing to do with Ireland or Irish culture. The traditional Irish breakfast has sausages, pudding, eggs, browned bread, and cooked tomatoes, not colored marshmallows.

Female Leprechauns
If you run into a woman in a leprechaun costume—sexy or otherwise—on St. Patrick’s Day, be aware that she probably isn’t the genuine article. She probably has no pot ‘o gold either. Shocking, right? According to A History of Irish Fairies by Carolyn White, there is no record of lady leprechauns, which makes you wonder how these tiny figures procreate. Leprechauns are known to be quite clever, but still. Also mind-boggling: Before Friends, Jennifer Aniston’s career in Hollywood truly began with her role in the low-budget 1993 horror film Leprechaun. (She wasn’t a leprechaun though—that would be ridiculous.)

“When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”
The beloved tune, memorably recorded by Bing Crosby among others, is often categorized as a traditional Irish folk song. In fact, it was written and composed by a trio of thoroughly American New Yorkers who were professional songwriters, for an extremely short-lived 1913 Broadway show called The Isle O’ Dreams.

Black Velvet
Don’t order this fancy cocktail concoction at a pub in Ireland if you want to make friends. Half Guinness Stout and half champagne, the black velvet was invented in the mid-nineteenth century not in Dublin or anywhere in Ireland but in London—as a tribute to the British royals no less. Specifically, the black velvet was created as an appropriately dark, mournful way to honor Prince Albert’s passing away in 1861. Oh, and that late ’80s hit song “Black Velvet”? It doesn’t have anything to do with Ireland either; it was written by Canadians and performed by Alannah Myles, also Canadian.

Irish Car Bomb
Car bombs were one of the weapons of choice used for decades during the Troubles of Northern Ireland, when thousands were killed. The term would never be used in Ireland as punchline, or as the provocative name of a cocktail, as it is in American bars, where a “car bomb” is a shot of Irish whiskey and Irish cream that’s dropped into a half-filled glass of Guinness.

Bennigan’s, Beef O’Brady’s, Tilted Kilt
None of these Irish- or Celtic-themed American bar-and-grill chains have origins in Ireland or are authentic to Irish pubs and cuisine. These restaurant concepts were born in Georgia, Florida, and Las Vegas, respectively, and none has locations in Ireland.

“St. Patty’s Day”
It’s still commonplace for the shortened version of the holiday to be spelled this way in America. However, spelling it so can get some people seriously fired up because in Ireland, “Patty” is short for Patricia, not Patrick. The true Irish spelling of “Patrick” is Pádraig, so the only way to shorten it is Paddy. One Irishman living in Canada went so far as to create the website PaddyNotPatty.com to hammer home that it should always be PADDY. How upset do the authentically Irish get when they see “Patty” used in place of Patrick? “It’s “like nails on a chalkboard,” the site explains. “It gnaws at them. It riles them up. It makes them want to fight… you know, more than usual.”

Green Beer
The Irish don’t bother with this foolish malarkey. As one Irish ex-pat living in America explained it when being interrogated about real St. Patrick’s Day customs back home, “If you dyed beer green in Ireland, they’d punch you.”

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