MONEY Buying a House

Best Dessert Contest Has $390K California Home as the Prize

Grand Prize home from
courtesy With a $100 entry fee and a great dessert recipe, this 1906 Craftsman home in California could be yours.

Winning sure would be sweet.

Inspired by a recent contest that featured a Maine B&B as the prize for writing the best essay, a realtor in northern California has decided to cook up a contest of her own.

Instead of an essay, however, the contest will be determined by who submits the best dessert recipe. And the prize will be a 1906 four-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2,267-square-foot Craftsman home in Jackson, Calif. It was purchased last fall for $239,000, and after an extensive renovation is currently valued at $390,000.

The details of the unusual arrangement are spelled out at Submissions must include (of course) an original dessert recipe, along with a $100 entry fee, payable only by cashier’s check or money order.

Erin Allard, the 26-year-old real estate agent at Rockford Investments who came up with the contest idea, told the Contra Costa Times that she is “deeply passionate about improving housing,” and apparently also quite passionate about baking and desserts. The “Jackson market is small and rural, it typically takes many months to sell a home,” she said of her motivations to award the home as a contest prize. “I figured if I was going to have to wait awhile, I wanted to do something fun to ‘sell’ the house in the meantime.”

Speaking with the Daily Mail Online, Allard explained that the judge’s panel will consist of pastry chefs, food bloggers, and home bakers, who will give each dessert submission up to 100 points based on how unique it is, as well as accessibility, creativity, crowd appeal, and the clarity of the instructions. “I weighted ‘inspirational’ and ‘accessible’ more strongly to encourage entries that would be easy and fun to make for chefs of all experience levels,” said Allard.

There’s more than one reason Allard’s real estate company wants to encourage as many entries as possible. The publicity can only help the fledgling business along. What’s more, it’s not like the home is simply being given away. The more entries, the more entry fees are collected. The Maine inn contest planned on getting 7,500 submissions at $125 apiece, which would total $900,000. It’s conceivable that by the time submissions for the California home contest are cut off on September 7, Rockford Investments could collect more in entry fees than the home is worth.

MONEY Housing Market

Watch: This $40,000 Film Was Made Solely to Sell a House

film director and movie camera on cherry picker
Phil Hunt—Getty Images

Realtor video has bigger budget than some hit indie films.

Have you seen “9133 Oriole Way” yet? It’s a new independent film that was made in L.A. While only 4 minutes and 39 seconds long, it was put together with an impressive budget of more than $40,000, which surpasses how much it cost to make legendary full-length feature films like “Paranormal Activity” and “The Blair Witch Project.”

What really makes “9133 Oriole Way” stand out, however, is the reason it was created—not to entertain the masses, but to sell a home.

The address of the home in question is, of course 9133 Oriole Way, in West Hollywood, and the “lifestyle film” showing off the property was paid for by Williams & Williams, the real estate agency that specializes in “the most high-end properties from the Hollywood Hills to Malibu,” and works with “the cities [sic] biggest A-level actors, athletes, entertainment professionals and Fortune 100 executives.” (Apparently, they don’t work with a copy editor.)

“Regular marketing doesn’t work anymore. We’re appealing to a more sophisticated and savvy group of buyers,” Rayni Williams, of William & Williams, said to the Los Angeles Times, in explanation for why the agency made the film. “We’re taking it to a whole other level.”

According to the LA Times, Williams & Williams spent months finding a director, cast, and crew to make the promotional video. The result is something far beyond a lame slideshow or some kind of video version of the standard still photos showing off a home on a realtor website. While the entire video is set to music (“My House” by Flo Rida) and there is no dialogue, there is something of a plot, in which a handsome hotshot tears out of the home in a Corvette, leaving behind a gorgeous woman who decides to invite over four more gorgeous women to enjoy the property to its fullest. They’re seen lounging by the pool in skimpy bikinis and clinking glasses in the wine cellar in between slow crawling shots showing off the home’s massage room, fitness center, views of downtown, and other selling features.

Why would Williams & Williams fork over $40,000 to show the property off in such extravagant fashion? Well, the agency stands to take in over $1 million if and when it sells the 12,530-square-foot home, which is located in the hills near homes owned by Leonardo DiCaprio and Keanu Reeves and is listed at a cool $33 million. Watch on, and let the realtors know if you’re inspired enough to put in a bid.

MONEY Odd Spending

How to Get the Biggest Fireworks Bang for Your Buck

Try a combo pack.

fireworks in the backyard
National Geographic Image Collection—Alamy

Last year for the first time, Americans spent more than $1 billion on fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. The bulk of those purchases—$695 million—went to backyard displays (commercial events accounted for the rest).

If past trends are any indication, this year we’re on track to shoot off even more Roman Candles, Brocades, Peonies, and other exploding shells—not least of all because the Fourth falls on a weekend.

Fireworks vendors say that you can put on a nice DIY display for between $100 and $300. But to get the most bang for your buck (sorry—couldn’t help it), William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, the country’s largest pyrotechnics retailer, suggests buying assortment packages. Containing multiple shells in different colors and patterns, they cost from $50 to $1,500. One of Phantom’s most popular, the Legion of Fire ($200), contains 9 shots and lasts for 51 seconds. (See it in action here.)

Check out this gallery of some of the most popular firework effects. You can get the whole shebang (sorry—did it again!) for less than $100.

  • Peony

    Doug Steakley—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

    The most common fireworks effect: a sphere that dissolves into colored stars ($25).

  • Chrysanthemum

    Zolt Levay—Getty Images/Flickr Flash

    A round burst that leaves a visible trail of light ($17 for 16 shots).

  • Dahlia

    Jeff Hunter—Getty Images

    Like a peony, but with fewer and larger stars. In this shot, it’s the blue burst at the top left ($25).

  • Palm Tree

    courtesy Phantom Fireworks Palm Tree

    A rising trunk, followed by fanned-out “fronds” ($10 and up, usually sold in combination packages).

MONEY Donald Trump

Donald Trump Piñatas Are a Hit In Mexico

A Mexican client who lives in the U.S., looks at a pinata depicting U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hanging outside a workshop in Reynosa, Mexico, June 23, 2015. Days after billionaire Trump accused Mexico of sending criminals to live in the United States, a Mexican artisan has given angry Mexicans an outlet-- a Trump pinata they can stuff with candy and beat with a stick. In the Mexican border city of Reynosa, Dalton Ramirez works at his family's pinata shop where they create a variety of paper mache figures to be filled with treats and broken open with sticks on birthdays and holidays.
Daniel Becerril—Reuters A Donald Trump piñata.

"This pinata especially is the one everyone wants to break."

Mexicans have found a way to hit back at Donald Trump. Literally.

Reuters reports that piñatas bearing Trump’s likeness, including “a flange of blonde hair and a big mouth,” have hit store shelves in Mexico and are proving popular among customers eager to protest the billionaire’s recent remarks against immigrants.

Trump, who is a Republican candidate for president, drew criticism after declaring in his campaign announcement speech that Mexican migrants were bringing “drugs, crime, and rapists” to the United States. He later called his comments “100 percent correct,” but insisted he was a strong supporter of Mexicans. “How can I not love people who give me many millions of dollars for apartments?” Trump said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Donald’s comments prompted piñata maker Dalton Remirez to design an extremely bashable piñata bearing Trump’s visage. The candy-filled sculpture retails for about $40, and Ramirez says it has been flying off shelves. “This piñata especially is the one everyone wants to break,” the artist told Reuters.

Read next: 8 Epic Business Failures with Donald Trump’s Name on Them

MONEY Odd Spending

Disney World Is Now Selling ‘Poo’ in Giraffe, Hippo Flavors

girl with licking chocolate off her face
Getty Images

$3.99 a pop—or is it $3.99 a poop?

People will buy pretty much anything. Nowhere is this truism more on display than Walt Disney World, a.k.a. the “Most Magical Place on Earth,” a.k.a. home of the $100+ one-day admission fee.

The latest magic trick being pulled by the world’s most famous theme park destination is convincing guests that they want to buy and eat animal “poo.” At Zuri’s Sweet Shop, appropriately located in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, customers get to choose among four flavors: elephant, hippo, giraffe, and tamarin. In more ways than one: No B.S.!

As the Orlando Sentinel reported, they’re of course not actual steaming piles of manure but chocolate, brownie, and fudge creations. An order of “giraffe” indeed looks like scat—a pile of mushy dark brown balls—but it’s made of chocolate fudge and caramel. “Hippo” consists of chocolate fudge, caramel brownie, peanut butter, and oats.

The gimmick and instant conversation piece is called “Match the Species,” and customers are encouraged to make a game of guessing which faux dung belongs to which kind of animal. “The animal handlers of Disney’s Animal Kingdom worked in conjunction with pastry chefs so that they perfected the look of the animal poop exactly,” the Kim and Carrie blog explained, after sampling Giraffe soon after the items made their debut in mid-June.

The sweet shop doesn’t list the items explicitly as poop or dung. But on customer receipts, your order will be spelled out as, say, “Poo, Giraffe.” Each order costs $3.99. After grabbing a bite, it’s probably appropriate to hit the souvenir shop, where you’ll find lots more crap to buy.


1 Totally Common Shopping Habit That’s Wrecking Your Budget

tearing money
Jon Schulte—Getty Images

Why you cave instead of save

Like to take your time browsing in the store? Watch out: Time is money, as they say, and the longer you’ve spent shopping in a store, the more it could be costing you money. A new study finds that you’re more likely to spend money on unplanned splurges as your shopping trip progresses, even if you’re really just intending to buy the stuff you came for in the first place.

“The unplanned selection may cue other forgotten needs,” writes lead author and University of Notre Dame associate marketing professor Timothy Gilbride in a new Journal of Marketing study. Basically, buying one thing you weren’t planning on getting makes you remember all of the other things you might have needed but didn’t put on your list, so that first impulse item you pick up opens the floodgates.

In experiments with 400 supermarket shoppers equipped with handheld scanners to record what they put into their carts — and in what order — Gilbride and his fellow authors found that the likelihood you’ll splurge on an unintended purchase is almost 10% higher at the end of a shopping trip.

“There is support for the cumulative effect of shopping cues and/or [self-control] resource depletion toward the end of the shopping trip,” he says.

One thing that might help save your wallet is having a tighter budget. The researchers found that penny-pinchers were less susceptible to the siren song of impulse purchases. For subjects with budgets of less than $64, that first unplanned purchase helped deter them from putting an unplanned purchase into their cart next, although — be warned — Gilbride and his team find that buffer fades by the end of the shopping trip. And for freer-spending consumers — those with budgets between $64 and $109 — the action of purchasing new goodies feeds on itself, and one impulse buy is likely to be followed by more of the same.

“An unplanned selection increases the probability that the next selection will also be unplanned, and this effect grows stronger over the course of the trip,” Gilbride says.

Interestingly, shoppers who budgeted more than $109 per trip didn’t really seem to be affected, either; Gilbride theorizes this is just because they don’t really have to think and plan as much in advance when it comes to their shopping budgets, so there’s less of a distinction between what’s on their list and what they just throw in the cart when it catches their eye.

To avoid sticker shock when the cashier rings you up, try avoiding promotions for items you hadn’t planned to buy, like free samples, that are located in the back or in the more far-flung corners of the store you’re likely to visit later in the trip. Having an idea of your maximum budget in mind when you enter the store can also help. “Making and monitoring a mental budget (or using a shopping app) for unplanned purchases during a shopping trip provides the shopper flexibility… while avoiding an unexpectedly large overall expense,” Gilbride says.

MONEY freebies

Behold the Ultimate Free Donut Road Trip Challenge

The path to seven free donuts, as well as eternal glory, awaits.

Friday, June 5, is when the annual, much anticipated National Donut Day giveaways are hosted around the country. This year, no fewer than eight donut chains and convenience stores are participating, bringing free donuts and joy to the masses. The tragedy, though, is that the typical National Donut Day beneficiary probably gets only one or two free donuts on this day. That’s hardly maximizing one’s potential for complimentary Boston Crèmes, jellies, glazed, and such.

Because the locations of some of the participating players are limited to specific regions of the country, without the aid of a private jet it’s basically impossible for any individual to take advantage of every donut giveaway under the sun on Friday. How sad. But after spending far too much time examining giveaway locations and seeing where they overlap, we—OK, I, since nobody else at or would waste several hours on such nonsense—created the Ultimate Free Donut Road Trip Challenge itinerary.

Intrigued? Here are some key numbers for the challenge to get your salivary glands pumping even harder.

Free donuts collected: At least 7

Miles driven: About 250

Calories consumed: If you care, this isn’t the trip for you

Bragging rights and/or shame upon completion: Priceless

Before jumping into the turn-by-turn particulars, let’s get a few “Experts Only! Do Not Try This At Home” sorta things out of the way. This road trip is not advisable in any nutritional, environmental, intellectual, or fiscal sense. It is an exercise in gluttonous non-exercise. The amount of money you’ll spend on gas and tolls on this trip, not to mention Pepto Bismol during the recovery process, could easily cover the costs of simply buying a dozen donuts—heck, probably three dozen—which you could scarf down quietly in the privacy of your basement.

There are also crafty ways to get loads of free donuts that require less time and effort. Those with a flexible sense of ethics could probably hit up the same donut shop several times in the course of the day and snag a freebie each time, perhaps with the assistance of a fake mustache here and there. Or, in regions that are teeming with Dunkin Donuts or Krispy Kremes, you could swing by and grab a free donut at each different location. Such tactics are antithetical to the spirit of National Donut Day freebies.

Still, in pretty much every way, it is unquestionably stupid to embark on a trip like this. And yet all logic and practicality pales in comparison to FREE DONUTS. Seven of them!

Without further adieu, here’s our suggested itinerary for the ultimate National Donut Day free donut road trip. It’s not for the meek, the weak, or the remotely sensible.

Donut #1: Greenwood Lake, NY
Cumberland Farms, the convenience store chain with locations throughout the Northeast and Florida, is giving away donuts with the purchase of a coffee or another beverage in newly remodeled stores like this one, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Friday. Best to get there early, like pre-dawn. You’ve got a long day ahead, with many miles, and many donuts, to go before you sleep. (Alternate start locations are possible at a cluster of new-concept Cumberland Farm locations around New Haven, CT, off of I-95.)

Donut #2: New York, NY
Entenmann’s is hosting a huge donut giveaway on Friday in New York City, as well as smaller freebie events in select spots around the country, including Boston, Buffalo, and Chicago. Free donuts and coffee are being handed out from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Manhattan’s Madison Square Park. Our advice is to get in and out of the city as early as possible to avoid the worst of rush hour(s) traffic.

Donut #3: New York, NY
Use this Tim Hortons coupon at the coffee shop location of your choice in Manhattan—there’s one on E. 34th St. and a few around Penn Station, not far from the Entenmann’s giveaway. Technically, the coupon, good for a chocolate hazelnut donut filled with Nutella, doesn’t have to be used on Friday. It’s valid all the way through August 30. But the judges have ruled that doing so would disqualify you from the one-day free donut challenge. [UPDATE: Tim Hortons will also have a separate offer just for National Donut Day, in which each customer can get a free donut with any purchase. The details will be on the company’s Facebook page on Friday.]

Donut #4: Red Bank, NJ
The overall itinerary calls for a drive down the Jersey Shore before looping across to Philadelphia, and there are a bajillion Dunkin Donuts along the way. A stop at the DD in Red Bank sounds about right. Purchase any beverage, and the donut of your choice is free on Friday.

Donut #5: Ocean City, NJ
Take your pick of two Ocean City locations of the Fractured Prune donut specialty chain for a free OC Sand donut (honey glaze with cinnamon sugar), no purchase required.

Donut #6: Collingswood, NJ
Before crossing over the Delaware into Philly, make a pit stop at the Krispy Kreme in Collingswood for your fifth freebie of the day. Any flavor donut goes, no purchase necessary

Donut #7: Philadelphia, PA
It’s not just donut sellers getting in on the National Donut Day action. Jiffy Lube locations in the greater Philadelphia area are providing complimentary tire air pressure checks, as well as complimentary donuts all day on Friday. Try not to boast too much about your magical donut mystery tour to the chumps sitting around wait for their oil to be changed, while they enjoy a grand total of one measly free donut.

And hey, you’re in Philly. Once the donut mission is complete, you might as well grab a cheesesteak or something.

MONEY Buying a House

House Bidding War Won With Promise of Free Pizza

Free pizza? Now that's how you sweeten up an offer.

In a bidding war for a house, the highest bidder doesn’t always win. Bids are often accompanied by letters intended to sway the seller, and some real estate agents swear there’s an art to writing a heartfelt personal letter about why you’re the right buyer for the home in question. While this tactic might seem cheesy or manipulative, it sometimes does the trick.

In the ultra-hot home market that is Portland, Ore., where homes are selling 15% quicker than they were a year ago and where it’s not unheard of for buyers to offer $100,000 over asking price, a nice letter probably isn’t going to cut it. But in one recent instance, it looks like adding a personal, very unusual touch to the bid for a home pushed the offer over the edge.

As the Oregonian reported, over Memorial Day weekend 23-year-old Johnny Barrett was intrigued with a home in southeast Portland listed for $249,000, but he assumed that there would be a bidding war and the property would sell for far over asking price. Nonetheless, he put in an offer. It was no ordinary offer: At the suggestion of his real estate agent, he sweetened his bid quite literally with a promise of free pizza for life to the seller. Barrett, you see, is part of the family that owns DeNicola’s Italian Restaurant, a local eatery where he works as a cook.

“This is the first offer I’ve written in free pizza,” the agent, Mindy Shierk of A Group Real Estate, said. “We thought, ‘We’ll try, let’s see.'”

The offer enticed the sellers to bite, in more ways than one. Once the sale is final they’ll be indefinitely entitled to one free pizza per month at DeNicola’s. Guess this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Sellers in Portland may have come to expect two or three dozen offers on homes, many of them over asking price. But it’s a safe bet that not too many offers come with free pizza for life.

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 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. 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.

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