MONEY health

5 Celebrity-Endorsed Health Tips That Are Total Wastes of Money

News flash: Gwyneth Paltrow, Miley Cyrus, and Katy Perry are not health experts.

Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? That’s the big question (and title) of a new book from Timothy Caulfield, a professor of law and health policy at the University of Alberta.

The book’s subtitle—How the Famous Sell Us Elixirs of Health, Beauty & Happiness—gets right to the meat of the matter in Caulfield’s research. Namely, that while celebrities are great at selling us all sorts of products, there is no evidence whatsoever to back up the claims of many of the trendy health products and practices endorsed explicitly or implicitly by the likes of Paltrow and her famous peers.

Caulfield actually loves celebrities and is fascinated by celebrity culture. He also understands that given the way celebrities affect how we dress, what we buy, and what we watch, it’s natural for them to have an outsized influence on what we eat and how we take care of our bodies.

Still, he feels it’s unwise, to put it mildly, for you to blindly follow their leads when your health—and often, a decent chunk of your disposable income—is on the line. Here’s a look at a handful of widely endorsed health ideas that Caulfield says are total bunk.

  • Vitamin Supplements

    Katy Perry
    @katyperry via Twitter In 2013, Katy Perry Tweeted this picture showing the supplements she takes.

    “The supplement market is a billion-dollar industry,” says Caulfield. “It’s a huge part of the diet and fitness world.” And yet, Caulfied says, there’s “very little evidence” to support the idea that people with healthy diets should be taking daily supplements of any kind, let alone taking them by the bag-full like singer Katy Perry apparently does. “No one [trustworthy] believes that taking mega doses of supplements is a good idea,” Caulfield says. “There is zero proof that mega doses improve health.”

    As for the idea that some supplements will make your sex life better or improve your IQ, let’s hope you never believed them in the first place. The morale is: Save your money. Don’t take supplements unless they’re specifically recommended by your doctor.

  • Detoxes and Cleanses

    Gwyneth Paltrow attends the goop pop Dallas Launch Party in Highland Park Village on November 20, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.
    Layne Murdoch Jr.—Getty Images for goop Gwyneth Paltrow, seen at a goop event in Texas, is a big believer in detoxes and cleanses.

    To rid the body of “toxins,” many health gurus are proponents of various detoxification plans, which typically come down to fasting and avoiding certain foods. It would seem like such a process would cost next to nothing. In fact, the detoxes and cleanses suggested by the Gwyneth Paltrow lifestyle site Goop often include rare (and very expensive) ingredients—to the extent that Shape magazine felt compelled to round up a list of cheaper alternatives to the Goop detox recipes. Meanwhile, the cost of 21-day cleanses that require little or no cooking might easily run $400 to $500.

    The real problem, according to Caulfield, is that the body is constantly undergoing a natural cleansing process that doesn’t cost a penny. “The organs in the body do this for us. When you pee, you detox,” he says. Most importantly, “There is no evidence to support the idea that we should detox and cleanse. It’s bogus.” In his book, Caulfield offers an alternative cleanse, which he hopes readers will take to heart: “Cleanse your system of all the pseudo-science babble that flows from many celebrities, celebrity physicians and the diet industry.”

  • Spot Reduction

    U.S. first lady Michelle Obama flexes her arms in response to a joke about her habit of wearing sleeveless dresses during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington May 9, 2009.
    Jonathan Ernst—Reuters There are plenty of myths about how to attain toned arms like U.S. first lady Michelle Obama.

    Women are constantly bombarded with celebrity trainers and assorted other “experts” offering advice about to get the flat stomach of Jessica Alba, the rock-hard arms of First Lady Michelle Obama, and the booty of Kim K or Jennifer Lopez. Often, the suggestions call for exercises that focus on one particular part of the body. Yet the commonly accepted concept of “spot reduction”—losing fat in one specific area through targeted workouts—is nonsense, according to Caulfield.

    “You can’t reduce fat on one part of the body,” he says, no matter how much time, effort, and (possibly) money you devote focused to that specific part. “The way to have skinny arms, or to tighten your tummy, is to have low body fat” overall. Likewise, a comprehensive, full-body approach to exercise is healthiest. And sorry, there’s no exercise in the world that will give you longer legs.

  • Water

    Jennifer Aniston stars in her new 'Smartwater' advert in Los Angeles. The 44 year old is pictured sitting in bed holding on to a 'smartwater' bottle. The new billboard campaign reads 'inspired by the clouds'.
    Splash News—Corbis Jennifer Aniston, shown here on a billboard in Los Angeles, is a longtime endorser of Coca-Cola-owned Smartwater.

    Before jumping to conclusions, let’s state explicitly: Caulfield believes that there is nothing better in the world for people to drink than water. “Water should be your go-to drink, hands down,” he says. Still, Caulfield points out that there is nothing scientific about the widely accepted concept that we must drink eight cups of water per day. Drinking lots of water won’t reduce wrinkles or make your skin glow either.

    “Just drink when you’re thirsty,” and you’ll be fine, says Caulfield.

    If that’s all there is to it, then why is the eight cups myth still being circulated? Caulfield thinks the bottled water companies have a lot to do with it. Bottled water has been called the “marketing trick of the century,” in that it costs 2,000 times more than a nearly identical product that comes out of the tap in your home. Americans spend roughly $12 billion annually on bottled water, and some of the biggest markups are for water brands endorsed by celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, who has long been tied to Coca-Cola-owned smartwater.

  • Gluten-Free Diets

    Miley Cyrus at the Costume Institute Benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate the opening of "China: Through the Looking Glass,” New York, NY, May 04, 2015
    Clint Spaulding—PatrickMcMullan.com via AP Images Miley Cyrus once Tweeted of her decision to go gluten-free: "The change in your skin, phyisical (sic) and mental health is amazing! U won't go back!"

    “The change in your skin, phyisical (sic) and mental health is amazing! U won’t go back!” Miley Cyrus Tweeted back in 2012. She was writing about switching to a gluten-free diet, and she was responding to critics who accused her of having an eating disorder. “For everyone calling me anorexic I have a gluten and lactose allergy,” she wrote in another Tweet. “It’s not about weight it’s about health. Gluten is crapppp anyway!”

    Caulfield begs to differ. “It’s fair to say that there is absolutely no evidence that going gluten-free is healthier,” he says. “There is no evidence that it’s a good weight-loss strategy” either, according to Caulfield. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, and rye. But less than 1% of the population has celiac disease, whereas some 30% of U.S. adults in a recent survey said that they’re trying to embrace a gluten-free diet. Caulfield assumes that a large portion of those going gluten-free believe that they have a sensitivity to gluten, or they perceive such a diet to be healthier. In fact, there are plenty of fast food menu items, donuts, cookies, and junk food snacks that have been slapped with the gluten-free label in order to jump on the fad, and they are certainly not healthy.

    Caulfield says that his truth talking about gluten generates more hate mail than any other subject he tackles. “Some people go gluten-free or all-organic as a form of self-expression,” he says. By questioning their motivations, and the science (or lack thereof) behind their decisions, he is essentially questioning who these people are as individuals. So it’s no wonder people take offense. But it doesn’t make them right about what is and isn’t healthy.

MONEY Shopping

Why Costco May Never Raise Prices on $4.99 Chickens, $1.50 Hot Dogs

A Costco butcher spreads out roasted chicken at Costco in Mountain View, California.
Paul Sakuma—AP

Price points are untouchable.

This week, Costco chief financial officer Richard Galanti was asked a deep, open-ended question in an earnings call with analysts. “What is your philosophy on chickens?” asked Meredith Adler, of Barclays.

Rather than prompting a chicken-or-egg discussion—a subject debated for centuries, dating back to the ancient Greek philosophers—the query was more rotisserie in nature. Specifically, Adler was wondering about Costco’s cooked, takeout rotisserie chickens, which have been priced at $4.99 since ancient Greek times, or at least as far back as we can remember. What’s puzzling to some is that rotisserie chickens cost less than uncooked chicken, and that Costco has consistently decided against raising prices on the item even though it easily could.

“I can only tell you what history has shown us: When others were raising their chicken prices from $4.99 to $5.99, we were willing to eat, if you will, $30 to $40 million a year in gross margin by keeping it at $4.99,” Galanti said, as reported in the Seattle Times. “That’s what we do for a living.”

This is hardly the first time Costco’s “cheap rotisserie chicken strategy” has been called into question. In another call with analysts in October 2013, Galanti gave essentially the same explanation for sticking with the $4.99 price point. “That’s us,” Galanti said. “That’s what we do.”

Costco sold an estimated 60 million rotisserie chickens in 2013, and 76 million of the birds in 2014. Obviously, it could take in tens of millions dollars more in profits by raising prices on the chickens, which many would see as bargains even if they were $1 or so more expensive. So what’s holding Costco back?

In a nutshell, it’s Costco’s business philosophy that holds prices in check. The warehouse member club giant is stubbornly consistent about the $4.99 price of rotisserie chickens, just as it’s stubborn about its jumbo hot dog and drink deal—which has remained set at $1.50 since the mid-1980s.

Costco reportedly sells more than four times the number of hot dogs sold at all Major League Baseball stadiums combined each year. According to a 2012 documentary on Costco, the chain sells in excess of 300 million hot dogs, pizza slices, and other ready-to-eat items annually.

Again, the company could easily make more on these items by raising prices. But it decides not to, because they are proven to drive traffic into stores. Costco locations generally aren’t as convenient as the neighborhood supermarket or strip mall, so the retailer uses cheap ready-to-eat foods as an excuse for members to pop in on a regular, perhaps even daily, basis. Likewise, warehouse clubs like Costco keep prices for milk and gas especially low because, unlike most other things sold at these stores, consumers need them once a week or so.

By maintaining bargain prices on hot dogs, rotisserie chickens, milk, and such, Costco exponentially increases foot traffic in stores. It also helps shoppers justify the cost of their annual memberships. And, while the hungry shopper is swinging by for a quick, cheap bite or because it’s 5 p.m. and he needs to grab a $4.99 chicken for the family dinner that night, he just might be tempted on the spur of the moment into buying a new TV, or grass seed, or vitamins, or a coffee maker, or any number of other items lining Costco’s aisles.

This is why Costco’s ready-to-eat foods are dirt cheap, and this is why they’ll remain dirt cheap for the foreseeable future.

MONEY Shopping

The Best (and Worst) Dollar Store Deals

Dollar Tree Inc. dollar store in Shelbyville, Kentucky, U.S.
Luke Sharrett—Bloomberg via Getty Images Dollar Tree Inc. dollar store in Shelbyville, Kentucky, U.S.

Skip the bottled water.

Believe it or not, dollar stores have been around since at least 1955 when Dollar General opened its first one in Springfield, Kentucky.

Granted, a dollar went a lot further back then — equivalent to almost $9 today. Even so, that inflation has done very little to reduce the size of my local dollar store’s qualifying inventory; it carries so many products — including a limited selection of fresh produce — that I’m certain I’d get along just fine if it were the only store in town.

So, just how big are those dollar store bargains? Well, to find out, I recently took a little shopping trip and compared the prices of items found at my local dollar store to similar items at the local Walmart, Rite Aid pharmacy, and Albertsons supermarket.

The Best Dollar Store Deals

Razor blades. Any man who uses a traditional razor will tell you that replacement blades are not cheap — and just as my last dollar store survey discovered in 2010 — the comparison didn’t result in a close shave this time either. Here’s the catch: The dollar store only sold an off-brand. The name-brand blades at Walmart, Rite Aid and Albertsons are about seven times more expensive.

Toilet Paper. On an equivalent per-roll basis, the dollar store rolled over the competition — especially when you consider that runner-up Rite Aid was more than twice as expensive.

Batteries. Don’t be fooled by claims that dollar stores sell inferior poor-performing carbon zinc batteries. Mine had plenty of higher-quality alkalines on the shelf. And they were half the cost of those sold by my local grocer, which also happened to be its closest competitor.

Bananas. My local dollar store doesn’t sell a lot of produce, but what they had seemed reasonably prices. In fact, their bananas were cheaper than the ones being sold at both Walmart and, most surprisingly, my local grocery store.

Baby Shampoo. The dollar store baby shampoo was almost half the price of similar generic shampoo being sold at Walmart. The disparity was even greater compared to Rite Aid and my local supermarket.

The Worst Dollar Store Deals

Chili powder. The conventional wisdom is that when it comes to price, dollar store spices can’t be beat. This survey turns that train of thought upside down — just as it did in 2010 — as Walmart once again had chili powder on sale for less than half the dollar store price. Talk about a spicy deal!

Bottled Water. If you’re a bottled water drinker, you’re better off buying at Walmart, which was offering it for 12% less than the dollar store.

As you can see, in most cases the dollar store did indeed offer the best deals. Here are the results of all 12 items I surveyed:

Dollar Store 2015

Summing it all up, I’d say the most surprising thing to be learned from my little shopping experiment is that not everything at your local dollar store is a bargain — so you have to be a little bit careful. On the other hand, if you aren’t afraid to purchase off-brands, there are lots of really great deals there — especially when it come to razor blades.

More From Len Penzo dot COM:

Len Penzo blogs at lenpenzo.com, “the off-beat personal finance blog for responsible people”.

MONEY Autos

A Pop-Up Tesla Store Just Started Its US Tour

Tesla Model S
Tesla Motors Tesla Model S

First top: Santa Barbara

Electric-car maker Tesla Motors TESLA MOTORS INC. TSLA 3.8% is already known for its unique approach to selling its cars, bypassing dealerships and instead selling its vehicles directly to consumers in company-owned retail locations in upscale shopping areas. But it wants to push the boundaries of what consumers are accustomed to in the auto retail experience even further. Showing off the flexibility of Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model, the electric-car maker is meeting customers at popular summer locations with a touring, full-fledged store experience — a feat auto dealers may have difficulty matching.

Tesla’s mobile store
When transported, Tesla’s new mobile store fits on a single flatbed truck and is about the size of four shipping containers sitting side by side. Once expanded and transformed, the store is about 20 feet deep and 34.5 feet wide.

“Designed in-house, the shipping container arrives and unfolds to double its size in just a few hours,” Tesla said in a media release. “The mobility and convenience of the design allows Tesla to bring our unique retail approach to customers in new locations where we do not yet have a brick-and-mortar location.”

The store will highlight Model S components, including the Model S’s electric powertrain and battery architecture. People visiting the store will be able to “learn about electric driving with enticing visuals and interactive displays,” as well as to test-drive the Model S.

Just in time for the busy Memorial Day weekend shopping, Tesla’s mobile container store landed in Santa Barbara, California, today, and will have its public grand opening tomorrow. After finishing up the month in Santa Barbara, Tesla will then transport its mobile store to its next stop in the Hamptons.

As Twitter user @TonyJGiannini pointed out, Tesla’s mobile store is already touring in Europe. Mostly slipping under the radar in the media, the pop-up store made an appearance in England at the Bluewater shopping center in November and December.

There are three of these mobile stores in Europe and one in the U.S. The three in Europe are currently in Denmark, France, and Switzerland. Going forward, Tesla could very well expand its investment in these stores, Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson told The Motley Fool.

Tesla’s secret weapon?
During Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CEO Elon Musk said the company had “a secret weapon on the demand side that we’ll probably start to deploy later this year for demand generation,” adding that it could be a “good weapon against the dealers.”

Is this unique touring retail experience the company’s “secret weapon”? It’s quite possible.

It would be difficult for traditional automakers to set up similar direct-to-consumer pop-up shops to sell their vehicles. Doing so would likely require the vehicle manufacturer to refer visitors to nearby dealers for test drives and sales, in order not to interfere with the local dealer network. Dealers, too, could have trouble matching Tesla’s mobile store. They probably wouldn’t want to set up shop far from their dealership, since the majority of dealer profits come from servicing cars — not auto sales.

There’s good reason to believe Tesla’s investment in mobile stores is likely to pay off handsomely

First, Tesla’s demand is arguably limited by the company’s small retail footprint. So, every additional store is important.

Not spending a dime on advertising, Tesla relies heavily on its limited yet fast-growing retail locations for sales. Touring its mobile stores in high-foot-traffic locations could help Tesla expand its retail footprint to key areas without having to take the time to set up a physical brick-and-mortar location.

Second, Tesla’s spending on retail locations to date has proven to be a lucrative investment. Musk said last year that sales per square foot for its retail stores are double Apple’s. Apple was previously thought to have the highest sales per square foot in the world.

Last, customer education plays an important role in Tesla’s selling process. In Tesla stores, customers ask employees many questions about driving electrically. By bringing mobile locations to popular destinations where Tesla doesn’t have a retail footprint, the company can educate more people who are unfamiliar with the company’s fully electric vehicles.

Tesla’s growing footprint of retail locations has been a key driver in sales growth. Model S deliveries were up 56% year over year in the company’s most recent quarter.

Is Tesla’s production catching up with demand?
With Tesla constantly ramping up the pace of production for the Model S, the company’s further investment in these mobile stores could be a sign that its production is finally catching up to demand. While Tesla did say orders continued to grow in Q1 and that it expects global order growth for Model S to continue to rise throughout the year, perhaps the level and rate of Tesla’s production ramp-up is getting closer to the level and rate of order growth.

If Tesla’s production ramp-up for Model S is catching up with orders, will an investment in mobile stores help Tesla achieve its goal to increase Model S sales by about 50% for the entire year?

More From Motley Fool:

MONEY Holidays

Memorial Day Weekend Traffic, Sales & More, By the Numbers

We know for sure that during the holiday weekend, sales will be big, traffic will be heavy, and many, many hot dogs will be eaten. Here's a big roundup of fun factoids about this holiday weekend.

  • 95¢

    In this May 8, 2015 photo, vehicles drive past a gas station in Andover, Mass. Even after the typical springtime run-up, the average price for gallon of regular gasoline should top out around $2.60.
    Elise Amendola—AP

    Approximate difference in the price of a gallon of regular gasoline this Memorial Day, compared to the holiday weekend in 2014. Even as gas prices have surged steadily for over a month, filling up the tank is substantially cheaper than it was a year ago. The last time gas was this cheap over Memorial Day weekend, it was 2009.

  • 5%

    Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel resort exterior property swimming pool, Orlando, Florida
    Rosa Irene Betancourt—Alamy

    Average percentage rise in hotel rates this year compared to 2014. According to Priceline data, daily room rates over Memorial Day weekend are up even more than that in cities such as Orlando and Dallas, while prices at Virginia Beach, Detroit, and Fort Lauderdale have fallen compared to a year ago. Meanwhile, forecasts from AAA call for a 16% increase in rates at lower-end (two-star) hotels over the weekend.

  • 14

    person clicking seatbelt
    Getty Images

    Number of days that police around the country are aggressively enforcing a “Click It or Ticket” campaign to get drivers and auto passengers to wear seatbelts. Look for police to pull cars over and issue a disproportionately high number of tickets for not wearing seatbelts from May 18 to 31.

  • 14+

    Colonial Williamsburg
    Bob Stefko—Getty Images Colonial Williamsburg

    Number of freebies and special discounts available to veterans and active military on or around Memorial Day, per sites such as Military.com and MilitaryBenefits.info. For instance, at Colonial Williamsburg, admission is free this weekend for all active duty, reservists, retirees, and veterans—and their dependents get in free as well.

  • 25

    War Memorial to Confederate Soldiers, Macon, Georgia
    Sean Pavone—Alamy

    Approximate number of American cities that have laid claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day, the majority of which are in the South and held celebrations in the aftermath of the Civil War. (One of them is Macon, Ga., whose War Memorial to Confederate Soldiers is pictured above.)

  • 54%

    George W. Bush International Airport, Houston, Texas, USA
    Alamy

    Percentage of Americans who said they prefer to travel on non-holiday weekends rather than holidays like Memorial Day, according to a survey conducted for Citi ThankYou Premier card. Only 11% named Memorial Day as the best summer holiday for travel.

  • 57%

    man grilling fish
    Stephen Lux—Getty Images

    Percentage of Americans who say they will grill food on the barbecue during Memorial Day weekend.

  • 60% to 70%

    Cabela’s, Scarborough, Maine
    Gregory Rec—Portland Press Herald via Getty

    Discount off the original prices that shoppers can expect during many Memorial Day sales.

  • $199

    2015 Buick Verano Turbo
    Tom Drew 2015 Buick Verano Turbo

    The hot per-month lease price available for more than two dozen new vehicles during the busy holiday weekend, according to Edmunds.com. The auto research site also notes that there are an exceptionally large number of 0% financing offers in May, including 0% financing deals on several Toyota and Nissan vehicles and most Ford models.

  • 383

    overturned car
    Sebastien Cote—Getty Images

    Estimated number of fatalities from traffic crashes that will take place over Memorial Day weekend, according to the National Safety Council. Drivers and passengers can expect another car crash-related 46,300 injuries over the weekend as well.

  • 818

    hot dogs on plate
    Greg Elms—Getty Images

    Number of hot dogs consumed every second in the U.S. from Memorial Day to Labor Day, known as peak hot dog season, when we’ll collectively wolf down 7 billion dogs.

     

  • $200,000+

    toasting with beer pints
    John Giustina—Getty Images

    Amount of money raised for military-focused charities last year with the release of a special craft beer, Homefront IPA. Ten craft brewers have made their own versions of Homefront IPA for the charity effort this year, and the official release date for the brews is Memorial Day, May 25, 2015.

  • 1.75 Million

    Passengers board a Bolt bus to New York in Washington, D.C.
    Jay Mallin—Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Projected total number of travelers in the U.S. boarding buses on rides of 50 miles or more from Wednesday, May 20, through Monday, May 25. That would be a 5% rise over the holiday period last year, and the highest total for Memorial Day weekend bus travel in 25 years.

  • 37.2 Million

    Interstate I-10, Arizona
    Natalia Bratslavsky—Alamy

    Number of Americans that AAA is projecting will travel at least 50 miles from home over the big holiday weekend. That would represent a 4.7 increase over last year, and the highest volume of Memorial Day traffic since 2005. Nearly 9 in 10 travelers will get to their destinations this weekend via automobile.

  • 42+ Million

    U.S. Marines march during the National Memorial Day Parade on Constitution Avenue in Washington, May 27, 2013.
    Yuri Gripas—Reuters

    Number of American men and women who have served their country in the armed services during war time over the centuries; approximately 1.2 million lost their lives in the course of their service.

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 Shopping

J.C. Penney Sued for Never Charging Full Price

JCPenney store at the Newport Mall in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Kena Betancur—Getty Images JCPenney store at the Newport Mall in Jersey City, New Jersey

The "original price" is a big fat lie.

J.C. Penney has long been in the business of giving merchandise “fake prices.” That’s how Ron Johnson described the retailer’s pricing strategy when he took over as CEO in 2012, pointing out that less than 1% of store sales were for items at full original price.

After the short-lived Johnson experiment in more transparent, less promotion-driven sales ended in monumental failure, J.C. Penney resorted to its old high-low pricing scheme, in which items were given inflated original prices solely for the purpose of making the inevitable discounts seem more impressive. It’s a classic sales strategy known as “price anchoring,” and J.C. Penney is hardly the only store known to engage in the practice.

Yet J.C. Penney is the one that has been hit with a class-action lawsuit in California federal court for its pricing strategies, a “massive, years-long, pervasive campaign” that has allegedly been tantamount to deceptive and fraudulent advertising. According to Reuters, the lead plaintiff in the suit purchased three blouses at J.C. Penney at a price of $17.99 each—seemingly a good deal in light of the $30 “original” price on the tag. But with a little research, the shopper discovered that the blouses in question were never priced for more than $17.99 during the three months prior to her purchase.

“Price comparisons are not illegal, but it is deceptive if there is no basis for the original price,” said Matthew Zevin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who could number in the hundreds of thousands.

This isn’t the first time a retailer has gotten sued for allegedly having too many sales and promotions—or rather, for never actually selling items at non-discounted prices. In 2012, Jos. A. Bank, the men’s apparel retailer known for seemingly insane “Buy 1, Get 7 Free” promotions, was hit with a class-action lawsuit in New Jersey for allegedly using “misleading, inaccurate and deceptive marketing” to create “a false sense of urgency” among shoppers. Essentially, the retailer was accused of partaking in the same tactic that’s gotten J.C. Penney sued: Showing items with list or “original” prices that are never (or almost never) charged.

The suit against Jos. A. Bank was dismissed because the plaintiffs failed to quantify “the difference between what the regular price actually was and what the discount price should have been,” according to the New Jersey federal judge hearing the case. This doesn’t prove that Jos. A. Bank didn’t engage in the practice; it just means that the plaintiffs could not prove how much of an “ascertainable loss” they suffered as a result of the retailer’s pricing strategies.

In any event, last month Jos. A. Bank pledged it would be moving away from a “hyper aggressive promotional strategy” because it has hurt the brand—and sales and profits by extension. The announcement took place roughly a year after Jos. A. Bank was purchased for $1.8 billion by rival Men’s Wearhouse.

Let’s hope that regardless of the results of any lawsuits, stores get the message that the common practice of listing items at inflated, meaningless original prices is bad for business.

MONEY Financial Planning

7 Ways Couples Cheat on Each Other — Financially

Jonathan Kitchen/Getty Images

Financial infidelity and the lies we tell

Several years ago, a friend of mine admitted she had a bank account her husband didn’t know about so that she could spend from her secret stash on the sly. And recently, an acquaintance who owns a luxury jewelry store revealed to me that some of her clients purchase the high-end gems with cash in order to keep their spouse in the dark about their indulgences.

These breaches of trust are surprisingly common: According to a recent survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education, one in three adults who have combined their money in a relationship admit to committing financial infidelity against their partner. And 76 percent of those people concede that their deception has affected the relationship.

Why all the fibs about your finances? We dug into the reasons behind some of the biggest fiscal lies couples tell, and the steps you can take to get back on track.

Lie #1: “Yes, I paid that bill.”

Where it Comes From: There are two primary reasons why people hide money moves from their significant other. Number one: “You might feel controlled by your partner, so you act out as a form of rebellion,” says money coach Deborah Price, CEO and founder of the Money Coaching Institute and author of “The Heart of Money.”

If one person is in charge of the purchasing decisions (picking apart every detail of the credit card statement, deciding what their spouse can and can’t buy, imposing a spending limit), while the other doesn’t have much of a say, anger and resentment can build up — which results in deceptive behavior.

Number two: “You feel ashamed about your financial situation, so you try to cover it up, hoping you’ll be able to get a handle on things before your spouse finds out,” says Price. “You’re afraid that your partner won’t be able to cope with the truth.” Maybe you’re in debt, and are worried your husband wouldn’t want to be with you if he discovers what’s really going on. Or perhaps you feel guilty about splurging, and don’t want your partner to judge you.

Break the Habit: The first step is to get to the bottom of the lie. “Most money problems aren’t actually about money — they’re symptoms, and the problems are truly about something else,” says Price, who advises to look into when and why the behavior initially emerged. One method: Write what she calls a “money biography.” Did the fib predate your marriage or start after you wed? How does lying make you feel — guilty for being dishonest, thrilled about getting away with something, or afraid that your partner will learn the truth?

“Most of our money patterns are formed in early childhood and get acted out in our relationships unconsciously,” says Price. “Once you understand your patterns, you have some power over them and can begin taking measures to correct them.

Next, consider what it would feel like to come clean. Ask yourself, if you were sure that your partner wouldn’t freak out, what would you ideally like to happen? Now, how can you start to move toward that? “In order to tell the truth, it’s important that you feel safe in your relationship,” explains Price. “You can’t be worried that your partner will run out the door.” She suggests starting the conversation by saying, “There’s something important I need to talk to you about, but I’m afraid that it will upset you. Before I tell you, will you promise to stay calm and help me work through it?” Yes it will be a tough discussion, but coming forward will ultimately help you build a stronger bond.

Lie #2: “I’m terrible with money — you handle it.”

Where it Comes From: This is an incredibly common phenomenon: People who are perfectly competent mistakenly believe that they are financially inept. “You feel powerless and are fearful that you will make a mistake,” says Price. “Maybe you were told you weren’t smart growing up, or had parents or teachers who made you feel insecure.” She also points out that sometimes there’s a subconscious benefit to not being powerful with money, in that it lets you off the hook about having to be the “responsible one” and sets the stage for you to be rescued by someone more “capable.”

Break the Habit: Is it true that you don’t have a good grasp on finances, or is it a projection based upon your fears that you’ll mess up? To find out, list your fiscal skills: Are you aware of how much you have in your checking and savings accounts? Do you know how much you earn? Are you contributing to a 401(k) or IRA? When you were on your own, did you pay your bills on time and spend within your means? You might realize that you’re more in control of your money than you thought. Or, you will identify what areas where you need need some guidance. (Check out our DIY Financial Planning Guide.)

Even though you haven’t done something in the past, it doesn’t mean you can’t become proficient,” stresses Price. “And while it’s okay for one person to have the role of ‘family CFO,’ both of you should be involved in your finances to some extent.” In the worst-case scenario, if you lose your spouse or get divorced and they have the keys to your fiscal life, you’ll be in a bind — especially if there are kids in the picture. So, no matter who takes the lead with financial decisions, make sure to sit down together at least once a month to discuss where your joint finances stand.

Lie #3: “Sure, we can afford that.”

Where it Comes From: This one might not be an outright lie. Many people simply aren’t connected enough to their daily financial accounting to knowwhether or not they can afford a new car or trip to the Andes. And once you’re married, money cluelessness can get even worse — assuming that your spouse will handle the finances gives you an excuse to grow more out of touch.

Plus, when there are two of you, it’s easy to pass the buck so you won’t be the one at fault for having made an irresponsible decision. “Some people might also avoid telling the truth [that a certain item is out of your price range] in order to avoid a potential fight,” adds Price. (Of course, that backfires: You might end up pointing the finger at each other later on when fiscal remorse sets in.)

Break the Habit: Part of the problem here is that we are hard-wired to want to spend money. “We are largely governed by a part of the mind called the instinctive brain, which is driven by desire and is wholly distinct from the prefrontal cortex, the section that processes rational thought,” explains Price. As a result, money decisions are often guided by emotions, rather than logic. So, before making a major purchase you and your spouse should list all of the positive and negative consequences of the decision. “This slows down your neural processing centers and activates the prefrontal cortex,” says Price. Not only will you be less likely to get carried away in the excitement of the moment, but it also forces you to take a hard look at your financial situation.

Lie #4: “My money is your money.”

Where it Comes From: The survey mentioned earlier found that three in 10 adults with joint finances have hidden a purchase, bank account, statement, bill, or cash from their partner. So what’s with all the covert ops? “Concealing fiscal information is a self-protective response to feeling unsafe in the relationship,” says Kate Levinson, PhD, author of “Emotional Currency.” “Even though you may like the idea of merging your money with your spouse’s on an intellectual level, you ultimately don’t trust that your partner will be there for you.

This sense of insecurity might be triggered by past experiences with someone who abused money (for example, a parent who gambled away the rent or burned through the grocery budget to fund a shopping addiction). It can also be a sign of emotional unrest — if you were betrayed by an ex or had an emotionally unavailable parent, you might have learned that you can’t rely on others. “Money represents an internal need to stay independent, and squirreling it away reassures you that you aren’t overly vulnerable,” says Levinson. Thanks to your cash stash, you feel like you have a way out.

Break the Habit: Begin by investigating the underlying cause of your deception on your own — write about it, talk to a friend or therapist, or meditate until you understand what’s going on underneath. “You need to recognize that your behavior is being driven by elements outside of your awareness,” explains Levinson.

After you gain some insight into the underlying causes, work through the issue with your partner. To begin the discussion, try focusing on the relationship with an opening like: “There’s something that I’ve been afraid to talk to you about. I know you’re going to be mad, but I need you to help me figure out what’s going on because it’s getting in the way of me being close to you.” You may also want to preface the conversation by asking your partner to just listen without interrupting so that you can tell him the story in full. “Keep in mind that the core problem might have nothing to do with money, but rather can shine a light on something that’s missing in your relationship — be it that you need more one-on-one time with him, or want him to help out more around the house,” adds Levinson.

Lie #5: “I’ve had these shoes for years.”

Where it Comes From: Denial of spending is a fear-based reaction. “You’re worried that your partner might judge you for being indulgent, selfish, frivolous or undeserving — and that they won’t love you for it,” says Levinson. Your response might be an accurate reflection of your current bind, say, if your partner is financially controlling, or you have a problem with overspending. Or it might be a byproduct of your upbringing; according to Levinson, you could be modeling behavior that you saw play out in childhood (for example, your mom encouraging you to hide new purchases from your dad.

Break the Habit: Do a realistic assessment of your financial situation: “Clarify your financial goals and priorities and establish a specific budget based on your fixed expenses and discretionary spending,” Levinson recommends. Knowing exactly how much you have to splurge will alleviate any fear that your partner might disapprove. Stick to that budget, and review it monthly or bimonthly to make sure it’s still working for you.

Lie #6: “I don’t have any debt.”

Where it Comes From: Thirteen percent of survey respondents said they’d committed a serious infraction, like lying about the amount of debt that they owe. “This fib stems from shame, feeling overwhelmed, or a fear of being judged by your partner,” says Levinson. You might also be in a state of denial — subconsciously, you feel like if you haven’t told your partner the truth, then the debt doesn’t exist and you won’t have to face the consequences of it.

Break the Habit: It’s time to confront your financial situation head-on. “Own your debt,” urges Levinson. “Talk to someone you trust — a counselor, financial advisor, or family member — to begin figuring out how to get debt-free.” That way, when you come clean to your partner (try using the same conversation technique as before), you’ll have a plan of action in mind, which sends the message that you’re finally taking control of things. “You also might want to consider separating your finances to show that you understand the debt is your responsibility,” adds Levinson.

Lie #7: “I don’t have that much money.”

Where it Comes From: On the flipside, some people claim they make less than they actually do. “You may keep an inheritance or large salary from your partner while you’re dating because you’re concerned about being taken advantage of, or loved only for you money,” says Levinson. “Then you hang onto the lie because you don’t want to rock the boat.” This whopper also unleashes a cascade of tough personal questions: How will I be able to handle having so much more than my spouse? What kind of person will I become if I tap into this money? What will it do to our relationship to go from being financially equal to unequal?

Break the Habit: In this case, Levinson strongly suggests seeing a counselor, because it can be unsettling to have huge wealth discrepancies in a relationship. “Some couples are naturally financially compatible and agree on how to spend and save,” says Levinson. “But for many, it’s difficult. Your spouse might be scared of wealth, judgmental about rich people or afraid that having money will turn them into a different person with different values.

There are also questions about how your dynamic changes: If one of you has a lot more money, does what you say hold more weight? “Issues of feeling better than or less than your partner are very tricky territory to navigate, especially when there’s a sense of betrayal on top of that,” says Levinson. “Just be sure to find a couple’s therapist who’s comfortable talking about money.

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TIME

Why Walmart Has Big Problem on Its Hands

An employee pulls a forklift with display units for DVD movies at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 24, 2014.
Bloomberg—Getty Images An employee pulls a forklift with display units for DVD movies at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday in Los Angeles, Calif. on Nov. 24, 2014.

The world's largest retailer is hurting

As gas prices hit multi-year lows a few months ago, many retailers hoped the savings consumers would enjoy would yield a bonanza.

Those hopes have been dashed.

Instead of going out to buy a new polo shirt or barbecue grill, consumers seem to be saving some of what they would have spent on gas to pay other bills.

Walmart, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores on Tuesday joined a chorus of U.S. retailers to report disappointing first quarter sales that has included Macy’s, Gap Inc and Kohl’s.

The retailer reported comparable sales, which includes digital revenue but excludes newly opened or closed stores, rose 1.1%- not bad, but below the 1.5% Wall Street was looking for. On the earnings side, Wal-Mart, which also owns Sam’s Club and Walmart stores abroad, reported a profit of $1.03 per share, down from $1.11 a year ago, and a penny lower than analysts anticipated.

So what happened? Consumers have shifted their budget to other priorities, the company said.

“We know that many of our U.S. customers are using their tax refunds and the extra money from lower gas prices to pay down debt or put it into savings,” Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon said on Tuesday.

“They’re also using these funds for everyday expenses like utilities and groceries. That’s where we can be their destination of choice.”

Indeed, some improvements on the grocery side were a silver lining for the company last quarter. Walmart gets 55% of revenue, or $155 billion last year, from grocery.

Walmart has made it a priority to improve its grocery business, both in terms of assortment, particularly fresh food, and making sure stores are amply stocked to avoid a chronic problem with empty shelves. (It is still grappling with a lot of food spoiling before it can be sold, something that was a drag on profit.) It has also raised its starting wage to increase employee motivation and improve customers service.

Encouragingly for the company, comparable sales at its Neighborhood Markets stores, smaller-sized grocery stores, comparable sales rose 7.9%. And Walmart saw more shoppers come into its stores for the second quarter in a row after nearly two years of declines.

Still, the world’s largest retailer recognized that there is a lot left for it to do to get back to its growth rates of the past. In addition to all its challenges at home, some of its foreign markets are struggling badly: Asda, its U.K. subsidiary, saw like-for-like sales excluding fuel fall 3.3% on the quarter, suggesting that it’s now taking most of the strain in a relentless battle for market share between established players and German-based discounters.

“We know, though, that we’re not where we want to be yet. It will take time to achieve our goals, but we’re fully committed to providing our customers with a shopping experience they can love, and associates who see their efforts leading to broader and better careers,” said Greg Foran, CEO of Walmart U.S., the company’s biggest division with annual sales of $288 billion last year.

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