MONEY Spending

Even Kanye Thinks ‘Luxury’ Has Become Code For ‘Rip-Off’

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West
Kim Kardashian (L) and Kanye West attend the "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York City. Mike Coppola—Getty Images

There's a revolt against 'luxury' items, and it's coming from an unexpected place: the rich.

“Fancy” may be the song of the summer, but there’s a revolt brewing against brands that seem to offer more form than function.

Consumers fighting back against high-priced products wouldn’t be very surprising on its own. The economy is recovering, yes, but many Americans are still unemployed or are stuck doing low-paying or part-time work.

But this time around, it’s not just average Joes balking at the high price of a Gucci handbag. (Let’s face it, they weren’t the ones buying that kind of gear anyway.) Instead, criticism is coming from an unexpected corner of the market: the rich, the taste makers, and even the Louis Vuitton Don himself, Kanye West.

In June, the outspoken rapper appeared at the Cannes film festival and essentially declared war on so-called premium products.

“My goal in lifestyle, in everyday life—to change the idea of what luxury is,” said West. “Because time is the only luxury. It’s not all these brands that we just drove by that are somehow selling our esteem back to us through association.”

Kanye made the same point more explicitly earlier this month to an audience in London—this time with the aid of auto-tune. “It’s like they want to steal you from you, and sell you back to you after they stole it,” declared West in what would become a 15-minute rant against everyone from Nike and Gucci to the media and marketers. “They want to make you feel like you less than who you really are.”

It’s hard to tell whether Yeezy has actually turned on high end items or if this is another episode in his love-hate relationship with an industry that often spurns his increasingly desperate advances. Despite the recent outbursts, he’s still selling a Kanye branded plain white t-shirt for $90 a pop.

But if West’s criticism rings hollow, he’s not the only aesthetic icon slamming the ‘luxury’ label. On Friday, British designer Jasper Morrison, known for his utilitarian “super normal” style, let loose against anything marketed as upscale. “The most common mistake people make is believing the term “luxury,” Morrison told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s become an excuse for a lack of common sense, and invariably stands for overpriced, poorly considered product, whether it’s a hotel, an apartment block, a handbag or a holiday.”

It’s not just the creative class who have tired of paying $500 for a particular pattern. High-end consumers across the board are sick of it too. The Journal reports that growth in the luxury market has slowed, with sales rising 7% last year, down from 11% from 2010 to 2012. The reason? Sky high prices and a decreasing perception of quality.

While the cost of most goods has remained mostly stagnant during the recession, the price of luxury items has skyrocketed. The average price of luxury goods jumped 13% in 2013 while the consumer-price index rose only 1.5%. A Chanel quilted handbag is now $4,900, a full 70% more expensive than the same item five years ago.

Why are ritzy items getting more unattainable? The answer seems to boil down to two main factors. As the middle class shrinks, wealthy customers have been driving an ever larger percentage of retail sales. While many middle-market and low-end brands suffered in the wake of the financial crisis, businesses with a focus on high earners actually reaped a hefty profit. As a result, companies like Saks have been focusing more and more on the high-end. In the same vein, traditional top-tier brands seem to be raising prices to differentiate themselves from entry-level luxury products.

Another issue is the perceived quality of these so-called luxury items. According to the most recent Survey of Affluence and Wealth, published by YouGov and Time Inc., America’s richest consumers say companies don’t make the top-shelf like they used to. Seventy-eight percent of the affluent and wealthy report that many luxury goods are not compelling to them, and 71% of those surveyed claimed that most new products marketed as “luxury” are not what they consider to be luxury at all.

The result has been a developing consensus that many of these items are no longer worth the asking price. The Wirecutter, a website devoted to finding the “best” products in every tech category, is characteristic of this type of luxury backlash. In May, the site posted an article specifically devoted to convincing readers not to buy Beats, a premium brand of headphones marketed by celebrities like Jay-Z and Dr. Dre.

“Beats have positioned themselves as a luxury brand. And once you have a “high-end label mentality” at work, prices often go up higher than they should or need to be,” writes Lauren Dragan, the Wirecutter’s resident headphone expert. “While we’re happy to pay more to get higher quality, we aren’t willing to pay more simply for the name slapped on the side.”

MONEY First-Time Dad

What Millennials Want That Their Boomer Parents Hate

Luke Tepper
Luke looks around for the inflation that has yet to come Taylor Tepper

It is nine letters long, (not legal weed), and causes investors' blood to boil.

Inflation. We really want some inflation. Now, if possible.

Macroeconomic forces are not top of my mind all the time. A couple of weekends ago, for instance, my wife and I played poker and drank beer on our friend’s rooftop patio. Our son Luke, clad in his new miniature gondolier outfit, crawled between our legs as one person after another told us how cute he was. That night Luke held onto one of my fingers while I gave him his midnight feeding. Later my wife and I slipped into his room for a few moments to watch him sleep.

I can tell you that at no point during our perfect summer day did the word inflation pop into our heads. We went to sleep thinking just how lucky we were to have such a beautiful son, rather than dwelling on the fact that we face an inflationary climate that is hostile to the economics of our new family.

We aren’t strangers to what economists call “headwinds.” Mrs. Tepper and I graduated from the same really expensive private college in 2008, just as the nation was mired in the worst recession in 80 years. We attended college (and later graduate school) as state governments across the country drastically cut higher education spending, which meant higher costs, which meant that we incurred a combined six-figures student loan marker. And entering the job market in the teeth of negative economic growth means we’ll be playing catch-up for years and years.

Given all that we (and Americans, generally) have endured since 2008, it might seem strange that I would ask for higher inflation. When the prices of goods rise quickly, the Federal Reserve is apt to raise interest rates. Higher interest rates make it more expensive to purchase a house, or borrow for anything. Don’t I want to own a house? What’s wrong with me?

For a little bit of context, let’s back up and look at where inflation has been over the past six years. If you look at the core price index for personal consumption expenditures (or core PCE), inflation is rising at an annual rate of 1.5%. In fact ever since Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy it has barely budged over 2%.

inflation...

Even if you look at a broader inflation metric, like the consumer price index, prices have risen at 2.1% or lower for almost two years.

What does this mean?

For one thing, wage growth has stagnated at around 2% since we left school, and job growth, while picking up lately, has been relatively slow. Weak job creation and small pay increases means that people have less money to spend, which means fewer jobs and the cycle goes round and round.

So more economic growth (spurred on by more borrowing and spending) would help alleviate low wage growth, and help us ramp up our weekly paychecks. But it would also do something else. It would help us pay down our student loan debts.

Super low inflation is bad for people who have debt. Right now Americans owe more than $1.1 trillion in student loan debt. That means people our age are receiving raises that aren’t that high and have to confront a record level of debt before their careers really get going. With so much of our take-home pay earmarked for debt service, no wonder housing isn’t a priority, or affordable, for millennials (or the Teppers).

Of course, this kind of talk scares our parents (and rich people), who own bonds and other assets designed to preserve wealth instead of create it. Having already endured years of low interest rates, they really don’t want their bond portfolio to be hit by an inflation jump.

To which I say, tough. Many boomers entered the job market as the economy was expanding and college was affordable. Their children did not.

Luke has this one toy that he loves. It’s a sort-of picture book for infants consisting of a crinkly material, and he loves nothing more than smashing the thing between his hands and feet. In 17 years, he’ll want a car—and then four years of college.

I realize that the costs of these things will rise—prices always rise. It would just be nice if our salaries rose enough to pay for them.

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad:

 

MONEY Shopping

Seriously, Here’s How You Know If You’re Addicted to Shopping

Woman with shopping bags
Peter Cade—Getty Images

For those who shop to relieve stress, "retail therapy" is no joke.

“It’s not just shopping, it’s retail therapy.”

As a bumper sticker or a joke between friends, this may be amusing. For those who shop to relieve stress, it’s not nearly so funny. Medicating or soothing painful feelings with money is no healthier a behavior than medicating with alcohol or food. When stressed or in difficult circumstances, some people drink, some people eat, and some people shop.

As a financial adviser, I’ve worked with several clients with extreme forms of this behavior, who described their spending clearly as an addiction. It gave them a physical “high” similar to that experienced by an alcoholic or drug addict. Like other addictions, it had destructive consequences, such as overwhelming debt, loss of life savings, ruined relationships, and even theft from family members or employers.

Using spending as a medicator does not always show up in such dramatic ways, however. Even people who seem to live moderately and manage money responsibly can be “therapy shoppers” who spend in order to make themselves feel better.

When I met Alexandra, for example, she was single, in her 40s, with a well-paying job and a substantial net worth. She was investing part of her income, was current on all her financial obligations, and had only a modest amount of debt. She was certainly not spending beyond her means or jeopardizing her future security. She didn’t appear to be in any financial difficulty.

When we looked at her budget, however, Alexandra was clearly uncomfortable with some of her spending habits. Instead of simply reassuring her that she was managing her money well and not overspending, I explored this issue with her. Eventually I brought up the possibility that she might be medicating her difficult emotions with spending. It was an “aha!” moment for her. She told me, “I’ve been doing that for years.”

Alexandra’s problem wasn’t the amount she spent. It was the reasons behind her spending. If she had a stressful day at work, she would go to the mall, in much the same way another person might stop at a bar for a couple of drinks on the way home. Shopping, finding bargains, and buying herself gifts were unthinking actions she used to soothe herself when she was upset.

She never stopped to ask herself whether she needed or even wanted the things she bought. She didn’t spend more than she could afford, but she was spending time as well as money unproductively. She was also cluttering her house and her life with clothes she didn’t wear, knickknacks she didn’t care about, and gadgets she didn’t use.

Once she realized the emotional reason for her shopping, Alexandra was able to find more constructive ways to deal with stress. She learned healthier responses to difficult days. Talking with a friend, writing in her journal, meditating, or taking a walk could serve the same purpose as a trip to the mall.

For Alexandra, simply recognizing that she was using shopping to soothe her emotions was enough to help her change. People with more deeply ingrained behavior might find change more difficult. In such cases, clients could benefit greatly from working with a financial therapist with the expertise to help them look at the emotions underlying their spending patterns.

The important point for a financial planner is to look beyond the numbers. The main issue isn’t whether a client’s “retail therapy” is affordable or whether it is causing serious financial difficulties. If a behavior is creating discomfort for clients, as it was for Alexandra, helping them explore what lies behind it can be a valuable service.

TIME Spending

You Spend Over $1,300 a Year Bribing Your Kids

Want to make an easy $1,360 a year? No problem — all you have to do is be an American kid under the age of 10. A new survey shows that the average kid rakes in a cool $113 a month in “allowances, bribes, rewards and gifts,” years before they’re old enough to get a real job.

Coupon site Vouchercloud.net polled more than 2,000 American parents and found that more than 70% give their kids money on a regular basis. Of those, most of them straight-up bribe their kids. Although more than three-quarters give their kids an allowance, 61% say they give their kids rewards for good behavior and 55% give them money so they’ll behave.

The kids who get an allowance, for the most part, aren’t even “earning” it in the traditional sense. Fewer than half the parents who say they give their kids money say it’s in exchange for the kids doing chores or helping out around the house.

Do today’s kids have their parents over a barrel? That very well could be the case: About two-thirds of parents surveyed say they want to give their kids less money.

Of those, about a quarter say ey “don’t want to disappoint” their kids, and 17% say their kids “likes expensive things and needs enough to buy them.” Parents who overindulge their kids need to shoulder at least some of the blame themselves, though: Almost half of those who say they want to give their kids less say they don’t because they feel like they’re competing with whatever other parents give their kids.

Again, keep in mind that this is for kids who aren’t even 10 yet — it’s not as if the “expensive things” they’re paying for are along the lines of car repairs or college textbooks.

“Children might want expensive things, but they also need to learn that they have to earn them and be patient,” Vouchercloud managing director Matthew Wood says in a statement. He says parents need to examine their motivations for showering kids who probably haven’t even mastered long division with more than $1,000 a year. “A lot of the time, when parents spend substantial sums of money on the children, it suggests they feel guilty or are trying to make up for something,” he says.

Yes, it’s important for kids to learn the value of money, how to save and budget for what they want, but parents aren’t really doing them a service if they’re handing them so much money that kids never have to learn what it’s like to have to plan ahead and wait to buy something they want.

On top of that, if kids are being bribed just to behave, parents aren’t laying the groundwork for a realistic expectation of what it takes to earn money as an adult. After all, you make money at work from doing your job, not just showing up on time.

TIME Congress

Compromise Disrupts the Daily Vitriol in Washington, D.C.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) reacts after signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with (from left to right) Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman George Miller, Republican Congressman John Kline, Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in the Speaker's Conference Room in the US Capitol in Washington on July 11, 2014.
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) reacts after signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with (from left to right) Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman George Miller, Republican Congressman John Kline, Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in the Speaker's Conference Room in the US Capitol in Washington on July 11, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

The political war of words hasn't stopped, but Republicans and Democrats are proving they can still get stuff done together

The rhetoric in Washington Tuesday was as poisonous as ever, with President Barack Obama lashing out again at House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner returning the favor. “The American people have to demand that folks in Washington do their job, do something,” Obama said, in an attack. “Giving speeches about a long-term highway bill, it’s frankly just more rhetoric,” Boehner responded in kind.

But under the hood, things did not look quite so dire. With little fanfare, the tiny sounds of compromise on infrastructure funding and immigration policy echoed through the marbled halls of Washington. House Republican leadership decided to break with their conservative flank to support a ten-month highway funding bill that the White House endorsed. Then House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said Democrats would also support the measure, just a week after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized it.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans found themselves echoing the rhetoric of the White House as they push for a legal change that will allow for the quicker deportation of Central American children who cross the border illegally, a move that has infuriated liberals. “This would be done in a humane and responsible way,” said a Republican aide close to the House working group working on immigration, echoing the White House talking points on the proposal.

Despite the hesitant cooperation, both sides tried to use the potential for agreement as a way score political points. “Breaking news,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said, dryly after he was asked about the transportation deal. “Maybe the presidential rhetoric is having an effect.” Republicans, similarly, tried to cast the fleeting agreement as a victory. “The point is there are ways to get things done—they rarely included campaign speeches by the President,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

To be sure, many areas of disagreement remain, and the limited cooperation with 10 legislative days before Labor Day is more a function of clearing the docket of urgent business before the long midterm-election-year recess than a genuine breakthrough. The GOP remains divided over the $3.7 billion budget request from the White House to deal with the border fix, and there is no sign of a larger deal on immigration reform. The historic standoff over deficit spending levels remains unresolved. And in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected proposal by Republican Whip John Cornyn to change deportation process for Central American minors.

But the week’s work proves that even in a city riven by division and broken trust, work still gets done on occasion, even if neither party shows any interest in ending the daily onslaught of recriminations over the coming months. “Now that President Obama has endorsed the House highway bill, we hope he will urge Senate Democrats to pass some of the nearly 50 House-passed jobs bills still awaiting action,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner. “The American people are still asking, where are the jobs? And it’s time for the president to fight the Senate gridlock from his own political party.”

At the White House, Earnest said the temporary bipartisanship wouldn’t change the president’s summer plans to continue on offense. “Republicans have put their political ambitions ahead of the interests of middle-class families so many times, but like I said, I’m willing to give credit where it’s due,” he said of the highway agreement. “But it’s not going to stop this administration from continuing to advocate for the kind of long-term highway reauthorization that’s in the best interests of the American economy.”

Additional reporting by Alex Rogers/Washington

TIME Spending

Thing You Hate Costs You $750 a Year

A city office employee works into the night as darkness closes in on October 10, 2005 in Glasgow, Scotland.
A city office employee works into the night as darkness closes in on October 10, 2005 in Glasgow, Scotland. Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

The recordings that tells you you’re a valuable customer for the zillionth time or those hours spent waiting for some service technician to ring your doorbell aren’t just infuriating — they’re costing you.

A new survey finds that working Americans waste a total of $108 billion — that’s more than $750 a person, based on how much the average worker earns — waiting to get service issues resolved during hours we could have spent earning money instead. The research, conducted by Harris Poll for ClickSoftware, finds that we spend nearly 31 hours when we could be working waiting in telephone queues or at home waiting for an in-person visit on an annual basis.

The survey says the banking industry is the worst offender, with respondents reporting waiting an average of six hours a year to deal with service issues. Waiting for repairmen or other home services eats up another five hours, while seven other sectors including insurance, communication providers and utilities round out the balance.

Everyone understands this frustration, which perhaps is why an eight-minute audio recording of a guy named Ryan Block trying to get his Comcast service disconnected went viral almost as soon as it hit the Web. The total conversation lasts nearly 20 minutes; Block captures the final eight minutes of the Comcast rep arguing with him over why he shouldn’t drop his Comcast service and refusing to acknowledge Block’s insistence that he’d just like to cancel.

In its survey, ClickSoftware asks respondents how companies could do a better job minimizing wait times. (You’d think “avoiding protracted arguments with customers” would be at the top of the list, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Block’s situation.) Not surprisingly, more than half of the survey respondents say providing more accurate estimates about wait and arrival times via their choice of communication method would go a long way. More than 40% say updates about their status and the progress being made would help, and about a quarter want better systems for communicating with service reps and making appointments.

That’s all well and good, but if companies don’t provide this, what can people themselves do to keep from being stuck on hold or waiting around for a technician all day? Half of the survey respondents say they’ve demanded to speak to a supervisor, 14% admit to yelling at the technician, and 3% say they cry.

There’s got to be a better way. Here’s how ClickSoftware suggests minimizing that $750 you send down the tubes every year waiting for service.

Dump the company. One tactic is to switch service providers, something about a third of survey respondents say they’ve done, but there’s no way to tell if your new bank or Internet provider will be any better than the old one. Stephen Timms, president of North America for ClickSoftware, suggests checking out how the new company is ranked in terms of service from Consumer Reports magazine or groups like the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Be specific. This isn’t a guarantee — after all, poor Ryan Block was very specific about what he wanted and he was still subject to nearly 20 minutes of haranguing — but Timms says spelling out expectations can go a long way. Instead of saying you need your TV service hooked up as soon as possible, for instance, tell them you need it ready in 48 hours because you’re having friends over to watch the Super Bowl or Game of Thrones finale or what-have-you.

Go gripe on Twitter. “Many companies offer… dedicated customer service Twitter accounts which are staffed by reps 24 hours. And because Twitter is public, these complaints are often addressed more quickly,” Timms points out.

MONEY First-Time Dad

What Adam Smith Taught Me About Child Care

Luke Tepper
The mental health of this child's parents depends on their division of labor.

The best parenting book you've haven't read was written by a childless British philosopher who's been dead for 200-odd years.

It’s 1 p.m. on Sunday, and a thick fog of panic begins to set in. Luke has just woken from his mid-morning nap and will need to go back down for a light snooze in three hours. If we miss that window, he’ll become too tired by bedtime and will holler for an extra hour before finally going to sleep for the night; and by the time he does, Mrs. Tepper and I will be hollowed-out shells of our normal selves.

But this afternoon is not an unscheduled pocket of time to be frittered away perambulating around Prospect Park. We have work to do.

Our mission is to retrieve a second-hand high chair (which combines a feeding seat with “a sophisticated pneumatic lift system” according to the ad), stop by the hardware store for air conditioning accessories, and buy groceries for dinner.

That’s just half the battle. Before we even get into our car, we must pack Luke’s diaper bag, collect a few of his favorite teethers and jam his apocalypse-proof $800 stroller into our trunk. This is all while entertaining the tyke so that he doesn’t cry, and detaining our dachshund behind the kitchen gate (which is intended for toddlers, oddly enough). Remember, we are just two normal humans with only four arms.

Here’s the really amazing bit: We got it accomplished. Like, all of it. Luke even passed out right after the clock struck 4 p.m. How? Well, it had a lot to do with Adam Smith.

In his masterpiece The Wealth of Nations, the economist discusses the benefits of division of labor with the example of a pin factory. Instead of each employee making a pin all by himself, each worker does one specific task, and in doing so the factory becomes much more productive.

“One man draws out the wire, another straightens it, a third cuts it, a fourth cuts it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head…”

Smith goes on to say that this system is efficient even for smaller factories with only 10 employees.

“Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of 48,000 pins, might be considered as making 4,800 pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently…they certainly could not each of them have made 20, perhaps not one pin in a day…”

Now, raising a child is not like making a pin. (For one thing, you don’t have to change a pin’s dirty diaper.) But splitting up chores, errands and responsibilities is a major reason why we still resemble functioning adults.

This wasn’t always the case. When Luke was first born, Mrs. Tepper naturally took charge. While I was absolutely terrified that one false start on my part would forever limit his boundless potentiality, Luke’s mother stepped up to the plate. She could pack his travel back while holding him in one arm faster than I could unfold his stroller.

She put him down for his nap, picked him up when he awoke and fed him. Even with the bottle, she was simply better at it than me. She was the superstar, and I was the benchwarmer.

Now, five months on, we’re more of a team. I developed my own rhythm with Luke, and now Mrs. Tepper isn’t the only one who can feed, bathe and clothe him.

Before we left that Sunday morning, Mrs. Tepper and I passed Luke between each other like a basketball. She pirouetted, diaper bag in hand, and I slid Luke gracefully into his stroller with three toys dropped onto his lap. It was an efficient, domestic dance that set the tone for a stress-free afternoon of chores.

Thank you, Adam Smith.

__________

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly.

More First-Time Dad:

Why a Maid is a Better Investment than a Divorce Lawyer

Why You Should Get Up From Your Desk and Go Home

Baby Clothes are Cheaper than Therapy

Why I’ll Send my Infant Son to College Before I Buy a House

Why Does my Baby Need Two of Everything?

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why a Maid is a Better Investment than a Divorce Lawyer

Luke Tepper
It takes a lot of work to keep these sheets clean—but now, it's not our work.

Hiring help can make sense for new parents—even poor-ish ones. The next installment in a series of dispatches on being a new dad, a Millennial, and (pretty) broke.

On a normal Saturday, my son Luke wakes up around 6 a.m.—which means I wake up at 6 a.m. Mrs. Tepper, half-asleep, is still recovering from our son’s late-night feeding four hours earlier. So 6 a.m. is my time.

The next hour is filled with jungle-themed activity mats, frozen teethers and a $23 French rubber giraffe named Sophie that is seemingly standard-issue in my neighborhood despite its outrageous price tag.

By 9 a.m., Luke is back asleep and my wife and I make breakfast, do the laundry, and walk the dog. If we’re lucky we’ll have the bed made, the dishes done, and Luke’s things assembled in some kind of order by the time he wakes up at 10 a.m. (Of course his cadre of stuffed animals will be strewn across the floor by 10:15 a.m.) Around 11 a.m. we dress him, assemble his diaper bag and set off on errands. (Grab the dry cleaning, pick up dog food, stop by the farmer’s market.) By 1 p.m., we’ve returned to our disheveled apartment, and Luke goes down for another nap. By 2 p.m. we can’t remember our names.

We used to love Saturdays.

After almost five months of little sleep and spending almost every waking hour —and these seem to be growing exponentially—on our kid or our household tasks, we’ve come to the conclusion that certain unintended expenses needed to be incurred if we want to save our sanity and stay on speaking terms.

In short, we decided that we needed a maid.

There’s an economic argument in favor of paying someone else to do mundane chores. With only so many hours in a day, every second you’re rinsing dishes or walking dirty clothes to the laundromat is a second you could have used to further your career, to spend more quality time with your kid, or to actually have an adult conversation with your spouse.

As Catherine Rampell wrote in The New York Times last year:

Hiring people to work essentially as servants smacks of classism or insufficient self-reliance. Scrubbing your own toilet or doing your own laundry supposedly builds character, or something to that effect. And while it’s certainly good to have these skills in a pinch, it’s probably not a wise financial decision to use them all the time if you could instead be engaging in other activities that improve your—and your family’s—well-being.

Still, I didn’t like the idea of hiring someone to clean our apartment. While the Mrs. and I make about double the U.S. median household income, we live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. We also already budgeted $400 a week for child care so Mrs. Tepper (who makes more than I do) can return to work.

Money wasn’t the only reason. I enjoy washing the dishes. The soft rhythm of a basic task is almost meditative, especially after a long day. I enjoy cooking dinner. I may be a tad sentimental, but feeding my family healthful meals is a source of pride.

I could intellectualize the rationale for hired help, but some part of me had a hard time accepting that we were that type of family. Maids seem like a lifestyle choice for richer people.

But this hang-up was just something I had to get over for my family’s sake.

So we hired a maid. She was recommended by a friend and stops by for four hours every two weeks at a cost of $120 a month. That’s $15 an hour—which is a lot cheaper than a $500 an hour divorce lawyer.

Since Mrs. Tepper and I don’t go to the movies anymore—which costs north of $12 a ticket in New York—and eat out less frequently these days, we found room for the additional expense (wistfully) in our entertainment budget.

Of course we’re still sleep-deprived most of the time, and we can’t afford a personal chef or a dog walker or wash-and-fold laundry service. But thanks to a relatively small investment, when Luke rolls over these days, it’s onto a recently mopped floor that we didn’t have to mop ourselves.

And I must say, coming home to a spotless apartment and a happy wife sure beats returning to a spotless apartment and an unhappy wife.

___________

Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. This column appears weekly.

More First-Time Dad:

Why You Should Get Up From Your Desk and Go Home

Baby Clothes are Cheaper than Therapy

Why I’ll Send my Infant Son to College Before I Buy a House

Why Does my Baby Need Two of Everything?

TIME

The Insane Reason We Waste $162 Billion on Food

Aisle at supermarket with shopper and shopping cart
Aisle at supermarket with shopper and shopping cart Diana Angstadt—FlickrVision

Knowing when to throw out milk that’s gone sour or bread that’s grown mold is a no-brainer, but for many of the foods we eat, it’s not nearly as obvious when we shouldn’t eat them, and manufacturers often don’t make it any easier.

The upshot is that we throw out tons — literally — of perfectly good food. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimated that in 2010, we threw out 133 billion pounds of food, which is almost a third of the country’s edible food.

That’s embarrassing. It’s also shockingly expensive. The USDA estimates the value of the food we chucked at $161.6 billion — and that’s only for a single year.

“Data show that many consumers do not understand the difference between a ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ date,” the Institute of Food Technologists says. The group

Especially for processed foods, there are a profusion of labeling terms like “sell by,” “best if used before” and others that are equally vague. “Use by” is the most straightforward. Eat or drink the item after the date and you risk a bout of gastrointestinal distress — or worse. The others are a little bit fuzzier: A “sell by” date includes a fair amount of wiggle room, depending on the product.

“‘Sell by’ is typically used by retailers to know when they know they have to take a product off the shelf. But when people buy that and see that date, they think it’s no longer good after the date,” says William Fisher, vice president of science and policy initiatives for IFT and one of the authors of a new scientific paper that looks at how the dates on our food contribute to us throwing it out prematurely.

The paper found that 25% of us have thrown out food past its “sell by” date and 10% think eating food after a “best by” date is a major health risk (it isn’t).

Labels that give a “best by” or “best before” date generally aren’t addressing food safety issues. It’s a marketing thing. “That’s to maximize the quality of their product. It protects their brand,” Fisher says. Food companies don’t want you thinking their products taste stale just because you let the stuff sit on a shelf for years.

The IFT says, in general, one-third of a product’s shelf life remains after a “sell by” date, but it can be hard for the average American to figure out just when that box of granola bars or bottle of salad dressing in their pantry was produced. Storage and handling particulars like whether the food is exposed to light and what temperature it’s kept at also affect how long an item will stay good.

Research in Europe argued earlier this year that “best before” dates should be scrapped entirely, since they’re not indicative of when it becomes risky to eat something. If you’re worried that what you’re eating might be suspect because it’s past one date or another that’s stamped on it, there are guides that lay out what to keep and what to chuck.

Even if you’re not concerned about the sheer volume of usable food Americans feed to their trash cans, keep in mind that a little healthy skepticism about those non-safety-related date labels can also help you lower your grocery bill.

MONEY Financial Planning

What Would You Do With $100,000?

Stack of Money
iStock

Deciding how to spend a large inheritance isn't as easy as you might think. Heirs who have received big bequests, along with financial planners, share lessons learned.

What would you do if you suddenly got $100,000, no strings attached?

It’s a hypothetical question for most of us. But for Peter Brooks, it was reality a few years ago.

After the untimely death of an old friend from pancreatic cancer, a lawyer called Brooks and told him there was a check waiting for $107,000, taxes paid.

With $30 trillion set to change hands from one generation to the next over the next 30 years, many others will find themselves in a similar position, according to Accenture .

While some may receive a few trinkets and others millions of dollars, the median inheritance will be between $50,000 and $100,000, according to a survey by Interest.com.

Handling new and unexpected wealth may sound wonderful, but can be a financial challenge. We asked financial experts to assess the decisions of three different beneficiaries:

WELCOME BOOST

For Brooks, a 55-year-old marketing consultant from the San Francisco area, the money significantly improved his quality of life.

At first, he deposited the check into a managed portfolio that his bank recommended. This was just before the market crash in 2008. Frustrated when the portfolio didn’t budge, Brooks rolled the money into a certificate of deposit, which turned out to be fortuitous.

“When the market crashed, I thought, wow, I must have a guardian angel,” he says.

Brooks decided that real estate was the biggest risk he could stomach, and he found an old Victorian house to buy for himself in nearby Vallejo for $97,000.

Indeed, buying a house is one of the most common financial moves people make with new money, according to Susan Bradley, a financial planner and founder of the Sudden Money Institute, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who specializes in helping people manage newfound wealth.

“If your inheritance increases your sense of home and safety, that’s a really lovely thing to do with it,” Bradley says.

Her caveat is that this works only if you’re able to handle the upkeep on the house, which Brooks has been able to do just fine.

A SPLURGE (OR TWO)

By contrast, John Kerecz, a 52-year-old environmental engineer in Harrisburg, Pa., went on a spending spree after he inherited about $160,000, plus a broken-down house, when his father died two years ago.

Because his father had his paperwork in order, Kerecz was able to quickly access the cash. He hired a lawyer based on the recommendation of a family friend, got the death certificate, and had a payout from the insurance company within a couple of weeks.

Then he embarked on a series of trips to Europe, Nashville, and New Orleans with his mother, who was in declining health, and eventually spent about $100,000.

What remained went toward a new home for Kerecz and his mother, who now suffers from dementia. He is trying to sell his parents’ original home and intends to invest the proceeds from that sale.

“I feel bad that I kind of blew it, but I wanted my mother to enjoy life while she could,” he says.

It may seem irresponsible, but using an inheritance to make memories has intrinsic value, says Bradley.

“Sometimes you can meet that purpose without spending $100,000,” notes Bradley, who says she would have coached him to take a little more time to figure out how to build those memories with just $60,000.

IN OVER YOUR HEAD

Many inheritors get in even further over their heads, especially if the money comes when they are young.

Richard Rogers, a financial consultant with Stephens Private Client group in Little Rock, Ark., had a client who inherited a significant sum at 25 and insisted on buying an $80,000 car.

“I tried to tell him that if you compound this money for a few years, you can buy a lot nicer car. But you can’t tell somebody what to do,” Rogers says.

CarmenBelcher could have used that advice, too, when, at 22, she inherited $300,000 out of the blue from her estranged father.

The money came quickly because her name was on his bank accounts and she was listed as the beneficiary of his veteran’s benefits.

Belcher responsibly paid off her college loans, then moved from Missouri to New York for a graduate program in journalism. She used what was left to support herself.

Now, eight years later, the money is gone.

She blames that partly on not being savvy about spending in New York, and partly on the money not being invested optimally by a bank adviser in Missouri who first helped her.

“It’s unfortunate, when people haven’t thought through it and, before you know it, [the money is] gone,” says Bill Benjamin, chief executive officer of U.S. Bancorp Investment.

The ideal thing to do is to draw up a financial plan before you start dipping into an inheritance, he says.

While Belcher thinks she is better off than before — she is building a career as a fashion editor in New York — overall, the experience was negative.

“I couldn’t appreciate the amount of money,” she says. “If this would have happened at an older age, I would have had more knowledge.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser