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Category Archives: External Research

The Post-High School Debt Dilemma

Go to college/university, get your degree, and you’ll set yourself up for success. That’s what many of my peers heard before we finished our fourth year of high school and began to think about the future. It’s no surprise I’ve heard this from elementary school to high school – in the area where I grew up, many of the schools pushed for students to dream big and shoot for the iconic colleges or a Bachelors before heading into the workforce.

In recent years, many are reconsidering college or university, citing high tuition, housing, and miscellaneous expenses over 4-5 years that one can accumulate by attending a 4 year university or college. There’s no shame in that – someone once told me that not everyone saw college as an end game before they focused on a career. In an age where social media reigns, there are many ways one can make a living or some form of income without a degree in place.

Time magazine noted that as of this year, 44 million Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. While some candidates promise to roll out programs or incentives to wipe out debt if elected, others are faced with the grim reality that it will be a long couple of years to wipe out the debt on their own or with some help. I know I’m part of the latter who is steadily working toward paying off her amounts through hard work.

A company called Blockstack has addressed this issue and shared that the month of November will be spent offering to pay off student loan debt for a few lucky winners. If you’re interested in trying your luck, check out their site and enter here.

Who Cares if You’re Popular on Instagram?

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Influencers are everywhere online and you can find people who will talk, blog, and record videos about any topic or promote various products and services. With the rise of sites like Influenster and Pinch Me, everyone can feel like one for a moment. (If chosen for those sites, as they have criteria that reviewers/testers must match to qualify.) However there has been the trend of people who fake their follower counts by buying users to bulk up their numbers or those who loop in people to sign up for updates and newsletters through giveaways and contests. This leads to the question of who is truly an influencer and who is in it for the freebies?

Perhaps the concept did start with good intentions though. Regular individuals like you and me have shown that they would rather trust the opinions of a regular, working individual versus a celebrity endorser these days. Especially if the regular person reviewing the item or promoting a business doesn’t look like your stereotypical air-brushed glamazon with a perfect life, home, job, etc. We feel we can relate more to the every day individuals, which may be why we spend time subscribing and following normal, every day people who claim they buy or try things on their own dime and give candid reviews for everyone to see.

Nowadays, anyone can open a YouTube or Instagram account and post content to grab attention. Once someone sees your work or your style, usually it gets passed along by others, increasing the potential for foot traffic. Yet for every successful person with a strong following, there’s several struggling to make a name for themselves. It’s almost a get rich quick scheme when looking at it from the darker side – some of the celebrities and influencers make a good deal of money from their endorsements or for making posts about various products. No office required, no staff, just one person (supposedly) making the content on one platform and showing the world who they are.

While some brands have embraced the trend of reaching out to influencers to help promote their brand or product, others have stayed away, having seen the uglier side of it. Many “influencers” try to reach out to brands, boldly asking for free product or trips so they can create more videos and image content for their accounts, claiming this will drive the brand’s business up. But companies such as this ice cream truck have struck back, pointing out that they have their own publicity and name for their brand out there – no “influencer” assistance needed.

The question I now ask is, who truly is in the influencer job/business for the right reasons any more?

Nothing New Here – The Mall of Recycled Goods

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One man’s trash is another man’s treasure as the saying going. With the trend of people recycling goods, frequenting thrift and donation-based stores, and scouring resale apps, people have sustainability on the brain and it’s not ending anytime soon. While this hurts the traditional malls and shops pushing new product and new season trends, it’s interesting to see a new type of mall pop up, such as this one in Sweden.

Located near a large donation center, ReTuna will sort through donated goods and allows vendors to see if there’s something they would like to repurpose or offer for sale in their shops. This has turned out an impressive sale of recycled goods in one year and has reduced waste.

For shoppers, it allows them to peruse the items and feel good, knowing they bought something unique and it didn’t end up in a landfill. Also it encourages the thrill of the hunt for something special and different from the mainstream shops pushing everything new.

Do you know of any centers like this? Comment your favorites below!

No Bad News on the Doorstep Here

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Where do you get your news from? Social media? TV? Streaming system?

It’s no surprise to me that newspapers are becoming obsolete, due to a number of readers wanting to avoid spending money on printed articles that become outdated after a day. (Or in many cases, people cancel because of the tone or quality of the writing.)

Sometimes I can’t stand to watch a regular news channel because it feels like almost everything is “bad news on the doorstep”, no matter where you turn.

Recently I discovered via a friend that a young woman felt the same way, noticing that regular news outlets skew toward the bleak and sad news stories were affecting her and her friends. When you’re constantly bombarded with bad news, it’s hard to find the good in the world. Instead of sitting back and stewing in misery, the young woman created “The Happy News“, a 30+ page newspaper that focuses on the positive stories in the world that are being missed by traditional outlets.

The publication comes out quarterly, with the intent to celebrate stories with a fresh twist.

For more information, please visit their site.

Overdraft – Where the Blame Falls

The 2016 story about a college student who spent $4 million in luxury goods, due to an overdraft error her bank failed to catch until later, isn’t a new one for many. The wide-eyed young woman posing with her expensive bags and using various photo filters has sparked much conversation between people who hear the story. Some look at the bank and scold them for catching this nearly a year after it happened, others blame the young woman for being so reckless with her spending.

The story came up in my Facebook feed and I read it, surprised but amused since it doesn’t sound real. (Maybe it’s because the average individual only dreams about going wild on a shopping spree where sky’s the limit.)

I did note before sitting down to write this post that there was no mention of the young woman’s parents and how they were handling the situation. A few mentioned that they had money back home in Malaysia and would transfer a monthly allowance to their daughter while in Australia. While I do not know any of the parties personally, one predicts that a case of kids copying adults probably influenced her as she grew up. In other words, if she was used to seeing her parents spend their money on luxury items and her parents giving her what she wanted, she was mimicking their spending patterns in terms of how it was used. That is a red flag for me – most parents strive to teach their children the value of money and try to establish rules with asking for things and encouraging them to earn money in order to work for things. (Usually people have shown to have more appreciation for the things they earned the money for, versus those who simply have it handed to them.)

However the majority of the blame should not be on her parents for poor financial management skills – the bank employees managing her account should have done their due diligence on routine checks. We entrust banks to keep our accounts and money safe and hearing stories where they didn’t actively check the status of the accounts for fraudulent or suspicious activity lessens that trust. Who wants to do business with a establishment that cannot protect your money from thieves, fraud, or other incidents? There’s a reason why those mocking the bank in this case are laughing at them for being so careless to oversee the error.

While the young woman had the charges dropped and the bank is working to rectify things after the loss, you wonder if the former and her family learned their lessons. (The young woman for exercising caution and checking the validity of the funds and the family for giving her what she wanted with little instruction on the value of money.) The bank likely required staff to undergo training to learn how to spot suspicious activity and what to do if it happened again, but their reputation is already tarnished as a trustworthy bank.

Where do you fall on this case?

Ever Good Enough?

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My homepage suggested an article from Popular Science about a recent trend in consumerism, namely the craze behind bargain hunting and why people never stop looking for the best prices or deals. Curious, I took a look and mulled over the information presented.

The holidays always trigger a craze of people looking for the best deals on items, whether they are gifts for friends and family or a little something for ourselves. In recent years, Black Friday and Cyber Monday expanded to include days leading up to the designated “holidays” to give consumers a chance to shop with more time. I sense its because stores know that people want to think through their buys before forking over their money. There are still cases where the lure of a limited time frame or percentage can encourage people to shop in a frenzy, but the investment items require more thought and planning.

I encourage everyone to read the article from Popular Science to get the whole picture. In brief, it notes that our brains are trained to find the best bargains and we become fixated on what was saved, versus what drove us to buy the item in the first place. How many times have we bragged to people about how much something cost us? I know I’ve done it a few times, but I’m trying to share why I picked up said item and why I’m glad I bought it.

Take for example this dark chocolate crafted in the shape of a Day of the Dead skull I bought on Black Friday from a gourmet food market.

According to the gourmet market, it was made by a local artisan chocolate shop in Los Angeles for Day of the Dead. The item wasn’t expired or damaged, but it was no longer Day of the Dead and was on clearance for $2. Why did I buy it?

  1. The chocolate was 72%, which is one of my favorite percentages for dark chocolate.
  2. I have a fondness for skull items, especially consumable ones.
  3. I love buying unique chocolates and trying them out.

It’s long gone now, but I made sure to enjoy that skull. Very hard to eat – incredibly solid all the way through (no sunken or weak areas like in an Easter chocolate bunny). Flavor was deep, a little nutty, and a light hint of sweetness without being overpowering. Worth the $2? Yes because it was fun to look at and eat. I would have been hard-pressed to buy one full price since its a company I was unfamiliar with and the risk would have been disliking the chocolate.

What about you? Is Popular Science right about the never-ending chase of the bargains? Are you guilty of falling into this cycle? Share your thoughts below.

Flash! They’re Gone or Are They?

Remember when people were crazy about flash sale sites? I’m talking about Gilt, Hautelook, Beyond the Rack – did you ever shop from there? Why were they so hot back then?

Yes, I used a past tense for that last sentence. While the sites haven’t been shut down, many of them have changed ownership, now being bought out by bigger companies and merging with existing store discount initiatives. Hautelook being bought out by Nordstroms, now lumped with Nordstroms Rack easily comes to mind when one thinks about the fate of flash sale sites. Now Saks Fifth Avenue is looking to make Gilt their version of Hautelook to rival Nordstroms.

Going back to the question of why flash sites were the cheese to someone’s macaroni for sometime, I suspect a lot of it had to do with the thrill. It’s no secret that the goal of many retail stores, whether it be clothing or home decor want people to spend money at the end of their visit. Sales are alluring to many who don’t want to pay full price, especially if there’s the threat of a store being out of your size.

Video posted by Tucker Michaels

This old Gilt ad illustrates it very well – two shoppers eye an item, but there’s only one in their size. It’s down to speed and luck to secure the coveted item they want before someone else snags it. Many times we buy things because we convince ourselves “It’s my size”, “It’s on sale”, or “If I don’t get it, I’m gonna regret it.” Making shoppers fight to get the items they want heightens the thrill of shopping, in some cases it results in buyer’s remorse.

Years later, people aren’t willing to fight it out anymore or they are simply interested in different stores and brands, especially if there is an easy return policy. Sometimes it just makes more sense to drive to the closest store, return what you’re not keeping, and call it a day, versus packing the item up and paying return shipping in some cases.

While all of these flash sites hearkened to the budding trend of people preferring to shop online, it appears that many of them couldn’t adapt on their own to meet new demands from online shoppers. After all, while it can be fun getting a great deal, the return policy and process can look more like a hassle if its shipping returns only.

From Eating Utensils to the Building Blocks for Art

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Are you a master at using chopsticks? Sadly I would consider myself a beginner – I have the basic technique for holding them down but its putting it in motion to pick up food that is the challenge. (Especially without trying to cross the chopsticks while picking something up!)

While taking something small to make something bigger isn’t a new concept, Malaysian artist Hong Yi has transformed the traditional eating utensil into a hanging portrait of Jackie Chan. 64,000 chopsticks were used to create the piece. In addition to Jackie Chan, the artist has replicated several likenesses of other famous Western and Eastern celebrities in chopsticks.

Avoid the Crowds or Brave Them?

Another Black Friday has come and gone, with some fighting the crowds to score great deals and other awaiting Cyber Monday. Many businesses started Black Friday deals early, both in store and online. In addition to Black Friday, some businesses including Black Milk Clothing and Amazon have started their Cyber Monday sales earlier or plan to extend them longer than Monday.

Black Friday is a mixed bag for me. In some years I’ve gone to a few clothing stores at midnight to see some of the deals and others I’ve stayed home and avoided the crowds. This year I braved bad traffic and multiple accidents to visit one store for a surprise sample sale at Black Milk.

Its been noted that people have been choosing to shop online more, versus waiting days for deals that are doorbusters or one day only specials. With multiple tools that compare prices, sizes for various brands, and lucrative offers like Free Shipping or discounts that can be stacked, online shopping has become very easy for buyers.

While the benefits to shopping at a brick and mortar store include seeing the products in person and being able to try them on, more people are placing their confidence on website descriptions and saving themselves the hassle of dealing with other customers trying to grab the same item.

What about you?

The Last One’s Always the Hardest (Final Books in Series)

Many people have read series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, all of which include 3 main books with an occasional prequel or side short story. The main thing I tend to hear when people reach the final book is how disappointed they are. It can be the storyline, the fate of certain characters, or the resolution to some of the conflict.

Having read all three series, I can understand why people are reacting. Yes, its heartbreaking to read favorite characters either dying or fighting to save the main character or perhaps a pairing ends up with someone else. But take a step back and think about this: In order to show how high the stakes are in a fictional world or dire situation, people die. Not just the bad guys but some of the neutral figures and beloved allies have to. If they didn’t, it would become a very cliche story and you’d probably be complaining about how the story ended too neatly with a perfect ending.

Also consider that the authors could be under stress from their publishers or fans to meet certain expectations. Some people feel that Mockingjay had a rocky ending that seemed forced but I feel that in order to get to the conclusion she wanted while giving some fans the resolution they wanted, Suzanne likely had to plan out certain deaths to symbolize the message of dying for a good cause while showing that love can persevere in very difficult situations if the bond is there.

I still think back to J.K. Rowling saying how she regretting killing off a minor character. Recently, she’s apologized to killing off other characters in the series via Twitter. You have to admit, she wrote an impressive roster of characters and eventually some of them had to succumb to death in some way in the series. Otherwise, it would be a nightmare for her to manage all of them in the conclusion.

I’m not saying you aren’t allowed to slam your book shut, throw it across the room, and scream your frustration at the ending. But instead of bombarding the author with hate, I think its best to take a deep breath, think about how difficult it likely was to write that scene/character fate/etc., and remember that the author wants to give you a fairly realistic scenario of what can happen when the stakes are high.