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Posts Tagged ‘Harvard Business School’

When — if ever — do we just stop shopping?

In behavior, business, culture, domestic life, family, life, Money, urban life, US on December 19, 2013 at 12:18 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Every day, my email in-box (guilty!) fills up with notifications of sales from flash-sites like Gilt and One King’s Lane and Ideeli or from retailers I’ve purchased from before.

I delete almost every single one.

Every weekend, (yes, we still read some of our newspapers in print), a thick, glossy pile of flyers tumbles in a nasty tree-wasting avalanche from within the folds of the Times, each imploring us to spendspendspendbuybuybuybuybuybuy!

Consumer Spending

Consumer Spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

Between the easy availabilty of on-line shopping — a boon to the home-bound or retail-underserved — and a consumer-driven culture urging us to buy everything we see, right now, it’s an ongoing challenge not to spend money. Not to buy even more stuff.

The U.S. economy, a statistic that always somewhat horrifies me in its implications of rampant consumption, is based 70 percent on consumer spending — gas, food, diapers, gum, Manolos, trucks, Ipads, whatever.

So if we actually stop shopping, or slow down our spending on consumer goods, the economy slows. If you live in the U.S., and have any disposable income (such a bizarre phrase!) it can feel like some civic or patriotic duty to go spend some more money.

When I worked retail for 2.5 years in an upscale suburban New York mall, I saw the insanity — truly — of holiday shopping firsthand. People staggered into our store already so loaded with bags they looked like pontoons. They pawed through the racks, threw our stock onto the floor and shouted with anger when we didn’t have exactly what we needed when they needed it.

Ugly!

And yet very few Americans, even those with decades of earned income, have saved enough money to ever stop working.

In October 2013, USA Today reported:

A new report paints a rather grim assessment of how prepared we are for retirement. “The Retirement Savings Crisis: Is it Worse Than We Think?” from the Washington, D.C.-based National Institute on Retirement Security, says the typical American family has only “a few thousand dollars” saved for retirement.

“We have millions of Americans who have nothing saved for retirement,” says Diane Oakley, executive director of the NIRS. “We have 38 million working-age households who do not have any retirement assets.”

For people 10 years away from retirement, the median savings is $12,000. “Of the people between 55 and 64, one third haven’t saved anything for retirement,” Oakley says.

I read those statistics and wonder what is going to become of them; not everyone has children able or willing to rescue them.

Fortunately, (partly because we never assumed the costs of raising children), we’re way ahead of that $12,000 figure. We drive a 13-year-old vehicle and live in a one-bedroom apartment and I set aside the maximum for my IRA, even when I’d really prefer to spend that money on a long and fantastic overseas vacation, or some gorgeous new clothes or to take in all the shows, plays and concerts that Manhattan offers us.

Having significant savings is, for me, a much deeper comfort than anything I could buy.

Here, from Harvard Business School, why buying an experience (if you must buy anything at all) wins:

Conventional wisdom says that money can’t buy happiness. Behavioral science begs to differ. In fact, research shows that money can make us happier—but only if we spend it in particular ways.

In their book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton draw on years of quantitative and qualitative research to explain how we can turn cash into contentment.

The key lies in adhering to five key principles: Buy Experiences (research shows that material purchases are less satisfying than vacations or concerts); Make it a Treat (limiting access to our favorite things will make us keep appreciating them); Buy Time (focusing on time over money yields wiser purchases); Pay Now, Consume Later (delayed consumption leads to increased enjoyment); and Invest in Others (spending money on other people makes us happier than spending it on ourselves).

I try to adhere to all five of these principles:

Paris - Île St. Louis: Berthillon

Paris – Île St. Louis: Berthillon (Photo credit: wallyg)

– I can still taste the salted caramel ice cream we savored at Berthillon on the Ile St Louis in Paris five years ago.

English: Ile St-Louis - Paris Français : Ile S...

English: Ile St-Louis – Paris Français : Ile Saint-Louis – Paris IV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– I’ve chosen to work fewer hours, (which restricts my ability to shop, given that I save 15 percent of my pre-tax income every year as well), to better enjoy my free time and have experiences I value more than buying more things — to take a long walk mid-day or have coffee with a friend or read a book instead of flogging myself into another 10 or 15 hours’ paid work. I ended up in the hospital in 2007 for three days with pneumonia after chasing money too hard, too fast. Never again.

– I tend to hoard gift cards for as long as a year before finally using them, as I did recently with a Christmas 2012 gift card from my husband, (it bought two great pairs of shoes on sale.)

– I splurge on small surprises for Jose whenever I can, whether a book or a pair of colorful socks or a dinner out.

In a season where so many of us are rushing about madly shopshopshopping, it’s easy to forget that a more valuable gift can be as small and essential as a hug, a night or two of babysitting for a weary friend, making a meal for an elderly or ill neighbor.

It doesn’t have to come in a shiny Apple-designed, (cheap Chinese labor made), plastic shell or turquoise Tiffany box, no matter what their ads insist.

 Are you sick and tired of shopping?

The writer’s life, this week anyway

In behavior, blogging, books, business, culture, journalism, life, Media, women, work on August 12, 2012 at 12:09 am
English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Gra...

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse in New York City, New York, United States. Taken with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An ongoing occasional series on my life as a full-time writer in New York. Maybe surprisingly, little actual writing is involved — and much rejection (and patience) is pretty standard. This week included two writers’ deaths and the loss of $2,000 income.

Monday

Exhausted by attending BlogHer, a 5,000 participant conference in Manhattan on Friday and Saturday, I took the day off for R & R. Slept in the sun by our apartment pool. Bliss!

Tuesday

Started researching the weekly personal finance blog I write for Canadians, focused on the move by one bank to shut down accounts of Iranian Canadians, in order to comply with federal regulations. Knowing that bank and government PR people are slow to return emails or calls, best to start now — my deadline is Friday.

I need to order books for my Neiman-Marcus event in September. Since I have to pay for these books myself, even with a 40 percent author discount, I don’t want to get stuck with unsold merch and a credit card bill. Sigh.

Phone meeting with a new-to-me client who is, (blessedly highly unusual), unhappy with the 2,000 word magazine piece I just handed in. We spend 30 minutes wrangling. Not fun.

Call an agent who’s seen my third book proposal, but didn’t like it as is, to determine if he wants to work on it with me anyway. Check in with my assistant in New York and assure my assistant in Toronto I’m really not ignoring her. I am, though. I’m swamped and feeling really distracted.

One of my toughest daily challenges is setting priorities for what’s urgent as I constantly toggle between meeting deadlines, finding new work, marketing my book and doing the work already in hand.

Wednesday

I get a last-minute email invitation to attend a presentation in Manhattan by a Harvard Business School professor writing a book about retail work, as I did. But she’s getting inside access to senior corporate executives. There are 29 people in the room, from retail workers to reporters to union reps. It’s fascinating work and she’s a lively and personable speaker. I’m honored when she asks if she can use my book as part of her research.

I’m meeting at 6:30 with a very senior editor at a major newspaper, ostensibly to be social, but I’m also curious if I’d fit there as a staffer. I have four hours to kill before the dinner, so I go to a French movie. It’s a hot, humid day and sitting in the cool darkness eating popcorn and being transported to early 20th century Provence is heaven.

Thursday

Scrambling to finish my personal finance reporting.

I sit on the volunteer board of a writers’ group offering emergency grants to those in need; I learn that one of our board members, 76, has died.

Checking in with colleagues and editors and a possible new agent to see where things stand with my book proposal.

Had the idea to create a new conference for women over 40, so I’ve been emailing and calling a few people to see if they’d be willing to brainstorm it with me. I go to the local hotel and get their rates for renting a room and meals for a meeting — sobering! Immediately see why conferences need sponsors!

Get an email from the Decatur Literary Festival wanting me to update my site on their website. Need to send bio, headshot, cover of my book and a brief description of it. I’m really looking forward to this event, but nervous that — as can happen — no one will show up to hear me speak or to buy my book. I have several friends living there, one of them author of a terrifying book about MRSA, who want to get together socially. Will I have time? Have to check the website to see how many parties I need to attend! It’s a rare, fun chance to meet a lot of other authors.

I wonder if getting another fellowship would help me, financially and professionally and check out the Knight-Bagehot, which offers $50,000 to study at Columbia University. Everyone who’s won in the past two years is 20 years my  junior and has a staff job. I email the program director to ask if applying is even worth it.

I call a local library to ask if I can do a reading. They say no.

Friday

Drop off the car for repair — $200.65, $100 less than I’d expected. Yay!

A friend emails to ask my advice about how to choose an agent — as the Olympic athlete she has written about has won a gold medal and is now on everyone’s mind. I steal an hour of work-time to watch synchronized swimming, cheering loudly for the Canadians. As someone who used to do synchro, I’m in awe of their skills.

Awaiting word on pitches to Monocle, The New York Times, Marie-Claire, Hispanic Business and others. I read a few stories in Bloomberg Businessweek and now want to send a copy of “Malled” to the CEO of Ann Taylor, a women’s clothing retailer here, and to the new head at J.C. Penney.

A friend has suggested I update my website to attract more paid speaking engagements, so I have to start reaching out to people for testimonials.

I need to request a copy of the raw manuscript from a client whose thriller I edited last summer to possibly get more freelance editing work from an agency.

Talk to my personal finance blog editor, who lives and works in Austin, Texas. Typically, I often work for years with editors or clients I never meet. It’s our first personal chat in the three months I’ve been writing for him.

Learn of the premature death, of cancer, of David Rakoff, a fellow Canadian writer in New York – at 47. Sad news, and another terrific talent lost.

The magazine editor who hated my story kills it with no offer of a kill fee for my time and work. I’ve just lost $2,000 of income I’d counted on. Haven’t had a story killed in years. Nice.

Call five regular clients to see if I can snag some assignments to make up for that lost revenue.

Referred a colleague in Seattle to one of my editors.

Invited my assistant to come for dinner. She’s been working hard on a tedious set of tasks for me, cheerfully and well. In addition to two part-time assistants (one at $10/hr, one at $13/hr) I have a cleaner in twice a month ($25/hr.) When I hear the phrase “job creators” I look in the mirror. My income may have many fewer zeros than Corporate Kings, but it’s also paying others for their skills.

Head to the gym, where I actually have time (on the elliptical) to read magazines.

How was your week, my dears?

Leaping Burning Hay Bales At This Weekend's First 'Tough Mudder' Race

In business, sports on April 29, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Loved this story from today’s New York Times. Take two former prep-school buddies a little bored with their 20s and create a one-day adventure race.

Who’d buy it?

Lots of people:

But on Sunday, the Brooklyn-based Tough Mudder will conduct a race for 4,500 people. Each has paid up to $100 for the privilege of negotiating a seven-mile obstacle course of muddy hills, cold water and flaming bales of straw at a ski resort near Allentown, Pa.

Tough Mudder has six employees and two interns, all in their 20s. It has plans for three more races around the country this year and about 10 in 2011, some projected to have as many as 20,000 participants. It announced itself with little more than $8,000 worth of Facebook advertising and a Web site (toughmudder.com), relying on the extrapolative power of social networking to generate an enthusiastic following. Tough Mudder has about 11,000 fans on Facebook and has attracted potential buyers…

Sunday’s race will feature long slogs up ski slopes, wades through mud bogs, crawls through corrugated pipes and under barbed wire, climbs over vertical walls, traverses on rope bridges and a drop from a plank into a cold pond. The finish line is through a ring of fire — next to the free beer, near the live band.

There is no prize money, and contestants are not timed. The idea of Tough Mudder is not really to win, but to finish. And to have a story to tell.

I love the spirit of this! It’s so defiantly and unrepentantly British — the goofy, have-fun, who-cares-if-you-win vibe that’s so rare in razor-elbowed America, where people are desperate to compete for everything, and win, even through the public humiliation of televised weight loss.

I’m not in good enough shape for this first event, but I’d love to sign up for November.

Here's A Really Powerful Pad — Made Of Bananas — For African Girls

In women, world on February 2, 2010 at 1:07 pm
Harvard Business School

Harvard B-school insignia. Image via Wikipedia

For some African girls, a monthly period means missing work or school because she has no access to affordable sanitary pads.

A new initiative, led by 32-year-old Harvard MBA Elizabeth Scharpf, is fighting this loss of labor and educational freedom, using pads made from banana trees in Rwanda.

From Marie-Claire:

It’s not every Harvard Business School grad who puts her degree to use making sanitary pads out of banana trees. But that’s exactly what Elizabeth Scharpf is doing, as part of a new push to produce affordable sanitary supplies for women around the world.

“I was on a trip to Mozambique a few years ago when I heard that women were staying home from work because they couldn’t afford sanitary pads,” says Scharpf. “I was shocked. Then I was kind of outraged.” She later learned that the problem spans the globe. Let’s face it: Not every town in the world has an entire Walmart aisle devoted to tampons.

So Scharpf started looking for solutions. In 2007, she founded a nonprofit called SHE (Sustainable Health Enterprises), then began doing her homework. Recently the group launched its first project: helping women in Rwanda set up their own businesses manufacturing sanitary pads from banana-tree fibers. Why Rwanda? “There’s a real need there, and the country has the largest percentage of women in government in the world, so we knew we’d have support,” says Scharpf. Why banana trees? “Imported raw materials were driving up the price of pads, so we started looking into cheaper local options,” she says.

Will The New York Times Wrist-Slap Another Freelancer, A Harvard Professor?

In Media on December 28, 2009 at 8:39 am
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 14:  The New York Times he...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Here’s the latest New York Times freelancer who might get sent to the woodshed for ethical lapses — Mary Tripsas, a Harvard professor — reports Gawker.

In today’s column, Tripsas waxes ecstatic about about the 3M Company’s “innovation center,” which helps their customers provide input in the design process. Cool! Except NYTPicker has learned that Tripsas and other “innovation researchers” were flown to the center last month—airfare and accommodations gratis. Imagine the infamous Thrillist junket with less booze and more whiteboards.

This is not kosher with Times freelancer rules, which state:

In connection with their work for us, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources.

Clearly, 3M was a “potential news source” at the time they flew Tripsas out to their Innovation Chocolate Factory, since they became a current news source in today’s column. But Tripsas, who is a professor at the Harvard Business School, is trying to work the “In connection with their work for us” clause into a loophole, according to NYTPicker:

“I am a professor who does research on innovation and, in fact 3M was not aware of my recent NYT affiliation when they invited me,” Prof. Tripsas told The NYTPicker via email. “As a professor, I am sometimes invited to speak to companies about innovation, and it is not unusual for the company to reimburse travel expenses, so 3M did pay for my hotel and airfare. I did not inform the New York Times of that since I viewed the visit as a speaking engagement that was part of my broader academic research.”

As schadenfreudian New York City writers all know, freelance Mike Albo, who wrote a long-running twice-monthly shopping column in the Styles section, lost his gig after accepting a free trip to Jamaica on assignment for someone else.

It’s an interesting game the Times plays, this ethical squeeze play with the talented freelancers whose copy fills almost every single section — national and metro generally excepted. I agree entirely with the spirit of it, and as a Times freelancer, have abided by it for years. But the definition of “freelance” usually means “I sell my skills to the highest bidder”, not “You own me and get to dictate my behavior.”

The very spirit of this code violates the way freelancers run their businesses, using their own standards and definitions of what is fair and ethical, the trade-off we make for the financial insecurity of a life free of corporate shackles, and rules. But we’ve all known or heard of writers who stuff anything they can get into their suitcase or handbag or apartment, which makes the rest of us who don’t do so, whether Times’-constrained or not — look stupid — and, depending on your ethics, these people brain-dead, greedy and up for grabs.

Does it matter to you, dear readers, if a freelancer has their airfare or meals or lodging paid for (as is completely standard in most travel writing) by a source? What do you think of the Times‘ ethics code?

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