Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Home Economist: Money can’t

By Brett Graff
The National Retail Association is gushing over its recently released estimate showing we’re all about to spend $17.6 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts for the people we love — that’s an 8.5 percent increase from last year and highest amount we’ve spent in 10 years. And while perhaps that’s encouraging for the South Florida shopping enclaves, scientists say those of us who prioritize our jewels, our watches and our store-bought status items are most likely to be the least satisfied in the very marriages that many of those gifts are supposed to symbolize.
“Materialism does not benefit a long-term, satisfying, stable relationship,” says Luke Dean, the financial planning program director at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. “For that, you need to focus on people and the relationship and have less an emphasis on things.”
Dean has made a career out of studying money and its effect on our feelings, recently publishing powerful new findings that prove the more materialistic the married couple, the less satisfying the marriage. The results are shocking even to Dean — spouses with similar values are supposed to be happier — and suggest that if we’re truly devoted to our matrimonies, we’ll put away the cash and instead invest more meaningful resources.
It’s a goal that might be both trickier and more essential here in Miami. While it’s difficult to measure materialism, we are after all — don’t say you haven’t noticed — one of seven U.S. cities with a Real Housewives franchise. More officially, our city’s divorce rate got national attention in 2010 when The Daily Beast ranked Miami as 26th nationwide.
“The thirst for materialism pushes people to live beyond their means,” says Charlotte Karlan, a North Miami divorce lawyer.
“In South Florida you’ll see a lot of it. That thirst absolutely does drive people towards divorce.”
It’s an unpleasant ride filled with conflict and frustration, says Dean, who examined questionnaires filled out by 1,700 married couples. Spouses who said that money and possessions were essential to their happiness in life also admitted communicating less effectively with their partners and arguing with them more forcefully. Materialistic people also said their matrimonial unions were less stable and that they derived from them smaller amounts of satisfaction. These effects were amplified in couples made up of two materialistic partners, as opposed to just one.
“Generally research supports the idea that in relationships, similarities are like assets,” Dean says. “The more similar two people are, the better off their relationship. But that’s not true with materialism because there’s no person to serve as an anchor — a steady reminder that people are more important than possessions.”
It makes sense, says Olivia Mellan, a psychotherapist and author of Money Harmony, who notes that money seems to hold a permanent seat atop all the lists citing reasons for martial discontent. Spending budgets — even for the wealthy — are generally fixed. Two materialistic people will rarely agree on, say the yacht or the home renovations.
“If they have different goals they’ll fight about those differences,” she says. “Couples who polarize are normal. The trick is to remember that money is not love, power, control, security or happiness.”
The “negative conflict” mentioned by the researchers? They‘re talking about name calling and yelling, says Dr. Netta Shaked, a Miami licensed clinical psychologist. Healthy arguing — which involves respecting a different point of view — introduces solutions for solving problems, she says. What’s more, you have to feel your partner meets most of your needs and helps you feel comfortable expressing them.
“Communication is the crux to any healthy relationship,” says Shaked.
Becoming less materialistic might also help matters, says Dr. Ronda Fuchs, a licensed clinical psychologist in Miami Beach. The first step to shedding a status-conscious outlook: acknowledge that it’s selfish in nature, she says. That’s because materialism embraces actions such as acquiring and receiving, rather than sharing and giving. Reverse your self-absorption by engaging in activities that focus on the other person: volunteer together for a non-profit organization, make a meal your partner enjoys, rub the other person’s tired feet or take them for a walk to watch the sunset.
“Materialism offers temporary happiness,” Fuchs says. “Sharing is what helps us feel truly fulfilled.”

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Public services reform showing mixed results, says report

Defence, Home Office and Justice are driving through "real reform", but others are failing, thinktank reveals
Ministry of Defence Apache Longbow helicopters. A new report shows the MoD, Home Office and Justice departments are leading government reform, but others are falling behind. Photograph: MoD/PA
The Ministry of Defence under its former secretary of state Liam Fox, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are the three government departments where real reform is taking place, according to a new report.
In its second annual rating of central government reform, centre-right thinktank Reform says it has applied "dispassionate" analysis to assess the impact of the government's programme to cut the public sector deficit and reform public services – and has come up with some surprises.
Neither of the two departments at the heart of the government's reform drive, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office, are judged to be carrying out "real reform". The Cabinet Office's open public services white paper and transparency agency have not succeeded in changing the culture of public service delivery, so the thinktank believes the department is "coasting" on reform, while the Treasury is judged to be going backwards, because its ringfencing of health and schools budgets has put a "handbrake" on reform and efficiency in those sectors.
The report says central government's top reformers in 2011 were Fox, Kenneth Clarke and Theresa May, while the losers are Andrew Lansley and George Osborne. Fox gains praise for his support for radical civil service reform and his policy that the private sector should jointly manage the entire defence estate, while May is "driving better performance within tighter budgets".
However, the thinktank's praisethe Ministry of Defence contrasts sharply with yesterday's National Audit Office report which criticises the department for making drastic cuts in its headcount without making planning in detail how it will operate in the future.
The report concludes that the government can deliver successful public service reform, but calls into doubt the prime minister's commitment to public service reform, and criticises his "micromanagement" of NHS waiting times, nursing standards, adoption and troubled families. The thinktank also says the government's U-turn on the NHS has overshadowed the whole public service reform agenda.
"Management of reform matters," says the report. "This is a moment of truth. It is practically impossible for governments to recover the momentum of reform once it has been lost." The report says the government should implement a full-scale review of health and education workforces, to make them more flexible, adding that the proposal to introduce regional public sector pay is a mere "baby step" towards the kind of change that is required, on the model of the Winsor review of policing. It also says the government should reform "fast and at scale".
Writing for the Public Leaders Network, Tara Majumbar, a researcher at the Reform thinktank, says public service leaders across the country are using the cuts as a real catalyst for improving services. She cites West Midlands police as an example where financial pressure resulted in a programme that has "entirely changed the culture and processes of the force".
Majumbar says the prime minister David Cameron needs to recognise that there has been real change in departments that mave made the case for competition, value for money and greater accountability to users. "These departments have let public leaders make the decisions that are best for their services," she argues.
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Obama, No Same-Sex Marriage Supporter, Solicits Cash at Home of Lesbian Couple

By Devin Dwyer
President Obama, who has opposed same-sex marriage but is said to be “evolving” on the issue, this evening is attending a fundraiser at the home of a lesbian couple whose 2008 Chicago nuptials were described in a local paper as the “wedding of the season.”
Obama will collect an estimated $1.4 million for his re-election campaign from an intimate group of around 40 gay and lesbian supporters at the home of Karen Dixon and Dr. Nan Schaffer in Washington, D.C., according to a campaign official.
Dixon and Schaffer, transplants from Chicago, held a wedding ceremony in July 2008 with hundreds of guests attending from all across the country, according to an account in the Windy City Times.   Photos of the ceremony are available HERE.
But their marriage was not afforded the same legal recognition and benefits as heterosexual couples because same-sex marriage is not legal in Illinois. (It’s unclear whether the couple has filed for a legal marriage certificate in D.C., where gay marriage is now performed. The couple could not be reached for comment.)
Obama has remained mum on his view on whether couples such as Dixon and Schaffer should be able to legally wed in states across the country, preferring instead to let each state decide for itself.
“I think it’s important for us to work through these issues because each community is going to be different, each state is going to be different,” he said in June after New York became the sixth and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage. Washington state this week became the seventh.
The position — a new twist for Obama, who appeared to support legalizing the unions in 1996, later opposed them and most recently said his views are “evolving” — has rankled advocates who say the president is making a calculated political decision with an eye toward 2012.
He has, however, opposed the federal Defense of Marriage Act and opposes a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution.
“The president’s position on these issues writ large are well known,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said this week. “You know his position, where it stands now, on the position of same-sex marriage. I don’t have much to add on that.”
Asked whether Obama supports marriages like that between Dixon and Schaffer and whether their marriage in Chicago should have been afforded the same rights and privileges as those given to heterosexual couples, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt offered the following comment:
“The President has long opposed a Federal Marriage Amendment, supported the repeal of DOMA, and been clear that this was a matter than states should decide.”
Schaffer is a veterinary doctor who specializes in rhinoceros reproduction, according to her biography in the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. She is also a philanthropist, political activist and co-founder of the Windy City Media Group.
Dixon is an attorney and GLBT community advocate.
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Home sales rebound across county

By Vicki Stout For Williamson A.M
Fieldstone, Westhaven were most active in 2011
 Fieldstone Farms, Franklin’s first planned development, and Westhaven, the neighborhood that will soon overtake it as the biggest in the county, were the top-selling neighborhoods in Williamson County in 2011.
According to Diane Osowiecki and Mandy Buchholz of Diane O and Friends, out of Benchmark Realty in Brentwood, home sales improved in 2011 after several challenging years.
“Fieldstone ... has a Publix grocery store, restaurants and a school. It has everything from condos to zero-lot line to a senior community,” Osowiecki said of the neighborhood, which registered 131 home sales in 2011.
Amy Tarter of Bob Parks Realty says Fieldstone remains desirable because of its good location, pool, clubhouse and homes in a wide variety of price ranges.Westhaven, with 115 home sales in 2011 — with an average sales price of $526,000 — was the second-best seller in Franklin, according to Osowiecki.“They have lots of amenities, and building has really begun booming there again,” Tarter said.
The third-most-active neighborhood in Franklin for 2011 was McKay’s Mill. According to Osowiecki, 72 single-family homes sold there.
“The community is now a seller’s market,” she said. “There’s so little inventory there. It’s a very popular live, work and play community.”
Next on the list, she said, is Ladd Park, with 58 single-family homes sold.
“The community has over two miles of Harpeth River frontage; 240 acres of open space are connected by 10 acres of trails, making it very desirable,” Osowiecki said.
Tarter said Ladd Park’s prices became more reasonable in 2011, helping it make a comeback from a lull.
Fifth on the list of top sellers in Franklin is Franklin Green with 51 sales in 2011. Osowiecki says this community’s great price point made it a top seller. Tarter says the price point and family orientation of the community enhanced its sales.
Brookfield moves in Brentwood
Osowiecki says Brookfield was the top-selling Brentwood community, with 36 homes selling in 2011.
“The homes in this neighborhood range in size from 3,000-plus square feet to 5,000-plus square feet,” Osowiecki said.
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End energy profiteering: The rich get richer, the poor get colder

By Simon Read
Big Six suppliers heading for bumper profits and bonuses as more than 5.5 million UK homes hit by fuel poverty
More than 5.5 million households are suffering under fuel poverty, many being forced to choose between heating or eating.
Meanwhile the Big Six energy suppliers increased their profit margins by 733 per cent in just three months last year. Enough is enough. Today The Independent supports a campaign to force energy companies to share their profits with the needy. The aim is simple: to make essential home energy affordable to all.
An estimated 3,000 winter deaths are caused every year by fuel poverty and as the winter chill really begins to hit home, with more snow and icy weather forecast for the next few days, it could be the worst time for the vulnerable, particularly the elderly.
Research by Age UK last month found that two million elderly people are so cold that they go to bed when they're not tired in an attempt to keep energy bills down. More than two-fifths of people surveyed admitted to turning their heating down even when cold.
Average household bills have doubled in the past six years from around £600 a year in 2006 to more than £1,200 a year now. The increases have more people than ever slipping into fuel poverty – when their gas and electricity costs account for at least a tenth of their income. According to research from uSwitch, £1,500 a year on energy is the tipping point at which three-quarters of households will start rationing their energy, three-fifths will go without adequate heating and more than a third will be forced to turn their heating off entirely.
That figure looks like edging ever closer as further energy increases seem highly likely, especially after wholesale gas prices reached a six-year high earlier this week. Meanwhile, in October the regulator Ofgem revealed that energy suppliers had increased their profit margins by a whopping 733 per cent, from £15 to £125 per household.
The campaign – End The Big Six Energy Fix – is being co-ordinated by pressure group Compass and has already attracted cross-party support from politicians as well as economists, civil society leaders, charities, religious leaders, celebrities and campaigners. The 100 leading figures are today urging the Government to tackle the predatory behaviour of big energy companies by introducing a new levy on their profits.
They set out their three demands in a letter published in today's Independent signed by a range of figures – including the Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, the former Home Secretary David Blunkett and the Tory parliamentary private secretary Mark Lancaster.
The main aim is to introduce a windfall tax on energy companies' profits and to use the money raised to make homes energy efficient, which would also reduce fuel poverty. The funds raised should be ring-fenced to help people with their energy costs, particularly those living in fuel poverty.
The campaign is launched ahead of the profit announcements of the big energy companies later this month. In the first six months of 2011 alone the Big Six energy companies posted profits of around £3.5bn.
Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, said: "It is completely outrageous that the Big Six are able to rake in eye-watering profits as people up and down the country are forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families.
"These companies are delivering a crucial public service, and it is now the Government's responsibility to hold them to account for failing to provide anything close to a fair deal for consumers. We need to see Ofgem taking a far stronger role in regulating this out-of-control industry."
Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: "It's scandalous that the major energy firms are netting billions of pounds in profit while more than five million households in Britain struggle to heat their homes."
Gavin Hayes, general secretary of Compass, said: "If the Government can impose a levy on the big oil companies, then why not impose a similar levy on big energy companies?"
Campaigners are encouraging people to sign a new petition at They hope that public support will pile pressure on the Chancellor to announce plans for a levy in March's Budget.
From today the campaign will be targeting millions of people across Britain through Twitter and Facebook.
Case study: 'It's a case of sitting back and hoping the bills aren't too high'
Owen Ellis, 77, finds paying for heating his home a real struggle, especially since the Coalition Government cut back the annual winter fuel payment this year by £50
"My monthly income is about £400 so I can't afford to keep the heating on all the time," said the former local council worker, who has been living alone in east London since his wife died three years ago.
"But I'm one of the lucky ones as the flat I rent is new and well insulated, so if I blast the heating for a couple of hours, it keeps the flat warm for a few hours longer."
He sticks £7 away every fortnight to pay for his quarterly heating bills. "It's a case of sitting back and hoping the bills aren't too high when they come in," he said.
"The Government's attitude simply seems to be that if they take the money away from the elderly and people die, it will be less of a financial burden on them."

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Make money teaching online

By Kim Komando
It’s true that money-making scams are very common online. The good news is there are perfectly legitimate ways to make money over the Internet. Many don’t even involve eBay.
If you have experience as an English language teacher or tutor, you can make extra income teaching English online to Asians, South Americans and other people around the world. It has, in fact, suddenly become an incredible growth industry.
Most of the teachers providing this service work part time from home, and — thanks to broadband Internet video-conferencing — it doesn’t matter if that home is in Cody, Wyo., or Miami. Talk about globalization!
In the early days of teaching English online, freelancers had to hustle to find their own clients. Today, there are several online services that act as liaisons between learners and teachers.
Online language services all work a little differently. One might be a better fit for you than another, depending on how entrepreneurial you are.
Once you’re accepted at (, for instance, you hang your shingle up in the marketplace and hope that students like your profile and experience. New teachers often offer free trial lessons to attract students and get the positive-feedback ball rolling. supplies easy-to-use appointment and invoicing software. You set your own rate (most tutors charge around $30 per session), and get paid by the students through PayPal. is a partner of Harper Collins, which publishes MP3 audio language courses, foreign language dictionaries, and other educational materials. The service takes no cut from the teachers.
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Friday, 10 February 2012

Home economists create placemats for Meals on Wheels

By The Spokesman-Review 
It began in the spring of 2009 with a conversation in a Wenatchee quilt shop.
Cathy Lobe, a member of Spokane’s Retired Home Economists, inquired about a number of homemade placemats hanging on the wall. The placemats, Lobe learned, were made by local quilters and donated to Wenatchee’s Meals on Wheels program. Lobe, an avid sewer, came home and shared the idea with the other women of the Spokane Retired Home Economists.
After some discussion and planning, Lobe and members Jan Stripes, Betsy Blake, Donna Graham and Gloria Irsfeld agreed to meet every other month to make their own homemade placemats, which they donate to Spokane’s Meals on Wheels program.
Since 2010, the group has made 2,100 placemats for Meals on Wheels recipients. The placemats also are used in meal centers.
The women, who all hold degrees in home economics, have the same goal.
“It’s ingrained in our family and consumer sciences mind that we give back,” Graham said. “Having contributed more than money and making somebody happy – that’s a real joy,” she said.
Lobe said she feels the same way. “I always knew that sewing was going to be a part of my life, but I’m not going to make clothes. I’m making them (the placemats) for somebody else, and they’re loving it,” she said.
The placemats are made with fabric and supplies donated from other women in the home economists group, giving each a unique look. The placemats include a tag, made by Lobe’s husband, Gary, which says “Made especially for you by a Retired Home Economist.” The women said the response has been positive, both from Meals on Wheels and the clients.
“One senior said that the placemats were so lovely that they should be sold at Kmart,” Lobe said.
Graham added, “For some of the seniors, that was the only thing they got for Christmas in the way of gift,” Graham said.
Irsfeld said it doesn’t take much to make those receiving the placemats happy. “It’s just a simple touch to give somebody pleasure,” she said.
The group’s efforts don’t stop with placemats. During this past holiday season, they called themselves “Christmas Angels,” collected 150 Christmas socks and filled them with personal hygiene products. The socks were donated to the veterans program at Volunteers of America and the CAPA program at Catholic Charities, which includes Crosswalk for teens and Hope House for single moms. The socks were a welcome surprise.
“We were told the Crosswalk kids decorated their Christmas socks,” Lobe said. The Christmas Angels made their goal for this year to 225 socks.
“The response was so great that we and the charities want to do it again. We know exactly what they would like to have now,” Lobe said.
Beyond the Christmas Angels and the placemats, Lobe said their next project is to start a blog about their efforts. She said they want to challenge others to make placemats, similar to the “Million Pillowcase Challenge,” a nationwide project where homemade pillowcases made from simple patterns are donated to local charities.
“Why can’t our placemat project go national?” Lobe asked.
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