Friday, November 22, 2019

Cost of This Year's Thanksgiving Meal

See Farm Bureau Survey: Thanksgiving Dinner Cost Rises Only a Penny. Excerpts:
"The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 34th annual survey of classic items found on the Thanksgiving Day dinner table indicates the average cost of this year’s feast for 10 is $48.91, or less than $5.00 per person. This is a 1-cent increase from last year’s average of $48.90.

“The average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is essentially unchanged from last year, after three years of decline since 2015,” said AFBF Chief Economist Dr. John Newton. “Americans continue to enjoy the most affordable food supply in the world"

"The centerpiece on most Thanksgiving tables – the turkey – costs slightly less than last year, at $20.80 for a 16-pound bird. That’s roughly $1.30 per pound, down 4% from last year. The survey results show that retail turkey prices are the lowest since 2010.

The shopping list for Farm Bureau’s informal survey includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers.

Although the overall average cost of the meal was about the same this year, there were some price changes for individual items. In addition to turkey, foods that showed slight price declines include cubed bread stuffing and canned pumpkin pie mix. Foods showing modest increases this year included dinner rolls, sweet potatoes and milk. After adjusting for inflation, the cost of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner is $19.13, down slightly from last year."

"The AFBF Thanksgiving dinner survey was first conducted in 1986. The informal survey provides a record of comparative holiday meal costs over the years. Farm Bureau’s classic survey menu has remained unchanged since 1986 to allow for consistent price comparisons."

Graph showing how the real cost of Thanksgiving has gone down over time.

Also interesting: The percentage of income that Americans spend on food has been in a long-term decline  by economist Mark Perry.

Related post:

Were The Pilgrims Capitalists Or Socialists?

Friday, November 15, 2019

More employers offer workers help paying off student loans

By Sarah Skidmore Sell, AP Personal Finance Writer.

It is not clear if this is a taxable benefit. If so, then it just means that a worker gets paid less when its company pays part of their student loan. If, as the proposed legislation shoots for, it is not a taxable benefit, then the taxpayers end up subsidizing part of these loans. At lower salaries, the workers pay less in taxes (yet their total compensation is higher because the employer pays part of the loan-it is like getting income with no income tax).

"Americans collectively owe nearly $1.5 trillion in student loans — more than twice the total a decade ago. It's a burden that weighs on millions of adults, shaping their life choices and often stunting their financial growth.

Now a small but growing number of employers are stepping in to help. About 8% of employers offer student loan repayment assistance in 2019, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. That's up from 4% in 2018 and 3% in 2015."

"In 2016-2017, almost 60% of people who graduated with a bachelor's degree took on debt and the average amount among that group was $28,500, according to The College Board. For some who seek advanced degrees, the borrowing can grow to $100,000 or more."

"Employers format repayment assistance in a variety of ways. Some offer a match of employee payments while others offer a flat contribution amount, both up to a threshold."

"Several companies say their programs have proven an effective recruitment and retention tool, particularly in this tight labor market."

"It's a puzzle why more private employers have not offered such benefits, said ZipRecruiter's Pollak, despite demand from employees. The companies are not paying off the full loan and, for a minor cost they are greatly boosting employee morale.

"It's an easy win," said Stephen Kapusta, vice president of channel strategy at ADP, a human resource services company.

Part of the problem is that money given to employees to help pay off student loans can be considered income and be taxed. So, there is little financial incentive from a tax perspective for the employee or employer.

As such, employers have had to find more creative work arounds — such as paying the provider directly, as Fidelity does, or trying a more unique retirement payment solution."

"In early 2019, a bipartisan bill was introduced that, if passed, would allow employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free every year toward student debt repayment. Others are looking to the IRS for broader guidance on ways to contribute to student debt repayment in conjunction with their workplace retirement plan."

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Why do stores sometimes pay people to be fake shoppers?

When desperate storeowners want to convince passersby to stop in, they hire fun, happy people to pose as shoppers. They’re actually out-of-work actors, retirees, and me.

See Confessions of a Professional Fake Shopper by Sam Dunnington.

In economics, signaling theory says that we send out signals to convince people we have certain traits. For example, a college degree is a signal to employers that you might be smarter and more hard working than the average person.

But sometimes people try to fake the signal (at the bottom I have links to many other posts I have done on this. There is alot of faking out there).

Excerpts from the Dunnington article (the whole article is interesting):
"John spread his arms like a tent revivalist and addressed the 50 of us standing in the subterranean concourse of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Station. John, the hiring manager for the temp agency, was a tall man with a big belly, a nice smile, and 10 drops of sweat perpetually shining on his pate. “Good afternoon,” John said. John had zeal. “We are today creating an atmosphere of fun, and crowds, and happy shoppers.” John explained that street construction had decimated walk-up traffic to a department store down the street. A client had hired the temp agency to turn that around: People would peer through the scaffolding and jackhammer dust, see a Fun Crowd of Happy Shoppers inside the store, and thus be compelled to join in. John looked around at us in the dank gloaming of the train station and beamed."

 "“No one should think for a second that you are not a real shopper,” John said through his smile. That was why we were meeting in the train station. “Imagine you are on a break from work, maybe for lunch, just out to do a bit of shopping.” When he said this, he made a little rectangle with his hands, like a director coaching an ensemble cast. “We will not reimburse you for purchases,” John said, “but if you want to buy a hot dog? Sit down and eat it right outside the store? Knock yourself out.” Two of the waistcoats next to me nodded to one another, as if we’d been negotiating, and the opportunity to eat hot dogs on the clock sealed the deal. John warned us we would be supervised, even if we didn’t see them coming, and dispatched us to the store."

Related posts:

A fake job reference can be just a few clicks away.

Fake Economist Fools Portugal.

Slave Redemption in Sudan. (Fake slaves are sold to those who buy slaves and then give them their freedom)

Can A Product Work Just Because It's Expensive?. (fake medicine)

If It Pays To Have Friends, Can You Pay To Have Friends?. (you can hire fake boyfriends)

Study: Half of American Doctors Give Patients Placebos Without Telling Them.

Saudis grapple with fake street sweepers .

Rent a White Guy: Confessions of a fake businessman from Beijing (by Mitch Moxley in The Atlantic Monthly)

Can adding a phantom third story to their homes help families find a wife for their son?

Why do employers pay extra money to people who study a bunch of subjects in college that they don’t actually need you to know? Signaling

Mexicans buy fake cellphones to hand over in muggings
Conspicuous Consumption, Conspicuous Virtue, Thorstein Veblen (and Adam Smith, too!)

How does a company selling used luxury goods spot fakes? (signalling and conspicuous consumption).