Money & Banking

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Loyalty programs may limit competition, and they could be pushing prices up for everyone

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/alexandru-nichifor-1342216">Alexandru Nichifor</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-melbourne-722">The University of Melbourne</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/scott-duke-kominers-1494057">Scott Duke Kominers</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/harvard-university-1306">Harvard University</a></em></p> <p>Loyalty programs enable firms to offer significantly lower prices to some of their customers. You’d think this would encourage strong competition.</p> <p>But that isn’t always what actually happens. <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4377561">New research</a> shows that paradoxically, by changing the way companies target customers, loyalty programs can sometimes reduce price competition. The research also points to solutions.</p> <h2>A win-win proposition?</h2> <p>Joining a loyalty program is supposed to be a win-win. You – the customer – get to enjoy perks and discounts, while the company gains useful commercial insights and builds brand allegiance.</p> <p>For example, a hotel chain loyalty program might reward travellers for frequent stays, with points redeemable for future bookings, upgrades or other benefits. The hotel chain, in turn, records and analyses how you spend money and encourages you to stay with them again.</p> <p>Such programs are commonplace across many industries – appearing everywhere from travel and accommodation to supermarket or petrol retailing. But they are increasingly coming under scrutiny.</p> <p>In 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/about-us/publications/customer-loyalty-schemes-final-report">cautioned</a> consumers about the sheer volume of personal data collected when participating in a loyalty program, and what companies can do with it.</p> <p>Hidden costs – such as having to pay a redemption fee on rewards or losing benefits when points expire – are another way these schemes can harm consumers.</p> <p>But a larger question – how loyalty programs impact consumers overall – remains difficult to settle, because their effect on competitiveness is unclear. As the ACCC’s <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/about-us/publications/customer-loyalty-schemes-final-report">final report</a> notes, on the one hand: "Loyalty schemes can have pro-competitive effects and intensify competition between rivals leading to competing loyalty discounts and lower prices for consumers."</p> <p>But on the other hand: "Loyalty schemes can also reduce the flexibility of consumers’ buying patterns and responsiveness to competing offers, which may reduce competition."</p> <h2>How a two-speed price system can hurt everyone</h2> <p>A new economic theory research <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4377561">working paper</a>, coauthored by one of us (Kominers), suggests that on competitive grounds alone, loyalty programs can sometimes harm <em>all</em> consumers – both ordinary shoppers and the program’s own members.</p> <p>It’s easy to see how the ordinary shopper can be worse off. Since a firm’s loyalty program enables it to offer discounted prices to its members, the firm can raise the base prices it offers to everyone else. Those not participating in the program pay more than they otherwise would have, and the firm can respond by saying “join our program!” instead of having to lower its price.</p> <p>But sometimes, even the program’s own members can end up worse off.</p> <p>When a given customer’s loyalty status is not visible to a firm’s competitors – as is the case in many loyalty programs today – it’s hard for those competitors to identify them and entice them to switch.</p> <p>The main way to compete for those customers becomes to lower the base price for everyone, but this means missing out on the high base margins achieved through the existence of your own loyalty program – remember, having a loyalty program means you can charge non-members more.</p> <p>It’s often more profitable for firms to just maintain high base prices. This, in turn, reduces overall price competition for loyal customers, so firms can raise prices for them, too.</p> <h2>What’s the solution?</h2> <p>Despite these effects on competition, loyalty programs still offer benefits for consumers and an opportunity for brands to form closer relationships with them.</p> <p>So, how do we preserve these benefits while enabling price competition? The research suggests an answer: making a customer’s loyalty status verifiable, transparent and portable across firms. This would make it possible for firms to tailor offers for their competitors’ loyal customers.</p> <p>This is already happening in the market for retail electricity. While there aren’t loyalty programs there per se, a consumer’s energy consumption profile, which could be used by a competitor to calibrate a personalised offer, is known only to their current electricity supplier.</p> <p>To address this, in 2015, the Victorian government launched a <a href="https://compare.energy.vic.gov.au">program</a> encouraging households to compare energy offers. This process involved first revealing a customer’s energy consumption profile to the market, and then asking retailers to compete via personalised offers.</p> <p>By opening information that might have otherwise been hidden to the broader market, this approach enabled firms to compete for each other’s top customers, in a way that could be emulated for loyalty programs.</p> <p>Such systems in the private sector could build upon “<a href="https://thepointsguy.com/guide/airline-status-matches-challenges/">status match</a>” policies at airlines. These allow direct transfer of loyalty status, but currently rely on a lengthy, individual-level verification process.</p> <p>For example, a design paradigm known as “<a href="https://hbr.org/2022/05/what-is-web3">Web3</a>” – where customer transactions and loyalty statuses are recorded on public, shared blockchain ledgers – offers a way to make loyalty transparent across the market.</p> <p>This would enable an enhanced, decentralised version of status match: a firm could use blockchain records to verifiably identify who its competitors’ loyal customers are, and directly incentivise them to switch.</p> <p>Both startups and established firms have experimented with building such systems.</p> <h2>What next?</h2> <p>New academic research helps us model and better understand when loyalty programs could be weakening supply side competition and undermining consumer welfare.</p> <p>A neat universal solution may prove elusive. But targeted government or industry interventions – centred on increasing the transparency of a customer’s loyalty status and letting them move it between firms – could help level the playing field between firms and consumers.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/220669/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/alexandru-nichifor-1342216"><em>Alexandru Nichifor</em></a><em>, Associate Professor, Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Melbourne, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-melbourne-722">The University of Melbourne</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/scott-duke-kominers-1494057">Scott Duke Kominers</a>, Sarofim-Rock Professor of Business Administration, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/harvard-university-1306">Harvard University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/loyalty-programs-may-limit-competition-and-they-could-be-pushing-prices-up-for-everyone-220669">original article</a>.</em></p>

Money & Banking

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Why a one-cent stamp is set to sell for millions

<p>An extremely rare stamp that was once bought for a measly one cent is set to sell for millions of dollars, breaking records at a US auction house. </p> <p>While to the untrained eye, the blue stamp seems like any old stamp, the 1868 one-cent Z-grill is actually the rarest stamp in America due to its unique history and rarity. </p> <p>On June 14th, the one-cent Z-grill will be put up for sale by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, marking the first time the rare stamp has been on auction since 1998. </p> <p>Experts from the New York auction house say it could fetch $6 million to $7.5 million (AUD), which would make it the single most expensive US stamp ever sold.</p> <p>The reason for the extraordinary price comes down to the fact that out of the two known Z-grill stamp copies, the one up for auction is the only copy available for private purchase by collectors, while other historic copy is held at the New York Public Library.</p> <p>The Z-grill is unique due to its signature embossed paper, which was introduced to the US postal service after the Civil War to prevent stamps from being reused. </p> <p>Since 2005, the coveted stamp has belonged to billionaire investor and “bond king” Bill Gross.</p> <p>“It’s considered the trophy of collecting United States stamps,” said Charles Shreve, who has managed and built Gross’ extensive stamp collection for years and serves as director of international auctions at Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries.</p> <p>“There’s only one. If you want to brag, that’s the stamp.”</p> <p>Mr Gross' entire collection is estimated to be worth $22.6 million to $30 million AUD. The top 100 stamps from the collection will be auctioned off on June 14th, while the remaining stamps will be sold on June 15th.</p> <p>“There’s multiple stamps that’ll bring $500,000 or $750,000 (USD) but the (one-cent) Z-grill is the star of the show,” Shreve said.</p> <p>“I just know some people who are lusting for it, and we want to try to get as many people interested in it as possible.”</p> <p><em>Image credits: Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries</em></p>

Money & Banking

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Restaurant sparks outrage for "ridiculous" fee

<p>As inflation rates continue to rise it is not surprising that restaurants are charging extra fees, but one disgruntled customer was particularly shocked to see this "ridiculous" fee on their bill. </p> <p>The customer, who dined at restaurant and cocktail bar in Georgia, USA shamed the restaurant for charging their customers a $20 fee for “live band entertainment”.</p> <p>They shared their complaints on Reddit with a copy of their receipt and an unexpected fee at the bottom which read: “Two Live Band Entertainment Fee — $20”.</p> <p>Most people in the comments were equally annoyed and called the fee "ridiculous". </p> <p>“This is one of those leave money on the table, hand the waiter a tip and leave, sorry but if I didn’t order it, I’m not paying for it,” one wrote. </p> <p>“Great way to not have repeat customers,” said another.</p> <p>“This will backfire for them, just be honest and upfront," a third added. </p> <p>Other commenters were less sympathetic and did not understand why the customer was complaining when it looked like they could afford it. </p> <p>“When you’re paying seven dollars for a bottle of water, you really don’t get to complain about ‘unexpected costs.’ You knew what you signed up for," one commenter wrote. </p> <p>“Imagine a live band getting paid, huh,” another added. </p> <p>“They’re buying $7 bottles of water, they can probably afford it,” added a third.</p> <p><em>Image: Getty/ Reddit</em></p>

Money & Banking

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The types of insurance that aren’t worth your while

<p>While it’s important to make sure you’ve been covered, some forms of insurance aren’t really worth your while in the long run. We’ve taken a look at several types of insurance you shouldn’t really bother with, why they’re not worth your money and how you can find an alternative. </p> <p>Yes, it’s essential to make sure you’re covered, but at the same time you don’t need to waste any money.</p> <p><strong>Extended warranties</strong></p> <p>Many a salesperson has made a customer fork out that little bit extra for an “extended warranty” to go with a major electronic purchase. The thing is though, in many cases the period of time covered by the warranty is actually exactly the level you’re automatically entitled to under consumer law.</p> <p><strong>Credit protection insurance</strong></p> <p>While this type of insurance can be useful and a way to insure yourself against the possibility of something happening to your income as the result of an injury or a condition, credit protection insurance has tendency to be pretty expensive. </p> <p>A more cost effective way to ensure your payments to your credit card, personal loans or mortgages are fulfilled would be to take out a life insurance or total and permanent disability insurance policy through your individual superannuation fund.</p> <p><strong>Funeral insurance</strong></p> <p>Many people see this as a good way to ease the financial burden on their family that comes with their passing, but in reality funeral insurance is quite expensive and the premiums add up every year. </p> <p>A far better option is a prepaid funeral, funeral bonds life insurance or even a special savings account with money set aside. Just make sure you let your family know!</p> <p><strong>ID theft insurance</strong></p> <p>This is one of those types of insurance that isn’t really protecting your from becoming a victim, rather helping you deal with the costs once it’s already happened. And what’s more, you bank is usually willing to cover the costs of credit card fraud, which is one of the major problems to be associated with ID theft. </p> <p>Instead of spending money on a policy you can protect yourself from ID theft by simply keeping your personal documents safe, shredding documents such as bank account statements before throwing them away, and using antivirus software that is up to date. You can also check your credit file each year to make sure nobody’s using your identity for fake accounts.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p>

Money & Banking

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12 super simple ways to save some cash

<p>Saving money is a lot easier said than done. Whether you’ve got a holiday you’re thinking about taking, or you just want to make day to day life a little less stressful, there is a range of strategies you can employ to put a couple of dimes together. Here are 12 tips to cut costs:</p> <p>1. Don't buy luxury, sometimes the budget brands are just as good and save you heaps.</p> <p>2. Read the junk mail and compare offers because you can get a better deal where you didn't think you could.</p> <p>3. Cut unnecessary expenses and reduce, if possible, the necessary expenses as well.</p> <p>4. Buy used goods, it's cheaper and you can haggle.</p> <p>5. See if you can switch power companies. I'm aware of several people who are saving $250 a year.</p> <p>6. Borrow books and movies from the library or movie store - it's free or low cost compared to buying new and it's fast.</p> <p>7. Barter with family and friends, it's free and everyone wins.</p> <p>8. Take advantage of specials, sales and deals including buying in bulk, it can save you more than you realise.</p> <p>9. Walk, bike or car pool or use other public transport, it's good for the environment and saves you money.</p> <p>10. Shop around for the best deal, it might be better elsewhere.</p> <p>11. Follow insurance company advice: Don't smoke, do have alarms and do get multi policies - it protects you and saves cash.</p> <p>12. Have a savings account with all the savings from this and don't touch it, you will be amazed at what you have saved in a short time.</p> <p><em>Written by John Murphy. Republished with permission of <a href="http://www.stuff.co.nz/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Stuff.co.nz</span></strong></a>.</em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p>

Money & Banking

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What ‘psychological warfare’ tactics do scammers use, and how can you protect yourself?

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mike-johnstone-106590">Mike Johnstone</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/edith-cowan-university-720">Edith Cowan University</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/georgia-psaroulis-1513050">Georgia Psaroulis</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/edith-cowan-university-720">Edith Cowan University</a></em></p> <p>Not a day goes by without a headline <a href="https://www.vice.com/en/article/qjvaym/people-share-worst-scam-stories">about a victim being scammed</a> and losing money. We are constantly warned about new scams and staying safe from cybercriminals. Scamwatch has <a href="https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/research-and-resources/tools-resources/online-resources/spot-the-scam-signs">no shortage of resources</a>, too.</p> <p>So why are people still getting scammed, and sometimes spectacularly so?</p> <p>Scammers use sophisticated psychological techniques. They exploit our deepest human vulnerabilities and bypass rational thought to tap into our emotional responses.</p> <p>This “<a href="https://www.thecut.com/article/amazon-scam-call-ftc-arrest-warrants.html">psychological warfare</a>” coerces victims into making impulsive decisions. Sometimes scammers spread their methods around many potential victims to see who is vulnerable. Other times, criminals focus on a specific person.</p> <p>Let’s unpack some of these psychological techniques, and how you can defend against them.</p> <h2>1. Random phone calls</h2> <p>Scammers start with small requests to establish a sense of commitment. After agreeing to these minor requests, we are more likely to comply with larger demands, driven by a desire to act consistently.</p> <p>The call won’t come from a number in your contacts or one you recognise, but the scammer may pretend to be someone you’ve engaged to work on your house, or perhaps one of your children using a friend’s phone to call you.</p> <p>If it is a scammer, maybe keeping you on the phone for a long time gives them an opportunity to find out things about you or people you know. They can use this info either immediately or at a later date.</p> <h2>2. Creating a sense of urgency</h2> <p>Scammers fabricate scenarios that require immediate action, like claiming a bank account is at risk of closure or an offer is about to expire. This tactic aims to prevent victims from assessing the situation logically or seeking advice, pressuring them into rushed decisions.</p> <p>The scammer creates an artificial situation in which you are frightened into doing something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Scam calls <a href="https://theconversation.com/we-have-filed-a-case-under-your-name-beware-of-tax-scams-theyll-be-everywhere-this-eofy-162171">alleging to be from the Australian Tax Office</a> (ATO) are a great example. You have a debt to pay (apparently) and things will go badly if you don’t pay <em>right now</em>.</p> <p>Scammers play on your emotions to provoke reactions that cloud judgement. They may threaten legal trouble to instil fear, promise high investment returns to exploit greed, or share fabricated distressing stories to elicit sympathy and financial assistance.</p> <h2>3. Building rapport with casual talk</h2> <p>Through extended conversation, scammers build a psychological commitment to their scheme. No one gets very far by just demanding your password, but it’s natural to be friendly with people who are friendly towards us.</p> <p>After staying on the line for long periods of time, the victim also becomes cognitively fatigued. This not only makes the victim more open to suggestions, but also isolates them from friends or family who might recognise and counteract the scam.</p> <h2>4. Help me to help you</h2> <p>In this case, the scammer creates a situation where they help you to solve a real or imaginary problem (that they actually created). They work their “IT magic” and the problem goes away.</p> <p>Later, they ask you for something you wouldn’t normally do, and you do it because of the “social debt”: they helped you first.</p> <p>For example, a hacker might attack a corporate network, causing it to slow down. Then they call you, pretending to be from your organisation, perhaps as a recent hire not yet on the company’s contact list. They “help” you by turning off the attack, leaving you suitably grateful.</p> <p>Perhaps a week later, they call again and ask for sensitive information, such as the CEO’s password. You <em>know</em> company policy is to not divulge it, but the scammer will ask if you remember them (of course you do) and come up with an excuse for why they really need this password.</p> <p>The balance of the social debt says you will help them.</p> <h2>5. Appealing to authority</h2> <p>By posing as line managers, officials from government agencies, banks, or other authoritative bodies, scammers exploit our natural tendency to obey authority.</p> <p>Such scams operate at varying levels of sophistication. The simple version: your manager messages you with an <em>urgent</em> request to purchase some gift cards and send through their numbers.</p> <p>The complex version: your manager calls and asks to urgently transfer a large sum of money to an account you don’t recognise. You do this because <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/fraudsters-use-ai-to-mimic-ceos-voice-in-unusual-cybercrime-case-11567157402">it sounds exactly</a> like your manager on the phone – but the scammer <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2021/10/14/huge-bank-fraud-uses-deep-fake-voice-tech-to-steal-millions/?sh=1329b80e7559">is using a voice deepfake</a>. In a recent major case in Hong Kong, such a scam even involved a <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2024/02/04/asia/deepfake-cfo-scam-hong-kong-intl-hnk/index.html">deepfake video call</a>.</p> <p>This is deeply challenging because artificial intelligence tools, such as Microsoft’s VALL-E, can create <a href="https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2023/01/microsofts-new-ai-can-simulate-anyones-voice-with-3-seconds-of-audio/">a voice deepfake</a> using just three seconds of sampled audio from a real person.</p> <h2>How can you defend against a scam?</h2> <p>First and foremost, <strong>verify identity</strong>. Find another way to contact the person to verify who they are. For example, you can call a generic number for the business and ask to be connected.</p> <p>In the face of rampant voice deepfakes, it can be helpful to <strong>agree on a “safe word” with your family members</strong>. If they call from an unrecognised number and you don’t hear the safe word just hang up.</p> <p>Watch out for <strong>pressure tactics</strong>. If the conversation is moving too fast, remember that someone else’s problem is not yours to solve. Stop and run the problem past a colleague or family member for a sanity check. A legitimate business will have no problem with you doing this.</p> <p>Lastly, if you are not sure about even the slightest detail, the simplest thing is to hang up or not respond. If you really owe a tax debt, the ATO will write to you.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/223959/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mike-johnstone-106590"><em>Mike Johnstone</em></a><em>, Security Researcher, Associate Professor in Resilient Systems, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/edith-cowan-university-720">Edith Cowan University</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/georgia-psaroulis-1513050">Georgia Psaroulis</a>, Postdoctoral research fellow, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/edith-cowan-university-720">Edith Cowan University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-psychological-warfare-tactics-do-scammers-use-and-how-can-you-protect-yourself-223959">original article</a>.</em></p>

Money & Banking

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Five tips for developing and managing your budget – even in tough economic times

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/oluwabunmi-adejumo-1370664">Oluwabunmi Adejumo</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/obafemi-awolowo-university-2843">Obafemi Awolowo University</a></em></p> <p>There’s nothing quite like a new year to prompt us to take stock of our lives, our health, our goals – and our finances. Many people will start a new year by contemplating how best to budget, plan and save. This is always a good set of aims, but it’s especially important in the inflation-prone and unpredictable economies we’re seeing <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/268225/countries-with-the-highest-inflation-rate/">all over Africa and the world</a>.</p> <p>Budgeting is especially key. It is the most effective method to <a href="https://www.thebalancemoney.com/how-to-make-a-budget-1289587">monitor income and expenditure</a>. <a href="https://www.uslendingcompany.com/blog/key-differences-in-writing-a-household-budget-vs-a-personal-budget/">Personal budgets</a> can help you to monitor your resources in pursuit of larger financial goals. Budgeting also offers <a href="https://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/v46/acr_vol46_2411998.pdf">more opportunities</a> to save money, reduce your debts and live a comfortable life. It can even <a href="https://prucomm.ac.uk/assets/uploads/blog/2013/04/Personal-Budgets-review-of-evidence_FINAL-REPORT.pdf">improve your mental health</a>.</p> <p>But where should you start? What questions do you need to answer in creating a budget? Here are some tips that I’ve learned – not just as an economist, but as a research cost analyst and someone who keeps a budget too.</p> <h2>1. Understand the broader economic conditions</h2> <p>It is imperative that individuals keep themselves aware and up-to-date on the realities of their country’s economic landscape. You don’t have to be a professional economist, but keep an eye on new developments like free business registration, small business development funds and printing of new money notes. What is the current exchange rate? What’s the political landscape and what international factors, like the price of crude oil, are at play? You should also watch the inflation rate and have a sense of unemployment trends.</p> <p>This economic awareness will prepare you to draft your own budget and you’ll have a sense of when external factors mean it’s time to revisit your plans.</p> <h2>2. Review your income sources</h2> <p>The ability to earn income is critical to sustaining livelihoods. Having a definite source of income is the bedrock of budgeting.</p> <p>Some important questions you should ask about your income – and how you might budget with it – include:</p> <ul> <li>What is my current income?</li> <li>What do I use my income for?</li> <li>Am I able to save, given my current income?</li> <li>What proportion of my income do I save and what proportion do I spend?</li> <li>Do I have the capacity to earn more than this?</li> <li>How can I improve my income?</li> </ul> <p>Your answers can help you to identify gaps or untapped potential. Those with irregular or unpredictable income should factor in the element of time-gap in their income, for effective budgeting. Time gap is when they are not earning income. And everyone should make allowance in their budgets for uncertainties like health issues, social engagements, inflation, unemployment, recession and price shocks.</p> <h2>3. Appraise your expenses</h2> <p>Expenses can be broadly categorised into “variable” and “fixed”.</p> <p>Fixed expenses recur within a short period: housing, food, transport, medical costs, electricity, utilities, toiletries and clothing. Variable expenses are more long-term and irregular, such as investment in property or interest-yielding assets, and the purchase of machinery.</p> <p>The main essence of revising our expenses is to analyse and possibly improve our spending habits. In reviewing our expenses, we can consider issues such as:</p> <ul> <li>What is the proportion of consumption-savings ratio from my income? This is how much do I spend compared to how much I save.</li> <li>What are my regular expenses?</li> <li>What are my fixed, capital or investment expenses?</li> <li>What are my extraordinary expenses that need modification?</li> <li>Have there been emergency or extraordinary expenses?</li> </ul> <p>A careful response to the issues raised above offers an occasion to re-evaluate the pattern and direction of our expenses. For instance, overspending, unplanned or extraordinary expenses can be identified. This can lead to an optimal, efficient reallocation of available resources.</p> <h2>4. Stabilise your finances through savings</h2> <p>Savings have been <a href="https://klinglercpa.com/bedrock-principles-for-saving-money/">described</a> as a financial stabiliser, given their potential to cater for urgent needs and create opportunities for investments.</p> <p>Of course, savings have more value when they grow faster than the rate of inflation. Inflation erodes the value of savings. For instance, an amount of 300,000 naira (US$676) saved to purchase an autorickshaw today may be impossible in two months’ time with an inflation rate of 10% when the tricycle price rises to 330,000 naira (US$744). The reverse is the case when there is deflation.</p> <p>Therefore, it is advisable to improve the value of savings through investments in interest-yielding assets such as stocks, shares, bonds, microfinance and production.</p> <p>That’s not to say it’s always easy to save. Many income earners spend as they go, not seeing savings as part of their budgets. Harsh economic realities can also make it difficult – sometimes seemingly impossible – to save. But it’s not impossible: savings can be made in small amounts, through a daily, weekly or monthly contribution to collections, cooperative schemes or microfinance affiliations. For instance, a point of sale business in Nigeria can permit a daily contribution of 500 naira (US$1.13) over 25 work days, giving an average saving of 12,500 naira (US$28.18) per month.</p> <p>The Point-of-Sale business started in Nigeria in 2013 when the Central Bank of Nigeria introduced the agent banking system. A POS agent operates and processes transactions through a POS service provider. Providers of such services include banks, microfinance banks and fintech companies.</p> <h2>5. Run a flexible budget</h2> <p>Once your budget is created, remember that it’s not set in stone. It should be flexible if anything changes in your life. For instance, an amount saved to buy a car can be invested in a promising venture buying shares through public offerings or private placements in multinational organisations like Nestle or Unilever.</p> <p>Also, health emergencies or career advancement programmes can require taking some money out of our savings.</p> <p>In all, budgeting should be flexible enough to incorporate exigencies, especially when catering for the current situation will culminate into a greater good.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/195590/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/oluwabunmi-adejumo-1370664">Oluwabunmi Adejumo</a>, Lecturer/Researcher, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/obafemi-awolowo-university-2843">Obafemi Awolowo University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/five-tips-for-developing-and-managing-your-budget-even-in-tough-economic-times-195590">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why prices are so high – 8 ways retail pricing algorithms gouge consumers

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/david-tuffley-13731">David Tuffley</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a></em></p> <p>The just-released report of the inquiry into <a href="https://pricegouginginquiry.actu.org.au/">price gouging and unfair pricing</a> conducted by Allan Fels for the Australian Council of Trades Unions does more than identify the likely offenders.</p> <p>It finds the biggest are supermarkets, banks, airlines and electricity companies.</p> <p>It’s not enough to know their tricks. Fels wants to give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission more power to investigate and more power to prohibit mergers.</p> <p>But it helps to know how they try to trick us, and how technology has enabled them to get better at it. After reading the report, I’ve identified eight key maneuvers.</p> <h2>1. Asymmetric price movements</h2> <p>Otherwise known as <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/25593733">Rocket and Feather</a>, this is where businesses push up prices quickly when costs rise, but cut them slowly or late after costs fall.</p> <p>It seems to happen for <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0140988323002074">petrol</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S105905601730240X">mortgage rates</a>, and the Fels inquiry was presented with evidence suggesting it happens in supermarkets.</p> <p>Brendan O’Keeffe from NSW Farmers told the inquiry wholesale lamb prices had been falling for six months before six Woolworths announced a cut in the prices of lamb it was selling as a “<a href="https://pricegouginginquiry.actu.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/InquiryIntoPriceGouging_Report_web.pdf">Christmas gift</a>”.</p> <h2>2. Punishment for loyal customers</h2> <p>A <a href="https://theconversation.com/simple-fixes-could-help-save-australian-consumers-from-up-to-3-6-billion-in-loyalty-taxes-119978">loyalty tax</a> is what happens when a business imposes higher charges on customers who have been with it for a long time, on the assumption that they won’t move.</p> <p>The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has alleged a big <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-qantas-might-have-done-all-australians-a-favour-by-making-refunds-so-hard-to-get-213346">insurer</a> does it, setting premiums not only on the basis of risk, but also on the basis of what a computer model tells them about the likelihood of each customer tolerating a price hike. The insurer disputes the claim.</p> <p>It’s often done by offering discounts or new products to new customers and leaving existing customers on old or discontinued products.</p> <p>It happens a lot in the <a href="https://www.finder.com.au/utilities-loyalty-costing-australians-billions-2024">electricity industry</a>. The plans look good at first, and then less good as providers bank on customers not making the effort to shop around.</p> <p>Loyalty taxes appear to be less common among mobile phone providers. Australian laws make it easy to switch <a href="https://www.reviews.org/au/mobile/how-to-switch-mobile-carriers-and-keep-your-number/">and keep your number</a>.</p> <h2>3. Loyalty schemes that provide little value</h2> <p>Fels says loyalty schemes can be a “low-cost means of retaining and exploiting consumers by providing them with low-value rewards of dubious benefit”.</p> <p>Their purpose is to lock in (or at least bias) customers to choices already made.</p> <p>Examples include airline frequent flyer points, cafe cards that give you your tenth coffee free, and supermarket points programs. The purpose is to lock in (or at least bias) consumers to products already chosen.</p> <p>The <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/advertising-and-promotions/customer-loyalty-schemes">Australian Competition and Consumer Commission</a> has found many require users to spend a lot of money or time to earn enough points for a reward.</p> <p>Others allow points to expire or rules to change without notice or offer rewards that are not worth the effort to redeem.</p> <p>They also enable businesses to collect data on spending habits, preferences, locations, and personal information that can be used to construct customer profiles that allow them to target advertising and offers and high prices to some customers and not others.</p> <h2>4. Drip pricing that hides true costs</h2> <p>The Competition and Consumer Commission describes <a href="https://pricegouginginquiry.actu.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/InquiryIntoPriceGouging_Report_web.pdf">drip pricing</a> as “when a price is advertised at the beginning of an online purchase, but then extra fees and charges (such as booking and service fees) are gradually added during the purchase process”.</p> <p>The extras can add up quickly and make final bills much higher than expected.</p> <p>Airlines are among the best-known users of the strategy. They often offer initially attractive base fares, but then add charges for baggage, seat selection, in-flight meals and other extras.</p> <h2>5. Confusion pricing</h2> <p>Related to drip pricing is <a href="https://www.x-mol.net/paper/article/1402386414932836352">confusion pricing</a> where a provider offers a range of plans, discounts and fees so complex they are overwhelming.</p> <p>Financial products like insurance have convoluted fee structures, as do electricity providers. Supermarkets do it by bombarding shoppers with “specials” and “sales”.</p> <p>When prices change frequently and without notice, it adds to the confusion.</p> <h2>6. Algorithmic pricing</h2> <p><a href="https://pricegouginginquiry.actu.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/InquiryIntoPriceGouging_Report_web.pdf">Algorithmic pricing</a> is the practice of using algorithms to set prices automatically taking into account competitor responses, which is something akin to computers talking to each other.</p> <p>When computers get together in this way they can <a href="https://www.x-mol.net/paper/article/1402386414932836352">act as it they are colluding</a> even if the humans involved in running the businesses never talk to each other.</p> <p>It can act even more this way when multiple competitors use the same third-party pricing algorithm, effectively allowing a single company to influence prices.</p> <h2>7. Price discrimination</h2> <p>Price discrimination involves charging different customers different prices for the same product, setting each price in accordance with how much each customer is prepared to pay.</p> <p>Banks do it when they offer better rates to customers likely to leave them, electricity companies do it when they offer better prices for business customers than households, and medical specialists do it when they offer vastly different prices for the same service to consumers with different incomes.</p> <p>It is made easier by digital technology and data collection. While it can make prices lower for some customers, it can make prices much more expensive to customers in a hurry or in urgent need of something.</p> <h2>8. Excuse-flation</h2> <p><a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-09/how-excuseflation-is-keeping-prices-and-corporate-profits-high">Excuse-flation</a> is where general inflation provides “cover” for businesses to raise prices without justification, blaming nothing other than general inflation.</p> <p>It means that in times of general high inflation businesses can increase their prices even if their costs haven’t increased by as much.</p> <p>On Thursday Reserve Bank Governor <a href="https://www.afr.com/policy/economy/inflation-is-cover-for-pricing-gouging-rba-boss-says-20240215-p5f58d">Michele Bullock</a> seemed to confirm that she though some firms were doing this saying that when inflation had been brought back to the Bank’s target, it would be "much more difficult, I think, for firms to use high inflation as cover for this sort of putting up their prices."</p> <h2>A political solution is needed</h2> <p>Ultimately, our own vigilance won’t be enough. We will need political help. The government’s recently announced <a href="https://treasury.gov.au/review/competition-review-2023">competition review</a> might be a step in this direction.</p> <p>The legislative changes should police business practices and prioritise fairness. Only then can we create a marketplace where ethics and competition align, ensuring both business prosperity and consumer wellbeing.</p> <p>This isn’t just about economics, it’s about building a fairer, more sustainable Australia.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/223310/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/david-tuffley-13731"><em>David Tuffley</em></a><em>, Senior Lecturer in Applied Ethics &amp; CyberSecurity, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/griffith-university-828">Griffith University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-prices-are-so-high-8-ways-retail-pricing-algorithms-gouge-consumers-223310">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Is Valentine’s Day worth the romantic investment? Here’s what we can learn from economics

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/selma-wather-1510222">Selma Wather</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sussex-1218">University of Sussex</a></em></p> <p>Expressing affection can be expensive. Spending on heart-shaped gifts, romantic cards, chocolates and flowers (other gifts are available) to celebrate Valentine’s Day has reached <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/510981/valentines-day-total-spending-great-britain/#:%7E:text=In%20the%20United%20Kingdom%20%28UK%29%20alone%2C%20Valentine%E2%80%99s%20Day,increased%20by%20just%20over%20300%20million%20British%20pounds.">close to £1 billion</a> in the UK.</p> <p>So the value of Valentine’s to retailers seems clear enough. But just how valuable is the annual ritual to consumers? What return can you expect for the money you invest in that bouquet of roses or candle lit meal?</p> <p>Broadly speaking, and depending on your relationship status, buying into Valentine’s Day traditions suggests two possible scenarios. You might be sending a card or gift to a potential partner to inform them of your interest; or you might be giving something to your current partner to remind them of your continuing love.</p> <p>Research suggests that both options have intrinsic economic value.</p> <p>For those seeking to express interest, sending a card is like dipping your toe into what economists might refer to as the “marriage market” – the search for someone you like, who likes what you have to offer in return.</p> <p>This search can happen smoothly, with plenty of information about your potential match, or it can be paved with obstacles, where you may not know much about who is available, and <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1703310">learning about potential partners</a> takes time.</p> <p>So suppose you are searching for a partner, and comprehensive information about potential matches is not freely available. What do you do?</p> <p>One option might be to put all your hopes into meeting someone on your daily journey to work. You pray that one day, just like in the movies, you will simply bump into “the one”.</p> <p>A second option might be to focus your search on single work colleagues, or people you know socially, and send Valentine’s Day cards to those you are attracted to.</p> <p>The option with the highest chance of success is the second one. You are using reliable information – knowledge of who is single. And sending a card to them can provide them with important information about you – that you’re also single, and that you’re interested. This is why research suggests that sending a Valentine’s Day card can be a <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/2938374?origin=crossref">logical investment</a> of time and money.</p> <h2>‘Match quality’</h2> <p>Fast forward five years or so and imagine you are happily married to the recipient of one of those cards. Is it worth repeating the gesture now that you’re settled down together?</p> <p>Economists think of marriages or partnerships as having an inherent “<a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2354.2006.00385.x">match quality</a>”, which reflects how good (or bad) your relationship is – and the likelihood of you breaking up.</p> <p>If match quality falls below the level of happiness you might expect to have if you were to leave, a <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2759255">separation may well follow</a>. But many studies also show that <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/2535409">match quality is malleable</a> – that it can change, for better and indeed for worse, over time.</p> <p>You can invest in trying to improve match quality in various ways. It might be starting a family, sharing hobbies and interests, or gestures such as cooking a special meal or exchanging gifts on the 14th day of February. Improving your match quality <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228431914_How_Does_the_Change_of_Marriage_Quality_Affect_Divorce_Decisions">directly reduces the probability</a> of a separation.</p> <p>Then there’s the question of commitment – the willingness to stay in a relationship rather than walking away. And again, gestures can make a difference.</p> <p>Imagine you have just started a new job, and your employer asks you to complete an intensive training session in your free time, for a skill that would only be useful for that particular role. If you expect to hold the job for a long period, you might happily invest your time. But if your employer is struggling financially and redundancy is on the cards, you are much less likely to agree to perform the task.</p> <p>Relationships work in a similar way. People are more prepared to invest in things like having children or buying a house together if they expect the relationship to last. Given that commitment is not guaranteed by a marriage certificate, people <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=950688">need to find other ways</a> to signal their continued devotion.</p> <p>Celebrating Valentine’s Day is one way of making such a signal. It can show faith in your shared commitment, signify that you wish to continue investing in the relationship and improve match quality, further stabilising the partnership.</p> <p>So even if deep down you think that Valentine’s Day has become over commercialised and meaningless, research suggests it makes good economic sense to send that card.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/223128/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/selma-wather-1510222"><em>Selma Wather</em></a><em>, Senior Lecturer in Economics, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sussex-1218">University of Sussex</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/is-valentines-day-worth-the-romantic-investment-heres-what-we-can-learn-from-economics-223128">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Funding for refugees has long been politicized − punitive action against UNRWA and Palestinians fits that pattern

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/nicholas-r-micinski-207353">Nicholas R. Micinski</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-maine-2120">University of Maine</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kelsey-norman-862895">Kelsey Norman</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rice-university-931">Rice University</a></em></p> <p>At least a dozen countries, including the U.S., have <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/01/1145987">suspended funding to the UNRWA</a>, the United Nations agency responsible for delivering aid to Palestinian refugees.</p> <p>This follows allegations made by Israel that <a href="https://www.wsj.com/world/middle-east/at-least-12-u-n-agency-employees-involved-in-oct-7-attacks-intelligence-reports-say-a7de8f36">12 UNRWA employees participated</a> in the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack. The UNRWA responded by <a href="https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/un-palestinian-refugee-agency-investigates-staff-suspected-role-israel-attacks-2024-01-26/">dismissing all accused employees</a> and opening an investigation.</p> <p>While the seriousness of the accusations is clear to all, and the U.S. has been keen to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/30/us/politics/aid-gaza-israel.html">downplay the significance</a> of its pause in funding, the action is not in keeping with precedent.</p> <p>Western donors did not, for example, defund other U.N. agencies or peacekeeping operations amid accusations of <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/11/un-peacekeeping-has-sexual-abuse-problem">sexual assault</a>, <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/former-un-general-assembly-president-and-five-others-charged-13-million-bribery-scheme">corruption</a> or <a href="https://www.hrw.org/legacy/summaries/s.bosnia9510.html">complicity in war crimes</a>.</p> <p>In real terms, the funding cuts to the UNRWA will affect <a href="https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/gaza-strip">1.7 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza</a> along with an additional 400,000 Palestinians without refugee status, many of whom benefit from the UNRWA’s infrastructure. Some critics have gone further and said depriving the agency of funds <a href="https://jacobin.com/2024/01/unrwa-defunding-gaza-israel">amounts to collective punishment</a> against Palestinians.</p> <p>Refugee aid, and humanitarian aid more generally, is theoretically meant to be neutral and impartial. But as experts in <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/reluctant-reception/558E2A93FF99B8F295347A8FA2053698">migration</a> <a href="https://www.routledge.com/UN-Global-Compacts-Governing-Migrants-and-Refugees/Micinski/p/book/9780367218836">and</a> <a href="https://press.umich.edu/Books/D/Delegating-Responsibility">international relations</a>, we know funding is often used as a foreign policy tool, whereby allies are rewarded and enemies punished. In this context, we believe the cuts in funding for the UNRWA fit a wider pattern of the politicization of aid to refugees, particularly Palestinian refugees.</p> <h2>What is the UNRWA?</h2> <p>The UNRWA, short for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was established two years after about <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-nakba-at-75-palestinians-struggle-to-get-recognition-for-their-catastrophe-204782">750,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes</a> during the months leading up to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war.</p> <p>Prior to the UNRWA’s creation, international and local organizations, many of them religious, provided services to displaced Palestinians. But after <a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/refuge-and-resistance/9780231202855">surveying the extreme poverty</a> and dire situation pervasive across refugee camps, the U.N. General Assembly, including all Arab states and Israel, voted to create the UNRWA in 1949.</p> <p>Since that time, <a href="https://www.unrwa.org/what-we-do">the UNRWA has been the primary aid organization</a> providing food, medical care, schooling and, in some cases, housing for the 6 million Palestinians living across its five fields: Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, as well as the areas that make up the occupied Palestinian territories: the West Bank and Gaza Strip.</p> <p>The mass displacement of Palestinians – known as the <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-nakba-at-75-palestinians-struggle-to-get-recognition-for-their-catastrophe-204782">Nakba, or “catastrophe</a>” – occurred prior to the <a href="https://www.unhcr.org/about-unhcr/who-we-are/1951-refugee-convention">1951 Refugee Convention</a>, which defined refugees as anyone with a well-founded fear of persecution owing to “events occurring in Europe before 1 January 1951.” Despite a <a href="https://www.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/legacy-pdf/4ec262df9.pdf">1967 protocol extending the definition</a> worldwide, Palestinians are still excluded from the primary international system protecting refugees.</p> <p>While the UNRWA is responsible for providing services to Palestinian refugees, the United Nations also created the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine in 1948 to seek a <a href="https://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe2e5672.html">long-term political solution</a> and “to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation.”</p> <p>As a result, the UNRWA does not have a mandate to push for the traditional durable solutions available in other refugee situations. As it happened, the conciliation commission was active only for a few years and has since been sidelined in favor of the U.S.-brokered peace processes.</p> <h2>Is the UNRWA political?</h2> <p>The UNRWA has been <a href="https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/palestinian-refugees-dispossession">subject</a> to political headwinds since its inception and especially during periods of heightened tension between Palestinians and Israelis.</p> <p>While it is a U.N. organization and thus ostensibly apolitical, it has <a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/refuge-and-resistance/9780231202855">frequently been criticized</a> by Palestinians, Israelis as well as donor countries, including the United States, for acting politically.</p> <p>The UNRWA performs statelike functions across its five fields – including education, health and infrastructure – but it is restricted in its mandate from performing political or security activities.</p> <p>Initial Palestinian objections to the UNRWA stemmed from the organization’s early focus on economic integration of refugees into host states.</p> <p>Although the UNRWA officially adhered to the U.N. General Assembly’s <a href="https://www.unrwa.org/content/resolution-194">Resolution 194</a> that called for the return of Palestine refugees to their homes, U.N., U.K. and U.S. <a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/refuge-and-resistance/9780231202855">officials searched</a> for means by which to resettle and integrate Palestinians into host states, viewing this as the favorable political solution to the Palestinian refugee situation and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this sense, Palestinians perceived the UNRWA to be both highly political and actively working against their interests.</p> <p>In later decades, the UNRWA <a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/refuge-and-resistance/9780231202855">switched its primary focus</a> from jobs to education at the urging of Palestinian refugees. But the UNRWA’s education materials were <a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/refuge-and-resistance/9780231202855">viewed</a> by Israel as further feeding Palestinian militancy, and the Israeli government insisted on checking and approving all materials in Gaza and the West Bank, which it has occupied since 1967.</p> <p>While Israel has <a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/refuge-and-resistance/9780231202855">long been suspicious</a> of the UNRWA’s role in refugee camps and in providing education, the organization’s operation, which is internationally funded, <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/east-mediterranean-mena/israelpalestine/242-unrwas-reckoning-preserving-un-agency-serving-palestinian-refugees">also saves</a> Israel millions of dollars each year in services it would be obliged to deliver as the occupying power.</p> <p>Since the 1960s, the U.S. – UNRWA’s primary donor – and other Western countries have <a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/refuge-and-resistance/9780231202855">repeatedly expressed their desire</a> to use aid to prevent radicalization among refugees.</p> <p>In response to the increased presence of armed opposition groups, the <a href="https://cup.columbia.edu/book/refuge-and-resistance/9780231202855">U.S. attached a provision</a> to its UNRWA aid in 1970, requiring that the “UNRWA take all possible measures to assure that no part of the United States contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) or any other guerrilla-type organization.”</p> <p>The UNRWA adheres to this requirement, even publishing an annual list of its employees so that host governments can vet them, but it also <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-east-north-africa/east-mediterranean-mena/israelpalestine/242-unrwas-reckoning-preserving-un-agency-serving-palestinian-refugees">employs 30,000 individuals</a>, the vast majority of whom are Palestinian.</p> <p>Questions over the links of the UNRWA to any militancy has led to the rise of Israeli and international <a href="https://cufi.org/issue/unrwa-teachers-continue-to-support-antisemitism-terrorism-on-social-media-un-watch/">watch groups</a> that document the social media activity of the organization’s large Palestinian staff.</p> <h2>Repeated cuts in funding</h2> <p>The United States has used its money and power within the U.N. to block criticism of Israel, vetoing at least <a href="https://www.un.org/depts/dhl/resguide/scact_veto_table_en.htm">45 U.N. resolutions</a> critical of Israel.</p> <p>And the latest freeze is not the first time the U.S. has cut funding to the UNRWA or other U.N. agencies in response to issues pertaining to the status of Palestinians.</p> <p>In 2011, the <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE79U5ED/#:%7E:text=WASHINGTON%20(Reuters)%20%2D%20The%20United,grant%20the%20Palestinians%20full%20membership.">U.S. cut all funding to UNESCO</a>, the U.N. agency that provides educational and cultural programs around the world, after the agency voted to admit the state of Palestine as a full member.</p> <p>The Obama administration defended the move, claiming it was required by a 1990s law to defund any U.N. body that admitted Palestine as a full member.</p> <p>But the impact of the action was nonetheless severe. Within just four years, UNESCO was <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1758-5899.12459">forced to cut its staff in half</a> and roll back its operations. President Donald Trump later <a href="https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/u-s-and-israel-officially-withdraw-from-unesco">withdrew the U.S. completely from UNESCO</a>.</p> <p>In 2018, the Trump administration paused its <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/31/us/politics/trump-unrwa-palestinians.html">US$60 million contribution to the UNRWA</a>. Trump claimed the pause would create political pressure for Palestinians to negotiate. President Joe Biden restarted U.S. contributions to the UNRWA in 2021.</p> <h2>Politicization of refugee aid</h2> <p>Palestinian are not the only group to suffer from the politicization of refugee funding.</p> <p>After World War II, states established different international organizations to help refugees but strategically excluded some groups from the refugee definition. For example, the U.S. funded the <a href="https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/last-million-eastern-european-displaced-persons-postwar-germany">U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to help resettle displaced persons after World War II</a> but resisted Soviet pressure to forcibly repatriate Soviet citizens.</p> <p>The U.S. also created a separate organization, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ijrl/article-abstract/1/4/501/1598187">the precursor to the International Organization for Migration</a>, to circumvent Soviet influence. In many ways, the UNRWA’s existence and the exclusion of Palestinian refugees from the wider refugee regime parallels this dynamic.</p> <p>Funding for refugees has also been politicized through the earmarking of voluntary contributions to U.N. agencies. Some agencies receive funding from U.N. dues; but the UNRWA, alongside the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration, receive the majority of their funding from voluntary contributions from member states.</p> <p>These contributions can be earmarked for specific activities or locations, leading to donors such as the <a href="https://www.peio.me/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/PEIO12_paper_107.pdf">U.S. or European Union dictating which refugees get aid and which do not</a>. Earmarked contributions amounted to nearly <a href="https://unsceb.org/fs-revenue-agency">96% of the UNHCR’s budget, 96% of the IOM’s budget and 74% of UNRWA funding in 2022</a>.</p> <p>As a result, any cuts to UNRWA funding will affect its ability to service Palestinian refugees in Gaza – especially at a time when so many are <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/30/middleeast/famine-looms-in-gaza-israel-war-intl/index.html">facing hunger, disease and displacement</a> as a result of war.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/222263/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/nicholas-r-micinski-207353"><em>Nicholas R. Micinski</em></a><em>, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-maine-2120">University of Maine</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kelsey-norman-862895">Kelsey Norman</a>, Fellow for the Middle East, Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rice-university-931">Rice University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/funding-for-refugees-has-long-been-politicized-punitive-action-against-unrwa-and-palestinians-fits-that-pattern-222263">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Science finally proves "Money doesn't buy happiness"

<p>A new study has proven that the old adage "money can't buy you happiness" is true. </p> <p>Historically, economic wealth and higher income households are often seen to have an increased level of wellbeing and happiness, with the extra money making way for less stress and more general comfortability. </p> <p>However, researchers from Canada and Spain have concluded this may not be true, with such surveys often including responses from people in industrialised areas only. </p> <p>People in small-scale societies where money does not play a central role in every day life are often excluded from these studies, as the livelihood of residents in these small communities usually depend more on nature. </p> <p>Now, 2,966 people from Indigenous and local communities in 19 locations across the globe have been included in a study, with researchers now finding that societies of Indigenous people and those in small, local communities report living very satisfying lives despite not having a lot of money. </p> <p>The researchers wrote, "The striking aspect of our findings... is that reported life satisfaction in very low-income communities can meet and even exceed that reported at the highest average levels of material wealth provided by industrial ways of life."</p> <p>Researchers concluded the findings are strong evidence that economic growth is not needed to be happy, with only 64 percent of households included in the survey reported having any cash income.</p> <p>Eric Galbraith, lead author of the study, said, "Surprisingly, many populations with very low monetary incomes report very high average levels of life satisfaction, with scores similar to those in wealthy countries."</p> <p>Researchers added that high life satisfaction is shown in these communities "despite many of these societies having suffered histories of marginalisation and oppression."</p> <p>Galbraith added, "I would hope that, by learning more about what makes life satisfying in these diverse communities, it might help many others to lead more satisfying lives while addressing the sustainability crisis."</p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></p>

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“So tacky”: Bride slammed for using GoFundMe to pay for wedding

<p dir="ltr">A cash-strapped bride has been slammed for considering using GoFundMe to help pay for her wedding. </p> <p dir="ltr">Taking to a wedding page on Facebook, the bride explained that she and her partner had been saving as much money as possible for their wedding, but were struggling with their finances. </p> <p dir="ltr">“Our wedding is next year but I'm still so stressed that we won't be able to pay for the things that we need let alone actual decorations,” the bride began.</p> <p dir="ltr">Given the large expense of a wedding, the bride questioned if it was “tacky” to use GoFundMe, a crowd-funding website used for emergencies, to fund her big day. </p> <p dir="ltr">People were quick to chime in on the idea, with many people labelling it as “inappropriate” to use such a site for wedding expenses. </p> <p dir="ltr">The bride didn't share how much extra money she needs to fund the wedding, but many said she should continue to save rather than rely on others.  </p> <p dir="ltr">“Have the wedding you can afford, or wait and save,” one said bluntly. </p> <p dir="ltr">“Personally I think it is [tacky]. If you want to have a wedding you should be funding it yourself. If you can't afford all the things you want, then I guess you have to decide if you would rather go without or postpone until it's in your budget,” another wrote. </p> <p dir="ltr">One woman said it's “insensitive” since GoFundMe pages are for emergencies only, such as medical situations. </p> <p dir="ltr">“If you can't afford to have the wedding you want you really have two choices - postpone until in a better position financially or scale back your plans to fit within your means,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Image credits: Getty Images </em></p>

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"Worth it": Insane amount woman spends to clone dead cat

<p>Kelly Anderson from Texas, US was devastated when she lost her "soulmate" cat Chai more than four years ago. </p> <p>Not long after, in what she calls "fate", Anderson decided to clone her beloved pet, a process which cost her a whopping $USD25,000 ($AUD38,000).</p> <p>"It was just one of those moments where I had been talking about cloning a few weeks before and fate kicked in," she told <em>Weekend Today</em>.</p> <p>"I remembered the conversation and decided to clone."</p> <p>The process took about four years, which is roughly twice the average time it takes to clone a pet. </p> <p>"It was not money that I had come easily to me but it was a very important process for me to do," she said.</p> <p>"It was 100 per cent worth it. The process saved my life."</p> <p>Anderson added that Belle, the successfully cloned cat, has grown to be as "bold, bossy, sassy" as Chai, and their personalities have become more alike. </p> <p>Despite the similarities, Anderson said that she doesn't set any expectations on Belle to be Chai's replacement. </p> <p>"I would still say she's very much her own cat and I treat her that way. I always try to treat them as individuals.</p> <p>"I never wanted to put expectations on Belle to be Chai. But I would say that they're very similar in a lot of ways."</p> <p><span style="font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, 'Segoe UI', Roboto, Oxygen, Ubuntu, Cantarell, 'Open Sans', 'Helvetica Neue', sans-serif;">According to</span><span style="font-family: -apple-system, BlinkMacSystemFont, 'Segoe UI', Roboto, Oxygen, Ubuntu, Cantarell, 'Open Sans', 'Helvetica Neue', sans-serif;"> </span><em><a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/business-60924936" target="_blank" rel="noopener">BBC</a>, </em>the process itself involves extracting DNA from the pet to be cloned, then injecting that into a donor egg that has had its genetic material removed. The egg then grows into an embryo before being implanted into a surrogate mother, who then gives birth to the kitten. </p> <p>Pet cloning has become an increasingly popular practice, , despite how controversial and expensive it is, with celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Simon Cowell using the process to clone their own beloved pets. </p> <p>Anderson, who decided to document her story on social media added that people have mixed reactions to the process. </p> <p>"I think there's people who are fascinated and don't even realise that we're cloning animals ... so a lot of people are learning about cloning," she said. </p> <p>"But a lot of people also have opinions. So it's a mixed bag."</p> <p><em>Images: Weekend Today</em></p> <p> </p>

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14 personal finance tips you were never taught – but need to know

<p><strong>Take a day to think about large purchases to avoid impulse buys</strong></p> <p>“Delaying your purchases for a day gives you time to think about whether or not you really need the items, and it curbs regrettable impulse buys,” advises Marc Diana, CEO of MoneyTips.</p> <p>“Sale items may be an exception to this rule, but even then, question how badly you need the item compared to saving or investing the money you would use to purchase it. When times are tough, and you’re cutting expenses, would you rather have a rarely worn $300 pair of shoes or $300 cash?”</p> <p><strong>Budgets are freeing, not constricting</strong></p> <p>Says financial educator Tiffany Aliche, “Keeping a budget allows you to say yes to your goals in a strategic way. If you have a budget, you can save for the holiday, house or car you want to get. You can look at it as ‘No dining out,’ but I see it as ‘Yes to a trip to Paris.’ A budget is not a NO plan, but a YES plan with actual steps towards achieving your goals.”</p> <p><strong>Budget with the 50/20/30 rule</strong></p> <p>Lynn Toomey, co-founder of Your Retirement Advisor, suggests following this easy budgeting rule:</p> <p>Use 50 per cent of your income for non-discretionary necessities like food, rent/house payment, utilities, and transportation.</p> <p>Put aside 20 per cent of your income for an emergency fund (three to six months’ salary is a good target), retirement, savings, and to pay off any debts.</p> <p>Use 30 per cent of your income for discretionary (non-essential) spending such as entertainment, holidays and gifts.</p> <p><strong>Penny-pinching is not the road to wealth</strong></p> <p>Spending less doesn’t mean you’ll have more. Saving is a good way to stabilise your finances, but you still need to invest. “Pretend there are two islands,” advises Aliche, who is also known as The Budgetnista: “Financially Stuck Island and Wealthy Island.”</p> <p>She says that your savings can be like a car – you can’t drive off Financially Stuck Island without a bridge. Investing is the bridge to financial success. “To get from one island to another, you need to get in your savings car and drive it over your investment bridge.”</p> <p><strong>It’s OK to put yourself before your kids</strong></p> <p>Many people want their kids to go to university, says Aliche, “but it’s more important for you to save enough for retirement. Because the best gift you can give your child is not a free ride to school, but rather not to be a financial burden on them when it’s time to start their own family. Kids can get student loans; no one is going to lend you money without collateral when you’re retired.”</p> <p><strong>Financial advisors aren’t only for wealthy people</strong></p> <p>Millions of people have trillions invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other stock exchange investments, but just because you can easily make trades yourself doesn’t mean you should. “Why not do what you do best to earn money and let a trained professional invest it for you?” asks Brian Saranovitz, president of Your Retirement Advisor. “A recent Vanguard Investments study indicated that integrating proper retirement strategies can add as much as 3 per cent efficient return to a retirement portfolio.”</p> <p>Adds Aliche, “You need to purposefully seek out knowledge. If you break a leg, you know that you need to go to a doctor. With personal finance, people have got the notion that they could just fix it themselves. When it comes to investing, don’t be afraid to seek professional help.”</p> <p><strong>Get a clear picture of yourself at 80</strong></p> <p>Barring tragedy, you will live to a ripe, old age. Aliche recommends naming your 80-year-old image of yourself. “Mine is Wanda. I imagine Wanda sitting on the front steps in her yard. People feel disconnected from their older self. The more you can picture her, the better. I don’t want to see her mopping floors at 80. When I’m making a decision, I think, ‘How will this affect Wanda?’ If I dip into my retirement funds to buy an expensive car, that’s going to hurt Wanda.”</p> <p>If it’s easier, pretend you’re living with your grandfather or grandmother. “You’re not going to tell Granny, ‘You have to go to work. We need the money,’” she says.</p> <p><strong>You can never have too much retirement savings</strong></p> <p>Says Lynn Toomey, co-founder of Your Retirement Advisor, “Life is good. Retirement is better, if you are prepared.” She points out that retirement is laden with potential costs, such as healthcare, longevity, market volatility and inflation.</p> <p>“Even if you think you’re saving enough and have assets, it still may not be enough. The earlier you start saving and investing, the longer compound interest can work its magic to help you achieve a successful retirement.”</p> <p><strong>Don’t blow your tax refund</strong></p> <p>“What are you planning on doing with your tax refund?” asks financial advisor Mike Zaino. “If you’re like most people, the world of instant gratification is beckoning. It could be extremely damaging to your retirement account, however, especially given the time value of money and what Albert Einstein called ‘The eighth wonder of the world” – compound interest.”</p> <p><strong>Ask current lenders for a better rate</strong></p> <p>“Banks, credit unions and other lenders are keenly aware of their competition,” says Diana of MoneyTips.com. “If your credit score qualifies you for a better rate from another credit card issuer or lender, ask them to match the rate. There’s no downside to asking; the worst they could do is refuse.”</p> <p><strong>Asking for your credit limit to be raised can improve your credit score</strong></p> <p>Keep your credit utilisation – the amount of credit you use compared to your credit limit – low to boost your all-important credit, advises Diana. “You can borrow less, or you can ask for a raise in your credit limit.”</p> <p>A recent study from CreditCards.com found that only 28 per cent of respondents have never asked for an increase in their credit limit. However, a whopping 89 per cent of those who asked for a credit limit increase received one.</p> <p><strong>Unless they have a high annual fee, don’t close your old credit cards</strong></p> <p>“The longer your stable credit history, the better it reflects on your credit score,” explains Diana. “The age of accounts is averaged over all of your credit accounts, so closing an older account that is infrequently used actually harms your credit score in two ways: it lowers your credit limit, which raises your credit utilisation; and it lowers your average account age. If you have an old card with a decent credit limit, use it at least annually to keep it open. But don’t forget to pay the bill on time!”</p> <p><strong>Don’t ever co-sign a loan</strong></p> <p>“Co-signing a loan isn’t just vouching for someone’s character,” explains Toomey. “Understand that if the borrower doesn’t pay, then you’re responsible for every single missed payment. If they don’t pay, it’s your credit that will be ruined.”</p> <p><strong>Being debt-free should not be your goal</strong></p> <p>Says Aliche, creator of the Live Richer Challenge, “People focus on getting out of debt. If they use that money to grow wealth instead of getting rid of debt, they could be debt-free faster. Do you pay off your student loans to get debt-free, or invest money in your business to grow and secure wealth for yourself? If you focus on being debt-free, that’s all you’ll be. If you focus on building wealth, then you can be wealthy and debt-free.”</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.co.nz/food-home-garden/money/14-personal-finance-tips-you-were-never-taught-but-need-to-know?pages=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

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"Proud to pay more": The billionaires who want to pay more tax

<p>Over 250 millionaires and billionaires have issued an <a href="https://proudtopaymore.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">open letter</a> to global leaders encouraging them to implement wealth taxes to combat the cost-of-living crisis. </p> <p>This comes just as a report by the Oxfam Charity revealed that the global wealth of billionaires have only grown in the last three years despite inflation. </p> <p>The open letter, signed by super-rich individuals from 17 countries, includes signatories like Abigail Disney, the grand-niece of Walt Disney, <em>Succession </em>actor Brian Cox, and American philanthropist and Rockefeller family heir Valerie Rockefeller.</p> <p>They said that they would be "proud to pay more taxes" in order to address the  inequality.</p> <p>"Elected leaders must tax us, the super rich,"  the letter read. </p> <p>"This will not fundamentally alter our standard of living, nor deprive our children, nor harm our nations' economic growth.</p> <p>"But it will turn extreme and unproductive private wealth into an investment for our common democratic future."</p> <p>Austrian heir Marlene Engelhorn is also among the voices demanding that they pay more in taxes.</p> <p>"I've inherited a fortune and therefore power, without having done anything for it. And the state doesn't even want taxes on it,"  Engelhorn, who inherited millions from her family who founded chemical giant BASF, said.</p> <p>The letter was released just as global leaders gather in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.</p> <p>Abigail Disney, whose net-worth is measured at more than $100 million, said that lawmakers need to come together to make a meaningful economic and social change. </p> <p>"There's too much at stake for us all to wait for the ultra rich to grow a conscience and voluntarily change their ways," she said.</p> <p>"For that reason, lawmakers must step in and tax extreme wealth, along with the variety of environmentally destructive habits of the world's richest."</p> <p>A recent <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/63fe48c7e864f3729e4f9287/t/6596bfb943707b56d11f1296/1704378297933/G20+Survey+of+those+with+More+than+%241+million+on+Attitudes+to+Extreme+Wealth+and+Taxing+the+Super+Rich.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">survey</a> of almost 2400 millionaires found that 74 per cent of them supported the introduction of a wealth tax to fund improved public services and deal with the cost-of-living crisis.</p> <p>The open letter also said that one-off donations and philanthropy "cannot redress the current colossal imbalance" of societal wealth.</p> <p>"We need our governments and our leaders to lead," the letter said. </p> <p>"The true measure of a society can be found, not just in how it treats its most vulnerable, but in what it asks of its wealthiest members."</p> <p><em>Images: Getty</em></p> <p> </p>

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What are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ debts, and which should I pay off first?

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/angel-zhong-1204643">Angel Zhong</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a></em></p> <p>With the cost of living soaring and many struggling to get a pay rise, it’s not surprising people are using debt to navigate life’s financial twists and turns.</p> <p>Owing money can sometimes feel challenging, but not all debts should keep you awake at night.</p> <p>So which debts are good and which are bad? And in what order should you pay them off? As it all depends on your personal circumstances, all I can offer is general information and not financial advice. Ideally, you should seek guidance from an accredited financial adviser. But in the meantime, here are some ideas to consider.</p> <h2>What is a ‘good debt’?</h2> <p>Good debts can be strategic tools and help build a solid foundation for your future. They usually increase your net worth by helping you generate income or buy assets that increase in value.</p> <p>With good debts, you usually get back more than what you pay for. They usually have lower interest rates and longer repayment terms. But personal finance is dynamic, and the line between good and bad debt can be nuanced. If not managed properly, even good debts can cause problems.</p> <p>Some examples of “good debts” might include:</p> <p><strong>Mortgages</strong>: A mortgage allows you to buy a house, which is an asset that generally increases in value over time. You may potentially get tax advantages, such as <a href="https://www.ato.gov.au/forms-and-instructions/rental-properties-2023/other-tax-considerations">negative gearing</a>, through investment properties. However, it’s crucial not to overstretch yourself and turn a mortgage into a nightmare. As a rule of thumb, try avoid spending <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/select/mortgage-affordability/">more than 30% of your income</a> per year on your mortgage repayments.</p> <p><strong>Student loans</strong>: Education is an investment in yourself. Used well, student loans (such as <a href="https://www.studyassist.gov.au/help-loans/hecs-help">HECS-HELP</a>) can be the ticket to a higher-paying job and better career opportunities.</p> <h2>What is a ‘bad debt’?</h2> <p>“Bad debts” undermine your financial stability and can hinder your financial progress. They usually come with high interest rates and short repayment terms, making them more challenging to pay off. They can lead to a vicious cycle of debt.</p> <p>Examples of bad debts include:</p> <p><strong>Payday loans</strong>: A payday loan offers a quick fix for people in a financial tight spot. However, their steep interest rates, high fees and tight repayment terms often end up worsening a person’s financial problems. The interest and fee you may end up paying can get close to the loan amount itself.</p> <p><strong>Credit card debt:</strong> Credit cards can be like quicksand for your finances. If you don’t pay off your purchase on time, you’ll be subject to an annual interest rate of around <a href="https://www.rba.gov.au/statistics/tables/">19.94%</a>. For a A$3,000 credit card debt, for example, that could mean paying nearly $600 annual interest. Carrying credit card debt from month to month can lead to a seemingly never-ending debt cycle.</p> <p><strong>Personal loans:</strong> People usually take personal loans from a bank to pay for something special, such as a nice holiday or a car. They often come with higher interest rates, averaging around <a href="https://www.finder.com.au/personal-loans">10%</a>. Spending money that you don’t have can lead to prolonged financial headaches.</p> <p><strong>Buy-now-pay-later services:</strong> Buy-now-pay-later services often provide interest-free instalment options for purchases. This can be tempting, but the account fees and late payment fees associated with buy-now-pay-later services can lead to a long-term financial hangover. The convenience and accessibility of buy-now-pay-later services can also make it easy to get further and further into debt.</p> <h2>So in what order should I pay off my debts?</h2> <p>There is no one right answer to this question, but here are three factors to consider.</p> <p><strong>Prioritise high-interest debts</strong>: Start by confronting the debts with the highest interest rates. This typically includes credit card debt and personal loans. Paying off high-interest debts first can save you money and reduce your total debt faster.</p> <p><strong>Negotiate interest rates or switch lenders:</strong> Don’t be shy. A simple call to your lender requesting a lower rate can make a significant difference. You may also take advantage of sign-on offers and refinancing your loan with a new lender. In the banking business, customers are not usually rewarded for their loyalty.</p> <p><strong>Consider different repayment strategies:</strong> Choose a debt repayment strategy that aligns with your preferences. Some people get a psychological boost from paying off smaller debts first (this is often called the “<a href="https://www.wellsfargo.com/goals-credit/smarter-credit/manage-your-debt/snowball-vs-avalanche-paydown/#:%7E:text=The%20%22snowball%20method%2C%22%20simply,all%20accounts%20are%20paid%20off.">snowball method</a>”). Others focus on high-interest debts (often known as the “<a href="https://www.wellsfargo.com/goals-credit/smarter-credit/manage-your-debt/snowball-vs-avalanche-paydown/#:%7E:text=The%20%22snowball%20method%2C%22%20simply,all%20accounts%20are%20paid%20off.">avalanche method</a>”). Find what works for you. The most important thing is to have a plan and stick to it.</p> <p>Review the terms of each debt carefully. Certain loans offer flexibility in repayment schedules, while others may impose penalties for early settlement. Take note of these conditions as you develop your repayment plan.</p> <p>Debt can be a useful tool or a dangerous trap, depending on how you use it. By understanding the difference between good and bad debts, and by having a smart strategy for paying them off, you can take charge of your financial future.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/217779/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/angel-zhong-1204643"><em>Angel Zhong</em></a><em>, Associate Professor of Finance, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/rmit-university-1063">RMIT University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-are-good-and-bad-debts-and-which-should-i-pay-off-first-217779">original article</a>.</em></p>

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$280 million lotto winner cuts ties with "greedy" family

<p>Scotland resident Gillian Bayford went from rags to riches in an instant when she won the equivalent of a $278.36 million jackpot in August 2012. </p> <p>Thinking luck was finally on her side, Bayford didn't expect the amount of drama that came with the life-changing prize. </p> <p>It all began just 15 months after her lucky win with then-husband Adrian, who she split with allegedly due to the stress of managing the jackpot. </p> <p>Not long after, she spent $1,324,304 to pay off her family's debt, which included money that her late father Ian McCulloch and her brother Colin owed over a series of failed business ventures according to <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/woman-won-187m-lottery-severed-ties-greedy-family-2023-12" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>Business Insider</em></a>. </p> <p>“My dad and brother built up one company after another and then closed them down,” Bayford said. </p> <p>“I’ve bailed them out of every debt.”</p> <p>She continued to keep her family financially afloat spending a total of $37.31 million on them, and even bought her parents - who were broke and living in a caravan at the time - a $522,388 penthouse apartment in eastern Scotland. </p> <p>But, according to the <em>Mirror</em>, that wasn't enough and her father insisted that she should give her brother around $1.5 million, for a new play-centre business. </p> <p>She obliged, and instead of thanking her, Colin now drives Audis with private plates, owns a $546,000 house and reportedly stopped talking to his sister. He even got married to his girlfriend without inviting Bayford to the wedding. </p> <p>“They have lost touch with where they’ve come from,” Bayford told <em>The Sun</em>.</p> <p>“They’re rubbing people’s noses in it by flashing their cash, which I think is downright nasty.”</p> <p>At one point her father even tried to take control of her winnings and even take a piece of her business. </p> <p>“It’s upsetting and raw,” she told the publication. </p> <p>“The money was supposed to make everybody happy. But it’s made them demanding and greedy.” </p> <p>She added, "they brought our name into disrespect in the village, and we had people threatening to torch the family house.”</p> <p>Bayford said that despite it all she takes pride in herself "because I know I’ve taken them out of a situation.”</p> <p>The lotto winner officially cut ties with her family in 2016 after they called her an embarrassment, while her mum Brenda McCulloch claims she’s heartbroken over the lack of contact with her daughter and grandchildren.</p> <p>“Gillian says that we didn’t try and get in touch with them, but if I’d tried she wouldn’t have let me,”  she said. </p> <p>Her mum also claimed that while her daughter was “generous,” the actual amount she gave her family was much lower. </p> <p>“Every word that comes out of their mouths is a lie. I wish them a happy life, but there will be no reconciliation now," Bayford refuted. </p> <p><em>Image: Getty</em></p>

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All of the incredible royal jewels Queen Mary just inherited

<p>In a weekend filled with regal splendour and historic significance, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark not only <a href="https://www.oversixty.co.nz/lifestyle/family-pets/king-charles-message-to-mary-as-she-becomes-queen" target="_blank" rel="noopener">ascended to the esteemed title of Queen</a> but also found herself adorned with the resplendent Danish Crown Jewels.</p> <p>The symbolic transfer of these extraordinary treasures, formerly belonging to Queen Margrethe, marks a momentous chapter in the Danish monarchy, and for Mary, it's a journey into the rich history of royal glamour.</p> <p>The Danish Crown Jewels, a collection with a lineage spanning centuries, tell a story of devotion, legacy and timeless elegance. Initiated by Queen Sophie Magdalene in the 1700s, each subsequent queen has contributed to and enhanced the collection, resulting in four dazzling "parures", or sets, each a testament to the enduring craftsmanship and artistry of Danish royalty.</p> <p><strong>The Emerald Set: A Gift of Love Across Generations</strong></p> <p>At the heart of the collection is the Emerald Set, a masterpiece featuring diadem, necklace, brooch and earrings adorned with emeralds and brilliant-cut diamonds. Originally gifted to Queen Sophie Magdalene in 1723 by King Christian VI, the set exudes a captivating blend of history and sophistication. As Queen Margrethe has demonstrated in the past, the pieces can be worn together or detached for a versatile, regal allure.</p> <p><strong>Pearl Ruby Set: A Timeless Elegance in Red and White</strong></p> <p>The Pearl Ruby Set, with its origins in the late 1600s, boasts a pearl necklace from Queen Charlotte Amalie, complemented by a matching pearl, ruby and diamond brooch and earrings. The ensemble, enhanced by Queen Caroline Amalie in the 1840s, mirrors the colours of the Danish flag. The set's adaptability, such as the pendant attachment to the pearl necklace, reflects a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation.</p> <p><strong>Brilliant Set: Diamonds that Sparkle with History</strong></p> <p>The Brilliant Set, featuring a brilliant-cut diamond necklace, floral bouquet brooch and earrings dating back to 1840, was the choice of Queen Margrethe for her son Frederik's wedding. This set, rich in symbolism, is a dazzling testament to the enduring sparkle of Danish royalty. Paired with the Floral Aigrette tiara, it adds a touch of timeless grace to any royal occasion.</p> <p><strong>Rose Cut Set: A Delicate Affair with Rose-Cut Diamonds</strong></p> <p>The Rose Cut Set, with necklaces and brooches fashioned from rose-cut diamonds, whispers tales of Princess Charlotte Amalie from centuries past. Worn sparingly by Queen Margrethe, it holds a unique place in the collection, and its rare appearances evoke a sense of antiquity and refinement.</p> <p>For Queen Mary, this accession to the Danish Crown Jewels is not just a privilege but a responsibility to carry forward the legacy of elegance and grace. These jewels, worn by every Queen of Denmark since the 1700s, are not merely adornments; they are a connection to the nation's history and a symbol of continuity.</p> <p>Reserved for special occasions, such as state visits and the New Year Reception, the Danish Crown Jewels will now find a new muse in Queen Mary. Ensconced within the walls of Rosenborg Castle when not in use, these jewels remain a source of pride for Denmark, a tangible link to its regal past.</p> <p>As Queen Mary steps into this new chapter of her royal journey, the Danish Crown Jewels will undoubtedly witness many more moments of joy, solemnity and regal radiance, reflecting the enduring spirit of a nation intertwined with its royal heritage.</p> <p><em>Images: Instagram / Getty Images</em></p>

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15 hacks that make running errands so much better

<p><strong>Run errands during the week</strong></p> <p>More than 90 per cent of people do errands on the weekends, meaning shops will be packed and traffic will be a nightmare. Running errands on a weeknight will get you in and out in half the time. Once the kids are in bed, have one parent stay home while the other drives to the shops. You’ll miss the crowds and keep your weekend free for fun and family.</p> <p><strong>Turn on a podcast</strong></p> <p>Radio music – and its deejays and commercials – can get intense. Switch off the FM and plug in your phone so you can listen to a podcast or audiobook. You’ll be more relaxed, and the time will fly as you get engrossed in the story.</p> <p><strong>Make the most of your time</strong></p> <p>Never run out for just one task. Save time, petrol, and stress by getting more than one thing done when you’re out of the house. After dropping your child off at soccer practice, drop off your dry cleaning or pick up the milk from the supermarket.</p> <p><strong>Set up an errand centre in your home</strong></p> <p>Keeping all the objects you’ll need to complete your errands – packages to be mailed, dry cleaning to be delivered, library books to be returned – in one place will make it easy to get out the door when you get the chance. Designate a space by the door or in your car as a visual reminder of what needs to get done.</p> <p><strong>Buy in bulk</strong></p> <p>Picking up big batches of items like toilet paper, dog food, and tampons means fewer trips to the supermarket and less time running errands. Plus, you save money by buying bulk packages or stocking up while the items are on sale.</p> <p><strong>Use long lines for "me time"</strong></p> <p>Instead of griping about how long your wait to the cash register is, think of it as a few peaceful moments to yourself. Close your eyes (don’t be self-conscious!) and imagine yourself sitting on a quiet beach or getting a massage. Take several deep breaths while you mentally escape to that place. You’ll be much more relaxed, and you can wait in line with less frustration.</p> <p><strong>Practice mindfulness</strong></p> <p>Performing a ‘walking meditation’ while you shop will keep you engaged with your task instead of letting your mind wander to other stressors. By the end of your trip, you’ll have more energy and less frustration. Pay attention to the bright colours of the produce, the scents wafting from the bakery, and the feeling of each step you take.</p> <p><strong>Do someone else's errands</strong></p> <p>If you have an elderly neighbour or know a mother with young kids, offer to add some of their tasks to your to-do list. Studies have shown that helping others can reduce stress.</p> <p><strong>Tune out</strong></p> <p>Instead of drowning out your thoughts with music, keep the radio off when you’re driving and allow your own thoughts to come to you. The stimuli of everyday life can be overwhelming, so this is your chance to recharge your energy in the silence.</p> <p><strong>Keep a grocery list on your phone</strong></p> <p>You probably buy the same things on most of your grocery runs. Instead of writing a new list every week, keep an ongoing list on your phone, which makes it easy to add and remove items. Organise your list in the order you’ll find them at the supermarket. For instance, if you start near the produce section, write the fruits and vegetables first.</p> <p><strong>Reward yourself </strong></p> <p>To keep yourself motivated while you’re out, add a little luxury to your shopping list. Treat yourself with nice bath soap, a bouquet of flowers, or your favourite craft beer.</p> <p><strong>Keep an ongoing errands list</strong></p> <p>Write down your usual tasks, along with the ones you keep forgetting to do, like buying socks for your child or making a vet appointment for the dog, in a notepad. Carry it with you so you don’t miss anything when you’re out. When you’re home, stash it where the rest of your family can access it and jot down their needs.</p> <p><strong>Buy online as much as possible </strong></p> <p>The possibilities are endless: order groceries, buy stamps, cash checks, and renew library books online. Giving your credit card number over a secured server is safer than stating your number over the phone, and sometimes safer than handing your card over at a store.</p> <p><strong>Alternate tasks with your neighbours </strong></p> <p>Make a deal with your neighbours in which you do the grocery shopping one week, and they take care of it the next. You can watch each other’s kids when it’s your turn to stay home, and both of you will make fewer trips to the supermarket. Or plan to go grocery shopping with a friend. You’ll have more fun with the social support, and your kids might behave better with someone else present.</p> <p><strong>Have dad run errands with the kids</strong></p> <p>Kids who cook, clean, and run errands with their dads have more friends and are better behaved, according to a University of California study. Make sure your partner (or you, if you’re a dad) takes the kids along every now and then. As a bonus, wives of men who do chores with their kids find their husbands more attractive.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.co.nz/culture/15-hacks-that-make-running-errands-so-much-better?pages=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

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Could you cope with a shock to your bank balance? 5 ways to check you are financially resilient

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/bomikazi-zeka-680577">Bomikazi Zeka</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-canberra-865"><em>University of Canberra</em></a></em></p> <p>Imagine the dentist has just said you urgently need a A$2,000 dental crown. A week later, a pipe in your bathroom bursts, causing $8,000 worth of damage. Suddenly, you’ve been hit with a $10,000 financial shock.</p> <p>As the cost-of-living crisis plunges more households into financial uncertainty and at least <a href="https://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/data/taking-the-pulse-of-the-nation-2022/2023/australians-face-challenging-budgetary-constraints#:%7E:text=Over%20the%20past%20six%20months,has%20increased%20to%2060%20percent.">one-third</a> of Australians struggle to make ends meet, it’s more important than ever to ask yourself: how financially resilient am I?</p> <p>Being financially resilient means you aren’t left financially devastated when an expensive emergency creeps up on you. Here are five key signs of financial resilience.</p> <h2>1. You have a plan for what you’d do if you suddenly lost your salary</h2> <p>Financial resilience means having a plan to fall back on during tough times. This extends to how you’d make money if you lost your job.</p> <p>In practice, that means things like making sure your skills and contacts are kept up to date so you can more easily find a new job. You might also consider whether a “side hustle” job such as tutoring could work for you in the short term, and how you’d put that plan into practice if needed. Perhaps you have a spare room in your home you could rent out for a period of time if you lost your salary.</p> <p>Those examples won’t work for everyone, of course, but it’s still worth asking yourself the question: what would I do if I lost my salary tomorrow?</p> <h2>2. You have enough liquid assets to meet an unexpected financial expense</h2> <p>Liquid assets means money that can be accessed quickly and easily to overcome an unplanned financial expense. Savings are a good example. They provide a buffer so you can cope in the short term if a financial shock strikes. The federal government’s Moneysmart website suggests you aim to have enough in your emergency savings fund to cover <a href="https://moneysmart.gov.au/saving/save-for-an-emergency-fund">three months of expenses</a>.</p> <p>Having an <a href="https://moneysmart.gov.au/glossary/offset-account">offset account</a> as part of a mortgage is another option that provides a buffer. Putting money in an offset account helps you save while reducing the amount of interest on a home loan. You can still access the money in an offset account at any time.</p> <h2>3. You have bought the right financial products, such as insurance</h2> <p>Financial products, such as insurance, hedge against potential losses.</p> <p>Personal insurance is important because it provides income in the event of death, illness or injury. Examples include:</p> <ul> <li> <p>life insurance (which pays out to your beneficiaries, such as your partner or children, when you die)</p> </li> <li> <p>total and permanent disability insurance (which means you may get some money if you acquire a disability that prevents you from working)</p> </li> <li> <p>income protection (which provides you with an income if you can no longer work)</p> </li> <li> <p>trauma cover (which covers a life-changing illness or injury, such as cancer or a stroke).</p> </li> </ul> <p>Check if your superannuation has any of these insurances included in it. <a href="https://www.griffith.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0030/295770/FPRJ-V4-ISS1-pp-53-75-insurance-literacy-in-australia.pdf">Research</a> has found that many Australians are underinsured.</p> <h2>4. You can still pay your debts when times are tough</h2> <p>Being able to borrow money can help when you’re in a tight spot. But knowing where to borrow from, how much to borrow and how to manage debt repayments is crucial.</p> <p>Financially resilient people use debt responsibly. That means:</p> <ul> <li> <p>not using debt for frivolous expenses like after-work drinks</p> </li> <li> <p>staying away from private money lenders</p> </li> <li> <p>being cautious about buy-now-pay-later services</p> </li> <li> <p>watching out for debts with high interest rates, such as payday loans and credit card debt</p> </li> <li> <p>maintaining debt repayments consistently.</p> </li> </ul> <p>If you’re having debt problems, talk to your lender about renegotiating your repayment arrangements, or contact the <a href="https://ndh.org.au/">National Debt Helpline</a> on 1800 007 007.</p> <h2>5. You are financially literate</h2> <p>Being financially literate means you can assess the benefits and risks of using savings or taking out debt to meet an unplanned financial need.</p> <p>As I have <a href="https://theconversation.com/are-you-financially-literate-here-are-7-signs-youre-on-the-right-track-202331">written</a> before on The Conversation, key signs of financial literacy include tracking your cashflow, building a budget, as well as understanding what debts you have and which to pay first.</p> <p>It also means storing your money across different places (such as superannuation, savings accounts, property and the share market) and understanding how financial assets like cash, shares and bonds work.</p> <p>Being aware of your financial strengths and weaknesses, and having financial goals is also important.</p> <p>Nobody is born knowing how to make sound financial decisions; it’s a skill that must be learned.</p> <p>It’s good to think about the resources you would draw upon to help get yourself out of a difficult financial situation – well before disaster strikes.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/218126/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/bomikazi-zeka-680577"><em>Bomikazi Zeka</em></a><em>, Assistant Professor in Finance and Financial Planning, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-canberra-865">University of Canberra</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/could-you-cope-with-a-shock-to-your-bank-balance-5-ways-to-check-you-are-financially-resilient-218126">original article</a>.</em></p>

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