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Have you seen the movie The Joneses? It’s about a perfectly fake family living a perfectly fake life that they are paid by marketers to promote. The movie is often categorized under the genre of “comedy,” though it is anything but funny. It depicts “real” people getting really hurt in their attempts to keep up with their neighbors. While the tragic results of people trying to attain the unattainable were hard to watch and exaggerated, the movie did serve as a great reminder that we don’t usually see the full picture.
Several years ago when I was working at a communications firm, I had a boss who was about 20 years older than me. One day, I went to her house to pick up some paperwork and found a television crew set up in her kitchen. She explained that the crew was looking for a “typical American kitchen” to use as a set for a breakfast cereal commercial. Seems like using a real kitchen would make the commercial seem more real, right? The problem is that the average value of a home in my former boss’ neighborhood is well over $1 million compared to the existing home median price of $168,800.
Just like the Great and Powerful Oz, marketers don’t want to show reality and we probably don’t want them to either. After all, no one on Earth would want to buy cereal if they had shot the commercial in my dark and tiny one-room apartment’s kitchenette. The danger is when we are so awed by the smoke and mirrors that we forget that there is a man behind the curtain.
The stories told in most commercials are no different than the story told in The Joneses—they are both fiction. The difference is that advertisers really want you to think that what they're selling is better than what you've already got. Next time you feel yourself Jonesing for something, ask yourself a few questions: What exactly are you trying to purchase? Can you afford it? Does it fit into your financial plan? What are you willing to sacrifice to get it? After all, some of the smartest minds in personal finance believe that the key to wealth is being satisfied with what you already have.
This is not a typical American kitchen
For-profit companies that sell debt relief services over the telephone may no longer charge a fee before they settle or reduce a consumer’s credit card or other unsecured debt. The common practice of charging a fee in advance of any service being delivered often left well-intended consumers worse off than when they began.
-Be informed. You can educate yourself about current known scams by visiting IDTheftCenter.com.
-Practice due diligence. Before making any purchase, find out if any complaints have been registered with the Attorney General’s office. While a clean complaint record is not a guarantee, it is a step in the right direction.
-Be wary of high pressure appeals. For example, be skeptical if someone thanks you for a pledge you don’t remember making. Legitimate companies should not intimidate you into making an on-the-spot donation or purchase.
-Be skeptical. If someone promises you an easy way to make fast cash, be wary. As the old saying goes, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
-Remember your budget. Even if a solicitation proves to be legitimate, ask yourself if it is really something you want. Remember, before they called you probably didn’t know you “needed” what they’re selling.
-Head them off at the pass. Ask telemarketers to put you on their “do not call” list. Under federal law, they are required to comply. If they continue to call you can sue them in small claims court. For information on how to stop unsolicited email spam, review your state’s laws at SpamLaws.com.
In honor of Financial Literacy Month, we created a microsite that offers 30 simple steps to financial wellness–one for each day of the month. To enrich the experience, we asked some amazing people to guest post during the month on a topic that is related to the day’s step. Their dedication to financial literacy is truly inspiring! Today, Lynn Brem, a pioneer in the field of "Personal Marketing," discusses setting priorities from the perspective of personal marketing.
Setting priorities is an essential step toward gaining control of your financial life because if you don't identify your own priorities, legions of others will be happy to fill that void by telling you about priorities for your money that are important to them.
For example, it's important to someone that you:
There's no reason you can't have anything (or everything) on either list above if you consciously decide you want it and are willing to put in the effort. The trick in our ad-saturated, media-driven world is to keep your own attention on that decision long enough to take the many small steps necessary to get there.
That's where personal marketing comes in. Once you've identified your financial priorities, Take Back Your Brain! suggests that you go one step farther and create a marketing campaign to remind yourself about them.
What this means is that you create images of yourself having the life you want and then find ways to expose yourself to them automatically. Just like the commercial advertisers do, any way you can get the marketing messages in front of yourself is fair game. So use screen savers, slide shows, computer wallpaper, the bathroom mirror, digital photo frames, text messages, voice messages, clothing, rear view mirror, the refrigerator -- anything you can think of to expose yourself to your own advertising many times a day.
Once they're in place your "ads" compete with the flood of other input you receive every day to remind you about your priorities. Each time I see one of these pictures it brings my attention back for a moment to something important I have chosen for my own life. Soon I notice myself thinking of ways I could get there. And over time, I take more action (and therefore get better results) on priorities I advertise for, than those I don't.
These personal ads are even more powerful if you find an emotional hook for your goal. So when you're filling out the worksheet for Step 10 I recommend that you make an extra column and write down why you want each priority on your list. Later you can shamelessly exploit that underlying desire to fuel your personal marketing campaign.
To read more about how to create marketing for yourself, Lynn invites you to visit Take Back Your Brain!
There are an astonishing 282 million credit cards in the United States. When all goes well, credit can be a great tool of convenience. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for consumers to face credit problems. By educating yourself about money management, the three common consumer complaints can be solved quickly and easily.
Consumer Complaint #1: Credit Reporting Errors
According to Consumer Reports, consumers find 13 million inaccuracies on their credit reports each year. And, as most consumers know, a good credit history can be important when you want to apply for a loan, get a job, or obtain insurance. If you find an error on your credit report, there is a simple solution; you need to write to the credit reporting agencies disputing the item.
When the reporting agencies receive your letter disputing the item, they must investigate the item in dispute by presenting the information you submit to the creditor. Then, the creditor must review your evidence and report its findings to the agencies. If the investigation results in a change, the reporting agencies must give you a written report of its investigation and a copy of your report.
You can also dispute inaccurate items with the source of the information. You need to write to the creditors disputing the bill and the balance shown. The creditors may not then report the information to the agencies without including a notice of your dispute. In addition, once you have notified the source of the error in writing, it may not continue to report the information if it is, in fact, an error.
If you still do not receive any satisfaction to your dispute with the creditor, you can seek damages by suing them in state or federal court. Sections 616 and 617 of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) permit you to sue for "Willful Noncompliance" or "Negligent Noncompliance" of the FCRA. A private attorney would need to assist you in this matter. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Response Center - FCRA, 600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20580. Although the FTC cannot resolve individual problems, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations.
Consumer Complaint #2: Collection Calls The Federal Trade Commission receives more complaints about debt collectors than any other industry. If you feel that a creditor has engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices while collecting a debt, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) provides protection. However, what actually constitutes harassment would be up to the courts to decide, if you chose to sue a creditor for harassment. Some courts might feel what a creditor/collector has done is harassment while another court would consider those collection tactics a routine collection practice. While state collection laws vary quite a bit, but the FDCPA does outline some hard and fast rules. For example, debt collectors may not:
-contact you only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. -contact you at work if they know your employer disapproves. -harass, oppress, or abuse you.
Even if a collector is not breaking any laws, receiving collection calls can be stressful. If collection calls are troubling you, you can write to the collection agency demanding they not contact you anymore. The FDCPA states, "If a consumer notifies a debt collector in writing that the consumer wishes the debt collector to cease further communication with the consumer, the debt collector shall not communicate further with the consumer with respect to such debt, except - (1) advise the consumer that the debt collector's further efforts are being terminated; (2) notify that specific remedies may be invoked; (3) that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy."
Make sure, in your letter, you mention you are aware of this federal law and this provision of the law. If you have questions about this Act, call the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Response Center at 877-382-4357. Be sure to send your letter to this collection agency by certified mail, return receipt requested so you have proof they received your "cease and desist" letter.
Please be aware that taking this action does not alleviate you of your responsibility for the debt. In some cases, sending a cease and desist letter can actually escalate the collection process.
Consumer Complaint #3: Solicitations To help you cut down on credit card solicitations and other unwanted direct mail, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) offers a service called DMAChoice. When you register with DMAChoice, your address will be put on a “delete” file that is provided to direct-mail marketers. According to the FTC, your registration will not stop mailings from all organizations. However, it is sure to help—the DMA sends mail for nearly 3,600 companies around the world.
National consumer credit reporting agencies (credit bureaus) may also sell or share your name and certain other information to various outside companies for marketing purposes. If you wish to direct these agencies not to sell or share this information about you for these marketing purposes, call their toll-free telephone number at 1-888-5-OPTOUT to communicate your request.
If you are tired of your dinners being interrupted by telemarketers, add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry. Telemarketers should not call your number once it is entered into the registry. If they do, you can file a complaint with the FTC. It is free to register home or mobile phone numbers. There are 172 million current Do Not Call registrations.
The majority of small business owners think the current economic downturn is threatening their ability to survive or is at least "significantly" affecting their business. Since marketing budgets are among the first to be cut during tough economic times, this could leave many small business owners with little or no money to promote their products and services. Unfortunately, this reality creates a real catch-22; most experts believe that a good marketing strategy is one key to a small businesses’ success.
The good news is that there are many ways to promote your business on a budget. For example, Peter Kim compiled a list of 22 social media marketing tools for Mashable.com. In addition to online opportunities, there are many old-school ways to promote your business. While they may not be glamorous, they are time-tested and free (or cheap) to try.
1. Know something other’s don’t and be recognized as a resource in your community 2. Be willing to share your knowledge freely 3. Educate others through a public workshop 4. Attend community meetings 5. Take a reporter to lunch 6. Volunteer for a local charity 7. Join a committee 8. Give clients/customers extra business cards 9. Participate in a fair/event 10. Visit your office neighbors 11. Ask clients/customers to tell a friend 12. Wear your company shirt proudly 13. Sponsor a youth sports team 14. Send out a press release 15. Send a thank you card—yes, in the mail 16. Support your clients/customers when they solicit donations for charities they support 17. Join your local Chamber of Commerce 18. Hand deliver a check to a vendor 19. Be a guest speaker at a/your child’s class 20. Write an editorial piece about a current topic and send it to the local paper 21. Call a call-in radio show 22. Call and thank a board member or regular client/customer for their commitment 23. Dress and act professionally 24. Check the signage for your building, is it sufficient? 25. Know our competition and know why you are better 26. Attend professional group meetings & network (Rotary, Toastmasters) 27. Smile, even when you’re on the phone… they’ll be able to tell 28. Always carry brochures with you—you can’t give them out if you don’t have them
Have other "vintage" ideas to share? Please leave them in the comment's section!
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