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September 2010

When I get together with my father, we often talk about our plans: my plans for continuing to live in New Jersey or not and his plans to possibly move out of the state when he retires. One option he’s seriously considering is retiring to Delaware, near the ocean.

He currently lives in a relatively expensive area of the state. I expect that he won’t be struggling in retirement, but when you no longer have a steady income when work ceases, it’s going to be difficult to justify living in the state with the highest property taxes in the nation.

Several of my friends in New Jersey have migrated westward, across the state’s border with Pennsylvania. Their commute might be a bit longer that it would be otherwise, but they’re saving more money every year than they would have been able to if they stayed in New Jersey in a similar house in a similar community.

In a perfect world, the property taxes we pay — and as I renter I do pay property taxes, they’re embedded in the rent as the owners simply pass on the expenses to their tenants — are used to pay for services that benefit the entire community, like schools and emergency services. I have no problem paying reasonable property taxes as I benefit from these services, even if I have no children in the public school system. A good public school benefits the entire community. But how much is reasonable?

When looking at real estate listings, I look for tax payment estimates and other information about the quality of services in the community. Other people I know seem to be blindsided after buying their first house and finding out how much they have to pay to the local government. Do you look at property taxes while you’re looking for a new place to live? How do you weigh the taxes against the services they provide?


The recession may be officially over, but that doesn’t mean everyone has seen a personal financial recovery. The rate of unemployment, always the last piece of the economy to improve after a recession, is still high. A friend of mine who was laid off during the financial upheaval finally reached his 99th week of unemployment and no longer receives benefits. He has a job lined up, one that requires training ahead of time. He’ll be officially employed in January. For the last couple of years, he has had to find income here and there and stretch his dollars while going on as many job interviews as possible.

So for those who are looking to make the most of their cash in a tight economy — and even those with jobs could be feeling the pinch — here is a sampling of suggestions from the blog 31 and Holding: [click to continue…]


Here’s one of the reasons I don’t enjoy shopping for groceries. Items are priced in such a way it can be difficult to compare. Without keeping a price diary, it can be difficult to tell when a sale price is good. It’s a lot of work to shop right. Personally, I no longer sweat the small stuff. But if I were in a situation where my total expenses approached my total income, I would be looking carefully at every penny, particularly in the supermarket.

Even if you compare per-unit prices, grocery retailers have many methods of making you think you’re getting a good deal when you may not be. One of the more frustrating sales is the “ten items for $10” deal. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ten items, nor does it have to be $10. You might see “three items for $5” or “five items for $2.” These sales often inspire a question, like this one from a Consumerism Commentary reader:

In my local supermarket chain, I saw a sale price for items I wanted, advertising ten items for $10. In other words, $1 per item. I bought five, expecting to be charged a buck for each item, but they rang up at more than $2 each. I’m thinking this is false or misleading advertising, which should not be allowed by law. Am I right?

In the Super Stop & Shop where I do almost all of my shopping, a block from my apartment, they have similar sales often. In my experience, if an item is advertised as ten for $10, I can buy fewer than ten and they will charge the sale price of $1 each. In fact, many times, this isn’t a sale and the items have a regular price of $1 each.

There are exceptions, but when there are, the fine print on the price tag indicates that I will be charged the regular price if I don’t purchase enough to qualify for the sale.

There are several possibilities:

  • The cashier rang up the items incorrectly.
  • You missed the fine print on the price tag on the shelf.
  • The store does not have a consumer-friendly sale policy.

It does not qualify as false or misleading advertising if you buy fewer than the number of items listed in the sale. If anything, it is just confusing, especially if a store is inconsistent. Sales like these are very effective at getting people to buy more than they would have without the special sale messages.

Got any questions? Contact me and I’ll do my best to research and answer your question on Consumerism Commentary.

Photo: greeblie


Earlier this year, the State of New Jersey missed out in $400 million in federal aid for public schools due to an administrative error and the political inability to take the educational needs of the state’s students seriously. This money would have been part of the federal Race to the Top program, a set of competitive grants awarded to states that show they could, theoretically, spend the money effectively.

While this fair state missed out on Race to the Top funds, New Jersey qualified to receive $268 million from the federal jobs program. This money is being distributed to districts, with some receiving a few hundred thousand dollars and some receiving over a million, though the share calculation has been kept private. The federal government is not the only entity interested in putting money into public schools to aid the neediest programs.

The public schools in the city of Newark will win the funding race thanks to the young founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. Newark mayor Cory Booker met Zuckerberg only in July, but the two have been communicating since then. This fast friendship has resulted in the wunderkind donating $100 million in the form of Facebook stock to Newark’s schools. Unfortunately, the value of this stock is based on a Facebook total valuation of $33 billion which may be a bit optimistic.

Why Newark? Why not. Zuckerberg has no direct connection with the city, but the district is surely needier than the his hometown’s public schools in White Plains, New York.

With a movie coming out in October that is sure to paint the Facebook founder perhaps unfairly in a negative light, a generous philanthropic gesture could do wonders for his image. Money is money, though, and to the students in Newark who will be the beneficiaries of this generosity, the donor’s motivation shouldn’t be too important. I would like to believe that the money will be managed properly and find its way to the direct benefit of students in the city.


Podcast 75: Fight Back Against Unfair Debt Collection Practices, Fred Williams

by Luke Landes

On today’s episode of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Tom Dziubek talks to Fred Williams, author of the book Fight Back Against Unfair Debt Collection Practices: Know Your Rights and Protect Yourself from Threats, Lies, and Intimidation. Fred talks about going from being a journalist at the Buffalo News to working at a leading debt collection […]

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Get Your Free FICO Score From

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You may have noticed a change in the way merchants are advertising credit reports and credit scores and that stems from new regulations enacted by the Federal Trade Commission. The ubiquitous commercials have been surreptitiously replaced with commercials, though the new commercials share the same attitudes. Companies can no longer advertise the sale […]

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Being Evasive About Your Salary Can Backfire

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If there is one thing you can expect in any job interview, it is to be asked your current salary. Even if your current job shares little in common with the one you’re pursuing, hiring managers want to get you pigeonhole yourself. Most companies treat employee salaries as confidential information, so it’s unlikely what you […]

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New homes are shrinking. According to the the Census Bureau’s statistics, the median home new size in 2009 fell from 2,300 to 2,135 square feet. Are homeowners shifting away from McMansions? The market is soft. If new homes are smaller, is it a result of what consumers want or what builders can afford? Many new […]

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Searching For Love and Money In All The Right Places

by Financial Samurai

This is a guest article by Sam, the author of the blog Financial Samurai and the founder of the Yakezie Blog Network. He writes a column for Consumerism Commentary every other Tuesday. This article serves as an introduction to this new bi-weekly column. At age 15, I stopped growing and I remember being so disappointed. […]

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Children Covered by Parents’ Health Insurance Plans

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A Consumerism Commentary reader wrote in with the following question: I called our health insurance company about adding our sons back on our policy and they said they still had to be in school for 12 credit hours. Is this true? They said the new law did not effect them yet. Any answers for this […]

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