Category: Opinion

Consumer Counselor – December 13, 2017

Understanding the Bitcoin Phenomenon
The going rate of bitcoins continues to rise. As of September 2017, one bitcoin was equal to nearly $4,000 USD, according to the CoinDesk calculator. Considering bitcoin is such a highly valued yet volatile form of currency, many people have questions as to how bitcoins were created and how they are used.
Bitcoin is a relatively new currency that was created in 2009 by an anonymous person (or group) using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoins are produced and traded in the virtual world. In a relatively short period of time, bitcoins went from being worth pennies to thousands of dollars. Unlike other forms of currency, which are controlled by a central authority of a particular country, bitcoins are completely virtual.
How to get bitcoins -Bitcoins are not acquired in the same way as other currencies. Bitcoins can be bought and sold in marketplaces called “bitcoin exchanges.” These online trading areas enable people to buy and sell bitcoins using various currencies, says CNN Money. Similarly, people can send bitcoins to one another using mobile apps or a computer, much like one would make digital transfers at a bank.
Bitcoins are not based on gold or another backing currency, but rather on mathematics. Instead of a federal reserve deciding on when to print and distribute money, bitcoins are created as a reward for mining. “Mining” involves a special open source software that is designed to solve math problems. As a reward for solving these problems, people are rewarded with bitcoins. This creates an incentive for people to mine.
Bitcoin mining is designed to require exertion and take time so that the rate resembles the rate at which commodities like gold would be mined from the ground, offers Bitcoinmining.com. According to ABC News, available bitcoins are hidden amid a complex encrypted computer program. Users’ computers work around the clock to solve a complicated mathematical problem in order to release new coins. The system requires more work to get coins as time goes by.
How are bitcoins stored – Bitcoins are stored in a digital bitcoin wallet. Only 21 million bitcoins can be found by miners so the value of the system is preserved. To date, not all bitcoins have been mined. Every bitcoin transaction is completely transparent, which means they can be traced back to creation. The Òblock chainÓ is a public ledger where every bitcoin transaction that has ever taken place is registered.
Anonymity – Even though bitcoin transactions are recorded publicly, the names of buyers and sellers are never revealed. Only a wallet ID is recorded. This enables bitcoin users to buy or sell anything without it being traced back to them. While many legitimate businesses now accept bitcoins, bitcoins also are highly valued for black market ventures like purchasing drugs and illegal weapons.
Bitcoins are changing the way people see money and store their private wealth. The concept decentralizes money and makes the bitcoin exchange a relatively transparent process.

Consumer Counselor – December 6, 2017

How Millennials Spend Their Money
Millennials include people born between 1980 and 2000. Millennials have become an influential demographic, changing the way business is conducted.
While influencing technology, social norms and mores, millennials also are affecting the economy. Forbes says that many millennials have a shaky relationship with money, due in some part to the fact that they lived through one of the worst recessions the United States has experienced in decades. Couple that with staggering student loan debt and it’s easy to see why millennials may be facing an uphill battle when it comes to their finances.
Millennials are falling particularly short in regard to saving money. According to a 2017 GOBankingRates survey, 57 percent of Americans have around $1,000 in savings. Sixty-seven percent of young millennials, between ages 18 and 24 have less than $1,000, says the survey. Canadians are saving even less, even though in the early 1980s Canadians of most ages used to save twice as much as Americans, or 20 percent of their disposable income, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Many millennials spend more than they earn and live above their means according to a report by American Express Business Insight. This, along with school debt, has compromised millennials’ ability to purchase a home or even get married.
Just how are millennials spending their money? Here’s a look at the common patterns.
Experiences: Funding experiences is a high priority for Gen Y. This includes concerts, sporting events, live performances, and other social events more so than possessions or career status, offers Forbes.
Retail goods and dining: TD Bank found that millennials make more retail purchases and dine out more than other generations, but generally spend less money overall.
Healthcare: Millennials spend about $1,000 more on healthcare expenses than the generations that preceded them, states financial resource Mother Jones. Housing and education costs also have risen, contributing to a smaller pool of savings.
Same-day delivery: A Shop.org survey indicated that millennials are twice as likely as other generations to pay extra for same-day delivery of online purchases.
Tattoos: Surveys conducted for Pew Research found that 40 percent of millennials have at least one tattoo.
Organic foods: A Gallup poll from the summer of 2016 found 53 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 actively try to include organic foods in their diets.
Millennials have grown up during a period of rapid change. Their large numbers are shaping the economy in a myriad of ways.

Consumer Counselor – November 22, 2017

Black Friday Safety Tips
The unofficial beginning to the holiday shopping season, Black Friday compels many people to get out of bed in the middle of the night in the hopes of landing great deals on gifts for their loved ones. The competition to find deals on Black Friday can sometimes get heated. As a result, some shoppers have found themselves in unsafe situations in the past.
Many retailers have taken steps to make the atmosphere in their stores on Black Friday less hectic and more consumer-friendly. Shoppers can follow suit and take the following precautions to ensure this Black Friday is as safe as possible.
Recognize you might not get everything on your list. Inventory may be limited in regard to sale items on Black Friday. Make a list of the items you hope to buy and where you hope to buy them, ranking each item in terms of importance. Then calmly move from store to store, recognizing that you may not end up with every item on your list. Accepting this ahead of time can make the day seem less hectic and more safe.
Protect and conceal your purchases. Shoppers might not be as sharp when shopping Black Friday sales in the wee hours of the morning. That could make them more vulnerable to thieves. Protect and conceal purchases at all times. If necessary, bring items to the car after each purchase, making sure to place them in a concealed vehicle trunk where they are not visible to prospective thieves.
Leave small children at home. While horror stories of Black Friday holiday shoppers stampeding through stores are few and far between, malls may not be the safest places for small children to spend the day after Thanksgiving. Overstressed shoppers running on fumes and long lines at the checkout counters can make things unsafe for small kids and try their patience. Shoppers who plan to shop on Black Friday should leave their small children home with a spouse or relative to avoid accident or injury.
Park in well-lit areas. Parking can be hard to find on Black Friday. But shoppers should not give in and park far away from stores in poorly lit areas of parking lots. Doing so makes shoppers vulnerable to theft or attack.
Be attentive in the parking lot. In addition to keeping an eye out for prospective thieves or attackers, Black Friday shoppers should be mindful of motorists in the parking lots. Tired shoppers may be focused on getting home and speed through parking lots. Stay alert to avoid exhausted drivers.
Finding deals might be the ultimate goal of Black Friday, but shoppers also must be mindful of safety when shopping during the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season.

ViewPoint: Celebrate Local Businesses on November 25

By Rhea Landholm
Center for Rural Affairs, rheal@cfra.org 
Growing up, I would earn a quarter per chore – a quarter each for washing dishes, dusting, sweeping, and more. I pocketed the quarters, hopped on my bike, and rode four blocks to the main thoroughfare in my town of 1,000.
I would peruse toy racks at the pharmacy and hardware store; drool over bulk candy at the grocery store and the flower shop; and peer at notepads in the glass case at the newspaper office. These locally-owned businesses received all of my hard-earned quarters.
At age 8, I didn’t realize I was supporting small businesses or the local economy. I also didn’t think to save my quarters for spending at a big box or department store. I only knew how handy it was to be able to shop in my community.
Main street businesses are an important part of our life in rural America, and Small Business Saturday, on Nov. 25, is the perfect time to celebrate them. Show your support by making purchases, which keep locally-earned dollars in your communities.
In 2015, U.S. small businesses represented 99.7 percent of businesses with paid employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. When we shop, eat, and have fun at local establishments, we benefit our neighbors.
During this holiday season, and year round, #ShopSmall. Support your community, your friends, and your way of life. When local businesses succeed, we all win.

Consumer Counselor – November 15, 2017

Conserving energy is not just an eco-friendly endeavor, but a potentially lucrative one as well. Homeowners and apartment dwellers alike who attempt to conserve energy may do so to promote the long-term health of the planet, but such efforts also greatly reduce energy bills.
Thanks to air conditioning systems, energy bills might spike in summer. But winter utility bills also can be costly, especially in homes that have not been winterized or audited to ensure energy is not being wasted. Winterizing a home involves taking steps to conserve resources and save a little money along the way.
Windows
A home’s windows can be a great place to start when winterizing a home. If the residents of a home feel cold when sitting near certain windows even though the windows are closed, the windows likely have drafts. Feel around the edges of the window and frame to determine if any cold air is coming in. If so, seal the leaks immediately. Unsealed leaks can make air inside homes cold, prompting many to turn up the temperatures on their thermostats, which can lead to the unnecessary consumption of energy and contribute to high energy bills.
Air conditioners
Homeowners who cool their homes with window air conditioning units may benefit by removing these units from windows before the arrival of winter. Window units left in windows may be allowing cold air into a home, leading to more energy consumption and higher energy bills. If removing the units is too difficult or impossible, purchase window unit covers that can be wrapped around the outside of the unit to prevent cold air from entering the home. 
Water heater
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, heating water accounts for roughly 18 percent of the energy consumed in a typical home. The DOE recommends setting water heater temperatures to 120 F. Doing so will save energy and money while still providing plenty of warm water when residents need to bathe.
Fireplace
Homeowners who have fireplaces in their homes should make sure dampers are closed whenever fires are not burning. Open dampers are akin to open windows, allowing plenty of cold air to enter a home. The DOE recommends opening dampers in the bottom of the firebox when using the fireplace. Doing so can reduce heat loss and allow homeowners to lower their thermostats while the fireplace is being used.
Homeowners who take steps to conserve energy in winter can save money while protecting the planet.

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