Posts filed under “Consumer Spending”

Household Deleveraging: Almost Over?


Below I give you two related (and therefore similar) measures of household leverage: Household Debt Service Payments and Household Financial Obligations, each as a Percent of Disposable Personal Income:

hhld debt svc and fin obs

Each has hit a record or near-record low for the maximum observable period (regrettably only 33 or so years).

The question must be asked: Is the era of consumer deleveraging, which began just prior to the start of the reception, at an end?


Category: Consumer Spending, Cycles, Data Analysis, Economy

America’s Worst Charities

I have to direct your attention this morning to a monster piece in Tampa Bay Times titled: America’s Worst Charities.

Aside from the obvious Pulitzer Prize potential, the series is a fantastic look at the massive waste of money – donated in good faith by people who have reasonable expectations that the cash would actually do some good to people in need. Instead, the worst charities are simply treadmills, raising more money to apply it to the not very important business of raising more money.

The finance industry has deep ties to the world of philanthropy (aka charity industry), as wealthy clients very often engage in major “gifting.” Foundations and donations are a major part of tax and estate planning.

As the series makes clear, intelligent philanthropy is much harder than it looks. I always advise that before writing a check, you do your homework. Start with GiveWell and Charity Navigator (also check out Evaluating the Charity Evaluators). Focus on what actually helps people, rather than poorly run, self-interested shops that are borderline scams. (Also, check your ego and avoid trying to have a building with your name on the side of it).

And for heaven’s sake, stop giving money to outfits that pocket 90% of the donations, leaving little or no aid for its intended purpose.






Click to enlarge
Source: Tampa Bay Times

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Category: Consumer Spending, Investing, Markets

McLaren MP4-12C vs Lamborghini Aventador

Crazy cool comparison engine from TwinRev — punch any two supercars into the tool and generate a full side by side analysis. From an automotive shopping perspective, when this thing goes down market so you can compare an Honda Accord versus a Toyota Camry or an Infiniti G37 versus a BMW 335, it will be…Read More

Category: Consumer Spending, Digital Media, Weekend

Delightful Customer Service: Maui Jim

I waste a lot of time energy kvetching about bad bankers, dumb companies, rude people, foolish airlines, and most especially — terrible customer service. For a change, let me praise a company who does something right: Maui Jim. I have had several opportunities to test their customer service, and they have gone over and above…Read More

Category: Consumer Spending, Corporate Management

Average American Spending

How The Average American Spends Their Money

Source: Credit Loan
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Category: Consumer Spending

The New American Luxury Garage

Driving Into Luxury Garages

Americans are rediscovering their garages—and turning them into luxury showcases for their cars, with high-end finishes, flat-screen TVs, underground car lifts and welding equipment. Sanette Tanaka has details.

Source: WSJ

Category: Consumer Spending, Video, Weekend

Books Bought By Big Picture Readers (February 2013)

Click to enlarge Once again, its time to peruse the data to see which books TBP readers bought last month. Amazon’s embed code lets me track every click from these links — how many people look at the page, how many books get seen, and/or collectively purchased. Its anonymous — I don’t know who bought…Read More

Category: Books, Consumer Spending

TBP Guide to Car Leasing & Buying

I mentioned yesterday morning that I had a) two cars coming off lease at the same time; b) I’ve been doing lots of shopping at various dealers; c) car financing was pretty attractive. This post expands on that discussion.

Allow me to share what I have learned over the past few weeks. I feared car buying was going to be an ordeal, but I discovered it didn’t have to be. To avoid this fate, you must: Do your homework, understand the negotiation process, and be moderately flexible. 

These are my 10 steps to better auto shopping:


1) Set Up Your Online Shopping Identify:

Get a Google Voice account (its free) then get a LeeMail account (its free). These are the only numbers/addresses you use until you decide which car you are getting from which dealer.

Both of these can be easily set to specifically block any emailer or caller — meaning you never hear from them again.

Trust me on this: If you don’t set up both of these up front, you will be harangued by car dealers for the rest of your natural lives (and possibly beyond).


2) Do your homework: Before you ever step foot on a dealer’s lot, you need to figure out a few things:

a) What kind of transport? Are you looking for a minivan, convertible, truck, coupe, SUV, etc.
b) The range of competitive vehicles for that car type
c) Your actual budget (including your “bottom line” monthly price)
d) Buy or Lease? (see #3)

Here is an example: One of our cars must be an AWD 4 door, 5 passenger. We made a flexible list that included: Acura RDX/MDX/ZDX, Audi A6/A7, BMW 535x, BMW X5, Infiniti FX35, Infiniti G, Infiniti M37x, Lexus RX350, Mercedes E350, Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC90, VW Toureg. All had 4 doors, were available in AWD. Prices ranged from mid $30s on the low end to over $70k fully optioned.


3) Buy or lease? Most people should own, not lease cars. Its better not to pay for just the most expensive years of a depreciating asset.

The exception is if you can lease with pre-tax dollars — if you own (or are senior enough in) a company, than a lease may be a great deal. But without that tax advantage, the numbers favor owning.


4) Know Your Price Range and Approximate Cost of Cars: All of the cars I mentioned have extensive websites where you can build and price vehicles. You end up with MSRP.

With overall rates so cheap, the cost of financing a car for purchase is as low as its ever been. That reduces a key cost of auto shopping.

If you lease, you want to do Sign & Drive. If the car is stolen or totaled, the down payments are also lost — so it pays to roll as much as you can into your monthly fee.


5) Understand Factors Which Impact Pricing: The cost of any given car is a function of its retail price (MSRP), specific programs dealers are running, financing, what is hot or not, and other factors.

Seasonal contrarians take note: Convertibles tend to be more negotiable in December/January/February (they are just sitting on lots) the same is true with AWD trucks in June/July/August.

New/Old Models: When models change, there are deals to be had. A brand new model means there are not a lot of used ones to be sold — and many dealers make more from their used cars than they do from their new ones. For example, this month, Lexus’ new RX350 SUV had really good lease deals (2013 RX350 AWD $429mo/27mos. $3,779 due at signing) — because they want some used ones to sell in 2015.

Also look at cars that are being replaced: Acura’s MDX is being upgraded, so is Infiniti’s G37AWD sedan. The deals: 2013 MDX 6 Speed auto $439 per month for 36 months,$2499 total due at signing; Infiniti G37 Sedan AWD with Premium Package: $299/month Lease for 24 months, $2,699 initial payment. Their sale prices were also significantly discounted.

The hot sellers — Audi A7 — is pretty much full boat. And the leases were even worse. (Pass).

Then there are the klunkers: The overpriced, slow-selling BMW 5 series Gran Turismo is rumored to be cancelled soon; if that happens, they will go on mad sale. A similar BMW 3 series GT  — the shape works much better on the smaller car — arrives this summer. Watch for deals then.
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Category: Consumer Spending, Credit

Bernanke Goes Car Shopping

Have you been shopping for an automobile recently? If you want to understand the impact the Federal Reserve is having on the real economy, I suggest you do a little online homework and then go hit the auto dealers. You will be astonished at what you find. Whether you are buying a car or leasing…Read More

Category: Consumer Spending, Credit, Economy, Federal Reserve, Fixed Income/Interest Rates

Books Bought By Big Picture Readers (January 2013)

Click to enlarge:



Once again, its time to peruse the data to see which books TBP readers bought last month. Amazon’s embed code lets me track every click from these links — how many people look at the page, how many books get seen, and/or collectively purchased.

Its anonymous — I don’t know who bought what — but there’s lots of data on the various books generated.

These were the most popular TBP books for January:

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay (Frank Partnoy)

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (James Gleick)

Bailout Nation, with New Post-Crisis Update: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy (Barry Ritholtz)

How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life (Thomas Gilovich)

Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)

Capitalism and Freedom: Fortieth Anniversary Edition (Milton Friedman)

The Art of Contrary Thinking (Humphrey B. Neill)

The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street (Justin Fox)

Underwater Dogs (Seth Casteel)

Kindle and eBooks after the jump

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Category: Books, Consumer Spending