Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Avoiding Work-at-Home Scams

As a network marketer I am also a work-from-home business owner and a large part of what I do involves helping others start work-at-home businesses of their own. I encounter a high level of skepticism about this, and based on a study by training and employee development company Staffcentrix of Annandale, VA, this suspicion is well founded. Staffcentix says their recent study showed that there are about 60 work-at-home scams on the internet for each legitimate opportunity.

Most scams are easy to spot, but some have become highly sophisticated. Here are a few things that  you should always do to avoid getting caught up in a scam.

1. Avoid up front "membership" fees, and avoid any offer that
    requires you to pay a significant amount of money to join
    (anything over about $50 sounds fishy to me).
2. Research any potential opportunity carefully before you
    become involved. Check out the company behind the offer
    with a thorough Google search and see what others have to
    say about it on sites like and You would not start a brick and mortar business
    without doing your due diligence, don't start a work-at-home
    one either.
3. Consider extravagant income claims to be a warning sign. If its
    so easy to do and will make you rich quickly in just minutes per
    day then why isn't everyone already doing it?
4. If the offer comes to you on a phone call, get a name, a phone
    number and an email address and schedule a time to call back
    after you have had a chance to review their information and do
    your own research. If they aren't willing to do this, hang up.
5. Check the Better Business Bureau and the
    Federal Trade Commission web sites to see if there are a lot of
    complaints filed against the company behind the offer. Anyone
    can draw a complaint or two. But a lot of them is a problem.
6. Email is "free" and anyone can send out millions of them. Its
    generally wise to avoid offers that arrive by email. If its a real
    opportunity, and there is some reason to think you would be
    interested and qualified, someone will call you.
7. Does the caller actually do the business that he is trying to pitch
    to you? If not, how good an opportunity can it be?

There are real opportunities out there for people who want a work-from-home job or business. But 1 out of 60 is daunting odds. Ask questions, do your research and use a good dose of common sense and you can find one that is right for you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Problem of Perception

When we talk about making an effort to shed some pounds, the discussion normally centers on what we should, and should not, eat. But according to the April 2013 issue of the Nutrition Action Healthletter, maybe we ought to be paying a lot more attention to portion sizes. Since the 1950s, food portion sizes have grown about 300% and Americans seem to be growing right along with them. The following data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta tell the story:

     Food                         1950 Portion                 2012 Portion
     Hamburger                    3.9 oz                            12.0 oz
     Fries                              2.4 oz                              7.0 oz
     Soda                              7.0 oz                            40.0 oz

It doesn't help that restaurants and food companies have deployed innumerable clever marketing and presentation tricks to help us eat the larger (and more expensive) portions that now surround us. "We believe that people overeat because food tastes really good or because they are really hungry," explains Brian Wansink, Professor of Marketing at Cornell University. "In reality, those are two of the last things that influence how much people eat." The amount we eat, as opposed to the food choices we make, tends to be strongly influenced by our perception of portion size.

Here are some suggestions for reducing the quantity of food you eat without leaving yourself feeling deprived or unsatisfied. I've tried them and amazingly enough, they really work.

1. Use smaller plates, cups and bowls. When the plate looks full, we
    perceive it as being a larger portion. Studies show that children
    will serve themselves 28% more breakfast cereal when given a
    large bowl to eat it from. For adults, the discrepancy is even
    greater - 53%.

2. Use smaller utensils. It will take you longer to eat what you have,
    and you will perceive that you have eaten more and will feel more

3. Slow it down. Eating more slowly leaves you feeling fuller and
    more satisfied. It also allows you to tune into "fullness" signals
    that your body sends when you have had enough.

4. Eat with a friend. Having a conversation along with your meal,
    besides being socially rewarding (unless its with your kid about
    his math test), will generally result in your eating slower (see
    above) and being happy eating less.

5. Don't leave the serving plate on the table. Men eat about 29%
    more - and women 10% more - if the serving dish is left on the
    table instead of over on the counter.

Again this is really not about "cutting back" so much as it is relearning how much is enough. Give some of these ideas a try and see if you don't discover that less really can be more.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Raiding Your Retirement is the New Normal

Retirement isn't what it used to be. Unless you are a government employee, the days of "defined benefit" pensions are long gone. The once near universal retirement age of 65 is largely a thing of the past. And while there are many reasons that a person might work past the age of 65, one of the major ones today is that people simply cannot afford to retire.

Consider a person who wants to have a dependable retirement income of $50k per year. That's a comfortable income, but hardly wealthy. According the to Social Security Administration, the average retiree will receive a benefit of $14,760. The other $35,240 must come from their retirement savings and personal assets. How much does someone need in retirement savings to produce an annual income of $35k? If we make an optimistic assumption that they can earn 5% on their investments they will need to have approximately $700,000 accumulated to generate $35k per year in income without depleting their savings.

Unfortunately the situation for the average about-to-retire worker has deteriorated in recent years. While there has been some recovery of value, many retirement accounts were significantly reduced during the recent recession. Worse, according to the Washington Post, 1 in 4 people are using their retirement savings to pay current living expenses. The number is as high as 1 in 3 for people in their forties who have been hard hid by unemployment. As a result of these factors, and generally low savings rates, that same average person will have total retirement savings of about $56K by age 65. If we assume that same 5% return, that generates an annual income of only $2,800 - a 92% shortfall.

What does this mean in human terms? If you are one of the 34% of Americans who say they plan to live out their retirement solely using their Social Security Benefits you are delusional and should seek qualified treatment. For most of the rest of us it leaves us with three generally unattractive alternatives:

1. Continue to work at least part time for the rest of your life. More
    than 60% of American workers expect this to be the case for
2. Lower your expectations for the kind of lifestyle you will have in
    your retirement. About 45% of us expect to do this.
3. Rely on charity and the generosity of family members. Ugh.

This does indeed seem like a dismal picture, but those are the facts and the numbers. I would like to throw out a fourth alternative that is well outside the traditional advice - consider starting a network marketing business. Direct selling is not physically demanding, can be scaled to the time, effort and income goals you want to set for yourself, and requires neither a large investment nor any specialized skill or background to start. According to the Direct Selling Association, 250 companies account for 90% of the direct sales volume in the US, so there is a wide range of companies, products and services for you to consider. Find one you like.

Here's a closing thought. If you had a network marketing business that was generating a monthly income of just $3,000 you would have, because of the residual income feature, the equivalent of a retirement account of $720,000. Problem solved.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hard Truths about Soft Drinks

In September of 2007, Scientific American published a special edition entitled "Feast and Famine". The subtitle aptly captured the core message of the issue: The Global Paradox of Obesity and Malnutrition. On one level there were the predictable articles about obesity in rich, developed nations co-existing with stunning levels of malnutrition and starvation in poor countries. But the thing that most caught my interest was the emerging phenomenon of obesity and malnutrition co-existing in the very same nations - and often in the very same individuals.

In exploring this apparent paradox, one article concluded that "One of the biggest contributors to the obesity epidemic in the Third World is the recent popularity of sweetened beverages." In particular, highly sweetened carbonated beverages like Coke and Pepsi. A person consuming just one 12oz can of regular Coke per day adds about 51,000 calories per year to their diet. Everything else being equal, this would produce a weight gain of about 14.6 pounds. It doesn't take very long to become obese if you manage to gain 14 pounds per year.

Worse, those same 365 cans of Coke provide virtually zero nutritional benefit, consisting as they do of water, sugar and salt. How much sugar? Although the sweeter used in  soda is most often high fructose corn syrup, it is equivalent to about 10 teaspoons of table sugar (sucrose) per 12oz can. Pile up 10 teaspoons of sugar on the counter sometime, just to see how much that really is. Per can.

Here are some more hard facts about these soft drinks that are of direct concern to us here in the US.

Sodas continue to contribute to the rising obesity rates here just like they do around the world. in 2011, according to the Gallup organization's Well-being Index, 26% of Americans defined themselves as obese. That is one in 4 of us. And obese, not simply overweight. And since this was a self-assessment, it it reasonable to think the numbers are low, if anything. The Washington non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest labels heavy sugar consumption as the most direct cause of America's fasted growing health threat - Type II diabetes.

If you think switching to "diet" sodas solves the problem, think again. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition directly linked diet drinks with an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes. (In fairness, this may well be a "non-causal correlation". We've all seen people wash down their Superberger and MegaFries with a diet Coke.)

How about checking with your doctor for his opinion? Not a bad idea but keep in mind that the soft drink industry donates billions (with a B) of dollars every year to doctors, dentists, dieticians and major anti-hunger groups. And as independent evidence mounts connecting sugary drinks with serious health problems, so does the industry's donations - increasing 30 times between 2005 and 2009.  Not that any of these organizations would be swayed by a few billion dollars. Just saying.

What does the soft drink industry have to say about all this? "None of these studies say that drinking a soft drink will make you obese," according to Christopher Gindlesperger of the American Beverage Association. I can't disagree Chris. But let me ask you, who do you know that drinks "a" soft drink?