This was originally published at Grandstand Central, where we cover sports from unique angles.
A great American tradition born of the struggle to fill great American ballparks with great American baseball fans is dying. The ballpark giveaway is giving way to greed.
The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments last Wednesday in a dispute over taxes on promotional items purchased by the Cincinnati Reds and offered to fans through promotional ticket packages. Ohio state law exempts companies from paying taxes on items they buy and resell, but the issue is whether promotional items like bobbleheads are being sold as part of a ticket package or given away in an effort to increase ticket sales. Simply put, if the team gives away bobbleheads, they pay tax. If they sell them with the ticket, they do not.
Regardless of whether the Reds’ techniques are legal or not, the attempt to avoid paying $88,000 in state taxes is pretty insensitive given the Reds’ recent history, both on and off the field. The construction of Great American Ball Park cost Hamilton County taxpayers $349 million and deprived federal taxpayers of $142 million in revenue — the third-most costly of any Major League Baseball stadium according to a Brookings Institute study. The Reds share responsibility with the Cincinnati Bengals for burying Ohio’s Hamilton County in debt, resulting in cuts to social services, including the sale of a hospital, and forcing Hamilton County Commissioners to refinance $376 million of stadium bond debt in 2016. Property owners in Hamilton County were promised 30 percent of the revenue raised by the half-cent increase to the sales tax in the form of reduced tax bills, but the county has rarely had the money to pay the stadium debt and offer the full tax rollback.
Meanwhile, the Reds could go from increasing attendance by giving away items for which they once paid tax to profiting from tax-free items while also increasing attendance. And they’re not the only ones.
The Minnesota Twins are also offering more of these promotional ticket packages and fewer giveaways after winning a similar case back in 1998. Like Ohio, “goods and services purchased solely to resell, lease or rent in the regular course of business” are tax exempt in Minnesota. In fact, most states allow businesses to purchase items tax-free as long as those items are to be resold. So this is only the beginning, and already, great American ballparks are turning giveaways into takeaways, likely turning a profit on what was a cheap means of advertising and now is a cheaper means of advertising.
According to a sales representative at Associated Premium Corporation, a preferred vendor of MLB promotional items, a seven-inch bobblehead purchased in bulk exceeding 10,000 units could cost a ballclub between $3 and $5. Markups on promotional ticket packages are considerably higher than that, and in some ballparks, they vary by seat location.
Senior manager of group sales for the Twins, Phil McMullen, informed me that the prices for their promotional ticket packages are based on the price of their group tickets, which explains why the markup for the promotional item appears to vary by seat location when compared to buying a single game ticket alone. The same cannot be said for the Reds.
The June 19 promotional bobblehead in Cincinnati is available at three different price points in three different sections of the ballpark. The promotional ticket package is $25 per “View Level” ticket, $55 for a seat in the “Field Box” section and $80 for an “Infield Box” seat. The price of a ticket to the same game in the “View Level” section is $17. A field box seat is $41, and infield box seats range from $65 to $68. So the same bobblehead costs $8 when purchased with a “View Level” ticket, $14 when purchased with a “Field Box” ticket and between $12 and $15 when purchased with an “Infield Box” ticket. Assuming the “Field Box” price is based on one ticket price, Cincinnati fans purchasing the promotional ticket package will pay three different prices for the exact same product in the same store.
“It’s consistently very close…the difference is negligible,” Reds’ group sales representative Kristen Meyers said of the varying costs for the promotional items. She attempted to explain the difference in price to accommodate fans buying tickets with exact change, but the Twins’ ticket prices are also full-dollar amounts and their cost of the promotional items don’t vary by seat location.
Minimal research revealed that the Twins and Reds aren’t the only Major League Baseball teams selling promotional items at varying prices depending on seat location. On June 23, the Colorado Rockies are selling a promotional ticket package available in five different sections of the ballpark that includes a University of Nebraska hat. Based on the Rockies’ group ticket prices, fans will pay either $8, $11 or $12 for the hat, depending on their seat location. In Milwaukee on July 7, fans will pay four different prices for a bobblehead depending on their seat location.
If MLB teams are going to sell promotional items on a sliding scale to make those items more accessible to lower-income fans, that should be advertised and owned. But forcing fans who pay more for their tickets to also pay more for a promotional item without their knowledge is theft. While buying a promotional ticket package might be preferable to standing in line for hours with no guarantee of scoring a giveaway item, don’t think for a moment you’re taking advantage of a business desperate to sell tickets. Quite the opposite is true, and the degree to which they fleece you varies as much as the prices of the promotional items they claim to sell in order to avoid paying state tax. But if you must have a promotional item offered with one of these promotional ticket packages, you’re likely best off buying the cheapest seats.
We’ve all witnessed the old lady at the grocery store holding up the line at the cash register while digging in her purse saying, “I have a coupon for that.” I used to think those ladies were crazy for clipping coupons to pinch pennies. But clipping coupons isn’t crazy; it’s cool, and it pays more than pennies.
I was skeptical the first time I committed my time to flipping through the weekly coupon book I receive in mail with the weekly ads from grocers and retailers. I used to just throw it in recycling without a second look. But when I was saving to buy a house, I committed to a lot of different ways to save money. Long had I saved money shopping online with Ebates, but never had I moved my money around so it could make more money for me. I started monitoring my income and spending and set savings and budget goals with free, online budgeting software. I transferred credit card balances from cards with high rates to cards with lower rates. And I started keeping a grocery list and sticking to that list when shopping. But when I first started clipping coupons, I went about it all wrong.
After clipping coupons I used to stuff them in an envelope, which I then stuffed deep into my desk drawer to be forgotten. I kept stuffing the envelope without going through its contents, so when I was moving into my new house, I finally went through the envelope to discover more than just a bunch of expired coupons. I had missed multiple opportunities to save money in my last trip to the grocery store alone. But now I have a system, and it seems to pay. On my last grocery trip I saved on an almost $40 total. I do that twice a month, which saves me every year. Here’s how I’ve been clipping coupons to save real money.
I follow my father’s first rule of grocery shopping: “I buy what’s on sale.” In our middle-class, American household, if it wasn’t in the ad, we weren’t eating it. And the special occasions that violated the rule were few and far between because my father often worked holidays. We had grilled cheese and tomato soup on Thanksgiving multiple times, which didn’t bother me because grilled cheese and tomato soup was and remains a favorite of mine. That probably wouldn’t have been the case if that tomato soup was made with water instead of milk, though, and that grilled cheese made with oil instead of butter. As a kid I didn’t consider that people might not be able to afford milk or butter. I just thought they were required for grilled cheese and tomato soup until I couldn’t afford them myself.
Now when I’m clipping coupons, I do so after flipping through each of the grocery store ads. I circle the items I need or want in pen and use pencil to indicate the items on sale that I’ll eventually need. Then I go through the coupon book clipping coupons for the items I’ve circled. That way, I’m get a discount on an already discounted item. I never use a coupon on an item at full price, but that doesn’t stop me from clipping coupons for items I know I’ll need.
Laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, toiletries—these are things we all need and, typically, a manufacturer’s coupon can be found for all them regularly. You should never have to pay full price for necessities. I always clip coupons for laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bath soap, milk, eggs, protein-packed snacks and Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian salad dressing. I’m a fourth-generation Italian-American who has tried many Italian salad dressings, homemade and otherwise, and Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian is the best. And all profits go to charity. I keep those coupons so when the items do go on sale I have a coupon to use to compound my savings.
Old ladies have purses into which they stuff their coupons, but men aren’t going to stuff their wallets in a similar fashion. Most of us use a vehicle when we shop, though, so store your coupons there. That way you’re always prepared to take advantage of the extra $2 off laundry detergent when you happen to see it on sale at the store. I keep my coupons in the grocery bag I keep in my car, so when I feel the urge to get a few discounted donuts after 6 p.m. I can take advantage of some coupons for items that are on sale.
Don’t be the old lady digging for coupons at the cash register. You should have an idea of what coupons you’ll be using before you even get to the store, so keep out so you can see them and match them with the items you’re purchasing. You can choose self-checkout if you like, but I prefer going to a cashier. Never put a coupon on the belt at the cash register. Simply hand them over to the cashier, who will take them all off your bill at the end of the transaction anyways.
So you don’t get all the way home to find a coupon missing from your receipt, review your receipt before you leave the store. I look mine over as I walk to the exit because I have been guilty of losing money at the grocery store in the past because it’s seldom worth your time to go all the way back to the store to find the same cashier who has likely forgotten all about you and wants anything more than to try and solve an unfamiliar problem so you can save a buck. If there’s an issue, catch it early, and save yourself and others some aggravation.
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It might be a while before post-secondary education is free for any American accepted to a public college or university. New York has become the first state to offer residents a tuition-free, post-secondary education at community colleges and public colleges and universities, and California could be next. That doesn’t help those of us who have already graduated from college with massive student loan debt, but you can get out of student loan debt without paying it all or worrying about interest accruing. The earlier you take these steps the better.
There are a ton of corporate scammers out there preying on recent college graduates struggling to repay their student loan debt. These companies offer nothing you can’t do yourself from the StudentLoans.gov website but charge a monthly fee for playing middle man between you and your student loan servicer(s).
You should be able to identify these scammers by their too-good-to-be-true offer, but if you ever call any other number besides (800) 557-7394 or (800) 557-7392, you’re likely dealing with a scammer. Keep in mind, though, that these companies already get a bad rep, so if you do end up being scammed, do not hesitate to demand a full refund.
This might sound impossible for an unemployed, college graduate, but it’s essential to improve your borrowing power during the six-month grace period you have before your first student loan payments are due.
What you can borrow depends on your debt-to-income ratio, which is probably pretty terrible for any recent college graduate looking for a job. But even if your income is low (or nonexistent), you can take steps to improve your financial situation by simply moving your debt around. The first step is prioritizing your non-student-loan debt.
Credit cards can be an asset if you use them correctly. If you’re struggling to find a job to improve your debt-to-income ratio by increasing your income, you must improve your debt-to-income ratio by reducing your debt. But how can you reduce your debt without income?
You should know which credit cards are costing you the most in interest. Some of these rates can be upwards of 30 percent, so check to see if there’s an opportunity to transfer your highest credit card balance to a credit card with a lower rate. You might pay a three percent fee on the balance transferred, but if that’s less than you’d pay in interest over the life of the introductory rate, better to pay that amount upfront during your six-month grace period.
The key is to never allow your credit card balance to grow. At the end of every month, your credit card balance should be less than it was when you graduated. That way, when the six-month grace period on your student loans expires, you can work with smaller (or nonexistent) credit card payments.
If you are tired of paying multiple student loan servicers, consolidate your loans under one servicer. This will make your student loan payments one payment paid to one servicer. The important thing to keep in mind when consolidating, though, is when asked the question of whether you work for a nonprofit, answer “yes,” even if you don’t. This will assure that your loans are consolidated with a servicer who qualifies for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). So if you end up working for a nonprofit in the future, your loans already qualify for the program.
You can only pay what you have, so anyone with student loan debt should be on an income-based repayment plan, unless, of course, you make a ton of money. If that’s the case you should just pay off your student loans as quickly as possible to avoid paying interest.
While you must reapply for an income-based repayment plan annually, regardless of your change in adjusted gross income, it will result in the lowest qualifying payment you can make on your student loans.
If your income is low enough, you could end up paying $0 per month, but unless you intend to work for a nonprofit for 10 years and have the remaining balance of your student loans forgiven, interest will accrue at an astronomical rate.
Under the PSLF program, if you make 120 payments -- even of $0 -- while working at least 30 hours per week for a nonprofit organization, the remaining balance of your student loans after those 120 payments will be forgiven. It will disappear.
You don’t necessarily have to be paid by the nonprofit. If you volunteer for 30 hours per week with a nonprofit or multiple nonprofits, you just need an executive of that nonprofit to verify that you work 30 hours per week for them using this form.
You can even start a nonprofit and have a member of your board verify your work hours. I just found out all the work I did for a nonprofit I started to grow ice sports in my hometown qualifies me for the PSLF program, so if there’s a cause near and dear to your heart that isn’t being addressed by a nonprofit, start one. It’s as easy as raising some money and filing some corporate paperwork with the state to acquire tax exempt status. (Note: partisan political nonprofits and labor unions do not qualify.)
Don’t let student loan debt cripple your economic outlook. Take these steps as soon as possible to get out of student loan debt.
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