While Birdman might sleep on a million dollars cash, you can get intimate with your money without sleeping with it. That’s a more lustful relationship with money than it is intimate anyways. The relationship I’m talking about is one that allows your money to give back.
I recently wrote about how the science of keeping checkbook register is dying but is still badly needed. But it didn’t take long to realize that in order to make my money make more money, I’d need more than a checkbook register in my smartphone. To truly get intimate with your money you have to bring in a third party -- a money ménage à trois, or partie carrée for those ready for a finance orgy of four.
Having someone or something monitor your money habits might sound a little uncomfortable. There they are, looking lustfully at your money, salivating perhaps. But there’s really no need to worry. While online money monitors connect to your bank and credit accounts, their interest is to sell you their money management plans -- not steal your money.
I used both LearnVest and Personal Capital, and I prefer LearnVest because it does more of the work for you. You can just make yourself comfortable and let her take control, so to speak. While LearnVest has a hard time determining from where your money comes and goes, she attempts to organize it in three key areas: income, fixed costs and flex spending. Personal Capital simply puts your money into two categories: assets and liabilities. So I like that LearnVest lets me know how much money I’m spending on things I might not need.
LearnVest can easily identify your income and does a pretty good job of doing so (unless your income doesn’t show up in your bank account via direct deposit). It’s the debits that cause a problem for LearnVest. Some electronic withdrawals aren’t very specific. For example, an auto-payment to a Chase credit card of mine simply comes up as Chase Bank in my bank statement. That was one of many transactions I had to put in the “Credit Card Payments” folder. You can even create a folder for regular expenses that don’t fall under broad descriptions like transportation, travel, gifts, groceries, shopping and home.
LearnVest also has the easier user interface of the two money monitors. There’s no struggling with the bra on this software. Pretty much anyone can figure her out, and she allows you to set priority goals like paying off credit card or student loan debt.
The busty, budget monitor is a really nice feature, too. She let’s you know if you’re in the black or in the red, and by how much. You can even set expected income and expenses and budget for specific things like eating out, transportation, travel and entertainment.
The best thing about bringing LearnVest into the bedroom is it will help you save and better invest your money for retirement. Now she’s not going to whisper hot, stock tips while nibbling on your ear, but by monitoring your money together, you get a better understanding of where it goes and where it could go.
Spice up your relationship with your money by trying new things in new places. You can’t spend all day in the bedroom with your money. Your money needs to get out in order to make money for you. And you don’t need a chaperone, either. You can control your financial future and retirement planning without the help of an investment banker. Just read this first. Then check out Stash. Stash allows you to build a portfolio based on the things you love, so you’ll feel good about where your money is going when she’s not with you.
Stash groups similar companies together in exchange-traded funds (ETFs) so you can invest in an industry rather than a single company. An ETF is a marketable security that tracks an index, a commodity, bonds, or a basket of assets like an index fund. Unlike mutual funds, though, an ETF trades like a common stock on a stock exchange, so prices change throughout the day.
So if you’re into technology, you can invest in the “Techie” ETF on Stash. If you’re into social media, you can invest in the “Trendsetter” ETF, and so on. Stash is a great way for young people to start preparing for their retirement without needing a lot of investment knowledge or a large investment. You can get started for as little as $5, and you can set it and forget it with Stash. Regardless of how much trading you do, you’ll pay $1 per month to Stash, and twelve bucks a year is pretty cheap considering individual trade commissions range from $4.95 to $6.95 each.
There are plenty of ways to earn a good return on your money without paying commissions to an online trading service, too. Charles Schwab offers over 200 commission-free, exchange-traded funds (ETFs). You can trade any one of them anytime without paying a dime in commission. This is an even cheaper way to get started on saving for retirement.
Whether you’re a recent graduate looking to begin growing the very little money you have or an experienced stock trader looking to invest over $100,000, there’s an online stock broker that’s right for you. Nerd Wallet has again knocked it out of the park and reviewed every online stock broker for you. But there’s even more you can do to grow your relationship with your money.
If your money is too much to manage by yourself or with a money monitor, it might be time to bring another person into the bedroom. An investment manager can design an investment strategy that will hopefully meet your retirement goals. I say hopefully because not all investment managers are reliable in the bedroom, and I certainly wouldn’t pay one doesn’t perform.
If you live near a metropolitan area, your best bet is to sit down with a local agent of a few online brokerages. There’s a Charles Schwab and Scottrade office near me, so I’ll be visiting with their staff next week to see which one I like more. I’m leaning toward Charles Schwab because of their commission-free ETF options, but you never know what these people are willing to offer once you’re on the way out the door with your money. Do your research before you sit down with these people, though. Have an idea of what you’d like to do with your money, how risky an investment you’re willing to make and how often you intend to trade. You don’t want to bring another person into the bedroom without warming-up to them a bit first.
If you live in a rural area, you’ll probably have one investment advisor in the whole town if you’re lucky. But it doesn’t cost anything to schedule an appointment and just chat about your plans for retirement. You might even learn something you didn’t realize just by uttering your retirement plans aloud.
Whatever you do, don’t commit to anything or sign anything, open an account or hand over any money based on your initial interaction with this person. First of all, these people are selling themselves in order to have an affair with your money. They aren’t who they seem, and you don’t want to realize that once they’re in the bedroom disrobing your money and tossing it around like a pimp. Secondly, these people are selling themselves, so they’ll likely offer you a better deal if you play hard to get. Investment banking is highly competitive, and customers don’t come along with your stash everyday. You are special, and you have a special relationship with your money. You didn’t get intimate with your money to hand it all over to someone else. You should remain involved in the relationship going forward, so find an investor who wants you in the bedroom with her and your money.
That’s how you get intimate with your money and stay intimate with your money. Online money management services and stock trading allow you to be more involved in your retirement planning than ever. And you should stay involved, because while you can’t take it with you, your money can work for you and those you love long after you’re gone. Getting intimate with your money will payoff for generations, so sit down with your money regularly and don’t be afraid to bring someone or something new into the bedroom.
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American farmers have been voting against their own interests for quite some time. Despite Republican President Calvin Coolidge vetoing farm relief way back in the 1920s, the majority of farmers and ranchers have continued to vote Republican because they think Republicans support the American farmer, when in fact, Republicans really just support themselves.
Ten Republican lawmakers have taken $6.7 million in taxpayer money in the form of farm subsidies dating back to the 1990s. The annual payout for farm subsidies was just $20 billion as of 2015. The annual budget for corporate welfare was $100 billion in 2012, and the annual expense of actual welfare in the same year, which is under Republican attack again, was $212 billion. So corporations get five times the welfare than farmers and ranchers that feed us and half as much as those in need. Only in America.
But now, as Donald Trump looks to cut, cut, cut from farm subsidies, food stamps and Medicaid in order to increase defense spending and free up money for his border wall, farmers will have reason to consider other candidates at the polls in 2018 and beyond. Trump has proposed slashing the United States Department of Agriculture discretionary budget by $4.7 billion -- or 21 percent -- by cutting funding for rural clean water initiatives and rural business services, reducing some USDA statistical services and cutting county-level staff. This will not go over well with the rural voters who elected him.
Trump is already in hot water with farmers for his attacks on the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA has been good to the American farmer, boosting U.S. farm exports. Renegotiating NAFTA can only have an adverse effect on the American farmer. Even if nothing related to agriculture changes in NAFTA, our neighbors will be less inclined to do business with us since we’re whining about losing production jobs to cheaper labor elsewhere. Here’s an idea: better prepare your population for the global economy and invest in education so America doesn’t need or even want those production jobs.
The Republican Party is like an unfaithful wife to the American farmer and rancher. They lie to the face of the American farmer and rancher and then go and cheat on their husband with a corporate executive. But the American farmer and rancher has no recourse because the American farmer and rancher is a loyal Conservative -- until now, perhaps.
The proposed budget would cut payments like crop insurance, which pays farmers for loss of crops due to natural disasters, conservation assistance, which helps preserve the land and water, and rural development programs. This should piss off plenty of farmers and ranchers.
Trump won eight of the 10 states that received the most federal money in farm subsidies, according to the Environmental Working Group. Even in the two states Trump lost to Hillary Clinton -- Illinois and Minnesota -- he was popular in the rural areas of those states. That might not be the case come 2020.
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It’s no secret that attending a Major League Baseball game is expensive despite being the cheapest option ($31) when compared to the NBA ($55.88), NHL ($62.18) and NFL ($92.98). I’ve been to 16 of the first 24 Minnesota Twins home games, but just experienced my first pair of doubleheaders over the last four days -- one a split doubleheader and one a traditional back-to-back. I doubt I’ll see many more split doubleheaders, as taking a break between games tends to leave seats empty during the second game.
Getting into the ballpark isn’t prohibitively expensive. You can get into Angels Stadium in Anaheim for less than $10, and standing room only tickets at Target Field in Minnesota are usually $11. But eating and drinking beer, liquor, soda or water at the the ballpark is expensive.
The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies have the most expensive beer in baseball, followed by Minnesota in second, according to Fortune. That doesn’t include tip. My research revealed that you can buy 16 ounces of Bud Light, Miller Lite or a Bud Lime-A-Rita for $7 at Target Field. You can expect to pay close to $5 for a water and more for soda.
Doubleheaders don’t have to be doubly expensive, though. I enjoyed two games, a meal and three drinks for less than $35. Here’s how you can save money at the ballpark.
When your game gets rained out, don’t exchange your ticket for a different game. Generally, if you have tickets to the makeup game, you’ll get free admittance to the second game of the traditional doubleheader. That’s not the case for split doubleheaders, though. Do your best to make it to the makeup game because they tend to be attended by fewer people, making for a more intimate game, shorter lines for the concession stands and bathrooms, and you’re more likely to get a foul ball, an autograph, or a chance to meet Tony Oliva, which happened to me Thursday.
You’re also more likely to win something if you attend the second game of a doubleheader. Professional sports organizations give away free stuff every game. At Minnesota Twins games, the big winners are those who get scratch-off tickets from the Minnesota Lottery. But there’s plenty of other door prizes to be had. I won a large, two-topping pizza from Papa John’s on Thursday.
The organization will say you can exchange your ticket for a ticket of equal value for another game, but equal value is what they declare, and face value of tickets changes depending on demand. So, if you have a ticket to see the last-place Royals play the Twins and exchange it for a game against the Yankees or Red Sox, don’t expect to get the same seats or even the same section. You are at the discretion of the corporation at that point, and you never want to be in that position.
If you are going to exchange your ticket for another game, check the promotions schedule first. You can get something free like a shirt, hat or bag just for showing up early, or take advantage of discounts on food. You can get a hot dog for a dollar at Target Field every Wednesday. Here’s every team’s promotions schedule ranked for 2017.
Although you’ll spend a few more minutes in the security line on your way into the ballpark, the wait is negligible when considering the value of having a bag with you at the ballpark, especially during a doubleheader. I take my laptop to the game in case I want to work (like I am now), a microphone in case I want to do a live broadcast (I do live, uncensored play-by-play of select games), a solar charger for my phone and computer and my preferred scorecard and pens to keep score.
I recommend taking a backpack to the ballpark as opposed to a satchel or purse. Your lower back will thank me if you do a lot of walking to or around the ballpark, as side-swinging bags tend to cause more back and hip pain. Backpacks also have plenty of hidden pockets, and security guards aren’t going to take the time to investigate every interior pocket, which brings me to my next point.
Beer is the biggest ripoff at the ballpark. While you’re getting 20 ounces of beer for around $8 at Target Field, you can get a hefty shot of liquor for $9 that will pack a bigger punch. My biggest suggestion is to not drink beer at the ballpark, and you can avoid doing so by packing your own booze.
While outside liquor is not allowed at any ballpark, I say you risk it. The worst that could happen is security discovers your stash and throws it out, but it’s highly unlikely if you use a backpack. You can use those interior pockets of your backpack to sneak in a flask of liquor. You generally won’t have to worry about your bag being scanned for metal, so your flask doesn’t have to be plastic unless you’re keeping it on your person. I forgot to finish all the water in my water bottle before entering Target Field on Sunday, and the security guard didn’t even take notice. That could have been filled with vodka, as it was visible on the outside of my pack. If you’re using interior pockets, though, you can bring in anything you want, including a pre-mixed cocktail. Just don’t drink too much or give your fellow fans a reason to have you removed.
You can bring your own food to the ballpark, so you never have to spend money on peanuts, sunflower seeds or hot dogs (unless it’s $1 dog day at Target Field). I usually pack a snack for every game, but for doubleheaders, I pack a cold lunch like a protein-rich sandwich.
You’ll burn a lot of calories and give your legs a workout just walking to and from the ballpark and your seat, and you’ll most likely sweat, so having a water bottle will allow you to take advantage of the free tap water at the ballpark instead of paying nearly $5 for bottled water.
If you fail to pack a lunch and/or liquor, I suggest getting both in one drink. Most ballpark bars will make you a Bloody Mary with a few fixings like olives, celery, a pickle and, perhaps, beef sticks and cheese. The Twins offer a Bloody Mary with either a cheeseburger slider or slice of pizza at Hrbeck’s Bar for $24, and it will fill you up thanks to an eight-ounce, Bud Light beer back.
If you don’t drink Bloody Marys, order liquor on the rocks. It’s the best deal you’ll get at the ballpark, especially if you order doubles. Bartenders tend to pour heavy drinks (about three full shots) when you order doubles, which run around $15 for bottom shelf liquor before tip. The more games you attend the better you’ll get to know the bartenders, and them you, so despite the expensive price I recommend you tip your bartenders. They’ll remember it, even if you don’t tip 20 percent. I do a dollar per shot as a base and go up from there.
If you intend to eat at the ballpark, try these recommended dishes so you know you’re at least getting something unique or well-received for the insane amount of money you’ll spend.
The easiest way to avoid overpaying to see a baseball game or doubleheader is to not pay for parking. The closest parking garage near Target Field costs up to $25 for event parking and the most expensive parking in baseball is in Boston and New York for $35.
If you don’t live near public transit or need your car after the game, use apps like Park Whiz or Best Parking to score cheap deals on parking. I can park half a mile from Target Field for $6 during every night game, and a few blocks further away I can score parking for $4. I’ve parked for free at public parks and walked 25 minutes each way as well. If I pack my bike in the trunk of my car, I can cut my time to the ballpark down to 10 minutes or less and lock it up at one of the many bike racks available right outside the ballpark.
Taking public transit is my favorite way to get to and from the ballpark, though. For $3.50 I can get dropped off right at the ballpark and returned a block away from my apartment. I can read or work on the way to or from the game instead of driving, so I can actually make money during my commute. It’s also safer than driving, and if I want, I can take in a few drinks at a nearby bar before boarding.
My entire day for two games at Target Field on Sunday cost me a total of $29. Since I purchased the Spring Ballpark Pass for every home game except Opening Day for $99 in advance, my average price per ticket was $6.60 and will continue to fall for each game I intend through May (six more games brings it down to $4.71 each). If you buy tickets to the rainout, you got a free ticket to the second game of the doubleheader, so that’s $11 for both games at Target Field. Add a double (really a triple) bourbon on the rocks for $17 including tip, and I’m right around $30 and you’re under $30. My transportation puts my total at less than $35, and if you don’t pay for parking or are willing to do some walking, and now you can save money at the ballpark, too.
Back when I sat on the edge of my theater seat with clenched fists for almost two hours during Life, I tweeted immediately after that the film was the Alien of a new generation. I Tweeted that because like the original Alien film, the beauty of Life is that you don’t see much of the alien. It’s thrilling because the alien is growing quickly, and you don’t know what to expect the next time you see it. Neither do the characters, which better allows their fear to infect you.
GCN’s resident movie critic, Charles Karel Bouley, called Life an Alien “ripoff,” and I agree wholeheartedly. But I appreciate that the makers of Life utilized the successes of Alien and those suspenseful thrillers before it. But what I appreciate most about Life is that it’s at least a partially original story, with motivated plot and character arcs and an original, twisted ending that utilizes parallel editing pretty well. Life is an Alien movie with a new alien, just as Alien was Jaws with a new shark, and Jaws the Psycho with a new psycho.
It’s just too bad Alien: Covenant did its best to ruin Life’s opening weekend and gross earnings. Life has made just under $80 million worldwide, while Covenant moved up its release date, forcing Life into a crowded month and weekend. Logan and Get Out were both R-rated films still pulling strong numbers, and that’s two too many. Covenant did $4.2 million in Thursday night preview screenings at about 3,000 locations. As of this writing, Life is currently rated five points lower than Covenant on the Tomatometer and audience score.
So there’s another Alien movie. That’s six if you don’t count Alien vs. Predator. But you can tell Covenant is not a true Alien movie by simply comparing the trailers. Remember the Alien trailer? Well, I guess I don’t either. It was before my time, but I do remember watching effective trailers in film school, including that of Alien. It’s an effective trailer because the alien is never revealed. They start with the suspense right out of the gate and leave you wanting -- no -- needing to go to the theater to see that damn alien!
Covenant attempts to build suspense with its trailer but throws it all down the drain with the last shot. Sure they wait until the very end of the trailer to reveal the alien, but I’d argue they never needed that final shot of the alien. Almost everyone knows what the alien looks like by now, but the revelation used to be reserved for those who paid for a movie ticket. Now Hollywood just puts the revelation on the poster like a brand, but the art of making a great trailer has gone by the wayside as well.
Karel said Covenant doesn’t offer us anything new regarding suspense, “but it goes back to the same cinematography, the same type score, the same lighting that the original did oh so many years ago. BUT that had things we had not seen before.”
So Life can’t be an Alien ripoff with a mostly original story, villain and ending, and things we haven’t seen, but we can remake the same damn movie over and over as long as it shares part of the name of the original film? I might be in the minority, but I’d rather see someone attempt a film that’s even partially original than see the same film with the same shots and same music I saw 20 years ago with better computer graphics. Speaking of exactly the same...
The trailer for Life is almost an exact replica of the Alien trailer and is equally suspenseful. You never see the alien in its grown form -- only the faces of its victims -- which is plenty. The trailer doesn’t give too much away, and neither does the poster. The last time I was that excited to see a film (besides 2017’s Get Out for obvious reasons) was Dark Knight Rises five years earlier (and that’s because I’m a Batman freak). I just had to see that alien! And I am in no way comparing Life to either Get Out or Dark Knight Rises. I’m merely commenting that the feeling of excitement I had going into the film was piqued thanks to the trailer and movie poster. I was sold, and the people responsible for creating those marketing materials should get mad props.
As a fan of film and not necessarily of the Alien franchise, I appreciated what Ridley Scott did with the Alien prequel, Prometheus. He made it like the first Alien movie. The Xenomorph in Alien had just four minutes of screen time and didn’t appear until an hour into the film. That’s how you build suspense. The only horror or thriller villain to win an Academy Award spent 20 minutes onscreen. That’s all the role required thanks to Anthony Hopkins.
The Prometheus trailer never reveals the alien and neither does the poster. If you had never seen an Alien film you could have gone to the theater not even realizing you were going to see an Alien film. Then, after the most gruesome, on-screen c-section ever, that newborn alien just sits in that locked room. You almost forget about it while waiting for the big payoff -- the fight with the “engineer.” And when those doors open, the alien does not disappoint. It’s suspenseful more than it’s scary, and suspense is better.
But moviegoers have made things easier on filmmakers these days by turning out in droves for horror flicks and action movies that aren’t nearly as dedicated to cinematic and thematic quality as thrillers and dramas. I mean, a handheld-shot, horror movie made nearly $250 million. And while Covenant looks to be on its way to good payday, it’s also surrounded with the likes of a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a third animated movie about talking Cars, a sequel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and a remake of The Mummy with Tom Cruise (which I find to be incredibly disturbing).
My point is the standards of moviegoers have fallen tremendously, likely due to the lack of originality and variety available at movie theaters these days. Hollywood is getting away with it and will continue to do so until people stop paying exorbitant amounts of money to see bad films.
“Ridley knows how to terrorize us...but when Scott discovers that we can be terrorized again with less, instead of more, and when the writers can innovate instead of capitalize, the next great horror film will be made,” Karel said.
I would venture to say horror isn’t a genre that lends itself to originality, and if writers want to innovate, they wouldn’t write horror or action. They’d write suspenseful thrillers, which require new monsters and new stories like Life has given us. I so hope there's a sequel called After Life and a sequel to the sequel called Life After Life. Given the ending of Life, I'd say the future of the franchise is brighter than the box office numbers indicate.
I have no problem with the Alien franchise continuing. It’s a fantastic story and now a fantastic pre-story. But if you’re going to make an Alien movie, make an Alien movie -- trailer, poster and all. Leave some wiggle room for the imagination to fantasize prior to throwing the alien in our face. That’s what made Alien so great, and while Life and Prometheus are contrived by design, at least they stayed true to the inspiration. If Alien: Covenant stays true to its inspiration, it’ll be contrived from the sci-fi, action movie Aliens, which, by design, means it can’t be as cinematically or thematically entertaining as Life or any of its predecessors.
Editor’s Note: An update will follow with my review of Alien Covenant.
During my commute home, listening to 105 The Vibe as I always do, I learned that more than 40 percent of all litter and 28 to 33 percent of all litter in America is cigarette butts. That’s 1.69 billion pounds of non-biodegradable, toxic trash, and over 65 percent of cigarette butts end up littered. I was immediately disgusted because while I now know cigarette butts account for more than 40 percent of all litter, there’s still a couple billion pounds of litter on top of those cigarette butts.
Thankfully, tax increases have been effective in decreasing the number of smokers in America, from roughly 21 percent of the adult population in 2005 to 15 percent in 2015. The same approach should be taken with litterers.
Littering is bad for everyone. No one wants to live in a dump, so why do people leave garbage on the streets and sidewalks? Well, because no one likes to carry trash with them. I have a solution, though, that would end America’s litter problem once and for all. Littering should be added to the list of federal misdemeanors, and litterers should be fined an exorbitant amount or forced to do an unreasonable amount of community service picking up litter.
Think about it. Littering literally affects everyone in the nation and world. We all breathe the same air and share the same water, so making littering a federal offense makes sense, especially if 81 percent of all littering is done with intent. If tampering with mail is a federal offense, littering can be a federal offense, too. Littering would also be more likely to be enforced if it was a federal offense rather than a municipal ordinance or state statute.
Cities and states don’t issue enough littering citations and don’t collect nearly enough in fines for littering. While Maryland has a maximum fine of $30,000 for littering, that’s for over 500 pounds of litter. I guess that would apply if you left a broken-down car on the side of the road. Very few states have minimum fines in place. In Colorado the minimum fine is just $20. In Delaware it’s $50. In North Dakota and Utah it’s $100. In Alabama the minimum fine is $150.
State and municipal littering laws are all well and good if enforced, which they’re not. The one time I’ve seen them enforced was on the night of my friend’s 21st birthday. With his sober girlfriend driving, he saw a cop car drive by and screamed the lyrics to a popular N.W.A. song out the window, and followed that up by throwing a gallon of water out the window. Well, the very next car (and the one after that as a matter of fact) was a cop car. We got pulled over, and my friend did his best not to puke on the hood of the cop car. He was issued citations for littering and...littering and….invalid registration. I think he said the littering ticket was $20, and he got out of the registration ticket because he renewed it immediately.
But how many people would litter if they were required to pay a $500 fine to the federal government on top of the state’s fine or do an equivalent amount of community service cleaning up litter along interstate highways? I’d venture to guess you’d rarely see someone flick a cigarette out of a moving car or throw a fast food wrapper on the ground. Even though cops can’t be everywhere at once, just the idea of paying for a DUI keeps people from driving drunk. Why would littering be any different?
You might be thinking the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Well, there are a lot of punishments that don’t fit the crime in this country. In Minnesota, a seatbelt violation can cost you over $100, and that’s a law enforced to protect you. Why should a law enforced to protect your health be any different? Both laws are technically improving the safety of all Americans.
If you’re a smoker littering is probably a part of your DNA at this point. You don’t put your cigarette butts back in the pack to throw away later, which is exactly what you should do if you’re not near a trash can or ash tray. You should treat every street in every part of the world like a trail in a national or state park. If you don't litter in a national or state park, why should any other place be any different? Just because a national or state park has natural beauty that hasn’t been destroyed doesn’t mean you should destroy the places lacking natural beauty. One way to get around this is to start rolling your own cigarettes. Unlike pre-rolled cigarettes, roll-your-owns are biodegradable and filter-less. Cigarette filters pose the biggest risk to our environment. If you’re worried about tar and need a filtered cigarette, just get a few reusable filters. TarGard makes good products. I’ve tried them, and they work. They also make the cigarette filter made famous by Hunter S. Thompson.
Most smokers have a specific brand, though, and getting them to change is like asking them to stop smoking. I have a friend who has been smoking Camel filters for over a dozen years, and he couldn’t tell you why. It was just the first cigarette he tried.
There are items that can keep you from covering your community in litter, though. The Bell automotive “Butt Bucket” is a cigarette butt receptacle that looks a little too much like a coffee cup, but it keeps butts off the streets. My friend has one of them in his truck, and the smell is surprisingly subtle.
So if you’re going to smoke, please make sure your butts end up in the trash. Gutter butts collect in storm drains and then into waterways, and can clog storm drains and sanitary sewer systems, leaving the streets covered in toxic, cigarette-smelling water. Worse yet, that toxic water kills the transparent crustacean Daphnia, a planktonic animal that occupies a key position in aquatic ecosystems.
Basically, until everyone stops smoking, we have to stop littering cigarette butts, because it’s the easiest way to nearly cut the litter in half.
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A man in Texas is suing his date for texting during Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. The man is looking to be reimbursed for the price of his ticket: $17.31. I know, that’s way too much to pay for a movie, but it was in 3D afterall, which is generally a waste of money. The only good 3D movie I’ve ever seen is Harold and Kumar’s Very 3D Christmas.
Anyways, if we wanted to pay even more to see a movie, we could adapt a program where cell phones are locked up by the movie theater staff and can be picked up anytime during or after the movie. But since that’s not happening we all have to put up with people who don’t understand that the use of their phone bothers moviegoers because in a nearly pitch-black theater, a cell phone is like a road flare.
For me, as a film graduate, I find cell phone use during the feature completely disrespectful not only to your fellow moviegoers but to the filmmakers as well. If you’re not going to consider your fellow moviegoers as neighbors who are taking this visual and auditory adventure with you, consider how many people worked hard to bring you this entertainment you pay $17.31 to enjoy and escape your miserable life.
You millennials out there who are connected to your phone like an Army Ranger is to her rifle could benefit from powering down every once in awhile. Why would you want to indulge in your miserable life when the one on screen is so much more interesting? In the words of Tyler Durden, “You are not special. You are not beautiful or unique snowflakes. You are the same decaying, organic matter as everything else. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.” So make like the rest of the courteous crap and shut off your damn cell phone during the film!
People texting during the feature brings me flashes of that scene from God Bless America where a man with nothing to lose and a high school girl with nothing to do shoot everyone being annoying during a movie and leave the person who wasn’t with, “Thanks for not talking during the feature. Thanks for turning off your cell phone.”
Now I’m not about to pull a Dark Knight premiere on people using their cell phones during a movie, but I will sternly ask them to shut off their cell phone immediately. If they continue to use their cell phone or talk during the feature, I will ask the usher to remove them and give me a refund for having to leave the theater during the movie for which I just paid $17.31.
If the usher isn’t willing to do either, I’ll speak with a manager who will. While movie theater owners don’t want to lose the millennials who think seeing a movie is a social event, they’d rather lose customers who aren’t interested enough in the film to turn off their cell phones than a regular moviegoer who is. It’s imperative that you let the manager know they’ll lose you as a customer if cell phone use during the movie isn’t addressed with no tolerance.
If I had it my way, I’d make it illegal to use cell phones or any technological device in a theater, and issue an insane fine, so if people do it once they never do it again. Actually, instead of a fine, make those people sacrifice a day of their lives to see what filmmakers go through to make the movies they disrespect. That could be up to 17 hours. My film school had to enact guidelines limiting the length of shooting days to 12 hours because one of my classmates was killed in a car accident after working 16 hours on a shoot. He fell asleep at the wheel, and they called it “12 hours on, 12 hours off,” meaning for every 12 hours on set or location you need 12 hours off set or location to rest. That’s not the case on most films.
There are few products that require the work of as many people as a feature film, and if you’re watching a film in English, there’s a good chance you’re supporting 1.9 million American jobs. So if you feel you need to message your friend during the feature like the Texas man’s date, I hope you get more than a lawsuit. I hope you’re never allowed in a theater again.
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The success of the Republican Party depends on certain people not voting, and now that the courts are striking down laws suppressing black votes with “surgical precision,” Conservatives need a new way to make sure they don’t vote. Enter Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission.
Donald Trump seems to think he won the popular vote in the 2016 Presidential Election due to illegal ballots. He did not. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School measures voter fraud, and incident rates of voter fraud are between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than come across someone impersonating a voter, and most instances of “voter fraud” are really just clerical error.
In order for Donald Trump to have won the popular vote, the voter fraud/clerical error rate must have increased nine times to .0222 percent given his 2.9 million popular vote deficit to Hillary Clinton. Of course, Donald Trump’s complete lack of evidence in support of his claim is no reason not to spend taxpayer dollars looking into voter fraud.
While it was reported by White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that the commission will look into voter fraud and voter suppression, the people Donald Trump is putting in charge of the commission have not shown an interest in voter suppression, but are obsessed with voter fraud despite it being nearly nonexistent.
Donald Trump’s new commission to investigate voter fraud is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, who cheered the actions of state police and the secretary of state's office to shutdown a major voter registration drive in Indiana. The vice chair of the election commission is Kris Kobach, who as secretary of state in Kansas pushed for a proof-of-citizenship requirement to prevent illegal immigrants from voting. You can expect this sort of legislation to continue being passed in Conservative states in an effort to make it harder for the impoverished, minorities, youth and the elderly to vote, and now that Donald Trump has an opportunity to appoint judges who will uphold even stricter voting laws, you can expect fewer people to vote, which gives Republicans an edge.
While states with strict voter ID laws offer voter IDs for free, there is still a high cost associated with obtaining one. A Harvard Law report found that obtaining a “free” voter ID costs between $75 and $175. The author of the report, Richard Sobel, wrote: “paying the cost needed to meet voter ID requirements means spending the equivalent of more than a week’s worth of groceries.”
Republicans know better than anyone that there’s no such thing as a free anything. There are documentation, travel, loss of work and waiting time expenses associated with obtaining a voter ID. Hell, if Republicans really wanted people to vote, they’d make Election Day a holiday like Bernie Sanders wants to so most Americans wouldn’t have to take off work to vote. The fact this bill wasn’t passed by Congress immediately is indicative of how little Republicans want Americans to vote. The original bill was introduced on Nov. 12, 2014, and the Senate Judiciary committee, consisting of 11 Republicans and nine Democrats, has not allowed the bill out of committee, which is the easiest way for the majority party in Congress to kill bills. The majority party always has a majority in every committee, which is a big problem with Congress. These committees should be half Republican and half Democrat so something is accomplished every once in awhile. I trust Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission will also feature a majority of Republicans and minority of Democrats.
So Donald Trump has created a counterfeit commission designed to uphold the integrity of the American election process that will secretly suppress voting in key states for Conservatives by enacting legislation forcing expensive voter IDs on people who could just as easily provide a combination of a birth certificate, social security card and mail to their address in order to prove their citizenship. Frankly, all that should be required is a tax return with the dollar amounts blacked out, because if you pay taxes in this country you should be allowed to vote. But we all know how Donald Trump feels about tax returns.
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Obesity is an epidemic in America. Overall, 38 percent of U.S. adults are obese and 17 percent of teenagers are obese, the Center for Disease Control reported in 2016. More than two-thirds of Americans are at least overweight. There is a difference between obese and overweight, though.
The obese are less likely to be physically active or are physically unable to be physically active, which is why this complete nutrition guide is for the immobile. You can lose weight without exercising. Use the following tips to start losing weight without knowingly altering your calorie intake and without exercising.
When overcoming obesity, you have to start somewhere, and if you have trouble moving, you have to start with the way you eat. I’m not talking about a diet or counting calories. There are things you can do before, during and after consuming food that will help keep you from overeating.
America’s obesity problem stems from increases in portion size since the 1980s, and those portions continue to grow as body weights increase. It’s corporate food taking advantage of an addiction it created, much like the tobacco industry. Don’t be a pawn in their game.
A serving of meat is three ounces, which is the size of a bar of soap. A hamburger serving is the size of a hockey puck. A serving of pasta is the size of your fist. A serving of vegetables is the size of a baseball, and a serving of fruit is the size of a tennis ball. A serving of peanut butter is the size of a ping pong ball. If you guide your portions based on the recommended serving sizes, chances are you’ll end up consuming less and losing weight. If you use smaller plates, you’ll also end up eating fewer calories, and research shows that people eat less off red plates than white or blue plates.
Plan what you’ll eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for an entire week. Having a plan keeps you from replacing potentially nutritious meals with fast food and puts you in control of your nutrition goals instead of some high school kid inside a drive-thru window. Having a plan will also help you avoid skipping meals, which isn’t good for you either. I log my meals for the next day using the MyPlate app from Livestrong. Logging meals a day in advance gives me an idea of my calorie, fat, sugar and sodium wiggle room for snacks throughout the day. It also helps me save money because I’m less likely to eat out when my meals are already planned.
Impulse buying contributes to the American obesity epidemic. If it never seems like the healthy foods are on sale, it’s because they seldom are. But if you enter the store with a list of foods you know you need, and you don’t waver from that list, you’ll leave having saved some calories and some money.
Drink a glass of water before every meal and more water in general. Are you drinking half a gallon of water each day? Chances are you’re not. The daily recommended water intake is eight, eight-ounce glasses. With one before every meal that’s just three per day, so be sure to stay hydrated. It’s literally the easiest way to lose weight.
Eating in the proper environment can help prevent overeating. A study conducted by a Cornell researcher found that people eating in fast food restaurants where the lighting was dimmer and the music more soothing ate 175 fewer calories than those who ate in the same place with the lights brighter and the music louder. And don’t eat in front of the television, as you’ll be more likely to forget how much you’ve eaten.
It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that you’ve eaten enough, so eat slower and you’ll be less likely to overeat. And chew your food thoroughly.
People who eat more in the morning and less at night lose more weight, and starting your day with warm food high in protein helps you feel fuller and less hungry later. Consume 350 to 400 calories and 25 grams of protein every morning and you’ll be on your way to losing weight.
Eggs are my go-to breakfast food because they’re cheap, quick to make, high in protein and are delicious when mixed with vegetables. Non-fat Greek yogurt is also a great breakfast food if you’re on the go. Mix it with granola and fruit for the perfect parfait.
If you have a blender, a plant-based, protein shake is a great way to get a serving of fruits and vegetables along with protein without the fat. I use hemp-based protein because it improves heart health, and BodyBuilding.com put together multiple lists of delicious shake recipes here and here so you never get sick of them. If you can push back your breakfast to later in the day, it lowers the amount of time you’ll have to eat throughout the day, too. This way you’re less likely to consume too much in one day.
Another reason obesity is a problem is the amount of time Americans have to actually sit down and eat. It’s very important that you sit down to eat, and that you actually eat more often. You just want to tone down the size of your meals and spread them out throughout the day so your metabolism stays high and you burn fat throughout the night. Eating smaller meals more frequently also keeps your appetite in check so you don’t wake up starving. Try to eat five smaller meals per day instead of three large meals.
Eating foods that satisfy your hunger is a key to eating fewer calories and overcoming obesity. WebMD put together a chart with examples of satisfying foods, as well as unsatisfying foods. I bet you can guess where Twinkies, Snickers, potato chips, cheese puffs and french fries fell. A turkey sandwich on wheat bread topped the list of satisfying foods, with oatmeal on its heels and bean burrito coming in third. A vegetarian refried bean burrito is an even healthier option.
Avoiding food before bedtime can actually keep you from losing weight. Just don’t overeat before going to bed and make sure you’re consuming protein instead of carbohydrates and fat. Your body burns more calories digesting protein than carbs and fat. Another protein shake is perfect before bed because it might boost your metabolism, according to a Florida State study. Adding a cup of rooibos tea could reduce stress hormones that trigger fat storage and hunger. Some of the best midnight snacks are turkey and cottage cheese, because they’re both high in protein and contain tryptophan, the amino acid that puts you to sleep on Thanksgiving. Speaking of sleep…
Fitbits wouldn’t monitor sleep quality if it wasn’t important to fitness. It’s incredibly important to get at least seven hours of sleep each night because people who get more sleep have the proper balance of leptin and ghrelin hormones that help control appetite. If you create a routine that you do an hour before sleep each night, like brushing your teeth and then reading for an hour, your body will be better prepared to sleep, and you won’t be counting sheep.
If you can’t fall asleep in 20 minutes, leave the bedroom and do something unstimulating. That doesn’t mean watch television or stare at your phone or tablet. Looking at a screen before bed not only makes it harder to fall asleep, but can make you more tired and less alert in the morning. If you still struggle sleeping or can’t seem to breathe while sleeping, get checked for sleep apnea. Oh, and the colder you can handle the bedroom while sleeping, the more calories you’ll burn in your sleep.
If you’re looking to overcome obesity and aren’t physically able to be physically active, week one of the “Overcoming Obesity” nutrition guide for the immobile can help you become mobile. We still won’t advocate exercise in week two, either, because you don’t need to exercise to lose weight. Week two of the “Overcoming Obesity” program will focus on nutrition -- not a diet.
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Online banking has all but made the checkbook register obsolete. You can check your balance on your smartphone, view it online or even print it, but the lost science of registering debits and credits hasn’t gone away, and it shouldn’t.
The importance of logging your debits and credits hasn’t changed. They still teach it in middle school family and consumer science courses, but fewer people stick with it. My sister still keeps her checkbook register up-to-date despite writing two checks per month for rent and utilities. Everything she buys with her debit card gets logged in the checkbook register, and it’s no surprise she’s better with money than her brother who doesn’t -- until now.
I don’t write checks. I pay my rent in cash and my bills online. I setup automatic payments for all my bills, so I never spend time with my money. This is a big mistake. It’s the number one easiest way to save money according to CNBC guest contributor Brittney Castro. Just sitting down with your money once per week to monitor debits and credits and budget for the week can put you in a better place financially.
If you’re like me and don’t have a checkbook but want to log your debits and credits on paper, you can print blank registers here. I’d rather use my phone to manage my money. I am logging my debits and credits on my iPhone using the Spending app. It’s also available for free on Android devices. It allows you to log debits under the following categories: eating out, clothes, entertainment, fuel, general, gifts, holidays, kids, shopping, sports and travel. You can also add a category of expenses and income. I added my Airbnb income for example.
You can view your debits and credits over the week, month or year. The best part is, turning your phone sideways reveals a pie chart of your expenses. This way you can see what’s costing you the most money and where you can start saving. Hit the cash flow tab and a graph reveals your income, so you can see those weeks you took some time off from work, or in my case, hosted more or fewer Airbnb guests. This is much more helpful than a checkbook register because it allows you to more easily see where you’re wasting your money. I’m a sucker for eating out, but since I’m new to my city, I think it’s only natural to be trying restaurants to see what you like and what’s worth the money you’re paying. Still, if I want to save money, I’ll have to cut out some of that spending.
Using the Spending app to budget for your week or month isn’t the only way to better manage your money. It takes a lot more than monitoring your debits and credits to reach your financial goals. After I get my check today, I’m heading to my bank to withdraw some money to put in an online savings account. Remember those days your money in your savings and checking accounts actually made you money? Well, those days aren’t all gone. You just have to do more research and move your money around more often. Luckily, Jeff Rose has already found the top online saving account interest rates for you. Some online savings accounts require a large deposit to open the account, but many can be started for as little as $25, and while 27 cents doesn’t sound like much, it’s still 27 cents you didn’t have before, and will be a few bucks by the end of the year.
Cutting your transportation costs is the easiest way to save money if you commute 12 miles or so to work everyday like me. I intend to start riding my bike to the bus stop to save even more money this summer, and, eventually, I’ll do the entire 25-mile commute on my bike to get in great shape. But the gas rewards card is a thing of beauty. I keep two of them on me at all times, so regardless of what gas station is nearest I have a way of earning points and saving money. That moment after you swipe your card and the screen on the pump reads “We’re lowering your prices,” or “Use $2.96 in rewards?” I get all warm and fuzzy inside. It feels like you’re cheating the system, and speaking of…
Sign up for every free, rewards program you can find. My favorite is Ebates, which I’ve been using for almost 10 years. During that time I’ve been paid $113.72 just for shopping at my favorite stores online. You can even install an extension for your browser, so anytime you happen upon a store that’s an Ebates partner it will ask you if you want to enable Ebates cash back. Just click the button and you’re on your way to free money for every purchase you make.
Another extension I’ve attached to my browser is Honey, which scours the internet for coupon and promo codes that apply to the store you’re visiting. It’ll tell you how many coupon and promo codes are available for that store, for what they can be used, and allow you to save money on your order right there and then. There’s no need to open a new tab and search those ad-happy coupon and promo code search engines anymore. Just install Honey.
If you travel a lot, open an Expedia account and start earning rewards points worth airline miles and discounts on hotel rooms and car rentals. You can even find discounted tickets for activities on your trip. The other day I was offered a free flight if I booked a hotel along with my flight through Expedia. I don’t book through anywhere but Expedia now, because Ebates gives me 10 percent cash back on top of any discounts I get with my rewards points.
If you travel for business, a travel rewards credit card will probably be a good thing to have in your wallet. Nerd Wallet has put together a fine list of the best available travel rewards credit cards, but if you intend to apply, be sure to note whether the credit card has an annual fee. If you travel enough to accumulate enough miles to use during the fee-free, introductory year, you can jump ship after just one year and move to another travel rewards card. If not, just pick one that doesn’t have an annual fee.
Finally, the most rewarding and money-saving rewards program and credit card are with the same company: Amazon. I buy a lot of books, technology and vinyl records. Most of my birthday and Christmas gifts are purchased on Amazon. In fact, I just sent my mom her Mother’s Day gift using Amazon (they do gift wrapping for $4 if you’re wondering and include a short, personalized message on a card). I also sent my sister her birthday present using Amazon, and neither of those gifts cost me a dime. Here’s why:
I got hooked on Amazon at a young age. I was really into Ebay when I was in high school, but when some of the items I purchased came with defects and weren’t returnable, I started using Amazon pretty regularly. I’m pretty sure the first credit card for which I ever applied was my Amazon Rewards Visa Credit Card through Chase.
My new, shiny Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Credit Card came in the mail just a few weeks ago. Since I’m an Amazon Prime member, I get five percent cash back on every Amazon purchase to be used on future Amazon purchases. I also get two percent back on purchases at restaurants, gas stations and drugs stores, and one percent back on all other purchases. While the interest rate is high, it doesn’t matter because I pay it off each month. So that’s how I ended up taking care of my sister’s birthday and Mother’s Day without spending a dime of my own money.
I cannot stress how rewarding Amazon Prime has been for me. I became a member when I was a sophomore in college because I was tired of paying way too much for textbooks at the bookstore. Instead, I managed to save a ton of money buying them on Amazon and had them shipped in two days for free thanks to my Prime membership, so I rarely fell behind in classes because I didn’t have a textbook. I even made a bunch more than most of my classmates selling my textbooks because I used Textbook Wheel, now First Class Books, instead of selling them back to the bookstore. Never buy textbooks from or sell textbooks to your university bookstore. We live in a global economy. Your campus is not the best place to get the books you need for classes or the money you need to celebrate passing your classes.
I’m just now taking advantage of Prime Pantry -- Amazon’s online store for mostly non-perishables. Here’s a breakdown of what I got:
The best part is all of it will be delivered for free to my apartment within four days. The real value is I got to compare prices from the comfort of my computer desk and didn’t have to stand in line at the grocery store checkout. Oh, and did I mention that my Amazon Prime membership includes video streaming of movies and shows and free, two-day shipping on any Amazon warehouse-fulfilled item?
So keeping a checkbook register is all well and good, but the internet and smartphones allow for so many more ways to save money, whether it’s by logging your debits and credits, transferring money to an online savings account that actually pays interest, saving money through online rewards programs or buying the things online you already buy at the store. Welcome to the online banking and shopping era and enjoy the savings.
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Unless you live in a nudist colony, you’ll likely need clothes to make it in America. If you’ve been following along with our “Made in America” series, you’ll know that we’ve already covered American-made forms of transportation, including shoes, home decor and appliances made in the U.S.A., the all-American home, home-grown food and energy, and even American-made vices like alcohol and tobacco. We haven’t forgotten about clothing, which is one of the hardest things to find with “Made in the U.S.A.” on the tag. Chances are slim what you’re wearing now has “Made in the U.S.A.” on the tag.
Clothing keeps us warm, dry and covered, but if Americans made all the clothing purchased in the world, no one would be able to afford it. That’s why it’s so common to find clothes made in Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and, of course, China.
The American clothing market is the largest in the world, totalling $359 billion in 2016, which is why it’s so important to keep those dollars here in America. Employment has nearly doubled in apparel manufacturing, textiles and clothing since 1990, because with more people comes more clothes. But just 1.8 million Americans are employed in the fashion industry, with 79 percent of them working for apparel retailers mostly selling imported products. Just 232,000 are employed to manufacture textiles for apparel and other fashion items (purses, handbags, backpacks, etc.).
In order to change the growing trend of outsourcing fashion and clothing manufacturing, more Americans need to buy more American clothes, and there’s plenty of places to start.
American-made men’s underwear is pretty easy to find. Brad Bennett at the Well Spent blog put together a nice list of American options. Keep in mind that just because a company has an American-sounding name, like Duluth Trading Company (mostly made in Vietnam, but they do have a “USA Made” section) or American Eagle (made in China, Guatemala, India, and Vietnam, with some made in America) doesn’t mean it’s products are all-American. Do your research. The only thing that touches American skin should be American-made.
There are plenty of options for American-made women’s underwear, too, including lingerie. HerRoom and HisRoom allows you to search multiple companies’ catalogs for American-made products. For a complete list of American-made underwear companies visit here.
During the spring, winter and autumn months, there’s no more important stitch of clothing than dry socks. I don’t wear socks for most of the summer unless it rains, but when it comes to keeping my feet warm and dry, I’m a wool man. Wool is the absolute best fabric ever, but the U.S. doesn’t produce much of it. If more people bought more wool, though, maybe it would make a comeback in America.
As I stated earlier, Duluth Trading Company makes some of its products in the U.S.A., and the most common item on their “USA Made” page is socks. If there’s a place that knows cold, it’s Minnesota, but if you’re looking for the best socks on the planet, I’d suggest Darn Tough socks. I recommend them because I have a friend from Vermont, where Darn Tough socks are made, who maintains trails in Glacier National Park, and he swears by them. If there’s an environment that requires darn tough socks, it’s Vermont. It’s the seventh coldest state in America and can be one of the wettest in the spring. Plus, Darn Tough socks are guaranteed for life, so if you manage to put a hole in them, you can return them for another pair. You’ll never buy socks again.
If you’re looking for more fashionable options for men and women, Fox River is the oldest performance sock brand out there. What started as a sock company for lumberjacks 116 years ago is now an all-purpose, sock supplier. For women’s socks visit here, and if you’re seeking hosiery, tights or leggings, No Nonsense provides an ample supply of American-made products for women. If you’re a man in need of dress socks, look no further than Dapper Classics, which also produces American-made shirts and ties for the office.
There is a plethora of men’s pants and shirts, women’s dresses and blouses, children’s clothes and even maternity wear made in America. The easiest thing you can do to find American-made options from your favorite retailers is enter “Made in the USA” in their catalog’s search bar. Most online stores like Nordstrom, Lulu’s and Orvis, understand the importance of catering to patriotic purchasers and have a dedicated page for American-made products. If you’re into sportswear, and specifically throwback baseball uniforms and caps, Ebbets Field Flannels is one of my new favorite American stores. There you can buy jerseys you didn't know existed.
USA Love List put together a great list of American-made outerwear for women recently, and if you’re a leather man, Schott NYC has everything from jackets, belts and boots made in America. Woolrich also provides a page of outdoorsy, clothing products made in the U.S.A. If you’re more into designer trends, The Good Trade put together a list of 15 American-made clothing brands that will turn heads, and GQ has a list of American clothing brands just for men. The most complete Made in America men’s wear list is likely this one by Gear Patrol. Here’s a recent list of more than 100 brands that produce 100 percent of their clothing in America.
So now you have no reason to purchase clothing that isn’t made in America other than cost, but wages in areas where clothes are made are increasing, while American wages remain stagnant, which means American-made clothing will at least be more competitive with imported clothing in the future. So don’t be the typical cheap American when it comes to clothing. I guarantee if you buy the brands listed above, you’ll get more life out of your clothing and more satisfaction for creating American jobs, too.
Next up in our “Made in America” series we’ll look at the best brands for recreation equipment, including guns and ammo, ATVs, tents, backpacks, sleeping bags and the like.