Last updateWed, 14 Apr 2021 11am

Ask the Experts



Fasting for Finances

My friend and I have a plan for when we graduate: we’re going to start our own business. We have our idea (sorry, I can’t say what it is), but we don’t have any financing, and that’s stressing us out. My friend, in particular, has become really focused on strategies for raising money. He’s convinced that it’s all about presentation, and he has started to criticize the way (he thinks) I will represent our company. He thinks I don’t dress sharply enough, he thinks I mumble too much, and, above all, he thinks I’m too fat. He’s gone so far as to get me diet pills! I don’t know what to do. I think our business plan is a good one, but I’m worried about how my future business partner is behaving, and I’m not sure what to think about his takes on financing and appearance.

Your business partner has no right to be giving you the business about your appearance --especially when your company hasn’t even been started yet! His behavior is extreme, and you should think carefully about your next move.

If you are overweight, it is of course a good idea to shed those pounds. But your goal needs to come from a place of positivity and a desire for self-improvement--not from a place of bullying. Bullying can put weight loss in an unhealthy focus: one study found that bullied teens and their tormentors were both unhealthily preoccupied with their weights (55 percent and 42 percent, respectively) more often than peers who had no experience with bullying (35 percent).

And if you do want to lose weight, you’ll want to be careful about how you do it. It’s hard to say what sort of weight-loss supplement your friend is pushing on you, but you should know that those sorts of supplements can vary wildly in both efficacy and safety. Some products are relatively simple concoctions, like milkshakes that fill you up on protein and stave off hunger. Fastin’ had a previous life as a prescription drug for the extremely overweight. And still others have different compositions and different histories--and, sometimes, different side-effects and unwanted consequences. Diet and exercise have to be the pillars of your weight loss plan. Supplements can have a role, but bullying absolutely should not.

Besides, does your friend have a point about presentation? Studies do occasionally pop up to support the idea that our appearances affect our success. Overweight professional do tend to earn less, some studies have found, but the effect is easier to measure over the course of a career and varies significantly by demographic (white women are most hurt by the weights, one study found, with 64 excess pounds costing them 9 percent of their wages).

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Computer Connections

I’m studying to prepare for a career in technology. That’s not my problem, though: I’m very happy with that! It’s my father who isn’t. He’s an old-fashioned guy with old-fashioned values, and he’s not big on technology. Don’t get me wrong, I’d probably have it worse if I’d announced I was going to be an artist, or something. But while my dad is happy I’m headed for a career with some money-making potential, he’s totally unimpressed with the industry I’m entering. He rolls his eyes at startup culture, laughs at tech’s lax dress code, and, above all, insists that technology drives us apart. He loves to talk about “kids with their noses buried in phones” and how “nobody ever talks to each other anymore.” Any tips on bringing my dad around to the benefits of technology?

Your father is not alone in his opinion of technology: more than 70 percent of Americans believe that technology is weakening our personal connections. But that opinion is not universal, and it is important to note that the divide is very generational. Millennials think that technology gives them more connections with people. Interestingly, millennials also believe that connections made online are getting “less authentic” and will continue to trend in that direction--so perhaps you should keep this moment in mind for years from now, when you may find yourself have the same argument with your child.

At least some experts and data support the idea that technology encourages, rather than discourages, human connection. Social media platforms are bigger than ever, with Facebook topping 2 billion active users. And it is not just individuals connecting with tech: Telecom tech company Polycom says it brings voice and video connections to more than 400,000 companies and institutions.

The social connections we build through technology are strong, but it might be difficult for your father to understand that unless you can get him to try that tech out for himself--and, based on your question, that seems pretty unlikely. But there are other ways to demonstrate the bonding powers of tech that do not require your father’s active participation. Consider using tech to do something for the family. For instance, you could use one of the internet’s many genealogy and family history websites to track your father’s heritage. If your home has an old broken computer or digital camera in it, you could turn to hard drive recovery experts to unearth long-lost photos and show your father that digital storage can preserve personal memories and connections.

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Cash (In)consideration

My sister and my (soon-to-be) brother-in-law are getting married soon--but they don’t have a gift registry. Instead, they’ve chosen to ask everyone for cash. Worse yet, the groom is busy telling people that he plans to use the money to invest in his business (he owns several small convenience stores). My parents wanted to get something like a nice china set or a set of fine silverware, so they’re beside themselves to hear that their future son-in-law is telling everyone their cash will help him buy new drink coolers. I’m not usually much for etiquette, but I’m not thrilled either, to tell the truth. To the extent that we’ve talked about it (not much), my sister seems to think it’s a normal, modern thing. Settle this for us: is this rude, or not?

While your future brother-in-law would no doubt like to get a display cooler as a wedding gift (experts do say that display coolers improve sales!!), you are correct that it would make a pretty uncommon choice for a wedding gift. But, of course, your sister and her future husband are not asking for a walk-in cooler (at least not in so many words); they’re asking for cash. So how common is that?

Fairly common, as it turns out--though that may be changing. Nearly half (46 percent) the members of the Silent Generation and 33 percent of Baby Boomers prefer to give cash as a gift, but only 20 percent of Millennials feel the same way..

Millennials might be onto something here, because nearly 85 percent of brides say they would rather get a gift off of their registry. That may seem surprising at a time when the number of couples living together before marriage is up 900 percent compared to 50 years ago, but wedding registries have changed with the times. Once the domain of home goods stores and department stores, registries are more democratic these days, with things like Amazon gift registries allowing for a broader range of options (walk-in coolers, however, are still discouraged).

Still, plenty of brides and grooms would prefer cash. There’s not wrong with that, and while etiquette rules have traditionally frowned upon requesting cash specifically, modern etiquette experts are revising that rule--with the important caveat that the request must be made politely.

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House Headaches

My grandmother recently bought a new home in my hometown (Chicago), and it has been nothing but a disaster. It’s in a bad neighborhood, but worse than that, things are dangerous inside the house! According to my parents, the place has exposed wiring, problems with some plumbing fixtures, and possibly even foundation issues. I’m concerned that the seller took advantage of my grandma. Does she have any way out of this?

It is a shame that your grandma did not end up with the house she wanted. While the real estate industry is thriving--5.5 million existing homes were sold last year, the highest such number in a decade--it is always important to remember that buying a home is a big commitment, and that it is vital to do all the research you can before committing. Even when shopping in a town you know, it pays to work with real estate agents that know the area. Some of Chicago’s award-winning real estate experts make neighborhoods a key part of how they organize real estate listings. That makes sense, because location is key in real estate. The median price for a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is $2,090, but the same apartment would cost only $680 in Detroit.

Location is key, but, as your grandmother well knows, it is not everything. The structure and systems of the property itself must be carefully examined, which is why home inspections are typical (though not legally required) in real estate deals. Problems with an electrical or plumbing system can be very dangerous, and electrical contractors say that homeowners do not always realize just how many things can put a home in danger--even rodents can cause electrical issues by chewing on wires.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that even when proper precautions are taken, some shady sellers can get the better of trusting home buyers. It is not clear from your question whether or not your grandmother knew about the home’s problems before she bought it, but if she did not and the original owners did, then she may have a legal recourse. Most states have seller disclosure laws that would protect a buyer who purchased a home from someone who hid a key problem.  In cases like this, however, the burden of proof lies with the purchaser, so your grandmother would have to prove that the house had prior problems, that the former owners knew, and that she herself did not. Only a lawyer can give your grandmother legal advice that is specific to her situation.

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Cooking Conundrum

I finally moved into an off-campus apartment this semester with a newly re-done kitchen. I’m most excited about avoiding the Dining Hall food, but I’m not the greatest cook just yet. How can I take my cooking skills to the next level?

First of all, congratulations on choosing a great hobby! While 98% of Americans say they prefer to cook their meals at home, many of us don’t find the time to make this a reality. We should: in addition to being fun and rewarding, learning how to cook can be great for your health. Studies tell us that people who cook for themselves are much healthier - which is no surprise, because we also know that eating a lot of take-out and restaurant food is quite bad for you. In fact, just living near a fast food restaurant means that, statistically speaking, you are 5.2% more likely to be obese!

While home-cooked food is often (but not always) better for you than the foods served by popular restaurants, take-out spots, and fast food eateries, there is no denying that restaurant food does seem to have a special taste to it.

Part of this, of course, is due to the chef. While you are no doubt a great cook, a chef may have a degree that requires between nine months and four years of schooling - to say nothing of the years they spend working their way up to the top job at your local eatery. That is a lot of experience going into each meal that you eat at a restaurant!

Of course, practice alone is not the reason for the success of those chefs. They also have a few other advantages.

For one, commercial kitchens are outfitted with the very best in kitchen appliances. Top-of-the-line ovens can cook food in different ways: for instance, some ovens can act both as conventional ovens (which have heating units on their tops and bottoms, allowing for both broiling and baking) and convection ovens (which move hot air around for fast cooking). Some luxury kitchen appliances can replicate these things in the home, so it is possible for hobbyists to get some of the key tools that the professionals use. According to one of the more tech-forward appliance retailers, their customers are most excited about the longevity they get from their appliances above all else. It’s true that in this case, quality really does matter.

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Proper Painting

I just moved into an apartment off-campus and want to spruce it up a bit. I’d like to at least repaint it, but I also want to avoid making mistakes or doing anything that could cause me any trouble later. Any tips?

You are not alone in your enthusiasm for a “do it yourself” solution. In fact, statistics suggest that young people like yourself are more likely to opt for a DIY option than their parents are - particularly when savings are involved. Statistics portal Statista reports that, in a 2012 poll, an incredible 84 percent of respondents said they would tackle a DIY project to avoid spending too much cash. Enthusiasm waned with each successive age group, suggesting that you are at the perfect time in your life to take on a project like this.

Of course, painting a room presents some challenges. But it is something that many amateurs take on: interior decorating projects are the single most popular type of home improvement project, according to a poll taken before the no-call list went into effect, and three out of four respondents (including those doing other types of projects) planned to do the work themselves in order to save money.

Mistakes are always possible, of course. But the DIY experts at the DIY Channel have weighed in on methods for avoiding some of the most common. A common refrain among experts is the importance of good preparation. Your concerns about harming your room or your possessions can be addressed with proper preparation. Experts use drop cloths to protect furniture (though you can also move furniture to another room or place it in a storage facility until the job is finished). The DIY Channel pros remind you to remove outlets, use painters tape and plastic to protect areas you do not want to paint, and to prep the surface you want to paint by cleaning and clearing it of dust.

As for the environment, you are right to note paint’s potential impact on our planet. Paint has used additives like lead for time immemorial. These toxic ingredients are used as solvents, but they cause problems when they are released into the air during the painting process. Over time, painters and experts got wise to the impact those additives had on humans and, eventually, to the problems those additives could cause the environment.

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Elderly Edifice

My parents are putting my grandmother into a nursing home. I’m worried about this decision, as many of the nursing students I know have mixed feelings about elderly care facilities. Are they safe?

While there have been tragic incidents of neglect and abuse in nursing homes, the good news is that the short answer to your question is yes. These incidents are statistically uncommon, and the facts back nursing homes as a good option for the elderly.

Much of what we know about elder abuse we owe to the organizations that track and combat it. Elder abuse is an issue that is likely to take on increasing importance as our society ages: the percentage of Americans over the age of 60 is climbing, and is expected to top 20 percent by 2050, according to the National Center of Elder Abuse.

But not all elder abuse happens in nursing homes, and very few nursing homes are guilty of abuse. Per the NCEA, nursing home abuse first became a national issue in the 1970s, and since then, we have gotten much better at identifying and eradicating it - though more research is still needed.

Nursing homes, rehab centers, and retirement communities now recognize the threat of elder abuse. Oversight programs and safeguards are now the norm and priorities at these institutions have changed in others ways, too. Modern facilities approach healthy senior living in holistic ways that would have been rare thirty years ago. The experts at Riddle Village Retirement Community describe their goal as making sure seniors are “ready to enjoy their lives.” Happiness - not just health - has become a priority in the business.

This does not necessarily mean that nursing homes are entirely healthy places. Some studies have suggested that the life expectancy of people in nursing homes is shorter than that of their independent peers. These studies control for age and, as much as possible, for health, but it is worth remembering that it is difficult to precisely measure all the factors at play in an older population making end-of-life decisions. And a shorter life expectancy does not necessarily translate to proof of abuse.

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Legal Limit

I got a health checkup before school. Now my parents want me to see their lawyer. What are they afraid of?

Parents continue to be responsible for their children even when they go to college. It is natural that in our litigious society they want to make sure you are legally prepared for any eventuality.  When something goes wrong mom and dad usually end up paying for it. With over 15 million civil lawsuits filed in America every year, it pays to have some knowledge of legal liability.

You will be getting your first taste of freedom at college. There will be parties and shenanigans, so you need to understand what can happen when things go wrong. Parents are usually held responsible even though their kids are living away on campus. Over indulgence with drugs and alcohol can lead to some undesirable outcomes. You may need legal advice if you are the cause.

College students with limited driving experience are prime targets for litigation involving negligence and vehicles. You should be well aware of what can happen in the event of a traffic accident. If your parents own the vehicle, they may be implicated for your negligent operation, so they need to ensure they are covered legally.

Reckless driving, especially with students, is on the rise leading to pedestrian accidents and injuries. The law varies from state to state, in New York for example the owner of the vehicle is liable, not the driver. Your parents’ lawyer will want to make sure that you are clearly aware of the responsibilities of driving, especially if it is their car.

Students also often lend cars to their friends or share one amongst the dorm or frat house. Legal issues could arise if a driver is not insured, or worse does not have a license. Depending on the law where you live, the responsibility may not be with the person that causes the accident.

Your parents may want you to register the car in your own name and assume that responsibility. Be aware that if you are irresponsible with a car it could force you to leave college, especially if alcohol is involved.

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Family Finance

My parents are headed for divorce. Will I have to drop out because they signed for my student loans?

The anxiety of divorce on top of college stress can be a lot to manage. Now you have to consider how your student debt will be affected by their decision. Your financial aid eligibility will indeed change if your parents’ marital status does, so here is what you need to know.

Surprisingly, divorce rates have fallen in previous years but the current statistics are not encouraging. There is still a 50-50 chance that a marriage will last a lifetime. In many cases, parents will begrudgingly stay together for the sake of the kids, often waiting until they leave home before deciding to split. In your case, they are divorcing while you are still studying so this will affect your aid eligibility, possibly to your advantage.

Generally, Federal Student Aid is determined by the financial status of your parents. When a divorce happens, one parent must take over as the custodial parent, this is the one you will be living with over half of the time. Their financial status will now be considered for calculating your benefits. The non-custodial parent is not included financially and does not affect your student aid.

It is possible that you will be eligible for more benefits under FAFSA this way. Choosing the parent with lower earnings as your custodial parent will increase your potential federal benefits. It sounds harsh to choose depending on their earnings, but your education is at stake so your parents will probably be in agreement. Studies show having more financial aid increases the likelihood that you will complete your degree.

A college support agreement should be completed at the time of the divorce. It covers you legally by specifying which parent is responsible for your college costs. It can be used to allocate expenses designating which parent is contributing towards tuition, accommodation, books or living expenses. Without a plan, you risk losing your financial aid or could suddenly need to refinance student debt in order to remain in college.

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Life Lesson

My company is sponsoring a lecture series from life coaches, aimed at young employees. Should I spend the time to attend this? 

We are receiving this question often, as life coaching becomes more popular and successful.  According to the International Coaching Federation, over 40 percent of people using professional coaches believe it enhanced their work/life balance. The right program can help you identify areas for growth in personal leadership, self-confidence and self-care. But what you learn is only as good as your teacher.

The list of benefits from personal coaching is a long one and includes enhanced decision making skills, fresh perspectives on personal challenges, and increased confidence. You will also see an improvement in productivity, which is why companies are eager to send their staff to these courses.

Many new employees go through stages of feeling stuck, needing a new approach, and wanting more purpose. Life coaches can make a difference and initiate significant changes in your life that will be beneficial both in and out of the workplace. They are highly trained at seeing when you are not being truthful to yourself and limiting your own abilities. A good coach can push you to your limits to help you achieve what you want out of life, while recognizing when you may not be firing on all cylinders.

Besides a productivity boost, life coaching can also help you build interpersonal relationships, communication skills and improve your work/life balance. Around 86 percent of companies stay that they saw a return on investment when sending workers to coaching sessions, some as much as 300 percent. Nearly all participants and companies say that they have been satisfied with the results of life coaching, according to the International Coach Federation.

One drawback is the lack of regulation in the industry, not all coaches are professional and many have not been trained properly. The quality of coaches may vary dramatically as a result, so it is best to seek one with a good background and experience, and accreditation from the ICF. Fortunately, company-sponsored coaches are typically hired because of past successes and experience. A professional life coach will not tell you what to do or advise you, their job is to identify your options and hold you accountable for your own challenges.

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Healing Hands

I am studying to be a nurse. Why are there more men in the higher-paying nurse specialty fields?

The gender pay gap in the medical profession has been a point of contention for many years. There is always a steady demand for nurses and more men are entering the field than in previous years. Being a registered nurse is a rewarding career path, a burgeoning healthcare system ensures that unemployment rates remain low. Since the majority of nurses are women, pay discrepancies have arisen in some specialty areas of the healthcare sector.

According to the Journal of American Medical Association, this gender pay gap has not narrowed in recent years. Traditionally, women accounted for over 90 percent of nursing positions. Three decades ago only 3 percent were men. Numbers of men in nursing today have risen to around 12 percent but it still remains low. Stigma and a perception that nursing is woman’s work have kept men out of the field for decades. This is gradually changing as the job market shifts, because male-oriented manufacturing work has lost 5 million jobs while education and healthcare positions have increased by 9 million.

The point of contention is that men are earning more than women in the same field. Research indicates that male registered nurses earn on average $5,000 per year more than women in similar specialty areas and positions. A few years ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the median weekly salary of female registered nurses was 86.6 percent of what their male counterparts earned.

Data from the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses has been analyzed by various research firms to provide their figures. It revealed that pay imbalances occurred across most specialty areas. The gap for ambulatory care was $7,678, hospital settings saw a gap of $3,873, chronic care $3,792, and $6,034 for cardiology. Researchers estimated that over a 30-year career female registered nurses would have earned around $155,000 less than men.

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