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What's Working in the Classroom; Cost of a Family; Retail Tactics Exposed; Avoiding Holiday Shopping Traps

Aired November 19, 2011 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: Oh, the holly is out before the jack-o'- lanterns are even gone. The retail machine is gearing up right now to suck you into spending lots of money for the holidays, whether you've got money to spend or not.

Good morning everyone. I'm Christine Romans.

The shocking tricks companies use to get you to spend, spend, spend and how not to fall for it this time.

Plus, it's t-minus five weeks now - five weeks until the holidays. Common mistakes people make on everything from gift cards to warranties. You've got to hear this before you buy anything.

But first, the classroom. It's the incubator for the future leaders, workers and taxpayers of America. It's where we're grooming our kids for what America will become. You've heard a lot about where we're failing in education. Maybe the best way to fix our problems is to identify what's working.

Jamie Fidler is a first grade teacher at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn. Jamie, we're - we're seeing success in what's known as enhanced curriculum. This is read alongs and group discussions, enhancing what we're doing in the classroom.

A new study by the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy shows that of 19-year-olds who participated in enhanced curriculum, 21 percent were more likely to graduate high school, 61 percent more likely to go on to college.

How is this working in the classroom?

JAMIE FIDLER, FIRST GRADE TEACHER, P.S. 261, BROOKLYN: Well, I think across the board you have a lot of teachers now who do tons of read alouds, who do tons of shared reading, who do tons of math games as a way to promote mathematical understanding. And it - it really works. It really works. It's amazing.

I mean, what you're developing is like kids are learning how to communicate with one another, kids are learning how to really understand books and really wrap their heads around what's happening in - in books and get them excited about reading. It's a really amazing way of teaching, actually, because they really start to internalize their educational process.

ROMANS: And is it more contact with teachers and the student? It's more -

FIDLER: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: It's definitely more one on one. I mean, that is the most important relationship in education.

FIDLER: Right. Absolutely. Of course.

So what we do all the time is what's called conferencing, where you're working in small groups and you're conferencing with two or three kids, you're conferencing with individual children. A lot of times you're conferencing about their writing and giving them - you know, working with them individually on - on their development. It's - it's -

ROMANS: So it's not just the teacher in front of the blackboard -

FIDLER: No. Not at all.

ROMANS: -- with 30 students sitting there quietly in their desks. It's a much more hands on, active.


FIDLER: Basically me standing up there with 20 kids around me.

ROMANS: And you see the kids responding well when it's just a few kids together with you, when you can pull them out like that?

FIDLER: Oh, so much more, because you can differentiate your curriculum. I can say, OK, these are my kids who struggling with short vowels, and I can pull those kids to work on short vowels. These are my kids who are struggling with long vowels. I can pull them to do a group on long vowels.

So it's - it's great because you really get to focus on what those students need.

ROMANS: We'll highlight another example of what is working in the classroom now. I want to bring in Ronnie Sims, the principal at Detroit's Brenda Scott Academy. It's a public school for grades pre-K to 8.

Welcome to the program.


ROMANS: All right, you teach reading, writing, arithmetic; and you've got three other R's, Ronnie - respect, responsibility and reasoning. You've got something called a Gentle Man's Club, and it's not what you think it is.

Tell us about your Gentlemen's Club and what that is doing to improve the quality of education in your classroom.

SIMS: The Gentlemen's Club is offered to our second through 8th graders, and it's basically to build the students' self-esteem and help them to learn how to focus in the classroom. Most of the students are pretty bright, but if they're not focused, they miss out on a great portion of the lesson.

So we do a lot of focusing drills, and most of those boys who take it seriously, they practice in the classroom, they learn about distractions and how to handle those distractions because they'll never go away. And the majority of those students are now honor roll students, whereas before they weren't doing so well.

ROMANS: You teach them a firm handshake; you teach them to stand up straight, with almost military attention, right? So that they can tune out the other things that are happening around them, so they can listen to their teacher. And - and some of these kids really get into it.

SIMS: Absolutely. And, actually, when I'm going down the hallway, they're so used to giving me eye contact and shaking during our Gentlemen's Club sessions, they stop me in the hallway. And other kids are seeing that they're focused, and so, so many other people want to be a part of the Gentlemen's Club because of - of these students who are so serious about being a part of the Gentlemen's Club.

And so it also has taken effect on the girls. We now have a Ladies' Club, and because they're seeing what the boys were doing, there are now 130 girls that wants to be in the mentoring program as well.

ROMANS: Oh, interesting. I love it.

All right, our friend, CNN contributor LZ Granderson is back with us this morning. We loved to talk education with LZ because he's a writer, he's a thinker, he's a dad, and we love to get the parent angle from him.

What do you see, LZ, that's working in the classroom? What would you like to see more of?

LZ GRANDERSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'll tell you one thing, that I'm glad it's working. It's the fact that despite all the horrible things we hear about education, the terrible things we hear about teachers' pay and the attacks on unions, that we still have people who go to college who want to be teachers. We still have people in the classroom who wants to be with young people.

And I think that is so important because all the research tells us that there are two main factors that determines a child's education in terms of academic achievement. Number one is financial, the type of school they go to and the type of resources it has. And number two, of course, are teachers. You got have good teachers. And having good teachers present in the classroom, people who want to be there it's a very, very good thing.

Something else I think is fantastic is that we are seeing more and more ultimate ways in which teaching is happening. You know, your earlier guests talked about some new projects in terms of reading out loud and - and the Gentlemen's Club. I think it's a fantastic idea.

You know, my son goes to an international baccalaureate school and, you know, it's relatively new, about 40 years - 40 years old. There are 3,200 of these schools in the world, 1,300 are in the U.S. So we're doing a lot of good things.

ROMANS: That's good to hear.

I want to thank you all for spending some time to tell us what's working in the classroom. Best of luck to all of you, Jamie Fidler, Ronnie Sims and LZ Granderson.

SIMS: Thank you.

ROMANS: Nice to see everybody. Have a great Saturday.

FIDLER: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, family planning versus family finances. When money gets in the way of expanding your family. That's next on YOUR BOTTOM LINE.


ROMANS: Having a baby today is as much about money as it is about love and biology. Couples are holding off on baby number two or deciding against it altogether because they're worried about how much babies cost, they're worried about their jobs, they're worried about their financial future.

Meet one Pennsylvania couple who's wondering whether to have another baby because of the economy.



ROMANS (voice-over): Laurie and Ryan Parthemore want to have another baby.

L. PARTHEMORE: Once you get married, everybody's like, "Oh, when are you having a baby?" Then you have a baby, "Oh, when are you having another baby?" but it's not always that easy.

ROMANS: But the economy stands in their way.

RYAN PARTHEMORE, DELAYING HAVING ANOTHER BABY: Two would scare the heck out of me, meaning - because to have child care costs times two. I mean, that's another big chunk of change.

ROMANS: The couple spends $11,000 on child care for Olivia. She's one and a half years old.

Ryan, a detective, gets extra income working in his family's business, but Laurie's job is a major factor in their family planning. L. PARTHEMORE: Did you get the letter from us back in - over the summertime about our funding cuts?

ROMANS: Fourteen out of 21 people have been laid off at the child care association where she works. Laurie isn't sure if she'll have a job come January.

L. PARTHEMORE: I'm 39 now, and so there's a - there's a window, and so that window closing while the job window closes at the same time, or potentially will close, it's a - it's a little unnerving.

Can you burp the baby?

ROMANS: No question, women are already waiting longer to have kids, and they're having fewer of them. In 2010, four million babies were born in the U.S., down from the peak of 4.3 million in 2007.

Dr. Jacques Moritz has delivered about 3,000 babies.

(on camera): So you're going to cost $250,000 by the time you're 18?


ROMANS (voice-over): $226,920, to be exact, according to the government. That's up more than $60,000 from 10 years ago.

MORITZ: Well, there's no doubt that economy matters in having children. It has mattered throughout history. In the Depression it went down. In other recessions, it went down. And, in boom times, it goes up.

ROMANS: The recession is technically over, but, for most people, it doesn't feel like it.

MORITZ: Couples are telling me that the economy is tight. Having a kid, it is a great expense, I think a bigger expense up in your head than in reality.

But still, you know, people think about kids and college and education and all the costs involved (ph). They're right. So they're seeing the moment right now, how could we ever do this, and they're postponing it.

ROMANS: Moritz says women think they can't afford to have a baby, but for many, they can't afford to wait.

MORITZ: It's the biological clock.

ROMANS (on camera): You can't wait for the economy to recover -

MORITZ: The stock is up, the stock is down -

ROMANS: It doesn't matter.

MORITZ: -- but the stock in the eggs is always going down. Basically every year we get older.

L. PARTHEMORE: You say thank you.


L. PARTHEMORE: You're welcome.

ROMANS (voice-over): For now, the Parthemores remain a family of three.

R. PARTHEMORE: If we can add another one, great. And, if that doesn't happen, then I don't - you know, we're not going to be any less happy for what we have.


ROMANS: So waiting to have another kid these days, it can be both a tough financial and biological decision. And maybe it is all in our heads.

Stacy Francis is a mom and a financial adviser and president of Francis Financial. And Pete Dominick is our friend, a husband, a dad, a comedian and host of SiriusXM's Stand Up.

All right, Stacy, we look at the number first, the $226,000, that cute little baby that's going to cost almost a quarter of a million dollars. The USDA says compare that with say 1960, when it was $25,000 to have a baby.

Take a page out of the finances here - a detective, a woman who works for a child care association. They're both dependent on the public sector.


ROMANS: Is it irresponsible to have a baby in an economy like this?

FRANCIS: Well, it's the most expensive time it's ever been to have a baby, but it's not necessarily irresponsible. There's a lot that they can do to shore up their finances.

Number one, if she's worried about losing her job, Laurie needs to start looking for a job now, not when it happens. They also need to be very smart, look at their finances, look where they're spending money and start to create an emergency fund. So if something does happen, they're not going to have to dip into those credit cards and really find themselves in a bad financial situation.

ROMANS: They might tighten the belt too. I mean, maybe they might have to tighten the belt and get - I know that - Pete's laughing because there's some sort of double entendre there.

PETE DOMINICK, HOST, SIRIUS XM'S STAND UP: Well, no, no. You know what I'm laughing about? I'm thinking about Congress. I wish Congress - congressmen and women would act like they've had a baby because then they would realize that you have to tighten your belt. And, as you're saying, get another job.

Just take my personal experience. When my wife - she was my girlfriend at the time - got pregnant, we - we didn't think about it. I said, well, I got to get to work. It was the - the most stimulative package you could imagine, the pregnancy.

I didn't take no for an answer. I took risks. The ideas -

ROMANS: It was a motivator for you.

DOMINICK: It's a huge motivator. Yes. Absolutely. It wasn't about me anymore.

But this $226,000 number, that's - that's you women, you responsible financial women. I mean, that number is -

ROMANS: You don't think about that when you're -

DOMINICK: Well, no, you don't. You really don't.

And, think about this. You want - I'll give you a number. How much will it cost if you wait? It's harder to get pregnant. The doctors (INAUDIBLE). You've got two choices, in vitro or adoption - two choices that are prohibitively expensive.


ROMANS: The other thing - the other thing about having kids, though, there's a certain amount of leap faith that you - that you make when you're having a child, right? And, you know, 18 years from now is a pretty long time. The economy could be a lot better.

And having a baby is having a baby. I mean, that's priceless. The truth - I mean, I have three little kids, right? It's - it's priceless, right? It trumps everything.

But you have to be responsible when you're thinking about doing it.

FRANCIS: Yes, be responsible, and also don't let college costs, you know, worry you either. It's one of those things - you plan for your retirement. Guess what, there are college loans, grants, there's financial aid. There's a lot of great options out there. So don't let that hold you back.

ROMANS: All right, Stacy Francis, Pete Dominick, I think we've all decided we're all bullish on just going for another baby.


ROMANS: All right, have you ever been brand washed? The shocking tricks companies use to get to you buy their products and how not to fall for it. That's next.


ROMANS: Have you ever bought a book just because it was on the bestseller list? Or a brand name toy because your child specifically asked for it? Have you ever liked something on Facebook? If so, you've been brand-washed.

My next guest knows firsthand how marketers and advertisers manipulate our minds and persuade us to buy their products because he used to be one of them. Now he's written a little expose on all of the dirty tricks. The book is called "Brandwashed" and Martin Lindstrom joins us now via Skype from Columbia.

Welcome to the program. Nice to see you.

You know, it's hard to escape the grip that companies have on us, particularly if we don't even know it's happening. Martin, how do they get us? Give us some of the secrets.

MARTIN LINDSTROM, AUTHOR, "BRAINWASHED": Well, it happens everywhere. Just think about this when you walk into a retail store, like a supermarket. Did you know that if we walk counterclockwise throughout the store, we actually spend seven percent more?

And, not only that, we actually are seeing now the supermarkets are putting in speed bumps into the floor so the tiles are starting to vibrate slightly. It makes us slow down, and, as we do that, we spend six percent more.

And not only that, we also know now that the type of music they're using in the retail store actually makes us spend more money. So, actually, every signal we exposed for every second actually has one single agenda, and that is to make us spend more.

ROMANS: Wow. It's like being in a Vegas casino, where there are no windows and no clocks, and the light is perfect -

LINDSTROM: Yes (ph).

ROMANS: -- except it's the supermarket and they're trying to make you reach you're your pocket and spend more money.

So next time we're shopping, what can we do differently not to fall for it?

LINDSTROM: I think one of the best advice is not to bring your kids with you. We know today that if you spend (ph), your kid's with you, you could just spend 26 percent more.

There's also another good advice, and it sounds stupid but actually it works very well. Use your music player or your iPhone and play some music, really hard music, you know, a very high rhythm, because that makes you rush out of the supermarket very quickly.

And, by the way, another advice, do always use very big dollar notes, you know, the $100 bills or the $50 notes, because they actually make you spend less. We call that the denomination effect. The idea is very simple, it is the less money you spend, well, typically, it's directly correlated with the higher bills you had in your - in your pocket. ROMANS: Fascinating. All right, you say the average three-year-old - and I have one of these - a three-year-old can recognize 100 different brands. That seems impossible -


ROMANS: -- impossible to me, but you think of three years of their life they've been bombarded from all - even the diapers they wear have like a little - an animal, a Disney character on it. How do you protect your kids from marketers?

LINDSTROM: Well, first of all, the first word any baby is able to say not mom or dad, anymore, it's Donald, standing for McDonald's. And so we really learned this very quickly.

So I the best advice for you is very simple. Think number one, you need to make sure that you teach your children about what a brand is.

Number two, most of the kids we were surveying for this book, "Brandwashed," 76 percent of them were saying they're teased in school because they're not wearing the right label. So here's the advice to you, make sure that you actually give your kids the argument they should use in school in case they're teased about brands.

And, number three, I hate to tell you, but you have to ask your kids to switch off that television now and then because that's the main source still for us to learn about those brands.

ROMANS: Martin Lindstrom, the author of "Brandwashed" very nice to see you today, and we'll have you back again very soon.

LINDSTROM: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right, forget Black Friday. The Christmas shopping season is underway, and we have the really important list for you, everything not to do this holiday season. Next, on YOUR BOTTOM LINE.


ROMANS: All right, full disclosure, I got to tell you, this time of year I start to do some major soul searching. I feel like we're in the middle of a manufactured retail frenzy that's trying to get us for the next five weeks to buy into the idea we've got to spend as much money as possible. And there's some things that you can do to make sure you don't fall into those buyer traps. Buyer beware.

Mandy Walker is the senior projects editor for Consumer Report's "Money Adviser." Am I right? It's a big system that we all get sucked into.

MANDY WALKER, SENIOR PROJECTS MANAGER, CONSUMER REPORTS MONEY ADVISER: Luckily there are things you can do besides getting in a bubble. That's (INAUDIBLE).

ROMANS: But you've - but you've noticed the Christmas creep.

WALKER: Oh, yes. Oh, it's everywhere. Yes.

ROMANS: And what is it? It's where - now - I mean, before you've carved your pumpkins, there's Christmas music at the mall.

WALKER: Before - yes. Before you go trick or treating, the - just the thing, but my Agway (ph) has Christmas decorations. Been out for a month.

ROMANS: Well, it's here. We all know it's here, and we know we're going to spend a lot of time shopping. We know that there's a lot that we've been doing.

I mean, I think 19 hours is what you're going to spend shopping or something, you found.

WALKER: Yes. According to our poll, yes.

ROMANS: And - and we're going to spending an awful lot of time shopping, nine hours traveling, three hours waiting in checkout lines, three hours wrapping gifts, and 14 hours celebrating. Wow, we're going to spend more doing the preparation than we are actually celebrating with our friends.

I - I wanted to ask you, Mandy, some of the mistakes people make that cost them money. Lay away, a lot of the stores are pushing lay away again this year.

WALKER: Yes, it's back.

ROMANS: To me, it seems like the idea of giving somebody money and paying fees for a product that I'm not going to get yet, that's going to depreciate in the end, why is that a good idea?

WALKER: Yes, exactly. Yes, we - you know, lay away sounds great. There's no interest rate. You could pay over time for different paychecks, but there are fees involved. As you said, we looked at several deals and found it could be as much as $150 or a portion of whatever you're buying.

Plus there can be service fees. If the price goes down before the holidays, you could miss out on those sales prices. You know, there's a lot of reasons not to do it and maybe take that item off your holiday list.

ROMANS: And, you know, credit counselors have told me, when they're working with people who are in debt or have been in debt, that when people say should I put this on lay away, the credit counselor say no?


ROMANS: If you put it on lay away, it means you can't afford it. Don't do it.

WALKER: Right.

ROMANS: So put that money toward debt or something else. Store credit cards, notoriously high interest rates for these. And you're going to get lots of offers, people.

WALKER: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: You're going to get lots of offers. You're buying an awful lot. Would you like 20 percent off right now? Should you do it?

WALKER: Right. And it sounds good. It's very tempting. It's not usually 25, it's usually 10, maybe, at most.

ROMANS: Right.

WALKER: And so ahead of time, if you know you're going to be shopping at some place where you might be tempted, check out the deal online. Check out the details of the store's credit card. You'll probably find that you have a rewards card already that'll be a much better deal in the long run.

ROMANS: When - so when is it good - worth it to sign up? When is it worth it to sign up for one?

WALKER: If it's a store that you shop at frequently and you really will take advantage of all the discounts. It should probably be said, sometimes there are card only discounts, then it might make sense. And you don't have a bunch of store cards already and it's not going to clutter up your credit report.

ROMANS: You know, about two weeks ago there's was a big story about how you got to buy the big flat screen now because they're going on sale now and they will be cheaper. Retail analysts tell me that TVs are cheapest at right before Christmas and at Super Bowl. Those are the traditional times, so don't get suckered in.

But also about one in five adults plan to buy a flat screen during the holidays, or after. That's according to your most recent poll. Or different electronics.

If you see things for two different prices at two different stores, just because it's cheaper it might not be a better deal?

WALKER: You know, that's true, and we found that if you see an item, say, at several different stores it's about the same price and you go into maybe a Big Box store and you say, it looks like the same TV, for example, but it's a lot less. Write down the model number first, go home, go online, check it out. Look at all the details of what the product involves, all the different features.

You may find that it lacks some features that the other one has, maybe not. Or it may be something else (INAUDIBLE) about it. Maybe that's the remote doesn't light up.

ROMANS: Right.

WALKER: Or that the cover is a different color or something like that, but it might have some key features that you - you do want that they lack. To sell them for less at the Big Box stores, they may or may not have some features. They may be important to you, they may not.

ROMANS: And they're probably going to try to sell you an extended warranty when you buy that -


WALKER: That's true.

ROMANS: And this drives me crazy because I always say when somebody tries to sell me something and they say would you like the warranty, I say, why? You didn't make it good enough in the first place so it's not going to break? I mean, I'm expecting - I'm paying good money for this -

WALKER: Right. Are you selling me something that's going to break, not going to work?


ROMANS: I mean, I think that these things are made to last much shorter than they used to.

WALKER: Well, what we found over decades, Consumer Reports has done product reliability, brand reliability, and looked at that and found that, in fact, you really very seldom should take the extended warranty. Probably never is OK.

ROMANS: Probably never take the warranty. You heard it right here, don't take the warranty.

WALKER: Because products seldom break during the extended warranty timeframe, which is probably only two or three years past the time you bought it, and the manufacturer's warranty will probably last the first year. Besides, the credit card you used may already extend the manufacturer's warranty, so check that out before you go.

If a product breaks because of a defect during that time period, the manufacturer will probably replace it anyway, either voluntarily or by law they'll have to.

ROMANS: There you go. All right, Mandy, nice to see you.

WALKER: Nice to see you, too.

ROMANS: All right, let's keep this conversation going online. We want to hear your thoughts and ideas. You can find us on Facebook or Twitter @CNNBottomLine. You find me @ChristineRomans.

Many of the money questions we cover every week, you can also find in my book "How to Speak Money." I wrote this book with my friend, Ali Velshi. It's available right now. It's all of these subjects, saving you money, helping you learn how to speak the language of real estate, globalization, on the job. Please check it out.

Back now to "CNN SATURDAY" for the latest stories making the news. Have a great weekend.