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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Make your home more eco-friendly with these three household fixes

Lower household water use
Water conservation is becoming a global environmental issue
Water use is an essential part of our day-to-day lives; not only does water hydrate and nourish our bodies, but it is also vital for hygiene and cleanliness. From showering to washing laundry to cooking and cleaning, Americans use about 400 gallons of water in their homes every single day. If one in every 10 homes in the U.S. chose to use water conservation products, we could easily save six billion gallons of water a year. 

We know the numbers and we know the importance of conserving water, so how can we do so without changing our lifestyles in an uncomfortable way? While it’s impossible to go green without some change in everyday habits, you don’t need to skip showers to save water. A few simple household fixes can make your home more eco-friendly as well as save you money on your water and heating bills.

Eco-toilets reduce household water consumption
Save with eco-toilets

Simple fix #1: Eco-toilets

It will come as no surprise that the bathroom is one of the places where the most water waste occurs – and the biggest culprit? Your toilet. Accounting for about 30 percent of all household water use, the average family sends thousands of gallons of water down the drain every year. But with the installation of an environmentally friendly toilet, water use can be cut by 20 percent. That translates to more than 10,000 gallons saved annually and an average of $110 saved in water bills. While an eco-toilet may cost more than a standard model, with all the money you will be saving and the good you will be doing for the planet, it is an investment sure to pay for itself.

Simple fix #2: Efficient showerheads

While toilets may be the biggest water-waster in the average home, the shower is a close second. On average, families use about 40 gallons of water a day just by showering—nationally, that’s 1.2 trillion gallons of water a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Sense program. While you could always begin skipping showers to save water, you would be much better off installing a low-flow showerhead. Water-saving showerheads curb the amount of water used per minute; a standard showerhead uses about 2.5 gallons per minute, but a low-flow showerhead can use as little as 1.5 gallons per minute. What that means is that for every 15-minute shower, you would use 22.5 gallons as opposed to 37.5 gallons – and all of that leads to serious savings on your water and energy bills.

Simple fix #3: High-efficiency aerators

We use faucets all day, from washing our hands to brushing our teeth to cleaning dishes and cooking, so it’s inevitable that with the installation of bathroom aerators, kitchen aerators, and other aerators thousands of gallons of water can be saved. If every household replaced their outdated faucets with water-saving versions, we could save 64 billion gallons of water annually.

Many people may believe that water-saving devices are less powerful or less reliable than standard versions, but that is simply untrue. Environmentally sound water-saving accessories do not sacrifice quality and are constantly improving.

About the author: Mara is passionate about the environment, but also understands that people don’t want to have to make vast lifestyle adjustments to conserve. That’s why she recommends easy fixes like the ones offered here for people looking to “go green.” She hopes readers will take these tips to heart and make their homes more efficient.

Image licenses: D. Sharon Pruitt, CC BY 2.0,  Wipeout 997, CC BY-SA 3.0

Friday, January 24, 2014

How does college sports make money?

Many individuals believe college sports is about making money. The reality is quite the opposite. The question, "How Does College Sports Make Money?" needs to be answered at the highest level with the NCAA organization and at the next level with the colleges and universities.

The NCAA's responsibilities

Merchandising involves partenerships with clothing firms
Championship ticket prices build revenue
First, it should be noted the NCAA operates as a non-profit organization. Their main responsibility is to oversee the rules and regulations imposed on schools for all sports.

Their other duties include public promotion of collegiate sports and finally, they negotiate national television contracts with the media for NCAA tournament events such as "March Madness," the "College World Series" and the "BCS Bowl Series." The only other source of revenues would be member dues.

They are responsible for collecting the television contract revenues, but 96% of the proceeds are distributed to member schools and the other 4% is along with the dues are used for administrative and tournament costs.

How are funds distributed to the member schools?

A portion of the revenues are distributed to all member schools as reimbursements based on specific criteria. The criteria used includes each school's number of student athletes and the number of sports in which each school participates. Those are considered direct cost reimbursements for things like academic enhancement, conference grants, grants-in-aid, sports sponsorships and a student assistance fund. The rest of the revenue is distributed based on participation in the specific championship tournaments under contract.

How do schools make money?

The short answer is that all schools create some revenues from sports, but only a very small percentage of the NCAA member schools make an actual profit. So, "how do schools make revenues?" is a more meaningful question. Most colleges and universities earn revenues from four primary resources.

1. Ticket and merchandise sales
2. Distributions from the NCAA
3. Local media contracts and sponsorships
4. Booster donations

Ticket and merchandise sales

These revenues are created from ticket sales made to students and the general public for regular season games for most sports. The merchandising revenue comes largely from licensing agreements with apparel and product manufacturers.

Distributions from the NCAA

The direct cost funds are distributed as mentioned above. The participation funds are determined by the number of games a school plays in the specific tournaments under contract. For example, any team that plays in the 64 team March Madness Tournament (basketball) earns a specific amount for each game it plays and a bonus for making it to the championship game.

Local media contracts and sponsorships

Most colleges and universities have a substantial community following large enough to justify radio and/or television coverage for some or all of the games in the more popular sports such as football, hockey, basketball and baseball. Also, some schools receive sponsorship monies from local businesses or entertainment facilities.

Booster donations

Many schools receive annual donations for alumni. This resource is highly regulated by NCAA rules. The donations are to be directed towards equipment and facilities, not for the direct benefit of the student athletes.

With are these revenues flowing into the athletic departments, why did only 14 out of over 1,100 member schools show a profit in 2010? While a division I basketball or football program may generate huge revenues, those funds go to support the entire athletic program. They pay for the existence of swimming teams, tennis teams and other less popular sports that generate little or no revenues. These revenues also pay for all scholarships, sports facilities, equipment and administrative costs. In the end, most college sports programs usually don't make money contrary to public perception.

About the author: Lesley writes on her own blog, Allpro Sports, about sports as well as being a paid writter on many sports websites.

Image license: terren in Virginia, CC BY 2.0

Getting the best value from your mobile plan

Free data charges and no long-term contract are an advantage
Sim-only cell phone contracts don't have long-term obligations
Mobile phones have become so ubiquitous that many things we used to take for granted, like pay phones, have almost been pushed out of existence. Many people have even opted out of maintaining a home phone any longer, simply to save money.

So now the question is, which mobile plan is right for you? There are several options available to fit a wide range of usage options and any budget. There are also a slew of mobile types, brands and models from which to choose. Not to mention all of the separate networks.

It is these options that you should examine first. Consider how you use your phone now, and what you plan to do with it in the future. If you are mainly concerned with communication, that is simple texting and conversation, there is no need to go beyond a simple mobile phone with those capabilities. If this fits your needs, you could find a phone for as little as £6.

If, on the other hand, you want to enter into the tech revolution and join the smartphone craze, there are literally hundreds of options to choose from these days. The number increases when you include the feature phones that don’t have all of the flash, but can still provide extra functionality, like a camera, if you wish. Then of course are the plethora of manufacturers and models from which to choose.

Choosing your phone is another subject entirely, but it pertains in that you must make sure your plan provider also carries the phone you desire. More importantly, you must find a network provider that delivers sufficient service in both your home are, and any other areas you plan to frequent over the life of your plan. Having a cell phone of any kind is of no value what so ever, if you can’t use it.

Once you’ve decided on a provider, you need to choose which type of plan you would like. You could choose the type of phone you would like first, but this might dictate the type of plan you can get, and vice versa.

There are three basic plan options from which to choose:

1. Pay as you go (PAYG) monthly plans. If you don’t plan on using your mobile frequently, or want a second (or third) phone, this could be the plan for you. PAYG accounts are the most flexible, as they require no contract, fixed monthly fee or direct debit agreement.

Instead, you sign up for a credit account with the carrier of your choice. You need to “top-off” this account to activate it. How the fee structure work, depends on the plan you purchase. For many plans, you will pay a set amount for a certain amount of minutes, say £20 for 200 minutes.

When the 200 minutes are gone, you’ll be charged a set rate per minute – as long as there is money in your account. If there’s no money in the account, the phone simply won’t work until the account is topped-off again. There’s no need to worry about surprise charges.

Although optimal for the minimal caller, this plan is offered with all types of phones, and can include data plans.

2. Pay-monthly contract deals. This is a good option for the majority of users interested in top-of-the-line phones, and plan on using their phone frequently. It is convenient, but you will be stuck in a contract from anywhere from one to two years.

You also have to make sure you’re happy with your phone and have the right plan for you. If you go over your contracted minutes, you’ll be able to use your phone, but will be charged extra, and it will still be directly debited from your account which can cause problems.

Though you may be allowed to move to a higher –tier contract, you likely won’t be reimbursed for lost minutes without a roll over plan, and downgrading isn’t usually an option.

3. Sim-only contract deals. If you are a high-end user, or own multiple phones of your own, a Sim-only contract may offer you the best of both worlds. You still have an allowance for minutes, text and data at a contracted value, but the bargain will be better, because there is no subsidy for the phone.

In addition, many Sim-only contracts don’t require more than a 30 day commitment, which allows you the freedom of a PAYG account.

Image license: Mack Male; CC BY-SA 2.0

Chargebacks: The short and long-term ramifications

By Luke Hartley

If you have been in business for any length of time, you are probably aware of the dreaded chargeback.  For those who are yet to encounter them, let us tell you what you are in store for.

What are chargebacks?

Chargebacks are basically a credit card refund.  If a customer purchases one of your goods or services with a credit card and becomes disenchanted with the order for any reason, he or she could file a chargeback.  A chargeback forces you to return the client’s money.  In fact, the funds can be automatically withdrawn from your account without your permission or even your knowledge.

Chargebacks can be filed for a variety of reasons.  The most common include:
Burden of proof rests with the business
Unauthorized chargebacks are fraudulent
  • Poor quality products or services.  The customer was led to believe he or she would receive a certain quality and their expectations were not met.
  • The customer service before or after the sale was subpar.
  • The product was shipped but never arrived at the customer’s doorstep (or it did arrive but the customer chose to engage in “friendly fraud.”)
  • The original transaction was not authorized.  The purchase was made fraudulently.

The short-term ramifications of chargebacks

Most business owners come to despise chargebacks – and rightly so.  While the chargeback was invented as a very necessary form of customer protection, the process gives very little thought to the merchant.  The entire chargeback process has a very negative effect on the business.

The original item that was sold probably won’t be returned to the company.  Therefore, the business loses both the original income and any future earning potential for that item.

The burden of proof for every chargeback lies with the merchant.  For example, if the client files a chargeback, claiming he or she never received the item, it is the merchant’s responsibility to prove otherwise.  This burden of proof is very time consuming and requires additional effort on the part of the business owner.

Each chargeback filed comes with a fee – anywhere from $20 to $100.  And each transaction requires a separate chargeback.  These fees can quickly add up.  For example, if the company received several different orders (different transactions) from the same stolen credit card, each individual purchase will come with a separate chargeback fee.

The long-term ramifications

It would be nice if merchants could simply pay the chargeback fee and wash their hands of the situation.  Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. 

If the merchant chooses to fight the chargeback, he or she will have additional hoops to jump through – dragging the process on even longer.  Chargebacks can leave a business in limbo for up to six months.  That is a long time for your funds to be tied up. 

Even worse, taking a chargeback all the way to arbitration could mean an additional $250 fee.  According to Wikipedia, only 21% of chargebacks lodged globally are decided in favor of the merchant.

The merchant processor keeps track of how many chargebacks are filed each month.  If the cost of chargebacks exceeds 1% of total sales, the processor could slap the business with a $5,000.  If, after an arbitrary amount of time, chargebacks aren’t brought back within a reasonable range, the processor will fine the business again – this time $10,000! 

If it is impossible for the business to reign in their chargebacks and they skyrocket above 2-3% of sales, the processor can simply terminate the account.  Once the merchant account has been ended, it will be very difficult to get another.  This means the business will either have to stop accepting credit cards as a form of payment or go out of business.

What can be done about chargebacks?

Most chargebacks result from one of two things – faulty customer service or fraud.  In order to reduce the risk of chargebacks it is essential to focus on top-notch customer service.  It is also valuable to be vigilant about detecting and preventing fraud. Visa offers a 12-point list of potential fraud indicators.  They also share valuable tips regarding tools that can help prevent fraudulent transactions.

Fraud detection and prevention is only half the battle.  You must also focus on customer service.  This article has tips for improving customer service to prevent chargebacks. As a business owner, have you encountered a chargeback?  Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

About the author: Luke Hartley is a business consultant.  Right now, he is working with Chargebacks911. The chargeback process is difficult to understand and navigate.  Luke knows the first – and most important – step in the chargeback process is raising awareness.  

Image license:  Nick Papakyriasis, CC BY-SA-NC 2.0