Let’s finish our reflections from Italy, keeping in mind that finances, and managing your money well, matter everywhere. If you go to Italy, and the other European countries that I have been privileged to visit, you can’t help but notice the smaller cars and numerous motor scouters. The many narrow roads account for part of this, but, while we are experiencing very low gas prices in the U.S., the average price of gasoline in Italy for the last four months equates to $ $6.54 per gallon. OUCH! That can change your behavior.
One thing that I noticed in Italy was how much of the pricing, especially for food and souvenirs, was in even, or half Euros — for example, 6 Euro for a pizza (the best in the world for a big personal pizza in Naples), 12 Euro for a pasta dish, and 4.50 Euro for a large gelato. So it really struck me when I saw a few establishments that had more “American marketing” pricing; for example, 6.90 Euro for an item. I wondered if they had an American consultant or had spent some time in the States.
There are retail consumer protection laws in the U.S., which I was insistent upon following in Bankruptcy sales when I was on the bench, including such things as not bringing in merchandise for a "going out of business" sale without notifying the public. Also, many of us have a sense that retailers may not always be leveling with us when they set forth a list, manufacturer’s recommended or original price in connection with a sale. That being said, I witnessed a classic in Naples. On a main retail tourist street, there was a men’s clothing store that had big signs advertising final sales — 50 to 80 percent off. We noticed it as we were walking to the opera one evening. Later that evening on our way back to the hotel, when the stores were closed and it was dark, there was a panel truck parked out front unloading new suits and sport coats. Talk about “Buyer Beware."
For a last financially related reflection, in Italy, for the most part, tipping is not expected by those whom we usually tip in the United States, like waiters, bellmen, and taxi drivers who handle your luggage, unless you have received some sort of exceptional service. Even though most of us who travel to Italy know that, it is so culturally ingrained in us that we do tip anyway, where Europeans do not. What I was struck by is how genuinely appreciative they are when you do tip. It really makes you feel good about it, instead of tipping just being an automatic.
Here is a non-financially related reflection, although it could end up eventually affecting some peoples’ insurance premiums. I am one of those Italian Americans who talks a lot with their hands, which may be why I was so tuned into this. In Rome we took a Vespa Tour, where you have a driver and sit on the back, but still get to do all of those annoying things that the scooter drivers do in traffic. For a while in Southern Rome, on our way to Aqueduct Park, there was a young man on his scooter talking on his hands-free phone, but his hands were not free. He was holding on with one hand and talking very expressively with the other. The same was true for the water taxi drivers on the Grand Canal in Venice, a male and female pair of cyclists on the hills near Sorrento, and many other Italians. They definitely don’t lack for passion.
Returning back home, it is the middle of July, and I noticed that the back-to- school sales have already started. It makes for a good time to start looking around to do some comparison shopping, if you have not already been doing that. There will be plenty of sales this summer, so what is that real “original price,” and what is really a good price for that article you are looking at, sale or no sale? Also, don’t forget the internet.
Lastly, thank you USA Today for finally focusing on a topic that we have discussed a lot in this column, including in our recent series on free college: SYSTEMIC GRADE
INFLATION. If you missed the recent USA Today article, “Trends Suggest GPAS are inflated,” here are some of the highlights. In 1998, 38.9 percent of high school seniors graduated with an A average, whereas in 2016, the percentage was 47 percent. During the same period, SAT scores dropped from 1026 to 1002. In addition, close to 50 percent of all college grades today are A’s.
Perhaps the message for parents is to make sure that your child is really getting a good education, not just good grades.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo or at http://www.monroecopost.com/search?text=Ninfo