What would you do if you suddenly began receiving property tax bills for $50 -$68 per year instead of the usual $1,350 or more you had been paying? Would you inquire if there was an error? Or would you just wait for things to "correct themselves"? If you'd wait before inquiring, how long would you wait? A year? Two? How about nearly 10? (Please take our "Honesty Quiz" at the end of this article to see how honest you are!).
That's the allegation which emerged in the last week against Detroit City Councilwoman Joann Watson. This is just one local story in the wake of recent news from the U.K. about Members of Pariliament abusing their expense accounts by charing taxpayers for everything from pornography to horse manure.
The following is a May 28, 2009 Detroit Free Press article reprinted with permission by the article's author Brian Dickerson. It is entitled: "Councilwoman: Integrity is for Chumps."
"If anyone here in this circle received a bill and you've argued to pay more, just raise your hand." -- Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson at a weekend news conference where she defended her failure to point out that the city had erroneously taxed her two-story home as a vacant lot for 10 years. Her request for a show of hands prompted laughter from her supporters.
Yuk, yuk, yuk.
Correct a billing error in our own favor? Really, councilwoman, you're too much. Who would ever do such a thing?
The thing is, of course, that many people would -- and do. We make mistakes all the time, and other people correct them even though it costs them money.
"Here's $20 for today and $40 for yesterday," a harried working mother tells her babysitter, handing over a clutch of twenties.
"You already paid me for yesterday," the babysitter reminds her, pushing two of the bills back.
Down the street, a man finishing dinner and dessert at a neighborhood restaurant looks puzzled when the waiter hands him a check listing only a cup of coffee.
"I had the roast beef special," the diner says, returning the check. "I think this check belongs to the lady at the counter."
What motivates such everyday honesty? Do the babysitter and the diner fear public exposure, excommunication or criminal prosecution?
Probably not. Probably they're just a couple of ordinary people who care about their own reputations for integrity.
Maybe they value their relationships with the harried mother and the confused waiter or at least seek to maintain their goodwill.
Maybe they were raised in homes where they were expected to do the right thing even if no one was watching.
Maybe they want to live in a world where we look out for one another and expect neighbors to do the same.
A woman of the world
JoAnn Watson thinks that kind of world is for chumps. We know this because she told us so in a televised news conference, mocking all those goody-two-shoes reporters who had the gall to suggest she had an obligation to pay the city for trash pickup just because someone picked up her trash.
Is it my obligation to pay for the city services I consume if the city forgets to ask? Watson asked her supporters.
Their dismissive laughter -- yuk, yuk, yuk -- captures precisely the pathological dishonesty of a city in moral crisis, a place where elected leaders like Watson feel confident ridiculing anyone who would hold them accountable for their larceny.
Setting the standard
Like too many elected officials, Watson has forgotten that she also is a teacher, an official somebody to whom young people might look, however mistakenly, for cues to civilized behavior.
So listen up, children, while the right honorable councilwoman tells you what's what:
Your fair share is whatever you can get away with.
Nobody expects you to be honest when they're not looking.
It's not stealing unless they catch you.
You really intend to return that babysitting fee you were already paid or pay for that meal you already ate? Councilwoman Watson has a bridge she'd like to sell you.
As for me, I can't wait to see what happens the next time Watson gets up at a City Council meeting and asks indignantly how Detroit came to such a sorry pass?
Will everyone have another good laugh? Or will they just hand Watson a mirror?
The following are some excerpts from a May 11, 2009 New York Times article by European Bureau journalist Sarah Lyall about the Parliament expense account scandal. Some MPs apologized, others claimed they aren't paid enough. You be the judge...
Oliver Letwin, the head of policy for the Conservative Party, claimed $3,000 to replace a leaky pipe under his tennis court in Somerset. Barbara Follett, a Labor member of Parliament and the wife of the author Ken Follett, charged $38,000 for security patrols at her house in London after she was mugged. David Willetts, a Conservative education spokesman, charged $120 to have an electrician come to his house and change the light bulbs in the bathroom.
The public airing of these and hundreds of other questionable claims from the expense accounts of Britain's most powerful members of Parliament has disgusted the electorate and thrown the House of Commons into a major public relations crisis. On Monday, politicians from all parties tried to salvage some of their dignity by groveling, denouncing their own weak ways and promising to reform the system, starting now.
“I would like to apologize on behalf of politicians, on behalf of all parties, for what has happened,” Prime Minister Gordon Brown said. David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative opposition, said, “We have to start by saying, ‘Look, this system that we had, that we used, that we operated, that we took part in — it was wrong and we’re sorry about it.’ ”
But nothing anyone has said has helped quell a mounting public fury over the disclosures, which began last week when The Daily Telegraph published information from a computer disc outlining legislators’ expense account claims since 2004.
Some legislators have disputed various details, but no one has denied that the reports are by and large accurate. The disclosures show that members of Parliament have routinely used the widest possible interpretations of the expense-account system, charging the government for such items as pornography and horse manure.
While many of the practices appear to have been perfectly acceptable under the rules and the amounts relatively small, especially by Washington standards, the details have raised questions of propriety and make up “a catalog of behavior that is a matter of national shame,” a Liberal Democratic member of Parliament, Norman Baker, wrote in The Telegraph.
British members of Parliament earn $92,795 a year. In a recent 12-month period, they claimed an average of nearly $200,000 in expenses, a figure that included expenses related to running their offices, including staff salaries and office supplies, as well as living expenses for legislators who represent districts outside London.
In the United States, members of the House of Representatives make $174,000 a year. They also receive, on average, between $1.4 million and $1.9 million a year to run their offices and pay for travel to and from Washington, depending on how far away their districts are. But they are expected to pay for their own housing and living expenses, said Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for Committee on House Administration.
Much of the anger has focused on the so-called second-home allowance. That allows members of Parliament whose districts are outside London to be reimbursed for as much as $35,000 in expenses — including mortgage payments, utilities and repairs — associated with whatever home they claim is not their primary residence.
Members of Parliament have been very generous in interpreting what this means, using it, for instance, to pay for gardening, maintenance and building work; for chauffeurs; for new stoves, refrigerators and beds; and for items like dog food, sofas, stereo systems and, in one case, “a black glitter toilet seat.”
Some have also repeatedly shifted the second-home designation back and forth among various houses, allowing them to make renovations on more than one property at taxpayers’ expense. Others have claimed reimbursements for extensive renovations, and then sold their properties for a profit; claimed reimbursements for mortgage payments on houses that they rent out; or claimed reimbursements on “second homes” that are within 10 miles of their first homes.
Parliament is now scrambling to come up with a new system. Last month, the prime minister proposed scrapping the second-home allowance and replacing it with a per diem fee for attending Parliament. The plan was widely derided by his political opponents, and he dropped the idea.
So, what is the difference between employee theft and what JoAnn Watson and the British Members of Parliament did? Not much if you ask me. The citizens are these peoples' employers. In Watson's case, the law states that it can only charge her so much for this error. One wonders if she'll come clean and pay it all back even if she doesn't legally have to.
Now, I'm not saying I'm perfect either. As a matter of fact, just two weeks ago my wife and I were buying fresh fish at a fish market and we suspected we were undercharged by a few dollars and didn't say anything. We at least talked about it at the time--and, again, recently. We plan to make and amend and, hopefully, be more honest next time.
These are trying economic times and it's easy to feel like there's no fairness or justice so why should I play by the rules? Even as President Obama tries to change the tone of "politics as usual" many remain jaded. As much as President Obama speaks of the importance of sacrifice (a la JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country), many feel they've been called to sacrifice so much already.
Even ABC's 20/20 program is working on a segment about the connection between an uptick in theft and dishonesty and the downward economy.
So, why be honest? I like the saying "honesty is its own reward." The world may seem dishonest at times but there is honesty out there, and in here. Either we're part of the solution or part of the problem. Honesty is a prime antidote to addiction and other maladies of the spirit. Honesty breeds trust, self-esteem, responsibility, respect, admiration, serenity, good relationships, others' being honest with you, and spiritual connectedness.
The interesting thing is, even when we pay "lip service" to the value of honesty, we often don't realize how insidious our dishonesty is. We can be in denial. Too often we take short cuts, bend rules, live in the "gray zone." What are the consequences? Legal issues? Embarrasment or humiliation? Loss of job? Loss of respect (self and others?) Just for starters, please take the following "Honesty Quiz" and see how you score and if you truly feel at peace with how you're living.
HONESTY QUIZ HONESTY QUIZ HONESTY QUIZ HONESTY
To the following statements, please truthfully answer "Always," "Usually," "Sometimes," "Rarely," or "Never."
1. I am completely honest on my income tax filings _________________
2. If given more money back on a transaction than I should have received, I speak up and correct the error. _________________
3. If I find a purse or wallet, I make every effort to find its owner and return ALL of the contents. _________________
4. I sneak into movie theaters or into another auditorium after I have already watched one movie. _________________
5. If I buy something and break or ruin it, I either let it go or tell the truth to the person or store from whom I bought it. ________________
6. At work, I am completely honest about the hours I work. ________________
7. At restaurants or fast food places, I sneak sugar packets, bread, extra fountain drinks or other items. _________________
8. When people ask me for my opinion about something, I am completely honest. _________________
9. If I am pulled over by the police for a suspected traffic violation, I own up completely if I know I am at fault.
10. When playing sports or games (cards, puzzles, boardgames, etc...) I am completely honest.
SCORING: This is a non-scientific quiz. Note how you answered these statements and consider discussing with others and having them take the quiz and discuss their answers, too. If you answered "Always" to most of these statements (except #4 or #7) you may be more honest than most. If you answered "rarely" or "never" to most of these statements (except #4 or #7) you may be less honest than most. If you answered "usually" or "sometimes" to most of these questions, you may be in the relative norm but is that good enough for you?
How to Spend Like a Frugal Millionaire
By Kimberly Palmer
Saving thousands while still spending...
Millionaires make up just 2 percent of the population. They get a bad rap during recessions for being wasteful with their money and are frequently used as examples of excess. It's the millionaires that you don't see that you can learn from in times like these. I call them the frugal millionaires and interviewed 70 of them to uncover ways we can all be smarter with money.
Nearly 70 percent of the economy is based on consumer spending. To keep the economy going we need to keep spending but not waste money in the process. This is where the frugal millionaires come in. They've been smart with their money all along and haven't lost it all and had to remake it. These are the kind of people you want to learn from when it comes to spending your money.
Frugal millionaires are unique thinkers when it comes to spending money: 1) they can easily delay their need for gratification when purchasing; 2) they are resourceful in getting what they want by carefully timing their consumer purchases; 3) they make living below their means painless; 4) they don't like wasting anything (especially money); 5) their sense of "self-entitlement" is highly minimized: and 6) spending is OK with them...depending on what they are buying (think: appreciating vs. depreciating assets). (There are also important strategies such as work hard, do what you love, and buy "used.")
These millionaires keep more money than they spend, that's why they are rich. Their tactics work for them so they'll work even better for you. Key Point: They don't view shopping as a sport. They shop efficiently and spend their time doing more important things with their lives. Here are their tips that will help you save while spending:
Cars: Buy used (or off lease) fuel-efficient cars, often with "certified pre-owned" warranties. This warranty can be better than a new car, plus the initial depreciation hit is avoided. Drive the car for a long time and never lease it.
Eating Out: Bring half of a meal home to eat later (this also saves the waistline). Eat at happy hours. Bring wine from home and skip dessert. Value food quality over expensive ambience.
Eating In: Eat better and less expensively by cooking at home. Make it a friends and family event. Get your kids involved. Bonus: You can have that extra drink without worrying about getting busted for driving under the influence. Also: buy day-old bread at the best bakery in town and freeze it. Eat oatmeal, because it's the most cost-effective breakfast food. Get a supermarket "club card" and buy food on special. Play the game of trying to see how much of a discount can be saved off the total food bill.
Clothes: When you buy something new donate something used to charity. Buy traditional clothes, but wait for the off-season to acquire them. Go for high quality - not high price. Buy vintage clothing and avoid logo clothing and keep people guessing who the designer might be. Hint: There shouldn't be one!
Consumer Electronics: Buy low-end gear that has the basic functionality of the more expensive stuff. Don't be the first to buy new technology. Wait at least one lifecycle so the bugs are worked out. Buy refurbished electronics whenever possible.
Computers: Buy more mainstream computers with proven technology. Select higher capacity hard drives, a decent amount of RAM (the memory that the program runs in) and a cost effective processor. Super fast doesn't always equal super good...unless you are building airplanes or bridges. Laptops are a good compromise between desktops and netbooks. Don't go through the pain of upgrading operating systems on existing computers, it's not time efficient and you will probably go insane trying.
Going green: Being green and frugal go hand-in-hand. Yet frugal millionaires don't readily fall for the trendy green hype machine. They typically buy green if it helps the environment and lowers their costs. They look at the timeframe when a product can pay for itself. They do use compact fluorescent lighting, turn off lights and equipment that isn't being used, monitor AC and heat usage (with programmable thermostats), drive efficiently, live in "right-sized" homes and turn off the water when they aren't brushing their teeth or washing dishes. Because they have trained themselves to not waste money they won't waste anything else either. They get into good habits and keep them going. You can, too.
Note of Interest: Mr. Shulman's 44th Birthday is June 27th.
We are at the stage of possible depositions with a final status conference in late August. We continue to appreciate your support.
Compulsive Theft & Spending in the news! May/June 2009:
Mr. Shulman created an online continuing education course on compulsive shopping and spending based on his book and Power Point presentation through the American Psychotherapy Association. This course is available for purchase by APA members and non-members alike. http://www.americanpsychotherapy.com/
May 24th--Mr.Shulman was featured on an hour-long radio segment on WJR AM 760 Detroit on addiction and recovery.
Mr. Shulman will be featured in a segment on shoplifting addiction in the MSNBC series "Theft in America" to air in mid-2009.
May 25th--Mr. Shulman was interviewed by a producer with ABC's 20/20 on the impact of the economy on shoplifting and employee theft.
May 28th--Mr. Shulman was interviewed for an article on shoplifting for the Canadian Press which will be carried by The Associated Press.
October 7-9--Mr. Shulman may be presenting on compulsive shopping and spending at The California Society for Addiction Medicine Conference in San Francisco, CA.
October 14-16--Mr. Shulman will be presenting on compulisve theft and spending at The American Psychotherapy Associations Annual Conference in Las Vegas, NV.
October 23 and 25--Mr. Shulman will be presenting on compulsive theft and spending at 2 day-long seminars presented by The Jewish Family Services in the metro-Detroit area.
Mr. Shulman is consulting on the development of a major motion picture tentatively called "The Rush" in which the lead character is addicted to shoplifting and stealing.
Mr. Shulman submitted a chapter on employee theft for a U.K. book entitled "Risky Business" to be released in late 2009.
Mr. Shulman continues to assist the Kingman, Arizona court system with his court-ordered homestudy program for retail fraud offenders. The program is based on material from his book "Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery" (2003).
Contact The Shulman Center
P.O. Box 250008
Franklin, Michigan 48025
Call (248) 358-8508 for free consulation!
Related sites by Terrence Shulman:
The Shulman Center
Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous
Something For Nothing
Biting The Hand That Feeds
Bought Out and $pent
Products for Purchase--SALE!
Mr. Shulman's 75 Minute DVD Power Point Presentation on Employee Theft at Livonia, Michigan Financial Manager's Conference 10/19/06. $75.00
Mr. Shulman's 75 Minute DVD Power Point Presentation on Employee Theft at Louisville, Kentucky Business in Industry Conference 9/19/07. $75.00
Mr. Shulman's two books "Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction & Recovery" and "Biting The Hand That Feeds: The Employee Theft Epidemic... New Perspectives, New Solutions" are availabe for $25.00 each (includes shipping/handling) or both for $45.00 (includes shipping/handling).
Mr. Shulman's 90 minute DVD Power Point presentation for young people: "Theft and Dishonesty Awareness Program." $75.00
Mr. Shulman's 33 minute psycho-educational DVD: "The Disease of Something for Nothing: Shoplifting and Employee Theft." $50.00
First International Conference on Theft Addictions & Disorders 4 DVD set (13 Hours). Recorded 10/05. $125.00.
Second International Conference on Compulsive Theft & Spending 2 DVD set (6 Hours). Recorded 9/08. $100.00.
Click here to purchase
E-mail Mr. Shulman:
Call (248) 358-8508