My daughter used to love basketball.
She was on her middle school basketball team. We put up a net in our driveway for her. But then we signed her up for a team through the Amateur Athletic Union, better known as AAU. She had a great coaching team, but that’s about where the good experience ended.
When the league season was over, my daughter quit basketball. And I didn’t blame her.
I understand that for many families playing sports may be their kid’s ticket to college. The bank shots their sons or daughters make could be money in the bank. The goals they make in soccer or aces landed in volleyball could lead to a scholarship.
But, seriously, the intensity of some parents, coaches and players took the fun out of the game for my child. Parents were screaming at their kids. Coaches were screaming at kids. Fans were screaming at their team and the opposing team players. You could feel the pressure, especially if high school recruiters were in the stands.
And then there are the fights about players not getting enough playing time. Parents were constantly nagging coaches to put their kids into the game. And, honestly, I couldn’t blame them. After all the money you spend, you want your kid to play.
So that brings me to a recent story in The Washington Post. The parents of a 16-year-old are suing the volleyball league their daughter was playing for because she didn’t get what they believed was promised playing time, according to The Post’s Justin Jouvenal.
“When her coach benched her and the league told her she couldn’t join another team, the action shifted from one court to another — she and her family sued,” Jouvenal wrote. “Some experts see such lawsuits as part of a shift in youth sports in recent decades away from sandlot play and intramural teams to professionalized leagues and tryout teams partly aimed at snagging scholarships for players and giving them a leg up in college admissions.”
This is an interesting lawsuit.
“Although most kids join just for fun, or to hang out with groups of friends, for some families the competition takes on a more serious focus,” Jouvenal wrote. “Parents are spending thousands and giving up countless weekends for kids to participate on travel teams and prestigious high school programs. Experts say parents want a return on that investment.”
Color of Money Question of the Week
What should you expect in return for the hundreds, if not thousands, you spend to put your kid on a sports team? Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state.
Join me at noon Thursday for my regular weekly financial discussion. What’s on your mind money-wise? Join the conversation.
Could you become a 401(k) millionaire?
I was recently asked whether people investing in their workplace retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, can become millionaires by stuffing money into the accounts.
Some most definitely can, according to a report on Money.com.
As writers Donna Rosato and Penelope Wang report, “We’re finally seeing how the first generation of savers with access to a 401(k) throughout their careers is making out. For an elite few, the answer is ‘very well.’ The stock market’s recent winning streak has not only pushed the average 401(k) plan balance to a record high, but also boosted the ranks of a new breed of retirement investor: the 401(k) millionaire.”
But don’t get too excited. The key word is “elite.” As Rosato and Wang point out, “Seven-figure 401(k)s are still rare — less than 1 percent of today’s 52 million 401(k) savers have one.”
And don’t think that you have to make super big bucks to make the millionaire club. Rosato and Wang report that at Fidelity thousands of investors who make less than $150,000 a year have seven-figure retirement accounts.
So, what are the secrets to reaching the million-dollar mark? You’ll have to read their story to find out.
April is Financial Literacy Month
Many people make foolish financial decisions, so it’s appropriate that Financial Literacy Month starts on April Fool’s Day.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader notes: “Ironically, a group of researchers and experts say the month — declared by Congress in 2004 to promote smart money management — should be renamed Financial ‘Illiteracy’ Month.’ ”
And why do they say that?
Because financial literacy education is largely funded by financial institutions that aren’t exactly unbiased about the money choices you should make.
“These businesses are concerned with selling their wares, not in teaching customers to buy something that may be better or cheaper from a competitor or to not incur any debt at all,” Nader writes for the Huffington Post.
If you have trouble believing that conflicted businesses actually rule the financial literacy market, check out the national corporate sponsors of any financial literacy resource. You will find a rogue’s gallery of companies that profit from money mistakes or have paid heavy fines for committing financial misconduct against their own customers.
Nader points educators to an alternative, the FoolProof Foundation’s Walter Cronkite Project, which offers a free financial literacy curriculum to teachers and educators.
Nader makes some great points when he says we should support financial literacy programs that have no agenda other than to help young people make better money decisions.
To court for complainers
Online reviews can be helpful, but for some businesses, a bad review can lead to losses. So, some businesses are fighting back and suing individual reviewers.
To address the issue, many states have adopted anti-SLAPP laws. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” according to Cornell University Law School. The Post’s Justin Jouvenal reports that “Anti-SLAPP laws allow for the quick dismissal of cases a judge deems to be targeting First Amendment rights.” The District, Maryland and more than half of states have anti-SLAPP laws, Jouvenal reports.
For last week’s Color of Money Question of the Week, I asked: Do you think customers have the right — with immunity — to voice their complaints online if they are unhappy with a service or product?
The question generated a lot of comments. I’m sorry if yours didn’t make the cut.
“What I don’t understand is that most companies are thrilled with the added business that good reviews on these review Web sites generate so they should also stop complaining about the occasional bad review which may deter some potential customers,” wrote Pat Ryan of Fairfax, Va. “I don’t just make my decision on the basis of one bad review, but if there are a good number of bad reviews, well, that’s telling me something I should pay attention to. I don’t think most people make frivolous complaints to hurt a business, but if businesses are getting a fair number of bad reviews they should look to improve their business practices.”
Steve Stevens of San Antonio, Tex., wrote: “Of course — it’s called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While there are a few exceptions (‘fire’ in a crowded theater), we can freely say just about anything. A complaint or a praise about a service or product is nowhere near outside the boundaries of our basic freedoms. Online is only different from a letter to the editor in time and editing.”
Wrote Susan Picard of Myrtle Beach, S.C.: “I worked retail for close to 20 years and found that the people who were happy with our service, products, store layout, etc. did not relay such feelings. The complainers are the ones who voice their opinions. That being said, I feel that everyone has the right in this country to express an opinion. How else can a company improve?”
Debra from Washington, D.C., said: “Yes, I do you think customers have the right — with immunity — to voice their complaints online if they are unhappy with a service or product!”
Steve Brown from Bowie, Md., wrote: “As long as they are honest, wouldn’t reviews on a social media site be protected free speech? What’s next? If I purchase a suit that falls apart or a lemon of an automobile or go to a restaurant with poor service I’m not allowed to tell anyone I know because my comments would damage the reputation of the business? Please.”
Although most people sided with the customer’s right to vent about a bad experience, here’s a different perspective from someone who works in retail:
“While the vast majority of individuals are honest and fair, many consumers are quite savvy about the power of a negative review. As a retailer, it is clear that many reviews are posted while the person is still under the emotional effects from their slight, whether perceived or real; it is no surprise that people often color their statements to present themselves in the best light. In their anger, they often have a tendency to be something less than factual and present less than all the details. We’ve had people slamming us — on our own site, in multiple irate postings — for products we don’t even carry. We’ve had customers threaten to write a fictitious negative review (in the absence of any purchase) as a negotiating gambit to leverage us to extend discounts or freebies when their original request for a discount off the advertised price was declined.”
And the issue isn’t just an American problem.
Jean-Marc Pelletier from France wrote: “There is also a debate in France over positive and negative reviews made on such sites as the ones you mention. The problem is not whether people should have the right to write negative reviews, but that a number of sites now specialize in writing — not for free of charge, as you can imagine — positive or negative reviews that can give a distorted view of the reality of any business.”
I’ll end with Emily of Milwaukee, who wrote: “I think if you want the good reviews you have to take the bad ones, too. You can’t just pick and choose which ones to keep that will put your business in the best light — of course as the business owner you want all good reviews, but that is not realistic. Negative reviews also help businesses improve their products and the customer service experience.”
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.