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Op/Ed

We love Kakeibo, the Japanese art of spending wisely and mindfully

(EDITORIAL) If regardless of how much money you make, it seems like you’re always short a buck, take a hard look at how you are spending. It could save you a lot.

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control your spending

Raise your hand if you have cash in your wallet.

What is a wallet you ask?

I jest. I know you know what a wallet is. (I hope.) But, sometimes I wonder if cash will go the way of the rotary phone. Seems most folks I know use debit cards, Venmo or their phones to pay for things nowadays.

Ever notice when you go to the store and have a debit or (worse) a credit card at your disposal, your plan to spend $20 ends up more like $50-$100. For example, anyone who shops at Target knows that when they ask you at the checkout, “Did you find everything you needed,” the answer is “ugh… Yes, and then some.”

Living in a plastic economy has made us less cognizant of how we spend money. But, leave it to the Japanese to have a system for putting the thought into buying. It’s called Kakeibo (pronounced kah-ke-boh) and it translates to “household finance ledger” and it’s something most Japanese folks learn to use from the time they are wee children.

The system began in 1904 and was “invented” by a woman name Hana Motoko (also known as Japan’s first female journalist), according to an article on MSNBC. The system is a no-frills way of approaching finances, whether personal or business.

Now, some folks are great at keeping a budget and knowing where the money is going. My mom, for example was the best bookkeeper. Unfortunately, her skills with money didn’t pass down to me. So, I actually purchased a Kakeibo book to try and get my finances in better shape.

You don’t need some special book (save your money), though you can find lots of resources online, including these downloadable forms, but in actuality all you need is a notebook (preferably one to take with you) and a pen. No Technology Required.

If you have been spending money and not knowing where it is going, then it’s going to take some work to change your habits around money.

In her article on MSNBC, Sarah Harvey says what makes Kakeibo different than using an Excel spreadsheet or budget software is the act of physically writing purchases down – it becomes a meditative way of processing spending habits. “Our spending habits are deeply cemented into our daily routine, and the act of spending also includes an emotional aspect that is difficult to detach from,” Harvey says.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, it is also easy to get sucked into believing you have to have new technology, systems and bells and whistles that maybe you don’t need – just yet. Spending goals for a business, just like a personal budget, are important if you plan to stay on track and not lose sight of where your money is going. Lord knows the money flies out the door when starting any new project.

Based on the Kakeibo system, there are some key questions to ask before buying anything that is nonessential (whether for your home or business):

  • Can I live without this item?
  • Can I afford it? (Based on my finances)
  • Will I actually use it?
  • Do I have space for it?
  • How did I find the item in the first place? (Did I see it in an IG feed? Did I come across it after wandering into a store, am I bored?)
  • What is my emotional state today? (Calm? Stressed? Celebratory? Feeling bad about myself?)
  • How do I feel about buying it? (Happy? Excited? Indifferent? And how long will this feeling last?)

For Harvey, who learned about Kakeibo while living in Japan, using the system forced her to think more about why she was making purchases. And, she says it doesn’t mean you should cut out the joy of buying, just possibly making better choices when needing retail therapy on a crappy day. She found the small changes she was making were having a positive impact on her savings.

How to be more mindful when spending:

  • See something you like, wait 24 hours before buying. Still need it?
  • Don’t be a sucker for sales.
  • Check your bank balance often. Can you afford what you’re buying?
  • Use cash. It’s a different feeling having that money in your hand and letting it go.
  • Put reminders in your wallet. What are your goals? Big trip. Then, do you really need new headphones, a bigger TV, a new iPhone, etc.
  • Pay attention to what causes you to spend. Are you ordering every monthly service because of some Instagram influencer or, because of some marketing you get online. Change your habits, change your life.

Using the Kakeibo system of a notepad and pen or a Kakeibo book for the process can help you identify goals you have for the week, month and year and allow you to stay on track. Remember, cash is still king.

This story was first published here in January of 2020.

Mary Ann Lopez earned her MA in print journalism from the University of Colorado and has worked in print and digital media. After taking a break to give back as a Teach for America corps member and teaching science for a few years, she is back with her first love: writing. When she's not writing stories, reading five books at once, or watching The Great British Bakeoff, she is walking her dog Sadie and hanging with her cats, Bella, Bubba, and Kiki. She is one cat short of full cat lady status and plans to keep it that way.

Op/Ed

How can you prevent deepfake trickery?

(EDITORIAL) It’s hard enough to get a complete story about anything, but the use of deepfakes makes that process harder. How can you prevent from being tricked?

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facial recognition deepfakes

Deepfakes are some the latest content entering social media and digital news outlets. Deepfakes are false photos and videos created by artificial intelligence, that at first glance, can pass off as authentic imagery.

Deepfake content appears as a person in a real picture or video that is replaced by someone else’s appearance. The deepfake can then go on to pose as the real person doing or saying things that never happened. As one can imagine, it’s possible the Internet can take one joke too far and unleash a deepfake with insidious motives.

So what are some ways to spot one of these fake videos? One of the telltale signs is the mismatched lighting or discoloration on the person’s face. Another tip is to check for blurring edges around the lips, jawline, chin, and neck where the AI is trying to superimpose the fake image atop the real one. Lip-synching can be tricky, but it helps to watch and listen to how the audio is matching up.

To some, these tips may be pretty obvious, but not everyone is familiar with editing techniques and deepfakes can pop up many places online. As of now there are no reliable programs available to catch these inconsistencies so it’s up to us to pay attention to the media we consume (the zoom tool is a BFF). With AI and software development, this fake content will only become more convincing. Fortunately, companies and even states are taking action to ban deepfakes online.

Some companies are tiptoeing the line of normalizing this kind of technology, and many people seem to be fine with that, so long as it’s for a laugh. The problem with laughing at something that looks real, but is fake, is that that can conversely cause someone to minimize something that is real because the viewer thinks it’s fake. This mentality helps no one, and can only hurt our understanding of the events that happen around us.

Ultimately, and for now, viewers should keep our heads up while online to spot the seams in our reality.

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Op/Ed

How smart cities are now impacting the construction industry

(OPINION EDITORIALS) The movement towards smart cities will change the construction industry for the best – creating more connected, collaborative, and efficient cities.

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construction site

There are few innovations in recent years as impactful as the digital revolution. The world is now on the verge of what might be the ultimate expression of mass digitization: the smart city. Interconnectivity and data have proved themselves in the business world, and now they’re moving into the streets.

As the world’s metropolises start diving into the IoT, some questions emerge. The smart city movement will spur a ripple effect of changes across many industries and aspects of daily life. How will these changes affect the construction industry?

Construction is one of the world’s largest industries, generating more than $1 trillion in the U.S. alone. Since smart city technology relies on new infrastructure, this shift will undoubtedly touch this massive sector. Here’s a closer look at how.

The smart city revolution is boosting construction.

The smart city movement is still in its infancy, so some changes will take a while. Others are more immediate, like the impact on construction revenue. One of the first effects smart cities construction companies will notice is a surge in new projects.

For areas to experience the full advantages of smart cities, they’ll need new infrastructure. All this infrastructure has to come from somewhere, so construction companies will see an increase in available opportunities. This industry boom could last for several years, as cities gradually adopt more and more smart infrastructure.

Not only will the number of construction projects increase, but these new opportunities will also be profitable. By some estimates, global smart city spending will approach $124 billion this year. Singapore, New York, Tokyo and London alone may account for as much as $1 billion of that spending.

Construction will change to meet new needs.

A more long-term change, and a more substantial one, is that the role of construction will shift. Digitization has changed what people do across various industries, and now that movement is coming to the building sector. As smart city development gradually becomes standard, construction companies will start to look more like technology businesses.

By its very nature, smart city technology requires a marriage of construction and computer sciences. Consider the ambitious Toyota Woven City project, where they’re building a small-scale smart city to test new technology. Woven City will see architects work alongside scientists and researchers to create the infrastructure necessary for things like self-driving cars to function.

The connected city movement is changing what it means for infrastructure to be functional. As a result, the industry will have to shift to fit this new definition, becoming IoT experts as much as architectural ones. This shift won’t take place immediately, but the sooner companies can morph, the better.

The industry is becoming more collaborative.

Given this technological metamorphosis in the industry, construction companies will have to embrace collaboration. The most prevalent instance of this collaboration is the one between builders and data science companies. Construction companies can’t expect to become data experts overnight, but they can reach out to data professionals.

Some businesses have already started to adopt this approach. PCL Construction is now teaming with CopperTree Analytics to incorporate data-gathering and analysis technology into their infrastructure. PCL is not a data analytics company, but by collaborating with one, they can offer the services the cities of the future need.

As new technology allows for more collaboration between companies and clients, residents will have more of a say in planning. Urban development, especially smart city development, ultimately serves the people, so construction businesses may collaborate with residents more. The public may have access to platforms where they can discuss the kinds of infrastructure they need.

A smart city could improve urban construction.

Construction companies themselves can experience some of the advantages of smart city technology. This movement isn’t only making businesses shift in the present, but will also improve them in the future. More connected city infrastructure in an area could make things easier for construction companies working on nearby projects.

Pittsburgh employs an AI-based traffic light system that reacts in real time to redirect and optimize traffic flow. This system reduces travel times by 25% and shows the potential for helping with things like in-city construction. Networks like this could redirect traffic around construction zones, reducing construction’s impact on traffic and improving safety.

With more data points in the city, crews could get a more cohesive picture of each site’s conditions. Data on traffic patterns, population and weather could help companies optimize their plan and maximize both safety and efficiency. As construction companies install more connected infrastructure, they can benefit from it.

When will this all take place?

It’s all but a guarantee that the smart city movement will cause substantial changes for the construction industry, but when these shifts will start to emerge, may not be quite as clear. As with any prediction, there’s a lot of uncertainty involved, but some changes are already taking place.

The industry will evolve as smart cities become more common, which won’t take long. The urban population has grown by 40% in the past decade alone, and this trend will likely continue. With more population in cities comes a heightened need for connected infrastructure, driving these industry changes.

As mentioned earlier, some construction companies are already starting to adopt collaborative, data-driven approaches. Within the next 10 years, this will likely become a standard throughout the industry, which will coincide with the changing role of construction. The COVID-19 pandemic may slow some of these trends, but only by a couple of years at most.

As cities change, so will construction.

In some form or another, the construction industry will change because it cannot remain stagnant and still sustain smart city development. Every sector always evolves to meet the needs and demands of the market, and construction’s market is moving toward connected cities. As urban development takes on these new tasks, the face of the sector will shift in response.

The construction industry is dynamic, which benefits us all. In the coming years, the sector will be more collaborative, more data-centric and more profitable than ever.

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Op/Ed

REX Homes – not disrupting anything except investor balance sheets

(EDITORIAL) What follows is an open letter response with 13 questions regarding numerous recent representations by REX Homes.

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REX Homes founder, Jack Ryan

In my humble opinion, Jack Ryan, CEO and Co-Founder of REX Homes, is the most prolific propagandist in the real estate sector’s history. Ryan is the one muddying the waters regarding the real estate process and fee structure. Ryan initiated the DOJ inquiry. He is cited in the most significant class-action case involving Cohen-Milstein, which all other cases echo (in part), and knowingly misleads consumers at scale.

REX’s most impressive achievement is blurring the lines between commission percentages and aggregate fees paid. In REX Homes v. Oregon, the complaint states that US Brokers charge 2x-3x more than comparable foreign markets. Markets often cited in PropTech propaganda/lawsuits include Singapore and their average listing fee of ~3% vs. the US average of 4.94% (even though many PropTech firms and lawsuits often claim Realtors charge 6%.)

Consumers bank dollars, not percentages, and homes in Singapore sold for $874,372 while houses in the US sold for $389,400, so although the US had a higher percentage, the fee for selling a home in Singapore was 27% higher based on 2019 data.

REX’s business model recently received scrutiny, which resulted in Executives attempting to provide clarity; however, representations asserted create new questions.

If given the opportunity, I would REX ask the following follow up questions:

1. Please provide an update on the company’s leadership status? A review from an alleged employee posted via Glassdoor on 10/3/2021 asserts:

“Everybody from marketing fled. – Half of engineering left already. – CTO/CFO/CDO/Head of HR all left within 2 months – The company could not even afford to pay severance in the last round of layoff (there were many). – The company has zero competitive advantage, it has no secret sauce, no technology.”


2. REX’s home page states that the commission covers the buy and sell-side commissions, pop-ups say that REX does not pay buy-side commissions, and under the buyer FAQ page, REX claims that the Buyer pays the commission as it’s built into the purchase price.

Would REX like to elect a final position on this matter?

3. Based on the statistics you provided, quoted from August 23rd and stale, REX appears to employ two people per active real estate listing, despite being a company that started in ~2014.

Considering REX claims to be a company that includes tech geniuses, why isn’t current listing data provided? Could it be that the metrics are significantly worse now?

4. How do you reconcile REX’s claims of “changing the industry” when REX, as of 10/9/2021, only lists ~15 properties in the greater Las Vegas area. This is a performance that a single, average Agent could achieve. As of 10/9/2021, 5,133 active listings in the Las Vegas area were displayed via various sources.

Why do you deny Consumers vital information when they’re making the most critical purchase decision of their lives?

5. REX claims that traditional Realtors steer clients to properties with higher commissions. In a glaring display of hypocrisy, REX fails to display non-REX listings and will only represent Buyers with non-REX listings when REX is enriched. Any explanation?

This is the exact definition of steering.

6. REX appears to operate via a team-based model, and REX provided a breakdown of licensed and non-licensed employees. Unlicensed employees, in most states, must perform tasks under the direct supervision of a state licensee and Operating Broker, and in Nevada, that means operating in the state Brokerage office.

How do you square this if Consumers allegedly must call REX employees in Texas as a primary point of contact, and how would an Agent licensee and Broker have direct oversight of unlicensed employees in Texas if they’re located in states like Nevada? This concern appears to be corroborated via this Glassdoor review:

“The clientele are folks who don’t want to pay for an agent’s service to begin with, this job is daily trying to convince FSBO’s of your worth. Very top heavy corporate that started to sell other services that are not apart [sic] of typical real estate transactions – made me uncomfortable. The AA is the bottom of the totem pole and NEVER has any pertinent information regarding the home they’ll be showing. Sample questions that you’ll never know the answer to as the designated field agent and the ONLY one the seller sees: Is the home under contract? what does the HOA cover? what is the year of the roof? When does my contract expire? Why can’t I get anyone on the phone? Why do you not know the answers to these questions? You’ll NEVER know the answers to these questions.”

This suggests REX subjects Consumers/Agents to unlicensed and unsupervised employees. Considering this and your feeble attempt to shed your fiduciary responsibilities to Consumers via TOS, in my view, REX’s listing classification on Zillow is accurate.

I look forward to Zillow filing a demand to retain records specific to call center employees, their licenses in each state they interact with Consumers, the supervising Broker, and the location of the supervising Broker.

7. As of 10/9/2021, REXhomes.com continues to claim that REX does not market on the MLS, yet you’ve now contradicted this statement in a real estate industry two-part article, court proceedings, and an internal call with staff that remained after your second round of layoffs.

Are you aware that making material and knowingly false representations to Consumers at scale is an actionable offense that could result in your Brokerage license revocation in every state?

8. You documented REX’s pathetic listing exposure on Zillow in court documents, a material event that Consumers should understand before listing properties with REX, yet fail to disclose these material events on REXhomes.com.

Are you aware that this is a license-revoking act?

9. You often quote the Cohen-Milstein complaint and the DOJ inquiry; however, you conveniently omit that the two entities have conflicting opinions on who pays real estate commissions.

Why are you failing to disclose this material information via your PR-based propaganda schemes?

10. Are you aware that “save” is not a determining factor to transact? Net proceeds are, and Consumers net proceeds goals can be achieved in several ways, INCLUDING providing rebates like Redfin or post-offer commission contributions to close gaps in pricing? I have personally credited Consumers over $200,000 via post-offer addendums.

11. Per CrunchBase, REX raised $90m in 2019, only $25m in May 2020, as of publication, and an undisclosed Series D amount not featured on CrunchBase. (I understand The American Genius has reached out to REX for that amount and has not heard back as of publication)

Considering your anemic pipeline of business, share a scenario where you’re not bankrupt within 24 months (an assertion that employees at all levels are claiming – which at worst is accurate, at best a negative internal perception of REX’s financial situation)?

This is a topic of concern of others as an alleged former employee stated the following in a Glassdoor review on 10/4/2021:

“CEO and the Cofounder don’t know anything about running start-ups and are both panicking but telling everyone that things are ok – some investors refused to fund the company so they are not even paying their bills and the CEO and his wife are now running things which is weird. CEO and cofounder are asking employees to pump up numbers so that they can try pretend things are okay when they’re talking to their investors, this is making everyone uncomfortable. The best people have mostly left and even senior people resigned after they saw what was happening. They don’t have proper leaders anymore in marketing, data science, finance, hr, and other teams are low on people.”

Are you familiar with which acts or representations constitute securities fraud?

12. Are you aware that complaints against REX Homes are filed or will be filed in the next week with the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission, and State-level real estate and consumer protection agencies in markets you operate in?

Now you know.

13. Why does REX continue to call NAR a ‘Cartel’ despite a recent court ruling which stated: “The Court discourages any future use of the term ‘cartel’ to describe Defendants’ conduct,” the footnote states, “which is neither persuasive nor remotely accurate.”

Given the gravity of allegations asserted against REX, have you explored the 6×9 housing unit segment? It might be prudent.

Your friend,
Anthony Phillips
Chief Sicario – The Las Vegas Realtor Cartel

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