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Studies Reveal Saving, Career Satisfaction, Other Ephemera


Seeking to tighten the budget? Get more out of your job? Find the approach to retirement planning?

— Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have found that impulse buying may add up to as much as 30% of overall spending. For those of you seeking to tighten the budget and/or put more away, you need to look no further.

For instance, the risk of buying increases when you pick up and handle something. So shop with a list and stick to it. Pay in cash to reduce your opportunity to rationalize the extra "treat." On average, cash buyers spend 10% to 30% less thanks to the way that we are psychologically wired. Also, if you are looking for a boost to save, Jonathan Zinman of Dartmouth has found that detailed reminders via email, text or calendar alerts increase your savings yield by 15%.

— After following graduates for up to 20 years, studies from Yale and Harvard agree (!) that those 3% who started their careers by writing down specific goals had a higher net worth than the other non-goal writing 97% combined. Further, their incomes averaged 10 times higher.

— Having said all that, for those of you who still want or need a rationalization to spend or otherwise live a more balanced life, keep in mind the sage who said, "The problem with goal-setting is that we become too focused on where we are going rather than on enjoying where we are now." It's all very Zen and like Aesop’s ant-and-grasshopper fable.

— Some observers of recent airline computer fare juggling say that the best time to buy airline tickets is in the morning. Experienced road warriors often try to take the first flight out in the morning to avoid lines, delays and allow time to re-book later for unavoidable snafus.

These are just more reasons why it is much better to fly your own jet. Also, the TSA has almost no presence at the "general aviation" terminal on the other side of the airport, so that's one more reason to avoid commercial flying.

— The vitamin and "supplement" business is worth $28 billion a year. And for those of us who like to cite the growing list of well-done studies that show little, if any, value to taking these things, I cite CEO Joseph Fortunato of GNC stores' fame who recently, and baldly, stated, "The thing to do with these (negative) studies is just ride them out."

The magic thinking involved in the use of these nostrums puts the people who insist on using them into the "Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up" crowd.

My favorite quote on this subject was made by a researcher who once said, "The one thing I can assure you about vitamin consumption is that it will make an expensive urine."

— As the electronic medical record transformation fitfully spreads, I read that one expert observed, "Even after a system is installed and (doctors) are trained, data suggests it take ... a year for use of EMR notes to reach 50% of a stable maximum."

That's not very encouraging, and in my experience it could be even less. On a national level, most proprietary systems from the big medical centers do not "talk" to each other. And with the many millions each has invested in their customized programs, to say nothing of the large organizational and personal egos involved, a workable and efficient unified national EMR structure could be many years in coming.

— The American Benefit Research Institute studied how people approached retirement planning. The number one method for establishing the needed amount of savings for a safe and secure retirement was … wait for it … guessing! By a whopping 42% of those queried, no less. The second was "asking an expert" — the most rational approach — with only 21%. And various methods of self-calculation comprised the rest.

No wonder there is so much anxiety out there — and fodder for columnists.

— One of the best things that has come out of the brouhaha about the health care bill is that the frequency, and volume, of discussion on the important subject of what to do about the runaway cost and disorganization of American medicine has increased. Unfortunately, Americans love nothing better than to argue from the point of view of righteous indignation, which then sets the wrong tone for problem solving. And our leaders inside and outside of the health care industry have just done an awful job of leading to practical solutions.

As I often harp on, medical leaders are usually picked on an ad hoc basis and so are often unprepared to lead. As for our politicians, I used to think that we had the best money could buy. But the witless chaos at each level of government we've witnessed too often recently would appear to have proved me wrong. And what's worse, we're now in for six months of ratcheted up slogans, sound bites and reckless emotional manipulation that has come to characterize our increasingly over-prolonged election seasons.

Heaven help us.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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