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SmartyPig creates online savings plan to reach a goal

By Adam Belz, Special for USA TODAY
(Original Article HERE)

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – A 2008 start-up called SmartyPig has combined social networking and banking to offer a new way to save, and in four years has helped people reach almost $3 billion in savings goals.

Think pig: Social Money President Scott McCormack promotes social-banking system SmartyPig.

  • Photos by Maxine Park,, USA TODAY

Think pig: Social Money President Scott McCormack promotes social-banking system SmartyPig.

The business was created by Des Moines natives Michael Ferrari and Jon Gaskell in 2008 as a high-tech way to encourage people to save for specific goals. Ferrari came up with the idea when his first son was born and he needed to save money for his son’s college education.

He wanted to save for other goals in a program similar to the college 529 plan, and SmartyPig was born.

The program creates an online savings account for goal-directed purchases that can range from travel to consumer goods to a down payment on a house. Money can be transferred automatically from account holders’ savings or checking account at their regular banks. Account holders can then use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to allow friends and family members to contribute to the goal. The deposits are FDIC insured.

Once the goal is reached, the saver can choose from a selection of merchant-provided discounts when making the purchase.

The idea caught on. By the end of 2009, it carried deposits of $212 million.

“They actually sort of jump-started the whole goal-based savings account thing,” said Stessa Cohen, a financial services analyst for Gartner in Philadelphia. “A lot of banks in the U.S. and Canada are looking at providing that.”

Social Money, the company behind SmartyPig, thinks banks are far enough behind, and eager enough to connect with customers on social media, that they’ll pay someone else to do it for them.

Every Monday for six weeks, USA TODAY will look at how fast-growing companies rely on innovation to thrive.

The company is now starting to sell the SmartyPig concept to banks, with the idea of letting them brand it themselves. That product was rolled out this spring. More than 115 financial institutions have approached Social Money about its GoalSaver program, Gaskell said, and the bank has already signed on ICICI, the second-largest bank in India by assets.

Social Money expects to announce new bank customers throughout the year, Gaskell said.

“We’ve basically taken the heart and soul of what we’ve learned at SmartyPig and pointed it at the scale,” said Gaskell.

Gaskell won’t say what Social Money makes each year, but he said the company has been operating on its own revenue for three years. In April, Social Money announced it would hire 35 new employees, bringing its total workforce to 50.

SmartyPig was part of a shift toward savings and personal financial management during the recession, Cohen said. People were ready to save money, when they may not have been three years earlier.

Like Kiva, the online microfinance organization launched a couple of years earlier, SmartyPig also tracks your progress for all to see.

“You can see how far along you are,” said Nathan Robertson, 26, who’s saving for a three-month trip to South America later this year. “It’s a little bit more fun than just a regular bank account.”

By Maxine Park, USA TODAYSocial Money co-founders Mike Ferrari (left) and Jon Gaskell.

Robertson said it’s easier to save with SmartyPig because he doesn’t see the money. It’s automatically deducted, and unlike with a separate savings account at a bank, he doesn’t see it all the time and isn’t tempted to pull a couple of hundred dollars out. He also shares his progress with friends occasionally, though he doesn’t expect anyone to contribute.

“I’ll throw it on my Twitter page every now and then,” he said. “The idea is to share that with your family and friends, and keep up the social pressure to reach your goals.”

Banks might want their own version of it, Cohen said, because it gets them into social media, a world that’s been difficult for financial institutions.

Instead of just tweeting about their earnings or their latest charitable giving using Social Money, banks can get connected to consumers via Twitter and Facebook.

“They’re collecting a lot of information that I give voluntarily,” Cohen said. “I give a lot of information to Social Money about what I’m doing.”

Banks can track their customers better and offer financial products to them when it makes sense for the customer. They can also make deals with merchants based on what consumers are saving for, and tailor advertising to them.

“This attracts non-banks who want to partner with Social Money, who say ‘We want to know what people are saving for,’ ” Cohen said.

For more information about reprints & permissions, visit our FAQ’s. To report corrections and clarifications, contact Standards Editor Brent Jones. For publication consideration in the newspaper, send comments to letters@usatoday.com. Include name, phone number, city and state for verification. To view our corrections, go to corrections.usatoday.com.

(ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE)

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The Freedom Year Trend Starts with the “Globals’ Generation Focuses On Experience”

Hopefully, the ‘Globals’ will push a change in corporate America.  Americans need to develop the so-called soft skills:  global mindset, culturally curious & intelligent, as well as speaking another language.

Someday, the talk at the water cooler won’t just be about leaving for maternity or for your MBA.  It will also be expected to take a Freedom Year (sabbatical) to travel, work, and volunteer abroad.

Go Globals!

Cheers

Anthony

_________________________________________________________________________

Globals’ Generation Focuses On Experience

by SAM SANDERS
(Original Article via NPR.com here)

Jennifer Larr (center), 24, is seen here in Rwanda at the Gashora Girls Academy where she was a teacher in 2011. Larr is part of a new generation of young adults focusing on travel, studying abroad and global experiences.

Courtesy of Jennifer LarrJennifer Larr (center), 24, is seen here in Rwanda at the Gashora Girls Academy where she was a teacher in 2011. Larr is part of a new generation of young adults focusing on travel, studying abroad and global experiences.

Jennifer Larr has the itch to go abroad. She’s 26 years old and has already spent a year studying in France and two years in Rwanda with the Peace Corps, and she is headed to Uganda this summer for an internship. She’s also a graduate student, studying international relations at UCLA.

Larr is part of a growing number of 20- and early 30-somethings whose American dream has moved beyond suburban homes and traditional nuclear families, and it’s one that now goes even beyond U.S. borders.

Larr and others like her are more likely than previous generations to live, study and work abroad. As they travel the world, they’re now abandoning some of the traditional tenets of the American dream that their parents held dear.

National pollster John Zogby has been chronicling this trend for years. His book The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream discusses some of the changes taking place in Larr’s generation. He has a name for young people like her: “first globals.”

They understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate. That somehow, what happens to somebody in Mumbai may have an effect on me in West Los Angeles.
– Franklin Gilliam, dean, UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs

“Two out of three of them have passports,” Zogby says. “They are well-traveled; technologically they have networks that include people all over the world. They have a desire to be nimble, to go anywhere and to be anywhere. They also have a desire to change their world and feel like they’re in a position to do that.”

It’s a generation just as likely to watch the World Cup as it is the Super Bowl. It’s not, however, just the children of the wealthy and the educated, says Zogby. “This is expanding beyond the Wellesleys and the Stanfords,” he says. “It’s different now.”

There are a few reasons why. More than 270,000 students studied abroad in the 2009-2010 school year, according to the International Institute of Education. That number is three times what it was two decades earlier. At the same time, the Internet and social media have made every part of the world seem instantly accessible. America’s youth is just more diverse — and international — than ever.

On top of being globally minded, Zogby says, these first globals have a different perspective on the idea of ownership as a tenet of the American dream. They are putting less emphasis on accumulating traditional things like homes, cars and the types of families their parents had. Instead, they’re putting more energy into acquiring experience.

Larr, for instance, says she can do without the house and the kids.

“People will always rent you apartments wherever you go, [and] not every woman wants to have a child and be a mother, and be in the house all the time,” Larr says.

She could even do without the marriage.

“I’ve been in a really long-term relationship, and we’re really happy the way we are. We can be committed to each other without necessarily having someone approve it,” she says.

Zogby says that all of this is reflected in his research, and that much of what made older generations tick just doesn’t work for first globals.

“The permanence of owning things doesn’t exist,” Zogby says. “The permanence of living somewhere doesn’t exist. The permanence of getting a job and holding on to that job for the next 40 years doesn’t exist.”

For many of these first globals, the idea of public service is a common thread. La Mikia Castillo, 28, recently graduated from USC’s Price School of Public Policy. Her family is from the U.S. and Panama, and she has studied and traveled in Mexico, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

“My American dream is for other people to be able to achieve whatever they want to achieve,” Castillo says. “It’s not really about me and what I have as an individual. It’s about trying to make a difference around the world.”

Franklin Gilliam, dean of UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, says dreams like Castillo’s represent a new way of seeing the world that’s become common among first globals.

“It’s a sea change in orientation,” Gilliam says. “They understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate. That somehow, what happens to somebody in Mumbai may have an effect on me in West Los Angeles.”

Julia Capizzi, a 33-year-old recent USC graduate who is studying for the Foreign Service exam, agrees.

“The larger world beyond L.A., beyond Chicago and my immediate experiences is an extension of me,” Capizzi says. “So I feel an obligation to know what that is. Otherwise I feel like I’m walking around with blinders on.”

Capizzi also says her American dream is better than that of her parents, because she and people like her aren’t afraid to literally go anywhere to accomplish their goals.

“I think that my generation will be more fulfilled than my parents’ generation,” she says.

But she admits that she had to make some sacrifices to live the life of a first global. She doesn’t own a car or a house, and she says she would love to have already owned a house. There are a lot of different parts of her life, she says, that she’s had to come to peace with to pursue her goals.

In spite of any reservations, the Capizzis, Castillos and Larrs are here to stay, says Zogby, as is their new take on the American dream, and it may upend traditional ideas of family and citizenship as we now know it.

“[There are] going to be so many families out there where Papa’s in Singapore and Mama’s in Mauritius, and Baby is somewhere back and forth,” he says.

The question is, what will that baby’s dream be? And will it even be called American?

Correction July 10, 2012

The audio of this story, as did a previous Web version, incorrectly gives Jennifer Larr’s age as 24. She is 26.

What Color is Your Passport?

20120619-140133.jpg

What color is your passport?
Are you American? British? Aussie? Kiwi? Other European nations? Any other free nation where its’ citizens can travel ?

Then, you have already won the lottery in life!

That is your ticket to freely “travel-around-the-world” .
Think about how lucky you are when you read the article below.

Cheers

Anthony Arden Kobler
Editor, FreedomYear.com
———————————————

After 50 years, Cubans hope to travel freely

Associated Press
By PAUL HAVEN | Associated Press
(original article published in the Washington Times click here

  • FILE - In this June 4, 2009 file photo, Cuban coast guards, right, stop men from trying to migrate illegally to the U.S. on a foam raft near Havana's Malecon. Cuba's government appears on the verge of a momentous decision that could end a half-century of travel restrictions that make it difficult to leave the Communist-run island, even for vacation. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)

    FILE – In this June 4, 2009 file photo, Cuban coast guards

  • FILE - In this Friday, April 3, 2009 file photo, people wait for relatives arriving from the U.S. outside the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba. Cuba's government appears on the verge of a momentous decision that could end a half-century of travel restrictions that make it difficult to leave the Communist-run island, even for vacation. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)
    FILE – In this Friday, April 3, 2009 file photo, people wait for relatives arriving …

HAVANA (AP) — After controlling the comings and goings of its people for five decades, communist Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to lift many travel restrictions. One senior official says a “radical and profound” change is weeks away.

The comment by Parliament Chief Ricardo Alarcon has residents, exiles and policymakers abuzz with speculation that the much-hatedexit visa could be a thing of the past, even if Raul Castro’sgovernment continues to limit the travel of doctors, scientists, military personnel and others in sensitive roles to prevent a brain drain.

Other top Cuban officials have cautioned against over-excitement, leaving islanders and Cuba experts to wonder how far Havana’s leaders are willing to go.

In the past 18 months, Castro has removed prohibitions on some private enterprise, legalized real estate and car sales, and allowed compatriots to hire employees, ideas that were long anathema to the government’s Marxist underpinnings.

Scrapping travel controls could be an even bigger step, at least symbolically, and carries enormous economic, social and political risk.

Even half measures — such as ending limits on how long Cubans can live abroad or cutting the staggeringly high fees for the exit visa that Cubans must obtain just to leave the country — would be significant.

“It would be a big step forward,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute. “If Cuba ends the restrictions on its own citizens’ travel, that means the only travel restrictions that would remain in place would be those the United States imposes on its citizens.”

The move would open the door to increased emigration and make it easier for Cubans overseas to avoid forfeiting their residency rights, a fate that has befallen waves of exiles since the 1959 revolution.

It could also bolster the number of Cubans who travel abroad for work, increasing earnings sent home in the short term and, ultimately, investment by a new moneyed class.

Scrapping exit controls should win Cuba support in Europe, which improved ties after dozens of political prisoners were freed in 2010.

But Peters and several other analysts said they doubt the new rules would bring about any immediate shift in U.S. policy toward Cuba, which includes a ban on American tourism. Those restrictions are entrenched and enjoy the backing of powerful Cuban American exiles.

“I don’t think it would lead to a drastic change in U.S. policy, but an accumulation of human rights improvements could lead to an incremental change,” Peters said.

Cuba-born Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, said any discussion aboutimmigration reform on the island is a peripheral issue.

“The kind of changes I’m interested in are not about immigration,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “I’m interested in changes that affect fundamental freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.”

U.S. officials said they have been watching for an announcement for months, noting there has been such talk as far back as August. But nothing has happened, and they are skeptical that the Castro regime is truly committed to such reform.

Asked about possible reciprocal measures, one U.S. official said the Obama administration can’t promise anything because it doesn’t know what exactly Cuba plans to announce. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and demanded anonymity.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. “would certainly welcome greater freedom of movement for the Cuban public.”

Rumors of the exit visa’s imminent demise have circulated on and off for years. The whispers became open chatter last spring after the Communist Party endorsed migration reform at a crucial gathering. But Castro dashed those hopes in December, saying the timing wasn’t right and the “fate of the revolution” was at stake.

Alarcon’s comments, made in an interview published in April, revived hopes that a bold move is coming.

“One of the questions that we are currently discussing at the highest level of the government is the question of emigration,” he told a French journalist. “We are working toward a radical and profound reform of emigration that in the months to come will eliminate this kind of restriction.”

But on Saturday, Vice Foreign Minister Dagoberto Rodriguez told exiles not to set their hopes too high, vowing the government would maintain some travel controls as long as it faced a threat from enemies in Washington.

Havana residents say they are anxiously waiting to see what the government does.

“The time has come to get rid of the exit visa,” said Vivian Delgado, a shop worker. “It’s absurd that as a Cuban I must get permission to leave my country, and even worse that I need permission to come back.”

Added Domingo Blanco, a 24-year-old state office worker: “It’s as if one needed to ask to leave one’s own house.”

Many Cubans are reluctant to talk about their own experience with the exit visa. One woman named Miru, who has been trying to leave Cuba since 2006, shared her story on the condition her full name not be used for fear that speaking with a foreign journalist could land her in trouble.

“This has been a very long process,” she said of her odyssey, which began when her husband defected from a medical mission in Africa and sought asylum in the U.S.

First, she had to get a letter releasing her from her job at a government ministry — a process that took five years. Only then could she apply for the exit visa. That was three months ago, and Miru still hasn’t received an answer. Officials say her case is complicated but won’t give a specific reason for the delay.

“I am very anxious to see my husband again,” she said.

The exit controls are a Cold War legacy of Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union. They were instituted in December 1961 to fight brain drain as hundreds of thousands of doctors and other professionals fled, many for new lives in Florida. That was three months before the U.S. embargo barring most trade with the island went into full effect.

Over the years, it has become much easier for Cubans to obtain permission to travel, though many are still denied, and it is particularly hard to take children out of the country.

Also, the exit visa’s $150 price tag is a small fortune in a country where salaries average about $20 a month. In addition, the person the traveler wishes to visit must pay $200 at a Cuban consulate.

Those who leave get only a 30-day pass, and the cost of an extension varies by country. In the U.S., the fee is $130 a month. Those who stay abroad more than 11 months lose the right to reside in Cuba. Before 2011, any property would automatically go to the state.

“The Cuban government has monetized every part of the humiliating process of coming and going,” said Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba expert and author of “Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington.” ”Getting out means running a gantlet, and it is all based on how much humiliation you can endure, and by the time they end up in Miami, people are filled with hate and dreams of revenge.”

Cuban officials have long portrayed the measures as necessary to counter Washington’s meddling. They accuse the U.S. of trying to lure away doctors by letting them walk into any American consulate and request asylum.

Cuban officials say even ordinary islanders are encouraged to leave by U.S. regulations that automatically grant asylum to any who reach American shores, a policy Cuba says has encouraged thousands to attempt the dangerous trip on leaky boats and makeshift rafts across the Florida Straits.

It’s not clear how emigration reform will affect dissidents, who are routinely denied permission to leave and could still find themselves on some form of no-exit list.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece, dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez called the exit controls “our own Berlin Wall without the concrete … a wall made of paperwork and stamps, overseen by the grim stares of soldiers.” She has been denied travel papers at least 19 times by her own count.

Some hardliners in Florida predict any change will be merely a sleight of hand designed to export malcontents, ease a severe housing shortage and fob off legions of superfluous state workers.

But for hundreds of thousands of Cubans like Miru, the exit visa is a personal matter, not political. After six years separated from her husband, she clings to hope that she will finally obtain permission or benefit from a change in the law.

“I have followed all the rules of my country,” she said. “I’ll be so happy to leave.”

___

Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez and Peter Orsi in Havana, Laura Wides-Munoz in Miami, and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.

____

Follow Paul Haven on Twitter: www.twitter.com/paulhaven

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“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” – Seneca

Quote

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca; ca. 4 BC – AD 65) was a Roman Stoic philosopherstatesman,dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. While he was later forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian emperors, he may have been innocent. (Wikipedia)

‘Traveling the World’ is the #1 Priority for Men & Women

Women Choose Travel Over Family

Passports before pacifiers.

By Kristin Wong Mon 5:34 PM
(Article on MSN Live here)

According to a new poll, women want to trot the globe before they walk down the aisle. Bing researched the life goals of British men and women, and the top priority among women was traveling the world, which ranked higher than getting married or having a family.

Photo: Andersen Ross/Getty Images

According to sociologist Jenni Trent Hughes, the results are just proof of what we already knew—women are substantially more independent now than they were merely a generation ago.

“Getting married would have been at the top of the list for women over a decade or two ago, but now with our hard-won independence and more equal footing in society women are just as ready to travel the world as men.”

But that’s not to say that starting a family isn’t on the list at all. In fact, having a family came in second for women in Bing’s poll. For men, it came in third.

Interestingly, women’s third priority was living in another country, which trumped getting married. So it appears that, not only is marriage not in the top three priorities for British women, they also don’t view it as a prerequisite for having kids. The poll results back up the statistics—cohabitation is on the rise, while marriage numbers have declined.

A somewhat similar American study from TIME that revealed marriage is more important to men than it is to women—53 percent of women listed marriage as a top priority, compared to 58 percent of men.

On the other hand, Bing found that getting married came in low on men’s list of top ten priorities. At number nine, marriage barely beat out acting in a movie.

Also on women’s list of lifetime goals? Swimming with the dolphins and owning a bar or restaurant. On the guy’s side, they want to drive an F1 car and record an album.

(Photo: Andersen Ross/Getty Images)

Women’s Life To-Do List:

  1. Traveling the world
  2. Having a family
  3. Living in another country
  4. Getting married
  5. Learning a new skill
  6. Owning a shop
  7. Striking the work life balance
  8. Owning a bar or restaurant
  9. Swimming with dolphins
  10. Recording an album

Men’s Life To-Do List:

  1. Traveling the world
  2. Living in another country
  3. Having a family
  4. Learning a new skill
  5. Driving an F1 car
  6. Recording an album
  7. Striking the work life balance
  8. Owning a bar or restaurant
  9. Getting married
  10. Acting in a film

    Kristin Wong

    • Kristin Wong is a pop culture writer living in Los Angeles. She writes for a weekly national entertainment news show and contributes to various comedy blogs, web series and sketch groups.