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Lots more email on the subject of whether savings bonds are an appropriate and desirable prize in a contest designed to get kids to cook more. Stop & Shop said yes, but I said no, that maybe an iTunes gift certificate might have proved a better motivational tool.

One MNB user wrote:

I agree with you about the savings bonds as investments for a young person. They are boring as they are put away and generally forgotten. Interest payments are irregular as to be forgotten.

I generally place the money in a mutual fund investment that the kid can track over many years. It gives superior growth and is a lot more interesting. Also, most kids cannot easily redeem shares in the mutual fund.

I don't want my kids getting a prize that is quickly squandered and forgotten.

MNB user Gary Harris wrote:

OK, so how about a prize for the kids, and $10k to seed a 529 Savings Plan? Throw in some bonus Upromise points and now we’re smack dab into the 21st century. By the way, using the old payroll savings plan to purchase US Savings Bonds helped us buy our first house, so I’ll always have a soft spot for them, but hopefully in my heart and not my head.

MNB user Lee W. Emdur wrote:

To me, this debate is not simply about the merits of a savings bond. I myself don't give them out as gifts and I don't necessarily like receiving them for my kids because then I need to file them safely away. And as you point out, many of them don't get redeemed.

However, I see this as a spending vs. savings debate and Stop & Shop doing the right thing for customers' families. If you had slammed savings bonds but then recommended a suitable prize being a $10,000 college scholarship or the setting up of a 529 college savings plan, then I would have been on board with that. But if I were a grocery chain executive, and I could only pick whether to award a kid a $10,000 savings bond or $10,000 for Apple merchandise and music downloads, I'd choose the savings bond every time. It's the socially responsible thing to do.

Another MNB user wrote:

As part of the aging baby boomer lot......

I've often lamented that our education system doesn't teach what we really need to know in life, as adults, such as:

How to balance a checkbook
How to buy a car
How to buy a house
How to buy furniture
How to save, invest strategically
What a 401K is
The importance of saving for retirement, and the immense value of starting EARLY in life!
How to keep those dang packing puffs from flying all over the room when you unpack a box...(OK this one's tongue in cheek but the rest of the list is for real!)

If we taught the above, we wouldn't be having the economic "woes" being sensationalized all over the news, the ARMs ballooning mortgages into foreclosure, for those who bought more house than they could really afford, the abuse of credit, the silly "economic stimulus packages" giving our hard earned money back to us that shouldn't have been taken in the first place, and the unbelievably silly premise that this "$600-$1200" given to each American family is going to stimulate the economy! Don't get me wrong - I'll be glad to get the money back, and happily take it - but I'm going to save it! It will either go into my 401K or other investment.

There might be some, who think parents should teach the above list, and that's true - but it's obviously not happening in the majority of families based on results.

MNB user Liz Schlegel wrote:

Just one more thing to add... the iTunes rules state iTunes is only open to persons above the age of 13 in the US. Might be pretty hard to get around those rules for Stop & Shop!

A bigger question is how do you structure a promotion that appeals to children aged 7 -14? The gaps are getting too big between the two ends of this age spectrum. The tweens are being relentlessly pushed into the teens, so kids over 10 are now considered "almost teenagers" - they are supposed to want iPods, cell phones, Wiis, and Nintendo DS. For a parent who is trying to let her kids have a "normal" childhood (you know, going outside, riding bikes, playing Legos, etc. until the interest in toys wanes naturally) it can be very hard to go against the national marketing effort to reach down the age scale and grab the younger kids.

If I worked at Stop & Shop, and I were tasked with figuring out a prize that appealed to that age range, for a recipe competition, I would make it food-related - a year's supply of food for the family or a family vacation at a culinary resort. Maybe with iPods for all loaded with some great tunes and some food shows (does Emeril podcast?).

If I worked at a chain and my job were to get kids interested in cooking, I would try to pick a prize with maximum kid appeal. That doesn’t seem so outrageous to me.

Another MNB user wrote:

Commenting on the Stop & Shop contest whose prize for winning kids is a savings bond: the gist of your position, if I understand it right, is that this incentive simply will fail to connect with "today's kids" and that, instead, maybe something more in their sweet spot like an ITunes giftcard is more on the mark. Now, "buzz" aside, I would still be hopeful that your opposition to the savings bond idea isn't based on any aversion to teaching kids a valuable life lesson about savings, but rather, the more practical fact that a savings bond would simply miss the mark as far as connecting to them is concerned.

On the other hand, this position of yours seems rather contradictory to your position a month or two ago about the Florida school district that sought to encourage academic achievement (or perfect attendance; I forget exactly what the reward was for) by passing out McDonald's gift certificates. In that case, you expressed your horror that an organization like the school district would offer kids a prize that, admittedly, would likely hold great appeal to elementary age kids, but which also was arguably encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle.

So to recap: In the school district case, KC says kill the unhealthy but appealing McDonald's rewards because it sends kids an inappropriate message about food-choice in a healthy lifestyle, whereas in the Stop & Shop case, KC says kill the savings bond reward, despite it presenting kids with an appropriate life lesson about saving, and instead, offer them an arguably appealing reward like ITunes, despite its having no real socially redeeming value (my term) as far as encouraging healthy life habits is concerned.

Could you reconcile these positions for me, please?

Oh, so now you want me to be consistent?

Actually, I’m not sure this is as inconsistent as you might think.

First of all, of course I’m not averse to teaching kids broader lessons, which is why I said that some sort of combination prize makes more sense – it would have long-term implications as well as short-term appeal. (You can teach them all the lessons you want, but first you have to get their attention.)

My objection to the Florida program had to do with the fact that 1) schools are taking action against the obesity crisis and so handing out fast food coupons seemed, yes, inconsistent, and 2) fast food is not very good for you.

In the case of an Apple Store or iTunes gift certificate, my argument would be that computers are actually very, very good for you…not at all a meaningless indulgence. And iTunes cards can give kids access to music and other elements of culture – some high-brow, some low-brow, but music nonetheless. For me…and you are welcome to disagree…music has tremendous socially redeeming value, and listening to it is a very healthy habit.

In a story yesterday about how Krispy Kreme, looking to try and revive its fortunes by paying attention to American nutritional and dietary concerns, is “offering a Lightly Glazed Doughnut--a hint of sweetness on top of Krispy Kreme's signature golden doughnut,” I commented:

Gimme a break. I don't care how “light” these doughnuts are, they’re awful for you, and they’re always going to be awful for you.

“Light doughnut” is an oxymoron. And people who believe it….well, just get rid of the “oxy.”

To which one MNB user responded:

I couldn’t agree more about your comment that basically a doughnut is a doughnut and cannot be disguised as anything healthy or even healthier but… I recall you thought Top Pot in Seattle was quite the place. Just doughnuts with an upscale aura which leads me to the realization that taste, ingredients and nutrition are often secondary to great packaging and marketing.

I said doughnuts are awful for you…I never said that I didn’t love them.

Here’s the deal I made with myself. I’ve decided that the only time I am going to eat a doughnut is when I am in Seattle – and that I will allow myself one Top Pot doughnut per trip….probably, but not necessarily, the apple sauce kind. So I end up eating two, maybe three doughnuts a year. (If I ever get my wish and move to Seattle, this could end up being a problem…but I’ll deal with that issue when the time comes.)

Another MNB user sent me the following quiz:

What is worse than a donut?

a. soft drinks
b. french fries
c. potato chips
d. all the above

I suspect the answer is D. Which is why I have to limit my consumption of all of them.

Finally, in the spirit of a day on which I seem to being accused of being inconsistent, another MNB user wrote with a note about last week’s OffBeat:

Last week you correctly bemoaned the trend toward naming sports facilities after corporations. There were four ballparks you said that should never suffer that fate: Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Busch Stadium.

Uh, Kevin: Busch and Wrigley were the originators of naming stadiums after products. Let enough time past and we may yet learn to love “Monster” Park or AT&T Field…. but I doubt it.

True, but they get grandfathered in because of time.

(By the way, I have much less of a problem with new stadiums being named after corporations. It is the icons of the sport – the shrines, if you will – that need to retain a certain historical purity. Though as you point out, historical purity isn’t always what I would like it to be…)

KC's View: