This is Neff Zone column number 700. That’s a big number. The first column appeared in 2004, so 14 years is another significant number. I tell people that after 14 years half of Cadillac thinks I am an institution and the other half thinks I belong in an institution. 


Since we’re thinking about numbers, this might be an appropriate time to consider some numbers that have been in the news recently. For example, with Easter being tomorrow, the National Retail Federation tells us that the average consumer will spend $150.05 on this holiday. 


According to Statistica, the total annual spending on all Easter-related goods is around $14.6 billion. About $2.1 billion of that is on candy, 120 million pounds worth. That includes 16 billion jelly beans and 90 million chocolate bunnies. By the way, 76 percent of all Americans say chocolate Easter bunnies should be eaten ears first. (https://www.statisticbrain.com/easter-statistics/)


When it comes to candy perhaps the most quintessential Easter treat is Peeps, those colorful marshmallow chicks. This year Peeps is celebrating its 65th year and all of them are made at the Just Born factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 1954 it took 27 hours to make a Peep by hand. It now takes just six minutes and 5.5 million Peeps are born every day. Each year enough Peeps are produced to circle the earth twice. That production is needed because 1.5 billion Peeps are consumed each spring. 


Just as Easter signifies the beginning of spring, for many it also means making those home improvements they’ve been planning over the winter. For those dressing up their house for a possible sale, Zillow has some advice about paint colors. “A fresh coat of paint in the right color may help sell a home for more money. Homes with rooms painted in shades of light blue or pale blue/gray can sell for as much as $5,440 more than expected.”


In fact, the right paint color can add to the value of a home, while the wrong color can actually decrease its value. For instance, a bathroom painted powder blue/periwinkle increases the home’s value $5,400 while off-white decreases the value $4,035.

A pale blue-gray dining room is a $1,926 plus, but brick red is a $2,031 minus. Paint your house’s exterior brown and you lose $1,970. No data was available for stripes or polka dots. (https://www.zillow.com/blog/blue-kitchens-sell-for-more-216631/)


This Easter you may be hosting people from out of town. If they seem a bit cranky as a result of their travels there may be a good reason. Flying in an airplane has become a “tight” situation. The amount of average legroom between seat rows has narrowed from 35 inches to 31 (or even 28). The average seat width has shrunk from 18 to 17 inches. 


At the same time, passengers have gotten bigger. “An average woman who weighed 140 pounds in 1960 weighed nearly 169 pounds by 2014, according to the most recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average man went from 166 pounds to 196.” (https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/03/07/air-passengers-get-bigger-airline-seats-get-smaller-editorials-debates/397083002/)


When the family gathers for Easter dinner, the senior citizens at the table might want to keep a close eye on their younger relatives. According to AARP: “When you think of the villains who defraud older people, you might picture crooks hacking into bank accounts or selling bogus stocks. But don’t be misled. The real scoundrels might be sitting at your next family gathering. Roughly 6 out of 10 cases of elder financial abuse are committed by relatives. Ninety percent of perpetrators of fraud are known to their victims. The closer the tie between perpetrator and victim, the greater the damage. And the thieves who stole the most money were the victims’ children.” (https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2018/family-fraud.html)






Related to that bad monetary news is your share of the national debt. Looking at the $1.3 trillion stop-gap spending bill rushed through Congress last week: “The debt per capita — meaning the obligation belonging to every person in America — is $64,458. That compares to just over $20,000 per person in 2010. The per capita number doesn’t include state or local debt, which also belongs to us as citizens.” (https://www.detroitnews.com/story/opinion/editorials/2018/03/24/swamp-keeps-winning-federal-deficit-debt-editorial/33264957/)


If you wonder how something like this debt can happen, here’s some math that might illustrate the problem. The proposed Harvest Boxes of food that would replace the current SNAP program is touted to save “$130 billion over the next decade.” 

According to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, the program will be a “Blue Apron-type program.” Blue Apron is a delivery service and its meals cost (start at) $9.99 per serving. “The SNAP benefit for each person in a single-parent household with children is about $1.40 per meal.”


So, to summarize, meals costing $1.40 will be replaced by meals costing $9.99 and the savings will be $130 billion. Washington math at work. (https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/02/19/trump-administration-delivers-socialist-food-stamps-editorials-debates/349760002/)


Speaking of cash, if you have currency in your wallet you could test positive as a hard drug user. “ Researchers from the University of Surrey in Britain found: “Drugs are now so prevalent that 13 percent of those taking part in a test were found to have traces of class A drugs on their fingerprints - despite never using them.” The main traces were of cocaine and heroin. 

“Dr Melanie Bailey, Lecturer in Forensic Analysis at the University of Surrey, said: ‘Believe it or not, cocaine is a very common environmental contaminant - it is well known that it is present on many bank notes.” (https://phys.org/news/2018-03-ten-people-cocaine-heroin-fingerprints.html)


Finally, since spring is a time of renewal, perhaps you would like to do something nice for the environment and tackle another big number. You could join restaurants, municipalities, and organizations worldwide in the movement to eliminate single-use plastic straws. These items are a top-10 polluter of the world’s beaches. “On average, the nation uses about 500 million straws a day. That’s about 1.5 straws per person every 24 hours.” 


Not using plastic straws is a good first step in tackling a larger problem. “More than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans each year...by 2050, there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish.” 


Besides being a positive environmental step, there is a personal benefit for not using plastic straws – it could help save you from developing wrinkles. “The repetitive act of sucking on a straw causes lines to form around the mouth, especially in women. When you suck on a straw, when you smoke a cigarette, or when you pucker to kiss… it can cause wrinkling.” I don't know about you, but I prefer to save my puckering for the third thing. (http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/Plastic-straws-Everyone-uses-them-and-that-s-the-problem_166783992)


Thanks to all the readers who took the time to read even one of the 700 Neff Zone columns. Now, onward to 800!


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.