Half of American workers aren’t using all their vacation days

— If you can’t remember the last time you took a vacation, you’re not alone.

More than half of U.S. workers who are offered paid vacation days won’t use them all this year, according to a new report from Bankrate.com.

Workers are leaving a median of seven vacation days on the table.

The excuses for not taking company-provided time off varied: some workers blamed having too much work, others said they enjoyed their work, while others report they can’t afford a vacation or fear they might lose their job.

But not using paid vacation days is like leaving money on the table and can backfire on someone trying to be a standout employee.

“If you don’t take your time off, you can get burned out more easily and faster,” said Sarah Berger, personal finance expert at Bankrate. “You can get sick and your relationships can suffer if you don’t strike that work-life balance that will help you excel at work and in your career.”

But for some workers, letting days to go unused is a strategic move — 35% of those surveyed said they plan to roll over days to cover a big vacation or life event next year.

Younger workers are more likely to let vacation days go unused. Close to 60% of workers aged 18 to 25 report they won’t use all of their allotted vacation days this year, while 25% won’t use any of their time off.

Meanwhile, only 6% of Gen-Xers and 7% Baby Boomers report they wont use any vacation days.

“Many Millennials feel like they have something to prove and want to dispel these negative stereotypes that have labeled them as entitled or lazy,” said Berger.

When it comes to cash versus paid time off, cash is king. The survey found that 56% of workers would rather have a cash bonus equal to one week of pay instead of time off.

Delta testing a return to free meals

— Delta could be bringing back a major perk: Free meals in coach.

The Atlanta-based airline is testing free meals on some transcontinental flights to passengers sitting in the main cabin.

The meal offerings vary by time of day. Morning fliers could be offered a honey maple breakfast sandwich or a breakfast medley, while afternoon travelers could dine on a mesquite-smoked turkey sandwich or whole grain veggie wrap.

The free meal test started on November 1 and will run through December 15 on flights between New York City’s JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco airports.

“Testing meals on Transcon flights is part of our commitment to be thoughtful about our offerings and make decisions based on customers’ needs,” said Allison Ausband, Delta’s senior vice president, in-flight service, said in a release Wednesday.

While the quality of inflight meals had long been a running joke, some flyers were upset when they disappeared from most domestic airlines.

Delta said it would weigh the results of the test along with other factors on whether the free meals will become standard.

Airlines have been bringing back free perks recently. Bankruptcy restructuring and low oil prices have helped boost airlines’ profits, allowing them to expand and increase their routes. That growth has led to increased competition in the industry to entice passengers into their seats.

American Airlines announced in August it would offer all passengers its in-flight entertainment for free. It also brought back complimentary snacks on all its domestic flights earlier this year.

Delta started offering all its passengers its entire suite of onboard entertainment at no charge this summer.

In February, United started offering free snacks on flights within North America and Latin America.

Mortgage rates climb above 4% for first time this year

— Mortgage rates have pushed past 4% for the first time this year.

The average rate for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased to 4.03%, from 3.94% last week. A year ago, the rate was 3.95%.

Rates have been moving higher since Donald Trump was elected president.

The interest rate on the U.S. government’s 10-year Treasury note has climbed to 2.38% on Wednesday from 1.85% on Election Day. Treasury notes serve as a benchmark for various types of credit, including mortgages.

Higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow money.

“People are anticipating some economic stimulus in the first few months of Trump’s presidency on infrastructure and military spending and tax cuts that could lead to faster inflation,” explained Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors. “Mortgage rates are responding to the potential of higher inflation in 2017.”

The Federal Reserve is scheduled to meet in December and is expected to increase the federal funds rate, which is the short-term interest rate it uses to lend money to financial institutions.

“People are anticipating [the Fed] will be raising rates very soon,” Yun said. “The mortgage rate is running ahead of that decision.”

Mortgage rates have not been above the 4% since December 2015, but they are still relatively low compared with historic levels.

But because a rise in rates increases the cost of borrowing money, it can reduce a buyer’s budget and soften sales.

“In the short run, there may be a final burst of home sales and refinances as ‘fence sitters’ try to beat further rate increases,” Sean Becketti, chief economist at Freddie Mac, told CNNMoney by email. “Next year, however, higher mortgage rates will drive down affordability, dampening demand and weakening home sales, softening house price growth, and slowing the growth in new home construction.”

Yun pointed out that when rates made a similar move in 2013, home sales dropped 5% to 8% a month for a time.

“What could be a potential neutralizing factor is whether we will continue to see job creation or a faster rate of job creation,” Yun said.

Tight inventory has propped up home prices, which has hurt affordability in many markets across the country.

Yun said he expects rates to continue to rise for the rest of the year.

“I would say the era of extremely super-low interest rates are over, now we are beginning to see steadily higher mortgage rates,” he said.

Amazon unveils Cyber Monday deals

— Black Friday sales are still going on, but Amazon has unveiled some of its deals for Cyber Monday.

The online retailer will roll out more than 75,000 sales starting Monday and throughout the week on a variety of products, including toys, electronics, video games and books.

While electronics tend to be big sellers on Cyber Monday, Amazon said that so far this holiday season, the “most-watched deal” has been the Mermaid Tail Blanket.

Related: America shops: Black Friday 2016 is here

Amazon’s own products will also be on sale on Monday: The voice-controlled Echo speaker will be priced at $139.99 and the Tap Bluetooth speaker will be $89.99. Both sale prices match what the company offered as part of its Black Friday sales.

Cyber Monday is a big sales day for Amazon. Last year, shoppers ordered more than 54 million items — 629 per second — on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Amazon Prime members, who pay $99 a year, will get early access to Lightning Deals. There will also be specific deals for shoppers using Alexa, the voice assistant in Echo.

Here’s a look on what will be on sale Monday:

–50-inch 1080p LED TV for $145

–50-inch 4K Ultra HD Smart TV for $249.99

–Amazon Voyage for $169.99

–Amazon Fire TV for $74.99

–Sonos PLAY: 1 compact wireless speaker for $149

–Nest Cam indoor security camera for $163.98

–Up to 50% off select Nerf, Playskool and Play-Doh toys

–Blendtec Total blender for $239.99

–Up to 50% off select Callaway Golf sets

Here’s how far parents will go to pay for holiday gifts

— Many parents will bust their budgets this year when it comes to fulfilling their children’s holiday wish lists, and that could mean they will be paying for those gifts for months, and sometimes years later.

More than half of parents report they aim to get everything on their kids’ wish lists this year, spending an average of $422 per child, according to a new survey from T. Rowe Price.

While creating a budget is a helpful way to avoid overspending, 58% of the parents said they never stick to it, and nearly two-thirds admit they spend more than they can afford.

“It’s OK to splurge a little bit on holiday spending. There is a lot of of pressure to do that, but we don’t want [parents] to go overboard at the expense of their financial well being,” said Marty Allenbaugh, a certified financial planner at T. Rowe Price.

The spending hangover some parents will face could last a lot longer than their New Year’s Eve partying. More than half will put their holiday spending tab on credit cards, with 61% planning to pay them off in three months and 16% will take more than six months.

One quarter of the parents surveyed have taken drastic measures to fund their purchases: 11% have dipped into their retirement account, 14% used funds from their emergency savings and 11% have taken out a payday loan.

While children might delight in their pile of presents, these decisions can have a long-term impact on parents’ financial security.

For instance, taking $500 out of a 401(k) at age 35 could mean sacrificing around $6,000 for retirement, according to Allenbaugh.

“There is a double financial whammy, [they] will pay additional taxes and penalties to access the money and there is also the opportunity cost,” he said.

Men are more likely than women to splurge during the holiday season, with 60% saying they will try to check off everything on their children’s want list.

There is some good news: 68% of parents said they have been saving for the blockbuster shopping season all year.

The survey was conducted in February and included more than 1,000 parents with kids ages 8 to 14.

Macy’s is opening even earlier on Thanksgiving

— NEW YORK — There might not be time for dessert on Thanksgiving this year for bargain hunters.

Macy’s is kicking off its Black Friday sales at 5:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day, an hour earlier than the prior two years.

For shoppers who don’t want to rush their turkey dinner, they can still get in on the sales frenzy. Most Macy’s stores will stay open until 2:00 am. They will then close for four hours and reopen at 6:00 am for Black Friday.

Macy’s said there is significant interest from customers looking to shop on Thanksgiving Day, and that it’s working to staff stores with associates who want to work on the holiday. Those who do work on Thanksgiving will get overtime pay, the company said in an email to CNNMoney.

Black Friday is a major shopping event for retailers, and opening time has been creeping up at Macy’s over the years.

In 2012, stores opened at midnight on Black Friday. In 2013, doors opened at 8:00 pm on Thanksgiving. For the last two years, the start time moved to 6:00 pm.

It’s been a tough year for the department store. In August, Macy’s announced plans to close 100 stores nationwide.

But not every retailer is feeling the Black Friday creep. Many stores have decided to stay closed to observe the holiday.

According to BestBlackFriday.com, more than 40 retailers, including Costco, T.J. Maxx and Lowe’s will be closed.

Earlier this month, Mall of America announced it will shut down its operations on the holiday, which allows its 1,200 employees to stay home with family. However, the individual stores in the mall can still choose to be open.

Do you work in retail and have to work over the holidays this year? We want to hear from you. E-mail us your story and you may be featured in an upcoming story.

These are the best companies for working moms

The arms race for better benefits at large employers has improved work life balance for thousands of workers, and one group in particular — new parents.

Working Mother magazine released its annual 100 Best Companies list on Tuesday, choosing the top employers based on a variety of benefits, including paid leave, flexible work schedules, female advancement and child care.

Every company on the list offers paid maternity leave, while 97% offer paid time off for adoption and 96% give paid leave for new fathers.

And the companies are becoming more generous with their maternity leave. The average paid leave for new moms at the 100 companies on the list increased to nine weeks this year, up from eight. Among the 10 best companies, the average increased to 11 weeks.

While these numbers are encouraging, most new parents are still forced to choose between taking time off to stay home with their baby and keeping a paycheck.

The United States is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee paid family leave. Federal law only offers eligible new parents 12 weeks of unpaid leave and job protection under The Family and Medical Leave Act.

Paid family leave has become a hot issue on the presidential campaign trail, but many companies aren’t waiting for the government to mandate paid time off.

The professional services industry, which includes consulting and accounting firms like McKinsey and Deloitte, offers new mothers the most amount of fully-paid time off on the list off with an average of 11 weeks, according to the report.

For instance, at A.T Kearney, new moms or workers who adopt are offered up to a year off at partial pay. They can also switch to a part-time work schedule with limited travel.

The financial services industry comes in second with its average of 10 weeks, followed by the pharmaceutical and insurance industries that both offer eight weeks.

What’s the driving force behind companies rethinking their benefits? Millennials.

“It’s not just women asking for it, men are asking for it too,” said Subha Barry, vice president and general manager at Working Mother Media. “Young parents want to be active and involved in their children’s lives. Many things that used to be ‘working mom issues’ have become more mainstream.”

The list, which Working Mother has done for more than three decades, is based on a 400-question online application.

Companies are also becoming more flexible with their schedules, offering compressed work schedules, flextime or telecommuting.

“They are starting to realize people won’t just stay with them because they are writing that paycheck,” said Barry, “Lifestyle is important.”

Here are the top 10 best companies for 2016, according to Working Mother:

A.T. Kearney


Ernst & Young

McKinsey & Co.


WellStar Health System

America’s favorite fast food chain is…

— Not everyone likes Chick-fil-A’s politics, but they sure seem to like the food.

It’s the highest ranking fast food restaurant in the U.S. for customer satisfaction, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index Restaurant Report 2015.

The chicken restaurant was the subject of controversy and protests a few years ago after its CEO made remarks that offended the LGBT community.

But that hasn’t stopped fans from flocking to its restaurants, and giving it high marks for customer experience.

“It is laser focused on a particular product,” said Forrest Morgeson, director of research at ACSI. “It focuses on one thing and does it exceptionally well … and that is chicken sandwiches.”

This is Chick-fil-A’s debut on the list and its score is the highest ever achieved in the category.

Chipotle Mexican Grill also made its introduction in this year’s survey, and took home second place.

Fast-food hamburger chains seem to be losing some luster with McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s all experiencing a drop in customer satisfaction from 2014. McDonald’s came in last place of all fast food restaurants.

“All those companies down at bottom [of the list] have been around for a very long time, they just aren’t as fresh any more in the mind of the consumer, just not exciting,” said Morgeson.

Consumers are also increasingly becoming more dissatisfied with pizza chains, according to the study. Little Ceasars, Domino’s, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut all suffered a 5% or more drop in satisfaction.

In the battle of the coffee giants, Dunkin’ Donuts came out ahead of Starbucks. Dunkin’ Donuts’ customer satisfaction increased 4%, while Starbucks experienced a 3% drop.

“They are expanding into new markets … reaching new consumers” Morgeson said about Dunkin Donuts. “They have freshened up their brand a little bit and improved their perception of quality and are still price competitive.”

Customer satisfaction in the fast food industry took a step back last year. The average score among fast food companies is down nearly 4% from 2014. Courtesy of staff, speed of checkout or delivery, food quality and order accuracy worsened this year compared to last year.

While satisfaction with the restaurant industry has waned, the survey found Americans still eat out an average of four times a week.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index included responses from more than 5,000 individuals and ranked the food established from a scale of 1 to 100.

1) Chick-fil-A — 86

2) Chipotle Mexican Grill — 83

3) All Others — 81

4) Panera Bread — 80

5) Papa John’s — 78

5) Pizza Hut — 78

5) Dunkin’ Donuts — 78

8) Subway — 77

9) Domino’s — 75

10) Little Caesars — 74

10) Starbucks — 74

10) Arby’s — 74

13) Wendy’s — 73

13) KFC — 73

When one partner makes more than the other

— It’s a common scenario: One person in a couple brings home a higher salary than the other, causing tension in the relationship.

Money problems are often cited as a leading cause of divorce, and some experts say large differences in pay — no matter who has the bigger paycheck — can exacerbate these conflicts.

“The classic understanding of the power differential in couples is … the person with more money in the relationship has the power,” said Marlin Potash, a psychotherapist who specializes in family and money issues. “The person who earns less can end up feeling their wishes and needs aren’t as important and don’t matter as much.”

“I make more than my man and I think it bothers me more than him,” said Deona Brennan.

Brennan, a 30-year-old ultrasound technician in Cape Cod, makes about $10 more per hour than her boyfriend, and said the difference makes planning for the future difficult — especially when it comes to starting a family.

“I am worried that if I decided to have a child with him … of not being able to make ends meet on one salary alone.”

While she plans to continue to work after having children, she wants options. “I am not afraid to work and I want to work, but I don’t want to do all the work.”

She recently chose to vacation with a friend instead of her boyfriend. “I didn’t consider him as a partner to go with because of money. I didn’t want to pay his way or make him feel obligated to pay for his part.”

The number of women out-earning their husbands is rising, thanks to an increase in their education levels.

According to a 2014 report from the White House, 24% of married working women earn more than their husbands. That number was 7% in 1970.

“Overall, in married households, the fathers still make more, but the lines are converging; they are heading toward each other,” said Kim Parker, director of social trends research at the Pew Research Center.

When women make more than their partners, it can have two different effects on a relationship, explained Olivia Mitchell, an economist and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The first, she said, is the independence effect.

“It could lead to potentially higher divorces if [women] can leave a bad marriage and be financially viable.”

The other is the income effect. When there’s a dual cash flow, there tends to be less money pressures.

“In the old days, if the father lost his job, the family could have floundered,” she said.

Potash works with a young married couple with a pretty significant pay difference: she’s in finance, he’s in academia. They’ve decided to allocate their earnings proportionally to joint budget items like saving for a house or paying rent, and the rest goes into individual accounts.

Younger couples tend to handle pay differences better, Potash added.

Part of that could be because the wage gap has been narrowing among millennial workers. A 2013 study from the Pew Research Center showed that female millennials were making 93 cents for every $1 millennial men earned in 2012.


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This Halloween costume costs $1.6 million

— What does a million-dollar Halloween costume look like? Hint: It gives new meaning to the phrase “dripping with diamonds.”

The Million Dollar Morphsuit is encrusted head to toe with 70,000 diamonds. While the costume is currently locked away in a vault in London, it can be purchased by anyone willing to shell out £1 million ($1.6 million).

The price tag might be scary, but the costume is pretty glamorous.

The company used its signature “morphsuit” as the base — a skin-tight spandex suit that covers the entire body, including the head — and bedazzled the silver suit in diamonds of various carats.

The costume is “a bit heavy” and can be hard to see out of given all the bling, said Gregor Lawson, co-founder of MorphCostumes. “It’s probably not the most comfortable of our offerings, but if you roll the head part down, you can still be covered 90% in diamonds.”

For those not willing to shell out six figures on a costume, the company has other options in its high-end “WTF” line.

Overkill, The Giant Zombie-Killing Robot costume promises to turn the wearer into “a living legend” and sells for $25,000. The robot-looking costume has laser effects, legs with stilts, a one-piece torso with LED lighting, controllable finger sheaths and a giant headpiece. It’s also equipped with a fan.

The custom-fit Invisible Cowboy Premium Costume costs $2,500 and has a head that can move in all directions.

While these costumes take Halloween spending to the next level, Americans will be celebrating the holiday in record numbers this year. The National Retail Federation reported more than two-thirds of Americans will buy a costume and spend a total of $2.8 billion on their outfits this year.

Of course, MorphCostumes has more affordable options. The company has more than 300 costumes with an average price of $30-$45.

Lawson said the typical customer is generally male, between 16-24 years old and loves the anonymity that a morphsuit can offer.

“It’s like having X-ray vision, you can see out, but they can’t see in. They are completely encased and people say, ‘oh my god that’s the coolest thing I’ve seen.'”


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