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    Airlines Cheap Fares
    Nick Ut/AP
    By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ

    Airline fare wars are making a comeback.

    Don't expect widespread sales or cheap flights home for Thanksgiving. But a number of cities are seeing ridiculously low prices at off-peak hours -- prices the industry has spent the years trying to eliminate.

    Fliers have been able to fly Chicago to Boston for $80 roundtrip, San Francisco to Las Vegas for $67 roundtrip and New York to Los Angeles, with a connection, for $150 roundtrip.

    This is the big break consumers have been waiting for in response to lower fuel prices.

    "This is the big break consumers have been waiting for in response to lower fuel prices," says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of industry newsletter Airline Weekly.

    The price of oil is at the lowest level in 6½ years and the industry is saving billions of dollars on fuel, giving airlines leeway to cut fares but still post healthy profits. Airlines have also added larger, more efficient planes to their fleets while packing more seats into existing jets. So, while the number of domestic flights is down slightly over the past 12 months, there are now 3.4 percent more seats for sale -- too many to meet the demand in all cities. To fill those extra seats, airlines have had to offer discounts.

    Still, airlines are being very selective. Forget finding a deal for busy holidays or on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays when business travelers fly. The best prices are for flights on traditionally slow days like Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. And it helps if Southwest Airlines (LUV), Spirit Airlines (SAVE) or Frontier Airlines flies the route.

    For instance, Frontier recently had a sale for members of its club who pay an annual $50 fee. Tickets were being offered for $15 one-way including taxes.

    American Airlines (AAL) and -- to a lesser extent -- Delta Air Lines (DAL) and United Airlines (UAL) are matching some of the discount fares. By doing so, they actually undercut the ultra-low-cost carries because Spirit and Frontier charge customers extra to use overhead baggage bins or to have a drink of water.

    "They're trying to force them out of the market and they have the power to do this because they are making record profits," says George Hobica, founder of travel deal site AirfareWatchdog.com.

    Legacy Carriers Fight Back

    Spirit and Frontier each carries less than 2 percent of all domestic passengers. American, United and Delta made $6.6 billion in combined profits during the first half of this year, so they afford to fight back on routes such as Chicago to Atlanta.

    American spokesman Casey Norton says the airline "constantly looks at how we compete against a wide variety of airlines -- from low cost carriers to premium global brands."

    Delta and United declined to comment. However, Delta has expanded its "Basic Economy" fare to more than 450 markets. Fliers booking these tickets typically save $15 each way, but are not given advanced seat assignments, can't cancel or change the flight and are last to board.

    Fare wars were destructive to the industry in the 1980s. Airlines were focused on being the largest carrier on a route, even though it often meant losing money.

    Today's airline industry is more disciplined, so the fare wars cause much less damage. The airlines still collect substantial fares on highly-profitable business routes and for holiday travel. Additionally, they take in billions in dollars fees for checked baggage fees and other things that were included in the ticket price back in the 1980s.

    Bit of Relief

    Even passengers unable to take advantage of today's bargain-basement deals are getting a tiny bit of relief.

    The average cost of a roundtrip domestic ticket, including taxes, purchased during the first seven months of this year was $494.12. That's down $5.41, or 1.1 percent, from the same period last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines and travel agencies.

    Prices are still higher than they were in 2011, 2012 and 2013, even when adjusted for inflation. And the small drop in ticket prices is nothing compared to the 31-percent savings airlines have seen on their fuel bills since the start of this year.

    One city having an outsized impact on fares is Dallas, where a federal law that banned most long flights from Dallas Love Field was lifted in October.

    Led by Southwest Airlines, the Dallas market has seen an 8.6 percent increase in seats for the 12 months ending in August, more than double the growth for the entire country.

    Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay says that two out of every five domestic flights -- local market ones or connecting trips -- can be affected by what happens in Dallas.

    For instance, if Southwest offers a cheap fare from New York to Los Angeles, connecting in Dallas, American tries to match that. That forces United to match the fare for its flights, even if they connect in Chicago.

    "If passengers are willing to connect in Dallas, they are willing to connect in Chicago," says Keay.

    Cheap Fare

    The Associated Press purchased a $40.10 one-way ticket on American Airlines from New York's JFK Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth, departing at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Government taxes and fees were $15.91, leaving American with $24.19 for the 1,391-mile trip.

    All but five seats on the 160-passenger jet were occupied. Many passengers were coming off highly profitable international flights that arrived earlier in New York. Others were just connecting in Dallas, heading on to places like Oklahoma.

    Brandon Perdue, a college student, booked the cheapest one-way ticket he could find from New York to his home in Los Angeles four days before traveling. Even with a connection in Dallas, it cost $650.

    "I feel ripped off," Perdue says. It didn't help that he paid $25 to check a suitcase and an extra $100 fee because it weighed more than 50 pounds.

    The AP bought its ticket 22 days in advance, at a time that American's booking algorithm predicted low demand for the flight.

    "If you hadn't booked the ticket, the seat would have likely gone empty. They're better off taking your low fare than nothing at all," says Kaplan of Airline Weekly. "But American would lose a lot of money if everybody on the plane was paying what you paid."

     

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    Markets Open Sharply Higher After Days Of Tumult
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street racked up its biggest one-day gain in four years on Wednesday as fears about China's economy gave way to bargain hunters emboldened by expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve might not raise interest rates next month.

    Led by Silicon Valley stalwarts Apple, Amazon and Google, the surge put the brakes on a six-day losing streak that saw the S&P 500 surrender 11 percent.

    In a sign that a faltering Chinese economy and slumping global financial markets could affect U.S. monetary policy, New York Fed President William Dudley said the prospect of a September rate hike seemed "less compelling" than it was just weeks ago.

    All 10 major S&P 500 sectors jumped, led by a dizzying 5.3 percent jump in the technology index, its largest one-day rise since 2009.

    Some of the late-day rally was driven by short-term traders, including many who had bet the market would fall and rushed to cut their losses, said Michael Matousek, head trader at U.S. Global Investors in San Antonio.

    A strong rally Tuesday evaporated in the final minutes of trading and turned negative.

    "A lot of people were anticipating the last half of the day would roll over and fall off and that hasn't happened," Matousek said. "You could see the buying accelerating at mid-day and people saying 'I'm wrong', and starting to cover their shorts."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) finished 4 percent higher at 16,285.51. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 3.9 percent to 1,940.51 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 4.2 percent to end at 4,697.54.

    Waiting on the Fed

    Data earlier Wednesday appeared to strengthen the case for a rise in interest rates at the Fed's Sept. 16-17 policy meeting.

    Durable goods orders rose 2 percent in July, compared with analysts' average forecast of a 4 percent fall. Orders for core capital goods, a proxy for business investment, rose 2.2 percent in the biggest gain in 13 months.

    Following weeks of concerns about demand in China for iPhones, Apple (AAPL) shares provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite index, jumping 5.7 percent to $109.69.

    Up to Tuesday's close, the Dow had lost 10.7 percent in the past six trading days and the Nasdaq composite had shed 11.5 percent.

    The S&P is now down 5.8 percent in 2015.

    "We're still in a period of searching," said Kurt Brunner, a portfolio manager at Swarthmore Group in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "You have more people taking advantage of upside. But we're in for some sloppy trading and I don't think it's over today. I don't think it's a straight shot up."

    The recent pummeling in U.S. shares reduced valuations some investors had seen as pricey. The S&P 500's valuation was down to about 14.8 times expected earnings, compared to around 17 for much of 2015 and below a 15-year average of 15.7, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data for Tuesday, the most recent available.

    Google (GOOG) surged 7.7 percent after Goldman Sachs (GS) raised its rating to "buy" from "neutral." Amazon (AMZN) jumped 7.38 percent.

    NYSE advancing issues outnumbered decliners 2,474 to 646. On the Nasdaq, 2,136 issues rose and 713 fell. Underscoring the market's frailty, the S&P 500 index showed no new 52-week highs and 28 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded five new highs and 142 new lows.

    Volume was heavy, with about 10.5 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, far above the 7.6 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    -Tanya Agrawal and Sweta Singh contributed reporting.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, the Commerce Department releases second-quarter gross domestic product, and the Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims.
    • At 10 a.m., the National Association of Realtors releases pending home sales index for July, and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Burlington Stores (BURL)
    • Dollar General (DG)
    • Gamestop (GME)
    • J.M. Smucker Co. (SJM)
    • Michaels Cos. (MIK)
    • Signet Jewelers (SIG)
    • Tiffany & Co. (TIF)
    • Ulta Salon (ULTA)

     

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    The Boardwalk
    Getty ImagesThe boardwalk at Disney World in Orlando.
    Orlando overtook New York City as the country's top tourist draw last year, and summertime is the peak travel period to the world's largest collection of theme parks. However, with schools starting back up and tourists starting to head back home, this might make it an opportunistic time to check out Disney World, Universal Orlando and other area attractions.

    Let's check out three reasons that trekking out to see what Disney (DIS) and Universal parent Comcast (CMCSA) have to offer in the coming weeks is a good idea.

    1. Off-Season Rates Are Kicking In

    Theme park tickets cost the same all year round, but lodging is an entirely different story. Hotels will mark down their vacancies after the peak summer crowds head out. Even Disney has already started to offer Florida residents and passholders discounts of as much as 35 percent off its rack rates from now through late September.

    If Disney is discounting, you can be sure that off-site properties will be even more aggressive in filling up their rooms. Keep tabs on MouseSavers.com for any promotions and discount codes that can make your last-minute getaway that much cheaper.

    2. Some Attractions Are Going Away

    Disney and Universal do a great job of announcing new attractions, but they're not as vocal in letting you know the ones that are going away. With all of the changes coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios, it's a safe bet that more attractions will be closing in the coming months to make way for the replacements.

    Sometimes you don't have to guess. Universal Orlando announced that the popular Incredible Hulk roller coaster will close on Sept. 8 -- the day after Labor Day -- for a long refurbishment. Universal promises that when it opens again in time for next summer's crowds, it will offer new story-line enhancements and ride vehicles, and a new overall experience.

    Another Universal Orlando attraction that is reportedly closing on that day is Disaster, the earthquake simulator that pays tribute to disaster movies. Online reports claim that it will close to make way for a "The Fast and the Furious"-themed attraction that would open come 2017. Either way, this is your last chance to ride Hulk in its current state, and possibly your last time to enjoy Disaster.

    3. Shorter Lines Mean Wider Smiles

    Many families don't have a choice in deciding to hit up Disney World when school's out, and that's a shame. The parks are crowded. The lines are long. Afternoon thunderstorms are common.

    Heading out to Orlando's theme parks during the final few weeks of summer may still be hot and potentially stormy in the afternoon, but at least the crowds are bearable. The parks may have shorter operating hours than they do during the summer, but you will be able to accomplish a lot more by flying through the shorter queues. You may as well go now before conventions and Halloween events draw crowds again come October.

    If saving money on lodging or saying farewell to departing attractions doesn't sway you, a shot at saving time with shorter lines may do the trick.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Man in kitchen looking at checkbook, resting on arm
    Getty ImagesA checking account that fits your lifestyle can reduce the amount of money you'll give away to your bank.
    By Teresa Mears

    If you think bank fees are getting higher and more numerous, you're right. A study by WalletHub of 35 large banks found that the average consumer checking account has 25 different fees, and the average customer pays about $470 in fees every year.

    "Bank fees are getting more expensive, and they're getting harder to avoid," says Richard Barrington, senior financial editor for MoneyRates.com, which found in a 2015 survey that monthly maintenance fees for checking accounts have risen 8.36 percent in the past three years, twice the rate of inflation, and that only 25 percent of checking accounts didn't charge a monthly fee. "Checking is getting more expensive, and it's getting harder to avoid the monthly maintenance fee," he says.

    Bank fees can include monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, online bill pay fees and returned check fees. You probably also will pay to send or receive wire transfers, get cashier's checks or money orders, and you may have to pay for mailed delivery of statements, online access to old statements, downloading financial data into a program such as Quicken, copies of canceled checks and going into a bank and talking to a human. Accounts you rarely use can accrue dormant account fees or bad address fees.

    While the number of fees is increasing, and the fees themselves are rising, it's not always easy to know before you open an account exactly what fees will be included. "They're not all disclosed, and they're not all disclosed upfront," says Jill Gonzalez, an analyst for WalletHub, which recently analyzed checking account offers from the 30 largest banks and five largest credit unions that offer online applications.

    If you really want the ins and outs of these checking accounts, you're going to have to get to a phone and hopefully talk to a human.

    The large brick-and-mortar banks offered clearer disclosures than the online-only banks or credit unions, the study found, but it was impossible to do complete comparison shopping with the information disclosed online.

    "If you really want the ins and outs of these checking accounts, you're going to have to get to a phone and hopefully talk to a human," Gonzalez says.

    Consumer advocates are pushing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to require for checking accounts the equivalent of a "Schumer box," the standard disclosure that is required for credit card fees and named for Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. So far, about 30 banks, including the 12 largest ones, have voluntarily adopted such a disclosure, says Susan Weinstock, director of the Pew Charitable Trust's consumer banking project, which has advocated for better disclosures and more reasonable fees on consumer checking accounts.

    "One of the things we would like to see is fees that are more upfront," Weinstock says. "What we want to see is a competitive marketplace where the consumer could fully shop around."

    By far, the most lucrative channel for banks is the overdraft fee. Overdraft fees average $35 per occurrence. Each swipe of a debit card, for example, is an occurrence, meaning that if a check you deposit bounces and you spend $5 on coffee, $6 on a sandwich and $12 on a movie, you could be hit with more than $100 in overdraft fees.

    Banks often reorder the transactions, putting through the highest one first so you go in the red faster, creating more overdrafts and therefore more fees. Several consumer advocacy groups are pushing to put an end to this practice. Pew found that 58 percent of large banks also charge what's called an extended overdraft fee if you don't pay the money back within a few days.

    Here are nine ways consumers can avoid or minimize bank fees:

    Choose no-fee checking and savings accounts. If you shop around, you can still find a free checking account, though you may be required to maintain a minimum balance, have other accounts at the same bank, agree to electronic statements or have your paycheck direct-deposited. Make sure you do what is required.

    Opt out of overdraft protection. One way to avoid overdraft fees is to opt out of what the banks call overdraft protection. If you opt out, and you don't have the money in your account, your transaction will be declined, so you won't incur an overdraft fee. In 2010, the law changed to make opting out the default, but banks will push you to opt in by framing overdraft protection as a consumer service. "It's just too expensive," Barrington says. "It's protection in the same way some underworld enforcer will offer you protection."

    Sign up for alerts. Most banks let you get alerts via text or email if your balance goes below a threshold you choose.

    Avoid ATMs that are not part of your network. If you use an out-of-network ATM, you may be charged by both the ATM network and your bank. Take your ATM habits into account when you choose your bank or credit union, especially if you need to withdraw money in multiple cities. Know what ATMs are part of your network. Apps can help you track down in-network ATMs. Remember that you can often get cash back with no fee at grocery stores or other retailers.

    Ask for accounts for older people or students. Many banks offer free or low-cost checking accounts to people over 50 or students. Some of these accounts may offer free checking with a lower minimum balance than what's required in a regular account.

    Keep more money in checking. While conventional wisdom says you should keep the bulk of your excess funds in a savings account, it might be more economical to keep additional money in checking to avoid a monthly fee. "Interest rates are so low right now that if you do the math ... you're probably better off taking some money out of savings," Barrington says.

    Shop around for accounts that fit your lifestyle. Some customers visit ATMs often, and others never use them. The same goes for debit cards, paper checks and online banking. Look for the banks that offer the services you need at the lowest cost. Check out large banks, online-only banks and credit unions to find the best fit. Remember that you won't be able to do all this research online since the information needed to comparison shop isn't available.

    Negotiate. Branch managers sometimes have the discretion to waive fees, especially for good customers with high balances and multiple accounts. "You push back a little bit and threaten to pull your money, and sometimes you'll get results," Barrington says. This kind of negotiation is usually best done in-person, although telephone customer service can sometimes help you find better deals that aren't advertised.

    Keep an eye on your accounts online. This tips you off immediately to fraudulent transactions, returned checks, errors and low balances. A good rule of thumb is frequent debit card users should check their transactions every day.

     

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    Financial Advisor Assisting Senior Woman
    Getty ImagesA professional can help you avoid spending too much or becoming unnecessarily frugal in retirement.
    By David Ning

    Financial advisers have a bad reputation in many circles, because some of these professionals are simply interested in taking your money. Yet, a competent manager can be worth many times the cost. Here's how a financial adviser can help you throughout your retirement years.

    Crisis management. Transitioning the day to day management of your financial portfolio to your spouse or heirs will be seamless if you already have a financial adviser. I love thinking about my portfolio, and I believe no one can manage our family's assets more efficiently than I can. But our finances will be managed haphazardly if I suddenly fall ill and cannot manage our portfolio. My wife has absolutely no interest in figuring out all the jargon on her own, so it's better for us if I find someone who can competently carry out our investment strategy while I'm still able to just in case something happens to me.

    Someone else to crunch the numbers. You probably want to focus on something else in retirementthan thinking about the numbers all day. Retirement can be fun when you get to spend all of your energy on something that makes you happy. If portfolio management doesn't excite you, then getting someone else to think about it for you is a good idea. You can outsource a job that doesn't interest you, just as you might hire a house cleaner or gardener. The convenience can really enhance your quality of life.

    Guard against cognitive declines. Even if you are a wealth building expert, you may not be able to properly manage your portfolio one day in the future. You could experience cognitive or physical declines or other health problems that render you unable to properly manage your money. You may think it's too early to find a third party to take care of your assets now, but it may be too late once you realize something is definitely wrong.

    A second opinion on your spending plan.
    The accumulation phase of retirement planning is straight forward for many people: Save aggressively, have a solid investment plan and stay the course. But spending down assets is an art as much as a science. Many people have trouble spending down their portfolio in retirement and end up skimping on their lifestyle because they fear running out of money. A well trained financial adviser can bring much needed comfort, because he can help coach you on how best to deal with seeing a smaller portfolio balance on a continuous basis.

    A voice of reason. A financial adviser can help to keep you from selling low in a panic once you no longer earn a salary. It's one thing to hold onto stocks during a financial crisis when you have a stable job, but it's an entirely different scenario if stocks plunge 60 percent with no end in sight when you are retired and need that portfolio to hold up to a few decades of withdrawals. Far too many retirees bail out of stocks in every bear market. If a financial adviser is able to convince you to stay the course next time the markets drop, then she would have earned her pay many times over.

    Financial networking. A financial adviser can refer you to other financial professionals. You might need a lawyer to discuss how much liability you need to insure against, a certified public accountant to work on your taxes and an estate planner to update your trust documents. Finding the right person to handle your needs can be a tedious process. Your financial adviser, who already knows your situation well, can save you time by referring you to someone who already deals with clients who have similar levels of assets and concerns as you.

    David Ning is the founder of MoneyNing.com.

     

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    Packed frozen vegetables in freezer.
    Mert Toker/Shutterstock
    By Raechel Conover

    It's high produce season in most parts of the country, with tons of fruits, vegetables and herbs ripe for the picking. While you're busy making recipes with fresh ingredients, you're probably wondering how to freeze vegetables and fruits so you can carry that fresh flavor and nutrition over into the winter months, when nothing seems to be ripe or cheap. Freezing ripe summer produce is easier and less expensive than canning. All you really need is a freezer (preferably a deep freezer) set to zero degrees or lower and some airtight containers. Some extra time and a few tools can help ensure top quality.

    If you know how to freeze fruits and vegetables, they can last more than six months; casseroles, soups and stews prepared with fresh vegetables can be frozen for up to three months and still retain taste and texture, according to the Department of Agriculture (and be safe to eat indefinitely).

    Berries. Summer fruits such as berries and peaches can be frozen with little effort. For berries, just clean them, dry them, cut off the stems if necessary and arrange them on a cookie sheet so they won't stick together. Once they're frozen, move them to an airtight bag, which makes for easier storage and helps prevent freezer burn.

    Peaches and Nectarines. Peaches and nectarines, among other fruits, turn out best when put in the freezer at peak ripeness and benefit from a light dusting of sugar before freezing. Simply slice them, lay them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar and freeze. Move the frozen slices to an airtight container.

    Apples and Other Fruits. Other fruits suitable for freezing with the sprinkle-of-sugar approach include plums, grapefruits, oranges and pears, while others, such as grapes and cherries, can be frozen whole. Pineapple, watermelon and other melons should be cut up in cubes (without the rind) to be frozen. Apples are perhaps best frozen in applesauce form.

    Freezing Fruit in Syrup. Fruits frozen in syrup or liquid can contribute to delectable uncooked desserts. The easiest and most healthful method is to freeze the fruit raw in a compatible fruit juice. If sweetened fruit is preferred, simmer it in a syrup made of water and sugar, honey, or maple syrup before freezing.

    Blanching and Freezing Vegetables. Some vegetables are a little more complicated to freeze than fruit because they need to be blanched first. This protects the vegetables in the freezer and helps maintain the proper texture. A nutrition specialist at the University of Missouri Extension provides extensive information on water, steam and microwave blanching, as well as instructions for specific vegetables including asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, onions, peppers and potatoes.

    Spinach, Bell Peppers and Green Beans. Other vegetables such as spinach, bell peppers and green beans are easier to prepare for winter eating: Simply rinse well, pat dry and freeze in an airtight bag.

    Squash, Peas and Beans. Squash, peas and beans can be cleaned and frozen in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Like fruit, these vegetables should be moved to an airtight container once frozen.

    Zucchini. Zucchini can be grated in small amounts and frozen for use in recipes such as zucchini bread.

    Tomatoes. We're going to sidestep the debate about whether tomato is a vegetable or a fruit and just suggest turning tomatoes into pasta or pizza sauce and freezing them that way. Another option is to prepare them raw: Dip tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds to loosen the skins, then peel and freeze.

    Herbs. To take advantage of fresh herb flavor year-round, chop them up fresh, place in ice cube trays and cover in water to freeze. Store the frozen cubes in an airtight bag and use them one or two at a time, thawing only as much as needed for a particular recipe. This works especially well with chives, mint, basil and parsley, but almost any herb can tolerate the treatment.


    The Science to Keeping Fruits and Vegetables Fresh

     

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    Walmart
    Danny Johnston/AP
    By Terence Loose

    Walmart (WMT) has earned its reputation as a money-saving store by offering low prices on just about everything from car accessories to canned goods. And while no one will doubt Walmart is a great place to save money, that doesn't mean some items can't be found elsewhere for less.

    To help you maximize your savings, GOBankingRates.com asked a variety of experts to list items you should snatch up at Walmart -- and items you should steer clear of. Find out if you're shopping smart at Walmart.

    10 Best Walmart Deals

    The nationwide retailer has become synonymous with "savings" -- and for good reason! With net sales increasing by 1.9 percent in the fiscal year ending on Jan. 30, 2015, it's obvious that many people are capitalizing on Walmart's low prices. Click through to see which 10 items are good deals at the retail giant.

    1. Legos. While kids' toys are a hit and miss at Walmart, Walmart is the place to be if your kid is into Legos, said Regina Novickis of Slickdeals.com. Members of the site post great deals they find, with the best of the best appearing on the front page. "Over the past year, our deal community of 9 million has front-paged more Legos deals from Walmart than any other merchant, including Target and Toys 'R' Us," she said.

    2. Disposable Razors. If you're not into paying a premium for smooth skin, Novickis said Walmart can help with name-brand razors. And savings expert Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com said her site found Walmart's prices were up to 50 percent less than drugstores' prices. "For example, a three-pack of Venus Women's disposable razors was $6.97 at Walmart and $12.99 at some drugstores," she said. Pavini also added that Coupons.com offered a dollar-off coupon, making the razors just $5.97.

    3. Organic Foods. Eating healthy and organic food doesn't mean you have to pay a high sticker price. Pavini said that Walmart is actually making going organic affordable. "You can find many brand-name organic foods for less," she said. Coupons.com found Organic Heinz Ketchup at Walmart for $2.58 compared with $3.69 at the grocery store. And Amy's Kitchen Soup was $2.25 at Walmart and $3.69 at the grocery store.

    4. Photo Announcements/Cards. Want to make that birthday party or summer party announcement really personal? Lori McDaniel, senior content manager for Offers.com, said that Walmart is a smart place to go for photo announcements. "You can get personalized photo invitations or cards for as low as 28 cents a piece, compared to about $1.27 a piece at a site like Shutterfly. That's a 78 percent savings," she said.

    5. Photos. You don't have to throw a party to save on photo printing, said Pavini. Walmart is also a smart choice for photos, with 4-by-6 prints as low as 9 cents each, she found. "The trick to getting the best deal is choosing the home delivery option, which gets you the lowest price," she said.

    But even if you go for the one-hour photo, Pavini said you're still only paying a few cents a photo. Her bonus tip: "Create a free account with Walmart Photo, and you may receive a sign-up gift," she said. "We got 25 free one-hour photo 4-by-6 prints."

    6. Simple Furniture. Need a few practical furniture items for your home? Walmart might be a smart stop, said Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for DealNews.com. "Walmart consistently offers basic desks, shelves, futons and more for a lot less than most other stores," she said. "Many of Walmart's furniture does include free shipping, which isn't something you can say from most furniture stores."

    McDaniel gave an example. "You can get a simple student desk for as low as $44 right now at Walmart, versus $79.99 at IKEA," she said. "That's a 45 percent savings."

    7. Baby Gear. While there is some conflicting input for name-brand baby items, like diapers -- some experts touted Walmart and some said these items are cheaper elsewhere -- McDaniel said other newborn and toddler items, such as the Graco Pack 'n Play Playards, are a go.


    8. Walmart-Brand Grocery Items. If you're looking to fill that pantry with staple items for a little less money, Walmart could help, said savings expert Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com. Walmart has an extensive line of its own low-priced store brands that Nelson said are of comparable quality to supermarket brands.

    "For example, I compared the cost of basics like rice, sugar, dried legumes, canned tuna, flour, sweeteners and condiments," she said. "Overall, Walmart's store brand staples were 20 percent less than the supermarket options."

    9. Coffee and Tea. Brand-name coffee, tea and many other brand-name grocery store items that rarely go on sale can often be snatched up for far less at Walmart, said Nelson. "For example, my favorite brands of coffee and tea are both 27 percent less at Walmart," said Nelson. And what's even better, she added, is that Walmart will also accept coupons on those items, making them an even better deal.

    10. Laundry Detergent. Walmart is a pretty good place to keep your clothes clean for less, said savings expert Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com. "You'll find the lowest prices at Walmart for name-brand laundry detergent when comparing prices at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers," he said, noting that the savings can be as significant as a few dollars less.

    Pavini found that you can save about 30 percent on detergent at Walmart compared with online stores. The exception is when Amazon runs a sale, "but if there's no sale going on, Walmart is a safe bet not to overspend," she said.

    10 Worst Walmart Deals

    Like with every store, there are some items you should avoid at Walmart. You might be better off buying products at some of Walmart's competitors, such as Target, Amazon, Costco or Ikea. Read on to find out which 10 items savings experts say you should skip at Walmart.

    1. HDTVs. It's true that Walmart has low prices on High-Definition TVs, but McDaniel said she doesn't categorize them as good deals. "Walmart's HDTVs are at 'low' prices because they are the lower-quality versions than those sold elsewhere," she said. "Get higher-quality at low prices at a warehouse store like Costco."

    2. Nuts and Seeds. It's a given that nuts and seeds are healthy snack choices, but Walmart's might not be the healthiest for your wallet," said Novickis. "You'll find much better deals on nuts and seeds at stores like Aldi and Trader Joe's." She added, "On average, Walmart is about $1.50 more per pound for whole almonds than Trader Joe's, and mixed nuts are about $1 more per bag than at Aldi."

    3. Gift Cards. Gift cards can be a great way to make someone's day, but Walmart might not be the most savvy place to shop for them, said Novickis. "There's no need to pay full price for gift cards," she said. "Shop sites like CardCash.com to find discounted gift cards," she said. While the discounts vary greatly depending on the merchant, they can be up to 27 percent off, said Novickis.

    4. Laptops. Avoiding getting your next laptop from Walmart, advised Sakraida. "In the past two months, less than 1 percent of DealNews' price-checked laptop deals were sold at Walmart, which means your chances of finding a good price there are very slim," she said. For better deals, she suggested Newegg or Microsoft Store, as well as directly from Lenovo, HP and Dell. Just remember to look for coupons, she added.

    5. Wrapping Paper. Did you score a great deal on Legos at Walmart for that upcoming birthday party? You might want to find the wrapping paper elsewhere, said Novickis. The quality of the wrapping paper you'll find at Walmart is comparable to the paper you'll find at dollar stores for a lot less, she said.

    6. Appliances. If you need to replace your refrigerator, Walmart might not be the place to find the coolest deal, said McDaniel. "You're better off shopping at a store like Sears or Best Buy, which frequently run specials that include free disposals of old machines, or free delivery and installation," she said.

    7. Batteries. Batteries are pricey. In fact, they can make a decently priced toy suddenly expensive. So, it's important to get the best deal -- and that's likely not at Walmart. "Hands down, it's best to buy these at a warehouse club store," said Novickis. Move batteries to your Costco or Sam's Club shopping list.

    8. Bedding. Ah, bedding. Just saying it sounds peaceful. And Walmart's prices might seem soothing as well. But if you're at all worried about quality, said Novickis, you might want to give Walmart's bedding section a rest. "While the price might seem right, given how many hours are spent in bed, a better quality can be found at a comparable price at merchants such as T.J.Maxx, Ross and Home Goods," she said.

    9. Straight Talk Wireless. Walmart's Straight Talk month-to-month wireless service for $45 for a 30-day plan might seem appealing, but Sakraida and DealNews strongly advise against it. "DealNews readers almost unanimously panned the quality of coverage, customer service and Straight Talk-compatible phones," said Sakraida. "Many customers who tried to save with Straight Talk service and a phone ended up going back to their original carrier."

    10. Meats, Cereal, Soda. Many grocery items that seem like a good deal at Walmart, you can get for less at the grocery store, said Nelson. "Some [grocery store] items are priced below the wholesale cost in order to lure customers into the store and are usually featured on the first page of the store ad," she said. "These sale prices are generally less than Walmart's Everyday Low Price for the same items." Her examples include 50 percent off chicken, beef, pork, cereal, packaged items like crackers and cookies, and soft drinks.

    This story, 10 Best and Worst Deals at Walmart, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Economy GDP
    M. Spencer Green/APA Ford Motor Co. employee works on the engine assembly of a 2016 Ford Explorer at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy grew faster than initially thought in the second quarter on solid domestic demand, showing fairly strong momentum that could still allow the Federal Reserve to hike interest rates this year.

    Gross domestic product expanded at a 3.7 percent annual pace instead of the 2.3 percent rate reported last month, the Commerce Department said Thursday in its second GDP estimate for the April-June period.

    The U.S. economy entered the current market turbulence with momentum, which will help it to shrug off the drag from China and other developing economies.

    The GDP report, which was released in the wake of a global stock market sell-off, should assure investors and cautious Fed officials that the United States is in good shape to weather the growing strains in the world economy.

    "The U.S. economy entered the current market turbulence with momentum, which will help it to shrug off the drag from China and other developing economies," said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago.

    Concerns over slowing economic growth in China sent global equity markets into a tailspin last week, raising doubts that the U.S. central bank would raise its short-term interest rate next month. Markets have since recouped some of the huge losses.

    On Wednesday, New York Fed President William Dudley said that prospects of a September lift-off in the central bank's key lending rate "seems less compelling to me than it was a few weeks ago."

    U.S. stocks rose sharply on the GDP data, a day after posting their biggest one-day gain in four years. Prices for U.S. government debt fell, while the dollar firmed against a basket of currencies.

    "The Fed could certainly hold off until later this year, citing the recent market turmoil, but the economic fundamentals would also justify a small September rate increase," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.

    The upward revisions to second-quarter GDP growth also reflected the accumulation of $121.1 billion worth of inventories, $11.1 billion more than previously estimated. That meant inventories contributed 0.22 percentage point to GDP instead of subtracting 0.08 percentage point as reported last month.

    While the huge inventory build will likely weigh on growth in the third quarter, the blow could be softened by rebounding business investment in capital goods.

    Economists had expected that second-quarter GDP growth would be revised to a 3.2 percent rate. The economy grew at a 0.6 percent rate in the first quarter. Output expanded 2.2 percent in the first half of the year compared to growth of 1.9 percent during the same period in 2014.

    Strong Domestic Demand

    Underscoring the solid economic fundamentals, a measure of private domestic demand that excludes trade, inventories and government expenditures rose at a 3.3 percent rate in the second quarter, instead of the previously reported 2.5 percent pace.

    Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, grew at a 3.1 percent rate, rather than the 2.9 percent pace reported last month. Consumer spending got off a to brisk start in the third quarter, with retail sales rising solidly in July.

    A strong labor market, cheaper gasoline and relatively higher house prices are boosting household wealth, helping to support consumer spending.

    The employment picture was further brightened Thursday by a separate report from the Labor Department showing initial claims for state unemployment benefits slipped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 271,000 for the week ended Aug. 22.

    It was the 25th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is usually associated with a strengthening labor market.

    Economists also said they expected the recent stock market rout to have only a limited impact on the economy.

    "As long as this is a garden-variety correction, the impact on the U.S. economy should be modest," said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

    The Commerce Department said investment in nonresidential structures was revised to show an increase rather than a contraction, reflecting stronger spending on commercial and health care construction.

    Spending on residential construction, which includes brokers' commissions, was raised. More gains are likely this quarter after a third report Thursday showed an increase in contracts to purchase previously owned homes in July.

    In the second quarter, business spending on equipment wasn't as weak as initially thought.

    The energy sector continued to weigh on growth as it struggles with the lingering effects of deep spending cuts by oil-field companies like Schlumberger (SLM) and Halliburton (HAL) in the aftermath of a more than 60 percent plunge in crude oil prices in the past year.

    Spending on mining exploration, wells and shafts plunged at a 68.3 percent rate in the second quarter, the largest decline since the second quarter of 1986.

    The trade deficit was smaller than previously reported, adding 0.23 percentage point to GDP growth.

    The GDP report also showed a rebound in after-tax corporate profits, but a strong dollar and lower oil prices remain a constraint.

     

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    I'm in my mid-thirties. I've cobbled together a career I'm happy with, a little more than 10 years after I finished a two-year degree at a tiny school. It has been hard work and it has paid off. But I can imagine how it just as easily might not have paid off. That's the reality a lot of people my age are realizing. The education they have hasn't gotten them as far as they wished.

    That can be a troubling conclusion. It's no secret that expensive university education has gotten a bad name since the Great Recession. Many are the college graduates working entry-level positions they could have easily gotten without the four years of effort (and associated debt). I wasn't able to afford a four-year degree when I was 18. And today I'm glad I couldn't. I don't think I was ready. I didn't know enough about myself or about the world, not to mention the value of education itself. Even though I'm not planning on it, in many ways I think school would be more valuable for me now, now that I'm mature enough to take advantage of it.

    A lot of people feel this way. And it begs the question, "Should I go back to school at this point in my life?" In 2013, 40.5 percent of higher education enrollees were age 25 to 39. Clearly, many people are taking this step. But should you? And what if you're older than that? I've thought about this a lot, and I have a few requirements that I think everybody should demand of their education, especially if you are taking it on as an adult.

    1. How fast will your education pay for itself? My "back of the napkin" equation for determining the value of adult higher education is: it's got to pay for itself within two years. If I'm going to get a degree and enter a new field, I want a job as soon as a graduate. And I want the extra income I earn as a result of this education I've received to pay off that education within two years. In order to do this, I've got to pick out the right degree in the right field, one which has a reliable job available to me when I complete my program. Some degrees will accomplish this and others won't. So whatever you do, be realistic about the money it's going to add to your bottom line. Unless this new career path is extremely fulfilling, it's not worth the effort if it's not going to pay for itself quickly.

    2. Is this program a realistic time commitment? Grown up people are busy. You might have kids. You might have any number of demands upon your time. Many adults begin schooling programs that they ultimately can't complete. They may learn some good things in the meantime, but unless they're able to transfer this learning into a job, this is time and money that is largely wasted. So you've got to spend some time to figure out if you can handle all aspects of your school or degree program: the commute, the homework, the change to your schedule and the demands of your family and outside work. Don't let this stuff surprise you. You need to anticipate time demands well in advance.

    3. Is this the best program for you? If you can afford it and handle the time demands, have you chosen the most beneficial program for your needs? What is your most important priority? Pursuing a field that you enjoy? Finding a job that pays the most money? Getting a career that gives you more time with your family? Identify the most important outcome of your new school or degree program and make sure you pick a program that maximizes the payoff in that specific area. The best choice may be a program that surprises you.

    I think going back to school can be appropriate for people of all ages. But because of the economics involved, it is important to make careful considerations before signing on the dotted line. This can be the difference in a degree that pays for itself and a degree that weighs you down.

     

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    Walmart
    Danny Johnston/AP
    NEW YORK -- Walmart is giving customers a head start on holiday shopping, launching its annual layaway program two weeks earlier than last year.

    It's the latest sign of retailers getting more aggressive about grabbing holiday shoppers early. Stores have offered holiday discounts earlier as they battle competition from online retailers.

    Shoppers at Walmart can put their items on hold starting Friday. Each item must cost $10 or more, down from the $15 limit last year. All items held must be worth a total of $50. Customers will have more time to pay for their items this year, 90 days instead of the 60 days they were given last year.

    Walmart Stores (WMT), based in Bentonville, Arkansas, says it will start to offer exclusive "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" toys starting Sept. 4.

     

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    TEC Apple Event
    Richard Drew/APApple CEO Tim Cook
    By BRANDON BAILEY

    SAN FRANCISCO -- Apple (AAPL) has announced plans for a new product event on Sept. 9 in San Francisco, where the giant tech company is expected to show off new iPhones and other gadgets.

    The company has introduced a new iPhone model every year around this time. But in typical fashion, Apple is only dropping vague clues about its plans.

    Invitations sent Thursday to reporters and analysts were headlined, "Hey Siri, give us a hint." Apple has previously said it plans to expand the capabilities of Siri, its voice-activated personal assistant, in an upcoming version of its operating software for iPhones and iPads.

    Industry insiders have also speculated Apple may introduce a larger iPad for business users, a new set-top box for televisions and possibly other products. The company, however, hasn't confirmed any plans.

    While Apple usually holds such events on a regular schedule, they are still the subject of much anticipation in the tech industry, given that Apple products tend to be popular and influential.

    Apple says the Sept. 9 event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco. The auditorium seats up to 7,000 people, which is a much larger capacity than San Francisco's 750-seat Yerba Buena Theater, where Apple often holds such events.

    As for Siri, the digital service had clearly been programmed to play it coy about the Sept. 9 event. When queried for a hint on a reporter's iPhone, the digital assistant only said to expect "a big announcement."

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street rallied more than 2 percent Thursday as strong U.S. economic data and hints that a September interest-rate hike was unlikely fueled optimism that the worst of recent market turmoil was over.

    The Dow Jones industrial average scored its biggest two-day percentage gain since 2008, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite racked up their biggest two-day increases since 2009.

    The worst is probably behind us but it's going to take a while before we get back to normal and we might still see some downward risk.

    "The worst is probably behind us but it's going to take a while before we get back to normal and we might still see some downward risk," said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

    With Thursday's gains, the S&P has recovered about half of the 11 percent meltdown it suffered over a six-day losing streak caused by fears of slowing growth in China.

    The market slump stopped Wednesday after New York Fed President William Dudley said the case for a September hike had become "less compelling."

    Data released Thursday showed that the economy grew 3.7 percent in the second quarter -- much faster than the previous estimate of 2.3 percent.

    "It's the U.S. economy versus the global economy," said Peter Kenny, chief market strategist at Clearpool Group in New York. "Can the U.S. economy prove the naysayers wrong? Well, so far it has been able to do that and today's data really puts a line under that."

    Data Curated by findthecompany.com

    Traders gave a one-in-four chance that the Fed would increase interest rates in September even after the upbeat economic growth number.

    Fed interest rates kept near zero helped fuel the stock market to historic levels since the financial crisis.

    Even if the Fed doesn't tighten policy in September, expectations of an eventual hike will remain a major overhang on sentiment, warned Jim Bianco, president of Bianco Research in Chicago.

    "The era of easy money would officially be over," Bianco said. "A rate hike would mean putting the needle away, no more drugs, time for the methadone."

    To that end, investors will keep an eye on an annual conference of some of the world's top central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, over the next few days for further clues on interest rates.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) added 2.3 percent to end at 16,654.77 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) jumped 2.4 percent to 1,987.66. The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 2.5 percent to 4,812.71.

    In the past two sessions, the Dow is up 6.3 percent, the S&P is 6.4 percent higher and the Nasdaq has gained 6.8 percent.

    Broad Gains

    All 10 major S&P sectors rose sharply, with the energy index's 4.9 percent jump leading the advancers as oil prices soared more than 9 percent in one of the biggest one-day rallies in years.

    Giving the biggest boost to the S&P and Nasdaq, shares of Apple (AAPL) surged 2.94 percent. The company invited journalists to a Sept. 9 event, where it is expected to unveil new iPhones.

    Tesla Motors (TSLA) was up 8.1 percent after its Model S P85D received the highest possible score in tests by Consumer Reports magazine.

    The recent pummeling in U.S. shares reduced valuations some investors had seen as pricey. The S&P 500's valuation was about 15.4 times expected earnings as of Wednesday's close, compared to around 17 for much of 2015, according to the most recent available Thomson Reuters StarMine data.

    Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,803 to 324. On the Nasdaq, 2,209 issues rose and 638 fell.

    The S&P 500 showed one new 52-week high and one new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 19 new highs and 49 new lows.

    About 9.9 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges and the 15-day moving average of 8.1 billion was the highest this year, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Tanya Agrawal and Chuck Mikolajczak contributed reporting.

    What to watch Friday:
    • The Commerce Department releases personal income and spending for July at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The University of Michigan releases its survey of consumer sentiment for August at 10 a.m.

     

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    Anxious Woman Looking At Computer Monitor
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    By Sarah Morgan

    An individual retirement account can hold just about any type of investment. That suits many investors like having wide-open options, but some find that too much choice is overwhelming. That's why some investors turn to an adviser to try to sort through the vast universe of funds and figure out what to buy. Unfortunately, that advice can be expensive.

    SigFig data shows that investors who work with advisers are almost twice as likely to pay load fees for the mutual funds they own: 37 percent of IRA investors with an adviser pay load fees, compared to 21 percent of investors without an adviser.

    A load fee is a fee paid on the purchase of a mutual fund. It is essentially a form of commission -- a fee that goes to the adviser you have paid to help you choose a fund. These fees range widely. The average IRA investor pays 0.46 percent in fees on their investments, but 28 percent pay 0.8 percent or more in total fees. That means a substantial number of investors are paying almost double the average in fees. And even small differences in fees can cut thousands of dollars out of your nest egg over the course of your investing lifetime.

    Higher fees might be worth it if the pricier funds that advisers recommend outperformed the market. Unfortunately, they typically don't. Investors who use advisers in their IRAs are paying more, but they aren't getting more: the median trailing 1-year net return for investors who use advisers is 1.2 percent, and the median return for investors who go it alone is 1.5 percent. Investors who have chosen their own investments are actually doing better than investors who have sought pricey advice. SigFig data has shown this consistently: pricier investments simply don't perform well enough to justify their fees.

    Which Advisers Charge the Most?

    SigFig's analysis shows that some firms are more likely to charge certain types of fees than others. Ameriprise Financial, Edward Jones and American Funds are at least three times as likely as the average firm to charge a sales commission or a type of fund marketing fee known as a 12b-1 fee.

    Wherever the fee is coming from, it is hard to justify paying high fees on investments that simply don't outperform the broader market indices. If your adviser steers you towards expensive funds, it is time to ask a few questions about how they make their money and why they aren't trying to control one of the only things you can control about your investments' performance: how much they cost.

    If you choose to work with an adviser, it is best to work with someone who is paid on a fee-only basis, or one that charges a small percentage of assets under management, such as a robo-adviser. Fee-only and robo-advisers don't make commissions from selling you pricey products. Look for advisers who hold themselves to a fiduciary standard, meaning they are legally bound to put your interests ahead of their own. Anyone who isn't held to this standard can steer you towards investments that are broadly suitable for you, but not necessarily the best, or cheapest, possible option. As SigFig's data proves, too many investors are already paying the price for bad advice.

    Sarah Morgan is a contributing writer at SigFig. Nearly a million people use SigFig to track, improve and manage over $300 billion in investments.

     

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    oslo gardermoen  norway   ...
    ShutterstockAirport kiosks can be money drains.
    By Mel Bondar

    I don't know about you, but for me, the airport is one of my major spending zones. It's the moment when vacation mentality totally kicks in, whether I'm traveling for business or pleasure.

    The people who run the airport stores know that, too. I mean, why else would you be able to find crazy high-end stores in some airports? Even just the stores full of electronics? Who goes to the airport to buy an MP3 player? Did I miss some memo?

    I even have a little ritual where I buy a gigantic bottle of water and a copy of Cosmopolitan (which, yes, is very trashy, and why it's only allowed to be read on planes). This ritual keeps me calm while flying.

    The thing is, there have been vacations with layovers in a couple of airports where I realize that before the vacation even starts, I've dropped $75 to $100 on food, trinkets or reading material. To make matters worse, I did it mindlessly! It doesn't have to be this way.

    Here are a few tricks for navigating the airport to help you save a few dollars:

    1. Pack snacks and empty water bottles. Did you know you can bring pretty much any solid food into an airport that you want? Got a favorite bakery or deli near home? You could cut your food costs in half by just picking up what you want to eat before you get to the airport.

    Clearly you can take it a frugal step further and just make sandwiches or bring leftovers from home.

    The only thing you have to remember is to avoid liquids. On that subject though, if you bring an empty water bottle, you can fill it at a water fountain once you're past security with no problem.

    2. Check your credit cards for perks. While this won't work for everyone, it's helpful to see if you have any perks available on your credit cards while flying, especially if you have a card that specializes in miles for a particular airline. I have a United Mileage Plus credit card and once a year I get two passes to their United Club, which has free snacks and drinks in it. Several other credit cards offer the same perk.

    Additionally, you can often save money on checked bags or even get one for free by using cards that are linked to a specific airline. Be sure to check before shelling out that fee, though, because they can be pretty high!

    3. Sign up to mystery shop before going on vacation. Why on earth would you want to spend your vacation mystery shopping? Because mystery shopping companies often have mystery shops in airports and trouble getting them filled. Sinclair Customer Metrics is almost always looking for people to mystery shop major airports. You might even make more money per shop, too, because retailers are so desperate for the feedback. If you have a long layover, you might even be able to earn as much as $100 on mystery shopping gigs. You could end up scoring some free food, too.

    4. Use coupons. Lots of stores in the airport are actually chains. You should be able to use your coupon for McDonald's in the airport just as well as at the one down the street. You can check out which restaurants are available in most domestic airports on their websites and see if you have coupons for any of the options on your trip.

    5. Bring reading material with you. You know where you won't find any kind of deal at all? At the bookstores and magazine kiosks. They also know that delays happen and people need to be entertained while waiting around for their flights, as well as while they're in the air. By ensuring you have all the entertainment you need, be it reading material, DVDs or coloring books for the kids, you won't fall into their (expensive) trap.

    Thinking ahead and planning is always the key step when it comes to successfully saving money. When you're traveling, it's no different. You have to be aware of where the money drains are and make sure they're worth the cost, whether you're on vacation or traveling for work.

    Mel Bondar blogs at brokeGIRLrich, where she explores topics including how not to totally panic over adulthood, working in the arts and retirement strategies that don't involve living in a cardboard box under an overpass.

     

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    Sensitive information is apparently hard to keep that way these days. It seems as if there's a new hacking scandal every few weeks, leading folks to wonder if anything can ever be secure.

    However, these incidents should also make us smarter as consumers. Let's go over some of the financial lessons that some of the more prolific recent hacker events have taught us.

    1. Keep your credit cards separated. Target's data breach during the 2013 holiday shopping season was brutal. The cheap-chic discounter initially reported that as many as 40 million customers had their credit and debit card information swiped. A few weeks later it revealed that a new group of 70 million customers might have also had their card data lifted.

    The development was enough to rock Target's sales, even after it offered an across-the-board discount during the final week of the holiday shopping season. The retailer tried to get ahead of the mess, arming consumers with the tools to clean up their compromised financials.

    It's easy to see why Target (TGT) shoppers felt helpless here. They didn't do anything wrong beyond simply swiping plastic at a Target register. However, the hassle of having to have a replacement card issued probably made them smarter.

    One potent takeaway is that cardholders should probably have at least two credit cards. Dedicate one card to automated payouts. Use the other for physical store purchases. That way, if someone does steal the info from the one used in real-world purchases, you don't have to scramble to have all of your automated payments reset or fear that some of the payments will bounce.

    2. Separate email accounts is also a good idea. This month's Ashley Madison hacking scandal may have been the butt of talk show jokes, but the incident exposed a lot of data. More than 30 million email addresses were compromised, from folks who had registered for the website that unabashedly hooks up married folks for adulterous flings.

    The initial headlines focused on the large number of accounts from investment banker domains, but then things took a turn for the morose. There were extortion attempts and even a couple of unconfirmed suicides reported by the New York Post.

    The lesson here is fairly clear. If you're going to hit up a website that could potentially be shameful if your registration was made public, don't sign up for the site with your work or school email. Create a free email account. You should probably have a few email accounts anyway, just in case one should get hacked into. Just as you should do with your credit cards, dedicate one email address to serious sites. Create at least one more for everything else, so it's the one collecting spam and Ashley Madison signups.

    3. Financial data isn't the only hacker currency. One of the more embarrassing hacks came late last year when Sony (SNE) movie studio emails were compromised. There was no financial information taken, but sensitive emails detailing the inner workings of Sony and unflattering exchanges between actors, executives, and directors made a lot of people look bad.

    Be careful with everything you write in an email. Even if you may have everything secure on your end, always remember that there's a recipient at the other end of every email you send. If something is sensitive -- and that includes financially sensitive -- you don't want to pass it along in an email.

    Stay safe, and keep your finances secure.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    By Kyle James

    Everybody loves to score a deal. Retailers are keenly aware of this phenomenon and have become very good at tricking your brain into thinking you're getting a deal, even when you may be spending more than you should. Here are some clever ways retailers use coupons to get you to open your wallet wide, along with some timely tips to fight back.

    1. Online coupons aren't always a deal. Online shoppers love a good coupon code. But did you know that many online retailers are notorious for releasing a coupon only after jacking all of their prices up to full-retail? Suddenly your 25 percent off coupon code doesn't look so good, especially when you consider the fact that you could have actually saved more money the week prior, for example, when the website had everything in their new fall collection for 30 percent off, no coupon needed.

    A few of the online retailers notorious for releasing a coupon when prices are high include Ann Taylor, American Eagle, Old Navy and Macy's to name a few. It's always in your best interest to keep track of the pricing schemes of the online retailers you frequent on a regular basis. Pay attention to when they release coupons and when they offer sitewide sales and only make your purchases when the price is actually the lowest. Also, if you can time your purchase when you have a coupon code in hand and the retailer is having a sitewide sale, you'll definitely maximize your savings.

    2. The BOGO dilemma. Another commonly used trick retailers use to get you to open your wallets wide is "Buy one, get one for 50% off," also known as BOGO. Be aware that unless it is "Buy one, get one free," you're rarely getting a good deal. Buy one, get one for 50 percent off is the equivalent of a 25 percent off coupon -- which is an okay deal, but only if you actually need two of the particular item. Keep in mind that many retailers, especially clothing and shoe stores, often have coupons that exceed 25 percent off, making the BOGO offer nothing more than a spending trap. Kohl's, Lands' End, JCPenney and Gap are a few retailers that fit this bill and immediately jump to mind.

    3. Free shipping ... with a catch. When it comes to shopping online, there is nothing worse than finishing your shopping at a website only to discover you're $10 short of qualifying for free shipping. Many online retailers will set a minimum threshold requirement for free delivery at $25, $50, $75 or even $100 to encourage shoppers to add items to their purchase and thus pad their profits.

    The next time this happens to you, hit up Google and do a search for "[store name] free shipping coupon" and see if you can dig up a coupon code for free delivery. If that doesn't work, many websites employ live chat operators who have a select number of coupons to hand out if you politely ask. Just start a chat session, explain your situation and tell the operator how you'd like to complete your purchase but can't justify the shipping charge since you're so close to the minimum order threshold. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with your result and stand a great chance of scoring a free shipping coupon without adding something to your cart that you don't need.

    4. Percent-off coupon with minimum order size. Another retail trick is to release "percent off" or "dollar off" coupons with a minimum dollar amount required to score the discount. Whether you need to spend $49, $75 or $99 to get the discount, it's important to realize that retailers are attempting to get you to spend more in order to "save" some money. This is often a bad proposition for consumers and can easily lead to overspending. A smart workaround is to never walk into a store with one of these coupons unless you're sure you'll meet the minimum. If you do walk in and are determined to redeem the coupon, make sure you're buying items that you actually need or can use as a gift down the road.

    5. Coupons you buy can expire. Popular websites like Groupon and LivingSocial allow you to buy deals and coupons for experiences like golfing, sky diving, cooking classes, yoga classes and the like. But what many consumers don't know is that many of these deals have expiration dates. They're banking on you buying the offer and forgetting to use it or deciding later that it's not your cup of tea.

    Avoid this expiration trick by instituting a "30-day" policy. If you know you'll use the coupon within 30 days, then go ahead and purchase it. If you're on the fence in the slightest, pass on the offer as it'll probably go unused. Once you buy the experience or class, book it right away and get it on your calendar to make sure it gets used and doesn't end up in your desk drawer for all eternity.

    By being aware of why retailers release certain coupons and deals and how they can make you overspend, you stand a great chance of actually saving money on the things you need.

    What other ways have retailers used coupons and "deals" to get you to spend more?

     

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    Money Strategy
    Getty Images
    By Scott Gamm

    NEW YORK -- The whiplash seen in stocks over the last week means your retirement savings strategy needs a little extra care.

    If you're still searching for a strategy or the markets meltdown makes you a wary of your current plan, here are three ways to bulletproof your retirement savings:

    1. Dollar cost averaging. Dollar cost averaging is a classic technique. It simply involves contributing a fixed amount of money into a retirement account.

    When stocks rise, so does your wealth. But when stocks drop, your money is able to scoop up more shares for less.

    "You get different bites at the market at different prices," said Tom Mingone of New York-based Capital Management Group.

    You may not have a lump sum of money to throw into the markets, but you may have a few hundred dollars each month to invest.

    "Plus, most people suffer from inertia, and with dollar cost averaging, your investments are on autopilot and before you know it, the money you're investing becomes another bill that you're used to paying," Mingone added.

    If you have a 401(k) account, chances are you're already employing dollar cost averaging.

    "Most have a 401(k) plan through an employer that invests on a consistent basis," said Grant Engelbart, portfolio manager at CLS Investments based in Omaha, Nebraska.

    But Engelbart said fixed monthly amounts of money can also be contributed each month to a Roth or Traditional IRA, which you may also have in addition to a 401(k). "Sticking with that investment plan will ensure that you are both taking advantage of market selloffs and participating in strong, trending markets," he added.

    2. Target-date funds. Albeit generic, target-date funds account for one key part of any retirement investing plan: time.

    Target-date funds start out heavily exposed to stocks and as you near retirement, the balance shifts to bonds, which are considered safer and less volatile than equities.

    The thinking is, as you near retirement, you have less time to recoup potential losses in the stock market.

    But not all target-date funds are created equal. If you're buying target-date funds on your own, make sure you know what the balance between stocks and bonds is, especially as you get older.

    "Some target date funds have more exposure to equities than others -- to hedge against inflation," Mingone said. "So you could be in your 60s and have a pretty significant exposure to stocks, which might be concerning to some people."

    He said it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to have a 50 to 60 percent exposure to stocks while you're in retirement.

    This is because people are living longer and calibrating your investments until age 65 (or whenever you stop working and enter retirement) may not be plausible if you live until 85 or 90.

    "We like when people invest during their retirement, so they ensure they don't outlive their money," Mingone added.

    A caveat with target date funds: interest rates. Interest rates have been at record low levels since the recession but are bound to rise again. Higher rates threaten bond values, as rates and prices move in opposite directions.

    3. Keeping up with costs. A guarantee is a good thing -- especially in retirement.

    Instead of relying on the interest generated from the principal of your investment portfolio, try to fund your monthly expenses from as much guaranteed income as possible. This could be from Social Security or a pension - sources that don't drop in value should the stock market crash.

    But with fears Social Security is running on empty and pensions hard to come by these days, there is a way to keep your income afloat, even if stocks drop.

    "If you own bonds that don't default and dividend stocks that pay income, even if a stock loses 30 percent of its value, you're still upset, but it won't change how you're living in that moment in time," said Rick Salus, senior vice president and investment officer at St. Louis-based Wells Fargo Advisors.

    Companies like utility Southern Company (SO) and Kimberly-Clark (KMB) actually raised its dividends during the 2008 recession, a time of unprecedented volatility and uncertainty.

     

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    Consumer Spending
    David Goldman/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer spending picked up a bit in July as households bought more automobiles, offering further evidence of strength in the economy that could keep the door open to a Federal Reserve interest rate hike this year.

    The Commerce Department said Friday consumer spending increased 0.3 percent after an upwardly revised 0.3 percent rise in June. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was previously reported to have gained 0.2 percent in June.

    Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer spending rising 0.4 percent last month.

    It was the latest report indicating momentum in the economy as it confronted recent global financial markets turbulence, sparked by concerns over a slowing Chinese economy, which has diminished the chances of an interest rate increase next month.

    New York Fed President William Dudley said this week that prospects of a September lift-off in the central bank's short-term interest rate "seems less compelling to me than it was a few weeks ago."

    Some economists, however, believe the U.S. central bank could still raise interest rates in September if financial markets settle down and the streak of fairly strong data continues.

    Economists say that underlying strength, also highlighted by a rebound in business spending, buoyant housing and labor markets, as well as bullish consumer confidence, gives the economy muscle to weather the fallout from the markets rout.

    U.S. Treasury debt prices were little changed on the data, while the dollar slipped against the euro and the yen. U.S. stock index futures pared losses.

    The fairly upbeat consumer spending report also suggested the economy maintained some of its vigor from the second quarter, when it expanded at a 3.7 percent annual rate.

    Last month, spending on long-lasting goods such as automobiles increased 1.1 percent, reversing June's 1.1 percent drop. Auto purchases accounted for about half of the increase. Outlays on services like utilities rose 0.2 percent.

    When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending rose 0.2 percent after being flat in June.

    Personal income increased 0.4 percent in July, rising by the same margin for a fourth straight month. Wages and salaries shot up 0.5 percent, the largest rise since November 2014, after advancing 0.2 percent in June.

    With income gains outpacing spending, the saving rate increased to 4.9 percent from 4.7 percent in June.

    Despite the steady increase in consumption, inflation remained muted. Inflation, which has persistently run below the Fed's 2 percent target, dominated the discussions at the Fed's July 28-29 policy meeting.

    A price index for consumer spending rose 0.1 percent, slowing from a 0.2 percent increase the prior month. In the 12 months through July, the personal consumption expenditures, or PCE, price index rose 0.3 percent for a second straight month.

    Excluding food and energy, prices edged up 0.1 percent for the fourth straight month. The so-called core PCE price index rose 1.2 percent in the 12 months through July, the smallest rise since March 2011. It increased 1.3 percent in June.

     

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    Inside A Best Buy Co. Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
    David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    There were plenty of winners and losers this week, with the leading consumer electronics retailer surprising the market with a quarter of growth and a floral delivery specialist wilting in its sales performance.

    Best Buy (BBY) -- Winner

    Shares of the consumer electronics retailer posted their largest single-day gain in nearly two years after posting better-than-expected quarterly results. Analysts were holding out for a 7 percent year-over-year slide in sales and an even larger drop in profitability. Best Buy came through with year-over-year growth on both ends of the income statement.

    Best Buy also announced that it would be expanding its presence as an Apple Watch retailer. It began selling Apple's (AAPL) smartwatch this summer at some of its stores, becoming the first national chain outside of Apple to stock the device. Best Buy will make it available at all of its stores by October.

    Stop-Loss Orders -- Loser

    Some financial advisers suggest that stock investors set up stop-loss orders, executing the automatic selling of a stock if it drops to a certain price. The purpose of the stop-loss is to limit downside during a market crash or correction, but those investors found out about the practice's shortcoming the hard way on Monday.

    When the market plunged at the open, the "flash crash" sent many stocks lower, cashing out many worrywarts with stop-loss orders at the very bottom of the trading day. It's not a coincidence that so many stocks hit lows that were round numbers. Disney (DIS) at $90, Baidu (BIDU) at $100 and Apple at $92 were likely stop-loss orders that tossed out those investors just before all three stocks came roaring back to life.

    Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) -- Winner

    They're hiring at Chipotle. The fast-growing burrito roller announced Monday that it will host its first-ever National Career Day on Sept. 9. All of its restaurants will interview as many as 60 potential employees at each location from 8 a.m. until the restaurants open for lunch at 11 a.m. Interested job seekers can sign up for an interview slot at NationalCareerDay.com.

    It may very well be little more than a publicity stunt, but announcing that it expects to add as many as 4,000 new employees to its existing workforce of 60,000 can't hurt the brand. Folks who associate Chipotle with tasty rice bowls and paying extra for guacamole can now view it as an active employer at a time when many chains are hesitant to take on new hires in this climate of escalating labor overhead.

    1-800-Flowers.com (FLWS) -- Loser

    Some bouquets don't always bloom. Shares of the floral arrangement delivery specialist slipped Thursday after it posted a quarterly loss and fell short of Wall Street's revenue forecasts. The guidance at 1-800-Flowers.com for the new fiscal year also finds its projected revenue falling short of where analysts were perched.

    1-800-Flowers.com had bad news on a day when the markets were rallying, but obviously the rally wasn't enough. Let's see if it can send itself a "Get Well Soon" bouquet.

    United Continental (UAL) and Activision Blizzard (ATVI) -- Winners

    The S&P 500 has two vacancies, and they will be filled by air carrier United Continental and video game giant Activision Blizzard. United has been flying high since merging with Continental in this climate of high fares and cheap jet fuel. Activision Blizzard is the PC and console gaming publisher behind the "World of Warcraft" and "Call of Duty" games.

    Getting added to the S&P 500 is a pretty big deal because of the many index funds that track the popular index. They will have to buy chunks of both stocks in the coming days, likely pushing the two blue chips even higher.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Activision Blizzard, Apple, Baidu, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Looking for a winner for your portfolio? Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    China Stock Markets Remain Volatile Amid Economy Fears
    Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesChinese day traders watch stock tickers at a local brokerage house Thursday in Beijing.
    By Kevin Yao

    The global stock market rout of the past week was sparked by concerns over a possible interest rate rise by the U.S. Federal Reserve and not by the devaluation of China's yuan currency, a senior Chinese central bank official told Reuters on Thursday.

    Yao Yudong, head of the bank's Research Institute of Finance and Banking, said the U.S. central bank should delay any rate hike to give fragile emerging market economies time to prepare.

    He said Beijing's decision to let the yuan fall in value against the dollar shouldn't make it a scapegoat for the sell-off.

    China's exchange rate reform had nothing to do with the global stock market volatility, it was mainly due to the upcoming U.S. Federal Reserve monetary policy move.

    "China's exchange rate reform had nothing to do with the global stock market volatility, it was mainly due to the upcoming U.S. Federal Reserve monetary policy move," Yao said.

    "We were wronged."

    Yao's comments, which came on the same day that state media issued commentaries defending China's policy making, show Beijing's sensitivity to suggestions it may have fumbled economic policy. The ruling Communist Party has drawn much of its legitimacy in past decades from fostering economic growth and raising incomes, and wants to be seen as a responsible player in the global economy.

    Many analysts, however, say a key factor roiling markets is worry China's economy might be slowing sharply despite Beijing's efforts. That could have a significant impact on global growth, hitting company earnings and reducing demand for commodities.

    Yao said China's economy remains on a sound footing, though some emerging market economies face a possible financial crisis in the years ahead stemming from liquidity stresses if the United States raises rates.

    "So we hope the Federal Reserve could further delay its interest rate rise, giving emerging markets ample time to prepare. The Fed should not only consider the U.S. economy, but should also consider the global economy, which is very fragile," he said in an exclusive interview.

    The Fed, which has been prepping investors for a possible rate hike, declined to comment.

    Fed policymakers acknowledge their actions can stir global markets, but argue they need to stay focused on growth at home.

    "This isn't about us. This is about developments abroad and I think what we have to assess is how those developments abroad potentially could impinge on us," New York Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley said on Wednesday as he acknowledged the market turmoil had made a U.S. rate hike in September "less compelling."

    Policy insiders have told Reuters that China has been so surprised by the global reaction to its yuan devaluation that it's likely to keep the currency on a tight leash in the near-term to head off any currency war that could spark a broader financial crisis.

    China had said the revamp in its foreign exchange regime that opened the gate for the yuan's sharp decline was an effort to let market forces play a greater role in setting the currency's value.

    Officials in Washington, who had long pressed Beijing to move toward a more market-determined exchange rate, greeted the shift with some scepticism and indicated they would watch to make sure it wasn't meant simply to prop up China's exports.

    Yao said the yuan is likely to see two-way moves in the near term and may resume its appreciation over time. "The [yuan] exchange rate will be basically stable with two-way volatility. We cannot rule out the possibility of yuan appreciation after 2-3 years."

    Still on Track for 7 Percent Annual Growth

    The surprise devaluation of nearly 2 percent on Aug. 11 stoked global concerns about slowing growth in the world's second-biggest economy, coming just days after poor trade data.

    But Yao shrugged off concerns about a possible 'hard landing' in China, saying growth was still underpinned by more resilient services and consumption. "China's economy is in good shape. I'm very confident full-year growth will reach 7 percent," he said.

    Many economists fear China may miss its 7 percent annual growth target as recent data showed the economy, which officially grew at 7 percent in the first half, has lost steam.

    China has plenty of policy room to cope with expected liquidity strains following any U.S. rate rise, Yao said, though he didn't explain why he still urged the Fed to delay any move.

    "China has sufficient policy room and adequate policy tools to respond," he said.

    The People's Bank of China cut interest rates Tuesday and lowered the amount of reserves that banks must hold for the second time in two months, ratcheting up support for a stumbling economy and a plunging stock market.

    The yuan's inclusion in the International Monetary Fund's currency basket, known as Special Drawing Rights, will help ease a shortage of liquidity globally, but may not happen for another 20 years due to China's sustained current account surplus, Yao said.

    "China's high savings rate means China cannot provide liquidity to the world via the current account right now," he said.

    -Jason Lange in Washington and Jonathan Spicer in New York contributed reporting.

     

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