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    Moment Of Silence In Honor Of 9/11 Victims Held At New York Stock Exchange
    Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesTraders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange stop for a moment of silence Friday, in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001.
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks rose Friday and the S&P 500 posted its biggest weekly gain since July as investors weighed whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next week.

    Energy shares dropped after Goldman Sachs (GS) cut its oil price forecast through next year.

    Eight of the 10 S&P 500 sectors closed higher, led by gains in utilities, which tend to rise as bond yields fall. The index ended up 0.8 percent, while 10-year note yields fell.

    It's really Fed watch. That's what traders are waiting for.

    Investors are awaiting next week's Federal Reserve meeting and news on whether it will raise rates for the first time in almost a decade.

    "It's really Fed watch. That's what traders are waiting for," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.

    "There's speculation the Fed might hold off, and if they do, I think we'll see stocks rally. But to us, it's not a question of if the Fed raises rates but when. It's going to happen."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 102.69 points, or 0.6 percent, to 16,433.09, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 8.76 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,961.05 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 26.09 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,822.34.

    For the week, the Dow was up 2.1 percent, the S&P was up 2.1 percent and the Nasdaq was up 3 percent.

    Rate Watch

    The Fed has said it will raise rates when it sees a sustained economic recovery, especially in the job market.

    The day's data signaled moderate economic growth and tame inflation. U.S. consumer sentiment dropped to its lowest level in a year in early September, while producer prices for August were flat.

    Oil prices fell after the Goldman Sachs forecast, which cited oversupply and concerns over China's economy. Goldman said crude oil could fall as low as $20 a barrel. ConocoPhillips (COP), down 2.2 percent at $47.36, was the biggest drag on the S&P 500.

    Stocks have been volatile since China devalued its currency in August amid concerns of sputtering growth in the world's second-largest economy. The S&P 500 has had moves of at least 1 percent in 11 sessions since Aug. 20.

     

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    USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Couple working in living room
    Getty ImagesYou should look back to review your spending and look ahead to make needed tweaks to money goals.
    By Kimberly Palmer

    With just a few months left until the end of the year, it's time to squeeze in some last-minute retirement savings, revisit financial goals from the beginning of the year and update your insurance accounts, among other tasks. U.S. News reached out to financial planners about the action steps you should take now to make sure your money is in tiptop shape for the new year. Here are their suggestions:

    1. Squeeze in more retirement savings. When it comes to maxing out your 401(k), you still have time to increase your savings rate into your employer-sponsored retirement accounts before the end of the year. For 2015, those under age 50 can contribute up to the maximum of $18,000, which is an increase of $500 over last year. For those age 50 and over, the maximum is an additional $6,000. Mary Beth Storjohann, certified financial planner in the San Diego area and founder of Workable Wealth, recommends checking your account to see how close you are to the maximum and to increase contributions accordingly. Another option, she says, is to contribute to a Roth IRA, which has a maximum of $5,500 for the year (and an extra $1,000 for those age 50 and over). "If you can't do the maximum, work to put as much as you can away," she says.

    2. Don't forget to check your accounts. Daniel Wrenne, a certified financial planner and founder of Wrenne Financial Planning in Lexington, Kentucky, says people often forget to check in on their retirement accounts, which are often housed in separate financial institutions than checking and savings accounts used for daily expenses. He points out that you might even need to pull out a calculator to make sure you're hitting your maximum contribution limits. "You'd think there'd be a box to check that says, 'Max it out,' but it requires a little bit of planning," he says. Another risk is maxing out too early in the year, which in some cases can mean earning less of your company's matching plan. He recommends a slow and steady approach, contributing the same percentage from each paycheck throughout the year.

    3. Consider a conversion. Ben Wacek, certified financial planner and founder of Wacek Financial Planning in Minneapolis, says anyone who has a lower income this year, perhaps because of a gap in employment, should consider converting money from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. That way, you'll pay taxes on that income during a year when your tax rate is lower than usual. The deadline for Roth conversions is Dec. 31, he adds, not April 15 like regular Roth IRA contributions. "It's a great chance to pay tax in the year that you're in a lower tax bracket," he says.

    4. Think big. Katie Brewer, certified financial planner and founder of Garland, Texas-based Your Richest Life, suggests stepping back and examining your overall financial situation. If you changed jobs, sold or bought a house, or expanded your family, you might need to add new insurance policies, adopt a more ambitious savings policy or rebalance your long-term investments. "Life changes almost always necessitate a review of your financial situation," she says.

    5. Give yourself assignments. Storjohann adds that after holding a money review with yourself, you can give yourself one assignment a week for the rest of the year. That could include creating a plan for paying off debt, reviewing investments or calculating your net worth. The weekly approach helps prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and also guarantees that you'll end the year on strong financial footing.

    6. Change up your goals. Eric Roberge, certified financial planner and founder of the firm Beyond Your Hammock in the Boston area, says he often finds that clients' goals have changed by the time fall rolls around. If you've already achieved your target for funding an emergency savings account, for example, then you can shift the excess savings into a more aggressively invested account to maximize returns. ​After one client reviewed his goals set earlier in the year, he realized he no longer wanted to be saving for a home, so he shifted his savings into other investments. "You might want to be putting that money toward something else," Roberge says. "If the goal is ​10 years down the road, then maybe shift some money into the stock market."

    7. Rebalance accounts. In light of the recent market volatility, now is a great time to rebalance your investments, suggests Kristi Sullivan, ​ a certified financial planner based in Denver. ​"Rebalancing means taking those assets that are above your target percentage and selling what you have too much of to buy what you have too little of," she says. "Professional money managers usually do this quarterly for clients, but once or twice per year will do the trick, too." If you're selling positions at a loss in a taxable account, then you can take advantage of a tax write-off for 2015, she adds.

    8. Look back at spending. Reviewing where your money has gone so far in the year will help you plan for next year, Brewer says. "Figure out if you need better systems in place, like a separate savings account for travel and vacations, or ​putting business expenses on a separate credit card," she says.

    9. Rein​ in kid-related expenses to prioritize college savings. If you have children, then you are probably familiar with the exorbitant expenses that can come with a new school year and new activities. Kevin Reardon, ​ president of Shakespeare Wealth Management in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, warns that many parents end up overspending on club sports in particular at the expense of college savings. He has spent thousands of dollars on his three children's athletic pursuits and questions the high school culture that encourages that kind of spending. "If I hadn't spent $25,000, that money could have gone elsewhere," he says.

    10. Watch monthly costs. If you haven't reviewed your cable and wireless bills recently, now is a good time to do so, suggests Andy Tate, a certified financial planner at Tate & Setterlund ​in Minneapolis. He calls his providers at least once a year to request a lower rate​ and saves money every time, he says. When he called his phone company, he got a new and cheaper data plan that still fit his needs. When he called his cable company, he mentioned a competitor's offer and received a matching offer. "They almost always are willing," he says.

    11. Dream of next summer's vacation. It might seem early, but planning for next year's summer vacation now can help ensure you have the funds to pay for it, says Jason Reiman, ​ a certified financial planner based in the Tucson, Arizona area. He adds that by encouraging clients to focus on such an enjoyable goal -- vacation -- it gives them more positive feelings around saving and budgeting.

    12. Save any surplus. Employees earning over $118,500 will get a boost in their paycheck toward the end of the year after they've maxed out their Social Security contributions for the year. "Instead of just consuming this 'bonus,' put it to work to increase your emergency reserves, pay down any consumer debt, fund a Roth IRA or set it aside for a vacation or holiday travel," suggests Charleston, South Carolina-based Tim Maurer, ​director of personal finance for the BAM Alliance, a community of investors and advisers, and author of the forthcoming book, "Simple Money."

    13. Contribute to a 529 account. Evan Beach, ​ a certified financial planner and wealth manager at Campbell Wealth Management in Alexandria, Virginia, suggests contributing to a 529 college savings plan to help pay for children's or grandchildren's future educations. He points out that for grandparents, the annual gift limit of $14,000 a child can actually​ be combined up to five years in advance. That means you can put $70,000 in a 529 account in one year without triggering federal gift taxes. That way, the money gets into the market more quickly.

    14. Check your emergency fund. Artie Green, ​ a certified financial planner at Cognizant Wealth Advisors in Palo Alto, California, encourages clients to have at least three to six months' worth of expenses in the bank and to adjust the amount based on family size and current savings. "It should be kept in very liquid and very safe investments," he says.

    15. Review beneficiaries. Tate says clients often forget to update their employer benefits after marriage or other major life events. "It's good to align beneficiary designations with your estate planning documents," he says. Similarly, he suggests reviewing your current insurance coverage to make sure you're not overpaying for coverage you no longer need (or are underinsured because you've acquired new assets).

    16. Get more insurance. On the same note, Maurer recommends making sure you have enough auto coverage and checking that your liability limits are sufficient. Some people, especially those with significant assets, might want to also take out an umbrella liability policy for more coverage. Disability insurance is also an important category to review to make sure you and your family would be protected in the event of a disability interfering with your ability to work.

    17. Organize your taxes. Sure, April 15 is still a long way off, but Brewer says if you start collecting information now, including any relevant receipts, then it will be much easier to submit your taxes early in the new year -- and get any refund earlier, too.

    18. Take advantage of tax credits. Also with taxes in mind, Charlotte Dougherty, ​a certified financial planner based in Cincinnati, recommends using your credit card to purchase items in December that might be tax deductible, even if you'll pay the bill in 2016.​ "If you are able to charge some deductible expenses on your credit card prior to Dec. 31, then it can generate deductions for this year," she says. Examples of deductibles or tax credits include investments in energy-efficient home improvements or certain school expenses ​. "Taxes are something that many of us don't want to think about, but you can get a lot by paying a little more attention to your tax return," she says.

    19. Make donations. Mitchell Kraus, ​ a certified financial planner at Capital Intelligence Associates in Santa Monica, California, encourages clients to finalize their charitable plans this fall and make contributions by Dec. 31 so it counts toward your 2015 contributions for tax purposes​. Charitable giving can also be a great way to teach children about the value of giving back, he adds.

    In the spirit of giving back, Lynne Strang, a Washington-based author who used to work in the financial services industry, says that as a result of her and her family's love of reading, they have a lot of books around the house. "I usually donate some of them to a public library during the last quarter of the year, which provides a charitable donation and more room on our shelves."

    20. Make preventive care appointments. You have until March 2016 to spend any remaining money in your health care flexible spending account, says Pamela Capalad, ​certified financial planner and founder of financial planning firm​ Brunch & Budget in Brooklyn. She suggests replacing your contact lenses​, as well as making any preventive care appointments you need.

    Kimberly Palmer is a senior editor for U.S. News Money. She is the author of the new book, "The Economy of You." You can follow her on Twitter @alphaconsumer, circle her on Google Plus or email her at kpalmer@usnews.com.

     

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    Expectant and excited parents!
    Getty Images
    By Rebecca Reisner

    It goes without saying that sometimes life, well, happens.

    It could be that you're joyfully expecting the birth of your first baby, or reeling from something unexpected (and less happy), like losing your job.

    Perhaps it's simply that you've moved onto a new phase in life -- be it that you're becoming an empty-nester or inching ever closer to retirement.

    Whatever it is, big life changes can bring on the need for equally significant financial adjustments.

    Once you've had time to process what's coming, it's natural to begin thinking about all of the money moves you have (and haven't yet) made to date that could help set you up for success in this new chapter of life.

    Do you have enough in savings? Should you consider buying a bigger -- or smaller -- house? Is it time to sit down with a financial pro and review your investment portfolio?

    To help you navigate some of the most significant life-changing moments, we spoke to certified financial planners for their thoughts on how you may want to reboot your finances for what's to come.

    Life Changer No. 1: You're Expecting a Baby

    Considering that the average cost to raise a child now clocks in at over $245,000, it's safe to say that this milestone tops our list of moments in life when your finances could probably use a reboot.

    Step 1: If you haven't already started estate planning, and named a guardian for your baby, now's the time.

    "You don't want your child to end up a ward of the state if you [and your partner] should die," says Michael Goldman, a certified financial planner and founder of Goldman Financial Planning in Falmouth, Maine.

    And while we're on the topic, you should also give thought to life insurance, which can help take care of your child should something unforeseen happen to you. A policy that's active and in good standing can make up for your lost income, as well as help provide for your family's future living and educational expenses.

    Step 2: Your next new-parent to-do is to consider starting a college fund when your little one is still in diapers.

    You heard right. That early.

    According to FinAid, if you start socking away for college with the birth of a child, the money saved during that first year could be worth about five times as much (assuming a 10% return) than if you were to begin saving the year before your kid heads to college.

    Similar to a 401(k), a 529 college savings account enables you to funnel up to $14,000 a year, per parent, into a tax-deferred account. And although you can't deduct the contribution from your federal taxes, you won't owe taxes on the growth -- as long as it's used for qualified educational expenses.

    Life Changer No. 2: You Nab a New Job -- or Lose One

    If you're like many people riding the high of scoring a new, higher-paying gig, your first inclination may be to book a trip to Rio or upgrade your wheels.

    And that's exactly why now's a prime time to take another look at your investment game plan before that first fatter paycheck hits your checking account.

    "It's actually an ideal time to raise your savings because you won't even notice it," adds certified financial planner Chuck Roberts, founder and CEO of Financial Freedom Planners in Richmond, Virginia.

    Step 1: Aim to create a plan that enables you to use 10 percent of your extra income for indulgences -- and earmark the rest for paying off debt, padding your emergency savings, and investing for the future, suggests Goldman.

    And be sure to also think about new I.R.S. implications, particularly if your salary now bumps you into a different tax bracket.

    For example, you can consider contributing a greater portion of your paycheck into your 401(k) plan, especially if you're eligible to receive an employer match.

    "The 401(k) max is $18,000 for the year," Roberts says. "And the truth is that most people aren't maxing it out."

    Step 2: If you're planning for a shorter-term goal -- like buying a house -- consider funneling some of your increased earnings into a traditional savings account designated specifically for that financial goal.

    If you have a longer time horizon of at least five years, you can also consider investing in a high-quality, higher-yield mutual fund or an exchange-traded fund, or ETF.

    But keep in mind that other financial priorities should come first -- such as building up a healthy rainy day fund of ideally six months' worth of your take-home pay.

    While you-and your kids-can take out loans to finance everything from college to a home, you can't take out a loan to finance your golden years.

    Bottom line: Your employment situation could change at any time, says Goldman, so don't get too used to living on that plum raise.

    To that point, if you do find yourself suddenly unemployed, experts say that it doesn't necessarily signal a time for drastic action.

    "If you've done your job in regard to having a sufficient emergency fund, you may not need to change your investment strategy -- at least initially," Roberts says.

    For example, if you receive a severance package, Roberts suggests keeping that money in liquid form until you find new employment. "Then when things get back to normal, you can focus on investing as you did before the job loss," he adds.

    This approach helps buffer you in the event that you burn through your emergency funds because it takes longer than you anticipated to secure a new gig.

    Life Changer No. 3: You Become an Empty Nester

    Whether you have one child or several, sending your grown kid off into the world can be an emotionally charged time -- so it's not surprising that personal finances can be the last thing on Mom and Dad's mind.

    But the minute your kids are on firm financial footing as adults, you should consider taking stock of your own money situation -- particularly what you might need to do to ramp up saving for retirement.

    Step 1: "At this point in their lives, people should start catching up on their savings," Goldman says.

    So in addition to ramping up your 401(k) contributions, says Goldman, you should consider putting money into a Roth IRA, if you're eligible.

    A Roth differs from a traditional IRA in that you pay taxes upfront at today's tax rates. In return, you don't have to pay taxes on your investment earnings when you withdraw the funds at retirement.

    But there are specific rules and income limits for opening a Roth, so be sure to do your research first. If and when you do become eligible, you can also consider doing a Roth conversion from a traditional IRA, if you've held the funds in a non-deductible IRA for a year.

    Step 2: While it may be tempting to funnel all of your money into retirement savings the moment junior nabs his first post-college gig, it might not be your best bet just yet.

    Translation: You don't want to get overconfident about your child's independence.

    "After their college years, your kids may need more help than just a roll of quarters for laundry, so you may want to keep some of your assets available," says Sarah Maskill, a certified financial planner and founder of Financial Answers in Somers, Connecticut.

    Just remember this one golden rule of financial planning: While you -- and your kids -- can take out loans to finance everything from college to a new home, you can't take out a loan to finance your golden years.

    Life Changer No. 4: You Cycle Into the 'Sandwich Generation'

    According to a Pew Research Center study on the sandwich generation, about 15 percent of adults between the ages of 40 and 59 find themselves having to provide support to an aging parent and a minor child -- at the same time.

    In other words, they've joined what's often referred to as the sandwich generation -- an unenviable membership that can take a toll on your finances.

    Step 1: "If you are indeed supporting both sides, you may need to build up your emergency fund," Roberts says.

    So, maybe instead of having three to six months of net take-home pay saved up, you have nine.

    And as tempting as it may be to dip into your retirement nest egg to help pay for eldercare expenses as they crop up, resist the urge and find time to talk to a financial pro before you make any such moves.

    Step 2: It's also important to think about what may need to be done to safeguard your parents' finances -- to help keep them from putting undue strain on yours.

    "It's best to have conversations with your parents early, when everyone is still healthy," Goldman says.

    So do a deep dive into their finances as a team, making sure to compile an inventory of all your parents' bank, retirement and investment accounts -- along with the necessary passwords.

    It's also helpful to broach executorship decisions, end-of-life wishes and, perhaps most important, long-term care plans.

    Long-term care insurance, says Goldman, can help pay for such costly eldercare expenses as regular home visits from a nurse.

    Another key to-do? Figure out who has power of attorney, adds Goldman, especially if your parents are contending with Alzheimer's or dementia.

    Life Changer No. 5: You're Getting Close to Retirement

    Congratulations! According to the calendar, you are just a few years out from calling it quits -- and doing that daily commute for the last time.

    To help protect yourself from market volatility, dial down the aggression in your portfolio by rebalancing your asset mix to focus on less volatile investments.

    But in order to help set yourself up for a successful new chapter of life in your golden years, you may want to consider making some fine-tune adjustments to your investment strategy.

    Step 1: You're now at a stage when you may not have time to wait for the market to recover from downward swings.

    So to help protect yourself from market volatility, dial down the aggression in your portfolio by rebalancing your asset mix to focus on less volatile investments.

    Step 2: It's also time to start thinking about when you or you and your spouse will start taking advantage of your Social Security benefits -- ideally in conjunction with a financial professional.

    It all depends on your individual financial situation as you near retirement, but you may opt for anywhere between the ages of 62 and 70.

    "There is strategy as far as coordinating with the benefits of a spouse, and there are thousands of permutations on what is the best thing for you to do," Goldman says.

    To help keep track of your money, and get an estimate of future benefits payouts, you can sign up for a My Social Security account.

    Life can pose all sorts of ups and downs -- some welcome and others less so -- but if you thoughtfully navigate these reboots, you can help keep your finances on track.

     

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    Pending Sales Of Previously Owned U.S. Homes Rises
    Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Ellen Chang

    NEW YORK -- The housing market has been rebounding and the increased competition is leaving the number of available homes scarce in many cities.

    Home prices also have risen compared to last year as the number of homes sold rose in all parts of the country except for the Midwest, according to a recent report from PNC, the Pittsburgh-based financial institution. The median sale price for an existing single-family home was $288,300 in July, up from $279,700 in June.

    The housing market continues to gradually recover from the Great Recession, supporting economic growth.

    "The housing market continues to gradually recover from the Great Recession, supporting economic growth," Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC. "Stronger demand and good affordability are supporting home sales and pushing up house prices."

    Many economists are predicting that home prices will continue to increase this year. PNC said prices will rise by 3.7 percent in 2015 and 2.7 percent in 2016, down from 6.6 percent in 2014.

    "This year we [saw] inventory continue to grow in August and while overall demand is strong, the trend in median days on market is suggesting that the market is finding more of a balance," said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of Realtor.com, the San Jose, California, real estate service company. "This bodes well for would-be buyers who have been discouraged by the inability to find a home to buy this spring and summer."

    Consumers who are still eager to purchase a home still have many opportunities left to negotiate a deal within their price range. While it is tougher to buy a house in a tight market, here are some tips to give homebuyers a head start.

    Looking for a house in the fall is generally a better bet. Even though there are fewer homes on the market right now, there are "definitely less buyers, so there's less competition," said Mark Lesses, a broker with Coldwell Banker in Lexington, Massachusetts.

    Buying a Townhouse

    Opting to buy smaller houses such as a townhouse might give you more possibilities. Townhomes tend to be more affordable than single family houses, he said.

    "There will be people living on one or both sides of you, leading to a more congested living experience," Lesses said. "In addition, you don't have control over what you can do to the exterior of your home. For example, you usually can't garden or landscape. If you can, it's very limited and restrictive."

    Moving to the Suburbs

    If commuting to work daily doesn't pose itself as a stressful issue, then buying a house in the suburbs could make sense.

    "There are quality of life issues on both sides of this conversation," he said. "It's more about lifestyle. If you work downtown and live in the city, you're going to have a shorter commute, but your experience of living in the city can be more stimulating to you."

    Having a larger yard is more appealing to many people, so living in the suburbs isn't only more affordable, it is also practical, said Lesses.

    Look for pockets in various neighborhoods that are starting to gentrify because fewer people will be putting in offers.

    "I always recommend buyers look in fringe or up and coming areas of a town because common sense would say that if they are on the verge of becoming more popular and in demand, prices will strengthen and increase down the road," said Monica Webster, a licensed real estate salesperson at William Raveis in New York City and Greenwich, Connecticut.

    Or look for the least expensive property in a more expensive neighborhood, said James Simpson, CEO of SQFT, a Boulder, Colorado-based company that offers an app that allows sellers to create home listings on hundreds of real estate sites.

    "Buy a place you can afford, so that if the market does correct, you can ride it out," he said. "It always comes back."

    Higher Down Payment

    Being able to afford a higher down payment for a house that is on the top of your list means you might beat out offers from potential buyers who have less savings.

    Having all of your savings tied up on your house can prove to be an issue if the market hits a downturn or you lose your job, Lesses said.

    That's why it's important to get your finances in order.

    Obtain a pre-certified or pre-approved mortgage and not just a pre-qualification, because it shortens the approval process, said Webster. A pre-certified mortgage means there is a written commitment from a lender who has verified your income and creditworthiness.

    "Most lenders now offer a full pre-approval in which you go through the whole underwriting process ahead of time," said Bill Golden, a real estate agent with RE/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside. "When you find the right house, the only thing that will need to be done is the appraisal. That will also give you a leg up in the eyes of a seller."

    While a pre-qualification is helpful, it is just an estimate on whether a consumer would likely be able to obtain credit. If you are sure this is the right home for you, aim to put the first offer in, because "time delays allow other buyers to enter the process," she said.

    Potential homebuyers also need to determine what they can afford to pay monthly, because the tax savings from a mortgage means they could increase their current offer.

    "When homes are selling over the asking price, many people are afraid to come in with a stronger offer because they haven't done the actual math of what owning a particular home will cost," said Sean Nagy, executive vice president of operations for The Money Source, Melville, New York mortgage loan servicer. "Taking the extra 30 minutes to lookup the property tax rate can mean the difference between putting an offer in at the asking price or actually getting the house by putting in an offer $10,000 over the asking price."

    Renters Who Wait Can Benefit

    Buying a house during a tight market could prove to be an expensive endeavor. Staying out of the market might be a good option, because housing prices could level off and decline, said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, New York.

    "Sometimes it is cheaper to rent," he said. "Don't try to time the real estate market. Look at your needs and what you could afford, and consider if it is a good choice."

    The pent-up demand has made buying a home to be a challenging process, lengthening the "selling season."

    "With such low inventory, homes are being snatched up the day they come on the market or before, and most have multiple offers," said Golden. "During the winter holidays, you may have less competition, as people tend to be distracted with other things."

    A competitive real estate market dictates that buyers must "get out of their comfort zone" such as being flexible with the closing date, said Jeremy Swillinger, an agent with Level Group, a New York City-based brokerage firm.

    "I believe that purchasing a home in a tight market is part art and part science and is really about doing whatever possible to find the right balance that makes the sale terms attractive on both sides," he said.

     

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    Learning How to Pay Off Debt

    By Karla Bowsher

    Consumer debt reached a new high in July -- and economists say it's a good sign.

    Borrowing by consumers increased by $19.1 billion in July to reach a total of $3.45 trillion, according to the latest monthly report from the Federal Reserve, which was released this week.

    The increase came from auto and student loans (up $14.8 billion) and consumer credit card debt ($4.3 billion). The Fed's credit reports don't include loans that are secured with real estate, such as mortgages and home equity loans.

    While debt is generally bad news for personal finances, it reflects good news about the economy, CBS MoneyWatch reports:

    Economists believe strong job gains will support increased borrowing and consumer spending, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of economic activity.

    During the first quarter of this year, the economy grew by only 0.6 percent, according to CBS. During the second quarter, however, it grew by 3.7 percent, and economists believe growth will average about 3 percent in the third and fourth quarters of 2015.

    As we reported this week, 173,000 jobs were added to the economy in August and 245,000 jobs were added in July, according to the latest unemployment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That brought the jobless rate down to 5.1 percent -- the lowest it's been since 2008 -- and the BLS expects job growth to continue.

    If you're among the many Americans carrying debt, be sure to visit the Money Talks News Solutions Center, where you can find help with credit card, student loan and tax debts as well as several types of loans.

    How do you feel about the record increase in consumer borrowing in the Fed's latest report? Let us know what you think in a comment below or on our Facebook page.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!

     

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    A Home to Retire In

    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    Nick Pronovich has three words for anyone thinking about retirement: "Don't do it."

    The 74-year-old found himself forced into an early retirement in 2001 when his job was eliminated as a result of that year's recession. He spent the next year doing freelance work and trying to find a new position but soon learned it was hard for someone pushing age 60 to compete with 30-something job applicants. In 2002, after a career in advertising that spanned 40 years, Pronovich hung up his hat for good and decided to make his retirement permanent.

    What the New Normal for Retirement Looks Like
    Courtesy: Allan TannenbaumFrom left to right: James Weldon, Nick Pronovich and Gunar Skillins, co-owners of Dancing Moon Coffee.
    Years went by, but retirement never seemed to agree with Pronovich. "There was always a part of me that really missed [work]," he says. "I had a feeling that there was something missing."

    So this year, Pronovich and two friends launched Dancing Moon Coffee, a company selling coffee beans on Amazon.com. He no longer considers himself retired and says it's better that way. "I don't know anyone who's really happily retired," he says.

    Pronovich and his friends are examples of the new normal that's emerging for our nation's seniors. No longer are older Americans quitting their jobs by age 65 and riding off quietly into the sunset. Instead, they are starting businesses, writing books and cycling across states.

    Not Retirement, a New Life Stage

    Carey Kyler, vice president of consumer experience and strategy at AARP's Life Reimagined, says her group's research points to older Americans, particularly those between ages 45 and 65, swapping out traditional retirement for a new life stage. According to Kyler, this time in a person's life is when they may embrace their passions, explore new ideas and set out on adventures they never would have attempted in their younger years.

    "This is a life stage generations before didn't have," Kyler says. "The boomers and the Gen-Xers will have to be very creative about what they do with it."

    Getting creative is exactly what Harry Edelson, 82, has done. Like Pronovich, he doesn't consider himself retired and sees no reason to stop working. "Nothing has changed from age 65 to 82," Edelson says. "For me, getting old is a mistake."

    While Edelson can't stop his chronological age from advancing, he says being old is a state of mind he refuses to adopt. "I play softball every Sunday with people in their 20s through 40s," he says from his summer home in Boothbay, Maine. "I climbed a small mountain here in Maine yesterday."

    After a long career as a financial analyst working for major firms on Wall Street, Edelson founded Edelson Technology Partners and moved into self-employment. Today, he provides investment services, travels the country as a speaker and will be publishing a book -- "Positivity: How to be Happier, Healthier, Smarter, and More Prosperous" -- this fall.

    Edelson feels strongly that seniors who lay low during their later years are missing out. "I would admit it is difficult to get a job as [people] get older, but everyone can get a hobby," he says. "There's so much to do nowadays; it would be a shame to think I'm going to pack up and just play golf every day."

    Forget the Stereotypes of Retirement

    Even seniors who have taken a more traditional approach to retirement say it's not what you might think, and it's definitely not a time to be lazily puttering around the house.

    "It seems like we're busy from sunup to sundown," says Don Eckler, a 78-year old retiree in Portland, Oregon.

    What the New Normal for Retirement Looks Like
    Courtesy: Michael MoralesRetirement hasn't slowed down Don Eckler and his wife Elsie.
    Eckler left the U.S. Coast Guard in 1976 at age 38 and considers that his retirement year. Then he and his wife Elsie met in the South Pacific while working with the Peace Corps and later settled in Hawaii for 30 years. In 2009, they decided their advancing age meant it may be smarter to move to the mainland where they could more easily get any care they needed.

    The couple selected the Rose Villa retirement community and say they have seen a shift in attitudes among retirees since they arrived. "When we first came in, [it seemed] people came here to waste away their lives slowly," Eckler says, "but our group, now in our 70s, is very active."

    Rose Villa provides facilities such as a wood shop and arts studio, and Eckler enjoys trying his hand at Chinese brush painting, canoeing and other pursuits organized by the community. He and his wife also spend plenty of time exploring the Pacific Northwest. He participated in the Cycle Oregon ride, a seven-day event in which bicyclists pedal their way across the state, and the couple are members of the American Association for Nude Recreation as well.

    "We have a mentality in this age where you can do whatever you want without being looked down upon," Eckler says, explaining that he's never felt as though certain activities were off-limits because of his age.

    Seniors: Having the Time of Our Lives

    Most importantly, seniors say retirement is fun. Millennials might wonder what older Americans do with all their free time, but those who are in the thick of this life stage say they've been given the opportunity to do things they couldn't during their younger years.

    "We started talking about 'couldn't we do something that could be fun?'" says 67-year-old James Weldon, a partner with Pronovich in Dancing Moon Coffee Co. "If it weren't fun, I'm not sure we'd want to do it."

    "Fun" is a word used repeatedly by other seniors as well. "I love getting up every morning," Edelson says. "[My work] is great fun."

    Whether working or playing, today's seniors are embracing their later years as a time to shine. As Kyler says, "Recognize that age doesn't limit abilities; it can expand your options."

     

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    Denver, Colorado - Mariel West, 26, who is pregnant with her first child, shops for baby clothes at a resale shop.
    Jim West/Alamy
    By Kentin Waits

    In the hierarchy of frugal strategies, buying secondhand has always been one of my favorites.

    I love the idea of dodging depreciation on everything from furniture to sweaters, and from dishes to tools.

    So how can you buy better and smarter inside that bastion of frugality, the humble thrift store? It's half art and half sport -- and with the right frame of mind, you can master the game.

    After 25 years of avid thrifting -- with the bargains and bruises to prove it -- here are my top five strategies to land sweeter deals at any thrift shop:

    1. Understand that each store is unique. If you're an experienced thrift shopper, you know that every secondhand store has its own distinct personality. Some seem to get better furniture, others pull in a better selection of books.

    Respect and capitalize on the vibe of each store and use it to inform your shopping strategy.

    2. Go with the flow. Understanding your local thrift and secondhand market is key to scoring the best items before anyone else.

    Which days of the week do folks in your area typically have yard sales? Look for an influx of unsold yard sale items to hit the shelves a day or two after those sales close.

    Also, pay special attention to larger stores' shipment and processing schedules. Learning which days and times your favorite thrift stores restock with fresh donations can keep you one step ahead of the competition.

    3. Develop primary and secondary shopping patterns. Popular secondhand stores can be a bit chaotic. From the die-hard shoppers on a mission to merchandise in a constant state of disarray, thrift stores are an exercise in shopping endurance.

    To keep my head about me, I like to give each store a quick once-over the moment I arrive. This primary search is my chance to gauge the general quality of the merchandise and see if there are any obvious treasures waiting to be plucked.

    Once the primary search is over, I can relax and go deeper into each section of the store that interests me. During this secondary search, I focus on individual items. I thumb through books, try on a coat or two, and compare prices. Here, the goal is to get granular and sift efficiently through the junk to find the gems.

    Admittedly, I probably think about my strategy far more than the average thrifter. But the primary and secondary shopping approach takes a lot of the stress out of my thrifting experience. Shoppers who don't pace themselves in this way tend to get overwhelmed.

    4. Shop for tomorrow ... every day. It's nearly impossible to find what you need at a thrift store on demand. Unlike department stores, the inventory in secondhand stores is inconsistent, unpredictable and completely random.

    If your kid needs a white oxford shirt with a 15½-inch neck and 32-inch sleeves by tomorrow morning, you'd better beat a hasty path to Target. But if you know a week or two in advance, it's entirely possible to find the perfect shirt for $3.

    That's why successful thrifting requires planning ahead and predicting with some level of accuracy what you and your family will need next month, next school year and next summer. Doing so ensures that the bargains you score today will be put to good use tomorrow.

    5. Check and double-check for quality. Intoxicated by the heady mix of a finder's high and bargain prices, it's easy to gloss over an item's flaws. Don't let that happen.

    Most thrift stores don't allow returns or refunds, so unless you're a whiz with a sewing machine or a stain stick, pay attention to such details as split seams, missing buttons, stuck zippers or discoloration on clothing. Likewise, understand your handyman limitations on furniture, appliances, bicycles and other items.

    Even the best bargain sours if it's left to languish as an unfinished project on a to-do list. Focus on items in good, serviceable condition, or those with only minor defects that you'll have the time, skill and motivation to address yourself.

    What's your best thrift store find? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!


    Stylish Ways to Dress for Less

     

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    pumping gas at gas pump....
    Shutterstock
    By David Henry

    The average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States fell 27 cents in the past three weeks as refiners and retailers gave up some of their profits margins to sell more fuel, according to the Lundberg survey released Sunday.

    Regular grade gasoline fell to $2.44 a gallon in the Sept. 11 survey from $2.71 on Aug. 21, when the previous survey was taken before the Labor Day holiday.

    The decline for consumers came as refiners and retailers passed along earlier decreases in crude oil prices, Lundberg said. Increases in gasoline supply across the country and profit margins that Lundberg called "healthy" gave the refiners and retailers leeway to take pump prices down.

    Consumers are winners at this point. It is a big historical discount to last year.

    Compared with one year ago, the $2.44 average price was lower by $1.02 a gallon.

    "Consumers are winners at this point," survey publisher Trilby Lundberg said. "It is a big historical discount to last year."

    The latest decline came despite crude oil prices having gone up between surveys, she said.

    Gas prices could slip another 4 to 10 cents in coming weeks, as long as crude prices do not surge, Lundberg said. "The price trend is probably still down from here."

    Production costs for many refiners across the country should go lower because many will see anti-smog regulations ease on Sept. 15 allowing them to operate in the winter with higher vapor pressures than in the summer, she said.

    Drivers in Indianapolis saw one of the biggest declines in the last three weeks in the survey area, which covers the 48 contiguous states. Gas prices there fell 73 cents to $2.13 a gallon as BP's (BP) Whiting, Indiana, refinery came back online following repairs, Lundberg said.

    The lowest average price, as in the previous survey, was in Charleston, South Carolina, and the highest was again in Los Angeles. The latest prices in Charleston were $1.94, compared with $3.31 in Los Angeles.

     

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    Wall street, New York, USA.
    Alamy
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    Vitae Pharmaceuticals (VTAE) -- Up 88 percent last week

    The market's biggest gainer last week was a biotech company that got some good news on an early-stage clinical trial. Vitae's VTP-43742 is an inhibitor being developed to treat a wide range of autoimmune disorders that could potentially include psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and irritable bowel disease.

    The test is still in the first of three clinical trial phases, and as any biotech investor knows, things can always fall apart in later trial stages. However, with so much riding on the potential treatment, it isn't a surprise to see the stock take off after an upbeat test -- just as it could give it all away and then some if things don't go well in the next phase.

    Dave & Buster's (PLAY) -- Up 16 percent last week

    Shares of Dave & Buster's hit the jackpot after the chain of "eatertainment" restaurants posted blowout quarterly results. Comparable-restaurant sales soared 11 percent since a year earlier, and the strong showing finds it boosting its guidance for all of 2015.

    Dave & Buster's went public at $16 late last year, and it has gone on to soar 167 percent. It hit another new high last week.

    JinkoSolar (JKS) -- Up 13 percent last week

    Solar energy stocks tend to run hot and cold, but JinkoSolar came through with a bright week, posting double-digit gains. The provider of solar cells, modules and other related solutions introduced a new line of photovoltaic modules with integrated single-chip electronic optimization. JinkoSolar also took out a credit line with a major Chinese bank, arming itself with the means to ramp up production.

    Cherokee Global Brands (CHKE) -- Down 42 percent last week

    Sometimes you miss the Target (TGT) in more ways than one. Brand marketer Cherokee posted year-over-year declines at both ends of the income statement in its latest quarter, but the real dagger was the revelation that Target won't be renewing its license of the Cherokee brands in the U.S. when it expires in early 2017.

    That's a pretty big deal, since most shoppers of Cherokee-branded apparel associate the brand with the cheap-chic retailer. This will end a licensing relationship -- and royalty-generating stream for Cherokee -- that has lasted for roughly two decades. Target also has a licensing agreement with Cherokee for the Liz Lange brand and that remains in place at this time.

    Mattress Firm (MFRM) -- Down 22 percent last week

    It was hard for Mattress Firm investors to get any sleep after a poorly received financial report. The retailer of bedding products may have seen sales soar 61 percent in its latest fiscal quarter since the prior year, but that is largely the handiwork of sector consolidation in a highly fragmented niche. Mattress Firm loves to gobble up smaller, regional mattress chains. It's now up to 2,223 stores under its belt. Comparable-store sales were positive, but up a modest 2.8 percent.

    Mattress Firm's operating margins declined, with adjusted earnings ultimately falling short of analyst forecasts. Mattress Firm is lowering its earnings guidance for the entire fiscal year. It's also discontinuing its Mattress Pro concept.

    Barnes & Noble (BKS) -- Down 21 percent last week

    The last major retail bookseller turned into a hard read for its shareholders after posting disappointing quarterly results. Sales at Barnes & Noble's namesake stores and its Nook e-book operations slipped 3 percent since the prior year to clock in at $994.3 million. That was less than what analysts were expecting.

    Sales may have risen at the individual store level -- new releases by Harper Lee and E.L. James will do that -- but store closures, a surprising drop in online sales and the Nook's continual fade weighed on results. Barnes & Noble spun off its college bookstore business last month and that's rough since it was the only segment of Barnes & Noble to post year-over-year growth for the period.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Barnes & Noble and recommends Dave & Buster's Entertainment. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Apple Unveils New Versions Of iPhone 6, Apple TV
    Stephen Lam/Getty Images
    By Julia Love

    Apple (AAPL) said Monday that advance orders of its new iPhones were on pace to beat the 10 million units the previous versions logged in their first weekend last year, a feat that analysts attributed to the inclusion of sales from China.

    The Chinese debut of the prior models, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, was delayed last year as the company awaited approval from regulators. Many analysts say China is poised to overtake the United States as Apple's biggest market.

    Searching for signs of whether Apple can top its 2014 performance, investors were initially encouraged by the company's remarks but later tempered their enthusiasm. Apple shares were up 0.7 percent in afternoon trading after rising as much as 2.3 percent earlier in the session.

    Apple didn't disclose the specific number of advance orders it received for the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. Analysts had expected about 4.5 million for the first 24 hours, compared with 4 million during the first day last year.

    Apple began taking preorders on Saturday for the phones, which will begin shipping Sept. 25.

    The company said it was working to catch up to demand for the iPhone 6S Plus, the larger of the two new phones, which exceeded its forecasts for the preorder period.

    Will these phones have the same staying power as the iPhone 6? It's still going to be a challenge.

    "Preorders this weekend were very strong around the world," Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said in a statement. After shattering sales records last year with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple has been dogged by questions of whether it can sustain the momentum this year.

    BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis said the company had always enjoyed a burst of sales of new phones from die-hard fans and customers who are due for an upgrade.

    "Will these phones have the same staying power as the iPhone 6?" he asked. "It's still going to be a challenge."

    The exclusion of the Chinese market last year set a low bar Apple to clear with preorders this year, he added.

    However, John Jackson of IDC said the 6S and 6S Plus' strong early performance dampened concerns on Wall Street.

    "Apple has this track record of outperforming its own outperformance, but the iPhone 6 looks like an extraordinarily tough act to follow," he said. "The fact that they are fast out of the gate with this refresh is a very encouraging sign."

    FBR Capital Markets senior analyst Daniel Ives said he was encouraged by the response in China, where Apple's website showed particularly long wait times for the phones.

    "It shows that they are off to a white-hot start, with China really being front and center as a main driver of initial demand," he said.

    After last year's redesign, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus feature more modest updates, such as improved cameras and 3D touch, a display technology that responds according to how hard users press their screens. But Apple executives have stated that only a fraction of users have upgraded to the iPhone 6, suggesting the company has ample room to grow.

    Last week Apple announced the phones, as well as a new TV set-top box that responds to voice commands, but the new products underwhelmed many social media commentators and investors.

    Apple relies heavily on the sale of its flagship iPhones, which generated nearly two-thirds of its revenue in the latest quarter.

     

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    Federal Reserve Yellen
    Manuel Balce Ceneta/APFederal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen
    By John Mason

    NEW YORK -- It's unbelievable, the position that the Federal Reserve is in right now.

    As the markets wait for the results of the U.S. central bank's policy setting meeting this week, there has been a "destabilizing period of uncertainty over the Fed's intentions" and "weeks of mixed signals from the central bank," according to an article Sunday in the Financial Times.

    This situation calls into question Fed Chair Janet Yellen's leadership and highlights the need for the Fed to get its act together.

    True, some of the current uncertainty and complexity in the global economy is due to the behavior of China and other emerging-market nations. But the Federal Reserve has been a big contributor, too, with its three rounds of quantitative easing. And the Fed's attempts to provide financial markets with "forward guidance" have been a disaster.

    A decision to raise short-term interest rates has been on the Fed's menu since it ceased its quantitative easing programs last October. The Fed was going to start raising short-term rates in the first quarter of this year. Then it was going to raise them in June. Then, for sure, in September. As each meeting approached, the noise surrounding the possible increase got louder and louder, and financial markets became more and more volatile.

    The fear of many analysts is that a move by the Fed in current conditions will result in even more volatility. The chief economist at the World Bank has even said that a move on interest rates by the Fed could trigger "panic and turmoil" in emerging markets.

    Others, attempting to quiet the markets, have suggested that the interest rate move being discussed is so small, only 25 basis points, and has been discussed for such a long time, that any Fed movement to raise rates will be a nonevent, a fait accompli.

    The problem is that it should never have come to this.

    The Federal Reserve has brought this burden upon itself. By creating market expectations, the Fed sets itself up for criticism if those expectations are not met. If expectations are not met a second time, the Fed just opens itself up for further criticism. And so on and so forth.

    If Fed continues to act like this, then it will become clear that it doesn't understand leadership and is failing the economy.

    Yes, the economy is at a new place, a place that it has never been before. Yes, over the past seven years or so, the Federal Reserve acted in a way it never had acted before. Yes, the Fed is going to have to use new thinking and new tools to move us on into the future. (Binyamin Appelbaum addresses these new tools in an article in The New York Times titled "Retooling the Fed for Liftoff.") The key issue going forward, however, is leadership.

    Right now Federal Reserve policymakers look like a herd of cats. They don't seem to have any idea where they're going or any idea how they got here. And reliance on "data guidance" contributes little to leadership vision and market stability.

    Yes, these are difficult, confusing times. Yes, there are a lot of problems out there in the world that must be taken into account. Yes, models that have been used in the past are incomplete or out of date.

    Leadership must be exerted, however. The U.S. is still the No. 1 economic power in the world, and the U.S. economy is growing, while much of the rest of the world seems to be going in the opposite direction.

    Speak With One Voice

    In a complex economy, forward guidance isn't going to carry the day. Also, the Fed needs to speak with one voice for a while. Having several different members of the Federal Open Market Committee discussing their own views on random occasions doesn't help.

    The Fed also needs to determine what it can and can't do. The Federal Reserve played a big role in preventing the Great Recession from becoming worse. It helped to sustain the banking system over the past seven years after several decades of "irrational exuberance" underwritten by the economic policies of the federal government.

    The Fed can't do a whole lot in attaining faster economic growth. There was only so much that it could do anyway, but the credit inflation of the past 50 years taught the economy that it could earn more money through financial investment than through investment in plant and equipment.

    Meanwhile, the global economy is changing, bringing on a new economic era. This new era is going to require new central bank goals. For example, Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve chairman, has written in his book "Changing Fortunes: The World's Money and the Threat to American Leadership" that the price of a country's currency is the most important price in the economy of that country. Maybe the Fed should focus on the maintenance of a strong dollar. If Federal Reserve leadership doesn't establish its goals, express them clearly and firmly, and then act in a way that is consistent with achieving the goals, the discussion of Fed actions are going to become even more vocal and the markets are going to become even more volatile. The world can't afford that.

    This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

     

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    Moment Of Silence In Honor Of 9/11 Victims Held At New York Stock Exchange
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    By Sinead Carew

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks closed down Monday as investors put off making big bets ahead of the Federal Reserve's policy meeting this week and others worried about weak economic data from China.

    Stocks are expected to stay volatile ahead of a Federal Reserve announcement scheduled for Thursday after a two-day meeting at which it will decide whether or not to make its first interest rate increase since 2006.

    The Fed's sitting around singing that tune, 'Should I stay or should I go now. If it stay it will be trouble. If I go it will be double.'

    "There's absolutely no conviction up or down. Everybody's waiting on the Fed. The Fed's sitting around singing that tune, 'Should I stay or should I go now. If it stay it will be trouble. If I go it will be double,' " said David Spika, global investment strategist for the GuideStone Funds, in Dallas, Texas, citing lyrics from a popular song by The Clash.

    The Fed has said it will raise rates when it sees a sustained economic recovery with emphasis on jobs and inflation but while the jobs market has improved inflation has been held down by weak oil prices.

    A broad group of economists polled by Reuters last week bet on a September move by a slim margin; economists at banks that deal directly with the Fed, known as primary dealers, picked December as more likely; and traders of short term interest rate futures were giving a rate rise this week only a one-in-four chance.

    Stocks have been volatile since China devalued its currency in August. The S&P 500 has had moves of at least 1 percent in more than 10 sessions since Aug. 20.

    "Because of the volatility in the market and the conflicting data points on the U.S. economy, it's really difficult to get a firm handle on what the Fed's likely to do," Spika said.

    Trading was slow with about 5.4 billion shares changing hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 8 billion daily average for the previous 20 sessions, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    More China Woes

    Also weighing on stocks was data showing China's investment and factory output in August missed forecasts, raising chances China's third-quarter economic growth may drop below 7 percent for the first time since the global crisis.

    "China continues to be a concern as investors look for a bottom in regard to the country, even though the government has a lot of room to stimulate growth," said Chris Bertelsen, chief investment officer of Global Financial Private Capital in Sarasota, Florida.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 62.13 points, or 0.4 percent, to 16,370.96, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 8.02 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,953.03 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 16.58 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,805.76.

    Nine of the 10 major S&P sectors fell, led by the materials index. Utilities rose 0.2 percent while the energy index fell 0.8 percent as U.S. crude oil prices settled down 1.4 percent.

    Apple (AAPL) shares ended up 1 percent at $115.31 after it said iPhone pre-orders were on track to beat last year's first-weekend record.

    NYSE decliners outnumbered advancers 2,044 to 971, for a 2.11-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,709 issues fell and 1,068 advanced for a 1.60-to-1 ratio.

    The S&P 500 posted 2 new 52-week highs and 6 lows; the Nasdaq recorded 42 new highs and 72 lows.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern time, The Commerce Department releases retail sales data for August, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York releases its survey of manufacturing conditions in New York state.
    • The Federal Reserve releases industrial production for August at 9:15 a.m.
    • The Commerce Department releases business inventories for July at 10 a.m.

     

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    Super Bowl Sounds Football
    Joe Mahoney/AP
    By Jason Notte

    NEW YORK -- With tonight's first two Monday Night Football contests of the season -- the Eagles vs. the Falcons and the Vikings vs. the 49ers -- Americans are at the line of scrimmage, waiting to pounce on getting televised access without spending lots of cash. The good news is that getting streaming access is possible, even if it is a game of inches for consumer strategy.

    Of course, the NFL loves itself some television revenue, which is why it's increasingly making its game broadcasts as widely available -- and free -- as possible.

    Last September, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously against government protection of a provision of the National Football League's television blackout rule that prohibited cable and satellite providers from switching to another feed of a home team's game if the local feed was blacked out. Under the NFL's blackout rule, which dates back to an act of Congress in 1961 that created the league's current antitrust agreement, home games couldn't be shown on TV stations that broadcast within a 75-mile radius of the stadium if non-premium tickets weren't completely sold out 72 hours before kickoff. Perhaps sensing some level of consumer disgust with that rule, the NFL shelved it during the offseason and ensured all games would be televised in 2015.

    Thanks to financial information released by the publicly owned Green Bay Packers, we know that their share of the 2014 television revenue evenly divided among the league's 32 teams was $226.4 million -- far more than the Packers' $149.3 million in local revenue. Multiplied by 32, that's a $7.2 billion from television alone. That's up from $3 billion in 2010 and represents a 120 percent increase over the last 11 years.

    That isn't exactly surprising. New television deals with Fox (FOXA), CBS (CBS) and NBC kicked in last year and will pay the NFL and its teams $28 billion -- or roughly $1 billion a year -- for NFL broadcast rights through 2022 that include playoff games and rotating Super Bowl hosting duties. ESPN, meanwhile, pays $1.9 billion each year -- or more than double what any network pays for a season of Major League Baseball -- just to host Monday Night Football through that same span.

    Last year, the NFL also got DirecTV (DTV) to pay $1.5 billion a year over the next eight years for the rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket multi-channel out-of-town games package. Though DirecTV executives initially refused to go above the $1 billion they were paying annually in their previous deal, losing NFL Sunday Ticket would have scuttled AT&T's $48.5 billion takeover of the company that included a no-penalty out clause if Sunday Ticket negotiations went south. Meanwhile, the league was also able to pry $275 million more out of CBS for partial rights to Thursday Night Football games in 2014. The NFL and CBS renewed the deal at a "slightly higher" rate for this season.

    Why do networks shell out that much for football? Because absolutely nothing else draws football's ratings. Last year, NFL regular-season games averaged 17.6 million per broadcast, second only to the 17.9 million average in 2010. Games on "free" TV -- CBS, Fox and NBC -- averaged 19.2 million viewers. The Top 20 television broadcasts last fall were all NFL games. Game 7 of last year's World Series (23.5 million viewers) was less watched than an early September matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos (25 million). The only non-sports event to join the NFL in the Top 25 was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (22.6 million viewers), and nearly 10 million more viewers (32 million) tuned in to watch the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles later that day.

    However, if you really don't want to pay extra fees for cable or satellite television service, the NFL has no problem with that, either. It has positioned itself in such a way that the overwhelming majority of its games are available without having to subscribe to a single channel. There's a chance you'll miss the occasional NFL Network game here or there, but if it features a team in your market, the NFL is forced to simulcast it on a local affiliate.

    The NFL knows that sports make up a huge part of the average monthly cable and satellite bill, and it has no interest in giving the middlemen at the networks anything more than they're already getting. According to media research firm SNL Kagan, sports channels made up $947.6 million -- or roughly 17 percent -- of the $5.5 billion multichannel television industry in 1995. By 2012, sports channels took in $15.3 billion -- or a whopping 38 percent -- of the overall $40.3 billion multichannel take. The earning power of the only other category that even came close, general variety channels such as TBS and AMC, grew from $820 million to $5.5 billion over the same span, but dropped from nearly equivalent to sports to roughly a third of that genre's value.

    Meanwhile, sports now accounts for nearly $2 out of every $5 spent on pay television. Its monthly cost has risen as well. In 1995, the average monthly cable bill was $6.83, $1.17 of which went to sports channels. That's still a hefty 16 percent, but it lagged behind the $2.82 movie channels charged at the time. Now, that $1.17 spent on sports wouldn't even cover 20 percent of the cost of ESPN alone.

    Of the average $34 spent each month on multichannel television, nearly $13 pays for sports channels. That's 38 percent of the average cable bill, though sports are on only 14 of the average 94 channels offered by multichannel providers. On top of that, Nielsen estimates that only 20 percent of all multichannel viewing time is spent watching sports. Nobody is making out in that deal.

    Considering that the league is not really interested in putting money in anyone's pockets other than its own -- it's in the NFL's best interest to keep Time Warner (TWX), Comcast (CMCSA), DirecTV, Dish Network (DISH) and others as small a portion of its business as possible. There's always the local bar that is sure to be showing any number of contests on the gridiron for your televised enjoyment. But if you want to cut the cord and still watch the NFL in the comfort of your own home, the league is happy to help. Here are just a few of the options available:

    An Antenna

    As we mentioned earlier, the overwhelming majority of the NFL's games are still on network television. If you're OK with staying within the local market for coverage, you'll get the Fox and CBS games of the week, NBC's Sunday Night Football and CBS's Thursday Night Football via antenna.

    Now the antenna can still get a little tricky, especially if you're living in a fairly remote location, but if you're in a city within short range of affiliates, a $7 generic antenna will get you there. If you're a bit more remote, amplified indoor flat antennas will run you about $15 to $70, while outdoor antennas can run from $40 to $160 (not including a preamplifier for weak-signal areas).

    "But what about DVR? I don't wanna watch commercials 'n' stuff." It's O.K. -- the manufacturers have you. TiVo will sell you its Roamio OTA recorder for $50, but that requires a $15 monthly fee for at least a year. Tablo makes a $250 device called Tablo TV that will get the job done, but requires a Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, mobile device or computer to connect. However, antenna maker ChannelMaster makes a $250 over-the-air DVR called DVR+ that connects through your TV's HDMI port, and that can store more data with a USB hard drive.

    NFL Mobile

    The great news is that you can stream every live NFL game broadcast on CBS, NBC, ESPN, Fox and the NFL Network to your wireless devices and to your AppleTV box or Microsoft Xbox 360 or Xbox One.

    The bad news is that it's only available to Verizon customers, who get to watch all regular-season games for free, but still have to pay extra ($1.99) for the NFL RedZone Channel and the NFL Game Pass ($100) replays of every game from 2009 to the present. That latter feature is available at the same cost to non-Verizon customers with Android, iOS, Windows Mobile, XBox or AppleTV devices, but you have to wait for the live game to end before you can see it.

    Streaming Apps

    Both NBC and CBS apps will allow you to stream games for free as long as you have an Internet connection, but you're on your own to figure out how to get them onto a larger screen. Yahoo will not only stream NBC's NFL games, but it has exclusive access to the October 25 game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars in London.

    And that's about all you're getting, since ESPN requires users to have a cable or satellite subscription to stream Monday Night Football through its Watch ESPN app. There used to be a loophole for Xbox owners who paid for a one-time $50 subscription to XBox Live Gold, but that's now closed.

    Fox takes a similar approach, streaming games through its Fox Sports Go app only for fans who subscribe to any number of cable partners. Yes, the Fox broadcast is still free, but Fox clearly considers digital rights part of its cable and satellite universe.

    NFL Sunday Ticket

    Yes, DirecTV will sell you NFL Sunday Ticket without a full satellite subscription. No, it isn't for everyone and it isn't cheap. DirecTV offers a $200 version of Sunday Ticket that allows buyers to access games, the RedZone Channel, a fantasy football channel, a channel of 30-minute condensed games and more through their laptop or desktop. However, you have to be somewhere without access to DirecTV, and unless you're in a dorm (where DirecTV offers students Sunday Ticket streaming for $99) or a dense downtown littered with skyscrapers, this likely doesn't mean you.

    And mobile devices? $360. Yes, the promotional rate for DirecTV satellite service and Sunday Ticket is only about $240 right now, but that's contingent on a two-year contract with an inflated rate for the second year. DirecTV has caught on to just about every Sunday Ticket loophole and isn't about to make it easy for cord cutters to do away with the dish.

    Dish Network's SlingTV

    If you aren't eligible for Sunday Ticket streaming and aren't a Verizon customer, SlingTV is the only way you're going to get ESPN's "Monday Night Football" without a subscription.

    At $20 a month, it's also easily the cheapest. ESPN and ESPN2 come as part of the basic package, though other sports channels including Universal Sports and BeIn Sports are available as part of a $5 upgrade. It's available on all iOS and Android devices, all Macs and PCs, all XBox One devices and all Amazon Fire TV and Roku players. It's a lot to pay for strictly ESPN -- considering that channel's average monthly fee to cable providers is roughly $6 -- but it beats carrying a full cable package of $100 or more.

     

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    House on pile of money
    Getty Images
    By Chris Metinko

    NEW YORK -- Homeownership may be part of the American Dream -- but many are waiting longer to achieve that dream.

    "I am seeing people wait longer to buy a home, particularly those from their late-20s into their mid-30s," said Arvin Sahakian, vice president at mortgage site BeSmartee.

    In fact, Americans are now nearly 33 when they realize their homeownership goals, compared to 29 in the late 1970s, according to new data from real estate firm Zillow (Z). People are also renting longer, with the median amount of years renting reaching six -- nearly a 33 percent increase from the late 1970s.

    "Most young Americans should realize that homeownership is within reach," said Kelly Hager, CEO of Kelly Hager Group Real Estate Services in Missouri. "However, it's often a matter of rising non-housing expenses and evolving societal norms that keeps them from purchasing their first home."

    Hager said several factors are playing into Americans staying away from homeownership, including the increasing price of energy, medical care and college.

    Since 1970, the price of U.S. colleges has increased on average 400 percent, and since 2000, college has increased 112 percent, Hager said.

    "In a nutshell, escalating real estate prices are not the reason why people are waiting longer," she added. "In many markets real estate prices are just now getting back to normal amounts of appreciation pre-housing bubble."

    Generally speaking, millennials are more interested in experiences than material things.

    Brian Koss, executive vice president of Mortgage Network in Massachusetts, said millennials are putting off buying for multiple reasons -- some are financial, some are emotional and some are quality of life issues.

    "Generally speaking, millennials are more interested in experiences than material things," Koss said. "They prioritize time with friends and personal time over financial achievement. For example, they will choose living somewhere that is convenient and suits their lifestyle, rather building equity in a less exciting town or neighborhood."

    Koss said since many millennials choose to live where they can't afford to buy -- it's easier to rent. However, on the other hand rent is so high, it makes saving for a home impossible.

    "Emotionally, many millennials view homeownership as a huge risk," Koss added. "Because they saw family members deeply affected by the housing crisis, the American Dream is not only unattractive to many, but seems like a nightmare."

    John William Barger, a realtor in Tampa Bay, Florida, not only sells mainly to millennials, but is one himself.

    "I can say without a doubt that my generation is waiting longer and longer to buy a home, and as prices continue to rise, it is becoming harder and harder to find anything in the $100,000 to $200,000 range," Barger said.

    Several factors have contributed to this trend, he said.

    First, most millennials graduated college during the Great Recession, and most didn't find suitable employment out of college. Couple that with crippling monthly student loan payments, and most people under the age of 35 can barely afford to rent an apartment, let alone save up for a down payment on a home.

    He added that, culturally, millennials like instant gratification which translates to move-in ready homes, though at their price level, a fixer-upper is the best most can afford, he adds.

    "This generation more and more eschews debt as well, tainted by their experience both with student loans as well as what they may have seen and experienced in their own families during the past five to ten years," Barger said.

    "As a result, I have several clients who have elected to live with their parents until 28 or even 30, choosing to take the money they would have been applying to rent and utilities towards a down payment on a home," he said.

     

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    Halloween at Disney World Resort, Balloons Decorations Pumpkin Carved in Shape of Mickey Mouse Face, Orlando Florida
    Alamy
    It's apparently never too early to get into the Halloween spirit if you're a theme park operator. Comcast's (CMCSA) Universal Studios Florida kicks off Halloween Horror Nights this weekend. It won't be alone. Disney's (DIS) Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom also gets under way this week, giving guests a tamer experience complete with trick-or-treat stations and unique character greeting opportunities throughout the world's most visited theme park.

    Out on the West Coast, Cedar Fair's (FUN) Knott's Berry Farm in California kicks off the latest season of Knott's Scary Farm -- complete with 11 haunted mazes -- next week. Six Flags (SIX) transforms its seasonal coaster havens into Fright Fest starting shortly after that.

    Park operators realize that there's a lot of money to be made in trying to scare you and your friends this time of year. Let's go over the ways that you can keep as much of your money as possible while still enjoying the macabre mayhem.

    1. Know Your Discounts

    Haunts typically offer discounts for folks buying their tickets online. Ordering directly through SixFlags.com to attend Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America -- just outside of Chicago -- can shave nearly half the price of admission on select nights.

    You definitely don't want to show up at the gate and buy your tickets the day of the event. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida has a gate price of $101.99 this year, but online entrances can be purchased for as little as $49.99 on select nights.

    You should also check the social media accounts of the park you expect to visit. Parks often team up with area supermarkets or drugstores for discounted admissions, though it's often not much better than what you can score online directly through them. Some also offer coupons through fast-food chains or products distributed locally. Halloween Horror Nights is running a promo based on Coca-Cola (KO) products, though you can always cheat and see UPC discount codes online.

    2. Timing Is Everything

    Most of the park haunts don't charge the same admissions every night of the week. Universal Studios Florida is a perfect example. Online tickets for Thursday and other off-nights can be had for $49.99, but that balloons up to $76.99 for Saturday.

    Tickets to Cedar Point's HalloWeekends in Ohio also cost more on Saturday nights. Combine HalloWeekends admission with the line-skipping Fright Pass and you will pay $21 less online if you go on a Friday in late October instead of a Saturday. Online tickets for Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain costs $5 more Saturday night than it does Friday or Sunday.

    It also will be easier on your pocketbook if you go early. Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America will set you back $10 less on the first Saturday in October than it does during the third and fourth Saturdays of the month. The closer you get to Halloween itself, the pricier the ticket is likely to be.

    The moral of the story is that if you can avoid Saturdays or late October, there are some real deals to be scored.

    3. Plan Ahead to Skimp on Express Passes

    Haunts get crowded, and that's a welcome opportunity for the parks with the more popular events to roll out premium-priced tickets that let folks bypass traditional lines. Some of the biggest operators even offer several classes of passes that provide expedited access. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida has the $70 Express Pass, where guests can wait in shorter lines than regular guests, or the RIP Tour, which starts at $140 for immediate access to all of the scare mazes in a group tour.

    These passes are great if you can afford them, and on busy nights it may be the only way to see it all. However, you can also plan ahead, and that doesn't mean just arriving early. You already know about avoiding Saturday nights and going early, in late September or early October, to maximize your savings, and that's also a good way to avoid the longest maze lines.

    There's more that you can do. Seasoned haunt-goers know that the scare mazes closest to the entrance tend to be the ones that guests flock to first. Start at the back of the park and you should be able to hit many of the attractions before you run into serious crowds. Check online forums and social network groups for tips on the best scare zones or the shows that can't be missed. With the right strategy, you can see all that is worth seeing without springing for the premium passes.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola, short January 2016 $43 calls on Coca-Cola, and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. To read about one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond -- no tricks included -- check out our free report.

     

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    50 Dollar Bills
    Getty Images
    By Tahirah Blanding

    College, unemployment, or another major life change can require a major cut in spending to survive from week to week. There may still be a stigma attached to buying food at the dollar store, but perhaps it's time to get over it. Cheapism.com found that it's possible to take care of the essentials, with a dollop of comfort thrown in, for less than $50 a week by shopping at a local Dollar Tree.

    Dollar stores can sell food cheaply in part because they sell smaller sizes than conventional grocery stores, stock items with long shelf lives and carry generic-brand products that aren't backed by enormous advertising budgets. That said, customers will also find reputable brands such as Welch's and Progresso. Some dollar stores accept manufacturer coupons.

    Cheapism.com put together a week's worth of dollar store meals from a shopping list of 38 items (some purchased in multiples). Total cost: $45. The suggested menus presume that a few staples, such as oil and spices, already reside in the cupboard. Although some stores have a refrigerated section, canned and boxed goods dominate dollar store shelves, so fresh fruit and vegetables will have to be put on hold. Most of the items are sold in-store, although inventory varies. This may not be the most nutritious meal plan, but it will get one person through the week with a single trip to the dollar store.

    Sunday
    • Breakfast: Pancakes and coffee (Harvest Hill Light & Fluffy pancake mix, Harvest Hill pancake syrup, Nescafe Original instant coffee, shelf-stable Gossner Foods premium milk)
    • Lunch: Pizza (Camillo's 7-inch premade pizza crusts, Franceso Rinaldi pizza sauce, Country Line mozzarella cheese)
    • Dinner: Tuna pasta salad (StarKist chunk light tuna, Pagasa elbow macaroni, Libby's canned sweet peas or frozen peas, Calder's Gourmet mayonnaise
    If you take milk in coffee, be sure to refrigerate it after opening to pour over cereal and use in a recipe later in the week. A pasta salad recipe posted on Food.com calls for celery, which dollar store shoppers may have to forgo, but the rest of the ingredients are on the dollar-store shopping list or likely already in the kitchen. Make enough to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

    Monday
    • Breakfast: Oatmeal, apple juice and coffee (Village Farm instant oatmeal, Ruby Kist apple juice)
    • Lunch: Leftover tuna pasta salad
    • Dinner: Barbecue chicken, rice and vegetables (frozen chicken, Original Restaurant Style barbecue sauce, Premier Fields long-grain white rice, Libby's canned mixed vegetables or frozen vegetables)
    The bag of Nescafe Original instant coffee contains 50 servings -- plenty to last all week. Most Dollar Tree locations now contain freezers stocked with items such as frozen meat and vegetables, which many consumers may prefer to more commonly available canned goods. Cook a second package of chicken to use for lunch tomorrow.

    Tuesday
    • Breakfast: Cereal, coffee, apple juice (Hospitality raisin bran)
    • Lunch: Chicken salad sandwich (frozen chicken, Nature's Own bread, mayonnaise)
    • Dinner: Spaghetti and vegetables (Pagasa spaghetti, Hunt's pasta sauce, Libby's canned mixed vegetables or frozen vegetables)
    A Cheapism.com comparison of the dollar store vs. Walmart found that cereal costs less per ounce at Dollar Tree, and for those who don't like raisin bran, many generic brands earn high ratings online. For lunch, shred the extra chicken cooked the night before and mix with mayonnaise to make a basic chicken salad. The pasta sauce comes in traditional, meat-flavored and mushroom varieties.

    Wednesday
    • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs, toast with jelly or peanut butter and coffee (carton of eggs, Welch's Concord grape jelly, Greenbrier Farms creamy peanut butter, bread)
    • Lunch: Chow mein (Nissin microwavable meal)
    • Dinner: Rice, beans and a corn muffin (Vigo Spanish yellow rice, La Rosa dry red kidney beans, Marie Callender corn bread muffin mix)
    The mix makes five muffins. Save one or two to round out an upcoming dinner and eat the rest as snacks. Other items to have on hand to sate hunger between meals: a box of Select Choice chewy peanut butter and chocolate chip granola bars, Home Style Select tortilla chips and a jar of nacho cheese dip. The peanut butter and jelly can go on crackers as well as bread.

    Thursday
    • Breakfast: Oatmeal, apple juice and coffee
    • Lunch: PB&J and potato chips (Home Style Select kettle-cooked potato chips)
    • Dinner: Hamburger Helper (Hamburger Helper, Circle A Ranch home-style meatballs)
    No ground meat in the coolers? No problem. Crumble frozen meatballs into the Hamburger Helper. Save half the 5-ounce bag of chips for lunch tomorrow.

    Friday
    • Breakfast: Cereal, apple juice and coffee
    • Lunch: Tuna salad sandwich and potato chips (StarKist chunk light tuna, Breckenridge Farms sweet relish, mayonnaise, bread)
    • Dinner: Egg fried rice (Libby's canned mixed vegetables or frozen vegetables, Hisakawa soy sauce, eggs, rice)
    Add mayonnaise to the tuna and pickle relish to stir up a quick tuna salad posted on Allrecipes. For the fried rice, prepare a batch of long-grain white rice in advance -- many cooks assert that leftovers work best -- and use a recipe posted on Allthecooks as a guideline.

    Saturday
    • Breakfast: French toast, coffee, apple juice
    • Lunch: Soup with crackers (Progresso canned soup, Original Saltines)
    • Dinner: Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables and corn bread muffins (frozen chicken, Idaho Supreme dehydrated mashed potatoes, Libby's canned mixed vegetables or frozen vegetables)
    By now the bread may be getting a bit dry and stale -- ideal for a quick and easy French toast recipe found on Food.com. It calls for an egg and some of the remaining milk, plus a dash of cinnamon and vanilla if on hand.

    Grocery List

    Item Price
    1 box Harvest Hill Light & Fluffy pancake mix (16.5 ounces) $1
    1 bottle Harvest Hill pancake syrup (24 ounces) $1
    1 bag Nescafe Original instant coffee $1
    1 quart shelf-stable Gossner Foods premium 2 percent milk $1
    1 pack Camillo's 7-inch pizza crusts (2) $1
    1 jar Franceso Rinaldi pizza sauce (14 ounces) $1
    1 pack Country Line mozzarella cheese (3 ounces) $1
    3 cans StarKist chunk light tuna (5 ounces) $3
    1 bag Pagasa elbow macaroni (24 ounces) $1
    4 cans Libby's mixed vegetables (or frozen vegetables) $4
    1 jar Calder's Gourmet mayonnaise (10 ounces) $1
    1 box Village Farm instant oatmeal $1
    1 jar Ruby Kist apple juice (32 ounces) $1
    3 packages frozen chicken $3
    1 bottle Original Restaurant Style barbecue sauce (18 ounces) $1
    1 bag Premier Fields long-grain white rice (24 ounces) $1
    1 box Hospitality raisin bran cereal (7 ounces) $1
    1 loaf Nature's Own bread $1
    1 bag Pagasa spaghetti (24 ounces) $1
    1 can Hunt's pasta sauce (24 ounces) $1
    1 jar Welch's Concord grape jelly (9.5 ounces) $1
    1 jar Greenbrier Farms creamy peanut butter (10 ounces) $1
    1 carton eggs (12) $1
    1 Nissin chow mein meal (4 ounces) $1
    1 bag Vigo Spanish yellow rice (9 ounces) $1
    1 bag La Rosa dry red kidney beans (12 ounces) $1
    1 pack Marie Callender corn bread muffin mix (7 ounces) $1
    1 bag Home Style Select kettle-cooked potato chips (5 ounces) $1
    1 box Hamburger Helper $1
    1 bag Circle A Ranch frozen meatballs (6.24 ounces) $1
    1 jar Breckenridge Farms sweet relish (12.5 ounces) $1
    1 bottle Hisakawa soy sauce (10 ounces) $1
    1 can Progresso soup $1
    1 box Original Saltines $1
    1 box Idaho Supreme dehydrated mashed potatoes (8 ounces) $1
    1 box Select Choice chewy peanut butter and chocolate chip granola bars (6) $1
    1 bag Home Style Select tortilla chips (8.5 ounces) $1
    1 jar nacho cheese dip (9 ounces) $1
    Total $45

     

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    How to Save $500 by Christmas

    By Jim Gold

    Here we are in mid-September, settling into our frantic fall filled with work, school activities for many, football, the World Series, Halloween and Thanksgiving.

    Christmas follows swiftly. It's only 14 weeks away.

    Are you ready?

    We can't stop the clock, but planning now can ease holiday stress later, advises Todd Pietzsch, spokesman for BECU, Washington state's largest credit union.

    It can also save you money.

    Set a Savings Goal

    First, figure out how much money you think you will need for holiday presents. That's your Christmas savings goal.

    Pietzsch told Money Talks News you should assign a dollar amount to each person for whom you'll buy gifts. Who's on your list? Children, parents, spouses, nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, friends? The office gift exchange? Anyone else? Can you pare your list?

    Add it up. And if you haven't put any money away yet for the holidays, divide by 14. Try to put that much away each week starting now by paying yourself first.

    For example, say you want to spend $500.

    Putting $36 a week away now will yield $504 by Christmas to cover presents.

    Set up an automatic deduction from your payroll check, or automate transfers from your checking account to your savings account, Pietzsch suggests. You can set up an account with a name, such as Christmas Club.

    Saving now means charging less for Christmas presents, even if you don't reach your total savings goal.

    "You don't want to get hit with a lot of credit card debt you can't pay," Pietzsch says.

    If you charge $500 in gifts on a credit card with an 18 percent interest rate, and pay only the minimum balance due each month of $20, it will take you 42 months, or more than three more Christmases, to be rid of this year's holiday debt, according to online payment calculators. In that time, you will pay $674 total including interest, making this year's gifts cost about one-third more that you planned.

    Track Your Money

    "The first step to savings is understanding where your money is going," Pietzsch says.

    BECU recently launched an online and mobile app called Money Manager. You can find a similar service with a Money Talks News partner, PowerWallet.

    With both, and other similar aggregating apps, you can view all of your accounts in one place -- checking, savings, retirement accounts and more. They let you set up budgets and track your spending by category.

    "You see where money is going," Pietzsch says. "You make it automatic again and see how you're progressing toward your goal."

    The apps show you if you're spending more than you planned to on dining out or gas, for example.

    You can see where you want to cut back spending, or where you have a financial cushion, says PowerWallet. You can also set up alerts for bill payments or when your spending strays from the plan.

    These tools can help you keep a clear picture of where you stand.

    Raising Holiday Cash

    If you're trying to come up with some Christmas cash, Money Talks News financial expert Stacy Johnson has a few suggestions:
    • Check your cell plan: If you're not using minutes that you're paying for, switch to a cheaper plan that could save you $20 a month. Consider dropping your landline for another $25 to $50.
    • Drop your gym membership: Stay in shape by jogging outdoors or weight lifting or following fitness videos. You'll get leaner while fattening your wallet by $35 (or more) a month.
    • Raise your insurance deductible: Change your car or home policy from a $250 deductible to, say, $1,000 and pocket as much as $200 right now.
    • Curtail cable: Drop premium movie channels to save $25 a month. Or cut cable altogether and save a lot more.
    More Ways to Get Ahead of the Holidays
    • Layaway: Some of your favorite department stores offer in-store and online layaway opportunities. At Kmart, for example, you can visit the layaway counter, put $10 down to set aside an item and then arrange an eight- or 12-week contract for paying off the item. You can't pick up the item until it's paid off, and there will be a service fee of $5 or $10, depending on the contract. But you won't be worried about paying off the item after the holidays, either.
    • Gift IOU: Worried about paying too much before Christmas, especially for a big-ticket game console or television that will be marked down more during January clearance sales? Wrap an IOU that goes with a less-expensive token gift, suggest some money experts. If the IOU goes to a child, you're also giving lessons in money management and patience.
    • Shop early: It's not too soon to look for bargains for people on your list. Look for end-of-summer clearance sales or online specials with free shipping. This is the time of year for deals on clothes, bikes and outdoor gear. Now is when you have time to ponder and shop relaxed instead of emotionally. Just don't lose track of where you stash the gifts you buy now.
    If you get started now instead of waiting until you're in the middle of the frenzied holiday season, you could give yourself the gift of less stress and more Christmas joy.

    Do you have tricks for saving for or during the holiday spending spree? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!

     

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    Inside Costco Wholesale Co. Ahead of Earnings Release
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Trent Hamm

    Warehouse clubs promote themselves as being a fantastic way to save -- and there are bargains to be had. Warehouse clubs often offer competitive prices on electronics, small appliances and many household and food items -- provided, of course, that you buy them in bulk.

    But do warehouse clubs really save you a lot of money over the course of a year? Most clubs have an annual membership fee of at least $40, which means in order for a warehouse club to actually save you money, you need to save $40 on purchases, and then some.

    How can you tell if a warehouse club is actually a bargain? Here are the key things to look for.

    Is the warehouse club in a convenient location?

    In other words, are you going to have to drive out of your way to get to the warehouse club? Or is it located near places where you already go on a routine basis?

    If the warehouse club is located in a place where you don't normally go, then you're incurring an additional expense for travel each time you visit the warehouse club, which adds to the cost of the membership. Unless you're saving a lot of money by going there, it's probably not worth it if you have to make a special trip to use the club.

    Does the warehouse club sell gas at a lower price than other local gas stations?

    This is the easiest way for a warehouse club to save you money. Compare the price of gas at the warehouse club to other gas stations in your area. How does the price a gallon compare? Then, consider how often you drive by the warehouse club and actually use it for filling up.

    I'll use myself as an example. I tend to fill up at my local Sam's Club about once a month, putting about 12 gallons of gas into my car. Each gallon at Sam's Club is about 7 cents cheaper than at other nearby gas stations, so I save about 84 cents a visit on gas, which adds up to about $10 a year. That means I only need to come up with about $30 in savings over the rest of the year to make up for that $40 membership.

    How do the prices on nonperishable food and household supplies at a warehouse club compare to the prices at your grocery store?

    The important thing to think about here is not the price of the item itself, but the price per ounce or price per serving. Often, nonperishable foods and household supplies are sold in large quantities at warehouse clubs, so you need to focus on the relative sizes of the package by converting all the prices to a standard unit -- an ounce or a sheet or a serving.

    The best way to compare prices is to use your smartphone. While shopping at your local grocery store, pull up the website of the warehouse club you're interested in. Then, use the website to compare prices between the items you normally buy and the ones listed at the warehouse club.

    Remember, it's often hard to get value out of bulk purchases of fresh goods from a warehouse club, as some of them may go bad quickly, undoing the bargain. Save the price comparisons for the nonperishable foods and the household supplies.

    Are you planning a major purchase in the next year that the warehouse club sells, and are the prices on that major purchase lower than where you might otherwise buy it?

    If you're considering a major purchase in the near future, such as replacement tires for your car or a replacement television, you may be able to save some money by buying the item at your local warehouse club instead of at the local department store, auto store, electronics store or online.

    Again, this is not a guarantee. You need to do your homework and compare prices. Are the tires at your local warehouse club actually cheaper than what you can find at the department stores and auto stores in your area? Is the television you're considering (or a similar model) less expensive at the warehouse club than at other stores and websites?

    As with the bulk purchased food and household supplies, you can check this easily on the warehouse club website. If you find that you would save money on just that single purchase, it's worth joining the club for a year just to save on that item.

    Warehouse clubs offer many avenues for potential savings, but you need to do the homework to find out if they translate into actual savings for you. You may find that they're a nice bargain, but you may also find that you're not saving much at all by shopping there, in which case your membership fees are better spent elsewhere.

    Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.

     

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    Consumer Credit
    Gene J. Puskar/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer spending grew at a fairly healthy pace over the past two months, but factory production slipped in August, providing the Federal Reserve a mixed picture of the economy ahead of a rate-setting meeting later this week.

    The Commerce Department said Tuesday that retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services increased 0.4 percent in August after an upwardly revised 0.6 percent increase in July.

    These so-called core retail sales, which correspond closely to the consumer spending component of gross domestic product, provided the latest sign of sturdy economic momentum and suggested the recent stock market sell-off had little immediate impact on U.S. household spending.

    Today's data are positive news for final demand in the third quarter and should give the Fed more confidence in the spending outlook.

    A separate report from the Federal Reserve, however, showed manufacturing output fell a sharper-than-expected 0.5 percent as auto production slid, after a rise of 0.9 percent in July.

    Excluding autos, factory output was unchanged.

    Investors pinned their response on the general firm spending figures. U.S. stocks opened higher, the dollar strengthened against a basket of currencies, and prices for U.S. government bonds fell, sending their yields higher.

    "Today's data are positive news for final demand in the third quarter and should give the Fed more confidence in the spending outlook," said Laura Rosner, an economist at BNP Paribas in New York, referring to the retail sales data.

    Signs of sustained strength in the economy could encourage the U.S. central bank to raise benchmark overnight interest rates from near zero. The Fed's policy-setting committee meets on Wednesday and Thursday against the backdrop of a tightening U.S. labor market, low inflation and slowing global growth.

    U.S. financial markets have sharply dialed down expectations of a rate hike in the wake of the recent volatility in global equity markets. They are now pricing in a 25 percent probability that the Fed will announce a rate hike this week.

    Data ranging from employment to housing have suggested the U.S. economy retained most of its momentum from the second quarter, when output expanded at a 3.7 percent annual pace.

    The manufacturing sector, however, has been struggling, faced with the headwinds of a strong dollar, slack economies oversees and lower oil prices.

    A third report Tuesday showed factory activity in New York state contracted in September for a second straight month.

    Auto Sales Rise, but Production Down

    Overall retail sales rose 0.2 percent last month as strong gains in auto sales were offset by a 1.8 percent drop in the value of sales at service stations as gasoline prices declined.

    Receipts at auto dealerships rose 0.7 percent last month after rising 1.3 percent in July. Sales at clothing stores were up 0.4 percent, while receipts at building materials and garden equipment stores were down 1.8 percent. Sales at furniture stores fell 0.9 percent.

    There were sales increases for online retailers, restaurants and bars, sporting goods and hobby stores, and electronics and appliance outlets.

    The general bright news on spending was tempered by the soft factory data.

    The Fed said auto and auto-part production contracted 6.4 percent last month, reversing much of the strong gains registered in July.

    A drop in mining production combined with the drop in factory output to leave overall industrial production down 0.4 percent during the month, despite higher output for utilities.

    -Dan Burns contributed reporting.

     

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    Earns Target
    Damian Dovarganes/AP
    By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO

    MINNEAPOLIS -- Target (TGT) is testing the online grocery delivery waters.

    The Minneapolis-based discounter has teamed with Instacart, the online grocery delivery service that started in 2012, to let shoppers in the Minneapolis area order fruits and other perishables, as well as household, pet and baby products, and have them delivered to their homes in as little as an hour.

    The service starts Tuesday. Target says it's exploring plans to expand to other markets.

    Target's move comes as the discounter aims to bolster its online business under CEO Brian Cornell, who came on board in August 2014 and is reshaping its business.

    The launch also comes as the online grocery delivery market is heating up.

    Online retail king Amazon.com (AMZN) began testing Amazon Fresh grocery delivery in Seattle in 2007 and has since expanded that service to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia and parts of New York.

    Meanwhile, Walmart Stores (WMT), the nation's largest food retailer, is testing online grocery delivery and pickup in five markets. However, a national rollout for both retailers is still elusive.

    San Francisco-based Instacart, which works with other retailers including Whole Foods Market (WFM), Costco (COST) and Petco (PETM), said that Minneapolis is its 18th market.

    Here's how it works: Customers go online to www.instacart.com or open the Instacart mobile app on their iPhone or Android device, click on the city and store, add items to their cart and then chose a delivery window. Shoppers can choose a one- or two- hour window, or some scheduled time in the future.

    The first delivery is free and future orders cost $3.99 for a two-hour delivery or $5.99 for a one-hour delivery for orders over $35.

    Target said it will be watching which grocery items shoppers put in their virtual cart.

    "There is certainly growth opportunity for this type of business, and we want to learn more about it," Target Corp. spokesman Eddie Baeb said.

     

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