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    Hamptons-Building Backlash
    Frank Eltman/AP
    By ALEX VEIGA

    U.S. homebuilders are feeling more optimistic about the housing market, lifting their confidence this month to the highest level in 10 years.

    The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Monday rose this month to 64, up from 61 in September. The last time the reading was higher was October 2005 at 68.

    Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor. The index has been consistently above 50 since July last year.

    Builders' improved optimism bodes well for a pickup in new home construction, which could help give the U.S. economy a boost. The supply of new homes has been scarce, so greater construction could result in more sales.

    "With firm job creation, economic growth and the release of pent-up demand, we expect housing to keep moving forward as we start to close out 2015.

    The latest builder index reflects a gradual, but consistent strengthening in the market for new homes, said David Crowe, the NAHB's chief economist.

    "With firm job creation, economic growth and the release of pent-up demand, we expect housing to keep moving forward as we start to close out 2015," he said.

    Builders' view of current sales conditions and their outlook for sales over the next six months surged. A measure of traffic by prospective buyers held steady.

    Healthy hiring and smaller price increases for new homes have begun pushing up sales, which were hammered during the Great Recession and recovered slowly even after the downturn ended in 2009. New-home sales have soared nearly 22 percent in the past year. They hit a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 552,000 homes in August, the strongest pace since February 2008. September's sales data are due out next week.

    This month's builder index was based on 384 respondents.

    Builders' view of current sales conditions for single-family homes rose three points to 70, the highest reading since October 2005. Builders' outlook for sales over the next six months surged seven points to 75. That's the highest reading since August 2005. A measure of traffic by prospective buyers held steady at 47.

    Though new homes represent only a fraction of the housing market, they have an outsize impact on the economy. Each home built creates an average of three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in tax revenue, according to NAHB data.

     

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    Health Overhaul Signups
    Andrew Harnik/AP
    By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR

    WASHINGTON -- The math is harsh: The federal penalty for having no health insurance is set to jump to $695, and the Obama administration is being urged to highlight that cold fact in its new pitch for health law sign-ups.

    That means the 2016 sign-up season starting Nov. 1 could see penalties become a bigger focus for millions of people who have remained eligible for coverage, but uninsured. They're said to be squeezed for money, and skeptical about spending what they have on health insurance.

    Until now, health overhaul supporters have stressed the benefits: taxpayer subsidies that pay roughly 70 percent of the monthly premium, financial protection against sudden illness or an accident, and access to regular preventive and follow-up medical care.

    But in 2016, the penalty for being uninsured will rise to the greater of either $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income. That's for someone without coverage for a full 12 months. This year the comparable numbers are $325 or 2 percent of income.

    Marketing usually involves stressing the positive. Rising penalties meet no one's definition of good news. Still, that may create a new pitch:

    Given that the penalty is larger, it does make sense to bring it up more frequently.

    The math is pretty clear. A consumer would be able to get six months or more of coverage for $695, instead of owing that amount to the IRS as a tax penalty. (That example is based on subsidized customers now putting in an average of about $100 a month of their own money.)

    Backers of the law are urging the administration to drive the math lesson home.

    "Given that the penalty is larger, it does make sense to bring it up more frequently," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a liberal advocacy group. "It's an increasing factor in people's decisions about whether or not to get enrolled."

    "More and more, people are mentioning the sticks as well as the carrots," said Katherine Hempstead, director of health insurance coverage for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonpartisan organization that has helped facilitate the insurance expansion under Obama's law.

    Administration officials are looking for a balance.

    "We need to be make sure that we are very clear and explicit about that $695 penalty so people understand the choice they are making," said spokeswoman Lori Lodes. But she said the main emphasis will stay on the benefits of having health insurance and how the law's subsidies can dramatically lower the cost of monthly premiums.

    Unpopular Mandate

    The requirement that individuals get health insurance or face fines remains the most unpopular part of President Barack Obama's health care law, a prime target of Republican repeal efforts. It started at $95 or 1 percent of income in 2014. The fact that it's gone up so much may take consumers by surprise.

    But many experts consider the mandate essential to Obama's overall approach, as does the insurance industry. The law forbids insurers from turning away people with health problems, and the coverage requirement forces healthy people into the insurance pool, helping to keep premiums in check. After 2016, the fines will rise with inflation.

    This year was the first time the IRS collected the penalties, deducting them from taxpayers' refunds for the 2014 tax year in most cases. Some 7.5 million households paid penalties totaling $1.5 billion, an average of $200 apiece, according to preliminary IRS data. Separately, another 12 million households claimed exemptions from the mandate because of financial hardships or other reasons.

    Although Obama's law is five years old and has survived two Supreme Court challenges, administration officials say the upcoming open enrollment season won't be easy. It may be a struggle to just keep about the same number of people covered.

    The administration has set a goal of 10 million customers enrolled and paying their premiums by the end of 2016 on HealthCare.gov and state insurance markets. That's roughly the number covered now, well below what congressional budget analysts had estimated for 2016. The administration expects most will be returning customers, but 3 million to 4 million will be people who are currently uninsured.

    Among the difficulties for next year: Premiums are expected to go up more than they did this year, even if subsidies cushion the cost. The most eager customers have already signed up. And many of those remaining may have other financial priorities for their tight budgets, like car repairs or putting money in savings accounts.

    Sign-up season starts Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31. As a result of the law, the share of people in the United States lacking health insurance is at a historic low of about 9 percent, and the White House wants to keep that trend going during Obama's last full year in office.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended with slight gains Monday as investors were cautious at the start of a heavy week of earnings, but advances in top tech names gave some support.

    The Dow and S&P 500 pared losses late in the session while the Nasdaq added to gains. Nike, up 2.1 percent, helped the Dow.

    The energy index fell 1.9 percent as U.S. crude oil fell 2.9 percent. Copper fell after data showed a slowdown in China's economic growth.

    Exxon (XOM) fell 1.8 percent to $80.99 and Chevron (CVX) fell 1.4 percent to $90.03, the biggest drags on the S&P 500 and the Dow.

    After such a significant rally, we're back at a level where we anticipated we'd see a little pressure.

    "Energy and oil prices were down today, the industrials and materials sectors, so that took a little bit off the enthusiasm for equities," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

    "After such a significant rally, we're back at a level where we anticipated we'd see a little pressure."

    Morgan Stanley (MS) shares fell 4.8 percent to $32.32. The bank's profit fell for the second straight quarter, capping mostly downbeat quarterly results from major U.S. banks.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) rose 14.57 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,230.54, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) gained 0.55 points, or 0.03 percent, to 2,033.66 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) added 18.78 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,905.47.

    Corporate Earnings

    Several Dow components are posting quarterly results this week, including Caterpillar (CAT), Boeing (BA) and Coca-Cola (KO). S&P 500 earnings are expected to have declined about 4 percent in the third quarter from a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    China's economic growth slowed to 6.9 percent between July and September, still ahead of the 6.8 percent forecast.

    U.S. homebuilder sentiment improved in October, with the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market index rising more than expected. An index of housing stocks was up 0.3 percent.

    Weight Watchers (WTW) more than doubled in value to $13.92 after it said Oprah Winfrey will buy a 10 percent stake in the company and join its board.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,655 to 1,421, for a 1.16-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,382 issues rose and 1,381 fell for a 1.00-to-1 ratio favoring advancers.

    The S&P 500 posted 22 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 53 new highs and 40 new lows.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • The Commerce Department releases housing starts for September at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • The Labor Department reports on state unemployment for September at 10 a.m.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG)
    • Discover Financial Services (DFS)
    • Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB)
    • Harley Davidson (HOG)
    • Lockheed Martin (LMT)
    • United Technologies (UTX)
    • Verizon Communications (V)
    • Yahoo (YHOO)

     

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    General Views Of Chain Stores Ahead Of Sales Figures
    Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
    By Terence Loose

    Begun by Sam Walton in 1983 with one store aimed at helping other small-business owners get deals by buying in bulk, Sam's Club has grown into a popular warehouse store. Today, its 650-plus locations are aimed at helping anyone find bargains on everything from toilet paper to TVs.

    But not everything in Sam's Club is a good deal. Some of Sam's offers should be, well, left to Sam. GOBankingRates asked a group of top savings experts to sniff out the best deals at Sam's Club -- and the worst. Click through to find out how to get the most bang for your buck.

    10 Best Sam's Club Deals

    Do you want to know what Sam's Club deals probably live up to Sam's standards? Here are 10 of the best Sam's Club deals.

    1. Batteries. Energy is expensive -- especially when it comes in the small, portable form. But Sam's Club can help, said Regina Conway, consumer expert for Slickdeals.net. "You'll pay as much as $1 less per battery than if you purchased them full price at the grocery store," she said. And, this is one item where it pays to stock up. "Check expiration dates, but these should be several years out, so it makes sense to buy in bulk," said Conway.

    2. Over-the-counter and prescription drugs. While she suggests always comparison shopping for medications, Conway said Sam's Club should be on the list -- whether you're a member or not. "Because of drug regulations, the stores cannot require you to be a member to buy prescription medications," she said. That can pay off. "Some medicine carried there can cost as much as 50 percent less than local pharmacies," said Conway.

    3. Christmas trees. Apparently, Sam's Club is a great place to get into the holiday spirit, thanks to deals on that most important Christmas decoration. Sam's Club, along with other warehouse stores, stock up on trees, making it easy for them to give great prices, said Conway. "Bear in mind, however, that negotiating opportunities will be thin at warehouse stores," she warned. "[Also] check out the faux tree deals at the warehouse stores. They'll get you through several seasons, saving you more each year."

    4. Eggs, butter and cheese. You can find good deals on eggs, butter and cheese at Sam's Club, said Teri Gault, CEO of TheGroceryGame.com. "Eggs, butter and cheese are almost always the best possible price any time of year," she said. "Expect to save 30 to 50 percent compared to supermarkets. This is due to the fact that these are staples that don't often have high-value coupons, and the most competitive sales at supermarkets are usually only on certain holiday sales events."

    5. Brand-name tires. Pushing your tires until they're as bald as an eagle isn't smart, and thanks to Sam's Club, you won't have to, said Jeanette Pavini, savings expert with Coupons.com. "Aside from attractive prices, Sam's Club's $15 per tire installation package includes services like 24-hour emergency roadside services for three years and lifetime tire balance, rotation and flat repair," said Pavini.

    6. Movie tickets. Going to a dinner and a movie isn't as cheap as it used to be. So, Pavini suggested cutting the cost by picking up movie tickets (and maybe snacks?) at Sam's Club. "We found two adult tickets for $16.98," she said. "Since you're typically buying a voucher you can exchange for a ticket, make sure you use it at a peak time. For example, use it on an early-bird matinee and you may lose money. But use it on an evening show, and you'll come out ahead."

    7. Televisions. If need a new TV, you'll want to do careful comparison shopping. But, you'll also want to include Sam's Club in the mix, said Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing at DealNews.com. "Sam's Club occasionally features TVs at competitive prices, making them a major player to consider when perusing for a big-screen set," she said. "However, most of the deals apply to lesser-known brands, like Vizio."

    8. Health screenings. We all know that health care is expensive, which is why a free health screening could be the best deal at Sam's Club. "Periodically throughout the year, Sam's Club will offer free health screenings for men and women that check for blood pressure, body fat percentage, total cholesterol, glucose/HDL cholesterol and vision," said Sakraida.

    9. Gift cards. Hardly anything is better than free money to spend on your favorite meal or song, which is why you should take advantage of discounted gift cards at Sam's Club. "Many people don't realize that they can score deals on gift cards, but Sam's Club will offer price cuts on cards for the likes of Applebee's, Fandango, Outback Steakhouse and iTunes," said Sakraida. For example, a $100 worth of P.F. Chang's gift cards sold for $79.98 on the Sam's Club website.

    10. Party food. When it's time to party, count Sam in. "Most food items sold in large quantities are not only a great deal but will keep you stocked for large family or work gatherings," said Conway. "From frozen appetizers and finger foods to desserts and gift baskets, you'll save 30 percent over local supermarket deals." Her one warning is not to buy more than you need. Waste is a bargain hunter's worst enemy.

    10 Worst Sam's Club Deals

    Avoiding bad deals is just as important as jumping at good ones. So, here are 10 Sam's Club deals you might want to skip.

    1. Meat. Grab the eggs, butter and cheese, but leave the meat, said Gault. "The one or two featured meat sales at supermarkets will beat warehouse club stores by a lot," she said. She suggests bulking up on supermarket meat sales. "Invest for your freezer. There's always one or two sales a week that are 50 to 67 percent off, and lower than warehouse club stores," Gault added.

    2. Some produce. Warehouse stores like Sam's Club don't offer seasonal sales on produce, so often you'll find much better deals at your supermarket when it features a seasonal sale, said Gault. "I always say bring the sales circular, or look it up on your smartphone before you pay 50 percent more or even twice as much," she said.

    3. Toilet paper and paper towels. Paper products tend to be a pretty flimsy deal at Sam's Club and other warehouse stores, said Conway. Per sheet, toilet paper ends up being roughly the same price at the grocery store and Sam's Club. However, with a sale or coupon, you can easily find a better deal at the grocery store, she said. "Papers towels cost 50 percent less at merchants such as Target or the grocery store when on sale," added Conway.

    4. Luggage. The good news: Sam's Club has high-quality suitcases, said Conway. The bad news: They're more expensive than using an online coupon code. "Macy's, for example, has a two-piece Samsonite luggage set comparable to that at the warehouse clubs for a lower price," she said. "Coupled with a coupon code for 15 to 20 percent off available at Slickdeals.net, the savings are even greater."

    5. Coffee. This is another good news, bad news scenario, according to Pavini. "You can get really great deals on coffee when you shop at warehouse stores, but here's the catch: Coffee is only at its peak for a limited amount of time," she said. "So while you'll certainly save buying the 2-pound bag of coffee, it may not be optimum quality by the time you reach the bottom of the bag."

    Pavini suggested grabbing a coupon and hitting the grocer instead. "Recently, I found around a dozen coffee-related offers in the beverage section at Coupons.com," she said.

    6. Soda. Soda, the young guns' coffee. But don't look to Sam to give you the bargain basement price. Grocery stores often have great sales on soda around popular holidays and sports events, said Conway. "Typically, during these sales cycles, you can expect to pay about 17 cents per can at the grocery store versus the normal low price at a warehouse club for 25 cents per can," she said.

    Pavini recommends doing your soda bulk shopping at a grocery store instead of Sam's Club. "If you're planning to buy in bulk anyways, you can often find good deals at grocery stores, like buy two 12-packs and get three free."

    7. Cereal. Yes, you can buy jumbo boxes of cereal for a seemingly good price at Sam's Club, but often you can do a lot better if you wait for sales at the grocery store and use a coupon, said Pavini. "Since cereal coupons are one of the most popular coupon categories, there are always deals to be had," she said. "Plus, while unopened cereal will last for months in your pantry, once opened the big boxes may get stale before you get to the bottom."

    8. Condiments. Sure, that gallon of mayonnaise might be a fantastic price, but do you really want or need that much? Pavini said that considering the possibility of waste, it might be more penny-wise to wait for the fridge-sized condiments to go on sale at the supermarket. "Keep in mind that fatty-based products, like mayonnaise and olive oil, have a shorter shelf life once opened," she added. "Make sure you're able to finish it before it goes bad, or it's wasted money -- no matter how good the deal."

    9. Pantry items. Packaged foods -- canned foods, pancake mix, salad dressing and almost anything in the center of the supermarket aisles-- are cheaper when on sale at supermarkets than at Sam's Club, said Gault. "The sale price is usually 20 to 40 percent less," she explained. "Adding a coupon makes the regular-size boxes on sale often half the cost per unit or cost per ounce than the huge bulk packages at warehouse club stores."

    10. Membership fee. If you haven't joined yet but are thinking of spending $45 or $100 for a Sam's Club membership, Conway said you should hold out for a deal. "LivingSocial and Groupon feature deals approximately every three months or so for Sam's Club discounted membership rates, plus store gift cards," she said. With the store incentives, it's practically a free membership.

    "If you're shopping for a membership, set a 'Deal Alert' on Slickdeals.net," advised Conway. "You'll receive an email notification when a deal matching your criteria becomes available."

    This story, 10 Best and Worst Deals at Sam's Club, originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Doctor examining patient
    Getty ImagesReducing your medical bills starts with picking the right health plan for you.
    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    It doesn't matter how much you spend on health care; you probably wish you spent less.

    Fortunately for consumers today, there are a number of tools and resources available to reduce the cost of medical bills. It starts with picking the best health plan for your family and ends with committing to a healthy lifestyle.

    Here are seven ways to help you lower your health care spending and live a healthy life.

    Pick the Right Health Insurance Plan

    Your health insurance plan is critical when it comes to keeping your health care costs low. But with so many plans on the market, it can be difficult to find the right coverage for your family. When comparing policies, consider the following:
    • Premium: Often paid monthly, the premium is what you spend to buy the policy.
    • Deductible: The amount you pay out-of-pocket for care before your policy begins to pay for most medical costs.
    • Copayments: Usually a flat amount paid per visit or service.
    • Coinsurance: Represents your portion of the bill, typically assessed as a percentage of the billable amount.
    • Network: The health care providers and facilities that accept the insurance policy.
    • Coverage: The care covered by the policy. Some services must be covered by law but others, such as dental and vision, are optional.
    If your family expects to have high medical bills, then paying a higher premium in exchange for lower out-of-pocket costs may be a smart choice. If you're relatively healthy, a high-deductible plan with lower premiums could save you money.

    Use an HSA with Eligible High-Deductible Plans

    Consumers who decide to go with a high-deductible plan should check to see if they are eligible for a health savings account, known as an HSA. Ryan Tiernan, who is the founder of Access Point HSA and helps businesses set up HSAs for employees, says they can be a major source of tax savings.

    "They are triple tax-free," he says. "Money goes in tax-free, grows tax-free and comes out tax-free [when used for qualified medical expenses]."

    Even better, companies that offer HSAs as part of a benefits package often match deposits into an account. "[Many] employers are making some type of match," Tiernan says. "That's a huge win." A June 2014 report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that over half of HSAs have employer contributions.

    Money deposited into an HSA rolls over each year and can be used tax-free for medical expenses, even if your insurance changes.

    Make the Most of Wellness Programs

    As employers work to control their health care costs, many are offering wellness programs for their workers. While programs vary, they often give workers a discount on their health insurance premium for doing one or more of the following:
    • Participating in biometric screenings, such as checking blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
    • Completing a health risk assessment, usually in the form of a questionnaire.
    • Enrolling in a physical activity program.
    In 2015, employers are expected to dole out $693 an employee in wellness incentives, according to a survey of 121 companies by Fidelity and the National Business Group on Health.

    Let a Discount Card Fill the Gaps

    Unless you have Cadillac coverage, you'll probably find your health insurance won't cover some services. In that case, a health care discount card might be able to reduce your costs. Not to be confused with insurance, these cards offer reduced rates on services offered by participating providers.

    Anyone can get a discount card, and many charge a monthly or annual fee. Allen Erenbaum, president of Consumer Health Alliance, a trade association for discount health care programs, says the cost can be easily recouped through the savings. "You use it as often as you need it," he says.

    To get the most value, Erenbaum recommends using the following guidelines before paying for a card.
    • Check the list of participating providers to see who accepts the card. If a list is not available before buying, that could be a red flag.
    • Look for plans that allow you to try it for 30 days and get a refund within that period if you're not satisfied.
    • Review the list of included and excluded services. It should be clear what care is discounted.
    Discount cards can be purchased individually or obtained through employers or professional organizations.

    Shop Around for the Best Price

    Mitch Rothschild, chairman and founder of the health care ratings and reviews site Vitals.com, says consumers can save a significant amount of money simply by changing their health care provider or using a generic prescription.

    There ought to be an alarm bell that goes off in a patient's mind when you're doing anything other than routine care.

    He describes one self-insurer employer who gives employees a $500 rebate if they choose to have a certain procedure done at an outpatient facility rather than a hospital. While the hospital charges $10,000 for the service, the outpatient facility only bills $1,500. To encourage workers to choose the cheaper option, the company shares the savings.

    Even if you're not getting a rebate for selecting a less expensive facility, it can still save you money in the form of lower copayments and coinsurance. "There ought to be an alarm bell that goes off in a patient's mind when you're doing anything other than routine care," Rothschild says. That bell should indicate it's best to shop around before selecting where to have a service performed.

    Sam Ho, executive vice president and chief medical officer for insurer UnitedHealthcare, notes his company offers the UnitedHealth Premium designation program that evaluates the quality and cost-effectiveness of 250,000 physicians across 27 specialties. Other insurers offer similar information on their websites for members. "Health care quality and costs can vary significantly within a city so consumers should evaluate what resources are available through their health plan to identify high-quality, efficient health care providers," Ho says.

    Get Your Free Preventive Care

    It's often less expensive to treat minor problems than major medical issues. By taking advantage of your health plan's free preventive services, you may be able to identify potential areas of concern before they balloon into something bigger.

    Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, all health insurance plans must include a number of preventive services free of charge, without any deductible, copay or coinsurance requirements. These free services range from a number of cancer screenings and immunizations to well-woman and well-child visits.

    Other preventive care may not be free but still shouldn't be neglected. "Annual check-ups, dental cleanings and routine eye exams can help identify chronic conditions, as well as facilitate necessary follow-up treatments with primary care physicians and specialists," Ho says.

    Make Smart Lifestyle Choices

    Chronic disease is responsible for 86 percent of the country's health care costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of these conditions are attributable to unhealthy lifestyle choices.

    Besides costing money for disease management, chronic conditions can land you in the hospital, which is not the cheapest place to be. "Generally speaking, hospitals are big, inefficient, expensive places," Rothschild says.

    In 2012, the average cost for a surgical stay in a U.S. hospital was $21,200, according to the government Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Medical stays had an average price tag of $8,500, and maternal and neonatal stays averaged $4,300. However, some procedures can cost significantly more. Governing magazine analyzed government data and found that California hospitals charge an average of $150,000 for a major joint replacement.

    You can reduce your chances of developing a chronic condition or needing to be hospitalized by eating a balanced diet, staying active and avoiding risky behaviors.

    Health care costs can take a bite out of your budget, but you aren't helpless. Putting these strategies into action can help you lower costs and keep more money in your pocket.

    Maryalene LaPonsie is freelance writer who has been reporting on personal finance, retirement, higher education and insurance for more than seven years. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google Plus or check out her personal website at The Mighty Widow.

     

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    old woman in shock
    Getty ImagesBeware of actively managed funds that come with higher fees.
    By Steve Nicastro

    The 401(k) is a big chunk of America's retirement nest egg. Among Fidelity account holders, the average 401(k) balance was $91,100 at the end of the second quarter this year.

    It's favored for retirement saving for a few reasons: It allows for tax-deferred growth, it's funded by paycheck deferrals and many companies offer to match a percentage of employee contributions.

    But all 401(k) plans aren't created equal, and there are some universal downsides to these accounts. Here are five things you need to know about your 401(k).

    1. Administrative fees could be costing you big bucks. 401(k) plans are an expensive offering from the employer's perspective: There are costs associated with providing the plan, for everything from paperwork to accounting and legal fees.

    These administrative costs, combined with investment expenses, can total 1 percent or more and add up to nearly $140,000 over the lifetime of a worker whose salary starts around $30,000 at age 25, according to analysis by the Center for American Progress, a public policy research organization.

    Some employers swallow administrative costs on behalf of the employee, but others pass them along, either dividing those costs equally between plan participants or charging a percentage of assets (which means employees with larger account balances pay more).

    A 2013 study by NerdWallet found that 9 in 10 employees underestimate their 401(k) fees. To avoid that, here are a few tips to better understand your 401(k) plan fees.

    2. Your investment selection is puny. According to the nonprofit Plan Sponsor Council of America, 401(k)s offer an average of 19 fund choices, a small selection compared to what you'd be able to access in an individual account like an IRA.

    "Generally, what you find is more of these passive index funds that charge less, and then there are these little landmines -- actively managed higher-fee funds -- mixed in," says David Hunter, a certified financial planner with Horizons Wealth Management in the Carolinas.

    Actively managed funds are landmines because they can be more expensive for investors: They are managed by professionals, and investors in the fund pay for that service as part of the expense ratio, the annual fee charged by the fund. The asset-weighted expense ratio of active funds in 2014 was 0.79 percent, according to Morningstar (MORN), compared to 0.20 percent for passive funds.

    "Investors want to be aware of these fees and, to the extent they can, tilt [their] investment portfolio toward lower-cost funds," says Walter Updegrave, editor of the website Real Deal Retirement. "If investors choose those, that can make a big difference in how their nest egg grows over time."

    On $100,000 invested over 35 years at a 7 percent return, the difference between a 0.79 percent fee and a 0.20 percent fee could add up to more than $175,000.

    3. Target-date funds can have a dark side. Many 401(k)s auto-enroll participants these days; that is, your investments are automatically chosen for you. If you don't make investment selections, the default option is typically a target-date fund, a kind of mutual fund that is tied to a retirement year and rebalances to take less risk as that year draws near. But many target-date funds are actively managed and carry higher expense ratios. Even if you're auto-enrolled in your plan, you want to take a look at your investment options.

    "If you're being auto-enrolled into a target-date fund, look at what the expense level is and whether you may be able to come up with a similar asset mix out of index funds and do better on expenses," Updegrave says.

    Keep in mind, however, that target-date funds do the work of rebalancing for you, which is part of the reason you may pay a premium. If you invest in index funds, you'll need to keep an eye on your allocation and rebalance as necessary.

    4. Employer contributions can vanish if you leave your job. An employer match is one of the biggest reasons to contribute to a 401(k): It's free money that makes potentially higher fees worth it. But that's only if you stay in your job long enough to keep it.

    The Plan Sponsor Council of America annual survey reports only about 39 percent of plans provide immediate vesting of employer contributions. In other companies, employer matching funds vest by a certain percentage each year, or as a whole after three, four or even five years. That means if you leave before you are vested, you may be giving up some or all of those matching dollars.

    5. Your auto-enrollment contribution isn't enough. Plans that auto-enroll participants generally do so at a contribution rate of 3 percent or 4 percent, which isn't enough to make for a financially secure retirement.

    "You want to save 10 percent, and ideally 15 percent," Updegrave says. "You can include an employer match in those figures, but 3 percent or 4 percent is not going to be nearly enough for most people's retirement needs."

    On a $50,000 salary, contributing 3 percent a year over 35 years will leave you with a retirement savings of only a little over $300,000 -- and that's with a 7 percent return and salary increases of 3 percent a year and no employer match.

    You should contribute at least enough to capture all matching dollars, but aim to inch up your contribution each year until you're saving 10 percent to 15 percent of your salary.

    -Arielle O'Shea of NerdWallet contributed to this article.

    Steve Nicastro is a financial writer for NerdWallet.com, where he covers topics such as investing, credit cards, mortgages and insurance. He previously was an editor at Patch.com and contributor to Seeking Alpha and GoBankingRates.com.

     

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    By Stacy Rapacon

    The season of giving can take a whole lot out of your wallet. In 2014, the National Retail Federation estimates that consumers spent an average $460 just on gifts for their families. Pile on top of that all of the food, decorations, clothing and other presents most people splurge on for the holidays, and your budget is sure to get bloated.

    Ideally, you'd have saved throughout the year in preparation for the pricey festivities. But even if holiday costs didn't creep into your budget until now, you still have time to tally up plenty of extra cash before Black Friday. With our suggested strategies, we figure that you can cobble together more than $1,000 in extra savings, based on average costs and listed retail prices. Of course, how much you can actually save depends on your specific situation and which moves you make. (Check out 30 Ways to Waste Your Money for even more ideas to trim your spending.) Still, our examples go to show that you can save a grand in just two months with a few simple budget adjustments -- whether you need the money for holiday spending or other financial goals.

    1. Reshop your auto insurance. The cost of car insurance can vary greatly for each driver, and you're likely paying more than necessary. Make sure you're getting the best deal possible by comparing plans from different insurers using tools from Insurance.com, InsWeb or Nerdwallet. Monthly rates in New Jersey for my 2004 Honda CR-V, for example, range from $65 to $235 on NerdWallet. You can also work with a local independent insurance agent who can shop for you; find one through TrustedChoice.com. (See 3 Simple Steps to Reshop Your Car Insurance.)

    You might also be able to save if you can prove you're a good driver. For example, Progressive and Allstate respectively offer trackers Snapshot and Drivewise that monitor your track record and help you save if you practice good driving habits. (Snapshot collects your driving data for 30 days before you start saving.) Progressive estimates that safe drivers can save up to 30% off their premiums. Given an average of $1,311 for car insurance costs, that can mean more than $390 in annual savings -- or about $33 each month.

    Two months of savings: $340 if you switch from the priciest policy to the lowest-cost alternative.

    2. Eat at home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumers spent an average of about $2,800 on dining out in 2014 -- or $233 each month. Brown-bag your lunch and trade restaurant dinner dates for romantic nights this fall to cut those meal costs by two-thirds or more.

    Planning and preparing your meals for the week ahead of time will help you resist the costly ease of eating out or ordering in. (See Money-Smart Ways to Eat Healthy and 10 Ways to Save Money on Groceries Without Coupons.)

    Two months of estimated savings: $310-plus.

    3. Drive less. Leave your car in the garage on workdays throughout the fall to cut daily costs on parking, gas, tolls and even the occasional ticket. If your daily commute is 10 miles round-trip and you spend $20 for daily parking (the average monthly parking rate in New York City, for example, is $445), we estimate that you can save $24.75 a day by biking instead of driving to work. Even if your savings are, say, a more modest $20 per day and if you only opt to cycle into work every other day, the savings can really add up. (Try our calculator to crunch the numbers for your own commute.) Carpooling and public transportation are other options, albeit with their own costs.

    Two months of estimated savings: $200-plus via 10 car-free commutes.

    4. Cut the cable cord. You don't need to pay for cable to enjoy watching television. Most of your favorite shows are likely available online or through streaming services for little to no cost. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the average price for expanded basic cable TV service is $66 a month.

    But many network sites share top shows for free the day after they air. Or you can subscribe to a streaming service, such as Amazon Prime, to get access to whole libraries of shows and movies for $8 to $9 a month. If you must watch live, you can access more than 20 channels -- including AMC, the Disney channel and ESPN -- and still save by using Sling TV for $20 a month.

    Two months of savings: $132.

    5. Trim your cellphone bill. Leaving your mainstream wireless carrier can save you a bundle. With Straight Talk Wireless, you can get a 30-day cell-phone plan for just $45 that includes unlimited talk, texts and data. By comparison, Verizon offers no such limitless plan, but does have a 12GB data option, which the company deems suitable for what it calls "big-time data users," for $80 a month that includes unlimited talk and text. (See Best Cellphone Plans for Every Type of User.)

    Two months of savings: $70.

    TOTAL POTENTIAL SAVINGS: $1,052-plus.

     

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    By Louis Ramirez

    Buying a new phone used to be easy. You paid your carrier $199 for a new smartphone, agreed to a 2-year contract, and were on your merry way. Today, however, buying a new mobile device and wireless plan is a nightmare.

    Carriers are moving away from the old subsidized model, in the hopes that consumers are willing to pay full price for their smartphones in exchange for slightly cheaper data plans. Moreover, some carriers now offer leasing options, and with manufacturers such as Apple and Google entering the picture, consumers are faced with dozens of choices.

    The good news is, if you can navigate this maze, you might actually get a plan that's cheaper in the long run than your old subsidized one. But, in many ways, it's incredibly confusing to make sense of it all. Below are a few smartphone-buying pitfalls to watch out for.

    Plans Aren't Transparent

    Cellphone plans were never designed to be consumer-friendly, but these days, they're less transparent than ever. From the industry's ever-changing definition of "unlimited" to the most recent installment and leasing options, if it looks too good to be true, read the fine print. Many unlimited plans involve throttling once you hit a data cap and many promotional prices are subject to change at the carrier's discretion.

    There Are Too Many Leasing Options

    The smartphone industry wants you to upgrade your smartphone every year, and mobile carriers are trying to ensure that this happens. From Sprint to AT&T, carriers are now encouraging their customers to "lease" their smartphones, rather than buy them. For the consumer, that means you get a new smartphone every year. For the carriers, that means you're constantly paying for a phone that will technically never be yours to keep and resell. Moreover, with so many leasing options, it's almost impossible to tell the plans apart.

    Cost of Data is in Flux

    There was a time when customers primarily paid for voice and text messaging. These days, carriers are practically giving that out for free. The cost of data, however, is in flux. While it's true that some carriers like Verizon have tried to make their data plans more transparent, there is still no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to data. And very few carriers let you pay just for the data that you use. Even grandfathered customers are seeing price increases on their unlimited data plans. That means chances are you'll overpay for data regardless of which plan you choose.

    Manufacturers Now Offer Their Own Purchase Plans

    Choices are good for the consumer, but too many choices can complicate matters. Earlier in the year Google launched Project Fi, a mobile virtual network operator that uses cellphone towers from Sprint and T-Mobile in conjunction with WiFi to provide seamless tower-to-WiFi phone coverage. The plan is perhaps the most transparent mobile plan on the market, but for now it only works on select Nexus devices. Google also just announced its own warranty plan called Nexus Protect, which could make some users second-guess their current warranty plan.

    Moreover, last month Apple announced it would offer an iPhone finance plan for customers who prefer to lease their iPhone direct from Apple. Although the plan includes AppleCare, it's one of the more expensive offerings on the market. Unlike the Google example, this is solely for purchasing your phone, and doesn't include wireless service.

    You Can Still Buy Subsidized and Unsubsidized Phone Plans

    Although the industry is making a transition toward unsubsidized plans, certain carriers like AT&T and Verizon will still let customers purchase 2-year subsidized phone plans. For Verizon, you'll need to be grandfathered into your subsidized plan, meaning new customers can only purchase unsubsidized phones. AT&T, however, lets both new and old customers purchase subsidized phones. The catch is you must make your purchase at a brick-and-mortar AT&T store or direct via AT&T's website. You can no longer purchase subsidized AT&T phones via third-party merchants like Best Buy or Apple.

    Unlocked Smartphones Don't Always Work With Every Carrier

    Although pricier than their contract-ridden alternatives, unlocked smartphones have typically been preferred by most users because the latter handhelds give you the freedom to switch carriers whenever you want.

    The average consumer might not know all of the bands that their iPhone 6s supports, and wrongly think an unlocked iPhone can work on any network.

    However, as PC Mag notes, owning an unlocked phone doesn't always mean you can switch to whatever carrier you desire. Unlocked phones typically work only on GSM networks (AT&T and T-Mobile). While there are some models that will work on all of our main networks, finding these specific SKUs can be tricky since they're typically only sold via the manufacturer's website. As a result, the average consumer might not know all of the bands that their latest iPhone 6s supports, and wrongly think an unlocked iPhone can work on any network.

    Roaming Fees Are Still an Issue

    Using your smartphone outside of the United States can create a nightmare scenario for your wallet. That's because many carriers still charge steep roaming fees for the privilege of making calls or using your data plan while abroad. Verizon, for instance, offers a dizzying amount of travel plans, and carriers like Verizon and T-Mobile even offer special plans for cruise ships where, depending on your cruise liner, data can cost upwards of $15/MB. Google's Project Fi is hoping to kill roaming once and for all, but we've still got a long way to go before we can get there.

    Verizon is Already Pushing 5G

    Would you pay a premium for a new 5G smartphone knowing that coverage is still low? Verizon is hoping you will. The carrier recently announced that it would start field-testing its 5G network next year, which according to Verizon is 30 to 50 times faster than its current 4G network.

    However, as rival AT&T points out, the industry has yet to agree on standards for 5G networks, which makes any preliminary talk about 5G nothing but talk.

    Despite the migraine-inducing confusion, today's smartphone plans do have a massive advantage over the previous years' plans, and that's diversity. Consumers now have a wide range of phones and packages to choose from, and although the package that's best for you may not always be apparent, it's better than having little-to-no options whatsoever.

    Do you have more confusing phone industry quirks to add to our list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

     

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    new home construction real estate housing markets
    John Bazemore/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. housing starts rose solidly in September on soaring demand for rental apartments, a sign that the housing market continues to steadily improve even as economic growth has slowed.

    The Commerce Department said Tuesday groundbreaking increased 6.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 1.21 million units. It was the sixth straight month that starts were above 1 million units, pointing to a sustainable housing recovery.

    Economists polled by Reuters had forecast groundbreaking on new homes rising to a 1.15 million-unit pace last month.

    Housing is one of the few bright spots in the economy, which has been slammed by softening global demand and a strong dollar, which have undercut exports. Efforts by businesses to reduce an inventory bulge and weak capital spending in the energy sector have also been a drag.

    Economic activity has braked sharply, with third-quarter growth estimates running below a 1.5 percent annualized rate. The economy grew at a 3.9 percent rate in the second quarter.

    Although residential construction accounts for less than 3 percent of gross domestic product, housing has a broader impact on the economy, with rising home prices boosting household wealth and therefore supporting consumer spending.

    The dollar slipped against the euro, while prices for U.S. Treasury debt were little changed.

    Starts for multifamily projects surged 18.3 percent to a 466,000 unit pace, the highest level since June. Multifamily construction is being driven by demand for rentals, especially by millennials, who can't afford to buy their own homes because of higher prices and debt burdens.

    Groundbreaking for single-family homes, the largest segment of the market, rose 0.3 percent to a 740,000 unit pace. Economists say single-family building is being constrained by land and labor shortages.

    Starts in the South, where most of the home construction takes place, rose 0.6 percent to their highest level since October 2007. Groundbreaking on housing projects in the West was the highest since July 2007.

    Though building permits fell 5 percent to a 1.10 million-unit rate last month, a six-month low, the weakness is likely to be temporary amid strong confidence levels among homebuilders.

    A survey Monday showed builders' confidence rose to a near 10-year high in October, with builders upbeat about current sales conditions and expectations over the next six months.

    Single-family building permits slipped 0.3 percent last month. Multifamily building permits dropped 12.1 percent, with permits for buildings with five units or more falling to their lowest level since December 2014.

    Permits for single-family homes in the South rose to their highest level since January 2008.

     

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    amazon season hiring holiday shopping christmas
    Ted S. Warren/APA forklift operator moves a pallet of goods at an Amazon.com fulfillment center in DuPont, Wash.
    NEW YORK -- Amazon (AMZN) plans to hire 100,000 people for the holidays, a 25 percent jump from last year that reveals a shift in the way we shop.

    The online retailer said Tuesday that it will be hiring across the country for jobs in its fulfillment and sorting facilities. The Seattle company recently hired more than 25,000 people for regular, full-time positions. It hired 80,000 workers last year for the holidays.

    Amazon stands out among retailers, with holiday hiring expected to remain largely unchanged, according to a report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

    ...holiday hiring is shifting away from stores and into the warehouses.

    "It used to be that the bulk of holiday hires would be in customer-facing positions on the sales floor and behind the cash register, said CEO said John Challenger. "These extra workers would also help pick up the slack in the backroom, helping to receive and stock increased deliveries. Now, as more and more shopping is completed online, the holiday hiring is shifting away from stores and into the warehouses."

    A mixed hiring picture from retailers is emerging during a dicey period for the U.S.

    Labor Department reported earlier this month that a sharp slowdown in hiring occurred in September. Average hourly wages slipped by a penny and have risen a tepid 2.2 percent in the past year.

    Walmart (WMT) is hiring 60,000 holiday employees, Target (TGT) about 70,000 and Macy's (M) 85,000, which are all about flat compared with last year. Kohl's (KSS) his hiring about 2,000 additional workers. J.C. Penney (JCP) and Toys R Us are hiring fewer, while GameStop (GME) is hiring about 12 percent more workers.

    Amazon.com has more than 90,000 full-time employees at its more than 50 fulfillment centers and 20 sorting facilities in the U.S.

     

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    Family watching television together in living room
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    It seems as if television viewing keeps getting more expensive with every passing year. Cable and satellite television providers continue to pass along escalating programming costs and even folks who "cut the cord" to rely on streaming platforms are realizing that they're not immune to price hikes.

    Netflix (NFLX) has pushed through a pair of increases since the springtime of last year. Amazon.com (AMZN) bumped the annual rate for Amazon Prime -- its all-inclusive subscription service that offers a growing catalog of digital video -- 25 percent higher last year. Even Hulu recently rolled out a premium-priced platform of Hulu Plus that strips away commercial interruptions.

    You want video entertainment, but you probably don't want to pay as much as you are paying right now. That's understandable. Let's go over a few ways that you can save money without sacrificing too much of what you're already enjoying.

    1. Know When to Cancel Premium Movie Channels

    If you only subscribe to Showtime for "Homeland," what are you doing paying for it all year long? Why not just subscribe to the premium channel when the show you actually watch is airing new episodes? Better yet, wait until the final month of the season to subscribe, catching the earlier episodes on-demand along the way. Then just cancel with your service provider until you're ready to hop on again.

    This naturally won't work if you're watching several shows on the channel that are staggered across the calendar year, but if you're not making the most of your premium channel subscription all year long, there's no reason you can't just be a seasonal subscriber.

    2. Install an HD Antenna

    Buying an over-the-air antenna has been a popular investment for cord cutters. The most popular models cost as little as $30, and even hiring a tech-savvy handyman to set everything up shouldn't cost you more than $100 or so beyond that.

    The allure of the over-the-air antenna is that you should be able to receive the local VHF and UHF channels in high-def for free -- just like the old days. It's a popular move for millennials cutting their cable providers loose. They can then pair up Netflix or any other streaming service with access to local news and shows from the major network affiliates.

    However, even if you decide not to let your cable or satellite television lapse, an HD antenna could come in handy the next time you have a pay-TV or Internet outage.

    3. Sports Don't Have to Cost You an Arm and a Leg

    The most compelling reason to stay with a rising-cost cable or satellite TV plan is sports programming. Netflix has recently reminded the public that it has no intention to dive into the costly market of live sports that offers little in replay value.

    There's a reason that Disney's (DIS) ESPN is the most expensive channel -- by far -- in basic cable packages. ESPN was the exclusive domain of pay TV, but earlier this year it rolled out as a channel in Sling TV, the Web-based television service that for $20 a month includes several channels. ESPN is one of them.

    Local affiliates of major networks also offer plenty of sports programming, and that's another good reason to invest in an over-the-air high-def antenna.

    There's also a growing number of leagues offering streaming access for a modest price. There have never been so many ways to get into the game. Play accordingly.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com, Netflix, and Walt Disney. 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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    Assembly Of Tesla Model S Electric Automobiles  At  A Tesla Motors Inc. Factory
    Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesA Tesla Model S automobile during final assembly at the Tesla Motors factory in Tilburg, Netherlands.
    By Joseph White

    DETROIT -- Owners of vehicles with advanced fuel-saving technology and digital multimedia systems, including the Tesla (TSLA) Model S sedan, are hurting reliability, Consumer Reports magazine found in its annual survey of vehicle reliability.

    There is "an emerging trend of increased troubles" with many vehicles that use new transmission technology to boost mileage, the magazine said Tuesday. The latest reliability survey was to be presented by the magazine's editors at a meeting of Detroit's Automotive Press Association.

    One of the most technologically adventurous cars on the market, the Tesla Model S, registered a worse than average reliability score based on survey responses from 1,400 owners, Consumer Reports found. The battery-powered Model S P85D was recently lauded by the magazine's editors for racking up the best scores ever in its performance tests. But owners complained of rattles, leaks and problems with the charging equipment, drivetrain and center console displays, the magazine said.

    Complaints about balky multimedia "infotainment" systems continue to plague several major automakers, including Ford (F), Nissan, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) and several prominent brands, including General Motors' (GM) Cadillac luxury line, the magazine found.

    Honda's (HMC) Acura luxury brand fell seven places to No. 18 in the magazine's ranking of 28 brands because of problems with transmissions and in-car entertainment systems, the magazine said.

    Overall, Toyota's (TM) Lexus brand was the top-ranked brand in the magazine's reliability survey. The highest-ranked Detroit brand was Buick, at No. 7.

    Fiat Chrysler's Fiat brand came in last.

    Consumer Reports said its 2015 reliability survey took into account data on 740,000 vehicles.

     

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    Wal-Mart Announces Its Increasing Wages
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    By Diane Bartz

    WASHINGTON -- The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces U.S. laws against deceptive ads, said Tuesday that it had closed a probe of Walmart Stores (WMT) after the company addressed the problem of products advertised as "Made in USA" when they weren't.

    The FTC closed the probe without action after Walmart dropped all "Made in USA" logos from products on its website, the FTC said in a letter to the company that was posted on the agency's website.

    Walmart has since redesigned its "Made in USA" logos for some products to better indicate how much of the product was made domestically and how much was made overseas, the FTC noted in its letter.

    Based on your actions and other factors, the staff has decided not to pursue this investigation any further.

    "Based on your actions and other factors, the staff has decided not to pursue this investigation any further," FTC staff attorney Julia Solomon Ensor wrote in the letter.

    The problem arose as Walmart sought to fulfill a pledge made in 2013 to buy an extra $250 billion in U.S.-made goods over a decade to support U.S. manufacturing jobs. The world's largest retailer by revenue has faced criticism by unions and others that its low-cost business model was a big factor in pushing manufacturing jobs offshore.

    The watchdog group Truth in Advertising found 100 instances of mislabeled products in June and raised them with the company. They found another 100 in July and took the information to the FTC, said legal director Laura Smith.

    "In light of the company's steps to address the issues, we're not surprised that the investigation has been closed," said Smith.

    Walmart said it was pleased with the decision to drop the probe. "We're committed to reviewing and strengthening our processes," said spokesman Kory Lundberg.

    -Nathan Layne contributed reporting.

     

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    Clever Ways to Save Hundreds Each Month
    Are you on a tight budget? Finding ways to cut back on spending can be tough, but with these clever tips you can save hundreds each month with ease.

    Let's start with your car. By getting more mileage out of your vehicle, you can take your savings farther. Start by cleaning or swapping your air filter. Doing this can save up to $100 for every 10,000 miles you drive.

    Another great way to save is to keep your tires inflated. For every two PSI of air pressure under the recommended level, you lose 1 percent on your gas mileage. Doing these simple tasks for you car can easily save you between 5-10 percent on your fuel costs.

    Next, take a look at your meal budget. Are you eating out a lot or throwing away leftovers and unused ingredients? Ideally, you should be spending 10-15 percent of your take-home pay on food. Any more than this can devour your cash. Do some calculations and adjust your budget as necessary.

    Finally, your cell phone bill may be draining your savings. On average, U.S. consumers spend a whopping $85 a month on their phone bills. So if you've noticed that you're spending too much on data, try connecting your device to WiFi instead and scale your data plan back. Explore your options, because in some instances switching from a monthly contract to a prepaid plan could lower your costs by up to 50 percent.

    So, as you set your budget for next month, remember these tips. You'll see that with a little homework, there are many clever ways to save on your spending.

    View Poll



     

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    Ferrari To List On New York Stock Exhchange
    Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesItalian automaker Ferrari is set to go public, with an opening price of $53 a share, according to CNBC. Ferrari said it will be price officially after the market closes Tuesday.
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended down slightly Tuesday as a drop in health care and biotech stocks offset gains in United Technologies and Verizon.

    A 5.7-percent drop to $140.64 in IBM also weighed on the market. The stock hit a five-year intraday low at $140.28 after it reported a bigger-than-expected fall in quarterly revenue and cut its full-year profit forecast.

    The S&P health care sector fell 1.5 percent, while the Nasdaq biotech index dropped 3.2 percent. Concerns about drug pricing have hit biotech and other health care shares.

    "You're seeing weakness in momentum names in general. Obviously the health care names are under pressure again, especially pharma companies. That further increases the pall over that sector," said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

    At the same time, O'Rourke said, investors seem to be buying more stable names, such as Apple (AAPL), which jumped 1.8 percent to $113.77.

    Stocks have mostly gained this month following a sell-off in the third quarter, though concern about third-quarter earnings has added to caution in recent sessions.

    Among companies beating analyst expectations, United Technologies (UTX) rose 3.9 percent to $95.62, giving the Dow its biggest boost.

    Also on the plus side, Verizon (VZ) shares were up 1.2 percent at $45.24 after the largest U.S. wireless service provider reported better-than-expected revenue and profit.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 13.43 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,217.11, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 2.89 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,030.77 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 24.50 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,880.97.

    The S&P 500 is up 5.8 percent so far in October.

    Tallying Earnings

    Earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to have fallen about 4 percent in the third quarter, while revenue is expected to have declined 3.8 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    Of the S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, roughly 40 percent have beaten revenue expectations, below the long-term average, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    Travelers (TRV) rose 2.5 percent to $108.95. The insurer's quarterly profit topped estimates, helped by higher underwriting gains. Harley Davidson (HOG) skidded 13.9 percent to $48.25 after the motorcycle maker cut its full-year shipment forecast.

    Shares of Tesla (TSLA) dropped 6.6 percent to $213.03 in heavy volume. Consumer Reports magazine found that advanced fuel-saving technology and digital multimedia systems in vehicles including the Tesla Model S sedan are hurting reliability.

    After the bell, shares of Yahoo (YHOO) were down 1 percent at $32.50 as it reported a drop in quarterly revenue, while Intuitive Surgical (ISRG) was up 7.6 percent at $508.70 percent after it posted a revenue increase.

    During the regular session, advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,888 to 1,170, for a 1.61-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,426 issues fell and 1,345 advanced for a 1.06-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 24 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 66 new highs and 49 new lows.

    About 6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.3 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Abhiram Nandakumar contributed reporting from Bangalore, India.

    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Abbott Laboratories (ABT)
    • American Express (AXP)
    • Biogen (BIIB)
    • Boeing (BA)
    • Coca-Cola Co. (KO)
    • Credit Suisse (CS)
    • Ebay (EBAY)
    • General Motors (GM)
    • Kimberly-Clark (KMB)
    • Texas Instruments (TXN)

     

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    Interracial Couple In The Kitchen
    Getty ImagesWhipping up a meal (or several) is easier when your kitchen is stocked with pantry staples.
    By Geoff Williams

    If you've ever felt overwhelmed in your kitchen, it's understandable. After all, if your job doesn't involve food preparation, you spend most of your time thinking about something completely different. Many amateur foodies know exactly how to run a kitchen, but not everyone is a natural-born cook.

    However, if you don't know what you're doing in the kitchen, it could be costing you. According to the nonprofit organization Feeding America, the country wastes 70 billion pounds of food every year. If you have appliances that are energy hogs, that's even more money down the drain.

    U.S. News asked a handful of home-improvement experts, chefs and the like how they manage their own kitchens. If you know what you're doing, much of what follows is common knowledge, but if you're clueless about culinary arts, these suggestions may be your life raft.

    Staples. Since you can't have entire grocery aisles in your kitchen, you need a selection of go-to items to grab when you're trying to get something on the table for dinner, without ordering pizza. Chef Erika Gradecki, owner of a personal chef business Food For Your Soul, in New London, Connecticut, always has the following in her kitchen:

    Spices and herbs. If you aren't a personal chef and just want a few must-have spices and herbs, Gradecki would pick Italian seasoning.

    "This is usually a combo of thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary and sometimes marjoram," she says. "It doesn't have to be a fancy brand, and doesn't have to have exactly all of those. It's cheaper than buying those herbs separately, and they complement each other well."

    She also recommends buying cumin. "This is a great spice for anything from soups, chili and stews to meats, curried foods, etc. It gives you a little kick without too much spice," she says.

    And keep all-purpose seasoning on hand, Gradecki advises. "Usually salt, pepper and garlic salt as a base," she says. "Some add turmeric or a few other additions to the mix. Like the Italian seasoning, this is a great go-to if you're on a budget, and it seasons just about anything."

    Condiments. The biggies are cooking oil, [cooking] spray, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder and molasses, Gradecki says.

    Old-fashioned oats. "Different from quick-cooking oats, which are cut smaller and get pretty mushy when cooked, old-fashioned oats are able to keep [their] shape when cooked. They're a great source of fiber, which keeps you fuller longer, and can be used for breakfast, baking and more," she says.

    Rice. It's versatile, not to mention cheap and filling, she adds.

    Butter, eggs and milk. Most recipes call for at least one of these, Gradecki says.

    Of course, everyone has their own definition of "staple." Carlo Filippone, chef and CEO of the Clifton, New Jersey-based Elite Lifestyle Cuisine, which delivers chef-prepared meals to homeowners, agrees that eggs are vital, but also suggests having spinach, natural peanut butter, lean poultry, potatoes and mixed greens in-house as often as possible, because they all work well in a variety of meals. (OK, the peanut butter, he says, is for snacking.)

    For Cheryl Rios, a Dallas-based business owner who cooks daily and comes from a large Sicilian family, pasta and olive oil are necessities.

    "If you can only afford these two items to always have, then you always have a meal on hand," Rios says. "If you're really broke, fry some garlic in olive oil, boil the pasta, then drain and mix them together. If you have Parmesan cheese, sprinkle on top, and if you have breadcrumbs, fry them up in the garlic and olive oil and add to pasta."

    Appliances. When you're buying your next appliance, it's easy to focus on the obvious (will it fit and be the right color?) and forget about, well, everything else. But keep these factors in mind when shopping for:

    A refrigerator. Think about the energy it produces, suggests Sabine Schoenberg, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based real estate agent and author of "Kitchen Magic: Secrets to Successful Kitchens."

    "Most buy refrigerators for the brand and the look," she says, when they should be thinking about where the motor is. "High-end refrigerators have the cooling motor on top of the fridge, keeping the heat from the cooled area. This saves energy and adds durability," Schoenberg says, adding that a refrigerator with a motor on top can extend the longevity of the appliance.

    "Also, the quality of the food in high-end units is simply better," Schoenberg says. "How often do people wind up throwing out spoiled food from their fridges? This is cut way down with high-end units. The cooling is way better."

    Schoenberg adds this, which may not be practical for money- or space-crunched homeowners: "If the budget allows, buy a separate fridge just for drinks. That will free up your fridge space tremendously. Many good kitchen designers will recommend this."

    Of course, if your old refrigerator works, you could put it in the garage for stowing excess beverages, if you don't have room for two refrigerators in your kitchen.

    A stove. If you're in the market for a new stove, do your homework. For instance, glass-ceramic stovetops look beautiful, but they can be hard to clean; many cleaning products are no match for certain foods, and even water can burn onto the stove surface, meaning you'll see stains.

    Nancy Lauseng, a marketing professional in St. Michael, Minnesota, and someone who loves to cook, says the best appliance she ever bought was a convection oven combined with a microwave and range hood.

    "This gave me three appliances for little more than the price of one," says Lauseng, who just moved into a new house. She plans to get another combination oven soon.

    A dishwasher. Consider the noise factor. "This is an issue that is gaining importance, since today's kitchens are open and connected to living spaces. In other words, avoid having to turn up the TV to overcome the dishwasher noise," Schoenberg says.

    Kitchen tools. You could become overwhelmed, and very broke, trying to anticipate every cooking utensil you might need, especially if you're stocking your first kitchen. But the basics include: a pot, skillet, casserole dish, spatula, baking sheet, plates and silverware. Beyond that, knives are always handy, says Anna Carl, a consumer scientist at Whirlpool Corp.'s Institute of Home Science.

    "You don't need a specialized knife for every task," Carl says, but she recommends having "a basic chef's knife with a broad cutting blade, a bread knife with a serrated blade and a basic paring knife for peeling and small jobs."

    And while you can buy numerous kitchen cleaners, Rios says she always opts for an old standby: bleach.

    "Soak the sink in it, clean the floor with it, dilute it and wash the counters down," she says. "It is the utility cleaner."

    Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to U.S. News. He is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away," about the great flood of 1913, "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race," about the infamous Bunion Derby of 1928 and "Living Well with Bad Credit." You can follow him on Twitter @geoffw.

     

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    How to Teach Your Teen to Manage Money

    By Deborah Dunham

    In our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses. Today, one woman shares what happened when she handed over a cash-loaded debit card to her teenage son. You heard right.

    Just the thought of giving a 14-year-old a debit card can give a parent nightmares.

    Sure, financial freedom may sound appealing to a teenager, but as the mother of two teens myself, I know there is no way my kids can experience financial freedom unless that freedom comes with a lot of my money. And that has little appeal -- for me, anyway.

    But I also know how important it is to teach kids about money management early on in life. As in, well before they head off to college.

    That's why I decided to let my 14-year-old son, John*, test out a debit card designed just for teens.

    Specifically, it's "a reloadable prepaid card that gives your teen the freedom to purchase items online, in stores, and wherever Visa debit cards are accepted. It also gives parents (like you) the reassurance that comes from setting boundaries around your teen's spending limits."

    In other words, parents ("the account owner") can transfer money into the bank account tied to the card, and then teens ("the cardholder") can use it for spending.

    In addition to being able to monitor your kid's usage online, parents can get "real time" notifications via e-mail or text about their teen's spending activity.

    It's just one of several such cards that financial institutions have been rolling out in recent years, and I was willing to give it a "real time" try -- knowing full well that I was either being a financially savvy parent or a foolish one.

    To $2 from $50 -- Adventures in Debit Card Accountability

    Let's just say that John was more than a little excited to finally get his own debit card.

    He doesn't receive an allowance, so his spending money comes from birthday and Christmas gifts, as well as what he earns doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, like sweeping driveways and pet sitting.

    For a 14-year-old kid, these things have actually turned into a tidy little income.

    So my idea was that the debit card would be an easy way to manage -- and spend -- most of that money. And, truth be told, it was also a way to help my son feel less like a kid and more like a young adult.

    Well, after initially putting $50 on the card for him that first week, I found out almost immediately that I should have discussed some parameters up front.

    The feature I like most is getting an e-mail alert about his every purchase -- which is how I discovered that his first outing with the card was to buy candy at a gas station.

    "Um, that's not happening again," I told him after seeing the expense.

    "Why not? It's my money," he replied.

    After I reminded him that it was actually my money, he reluctantly agreed not to spend any more of it on candy.

    My annoyance aside, the moment actually created a good opportunity to sit down and discuss just where he could spend his newfound cash.

    John has typically been more of a saver than a spender, so it was interesting to watch his habits change while using this card -- he'd have happily spent all $50 in one day.

    So together we came up with a list of suitable restaurants, clothing stores and entertainment spots -- like the local movie theater and putt-putt golf course.

    John has typically been more of a saver than a spender, so it was interesting to watch his habits change while using this card -- he would have happily spent all $50 in one day.

    But I told him that he only had one week to use the card, so he had to make that money last. If all went well, we would then negotiate whether he could continue to use the debit card.

    When the week was up, he was down to $2.35, and was more than eager for me to "just put another $50" on it so he could continue his "wealthy" state, as he put it.

    Instead, I said, "I will match anything that you put on your card, up to $25 a week."

    The underlying message: He better get busy knocking on some doors around the neighborhood to see who had leaves to rake and lizards to pet-sit. (He has a job taking care of a friend's iguana -- seriously.)

    The other part of the deal required him to deposit some of his earned money into his savings account -- something he's always been good about.

    However, I could see that his interest in saving was already shifting by having the freedom of a debit card, so I wanted to ensure that he realized the importance of continuing to put some of his earnings aside.

    Lessons Learned in a Cashless Economy

    In some ways I wish kids would learn about money the way I did: by painfully counting out dollar bills at the cash register, hoping I had enough for those new jeans.

    I believe having cash on hand is a good way to learn about the value of money -- and it doesn't allow us to exceed our spending limits.

    But reality calls and that means plastic is taking over, so I am opting to teach my son about fiscal responsibility with debit -- and hopefully not credit -- cards.

    I do worry though that kids who grow up with only plastic in their pockets won't learn the true value of a dollar, and will possibly take advantage of their spending power. Hello, average American credit card debt of nearly $16,000.

    But for now I'm OK with my son having a debit card I can monitor. Knowing that his spending powers are limited gives me peace of mind -- and hopefully the time I need to teach him more important real-life money lessons.

    Plus, to be honest, I rarely have cash on me these days, relying almost exclusively on debit cards. So I should preach what I practice, right?

    *Names have been changed.

     

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    Ever wonder why we think it's fun to scare ourselves with creepy movies and haunted houses? Some experts believe it gives us a sense of control. And of course there's the relief when the fright is over and we know we're safe.

    Money is a scary subject for a lot of us, but it helps to know that you don't have to tackle your fears all at once. You can take them on in bite-sized chunks.

    Step 1: Take a quiz. If investing scares you, it may be hard to know where to start. But even if you're too nervous to do anything else, you can try this easy first step: Take a quiz to assess your fears, such as Vanguard's Investor Questionnaire or the quiz at LearnVest. Your bank may also have one online. These simple quizzes walk you through a few scenarios involving money to discover your risk tolerance.

    Knowing your risk tolerance -- how much risk you can live with comfortably -- is key to learning your best investment style. Use it to decide your asset allocation -- spreading your risk among different types of financial instruments. Just to know: You're not the only nervous investor. About half the people who have 401(k)'s say they're confused. Confidence comes from educating yourself about investing. (See: Beginning Stock Investor? Here's All You Need to Know.)

    Step 2: Know good debt from bad. Yes, there's a difference between types of debt. Understanding the difference gives you confidence to know when it's smart to go ahead and borrow money.
    • Good debt: Good debt eventually pays you back. Use it to purchase things that appreciate in value. A home mortgage can be good debt, for example. A fixed-rate mortgage lets you manage your housing expense and hopefully reap a profit by selling for more than you paid if you decide to move. Student loans to pay for a college education can be good debt if you can earn more with a degree than without it. Nevertheless, it's a bad idea to take on vast amounts of college debt or buy a home that is unlikely to appreciate in value.
    • Bad debt: Bad debt is the kind you take on because you're spending more than you earn. Living beyond your means, in other words. "High interest consumer debt is the worst type of debt," says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    Borrowing to buy a car is one type of bad debt. The car starts losing value as you drive it off the lot and you'll sell it for less than you paid for it. Financing a vacation with a credit card instead of saving and budgeting for it is another example.

    Step 3: Get a will. Everyone needs a will. Even you. The good news: Making a will isn't as scary, difficult or expensive as you might think.

    Here are two ways to get started:
    • Call your local bar association. See the American Bar Association's state-by-state map for a local contact and ask about free or low-cost help where you live. Also, some local bar associations have lawyer referral programs that offer a consultation of a half hour to an hour with an attorney at no cost or a minimal fee. You can explain your situation, ask the attorney's advice and learn the price for getting your will written up.
    • Do it yourself. There are many software options that allow you to create a will yourself. I used an older version of Quicken's WillMaker Plus software to write a simple will and found it a snap. You could also check your library for "Nolo's Simple Will Book."
    Do you need a trust, in addition to a will? A trust gives you more control over how your estate will be distributed. It helps minimize taxes and time and expense spent on probate. This is a question best answered in a discussion with a trust attorney. Learn more here.

    Definitely get a trust if your estate is worth more than the basic federal estate tax exclusion -- $5.43 million in 2015. You might need one anyway, though.

    Also, don't forget to check Nolo's list of states that impose estate taxes.

    Step 4: Rein in your tax bill. Find tax breaks and deductions available to you in this article.

    If you need advice or help filing your return, act now. Don't wait for the springtime tax rush, when accountants are super busy. Ask trusted friends and family members for recommendations for a CPA. Interview two or three candidates to see whom you feel comfortable with.

    Find certified public accountants in your area through the American Institute of CPAs. Also, check with your state's licensing agency to verify that the CPA you choose has an active license.

    Step 5: Track your expenses. Budgeting is scarier than zombies for a lot of people. But budgeting fears are inflated. It helps to know that you don't have to become a budgeting convert overnight. Start out slowly by simply watching where your money is going. There are several ways to do this.

    You could try a free online budgeting tool like PowerWallet. These programs import your bank and credit card transactions and show you where your money is being spent. These tracking tools can be employed to great effect alongside tips that help you keep your spending behavior in check.

    Others prefer to record purchases on a spreadsheet. It's more hands-on. Give yourself an hour at the end of each month to record purchases from your receipts, checkbook and credit cards.

    The bottom line: Get your feet wet to see what works best for you. There's no one way. Trial, error and your own experience eventually will guide you to a system you like and can stick with.

    How have you overcome your financial fears? 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!


    How to Stick to a Budget

     

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    By Dan Rafter

    Do you feel like spending two months' salary on an engagement ring? How about buying a house that requires a mortgage payment equal to 28 percent of your gross monthly income?

    Those are two of the most common formulas that consumers have used to judge how much to spend on key life purchases. But here's the truth: There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to determine how much you should spend on a new car, house or engagement ring. The amount you should spend on any of these three big buys depends on your specific finances and goals.

    Assess Your Finances

    "It's key to look at your entire financial plan and to budget appropriately within your means so that one purchase does not derail your long-term goals," says David Mirabito, a financial adviser with the MetLife Premier Client Group in Syracuse, New York. "It's a balance between financial wants and needs."

    If you have plenty of savings, are paying your bills on time each month and aren't burdened with much debt, you can buy an engagement ring that costs six months' salary if it makes you and your partner happy. But if you're struggling to pay the bills each month? You might not want to spend even two months' salary on an engagement ring.

    Avoid Overpriced Weddings and Bling

    Who says you need to spend two months of salary on an engagement ring? The diamond industry, that's who.

    It's no surprise that De Beers wants you to cough up thousands of dollars on a diamond ring. But that might not be realistic for many young people who are ready to get married. Young people face plenty of other expenses. Edvisors reports that the average class of 2015 college graduate will leave school with more than $35,000 in student loan debt. And weddings themselves are getting increasingly expensive, with wedding website The Knot's 2014 Real Weddings survey reporting that the average couple spends $31,213 on a wedding. (Though why so many spend so much for a one-day event is a good question.)

    Adding $8,000 or more to pay for an engagement ring might not seem like a sound investment to consumers facing so many other big bills. Again, though, there is no real rule here. The key is to spend according to your budget. If you can't afford an expensive engagement ring now, there is no shame in spending less today and eventually trading up as your finances stabilize. Putting the cost of an expensive engagement ring on your credit card might make that piece of bling less attractive.

    Choose a Realistic Mortgage

    You're ready to buy a home. How much should you spend on it? Most mortgage lenders recommend that your new monthly mortgage payment equal no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income -- that's your income before taxes are taken out. But be sure to include all of the components of your monthly housing payment when determining how much your loan will cost you each month. Your mortgage will usually include your principal payment, interest payment, insurance fee and property taxes. That's the standard PITI formula -- principal, interest, taxes and insurance.

    That doesn't mean that your mortgage payment has to be 28 percent of your gross monthly income. You might feel more comfortable if your housing payment comes out to 25 or 20 percent of your gross monthly income each month.

    Go with what makes you feel comfortable. Struggling to pay your mortgage each month can make owning a home feel more like a burden than a joy. Remember, too, that big purchases -- such as a house -- always come with big expenses in the future.

    "The cost of most major purchases is not the full cost of the item," says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network. "In the case of a home, a down payment is only the beginning. There are costs for home insurance and taxes, private mortgage insurance, and ongoing upkeep and maintenance. For a car, routine and periodic maintenance can add up substantially. If an engagement ring is in the picture, there will be a wedding of some type, possibly a honeymoon and other marriage-related costs. Before making a purchase, calculate the real costs of buying, now and into the future."

    Buy Only as Much Car as You Need

    Cars certainly aren't getting cheaper. According to the Kelley Blue Book, the average price that consumers paid for new cars in June of this year hit $33,340. That figure is on an upward trend, a boost of $209 from the previous month.

    How much should you spend on a new car? One standard is that your monthly car costs -- which includes not just the size of your monthly auto loan payment but the costs of insurance, maintenance and gas -- should equal no more than 15 percent of your net monthly pay. Another potential guideline? Some recommend that the price of any car you buy should never equal more than half of your yearly income.

    Again, these are rough guidelines. If you're struggling to pay down high-interest rate credit card debt, it might not make sense to add a big monthly car payment to your expenses. You might want to follow another long-term guideline here: Make sure that your total recurring monthly expenses are no more than 36 percent of your gross monthly income. Buying a less expensive car might be a better financial move.

    "Ask yourself, especially at a young age, 'How important is it that I have the latest and greatest gizmo in my car?' " said Mirabito.

    What spending rules do you follow to keep major purchases reasonable?

     

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    Online Holiday Shopping
    Andrew A. Nelles/AP
    By Andrea Cannon

    Have you been avoiding the department store because you thought it was just too expensive? Well, there are actually some occasions when it's usually cheaper to shop at a department store than anywhere else. Consider these times when department store shopping actually makes financial sense.

    1. Bedding and towels. If you want your sheets and towels to last through multiple washes and still feel comfortable, then it's important to buy high quality items -- such as the ones at your department store. Clip coupons, buy during online sales or take advantage of end-of-season clearance specials to score the best deals. With these discounts, the prices will be similar to those of discount stores such as Target (TGT) or Walmart (WMT), but the quality will typically be better and the items will last much longer.

    2. Appliances and electronics. Purchasing appliances at your favorite department store, such as Sears (SHLD), may save you more money, include free shipping, and have the store's warranty and guarantee behind them. Macy's (M) has also teamed with Best Buy (BBY) to offer some of the best electronics deals and selections, beginning in November.

    3. Perfume, makeup and cosmetics. The department store perfume counters may be annoying with their incessant, unwanted spraying and sales pitches. However, they really do offer some of the best deals around on your favorite designer perfumes, makeup and cosmetics. Along with the discounted pricing and bundle offers, they will also commonly have promotions throughout the year, such as free lipstick if you make a perfume purchase. You can also get tons of free samples anytime you visit the perfume or makeup counter at the department store.

    You can also find lotions, acne products and anti-aging solutions behind the counter at your favorite department store. Along with the free samples and promotional items you receive with your purchase, you can also get free professional advice from the counter person. They may even be able to offer advice and assistance with applying the makeup you're purchasing.

    4. Items you need a stylist for. Did you know that most big department stores offer personal stylist services? For instance, Nordstrom, J.Crew, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and many other department stores offer personal stylist services, wedding services, custom home services and other visitor services, usually by appointment and free of charge. If you have a big event coming up, then these free services can be highly beneficial. A professional's recommendation and assistance can help you make the perfect purchase, backed by a return policy in case you're not completely satisfied.

    5. Sale and presale items. Most stores offer sales frequently, at least once a month. While you can save money on particular items at any time during the year, nothing beats certain sales, like Black Friday, when you can save big money on nearly anything. That's because nowadays, sale items are marked up so much at regular price that the sale price isn't that great anymore.

    When sale items just aren't enough, consider presales, early access sales and anniversary sales. There, you'll have first dibs on sales items, so you'll have access to the best selection and prices available.

    If you find a clothing item at a department store that you can't live without, wait for a sale. It usually takes about six to eight weeks for an item to go on sale, so ask an associate how long it's been on the floor and if there are any upcoming sales. Men's suits also go on sale twice a year, so you can get a top-quality suit in any size that will last you for years to come, at about 50 percent off.

    6. Items you can negotiate. Many shoppers have luck negotiating for lower prices at big brand name stores like Sears, Macy's, Kohl's (KSS) and JCPenney (JCP). Often, simply asking for a discount or price adjustment will result in saving money on auto parts, furniture, electronics and even home appliances. The more expensive the item is, the better luck you will have of negotiating a better deal.

    The salespeople are often working on a commission or simply want to make a sale, so there may be some wiggle room when it comes to the price. You will also likely have better luck negotiating towards the end of the month, as this is usually when inventory needs to be moved out. If you are interested in an older model appliance, the store will probably be eager to discount the old model to make room for a newer one. If you have found the same item for a lower price elsewhere, try negotiating for a match or better deal. It never hurts to politely ask for a discount that could end up saving you big money in the end.

    Additional Ways to Save

    Shopping at a department store has its perks, like occasional sales, a high-quality selection and impressive return and exchange policies. You can rest easy when you shop at a department store knowing that you will be satisfied with the items and are getting your money's worth. The same can't be said for outlet and dollar store items.

    Fortunately, there are a number of other ways to save at your favorite department store, regardless of what you may be buying.

    1. Start at the back of the store. When a department store wants you to purchase a specific item, they will make sure that it is within your eyesight. That means items in the front of the store, in front of the rack and in your direct eye line are probably the most expensive options or the items that the store is trying to push for some reason. Make sure to look at the top and bottom shelf, towards the back of the store and in the back of the clothing racks to find hidden gems (and sales).

    2. Use coupons. Department stores offer coupons all the time. Search online or use sites like RetailMeNot or Coupon Sherpa to find printable coupons that can save you even more on regular and sale items.

    3. Join reward programs. You can enjoy added savings and discounts by signing up for the store's loyalty program, where you can earn rewards every time you shop.

    4. Get a store credit card. You may want to look into signing up for the store's credit card, which can provide you with even more savings and benefits, such as interest-free financing, discounts on purchases, special coupons, access to exclusive sales, rewards points on every purchase and even free items throughout the year. However, in order to make this work for you in the long run, it is crucial that you pay off the balance every time you use the card. (See also: Store Credit Cards That Don't Suck)

    5. Know when to buy things. Be sure to check Wise Bread's Buying Calendar to learn when and how to buy just about anything to save more money throughout the year.

    6. Feel free to return things. If you don't like something, return it. Don't let it wither away in your closet or let it take up space in your home or garage. If buyer's remorse sets in, department stores offer great return policies. Simply return it and get your money back.

    What do you always purchase at department stores? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

     

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