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  • 01/19/16--09:07: Don't Pay for These 6 Things
  • Filed under:

    Money management
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    By Krystal Steinmetz

    If you feel like you're getting nickel-and-dimed these days, you're not alone. But you may be paying for products or services that are available for free - no wallet necessary.

    Here are six things you can get for free:

    Wi-Fi (outside your home): If you're like most people, you pay for Internet service at your home, but that's the only time you should have to fork over your hard-earned cash for Wi-Fi because you can probably tap into a free connection somewhere else. Your local library provides free access, as do a number of businesses, including Starbucks and McDonald's. Another option to sniff out a Wi-Fi connection is to use a hotspot database like WeFi.

    Books: Your public library is a great spot to check out books for free, either the old-fashioned way or as a digital download. I read lots of free downloaded books from Amazon. Though some books require that you're an Amazon Prime member, there are others that are offered for free through promotions. Project Gutenberg offers more than 50,000 free ebooks, including "Anna Karenina," "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and "Jane Eyre," which you can read on your computer or your smartphone. Check out this article on how to get millions of books and magazines for free.

    Water: Sure, you can buy expensive bottled water, but chances are it's no better than the water you get from the tap. So save yourself some money and ditch the spendy bottled water. If the taste or quality of your tap water really is bad, you may want to purchase a filtered pitcher or a faucet filter.

    Credit report and FICO score: You can get a free copy of your credit report once a year by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. There are also now a handful of ways you can check out your FICO score - which is often used by lenders, bankers and landlords - free of charge. Many credit card companies provide their customers with a free copy of their score. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you can also get access to your FICO score from a nonprofit credit counselor. Read this article for more on how to get a free look at your FICO credit score.


    News: The Internet forever changed how people read or watch the news. You can get free news online 24/7. If you don't have Internet service at home, just head to the public library (or anywhere with free Wi-Fi) and you're set.

    Banking: There are few things that Americans hate more than banking fees. You're less likely to run into pesky (and expensive) fees for banking services at smaller banks, like credit unions, online banks and community banks. Taking advantage of electronic features and direct deposit also sometimes allow you to avoid bank fees. Find more tips on how you can avoid paying banking fees here.

    Are you paying for the items you see on our list? What everyday items or products do you get for free? Share your tips below or on our Facebook page.

     

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    Businessman Cutting a Credit Card
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    By Sarah Winfrey

    Conventional wisdom says that you should never close a credit card account unless you have an overwhelmingly pressing reason to do so.

    It's true that closing an account can hurt your credit. If you close an old account, it can shorten your credit history, which can then lower your overall credit score. Also, closing an account means that you have less credit available, so the balances you do have will take up a larger percentage of your available credit. This is called your credit utilization ratio (an important factor in your overall credit score), and you want that percentage as low as possible.

    This doesn't mean that you should never close a credit card. Instead, it means that you need to be smart about which accounts you close and when you do so. Here are a few times when it makes sense to consider closing a card. (See also: How to Use Credit Cards to Improve Your Credit Score)

    1. Preventing Identity Theft

    The more credit cards you have, the greater the danger that one will be compromised and you'll have to deal with identity theft. If you have a card that has been stolen or are anxious about identity theft, consider closing one or more cards to reduce your risk.

    The accounts most at danger are the ones you don't use very much. If a thief can get hold of one of these numbers, often by compromising a website where you used the card to make a purchase a long time ago, they can sometimes put quite a few charges on the card before getting caught. If identity theft is a worry for you, think about closing these infrequently used accounts first. An even better alternative: Avoid identity theft in the first place by practicing good credit card safety measures, such as only purchasing on secured, trusted sites using secure Wi-Fi.

    2. High Interest Rates or High Fees

    Cards that cost you money, especially when you aren't getting anything back, can be good candidates for closure. Sometimes, the benefits of a particular card (like one that earns you airline points) can be worth the annual fee. However, many people pay more in fees and interest than a card is worth.
    Before you close a card because of what it costs you, try negotiating with the company. It never hurts to ask for a lower interest rate or a waived fee. The worst the company can do is say "No," and then you can go ahead and close it.

    3. You've Already Made Your Major Purchases

    If you're planning a major purchase that will require financing, like a car or a home, wait until that is complete before you cancel any credit card accounts. Since your credit score is almost sure to be at least a little bit higher with the cards contributing, it makes sense to wait to cancel them.

    Even if canceling your cards won't hurt your credit very much, it could earn you a slightly higher interest rate. While a quarter (or even a tenth!) of a percent may not seem like very much up front, it can mean that you'll pay thousands of dollars more over the life of the loan. That's not worth it!

    4. You Have Too Many Cards

    While it's generally true that leaving cards open helps your credit, having too many open, in certain scenarios, can actually hurt you. Credit cards are considered revolving credit, which is the worst kind to have. If you have too much, especially in relationship to other types of credit, your score may actually be lower than it would be without a card or two.

    In addition, it seems likely that people who manually underwrite loans look negatively on having too many cards open at once. This is mostly anecdotal but, if you're going after one of these loans, it may be wise to close down some cards.

    5. When You Can't Stop Spending

    No matter how much it hurts your credit, you should shut down credit card accounts if having them open is a spending temptation that you can't resist. If freezing or cutting up your cards doesn't work for you, and there isn't another way to stop yourself from building up more and more debt, then cancelling the cards makes sense.

    This is a last-ditch scenario, but I've known more than one person who faced it. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and sometimes it's better to take the credit score hit rather than continue out-of-control spending.

    Have you ever cancelled a credit card? What made it worth the hit to your credit score?

     

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    Yoga teacher,  High Lunge, Variation
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    By Sarah Winfrey

    Whether or not yoga is your thing, you're probably familiar with it. The practice of yoga has become popular enough that most people know how yoga is done and how to do the basic poses.

    What you may not know is that you can learn a lot about life in general while holding a pose like downward dog or happy baby. When you practice, you study not only the yogic postures, but also things like balance, flexibility, and mindfulness. And you can apply all of these concepts outside of the studio, too.

    Here's how I've come to apply things I've learned from yoga to my personal financial life. I hope these ideas help you think about your money a little differently, maybe with a little more Zen! (See also: 4 Zen Concepts That'll Improve Your Finances)

    1. Balance Is Central

    My favorite yoga teacher will tell us to center ourselves not just over the left foot, but over the toes, or the heel. Slowly, I've come to realize that how I balance myself changes the posture subtly, often bringing in more of a stretch or making it more challenging.

    Just as how you balance is key in the yoga studio, it's helpful when you're thinking about money, too. Most of us want more money, but what if we were to focus somewhere else? For instance, is there enough to pay the bills? Are we spending more thoughtfully than we did last year? And what would making more money actually add to our lives?

    These questions, and more, can help us think in a more balanced way about our money. This, in turn, will free us to change spending or saving habits that might be harming us.

    2. Proper Preparation Is Key

    A good yoga teacher will prepare you for what is coming, both in the current class and in the future. There's a reason that harder poses often come near the end of a yoga class - it's because you wouldn't be ready for them before that. You have to open your hips, your hamstrings, your shoulders, and whatever else is needed for that final, challenging pose of the flow. If you don't prepare, you'll hurt yourself and hamper your ability to progress in the long term.

    Money works the same way. What are your long-term financial goals? And your short-term goals? These aren't just going to happen. They require planning and preparation ahead of time. Just like in yoga, you need to do specific things now so you can reach your goals later. Want to travel around the world? Start saving. Need a specific kind of of mortgage, come spring? Look at starting the application now. Proper planning will help ensure your long-term financial health, just like a proper flow will help ensure that you stay healthy enough to continue practicing yoga.

    3. Flexibility Is Crucial

    Most people who practice regularly see an increase in their flexibility. And people like me - who just thought they weren't flexible at all - begin to see how this rise in flexibility influences their entire lives.

    Similarly, the more flexible you can be with your money, the better prepared you'll be financially. Financial flexibility has to do with your ability to change how you spend based on your current circumstances. If you empty your emergency fund because your car breaks down, can you flex for a few months until the fund is replenished? And if you realize you need more than you'd anticipated for a down payment, can you find the funds and flex on a few things until you've made up the difference?

    Financial flexibility pertains to small things, like how much coffee you buy and how often you dine out. But it also pertains to bigger things, like when you decide to buy a house, how you structure your investments, and more. Just as flexibility and strength are tied in yoga, they often come together financially, too. And you want your money to be as strong as it can be.

    4. Self-Care Is Always Worth It

    People start yoga for all different sorts of reasons, but they often continue because of self-care. Doing yoga feels good. It makes your body feel better, even alleviating long-term aches and pains. And it's often meditative, offering quiet and space that most of us don't have in our daily lives. So, in learning yoga, we often stumble onto self-care, too.

    Learning self-care through yoga often helps people take better care of themselves financially. This can mean spending money on things - even little things - that make you feel good. A sweet smelling candle, a good book, or a cup of coffee can all be acts of self-care. It can also mean using more discretion about how you spend your money, so that you aren't always worrying about debt, overdraft fees, and how to pay the bills. Once people get started on a path to self-care, it often spills into their entire lives.

    5. Mindfulness Will Help You Reach Your Goals

    Mindfulness means staying aware in the present, and is often stressed in the yoga studio. Living in the now, paying attention to how your body is moving, what you need to do, and how to stay in a pose, can all help you learn to remain present - even when so many things pressure you to think about them, instead.

    More than anything else, mindfulness is a path to self-mastery. It teaches us to choose where we focus, rather than letting the mind run willy nilly wherever it wants. And when we learn to focus in yoga, we learn a skill that can help us financially, too.

    Being mindful - and therefore a master of ourselves - can help us stick to a budget. It can help us save up for something we really want. It can help us get through a frugal season without taking on debt. And it can even help us buy Christmas presents, because it will help us focus on the recipient and what they want, rather on everything we might like to buy for them. In the end, being mindful will help us save more, invest better, and be happier with what we have.

    When we are open, willing learners, yoga can improve not only our physical health, but our financial health as well.

     

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    Lottery tickets for sale.
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    By Brittany Lyte

    In America, we're known for our indulgences - home appliances, electronics, vacations, cars. So how does our spending stack up against Europeans, or folks in Asia? Read on for our analysis of the most uniquely American spendings habits out there.

    1. The Lottery

    Americans spend more money playing the lotto than on books, video games, and movie and sporting event tickets combined. In 2014, lottery spending in the U.S. totaled a whopping $70 billion. (See also: 6 Ways of Improving Your Lottery Odds)

    2. Doctors and Dentists

    The U.S. spends more public dollars on healthcare than all but two countries. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, healthcare services are notably higher in the U.S. than in most other nations. And secondly, Americans are greater users of expensive medical treatments and technologies, such as MRI machines.

    3. Housing

    Americans spend more money on housing than people in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan. In a 2009 study, Americans funneled an average 26% of their expenditures toward shelter.

    4. Taxis, Planes, and Trains

    The same study showed Americans also spend more on private transit, other than automobiles, than folks in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

    5. Education

    The U.S. spends more on education than any other developed nation, and most of the funding comes from the pockets of parents and private foundations. Total spending per student in the U.S. tops $15,000. For perspective's sake, Switzerland spends nearly $15,000 and Mexico pays about $3,000. Despite big spending, American students still lag behind comparable nations on international tests.

    6. Prescription Drugs

    Americans spend far more on prescription drugs - almost $1,000 per person per year - than residents of any other country. For some perspective: Americans spend 40% more than the next highest spenders, Canadians.

    7. Politics

    Americans spend more on political campaigns than any other country. To compare, India spent $5 billion in its last general election. That's one billion dollars less than Americans spent in the 2012 general election.

    8. Tourism

    When traveling abroad, Americans outspend vacationers from most other countries. In 2014, Americans abroad spent $112 billion - more than Germany, the United Kingdom, and Russia. The big out-spender, however, was China. Chinese abroad spent $165 billion that same year.

    9. Christmas

    Americans are more likely than residents of any European nation to go into debt to pay for Christmas presents. One in five Americans used credit to cover holiday spending in 2014.

    10. Chocolate Bars

    The U.S. leads global spending on chocolate bars, topping out at nearly $3 billion per year. That shakes out to an average annual chocolate expenditure of $57 per American.

     

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    By Dan Rafter

    A new year is here. And even if you've already broken the resolutions you made at the end of the holiday season, it's never too late to make new ones, especially when it comes to your finances.
    Here are eight financial decisions you can make now that you'll never regret. Make the moves on this list soon, and you'll dramatically increase your odds of a happy financial future.

    1. Save More for Retirement

    How much money will you need each year to enjoy a happy and healthy retirement? That depends on what you want to do after you leave the working world. You'll need more money if you plan to travel the world, and less if you envision days spent reading, binge-watching TV, and playing with your grandchildren.

    A survey released last April by the Employee Benefits Research Institute suggests that more workers understand they'll need large amounts of money to enjoy their retirement years. The survey found that more than one in 10 workers think they'll need to save at least $1.5 million for their retirements.
    That's a lot of money. One way to reach such a lofty goal? Put away as much as you can each year now, even if your retirement days seem far away.

    You'll never regret your decision to maximize your contributions to your 401K plan or your annual deposits to an IRA. Start boosting those savings today.

    2. Building an Emergency Fund

    What happens if your furnace conks out today? What if your car's transmission needs to be replaced? If you're like too many people, you'll put the cost of replacing these items on your credit card, building your debt.

    The better option is to draw from an emergency fund of cash that you have already saved, usually in a savings account. Financial experts recommend that you build an emergency fund that can cover at least six months of your daily living expenses. (See also: 6 Emergency Fund Myths You Should Stop Believing)

    This might seem daunting. But if you deposit what you can each month - even if it is as small as $100 - that emergency fund will steadily grow.

    3. Pay Off Your Credit Cards

    Carrying a balance on your credit cards each month is a terrible financial decision. That's because cards come with such high interest rates - sometimes 18% or more. This makes your monthly debt grow by too much, even if you don't add any new purchases to your cards.

    Don't just make the minimum monthly payment on your cards. If you do this, it will take far too long to pay off your credit card debt. Say you have a credit card with a balance of $5,000 and an interest rate of 18.9%. If your minimum monthly payment is 4% of your outstanding balance, it will take you more than 11 years to eliminate this debt, even if you don't make any new purchases with this card.

    The better move is to always pay more than the monthly minimum. And don't buy items with your cards that you can't afford to pay off at the end of every month.

    4. Pay Your Bills on Time Every Month

    A single missed payment - on credit cards, mortgage loans, auto loans, and other debts - can drop your three-digit FICO credit score by 100 points. That missed payment will also stay on your credit report for seven years.

    Decide today to never make a late payment again. Having a low credit score makes it difficult to qualify for loans or credit. When you do qualify for these loans, you'll be faced with high interest rates.

    5. Buy a Home That You Can Actually Afford

    It's tempting when home shopping to stretch your budget to get into a bigger, more expensive home. But buying a home that's out of your budget, even by a bit, can be a big financial mistake. Those monthly mortgage payments can quickly become a burden.

    Instead, buy a home that you can comfortably afford, even if it's not your dream residence. Mortgage experts recommend that your total monthly housing expenses, including your estimated new mortgage payment, be no more than 30% of your gross monthly income. Follow this guideline if you don't want to feel the strain each time your monthly mortgage payment comes due.

    6. Track Your Spending

    You might be surprised by how much you spend each month on take-out lunches or morning coffee runs. But if you create a spending book and track those expenses, it might help you make lifestyle changes that can add up to big savings each year.

    A spending book is just a notebook in which you record all your daily purchases for a set period of time, usually anywhere from two weeks to two months. Once you're done tracking your expenses, add them up. This gives you an idea where you are overspending. (You can also use automated tracking at free sites like Mint.com.) If you're spending too much on those morning coffees, for instance, you might decide to limit your time at Starbucks to twice a week instead of five times.

    7. Create a Household Budget

    You might shudder at the thought of drafting a budget for your household. But you can't get control of your finances if you first don't know exactly how much money is coming in and going out of your home each month. Fortunately, creating a budget isn't difficult.

    First, write down the income you receive each month. Then write down those monthly expenses that never change, everything from your mortgage payment to your auto payment to your student loans. Then, write down those payments you make each month that fluctuate a bit. This would include your utility bills, credit card bills, and transportation costs to and from work. Estimate these. Finally, include estimated amounts for monthly groceries, entertainment, and eating out.

    Once you have these figures, you can determine how much money you should have left at the end of the month. Armed with this information, you can figure how much money you can save, invest for retirement, or put away for a child's college education.

    8. Save First, Then Buy It

    You want that new computer or that high-end flat-screen TV. It's tempting to simply use your credit cards, but the better move is to save up for that big-ticket non-necessity, and only buy it when you can pay for it with cash.

    This takes patience, of course. It might take you several months to save up for that new TV. But you'll enjoy your new electronic treat more if you don't have to dread next month's credit card bill.

     

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    Canada June Trade Deficit Signals Economy May Have Stalled
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    By Alex Morrell

    Landing a management consultant position at a top firm right out of college can result in a salary package topping $100,000 for the best employees - and more than $200,000 for recent MBAs.
    But the first step toward securing such a coveted job is acing the internship. And at many prestigious consulting firms, interns are well compensated from the get-go - especially if they're working on their MBAs.

    Management Consulted, a company that helps candidates land consulting jobs, compiled data on some of the top-paying firms for interns. To determine these figures, it culled through information from clients, spoke with industry insiders, and pored over real offer letters from readers.

    With typical internships lasting 10 weeks or more, Management Consulted found that undergraduates can expect to make in excess of $1,000 per week. Meanwhile interns working on their MBAs often command more than twice that amount.
    Compensation for consulting interns

    A.T. Kearney
    Undergraduate: $11,000
    MBA: $11,500/month

    Bain & Company
    Undergraduate: $12,500
    MBA: $27,000

    Boston Consulting Group
    Undergraduate: $13,500
    MBA: $28,000

    Deloitte
    Undergraduate: $31/hour; $47.50/hour for overtime
    MBA: $28,450 + 2nd year MBA tuition reimbursement (up to $50,000)

    IMS Consulting Group
    Undergraduate: $11,000 + bonus
    MBA: $11,250/month + $5,000 signing bonus

    L.E.K.
    Undergraduate: $11,000/month
    MBA: $2,600/week + up to $4,000 performance bonus

    McKinsey & Company
    Undergraduate: $12,500/month
    MBA: $29,500

    PwC
    Undergraduate: $33.50/hour, $50.25/hour for overtime
    MBA: $11,250/month

    ZS Associates
    Undergraduate: $11,000
    MBA: $11,000/month + $5,000 signing bonus

     

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    By Kathleen Elkins

    If you want to get rich, you have to learn to pay yourself first.

    But just how much of your earnings should you set aside for retirement and other savings to ensure lifelong wealth?

    For one self-made millionaire, the magic number is 20%.

    "Today, my wife, Michelle, and I each strive to pay ourselves the first 20% of our gross income," writes David Bach, who became a millionaire by age 30, in his book "The Automatic Millionaire."

    "That may sound like a lot, but because I've worked up to it gradually over the course of fifteen years, it's become our 'new normal.'"

    It took a while for Bach to grasp the idea of paying himself first: "When I first heard about this concept I was doing what most people do - trying to budget, beating up on myself for failing, and then scrambling at the end of the year to find some money to put in my retirement and savings accounts, only to find another year had come and gone and I had not made any financial progress," he writes.

    Even when he did start setting aside money, it was a mere 1% of his paycheck, he says: "I was in my mid-twenties, and I wanted to make sure it didn't hurt. Within three months, I realized that 1% was easy, so I increased the amount to 3%."

    Over time, he's gradually increased his percentage - from 3% to 10% to 15% - until he reached 20%.
    He says anyone - no matter your income - can put money aside and let it accumulate. You'll learn to live without it, Bach assures: "If you are not paying yourself first now, that's probably because you think you can't afford to ... But I can tell you from personal experience that once you decide to pay yourself first and then you make it automatic, it's done - and within the first three months, you totally forget about it. You'd be amazed how effortlessly you can learn to live on a little less."

    If you're only comfortable with setting aside 1%, it's better to start there than not get started at all. "This one little step will change your habits and make saving automatic," writes Bach. "And that will put you on a path that ultimately will make you rich."

     

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    Inside A Family Dollar Store Ahead Of Earnings Figures
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    By Stacy Johnson

    Drugstore chains such as Walgreens or CVS frequently can't compete on price with stores such as Wal-Mart, Target or the local grocery store. But as with many things in life, there are hacks that level the playing field.

    For example, WildForWags and WildForCVS owner Christie Hardcastle told me she regularly finds deals at chain drugstores that beat the pants off big-box and grocery stores. In fact, she claimed to routinely get things free, and sometimes even came out money ahead.

    Impossible? That's how it sounded to me. So, I invited her to meet me at a local Walgreens and explain how she does it. This video is what resulted. Check it out, then read on for more.

    As you saw in the video, you can sometimes get a good deal at places such as Walgreens and CVS just by keeping an eye out for ad circulars and in-store signs revealing what's on sale.

    But to get the best deals, you'll have to do more - join loyalty programs and look for coupons, both store and manufacturer - and check out sites such as Christie's for ways to get the best current deals.

    While that may sound like a hassle, the rewards are powerful: very cheap and sometimes free stuff.

    I asked Christie to expand on the tips she offered in the video. For those of you new to the drugstore discount game, here in her own lightly edited words are some of her favorite products to purchase at drugstores:

    1. Cereal

    This is one of the items drugstores price below grocery stores to get you in the door. Each week, you'll normally see a different cereal brand or selection on sale. If you aren't brand-loyal, you can pretty much bet on getting a great deal every week.

    If you have a brand you prefer, you'll usually see sales every six weeks or so. Plus, there are often coupons you can print even if you're new to couponing or don't have newspaper coupon inserts.

    Find the best price on everything you buy on our deals page!

    2. & 3. Dairy and eggs

    Drugstores will often run sales on milk and eggs with savings up to $1 over grocery store prices. Dairy prices vary regionally, but keep an eye out for sales or special offers.

    4. & 5. Toothbrushes & toothpaste

    These items will often have pharmacy rewards (like Walgreens Register Rewards or Balance Rewards points) that can really lower the price. Combine points with coupons, and you should be able to grab toothbrushes and toothpaste free or very inexpensively every four to six weeks.

    6. Makeup

    If you're using drugstore brands, you'll usually get a much better deal at drugstores than at grocery or department stores. There are often rewards for these products that you can combine with coupons and sales to get fabulous deals.

    We see buy-one-get-one-free or buy-one-get-one-half-off sales on cosmetics regularly. Plus, because of limited space, drugstores often have great clearance deals to make space for new makeup products.

    Another tip: If your store has a beauty counter, always ask the beauty adviser there for coupons.

    7. Personal care items

    Soap, body wash and lotions can often be purchased very inexpensively at the drugstore. Look for sales, rewards and store coupons that you can stack along with manufacturer's coupons for these items.

    8. Store-brand garbage bags

    I love Walgreens brand (Nice!) garbage bags. The quality is excellent, and the regular price is very reasonable. I usually wait for a sale, when I can grab them for about half the price of brand-name garbage bags.

    9. Drugstore-brand diapers

    While not a user myself, I've heard great things about Walgreens-brand diapers. Look for the buy-one-get-one-free sale that happens a few times a year, and you can grab diapers for about 12 to 13 cents each.

    Find help for common financial problems in our Solutions Center!

    10. Hair color

    Not only do drugstores have a great selection of hair color, they often run sales and rewards promotions. You can also find many clearance hair-color deals. Combine that with coupons, and you can easily get hair color kits from your favorite brands for about $2.50 to $3.50 a kit.

    The bottom line

    While surveys - such as those from the public service consumer resource guide Consumer World - offer evidence that drugstores charge for convenience, learning to hack prices with rewards programs, sales and coupons can turn those high prices upside down.

    If you haven't tried it yet, do so soon. And if you need free help, there's plenty out there. For starters, check out Christie's sites:

    WildForWags.com (Walgreens)
    WildforCVS.com (CVS)

    Which deals have you found at the local drugstore? How about sites that help you save? Spread the word by leaving a comment below or on our Facebook page!

     

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    By Allison Martin

    Drafting a picture-perfect budget is only half the battle if you want to keep your spending in check.

    Following rules is the other half - and that can be challenging if you underestimate expenses or forget to incorporate a few pieces of the puzzle into your spending plan.

    Here are some commonly overlooked expenses that can cause you to throw in the towel on your budget each month:

    1. Auto maintenance and repairs

    At some point, if you don't take care of your car, it won't take care of you. So be proactive in order to avoid costly repairs down the road.

    If a mechanic brings a major problem to your attention, don't ignore it. Instead, get a second and perhaps third opinion. Then, take care of it.

    Take a look at "Get Free Car Repairs With Secret Warranties" to soften the blow to your bank account.

    2. Children's extracurricular activities

    Use a calendar to plan out your children's extracurricular activities. That way, you can set aside the funds needed to pay up when the amounts are due.

    The same rules apply to family fun. Plan ahead and always remain on the lookout for cheap or free fun.

    Check out "14 Ways to Have More Fun for Less Money" for ideas.

    3. Pet care

    Furry friends have needs, too. And, sometimes, those needs aren't as cheap as you think. So don't forget to factor in the costs of routine care as well as doctor visits. Also, take a look at "28 Ways to Save Big Bucks on Pet Supplies."

    Find the best price on everything you buy on our deals page!

    4. Regular monthly fees

    Are you responsible for obligations payable quarterly, semiannually or annually? If so, it's best to divide the total by 12 to get the monthly amount. Then, store the funds away so you won't be caught off guard.

    Examples of such expenses include homeowner association fees, alarm fees and subscription dues. If your HOA fee is $300 quarterly, $100 should automatically be set aside each month to take care of the expense when it arises.

    5. Special events

    Your lifelong friend has decided to tie the knot next month, or your child's friend from school is having a birthday bash. Do you have the funds on hand to cover the travel costs or go out and purchase a gift?
    If not, you may have to borrow to make it happen. Or, you can respectfully decline to attend.

    6. Health insurance

    Monthly premiums for health insurance can be expensive, and that's before co-pays and deductibles.
    To cover these costs, you can either go into debt and pay interest, or plan ahead and have money set aside.

    7. Road trips

    Do you have money set aside to cover an extra tank of gas if you need it? Make sure you do - you never know when you'll need to make a quick trip to tend to important business, or to check on a loved one.

    8. Service calls

    The water heater can suddenly die, or your furnace may go on the fritz. So make sure you tuck away money for these unpredictable failures.

    9. Utility consumption

    When temperatures reach extreme lows, you may crank up the thermostat to stay comfy and wind up overextending your budget. A better alternative: Find more cost-efficient options, as we discuss in "15

    Low- and No-Cost Ways to Reduce Your Winter Energy Bill
    ."

    10. Food

    Perhaps you stop by the bagel shop to grab a bite to eat because you were running behind schedule. Or, you take a co-worker up on an offer to have lunch. If you don't have the funds available for extras, another category of your budget will take a hit.

    What is the biggest drain on your monthly budget? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

     

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    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    "Game of Thrones" may be entertaining, but is it worth the $100 or more you may be shelling out for cable each month?

    According to the Leichtman Research Group, the average pay-TV subscription service cost $99.10 a month in 2015, up 39 percent from 2010. Meanwhile, if The NPD Group is right, you may be on track to spend more than $200 a month for the privilege of watching television in 2020.

    If that sounds outrageous to you, it's time to cut your cable bill. And while you're at it, slash other monthly expenses from your budget as well. In fact, a little bill trimming could put an extra $1,000 in your pocket this year. Here's how.

    Cable or satellite TV

    Let's start with the big one: your television service. Now, I know paying to watch TV seems to be the American way. After all, the Leichtman Research Group found 83 percent of all households pay for some form of TV service.

    So I get it if you think pulling the plug is a bit radical. But it is also smart. If you have an HDTV and a roof antenna, you can get free over-the-air channels with a picture quality that puts standard-definition cable TV to shame.

    In addition, if you have a newer TV, Blu-Ray player or gaming system and a high-speed Internet connection, you can use these streaming services for a fraction of the price:
    • Netflix
    • Hulu or Hulu Plus
    • Amazon Prime
    • iTunes

    There may be a slight delay in watching new shows, but ask yourself whether it is really worth $1,200 a year just so you can be in the know for the office water cooler conversation?

    If you are ready to cut the cable, you will be in great company. See: TV Viewers Cutting the Cord in Big Numbers.

    And for more information, check out: Internet

    Next to television, Internet is the other big monthly expense for many families.

    If you are a basic Internet user and simply need service to check your email and Facebook, you may want to check out the ultra-cheap Internet available through FreedomPop and NetZero.

    With Freedom Pop, you can get up to 500MB of free wireless service each month at 3G and 4G speeds, while NetZero offers a paid DSL hook-up. Both have pricing plans that vary depending on your location, but they have historically been only a fraction of what you'd pay other providers.

    For more, check out this popular post: You Can Now Get Free Internet at Home and Away.

    If you have a tiered data plan with Verizon Wireless, you can use your phone as a tethered hot spot for free. The company settled a complaint with the FCC in 2012 and agreed not to charge these customers for hot-spot access. Depending on your plan, you might need to download a third-party app first.

    If you are grandfathered into Verizon's old unlimited data plan, you're out of luck with the free hot-spot service. However, you can pay $30 a month for 4 gigabytes of hot spot access, and that may be cheaper than what you are currently paying for DSL or cable. Other mobile carriers offer their own hot-spot plans as well.

    Finally, if your kids qualify for the National School Lunch Program, you can get $9.95 Internet access through Comcast's Internet Essentials. The company is also piloting cheap Internet programs for Pell Grant recipients enrolled in eligible community colleges as well as those age 62 or older who receive public assistance and live in Boston, San Francisco County or Palm Beach County, Florida.

    Mobile phone service

    Moving right along: Let's talk about your cellphone. Signing a contract can be the best way to snag the latest and greatest phone for little or nothing upfront. But you'll be paying for that phone in the form of higher monthly plan fees over the next two years.

    If you aren't particular about your phone, try a prepaid plan that will give you access to good service with a decent, although not flashy, phone. All the major carriers offer prepaid plans, but PC Magazine reports some of the smaller providers offer even better deals.

    Check out what is available in your area from the following companies:
    • Consumer Cellular
    • FreedomPop
    • Giv Mobile
    • Page Plus Cellular
    • Net10
    • H20 Wireless

    Be sure to compare a couple of different providers before signing up. Most run on AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint networks but Page Plus Cellular offers access to Verizon's network. In addition, some providers, such as H20 Wireless, may be a better choice if you need to call internationally.

    Find help for common financial problems in our Solutions Center!

    Credit monitoring

    We've covered the big three expenses, but there are still plenty more ways to save. Sometimes we get so hung up on our major expenses that we ignore the little fees that nickel-and-dime our bank accounts down to nothing.

    Take credit monitoring, for example. You could pay a company $15 a month or more to watch your credit report or you could do it yourself. By law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. Request yours at annualcreditreport.com (the only government-authorized site) and review them for errors.

    For additional peace of mind, you can add a fraud alert to your file, which requires lenders to take additional steps to verify your request before extending any credit in your name.

    In short, there's no reason to pay for credit monitoring. For more, read Ask Stacy: Should I Pay for Credit Monitoring?

    Computer services

    Along the same lines, why are you paying for virus protection and cloud storage when free options are available?

    I am an AVG fan myself, but there are plenty of other good free anti-virus programs available. Again, we'll refer you to our friends at PC Magazine to help identify the best free programs on the Web. The following are among their recommendations:
    • Avast Free AntiVirus 2016
    • AVG Anti-Virus Free (2016)
    • Panda Free Antivirus (2016)
    • Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014)
    For more, read 8 Tips to Protect Your Computer From Viruses and Malware

    Cloud storage is also easily found online. If you have an MSN account, you have access to their OneDrive. Google users can back up documents to their Google Drive. Then, you also have Dropbox, iCloud and MediaFire, and the list goes on and on.

    Magazine subscriptions

    Confession time: I love magazines. My perfect morning involves sleeping children, a cup of coffee and a home and garden magazine.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get cheap magazines without paying newsstand prices. For example, there are a number of websites offering free magazine subscriptions. I've personally used the free magazine section of ValueMags for consumer publications and Mercury Magazines for business titles.

    While many free magazine offers are for digital editions, you can also find print subscriptions for free.

    Speaking of digital editions, you can typically find much of a magazine's content on its website for free. I know, it's not quite the same as flipping through the pages, but you can't beat the price.

    If you must have the magazine in your hand but can't find a free subscription, a trip to your local library is probably in order. In addition to checking magazines out, some branches have racks of old issues free for the taking.

    Gym memberships

    Last but not least, that gym membership you've been clinging to in the hopes you really will begin working out any day now.

    If you really want to belong to a gym, look for free or low-cost options. Students may have free access to their school's facilities. Your health insurance plan may get you a discount. Or if you belong to Costco, you could take advantage of their arrangement with 24 Hour Fitness. Other chains such as Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness specialize in no-frills, low-cost gyms.

    Finally, it probably doesn't need to be said, but you do know it's free to walk on the sidewalk, right?
    How have you cut back on your monthly subscription expenses? Is there something you'll never give up?

    Tell us more about it in the comments or on our Facebook page.

     

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    By Sabah Karimi

    If you're struggling with your budget every month or just can't seem to get ahead financially, it may be time to turn to a financial role model or mentor for guidance. Connecting with someone who has been in your shoes, or who has successfully turned things around after financial devastation, may be just what you need to get yourself on a healthy financial track. At the very least, seeking support or advice can help you stay motivated and encourage you to get your financial life in order.

    Here are five ways to find a financial role model or mentor.

    1. Call the bank. If you have been a loyal customer at your bank for several years or have prestige customer status, you may qualify for complimentary sessions with a financial advisor. A financial advisor can serve as a temporary mentor to guide you through the process of investing wisely, setting up a realistic budget or managing money after a windfall. They may also help you with big financial decisions, such as purchasing a car, investing in a college fund or evaluating your stock portfolio. A quick phone call may be all it takes to get the process started with a dedicated financial professional.

    2. Reach out to successful friends. How many of your friends or neighbors run successful businesses? Most successful entrepreneurs are financially savvy because they have learned how to manage their resources successfully. These contacts may be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to budgeting or providing advice on how to better manage your investments and finances in the future. Take someone out for coffee or lunch to learn more about their journey and find out if they would be willing to be your mentor. If they are not available, ask them for any books or resources they have learned from over the years so you can start educating yourself.


    3. Review online mentoring programs. Several organizations, including faith-based organizations like MoneyLife Mentoring, offer online mentoring programs for those who want to turn their financial situation around with expert guidance and support. You agree to pay a monthly fee to have access to your mentor and may also have the option to work through a self-paced program that offers educational materials and workbooks as resources for your financial management plan. Whether you struggle with paying bills on time or need a cohesive action plan to set yourself up for a positive financial future, consider registering for an online program that can walk you through the process step by step.

    4. Get in touch with successful family members. Talking about money matters with extended family members or those who are close to you outside of your immediate family may not be comfortable, but you can explore the option of asking for advice from those who have successfully paid off large amounts of debt, are living a debt-free lifestyle or have a knack for saving money. Reaching out to these family members for advice to help with a current problem, or simply to be there for support and guidance as you work through your debt repayment or savings plan, could be just what you need to stay on a positive track.

    5. Get social. You'll find dozens of personal finance gurus and experts across the Web providing valuable advice and real-life stories about their journey to financial success. Start tuning in to their podcasts or register for upcoming webinars for valuable tips and advice on virtually any issue related to money, banking, credit and investing. Many of these experts have authored books and maintain a blog or social media presence with up-to-date and relevant information. Subscribe to their blog or email newsletter for daily and weekly updates, or find out if they offer an online course to help you learn the basic principles of money management. You may also be able to find Meetup groups that discuss personal finance topics and will help keep you accountable.

    Keep in mind, reading and researching won't be enough if you aren't interacting directly with your role model - you need to follow through on what you have learned, so having an accountability partner along the way can help.

     

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    By John Schmoll

    Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Who doesn't like to take a day to show a loved one just how much they mean to them?

    The retail industry takes that desire and preaches one message: You must spend money to accomplish it. The National Retail Federation reports Americans spent almost $150 per person for Valentine's Day gifts, totaling nearly $19 billion spent. This amount will make almost any frugal person shudder.

    What is the frugal person to do? What if you want to show love to your special Valentine but not give into the retail message of the amount spent equating to more love? Thankfully, there are many possible options. Here are a few to consider.

    Don't buy anything:

    Retailers like to make us think we need to spend to have an enjoyable Valentine's Day. That's simply not the case. "A great way to save money on Valentine's Day is to plan an experience and not buy things," says personal finance expert Catherine Alford of Budget Blonde. That might seem impossible to do or contrary to the idea of Valentine's Day. It's not. The day should be about spending time with loved ones and sharing memories, not just buying stuff. Alford explains a family can plan a free outing for the day and come home to bake something together. You get to express the same love without the added cost.

    Have a potluck:

    Dining at a romantic restaurant is a popular Valentine's Day activity. There's nothing wrong with that, though prices are commonly raised, making it an even more expensive night out. Personal finance expert Scott Alan Turner explains a great frugal alternative to the expensive night out. "Get together with a group of friends and have a potluck dinner and a game night to celebrate and have a great time," he says. I know a potluck doesn't scream romance. That's not the point. The point is to share time with those close to you, not give into the idea that you have to spend on a pricey meal out to create memories.

    Do something you never do:

    Life is busy, and it can be a challenge to schedule time for something special. Valentine's Day is a great way to stop in the middle of the chaos of life and enjoy something you say you want to do but never allow yourself to do. "Do that one thing you never have time for. For some couples that may mean going to a movie, or sleeping in late. Valentine's Day this year is on a Sunday. Sleep in late, or fix breakfast in bed together," says author Becky Blanton. The beauty of this option is you can spend as little or as much as you want, though the point remains the same: Spend time to develop that relationship and create memories. That's what your loved one will remember, not the high-priced gift you bought.

    Delay by a few days:

    We all know prices on items like flowers (roses specifically) and candy spike right before Valentine's Day. Such a spike makes the traditional celebration even more expensive. "The most unconventional (but possibly most effective), would be to celebrate on the February 15 or 16. Flowers, chocolate and other items are being discounted back to pre-holiday prices, so if you typically buy those items you can definitely save quite a bit of money," says personal finance expert Nate Michaels of Hack Your Budget.
    This is something my wife and I have personally done in the past as we typically don't celebrate the traditional holiday. We'll go out for a meal or buy gifts a few days to a week later allowing us to save a fair bit of money. It is important to point out, however, the need to discuss this with your partner prior so as to make sure they're okay with not celebrating on the exact day.

    Be creative:

    As has been said before, Valentine's Day is about spending time with those you love, not spending an exorbitant amount of money. A great way to celebrate the day without spending a lot requires some creativity. That can mean a lot of things, from buying a different and more reasonably priced flower, to making your own card, to a walk if your weather allows, to cooking a meal together.
    All of those options are significantly cheaper, if not free, and communicate the same thing a pricey night out does. Valentine's Day is a fun holiday to celebrate. It can also be quite expensive. Look for other options to create memories that don't carry a hefty price tag.

     

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    By Rebecca Lake

    The new year looks like it's shaping up to provide first-time buyers with the opportunity to enter into the housing market. Interest rates are still hovering around record lows, so there's some time left to snag a great deal. If you're planning on taking the plunge into homeownership in 2016, here are some key points to keep in the back of your mind before you begin the process.

    Find out now: How much house can I afford?

    1. Home Prices Are Expected to Even Out

    Home prices have been on a steady upward climb over the past few years. But they're on track to level off in 2016. That's both good news and bad news for buyers, depending on what your financial situation looks like.

    Home values are projected to increase by just 2.6% over the next year, according to Zillow. While that represents a slowdown from last year, values are still rising at a faster pace than wages. That means some lower income buyers may be shut out of the market if they can't afford to take on a mortgage.

    2. Mortgage Rates May Go Up

    A rise in the federal funds rate was seen as inevitable and the Federal Reserve finally moved forward with a rate hike at the end of 2015. For buyers, that move may signal the end of historically low mortgage rates, but it's not a reason to panic. It's likely that interest rates will climb up slightly but for the majority of buyers, it's not likely to be an obstacle to home affordability. Again, the buyers who stand to be affected the most are the ones who are on the lower end of the income scale.

    3. FHA Loans Will Be Cheaper

    FHA loans are a popular choice among first-time homebuyers because they make it possible to get a mortgage with as little as 3.5% down and a minimum credit score of 580. The only catch is that buyers who go this route are stuck paying an annual mortgage insurance premium (and an upfront mortgage insurance premium) on top of their regular loan payment.

    The good news for 2016 is that the cost of the premiums are coming down. Last year, the Federal Housing Administration made a move to reduce the annual premium rate from 1.35% to 0.85%. For buyers who have their eye on an FHA loan, that represents a pretty substantial amount of savings when calculating their mortgage costs.

    Check out our mortgage calculator.

    4. But Getting an FHA Loan May Be More Difficult

    The FHA Handbook for 2015-16 introduced some new guidelines for lenders that may affect which buyers qualify for a loan. Some of the things covered in the updated rules include new documentation rules for gifted down payments and changes to the treatment of student loans when calculating debt-to-income ratios. Borrowers who have a high debt-to-income ratio and authorized users who are carrying credit card debt may find getting approved for a loan more challenging.

    5. Buying Will Be Better Than Renting in Some Cities

    The rental market has exploded in the last few years and rental rates have reached astronomical highs. That upward trend is expected to continue into 2016, and according to RealtyTrac, owning a home will be more affordable than renting in 58% of all U.S. housing markets. A spike in rental rates may push more buyers into the market, leading to increased competition over available homes.

    Try out our rent vs buy calculator.

    Final Word

    Even if you're planning to postpone buying a home until later in the year, it's not too early to start preparing for it. It's a good idea to start improving your credit, paying down debt and beefing up your down payment to make yourself as attractive as possible to lenders once you're ready to get a loan.

     

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    Wal-Mart to Close Hundreds of Stores, Affecting 16,000 Jobs
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    By Krystal Steinmetz

    Although many Americans hate Wal-Mart, the retail giant is one of the most popular stores in the country.
    Shoppers often flock to Wal-Mart to take advantage of the big box retailer's touted "everyday low prices," even though Wal-Mart's prices aren't always the cheapest.

    If you love to shop and save money but you don't like Wal-Mart, you're in luck. Shopping expert and blogger Kyle James reports that these 19 stores will match Wal-Mart prices:
    Of course, Wal-Mart also offers its own price-matching, with opportunities to get an adjustment on Wal-Mart products that have been reduced in price since you purchased them, and to match the prices of other retailers. Also check out "Target Now Matches Prices With These 30 Online Retailers."

    Let the price wars begin!

     

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    By Karla Bowsher

    Good news for renters: The Zillow Rent Forecast for December projects "a big slowdown in rents" over the course of 2016.

    The bad news is that this slowdown isn't enough to negate rental affordability problems.
    As Svenja Gudell, Zillow chief economist, says:

    The slowdown in rental appreciation will provide some relief for renters who've been seeing their rents rise dramatically every single year for the past few years.

    However, the situation remains tough on the ground: Rents are still rising, and renters are struggling to keep up.

    As of December, the median rent in the United States had grown by 3.3 percent over the course of 2015, reaching $1,381 per month, according to Zillow.

    Over the course of 2016, however, the real estate website expects the median rent to slow to only 1.1 percent by December, reaching $1,396 per month.

    Zillow attributes this slowed growth to the supply of rental units catching up with the demand:
    After years of struggling to meet rampant demand from renters young and old, apartment developers have ramped up in a number of large U.S. markets. Enough new units have now been brought online to help blunt some of the rental appreciation we've been seeing.

    The Zillow Rent Forecast includes projections for the 50 largest metropolitan markets in the U.S. Of those 50 areas, Zillow projects the median rent will decrease this year in 14 areas:
    • Indianapolis - 3.6 percent decrease projected in median rent
    • Las Vegas - 1.8 percent decrease
    • Oklahoma City - 1.8 percent
    • Chicago - 1.4 percent
    • Milwaukee - 1.4 percent
    • Richmond, Virginia - 1.3 percent
    • Pittsburgh - 1 percent
    • Baltimore - 0.7 percent
    • St. Louis - 0.7 percent
    • Cleveland - 0.6 percent
    • Memphis, Tennessee - 0.6 percent
    • Philadelphia - 0.5 percent
    • Birmingham, Alabama - 0.4 percent
    • Detroit - 0.4 percent
    The 10 cities where Zillow projects the most growth in rent rates are:
    • San Jose, California - 7.8 percent increase projected in median rent
    • Buffalo, New York - 7.4 percent increase
    • San Francisco - 5.9 percent
    • Seattle - 4.5 percent
    • Denver - 4 percent
    • Portland, Oregon - 3.8 percent
    • Miami-Fort Lauderdale - 3.5 percent
    • Austin, Texas - 3.4 percent
    • Sacramento, California - 3.4 percent
    • Louisville, Kentucky - 3.2 percent
    How do you expect rent rates to fare in your area this year? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

     

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    Your bank account may not reflect it, but the total net worth of American households reached a new high in the second quarter of 2015. According to the latest release by the Federal Reserve, America's net worth rose by almost $700 billion to reach $85.7 trillion.

    Second quarter readings represent the ninth quarter out of the last ten with an increase in America's wealth. Barring an unusual shock, 2015 will represent the seventh consecutive year of wealth growth after the collapse of 2008.

    This may seem odd given the recent stock market drop, but rising home prices helped non-financial assets more than compensate for the lower growth rate in financial assets. Stock values increased by $61 billion, while the value of real estate rose by almost $500 billion.

    Collective U.S. assets are just short of $100 trillion. Most asset wealth is in housing at $24.6 trillion, while nearly equal amounts are attributed to stocks and mutual funds ($21.8 million) and retirement/pension accounts ($21.1 trillion).

    The total debt, however, has increased fivefold to $133 billion since 2008. Outstanding domestic non-financial debt totaled $44 trillion with household debt comprising $14 trillion of that amount. Business debt accounted for $12.5 trillion, and government debt topped the list at $17.5 trillion.

    Household debt increased in the second quarter at a 3.9% annual rate - the largest increase in debt since 2007. Mortgage debt increased at a 2.2% annual clip while consumer credit increased by 8.1%. Total liabilities remain below levels prior to the recession, but increased debt suggests that consumers are beginning to gain confidence and are willing to take on more debt, even if their paychecks do not show much of an increase.

    Accelerated Wealth Inequality

    The uneven distribution of income, and in turn wealth, may be the main reason why the wealth improvement has not led to robust economic growth. Overall, things are looking up, as the second quarter GDP was revised upward to 3.9%. However, U.S. growth remains unusually slow for a post-recession recovery.

    Note that the aggregate wealth numbers say nothing about the distribution of that wealth. There have been many discussions about income inequality, especially in an election year, but the effect of continued income inequality is an accelerated wealth inequality.

    A 2015 report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that the richest 10% of Americans consume approximately 28% of the overall income, but 76% of all the wealth. The income proportion is typical for richer nations, but our wealth inequality is far higher than most nations and over ten percentage points larger than any other nation.

    It is also worth noting that Fed numbers are not adjusted for population or inflation. By population growth alone, one would expect the numbers to rise at least slightly - but when these adjustments are taken into account, America's net worth is still riding high. Adjusted net worth is 4.8 times the U.S. GDP, the highest reading ever. Typical values are between three and four times GDP.

    Can't get enough of these financial facts? If you would like more details about U.S. wealth and the country's financial accounts, check out the full report "Financial Accounts of the United States" for the second quarter of 2015 and the OECD report regarding inequality.

    These reports probably contain more information than you really want, but they provide useful insight into America's household finances and how wealth and income inequality vary throughout the world. Now all you have to do is figure out how to direct more of that wealth increase toward your accounts.

     

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    Score a Savings Touchdown with Super Bowl Television Deals

    Did you know: when buying a new TV for the Super Bowl, some pricey features might not even be necessary?

    A lot of stores are pushing "4K" TVs this year. These TVs have four times the resolution as the current 1080p models. Now that might sound impressive, but with the increase in resolution also comes an increase in price. But hey, maybe you don't mind spending some extra bucks - as long as you can see the game in super-duper hi-res, right?

    Not so fast.

    This year's Super Bowl won't even be broadcast in 4K. So while you might be able to watch a few programs in higher resolution, the big game won't be one of them. And since 4K TVs are still relatively new on the tech scene, there currently isn't that much other content that makes use of it - for now.

    So what do you look for?

    A potentially more important feature is the ports. If you plan on hooking up other devices to your TV, make sure your set has at least 3 to 4 HDMI ports. This way, you don't get stuck with a TV that you just can't connect with.

    So tackle these tips before you buy, and you can get a new TV for the Super Bowl, without your budget getting sacked.

     

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    By Melissa Neiman

    Healthy eating often comes with a hefty price tag. Even the most expert of coupon clippers grouse about how difficult it is to find bargains on fresh fruits and vegetables.

    That is especially frustrating when you are trying to eat a more healthful diet. However, it is possible to save on delicious, nutritious produce - if you know where to look.

    Following are six secret places to find coupons for fresh produce.

    Join SavingStar

    This free service gives you cash back for items you buy at major grocery store chains. It can even be used for online grocery purchases.

    Every Tuesday, SavingStar presents a new "Healthy Offer of the Week" for an item of fresh produce. For example, the offer for Jan. 12 was "Save 20 percent on any single purchase of loose tomatoes."

    Now that's healthy choice for your body and your bank account.

    Register with Earthbound Farm

    Earthbound Farm sells a variety of fresh, healthy produce items, including salads, slaws, powermeal bowls and smoothie kickstarts. The company offers many nutritious frozen fruits and veggies, too.

    When you sign up for their Organic Bound guide, which promotes "happier, healthier living," you'll receive "recipes, tips and exclusive coupons delivered straight to your inbox." According to the company, members can save as much as $50 a year.

    Sign up for the Fresh Express newsletter

    You've probably noticed Fresh Express ready-to-eat packaged salads in the produce section of your local grocery store. But did you know that you can get tips, recipes and -perhaps most importantly - coupons for these assorted leafy greens when you subscribe to the company's newsletter?

    You can also visit Fresh Express' Salad Swap site to learn how to recreate your favorite recipes using healthier ingredients and access additional product coupons.

    Register with Driscoll's

    Join Driscoll's "Berry Community," and enjoy two ways to save on the company's strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, which are sold at major retailers throughout the country.

    As a Driscoll's Rewards Club member, you will be eligible for special offers, including a birthday gift.
    You can also elect to become a member of Driscoll's Customer Advisory Panel, which provides an opportunity to earn additional product coupons for completing customer surveys. Talk about a berrysweet deal!

    Get mobile coupons from Target

    Target sells practically everything, including fresh fruit and vegetables. And the popular superstore occasionally even offers produce coupons that can help you hit the bull's-eye when it comes to better physical and financial health.

    For example,Target recently offered coupons for $1.50 off when you buy $7 worth of produce, and $5 off $25 worth of perishable foods.

    Download the company's mobile Cartwheel app to access coupons when you're on the go. Last week, customers with the Cartwheel app received offers for 5 percent off of both fresh oranges and apples.

    Join Organic Girl's e-mail list

    Fresh arugula, kale, romaine, spinach and spring mix... Organic Girl sells it all. You can save on the company's top-quality fresh produce when you join its email list.

    You'll receive a $1 off coupon just for signing up - and be sure to keep an eye out for additional perks, promos and healthy recipes sent straight to your inbox. Can you already savor the savings?

    Do you know of any other resources for fresh produce coupons? Share them in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

     

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    By Brittany Lyte

    These days, the bulk of our correspondence has been digitized. But even so, it can sometimes seem like we're drowning in all that rectangular white stuff. Greeting cards. Handouts. Flyers. Warranties. Instruction manuals. Business cards. Bills.

    Here's how you can finally sweep up all the spillover. After all, a cluttered hard drive is far better - and easier to navigate - than a cluttered home.

    1. Stop Trying to Save Everything

    Shedding ties to paper is a form of minimalism. Indeed, many of the documents you've been storing in filing cabinets and desk drawers should be dumped rather than digitized. For some, it's a hard reality to accept. But consider this: One of the top reasons we save so much paper is for fear of needing it in the future. Honestly though, when are you going to need the tattered pages of your 10th grade English essay? And remember that since your recent utility bills and bank statements are readily available online, there's simply no need to keep your own hard copy.

    Another reason we hoard paper: Memories. Often the paper we save is tied to a moment we don't want to let go of. Without hard evidence, will we continue to remember? What we all need to realize, and accept, is that the memories live on - even when the physical evidence is gone.

    2. Make Time for the Three S's

    Set aside time each day to scan, save, and shred. Maybe it's 20 minutes before bedtime. Maybe it's after breakfast, but before you leave the house. Carve out a stack to start on and tackle it day by day, assessing whether each item should be added to your digital storage, saved in hard copy form, or tossed.

    You'll need to keep physical copies of documents pertaining to your identity and assets, such as social security cards, loan documents, marriage and divorce certificates, living wills, and insurance policies. Into the garbage go the product instruction manuals (most companies post these online), past bank statements (shred them first), and personal notes from 13 years ago (alright, you can save one or two...). Most other documents should be digitized.


    If you're stuck thinking, Do I need to keep a hard copy of the receipt for the expensive necklace I just bought? consider how difficult it would be to obtain another copy. In this case, if the necklace clasp malfunctioned and you wanted to return it to the jeweler, you probably wouldn't be able to do so without proof of purchase. But a digitized copy of the receipt will function just as well as the original.

    So, you should scan it and save it on your hard drive. And don't forget to label. The beauty of digitizing our paper trail is that we can more easily find miscellaneous items such as receipts and cable bills by using keywords to search, locate, and extract critical information. It sure beats sifting through the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet on your hands and knees.

    3. Get a Scanner

    Doxie is a small but powerful scanner that tackles everything from photos to legal documents. And it doesn't even require a computer. Doxie scans straight to the cloud, which is a real asset for jet setters. Another home-use scanner with a cloud storage component is NeatDesk. It's fast and the feed takes a variety of papers, including business cards and receipts. But before you go purchasing one of these scanners - or any other - make sure it's the right fit for you. Do you plan to digitize photos? If so, you'll want to make sure that the scanner you choose is well equipped for the task. Will you be scanning large documents that might not feed into a smaller, portable scanner? Then you'll want to explore other options.

    Additionally, there's a ton of great organizing tools out there that will help you stay on top of your docs, once you've scanned them. DEVONthink and Evernote are just a couple of options to consider.
    (See also: The 5 Best Scanners)

    4. Scan On-the-Go

    Mobile apps like Genius Scan and Docu Scan can help you to easily export and sort documents as they come to you throughout the day. This way you won't have a backlog of paper to digitize because you'll be tackling your paper trail as it comes. Mobile scanning is one of the easiest ways to stay on top of your paperless game.

    5. Don't Get Discouraged

    All the scanning, labeling, and shredding can be a slog. When you get discouraged, remember this: The average person wastes 16 to 55 minutes per day searching for lost items. Over a lifetime, that amounts to one to three years! No matter how you dice it, the time you spend digitizing will save you time in the long run.

    If you're truly overwhelmed by the task of digitizing the paper you've accumulated thus far, why not digitize new documents and correspondence as it comes. Later, once you've got the hang of it, you'll feel more compelled to dig into the rest.

    Have you gone completely paperless? Was it a struggle? Share with us in the comments!

     

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    You are ready to purchase a home. You have done your homework and mapped out your affordable price range, saved sufficient down payment money, found a suitable lender, and have looked at some of the available homes. You've checked out the neighborhood (as well as a few neighbors) and found homes in areas that you find appealing. Have you given thought to how your choice of neighborhood can affect the lasting value of your home?

    Assuming that you have evaluated the aesthetics of the neighborhood and found a home that appeals to you, here are a few tips to see if the value of that home is likely to hold.

    Historical Values - As the old saying goes, past results are often the best indicator of future performance. Check websites such as Trulia or Zillow, or ask your realtor for the general history of home prices in the area. Have prices generally risen over time? How did the neighborhood hold up during the Great Recession?

    As you check out the neighborhood, look for other trends that could either be good or bad signs. Are there many nearby homes for sale? Are there more foreclosures or rental houses than there used to be? Have sale prices gone up disproportionately to the rest of the surrounding area? If so, there must be a reason why.

    Amenities - Consider areas with plenty of well-established amenities. Good schools usually top the list, along with parks, libraries, a well-funded police force, and a nearby fire station. Beautiful scenic views such as nearby mountains or lakes can add further value.

    Neighborhood Jobs/Businesses - Check out the local businesses. Are there a number of them closing, or is there a lot of turnover? Are major employers that offer high-paying jobs nearby? Do those employers have a stable history? Are there colleges or universities nearby?Neighborhoods that hold their value well often have high paying jobs in close proximity or within a reasonable commute.

    Check the nature of the surrounding retailers. Is there a preponderance of high-end retailers? Conversely, are there multiple businesses that suggest a downtrodden region, like payday lenders or pawnshops?

    Appearance - Are the other houses in the neighborhood being well kept? Look for clean and well-manicured lawns, an absence of trash, and no obvious disrepair like peeling paint or broken gutters. There may be an occasional home that does not meet standards, but several unkempt homes are a bad sign. If there are any neighborhood covenants, check to see if the homeowners are keeping up with the covenant's demands.

    Transportation - The commute may be great during a weekend open house. Try driving the same route during rush hour.

    Distractions - Are there nearby freeways, airports, manufacturing facilities, or other concerns that could cause problems with noise, smells, or other potential distractions? These may not be obvious unless you do a little reconnaissance with the neighbors or at a local coffee shop. Libraries (and librarians) are also good sources for local information.

    Projects - Check with local planning and zoning authorities for any projects that could affect your property values such as new roads, subdivision changes, or zoning laws that could change the nature of the nearby area.

    Your dream home may not necessarily be the one that holds its value the most, but lasting value should be one of your considerations as you review your choices for a new home. A new home is the largest purchase most people will ever make, and it is best to consider it an investment as well as a home.

     

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