Smart Design Tips to Maximize Small Spaces

small spaces

If you’ve ever strolled through Ikea’s showroom in downtown Atlanta, you’ve probably been in awe that designers can fill and decorate every inch of a 600 square-foot living space while still preserving the room’s visual balance, interest, and functionality. It’s not as much of a challenge as you might think, though. Whether you are struggling to make your tiny spare room look organized and spacious, or you are contemplating an entire condo makeover, here are a few insider trips and tricks to keep your small space looking (and feeling!) like it is fit for a king.

In a small room, where design options are limited, it is very important to decide on a main focal point – typically the space by a window or a wall. Fill the focal point space with a bold piece of furniture, such as an armoire or a pair of dramatic bookcases, and then position more modest accent pieces throughout the rest of the room. To play up the illusion of openness, consider adding clear Lucite chairs or a glass table as accent furniture. If your taste is more traditional, use a neutral color palette to make the space feel larger. Incorporate tasteful, interesting pieces that don’t overwhelm, and be flexible to seasonal changes and inspirations. One way to corral clutter and still stay organized is by storing items in cottage-style baskets or modern, sleek boxes.

Drawing the eye upwards to the ceiling to make the room seem larger is one design trick that is commonly used by designers who are working in smaller spaces. Two tried-and-true ways to accomplish this is by installing floor-to-ceiling windows (or simply dressing existing windows with floor-to-ceiling curtains), and by using vertical stripes to lengthen the height of the room. Layering curtains is less of a commitment than hanging striped wallpaper, and can give the illusion that there are large windows behind the curtains instead of a large, empty space with one small window. If the focal point of the room is the window, layering a variety of curtains can add depth and color without overwhelming. Layering curtains is similar to peeling an orange in that the outermost panels should be a thicker, heavier fabric, and the innermost panels should be lighter, breezier fabric. As always, when choosing panels, you have to consider the color scheme and décor in the rest of the room. If the room is mostly neutral with a few pops of color and accents, then choose your outermost curtain panels to match one of your accent colors, and your innermost panel to match a neutral hue.

Another way to bring drama to a small space is to amplify the lighting. Floor lamps, table lamps, and sconces will brighten up dark entryway corners and make vacant bedrooms feel warm and cozy for guests. In smaller spaces, where the amount of accessories is limited, choose lamps that are interesting and unique to give the space personality and flair. Pair lamps with colorful shades, or give basic shades a mini-makeover by adding some DIY accessories like tailored ribbon edging or a rustic burlap flower. Another trick for magnifying light in a small space is by using mirrors to reflect the natural light in the room. When hanging a mirror in your guest bedroom, entryway, or dining nook, be sure to place it across from a window or lamp so that the maximum amount of light will be reflected back into the space.

Whether your room’s footprint is large or small, maximizing its space with smart design tactics. By planning for a focal point, increasing the vertical height of the room, and amplifying light, any space will feel twice the size.

 

Avoid Card Skimming Scams

atm

It’s National Consumer Protection Week ,and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is proud to join the effort to educate consumers and businesses from becoming victims of fraud and scams. National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) is a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions.

NCPW.gov offers consumers a wealth of tips and information from federal and state government and non-profit partner organizations. You can download and print the materials and share them with friends and neighbors, or order materials from select partners if you’re planning a larger event such as a conference or workshop.

It’s up to each of us to stay on top of scams and better protect not only ourselves, but our family (kids and seniors) friends and co-workers.

BBB Tips: Avoiding Card Skimming at ATMs and Other Money Machines

Be wary when you use automated teller machines (ATMs) and other payment processing machines. Thieves may be using high-tech tools in scams to capture your account information to steal your money.

These scams, known as “card skimming,” involve attaching devices to money machines that read the information on your debit and credit cards when you swipe them. When combined with a nearby concealed camera to record your personal identification number (PIN), the thieves can get everything they need to drain your account or to make unauthorized purchases. In addition to using the information directly, thieves may sell your information to others.

ATMs and automated payment machines in airports, convenience stores, hotel lobbies, and other welltraveled, public places may be most vulnerable to thieves who may think these machines are not regularly inspected by the machine owners. However, card skimming may take place at any ATM or card processing machine, including those on bank premises. As technology makes these devices smaller and more powerful, the risk of card skimming grows.

How High-Tech Thieves Operate
Thieves have many ways to steal your account information. They may attach a card skimmer that looks and acts like a genuine part of the ATM or other type of money machine. The device may be a simple, curved plastic sheath over the card slot. The skimmer reads the magnetic strip or computer chip on your card and transmits your account information to the thieves or saves the information until the skimmer is retrieved.

Thieves may also use a wireless camera concealed nearby in a box holding brochures or in a light fixture. The camera photographs or videotapes your fingers as they enter your PIN on a keypad or screen. Like a card skimmer, the camera can transmit images instantly or save them until the thieves retrieve the camera later. A camera and card skimmer can be used together.

Safeguarding Your Personal Bank Account Information
To help protect you, banks and retailers take measures to minimize the risk of fraudulent use of your debit or credit card, particularly when those purchases are made by telephone or online.

Before approving telephone purchases, retailers typically confirm your identity by asking for personal information. They may ask for your address, the last four digits of your social security number, or answers to security questions you created when you set up your account.

Retailers also may ask for the three-digit security code printed on the front or back of your debit or credit card. To protect your online transaction from electronic fraud, many commercial Web sites require you to unscramble a word or a number displayed as a fuzzy or distorted image that is difficult for software to read.

Protecting Yourself With Common Sense Security Measures
Ultimately, you must protect yourself against thieves and the tools they use to access your accounts to steal from you.

To protect yourself, follow these common-sense precautions.
• Walk away from an ATM if you notice someone watching you or if you sense something wrong with the machine; immediately report your suspicions to the company operating the machine or a nearby law enforcement officer.
• Before using an ATM, examine nearby objects that might conceal a camera; check the card slot for a plastic sheath before inserting your card.
• Never keep a written copy of your PIN in your wallet or purse as it could be stolen; instead memorize your PIN and keep a paper record hidden at home.
• When entering your PIN, stand close to the machine and hold your hand over the keypad or screen to make it more difficult for a person or camera to watch you.
• Beware of strangers offering to help you with an ATM that appears disabled and notify someone responsible for the security of the machine.
• Regularly review your account statements, either online or on paper, and check for unauthorized withdrawals and purchases. If you find one, immediately contact your bank or credit card provider, as this will limit your financial liability for fraudulent charges.
Federal laws limit your liability from debit and credit card fraud. Two federal laws, in particular, protect you.

The Truth in Lending Act generally limits your liability to $50 for any unauthorized use of your credit card. However, you are not responsible for unauthorized charges on your account—if you report a lost or stolen credit card before the card is used. Also, you are not responsible if the fraud results from someone using your credit card number alone rather than your credit card.

The Electronic Fund Transfer Act also limits your liability for unauthorized use of your debit or ATM cards—if you quickly report the lost or stolen card. You are not held responsible for unauthorized charges if you report the fraud before unauthorized transactions are made. If unauthorized transac tions occur before you report your card missing or compromised, your liability depends on how quickly you report the loss.

Additional Information
The Federal Trade Commission provides more in formation on what to do if your card is lost or sto len in its fact sheet “Credit, ATM and Debit Cards: What to Do if They’re Lost or Stolen,” at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre04.shtm.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has answers about what to do about unauthorized charges and other banking issues at HelpWithMyBank.gov.

Card Skimming — How It Works: An electronic card swipe device, strategically placed on an ATM machine, records the data from a victim’s card. Another hidden device’s sensor or camera records the victim’s finger strokes on the keypad as the fingers tap in the victim’s PIN number. The device either sends the data to the thief immediately or saves it for the thief to retrieve later. The thief then can use the data online or by phone or copy it onto a blank card to be used in stores or restaurants.

7 Savings Tips for Winter Formalwear

prom dress

Nestled between homecoming and prom, the winter formal is a festive way to kick off the new year. It helps combat post-holiday blues and distracts dance-goers from the fact spring is still a few months away.

Though the timing of this dance is ideal for teenagers, it couldn’t come at a worse time budget-wise. Families still recovering from the spend-heavy holidays may not have much in the way of cash for formalwear. Thankfully, there are several frugal ways to find “the dress” without breaking the bank.

1. Shop Second-Hand
The best way to save on formalwear is to buy it second-hand. Since most girls wear formal gowns only once and never again, it makes sense (and cents!) to buy them for a fraction of the original price. If you don’t have a Plato’s Closet or Buffalo Exchange in your area, head online to LikeTwice.com for several brands including BCBGMaxazria, Ralph Lauren and Banana Republic.

2. Swap With Friends
If you’re short on time and cash, consider organizing a dress swap with your closest friends. You’ve likely coveted the formal look of a friend recently, and this is your opportunity to showcase her style in your own unique way. Plus, you can make a party out of the exchange and gossip about your big night.

3. Be Frugal (for Now)
Ultimately, there’s no reason to spend a bundle on a dress that will be worn less than 12 hours. Save the bulk of your dress money for prom and pick up a trendy frock for your winter formal on the cheap. You can even shop online for deals by going to FreeShipping.org for coupon codes to places like Forever 21 for additional savings.

4. When in Doubt, LBD
You may dream in color and sequins, but ultimately you can’t go wrong in style or budget with a classic little black dress. Glam it up with inexpensive baubles from Claire’s or Charming Charlie, or peruse the clearance section of department stores such as Macy’s or Lord & Taylor.

5. Reinvent Your Fave
Do you love the cut of a dress you wore before but don’t want to show up in the same ol’ gown? Reinvent your floor length fave by getting it tailored to a shorter look. Alternatively, you can lengthen a shorter dress by asking a tailor to add a chiffon overlay for a very trendy look.

6. Rent for Less
Though your winter formal isn’t quite as fancy as prom, you still want to feel like royalty when you step onto the dance floor. For the best in designer gowns, check out RenttheRunway.com and consider renting your dress for less than $100.

7. Be a Bridesmaid
You can find great formal attire at bridal shops in the form of bridesmaid dresses. Peruse the clearance rack and ask sales associates to point you toward the dresses available for take-home. The tradeoff in price is buying something many people have tried on before you. Be sure to get the dress dry cleaned before the main event.

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Kendal Perez is a frugal fashionista and bargain shopper who helps fellow shopaholics find hassle-free ways to save money. As the marketing coordinator for Kinoli Inc., site manager for a family of money-saving websites, Kendal has the resources to be an extreme couponer but prefers a less complicated approach to staying in-budget. Kendal has been quoted in such media outlets as People StyleWatch, TIME Business & Money, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Health Magazine, FOX broadcast and many more. For savings tips and more information, visit HassleFreeSavings.com.

Do’s and Don’t of Buying Clothes Online

chothes online

Innovations in online shopping have made the Internet an increasingly popular outlet for fashion. From technology that promises the perfect fit to widgets that allow you to discuss your potential purchase with friends, virtual clothes shopping is on the rise.

With e-retail spending projected to increase 62 percent by 2016, it’s no wonder this trend is on an upward trajectory. However, anyone who’s shopped for clothes online knows the defeat of getting the wrong size, or discovering a store’s version of bordeaux is actually fuschia. As a fashion-obsessed online shopper, I’ve had my share of both failure and success. That’s why I’ve compiled these do’s and don’ts to make your next online experience a positive one.

DO Know Your Budget
When shopping online, inventory from nearly any merchant is at your fingertips, presenting both an exciting and perilous opportunity. Before perusing your favorite retailers’ offerings, determine a spending threshold so you don’t tempt yourself with items priced beyond your budget. As you browse for coveted items, remember taxes and shipping fees will add to the price of your selection.

DON’T Forego Making a List
Be a proactive online shopper and take stock of your closet to determine key items you need. It’s easy to get distracted by the full-price “new arrivals” and the super-cheap “final sale” offerings, and a list will help you stay focused. Be wary of high-priced trends and spend the most money on classic pieces that transition well through the seasons. Consult Glamour.com for 10 items every woman should have in her closet, then shop (and spend) accordingly.

DO Find a Coupon Code
Before you hit up your favorite fashion sites, look for promo codes to determine which site has the best deals. Some retailers such as Kohl’s allow you to use more than one code, so make sure you know these details before checking out. You can find coupons and free shipping deals for Kohl’s and other retailers from sites such as FreeShipping.org.

DON’T Buy at First Sight
I rarely buy an item the first time I see it online. That’s because I know every “new arrival” will eventually go on sale when it becomes old news. When you find a full-price item you love, bookmark it and monitor the cost over the next few weeks. Though waiting is the hardest part, I saved $50 on a pair of wine-colored skinny jeans by holding out for a 50-percent off sale.

DO Read the Return Policy
It’s important to know the details of online return policies since you may be responsible for return shipping if the item doesn’t work out. Check here for a list of stores that offer free return shipping, and remember most retailers will cover the cost if you’re simply exchanging the item for a different size or color. Some big retailers allow you to return a garment to their local store, so know your options before you click “purchase.”

DON’T Spend More for Free Shipping
While free shipping promotions seem pretty commonplace these days, most retailers have minimum order requirements. If you don’t want to spend more than $50, adding a bunch of items to your cart to qualify for the free shipping threshold of $75 doesn’t make sense. You’re essentially paying an extra $25 for “free” shipping and loading up on items you wouldn’t otherwise buy. Bad idea!

DO Read Reviews
Online reviews aren’t just for electronics and Amazon users. Most fashion retailers enable customers to review clothes they’ve purchased, and these insights are extremely helpful for potential buyers. In some cases, reviewers will let you know if an item runs small or big, or if there are style defects that aren’t obvious on screen.

DON’T Skip the Sizing Chart
Despite the potential of TrueFit, ordering clothes online can be daunting if you’re not familiar with the retailer and their sizing standards. Study the charts offered for each garment and take the time to measure yourself as suggested by the retailer. Doing so will reduce the likelihood you’ll need to return something because it doesn’t fit.

DO Sign Up for Savings
Regardless of whether you’re shopping online or offline, it’s important to know the best time to score a good deal. Sign up for your favorite e-retailers’ newsletters and deal alerts so you know when sales are happening. Set up a separate email account for these notifications to keep your personal inbox from being inundated with marketing messages. The sense of urgency created in these notifications often inflates the value of the deal, so remember to practice restraint.

DON’T Go Crazy with Store Cards
Store credit cards can be tempting, as most of them boast free or reduced shipping costs and other perks for online orders. However, these cards carry high interest rates and can negatively impact your credit score. If you have good credit and shop at the store frequently, getting a store card might be a good savings strategy. Strict management of my Limited Couture Card enables me to enjoy the free shipping perk without racking up debt.

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Kendal Perez is a frugal fashionista and bargain shopper who helps fellow shopaholics find hassle-free ways to save money. As the marketing coordinator for Kinoli Inc., site manager for a family of money-saving websites, Kendal has the resources to be an extreme couponer but prefers a less complicated approach to staying in-budget. Kendal has been quoted in such media outlets as People StyleWatch, TIME Business & Money, FOX, NPR and Kiplinger Personal Finance. For savings tips and more information, visit HassleFreeSavings.com.

8 Unique Places to Find Jewelry for Less

bracelet

Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away and consumers are spending only slightly more on the holiday this year than last, according to a recent report from the National Retail Federation. Yet, the report estimates $4.4 billion will be spent on jewelry for Feb. 14 festivities, including gold, silver and diamonds.

Despite the hefty price tag typically affixed to fine jewelry, you can find bargains on baubles in the most unusual places. In the spirit of saving a little dough on this popular Valentine’s Day present, here are eight unexpected places you can find bling for that special someone for less.

1. Websites for the Rejected
Sadly, there’s an entire online industry dedicated to people selling jewelry purchased for a former lover or received by one. Apparently, these items are simply a reminder of love gone cold and men and women alike are eager to get rid of them. Exboyfriendjewelry.com and IDoNowIDont.com represent great resources for used jewelry ranging from pricey engagement rings to designer earrings — you can expect to much less than you would at a retail location.

2. Struggling Department Stores
Gift cards to retailers struggling to stay afloat are understandably unpopular, making them a steal on the secondary market. Shoppers can find discount gift cards to JCPenney, for example, for up to 30-percent off at sites like GiftCardGranny.com. Savvy shoppers can collect these cards for the purpose of buying fine jewelry during sale time — around Valentine’s Day, for example — and purchase the good stuff for a fraction of the retail price.

3. Pawn Shop
Most people know pawn shops are great places to find real and vintage jewelry for less. However, you must be prepared for your purchase by researching prices and knowing what to look for. For savvy tips on navigating pawn shops, consider this expert advice from the stars of Hardcore Pawn as shared by ABC News.

4. eBay
As the recent seller of a $300 ring on eBay, I can say with confidence this popular auction site is a great resource for finding bling at a bargain. I parted with my ring for $60 because I really, really wanted to get rid of it. Though the purchaser got my ring for a steal, he or she may not know it. That’s why it’s important to do your research when buying jewelry and other pricey items from personal sellers.

5. Antique Stores
A friend of mine recently flaunted a beautiful ring on Facebook that she found in an antique store. Though these stores are packed to the brim with everything from books to clothing to furniture, you can also find unique jewelry for a steal. Antique shops are one of the few places you can score vintage or true antique pieces when you peruse with a critical eye, and some shops even specialize in jewelry picked up at estate sales. Don’t be afraid to negotiate if the initial price isn’t right.

6. Etsy
If you’re looking for something a little less mainstream, consider the community of artisans on Etsy.com. You can find unique, one-of-a-kind jewelry like cuff bracelets, engagement rings, personalized pieces and more from creative people around the country and internationally. Sometimes you can even negotiate price with the seller, so don’t be afraid to banter when you find something you like.

7. Estate Sales
Thrift shops and antique stores often shop estate sales for their wares, and you can cancel out the middleman by doing the same. Unlike garage sales, estate sales are much larger affairs and typically the result of the homeowner’s passing. Though you likely won’t find the family diamonds for sale, jewelry that lacks high monetary or sentimental value will be yours for the choosing. Search newspaper listings, Craigslist or EstateSale.net to find local sales.

8. Discount Retailers
I wouldn’t recommend purchasing an engagement ring from TJMaxx; however, discount retailers stock designer jewelry for much less than MSRP. Hit up your local Ross or Marshall’s for great deals on designer watches, earrings, necklaces and pendants. Just be sure to separate the treasures from the trash and let the salesperson know you’re looking for quality pieces.

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

Resolve to Save More of Your Money in 2013

saving money

(StatePoint) Two of the most commonly made and commonly broken New Year’s resolutions are saving money and paying off debt. These are promises we all seem to make to ourselves every year with every intention of seeing through. But somehow, we wind up in the same spot we were before.

So how can you make sure that 2013 is the year you take control of your finances and start making your money work for you?

• Figure out what your objectives are — be it paying off debt, buying a first home, or saving for vacation. Identifying your goals can help you stay motivated.  Consider placing a visual reminder somewhere you’ll see all the time, like the refrigerator.

• Many people have no idea how much money they spend monthly. Creating a spending plan is vital if you want to make your money do for you what you want it to. If you share your finances with someone else, make sure he or she is part of this process as well.

• Many financial services companies offer free tools to help you easily see what you’ve been spending and ways you can save. For example, the non-profit Family Credit Management offers spending plans, savings guides and a comprehensive personal financial goals workbook that help you to lay out a strong plan in an easy way.  Visit www.FamilyCredit.org to see these and other financial tools.

• Make the small changes that add up to big savings. Most people have small expenses that they can live without. Maybe for you it’s a coffee every morning on your way to work. If you do this every weekday, that adds up to $1,300 per year! If that’s important to you, then fine. But if it’s not worth the annual amount you’re spending, cut the cost.

The idea is not to strip the fun from your life, but to save money on things that you really don’t care about. For more areas to save in your daily life, visit www.StopThinkSave.org.

• Involve your whole family. Many parents feel the need to shelter kids from financial strain, but budgeting is an invaluable life lesson that you can teach them by including them in the process.

• Ask for help! If you feel you could use some guidance, reach out to a certified credit counselor who is licensed by your state’s banking department and has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. Visit www.FamilyCredit.org to find a certified counselor.

• Finally, figure out what to do with your new found savings! If you’re not sure where you’d like to keep or invest your money, you can visit bankrate.com and investigate high interest, low balance requirement savings accounts.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you are on your way! Saving money is habit forming — when you get your monthly statement and you see money building up, you’ll want to put more and more away. It’s a great way to get started on a financially successful New Year.

Five Tips to Boost Your Retirement Readiness

retirement planning

(StatePoint) In challenging financial times, it can be difficult to pay bills today, let alone save for the future. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Lincoln Financial Group found that 72 percent of Americans say that the state of the economy is making it challenging for them to stay on track with their retirement savings.

“With everything that Americans have on their minds today, the economy can weigh heavily on retirement savings decisions,” says Chuck Cornelio, president of Retirement Plan Services at Lincoln Financial Group. “But it’s important not to take a break from saving.”

Even if you are already enrolled in your employer-sponsored retirement plan, like a 401(k) or 403(b), there are steps you can take to help better prepare you for retirement.

Here are five tips to help you get you started.

• Enroll in your employer sponsored retirement plan: Participating in your employer-sponsored retirement plan reduces your taxable income today, while helping to build retirement savings for tomorrow. If you don’t know how to get started, contact your benefits administrator or human resources department to help you enroll.

• Consolidate assets: Consolidating your retirement assets into one account helps to simplify the savings and income planning process and can help your money grow over time.

• Schedule a retirement plan check-up: Make it a habit to schedule an annual plan check-up just as you would your health exam. An annual meeting with a financial professional will help you stay on track of goals.

• Resist the temptation to borrow against your retirement plan: While the best plans can be impacted by unexpected events, avoid borrowing against your retirement plan savings. When you do that, you may miss out on potential returns when the market recovers. All the time you spend paying back the loan is time you’re not making contributions, missing out on the ability for your money to grow.

• Increase contributions with income boosts: Whenever you receive extra cash from a tax refund, a bonus, a salary increase or some other pleasant surprise, consider increasing your retirement plan contributions. Even increasing by a percentage or two can make a big difference in the long run. When you hit the maximum contribution level in your employer-sponsored retirement plan, a financial advisor can help you find the right place to invest additional savings.

Although retirement may seem far off when you are in the middle of your working years, getting on track early and saving steadily can help you fund the lifestyle you want to live in your retirement years.

For more information, visit www.lincolnfinancial.com.

13 Ways to Save in 2013

save money 2013

Spending less and saving more money are among the top goals on typical New Year’s resolution lists. Heavy holiday spending coupled with potential tax hikes from the fiscal cliff make these goals even more important in 2013. To help, here are 13 easy ways to save more in 2013.

1. Dine Out Less
Have you ever calculated how much eating out eats into your budget? In 2011, the average family dished out $2,620 for dining out. Year-end bank and credit card statement summaries should quickly show you how much you spent at restaurants this year. You’ll likely be surprised to learn how much you can save by staying home.

2. Adjust Your Tax Withholding
Though the impact of the fiscal cliff makes this one tricky, the first of the year is the best time to review and adjust your withholdings. Withhold too much and you’re offering an interest-free loan to the U.S. government; withhold too little and you’ll have a very bad day come April 15.

3. Sell Your Gift Cards
They say it’s the thought that counts, and that’s certainly the case when you receive a gift card to an establishment you don’t like or isn’t offered locally. Turn that card into cash by selling it on sites like GiftCardGranny.com, where you can receive up to 92-percent of the card’s value or trade it for a gift card to Amazon.

4. Learn Something New
Learning something new is already part of your list of resolutions, so why not make it something that will save you money? Whether it’s discovering how to change the oil in your car, fixing a leaky faucet or whipping up a killer stir fry, you’ll cut costs and add to your list of skills.

5. Sell or Swap Your Stuff
Organize a clothes swap with friends or sell them online or at a consignment shop. A clothing swap is an especially good idea for parents who constantly need new items for growing kids. Sites like thredUp.com are great online resources if friends aren’t yet ready to trade.

6. Use Coupons
Extreme couponers have given the practice a bad name, but using coupons for everyday purchases is a tried-and-true method of saving money. Avoid a purse full of coupons with Coupon Sherpa mobile app, or take advantage of supermarket apps to organize all your grocery savings onto your loyalty card.

7. Get Cheap Exercise
Gym memberships are tempting this time of year, but you can forego the annual contract for at-home DVDs and inexpensive equipment like dumbbells and running shoes. Even online video tutorials from sites like BodyRock and Fitness Magazine will help you perfect movies that you can do in your living room for free.

8. Stop Paying for Free Services
Are you still paying for books, texting, anti-virus software, video calls and ATM use? Then it’s time to stop! There’s a host of everyday necessities and luxuries you can get for free with a little research. Get started with this list of over 20 things you should stop paying for.

9. Review Your Cable Plan
A quick call to your cable provider may uncover a new promotion that will save you big bucks. Some may provide a discount for going paperless or setting up autopay, so ask what’s available or threaten to switch providers. Don’t forget, you can save up to $50 per month by eliminating movie channels streaming them for free on Hulu, or visiting your local library for free rentals.

10. Use Generic Drugs
If you take prescription medication, you’re intimately familiar with the rising cost of healthcare. Make sure you ask your doctor about generic versions of a new medication or a lesser-priced drug that offers similar treatment. He or she may even be able to provide a few free samples to help reduce the overall prescription cost.

11. Pay Yourself First
It’s a good idea to pay down holiday debt as soon as possible, but it’s even better idea to continue putting money away. An emergency fund is essential to avoiding financial devastation should an unexpected, pricey life occurrence strike you this year. Aim to stash away six to nine months of living expenses.

12. Use Credit Card Rewards
Though $48 billion rewards are issued from credit card companies annually, some $16 billion go unused each year. Don’t become part of that statistic. Redeem those rewards collected by swiping your plastic for discretionary spending — instead of adding more to your balance. Consider redeeming for gift cards to apply to various daily spending needs.

13. Get a Side Job
Do you enjoy writing? Taking photos? Designing websites? Turn your passion into a side job. You can post your professional skills at eLance.com. If nothing comes to mind, check out TaskRabbit.com where you can run other people’s errands during your spare time for a small fee.

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Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

Guide to Gift Card Giving

gift cards

With the holiday season right around the corner, many shoppers are looking for the best gift options for family and friends. Gift cards may seem like a simple solution, but Better Business Bureau is warning that some gift cards could carry high fees making them far from a good deal.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act <http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Fact-Sheet-Reforms-to-Protect-American-Credit-Card-Holders>, which took effect in 2010, established standards that give consumers additional protections when using gift cards. The standards prohibit retailers from:

* setting expiration dates less than five years after the card is purchased; and

* charging dormancy, inactivity, and service fees unless the card has not been used for at least 12 months. If fees are charged after this period, the details of such fees must be clearly disclosed on the card.

These standards apply to store gift cards and general use prepaid cards, which are often branded by payment networks such as Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

But there are some details the CARD Act doesn’t cover. For example, issuers can still charge fees every time the card is used, the balance is checked, a replacement card is requested or when customer service is called.

BBB recommends the follow tips before buying a gift card:

* Research before you buy. Buy from a known and trusted source. Research businesses at bbb.org to see a company’s BBB Business Review. Avoid online auction sites, because the cards sold there could be counterfeit or obtained fraudulently.

* Read the fine print. Fully understand how the card works, if there are any fees associated with buying or using the card and if any fees will be deducted from the card after it is purchased.

* Inspect the card before buying. Verify that protective stickers have not been removed and the PIN Number on the back of the card is not exposed. Report any damaged cards to the store selling the cards.

* Provide receipt with gift card. Give the recipient of the gift card the original receipt in case the card is lost, stolen or there is a discrepancy with the balance.

12 Last-Minute Holiday Gift Ideas

shopping

?What does it take to qualify as a last-minute gift? With a few quick searches, you’ll find suggestions ranging from knitted scarves to diamond stud earrings. Unless you have an abundance of cash or lightning-fast knitting fingers, such suggestions don’t offer much help.

If you’re looking for legit last-minute holiday gift ideas — not just product placement — try a few of these options. Not only do they make for affordable presents, but you can procrastinate to your heart’s content and still come out on top this holiday season.

1. Baked Goods
There’s nothing more universal than the appeal of sweet treats during the holidays. They’re easy and inexpensive to make, plus you can pick up holiday containers at the dollar store for affordable presentation. Seasonal recipes abound, so hit up AllRecipes.com for ideas or take the classic approach with frosted sugar cookies.

2. Gift Cards
What was once considered an impersonal gift is now the most requested item on holiday wish lists for six consecutive years, according to the National Retail Federation. Even better, the proliferation of online gift cards makes it easy to email your gift or share it via social media. Sites like GiftCardGranny.com offer discount digital gift cards to popular retailers and restaurants, enabling you to save on this holiday favorite.

3. Discounted Decor
With only a few days left until Christmas, retailers are eager to rid their shelves of holiday decor. Now’s the time to find festive home goods for less, including decorative trees, wreaths, servingware and more. Select these gifts thoughtfully as most seasonal items are non-returnable.

4. Champagne
Booze represents a gift that’s nearly always accepted with open arms. However, handing over a bow attached to a bottle of vodka leaves something to be desired. Go beyond the college ideals of anything with alcohol being acceptable, and add a touch of class with champagne. As it turns out, December happens to be one of the best months to purchase the bubbly drink so you can likely find a good deal.

5. Monthly Clubs
Once limited to wine connoisseurs, monthly clubs are rapidly expanding to other popular products. Is there a beer lover in your family? Get him or her a 2-month club membership to The Beer of the Month Club for less than $100. Is your best friend addicted to beauty products? Birchbox offers customizable monthly samples of the best beauty products on the market, starting at $30 for a 3-month membership.

6. Warehouse Club Membership
Monthly clubs provide fun gifts throughout the year, but another option is to gift someone a membership to stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club. A gift membership at Costco is only $55, and provides year-round access to extra deals and discounts. Plus, if the gift is well received, all you have to do is renew it next year and your shopping is covered.

7. Online Orders
As a last-minute shopper you don’t always have the luxury to use online options. This year, LastSleighDays.com is trying to help with this problem. The site features Christmas shipping deadlines from all of the most popular stores, as well as promo codes free shipping and extra discounts.

8. Flowers
Whether you’re talking about moms or girlfriends, “you never buy me flowers” is a common complaint. Show them you took the not-so-subtle suggestion and pick up a fresh bouquet. Most major grocery stores have a full floral department where you can buy arrangements through Christmas Eve.

9. Daily Deals
Groupon and LivingSocial deals aren’t just for impulsive self-gifting. In fact, they make for amazing gifts when considered thoughtfully. With packages ranging from golf lessons to weekend getaways to mani-pedi sessions, you can easily find a deal suited for someone on your list. Make the presentation special by purchasing a small item related to the experience, like a travel-size bottle of lotion or package of golf balls.

10. Magazine Subscriptions
A magazine subscription is the perfect solution to the last-minute gift-buying challenge. In addition to being quick and relatively inexpensive, the recipient will remember your thoughtfulness every time a new issue arrives. With topics ranging from pet ownership to expert cooking advice, you can find a magazine dedicated to a topic of interest for anyone on your list.

11. Donations
Let’s be honest: Despite the good intentions and worthwhile contributions a charitable gift makes, a piece of paper with a donation amount doesn’t stir much excitement. If you’re going to take this route, consider giving to a charity that provides something more tangible. Organizations such as ChildFund International allow you to contribute toward items that have real-world applications including banana plants for a family in Uganda, or blankets for children is Mozambique.

12. Games & Apps
Are you tech savvy? Do you know all the best apps and games to get for the iPad? While it’s second-nature to you, Grandma might need a little assistance. Instead of giving an iTunes gift card and letting her figure it out, take the extra time to load up her new tablet or smartphone with apps she’ll actually use. Just beware, you’re likely signing up to be on-call tech support for the remainder of the year.

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Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.

Staying Off the Naughty (Spending) List

empty wallet

Staying Off the Naughty (Spending) List: Ten Ways to Manage Your Finances and Avoid Post-Holiday Regrets
The holidays are filled with temptation to go overboard with spending.
Financial expert Eric Tyson offers advice on how to manage your holiday spending.

The holidays are upon us, bringing all those personal and family images and sensations we cherish. But for many of us, there are a few not-so-joyous holiday sights (a purse overflowing with credit card receipts) and sounds (the ca-ching! of the cash registers marking our escalating debt). These negatives can easily outweigh all that we love about the holiday season, especially during this less-than-prosperous economic period.

“Overall, the Great Recession brought about a renewed dedication to saving,” says Tyson, author of Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition. “Before the recession, our national personal savings rate was close to zero, and now it’s around 3 percent. But it is very important that you not let your holiday spending zap all of the saving progress you made during the year.

“Whether it’s a dedication to the gift-giving tradition, a sense of obligation, or a feeling that the holidays entitle us to have a little more fun than usual, too many of us seem to turn a blind eye to the budget-busting reality of all that spending over just a couple of months,” adds Tyson. “Don’t let excessive holiday spending cause any unnecessary financial stress for you and your family.”

What if you could have a wonderful, memorable holiday and avoid the financial hangover afterwards? Tyson provides great tips on how to keep your holiday spending in check.

Find an alternative to gift-giving during the holidays. Many people feel they have to give gifts during the holidays, either because it’s a family tradition or because they know their friends and relatives have gotten gifts for them. There are plenty of great ways to trade in this tradition for another one that is even more meaningful, and chances are your family and friends will be happy to save gift-buying dough as well.

“Instead of exchanging gifts, your family members might want to pool their money and spend it on a holiday outing,” says Tyson. “If you have kids, you’ll probably want to get them a little something, but set strict spending limits. Instead of piling up the toys, let each child choose an outing or event that he or she gets to spend with you one-on-one. Kids will look back on the valuable time you’ve spent together a lot more fondly than they will any toy or video game they use a couple of times and then toss aside.”

If you must buy gifts, cut your expenses elsewhere as necessary. Perhaps you’d rather dine out or go to the movies less, or maybe you can forego that new pair of shoes you’ve been wanting for yourself in order to afford gifts for the grandparents. “It doesn’t matter where you make cuts, just that you make them,” says Tyson. “Keeping your other spending under control while you’re out there doing your shopping can be a challenge, but just keep repeating to yourself the importance of not over-spending. That way when it comes time to actually pass out those presents you’ve purchased, you can do it without grimacing as you think about the damage they did to your bank account.”

Set a budget and keep tabs on what you are spending. While you’re doing your holiday shopping, your new best friends should be your checkbook register, credit card statements, and all of your receipts. It’s easy to get into a spending rhythm when shopping for yourself or others, and that’s why you need to physically write down every purchase you make and make sure you don’t go over your budget. “When you start to add up everything you’re spending, you may be shocked at what all those expenses from this store and that store add up to be,” says Tyson. “And don’t forget about all those ‘necessary’ holiday extras. Most people don’t budget their shopping and don’t realize that by the time you buy all the presents, plus wrapping paper, cards, decorations, etc., it’s added up to a ridiculous amount. Having a budget that you know you must stick to will help keep your impulse spending from getting out of hand and will help you hone in on the most reasonably priced holiday items.”

Plan what you are going to buy, and don’t get any extras! Particularly during the holidays, companies pull out their most appealing packaging in hopes of snagging the eyes of shoppers. That’s why along with your budget, you’re going to want to take an exact list of what you want to buy for your gift recipients. Don’t go shopping for someone’s gift until you know exactly what you are going to buy.

“It’s very easy to go in with no plan, see something you like, and get it simply because you have no idea what else to get for a hard-to-buy-for relative despite the gift’s significant price tag,” says Tyson. “Another temptation that the list will help you squelch is the desire to buy those little knickknacks here and there that you think will make nice small additions to the gifts you’ve purchased. Very rarely are things like this necessary, and if you’ve got your list in hand, it will be easier for you to pass them by without hesitation.”

Use the season to set a good example for your kids. Your kids learn about money from you. And if they see you spending left and right during the holiday season, the lesson they come away with isn’t going to be a good one. During the holidays, it’s very easy for the “gimmee gimmee gimmee” materialistic attitude to get out of control. After all, kids are bombarded with constant advertisements for toys, clothes, and the latest gadgets you can be guaranteed they’ll want (or at least think they do!).

“There’s plenty you can do to help kids appreciate the true meaning of the holidays,” says Tyson. “Have them give some of their money to a local charity, participate in a program in which they buy and wrap gifts for underprivileged kids, or volunteer at a soup kitchen. It can be an eye-opening experience for kids to see that not everyone has enough money to have an enjoyable holiday.”

Watch out for deals that seem too good to be true. Retailers run all sorts of specials to induce consumers to buy now, and the holidays offer these companies easy prey in the form of deal-seeking, cash-strapped consumers. For example, furniture stores frequently offer that if you buy now, you don’t have to pay a thing for a year, and you might even get free delivery. This sort of “push” marketing can make it harder for you to say no.

“This is just one example of how stores coax in shoppers,” says Tyson. “Always remember that free financing for, say, a year is not a huge cost to the dealer, but it is a cost, and if you forgo it, you should be able to negotiate a lower purchase price. Retailers find that buyers are less likely to negotiate the price if they are getting a short-term financing break. Read the fine print on any deal you are considering taking before you go to the store to make the purchase. It can be even harder to say no once you get to the store, so you’ll want to know what you are in for before you get there.”

Leave the plastic at home. Many of us can explain away spending so much on gifts because we simply charge everything and reason that we can pay it off gradually after the holidays. This is a great way to create a never-ending cycle of consumer debt for yourself. It only creates unnecessary financial stress for you after the holidays.

“Use your budget to figure out how you can purchase the gifts you want to purchase without putting them on your credit card,” says Tyson. “If you are so cash-strapped that you think it will be difficult to avoid charging gifts, then you may want to sit down with other friends and family and propose a limit on how much gifts can cost this year—or propose no adult gift exchanges at all. Far from being disappointed, it’s likely they’ll view this reprieve from gift-buying as a gift in its own right.”

Invest in your kids’ financial futures. It may not seem as exciting to your kids as a new iPod, but a contribution to their financial well-being will be appreciated long after such expensive “toys” are obsolete. “Have the grandparents contribute to a college tuition fund or savings account rather than buy them more stuff they don’t need,” suggests Tyson. “Or make one of your gifts to your kids a stock fund portfolio that can start accruing now. Also, make them aware of the budgets and tools you are using to keep your spending in check. The holidays are a great time for them to truly learn that money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Give the gift of time to your kids. Often, parents buy gifts for their kids with the best of intentions. Either you don’t want to deprive them of the toys and gadgets all of their friends have, or you want to give them the things you didn’t have as a kid.

“Both of these tendencies are perfectly understandable, but I’ve found that parents who buy too much for their kids often have difficulty changing the habit,” says Tyson. “The holiday season offers great opportunities for you to show your kids how much you love and care for them. For example, you can make time with them each week to watch a holiday film or TV show, go on a walk to see your neighbors’ holiday lights and decorations, or emphasize that giving back message again and take them caroling at a local retirement home. All of these activities cost next to nothing, and they will be fun for the kids and for you!”

Remember that meaningful gifts don’t necessarily have a big price tag. “Sure, it might be nice to give your mom a brand new TV, but there are other things out there that will be even more meaningful and enjoyable for her—like a photo album with candid shots of the grandkids or something they’ve made for her themselves,” says Tyson. “If you are looking to give a gift that truly means something and that will keep its value for years to come, you are better off looking for nonmaterial gifts to give than for something your gift recipients could get themselves at the local big box store.”

“Money can easily become the focus of the holidays when it should be the last thing you are thinking about,” says Tyson. “By keeping your spending under control, you can have a great holiday and avoid the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that occurs when you start getting those credit card bills in the mail. If you prepare properly, you can achieve a happy balance of spending and saving during the holiday season. That’s a great gift in and of itself, for both you and the people you love.”

 

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About the Author:
Eric Tyson is an internationally acclaimed and best-selling personal finance book author, syndicated columnist, and speaker. He has worked with and taught people from all financial situations, so he knows the financial concerns and questions of real folks just like you. Despite being handicapped by an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BS in economics and biology from Yale University, Eric remains a master of “keeping it simple.”

Eric’s website is www.erictyson.com.

About the Book:
Personal Finance For Dummies®, 7th Edition (Wiley, 2012, ISBN: 978-1-1181178-5-9, $22.99) is available at bookstores nationwide, major online booksellers, or directly from the publisher by calling (877) 762-2974.

 

8 Ways to Get the Best Price

price tag

As if staying on budget during the holidays wasn’t hard enough, retailers are using dynamic pricing to make it even more difficult. The concept refers to the practice of changing the price of a product based on fluctuations in supply, demand, and even in response to the weather.

However, most retailers use dynamic pricing to one-up their competitors. Earlier this year, the price of a microwave oven on Amazon changed nine times in one day, ranging from $745 to $872. That’s over $125 in savings if you bought at the right time — and a really bad purchase if you bought at the wrong one.

So what’s the best way to navigate fluctuating prices and land the cheapest deal? Consider the following eight tips for hassle-free savings.

1. Use price-predictor sites.
Sites like Decide.com and PriceGrabber.com are designed to help you determine the best time to buy a desired item. Price histories and product reviews are also available at your fingertips, since each of these sites has an app for your smartphone or tablet.

2. Look for coupons in-store.
In addition to shopping during sale time, grab coupons while you’re browsing in-store using the Coupon Sherpa mobile app. The app is free for both Android and Apple devices, and enables you to search for discounts that can be scanned or entered directly from your smartphone.

3. Try tracking tools.
PricePinx is a free service that sends you a notification when the price of a desired product drops. FreePriceAlerts is a browser add-on that helps you find the best price when searching online for products. And CamelCamelCamel is another browser add-on with price history and price-drop notifications for items on Amazon, Best Buy and Newegg.

4. Redeem reward points.
One of the easiest ways to save money on holiday gifts is to use your credit card reward points toward discounts and gift cards. Some credit cards will offer extra points when you shop at select stores, and others will offer discounts on gift cards to specific retailers. Ultimately, it’s best to call your credit card company to determine what specials and extra savings are available.

5. Get a price match.
Stores such as Target and Best Buy are matching Amazon prices this holiday season, and Lowe’s and Home Depot usually duke it out for customers by offering price match “plus,” or 10-percent off their competitor’s better price. Ultimately, it pays to shop around and ask store managers about price-matching options. Use a barcode-scanning app like RedLaser to determine what a product costs at local stores and online retailers.

6. Ask for a price adjustment.
Some stores offer price adjustments on products that drop in price after your purchase. Timeframe is always a factor, so keep your receipt and track the product’s price two to four weeks after you purchase it. A friend of mine received $25 back when the artificial Christmas tree she purchased for $75 dropped to $50.

7. Ditch the extras.
Extended warranties and expedited shipping are just two of the many add-ons that increase the price of your product. The basic warranty is typically sufficient, especially if the credit card you’re using has additional coverage. And, events like Free Shipping Day on Monday, Dec. 17 make it easy to order last-minute gifts while dodging delivery fees.

8. Review your credit card perks.
In addition to rewards, some credit cards offer price guarantees. These guarantees make qualifying purchases eligible for a partial refund when they drop in price during a certain timeframe. This is different than a price adjustment because it’s issued by your credit card company, not the retailer.

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Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer and money-saving expert who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. You can follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.