Fire Your Lawn Service & Save Some Money This Summer

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 11, 2013

lawncareIt’s summer! If you’re thinking of dumping your lawn service and pocketing the difference, here are some tips for maintaining your own yard without breaking the bank.

Lawn Care

Summertime Money-Saving Tips

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 3, 2013

Summer SavingsMoney never seems to go as far in the summertime. Here’s a collection of money-saving tips to help you maximize your summer dollars!

Entertainment

Break Out of Your Grocery Rut (and Save in the Process!)

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 18, 2013

Supermarket SavingsSome people shop at the same store at the same time on the same day, week in and week out. If this sounds like you, you’re missing out on some great bargains. Here are some ways to break out of your grocery rut and save money on your food budget.

Couponing? Nope.

Springtime… when a consumer’s fancy turns to thoughts of Yard Sales!

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 3, 2013

yard saleHappy April, everyone! It may be 37 degrees where I live, but the sky is blue, the snow is gone, and I’m itching for yard-sale season to begin. I’ve hosted and attended a number of these consumer extravaganzas over the years… here are some tips for hosting as well as attending a yard sale that I’ve amassed along the way.

Hosting a Yard Sale

A Recipe for Savings: How to Cut Costs By Baking Your Own Bread

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 21, 2013

chefGrocery stores utilize myriad strategies to trick customers into purchasing more than they truly need: playing depressing music, putting the kid-friendly food at kid-eye level, hiding the milk all the way in the back, etc. Add to this the fact that the average food shopper ends up throwing away 12-percent of the food they’ve purchased due to spoilage and you’ve found a money-exploding minefield.

It therefore makes sense that we spend less money when we limit our grocery trips. I, for one, used to spend an additional $50/week on those “just a couple of things” grocery runs, but fortunately I found a way to curb both my trips to the store –primarily for milk and bread– and my spending.  I started baking my own bread.

MOOCs: Worth a look for free higher education

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 13, 2013

With the rising cost of higher education, my husband and I joke that we’re going to homeschool our children for college. With the advent and rise in popularity of Massive Open Online Courses —MOOCs— we might not have to.

ABOUT MOOCs

Punting your Cable TV Bill

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 6, 2013

punt TVSuper Bowl 2013 is over and by now, you’ve probably seen that it was the third most-watched television event in U.S. history, with more than 108 million Americans tuning in. It seems as though the $3.8 million that advertisers shelled out for each 30-second spot was money well spent.

But some of those advertisers didn’t get my eyeballs; instead, I saw the ads that were delivered via the cbssports.com live stream. This year, I connected a laptop to my television to watch the Super Bowl for free, because months ago I decided to save $100/month by dumping my cable-TV service.

Upcoming Changes to Gift-Tax Exemption May Cost Your Children Millions

by John Kiernan on July 25, 2012

gift tax exemptionParents, if your children have unexpectedly started cleaning their rooms, adhering to curfews, and making you breakfast in bed, there’s good reason to be suspicious. Kids, start doing those things immediately and casually mention that you saw something on the Web about an upcoming change to the gift tax exemption. This holiday season could result in a lot more value changing hands than usual, which means we can expect a lot more sucking up in the coming months.

All kidding aside, New Year’s marks an important date for the way wealth in the United States is passed down from generation to generation. This is when the federal lifetime gift-tax exemption will revert back from the roughly $5 million threshold now in place thanks to the Tax Relief Act of 2010 to the standard $1 million. In other words, through December 31, 2012 you can give another individual (presumably a loved one) up to $5.12 million without it being taxed, but come New Year’s, amounts over $1 million may be taxed at rates upwards of 50%.

Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Your Rewards?

by John Kiernan on February 8, 2012

Initial rewards bonuses have been all the rage in the personal finance world ever since economic recovery began following the worst of the Great Recession a couple of years ago. Banks across the country have been using bonus cash, points or miles – given in return for account opening or spending a certain amount in the first few months – to lure some of the best consumers into using their products and services. The benefits of this strategy were obvious: banks got a more consistent customer base and consumers got hundreds of dollars in free money to play with. But with tax season rolling around, the rage inspired by these initial bonuses has been less about popularity and more about actual anger. You see, as it turns out, things like airline miles, hotel points and cash back could actually be taxable!

Uh, what? That’s right, as first reported by the LA Times’ David Lazarus, Citibank has been sending 1099 forms to customers who took the company up on promotional deals offering thousands of American Airlines rewards points in return for opening a checking or savings account. Since Citi values these points at 2.5 cents each (despite the fact that they’re only worth 1-2 cents through redemption), consumers who opened a new bank account thinking they’d get a couple free flights are instead being handed bills of up to around $262.50 payable to good ole’ Uncle Sam. Exactly how much you owe the IRS depends on how many points you were given and what tax bracket you’re in, but perhaps even more concerning is what Citibank’s tax surprise means for rewards in general. Are all rewards taxable, even those tied to rewards credit cards? Or is it limited to account opening throw-ins? If so, how significant must a gift be to be taxed?

Top Six Money Saving Tips for Your Household

by Guest on December 19, 2011

Saving money in your household finances needs to be a top priority, especially when you consider the difficult economy in which we are living. Every dollar and every cent counts and so does every one that you can save. There are many ways that you can stretch the hard earned cash in your household to make it last longer and work harder. Here we zero in on the top six money saving tips for your household that you can start doing not tomorrow, next week, or next month,  but today!

1. Pay your credit cards off in full every month. The interest you will pay if you carry a balance from month to month is astronomical and not something you even want to think about! Okay, maybe thinking about it for a minute is essential to driving the point home. Consider the fact that a $1,000 balance that is being charged at 18 % will cost you approximately $200 a year in interest charges. Wouldn’t you rather keep that $200 in your bank account? When you use them pay them off- completely!

Your Holiday Guide to Gift Cards

by John Kiernan on November 23, 2011

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…eight things to know about gift cards this holiday season. Sure, you might have been expecting some milk maids or something, but with gift cards firmly entrenched as the most popular type of holiday present and the U.S. agriculture industry not what it once was, you might find this more useful. So gather together your swans, geese, golden rings, calling birds, French hens and turtle doves; get that partridge out of the pear tree; and settle in to learn everything you need to know about getting better gifts this year

1.  Last year’s leftovers are still valuable
It’s not just you; all of us in general don’t even come close to using all of the gift cards we receive each year. In fact, a quarter of U.S. adults have at least one gift card left over from last year, and 55% of them have more than two, according to a Consumer Reports Holiday Survey. The top three reasons people gave for not using their cards: not finding anything they want to buy, lack of time, and forgetfulness. It’s not too late to get value from old gift cards, however, as you can sell them for cash via an online gift card exchange.

iPhone 4S: International Use, Mobile Hotspots and “Anytime” Minutes

by John Kiernan on October 20, 2011

iphone-4-verizon-sprint-attBy now, everyone knows what Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T have to offer in terms of standard data, texting and talk plans for the new iPhone 4S. But what about the niche aspects of major carriers’ iPhone offerings? Not every consumer is content with plain vanilla utility and many, in fact, require certain supplemental features. With that being said, we took a look at how the aforementioned networks differ in terms of international usage costs, mobile hotspots and how “Night & Weekend” minutes are classified.

Night & Weekend Minutes
In our previous article examining the iPhone 4S, we noted that the three carriers offered calling plans in terms of how many “Anytime” minutes they provided: 450, 900, or “Unlimited.” Obviously, if you opt for the unlimited anytime minutes, the number of “Night & Weekend” minutes you get or when in the day these minutes begin doesn’t matter, but the same cannot be said for those of you that choose the two other options. So let’s take a closer look at what they offer.

iPhone 4S: Verizon, AT&T or Sprint?

by John Kiernan on October 13, 2011

iphone 4 verizon sprint attYou’ve likely seen the Sprint commercial that shows phones from the four most prominent smartphone carriers—Sprint, Verizon, At&T and T-Mobile—racing up a chart, almost as if they are those mascots that race at sporting events, in order to display the differences in their data plans. And while it’s been around since about late July, this commercial might not have struck a chord with you until the October 4 announcement that Sprint would for the first time be carrying the iPhone. With the new iPhone 4S slated to hit stores tomorrow at 8 AM, many of you have a tough choice to make in terms of which network to get it on. So, how are you supposed to decide?

Obviously, people already under contract will stick with what they’ve got, but where you cell phone free agents end up depends on precisely how much texting, talking and e-mailing you plan to do. Each of the networks carrying the new iPhone—the aforementioned four, minus T-Mobile—offers plans at different price points, and figuring out your usage habits ahead of time is the best way to get the coverage you need without incurring extraneous costs. To help in this endeavor, we took a look at the best carriers for different types of smartphone consumers:

Eliminate Back-to-School Spending Stress with the Right Rewards Card

by John Kiernan on August 26, 2011

Help for College StudentsIf you looked at your child’s back-to-school checklist and wondered how in the world you’d pay for everything on it, don’t worry, you’re not alone. About one out of every five Americans feels stressed about back-to-school shopping this year, according to a survey conducted by Chase, and 25% plan to spend less on school supplies this year than they did last year. What’s more, 34% of people intend to save on back-to-school shopping by re-using old supplies, while 26% plan to clip coupons and 25% say they’ll shop at discount stores. Those are all great ideas, which can lead to big savings. But why not throw the right rewards credit card into the mix and save up to another 6%?

As we all know, rewards credit cards often offer particularly high rewards on particular spending categories. And since the Island Approach to spending advocates having a few different rewards credit cards that complement each other and help you save on your biggest expenses, both your credit card arsenal and your back-to-school budget could benefit from the addition of a card with particularly attractive grocery and department store rewards or a card offering rewards at a mega-store where you can buy practically everything or a card that helps you save on office supplies.

5 Ways To Find Back-To-School Bargains

by Guest on August 23, 2011

5 waysAs my three young kids gear up for the upcoming school year, it has me thinking of all the ways my wife and I save money on back-to-school shopping every year. Purchases like pencils, pens, notebooks, backpacks, clothing, shoes, electronics, books, you get the point! According to the National Retail Federation, the average American family is expected to spend on average $606.40 on clothes, shoes, supplies and electronics this year. This number is mind boggling to me. My wife and I spend way under half of that number. Hopefully these tips can keep you way below that number as well.

Shop at Discount Stores – We are talking about cheap stuff. Things like 4 glue sticks for a $1, .25 cent folders, and $3 notebooks. The brands are typically high quality and include Elmer’s, Mead, and Bic. The stores I am referring to include stores like Big Lots, Walmart, and The Dollar Store. They are must stops for school supplies like pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks, and file folders. They have major bargains on back-to-school stuff starting in mid July running through September. They typically have better deals on school supplies than Target, and a lot better than stores like Office Depot and Office Max.

Could Credit Card Companies be Groupon Killers?

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on July 22, 2011

credit card companies grouponConsumers have shown an obvious affinity for Groupon and its hundreds of copycats, but lost amidst their buzz is the notion that daily deals as we currently know them might not be the end-game for targeted local consumer marketing. The recent announcement of a partnership between American Express and Facebook to create “Link, Like, Love,” a deal-driven spending platform which takes advantage of the credit card company’s extensive customer base and purchase tracking capabilities as well as the social media giant’s unique reach into the lives of consumers, highlights the potential credit card companies have to change the game significantly. But, in the end, do credit card companies really have what it takes to be Groupon killers?

On Tuesday, American Express and Facebook launched Link, Like, Love and immediately became a serious contender to popular daily deal providers like Groupon and Living Social. The joint partnership allows consumers to link their American Express credit cards to their Facebook accounts and immediately access a virtual treasure trove of deals from leading national retailers and travel providers, including H&M, Dunkin’ Donuts, Sports Authority, Sheraton, Westin, Celebrity Cruises and Travelocity. Small businesses can also load their own deals through the service’s self-serve feature. Consumers simply select deals to load onto their Amex accounts, purchase the goods or services advertised, and automatically receive a statement credit.

Southwest Airlines Credit Card Offers Two Free Round-trip Flights

by John Kiernan on July 6, 2011

wb-southwestFeel bad about missing the British Airways offer for two free round-trip international flights a few months back? Well, here’s a chance to make up for it. Southwest Airlines recently announced a limited-time deal whereby consumers can score two free roundtrip flights simply by opening the Southwest Airlines Credit Card and making a single purchase.

Think that sounds too good to be true? Let’s take a closer look at the terms of this deal and see whether you are really free to move about the country with this credit card.

American Express Bursts Back Into Cash Back Market With Revamped Blue Cash Offerings

by John Kiernan on April 28, 2011

amex blue cash credit cardOh how quickly things change. For years, the American Express Blue Cash was my credit card of choice. It offered 1% cash back on gas and groceries and 0.5% on all other purchases up to $6,500 in annual spending, but that’s not what made it so impressive. After $6,500, bonus cash back terms kicked in, taking the base cash back rate to 1.5% and the gas-and-groceries rate to an impressive 5%. Needless to say, the Blue Cash was hard to beat…at least until something in the market changed and the Blue Cash lost its appeal.

You see, other products emerged that had rewards structures able to not only compete with the Blue Cash’s earning rate but also beat this once-dominant spending vehicle in terms of rewards earning simplicity. There’s the Bank of America Accelerated Cash Rewards Card, which offers 1.25% on all purchases; the Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards Card, with 2% on gas and groceries and 1% else; the Chase Freedom Visa, with up to 5% cash back on rotating spending categories; and last but not least the Capital One Venture Rewards card, which is basically a 2% cash back credit card when miles are redeemed for any travel-related purchase.

Why Pay for Finance Software?

by Guest on April 26, 2011

financial-tipsPersonal finance software takes ideas from big business to help you save time and money. Chart s of accounts, tables, and graphs can help households better understand their cash’s inflows and outflows, but does that understanding lead to better decisions and ultimately savings? Often, knowing where your money goes can help you curb extra spending and save on expenses. If you’re not dealing with business-scale revenue and expenses though, how necessary are all of these software packages’ extra features? Do you really need three charts and a graph to tell you that you shouldn’t have spent $300 on ice cream last month? In the worst case scenario, you may find yourself spending more time and money than you save.

So, how can you guarantee that your personal finance software is paying dividends for you? Ultimately, you need to judge any software package by two criteria: price, and ease of use. Any software that comes recommended by anybody and that you are likely to come across is going to have the features you need, which are essentially expense tracking and categorizing, so what you need is to guarantee that you won’t lose more than you save in the process of using it.

The Achilles Heel of the Capital One Venture Rewards Program: Customer Service

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 22, 2011

capital one venture rewards credit cardIn my opinion, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card is one of the best travel rewards credit cards on the market. After all, it’s essentially a 2% cash back card when miles are redeemed for any travel-related purchases charged on your card. This means that for every $10,000 you charge on this card, you earn 20,000 miles, which can in turn be redeemed for a $200 travel-related purchase. All you have to do is call Capital One, identify the purchase you wish to redeem your miles for, and that’s that. Needless to say, the Venture Card is my primary spending vehicle. And while I would be hard-pressed to replace it, there is one thing that could bring the Venture Card down: Capital One’s customer service.

This became readily apparent when my fiancé recently tried to redeem her miles for a plane ticket to Greece. This experience revealed a number of disturbing facts about Capital One’s customer service as well as the inner-workings of the Venture Rewards program.

What's Scarier, a Dentist Appointment or the Dental Bill?

by Guest on April 12, 2011

large-dental-billThe legendary king of late night TV Johnny Carson might have said it best years ago, “Happiness is your dentist telling you it won’t hurt and then having him catch his hand in the drill.”

Unfortunately, these days, the pain or thought of having a dentist drilling in our mouth with sharp instruments isn’t the only thing keeping us away from dental appointments.

Want 2 Free Trips to Europe? Talk to Chase and British Airways

by John Kiernan on April 11, 2011

ba bonus credit card milesChase, in partnership with British Airways, recently announced a new travel rewards credit card for people with excellent credit that essentially provides any first-time Chase cardholder with two free roundtrip-transatlantic flights within the first three months of being open.

Consumers receive 50,000 bonus miles immediately upon making their first transaction with a British Airways Visa Signature Card and another 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 in the first three months. Each of these rewards bonuses can be redeemed for a World Traveler Economy class round-trip ticket from the U.S. to anywhere in the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany Ireland, Luxemburg, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

Did a $12 fee Increase Really Make AMC’s Rewards Program More Rewarding?

by John Kiernan on March 29, 2011

AMC rewards programIf you enjoy going to the movies, as I do, you may be aware that AMC Theatres is restructuring its rewards program.  While the replacement of the MovieWatchers program with the new AMC Stubs system is being billed as an improvement made in response to customer feedback, the jury is still out as far as I’m concerned.  Why?  Well, I’m not thrilled that I now have to pay $12 a year to belong to a movie theater rewards program.  Movies, at 10-plus dollars a pop, are expensive enough as it is; what am I getting for my extra $12?

Why don’t we compare and find out?

Hurry, Double Your Airline Miles!

by John Kiernan on March 16, 2011

double airline milesOn March 9, Capital One began a promotion centered on its popular Venture Card that could ultimately result in thousands of customers easily doubling their airline miles, while also increasing the flexibility of their use.

As part of the Capital One Venture Card “Match My Miles” program, the financial giant has pledged to match as many as 100,000 already-earned airline miles for each consumer that opens a Venture Card until May 13 or one billion miles have been given out, whichever comes first. Consumers who do not currently have Capital One accounts will also receive 10,000 bonus miles if they spend at least $1,000 during the first three months their Venture Cards are open.

Gas Credit Cards Provide a Little Slice of Jersey

by John Kiernan on November 12, 2010

gas-credit-cardsI recently took a trip to New Jersey, and for all the flack the state gets for things like MTV’s Jersey Shore, it does have a few things going for it, such as  produce, beautiful beach towns and, oddly enough, gas.  If you haven’t hit the pump in the Garden State you might not know this, but it’s a state law that gas station attendants must fill up your tank for you, free of charge.  You simply pull up to the pump, request a fuel type, sit back and wait.  It’s a gas luxury which most other states do not provide.  However, there are other ways that people from any state can make their gas purchases work for them, so no one gets completely shut out from the world of gas station luxury.

Last year, I decided to get an ExxonMobil MasterCard, and it was a great decision for both practical and financial reasons.  I typically spend $300 a month on gas, which is fairly average.  I simply go through that much gas each month and there’s nothing I can do about it because my work and the location of my home dictate the need for car travel.  I also cannot conveniently bargain hunt for gas prices because the only stations located on my usual routes of travel are ExxonMobil stations that have little cost disparity amongst them.

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