10 (Plus One) Fabulous Free Finds for You

by Lynn B. Johnson on September 9, 2009

freebiesYeah, between summer vacations and back-to-school, my wallet’s pretty tapped out. Yours too? How about a nice change of pace: free stuff!

  1. Free TV and Movies: Seems like there’s nothing good on TV these days; good thing we’ve got Hulu.com as our go-to source for TV-over-the-Internet. Not only do they have hundreds of shows cataloged on their site, they’ll also tell you where to find other favorites. An umbrella site, ovguide.com, also serves as a massive pointer toward other TV and movie favorites.
  2. Free Debt Help: feeling overextended? Evolution Finance (EF) just completed a new credit card debt help area. It’s chock-full of tips, definitions, and referrals for people who are feeling a little overwhelmed (or a lot overwhelmed) and want to get their debt load under control. EF is also the parent company of Wallet Blog, so I’m happy to assure you that it’s worth a look.
  3. Free Music Education: Always wanted to learn to play the ukulele? Ukulele Underground offers free online video ukulele lessons, tabs, chords, and more. Go Piano offers free piano lessons from basic to advanced. And eHow offers a series of 15 videos that will get you started on the road to violin virtuosity. There are similar lessons on the Internet for every instrument — just type “free online <instrument> lessons” into your search engine and watch it go!
  4. Free Food for Kids: About.com’s travel with kids host has cataloged many sites that offer coupons or information about where kids can eat for free (usually while dining with an adult who pays full price).
  5. Free Time-Sucker: Facebook. ‘Nuff said.
  6. Free Money for College: Besides the myriad grants and fellowships out there, you can start saving for your kids’ college now by registering for Upromise. By shopping online through upromise.com, eating at participating restaurants, or shopping at participating stores, you can be credited with bonus money in a Upromise account that can then be rolled over into a 529 account. Makes sense!
  7. Free Mind Expansion: Find Hub is a compilation of all major search engines in one place. From comparison shopping to videos, from travel to maps and a dictionary to help you define it all, it’s a one-stop site and super convenient (and yeah, it’s under the Evolution Finance umbrella too, but it’s really helpful and you’ll like it).
  8. Free Stationery: Once you register for Vistaprint, you’ll receive about four emails a week and they’ll all offer you free printed items. It costs a little more to upload your own designs (rather than using their templates), but it’s worth it! I’ve ordered from them for years and have never been disappointed — just make sure that you double-check that they don’t put their logo on the back side of anything you’re ordering.
  9. Free Comparison Shopping: How did we ever save money before the Internet? Whether you’re looking for travel deals on Kayak.com, item deals on Shopping.com, credit card/gift card/prepaid card deals on Card Hub, or mortgage deals on Lending Tree, the Web is chock-full of sites that help you become a savvier consumer. Thanks, Tim Berners-Lee!
  10. Free Credit Report: You are allowed one free credit report per credit-reporting agency each year. Get in on the fun at annualcreditreport.com. Watch out for other outfits that promise a “free” credit report — they usually sucker people into paying a subscription fee.
  11. Free Software: Paying for software is so 1999. Nowadays you can use Google Apps for your personal and business use. Microsoft Office replacements are available online at OpenOffice, and you can keep  your PC safe via AVG’s free anti-virus protection.

Disclosure: Some links point to CardHub.com or FindHub.com, which are both owned by the same parent company as this blog.

Couponing without the Hassle

by Lynn B. Johnson on September 8, 2009

couponingDo you feel guilty that even though a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to, you’re still not clipping coupons out of the weekly newspaper circulars? “Couponing” is one craze that we should all take advantage of — especially with so many grocery stores now offering double-coupon values when you give them a single coupon — but it’s such a pain in the neck! First you have to get your hands on a local newspaper, then go through the slippery circulars, clip the coupons you think you might actually need while avoiding the ones that make you want to buy unwanted items, then organize them in some sort of order, and finally, remember to take them to the grocery store. It’s exhausting.

Happily, a new online company has taken the hassle out of coupon-clipping. Shortcuts.com, a service of AOL, offers free online grocery coupons that link to your grocery store loyalty/rewards card.

Cash-For-Clunkers Wrap-Up

by Lynn B. Johnson on September 1, 2009

gas-guzzlerWell, the Cash for Clunkers program, aka CARS, ended on August 24th. The original $1 billion, which lawmakers thought would last until October, was gone within two weeks, which prompted lawmakers to grant another $2 billion towards the program.

Ultimately, CARS increased car sales, and the sales of more environmentally friendly cars, while removing junkers from the road. It offered a shot in the arm to ailing car dealerships and the U.S. auto industry at large.

Get Up, Stand Up for your Consumer Rights

by Lynn B. Johnson on August 11, 2009

stand-upEver had a retail experience that made you grind your teeth? The worst part isn’t necessarily the money lost in a bad deal, but the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that goes along with it. There are, however, many ways to regain the upper hand. Here are a few options.

The Better Business Bureau: The national BBB has an online presence where you can submit consumer complaints. You enter your Zip code onto the home page and they route you to your local BBB. The site is easy to use and yes, it garners results. I had a bad experience with a cellular carrier and submitted a complaint through the Web site. Then I forgot about it. Within two weeks, though, I received phone calls from the office of the president of my cellular phone provider. When they didn’t reach me at home, they called my cell phone (I’d provided both numbers on my BBB complaint). They handled my complaint expediently and I feel much better about the process.

'Cash for Clunkers' Gets $2B Vote from House

by Lynn B. Johnson on August 1, 2009

gas-guzzlerThe U.S. House of Representatives voted 316-109 Friday to augment the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program by $2 billion. The additional funding will be transfered from energy stimulus funds.

Fears that the “Cash-for-Clunkers” program would die within days of its initial approval spurred the House to call a vote, an action that came within hours of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s report that the program would soon run out of funding.

Cash for 'Cash for Clunkers'

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 31, 2009

gas-guzzlerAs I prognosticated before the bill was even signed into law, many carmakers have jumped onto the Cash-for-Clunkers bandwagon and are offering additional incentives.  It definitely pays to do a bit of research at your local dealerships to see if you can qualify for additional trade-in cash or special financing. (But do it quick, because unless Congress extends the program, it could be over as soon as this weekend, according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs). In the meanwhile, read on for a rundown of  offers from major auto companies.

Under the Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program, the lease period for new vehicles must be at least five years. As such, Toyota has created special five-year leases specifically for the CARS program. Sixty-month leases are in place for the Camry, Corolla, RAV4, Tacoma, and Yaris models. To find the special offers available near you, visit Buy A Toyota and type your Zip code into the “Special Offers” box in the lower left-hand corner.

Spend $2, Get $25 Worth of Food

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 29, 2009

restaurants-couponHave you visited the Web site Restaurant.com? It lets you search for participating restaurants by Zip code or region, offers descriptions and menus of the restaurants you’re interested in, and then you can purchase gift certificates online and print them from your computer for immediate use.

The gift certificates can be purchased in different denominations, at a steep discount. Right now, they’re offering $10 gift certificates for $4, and $25 gift certificates for $10 apiece. This is a pretty good deal, but it’s about to get sweeter: I’ve found a secret promotional code that lets you buy a $25 gift certificate for TWO DOLLARS. And there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the number of certificates you purchase!

Is My FarmShare a Good Deal?

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 19, 2009

VegetablesSpoiler: yes! Yes! YES! Longer Answer: Yes indeed.

I purchased a farm share in early May (and wrote about it on Wallet Blog on May 11th). My main motivation was twofold: helping local farmers while encouraging my family to eat better. For $15.38 a week, I would receive one small box of mostly local vegetables, which I’d pick up at the Tuesday afternoon farmers’ market in my city.

Medical Travel as a Money-Saving Healthcare Option

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 13, 2009

medical-travelWant to save 40 to 80 percent of the cost of a domestic Total Knee Replacement, heart procedure, plastic surgery, or another, typically high-cost medical procedure?  You might look into medical travel, which can save you up to 80 percent of the typical costs for an equivalent procedure in the United States.

“If the procedure you’re considering costs more than $6,000 in the United States, it might be worthwhile and money-saving for you to evaluate a medical travel option,” said Patrick Marsek, Managing Director of MedRetreat and co-author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Medical Tourism.”

Cash for Clunkers - Eligibility Criteria

by Alexandra McDougald on July 6, 2009

gas-guzzlerIn late June President Obama signed into law the “Car Allowance Rebate System” or (CARS) or as it’s also known: “Cash for Clunkers.” This is a program that encourages people to trade in their cars for more efficient models.  It also helps to stimulate the economy (similar to the first time home buyer tax credit) at a time when car sales are lagging. The program runs from July 1st through November 1st 2009. Cars traded in during that time could be eligible for a credit of either $3,500 or $4,500 depending on the car and the increase in mileage the new vehicle provides.

Today, I received an email from the California Society of CPAs that provides a lot of valuable information in regards to the steps consumers can take to participate in the new program:

Amazon Easy Sell: Convenient? Yes. Money-making? Not really.

by Lynn B. Johnson on July 3, 2009

Amazon LogoIf you’re eager to get rid of some of your unwanted items/wedding gifts/whatever, Amazon is one of many companies that will allow you to hold an online tag sale. One way to do this is to sell directly on Amazon.com, but another option, particularly if your items are books, videos, music, or video games, is to use Amazon’s Easy Sell with Fulfillment by Amazon. The programs are quite different from one another.

When you sell directly on Amazon.com, you will be notified when an item has sold, but you have to mail it yourself.  The company gives you a $3.99 shipping credit and takes a small fee. This is the option to choose if you’re really looking to make money, though it takes more time because you need to pack and ship the item yourself, which can be a pain if you are selling a large amount of items.

Want Better Yields? Try a Credit Union

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 30, 2009

High-Yield Checking AccountI recently found a great high-yield savings account. United Federal Credit Union has introduced a 6.01% APY Interest Plus Checking account on balances up to $25,000 for qualifying members. The rate is guaranteed “until at least 2010,” and the account also includes “free ATMs nationwide.”

Unfortunately, I don’t qualify for this credit union. I can’t become a member based on this list, nobody in my family is a member, and I don’t do business in their geographic area on a regular basis.

Unconventional Budget-Slashing Tips

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 27, 2009

Recession Survival GuideCampbell Norwood has written a book that will be of great interest to our Wallet Blog “Deals” readers. Titled Recession $urvival Guide: Low-Cost and No-Cost Strategies to Spend Less, Save More!, her book is full of low- and no-cost opportunities for stretching one’s household budget.

“I wrote the Recession $urvival Guide from the perspective of knowing that there are a lot of families in our area, and around the US, who have never dealt with economic recession. They’re scrambling, embarrassed, and don’t know what to do,” Norwood said. “My goal is that readers will be empowered to make no-cost and low-cost changes.”

Cash for Clunkers Will Soon Take Effect

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 22, 2009

gas-guzzlerThe Senate’s “Cash for Clunkers” bill passed Thursday, as an addenda to the war-spending bill. It was approved by the House last week. The bill allows for trade-in vouchers of up to $4,500 for owners of gas guzzlers who want to buy or lease a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle.   If signed into law by President Obama, the program is likely to go into effect in August.

Called “Handouts for Hummers” by critics, the program is less green than advocates had hoped, and will not do an extraordinary amount to limit the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. Car owners could get a $3,500 voucher for trading in an under-18 m.p.g car for one that gets at least 22 m.p.g., or $4,500 if the new car gets 10 m.p.g. higher than their existing vehicle. Truck, minivan, and SUV owners will receive a $3,500 voucher for buying a similar new vehicle that gets at least 2 m.p.g. higher; that voucher will increase to $4,500 if the new truck/van/SUV gets at least 5 m.p.g. higher than their existing vehicle.

ENERGY STAR: Save Energy, Save Money

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 17, 2009

energy-starENERGY STAR is a government program to help encourage energy efficiency while reducing harmful greenhouse gases. Products stamped with the ENERGY STAR logo meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and the US Department of Energy. But you might not know that when you purchase ENERGY STAR-compliant products, you might also save a bundle of money, in the form of tax credits and deductions, and rebates from the ENERGY STAR partner corporations.

ENERGY STAR offers tax credits to consumers who make qualifying home improvements or purchase electric, hybrid, or other alternatively fueled automobiles. It also offers tax credits for home builders and tax deductions for energy efficient commercial buildings.  

13 Ways to Make Your Staycation Sizzle

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 8, 2009

StaycationStaycations are all the rage right now, and it’s no wonder: for a fraction of the cost required to go away this summer, you (and your nearest and dearest) can have a dynamite week at home! Here are my suggestions, under the subheads of On the Cheap, Party Fun, and Splurge a Bit, that will make you feel so happy that once you’re back to work, people will be envious of your new relaxed glow.


'Cash for Clunkers' Amendment Could Save You $4,500

by Lynn B. Johnson on June 1, 2009

gas-guzzlerOn May 21, the House Energy and Commerce Committee formally adopted a White House / Congress compromise that includes a “Cash for Clunkers” amendment within the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act. The amendment is designed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions while stimulating auto sales.

If ACES becomes law, the program will be authorized for up to one year and provide for approximately one million new car or truck purchases. ’Cash for Clunkers’ would offer vouchers worth $3,500-$4,500 to people who trade in old gas-guzzlers for new cars and trucks. Car buyers would receive a $3,500 cash voucher for trading in any vehicle that earns less than 19 mpg and purchasing one that gets at least 22 mpg. If the new car gets more than 10 mpg better than the old one, the cash voucher would rise to $4,500.

'Summerize' and Save Money

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 19, 2009

Save EnergyAs the temperature rises, so do energy bills. Here are some simple tips that will help you limit your energy costs this summer.

DIY Energy Audits: No need to hire an expert for this one. Visit the Department of Energy’s Web site  and do a critical walk-through of the energy demons in your home.

4.51% Checking Account from Focus Bank

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 13, 2009

High-Yield Checking AccountLooking for a checking account that handsomely pays you back? Focus Bank of Missouri and Arkansas is offering a “MAXimum Free Checking Account” with no monthly service charges, no minimum balance requirements, and no direct deposit required.

Balances up to $25,000 earn a whopping 4.51% Annual Percentage Yield (APY). MAXimum Free Checking account holders also enjoy ATM fee refunds up to $25 per statement cycle, free wallet-style checks, free ATM/debit card, free 24-hour telephone banking, free online banking, free bill pay (with eStatement sign-up), and free direct deposit/automatic drafts. Additionally, qualified customers receive a $500 overdraft privilege, though if you’re earning 4.51% APY, I’d say that it behooves you to maintain the largest account balance possible.

Buy a FarmShare, Save Money, Eat Better

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 11, 2009

VegetablesAre you interested in saving money, while promoting your local economy and eating delicious, even organic food? Me, too. I’ve found a way that my family will get garden-fresh organic produce for half of what I spend at the  grocery store for non-organic fruits, veggies, and herbs. The answer? Purchasing a CSA FarmShare. Read on…

Look: I’m no hippie and I wear leather shoes – this was a purely economic and gastronomic decision. I want to eat good food that hasn’t traveled across the country to get to me, because when you can buy strawberries in Massachusetts in March, that’s a pretty good sign that they’re non-native.  As such, my requirements were stringent:  I needed local, weekly pickups of a box of food manageable to the size of my small family.

No Time Like the Present for Term Life

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 5, 2009

InsuranceTerm life insurance is temporary protection for people with limited budgets. You can get a great deal of coverage for a relatively low premium rate. It’s particularly appropriate for situations where your beneficiaries would need additional help – say, to pay off a loan or provide for the needs of your children – in the event of your death.

My husband and I signed up for term life insurance upon the birth of our first child and that was pretty much the first day I ever felt like a grown-up. He’d just quit smoking and I hadn’t lost my baby weight yet, so our rates were higher than I expected but worthwhile for the million bucks he or I would get if the other partner kicked the bucket.

Foreign Transaction Fees Without Leaving Home

by Lynn B. Johnson on May 4, 2009

Home IconI’m crazy about books. Certifiably crazy. So when I realized I hadn’t completed my six-volume set of William Blake: The Illuminated Books, I feverishly scoured ABE Books and Amazon for the best book vendors for the cost. The winner was a bookseller in London, so I went to their secured Web site, entered my credit card number, and then squealed delightedly when book six of six arrived on my doorstep.

Imagine my surprise when I got my credit card bill that month and learned that my bargain shopping came with a 3-percent foreign transaction fee!

Shop Year-Round and Save Money

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 29, 2009

CalendarAre you one of the shoppers out on December 24  every year, grabbing whatever you can to assuage your loved ones’ needs for heartfelt gifts? Yes? Then it’s quite possible that you’re paying too much!

Retailers generally follow a sales schedule that stays the same every year. If you can adjust your shopping schedule to a year-round approach, found at the end of this article, I guarantee you will save money.

Money for Nothing and your MP3s for FREE

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 17, 2009

Amazon Free MP3If the same 25 songs keep showing up in your iTunes randomizer, then it might be time for some new downloads. But who wants to spend money on music when you can buy more important things, like lunch or car insurance or a new hat for pending trips to the beach?

Don’t fret – this intrepid reporter has unearthed a link that connects you to 775 (ok, 774) mp3 files. That’s hours and hours of music. Best of all, the recording industry won’t come after you for illicit downloading, because these are all licensed, legal, and FREE!

Open a Checking Account, Get a $200 Savings Bond

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 15, 2009

$200 Checking AccountLooking for some free money? Ask and you shall receive! Wainwright Bank (of Boston, MA) is offering a free $200 savings bond to new customers who open a Value Checking account with Direct Deposit. You do not have to be a Massachusetts resident to apply, and you can complete your application online.

The skinny: You only need ten dollars for an opening minimum balance, but Wainwright bank requires that you have a $500 minimum balance to avoid a $6 monthly service charge. If you link your account to Direct Deposit, though, the account is “free with no minimum balance required and unlimited check writing.”

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