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DailyFinance.com

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    Wall street, New York, USA.
    Alamy
    From three different amusement park operators checking in with fresh financials to the leading domain name registration company stepping up with its first quarterly report as a public company, here are some of the things that will help shape the week that lies ahead on Wall Street.

    Monday -- Passing the Keys

    The new trading weeks kicks off with Avis Budget (CAR) reporting quarterly results after Monday's market close. The auto rental giant has been acquiring smaller players in this highly fragmented market, becoming a great proxy for the state of car rentals.

    The market isn't exactly excited about Avis Budget's near-term prospects. The stock is trading a lot closer to its 52-week low than its high and analysts see quarterly profits clocking in flat with the prior year's showing. The good news is that Avis Budget has beaten Wall Street forecasts every single quarter over the past year. It will need to put the pedal to the metal if it wants to keep that streak going.

    Tuesday -- You Must Be This Tall to Ride

    We'll get a good snapshot of how the country's theme and amusement parks are doing Tuesday with Disney (DIS) and Cedar Fair (FUN) reporting fresh financials. Disney, naturally, runs the world's most popular theme parks, entertaining more than 134 million guests worldwide last year. Cedar Fair is one of the largest operators of regional amusement parks. It's the company behind Cedar Fair in Ohio, Knott's Berry Farm in California and several other hometown favorites.

    Summer is peak season for the industry and the fundamentals have been encouraging. Gas prices, an important component of family road trips, are reasonably low. The economy's improving and consumer confidence is expanding. It's probably been a great summer for a roller-coaster ride and we'll know more come Tuesday.

    Wednesday -- Master of Your Domain

    GoDaddy (GDDY) went public in March, and Wednesday it will discuss its first full quarter as a public company. GoDaddy is the country's leading registrar of domain names, arming consumers and companies with an online presence.

    GoDaddy has yet to turn a profit, but it's having no problem attracting a growing user base. Revenue climbed 23 percent last year and analysts see a 15 percent uptick in 2015. Wall Street pros are bracing for another quarterly deficit Wednesday on continuing top-line growth.

    Thursday -- Just Another Fish Tale

    Two days after Disney and Cedar Fair report, we have SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) splashing down with its latest financials. The theme park operator has struggled with declining attendance at its theme parks since being called out in the critical "Blackfish" documentary two years ago.

    Attendance did bounce back during the first quarter, but that was mostly the result of the seasonally potent Easter holiday falling in March this year. (It took place in April last year.) That should make this a challenging second quarter, but if attendance is up for the entire second half of the year when pitted against the first half of last year, it would definitely be a sign that the notorious marine-life park operator is on the cusp of a turnaround.

    Friday -- Watch Out

    Apple (AAPL) has been the only one selling its bar-raising smartwatch, but that changes Friday, when Best Buy (BBY) begins offering the Apple Watch. It won't be available at all Best Buy stores right away. Friday's rollout will be at just 100 of its more than 1,400 retail locations. Another 200 stores will begin stocking the smartwatch later this year. It will also be available to anyone in the U.S. through BestBuy.com, though it's probably just as easy to buy it through Apple.com in that case.

    Apple's refusal to spell out how many Apple Watch devices it sold during its debut quarter has been seen as problematic by some, but it's too early to call it a flop. Distribution into non-Apple locations matters and we'll be getting the first taste of that Friday.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days, and check out our free report for one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Young family sitting in baggage claim area
    Getty Images
    By Christopher Elliott

    Just before Gerald and Byrone LoCasale set sail on an 18-day Princess cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Los Angeles, disaster struck. Byrone LoCasale sustained an injury that required immediate orthopedic surgery. The couple, both frequent Princess customers, reluctantly canceled the trip.

    But there was good news. LoCasale, who is retired and lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, learned that Princess had resold his cabin. Getting credit for the $16,201 they'd spent would be easy, right?

    LoCasale faxed all the necessary medical documentation to Princess, but it didn't respond. He e-mailed the cruise line and received a terse phone call from an unnamed representative. "The answer was very short," he says. "They decided not to honor my request."

    Travelers understand "no refund" policies. But when a room, cabin or airline seat can be resold, it's harder to explain why the consumer's money is still gone. Although some companies routinely refund such purchases, many do not. Now, advocates are pushing for more customer-friendly policies.

    I contacted Princess several times about LoCasale's case. A spokesman said its records show that the cabin wasn't resold. Rather, it upgraded another passenger to LoCasale's empty cabin.

    Princess applied a 25 percent credit toward a future sailing "as a gesture of goodwill and to show our appreciation for their future business," said Brian O'Connor, a cruise line spokesman.

    It doesn't always end like this. David Valade had a reservation at the Hartstone Inn and Hideaway in Camden, Maine, which has a similar no-refund policy. If you cancel your reservation up to 14 days before your arrival, it will charge you for one night.

    But, like LoCasale, he had to change his plans because of events beyond his control -- in this case, a death in the family. Valade canceled his reservation without sharing any of the unfortunate details.

    "Their policy was clear, and I knew the risk," he says. "When I called to cancel, they told me they'd refund if they rebooked the room. And they did." A few days later, the inn contacted him and credited $479 back to his card.

    Golden Rule

    Many small hotels do the same. "We do it because, quite frankly, it's how we'd like to be treated," says Stephen Fofanoff, the innkeeper for the Domaine Madeleine Bed and Breakfast in Port Angeles, Washington. "We're a luxury property, and our goal is for everyone to have an experience that exceeds their expectations, even if they don't end up staying with us."

    At Domaine Madeleine, if you cancel up to 14 days before your planned stay, the hotel charges the full amount of the reservation and a $25 cancellation fee. The fee allows the hotel to track the reservation so it can determine whether the room is resold.

    "Anything that is resold is refunded after the reservation dates have ended to account for any last-minute reservations, unless the entire date span is rebooked -- then we refund immediately," he says. "If the reason for cancellation is out of the control of the guest, like a medical illness or weather preventing travel, then we refund the stay and do not charge a cancellation fee even if the room is not resold."

    Ah, but that's a small business. But how about something more complicated, with lots of components, like a tour?

    Elizabeth Avery, founder of Washington-based Solo Trekker 4 U, is developing a technology platform that would in effect allow the resale of tour inventory that's canceled at the last minute.

    "Resales would benefit tour providers that may suddenly lack a required minimum number of participants," she says. "It would also benefit travelers who are uninsured but must cancel at the last minute. They would only have a partial loss."

    The reason she says partial is that tour packages tend to be bundled and contain components that are nonrefundable.

    Inflexible

    Airlines are probably the most rigid when it comes to offering your money back. To get an idea of how inflexible they are, consider that until the Department of Transportation stepped in and required a 24-hour cancellation window, virtually all tickets were unchangeable from the moment they were booked, even when the consumer made an obvious error.

    The DOT's new rule, introduced in 2012, forced airlines to hold a reservation or cancel it without penalty within a day, unless the flier was less than a week from departure. In other words, it assumed that the airline would have a sufficient opportunity to resell the seat.

    The National Consumers League, a Washington advocacy group, has been pushing the federal government for fairer refund rules. Instead of a simple 24-hour-window rule, they want airlines to refund a ticket if a seat is resold. To the average consumer, that makes a lot of sense. It's an issue of fairness to them. A travel company wouldn't stand for its guests collecting frequent stayer points on the same room twice or pocketing a refund from both their travel agency and hotel, so why should their travelers tolerate it?

    The standard industry rebuttal, offered only in off-the-record conversation -- and after you get past the technology excuse -- is: We do it because we're a business, and because we can.

    But collecting money twice for the same product smacks of profiteering, and if consumer advocates such as the National Consumers League have their way, it won't be legal for much longer.

    Christopher Elliott's latest book is "How To Be The World's Smartest Traveler" (National Geographic). You can get real-time answers to any consumer question on his new forum, elliott.org/forum, or by emailing him at chris@elliott.org

    Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free!

     

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    Mom taking daughter to school
    Getty ImagesYou'll get more bang for your backpack by shopping these sales.
    Parents of schoolchildren know that August marks a busy shopping month: There are backpacks, ballpoint pens, binders and book bags to buy.

    But you don't have to let back-to-school shopping blow your budget. From office essentials to trendy clothes, we've handpicked the best school supply sales you should shop before the new school year begins.

    Amazon

    Amazon.com (AMZN) is a one-stop school supply shop. The retailer has discounted pretty much everything parents could possibly need to purchase for the start of the new academic year, from Lysol disinfecting wipes to Five Star notebooks.

    Plus, through September, Amazon will roll out a series of limited-time deals on back-to-school products. Featured items include electronics and clothing as well as snacks and beverages. Visit Amazon's back-to-school section, and check the ending date of a specific sale to see how long it lasts.

    Staples

    For a limited time, office supply store Staples (SPLS) promises to get students 110 percent ready for the start of school.

    Now through Sept. 19, Staples will match the price of a competitor's item, and then offer an additional 10 percent off the price difference. Present proof of the competitor's price in store. For online purchases, call 800-333-3330 and provide the url and item number for the lower-priced product you found.

    The Disney Store

    Add a little character to your back-to-school supplies with Disney-themed products from the Disney Store.

    The retailer aims to help students go "back to cool" with discounted prices on movie- and character-inspired products. Select backpacks, for example, have been reduced to $15 (regularly $22.95). Prices of select lunch totes have dropped to $10 (regularly $14.95).

    Verizon Wireless

    School shopping doesn't have to only include the essentials. The back-to-school zone at Verizon Wireless includes all the electronic gadgets that a techie student will need to rock the semester in style.

    And there are some discounts, too. The price of the LG G Watch, for instance, has been slashed by 56 percent. Students can wear this smartwatch for just $99.99 (regularly $229.99).

    Walmart

    At discount giant Walmart (WMT), shopping for school is as easy as searching by grade. The retailer has compiled a list of accessories for students of every age. Visit Walmart's back-to-school section, and click on the appropriate category: preschool, grades K-2, grades 3-5, grades 6-8, grades 9-12, top college supplies or teaching and classroom supplies.

    Within each section, shoppers will discover "rollback" discounts on staple products for the school year. School uniforms, for example, start at just $4.47. Plus, shop online at Walmart and enjoy free shipping on orders $35 or more.

    Overstock

    Fifty percent isn't a great grade in school, but it sure is a great savings opportunity. Online retailer Overstock (OSTK) has launched a school-themed sale and is inviting shoppers to "make the grade" with discounts up to 50 percent off on select products.

    You can find deals on the following: bedding, furniture, storage, kitchen and dining, bath, decor and lighting, laundry and cleaning, electronics, collegiate and more.

    Famous Footwear

    The new school year just wouldn't be complete without a new pair of kicks, and now you don't even have to pick just one pair. Thanks to the back-to-school event at Famous Footwear (CAL), students can get both the Chuck Taylor Converse and the Nike running shoes they want.

    Shoppers can buy one and get a second pair half-off when they purchase one pair of shoes and a second pair of equal or lesser value. Visit Famous Footwear's website to view full details (including excluded styles) of this sale.

    Toys R Us
    Toys R Us isn't just for toys; you can find back-to-school items there, too. Visit the Toys R Us website to browse sale products by category, including: lunchbox supplies, school supplies, classroom furniture, teacher supplies and more.

    Additionally, shoppers who purchase any backpack priced at $12.99 or more can score a free lunch kit (up to a $9.99 value).

    Kohl's

    In some cases, stocking up on classroom essentials is only half the back-to-school shopping battle. For college students, there are dorm room accessories to buy, as well.

    At department store Kohl's (KSS), the limited-time home sale applies to dorm furniture and bedding. Customers can find price cuts on everything from chairs and air mattresses to desks and laptop trays.

    Plus, through Aug. 1, you can take an extra 15 percent off online purchases of eligible backpacks, kids apparel and shoes. Simply enter promo code "SCHOOL15" at checkout.

    Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, which saves consumers cash and compares everything from shopping deals to credit cards.

     

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    Consumer Spending
    Alan Diaz/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer spending in June advanced at its slowest pace in fourth months as demand for automobiles softened, suggesting the economy lost some momentum at the end of the second quarter.

    But the moderation in consumer spending could be temporary as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) and Nissan said Monday their July sales outstripped expectations on the strength of sport utility vehicles sales.

    Consumer spending rose 0.2 percent after a downwardly revised 0.7 percent increase in May, the Commerce Department said. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was previously reported to have advanced 0.9 percent in May.

    June's increase was in line with economists' expectations and the data was included in last week's second-quarter gross domestic product report, which showed consumer spending expanding at a 2.9 percent annual rate and the overall economy growing at a 2.3 percent pace.

    While the tepid consumer spending suggests less vigor in the economy heading into the third quarter, any slowdown is likely to be mitigated by a strengthening housing sector and tightening labor market, which are boosting household wealth.

    FCA and Nissan were the first major automakers to report U.S. July sales, which analysts have forecast rising about 3 percent from a year ago. FCA forecast sales will come in above that estimate.

    Prices for longer-dated U.S. government debt slipped after the data, while U.S. stock index futures nudged lower. The dollar was slightly stronger against a basket of currencies.

    The Federal Reserve last week described the economy as expanding "moderately," upgraded its view of the labor market and said housing had shown "additional" improvement.

    The Fed's assessment left the door open for a possible interest rate hike in September, which would be the first increase in nearly a decade.

    In June, spending on long-lasting manufactured goods fell 1.3 percent, with purchases of motor vehicles accounting for most of the decrease, which reversed May's increase. Outlays on services like utilities rose 0.4 percent.

    When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending was unchanged after increasing 0.4 percent in May.

    Personal income rose 0.4 percent in June for a third straight month. With income gains outpacing spending, the saving rate increased to 4.8 percent from 4.6 percent in May.

    Inflation pressures remained benign. A price index for consumer spending rose 0.2 percent after gaining 0.3 percent in May. In the 12 months through June, the personal consumption expenditures price index rose 0.3 percent.

    Excluding food and energy, prices edged up 0.1 percent for the third straight month. The so-called core PCE price index rose 1.3 percent in the 12 months through June. It has increased by the same margin every month since January.

    Inflation is running below the Fed's 2 percent target.

    -Bernie Woodall contributed reporting from Detroit.

     

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    A Save-A-Lot grocery store.
    Alamy
    Plenty of stocks go up and down in any given week. The gainers inspire us to keep investing. The decliners keep greed in check while reminding us about the risks of the equity markets.

    Let's go over some of last week's best and worst performers.

    YRC Worldwide (YRCW) -- Up 56 percent last week

    Nasdaq's biggest winner was YRC Worldwide. Shares of the trucking network soared after posting better-than-expected quarterly results. It wasn't even close. Analysts were targeting an adjusted profit of 31 cents a share, but YRC Worldwide came through with adjusted earnings of 80 cents a share.

    Supervalu (SVU) -- Up 25 percent last week

    Grocery stock operators don't often make big moves, but Supervalu made it happen after revealing that it's considering spinning off its Save-A-Lot chain. The move would unlock the value in the company, and the mere possibility of a spin off got the market excited. Telsey Advisory Group and Morgan Stanley (MS) upgraded the stock following the news.

    Shake Shack (SHAK) -- Up 20 percent last week

    The old "Buy on the rumor, sell on the news" mantra sometimes works the other way around. Investors had been unloading shares of Shake Shack in recent weeks, and the stock shed nearly half of its value since peaking in May. The fear here was that insiders would bail once lock-up restrictions expired late last week. Stocks go public with conditions that insiders wait several months before selling.

    With Shake Shack's stock soaring since its IPO six months ago, it's easy to see why folks were concerned that insiders would want to cash out when the window to do so opened late last week. They didn't, and the stock took off when it was clear that the market had overreacted by selling off the stock in recent weeks.

    Yelp (YELP) -- Down 24 percent last week

    The market gave Yelp a one-star review last week. The company behind the website that offers reviews of local establishments gave investors plenty of reasons to sell the stock after posting unflattering financials.

    Yelp posted a small quarterly loss when Wall Street was settling for a small profit. This is the second time in a row that this has happened. Yelp also lowered its guidance, and if that's not bad enough, it also revealed that its chairman will be leaving the company and that it will be closing down its high-margin brand business. More than a half-dozen analysts downgraded Yelp following the laundry list of bad news.

    Cimpress (CMPR) -- Down 19 percent last week

    Cimpress didn't impress last week. The provider of a wide variety of printing services that used to be known as Vistaprint spooked investors after saying that it would no longer be offering up financial guidance. It's a surprise since Cimpress is coming off a solid quarter.

    Some investors may appreciate companies that stay tight-lipped when it comes to providing financial outlooks, but the market itself can be jaded about these things. It takes the old "If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all" adage to heart when corporations decide to clam up, assuming that bad things are on the horizon.

    Twitter (TWTR) -- Down 12 percent last week

    Concerns of user growth continue to dog the social media platform. Twitter's base of active users has been decelerating on a percentage basis, and its CFO said last week that meaningful growth won't return until it reaches the mass market. He expects that to take a "considerable" amount of time, and that's not good enough for an impatient stock market.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Cimpress, Supervalu, Twitter and Yelp. The Motley Fool owns shares of Twitter. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Auto Sales
    AP
    By DEE-ANN DURBIN

    DETROIT -- Summer deals and big demand for SUVs and luxury vehicles kept U.S. auto sales strong in July.

    Sales of new cars and trucks were expected to rise 3 percent to nearly 1.5 million, according to car shopping site TrueCar.com.

    General Motors (GM) and Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) both saw 6 percent sales gains over last July. Ford's (F) U.S. sales rose 5 percent. Nissan's were up 8 percent.

    Other automakers will report July sales later Monday.

    Automakers benefited from relatively low gas prices and surging sales of SUVs. Sales of Nissan's new Rogue jumped 51 percent. Ford's Escape, Edge and Explorer SUVs all saw double-digit percentage gains. Sales of GM's Buick Encore small SUV jumped 68 percent.

    Summer discounts to clear out 2015 models also lured buyers. Sales of midsize sedans have been struggling as buyers pass them over for small SUVs, so automakers tried to entice buyers last month with zero-percent financing deals on the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima. It worked. Altima sales rose 27 percent and set a new July record.

    Deals aren't the only motivator. Buyers are showing their confidence with an increasing penchant for luxury vehicles. TrueCar said sales of luxury vehicles are rising at double the pace of mass-market brands.

    Sales of Ford's Lincoln luxury brand jumped 21 percent in July. The brand sold 785 Lincoln Navigators; that's 25 a day at more than $62,000 apiece. Sales of Nissan's luxury Infiniti brand climbed 22 percent on demand for the QX60 SUV and the new Q70 sedan.

    Here are more details, by automaker:
    • GM's sales rose 6 percent to 272,512. Buick sales jumped 18 percent, but Cadillac sales were down. GMC and Chevrolet sales were up thanks to demand for trucks. Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck sales were up 34 percent in July.
    • Ford's sales were up 5 percent to 222,731. F-Series pickup sales, which had been down due to lack of inventory as a new truck went into production, were up 5 percent. But Ford's car sales fell 4 percent.
    • Fiat Chrysler's sales rose 6 percent to 178,027. Jeep sales increased 23 percent and Ram sales rose 1 percent, but Dodge and Fiat sales were down.
    • Nissan's U.S. sales rose nearly 8 percent to 130,872. Nissan said sales of its trucks and SUVs set a new July record, but low gas prices took a toll on the electric Nissan Leaf, which saw sales drop 61 percent.

     

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    Earns Verizon
    Mel Evans/AP
    By Krystal Steinmetz

    Verizon's 100 million broadband customers now have the option to sign up for HBO Now, the premium network's stand-alone streaming service.

    The new partnership is providing some consumers with an attractive reason to cut the cable cord.

    "Our customers want choice in accessing premium content when and where they desire, on a variety of devices," Ben Grad, executive director of content strategy and acquisition for Verizon, said in a statement. "HBO Now brings compelling content and choice to Verizon broadband customers today -- and exciting possibilities for HBO content within Verizon's pending mobile video service." HBO Now offers free 30-day trials for new customers. Verizon customers can click here to sign up. After the free trial, HBO Now is $14.99 a month.

    The Internet-only service offers instant access to HBO content, including popular series like "Game of Thrones."

    "We're excited to evolve our partnership with Verizon and bring HBO programming to a new generation of broadband-only customers," said Jeff Dallesandro, HBO's senior vice president of worldwide digital distribution and business development.

    According to Re/code, this deal with Verizon could be huge for HBO, depending on how aggressively the wireless carrier pushes the new service. Previously, HBO had a three-month exclusive contract with Apple to serve as the digital provider of HBO Now.

    "Since then HBO has added other digital distributors, including Amazon and Google's Android, but besides Cablevision, it hasn't added any other pipe owners -- cable TV providers like Comcast have been distinctly unenthusiastic about the plan," Re/code said.

    There's no word on when Verizon's wireless customers may get access to HBO Now.

    If you're not quite ready to cut the cable cord, but want to save some money on your bill, check out some great tips on how to do that.

    What do you think of Verizon's new partnership with HBO? Would you consider cutting your cable cord? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page
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    The Pentagon, Washington Dc, Usa
    Getty Images
    After laying out more than $30 billion on military equipment and services contracts in June, the Department of Defense dialed back the spending last month, holding total outlays (not counting servicemembers' salaries and benefits) to just $26.5 billion.

    How do we know this? Let's give credit where credit is due. The Pentagon may be a big spender (of your money), but it's a whole lot more open about how it spends that money, and on what, than many other government agencies are. Every day of the week, almost in real time, the Department of Defense reports to U.S. taxpayers on what contracts it's issued, to whom, and for how much -- all right out in the open on its website.

    Today, we're going to give you a glimpse at those, as we review the top five most interesting Pentagon contracts awarded last month.

    Military Intelligence

    "Military intelligence" is more than just a well-worn joke about a "contradiction in terms." It's also big business. In July, the Defense Intelligence Agency hired a team of 50 companies -- including both IT specialists such as CACI (CACI) and Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) as well as more traditional defense contractors like Boeing (BA) and Northrop Grumman (NOC) -- to support the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency's Enhanced Solutions for the Information Technology Enterprise program over the next five years.

    Total value of the contract: A whopping $6 billion.

    Obamacare for the Military

    In another of the month's big contracts, government contractor Leidos (LDOS) was awarded a $4.3 billion contract to modernize the Pentagon's Defense Healthcare Management System. Leidos will provide the Pentagon with an off-the-shelf electronic health records "solution" and integrate and deploy said solution "across the Military Health System" over the course of a project that may last 10 years.

    Additionally, in a separate award later in the month, Leidos was given a piece of a $501 million contract to conduct unspecified "medical research" for the U.S. Army.

    Robots for the Navy

    Almost as big a deal was a U.S. Navy contract awarded earlier in the month to expand the use of unmanned underwater vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles in dangerous minesweeping operations.

    Seven defense contractors, including big names such as Harris Corp. (HRS), Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), and Lockheed Martin (LMT), were all granted $100 million-plus awards totaling at least $846 million -- and potentially as much as $1.4 billion -- to design, test, and build equipment and software for the new robotic warships.

    Missiles for Peace?

    In another award -- and this is one that Lockheed Martin will get to keep all for itself -- the Pentagon brokered a deal in which Lockheed will sell $1.6 billion worth of Patriot surface-to-air missiles (600 in total) to Chinese neighbors Taiwan and South Korea, and also to buyers in the Persian Gulf region -- Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

    The next day, the Pentagon served as intermediary on a separate contract that will see Raytheon (RTN) supply 355 Joint Stand-Off Weapon smart-bombs to Saudi Arabia (and a further 200 JSOWs to the U.S. Navy). In total, this smart-bomb contract will be worth $180 million to Raytheon.

    Uh-Oh! Better Get Maaco!

    Not all Pentagon contracts are about blowing things up. Some are just about holding things together. In our final featured contract for the month of July, privately held Q.E.D. Systems and International Marine and Industrial Applicators -- a distant subsidiary of defense giant General Dynamics (GD), were hired to perform "preservation" work on U.S. Navy submarines.

    Los Angeles-, Virginia- and Ohio-class nuclear submarines will get the full Maaco treatment, as they're sand-blasted and repainted to ward off rust and such. Q.E.D. will get $149 million for its work, and Industrial Marine $141 million.

    These awards represent only a small sampling of the hundreds of contracts your tax dollars funded last month, of course. To see the rest, check out the Department of Defense contracts website.

    $290 million for paint and body work?! Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith wonders if the Pentagon might be better off contracting with that other repair shop -- the one that declares "You're not going to pay a lot for this muffler." Rich owns shares of Raytheon. Follow him on Facebook for all the latest in defense news.

    Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- Wall Street ended lower on Monday as tumbling oil prices dragged energy shares to a three-year low and factory data from China raised concerns about the world's second-biggest economy.

    Energy stocks were the biggest losers among the main S&P sectors. Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX), which reported poor results Friday, led the losses.

    Oil prices fell on fresh evidence of growing oversupply and data highlighting slowing demand in China. Crude prices are on course for their weakest third-quarter performance since the financial crisis in 2008.

    In the United States, consumer spending recorded its smallest gain in four months, while the pace of growth in the manufacturing sector slowed in July.

    China's factory activity shrank more than initially estimated last month, a survey showed. Concerns about China's economy hurt U.S. industrial stocks as well as Apple (AAPL), which relies on that country for much of its iPhone sales.

    It's a combination of the energy stocks, then the industrials and now the tech stocks, which have joined on the downside.

    A report from market research firm Canalys showed Apple lost some smartphone market share in China in the second quarter. Its stock fell 2.4 percent, weighing most on the Nasdaq and the S&P 500.

    The company's shares slipped below their 200-day daily moving average, a key technical level closely watched by traders, for the first time in nearly two years.

    "It's a combination of the energy stocks, then the industrials and now the tech stocks, which have joined on the downside," said Donald Selkin, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York, which has about $3 billion in assets under management.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 0.5 percent to end at 17,598.2. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 0.3 percent to 2,098.04 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 0.3 percent to 5,115.38.

    Half of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with the energy index falling 2 percent to its lowest level since 2012.

    After the bell, shares of Tenet Healthcare (THC) rose 2.3 percent as the company's second-quarter report pleased investors.

    Tyson Foods (TSN) shares fell 9.9 percent during Monday's session after the biggest U.S. meat processor cut its profit forecast for the year, citing export market disruptions in its beef business and high cattle costs.

    Peabody Energy (BTU) fell 9.2 percent as President Barack Obama prepared to unveil the final version of his plan to tackle greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.54 to 1 ratio on the downside. On the Nasdaq, that ratio was 1.73 to 1 ratio favoring decliners. The S&P 500 index posted 23 new 52-week highs and 26 new lows; the Nasdaq composite posted 78 new highs and 141 new lows. Some 6.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the five-day average of 7.1 billion this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    -Tanya Agrawal contributed reporting.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • The Commerce Department releases factory orders data for June at 10 a.m. Eastern time.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Activision Blizzard (ATVI)
    • Aetna (AET)
    • Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM)
    • Charter Communications (CHTR)
    • Church & Dwight Co. (CHD)
    • Coach (COH)
    • CVS Health (CVS)
    • Emerson Electric Co. (EMR)
    • Entergy (ETR)
    • Hyatt Hotels (H)
    • Kellogg Co. (K)
    • MGM Resorts International (MGM)
    • Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH)
    • Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN)
    • Sprint (S)
    • Toyota Motor (TM)
    • Walt Disney Co. (DIS)

     

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    Young women and man studding in library
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    Going to college has become an increasingly expensive proposition. With tuition rates quadrupling at public universities over the last 35 years, students are being squeezed at every turn. Although the cost of going to college has certainly increased, students are now able to cut down on some of the costs of attending class, specifically when it comes to their college textbooks.

    It wasn't long ago that college students were presented with just one option to purchase their textbooks -- the university bookstore. The Internet has broken the monopoly on college textbooks formerly held by the university bookstores. These days, students have the ability to get the information that they need at much lower rates.

    Here are a few ideas to help you save money on your college textbooks this Fall.

    Shop for Books Online

    Shopping for college textbooks online has become the rule rather than the exception. Rather than spend double what you would at many college bookstores, you can now go online to any number of different websites to find the best deals on textbooks. Of course, large online stores like Amazon have textbooks available, as do countless other specialty sites.

    One way to save time is to use a free online textbook search tool. These tools enables you to search for textbooks by the book title, author's name, ISBN number or a keyword. It returns results from more than a dozen online textbook vendors to make comparison shopping easy. It also has an option to compare buying a book with renting it.

    Buy Used (In Person or Online)

    If you have the opportunity, try to buy nice copies of used textbooks. You can usually get them for much cheaper than a new, unused copy. Whether the book is new or used, the information in the book didn't change (unless it is an older edition). Some of these used books may already have margin notes or highlights from their previous owner. While that may seem like a bummer, you can actually use those notes as a guide to see what information somebody else thought was important. It's like getting a sneak peek at the course material before you cover it in class.

    Try an Off-Campus Bookstore

    If you have an off-campus college bookstore available in your area, it wouldn't hurt to go and compare prices there. Generally speaking, prices at these bookstores are going to be less than prices at your on-campus bookstore. However, you aren't going to find the same type of deals that you will find at some online stores. Still, if you can't find what you are looking for online or if you need the book immediately, if may pay to wander a few blocks off-campus to check out their textbook selection.

    Go Book-Free (If You Dare)

    Let's face it, instructors love books. As academics, teaching out of books is what they do. They read ... and write ... and sell books. In fact, they love books so much that they will often "require" more textbooks than what they will actually cover during the course. I can't tell you how many times I never even cracked open the cover of a book I paid good money for because we either didn't get to the material or the book simply wasn't needed to begin with. More importantly, most instructors are going to present the important concepts and materials in class during their lectures times. That is what lectures are for. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on gobs of textbooks that you won't use, simply go to class. Take notes, and figure out whether or not you need the books to learn the material. Chances are good that you probably won't.

    Look for Free PDF's Online

    In addition to the numerous ways to buy books online, the Internet has also become a place where students can actually download books in PDF format for free. Though these copies may not be the most recent edition of the book in question, for many genres, the important concepts and materials are still presented. Several websites provide these free PDFs, including the College Open Textbooks Collaborative. If you are short on cash, or just a savvy textbook bargain shopper, make sure to check them out.

    Hit the Library

    Some professors are very understanding about the fact that many college students don't have a lot of extra money laying around. However, they still feel that it is their duty to present each student with the best possible chance to learn the material. To balance these priorities, many instructors will actually place the texts they require for their courses on hold at the school library. When that's the case, you can head to the library, check the book out from the desk, make copies of the material they need and return the book before leaving. Not only is this a great way to make sure you aren't missing any important reading material, it is also free aside from any fees you pay for copies.

    Even though the price of tuition may be up, the price of your college textbooks doesn't have to be. By becoming a savvy shopper and using these techniques, you can save big money on your college textbooks.

     

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    A Tesla Model S charging. Parco Valentino car show hosted 93
    Marco Destefanis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
    Buying an electric vehicle has become something of an aspirational purchase for those looking to go green, but it's no longer only feasible for those willing to spend a fortune in the name of saving the Earth. It could actually be a way to save money on how you get around, especially as new, cheaper models come out over the next few years.

    On a per-mile basis, the savings can add up quickly. Take a look at just how much you could save on a monthly basis.

    Gasoline Savings Add Up

    If you're the typical driver who puts 15,000 to 20,000 miles on your car a year, it wouldn't be uncommon to spend $150 a month or more at the gas pump. Depending on how efficient your vehicle is, the cost could be significantly more than that.

    But electric vehicles use low-cost electricity, which can lead to significant savings each time you fill up. Below is an example of just how significant those savings can be.

    If we assume the national average $2.79 a gallon of gas as of this writing and an average cost of electricity of 12.64 cents a kwh, here are the costs to travel 265 and 20,000 miles in a Telsa Model S, a BMW 3-Series, and a Ford Fusion Hybrid.

    Measure Tesla Model S BMW 3-Series Ford Fusion Hybrid
    Range/mpg 265 miles 32 mpg city 44 mpg city
    Cost to travel 265 miles $10.74 $23.10 $16.80
    Cost per mile 4.05 cents 8.72 cents 6.34 cents
    Fuel Cost to Drive 20,000 Miles $810.56 $1,743.40 $1,267.92
    Source: Company websites, author's calculations
    For someone who drives 20,000 miles a year, the Tesla Model S could save $934 in fuel costs annually versus the BMW 3- Series. Even against a Ford Fusion Hybrid, the Model S would save $457.36 annually.

    Add to that the savings of not having to change the oil ($30-plus every 3,000 to 6,000 miles) and even the added cost of buying an electric vehicle may not be all that daunting. But even that hurdle isn't as big as it once was, as the cost of electric vehicles is coming down.

    As the Cost of EVs Comes Down, the Market Should Explode

    Today, a Model S is significantly more costly than a BMW 3-Series, which I would say is a close competitor given the performance and finishes of each. The Model S starts at $75,000 ($67,500 after the $7,500 federal tax credit) and you can get in a 3-Series car for $32,950; the Ford Fusion Hybrid starts at $25,990. At those prices, even the fuel savings I've outlined above wouldn't make up for the added cost of an electric vehicle.

    But the market will change in the next few years as more electric models are released. Tesla's Model 3 is expected to cost $35,000, while the Chevy Bolt will start at $38,000 and the Ford Focus Electric starts at $29,170, although it has just an 80-mile range. The clear trend is that electric vehicles are coming down in cost and they'll only be more competitive in the future.

    Time to Think Electric

    Depending on your personal situation, an electric vehicle might not be right for you. But it's becoming more and more clear that cost isn't going to be what holds back electric vehicle sales. In fact, many people could save money by going electric, simply because electricity is such a cheap source of energy.

    Maybe fuel savings are something to consider next time you go car shopping. And it's probably time to look beyond mpg to miles per kwh the next time you look at a car.

    Motley Fool contributor Travis Hoium owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends BMW, Ford and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out our free report on one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Florida West Palm Beach Palm Beach Outlets shopping discount store business display sale TJ T.J. Maxx clothing Black man men's
    Alamy
    Consumers flock to Kohl's (KSS) and TJX's (TJX) T.J. Maxx, expecting deep markdowns on apparel and other department store staples. They may not be getting the bargains that they think they're getting.

    Both retailers are being sued in different lawsuits, alleging that the discounts being promoted on price tags are deceptive. Anyone shopping at Kohl's or T.J. Maxx knows the drill. Items appear to be on sale, referring to higher original or "compare at" prices. It helps justify or validate the purchase, and the argument here is that publishing these higher prices works on the psychology of the shopper. A fashionable $30 spring dress may seem like a good deal, but when the price tag claims that it's selling elsewhere for $50, it may seem outright irresistible at a 40 percent discount.

    It's not right, and now legal fisticuffs are flying.

    Mad Maxx

    The first federal class action lawsuit was filed on July 17 in California. A pair of shoppers filed the suit, claiming that placing dubious "compare at" prices constitutes deceptive advertising. The lawsuit is specifically trying to compensate shoppers from California who have made purchases at T.J. Maxx over the past four years, but if it sticks, you know that more will follow.

    T.J. Maxx explains on its website that the "compare at" price promoted on its price tag is based on its "buying staff's estimate of the regular, retail price at which a comparable item in finer catalogs, specialty or department stores may have been sold."

    It then goes on to clarify that it buys products from thousands of vendors, so the actual item being sold may not be offered by other retailers at the "compare at" price that it's broadcasting. It then encourages customers to do their own comparison shopping as another way to see the "great value" that it's offering.

    However, if customers are buying a pair of cargo shorts for $22 on the premise of a "compare at" price of $33 when there's no one really selling the same item at $33, is the 33 percent discount real?

    Lumps of Kohl's

    Four days after the class action lawsuit was filed against T.J. Maxx, a somewhat similar claim was made against Kohl's. Two different California shoppers kicked off the fireworks at the popular department store chain, voicing concerns that it, too, is inflating the value of its bargains.

    This is a particularly thorny issue at Kohl's. The allegations claim that price tags offering higher "original" or "regular" prices on its own brands -- including Croft & Barrow and Apt. 9 -- are disingenuous if they were never offered at those higher prices. They are in-house brands, so it's not as if they are being sold elsewhere.

    It's easy to shake our heads when folks initiate class action lawsuits, but there is some meat to these allegations. We'll see how it plays out, and ultimately T.J. Maxx and Kohl's may have to change their labeling practices. A good deal is still a good deal, and hopefully consumers will see it that way without having to be swayed by potentially dubious "original" or "compare at" pricing.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. Check out The Motley Fool's one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond.

     

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    Couple Cooking
    Getty ImagesRomance doesn't have to be expensive.
    Open up any magazine targeted to women and you'll see article after article telling you that couples should continue to spend time with each other by scheduling regular date nights.

    The articles typically say that date night is good for your relationship and helps you focus on each other. This type of language can create a bit of pressure for couples to actually take the advice. Couples might even feel guilty if they don't plan regular date nights, especially if it's because of budget restrictions.

    Unfortunately, date night isn't exactly cheap. If couples have children, they have to make reservations and hire a babysitter. Then, they face pressure to make it a great night because they've already spent so much money on it.

    So, wouldn't it be nice to take the pressure off? Wouldn't it be great if you could go on a fun but frugal date and have a great time without breaking the bank?

    Well, if a frugal but fun date is your idea of a good time, here are some examples of ways to spend time together without paying a ton of money for the privilege:

    1. Send the kids to a friend's house. Sometimes people have the right idea when it comes to trading babysitting responsibilities with another group of friends so each couple can go on a date night. However, they overcomplicate things when they decide to bring their kids over to someone's house and then go out on an elaborate date.

    Instead, why not stay in your own house and send the kids to a friend's house for a few hours? Your kids can watch a movie, eat pizza, pop some popcorn and have a great time with their friends and you and your significant other can cook a nice meal at home, pop open a bottle of wine, and watch a movie in a quiet house without any waking up and coming out of their rooms to ask for a bottle of water.

    This eliminates the need for an expensive babysitter and as well as the need to spend a lot of money on a meal out. You still get to spend time together sans kids, and you're in the comfort of your own home so there's no need to get all dressed up. It's casual but fun.

    2. Picnic in the park. One of my favorite dates to plan with my husband is have a picnic in a park. Somehow, in the last 10 years, we've associated picnics with buying fried chicken at a fast food restaurant. We rarely eat fast food, so it's always this random treat. It's inexpensive at about $12 for a few pieces of chicken and biscuits, and free to grab a picnic blanket out of the linen closet.

    On a beautiful day, it's a sweet and simple way to spend time together. You can even bring the book you're reading or a magazine and quietly sit and read together (if that's your jam).

    3. Museum date. Most museums have discount days or coupons where you can go at a certain time to get a better ticket price or go on a certain day. Still, even if you have to pay full price, most museum admissions are no more than $15 per adult. The trick is not to eat at the pricey museum café but instead bring a few snacks or sandwiches with you. Stroll around the museum with the one you love, learn something new, and enjoy. It's actually far cheaper than going to a movie and your money will be going to a good cause: the preservation of important objects or art.

    4. Backyard camping. When my husband and I were still dating, we discovered all of his old camping gear in his parents' attic. Since he used to work at a sporting goods store, he had tons of equipment, including a tent, camping stove and sleeping bags.

    Instead of booking an extensive camping trip where we had to pack the car, pay a fee and buy tons of food to eat while we camped, we just camped in the backyard.

    It was really fun and silly and just something different to do. Best of all, it was completely free, and when we wanted to eat something, we just walked into the house and ate it!

    5. Volunteering together. One way to do something different and feel good at the same time is to volunteer together as a date night. You can go together to a dog shelter, clean cages and play with adorable dogs. You can plant a garden at a school. Really, the sky is the limit when it comes to thinking of ways you can give back to your community.

    My advice is to think of something your partner and you are both passionate about, something you would enjoy doing together, and then pursue it. That way, you can have a free date and spend time together but feel good about it in the process.

    Overall, date night can be anything you want it to be. It doesn't have to be a table for two with a candlelit dinner and a $200 dinner tab to be something special. All you need to do if you're frugal or on a tight budget is think outside the box.

    Catherine Alford is a professional public speaker and freelance writer who enjoys speaking and writing about the challenges of motherhood, building creative businesses and making smart financial decisions at BudgetBlonde.com.

     

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    Bored mixed race businesswoman using laptop
    Getty ImagesDoes free time inspire you to shop?


    Two weeks ago, I had a full-fledged computer meltdown. My laptop started operating at speeds circa 1996 and deteriorated quickly from there. An appointment at the Genius Bar realized my worst freelancer fear: I'd have to part with my computer for the next three to seven days while the Mac Geniuses worked to repair it.

    Being a full-time, online entrepreneur, I was professionally devastated by the news. I fumbled around on my phone, painstakingly typing out emails to clients and editors whose deadlines I wouldn't be able to meet until further notice. With that small matter of business taken care of, I quickly came to realize that without my computer and the zillions of files I had foolishly failed to back up, there wasn't much I could accomplish.

    What would I do with myself? Binge watch Netflix with a side of red wine or maybe schedule some dates with the friends I hadn't seen in ages. It was a dilemma I hadn't encountered in a while, but the feeling was familiar: I needed to kill time, without blowing my budget.

    Whether it's waiting for a friend who's running late or finding a way to spend an afternoon, aimless time has a tendency to lend itself to aimless spending. Sometimes minimally: a cup of coffee to enjoy while capitalizing on free Wi-Fi. Other times detrimentally: a spontaneous shopping spree born out of seemingly innocent window shopping.

    Having a plan for directing your free time can be just as effective as having a plan for your spending. Though you may not know when instances of empty, unplanned time may arise, having contingencies on hand that align with your budget and personal priorities is simply good practice.

    Kiss broke and bored goodbye with these cost-effective, time-efficient strategies.

    Reassess and refine your goals. Down time is prime time for some quality introspection. The silence and stillness necessary to ponder big questions such as, "What do I want?" and, "What am I doing to get it?" doesn't present itself too often.

    Whether it's an extra 15 minutes or a few hours, taking some time to reflect on these questions central to happiness and fulfillment is a great way to break the cycle of simply going about the routine of day to day living and checking in on big picture goals, making sure forward progress is being made and adjusting as necessary.

    Write down whatever comes to mind along with next action steps for each item to get the momentum rolling in the direction of your goals and dreams. January doesn't have a monopoly on resolutions; every interval of down time offers an opportunity to reset, restart or readjust, and it doesn't have to cost a thing.

    Practice healthy habits. Not enough time is the ultimate excuse for forgoing exercise, ordering in and other chronic, unhealthy habits. If you're given the gift of time, don't waste it on being bored. Instead, ditch the excuses and justifications and start a workout regimen or meal plan.

    Start a Pinterest board of easy, healthy recipes. Go for a walk outside. Download a free meditation app to foster some mental clarity. Time that isn't monopolized by the pressure of responsibilities and deadlines presents an opportunity to foster habits that support a healthy, optimized lifestyle that can save you thousands over the course of a lifetime.

    Give yourself a financial physical. Speaking of goals and healthy habits, let's not forget to include the occasional fiscal check-up. How are you doing on your financial goals? Do you need to make any adjustments to your current budget and habits to reach your targets? What other adjustments might serve to optimize your financial profile? Perhaps canceling the magazine subscription you're not reading anymore? Renegotiating the interest rates on your loans and credit cards? Researching better deals on you recurring bills?

    Effectively using just a half hour of down time to give your finances a once over can help you put systems in place to better manage your money and stay accountable to your long term goals, even as the craziness of day-to-day living picks back up.

    Volunteer. You don't have to limit your giving to monetary contributions, use moments of down time to make service contributions. There are endless ways to give back. Research organizations and causes that are meaningful to you and the tasks that you can do to contribute within the limitations of your idle time.

    Learn something. Read a book, watch instructional YouTube videos, visit your local library -- using your down time to learn new things and develop your skills is not only practical, it can prove highly enjoyable and may help you connect with like-minded people, often leading to even more exciting opportunities.

    In the wake of my computer meltdown, I took to Twitter to get updates on a conference I knew was happening in my hometown. With a few strategic tweets and hashtag searches I managed to score a $25 ticket to the conference and spent the next two days soaking up valuable new information and perspectives while connecting with other entrepreneurs. I even scored a Kate Spade bag during a conference giveaway -- talk about a sweet way to kill time!

    Stefanie O'Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to "live the dream" on a starving artists' budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com and her book, "The Broke and Beautiful Life," is now available.

     

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    internet theft   a gloved hand...
    Getty Images
    By Jason Notte

    NEW YORK -- Making charitable donations can be philanthropically rewarding, but only if your money actually reaches those who need it.

    Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission noted that about $187 million in donations went to a group of four cancer charities that were nothing but a slush fund for one family. The FTC says that 97 percent of donations were used by family members to pay for cars, gym memberships, luxury cruises, college tuition and high-salary jobs for other family members. The Cancer Fund of America and Cancer Support Services in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Breast Cancer Society in Mesa, Arizona; and the Children's Cancer Fund of America in Powell, Tennessee, not only bilked donors out of millions, but binged on money that other charitable organizations could have put to good use.

    Contacted by TheStreet for this story, a receptionist for The Cancer Fund of America and its subsidiary, Cancer Support Services, declined comment on behalf of the organization. The Breast Cancer Society directed TheStreet to this official statement, denying any wrong doing and demonstrating a focus on other charitable efforts to avoid legal entanglements. The Children's Cancer fund site has disappeared, and its number is no longer in service.

    Some of the fraud stuff that has gone on is because of a lack of oversight by donors. They haven't done their homework and they haven't done their due diligence.

    Equally unfortunate was that, according to Friedman partner Amish Mehta, a quick look at the IRS database of charitable organizations, the charities' Form 990 submissions or charity clearinghouse websites would have told donors just how suspicious those charities were. Mehta points out that the New York State Attorney General's office considers administrative costs equalling 35 percent of total donations or less ideal for a charitable organization, though Mehta says that cost for operating expenses should more ideally be capped at 20 to 30 percent.

    "That topic [charity fraud] continues to come up," Mehta says. "Some of the fraud stuff that has gone on is because of a lack of oversight by donors. They haven't done their homework and they haven't done their due diligence."

    Shomari Hearn, a certified financial planner and vice president at Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, notes that online resources including Guidestar and Charity Navigator can help potential donors determine home much of their gift is going to the cause and how much goes toward administrative costs. Those sites draw much of their information from the charities' 990 forms and explain what your donation pays for in fairly simple terms. From there, a little help from the IRS and a bit of legwork can help determine whether or not a charity meets your needs. "Even if it is a charity that has been in existence for many years, it is worth verifying that the organization's tax-exempt status has not been revoked," Hearn says. "Second, I recommend conducting a quick online search of the charity's name to see if there are any stories of improprieties by the organization."

    A charity's biggest red flag is either not registering as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt institution or having that designation revoked. Mehta notes that while contacting the IRS and performing simple online searches for the charity in question can work, it may also be worth your time to contact the Better Business Bureau and see if it has received any complaints about the organization. It may seem like a whole lot of steps just to give money away, but for private or family foundations with sizable sums at their disposal, the only way to make sure a charitable organization fulfills the foundation's mission statement is to vet it throughly.

    "If the foundation is determined that it wants to give to that charity, hopefully the foundation has grant-giving guidelines and parameters established to vet various charities," Mehta says. "Hopefully there's a board for that foundation, because it's helpful to get different perspectives, present a challenge and provoke some thought and within the foundation."

    Another approach that both individuals and charitable foundations may want to consider is something they should already be doing with their other non-charitable investments: diversifying and balancing. That offers donors some protection if a charity turns out to be fraudulent or simply changes course and no longer meets the needs of the donor. More importantly, especially when considerable donations are involved, diversification can prevent any one individual or foundation from giving too much to an organization and "tipping" it from a public charity to a private foundation of its own.

    "501(c)(3) organizations have to have a broad range of support among the people they receive money from," Mehta says. "If they receive money from a single or limited source of avenues, they could jeopardize their public charity status. That charity can become like a conduit for a charitable foundation."

    However, the most important rule to apply when tracking down a charitable organization is to do your homework.

    While your threshold for administrative cost may vary from those of your advisers, it's always good to know that your money is going to help the cause and isn't just lining the pockets of the folks on the phone or someone with a boat named after a shell charity.

    "As a rule of thumb, if administrative and fundraising expenses, such as compensation to executives and fees to telemarketing firms, account for more than 25 percent of an established organization's annual revenue, I would avoid these organizations in favor of a charity that uses at least 75 percent or higher of their revenue on program expenses," Hearn says. "You want to know that the majority of your donation is being used to fund the programs and services the charity was established to deliver."

     

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    Cold
    Getty Images
    By Kalyeena Makortoff

    Complaints about cold offices finally have some basis -- it's likely your male colleagues are to blame.

    According to a new research by Maastricht University, the standard used to determine the ideal indoor temperature is based on the body heat of the average man.

    Current calculations for building temperatures try to balance average body heat -- which is dictated by the body's metabolic rate -- and that of the room or office, in order to find the ideal level of warmth.

    These standards are deployed across both Europe and the U.S., Boris Kingma, a lead researcher of the report, told CNBC via email.

    Body heat production is directly linked to metabolic rates, which refer to how much energy your body requires to maintain its physical functions.

    Individual body and composition are essential in determining your metabolic rate, Kingma explained. Body cells and fat cells generate heat, even at rest.

    "Men are in general a bit taller than women and also a bit more muscular than women. These two add up that males in general have a higher heat production than females," he said.

    Women's metabolic rates are 20 to 35 percent lower than their male counterparts, the report's press release explained.

    Kingma said researchers found, though other research, that women in general prefer a warmer environment.

    Maintaining less-than-ideal office temperatures for women not only results in chilly workers, but a spike in energy consumption as people reach for the thermostat or drink more coffee or tea to stay warm.

    If addressed, offices could lower their energy use. Together with residential buildings, offices account for approximately 30 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions, the report said, with human behavior contributing to nearly 80 percent of the variation in those buildings' energy consumption.

    "By taking into account the actual metabolic rate of women, a crucial step can be made in creating more energy-efficient buildings and a more comfortable working area for women," the release explained.

     

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    FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2015, file photo, Mark Moriarty works on a John Deere Tracked Feller Buncher/Harvester at John Deere Dubuque Works in Dubuque, Iowa. The Commerce Department reports on U.S. factory orders for June 2015 on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015. (Jessica Reilly/Telegraph Herald via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
    Jessica Reilly/Telegraph Herald via APAn employee works at John Deere Dubuque Works in Dubuque, Iowa.
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- New orders for U.S. factory goods rebounded strongly in June on robust demand for transportation equipment and other goods, a hopeful sign for the struggling manufacturing sector.

    The Commerce Department said Tuesday new orders for manufactured goods increased 1.8 percent after declining 1.1 percent in May.

    Factory activity has been stymied by a strong dollar and spending cuts in the energy sector after last year's sharp plunge in crude oil prices. Tepid global demand also has weighed on manufacturing, which accounts for about 12 percent of the domestic economy.

    Those factors have eroded the profits of multinational companies like Caterpillar (CAT), Procter & Gamble (PG), the world's largest household products maker, and Whirlpool (WHR), the global home appliances giant.

    Though there are signs that the energy spending drag is easing, the dollar's strength will likely remain a constraint. The dollar has gained 15 percent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June 2014.

    U.S. stocks were slightly higher after the data, while prices for U.S. government debt fell. The U.S. dollar was trading lower against a basket of currencies.

    Orders for transportation equipment surged 9.3 percent in June, reflecting a 65.4 percent jump in aircraft bookings. There also were increases in orders for machinery, furniture, fabricated metal products and electrical equipment, appliances and components.

    The department also said orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft -- seen as a measure of business confidence and spending plans -- increased 0.7 percent instead of the 0.9 percent rise reported last month.

    Shipments of these so-called core capital goods, which are used to calculate business equipment spending in the gross domestic product report, increased 0.3 percent in June. Shipments were previously reported to have slipped 0.1 percent.

    The upward revisions to core capital goods shipments, combined with a report on Monday showing stronger construction spending in May and April than previously reported, suggest second-quarter GDP could be revised higher when the government publishes its second estimate later this year.

    The Commerce Department reported last week that the economy expanded at a 2.3 percent annual pace in the second quarter.

    A 0.6 percent increase in manufacturing inventories in June also pointed to an upward revision to second-quarter GDP. The rise in inventories followed a 0.1 percent gain in May.

    Unfilled orders at factories were unchanged in June after two straight months of decreases, potentially signaling stability in factory activity.

     

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    Comcast sign
    Alamy
    By TALI ARBEL

    WASHINGTON -- Comcast is speeding up and expanding a discounted Internet service that was created to get more low-income people online.

    Comcast (CMCSA) created the program four years ago as a condition of government approval of its purchase of NBCUniversal. The service costs $10 a month, a quarter of Comcast's promotional price for a slightly faster Internet speed.

    But critics have said the service, called Internet Essentials, was too slow and its reach too limited.

    The increasing of the speed is a step in the right direction. The real test will be in assuring that actual families will benefit from this.

    The latest upgrade doubles the current speed to up to 10 megabits a second. That lets you watch online video but is still below the benchmark for broadband, 25 megabits, set by the Federal Communications Commission.

    Internet Essentials had been limited to families of children who would qualify for the government's discounted school lunch program. Now Comcast is testing a program for low-income seniors, too.

    "The increasing of the speed is a step in the right direction," said Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente, a Latino advocacy group that had fought Comcast's failed proposal to merge with Time Warner Cable. "The real test will be in assuring that actual families will benefit from this."

    In a report last year, the California Emerging Technology Fund, a non-profit that advocates for broadband adoption, said signing up for Internet Essentials was a "long and cumbersome" process that can take up to three months.

    Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas said some of the criticisms of the program are "quite old and have not been well-documented." Comcast says it's increasing the number of schools whose families are eligible for faster approval. Once a family is approved, Comcast can send a self-installation kit in three to five days.

    Philadelphia-based Comcast said Tuesday that more than 500,000 households have been Internet Essentials customers. That's up from 350,000 households about a year ago. About 20 percent of eligible households have signed up.

    Other changes Comcast announced Tuesday included adding a free Wi-Fi router so families can connect their smartphones and other devices to a home network and a pilot program for helping low-income seniors get Internet access in West Palm Beach, Florida.

    Comcast said additional cities for testing the service for seniors will be announced in coming weeks.

    The service's expansion comes as the government is also pushing programs meant to help bridge the "digital divide." According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, 97 percent of adults living in a household with annual income of $75,000 and higher say they use the Internet. For households making less than $30,000 a year, that number falls to 74 percent.

    The FCC wants to expand its Lifeline discounted phone program to include Internet service, while President Barack Obama last month unveiled a public-private partnership called ConnectHome, which aims to get low-income families discounted access to the Internet. The government had said ConnectHome will initially reach more than 275,000 low-income households.

     

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    New Amazon Prime Members Can Split Account Only Between 2 Adults

    By Rebecca Borison

    NEW YORK -- HBO CEO Richard Plepler may not care that you're sharing access to your HBO Go subscription with friends, but Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos apparently isn't pleased with the amount of sharing taking place among its Prime members.

    Last week, Amazon quietly changed its policy for sharing a Prime account, which provides a variety of discounts for a $99 a year membership. Previously, each Prime member was able to share their account with up to four other people. But now, thanks to the crackdown, accounts can only be shared with one other adult and four children. On top of that, the two adults must have access to the same credit cards, a move intended to discourage sharing with lots of friends or extended family members.

    HBO's Plepler seems to view account sharing as a means for new subscribers to try out the service. Amazon, on the other hand, is no longer willing to give up those $99 membership fees.

    The question now is whether consumers who were accessing the Prime benefits for free will transition to paid memberships, or whether they will look elsewhere for their online shopping needs. Yes, Amazon may have been missing out on those membership fees, but people using Prime tend to buy a lot more on Amazon than non-Prime users, and it's possible that the extra sales from that non-paying, account-sharing friend could have made up for the lost fees.

    Gartner (IT) analyst Gene Alvarez predicts the impact won't be terribly huge either way, arguing that the change Amazon won't cost it too much revenue, nor will it propel a large number of new Prime subscriptions. Sure, there will be some account-sharing consumers who have gotten so used to Prime benefits that they will opt into an account of their own. But there will also be some who decide it's not worth it and move over to the websites of Walmart (WMT) or Target (TGT).

    Prime has been around long enough, that it has hit "the point of inflection," Alvarez said, and Amazon has decided that its path forward includes a lot less account sharing. It remains to be seen whether consumers will turn away after this shift in policy.

     

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    Avoid These Budget-Busting Triggers
    Trying to stick to a budget is never easy, but what you might not realize is that certain factors, like your mood, can actually cause you to spend more. So before you give in to temptation, here are a few tips to help keep your budget intact.

    First, how many times have you run out for some milk, and come back with a bag full of groceries? Don't worry, you're not alone. According to a study by Visa, 34 percent of the people polled said that the supermarket is where they overspend the most. Instead of getting caught up, make a list before you go and only include the things that you definitely need. You'll find that sticking to this plan will save you a lot in the long run.

    Another place where lots of us go off track is on vacation. All too often we only remember to budget for airfare and hotel and completely forget about the other costs involved. The best way to get around this is by making some simple trade-offs. For instance, if you've got your heart set on staying at a four-star hotel, then scale back on other things -- like going out for fancy meals -- to offset your spending. By having a plan in place before you leave, you'll be less likely to splurge while you're there.

    Next, special occasions are also known to be real budget-killers. Big events like a family wedding or your best friend's birthday can make you feel compelled to buy them something expensive. Rather than letting your feelings overwhelm your bank account, start saving now. Even if it's only $20 a week, that can add up to hundreds over the course of a few months, and if something pops up suddenly, or you haven't had time to put aside some cash, try thinking outside the box and making your own gift. Most of the time, people will appreciate something from the heart just as much as something you bought at a store.

    Finally, we all know that stress can trigger a lot of things in us, including an unnecessary shopping spree. Before you turn to retail therapy, try exercising instead. Activities like yoga or even going for a 20-minute walk can help give you some real relief. Just think, you'll be getting rid of the stress without spending a penny.

    Remember these tips to keep your budget from going off course. You'll see that by recognizing these triggers ahead of time, you'll be able to avoid overspending in the future.

    View Poll

     

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