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    Target-Subscription Service
    Steven Senne/AP
    MINNEAPOLIS -- Target (TGT) has agreed to pay $2.8 million to settle a hiring discrimination claim filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency announced Monday.

    Three employment assessments formerly used by the Minneapolis-based retailer disproportionately screened out applicants for professional positions based on race and gender, and the tests weren't sufficiently job-related, the EEOC said in a statement. The commission also said an assessment that was performed by psychologists violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from subjecting applicants to medical exams prior to making a job offer.

    Thousands of people were adversely affected and the settlement money will be divided among them, the EEOC said.

    Target agreed to take several steps to ensure the validity of its hiring process, including keeping better data for assessing the impact of its hiring procedures.

    The number of people covered by the settlement is "in the four-figure range" out of tens of millions of applicants who applied for positions with Target over the past decade, Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said in an email. She also said the EEOC didn't find any disparities in Target's actual hiring, just potential adverse impacts.

    Target is no longer using those tests and it is no longer working with the vendor that performed the psychological assessments, she said.

    "We continue to firmly believe that no improper behavior occurred regarding these assessments," Snyder said, but added that Target agreed to settle to save the costs of litigation.

     

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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    Fresh off Wall Street's worst week in four years -- one that saw the Dow Jones industrial average lose 10 percent of its value and the Standard & Poor's 500 index slip below the magical 2,000 barrier -- financial advisers have two words of advice for gun-shy investors.

    Don't panic.

    "We're starting to get some calls, as should be expected," says Erik Jensen, president and founder of Jensen Wealth Advisors in Palm Desert, California, and a registered principal with LPL Financial. "We empathize with them; nobody likes seeing drops like last week. However, we recommend they keep a long-term perspective, understanding that corrections are the norm, not a calamity."

    Sure, last week may have felt like a calamity if you were watching your portfolio shrink by the hour. But there were tell-tale signs -- after riding an extraordinary bullish market since 2009, Wall Street had been essentially trading sideways until this month. Then the market's softening became a full-blown meltdown Thursday and Friday.

    Wall Street's darling stocks -- the tech sector -- were among the hardest hit. Netflix (NFLX) lost nearly 16 percent; Apple (AAPL) and Facebook (FB) were both down nearly 9 percent and Microsoft (MSFT) fell 7.7 percent.

    Banking stocks were also horrid, as Bank of America (BAC) fell 9 percent, JPMorgan Chase (JPM) fell 6.3 percent and Wells Fargo (WFC) -- arguably the best banking stock of 2015 -- dropped nearly 6 percent for the week.

    Meanwhile, crude oil fell below $40 a barrel for the first time since 2009, and the CBOE Volatility Index -- the so-called "fear index" -- jumped more than 45 percent Friday and more than 90 percent for the week.

    "While investors should avoid panicking over short-term movements in the value of their long-term investments, the recent volatility ought to serve as a wake-up call to re-examine risk and stress-test your portfolio against the possibility of further declines," says Kurt Rossi, president of Independent Wealth Management in Wall, New Jersey. "Be especially careful if you were like many investors that were pushed into taking on higher risk investments due to the low-yield environment. Consider reviewing the compatibility of your portfolio and your financial planning goals, making changes to your investments if the two are out of alignment."

    Matthew Tuttle, CEO of Tuttle Tactical Management in Stamford, Connecticut, says the S&P 500 is in a critical area of technical support. "We believe the bull market will end in 2016 or 2017 and believe we need one more rally to the upside before the market crashes, so unless we see the S&P go into the 1,700s, we would use weakness as a buying opportunity. Now, more than ever, investors should be in tactical investments that can shift out of the market if this is the end of the bull market, but that can stay invested if it is not."

    Like Tuttle, financial advisers say the recent weakness in the stock market isn't a reason to abandon stocks in favor of greener -- or less volatile -- pastures. Instead, it's an opportunity to reassess holdings, particularly for investors who are taking a long-term approach.

    Steve Sanduski, president of Belay Advisor in Mequon, Wisconsin, says the biggest mistake investors can make is fleeing the market at the wrong time. He says investors should hold tight, but he recommends a diversified portfolio that contains low-cost investments and a time horizon of at least 10 years. "On a regular basis, do the best you can at estimating your 'sleep allocation,' meaning, what's the allocation among stocks, bonds and cash that allows you to sleep comfortably at night," he says. "If the thought of a certain percentage drop in your portfolio makes you break out in a cold sweat, it's time to dial down the risk."

    Andrew Carrillo, president of Barnett Capital Advisors in Miami, also recommends the diversification approach. "What exactly investors should do depends on their time frame, risk tolerance and their ability to be nimble in their investing, but based on valuations, there is much more downside over the next year to the market than upside at current bubble territory."

    Sam Seiden, chief education officer for the Online Trading Academy, says investors can expect more downside in the short term. "The major problem for investors is that they think like average investors and not like Wall Street pros, and let themselves get into these risky situations to begin with, which are certainly avoidable," Seiden says. "There are plenty of simple things the average investor can do to not only protect themselves, but also profit when markets decline just like Wall Street does."

    For example, short-term investors can move funds into safe high-yield corporate bonds, where they will receive interest.

    "Then, use the interest to participate in market moves without any market risk to your principle," Seiden says. "This is one of many simple strategies Wall Street uses that the average investor can use also. The key is to stop thinking like a retail investor and start thinking like Wall Street with your hard-earned money."

    Long-term investors, meanwhile, should look for opportunities to buy cheap stocks and rebalance their portfolio. And they should have the assistance of a financial planner to help them, says Bill Keen, founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors in Overland Park, Kansas.

    "Success in long-term investing is about thinking ahead and not being caught off guard by the inevitable market corrections when they come," Keen says. "We spend a lot of time providing perspective to our clients -- talking about the expected volatility of various asset classes. Long-term perspective is something that investors are in desperate need of."

     

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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    By Noel Randewich

    Investors rattled about China sent U.S. stock indexes almost 4 percent lower Monday in an unusually volatile session that confirmed the S&P 500 was formally in a correction, even after a dramatic rebound by Apple (AAPL).

    The Dow Jones industrial average briefly slumped more than 1,000 points, its most dramatic intraday trading range ever.

    Monday's drop followed an 8.5 percent slump in Chinese markets, which sparked a sell-off in global stocks along with oil and other commodities.

    Wall Street had stayed in s narrow range for much of 2015, but volatility jumped this month as investors became increasingly concerned about a potential stumble in China's economy and after Beijing surprisingly devalued its currency.

    Some investors unloaded stocks ahead of the close after looking to make money from volatile price swings earlier in the session.

    "If things don't settle down in China, we could have another ugly open tomorrow and you wouldn't want to be caught holding positions you bought this morning," said Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives for Charles Schwab in Austin.
    Apple's Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, in comments to CNBC, took the unusual step of reassuring shareholders about the iPhone-maker's business in China ahead of a dramatic 13 percent drop and rebound in its stock, which closed down just 2.5 percent at $103.15.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) closed down 588.4 points, or 3.6 percent, at 15,871.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 77.68 points, or 3.9 percent, to 1,893.21, putting it formally in correction mode.

    An index is considered to be in correction when it closes 10 percent below its 52-week high. The Dow was confirmed to be in a correction Friday.

    The Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 179.79 points, or 3.8 percent, to 4,526.25, also in correction.

    The CBOE Volatility index, popularly known as the "fear index," briefly jumped as much as 90 percent to 53.29, its highest since January 2009.

    Preliminary data from BATS Global Markets show that there were 1,287 trading halts on U.S. stock exchanges due to excessive volatility or the tripping of circuit breakers, far more than usual.

    The S&P 500 index showed 187 new 52-week lows and just two highs, while the Nasdaq recorded 613 new lows and eight highs.

    Betting on Emotion

    "Emotions got the best of investors," said Philip Blancato, chief executive at Ladenberg Thalmann Asset Management in New York.

    The conjecture that the Chinese economy can propel the U.S. economy into recession is ridiculous, when it's twice the size of the Chinese economy and is consumer-based.

    "The conjecture that the Chinese economy can propel the U.S. economy into recession is ridiculous, when it's twice the size of the Chinese economy and is consumer-based."

    All of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were down, with energy losing 5.18 percent.

    U.S. oil prices were down about 5 percent at 6½-year lows, while London copper and aluminum futures hit their lowest since 2009.

    Exxon (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) each fell more than 4.7 percent. U.S. oil and gas companies have already lost about $310 billion of market value this year.

    The dollar index was down 1.7 percent. It fell more than 2 percent earlier to a 7-month low as the probability of a September rate hike receded.

    Traders now see a 24 percent chance that the Federal Reserve will increase rates in September, down from 30 percent late Friday and 46 percent a week earlier, according to Tullett Prebon data.

    Wall Street's sell-off shows investors are becoming increasingly nervous about paying high prices for stocks at a time of minimal earnings growth, tumbling energy prices, and uncertainty around a rate hike.

    Alibaba (BABA) lost 3.5 percent to $65.80, below its IPO price of $68, making it the second high-profile tech company to fall below its IPO price in the past week, after Twitter (TWTR) on Thursday.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE 3,064 to 131. On the Nasdaq, 2,632 issues fell and 281 advanced.

    Volume was heavy, with about 13.9 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, well above the 7.0 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    What to watch Tuesday:
    • Standard & Poor's releases S&P/Case-Shiller index of home prices for June and the second quarter at 9 a.m. Eastern time.
    • At 10 a.m., the Commerce Department releases new home sales for July and the Conference Board releases the Consumer Confidence Index for August.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • Best Buy (BBY)
    • DSW (DSW)
    • Toll Brothers (TOL)
    • Valspar (VAL)

     

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    Angry businesswoman screaming
    Getty Images
    "Voice mail hell." DefiniThing.com defines the expression this way:

    "When accessing a voice mail phone answering system, one becomes lost, going down the wrong path or getting stuck in a loop, unable to get pertinent information or leave a message with the appropriate party."

    We've all been there, trying to get through to someone in customer service at a company, only to find there are a half-dozen menus we must navigate before reaching someone who can help. Or more likely, reaching a point where we're put on hold waiting for someone who might be able to help ...

    Welcome to Voice Mail Hell. Please Take a Number

    In 2013, Time magazine reported that the average American spends 13 hours a year on hold. Over the course of a lifetime, that's 43 days spent on hold, says Huffington Post.

    On a smaller scale, receptionist services company Conversational Receptionists reported last year that U.S. callers wait on hold for an average of 56 seconds a call. And according to The Washington Post, calls to one notable suburb of voice mail hell -- the IRS -- kept taxpayers on hold as much as 30 minutes a call last tax season. And many of those calls were ultimately dropped through an Orwellian service described as "courtesy disconnects."

    Inc. magazine estimates that across the nation, time wasted in voice mail hell drains $130 billion from the U.S. economy every year in lost worker productivity. But it doesn't have to be that way.

    Time Is Money

    As the Inc. statistic confirms, time (lost in voice mail hell) really is money. But two great companies are doing their best to put time back in your hourglass, and money back in your pocket.

    The first, CallPromise, looks at the problem from the perspective of the company taking the calls. With products such as "in-call virtual queuing," CallPromise enables a company to estimate the time a new caller will wait on hold before his or her call can be answered. In a prerecorded message, it then offers the caller the option of not waiting around, hanging up instead, and getting a callback when a customer service rep is available.

    Putting You Back in Control

    A second company tackles the problem from the consumer's perspective. GetHuman will give you several options for avoiding voice mail hell.

    In cooperation with CallPromise, GetHuman permits you to look up a company or government agency on its website -- the IRS, for example -- enter your phone number in a callback box, and then ... Just go about your business, and wait for the IRS to call you back. No 30-minute wait times. No dropped calls.

    Alternatively, the company collects tips from consumers, and conducts its own research as well, to discover the best phone numbers to call to quickly drive through voice mail hell and reach a human customer service rep. For example, for cable company Comcast (CMCSA)(CMCSK), GetHuman offers you:
    • a general support number right up front
    • a different number for new customers to call to set up service
    • a third number to check out deals and packages Comcast is offering
    • plus the CallPromise get-a-callback tool as well.
    Of course, even the numbers GetHuman digs up sometimes have voice mail systems attached to them. For these instances, GetHuman provides a cheat sheet of which buttons to push to move quickly through the system (without having to listen to each prerecorded menu option).

    For example, when calling Comcast, GetHuman suggests you "Press 0# each time it asks for a phone number," and then wait. If you're a current customer, you'll always want to have the last four digits of your Social Security number handy and be ready to enter those, followed by dialing 1, then 2, on the next two menus.

    Is All This Really Necessary?

    It depends. Presumably, most companies have all this information on their websites ... somewhere. But the great thing about GetHuman is that it starts saving you time from the get-go. Search for any company name at all, and if it's in their database, they'll give you a number to call right away, without having to click around a website looking for it.

    And if you don't think that's enough to save you some time... grab a stopwatch, click through to Comcast's website, and see how long it takes you to find a customer service number yourself. Go ahead. I dare you.

    Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith has no financial interest in any company named above. But he just bookmarked two of their webpages -- and will give you three guesses which ones.

    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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    Farm Heroes Saga 'Farm Club' Floating Farm Celebration
    George Nikitin/Invision for King Digital Entertainment via APMobile gaming fans attend a floating farm party in San Francisco Bay last May.
    When investors buy stocks, they tend to focus on companies instead of industries and that could be a trap. As great as a particular company's prospects may seem, it could very well be in a sector that has historically burned investors.

    "It's different this time," can be a dangerous assumption. Let's take a look at some of the industries that have burned investors.

    Airlines

    This would seem to be a great time to snap up some of the leading air carriers. Jet fuel prices are low, and the improving economy is generating demand for corporate and leisure travel. There's also been a lot of sector consolidation taking place, with mergers helping the financial fortitude of combined companies.

    Shares of United Continental (UAL) have tripled over the past three years and American Airlines (AAL) has nearly quadrupled in that time. That may trick investors into thinking that it's the right runway for their money, but history has a funny way of rerouting the final destination.

    "If a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down," billionaire investor Warren Buffett once joked after getting burned, calling the industry a bottomless pit. The good times don't last because older planes are costly to maintain and even more costly to replace. Then we get to the disruptive labor and union issues that seem to creep up at the worst possible time. If you buy an airline stock, you might want to respect the "fasten seatbelt" light: The ride can get a bit choppy in all of the turbulence.

    Mobile Gaming

    The smartphone is the new PC, and everybody loves apps. This has been great for some phone-makers and wireless carriers, but it hasn't been as lucrative for the companies making the apps. If you have ever played "Words With Friends," "Mafia Wars," or "FarmVille," you know Zynga (ZNGA). If you prefer "Candy Crush Saga," then King Digital Entertainment (KING) is your app publisher.

    Both companies went public with dreams of getting bigger, but it just hasn't happened. Gamers are fickle. Zynga's bookings peaked in 2012 and King appears to have peaked last year. Investors are the ones taking the hit. Shares of King have lost more than 40 percent of their value since going public at $22.50 last year. Zynga has had it even worse, surrendering three-quarters of its value since hitting the market at $10 four years ago.

    Keep playing the games, but don't bank on the game makers.

    Gold Mining

    There's no shortage of gold bugs out there, and that makes sense since the price of gold has risen at an annualized rate of 10 percent over the past decade, just edging out the S&P 500 as the top asset class.

    An increase in demand as China and other emerging markets grow in stature has helped, and gold prices also tend to spike at whiffs of global uncertainty and inflation. However, gold prices have actually fallen sharply since 2011, and if we look out over a longer chunk of time -- decades instead of merely a single decade -- the snapshot isn't as pretty. The price of an ounce of gold actually peaked in 1980 when inflation and political uncertainties ran wild. It can always happen again, but it's been a bad bet over the long haul.

    The risk grows when buying into individual mining stocks, because they are also at the mercy of mining efforts and escalating extraction costs. Stick to mining for gold figuratively instead.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned and neither does The Motley Fool. 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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    A man places a slip of paper into a piggy bank
    Alamy
    By Cameron Huddleston

    A 401(k) plan is a great way to save for retirement. It lets you set aside pretax money from your paycheck, lowering your taxable earnings. Meanwhile, the money you save in a 401(k) grows tax-free.

    Unfortunately, employees often make mistakes when it comes to how much they contribute to their 401(k)s. They might make poor investment choices or even mishandle funds. Here are five things you should avoid doing with your 401(k) so you don't jeopardize your retirement savings.

    1. Own Too Much Company Stock

    It might seem like a good idea to own shares of your company's stock if your employer offers it as an investment option -- and nearly 40 percent of plan sponsors do, according to a report by Aon Hewitt, a human capital and management consulting service. But actually there are risks.

    If you invest too heavily in your company's stock, your portfolio won't be diversified and will be too closely tied to the performance of just one firm, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. After all, if the company's performance tanks, your 401(k) balance is sure to go down with it.

    Plus, some companies place restrictions on employees' ability to sell stock, limiting your control over your investments. Ideally, you shouldn't have more than 10 percent to 20 percent of your total investments in company stock, according to FINRA.

    2. Gamble on High-Risk Investments

    The most common 401(k) investment choice is the mutual fund, which holds a variety of stocks and bonds. However, some plans let participants buy an assortment of securities through a brokerage account.

    Unless you're an experienced investor, you probably want to leave the stock picking up to the pros so you don't end up with risky assets. This means you might want to stick with mutual funds. However, you still need to be careful when choosing funds.

    You don't want to take on too much risk by investing only in stock funds. Even the youngest 401(k) plan participants should still allocate 10 percent of their portfolio to bonds, said Jean Young, senior research analyst with the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research.

    3. Avoid Stocks Altogether

    According to a "How America Saves 2015" report conducted by Vanguard, 5 percent of participants in Vanguard-administered 401(k) plans don't have any stock holdings in their accounts. This is a mistake even for investors with low risk tolerance or those close to retirement. Because most people can now expect to live 20 to 30 years into retirement, they need the higher rate of return that stocks offer as a hedge against inflation, said Young.

    Rather than avoid equities, consider investing in a target-date fund, which automatically adjusts your allocation of stocks and bonds as you approach retirement to lower your risk level. "The asset allocation in our target-date funds is a good proxy for how much equities an individual should hold as they enter retirement," she said. "It's about 50 percent equities at age 65."

    4. Set and Forget Your Contribution Level

    More and more employers are automatically enrolling employees into workplace retirement plans -- which is a good thing because it increases participation and gets people saving. Yet many plan sponsors set the default contribution level for those automatically enrolled at just 3 percent or 4 percent of wages, according to a report by WorldatWork, a nonprofit human resources association. And if the plan doesn't automatically increase your contribution rate annually or you don't increase it yourself, you might be at risk of not saving enough for a comfortable retirement.

    Most experts recommend saving at least 10 percent to 15 percent of wages annually. At the least, you should be contributing enough to your 401(k) to take full advantage of matching employer contributions. One in four plan participants miss out on receiving a full match by not saving enough, leaving an estimated $1,336 of free money on the table, according to research by Financial Engines, an independent financial advice company.

    5. Borrow Heavily From Your Account

    Plenty of employees take advantage of 401(k) plan provisions that allow them to borrow from their account. But some borrow heavily, which could put a serious dent in retirement savings. Nearly 30 percent of 401(k) plan participants had multiple outstanding loans in 2013, according to Aon Hewitt.

    You can borrow up to half of your 401(k) balance, up to a maximum of $50,000. But you will have to pay yourself back with interest -- which can be lower than the rate of return you would've gotten if you had left the money in the account. You're also liable to incur taxes and early withdrawal penalties.

    Keeping the money you invest in your 401(k) will help you grow your investments over time, while tackling a healthy amount of risk can ensure your savings last through retirement. Create a healthy balance of risk in your portfolio and periodically check in and adjust your investments as needed.

    This story, 5 Things You Should Never Do With a 401(k), originally appeared at GOBankingRates.com.

     

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    Can You Trust CarFax?
    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    "Show me the Carfax."

    Remember when those commercials first hit the airwaves? It was only a matter of time before dealerships everywhere started touting a Carfax report with every used car.

    The reports promised an almost crystal-ball view into the history of a vehicle. Sellers could no longer hide accidents, major repairs or faulty odometers. It's all in the Carfax!

    Or is it?

    How Trustworthy Is Carfax?

    Certainly, we don't want to imply Carfax is a bad thing. However, we do think used-car buyers need to realize a Carfax report isn't the last word. It can be a useful tool, but it has limitations.

    Carfax reports glean data from a number of sources. Among others, these include:
    • U.S. and Canadian motor vehicle agencies.
    • Collision repair and service facilities.
    • Insurance companies.
    • Auto auctions, salvage auctions and auto recyclers.
    • Fire and law enforcement agencies.
    • Manufacturers, dealers and import/export companies.
    The data are then compiled into reports that disclose title transfers, odometer readings, manufacturer recalls and whether the vehicle has been reported stolen. In theory, it also should say whether a vehicle has been in an accident or needed significant repairs.

    However, this last point is where the Carfax report may fall short. Carfax might not know about the time the car went into the ditch or backed into a tree. It won't be aware of repairs made by someone at home or at a shop that doesn't report fixes.

    We will let Consumer Reports explain some of the limitations of car history reports:

    We found that the reports were most likely to be incorrect for vehicles that had serious damage but for various reasons were not declared a total loss.

    "Salvage," or similar branding on the vehicle title, is required by many states for vehicles with extensive damage. Wrecks can maintain clean titles if the vehicle doesn't have collision insurance, is self-insured as with many rental and fleet vehicles, or has damage falling below the "total loss" threshold, which can vary by state.

    Clean-title wrecks, especially those with clear history reports, are popular at auctions because buyers can repair the vehicles and then resell them to unsuspecting consumers.

    4 Ways to Protect Yourself

    If Carfax isn't 100 percent reliable, how can you protect yourself when buying a used car?

    We suggest the following:

    1. Check multiple services. Carfax isn't the only game in town. Go ahead and use its report, but double-check the findings with other reports that may get data from different sources. Could it cost you a little money? Sure, but it beats dropping $15,000 on an unsafe vehicle.

    Here are a few other sites that provide vehicle reports and vehicle identification number, or VIN, checks. 2. Get it inspected. Have a trusted mechanic test-drive and check a used vehicle before purchase to rule out any obvious problems.

    3. Get it in writing. Before forking over any money, ask the seller to provide a written statement outlining the vehicle's condition at the time of sale. Some states -- North Carolina, for example -- require sellers to disclose many types of damage in writing. Sellers who balk at such requests may have reason to believe there is something wrong with the vehicle. Also ask for the manufacturer's repair history if it's available.

    4. Don't forget about buyback options. Finally, if you end up with a dud, see if you are eligible for a refund from one of the VIN check services. Both Carfax and AutoCheck have buyback guarantees if you later discover the vehicle actually has a branded title rather than a clean title. Branded titles include those issued for salvage vehicles, flood damage or inaccurate odometer readings.

    These buyback programs can be rather limited, and they won't give you any cash if you later discover the car had been in an accident or had extensive repairs that didn't require a branded title.

    However, they are perks that shouldn't be overlooked. After you buy a vehicle, register it with Carfax and/or AutoCheck immediately so you will be eligible to make a claim if needed.

    For further reading on the subject, head over to our articles on the "6 Things You Should Check Before Buying a Used Car, but Don't" and "8 Tips for Buying Your Next Car for Less."

    Have you had a bad experience buying a used vehicle? Share your thoughts in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

    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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    Hand and shopping coupons emerging from laptop
    Getty Images
    By Louis DeNicola

    With coupon and deal sites continuing to sprout, Cheapism.com has updated its roundup of the best coupon and deal sites for 2015. Use this guide to fight the flood of emails promoting one thing or another. Discover discount codes that actually work and real money-saving coupons and deals.

    Best Coupon Sites

    Coupons.com. The coupon pioneer and perennial favorite remains a top pick this year because of its wide selection. As one of the biggest sources of online coupons, Coupons.com feeds into many affiliates and other coupon sites. It's especially useful for grocery trips: Search, "clip," and print coupons before shopping.

    Money Saving Mom. The recipes and frugal-living blog at Money Saving Mom are extras atop a comprehensive coupon database. Coupons are listed along with the associated retailer, item, expiration date, and coupon source. This site draws from other major aggregators such as Coupons.com, as well as individual retailers such as Target, so users can search thousands of coupons in one place. The database is a little messy (tested with Internet Explorer and Chrome), but with more than 6,000 coupons, it's hard to complain.

    The Krazy Coupon Lady. The Krazy Coupon Lady's coupon database is easy to read and sort, making it easy to find an applicable coupon. Search by keyword and coupon type (printable, newspaper, or mobile). Visitors can also browse curated deals for the day, read money-saving tips, learn how to coupon, or post a "brag" about a recent bargain-filled shopping trip. The main page features recent deals, including a number of money-making opportunities that result from combining coupons with cash-back apps.

    Best Daily Deal Sites

    Yipit. Instead of combing through dozens of different daily deal sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, and Google Offers, sign up for Yipit, a daily deal aggregator that works much like Kayak does for travel deals. Bargain hunters can view hundreds of daily deals sorted by category and location on a single site. Narrow the deals to see only what's most interesting -- say, restaurant deals or spa discounts.

    Amazon Gold Box Deals. The ecommerce giant's daily deal section features limited-time and limited-quantity deals throughout the day. Gold Box listings come from Amazon's many categories and include anything from an infrared thermometer to a diaper bag. Shoppers can browse upcoming items that will be on sale, but the size of the discount is hidden until the deal goes live.

    Woot. Amazon acquired Woot in 2010, but there's little evidence of the corporate parent aside from being able to check out using Amazon payment information (although some former fans assert that the site has gone downhill under new management). Woot features daily deals in nine categories, such as home, computers, sport, and kids, and a special sellout section features last-chance deals. The site's T-shirt section is especially popular. Members submit and vote on unique designs.

    Best Coupon Code Sites

    Retail Me Not. Before pressing the online "submit order" button or getting in line at a retail store, check Retail Me Not for promotional codes and coupons. This site has made Cheapism's list of best coupon sites for five years running. It organizes coupon codes and specials for thousands of stores in a format that's easy on the eyes. Users can give each code a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, to let others know if a coupon works or not, and post comments on the specifics of a promotion. The mobile app has location services to make it easy to find coupons while shopping offline. Save favorite stores and coupons to pull them up quickly.

    DealNews. The editors at DealNews faithfully scour the web to collect each day's best sales and deals. A daily newsletter keeps subscribers in the know about the latest flash sales and several good buys in categories such as travel, clothing, and electronics.

    Brad's Deals. Another source for deals curated by frugal editors, Brad's Deals lets visitors quickly switch between viewing the newest or the most popular deals while a "top deals" slide show scrolls across the top. The editors also compile seasonal shopping guides, such as back-to-school deals. Visitors can search for deals by category or store, and there's also a section with printable and online coupons. Consumers who create a free account can comment on and save deals for later.

    Best Deal Sites

    Slickdeals. Always-active forums are the highlight at Slickdeals. Promo codes are shared among members before they show up on other sites. Forum members are quite savvy, on the whole, and the site has a tight-knit community feel. Members report their success when trying out coupon codes and often collaborate to help others get the best deal available. The site doesn't have a particular product focus; members post everything from electronics promotions to half-off underwear sales and even money-making deals such as a $100 gift card for $82. The front page spotlights the hottest current deals as voted on by members. This page is sometimes criticized for highlighting the promotions that make money for Slickdeals.

    FatWallet. FatWallet is another deal site with a forum filled with devoted deal-finding members. During busy seasons such as the holidays, more than 300,000 active users visit the site each day. In addition to the forum, FatWallet features online coupon codes and deals from around the web. It's also a cash-back site, meaning members can use links on the site to earn rebates when shopping at hundreds of online stores.

    Tech Bargains. Consumers looking specifically for electronics have found Tech Bargains an excellent resource. Although the site posts deals on all sorts of items, it focuses on finding and sharing coupon codes for computers, phones, cameras, TVs, and other electronics.

     

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    Prices Of Existing Home Sales Rise In June, Signaling Housing Market Recovery Continues
    Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
    By Richard Leong

    NEW YORK -- Single-family home prices rose a bit faster from a year ago in June, suggesting resilience in the housing sector as the Federal Reserve has stuck to a near-zero interest rate policy, a closely watched survey said Tuesday.

    The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas in June gained 5 percent year over year, a bit quicker than the 4.9 percent rate in May. Economists polled by Reuters had projected a 5.1 percent gain.

    The price gains have been consistent as the unemployment rate declined with steady inflation and an unchanged Fed policy.

    Denver, San Francisco and Dallas again experienced the biggest year-over-year home appreciation among the 20 cities with price increases of 10.2 percent, 9.5 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively.

    "The price gains have been consistent as the unemployment rate declined with steady inflation and an unchanged Fed policy," David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, said in a statement.

    Housing activities have picked up in recent months. Home resales rose to an annualized rate of 5.6 million units in July, the strongest reading since 2007. Housing construction reached an annualized pace of 1.2 million units with almost two-thirds of the total in single family homes.

    While a series of Fed rate increases and a "full blown bear market" for stocks would hurt the housing market, one rate hike and a stock market correction will unlikely damage the housing sector, Blitzer said.

     

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    Discovery Communications 2015 Winter TCA
    Richard Shotwell/Invision/APDiscovery Communications' David M. Zaslav was the highest paid CEO among S&P 500 companies last year.
    By Ross Kerber

    BOSTON -- Popular consumer brands Discovery Communications (DISCA), Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and CVS Health (CVS) pay their chief executive officers more than a thousand times what they pay their typical worker, giving them the biggest internal pay gaps among S&P 500 companies, according to a study released Tuesday.

    The research from job-hunting website Glassdoor.com provides an early glimpse of data that publicly traded companies will be required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to report starting in 2017. On average, the research showed that a CEO of an S&P 500 company makes 204 times as much as the company's median worker.

    I don't think most people are aware of the inequality of payrolls within a firm.

    "I don't think most people are aware of the inequality of payrolls within a firm," Glassdoor's chief economist, Andrew Chamberlain, said.

    The study used CEO compensation figures reported by 441 S&P 500 companies through Aug. 14 and Glassdoor.com user reports about salaries at those companies. Only companies for which Glassdoor had 30 or more worker salary reports were included. The data could be skewed if workers under-counted tips or bonuses, Glassdoor said.

    Cable network operator Discovery had the biggest pay gap. Its CEO, David Zaslav, was the highest paid among S&P 500 companies last year, at $156 million. That was 1,951 times the amount paid to Discovery's median worker, Glassdoor found.

    In second and third place were restaurant chain Chipotle and drugstore operator CVS, whose CEOs in 2014 received $28.9 million and $32.4 million, respectively, both more than 1,000 times their median workers, according to the study.

    CVS spokeswoman Carolyn Castel said its employees have opportunities to be promoted and receive higher pay, while its CEO is paid in line with industry standards. Discovery and Chipotle representatives didn't return messages requesting comment.

    The Glassdoor study found the average CEO received $13.8 million, while the median worker at those CEO's companies made an average of $77,800.

    Glassdoor's findings were in line with other studies, said Todd Sirras, managing director of compensation consulting firm Semler Brossy. He said the new reporting requirements could add pressure on companies to change their executive pay plans.

    "It will be one more arrow to sling at companies," he said.

    In a few cases workers made more than their CEOs, such as at Google (GOOG) where CEO Larry Page got $1 in 2014. His median worker got $153,150, Glassdoor said.

     

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    New Home Sales
    Mark Humphrey/AP
    By Lucia Mutikani

    WASHINGTON -- Consumer confidence hit a seven-month high in August and new single-family home sales rebounded in July, suggesting underlying strength in the economy that could still allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year.

    Other data released Tuesday showed moderate gains in house prices in June, which should support consumer spending and keep home purchasing affordable, especially for first-time buyers.

    This is evidence of the 'some further improvement' in the economy that the Fed is waiting for to raise rates.

    "This is evidence of the 'some further improvement' in the economy that the Fed is waiting for to raise rates. They are so close, they need just a little more confirmation," said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

    The Conference Board said its consumer index jumped 10.5 points to 101.5 this month, the highest reading since January, amid optimism over the labor market. The survey, however, was conducted before a global equity markets sell-off that began last week, which has diminished the chances of a U.S. rate hike next month.

    Although sentiment could retreat in September, economists said any decline was likely to be modest, with U.S. stock markets appearing to stabilize Tuesday. A strong labor market, lower gasoline prices and an improving housing market also are seen supporting consumer confidence.

    The survey's so-called labor market differential, which closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the employment report, was the most favorable since January 2008.

    The share of consumers expecting an increase in incomes slipped, but fewer anticipated a decline.

    "If this upbeat sentiment is sustained, then it could potentially provide a strong platform for a sustained upswing in consumer spending activity, which could provide a strong tailwind for the economic recovery going forward," said Millan Mulraine, deputy chief economist at TD Securities in New York.

    In a separate report, the Commerce Department said Tuesday new home sales increased 5.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 507,000 units. Those sales, which account for 8.3 percent of the market, were up 25.8 percent compared to July of last year.

    The reports, which added to a steady stream of data that have painted an optimistic picture of the U.S. economy, helped stocks on Wall Street to stage their sharpest rally of the year. Market sentiment was also boosted by China's second interest rate cut in the past two months.

    The dollar jumped against a basket of currencies, while prices for U.S. Treasuries fell.

    Gaining Steam

    The prospects of a U.S. rate hike next month already had been dealt a blow before the recent global markets turmoil, with the minutes of the Fed's July 28-29 policy meeting highlighting policymakers' concerns about persistently low inflation.

    "We think that the Fed will not raise rates in September, they need a little time to digest what has happened and we think they will raise in December," said Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts. "Prior to Friday, we thought that the Fed would raise rates in September."

    New home sales rose in three of the four U.S. regions last month, touching a 14-month high in the Northeast.

    The housing market is gaining steam, with data last week showing home resales jumped to a near 8½-year high in July and groundbreaking on new home building climbing to its highest level since October 2007.

    The recovery in the sector, which touches almost all spheres of the U.S. economy, is being driven by the tightening labor market. A third report showed the S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 5 percent in June year-over-year compared to a gain of 4.9 percent in May.

    "If the pace of appreciation stabilizes around current levels, it could provide enough incentive to encourage homeowners to put their homes on the market, while encouraging potential homebuyers back into the market," said Lewis Alexander, chief economist at Nomura in New York.

    The sturdy housing market is boosting homebuilders. Toll Brothers (TOL), the largest U.S. luxury home builder, said on Tuesday that orders had risen 16 percent so far in the quarter started in August, outpacing the 12 percent rise in the company's third quarter.

    The Commerce Department said the stock of new houses for sale increased 1.9 percent to 218,000 last month, the highest level since March 2010. Still, supply remains less than half of what it was at the height of the housing boom.

    At July's sales pace it would take 5.2 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, down from 5.3 months in June.

    -Richard Leong and Rodrigo Campos contributed reporting from New York.

     

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    Dice calculator and financial document
    Getty ImagesA properly diversified portfolio can better withstand the whims of the stock market.
    By Jeff Rose

    Imagine approaching retirement and watching your portfolio be cut in half. Maybe you don't have to imagine, because it happened to you in 2008. While there are no surefire ways to avoid a stock market crash, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood that you will suffer the consequences of one in the future. Here's how to protect your savings from a significant downturn in the financial markets.

    1. Don't invest in the stock market. The best way to avoid a crash isn't to get involved in the stock market in the first place. However, you aren't likely to get a decent return without putting at least some of your money into equities. And few people can save enough to retire comfortably without the help of compounding investment returns. However, there are some relatively safe ways to invest without losing your money to a crash.

    2. Play it safe with money market accounts. While money market accounts typically don't have a great return on investment, they can be a safe haven for your portfolio if you can't afford to take much risk. The good news is that money market accounts will usually provide better returns than a certificate of deposit and are easy to set up online.

    3. Get a guaranteed return with annuities. If you want to avoid stock market volatility, still make a return and are willing to hand over a chunk of cash to an insurance company, an annuity will provide fixed payments for a set period of time or even the rest of your life. I usually don't recommend annuities, but sometimes fixed annuities can make sense. If you're looking for guaranteed returns, and don't want anything to do with the risk of the stock market, annuities might be a good option for you. For example, if you find a five-year fixed annuity paying 3 percent, at least you are able to offset inflation.

    4. Get an insured high-yield savings account. There's nothing like an old-fashioned savings account. In the United States, many savings accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or National Credit Union Administration up to $250,000. If you're looking for the best protection for your money, this is it. There are some great high-yield online savings accounts with this protection. While you may not make as much money as in the stock market, at least your funds will be safe. It's unfortunate that less volatile investment vehicles typically don't have great returns, but it's important to take advantage of accounts less prone to losses.

    5. Invest with peer-to-peer lending websites. Peer-to-peer lending is a relatively new form of borrowing and lending where individuals lend money to each other for a profit. Peer-to-peer lending websites make it easy to invest your money in other people and track the status of your loans, and they offer pretty good rates of return. But you also take on the risk of whether the person you are lending money to will pay you back.

    6. Diversify your portfolio. While equities make up an important component of the portfolio of most investors, it's seldom a good idea to have all of your wealth tied up in the stock market. Depending on your risk tolerance and proximity to retirement, remember to temper your risky investments with bond funds and even cash.

    If you're afraid of a stock market crash, don't stuff cash under your mattress. It's important to keep at least some of your savings in the stock market to take advantage of the historic gains. For the rest of your savings, there are stock market alternatives that can yield a decent return with little risk.

    Jeff Rose is a certified financial planner, U.S. combat veteran and the founder of GoodFinancialCents.com.

     

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    Iran Deal Congress
    Andrew Harnik/APTreasury Secretary Jacob Lew
    By ALAN FRAM


    WASHINGTON -- An unforeseen flood of revenue is shrinking federal deficits to the lowest level of President Barack Obama's tenure, Congress' nonpartisan budget adviser said Tuesday. But in a report that will fuel both parties in their autumn clash over spending, the analysts also warned that perilously high shortfalls will roar back unless lawmakers act.

    Two weeks before Congress returns from recess, the Congressional Budget Office said it expects this year's federal deficit to fall to $426 billion. That's $60 billion less than it expected in March, thanks to greater-than-expected individual and corporate income tax collections, and less than a third of the record $1.4 trillion gap of 2009 as the government tried fighting off the Great Recession.

    White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Congress should prevent cuts in agency budgets and fund highways and other projects, saying, "We need to stay focused on this route and avoid self-inflicted wounds" like a government shutdown.

    Annual deficits should fall to $414 billion next year before an aging population and swelling health care costs ignite shortfalls that should sail past $1 trillion in 2025, the budget office said. That would push the government's accumulated debt that year to $21 trillion, or 77 percent the size of the country's economy, threatening higher interest rates, surging government debt costs and other problems.

    "That's 77 percent and growing," budget office director Keith Hall told reporters. "This is an unsustainable path here for federal debt."

    Republicans said the report underscored the need to curb spending. Congress has already approved a blueprint claiming a balanced budget in a decade by squeezing savings from Medicare and Medicaid, and they want to retain caps on agency spending enacted in a 2011 budget deal.

    "Without control over spending, our nation will lose control over its own future," said House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga.

    Democrats say such cuts are unneeded. Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, top Democrat on the budget panel, said lawmakers should make "necessary investments" in education and other programs and said "serious negotiations" will be needed to avoid a government shutdown this fall.

    Though GOP leaders have said they won't let the budget clash spark a government closure as the 2016 elections approach, they may have a tough time winning conservative votes to pass needed spending bills.

    One major complication is conservatives' demands to halt federal spending on Planned Parenthood, whose officials were secretly captured in videos describing how they provide medical researchers with fetal tissue. Blocking that money would lead to likely clashes with Democrats and Obama.
    The budget office lowered its projection for 2015 economic growth to a modest 2.3 percent, down from its 2.8 percent forecast in January and reflecting a weak first quarter. It projected that growth will return to around 3 percent annually in 2016 and 2017 before dropping again.

    Those numbers, locked in last month, didn't reflect the steep world financial market drops of recent days. Hall said those reductions hadn't yet weakened the world's economy, adding, "I don't feel too worried about it."

    This year's $426 billion projected deficit would be the smallest since the $161 billion budget gap of 2007. The fiscal year runs through Sept. 30.

    If the projection proves accurate, this year's shortfall would be 2.4 percent the size of all U.S. economic activity, a proportion that many economists consider acceptable. On average over the last 50 years, annual deficits have been 2.7 percent of the economy's size.

    The analysis also said that though the government has reached its legal borrowing limit, this year's unexpected extra revenue means the Treasury Department should be able to use accounting maneuvers to free up cash and avoid breaching that ceiling until mid-November or early December.

    Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told Congress last month that he can use bookkeeping moves to prevent exceeding the borrowing limit until late October or early November. Those include temporarily taking cash from certain federal pension funds that is restored once Congress enacts a new debt ceiling.

    Congress often tries using the debt limit fight as leverage with the White House. Wary of angering voters, GOP leaders want to avoid an unprecedented federal default, which could result should the parties deadlock.

     

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    Leftover-Free Labor Day
    Labor Day is the perfect holiday to throw a barbecue bash, but stocking up on food can quickly eat up your budget. Luckily, there are a few ways you can throw a barbecue without your savings going up in smoke.

    First, it's important to make sure you know how many people are coming. Counting your RSVPs will help make sure you don't waste money on food that won't be eaten.

    Once you know who's coming, think about which foods will be more popular, but don't feel pressured to buy everything. Just stick to the rule of two, like hotdogs and hamburgers for proteins or chips and pasta for sides.

    A good rule of thumb is to provide about 1 pound of food per person. That works out to roughly 6 ounces of meat, 6 ounces of sides and 4 ounces of dessert. Measuring out serving sizes will help tighten the belt on your expenses.

    Finally, if you need a little extra help with your cookout calculations, go online to BBQPlanner.com. Simply enter how many adults and children are coming, and what their favorite foods are. You'll immediately get a menu and budget tailored just for you.

    As you get ready for your Labor Day cookout, remember these tips. You'll find that with a little preparation, you can throw a great party without grilling your budget.

    View Poll

     

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    US Markets Open After Extremely Volatile Monday Sent Stocks Soaring Downward
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
    By Noel Randewich

    NEW YORK -- A strong rally on Wall Street evaporated Tuesday and stocks ended with deep losses as concerns about China's economy outweighed lower valuations that some saw earlier as bargains.

    In a dramatic trading session, major indexes turned negative in the final minutes of trading after previously climbing almost 3 percent.

    People are still nervous about overseas and what might happen tonight. Nobody wants to sit around and see what happens.

    Investors cited more worries that a slowdown in China could hobble global growth, even after the country's central bank cut interest rates Tuesday for the second time in two months. The move came after Chinese stocks slumped 8 percent Tuesday, on top of an 8.5 percent drop Monday.

    "People are still nervous about overseas and what might happen tonight. Nobody wants to sit around and see what happens," said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

    Tuesday's drop followed steeper losses Monday, when the Dow Jones industrial average fell more than 1,000 points at its lows and the S&P 500 recorded its worst day since 2011.

    In the past week, the S&P has lost 11 percent.

    "Investors are still concerned about exogenous growth and shifting Fed policy, and both of those are still on the table," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 204.91 points, or 1.3 percent, to end at 15,666.44. The Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 25.59 points, or 1.4 percent, to finish at 1,867.62 and
    the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 19.76 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,506.49.

    Earlier, the S&P rose as much 2.9 percent, the Dow as much as 2.8 percent and the Nasdaq as much as 3.6 percent.

    JPMorgan (JPM) cut its year-end target for the S&P 500 to 2,150 from 2,250.

    All of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, with the utilities index's 3.2-percent drop leading the decline.

    Legal Blow

    Pepco Holdings (POM) fell 16.5 percent after a District of Columbia regulator denied Exelon's (EXC) $6.8 billion bid for the power utility, possibly delivering a knockout blow to the deal.

    Monday's pummeling pushed the S&P 500's valuation down to about 15 times expected earnings, compared to around 17 for much of 2015 and just above a 10-year average of 14.7, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine.

    Data released Tuesday showed consumer confidence rose to a seven-month high in August. New single-family home sales rebounded in July, adding to evidence of underlying strength in the economy that could allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year.

    Best Buy (BBY) jumped 12.6 percent after the owner of the biggest U.S. electronics chain reported an unexpected increase in quarterly sales.

    Decliners outnumbered rising stocks on the NYSE by 1,721 to 1,384. On the Nasdaq, 1,480 issues fell and 1,379 advanced. The S&P 500 index showed just one new 52-week high and 47 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded seven new highs and 125 new lows.

    Volume was heavy, with about 10.4 billion shares traded on U.S. exchanges, far above the 7.5 billion average this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

    -Tanya Agrawal, Saqib Iqbal Ahmed and Sinead Carew contributed reporting.

    What to watch Wednesday:
    • The Commerce Department releases durable goods for July at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    Earnings Season
    The following companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF)
    • Chico's FAS (CHS)
    • Express (EXPR)
    • Guess (GES)
    • Williams-Sonoma (WSM)
    • WPP (WPPGY)

     

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    Hawaii-Off the Grid
    Caleb Jones/APSolar panels on the roof of a home in Honolulu. Hawaii is looking to reduce the state's dependence on fossil fuels.
    By 2045, Hawaii would like to be the first state in the U.S. getting all of its energy from renewable sources. It's a lofty goal, but one that could keep $5.1 billion in the Hawaiian economy instead of it being spent on foreign oil.

    It's a transformation that's already taking place in the state, which has the highest cost of electricity in the country. How Hawaii handles the renewable revolution could lay the foundation for a greener energy infrastructure throughout the U.S. -- while saving each of the state's residents thousands each year.

    Hawaii's Dependence on Fossil Fuels

    As an island state, Hawaii is dependent almost entirely on imported coal and oil for its electricity generation. This has resulted in rising energy costs as oil prices have risen, leading to electricity prices that are nearly three times the national average, at 30.2 cents a kilowatt-hour compared to 12.9 cents a kwh nationwide.

    Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
    The solution to this problem is generating more energy in-state and reducing energy imports. With residential rooftop systems now available for 15 cents a kwh or less -- less than half of the cost of electricity in Hawaii -- it makes sense for most homeowners to go solar. And with utility-scale wind and solar projects being built for 6 cents a kwh, it seems like a natural time to make a massive commitment to renewable energy.

    The potential cost savings for customers is what's really amazing about Hawaii's goal: The $5.1 billion in projected savings would work out to $3,591 a resident a year if it were spread out evenly.

    Challenges in Getting to 100 Percent Renewable

    Of course, getting to 100 percent renewable energy can't be done by simply flicking a switch. Even if Hawaii could generate enough wind, solar, and wave energy on an absolute basis to power its state, there would be the issue of timing. For example, the sun isn't always out and the wind isn't always blowing. So, a network of energy storage and smart devices would have to be built out to keep the lights on.

    Hawaiian Electric (HE), the state's publicly traded utility, has a plan to install up to 200 megawatts of energy storage on Oahu by 2018. And regulators are now pushing to advance these kinds of technologies even faster -- but there's a lot of work to be done.

    If Hawaii can create a grid infrastructure through which there's enough renewable energy to power the state, a large amount of energy storage, and enough demand response to make supply and demand balance, it could create a framework for the grid that could be copied around the country.

    Renewable Energy Could Save Billions

    The cutting edge of renewable energy isn't as costly as it was even a year or two ago, and for Hawaii, setting a goal such as 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 isn't as crazy as it seems. In fact, it could be a big money-saver for the state's residents.

    And if Hawaii does renewable energy right, it could show the rest of the country how to make renewable energy work on a grand scale. The country's island state could actually show us the future of energy, on the way to saving billions of dollars on oil imports every year.

    Travis Hoium is a Motley Fool contributor. 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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    APTOPIX Financial Markets Wall Street
    Richard Drew/AP
    Saying that the market's been volatile lately is an understatement. Stocks are going through some wild price swings and investors are getting rightfully nervous. Wall Street's tired, but one thing that could change that is the infusion of new market darlings.

    There are a few privately held companies that could breathe new life into the stock market by going public. Let's go over a few of the potential game changers that could really bring enthusiasm back to the market if they went the IPO route.

    Uber

    Turning cars into cottage industries has given vehicle owners a new way to make money. As the leading peer-to-peer taxi service, Uber also provides consumers with a cheaper alternative to cabs. The company's meteoric rise hasn't gone unnoticed. It completed a round of financing earlier this summer that valued it at a cool $51 billion.

    It hasn't been smooth sailing for Uber. Cab companies and unions have fought against the platform, and the protests got testy earlier this year in France. Some municipalities closer to home have argued that Uber should be paying its drivers as employees and not independent contractors, something that would dramatically increase its operating costs. However, the revolutionary company would really turn heads if it were to file to go public.

    Airbnb

    Another tech upstart making waves in the asset-sharing market is Airbnb, the popular website that lets folks rent out their homes or even individual rooms within their homes. Airbnb's valuation was recently pegged at $25 billion.

    Airbnb has also had its setbacks. Some rentals have ended badly, leading many to wonder if Airbnb should be more accountable for the actions of its renters and property owners. However, with travelers looking for economical choices for lodging that don't involve hostels or pitching a tent, Airbnb has emerged as a trendsetter in travel.

    Snapchat

    It's been two years since Snapchat shot down Facebook's (FB) offer to snap up the photo messaging platform for $3 billion. Naysayers argued that Snapchat would come to regret its decision, but with its reported market value popping fivefold to $15 billion, we know that Snapchat is the one laughing now.

    Xiaomi

    There's a rising star in the smartphone market. Xiaomi has emerged as China's hometown darling, growing quickly as it outfits the world's most populous nation with cheap yet feature-rich devices. It sold 61 million smartphones last year, and its prospects grow as the company expands to new markets.

    Xiaomi is establishing a presence in the U.S. this year, but it's not selling phones here just yet. It's marketing its other consumer electronics, but establishing its brand is the first step to inevitably taking on the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy here. Xiaomi raised money last year at an implied valuation of $46 billion.

    Spotify

    The leading premium streaming music service has succeeded where tech giants and record labels have failed by getting folks to pay for music. Spotify has more than 20 million paying customers, with tens of millions more enjoying its limited ad-based offering.

    We're no longer buying CDs or MP3s. Streaming is where music consumption is at these days and Spotify -- with its estimated $8.5 billion valuation -- is leading the way. If the market's singing a sad tune, Spotify could help it change that.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Facebook. 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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  • 08/25/15--22:00: 20 Fall Essentials Under $50
  • Filed under: , , , ,

    Multi-generational family collecting autumn leaves in garden
    Getty Images
    By Raechel Conover

    Fall isn't far off, and with it comes a temptation to buy host of cold-weather gear for the kitchen, the yard and everything in between. Frugal consumers can get all they need for a fun and cozy fall on a budget. These items cost less than $50 each and some even save money over time.

    Space Heater. A space heater can go a long way toward keeping the place warm without turning up the thermostat. The best space heaters chosen by Cheapism.com cost about $30. The Vornado VH101 boasts quiet operation and the Lasko 754200 can heat a room surprisingly fast for its compact size.

    Electric Blanket. On a chilly fall night, throw an electric blanket on the bed instead of blasting the heat. Sunbeam makes a few that earn good reviews, including a fleece heated throw on sale for $40, plus 20 percent off with the coupon code LABORDAY. Users particularly like this model because it's very soft and heats well even on the low setting.

    Firewood. Another way to avoid cranking up the heat is to make use of a wood-burning fireplace (assuming it's not just ornamental). Buy firewood cheap from a local seller -- in bulk to save cash, if the fireplace will get a lot of use. Or cozy up around an outdoor fire pit on a chilly evening and roast some marshmallows with the kids.

    Thermostat. If turning on the heat is necessary, a programmable thermostat can save $180 a year, according to the federal Energy Star program. How? These nifty tools -- some of which cost less than $40 -- can be programmed to use less energy while residents are sleeping or not at home.

    Slow Cooker. Getting tired of burgers off the grill and already dreaming about roasts and soups? A slow cooker is the way to go with fall cooking -- it's convenient, delicious, and cheap. The Hamilton Beach 33155, a Cheapism top pick, is on sale at Walmart for about $17. At 5 quarts, this slow cooker can feed a family, and reviewers say the heat settings are accurate and food turns out perfect nearly every time.

    Fall Produce. What goes in the slow cooker is up to the chef, but it's easiest on the wallet to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. Fall produce is abundant in most parts of the country from late September through early December. Choices include apples, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupes, cauliflower, celery, cranberries, eggplants, figs, grapes, honeydew melon, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, oranges, pears, plums, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, and yams.

    Fall Beer. Okay, maybe it's not an essential, but seasonal beer is a fun tradition. Many distributors come out with specialty brews that incorporate fall flavors. According to Gayot, Abita Brewing's Pecan Harvest Ale is a good, budget-friendly brown ale to try, and many a local pub will no doubt have specials on fall brews.

    Coffee. Say goodbye to iced coffee and welcome back a hot cup o' joe in the morning. It's common knowledge that the savings from skipping the coffee shop on the way to work add up, and coffee at home can easily cost less than $10 a pound. Folgers Black Silk, starting at about 31 cents an ounce, ranked high with a panel of Cheapism.com taste testers. The bold flavor gave it depth without the burnt taste common in cheap coffees.

    Coffee Maker. Get a coffee maker to go with that caffeine addiction. The Black & Decker DCM18S Brew 'n Go Personal Coffeemaker can be found for just $16 and comes with a travel mug. Users like the convenience of the timer, the permanent filter and the short brewing time.

    Hot Chocolate Mix. Hot chocolate is a cold-weather staple. In a Cheapism taste test, classic Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate was the judges' favorite. It costs about 11 cents per serving and panelists recognized a taste they remembered fondly from childhood. For a bolder, darker chocolate flavor, try Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Premium, starting at less than 40 cents a serving.

    Apple Cider. Coffee, hot chocolate -- add another fall beverage to the list. Apple cider is a traditional autumn treat that won't break a grocery budget. Look for Trader Joe's Spiced Cider ($3 for two quarts) in the store's October flier and drink it warm or cold, spiked or not.

    Cookware. As summer winds down, chances are some home-cooked food sounds good. Solid cookware is vital for making meals at home and cutting dining-out costs. A Cook N Home 12-piece stainless steel set, available online for about $50, claims high praise from users and the distinction of best cheap stainless steel cookware from Cheapism.com. Reviewers report that the pots and pans are lightweight and easy to clean.

    Pharmacy. One downside to fall: Colds and flus begin to make the rounds. Some families will need a good, affordable pharmacy on speed dial. When Consumer Reports compared generic drug prices at more than 200 pharmacies, Costco came out the cheapest, with no membership required. A Cheapism pharmacy comparison found that grocery and big-box stores have lower prices than pharmacy chains.

    Leaf Blower. A leaf blower is a must in the fall for a yard with a lot of trees. Homeowners can find electric leaf blowers under $50 with sufficient power to clean up a small lawn or some flower beds. For $25 more, pick up Cheapism's choice of best cheap electric leaf blower, the Toro 51609 Ultra. Reviewers appreciate that the machine is powerful but relatively quiet and weighs just 7.5 pounds, which makes it easy to carry around and use.

    Rake. While a leaf blower will save back strain and hours of time compared with clearing a whole yard manually, having a rake on hand for smaller jobs is a necessity. Pick one up at any home improvement store for less than $20.

    Yard Waste Bags. Ordinances about bagging yard waste vary by community, so be sure to check what is required locally. If yard waste bags are needed, buying them in bulk is the way to go. Home Depot sells a pack of five for less than $2.

    Rain Boots. Splurging on high-end, high-priced Hunter Boots isn't necessary. Search places such as Amazon and Zappos for options under $50. A highly rated pair from Target with Hunter-like treads and buckles on the sides costs $35.

    Hiking Shoes. Outdoor types who plan to spend time checking out fall foliage will find good hiking shoes worthwhile. Watch for this year's models and color schemes to go on sale at the end of the season. A $100 budget buys the tried-and-true Merrell Moab Ventilator, a perennial Cheapism top pick that boasts countless stellar reviews.

    Halloween Costume. Trick or treat! The kid in all of us wants a good costume for Halloween, and making a costume saves a lot of money. Depending on what you want to be, most of the necessary supplies are probably on hand. A quick browse on Pinterest and other sites should provide plenty of inspiration.

    Denim. Autumn calls for jeans and sweaters, but don't buy new ones right away. As soon as the back-to-school rush is over, denim prices dip. September is the time to stock up on jeans that will get plenty of wear through the spring.

     

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    Worried Woman Doing Finances
    Getty Images
    By Nancy Mann Jackson

    These days, one isn't such a lonely number. Singles make up a larger percentage of U.S. households than ever before.

    But while staying unattached is a choice that may fit more people's lifestyle goals, it isn't necessarily helping with their money goals.

    A new study from Mintel shows that only 51 percent of unattached people in the U.S. have a retirement savings account. Which puts singles way behind couples when it comes to building a nest egg.

    Nearly 7 in 10 (68 percent) of those living with a partner are saving for retirement -- and the figure jumps to 84 percent among married couples.

    Granted, singles can face particular savings challenges like missing out on some tax breaks or not having the safety net of a second income. But that also makes it all the more important that they're prepared to go it alone in their golden years.

    This serious lack of savings is only going to become a bigger problem as the ranks of American singles continue to swell.

    Millennials, in particular, should take notice, as they're most likely to stay single longer, according to Robyn Kaiserman, financial services analyst at Mintel.

    "Because they are young, however, they may be hesitant to start saving for retirement. By postponing saving they are losing the benefit of time, which allows their savings to accumulate and grow," she notes.

    If you're looking for some inspiration, follow the lead of these three singles who are successfully saving for retirement on their own.

     

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    girls coloring with mother
    Getty ImagesColoring is one way to relieve stress.
    By Jon Lal

    There's plenty to do in these waning summer days to melt away stress and anxiety. Heading to the beach or the pool on the weekend with a good book works well, and you can even take your lunch outside on the workday if it's not too hot. Fresh air and sunshine can work wonders on your mental health.

    With the busy school season and cooler temperature headed our way, you may want to think about how you can continue to make time for yourself during fall and winter. You might have to be indoors more often, but that doesn't mean you can't find your inner bliss.

    Here are a few suggestions for new, relaxing hobbies you can adopt without shelling out a lot of cash:

    Coloring

    Who would have thought one of your favorite childhood pastimes is now a new hot trend for those looking to relieve stress? Many adults claim that coloring is a mindless activity that can help them relax and find quiet time for themselves. There are now many adult coloring books on the market, with intricate, beautiful designs and themes. Luckily, this hobby won't cost you too much to start -- many adult coloring books go for less than $10 on Amazon. You can take your hobby a step further and get together with coworkers or friends for group coloring.

    Hiking

    What better time to take up hiking than during the autumn foliage season? Even if you don't live near mountainous terrain, you can find walking trails or nature preserves in almost every community. Hiking can keep you active even as it gets colder, and when the snow starts to fall you can continue your adventures with a good pair of hiking boots or snowshoes. Just search the sales and look for coupons to make sure you get a discount on a good brand of shoes -- you shouldn't skimp and buy a cheap version that might fall apart quickly or hurt your feet. Boots are one place it can make sense to spend a little more, especially if you're wearing them to engage in an activity as thrifty as hiking. You can even pack your lunch and have a picnic, too.

    Learning a Language

    You might think learning a language requires expensive software or signing up for a pricy course. Thanks to the Internet, you can now learn languages for free. Websites like Duolingo and Memrise have countless hours of free resources and courses to help you learn whatever language you want, at no cost to you. You can even compete with others and earn points to stay motivated. If you start now, you might be able to impress your relatives in time for your annual holiday party!

    Listening to Podcasts

    There is an abundance of free podcasts available right on your mobile device. You can find stations and series on current events, happiness and well-being, sports, health, money, comedy -- you name it and it's there. It's an incredible free resource and it already exists in your pocket or on your computer. Take some time to browse around different options or ask friends for their recommendations. It's also a great way to pass time when you're sitting in traffic or commuting to and from work.

    Exploring Genealogy

    A fun winter hobby to pursue is discovering your own genealogy. Assembling your family tree can be challenging as you get to the far-reaching limbs, but it can also be a fun journey of discovery. Use the project as an opportunity to reach out to relatives that you haven't spoken with in a while. Get together with these relatives and hear stories from their childhood. If you need help piecing things together, there are also resources available to use. Online family history websites typically come at a price for a subscription, but if you subscribe on a month-by-month basis and put a time limit on your project, you can keep the cost under budget.

    Hobbies don't have to require expensive equipment, classes or supplies. Hopefully these ideas can improve your mental health and help keep the stress at bay as your work or family life becomes busy over the next few months!

    Jon Lal is the founder and CEO of coupons and cash back website BeFrugal.com, which saves shoppers an average of $27 an order thanks to coupons plus an average of 7 percent cash back at more than 4,000 stores.

     

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