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    Assembly Of Tesla Model S Electric Automobiles  At  A Tesla Motors Inc. Factory
    Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesA Tesla Model S automobile during final assembly at the Tesla Motors factory in Tilburg, Netherlands.
    By Joseph White

    DETROIT -- Owners of vehicles with advanced fuel-saving technology and digital multimedia systems, including the Tesla (TSLA) Model S sedan, are hurting reliability, Consumer Reports magazine found in its annual survey of vehicle reliability.

    There is "an emerging trend of increased troubles" with many vehicles that use new transmission technology to boost mileage, the magazine said Tuesday. The latest reliability survey was to be presented by the magazine's editors at a meeting of Detroit's Automotive Press Association.

    One of the most technologically adventurous cars on the market, the Tesla Model S, registered a worse than average reliability score based on survey responses from 1,400 owners, Consumer Reports found. The battery-powered Model S P85D was recently lauded by the magazine's editors for racking up the best scores ever in its performance tests. But owners complained of rattles, leaks and problems with the charging equipment, drivetrain and center console displays, the magazine said.

    Complaints about balky multimedia "infotainment" systems continue to plague several major automakers, including Ford (F), Nissan, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) and several prominent brands, including General Motors' (GM) Cadillac luxury line, the magazine found.

    Honda's (HMC) Acura luxury brand fell seven places to No. 18 in the magazine's ranking of 28 brands because of problems with transmissions and in-car entertainment systems, the magazine said.

    Overall, Toyota's (TM) Lexus brand was the top-ranked brand in the magazine's reliability survey. The highest-ranked Detroit brand was Buick, at No. 7.

    Fiat Chrysler's Fiat brand came in last.

    Consumer Reports said its 2015 reliability survey took into account data on 740,000 vehicles.


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    Wal-Mart Announces Its Increasing Wages
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
    By Diane Bartz

    WASHINGTON -- The Federal Trade Commission, which enforces U.S. laws against deceptive ads, said Tuesday that it had closed a probe of Walmart Stores (WMT) after the company addressed the problem of products advertised as "Made in USA" when they weren't.

    The FTC closed the probe without action after Walmart dropped all "Made in USA" logos from products on its website, the FTC said in a letter to the company that was posted on the agency's website.

    Walmart has since redesigned its "Made in USA" logos for some products to better indicate how much of the product was made domestically and how much was made overseas, the FTC noted in its letter.

    Based on your actions and other factors, the staff has decided not to pursue this investigation any further.

    "Based on your actions and other factors, the staff has decided not to pursue this investigation any further," FTC staff attorney Julia Solomon Ensor wrote in the letter.

    The problem arose as Walmart sought to fulfill a pledge made in 2013 to buy an extra $250 billion in U.S.-made goods over a decade to support U.S. manufacturing jobs. The world's largest retailer by revenue has faced criticism by unions and others that its low-cost business model was a big factor in pushing manufacturing jobs offshore.

    The watchdog group Truth in Advertising found 100 instances of mislabeled products in June and raised them with the company. They found another 100 in July and took the information to the FTC, said legal director Laura Smith.

    "In light of the company's steps to address the issues, we're not surprised that the investigation has been closed," said Smith.

    Walmart said it was pleased with the decision to drop the probe. "We're committed to reviewing and strengthening our processes," said spokesman Kory Lundberg.

    -Nathan Layne contributed reporting.


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    Clever Ways to Save Hundreds Each Month
    Are you on a tight budget? Finding ways to cut back on spending can be tough, but with these clever tips you can save hundreds each month with ease.

    Let's start with your car. By getting more mileage out of your vehicle, you can take your savings farther. Start by cleaning or swapping your air filter. Doing this can save up to $100 for every 10,000 miles you drive.

    Another great way to save is to keep your tires inflated. For every two PSI of air pressure under the recommended level, you lose 1 percent on your gas mileage. Doing these simple tasks for you car can easily save you between 5-10 percent on your fuel costs.

    Next, take a look at your meal budget. Are you eating out a lot or throwing away leftovers and unused ingredients? Ideally, you should be spending 10-15 percent of your take-home pay on food. Any more than this can devour your cash. Do some calculations and adjust your budget as necessary.

    Finally, your cell phone bill may be draining your savings. On average, U.S. consumers spend a whopping $85 a month on their phone bills. So if you've noticed that you're spending too much on data, try connecting your device to WiFi instead and scale your data plan back. Explore your options, because in some instances switching from a monthly contract to a prepaid plan could lower your costs by up to 50 percent.

    So, as you set your budget for next month, remember these tips. You'll see that with a little homework, there are many clever ways to save on your spending.

    View Poll


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    Ferrari To List On New York Stock Exhchange
    Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesItalian automaker Ferrari is set to go public, with an opening price of $53 a share, according to CNBC. Ferrari said it will be price officially after the market closes Tuesday.
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks ended down slightly Tuesday as a drop in health care and biotech stocks offset gains in United Technologies and Verizon.

    A 5.7-percent drop to $140.64 in IBM also weighed on the market. The stock hit a five-year intraday low at $140.28 after it reported a bigger-than-expected fall in quarterly revenue and cut its full-year profit forecast.

    The S&P health care sector fell 1.5 percent, while the Nasdaq biotech index dropped 3.2 percent. Concerns about drug pricing have hit biotech and other health care shares.

    "You're seeing weakness in momentum names in general. Obviously the health care names are under pressure again, especially pharma companies. That further increases the pall over that sector," said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

    At the same time, O'Rourke said, investors seem to be buying more stable names, such as Apple (AAPL), which jumped 1.8 percent to $113.77.

    Stocks have mostly gained this month following a sell-off in the third quarter, though concern about third-quarter earnings has added to caution in recent sessions.

    Among companies beating analyst expectations, United Technologies (UTX) rose 3.9 percent to $95.62, giving the Dow its biggest boost.

    Also on the plus side, Verizon (VZ) shares were up 1.2 percent at $45.24 after the largest U.S. wireless service provider reported better-than-expected revenue and profit.

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 13.43 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,217.11, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 2.89 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,030.77 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 24.50 points, or 0.5 percent, to 4,880.97.

    The S&P 500 is up 5.8 percent so far in October.

    Tallying Earnings

    Earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to have fallen about 4 percent in the third quarter, while revenue is expected to have declined 3.8 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    Of the S&P 500 companies that have reported so far, roughly 40 percent have beaten revenue expectations, below the long-term average, according to Thomson Reuters data.

    Travelers (TRV) rose 2.5 percent to $108.95. The insurer's quarterly profit topped estimates, helped by higher underwriting gains. Harley Davidson (HOG) skidded 13.9 percent to $48.25 after the motorcycle maker cut its full-year shipment forecast.

    Shares of Tesla (TSLA) dropped 6.6 percent to $213.03 in heavy volume. Consumer Reports magazine found that advanced fuel-saving technology and digital multimedia systems in vehicles including the Tesla Model S sedan are hurting reliability.

    After the bell, shares of Yahoo (YHOO) were down 1 percent at $32.50 as it reported a drop in quarterly revenue, while Intuitive Surgical (ISRG) was up 7.6 percent at $508.70 percent after it posted a revenue increase.

    During the regular session, advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1,888 to 1,170, for a 1.61-to-1 ratio on the upside; on the Nasdaq, 1,426 issues fell and 1,345 advanced for a 1.06-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 24 new 52-week highs and 3 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 66 new highs and 49 new lows.

    About 6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 7.3 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters (TRI) data.

    -Abhiram Nandakumar contributed reporting from Bangalore, India.

    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to report quarterly financial results:
    • Abbott Laboratories (ABT)
    • American Express (AXP)
    • Biogen (BIIB)
    • Boeing (BA)
    • Coca-Cola Co. (KO)
    • Credit Suisse (CS)
    • Ebay (EBAY)
    • General Motors (GM)
    • Kimberly-Clark (KMB)
    • Texas Instruments (TXN)


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    Interracial Couple In The Kitchen
    Getty ImagesWhipping up a meal (or several) is easier when your kitchen is stocked with pantry staples.
    By Geoff Williams

    If you've ever felt overwhelmed in your kitchen, it's understandable. After all, if your job doesn't involve food preparation, you spend most of your time thinking about something completely different. Many amateur foodies know exactly how to run a kitchen, but not everyone is a natural-born cook.

    However, if you don't know what you're doing in the kitchen, it could be costing you. According to the nonprofit organization Feeding America, the country wastes 70 billion pounds of food every year. If you have appliances that are energy hogs, that's even more money down the drain.

    U.S. News asked a handful of home-improvement experts, chefs and the like how they manage their own kitchens. If you know what you're doing, much of what follows is common knowledge, but if you're clueless about culinary arts, these suggestions may be your life raft.

    Staples. Since you can't have entire grocery aisles in your kitchen, you need a selection of go-to items to grab when you're trying to get something on the table for dinner, without ordering pizza. Chef Erika Gradecki, owner of a personal chef business Food For Your Soul, in New London, Connecticut, always has the following in her kitchen:

    Spices and herbs. If you aren't a personal chef and just want a few must-have spices and herbs, Gradecki would pick Italian seasoning.

    "This is usually a combo of thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary and sometimes marjoram," she says. "It doesn't have to be a fancy brand, and doesn't have to have exactly all of those. It's cheaper than buying those herbs separately, and they complement each other well."

    She also recommends buying cumin. "This is a great spice for anything from soups, chili and stews to meats, curried foods, etc. It gives you a little kick without too much spice," she says.

    And keep all-purpose seasoning on hand, Gradecki advises. "Usually salt, pepper and garlic salt as a base," she says. "Some add turmeric or a few other additions to the mix. Like the Italian seasoning, this is a great go-to if you're on a budget, and it seasons just about anything."

    Condiments. The biggies are cooking oil, [cooking] spray, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder and molasses, Gradecki says.

    Old-fashioned oats. "Different from quick-cooking oats, which are cut smaller and get pretty mushy when cooked, old-fashioned oats are able to keep [their] shape when cooked. They're a great source of fiber, which keeps you fuller longer, and can be used for breakfast, baking and more," she says.

    Rice. It's versatile, not to mention cheap and filling, she adds.

    Butter, eggs and milk. Most recipes call for at least one of these, Gradecki says.

    Of course, everyone has their own definition of "staple." Carlo Filippone, chef and CEO of the Clifton, New Jersey-based Elite Lifestyle Cuisine, which delivers chef-prepared meals to homeowners, agrees that eggs are vital, but also suggests having spinach, natural peanut butter, lean poultry, potatoes and mixed greens in-house as often as possible, because they all work well in a variety of meals. (OK, the peanut butter, he says, is for snacking.)

    For Cheryl Rios, a Dallas-based business owner who cooks daily and comes from a large Sicilian family, pasta and olive oil are necessities.

    "If you can only afford these two items to always have, then you always have a meal on hand," Rios says. "If you're really broke, fry some garlic in olive oil, boil the pasta, then drain and mix them together. If you have Parmesan cheese, sprinkle on top, and if you have breadcrumbs, fry them up in the garlic and olive oil and add to pasta."

    Appliances. When you're buying your next appliance, it's easy to focus on the obvious (will it fit and be the right color?) and forget about, well, everything else. But keep these factors in mind when shopping for:

    A refrigerator. Think about the energy it produces, suggests Sabine Schoenberg, a Greenwich, Connecticut-based real estate agent and author of "Kitchen Magic: Secrets to Successful Kitchens."

    "Most buy refrigerators for the brand and the look," she says, when they should be thinking about where the motor is. "High-end refrigerators have the cooling motor on top of the fridge, keeping the heat from the cooled area. This saves energy and adds durability," Schoenberg says, adding that a refrigerator with a motor on top can extend the longevity of the appliance.

    "Also, the quality of the food in high-end units is simply better," Schoenberg says. "How often do people wind up throwing out spoiled food from their fridges? This is cut way down with high-end units. The cooling is way better."

    Schoenberg adds this, which may not be practical for money- or space-crunched homeowners: "If the budget allows, buy a separate fridge just for drinks. That will free up your fridge space tremendously. Many good kitchen designers will recommend this."

    Of course, if your old refrigerator works, you could put it in the garage for stowing excess beverages, if you don't have room for two refrigerators in your kitchen.

    A stove. If you're in the market for a new stove, do your homework. For instance, glass-ceramic stovetops look beautiful, but they can be hard to clean; many cleaning products are no match for certain foods, and even water can burn onto the stove surface, meaning you'll see stains.

    Nancy Lauseng, a marketing professional in St. Michael, Minnesota, and someone who loves to cook, says the best appliance she ever bought was a convection oven combined with a microwave and range hood.

    "This gave me three appliances for little more than the price of one," says Lauseng, who just moved into a new house. She plans to get another combination oven soon.

    A dishwasher. Consider the noise factor. "This is an issue that is gaining importance, since today's kitchens are open and connected to living spaces. In other words, avoid having to turn up the TV to overcome the dishwasher noise," Schoenberg says.

    Kitchen tools. You could become overwhelmed, and very broke, trying to anticipate every cooking utensil you might need, especially if you're stocking your first kitchen. But the basics include: a pot, skillet, casserole dish, spatula, baking sheet, plates and silverware. Beyond that, knives are always handy, says Anna Carl, a consumer scientist at Whirlpool Corp.'s Institute of Home Science.

    "You don't need a specialized knife for every task," Carl says, but she recommends having "a basic chef's knife with a broad cutting blade, a bread knife with a serrated blade and a basic paring knife for peeling and small jobs."

    And while you can buy numerous kitchen cleaners, Rios says she always opts for an old standby: bleach.

    "Soak the sink in it, clean the floor with it, dilute it and wash the counters down," she says. "It is the utility cleaner."

    Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to U.S. News. He is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away," about the great flood of 1913, "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race," about the infamous Bunion Derby of 1928 and "Living Well with Bad Credit." You can follow him on Twitter @geoffw.


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    How to Teach Your Teen to Manage Money

    By Deborah Dunham

    In our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses. Today, one woman shares what happened when she handed over a cash-loaded debit card to her teenage son. You heard right.

    Just the thought of giving a 14-year-old a debit card can give a parent nightmares.

    Sure, financial freedom may sound appealing to a teenager, but as the mother of two teens myself, I know there is no way my kids can experience financial freedom unless that freedom comes with a lot of my money. And that has little appeal -- for me, anyway.

    But I also know how important it is to teach kids about money management early on in life. As in, well before they head off to college.

    That's why I decided to let my 14-year-old son, John*, test out a debit card designed just for teens.

    Specifically, it's "a reloadable prepaid card that gives your teen the freedom to purchase items online, in stores, and wherever Visa debit cards are accepted. It also gives parents (like you) the reassurance that comes from setting boundaries around your teen's spending limits."

    In other words, parents ("the account owner") can transfer money into the bank account tied to the card, and then teens ("the cardholder") can use it for spending.

    In addition to being able to monitor your kid's usage online, parents can get "real time" notifications via e-mail or text about their teen's spending activity.

    It's just one of several such cards that financial institutions have been rolling out in recent years, and I was willing to give it a "real time" try -- knowing full well that I was either being a financially savvy parent or a foolish one.

    To $2 from $50 -- Adventures in Debit Card Accountability

    Let's just say that John was more than a little excited to finally get his own debit card.

    He doesn't receive an allowance, so his spending money comes from birthday and Christmas gifts, as well as what he earns doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, like sweeping driveways and pet sitting.

    For a 14-year-old kid, these things have actually turned into a tidy little income.

    So my idea was that the debit card would be an easy way to manage -- and spend -- most of that money. And, truth be told, it was also a way to help my son feel less like a kid and more like a young adult.

    Well, after initially putting $50 on the card for him that first week, I found out almost immediately that I should have discussed some parameters up front.

    The feature I like most is getting an e-mail alert about his every purchase -- which is how I discovered that his first outing with the card was to buy candy at a gas station.

    "Um, that's not happening again," I told him after seeing the expense.

    "Why not? It's my money," he replied.

    After I reminded him that it was actually my money, he reluctantly agreed not to spend any more of it on candy.

    My annoyance aside, the moment actually created a good opportunity to sit down and discuss just where he could spend his newfound cash.

    John has typically been more of a saver than a spender, so it was interesting to watch his habits change while using this card -- he'd have happily spent all $50 in one day.

    So together we came up with a list of suitable restaurants, clothing stores and entertainment spots -- like the local movie theater and putt-putt golf course.

    John has typically been more of a saver than a spender, so it was interesting to watch his habits change while using this card -- he would have happily spent all $50 in one day.

    But I told him that he only had one week to use the card, so he had to make that money last. If all went well, we would then negotiate whether he could continue to use the debit card.

    When the week was up, he was down to $2.35, and was more than eager for me to "just put another $50" on it so he could continue his "wealthy" state, as he put it.

    Instead, I said, "I will match anything that you put on your card, up to $25 a week."

    The underlying message: He better get busy knocking on some doors around the neighborhood to see who had leaves to rake and lizards to pet-sit. (He has a job taking care of a friend's iguana -- seriously.)

    The other part of the deal required him to deposit some of his earned money into his savings account -- something he's always been good about.

    However, I could see that his interest in saving was already shifting by having the freedom of a debit card, so I wanted to ensure that he realized the importance of continuing to put some of his earnings aside.

    Lessons Learned in a Cashless Economy

    In some ways I wish kids would learn about money the way I did: by painfully counting out dollar bills at the cash register, hoping I had enough for those new jeans.

    I believe having cash on hand is a good way to learn about the value of money -- and it doesn't allow us to exceed our spending limits.

    But reality calls and that means plastic is taking over, so I am opting to teach my son about fiscal responsibility with debit -- and hopefully not credit -- cards.

    I do worry though that kids who grow up with only plastic in their pockets won't learn the true value of a dollar, and will possibly take advantage of their spending power. Hello, average American credit card debt of nearly $16,000.

    But for now I'm OK with my son having a debit card I can monitor. Knowing that his spending powers are limited gives me peace of mind -- and hopefully the time I need to teach him more important real-life money lessons.

    Plus, to be honest, I rarely have cash on me these days, relying almost exclusively on debit cards. So I should preach what I practice, right?

    *Names have been changed.


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    Ever wonder why we think it's fun to scare ourselves with creepy movies and haunted houses? Some experts believe it gives us a sense of control. And of course there's the relief when the fright is over and we know we're safe.

    Money is a scary subject for a lot of us, but it helps to know that you don't have to tackle your fears all at once. You can take them on in bite-sized chunks.

    Step 1: Take a quiz. If investing scares you, it may be hard to know where to start. But even if you're too nervous to do anything else, you can try this easy first step: Take a quiz to assess your fears, such as Vanguard's Investor Questionnaire or the quiz at LearnVest. Your bank may also have one online. These simple quizzes walk you through a few scenarios involving money to discover your risk tolerance.

    Knowing your risk tolerance -- how much risk you can live with comfortably -- is key to learning your best investment style. Use it to decide your asset allocation -- spreading your risk among different types of financial instruments. Just to know: You're not the only nervous investor. About half the people who have 401(k)'s say they're confused. Confidence comes from educating yourself about investing. (See: Beginning Stock Investor? Here's All You Need to Know.)

    Step 2: Know good debt from bad. Yes, there's a difference between types of debt. Understanding the difference gives you confidence to know when it's smart to go ahead and borrow money.
    • Good debt: Good debt eventually pays you back. Use it to purchase things that appreciate in value. A home mortgage can be good debt, for example. A fixed-rate mortgage lets you manage your housing expense and hopefully reap a profit by selling for more than you paid if you decide to move. Student loans to pay for a college education can be good debt if you can earn more with a degree than without it. Nevertheless, it's a bad idea to take on vast amounts of college debt or buy a home that is unlikely to appreciate in value.
    • Bad debt: Bad debt is the kind you take on because you're spending more than you earn. Living beyond your means, in other words. "High interest consumer debt is the worst type of debt," says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
    Borrowing to buy a car is one type of bad debt. The car starts losing value as you drive it off the lot and you'll sell it for less than you paid for it. Financing a vacation with a credit card instead of saving and budgeting for it is another example.

    Step 3: Get a will. Everyone needs a will. Even you. The good news: Making a will isn't as scary, difficult or expensive as you might think.

    Here are two ways to get started:
    • Call your local bar association. See the American Bar Association's state-by-state map for a local contact and ask about free or low-cost help where you live. Also, some local bar associations have lawyer referral programs that offer a consultation of a half hour to an hour with an attorney at no cost or a minimal fee. You can explain your situation, ask the attorney's advice and learn the price for getting your will written up.
    • Do it yourself. There are many software options that allow you to create a will yourself. I used an older version of Quicken's WillMaker Plus software to write a simple will and found it a snap. You could also check your library for "Nolo's Simple Will Book."
    Do you need a trust, in addition to a will? A trust gives you more control over how your estate will be distributed. It helps minimize taxes and time and expense spent on probate. This is a question best answered in a discussion with a trust attorney. Learn more here.

    Definitely get a trust if your estate is worth more than the basic federal estate tax exclusion -- $5.43 million in 2015. You might need one anyway, though.

    Also, don't forget to check Nolo's list of states that impose estate taxes.

    Step 4: Rein in your tax bill. Find tax breaks and deductions available to you in this article.

    If you need advice or help filing your return, act now. Don't wait for the springtime tax rush, when accountants are super busy. Ask trusted friends and family members for recommendations for a CPA. Interview two or three candidates to see whom you feel comfortable with.

    Find certified public accountants in your area through the American Institute of CPAs. Also, check with your state's licensing agency to verify that the CPA you choose has an active license.

    Step 5: Track your expenses. Budgeting is scarier than zombies for a lot of people. But budgeting fears are inflated. It helps to know that you don't have to become a budgeting convert overnight. Start out slowly by simply watching where your money is going. There are several ways to do this.

    You could try a free online budgeting tool like PowerWallet. These programs import your bank and credit card transactions and show you where your money is being spent. These tracking tools can be employed to great effect alongside tips that help you keep your spending behavior in check.

    Others prefer to record purchases on a spreadsheet. It's more hands-on. Give yourself an hour at the end of each month to record purchases from your receipts, checkbook and credit cards.

    The bottom line: Get your feet wet to see what works best for you. There's no one way. Trial, error and your own experience eventually will guide you to a system you like and can stick with.

    How have you overcome your financial fears? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

    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!

    How to Stick to a Budget


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    life plan
    By Dan Rafter

    Do you feel like spending two months' salary on an engagement ring? How about buying a house that requires a mortgage payment equal to 28 percent of your gross monthly income?

    Those are two of the most common formulas that consumers have used to judge how much to spend on key life purchases. But here's the truth: There is no one-size-fits-all strategy to determine how much you should spend on a new car, house or engagement ring. The amount you should spend on any of these three big buys depends on your specific finances and goals.

    Assess Your Finances

    "It's key to look at your entire financial plan and to budget appropriately within your means so that one purchase does not derail your long-term goals," says David Mirabito, a financial adviser with the MetLife Premier Client Group in Syracuse, New York. "It's a balance between financial wants and needs."

    If you have plenty of savings, are paying your bills on time each month and aren't burdened with much debt, you can buy an engagement ring that costs six months' salary if it makes you and your partner happy. But if you're struggling to pay the bills each month? You might not want to spend even two months' salary on an engagement ring.

    Avoid Overpriced Weddings and Bling

    Who says you need to spend two months of salary on an engagement ring? The diamond industry, that's who.

    It's no surprise that De Beers wants you to cough up thousands of dollars on a diamond ring. But that might not be realistic for many young people who are ready to get married. Young people face plenty of other expenses. Edvisors reports that the average class of 2015 college graduate will leave school with more than $35,000 in student loan debt. And weddings themselves are getting increasingly expensive, with wedding website The Knot's 2014 Real Weddings survey reporting that the average couple spends $31,213 on a wedding. (Though why so many spend so much for a one-day event is a good question.)

    Adding $8,000 or more to pay for an engagement ring might not seem like a sound investment to consumers facing so many other big bills. Again, though, there is no real rule here. The key is to spend according to your budget. If you can't afford an expensive engagement ring now, there is no shame in spending less today and eventually trading up as your finances stabilize. Putting the cost of an expensive engagement ring on your credit card might make that piece of bling less attractive.

    Choose a Realistic Mortgage

    You're ready to buy a home. How much should you spend on it? Most mortgage lenders recommend that your new monthly mortgage payment equal no more than 28 percent of your gross monthly income -- that's your income before taxes are taken out. But be sure to include all of the components of your monthly housing payment when determining how much your loan will cost you each month. Your mortgage will usually include your principal payment, interest payment, insurance fee and property taxes. That's the standard PITI formula -- principal, interest, taxes and insurance.

    That doesn't mean that your mortgage payment has to be 28 percent of your gross monthly income. You might feel more comfortable if your housing payment comes out to 25 or 20 percent of your gross monthly income each month.

    Go with what makes you feel comfortable. Struggling to pay your mortgage each month can make owning a home feel more like a burden than a joy. Remember, too, that big purchases -- such as a house -- always come with big expenses in the future.

    "The cost of most major purchases is not the full cost of the item," says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network. "In the case of a home, a down payment is only the beginning. There are costs for home insurance and taxes, private mortgage insurance, and ongoing upkeep and maintenance. For a car, routine and periodic maintenance can add up substantially. If an engagement ring is in the picture, there will be a wedding of some type, possibly a honeymoon and other marriage-related costs. Before making a purchase, calculate the real costs of buying, now and into the future."

    Buy Only as Much Car as You Need

    Cars certainly aren't getting cheaper. According to the Kelley Blue Book, the average price that consumers paid for new cars in June of this year hit $33,340. That figure is on an upward trend, a boost of $209 from the previous month.

    How much should you spend on a new car? One standard is that your monthly car costs -- which includes not just the size of your monthly auto loan payment but the costs of insurance, maintenance and gas -- should equal no more than 15 percent of your net monthly pay. Another potential guideline? Some recommend that the price of any car you buy should never equal more than half of your yearly income.

    Again, these are rough guidelines. If you're struggling to pay down high-interest rate credit card debt, it might not make sense to add a big monthly car payment to your expenses. You might want to follow another long-term guideline here: Make sure that your total recurring monthly expenses are no more than 36 percent of your gross monthly income. Buying a less expensive car might be a better financial move.

    "Ask yourself, especially at a young age, 'How important is it that I have the latest and greatest gizmo in my car?' " said Mirabito.

    What spending rules do you follow to keep major purchases reasonable?


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    Online Holiday Shopping
    Andrew A. Nelles/AP
    By Andrea Cannon

    Have you been avoiding the department store because you thought it was just too expensive? Well, there are actually some occasions when it's usually cheaper to shop at a department store than anywhere else. Consider these times when department store shopping actually makes financial sense.

    1. Bedding and towels. If you want your sheets and towels to last through multiple washes and still feel comfortable, then it's important to buy high quality items -- such as the ones at your department store. Clip coupons, buy during online sales or take advantage of end-of-season clearance specials to score the best deals. With these discounts, the prices will be similar to those of discount stores such as Target (TGT) or Walmart (WMT), but the quality will typically be better and the items will last much longer.

    2. Appliances and electronics. Purchasing appliances at your favorite department store, such as Sears (SHLD), may save you more money, include free shipping, and have the store's warranty and guarantee behind them. Macy's (M) has also teamed with Best Buy (BBY) to offer some of the best electronics deals and selections, beginning in November.

    3. Perfume, makeup and cosmetics. The department store perfume counters may be annoying with their incessant, unwanted spraying and sales pitches. However, they really do offer some of the best deals around on your favorite designer perfumes, makeup and cosmetics. Along with the discounted pricing and bundle offers, they will also commonly have promotions throughout the year, such as free lipstick if you make a perfume purchase. You can also get tons of free samples anytime you visit the perfume or makeup counter at the department store.

    You can also find lotions, acne products and anti-aging solutions behind the counter at your favorite department store. Along with the free samples and promotional items you receive with your purchase, you can also get free professional advice from the counter person. They may even be able to offer advice and assistance with applying the makeup you're purchasing.

    4. Items you need a stylist for. Did you know that most big department stores offer personal stylist services? For instance, Nordstrom, J.Crew, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and many other department stores offer personal stylist services, wedding services, custom home services and other visitor services, usually by appointment and free of charge. If you have a big event coming up, then these free services can be highly beneficial. A professional's recommendation and assistance can help you make the perfect purchase, backed by a return policy in case you're not completely satisfied.

    5. Sale and presale items. Most stores offer sales frequently, at least once a month. While you can save money on particular items at any time during the year, nothing beats certain sales, like Black Friday, when you can save big money on nearly anything. That's because nowadays, sale items are marked up so much at regular price that the sale price isn't that great anymore.

    When sale items just aren't enough, consider presales, early access sales and anniversary sales. There, you'll have first dibs on sales items, so you'll have access to the best selection and prices available.

    If you find a clothing item at a department store that you can't live without, wait for a sale. It usually takes about six to eight weeks for an item to go on sale, so ask an associate how long it's been on the floor and if there are any upcoming sales. Men's suits also go on sale twice a year, so you can get a top-quality suit in any size that will last you for years to come, at about 50 percent off.

    6. Items you can negotiate. Many shoppers have luck negotiating for lower prices at big brand name stores like Sears, Macy's, Kohl's (KSS) and JCPenney (JCP). Often, simply asking for a discount or price adjustment will result in saving money on auto parts, furniture, electronics and even home appliances. The more expensive the item is, the better luck you will have of negotiating a better deal.

    The salespeople are often working on a commission or simply want to make a sale, so there may be some wiggle room when it comes to the price. You will also likely have better luck negotiating towards the end of the month, as this is usually when inventory needs to be moved out. If you are interested in an older model appliance, the store will probably be eager to discount the old model to make room for a newer one. If you have found the same item for a lower price elsewhere, try negotiating for a match or better deal. It never hurts to politely ask for a discount that could end up saving you big money in the end.

    Additional Ways to Save

    Shopping at a department store has its perks, like occasional sales, a high-quality selection and impressive return and exchange policies. You can rest easy when you shop at a department store knowing that you will be satisfied with the items and are getting your money's worth. The same can't be said for outlet and dollar store items.

    Fortunately, there are a number of other ways to save at your favorite department store, regardless of what you may be buying.

    1. Start at the back of the store. When a department store wants you to purchase a specific item, they will make sure that it is within your eyesight. That means items in the front of the store, in front of the rack and in your direct eye line are probably the most expensive options or the items that the store is trying to push for some reason. Make sure to look at the top and bottom shelf, towards the back of the store and in the back of the clothing racks to find hidden gems (and sales).

    2. Use coupons. Department stores offer coupons all the time. Search online or use sites like RetailMeNot or Coupon Sherpa to find printable coupons that can save you even more on regular and sale items.

    3. Join reward programs. You can enjoy added savings and discounts by signing up for the store's loyalty program, where you can earn rewards every time you shop.

    4. Get a store credit card. You may want to look into signing up for the store's credit card, which can provide you with even more savings and benefits, such as interest-free financing, discounts on purchases, special coupons, access to exclusive sales, rewards points on every purchase and even free items throughout the year. However, in order to make this work for you in the long run, it is crucial that you pay off the balance every time you use the card. (See also: Store Credit Cards That Don't Suck)

    5. Know when to buy things. Be sure to check Wise Bread's Buying Calendar to learn when and how to buy just about anything to save more money throughout the year.

    6. Feel free to return things. If you don't like something, return it. Don't let it wither away in your closet or let it take up space in your home or garage. If buyer's remorse sets in, department stores offer great return policies. Simply return it and get your money back.

    What do you always purchase at department stores? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


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    Industrial Production
    Carlos Osorio/APA Buick Verano is assembled at General Motors' Orion Assembly plant in Orion Township, Mich.

    DETROIT -- General Motors' third-quarter profit fell slightly, but the company rode strong North American sales to overcome $1.5 billion in costs from its deadly ignition switch recall.

    GM (GM) shares rose almost 4 percent in premarket trading Wednesday.

    The Detroit automaker's net income slipped 1.4 percent from a year ago, but still was $1.36 billion, or 84 cents a share. That compares with $1.38 billion, or 81 cents a share, a year ago.

    Without the recall costs, GM would have made a $1.50 a share, soundly beating Wall Street expectations. Analysts polled by FactSet expected $1.18 a share.

    The company posted a record $3.3 billion pretax profit in North America, more than offsetting a small decline in China and a loss in South America.

    The news pushed GM shares up 4.5 percent, or $1.52, to $35 in premarket trading about an hour before the markets opened Wednesday.

    Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said the GM's North American profit margin, the percent of revenue it gets to keep, hit a record 11.8 percent for the quarter. The company had set a goal of 10 percent North American margins by next year, but Stevens said GM will achieve the target a year early.

    Revenue from July through September fell 1 percent to $38.8 billion, but still beat analysts' forecasts. Almost three quarters of GM's revenue came from North America.

    In China, GM reported pretax income of $463 million, down 4 percent from a year ago, but profit margins rose from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent because the company sold more expensive Cadillacs and SUVs. "China has not fallen off the cliff as everyone had expected," Stevens said.

    South America, though, is still the big trouble spot for GM and other companies. The company lost $217 million in the region, almost seven times the loss from a year ago, and Stevens said there isn't an end in sight to economic troubles there.

    In Europe, GM's loss narrowed to $231 million and Stevens said GM is still on track to be profitable there next year. GM Financial, the company's auto loan arm, posted a 13 percent profit gain to $231 million.

    The recall costs included $900 million to fend off criminal prosecution over the ignition-switch scandal and about $600 million to settle multiple wrongful death and shareholder lawsuits stemming from the problem.

    The switches in older model small cars such as the Chevrolet Cobalt can slip out of the "run" position and cut off the engine. They have been linked to at least 169 deaths.

    GM said in September that ignition-switch scandal cost it over $5.3 billion. Even with the settlements, GM can't close the books on the scandal. It still faces more than 400 death and injury cases that have yet to be settled. Six cases are scheduled for trial, including one in January.


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    Test Drive Of The New Toyota Crown
    Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) is recalling 6.5 million vehicles worldwide for a defective power window switch that can overheat, melt and lead to fires.

    One injury in the U.S., a person who suffered a burn on the hand, has been reported related to the defect. Toyota has also received 11 reports of cases in which the switch or part of the car door burned -- seven in North America, two in Japan and two in other areas -- the Japanese automaker said Wednesday.

    The recall includes 2.7 million vehicles in North America, 1.2 million in Europe and 600,000 in Japan. It involves the Yaris, Corolla, Matrix, Camry, RAV4, Highlander, Tundra and other models, according to Toyota.

    The defect was caused by grease which was sprayed on improperly during the manufacturing of electrical contact modules. Debris or moisture could enter the module, and that could lead to a short circuit, Toyota said.

    Toyota has promised to be quicker with recalls after suffering a scandal starting in 2009 which ballooned into a massive recall over various problems, including faulty floor mats, defective brakes and sticky gas pedals. The scandal resulted in fines imposed on Toyota by U.S. authorities.

    Other automakers have been embroiled in scandals since then, including General Motors Co. (GM) over an ignition switch recall, Japanese supplier Takata Corp. over defective air bags, and more recently Volkswagen (VLKAY) of Germany over rigged emissions tests.


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    Activision Reveals Guitar Hero Live's GHTV At E3 2015 In Los Angeles
    Rachel Murray/Getty Images for ActivisionConvention goers enjoy Activisions Guitar Hero Live booth at E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in June.
    The days of video gamers flying through the frets of plastic guitars are back. Activision Blizzard (ATVI) released "Guitar Hero Live" on Tuesday, trying to breathe new life into the once-popular franchise.

    It's been five years since Activision Blizzard last put out a "Guitar Hero" game, and naturally folks will be skeptical about investing $100 in the new game, which includes the software and redesigned guitar controller.

    Let's go over a few things that may be rolling around your head as you decide whether you want to hop back onto the "Guitar Hero" franchise.

    1. Your Old Guitars Won't Work

    If you were a fan of the original series, there's a good chance that you still have one if not more of the early guitar controllers around. Unfortunately, they're only decorative at this point, unless you want to fire up your old "Guitar Hero" games. "Guitar Hero Live" comes with an all-new controller with six buttons on the frets. Your old guitar is not compatible with the new game. Sorry.

    2. Guitar Hero TV Is Your Friend

    There are dozens of tracks included in the game, and that should be enough to entertain your faux-strumming needs for some time. However, the real adventure awaits online, where Guitar Hero TV -- a platform that offers hundreds of playable songs -- is where things really get interesting.

    Basic access to Guitar Hero TV is free. However, if you want to cherry-pick songs to keep playing or take advantage of premium content offerings, you will have to make some in-game purchases. In short, if you can resist the features that will cost you money, it does enhance the disc-based game.

    3. Double Your Pleasure for $50 More

    If you plan on jamming with a friend, there is a $150 bundle that includes two of the wireless guitar controllers. Activision Blizzard isn't selling individual guitar controllers just yet, but one would think that they will cost slightly more than $50 if the bundle is being promoted as a value at $150 compared to $100 for the one-controller version.

    If you need an extra controller for a friend -- or maybe when you get angry and go all Pete Townshend on your first plastic guitar -- the dual-guitar bundle could be the better investment.

    4. Activision Blizzard Discontinued Guitar Hero Once ...

    It's easy to buy into the refreshed platform, and the new ad with Lenny Kravitz and James Franco jamming to the new game is going to generate some initial buzz. However, keep in mind that this was the same franchise that Activision Blizzard temporarily discontinued five years ago. The first game came out in 2005. Sales peaked in 2008. By 2010 it was the end of an era.

    Activision Blizzard will naturally nix this franchise again if it's not selling briskly, and even if it does come back in a few years, we already saw that Activision Blizzard isn't afraid of making older guitar controllers incompatible. Make the investment based on the included tracks and the current state of Guitar Hero TV. Don't count on the music living on forever.

    Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Activision Blizzard. 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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    woman looks into a piggy bank....
    Every now and then, I'll reach out to the Good Financial Cents community for their input regarding what they'd like to see on the blog.

    One person said their biggest financial fear wasn't generating enough income to maintain their current plan. I thought I'd address that fear in this post. After all, that's pretty scary, right?

    Imagine not bringing in enough income to pay your bills or those unexpected expenses that come up every so often. Perhaps you don't have to imagine that scenario -- you're living it!

    You know exactly what it's like to be late on your bills and have to borrow using credit cards to make ends meet. Whether you're in that scenario or you want to know what to do should you find yourself there, this post is for you.

    The Financial Blogger's Conference community provided me with some of their best tips that I'll incorporate into this article. You'll love what they have to say.

    Alan Steinborn at has some important preliminary advice for those who find themselves in this situation:

    One important thing is to not be hard on yourself. It doesn't usually help anything, and the truth is that most everyone falls short of their expectations sometimes. Once you have taken a few deep breaths, walked around the block and made a mental list of all that is good in your life, you will have the mental clarity to make some new decisions.

    So sit back, don't sweat it and let's figure out what to do when you don't make enough money to fund your budget.

    It's All About Income ... or Expenses ... or Both!

    When you don't make enough money to fund your budget, there are two areas that often need to be analyzed: your income and expenses. Simple, right? What's simpler is if you have a million dollars -- or some other large amount of money -- sitting in your closet that you forgot about.

    If that's the case, you don't have an urgent financial issue and you should probably read this article instead. Assuming you don't have a swimming pool full of dough, you're going to have to work on improving your income, or your expenses, or both. Teresa Mears at had it right when she said:

    You really only have two choices: make more money or spend less.

    Bingo. Short and sweet. Lance Cothern at spells it out for us a bit more:

    The first thing you should do is figure out if you have an income problem or a spending problem. If you're only spending on basic essentials and you still don't have enough money to get by, work on finding higher paying work or more hours of work. If you're spending on cell phones, cable TV, and vacations, you may have a spending problem and should work on cutting nonessential expenses until your budget balances or until you can earn more income to cover those luxuries.

    Elizabeth Colegrove at says that you need to evaluate the issue before you decide what to do:

    Evaluate the issue (earning potential or excessive expenses) and create a plan of attack (reduce commuting/housing costs, look for a new job, relocate). It's also important to keep in mind that there will be seasons of feeling or being poor in order to obtain that next goal or milestone (school, graduate school, new job, launching of a new company, etc.).

    Kate Dore at believes in attacking income or expenses based on what's doable over the long-term:

    When you've realized you don't make enough money to fund your budget, you need to make a tough decision. Earn more money by asking for a raise, adding a side hustle, or changing careers -- or trimming the excess expenses, paying off debt, and living on less. What's most important? Making sure the choice is sustainable for you and your family.

    Increase Your Income

    If you're making minimum wage, I'm sorry, that just won't cut it. Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. If you work 40 hours an week every week for a year, that equals only slightly more than $15,000. Weak sauce. Now, it's great if you're just starting fresh out of high school or you need a temporary job to help your family out, but minimum wage shouldn't be a lifelong pursuit. It's good to aim higher. Stefanie O'Connell at likes to promote making more income:

    Make more money! It sounds so common sense, but when you're in the moment and struggling with not having enough, there's a tendency to put so much focus on the lack, that the very practical solution of tackling the other side of the equation -- generating more cashflow -- often gets overlooked.

    Reduce Your Expenses

    Another approach to ensure you're making enough money to fund your budget is to lower your budget. Jaymee at agrees with this approach:

    What's one important thing you should do when you don't make enough money to fund your budget? I would audit my expenses -- cut back on what I can or get rid of what I don't need.

    Brandon Marcott at believes in focusing on reducing expenses as the sole way to ensure you're spending within a budget:

    You really need to prioritize the spending items you value most. Is an extra $100 eating out more or less valuable than the $100 you want to save for some future purchase or $100 you want to give to your church or charity? It needs to be focused around your values, otherwise a change in spending habits is hard to stick with. In regards to the idea of "make more money," I find this a complete fallacy. Why? Because oftentimes, as soon as you make more, you find more things to spend it on and you end up in the same predicament. Hence, stick with values spending.

    Michelle Schroeder-Gardner at believes cutting expenses is the way to go:

    One important thing a person would do when they don't make enough money to fund their budget is to find ways to cut their budget. Whether that means cutting something completely out (such as a gym membership), negotiating for a lower rate, or cutting back in an area, something needs to be done so that you can stop living paycheck to paycheck.

    Jessica Garbarino at points out the essence of what it means to cut back expenses:

    Get very critical about which budget items are truly "needs" and truly "wants." Start by cutting back on the "wants."

    Because the level of necessity of certain budget items are controversial, it's best to ask a few friends to see if you're out of line. This helps when you're looking at, say, your coffee budget: "It's a need! No it's a want! No it's ... ugh I can't decide!" What you're really doing when you're making these "need" and "want" decisions is you're prioritizing. In fact, Jacob Wade at has a great idea for prioritizing your expenses:

    Write out a budget in order of priority (#1 shelter, #2 food, #3 utilities, etc.). Fund each item in order using your income. When the money is gone, draw a hard line. Anything below the line does not get funded. Done.

    Great idea Jacob. He goes on to say that finding money-making ideas is a great followup idea:

    Part two of this is to research hundreds of ways to make extra money now! Jay Monee's side hustle series is a great place to start.

    Agreed. But let's focus on expenses for a moment. What are some expenses that can be cut back? Jeff Fruhwirth at says:

    [What do you do] when you don't make enough money to fund your budget? Fix your budget. Get rid of cable TV, change phone plans, sell your car, move to a cheaper place, stop eating out.

    Here are some more specific ways to save money:

    1. Eye your groceries and cut them back. If you're seeing some chocolate cookies or ice cream in your shopping cart when you're at the grocery store and you're asking yourself, "I wonder how those got there?" I'll tell you: You put them in your shopping cart! Come on! If you're on a tight budget, you don't need that junk food. Instead, try something that will make you more like The Rock: veggies and fruits or lean meats. You get the idea. Believe it or not, you'll probably save money even when eating healthy -- junk food, in my opinion, has the capacity to take up a large portion of your grocery budget. Rosemarie Groner at agrees that cutting your grocery budget is a great idea:

    Cut your grocery budget. It's the easiest place to "find" extra money and depending on what you're spending now, that can free up several hundred dollars. If you eat at home and pack your lunches for work, that can buy you some time to figure out other solutions.

    Grocery spending is often identified as impulse spending. That leads me to my next point ...

    2. Watch out for other impulse purchases. Grayson Bell at understands the danger of impulse purchases:

    Cut the "fat" and rein in the impulse spending. Most people think they don't have enough to fund their budget because their budget is funding lifestyle inflation and "wants." People don't focus much on needs anymore due to our consumer culture. Get really honest with yourself, learn to track every penny, and make changes. If all else fails, get a second job and make more money!

    How to Reach Your Goals

    Whether you have an income issue, expense issue, or both, there are some tactics you can use to reach your goals. Let's take a look.

    1. Find an accountability partner or group. Toni Husbands at recognizes the importance of having someone walk through your financial journey with you:

    Find an accountability partner or group. Find someone you respect and that is fiscally responsible to talk with about your challenges. Often, an objective, unbiased perspective can help sort through issues to determine if you have a spending problem or making more income is really the best solution. An accountability partner will apply positive peer pressure so you can stick to the goals you've outlined.

    2. Stay positive. Mark Greutman at advises people to stay positive so they can reach their financial goals:

    Keep a positive mindset and recognize this as a temporary situation. If you get used to spending more than you make, you might never get out.

    3. Don't panic. Panic can cripple you. Michelle Jackson at understands this:

    When you find yourself with more budget than income the first thing you have to do is resist panicking! Panic creates opportunities to make bad decisions. Take a walk outside, clear your head, and with a clear mind look at your overall situation. You'll make better decisions by managing your emotions.

    4. Come to terms with your need to change. Making a change isn't always easy -- but sometimes it's necessary. Daniel Zajac at understands that accepting change is a part of reaching your goals:

    When you spending exceeds your budget, the single most important thing you need to do is acknowledge this can't go on forever. Something needs to change. Change might mean reevaluating your budget by giving up a "luxury" such as a coffee or eating out. Other change could be asking for a raise or getting a second job. Once you accept the need for change, you can begin to correct the problem.

    5. Tap into your original motivation. Why do people try to save money and make more money? There's always a reason! Johnny at says finding your motivation is important when it comes to fixing the problem of overspending or not making enough money:

    Take a deep breath and remember why you started a budget in the first place. Whether it was to get or stay out of debt, save for retirement, or put money toward a beach getaway, tap into that motivation and ask yourself, "Is [budgeted expense] more important than my goal?" If you're truly motivated, you'll find or make ways to cut back and/or earn more money.

    In order to want to do something, you have to be genuinely motivated. If you don't have a reason to accomplish your goals, you're not going to achieve them.

    Concluding Thoughts

    As you can see, there are a bunch of suggestions regarding what to do when you don't make enough money to fund your budget.

    Some feel cutting expenses is the most important part of the equation, and others feel that raising income is the best way to go. Others advocate both approaches.

    So what should you do if you're having this financial problem? Well, that depends on your individual scenario. I would advise you to target the area (income or expenses) that will make the most difference in your life, and then move on to the other one.

    If you need to focus raising your income, I have a whole bunch of home-based business ideas in this article: 65 Home Business Ideas You Can Do From Your Kitchen Table.

    If you need to focus on cutting your expenses, check out 70 Super Easy and Practical Ways to Save Money.

    Need to make money fast? Check out 100 Ways to Make $100 Fast.

    Whatever you do, don't make yourself overwhelmed. Pick a couple of things to try out, see how they work for you, and move on to the next ideas once you've exhausted your first ones. Stay motivated, and one morning you'll wake up and discover you have enough money to pay your bills. That's a dream worthy of pursuit!

    If you're not going through this financial problem right now, make sure to keep your expenses low and income high. You might be able to avoid having this problem in the future, and you should always try. You're doing great and I encourage you to continue to do so.

    How would you or are you dealing with this situation? Leave a comment.


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    close up of hands giving house...
    As a brand new homeowner, I didn't know as much as I do now about buying and selling houses. I'm still not an expert by any means, but I've learned some important principles about how to buy a home that earns you money over time.

    It's all about choosing the right property and improving it strategically. If you're looking for the right situation, you can buy a home that makes you money for years to come, all with minimal effort on your part. Let's get right into it.

    1. Make Money By Buying a House that is Undervalued

    This takes research and perspective. Homes may be undervalued for many reasons. Oftentimes, a home may start out overpriced, but sit around on the market for months. The longer a house sits around for sale, the less likely it is to sell and the more motivated the seller may be to accept a much lower offer.

    Other homes are "ugly ducklings." They may be the worst house on a nice street, or require some renovation to make them all they can be. If you're handy, or if the price you negotiate leaves you with enough money to perform repairs and later turn a profit, a home like this can be a good choice. In general, be ready to buy a house, but wait to pull the trigger until you know you've found a diamond in the rough. There are so many factors which contribute to an undervalued home. With time and practice, you'll know one when you see one.

    2. Make Money While You Own the Home

    On average, homes tend to appreciate in value over time at a rate of 3 to 5 percent a year. This rate increases if you find a home that's in a growing or developing neighborhood. You can further increase this value of your home by performing strategic improvements to the house. Remodels which add a bathroom or bedroom, or improve key features like the kitchen or master bath, can add more than 100 percent of their cost in equity. Other people add significant square footage to their homes through inexpensive additions. Again, these must be well-chosen renovations. But if you take your time and pick good projects, you'll be investing in a home that will be worth much more when you sell it someday.

    3. Make Money When You Sell or Rent

    There are many pieces of advice on how to invest in real estate out on the Internet, but the people who do it the best are the ones who are willing to get creative. Some people are able to sell their own homes, to avoid an agent's fee. Some accomplish this by becoming agents themselves. But the most successful homeowner/sellers are the ones who have a knack for marketing. Take great pictures, pick a good price, make your home visible in every local and national real estate advertising forum you can find (in print and online) and have a timeline for how long you'll wait before lowering the price. If your home is priced accurately, and is in move-in condition, you'll stand a good chance of selling the home fast and on your own.

    Other people follow these first steps and decide not to sell. Instead, they use their home to generate cash flow or passive income, in order to improve their lifestyle, increase savings/investments or fund the purchase of an additional property. This will work well for some people, and not others, and you likely already know how you feel about the idea. But you can clearly see how selecting the right house in the first place gives you excellent options like this one, even years later.

    Make it Happen For You

    There are many more ways to add value to your home as you own it, but selecting the right home in the first place is the most important. If you get a good deal on your home, make realistic improvements that increase your equity, enjoy appreciation in your home's value and sell (or rent it out) at the right time and for the right price, you will have maxed out your home in terms of its wealth-building potential.

    Now that you've done it once, you can do it again. I'm not trying to turn you into a full time real estate investor. It's simply a good idea to make the most of your purchase if you ever decide to become a homeowner. With many a personal finance blog covering general investment, decisions like these deserve extra attention. For new homeowners and those still aspiring, it's very reasonable to do this process several times, some people even recommending that young people try to do it once every two years. Once you've done it right the first time, there are many ways to expand. So focus on your first house and make it a solid foundation for your future financial success.


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    WireImage/Getty ImagesChristopher Lloyd, Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson and writer/director Robert Zemeckis attend the 'Back To The Future' 25th anniversary Trilogy Blu-Ray release celebration in New York City.
    By Jim Gold

    The future is today, and it's about time!

    At least, that's what those celebrating "Back to the Future Day" say.

    In the second installment of the popular trilogy, 1989's "Back to the Future Part II" characters Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) land their time traveling DeLorean in what is now our present day, Oct. 21, 2015.

    Through their eyes, we see the future envisioned by producer Steven Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis. Through our eyes we can see how close they got -- and in some cases, what we got instead.

    Time Travel

    No, we still don't have time machines, and we don't even have scientists agreeing on whether we could time travel, but that doesn't mean we stopped experimenting with the possibility, as reports. Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia recently simulated how time-traveling photons might behave, the Daily Mail reported. Their research suggests that if we ever could travel back through time, we could deal with the grandfather paradox cited in "Back to the Future": If we stop our grandparents from meeting, we wouldn't be born to travel back in time.

    Flying Cars

    Weren't we supposed to have flying cars by now? They haven't really gotten off the ground yet. Envisioned long before "Back to the Future," they were featured in movies, including "A Visit to A Small Planet" with Jerry Lewis and television's "The Jetsons." Boston-based Terrafugia says its model is coming soon, and you can reserve one now. It's even making a vertical takeoff model, it told the BBC, that would be ready in less than 10 years.

    In the meantime, as the BBC notes, we've got electric cars and garbage-fueled cars. And don't forget self-driving cars, they're here, thanks to Mercedes, Google and Apple.

    Picture Phones

    As movie character Needles (Flea) talks in a video phone call, on-screen text lets a middle-age McFly see his caller's personal likes and dislikes. We've got Skype and other video conferencing tools. Personal details don't flow automatically yet, but during a Skype call, we could call up or search for details about people with whom we're talking. Also, we've got FaceTime on iPhones, putting live video chats in the palms of our hands.

    Fax machines seem ubiquitous in the movie, but their use in our real lives has diminished with the growth of email, PDFs and JPEGs.

    Flat Screens

    Not only does the movie showcase flat screen TVs, they appear to be at the 16:9 aspect ratio we enjoy now on high-definition sets rather than the 4:3 ratio that was still standard in 1989. While the plasma flat screen was invented in 1964, HDTVs didn't become common until the late '90s. Digital TV transmission became mandatory in 2009. The movie also showed flexible screens the size of window shades. Flex screens exist in smaller formats and are in development for larger sizes.

    Thumbprints In 2015, according to the film, thumbprints open door locks and pay bills, such as a taxi fare. That does happen now, at least to a degree. You can buy keyless "biometric" locks activated by your thumbprint or fingerprint, as well as by keypad and card reader. If you've got an iPhone, you can activate it with your thumbprint and in turn activate apps that unlock doors or pay bills via PayPal or your credit and debit cards. Yale locks recently partnered with Nest, the Google-owned technology firm, to sell a door lock that can be remotely controlled by a smartphone app.

    Video Glasses

    The McFly children of 2015 wear video glasses to watch entertainment and receive phone calls. Voice-activated Google Glass came -- with parts of a smartphone, a processor, 16GB of storage, a Bluetooth radio, a small battery and more -- but earlier this year went, when Google halted consumer sales of its $1,500 eyewear. Google reportedly will revive Glass under a new name.

    Meanwhile, Facebook's Oculus Rift and Microsoft's HoloLens virtual reality headgear are due early next year.

    And we've got other wearable devices foretold by a talking jacket worn by McFly, from the Apple Watch and FitBits to clothing that monitors your heart rate, respiration rate and skin temperature and can even send EKGs (electrocardiograms). Nike has applied for a patent for self-lacing footwear.

    Marty McFly in "Back to the Future II" fears he's about to be gobbled by a holographic shark.


    We don't have a holographic version of "Jaws 19," but you can attend your own funeral and hang out for eternity as a hologram. Full-color, pop-up, floating 3D displays that can be viewed without glasses, are coming.

    Hoverboard While the movie features a chase scene on hoverboards, that wouldn't work now for real. Hoverboards designed by Lexus and a rival called Hendo, designed with skateboard star Tony Hawk, work on magnet-based technology and can't leave their metal tracks hidden below skatepark surfaces.

    A Few Movie Misses
    • The Web: Although the film depicts data-driven technology, and the Internet was around when the film was made, the World Wide Web was in its infancy.
    • Smartphones: "It's the Swiss Army Knife of today," screenwriter Bob Gale told The Hollywood Reporter. "The fact that everyone can have one device that's a computer, that's a camera, that's a recording device, that's a calculator, that's a flashlight ... we didn't think of that." Marty Jr. uses an AT&T payphone in the movie. The film does show, however, tabletlike devices. However, it also relies on a print version of USA Today to change as the film's characters change history. And who could foresee the USA Today logo change?
    • Pizza hydrators: Black & Decker never did develop the kitchen gadget that would blow up a miniature pizza to full size. However, Gale did foresee pizza remaining popular.
    How to Celebrate
    • See it again: If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch all three "Back to the Future" movies for free in October. Universal also recently released a 30th anniversary Blu-ray set (the first movie came out in 1985). Go back to the big screen as the movies are playing in many cities.
    • Go behind the scenes: The documentary film "Back in Time," featuring interviews with Fox, Zemeckis and Spielberg, will be released digitally Oct. 21.
    • Keep up: Check out updates for Doctor Brown on Facebook, where he seems to have returned to 2015.
    • Visit: If you're near Reston, Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb, you can visit Marty McFly's hometown of Hill Valley, thanks to the Washington West International Film Festival. It will be screening "Back to the Future Part II" with actor Lloyd and screenwriter Gale in attendance.
    • Watch the Cubs, even though they are facing off against the Mets on Oct. 21. In the movie, they beat a not-then-real Miami team to win the 2015 World Series.
    Which "Back to the Future" prediction do you wish had come true? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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    Did you know that your browsing history can affect your travel budget? Many travel sites store your browsing information and, in some cases, your zip code, too. Depending on how many times you've searched for the same fare, or if you're browsing from an affluent area, sites can raise prices accordingly.

    So, how can you keep the costs from climbing? It's a breeze. Simply delete your cookies and browsing history before you search and you can make yourself appear as a first-time visitor to the site.

    Also, try searching from different browsers and devices and you may just see the prices take a dive. Remember: buying plane tickets online doesn't have to stall your savings.

    View Poll


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    Financial Markets Wall Street Ferrari's Debut
    Richard Drew/APFiat Chrysler chairman John Elkann, second left, Ferrari CEO Amedeo Felisa, center, Piero Ferrari, son of Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari, second right, and Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange to mark Ferrari's IPO, Wednesday.
    By Caroline Valetkevitch

    NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks fell Wednesday as a sharp drop in Valeant Pharmaceuticals hit health care shares, while the energy sector dropped along with oil prices.

    Adding to the negative tone, Yahoo (YHOO) shares fell 5.2 percent to $31.12, a day after the Internet company's quarterly earnings and profit missed expectations.

    Valeant Pharmaceuticals' (VRX) U.S.-listed shares sank to an intraday low of $88.50 on record volume, losing about $9.6 billion in market capitalization, after short-seller Citron Research released a report critical about the company.

    The stock later pared losses after investor Bill Ackman said Wednesday he increased his Valeant stake by about 2 million shares. The stock ended down 19.2 percent at $118.61, its lowest level since October 2014.

    Shares of Allergan (ACT), which has a business model similar to that of Valeant, was down 1.7 percent at $259, cutting earlier losses after the company said nearly all of its drugs are being distributed through traditional wholesale and retail channels.

    Also in the health care sector, insurers Aetna (AET), Humana (HUM), Anthem (ANTM) and Cigna (CI) all fell at least 3 percent after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she had "serious concerns" about the mergers the companies were proposing.

    A drop in crude oil prices weighed on the S&P 500 energy sector, which fell 1 percent. That led sector declines for the S&P 500, followed by materials, down 0.9 percent, and S&P health care, also down 0.9 percent.

    Lower Oil Prices

    "Oil inventories were up quite a bit, so energy was down and that weighed down the market. Going into the afternoon the buyers were just lined up to watch as we drifted lower into the the close," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

    "Also there was weakness in health care, not just in individual stocks, but that sector underperformed."

    The Dow Jones industrial average (^DJI) fell 48.5 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,168.61, the Standard & Poor's 500 index (^GSPC) lost 11.83 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,018.94 and the Nasdaq composite (^IXIC) dropped 40.86 points, or 0.8 percent, to 4,840.12.

    On the plus side, shares of General Motors (GM) rose 5.8 percent to $35.42, while Boeing (BA) rose 1.7 percent to $141.19, after both industry heavyweights reported better-than-expected results.

    Ferrari (RACE) was up 5.8 percent at $55 in its debut on the New York Stock Exchange.

    Stocks have mostly gained this month following a sharp selloff in the third quarter.

    Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 2,173 to 888, for a 2.45-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 2,066 issues fell and 717 advanced for a 2.88-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

    The S&P 500 posted 27 new 52-week highs and 5 new lows; the Nasdaq recorded 52 new highs and 82 new lows.

    What to watch Thursday:
    • The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.
    • At 10 a.m., the National Association of Realtors releases existing home sales for September, and Freddie Mac releases weekly mortgage rates.
    Earnings Season
    These selected companies are scheduled to release quarterly financial results:
    • 3M Co. (MMM)
    • Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL)
    • (AMZN)
    • Caterpillar (CAT)
    • McDonald's (MCD)
    • Microsoft (MSFT)
    • Southwest Airlines (LUV)
    • Union Pacific (UNP)
    • United Continental Holdings (UAL)


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    stillwater  mn usa   june 27 ...
    By Varsha Bansal

    To compete with FedEx (FDX) and UPS (UPS), the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service is testing enhanced services in select locations.

    Mail notification. This new service, which is expected to launch in New York City, will tell customers what's coming to their mailbox every day by sending e-mails they can read on their mobile device. The service doesn't include packages.

    Sunday delivery. This holiday season, some cus­tomers can expect their gifts and packages to be delivered on some Sundays leading up to Christmas. Sunday delivery will be offered in most major U.S. cities with high package volume.

    Same-day delivery. The USPS has a pilot program for same-day delivery in New York City.

    Grocery delivery. Working with Amazon, USPS is delivering groceries in some locations in California and New York.

    Alcohol delivery. Postmaster General Megan Brennan has said that delivering beer, wine and spirits would make the USPS more competitive. Current law prohibits U.S. mail carriers from delivering alcoholic beverages, so Congress would have to give its blessing.


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    Never Hold for Customer Service Again

    Internet and mobile phone users may be accustomed to instant communication in daily life, but it can be back to the Stone Age when you call a company's customer service operation. Understaffed call centers, customer service numbers with complicated phone-tree menus and representatives without decision-making powers are the top obstacles to customer satisfaction, Consumer Reports' recent survey of consumers' experiences found. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they've hung up in frustration before resolving the complaint they'd called about.

    Keep Cool

    As Scott Broetzmann, president of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, tells CR, "Many companies today are simply awful at resolving customer problems, despite investments in whiz-bang technologies and considerable advertising about their customer focus."

    But there's no need to drive up your blood pressure. There are ways around the customer-service mess, including apps that help you bypass the customer-service runaround. Here are nine tips for staying sane while getting the help you need -- quickly:

    1. Use phone tree finesse. Here's how to reach live help faster when calling customer service:
    • Press "0." Hitting the "0" button repeatedly on your phone will get someone on the line at many companies. (Inside Edition, however, says the technique has lost effectiveness as companies are dodging this customer work-around.)
    • Ask for "operator." When dealing with a voice-activated system that wants you to state the reason for your call (but fails to understand your answer) say "operator" repeatedly when prompted to explain the reason you are calling.
    • Select a different department. "Forget support entirely and press the prompt for 'sales' or 'to place an order,' where companies are likely to roll out the red carpet," say customer service experts polled by Consumer Reports. At the minimum, someone in another department may be able to direct you to the correct extension.
    • Time your call. Make your call during slow times, not lunch time. Avoid Mondays and Fridays, a company's busiest days.
    • Vent. Go ahead and yell at the recording. It just might help. Some automated systems are able to recognize the anger in your voice and bump frustrated callers to the head of the queue, Inside Edition says.
    2. Reach a real person with GetHuman. Let me tell you a story about GetHuman. I used it for the first time recently when I tried calling a well-known shoe retailer with a question about a return. I dialed the customer service number on my receipt, full of goodwill toward the company. After 10 minutes on hold, the line seemed to go dead. I hung up and tried again. My second call ended 40 minutes later when I hung up because I had no more time to waste. By then I was furious with the company.

    I'd read about GetHuman, an online app that shows users the shortest path to a live customer service representative, so I decided to give it a try. At I typed in the name of the company whose customer service department I wanted to reach. GetHuman replied with the same number I'd been using, but with instructions to say, "Place an order." I followed GetHuman's directions. Someone at the shoe company picked up on the second ring and resolved my issue in minutes.

    Also, GetHuman offers additional assistance:

    Tell us why you're phoning. We'll try to help before Chase picks up the phone.

    This allows GetHuman to try supplying either an answer to your question from its database or a phone number specifically appropriate to your issue. GetHuman also offers ways to ask a question about a company and read users' experiences, reviews and tips.

    GetHuman mobile apps are available on the Google Play and the iTunes store.

    3. Let LucyPhone place your call. Once you finally get through to customer service, there's still the possibility of being stuck on hold.LucyPhone prevents waiting on the line and listening to elevator music. Instead, the free service instructs you to hang up so you can receive a call back when customer service is on the line.

    At LucyPhone's website or mobile app, find the company you want to contact and let LucyPhone connect you to the customer service line. LucyPhone's directions:

    First we'll connect you to the company.
    If you get put on hold, press * * and we will wait in your spot for you.
    When your call reaches an agent, you will get a call back.

    4. Get customer service to call you. In another twist, FastCustomer gets a representative to contact you. On the FastCustomer website, search for the company you want to contact. FastCustomer takes care of the rest. The service tells you what your wait time is likely to be.

    Some 3,000-plus companies are listed, including Apple, Verizon, Bank of America and AAA. Apps are available for iPhone, Android, Kindle Fire and Chrome.

    5. Let GripeO manage your complaint. Type your complaint into GripeO's website and your gripe is taken straight to the business that's the focus of your complaint. GripeO contacts the business on your behalf.

    "Unlike Yelp, which publishes complaints publicly, GripeO keeps the conversation private between the customer and the company in question," says this article in Buffalo Rising, adding:

    If a company ignores or fails to respond to a complaint, that complaint will be auctioned off to other businesses. The business that purchases the complaint can provide the customer with a solution to their complaint and possibly attract more business with that and other customers. In this way, [Creative Director Jim] Proulx said smaller companies could compete with larger ones by offering superior customer service.

    The key to GripeO's ambitions, though, may be in the other side of its business: complaint management for businesses.

    6. Use live chat. Whenever you see a live chat feature offered, give it a try. Many companies are using live chat effectively to provide real-time help, making it a real time saver for customers. Some live support options are staffed by clueless agents who seem unable to understand or respond to requests but it costs you nothing to try it out.

    7. Vote with your feet. You'll find alternatives even to cable monopolies these days (read You Can Stop Paying for Cable TV Now) and banks (read Is It Time to Divorce Your Bank?), for just two examples. Next time you find yourself trying for the umpteenth time to connect with customer service, fire your annoying provider and find a new one. Just be sure to research the alternatives before you jump:
    • Ask friends, family and co-workers for recommendations.
    • Read online reviews of companies' customer service.
    • Search for news about a company.
    • Read through the website of a company you are considering using, focusing especially on the customer service options and policies.
    In fact, Consumer Reports found that dropping a service often inspires its customer service staff to pull out all the stops to get the business back:

    When the half-price HBO promo ended for one of our shoppers and the cable company refused to extend it, he dropped the package. "Once I quit, they offered it to me again -- in the same phone call," he said. Another shopper dropped Cablevision completely when his bill skyrocketed. After he quit, the company was willing to deal to regain his business.

    8. Take your problem public on social media. Social media is a potentially powerful way to get a company's attention. It's simple to use: Post your complaint on a company's website or Tweet about the problem you're having. Smart companies today are monitoring social media and have staffers dedicated to responding to negative comments and resolving them.

    I've saved this option for last, though, because it could get you in hot water. Cautions U.S. News:

    [K]keep in mind that some companies have a nondisparagement clause buried in their terms of service. "If you're going to make a complaint online, be sure that you state supportable facts," says Anthony Giorgianni, an associate finance editor at Consumer Reports. "You leave yourself open to a lawsuit if you start making factual claims that are not correct."

    If you do use social media, don't just lash out. Posting a friendly question is safer, more-civil and potentially more effective than launching a nasty screed, anyway.

    9. Bring in the big guns. If you have exhausted other avenues (and you are dealing with a Fortune 500 company) try contacting the company's executive customer service operation.

    "Executive customer service is a person or team attached to the executive offices of most major companies that, unlike some call center jockeys reading off binders, have the ability to solve nearly any problem," Ben Popken tells readers at Next Avenue. Popken is a former managing editor at

    Caveat: Executive customer support can be hard to locate and success is not guaranteed. Here's how to find and use it:
    • It's a last resort. To have credibility with the executive suite, you'll need to have tried the usual support channels that we've listed above and struck out.
    • Bring your A game. Getting what you want at this level requires respectful approach. No venting, no ranting. Be polite and be ready to deliver a quick, concise description of your problem, including the solution you want.
    • Find the number. It may take creativity to find a company's executive customer service as these teams or staff members are not typically listed on the company website. Start your search by typing the business' name into Google Finance or Yahoo Finance to find a phone number for the company headquarters and names of its top executives.
    • Place the call. Call the headquarters and ask for one of the top execs by name. When you reach the executive or, mostly likely, a secretary or administrative assistant, deliver your brief explanation and request. You may be routed elsewhere or, in the best of all possible worlds, the person on the other end will say, "Let me see what I can do to help."
    • Try emailing. Look for email addresses on the company's website for a company directory (usually in the "about" area. If you can't find the addresses you need, use Consumerist's tips for sussing out contact information for executives. Popken's Next Avenue article has more tips on resolving complaints via email.
    Have you tried any of the tips and techniques described here? We'd love to know what worked for you and to hear your customer service war stories, good and bad. Post a comment below or at our Facebook page.

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    Halloween pumpkins on dark background
    ShutterstockSeasonal decorations at stores might even get you to spend more.
    By Kendal Perez

    Treats and trickery are popular themes this month as families prepare to celebrate Halloween.

    They're also strategies used by retailers to get consumers to spend more.

    Customers focused on getting a bargain may not notice the following traps used to part them with their hard-earned cash. And these traps aren't the shriek-inducing ones that shock you on Halloween; they're subtler and often disguised as treats, making them far more deadly to your budget.

    Strategic staging:

    'Tis the season for changing leaves, hearty meals and pumpkin-spiced everything, a fact retailers won't allow consumers to overlook. Pretty displays of pumpkins and swirling scents of cinnamon play on consumers' nostalgia during this time of year. While these sensations bring smiles to shoppers' faces, the underlying strategy is far from innocent. "During the holidays, it's important that our store features seasonal aromas and music," says Miles Bergsma, director of brick & mortar for etailz Inc., speaking about Wollnick's General Store in Spokane, Washington. "We've found that if customers are greeted with a shopping experience that reflects the season, they will stay longer and spend more."

    Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor for DealNews, agrees. "Researchers have found that certain colors, sounds, smells and even physical sensations can increase spending," he says.

    The color red, for example, has an interesting influence on diners and shoppers. "In a restaurant, seeing red makes you think you're hungry," says Joanie Demer, co-founder of The Krazy Coupon Lady. "In a store, it makes you think you're getting a deal, even when you aren't."

    Tricky upsells:

    When it comes to online shopping, there's no promotion more coveted than free shipping. According to the 2015 Holiday Shipping Survey published by Pitney Bowes, 60 percent of surveyed shoppers admitted to increasing their spending to qualify for free shipping. Threshold offers, as they're called, are a common upselling trick, says Mari Corella, director of digital merchandising for a global beauty company. "A popular practice for online retailers is to offer free shipping, a discount or a free gift once a certain order value is reached," she says.

    Online shoppers likely recognize the strategy, but they may be surprised to learn this next part: "This order value is often up to 50 percent more than the average order value." In essence, retailers double customer spending while making them feel they received a good deal in free delivery. Sneaky indeed!

    Scheming prices:

    The order in which shoppers are presented products can contribute to how much they spend. Consumer psychologist and retail consultant Bruce D. Sanders found hotel room shoppers paid an average of $19 more per room when they reviewed options from highest price to lowest price, compared to those who were presented with the list in reverse. "The price of the first item considered becomes an anchor for what the shopper expects to pay," Sanders says.

    Sorting products by highest-rated may seem like a smart way to find the best value among low- and high-priced items. However, it's more complicated than that, Corella says. "Even when sorted by 'most relevant' or 'recommended,' price point plays a large role in the algorithm, making higher-priced items sort to the top."

    A related tactic is something called the "decoy effect," where the existence of one product is designed to increase sales for another product. Vassilis Dalakas, professor of marketing at California State University San Marcos, offers an example from Williams-Sonoma. "The store was offering a bread maker for around $279 but had difficulty selling it," he says. So they introduced a pricier bread maker for $429, which drove consumers to purchase the lesser-priced option. "From a consumer psychology standpoint, it's important to recognize the power of reference points," Dalakas says. "As consumers, we often have difficulty making a decision, so we try to use something that makes it easier for us to compare available options so we can decide on which one is best."

    Deceptive discounts:

    Consumers love using coupons to knock down the price of their purchases, while retailers lament their negative impact on profit margins. Jerry Jao, CEO of Retention Science, a customer data and retention marketing company, points to dynamic discounting as a popular method for retailers to stay competitive while maximizing profits. Based on data collected by a retailer, one customer may receive an email for 20 percent off her purchase, while another receives an email for only 10 percent off her purchase. "The retailer knows what it takes to convince each to make a purchase," Jao says. "By not giving away the biggest discount to all buyers, retailers can avoid cannibalizing the impact of big promotions around the holidays."

    Another deceptive discount is the bounce-back offer. Mark Harrington, vice president of marketing at Clutch, a consumer technology provider, describes these deals as "a bonus to be used at a later date for spending a minimum amount and often requiring a minimum spend." For example, spend $50 now and receive a coupon for $25 off your next purchase of $75 or more from Nov. 1 to Nov. 15. "These types of offers get the shopper to return and make additional purchases, increasing revenue, margin, shopping time and customer affinity for the brand."

    Corella considers bounce-back offers one of the best deals merchants can provide to shoppers. "However, the redemption is incredibly low as customers often times forget to redeem."

    Keep these retail tricks in mind, dear shoppers, for the holiday shopping season looms and with it the prospect of disappearing dollars.

    Kendal Perez is a spokeswoman for, a popular source for online, in-store and mobile coupons. She also blogs at Hassle-Free Savings and enjoys yoga, decluttering, craft brew and obsessing over her dogs.


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