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DailyFinance.com

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    Caucasian woman paying bills on computer
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    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    "Game of Thrones" may be entertaining, but is it worth the $100 or more you may be shelling out for cable each month?

    According to the Leichtman Research Group, the average pay-TV subscription service cost $99.10 a month in 2015, up 39 percent from 2010. Meanwhile, if The NPD Group is right, you may be on track to spend more than $200 a month for the privilege of watching television in 2020.

    If that sounds outrageous to you, it's time to cut your cable bill. And while you're at it, slash other monthly expenses from your budget as well. In fact, a little bill trimming could put an extra $1,000 in your pocket this year. Here's how.

    Cable or satellite TV

    Let's start with the big one: your television service. Now, I know paying to watch TV seems to be the American way. After all, the Leichtman Research Group found 83 percent of all households pay for some form of TV service.

    So I get it if you think pulling the plug is a bit radical. But it is also smart. If you have an HDTV and a roof antenna, you can get free over-the-air channels with a picture quality that puts standard-definition cable TV to shame.

    In addition, if you have a newer TV, Blu-Ray player or gaming system and a high-speed Internet connection, you can use these streaming services for a fraction of the price:
    • Netflix
    • Hulu or Hulu Plus
    • Amazon Prime
    • iTunes

    There may be a slight delay in watching new shows, but ask yourself whether it is really worth $1,200 a year just so you can be in the know for the office water cooler conversation?

    If you are ready to cut the cable, you will be in great company. See: TV Viewers Cutting the Cord in Big Numbers.

    And for more information, check out: Internet

    Next to television, Internet is the other big monthly expense for many families.

    If you are a basic Internet user and simply need service to check your email and Facebook, you may want to check out the ultra-cheap Internet available through FreedomPop and NetZero.

    With Freedom Pop, you can get up to 500MB of free wireless service each month at 3G and 4G speeds, while NetZero offers a paid DSL hook-up. Both have pricing plans that vary depending on your location, but they have historically been only a fraction of what you'd pay other providers.

    For more, check out this popular post: You Can Now Get Free Internet at Home and Away.

    If you have a tiered data plan with Verizon Wireless, you can use your phone as a tethered hot spot for free. The company settled a complaint with the FCC in 2012 and agreed not to charge these customers for hot-spot access. Depending on your plan, you might need to download a third-party app first.

    If you are grandfathered into Verizon's old unlimited data plan, you're out of luck with the free hot-spot service. However, you can pay $30 a month for 4 gigabytes of hot spot access, and that may be cheaper than what you are currently paying for DSL or cable. Other mobile carriers offer their own hot-spot plans as well.

    Finally, if your kids qualify for the National School Lunch Program, you can get $9.95 Internet access through Comcast's Internet Essentials. The company is also piloting cheap Internet programs for Pell Grant recipients enrolled in eligible community colleges as well as those age 62 or older who receive public assistance and live in Boston, San Francisco County or Palm Beach County, Florida.

    Mobile phone service

    Moving right along: Let's talk about your cellphone. Signing a contract can be the best way to snag the latest and greatest phone for little or nothing upfront. But you'll be paying for that phone in the form of higher monthly plan fees over the next two years.

    If you aren't particular about your phone, try a prepaid plan that will give you access to good service with a decent, although not flashy, phone. All the major carriers offer prepaid plans, but PC Magazine reports some of the smaller providers offer even better deals.

    Check out what is available in your area from the following companies:
    • Consumer Cellular
    • FreedomPop
    • Giv Mobile
    • Page Plus Cellular
    • Net10
    • H20 Wireless

    Be sure to compare a couple of different providers before signing up. Most run on AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint networks but Page Plus Cellular offers access to Verizon's network. In addition, some providers, such as H20 Wireless, may be a better choice if you need to call internationally.

    Find help for common financial problems in our Solutions Center!

    Credit monitoring

    We've covered the big three expenses, but there are still plenty more ways to save. Sometimes we get so hung up on our major expenses that we ignore the little fees that nickel-and-dime our bank accounts down to nothing.

    Take credit monitoring, for example. You could pay a company $15 a month or more to watch your credit report or you could do it yourself. By law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. Request yours at annualcreditreport.com (the only government-authorized site) and review them for errors.

    For additional peace of mind, you can add a fraud alert to your file, which requires lenders to take additional steps to verify your request before extending any credit in your name.

    In short, there's no reason to pay for credit monitoring. For more, read Ask Stacy: Should I Pay for Credit Monitoring?

    Computer services

    Along the same lines, why are you paying for virus protection and cloud storage when free options are available?

    I am an AVG fan myself, but there are plenty of other good free anti-virus programs available. Again, we'll refer you to our friends at PC Magazine to help identify the best free programs on the Web. The following are among their recommendations:
    • Avast Free AntiVirus 2016
    • AVG Anti-Virus Free (2016)
    • Panda Free Antivirus (2016)
    • Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014)
    For more, read 8 Tips to Protect Your Computer From Viruses and Malware

    Cloud storage is also easily found online. If you have an MSN account, you have access to their OneDrive. Google users can back up documents to their Google Drive. Then, you also have Dropbox, iCloud and MediaFire, and the list goes on and on.

    Magazine subscriptions

    Confession time: I love magazines. My perfect morning involves sleeping children, a cup of coffee and a home and garden magazine.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to get cheap magazines without paying newsstand prices. For example, there are a number of websites offering free magazine subscriptions. I've personally used the free magazine section of ValueMags for consumer publications and Mercury Magazines for business titles.

    While many free magazine offers are for digital editions, you can also find print subscriptions for free.

    Speaking of digital editions, you can typically find much of a magazine's content on its website for free. I know, it's not quite the same as flipping through the pages, but you can't beat the price.

    If you must have the magazine in your hand but can't find a free subscription, a trip to your local library is probably in order. In addition to checking magazines out, some branches have racks of old issues free for the taking.

    Gym memberships

    Last but not least, that gym membership you've been clinging to in the hopes you really will begin working out any day now.

    If you really want to belong to a gym, look for free or low-cost options. Students may have free access to their school's facilities. Your health insurance plan may get you a discount. Or if you belong to Costco, you could take advantage of their arrangement with 24 Hour Fitness. Other chains such as Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness specialize in no-frills, low-cost gyms.

    Finally, it probably doesn't need to be said, but you do know it's free to walk on the sidewalk, right?
    How have you cut back on your monthly subscription expenses? Is there something you'll never give up?

    Tell us more about it in the comments or on our Facebook page.

     

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    Couple talking to financial advisor in living room
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    By Sabah Karimi

    If you're struggling with your budget every month or just can't seem to get ahead financially, it may be time to turn to a financial role model or mentor for guidance. Connecting with someone who has been in your shoes, or who has successfully turned things around after financial devastation, may be just what you need to get yourself on a healthy financial track. At the very least, seeking support or advice can help you stay motivated and encourage you to get your financial life in order.

    Here are five ways to find a financial role model or mentor.

    1. Call the bank. If you have been a loyal customer at your bank for several years or have prestige customer status, you may qualify for complimentary sessions with a financial advisor. A financial advisor can serve as a temporary mentor to guide you through the process of investing wisely, setting up a realistic budget or managing money after a windfall. They may also help you with big financial decisions, such as purchasing a car, investing in a college fund or evaluating your stock portfolio. A quick phone call may be all it takes to get the process started with a dedicated financial professional.

    2. Reach out to successful friends. How many of your friends or neighbors run successful businesses? Most successful entrepreneurs are financially savvy because they have learned how to manage their resources successfully. These contacts may be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to budgeting or providing advice on how to better manage your investments and finances in the future. Take someone out for coffee or lunch to learn more about their journey and find out if they would be willing to be your mentor. If they are not available, ask them for any books or resources they have learned from over the years so you can start educating yourself.


    3. Review online mentoring programs. Several organizations, including faith-based organizations like MoneyLife Mentoring, offer online mentoring programs for those who want to turn their financial situation around with expert guidance and support. You agree to pay a monthly fee to have access to your mentor and may also have the option to work through a self-paced program that offers educational materials and workbooks as resources for your financial management plan. Whether you struggle with paying bills on time or need a cohesive action plan to set yourself up for a positive financial future, consider registering for an online program that can walk you through the process step by step.

    4. Get in touch with successful family members. Talking about money matters with extended family members or those who are close to you outside of your immediate family may not be comfortable, but you can explore the option of asking for advice from those who have successfully paid off large amounts of debt, are living a debt-free lifestyle or have a knack for saving money. Reaching out to these family members for advice to help with a current problem, or simply to be there for support and guidance as you work through your debt repayment or savings plan, could be just what you need to stay on a positive track.

    5. Get social. You'll find dozens of personal finance gurus and experts across the Web providing valuable advice and real-life stories about their journey to financial success. Start tuning in to their podcasts or register for upcoming webinars for valuable tips and advice on virtually any issue related to money, banking, credit and investing. Many of these experts have authored books and maintain a blog or social media presence with up-to-date and relevant information. Subscribe to their blog or email newsletter for daily and weekly updates, or find out if they offer an online course to help you learn the basic principles of money management. You may also be able to find Meetup groups that discuss personal finance topics and will help keep you accountable.

    Keep in mind, reading and researching won't be enough if you aren't interacting directly with your role model - you need to follow through on what you have learned, so having an accountability partner along the way can help.

     

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    With love on Valentine's day
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    By John Schmoll

    Valentine's Day is just around the corner. Who doesn't like to take a day to show a loved one just how much they mean to them?

    The retail industry takes that desire and preaches one message: You must spend money to accomplish it. The National Retail Federation reports Americans spent almost $150 per person for Valentine's Day gifts, totaling nearly $19 billion spent. This amount will make almost any frugal person shudder.

    What is the frugal person to do? What if you want to show love to your special Valentine but not give into the retail message of the amount spent equating to more love? Thankfully, there are many possible options. Here are a few to consider.

    Don't buy anything:

    Retailers like to make us think we need to spend to have an enjoyable Valentine's Day. That's simply not the case. "A great way to save money on Valentine's Day is to plan an experience and not buy things," says personal finance expert Catherine Alford of Budget Blonde. That might seem impossible to do or contrary to the idea of Valentine's Day. It's not. The day should be about spending time with loved ones and sharing memories, not just buying stuff. Alford explains a family can plan a free outing for the day and come home to bake something together. You get to express the same love without the added cost.

    Have a potluck:

    Dining at a romantic restaurant is a popular Valentine's Day activity. There's nothing wrong with that, though prices are commonly raised, making it an even more expensive night out. Personal finance expert Scott Alan Turner explains a great frugal alternative to the expensive night out. "Get together with a group of friends and have a potluck dinner and a game night to celebrate and have a great time," he says. I know a potluck doesn't scream romance. That's not the point. The point is to share time with those close to you, not give into the idea that you have to spend on a pricey meal out to create memories.

    Do something you never do:

    Life is busy, and it can be a challenge to schedule time for something special. Valentine's Day is a great way to stop in the middle of the chaos of life and enjoy something you say you want to do but never allow yourself to do. "Do that one thing you never have time for. For some couples that may mean going to a movie, or sleeping in late. Valentine's Day this year is on a Sunday. Sleep in late, or fix breakfast in bed together," says author Becky Blanton. The beauty of this option is you can spend as little or as much as you want, though the point remains the same: Spend time to develop that relationship and create memories. That's what your loved one will remember, not the high-priced gift you bought.

    Delay by a few days:

    We all know prices on items like flowers (roses specifically) and candy spike right before Valentine's Day. Such a spike makes the traditional celebration even more expensive. "The most unconventional (but possibly most effective), would be to celebrate on the February 15 or 16. Flowers, chocolate and other items are being discounted back to pre-holiday prices, so if you typically buy those items you can definitely save quite a bit of money," says personal finance expert Nate Michaels of Hack Your Budget.
    This is something my wife and I have personally done in the past as we typically don't celebrate the traditional holiday. We'll go out for a meal or buy gifts a few days to a week later allowing us to save a fair bit of money. It is important to point out, however, the need to discuss this with your partner prior so as to make sure they're okay with not celebrating on the exact day.

    Be creative:

    As has been said before, Valentine's Day is about spending time with those you love, not spending an exorbitant amount of money. A great way to celebrate the day without spending a lot requires some creativity. That can mean a lot of things, from buying a different and more reasonably priced flower, to making your own card, to a walk if your weather allows, to cooking a meal together.
    All of those options are significantly cheaper, if not free, and communicate the same thing a pricey night out does. Valentine's Day is a fun holiday to celebrate. It can also be quite expensive. Look for other options to create memories that don't carry a hefty price tag.

     

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    Family just buy a hew home
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    By Rebecca Lake

    The new year looks like it's shaping up to provide first-time buyers with the opportunity to enter into the housing market. Interest rates are still hovering around record lows, so there's some time left to snag a great deal. If you're planning on taking the plunge into homeownership in 2016, here are some key points to keep in the back of your mind before you begin the process.

    Find out now: How much house can I afford?

    1. Home Prices Are Expected to Even Out

    Home prices have been on a steady upward climb over the past few years. But they're on track to level off in 2016. That's both good news and bad news for buyers, depending on what your financial situation looks like.

    Home values are projected to increase by just 2.6% over the next year, according to Zillow. While that represents a slowdown from last year, values are still rising at a faster pace than wages. That means some lower income buyers may be shut out of the market if they can't afford to take on a mortgage.

    2. Mortgage Rates May Go Up

    A rise in the federal funds rate was seen as inevitable and the Federal Reserve finally moved forward with a rate hike at the end of 2015. For buyers, that move may signal the end of historically low mortgage rates, but it's not a reason to panic. It's likely that interest rates will climb up slightly but for the majority of buyers, it's not likely to be an obstacle to home affordability. Again, the buyers who stand to be affected the most are the ones who are on the lower end of the income scale.

    3. FHA Loans Will Be Cheaper

    FHA loans are a popular choice among first-time homebuyers because they make it possible to get a mortgage with as little as 3.5% down and a minimum credit score of 580. The only catch is that buyers who go this route are stuck paying an annual mortgage insurance premium (and an upfront mortgage insurance premium) on top of their regular loan payment.

    The good news for 2016 is that the cost of the premiums are coming down. Last year, the Federal Housing Administration made a move to reduce the annual premium rate from 1.35% to 0.85%. For buyers who have their eye on an FHA loan, that represents a pretty substantial amount of savings when calculating their mortgage costs.

    Check out our mortgage calculator.

    4. But Getting an FHA Loan May Be More Difficult

    The FHA Handbook for 2015-16 introduced some new guidelines for lenders that may affect which buyers qualify for a loan. Some of the things covered in the updated rules include new documentation rules for gifted down payments and changes to the treatment of student loans when calculating debt-to-income ratios. Borrowers who have a high debt-to-income ratio and authorized users who are carrying credit card debt may find getting approved for a loan more challenging.

    5. Buying Will Be Better Than Renting in Some Cities

    The rental market has exploded in the last few years and rental rates have reached astronomical highs. That upward trend is expected to continue into 2016, and according to RealtyTrac, owning a home will be more affordable than renting in 58% of all U.S. housing markets. A spike in rental rates may push more buyers into the market, leading to increased competition over available homes.

    Try out our rent vs buy calculator.

    Final Word

    Even if you're planning to postpone buying a home until later in the year, it's not too early to start preparing for it. It's a good idea to start improving your credit, paying down debt and beefing up your down payment to make yourself as attractive as possible to lenders once you're ready to get a loan.

     

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    Wal-Mart to Close Hundreds of Stores, Affecting 16,000 Jobs
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    By Krystal Steinmetz

    Although many Americans hate Wal-Mart, the retail giant is one of the most popular stores in the country.
    Shoppers often flock to Wal-Mart to take advantage of the big box retailer's touted "everyday low prices," even though Wal-Mart's prices aren't always the cheapest.

    If you love to shop and save money but you don't like Wal-Mart, you're in luck. Shopping expert and blogger Kyle James reports that these 19 stores will match Wal-Mart prices:
    Of course, Wal-Mart also offers its own price-matching, with opportunities to get an adjustment on Wal-Mart products that have been reduced in price since you purchased them, and to match the prices of other retailers. Also check out "Target Now Matches Prices With These 30 Online Retailers."

    Let the price wars begin!

     

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    By Karla Bowsher

    Good news for renters: The Zillow Rent Forecast for December projects "a big slowdown in rents" over the course of 2016.

    The bad news is that this slowdown isn't enough to negate rental affordability problems.
    As Svenja Gudell, Zillow chief economist, says:

    The slowdown in rental appreciation will provide some relief for renters who've been seeing their rents rise dramatically every single year for the past few years.

    However, the situation remains tough on the ground: Rents are still rising, and renters are struggling to keep up.

    As of December, the median rent in the United States had grown by 3.3 percent over the course of 2015, reaching $1,381 per month, according to Zillow.

    Over the course of 2016, however, the real estate website expects the median rent to slow to only 1.1 percent by December, reaching $1,396 per month.

    Zillow attributes this slowed growth to the supply of rental units catching up with the demand:
    After years of struggling to meet rampant demand from renters young and old, apartment developers have ramped up in a number of large U.S. markets. Enough new units have now been brought online to help blunt some of the rental appreciation we've been seeing.

    The Zillow Rent Forecast includes projections for the 50 largest metropolitan markets in the U.S. Of those 50 areas, Zillow projects the median rent will decrease this year in 14 areas:
    • Indianapolis - 3.6 percent decrease projected in median rent
    • Las Vegas - 1.8 percent decrease
    • Oklahoma City - 1.8 percent
    • Chicago - 1.4 percent
    • Milwaukee - 1.4 percent
    • Richmond, Virginia - 1.3 percent
    • Pittsburgh - 1 percent
    • Baltimore - 0.7 percent
    • St. Louis - 0.7 percent
    • Cleveland - 0.6 percent
    • Memphis, Tennessee - 0.6 percent
    • Philadelphia - 0.5 percent
    • Birmingham, Alabama - 0.4 percent
    • Detroit - 0.4 percent
    The 10 cities where Zillow projects the most growth in rent rates are:
    • San Jose, California - 7.8 percent increase projected in median rent
    • Buffalo, New York - 7.4 percent increase
    • San Francisco - 5.9 percent
    • Seattle - 4.5 percent
    • Denver - 4 percent
    • Portland, Oregon - 3.8 percent
    • Miami-Fort Lauderdale - 3.5 percent
    • Austin, Texas - 3.4 percent
    • Sacramento, California - 3.4 percent
    • Louisville, Kentucky - 3.2 percent
    How do you expect rent rates to fare in your area this year? Sound off in our Forums. It's the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

     

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    Fan of American twenty dollar bills against US flag
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    Your bank account may not reflect it, but the total net worth of American households reached a new high in the second quarter of 2015. According to the latest release by the Federal Reserve, America's net worth rose by almost $700 billion to reach $85.7 trillion.

    Second quarter readings represent the ninth quarter out of the last ten with an increase in America's wealth. Barring an unusual shock, 2015 will represent the seventh consecutive year of wealth growth after the collapse of 2008.

    This may seem odd given the recent stock market drop, but rising home prices helped non-financial assets more than compensate for the lower growth rate in financial assets. Stock values increased by $61 billion, while the value of real estate rose by almost $500 billion.

    Collective U.S. assets are just short of $100 trillion. Most asset wealth is in housing at $24.6 trillion, while nearly equal amounts are attributed to stocks and mutual funds ($21.8 million) and retirement/pension accounts ($21.1 trillion).

    The total debt, however, has increased fivefold to $133 billion since 2008. Outstanding domestic non-financial debt totaled $44 trillion with household debt comprising $14 trillion of that amount. Business debt accounted for $12.5 trillion, and government debt topped the list at $17.5 trillion.

    Household debt increased in the second quarter at a 3.9% annual rate - the largest increase in debt since 2007. Mortgage debt increased at a 2.2% annual clip while consumer credit increased by 8.1%. Total liabilities remain below levels prior to the recession, but increased debt suggests that consumers are beginning to gain confidence and are willing to take on more debt, even if their paychecks do not show much of an increase.

    Accelerated Wealth Inequality

    The uneven distribution of income, and in turn wealth, may be the main reason why the wealth improvement has not led to robust economic growth. Overall, things are looking up, as the second quarter GDP was revised upward to 3.9%. However, U.S. growth remains unusually slow for a post-recession recovery.

    Note that the aggregate wealth numbers say nothing about the distribution of that wealth. There have been many discussions about income inequality, especially in an election year, but the effect of continued income inequality is an accelerated wealth inequality.

    A 2015 report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that the richest 10% of Americans consume approximately 28% of the overall income, but 76% of all the wealth. The income proportion is typical for richer nations, but our wealth inequality is far higher than most nations and over ten percentage points larger than any other nation.

    It is also worth noting that Fed numbers are not adjusted for population or inflation. By population growth alone, one would expect the numbers to rise at least slightly - but when these adjustments are taken into account, America's net worth is still riding high. Adjusted net worth is 4.8 times the U.S. GDP, the highest reading ever. Typical values are between three and four times GDP.

    Can't get enough of these financial facts? If you would like more details about U.S. wealth and the country's financial accounts, check out the full report "Financial Accounts of the United States" for the second quarter of 2015 and the OECD report regarding inequality.

    These reports probably contain more information than you really want, but they provide useful insight into America's household finances and how wealth and income inequality vary throughout the world. Now all you have to do is figure out how to direct more of that wealth increase toward your accounts.

     

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    Score a Savings Touchdown with Super Bowl Television Deals

    Did you know: when buying a new TV for the Super Bowl, some pricey features might not even be necessary?

    A lot of stores are pushing "4K" TVs this year. These TVs have four times the resolution as the current 1080p models. Now that might sound impressive, but with the increase in resolution also comes an increase in price. But hey, maybe you don't mind spending some extra bucks - as long as you can see the game in super-duper hi-res, right?

    Not so fast.

    This year's Super Bowl won't even be broadcast in 4K. So while you might be able to watch a few programs in higher resolution, the big game won't be one of them. And since 4K TVs are still relatively new on the tech scene, there currently isn't that much other content that makes use of it - for now.

    So what do you look for?

    A potentially more important feature is the ports. If you plan on hooking up other devices to your TV, make sure your set has at least 3 to 4 HDMI ports. This way, you don't get stuck with a TV that you just can't connect with.

    So tackle these tips before you buy, and you can get a new TV for the Super Bowl, without your budget getting sacked.

     

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    By Melissa Neiman

    Healthy eating often comes with a hefty price tag. Even the most expert of coupon clippers grouse about how difficult it is to find bargains on fresh fruits and vegetables.

    That is especially frustrating when you are trying to eat a more healthful diet. However, it is possible to save on delicious, nutritious produce - if you know where to look.

    Following are six secret places to find coupons for fresh produce.

    Join SavingStar

    This free service gives you cash back for items you buy at major grocery store chains. It can even be used for online grocery purchases.

    Every Tuesday, SavingStar presents a new "Healthy Offer of the Week" for an item of fresh produce. For example, the offer for Jan. 12 was "Save 20 percent on any single purchase of loose tomatoes."

    Now that's healthy choice for your body and your bank account.

    Register with Earthbound Farm

    Earthbound Farm sells a variety of fresh, healthy produce items, including salads, slaws, powermeal bowls and smoothie kickstarts. The company offers many nutritious frozen fruits and veggies, too.

    When you sign up for their Organic Bound guide, which promotes "happier, healthier living," you'll receive "recipes, tips and exclusive coupons delivered straight to your inbox." According to the company, members can save as much as $50 a year.

    Sign up for the Fresh Express newsletter

    You've probably noticed Fresh Express ready-to-eat packaged salads in the produce section of your local grocery store. But did you know that you can get tips, recipes and -perhaps most importantly - coupons for these assorted leafy greens when you subscribe to the company's newsletter?

    You can also visit Fresh Express' Salad Swap site to learn how to recreate your favorite recipes using healthier ingredients and access additional product coupons.

    Register with Driscoll's

    Join Driscoll's "Berry Community," and enjoy two ways to save on the company's strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, which are sold at major retailers throughout the country.

    As a Driscoll's Rewards Club member, you will be eligible for special offers, including a birthday gift.
    You can also elect to become a member of Driscoll's Customer Advisory Panel, which provides an opportunity to earn additional product coupons for completing customer surveys. Talk about a berrysweet deal!

    Get mobile coupons from Target

    Target sells practically everything, including fresh fruit and vegetables. And the popular superstore occasionally even offers produce coupons that can help you hit the bull's-eye when it comes to better physical and financial health.

    For example,Target recently offered coupons for $1.50 off when you buy $7 worth of produce, and $5 off $25 worth of perishable foods.

    Download the company's mobile Cartwheel app to access coupons when you're on the go. Last week, customers with the Cartwheel app received offers for 5 percent off of both fresh oranges and apples.

    Join Organic Girl's e-mail list

    Fresh arugula, kale, romaine, spinach and spring mix... Organic Girl sells it all. You can save on the company's top-quality fresh produce when you join its email list.

    You'll receive a $1 off coupon just for signing up - and be sure to keep an eye out for additional perks, promos and healthy recipes sent straight to your inbox. Can you already savor the savings?

    Do you know of any other resources for fresh produce coupons? Share them in our Forums. It's a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

     

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    By Brittany Lyte

    These days, the bulk of our correspondence has been digitized. But even so, it can sometimes seem like we're drowning in all that rectangular white stuff. Greeting cards. Handouts. Flyers. Warranties. Instruction manuals. Business cards. Bills.

    Here's how you can finally sweep up all the spillover. After all, a cluttered hard drive is far better - and easier to navigate - than a cluttered home.

    1. Stop Trying to Save Everything

    Shedding ties to paper is a form of minimalism. Indeed, many of the documents you've been storing in filing cabinets and desk drawers should be dumped rather than digitized. For some, it's a hard reality to accept. But consider this: One of the top reasons we save so much paper is for fear of needing it in the future. Honestly though, when are you going to need the tattered pages of your 10th grade English essay? And remember that since your recent utility bills and bank statements are readily available online, there's simply no need to keep your own hard copy.

    Another reason we hoard paper: Memories. Often the paper we save is tied to a moment we don't want to let go of. Without hard evidence, will we continue to remember? What we all need to realize, and accept, is that the memories live on - even when the physical evidence is gone.

    2. Make Time for the Three S's

    Set aside time each day to scan, save, and shred. Maybe it's 20 minutes before bedtime. Maybe it's after breakfast, but before you leave the house. Carve out a stack to start on and tackle it day by day, assessing whether each item should be added to your digital storage, saved in hard copy form, or tossed.

    You'll need to keep physical copies of documents pertaining to your identity and assets, such as social security cards, loan documents, marriage and divorce certificates, living wills, and insurance policies. Into the garbage go the product instruction manuals (most companies post these online), past bank statements (shred them first), and personal notes from 13 years ago (alright, you can save one or two...). Most other documents should be digitized.


    If you're stuck thinking, Do I need to keep a hard copy of the receipt for the expensive necklace I just bought? consider how difficult it would be to obtain another copy. In this case, if the necklace clasp malfunctioned and you wanted to return it to the jeweler, you probably wouldn't be able to do so without proof of purchase. But a digitized copy of the receipt will function just as well as the original.

    So, you should scan it and save it on your hard drive. And don't forget to label. The beauty of digitizing our paper trail is that we can more easily find miscellaneous items such as receipts and cable bills by using keywords to search, locate, and extract critical information. It sure beats sifting through the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet on your hands and knees.

    3. Get a Scanner

    Doxie is a small but powerful scanner that tackles everything from photos to legal documents. And it doesn't even require a computer. Doxie scans straight to the cloud, which is a real asset for jet setters. Another home-use scanner with a cloud storage component is NeatDesk. It's fast and the feed takes a variety of papers, including business cards and receipts. But before you go purchasing one of these scanners - or any other - make sure it's the right fit for you. Do you plan to digitize photos? If so, you'll want to make sure that the scanner you choose is well equipped for the task. Will you be scanning large documents that might not feed into a smaller, portable scanner? Then you'll want to explore other options.

    Additionally, there's a ton of great organizing tools out there that will help you stay on top of your docs, once you've scanned them. DEVONthink and Evernote are just a couple of options to consider.
    (See also: The 5 Best Scanners)

    4. Scan On-the-Go

    Mobile apps like Genius Scan and Docu Scan can help you to easily export and sort documents as they come to you throughout the day. This way you won't have a backlog of paper to digitize because you'll be tackling your paper trail as it comes. Mobile scanning is one of the easiest ways to stay on top of your paperless game.

    5. Don't Get Discouraged

    All the scanning, labeling, and shredding can be a slog. When you get discouraged, remember this: The average person wastes 16 to 55 minutes per day searching for lost items. Over a lifetime, that amounts to one to three years! No matter how you dice it, the time you spend digitizing will save you time in the long run.

    If you're truly overwhelmed by the task of digitizing the paper you've accumulated thus far, why not digitize new documents and correspondence as it comes. Later, once you've got the hang of it, you'll feel more compelled to dig into the rest.

    Have you gone completely paperless? Was it a struggle? Share with us in the comments!

     

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    You are ready to purchase a home. You have done your homework and mapped out your affordable price range, saved sufficient down payment money, found a suitable lender, and have looked at some of the available homes. You've checked out the neighborhood (as well as a few neighbors) and found homes in areas that you find appealing. Have you given thought to how your choice of neighborhood can affect the lasting value of your home?

    Assuming that you have evaluated the aesthetics of the neighborhood and found a home that appeals to you, here are a few tips to see if the value of that home is likely to hold.

    Historical Values - As the old saying goes, past results are often the best indicator of future performance. Check websites such as Trulia or Zillow, or ask your realtor for the general history of home prices in the area. Have prices generally risen over time? How did the neighborhood hold up during the Great Recession?

    As you check out the neighborhood, look for other trends that could either be good or bad signs. Are there many nearby homes for sale? Are there more foreclosures or rental houses than there used to be? Have sale prices gone up disproportionately to the rest of the surrounding area? If so, there must be a reason why.

    Amenities - Consider areas with plenty of well-established amenities. Good schools usually top the list, along with parks, libraries, a well-funded police force, and a nearby fire station. Beautiful scenic views such as nearby mountains or lakes can add further value.

    Neighborhood Jobs/Businesses - Check out the local businesses. Are there a number of them closing, or is there a lot of turnover? Are major employers that offer high-paying jobs nearby? Do those employers have a stable history? Are there colleges or universities nearby?Neighborhoods that hold their value well often have high paying jobs in close proximity or within a reasonable commute.

    Check the nature of the surrounding retailers. Is there a preponderance of high-end retailers? Conversely, are there multiple businesses that suggest a downtrodden region, like payday lenders or pawnshops?

    Appearance - Are the other houses in the neighborhood being well kept? Look for clean and well-manicured lawns, an absence of trash, and no obvious disrepair like peeling paint or broken gutters. There may be an occasional home that does not meet standards, but several unkempt homes are a bad sign. If there are any neighborhood covenants, check to see if the homeowners are keeping up with the covenant's demands.

    Transportation - The commute may be great during a weekend open house. Try driving the same route during rush hour.

    Distractions - Are there nearby freeways, airports, manufacturing facilities, or other concerns that could cause problems with noise, smells, or other potential distractions? These may not be obvious unless you do a little reconnaissance with the neighbors or at a local coffee shop. Libraries (and librarians) are also good sources for local information.

    Projects - Check with local planning and zoning authorities for any projects that could affect your property values such as new roads, subdivision changes, or zoning laws that could change the nature of the nearby area.

    Your dream home may not necessarily be the one that holds its value the most, but lasting value should be one of your considerations as you review your choices for a new home. A new home is the largest purchase most people will ever make, and it is best to consider it an investment as well as a home.

     

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    By Jon Lal

    If you're like many of us, your New Year's resolutions might look something like this: get healthy, lose weight, save money, travel more, find a new job or make new friends. In fact, there's one way you can accomplish many of these things, often at once: by volunteering.

    Volunteering your time, whether it's in your community, your workplace or somewhere far across the world, is a wonderful way to give back. Volunteering is especially smart when it's not in your budget to make a donation. Besides helping to better the lives of others, volunteering can have a lot of unexpected benefits on your own life, as well. Here are a few reasons, besides the obvious, why you might want to donate your time this year:

    You can skip the gym:

    Many volunteer opportunities require some physical activity. Becoming a committed volunteer could mean you're regularly burning calories and working fitness into your lifestyle. A few examples include shoveling snow and raking leaves for the injured or elderly; working in a soup kitchen lifting boxes and serving the hungry; helping build and repair homes; walking dogs; community gardening and weed clean-up; or playing with kids in need of a role model and mentor. Consider canceling your gym membership and meeting your activity goals by volunteering a few times a week.

    Improve your health:

    There are even more proven health benefits to volunteering. The Corporation for National & Community Service reports that those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life. Research also shows volunteering can strongly benefit older individuals that are retiring by keeping physical and social activity high during this stage of life. In that way, even opportunities that are low impact can provide physical and mental health benefits.

    No more costly mixers:

    Hoping to meet new people this year? Whether you want to network with future colleagues or mingle with singles, the cost to attend events can be pricey. Ticket prices, beverages and membership fees can add up each month. Instead, join a community group dedicated to giving back. It's much easier to meet new friends or potential dates when you're working toward a common cause. As for rubbing elbows with potential colleagues, you can meet tons of like-minded volunteers and easily expand your network without paying a fee at the door.

    Boost your resume and your worth:

    Speaking of networking, volunteering can add impressive experience to your resume. Future employers value hard workers, commitment to a cause, and those that go the extra mile for additional career experience. Having volunteering in your background might mean future employers will give you additional responsibility, sending you a few steps ahead in your career path.

    Travel on the cheap:

    Though it means more of a lifestyle change, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities that allow you to travel for an extended period at little cost. Entire organizations exist that provide volunteers with free room and board in exchange for their work. If you're passionate about the environment, this could be a wonderful way to give back and see the world all while doing important work protecting the planet. You can join a farming program, work on trail and park preservation or help after a natural disaster. Of course if this is something you're interested in, calculate the costs in advance. You'll likely still have to pay for airfare, a possible program fee and any vaccinations you might need before traveling.

    Feeling inspired? I hope a few of these ideas help you think about your own goals in a new way. If you're interested in volunteering but don't know where to start, try VolunteerMatch to find opportunities in your area and organizations in need.

     

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  • 01/28/16--06:43: Tuition-Free Colleges
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    If your grades do not merit a full-ride academic scholarship to college and you do not have enough athletic skills to stop your grandmother from dunking on you, keep your chin up - you can still attend college tuition-free. There are a handful of colleges throughout the US that offer a tuition-free education.

    What's the catch? It's not a catch, if you don't mind working. You simply provide labor or some form of commitment in return for your tuition. In most circumstances, you will have to pay room and board, and a few other expenses - but the savings are significant.

    These colleges are not easy to categorize aside from their tuition-free status, but they can be broken down into a few general types.

    Military Academies - The commitment in return for an education is obvious here, but the education is excellent. The Naval Academy at Annapolis, the US Military Academy at West Point, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs - even the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY - are tuition-free in exchange for a service commitment after graduation.

    Not only do you get a free education from the service academies and the pride associated with serving your country, but after your service, you also will be entitled to various veterans' benefits.


    Religious-Based Institutions - While these colleges were all established with some religious emphasis, the curriculum is not based solely in religious studies. You can achieve a fine broad-based education - although you should not be surprised to find them ranked at the bottom of the Party School listings each year.

    College of the Ozarks, located in Point Lookout, Missouri, near the tourist mecca of Branson, is known nationwide as "Hard Work U" thanks to publicity from the Wall Street Journal in the 1970's. Students are expected to work 15 hours each week along with two 40-hour work weeks at some point in the academic year.

    Alice Lloyd College offers free tuition to residents of 108 counties in the area of the Appalachians (West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio). Located in rural Pippa Passes, Kentucky, about 2.5 hours southeast of Lexington, Alice Lloyd requires students to work ten-to-twenty hours each week.

    Barclay College in Haviland, KS, offers a full-tuition scholarship to students living on-campus, but the scholarship does not include the cost of room, board and fees. Although it is a Quaker Bible school, the college admits all Christian students.

    Williamson College of the Trades is a male-only, Judeo-Christian college in Media, PA. Their full scholarship covers not only tuition, but also room, board and textbooks, with a choice of programs in carpentry, masonry, landscaping, horticulture, turf management, paint & coatings, power plant and machine tool technology.


    Specialized Colleges - Deep Springs College is located on an alfalfa farm and cattle ranch in Big Pine, California, northeast of Fresno. This all-male, two-year college requires over twenty hours of work each week in addition to studies. Deep Springs has an excellent record of graduates continuing their education at highly prestigious universities.

    The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia is not only tuition-free; it is one of the world's most highly regarded conservatories for the performing arts. Their alumni populate top orchestras throughout the nation. Leonard Bernstein is one of several famous graduates.

    The Macaulay Honors College is a liberal arts college at City University of New York (CUNY). They give full-tuition scholarships to all undergraduate students that meet CUNY residency requirements for in-state tuition.

    Webb Institute in Glen Cove, NY, a private college specializing in naval architecture and marine engineering, offers full-tuition scholarships to their undergraduate degree, which features both a sound theoretical education and practical industry experience.


    Others - Berea College, a four-year liberal arts college located in Berea, Kentucky (about 45 minutes south of Lexington on I-75), accepts those with a demonstrated financial need tuition-free. Students are required to work at least ten hours per week.

    Unfortunately, the economy has forced several fine universities in this field to partially abandon their tuition-free status. Cooper Union, founded in 1859 in Manhattan and offering degrees in architecture, art, and engineering, is now offering a half-tuition scholarship for undergraduates enrolling for the first time, while those who first enrolled before autumn 2014 are still given a full tuition scholarship. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, MA, has also switched to a 50% tuition scholarship program.

    If you are still looking for a tuition-free - but not labor-free - education, consider these fine colleges and other tuition-free institutions to see if they meet your needs. Alternatively, you can learn to block shots like a 7-footer or dunk like Michael Jordan.

     

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    By Maryalene LaPonsie

    The average 65-year-old man retiring this year can expect to have another 17 years of living in front of him, according to the National Institute on Aging. For a woman, that number jumps to 20 years.

    That's a lot of time to travel the world, enjoy hobbies and make memories with family and friends. On the other hand, it can also be a lot of time to stress about rising expenses and dwindling assets.

    Fortunately, if you plan correctly, you can minimize the chances of ending up with too many years left and too little money in the bank. However, if you think you've made mistakes (or are making mistakes) when it comes to retirement planning, rest assured there is always time to make a correction.

    Here are five common retirement planning mistakes and how to do damage control for each one.

    Retirement Planning Mistake: Focusing solely on your rate of return.

    The Solution: Create a diversified portfolio.

    It makes sense that investors want to maximize their returns, but financial advisors say it's a mistake to take a narrow view of retirement portfolios.

    "People tend to chase rates of returns," says Bob Gavlak, a certified financial planner and wealth advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners in Columbus, Ohio. "[Rates] are not in your control. You need to look at your overall strategy."

    Rather than trying to put all your money in specific funds that did well in previous years, it's better to spread investments over a variety of fund types - such as index, balanced, equity and global - that offer a combined level of risk appropriate for your age and goals. This approach diversifies a retirement fund so the entire portfolio won't be in jeopardy should one industry or sector run into economic trouble.

    Retirement Planning Mistake: Forgetting about taxes.

    The Solution: Have a tax plan for investments and assets.

    Thomas O'Connell, president of International Financial Authority Group in Parsippany, New Jersey, says taxes are another area that trip up retirement planning.

    "People don't typically have the same deductions [in retirement], so their effective tax rate is going to be higher," O'Connell says. "They are ending up paying more in taxes even though their lifestyle hasn't changed."

    Minimizing taxes in retirement can be achieved through a combination of strategies, Gavlak says. Investing in Roth accounts is one way to ensure withdrawals are tax free. Meanwhile, distributions from taxable retirement accounts can be timed to coincide with low-income, and therefore low-tax, periods. Owning a home, rather than renting, is another way to potentially lower taxes in retirement.

    Retirement Planning Mistake: Thinking the start of retirement marks the end of planning.

    The Solution: Review finances and goals every year.

    It's tempting to think of a retirement plan as something that runs on autopilot after leaving the workforce. In reality, a plan only remains relevant if it constantly evolves to adjust for market conditions and a retiree's lifestyle needs and goals.

    "Retirement planning is nothing more than a process," says Stephen Davis, an investment advisor and president of S.G. Davis Financial Group in Concord, New Hampshire. Too many people make the mistake of failing to understand their expenses and plan their income accordingly. "Medical costs go up, and inflation can have a big impact."

    What's more, Davis cautions against using the old rule that says it's safe to withdraw 4 percent from retirement accounts annually. "Since 2000, our interest rates have gone down, and we've run into two market corrections," he notes. Combined with longer lifespans, that means people taking out 4 percent each year may find they run their accounts dry prematurely.

    Instead of creating a retirement plan based on general rules of thumb, a better option may be to meet with a financial advisor each year to evaluate income, assets, taxes and market conditions, and make changes as necessary.

    Retirement Planning Mistake: Saving too little.

    The Solution: Start now and automatically increase contributions with every raise and bonus.

    In 2013, the median retirement fund for 55 to 64 year olds held a paltry $111,000, according to a report from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. That translates to living on $400 per month - and isn't much when you consider it has to stretch over 17 to 20 years or more.

    "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the second best time is today," says O'Connell, using an old analogy. It's the same with money. The best way to do damage control for meager savings is to make it a priority going forward.

    A workplace 401(k) is the logical place to start, since many employers will match contributions, up to a certain amount. If that's not an option, an IRA funded through automatic deposits is another good choice. Then, once the money is in the account, don't touch it.

    Frank Drago, senior vice president of investment services at Citizens Bank, says many people have too little savings because they dip into retirement funds for other expenses like college. "As difficult as these decisions sometimes are, the focus should be on building and protecting your nest egg to last through your retirement years," Drago says.

    Retirement Planning Mistake: Saving too late.

    The Solution: Stay in the workforce or look for guaranteed income streams.

    For some, it may already be too late to save up a significant amount of money before retirement, but if this describes you, it doesn't mean you're out of options.

    One strategy could be to remain in the workforce longer. Doing so not only allows you to save up more money, but you could also increase your Social Security benefits. "In fact, staying on the job a few more years may boost your retirement income by one-third or more," Drago says.

    If working isn't a possibility, "start focusing on creating guaranteed income streams," O'Connell says. Those could include payments from annuities or the cash value of life insurance policies. A finance professional can provide guidance on each investment and its income potential.

    It's Never Too Late to Make a Change

    Although retirement planning mistakes can make it difficult to enjoy the lifestyle you'd like, financial advisors say there is always time to make a positive change.

    "It's never too late to fix things, even if someone is in their first year of retirement or five years in," Gavlak says. "There is still time to adjust [a retirement plan]."

     

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    By Krystal Steinmetz

    Barabas, a Los Angeles-based men's clothing company, has been clobbered with unprecedented demand for two of its $128 shirts, and it has this individual to thank for its overnight success: Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

    According to the Los Angeles Times, immediately after photographs of the drug kingpin wearing two different Barabas shirts were published in Rolling Stone magazine in early January, the orders for the shirts started piling up.

    Barabas went overnight from receiving 10 to 20 orders per day to hundreds of orders per day. In fact, the company's website crashed due to the overwhelming flood of orders.

    "This sudden madness - I cannot call it anything different," Tatiana Kivachook, vice president of Barabas, told the newspaper. Kivachook runs the clothing company with her husband, Sam Esteghball.

    The now famous "El Chapo" shirts are both blue, long-sleeved, button-down shirts. One has a paisley pattern and one features a floral design.

    Although they sell for $128 each on the Barabas website, some sellers have listed the shirts for as much as $500 on eBay. The Barabas website said the company is donating 5 percent of the profits from sales of the two "El Chapo" shirts to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or D.A.R.E..

    Barabas - a company with just eight employees - has struggled to keep up with global demand for the shirts, which are currently on back order, but the Barabas website said the shirts should be shipped by Feb. 5.

    "It's actually been extremely rough. From one point, of course we're very, very excited, but our business was paralyzed through the first week because of all the interviews and demand," Kivachook told Mashable.

    Although the infamous drug lord's fashion triggered overnight success for Barabas, the company maintains that it has no ties to the criminal.

    "We have never met Joaquin Guzman, a.k.a. El Chapo," the company says on its home page. "We can explain his apparently esthetic choice of shirts for the interview and the meeting with Sean Penn as an attribution of comfort, quality and style that Barabas shirt projects."

    What do you think of the success of the "El Chapo" shirts sold by Barabas? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

     

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    By Geoff Williams

    If you're barely getting by, it may seem crazy to try to emulate a millionaire. After all, millionaires have a ton of money, and you don't. And while some millionaires used their wisdom and wit to get where they are, there are presumably plenty out there who were born wealthy and had numerous advantages growing up.

    But advice for the rich is often universal, and there's a lot we can learn from the wealthiest of the wealthy. With that in mind, we tapped some financial advisors who represent millionaires and asked them to share advice they give their clients that also applies to the rest of us.

    1. Make your money work for you. Don't work for your money. In other words, invest in stocks, says Matt Papazian, a financial advisor at Cardan Capital, based in Denver.
    Why it matters. Papazian says the wealthiest people generally own their own businesses. "This allows them to generate income or grow assets even when they are not sitting in the office," he says.

    And if you don't have the resources to start your own business? Invest in one. "The best way to replicate the ownership of a business is by owning securities in businesses that are already in existence. These companies can be selling iPhones, computers, candy bars, detergent, cars - globally, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. It's the next best thing," Papazian says.

    2. Keep an emergency fund. Michael Rose, managing partner with Rose Capital Advisors in Miami Beach, Florida, stresses this to his clients, many of whom are wealthy athletes and entertainers.

    Why it matters. Even the wildly rich need to keep money saved for emergencies, Rose says. They simply need more money put aside than the rest of us. Rose says this is especially important for entertainers and athletes, who may make a lot of money but are self-employed.

    "It's a boom-and-bust industry," Rose says, adding that without a lot of money put aside, athletes and entertainers are often one injury or unproduced movie away from bust.

    3. Plan for a health emergency. This tip comes from John Voltaggio, senior wealth advisor at Northern Trust in New York City.

    Why it matters. If you have a spouse and kids, they're likely depending on you to stay in good health. "What happens in the event of a medical emergency, incapacity or even death? Does the client have appropriate medical, disability and/or life insurance in place, which, when combined with others assets, will provide for surviving family members?" Voltaggio asks.

    Even if you don't have many assets and aren't concerned who will get your mansion and three cars because you live in an apartment and take the bus to work, as long as you have an income that supports your family, you should have life insurance.

    4. Review your finances periodically. So says Anne O'Brien, an estate planning advisor with Caplin & Drysdale in the District of Columbia. She represents athletes, entertainers, political figures and wealthy business owners.

    Why it matters. Because money is complicated, and the rules, especially with taxes, often change. "A year-end meeting of the client and advisors is essential," O'Brien says.

    Of course, you may not have a team in place in the way O'Brien suggests. "At a minimum, the attorney, an accountant and a financial advisor," she recommends.

    But even if you're huddling with your spouse and a money management software program, it's better than never looking at your money and hoping everything works out OK.

    5. Don't lend people money. This is according to Jimmy Lee, CEO of the Wealth Consulting Group, a wealth management firm in Las Vegas.

    Why it matters. It might sound cold, but Lee says he has seen too many wealthy people lose a lot money because they "fall victim to 'friends' who have their own financial interests in mind."

    So think about how much fun you'll have if you don't have much - and still loan out money.
    Lee tells his clients, "when people come to you for money, send them to me. I'm perfectly fine saying 'no,' and ruffling a few feathers if need be."

    6. Teach your kids about money. This tip is from Michael Chadwick, a certified financial planner from Unionville, Connecticut.

    Why it matters. It really doesn't matter how rich or poor you are. If you don't teach your kids how to handle money, they're going to have problems.

    "Don't enable your kids to be financially illiterate or mentally weak. Make them face financial reality ... Don't bail them out or fight their battles for them," Chadwick advises. "Kids need to know life has winners and losers. Don't be afraid to hurt their feelings. They'll get over it and be stronger because of it."

    7. The earlier you get into the habit of saving, the more money you'll have. So says Scott Laue, a Rockford, Illinois-based senior financial advisor at Savant Capital Management.

    Why it matters. It's familiar advice but still important to remember. "Even average Joes and Josephines can reach millionaire status. You just need to follow certain guidelines," Laue says. "Compound interest has been called the eighth wonder of the world - the more you save, the more compound interest you earn."

    8. Understand what drives you to spend your money. This is key, says Kathleen Grace, a wealth manager and managing director of United Capital Financial Advisers as well as author of the financial planning novel, "Prince Not So Charming."

    Why it matters. Whether you're in the top 1 percent of income or the bottom 1 percent, we have reasons for the way we spend our money.

    "Don't be an emotional spender," Grace warns, adding that it's important to understand why you tend to spend money. For instance, maybe fear drives you to spend more than you should, so you stock up on grocery items you don't need. Or maybe you spend recklessly simply because spending and buying makes you happy.

    "If you understand what your biases are in making money decisions, you have greater insight and are better able to possibly prevent yourself from making financial decisions based upon emotion," she says.

     

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    By Holly Perez

    Being financially literate, or understanding all aspects of your financial life, is crucial to becoming confident about money. But often, we're too embarrassed or uncomfortable to talk about money openly.
    According to a 2013 Wells Fargo survey of over 1,000 adults, 44 percent of respondents said "personal finances" is the hardest topic to discuss with others, followed by "death" at 38 percent and "politics" at 35 percent.

    Money topics such as debt, student loans, salary, credit scores and even saving for the future can cause paralyzing anxiety. A 2014 National Foundation for Credit Counseling study on financial literacy showed that only 2 in 5 adults believe that, if their money could talk, it would say. "We've been a successful team."

    So to help improve your relationship with your money, we've raised 10 potentially embarrassing money topics and offered some suggestions to tackle them with confidence.

    1. Spending well above your means. Though keeping up with the Joneses feels like a problem we should have grown out of in high school, we are all guilty of this from time to time. Insisting on paying for dinner out with that friend who makes twice what you do so that you can impress her is just not worth the strain on your finances. It's OK to be honest with yourself and others when making plans, and push for activities that will fit your budget instead of racking up debt or running through your whole food budget in one meal.

    2. Debt because of overspending. We're looking at you topic No. 1. Getting into debt is easy. Digging out of debt is hard. It can feel even worse if it's due to lavish spending habits or poor budgeting. Personal finance apps can help show you the big picture of where you are financially, so you can stay in control of your finances and feel good about the purchases you make (within your means, of course).

    3. Debt because of bad advice. If you're seeking financial advice, start with trusted and reliable sources. While friends and family are great and can hold you accountable to your money goals, organizations such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and Consumer Credit Counseling Service can give you that extra professional support you need.

    4. Loaning money to friends and family. You've heard the saying money and family don't mix, but they can (with caution). Check out these four simple steps to follow if you are considering loaning money.

    5. Credit card(ssss). You don't need more than two credit cards to help build credit and to use on a consistent basis. More than that, and you can actually damage the credit reputation you've built. Avoid the tempting discount offers from store credit cards. Their interest rates can skyrocket and only increase your debt.

    6. A weak credit score. A low credit score can put a damper on more than you think. It can be difficult to obtain insurance, apply for a car loan or even rent an apartment. If you have loaded up on credit cards and have a habit of overspending and paying bills late, you may find your score is low. But knowing your credit score, and working to improve it, is what financial literacy is all about. So while it may take some time to boost that low score, diligently paying down debt will slowly raise your score and open new doors to you.

    7. The burden of student loans. Pursuing a higher education can be financially challenging. And once you look at the amount of interest that student loans can generate, it can feel impossible to pay them off. But you can do it with just a little bit of planning.

    8. Managing a 401(k). Planning for retirement in your 20s with student debt and a small paycheck may sound ridiculous, but it's not. Even contributing just 2 to 3 percent of every paycheck (and gradually increasing the percentage every year or so) is an easy way to build your 401(k) and retirement savings without having to be a personal finance expert.

    9. Not knowing how to save. The key is automation. Having your bank automatically put aside as little as 1 percent of your income to deposit directly into a savings account is a great start. You probably won't even notice the money missing from your checking account after a few weeks.

    10. Money and my significant other. Though you'd probably prefer to talk about anything else, talking about money is key to any successful relationship. Start by sharing how you each feel about money such as wants and needs. Slowly ease into the stickier topics such as who pays for what, long-term saving versus short-term spending and your comfort level with investing together. Schedule recurring money "dates" where you can comfortably have ongoing money conversations together.

    Now that you've made it through the list (perhaps with a bit of squirming), don't feel like you have to tackle all of this. Start small and commit to improving one aspect of your financial life at a time. Before you know it, the taboo money topics will be a little easier to discuss and manage.

     

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    B&H Photo workers demand an end to dangerous and
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    By Karla Bowsher

    While many of America's largest metropolitan areas saw robust growth during the economic recovery, median wages fell in the vast majority of these areas, and many residents did not achieve a higher quality of life.

    Those facts emerged in a report from the nonprofit Brookings Institution that is billed as a new way to measure economic growth in U.S. metros.

    Brookings says its report attempts to measure not only economic growth, "but also how growth is achieved and who benefits from it." It examines three metrics in each metro:
    1. Growth - changes in the size of the economy
    2. Prosperity - changes in the economic well-being of workers and residents
    3. Inclusion - changes in disparities by income and race

    Among the findings are that between 2009 and 2014, only nine of the 100 largest metro areas outperformed averages in growth, prosperity, inclusion and inclusion by race, according to Brookings. For example, the study found that:
    • Median wages declined in 80 of the 100 areas.
    • Just 21 metros saw a significant narrowing of the gap between whites and people of color on measures of median wage, relative income poverty and employment.

    Report co-author Alan Berube, Brookings senior fellow and deputy director, concludes in a news release:

    Local leaders hoping to extend and accelerate this economic recovery need to make deliberate efforts to ensure that more people and communities benefit from a rising tide.

    The study also ranked the largest 100 metro areas based on growth, prosperity, inclusion by income and inclusion by race:


    Growth

    Highest-ranked:
    1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
    2. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
    3. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas
    Lowest-ranked:
    1. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
    2. Albuquerque, New Mexico
    3. Wichita, Kansas


    Prosperity

    Highest-ranked:
    1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
    2. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas
    3. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
    Lowest-ranked:
    1. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada
    2. Palm Beach-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida
    3. New Orleans-Metairie, Louisiana

    Inclusion

    Highest-ranked:
    1. Tulsa, Oklahoma
    2. Springfield, Massachusetts
    3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
    Lowest-ranked:
    1. Albuquerque, New Mexico
    2. Augusta, Georgia-Richmond County, South Carolina
    3. Columbia, South Carolina


    Inclusion by race

    Highest-ranked:
    1. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida
    2. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada
    3. Bakersfield, California
    Lowest-ranked:
    1. Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida
    2. Augusta, Georgia-Richmond County, South Carolina
    3. Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Florida
    What's your take on these findings? Share your reaction in a comment below or on Facebook.

     

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    B9167H Table spread with appetizer trays for the footbal party Horizontal view over white background . football; superbowl; amer
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    By Allison Martin

    Super Bowl 50 is Feb. 7 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Anyone hosting this year's shindig likely fears having to fork over a hefty sum.

    Fortunately, you don't have to blow your budget to show your friends a good time. Nor do you have to spend the whole day in the kitchen.

    Here are some low-cost Super Bowl party ideas that will make your life easier, and leave you with the energy to cheer on your team come game time.

    1. Potluck

    Deciding to go potluck is one of the easiest ways to make your party planning a little less intimidating. You can even create a theme that gets everyone excited to participate. Just make sure you keep track of who's bringing what: There's nothing worse than too many pretzels and not enough beer.

    2. Backyard tailgate

    Just because you're staying home doesn't mean you can't tailgate. If you live in a relatively warm climate, all you have to do is take the party outside for the hours leading up to kickoff.
    Throw some brats on the grill and paint your face with your team's colors. As a bonus, you'll keep some of the rowdy behavior outside your home.

    3. Sports bar experience

    Some people rent out part of their local sports bar to throw a party, but that can get pricey. So why not replicate the experience for a fraction of the cost at home?

    Move all your televisions into the designated party space, set up a makeshift bar and, voilà, you have your very own sports bar. Extra points if you have a large drink selection or a keg.

    4. Snack city

    Super Bowl parties are not dinner parties. There's no need to go all out with the food you serve. Try getting a variety of snack foods and skip the prepared platters of meats and cheeses, veggies and dips from the grocery store. Instead, make your own.

    This video with Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson shares a tasty recipe for a Super Bowl snack your guests will love.

    5. Cut down on food prep time

    Everyone loves a make-your-own-nachos bar, and it saves you a lot of time in the kitchen. You can also apply the same idea to other foods.

    Sundae bars are always popular, as is allowing your guests to decorate their own cupcakes. Or simply put out skewers for meats, cheeses, fruit or any other foods that might otherwise be eaten with a fork.

    6. Stagger the food

    Don't put all your food out at once. At the end of the game, you'll probably want to throw away any meats or cheeses that have been sitting out for hours.

    So instead, put out food only as needed. That will cut down on waste, leaving leftovers for lunch in the coming week.

    Just make sure you keep an eye on what guests are eating and keep the most popular snacks coming.

    7. Shop strategically

    Think about what you want to make before you go to the store, and create a list so you don't end up with some expensive impulse buys and without any of your essentials.

    Then look through your local supermarket's circular, or go online to find deals and coupons. Look for generic brands - if you're not serving them straight out the box, your guests probably won't notice the difference.

    8. Buy your alcohol wholesale

    You can purchase alcohol at any Sam's Club in the country, even if you don't have a membership. Costco and BJ's Wholesale Club have similar policies in some states.

    Just keep in mind that not every employee will be aware of the store's policy, so do your research. Shopping at one of these clubs often can save you big money on your alcohol purchases.

     

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    Ditch These Expensive Ingredients With Way Cheaper Alternatives

    Did you know? You can swap out pricier ingredients when making your favorite recipes at home. Using a few easy-to-find substitutes means you can save time and money at the store, without sacrificing taste in the kitchen.

    For example, next time you're cooking up your favorite Indian dish, replace expensive cardamom with store-bought cinnamon for a similar spicy flavor.

    No need to break the bank on hard-to-find truffles, either. Porcini mushrooms are a lot more affordable, and they'll infuse your dish with that same pungent taste.

    Finally, filet mignon may be the king of steaks, but decadence isn't cheap. If you're looking for king-sized taste without the king-sized price, try substituting rib-eye for a full-flavored filet alternative.

    So remember, when it comes to cooking at home, you don't have to spend big bucks to achieve big flavor.

     

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