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    CORCOVADO VIEW RIO DE JANEIRO
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    By Nick Wharton

    Travel isn't cheap, but when the dollar is 15%-55% stronger against other currencies than it has been in over a decade, now is the time to travel! Not everywhere is a good value at this time. Some other currencies are flourishing just like the USD, so if you want to find strong-dollar discounts, you have to know where to look. Here are five amazing places to visit that are far less expensive than they have been in a recent five-year history thanks to a strong U.S. dollar.

    Note: All currency conversions are based on XE.com's historical data. The current exchange rates may have changed since this article was published. Daily budgets and average hotel costs were calculated using numbeo.com's travel index tool.

    1. South Africa ($1 USD = 15 ZAR)

    Five years ago, you would have only gotten 6.73 Rand for your dollar, but now you'll feel more than twice as rich in South Africa. There has never been a better time to go on an African safari. In 2010, entrance to South Africa's biggest park (Kruger National Park) would have cost $23.77 (160 ZAR), but now, you can watch lions, zebras and elephants roam free for just $17.50 (264 ZAR)!

    A four-day luxury lodge safari trip in Kruger National park is around 15,000 ZAR. In 2010, that would have been $2,225 USD, but today it's only around $965 USD!

    A budget room in a guest house (known as a "backpacker" in South Africa) will cost you about 385 ZAR. In 2010, that equated to $57 a night, but today you'll pay just over $25 for the same room.

    The Math
    • Midrange Daily Budget: 500 ZAR / Day
    • This daily budget based on 2010 conversion: $74 / Day
    • This daily budget thanks to today's dollar: $33 / Day
    • Savings of: 55%
    • Current Exchange: 1 USD = 15 ZAR
    • 5 Year High: 16.00
    • 5 Year Low: 6.56
    2. Russia ($1 USD = 70 RUB)

    The beautiful city of Moscow, the churches of St.Petersburg, and the world's greatest train journey have never been so affordable. The Russian ruble fell drastically at the end of 2014, and while this isn't great for Russians, it is excellent for those of us who have always wanted to visit this vast and beautiful country.

    The average price of a midrange hotel in Moscow is around 3,500 RUB. In 2010, that would have been $116, but today that is less than $50.

    One of the most legendary train journeys on the planet, the Trans-Siberian, is now a better value than it has been in the past few decades. The trip from Moscow to Ulan Bator will run you around 35,000 Rubles for a first class ticket. At Christmas time in 2010, that would have been $1,160, but with today's exchange it's just $498! You can buy two tickets today, for the same price as one ticket would have cost you at the end of 2014. Incredible.

    The Math
    • Midrange Daily Budget: 4000 RUB / Day
    • This daily budget based on 2010 conversion: $133 / Day
    • This daily budget thanks to today's dollar: $57 / Day
    • Savings of: 57%
    • Current Exchange: 1 USD = 70 RUB
    • 5 Year High: 71.91
    • 5 Year Low: 27.29
    3. Brazil ($1 USD = 3.95 BRL)

    Although Brazil was once considered a "BRIC" economy, the collapse of oil prices, the FIFA World Cup, and preparation for the 2016 Olympics has proven pretty rough on Brazil's currency. Today the Brazilian real is suffering a real downturn and the U.S. dollar is getting about 57% more than it did around this time in 2010.

    If the Brazilian real continues on this downward trend, the Olympics in 2016 might make for a great budget destination. According toolympics.org, tickets for events will go for around 70 real. That's only $17.70, and by the time the games begin, it might be even less.

    A three-star hotel in Brazil averages at around R$230 per night. In 2010 that was $138, but today that same room will cost you less than $35.

    The Math
    • Midrange Daily Budget: R$400 / Day
    • This daily budget based on 2010 conversion: $240 / Day
    • This daily budget thanks to today's dollar: $100 / Day
    • Savings of: 58%
    • Current Exchange: $1 USD = 3.95 RUB
    • 5 Year High: 4.17
    • 5 Year Low: 1.57

    4. Japan ($1 USD = 122 JPY)

    I have personally always wanted to visit Japan, but I thought it would be outrageously expensive. This was true back in 2010 when the exchange rate was around 82¥ to the dollar. At that time, Japan would have been a steep holiday, but today the dollar gets 33% more than it did back then.

    The average cost of a midrange hotel room in Japan is 10,000¥. In 2010 that would have been $122 USD, today that room will run you just $82.

    A guided hike to the top of Mt.Fuji costs about 47,000¥. In 2010 that was $573, but today you'd pay $385.

    The Math
    • Midrange Daily Budget: 19,000¥ / Day
    • This daily budget based on 2010 conversion: $231 / Day
    • This daily budget thanks to today's dollar: $155 / Day
    • Savings of: 33%
    • Current Exchange: $1 USD = 121.83 JPY
    • 5 Year High: 125.63
    • 5 Year Low: 75.76
    5. Any Country Using the Euro ($1 USD = 0.92 EUR)

    Head to Europe for huge savings! Explore the whitewashed buildings of Oia, Greece, lay on the soft, sandy beaches of the Mediterranean, explore the beauty of Paris, and the history of Rome, all for a fraction of what it would have cost you just a few years ago.

    At the end of 2010, the Euro was at 0.76 to the dollar, but today the dollar is 17% stronger and trades almost equally with the Euro. When I was in Greece, I found a lovely apartment just a few blocks from the sea on Santorini island. At the time (May, 2011), that apartment cost me 34 Euros, which was around $50 USD/night. Today I could get that same apartment for just over $37.

    There hasn't been a cheaper time for Americans to visit Europe in over a decade. This is the perfect time to explore one of the most fascinating continents on Earth.

    The Math
    • Midrange Daily Budget: €100 / Day
    • This daily budget based on 2010 conversion: $131 / Day
    • This daily budget thanks to today's dollar: $110 / Day
    • Savings of: 17%
    • Current Exchange: $1 USD = 0.915 EUR
    • 5 Year High: 0.95
    • 5 Year Low: 0.67
    Enjoy it while it lasts...

    Celebrate the strong American dollar by taking a trip to a place you couldn't afford previously. Enjoy the discounts while you can!

     

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    By Krystal Steinmetz

    How we spend our hard-earned money can be quite revealing.

    "To some extent, we are what we buy," explains Money.

    Some products experience surging sales after a strong marketing campaign, a dramatic shift in price or the endorsement of a popular celebrity - have you heard of the "Oprah Effect"? But often the rush to buy is the result of shifting U.S. demographics.

    The seven hot-selling items in a list compiled by Money reflect the latter. Check out where U.S. consumer dollars are flowing and what that reveals about Americans today:

    Legal weed: With more states legalizing marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, the cannabis industry has experienced explosive growth. Legal pot sales reached $5.4 billion in the United States in 2015, a 17.4 percent spike over 2014. Pot sales are expected to hit $6.7 billion this year - in turn generating healthy tax revenues in states that allow it.

    Canadian goods: When the value of the U.S. dollar rises compared with the Canadian currency as it has recently (the current rate is US$1 = C$1.32) many Americans flock across the northern border to shop. Money said the number of U.S. visitors to Canada shot up by 1.6 million during the first 11 months of 2015, and that number is expected to keep climbing this year.

    Guns: Anxiety caused by mass shootings and fears that they will lead to more restrictive gun laws have sparked record-breaking gun sales in the United States in recent years. Check out "Gun-Buying Rush Swamps FBI Background Checkers."

    Anything that can be bought on a phone (or tablet): Mobile shopping and spending soared 60 percent from 2014 to 2015. With retailers shifting more of their focus to mobile consumers, it's likely that number will only continue to increase in 2016.

    Streaming service subscription: Regardless of whether they stream video or music, streaming service subscriptions are on the rise. Netflix, Hulu, Spotify and Amazon Prime, just to name a few, are continually increasing their customer base.

    Bowls: That's right. "Bowls are the new plates," the The Wall Street Journal recently announced, noting that moving from plates to bowls signals a shift to a more casual lifestyle. Money noted that many health-conscious trendsetters are trading in their plates for bowls while restaurants are also moving towards bowl-friendly entrees. Money said bowl sales from dish companies like Fiesta increased by 17 percent last year.

    Adult diapers: With Americans living longer these days and many seniors struggling with incontinence problems, it's really no surprise that adult diapers are flying off the shelves. Money said adult diaper sales are expected to grow by 48 percent globally by 2020. Compare that with baby diaper sales, which are expected to experience a much more modest growth of 2.6 percent in the next four years.

     

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    By Jim Gold

    You don't have to sacrifice good pay to work from home.

    FlexJobs, a subscription-based online service specializing in work-from-home and other flexible job postings, recently identified 10 positions that pay near or well over six figures.

    "Sure, work-from-home jobs are available in lower pay grades, but it is clear that flexibility is not constrained by experience level or a high salary," said Jessica Howington, Flexjobs content team lead.

    The list comes as the number of people in work-from-home jobs continues to grow. About 3.7 million employees (2.8 percent of the workforce) work from home at least half the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics.

    More than 8 in 10 people surveyed about telecommuting say working from home contributes to work-life balance. Some who seek telecommuting positions say they are more productive working from home rather than an office; others say dropping commute time adds to time spent exercising and other healthful habits.

    The top-paying jobs and their job descriptions that FlexJobs found:

    1. Supervisory attorney, $117,000 - $152,000: Oversees less-experienced attorneys, provides legal guidance and support, supervises other attorneys and their assigned cases and staff.
    2. Senior software engineer, $100,000 - $200,000: Responsible for developing and running software programs, overseeing related projects, managing a team of software engineers, troubleshooting technical issues, and debugging software.
    3. Senior medical writer, $110,000 - $115,000: Reviews medical information, writes documents, edits other medical writers' submissions and works with senior management to keep projects on track at a variety of health care-related companies including medical publishers and pharmaceutical companies; usually needs a degree in a science or medical discipline.
    4. Director of quality improvement, $100,000 - $175,000: As part of a company's operations and technical teams,+ is responsible for working to design and develop best practices related to systems administration and data architecture.
    5. Clinical regulatory affairs director, $150,000 - $151,000: Plans, prepares and submits products for market nationally and internationally, writes regulatory documents for clinical trial applications, and assists with marketing documents.
    6. Research biologist, $93,000 - $157,000: Explores and studies biology in a lab or out in the field while researching interaction of organisms and environments; specialized fields include zoology, taxonomy, physiology, population biology and ecology.
    7. Director of business development, $100,000 - $151,000: Helps drive sales and revenue, responsible for established clients and new business, oversees sales teams for larger companies.
    8. Environmental engineer, up to $110,000: Performs as expert to reduce environmental waste and damage, including managing ways to protect the Earth and human populations from harmful chemicals and pollution, ensuring compliance with regulations and, in some cases, assisting in development of regulations.
    9. Major gifts officer, up to $90,000: Cultivates and solicits current and prospective donors for large-sum donations by using sales skills, organizational skills and working independently; extensive travel may be required.
    10. Audit manager, $90,000 - $110,000: Leads, plans and executes financial and operational audits for companies or clients, works with stakeholders to understand the outcomes and impacts of the audit, ensures future compliance, and evaluates internal systems, policies and procedures.

     

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    By Marilyn Lewis

    Chances are your home mortgage is the largest debt you'll ever have. How would you like to pay it off and run your mortgage contract through the shredder a lot faster than the 30 years for which most homeowners sign up?


    Let's consider some ways to painlessly pay off your home loan sooner. You can choose to do it a little faster or a lot. In some cases, you'll scarcely notice the added expense.

    1. Make biweekly mortgage payments

    Since there are 12 months in a year, homeowners make 12 monthly mortgage payments. But if you make half-sized payments every two weeks (biweekly), you'll make 26 half-payments, the equivalent of 13 full payments.

    Essentially, it is like making 13 monthly payments every year rather than the usual 12.

    To go this route, call your lender and ask the best way to do it. Some lenders will set you up with biweekly payments. Or you might simply prefer to send in the extra payments by mail or electronically. Whenever you make any extra payment, however, be sure to designate it "apply to principal." Otherwise, the lender may treat the extra as a prepayment of your next regular monthly payment.

    Use a calculator like this one from the Mortgage Professor to see your savings. For example, according to this calculator, if you have a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at 3.8 percent, making biweekly payments would save $20,573 in interest over the life of the loan and pay off your mortgage four years earlier. That's a big bang for not many extra bucks.

    One thing to avoid: "mortgage acceleration" products and plans. Paying down your mortgage is an easy thing to do, and you shouldn't have to pay anything to do it. No expertise or pipeline to a higher authority is required. When you see ads and pitches for mortgage "acceleration" plans, programs and products, run the other direction. (Learn more about these gimmicks here.)

    2. Pour every bit of extra cash into your mortgage

    Dedicate every windfall - a bonus, raise, or holiday or graduation gift - you receive toward paying down debt. Obviously, the highest-interest debt takes priority. But if you have an adequate emergency savings fund and your mortgage is your only debt, don't even ask yourself what you'll do with extra money when it falls into your hands: Add it to your mortgage payment, designating it as additional principal.

    It's possible you'll find better uses for extra cash than paying down your mortgage. For example, if your mortgage rate is 3.8 percent, but you can earn 5 percent on your money elsewhere, you're obviously going to be better off earning the 5 percent. Read Stacy's discussion about the pros and cons of using extra cash to pay down your mortgage.

    3. Round up your payments

    The monthly payment on a $200,000 mortgage at 3.8 percent fixed over 30 years is about $932 a month. Get into the habit of rounding up that amount to $1,000. Or even $1,030, or $1,050. Do it on a regular basis, and you'll shave years off your mortgage while feeling little pain.

    4. Make one extra payment a year

    Give yourself a holiday gift by making an extra payment at the end of the year - or at any time. Or, if you'd rather, add an amount equal to one-twelfth of your mortgage payment to each month's payment.

    For instance, with the $932 monthly payments in the example above, one-twelfth is $78. Add that to your normal payment, for a total payment of $1,010, and you'll shave 30 payments off a 30-year mortgage, paying it off in 26 years instead of 30.

    5. Refinance into a shorter loan

    Monthly payments are lower on longer-term loans than on shorter-term loans. But borrowers who choose shorter-term loans - such as a 15-year fixed-rate loan instead of a 30-year fixed-rate loan - stand to save a lot of money over the long haul. You can, too.

    Follow these three steps to find out what you would save:

    Here's an example: If you pay 3.8 percent on a 30-year fixed-rate home loan of $200,000, your payment (principal and interest) will be $932 a month. After 30 years, you'll have repaid the $200,000, plus $135,489 in interest, money that could have gone to a college education for your kids or helped you retire earlier.

    Reducing the term, or duration, of the loan usually saves money in two ways: You pay less total interest, and you often get a lower rate.

    When I researched this story, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 3.8 percent. The average 15-year, fixed-rate mortgage had an average interest rate of just 3.07 percent. The monthly payments on a $200,000 loan would be $1,388, which is $457 higher than the 30-year version.

    But you'd be done in half the time, paying only $49,823 in interest, instead of $135,489. That means you'd keep nearly $86,000 in your pocket rather than putting it in a lender's.

    If you want to shorten your mortgage's term but 10 or 15 years feels too tight, the payments on a 20-year loan might be more comfortable.

    6. Refinance and just pretend it's a shorter loan

    If locking into a shorter mortgage with higher monthly payments feels scary, you can get much the same effect by refinancing - if rates are low enough to justify it - into a cheaper 30-year mortgage but paying it off on a 15-year (or 10-year or 20-year) schedule.

    You won't enjoy the lower rates offered for shorter-term loans, but you'll save heaps of money on interest. To stick with our sample mortgage, the new payment on your $200,000 (3.8 percent, 30-year fixed-rate) mortgage is $932. Go ahead and pretend you're on a shorter schedule. Your monthly payment would be:

    • $1,190 to pay it off in 20 years
    • $1,459 to pay it off in 15 years
    • $2,006 to pay it off in 10 years


    Do the math yourself using the HSH calculator, or any number of other free calculators.

    This option requires willpower, because you must choose a higher payment than you are required to make each month. But it gives you the flexibility of falling back to your smaller required payment if you need extra cash.

    Is refinancing cost-effective?

    Options 5 and 6 involve refinancing your home. Before considering those options, decide if refinancing is a good move for you.

    Whether refinancing is worth it depends on the associated costs and how long you'll stay in the home. To be a good deal, you'll need to stay long enough to more than recoup your costs.

    Refinancing is loaded with costs, including, but not limited to:

    • A lender's origination fee
    • A title search fee and title insurance
    • Taxes
    • A settlement professional's fees
    • The cost of pulling your credit report
    • An appraisal fee
    • State or county tax and/or transfer fees


    You can pay for these costs out of pocket at the time you refinance. Many lenders encourage borrowers to have the fees added ("rolled in") to their loan balance. But if you do, your monthly payment will grow and you'll pay additional interest.

    Here's rule of thumb: Expect to pay 2 percent to 5 percent of the loan amount to refinance, says Zillow.

    Estimate your own costs using MyFICO's refinance calculator. Also, you can shop around by telling several mortgage lenders how much you want to borrow and asking for their estimates of fees. Again, our mortgage search tool is a good place to start.

    Tip: Don't give lenders consent to pull your credit until you're ready to actually apply for a loan.

     

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    By Susan Johnston Taylor

    With a new pair of shoes or a shipment of groceries just a few clicks away, American consumers have embraced the ease of online shopping. In fact, on average, Americans were expected to spend an estimated $1,804 on online shopping last year (the most of any country in the world), according to Statista's Digital Market Outlook for 2015.


    But just because online shopping is easy with 24/7 access to e-commerce sites and no lines at the checkout doesn't mean that it's your best or least expensive option. Here's a look at the potential downsides of shopping online, as well as strategies for offsetting these challenges.


    Shipping costs. Many retailers offer free shipping, but often with a minimum dollar amount designed to tempt you into buying more. In fact, Amazon.com recently raised its free shipping minimum for most orders to $49. "If you end up buying a bunch more and adding some filler to your order, [it] may not turn out to be the best deal," says Karl Quist, president of online shopping tool PriceBlink.com. If you decide to shop online anyway, search for a promo code and see if you can nix the shipping costs without buying more than you need. Programs like ShopRunner or Amazon Prime also offer free shipping with no minimums, but be sure to weigh the cost of membership against the total savings.

    [See: 10 Money-Saving Websites to Check Before Shopping.]

    Potential for overpaying. Online retailers' use of dynamic pricing means that prices for online purchases can fluctuate over the course of the day. "If you buy it at the wrong time, you could be overpaying," says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. "It's a lot harder to change prices at a brick-and-mortar store than it is online," Woroch adds. Fortunately, tools like Paribus.co will monitor price drops and automatically request a refund on your behalf. However, a study conducted by Northeastern University also found that some e-commerce sites use "price steering," a technique to manipulate search results or customize pricing options based on data collected about the user. For example, if an e-commerce site detects that a consumer is more affluent, it might steer the consumer to personalized and pricier options.

    Impulse buys. Maybe you don't need new shoes, but you get an email from your favorite retailer offering half off a second pair. Or just as you're about to close your Web browser, the chat box pops up offering you 10 percent off your next purchase. Now, instead of thinking you don't really need another pair of shoes, you're thinking about what a deal it is. Online retailers are savvy about getting you to spend more. To curb impulse buys, Woroch recommends disabling a one-click checkout option and not saving your credit card information, both of which make it easy to buy items without a second thought. And instead of shopping on your phone when you're intoxicated or bored, find other ways to keep yourself occupied. "With shopping so readily available all the time, you have that much more time to shop and spend money," she adds. Another strategy is to unsubscribe from retailer's emails or to create a separate email account. That way, you won't be tempted to buy things you don't need.


    [See: 10 Ways to Protect Yourself From Online Fraud.]


    Lack of real-world touch and sight. Some online retailers such as Warby Parker and Trunk Club use home try-ons or advanced fit technology (like Fits.me) to help you buy exactly what you want. Another startup, Try.com, integrates with the e-commerce sites of retailers, including Nike, Ralph Lauren and Zara, and allows consumers seven days to try on clothes for free and ship them back using a prepaid envelope if they decide not to keep the items. Conversely, in the absence of a try-on feature, not being able to feel or see it in real life means those shoes may not fit well or those throw pillows might not match your couch as you had hoped. "For clothing and home goods [such as] curtains and bedding, you want to make sure that the material is of good quality," Woroch says.


    Hassle-prone returns. Free shipping and free returns allow online retailers to compete with brick-and-mortar stores. But when a dress doesn't fit or a necklace looks chintzy, do you keep it or send it back? It turns out many consumers choose the latter to avoid packing up an item and printing out a return shipping label. "We're lazy in nature, so we just don't do that," says Alex Matjanec, co-founder and CEO of MyBankTracker.com. Ironically, the more time we have to return something, the less likely we are to actually do it, finds research out of the University of Texas-Dallas, perhaps because we procrastinate and eventually decide to keep the item. Woroch recommends checking a store's return policy before you buy material goods. For bulkier items such as furniture pieces or TVs, the retailer may not offer free return shipping at all. However, in some cases you can avoid extra costs by returning the item in-store rather than shipping it back.


    [Read: Smarter Ways to Shop Online.]


    Retargeting. Retargeting is a tool designed by companies to lure shoppers back to a retailer's site after you've left. "You search for The North Face Agave Women's Jacket online, and the jacket begins to follow you wherever you go," Matjanec says. "Every time you get online, it's there waiting for you," he says. This can feel a little creepy, so you may want to clear your Internet browser's cookies to avoid reminders of your past product searches. On the other hand, some retailers include savings messages in their retargeting ads, so you could benefit from retargeting ads by getting a better deal on that jacket.

     

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    By Geoff Williams

    No, your pants aren't on fire. But judging by the results of a new poll, you might be comfortable lying about certain money issues to get ahead in life - even if the consequences could be grave.


    The survey from NerdWallet, conducted by Harris Poll and released this week, sheds some light on how consumers feel about lying when money is at stake.


    The online survey tracked the opinions of 2,115 Americans age 18 and older, asking about a variety of scenarios and whether it's OK to lie about them.


    Here are the key takeaways. What do you feel crosses the line?

    [See: 5 Myths About Your 401(k).]

    1. Some Lies Are More Forgivable Than Others. As you might suspect, not all lies are created equal in the eyes of most Americans. Take a look at what participants were - and weren't - OK with.


    Entertainment subscription accounts. Do you have Netflix or Amazon Prime, Pandora, Hulu Plus or something along those lines? Or rather, do you have family members or friends who have such a service, and they let you use it? That's OK. Well, not really, but 33 percent of Americans say using someone else's account information for online movies, music or articles to avoid paying subscription costs is acceptable.
    The IRS. How about deliberately concealing under-the-table income? Twenty-four percent of Americans said not reporting that dough to the IRS was acceptable.


    Eating out. You go to a restaurant, and your kid is 13 or 14 but looks younger. Should you lie about his age to get a discount at a restaurant, theme park or, say, a museum? Twenty-one percent of Americans think that kind of thing is fine, but apparently it's a little worse to lie about your own age (only 17 percent said that was permissible).


    Auto insurance. What about fudging the number of miles you drive every year so you can get a lower auto insurance rate? Twenty percent of Americans say that's acceptable.


    Credit cards. Lying about your income on a credit card or loan application so a financial institution will lend you more? Only 12 percent feel that's acceptable.


    Life insurance. Sixteen percent of people condone lying about smoking marijuana to get lower life insurance rates, whereas only 11 percent of respondents believe it's OK to lie about smoking habits to get lower life insurance rates.


    [Read: The Top 10 Lies People Put on Their Resumes.]


    2. Men Lie More; Older People Lie Less. True to the stereotype, when it comes to dishonesty and dollars, men can be cads. Meanwhile, graying hair may signal honesty.


    At least, when it came to this survey, male participants were likelier to condone lying than women, and older participants were more honest.


    When it came to lying on a credit card or loan application, 16 percent of men were willing to lie about the information they provided, compared with only 8 percent of women. Almost twice as many men were also perfectly fine with not reporting under-the-table income to the IRS (30 percent of men versus 18 percent of women). But there was only a 3 percent difference between men and women (35 percent versus 32 percent) when it came to using someone else's account to avoid paying for online, subscription-based movies, music or articles.


    As you get older, apparently you get more ethical. Only 11 percent of seniors said it was acceptable to use somebody else's paid account to watch movies or listen to music, whereas 39 percent of Americans ages 18 to 64 voted it acceptable. When it comes to fibbing about your income on a credit card or loan application, only 4 percent of retired Americans said it's OK versus 13 percent of adults who identified themselves as students.


    And almost one-third of parents with kids under 18 think it's permissible to lie about their children's ages to get a discount, whereas 18 percent of childless people think that's fine.

    [Read: 7 Common Tax Myths, Debunked.]


    3. Fear of Consequences Helps People Decide Whether to Lie. Of course, there's no way to know what's going through someone's mind when they answer questions like these. One could argue that it's easier to be ethical about restaurant discounts when you're not the one paying for your kid's meal, and perhaps fewer seniors think it's OK to use somebody else's paid account because they're frequently the ones paying for it.


    The respondents weren't asked why they felt that being honest or dishonest was acceptable in certain scenarios, but Amy Danise, an insurance editor at NerdWallet who helped put the survey together, has an educated guess.


    "The people don't seem to be factoring in the consequences of the lies, since lying to the IRS is deemed more acceptable than lying about your child's age, and if you were caught in either situation, the consequences would be far worse with the IRS than lying to a restaurant," Danise says. "With a restaurant, if you're caught, 'Who cares?'"


    "The lie seems to depend on the perceived likelihood of getting caught," Danise adds.


    That may be why men lie about money more. "I think men have less fear of getting caught and may be, in this case, more risk-takers in general than women," Danise adds.


    She also suspects that so few people find it acceptable to lie on a life insurance policy because there's a medical exam, and people know they'll probably be caught.


    David Hagenbuch, a marketing professor who specializes in ethics, agrees. "My hunch is that most of the survey respondents based their ethical choices on consequences rather than on moral principles," says Hagenbuch, who teaches at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.


    "More specifically," Hagebuch says, "I'd speculate from the wide-ranging results that people's estimation of consequences was further broken down into factors such as the likelihood of getting caught, financial cost, social stigma and impact on others."


    Still, one could argue that Americans aren't a lying bunch. After all, there was only one scenario in which more than 50 percent or more of respondents argued that it's OK to lie when it comes to money: using someone else's subscription entertainment account was fine with 62 percent of students and 59 percent of people ages 18 to 34. Overall, the majority of respondents said it was best to not lie.


    But for those who take the jaded viewpoint, the reason we aren't lying more may be because technology has made it harder for us to lie, says Wendy Patrick, a business ethics lecturer at San Diego State University.


    "We live in a technologically savvy world where it is increasingly easy to detect dishonesty," she says. "In an age of instant fact-checking, most of my students view the truth in black and white and would not dare to even fudge a date on their resumes."


    But she adds, "There are some consumers, however, who continue to view honesty in multiple shades of gray. They might pass one of their children off as under 12 or themselves as a senior in order to get a discount, hoping they do not get carded."


    So there's our future. As technology continues to evolve, society will become more honest - whether we like it or not.

     

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    Eating Healthy on a Budget
    If you've made the decision to eat healthy, congratulations! Changing your diet isn't easy. That's why we've rounded up these tips about choosing healthy, low-cost options to get you started.

    First, let's talk protein. We all need it, and you can find it in many foods, from ground beef to lentils. Clearly between these two, lentils are the cheaper and healthier choice. But it might surprise you to learn that lentils also contain more protein per pound than beef, and they're only a fraction of the price.

    Now, on to the produce section. Fresh veggies are great, but if you're trying to save a few dollars, head to the freezer aisle. Not only are frozen fruit and vegetables cheaper, but companies tend to freeze the produce at peak ripeness - so nutritionally, they can be just as good, if not better than fresh. Just be sure to avoid products with added sugars or salt.

    Next, check out grains. In this department, brown rice is the front-runner. At 18 cents per serving, it's a better bargain than other healthy grains like quinoa and farro. It's also high in fiber, so it won't pack on the pounds like white rice.

    There's much more to cover, but if you make these healthy choices you'll be well on your way.

    Related: 5 cheap things that will help you stay healthy

     

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    By Anna Williams

    Congrats! You've diligently saved up a down payment, run the numbers on what you can realistically afford and probably attended enough weekend open houses to know you're ready to call a home your own.


    Now comes the actual buying part.


    While it's an exciting milestone, purchasing a first home can also seem terrifying. After all, it's one of the biggest money decisions you'll ever make. And getting hit with a whole new language of unfamiliar finance terms can only add to the stress.

    The good news is that home buying doesn't have to be daunting. While we can't help you decide between a ranch or a townhouse, we can give you the tools to help make sure your decision is financially sound.


    So to cut out some confusion, we've rounded up eight of the most important home-buying terms and translated each into plain English. Consider this your cheat sheet to common real estate and mortgage lingo.


    1. ARM


    ARM stands for adjustable rate mortgage. Simply put, it's a type of home loan where your interest rate will change over time.


    Most ARMs start off with a short period of a set low interest rate. But after that time is up-typically between three and 10 years-your rate becomes adjustable. That means it'll reset periodically, based on what's going on in the market. So if interest rates start sliding, you could be saving money. But the opposite can also happen: If rates rise, your monthly payment could suddenly skyrocket.


    If you're the type of person who likes a little more certainty in your life, you probably wouldn't love an ARM. On the other hand, if you're not shopping for your forever home and plan to move before the fixed-rate period expires, an ARM could be a good option.


    RELATED: Can't Get a Mortgage? Debt-to-Income Ratio, Explained


    2. Fixed-Rate Mortgage


    This type of home loan is a little more old-school than an ARM, and it's a lot more straightforward.
    Whereas ARM interest rates go where the market goes, think of a fixed-rate mortgage as a more dependable choice, for better or for worse: You'll be committed to a single interest rate for the life of the loan.


    That comes with its pros and cons. For example, if interest rates in the market drop, you're stuck with your higher rate. (That is, unless you refinance, which can mean some hassle and fees.) Still, if interest rates rise, you won't have to stress about suddenly having a bigger home payment.


    RELATED: 10 Questions for ... a Mortgage Loan Officer


    3. Assumable Mortgage


    This is a less common type of mortgage (typically for ones administered by the Federal Housing Administration or U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) where, instead of taking out a new loan, you simply take over the seller's old mortgage.


    That may sound like a great deal-doesn't "pre-owned" always mean savings?-but it's a little more involved than, say, buying a used car.


    It typically only makes sense if interest rates are rising. For example, if the owner's mortgage was fixed at 3%, and rates right now are 5%, you'd stand to save on interest. Bonus: You'll also likely pay less in fees, since you aren't getting a brand-new mortgage. (Though you will still have to be approved by the seller's lender.)

    Plus, say you're buying the home for $250,000 and the mortgage balance is just $150,000. You'll still have to find a way to cover that difference, whether that's coming up with a bigger down payment or taking out a second mortgage.


    RELATED: Mortgages 101: What You Need to Know

    4. Balloon-Payment Mortgage


    This is a type of mortgage where after just five or seven years of low monthly payments, you're expected to pay off the rest of the home in one, big lump sum at the end-hence, the "balloon."
    Yes, it's a lot of cash to suddenly come up with. But in reality, most people never actually plan to pay that big balance at once. Rather, they'll sell their home before then or simply take out a new loan when the balloon payment comes due.


    The big advantage? The interest rate for those five or seven years tends to be really low.


    Here's the risk, though: There's no guarantee you'll be approved for another loan once that big payment is due. For example, say your home's value has fallen over time, or you've weathered a big pay cut at work. That'll make getting a new mortgage on the fly much harder.


    RELATED: 7 Top Mortgage-Shopping Mistakes to Avoid


    5. Equity


    Equity tells you how much of your home you really own. In short, it's the current market value of your house minus the amount you still owe on the mortgage. For example, let's say your ranch house is worth $300,000 right now, but you're still on the hook for $150,000 in mortgage payments. You really only "own" $150,000 of the home. In other words, you have 50% equity.


    As you keep making those monthly payments, your equity will grow. It can also change as the value of your home goes up (or down).


    RELATED: Ask a CFP: 'Should You Ever Take Out a Home Equity Line of Credit?'


    6. Escrow


    "Escrow" can get confusing, because it actually has two different meanings in the real-estate world.
    First, after your offer has been accepted on the home, some money will be kept in a separate escrow account until all the conditions of the contract are met. It's a way to protect both the buyer and seller.
    For example, as the buyer, you don't want to hand over any money until you're sure the home passes inspection. But the seller also wants some kind of assurance that you'll actually pay before they take the home off the market.


    So an escrow agent comes in as the referee. They hold a certain amount of cash from the buyer in this escrow account, along with documents from the seller, like the deed to the house. Once the contract is signed, all the assets are handed out.


    But escrow account takes on a second meaning when you become a homeowner. Because your mortgage lender wants to make sure you actually pay your property tax and homeowner's insurance, they collect extra money from you every month and hold it in an "escrow account." They'll then use that money to pay those annual expenses for you-and you can both worry less knowing there is money set aside to pay those important bills.


    RELATED: Your Money Bible: 25 Financial Terms Everyone Should Know


    7. Earnest Money


    Earnest money is a way to show a seller that you're serious about wanting to buy their property. After all, before starting a contract, sellers want to be sure that you're ready to put a ring on it-and that you're not just throwing out offers at every open house you attend.


    So to show them how "earnest" you really are, you deposit a set amount of money into an escrow account (yep, that term again) with your offer. It's typically 1% to 3% of the purchase price. If all goes well and the home is yours, that cash can go toward your down payment. On the other hand, if you get cold feet and back out, the seller has an opportunity to pocket that money.


    RELATED: Down Payments: What You Need to Know


    8. Private Mortgage Insurance


    Private mortgage insurance, aka PMI, is a type of insurance policy you'll have to take out if your down payment is less than 20%.


    If you can't come up with 20%, the mortgage lender views you as a financial risk. So to protect themselves, they make you pay for PMI until you've built up a little more than 20% equity in your house. That way, if you end up defaulting, the lender will still get paid via the insurance.


    Not only is PMI an extra bill you'll have to cover every month, but unlike most insurance policies you pay for, your PMI doesn't protect you-only the lender will be covered if you default. So at LearnVest, we recommend you always try to save up at least 20% for a home down payment-so you can avoid having to pay that PMI.


    RELATED: Try Before You Buy: I Took a Mortgage Test Run

     

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    By Jennifer Liu

    There are plenty of things to prepare for when you're bringing home a baby.


    One thing you might not expect, but that's surprisingly common?


    Going into debt.

    Nearly half (46%) of moms surveyed for BabyCenter's 2015 Cost of Raising a Child report have taken on debt to cover child-rearing expenses.


    After all, caring for a little one costs about $13,000 a year, and finding that extra room in your budget isn't necessarily easy.


    Still, three out of five moms admit they could raise kids for less than they spend. It's just that they want to create the "perfect" childhood.


    That desire translates to a budget-busting lineup of activities, setting moms back an average of $1,391 annually. The majority (91%) say they pay as much as they do because it's what's best for their kids-not to keep up with their social circle or who's posting what to Facebook.


    But it's hard to resist lifestyle inflation, and the more money earned by surveyed moms, the more they report spending ($2,600 more per child for those making at least $100,000).


    And expenses further down the road are already looming: 60% worry about having enough money to fully support a child until adulthood.


    Such pressure has its own costs. One in five say their relationship with their partner suffers from financial stress and the need to work more to give junior the very best.


    While that impulse is understandable, these findings are a reminder that becoming a parent is a major money commitment. If you're thinking of having a baby, our handy checklist is a good place to start your financial prep.

     

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    Americans now have more than $1.2 trillion of student loan debt.

    To help people deal with their debt burden, credit unions, banks and Silicon Valley startups have introduced loans that can be used to refinance existing student loan debt. Companies life SoFi advertise that borrowers save an average $18,936 when they refinance their debt. And SoFi isn't the only company to offer low interest rates. Interest rates start as low as 2.13% (variable) and 3.25% (fixed).

    But before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you ask yourself these four questions.

    1. Do you have federal or private student loans?

    If you have federal student loans, you are probably eligible for income-driven repayment options from the federal government. With an income-driven plan, the federal government will review your tax return and will cap the monthly payment to a fixed percentage of your discretionary income. Depending upon the plan, your monthly payment could be capped to between ten and twenty percent of your discretionary income. You would continue to make payments for up to 25 years, depending upon which plan you use. At the end of the repayment period, any remaining loan balance is forgiven.

    Just remember that you have to renew your enrollment every year. If your income increases, so does your payment. And if debt is forgiven, you will owe taxes on the amount that is forgiven. If your income is low enough, your payment could be as low as $0 per month.

    Your interest rate on your federal loans will likely be much higher than the interest rate being made available by companies that refinance the debt. You should think of the higher interest rate as an insurance premium. If you have a high level of confidence in your ability to repay your student loans quickly, and you have an emergency fund in case of job loss, you might not need to worry about income-driven plans. Just think long and hard before making a decision.

    2. Do you have a good credit history and verifiable income?

    If you want to refinance your student loan debt, you need to have an excellent credit history. Only people with an excellent credit history and good income can qualify. Lenders will look at your credit report and will want to see a history of on-time payments, especially with your existing student loans. In addition, most lenders will perform an analysis of your cash flow and will want to verify your income. Most lenders are targeting "HENRYs," which are "high earners, not rich yet." If that describes you, refinancing your debt could make a lot of sense. But if you are struggling to make your payments or have a bad credit history, you would likely be rejected.

    3. Do you want a fixed or variable rate?

    Variable interest rates are much lower than fixed interest rates. For example, earnest, a Silicon Valley startup, charges variable rates between 2.13% - 5.41% and fixed rates between 3.50% - 7.05%. If you can pay off your debt quickly, you might want to take advantage of the low variable rates. However, if you think it will take 15 or more years to eliminate your debt, you will probably want to lock in a fixed rate. This is ultimately a risk-reward calculation that only you can make.

    4. Have you shopped around for the lowest interest rate?

    There are a lot of companies offering to refinance your student loans, and you should apply to as many as possible. Use a website like MagnifyMoney to compare the many companies that offer the product. And make sure you complete all of your applications in a month. FICO treats all student loan inquiries within a 45 day period as a single inquiry. So you should feel comfortable shopping for the best rate without worrying about the impact on your score. Just remember that if you are planning to apply for a mortgage in the next six months, you might want to hold off on shopping around for a refinance option, because even a single inquiry can have a big impact on your mortgage rate.

    For many people, student loan debt is a big burden. Like any other form of debt, the interest rate will have a big impact on how long it will take to pay off the debt. The lower the interest rate, the quicker you can get out of debt. Just make sure you take advantage of the lower rate by reducing the term of your loan. Your goal should be to eliminate the debt as quickly as possible.

     

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    By Marilyn Lewis

    A high credit score is your ticket to discounts in borrowing and insurance. It can also be a key to landing a job or a rental home.


    Why FICO?


    FICO (for Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that invented credit scoring) scores are used in an estimated 90 percent of credit decisions in the United States.


    FICO is the score that lenders, bankers, landlords, merchants and other businesses check to gauge your creditworthiness.


    Not long ago consumers had to pay for a peek at their official FICO scores. But that's history. Now you can get your score for free if you know where to look.


    How to use your score


    For free FICO scores you can thank the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB pushed the heads of major credit card companies to allow consumers no-cost, regular access to the official FICO score that lenders use, not educational scores likes the ones banks, credit card companies and others often offer consumers instead. The CFPB argued that consumers who can monitor their credit scores are able to improve their credit and avoid delinquency.

    Monitoring your score adds to the control you have over your financial life. FICO scores range between 300 and 850; the higher the score, the better your creditworthiness.


    Your credit score is meant to predict the risk of lending to you. It is generated when a company like FICO runs data from your creditors through a mathematical formula.


    You can see that data, too, in the form of a credit report. It's smart to keep an eye on those reports, too, since they reveal what merchants and lenders are telling each other about you.

    The government requires the three major credit reporting companies - TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, which collect data and produce these reports - to give consumers one free every 12 months. You can get these free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Monitoring your credit reports lets you keep an eye out for identity theft and reporting errors from creditors.


    Learn more about getting credit reports and correcting errors from "How to Get Your Free Credit Report in 6 Easy Steps."


    "7 Fast Ways to Raise Your Credit Score" tells how to boost your numbers.

    Watch your score's movements


    Still, credit reports don't include your credit score. You have to get that separately.
    It is instructive and kind of fun to watch your FICO score go up or down as you borrow, repay and apply for credit. Also, an unexpected change might alert you to fraud or an error reported by a credit bureau.


    How good is the score you see?


    Some fluctuation in a score is to be expected. It may move around in response to how you manage your credit, pay your bills and take on new debt.


    Despite the decided improvements, a big problem that remains for consumers is the inconsistency among the scores offered, even the FICO scores, writes Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary:


    Even the scores under the FICO brand can vary. FICO has updated its scoring model several times. But this does not mean that lenders use the latest versions. So even within the FICO scoring system, the score you get free could be different from the one a lender eventually pulls when you apply for credit. Still, FICO - new or old - is the go-to scoring system for most lenders.


    Getting a free FICO score still takes a little finesse as it's available from a limited (but growing) number of sources. If you ask FICO for your score, be prepared for a $19.95 charge.


    Here are six ways to access your official FICO score free of charge (Looking at your credit score does not affect your credit, by the way):


    1. Credit cards
    Banks can offer their credit-card holders a look at their FICO scores through FICO's Score Open Access.
    Who's eligible: Holders of these cards can access their FICO scores, typically by checking the account online:

    • Discover: TransUnion FICO scores are on monthly bills
    • USAA: Enroll in free CreditCheck1
    • Merrick Bank: GoScore, a free benefit, includes emailed FICO scores
    • CapitalOne: CreditWise, a free benefit, lets users track FICO scores
    • First Bankcard
    • Bank of America
    • Barclaycard US
    • Citi
    • Chase Slate card
    • American Express


    2. Auto loans
    Who's eligible: Car buyers financing through these companies can see their scores:
    Ally Financial
    Hyundai Capital America (including Hyundai Motor Finance and Kia Motors Finance)

    3. Credit unions
    Who's eligible: Some credit unions give cardholders free access to FICO scores. Among them are:
    Pentagon Federal Credit Union
    North Carolina State Employees' Credit Union
    Digital Federal Credit Union (DUC)
    Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union

    4. Student loans
    Who's eligible: Borrowers and co-signers of Sallie Mae Smart Option undergraduate student loans can see their FICO scores.


    5. Checking accounts
    See if your bank offers free FICO scores with checking accounts. Some 100 million U.S. accounts come with free FICO scores, MarketWatch reports.


    6. Credit counselors
    Who's eligible: You can see and talk over your FICO score by making an appointment with a credit counselor at one of the nonprofit credit-counseling agencies that purchase credit scores from Experian, a credit-reporting agency. These agencies buy credit reports and FICO scores to help in offering credit and financial counseling.


    Through FICO's Score Open Access for Credit & Financial Counseling program, participating agencies can share FICO scores with members. The aim is to "aid consumers who have credit management problems by providing FICO scores along with credit education material that helps consumers understand credit scoring and learn about responsible financial health management," FICO says.


    When calling one of these credit counseling agencies for an appointment, be sure to ask if you will be able to see your FICO score. If the answer is no, keep shopping. Participating national organizations include:


    The NFCC explains what to expect in these private conversations:

    Your visit is not reported to a credit bureau.
    Visiting a credit counselor does not affect your credit score.
    Nonprofit credit-counseling agencies offer help for free or at very low cost.


    Alternative credit scores


    Plenty of other sites offer free credit scores, just not FICO scores. If you can't get access through any of the cards or accounts above, consider an alternative score. You'll at least get a reading on your credit that you can monitor and compare over time.


    Be aware that numerous websites advertise free FICO scores, but there's a potentially expensive catch: These are gateways to fee-based services. You must sign up with a credit card to get a free peek at your FICO score.


    You can get free non-FICO credit scores from:


    FICO's score estimator


    Answering 10 questions at FICO delivers an estimated range for your FICO score.

     

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    By Dr Penny Pincher

    Frugal people who pay off their debt and achieve financial independence don't succeed by accident. They establish habits that allow them to consistently reach their goals over the long haul.


    During the past few years as a personal finance blogger and author, I have noticed that the most successful frugal people tend to follow a common set of habits. These same habits remind me of the traits that Stephen Covey detailed in his popular 1989 book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. For this article, I kept the original seven habits, but updated them for achieving financial independence today.


    What are the seven habits that allow some people to excel at being frugal?


    1. Be Proactive


    Frugal people are proactive about their money, taking action to monitor and control spending and maximize income. They find ways to spend less and reduce expenses - even if it requires effort and creative thinking. They direct most of the money they save from reduced expenses into savings and investments for long term goals.


    Although the first thing that comes to mind with frugality is saving money, many frugal people maximize income through side hustles or by generating passive income in addition to controlling their spending. An extra dollar saved or an extra dollar earned both contribute favorably to the bottom line.


    Frugal people know how much money they have coming in and how much is going out, often with great precision. This is accomplished by creating and following a budget and proactively monitoring spending. They focus on what they can control within their budget to achieve financial success.


    2. Begin With the End in Mind


    Why do frugal people work so hard to control spending and keep track of their money? Are they simply not interested in buying things? On the contrary, most frugal people are striving to reach financial independence so that they can travel or launch a second career or to have plenty of money to buy the things that matter to them. Frugal people are willing to worry about money now so they don't need to worry about it later.


    Surprisingly, many frugal people care more about their time than their money. Saving money buys financial independence, which buys time to do whatever you want. Frugal people want freedom to use their time as they wish and not be locked into working at a job until they reach old age.


    Frugal people begin with the end in mind. The end they want to achieve is financial independence. With that end in mind, they make a plan to reach the goal and follow it every day. The sacrifices along the way are worth reaching the goal.


    3. Put First Things First


    What is the first thing you pay every month? Do you pay your mortgage first? Perhaps you pay your utility bill or car payment first. Frugal people pay something else first - themselves.


    Paying yourself first means that you invest in your retirement fund or other savings accounts first, then you pay other bills using the money that is left. Most people pay their bills first, and then save or invest if there is any money left.


    Frugal people realize that having money to invest is the most important priority, and they take care of that priority first. If there is not enough money left to pay the bills, then frugal people find ways to make their bills smaller so they can fully fund their investment goals.


    4. Think Win-Win


    Stephen Covey talked about win-win situations in terms of structuring deals where both parties involved get something beneficial. His point was that someone doesn't have to lose in order to make a great deal - in fact, the best deals happen in win-win situations.


    Looking at this habit in the context of frugal success, just because you spend less money doesn't mean you have to benefit less or receive less value. In fact, frugal people find ways to spend less money and achieve greater benefit at the same time.


    Frugal people find plenty of win-win situations for their money. For example, why do many of them prepare most of their meals at home instead of dining out? Of course, making food at home is cheaper than paying the bill at a restaurant, but eating at home is healthier as well. The benefit of making your own food goes beyond just saving money.


    Buying a smaller house is less expensive than a larger house and it costs less for maintenance, insurance, heating/cooling, and lighting. In addition to the lower initial price and reduced ongoing costs, a smaller house also takes less time to clean and maintain, freeing up time for other activities.


    Most win-win scenarios involve not just price, but value. Frugal people consider the overall value that a purchase would provide throughout its life, including hidden expenses and potential benefits. Frugal people are willing to spend money to get a good value, and they shop around and use coupons to get the best deal they can on the right item.

    5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood


    Most frugal people don't start out being frugal. They start out as "normal" spenders and rack up credit card bills and student loans like most people. Over time, they come to understand that spending and debt are not the path to contentment. They realize that sometimes less really is more, at least when it comes to debt and spending.


    Frugal people reach an understanding of how much stuff they need to be happy, which is often far less stuff than most people think they need to be happy. Frugal people make spending decisions in terms of needs and wants, while most people think primarily in terms of having more and better stuff than their friends and neighbors.


    As far as being understood, most frugal people don't seem to care much what "normal" people think of them. Frugal people understand that spending money to keep up with the Joneses, or anyone else, doesn't make much sense and is certainly not the path to long term contentment.


    6. Synergize


    Synergy is the concept that sometimes, one plus one adds up to more than just two. How is this possible?
    If you decide that you can live without cable TV, you can save about $100 per month. Not only do you save $100 this month and every month thereafter, but you have significantly reduced the amount of money you need to retire by forgoing a recurring expense during your retirement years. You could retire years earlier due to the synergy of eliminating a recurring expense.


    Another example of synergy is reducing clutter. If you minimize the amount of clutter you collect over time, you will require less space to store your stuff. You will be able to live in a smaller, less expensive house. With less clutter, you will be better able to find and use the items that you do have. Savings of time and money will accumulate over the years greatly exceeding the small amount of effort it takes to nip clutter in the bud. This is another example where a seemingly insignificant action can allow you to achieve your goals years earlier due to synergy. (See also: 8 Ways Clutter Keeps You Poor)


    7. Sharpen Your Saw


    As you are reading this, you are sharpening your saw! If you have ever tried to cut something with a dull saw, you know that it takes a lot of work and a long time to get the job done. Keeping your saw sharp is time well spent.


    Sharpening your saw means to continue learning and finding new inspiration to get the most from your money. Frugal people tend to seek out ideas on saving money from blogs, podcasts, books, and by talking with other frugal friends. Reading about the financial success and failures of others can provide inspiration to keep your goals firmly in mind and on track.

     

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    Meet Heather and Jake from Los Angeles, Calif. Their goal is to save up for a dream wedding in Paris next year. But as we all know, weddings aren't cheap - and so far, they've only saved about $5,000.

    According to Heather, her spending habits may be partially to blame. "I'm an impulse buyer," she admits.

    If you've got a habit like Heather's, don't worry, there's hope! Next time you're shopping and see something you really like, walk away. If it's still on your mind a day or two after, only then should you make that purchase. Chances are if you walk away, you'll realize you don't really need it.

    Jake also has ideas about where he and Heather could seriously trim their budget "We could cut out our gym memberships and just run," he suggests.

    The best way to see where you can make some much-needed cuts is to set up a spreadsheet to see how your expenses are divided every month. This way you can look at how to shift your priorities.

    Want to see if a magical Parisian wedding will be in the cards for Heather and Jake? Check out the video above!

     

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    Looking for ways to cut down on fuel costs? Here are a few tips that'll help you save more money and use less gas.

    It's no surprise that using your car's AC will drain fuel. That's why it's usually better to keep the windows rolled down if you want to save money. But once you go over 55mph, those open windows create drag on your vehicle, forcing your engine to work harder and guzzle gas as a result. So put the windows up and turn that AC on once you hit the highway.

    Keeping your car well maintained is another thing that will improve fuel efficiency. Changing the air filter, motor oil and inflating your tires properly can improve your mileage by up to 4 percent, which will save you in the long run. And if you want to squeeze in even more savings, clean out your trunk to reduce unnecessary weight.

    Lastly, remember that the harder you drive your car, the quicker you burn through gas. Rapid acceleration and constant braking don't only make you an annoying driver, they also cost you more cash at the pump.

    So the next time you're behind the wheel, take a few measures to reduce your gas consumption. It's better for the environment, and you'll save a few dollars in the process.

    Related: Great ideas for cutting your gas costs

     

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    I've said it before and I'll say it again, the hardest part is getting started. That applies to so many things in life, whether getting in shape, quitting an addiction, starting a relationship with someone you care about, and (as is most relevant to our discussion) becoming financially stable. Sometimes it can be tough to read these finance websites. Even the most basic ones will discuss subjects that seem impossible to attain: financial independence, home ownership, or even paying your bills on time. You've got to walk before you can run. If you're feeling overwhelmed by a financial situation that is in the toilet, you can change things. Here are a few ways to start turning the tide.

    Debt: Know Your Enemy. Debt sucks, and some people get overwhelmed by it their whole life long. It's easy to let debt get out of hand, and to ignore the problem the worst it is. Part of this is because debt can be a source of shame and fear. Many of us have had the experience of not wanting to check the balance of our bank account, for fear that it overdrafted. Debt is even worse. It can feel like a cancer growing in your finances...and it is.

    Enough of that. If you want to kill your debt, you can't dwell on the shame and fear. You've got to understand it for what it is, then pay it off. First, sit down with a pen and paper and write down what you're dealing with. It helps to see it in front of your eyes. If you have credit card debt, take careful note of the balance, the annual APR, and the available credit limit associated with that account, etc. When you have all of the sources of your debt arranged (including student loans, money you owe to your parents, etc.), arrange them in order from smallest to greatest.

    From here, start paying off the accounts, starting with the smallest. Of course, maintain minimum monthly payments on all accounts. But fire every extra penny you can muster at the smallest amount, even if it's just $25 extra per month. When it is gone, take that $25 and add it to the monthly minimum payment you were paying for the now paid-off account. If that minimum was $25/month, you now have $50 free in your budget to start throwing at the second biggest debt amount every month. Rinse and repeat until your debt is gone. This may take years, and you'll have to be careful not to raise new debt in the meantime, but it's a method that works.

    Spending: Know Your Limits. Many of us find it easy to spend money like it grows on trees. That works for people who don't mind being broke, but if you are determined to get your finances in order, it won't work for you. A budget will be your best friend as you pay off your debt and try to build wealth once it is vanquished. There are many good budgeting strategies out there, so I won't go into them here. Simply live well beneath your means and save the extra money, no matter what it takes.

    Save and Invest: Know Your Goals. Saving and investing is about building a better future for yourself and the people you love. In the above scenario about debt, you'll be using an ever-growing monthly payment to kill off the debt. Once it's gone, that's extra money that you can use for another purpose. When you're debt free, don't start spending your extra money on stuff you want. Continue to apply the spending limits you placed on yourself in step two, and save that extra money. Build an emergency fund until it is big enough to cover your expenses for a year, just in case you got sick or lost your job. Then start to max out your IRA and/or 401(k) every year. Start to consider buying a home to save loads of money compared to rental costs. Consider getting additional education to start making more money with a stronger skill set. In short, use your new "disposable" income to ensure that you'll never again be financially screwed.

     

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    A lady stepped into my office concerned her financial advisor wasn't being straight up about her financial situation.

    She had purchased a variable annuity from the advisor and admitted she wasn't quite sure how it really worked.

    Uh oh. Red flag. She didn't know how it worked.

    I looked into the situation and found out she had paid over $3,500 in variable annuity fees and she didn't even know it.

    She fell into the trap of taking bad financial advice. In fact, it wasn't just bad financial advice, it was downright horrible financial advice.

    As a financial advisor myself, I meet people on a regular basis who have implemented very poor financial advice from what I'd consider to be financial product salespeople, not true financial advisors. A true financial advisor has their clients' best interests at heart. Unfortunately, many so-called "professionals" don't.

    If you're a hard-working American who focuses on your job outside of the financial industry, how are you to know when you're receiving good financial advice versus poor financial advice? How are you to know when you're being sold a good feeling rather than a good product?

    Here are some instances when you should ignore financial advice.

    1. When you're rushed to make a decision.

    Good financial advisors understand it will take time for clients to make a decision. If you're planning for your retirement, which might last 20 or 30 years, that's no trivial matter.

    If you ever feel rushed to make a decision, ignore the financial advice. There's nothing I hate more than a pushy salesperson, so I treat my clients like I'd want to be treated: I give them time to consider their options.

    2. When the financial advice is directed toward someone else.

    You might have heard specific financial advice given to a friend, family member, or someone on television or over the radio.

    Many times, the temptation can be to apply this financial advice to ourselves. But the truth is, financial advice should really only be accepted by the intended party.

    Say you're driving home from work one day and you hear someone over the radio call into a popular financial talkshow. The financial advisor is telling the caller that the most important thing they could do is to pay off their mortgage.

    You might think to yourself, "I have a mortgage. I have a little extra money coming in every month. Perhaps I should pay off my mortgage too!" While this is really an innocent thought, it's important to remember that your situation should be approached by priority.

    If, say, you have high-interest credit card debt, it's probably best to pay off your credit cards before you start throwing money at the mortgage. You might even have a few other more pressing financial obligations to consider before you knock out that mortgage payment!

    Be careful when listening to financial advice directed toward someone else. Don't assume you should do the same thing. You might be able to learn a thing or two from what other people are told, but certainly don't act on financial advice aimed toward others until you sit down with a financial professional to get a comprehensive financial plan in place.

    3. When the advisor doesn't have all of the information they need to advise you properly.

    Your financial advisor should request a great deal of information from you in order to give you the most appropriate advice for your situation.

    They need to know the balance of your bank accounts. Your net income. Your tolerance for risk. How much life insurance you have. Your pets' nicknames. Okay, maybe not that last one.

    In all seriousness, they do need to know a lot of information. But it's not just your current financial information they need - they need to know your financial history and your financial future, as well.

    Financial history is easy to give. But what about your financial future? Well, this is your intended or assumed financial future.

    For example, will you buy a second vacation home in retirement? How much money will you need to live on when you're 80? How likely are you going to need to financially support family members in the future? All of these questions matter.

    If your financial advisor hasn't taken the time to explore your financial history, present, and future, ignore the advise until they do so. The more work you put into this in the beginning, the better your financial wellbeing will be later on.

    4. When the advice didn't come from anyone but yourself.

    Unfortunately, when individuals are left to the advice they'd give themselves, the advice isn't always the best. Why? Emotions.

    Consider the stock market crash after 9/11. Many people called their financial advisors wanting out of the stock market. Against their advisors' warnings, they pulled their money out.

    Over time, the stock market recovered, and many were left without recourse because they needed the money for retirement. They decided they'd only listen to their own advice, not the advice of the professionals. And, unfortunately, the cost was astronomical.

    It's always a good idea to run your financial ideas past others. Ask several financial advisors for their opinions. Ask your friends and family who know you best. Gather as much advice as you can find. Then, once you've considered all of your options, consider what would be the wisest course of action to take and take it.

    5. When the advice is a too-simple-to-be-right solution.

    If financial advice feels too easy to execute, it might be too simple to be right. Life, unfortunately, is complicated. And, if you want to solve life's problems, many times it's going to involve a plan that isn't a walk in the park.

    "Just buy gold! It's all you need!"

    "The default mutual funds for your 401(k) are good enough."

    "Whole life insurance is the best investment for you"

    "Nobody knows what the future holds, so just live for the moment!"

    This is all horrible financial advice. It's too simple. It's too easy to implement. It's advice that would only work in an ideal world.

    Not all advice is good advice. Test it before you implement it.

     

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    How Meatless Monday Can Save You Money
    You love to eat meat, and just the thought of going without the occasional hamburger terrifies you. But what if you could save money by skipping meat for just one day a week?

    It's called Meatless Monday, and it's exactly what it sounds like. If a family of four spends about $20 on a meat lasagna for dinner, cutting out the meat from that one meal would save about $10 a week, or a whopping $520 per year!

    And that's just the estimate for one meal -- imagine the savings you could see for the entire day.

    Going meatless can also boost your budget by steering you to use ingredients you already have in your kitchen. Dried lentils, healthy sauces, and whole grains like brown rice or quinoa are a few meatless essentials; combine a few, and you'll have a meal in minutes.

    So next Monday, skip the meat and see how much you can save!

    Related: 10 organic grocery items that aren't worth it

     

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    Save Green by Going Green
    Did you know? April 22 is Earth Day!

    To celebrate, try saving some green by going green.

    Bottled water isn't only costly, it also creates tons of non-biodegradable plastic that gets dumped in landfills. By investing in a reusable glass water bottle, you can do the environment a favor and potentially save hundreds a year.

    And while you're at it, why not save more water too? Older model toilets are big water wasters, but they don't have to be. Simply wrap a brick or stone in a waterproof bag and place it into your tank. The weight of the brick will displace and significantly reduce your water usage in each flush.

    So give the environment a hand this Earth Day, so you can save more -- and waste less!

     

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    Spend Less on Prescription Meds
    Did you know? There are ways you can save big on your prescriptions at the pharmacy!

    Since insurance companies negotiate different deals with each store, the price of medication can vary widely from one pharmacy to another.

    Larger chains tend to be the priciest. They often charge twice as much as what you can find at places like Costco, where you don't even need to be a member to take advantage of their prices.

    Also check out GoodRX. This free app will find the best local deals -- in some cases, you can save up to 80 percent. Just type in your prescription and ZIP code, and you'll get a list of prices from nearby pharmacies. They'll even throw in coupons.

    Keep these tips in mind and you'll see that your prescriptions don't always have to come at a high price.

     

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    Tips and Tricks to Save at the Airport
    As travelers, we all know how expensive it can get on the road. So who can blame us when we feel nickel-and-dimed by the inflated prices at the airport?

    Here are a few ways you can keep your spending to a minimum.

    First, bring your own snacks and pack a water bottle. Food and water are the most commonly marked-up items at airports and can cost you up to 3 times more than usual. Just make sure your bottle is empty when you go through security or you'll either have to chug it or throw it out. Once you're through, fill it up at the nearest water fountain.

    Next, always keep electronic chargers and adapters on you at all times. We've all been there -- flights get changed, you get delayed, and before you know it, you're buying an overpriced charger for your dying cell phone.

    Unless you want a headache, be sure to avoid the marked-up prices of aspirin and other over-the-counter medication. At the airport, these can cost up to 35 percent more, so pack your own in a carry-on bag.

    Finally, while those last-minute purchases at the duty-free shop can be tempting, they typically cost 30 percent more than the prices you'd regularly find, so plan your shopping in advance to avoid any impulse buying.

    Try out these tips the next time you fly -- your wallet will thank you!

    Related: Ultimate Cheapskate's 10 ways to save money on travel

     

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