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Freebie Corner: Last minute gifts made from items at home

The one thing kids like better than giving the gift is making them. Below are a few easy last minute craft gift ideas for kids to make. All of them are easy, (adult supervision recommended of course), and they are great for parents, friends, siblings and other family members. You probably have many of the items on hand. My favorite is the Easy Hair Pins, they are great gift for a favorite aunt or older sister. Another one is the 'green' game. You can have the kids use an old board game that they don't play with anymore and refurbish it. Not only will it be a lot of fun creating their own games but they can exchange them at Christmas with siblings.Idea #1: Easy Hair Pins - All you need are some bobby pins, glue and vintage earrings that can be picked up at second hand stores. Idea #2: Board Game - Turn your old board game no one plays with anymore into a new board game! Let the kids create there own games to give to each other! Idea #3: Photo Cube - Great gift for grandparents when you add the child photo. Idea #4: Tissue Paper Sun Catcher - This could easily be made from popsicle sticks too, and everyone loves a cute sun catcher.Idea #5: Create your own Chia Pet - The kids can will love this idea, they could actually decorate it any way they want.Idea #6: Keepsake Box for Dad - If you have an old hinged box around the house, let the kids decorate it.A gift doesn't have to be expensive to be great, it really is the thought that counts. Have a Merry Christmas! Jackie lives in Seattle, her blog is Free Hot Samples. Where there are hundreds of freebies and deals up for grabs.(Source:

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5 tips for getting an auto loan

It's easy to spend $25,000 or more on an automobile, making it the second largest purchase for many folks, second only to the house with the garage where you'll be parking the car. And while frugal personal finance gurus such as radio talk show star Dave Ramsey preach paying cash for cars, most people will finance the purchase of new wheels.

That makes shopping for the auto loan almost important as shopping for the auto.

READ: Why people buy cars at the end of the year

Some things to keep in mind before you start kicking tires.

  • Know the score. It's critical to know your credit score before you start shopping for a car loan - or any loan, for that matter. The lower your score, the higher interest rate you'll pay. And that can make a big difference. The monthly payment on a $25,000, 48-month loan at 8 percent interest is $610. The payment on a loan with 4 percent interest is $565. Before shopping for a loan, get a free copy of your credit reportonline at or by calling call 1-877-322-8228. Or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. This is the only legitimate place to get your free annual credit report.
  • Get the loan before you get the car. Shop for the best loan terms at banks and credit unions before you walk onto the dealership lot. Knowing what terms you can get from a bank or credit union puts you in a position to know if the dealer's offer is a good one.

READ: How to budget monthly for typical car costs

  • Get it in writing. Many lenders, especially those from the car dealerships, promise customers a great interest rate, but the offer usually only applies to people with high credit scores. "Pre-approved" means there is still a chance you might not get the loan at the rate discussed. Before buying a car, make sure you have the auto loan approved and in writing, advises the New York Department of Consumer Affairs.
  • Avoid loan stacking. If you trade in your old car and it isn't paid off, a dealer may offer you a "stacking loan" that pays off your old loan and finances your new car. But be wary, says the New York Department of Consumer Affairs, because you're likely driving off with a car worth less than you owe on it.
  • Go short as possible. While it is tempting to go with lower monthly payments over the course of a longer loan, the cost can be substantial. A $20,000 loan at 8 percent stretched over 36 months has total finance charges of $ 2,562. That same loan over 60 months has total finance charges of $ 4,332.

Clint Williams is an Arizona-based freelancer for DImespring. He has written for the Arizona Republic and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

What is in your stocking? Cash, credit cards or store cards?

From cash or check to cash card or bank transfer, there are many ways to give monetary gifts this holiday season, but what’s the best way to give green? Experts weigh in on the safest most affordable ways to say “Happy Holidays” with money.



Advantages: No fees, ability to see when someone cashes it, only the person listed on the check can cash it. Disadvantages: The recipient has to have a checking or savings account.

“It could be difficult for your recipient to cash if he or she doesn't have a checking account and cannot get to the bank,” says Gerri Detweiler, personal finance expert for  “Also, if the recipient doesn't cash it right away and you forget about it, it could potentially cause you to overdraft your account.”

With that said, it’s nice having the ability to know exactly when your gift gets cashed, and as long as you don’t go around making out blank checks, your checks can only be cashed by people on your “nice” list.

READ: The history of the checking account



Advantages: No fees, can be used almost anywhere. Disadvantage: Can be more easily lost or stolen and can’t be sent electronically.

“You have no influence over how cash is spent,” says Detweiler. “If it’s lost or stolen, it’s gone. And I wouldn't recommend sending cash through the mail.”

Even though cash can be a little impersonal, it’s certainly one-size-fits-all. Also, you can get creative when giving cash. If you’re giving someone $50, go get it all in $1 bills and put it in a box — the recipient will feel like a millionaire.

When it comes to giving cash to kids, having money can be a great lesson in responsibility. Consider giving them cash in different increments so they can learn about counting and saving, or give them a ready-made place to start saving — put their money in a piggy bank before you give it to them.

READ: What can I do if a payment doesn't show up on my credit card statement?


Store Gift Cards

Advantage: You get to choose the store.Disadvantage: They may charge inactivity fees after the first year; the card could go unspent.

“Retail gift cards are protected under consumer laws and cannot expire for five years after issue date,” says Andrea Woroch, consumer saving expert and founder of

If you want to protect the recipient against loss or theft, Woroch advises registering the gift card before giving it. 

“Before you buy a gift card, ask the retailer if they will re-issue cards that have been lost or stolen,” says Brad Wasz, founder of  “Ask what credentials you’ll need to have your gift card replaced once it’s been lost.”

Vincent Turner, CEO of, an online personal finance directory, says gift cards are great because they can be used once the holidays are over.

“Recipients can use the full value of the card after the holidays when price gouging isn't as much of a concern,” Turner says. “They can go nuts on the post-holiday markdowns.”

INFOGRAPHIC: How much money can I save by brewing my own beer?


Single Use Prepaid Gift Cards

Advantages: More flexibility than gift cards for particular storesDisadvantage: Some gift cards may charge a fee for issuance and they may charge fees for inactivity after the first year.

“A general gift card issued by a major credit card company can be used anywhere — at the movies, gas station or for purchasing a flight,” says Woroch. “The recipient has the power to purchase whatever they want, whenever they want.”

One of the problems with prepaid cards (much like gift cards) is that if you lose it, it's hard to have it replaced, says Wasz.

“It’s as good as cash,” he says.


Gift Card 411 from Don Batsford, retail industry expert and co-founder of ShopGala.

  • With an e-mail gift card through, you can check to see if the recipient has redeemed the credit.
  • Modern Gift Cards can be emailed right into someone's inbox moments after being bought. While the flexibility of choosing what one really wants can save a loved one from having to send time returning gifts after the holidays.
  • The most popular gift card options are those with easy redemption. For example, Target, Macy’s and Starbucks gift cards can all be redeemed online or in-store.
  • If you’re giving a physical gift card, don’t forget to write the amount on the card itself. After to the holidays have passed people will forget the amount of each card in their wallet. Even if you have to write $50 in magic marker on the front of the card, make sure you label it!


Kathryn Elizabeth Tuggle is a seasoned New York-based personal finance editor and writer who adores saving, investing and thrift store shopping. After getting her start writing about small businesses for the Inc. 500 at Inc. Magazine, Kathryn learned her way around the NYSE and NASDAQ while working at the The Financial Times. In 2007, Kathryn joined the Fox Business Network before its inception and was instrumental in launching the company's small business and personal finance sites. Obsessed with all things spending, saving and social media, you can find Kathryn tweeting her latest adventures with Dimespring at @KathrynLizbeth. 

Banks vs. Credit Unions: Which one is right for you?

Once you start making money, one of the most important questions to ask is how - and where - you can save it. Choosing between a bank or a credit union is one of the first decisions you should make, but it's not always an easy one. We've got a breakdown of some of the most frequently asked questions.

The basics:

A credit union is a non-profit institution - the members of the credit union are the owners of the credit union. Banks are for-profit corporations with shareholders. Both credit unions and banks offer basic financial services like checking accounts, saving accounts, credit cards, ATM cards, as well as loans and mortgages.

"Credit union users like knowing that there's no conflict of interest," says Bart James, personal finance expert and author of The Guide to Wise Investing in Today's Market. "If a credit union makes a profit, it goes back into the organization to help its members, whether that's in the form of a lower interest rate on a mortgage or a lower price on new checks."

READ: Can ATM alarms help curb ATM armed robbery?

With that said, most people in the U.S. choose to put their money in a bank. Typically, big banks offer better online infrastructure and more ATM locations than credit unions.

"Most banks in this country have an app, or you can access them on a mobile device, a tablet - anytime you want," says James. "You also have the luxury of using your bank's ATM at any location throughout the country."

The numbers:

While it's true that credit unions frequently offer better interest rates, in many cases banks are just as competitive. According to March 2012 data from interest rate website DataTrac, it depends on what you're buying.

If you're buying a car with a 60 month lease, the average interest rate at a credit union stands at 3.38%. For the same product, the average interest rate at a traditional bank stands at 5%. Meanwhile, banks offer a better option for individuals considering a 15 year fixed mortgage, with credit unions offering an average interest rate of 3.48% vs. banks that offer a rate of 3.39%.

If you're looking into a 30-year fixed mortgage, it doesn't seem to matter where you turn: the average interest rate from both banks and credit unions stands at 4.11%.

READ: What is a zombie bank account?

ATM fees will vary at all institutions, but having more no-fee ATMs accessible will save you money in the long run. If you join a credit union, make sure to ask if your credit union is a member of the Co-op Network, as the network offers 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide.

"Those little fees can add up in no time," says Carl Spain, executive at Consumer Banking Services in Flint, Mich. "If you need to take cash out frequently, the monthly cost for withdrawals with a $3 or $5 fee can really make a dent in your balance."

The restrictions:

"Different credit unions have different member requirements, so if you're a plumber you can't necessarily go join a teachers' credit union," says Ben Harvey, spokesperson for the Money Management Bureau in Clearwater, FL.

"Your company may have its own credit union, or you may be eligible to join a local credit union that supports veteran's organizations or education," Harvey says. "Regardless, credit unions are not as easy to join as a bank that's open to anyone and everyone."

READ: Crisis Button: I lost my wallet, what do I do?

Most credit unions do not have in-house wealth management advisers - they typically partner with other investment service companies to assist members with items like mutual funds and IRAs, says Harvey. Banks, however, typically have an entire division of the company devoted to long-term retirement and investment planning, and the services are often cheap if not free.

"If you're looking for wealth management tools accessible at the same branch where you make deposits, a bank may be your best bet," he says. "On the other hand, credit unions have sometimes been known to offer wealth management or money-saving classes which a big bank simply doesn't have time for."

The guarantees:

"One common misconception that drives me crazy is that credit unions somehow aren't insured as much as banks," says James. "The guarantees are there, they're just in a different package."

Credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Administration, and member funds are insured up to $250,000. For banks, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) also ensures customer funds up to $250,000.

"Another guarantee that you have with some credit unions is the ability to elect leadership or even serve on the board of directors yourself," says James. "In a bank, you have a CEO who is bound by fiduciary duty to do what's best for the company, but you don't have any say as to who that person is or what decisions are made."

Most credit unions have a board of directors that is composed entirely of credit union members, and some have open elections during which credit union members can vote for leadership positions.


Heading out to do some comparison shopping? James advises keeping these five items top-of-mind when making a decision:

  • What are the fees for using an out-of-network ATM?
  • What kind of online banking capabilities do you need?
  • How close is a branch to my home? What about my office?
  • Will I need a home or car loan? What are those rates?
  • How's their customer service - if I call, how long will I be put on hold?
Kathryn Elizabeth Tuggle is a seasoned New York-based personal finance editor and writer who adores saving, investing and thrift store shopping. After getting her start writing about small businesses for the Inc. 500 at Inc. Magazine, Kathryn learned her way around the NYSE and NASDAQ while working at the The Financial Times. In 2007, Kathryn joined the Fox Business Network before its inception and was instrumental in launching the company's small business and personal finance sites. Obsessed with all things spending, saving and social media, you can find Kathryn tweeting her latest adventures with Dimespring at @KathrynLizbeth.

Freebie Corner: Free video message from Santa and more

Christmas is sneaking up on us, it will be here before you know it. Everyone is going to be spending money on gifts, wouldn't it be nice to score some things for free? How great would it be for your child(ren) to get a free video message from Santa. When your done watching the video, take them to get a free picture with him! I personally love the 'Hand" Made Ornament, this is a great idea to do every year! Freebie #1: Let the kids make some homemade Children's Hand Made Ornaments from items you have at home. The instructions call for clay, but I don't see why you couldn't use some felt and glue it to cardboard for stability.Freebie #2: Free Elf Yourself Video and Wall Calendar. Click on 'Upload Photo," then agree to the terms and conditions. Go through the process of creating your video. After you're done making the video, view it. The "Free Calendar" button will appear at the top right of the page while you're viewing it. Click on that to have your free calendar code created. Print the code and take it to an Office Max Print Center to get a free year at a view calendar. $6.99 value. You can also post the video to your Facebook page for free.Freebie #3: Stop in at the free Bass Pro Shop Winter Wonderland. At Bass Pro Shops. Get a free picture with Santa, free crafts and play free games. Check the schedule for events. Tabs for the events are on the left of their page.Freebie #4: Santa's Guide to Easy Christmas Crafts for Kids. Crafts include; ornaments, special holiday pocketbook, glitter stockings, ribbon wreath and more.Freebie #5: Another freebie for kids are tons of Christmas printables. Includes: Advent calendar, word search, coloring sheets and more.There are always tons of free stuff during the holiday season. These are a few Christmas freebies to get you started, keep an eye on future post for even more! Jackie lives in Seattle, her blog is Free Hot Samples. Where there are hundreds of freebies and deals up for grabs.(Source:

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Top 5 ways to boost your credit score

If your credit score is less than stellar, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life living in your parents’ basement and riding the city bus. Although negative items like bankruptcies and late payments will stay on your credit report for seven years, there are a few things you can start doing today to boost that all-important score. We checked in with experts to find the top 5 ways to get your credit flowing in as little as six months.

1. Reduce your credit utilization to less than 25%

“Credit utilization is the amount of credit you use compared to how much credit is available to you,” says Todd Albery, CEO of credit monitoring site

It’s estimated that 30% of your credit score is derived from your utilization level, and consumers can reduce utilization by avoiding maxing out their credit cards and paying off or spreading out their credit card balance, he says.

Credit card utilization is a key factor in boosting your credit score, says Bruce Murphy, president of community development banking at KeyBank.

“If possible, don’t even keep balances on your cards. Rather, pay them off in full at the end of each month,” he says.

2. Pay your bills on time every month and pay down debt

“Missing a monthly payment is one of the worst things you can do to hurt your credit score,” says Albery. “Payment history — how reliably you’ve paid your bills on time in the past — makes up roughly a third of your credit score, more than any other factor.”

If you work on only one thing to improve your credit, paying your bills on time every month would be it, he says.

“Paying off installment debt can increase your score, but remember that you can decrease the score by getting a new car, increasing your balances on credit cards and not paying your creditors on time,” Murphy says.

3. Review and dispute inaccuracies on your credit report

Errors on your credit report can take a toll on your overall score, Albery says.

READ: Tips for reporting errors to credit report agencies

“When trying to raise a credit score, the first thing you want to do is review your credit report for inaccuracies,” says Murphy.  “Disputing and having a negative item removed that is either inaccurate or over 7 years old can have an immediate and sometimes drastic impact on your credit score.”

Nearly 80% of credit reports contain some kind of error, according to a survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. It is extremely important to not only check your credit report regularly but dispute any wrong information that you may find, he says.

In some cases, if you have a few late payments with a credit card company, they will actually give you a “good will” adjustment, says Kimberly Foss, a certified financial planner and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management.

“Ask and you may receive: a good-will adjustment,” she says. “If you are late, this means a creditor can take one or two late payments off your report. The catch is, you have to ask. And you'll need a good history with the credit card company.”

READ: 5 questions to ask before moving in together

To make things go even smoother, find out when your balance is reported. All credit card companies have a "balance date." This is when they report amount you owe to the credit bureaus.

“Pay your balance off your card before that date — otherwise you may always pay off your credit card but it will be reported as having a 'balance due' to the credit bureaus,” says Foss. 

4. Don’t close credit cards you no longer use

Closing credit card accounts you no longer use decreases the amount of credit that’s available to you.

“This, in turn, impacts your credit utilization — or how much credit you use compared to how much credit is available to you,” says Albery. “Instead of closing the accounts, you may want to charge only small purchases on them to keep them active.”

“Whether you make prompt monthly payments or simply lock your card away unused, positive information will be relayed to your credit files at the major credit bureaus each month,” says Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO and Founder of Evolution Finance and

READ: Ask Jane: Should I pay down small debts or debts with high interest rates?

In many cases, when it comes to credit cards, “the older the better,” is the best rule of thumb, says Foss.

“Resurrect that old gas card and use it again. If you don't use it you don't lose it, they just don't report on it anymore. So use an old gas card or old credit card for small purchases and pay them off quickly and the creditor will start reporting again. It may result in increases your available credit limit and your credit history length, once it is active and being reported to the agencies again,” Foss says.

5. Don’t assume that student debt is good debt

“Because student debt generally comes at a good interest rate, it can be tempting to defer or delay the payoff. But, having excessive debt will hurt your credit score,” says Albery.

Albery says It’s important to have the right balance between paying it off, saving for retirement and paying off a higher interest credit card.

“Be careful not to stray too far from your debt payment plan.  While there are good deferral programs available, ultimately your goal should be to pay your student loan debt off sooner rather than later.”

Kathryn Elizabeth Tuggle is a seasoned New York-based personal finance editor and writer who adores saving, investing and thrift store shopping. After getting her start writing about small businesses for the Inc. 500 at Inc. Magazine, Kathryn learned her way around the NYSE and NASDAQ while working at the The Financial Times. In 2007, Kathryn joined the Fox Business Network before its inception and was instrumental in launching the company's small business and personal finance sites. Obsessed with all things spending, saving and social media, you can find Kathryn tweeting her latest adventures with Dimespring at @KathrynLizbeth. 

Freebie Corner: Free Frankenweenie tote and glowstick at Subway, plus more

Here we go again, it's time to grab your free stuff and some great deals. You can also get easy free instructions on how to make Halloween decorations in time for the big day!Try making the pumpkin luminaries from items you probably already have in your house. If that isn't crafty enough for you, try making purses, backpacks and cases out of duct tape. That should keep you busy for a while.If your over 21, you can get a free drink shaker to use for the holiday season get-togethers. If you want to do some holiday shopping, try going on a Monday or Tuesday to take advantage of the free food deals listed. Don't forget to pick up a free Frankenweenie Halloween tote bag the kids will be sure to love. It even comes with a free glow stick!

Freebie #1: When your shopping at Ikea keep these days of the week in mind and get some free food while your there.

  • Monday: FREE breakfast until 11:00am Regular price 99¢. Limit one per person. 
  • Tuesday: Kids Eat FREE! 11:00am to close. Kids 12 and under choose one combo meal valued at $2.49. Limit one per child.
  • Wednesday: FREE dessert (up to $2.99 value) with a purchase of any hot entree ($4.99 and up). 11am to close.

Freebie #2: If your crafty you'll love this free ebook. Learn how to make bags from duct tape! Use "Duck Tape Bags" to make a messenger bag, camera bag, back pack and more. Offer for Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle you can download the free ereader for your computer or mobile device to get the book.    

Freebie #3: Get a free drink shaker from Black & Mild. You must be 21 or older to enter this site (tobacco products). Log in or register then scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on "My Offers" to claim yours.Freebie #4: "17 Halloween Props & Decor Crafts" free ebook. Includes; plastic pumpkin luminaries (made from plastic soda bottles), pumpkin patch garland, witch teapot Halloween pumpkin and more. You have to enter your email address to access the ebook.

Freebie #5: Mrs. Dash is giving out 20,000 samples per day at noon EST until 11/29/12. Giveaway includes 4 Mrs. Dash sample packets of the same flavor, of either Original, Table Blend, Garlic & Herb or Extra Spicy [net weight .02oz (.6g) each] and a coupon for 75¢ off any Mrs. Dash Seasoning Blend good through 3/31/2013. There is a limit of one sample offer per household.Freebie #6: Get yourself a free sample of Pantene Pro-V Silky Moisture Whip. Log in or register atVocalpoint to get your 2-oz. can of Pantene Pro-V Silky Moisture Whip. I recommend registering with them since they offer great freebies several times a year.

Freebie #7: Get a free Frankenweenie tote and glow stick! Grab lunch at a Subway , when you buy a Subway Fresh Fit for Kids meal you get a free tote and glow stick. Offer valid while supplies last.Rebate Offer: Get $5 from Totino's! Buy 4 specially marked items and enter the codes on their site.Unique codes are located inside specially marked packages of Totino's® Party Pizza. You can have a $5 check mailed to you or have it sent to your PayPal account. One offer per household and you have to enter your codes by June 1, 2013.

Upcoming Freebie: If Sbarro reaches 100,000 likes on Facebook by November 1st they will donate 50,000 lunches to food banks. PLUS they will unlock a free pizza day to all of their fans. "Like" them and watch their wall for updates on the offer.Don't forget about that rebate offer if you buy Totino's. They are usually about $1.25 each so using the rebate would make your 4 pizzas free. We all like free! Jackie lives in Seattle, her blog is Free Hot Samples. Where there are hundreds of freebies and deals up for grabs.


Save money with tips from department store employees

Love to shop? Join the club; in 2011 we spent about $4.7 trillion (yes, trillion!) in retail sales, according the U.S. Commerce Department.And who hasn't overspent at one time or another? With new merchandise refreshed every season, every month–or, at discount retailers like Target and T.J. Maxx, every week–department stores can be a minefield if you go in uninformed. Especially since stores are designed to make you drop as much cash as possible.Floor layouts, salespeople's strategies and even storewide sales tap into our most basic consumer impulses. But not this fall: To help you engage in smarter retail therapy, we asked two former department store employees to reveal their juiciest secrets so you save more.1. Start at the Back of the StoreOne evergreen retail strategy is to bury the best discounts–clearance items, especially–in the rear of the store, so you'll encounter racks of beautiful new merchandise before you get to the real nuggets.

Furthermore, stores will try to influence your purchases by advertising their current sales, even the smallest ones, heavily throughout the store, says Abby*, a former salesperson at a high-end New York City department store. "A lot of times, the best deals are not during the big advertised sales," she says. "Usually the best sales items are on a rack toward the back or slightly hidden."

2. Befriend Your Salesperson

Salespeople aren't just trying to make sales on the spot. They're motivated to keep customers apprised of future deals, too, because they have sales goals to meet during those promotions. Ask a clerk to put you in her client book and to call or email you about other sales as they happen.

A lot of stores will let even let you come in a week or so before the actual promotion and hold the merchandise you're interested in, then email you when the sale begins. That way, you get the item at a discounted price before the sale officially starts; the industry term for this is a 'pre-sell.' "They'll swipe your card, save the info, keep your merchandise packaged up in a special area, and give you a claim ticket to come back once the sale begins," says Abby. Of course, the secondary motivation for a pre-sell is to get you back in the store to spend more, so make sure to return armed with the will power to pick up only what you already purchased.

3. Aim to Save at Least 30%

"Generally speaking, a sale isn't really worth it unless you're saving at least 30%," says Abby. "And there's always a sale happening in which you can save at least 30%." So if you're the type to cringe when you have to pay full retail, wait for the stuff you're coveting to be introduced into the sale rotation. (Again, getting extra chummy with your salesperson means you might get tipped off to just when that is.)

4. Request a Price Adjustment

If you spent more on a full-price item than you're comfortable with and having retail remorse, go back within seven days and check to see if that item's been marked down, says Lisa*, a former high-end department store manager. Most stores will honor a price adjustment within that time frame, as long as you've kept your receipt and it's a hard markdown (meaning the sale price is clearly indicated on the tag). The most foolproof way to avoid losing your receipt? Ask to have it emailed to you, and pull it up on your smartphone when you need it.

5.  Beware of Bundled Promotions

Avoid buy one, get one deals (known in the industry as BOGOs) and similar bulk sales that are designed to encourage you to buy more merchandise than you ordinarily would. If you're spending more than you intended to, you're not really saving, Lisa reminds us.

6.  Don't Look to the Right

Research shows that most shoppers are right-handed and instinctively look to the right, so that's where stores put the newest and most expensive stuff. To encourage that instinct, stores will often add extra lights and music to that area to entice you to come closer. The answer? Go into the store with an idea of what you need, and don't get distracted by display tricks!

*Names have been changed

LearnVest is the leading personal finance site for women. Need help managing your money? Our free Money Center will help you create a budget. Our free bootcamps will help you take control of your money, cut your costs or get out of debt. And our premium financial plans—managed by LearnVest Certified Financial Planners—can help you chart a course for the future you want.

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10 financial secrets of happy moms

I've been known to be a bit of a complainer about my family's financial situation.With my husband out of work and my freelance income in constant flux, my household exists in a permanent state of financial anxiety.At least we're in good company: it seems like all our friends are in similar straits, though some folks just seem to have a can-do attitude about money management. We're all scrimping and saving, but not everyone has the desperate, fearful attitude that marks my interactions with the cost of living.One thing I have done to reduce anxiety a bit is to ramp up my bargain shopping. I'm afraid of food-borne illness and passionate about ethical farming, so I still buy meat at Whole Foods--but I no longer get chicken breasts, only thighs (much cheaper!), and I buy in bulk.(We talked about whether buying organic is worth it more in this story.)My other shopping is parceled out among the stores that are cheapest: diapers, wipes, milk, eggs from Costco, weekly specials (organized with their new smartphone app) from Safeway, flour from the restaurant-supply store or Trader Joe's. I keep a constantly updated list that tells me where things are cheapest.Basically, I ease my anxiety by shifting my obsessing to a specific, hobby-like activity.Turns out, lots of other moms have systems in place to help keep them sane throughout the year, too. We've rounded up ten of the best ideas we've heard.(P.S. Those are my kids in the photo above! They're pretty happy all the time.)

  • Start With the Basics
"My husband and I nearly lost everything after a three-year economic crisis. A financial coach gave us four specific strategies: Set up a $1,500 cash reserve that's our "credit card" for emergencies. We budget, which means we pre-allocate our spending in each category and adjust as needed. We take out cash for all our needs and never use the ATM card--it gives both us and our kids a concrete visual about money. And we committed to paying off debt, which has gone quicker than you'd think. After just five months, this has become second nature, and I'm amazed at how much it has changed us."-- Lynn, 47, California (mom to Miles, 8, and Audrey, 6) Photo courtesy of Lynn
  • Get Friends on Board
"A long time ago, a friend told me to take care of the singles and the hundreds will take care of themselves. I think of that every time I want to make a small splurge."-- Jenifer, 39, Connecticut (mom to Frances, 9, and Kathleen and Woody, 6)"When friends ask us to go out to this or that fabulous restaurant, we tend to say, 'Come over, we'll make dinner, you bring some wine.' Too many times I've eaten some $20 pasta dish only to think, 'Wow, I could have made that at home for $2.'" -- Darien, 50, California (mom to Annika, 10)
  • Create a System That Works
"We got out of crazy debt by consulting with a debt-management expert and holding each other's credit cards. I mean that literally: I have his credit card in my wallet, and he has mine. So neither of us can make a big purchase without asking the other--er, I mean discussing it."-- Lea, 33, California (mom to Amelia, 2)"My husband and I keep separate accounts. We both pay into the household budget, and we have separate retirement accounts; whatever we have on top of that, it's up to us to decide how to spend it. This has cut down dramatically on nagging and judging each other."-- Judy, 39, New York (mom to Indy, 15 mo) Photo courtesy of Lea
  • See the Good in Simple Things
"The answer for me wasn't to just stop spending. When you have a kid, or even when you're single, you still have to pay bills. So rather than feeling like a jerk every time a dollar left my hand, I look at what I have to spend, decide how to spend it and know what credit is for. It seems obvious, but really, it took some doing to get here."-- Dee, 55, Idaho (mom to Angela, 25)"I navigated a Byzantine system to get both my kids into good public schools. I'm Queen of the WORLD!"-- Lynn, 43, New York (mom to Bess, 6, and Sam, 4)"When I stress out about finances--and believe me, I do--I stop and think about how I am this minute. I am fine. I have food in my belly and a roof and the kids are wearing clothes."-- Jenifer, 39, Connecticut (mom to Frances, 9, and Kathleen and Woody, 6)
  • Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
"Money and I are good friends because I refuse to feel social pressure to buy something simply because everyone else does. Here in San Francisco, you can feel like a freak if you don't own a Prius, but I've stuck to owning used cars that were fuel-efficient and donating some of the difference in price to green causes."-- Darien, 50, California (mom to Annika, 10)Photo courtesy of Darien
  • Save for What's Important
"I pay myself first. Since I work from home, I have a SEP-IRA, which is a tax-deductible retirement account, and a 529 to save for my daughter's college. I pay those first, and plan the rest of my budget based on that lower number."-- Judy, 39, New York (mom to Indy, 15 months)Find out more about 529s here, and we have more resources for retirement for stay-at-home and work-from-home moms here.Photo courtesy of Judy

Tell us--what are your money secrets that keep you and your family happy?

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