Category: Saving Tips

Five tips to setting effective financial goals for 2016

Five tips to setting effective financial goals for 2016

As the new year approaches, many will be analyzing the last year by assessing their lifestyles and committing to the standard personal resolutions: lose weight, exercise more, sleep more, reduce screen time, etc.

What many may leave off their list is something that may also have a major impact on their lives — a solid financial goal. Now is the perfect time to reflect on past spending and saving habits and to set realistic, effective money goals for the coming year. Here are a few tips to help you create successful personal finance goals for 2016.

1) Review 2015 spending habits

An effective method for setting your 2016 goals is to reflect on ​what you spent your money on this year. Derek Coburn, a partner at Washington Financial Group, recommends taking a look at your 2015 credit card and bank statements and identifying the three purchases that you feel best about and the three purchases that you regret most. According to Coburn, this exercise helps people make better decisions on future purchases and set more realistic financial goals. Coburn adds: “In hindsight, hardly anyone ever feels good about the money they spent on material goods and physical things. They almost always feel good about the experiences they purchased.”

2) Create a 2016 personal budget

Once you have reviewed your 2015 spending habits, creating your budget for next year will be easier. According to financial adviser Tahir Johnson, “Many people avoid creating a budget because they think its only purpose is to limit spending, but that is not the case. By keeping tabs on your income and expenses (both essential and discretionary), you not only gain a better understanding of where your money is going but it also helps you to formulate a plan on how you can save and invest in the future.”

3) Stay organized

One of the most effective ways to maintain your personal finance goals is to stay on top of your expenses, spending and taxes throughout the year. Organize your expenses by using apps such as Mint ​and Level Money or more traditional tools such as Excel or a spending notebook to create budgets, manage money and pay bills all in one place. For any income you plan to earn next year from a side job, such as freelance consulting, driving an Uber or hosting on Airbnb, set aside a portion to meet your income tax obligations. Apps such as Hurdlr automatically manage this for you and help minimize these monetary commitments.

4) Create a vision

Developing an annual budget and tracking monthly expenses is only half of your financial equation. You also want to look at the larger picture and create financial goals that are in line with your long-term vision. Creating a financial vision board is an easy, effective method to lay out your short-term priorities and uncover your larger financial goals.

All you need is a poster board, scissors, magazines and glue. You could cut out phrases and pictures that represent your short- and long-term financial goals (i.e. pictures of a new house or your dream vacation destination, phrases such as “no debt,” specific numbers that you are trying to reach) and paste these images onto your poster board. After you have created your vision board, you may need to alter your budget to save toward your long-term vision, or you may find the extra motivation to stick to your budget in order to achieve that long-term financial dream.

5) Set specific milestones

Many of us will make lofty goals for the new year, but few of us will actually stick to them as the year progresses. It is not enough to create a budget or a financial vision — you have to follow it through! Set goals for specific milestones throughout the year so that you have a way to measure how you are progressing against your plan.

For example, if your goal is to build up an emergency fund, decide how much money you want to have saved by three, six and nine months. Then check in at each of these points in time to confirm that you have hit your target savings and adjust accordingly to reach your ultimate goal. Use the above tips to set your financial goals, write these goals down, and refer to these goals and your vision board often throughout the year.

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How to break your worst money habits

How to break your worst money habits

Using some simple rules and tools can help you save plenty over the long haul.

Break bad habits: The science of habit change

Does it really take just 21 days to change a habit? Experts say it’s not that simple. “Breaking bad habits successfully depends on your readiness to act,” says Heidi Beckman, clinical health psychologist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics and speaker on financial behavior change.

John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at, agrees. “If it was easy, we’d all have big savings accounts, and none of us would have credit card debt,” he says.

Beckman says habits change more quickly when you’re in the action stage versus the ambivalence or preparation stages that come before. To catapult yourself into action, she recommends using this three-step approach daily.

1. Create a positive picture in your mind of the result you want, and act as if the bad habit is gone. Use a negative picture of the current stressful result of the bad habit to push yourself further toward action.

2. Identify and focus on your positive financial habits, as proof you can do things the right way.

3. Create simple rules to fall back on when tempted, such as: “Don’t browse shopping websites until all my bills are paid this month.”

Break bad habits: Resist impulse buying

“We’re wired for instant gratification,” says Ulzheimer. “But if you can’t afford to pay cash and whip out a credit card without thinking, then you’re on a downward spiral into debt and money mismanagement.”

Using credit cards to spend more than the cash you have while making only the minimum payments on the cards can build up their balances faster than you can pay them, he says. And if you pay late, penalty fees just add to the total. “You forgo the many benefits of the proper use of plastic, such as for reimbursable business traveling, establishing a good debt utilization percentage on your credit report… and for earning easy cash-back rewards,” says Ulzheimer.

Practice telling yourself “no” when tempted to spend, and try these tactics.

• Distract yourself by making a phone call or unwrapping a stick of gum until the “buy” urge passes.

• Make a rule to only charge for reimbursable business expenses or rewards and only when you have the cash to pay for it during the grace period before the date interest is charged. Double-check dates.

• If you must take drastic measures to curb spending, have your credit card company lower your limit and opt out of over-limit and overdraft spending so your card gets declined.

Break bad habits: Automate finances

Counting on willpower alone is not enough. “When you rely on willpower to meet your expenses, important financial obligations such as timely payments and depositing to an emergency cash or retirement fund are left up to your personal choice and can easily be mismanaged,” says David Bach, author of “The Automatic Millionaire.”

Ulzheimer warns that some use the excuse of not being organized or not having enough money, but paying late just means you pay more because many companies tack on a late fee (typically $39) and many also charge you interest on the unpaid balance as well.

Says Bach: “Make your important payments automatic so bills get paid on time, and important savings deposits that protect you and your family don’t get missed.”

Make payments automatic to avoid late fees.

• Set up shadow payment dates by subtracting seven days from the real due date.

• Make payments automatic using your bank’s or the payee’s online bill pay.

Break bad habits: Pay more than the minimum

Paying just the minimum is a good way to stretch out your debts for as long as you can. “When you only pay the minimum amount due on a credit card, you’re effectively rolling over approximately 97 percent of the balance and adding the interest applied,” says Ulzheimer. This is very profitable for mortgage companies and card issuers, but not you. “The only way to reduce your balance quickly is to pay more than the minimum, avoid fees and stop adding to balances,” advises Ulzheimer.

Pay more than the minimum with every payment.

• Set up automatic timely payments of a higher amount than the minimum.

• For fastest results, create a “debt snowball,” in which you pay as much as you can toward the lowest-balance card until it is paid off. Then you apply that same payment amount plus the new payment amount to the card with the next-smallest balance.
• Consider taking advantage of the automatic biweekly mortgage payment plan your lender may offer. For the one-time fee, the quicker pay-down is worth many thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

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Three steps to a great credit score

Three steps to a great credit score

1. Don’t close credit card accounts to improve your credit score.

You might have a good reason to shutter your account — you don’t want to pay an annual fee, you’re concerned about identity fraud, or you want to reduce the temptation to overspend — but don’t do it for the sole purpose of raising your credit score.

One factor in your credit score is your utilization, which is the ratio of balances owed compared to the credit limits on revolving accounts such as credit cards. Utilization is calculated for each credit card you have and across all of your cards. The lower your utilization, the better for your credit score. Closing a credit card account that has a zero balance excludes that credit limit from the overall utilization calculation, which can make your utilization increase and in turn, lower your score.

For the same reason, it’s also a bad idea to ask for lower credit limits on your credit cards if your goal is to improve your score. Doing so can only push your utilization higher.

Tip: If you must close a credit card account but want to keep your score high, pay down balances on other accounts to mitigate the effect.

2. Paying in full doesn’t hide a high credit card balance from your credit score.

If you’re consistently charging near the credit limit on your credit card but pay the balance in full when each bill arrives, you might be hurting your credit score. That’s because your score considers the account balance shown on your credit report. Your credit report will reflect the account balance at the time the issuer supplied it to the credit reporting agency, which will typically be the balance as of your last statement date.

Tip: If you pay in full each month but need to bump your score higher for an upcoming credit check, charge less on your credit cards.

3. Light use of credit cards is best for your credit score.

Maxing out your credit cards can obviously have a negative impact on your score. Using the majority of your credit limit is not good, either. Light use of your cards is best. Using 10 percent of your credit limit will be better than using 30 percent, which in turn is better than 50 percent. A small balance is actually slightly better than a zero balance (though it doesn’t matter to the score if you actually carry a balance).

Tip: If you need to raise your credit score, look at your monthly billing statements to see how your balances compare to your credit limits. Consider increasing your payments, or if you pay in full, using your credit cards less often.

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10 Things Not to Buy During the Holidays

10 Things Not to Buy During the Holidays

Is there a new television, tool or bicycle on your holiday shopping list? Hold on there. While you can find many great deals during November and December, you’re better off making some purchases at other times of the year. Here are 10 items that are even cheaper before or after the holidays.


Prices have plummeted over the past seven years for some amazing flat-screens and big-screens. But if you really want to give that special someone the gift of HDTV, you might want to wait until February. Retailers will start lowering prices on last year’s models before new models start hitting the stores in March. The best deals follow the Super Bowl in early February. You could save a few hundred dollars.


Wait for “white sales” in January before buying sheets, blankets, towels and more. The tradition of department stores discounting linens in January started back in the 19th century. Now, even some catalog retailers follow suit, offering deals in their issues that come out at the beginning of the year. Look for discounts ranging from 10% to 60%.


Dad always has a list of fix-it projects to tackle around the house, but the holidays aren’t the best time to score deals on new tools. Consider giving tools as a gift for Father’s Day in June — when prices will fall by 25% — instead of Christmas. Frugal Dad will be happy you saved the cash.

Snow Blowers

The Winter Solstice is the worst time to buy a snow blower. In cold, wet climates, March is the month for purchasing this big-ticket item, says Mark Di Vincenzo, author of Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon: A Guide to the Best Time to Buy This, Do That and Go There. You might really appreciate a back-saving snow blower before winter’s heaviest storms arrive, but you’ll appreciate even more the 30% to 40% savings you’ll find as winter ends.


Sure, it would be nice to give your spouse a new camera to take pictures of the kids throughout the holiday season. But you might want to wait until February for a better deal. The biggest electronic trade shows of the year happen in January and February, when new models are revealed. By late February, older models are being sold at discounts of 30% or more. Look for Presidents’ Day to be an especially good day to shop for sales.

10 Things Not to Buy During the Holidays


February and March are the ideal months to pick up winter outerwear, such as coats, hats and gloves. Retailers realize that most people have already bought their winter clothing by then, so you can take advantage of discounting to fill your closet for winters ahead.


Maybe you want to impress visiting relatives over the holidays by sprucing up your living room. But hold off on buying that new sofa. New furniture inventory hits showrooms in February, so look to save 10% to 50% if you buy in January, as retailers push to clear the showroom. Old models tend to be just as good, using the exact same frames as the new.


Forget the notion of a car in the driveway on Christmas morning. Instead, think New Year’s Eve (during business hours, of course) to get the best deal. Car dealers want to clear their inventory before the end of the year. TrueCar, which collects automobile data, estimates prices on all vehicles nationwide will average 9.3% below sticker price on December 31 — the steepest discount of the month.

Looking for a used car? Hold off until April for the best deals because it’s the month that dealers tend to buy the most at auction, giving you the best selection.


The cold weather creeping up may spark thoughts of escaping to far-off, warm destinations. For those who want to hit the seas, though, booking a cruise is best after the holidays. Wait until “wave season,” which is January to March, to book a summer cruise, says Jaime Freedman, of TravelZoo. You’ll be met with an onslaught of deals as cruise lines compete with one another for customers. Rising airfare prices have made cruises increasingly enticing with their all-inclusive pricing, says Freedman.


As the riding season winds down for most people, you may think that bicycles are ripe for discounts. And you’re right, if you just wait a little longer, until after the holiday season. After the holiday rush, discounts are steep on older models. Shops are also more likely to throw in a few extra free accessories because they are looking for business during the slow winter months. Better yet, fewer customers means you’ll get more personal service.

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Black Friday becomes Black Week this year

Black Friday becomes Black Week this year

Retailers have turned the one-day bonanza into a week’s worth of hot sales.

…There may be just one Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — but retailers are offering deals pretty much every day this week. “It’s become Black Friday Week,” says Deborah Mitchell, executive director for the Center of Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Like Super Bowl Sunday, the main event is later in the week, but everyone is gearing up and excited now.” Not all the best discounts, however, are saved for the big day, and shoppers who stick to Black Friday may find they’ve missed out, she says. “Smart shoppers will be looking every day.”

The wider spread of sales throughout the week, both before and after Black Friday, has another advantage for shoppers. While stores typically suspend their price matching policies on Black Friday, most will meet a competitor’s advertised deal on other days this week. They may also offer a credit on an item recently purchased for the difference between the purchased price and new sale price, says Edgar Dworsky.

But there’s a catch, say retail experts. Many of the deals are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them opportunities which are available for a few hours, or until a limited supply runs out. Here’s what to look for each day now through Cyber Monday:


Many stores have already kicked off their Black Friday countdowns, offering one-day deals that come close to — or in some cases beat — their Friday prices, Mitchell says. Best Buy, for example, had a 55″ LG LED HDTV Monday for $898, a 31% discount and $100 cheaper than a planned Samsung door-buster for Black Friday of comparable quality. launched its Black Friday deals site Nov. 1, and has new offers each day this week. A number of stores, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, are promising that Black Friday prices are already in effect, Dworsky says.


Big pre-Black Friday sales, including those from and Target wrap up on Wednesday. Shoppers also may benefit from waiting until midnight, when many Thanksgiving online-only deals could go into effect, Dworsky says. Since most retailers have specified turkey-day deals, but haven’t offered details on availability, it may only be worth it if you’re already up late making the pies. “Last I checked, Nov. 24 still had 24 hours in it, so you could wait up for nothing,” he says.


Shoppers stuffing the turkey at 6 a.m. may find their time waiting for the bird to roast well spent shopping. Kmart will be open from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m., and Best Buy plans to release a number of online-only sales that day. Gap Inc. plans to open 1,000 stores — including 800 Old Navy stores and a number of Gap and Banana Republic outlet stores — for limited hours on Thanksgiving. “We know from the receptiveness of Thanksgiving hours over the past two years that many consumers want the ability to jump-start their holiday shopping,” says Louise Callagy, a spokeswoman for Gap. She says Old Navy will offer 3D glasses for shoppers to spy hidden games, messages and extra discounts around the store.

On the later side, Toys R Us will open its doors for Black Friday at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving, followed an hour later by Walmart. But leaving in time to get in line may require cutting Thanksgiving celebrations short. Mitchell suggests double-checking the ads to see which in-store-only deals (if any) are worth ditching the family.

Black Friday

More deals are rolling in at midnight this year, with retailers including Kohl’s, Target, Best Buy and Macy’s pushing forward the usual 5 a.m. store openings. Online shoppers will find plenty of deals at that time, too, with online-only deals and some of the same door-busters that are available in stores, says Andrew Eisner, the director of content for Despite waning interest from consumers, Black Friday is still one of the best days of the year to get bargains, he says. Anticipated deals include a $200 42″ Sharp LCD HDTV at Best Buy, and a $350 HP laptop at Office Depot. But shoppers must also contend with very limited quantities of those deeply discounted items, as well as some misleading sales on older items that aren’t the latest technology, Eisner says. Many of the sale Blu-ray players, for example, require shoppers to buy an extra WiFi adaptor, while laptops tend to have older, slower processors.

Shoppers have added incentive to keep their mobile phone on hand this year. Stores including Bon Ton, Macy’s and JC Penney have said they plan to have more mobile coupons available. Toys R Us announced last week that it will offer shoppers who check in on Foursquare special “swarm” deals including $50 off the $170 Imaginarium City train table and 40% off the Incredible Edibles toy line.


Big-box stores will continue some of the same sales they offered on Friday, with a different round of door-busters. Given limited inventory this year, shoppers shouldn’t count on these items being in stock, says Dworsky. You may find deals on items that are less likely to sell out. Sears, for example, has a door-buster of 30% off Kenmore Elite appliances until 1 p.m. on Saturday as well as $200 off a broad range of Craftsman tool sets.

It may be worth browsing mom-and-pop shops, too. Many are participating in American Express’s “Small Business Saturday.” The card company is offering a $25 credit to shoppers who register their card and spend $25 at a small business that day. Plus, many stores are offering their own deals, including 20% off at McNally Jackson Books in New York and up to 25% off designer denim at AB Fits in San Francisco.


Savvy shoppers should check out eBay in the early morning hours, says Tim Dubroy, a spokesman for eBay market data firm Terapeak. “We noticed a couple of years ago that sales are higher on the Sunday after Thanksgiving than on the Monday after,” he says. eBay sellers scanning Cyber Monday ads often price their items competitively. Last year, for example, a Dell Zino HD desktop sold for an average $340 on eBay on Sunday — $9 less than the Cyber Monday price that several gadget blogs touted. Sellers also matched a $399 deal for a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 digital camera. For the best deals, bid or buy before 2 p.m. Eastern, when prices rise as more shoppers head online, Dubroy suggests.


“There’s been so little talk of Cyber Monday this year that you have to wonder if it even exists,” Dworsky says. The National Retail Federation reports that 45% of retailers plan to offer a coupon or percentage-off sale, about 38% will have a limited-time promotion and 30% will offer free shipping on some orders. (In comparison, last year 49% had special offers, 41% offered one-day sales and 22% had free shipping on all purchases.) Still, it’s worth browsing the sales, if not necessarily waiting for them, he says. AT&T plans to offer several smartphones — including the HTC Inspire and the LG Thrill — for a penny when consumers sign a two-year contract, similar to a deal has scheduled for Black Friday weekend. Clothing chain Express offers 30% off all online purchases plus free shipping, which is 10% less than its Thanksgiving and Black Friday morning in-store offers.

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Rising food prices you’ll feel the most

Rising food prices you'll feel the most

Expect to pay more for groceries these popular because of shortages in the world.

Prices are up in grocery stores across the country. You may not notice changes right away, that bread can be only one cent more expensive than last year. Soda that you buy may be the same price but it is now 1.5 liters instead of two. Many major cereal manufacturers such as General Mills, warned of impending price increases.

Why Grocery Prices Going Up ?

While nearly all grocery aisles is affected by rising prices, a large part of the reason all comes down to two commodities: wheat and corn. The two staples have been hit hard over the last two years – a combination of climate change, natural disasters and crop diseases. Russia experienced a severe drought for two years and had stopped completely wheat exports to ensure sufficient domestic supply. They resumed limited exports of July 2011, but supplies are still far away. A disease called Ug99 wheat rust destroyed crops across Africa and spread to other wheat producing countries at a rapid pace.

There was a lot of bad harvests corn in North America as well, but the real culprit for corn is that it is used to make ethanol, a fuel probably sustainable. Hundreds of thousands of acres that once grew corn for the people now grow it to fuel our cars.

At first glance it may seem that these increases does not mean you will pay more for a few grocery items such as bread and popcorn, but wheat and corn are included in the vast majority of food you can eat every day. Here are four areas where you will see higher prices.

Rising food prices you'll feel the most

1. Cereals, breads and pasta products

Most cereals are made from corn and they will be hit hard by price increases in the coming year. The commodity price of corn has nearly doubled since 2010 and is rising again due to the massive drought in Texas is facing. Bread, rolls, cakes and biscuits will all rise in prices of steep jump in the price of wheat. According to food manufacturers, the industry has been holding the increase in retail prices, but can not absorb the costs any longer.

2. Sweets

Most treaties “candy” soda biscuits with jam, are made with corn syrup, high fructose. The lack of corn supply is causing prices to increase in these areas regularly. Beware of packages decreases, as well. Many companies will keep the same price but lower the amount you get.

3. Beef, pork and chicken

Almost all industrialized meat fed with corn, mainly because it was the cheapest food available. As the price of corn increases, there is still no cheaper alternative, so the price of meat increases due to the rising price of entry.

4. Cat and Dog Food

Pet food contains grains in one of two ways: treatment of dry foods often contain corn as one of its primary ingredients and canned food contains pieces of meat or wheat-based thickeners. It’s not just the cost of food will rise.

Related Link: View more smart shopping advices

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Higher Prices: The big trend for back-to-school

Higher Prices: The big trend for back-to-school

Watch out for these marketing ploys to get you to pay more for fall clothes.

Stores are trying everything they can think of to conceal the fact that you will pay more for clothing this fall.

Some use less fabric and call it the new look. Others are adding cheap and it seams like a trumpet overhaul. And buttons on this coat? Chances are that you will not think it’s worth paying a few dollars more for the shirt just to have them.

Retailers are rising prices of goods an average of 10 percent in the board – this fall in an effort to offset their rising costs for materials and labor. But traders are worried that cash-strapped customers who are burdened by economic hardship are grumbling against the price increases. Thus, retailers are trying to raise prices without tipping off unsuspecting customers.

Retailers have long tried to hide price increases – for example, jacking up more than necessary so they can offer a “sale” on the higher price. But the new production strategies that are traders and labor costs to increase by 10 percent to 20 percent in the second half of the year after having remained low during most of the last two decades. The costs can add up quickly: Raw materials account for 25 percent to 50 percent of the cost of production of a garment, while the work varies from 20 to 40 percent, analysts estimate.

Stores have already passed along their higher costs to customers by raising prices on certain items. The index of consumer prices, which includes all expenses except food and energy, rose 0.2 percent in July, the Labor Department said Thursday. But now that production costs are rising even higher, traders are increasing prices on a wide range of goods. Because of their fear that buyers will retreat, however, retailers are in the gray area between the style, quality and price.

Some merchants are inexpensive tweaks —- additional seams, buttonholes false, fancy labels —- to justify price increases. These embellishments can add a few cents to $ 1 for the cost of a garment, but retailers can charge $ 10 more for them, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with market research firm NPD Group .

“We do not see deflation or inflation, we see con-inflation,” he said. “The stores are making consumers think their getting more for their money.”

After the price of fabric to corduroy pants of his young daughter has almost doubled, catalog retailer Lands’ End, based in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, increased the price of the pants from $ 7 to $ 34.50. The company, a unit of Sears Holdings Corp, has also added buttons and stitching on the pockets to dress.

“Consumers will notice the difference in price,” said Michele Casper, spokeswoman for the end of a Lands’. “But they will also get many additional benefits so they know they are not getting short-changed.”

Others are removing things, but marketing it to customers as the latest trend. Elmen Spencer, owner of Cupid’s lingerie, which operates five stores in Arkansas, said it is to see more items in the store that are still skimpier than usual, from underwear mini dresses. He says it’s because the designers are finding clever ways to disguise the fact they have less clothing fabric.

Elmen said Teddy $ 39.99, which are $ 5 more than they were last year, have a studded heart that brings the material to conceal the fact that less tissue is used. He also noted that the corset with fishnet patterns are priced about 5 percent to about $ 49 more, even if they also have less material.

“They are just being more creative with less fabric,” said Elmen.

Adolescents retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is advertising “redesigned 2012” Jean collection in its stores and on its website, boasting that the jeans are “softer, with the perfect amount of stretch.” They are mostly sold between $ 78 and $ 88, or about $ 10 more than last year, according to Jennifer Black, head of research firm Jennifer Black & Associates.

Sozzi, Wall Street Strategies analyst detail, examined the jeans and believes they are “thin” and “cheaper quality.” Stretching further, he said, could simply say that the retailer is saving costs by using less denim.

Eric Cerny, a spokesman for Abercrombie & Fitch, declined comment. But what the leaders reiterated Cerny told investors in recent months: most of the increases on items will begin arriving in September and the chain will not sacrifice quality to achieve cost reductions.

Bill Melnick, director of strategic planning at the SAI Marketing, which studies consumer behavior for consumer brands, said most consumers may not notice the tactic to disguise the retail price. But he says buyers will not buy if they can not afford it.

“Shoppers are pragmatic,” he said, nothing they think “” If it fits in my budget, so it’s a sale. ”

Rhonda Sayen, a resident of Stephens City, Va., said she checked the prices on the items and noticed that new fall jeans were about $ 40 a year ago are now close to $ 60. She also said she has spotted a low-grade T-shirts to some of the stores.

“I know that prices have changed,” Sayen said, adding that she and her husband stick to a budget of $ 400 for clothes and supplies for her four children aged 3 to 18. “You do not fool me.”

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Back to School Shoppers: Get a Break on Sales Taxes

Back to School Shoppers: Get a Break on Sales Taxes

Several states have sales-tax holidays in July and August for back-to-school shoppers.

In many states, the first weekend of August will be a great time for families to do their back-to-school shopping. That’s because many items will be exempt from sales tax.

Sixteen states will have sales-tax holidays this year — and 11 will fall on the first weekend of August, according to the Federation of Tax Administrators. Arkansas joins the list of states exempting back-to-school purchases such as clothing, computers and school supplies from sales taxes this year (Illinois drops off the list).

See the list below to find out which states will have sales-tax holidays and when. Even if your state isn’t on the list, you might be able to take advantage of a sales-tax holiday by crossing state lines (as long as all your savings aren’t blown on travel costs).


Mississippi: July 29-30. Clothing and footwear $100 or less exempt.


Alabama: August 5-7. Clothing, computers, school supplies and books exempt (up to a certain dollar amount).

Arkansas: August 6-7. Clothing purchases of $100 or less and school supplies are exempt.

Connecticut: August 21-27. Clothing and footwear less than $300 exempt.

Florida: August 12-14. Clothing, books and school supplies exempt (up to certain dollar amounts).

Iowa: August 5-6. Clothing and footwear $100 or less exempt.

Louisiana: August 5-6. Most items less than $2,500 exempt.

Maryland: August 14-20. Clothing and footwear $100 or less exempt.

Missouri: August 5-7. Clothing, computers and school supplies exempt (up to certain dollar amounts).

New Mexico: August 5-7. Clothing, computers and school supplies exempt (up to certain dollar amounts).

North Carolina: August 6-8. Clothing, computers, school supplies and sports equipment (up to certain dollar amounts).

Oklahoma: August 5-7. Clothing and footwear less than $100 exempt.
See a list of tax-exempt items.

South Carolina: August 5-7. Clothing, computers and school supplies exempt.

Tennessee: August 5-7. Clothing, computers and school supplies exempt (up to certain dollar amounts).

Texas: August 19-20. Clothing, footwear, backpacks and school supplies less than $100.

Virginia: August 5-7. Clothing, footwear and school supplies (up to certain dollar amounts).

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Don’t lose money when selling your car

Don't lose money when selling your car

You could score an extra $1,500 if you find a buyer for your auto instead of trading it in.

Used car prices are at record highs. That’s not great news if you’re shopping for a used car, but if you want to sell, your car might be more valuable due to short supply.

The nuclear and natural disasters in Japan decreased new car inventory, which increased demand for used cars. But Melanie Kovach, general manager of the private seller group at, says that other factors are at play. “Japan has kind of exacerbated supply issues,” Kovach says. Americans are generally holding onto their cars longer, which combined with less attractive financing, has increased demand because fewer used cars have been on the market, she added.

What’s my used car worth?

Currently, demand is generally for smaller cars or what Kovach calls “non-special, average cars”, but hybrids are also becoming increasingly valuable due to high gas prices.

Kelley Blue Book provides consumers with an idea of fair prices for used and new cars, but it’s important to know what prices are like in your area. Kovach says that the “current market is above the traditional values. Kelley Blue Book is a great tool, but search in your market to see what cars are on sale for.” If you’re considering selling or trading your car, Kovach says, “You’ll get thousands more by selling (your car) yourself than by trading it in at a dealer.”

When dealers take your car in as a trade, they need to make a profit to sustain their business. We used Kelley Blue Book to illustrate how much money you can save by selling your car privately rather than trading it. The examples used are for prices in the Washington, D.C. area. These prices are for cars in good condition that were built in 2006, have an automatic transmission and 60,000 miles on the odometer.

Using these values, you could earn at least $1,510 more by selling your car privately rather than trading it, which is money you can use as a down payment on your next car. Granted, if you decide to sell your car yourself, there are some downsides. Advertising your car, interacting with buyers and gathering the necessary paperwork to complete the sale takes time and patience that isn’t required when you trade it in.

Make a quick, profitable used car sale

“Think like a dealer. Merchandise your car in order to get the most money,” says Kovach, who also encourages sellers to advertise. “People who advertise their cars generally get about 15 percent more than those that don’t.” It’s important to expose your car to the most buyers, and to represent it accurately. Here are some tips that will help your sale go smoothly.

1. Price your car accordingly

Go online and research what cars like yours are currently selling for. A steep price tag can keep you from selling your car quickly, but a price that’s too low might deter buyers as well. Kovach says that when a car is priced too low, buyers will wonder what’s wrong with it. If you’re selling your car for less than the competition because of an accident or needed repairs, provide those details in your vehicle description.

2. Bring back that new car smell

Buyers will think that a clean, shiny car is more attractive than one that hasn’t been washed in a year, so it’s time for a thorough cleaning inside and out. If you don’t want to clean it yourself, take it to a detailer so that it looks as attractive as possible.

If your car has small issues such as burnt-out light bulbs or fluids that need topped off under the hood, fix these small problems. Buyers will appreciate that your car has been properly maintained, and won’t be able to point out these issues when they negotiate the price.

3. Take photos

A picture is worth a thousand words, and good photos will help potential buyers decide whether or not to contact you about your car. Take pictures of the interior and exterior, as well as shots of the tires, trunk and odometer. If your car has problem areas, don’t exclude them just because they aren’t glamour shots. “Disclose problems because you don’t want to waste your time or theirs,” says Kovach.

4. Provide a detailed description

Cover the basics about your car, such as year, make, model and mileage, but also highlight anything that makes it stand out. Information about your vehicle’s options, as well as maintenance records and recent repairs, will give buyers a clearer image of what to expect.

Have you bought new tires or upgraded the stereo? Make it known in your vehicle description. Are you the original owner? Is your car garage-kept or accident-free? Answering yes to these questions will attract buyers looking for a car or truck with a clean vehicle history.

Ultimately, your car will sell when you and the buyer agree on a price, but by following these steps, your car will be better-marketed to used car shoppers. As a result, you’ll likely have a quicker sale and walk away with more money in your pocket.

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How to read your credit report

How to read your credit report

The x-ray of your credit health can be dense, so just look for these six items.

You have one shot of your credit reports. And now? As you’ve probably heard about now, you are entitled to free copies of your credit reports. Federal law gives you the right to request your credit reports from three, one from each of the three major credit reporting agencies each year.

You can get them at a time or throughout the year. Personal finance gurus often recommend taking a report every four months that you regularly monitor your records. Anyway, checking your credit reports is a smart move considering that the information in your credit report determines your credit score.

But once you get the report, what do you do with it? How about giving the treatment of six minutes? Then you definitely want to read the full report in detail, a quick check on a handful of indicators can give you an instant assessment of how good – or bad – your credit is right now.

Here are six markers that can provide an X-ray of your credit health.

Late payments

Delinquencies are “enormous influence” on the credit score, said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. In fact, they represent 35 percent of your FICO score.

If you see the ratings invoices were paid 30, 60, 90 or 120 end, “it is very damaging” to your credit, he said.

The other factor is important here: the timeline. How was the end of the payment, and how long you make this mistake?

Following payment, the more it hurts your credit, says Evan Hendricks, author of “Credit scores and credit reports. How the system actually works, that you can do”

But the more time that has elapsed since you made a late payment, the less it will affect your credit, he said.

Limit high ratios of debt to credit

Credit scores typically look at your debt-ratio limit credit or “use” in two ways: They compare the balance on a revolving account to your credit available from that lender. For example, if you have a credit card with a balance of $ 1,000 and a $ 5,000 credit limit, this ratio would be 20 percent.

Scoring formulas also look at your debt-credit limit ratio is a second way: the calculation of the total of all your debts on the accounts revolving lines of credit against your total of these accounts.

So if you have four credit cards each with a credit line of $ 5,000 ($ 20,000 in credit), and you have a balance of $ 1,000 on two of them and nothing on the other two ($ 2,000 debt), this ratio would be 10 percent.

“In an ideal world, you want to have (ratios) of less than 10 percent,” said Hendricks. “But certainly you want to keep them under 40 percent. There is no magic.”

But if you use a balance of $ 2,000 to $ 3,000 with a card that has a $ 5,000 limit, “which will really hurt your score,” said Brobeck. “And what is worse, running up balances on several cards.”

Collection activity

In most cases, if you have an account that went to collections or have been written off as bad debt, you know about this, said Rhonda Bailey, credit counselor and manager of the review of credit report for Credit Counseling Non-profit Arkansas. But not always.

“There are a few cases, as an old utility bill after you have moved, (where) the collection agency and not find (the consumer) has forgotten about it,” she said. “I see that sometimes.”

If you find an article that is not yours, you can dispute and have removed from your report.

If the item is yours, you have decisions to make, says Bailey. Can you afford?

It’s a good idea to check the law of your state of limitations, which is the period of time creditors have to sue you over a debt. Your state attorney general’s office can give you that time, she said.

Separate this time, the question may remain on your credit report for seven years. Plus it was on your report, unless it affects your score.

Judgments, liens, bankruptcies

Hopefully you know if you have had major financial difficulties that involved judgments, liens or bankruptcies. However, if someone else uses – and looting – your financial identity, a notation on your credit report could be your first clue.

Same if a collector less-than-scrupulous you marked with another debt or taken action against you without proper notification.

When you get this report, the digitization of “public records” section, explains Michelle Doshi, the editor of publications for the Consumers’ Association Credit Union National. “If there are liens or bankruptcies, it is a good way to check. ”

Active accounts you have closed – Or never opened

You close a store card after moving. Or you finally had time to ask your daughter to close the card account you have co-signed for her when she was in college.

The next time you pull your credit report, if enough time has passed, we must show that these accounts are closed, said Doshi.

Looking back on your credit report “is a way to verify that you have closed and their dates are correct,” she said. If this should be a closed account on your credit report open lists, it’s a good time to contact the issuer and find out why.

Information drive

Another thing to watch is the accounts you do not remember opening the first place. The absence of a mix-up, which could be an “indication of identity theft,” says Doshi.

Your credit report will tell you who else has looked at my credit report. Called “investigations” into the credit-speak, they are of two types.

Applications are hard when you actually asked for new funding – has completed an application, signed documents, etc. – and asked a lender to verify your story. When you get a hard inquiry, your credit can take a slight decline. Hard inquires could affect your score for one year, but you will see on your report for two years.

Soft inquiries are what the credit bureaus put on your report when someone looks at your credit, but you did not request new loans. If you pull your own credit report, which is a soft inquiry. You’ll also see if a potential lender pulls your credit for marketing purposes. Applications software do not affect your score.

Applications are disks “such a small part of your credit score,” said Kelly Rogers, Chief Development Officer of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service a non-profit Orange County, California, and assistant professor at the University Chapman. “But that’s a great way to see if someone has used your information.”

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