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Why your utility flat-rate billing deal may not be a deal

Filed under: Budgeting on March 25, 2015 @ 9:05 am

It’s so frustrating. You’re powering right along with your monthly budgeting when you get hit with an astronomically high utility bill.

As you scramble to find an extra $200 or more, you might be tempted to contact your power company to sign up for flat billing, which means you pay the same amount each month, regardless of your electricity usage. That’s what I did last year. But I recently discovered that flat billing isn’t as good a deal as I thought.

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3 ways to cope with financial stress

Filed under: Budgeting on March 18, 2015 @ 1:32 pm

You know you have plenty of company stressing out about big bills, credit card debt you can’t conquer or the dwindling balance in your bank account.

Case in point: A survey of over 3,000 adults by the American Psychological Association shows that money is the No. 1 cause of stress. A whopping 72 percent of Americans said they felt stressed about finances in the previous month.

For some consumers, the angst is overwhelming: The survey showed that 22 percent of people experience severe financial stress, which they rated at between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale.

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Bankrupt company? 3 moves to make with your gift card

Filed under: Gift Cards on March 13, 2015 @ 10:49 am

If you’ve been hanging onto a Radio Shack gift card, you’d better use it now before it loses its juice.

The electronics retailer filed for bankruptcy in February and will only accept gift cards through March 31, 2015, according to the company website, extending the deadline from March 6.

That’s bad news for consumers, who are holding about $44 million in outstanding Radio Shack gift cards, says Shelley Hunter, a gift card expert known as the “Gift Card Girlfriend” at

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3 ways to escape that cookie-inspired ad

Filed under: Fraud and Privacy Issues on March 11, 2015 @ 2:16 pm

Have you ever looked at merchandise online — maybe a nice shirt, a fancy gadget or an expensive sheet set — but decided not to buy, then gotten stalked for days or weeks by that exact item?

I have, and I’m convinced that this online advertising tactic, called ad retargeting, makes me spend more.

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5 online budgeting tools worth checking out

Filed under: Budgeting on March 4, 2015 @ 2:41 pm

For years, my husband and I used a simple Google spreadsheet to keep track of our finances. I wasn’t thrilled with it, but I’d never been able to find a budgeting method that I loved.

We tried other systems over the course of our relationship — for example, a legal pad and the cash envelope system during the recession, followed by a brief stint with Mint a couple of years ago. But, we kept coming back to the spreadsheet.

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7 questions to ask about charities before giving

Filed under: Finances on February 25, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

Is donating to charity a monthly budget line item? It used to be one of mine. I am planning to add it back in again soon, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the best way to pick a charity.

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The worst tax advice I’ve ever received

Filed under: Finances on February 18, 2015 @ 12:58 pm

When tax season rolls around, I sometimes think back to the worst personal finance advice I ever got, back when I was in my 20s and my money was in a mess.

Because my finances were such a wreck, I’d bought a personal finance book (I can’t remember which one), which is where I got this tip: If you’re getting a tax refund, go straight to the human resources department at work to reduce the amount withheld for the IRS from your paycheck. After all, why let Uncle Sam hold your money all year when it could be earning interest for you?

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How my mom prepared for a stress-free retirement

Filed under: Retirement on February 11, 2015 @ 10:46 am

My mom retired this year from her job as an elementary school teacher, but she started planning for her retirement about eight years ago, and it turns out, that was a smart move.

Before she sought advice, she wasn’t sure how long she’d need to work in order to have enough money during retirement, and she didn’t know the ins and outs of moving from employer group health insurance to Medicare.

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How to finance college without borrowing too much

Filed under: Student on February 6, 2015 @ 2:56 pm

When it came to saving for our two kids to go to college, my family found itself in a pickle jar good and tight.

My eldest plans to begin his college career this fall. My husband and I first thought about contributing about $10,000 a year to college, and the kids were expected to cough up the rest. (One study found that when parents give kids a blank check, grades are lower.) The goal was to avoid saddling the boys with student loans.

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3 annoying things that can go wrong at the ATM

Filed under: Banking on February 4, 2015 @ 8:12 am

I recently learned that an ATM isn’t the best way to make a big deposit. An ATM is basically a big computer and technological glitches happen.

In one extreme case, a Bank of America error caused multiple ATMs to let a customer with only a few dollars in his account withdraw more than $1.5 million. He gambled the money away. Oops.

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