Featured Articles

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    It’s Not What You Earn, It’s What You Spend.

    The first 30 years of my life I was convinced it was the other way around. I believed that in order to be successful you had to make a lot of money, at any price, even if it meant that you hated what you did for a living. After all, what was more important than making a lot of money?

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    Be Frugal, But Don’t Be A Cheap Bastard.

    I always talk on here about watching your spending, staying out of debt, to stop spending on useless “stuff” that doesn’t bring real benefit to your life, etc.. But that doesn’t mean you should be a cheap bastard with your money, either.

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    The Big List: 1,019 Different Ways To Save Money.

    OK, times are tough – We all know it. Right now, you might be worrying about how to pay for groceries or the gasoline in your car, and we can use all the help you can get to stretch each and every dollar. Luckily, I have a few friends that have plenty of tips for saving money and I asked them to send them all to me so I could assemble a list for you – the person looking to save money.

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    35 Ways To Watch Television for Free Without Cable Or Satellite

    At my house, basic digital cable TV cost over $69 per month (plus taxes) and I watch maybe 10 or 15 of the 150+ channels that they provide me, meaning that I pay for many channels that I have no interest in. With the price of just about everything headed skyward, and paychecks plummeting, paid cable and satellite TV is often one of the first things to go from anyone’s budget.


Millions of American Homeowners Could Refinance and Save with HARP

This post brought to you by Quicken Loans. All opinions are 100% mine.

by Clayton Closson.

You read that title correctly.

An estimated 2.7 million American households could refinance to today’s mortgage rates (which are near historic lows, in case you haven’t been paying attention) through the gov’s HARP program. And they can do it even if they owe more money than their home is worth. Up to 200%. But they aren’t. And we don’t know why.

Why don’t they want to lower their mortgage payment?

Why don’t they want to shorten the term of their loan?

Why don’t they want to save thousands in mortgage interest?

We wish we knew, because then we could reach out to them and explain why they absolutely should take advantage of HARP while it’s still around. Which brings up some good news for American homeowners. HARP has been extended through 2015. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is that mortgage rates most likely won’t stay as low as they are for very long. At some point, once rates rise, the ability to save money with HARP may be diminished.

Jordan Fylonenko recently met with Quicken Loans Chief Economist Bob Walters to discuss HARP and what’s going on with the millions of folks who haven’t taken advantage of it.

Before we show you the video, here’s some info on HARP from our Press Room:

The FHFA’s announcement to extend the HARP deadline to 2015 is much needed for the estimated 2.7 million underwater homeowners who are eligible and still able to benefit by refinancing. Unfortunately, a too-good-to-be-true perception coupled with long lines to refinance and repeated “no’s” from lenders who are not utilizing HARP to its fullest extent have left many disgruntled to enter another arduous loan process. But for those homeowners needing a personal stimulus, picking up the phone again is well worth it.

The average savings from a HARP refinance is around $200 a month with an average rate reduction of 1.75%, resulting in $2,400 savings per closed loan per year and $74,000 per lifetime (assuming a 30-year mortgage). The potential stimulus for the economy is even more significant, reaching up to $6.5 billion ($2,400 in savings a year per consumer x 2.7 million consumers).

These savings are more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. A Quicken Loans client and active duty Air Force recruiter from Sacramento, CA, was able to cut $763 off his monthly payment for his investment property and lowered his rate down by more than a point through HARP. This was after his original lender told him they couldn’t help.

Another Quicken Loans HARP client from North Brunswick, NJ, was able to save $387 on his monthly payment and lower his rate by more than a point to 3.85%.

In a monthly video series, Markets and Musings, Quicken Loans Chief Economist sat down to discuss some of the recent changes that have opened up HARP to more underwater homeowners.

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How I Saved $25/Month With One Call to My Cable Company

Some people see cable TV as a luxury. Others see it as a waste of money. Like the majority of people, I fall somewhere between the two extremes. Regardless of how you feel about cable TV, you should do whatever it takes to save money on your cable services.

A couple of months ago I reviewed my budget and decided it was time to cut back on my cable bill. I don’t mind paying for this expense, but I realized that over time I kept adding to my cable services and my monthly bill had become exorbitant. I was paying for services that I didn’t really need. As a result, I decided to make some changes and the changes I made will save me $300 over the next year. Some step-by-step tips to cut your cable bill by $25 a month include:

1. Work With Customer Service
Work with a customer service representative to save money on your cable bills. Your cable company should try to keep you as a customer, even if you need to cut back on your cable service to save money. I explained to the customer service representative that I needed to reduce my monthly bill from $125 to $100. After running some numbers and reviewing my service, she made three suggestions to help me reach my goal. Two of her suggestions sounded like compromises I could consider in order to reduce my bills and the third suggestion wasn’t right for me (more on this below).

2. Secret Discounts Do Exist
To save money, you have to seek out discounts by calling your cable provider or by visiting the company website. The customer service representative told me I could take advantage of a six-month promotional offer for two of my sports and movie packages to save money. This discount shaved $14.99 off my monthly bill. I was extremely happy to receive the discount, but disappointed that I didn’t know about the deal until I asked about saving money. I learned an important lesson that day. If you don’t ask for discounts, you cannot expect to receive them.

cable tv remote

3. Bundle Up!
The customer service representative also suggested that I bundle my services to save money. My cable company offers three services: cable TV, Internet, and telephone. Unfortunately, they only offer a service discount if you purchase all three. Since I have no interest in a land line, I could not take advantage of this package deal. If you want to combine services, consider a bundled package to save money. You may have to sign a new contract, but if you plan to stay with the same provider this shouldn’t be a sticking point.

4. Cut Back on Extra Services
I saved another $10 when I cut back on extra services. After careful consideration, I realized that I didn’t need to have three HD boxes in my house. After all, only my wife and I live in our home. We didn’t feel that giving up one converter created any hardship. Do I miss having a third television with HD capabilities? Not at all. I simply walk to a room with HD service if I need a high definition experience.

5. Can I Speak With a Manager?
Nobody wants to be the caller who asks to speak with a manager. However, when you want to save money on your cable TV you may need to talk to a manager to get the best deal. Some steps to take if you want to escalate a phone call to a supervisor or manager:

  • Give the customer service representative a chance to answer all of your questions. Don’t escalate the call unless absolutely necessary.
  • Be courteous. It’s fine to ask to speak with a manager. It is unacceptable to use a rude tone, use profanity, or make unreasonable demands.
  • Immediately set the right tone for your conversation with the manager. Thank the supervisor for his or her time and explain that you wanted to speak with somebody with more knowledge of your situation. Speak slowly and carefully, never raising your voice or getting agitated. State your case plainly, and ask the manager to help you resolve the situation.

Final Thoughts
With money tight in many households, finding ways to save money can make it easier to achieve financial goals. Even if you have tried to contact your cable company in the past, I encourage you to try again. Their deals and discounts change regularly, and you often have to call to learn about special promotions. You may not think you can save anymore on your cable bill, but by exercising these tips and strategies you can begin saving more money this month.

What additional tips can you offer for saving money on your cable bill? Have you done this successfully in the past? Please share your tips below.


3 Used Car Negotiation Tactics That Can Help You Save

From a financial perspective, buying a used car as opposed to a brand new car is beneficial in a number of ways. Not only is the asking price lower, but you are in a position to avoid the massive depreciation in value that occurs during the first year of new car ownership.

Of course, just because you are saving money by purchasing used does not mean you should agree to pay the sticker price. There are steps you can take to negotiate a better deal – so why not save even more money?

1. Know the Market Value
There are many tools that can help you establish the market value for a used car – the most well-known is Kelley Blue Book. In addition to using professional tools, you can do your own research before meeting with the seller. For example, if you are planning to buy a 2009 Honda Accord, you may want to find as many as possible that are currently for sale in your region. Take notes on the asking price of each, as well as the mileage, condition, and included features. This can give you a leg to stand on as you begin to negotiate with a seller.

used car price

2. Use the Car’s Condition to Get a Better Deal
Let’s face it: When you are buying a used car, you cannot expect it to be in perfect condition. However, you can still take note of imperfections and use them to your advantage to lower the price.

Is there a ding on the door? How about a scrape on the bumper? Minor cosmetic issues will give you the upper hand in the negotiating process. The more of these you point out, the better chance you have of talking down the price.

If you are really looking for a great deal, have the car inspected by a mechanic. Once you have their report in hand, you can have a better idea of whether or not the car is worth buying, and if there is anything else you can use to your advantage while negotiating.

3. Ask for Extras
You may not be able to shave any money off the asking price, but this does not mean you should give up on trying to add value to the transaction. Why not ask for repairs to be made? Why not ask for an extended warranty to be added to the vehicle? When buying from a dealer, as opposed to a private seller, it is often simple to get these extras added to the deal.

Final Thoughts
Buying a used car is going to save you money. Regardless of the sticker price, though, you should feel compelled to negotiate. You never know how much money you can save until you try. The seller expects you to haggle with him or her, so do what you can to bring the price down to a level that is fair for both parties.

What other tips can you suggest to save money when buying a used car?


The 13 Most Commonly Overlooked Tax Deductions

With tax time right around the corner, many people are starting to get all their filing information together, such as receipts, donation records, bank statements, and 1099 forms. And while it’s important to make sure you have all the relevant documents so you can file your taxes correctly, it’s just as important to be sure you don’t skip any deductions which you may be eligible for. So before you send that paperwork in to the IRS come April, make sure you aren’t missing any of these 13 most commonly overlooked tax deductions.

Tax Preparation Fees – Listed first because so many people miss out on it. If you pay anyone else to help you or to do your taxes for you, you can deduct any of these costs from your return. This is a very common deduction to miss, because you really don’t believe that you can deduct the cost of preparing your tax bill to the government!

Student Loan Debt Paid by Parents – It doesn’t matter if you yourself didn’t pay the interest on your student loan, as you can write off up to $2,500 of it on your taxes even if your parents paid the bill for you out of their own pocket. Your parents, however, cannot write it off on their taxes, since you are the one liable for your borrowed money.

Out-of-Pocket Charitable Donations – I am terrible at keeping my receipts from all the stuff I donate to Goodwill; but I am even worse of keeping track of any other cash donations I give throughout the year! $25 here, $30 there, it all adds up – and you can write it off your taxes even without a receipt if the amount is less than $250. If it adds up to more than $250, you will need proof from the charities that you gave them the money.

State Sales Taxes – If you live in a state which doesn’t collect income tax, this deduction is primarily for you. (We’re looking at you, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Wyoming, and Washington) When filing your return, you have the choice as whether to deduct your local and state income tax or your local and state sales tax. Since an income tax would likely be higher for almost anyone filing a return, it would make more sense to claim that on your return.

Gambling Losses – Have an incredibly bad string of luck during your last trip to Atlantic City? Don’t fret – you can deduct those gambling losses against any money you did win during the year. If you didn’t win any money, you can’t deduct your losses.

Airline Baggage Fees – Self-employed? Traveling a lot for work? Be sure to keep track of any and all of those annoying baggage fees the airlines are imposing every time you want to bring an extra bag with you. Come tax time, they can be written off along with your other business expenses.

Educator Expenses – Educators can deduct $250 for any materials they purchased for their classroom. It does not require itemization, but wouldn’t it be nice if teachers got the supplies they needed for the classroom without having to open their own wallets?

Child-Care Credit – While not technically a “deduction”, the child-care credit actually reduces your total tax owed, dollar for dollar. This is an important one not to miss, as child care can be very expensive! The child-care tax credit is worth somewhere between 20% and 35% of the amount you shelled out for childcare while you are at work. Depending on how much you spent during the year, this could drastically lower your overall tax bill.

Alimony Payments – Child support is not deductible, but any alimony payments made during the year are. Hopefully that will ease some of the angst that can go along with having to write out those checks!

Points on Refinancing – We hear a lot about people refinancing their homes lately, and if you are one of them remember that any points you pay on your “new” mortgage can be deducted on a monthly basis over the loan term. This means you have to divide the amount paid in points by how many months are in your loan terms, and then deduct that amount times the 12 months of the year.

Mileage Deductions for Volunteers – If you volunteer for a charity, remember that you can take a deduction on your taxes for any mileage you incur while on the clock. The 2011 mileage rate is 14 cents per mile driven “in service of charitable organizations.” Also, don’t forget to keep track of any expenses involving meals and accommodations, which can also be deducted.

State Tax Paid Last Year – Owe taxes last April on your previous year’s state tax return? Remember to include that amount as a deduction on this year’s Federal return.

Job Search Expenses – If you found yourself unemployed this year and spent any money trying to find a job, here’s a little bit of positive news – you can deduct those expenses if they exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year. These deductions can include transportation, headhunter fees, and printing costs.

Each year, millions of taxpayers miss out on millions of dollars worth of deductions they could have taken but didn’t. Don’t let that be you this tax year! The tax code is ridiculously long and hard to understand, but with some careful planning, a little homework, and a careful review of your return before filing, you can hopefully take all the deductions you are eligible for this year.

We all need to pay our taxes, and there’s no legal way to avoid paying our fair share in order to pay for the services we use each and every day. But that doesn’t mean we need to pay more than we are required to. Don’t forget, your tax returns are due Tuesday, April 17 this year instead of the 15th, thanks to the weekend and then a Federal holiday.


Your Bank Account Full Of Time – How Are You Spending It?

The other day I came across a saying that made me really give thought to the amount of time I have left in my life and what I want to do with it. Comparing the time I have left to accomplish my goals to the balance in a dwindling bank account made me really reflect on the similarities between the two. Here is part of this saying:

“Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account every morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course? Each of us has a bank. It’s name is time. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off as a loss, whatever of this you have failed to invest to a good purpose.”

Each and every morning we are given an account with 86,400 seconds worth of time in it, and it’s up to us to make sure we use that gift efficiently and effectively. If someone gave you that much money every day and told you to spend it, you’d make sure you did so, correct? Well, you’re given that much time every single day to live up to your potential, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Over the years, I have talked a lot on this site about how certain lifestyle choices can negatively affect our financial bottom line. From lattes to cigarette smoking to lavish vacations on credit, I’ve covered the gamut of how our choices in life can be damaging to our fiscal health. But reading this saying, something else really hit home — all the talk in the world about money doesn’t matter if we don’t take full advantage of the free “bank account” we are given each morning.

My father died when he was just 45 years old. He didn’t expect to die so young, no one ever does. Did he make the most of his “bank account” full of time? Who knows, but I’d like to think he did. But as I am rapidly approaching 40 now, I am really giving thought to how I am spending my one lifetime here on earth. Am I making the most of it? Am I worrying too much about money missing out on my life? Am I wasting valuable time fretting over past decisions that I can no longer do anything about? Am I avoiding moving forward?

Being concerned about your financial situation is, of course, a very important matter. Everyone needs money to survive, to buy food for a family or to put a roof over their head. Money does make the world go ’round, there is no escaping this. But while this site has been focused, and will remain focused, on all issues surrounding money – credit, debt, investing, shopping – I beg you to also consider your other incredibly important asset you start each day with – time. Without time, money is useless. It’s up to you to start using both money and time to the best of your ability, in order to take full advantage of both.

Remember – this is your one and only time around on this rock. Don’t waste all of it being concerned solely with money, as you can’t take with you when you go anyway.

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