Saving money on your vacation

Today the cost of a hotel in a foreign country or another city can be extremely expensive. For a family, these costs can be further magnified. Very often the facility is not centrally located thereby adding additional expenses to get around. The rooms maybe small or the food plan does not accommodate children. Let’s say you are a family of four and want three rooms. The price of this in a conventional hotel can be exorbitant, even if you get a suite.

You can go to various Internet sites like www.hotels.com , www.tripadvisor.com or www.kayak.com and look for their best deals. This may get you a better price, but may not fulfill all your needs.

What are the other choices?

There are a number of house sharing and apartment sharing sites that may better serve you needs. Of course you need to be willing to share your home with a stranger but they are sharing their home with you. If you live in a desirable travel destination like New York City or San Francisco you have a real advantage. I have heard of people in New York City who had a great experience trading their three bedroom Manhattan apartment for a similar apartment in Paris. You can find these deals on sites like www.lovehomeswap.com and www.homeexchange.com .

You may just want to rent an apartment or a room in a place where you are going on vacation. A web site like www.airbnb.com will show you private rental deals that can save you a lot of money. The site allows you to pick neighborhoods, price ranges and the type of room you are looking for. Additionally, this site provides you with reviews from people who have stayed there in the past. The host determines how much they want for their rent and Airbnb then adds on their fee. This total fee is what appears on the web site as the fee for the guest. The time of the stay is determined by the host and is agreed to by the guest.

When you are on #vacation this is also a way to earn additional money by allowing someone else to use your home while you are away and offset some of the costs of your vacation.

#consumersangel #consumer

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The Shopping List

We have all experienced coming out of a store or a supermarket having spent much more than we planned. We may have even shot the family’s monthly #budget on a single trip. How does this happen and what can we do to protect us from ourselves and our own impulses? Why do we act this way?

We are surrounded by pictures of buying our way to happiness. We see ads in newspapers, magazines and on TV showing beautiful happy people and families. They are happy because they are consuming some food or own some product. The message is clear if you buy this product, you will look just like this and you will be happy too.

In the store aisles there are ads to reinforce what you have seen or read. It is all designed to draw you into the belief that a product will satisfy some inner need and make everything in your life better. This has all been very scientifically studied and planned out by the companies that are trying to sell you their products and a host of psychologists they employ.

How do you get past this? The solution is very simple but not easy to implement. Make a #shopping #list. While you are quietly sitting at home make a list of what you need and what you are planning to buy. If you are familiar with store you are going to make the list in the order of the way you traverse the store. Bring the list with you and check off each item when you buy it. Do NOT buy anything that is not on the list because that will open up the flood gates. Almost any item you “forgot” can be purchased the next trip.

Following this strategy will amaze you. Not only will you save money, but this simple strategy will help you break the habit of allowing yourself to be controlled by the advertisements. You will shop according to your needs not your wants.

#consumers #angel

How to save on your weekly shopping

Buying groceries in our economy can be quite challenging. Taking some time to educate yourself on how to stretch a dollar will give you a better price for food for yourself and your family.

First off, when food shopping, check your local stores and comparison shop for the items on your list. You will quickly see that on a week to week basis some offer the exact same goods for less than their competitors. Additionally, if you sign up for the store’s free reward program, you will get additional savings on sale price items. When signing up, you may wish to decline giving the store your e-mail address for weekly email notifications. Some companies have taken e-mailing to the extreme and bombard your inbox on a daily basis with advertisements. If you do have to give your e-mail address, you can later "Unsubscribe", while still being able to use your rewards card.

Check your local newspaper for coupons. There was a time when only the thriftiest shopper would come in with a file folder filled with coupons. However, if you take a moment to look through your daily paper, you can easily save money by utilizing the weekly coupons in it. Think of it this way, taking one minute to cut a few coupons out can save you ten dollars at the register. Who wouldn’t want to be given ten dollars for two minutes of work?

There are also websites that offer consumers coupons on a daily or weekly basis. Among the best are:

1. Coupons.com: This site offers coupons for food, beverages, toys, household goods and other items.

2. Supermarket Guru: Gives you advice on specials in a variety of supermarkets in your area.

3. Living on a Dime

4. Smartsource.com

5. RetailmeNot.com

Additionally, chain stores like Walmart and Target are becoming major competitors for supermarket chains. They also offer organic products at competitive prices to your regular supermarkets or health food stores.

If you are looking to buy in bulk, we recommend Costco or BJs as a great option, offering not only raw food items, but cooked food, flowers, furniture, household items, clothing and jewelry at deep discounts.

Finally Dollar Stores are popping up all over the place. They are also a great option for the educated consumer. Plastic ware, items for students (notepads, pens, pencils) as well as bowls and holiday decorations can be found for just one dollar!! They also sell some food items although the quality of these goods has come into question over the past years, so buyer beware.

Protecting your children as you age

Most of us will spend twenty years or more being responsible for our children and taking care of their needs. Eventually, they will be out on their own and have their own families to take care of. Our population is getting older. Our life expectancies are increasing. Therefore, the chances of us living to an age, where we will need help taking care of ourselves, is also increasing. The burden of this expense can be significant and could completely wipe out one’s retirement savings.

The question becomes how can I protect my savings and not become a financial burden to my children. The answer is a form of insurance called long term care insurance. The policies are only offered by a few companies and you should investigate to see which offers the plan that best fits your needs and pocketbook. The companies that offer policies that are worth investigating include: Genworth, Mass Mutual, Transamerica, Mutual of Omaha, John Hancock and a few others. AARP also offers a policy through Genworth.

Some of the things to watch for, which affect the cost of the policy and its benefits are: the waiting period between when you are qualified to receive the benefits and when the benefits actually kick in, the length of time the benefits cover, the number of symptoms you must exhibit to be eligible for benefits, which facilities or types of in home care are covered, can you receive benefits temporarily and then go off benefits until they are needed again and of course the cost. Additionally, some plans which insure both you and your spouse, allow the benefits to be shared between the two of you. Others however don’t. For example, if your plan allows for 5 years of benefits for each of you then some plans will allow one spouse to use 8years of benefit while the other uses only 2 years.

Most policies cease requiring premium payments once you are receiving benefits. Also, depending on where you live there are tax implications for the premiums. For example, New York State allows you to use part of your premium as a deduction when you file your New York state income tax. For specifics about possible tax savings you should contact a tax professional.

Recently, my 92 year old mother needed to move into an assisted living facility. Fortunately, she had long term care insurance from John Hancock which is paying approximately $73,000.00 a year for five years to cover the costs. Simple arithmetic tells me that if she were to use up the full five years of benefits she would have saved $365,000.00. This is a price tag, if she had not had insurance which would have come from her savings . Let’s not forget to mention the significant amount of money she would have lost on the interest to her savings.

Checking Account Fees

Up until about two years ago banks were competing heavily for your business and almost all of them were offering free checking with no or almost no minimum balance requirement. After the financial crisis, when the government changed the rules, banks were made more responsible for their bad behavior. Gradually, banks instituted minimum balances and monthly fees (even if your account drops under the minimum balance for just one day). This was, at the very least, sharp business practice since many people opened these accounts because they carried no service charges.

Additionally, because of the Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations the government has placed on banks to stop money laundering, the amount of time it takes to open a checking account and have access to your money is often one month. This has discouraged many people from changing banks.

Most banks have taken the position of instituting fees even with existing customers. For example, Chase now requires a minimum balance of $1,500.00 or an average daily balance of $5,000.00 and Bank of America Requires a minimum balance of $1,500.00; otherwise they both charge a fee of $12.00 per month even for customers who opened accounts when there were no balance requirements and no fees.

It pays to shop around. If you want a full service bank then TD Bank has an account with no minimum balance and a $3.99 per month service charge. They offer seniors an account for no service charge if they maintain a balance of never less than $100.00. Capital One Bank has a minimum balance of $300.00 and Republic Bank has an average balance requirement of $500.00.

Savings and Loans often offer even better deals. For example, Astoria Federal Savings and Loan has no minimum balance requirement and no fees if you open a checking account with $100.00.

The above examples are based on New York Banks and may well be different in different states especially for local banks which are covered by State not Federal Law.

If you keep your money in a large national bank and you don’t keep large balances available in your account it could be costing you as much as $144.00 a year. Wouldn’t you rather have your money in your pocket than in the bank’s?

Beware of Credit Score Scams

Have you ever received an email with the subject line, of “Your TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian Scores May Have Changed”. “Your TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian Scores May Have Been Modified” or “Your Credit Score Has Changed”. These and other similar subject lines, offering you a free look at your credit scores are usually sent by professional scam artists. BEWARE!!

These scam artists sometimes will give you the scores and other times they will,( after you have given them the details of who you are including your personal data like your address and social security number ), tell you that you are not eligible for the free score but you can sign up for their monitoring service for a charge. They will ask you for a credit card number for a “refundable” $1.00 charge.

What happens next? After you are able to look at your credit scores, you receive a charge on your next credit card statement for a monitoring of your credit scores. You will need to go through significant trouble to get this charge reversed.

Also beware of those that advertise on TV like freecreditscore.com which only monitors Experian and not the other two major credit rating agencies, Equifax and TransUnion. If you are going to monitor your credit you need to look at all three services.

If you want to monitor your credit score the two services we recommend are IdentityGuard and PrivacyGuard. Both offer monitoring of all three credit bureaus as well as a 30 day trial. We like IdentityGuard best because it offers the most comprehensive and best overall service. Additionally, it has a 30 day really free trial and offers a 25% discount.

In today’s world it is important to protect your credit rating and your identity. You should pick the service that does the best job and not the scam artists who are just after your money and who operate from scare tactics.