Tag Archives: Saving Money

Save Big at Hotels by Booking Connecting Rooms Instead of Suites

A multi-room hotel suite gives your party a common area to hang out in, but also allows everyone the privacy of their own room. They’re great for family reunions, weddings, and bachelor or bachelorette parties. Trouble is, these types of suites are often staggeringly expensive. Here’s how you can get a suite-like…

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The Lifehacker Guide to Surviving Black Friday

The Friday after Thanksgiving is one of the best times of the year to score deals on everything from TVs to gadgets, but braving the swarming mass of shoppers is a challenge. These tips will keep you on your toes and ready to snag the deals you have your eye on.

Last year, 60% of Americans went shopping on Black Friday and spent about $67 billion. If you want to get in on the deal hunting action, here’s what you need to know:

  • Get in line early: Some stores will open as early as Thursday afternoon, and many steadfast shoppers will start getting in line for other stores six to eight hours before they open. It might seem like long hours, but you could net savings of up to $70 per hour.
  • Do your research: Know what deals you want and know where they’ll be inside the store. That way you can get in, grab the goods, and get out.
  • Dress appropriately: The more layers you can put on the better. It’ll be cold while you wait in line, and a little extra padding can help you fend off feisty shoppers.
  • Stay calm, comfortable, and humble: Tensions will be running high, so it’s important to keep a level head as products go flying off the shelves. Stay hydrated and bring a snack so you don’t get hangry. And if you manage to grab an awesome deal on a limited product, avoid gloating to other shoppers. You never know what they might do.

Of course, the best way to take on Black Friday is from the comfort of your own home. There will be tons of Cyber Monday deals, so skip the crowds and shop in your pajamas. You save yourself a bunch of money and a whole lot of stress.

What You Can Expect from Delta and United’s New, Cheaper “Basic” Economy

Cheaper airfare is one of the ways major airlines are trying to win back your business, and for Delta and United that means introducing a “basic economy” option. Here’s what you can expect if you opt for it the next time you travel.

Some of these may not surprise you, but it’s still good to know what you’re getting into before shelling out.

  • Restrictions on Rewards: Depending on the flight or ticket class, you may not be able to earn airline rewards on basic economy fares, or not be able to use your rewards for upgrades and perks.
  • Only One Carry-On: You only get one, not the usual two, and it must be stored under the seat in front of you. You won’t be able to use an overhead compartment.
  • Changes to Boarding and Seat Assignments: You’ll be in the last group to board and you’ll get your seating assignment the day of your flight. You won’t be able to choose a seat online.

If you have a Delta or United credit card, you may be able to offset some of the restrictions. Alternatively, the savings on basic economy fares could be low enough that paying to check a bag could still overall be cheaper than booking a standard economy fare depending on the flight and time. Check Delta and United’s sites for details on each of their basic economy services.

What It’ll Be Like to Fly ‘Basic Economy’ on United Airlines Next Year | Travel + Leisure

Image from bribri.

Your Local Museum Can Get You Into Others for Free When You Travel

Your Local Museum Can Get You Into Others for Free When You Travel

Tourist passes can save you money when you travel and want to visit local museums, but so can your membership to your local museum. Check with your museum, or the museums you want to visit, to see if your local membership will get you in abroad for free.

Many museums have partnership programs with similar museums in other cities. That means your membership at home will get you in for free or a discounted price while you’re on vacation.

A few examples are the Association of Science-Technology Centers passport program, de Young art museum’s reciprocal membership program, The Met’s partnership program, and the North American Reciprocal Museum Association. If you’re curious, contact your museum’s member services department, or check their site for member benefits—they’re probably listed there if there are partner museums. You can also visit the web site of the museum you want to visit to see if they list partner memberships. You’ll only spend a few minutes checking, but it could save quite a bit of your travel budget.

6 Easy Ways to Get Free Museum Admission | Travel+Leisure

Image from genista.

Avoid Using Hard Numbers When Haggling Your Way to a Deal

Avoid Using Hard Numbers When Haggling Your Way to a Deal

Haggling isn’t just about being a smooth negotiator, it’s about not shooting yourself in the foot. Avoiding hard numbers gives a sales associate more wiggle room and increases your chances of getting a deal.

Being too blunt with a salesperson will kill the conversation fast. In the book You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get, author Janet F. Williams recommends you stay away from specifics when you’re trying to squeeze more out of your purchase:

As soon as you ask for a specific deal—10 percent off, $50 off—you set a limit… If you make it clear you’re looking to save but don’t say anything specific, it allows the salesperson the space to come up with their own creative way to help you.

They might give you a discount, especially if there’s an obvious defect, but they might not be able to. Still, there’s a possibility they’ll give you savings in other ways, like offering free delivery or telling you about an upcoming sale that will save you more on the product. You may not get what you wanted originally, but you’ll get something—and something is better than nothing.


6 Surefire Ways to Negotiate at Retail Stores (Even If You Hate to Haggle) | Mental Floss

Photo by Barney Moss.

How Much Do You Save With Generic Brands, and When Is Spending More Worth It?

How Much Do You Save With Generic Brands, and When Is Spending More Worth It?

We all know that the generic, store brand of most goods are cheaper. Most of them are usually just as good if not identical to the name brand. We want to know how much you save by going with the off brand.

Personal finance site Three Thrifty Guys decided to make a chart of their own experience with this experiment. During a typical shopping trip, the site compared prices between 16 different items they normally buy. They found that what would normally cost $56.24 for name brand goods only cost $41.51 by buying store brand items. A total savings of $14.73. Not too bad!

I was surprised at how quickly the savings added up. Choosing the cheapest option resulted in over 25% savings! For my wife and I (no kids), there would be about a $60 difference between choosing generic brand and named brands each month.

Of course, everyone buys different stuff, so how does your experience differ? Have you ever compared your usual shopping budget to see how much you save by skipping the big name labels? Alternatively, when is it worth it to you to spend the extra money to get a different brand?

Brand Name vs. No-name Brand: A Price Comparison | Three Thrifty Guys

Photo by Bossi.

The Best Flowers to Grow for Homemade Bouquets

The Best Flowers to Grow for Homemade Bouquets

Making your own bouquets is an inexpensive way to enjoy beautiful flowers at home or give them as a gift, but you don’t have to visit the florist to have them. Here are the flowers that will grow fast enough in your garden for you to enjoy beautiful, fresh, colorful bouquets all spring and summer.

Whether you have space for just a few pots or a whole garden plot you can dedicate, these flowers will give you choice in color and shape for your homemade bouquets.

By planting these varieties now, you can get bouquet ready blooms faster than just planting annuals or other blooming flowers. They come in lots of color varieties, grow quickly, and in general are easy enough to care for. Check out the link below for details on each flower including which zones they thrive in and how to best care for them.

15 Fast-Growing Flowers for a Cutting Garden | This Old House

Image from nhoulihan.

Financial Literacy Alone Won’t Fix Your Money Problems

Financial Literacy Alone Won’t Fix Your Money Problems

Unless you were born into riches, you’ve probably dealt with money troubles. Financial problems can be a struggle, and “financial literacy” is the go-to solution to building good money habits. Create a budget, learn some basic rules, and poof! Our money woes are cured. That’s not all it takes to improve your finances, though. Not by a long shot.


Financial literacy is, in a nutshell, understanding how money works. It’s very important, and it’s not difficult to learn. In fact, there are a handful of free resources to help you learn all about money. Those lessons can be helpful tools. However, if it were as easy as learning some basic math and rules, we’d all be awesome at money. Less of us would struggle with debt, live paycheck-to-paycheck, or overspend on stuff we don’t need.


Many people assume financial literacy is the key to fixing these problems, though. For example, we recently wrote about the first thing you should do to get your money in order (figure out why you want to get it in order). Many of you had other ideas, like:

  • Figure out how to budget
  • Pay off your debt
  • Record all of your transactions
  • Learn about compound interest

These are the basics, and it’s absolutely important to have this knowledge in your arsenal. But these answers miss the point. Personal finance goes beyond this knowledge: it’s personal. And it’s important to understand why money is such a challenge for so many people. That way, we can tackle that challenge at full force and learn how to use those tools.

Money Is More About Behavior Than Basic Rules

Whether it’s basic budgeting, negotiating salaries or lower prices, or investing for the future, people often ask “why don’t they teach this in schools?” Well, they do teach this in schools. The problem is, teaching it is not that simple.

Years ago, I interviewed Laura Levine, President of Jump$tart Coalition, an organization dedicated to bringing financial literacy to classrooms. She told me one of the biggest challenges they face is deciding exactly who should teach financial literacy lessons:

There isn’t a way to identify where all the finance teachers are. If you teach algebra, there’s very little debate that’s in the Math Department. But personal finance might be social studies or consumer science or business. There are a lot more variables…Personal finance and financial education are very complex and very nuanced. We want to make sure we’re really assessing and seeing what makes it effective. But we’re not waiting for a perfect solution to get started.

In other words, money isn’t just math. It’s also behavior. Here are a few behavior-related lessons that helped me get my finances in order more than any rules:

Some financial solutions are indeed pretty straightforward, but in general, if you assume money is as easy as setting up a budget, you’ll probably be really frustrated and disappointed later, when you have trouble sticking to that easy budget. It’s not hopeless, though. When you acknowledge just how much money management money depends on habits, willpower, and other behaviors, you can better focus your energy and effort.

The Rules Don’t Always Work

There’s another reason basic financial rules (like “spend less than you earn”) won’t solve everything: they don’t always work.

For example, when I was in student loan debt, I bucked the “save 3-6 months of expenses for an emergency” rule. Instead, I saved a few hundred bucks for an emergency and focused on paying off my debt instead. I wanted to pay my loans asap so I could properly save for the future, and I had a safety net (moving back in with my parents) to fall back on if times got really tough. I took a chance and bucked the rules, and it gave me the confidence to take control of my finances. Plus, I saved a lot of money on interest. It’s not a smart move for everyone, and not everyone agrees with it, but it worked for me.

The point isn’t to break the rules for the sake of breaking the rules. The point is that life is complicated, and the rules are often oversimplified to the point of being ineffective, just so they can be easily taught to others. They’re so oversimplified, in fact, financial experts rarely agree on them.


Don’t get me wrong—education is important, whether it’s history, grammar, sex ed, or financial literacy. However, unlike grammar rules, personal finance isn’t cut and dried. A lot of it depends on your individual situation, which makes it complicated.

You have to consider your own financial situation and mindset and do what works for you. Sometimes, that means bending the rules. For example, let’s say you start to pay off debt using the stack method (paying off high-interest debts first). It makes the most sense on paper because of compound interest, but let’s say your debt is so overwhelming, you get discouraged and give up on it altogether. The debt snowball (paying off smaller debts first) may work better. The snowball method bucks the basic rule of compound interest, yet research shows it works better for most people because the psychology matters more than math. In short, people aren’t computers.


What to Focus on Instead

Okay, you get it. Money management is more about behavior than rules. How do you learn to be good at money, then? Like most habits and behavior, it comes down to practice.

In high school, I was on the soccer team, and I sucked. My coach, bless her heart, explained how it all worked. I had to kick the ball with my foot at the right angle. I had to account for my position when I passed. I followed these rules meticulously, yet I still sucked. Finally, my coach told me, “Forget the rules. Practice your skills.” She put me in more games. She made me practice longer and harder. Eventually, I got better (not great, but better).

You can say the same for money, I think. The rules are useful and necessary, but without practicing your real-world skills, they will only take you so far.

Like a lot of habits and behaviors, the sooner you get started, the better. This is why it’s important to teach kids solid money habits early on (another thing Jump$tart is trying to do). For example, you could:

Many of us don’t grow up learning money skills, though. Our parents were just as bad with money as we are. If you didn’t get these basics yourself, yes, you need to learn the mechanics of building a budget, but more importantly, you need a solid reason to motivate yourself. If you don’t see a need to worry about money, what’s the point in learning skills or rules?

Before anything, it’s important to have a clear idea of why you want to get your money in order, whether it’s to travel more or to support your family. Without motivation, you’re just learning rules for the sake of learning them, and that won’t be nearly as effective as learning the rules to reach an important goal.


From there, you build better habits when you navigate your weak spots and challenges. For example:


It’s impossible to nail down the exact habits you need to improve your finances, because, again, so much of it depends on your own situation and personality. The overall point is: when you’re ready to fix your finances, it helps to be prepared for the work that goes into it. When we understand that money is more about mindset and behavior, we’re in a better place to fix the real issues so we can use those rules to our advantage.

Illustration by: Sam Woolley

What You Should Know About the New Social Security Rules

What You Should Know About the New Social Security Rules

Social Security is already a hot-button issue, and recent changes have people really freaking out about it, which makes it tough to get past the outrage and just navigate the facts. Here’s what you should know about the changes.

If you’re not familiar with how Social Security works, it’s okay—the program is complicated and frequently misunderstood, but the basics of taking benefits are simple to follow. Last year, the government signed the Bipartisan Budget Act into law, and the bill included some changes to the rules for collecting Social Security benefits. Those changes recently went into effect, and they axed some smart strategies that helped people maximize their benefits.


What’s Changed

If you retire after your full retirement age, you usually get 8 percent more until age 70. In other words, the longer you wait, the higher your payment. The SSA refers to this as delayed retirement credits. Up until recently, married couples used a couple of “loopholes” in the rules to get even more out of these delayed credits. The new changes closed the loopholes and eliminate these strategies.

You Can No Longer “File and Suspend” to Activate Benefits for a Spouse

Known as the “file and suspend” strategy, the loophole allowed married couples to delay one spouse’s benefit while the other spouse received a payout on that same benefit. It’s a little confusing, I know, but here’s how it worked in practice.

Basically, one spouse (usually the one who earned more money) would file for Social Security once they reached their full retirement age. Once they filed, Spouse #2 would then file for a spousal benefit, usually half of the full benefit. Spouse #1 would then suspend the benefit, postponing their own payout and letting their benefit grow 8% every year.


In other words, they file, take the spousal benefit, then suspend. Meanwhile, Spouse #2 gets a check every month, but the main benefit earns interest. You get the best of both worlds.

With the new rules, which took effect May 1st, this is no longer an option for most of us. According to the SSA:

… if you take your retirement benefit and then ask (on or after April 30, 2016) to suspend it to earn delayed retirement credits, your spouse or dependents generally won’t be able to receive benefits on your Social Security record during the suspension. You also won’t be able to receive spouse benefits on anyone else’s record during that time.

When you suspend benefits, you can no longer receive spousal benefits. The new rules don’t apply to people born after April 30, 1950, however. This gives recent retirees a chance to take advantage of the strategy they may have been counting on for income.

No More “Restricted Applications” to Collect Benefits While Sitting On Future Payouts

Along with “file and suspend,” some used a strategy called “restricted applications” to optimize their benefits. Going back to the previous example, this allowed Spouse #2 to receive spousal benefits while delaying their own Social Security benefits, which are separate. This way, both spouses could enjoy the annual 8% increase and still get paid every month.

Not anymore, though. The new rule, which applies to anyone born after 1954, eliminates restricted applications and forces you to take both benefits at the same time. Here’s how the Social Security Administration puts it:

if you are eligible for benefits both as a retiree and as a spouse (or divorced spouse), you must start both benefits at the same time. This “deemed filing” used to apply only before the full retirement age, which is currently 66. Now it applies at any age up to 70, if you turned 62 after January 1, 2016.

So if you apply for one benefit, whether it’s a spousal benefit or your own Social Security payout, you apply for both. Sounds fair enough, but here’s the kicker: you basically only get the higher benefit. The Motley Fool explains:

…that person won’t have the option to collect spousal benefits if his or her own benefit amount is higher. That person will therefore be left with a choice: Start taking benefits and lose out on the 8% annual increase for delaying, or hold off on taking benefits to capitalize on those delayed retirement credits and forego Social Security income in the interim.

That’s not exactly how the SSA puts it, but that’s the gist of what happens and why so many people are up in arms about the changes. Couples could lose out on hundreds or even thousands of dollars every month.

Even though the “Social Security Crisis” is overblown, it’s probably fair to assume that the rules are meant to maintain Social Security funds.


What Hasn’t Changed

People have strong opinions about Social Security. Many of the articles covering the changes seem to imply there’s been a huge overhaul that eliminates basic perks. This isn’t the case—spousal benefits and suspended benefits haven’t been eliminated or even reduced. However, the rules have changed to close some the loopholes that allowed people to really take advantage of those perks. Those changes could make a big difference for a lot of retirees (or soon-to-be retirees).

The most important takeaway, though, is that delayed retirement credits still exist. You still get an annual increase if you delay your Social Security benefits past your full retirement age. And this perk is the backbone for most Social Security withdrawal strategies. In other words, it’s still possible to strategize your benefits and get more out of them.

Your own approach to collecting Social Security depends on your own situation: how much you earn in retirement, when you plan to stop working, how much your living expenses are and so on. The Motley Fool suggests one common strategy, though:

If you want to take advantage of those delayed retirement credits but can’t wait that long to start receiving Social Security income, assuming both spouses worked, you could have one spouse (ideally, the higher wage earner) hold off on taking benefits while the other claims them earlier. This way, you get some income when you need it while allowing the higher wage earner’s benefits to grow.

The SSA also has a handful of calculators that can help you get an idea of what your own benefit amount will be, depending on when you take it and how much you earn.

Illustration: Angelica Alzona

The Countries Where Your Vacation Dollars Will Go Farthest

The Countries Where Your Vacation Dollars Will Go Farthest

Stretching your vacation budget by finding cheap places to travel is great, but if you have a particular spot in mind, this index shows you how to figure out when’s the right time to visit to get the most for your dollars.

While this index is most helpful the sooner you use it (since the rates considered will likely change over time,) you can still use these two factors to figure out when your destination will be more affordable. Here’s what Vox used to calculate this index, and you can, too.

To answer this question, we combine two different pieces of data: the change in the exchange rate and the local inflation rate. For example, right now, one US dollar will buy about 14.2 South African rand — 18 percent more than the 12 rand you could get in April 2015. But the inflation rate in South Africa has been about 6.6 percent, so today’s rand won’t go quite as far as it would have a year ago. But even adjusting for inflation, a dollar will buy 10.7 percent more goods in South African than it would have a year ago.

Your goal is to use this index to find out if the country you want to visit is a good deal now, not to choose a destination. If you don’t have a particular country in mind though, it might help you pick one. Hit the link below for the full list.

The Vox Vacation Index: Let Economics Help Plan Your Summer Vacation | Vox