May 03, 2007

10 Common Sneaky Fees Credit Card Companies Charge

According to Consumer Reports, Americans shell out $31 billion in credit card fees every year. Most consumers don't even know these fees exist until they show up on a statement. Don't get sucker punched; read on for an introduction to the world of sneaky fees.

1. Late fees: Most credit card companies impose penalties when you’re late in paying your bills. The nasty surprise here is that there’s not just a due date, but also a due time. If you’re late by even a minute, you may have to pay between $15 and $39. 621161_the_money_trap_2

2. Increased interest rates: Have you been taken by surprise by a sudden rise in your interest rates? Even if you've been a good customer with most of your cards, a late payment on any one of them could raise your interest rates on the rest.

3. Fees for not using your card: Maybe you want to put your cards on ice for a while. It's a good thing, but beware of the fees your issuer may charge for not using your card. It's true; you can be fined for not charging anything to your card during a specified period of time.

4. Transfer charges: If you’re thinking of switching over to an interest-free or low interest card because you’re having trouble with your payments, find out if there are handling fees. Some banks charge up to 3% of the transfer amount.

5. Cash advance fees: With cash advances, it's not just the interest rates that are high; the transaction fees are, too. You'll pay fees to your credit card company as well as the bank that owns the ATM you use.

6. Overseas fees: Are you packing your credit card as you travel abroad? Be prepared to pay 3% more for any purchase made during your trip. Two percent of the foreign transaction fee goes to your credit card issuer and one percent to either Visa or MasterCard. 356855_catch_me_if_you_can_1

7. Convenience check fees: If you use these checks, you’re not only hit with a 3% fee, but you'll also have to cough up $31 if the check is returned and $26 if you stop payment on it. Convenient, indeed.

8. No-balance fees: Some credit card companies charge you a fee for not maintaining a balance.

9. Low-interest fees: Did you think you got lucky with a low-interest credit card? Check your annual fees. Some credit card companies offer cards with low interest, but high annual fees.

10. Miscellaneous fees: It's the little things that kill. Watch out for replacement/multiple card charges, phone pay charges, statement copy charges and charges for points and rewards.

What's the moral of the story? Read the fine print. If your credit card has any of these fees in the contract, consider getting a different card. That is, of course, if they won't charge you a fee for doing so.

April 23, 2007

How To: Buy Gas at Below Retail Price

It’s not enough that you’ve saved up to buy those new set of wheels you’ve had your eye on for an eternity; your wallet/purse needs to be deep enough to fuel the gas guzzling machines that most automobiles are. And it’s not just the pavement you’ll be burning up with your daily gasoline dosage, there’s likely to be pretty deep hole in your pocket too. With the price of fuel rising steadily, affected by wars and foreign policies alike, you’d be wise to use every trick in the book to bring your gas bill down, starting with how to buy the liquid at below retail price, to taking care of your car so you don’t end up spending more than you should on fuel. So turn on the ignition, and get set to go down the gas-savings road with these helpful tips…

Where you can actually see your savings

  • Search the Internet for the best deals in your area. There are various sites that tell you where you can buy the gas at the cheapest rates in and around where you live. Make sure though that you don’t end up driving out of your way to fill up where it’s the least expensive – you certainly don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish.
  • G1_1

  • Gas cards can save you more than a few dollars every month, but only if you are smart enough to use them wisely. The cards themselves sell at retail rates, but they can be bought off online auction sites or from others who don’t need them at less than the going rate. Remember to add the shipping costs though when you’re ordering online so that you don’t end up paying more in trying to save some money. These cards are valid only at a particular brand of gas station, so they’re worth the prepayment only if you frequent the same outlet/brand.
  • Gift cards that come with other perks besides gas are money savers when you buy fuel. Some retail warehouse stores like Costco offer gasoline at less than retail rates. You also have the added benefit of buying other goods at discount. The thing to remember with gift gas cards is that they’re a total write off if you lose or damage them.
  • Expect a surge in prices before the holiday season and fill up a couple of days in advance. Low octane gas is cheaper, but you’ll have to check your car’s manual to find out if it’s suited for the low variety.

Smart money-saving tips

  • Buy gas during the coolest hour of the day. Only then do you get your money’s worth.

“As a liquid, gasoline expands and contracts depending on temperature. At the 60-degree standard, the 231-cubic-inch American gallon puts out a certain amount of energy. But that same amount of gas expands to more than 235 cubic inches at 90 degrees, even though consumers still only get 231 cubic inches at the pump.”


  • As much as possible, take public transportation or carpool with friends and neighbors. Invest in a small car that does not guzzle gasoline like there’s no tomorrow, preferably one that runs on diesel, or buy one of those hybrids that was advertised on the big stage by manyfilm personalities who graced the Oscars. The hybrids allow you tax advantages, but the diesel cars save you the trouble of looking after your batteries.
  • Plan your routine and route accordingly before you set foot outside home. Driving round and round through the same streets trying to get things done can be a major strain on your gasoline budget.
  • Don’t run your air conditioner all the time and see savings between 10 and 20 percent.
  • Remove unnecessary junk from your car, stuff that’s lying around in the boot without serving any purpose other than to add weight to your car and strain on your engine.
  • Clean your car of ice and snow in winter – another burden your engine does not need.
  • Don’t idle your engine at stop lights for a long time (more than a minute). It’s more cost-effective to stop and restart, unless it’s in cold weather.
  • Close your gas tank properly; you don’t want your precious fuel evaporating into thin air.
  • Drive steadily without suddenly stepping on the gas pedal and racing your car all the way. Spurts of speed and slowing down take a considerable toll (pun intended) on your gas usage.
  • Maintain records of your fuel consumption so you can find out if you’re putting those expensive liters to the best use possible. Logging your distance traveled and amount of gas used regularly can give you an idea of your car’s fuel-efficiency.
  • Try and park your car where it’s protected from the glare of the sun. You prevent gas from evaporation and also keep the interiors cool.
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  • Avoid using credit cards for gas purchases. While some cards do offer you gas savings when you use them frequently, you have to watch the interest rate. Besides, more than a handful of gas stations charge more when you use a credit card.

Treat your car well

  • Maintain your regular maintenance schedule, tuning up your car saves you more gas than you realize.
  • Check and clean your air filters and injector nozzles for clogs regularly. Avoid reusable air filters; stick with the good quality paper filters.
  • Maintain the right pressure on your tires to effect additional fuel savings.
  • Use synthetic motor oil to reduce engine friction and boost your mileage.

April 18, 2007

10 Common Credit Card Scams and How to Avoid Them

Credit cards are convenient, no doubt. But they come with their share of troubles. It's not enough that they're debt traps waiting to happen, especially if you max them out, pay just the minimum amount every month or forget even one payment. They're also the perfect vehicles for all kinds of frauds and scams, especially because they use the concept of "buy now, pay later." Responsible usage of credit cards is more than just making sure that you stay within your limit and make your payments on time. It also includes guarding yourself against being taken for a ride and duped out of a lot of money. The most common scams going around these days are:

1. Theft of cards: Stolen and lost credit cards are the biggest contributors to credit card scams. Crooks usually make purchases for large sums of money even before the owners report the loss of the cards to the issuer. Most businesses do not ask for details to verify the legitimacy of the card unless it's not signed. 

2. Theft of information: Unscrupulous employees at restaurants or bars can easily skim details fromPic3 your cards when you hand them over to pay for services rendered. They copy numbers, even taking down the 3 or 4-digit Card Security Code used to verify and protect online transactions. They then use these details to charge personal purchases to your card. You're in the dark regarding this fraudulent usage of your card until your statement comes, after which you'll have to try hard to convince your credit card issuer that you didn't incur those charges.

3. Inadvertent possession of information: This one's more due to your carelessness rather than cleverness or subterfuge on the thieves' part. All they do is scour trash bins to find receipts or carbon copies that you've thrown away without a second thought, and your card is used to fund purchases without your knowledge.

4. Phony calls: This one works when the scammers have a few details but not all they need to perpetrate fraud with your card. You get calls from persons unknown who pretend they're working with Visa, MasterCard or other issuers. They sound official enough and warn you of fraudulent purchases that have been made with your card. They say they're calling to make sure you didn't make those purchases yourself. They throw in certain details like the first few numbers of your card so you believe they're legitimate. The catch comes when they ask you to verify the three or four-digit security number, and you oblige them without knowing any better. They're all set to use your card details to make purchases over the phone or the Internet.

5. Account takeovers: Crooks who have information relating to one card may use them to gain access to others by taking over your identity and asking credit card companies to issue them new cards. All they have to do is provide the necessary details and ask for new cards and accompanying pin number details to be sent to a different address. This makes it very easy for them to commit fraud, since they have a supposedly legit address to go with the card details. Credit card issuers are taking your credit history and account details into consideration when they issue the cards. So the scam is discovered only when the bills go unpaid and the repercussions follow.

6. Computer-generated guesses: Fraudsters are also using technology to keep up with the times. With the details of one legitimate card, they use computers to generate cards with similar numbers. Using a trial-and-error method to guess expiry dates, they hit the jackpot after a random number of tries. This scam works when merchants do not ask for verification details like the security number.

7. Deceptive advertisements: Misleading ads could end up costing you a bundle even though you don't own or use credit cards. Bad credit? No credit? No problem! Just call 1-900-... Promotional offers like these for "easy-to-obtain" credit cards, with promises to wipe your credit slate clean, are just humbug. Calls to these numbers offer secured credit cards, which require you to maintain a security deposit, charge application and other fees, and also charge higher interest rates. Sometimes, all you do is end up making calls that cost you money, and the promised cards never see the light of day.

8. Emails soliciting information: There's just one word to describe emails or phone calls that supposedlyPic4 come from your bank or credit card issuer and ask you to verify personal and confidential information by following an enclosed link – hoax. Scammers take advantage of basic human psychology by playing on people's fears to get them to part with information. They usually say their account is in danger of being deactivated or something to that effect to set the panic bells ringing.

9. Phony cards: Unscrupulous employees can use magnetic strip readers on small electronic devices to make copies of legitimate cards. They also remember numbers and make their own cards to commit fraud.

10. Interception of cards: Thieves wait to get hold of envelopes from credit card companies to take control of your credit cards before they get to you. If the card is not part of an activation program where the real user is supposed to supply personal financial information before the card is allowed to be used, the crook can get away with purchases until the statement comes to the actual recipient, and all hell breaks loose.

The scams are not the scary part of the whole credit card affair. What's really worrying is that most people lend themselves to fraud by carelessness or ignorance. Here's how you can protect yourself from being cheated:

1. Don't give out personal details to strangers or acquaintances.

2. Keep your credit cards in a separate wallet.Wallet

3. Don't take out too many cards so you lose track of them. You may not realize one is missing until you receive a bill for purchases you haven't made.

4. Don't sign blank receipts.

5. Don't be taken in by emails and phone calls that are supposedly originating from your issuer. Call back and check with customer support if you're not sure.

6. Sign your credit card as soon as you get it.

7. Save all your receipts so you can check them against your monthly statement.

8. Destroy void receipts and carbon copies of transactions.

9. Draw a line through any blank space above the total in your receipt before you sign it. You don't want to be billed for things you didn't buy.

10. Report theft and loss of cards immediately.

11. Don't lend your card to anyone.

12. Keep your cards in sight when you give them to waiters or other sales personnel to pay for services.

13. Don't leave your cards lying around.Photo

14. Shred all documents that contain your credit card number before you throw them in the trash can.

15.  Apply for a Photo Credit card.

April 17, 2007

How to Maintain a Mistress (or Second Wife) Without Going Broke

There are times when double the pleasure also equates to double the trouble, and this is one of them. Sure it's a thrill to take on a mistress or even marry someone in secret even when you have a wife waiting back home. Marriage on the rocks or not, your finances will surely take a beating when you have the unenviable task of keeping two home fires burning bright. Here's how you can have your cake and eat it too!

  • Don't take this route if you're not sure you can cope with the uncertainties that lie along the way. You gotta be rich, with more than a sizeable income. If you're not, then the only way to fund bothP1 homes is to take on another job – preferably one that will rake in the bucks.
  • Not rich? Then you'd better have a wealthy relative on his/her deathbed whose will features you predominantly.
  • Better safe than sorry – say yes to condoms. You don't want children adding to the expense and complicating issues more than they already are.
  • If you're smart, your mistress will probably be independent, with an income of her own, who's only in the relationship because she believes you when you say you're on the verge of divorcing your wife.
  • Make sure your wife and mistress never meet – if your divorce settlement doesn't clean out your bank account, your alimony payments definitely will.
  • Reduce your commuting expenses – get your mistress a love nest close to your primary home.
  • Or, find a mistress who lives in another city - somewhere you fly to regularly on legitimate business trips. Your company will end up funding your evenings together.
  • Is your mistress a colleague? Take business trips together. Dinner meetings with(out) clients are legitimate business expenses.
  • Diamonds are a girl's best friend, but they're the sworn enemies of a man's wallet – especially when he has two sources that drain it. Here's when the wonder stone known as cubic zirconium steps in and works miracles as the diamond's understudy. It performs just as well and, unless you're a professional in the precious stone industry, you can hardly tell the difference. 
  • Women are sentimental creatures - most of them at least. Sometimes, the simplest homemade gifts win them over when the costliest will not. Your mistress and wife will probably appreciate more time with you or gifts of sentimental value that come from the heart, rather than expensive toys that are picked up by your secretary.
  • Pretend you're in the relationship for true love – that's the only way your mistress is not going to make demands that you cannot satisfy.
  • Alternatively, you can badmouth your wife and provide exaggerated accounts of the harrowing experiences you face when you go home to her. Make your mistress feel sorry for you.
  • Don't give your credit card to either your wife or your mistress.
  • Get your mistress to fund some of your escapades. The good old sob story about the mean wife holding and controlling the purse strings should work wonders on a besotted female.
  • Treat your mistress well. Control your temper even when she tests your limits. You don't want herP2 spilling the beans to your wife in the event of a falling out. The financial repercussions are sure to get you down.
  • Treat your wife well. You don't want her suspecting that you're up to something behind her back. That doesn't mean you should start doing stuff that upsets the status quo, like sending her flowers when you usually don't. That will surely raise the red flags of suspicion.
  • Get rid of any proof of your double life. That way, even if the unwanted happens, you can always claim ignorance. 

April 10, 2007

25 Reasons You Wish You Had an AMEX Black

Have you heard about the AmEx Black? It's an exclusive card that comes with a host of top notch privileges, from a private concierge service to after-hours shopping at designer stores. These cards are not easy to come by because they're offered by invitation only - usually to celebrities and business moguls. Check out these features and you're gonna wish you were a member of this elite club.

  1. The Black is all about status. This card ensures you'll get noticed each time you use it. It's a really nice looking card: the titanium construction and trademark black color stand out among others. The metal construction also means the card can't slide through most credit card processing machines. The number has to be entered manually.
  2. Just the fact that you own one means you're a big spender. To get an invitation, you must charge a minimum of $250,000 within a period of 10 months.
  3. Do you love to be in the spotlight? The AmEx Black is your card. It's made of platinum, so it causes trouble at airport metal detectors. You'll be certain to create a stir, making you the center of attention.
  4. The card comes with your own, personal concierge - who is on call 24 hours a day. All you have to do is call or email forP1 access to a whole range of services, from tickets to a sold-out show to a handful of sand from the shores of the Dead Sea.
  5. With the card comes your own mini-computer that tells you how much you've spent.
  6. Use your AmEx black to buy a first-class ticket on a transatlantic flight and you'll get a free companion ticket.
  7. You're entitled to a free, one-night stay in just about every Mandarin Oriental hotel once a year.
  8. Access personal shoppers at retail outlets like Saks Fifth Avenue, Gucci and Neiman Marcus.
  9. The Buyers' Assurance Plan entitles you to a three year extension on any manufacturer's warranty.
  10. You're also insured for up to $50,000 a year on lost or damaged items that are purchased using the card.
  11. Need instant access to exclusive airport lounges? Just flash your included Priority Pass and you're in.
  12. Get membership access to Sony's Cierge personal shopping program.
  13. The Black card offers free room upgrades at over 530 hotels and resorts all over the world. These include The Mandarin Oriental, Banyan Tree and Four Seasons.
  14. You'll get VIP/Club membership access to car rentals, including free upgrades and late returns.
  15. The membership fee, although exorbitant, is tax deductible.
  16. On cruises, you get $500 in ship credit, plus free room upgrades.
  17. MGM Grand offers AmEx Black cardholders a $750 credit when you book a Mansion.
  18. You'll get frequent flier status on Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Continental.
  19. AmEx Black cards have a sky-high spending limit. Cardholders have been known to make purchases in excess of $1 million. Want to buy a Bentley? Charter a private jet? No problem.
  20. Don't worry if you've lost your wallet. You'll get fixed up with no hassles, thanks to the Credit Card Registry program. OneP2_2 phone call to AmEx invalidates all of your cards and issues new ones immediately.
  21. If you can't stand shopping amongst crowds, you can use your card for after-hours privileges at stores like DKNY, Valentino, Cerutti and Celine.
  22. With the Emergency Assistance Program, AmEx gives you medical, legal and financial help 24 hours a day. This five-star treatment runs the gamut of services: replacement of lost or stolen passports and prescriptions, air ambulances anywhere in the world and more.
  23. Frequent flier perks include: $640,000 in travel insurance, trip cancellation coverage, $3.5 million in case of death or dismemberment, baggage allowances of up to $2,000, $250 for hotel and other expenses during flight delays and $500 for baggage delays of more than three hours. 
  24. Have you always dreamed of owning a private jet? Sign up for the Private Jet Services Program to buy flight time on a private jet or enjoy part ownership of private jet carriers.
  25. AmEx black lets you see the stars. The Space Adventures program grants attendance to space-related events, plus an annual credit for the payment of a suborbital flight reservation.

April 07, 2007

15 Financial Lessons from the Demise of Anna Nicole Smith (Yes, I’m Serious)

You'd think it was a fairy tale, rags-to-riches story if you had heard of Anna Nicole Smith for the first time a few months ago. The high school dropout and former waitress shot to fame 15 years ago because of her (in)famous association with Playboy magazine, her ample physical assets and her slight resemblance to Marilyn Monroe. Today though, the tables have turned. The sultry siren's untimely demise at the age of 36, under circumstances shrouded in mystery, has made her the talk of the town again. But for not the right reasons.

Her alleged drug abuse, her erratic and eccentric lifestyle, the death of her 20-year-old son, the birth of a daughter just before, and a "commitment ceremony" on a yacht with her lawyer ensured that she remained constantly in the limelight in the months leading to her end. Samuel Levenson showed his immense wisdom when he said, "You must learn from the mistakes of others, you can't possibly live longP1 enough to make them all yourself." And we start with the lessons we can learn from Anna Nicole's tragic death at an age when most people are just starting to live.

1. Make your rich, octogenarian husband sign a prenup: Marrying J. Howard Marshall was a shrewd decision, but Anna Nicole screwed up in not protecting her interests. When you hook up with a billionaire in the twilight of his life, and you're hardly out of your twenties with a long life ahead of you, you know you're in for a long, legal wrangle with his heirs who'll try every trick in the book to get you thrown out of the reckoning for his estate. Get him to sign a pre-nuptial agreement with your rights clearly stated. 

2. Hire a good lawyer: Howard K. Stern may have other skills that were appealing to Anna Nicole, but look at the parody of a will that he drew for her. The testament in question is the subject of scrutiny at various law schools, as a primer on what not to do when drawing up your last will and testament. If your lawyer's no good, you open up a can of legal worms for your heirs to deal with when you're dead and gone. And yeah, it's best your lawyer have no personal ties with you – keep it a strictly business relationship.

3. Draw up a proper will: A good will should not only list all those who benefit, but also those who do not, and what their relationship is to you. If you're rich, there will be people laying claim to your estate, whether you include them in your will or not. Clearly outline who gets what and how much.

4. Provide for contingencies in your will: On to the actual details of the will. Anna Nicole had no way of predicting that she would outlive her 20-year-old son, Daniel Wayne Smith, from her first teenage marriage. So, she named him her sole heir without providing for a situation in which he dies before her. But then, the unexpected always happens, which is why you should make sure your will includes provisions for what has to be done when your heirs pass away, before or after you, in case they don't have the time or foresight to draw up a will of their own.

5. Don’t procrastinate: One article in Anna Nicole's will is puzzling, especially considering she had more than 9 months to ratify it – "I have intentionally omitted to provide for my spouse and other heirs, including future spouses and children and other descendents now living and those hereafter born or adopted..." This effectively leaves Dannielyn Hope Marshal Stern, the daughter born five months before her death, without any claim to her mother's great wealth. Anna Nicole should have included Dannielyn in her will after her son passed away. Because she neglected to do so, there are numerous legal problems relating to her will.

6. Beware of estranged relatives: It's a well-known fact of life – when you strike gold, the world and its cousins turn up to claim their share of the pie. Anna Nicole's estranged mother, Virgie Mae Tabers, turned up to take possession of her granddaughter after her daughter’s death. The catch – the possible valuable legacy that the child will inherit if the courts rule in Anna Nicole's favor in the Marshall estate case, and if her will is contested successfully. For now though, the court will naturally apportion a certain amount for the upkeep of little Dannielyn, money that anyone would like to get their hands on.

7. Establish paternity for your children: In Anna Nicole's case, her numerous affairs have brought out four possible fathers for her daughter. While her sister claims that Dannielyn is the product of the lateP2 J. Howard Marshall's frozen sperm, Howard K. Stern is also claiming to be the girl's father. Others on the list are Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband Prince Frederic von Anhalt and former boyfriend of Smith, Larry Birkhead. The wealth that the baby may possibly inherit may be a strong motivation for these contenders, a situation that would not have risen if only Anna had clearly stated who the father was.

8. Say NO to Drugs: They're a costly habit, and they KILL you. The deaths of Anna Nicole and her son ought to be enough to hammer home this point.

9. Keep your head firmly screwed on even when you become famous overnight: Her great body and sultry looks aside, Anna Nicole Smith obviously didn't have anything going for her. If she had used her head and secured her investments right from the time she struck deals with Playboy and Guess jeans, she would not have left behind the mess she did. The sudden glare of the spotlight left her unable to handle the fame and fortune with a level head, leading to poor financial decisions.

10. Document your dealings: A mansion in the Bahamas was the subject of dispute because of the lack of proper documentation. Two contrasting stories emerge – while the owner, Ben Thompson, former boyfriend of Anna Nicole and real estate developer, claims that he loaned her the money to buy the property, the lady in question claims that the mansion was a gift from him. Another confusing scenario left behind by the former playmate.

11. But not your misdemeanors: Don't leave behind proof of your indiscretions: So you won a few favors by trading some of your own. You certainly don't need to offer proof that you obtained citizenship in the Bahamas by offering yourself to the country's immigration minister, Shane Gibson. Following claims that Smith and Stern were hiding in the Bahamas to avoid paternity testing for her daughter, the photos of Anna Nicole and Gibson lying in an embrace (albeit fully clothed) on a bed didn't do anything to repair her reputation. 

12. Appoint guardians for you minor children: Again, an offshoot of the will issue. With fathers popping up in regular intervals from the woodwork, it falls to the court to appoint a guardian for Anna Nicole's daughter unless a paternity test determines the real dad. And with millions of dollars in the mix, there's likely going to be more challengers showing up.

13. Set up trusts for your assets: This strategy helps address what happens to your assets if you are suddenly indisposed or dead.

14. Leave letters of instruction with close friends and relatives: While not as binding as a will, theseP3 letters are proof that you wish things be done a certain way after your demise. Friends and family members who respect your wishes will see that they're carried out to the letter.

15. And finally, some advice for the search engine marketers: Be prepared for the surge in Internet traffic when something untoward happens to a celebrity whose name relates to the keywords you've purchased. You'll be left holding the bill for thousands of unconverted clicks if you're not smart enough. There are some clever ones, like People magazine who linked their ad to a customized page with the latest news on Anna Nicole's death.

March 27, 2007

Top 10 Most Expensive Restaurants in the World

If you’re one of those with the opinion that eating out, even at the restaurant around the corner, is bound to end up costing you dearly, then this list is not for you. The price of one meal – dinner, drink and tip per person – at these upscale diners costs much more than an average third world countryman’s monthly salary. But then, food connoisseurs the world over are constantly on the lookout for new gourmet experiences that tease, tantalize and satiate the senses. They have the money to burn, a taste for adventure and a hankering for a sensory overload, and the pricey restaurants dotted across the globe are only too happy to indulge their weaknesses.

1. Masa, New York City, USA - $366: The first two on our list have a Japanese connection, although only one is actually in Japan. Masa, the New York restaurant devoted to Japanese cuisine, with emphasis on omakase – the chef’s selection centering on sushi – uses the words “shibui” and “umami” to describe its style. The words sum up the essence of the restaurant – simple, subtle and unobtrusive sensations to cater to those who crave the finest seafood flown in from Japan. Chef and owner Takayama MasayoshiJ1 rose from humble beginnings in Japan to become the authority for Japanese cuisine in the United States. There’s a variety in the menu, though the daily fare includes five appetizers, a sushi entrée, 20 types of seafood, and desert and tea.

2. Aragawa, Tokyo, Japan - $277: Known as the “finest steakhouse in Japan” (also the first), this restaurant is renowned for its hand-fed Kobe beef supplied fresh from a nearby farm. The décor is authentic Japanese, with a European feel added through the dark wood paneling and chandeliers. The specialty of the house is the Sumiyaki or the charcoal-broiled steak served with only pepper and mustard for relishes.

3. Arpege, Paris, France - $211: A must-visit for vegetable gourmets – this French restaurant caters to the calorie-conscious with a large percentage of its menu ear-marked for artfully prepared vegetarian food. The décor is not too ostentatious, but the food (dubbed “incredibly design-oriented) and the prices definitely are. Chef Alain Passard is used to the mixed reviews from his customers, even though they will take some time to get accustomed to the rising prices. 

4. Alinea, Chicago, USA - $192: Chef Grant Achatz has earned a reputation for introducing unconventional food that explodes your senses to the American connoisseur. The dishes served at Alinea are “interactive,” if you can accord that adjective to food. Pulling a pin drops a cheesy potato puff into a soup that you slurp like an oyster. Truffle-filled ravioli bursts in your mouth to bombard you with a pleasurable taste. These are just a couple of samples of the unusual fare at Alinea. Repeat visits are not routine affairs – you can wait with bated breath to taste the new treats that Achatz has cooked up.

5. Sketch, London, UK - $176: This restaurant offers an eclectic mix of food, drink and entertainment. It’s as famous for its food as for its in-house disc jockeys and impressive art collection. Billed as a “stylish drop-in center,” Sketch fills two massive floors of a renovated and redesigned 18th centuryJ2 building in Mayfair with delights not just for the palate, but visual and aural ones as well.

6. The Herbfarm, Seattle, USA - $152: Elaborate, five-hour, nine-course meals are not unusual at this Northwest restaurant that prides itself on home-grown herbs and vegetables and wine with sophisticated fruit and herb flavors. Each course is paired with a suitable wine, all enjoyable in aesthetic surroundings to the accompaniment of live guitar music.

7. Petermann’s Kunstsuben, Zurich, Switzerland - $151: Voted the best in Europe by Zagat, this restaurant boasts “inventive” dishes such as stuffed squid with a confit of fennel and young hen stuffed with shrimp. Sumptuous desserts tempt those with a sweet tooth - a gratin of wild strawberries with cannelloni stuffed with almond paste and millefeuille with pineapple are favorites with the regulars. Good service and tasteful trimmings add to the ambience and provide a wonderful eating experience.

8. Tetsuya’s Restaurant, Sydney, Australia - $135: A combination of Japanese and French cuisine down under – that’s what chef and owner Tetusya Wakuda is offering to the city of Sydney. The restaurant is famed for its ever-changing degustation set menu with up to ten courses and wines (one of Sydney’s best wine lists) to match each course. Dishes that tempt the palate include signature fare such as confit of ocean trout served with un-pasteurized ocean trout roe, gazpacho with spiced tomato sorbet and west Australian marron with asparagus and truffle mayonnaise. A Three Chef’s Hat rating from the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2006 and the Restaurant of the Year and Best Fine Dining award at the Restaurant & Catering Association Awards 2005 are just a couple of the feathers in this fine restaurant’s cap.

9. French Laundry, San Francisco, USA - $135: Quixotic names dominate the menu - Oysters and Pearls for pearl tapioca custard served with caviar and oyster – at this upscale restaurant on the western coast. A two-month waiting list shows why this eatery is a must-dine location in California. The strangeJ3 name comes from the building that houses the restaurant – the two-story stone house was originally a French steam laundry in the 1890s.

10. Inn at Little Washington, Washington, D.C., USA - $129: Set in the small town of Little Washington, 70 miles west of Washington, D.C., this lodging and dining destination lays claim to service nonpareil. An old-world charm, thanks to the offbeat location and a Victorian design, characterizes the restaurant and inn which won the best restaurant in America award from the James Beard Foundation in 1993. The menu features different and filling appetizers and entrées like lobster napoleon or a "salmon five ways" starter. Diners are also wooed with homemade bread baskets featuring poppy seed rolls and slices of rye bread filled with currants and nuts and topped with poppy seeds and kosher salt.

[Source: Forbes]

March 26, 2007

'Top 25 Credit Card Bloggers'

It’s so easy to give in to temptation – you can buy just about anything that has a price to it as long as you have a credit card. And yet you are surprised to see the amount you have to pay when the bill comes in. But credit cards if used wisely, can give you a range of benefits. So how do you walk the tightrope of financial prudence and commercial sense when it comes to credit cards? The answer isn’t easy and there are many out there who are trying to achieve or have achieved this fine balance.

Here is a list of 25 blogs that could help you on your journey of credit card discovery. This is not the definitive list of credit card blogs – they are more of personal favorites and have a good mix of experts and amateurs. This list is also in a random order and the weblogs are not ranked in any order.

Digerati 1. The Digerati Life

The Digerati Life is real value for money. The blog has relevant information and looks great – a deadly combination. It provides information on personal finance as a whole and credit cards is just one of the many topics. The only point of difference you may have with the blogger is his attitude towards money and debt. If you think a little debt is alright, you may find it odd that the blogger is the type of person who prefers to have no debt whatsoever.

So, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that his usual advice is to get rid of debt as much as possible. But if you have it, then try to get rid of the bad debt before the good. Bad debt involves high interest, prepayment penalties and depreciating property. Good debt has tax advantages, low interest and covers possibly appreciating property. So borrowing to buy a house is typically good financial sense, while borrowing on credit cards would be something to avoid.

2 Credit Cards GB

While the general wisdom in this website caters to just about everybody, specific information and news is UK-specific. The blog provides regularly updated financial advice and provides a guide to the best deals on the UK market today. The best thing about the blog is its simple and effective language. They don’t resort to any gimmicks – in simple, plain English, the blog explains the types of cards available today, spelling out pros and cons.

When you visit this blog, don’t forge to read two very interesting posts: “Could your credit card be cloned?” and “Could your credit card company be forcing you to pay late fees?” Very interesting and very alarming news.

3. Credit Card Tips, Etc

This blog provides a lot of valuable tips to help you find the credit card most suited to your requirements. The blog provides a whole lot of information on the credit card scene and you get an in-depth introduction to the credit card market, strategies, and possible ways to reduce your dependence on these cards. Possibly the best thing about this blog is its ease of navigation and variety in topics covered – from student credit cards to rewards and points, they seem to have covered all the bases. The blog also tries to inform you about credit card offers you can avoid, and gives tips on how to get the most out of the credit cards you already have and the credit cards you should have.

4. Getting Green

Not green with envy but the green of the greenback. This blog's raison d’être is to make you a better steward of money. The posts in this blog are comprehensive and provide a lot of information about credit cards – some which we may not know about. For instance, did you know that most major banks reside in states that have no usury rate either, so in theory they could charge you whatever rate they pleased without telling you and it would be entirely legal to do so. The blog also teaches sound and conservative financial principals and puts special emphasis on personal behavior.


This blog has so much information crammed into its webpages, you begin to wonder how and from where so much information was got. The blog has over 30 categories of which credit cards is just one. Supposed to be the money musings of a 30 something family man, Five Cent Nickel is quite informative and well, you don’t need to restrict yourself to credit cards do you?

6. No Credit Needed Blog

As a webpage, No Credit Needed Blog is quite unattractive. But then when you are dealing with the topic of credit cards, your main worry is how to save money on your card, not the general look and feel of a site. What this blog does well is provide information on how to live without credit cards. There is a whole lot of information, which is put across quite engagingly and well. If you are the type who loves to read about the personal experiences of the blogger in avoiding credit cards and other forms of credit, this blog is definitely for you.

7. Find Credit Online

This blog is top heavy with ads and you may take some time to navigate them but it’s worth the effort. This online source for credit cards has enough and more information on credit cards. The various categories that deal with credit cards ensure that there’s an answer to the most discerning questions on various things including 0%APR credit cards, low rate cards, reward cards, credit cards for excellent credit…

For instance, do you know how to choose the credit card that's right for you? Watching your spending habits before applying for a new credit card can save you quite a bit of money. You don’t necessarily need low interest rates if you always pay off your balance, but on the other hand low or no annual fees are always a benefit for any credit card. Think before you apply and read the fine print.

8. Money, Matter, and More musings

Boring and money don’t go together – at least not on this site. Crammed with all sorts of information on just about any topic that deals with personal finance, The Tao of Making Money is one heck of a blog. Lots of informative articles on credit cards combine with an interminable list of links to other informative blogs makes a visit to this blog worth your time and money.

Simpledollarbanner 9. The Simple Dollar

Simplicity itself. The Simple Dollar’s biggest strong point is its unassuming nature. It provides important information in the simplest manner possible. For instance, take a look at its ‘Five Minute Finances’ series of tips. These series provide you with information on how to save money or reorganize your financial life in just five minutes.

For instance, here’s a tip for when you call your credit card company for a reduction in rates: Don’t repeatedly request rate reductions on the same card. If you get one, consider it good enough and don’t continue to call and ask for further reductions. Why? Many companies maintain databases of “trouble” customers and customer service for these individuals in the database is much more difficult than before.

10. Credit Card Offers

A regular blog with regular information. This blog contains information that has been simplified to an extent that it could qualify for a ‘credit card for dummies’ kind of tag. But if you have just taken or plan to take your first credit card, (read students) this is the blog you ougtha check before you make any transactions. There is quite a bit of information on credit card offers – how to choose them, compare and evaluate them.

Getting various credit card offers, compare credit card offers and know about credit scores and credit reports. The information can be quite detailed. For instance, in the article, ‘How to read your credit report’ the blogger tells you how to determine if the information is accurate or inaccurate. A step-by-step format guides you through checking your name for errors to looking for accounts that should have been wiped out from a bankruptcy.

11. The Dollar Stretcher

This is a blog for people who like their information to the point -- be warned, you'll have to sift through information on laundry and trans fats before you reach credit cards. takes its duty quite seriously – not only does it provide concise and important information on credit cards, it also gives you tips on living frugally and provides cheap cheap tips to have fun without maxing your card.

12. The Art of Debt

This blog contains handy information and tips on credit cards. The thing about this blog is that it has quite a personal refrain to it. The blogger is talking about her own card experiences, provides some information, a bit of advice and something to munch on about FICO scores. You actually get the feel of sitting down with you buddy to discuss your credit problems and well, she does help.

13. Personal Finance Advice

This pretty (really!) blog has a zillion categories on just about everything. The good thing about this blog is that the load of information ensures that you really don’t need to bother checking other blogs. The not too good it is that since this is a generic blog, you’ll have to sift through a sea of information on personal finance, debt and other issues before you can get to issues relating to credit cards. But if you think of credit card-related issues as just one cog in the wheel of personal finance, then this blog is a great help.

Moreover, most of the advice on this blog is quite interesting and very informative. Here’s a nugget of their information: What it comes down to is that credit cards can be an asset or a liability depending on how you use them. You need to have self discipline and not fall for the credit card company’s tactics of trying to get you to spend money when you shouldn’t.

14. Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

This blog looks more like the website of a financial newspaper -- the blue banner just adds to that feel. It has information on just about everything under the sun that deals with money. It must have been quite some work gathering all that information onto one blog, and making it interesting as well. Don’t visit the blog if you only want to know whether you should shred your credit cards or not. This blog provides much more information than just the basic efforts of most other blogs.

For instance there is this very interesting article on 0% balance transfers and how they aren’t too good for you. One reason the blogger gave was that your credit score will plummet. When you apply for credit cards, the bank will do a hard pull inquiry of your credit history to assess your credit worthiness. As you accumulate more and more of these inquiries, your credit score will fall lower and lower. As you request balance transfers from these new lines of credit, your credit utilization will increase tremendously and your credit score will fall lower and lower. Plus, when you pay off these debts, your credit score isn’t going to recover immediately - it takes a little while before you get back to normal.

Baby 15. Your Credit Card Network

This is one fun site – actually it is the blog of the Your Credit Network site. It’s hilarious in addition to being informative. It’s worth spending some time here, far from your credit card-related worries. Here’s a sampling: For years we’ve been telling people to watch their interest rates and pay off credit cards as quickly as possible, since there is no reason you should be eating interest. Now for an even more important public announcement: Don’t eat your credit card! Why shouldn’t you eat your credit card? Well, in addition to it making it difficult to purchase overpriced gasoline or a new TV to replace the one you broke due to a certain mishap, it turns out they really aren’t that good for you. Who knew?

This doesn’t mean the blog is all about fun and games. The blog has loads of information about various cards, their benefits as well as the downsides associated with each card. Just look up the information they have on the Total Visa card to know what we mean.

16. My open wallet

An anonymous New Yorker tells the world how much money she makes and what she spends it on. And how much of it she saves. Quite intriguing if you like things like this. You have details of how the blogger spends her money where she’s losing it. Since she obviously earns a neat sum every month, she can act as an example to other young high earners. She doesn’t subscribe to the hysterical reactions that generally surround credit cards.

According to her, you must use a credit card for every expense you can possibly charge and use one that gives you frequent flyer miles or some other benefit that you'll actually take advantage of. Her only condition is that you must be able to keep your expenses in perspective and not spend more than you can pay off. Only charge as much as you can pay off in full every month-- don't carry a balance.

17. Personal Finance Blogs

This isn’t one blog – it’s a collection of blogs that deal with personal finance. At Real People, Real Finances, instead of just reading about experiences and tips, you can be part of this growing community. You can blog about your personal finances and get supportive help from other bloggers. An important piece of advice: Writing about your money and money management is an effective way to help keep your personal finances in order and attain your money goals.

So if you are one of those who itch to write and let your views be known, you can join this network of personal finance bloggers and share your thoughts, issues, goals and daily musings about your personal finances and money.

18. Money $mart Life

A young blog aimed at the young. As mentioned earlier, each age group has its own peculiar credit card-related problems. College graduates mainly grapple with the credit card debt they accumulated while in school/ college. This blog speaks about people who’ve been through such an experience. Through personal experiences, the blogger tries to inspect and understand various credit-related issues.

In an interesting article, the blogger shows how his alma mater may be trying to make you accumulate some credit card debt. “I recently received an offer from the school where I earned my undergraduate degree. I don’t know whether the school gave my information to credit card vendors while I was in school but obviously they feel comfortable doing so after graduation. They lead off the ad encouraging their alumni to carry more than one credit card. The motivation behind the campaign is obvious, you can “support your alma mater” every time you swipe the card. In my opinion, most of us already helped support our school by paying thousands of dollars of tuition for four years.”

19. Money And Investing

If you dream much bigger than just paying off your debts, this blog is for you. It professes to make you richer every day. Well, you may not find any information that directly relates to credit cards, but you do get lots of advice on spending money wisely. Here’s a nugget of wisdom: Today I sat down to calculate my subscription payments over the course of a year. I may have missed a few, but so far I get $2,305/year. I look at the subscriptions list and none, absolutely none of them are necessary at all. I can clearly say that over two grand in subscriptions is discretionary expenses scheduled to happen when either I decide to make them or not. Am I happy with this? I think I am. One of the reasons of making the list is to decide how happy I am, how much benefit I am receiving out of this expenses, and if I want to keep them or not. I encourage people to write down on a piece of paper all of his/her subscriptions, calculate the monthly and yearly costs, and think about how appropriate they are.

20. Erasing My Debt

A very personal blog with insights into how the blogger is trying to erase almost $20k in credit card debt. The blog takes you on Ryan’s (the blogger) personal journey to debt freedom as he slowly reduces his debts by cutting back on unwanted expenses and calls up banks for assistance. Really well-written and heart-felt, you will feel an immediate connection to Ryan and his problems – most of us are in the same boat anyways. Well, he is trying hard and his trials could force a few among us to work on our credit card debts as well.

21. Blogging Away Debt

Warning: Guys, if you don’t like reading girl stuff, you can stay away from the ‘About Me’ category. Rest of the stuff is great. There’s information on a host of topics including credit cards, debt and tips to reduce debt, save money and well, do everything to help you reduce your debt and become rich. Here’s an informative tip: I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing that most credit cards today have some form of online access. With my cards, I have chosen to be set up so I can make payments online so I don’t have to worry about payments getting lost in the mail or freaking out the day a payment is due. All I have to do is go online and pay it by their submittal deadline.

22. Becoming and Staying Debt Free

This blog discusses how to become and staying debt free. The blogger will not only show you how to become debt free, but will help you stay debt free for life. This one is again not one of those only credit card info’ sites. Be warned, it is a personal blog and details the bloggers attempts to remain debt free. There is information of course and well, a few reflections as well. And then you have something called ‘The Ten Commandments of Debt Management’. Two points of particular interest were:

  • Thou shall not borrow for consumption. Wealth is gained through accumulation which is the opposite of consumption. When you borrow for consumption you have nothing left and you still owe for it
  • The way to financial freedom is delayed gratification. Truly we should see delayed gratification as a blessing and not a curse. If you will live for ten years

23. The Money Post

First things first – it is a pretty site. Unlike some other blogs, doesn’t try to cram everything onto one page. This blog claims to examine all aspects of the financial world. While this isn’t a blog that deals strictly with cards, you do get your share of credit card information and then some more. They’ve got this very interesting story about ‘Good credit card debt’. What this blogger actually does is regurgitate interesting news from all over and adds in some unique comments.

24. Dual Income No Kids (DINKS)

In a world of specialization, can credit card debt specialization be far behind. And, well it is justified – a single person will not have the same credit card problems as a family with three kids. Similarly, the problems of couples with no kids (or DINKS as they prefer to be called) are quite unique and require different solutions. This blog discusses personal finance, success, and related issues within the context of a committed relationship. The authors are Miel and James, two young newlywed professionals living in Washington DC. Oh, and yes, they do discuss credit card problems related to couples.

25. Wealth Building Lessons

To put it straight – this isn’t a credit card site and information about cards is limited. But what the blog does is provide information on how to ensure that you don’t waste your wealth. professes to help you ‘learn to be wealthy — because being poor sucks!!’

One advice they do provide on this topic is about cards offering 0% APR or some low teaser rate. What many people don’t realize is that the fine print is where the credit card companies get you. Usually, they will charge a cash advance fee of 3 to 5%… Want to know more, check the blog.

“Borrowing to Pay Me” and 19 other moronic things people do with credit cards

National research and consumer advocacy group Demos states that consumer credit card debt in the United States has risen from $238 billion in 1989 to $800 billion in 2005. It takes a special kind of skill to rack up that kind of debt: extreme irresponsibility. Read on for a collection of the most stupid things you can do with your credit cards. Take these steps, and you can amass your own share of credit card debt!

1. Take out cash advances: Borrowing cash from the credit card company has the potential to send you into a downward spiral of debt. Fees and high interest rates, which are not subject to a grace period, can make for a particularly dismal credit card statement.

2. Use ATM machines for cash advances: Borrowing cash with credit cards is bad enough; what’s worse is using ATMs to do so. The financial institutions that own the ATMs charge exorbitant fees of their own.

3. Give credit cards to children: If you want to teach your child responsible credit card use, make them apply for their own. The incentive to do well is much better when it's their money and credit rating at stake. 

4. Give credit cards to friends/relatives: Don't provide a tempting situation. Even if your Aunt Miffy is trustworthy, you never know how circumstances can change a person.

5. Allow others access to pin/verification numbers: When you pay for services or products using your card, unscrupulous individuals can surreptitiously take note of your details and use them to make purchases of their own. Pair that with a receipt carelessly left at the counter, and they have access to your name, the card’s expiration date and more.

6. Max out your limits: Your maximum balance is not a challenge or goal. When you're at or near the limit, it's time to put your spending on ice. Don't just apply for another card to max out.

7. Go above 30 percent of your limit: Using 30 percent or more of your spending limit will adversely affect your credit score.

8. Use multiple cards: With “unbelievable” offers popping up every day, it’s no wonder that most of us have more than one credit card. Bu it’s difficult to keep track of payments when you’re dealing with multiple accounts. Simplify: close or discontinue use of less important accounts like store cards and those with high interest rates.

9. Pay only the minimum balance: Paying the minimum balance does not mean that you’re managing your credit well.P2_11 Your interest on the remaining balance is compounded every month. Pay only the minimum and you will be left holding the bill for much, much more than you spent in the first place.

10. Pay off small balances first: Accounts with larger balances will accrue the most interest, which will end up hurting your debt more. It’s sensible to focus your efforts on paying off cards with high balances first.

11. Use one card to pay off a balances on another: Don't jump from the frying pan to the fire. The second card may carry a lower interest, but it’s still borrowed money, and you’re still in debt.

12. Procrastinate when it comes to paying bills: Even if you’re an hour late, many companies will slap you with a fee of $20 or more. On top of that, one late payment can shoot your interest rate sky high.

13. Use them for everyday purchases: There’s nothing more idiotic than using your credit cards for every tiny purchase: a bag of chips, a bar of chocolate, a newspaper and Coke from the stand on the street. These small purchases add up to real money. Do you really want to pay interest on that newspaper for months after it's been read and tossed?

14. Use them for frivolous expenses: People who do not have the money to take extravagant holidays or buy expensive toys should just refrain from doing so. If you have no real plan for repayment, you're setting yourself up for disaster.

15. Don’t report their lost or stolen cards: All it takes is one phone call to prevent your lost or stolen credit card from being misused. Wait too long, and you could end up stuck with the bill.

16. Don’t crosscheck statements and receipts: Responsible users of credit cards take care to ensure that they are not billed erroneously. Keep a file of receipts and check them against your monthly statement. Report any anomalies immediately to avoid paying for services you haven’t enjoyed.

17. Use cards without any idea of the interest rate: Sure, you know  your initial rate for the card, but has it been changed? A late or missed payment on your account or any other bill can serve as a trigger for your interest to rise, thanks to the Universal Default Clause. P3_8

18. Cancel a strategic card: Closing older accounts can adversely affect your credit score by making your credit history look younger than it really is. Keep your oldest account open, even if you don't plan to use it. Instead, close store accounts and newer, high interest cards.

19. Use a personal card for business expenses: What a nightmare! Keep your payments and business records simple: charge your business expenses on a separate card.

20. Last and most obvious, but not the least: use a credit card when you don’t have the money to pay back the amount spent. Have a payment plan in mind before you make the charge.

March 06, 2007

Live without Credit Cards: 77 Tips

America, we have a credit card problem. The average American family carries more than $8,000 in debt! Don't be part of the statistic. Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a slave to your credit card debt.

Stretch Your Income

1. Take charge of your salary. Get organized and develop a spending plan. Yes, a budget. Keep it simple-track the money you've earned and spent. At the end of the month, look at it with a critical eye. Where can you cut and save?

2. Work more. If you can, pick up a little overtime. Work an extra shift or bonus-paying project.

3. Take advantage of your employer. Find out about any employer-sponsored benefits available to you. Wellness programs offer discounts on things you may already spend money on, like a gym membership. Many employers also allow you to set away pre-tax dollars for health and child care.

4. Trim your health costs. Medical bills can come unexpectedly and be very painful. Be smart: participate in an employer-sponsored health plan. These plans allow you to protect yourself from health-induced financial ruin by paying for health-care premiums on a tax-free basis.

5. Got a raise? Save it. If you don't see the money, you'€™re not going to miss it. Instead of charging your next major purchase, you can pay cash with the money you saved.

6. Fix your disposable income. Budget a set amount for your disposable income. Instead of using all of your extra money for a trip to Fiji, first work on paying off loans and set money aside in savings. Sure, it's not fun to sock away extra cash. But won't that vacation be more relaxing when you know you can truly afford it?

7. Face the facts. Most of us tend to have a certain level of denial towards credit. Face reality for a change. You can't control your credit cards if you don't know how much you owe.

Play Smart With Card Companies

8. Lose interest. Try to pay of credit cards that carry the highest interest rate first. But don't neglect the others. Make at least minimum payments to avoid expensive late fees and damage to your credit.

9. Ask for a better deal on your high rate cards. If you succeed, you'll soon notice that your minimum payment is lower. But here'€™s the twist: instead of paying the lowered amount, continue paying your old high-rate amount. You'll see your balance shrink faster without any additional squeeze on your budget.

10. Move on for a better deal. Find a zero percent or low-interest credit card, then transfer your high interest balance. Be careful! One late payment can turn your great deal into another high balance.

11. Improve your credit score. If your score's too low, you may have trouble getting a good deal on loans and credit cards. Designate a period of time within which you'll work aggressively towards achieving this goal.

12. Pay on time. It'€™s important that you avoid penalties and fees. Your pay-back plans will backfire if you are slapped with interest rate hikes and high monthly fees.

13. Automate. Do you have trouble keeping track of all your due dates? Automate your payments so you don't have to worry about being stuck with late-payment fees.

14. Pay more than the minimum. By paying only the minimum, you'€™ll keep yourself in debt for years.

15. Avoid going over your credit limit. Your credit limit is not a goal to be reached. Hit it, and your credit score will suffer. You'll also get slapped with fees of $40 or more.

16. Emergencies only. Do not to use your credit card unless it is an emergency. Sales at the mall do not count. Use cash or a debit card for everyday purchases.

17. Lose your cards. Once you've paid off your credit cards, get rid of all but one, then save it for emergencies. Don't carry it in your wallet-lock it away to avoid impulse spending.

18. Never take cash out of your credit card. The rate for cash advances is much higher. Plus, you won't even get a grace period.

19. Read your monthly statements carefully. A cover-to-cover read will ensure that you don't miss any hidden charges, like recurring fraudulent charges from Jamaica or sneaky credit insurance.

20. Forgo unnecessary insurance. Card companies will try to hard sell theft insurance for their cards. Don't fall for it-it's not really needed.

21. Disable disability insurance. The same goes for credit card disability insurance. The only thing this insurance ensures is a fat return for the credit card company.

22. Pay all loan installments on time. Credit card companies will check your credit report to see if you'€™ve made any late payments. Take a look at your contract. Chances are, they can raise your interest rate if you make a late payment-to anyone.

Get Auto Smart

Do you pay for commuting costs and gas bills with credit cards? It's time to take charge and reduce your auto costs.

23. Take the shortest route if you cannot avoid driving. Stay away from traffic hot spots to maximize your gas usage.

Downsize 24. Downsize. Perhaps you don't really need a car for each member of the family. Drop your spouse off at work and share a car.

25. Carpool. If you find it difficult to get enough people for a carpool, try the carpool matching services in your community or search online for a local carpool center.

26. Telecommute. This is a great saver. By staying at home, you save on fuel, vehicular wear and tear, your wardrobe and even lunch.

27. Public transportation. Consider using the mass transit system in your area for great savings and a chance to finally catch up on your SuDoku.

28. Get a discount. If you use public transportation, ask for multiple-ride discount cards, monthly passes and any other deals for riders.

29. Ask your boss for help. Some employers offer discounted bus or train passes. This can save you up to $40 a month.

Bikedebt_1 30. Consider cheaper alternatives. See if you can walk or bike instead of using your car.

31. Reduce your auto insurance. If you're able to drive less, tell your insurance agent. Some companies will reduce your rate if you cut down on your daily commute.

32. Use a fuel-efficient car. Before you purchase a car, consider how much you'€™ll have to pay in long-term fuel costs.

33. Blow off some steam. Air conditioning can be a big drain on your auto costs. When stuck in traffic, turn off your air conditioning and open the windows.

34. Shop around for fuel costs. Keep an eye out for a service station that consistently has the lowest price and become a frequent customer.

Save Smart

35. Think small. Take a good look at your spending habits, can you make that latte at home? Even if you can save $50 each month, it'€™s worth the effort.

36. Make a habit of saving. If you have a hard time doing it, treat it like a bill or automate payment from your checking account to a savings account.

37. Keep paying. If you'€™ve managed to pay off an auto or other loan, don't stop paying the amount, just make it to yourself instead.

38. Avoid temptation. Turn off the TV and shred sales fliers and mail-order catalogs. In short, stay away from anything that tempts you to spend money and buy unnecessarily.

39. Count to 10. Every time you decide to buy anything on credit, stop awhile and think about it. Is it really worth is?

Energy 40. Conserve energy. Every few months, do an energy check around the house. If you find something that needs work, ask yourself: do you need to repair, replace or renew it?

41. If you subscribe, make sure you're reading it. Avoid magazines you don'€™t read. Don't mindlessly renew subscriptions to magazines you don't even crack open.

42. Make saving a family affair. It'€™s not fun when you are the only one scrimping and saving. Involve every member of your family and let them help you find ways to cut corners.

43. Make it fun. Saving is probably not an enjoyable task for you or for your family. You can make it exciting by planning a treat for the family every time you reach a critical goal. Ensure that whatever you plan is fun, but not expensive, like a day at the zoo or the beach.

44. Put your savings to work. It's hard to stay motivated if you don't know what you're saving for. Make a plan, set a goal and aim to reach it.

Spend Smart

45. Take a hand up. There is no shame in taking freebies. Look for offers and search online for useful items that you can get cheap or for free.

46. Make the Internet your ally when shopping for best deals and prices. You'€™ll be able to cover a lot of ground in a short time.

47. Keep your scissors handy. Cut costs by using coupons when you shop. It'€™s foolish to spend full price when have the opportunity to pay less.

48. Get some variety. Never frequent only one shop. If you like the produce prices at one store, and the dairy at another, split your shopping trips up. You can trim your food bill by nearly 20 percent with this method.

49. Plan before you shop. Write up a weekly menu and buy only the things on your list.

50. Stock your freezer. Ready-to-eat foods are often unhealthy and expensive. To save money and time, cook in large quantities and freeze.

51. Shop alone. Bringing your kids along can send your bill soaring.

52. Shop when you're satisfied. Don't visit the grocery store when you're hungry. You'll want to buy  everything you see.

53. If you like a product, say so. Call your favorite product's manufacturer and tell them how much you enjoy it. Sales reps usually offer cents-off coupons to appreciative customers. It never hurts to ask.

54. Have a calculator handy. Don't try to compare costs in your head. Use your brainpower for more important questions, like paper versus plastic.

55. Buy in bulk. If you know you're going to burn through a case of diapers before Junior outgrows them, don't go running to the store every other day for a 15-pack. Buy more now and save in the long run.

56. Keep all receipts. If the product you buy is faulty or does not meet safety standards, you'll want to bring it back and get a replacement or refund.

57. Brown bag your lunch. Save your money and your health: wake up 10 minutes early to pack a healthy sandwich.

58. Don't tie up your income on fixed costs. Live by this rule: debts should never be more than 36 percent of your gross monthly income.

Change Your Attitude

59. Please yourself. You don't have to keep up with your neighbors. Only make a purchase if you want and need it, not to impress others.

60. Psyche yourself out...of debt. Seasoned gym enthusiasts will tell you that when you're first starting out, you have to constantly remind yourself to exercise. The same holds true for tightening your budget, you must constantly remind yourself that you cannot afford to spend too much.

61. Change your emotions towards money. Get out of the habit of spending when you feel sad or stressed. Explore ways to feel good without spending money. Try volunteering for a local charity or train for a marathon.

62. Buck society. You don'€™t have to "have it all." If you're happy with your modest home and 10 year old car, keep them. You'll reap the benefits when they're paid off. Your neighbors, meanwhile, will be working 60 hour weeks for the rest of their lives to pay for their McMansion.

63. Convert your college-bound children to the save and pay culture. Your kids are sitting ducks for credit card companies. Teach them habits for responsible spending. Start by being a good role model.

Conjure Money From Thin Air

Coins_3 64. Respect your pennies. Spare change is real money. Hang on to it and save it for a rainy day.

65. Plan your fun. Now is the time to open a Christmas savings account. You can set up an automatic deposit from your paycheck. This year, when the holidays arrive, you can have fun without worrying about January's bills.

66. Get yourself a piggy bank. Every night, make it a habit to empty out your pockets and purse. Put all the change into your piggy bank.

67. Keep the change. Round off your payments from your debit card. This will leave small amounts of extra money in your account. At the end of the month, tally up the difference and transfer it to your savings account.

68. Stop smoking. Quit smoking and save on the cost of cigarettes and higher insurance premiums. If you cannot stop altogether, try cutting your habit in half-it will save over $100 in just a few months.

Crm 69. Combine weight loss with saving money. Every time you feel the urge to eat dessert or candy, don't go to the vending machine. Just put the amount you would have spent into your piggy bank. You'll get slender while your piggy gets fat!

70. Get your piggy bonded. Every few months, check how much you've accrued in your piggy bank. Put the money to work by buying U.S. savings bonds.

Know Your Basics

Staying away from credit cards is only half the battle of financial freedom. When using checking accounts and debit cards, ensure that you don't end up paying too much.

71. Avoid frills; pay less. It's silly to pay an unnecessary monthly service charge, minimum balance and per-item service charges. Go for a no-frills, free checking account.

72. Bouncing is not fun. Before you use your check or debit card for a transaction, be sure that you have sufficient funds in your account. A bounced check will cost you dearly.

73. Know more about your bank's check-processing order. Also, find out how long your bank holds deposits. This knowledge will help you avoid bouncing checks due to timing.

74. Direct deposit. Have your paychecks deposited directly into your account. This will give you faster access to your money.

75. Balancing act. Get into the habit of regularly balancing your checkbook. Keep a record of every check, deposit and electronic fund transfer. This will help you avoid paying insufficient fund and overdraft fees.

76. Keep up with the minimum. If your account requires a minimum average balance, ensure that you are in compliance. Otherwise, you'll end up paying fees.

77. Keep your debit card handy at all times. While many merchants may not accept checks as payment, debit cards are more widely accepted.

November 28, 2006

Lessons from Mom: 33 Easy Cost-Cutting Tips

pLet’s face it folks – the average American is a compulsive spender, and here are the statistics to prove it. The American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) in May this year predicted that consumer spending was likely to increase, even as the growth of wages and salaries continued to slow down and the national savings rate went into the red. While increased consumer spending may be good for the national economy, it’s definitely not so for the bank balance of the average family, more so when you spend $12 for every $10 that you earn. It’s high time the purse strings were tightened, and we all started focusing on saving.

It turns out that the simplest ways to cut costs are the most practical ones – the lessons you learned from Mom, but somehow forgot all about as you grew up. Well, it’s not too late to jog your memory, dust those mental cobwebs, and get your financial act together with these easy cost-cutting tips:

Piggybank 1. A penny saved is a penny earned: Why did your mom place so much importance on your piggybank as you were growing up? Because money saved does grow, due to this magic fertilizer called compound interest. Mom’s recommendation - when your paycheck comes in, set up an automatic withdrawal from your checking account so that 10 percent is saved immediately. While the pinch may be felt for a few months, pretty soon it will be replaced by the bulge of the fattening savings account.

2. It’s wise to save for a rainy day: You’re in a good place right now, with a more-than-adequate income that keeps rising as you advance in your career, so what do you do? Raise your standard of living? No, not if you want to follow mom’s sage advice. A three percent annual increase in inflation will double your living costs in only 24 years. So let those extra dollars accumulate, beat inflation, and make sure you have a nice nest egg to fall back on when the cost of living surges upwards.

3. The first step is always the hardest: Yes, before you get down to some really heavy cost-saving measures, there’s the dreaded budget to set up. Mom would tell you put all your basic necessities first, your mortgage, food, clothing and utility expenses, transportation, children’s education. The non-essentials can be worked in after that based on the income you earn. List your recurring costs and one-off expenses, and most important, don’t forget to add that amount for pesky, unforeseen contingencies.

4. Chicks_1 Don’t count your chickens before they hatch: Ok, here’s a vital aspect that needs to be taken seriously when preparing a budget, and mom will find it hard to forgive you if you forgot it. Never, ever take potential windfalls into consideration when calculating your monthly or annual income. Among the things you consciously ignore are that promised pay raise sometime in the next quarter, that inheritance from the filthily rich maiden aunt on her deathbed, tax refunds from the IRS, the proceeds from property you hope to sell for a fortune, gains due to investments in stocks or mutual funds, and well, you get my drift.

5. A rolling stone gathers no moss: This one’s for those of you who are bitten by the wanderlust bug. Changing jobs too often? Can’t seem to find that perfect home? Not decided where to plant roots and settle down? If so, mom would tell you that you need to get your act together and set up home somewhere permanent. Too many changes in lifestyle add to the dollars spent unnecessarily.

6. There’s no place like home (and no food like home-cooked): Eating out or ordering in eats up a sizeable part of your income, without you being aware of it. The odd doughnut at the office, the takeout from the new Chinese deli that opened across the street, the chocolate bar and pretzel packet from the lobby vending machine – they may not seem like large expenses, but they sure do add up when you tally them at the end of a month. Mom would be proud of you if you brushed up those cooking skills she taught you and put them to use when trying to cut costs. Home-cooked food is the cheapest and healthiest way to satisfy your hunger pangs.

7. Charity begins at home: Instead of going out to catch the new James Bond flick, stay in, and watch it on DVD, with snacks from your own larder, popcorn that’s fresh from your microwave, and lemonade chilled from the refrigerator. Mom would say you’ve achieved multiple savings with this move, from the movie tickets to the ridiculous cost of snacks at the multiplex theatres.

8. Penny wise and pound foolish: You’ve been a good boy and stayed true to your budget. No cups of coffee at Starbucks, no Diet Coke for lunch, no film glossy picked up at random at the corner newsstand, no pizza for dinner. Then bang, the bubble bursts, and mom’s not pleased with you. Why? Because you just blew the pennies you saved, and a lot more, on a vacation to Hawaii, just because an airline offered to fly you there at a discount. The amount you save is peanuts compared to the added expense of a vacation. For two steps forward, you’ve moved ten steps back.

9.Dogs_1 It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks: If you’re a family man, mom would look more kindly on you if you passed on her valuable pointers to your own brood right from the time they’re in diapers. It doesn’t make sense to ask your pre-teens out of the blue to curb his spending habits when they’re just discovering the wonderful things money can buy. What they don’t realize at that age is the not-so-wonderful consequences that arise when deep in debt. Children who are taught the value of money from a very early age will be an asset when you’re trying to stick to a budget, cut back on your expenditure, and get out of debt.

10. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today: Mom would definitely not advocate procrastination when it came to paying bills and credit card balances. Every late payment translates into extra costs in terms of interest and penalties incurred.

11. An idle mind (and body) is the devil’s workshop: Remember when mom roped you in to help with her spring cleaning around the house? Well, she was just preparing you to mow your lawn, trim your hedges, vacuum your floors, wash your car, polish your windows – in short, to take care of your own work. Paying someone to take over your chores may give you more time to relax, but it will also set you back financially.

12.Phone Talk is NOT cheap: Mom may not have had the plethora of choices that telecommunications providers offer today, but she sure would know that talk is certainly not cheap. The glut of landlines, mobile phones, wireless devices and VoIP devices has only served to send the average American’s phone bill sky-rocketing. Review all your options, eliminate redundant lines, try and take advantage of closed user groups that allow free calling between certain numbers, or be wise and use prepaid calling options.

13. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush: While the benefits of credit cards cannot be denied, mom would be the first to remind you that you’re spending money that’s not yours in the first place each time your card is swiped. This means that the money is being loaned to you by the bank, which in turn means that you owe the institution some interest for providing you this service. When you use your credit card, ask yourself if you have the money in your account or if you are hoping it will get there before the month’s bill is due. If you’re not sure where the money’s coming from, use cash or a debit card. And if you don’t have either, don’t buy.

14. Neither a borrower nor a lender be: Credit cards were just making an appearance in mom’s day, but to see the way plastic has replaced cold cash today, and the plethora of credit card rewards programs out there, one would think they’ve been around forever. While it’s impossible to dream of a world free from credit cards, mom would say you can cut down the costs they throw up by paying your bill every month, by not using your credit card to withdraw money from the ATM, by staying within your credit limit, and by sticking to just ONE card, or if you absolutely have to, two. Set up a differentiating mark for expenses that need a credit card, and for those that don’t. Smaller amounts being paid with cards don’t add up as cost-cutting measures. Use your card only for purchases above certain amounts.

15. Planning makes perfect: Plan your weekly purchases, draw up lists, and most important, stick to them. Remember when you accompanied mom to the supermarket as a kid? No extra goodies in the basket, was her rule then, and it’s the same now, if you mean to cut down on your expenses. It’s simple – if it’s not on the list, don’t buy it, no matter how tempting it looks, no matter if it’s on sale, or no matter if it’s the last box on the shelf.

16. A fool and his money are soon parted: You may be all grown-up, but Mom would still like to restrict your television viewing and Internet surfing. Why? To prevent you from being enticed by those must-have gadgets and gizmos being advertised as the next best thing since sliced bread. Online and catalogue shopping sprees should be controlled when following a budget.

17. Share and share alike: Mom may have been really proud of you when you bought your first car, but now that she realizes how much gas it guzzles, she may rethink her approval. Save on gasoline and travel expenses, use car pools or take the public transport to and from work. Walk short distances, use bicycles for longer ones, you’ll not only save money, but also time spent in searching for parking space.

18.Hands Many hands make light work: A budget is not just for the head of the family – all members must be roped in if it is to work effectively. If you remember the importance of teamwork taught by mom, you’ll pass it on effectively to your children.

19. Two is better than one: Doing things as a couple rather than as individuals helps save costs. For example, joint medical insurance is cheaper than insuring each one of you separately. If you asked mom for pointers, she would also recommend buying home and auto insurance from the same provider. You can save up to 15 percent, and even if you meet with an accident, they’re less likely to drop you since they would lose other business as well.

20. Water, water everywhere, but not one drop being drunk: Why do you think mom asked you to drink a lot of water when you were a child? Cause she knew colas would replace the natural thirst quencher as you grew up. She’d be the first to tell you that you can save a bundle on skipping the aerated drinks and sticking to plain old water or a home-made fruit juice to wash down your food.

21. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone: If your mom warned you about fair-weather friends, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Don’t throw money around on parties and good times, especially when friends and acquaintances weasel their way out of chipping in. When you’re in a financial tight spot, these are the rats who are the first to desert the sinking ship.

22.Rose What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet: Carbolic soap was enough in mom’s day – it got out the dirt if you scrubbed hard enough and kept the microbes at bay. No fancy brand names to contemplate and no fancy prices to pay either. Stay away from branded goods if you’re trying to cut costs; alternative generic products are just as good, you only have to take the trouble to look at the ingredients if it’s a shampoo or cosmetic, or the material if it’s a handbag or dress. The tag does not matter, only the price tag does.

23. A walk a day keeps the doctor (and medical expenses) away: Children need plenty of exercise, as mom would say, and so do adults. No, she wouldn’t recommend that you sign up for those workouts you never do at swanky gyms. Regular walks and jogs don’t cost you much, just a pair of sneakers, tracksuit, and a lot of breath. They also keep you from the doctor’s doors, saving you thousands in medical expenses.

24. Waste not, want not: Turning out a light as you leave a room may not seem like an expansive gesture, but it sure cuts down on your annual electricity bill. There are tons of other gadgets that, if used effectively, can bring down your utility expenses. Mom would recommend that you turn down the thermostat by two degrees, repair those leaky faucets on the double, use light bulbs that consume less power, clean heating and air vents regularly, and make sure that doors and windows are airtight.

25. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses: Your neighbor just treated himself to a new plasma TV set, and you feel you’ve just got to have one too? Listen to the voice of your mom telling you to stop competing with the rest of the world. Instant gratification will lead to larger money problems in the future.

26. A chain is as strong as its weakest link: You’ve got all your family members hooked to the budget, well, all except one. Your teenager refuses to toe the line and insists she be allowed to spend as her friends do. Indulgent mom that you are, would you let her get away with this? Not if you followed what your mom taught you. One aberration in an otherwise strong chain is enough to shatter it to pieces. Make your family aware of the need for cooperation in planning for your future. Dangle a carrot on a stick, like the promise of a good college education, if she skimps today.

27.Cookie Don’t raid the cookie jar: Ever been rapped on the knuckles for dipping into the cookie jar? Well, now the jar is serving another purpose – to hold all your loose change and the odd dollar or two. Each day, turn out your pockets and put the coins in the jar. You’ll be surprised at the amount you manage to save – most families use this money for a special treat. Did you just see mom beam a smile of approval?

28. Big is beautiful: Buy in bulk. The larger cartons are always worth more than the smaller ones. Mom would say that this also saves you the trouble and expense of returning to the store when you run out.

29. Read the fine print before you sign the dotted line: Paying that bill due to the phone company or the bank? Read it carefully to see if they’re charging for services you don’t really need or use. This is where mom’s advice to read before you sign comes in handy.

30. Time is money: Christmas and birthdays demand presents, but when you’re trying to cut costs, it just doesn’t help to spend on others. But how do you show your loved ones that you do remember their special day and wish to commemorate it with something worthwhile? Ask mom, and she would say that spending time with them doing the things they love is just as good as, if not better than a tangible gift.

31. Watch and weigh your purchases: Before you buy anything, even the most insignificant item, think not once nor twice, but till you are convinced that the purchase is absolutely necessary. As mom would say, “want” is not the same as “need”. If it’s just want, then take it out of your cart, if it’s need, it makes its way to your home.

32.Waterdrop Small drops of water make up the mighty ocean: No amount is too small, not when you’re trying to cut costs. A saving of $10 a day will go a long way in reducing your debts. Chipping away at your debts and expenses little by little is a slow but steady way to take control over your financial life, and mom would surely approve.

33. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again: There may be times when you are not able to stick to the budget plans you so carefully drew up. Fear not, mom’s not going to be disappointed with you if you do stray off the straight and narrow path, not as long as you try to return and follow it faithfully.

Cutting back on expenses is like trying to lose weight, it’s hard to shake off that first pound, but once you get going, it gets easier with every step you take. One eating binge should not set you back, nor should the fact that the rest of the world seems to feasting while you are starving. Remember, use the ultimate goal as an incentive to keep you going, a figure to die for, or a debt-free existence with the promise of a secure future.

November 12, 2006

The Lazy Man's Guide to Budgeting: 101 Painless Ways to Cut Spending

The average American today has over $9000 in credit card debt yet spends over $4.00 per day on coffee. Think about that for a second...

What that stat tells you, is that even when we're in bad financial shape, Americans don't want to give up on life's little luxuries in order to cut costs.

With that in mind, we have compiled a list of 101 tips to help you trim your debt without having to give up too much.  Some of these tips only get you small savings every day, but keep in mind that all together these savings really add up...

Lifestyle Change? Nah, Just A ‘Readjustment’
You cannot cut spending without checking how you are doing on your finances presently. So you need to rework your budget (IF you have one!) and reassess your priorities.

Coin_1 1. Necessary Evil: Budgets are painful, tedious and downright boring. But if you want to fix that leaking money tap, a budget is the only thing that can help you. It will help you keep tabs on how much and on what you’re spending, and save you some money in the long run. (If you need help with creating a budget, you could try these sites: Quicken, Microsoft Money, or Moneydance)

2. If you are not single, it is important that you work with your partner to keep you spending habits in line. Both of you must agree on a budget for it to work.

3. Always keep a little money aside for emergency or unexpected expenses. This way your budget will not go into a disarray in case of an emergency.

4.Cutting your spending doesn’t mean you should become a miser. Pinching pennies will only drive you crazy and isn’t good in the long run. It’s a lot like crash dieting – the results may be immediate but definitely not permanent.

5. Get your bank to help you save. Instead of transferring your entire salary into your household account, get 5 to 10 percent of your salary automatically transferred to a savings account.

6. Got a salary hike? You will probably want the big screen plasma TV or the latest SUV now. For a change, instead of investing your money on these, you could consider increasing your 401k or IRA contribution.

7. Stop buying gadgets you don’t need. Those sales guys may make it sound like life isn’t worth living without a propane-fueled weed torch or a call forwarding facility for instance. But do you really need to spend enormous amounts as fees just so you don’t use these thiSidekick ngs? Next time, before you buy anything, try and figure out which ones you really can live without.

8. Cut down your spending on luxurious items. Do you know that just cutting some small luxuries can mean a lot to the bottom line? Mary Carlomagno, author of Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less, cut back on a single expense every month to see how it changed her life and her finances.

9. Cancel that gym membership NOW! According to a study by Harvard, signing up for a gym membership is one of the best ways to prevent exercise AND lose some hard earned money. The same goes for those information websites that come at a price. Do you really need to know about any and every kind of product under the sun before you make a purchase?

10. Is that super-saver deal really worth it? Most times, offers that come as package deals, are just another way of making us pay for more than we use or need. For instance, if you pay a ‘little’ more on your magazine subscription, you can get five for the price of four. Do you really have the time to read four or five magazines? Figure it out and THEN pay the money.

11. Use your retirement funds. If your employer is giving you anything by way of matching retirement funds and you aren’t using it, you are losing big money. For instance, you may be able to save a lot of money on medical and dental fees if you use the coverage offered by your employer.

12. Pay your bills as soon as they come in. This is the best way to avoid wrecking your budget.

13. Use cash. Whenever you can, use cash instead of credit cards. Don't EVER use your credit cards to purchase daily items like groceries. And don’t forget to note down your cash purchases.

Money Crunching

14. If you have a mortgage, you could think of refinancing it. Even a 0.5 percent difference in rates can save you a considerable amount of money.

15. Got a work bonus, or some unexpected money recently? Save the money for things you want to buy but cannot afford right now.

Geico 16. Raise your auto insurance deductible. This will make your premium fall. The money that you save can be added to your savings account.

17. Never pay more taxes than what you owe. Of course you will get a refund but you will lose the interest you could have earned if the money was in the bank instead.

18. Special treatment from your bank: You don’t need to be a special customer to get preferential treatment. All you need to do is ask for it. You could ask your bank for a no fee checking account or your credit card company for lower interest rates. You can also check for discounts at shops.

19. Come out of the ‘use-n-throw’ mode: One of the best ways to avoid major expenses is to maintain the high-cost items you own. That means, if you take good care of your car, refrigerator, lawnmower, you can have them running efficiently and lasting much longer. This way, you can save thousands on utilities, repair bills, and replacement costs.

20. Health care is costly and could be one of the biggest drains on your resources. You could try locating free or low-cost community services such as clinics and health care offered at family centers.

Maximize Credit Card Benefits

Credit cards aren’t all that bad if you know how to use them:

21. High credit card interest: If your credit card company is charging you a high rate of interest, it’s going to take longer to eliminate that debt. You could call your credit card company and ask them to lower your interest rate, or you could get yourself a lower interest card.

22. When you transfer to a lower rate credit card, use the cash advances to pay off the balance on your other credit cards or other debts. A word of caution: Read the fine print before applying. Some cards charge a higher fee for transferred balances.

23. Waiver of your credit card fees. You could ask your bank to waive your credit card fees or you could go in for a no fee credit card.

24. If you have a balance on more than one credit card, pay off the highest interest debt first. And while you are paying it off, don’t forget to make minimum payments on each of your other cards. Repeat the process until you’ve paid off all your debts.

25. Better still, you can automate your card payments. This way, you don’t have to worry about late fees. Just ensure that you don’t charge too much to your card.

26. Avoid ATM machines that charge fees. A better idea is to withdraw a fixed amount each month and stick to it.

27. Try to get something back from your credit cards. For instance, you could look for credit cards that offer some kind of reward or probably low APR – anything that could lower your overhead expenses.

28. If you’ve paid off your credit card and don’t want to use it any more, you MUST call the company and ask that your account be closed. That will help you resist the temptation.

Food For Thought

Shopping is fun. That’s until you add up everything and see how big a dent the grocery bill, clothes bill and other bills make in your monthly budget. Here’s how you can lower costs:

29. Try to plan your meals before you shop. Once you’ve done that, make a list of all the items you need to purchase.

30. Budget your purchases. You should have a general idea of how much money you would have to spend for your purchases. Try to limit yourself to this figure. If, for some reason, you just have to spend more than you anticipated, try to cut corners somewhere else. Probably you could leave eating out until next week.

31. Comapre prices. Always compare prices of national, store, and generic product brands. Sometimes store brands may work out to be cheaper and as good as national brands. Thoroughly investigating each purchase can help you get the best value or you may decide that the purchase isn't worth the money.

32. Always skipped the ‘expensive’ grocery stores? They may not be as expensive as you think – large grocery stores often offer more discounts! One trick is to use coupons whenever you can in conjunction with the weekly sales items.

33. You can also purchase items for less with the ‘buy one get one’ sales offers that grocery stores have every now and then. But remember, these offers generally come on items, which are close to their expiry date. So you must ensure that you can finish it all up before that date.

34. Downsize: Always go in for the super-size ice-cream tub? Try one size smaller. It’s also healthy to have lesser.

35. Never shop when you are hungry, tired, or rushed.

36. Try to distinguish between items you must buy and things it would be nice to own. Everytime you pick up something, first ask yourself if you really need it or whether you are buying it on an impulse.

37. Delicious? NO! I know it’s easy to stock up on food from the pre-made section. But the deli counter could also make your purse lighter by a load of money. You can actually bring down your weekly grocery bill by 20% percent if you skip the deli counter. All you need to do is wake up a little earlier than usual and prepare some of your own food!

Receipt 38. Check your receipts. If you are anything like most others, (and me) you’ll just bag your bill and hope to check it sometime in the future. Wake up call buddy – store receipts can have errors. Errors that can involve you losing more than a little money! Make it a practice to check your receipts. And what can you do with the money you save? Go in for the super-size ice-cream bucket for one!

39. Ever asked for discounts on the purchases you made? I know, even I was shocked I could actually do that. In reality, many retailers are ready to sell an item for less than the listed price. The problem is most consumers don’t think of asking.

No More Shoppin' Till You Drop

40. Play the ‘either-or’ game: Get an idea of the competitive prices of the things you want to buy from other stores or even the Net. And if your store doesn’t offer you a reasonable price, try another one.

41. Pay cash. There are three benefits to it:

- When you use a card, the retailer, restaurants, and hotels have to pay anything between 2 to 5 percent to the credit card company. With cash, there is no such problem.

-Secondly bargaining becomes that much easier. It’s not easy to refuse hard cash you use.

- And finally, you will not try to buy something that’s way off your budget.

42. Know yourself: This one’s more for the female of the species. We tend to have this habit of buying something that looks spectacular on the mannequin. Once you’ve paid a bomb and bought it, you realize you don’t look too good in it. So what do you do? Stash it away in the deepest corner of your closet.

43. Just because something’s coming at a discount, it doesn’t become a must-have. Understand your requirements and see if the things you buy match them.

44. Every time you feel you need to buy new clothes, check your closet first. You many not realize buy you probably have quite a few clothes or shoes you may not have worn more than once.

45. Often when you buy things off the net, you realize that they aren’t the right size or color. What do you do – stash it away or return it? If you value your money, you’d probably want to return and get a refund or an exchange – either way, you don’t lose that money.

46. You may not be able to use this tip this year, but you could in 2007. One of the easiest ways to save money on winter clothing is to buy early. Usually, around September, department stores offer a discount on their winter merchandise. Sometimes, these stores may offer newspaper coupons for an additional 15% off sale merchandise.

47. Winter shopping. If you are late for winter shopping at department stores, you could still try discount stores like Value City or the outlet malls. These stores usually sell coats for less than retail.

48. If you cannot wait till next September, you can maybe do your winter shopping after the current season is over. You’ll be surprised to know that you can find winter coats for nearly 75 percent off the retail price.

49. Fashionable clothes: Have a taste for fashionable, branded clothes but not the money to buy them with? Don’t worry, all you need is some patience. Most high-end department stores have clearance sales at the end of the season and you can get incredible deals at these sales.

50. If you’ve got kids, your budget is already stretched to the limit. You could lighten your burden though by stocking up on school supplies for next year. All you need to do is make bulk purchases every time there is a clearance sale at your store.

51. Gardening need not be an expensive hobby. Instead of buying gardening supplies, you could use old spoons, spatulas and other things to dig, smooth and weed plants in pots or small areas.

52. If you love to buy and read books, you should try shopping online. Sites like, offer great discounts on some items and usually sell books much lower than list price.

53. Try ordering your prescriptions through mail order instead of your local drug store. You will see how much prices fall on this one

No Pain Fun

This bit wasn’t easy – how are you supposed to have fun without spending some money. Well, there are ways to reduce the expenditure without losing the fun:

54. You like buying different types of things? Your call. But ensure that you use ALL of everything. Turn bottles upside down and drain to get the last bit from them.

55. Eating out can be enjoyable, but it can also be quite costly. But that doesn’t mean you curl up at home day after boring day. Here’s one little nugget: Instead of eating out for dinner, try lunch. While the menu selection is usually identical, the prices are much lesser. That’s because dinner is a more popular time for eating out.

56. Avoid costly extras unless you are ready to spend that extra bit. This will save you money AND will help you do justice to the main course. And, if you forgot, stay away from the dessert. Have water instead of wine or other expensive drinks. It’s healthy and cheap.

57. If you have children, you could check if the restaurant you are dining at has a ‘kids eat free’ night.

58. Look for coupons. Quite a few restaurants offer 2-for-1 specials on certain days of the week.

59. Do you have eating habits? Another lovely tip is to eat a homemade gourmet dinner and then go out for dessert. This gives the feeling of having eaten out and doesn’t weigh so heavily on your wallet.

60. Friendly get together: If you love to have friends over but cannot afford to entertain them on a regular basis, ask everyone to bring over food and wine.

61. Watching movies: Love to watch movies but cannot afford tickets for every movie that’s showing in town? Well, try a video swap instead. Most of us buy DVDs, and videos, watch the movie once and forget about it. What you could do is swap your videos with your neighbors, friends.

62. If you love to travel during vacations, off-season’s a good time to travel. This way you get lower prices and no crowds. And wherever you can, try getting accommodation in discount hotels. They are good AND cheap.

63. Cheap travel: Another way to travel cheap is to go in groups and get group discounts.

64. Look for free entertainment and recreation. For instance, you could go to the park, spend a day at the beach, join a book club... anything that you find interesting.

65. Love books? If you love books but don’t want to buy them, you could always join a library.

66. Want to read magazines but cannot afford all the ones you want? Try magazine swapping. The technique is the same as that of a video swap.

Utilities: You Can Save Here Too!

67. Power saving tips: If you need to leave certain lights like your kid’s bathroom lights switched on through the night, you could install energy-efficient bulbs. They provide four times as much light and last ten times longer than regular bulbs.

68. Do you really need to bathe in boiling hot water? You could lower the temperature on your hot water heater and save a load of money in heating. You could also insulate your hot water heater to save money.

69. Winter dillema: Winter does not automatically mean your home has to be HOT. You can set your thermostat at a reasonable level like 68 degrees in winter and lower heating costs. The same goes for summer as well.

70. Use of Microwave: Whenever possible, try to use your microwave instead of your oven-- it’s more energy efficient.

71. Try to do your laundry once or twice a week. This way, you’ll be able to do full loads and save on water, and electricity.

72. Fix anything that’s leaking – faucets, running toilets – everything can make you lose water.

73. Stick to basic phone service and avoid any features that you don't use like call forwarding or call waiting. This saves you a lot of money.

74. Save on Calling. Nowadays most of us have at least one landline and a cell phone. If you don't do much long distance calling; and your cell phone offers free long distance, you can stop your long distance access on the other line.

75. Try to avoid heating up your oven for just one item. For instance when you cook food, try to make extra – two roasts, two pies. You save time, electricity AND money.

76. Switch off unused appliances, lights and other switches. Whenever you leave a room, ensure that you’ve switched off everything unless you plan to return in a few minutes. And when you go to sleep, don’t forget to turn the telly off.

77. Switch off your computer when you are not using it. If you didn’t know, your computer uses way too much electricity when left switched on.

78. Have a gas furnace? Don’t forget to turn the pilot light off during hot weather. The pilot light wastes gas and produces unwanted heat.

Common Sense Savings

Sometimes, the money is lying there waiting for you to pick it up. Only you don’t seem to notice. Check out these methods:

79. Don't misplace your money. Watch the ground and see if you can find pennies lying around. You probably don’t realize the amount of money that just gets lost because you misplace it. You'd be surprised at how quickly you can come up with a hundred pennies. And while you are at it, don’t forget to check the car floor, under the couch cushions.

80. Want a good haircut from an up market salon but don’t want to pay the price? One way to do it is by going to the salon on training day. This way you can get your hair styled by the top stylist at almost no price at all.

81. Don’t throw away leftover food. You can put them in serving sized containers and fridge. Next time you are busy or tired, you’ve got dinner waiting in the fridge for you.

82. If the quantity of leftovers isn’t too much, you can add it to dog or cat food occasionally. This stretches their regular food and reduces the cost.

83. Whenever you eat at a fast food place, save the unused packets of ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper. This will stand you in good stead on picnics or trips out of town.

84. Try cooking food from scratch. You could do this on weekends and cook enough for the week and freeze the food. This will save you a load of money and is much healthier than any take away.

85. And no, you don’t need to always follow manufacturers’ instructions. When you do your laundry for instance, just because it says on the box that you need a full cup, doesn't mean that you really need that much. Use your common sense and reduce the quantity of your usage to see the products last longer.

Car_1 86. Maintain your vehicle to ensure that it doesn’t run into problems. If the tires are not inflated well, oil’s dirty, air filters are clogged… your fuel costs will rise considerably. You can cut your fuel consumption by up to 10 percent by just taking good care of your vehicle.

87. Avoid multiple trips whenever possible. If you need to go to town for something, try to club it with a few other things so that you consolidate your trips and get the most out of fewer trips.

88. When it comes to cars, idling aren't good. All you’re doing is driving up your fuel costs. Make it a rule to turn off the engine if you are going to be parked for more than half a minute.

89. Save on your fuel. Research shows that you can cut fuel costs by 30 per cent if you drive carefully. Surprised? So was I. What most of us don’t realize is that accelerating and braking all the time is the most expensive way to drive a car. And then there is also the wear and tear on brakes. You can save a lot of money by just being aware of the cars around you, keeping your distance AND driving carefully.

90. Do you really need that air conditioning on all the time you drive? It adds to fuel costs, so try to use them only when you need to.

91. If you are planning to buy car, try to do it around the end of the month. Most companies have sales targets to meet and the month-end is a good time to get the car at lower rates.

92. Use a hot water bottle instead of an electric blanket to stay warm.

93. If you have a garden, it’s a good idea to plant perennial flowers instead of annuals. This ensures that you don’t have to spend money every year for plants and can enjoy your garden for years.

Bet You Didn't Know This

94. Get money that’s owed to you. Don’t know how to do it? Read Assets Unknown: How to Find Money You Didn’t Know You Had, by David Folsom. Alternately, you could check out

95. Get products at cheaper rate. There are many websites on the Internet that offer goods at dirt prices or even for free. For instance, there’s a giant exchange of products and services at no cost.

96. Ever heard of reward programs? Quite a few departmental stores, book stores and other types of shops offer rewards cards that automatically record your purchases at that particular store. This helps you get a savings reward coupon annually.

97. When out purchasing anything, never stick to one retailer if you want to save money. Always shop around to know about the best prices on offer.

98. The net’s here to help you again. Heard of Refund Cents? All you need to do is pay a subscription fee to get alerted on new deals. You can save on almost everything from groceries to clothes.

99. Go Goodwill Shopping. No, I’m not joking. You’ll be surprised to know they have brand new merchandise at dirt cheap rates.

100. Did you know that companies offer freebies – all you need to do is ask. You can call Freebies magazine or search under “freebies” on Google. To get a list of freebies.

101. If you don’t like the idea of freebies, you could ask companies for coupons. You can either check or contact a company directly for coupons.