Credit 
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Why I don’t bother with manufactured spending…Gaming credit card reward programs just isn’t worth it

Do you envy colleagues and friends who vacation for free thanks to all of the credit card reward points and cash rebates they’ve earned from work-related travel?

Travel that doesn’t cost them a dime?

Well, the proponents of “manufactured spending” would have you believe that you can enjoy similar rewards even if you spend eight hours in the same cubicle every day.

These enthusiastic credit card bloggers have developed all sorts of schemes to rack up tens of thousands of points and hundreds of dollars in cash rebates with their credit cards without actually spending any money.

Or, to be more precise, without spending very much money.

Now that I’ve done all the research on manufactured spending, I don’t think it’s worth the time and trouble for most people — including me.

But I know it’s the latest money-for-nothing fad out there in the blogosphere, so I’ll walk you through how it works and show you why I’m not going to game my credit cards like this.
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 Family 
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5 sibling discounts you simply have to ask for


How would you like to pay thousands less for the most common big ticket kids’ expenses?

If you have two or more kids, you’ll be surprised how many places have existing policies for sibling discounts, which can slash 10% to 25% off the stated cost for one or more of your children, depending on the policy.

You just need the balls to ask for the discount whenever paying for more than one-at-a-time for these common, expensive kid costs.

Daycare

The average annual cost for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) in a full-time childcare center ranged from $9,175 in Mississippi to $28,606 in Massachusetts.

It’s the highest single household expense in the Northeast, Midwest and South, surpassed only by housing costs in the West, according to, “Parents & The High Cost of Child Care 2013″ which surveyed state Child Care Resource & Referral network offices about 2012 daycare costs.
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 Credit 
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6 costly credit cards to avoid

Sky-high interest rates. Ridiculous fees. Piddling rewards and modest perks.

That’s what makes these credit cards stand out to me.

Let’s spend a few minutes looking at some of the most disappointing deals currently being foisted on unsuspecting consumers and consider what a more reasonable card might offer.

Least Bang for Your Buck: Visa Black Card

Even though it is made out of stainless steel, don’t confuse the Black Card with the famous Centurion Card from American Express it’s copying, or any other metal-level card, for that matter. For its $495 annual fee, you’ll only get one point per dollar you spend – that’s what many other rewards cards with much lower fees offer. You also get access to some airport lounges and a vague promise of “luxury gifts from some of the world’s top brands” as a token of appreciation.

The alternative: You won’t have any trouble finding a reward card with the same, or even more generous, rewards system and charges an annual fee of $100 or less. All of that other stuff? You’re paying a premium price for perks you not want or use.
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 Travel 
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Asking me to tip the maids at high-end hotels is a lousy plan to fight poverty among women


When you stay at a Marriott hotel this fall you’ll be asked to pay for more than just your room.

The giant hotel chain wants you to start tipping its maids.

Tip envelopes have been placed in 160,000 of its 700,000 guest rooms at Marriott, JW Marriott, Courtyard, Renaissance, Fairfield, TownePlace Suites and Springhill Suites hotels.

It wasn’t actually the company’s idea. Marriott was asked to do this by Maria Shriver of all people as a way to fight poverty among women.

Wow. What a breathtakingly dumb idea.
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 Credit 
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My favorite no-fee credit cards provide lots of perks

A credit card that offers cash rewards, a low interest rate and no annual fee? What’s the catch? There might not be one – you may just have scored a good deal.

The best credit cards are the cheapest credit cards and annual fees are often the biggest out-of-pocket expense for consumers who never, or rarely, carry a balance.

They range from $80 or $90 for a typical airline reward card to $500 for prestige cards that cater to the famous and well-to-do — and those who think the card will make them appear famous and well-to-do.

Don’t be fooled by offers that waive the fee for the first year. You’ll forget about it and then 13 months later find a $200 fee charged to your account.

So I’ve been shopping around for the best credit cards with no annual fees.

I found some incredibly attractive terms. Up to 5% cash back on purchases. No interest and even no fees on balance transfers. Introductory interest rates of 0% on purchases and regular interest rates as low as 10.9%. Even a sign-up bonus.

Could one of these be the perfect plastic companion for you?
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 Family 
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How to save money and avoid birthday party drama

The school year’s well underway and the weekly birthday party invitations are pouring in.

If you’ve got a couple of kids in school, with 20 to 30 children in each of their classes, the birthday party circuit can get very expensive, very quickly.

If you don’t want to add a line item into your budget to cover kid gifts and party items, or become that party pooper parent, here’s a game plan for keeping birthday spending in perspective.

When you’re the guest…

Don’t go to every party. As much as you want your child to be social, only attend parties for the friends that your child is closest with, or that he or she is really excited about attending. And if you’re not going to a party, no, you don’t have to send a gift. If you have a social butterfly type of child who’s disappointed about missing out, make an effort to invite a couple of friends over another day for a play date.
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 Shopping 
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How to buy furniture you like without spending too much money

In February 2013, I moved back into my house. Yes, moved back in.

I bought the place in 2007 and turned it into a rental property when I moved in with my then-boyfriend.

The relationship went bust at about the time my tenants were moving out, so I decided to go back home, and used that transition as an opportunity to finally create the home environment I always wanted.

First, I stripped out the carpets, refurbished the hardwood floors and painted the interior walls. That was easy. The harder part was finding furniture to fill the house without going broke.

I like older furniture that’s solid wood instead of pressed board, so used was always my first option.

But I didn’t just take anything that came my way.

Here’s what I did.
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 Banking 
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Why I’m no longer afraid to deposit checks by mobile phone


Your co-worker, your neighbor, the corner market owner. They all joined the modern world long ago.

For awhile I was reluctant, but I too have gotten hip to the new age.

Yes, I’ve started cashing checks through my smartphone

I resisted the convenience for two big reasons.

First, when the technology debuted, the time from upload to deposit was slow. At least, that was the case when ING Direct, now Capital One 360, first offered CheckMate in 2012.

The bank would make $100 per check available in my account the business day after I made the mobile deposit. The remaining balance on the deposited check became available a week later. And any check for more than $3,000 had to be deposited by mail.

I’m a freelancer writer, and a lot of my clients still pay me in paper checks.

That kind of time between the deposit and when the money became available is unacceptable.

Why jump through these hoops when I could just go to the bank a mile from my house, deposit a check through the ATM and get access to all of my money the next day?
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