Shopping 
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The Soul of Swapping

Clothing SwapsEach season we are bombarded with advertisements that tell us we need the latest look with all the bells and whistles (i.e. bags and shoes) to go with them. On a recession budget, or any budget for that matter, it’s not always an option to saunter into the mall and pick up the trendy sweater and kitten heels. Yet we all want to look out best and look as fabulous on the outside as we feel on the inside.

Solution? Good old fashioned swapping.

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 Credit 
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How To Get A Free FICO Credit Score

Your FICO credit score is increasingly becoming one of the most important numbers in your life. I’ve written about what’s in your FICO credit score as well as how to get FICO credit score estimates, but never how to get the actual three-digit FICO score calculated by one of the bureaus.

While the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) and Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) did wonders to shed light on the credit reporting industry and the data they are collecting on all of us, the light wasn’t bright enough. There is no way for you to get a free FICO credit score unless you sign up for a trial with one of the bureaus or with Fair Isaac Corporation directly.

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 Personal Finance 
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Our New Dog Expenses

For the last few weeks, my wife and I have been visiting the local shelters and adoption shows to try to find a little guy to join our family. A few weeks ago, we met Tobey, a 7 year old Beagle who hasn’t had a “real” home in quite some time (I say real because he’s been a combination of fostered and kenneled, but treated very well throughout the whole process). This past weekend, we had a quick home inspection and we passed! We were a little surprised but they let us keep him that very day!

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 Personal Finance 
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Paid Focus Groups: Easy, Infrequent Money

Last week, I participated in a paid focus group and was paid $75 for two hours. Unlike the last focus group in Baltimore, this one was only a five minute drive away.

If you think paid focus groups are easy money, you’re right. There aren’t many things that pay $35 an hour! The only thing you have to know is that it’s infrequent, very infrequent, so you can’t expect to make a fortune off paid focus groups. I signed up to participate with this company in September 2007, seventeen months ago!, after learning about focus groups in an MBA class.

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 Health Care 
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Negotiating Your Medical Bills

Hospital Vitals MonitorIf you have medical insurance, you should receive an Explanation of Benefits from your insurance company every time you visit a doctor. Have you ever looked at one? It’s amazing. You’ll see the how much the doctor billed you, how much the insurance company negotiated as an allowable rate, and the difference can be staggering. The catch-22 in all this is that if you don’t have insurance, you’d have to pay the standard rate unless you negotiated with the doctor… and negotiating with the white coat can be hard. Fortunately, it’s not as uncommon as you think, according to a New York Times article, and here are a few tips I’ve researched from the interwebs.

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 The Home 
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Investigate Larger than Average Bills

JD shared a story last week about how their winter heating bill increased 50% compared to last year. Unfortunately for him, the increase wasn’t large enough to raise any red flags. He only did a post-mortem calculation but in looking back he saw energy use had increased 30% and the cost has only increased 50%.

He says it was a “lot more energy” but if it were me, I wouldn’t have noticed even if I was checking my bills as it was happening. I would’ve attributed the increase in energy costs to fuel being more expensive and it being a colder winter. I know I wouldn’t have noticed. That being said, higher than average bills are usually a sign that something is wrong.

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 Investing 
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Buying Municipal or State Bonds

Last week I was volunteering at Meals on Wheels when one of the other volunteers, Cheryl, asked me about buying state bonds. Until last week, I hadn’t really given it much research because the idea of buying individual bonds was never tremendously appealing. There is a big barrier to entry when you’re buying individual bonds and it’s with the minimum purchase amounts. In Maryland, if you buy the bonds from the state through a broker, your minimum buy is for $5,000 and your purchase must be in increments of $5,000. However, you can buy them in smaller increments on the secondary market so I thought I’d give it a look for this Foundation series post on buying municipal and state bonds.

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 Personal Finance 
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See Some Other Financial Network Maps

When I first drew up our financial network map, then subsequently wrote about and did a video about financial network maps, I had no idea it would become a popular idea.

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