Personal Finance 

6 simple ways to save more and worry less

If you had to rely on your savings to live, do you know how long it would last?

Forty-seven percent of Americans said their savings would last three months or less if they went through a financial crisis, according to a recent survey by NeighborWorks America.

Whether your stash is large, small, or somewhere in between, putting away a little – or a lot – more doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, following a few steps can make a large impact, especially over time.

The following strategies can help you boost the amount you’re putting away, and build momentum into your savings plan.

Have goals for your savings.

The idea of saving more may sound appealing, but without direction, following through is usually an uphill climb. “It’s incredibly hard to get anywhere without a destination,” explains Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network.

Sit down with your family and talk about what you want to accomplish, both in the coming months and also in the years ahead. Together, create a list of what you want to save more for, such as a plush emergency fund, an upcoming two-week vacation, college, another vehicle, a new deck, or retirement.
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My plan to enjoy summer without overspending

Overspending on vacations. Day trips that wind up more pricey than planned. Keeping the kids entertained on a boring day. Summer can get very expensive, very quickly!

This year I’m determined to keep a lid on those costs. I’ve come up with a plan to have lots of carefree summertime fun without dipping into savings or running up a credit card.

Here’s what I’m going to do.

Avoid food fights

When I think about past summers where the $20 bills seemed to disappear from my wallet every time we left the house, it usually had to do with certain someone’s (a.k.a. my two growing boys) getting hungry or thirsty just as we’d come upon a hot dog cart or pass a Dunkin’ Donuts. And like the cool mom I am, a good percentage of the time I’d give in to their pleas.

    2015 plan: This time around, no more Mrs. Nice Mom. Well, I’ll still be nice, but I’m going to make sure that the boys eat and drink up before we head out, and I’m going to stash a go bag with icy bottled water (our own reusable bottles, that is) and healthy snacks from the house. Better for everyone’s nutrition, and my pocketbook. That’s not to say we’ll never enjoy a treat out, but it won’t be a daily occurrence.

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 Bank Deals 

Here’s where to stash your cash while waiting for the Fed to finally raise interest rates, probably this fall

It has to happen sooner or later.

After months of dithering, it appears the Federal Reserve will actually start to push interest rates higher, ending years of record low returns on bank accounts.

While it could start as soon as July, the Fed seems more likely to initiate this epic change in policy in September or October.

That means you need a suitable place to park your cash until then. It’s especially important if you have a certificate of deposit that matures this summer. Immediately rolling it over into another CD probably isn’t your wisest choice.

Instead, it’s time to take a look at savings and money market accounts. Many of the best paying banks have nudged up rates in recent weeks, and are paying similar rates to what you can earn with a CD.

The best nationally available 12-month CD, from CIT Bank pays 1.25% APY, which is pretty much what you can make with a top-paying savings account.

You certainly don’t want to tie your money up in 2- or 3-year CDs that pay what, a quarter point more?

If interest rates start to take off this fall, you won’t want to be stuck on the sidelines, waiting for your CDs to mature. You’ll want all the cash you can muster, ready and waiting to pounce.

Here’s where to find the best-paying savings accounts that are open to investors across the county:
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Summer music festivals on the cheap…Or what passes for cheap in these days of inflated prices

When it comes to attending a music festival, cheap simply isn’t on the table anymore. These days it’s a matter of limiting cost.

This April, for example, a three-day general admission pass to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival pass cost $375.

Anyone who wanted a few perks had to pay $899 for a VIP pass and remember, that only covered one of the festival’s two weekends. You’d have to spend twice that if you wanted to take in the entire spectacle in Indigo, California.

Beyond the tickets, here’s a breakdown of some other common expenses at Coachella, according to CNN Money:

  • $400 for round trip airline tickets.
  • $80 to get from the airport to the festival.
  • $60 to ride the festival shuttle around for the weekend.
  • $85 to camp out over the weekend and $500 per night to stay in a hotel.
  • $50 to $225 per meal.

If you go with the hotel option, you could easily spend around $2,500 at Coachella for one three-night weekend, not including meals.

Go with the camping option and you’ll spend somewhere around $1,000 without meals, $2,000 if you go both weekends.

That’s a lot of cash to spend, especially for concert goers such as myself. And we are, after all, the ones who spend our summers traveling around to these raucous celebrations.
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Skip the pricey car dealership … I fixed a keyless remote myself and so can you

I refuse to go to a car dealership for any reason.

I don’t shop for cars there and I don’t get maintenance or repairs done there. They have a reputation for charging much more than smaller auto shops.

So when my car’s keyless entry remote stopped working, I wasn’t about to head to the dealership to get it repaired.

I tried the obvious fix, first: replacing the battery.

I watched a YouTube video to see how to take the remote apart without damaging it. I got out a tiny screwdriver, removed the screw from the key’s plastic backing, popped open the remote case, and checked the number on the lithium ion battery.

A few days later, I had a package of five new batteries from an Amazon seller for less than $3. But switching out the battery didn’t solve the problem.

Maybe I had a bum package of batteries. I didn’t have any other devices I could test them on, so I ordered a different brand of the same battery from a different seller.

No dice.

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I then pushed the problem aside for about two years and relied on my manual key to unlock my car door.
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 Personal Improvement 

Those heavily promoted $10-a-month gym memberships are great … But will you ever go?

Health clubs have a brilliant business model that counts on members who sign-up with the best of intentions rarely, if ever, showing up.

If everyone who belonged to a gym actually worked out on a regular basis there’d be chaos (for a deep dive into the economics of gyms, check out this Planet Money podcast.)

But the super cheap $10-a-month deals health clubs are touting these days are pure genius.

It’s the perfect play for customers who know they’re unlikely to actually go and are wise enough to reject a year-long contract that costs $30 or $50 a month.

At $10 a month — and no long-term commitment — it’s almost irresponsible not to embrace the financial risk and take another shot at remaking yourself into a dedicated gym rat.

I say another shot because I’ll bet these deals attract a surprising number of new members who’ve spent hundreds of dollars on unused memberships in the past.

Maybe even at the same club.

So what happens if you fail this time?
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 Frugal Living 

How to get people to buy your junk … A guide to selling almost anything on Facebook groups

A few months ago, when I was putting my recycling and bulk items out on garbage day, I happened to run into my neighbor who noticed that some old toys and baby gear were among the curbside casualties.

She politely suggested that I was throwing good money away, and proceeded to tell me about a local Facebook selling group to which she belongs.

That night, after rescuing my almost-thrown out items, I snapped a few photos with my cell phone to see if she was right – that there are people right in my own neighborhood who would pay me cash for used toys and other “junk” taking up space in my basement.

A hundred bucks in my pocket later, and I was hooked.

While selling stuff online is nothing new, doing so through an unofficial channel like a local Facebook group wasn’t something I was familiar with.

Unlike eBay, there are no packaging hassles or shipping costs, no credit cards or PayPal transactions to deal with, and no system of starred user reviews to rely on.

It’s also a little less anonymous than Craigslist, which I find to be scary for a variety of reasons.

Instead, Facebook Group selling is like having a garage sale minus the folding table set-up and haggling over scratched CD collections.
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Americans are spending how much on weddings?! Here’s how we had a blast on a budget on our big day

Planning on getting hitched soon? Start saving.

Mitch Strohm and Mandy Boyd on their wedding day

The average cost of a wedding is now a hefty $31,213 (honeymoon not included), according to the 2014 Real Wedding Study from

That’s up from $29,858 in 2013.

As a guy — and finance writer — who just got married last year, I find that number pretty outrageous. That’s a down payment on a home.

Thanks to our frugality, and the incredibly hard work of our friends and family, we didn’t even spend a fourth of that on our big day and an entire weekend getaway for our guest list (more on that later).

The study from The Knot surveyed nearly 16,000 brides and grooms married in 2014 to figure out the financial spending habits and trends of couples in America. It includes both national and regional stats on the average costs of tying the knot.

The venue was the priciest part of couples’ budget last year, hitting an average of $14,006. Next was the engagement ring at an average of $5,855 and then the wedding band for music at $3,587.

Couples are also spending more on each guest – an average of $68 last year, up from $66 in 2013, according to the study.

Here’s the wedding budget breakdown from The Knot:
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