Family 
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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 TheKnot.com.

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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 Personal Finance 
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Wealth building choices of your richest neighbors

Here’s a little secret about building wealth.

There is no secret.

Ask pretty much any self-made millionaire and you’ll get pretty much the same advice.

They’re where they are today because they made a few smart and surprisingly simple choices.

Choice 1. Spend (way) less than you earn

You’d be surprised at the modest lifestyles of many affluent families that earned their wealth (as opposed to inheriting it).

That’s because they got where they are today by carefully and deliberately making sure they spent less than they earned.

It’s the fundamental wealth-building principal from which all others stem.

Rather than let discretionary spending cut into your future wealth, find ways of throttling back on the extravagances.
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 Education 
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How to compare college finanical aid packages and pick the right school

It’s that time of year, when teens and their families agonize over which college they will pay thousands of dollars to – or borrow thousands of dollars for — over the next four years.

By now, acceptance letters and financial aid packages are in hand, so it’s just a matter of doing some side-by-side comparisons.

Having written about higher education and financial aid for the majority of my career, I’m here to tell you that the college decision should go beyond which one is “the best,” or which one will cost you the least.

Before you send in your commitment letter, here are some key things to think about as you compare your financial aid awards and choose a school.

There are worse things in life than giving up your first choice college

Had I gone to the top college that accepted me, it would have meant taking out $80,000 in student loans.
I chose door number two — the college that gave me a full ride.

If you’re facing a similar type of decision, you need to answer this question first above all others: Are you willing to give up an admissions offer from your top-choice school if it makes financial sense?

It might hurt initially, but the idea that you’ll regret turning down a more prestigious school is an outdated concept.

In my college days, there was this myth that if you attended Super Amazing U. Fortune 500 companies would automatically throw six figure offers at you.
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 Travel 
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When you want to travel determines when you’ll find the cheapest airline tickets

If you’re shopping for a great deal on a plane ticket, the best time to book depends on when you’ll be traveling.

During off-peak season, on average, you’ll get the best prices on domestic fares 47 days before takeoff, according to a recent report from CheapAir.com.

For summer travel – June to August – 76 days out is the average target for the cheapest airline tickets.

And if you’re traveling during holiday seasons, the earlier the better. Booked 320 days in advance, air fares for peak-season travel were just $8 more than their lowest price point.

In order to get those averages, the online airfare shopping engine tracked nearly 1.5 billion trips in 15,000 markets and recorded the lowest fare for each trip every day from 320 days in advance up until one day before departure.

Of course, those averages are just a guide. For individual trips, it really depends on your destination, the time of year, and the days you’re traveling, notes CheapAir.
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 Retirement 
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The secrets to saving $1 million in your 401(k)


If you’re striving to save for retirement take some cues from the 401(k) millionaires over at Fidelity Investments.

According to recent Fidelity data, 72,379 of its 13 million 401(k) accounts now have balances of over $1 million.

That’s more than twice as many as in 2012.

And while the average annual compensation for these individuals was $359,000, between 1,000 and 1,200 of them made under $150,000.

How’d they save $1 million or more?

These individuals average 60 years old and had been with the same company for somewhere around 30 years. So stability at work is key.

But it’s not just one thing that these individuals did. It’s a lot of different things.
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 Frugal Living 
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Cord-Cutter Alert: Cheap new app pushes cable TV one step closer to obsolescence

If you loathe cable TV (and who doesn’t?), there’s now another, cheaper alternative for all of you aspiring cord-cutters.

Sling TV, a subsidiary of Dish Networks, is the newest streaming TV service on the block, and it seems to be a viable replacement for cable, especially if you only watch a handful of channels.

The company’s motto: “Take Back TV.”

For $20 a month, the service allows its subscribers to watch cable on demand from their television sets, smartphones and tablets.

You’ll get 14 channels: ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, ABC Family, Disney Channel, CNN, El Rey and Galavision.

For an extra $5 a month, you can watch live NBA, NFL, college basketball, college football and some soccer games — think March Madness and the NBA All-Star Game. You can also add a kid channel package ($5) and a news package (another $5).
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 Family 
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iPad baby seats are dubious devices

Every mom can attest to needing 10 minutes for a shower, to prepare dinner and sometimes even just to put down a colicky baby that has been crying nonstop.

If you’ve seen the new iPad baby seats, from infant activity seats to toddler potty seats, featuring an attachment for an iPad complete with “developmentally appropriate apps,” you might wonder if they are better than a traditional baby seat.

But don’t choose it for educational advantages.

The “educational merit of media for children younger than 2 years remains unproven despite the fact that three-quarters of the top-selling infant videos make explicit or implicit educational claims,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics updated 2011 statement, Media Use in Children Younger than 2 Years.

The academy “discourages media use by children younger than 2 years” for some very good reasons.

The medical group reviewed all of the scientific studies on media use in children under 2 (mostly television viewing) before coming to that conclusion and no research over the past four years has prompted it to revise that opinion.

Yet nine out of 10 parents say heir children younger than 2 years watch some form of electronic media. So where does that leave parents faced with the decision to buy and use one of these iPad baby seats?
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 Philanthropy 
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It’s getting easier to do good by linking your spending to your favorite charity

If you’re one of the 95% of Americans who donate to charity each year, your good will could stretch a little further if you spend your money wisely.

You can now support everything from education to the environment through your credit or debit card, bank account or other payment method.

Some options provide funds to particular nonprofit organizations, while others give you the flexibility to choose the charity that reaps your rewards.

I’m a huge Amazon.com shopper, buying everything from special food for my senior cat to cosmetics through the site.

Last year I signed up for the AmazonSmile program after friends who run a clinic that provides low-cost veterinarian care suffered a devastating loss. An arsonist torched their facility, destroying the inside of the building and killing the three clinic cats.
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