With ticket prices taking off, here’s how to save on your holiday and winter air travel

Feel like you’re paying ungodly amounts of dough for each plane ride you take lately?

You’re not imagining (or exaggerating) the state of air travel.

The price of the average round-trip airfare, with taxes, rose to $509 in the first six months of 2014, according to recent data from the Airlines Reporting Corporation.

The cost of flying is outpacing overall inflation, a 2.7% increase in airfare compared to a 2.1% gain in the Consumer Price Index.

It’s not just that airlines have shrunk the number of flights, and reduced the number of available seats on virtually every route. They’ve done so just as the economy has improved enough to get Americans traveling again.

While higher ticket prices aren’t a reason to call off holiday visits with family and friends, or winter escapes to tropical beaches, they’re definitely our cue to shop harder, and smarter, for the best deals.

Here are the best ways to make your hard-earned dollars fly farther.
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 Personal Finance 

How To Win McDonald’s Monopoly Game, 2014 Edition

Welcome to the 2014 edition of McDonald’s Monopoly game. The game has returned to its traditional schedule this year with a fall launch.

The fast-food giant last year caught everyone off guard by launching the game two months early — in July.

But fall just feels right for this game, doesn’t it?

The 2014 game began Sept. 30 and will end in restaurants Oct. 27 and online Nov. 10.

As we’ve done every year, we go over the rules to put together this guide to winning the game. It depends mostly on luck — and a ton of that, of course — but with our guide you can have a better-informed gaming experience.

New this year, you’ll have four chances to win $100,000 by finding the “Free Parking” game stamp on certain food items. And then there are shots at winning “experiences” with celeb sports stars like LeBron James combined with a trip to see a game or race. Target also makes an appearance this year, offering $5,000 shopping experiences with early access to Black Friday sales. Gas-for-a-year and $10,000 to help pay bills are also up for grabs.

Overall, though, the game hasn’t changed much. You can get a game board at or participating restaurants, though the board isn’t required. Get game pieces by purchasing food from McDonald’s or mailing in self-addressed, stamped envelopes.

Game pieces offer a mix of instant win prizes for food, money and other items, and additional prizes — including the $1 million jackpot — for putting Monopoly properties together. The odds of winning at least something in the store are about 1 in 4.
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How to get the most mileage out of baby gear

If you’ve ever shopped for baby stuff, you know that it’s very easy to see your paycheck disappear in a flash. So. Much. Stuff!

Do babies really need all of these things, you might wonder? Probably not, but you ultimately buy everything anyway because you want your little ones to have every new high-tech bouncy seat, fancy teething toy, and designer baby cuteness imaginable. And then there are the bottles, baby food, wipes, diapers, and other daily essentials that have doubled your grocery bills.

While you wind up kicking yourself for spending so much on things that baby will outgrow in mere months, or probably didn’t need in the first place (we’re looking at you, baby food processor and wipes warmer), there are some ways to get more mileage out of your baby-related purchases for years to come.

First, some tips to get the biggest bang for your baby buck if you’re newly pregnant and still shopping:
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Should you pay your child for good grades?

I’ve paid all three of my kids for good grades many different ways and times throughout their school years. But, I can’t say it ever resulted in better grades.

My son, now a senior in high school, would never push a 78 to an 80 just to get some extra cash.

My oldest daughter, now a 20-year old junior college student, had mostly good grades whether I paid for them or not. In high school, she jumped on the honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes and the ACT study guide because they helped her accomplish her goal of becoming a college volleyball athlete.

Once, I promised my middle school kids $20 for every “A” on their final report card. But, that didn’t help either daughter, both “C” math students (even with a tutor), get an “A” in a difficult subject for them, so they felt worse. I probably should have set a more realistic goal. And, paying three kids for all those “A’s” got expensive, so I was also broke that month.

A 2012 survey for American Institute of CPAs found 48% of 269 parents with kids in school, not only paid their children an allowance, but also paid them for good grades.

The average reward for an “A” was $16.60. Seems I overpaid, too.
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 Frugal Living 

How to throw great, yet affordable, football parties

A new season is here that has nothing to do with pumpkin-spiced everything – it’s football season.

Every Saturday and Sunday (and Monday and Thursday nights, too) provide a great excuse to get together with friends and root for your team. Or some other team. Does it really matter?

Of course your entertainment and recreation funds aren’t unlimited.

So here’s how to stage epic football parties week in and week out, at home and in the stadium parking lot, without sacking your budget.
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Smart ways to save money at school without ruining your college fun — or going hungry

Don’t worry – this isn’t going to be one of those posts that tell you you’re a big boy/girl now, and have to stop being irresponsible with money.

I won’t tell you to stop buying overpriced lattes, $11 nachos at midnight, or comfy college sweatshirts because those things are largely what college is all about.

What I will tell you is that the post-college years can really stink when you’re broke. Actually, worse than broke — so far in debt that you feel like you’re working for nothing but your bills.

So here’s how to give your future finances a fighting chance, and get through college without making those clichéd money mistakes of running up credit card debt and blowing through all the summer job money you earned folding shirts at The Gap…
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Oh, how I wish I could go back and talk some sense into my free-spending teenaged self

As a teenager, I looked forward to growing up and leaving home so I could eat all the junk food I wanted.

But now that I’ve done that, my perspective has changed. I avoid junk food at all costs.

I’ve matured a lot when it comes to money, too.

As a kid I dedicated every weekend to blowing through every dollar in my purse. Oh how I wish I could share everything I’ve learned – often the hard way — with my teenage self.

If I could go back in time, the first thing I would tell myself is to start saving earlier.

All those impressive waitressing tips are now long gone, but if I could communicate with then-Alissa, I would tell her to set them aside, to even consider investing some of that cash.
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How to get the most from your auto insurance claim

Being involved in a car accident is scary and stressful. So is dealing with the aftermath.

It’s in the insurance company’s best interest to minimize your claim, but you’ll be able to secure a fair settlement with these four tips.

Don’t admit fault

You typically must file a police report after a car accident. There are situations when you aren’t required to, but to be on the safe side, file a report.

Describe to the police as accurately as possible what you believe happened, but don’t admit fault or say anything to the police, the other driver or any witnesses that might incriminate you.

Gather evidence that might help you later. Photograph the accident scene, capturing the location, license plates and damage. Collect contact information from any witnesses, passengers and other drivers.

At this stage, only discuss the accident with the police to minimize your chances of being misheard or misunderstood.
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