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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 Personal Finance 

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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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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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

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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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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