Start saving and planning now for summer vacays

AirplaneThe coldest winter months are the time to start saving for your summer vacation.

By planning now for a week exploring the sites of London and Paris, or trekking around Orlando’s theme parks, you can avoid racking up credit card debt on airline tickets and hotel rooms when warmer weather rolls around.

While some travel agencies allow you to layaway vacation packages, that can be risky business. You’ll typically wind up paying a penalty if you need to cancel or change your travel plans.

If a trip to a Disney resort or a Disney cruise is on the top of your wish list, the mighty mouse is making it easier for you to save, rolling out a Disney Vacation Account in conjunction with JP Morgan Chase.

It helps put you on the right track by allowing you to save up for your vacation. You can make one-time or recurring contributions to your account, including via your debit card. And if you suddenly decide you’d rather go skiing in Aspen, you can get your account balance refunded.

But there are definite downsides.

If you opt to make deposits using your credit card, you run the risk of racking up big interest charges if you carry a balance on your card.

You also won’t earn any interest on your account, though you will receive a $20 gift card for every $1,000 you spend on your vacation. That’s equivalent to just 0.02% APY.

Far better savings choices are available, regardless of where you want to spend your summer.
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 Culture Cents 

Life’s more expensive for women …

Here’s how I fight financial discrimination

I’ve just purchased a new pair of men’s boots.

I’m a woman, so I suppose that these boots are women’s boots now, because I own them.

But they were designed for and marketed to men.

I own a lot of men’s stuff: my winter coat, razor, deodorant, sun block, and running shoes, to name just a few.

These goods didn’t land in my life by accident.

Sales clerks offer me stuff made for women, so I have to seek out these gender-bending alternatives.

Finances are my biggest motivator.

Goods made for men often cost less than exactly the same product, when it’s made for and marketed to women.
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New ways to make extra money

Most of us would love to start the new year with a little more walking around money.

Well, one of the few benefits of the financial crisis and recession is that it brought out the entrepreneurial spirit of throngs of Americans and the development of the sharing economy.

Why not cash in on the wave by seeing how your skills and the stuff you have could help you earn more money?

Here are 10 enterprising ideas to explore.
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‘Pay As Your Earn’ gets lots of attention, but it isn’t the best way for many of us to repay our student loans

When I was a new college graduate, I owned $10,000 in federally subsidized student loans.

I paid them off the boring way: I wrote a check every month. Then I took a bit of time off from my repayment schedule when I was unemployed. Eventually I wrote a bigger check and I was done.

Since then, the government has added more repayment options, including programs that can actually forgive a portion of unpaid loans after a couple of decades. (If you know anything at all about student loans, you know that they are virtually never forgiven. Unpaid student loans stick with people through bankruptcy and retirement.)

One of these, the Pay As You Earn option (PAYE), is the result of a YouTube video that then-candidate Barack Obama made in 2011, promising college students wouldn’t have to devote more than 10% of their discretionary income to student loan payments.

Under current rules you’re eligible for PAYE if you are repaying direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans, direct PLUS loans made to students, and/or direct consolidation loans that do not include PLUS loans made to parents.
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Don’t let your savings go to the dogs …

6 tips to save on pet care

You love Rover and Whiskers but the cost of treating your furry friends like family adds up. From vet bills and pet meds to gourmet kibble, pet owners are expected to spend a whopping $58.5 billion on their four-legged charges this year, according to the American Pet Products Association.

“There are many ways to save money and still provide quality care,” says Dr. Liz Hanson, a veterinarian at Corona del Mar Animal Hospital in California.

Try these six savings strategies to keep pet care costs in check.
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Why I don’t bother with manufactured spending…Gaming credit card reward programs just isn’t worth it

Do you envy colleagues and friends who vacation for free thanks to all of the credit card reward points and cash rebates they’ve earned from work-related travel?

Travel that doesn’t cost them a dime?

Well, the proponents of “manufactured spending” would have you believe that you can enjoy similar rewards even if you spend eight hours in the same cubicle every day.

These enthusiastic credit card bloggers have developed all sorts of schemes to rack up tens of thousands of points and hundreds of dollars in cash rebates with their credit cards without actually spending any money.

Or, to be more precise, without spending very much money.

Now that I’ve done all the research on manufactured spending, I don’t think it’s worth the time and trouble for most people — including me.

But I know it’s the latest money-for-nothing fad out there in the blogosphere, so I’ll walk you through how it works and show you why I’m not going to game my credit cards like this.
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5 sibling discounts you simply have to ask for

How would you like to pay thousands less for the most common big ticket kids’ expenses?

If you have two or more kids, you’ll be surprised how many places have existing policies for sibling discounts, which can slash 10% to 25% off the stated cost for one or more of your children, depending on the policy.

You just need the balls to ask for the discount whenever paying for more than one-at-a-time for these common, expensive kid costs.


The average annual cost for two children (an infant and a 4-year-old) in a full-time childcare center ranged from $9,175 in Mississippi to $28,606 in Massachusetts.

It’s the highest single household expense in the Northeast, Midwest and South, surpassed only by housing costs in the West, according to, “Parents & The High Cost of Child Care 2013” which surveyed state Child Care Resource & Referral network offices about 2012 daycare costs.
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6 costly credit cards to avoid

Sky-high interest rates. Ridiculous fees. Piddling rewards and modest perks.

That’s what makes these credit cards stand out to me.

Let’s spend a few minutes looking at some of the most disappointing deals currently being foisted on unsuspecting consumers and consider what a more reasonable card might offer.

Least Bang for Your Buck: Visa Black Card

Even though it is made out of stainless steel, don’t confuse the Black Card with the famous Centurion Card from American Express it’s copying, or any other metal-level card, for that matter. For its $495 annual fee, you’ll only get one point per dollar you spend – that’s what many other rewards cards with much lower fees offer. You also get access to some airport lounges and a vague promise of “luxury gifts from some of the world’s top brands” as a token of appreciation.

The alternative: You won’t have any trouble finding a reward card with the same, or even more generous, rewards system and charges an annual fee of $100 or less. All of that other stuff? You’re paying a premium price for perks you not want or use.
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