Personal Finance 
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Money Leaks: Canceling Unused Memberships

How many memberships do you have? How many of those do you use often enough to justify the fees? When was the last time you sat down and took a long look at what you were paying and whether it was still worth it? If it’s been a while, now’s a pretty good time to do it. :)

The classic unused membership is, of course, the gym membership. For the month or so after New Year’s Day, our gym is absolutely packed with people looking to achieve their resolutions. The influx of new people only lasts about a month or two before it goes back to its pre-NY resolution levels. While the people may no longer be going, their money continues to go to the gym since gyms know about this behavior. That’s why gyms will always have membership contracts. They are quite sneaky. :)

So, how do you go about trimming unused memberships, especially if you are locked in?

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 Shopping 
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Shop Sam’s Club Free: August 6-8

Sams ClubThis weekend, Sam’s Club is hosting an “open house” from Friday through Sunday where non-members can shop without paying the standard 10% service fee on purchases. Typically, when a non-member shops at a warehouse store, like Sam’s Club or Costco, there is a “service fee” tacked onto the purchase. This fee is waived for the weekend at Sam’s Club.

If you’re lucky, this could coincide with a sales tax holiday like it does for my fair state of Maryland (Sunday). Membership at Sam’s Club starts at $35 a year and gets up to $100 for an Advantage Plus membership.


 NEWS 
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Costco New Membership Promotion

Costco SignIf you’ve been waiting for a Costco new member promotion before you join, today is your lucky day because Costco has announced their latest new membership promotion. Between now and June 30th, 2010, you can receive 2 months free when you join Costco. New Executive Members also get a $10 cash card on top of the two extra months. You can order your membership online here.

If you’re an existing member like me, you can get in on the fun too. Sign up for automatic membership renewal with an AMEX card and you get two extra months too. Call 1-877-258-6032. We use the AMEX Costco card.
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 Investing 
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Why You Should Be Reinvesting Dividends

American Flag outside the Wall StreetI’ve been investing in a few dividend stocks lately because savings account rates have been pretty abysmal. The prospect of earning a percent or two on my money is great for an emergency fund but lousy for anything long term.

One of the important ideas behind dividend investing is that you should reinvest the dividends if you don’t need the income. Public companies offered dividend reinvestment plans, or DRIPs, that let you buy shares directly from them and have your dividends reinvested for free. Nowadays, many brokers offer this service for free and I take advantage of them.

However, just because everyone says it’s a good idea doesn’t make it a good idea. Why should I reinvest my dividends?

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 Bank Deals 
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Costco/Capital One InterestPlus Online Savings Account

Costco SignCostco and Capital One have joined forces to offer an InterestPlus Online Savings account that offers a fairly competitive 1.50% APY. It doesn’t appear that a Costco membership is required for this account but there is an incentive for members. If you are an Executive, you can get a $60 bonus. If you’re a Gold Star or Business member, then it’s only a $20 bonus. In terms of bonuses, these are probably the best you can expect for an online savings account but brick & mortar checking account bonuses (where you need to setup direct deposits and make bill pays) will usually pay far more (without a third party paid membership requirement).

This offer is attractive if you don’t already have an online savings account and you are already Costco member.

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 Frugal Living 
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Spend to Save Trap

If you ever want to learn about consumer behavior, walk through a grocery store. Look at all the labels, how things are positioned, how sales are organized, and you’ll get tremendous insight into how we consume. Ever wonder why grocery stores have sales where they limit the number of products you can buy? You can get five cases of Diet Coke for $10 but you are limited to five cases. If you really wanted ten, all you need to do is buy five, drop them off at your car, and then buy five more in another “trip” five minutes after the first. The reason they “limit” your order is because it creates a scarcity and you’ll end up buying more.

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 Banking 
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Buying Checks Online

Personal checksMany thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on the best places to buy checks online (62 comments as of this writing!), sounds like I was right to think that $20 for 50 checks was absurd! It appears that there are plenty of affordable options for buying checks and none of them come close to the 40 cents per check that Bank of America’s printers were asking for.

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 Your Take 
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Your Take: Ever Buy Checks Online?

My initial supply of personal checks, a checkbook worth, is coming to an end soon and I’ll be needing a fresh new supply. I don’t use checks very often anymore, I think they are antiquated and very insecure, but every few months I have to deal with a company that requires personal checks. It usually comes down to the company not wanting to deal with the headaches of credit cards and me not wanting to deal with the headaches of their 0% same-as-cash-but-not-quite financing offer! Anyway, the end result is that I write them a personal check and my initial stock is dwindling rapidly.

I looked into reordering checks directly from Bank of America, who gets them through Clarke American, now named Harland Clarke; but they want $20 for 50 checks! That’s outrageous! (and doesn’t include shipping) To prove how both absurd and true it is, here’s the screenshot from the order page (to be honest, if I were you, I wouldn’t believe me unless I saw this screenshot):

OK, order checks from the bank is out. It looks like I’ll have to order checks online. I looked at a couple places but it appears that Costco will probably be my best bet. Costco sells checks for pretty reasonable prices, though that option is only available for Costco members. You can get two boxes of standard single checks (400) for $10.59, $8.47 if you’re an executive member. Four boxes doubles the price, so there’s no discount for quantity. Shipping is a reasonable $4.95. That’s 400 checks for less than 4 cents a check – a song compared to the 40 cents BoA wanted!

Have you ever ordered checks online? If so, what has your experience been and who have you used?


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