Personal Finance 
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Haven’t started budgeting for the holidays? Now’s the time

If you don't start budgeting for the holidays until Black Friday, you may end up overspending.
Americans have a habit of getting buried in debt during the holidays.

In November 2011, Consumer Reports conducted a holiday spending survey and found that 14 million Americans were still paying off bills from the previous year’s holidays. That’s only about 6 percent of us, but the point is, we usually don’t start budgeting for the holidays until it’s too late, and that can lead to overspending and ultimately, debt.


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 Travel 
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Can flying first class be frugal?

Finding cheap first class flights just takes a little legworkWhile checking in to a flight recently, sheer curiosity led me to see how much it would cost to upgrade. I was surprised to find out that moving up to first class would only be fifty bucks. Granted, it was a two-hour flight, but first class for only $50 more than coach? That’s a decent deal, especially when you factor in the free drinks, lots of extra leg room and priority boarding and disembarking that typically come with a first class ticket.

Obviously, it’s cheaper not to upgrade at all. But if you’re looking for a little splurge or just want to try first class out, here are some ways to score cheap first class flights.
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 Travel 
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Best Travel Deal Websites – Which Ones Work For You?

My husband and I travel every summer.  He is a public school librarian, so we fit all of our longer vacations into the months that he has off.  If our trip requires getting plane tickets, I start searching for the best prices up to 6 months in advance.  I always hit a bunch of sites, but my favorites have been Airfare Watchdog, Travelocity, Expedia, and Southwest Vacations.

Airfare Watchdog

Airfare Watchdog is an awesome way to monitor the prices of flights in your area.  I have bought a ticket through their site once, but I have also simply used the information it throws my way to pick the best times to patrol all of the other sites to get the best deal.  I love the fact that it is easy to use.

If you’d like to keep an eye out for the best prices on plane tickets to or from a certain place, simply sign up for email notifications.  Airfare Watchdog will then email you when specials occur for the trip you set it up to monitor.  For example, I was looking for a cheap ticket to Chicago to go to the Financial Blogger Conference at the end of September.   I signed up for email notifications in March for any good deals from Houston to Chicago and jumped on a $215 ticket that they notified me about a few weeks later.

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 NEWS 
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American Express Eliminating Some Foreign Transaction Fees

American Express announced this month that they would be eliminating foreign transaction fees for Platinum and Centurion cards starting at the end of the first quarter of 2011. Foreign transaction fees are fees tacked onto purchases made in another currency and one of the big reasons why we opened up a Capital One credit card prior to our trip to Europe last year.

As an added bonus, if you’re a Platinum or Centurion cardmember, you get $200 in airline fee credits that can go towards airline fees from food to changing a flight to airport lounge day passes to checking a bag.

According to an updated list of foreign transaction fees at CreditCards.com, Capital One is still your best bet for avoiding a foreign transaction fee (unless you have a Platinum or Centurion American Express card).


 Insurance 
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Rule of Thumb on Insurances To Avoid

Here’s the rule of thumb I use on whether or not an insurance policy is worth getting – if they are willing to sell you insurance without knowing anything about you, don’t buy it.

Think about how much information you have to provide if you’re buying any kind of “traditional insurance.” With life insurance, you have to submit yourself to a physical. For auto insurance you have to offer up your car’s history, your credit history and your driving history, which is being tracked by a third party. For homeowners insurance, you have to provide a history of claims on your home (don’t worry, it’s tracked by a third party), your own credit history, and home details.

When you buy travel or trip cancellation insurance, they don’t need anything except your money. When you buy cell phone insurance, they don’t need anything except your money. Extended warranties? Just send in a check.

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 Reviews 
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Frequent Flyer Master Review

Frequent Flyer MasterFor what seems like years, JD Roth has sung the praises of one Chris Guillebeau, author of the Art of Non-Conformity blog. For months, I’m pretty sure every conversation we’ve had (and we talk almost every week in preparation of the Personal Finance Hour), the Guillebeau name comes up. I don’t really know much about him but I do know he has the audacious goal of visiting every country in the world. Every single one of the 192 countries in the world… and he’s already scratched 122 off the list.

Knowing nothing else about him, other than scanning his blog a few times, I knew that at the very least he’d be an expert on travel and squeezing every bit of value out of his dollar. You see, Chris isn’t rich. He makes a living as a blogger but he’s not the heir to a vast fortune he taps to fund an extravagant lifestyle. He’s someone who has decided what he wants to do with his life, designed it in a way that makes his goals achievable, and explains the whole mentality in a totally free ebook called A Brief Guide to World Domination. I think it gives you great insight into who he is and a taste of his writing style, which takes me to his latest piece of work – Frequent Flyer Master.

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 Personal Finance 
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Dunhill Vacations Travel Deals Newsletter

As you might remember from a few days ago, my money vice is vacations. So I’m always on the lookout for things that will make our travel cheaper, which included signing up for the Travelzoo Top 20 deals email newsletter.

I’ve been getting the weekly emails, plus some unscheduled last-minute offers or promotions, for the last few months and the deals have been pretty astounding. I think it has to do with the recession and the last minute nature of many of the offers. If you’re flexible, you can get some amazing rates on cruises, flights, hotels, and shows.

Dunhill Vacations is another company like Travelzoo. They’re not a travel agency but a deal collector and publisher. Their main website lists a bunch of offers and while they don’t have a “top 20″ list, they do have plenty offers listed. There isn’t much more to say other than that I signed up for their free newsletter and you can to if you’re interested. I haven’t received one yet but I think it’ll probably be a lot like Travelzoo’s emails. (and like Travelzoo, they don’t sell your information, which is very important)

If you’re already a subscriber, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. I figure that it’s free and I can unsubscribe whenever I want so I might as well. You never know, you might save a few bucks or find some insane last minute deal that makes it all worth it. :)


 Your Take 
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Your Take: Your Favorite Vacation?

Kauai Marriott Weather StationsWe’ve all shared our dream vacations, but what is your favorite vacation? What’s a place you absolutely love going to?

For me, my favorite vacation has to be to Hawaii (one of the reasons I’m a huge fan of my friend Sheila’s GoVisitHawaii.com blog, it’s an almost daily reminder of how beautiful and awesome the 50th state is). My wife and I went there for our honeymoon a year and a half ago. We spent a week on Kauai, half a week on the Big Island, and half a week on Oahu, and sometimes I feel as though our hearts never left. :)

If you’ve never been, Hawaii is gorgeous. Kauai is the least developed and least touristy of the main islands and we were big fans of that. We went whale watching and snorkeling near Poipu with Captain Tara (Kauai Sea Riders), who was a friend of a family friend, we went ATV riding, took a helicopter ride around the island, and did all sorts of hiking. On the Big Island, we stayed a couple days in Hilo (the verdant and more rainy side) and then a couple in Kona (the drier side); enjoying the beach, snorkeling, and such. Finally on Oahu, we visited the Pearl Harbor Memorial, where you could easily spend an entire day seeing the memorial, Bowfin submarine, and the Battleship Missouri.

What’s your favorite vacation?


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