Category Archives: Money saving sites

Fill up at the rental car counter or at the gas pump?

hertzWhen you rent a car, you’re bombarded with questions from upgrades to insurance. I always say no to everything including the gas, but I recently thought twice about saying yes. The salesman told me the pre-pay gas price was cheaper than nearby gas stations. The price of gas seemed cheap on the sign behind the counter, but I wasn’t willing to take the risk. After all, I’ve always been told to say no to all the add-ons at the rental car counter. How did I know the gas at the counter really was cheaper?

As a consumer reporter, I have a natural skepticism toward the rental car salesman. I’ve done stories with drivers who dropped off their car flawless only to be billed later for damages they say they didn’t cause. Some companies are even requiring receipts for gas to make sure you fill up the tank close to the airport and don’t get a few extra miles out of that full tank of gas.

On my way back to the airport, I filled up at a nearby gas station. The price I paid was a few cents more than the one I saw previously posted at the airport rental car counter. It made me think. Maybe this was something to consider the next time I rent a car.

Before I do it, or suggest you do it, ask many questions. Make sure the price listed is the TOTAL price you will pay per gallon. Make sure there are not additional taxes or fees. Also, ask if that price is valid regardless of whether you need a full or half tank of gas. Finally, get the offer in writing to make sure you won’t be charged later.

I wasn’t ready to experiment with this during my last rental, but I might explore it next time around. I’ll at least ask a few questions to consider whether it’s really a good deal.

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Earth Day freebies

sunset mtnIf you’re willing to help keep the Earth green this Earth Day, you can keep that green money in your pocket. Businesses are offering freebies to help celebrate this environmental holiday.

Caribou Coffee is offering a free coffee of the day when you bring in a reusable mug / cup. Some stores recently closed so check to make sure your location is still open before you waste gas to get there. Now that wouldn’t be green!

You can also visit a National Park for free. This offer runs through April 26. The Park Service said that with 401 parks across the country, every American is less than 100 miles from a park. Click here to find one nearby.

The Body Shop is giving away a free 8.4 oz Earth Lovers Cucumber and Mint body gel with a purchase.  The coupon code is 3Minute or print off the coupon for an in store purchase. The gel is part of a college YouTube promotion to get students to cut their shower to just three minutes. The Body Shop said if everyone took the 3 minute shower challenge, the average person would save nearly 50 gallons of water per shower. Studies show a typical shower uses roughly 7 gallons of water a minute.

Grab those plastic bags and recycle them at the Disney Store to receive a free reusable tote bag. There will be 200 bags available per store. The bags are made from 80% recycled materials.

Pottery Barn Kids is giving away free seeds for kids to plant. The offer will be valid while supplies last. The store is also having a sale on lunch bags and storage containers. If your family is acting in a green way, enter a photo for the chance to win one of three $100 gift cards to Pottery Barn Kids. Details on the store’s Facebook page.

If freebies are not for you, how about donating / recycling an item so someone else can get a free item? We replace sneakers yearly if not more often. What do you do with all your old pairs? There are three great ways to get rid of those old sneakers that are collecting dust in your closet.

Nike offers a “Reuse-A-Shoe” program. You can dropoff your shoes at U.S. Nike and Converse stores, and they are recycled. The shoes are ground down and used in sports facilities and in new shoes. More than 1.5 pairs of shoes are recycled each year. If you don’t live near a dropoff location, you can mail your shoes to: 
Nike Grind Processing
3552 Avenue of Commerce
Memphis, TN 38125

If you want to help someone in need, Soles 4 Souls might be the organization to donate your old shoes. The organization started after the 2004 tsunami that hit Southeast Asia. Click here for a list of dropoff locations.

One World Running promotes awareness of health, fitness, and nutrition by giving sneakers to underprivileged communities. Click here for a list of dropoff locations.

Filing your taxes for free

money angle Tax time is agonizing for many as they try to navigate the maze of rules and forms that is the Internal Revenue Service. Computer programs have made it much easier to calculate your taxes for cheap. Before you pickup a program at the store or consider hiring a CPA or tax professional, check to see if you can get  your taxes done for free.

The IRS offers a service called VITA or Volunteer Income Tax Assistance for anyone making $51,000 or less. I used it when I first started in this business and made peanuts. While it’s a good service, you need to be careful. Most of the tax returns these volunteers prepare are simple. However, if you freelance as I did back then to make some extra money be careful. My taxes were done wrong, and then I was stuck fixing the mistakes by myself years later when they were spotted. The volunteer didn’t fully compute the business tax properly for independent contractors and I ended up owing a few dollars more. It wasn’t much money, but it was a headache to fix the mistake.

I still saved money with the volunteers because I got my taxes done for free, but I spent hours fixing their mistakes that were duplicated for a few years.

That was back in the days when people filed paper returns. Now, that computers do the hard work for you those mistakes are less likely to happen. The IRS also has Free File programs which allow you to prepare your taxes for free with online software if you make $57,000 or less. While it’s called Free File, you need to read the fine print on the individual company you choose. It’s only free to file your federal return, and some sites charge you a high fee to file your state return.

Check a few sites before you decide on a company. You should be able to get your state taxes filed for under $20.

 

1 in 5 consumers has a mistake on their credit report – have you checked your report?

Credit card cash registerWe rely on our credit to buy homes, get a credit card, and get a job. A new report by the Federal Trade Commission found five percent of consumers had errors on their report that could lead them to pay higher prices for everyday products like auto loans and insurance. Plus, one in five consumers had an error on at least one of their three credit reports. So, when was the last time you checked your credit report?

“These are eye-opening numbers for American consumers,” said Howard Shelanski, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics.  “The results of this first-of-its-kind study make it clear that consumers should check their credit reports regularly.  If they don’t, they are potentially putting their pocketbooks at risk.”

While there are horror stories out there from consumers who disputed mistakes only to have it stay on their account, the Congressionally mandated report by the FTC found four out of five consumers who filed a dispute saw a modification to their report.

A January NewsChannel 5 story I did featuring a Northeast Ohio woman who had her credit report file mixed with another woman’s.

credit reportYou can get a free report through the website, Annual Credit Report. It is the only free site where you can get a report. The other ones you’ve heard of , perhaps because of the catchy jingle on TV, will charge you fees or enroll you in a free trial program. Use Annual Credit Report to access your reports.

You will have to give your social security number, and answer a series of multiple choice questions. This is to prove you are who you say you are so your information is not released to an identity thief.

Look for mistakes and dispute them
Review the reports carefully. You will have access to three reports, one from each of the three credit reporting agencies. If you want to keep tabs on your credit year round, check one report every four months from Annual Credit Report. For example, check TransUnion in January via Annual Credit Report. In May, check Experian through Annual Credit Report. In September, check Equifax through Annual Credit Report. It does not matter which order you check the reports.

If you find a mistake, dispute it. It’s best to start a paper trail of your dispute so print off any online disputes you file. Some attorneys will even suggest you mail a certified copy of the dispute so you have the paper trail.

The dispute process is explained at the end of the credit report.

If you can’t get the problem resolved on your own, report it to your Attorney General or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is a government agency that recently began regulating and monitoring consumer reporting agencies.

Credit report vs credit score
money angle You will not get your score through Annual Credit Report, and don’t be tricked into paying to get your score. There are dozens of companies that will charge you or enroll you in a free trial to get your score. Be careful with these companies, and understand exactly what you are signing up for before you give out your credit card information.

You may be able to get your credit score for free if a company runs your credit to determine your eligibility for a product. Some companies automatically send it to you, and other times you have to ask. If you are denied credit, the company must give you a copy of the score that made you ineligible for the financial product.

Fashion trend: rent a dress for a wedding or event

little borrowed dressHow many times have you gone shopping when you had an event or wedding to attend? The damage is often $75-100+ just for that one event. You might wear that dress a few more times, but not too much fearing someone will see you in the same dress at a future event. For men who are shaking their heads, let me introduce you to how women think. Next time they want to spend money for a new outfit, how about suggesting that they rent? It’s been a trend for men for quite some time with tuxedo rentals, and now it’s hitting women’s fashion.

I considered renting bridesmaid dresses for my wedding, but I was running out of time so I decided against it. If you have time, it may be a money-saving option to try. The site, Little Borrowed Dress, rents and sells bridesmaid dresses for $50-75. There are just a few styles to choose from, but dozens of colors. The styles are designed to fit and flatter a variety of shapes and sizes without alternations.

If you are nervous about the sizing, you can visit the showroom in New York City. For all the other bridesmaids who don’t live in NYC, a second rental is sent for free with every dress just in case the first one doesn’t fit.

I think it’s still a little risky if you don’t always wear the same sized dress.  The dresses are shipped two weeks before the wedding which is very last minute if the dresses don’t fit. The company promises to make it right if the dresses don’t fit, but as a bride that’s one element of surprise I don’t need. I was already worried with dresses that I knew were sized for the women. 

Rent the Runway is another option if you’re in the market for an evening gown. My friend used this site, and loved her dress. She had some problems with sizing, but got the company to overnight her a new dress just in time for the big event. It was a little  nerve wracking as it was down to the wire, but she got the dress of her dreams.

Finally, consider shopping a friend’s closet. Chances are you can find a new outfit for free for your next event.

What do you think of this trend? Would you rent a dress? Join the conversation by clicking comment below.

Creating a wedding website

085When you’re planning a wedding, you don’t realize you’ll also be the travel coordinator for all your guests. We had a destination wedding so we heard more questions than perhaps the average bride having a wedding in town, but be prepared for constant questions about the arrangements. That’s why I highly suggest you put together a website so guests can check out the details on their timeframe.

wedding websiteIt’s very easy to create a wedding website, and often free. You can make it as simple or as fancy as you want. The sites are fully customizable and allow you to even take requests for music.

After checking out several sites, we settled on WeddingWire. It’s a simple, intuitive process to create your site. Within an hour, you can have it all set to go with pictures, a story of how you met, and details for guests.

You can customize your URL so it’s easy for your friends to remember.

You even have the option of setting the site to public or private. I set mine to private as I didn’t want strangers to know where our wedding was being held. Perhaps that’s not as big a deal for you, but do you really want the world to know when and where your wedding and reception are being held?

We got a lot of great feedback on our site, and it was visited 1,800 times as people made arrangements.

For our destination wedding, we even put tips on finding cheap flights and cars. We had a search engine so people could search right from the site. It made it easy on guests.

We still got quite a few calls, but I can’t imagine how many we would have gotten if we didn’t have the website. People want to talk to the bride, learn about the wedding, ask about travel arrangements, etc. It’s nice to talk to everyone, but  I have to admit it’s tough when you’re planning an out of town wedding and taking care of all the details yourself.

That’s why I think a website is an easy way to defer some of those questions. I gave out our wedding website countless times.

The website also keeps you on task with a countdown clock and checklists. That way you are reminded of all the things you need to do in the coming weeks and months. It’s important to stay organized and on task so you’re not overwhelmed by all the planning.

Some brides are taking the customization to a whole new level by introducing the guests to each other on social media so they get to know each other before the wedding. We didn’t take this step, but I remember attending a wedding where there were details about the wedding party, main guests, etc. You could introduce yourself as well. It became a forum to get to know the guests so you could enjoy yourself more once you arrived.

Whatever you choose to do, be prepared to answer lots of questions from inquisitive guests from where are you registered to how do I get to the reception. Happy planning!

 

Virtually paint your home for free

The cold weather is approaching, which means it’s a good time to get those home improvement projects done. How about brightening your mood with updated paint colors? Online software is making it easier to figure out how the colors will look specifically on your walls and with your decorations.

You can also save money with these online tools because you have a better sense of how a color looks on your walls before you paint it. Picking out paint can be a big headache. I remember I wanted to paint a room in my condo blue. I did not want baby blue. I wanted that nice New England blue reminiscent of the water and ocean. It’s not dark blue, but not light blue. I’ve seen it in homes, but I couldn’t find it. Of course, every blue I put on the wall looked like a baby’s room. I finally ditched the idea of painting the room blue.

Colorjive is a free tool that allows you to upload a photo and see how the room will look with different paint colors. It costs $12 a month for unlimited access. The site has changed the fees. It used to be $15 a year for up to 10 photos. There is a 30 day free trial, and the site claims there is no long term commitment.

Just remember to cancel before 30 days expires if you really want just the free trial. It appears to be pretty straightforward. The terms are not pages and pages long. Very short and sweet.

When you find a color you like, you can get the code and take that into the store to get it filled. The program allows you to choose between Sherwin Williams, Glidden and Benjamin Moore.

To save money, shop around for the best prices. You can get any company’s paint color mixed at most stores even if they don’t sell that paint.  Just take the chip or code and the store can usually make that color.

If you’d prefer to visit the individual stores like Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore you can do that too. Sherwin-Williams Color Visualizer tool is very in-depth. Benjamin Moore offers the Personal Color Viewer. With Benjamin Moore, the walls change colors for you when you select a shade. That’s a nice tool because you can browse through colors faster. In the other programs, you have to highlight the area you want to virtually paint.

Behr allows you to view colors online without uploading your own picture, and recommends you set your screen resolution to 1024 x 768 pixels to get the clearest and truest picture of your color. Also, set the color quality to 32-bit.

Play around with it. I think you’ll find it helpful, and a money saver so you’re not buying paint you don’t like.

You can also buy a small canister of paint, but they’re pricey. I typically saw them for $4-5. That’s pricey for the small amount of paint you get. A pint is not much more. Those small canisters are not widespread, and usually are limited to specific paint colors. So, you may not find the paint color you like.

Cut your cell phone and landline bills in half

phoneIf you want to save money, your phone bill is a good place to start looking for savings. There is no need to spend a lot for cell phone or landline phone service. Third party companies, not associated with the major phone companies, are giving you more options to save.

iPhone 4A prepaid cell phone plan is the best way to cut your bill in half. These plans used to be marketed to people with poor credit who couldn’t qualify for a phone plan, but now they’re becoming mainstream. Pre-paid plans are now being used by consumers who simply want to reduce their phone bill. Some of the plans are offered by third party companies, while others are offered by the phone company itself.

One of the more popular ones is offered by Straight Talk. Walmart sells the plans, but you can also buy the service directly from Straight Talk online. The company offers a $45 unlimited talk, text, and data plan for smartphone users. That’s far less than the traditional plans for similar service that typically start at $75-80.

You need an unlocked phone for this service, but spending several hundred dollars upfront for the phone may be worth it because you are not tied into a hefty monthly charge or contract. Some users say that while it’s advertised as “unlimited” there are limits on the data you can consume before being throttled. I couldn’t get a straight answer on this, but a techie who uses it said he stays below 2 GB to avoid potential problems.

My NewsChannel 5 story breaks other prepaid plans and the limits with each one. Most cost around $50 a month.

Save on landline service
phone resized
Straight Talk is now offering you the chance to save on landline service too. The cost is $15 a month. My mom pays $43 a month for basic phone service. The cost is outrageous, and I’m ready to switch her to save her $28 a month.

You need to buy a $99.99 wireless home phone device to make this possible, and then you pay the monthly fee. You can keep your old number by porting it.

What’s unclear is whether your phone number remains unlisted. My mom pays $5.50 a month to keep her phone number out of the phone book. That’s an outrageous price, and she said it’s gone up considerably in the last few years.

phone book 3I read all the fine print on Straight Talk’s website, and can’t find anything about keeping your number private. I called customer service and none of the options really applied to what I needed. They were mostly for existing customers. I hit a few options when prompted, and was hung up on twice.

On my third try, I finally hit the correct prompts to get connected to a customer service representative. Or, so I thought. I sat on hold for more than 23 minutes, when I finally gave up and hung up the phone.

That’s the big tradeoff with Straight Talk. It’s hard to get straight answers because it’s hard to reach customer service. You get what you pay for in a way. If the little details are not important to you, it’s a good option for you. However, I have a feeling many of the people holding onto their costly landline phone service are not exactly willing to try new technology without asking lots of questions and reading all the fine print.

The other option is magicJack, but it requires some technical know-how to use it. A computer was once a requirement, but now you just need a router or Internet service.

That company makes it clear you can keep your private number for no additional fee, but it won’t work for my mother who doesn’t own a computer and has no desire to get one. I’m sure many people with landline phones fit into this category.

The bottom line: there are options out there to cut your phone bills in half. In my opinion, it’s worth some of the tradeoffs if you’re going to save some money. People who have made the switch seem happy they did. They’re celebrating all the way to the bank.

Free shipping for the holiday

Courtesy: FedEx

Courtesy: FedEx

If your shopping isn’t complete, the shipping deadline for holiday items is approaching. As a last push to get you to shop, an estimated 2000 retailers will participate in Free Shipping Day on Monday, December 17.

The Free Shipping team put together a handy list of shipping deadlines by retailer. Some say standard shipping orders placed by December 20th will arrive in time for the holiday. The  majority list earlier dates including December 16th and 17th.

It’s amazing the differences in shipping when you order from different companies. Continue reading

Sorting through all the Black Friday ads

GottaDeal Black Friday savings chart

All the ads have leaked over the last few weeks, and this year some retailers are posting their own ads online so you’ll go their site rather than the sites that leak them. Keeping all the discounts straight can get confusing. If you’re on the hunt for something specific, check out the savings chart on GottaDeal.The deal saving site breaks down the discounts into categories. For example, if you’re interested in a new TV, you select TV from the dropdown box. Then, you’ll see a listing of all the brands and deals. Continue reading