Thrift Store Shopping Tips

You with love them or you hate them.  Most people feel strongly about buying something second hand.  I personally love thrift stores.  Here are some tips that I have found useful.

  1. Volunteer – you will get first choice on all of the goodies.
  2. Have a list of your needs.  Then, keep your eyes open for other awesome deals.  Shop the whole store. Thrift stores are usually poorly organized, so be sure to look around in every department.
  3. Shop around for the best stores.  You can never tell where the best bargains will be hiding.  Once you have found a store that you like, return frequently.  You will get used to the flow of merchandise and the layout of the store.
  4. Become familiar with your store’s sale schedule. Bring grandma if the store offers senior discounts on certain days!
  5. Read labels carefully.  It is really the same thing that you should do when purchasing new.  Look for good quality merchandise. If purchasing clothing, check to make sure seams are sturdy, and that the fabric is good quality.
  6. Did you know that Goodwill has an online auction site – Shopgoodwill.com?
  7. Always check out the china and glassware. You can find good quality dishes and crystal for amazingly low prices. A friend of mine was grossed out by the thought of buying second hand glasses.  I asked her if she thought that they were giving her a brand new mug every time she ordered coffee in a restaurant. That shut her up!!
  8. If you like to craft, think creatively.  Can you make a doggie sweater from the arm of that old sweater?  Maybe a jean purse from that old pair of Calvin’s?
  9. Plan ahead.  Are you planning on giving your mom a bouquet for her birthday? Maybe you can find a beautiful vase for a few dollars.  Many people donate those cool containers that floral arrangements come in. If you are good at arranging flowers, you can really look like a pro by using the florist’s containers.
  10. Wash everything as soon as you bring it home. If I buy dishes or glassware, I wash them on the sterilize cycle.  I always wash clothing separately before wearing it.

Is there anything I refuse to buy second hand?  Underwear  and shoes.  We all have our limits. *wink*  I hope these tips help you find the best bargains at the thrift store. Happy hunting!

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Trade-In Your Electronics for Cash

Do you have an electronic device that you no longer use?  You can trade in that device for cash. Maybe you bought a new iPhone and no longer need your iPod Touch.  Did you receive a new e-reader? Did you know that you can trade in these items for cash? Amazon Best Buy and Gazelle will offer cash or store credit for your old stuff.  You don’t have to pay shipping costs, even if the merchant returns your items.  Anything from Apple will net you top dollar!  Check their website to see what your item is selling for, and subtract about 10-20%.  This is the amount that you can expect to receive.  Amazon has a very easy interface in its trade-in store.  You can trade in books, DVD’s and electronics.  Amazon will make you an offer on the spot. If you choose to accept, just print out their UPS mailing label and drop it off at a UPS store.  Amazon will then credit your gift card balance.  Easy as pie. You might be able to auction off your item for a little more money, but if you don’t want to deal with the hassle, this is the way to go. If you want cash for your stuff, eBay might be a better option. The process is essentially the same as with Amazon, but instead of a gift card, eBay will credit your PayPAl account with cash.  Some stores such as Radio Shack and Best Buy will appraise your item in store and buy it in the spot.  You should always compare prices at several different sites before making a decision to sell.  You might also want to check eBay to see what similar items are selling for.  On Amazon, you can expect to get about $109 for an iPod Touch 8GB.  On Gazelle, you can get about $132 for an iPhone 3GS.  What are you waiting for? Sell your old stuff now for cash!

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How Should You Spend Your Tax Refund?

According to Consumer Reports, 75% of Americans who fiel a tax return will receive a refuund.  The average refund has been approximately $3000 for the past two years.  So what should you do with your refund? Here are some ideas on how you should spend your tax refund.

1. You could pay down debt.  Either make an extra payment toward that high rate credit card, or make an additional payment toward the principal on your mortgage.

2. You could make an extra deposit into your IRA.

3. You can make an extra deposit into your child’s 529 fund.

4. You could open a saving account and start setting aside funds for your next vacation.

5. You could invest in home improvements that you have been putting off.

Choose one idea, or combine them.    If you are getting a refund, consider using it to improve your financial situation.

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Fighting the Insurance Companies

An insurance claim usually arises from a traumatic event. You are ill, and need your health insurance to approve a procedure, or you had a fire in your kitchen, or you were involved in a car accident.  You are stressed, and now you have to deal with an insurance company that does not want to pay.  You paid your premiums, and now they are not holding up their part of the bargain.  Good news – fighting the insurance companies is possible!

Homeowner Claims

The best thing to do is to be proactive.  Take a video of your home, including your valuables such as jewelry and furs before anything happens.  Email it to yourself, and you will have a copy stored in a safe place.  After a loss, take photos of everything as soon as possible.  Then, take steps to prevent any further damage, such as boarding up windows.  Wait until the adjuster shows up before cleaning anything up, or throwing anything away. You should only file claims for large losses.  Your insurance carrier may drop you or raise your rates if you file multiple claims for small items.  If your homeowners carrier does not want to pay, or the settlement seems really low, you should contact an independent adjuster.  Negotiating a homeowners claim can be  tricky, and a professional can really help.

Auto Insurance Claims

When you are involved in an accident, always call the police.  Even if they do not respond, they will have a record of your call. Take photos with your phone of the other vehicle and driver as well as the accident scene.  Bring your car to a reputable repair shop.  Have the adjuster inspect the damage while your car is at the shop.  This can prevent any discrepancies between the shop’s estimate and the insurance company’s estimate.   If your car is a total loss, and the insurance company offers you a low settlement, you can dispute it.  Do some research by finding comparable cars for sale in your area.  Submit this with a letter to your adjuster, explaining your position.

Health Insurance

You need to know what your policy covers.  If you need pre-approval for certain tests or procedures, it helps to be aware of this before having the procedure.  If you have questions, call the insurance carrier and make note of the name of the person you spoke to.  Your insurance company should send you an explanation of benefits (EOB) if something is not covered in full. Do not pay any providers before reading the EOB.  IF you feel there is an error, file a dispute with the insurance company, again making note of the person you are speaking with.     You may need to file a formal appeal if your claim is denied.  The denial letter should outline the process for you.  You can also file a complaint with your state’s insurance commissioner.

So fighting the insurance companies is possible.  You need to make sure that you keep good records and keep fighting.  Be polite and courteous when dealing with your adjuster.  If you are getting nowhere, ask for a supervisor.  You can win! Don’t give up.

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Shop for the Best Auto Insurance Rates

It is a good idea to shop for auto insurance at least once per year, especially if you have a life change.  Insurance companies may try to attract certain types of customers.  A company that gives a retired couple the best rate may not be offer the best deal to a family with teenage drivers.  If you have had a accident or gotten a traffic ticket in the past year, your current company may increase your rates, but a different company may forgive one violation or accident.  It pays to shop around.

When you start calling around, have your declarations page in front of you.  This contains all of the information such as VIN numbers, coverage amounts and deductibles.  You can visit the websites of many major insurance companies and get instant quotes.  You can also locate an independent agent at www.iiaba.net.  The agent can compare the rates of many companies including smaller companies that you may not be aware of.

There are a couple of things to consider:

1. Never choose a deductible that you cannot afford.  Many agents will suggest raising your deductible in order to lower premiums.  If you cannot afford to pay $1000 to repair your car, do not choose a $1000 deductible.

2.  Do not drop collision or comprehensive if you cannot afford to replace your car.  If you do not have a loan of your car, many agents will suggest dropping this coverage.  A friend of mine recently hit a deer.  It was not her fault, but because she did not have full coverage, she did not have any recourse.  If a rock hits your windshield and you have dropped comprehensive coverage, you will also be out of luck.

3. Rental or loss of use coverage is relatively cheap.  If your car is in the shop for two weeks after an accident, how will you get to work?  The loss of use coverage will pay for a rental car.  It will usually only add a minimal amount to your premium, but it is so worth it!

4. You do not have to wait for you policy to expire before shopping around.  You can change companies at any time.  If you find a better deal it is easy to switch.

I hope these tips help you to save some money on your auto insurance.

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Protect Your Identity

Identity theft can devastate your financial future.  Here are some tips to help you protect your identity:

1.  Never carry your social security card in your wallet.  If your wallet is lost or stolen, a thief can completely steal you identity.  Also, never reveal your complete social security number over the phone.   And, if someone calls you claiming to be from your bank or insurance company, never verify your identity with personal detail like date of birth, social security number etc.  Instead, ask for their information and call them back.  Verify that they are who they say they are.

2. Shred all of your bills that contain your account numbers.  Do not use public Wi-Fi connections to complete financial transactions.  Make sure that your home wireless network is secured, and when entering information online, look for the “https”  at the beginning of the URL.

3. Request your credit report at least once per year and look for anything suspicious.

These three steps will help you to protect your identity, and avoid potential disaster.

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Pay Yourself First-Why You Should Set up a Savings Plan

In these tough times, it is so important to have an emergency fund.  You should always pay yourself first. It is easy to set up an automatic savings plan.  Many put this off, waiting to earn more money, or get out of debt first.  But you should not wait, start NOW!  Doesn’t it always seem that when you get a raise, your expenses immediately go up? The first step that you should take is to determine the amount that you can comfortably save from each pay check.  It is OK to start small.  Even $100 per month can add up.  The second step to take is to set a goal.  Do you want to have 6 months worth of expenses in a savings account?  Or do you want to have $3000 saved for vacation?  The third step to take is to open a separate account for each goal.  There are many online banks that offer free savings accounts.  Also check out credit unions for better interest rates.  The fourth step to take is to make it automatic.  You can either have it taken out of your paycheck through direct deposit, or you can set up recurring transfers.

By taking these simple steps, you can painlessly save a few extra dollars and reach your goals.  Don’t procrastinate, start now.  You will be glad that you did!

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Get the Best Deal on a Rental Car

We recently went to Orlando for a family vacation. It had been a while since we had rented a car, and we were surprised by the creative things that the rental companies are doing to tack on extra fees.  You are usually presented with a hard sell at the counter, and the companies use scare tactics to rob you of your money. Here are some tips to get the best deal on a rental car.

The first option was the prepaid gas.  We have always been aware that we needed to fill up the gas tank before returning the car.  However, the companies now offer pre-paid gas.  Be careful, or you will be paying for gas that you never used!  If you choose to fill up the tank before you return the car, the companies are requiring that you keep the receipt from the last fill up.  If the gas station is not within 10 miles of the rental office, they will charge you a fill up fee.

The second fee that shocked us was the early return fee.  If you return your vehicle a day early, some companies will actually charge you $15 more!

The rental agent also advised us that we needed to activate the Sunpass transponder.  He stated that there were many un-manned toll booths inOrlando, and we really needed the transponder. They wanted an additional $6 to activate it.  A little research revealed that the SunPass Mini Sticker transponder is available at authorized SunPass retailers for just $4.99 plus tax.   If you travel toFlorida, once in while, it would be worth investing in this sticker.  By the way, we never encountered an un-manned toll.

The GPS cost $13 per day, and satellite radio was an additional $3 per day.  We brought our own GPS, and listened to regular radio.  Also, car seats will cost about $11 per day.

Probably the scariest decision is whether to purchase the collision damage waiver.  You are told that if anything happens to the car, you will be responsible.  They make it sound like you will need to pay for the damage out of pocket and up front.  They will advise you that they will not deal with your insurance company.  I worked as an adjuster for years.  They will deal with your insurance company. If you carry collision on your personal vehicle, check with your agent before leaving home.  Ask what will be covered should something happen to your rental car, and what your deductible would be.  In most cases the damage will be covered in full, but make sure you ask your insurance company before renting the car.  In addition, if you used a credit card to rent the car, your credit card may cover any gaps in coverage as long as you decline the addition coverage from the rental company. Call your your credit card company and ask before renting the car.

The last tip I have for you is to shop around.  Check with the clubs that you belong to (AAA or BJ’s) to see if they offer member discounts.  Book early, and then keep checking the rates.  We were able to re-book our rental twice.  We got an SUV for $20/per day plus tax!

So, if you will be renting in the future:

  1. Fill up the tank within10 miles of the rental office, and keep the receipt.
  2. Check to see if there are any tolls in the area, and possibly purchase a transponder in advance, or bring yours with you.
  3. Bring your GPS.
  4. Bring your child’s car seat. Most airlines will check this as luggage.
  5. Check with your insurance company and credit card to see what insurance will cover.
  6. Book early, and keep checking prices. Re-book if you can get a better deal.

I Hope these tips will help you save some money, get the best deal on a rental car  and enjoy your vacation!

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Student Loan Repayment Options

Many of us are being crushed by student loan payments.  If you have a federal loan, you have a few repayment options.  Contact your lender for more information about:

  1. The standard plan.  You are automatically enrolled in this option.  You will be paying your loan off in 10 years, making equal payment each month.
  2. Graduated plan. You start out making lower payments.  Then as your income increases, so do your payments, over a ten year period.
  3. Extended repayment.  If you have more than $30,000 in debt, you can extend the repayment out over 25 years.
  4. Income-based. If your loans are waaaay more than your income, you may be able to make reduced monthly payments.  After 25 years, the balance is forgiven.
  5. Income-contingent. This almost the same as income-based, but a little less forgiving.
  6. Consolidation. This plan will allow you to combine all loans, and repay them over 30 years.

If none of these programs works for you, apply for deferment or forbearance. Deferment will allow you to stop making payments for a year.  Interest still gets applied.  Forbearance will allow you to stop making payments for up to 5 years. You may qualify because of economic hardship, active military duty or being a part-time student.

In any case, do not just stop making payments.  You will be considered delinquent if your payment is 21-30 days late.  After 60 days, you will be reported to the credit bureaus.  If you default, the federal government can assign you to a collection agency, demand payment in full, or garnish your wages.

If you do not have any student loans, think hard before borrowing the money.  Consider attending a community college, or state university.  The cost of these schools is usually significantly lower than private universities.  Unless you are considering an Ivy League school, the college that you attend will matter much less than your grades when it comes time to find a job.

So, you do have some options for student loan repayment.

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