Save $5,000 a Year on Expenses Everyone Has

Johanna Ljungblom (freeimages.com)

Johanna Ljungblom (freeimages.com)

Most people spend more than they have to on the following seven commonly used products and services. In some cases, lower-cost options have only recently become available and are not yet widely known. In others, sellers intentionally put up roadblocks that make it challenging to get the best prices. Smart ways to save money on…

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Car Maintenance You Don’t Need

Eduardo Valério (freeimages.com)

Eduardo Valério (freeimages.com)

Even the smartest people sometimes feel foolish when speaking with car mechanics. We often say yes to maintenance services because we figure that the auto mechanic knows what is best for our cars. However, car owners sometimes overspend ­because less-than-honest auto repair shops talk them into services that their cars don’t really need. They also may not understand that today’s vehicles have different needs than those of decades past.

Among the most common money-wasting mistakes car owners make… Continue reading

DIY Home Repairs that can land you in the ER

linder6580 (freeimages.com)

linder6580 (freeimages.com)

It may be cheaper to do home maintenance and repairs yourself than to call a professional, but don’t let being economical trump your common sense. Emergency rooms have seen an uptick in do-it-yourself (DIY) injuries as home owners attempt their own repairs—sometimes with disastrous results.

Some of the most common DIY injuries—and how to prevent them…

• Antenna installations. This year, I noticed an increase in patients who had fallen off their roofs. They were trying to save money by giving up cable television and installing rooftop antennas. Instead, they wound up in the emergency room.

Self-defense: Make sure that your ladder is in good shape and set up properly. Use a ladder made of fiberglass or wood if you’re working near power lines. Every year, I see patients who get zapped when a metal ladder touches a power source. In rare cases, people are electrocuted. More often, they’re “sucker punched” by the surprise of the electrical jolt, lose their footing and fall off the ladder.

 Also, protect your hands. Most antennas are fastened to chimneys or other upright supports with metal bands. The bands can have knife-sharp edges. If you don’t wear heavy gloves, you may end up needing a surgeon.

• Gutter cuts. Roof gutters, even those made of vinyl, have extremely sharp edges. So do the guards that fit on top to keep out leaves. Cuts from roof gutters typically are jagged and very dirty—so there’s a high risk for infection.

Self-defense: Always wear sturdy work gloves when repairing or cleaning gutters. If you cut yourself, rinse the cut with running water for at least five minutes to wash out debris and germs.

If the bleeding doesn’t stop within a few minutes, go to the emergency room. These cuts are very painful and can be slow to heal. The doctor will numb the area with lidocaine and clean the wound more thoroughly than you can at home—and medical treatment may reduce scarring.

Important: Never go out in the rain on a ladder or on a wet roof to clean a clogged gutter—you’re much more likely to slip and fall.

• “Welder’s Eye.” The Home Depot and other home-improvement centers sell inexpensive welding gear. People without a lot of training or safety knowledge are doing their own welding.

Main risk: Corneal burn. The ultraviolet light emitted by welding torches can scorch the cornea. You won’t feel the injury right away, but about two or three hours later, you’ll have the most excruciating pain imaginable. Corneal burns usually heal on their own within a few days, but see a doctor as soon as possible.

Self-defense: Put on protective eyewear intended for welders before you light the torch.

• Insulation installation. A lot of people are insulating their basements and attics to save money on heating bills. Insulating walls is relatively easy—injuries usually occur when people are standing on ladders to install ceiling insulation.

Self-defense: Measure and cut the insulation before getting on the ladder. A lot of falls happen when people are standing on a ladder and trying to juggle a tape measure, a utility knife and a staple gun. Wear gloves and protective goggles.

• Hard plastic packaging. Everything from a spark plug to a screwdriver set now is packaged in tough, hard-to-open plastic shells. We see patients all the time in the ER who have sliced themselves with utility knives or even butcher knives while trying to open those things. Also, the sharp plastic edges of the opened container can cut you as deeply as a knife.

Self-defense: Buy heavy scissors or utility shears to open the packaging. And wear gloves. Good: OpenX Dual Blade Universal Package Opener.

• Lawn mower burns. One study reported an average of 74,000 emergency visits for lawn mower injuries annually in the US. Most lawn mower injuries involve flying debris, but muffler burns also are common. And late in the season, people who have been mowing their lawns all summer tend to feel confident in their handling of the machines—sometimes overly confident.

What happens: People decide to repair the mower or change the oil while the machine is hot. Touching the muffler, even for a fraction of a second, can cause a second-degree burn. Also dangerous is filling the gas tank while the machine is hot. Spilled gasoline that vaporizes is highly combustible.

• Lawn tractors. They’re designed not to tip over, but it happens. Manufacturers include safety mechanisms that stop the blades if the machine tips, but the blades don’t stop instantly. I’ve seen patients who lost fingers or toes when the machines they were riding tipped over.

Self-defense: Study the instruction manual thoroughly. No one should get on a lawn tractor without knowing exactly what he’s doing. Nor should children or pets ride with you. Also important: Know where the cutting blades are located. Different models have different blade configurations. I have a picture of a dog that now has only three legs because his owner didn’t realize the dog was in the danger zone.

DIY SAFETY

• Position a ladder correctly. The ladder should be at a 75° angle from the ground or floor. That means about one foot between the bottom of the wall and the base of the ladder for every four feet of ladder height.

Also: Reposition your ladder rather than lean or reach far to one side. Be especially sure that your ladder is secure if you will be doing repetitive work that could rock the ladder.

If you use your ladder to climb onto a roof: The top of the ladder should extend at least three feet beyond the roof’s edge. You don’t want to have to stand on the ladder’s top two rungs, because you will be too close to the wall to maintain your balance.

• Protect your hands. Every home owner should own one or two pairs of heavy cloth or leather gloves.

Helpful: Hand injuries that occur during home repairs often involve the nondominant hand. We would see fewer patients in the ER if, for example, right-handed people would keep their left hands out of the way when using power tools.

• Wear special protective eyewear whenever you’re using a tool that could send debris into your eye.

Read the manual. Know how your tools work before plugging them in.

Never work in a risky location when you’re alone. If you’re on the roof or in a difficult-to-negotiate attic, you could fall, get seriously injured and need someone to help. At the very least, carry a charged cell phone in your pocket or clipped to a belt so that it isn’t likely to fall out of reach in case you need to call for help.

Turn off the main power when working with electricity. Don’t just turn off a switch—someone could flip it on when you aren’t looking.

Wear appropriate footwear, such as boots or sneakers. No sandals.

Source: Richard O’Brien, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton. He is also a spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, Washington, DC.

Credit Card Free Benefits That Can Save You Money

creditcardYour credit cards provide free benefits that could save you hundreds of dollars a year, but you may not know—or may have forgotten—that you have these perks. And given all the limitations and loopholes in the fine print, you may not know which cards offer the best versions of the perks that range from extended warranties and price-match protection to rental-car and travel insurance.

Here’s what you need to know about money-saving perks that are available when you pay for a product or service with a particular card*…

EXTENDED WARRANTIES

You could receive additional warranty protection for free.

Details: These programs generally double the length of the manufacturer warranty up to one extra year of coverage (up to two extra years with MasterCard World Card). Especially long manufacturer warranties might not be extended, however. Warranties longer than five years are not extended with American Express, and the limit is three years with Visa Signature and Discover…two years with MasterCard World Card…and one year with other MasterCards. Products that lack a manufacturer warranty receive no warranty coverage from the cards. Certain product categories, including motor vehicles, collectibles, perishables, software and rented/leased items are excluded. ­MasterCard and Discover programs exclude refurbished items and damage caused by “wear and tear.” This warranty protection typically is limited to $10,000 per item and $50,000 per cardholder per year, though there is no annual limit with MasterCard.

Best program: American Express has the fewest exclusions.

PRICE PROTECTION

If you spot a printed advertisement (with a date) showing a lower price than you recently paid for an item, you might be able to get a refund for the difference. (With some programs, even a lower price found on a non-auction Internet site qualifies.)

Availability: Nearly half of ­consumer credit cards offer this, including all Barclaycard, Chase, Citi and Discover cards. It is not available with any American Express or U.S. Bank cards.

Details: Most programs offer either 60 or 90 days of price protection, though Barclaycard and World MasterCard/World MasterCard Elite offer 120 days. Refunds are capped, typically at $250 per item and $1,000 per year. Some programs require cardholders to reenroll each year and/or register each purchase, which few cardholders bother to do. Jewelry, tickets, collectibles, close-outs, fuel and motor vehicles are among the purchase categories that typically are excluded from coverage.

Best programs: Discover and Chase refund up to $500 per item and $2,500 per year per account. Barclaycard and World MasterCard provide the longest price-match refund window.

Change your mind about a purchase and you might be able to get your money back, even if the retailer won’t allow a return—if you bought the item with a card that provides this perk.

Availability: About half of consumer credit cards offer this, including all American Express, Discover and Citi cards but not any Bank of America, Capital One or U.S. Bank cards.

Details: Returned items typically must be in unused condition. A copy of the receipt will be required, and the cardholder might have to supply a written refusal from the retailer to take back the item. Cardholders usually must pay to ship the item to the credit card issuer to get the refund, so this might not be a viable option with bulky products. Discover and American Express typically allow returns within 90 days. Coverage generally is capped at $250 or $300 per item and up to $1,000 per year. Most programs exclude certain products—jewelry, cosmetics and items purchased abroad are especially likely to not qualify. Some programs require annual reenrollment and/or registration of each purchase. MasterCard’s program applies only to products bought from stores that allow returns for at least 10 days.

Best program: Discover’s “Return Guarantee” program features high caps—$500 per item and $2,500 per year—and a long 90-day return window.

RENTAL-CAR COVERAGE

The insurance offered by rental-car companies can cost $15 to $30 per day, but you might be able to avoid this expense by charging the rental to a credit card that automatically provides free rental insurance for theft, collision and other damage (but not liability).

Exception: MasterCards that are not World MasterCards do not offer this coverage.

Details: Credit card rental insurance typically is secondary coverage, which means that you must file a claim with your own auto insurance provider—if your policy covers rental vehicles—before this credit card program will pay out. That could drive up your insurance rates. A very small number of cards, including Chase Sapphire Preferred and Diners Club, provide primary coverage as a no-fee perk, which could prevent your auto insurance rates from climbing if you do have an accident.

MasterCard World/World Elite and Discover (aside from Escape by Discover, which is no longer available to new customers) provide coverage for rentals in all countries, but most other cards exclude Ireland, Israel and Jamaica. American Express and Escape by Discover exclude Italy, Australia and New Zealand, too. Rentals lasting more than 30 or 31 days generally are not covered. The cap is just 15 days with Visa rentals in the US and with World MasterCard rentals anywhere.

Discover does not cover “loss of use”—the amount the rental company might charge you because it cannot rent out a damaged vehicle while it is being repaired. (The other programs do cover loss of use, but only if the rental company provides documentation.)

Visa does not cover damage to wheels or tires…or any damage occurring on dirt or gravel roads. MasterCard also excludes dirt and gravel roads that are not well-maintained.

Best program: American Express cards have relatively few exclusions for filing a claim.

FREE TRAVEL INSURANCE

You might be eligible for a range of perks if you pay for airline tickets or other travel costs with a credit card. For baggage insurance, you could be compensated for lost, damaged or delayed luggage. For trip-cancellation (and/or trip-interruption or trip-delay) protection, you might get reimbursed for some or all of your nonrefundable travel expenses if you are forced to alter your travel plans. Travel accident insurance might include a hefty payout if you die or are disabled on the trip.

Availability: Most rewards cards—and some nonrewards cards—offer travel accident and baggage insurance. Cards offering trip-cancellation protection include Barclaycard ­Arrival World MasterCard, Chase Sapphire/Sapphire Preferred, Wells Fargo Visa Signature and a number of Citi cards including Double Cash, Hilton HHonors and ThankYou.

Details: Baggage insurance typically is capped at a few hundred dollars and generally pays out only when losses are not fully covered by the responsible airline. Lost luggage on trains, buses and other forms of public transport might be covered as well. Some programs even cover carry-on bags…and a few include baggage-delay protection, which covers the cost of replacing essentials when your bags arrive later than you do.

Examples: Discover pays up to $500 for replacement essentials if your bags are delayed at least three hours. Chase Sapphire Preferred covers up to $100 per day for up to five days if bags are delayed more than six hours.

Trip-cancellation coverage tends to be capped at around $1,500 and generally pays out only if the cardholder can prove that the trip was canceled or interrupted for one of a very limited number of reasons, such as serious illness, injury or natural disaster.

Travel accident insurance typically pays out only if the traveler suffers accidental death (or a major disability, such as the loss of a limb) during transit to or from a destination, not while at that destination.

Best programs: Chase Sapphire and Chase Sapphire Preferred offer trip-cancellation coverage up to $5,000 per person per trip ($10,000 total per trip/$20,000 per year max).

*Card issuers may make changes at any time.

Source: Jill Gonzalez, spokesperson for WalletHub.com, a financial website operated by Evolution Finance, which also operates the credit card comparison site CardHub.com.

Your Local Library has Free Streaming Movies

Your local library wants to compete with your Netflix subscription. Here’s how to get free streaming movies and TV shows without paying a penny!

Recently, I had 2 people upset with me when I was talking about Kindle Paperwhite, a superior book reading device that has a street price of $119. I talked about the ways you can borrow books from other Amazon readers when you have the Paperwhite.

Two people asked why I didn’t mention borrowing e-books for free from local libraries. Check with your local library to see how you can do e-book lending. (As a general rule, any book that is out of copyright — such as the classics — will also be free through Google Books or Amazon.

The idea of e-book lending is convenient for you and great for libraries because they need less inventory on hand. You typically get to keep the e-book on your device for 21 days before it gets automatically “returned” to your library.

Now I read a Denver Post story that says you can stream movies for free at a number of library systems across the country. Check with yours to find out about how the streaming arrangement works.

One of the big providers is Hoopla.com, which was built specifically with the library market in mind. The free service offers 200,000 movies, TV shows, CDs, and audio books.

Other popular services for movie and TV show streaming that might be teaming up with your local library include Overdrive.com and IndieFlix.com. The latter is, as its name suggests, heavy on the independent films.

Again, you’ve got to check with your local library to see which, if any, of these programs they’re participating with. Remember, the movies are free to stream. There is no additional cost because your tax dollars are already paying to support your local library system.

Source: clarkhoward.com

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The #1 Secret You Don’t Know about Outlet Shopping

outlet shoppingDo you like outlet shopping?  What you think is a deall may not be a deal at all because of a secret that the outlets keep closely guarded.

Outlet shopping moves from exurbs to the suburbs

Outlet centers had their origins in rural mill towns. They were typically attached to factories and were a dumping ground for irregulars, factory seconds, and unsold inventory from manufacturers.

Then in their next incarnation, they moved closer to mid-sized and bigger cities. Though they were always careful to stay 50 miles or more away from the city core.

Yet the outlet business model has become so key to retailing that now outlet centers are often in the suburbs. They’re no longer in the exurbs 50 miles away. Continue reading

Layaway Questions to Ask

layaway_box-lgLooking to layaway goods? Here are 10 questions to ask retailers that will help you find a good layaway plan — and avoid those that should be thrown away.

1. Do you provide full or partial refunds if the layaway is not completed?

2. Do you provide store credit toward future purchases if the layaway is not completed? Continue reading