The perfect gift is cheap and easy

If you're panicked because you still haven't thought of the perfect gift for the people on your Nice List, you'll be relieved to know you don't need to spend as much time as you might think looking for something thoughtful. You also don't need to run up your credit card bill.

Why? Because neither of these things is likely to be appreciated by the gift getter.

In fact, a 2008 study from Stanford University researchers found that spending a lot of time and money to select a gift doesn't make a bit of difference to the recipient. According to Francis J. Flynn, an organizational psychologist at Stanford, the price of a gift is more important to the giver than the getter. (Plus, most recipients actually prefer cash or something from a gift registry, such as their Amazon wish list.)

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More about...Giving, Psychology, Relationships

Hourly vs. salary: Which is better?


I had a conversation with a friend, we'll call him Joel, who had two job offers. One was a low-stress 9-to-5 gig but paid $10,000 less than the other offer, which would require longer hours and greater responsibility. He didn't like a lot of things about the higher paying position, but he accepted the offer because it was more in line with the salary at his last job.

In the months that followed, he was regularly putting in 12-hour days at the office and working Sundays. My guess is that it was at least 60 hours per week, and that's being conservative. His gut instinct was right — he wasn't enjoying the new job. Continue reading...

More about...Career

How do you know if a vet procedure is really necessary?

On Monday at 8:30 a.m., I found myself at the veterinarian's office -- where, unknowingly, I would spend the next three hours.

The night before, my cat Mia threw up at least five times. In the morning, I found her wedged into a corner of the bathroom. I could tell how she felt just by looking at her.

I called the vet's office near my house right when they opened, hoping to get her an appointment as soon as possible. I was relieved when they said they could see her in an hour.

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More about...Budgeting

How I paid less in property taxes

Today I present the second and final installment of my property tax saga -- the informal hearing. (You can check out the first post here.)

To briefly recap, I'm a new homeowner and my assessed property value shot up by 31 percent from last year. So that, along with the fact that I have a tax-protesting father to please, landed me in County Appraiser Brad's cubicle for an informal hearing.

The bad news<

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More about...Taxes

Homeowners: Could this save you thousands in just a few hours?

You know all those great tactics to save huge chunks of cash -- the tactics that don't require you to scrimp and save? I'm talking about things like lowering the APR on your credit card or getting a better deal on your car insurance -- paying less for the stuff that's kind of a drag to pay for in the first place.

Well, as a new homeowner, I've been working on lowering one of those no-fun expenses: property taxes.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how I was surprised that my assessed house value was 31 percent higher for 2014 than it was in 2013 -- and that I had filed the paperwork to protest that assessment.

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More about...Taxes

8 Surprise expenses for new homeowners

Over a year ago, I bought my first home. And while I'd been warned about the extra expenses that come with homeownership, there were still some surprises.

I don't mean the "unexpected" costs of property taxes and repairs -- expenses that are often covered in articles about new homeownership. "Surprise! There's no landlord to come fix your garbage disposal." Is that really a surprise to anyone, though?

No, what I'm talking about are the less obvious expenses -- the ones that new homeowners probably aren't thinking about when they sign the closing documents and get the keys to their new home. Here are some of those less obvious expenses that took me by surprise in the last year.

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More about...Home & Garden

The only two things you need to remember about funeral costs

When someone has to make funeral arrangements, they often look to the funeral home for help. They select one of the three coffins suggested by the funeral home. Often it's part of a mid-priced package deal, one that includes pretty much everything you need, and then some. And in a lot of ways, it makes sense that we turn to the experts, especially if we've never had to make funeral arrangements before.

But there's a big problem with relying on a funeral home to help you make decisions: The people advising you have a vested interest in getting you to spend more.

A Sales Pitch at a Funeral Home

A funeral home is a business. And like any business, the pricier the arrangements, the more money they make. They're there to sell their products and services. Never was that made more clear to me than when my friend passed away quite suddenly last fall.

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More about...Planning, Budgeting

Eating healthy on a slim budget

I spend almost as much on groceries as I do on my mortgage.

Now, before you spit your coffee all over your keyboard, you should know that my mortgage is pretty low, lower than what some of my friends pay in rent. And for me, "groceries" includes all of the extras one buys at grocery stores, like paper towels and soap and the latest issue of the weekly tabloid.

(Kidding! I have zero interest in the tabloids. Especially now that none of them cover the bat boy or alien baby adoptions.) Continue reading...

More about...Food

How to stop buying clothes you never wear

A couple of years ago, I had a Great Closet Clean-Out. My clothing racks and drawers were overflowing at the time, and some of it still had price tags. Hoping to accomplish that European knack for owning less and looking better, I donated, consigned, and gave away about 75 percent of my wardrobe. Today it's 100 times more functional.

But before we talk about the state of my closet today, here's an idea of where I started…

Three Closets, No Space

When I graduated from college, my first apartment came with three closets -- two in the master bath, and one in the hallway. I easily filled them all. Continue reading...

More about...Clothing

Do you bring gifts to a bridal shower or engagement party?

Earlier this week, I wrote about the problem with trying to buy the perfect gift. Sticking with that gift theme, there's a question that's been on my mind: If you're invited to an engagement party, a bridal shower, and a wedding ceremony all for the same couple, and you attend all three, do you give a gift at each event?

See, I've been invited to a few weddings this year. And it seems like the etiquette "experts" all agree that each event requires a separate gift, according to tradition. Here are some examples from around the web:

Bridal shower gift vs wedding gift

"If I bring a gift to the bridal shower, should I still bring a gift to the wedding?" a question Peggy Post, co-author of the 18th edition of Emily Post's Etiquette is accustomed to answering. Her advice is, basically, that a shower gift is not a wedding gift. "I know some of these shower gifts are expensive, but be smart so you don't have to break the bank."

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More about...Shopping