Holiday Saving Tips: How to Grow Your Christmas Nest Egg

Autumn is here and the leaves are just starting to turn. Believe it or not, that means it's time to start thinking about the holiday season. Holiday expenses can pile up quickly. Planning ahead saves you sticker shock and can spare you a steep credit card bill in the new year.

Careful planners have laid out their holiday budget well in advance and saved for it all year long. It's not like the holiday season is a surprise, after all! A generation ago, it was common for housewives to be part of a "Christmas club" at their local bank, which was just a targeted savings account where you saved a little cash each week and got it back in a lump sum before the holidays.

But what if you haven't laid aside a nice nest egg for holiday shopping, travel and entertaining? Well, it's never too late to start. Getting on the holiday savings bandwagon now will help you create a buffer between you and all those extra bills.

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More about...Budgeting, Planning

How much is a clean home worth?

Last month I wrote a post on do-it-yourself beauty and personal care products. That touched a nerve with a lot of people: some loved it, some hated it; it seemed like everyone had something to say.

Swabbing the floorsAt the time I'd planned to follow up with a post on do-it-yourself cleaning products for the home, but I've decided to take a step back and look at the bigger question: What is a clean house worth?

Everyone puts some resources into keeping their home clean. Whether you spend hundreds of dollars a month on professional cleaning services or struggle to pay for soap, you're going to have to shell out cash, time, and effort to have a healthy, clean, happy place to live.

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More about...Home & Garden

Decision Fatigue: Why Willpower Isn’t Always Enough

A Snickers bar can save you money. Not just a little money either. Used correctly, it could potentially spare you thousands of dollars.

That's the gist of new research on a phenomenon called "decision fatigue". Decision fatigue is what happens to people when they've made too many choices. As your brain gets tired, you become worse at making decisions.

As the New York Times puts it:

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More about...Psychology

Is Unlimited Air Travel a Good Deal?

Air travel is rarely anyone's idea of a good time. It's expensive, time-consuming and difficult.

There are the byzantine demands of the ticketing process, in which you have to confirm your exact travel dates and times weeks or months in advance and then pay exorbitant fees if you change your plans. (Or if you buy super cheap tickets, sometimes you run the risk of not being able to get your money back at all!) There's the constant nickel-and-dime fees for everything from checked baggage to in-flight snacks. There's the seemingly endless TSA security procedures that have to be planned around carefully while you're packing.

In short, traveling by air can be a drag. Most of us are willing to do it sometimes for the thrill of travel, and many of us have to do it frequently for work. Especially for those in the latter category, flying might be about to get a whole lot better.

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More about...Travel

When renting is smarter than buying

In my article on Spotify last week, a couple of commenters took me to task for suggesting that subscribing to access for music could be better than buying your own permanent copies of the songs you love. A few thought that, as a personal-finance writer, I should be urging people to buy their stuff instead of throwing money away renting access to it.

That's an interesting idea. I think it's often the case that renting or subscribing for access to something is better than buying it outright. Buying stuff can be great, too. Ultimately, I don't think the question is whether to rent or buy; it's how to find the solution that gives you the best value for the thing you need to use. Sometimes, you'll spend more money renting access to an item than you would just buying it outright. Other times, the reverse is true.

The Rise of the Transumers

Most products aren't investments. They lose value the moment you take them home from the shop, and continue to depreciate the longer you own them and the more you use them. This is true of everything from cars to designer shoes. There are a few things that can appreciate in value: collector's items, houses, jewelry. For most of our stuff, though, we can hope to recover some of what we spent on it by selling it when we no longer need it, but we're kissing the bulk of our money good-bye when we make the purchase.

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More about...Home & Garden

Playing to your strengths

Shortly after finishing college, a friend of mine was fired from his first job. He kept showing up to work late — sometimes hours late. He was charming and smart and reasonably good at his work, but his employer just couldn't rely on him to be at his desk on time, so they let him go.

Go Put Your Strengths to WorkAfter a short, frantic job search, he leapt into the next job he was offered. As a teller at a bank. He didn't last long in this job either. There are few positions where punctuality is more necessary, and he already knew this wasn't his strong suit.

He took that bank job knowing he'd just been fired for his lack of punctuality, but he really believed that through a simple act of will he could turn over a new leaf and become stellar at time management, despite having struggled with it in the past. Instead of playing to his strengths, he exhausted himself trying to live up to his ideals. He felt he should be able to show up at work on time, therefore he would if only he applied enough willpower. Continue reading...

More about...Books, Career, Psychology

Frugal beauty: How to look good on a budget

Pinching pennies doesn't mean you can't make yourself pretty. Yes, it's true that personal-care products and services can take a big bite out of your budget. By the time you've paid for your salon visit, your skin cream, your hair product, and your lip balm, you can easily be out $100 or more in any given month. You don't want to overindulge and blow a lot of money on personal appearance. All the same, it's important to take care of yourself, and it's possible to do so frugally. Here's how.

Do Less

I'll tell you a secret: I haven't washed my hair in weeks. I rinse it with water every morning when I take my shower (in my fancy, newly-repaired shower that now features hot and cold running water!). But I only shampoo and condition it about once a month. When I do, I use a 50-percent solution of shampoo and water. This means I'm using about 1/60th of the shampoo I used to use when I washed my hair every day with full strength shampoo. Needless to say, one bottle of shampoo lasts me a whole lot longer.

There's a whole "no-poo" movement for people who don't want to shampoo their hair. A lot of them rinse with baking soda and vinegar instead, but I've found that even that is optional.

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More about...Frugality, Health & Fitness

A primer on finding unclaimed property

Finding free money lying around with your name on it seems a little too good to be true, doesn't it?

That's what I thought when I learned about Missing Money, a website that offers to help you track down unclaimed property that may belong to you. Sometimes free money is for real, though. The site is legit and exactly what it claims: a tool for finding free money. Specifically, money that's already yours that you may have forgotten about or lost track of.

What is Unclaimed Property?

Unclaimed property is any financial asset that has been abandoned for a period of time. That time might be as little as one year or as much as three, depending on the state you live in. If the financial institution or company holding your money loses contact with you and can't locate you within a certain period of time, they have to turn your assets over to the state. According to Missing Money, some common types of unclaimed property include:

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More about...Sites

What to Do with Fresh Produce

During the summer, there's an abundance of high-quality fruits and vegetables. You get better quality for lower prices than you do buying off-season produce during the cold winter months. I always want to freeze this moment so I can enjoy the fruits of the season all year long. So I do.

Every year, I freeze some produce, and I can some, and I use a variety of methods to make the bounty last. Last week, I wrote about smart ways to acquire your seasonal produce. Today, I'm going to talk about how to use it to get the best value for your food dollar.

Eat well
First (and this is obvious): Eat a lot. When fresh vegetables are in season, I try to shift my diet towards dishes that focus on the food being grown in my own backyard and on local farms. That's more challenging than it sounds. There might be nothing better than a fresh garden tomato. But twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes can become overwhelming even for the most avid fan.

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More about...Food

Best Sources for Summer Produce

The summer harvest season has finally begun here in Boston. Near my house, Farmers' markets are popping up, brimming with fresh greens, ripe strawberries, and luscious radishes. Our first CSA share delivery of the season arrived last week. And my garden has started to cough up a few plump berries and herbs.

Make friends with the farmers
My family loves vegetables. The kids love kale chips and fresh strawberries. We all eat sugar snap peas by the fistful. Later in the summer, my husband and I will haul in the tomatoes that are just starting to grow in our yard and make as much salsa as we can.

Since we love vegetables so much, every summer I look for ways to economize on our fresh vegetables. There are two main aspects to this project: getting a good deal on the veggies, and making good use of them.

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More about...Food, Frugality