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This article is presented by Kelly Whalen, Consumerism Commentary staff writer.

The temptation to spend money is everywhere, especially during the holidays. There is something magical about lights glowing, soft Christmas music playing everywhere, and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season that seems to make money fly right out of everyone’s wallet.

Whether you enjoy the busyness of the holiday as much as I do, or not, it’s likely you have a few gifts to purchase during the week leading up to Christmas. You may, like me, still have some items still unchecked on your list, or you might be one of the 19% of holiday shoppers who haven’t started their holiday shopping. Either way, you can get your holiday shopping faster than Santa can fill stockings by trying these suggestions to curb your holiday spending. (note: the same principles apply year round)

  • Make a list, and check it twice: I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. A holiday shopping list is the ideal way to keep your spending in check. Just like a grocery list it will keep you from forgetting you already bought a gift for Great Aunt Sylvia or worse leaving someone off your list.
  • Take advantage of FREE Shipping Day: Today only, December 17, is “Free Shipping Day” at many etailers. For a complete list go to FreeShipping.com If a retailer isn’t on that list, try calling their stores or customer service line. Some companies, such as Land’s End at Sears, offer free shipping if you order from the store. What could be a better way to finish your gift list from the comfort of your own home.
  • Look, but don’t touch: When you touch an item you are more likely to buy it, according to Time magazine. Keep your hands in your pockets, or if you can’t keep from touching look at the sticker price first, so you can shock yourself into not buying.
  • Concentrate on the recipient: While it should go without saying, putting yourself in your recipient’s shoes will allow you to walk away from overspending. I found myself dreaming of a particular toy that I have not been able to find for one of the kids. After considering a web-wide hunt for said gift, I realized it was my own nostalgia that colored my perception of the “perfect” gift. I could give a gift that was similar for half the cost, and the kiddo would still be thrilled.
  • Shop after the holiday: If you don’t have small children, or will be visiting far-flung relatives after 12/26, consider going shopping on 12/26 when the products in many stores are reduced significantly.
  • Don’t try to do it all! Most of us have precious little free time. Use your free time to be with your family, or friends instead of focusing on hunting down the perfect gift, or squeezing in 5 holiday parties in 2 days.
  • Opt out. Many families are scaling back, but you might consider opting out of gift exchanges altogether. This only works well for adults, or families with older children, so proceed with caution. Some families choose a vacation over exchanging gifts.

Do you have any tips for curbing your spending?


Haggling for Beginners

This article was written by in Tips. 8 comments.

Coming clean right off the bat: I can’t personally teach you how to haggle or negotiate anything. It terrifies me almost as much as falling in love or doing improv theater. But at least I’m not alone.

Amy Reiter over at Salon.com posted a great article yesterday called “How I learned to haggle”, and while I recommend the whole story, I’ll distill the bullet points for you here:

  • Practice
  • Act as if it’s a game
  • Just say, ‘Is that the best you can do?’ And then be quiet [...] Silence is a great tactic.
  • Negotiate for yourself as if you are negotiating for others

I can also vouch for the silence technique as being particularly effective in getting your co-workers to understand your point of view. I don’t mean offering anyone the “silent treatment,” just including some longer pauses during the course of a conversation that starts with people disagreeing. Now that I think about it, I guess it is a kind of negotiation.

Any other tips? Please leave them in the comments below.


I was speaking with a co-worker who used to be a telemarketer, and she told me that if I’m ever again harassed by any strangers on the phone trying to sell me things I don’t need, I should just say, “Mark me down as deceased.” You don’t even have to pretend to be a different person.

Apparently, they have a check box on their form for “Deceased” that will prevent them from calling you ever again. What’s more, this misinformation gets passed downstream to the other telemarketers that they sell their lists of “customers” to, so those people won’t be calling you, either.

This is just a quick and dirty alternative to the more official process that Flexo has previously talked about.


The $155 That Almost Wasn’t

This article was written by in Tips. 4 comments.

It was only back in April that Flexo wrote about MissingMoney.com. I had heard about it once before through a friend on Twitter who said he’d had some success and so I figured, “What have I got to lose?” They don’t charge anything, it’s just a convenient way to get at some abandoned money that should be yours in the first place.

I searched for myself in the three different states in which I’ve lived and found an entry tied to an old street address of mine for “More than $100″. I had to continue the process on a different site for that State, but since all they really needed was my name, it wasn’t that much of a hassle, and I never felt I was being scammed.

clear-visionIn my case the funds I was missing out on were submitted by Daimler Chrysler, which means it had something to do with the aftermath of totaling my car back in 2001. Ultimately, in order to claim the missing money, I needed to mail (or submit via a form on a Web page) some proof that I used to live at that address. Something like a utility bill or a bank statement. I don’t keep those sorts of things any longer than I have to, which to me means, “throw away as soon as you’re not using them anymore.”

However, crashing your car isn’t just an event, it’s a process that can go on, at a minimum, for weeks. A lot of paperwork is generated. I started keeping everything in a folder so I could prove the facts of the case at a moment’s notice. I figured seven years is a good amount of time to hang on to something that important, so in 2008, while pruning the filing cabinet, I very nearly got rid of the folder. Luckily, something stopped me, and a few months later, I was able to scan and e-mail the actual police report that described the accident, and included my address.

A couple of weeks later I got a check for $155. Naturally, I deposited it and made a $155 payment to one of my two remaining credit cards. If I’d received that money when I was supposed to in 2001… well, I can’t say exactly what I would’ve done with it, but some of it probably would’ve gone toward beer.

(Photo by C.P. Storm)


Ben Stein’s Tips for New College Students

by Luke Landes

College classes have already begun around the country, and it’s not too late to start listening to Ben Stein. He has some great advice for those matriculating. His son is just starting college, so I would imagine Ben has been giving this topic a lot of thought lately. Make friends with your teachers. While seeing ... Continue reading this article…

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Ten Questions to Ask Before Getting Hitched

by Luke Landes

Perhaps she calls you “her sweeitie” and you call her “lover.” Maybe you don’t have cutesy names for each other, but if you’re planning to get married, hopefully you know each other very well. This encompasses a little more than favorite restaurants, medical allergies, and middle names. There should be some serious discussions about life ... Continue reading this article…

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12 Steps for the Paycheck Type to Become a Millionaire

by Luke Landes

Here is Kiplinger’s predictable 12-step program for becoming a millionaire, which inevitable contains “… and wait” somewhere. This guide is geared towards corporate workers who live and die by the paycheck. 1. Keep your eyes peeled for better ways to do your job. While Milton Wadams was slowly finding himself out of a job, thinking ... Continue reading this article…

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Tips for Purchasing a Musical Instrument for the Non-Professional

by Luke Landes

As I mentioned earlier, I finally picked up the Martin D-15 acoustic guitar I’ve been planning to buy since August last year. Here are some tips if you’re thinking about buying a musical instrument. First, if you are buying an instrument for your son or daughter just starting out, you may find out later that ... Continue reading this article…

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Bad Job-Hunting Tips You Must Avoid, Part 2

by Luke Landes

Penelope Trunk from Yahoo Finance published an article busting job-hunting myths. I looked at several of her un-tips yesterday and in Part 2, I’ll finish off my thoughts. Bad Rule No. 5: Don’t have typos in your résumé I’m not recommending that you misspell words on purpose, but I am recommending that you chill out ... Continue reading this article…

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Question for Readers: Static Cling

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Here’s a question I haven’t been able to find a satisfying answer for, so I’m hoping some readers can provide some insight, perhaps from personal experience. I have one pair of khaki pants that seems to hold static electricity constantly. Using fabric softener sheets in the dryer has done nothing to help, and it’s very ... Continue reading this article…

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Suze Orman’s 5 Tips for 2007

by Luke Landes

We’re rolling into the new year, a perfect time for gurus to repeat their favorite nuggets of advice. Suze Orman, who writes a column for Yahoo Finance, has published the five best financial moves for 2007. Here are her tips, which don’t have much relationship to 2007 specifically, but are good ideas in general. 1. ... Continue reading this article…

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Rule for Building Wealth: Go Heavy on Stocks

by Luke Landes

The latest “rule of thumb” is to subtract your age from 120. The resulting number is the percentage of your allocation that should be invested in stocks, optimally through index fund investing. This was rule #6 in Money Magazine’s 25 Rules to Grow Rich By. In The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing (asset allocation chapter reviewed ... Continue reading this article…

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Rule for Building Wealth: Make Saving Automatic

by Luke Landes

In July 2002, I opened an account at ING Direct and created a scheduled transaction. Every two weeks, when my day job paycheck was deposited, a portion of this money was automatically passed through directly into my new Emergency Fund. A few months earlier, I became eligible for investing in my company’s 401(k). This is ... Continue reading this article…

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Letter From Reader: 2007 Financial Literacy Calendar

by Luke Landes

Hi Flexo, Just a quick note to say thanks for all the blogging. I’m addicted to your site and the information you provide on personal finance. Keep it up! I recommend you to all my friends. Also, I am a CPA in Texas and get emails from the Texas Society of CPAs (go figure). In ... Continue reading this article…

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Rule for Building Wealth: Start Early

by Luke Landes

Fortune Magazine is featuring 10 Rules for Building Wealth. Rule number one is something I wish I had known years before I did: Start early. By starting early and saving a negligible amount per month, thanks to compounded interest and earnings on earnings, you can end up with more money than someone who starts later. ... Continue reading this article…

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Money Magazine: 8 Smart Year-End Moves, Part 2

by Luke Landes

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Money Magazine: 8 Smart Year-End Moves, Part 1

by Luke Landes

Money Magazine suggests eight money moves people should consider for the end of the year. Here are some thoughts. 1. Take your losses. Money suggests selling poor-performing stock to offset ordinary income for tax purposes. In my opinion, this depends on the stock. If the future does look bleak, go for it, but if there ... Continue reading this article…

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7 Ways to Save Money While Maintaining Your Extravagant Lifestyle

by Luke Landes

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of long post titles. Anyway, as the title says, here are seven ways you can save money while maintaining your extravagant style. After all, isn’t that what everyone wants? The best of both worlds? If you love living beyond your means, follow these guidelines and both worlds will ... Continue reading this article…

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Money Magazine: 25 Rules to Grow Rich By, Part 5

by Luke Landes

We’ve finally come to the last installment of Money Magazine’s 25 Rules to Grow Rich By, which has a catchy title, but is more or less just a list of “rules of thumb” that may or may not be applicable to any one individual. And let’s face it, you are all individuals. (Yes, we are ... Continue reading this article…

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Money Magazine: 25 Rules to Grow Rich By, Part 4

by Luke Landes

Money Magazine came up with 25 “rules of thumb” that will help your grow rich, albeit very slowly. Rules of thumb are often appropriate only for a fictional “average person,” but they can be good starting points for determining what is the right choice for any individual. I’ve looked at the first fifteen so far, ... Continue reading this article…

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