Money Savers: Working To Save You Cash in 2009!

Money Savers: an initiative to save you cash.

Every day on NBC15 News at 6:00pm, NBC15 News will bring you stories, ideas, or advice that could ultimately save you and your family money in these hard economic times.

Click HERE for Money Savers that aired in 2008

Beat the Recession LINKS:

Click HERE for the most updated information from CNBC

Click HERE for Finance News from Yahoo

Click HERE for Money Saving Ideas from Consumer Reports

Click HERE for Financial Advice and Tips from Bank Rate

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Posted Friday, March 5, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Food prices may be up more than 5% in the last year, but a lot of shoppers still don't think coupons are worth the time and effort. Well, just wait until you see how much!

Cutting coupons may not have been chic before, but it's time to get frugal and pinch a few pennies.

Stephanie Nelson says: "If you want to save a hundred dollars a week on your groceries, you do need to plan and be organized."

Stephanie Nelson is known as the "Coupon Mom." She shared with us her supermarket strategy.

Stephanie says:"Here's a promotion. If you buy 9 of this manufacturer's items, I'll get a coupon for $5 off my next shopping order plus a free one dollar reusable shopping bag. And guess what? I also have coupons and this store doubles coupons. That's the perfect storm."

Double coupons have a big payoff (though very few stores actually do it in southern Wisconsin), but you have to set aside brand loyalty.

Stephanie: "I am completely brand flexible. So, in this case, if this item is usually 2.49. I'll actually pay 49 cents for this item."

Stocking up on non-perishable items when they're on sale is one way to have more to spend on fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood, according to Nelson's plan.

Stephanie says: "When people say there is no coupons for what I use I say that there's always a coupon for toothpaste. I'll end up paying 35 cents for a tube of toothpaste that usually costs 3.19."

Stephanie says: "A lot of people think that you save money if you buy the bigger container. But the reality is, if you're a coupon user, you pay less if you buy smaller sizes and then use the double coupons, so I'll actually get this free."

The moment of truth ... time to check out the savings.

Samantha: "25 cents."
Jenna (reporter): "25 cents?! Hold on."
Jenna: "You got $100 worth of groceries for a quarter."

And now to the Job Board. Bobbi emailed us. The Engelhart Center --- located on Greenway Cross -- is hiring technicians. Contact Engelhart Center for more information.

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Posted Thursday, March 5, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

In these tough economic times, a lot of people are saving money by eating out less. But there are ways you can still visit your favorite restaurants and dine on a dime.

Lea Ann Stundins says: "I say it all the time...free, free, free."

Lea Ann Stundins began her blog, "mommy's wish list," for one simple reason:

Lea Ann says: "Because I just couldn't believe how much free stuff there is."

...especially at popular restaurants.

Lea Ann says: "TGI Friday's, Chili's, Applebee's."

The best dining deals are all in one place.

Lea Ann says: "Free breakfast at Denny's. Free tea at Starbucks."

TGI Fridays recently had a printable coupon...buy one entree get one free.

Lea Ann says: "That's A $12 steak for free."

Chili's is one of many chains that will email special offers.

Lea Ann says: "Join and get free chips and queso just for signing up."

Many restaurants will feed you free on your birthday...and here's a list parents will love.

Lea Ann says: "Everyday of the week where you can feed your kid for free."

The website:
http://mommyswishlist.blogspot.com/

And here's a money saver that's been around for years. Entertainment books -- like the "Bucky Book!" If you haven't been using them, it's time to look again. The cost of buying the book may be well worth it.

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Posted Wednesday, March 4, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

A bad economy couldn't come at a better time for one online business. It's specialty --- helping you find bargains!

Kevin Strawbridge says: "We see a lot of soccer moms."

Kevin Strawbridge is President of dealtaker.com, an online company that puts 1600 merchants nationwide with coupons and discounts, a click away from deal shopping soccer moms.

Kevin says: "In 2009 we referred just south of 100 million dollars in referred sales out to retailers and this year we expect that to grow significantly."

Dealtaker is riding the wave of a declining economy and growth in the popularity of online web communities.

Kevin says: "Then as they get together and share that information it's no longer a curiosity but it's a destination to be online."

For retailers, the site is an opportunity to expand their brand. For shoppers, free shipping coupons save money and time.

And for dealtaker, with 180-thousand registered users and 10 million visitors a year, it doesn't matter if the economy is bad or good.

Kevin says: "We all know the web is not going away so that just gives us more opportunities to be front and center with more people and we see that continuing to build over time."

Dealtaker.com celebrates 5 years in business this week. There are plans to perhaps establish regional sites nationwide to attract more local businesses from everywhere.

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Posted Tuesday, March 3, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

What should you do if your employer offers you a buyout package?

Sharon Vinick and Leslie Levy are employment attorneys who specialize in helping people navigate the workplace.

Lately, they've been advising a lot of workers about the ins and outs of buyouts.

First question you should ask if offered a package:

Sharon says: "If you're going to stay what's the likelihood your job will remain or your job class will be eliminated entirely."

If your job looks like it's on the outs... waiting increases the risk you'll be laid off anyway... possibly with nothing.

Leslie says: "There may be some ability to negotiate some of the terms of the severance agreement."

What's negotiable? Health benefits for you and your family. Your employer may be willing to pay for some coverage after you leave. Staggering payments to limit the tax hit. Vacation or sick leave? Is that included?

And can you be re-hired later? It's also important to find out how your termination is classified.

Sharon says: "Reduction in force means you are entitled to unemployment benefits."

Talk to your colleagues, and compare the fine print. It's legal...and in your best interest.

Sharon says: "Are they getting the same package as someone else in the same situation?"

Reporter: "So don't be afraid to share information?"

Sharon says: "Absolutely."

The experts say if you accept a buyout, understand you're also giving up key rights... including the option to sue if you feel wronged.

Leslie says: "The mistake many people make is they don't realize they're giving up potential discrimination claims."

If your package is complicated, consider investing $200 to $500 getting advice. Your informed decision could make all the difference in this economy. The experts say ask your questions in writing and keep hard copies of the responses.

And now to the Job Board. Cindy emailed NBC15 to tell us that "Impact Sports" in Madison is hiring.

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Posted Monday, March 2, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Our favorite money-saving site WalletPop.com is showcasing its article: "5 big bills you can cut fast!"

Some of these cuts will save you just a few dollars, while others can net even bigger savings. The 5 big bills range from energy and gas savings --- to grocery shopping -- to taxes --- and even car insurance.

For example: stick to the perimeters of the supermarket to save cash. That's where you'll find all the unprocessed basics you need (dairy products, meats, bread) while avoiding inner aisles with processed foods that drain budgets.

And when it comes to taxes, did you know that one out of four eligible taxpayers fails to claim the earned-income tax credit. That's worth as much as $4700 a year, depending on someone's earnings.

Now to our Job Board -- where we mention companies that are actually hiring in today's tough economic climate. Greg emailed NBC15 and says Kalahari is hiring so just check-out Kalahari's website for more information.

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Posted Friday, February 27, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Ann Taylor Loft is offering discounts to teachers. Teachers who sign-up at the store's website get 15% off merchandise. Plus you get 20% off your first purchase when you sign-up. There's an Ann Taylor Loft in Greenway Station in Middleton.

Tyrol Basin is celebrating its anniversary with reduced ticket prices. Beginning March 2, Tyrol will be reducing its lift tickets to $20 for the rest of the season.

Now to our Job Board. Here are some companies that are actually hiring. Melissa at Dean Health System and Dean Health Plan e-mailed us. Dean is hiring for numerous positions, including Physicians, Physician Assistants, and Nurses.

And Tammy told us Blockbuster is also hiring in Madison. Positions range from part-time to Store Manager.

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Posted Thursday, February 26, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

"Frugal" is no longer a dirty word and it can certainly save you money. When home values, investments, lifestyles were flying high, it was the economic "f" word everyone avoided.

Laura Rowley (Yahoo finance columnist): "Frugal is no longer the f word."

Now, it's a way of life.

Laura says: "People have turned to frugal ways of behaving and found it's actually not so bad."

Yahoo finance columnist Laura Rowley is author of "Money and Happiness." She says one way people are becoming frugal is by trading down.

Laura says: "Trading up was very fashionable a few years ago, so from brewed coffee to gourmet coffee, from fast food fast food to casual dining... now it's the opposite. The main reason is people know they can trade down without greatly affecting their lifestyle. Maybe have that coffee once a week instead of three times a week. Maybe use that affordable shampoo like Pantene instead of a luxury brand."

Another way is to use pricing power, now you have it.

Laura says: "Consumers can actually walk into an established retailer and negotiate prices. That we hadn't seen for a really long time. A lot of retailers will now match a price you bring in from somebody else. Or you can ask them to throw in something else. I'm going to buy the iPod I want the recharger that goes on the wall. Established retailers never did that before, but now they are in survival mode."

Rowley says cost-saving basics like coupons, cheaper cell phone plans, programmable thermostats, are good ways to start dealing with the f word.

Also, do more free things that make you happy, like spending time with friends and family.

Those f words may not be so scary after all.

Now to our Job Board! We want to thank Christi Dales for emailing NBC15. She's the Store Manager for Gordmans at East Towne Mall. They have several job openings.

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Posted Wednesday, February 25, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

WalletPop.com is out with an article entitled "Best Recession Restaurant Deals." It highlights more than a dozen restaurants and some of the deals they're offering to lure customers.

On the list: TGI Fridays. It's offering smaller portion meals (including steak, pork chops and pasta) starting at only $5.99. They've also rolled out a new "Buy One Get One" coupon valid through March 1st.

Outback has expanded its "Outback" special to include a six-ounce sirloin offering for only $9.99. It includes salad, baked potato and bread.

And Denny's continues to offer a "Weekday Express Slam" for just $4.

Now to our Job Board. After the past several months we've reported on companies downsizing, people losing their jobs. Well, if you know of a company that's actually hiring, drop John Stofflet an email and he'll mention those companies on NBC15 News at 6:00 p.m. John's email: jstofflet@nbc15.com. We've heard from Mary at Burlington Coat Factory on Odana Road. They have 2 salaried management positions opened, along with part-time day positions.

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Posted Monday, February 23, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Every night at 6:00 p.m., we're happy to bring you Money Savers.

Tomorrow, I-HOP is celebrating National Pancake Day with free food. I-HOP will offer guests a free short-stack of buttermilk pancakes. The only catch: the restaurant chain would like for you to donate to the Children's Miracle Network. Last year, I-HOP served 1.5 million free pancakes on National Pancake Day. You'll find I-HOPs in Madison, Janesville and in the Dells.

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Posted Friday, February 20, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

JetBlue doesn't want to miss out on any potential ticket buyers. So the airline is offering a refund for anyone who buys a ticket and then gets laid off before the trip date. The JetBlue offer is for bookings between now and June first. JetBlue does fly out of Chicago.

Smartmoney.com is out with an article entitled "5 Ways to Get a Better Deal on a New Car." With auto sales falling off a cliff, auto makers are desperate to clear the lots.

According to the article, follow this advice: Combine incentives.. and financing deals. Hunt for unadvertised incentives. Come prepared with competitors' prices. Beef up your down payment if you can and take advantage of tax incentives.

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Posted Thursday, February 19, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Today's topic: protecting your cash from scammers. During tax time, thieves get even more creative.

The IRS says scam emails are more prevalent than ever, coming from 50 countries. They offer tax refunds, link you to fake websites, and ask for your bank information.

Mike Dobzinski, IRS says: "The IRS does not send out unsolicited emails asking for financial information. Period."

Mike Dobzinski gives this same interview every year. But the old scams are coupled with new ones, like one asking you to fill out a pdf with your date of birth, passport, social, bank accounts, even mother's maiden name! You then fax it to a New York area code.

This year, the IRS is opening a new "online fraud detection and prevention office" at IRS.gov where you'll find sample scams, tips, and a hotline to help victims. The number: 800-908-4490. You can send scam IRS emails or websites to phishing@irs.gov.

Mike Dobzinski says: "Last year, between 2007-08, we shut down over 2000 (websites) but 4000 came into existence. So we only got 50% of them. So they seem to be surfacing as quickly as we find them."

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Posted Wednesday, February 18, 2009 --- 3:20 p.m.

Today's topic: taking the mystery of a trip to the mechanic! If you need repairs, there are new websites that give you a good idea what those repairs will cost.

One site is driverside.com. Just plug-in your vehicle information and what needs repair and it'll give you a good estimate as to just how much you should pay.

There is another site: repairpal.com. It also tells you how much you should expect to pay for parts and services.

Both sites are free.

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Posted Tuesday, February 17, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Today's topic: a website that is teasing you with bargains.

The clock is ticking on Melissa Ingram's latest bargain. Melissa says: "See, there's 15 remaining and you have one minute left."

A deal every hour. That's how redtagcrazy.com in San Marcos works. You see the item, the price, the quantity but have just 60 minutes to buy it.

Melissa says: "So it's a pair of jeans one hour, a shirt one hour, maybe a skirt."

And maybe you'll see it again, maybe not.

Melissa says: "But if you miss it, that's the whole point is that people stick around for hours on end waiting to see so they don't miss it."

This type of one hour bargain approach is called ODAT, or One Deal at a Time.

Woot.com is another website that uses the same impulse method of marketing.

The clothes are all stored, boxed, and shipped from the company's warehouse. The digital photos are taken upstairs. Women's jeans are the top sellers with brand names like Lucky, Paige Premium Denim, Linq, and more. Most of the fashions are a season behind, but the people bidding and blogging about this new site don't seem to care.

Melissa says: "And women do not mind waiting a year to buy a pair of $200 jeans for $70."

And apparently, they don't mind being strung along to see the next deal... a bargain with an expiration date.

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Posted Monday, February 16, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

As more people lose their jobs, many credit card companies are granting one or more types of "forbearance." In some cases, you might be able to postpone payments for six months to a year or even longer. Your minimum monthly payment might be lowered. Your interest rate might be reduced, or some fees might be eliminated. It depends on your particular situation.

During the last quarter of last year Citi accepted about 350,000 accounts into its forbearance programs. And Bank of America modified nearly 850,000 credit card loans in 2008.

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Posted Friday, February 6, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Today's topic: planning a getaway. If you think a cruise is just too expensive, you might want to think again. According to Smartmoney.com, cruise operators are dramatically slashing rates to fill-up staterooms. In fact, some operators and travel-booking sites are even padding offers with extras, like onboard credits and discounts on shore excursions.

Also today, it pays to recycle. Best Buy has announced it's launching an "electronics" recycling program on February 15th. It'll accept TVs and monitors up to 32-inches, electronic notebooks, keyboards, phones, VCRs, and DVD players. But the program isn't free. Best Buy will charge $10 per unit for items with a screen, like TVs and notebooks. But Best Buy says that it will give the customer a $10 gift card in exchange for the recycling fee.

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Posted Thursday February 5, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

If you have Circuit City gift cards, you still might be able to use them. American TV and Appliance says it will now accept Circuit City Gift cards toward electronics, appliance and furniture purchases. The balance on the card can be used for up to 20% of the total purchase price on in-store sales at American. The company will also provide factory-authorized service on manufacturer-warranted items that customers originally purchased from Circuit City, and will also provide service for products out of the manufacturers warranty. Circuit City liquidated its two Madison stores.

And another Money Saver that caught our eye today could also help raise awareness for heart disease! Head to Macy's now through Sunday to take advantage of this one. If you're wearing red --- or buy a red dress pin for two dollars --- you can get an extra 20% off of your purchases.

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Posted Wednesday, February 4, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

The next time you fly, you may be able to get some of your money back. Many travelers don't realize it, but most airlines offer refunds if your ticket price changes between the time you buy and the day you travel.

It's a trick many travelers have never heard of...

...something most airlines don't advertise.

Rick Seaney, Farecompare.com: "The airlines certainly don't want you to make a lot of claims for this sort of stuff."

Many major airlines will refund at least some of your ticket if the price goes down between the day you buy and the day you fly.

Rick Seaney, Farecompare.com: "People are doing this. They are getting vouchers from these airlines."

Airfare expert Rick Seaney says four airlines --- United, Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska --- will send you the difference if the price of the ticket you bought goes down. The money's refunded in travel vouchers good for a year.

But in some cases, you may not get a refund for the full amount. Some airlines like American charge a change fee to give you the new lower price. American's change fee is $150. So the ticket price has to drop more than that to get money back.

Like American... Delta, Continental, and US Airways also charge change fees to give you the lower price.

Southwest offers a cash refund in some cases, and no change fees. Chris Mainz, Southwest Airlines: "We don't want to penalize customers for booking early, that's why we have some flexibility built into our fare rules."

The hard part is keeping track of prices.

Rick Seaney, Farecompare.com: "The real issue is how do I know if the price went down on my flight. The key to that is to sign up for airfare alerts."

Track the fares even after you buy, and it may pay for some of your trip.

Some airlines also have a same day price guarantee, where they will give you an instant credit or bonus if the price drops on the day you bought it.

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Posted Tuesday, February 3, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Everyone knows that clipping coupons can help save money on items we use everyday. But what many people don't know is that a little time in front of the computer can save them even more!

By day, Amy Yates-Garmatz is an NBC Human Resources manager, but when she leaves the office she's a super saver.

Amy and her friend Laura Hanlon are a dynamic dollar-stretching duo, saving hundreds of dollars a month.

Laura says: "We can go in and have $150 worth of products and walk out for $1.38."

Like so many savers, Amy and Laura start by clipping coupons.

But then they go one step further, checking online blogs to find stores where those same items are already on sale.

The blogs have names like "I Heart CVS" -- "Surviving the Stores" -- "Deal Seeking Mom" -- "The Centsible Saver" -- and "Bargain Briana."

Laura says: "We just go to the blogs and look at the sales that are going on that week and match our coupons up."

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Posted Monday, February 2, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

This weekend's "Wall Street Journal" highlighted a few websites that offer free services.

First up: "Hypem.com." It monitors hundreds of music-related blogs and lets you listen to songs posted on those blogs for free. Songs can't be downloaded but Amazon and iTunes links appear next to most tracks.

Next: kayak.com. Here you can compare airfares from a number of websites, including airlines and online travel agencies. Kayak breaks down itineraries by airline, time of day, number of stops and length of layovers.

And check-out pogo.com. Play free online or downloadable games at this ad-supported website. More than 100-games are available, including Scrabble, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.

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Posted Friday, January 30, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

By now some of you have already started to work on your taxes. So make sure to read an article on WalletPop.com. It's entitled: "The 14 Overlooked Ways to Slash Your Taxes!"

On the list: if you refinanced your home last year, you can deduct your old unamortized points from your previous, now paid-off loan.

If you sold any stocks at a loss in 2008, the good news is that you'll get a deduction for it. But you have to use the loss to first offset any capital gains that you might have enjoyed.

If you pay for childcare, including daycare or nanny services, you can reduce your taxes up to $3000 for a single child or up to $6000 for two or more children under the age of 13. The amount of the credit ranges from 20% to 35% of your child care costs, depending on your gross income.

Of course, make sure to check-in with your accountant that you trust.

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Posted Thursday, January 29, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

If you shop on the Internet, a little knowledge can save you a bundle.

Lenka Keston, with promotionalcodes.com, says: "It might be a scrambled number or a number of different letters put together."

Those scrambled numbers and letters may not look like much, but they can save you a bundle.

Lenka says: "So you've probably seen that last page at the check out, and there's that little box that you don't know what to put in there. The promotional code goes right in there."

And once it's in there, you'll get money off shipping, off the total order, or just on that particular item.

Lenka says: "The retailers themselves are the ones that create the codes, we're here to help consumers take advantage of those and really make the most of their dollars spent online."

Lenka Keston collects those codes for a website called promotionalcodes.com. They're the coupons for the Internet age. And before you buy anything online, it's worth your while to see if there is a code out there.

Lenka says: "We've actually seen an increase of almost 120% in just the last few months."

The bottom line is this: you should never buy anything online without searching for a promotional code. Promotionalcodes.com is just one of the sites to find the codes, or just type 'promo codes' in google. It doesn't take much time and it is worth every penny.

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Posted Wednesday, January 28, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

If you need a smile this cold winter, there are some great deals to sunny Florida.

The Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau is offering a deal for travel to the area.

BundlesofFreeSmiles.com sponsors deals on hotels, restaurants shopping, transportation and dozens of fun attractions for the whole family.

At the site you can download an "Orlando Smile Card" that gets you in to big name attractions like Sea World for a fraction of the cost.

If you're in the area for a birthday, you can even get in to Disney world for free.

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Posted Tuesday, January 27, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Credit-monitoring services are certainly gaining in popularity. You pay a fee each month for regular alerts about activity on your credit report. But according to an article on SmartMoney.com, these services provide a false sense of security.

Here are some points to remember:

These services cost almost nothing to deliver yet they sell for more than a hundred dollars a year. According to SmartMoney.com, credit reports are compiled automatically and accessed online, while alerts are sent via email -- hardly justifying that $7 to $15 monthly tab.

Another point: they don't protect you from identity theft. Some services, especially the cheaper ones, only offer credit reports from just one of the three credit bureaus. And, by the time you get the alert, the damage has been done.

Another point to remember: identity theft insurance is included in many credit-monitoring services. But in almost all cases, victims only get reimbursed for costs incurred while cleaning up their credit. There is absolutely no policy that exists today that says you'll get the money a thief took from your bank account back.

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Posted Monday, January 26, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

If you're planning a weekend getaway or a vacation, you have to check out TravelZoo.com.

This is a site that Consumer Reports recommends.

Each week, it digs up discounted prices for airfares, resorts, even cruises. Some of the savings can be huge! In fact, one of our employees recently used it. He was able to purchase tickets for a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas at more than 50% off.

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Posted Friday, January 16, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

It's no secret retailers are feeling the pinch in this Financial Crisis. They're pulling out all the stops to get you into their stores. So it's more important than ever to be on guard. WalletPop.com is out with an article entitled: "Nine Retail Ploys to Avoid!"

At the top of its list: So-Called "Liquidation" Sales. Don't assume you're getting a great deal just because the retailer's going out of business.

Next: Here's a new sneaky trick to watch out for: Your favorite brand of peanut butter or box of cereal may look the same, but thanks to some brilliant design changes, you may be getting several ounces less than you did before. Many cereal brands have reduced their contents per box by simply making their boxes skinnier.

Another point: Some retailers seem to deliberately carry a very limited quantity of an item offered at a huge discount ... only to sell out of that item without offering a rain check for it. The store then offers another similar item you can get at full price.

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Posted Thursday, January 15, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

How's this for a deal! A hotel room for just one dollar a night.

That's the promotion by the website LastMinuteTravel.com.

Here's how it works:

For 15-minutes a day the site will be offering hotel rooms for just $1 per night.

Here's the catch (of course -- there is one)!

You must sign-up for clues as to what time the sale will start and end. Otherwise, you'll never know when the sale is underway.

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Posted Wednesday, January 14, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

With mortgage rates at record lows, many homeowners (looking to save money) are looking to re-finance.

First, let's talk about what it means to refinance.

Drew Miller is with Beneficial Bank. Drew says: "Refinancing is taking the existing mortgage you have on your home and looking to recast or redo the loan itself."

The big question today: is now the right time to refinance?

The rule of thumb used to be was it worth it to refinance if the interest rate on your mortgage dropped a full 2 percentage points, in other words, say from 6 to 4 percent.

However, Miller says that's not the case anymore!

Drew says: "The world has changed dramatically. Property values much more expensive, people are taking out larger mortgages because properties are more expensive."

So no matter what the difference is between your mortgage rate and what the rates have fallen to: the best thing you can do now, Miller says, is sit down and crunch the numbers.

Drew says: "Know what their current monthly payment is, call a couple different lenders, figure out what their new payment would be, subtract one from the other, what's your monthly savings, convert that to what it would be on an annual basis."

So let's say you took out a 30-year fixed loan for $150,000 with a 7% interest rate. You're paying $875 a month.

Now, if you refinance to a 5.5% rate, your monthly payment drops to $687 .... a savings of almost $200 a month.

Drew says: "There could be some significant savings if someone takes the time to do the math."

But remember, refinancing is not the best option for everyone. Miller says it all depends on your individual circumstances.

Drew says: "Certainly if your mortgage balance, you've paid it down, you've been in the house for 20-25 years, it may not be worth it because the bulk of your payment is going to principals."

But it may be worth it if you have equity in your house, you have great credit, and you plan to stay in your home for awhile.

Miller says the most common mistake people make when refinancing is not asking enough questions.

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Posted Tuesday, January 13, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Not every online shopper gets the same offer.

Blame it on cookies! An Internet cookie is a small file put on on your computer by the site you are visiting to identify you. So the next time you visit a website, it recognizes you and can build on your previous shopping history with new, customized offers.

And that's where the problem lies!

If you're identified by a cookie as someone who has shopped there before, it knows what offers you've responded to.

According to WalletPop.com, if you've proven yourself a tough sell, it might feed you its best price. However, if you've been an easy sell, as shown by your past purchases, the price you receive might be higher.

The solution -- delete the cookies on your machine on a regular basis.

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Posted Monday, January 12, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

If you have had a hard time figuring out your monthly credit card statement help is on the way.

The government is forcing a makeover.

The hope is that by making statements easier to read, Americans will get a better handle on their finances.

Ultra fine print, confusing explanations, missing information. At Consumer Credit Counseling Service, they've heard every complaint about credit card statements.

Todd Mark is with Consumer Credit Counseling Service. Todd says: "If you can't understand your statements, you're in big trouble."

But now the government is taking action, forcing credit card issuers to make their statements easier to read and understand.

Todd says: "They know the consumers are digging a deeper hole with debt."

The new statements will look something like this.

Todd says: "When I looked at this, I was like, 'this will be so much easier for folks.'"

In addition to transaction and payment information, it will be easier to see if your interest rate has changed, how many service fees you've paid, and the amount of interest you're shelling out.

Todd says: "If you make it clear for people to understand the ramifications of their behavior with their credit and payment history, that is very important."

The idea is simple... knowledge is power. But it will mean nothing if consumers don't take action themselves.

Todd says: "This is a tool for consumers to use, but it's up to them to use it... and use it wisely."

Credit card issuers must change the way their statements look by the summer of 2010. But some companies are expected to roll out their makeovers much sooner.

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Posted Friday, January 9, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Americans are being overwhelmed these days by anxious automakers looking to sell automobiles. But some consumer advocates say this is a special time for buyers to stay alert for deals that seem (and could very well be) too good to be true.

Plummeting sales figures confirm Americans aren't in a car-buying mood.

Shopper says: "I'm not out shopping for new cars. My car is seven years old, I think it will probably live to be 15."

So for automakers, desperate times call for desperate advertising!

But consumer advocates say even with offers like this, stay leveled headed.

Jonathan Linkov is with Consumer Reports.

Jonathan says: "If you go out there and put a lot of money down on a car and then lose your job, you are out the down payment and you may not be upside down, but you end up owing a little bit of money."

They also say stay alert for the "add-ons" that can easily add back on perceived savings!

Jonathan says: "For example, you get the undercoating spray for $250, you get the scotch guarding of your seat for $400. You get the little vin etching for $350."

While the deals are as tempting as they are unprecedented, they say always base need on true necessity.

Jonathan says: "The decision about whether to buy a new car rests completely on whether you need a new car. So in this economic environment I would say unless you're car is no longer running it probably doesn't make sense to be shopping for a new car."

Still, there's widespread agreement the time for the best deal is now .

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Posted Thursday, January 8, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

The topic: practically risk-free investments that will give you returns of up to 4%.

This is from an article posted this week on SmartMoney.com. It says many banks are offering competitive yields on CDs, savings and money-market accounts.

So when hunting for the best yields, make sure to follow this advice:

Look for safety. The article says you should check out bankrate.com which lists each financial institution's safety rating.

Don't get too attached to cash. CD's are certainly a safer alternative to riskier market bets.

And remember this: If you're putting your cash in CD's, divide it into different maturity dates. Example: Instead of sinking money into a 5-year CD, consider shorter-term maturities. Put some money into a 6-month CD while putting other cash into a 1-year CD... and so-on! As each matures, you can re-invest at the new rates. That way, you're not locked into one maturity date and therefore one interest rate.

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Posted Wednesday, January 7, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Earlier this week, we reported on the airfare sale by Midwest Airlines. You can fly to a number of cities for under $200.

Turns out, there are lots of bargains to be found if you're planning to fly somewhere.

According to the Associated Press, the first few days of the new year have seen a wave of air-fare sales across the airline industry.

With the drop in fuel prices, and the weak economy slowing demand for air travel, airlines are trying to lure people on board with lower fares.

For example: AirTran Airways is offering a nationwide sale with one-way fares as low as $39.

JetBlue is launching a sale involving more than 40 destinations.

Southwest, American and United are also among the airlines that have offered discounts recently.

Don't forget that you can go to the Dane County Regional Airport website for low airfares. They've teamed-up with the website "airfare watchdog" which monitors airfares 24-hours a day.

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Posted Tuesday, January 6, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

While Madison tops Forbes list for job hunters, the reality is people are losing their jobs in the Madison area.

So if you lost your job, which expense would you cut first?

An article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune caught our eye. It's entitled "A dozen ways to save after wage cuts or job loss." Here are some of their suggestions:

First -- Trim your cable and phone bills. Go "back to basics" by downgrading from "digital starter" to "basic" cable. If you have a cell phone, you can downgrade to a cheaper plan.

Check with your child's school about putting your children in the free or reduced-price lunch program, even if temporarily.

Become a one-car family. If you have more than one vehicle, park one and cancel the insurance on it, saving $100 a month or more.

And talk to your mortgage company right away. Don't wait until you're three months behind on your payments to talk to your lender. Tell them about your situation before you're behind and you'll have a better chance of keeping your house.

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Posted Monday, January 5, 2009 --- 6:00 p.m.

Sick and tired of this cold weather!? Check out some of the deals on Midwest Airlines. The company has just launched its first big sale of this year.

From Madison you can fly to a number of cities -- including Nashville and Kansas City-- for under $200.

Want somewhere warmer?! You can fly to Vegas and Phoenix.. for under $300.

Of course, there are restrictions.