The 4 Essential Low-Cost Travel Apps

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We know, we know: You’re overwhelmed with recommendations for new apps promising to help you save time and money. That’s why we’ve pared this list down to the four best apps for lowering your travel costs. We’ve downloaded them, taken them for a spin and confirmed they’ll each help you save toward your Five Ten Twenty Club goals. Keep in mind, we’ve intentionally omitted airfare app recommendations. (There are so many great options that we think it warrants a separate post in the near future). Check these apps out:

Beat Cheap/Free Long Distance Call App: Sipergy

Sure, we’ve all heard of Skype and newer competitors, such as Viber, but Sipergy does everything they do – but better. Make long distance calls without roaming charges and get ridiculously low rates on international calls. This helpful little app even helps you find free wi-fi hotspots anywhere you are on earth. Another bonus: Free voice and text translation. Take that, Skype.

Best Discount Hotel App: Hotel Tonight

So you know you want a hip hotel in Los Angeles at a deep discount, but what if you don’t know the city well enough to sift through the hundreds of selections that most hotel booking sites present? If it’s a concise, thoughtful selection of sharply discounted hotels you want, look no further than Hotel Tonight. A word to the wise: You can score outrageously great deals largely because the app only accepts bookings for same-day stays. Your correspondent scored a room at the Ian Schrager-designed Paramount Hotel in NYC for a measly $99. I couldn’t even find hostel beds for that low price on other sites.

Best Low-Cost Rental Car App: RelayRides

Isn’t it great when you visit your friends or family back home, and they offer to lend you their car? Well, RelayRides kinda works the same way: The app enables you to find other people’s cars that they’re willing to rent out at really great prices. The premise of the “sharing economy” isn’t new; it’s also the basis for popular sites like AirBnB. One additional advantage of RelayRides: They’re the only car sharing service now available at airports across the country, so you can now get the convenience of traditional airport car rentals — without the hefty price tag.

Best Low-Cost Gas App: Gas Buddy

You’re driving through a new city in search of cheap gas but don’t know where to go –unless you’ve got the Gas Buddy app. This sweet bit of technology pinpoints the cheapest gas options in your vicinity, making anything from road trips to big-city driving less of a wallet drain. Oh, and don’t forget to put your savings toward your Five Ten Twenty Club goals

Do you use other apps to help you stay on budget while traveling?

Share your favorites in our Community Forum!

 

Three Easy Ways to Get Started With Couponing

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Whether it’s fond memories of your grandmother clipping coupons or of when your best friend took you to dinner using one of those emailed daily deals, you’ve finally been hooked and want to try couponing yourself. Great! Coupons can be smart tools for trying new products and managing costs, but the world of couponing is wide and complicated. How are you going to begin?

Decide why you want to coupon

First, you need to decide why you want to use coupons. Is it because you want to try new things or spend less? This question is key, because the purpose of most daily deal-style coupons, for example, is to get shoppers to buy new products on impulse that they might not have otherwise purchased. Those types of coupons will actually make you spend more and save less.

Thankfully, other coupons help you to actually spend less by either encouraging you to buy more units now of a product that you would’ve bought anyway or by encouraging you to try alternative competing products that are similar to the product that you normally purchase. Product manufacturers offer shoppers the spend-less coupons in an effort to improve short-term sales and inventory levels or to coax shoppers away from their competitors. Knowing whether you want to win unexpected deals or decrease the costs of your regular purchases will help you determine your coupon strategy and which types of coupons you should use.

Choose the types of coupons you will use

Coupons can be found everywhere from the Sunday paper and circulars in your mailbox to coupon blogs and daily deal services and even to searchable online databases and coupon-finder smart phone apps. The printed coupons and the coupon databases tend to be very useful for finding substitutes or sales for your favorite, regularly-purchased products. Websites like Retail Me Not, Living Rich With Coupons and the Coupon Mom also tend to feature these spend-less coupons regularly. Meanwhile, daily deal services like GroupOn and Living Social—as well as coupon blogs like Money Saving Mom, For the Mommas and Deal Seeking Mom—often post coupons for items that you might not have purchased originally but may enjoy trying.

Pick your coupon strategy

Finally, you need to decide whether you will sit back watching for deals opportunistically or you will aggressively seek savings. If you are the opportunistic coupon tourist that seeks to enjoy new products and experiences cheaply, your first step should involve signing up for deal-finder services like GroupOn and Living Social. Once you’ve registered, each site will send you daily coupons to local businesses—usually restaurants, spas or entertainment venues. If you want to be the more aggressive coupon clipper, we recommend starting with a little research. Focus on learning how your favorite stores’ coupon policies work and then study how you can combine coupons from sites like Coupon Mom and Retail Me Not with the coupons your favorite stores offer through the mail or local newspaper. It’s also best to start small and get comfortable using coupons at just one or two of your favorite stores before you risk being overwhelmed by the variety of coupons and coupon policies available at the many stores around you.

Personally, we’d recommend reading the beginner’s guide and “Important Facts You Should Know Before Using Coupons” available on Cindy Liversey’s Living Rich with Coupons site. We’d also recommend Coupon Mom Stephanie Nelson’s excellent videos on how to get started with coupons. For those of you who want to save money on groceries, she has also produced an excellent article available on her How To Coupon page called “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with the Coupon Mom System.”

Are you learning to use coupons?

Share your experiences, missteps and victories in our Community Forum!

Consumer Expert Chris Elliott’s Advice on Smart Phone Safety

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Losing your smart phone isn’t just a pain in the behind — it can cost you a lot of money, too. Here at the Five Ten Twenty Club, we’re determined to help you better manage all your resources — including important valuables, such as your phone. That’s why we’ve asked recognized consumer expert, Chris Elliott for his advice on securing your phone both before and (gasp!) after it’s lost or stolen.

An Ounce of Prevention 

Sure, replacing a lost or stolen smart phone can cost big bucks. After all, who wants to pay hundreds of dollars for a new device? But not securing your phone while it’s still in your possession can cost you big time, too. Hackers can swipe your credit card or bank account numbers, steal important passwords, and otherwise drain your pockets.

One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is the careful use of apps. As Elliott notes,

” One of the most common way hackers access your cell phone information is by offering you infected apps. The best way around it is to get good security software and only download apps from a trusted source. Also, don’t download something unless you absolutely need it.”

Of course, some apps, such as those that enable smart phone security are a must. And using basic protections, such as good passwords is important, too, says Elliott. To review, here are the essential preventive steps:

  • Password and PIN-protect your phone adequately. Don’t use the same password for everything, because the hacker can then access all your information.
  • Only log-on to trusted wi-fi networks — and don’t forget to log-out once done. Try to use only encrypted pages while in public places.
  • Download smart phone security apps, such as those enabling remote wiping, locking and data back-up. Here are some offered by Verizon.

Once Your Phone is Gone

Once your phone is gone, you’ll want to notify police if you believe it was stolen, and then your wireless carrier. Now’s the time you’ll be glad you downloaded remote wiping, data back-up and location apps. Lock your phone and clear it of important data remotely. Provide the police with any remote location data you’re able to retrieve, and also contact your employer’s IT and security departments if it was a work phone. As Elliott says,

“Remotely wipe the phone once it’s missing, just in case. Most carriers have special pages for customers who lose their phones. For example, here’s AT&T’s.

Of course, once your phone is gone, there are no guarantees you’ll get it back – no matter how well you prepared. So Elliott offers one last piece of advice that makes great financial sense:

“If you’re forgetful, or are concerned about losing your phone, consider insurance.”

That’s the sort of financial foresight that makes us at Five Ten Twenty Club proud.

 

How do you protect your phone? Have you used any apps to help secure your data and phone, or have you ever had your smart phone stolen?

Share your experiences on our Community Forum!

 

A veteran journalist and consumer advocate, Chris Elliot is the author of Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals (Wiley). He also writes a column for The Washington Post and blogs about personal finance at Mint.com.

Five Things the Recession Taught Us

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If there was a silver lining to the hard times, it’s this: The recession taught us all a few important lessons about money management and financial priorities that can’t be unlearned. Just as the Greatest Generation endured the Depression and carried their thriftiness and frugality with them through life, we too have been marked permanently by the Great Recession.

The recession created by the 2007-2008 financial crisis may have officially ended nearly four years ago, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, but its effects have been felt far longer. Under-employment remains high, and many Americans are still struggling to recoup losses. It’s only recently that unemployment has declined enough to generate strong increases in consumer confidence and home prices – both important indicators of our financial well-being.

Read on to see what we’ve learned.

Your Home Shouldn’t Be Your Only Investment

Although millions of Americans remain underwater on their mortgages, prices are now approaching their pre-recession levels, and construction is again on the upswing in many states. Though things are looking rosier, many of us have internalized the understanding that home prices don’t always go up. It was that faulty assumption that led many of us to take on dangerous adjustable-rate mortgages or buy more house than we could reasonably afford. If your home if your primary –or heavens forbid, only investment — re-think your financial plan stat. Lots of people lost the shirt off their backs thinking that way. Sure, your home is an important part of your financial puzzle, but don’t miss out on the other pieces, as well. As they say: Diversify, diversify, diversify.

Student Loan Debt Has Real Consequences

Too many young people (including yours truly) binged on student loans under the belief we’d easily land lucrative jobs and pay them off quickly. As the recession hit, employment prospects dried up, and we were left facing the heavy burden of payments and ballooning balances. Even those of us who managed to land good jobs still feel the stress of having taken on excessive debt. We can’t afford to work jobs we really love or start our own businesses — heck, a recent study by the NY Fed shows we’re having to delay buying homes and starting families. The lesson: All debt, even so called “good” debt, bears real-world consequences. Student loans can be difficult to repay even under ideal circumstances, and shouldn’t be taken on lightly.

Being Competitive in the Job Market Requires Flexibility & Persistence

With traditional jobs scarce, the more creative amongst us turned hobbies into income streams or worked several odd jobs to make ends meet. Others took jobs in far away locales in order to get ahead. Statistics show that the most flexible workers — those with varied skill sets and a willingness to relocate or try new things — fared best during the recession job search. We also learned the value of persistence when using more traditional methods, such as networking or direct applications. Giving up was not an option for those who successfully secured jobs, and many used the job search period to re-train or acquire new skills. The take-away? Stay nimble. Learn new things,and find creative ways to stand out or make extra money on the side.

The Stock Market Isn’t Fool Proof (And Neither Is Your 401K)

Surprise! Just as homes don’t always increase in value, neither do stocks. Portfolio losses of over 50% were not unheard of during the recession, leaving many older workers scrambling for retirement funds. The obvious lesson here is about diversification — not just across various stocks, but across asset classes.The less apparent lesson is regarding the dangers of 401Ks: Unlike the defined benefit plans of yesteryear, there’s no guarantee your 401K will provide what you need when you retire. Though on balance they’re usually a terrific option, they’re not fool-proof, so act like it, and try to plan ahead for contingencies. The new economy teaches us to rely on ourselves and our own wits.

Shop For Value, Not Brand Names

Since the recession, there’s been a slight but noticeable shift away from the most expensive name brands. Even those of us with comfortable incomes have begun to examine purchases for real value and are choosier before we plunk down our money. That’s a good thing, and retailers have taken note by offering, in many cases, better bang for your buck. Ostentation is out and smart shopping decisions are in.

 

Did the recession teach you any important money lessons? If so, please tell us about them in the comments section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The $1 Million Turkey Sandwich

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I know, I know – you’ve heard it before: If you’d just quit buying lunch out every day, you’d save a ton of money. And although you know it’s true, giving up your favorite deli sandwich or salad over a few dollars in savings here and there just doesn’t seem to be motivating you to stop. You like the convenience too much, and if you spend a few hundred dollars a year on it, so be it. You’ll find ways cut elsewhere.

We’ve done the math on what you’re actually spending, however, and have some surprising news for you: If you spend just $10 a day at lunch, over the course of a 35-year working career that amounts to $947,000. Yep, assuming average stock market returns, you could’ve had a cool million instead of that turkey sandwich.

Of course, we all have to eat lunch, so it’s not as if we could’ve saved all of those $10 per day — we would’ve had to pay something for lunch, somehow. Here’s how a few options stack up:

  • Buying a turkey sandwich and a drink at the likes of Jason’s Deli, Panera or Starbucks averages about $9-$10, including taxes. This is our standard assumption, which after 35 years would cost you about $1M.
  • Buying a turkey sandwich and a drink at a local grocery store (Publix, Whole Foods and Kroger offer them for about $2-$4 per sandwich) would average approximately half that – $5. This option earns you $500,000 over a career.
  • If you were to bring lunch from home every day (averaging a daily cost of about $2), you’d earn an extra approximately $750,000 over your career.

Of course, few of us have the discipline to stick to a regimented plan day in, day out over our entire working lives. It’s perhaps more realistic to think of subtle changes, such as choosing a cheaper option a few times per week. As an example, you could:

Pack a lunch from home a couple of days per week ( $2/day), eat at a lower-cost place twice per week ($5/day), and a higher-cost deli once ($10/day).

This would total $24/week, for a savings of $492,000. Half a million dollars. Repeat after me: “Half a million dollars.” Just for switching up your daily lunch a bit. Why haven’t we all done this yet?

Have you found easy ways to trim your daily lunch costs? If so, we’d love to hear them! Post them in the comments section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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