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Do cold, short winter days have you dreaming about summer vacation?

While you read travel site reviews, compare car rentals and shop for airline tickets, start a dedicated savings account now so you can prepay part or all of your vacation costs.

The following are 16 easy ways to save as much as $1,000 in the next four months.

1. Hold a Yard Sale

Potential Savings: Will vary, around $250

Make room in your closet by decluttering.

No need to make it a big project. Just ask yourself as you move around your home, “Can I get rid of this?”

Put several boxes in an easily accessible spot, and toss in what you find for your yard sale.

2. Cancel Your Gym Membership

Potential Savings: $164 ($41 a month)

The average gym membership cost $41 a month in 2014, according to Christian Science Monitor. And that’s not counting the initiation fee.

Check out cheap options at your local community center or pool. Or, for the cost of a pair of sneakers, go outdoors and walk or run.

3. Sell Your Old Smartphone

Potential Savings: $15 or more

While you’re decluttering, ditch your old phone.

Through Apple’s Reuse and Recycling Program, I found an estimated value of $15 for an old 16GB iPhone 4, locked with AT&T, in average condition. Newer models will net more.

Apple reimburses with gift cards, so net your summer savings by selling the gift card.

Plenty of other sites offer cash, including Gazelle, NextWorth and Glyde. Or list your products on Craigslist or eBay.

Before selling, erase all personal data from a mobile phone. Lifehacker explains how to securely wipe various types of phones.

4. Get a Cheaper Cell Plan

Potential Savings: $300 or more

How Life Works says the average monthly cellphone bill is $73.

But competition among carriers is escalating, meaning potential savings for consumers. Before comparison shopping, check service maps on companies’ websites to be sure you’ll get the reception you want.

Consider a contract-free prepaid service, or one of the discounted or free cell phone service providers.

5. Trim Your Cell Phone Data Use

Potential Savings: $60

Downscale your data service for more savings. You may find that dropping just one tier from your current plan will save you $15 a month, or $60 total in four months.

6. Be a Mystery Shopper

Potential Savings: $1,600

At The Penny Hoarder, Kyle Taylor explains how to be a mystery shopper. He describes his experience:

I’m usually paid $8 to $25 per mystery shop, plus reimbursement for my purchases. There have been months where I earned more than $5,000, but most months I earn an extra $400 to $500 a month for mystery shopping.

Making $400 a month would net you a nice $1,600 in four months. If mystery shopping is not your thing, consider these odd and unusual ways to make extra money.

7. Raise Insurance Deductibles

Potential Savings: $100 or more

If you agree to pay more out of pocket when making an insurance claim, you can save a lot on your premiums.

For example, raising your car insurance deductible to $1,000 can save you 40% or more on comprehensive and collision premiums, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

You can apply the same concept to your homeowners policy, increasing your savings.

8. Save Your Pocket Change

Potential Savings: $50 or more

You probably watched your parents do it. Now you should do it: Empty your pockets or purse every day.

If you hold onto just $12 a month, you’ll have nearly $50 after four months.

(TPH Editor’s Note: Apply this to your digital change, as well! Here’s how.)

9. Get a Smaller Cable TV Package

Potential Savings: $200

Average cable bills now hover around $100 a month, according to the Leichtman Research Group.

Now cable companies are offering smaller packages that can save you money. Cut your bill in half, and you will save $200 over four months.

10. Cut the Cable Completely

Potential Savings: $400

Going cable-free is no longer radical. Commercial-free cable alternatives include services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Find out how to select the right cord-cutting service.

Think life without cable will make you the neighborhood oddball? Guess again. People are cutting the cord in record numbers.

11. Open a Bank Account

Potential Savings: $50 or more

Banks want your business, says Money Crashers, adding that some are offering cash to entice you to open an account. Money Crashers lists sign-up bonuses for several new accounts, including some offering up to $300 or even more.

Read the fine print, though. There may be lots of hoops to jump through to claim your reward.

12. Quit Buying Bottled Water

Potential Savings: Varies, but substantial

How costly is bottled water compared to tap? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:

In California, average tap water costs about $1.60 per thousand gallons (about one tenth of a cent per gallon), while it has been reported that average bottled water costs about $0.90 per gallon — a 560-fold difference.

13. Drink Tap Water at Restaurants

Potential Savings: $80

For the four months of your savings program, order tap water in restaurants instead of other drinks.

If you typically spend $20 a month in restaurant beverages, you’ll save $80 in four months.

14. Automate Savings

Potential Savings: $200

One of the marvels of online banking is your ability to set up and change automatic savings deposits on the fly.

Establish a small transfer from your checking to savings -- $50 a month, for example. Break it down by smaller weekly amounts if it’s easier.

Here’s a promise: You won’t notice the money is gone.

15. Get a Part-Time Job

Potential Savings: $800

Take a part-time gig to scrape up some savings.

If you net $10 an hour for 20 hours a month, you’ll have $800 saved — before taxes, of course — when your four months are up.

16. Sell Clothes on Consignment

Potential Savings: $60 to $80

Give closets an early spring cleaning, and take clothes in good shape to a consignment store. You probably won’t make a fortune, but $15 to $20 a month isn’t out of the question.

Your Turn: What are your favorite ways to save money for a special goal?

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

Unless you’re vying for a guest spot on a reality show about dirty houses, you probably spend at least some of your day wiping down counters and wondering why nothing ever stays sparkling.

Wouldn’t you rather do your cleaning in less time and save money to boot?

We thought so. Here are a whole slew of cleaning hacks to make your life easier.

1. Use a Caddy for Your Supplies

It may not necessarily be a hack, but having a cleaning caddy is a smart move. When all your bottles, rags and other supplies are in one place, getting the work done is quick and easy.

For a tutorial on how to create your own home cleaning kit (including recipes for homemade solutions), head on over to the Empress of Dirt.

2. Discover the Many Amazing Uses of Vinegar

This isn’t just one cleaning hack. It’s six cleaning hacks, most of them very hands-off.

Here are all the miraculous things a little vinegar can do.

  1. Microwave a bowl of equal parts water and vinegar for five minutes. The steam will loosen any food bits, and the vinegar will act as a disinfectant. Be very careful opening your microwave when the five minutes are up. Everything will be hot! Crack the door, and let it cool for two minutes. Then use a rag to easily wipe down the inside.

  2. Soak the exhaust filters from above your stove in a mixture of vinegar and water to remove the cooked-on gunk. After soaking, rinse and return the filters to their rightful place.

  3. Use a paper towel to rub some vinegar on cloudy glasses to make them shine.

  4. Put vinegar in a baggie, and put it on your shower head. Use a rubber band to secure the bag and let it soak to remove buildup.

  5. Boil vinegar and water in a pan that’s been burnt. You only need enough liquid to cover the burnt part. Once it reaches a boil, turn off the heat and let it cool so you don’t burn yourself. Then add a couple of tablespoons of baking soda and scrub to make the pot shine again.

  6. Pull an old sock over your hand, spritz with vinegar and use it to wipe down dirty blinds.

3. Clean Your Grill With an Onion

Were you a little grossed out to hear that wire from grill brushes was accidentally ending up in food and being ingested? Yeah, me too.

Rather than using a wire bristle brush, use a long fork to spear half an onion. Rub the cut side on your grill grates for an alternate way to clean them.

4. Use a Potato on Your Cheese Grater

If you still use a hand cheese grater, you know what a pain they are to clean. Depending on the cheese you’ve used, there’s a good chance it’s been mushed down in between the grates and is mocking your attempts to remove it.

Rather than losing your sanity trying to clean all the crevices, pull out a potato and grate that. It’s hard enough that it should slough away the cheese, and then you can easily rinse off the grater.

5. Use Stale Bread or Rice to Clean Your Coffee Grinder

Coffee smells fabulous in the morning, but when you shift gears and decide to grind spices or nuts, you don’t want them to remind you of your morning cup of joe.

For a blade grinder, use some stale bread or dry, uncooked rice to absorb the coffee smell and clean out your grinder. If you have a burr grinder (also called a burr mill), bread won’t work, but dried rice may.

Be aware that uncooked rice can be harder than coffee beans and may tax your grinder’s motor. Some companies say using rice as a cleaner will void the warranty.

6. Make Stainless Steel Appliances Shine With Furniture Polish

Let furniture polish do double duty on your stainless steel appliances. Clean off any grime first and then spray on the polish and wipe dry.

7. Make Grease Stains Disappear With Rubbing Alcohol

To get a grease stain out of carpets or other surfaces, mix four parts rubbing alcohol with one part salt. Rub into the stain to lift the grease.

Then let the surface dry and wipe or vacuum up any leftover salt.

8. Bleach Your Cutting Boards

If only you could see the bacteria making itself at home on your supposedly clean cutting board.

Luckily, you can easily sanitize cutting boards by soaking them in a bleach solution.

Use 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water for plastic boards and 2 tablespoons of bleach per gallon for wooden boards. You don’t need to soak them long — just a couple of minutes will do — and then rinse.

9. Try Lemons and Salt for a More Natural Clean

Of course, not everyone loves the idea of using bleach. For a more natural way to disinfect your cutting board, liberally sprinkle kosher salt on the board. Then cut a lemon in half and rub the lemon (cut side down) on the board.

The lemon juice should kill the bacteria, while the salt should scrub away any small particles of food that may be present.

Then you can use the other half of the lemon to scrub your faucets to make them shiny and clean as well.

10. Roll a Lint Brush Over Lampshades

Lampshades come in all sorts of shapes and materials, which can make it difficult to figure out how best to clean them.

A lint roller can be used on almost any shade to pick up dust and light dirt.

11. Blow Canned Air into Exhaust Fans

The exhaust fan in your bathroom could probably use a little TLC, but how on earth do you clean that?

Easy. Use some canned air (like the kind you would buy to clean a computer keyboard) and blow it into the fan to dislodge lint. Place a towel on the floor to collect the dust bunnies as they fall.

Even if you can’t see the dust in your fan, it’s a good idea to clean it on a regular basis. If too much lint builds up, your fan could burst into flames.

12. Remove Dust from Vents With a Knife and Rag

Another way to remove dust from vents such as those on window air conditioning units is to cover a butter knife with a rag and run it along the inside of each vent.

Despite what the commercials tell you, no special sham or wonder cleaning cloth is required.

13. Pull Out Dryer Sheets to Clean Baseboards

Finally, give your dryer sheets another purpose in life by whipping them out when it’s time to clean your baseboards.

Running a sheet along the baseboards will remove dirt and help repel dust. What’s more, they might just make the room smell temporarily fresher too.

Your Turn: What cleaning hacks can you add?

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

Healthy eating often comes with a hefty price tag. Even the most expert of coupon clippers grouse about how difficult it is to find bargains on fresh fruits and vegetables.

That is especially frustrating when you are trying to eat a more healthful diet. However, it is possible to save on delicious, nutritious produce -- if you know where to look.

Following are six secret places to find coupons for fresh produce.

1. SavingStar

This free service gives you cash back for items you buy at major grocery store chains. You can even use it for online grocery purchases.

Every Tuesday, SavingStar presents a new “Healthy Offer of the Week” for an item of fresh produce. For example, the offer for January 12 was “Save 20% on any single purchase of loose tomatoes.”

Now that’s a healthy choice for your body and your bank account.

2. Earthbound Farm

Earthbound Farm sells a variety of fresh, healthy produce items, including salads, slaws, powermeal bowls and smoothie kickstarts. The company offers many nutritious frozen fruits and veggies, too.

When you sign up for their Organic Bound guide, which promotes “happier, healthier living,” you’ll receive “recipes, tips and exclusive coupons delivered straight to your inbox.”

According to the company, members can save as much as $50 a year.

3. Fresh Express Newsletter

You’ve probably noticed Fresh Express ready-to-eat packaged salads in the produce section of your local grocery store.

But did you know that you can get tips, recipes and -- perhaps most importantly -- coupons for these assorted leafy greens when you subscribe to the company’s newsletter?

You can also visit Fresh Express’ Salad Swap site to learn how to recreate your favorite recipes using healthier ingredients and access additional product coupons.

4. Driscoll’s

Join Driscoll’s Berry Community, and enjoy two ways to save on the company’s strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, which are sold at major retailers throughout the country.

As a Driscoll’s Rewards Club member, you will be eligible for special offers, including a birthday gift.

You can also elect to become a member of Driscoll’s Customer Advisory Panel, which provides an opportunity to earn additional product coupons for completing customer surveys. Talk about a berry sweet deal!

5. Target Mobile Coupons

Target sells practically everything, including fresh fruit and vegetables. And the popular superstore occasionally even offers produce coupons that can help you hit the bull’s-eye when it comes to better physical and financial health.

For example,Target recently offered coupons for $1.50 off when you buy $7 worth of produce, and $5 off $25 worth of perishable foods.

Download the company’s mobile Cartwheel app to access coupons when you’re on the go. Last week, customers with the Cartwheel app received offers for 5% off both fresh oranges and apples.

6. Organic Girl’s Email List

Fresh arugula, kale, romaine, spinach and spring mix… Organic Girl sells it all. You can save on the company’s top-quality fresh produce when you join its email list.

You’ll receive a $1 off coupon just for signing up -- and be sure to keep an eye out for additional perks, promos and healthy recipes sent straight to your inbox. Can you already savor the savings?

Your Turn: Have you found any great places to spot deals or discounts on fresh produce?

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

No one wants to pay more on their taxes than they have to. Even the IRS urges Americans to make sure they’re claiming all the credits they can.

Unfortunately, the U.S. tax code is anything but simple. And that makes it hard to ferret out where tax incentives are hiding and who’s eligible to claim them.

That’s why we are offering you this list of common — but often overlooked — tax deductions and credits. Check your records against the list and make sure you’re getting the best deal you can.

1. Charitable Donations, Including Travel Expenses

If you itemize deductions, you surely already know you can deduct your charitable contributions. This includes both cash contributions and goods donated to a charity.

What you might miss is that you can also deduct your travel expenses when you’re volunteering for a charity.

For example, if you drive to a soup kitchen every week, you can deduct either your actual expenses or use a standard deduction of 14 cents per mile.

The IRS reports that these travel expenses may be deductible:

  • Air, rail and bus fares
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for a car
  • Taxi fares
  • Lodging
  • Meals

However, the government makes it clear you can’t mix volunteerism with vacations and expect to get a deduction. Here’s what the IRS says in on Page 5 of Publication 526 on Charitable Contributions:

Generally, you can claim a charitable contribution deduction for travel expenses necessarily incurred while you are away from home performing services for a charitable organization only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel. … The deduction for travel expenses will not be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. Even if you enjoy the trip, you can take a charitable contribution deduction for your travel expenses if you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip.

In other words, you can’t write off a mission trip to the Caribbean if all you’re doing is dropping off supplies and sightseeing the rest of the time.

If in doubt, the IRS publication goes on to provide detailed lists and examples of volunteer travel and other expenses that can and cannot be deducted as charitable contributions.

2. State Sales Tax

At one time, the only taxes you could deduct on your federal return were state and local income taxes. Obviously those of you living in one of the seven glorious states that don’t have an income tax did not have that option.

Fortunately, Congress recognized your plight about a decade ago and started letting taxpayers choose between deducting their state and local income taxes or their state and local sales taxes. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to know this is an option.

For those living in a non-income tax state (lucky dogs), it’s a no-brainer to deduct sales tax.

Everyone else: You’ll probably be better off sticking with your income tax unless you’ve bought a plane or a yacht in the past year or live in a state with high sales tax rates (I’m looking at you, Tennessee.).

If you’re not sure whether it makes sense to deduct your income or sales tax, you can use this handy calculator provided by the IRS.

3. Child and Dependent Care Credit

Here’s another one you’ve probably heard about, but you might be overlooking all the ways it can be used.

The most common way to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit is to use it for day care expenses for kids younger than 12. The idea behind the credit is to help pay for the care your child needs while you work or look for work.

But this credit also may be claimed if you live with an elderly parent or a disabled spouse whose care must be paid for while you work.

You may also be able to claim the credit for summer day-camp costs for your kids if you select a camp specifically so you can work.

4. Retirement Savings Contributions Credit

Also known as the Saver’s Credit, this tax perk is intended to encourage low-income individuals to start putting money away for retirement.

You’re eligible if you meet these criteria:

  • Older than age 18
  • Not claimed as someone else’s dependent
  • Not a full-time student
  • Meet income eligibility limits

Those income eligibility limits run from $30,500 for a single filer to $61,000 for a married couple filing jointly.

Depending on where your income lands, you can get a 10%, 20% or 50% credit off the first $2,000 you contribute to a qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k) or an IRA. If you’re married and filing jointly, you can claim a credit on the first $4,000 you contribute.

Remember, a credit gives you a dollar-for-dollar reduction in how much you have to pay in taxes. If you’re eligible, you don’t want to miss this credit.

Here’s a chart from the IRS with more details about the income eligibility limits.

5. Earned Income Tax Credit

OK, this one is controversial. Many people aren’t fans of the Earned Income Tax Credit because it gives a refund to people even if they haven’t paid any taxes into the system.

I know some of you don’t like that one bit, and I’m sure you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below.

In the meantime, this article isn’t about whether a credit has merit. It’s an article about credits that are overlooked. And by many accounts, the EITC is the most overlooked one in the bunch.

The main reason it’s overlooked is those who are eligible for the EITC often aren’t required to file a tax return.

For the 2015 tax year, the credit can be up to $6,242 for married couples with three children and adjusted gross incomes of up to $53,267.

Even singles with no kids can get the credit, albeit a much smaller one, if they earn less than $14,820.

The credit is refundable, which means even if you don’t owe the federal government a dime, you can still get a refund check.

If you have an income but don’t normally file a return because your wages are so low, it may be worth checking to see if you’re eligible for the EITC.

You can read this article to find free tax prep services to help you out. Turbo Tax also has facts on the EITC that you might find interesting.

6. Job Expenses

If you have job expenses that exceed 2% of your income, you can add them to your itemized deductions.

Not all expenses will qualify. For example, you can’t deduct the cost of your daily lunch. But here are a few of the things the IRS says can be deducted, so long as your employer doesn’t reimburse you:

  • Uniforms
  • Professional dues
  • Protective gear
  • Safety equipment
  • Small tools
  • Costs associated with job hunting

For that last one, you can deduct your expenses even if you don’t land a new job.

7. Relocation Expenses

Let’s say you do land a new job. And let’s also say your new job requires you to move to a new city or state. Then, you’re in luck. You can deduct moving expenses.

To do so, your move must meet these tests:

  • Distance test: Your new workplace is at least 50 miles farther from your former residence than the main workplace of your old job.
  • Time test: If you’re an employee, you must work full-time for at least 39 weeks during the first 12 months after you arrive to the general vicinity of your new work area. If you’re self-employed, you must work 39 weeks during the first 12 months and 78 weeks during the first 24 months after you arrive.

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and the time test can be waived under certain circumstances, such as if you’re in the military or your new job is cut short because of death or disability.

If you do qualify, you can deduct 23 cents per mile if you use your own vehicle to move.

Plus, you can deduct the cost of moving your belongings as well as any lodging expenses you may pay for along the way. For more details, read IRS Publication 521.

8. Education Tax Incentives

If you, your spouse or your dependent child is taking post-secondary classes, you’ll want to pay close attention to this section.

For college students and their families, the government offers three tax incentives:

  • American Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Lifetime Learning Credit
  • Tuition and Fees Deduction

Of these, the American Opportunity Tax Credit may give you the most money back. Up to 40% of the credit is refundable, meaning you can get cash back even if you don’t owe taxes. You can get a credit of up to $2,500 per year (up to four years) for each eligible student.

As for the other two options, the Lifetime Learning Credit may be second best.

As a credit, it gives you a dollar-for-dollar reduction on your taxes due. But unlike the American Opportunity Tax Credit, it isn’t refundable. If the credit is more than your tax liability, you don’t get any of the extra amount refunded to you.

The Lifetime Learning Credit can be used on qualifying expenses incurred by you, your spouse or your eligible dependent.

The final option is a deduction for tuition and fees, and you can deduct up to $4,000 in expenses each year. Unlike the credits, this deduction cannot be applied toward expenses you pay for a dependent. You can only claim it for your and your spouse’s tuition and fees.

You can only claim one of these incentives each year, so choose wisely. In addition, there are income and other eligibility requirements. You can compare your three options using this chart provided by the IRS.

Your Turn: What ways have you benefited from tax deductions (or not)?

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

(MTN Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in Money Talks News on July 25, 2012. We sometimes pull it out and dust it off whenever the Powerball swells and the subject of this story, Richard Lustig, starts the interview circuit again.)

Reporters constantly get pitches from all manner of people and companies wanting to be the subject of a news story. They hire publicists who write press releases designed to convince people like us to tell their story and get them publicity – and thus sell more books, apps, or whatever they’re hoping to market.

Over the last several months, I’ve received repeated pitches from a publicist promoting a guy who says he can increase your odds of winning the lottery. Here’s some of the press release I recently received:

PowerBall Drawing … 7 Time Lottery Game Grand Prize Winner has Tip

With the economy continuing to struggle, many people are looking for a miracle to overcome their financial challenges, and playing the lottery just might be safer than playing the stock market right now…especially with this Wednesday’s multi-state Powerball Lottery heading for $240 million, giving U.S. lottery players a new big jackpot to play for! When major media outlets like Good Morning America, CNN, Fox, The New York Post, MSNBC and more want insight on how to increase your chances of winning, they turn to 7 time lottery game grand prize winner Richard Lustig.

Richard will be playing Powerball Wednesday, and his chances to win are better than most.

Why? Lustig has developed a method for increasing your chances of winning the lottery that has given him seven lottery game grand prizes and dozens of smaller wins, netting millions in winnings. Richard is outspoken that his method really works, and that "luck has nothing to do with it."

Really? The lottery is safer than playing the stock market? Network news shows turn to this guy when they want to increase their chances of winning?

I’ve been doing consumer news for more than 20 years, so silly stuff like systems to increase your odds of picking random numbers is nothing new.

What’s unusual about this story, however, is that this guy isn’t promoting his product with a late-night infomercial. He’s sending press releases like the one above to real journalists. Even stranger – they’re biting.

In a story called How One Man Became a Serial Lottery Winner, ABC News has both print and video about Lustig. They say stuff like…

After developing the method over the years and selling thousands of copies of his report, Lustig decided to write a 40-page book explaining his formula. The game of chance, or what some call luck, is what Lustig addresses in his book currently ranked #3 on Amazon’s self-help book list.

(TPH Editor’s note: Today, the book is ranked #1 on Amazon in -- of all categories -- “Gambling Addiction and Recovery.” It’s listed for $33.54, but we recommend you spend your money elsewhere.)

But did anyone in this network news organization think to read the book or question Lustig’s “formula”? Did they even ask him about the method he “developed over the years”? Apparently not.

And while saying in the first paragraph that Lustig has “won the grand prize seven times,” they don’t reveal the only statistic that would make that meaningful: How much money he spent playing.

The number of times anyone wins anything is irrelevant unless you also know the amount they’ve lost. Since Lustig didn’t say and ABC didn’t ask, this story is meaningless.

In Want to Win the Lottery? This Guy Has a System, CNBC hops on the bandwagon…

Lustig didn’t detail much of his system to CNBC – that’s in his book – but he did give a few tips for those who want to rely on more than a little bit of luck: Avoid Quick-Pick lottery cards where the numbers are pre-selected. Buy at least 10 tickets. Play in lottery pools…

So here’s another news network that served up major publicity to some guy claiming to have a system to win the lottery without knowing what his “system” is, or even reading his book. I read the free copy furnished by his publicist -- it takes less than 45 minutes. Why didn’t they?

In addition, CNBC prints “tips” like, “avoid Quick-Pick lottery cards” without stopping to think.

Whether you pick a number or a machine does, the odds are the same. In lotteries like Powerball, those odds are up to 1 in 200,000,000. Suggesting you can change those odds is nonsense.

The Secrets Revealed!

Lustig’s brochure-sized book does offer advice that makes sense.

For example, retaining losing lottery tickets to offset potentially taxable wins. This is true in all forms of gambling: You can’t deduct losses, but you can use losses to offset gains, thus reducing your tax liability in the unlikely event you win more than you lose in a given year.

The other sensible thing Lustig’s book suggests is about second-chance drawings. Some lottery games allow you to send in losing tickets as entries for drawings for trips and other prizes. Lustig suggests you do so.

But when it comes to helping you pick random numbers, his logic isn’t logical.

Lustig’s “system” is to always play the same numbers, then stop playing them if they win, because the same numbers never win twice. That’s pretty much it – and it’s wrong.

The odds of any set of random numbers coming up again are the same as they were the first time. That’s why they call them random.

Interesting aside: I interviewed a statistics professor for the TV version of this story, and he did have a suggestion for those playing games like Powerball that Lustig didn’t offer.

It was to select numbers higher than 31.

While that won’t increase your odds of winning, at least if you do win, you’re less likely to split the pot with others. That’s because so many people play their birthdays.

Don’t Be Foolish

Who’s more foolish: buyers of this book, or network news?

My brief interview with Richard Lustig, done for the video version of this story, devolved into a hostile exchange. As I was trying to explain that his system for picking winning lottery numbers makes no mathematical sense, he shot back with, “What do you think I am, an idiot?”

I responded, “You’re no idiot, Richard – you’re making money selling a $40 book with nonsensical advice. It’s the people who buy it that are idiots.”

In retrospect, however, there’s one group of people who are more foolish than either Richard Lustig or his readers: those in the news business offering legitimacy to people like him while at the same time calling themselves journalists.

Your Turn: Have you seen news reports about this book? Would you buy something that promised to help you win the lottery?

You wouldn’t believe how much coffee The Penny Hoarder team goes through. This post contains affiliate links so we can keep the grinds stocked!

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

Everything is larger than life at Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club: product sizes, shelves, even the shopping carts.

Whether you’re a family stocking the pantry on a budget or a soccer coach looking for post-game snacks in bulk, you can trundle some killer deals out the door.

Yet we also have to remember that like any other retailer, warehouse stores stay in business because they know how to part us from our dollars.

Here are six tips to avoid being trapped by warehouse stores’ tricks of the trade.

1. Ignore “Warehouse” Decor

The floors are concrete. The beams are exposed. Stuff is stacked on plain metal shelving or on pallets.

Here’s what that spartan appearance says to us consumers: They don’t waste money on décor and carpeting and Muzak, so you’re bound to get unbelievable deals.

Generally, that’s true. Just make sure that fear of missing a great price doesn’t keep you from doing the math.

Remember, too, that low prices might tempt you to buy stuff you don’t strictly need.

2. Remember You are Paying Extra

Part of the reason we pay less is that we pay each year for the privilege of walking through the door. The annual fee offsets some of our savings.

Generally speaking, the membership fee will easily pay for itself, especially if you’re purchasing basics like over-the-counter medications, gasoline, tires, meat, dairy products and pet food.

At times you can get a better deal at regular stores, especially when combining sales and coupons. (Hint: Sites like and regional coupon blogs will do all the legwork.)

However, getting a pretty good price consistently at the warehouse likely beats getting super prices every so often and so-so deals the rest of the time at supermarkets and drugstores.

If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to fuss with coupons, warehouse stores might be for you.

3. Don’t Buy Food You Can’t Eat

Large quantities are the hallmark of warehouse stores. But even if you really like an item, be honest: Are you going to be able to consume that much bagged salad, cookies or whatever?

Put another way: I love grape tomatoes. They make a wonderful snack, and of course they’re delicious in salads. But we probably couldn’t finish several pounds of the things before they rotted.

If you’re throwing food away, you’re not saving money.

4. Beware the Deadly FOMO and WWLT

“Fear of missing out” drives a lot of irrational buying. Knowing that the inventory changes constantly might cause you to pull the trigger on a purchase even if you’re not sure you need or want it.

Just as bad is WWLT: “Wouldn’t (whoever) love that?” You see the camouflage-printed jammies or the hardback mystery novel that would be perfect for someone in your life. (Like, say, yourself.)

Come clean: Have you ever gone to Costco for milk, oranges and canned goods and walked out with a trampoline? It happens.

If it’s something you don’t need, or something you want but can’t pay for right now, then it’s no bargain.

5. Put on Your Track Shoes

As soon as you enter the store, run. Do not be distracted by the bright shiny big-screen televisions, smartphones and all those other pretty toys by the entrance.

If you’ve been wavering about making a purchase like this, the discounted price tag might be enough to convince you. But if that new iWhatever isn’t currently in your budget, you’ve just made another decision: to carry a credit card balance or to withdraw money from savings.

Much better to wait until you’ve saved enough to pay with cash.

6. Be an Informed Consumer

The same consumer tactics you use everywhere else also apply at warehouse stores: Make a list, compare unit prices and carry cash vs. plastic.

And once more, with feeling: Learn the difference between wants and needs.

Sure, that next-generation smartphone or giant-screen TV might improve your life, but it shouldn’t do so at the expense (so to speak) of your everyday budget.

Your Turn: How do you keep from being snookered into buying more than you really need at a warehouse store?

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in December 2015. Unfortunately, many scams still persist, so we're sharing it again, and we've updated some stats to reflect current information.

Retailers do big business during December, but so do thieves. With so much money flowing freely, con artists are out in full force.

Here’s a monster list of 20 scams making the rounds this holiday season.

Holiday Shopping Scams

We’re all trying to spend less on our holiday gifts, and our eagerness to save a buck is at the root of many of these scams.

Others feed off a particular item or brand’s popularity and use some high-tech sleight of hand to get you to make your purchase in the wrong place.

Fake Coupons for Sale

Before we get to scam websites, let’s start with scam deals.

Any good bargain shopper knows to use coupons and coupon codes to get the best prices. At the same time, savvy shoppers should also know never to pay for one of those coupons or codes.

Not only is selling a coupon against most manufacturer terms of use, but you might also find yourself embarrassed if you go on national TV using counterfeit coupons.

Cheap Luxury Goods

A $50 Rolex should set off alarms in your head.

Some cons set up bogus websites for popular holiday gifts. These items come up in search results, and the cheap price lures shoppers in.

Then, they either take your money and run or take your money and send you a cheap knockoff not worth the money you spent.

eBay and Craigslist Scams

Other thieves can’t be bothered to set up their own websites, so they use eBay or Craigslist instead. Different venue, but you’ll find the same racket as above.

Either they’ll never send you the item or they’ll send you a cheap piece of junk. Be sure to check feedback before buying on eBay.

If you buy on Craigslist, never have the seller ship the item. Always meet in person in a public place and take along a friend for good measure.

Counterfeit Websites

Now we come to the big guns. These are the scam artists who are taking it to a whole new level by copying the websites of popular brands.

Although these sites look impressive, there’s typically something off about them – usually typos, or grammar that sounds like a British nanny wrote the web copy (“Kindly enter your credit card information.”).

If you aren’t sure about a website’s legitimacy, call the toll-free number listed. Typically, scammers use the company’s actual number. The customer service rep can then either verify whether you’re on the real website or take your order over the phone.

Gift Card Scams

Gift cards have been the most popular holiday gift for several years. American Express reports more than 50% of people say they’d like to receive a gift card.

Wouldn’t thieves just love to get in on that action?

Oh, rest assured, they do, using these common gift card scams.

Bogus Discount Gift Cards

There are legitimate websites selling discounted gift cards – Raise and Cardpool  are two – but there are plenty of fake sites out there selling worthless cards.

To help keep you from getting taken for a ride, we have a whole article dedicated to the ins and outs of discounted gift cards.

“Used” Gift Cards in the Store

A lot of stores make it easy for you to buy gift cards. They have giant racks containing dozens of cards in their center aisle or near the registers. Unfortunately, they also make it easy for thieves to steal from you.

Most cards today have a scratch-off area on the back that contains a PIN or other number needed to redeem the card. Thieves scratch it off, write down the number and then call the toll-free number regularly while waiting for the card to be purchased and activated. Once it is, they drain the card’s balance.

Protect yourself by double-checking the back of the card for any signs of tampering before buying.

Package Scams

When it comes to scams involving packages, there are two common types: those involving physical theft and those involving identity theft.

Package Delivery Scams

These emails may be already filling your inbox: A package is on its way. Hooray! Now, click this link, fill in all your personal information and we’ll arrange for its delivery.

Except there’s no package, and the website is simply collecting your personal data.

A variation of this scam involves a “missed package” note left on your door. You’re supposed to call a number to make arrangements for its delivery, but again, there’s no package and they’re fishing for information.

To protect yourself, call the company’s main toll-free number found on its website to confirm the package.

If the notice looks official and you call, hang up right away if the person on the other end starts asking personal questions. Remember, they don’t need your credit card number, birthday or Social Security number to deliver a package.

Stolen Packages

This second scam is a little harder to prevent.

The news is full of reports of thieves stealing packages right off people’s porches. In some cases, the criminals follow along behind delivery trucks and scoop up goods all along their route.

The best defense is to require a signature for package delivery whenever possible.

Online and Social Media Scams

With Internet usage almost universal in the United States, it has become a fertile breeding ground for scams of all sorts. And just in time for the holidays, many will have a seasonal flair.

Facebook Video Scams

Cute and outrageous videos are all over our news feeds, but not all of them are what they seem.

You may click “play” to see the video but are actually hitting a hidden “like” button, which then gives the video creator access to information from your Facebook account.

Avoid this scam by resisting the urge to click on any video seemingly out of character for your friend to be sharing – for example, the video of the half-naked woman your grandma supposedly liked.

Social Media Giveaways

Likewise, you need to be careful about giveaways. I hate to break it to you, but you probably haven’t been selected to win a $500 Best Buy gift card.

However, you may have been selected to have your data mined by a scam artist.

E-Cards With a Side of Malware

Holiday e-cards aren’t so funny when they conceal malicious software. If you get a card from a name you don’t recognize, the only clicking you should do is on the delete button.

Malicious Apps

E-cards aren’t the only things bearing bad tidings for the holiday season. Think twice about downloading random apps onto your phone or computer for free screensavers or songs.

Many carry some not-so-nice programming along with them. When in doubt, check reviews from the Google Play Store, iTunes or CNET first.

Surveys Offering Holiday Cash

Who doesn’t want a little extra cash for their holiday spending?

While there are surveys that pay cash, they typically offer somewhere in the range of $1 to $3 for a survey. If someone is offering you $100 for a five-minute survey, it has scam written all over it.

Old-Fashioned Scams

These are some oldies but goodies -- well, at least good for the thieves. Scammers often target seniors, so make sure the Baby Boomers in your life are aware of these, too.

Stranded Families and Friends

Here’s how this goes: Grandma gets a call at night from her granddaughter, who has — take your pick — been in a car accident, been robbed or needs some cash for Christmas presents.

Grandma might be slightly confused by the call, but she of course wants to help, so she agrees to wire money or hands over her credit card number.

The high-tech version of this old-fashioned scam involves desperate emails from your friends who were mugged in London and lost their money and passport. That might sound convincing if you have jet-setting friends, but for the rest of us, not so much.


Some thieves don’t have time to make up elaborate stories or set up websites. They would rather head to the mall and simply take your money. Pickpockets might work alone or in tandem with someone else who causes a distraction.

Your best defense is to take only the cards you need when shopping and keep your wallet in an inside pocket. Ladies, use a purse that can be zipped shut, and cross-body style is always more secure than wearing your purse on your shoulder.

Door-to-Door “Salesmen” Casing Houses

We don’t see too many door-to-door salespeople anymore, and that alone should make anyone coming to your door to hawk wares suspicious.

In the case of cons, they really aren’t selling anything, anyway. Instead, they’re checking out whether you have a security system or a dog and want to get a peek at your house’s layout.

Sometimes these thieves are pretending to pass out prizes. Either way, they find excuses to get inside and look around.

The defense? Never let someone going door-to-door into your house.

Fake Charities

Using names that sound like the real deal, thieves call you up and tug at your heartstrings until you fork over your credit card number.

I won’t go into too much detail on this one because we have an entire article dedicated to helping you find a legitimate charity for your contributions.

All the Rest

Finally, we round out our list of holiday scams with a couple of odds and ends.

Fake Refunds

Don’t you love when money magically appears in your mailbox?

Scam artists are hoping you’ll be so excited to receive a rebate for the whatchamacallit you bought that you won’t notice how odd it is they want you to cash the check and forward a portion on to someone else.

Of course, by the time the “refund” check bounces, they will be long gone with the money you sent to them.

Text Phishing

We’re all getting sophisticated enough to recognize email phishing scams – you know, those messages saying there’s a problem with your bank account and you need to log in immediately.

Because we aren’t falling for the emails so much anymore, scammers have moved on to texting. You get an account alert and are directed to click a link to log in.

The only thing is, you are going to a dummy website instead. If you are concerned about the status of your account, it’s better to open your browser and type your bank’s website in rather than clicking the link.

Fake Holiday Jobs

Last but not least, some cons take advantage of job seekers. They promise seasonal work, but first you must pay an application fee or a training fee or some other bogus fee.

They’re all lies. A real job pays you, not the other way around.

Use Common Sense

Are you paranoid yet? I wouldn’t blame you if you are. However, keep in mind that steering clear of scams has a lot to do with common sense and listening to that little voice in your head that says something’s not quite right.

As a final stopgap, do your shopping with a credit card. Most offer fabulous fraud protection features that make it easy to get your money back should you get taken in by a swindler.

Your Turn: Have you or has someone you know faced a holiday scam?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

If you find yourself reaching for a $39.99 sweater or loading up on $11.99 albums on iTunes, you’re not alone.

The strategy of ending prices with 99 cents has been around for decades and has worked its magic on almost all of us. But it’s certainly not the only trick retailers use when pricing products.

Merchants use a variety of strategies to get us to spend more -- from labeling prices without dollar signs to setting a per-customer limit. And this takes place at all ends of the spectrum -- from buying food and toys to cars and houses.

Whether you’re shopping for the holidays or for everyday items, even you could be susceptible to simple pricing tricks, warns Money Talks News money expert Stacy Johnson.

“While you probably don’t stop to consider the pennies on a price tag, let me assure you, your friendly merchant does,” Johnson says.

1. Prices Ending in 9, 99 or 95

Known as “charm prices,” prices ending in 9, 99 or 95 make items appear cheaper than they really are.

Because people read from left to right, they are more likely to register the first number and make an immediate conclusion as to whether the price is reasonable.

When professor Robert Schindler of the Rutgers Business School studied prices at a women’s clothing store, he found the one-cent difference between prices ending in .99 and .00 had “a considerable effect on sales,” with prices ending with .99 far outselling those ending with .00.

While this works right down to the last digit on a product as small as a $1.29 iTunes download, it’s also effective on anything from a pair of jeans to a car or house.

Homes selling for $299,000 often sell faster than those costing $300,000. The reason? It’s under, rather than at, the upper limit of those shopping for houses in the $250,000 – $300,000 price range.

Pricing that doesn’t end in 9 also tells our minds a story. If a price ends in 4 or 7, for example, it’s likely to stand out because it doesn’t end in 9. And it subliminally suggests the seller has seriously considered the price.

2. Dollars Without Cents

If you see prices with no change, the retailer or restaurateur is sending the message that you’re in a high-end place.

The implication is that if you’re concerned about pocket change, you should move on.

3. Prices Without Dollar Signs

In Tricks of the Trade: Restaurants, we explained the rationale behind restaurants intentionally leaving dollar signs off menus: It makes customers spend more.

In a Cornell study, guests given a menu with only numbers and no dollar signs spent significantly more than those who received a menu with either prices showing dollar signs or prices written out in words.

The same tactic translates to retail stores. When items are marked, say, “20” without the dollar sign, retailers are hoping customers won’t associate the amount with money and thus be less likely to keep a running tally of how much they’re spending as they shop.

4. The “10 for $10” Trick

Stores push deals like “10 for $10,” aiming to get shoppers to buy items like soup or cereal in bulk.

But here’s something stores don’t advertise: You don’t always have to buy in bulk to get the deal.

In many cases, you could just as easily buy one for $1. It’s something worth asking your retailer about before loading up your cart.

5. Per-Customer Limits

When stores add limits to products, like “limit four per customer,” it tricks shoppers into thinking the product is scarce, the price low, or both.

It also gives the impression of big demand. You find yourself buying several when you would normally buy just one, to avoid missing out.

6. “Free” Promotion

Retailers know “free” is the magic word. So they roll out deals like buy one, get one free -- sometimes persuading us to buy things we wouldn’t normally purchase.

Free shipping incentives requiring us to spend a certain amount of money also draw us in.

7. Simple Prices

Simple prices, especially on products susceptible to future markdowns, allow shoppers to quickly compare how much they’re saving.

For example, it’s easy to compute the discount on a product originally priced at $50 that now costs $35, as opposed to an item originally priced at $49.97, now on sale for $34.97.

Be Aware of Pricing Tricks

These tricks are so simple, it’s easy to believe you’re too sophisticated to fall for them. Odds are, however, you do, and so do millions of other people.

Otherwise, they wouldn’t be used. The psychology of shopping affects virtually everything you buy, from toys to houses and food to Ferraris.

But being aware they exist -- and they work -- may help you overcome them and make you a smarter shopper.

Your Turn: How do you resist pricing psychology?

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

A few years ago, I was invited, along with a group of my friends, to a party at a waterfront mansion in Fort Lauderdale. The house featured two elevators, about 20,000 square feet and a living room that resembled an upscale hotel lobby.

As we stood in a small group marveling at a side of life we’d never seen, one of my friends said, “Doesn’t this make you wonder what you did wrong? I mean, why don’t we have houses like this?”

My response: “Really? I was just thinking about how long it would take to walk from the garage back to the master bedroom when I left my keys on the nightstand.”

Since my first mansion party, I’ve been to many others. I’ve also ridden on mega-yachts, kicked back in vast home theaters and otherwise enjoyed the spoils of other people’s good fortune.

I’ve learned something along the way: It’s fun to know rich people.

But I’ve also learned that trying to impress people with ostentatious displays often creates the opposite effect. Things you think are earning envy may be causing people to think you look silly.

Here are some of my favorite examples…

1. An Expensive Sports Car

[caption id="attachment_19653" align="aligncenter" width="640"]expensive car Rasstock under Creative Commons[/caption]

“Want to see how fast it will go?”

That’s the question I’ve been asked all three times I’ve been a passenger in a Ferrari. My answer was consistent: “Please, no. I’m begging you.”

It doesn’t work. Instead, it’s zero to 100 in five seconds on a city street.

I’m sure there are lots of people who enjoy riding in loud, cramped cars that can theoretically go more than 200 miles an hour. I’m not one of them.

While these guys (yes, in my experience they’re always guys) probably imagine themselves envied at every traffic light, are they really getting the status for which they paid?

They’re getting attention, all right, but maybe not the kind they wanted. When I’m stopped next to a Ferrari, all I’m seeing is someone who’s combined a midlife crisis with a big checkbook.

2. A Boat

[caption id="attachment_19654" align="aligncenter" width="600"]expensive boat Mags Ascough under creative commons[/caption]

When I take a ride down the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, within 5 miles I’ll pass more than $100 million in largely unused boats.

But if boating’s a crime, I’m guilty. As I write this, I have two 30-foot boats docked behind my modest waterfront home. I love boating, and I love working on my boats.

But the only advantage to actually owning one — especially a big, complicated one — is that it makes any other indulgences you have seem practically free. I’ve owned boats for many years, and I can state unequivocally that I’d be better off if I paid $1,000 to rent a boat for the day whenever the mood struck.

When someone asks me, “What’s the best boat?” I say, “Someone else’s.”

The only thing you can do to make boat ownership more foolish is to borrow the money to buy one, or to buy a new one. Think cars depreciate when you drive them off the lot? Chicken feed. Boats sink in value so rapidly, it’s truly astounding.

They also tend to sit unused for long periods of time, which is the worst way to maintain one.

Boats are no way to stay afloat. And unless you have money to burn, this pastime may not bring you the status you think it will.

3. Plastic Surgery

You think you look younger. What you might look like is someone who’s so insecure they had to have plastic surgery so they could pretend they weren’t getting older.

And don’t even get me started on breast enhancement, especially the (literally) over-the-top variety.

4. Gaudy Jewelry

Tasteful jewelry can definitely add to one’s appearance.

But if you’re wearing too much, you might as well just wear a dress made of $1,000 bills. It’s brassy, not classy. There’s a fine line between good and gaudy.

(TPH editor’s note: If you have a dress made out of $1,000 bills, or even $1 bills, we want to see it!)

5. Way More House Than You Need

[caption id="attachment_19655" align="aligncenter" width="640"]fancy house Philip Lange under Creative Commons[/caption]

I get it: If you have millions of dollars, you’ve got to put it somewhere, and where you live is as good a place as any.

But if you’re borrowing heavily to impress your friends with a house that’s way bigger than you need or can afford, you’re not looking rich, you’re looking crazy.

Besides, who wants to walk the length of a football field to let the dog in?

6. Live-In Help

Nothing wrong with having some maid service if you can afford it. But live-ins?

Maybe if I was rich for long enough, I could get used to the idea of having people I don’t know all that well living with me. But I’ve had friends with live-in drivers, butlers, cooks and “personal assistants,” and to me it feels awkward having employees standing around.

I’ve always wondered: Do rich people have to get dressed if they want to raid the refrigerator in the middle of the night?

It’s a house, not an office building. If it’s so big you need a bunch of employees to run it, maybe it’s too much.

7. Super-Expensive Clothes

[caption id="attachment_19656" align="aligncenter" width="640"]rich man with fur coat Dario Lo Presti under Creative Commons[/caption]

Clothes may make the man, but super-expensive clothes can make that man look like he’s trying too hard. As with jewelry, there’s a fine line between good taste and tasteless.

In my 10 years as a stockbroker, I learned there was an almost inverse relationship between a person’s true wealth and his or her apparent wealth.

In other words, the guy in the jeans driving the station wagon is the rich one — the guy in the fancy suit driving the Porsche is the one trying to sell him stuff.

8. Conspicuous Consumption

Upstaging your friends with gratuitous material possessions or other forms of conspicuous consumption might do more than make you look rich: It might make you look shallow.

Ever see the bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins?” Dumber words were never spoken.

Why You’re Spending Money

If you’ve got it, it’s no crime to flaunt it.

If you’ve spent money on items in the list above, you probably found my critique inaccurate — even insulting. That’s not my intention. Having wealth is good and spending money is fun.

So what separates the shallow nincompoop from someone leading a life well-lived? It isn’t about the amount of money you spend or what you spend it on. It’s all about why you’re spending it.

If you don’t like yourself or live in fear that others don’t like you, no amount of money or possessions will change that. That’s what makes you look dumb: spending to boost your self-esteem.

On the other hand, if you like yourself and are spending to indulge a passion, or to make your life more interesting, good for you. You’re the type of spender I want to hang out with.

But I still don’t want to see how fast your Ferrari will go.

Your Turn: If you were rich, how would you spend your money?

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

Many credit cards offer a slew of incentives to consumers who use them -- from cash back and other rewards to zero liability in case of fraud.

But credit cards are not always your best form of payment, especially if you aren’t great with debt. In many cases, you’re better off keeping the plastic tucked away.

Here are 10 purchases you should probably avoid making with your magic plastic:

1. Household Bills

If you’re already cutting it close for the month, you may be tempted to use plastic to pay the utility, cell phone or cable bill.

But if you’re not paying off your full balance each month, the interest you’ll be charged makes those monthly bills even more expensive.

2. Cars

Car dealers often don’t allow credit-card purchases, or may limit the amount of the purchase price you can put on your card. Dealers don’t like credit card payments because they have to pay the 1-3% fee the card company charges to process the transaction.

You could exercise the cash advance option. But you’ll pay a fee and a higher interest rate.

Also, you won’t get a grace period on the interest — it will begin to accumulate right away.

Instead of using a card, go to a credit union or bank to get financing approved at a reasonable interest rate before shopping for a car.

(If you’re renting a car, however, a credit card is a great tool. Here are the best ones to use for car rentals.)

3. Student Loans

If you can’t afford to pay your federal student loans, you have options, such as an income-based repayment plan, deferment, forbearance and possibly loan forgiveness.

Paying your student loan debt with a credit card increases the amount of interest you’re paying on the debt. Even if you have a 0% introductory credit card offer, it will expire in time.

And while the federal government will accept a credit card payment for loans in default, many student loan servicers won’t allow this form of payment.

4. Retail Therapy

Think a new purchase will cheer you up? Perhaps.

But if you choose this mode of “therapy,” remember cash is king. That way, you won’t let your credit card balance spiral out of control.

5. Medical Bills

If you use a medical credit card available through your health care provider’s office to pay bills, be careful to read the fine print about your obligations.

Also consider steps you can take to reduce health care costs.

6. A Night on the Town

Handing your credit card to an unscrupulous waitperson equipped with a skimming device isn’t your only worry.

If you’re out on the town throwing back drinks, it’s easy to run up a tab you can’t afford. In these scenarios, it’s best to pay with cash.

7. Big-Ticket Items You Can’t Pay Off Immediately

Credit cards offer great purchase protections and should be used for many big-ticket purchases. But buying something on credit when you can’t afford to pay it off right away isn’t smart.

8. Credit Card Payments

You can’t charge your monthly credit card payment on another credit card.

But perhaps you’ve been tempted to use a cash advance from a credit card to bolster your checking account so that you can pay your other bills.

Your credit card is not an ATM and should not be used as one.

There are real benefits, however, to transferring high-interest credit card debt to a new card with a generous 0% balance-transfer offer. Just be aware of the balance-transfer fee and the length of the offer.

9. “Sale” Items

Convinced you may miss out on savings if you don’t purchase a specific item on sale right away? That’s one of the warning signs of an impulse buy.

Wait a day and think about whether you really need the item. Nine times out of 10, the answer will be “no.”

You aren’t saving money by spending it for something you don’t need.

10. Unsecured Online Purchases

Does the Web address have an “https” at the beginning? If not, that’s your cue to take your online shopping elsewhere.

In fact, do your homework before purchasing anything online to make sure a company is reputable and not the source of many consumer complaints.

Your Turn: In the past, we’ve touted the benefits of purchasing some of these items with your credit card, but we like to look at both sides of any issue. What do you think? Do you agree with these warnings?

This post originally appeared at Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

Celebrities ranging from Hollywood stars to professional athletes are known to make millions. But not all of them spend like rich folks.

Some clip coupons. The following celebrities have fessed up to the practice publicly and are only too happy to share their frugal knowledge.

For some of the rich and famous, couponing stems from humble upbringings. For others, it’s a reflection of their ability to appreciate the value of a dollar saved despite millions of dollars earned.

Like the rest of us, the rich and famous use coupons for certain types of purchases more often than others. Some celebrities love to use coupons for groceries and eating out. Others use them for just about anything from Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Here are some of these famous couponers.

1. Carmelo Anthony

Professional basketball player Carmelo Anthony, currently of the New York Knicks, told CBS Denver people look at him with shock when he uses coupons at the grocery store:

“I go to the supermarket, make sure I get the newspaper and tear the coupons out; save a dollar or two. … I’m human too,” he explained.

2. Kristen Bell

Actress Kristen Bell told comedian Conan O’Brien on his TV talk show “Conan” that she is “very frugal”:

“I use a lot of coupons. I almost exclusively shop with coupons.”

Her favorite coupon is Bed, Bath & Beyond’s 20% off deal distributed by mail. (You can also sign up for them here.)

3. Sarah Michelle Gellar

Actress Sarah Michelle Gellar told Self magazine she and her actor husband, Freddie Prinze Jr., shop sales and use coupons:

“I clip coupons all the time. Why should you pay more for something that someone else is paying less for?”

4. Lady Gaga

The pop star born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta stirred up headlines with a single social media post when she tweeted about couponing:

5. Tim Hasselbeck

When the ladies of “The View” discussed the topic of men who use coupons on dates, then-co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck spoke up for her husband, retired National Football League quarterback Tim Hasselbeck:

“I married a coupon guy. In the long term, he is so on top of things. He’s very aware of what things cost and what it means to our situation, and I thank him for that.”

6. Roy Hibbert

Professional basketball player Roy Hibbert , currently of the Los Angeles Lakers, told “The Dan Le Batard Show” that coupons are an example of how he lives modestly.

“Going to restaurants, I make sure if I have a coupon, I use it. I try to live like I’m a normal person,” he explained, according to a transcript on

Hibbert said he gets his coupons from the newspaper.

7. Kourtney Kardashian

TV personality Kourtney Kardashian was once seen rifling through coupons on one of the Kardashian clan’s reality shows, “Kourtney & Kim Take New York.”

She explained the origin of her interest on her website:

“Khloe [Kardashian] got me addicted to coupons after watching ‘Extreme Couponing.’ Nothing like a fun shopping adventure to feed my addiction.”

8. Hilary Swank

Actress Hilary Swank told Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa on what was then “Live With Regis and Kelly” that using coupons is in her blood:

“When you open up the paper and see those coupons, it looks like dollar bills staring you in the face. … It’s how I grew up, and why not?”

9. Tiffani Thiessen

Actress Tiffani Thiessen might have started her TV career on “Saved by the Bell,” but she told Krazy Coupon Lady she grew up watching her mom clip coupons. She uses them “all the time” herself “when [she] can remember them.”

Thiessen said she’s proud to use coupons to buy healthy food -- when she’s not picking produce from her own garden or the farmers market, that is.

10. Carrie Underwood

Country singer Carrie Underwood clips coupons for her weekly grocery shopping trips.

“I stock up on stir-fry kits, Amy’s meatless burgers, and armloads of onions and garlic,” she told the magazine EveryDay with Rachael Ray. “I put onions and garlic in everything.”

But she also admitted to usually forgetting her coupons.

Your Turn: Are you surprised by any of these celebrity coupon-clippers? Did we miss one of your favorite frugal celebs? Let us know in the comments!

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.

It’s late summer, which means new phone season is upon us.

If the rumors are true, the newest version of the iPhone is due to be announced in early September, likely on the 9th. Samsung’s new version of its popular Galaxy phones hit the shelves last month. Motorola, HTC and LG have also announced new phones coming soon.

Even if you don’t plan to join the line to buy the newest phone, odds are you’ll sell a smartphone at some point. Since 55% of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones and you don’t need two, selling off your current phone can help defray the cost of your new phone.

Here are five tips to help you get top dollar for your old phone.

1. Start Early

Timing is everything.

“We always get a rush of people who wait to get a quote until they have the new [iPhone] in their hands,” Jeff Trachsel, chief marketing officer for cell phone reseller NextWorth, told CNNMoney. “But as the volume increases, the value of your phone declines.”

To get the best deal, beat the rush, whether you’re using a resale dealer or selling it yourself. Pay attention to release dates and lock in a selling price three to four weeks in advance.

If getting the best price means selling your phone before the newest model hits the market, buy a cheap phone to tide you over. Then keep it as a spare for emergencies, like when you drop your phone in water.

To pull this off, you need to know when new phones are coming out. For the iPhone, we’ll likely find out soon. But for future reference, here are some sites that tend to track this kind of thing:

  • CNET: Running list of iPhone rumors and other release dates
  • Release dates by carrier
  • Digital Trends: Posts quarterly upcoming lists and other news

2. Check Prices on Dealer Websites

Several resale dealers buy old handsets. A few of my friends swear by this method because it’s the easiest way to unload your phone for cash. All you have to do is request a price quote, ship the phone within the time frame, usually three to four weeks, and wait for payment.

But you’ll have to shop around to get the best deal. Resellers such as Gazelle or NextWorth can have sharply different prices for your old phone -- and sometimes they give you a lot less than if you sold your phone yourself.

3. Sell It Yourself

You might get a higher price if you sell your phone yourself on an auction or resale site. Amazon, Craigslist and eBay are good places to start.

There’s no guarantee, however, that you’ll get the price you want. No one may bid, or your auction might go for lower than you hoped. And most sites charge fees, which cut into your profits.

If you’re willing to take the risk, here are a few sites worth checking out:

  • eBay: Attracts millions of potential buyers but charges fees.
  • Amazon: You can set your own price, but you’ll pay listing and referral fees.
  • Bonanza: Works like Amazon, but smaller. There are only a handful of phones for sale, but they charge a smaller selling fee.
  • Craigslist: Connects local sellers with local buyers. Free, but you’ll have to meet the buyer in person to close the sale.

4. Ask Around

Going online isn’t the only way to find buyers.

Recently, my friend tried to sell her old phone on a resale site, but wasn’t satisfied with the $45 offer. So she posted an ad on the bulletin board at a local college offering to sell the handset for $100 or best offer. Within a couple of days, a student offered her $90. She doubled her take -- without paying any fees.

Selling to someone you know is usually easier than selling online. Start by asking friends, family and co-workers. If you don’t have any luck there, try posting an ad on bulletin boards at colleges, churches, libraries and community centers.

5. Trade In

Most resale dealers and private buyers look for newer-model phones in good condition, but that doesn’t mean your old or broken phones are worthless. You could still get cash or gift certificates through a trade-in program.

One of my favorites is ecoATM. You drop your old device into an ATM-like machine, which tests it and offers you a price. If you accept, you get cash on the spot. You can find nearby locations using their locator.

Retailers also offer trade-in programs, but they don’t always pay in cash. For example, Best Buy and Walmart offer store credit. Target used to offer cash, but they’ve gone the store credit route, too. You can also trade in your phone for an Amazon gift card.

Before You Sell

Now that you’ve locked in a price, take some precautions:

Back Up Personal Data

Transfer photos, videos and MP3s to your computer or external hard drive. Sometimes the easiest way is to connect the phone directly to a computer and move the files manually.

(This is also how you’ll transfer your apps, especially ones you’ve paid for, to your new phone.)

Wipe Your Handset

Perform a factory reset on your phone to remove any personal information. CNET has a good article on resetting Androids, and Apple shows you how to reset its phones.

Don’t Ship Until You’re Paid

If you’re selling your phone yourself, don’t get scammed. Always wait until you receive the full payment (and the check or eCheck clears) before you ship your phone.

Your Turn: Have you sold your old phone? Are you planning to grab one of this fall’s new phones and turn your old one into cash?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News. Since 1991, MoneyTalksNews has been producing both video and print to help you make more, spend less and avoid rip-offs.