How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget

A rice cooker can make almost everything you want in the kitchen.

A rice cooker may seem fairly limited as far as kitchen tools go. It can accomplish one simple task very well, and that’s it.

But it’s time to expand your horizons. With a little creativity, it’s possible to use a rice cooker instead of your other kitchen tools to make all your meals and save on your food budget.

How a Rice Cooker Works

A rice cooker is made up of an electric heat source, a pot and a thermostat. In normal use, you fill the pot with rice and water and heat it.

Once the water boils off, the temperature inside the pot can rise above the boiling point. Once the thermostat detects this, the rice cooker turns off or, with newer models, goes to a “warm” setting. If your rice to water ratio was correct, you’re left with perfectly cooked rice after flipping just one switch.

Many home cooks have realized that, with some tinkering, you can cook many things in a rice cooker — not just rice. The most famous proponent of the rice cooker is probably the late film critic Roger Ebert, who took a detour from cinema to write his guide to rice cookers in 2009, called “The Pot and How to Use It.”

We spoke to Neal Bertrand, a resident of southern Louisiana who published his own rice cooker cookbook, called “Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People.” Bertrand, through his own experimentation and the input of cooks from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, assembled 60 recipes that can be made using a rice cooker.

‘A Portable Kitchen’

A rice cooker can make much more than rice, from pasta to seafood and even beef. And using this one tool to cook can really help you save both time and money. For example, making pasta is a matter of putting it in a bowl with water and a little olive oil, followed by all the other ingredients.

Most of the recipes just require waiting until the rice cooker switches from “cook” to “warm,” but for gumbo and other dishes with lots of liquid, Brennan recommends using a kitchen timer as well. In addition, some of the meat dishes require browning in a skillet, though he said the rice cooker can also be used to brown meat in a pinch.

For someone extremely budget-conscious, a rice cooker can potentially replace many normally-used kitchen tools, including a stove.

“I call it a portable kitchen,” Bertrand said. “All you need is a rice cooker, your ingredients and a source of electricity.”

Bertrand said readers of the cookbook had told him they were able to eat during power outages in Louisiana by plugging their rice cookers into generators.

Buying a Rice Cooker

A decent rice cooker should cost $40 or less, according to The Sweethome, a home goods review website. Using the right credit card could go along way in making that expense more affordable and in rewarding any future ingredient purchases. (Here are a few credit cards that reward you for grocery spending. But before applying, make sure to check your credit. Many rewards credit cards require good to excellent credit scores to qualify. You can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

To get any potential rice cooker chefs started, we’ve provided Bertrand’s recipe for Black-Eyed Pea & Sausage Jambalaya. Bertrand said it is a favorite from his cookbook. Enjoy!

1 lb. smoked link beef or pork sausage, sliced and browned. (Browning optional)
1 (15.5-oz.) can black-eyed peas with jalapenos
1 (10.5-oz.) can beef broth
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) uncooked white rice
1/2 stick butter, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Brown the sausage in skillet and drain excess grease. Add all ingredients to rice cooker, stir, cover and press down COOK switch. Once the meal is cooked, and the COOK switch pops up to WARM mode, let it stand covered 10 minutes before serving.

Image: tisskananat

The post How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget

A rice cooker can make almost everything you want in the kitchen.

A rice cooker may seem fairly limited as far as kitchen tools go. It can accomplish one simple task very well, and that’s it.

But it’s time to expand your horizons. With a little creativity, it’s possible to use a rice cooker instead of your other kitchen tools to make all your meals and save on your food budget.

How a Rice Cooker Works

A rice cooker is made up of an electric heat source, a pot and a thermostat. In normal use, you fill the pot with rice and water and heat it.

Once the water boils off, the temperature inside the pot can rise above the boiling point. Once the thermostat detects this, the rice cooker turns off or, with newer models, goes to a “warm” setting. If your rice to water ratio was correct, you’re left with perfectly cooked rice after flipping just one switch.

Many home cooks have realized that, with some tinkering, you can cook many things in a rice cooker — not just rice. The most famous proponent of the rice cooker is probably the late film critic Roger Ebert, who took a detour from cinema to write his guide to rice cookers in 2009, called “The Pot and How to Use It.”

We spoke to Neal Bertrand, a resident of southern Louisiana who published his own rice cooker cookbook, called “Rice Cooker Meals: Fast Home Cooking for Busy People.” Bertrand, through his own experimentation and the input of cooks from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, assembled 60 recipes that can be made using a rice cooker.

‘A Portable Kitchen’

A rice cooker can make much more than rice, from pasta to seafood and even beef. And using this one tool to cook can really help you save both time and money. For example, making pasta is a matter of putting it in a bowl with water and a little olive oil, followed by all the other ingredients.

Most of the recipes just require waiting until the rice cooker switches from “cook” to “warm,” but for gumbo and other dishes with lots of liquid, Brennan recommends using a kitchen timer as well. In addition, some of the meat dishes require browning in a skillet, though he said the rice cooker can also be used to brown meat in a pinch.

For someone extremely budget-conscious, a rice cooker can potentially replace many normally-used kitchen tools, including a stove.

“I call it a portable kitchen,” Bertrand said. “All you need is a rice cooker, your ingredients and a source of electricity.”

Bertrand said readers of the cookbook had told him they were able to eat during power outages in Louisiana by plugging their rice cookers into generators.

Buying a Rice Cooker

A decent rice cooker should cost $40 or less, according to The Sweethome, a home goods review website. Using the right credit card could go along way in making that expense more affordable and in rewarding any future ingredient purchases. (Here are a few credit cards that reward you for grocery spending. But before applying, make sure to check your credit. Many rewards credit cards require good to excellent credit scores to qualify. You can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

To get any potential rice cooker chefs started, we’ve provided Bertrand’s recipe for Black-Eyed Pea & Sausage Jambalaya. Bertrand said it is a favorite from his cookbook. Enjoy!

1 lb. smoked link beef or pork sausage, sliced and browned. (Browning optional)
1 (15.5-oz.) can black-eyed peas with jalapenos
1 (10.5-oz.) can beef broth
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) uncooked white rice
1/2 stick butter, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Brown the sausage in skillet and drain excess grease. Add all ingredients to rice cooker, stir, cover and press down COOK switch. Once the meal is cooked, and the COOK switch pops up to WARM mode, let it stand covered 10 minutes before serving.

Image: tisskananat

The post How a Rice Cooker Can Cut Your Food Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

How Tragedy & Identity Thieves Kept One Woman From a Near-Perfect Credit Score

Tragedy and identity theft is never a good thing, but in this case, it positively impacted a woman's credit.

Identity theft can deal serious damage to your finances. And repairing its effects can be stressful and time-consuming, especially when it comes to repairing the damage to your credit.

Just ask New Jersey resident, Erin (who asked us not to use her last name, as she was a victim of identity theft). This, plus credit problems arising from her recently deceased parents’ financially accounts, dragged her score down by nearly 50 points, keeping her from the near-perfect credit she had worked hard to earn.

There was no special trick to Erin saving her credit scores. It took hours of calls, but she ended up with a giant credit boost over one weekend this past March.

When the Last Thing on Your Mind Is Your Credit Report

Erin’s credit troubles arose during a time of grief. Her mother died in September 2010. Months later, in March 2011, her father also died.

At 27-years-old, Erin was working to become the administrator of her parents’ estate. They left no will, and Bank of America was looking for a late credit card payment belonging to her father.

Erin told the bank she couldn’t send the payment because she hadn’t been appointed the administrator yet. Once she was appointed in June, she made the payment. She wouldn’t learn until years later that the late payment had ended up on her credit report. In the meantime, she ran into another problem: identity theft.

Just before Christmas 2015, Erin got an alert on her phone from Sprint telling her the new lines she ordered were ready. Problem was, she hadn’t ordered any new lines. She checked her account and saw that someone had added three brand-new iPhones to it.

Whoever had done so was using Erin’s address and Social Security number to get these new devices. And because Erin had good credit, they were able to put the phones on her bill and walk out of three different Sprint stores with three new phones. Erin said her identity was also used to make purchases at AT&T, Verizon, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, Target and Bloomingdales.

Hours of Phone Calls

To this day, Erin doesn’t know who stole her identity, which is often the case for identity theft victims. She changed all her passwords and started working the phones.

“It was just basically a ton of phone calls,” she said. “Each phone call probably lasted between 35 minutes and an hour.”

Lisa Belot, a spokeswoman for Sprint, said retail workers use scanners to authenticate customers’ driver’s licenses and other technology to prevent fraud. The company urges customers to regularly update passwords and to never share account info with a third party unless the request comes from a trusted source, she added.

With each company, Erin had to start with customer service, which transferred her to the fraud department before they agreed to send letters saying she wouldn’t be responsible for the charges. She filed a report with her local police department and called the three nationwide credit reporting companies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to put security freezes on her credit reports.

In doing this, she kept anyone from pulling her credit reports to keep anyone from opening lines of credit using her stolen Social Security number. She had never checked her credit reports or scores regularly until her identity was stolen, but she started soon after.

That’s when Erin finally saw the late payment to Bank of America was on her report.

Normally, said Betty Riess, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, once the bank is notified that a customer has died, it removes any fees and interest assessed eight days before and after the notification. Any delinquencies should have no effect on the credit report of the estate administrator.

Therefore, Erin should have been off the hook for the late payment. But after Credit.com looked into Erin’s case, Riess revealed that Erin had been listed as an account holder on the account along with her father when it opened in 2010.

Erin had been unaware of this and expressed surprise when she found out this year. She had helped her dad with paperwork and bills after her mother died, but she had her own credit cards.

“There would have been no reason for my name to be on the account,” she said.

She also couldn’t find any mention of her name on any of the Bank of America documents she has and says she still keeps a thick file folder of paperwork from her credit fiasco. Erin does acknowledge she may have been on the account without remembering — noting it was a long time ago and during a difficult time.

One Giant Leap for a Credit Score

Despite the credit report and the leftover late payment, Erin still had a decent credit score around 680 at the start of 2017. She had built it up after separating from her ex-husband in 2009, when her score was in the 500s.

After clearing the identity theft off her credit reports, her score shot up to an excellent 767. But around that time, another check of her reports showed the Bank of America payment had remained on her Experian report.

She checked with Experian in February to see what was up, and the agency said the removal of the payment was still pending. When she checked at the beginning of March, it was finally removed. The effect was to rocket up her score 46 points to a near-perfect 804.

Erin gained more than an excellent score from the experience. She also learned good credit habits.

“I’ve been good about always paying on time and making as big of a payment, if not the entire thing, since 2011,” she said.

What You Can Do

To others in the same situation, Erin advised checking the federal IdentityTheft.gov website, which breaks down the steps required to recover from identity theft.

Rod Griffin, director of Public Education for Experian, said if you share a joint account with your parent and they die, it’s important to check your credit report to make sure they’re accurately reported. The account may be updated with a statement saying the parent is deceased to keep anyone from using their identity fraudulently. All three national credit bureaus have similar policies.

Meanwhile, your credit report should still say the account is open and active, Griffin said. (For starters, you can check your credit report summary for free on Credit.com)

“As a cosigner or joint account holder, you share full responsibility for the debt, so you may be held liable for any remaining balance on the account,” he said.

While Erin said the experience was a valuable lesson, it didn’t sound like she’d risk going through it again.

“It was really difficult,” she said. “It was probably more difficult because I was stressed and worried about what the implications might be.”

Image: martin-dm

The post How Tragedy & Identity Thieves Kept One Woman From a Near-Perfect Credit Score appeared first on Credit.com.

8 Tips for Saving Money on Chinese Takeout

Chinese food may be cheap, but there are still ways to save on your General Tso's habit.

Chinese takeout is even more reliable than the mail: Neither rain nor sleet nor heat nor gloom of night … nor even Christmas stops most Chinese restaurants from delivering the goods. I’ve callously put delivery drivers at risk by ordering Chinese food during terrible weather many times, and it always comes through.

That’s why Chinese takeout has become a staple for anyone pressed for time or cash. It can be consumed without owning utensils or furniture and is available almost anywhere.

But all that convenience doesn’t mean you can’t save even more on your General Tso’s chicken. Here are a few ways to cut the price of your Chinese takeout.

1. Order for Lunch

As with most restaurants, Chinese takeout prices will usually be lower at lunchtime. Take advantage and …

2. … Save Your Leftovers

Chinese restaurants usually don’t skimp, which is a bonus since the food is so heavy (hooray for all that breading and frying). Chinese food also holds up well in the fridge and is nearly as good the second time around, whether cold or hot.

Add it up and your one takeout order could last two or three meals.

3. Get a Combo

Just like McDonald’s, a lot of Chinese restaurants allow you to make your meal a combo. Most restaurants offer a dozen or so dishes as combination platters, allowing customers to couple their food with their choice of rice, an egg roll or a soda at a bargain price.

These deals are usually cheaper at lunch and cover most popular dishes, from chicken and broccoli to lo mein.

4. Share Your Meal

Big servings make for easy sharing. Chinese food makes a great companion during movie night or game night. Dishes like fried rice and steamed dumplings are made for sharing.

Most Chinese restaurants sell dishes a la carte in pints or quarts. If you didn’t know (I had to look it up), a quart equals two pints, and many restaurants sell the bigger serving at a slight discount. Load up on quarts and you’ve got yourself a feast.

5. Load Up On Coupons

Chinese menus often come with coupons you can clip for discounts. Common throw-ins include a free can of soda or soup if you spend above a certain amount.

You probably won’t have to go far to get coupons. If you live in apartment building where even one person gets Chinese delivered, that restaurant’s menu and its coupons will end up under your door whether you like it or not.

You can also check coupon websites like Restaurant.com to see if your local Chinese place has any offers.

6. Pick It Up

Yes, putting food on the table without leaving your house is basically the American Dream and the delivery drivers who bring it are saints. But those tips add up. Save yourself some bucks and make the trip yourself.

7. Make Your Own

You know how all that breading and frying and oil makes American Chinese food so filling and delicious? Well, it also makes it pretty unhealthy.

If you want to make things easier on your wallet — and your health — while still enjoying Chinese cuisine, you may want to start preparing your own versions of your favorite takeout dishes. Plenty of recipe websites feature at-home versions of your favorite, minus all the oil. Check Pinterest or your favorite food blog for options.

8. Use a Restaurant Rewards Card

Some rewards credit cards award cash back for restaurant purchases. Here are a few cards that offer points, miles or cash back for your takeout spending.

Before you apply, be sure your credit score is high enough to qualify. Many rewards cards require good or excellent credit. You can check two of your scores for free on Credit.com.

Image: sturti

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The Cheapest & Most Expensive Hot Dogs at MLB Stadiums

See which stadiums offer you the most hot dog bang for your buck.

Few things are better than a ballpark hot dog in the summer.

It’s a treasured part of the baseball experience, up there with singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” bobbleheads and steroids.

But like baseball stadiums themselves, the price and quality of hot dogs varies by team. While we can’t speak for the flavor of every hot dog sold at a major league ballpark, we know how much they all cost, thanks to the Fan Cost Index provided by Team Marketing Report, a publisher of sports marketing information based in Chicago.

The index collects ticket and concession prices from every major league team, allowing for a league-wide comparison. The Cincinnati Reds sell the cheapest hot dogs in the league, offering $1 dogs every game at certain concession stands at Great American Ballpark, a price well below the league average of $4.52.

Side note: If this post has you hankering for a ballpark frank of your own, check out our post on the credit card that can help you save on your stadium trip. (Be sure to check your credit score before applying for any cards to make sure you have a good chance of qualifying. You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

Now, read on to see the other teams selling the cheapest hot dogs in the league, and where dogs are the most expensive.

Cheapest Hot Dogs

1. Cincinnati Reds: $1

2. Baltimore Orioles: $1.50

3. (tie) Arizona Diamondbacks: $3
Cleveland Indians: $3
New York Yankees: $3

6. Pittsburgh Pirates: $3.25

7. Philadelphia Phillies: $3.75

8. (tie) San Diego Padres: $4
Minnesota Twins: $4
Chicago White Sox: $4

Most Expensive Hot Dogs

1. (tie) New York Mets: $6.25
Miami Marlins: $6.25

3. (tie) Los Angeles Dodgers: $6
Texas Rangers: $6

5. San Francisco Giants: $5.75

6. (tie) Chicago Cubs: $5.50
Oakland Athletics $5.50

8. (tie) Boston Red Sox $5.25
Washington Nationals $5.25

10. (tie) Kansas City Royals: $5
Colorado Rockies: $5
Milwaukee Brewers: $5
Tampa Bay Rays: $5

Image: bhofack2

The post The Cheapest & Most Expensive Hot Dogs at MLB Stadiums appeared first on Credit.com.

Big Changes Coming to Millions of Credit Reports in a Few Days

Millions of people could see their credit scores rise July 1.

Up to 7% of people with credit scores could see them rise beginning July 1 when credit reporting agencies will start excluding most civil judgments and about half of all tax lien data from credit reports.

As announced in March, the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, will start holding public data to new standards. After July 1, any public record data must include a consumer’s name and address, as well as their Social Security number or date of birth, to appear on their credit file, according to the Consumer Data Industry Association.

Who Is Affected?

Most people should see little impact on their credit scores, according to an analysis conducted in March by FICO, the most common provider of credit scores. About 7% of people with FICO scores, or about 15 million of the 220 million Americans with scores, will see a judgment or tax lien removed from their credit files, the analysis said.

Public records like bankruptcies, tax liens and civil judgments typically stay on credit reports for seven years, so those who see these items removed get a long-lasting weight removed from their credit scores.

However, most of the people who have items removed will experience score increases of less than 20 points, FICO said. The reason the increase isn’t greater is because 92% of people who will have tax liens or judgments removed have other negative information on their credit files. To see if the change affects you, you can check two of your credit scores free on Credit.com.

In addition to culling the public record data, the agencies also plan to update their public record information at least every 90 days.

While the credit score increase is relatively modest, it may still be enough to allow people to qualify for loans or credit reports that may have been out of reach before. Most of the people impacted had a median credit score of 565 before the change.

Twenty points above that median puts people in range of a Federal Housing Administration loan with only a 3.5% down payment. The minimum FICO score required for such a loan is 580.

The National Consumer Action Plan

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are making the changes as part of a 2015 settlement with 31 state attorneys general who were investigating the agencies over the accuracy of credit reports. In response, the agencies launched the National Consumer Action Plan, which aims to make credit information more transparent for consumers.

In addition to the public record data, the plan also prohibits the agencies from including medical debts on credit reports until after 180 days to allow insurance payments to go through. The plan also calls for the bureaus to hire specially trained employees to deal with credit disputes and allow consumers to obtain an additional free credit report if they find an error on their free annual credit report.

Image: jacoblund

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14 Inexpensive & Essential Items to Bring on Your Trip

These items should make your trip smoother and more comfortable without breaking your travel budget.

Packing for a trip can feel like playing Tetris, trying to squeeze irregular shapes into a carry-on so you can avoid luggage fees.

Just like some shapes are more useful (the ‘I’) than others (those stupid, blocky ‘S’ and ‘Z’ shapes), there are a few mission-critical items that will make your next trip smoother and more comfortable.

Luckily, many of these items are also affordable and won’t hamper your travel budget too much. Here are a few things to make sure to bring on your trip.

1. Luggage Tags

Luggage tags are easy to overlook, but they become very useful when disaster strikes and your luggage goes missing. A luggage tag can then fulfill its purpose of helping whomever finds your bag get it back to you. Some luggage tags can let you store your information in a QR code, but any tag with space for your contact information should suffice.

2. Flip Flops

The ultimate portable footwear for breezing through airport security, protecting your feet from a dingy bathroom or lounging around a hotel room, flip flops are also dirt-cheap. Old Navy sells flip flops for $5 or less a pair, as one example.

3. Detergent

If you’re truly committed to packing light, you’ll want to do some laundry during your trip. If you’re traveling through airport security, you’ll only be able to carry a bottle of 3.4 ounces or less, per Transportation Security Administration Rules. There are a few options, though, including Tide travel sink packets, which contain enough detergent for a sink full of laundry ($1.39 a packet at Bed, Bath & Beyond), and Travelon biodegradable laundry soap sheets (50 sheets for $6.90 from Jet.)

4. Clothesline

How to dry those wet clothes? A good travel clothesline has loops or suction cups to secure it at either end. It should also be made of braided rope so you can hook your clothes to it without clothespins. You can find travel clotheslines at REI for around $10.

5. Toiletry Bottles

As we mentioned before, TSA only allows you to take liquid containers up to 3.4 ounces through security. You can re-use travel-sized versions of your shampoo, soap or lotion (or reuse hotel product bottles), or you can buy some sturdy travel bottles. Samsonite sells a six-piece bottle set with spray, pump and pour tops for $10, while Walmart carries a four-pack of iGo travel bottles for $2.94.

6. Toiletry Bag

A toiletry bag is one of the more expensive items on this list — L.L Bean sells a small bag for $24.95, while Samsonite’s version is $22 at Macy’s — but it just makes sense to have something separating your toothbrush and other toiletries from your underwear. Some of them can even be hung over a shower rod, towel rack or door handle, making your morning routine while traveling that much easier. A separate bag will make your essentials easier to find on the go. A good toiletry bag should be slim, organized and durable.

7. Neck Pillow

Unless you’re flying first class, any long trip will require you to get your beauty rest while sitting almost upright in a cramped space. A neck pillow can provide some small comfort during this trying time. Bed Bath & Beyond carries a Memory Foam neck pillow for $15.99. For those truly committed to saving space in luggage, REI sells an inflatable pillow for $19.50.

8. Earplugs

Babies: Adorable right? Just wait until you’re on a long flight with a bundle of joy screaming directly into your ear the whole time. Secure yourself some peace with a solid pair of earplugs. Look for a pair that not only reduces the decibel level but also feels comfortable. Target sells Mack’s earplugs in a package of 50 for $9.99, though fancier earplugs are sold elsewhere.

9. Sleep Mask

On long trips you may have to try to get sleep while it’s still light out (or while your neighbor reads for hours on end). A good sleep mask can clear all those distractions, leaving nothing but rest-inducing darkness. Walmart sells sleep masks for as little as $3.99.

10. Plug Adapter Set

For some reason the rest of the world won’t submit to the American standard on electrical plugs. Until they come around to us being right, you’ll need a plug adapter to keep your electronics whirring on your international adventure. You can buy an individual adapter for your destination, but plug adapter sets or all-in-ones are affordable and you only have to buy one once. Walmart carries a Travel Smart plug adapter set for $9.99.

11. USB Battery Pack

If you’re using your phone regularly to navigate and look up fun things to do during your trip, you may end up needing more than one charge a day. In that case, be sure to carry a USB battery pack to keep your device powered on. Battery packs come in a variety of sizes and capacities depending on how much power and portability you need, and they usually go for $15 and up.

12. Travel Credit Card

Make sure you’re carrying the right plastic. A good travel credit card should reward you on your purchases but also not charge foreign transaction fees and provide travel protections like trip cancellation or interruption insurance and baggage delay insurance. Some cards will also get you free Wi-Fi on your plane or grant you access to swanky airport lounges.  We rounded up a few travel rewards card choices here.

The best cards also, however, require a good to excellent credit score. Before applying, it’s a good idea to check two of your scores for free on Credit.com to see whether you can qualify.

13. Reusable Water Bottle

Why pay for something you can get for free? As we said before, the TSA won’t let you pass through security with a fully loaded water bottle, but once you’re cleared you can head to your nearest water fountain and fill up for free rather than paying out the nose for a plastic bottle. Reusable bottles can be ridiculously cheap; heck, you can just reuse one you’ve already drained, but a sturdier metal bottle may last longer.

14. Notebook

Maybe I’m a biased writer, but I find it’s helpful to have a place to jot down anything I need to remember, whether it’s directions, places I need to visit or stray observations about the place I’m visiting. Of course, you can use your phone, but I find I retain things better when I rely on good old pen and paper.

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

Image: beer5020

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How to Save Money Any Time You Visit an Airport

Airports can seem like overpriced traps, but there are a few ways to avoid wasting money while you're inside.

Airports are a little like baseball stadiums. You’re limited in what you can bring, you can’t easily get back out and all the stuff inside is way overpriced.

Just like you should prepare for a baseball game with sunscreen, your favorite jersey and a few handy insults for the jerk playing third, there are a few strategies for saving money when you’re at the airport.

1. Weigh Your Luggage

Bringing overweight luggage is costly. American Airlines charges $100 or more for luggage weighing more than 51 pounds. Low-cost airliner Southwest charges $75 for bags weighing 51 to 100 pounds.

Meanwhile, luggage scales go for around $15 or even less in some places. This is one of those cases where you can spend money to save if you’re carrying a heavy load on your trip.

2. Bring a Water Bottle

Just like at a baseball stadium, bottled water is way overpriced at the airport. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) won’t let you bring a filled water bottle through security, but you can bring an empty reusable bottle and fill it up at a drinking fountain once you’ve passed through.

It’s a good idea to have a reusable bottle when traveling to begin with because you can save money on water throughout your trip and keep a few plastic bottles out of the landfill.

3. Pack Snacks

A lot of airport food is overpriced mall slop, so chances are you can find something better and cheaper to bring with you. (Check the TSA website for specifics.) Pinterest has plenty of recipes for packable and delicious food. Another way to avoid paying for airport food is to eat before you leave home.

4. Bring Amusements

Waiting around is a huge part of air travel, so you need a way to pass the time. A book is a good start, as is a mobile device loaded with movies, music, podcasts and audio books. Streaming may not be an option, as many airports don’t offer free Wi-Fi, so download any media ahead of time. Make sure to bring a decent pair of earbuds, too. Plane headphones are not always free, and they are usually low-quality anyway.

5. Pack a Travel Credit Card

You can skip many of the above steps if you manage to get into an airport lounge, where, in most cases, you’ll also get complimentary access to Wi-Fi, snacks, beverages and showers. You’ll usually have to pay an annual membership of a few hundred dollars to access these lounges, but the right card can get you in as well. We compiled a list of credit cards to use at each of the busiest airports in America here.

Of course, travel cards that get you into airport lounges usually have high annual fees of their own, but their rewards may be worth your while depending on how much you travel. (You’ll also typically need good to excellent credit to qualify for a premium travel card, so check your score before applying. You can see two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

6. Avoid Airport Parking

Chances are it’s cheaper to arrange transportation from your home to the airport than it is to pay for airport parking, especially if your trip will be long. When you’re booking transportation, make sure to call a few companies for quotes and compare prices against your rideshare app of choice. Or even better, ask a friend to take you.

7. Don’t Go Shopping

The entire premise of this article is that the airport is an overpriced trap. No one would ever go there for regular shopping. Anything you need, whether it’s food, toiletries, medicine or souvenirs, can be purchased outside, likely at a far better price.

Don’t take these steps just to squander the savings on an impulse buy, no matter how nice the duty-free shop is. If you see something tempting, remember: As long as you packed everything you truly need, you don’t need to buy anything at the airport.

Image: Izabela Habur

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50 Ways to Travel Without Overspending

Travel is expensive, but there are plenty of ways see the world without blowing your budget.

Travel is expensive enough without compounding it by wasting money or overspending.

There are plenty of things you can do to make sure your vacation budget doesn’t go to waste, though. In fact, here are 50.

1. Make a Vacation Budget

Research how much you’ll spend on travel, accommodations and activities, save that amount and stick to it.

2. Get Your Documents Ahead of Time

It costs an extra $60 or more to expedite a passport application, so be sure to get yours in at least eight weeks before departure.

3. Camp

Four walls and room service are great, but a tent, a sleeping bag and campground fees are likely much cheaper than the average hotel. Many National Parks have campgrounds.

4. Stay at a Hostel

Hostels provide accommodations at reasonable prices for those who don’t mind staying in a dorm-like setting. It’s not the Ritz, but it’s a place to sleep.

5. Use Airbnb

You may have luck beating local hotel rates at your destination if you look for people willing to rent out rooms or their entire home for a few days.

6. Stay With a Friend

Visiting a friend is a great pretext for traveling and, if they have a comfy couch or spare bedroom, a way to save on the price of a hotel room. Try not to be a slob though, and offer to buy your host a meal or two as a way of showing your thanks.

7. Travel in a Group

A group of friends can split the cost of accommodations and perhaps score group discounts on activities.

8. Rent Out Your Home

You can also rent out your own home to make some money while you’re traveling. But you should let potential guests know you won’t be around to deal with any problems that arise.

9. Avoid Peak Tourist Season

There’s a reason everyone travels during the summer: The kids are out of school and the weather is usually nice. But you may save by traveling during times when demand is lower. For example, Disneyland advises on its website that prices may be lower outside of its high season, which starts in May.

10. Use a Travel Rewards Card

The right card can earn you miles or hotel points for your purchases. Here are a few of our favorite travel rewards cards. (Rewards cards often require solid credit scores. To see if you qualify, check two of your scores free on Credit.com.)

11. Don’t Pay Foreign Transaction Fees

Want to pay an extra 3% for the things you buy while abroad? No? Bring a credit card that doesn’t charge such fees, or use cash, which you can get if you…

12. Use an ATM

If you need cash abroad, an ATM should give you a better exchange rate than the kiosks in the airport. For added savings, find out from your bank if they or their partners have ATM locations that won’t charge a withdrawal fee.

13. Exchange Money Away From the Airport

If you don’t want to use an ATM, you still can find better rates from money-changers outside the airport.

14. Make a Packing List…

You know what’s a waste of money? Buying something you already own because you forgot it at home. Make a list and make sure you have everything you need.

15. … & Pack Light

You think your in-flight meal is expensive? Wait until you get slapped with an overweight baggage fee. Most airlines will let you bring a carry-on for free, so there’s extra incentive for careful packing.

16. Ship Souvenirs Home

You might think you’re stuck paying baggage fees if you’ve bought a ton of knick-knacks, but you can always ship them. Compare the price of shipping your souvenirs to paying an overweight or extra baggage fee. “It’s usually cheaper than the extra baggage fees to get your souvenirs home,” said Kelly Soderlund, content manager for Hipmunk, a travel deals website.

17. Be Flexible

If you’re willing to to make a stopover or land a longer distance away from your final destination, you may be able to get a cheaper flight.

18. Book in Advance

In general, airfares are at their lowest until a few weeks before departure, at which point they rise steadily. Some tickets will stay cheap if there’s low demand, but your best bet is to buy early. It’s also a good idea to sign up for a service that tracks flight costs to specific destinations and sends you alerts when prices drop.

19. Fly During Odd Hours

Flights that take off during the evening or the middle of the week tend to see lower demand than others, and can be cheaper to buy as a result.

20. Use a Low-Cost Airline

Airlines like Southwest, JetBlue and Spirit can offer cut-rate fares. Teresa Walsh, a marketing executive for Cazana.com, a startup in London, suggested passengers bring their own food and tablet or book, as in-flight meal and entertainment options may be limited.

21. Buy a Travel Package

You can sometimes save if you buy a vacation package including hotel and airfare from your favorite airline, a website like Travelocity, or even somewhere like Groupon or Costco.

22. Consider Cutting Out the Middleman

Booking sites make their money off commissions from accommodation providers. “Often if you contact the provider directly, you can negotiate a lower rate since you aren’t paying for a middleman,” said Nate Hake, a writer at travel website TravelLemming.com.

23. Use Public Transit…

Public transit tends to be one of the cheapest ways to get around home and the same is true abroad. There is a risk you’ll literally get lost in translation, but it may be worth saving on cab fare.

24. …Or Rent a Bike

Many cities have bike-share programs or rental services for tourists, offering an affordable way to see your destination up-close.

25. …Or Walk

It’s always free to walk and staying on foot can allow you to see parts of a new city you may have missed on a bus or in a car.

26. Do Your Research

Buy a travel guide or search online, not only to find out which attractions to visit, but also which overpriced tourist traps to avoid.

27. Find Free Attractions

Many museums are free certain days of the week, and in many cities you can find free walking tours. There’s no beating that price.

28. Book Activities in Advance

Door prices for tourist are are often higher than if you buy tickets in advance, said Pete Bahrenburg, president of the Last Minute Travel website.

29. Rent a Car Away From the Airport

Just as you shouldn’t exchange money at an airport kiosk, you should also look elsewhere for a car rental. Rentals tend to be pricier at airports, where agencies have to pay extra fees. Those fees can get passed on to you when you rent, but could still be cheaper than taking a cab to and from another off-site location, so be sure to find out how much it will cost to get to another location.

30. Rent a Car With Your Credit Card

Many cards offer rental car collision coverage if you use them to pay for your booking. Plus certain cards will earn you rewards.

31. Work on a Farm

If you don’t mind doing some work while seeing a new place, sign up for a cultural exchange program like Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. You’ll be able to travel to a new place and get food and accommodation from a host in exchange for working on their farm.

32. Sign up for a Loyalty Program

Hotel and airline loyalty programs are often free to join and can let you rack up points for discounted flights or stays.

33. Sign up for Newsletters

Airlines and travel agencies will occasionally send out discounts with their email newsletters. It’s free to sign up and it could lead to a cheap trip. Check up on social media accounts too.

34. Bring Food…

Just like at home, eating out all the time can add up. Bring snacks with you, especially to the airport, where your options are basically limited to overpriced mall food.

35. …And Entertainment

In case in-flight entertainment isn’t free, pack a book, download a podcast or movie ahead of your flight to pass the time.

36. Don’t Eat at the Hotel

Aside from a complimentary breakfast, your hotel is probably not the cheapest food option in the area. Better to head to a neighborhood eatery, said Amanda Ponzar, chief marketing officer for Community Health Charities in Virginia.

37. Splurge on Lunch, Not Dinner

Kathy James, who writes travel blog Walkabout Wanderer, pointed out that lunch is generally cheaper than dinner at restaurants. “So make a sandwich from the supermarket or grab a snack for your evening meal and [splurge] at lunchtime,” she said.

38. Haggle

This might be outside of the comfort zone for some Americans used to fixed prices, but the sticker price isn’t final in many cultures. If you find yourself in a flea market or bazaar, it’s not a bad idea to see if sellers have any wiggle room on their prices.

39. Bring Your Own Water Bottle

“Do your research beforehand and if the water is safe to drink in the country you are going to then take a reusable water bottle with you and save both the environment and your wallet,” said Walsh.

40. Don’t Use Your Phone Abroad

Your mobile phone plan may not cover international usage (though it’s worth checking on whether flat-rate, temporary international plans are available). Either grab a pay-as-you-go SIM card or wait until you have Wi-Fi to access the internet, said James Cave, author of the Portugalist travel blog. “If you need to make a phone call, use Skype or do the old-fashioned thing and buy a phone card,” he said.

41. Stay Local

A vacation doesn’t require a pricey plane flight. Check your state’s tourism website to see what adventures you can have at or near home.

42. Buy the Cheapest Gas

Taking a road trip? Use an app like GasBuddy or Google Maps to find the cheapest gasoline prices.

43. Use a Gas Rewards Card

If you are filling up frequently, a gas rewards card can help you earn some of your spending back.

44. Make Sure Your Car Is Travel-Ready

Just as you should check with your doctor before deciding to train for a marathon, make sure your vehicle is tuned up for a road trip. “It’s better to take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic instead of risking a roadside breakdown and having your trip completely derailed,” said Jessica Bisesto, senior editor for TravelPirates, a travel deals website.

45. Remember, Kids Under 2 May Fly Free

Anyone age 2 and under counts as a “lap child” and can usually be carried on an airline free of charge as long as they don’t take up a seat. Be sure to check your specific airline’s policy.

46. Leave Your Pet

Many airlines charge fees for bringing your pet and some countries might subject them to quarantine. The price of boarding your pet or having someone feed them while you’re gone might be worth avoiding the headache.

47. Consider Travel Insurance

Your existing medical insurance may not cover an international emergency. A travel insurance policy may help fill the gap. It can also help you avoid a total loss of your travel costs if a personal issue keeps you from traveling. Check your credit card’s terms and conditions too, since some travel cards include similar coverage.

48. Be Discrete

Tourists are often targets for scammers and pickpockets. So be low-key and polite, especially while abroad. Leave your American flag hat at home and try to use the local language.

49. Pay Your Bills Before You Go

The last thing you want to come home to is a late-payment notice. Take care of any payments that will come due while you’re away.

50. Keep Your Documents Safe

Make sure your passport and any other important documents are secure, whether they’re locked up in your luggage or in a hotel safe. Spare yourself the headache and cost of replacing them on short notice.

Don’t have enough socked away to take that dream vacation? No worries. We have 28 ways to save up for your next big adventure here

Image: monkeybusinessimages 

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10 States Suffering the Most From Foreclosures

Foreclosures declined for the 20th consecutive month year-over-year, but were still high in these 10 states.

Foreclosures in May were down 19% from the previous year, the 20th straight month of year-over-year declines, according to data released by ATTOM Data Solutions.

A total of 81,495 U.S. properties had a foreclosure filing in May, or one in every 1,636 units. Despite the declines, some states continue to struggle with foreclosures, particularly New Jersey, where foreclosure rates are high in communities like Atlantic City and Trenton.

A foreclosure can wreak havoc on a homeowner’s credit. You can see how your mortgage or foreclosure is affecting your credit score by checking your free credit report summary on Credit.com.

Here are the ten states with the highest foreclosure rates.

10. South Carolina

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 1,186 housing units

Change from April 2017: Up 1.89% (was No. 8)

Change from May 2016: Down 20.41% (was No. 7)

9. Ohio

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 1,176 housing units

Change from April 2017: Up 8.25% (was No. 9)

Change from May 2016: Down 16.84% (was No. 9)

8. New Mexico

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 1,168 housing units

Change from April 2017: Up 73.50% (was No. 20)

Change from May 2016: Down 11.38% (was No. 10)

7. Florida

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 1,140 housing units

Change from April 2017: Up 5.38% (was No. 7)

Change from May 2016: Down 35.00% (was No. 4)

6. Nevada

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 1,108 housing units

Change from April 2017: Up 2.87% (was No. 6)

Change from May 2016: Down 22.76% (was No. 5)

5. Oklahoma

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 1,081 housing units

Change from April 2017: Up 81.53% (was No. 19)

Change from May 2016: Up 63.84% (was No. 26)

4. Illinois

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 1,057 housing units

Change from April 2017: Up 2.47% (was No. 5)

Change from May 2016: Down 16.90% (was No. 6)

3. Maryland

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 1,006 housing units

Change from April 2017: Down 22.94% (was No. 3)

Change from May 2016: Down 30.80% (was No. 2)

2. Delaware

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 753 housing units

Change from April 2017: Down 6.30% (was No. 2)

Change from May 2016: Down 4.18% (was No. 3)

1. New Jersey

May 2017 Foreclosure Rate: 1 in every 515 housing units

Change from April 2017: Up 9.29% (was No. 1)

Change from May 2016: Up 8.81% (was No. 1)

Image: mactrunk 

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