15 Ways to Save at Crate & Barrel

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Whether you’ve just scored a new abode or you’ve been living in your place for a while and it could use a little updating, Crate & Barrel is a long-standing go-to when it comes to home furnishings. The store sells quality goods, so prices for some items can be on the higher end. Luckily there are some pretty easy ways to save. Here are 15 of them.

1. Sign Up for the Newsletter

Provide your email address for current offers, sales and news.

2. Shop the Special Offers & Rebates Section

Crate & Barrel often offers added incentives for customers to shop by including things like gift cards for free items with purchase in their Special Offers & Rebates section. Examples include things like a $30 gift card with purchase of a KitchenAid Mixer or up to 50% off Viking Contemporary seven-piece cookware sets.

3. Wait for Items to Make it to the Clearance Section

As with any store, Crate & Barrel needs to move inventory frequently to make room for new items, especially as they relate to seasonal goods. Check with the Clearance and Outlet section of the site frequently to see if the things you need have gone on sale.

4. Check the Site for Coupon Offers

Before heading to the store or making a purchase online, be sure to check with the coupon section of the chain’s website to see if any special offers are happening.

5. Never Pay for Shipping

Even if you can’t make it into the store to buy your goods, make sure you never pay for shipping by checking out the Free Shipping section of the site and only order the items you need once they won’t cost you to ship.

6. Apply for the Crate & Barrel Credit Card

If you’re a savvy credit card user and frequent Crate & Barrel shopper, its credit card can earn you 10% back in reward dollars or six months of special financing, as well as other perks like special offers and access to events. The card has no annual fee, but like most store cards it does come with a hefty variable annual percentage rate (27.49%), so only get one if you can pay the card off in full every single time you use it. Favor a different brand? You can learn more about the best credit cards for a stress-free shopping spree right here.

Just be sure to check your credit before applying for any new plastic. Otherwise, you risk a rejection — and a hard inquiry on your credit report — for naught. (You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

7. Use Your Crate & Barrel Card at its Sister Stores

You can use your Crate & Barrel credit card at CB2 and The Land of Nod as well to really rack up the reward dollars you earn.

8. Create a Registry

When you create a wedding registry with Crate & Barrel, you’ll have access to their 10% completion credit for six months after your event, which applies to anything left on your registry as well as items in the store or online. Learn more here.

9. Search Online for Coupons

Check out sites like dealsplus, RetailMeNot, Coupon Cabin and Savings.com for discount codes that you can apply to your Crate & Barrel purchases, or …

10. … Install a Coupon Aggregator on Your Computer

Browser extensions like Honey will automatically find and apply coupon codes for you at checkout.

11. Purchase Used Gift Cards

Visit a gift card resale site and search for Crate & Barrel gift cards that you can buy at a discounted rate.

12. Follow Crate & Barrel on Social Media

Never miss a sale when you follow Crate & Barrel on their social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook.

13. Keep an Eye Out for Special Ways to Earn More Savings

Every now and then Crate & Barrel will offer additional ways to enter for a chance to save — which is all the more reason to keep an eye out on their social media pages for updates.

14. Earn Cash Back

Use a cash back or rebate site to earn a little bit extra back on your Crate & Barrel purchases.

15. Let the Brand Know You’re Moving

Register your move with the U.S. Postal Service online and be sure to click on the section that allows you to receive coupons from certain home goods stores — Crate & Barrel has been known to send them to new homeowners for 10% off.

Want more brand hacks? We’ve got 15 ways to save at Bed Bath & Beyond and 18 ways to save at CVS.

Have a brand you’d like us to tackle? Let us know in the comments section below.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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30 Cities Where Millennials Are Still Living With Their Parents

Across the country, more people ages 18 to 34 are living at home with their parents. Here are the cities where it's happening the most.

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These 15 States Have the Most Telecommuting Jobs

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9 Splurge-Worthy Additions for Your New Home

Upgrade your new pad with splurge-worthy additions.

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Why It’s Not Smart to Get a Big Tax Refund Each Year

Why let the government hold your money throughout the year when you can put that money to work today?

If you’re expecting a big tax refund this year, you’ve probably already decided what you’re going to do with that money. Whether it’s a vacation, a new jet ski or a nice boost to your retirement savings, you’re probably pretty excited about the extra cash. But here’s the deal: Getting a big tax refund each year isn’t necessarily a good thing. It means you haven’t been putting that money to work for you all year long.

“If you are receiving a refund this year, it means that you overpaid your taxes during the course of the year. Instead of giving the government your hard-earned money, think about all of the great things you could have done with that money,” says Ron Weber, a senior marketing manager with Quicken Inc. “You could have paid off credit accounts, invested it in your future, and/or spent it as you earned it. Money is always better in your pocket than in someone else’s — even if that someone else is the government.”

Here’s how you can make sure you boost your bottom line this year by not overpaying your taxes and also not getting a refund.

Review Your Withholdings

Sit down and review your paycheck withholdings and see if you can break even when it comes to the taxes you pay. You’re looking for your Goldilocks zone. Not too little, not too much, but just right.

“If you are unsure what to do, experiment until you get it right,” Weber advises. “Most people are unaware that you can change your number of payroll exemptions as many times as you wish.”

You can also try using a tool to help you find your Goldilocks zone. The Internal Revenue Service has a withholdings calculator that can help you see how much difference a change in your withholdings will make. Certainly, you don’t want to owe taxes next year if you can avoid it, but getting your tax refund as close to zero as possible means you can invest or spend the additional income on a regular basis instead of letting the Treasury Department store it for you.

As you review your withholdings, you’ll want to be sure you …

Don’t Forget Your House …

If you own your own home, you probably know you can claim mortgage interest and property tax deductions, so take into account how much that will reduce your tax burden.

… Or Your Investments

If you own investment property, you’ll also want to consider any expenses you can deduct that might affect your taxes for next year.

… Or Big Life Events

“There are certain life events that you want to keep in mind when changing your exemptions such as marriage, having children or any situation where you decrease the number of dependents, such as divorce,” Weber says. “Also, keep in mind that while you are able to change the number of withholdings as often as you wish, your employer doesn’t have to apply it until the first payroll ending 30 days after you submit the change, effectively limiting the number of times you actually can change. Other than these considerations, the ultimate goal each year is to get your refund close to zero. Make it a game and see how close you can come.”

But You’re Terrible at Saving Money, You Say?

Of course, if saving isn’t your forte and you’re going to just end up spending whatever additional income you get throughout the year, letting Uncle Sam hold it for you might not be such a bad idea if you plan to put your refund directly into a retirement account like an IRA. The IRS will even help you keep your promise to invest the money by direct depositing all or part of your refund into savings, an IRA or even toward buying savings bonds.

If that’s your situation, you can read our guide on how to maximize your tax refund. But investing that money into a 401K throughout the year could be a better alternative, especially if your employer provides matching funds.

Those savings can pile up, especially if you start young. If you’re planning to turn your refund into the start of a lifetime of saving, check out our list of 50 things young people can do to make sure they’re set when it’s time to retire.

Also remember that keeping your credit in good standing helps you save money throughout the year, on everything from loan and credit card interest rates to mortgages. A good way to check on how your credit is faring is by getting credit your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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Got Extra Cash? Here Are 11 Smart Purchases Under $400

Here's a list of smart purchases you should never feel bad about buying.

There’s always a lot of talk about how to be financially responsible and increase wealth with very little money. Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. But put some real numbers behind that generic statement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey of 2015 reports an average household income per consumer unit (think entire household of family members or single, financially independent people living alone or with other people) is $69,629. And the consumer’s unit average yearly expenses is $55,978.

Let’s say you dedicate those yearly expenses to standard things, such as food, housing, transportation and insurance. While the actual percentage breakdown per expense differs from household to household, depending on your family picture, you’ll still be dedicating a good chunk of your income to various necessities each month.

If we continue with this logic, the money you have left over — that unreasonably small portion of your salary that remains after paying bills — is what many would dub “play money.” The average consumer unit will have about $13,000 a year to play. (Speaking of “play money,” here’s how to stop buying stuff you can’t afford.)

With all that extra cash, what can we do? Of course, we could blow it on a steak dinner or splurge for the newest tech gadget. But what are a few smart items we should buy when we have the opportunity? We’ve compiled a list of smart purchases you should never feel bad about buying. And the best part? They’re all less than $400.

1. Student Loans

The average recent graduate has about $37,172 in student loan debt and pays about $351 per month toward the loan, according to Student Loan Hero. For those who are super strapped for cash, they might choose to defer their loans to a later date or skate by paying just the minimum. But the interest will kill you. One of the smartest things you can do with extra cash is to pay more into your loans when you can afford to do so. It’s a solid bet that added expenses will pop up eventually, and staying ahead of the curve means one less financial burden down the road. (Check out some tips for paying off your student loans here.)

2. An Interview Suit

Even if you’re not in the job market, investing in an interview suit is a wise decision. You never know when you’ll need a go-to outfit for networking events, conferences or a random “I’ve got someone I want you to connect with” meeting. Shopping for the perfect outfit is a lot more bearable when you’re not under duress or in a time crunch. Instead, you can browse for sales. You’ll find cheaper options in many locations, but a nice suit should put you right around that $400 mark. (What else can you do to get yourself ready for a job interview? Check your credit — many employers look at a version of your credit as part of the application process, so it’s helpful to know where yours stands. You can see two of your credit scores — absolutely free — on Credit.com.)

3. A Durable Mattress

What does anything matter if you don’t get a good night’s sleep? When you have extra cash at the end of the month, put it toward a high-quality mattress that will ensure you wake up ready to tackle each morning with spunk. High-quality mattresses come at a price. But they also last for years. You could spend thousands on a name-brand mattress, but a foam mattress from IKEA could work just as well.

4. Digital File Protection

External hard drives and online storage are perfect for backing up all those vacation shots, your wedding album and imperative side-business files. Hard drives are easy to find online, and they’ll run you about $82 for one with worthwhile storage capacity. Online storage pricing varies when it comes to options and personal preferences, but you can choose between services, such as Mozy, Dropbox or SugarSync. These cloud-storage providers charge a monthly fee but give discounts for yearly subscriptions. Expect to pay between $28.98 and $99.99 per year.

5. Online Classes

The most successful people will tell you learning never stops. As workforce trends continue to change, the need for specialized expertise grows. Devoting a few extra bucks to improving your knowledge is a practical expense. Maybe you want to become a better public speaker. Or pick up a new hobby to clear your head at night. And maybe you’ve heard tech gurus ramble about an increasing demand for coding professionals. Buy books, go online and enroll in a course. Do whatever you can to set yourself up for future success.

6. A Commuter Bike

Why spend what you could save? One of the smartest purchases you can make with $400 or less is a commuter bike. When considering what you’d also pay for gas, maintenance and car insurance, a commuter bike will pay for itself. There are definitely good, better and best when it comes to bikes, but you could find a quality road bike for around $300.

7. An Emergency Fund

It’s never a bad idea to start establishing an emergency fund. Experts say three months’ worth of expenses is a reasonable amount of cash to stash away just in case. A good trick is to make your savings automatic. Once you’re unable to see your money coming in, it’s easier to get by without it and find ways to work with what you have. Then, when you break your arm doing back flips off a boat or blow a radiator in your car, it’s covered.

8. Retirement Savings

Expanding on the previous point, try to accumulate as much wealth as you can for early retirement. Consider creating a moderately aggressive investment plan by opening IRAs, 401K accounts, brokerage accounts, etc. Take advantage of your employer opportunities and set up automatic contributions to your company’s 401K plan. Start at a respectable 3% contribution, and gradually increase it until you get to at least 10%. When in doubt, seek a fiduciary financial planner.

9. Solid Clothing

Some of us find it absolutely insane to buy a pair of jeans that cost more than $39.99. However, quality clothing items, such as boots and winter coats, hold up over time. And the money you shell out is worth it later. Reddit’s Buy It for Life adheres to this philosophy. This subreddit aims to “emphasize products that are durable, practical, proven and made to last.” It might seem insane to pay $219 for insulated L.L. Bean Duck Boots, but you’ll be grateful when they’re still keeping your toes warm and dry 10 years later.

10. A Coffee Maker

Does life really exist without coffee? Another smart purchase is to invest in a solid coffee maker. If you fancy those specialty drinks, you could buy a combination machine from DeLonghi for $162 on Amazon. Considering the price of specialty drinks from coffee shops — and our dependency on caffeine — this is a purchase that will pay for itself in a matter of weeks.

11. Various Fitness Programs

There’s no safer bet than to invest in your health. Health equals wealth, right? Whether you buy a treadmill for $399.99 or invest in various meal prep services popular for those always on the go, they’re all worthwhile expenses.

Depending on your employer, you might also be eligible to receive reimbursements for health-related expenses, such as gym memberships, fitness classes or playing in sports leagues. While you’re at it, look into other reimbursement programs you might be eligible for, such as cellphone plans, moving costs or professional-development classes.

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.  

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11 Ways to Save If Your Heating & Cooling Bills Are Boiling Over

Heating bills can shoot up as the temperature drops. Here are ways to cut costs while keeping warm.

It’s one of the facts of modern life: Keeping your home the right temperature can get expensive, whether you’re in a studio apartment or a spacious house, you may be paying more than you have to in order to heat your home. Fear not! There are several ways you can cut back on how much you’re spending on temperature control in your home. Here are 11 ways to lower your heating or cooling bill. (And if you’re looking for more ways to save on your monthly home expenses, you can check out these seven easy ways to save on your cable bill.)

1. Seal Your Windows

Windows that are improperly sealed can leak air, losing energy and causing your heating system or air conditioner to work harder.

“Gaps around the window frame allow air to leak, so caulk any gaps in the seals to save on your heating bill,” said Richard Ciresi, owner of Louisville Aire Serve, a heat and air conditioning company.

2. Upgrade Your Windows

You can also upgrade your windows to more energy-efficient models.

“New windows are a big investment, but not one without substantial reward,” said Larry Patterson, a Glass Doctor franchisee. “Replacing your old windows with double or triple-pane energy efficient glass can save you up to 30% on your energy bills.”

3. Get a Programmable Thermostat

Programmable thermostats can cut energy costs by automatically adjusting the temperature while you’re away, reducing the energy wasted on heating or cooling an empty home.

“Investing in a programmable thermostat is one of the simplest ways to save money on your heating, as you set your heating to turn on and off at specific times throughout the day,” said Max Robinson of Turnbull and Scott Heating.

You can program your thermostat to turn off while you sleep or while you’re at work and turn back on when you wake up or get home, Robinson added.

4. Change Your Air Filter

Your furnace uses air filters to keep dust from clogging your vents and circulating through your home. When the filters are dirty, your system has to work harder to push air through. Air filters are affordable and easy to switch out, and doing so will help your heating system run more efficiently. You should swap out new air filters every few months.

5. Open Your Vents

Closed vents can waste a lot of energy. When you turn on your heat, make sure your vents are open.

“Blocked or closed vents and registers make furnaces work harder than they should,” Ciresi said. “Blocked vents do not allow for proper airflow. The furnace will continue to run but the rooms won’t heat up. Always unblock and open all vents and registers before running the furnace.”

6. Reduce Hot Water

The energy spent heating your water contributes to your heating bill. You can reduce your hot water usage a few different ways: Take shorter showers, avoid the hottest water settings and wash your clothes in cold water.

Water heaters are often set at a higher temperature than is needed. You can lower your water heater’s base temperature to 120 degrees, which is sufficiently hot for most household needs.

7. Use a Space Heater for Small Rooms

Smaller rooms can be heated by an electric space heater. While this method still uses electricity, it’s far more energy efficient than using gas heat.

“The rest of the house will be cooler, but this shouldn’t be an issue if your entire family is gathered in one room,” Robinson said.

8. Check Your Outlets

Even your outlets can leak air and reduce the energy efficiency of your home. Make sure to check your outlets for drafts.

“Electrical outlets in exterior walls are usually a major source of drafts, as it is rare for insulation to be used in these areas, and when it is it is often incorrectly installed,” Robinson said. “Luckily it’s easy to correct this. Use a simple foam sealant to fill any gaps around the outlet, and place a gasket over the front of the outlet.”

9. Check Your Insulation

Your walls, attic and other home areas must be properly insulated. If not, the temperature will be much harder to control. Make sure to check your insulation, or hire a professional if you’re not sure how.

10. Find an Alternative Payment Plan

Many energy companies provide alternative payment plans. Some will reduce your bill for reducing your energy consumption, while other plans might lower your payments based on income. Check with your energy provider to see what alternative plans they offer.

If you’re doing things yourself, you may want to consider funding these projects with a store credit card that offers you rewards for your purchases. (You can read our review of the Home Depot credit card here.) Before you apply for any new plastic, it’s always a good idea to review your credit so you know what types of cards you may qualify for. You can see two of your scores free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

11. Change Your Attire

If you’re cold, you can always turn down the temperature a few degrees and bundle up. Don’t neglect your feet and head, areas that can lose a lot of body heat. Fuzzy socks and a knit hat should do the trick. And if you’re looking to escape the heat? Try a bathing suit and a cool body of water — You can see 28 ideas on how to save for your next big adventure here.

Inspired to do some renovations? Before you head out to your local hardware store, you may want to check out our 6 ways to save at Lowe’s and Home Depot.

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10 Tips for Doing Whole30 on a Budget

With proper planning, you can try the Whole30 diet and stick to your grocery budget.

If you’re just now starting on your New Year’s resolution to get healthy, you might find yourself considering the Whole30 program. The latest diet craze, which is meant to be a sort of physical reset button, requires you to cut out grains, sugars, alcohol, processed foods, legumes and dairy for a full 30 days. So basically you feast on meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and eggs.

Lots of people are jumping on the bandwagon, and not without reason. Changing your eating habits in this way can help you find trigger foods that cause you problems. And this kind of structured diet can set you on your way to a true long-term lifestyle change. (Of course, every person’s different and, if you have concerns about changing your diet, you might want to consult a professional before getting started.)

But there’s a big financial catch: The Whole30 diet can be expensive!

My husband and I have been doing a Whole30, and it’s definitely increased our grocery budget. On the one hand, this is fine. I’m OK with paying a little more for food that I know is better for my body. But I don’t want to pay a lot more, especially since we plan to stick with this style of eating for much longer than 30 days.

Doing a Whole30 may increase your grocery budget, but it doesn’t have to blow it out of the water. (That would seriously damage your wallet  —and your credit. You can keep an eye on how your scores are doing for free on Credit.com.) If you decide to try this way of eating, use these tips to keep from spending way too much.

1. Don’t Worry About Going Organic

The Whole30 guide suggests going organic. After all, you want to cut out all the nastiness from the food you put into your body. But if you can’t afford organic meat, fruits and veggies, don’t sweat it. Consider just purchasing organic if your produce is on the “dirty dozen” list of foods most impacted by pesticides. The bottom line: Even conventional fruits and veggies are much better than processed foods. So go with what you can afford.

2. Get Familiar With the Best Prices

Now is a great time to get familiar with different grocery stores in your area. We personally try not to make more than two stops on our Saturday morning shopping trips. You may find it’s worth your while to make three or more stops. Consider shopping outside of the big box stores. Try your local Trader Joe’s for Whole30-approved snacks like plantain chips. We love Aldi for scoring most of our meat and produce at great prices, and local farmer’s markets may have in-season produce for a steal.

3. Keep Emergency Snacks on Hand

The first couple of weeks of Whole30 can be rough, I won’t lie. I was hungry basically all the time and really craved carbs. This is totally normal, but you can push through it. It’s a good idea to keep emergency snacks on hand so you can stick to your eating plan. Some options include nuts (buy in bulk and portion them into small packages), fruit (apples and bananas keep well in the car or a purse), and, in a pinch, certain Larabars (when on sale!). Emergency food can also keep you from dining out, which is confusing, frustrating and even more expensive when you’re on a Whole30.

4. Plan Your Meals

I’ve always been a meal planner, but I’ve gotten even more serious about it since starting the Whole30. Now I know each day what we’ll have for dinner. I plan everything on Saturday before we grocery shop. When you plan your meals, you don’t buy extra food that ends up spoiling. And if you really want to be cheap, you can make just enough extra food to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Freezer Aisle

You might think eating Whole30 would mean all-raw fruits and veggies. But that’s not the case. In fact, oven-roasted veggies drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar are our favorites right now. And those can be made with frozen veggies as easily as fresh ones. You can also save on meats, fish and berries when you buy frozen rather than fresh.

6. Try Some Canned Items

Cheap canned goods aren’t off limits. You’ll want to read labels to make sure nothing weird has been added to your canned veggies or tuna. (Some canned tuna has added sugar.) Once you find brands and types you know are compliant, you can work them into loads of different meals to stretch those savings.

7. Choose Conventional Lean Meats

Organic grass-fed meats are the best option, but they’re also super-expensive. If you can’t afford this type of meat, don’t sweat it. However, you’ll probably want to steer clear of fattier cuts of conventional meats. The worst of the toxins stored in a cut of meat will be in the fat. So just go with leaner cuts while you’re doing your detox.

8. Get Used to Making Eggs

The Whole30 relies heavily on protein and fat to keep you feeling full and satiated without a constant intake of carbohydrates. One way to get both of these macronutrients without spending a load of money is with eggs. Keep hardboiled eggs on hand for an easy snack. Make a sweet potato hash with eggs for breakfast. Serve a frittata for dinner. Just generally get comfortable with making eggs every which way, and they’ll save you money while keeping you on track.

9. Skip Expensive Whole30-fied Products

Yes, you can buy Whole30-fied beef jerky, mayonnaise and salad dressing. But these products can be hard to find and very pricey. If you need to stick to a budget, make them yourself or cut them out of your diet altogether. I discovered in this journey that making mayo is incredibly simple and cost-effective. And homemade mayo makes a delicious chicken salad!

10. Keep it Simple

There are loads of great Whole30 recipes online. Pinterest is chock full of them. Many include a variety of delicious spices, veggies you’ve never heard of and interesting cooking techniques. And this is definitely a good time to expand your palate with some new tastes. However, don’t go crazy with the brand-new recipes, especially those that will require you to buy a bunch of new spices or cooking equipment. Instead, keep things simple. A piece of grilled meat and some roasted veggies will do.

Following this popular eating plan can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be too hard on your wallet. With the proper planning, you can succeed at the Whole30 and stick to your grocery budget, too.

Still looking for ways to chop down your food costs? Check out these tips for how to eat for less than $6 a day

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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Here’s Your Ultimate Spring Cleaning Shopping List

Spring cleaning is hard work. But with the right tools, sprucing up your home can take a little less elbow grease.

It’s been a long winter, and hibernating has not done us any favors — many of us have probably put off giving our caves a deep spring cleaning. But now that it’s (mostly) above freezing, it’s time to throw open those windows, let in some fresh air and get scrubbing.

A few friendly financial notes before you get going: While you’re sprucing up your home, it might be a good time to do the same with your finances. You can begin by getting a free credit report snapshot, updated every two weeks, on Credit.com. Also, be sure you don’t go overboard when it comes to buying Spring cleaning supplies. If you’re good about staying on budget, consider a solid shopping credit card to reap rewards off of your purchases. Just be sure to pay that balance off at the end of the month, so you don’t wind up losing those points, miles or cash back to interest.

With all that money stuff in mind, here’s what you need to know before you tackle the deepest clean of the year.

1. Spring Cleaning Tools

Sure, you’ve been vacuuming all along, but it’s time to go deeper. There’s no need to scrub on your hands and knees or wrestle with a mop. The Duop System ($29.99 and up) can be used with a handle or your hand. Created for professional cleaners, it’s designed to reduce the risk of injury while cleaning. The handle height is easy to adjust, whether you’re dusting the ceiling or washing the kitchen floor. The interchangeable microfiber pads, which come in a variety of sizes, can be used dry or wet, moistened with water or a mild cleanser.

For other areas, Leslie Reichert, green cleaning coach and author of The Joy Of Green Cleaning likes the General Purpose Cloth or the Kitchen Cloth from e-cloth ($7.99 each). Like the Duop, the cloths are microfiber so they often require nothing but water.

“If you have some spots that have a buildup of grease, you can spray the area with a touch of rubbing alcohol to break up the buildup and then wipe with the e-cloth,” she said. “The fibers in the cloth work to get underneath the dirt and lift it off without harming even delicate surfaces, like cabinets.”

As you move around the house with your Duop and e-cloth, bring your water in a lightweight bucket, like the colorful Kikkerland Collapsible Bucket ($10). When you’re done cleaning, it collapses flat for easy storage.

2. All-Purpose Cleaner

For tasks that require more than water, there’s no need to purchase a product with a long list of mysterious — and potentially toxic — ingredients. The Force of Nature Electrolyzed Cleaning Starter Kit ($59.95) converts salt, water and vinegar into a powerful cleaner by electrolyzing them. The kit includes everything you need to create several batches of non-toxic, fragrance-free cleaning solution. It also comes with travel-sized spray bottles to take on the go.

3. The Many Uses of Vinegar

Alyssa Kaldahl, merchandising manager at women’s apparel site Jane.com, suggests using vinegar for tough cleaning jobs. For instance, use equal parts vinegar and water on a sock to clean your blinds. Cleaning the fridge is a dreaded spring cleaning task, but here’s her fix.

“Throw away any expired food and then wipe down all the shelves and drawers with vinegar mixed with water in a spray bottle,” she said. “You can also add some lemon or other citrus essential oil to your mix if you want to leave a nice scent.”

To get out stubborn carpet stains, she suggests spraying the spot with one part vinegar and two parts water, putting a damp rag over the spot and ironing the rag. Repeat until stain is gone.

4. Homemade Stain Remover

Lisa Batra, founder of My Kid’s Threads, an online consignment shop for kids’ clothes, knows stains. She said while it’s ideal to treat a stain ASAP, her team often doesn’t know how long a stain has been there. They inspect about 1,000 items each week and have had success with a homemade stain-remover recipe:

Combine one tablespoon baking soda, four tablespoons dish soap and eight tablespoons hydrogen peroxide in a small container and stir well. “Apply directly to the stain and rub gently with your finger, a piece of fabric or an old toothbrush,” she said. “Allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes and then wash normally.”

For surface stains, like on cabinets or counters, decluttering expert Kelly McClenahan, of the Live Uncluttered blog on PriceSelfStorage.com, suggests Mr. Clean MagicErasers ($5.76 at Walmart — check out our review of the Walmart credit card here).

“Use them to remove almost any surface stains, especially the burner areas of the flat-top stove and those occasional crayon marks you may find on your walls,” McClenahan said.

She also recommends using cotton swabs and old toothbrushes “to get down to the details with hard-to-reach, itty-bitty spaces.”

5. Get Organized

According to McClenahan, no spring cleaning is complete without sorting your stuff. “Box up items you no longer need in your home,” she said. “Separate things you want to keep, store, donate and trash.”

A great way to organize the items that you’re keeping but not using currently is to store them in boxes with labels. The Brother P-Touch Label Maker ($39.99 at Staples) is fun and easy to use. It has different fonts and modes to add your own flair. For storage boxes, my go-to is the Container Store, which carries boxes of virtually any size, shape or color.

If you’re worried more about your wallet than your abode as winter breaks, we’ve got 50 ways to give your finances a fresh start right here.

Image: omgimages

The post Here’s Your Ultimate Spring Cleaning Shopping List appeared first on Credit.com.

How Your Tax Refund Can Help Your Score Better Credit

Use your tax refund the right way and it could help build your credit.

If you’re getting a tax refund this year, you’ve got three major options when it comes to using the money: You can save it. You can invest it. Or you can splurge. But break things down a little further, and that check (back) from Uncle Sam can help you build credit, too. For serious.

Here are six ways your tax refund could help you build — or even establish — your credit scores.

1. Pay Down Credit Card Balances

Second rule of credit scores: Keep your debt level below at least 30% (and ideally 10%) of your total available credit. Anything beyond that is bad for your credit utilization ratio. If you’re over that limit or, worse yet, bumping up against your limits, putting your tax refund toward your credit card balances can help improve your credit score. Better yet …

2. Pay Off High-Interest Credit Card Debt

Because those balances are going to spike pretty fast. Plus, you’ll be saving money in the long run. Good rule of thumb when it comes to dealing with multiple credit card balances: Make all your minimums, but put more money toward either the smallest (because motivation) or the one with the highest annual percentage rate (because, like we said, it’ll cost you less). You can see how your credit card use is affecting your credit by viewing two of your scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

3. Get a Secured Credit Card …

If you’ve got thin-to-no credit, consider using your tax refund to open a secured credit card. Secured credit cards are easier to get than other types of credit cards because they require the cardholder put down a deposit (usually $200 to $300) that serves as the credit line. (Or vice versa. That’s a little bit of a chicken-or-the-egg thing.) In any event, if you’re close to cash-strapped, you can use your tax refund to open the card. That line of credit will help you establish a payment history, the most important factor among credit scores — so long as you pay your charges off by their due date, of course.

4 … Or a Credit-Builder Loan

Credit-builder loans, available at your local bank or credit union, are essentially the installment loan version of a secured credit card. You “borrow” money (that’s where you tax refund comes in), which gets put in a savings account, then you make a series of monthly payments and get access to the money once the “loan” is paid in full. Credit-builder loans usually involve paying some interest on the money you’re borrowing/depositing, but they basically provide people who otherwise don’t have credit with the opportunity to build some.

5. Pay Off That Collections Account

OK, here’s the thing: Paying a collection account probably won’t get that item off of your credit report. Legally, it can stay there for seven years plus 180 days from the date of the delinquency that immediately preceded collection activity (more on how long other stuff stays on your credit report right here). And there’s no guarantee it’ll boost your score once it’s paid off.

Still, most credit scoring models treat paid collections differently than unpaid ones (they tend to carry less weight) and the newest scores actually ignore paid collections entirely. Plus, some collectors are changing their tune when it comes to pay for removal deals and immediately reporting the account to the credit bureaus.

Quick side note: We’re talking about legitimate collection accounts here, so if a collector comes calling, be sure to verify the account belongs to you. There are debt collection scammers out there and it’s not unheard of for a legitimate collector to get the wrong guy. Under federal law, collectors are required to send written verification of a debt to a debtor five days after first contact, so that slip of paper should give you an idea of whether you’re liable for the payment.

6. Start an Emergency Fund

Yeah, we know, money in a savings account isn’t going to do anything for your credit score … right now. But socking away some dollars for a rainy day can keep you from going to the old credit card when one comes. And that’ll keep your credit utilization on the right side of 30%. Plus, you’ll skip the interest. If you’re not carrying any debt and your credit is in OK shape, consider putting Uncle Sam’s check in a high or at least higher-yield savings account. Your credit score may thank you down the line.

Not getting a tax refund this year? No worries, we’ve got more ways you can fix your credit here.

Got more questions about building credit? Ask away in the comments section and one of our experts will try to help!

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The post How Your Tax Refund Can Help Your Score Better Credit appeared first on Credit.com.