50 Free Things You Can Get This Year

You want some free stuff? Come and get it!

What’s that you say? You like free things? Well, you’re in luck. We’ve rounded up 50 of our favorite things that you can get absolutely free. A few are tied to specific dates and age groups, but for the most part, everything here is free (at least as of press time) for the taking whenever you want it.

So, without further ado, here are 50 things that are totally free and totally awesome that you can get right now or anytime this year.

1. Free Chocolate

We wanted to start this list off right, so, yes, free chocolate. Join the Godiva Rewards Club and you will be eligible for a free piece of chocolate. Every. Single. Month.

2. Free Food at Grocery Stores

Take advantage of the free samples at your local grocer to not only get a free meal while you shop, but to also become familiar with new products. Most stores bring in sample tables during their busiest times – usually on weekends. So skip lunch and head to the grocery store. And check out other things grocery stores will do for you for free right here.

3. Free Food at Restaurants

Lots of restaurants and other food retailers have an annual freebie day. Think free pancakes from IHOP on National Pancake Day, a free doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts, Krispy Kreme and others on National Doughnut Day and even a free Slurpee from 7-Eleven on July 11 (that’s 7/11 if you missed it.)

4. Free Kid Meals

A lot of restaurants, especially chains, offer free or close-to-free kids meals. For a list of restaurants in your area, type “kids eat free” into your search engine.

5. Free Admission to National Parks

Throughout the year certain national parks do not charge entry fees. But each year there are free admission days to all of the national parks. You can check out the free-admission schedule here.

6. Free Admission to Museums & Cultural Events

Washington, D.C., is filled with free art and cultural events thanks to government funding. Head to the Smithsonian American Art Museum or the Phillips Collection and admission will be free. The monuments? Free. National Portrait Gallery? National Air and Space Museum? Free, free, free.

7. Free Credit Scores

Knowing where your credit stands and the impact your financial actions have on your them is important. You can get two absolutely free credit scores right here on Credit.com.

8. Free Credit Reports

Like your credit score, it’s important to keep track of your credit reports as well. They can affect your interest and insurance rates, as well as your ability to land a job or apartment, so it pays to make sure they’re accurate. You can get your free credit reports from all three credit bureaus every year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

9. Free Books

You can download digital copies of thousands of books at Gutenberg.org or the University of Pennsylvania online books page, and you won’t pay a penny to do so. That’s because the copyrights on these books have expired, so they’ve entered the public domain. Some of these books also are available for free through online retailers like Amazon.com and iTunes.com.

10. Free Audiobooks

Likewise, LibriVox.org offers public domain audiobooks for free for anyone to listen to, on their computers, iPods or other mobile devices or to burn onto a CD. And if you’d like to record a reading of one of the books for others to listen to, LibriVox is always looking for volunteers.

11. Free Music, for Listening …

You probably already know you can listen to as much free music as you like (with advertisements, of course) with apps like Pandora and Spotify, but it’s worth mentioning because they’re FREE.

12. … & for Creative Use

The Free Music Archive is an interactive library of audio downloads provided by WFMU. Inspired by Creative Commons and the open source software movement, the FMA provides a legal and technological framework for curators, artists and listeners to harness the potential of music sharing. Each MP3 has varying copyright laws, so you’ll need to check out each rights holders terms of use, but there’s a lot of amazing music to be had.

13. Free Coding Classes

Whether you’re looking at a career change or just self-edification, if you’ve ever wanted to learn to code, FreeCodeCamp.com is offering you the chance to do so.

14. Free Design Content

Are you a photographer, designer or other creative looking for free fonts, software add-ons and graphic elements for your projects? Creative Market offers a rotating basket of freebies each week available for your creative endeavors.

15. Free Font Help

Ever wonder what font is being used for that logo or sign? If so, What the Font can help. You can upload the logo and in a few simple steps, this app will show you a list of possible fonts.

16. Free Online Fundraising

If you’re looking to finance your product or startup and are considering crowdsourcing the funds but want to keep 100% of the money you raise, you might want to check out Redbasket, the crowdsourcing site that charges no fees and doesn’t take a cut of your donations.

17. Free Credit Calculators

These interactive calculators can help you prepare for everything from getting an auto or home loan to planning for retirement and setting savings goals. Our calculators provide instant results with no need to fill out complicated forms.

18. Free Credit Consultation

If you need help getting your credit back on track, or getting rid of some errors on your credit reports, a credit consultation might be just the thing. You can get a free credit consultation at Lexington Law. (Full Disclosure: Lexington Law is a Credit.com partner.) You can learn more about disputing errors on your credit report here.

19. Free Credit Card Perks

If you have a credit card, you may want to take a look at your cardholder agreement to ensure you’re getting the most value out of your card that you can. Many cards offer perks like rental car insurance coverage, extended warranties on purchases made with the card and other valuable offers. If your card doesn’t offer these things, you might want to comparison shop some other credit cards.

20. Free Hotel Stays

Want free hotel stays? One of the fastest ways to get them is by using a hotel rewards credit card. Here’s a roundup of some of the our favorite hotel rewards credit cards. If that’s not your thing, you could always join a hotel loyalty program and earn points that will ultimately earn you free stays. (It’s faster with the credit card, though.)

21. Free Flights

Same goes for airlines. An airline miles credit card is your fastest route to earning free airline travel, but you can also join your preferred carrier’s rewards program to earn points. Doing both, however, is the fastest way to rack up points.

22. Free Carry-On Luggage

Tired of paying to take your bag on the plane with you? Consider flying with Southwest Airlines, which allows two free carry-on bags per customer, or with JetBlue, which allows one free carry-on.

23. Free Tour Guides

Want to see your next travel destination through the eyes of a local? And not pay for it? Well, you’re in luck. Global Greeter Network’s vetted volunteers can show you the area for free with a strict no-tips-allowed policy. They can show you the sites they love or plan an excursion centered around things you want to see and do.

24. Free Travel Planning

Have a road trip in your near future? You’ll want to check out Roadtrippers before you put on your driving gloves. Just tell them your starting point and destination, and the site will provide information on must-see attractions and budget-friendly accommodations along the way.

25. Free Tax Preparation

If you need help preparing your income taxes, check out the IRS’s Free File program. You’ll qualify for free tax preparation software if your adjusted gross income is $64,000 or less. And if you made less than $54,000 last year, you could qualify for tax help through the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Want to know more? Check out our ultimate guide to filing your taxes for free here.

26. Free Financial Tools

Want to track your net worth, plan for your retirement and even analyze your portfolio? All in one place? And all for free? Personal Capital has the tools to let you do that. As they say on their website, “Our free financial tools make it easy to manage your entire financial life in one place.”

27. Free Oil & Battery Recycling

If you change your oil yourself, you know it can be a hassle to dispose of the oil you’ve drained from your car. Advance Auto Parts makes it easy. And free. For your used battery as well.

28. Free Mulch & Compost

Many municipalities offer free mulch and compost for home gardeners. Contact your city’s parks and recreation department to see what options are available.

29. Free Pest Inspection

Got bugs? Terminix will do a free pest inspection of your home, as well as a termite inspection. Be sure to ask about any available discounts if you decide to go with their recommended treatment plan.

30. Free Package Pickup

Need to ship a package but don’t have time or transportation to get to the post office? A postal carrier will pick up your package for you, free of charge. You’ll still have to pay for the shipping, but at least you don’t have to stand in line at the post office.

31. Free College Tuition

It’s a growing movement in the United States, with New York being the latest state to offer free tuition to state universities. Check out what options are available to you through your state’s education department or by using a tool like Get Schooled’s free tuition finder.

32. Free Career Training

The Student Career Experience Program is a paid student program that lets participants get work experience directly related to their academic field of study. According to Benefits.gov, “it provides formal periods of work and study while you are attending school. It requires a commitment by you, your school, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. You may be eligible for permanent employment after successfully completing your education and meeting work requirements.”

33. Free Assistance for Starting a Small Business

The Small Business Administration offers numerous resources to help you learn about what it takes to start a business and keep it growing.

34. Free Pet Care

If you’re having trouble affording your pet, whether feeding or medical care, the Humane Society has a list of resources that can help. Some even offer services free of charge.

35. Free Pet Safety Stickers

If your home is ever on fire or there is some other life-threatening situation, these stickers from the ASPCA will let neighbors and rescue workers know that your furry loved ones are in the house so they can take appropriate action.

36. Free Digital Estate Planning

You’re going to die someday. We all will, so might as well prepare for the inevitable. Dead Man’s Switch lets you create a secure email that will be sent out to your designated family and/or friends so you can make sure they have all of your important information, like usernames, passwords, bank account and other details. How does it work? The company sends you periodic messages asking if you’re still alive. If you someday don’t respond, it activates your email.

37. Free Price Checking

Ever wonder if you’re really saving on that Amazon purchase, but don’t feel like driving all the way to the store just to see? Services like Honey or CamelCamelCamel can help you compare prices quickly to ensure you’re getting the very best deal.

38. Free Broadband Speed Test

If you’re experiencing some slowness on your computer you may want to check to see just how fast your connection is. You can do that for free using the broadband speed test at Speedtest.net.

39. Free Samples

Want to try some new products, or get teeny-tiny tubes you can travel with? You can get everything from toothpaste and shampoo to mouthwash and more by visiting blogs and sites that compile free offers. Some to consider are Hey, It’s Free!, Mr. Free Stuff and FreeStuffFinder.com.

There’s also a Freebies Subreddit that does much the same thing for all Redditors out there in search of free stuff.

40. Free Used Items

In need of some wooden pallets? Maybe a garden rake or a lamp that needs to be rewired? Craigslist has a “Free Stuff” category that lets people post their unwanted items that are free for the taking. Check out the listings in your area.

41. Free Beauty Kit

If you like makeup, you probably like Sephora. And if you become a “Beauty Insider” you’ll have your choice of a free beauty gift each year.

42. Free Hearing Test

AARP members (only people age 50 or older are eligible for membership) can get a free hearing test over the phone. Membership to AARP is $16 per year and comes with multiple other benefits and discounts that more than pay for the membership costs.

43. Free Phone for Hearing Impaired

This service, funded by the Federal Communications Commission, gives free phones to people who have medically recognized hearing loss. Users are able to read what the person on the other end of the line is saying. Learn more at CaptionCall.com.

44. Free Prescription Drugs

Some supermarket pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies offer generic drugs for free to low-income patients without prescription drug insurance. Contact your pharmacy or search the RxAssist database to find free medication through drug companies’ patient assistance programs.

45. Residential Repair Services

Seniors needing minor work done around their house can reach out to their local government offices for the aging to see what services might be available. Keep in mind that the labor through these programs is offered for free but all necessary supplies will need to be paid for by the resident.

46. Free Baby Supplies

Babies are expensive, but lots of companies offer assistance for families who need a little help. Need formula? Similac offers free infant formula samples. You also can sign up with diaper manufacturers like Pampers to get free samples.

47. Free Birthday Treats

There are literally hundreds of restaurants and retailers that give away free birthday goodies, especially for loyalty club members. Offerings include everything from free desserts and surprise gifts to full meals, all for free. Check out your favorite company’s website to see what’s available.

48. Free Shipping

If you’re still paying for shipping on purchases, well, why? There are dozens of retailers that offer free shipping on all items year ‘round.

49. Free Uber Rides

Next time you need a ride, first check for the latest promo codes to see if any of them will offer you a sweet deal on getting to your destination. Groupon and other online coupon sites also offer deeply discounted fares when you buy in advance.

50. Free Wedding Swag

Planning a wedding? Check out sites like WeddingVibe, which offers giveaways for all sorts of free stuff for your wedding. From photo sessions for you and your spouse-to-be to shopping sprees and more.

Taking advantage of free stuff is one way to stay on budget. We’ve got 50 more ways to stay out of debt right here

Note: It’s important to remember that terms and conditions on 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 providers directly.

 

Image: Eva-Katalin

The post 50 Free Things You Can Get This Year appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Ways to Save Money at Applebee’s

Addicted to Applebee's? Make sure you follow these tips to squeeze every last dime out of your visits.

When I was younger, I was a huge fan of Applebee’s. Especially to save money while in college, my friends and I would catch a movie then go to Applebee’s for half-price appetizers. My personal favorite was the wings. They were so crispy and juicy. And they were half off!

We would get a double order each – oh to have the metabolism of a teenager again.

To enjoy a meal at Applebee’s without breaking the bank, here are a few good tips.

It’s important to note that not all Applebee’s run the same deals. There can be some variation across the country, so check with your local location to see what offers are available for you. For example, some Applebee’s in Central Florida are standouts, as they started Club Applebee’s where the restaurant turns into a nightclub after 10 p.m. until closing at 2 a.m. They run half-price appetizers, drink specials and more during this time, but this is not something that is available nationwide.

1. Happy Hour & Late Night Specials

Applebee’s runs two specials during the day – an afternoon happy hour and a late-night special.

The happy hour time for many locations is between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Most Applebee’s have drink specials that include discounts on adult beverages plus half off on select appetizers. If you can’t get there early, you can try to get there late. At most Applebee’s, late-night deals take effect after 9 p.m. It’s usually the same discount on adult beverages and half price on select appetizers.

2. 2 for $20 Menu

Applebee’s has a 2 for $20 Menu where you can get an appetizer and two full-size entrees for $20 or $25. You don’t get the full menu and it’s a limited selection for the deal but many popular options are available.

These entrees can cost up to $15 each, so by pairing up with a friend you can save money on your meal and get an appetizer to share.

3. Get the App & Order Online

Applebee’s has online ordering service called Applebee’s Carside to Go that you can use to order food for pickup.

As of publication date, for your first order, you can use the coupon code 5OFF25 at checkout and get $5 off your first order of more than $25.

4. Join Their Email Club

When you sign up for the Applebee’s email club, you get the occasional promotional email with coupons and discounts but also a free dessert on your birthday. Many restaurants offer free food on your birthday so if this is something you’re after, you may want to sign up with all your favorite eateries.

5. Kids Eat Free

Many Applebee’s locations allow kids 12 and under to free on certain days of the week when an adult purchases a full-price entree. If you have kids and plan on dining at Applebee’s, find out if your local restaurant offers such a deal so you can save.

6. Buy a Gift Card Online

There are many reputable gift card marketplaces online and you can buy gift cards at a big discount from people who want to get rid of them.

7. Use a Rewards Credit Card

If you dine out often, you may want to consider paying the bill with a credit card, like one of these, that helps you earn extra at restaurants.

Want more dining out hacks? We’ve got 11 ways to save at restaurants right here. And, if there’s a particular eatery you’d like us to tackle next, let us know in the comments below. 

Image: monkeybusinessimages

The post 7 Ways to Save Money at Applebee’s appeared first on Credit.com.

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.

Image: monkeybusinessimages

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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.

Image: DGLimages

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Things You Need to Know if You Want to Master Your Money

master-your-money

It’s ironic people shy away from talking to others about money, considering everyone has to deal with it. But instead taking advantage of this shared experience, a lot of people keep their questions to themselves and outwardly pretend they understand what they’re doing with money. Only once they’ve dug themselves in a hole do they start asking for help.

No one is born understanding personal finance. It’s mostly on you to figure it out as you go, which doesn’t always work out well.

“Typically in America you don’t learn about these things — you don’t learn about debt and interest,” according to Alex Sadler, managing editor of Clark.com, the namesake site of personal finance and early retirement icon Clark Howard. “You’re handed a credit card … and it’s up to you to read the fine print. People get into serious trouble.”

Sadler knows this not only because of the people who ask questions on Clark.com but also because of her own experiences. “I maxed out credit cards, I had a student loan I didn’t understand, and living that way and not changing my lifestyle, I realized that that was going to prevent me from doing things in my life that I wanted to do.”

Ideally, people would get to know how money and credit works before they start using it, not the other way around. But that backwardness is often the reality of Americans’ personal finances, which is why Sadler and the Clark.com team started a new project called CommonCents.

“A lot of problems people face is not understanding what they are trying to tackle,” Sadler said. “A lot of times people … they think they have tried (to get out of debt) and they just don’t understand how it all works and how to make that attempt and effort successful.”

We asked Sadler about some of the core concepts that people need to know — but often overlook — in order to master their finances. Here’s what she said.

1. Understand Interest

Sadler said this is a common issue among people who reach out to Clark for help getting out of credit card debt.

“A lot of people think because they’re paying the minimum monthly payments they’re not getting charged interest,” she said. This, of course, is totally false. It’s not that making the minimum monthly payment isn’t a way to get out of debt — it’s just that it can take an extremely long time.

So, how does interest work? As far as credit cards go, you can get a sense of it by using this free credit card payoff calculator (and if you have credit card debt, the tool can help you make a plan to pay it off.)

2. Learn What it Means to Budget

It’s perhaps the core tenet of personal finance: Budgeting. But you can’t hope to budget if you don’t really understand what it means.

“Budgeting means making sense of your money: How much money are you making? How much money are you spending?” Sadler said. Budgeting, no matter how you do it, boils down to one thing: “Spend less than you make. You’re living paycheck to paycheck? You’re not spending less than you make.”

That brings us to her next point:

3. Know Your Numbers

“The majority of people that Clark talks to about debt, the first thing he asks is, ‘OK, you have credit card debt — how much do you owe?’ The majority of the time, this person asking the question does not know the answer,” Sadler said. “How do you plan to pay off your debt if you don’t know what you’re facing?”

That’s only part of the spend-less-than-you-make equation. Knowing your take-home earnings, your debt, your spending, your assets — these are all things that can help you make smart financial decisions every day that will also make sense years in the future, Sadler said.

Image: macniak

The post Things You Need to Know if You Want to Master Your Money appeared first on Credit.com.

I Tried to Live on $3 of Food a Day — While Still Shopping at Whole Foods

saving-money-on-groceries

When I first decided to do this little experiment, I’d agreed to try to feed my family for $5 per person per day, so I sat down and took a look at my grocery spending over the last few months, crunched some numbers, and … uh-oh…

Was it really possible we were already eating on roughly $5 per day? Yep, we were. My average grocery spend per week runs $80. For the two of us, that’s $5.71 per day per person. I needed a bigger challenge, or so I thought. Could I feed us for just $3 each per day? Seemed reasonable.

What I didn’t take into account as I was working my figures was that we typically eat out once or twice a week, so that $5.71 actually looked a bit more like $8. Still not a lot, but significantly more than the $3 goal I’d rather arrogantly set for myself.

I decided I was going to try it anyway, and, unsurprisingly, I didn’t come as close to that goal as I’d wanted. I also wasn’t willing to give up some things or shop somewhere cheaper. That, after all, was the challenging aspect of this. I mean, sure I could feed us 99-cent ramen noodles all week, but I wanted to be realistic. And eat some vegetables.

I did manage to cut my already frugal grocery spending by about half, though: $4.14 each, or right at $58 for a week’s worth of groceries.

Full Disclosure

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, we are mostly vegan – no dairy, no meat, no animal products in general – but we do include the occasional seafood and eggs in our diet. That said, I shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods, which I’ve heard some of my friends say they simply can’t afford. I suppose if I, too, were trying to feed a growing, teenage bottomless pit, I’d probably say that as well. But for just the two of us, it’s perfectly affordable and we eat really well-balanced meals and snacks without feeling deprived in the least. However – here’s two more disclosures – I cook. Every day.

But back to feeding us both for $58 for a week … Here’s how I did it.

First, I looked at what we were currently eating and how I could pare that back. I also considered that I’d be adding two dinner meals since we wouldn’t be eating out. Did we need the chocolate chip vegan cookies in the afternoon as a snack? What about lunch? Did I really need that amazing wheat-based, fake bacon I love on sandwiches? Or the bread I ate it on? Nope. We’d definitely have to say so long to our seafood protein options during this experiment. Yes, there were definitely some things we could do without in the short term.

I worked up my menu plan for the first week, keeping it super simple and rotating just three dishes for breakfast, three for lunch and three for dinner through the week (which also ensured I wouldn’t have any food waste) estimated the costs of the necessary ingredients and headed to the grocery store (also, I didn’t include staple pantry items like salt, pepper, olive oil, etc., or herbs from my garden in my costs). Here’s my menu:

Breakfast

  1. Bircher muesli with apple, cinnamon and almonds
  2. Oatmeal with dried apricots
  3. Tofu scramble taco

I’ve written about oatmeal before and how incredibly inexpensive it can be. It’s a staple in our diet, especially in winter when it’s warm and comforting. It’s also delicious in summer as a cold Bircher muesli. Since it was the end of summer when I did this experiment, I made both.

Lunch

  1. Pasta with kale, mushrooms and cannellini beans
  2. Green salad with baked tofu and roasted broccoli
  3. Chilled broccoli and potato soup (this uses up the stems, which cost less and taste great)

Dinner

  1. Beans, greens and cornbread
  2. Spinach enchiladas with rice and beans
  3. Gazpacho soup

Here’s my shopping list:

1 lb. bulk oats — $2

1 apple — $0.40

20 bulk raw almonds — $0.87

10 dried bulk apricots — $0.57

1 package firm organic tofu — $2.45

6 whole wheat tortillas — $2.69

1 quart almond milk — $4.25

1 package farfalloni pasta — $3.27

2 lbs. kale — $6

1 lb. bulk mushrooms — $5

2 cans cannellini beans — $2

2 heads lettuce — $4

2 heads broccoli, with stems — $3.75

1 large potato — $0.90

1 lb. bulk pinto beans — $3.58

2 cups bulk corn meal — $3.22

2 heads spinach — $2.87

1 lb. bulk rice — $2.25

1 lb. tomatoes — $3.25

1 cucumber — $1.83

1 red onion — $0.87

1 bell pepper — $2

Total: $58.02

Feeding two people for what would amount to a little over $200 a month is an interesting idea to me, and definitely a quick way to pay off any major debts you want to get rid of. But if I had the chance to do it again I probably wouldn’t. It’s actually amazing the flexibility and flavor that just an additional $20 a week spent on groceries affords. Still, it was interesting to see what I could manage to do without drastically changing our diets or going hungry.

A few things to keep in mind if you want to see how little you can spend at the grocery store.

1. Fresh Vegetables Are Your Friends

Variety is the spice of life, and there’s no better way to add variety to your diet than to buy seasonal produce, which is typically cheaper than out-of-season items shipped in from other parts of the world. It’s also a great way to experiment with new recipes and ingredients. Plus, all that roughage can help fill you up, as can the big shot of nutrients fresh veggies provide.

2. Protein & The Basics

If you want to save a ton of money, you’re going to need to rely on basics like legumes and rice that will give you the most nutritional bang for your buck, especially when it comes to protein. Animal proteins are just significantly more expensive.

3. Take Advantage of Coupons & Discounts

I wasn’t able to use coupons for my experiment because they were all for prepared or packaged foods the week I did this. That said, some planning ahead and stocking up on staples with a good shelf life can save you a bundle.

4. Buy in Bulk

Not only are you able to get the exact amount you need, thus cutting down on possible waste, you’re also not paying for the packaging and marketing of that product, so the per unit cost is always less.

If you’re serious about saving money, having a good credit score can help immensely. Your credit can affect your ability to get the best terms and conditions on a mortgage, auto loan or even student loans and credit cards. You can see how your credit scores are faring by checking your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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The post I Tried to Live on $3 of Food a Day — While Still Shopping at Whole Foods appeared first on Credit.com.

The Ultimate Money Checklist to Complete Before Buying a Home

newhome

Image: Xavier Arnau

The post The Ultimate Money Checklist to Complete Before Buying a Home appeared first on Credit.com.

11 States Where $1 Goes the Farthest

how_to_stretch_a_dollar

A dollar isn’t always a dollar, as a recent report makes clear. Sometimes it’s $1.15. Other times it’s less than 85 cents, and it all boils down to where you live.

That’s the finding of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which published in July its report for 2014 prices for household consumption across the country. Your dollar will go a lot farther — 30% farther, in fact — in states like Mississippi and Arkansas than it will in places like Washington, D.C., and Hawaii.

The states where your dollar (rounded to the nearest cent) is worth the most are:

1. Mississippi ($1.15)

2. Arkansas ($1.14)

3. Alabama ($1.14)

4. South Dakota ($1.14)

5. Kentucky ($1.13)

6. West Virginia ($1.12)

7. Ohio ($1.12)

8. Missouri ($1.12)

9. Oklahoma ($1.11)

10. Tennessee ($1.11)

11. Iowa ($1.11)

In all, the cost of living in 35 states was below the national average, the report showed. The Tax Foundation used the numbers to create a map showing a comparison of the value of $100 in each state across the country:

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 9.43.59 AM

The areas where your dollar is worth the least are the District of Columbia (85 cents), Hawaii (86 cents), New York (86 cents), New Jersey (87 cents), and California (89 cents).

Methodology

The BEA used regional price parities (RPPs) calculated by using price quotes for a wide variety of items related to food, transportation and education, and compared that to the national average. So, if the RPP for area A is found to be 120 and for area B it is 90, then on average, prices are 20% higher and 10% lower than the U.S. average for A and B, respectively.

If the personal income for area A is $12,000 and for area B is $9,000, then RPP-adjusted incomes are $10,000 ($12,000/1.20) and $10,000 ($9,000/0.90), respectively. In other words, the purchasing power of the two incomes is equivalent when adjusted by their respective RPPs.

Stretch Your Dollars — Wherever You Live

Regardless of where you live, credit card debt can be one of the most difficult things to overcome in trying to get ahead financially. Having a high balance on your cards will hurt your credit score, and it can be extremely challenging to break the spending habits that got you into debt in the first place.

Having a poor credit score won’t make you a credit exile — for instance, there are some credit cards for people with bad credit — but it can make your finances more challenging. One of the best ways to improve your credit while tackling debt is to prioritize making payments on time and reducing spending, so you can chip away at your credit card debt rather than add to it.

Paying off your credit card debt may also help you save money. The sooner you pay it off, the less you’re going to pay in interest and can save over time. (You can read this guide for tips on getting out of debt.)

Paying down debt will also improve your credit score. You run the risk of damaging your credit if you are in too much debt and can’t keep up with payments. To see how your debts and spending habits are affecting your finances, you can view your free credit report summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.

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9 Ways to Save on College Textbooks

Heading back to college this fall? One of your biggest expenses (outside of tuition, of course) is likely to be textbooks. The College Board estimates that college students will spend anywhere from $1,200 to $1,300 on books and supplies. That’s a big chunk of change, but there are plenty of ways you can save on textbooks.

1. Avoid the Bookstore, Except for Essentials

While the college bookstore is tempting in all its shiny, fully stocked glory, it’s also generally the last place you want to go to buy textbooks. Even used textbooks at the bookstore typically will be sold at a higher markup than you’ll see online. And the new books often are more expensive there than anywhere else.

One exception to this rule: custom-printed packets assigned by particular professors. Some professors will require custom-printed anthologies or companion books for their classes. These are printed and bound ahead of time, and you won’t be able to get them anywhere but the bookstore.

2. Wait Until After the First Class to Buy

Some college professors are just as fed up with the rising cost of textbooks as their students. Unfortunately, academic departments will sometimes strongarm professors into choosing more expensive books.

Still, some professors will work with students who simply can’t afford to pay $180 for a single textbook. While the expense may be unavoidable in some classes, in others, professors will tell you straight up that you’ll only use a few sections of the textbook over the course. Or they’ll offer supplementary options that are free or really cheap.

While not bringing books to class on the first day may seem like a huge risk, it’s typically not a big deal. That first class day is typically spent discussing the syllabus and course expectations. And you can use that information to gauge which of the following options you want to use to buy, rent, or borrow textbooks for each class.

3. Buy Used Whenever Possible

The market for used college textbooks is huge, since many students buy these books only to use them for a single semester. Chances are there are multiple used book stores near any major college campus, and you can also buy used online from bookselling marketplaces. New books are worth the investment only in limited circumstances, which we’ll discuss later. Otherwise, go for used versions of physical textbooks.

4. Check Out the Price of E-Books

More and more publishers are offering their textbooks in e-book format. This can make sense for most of your classes. Plus, purchasing a slim e-reader and most of your textbooks in e-book format can save you from having to haul loads of heavy textbooks all over campus.

E-books may not always be appropriate, especially if you’re an in-book highlighter or note-taker. But with today’s e-book technology, most books can be “highlighted” and bookmarked virtually, so you can still reference certain passages or sections as needed.

5. Split Costs With a Friend

If you and a friend are taking the same class at different times or between semesters, consider splitting the costs of a used book. This can be tricky to work out, as you need to be sure you each have access to the books when working on homework and going to class. But if you’re taking the same introductory course on different days, textbook sharing can be a viable option.

6. Buy Older Editions

One reason textbooks are so expensive is that they’re constantly “updated,” even when the update involves only very minor edits. For classes with course content that’s stable from year to year, you probably don’t really need the latest edition. And used versions of out-of-date editions can be even cheaper.

Just be aware that page numbers and figures don’t always line up from one edition to the next, so you’ll need to be extra careful that you’re completing the correct coursework. Also, older editions may not work as well for classes like math and science if the professor relies on homework from the book, as questions can change from edition to edition.

7. Try the Library

The campus library or the local public library are both great options for finding copies of more-common books. Libraries may not have a copy of a $175 quantum physics textbook. But they are likely to have copies of many texts used in liberal arts courses. English majors and the like are at a particular advantage here. Many literature classes are built around easy-to-rent classics that are simple to pick up from the library.

One potential caveat to this strategy: availability. If others in your course also borrow their texts from the library, you may be unable to find a copy when you need it. Your best bet is to look well ahead on the syllabus, and to reserve copies of the books you need at least two or three weeks ahead of time.

8. Rent Your Textbooks Online

Textbook rental services are becoming more common these days, and they’re another good option for saving on your overall costs. You can sometimes even rent e-book versions of your textbooks, which are cheaper since you’re not purchasing a lifetime license.

Just be careful if you decide to rent physical textbooks, as they’ll have to be in excellent condition when you return them, or you’ll pay extra fees.

9. Buy Certain New Books Online

Sometimes it does make sense to buy books new. For instance, if your math professor will use the specific homework questions in the latest edition of a book that just released, you’ll have to spring for the new version. Or if you need to purchase workbooks, which some lower-level math courses still use, you’ll need new versions of those.

Also, if you’re an upperclassman, you might consider purchasing new, or used that are in excellent condition, versions of books from some of your senior-level courses. These could be texts that you’ll reference after college once you’re in career-related courses, so having nice versions that will hold up over time can make sense.

[Editor’s Note: While you’re in college, you might not be thinking too much about your credit, but bad credit can be even more costly than your textbooks. That’s why it’s a good idea to check it every now and then so you can make sure your financial future is on track. You can get two free credit scores, updated monthly, at Credit.com. You also can get your free credit reports ever year at AnnualCreditReport.com.]

Image: skynesher

The post 9 Ways to Save on College Textbooks appeared first on Credit.com.

9 Ways to Save on College Textbooks

Heading back to college this fall? One of your biggest expenses (outside of tuition, of course) is likely to be textbooks. The College Board estimates that college students will spend anywhere from $1,200 to $1,300 on books and supplies. That’s a big chunk of change, but there are plenty of ways you can save on textbooks.

1. Avoid the Bookstore, Except for Essentials

While the college bookstore is tempting in all its shiny, fully stocked glory, it’s also generally the last place you want to go to buy textbooks. Even used textbooks at the bookstore typically will be sold at a higher markup than you’ll see online. And the new books often are more expensive there than anywhere else.

One exception to this rule: custom-printed packets assigned by particular professors. Some professors will require custom-printed anthologies or companion books for their classes. These are printed and bound ahead of time, and you won’t be able to get them anywhere but the bookstore.

2. Wait Until After the First Class to Buy

Some college professors are just as fed up with the rising cost of textbooks as their students. Unfortunately, academic departments will sometimes strongarm professors into choosing more expensive books.

Still, some professors will work with students who simply can’t afford to pay $180 for a single textbook. While the expense may be unavoidable in some classes, in others, professors will tell you straight up that you’ll only use a few sections of the textbook over the course. Or they’ll offer supplementary options that are free or really cheap.

While not bringing books to class on the first day may seem like a huge risk, it’s typically not a big deal. That first class day is typically spent discussing the syllabus and course expectations. And you can use that information to gauge which of the following options you want to use to buy, rent, or borrow textbooks for each class.

3. Buy Used Whenever Possible

The market for used college textbooks is huge, since many students buy these books only to use them for a single semester. Chances are there are multiple used book stores near any major college campus, and you can also buy used online from bookselling marketplaces. New books are worth the investment only in limited circumstances, which we’ll discuss later. Otherwise, go for used versions of physical textbooks.

4. Check Out the Price of E-Books

More and more publishers are offering their textbooks in e-book format. This can make sense for most of your classes. Plus, purchasing a slim e-reader and most of your textbooks in e-book format can save you from having to haul loads of heavy textbooks all over campus.

E-books may not always be appropriate, especially if you’re an in-book highlighter or note-taker. But with today’s e-book technology, most books can be “highlighted” and bookmarked virtually, so you can still reference certain passages or sections as needed.

5. Split Costs With a Friend

If you and a friend are taking the same class at different times or between semesters, consider splitting the costs of a used book. This can be tricky to work out, as you need to be sure you each have access to the books when working on homework and going to class. But if you’re taking the same introductory course on different days, textbook sharing can be a viable option.

6. Buy Older Editions

One reason textbooks are so expensive is that they’re constantly “updated,” even when the update involves only very minor edits. For classes with course content that’s stable from year to year, you probably don’t really need the latest edition. And used versions of out-of-date editions can be even cheaper.

Just be aware that page numbers and figures don’t always line up from one edition to the next, so you’ll need to be extra careful that you’re completing the correct coursework. Also, older editions may not work as well for classes like math and science if the professor relies on homework from the book, as questions can change from edition to edition.

7. Try the Library

The campus library or the local public library are both great options for finding copies of more-common books. Libraries may not have a copy of a $175 quantum physics textbook. But they are likely to have copies of many texts used in liberal arts courses. English majors and the like are at a particular advantage here. Many literature classes are built around easy-to-rent classics that are simple to pick up from the library.

One potential caveat to this strategy: availability. If others in your course also borrow their texts from the library, you may be unable to find a copy when you need it. Your best bet is to look well ahead on the syllabus, and to reserve copies of the books you need at least two or three weeks ahead of time.

8. Rent Your Textbooks Online

Textbook rental services are becoming more common these days, and they’re another good option for saving on your overall costs. You can sometimes even rent e-book versions of your textbooks, which are cheaper since you’re not purchasing a lifetime license.

Just be careful if you decide to rent physical textbooks, as they’ll have to be in excellent condition when you return them, or you’ll pay extra fees.

9. Buy Certain New Books Online

Sometimes it does make sense to buy books new. For instance, if your math professor will use the specific homework questions in the latest edition of a book that just released, you’ll have to spring for the new version. Or if you need to purchase workbooks, which some lower-level math courses still use, you’ll need new versions of those.

Also, if you’re an upperclassman, you might consider purchasing new, or used that are in excellent condition, versions of books from some of your senior-level courses. These could be texts that you’ll reference after college once you’re in career-related courses, so having nice versions that will hold up over time can make sense.

[Editor’s Note: While you’re in college, you might not be thinking too much about your credit, but bad credit can be even more costly than your textbooks. That’s why it’s a good idea to check it every now and then so you can make sure your financial future is on track. You can get two free credit scores, updated monthly, at Credit.com. You also can get your free credit reports ever year at AnnualCreditReport.com.]

Image: skynesher

The post 9 Ways to Save on College Textbooks appeared first on Credit.com.