Category Archives: Personal Finance

Top 3 Gift Card Tips

ift cards can be great presents. If you don’t know exactly what you want for your birthday, asking for a gift card lets you purchase whatever you need at a later date. Receiving a gift card can feel like getting access to free money, which is helpful when you’re on a budget. Despite their many benefits, however, gift cards can be challenging. Some of them come with rules and restrictions. Before you head off to the mall, here are some tips that’ll help you make the most of your gift cards.

1. Know the Details

New rules were enacted for gift cards purchased on or after August 22, 2010. These guidelines are designed to protect consumers. For example, one says that you must be able to use a gift card for at least five years before it expires. Expiration dates and fees must be displayed on the card.

Another rule says that inactivity fees can only be charged after a card has not been used for one year. Before you begin using a gift card, it’s a good idea to do your research and read all of the card’s terms and conditions as they tend to vary.

2. Back It Up

As soon as you receive a new gift card, it’s important to check the card to ensure that nothing is missing from it and no codes on the back of it have been stolen. If possible, you might also need to hold on to the original receipt to verify the card purchase in case something happens. If you’re prone to misplacing items, it might be wise to keep the card’s info – including the card number and the expiration date – in a folder on your computer or somewhere safe so you can use it if you lose the card.

3. Use Them Before You Lose Them

Much like unwanted gifts, gift cards often go unused. After all, it’s easy to misplace a gift card or forget that it exists.

That’s why it’s a good idea to keep all of your gift cards together and set reminders in your mobile calendar so you can get the most use out of them. If a card isn’t working, you might need to ask the retailer to reload the amount onto a new card. If you cannot use a card before it expires, you can resell it on a site like cardpool.com or giftcardgranny.com, which can give you up to 92% of a card’s value.

Final Word

It’s in your best interest to ask your family members and friends to avoid gift cards with hefty fees and those from retailers that seem on the verge of going out of business. If you ever have a problem with a card, you can call the company that issued it. If that doesn’t fix the issue, consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Or, you can contact the Comptroller of the Currency’s Customer Assistance Group if the card comes from a national bank.

How to Get Cheap Flights

Americans are notorious for leaving paid vacation days unused. Those who do take a vacation may be paying more for their flights than is strictly necessary. If you’re ready for some advice on how get cheap flights, you’re in the right place. You don’t have to blow your budget on your next vacation. 

1. Use Travel Rewards Cards Wisely

Travel rewards credit cards can be a great way to make traveling less expensive. However, this strategy only works if you know what you’re doing and avoid getting in over your head. For example, some people open new rewards cards, take advantage of the introductory offer of points, miles or statement credits and then close the account, only to repeat the process with another card.

This is called “churning” and while it has worked for some well-known bloggers it might not work for you. Closing accounts can hurt your credit, so if you need good credit to get a mortgage in the near future you might want to steer clear. Credit card companies are getting wise to churning, too, and cracking down. But the biggest potential danger associated with opening too many rewards credit cards is that you might lose track of what you owe on which accounts, miss payments and owe interest, as well as having your credit score dinged for late payment.

If you want to get cheap flights, a travel rewards cards that gives you extra points on travel purchases can be a great option. Just be sure that you use this kind of card wisely, do your research before opening an account and stay on top of your monthly payments.

2. Stay Loyal to One Airline or Airline Group

Even if you choose a general travel rewards card over a credit card associated with a single airline, it can still be helpful to stay loyal to one airline or airline alliance. That way, every time you travel you’ll be accumulating miles that will help you on future trips. These days there are plenty of apps that can help you manage your various frequent flyer accounts, so it’s easier than ever to use miles to get cheap flights.

3. Search for Flights in Incognito Mode

When you’re searching for flights online it’s a good idea to do so in private mode after clearing your cache and browser history. It’s not paranoia. Airlines often display prices based on how much they think a shopper is likely to pay. So if you’ve been browsing for expensive bags or meals and then switch to looking for flights, you might see higher prices than you would if you were browsing with a clean slate.

4. Use More Than One Search Engine

Sites that aggregate flights from a number of different airlines have been a great gift to travelers. But if you do a little research, you’ll find that many of these sites miss out on certain airlines. If you’re really committed to finding cheap flights, it’s a good idea to use a variety of search engines before buying. If necessary, you may need to go to specific airlines’ websites and search for flights there, particularly if you’re looking to fly with a local budget airline in a foreign country.

5. Sign Up for Flight Alerts

If you have your heart set on a particular travel destination and you’re not picky about when you go you can always sign up for a flight alert. Various sites will send you emails when prices dip for flights to destinations you’re interested in. Or, you can set up a flight alert that just sends you cheap flights from your local airport to any destination. That way, you don’t have to go through the hard work of finding cheap flights on your own.

6. Be Flexible

Following up on tip #5, it’s always a good idea to be flexible if you’re looking for cheap flights. That means being willing to travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations, or to visit popular sites in the off-season. It also helps to be flexible about your dates and avoid traveling during holidays when other Americans will be competing with you for cheap flights. And if you want to fly for free, you can be extra flexible and take advantage of offers to give up your seat on overbooked flights in exchange for a credit for future travel.

7. Remember the Fees

Before you get too excited about a cheap flight and click “purchase” remember that airline fees can vary considerably. Sometimes, an airline will list a rock-bottom ticket price but add twice that price in fees and charges. Keep those in mind when you’re comparison shopping. And if you’re planning to check a bag or you want to be able to choose your seat without paying a premium, factor that into your comparison, too.

Bottom Line

Finding cheap flights requires combining several strategies and knowing how the system works. The internet hive mind is always coming up with new frugal travel tips, too, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on budget travel blogs so you’ll hear about airline flight price errors, special promotional deals and hot new tips.

7 Ways You Can Save Money at a Theme Park

Theme parks are expensive. Entering a place like Disney World will cost you around $100 per person, plus tax. Once you’re in the park, you’ll likely pay a premium for snacks and drinks. But amusement park trips don’t automatically have to cost you hundreds of dollars, particularly if you make an effort to find ways to save. Here are seven tips that can make your next trip more affordable.

Theme parks are expensive. Entering a place like Disney World will cost you around $100 per person, plus tax. Once you’re in the park, you’ll likely pay a premium for snacks and drinks. But amusement park trips don’t automatically have to cost you hundreds of dollars, particularly if you make an effort to find ways to save. Here are seven tips that can make your next trip more affordable.

1. Track Down Cheap Tickets

If you’re planning a visit to Six Flags or Sea World, the bulk of the money you spend during the day will probably go toward purchasing the entry tickets. Luckily, there are multiple ways to reduce the price you pay for admission.

For example, buying your tickets online instead of at the gate can significantly lower your entry fee. So can trying to land a discount through a group like AAA. Sometimes grocery stores and drugstores also offer cheap tickets to certain parks.

2. Take Your Own Photos

While you might enjoy the snapshot of the your son or your brother screaming while riding the tallest roller coaster in the park, it’ll likely cost you a pretty penny. If you’re working with a limited budget, you’re probably better off taking your own photos. That means you might have to choose someone in your family to act as the photographer for the day or take turns playing that role.

3. Bring the Right Bag

If you’re determined to spend as little as possible, it might be wise to bring a light backpack that can hold everything from cameras to sunscreen. If you don’t come prepared or you bring a bag that’s too small, you could easily end up wasting money on a locker. Every cent counts, especially if you’re in the process of paying off credit card debt or student loans.

4. Pack a Lunch

Theme parks tend to mark up the cost of food and beverages. This tactic usually works. Even if people complain about having to pay too much for their pretzels, popcorn or pizza, they often buy them anyway. Otherwise, they won’t have any access to food unless they leave the park.

Instead of starving yourself or buying the overpriced meals, you can make your own lunch at home and store it in a bag or a cooler. If the park doesn’t allow you to bring in outside food or drinks, you can leave whatever you’ve made in the car. You’ll just have to decide when to take a break from the rides so that you can eat.

5.  Bring Your Own Bottle

It’s important to stay hydrated during your amusement park visit, especially since you could be out in the hot sun for a long period of time. To avoid overpaying for bottled water, you can simply bring your own empty, reusable water bottle and fill it up at the water fountains in the park. Or you can check with the park restaurants to see if they offer free cups of water or at the very least, free cups of ice.

6. Time Your Visit Carefully

There’s no rule saying that you can only plan a trip to a theme park over the summer or during spring break. In fact, visiting one during the fall or another off-peak time might be a good idea if you want a better shot at getting cheaper tickets. Plus, if there are fewer people inside of the park, the lines won’t be as long and the experience might be more fun overall for you and your family.

7. Don’t Get Tricked Into Spending More

Employees in the retail and food services industries are usually taught to upsell. In other words, they’re often trained to offer customers specials deals in exchange for purchasing extra items. If you have to buy something at an amusement park, it’s best to watch out for these kinds of tactics. Also, skipping the souvenirs or buying them at a shop outside of the park can be another effective way to save money.

The Takeaway

A trip to an amusement park doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. If you plan ahead and think of ways to cut costs, you can enjoy your roller coaster ride without feeling the least bit guilty.

Top 7 Tips for Completing Your School Supplies List

Consumers are expected to spend $75.8 billion in 2016 while preparing for their kids to go back to grade school and college, according to the National Retail Federation. Even if you’re prepared to spend a ton of money on new binders, clothes and laptops, doing so could prevent you from meeting your other financial goals. Here are seven tips to consider if you want to save money and get everything on your school supplies list.

Consumers are expected to spend $75.8 billion in 2016 while preparing for their kids to go back to grade school and college, according to the National Retail Federation. Even if you’re prepared to spend a ton of money on new binders, clothes and laptops, doing so could prevent you from meeting your other financial goals. Here are seven tips to consider if you want to save money and get everything on your school supplies list.

1. Buy Supplies That’ll Last

Back-to-school shopping might be an annual ritual in your family. But if you’re replacing the same items every year, it might be a good idea to buy supplies that’ll last for more than a couple of semesters. A sturdy backpack might cost you more upfront but buying it could save you money in the long run. And if it comes with a warranty, you’ll be able to replace it free of charge, if necessary.

2. Find Out What Teachers Are Buying

Teachers can score a tax break for buying supplies for their students. Since it’s an above-the-line tax deduction, they can deduct up to $250 of unreimbursed expenses even if they’re not planning to itemize their deductions on their income tax returns. Married educators who file jointly can deduct up to $500.

Since your child’s teachers might be interested in taking advantage of the educator expense deduction, it’s a good idea to contact them and find out which supplies they’re planning to purchase. If they’re buying pencils and notebooks, those are things that you won’t have to spend money on.

3. Prepare for Your State’s Sale Tax Holiday

Many states have tax holidays that allow consumers to purchase certain items tax-free. Before the holiday arrives, it’s a good idea to plan ahead so that you’re ready to make the most of it. Besides finding out which products can be purchased without paying sales tax, you can compare prices in advance so that you’re getting the best deals on those tax-free supplies.

4. Know Which Apps to Use

If you’re comparison shopping, you could drive to multiple stores and check out their prices. But you can save yourself some time by downloading apps that’ll let you see how stores’ prices stack up. PriceJump, for example, is an app that’ll allow you to scan bar codes at one store to see how prices compare to those at places nearby and online. Similar apps that provide the same benefit include Red Laser and ShopSavvy.

5. Plan a Clothes Swap

Can’t afford to buy new uniforms or clothing for your kids? Consider putting together a clothes swap with your friends or the families in your neighborhood. If everyone is willing to bring gently used items that their kids no longer wear, then you could find free tops and bottoms that you won’t have to worry about getting from the mall.

6. Wait Until September

Most people start shopping for school supplies in August since many students return to school before the end of the summer. But if you can hold off on shopping, you could potentially score some sweet discounts.

By the time September arrives, many retailers are desperate to get rid of the school supplies left on their shelves. So it might be in your best interest to procrastinate. If your kids need to laptops and computers, however, it’s probably better to buy them in August.

7. Don’t Forget About Discount Stores

You might be tempted to do the majority of your back-to-school shopping at a major retailer like Target or Walmart. But visiting a dollar store or a thrift store is a simple move that can reduce your shopping expenses.

Supplies like loose-leaf paper will be virtually the same regardless of where you buy them. So it might be a good idea to buy the generic versions of them at your local discount store.

Final Word

You could easily spend hundreds of dollars on school supplies. But there are plenty of ways to avoid wasting money when you’re preparing to send your kids back to the classroom. If you can plan ahead and create a budget you can stick with, you can start to school year off on the right financial foot.

How Much to Spend on Wedding Gifts

The average cost of a wedding is now well over $30,000. Coming up with enough cash to pay for the reception, the dress and the food can be difficult for brides and grooms. Wedding guests can also find themselves in a financial pinch, especially if they have to attend multiple ceremonies in a single year. If you’re trying to figure out how much to spend on wedding gifts, read on for some advice and tips on how to save big on presents.

Covering Your Plate

In the past, people living in certain parts of the U.S. (like the Northeast) were under the impression that if they couldn’t decide how much to spend on a wedding gift, they could estimate how much brides and grooms were spending on their meals. Being able to “cover your plate” was associated with having good etiquette. At the same time it probably made some guests assume that if they were attending the wedding of a couple who didn’t have a lot of money, it was okay to buy a cheap gift.

If you don’t know how much you should spend on a wedding gift, going with the old price-per-plate rule of thumb may not be the best idea. Asking your friend or family member how much they’re spending on their wedding and calculating what your individual plate costs could make things awkward. And you probably wouldn’t want to offend the bride or groom.

So how much should you spend on a wedding gift? One important factor to consider is how well you know the couple that’s tying the knot.

Assessing the Status of Your Relationship

A recent survey from retailmenot.com and a branding and marketing company called Kelton Global found that the average cost of a wedding gift has to do with the relationship between wedding guests and the people getting married. On average, survey participants reported spending $89 on friends, $63 on co-workers and $195 on immediate family members. In short, the closer you are to the bride or groom, the more money you should spend.

Experts have their own ideas about what wedding guests should spend. The Knot says that it’s a good idea to spend $50 to $75 on an acquaintance, a co-worker or a relative you barely know. For a standard family member or a friend, $75 to $100 is a good range to shoot for. But if you have an especially close relationship with this person, it might be a good idea to spend between $100 and $150.

Other Factors to Consider

When it comes to buying wedding presents, different people have different standards. But overall, folks generally seem to agree that spending less than $50 is a bad idea, regardless of whether you actually attend the wedding. If you live in a big city like the Big Apple, it’s customary to give between $150 to $200 (or more) if that’s where the wedding’s being held.

Whether you have to travel to the wedding matters too. If you have to book a flight and find a place to stay, you might be able to get away with giving the bride or groom a gift that’s not so pricey. And it’s okay to buy a less expensive gift if you’re not going to the wedding, as long as it’s not an amount that might upset whoever invited you.

But what if you’re not just going to the wedding? Once you figure out how much to spend, it might be a good idea to divvy up that amount so that you can buy an engagement gift, a present for the shower or bachelor party and a gift for the wedding. Not quite sure how to do that? Experts suggest spending 40% of your budget on the engagement party and shower gifts (so 20% for each) and 60% on the wedding gift.

Regardless of what anyone says, spending more than you can personally afford on a wedding gift isn’t wise. Defaulting on your student loans or racking up hundreds of dollars in credit card debt just to buy a gift doesn’t make sense. In the process of trying to impress your best friend or your brother, you could derail your own plans for the future.

How to Save Money on Wedding Gifts

When it comes to buying wedding gifts, not everyone can afford to go all out. If you don’t have enough money to purchase your own gift, you can get together with other friends and relatives and purchase something together. Or, if you have a special skill set, you could give a small gift and offer to do something that’ll save the couple some money, like agreeing to serve as a DJ or building their wedding website.

Instead of buying a large gift, you could purchase a couple of small gifts that the couple lists on their wedding registry. If nothing on the registry is within your price range, you can find a cheaper gift that’s similar to what the couple selected.

You could also consider getting creative and putting together something thoughtful like a photo album. That could work well if you’re part of the wedding party and you’re already doling out a significant amount of money for a bridesmaid dress or a tuxedo.

The Takeaway

Deciding how much to spend on a wedding gift can be tricky, especially if you’re planning to go to several weddings within a brief span of time. But considering things like how close you are with the bride or groom, the wedding location and your own budget can help you gauge whether you need to shell out more or less than the number in your head.

There are plenty of ways to save on wedding presents. And keep in mind that you could always wait to buy a gift. If you can’t purchase anything until your next pay period, you could use that extra time to compare prices and find discounts.

Top 5 Ways to Stay Healthy This Fall

Fall is on the horizon and the summer heat will soon be replaced by a chilly breeze. One factor that the fall season brings that we don’t love is cold and flu season. Between busy schedules and upcoming holiday travel plans, it’s easy to wind up feeling under the weather. Here are a few tips that can help you stay healthy throughout the season.

1. Get Your Flu Shot

The CDC estimates that workers who get the flu lose around $16.3 billion in earnings each year. That combined with the thousands of people who die from flu-related illnesses make for a dismal reality. Fortunately, the majority of people can avoid getting sick by getting flu shots.

It’s worth noting that flu shots aren’t the best option for everyone. Infants who are under 6 months old and people who are allergic to the vaccine’s ingredients fall into this category. If you’re not sure whether you should get a flu shot, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor.

Luckily, flu shots aren’t expensive and in some cases the vaccines are free. By getting one, you can avoid missing too many days of work and keep medical costs from busting your budget.

2. Boost Your Immune System

Taking steps to boost your immune system can put you in the best position to fight off illnesses as the temperature changes. If you want to stay healthy, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re exercising regularly and getting enough vitamins and nutrients.

Low levels of Vitamin C can leave you vulnerable to sickness and fatigue. And a Vitamin D deficiency can be harmful as well. When the summer ends and there are fewer hours of daylight, you’ll need to pay close attention to your vitamin D intake.

3. Eat Well

Eating well can help you stay healthy and energized throughout the fall season. Consider incorporating seasonal produce like apples, pears, sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkin into your diet. There are plenty of recipes that you can make without spending a ton of money.

Did your parents ever give you chicken soup to fight off a cold? They might’ve been onto something. Soups made from bone broth have been known to reduce inflammation and help fight infections, so you may want to consider eating more soup this fall. Best of all, soup can help you stay warm when it’s cold outside.

4. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is important. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night. But it’s probably no surprise that many people don’t get close to that number on a regular basis. By not getting enough rest, you could increase your risk of ending up with the flu or a bad cold.

Don’t forget to take advantage of that extra hour of sleep you’ll get when the clocks fall back this November. Getting some extra shut eye can help you stay healthy and make you more productive at work.

5. Manage Your Stress

Self-care is crucial to your overall health and well-being. When kids are back in school and you have a lot on your plate, it can be a challenge to find time for yourself. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you could end up falling ill.

It’s important to make sure you’re taking time to relax, de-stress and enjoy the fall. Taking a walk in the park and enjoying a family picnic are two easy ways to decompress.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of ways to avoid getting the flu during the fall. Taking care of yourself and getting vaccinated can keep you in tip-top shape as you head into the fall and winter season.

 

5 Fall Fashion Trends You Can Afford

If you’re into fashion, you probably pay close attention to the fall Fashion Week events in New York City, Paris, London and Milan. Many people drool over the designs they see on the runway but not everyone can afford to incorporate them into their own personal wardrobe. Fortunately, there are some stylish items that don’t cost a fortune. Check out some fall fashion trends that might fit into your budget.

1. Chokers

These necklaces have been around for centuries and once again they’re making a comeback. If you don’t have enough money to buy an entire new outfit, you can settle for an inexpensive accessory like a choker. For less than $15, you can easily look trendy and chic.

2. Sweats and Hoodies

Yes, you read that correctly. Athleisure is a trend that hasn’t disappeared yet and everyone from Beyoncé to Kate Hudson wants us to embrace it. For the past couple of years, it’s been acceptable to wear sweatpants, yoga pants and sweatshirts even when you’re not walking around your house or heading to the gym.

Sweats were just one style that models sported during New York Fashion Week. If you can’t get away with wearing a giant hoodie to the office, you can look fashionable when you run errands after work.

3. Velvet

Velvet will be one of the most popular fabrics this fall. If you don’t own anything velvet – whether it’s a top or a jacket – you don’t have to rack up credit card debt in order to look stylish. You can find cheap clothing at a local thrift store or see if your friends will let you shop in their closets.

4. Heels Paired With Socks

One fall fashion trend that just about any woman can adopt is wearing socks with heels. Maybe you’re sick of your shoes pinching your toes. Or maybe you’re tired of ending up with blisters on the back of your heels. Either way, wearing socks could potentially solve all of your uncomfortable-shoe problems.

You can wear socks with open or closed-toed shoes and chunky sandals too. While you’ll have to decide how you want to rock this look, you can’t go wrong by pairing a funky pair of heels with solid-colored socks.

5. Floral Prints

Flowers aren’t just for the spring. This season, you can continue to wear your favorite floral print dresses, tops and skirts until all the leaves fall off the trees.

Bold, colorful prints are big right now. So if you’re sad that summer is coming to an end, donning a brightly colored outfit just might cheer you up.

Final Word

Maybe you can’t splurge on an expensive fur coat or a new pantsuit. But you can find many of the items that are fashionable this fall in your own closet or at a discount store.

4 Ways to Save Money on Your Glamping Trip

Pitching a tent in the woods is one option if you’re ready for a vacation. But if comfort is something that’s important to you, going glamping might be a better idea. Glamping (or “glamorous camping”) is an emerging travel trend that’s catching on with people who like spending time outdoors but want to do so in style. But all-inclusive glamping packages can be expensive. If you’re working with a small budget, here’s how to go glamping without breaking the bank.

1. Bring Your Friends

Spending a few nights in a fully outfitted yurt (a collapsible circular tent) can be a lot of fun, but it doesn’t come cheap. It may not be affordable unless you’re traveling with a group of friends.

Having more people on your glamping trip may force you to sacrifice some personal space, but it can significantly reduce your travel costs. Having to listen to your bunkmate snore might not be so bad if you can divide your expenses among five or six people.

2. Stick to Public Camping Spots

You can find private campgrounds designed for campers who want luxurious accommodations. You could easily spend thousands of dollars at these high-end glampgrounds. But you could stay at a state or national park instead and save some money.

Depending on where you look, you may be able to find tents, cabins and motorhomes that you can rent for a fraction of the cost. If you’d prefer to stay at a private campground, you might want to check out Kampgrounds of America (KOA). A deluxe cabin at a KOA campground, for example, can cost under $200 and may include amenities like a kitchen, patio, grill and private bathroom.

3. Bring Creature Comforts From Home

You don’t need to spend a lot of money in order to enjoy your glamping experience. Instead of buying all of the items that you need on your trip, you can bring blankets, pillows and rugs from home. If you’re staying in a tent, you might also want to add an air mattress and a cozy sleeping bag to your list.

Packing lawn chairs, a hammock or some tiki torches can make gathering around the campfire more inviting. And don’t forget to stock up on necessities like bug spray, toilet paper and sunscreen.

4. Pick One Thing to Splurge On

Even if you’re trying to stick to a budget, there’s nothing wrong with splurging on something. For example, while you might plan to munch on granola bars and trail mix while you’re glamping, you could treat yourself to gourmet sweets or spend a night making cocktails.

Upgrading your portable grill, buying a top-of-the-line sleeping bag or investing in new pots and pans are some other ways to satisfy your glamping appetite. Splurging on a smaller scale can enhance your trip without leaving you feeling broke.

The Bottom Line

Glamping can be affordable if you’re willing to get a little creative. There are many ways to plan a trip that’s budget-friendly and fun at the same time.

The Average Cost of a Divorce

Even the most amicable of divorces generally involve some kind of expense. The average cost of a divorce varies greatly based on how complicated the case is and on the kind of divorce you seek. At the very least you’ll have to pay court costs and filing fees for divorce paperwork. But if lawyers are involved, costs can balloon from a few hundred dollars to several thousand or even tens of thousands of dollars. The cost of getting a divorce can exceed the average cost of a wedding. 

The Average Cost of a Pro Se Divorce

A pro se litigant is someone who represents himself or herself. While you can do this in a divorce case, legal professionals advise against it. However, in the case of a collaborative, uncontested divorce both parties may work together for a pro se divorce. This could mean using a “divorce kit” and working together to get the divorce filed and granted. In this scenario, the average cost of a pro se divorce could be as low as $300.

Working through the divorce paperwork on your own and filing the papers with the courts yourself (as opposed to hiring a lawyer to help you with both steps) can save you thousands. However, this simplest form of divorce only works in simple cases. If there are children involved or complicated assets to split, cheap and easy is probably not an option.

The Average Cost of Divorce Mediation

Another way to save on the costs of a divorce is to turn to a mediator instead of enlisting the services of lawyers. Particularly if you’re embarking on an uncontested divorce, a mediated divorce can be a much less costly option that a litigated divorce. Again, this option works best when matters are relatively uncomplicated and both parties are willing to cooperate.

You can employ a mediator who works with each party one-on-one and aids in communication between the two parties. Alternatively, both parties can sit down with the mediator and hammer out the details collaboratively. Private mediation can be billed using a flat fee or an hourly rate. Mediators generally charge lower hourly rates than lawyers, but the cost can still add up if the process drags on. The hourly rate for private divorce mediators is generally between $100 and $200.

Even if a divorce goes to trial the judge may order both parties to go to mediation. Court-ordered mediation is free to both parties and is non-binding. However, if you retain the services of a lawyer in a contested divorce and are then ordered to go to mediation, you will still run up legal bills for the work your attorney does to advise you and monitor the mediation process. Your lawyer will also bill you for the time spent revising the settlement reached in mediation.

The Average Cost of a Contested Divorce

A contested, litigated divorce is the most expensive route. Costs can go as high as $50,000, or higher if wealthy parties and expensive lawyers are involved. Typically, divorce lawyers will charge an hourly rate of $250, but this can vary based on the firm and the city (rates are higher in expensive cities).

Parties in a divorce can decide whether they want full representation, or if they want a more limited service such as an initial consultation or an attorney review of a settlement reached in mediation. The average cost of a litigated divorce is around $15,000. Attorney fees (which are generally not tax-deductible) aren’t the only costs. You may need to hire an accountant to assess the assets that are being divided, or hire an appraiser to value the family home. Counseling for both parties (and any children involved) may also be necessary. There are court fees to pay as well.

Many divorces settle, curtailing the costly trial process. Naturally, cases that settle out of court tend to carry a lower average price tag than divorces with a protracted trial. Regardless, you’ll have some up-front costs. Clients pay a retainer when they first find a lawyer to help them through the divorce process.

Bottom Line

For many who divorce, the process carries high emotional and financial costs. The emotional stakes and the amount of money on the line – both in assets and attorney fees – are good reasons to seek skilled help, whether from a mediator or a lawyer. Do your research before committing to either.

The Best Time to Buy Appliances

Appliances are usually major purchases. After all, replacing a broken stove or freezer probably won’t be cheap. While you could shop for new appliances during any month of the year, timing your purchase carefully could save you some money. Read on to learn about the best time to buy appliances for your home, including refrigerators and air conditioning units.

When to Buy Major Appliances

The general consensus among experts is that the fall is the best time to buy most major appliances. Some say that it’s best to start shopping around for large appliances in September or October. New products tend to arrive during these months. So in an effort to get rid of old inventory, retailers often slash prices on appliances significantly in autumn.

According to Consumer Reports, December is the best time to buy many major appliances. Consumers are more likely to get great deals because retailers usually have big sales at the end of the year. Dishwashers in particular are often much cheaper in December. If you don’t need to buy the newest model on the floor and you’d be happy with a dishwasher without a bunch of fancy features, it’s possible to find one for $600 or less.

Holidays – especially three-day weekends – are another great time to purchase large appliances. If you can wait until Labor Day weekend or Memorial Day weekend to start shopping for a new washer or dryer, you’ll improve your chances of walking away with a deep discount. If you don’t mind the lines, shopping for major appliances on Black Friday could also pay off if you’re on a budget. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are also two of the best times to find deals on small appliances.

If you wait until January rolls around to look for a major appliance, there may be some sales if there’s any old inventory left over. But if you want the best deal and you think your old appliance can last for another month or so, you may want to consider putting off your shopping trip until Presidents’ Day weekend.

Car-buying experts say that if you want a discount, one of the best times to buy a car is the end of the month. The same may be true for appliances. Many sales professionals are paid on commission for selling appliances. If a retailer is trying to meet a particular sales goal, it may be open to lowering the sale price if you try to negotiate.

The Best Time to Buy a Refrigerator

If you don’t want to spend a fortune on a new refrigerator, you probably shouldn’t buy one in the fall. In fact, the best time to buy a refrigerator may be the month of May. That’s when new refrigerator models usually appear. So you’ll probably be able to find a fridge in the clearance section when retailers hold their annual sale for Memorial Day.

Of course, if your refrigerator suddenly breaks down, you may not be able to wait until May to buy a new one. If you don’t have much money to spend on a new fridge, you can check online for bargains or find a local liquidation center.

The Best Time to Buy an Air Conditioner

If you’re interested in buying a new air conditioning unit, purchasing one at the beginning of the summer probably isn’t the best idea. When interest in a particular product increases, the price tends to rise as well.

Consumer Reports suggests that August is the best time to buy an air conditioner if you want to save money. You’ll probably be able to get a bargain on an A/C unit during this time of the year. The only downside is that there may not be many models to choose from.

The Takeaway

There’s usually a perfect time of year to buy all sorts of items. Unless you’re buying a new fridge or a new air conditioning unit, the best time to buy appliances is often in the fall or on a holiday weekend. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to compare prices. Even if a store is advertising a huge sale, another retailer may be able match or beat their prices.

Besides the upfront cost of buying a major appliance, it’s also a good idea to think about the long-term cost of your purchase. Buying a cheap fridge may save you money in the short-term. But if the quality of the appliance is poor, it probably won’t last for a long time. An energy-efficient appliance might cost more money than you’re willing to fork over. But if it’ll save you money on electricity, it may be worth purchasing.