Money School


frugalfridayApril 15th—also known as “Tax Day”—has come and gone.  With an average of three-fourths of filers getting refunds, many of us have extra cash on hand.  That means retailers are offering up a slew of deals and promotions, hoping you’ll spend that tax refund rather than save it or use it to pay off debt (as I suggested earlier this week on Today).

Here’s a roundup of some of the best post-tax season deals currently being offered by retailers:

Pinkberry: From now through April 20, Pinkberry fans can bring in proof of purchase from the day before and get half-off an equivalent frozen yogurt.

eBooks: Get 10% off books in the “Business” category when you use the coupon code TAXATIONSALECP. This offer is valid through April 29.

Kate Spade Saturday: Through Sunday at the more wallet-friendly little sister brand of Kate Spade—Saturday—you’ll get 25% off your purchase of home goods when you use the code HOMERUN at checkout.  This discount is valid in stores and online. Now through April 30, when you use the TAXBREAK, you’ll get $5 off select titles.

Patagonia: There’s a big sale going on at the outdoor goods and apparel retailer Patagonia.  From now through April 22, you can get 50% off past-season products when you shop online. (more…)

Wednesday Welcome: Four Potential Holes in Your Homeowners Coverage

This week’s guest poster is Glen Craig — you may know him from the popular personal finance blog Free From Broke. The goal of his blog, to make personal finance easy for his readers, aligns perfectly with Jean’s goals here, and so we were thrilled when he agreed to guest blog. Below, he calls attention to some possible shortfalls when it comes to your homeowners insurance.

GlenCraig_Profile_PicYour home is probably the most expensive thing you own.

As a result, it makes sense to protect it as much as you can. This usually means purchasing homeowners insurance.

Homeowners insurance is supposed to reimburse you for costs related to fixing damage to your home. Damage to your home can be financially devastating without insurance coverage.

Homeowners insurance offers peace of mind, and it offers financial protection — as long as you truly are covered.

While you might think you are covered for any circumstance, the truth is that a standard homeowners insurance policy comes with holes. You might not have the coverage you think you have, and that can result in an unpleasant and financially catastrophic surprise.

Here are 4 potential holes you might have in your homeowners coverage:

1. Natural Disasters

There are certain natural disasters that might not be covered by your homeowners insurance policy.  Common exemptions from your policy include:

  • Flood
  • Earthquake
  • Tornado
  • Hurricane
  • Landslide
  • Sinkhole

If you live in an area especially prone to these natural disasters, chances are that your regular homeowners policy won’t cover damage to your home. Instead, you will need to purchase separate coverage in order to make sure that you are adequately covered. Otherwise, the repair/rebuilding costs are borne entirely by you.


Today’s Money: Should you spend or save your tax refund?

It’s officially Tax Day! And for more than two-thirds of Americans, filing is likely a pretty uplifting experience. Why? They’re getting refunds averaging $2,800 according to the IRS.

What are they doing with them? According to Principal Financial, the top three uses for the money are: save or invest it (51%), pay off short-term debt like credit cards (38%) and pay off long term debt like a mortgage (24%). But what if you’re looking for other ideas? I was on Today this morning with a few suggestions. Check them out below:

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Mailbag Monday: Using a Personal Loan to Pay off Credit Card Debt

debitcardI was able to get a personal loan from my bank (with a low interest rate) to pay off $40,000 worth of credit card debt.  I have a total of nine cards. Is it advisable to cancel the cards that I have paid off?  Should I cancel the ones with a higher or lower credit limit? I don’t see myself using these cards in the future so is it wise to even keep them?

– Kris

Hi Kris. I’m going to give you the answer you asked for – and some advice you didn’t.  And then I want you to print this out and tape it to your fridge so you look at it every day. Although I’m sure you’ve read that cancelling credit cards hurts your credit score because it’s a knock on your credit utilization (the percentage of credit you have available to you, compared to the amount that you’re actually using), in your case closing some is the right thing to do for two reasons.  First, you simply have too many.  And second, it seems as if they’ve been too tempting for you in the past.  Start by closing the ones with the lowest limits, the highest annual fees and the highest interest rates.  In other words, hang on to the ones that – once you get your act together – you might want to use as a tool to make purchases you pay off every single month.

Getting your act together is the thing that you didn’t ask about – but that I’m going to address anyway.



frugalfridayThis week it’s all about entertainment.  With upcoming holidays and spring break, most of us will have a day or two off from our regular routines, and that means plenty of free time.  Here’s how you can fill it without breaking the bank:

Paint Nite: This deal comes to us from Living Social.  For $25 ($45 value) you’ll be able to play Picasso at a two-hour social painting event near you.  The Paint Nite crew will provide all necessary supplies, including paints, brushes, easel, apron and canvas. You get a 16×20-inch painting to take home.

Dinner and a Movie: Now through June 1st at Red Robin, you can get a free ticket to the new Godzilla movie when you purchase a $25 gift card.

A Broadway Bargain: Having Breaking Bad withdrawals?  OK, so it’s not exactly the same thing, but you can now catch Bryan Cranston on Broadway, where he’s channeling President Lyndon B. Johnson in All The Way. Tickets are now available via Living Social from $44 to $89 ($52 to $137 value) for a weekday ticket and from $49 to $99 ($57 to $142 value) for a weekend ticket.


Wednesday Welcome: Boomer Housing

We’re pleased to welcome back Joy Loverde, author of The Complete Eldercare Planner. If you recall, she joined us last year for a post sharing her favorite resources for active aging, and this time, she’s back to talk about boomer housing options. They’re not what they used to be!

Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 9.05.35 AMJust as the 76 million Baby Boomers have redefined every other stage of life from college to careers, we are now redefining and remaking the concept of living arrangements.  Developers take note.  No cookie-cutter “senior” housing approach for us.

While many Boomers will simply downsize, others will go straight to some flavor of housing that appeals to their lifestyle. This shift in how we think about living spaces has everything to do with the mindset that we have places to go and things to do no matter what physical shape our bodies are in.

We have proven over a lifetime that we are a generation that expects to stay involved in living. With that in mind, here are a few housing and lifestyle options to consider:


The ever-popular concept of staying put may require remodeling the home. Ground-level laundry rooms and walk-in showers, for example, help keep aging residents mobile and safe. National Association of Home Builders offers access to Certified Aging-in Place Specialists. When in-home caregiving services are needed contact The Eldercare Locator.

Shared Housing

Some people love living alone. If you’re not one of them, consider a home-mate. Sharing space with others solves a multitude of problems financially and otherwise, and may make it easier to go through difficult life stages together. Check out Sharing Housing and the National Shared Housing Resource Center.


Mailbag Monday: Paying Off a Balance Transfer

debitcardHi Jean. I recently transferred a portion of the balance on my higher interest credit card to a Slate 0% card. Is it better to focus on paying down the higher interest card or getting the balance on the 0% card paid off within the introductory offer period?

– Trish

Oh Trish! I have to tell you, I have thought of this question so many times and never, ever been asked it.  In the best of all possible worlds, you’d transfer all your high interest rate debt to the Slate card, then wail on it at that 0% interest rate to make as big a dent in the teaser period as possible. (You did choose well when it comes to balance transfer cards, by the way — the 15 month 0% interest rate is just about as good as it gets.)


Frugal Friday: Best Things to Buy in April

frugalfridayIt’s finally April, which means warm temps are right around the corner, if they haven’t yet arrived in your neck of the woods (here, we’re experiencing the infamous April showers, but I’m not going to complain when they come with 60+ degree temperatures after a long, long winter). Whether you’re feeling like you need to line your spring and summer closet, get the backyard ready for BBQ season, or take care of some home improvements (as Jean discussed on the TODAY show this morning), you’re sure to find a deal this month. Below, some of the discounts you can expect in April:

Home improvement supplies. It’s that time of year — you can finally go outside and get started on restaining the deck, mulching the flower beds, or organizing the shed. Lowe’s is currently running a Spring Black Friday promotion, through April 14 with discounts on mulch, grills, patio stones and more. Home Depot is doing the same — seriously, it’s called Spring Black Friday, too — with discounts on everything from ceiling fans to paint tools to patio furniture.

Pandora. Our friends at tipped us off to this — Pandora is going to increase monthly rates for the first time in May, and get rid of annual subscriptions. If you sign up before the rate jump, you’ll save about $1 a month. It doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up over long-term use.

Spring cleaning supplies. If you have the cleaning and organizing bug, this is the month to satisfy it. Home organization supplies are likely to be discounted (see this sale from The Container Store), as are cleaning products. Want to save even more? Make your own, via these recipes from Good Housekeeping.

Tax-day deals. Many companies — particularly entertainment and fast-food chains — take pity on us on April 15, offering freebies and discounts to help ease the pain of taxes. There is, in fact, an entire website dedicated to the generous practice. Our friend Leah Ingram compiled a list of what we can expect this year — looks like Arby’s will be offering free fries, and Schlotzsky’s Deli will have a sandwich deal.

Your summer vacation. According to this post by Peter Greenberg, the travel editor for CBS News, the best time to book a flight is 45 days in advance of domestic travel and 60 days in advance of international travel. That means you should start thinking about early summer vacation plans toward the end of this month, if you want to set out in mid-June when the kids get out of school.

Spring clothing. Yep, it’s already on sale, just in time for weather warm enough to wear it.

Today’s Money: Best Home Improvements for Your Money

Happy Friday! Do you know which home improvements give you the biggest bang for your buck? I ask, because some pay off more than others. This morning on TODAY, HGTV’s Mike Aubrey and I give you the 411 on home improvements — what’s worth your time and money, and what’s not. If you haven’t already, test your home improvement IQ with my quiz here. For more, check out the segment below:

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Morning Joe

I had a great time (and a good laugh) on Morning Joe today. The conversation was on my recent Fortune column: Why couples don’t talk finance.

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