<![CDATA[NECN - Business News - Money Saving Mondays]]>Copyright 2017http://www.necn.com/news/businessen-usFri, 20 Jan 2017 02:57:13 -0500Fri, 20 Jan 2017 02:57:13 -0500NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Money Saving Monday: Saving on Shipping Presents]]>Mon, 05 Dec 2016 10:26:25 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/BOST_000000002654325.JPGKnowing when to order things online or ship out gifts is key to making sure packages arrive on time for the holidays.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Monday: Holiday Spending Habits]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 10:40:53 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/BOST_000000002536012.JPGYou may want to reconsider your spending habits when it comes to this holiday season. It could save you some money.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Monday: Black Friday Bargains]]>Mon, 21 Nov 2016 09:45:34 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/BOST_000000002455816_1200x675_814135875937.jpgDifferent apps and websites can help you be prepared to get the most savings on Black Friday.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Monday: Raising Thankful Kids]]>Mon, 14 Nov 2016 10:50:49 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/BOST_000000002356567_1200x675_808324163668.jpgIn this season of giving, gratitude is important. Giving back can help kids learn more about how to manage money.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Monday: Tree Trimming and Removal]]>Mon, 07 Nov 2016 10:21:09 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/BOST_000000002304095.JPGDealing with the aftermath of a fallen tree can be costly, especially if it causes damage to your home.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Getting Your Student Home for Thanksgiving]]>Mon, 24 Oct 2016 08:31:01 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/BOST_000000002189609_1200x675_792192579960.jpgWhen it comes to traveling for the holidays, planning in advance can help you save money on that ticket home for your college student.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Birthday Gifts on a Budget]]>Mon, 17 Oct 2016 10:22:27 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/BOST_000000002135162_1200x675_787404867753.jpgPlanning ahead makes all the difference when your child gets invited multiple birthday parties.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Monday: Premium Fuel Waste]]>Mon, 03 Oct 2016 09:05:06 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/gas+pump+generic1.jpgA new study suggests that billions of dollars are wasted per year on premium gas when it's not needed.

Photo Credit: FILE]]>
<![CDATA[Elite Credit Card Bonuses]]>Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:24:53 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/Plane-arriving-generic1.jpgNot every credit card is the same. Some credit cards give you better bonuses for your cash.

Photo Credit: FILE]]>
<![CDATA[Balancing High Costs of Competitive Sports]]>Mon, 19 Sep 2016 09:09:40 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-09-19-10h05m39s238.pngMany parents make sacrifices to put their kids into competitive sports programs. But how can you make sure to save some for yourself as well?

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Prepping for a Fall Garden]]>Mon, 12 Sep 2016 09:07:23 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-09-12-09h33m52s175.pngMaking the right moves can give you the most bang for your buck when making a garden.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Saving on Back-to-School Shopping]]>Mon, 29 Aug 2016 10:05:56 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/20160804+School+Supplies.jpgLeslie Gaydos has some tips on how to save the most for school supplies.

Photo Credit: FILE]]>
<![CDATA[Credit Card Chargebacks]]>Mon, 22 Aug 2016 14:46:01 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/credit+cards+generic.jpgYou can think of your credit card as a consumer protection super weapon.

Photo Credit: FILE - AP]]>
<![CDATA[Saving on Auto Insurance]]>Mon, 01 Aug 2016 09:36:42 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Traffic+Generic2.jpgWith gas getting cheaper and more people hitting the road, you could be hit with an insurance rate hike.

Photo Credit: FILE - Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Buying and Selling Without a Commission Fee]]>Mon, 25 Jul 2016 09:49:03 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-07-25-10h48m11s184.pngThe only way around hefty realtor fees is a "for sale by owner" transaction. That can be daunting and confusing, but it doesn't have to be.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Saving Money on Maternity Clothes]]>Mon, 11 Jul 2016 08:24:51 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/180*120/embarazo225.jpgMaternity clothing is not cheap, but there's an under-utilized market out there calling out to pregnant women. Leslie Gaydos has more in the above video.

Photo Credit: UIG via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Summer Freebies for Kids]]>Mon, 27 Jun 2016 09:03:22 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_062716_MSM_8am_1200x675_713539651723.jpgIf you're looking for cheap or free ways to keep your kids entertained this summer, here are some Boston-area options.]]><![CDATA[Cutting Costs to Keep Cool]]>Mon, 13 Jun 2016 09:49:15 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_061316_msm_8a_1200x675_704463427552.jpgWith summer months ahead, people expect the electric bill to rise with increased usage of air conditioning in the home. Leslie Gaydos has some energy saving tips before the sticker shock sets in this summer.]]><![CDATA[Who Wins and Loses in the Interest Rate Hike?]]>Mon, 06 Jun 2016 08:47:42 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_060618_MSM_8am_1200x675_699745347803.jpgWhen it happens, an interest rate hike would signal the economy is getting stronger, but that will come at a price.]]><![CDATA[Money Problems for Veterans]]>Mon, 30 May 2016 10:13:29 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-05-25-18h24m37s174.pngVeterans may face more money problems than the general public.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Get the Most Out of Your Vacation]]>Mon, 23 May 2016 09:19:32 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_052316_moneysaving_830am_1200x675_690975811890.jpgConsumer reporter Leslie Gaydos has some tips for travelers. ]]><![CDATA[Saving With Flower Sharing]]>Mon, 16 May 2016 09:51:50 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-05-16-10h50m44s188.pngWhen it comes to weddings, one company can help you have big on your center pieces.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Saving on Spring Cleaning]]>Mon, 09 May 2016 10:57:45 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-05-09-11h55m45s156.pngIf you're hiring a cleaning service, make sure to do your research first.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste]]>Mon, 02 May 2016 08:15:44 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/215*120/grocery-store-shopping-generic.jpgThere are some simple things you can do to save money by not wasting food every year.

Photo Credit: FILE]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Monday: Pricey Proms]]>Mon, 25 Apr 2016 08:08:19 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/vlcsnap-2016-04-25-08h56m19s235-cp.jpgIt's that time of year again when teens all across New England are gearing up for the fanciest night of the year. And parents of those teens, are dipping into their bank accounts. Leslie Gaydos offers some tips on how to combat pricey proms. ]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: AAA Card Deals]]>Mon, 11 Apr 2016 08:34:19 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_041116_MSM_8am_1200x675_663383107941.jpgYour AAA is probably the most underused item in your wallet. There's plenty of discounts you're probably not aware of.]]><![CDATA[Free Salary Negotiation Workshops for Women]]>Mon, 04 Apr 2016 09:02:13 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-04-04-09h47m49s42.pngBeginning Monday, the city of Boston will be observing "Equal Pay Day" with a week-long push to end the gender wage gap.

Click here for more info!

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Monday: Buy vs. Rent]]>Mon, 28 Mar 2016 09:07:54 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_032816_MSM_8am_1200x675_653456451566.jpgThese days, you can rent things you may never have thought about renting before. This consumer trend is taking off and can help you get creative with saving money.]]><![CDATA[Monday Saving Mondays: DIY Cleaning Products ]]>Mon, 21 Mar 2016 12:37:34 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_032116_msm_8a_1200x675_649052227771.jpgGLASS AND MIRROR CLEANER - Ingredients Needed:
2 tablespoons white vinegar
½ cup of corn starch
2 liter bottle club soda

Directions:
Mix club soda with corn starch until dissolved. Add the white vinegar and put into spray bottle. Spray directly on surface.


ALL PURPOSE CLEANER - Ingredients Needed:
16 oz. club soda
1 tablespoon of baking soda
4 drops of dish soap
6 drops of essential oil for fragrance

Directions:
Mix the dish soap and baking soda together, and then add to the club soda. Add your choice of essential oil. Place into spray bottle. Used for countertops and floors.


LEMON FURNITURE POLISH - Ingredients Needed:
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice concentrate

Directions:
Mix the lemon juice and vinegar together first, and then add olive oil. Place the mixture on clean cloth and rub into the wood, going with the grain. Let it sit for a few minutes. Furniture will look dull and smeary. Buff with a clean soft cloth, furniture will shine. Wipe off excess oil.]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Gender Price Disparities]]>Mon, 14 Mar 2016 09:00:47 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/shopping-generic-sepia.jpgA study has found women are paying thousands of dollars more over the course of their lives than men to purchase similar products.

Photo Credit: FILE - Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Living on the Cheap]]>Mon, 07 Mar 2016 09:49:46 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-03-07-09h47m56s81.pngLiving on the Cheap is a network of sites that pool together some the best deals you can get in your area.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[No-Cost Home Energy Assessments]]>Mon, 29 Feb 2016 17:56:09 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/Next+Step+Living.pngYou can get a no-cost energy assessment of your home, have some small changes made and immediately start saving money. For more, head to http://www.nextstepliving.com/

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Price Matching]]>Mon, 22 Feb 2016 09:50:42 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-02-22-09h47m50s197.pngStores often compete with online prices and other stores and allow you to price match for a better deal.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Free Boston Tax Help]]>Mon, 15 Feb 2016 10:12:40 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_021516_MSM_8am_1200x675_623108163542.jpgFor the past 15 years, the city of Boston has been partnering with a number of non-profits to provide free tax assistance for qualified residents.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Valentine's Day Flowers]]>Mon, 08 Feb 2016 09:31:44 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-02-08-09h30m10s167.pngFlowers can be really expensive, but there are ways to save!

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Shopping for a TV Bargain]]>Mon, 01 Feb 2016 13:45:33 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-02-01-10h25m44s81.pngKnow how to get the best deal on a new Television? Leslie Gaydos has all the advice you need.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Student Loan Refinancing]]>Tue, 26 Jan 2016 11:01:32 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/student+loan+generic.jpgAre you saddled with student loan debt? Still trying to get out from under it after years of making payments? Leslie Gaydos takes a look at how to restructure your loans and save money.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Renting Versus Buying Skis]]>Mon, 18 Jan 2016 09:39:02 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-02-16-17h10m05s125.jpgAre you going skiing this winter? Do you know if you should rent or buy skis? We have the answer for you.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Saving for 2016]]>Mon, 11 Jan 2016 09:45:09 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Cash_Generic1.jpg

A recent survey by financial iste bankrate.com finds that majority of Americans don't have enough money to cover a $500 emergency.

If you want to start saving for 2016, financial expert Tony Anchukaitis says you have to make some big changes.

If you can't max out your 401K contributions at work, at least put in enough money to get your company match. If not, you're walking away from free money.

Anchukaitis also suggests looking into a health savings account, which is a tax-advantaged medical savings account.

He also recommends using your debit card instead of a credit card and setting up a savings account at a bank the next town over so many isn't as easily accessible.



Photo Credit: FILE]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Best Boston Supermarkets]]>Mon, 04 Jan 2016 10:06:29 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2016-01-04-09h58m49s134.png

How does your favorite supermarket stack up when it comes to prices? You could save yourself plenty of money if you’re shopping at the right place.

Boston Consumers' Checkbook periodically takes a look at supermarkets to see where you can get the best bang for your buck.

Checkbook sent its researchers shopping for 151 common items like meat, produce and bread at Boston-area supermarkets.

Watch the video for the full results.

You can also check out the full results and rankings here.



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[App Helps Keep Your Flight]]>Mon, 21 Dec 2015 10:55:17 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/zczczxczxcz.jpg]]><![CDATA[Free Things to Do This Holiday Season]]>Mon, 14 Dec 2015 09:54:39 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-12-14-09h53m42s111.jpgYour wallet gets a workout this time of year, but there are things you can do with the family that won't cost you a cent. Leslie Gaydos reports.

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Avoiding Holiday Debt]]>Mon, 07 Dec 2015 09:46:05 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/shopping-GettyImages-459533350.jpgBetween gifts, hosting parties, and for some, fewer work hours, it's easy for debt to add up this holiday season.

Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Cyber Monday]]>Mon, 30 Nov 2015 10:43:43 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-11-30-10h39m23s231.png

With so many deals available on Cyber Monday, it can tough figuring out where to go to get the best savings.

The National Retail Federation coined the term Cyber Monday 10 years ago and they launched a website which highlights thousands of deals.

The site will be offering deals by the hour with the top offers websites have to offer.



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Black Friday Shopping Strategies]]>Mon, 23 Nov 2015 09:45:57 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-134095161.jpgBlack Friday shopping has changed. We take a look at some of the ways you can stay on top of deals and out of those lines.

Photo Credit: FILE -Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How to Save on Your Thanksgiving Meal]]>Mon, 16 Nov 2015 09:43:38 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/180*120/turkey4.jpgBefore you go shopping for your Thanksgiving feast, be sure to check out Leslie Gaydos' tips for how to save money - and avoid the stress - with your Thanksgiving meal.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Thanksgiving Travel Costs]]>Mon, 09 Nov 2015 10:24:16 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Plane-arriving-generic.jpg

As the busiest travel time of the year approaches, you can save money whether you're flying or driving.

Gas prices are the lowest they have been in five years heading into this Thanksgiving, down 98-cents-per-gallon from last year.

For additional savings, be sure to shop the low end of the price range for gas. You should be able to find it for under $2-per-gallon. Don't wait until Thursday or the holiday week to fill up.

If you're flying, be thankful for increased airline competition and lower fuel prices.

Airfares are cheaper this year, but be sure to check for hidden fees. You can also save a significant amount of money if you travel on Thanksgiving instead of the day before.



Photo Credit: FILE]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Reusing Pumpkins]]>Mon, 02 Nov 2015 11:47:22 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/pumpkins-generic.jpg

If you haven't thrown away your halloween pumpkin, there are ways you can get extra use out of it.

For instance, check out this recipe:

Roasted Harvest Vegetable Filled Baby Pumpkin

Ingredients:

5 ea. Baby Pumpkins
3/4 cup peeled Carrots
3/4 cup peeled Butternut Squash
3/4 cup peeled Rutabaga
3/4 cup peeled Pearl Onions
3/4 cup washed Kale
1 1/2 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Procedure:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash, oil lightly and season pumpkins. Place onto cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes until tender. Remove, cool and remove top carving pumpkin style. Remove seeds and reserve both cleaned pumpkin and top.
Dice all vegetables into ½ inch pieces
Place in bowl all vegetables except Kale, toss together with Olive Oil and season taste.
Bake on a non-stick cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until tender
Rough chop Kale and place into bowl.
Remove vegetables and toss with Kale, cover with plastic wrap and let set for 5 minutes. Place mix into pumpkin, heat in oven for ten minutes prior to serving.

Serves 5
 



Photo Credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Boston Public Market]]>Mon, 26 Oct 2015 09:09:25 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-10-26-10h08m16s49.png

It's never easy to whip up a fresh and healthy meal all while trying to save some money, but there are some good solutions.

The Boston Public Market opened over the summer on Hanover Street at Haymarket Station and for the past few months people have been getting a free farm-to-table education.

The market is open year-round and features local vendors and fresh local food.

Tucked away in the corner is the kitchen, where you can take free classes to learn about local food production and healthy eating.

The classes range from lectures to hand-on teaching.



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Halloween Costumes]]>Mon, 19 Oct 2015 10:46:51 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-10-19-10h19m20s135.png

Halloween can be a scary time for consumers.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average person will spend roughly $75 on Halloween this year for candy, costumes and decorations.

Consumers will spend $1.2 billion on adult costumes and $950 million on children's costumes to look great Halloween night.

There are plenty of places to buy them, but Savers stores are growing in popularity.

There are consultants at every store who will work with you and within your budget to find a killer costume.



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Cell Phone Bill]]>Mon, 12 Oct 2015 08:49:13 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-10-12-09h17m54s251.png

It can be complicated to try to compare smart phone plans, but at least take a look at your bill.

Did you know you don't have to be in a family to take advantage of the family plans? A group of roommates or friends can save money going in on a plan together.

Make sure to check with your employer or school for discounts. It can't hurt to ask your carrier what they can do for you, and if that doesn't work, take advantage of all the competition out there.

Exceeding your data limit can be expensive and overage fees add up. Log onto a secure WiFi network whenever possible.

Turn off auto-updates and notifications and figure out what's consuming data on your phone.

]]>
<![CDATA[Car Maintenance]]>Mon, 05 Oct 2015 08:52:37 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NECN_100515_moneysavingmondays_8a_1200x675_538609219622.jpgWhen was the last time you read the owners manual for your car? Leslie Gaydos explains why you may want to look at it, because it could save you some money on your car maintenance bills down the road.]]><![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Food Waste]]>Mon, 28 Sep 2015 08:19:32 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-09-28-09h13m18s190.png

The USDA and the EPA recently partnered to announce the first-ever target for reducing food waste, and if you start by reducing waste in your own kitchen you can save big bucks.

Finding spoiled vegetables in your produce drawer or moldy meat in the back of the fridge can happen frequently.

The USDA along with the Food Marketing Institute and Cornell University launched a Foodkeeper app this year to provide consumers with easy access to clear information on food storage, food product dating and expiration dates.

It can help you maximize the storage life of more than 400 food and beverage items.



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Interest Rates]]>Mon, 21 Sep 2015 10:54:45 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/credit+cards+generic.jpg

Market watchers expect a rate hike before the end of the year. What will that mean for your finances?

Debbie Siegel, president of Westchester Mortgage, says now is the time to take a hard look at your household budget, be proactive and get ready for when the expected increases start to affect the variable rate.

She said, “It’s a good time to trim your credit card balances. A lot of people don't understand that your credit scores work to figure out what your interest rate is going to be. If you want to increase your credit score rating, you need to be mindful of your credit card balances and you need to be at 50-percent or less of the credit card balance utilization I've helped people to increase credit scores and get better rates.

Keep track of your credit cards. It may be a good time to take advantage of a zero percent balance transfer offer. Remember, any missed payment will impact your credit score.

Siegel said, “People have miscellaneous cards because of the deal or the one time they bought it and then they open the mail and they lose it. Or they miss the payment and it hurts their credit and if it hurts their credit it hurts the rate that they can ultimately get from the bank when borrowing.

If you have private student loans you may want to consider consolidating them into a fixed-rate loan. As for mortgage rates, they are not tied directly to the federal funds rate.



Photo Credit: FILE - AP]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Cleaning]]>Mon, 14 Sep 2015 21:38:53 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-09-14-22h37m24s172.png

September 22 marks the last full day of summer, and already, many New Englanders are getting their homes cleaned and ready for spending a lot more time indoors.

In this edition of Money Saving Mondays, Nick Charlton, general manager of LTC Cleaning of Concord and Wellesley, Mass., showed us ways to save money and do a better job cleaning carpets and windows.

For carpet stains, Charlton shows how to use four clean towels, water, soap, and his special ingredient, rubbing alcohol, to achieve the same cleaning results you’ll get from a power carpet washer. The rubbing alcohol works as a solvent and disinfectant.

With towel one, you soak it in warm water and make sure there’s plenty of water saturating the stained area, then apply your soapy water with a spritz of alcohol to the stain. With towel two, use a tapping motion to work the carpet up and down against the towel and keep flipping it until you see less and less stain passing from the carpet to the towel. Blot it dry with towel three. Then put towel four on, under a candle or soup can or something with some but not too much weight, to fully dry the carpet. You can run a hairbrush lightly over the stain, once you’ve wet it, to improve the cleaning action.

For window cleaning, Charlton’s trick is to dilute supermarket-brand window cleaner one-to-one or even two-to-one with water, because most off-the-shelf window cleaners come highly concentrated. If you don’t have a squeegee, use a washcloth first to get off most of the grime, then a t-shirt to remove the remaining moisture without streaking. What Charlton has found is that on a properly cleaned window, what leaves the most streaking is excessive amounts of cleaning product. So using a watered-down glass cleaner can mean less streaking.

“The soap is what's left behind. That's the residue, usually, that creates the streaks. It's not the dirt,’’ Charlton explained. “I’m surprised more people don't, honestly, dilute their cleaning products.’’ 



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Furniture]]>Mon, 07 Sep 2015 21:23:52 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/furniture+generic+boxford+mass.jpg

With Labor Day Weekend behind us, we'll soon be thinking about spending less time outdoors and more time indoors, and that may mean thinking about some new furniture.

And if you’re looking for deals, one key piece of advice from experts: Be sure to spend some time shopping outside of traditional new furniture outlets. Such as, for example, the Cort Furniture Rental store in Central Square, Cambridge, Mass.

Millions of people recognize the Cort name as a giant in furniture rental, but it turns out, they can also boast they are the world's biggest seller of top-shelf used furniture, high end pieces that have been retired from the rental fleet.

“Cort purchases a huge amount of furniture. After we've rented that furniture for a while, it ends up in our showroom,’’ said Jim Meagher, Cort’s Boston district general manager. He oversees furniture rentals throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire from their distribution center in Norwood, Mass. “We have a fully-functional service shop in our distribution center, so every piece of furniture that comes back gets sanitized, gets treated, gets cleaned’’ – and then sold at huge discounts.

“We typically save 70 percent off standard retail’’ prices for equivalent furniture, Meagher said. Consumers buying pieces enjoy two levels of protection, “The customer actually gets a 14-day, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee’’ if they regret buying anything from the showroom, and then beyond that, a 90-day warranty for actual defects, Meagher said.

Cort’s one example of what Boxford, Mass., design expert Linda Holt of Linda Holt Interiors encourages for furniture bargain hunters: shop outside traditional retail stores. Besides consignment stores in wealthy towns and charity shops like Habitat For Humanity’s ReStore outlets, Holt is a big fan of buying used pieces from “home stagers’’ – companies that help Realtors and real-estate agents sell empty or shabbily furnished homes by bringing in attractive furniture and design elements.

“The best-kept secret is: Call large staging companies. they have a huge inventory of furniture and everything that they bring in has to be in perfect condition, especially when they're staging multi-million-dollar homes,’’ Holt said. “Usually, once or twice a year, they have these giant warehouse sales, where they're selling things for literally pennies on the dollar.’’ Often they are pieces with extremely minor nicks or stains that staging companies are more than willing to sell dirt-cheap because they’ve already made several times over what they spent on them through rental fees.

“My tip is: When you find out when the sale is go armed with a truck, and cash, and get there early,’’ Holt said.

Holt’s also a fan of short-term, screaming deals at online sites, and her favorites there are KingsLane.com, JossAndMain.com, and Viyet.com. “The flash sales sites are 60 to 70 percent off retail, but the one problem is, you have to make a decision -- they're usually only on sale for 48 hours, so you have to know what you're looking for. Be ready to pull the trigger right away,’’ Holy said, “and there's no return at most of the sites.’’

That willingness to make a quick decision when you do see a great deal highlights what may be the key to true savings on furniture: “Plan the whole thing out first, so everything works,’’ Holt said.

Otherwise, that unplanned $100 steal of a deal may not turn out to be so real. What Holt has seen clients and friends do all too often is shop piecemeal and by impulse: “First they'll go buy the sofa, and then: OK, now I need to find the chairs that go with the sofa. Then they'll be looking for the chairs,’’ Holt said, “and then: This really doesn't go with the rug, so now we'll get the new rug.’’ And before you know it, all the money you thought you saved on the super-cheap sofa has been spent, and then some, rearranging the rest of the room to accommodate it.

Stick to a plan, but shop off the beaten path, and you can live large, in style, for less. 



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Medical Bills]]>Mon, 31 Aug 2015 21:27:46 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/medical_billing.jpg

If you’ve ever received a complicated bill for a complicated medical procedure, you may not be surprised at all to hear that studies find as many as 80 percent of medical bills have errors – including billions of dollars in overcharges for consumers.

After a surgery or hospitalization or emergency-room visit comes a blizzard of confusing paperwork -- often labelled “This is not a bill’’ -- full of incomprehensible codes and procedure names and incomprehensible columns like “non billable to member,” “non covered charges,” and “plan allowance.’’ Then at the end: “Amount you owe provider.’’

Trying to figure out if you're getting ripped off and how to fight back is all but impossible for most consumers. But it’s what a Boston startup called CoPatient.com is all about – and it’s already saved, it says, over $3 million for consumers by challenging hospitals, physicians, pharmacy groups, and insurance companies to fix errors.

“Any consumer can submit any set of medical bills to us, and we'll review them at no charge and give them a savings estimate to identify if there are any errors or opportunities for them to save on that bill,’’ said Rebecca Palm, co-founder and chief strategy officer for CoPatient. To analyze bills, they use a network of medical-billing experts with an average of over 30 years in the field.

“One of the things that our advocates bring to the table for consumers is they bring a lot of experience and expertise in speaking this foreign medical-billing language,’’ Palm said.

How it works: You submit your medical bills to CoPatient electronically, by mail or fax, or through a smartphone app. They scrutinize them and tell you how much they think they could save you. You pay them a fee of 35 percent of what they do save you, so effectively 65 percent of the savings they identify come straight off your obligation. You don't have to pay anything unless they deliver you savings, the company stresses.

CoPatient can’t guarantee it will get you the potential savings its analysts identifty. “It is just an estimate, but it's our experts' best estimate of what we think their expectation should be in terms of savings,’’ Palm said. “Sometimes it's a little more or less than that.’’

One of the principal sources of billing errors CoPatient finds is a hospital or doctor charging more than you what your insurance contract with them allows. As we found in this story http://www.necn.com/news/business/Money-Saving-Mondays-Medical-Expenses-281301701.html prices for medical procedures or diagnostics can vary wildly based on who’s doing them, at what facility, and who’s paying for it.

“There's a ton of variation in pricing depending on who your insurance company is, so different insurance companies have negotiated different rates with all the different providers in your area,’’ Palm said. Not surprisingly, whether inadvertently or not, hospitals and doctors often bill you a price that is higher than what your insurance company allows them to charge, and CoPatient can find and reverse those overcharges.

Palm also said as a general rule, bills for long hospital stays, medical episodes that involve lots of physicians and tests and medications, or emergency-room visits are more likely to lead to errors and overcharges. “In general, the larger, the more complexity there is involved,’’ Palm said, “the more opportunity there probably is for them to save.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographers Daniel J. Ferrigan and Abbas T. Sadek. NECN producer Pamela Bechtold contributed to this report. 



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Car Rentals]]>Mon, 24 Aug 2015 21:38:34 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/rental+car+counter.JPG

If you’ve rented a car for a getaway trip this year, almost certainly you got something ranging from a guilt trip to a hard sell from the rental company agent to buy damage waivers and other supposedly “optional” insurance.

Rent-a-car companies now make 8 percent of all their revenue from these optional coverages, according to Auto Rental News. But a lot of consumers feel confused about what protection they really need and should pay for – and when they’re getting ripped off.

Someone who fields questions about rental-car insurance coverage all the time is Paul Burke, president of Hadley Insurit Group in Fall River. He’s been teaching classes about Massachusetts auto insurance for over 25 years with the Massachusetts Association of Independent Insurance Agents and has earned certifications as a Certified Risk Manager (CRM), Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC), and Licensed Insurance Advisor (LIA).

“All rental car contracts are very different, and you have to read them, and the problem is, most people don't want to read them,’’ Burke said in an interview at his office. “If they do, they don't understand them, and they're on vacation, and the last thing they want to do is spend an hour at the counter trying to figure out what's covered and what's not.’’

Examples of the numerous coverages you’ll be asked to accept or reject are likely to be collision damage waivers, limited damage waivers, supplemental liability protection (or additional liability insurance), personal accident insurance, accident medical coverage, and personal effects coverage.

Two that Burke says you can confidently turn down are supplemental liability coverage on your car rental, because “if you purchased the right limits on your personal auto policy, you should not have to’’ pay for liability coverage while renting, and personal effects coverage for your stuff inside the rental car. “It’s covered under your homeowners' policy if it's stolen, or your tenants' homeowner policy’’ or renters’ insurance, Burke said.

Depending on whether you pay for a car with an American Express card, MasterCard, or Visa, the credit card company may fill in gaps of coverage after what the rental car company and your personal auto insurer cover. But no two companies have the same rules, and coverage can vary by card issuer depending on what type of card you have.

Where it gets more complicated is deciding yes or no on damage waivers that can cost $15, 20, or $22 extra a day. They’re not insurance, exactly, but release you from having to pay to repair or replace a damaged car.

Many consumers know that, at least in Massachusetts, the comprehensive and collision coverage you have on your car will cover damage to a rental car you’re driving, too, and so you may not need to buy a damage waiver.

That’s true, Burke said, but “you will be responsible to handle the claim just as if it were your own car. Anything that is not covered by the Massachusetts auto policy but required by the contract -- you're going to have to pay that, and that is going to come off your credit card’’ and potentially max out your available credit until the rental company, your insurer, and you agree on what damage needs to be fixed.

Bear in mind that you will also void all insurance coverage on the car if you get in an accident while driving drunk, operating to endanger, letting someone not authorized on the rental contract drive the car, leaving the car unlocked someplace with the keys or ignition fob inside, or fine-print contractual violations common to rental car contracts like a prohibition on taking the vehicle onto a non-paved road – even if it’s a town-owned road in a place like Martha’s Vineyard or Vermont.

If you do get into an accident with a rental car and have your personal auto insurance collision and comprehensive cover it, you're looking at paying a $1,000 or $2,000 deductible towards repairs of the rental car, a hit to your driving record that will almost certainly drive up your future insurance premiums, and a lot of paperwork.

That's why Burke says for a two- or three- or seven-day rental, taking the extra $20-a-day waiver fee very well may prove worth it. (If you’re renting a car for longer, the expense quickly adds up, and if you rent a car for over 30 days, your regular personal auto insurer may stop covering the rental car.) Using a CDW to keep an accident off your permanent personal auto insurance record is an extra justification for paying it.

“I certainly recommend that anybody who’s going for a 3- or 4-day quick vacation that are renting a car buy the CDW … Usually, when you buy it, you've eliminated your financial risk for that car, in most cases. So once you've done it, if something happens to that car, you turn it in and walk away,’’ Burke said. It’s also, Burke added, a question of the value of peace of mind when you head off on a long-anticipated vacation: “I don’t want anybody to go on vacation and get in an accident on the first day – and their vacation is ruined.’’ 



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Seasonal Deals]]>Tue, 18 Aug 2015 15:08:12 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-08-17-22h46m59s27.png

It makes many New Englanders sad to admit, but with just three weeks left until Labor Day, the end of the summer season is drawing closer. For some of us, though, “end of season” is the beginning of a beautiful phrase that ends with ... "clearance sales."

“Right now is a really great time to stock up on your summertime essentials, because the retailers are making way for the fall merchandise, so you're going to see a ton of sales, 50, even 75 percent off,’’ said consumer expert Annmarie Seldon of TrendyMommies.com.

Walking around the seasonal aisle at the BJ’s Wholesale Club in Medford, Mass., Friday, Seldon pointed out how it proves the truth of a common retail rule: Buy, now, what the stores are trying to get rid of –- now. With retailers thinking ahead to autumn, on Friday afternoon, prices for outdoor grilling equipment and supplies, kids’ sandbox sets, coolers, and summer classics like the Backyard Safari Bug Scooper all reflected significant discounts. A patio/deck table with eight chairs had been slashed from roughly $900 to $600.

“Maybe you want to get a pool or an air conditioner,’’ Seldon said. “Everyone wants those types of items at the beginning of the summer season … Wait till the end of the summer season when they're trying to get rid of all those air conditioners, and that's when you'll see deep discounts.’’

True as far as it goes – but Kevin Brasler, executive editor of nonprofit consumer ratings firm Consumers’ Checkbook, warns there are a lot of fake sales this time of year. “It’s all just marketing hype, OK? In fact, we found at Checkbook that most sales aren't even sales at all,’’ Brasler said.

For example, he said, you'd think now would be a much better time of years to buy a lawn mower at a big home-goods store like Sears, right? “One of the items we tracked at Sears was a mower, and you'd think, well, at the end of the summer, they're going to want to clear out those mowers. Well, that lawn mower was on sale for 43 of the 44 weeks we tracked prices. Every week,’’ Brasler said.

Brasler says your best bet may be to look for deals on things that can die: “If you're buying plants or something like that at the end of the year, are there going to be steep discounts on plants, because they're only going to be around for a couple more months? Yeah, sure.’’

Seldon agrees not every advertised deal is a guaranteed deal but is less discouraging overall than Brasler. “In certain retailers, it is the case, because they do want to make way for that fall and winter merchandise,’’ Seldon said. Pointing out grills marked down by $30 to $50 from their price earlier in the summer, Seldon said, “Some of these gas grills on sale, there are some great savings here at BJ's.’’

But the key is, when you see an “on sale” or “reduced price” tag, having a good sense for what the price has been the other 51 weeks of the year.

“You just can never trust that's a good price,’’ Brasler said, “unless you do a bit of shopping around.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographers Tony Sabato and Daniel J. Ferrigan. NECN’s Leslie Gaydos contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Sunscreen]]>Tue, 11 Aug 2015 11:32:38 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/CR+Sunscreen+052314.jpg

When it comes to getting the most out of your sunscreen dollars, they don't come more authoritative than Doctor Louis Kuchnir. He is the president of the Massachusetts Academy of Dermatology and a dermatologist practicing in Milford, Massachusetts.

"Each of us is so different in terms of how vulnerable we are to say sunburns or even skin cancers. The amount that you need to use needs to be personalized," Doctor Kuchnir explained.

That said, one way a lot of people are wasting a lot of money, Doctor Kuchnir says, is by paying big premiums for sunscreen rated SPF 50 or 80 or even 100.

"15 is probably fine for everyday sunscreen use. For going to the beach, even at a northern latitude like here, a 30 is probably appropriate. You certainly could burn through a 30 but that's easier to do in Florida or the Caribbean.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, SPF 15 sunscreen will block out 93 percent of UVB radiation. SPF 30 will block out 97 percent and SPF 50 will block out 98 percent. That's why it's important to understand what SPF is and isn't.

"If ten minutes of sun would cause a burn, and with sunscreen you can 300 minutes of the same amount of sun before burning, that sunscreen has a SPF of thirty. It's simply a ratio of how long it takes to burn with the sunscreen versus without," Doctor Kuchnir explained.

So unless you're super sun-sensitive or lying on a beach for eight hours at a time, paying for more than SPF 30 may well be a waste of money.

Experts also recommend applying sunblock 30 minutes before sun exposure and to re-apply every two hours and after swimming. 



Photo Credit: Consumer Reports]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: School Shopping]]>Mon, 03 Aug 2015 21:37:57 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-08-03-22h36m50s4.png

Cue the groans from kids – and cheers from parents: In four weeks it will start becoming “back to school” time for thousands of New England schoolchildren.

“Like any other shopping activity, it really helps, if you're going to spend significant money, to have a plan and be organized,’’ says Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com, a Boston-based shopping deals site.

The cardinal rule: Before you go shopping, check your home and drawers and the back of kids’ closets to see what you already have. For clothing and school supplies, consider getting together with family and friends for a swap where you offer your surplus and see what’s on your kid’s list you can get from others.

Lal also encourages parents to eye that school supply list with some health skepticism – because the main way he sees people wasting money is getting everything on it before knowing what kids really need. “I think the biggest thing people do is go exclusively by the school list, and the school list is in some ways a wish list -- an ideal list,’’ Lal said.

For what you do buy, Lal encourages shopping strategically: “Get the laptop and calculator early. Get the pencils and note pads at the end.’’

The reason? “It might be a particular model calculator or a particular model of laptop that your child needs, so that one you want to shop online and in stores for such items early, because you don't want to run the risk of these items getting sold out.’’ But paper, pens, supplies, notebooks – Lal says it may pay to procrastinate until September when retailers are itching to move that merchandise: “These things are significantly reduced at that time because retailers are trying to get all these things off their shelf. Shelf space costs them money.’’ 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Solar Power]]>Mon, 27 Jul 2015 21:41:16 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Apple-Solar-Power-Plant.jpg

These days across New England, lots of people want solar energy, but don’t have the right roofs for it. And a lot of people with the right roofs for it don’t want to cost and hassle of buying, installing, and owning it.

Enter Boston-based Yeloha, a startup with a new vision for how to solve both problems –- by creating what they call a “solar sharing network’’ that connects people like Jasmine Leitzel of Boston and Jason Slater of Dedham, Mass.

Jasmine is an ardent environmentalist from the city’s Brighton section who loves “to be able to feel better about all of the energy that I use.’’ She’d love to have solar panels on her roof, but she’s got multiple valid reasons she can’t: “Right now I'm a renter. I'm planning on moving in September, and I have a slate roof. I don't own the house, and I don't have a south-facing roof, so it wouldn't have even been possible.’’

For Jason, a robotics engineer and equally committed environmentalist about five miles away in Dedham, it’s exactly the opposite. As he explains: “I lucked out where I'm extremely south-facing. The pitch is very good. I’m up on top of a hill with no trees, so I have something like 95 percent sun exposure at all times, which is great.’’

What’s happening this week is work to enable Jasmine to get to enjoy some of the benefits and savings of solar energy from a panel going up on Jason's roof.

Explains Yeloha regional manager Joel Gamoran: “We’ll put the solar panels up on your roof. We monitor them, we maintain them, we insure them, and we give you a share of the energy that it produces at no cost.’’

Currently with Yeloha, partners put up, at a minimum, $65 for a year’s worth of one solar panel’s production. Gamoran says, as a rule, most partners get the $65 back plus a 5 to 10 percent net savings on their electric bill over the course of the year, all depending on the size of their home and their energy use. You can sign on for deals for more panels for longer terms to get more savings. Sun “hosts,” meantime, pay nothing and get a free share of their panels’ output to defray their electric bills and as compensation for having technicians install panels and related gear on their homes.

Slater said his expectation is “I’m looking for approximately $500 to $600 a year. We'll have to see what it generates … IK think it'll probably be good for a quarter to a third of my bill.’’

Slater’s also happy to be a landlord for, not an owner of, a solar system, even if it means he’s not getting as big a break on his Eversource bills as he might using another company and another payment model. “The great thing here is that they own and maintain the equipment, so I don't really have to worry about that,’’ Slater said. “I’m not signing a 20-year contract on electricity, so if my lifestyle changes and I decide to move or sell or something like that, I don't have to worry about that contract.’’

One challenge for solar energy in Massachusetts, particularly in areas served by National Grid as their electric utility: The number of solar installations is bumping up against something called the “net metering cap’’ – effectively, that’s a limit on how many installations the state will allow to be subsidized by utility rebates and credits, tax breaks, and other subsidies. The state Senate has just voted recently this month, however, to raise that cap. While business groups like Associated Industries of Massachusetts fear it could lead to ratepayers generally having to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize people with solar panels, some environmentalists are hopeful there’s an overall compromise with businesses and utilities that can allow the solar revolution and its ancillary benefits to continue to spread in Massachusetts.

One key caution raised by Slater about the Yeloha model: You do have to be blessed with the right house in the right place. “It’s important to appreciate that the roof plays a large role in what you can generate,’’ Slater said. “You can't just put panels up anywhere and pay for your whole bill.’’

But at no cost to him, and at a price Jasmine Leitzel’s happy to pay and expects to reap some savings from, it’s working for them and others Yeloha is signing up around the region. 



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Parking]]>Mon, 20 Jul 2015 21:35:46 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-07-20-22h34m44s228.png

Anyone who drives around Boston knows how hard it can be to park around around Boston – but now a recently upgraded smartphone app is giving drivers access to privately-owned spaces –- and helping the lucky space owners make some extra cash, too.

It’s called Spot, offered for free by ParkEasier.com, and someone who’s been using it is Perry Geyer, owner of Cybersound, a music and commercial recording studio on Newbury Street in Boston that -- besides sleek, top-of-the-line high-tech recording equipment -– comes with something else extraordinarily valuable: A reserved, off-street, genuine Back Bay Boston parking space.

“When I’m not using the parking spot, it's just completely available for anybody to use,’’ Geyer said.

That anybody could be someone like Sam Wheatley, who lives in Cambridge, works in marketing in Boston, and is also co-founder of Sebo Designs, which makes Ugandan cloth neckties and pocket squares. “Looking for parking in Cambridge, it can be really difficult finding a spot,’’ Wheatley said. “Drive around for 15 minutes and you still haven't found anything.’’

On the sell side and the buy side, Geyer and Wheatley are both regular uses of Spot. When someone like Sam needs a spot, he can open the Spot app on his smartphone and see a map of people who have a spot, like Perry, plug in the time of day they want to rent it, see the price, and book it, instantly. “It tells you the price right there, and you can book in advance,’’ Wheatley explained as he demonstrated the app on his phone. “You press this green button, and you're done.’’

On Geyer’s end, “I literally just get a text on my phone. It’s like: ‘Hey, you just rented your spot, is it available for three hours on this day?’ I’m like: ‘Yes, it is. Done!’ So it's a piece of cake.’’

If you’re looking for a space for a week or a month, Spot can help you find that, too.

Spot takes 15 percent of what owners charge as a processing fee, and it also handles notifying or towing people who overstay their space rentals.

Some other smartphone-based parking apps like Haystack have raised legal hackles in Boston because they involved people trading control of city-owned metered spaces. The key distinction with spot is it involves owners of private spaces privately contracting with others to rent them.

Geyer estimates he rents out his space at least once a week and nets around $20 a week -– hardly enough to get rich off, but more than just extra pocket changes.

Wheatley said he’s always finding lower prices with Spot than parking lots and garages, and said, “It’s really easy to use. If you can use Google Maps or Waze or Uber, then you should be good.’’ Plus, he describes it as an affordable tiny luxury. “It has a bit of a VIP feel,’’ Wheatley said. “You pull into this private spot.’’ All the sweeter with Spot when just spotting any spot in Boston is no small triumph. 



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Boat Rentals]]>Mon, 13 Jul 2015 21:37:03 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-07-13-22h27m09s61.png

If you've never owned a boat -- or if you did and you don't anymore -- now's the time of year you can feel awfully envious of the thousands of New Englanders navigating our rivers, harbors, lakes, and bays.

While the old saw has it that the two happiest days in a boat owner's life are the day he buys the boat, and the day he finally sells the boat, as so many New Englanders know, there really are few days quite as wonderful as a great day on the water.

What more and more people are finding is that there are more and more options for renting, not owning, a boat to make some of those magic memories – to get a boating experience for $250 or $400 or $800 a day, depending on the size and location of the boat, rather than shelling out several thousand dollars a year for maintenance, boat payments, mooring, storage, insurance, and the like.

Don Symington of Boston Harbor Boar Rentals offers a range of boats, starting with 25-footers at $250 per day, to qualified over-21 boaters. Many of his renters are in fact ex-owners. “We see these people all the time,’’ Symington said. “It’s one of our best customers. They've owned a boat before, they've got experience, they know what they're doing. They want to get back out on the water, but they don't want the hassle and responsibility and expense of owning a boat when they're only going to use it a few times a year.’’

Symington recommends this webstite. You can use it to search for boat rentals all around New England and filter your search by price range, boat size, captained or “bareboat,” and many other factors. This is another leading “sharing economy of boats” website full of New England listings.

They’re not sites amateur navigators or those without Coast Guard Auxiliary certifications should use, however. “Boating safety is paramount,’’ Symington said. “There's no substitute for safety and knowing what you're doing.’’

Nor, he advised, is it a smart idea to make this the time you try out twice as big a boat as you've ever skippered: “Don't get into a boat that's too big for you. Get in a boat that you've used before, and you have experience with.’’

And if you just want to hang out on a boat and enjoy the harborfront scene without actually going anywhere, GetMyBoat.com has options there – like in Boston, the Golden Slipper, which bills itself as a “bed and breakfast afloat,” starting at $225 a night for two up to $425 a night for five or six. The 40-foot Catalina is docked footsteps away from Boston’s North End and Faneuil Hall and comes with all the service amenities of a B-and-B, including daily breakfast delivery.

Whether you party in port, or rent a refreshing ride around the harbor, Symington said one of the best attractions: “It’s a great way for you to get out on the water, not spend a lot of money, and when the day is over, the boat is someone else's problem.’’ 



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Summer Camp]]>Tue, 07 Jul 2015 06:28:09 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-07-06-22h29m15s7.png

With the Independence Day holiday weekend behind us, camp season is now in full swing for thousands of kids at the nearly 400 accredited summer camps around New England.

Across the country this summer, parents will spend over $25 billion on day camp and sleepaway camp, according to CampEasy.com, and for this Money Saving Mondays report, we asked several experts for some tips on how to hold down those costs. They boil down to not overpacking, keeping it simple, and not overestimating how much laundry your kids are generally willing to do and how many fresh clean clothes they’ll really demand.

Annmarie Seldon of TrendyMommies.com said, “A good thing, if they're going to overnight camp, is to invest in multi-use items." Examples include face wipes that can double as hand wipes and sunscreen wipes, and one of her favorites, Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. It’s not cheap – usually around $10 to $12 for a pint bottle – but a little goes a long way, and it's super versatile.

“This can be used on the hair, the body, and you can actually wash your clothes in this as well," Seldon said. “Instead of bringing shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, you can use an all in one.’’

Run your kid’s school-year backpack through the washing machine on the right settings, and it can look brand new for camp. The same goes for their sneakers, too.

If your kid is sleeping away at camp, Seldon gives you permission to keep the money you'd put in their camp account. “The camp store is a big money-waster. Kids tend to buy candy when they go there," Seldon said.

And for your day camper, don't buy prepackaged, pre-portioned snacks -- make your own snack bags from a big bag of trail mix or the like for easily one third the cost.

As she was wrapping up a Market Basket run one day last week, we caught up with Julie Kleyn of Concord, Massachusetts, a mother of three now older teen and young adult children, and we asked her to remember some of the supplies she now realizes went wasted on her three sons: “Water bottles, because they lose them. Sunscreen, because they don’t use it," Kleyn said wryly. “With the first kid, we bought a beautiful large trunk, which we filled with all kinds of good, great clothes, and he wore, like, the top layer and came home stinking and filthy -- and you know, all the rest was a waste of money and a waste of time. We still have the trunk."

Seldon agrees with Kleyn that lots of parents over-pack and under-estimate how much laundry their kids will really do. “A lot of times, parents will pack multiple pillowcases, multiple sheet sets, and sometimes, that doesn't get used.’’

Channon Ames DiCiurcio, recreation manager for the city of Newton, Massachusetts, promotes minimalism for their day campers. “The kids need comfortable sneakers that they can run around in. If they're doing any kind of swimming or water play, they'll need a bathing suit and sunscreen. It's always important to protect from the sun. "

But beyond that, she said, “We just try to encourage people to not bring extra things that they might not need at camp. Sometimes, they'll try to bring games or toys from home and we really discourage that because if they lose it, they get really upset."

Bette Bussel, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England, which accredits close to 400 camps around New England, said based on years of feedback from member camps, her one key piece of advice is: “Pay close attention to the list the camp provides and follow it to the letter. Camps know best. Their advice is based on years (if not decades) of experience and includes important information about what personal gear, equipment and supplies campers will need—and in what quantities. Pack what’s on the list -- no more, no less."

Necm special projects producer Pamela Bechtold and necn Assistant Chief Photographer John J. Hammann contributed to this report.

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Farm Shares]]>Tue, 23 Jun 2015 06:12:26 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/farm_generic.jpg

There's nothing like farm-fresh food this time of year, and as more and more New Englanders are discovering, there's a new way to buy produce that can be very competitive with supermarket prices.

If you and your family love a wide variety of fresh organic produce all summer long, you could easily spend $40, $50, or $60 a week at a big, expensive supermarket. Or, you could spend $31 a week a Tangerini's Spring Street Farm in Millis, Mass.

Specifically, you could buy what's known as a “community-supported agriculture far” share, a 1/350th share of what they bring in from their fields each week for 20 weeks.

Tangerini’s is one of more than 380 farms across New England that now offer this plan. The appeal to farmers: They get paid at the beginning of the season and stay out of debt while they’re raising crops. The appeal to consumers: A variety of ultra-fresh produce every week through potentially November or early December while they preserve local farming in their communities.

At Tangerini’s, what your $31 per week gets you depends entirely on what and how much is ready for harvesting per week from the 40-acre farm. The week we visited, share owners got last autumn’s potatoes from cold storage, bok choy, garlic scapes (the green tops to garlic bulbs that can be sauteed or turned into pesto), scallions, kohlrabi and multiple heads of lettuce.

“Next week will be sugar-snap peas, lettuce," explained Laura Tangerini, who runs the farm with her husband Charlie. “Not everything can be grown all the time. So there is a real seasonality to the CSA. By early July, we're into the cucumbers and the summer squashes and the zucchinis. Fresh garlic will be coming out of the field … Cherry tomatoes start coming in, and the regular tomatoes, along with the peppers and the eggplant, melons, watermelons, and then it's lots of sweet corn in late July. Lots of sweet corn.’’ And on it goes through September and October with new crops of broccoli, then hardy greens like chard and root vegetables like carrots, turnips, and potatoes. Tangerini’s has even been able to harvest fresh produce as late as early December.

“Every week or two weeks, it's going to completely change, and so just about the time you've gotten your fill of cucumbers or tomatoes or whatever it is, we're on to the next thing," Tangerini said.

In all, it is 40 crops over 20 weeks. While your $31 may not buy so much early and late in the season, during peak harvest time, pount for pound, your $1 spent with a CSA may get you the equivalent of $2 or $3 worth of produce compared to supermarket prices.

Many people also find they save money because their produce lasts longer in the fridge than something picked days ago in California or Mexico. Fresh-picked lettuces and peas, for example, can last a week and a half, compared to supermarket produce that may begin to wilt after three days at home.

One good website for searching CSA programs near you is www.KnowWhereYourFoodComesFrom.com. It lists over 380 CSAs in all six New England states, including 56 more in Massachusetts like the one run by Tangerini’s and over 180 in Maine.

Tangerini and others will tell you, a CSA is not for everyone – especially if you don’t love chopping and cooking, if you’re not especially adventurous with produce, or if you just prefer and are willing to pay for the convenience of going to the supermarket and buying what you want when you want it, rather than having to schedule a weekly CSA share pickup.

“If you don't like to cook, if you're going out to eat multiple times a week it's not going to be for you," Tangerini said.

But for those who love working with a changing palette of fresh local produce, and knowing where their food comes from and who grew it, a CSA share can be a great option that just might save you some money as well.

With videographer Abbas T. Sadek and video editor Lauren Kleciak.



Photo Credit: File - Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Touring Providence]]>Mon, 15 Jun 2015 21:44:03 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-06-15-22h34m44s238.png

 In honor of necn's New England Vacation Week, this Money Saving Mondays focuses on fun, affordable ways to tour and experience the glorious capital of Rhode Island, Providence.

Two we feature in tonight’s piece: the Providence River Boat Co., which offers spectacular 50-minute tours of the city for $20 ($15 for kids) as seen from the river that flows through the city, and food maven Cindy Salvato’s Savoring Rhode Island tour of Federal Hill, the epicenter of Providence’s legendary food scene.

As he maneuvered his Proud Mary 14-seater up the Providence River towards the Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers, which converge to form the Providence, the boat company’s Capt. Tom McGinn pointed out how much healthier the river has grown. “You've had a major return of sea life. There are now oysters growing on all the walls here,’’ McGinn said. “North American eel, juvenile flounder, striped bass are in here right now chasing the menhaden.’’

Thirty years ago, these rivers were covered over by roads and railyards before being returned to daylight, lined by walkable plazas, and opened up with the relocation of Interstate 195. “It’s been a complete and total renaissance for downtown. The waterfront is now completely accessible,’’ McGinn said. At one spot you can see marks showing how high floodwaters reached during the deadly hurricances of 1938 and 1954.

His boats tours head out from a dock at 575 South Water Street, next to The Hot Club restaurant, and he asks passengers to make reservations ahead of time, but will accommodate walk-up passengers when he can. Tours operate seven days a week during the summer, including during Providence’s legendary Waterfire events. And if you call ahead of time, he’s happy to let you bring on board a cooler of wine or beer and food to make it a moveable feast on the water.

Providence is also a legendary food city, and a fun way to experience the Federal Hill food scene that can be more affordable than a whole restaurant tab: Food expert Cindy Salvato’s Savoring Rhode Island tour of the neighborhood. It’s a three-hour, $50 meander through three busy blocks. “We’re eating the whole way. We're getting behind-the-scenes tours,’’ Salvato said.

The tour’s likely to include a look at the 100-year-old ovens at Carol Scialo’s Scialo Brothers bakery where they make bread, cupcakes, and other cakes, a taste of “certified Neapolitan” pizza made in a wood-fired oven at Constantino’s Venda Bar & Ristorante, and a trip to Roma for a taste of prosciutto made from Rhode Island farm hogs and a fresh-filled cannoli. Salvato hopes for visitors to learn many fine points about choosing ingredients for and preparing Italian dishes and appreciating Italian wines and baked goods.

And for $50, you wind up with a pretty good multi-course meal. “We have a little sample of something from each store,’’ Salvato said, including wine. “Absolutely. A couple of samples!”



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Boston Wedding Venues]]>Mon, 08 Jun 2015 22:33:42 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/wedding+generic1.jpg

The average wedding in Connecticut or Massachusetts cost over $38,000 last year – and over $42,000 in Rhode Island, according to the most recent survey by weddings supersite The Knot.

And while a top reception venue like a hotel or inn can easily cost $10,000 or more, you can find some far more interesting – and far more affordable – alternatives.

Two that we focus on in this week’s Money Saving Mondays are the Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge and the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham. You can rent the Multicultural Arts Center for 10 hours on a weekend day starting at $4,200, for up to 200 people, and the Charles River Museum of Industry starting at $2,800, for up to 180.

The Cambridge center is an old Middlesex County courthouse building with a grand and soaring marble-floored space and lavishly decorated walls and ceilings with a small courtyard park right outside where couples often decide to say their wedding vows, then come inside for the reception. You get access to two gallery spaces with art on display. “We have two galleries, one upstairs and one downstairs, and those are always on view, and that is included in your rental,’’ Multicultural Arts Center operations chief Victoria Hall said.

Just by word of mouth and no advertising, they book 40 to 50 weddings per year, but do have openings starting next July, she said.

The Charles River Museum of Industry, like the Cambridge center, also has an outdoor courtyard park space where couples often make their vows, and a different kind of grand, soaring space, 48 by 54 feets, with rafters they let you hang fabric and lights and decorations from. During receptions, guest can look over displays like a case full of watches and clocks from the mills that gave Waltham its Watch City name, pose for pictures on an old steam-powered fire engine, and play with some please-do-touch old pieces of machinery.

At both places, you aren’t just saving money – but helping a good cause. For the Charles River Museum, weddings and events have become an important source of revenue to fund operations and restoration of old machinery and equipment. "It's really hard to survive these days as a museum” without ancillary revenue, museum events coordinator Jill O’Shaughnessy said.

The Multicultural Arts Center is devoted to creating exhibition space for “underserved artists” and supporting a broad range of artists and communities, which means the space is always full of unique collections of painting, sculpture, and more. “You’re getting more of an experience when you come to our venue,’’ Hall said, “than just going to a hotel or some other hall.’’ 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Yard Plantings]]>Mon, 01 Jun 2015 21:27:15 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-06-01-22h25m55s135.png

After a very long winter and a very cool spring, it’s hard for many to believe, it really is June now. But around New England, especially after a good two-day drenching, it’s turning very green – and becoming that time of the year when you can really appreciate the beauty of a yard full of blooming shrubs and plants.

If you've been thinking about adding or replacing some plantings, for this week’s Money Saving Mondays report, we went to Ken Brown, a fourth-generation co-owned of the family-run New England Nurseries in Bedford, Mass., to ask about some smart ways to green up your place that won’t break the bank.

For $100 in a 10-foot-by-15-foot area, Brown said, “You can buy enough shrubbery to fill that in and give you your base plants,’’ Brown said. Two of his good-value favorites are spirea, a bush that is almost unkillable, even by road salt, and gives you spring blooms in white or pink; and weigela (variously pronounced wye-JEEL-a or wye-JEEL-ee-uh), which provides a couple of weeks of colorful blooms and comes with straight green or variegated leaves.

“Those are good foundation plants,’’ Brown said. “You don't have to go crazy having large Japanese maples for hundreds and hundreds of dollars.’’

Once you've got your shrubbery base, Brown's a fan of adding big splashes of color, like petunias, available in dozens of shades and mixes of red and white and blue for just $6 per pot right now at New England Nurseries and comparable prices elsewhere. “It looks small, but it will get quite large,’’ up to four feet across, Brown said. “This little plant right here is going to expand into a nice big mound spread out across the ground. It will really give you a carpet of color.’’

Maybe the most important tip to make sure the greenbacks you spend on your greenery are well spent: First, beef up the soil where you're planting with compost. New England Nurseries, for example, makes and sells its own blend of compost-enhanced loam – dirt mixed with composted leaves and grass and plants – for $25 per cubic yard, and bags of Coast of Maine compost blends for $9, which you typically mix into soil at a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio with the existing soil.

In city and suburban yards where plants were first installed decades ago, Brown said, “The soil can get very old, very worn out, not a lot of organics in it and nutrition in it, so it's a great idea to add to boost the organic content of that soil,’’ Brown said. “Organic soil, high organic soil, retains more moisture. Soil that retains more moisture means less watering, less feeding. So you're spending less money throughout the season, and you have healthier, happier plants.’’ 



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Smartphone Service]]>Mon, 25 May 2015 21:30:38 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/smartphone-tecnologia-apps.jpg

The average U.S. wireless subscriber is now paying $90 a month for service – and $111 for those who own iPhones, according to data compiled by financial experts The Cowen Group.

What if you could cut that to $0, with the only catch being you have to be covered by a WiFi signal to get coverage?

That’s the remarkable proposition now on offer from Scratch Wireless, an Acton, Massachusetts, startup. It’s been offering limited-edition WiFi-only service with a $269 device for over a year, and last week rolled out a $99 Android device made by CoolPad that comes with unlimited WiFi service.

“You can use all of the facility of the smartphone, over WiFi, anywhere in the world, completely free,’’ said Jon Finegold, the company’s vice president of marketing. It also comes with unlimited free texting over the Sprint network.

What’s behind all this is WiFi becoming more and more available everywhere, through access points at businesses and in your home, and through a nationwide network of hundreds of thousands of hotspots operated by Comcast’s Xfinity (Comcast is NECN’s parent company) and four other cable companies.

If you get out of range of WiFi or the connection's weak, you can instantly buy a day's worth of backup Sprint cellular network calling for $2, or 100 minutes a month for $7. Scratch also offers backup buckets of cellular data too. You can always make and never pay for 911 emergency calls when you’re within range of a cell site, and it’s possible to switch your existing phone number over to a new Scratch phone.

Leaders of MITX, the Massachusetts Innovation and Technology Exchange, a trade group, just voted Scratch the best tech concept of the year.

As a phone for teens who spend most of their time in a WiFi-enabled home or school and spend most of their phone time texting anyway, or for someone whose daily routine has them using a phone solely or mainly when they’re covered by WiFi at home or work, it’s easy to see the value and appeal. Of course, it can be hard to predict just how often you'll want to use a phone when you're not near home or work or public WiFi.

Scratch does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, and while the company doesn’t break out how many users it has, Finegold says they’ve found about two-thirds of their smartphone owners “in a given month live completely free of any bill’’ and the remaining third buy some kind of pass for data or voice service. 



Photo Credit: Pixabay]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Cape Cod Deals]]>Mon, 18 May 2015 21:30:34 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/160*120/IMG_0779.JPG

 As Memorial Day Weekend kicks off the summerlong stampede to Cape Cod, tens of thousands of tourists and vacationers are gearing up plans to spend time on the beach, time at the bar and ice cream stand and miniature golf course – and of course just spending, spending, and more spending.

Stephen Williams is all about helping them spend a little less, or at least just not at the same old places. Out of his Cape Cod Click website and technology business in Chatham, Williams and his partners run the CapeCodDailyDeal.com. It offers a very tailored two deals a day – such as, recently, spend $10 for a save-$20 coupon at JT’s Seafood in Brewster; a two-for-one deal on a horseback beach ride at Esperanza in Sandwich; and 58 percent off four classes at Pilates Plus in South Dennis. Coming soon are a half-off deal at Pirates Cove Golf on Route 28 in West Yarmouth, and half-off the Hy-Line ferry to Nantucket.

As you can imagine, there are lots of businesses on the Cape eager to keep people coming through the doors between Columbus Day and Memorial Day. But even in the high season, Williams said, “There's some pretty unique deals in the summer that people kind of have to keep their eye on it every day to see what's coming up.’’

For example, Williams said, come July and August, “Everybody's at the beach. Maybe the bowling alley's not having the same draw that they have on a cold winter night, so maybe they want to get people off in the evening to come in and bowl and have some barbecue … Sometimes we'll get last-minute types of deals that we'll promote for things like wine dinners at resorts if there's a few seats available still.’’

This will be the fourth full summer the Daily Deal has been in business, and they post a running tally of what they've saved people, now nearing $1.6 million from 70,000 deal packages. It’s kind of a far focused, Cape-specific, and homegrown version of Groupon or its ilk, with someone responding within hours from a computer or phone in Chatham if you ever run into trouble redeeming a deal you bought.

Beverly Buckley, a summer rental specialist with John Ricotta & Associates’ ChathamRentals.com, calls herself a “power user” of the Cape Cod Daily Deal.

“It’s nice, because I can buy a daily deal and go try a new restaurant or go try a new activity, and then I can promote it, because I'm in the rental business, to my rental clients,’’ Buckley said. And it’s a nice business perk to bring home to her husband too: “I say, ‘Guess what, honey? We have to go out to dinner because I got a daily deal that we have to use!’ ’’



Photo Credit: Dan Barber/Bourne, Mass.]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Golf Deals]]>Mon, 11 May 2015 21:35:22 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Golf-Ball-Generic-Sports-Fa.jpg

Chris Powell of Maynard, Mass., is a rare person to find these days: A brand-new 31-year-old member of a golf club.

In Powell’s case, it’s The International in Bolton, which effective this spring slashed by half membership fees for people in their 20s and 30s, something Powell said was “hugely important” for his decision to put up about $2,500 for an annual membership. “Not having to have the big buy-in initiation fee was really important,’’ Powell said.

It’s no exaggeration to say that golf clubs face a mounting crisis when it comes to attracting young adults. Overall U.S. participation in golf fell last year for the fifth year in a row, according to the Sport & Fitness Industry Association, and golfing by people aged 18 to 34 fell 13 percent from 2009 to 2013.

“Dollars and cents are a big factor in everybody's life, especially young people,’’ Dan Weadock Jr., president of The International said. Wanting to make sure he didn’t lose a generation of club members, Weadock said he made the move to sliding fees and has found they’ve drawn dozens of new younger members. “We basically tier the memberships by age so that in your twenties, you can get in here for $2,500.’’

Several other clubs are taking similar moves. Pleasant Valley in Sutton, for example, just created a “young executive” membership that enables people aged 23 to 29 get 50 percent off membership.

Dunroamin in Gilbertville, Mass., offers a $250 “associate membership” that offers 25 to 33 percent off greens fees, as well as by-the-month memberships that younger golfers with limited vacation time enjoy.

Weadock says he’s also trying to change the tone and experience of club membership. “The newer generation, we need to be thinking less rules and more fun,’’ Weadock said. That has led him to allow people to wear dungarees and hats in the clubhouse and discreetly use cellphones.

“You have to, as they say, evolve or die,’’ Weadock said. “We've got to be relevant to today's market and today's generation” because the alternative is “the ongoing demise of the gold industry.’’

Powell said he’s found his golf membership is a “nice opportunity to network and meet people,” especially with the young-adult discount that he’ll be able to enjoy until he’s 40. “I have almost a decade of this if I want it, which is pretty awesome,’’ Powell said. 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: House Painting]]>Mon, 04 May 2015 21:24:00 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-05-04-22h14m22s202.png

Thousands of New England residents will be painting their homes or getting them painted this summer, which is an extra tough job after a long winter.

It's very costly even if you do it yourself, so necn asked John Mulvaney of TLC Painting in Natick, Massachusetts, how to get the most out of what you spend.

Mulvaney and other experts note that it always comes down to great preparation- including powerwashing, scraping away any loose paint, and sanding down any rough edges.

Another tip is to pick up a $42 moisture meter- a device that can save you thousands. The probe tells you how damp the wood is, which is essential to avoid paint bubbles and cracks as the moisture evaporates.

Once it's clean, dry, sanded, and prepped, you may be tempted to shave $10 or $20 off a gallon of paint that can run $60 to $100 a can. Mulvaney says paints are more expensive for a reason, and if you splurge the paint job is likely to last longer.

Unless you really know what you're doing, have lots of patience, and no fear of heights- many people find that they don't save enough on money and hassle to justify do it yourself on painting.

One final tip is to take your time choosing a company. A cheaper company that leaves your home in uproar for two months while they chase other work is no bargain.  



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Prom Season]]>Mon, 27 Apr 2015 21:25:17 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/prom+dresses.jpg

Delaney McDaniel, a senior at Woburn High School in Massachusetts and a dance instructor at the local Boys & Girls Club, is looking forward to her senior prom next month, but listen to her tick off everything she and her boyfriend have to think about paying for:

“The dress, the tux, the shoes, the makeup, the nails, tanning, the limo, the actual prom ticket itself,’’ McDaniel said. “I’d say at least $1,000 on the prom.’’

That, in fact, is right about what charge-card processor Visa estimates the average Northeastern U.S. family will spend on prom.

Can anyone promise a less pricey prom?

Kate Williams at Amari Prom in Burlington, Mass., is trying. Amari bills itself as the only store in the state with both new and used prom dresses in stock. “Consignment dresses can start from $99 to $299, on average,’’ Williams said, and what she sees is incredible demand for those stylish -- but secondhand – gowns. “They sometimes sell the same day they arrive,’’ Williams said.

For boys renting tuxes, why just rent when you can buy – and for less? That's what Keezer’s promises in Cambridge, Mass., near Central Square. They sell tux suits for as little as $209 – less than you pay to rent at some higher-end stores – and rent for $50 for four days, which includes the suit, shirt, tie, studs, and cufflinks. Dress shoes are available for another $10.

“We buy a lot of things on clearance from the manufacturers,’’ owner Len Goldstein said, and have a strong trade-in and tuxedo exchange business. Part of why it’s such a bargain: When you look around the River Street building, you can see you are not paying for a lot of fancy mall real estate overhead.

“I bought this building way back, when this area was a dump,’’ joked Goldstein.

Delaney McDaniel is opting this year to rent, not buy, but managed to find a dress she loves for $270 this year, down from $400. “This year I paid for it all by myself, and my mom was very proud of me.’’

McDaniel is wise beyond her years on what may be the single best way to hold down the cost of prom: “When it's your parents paying for it, you don't really care how much money you're spending,’’ McDaniel said. “When you put the burden on the kids, the kids they kind of think, ‘Oh, I don't want to spend $500 on a dress -- because it's my money.’’

NECN special projects producer Pamela Bechtold assisted in the preparation of this report. 



Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: MBTA Staycations]]>Tue, 21 Apr 2015 13:17:13 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-04-20-22h46m54s50.jpg

If you're a Boston-area family sticking around this week for school vacation, and you're looking for some "staycation" ideas, consider three great places to go that all can let you leave the car at home.

Concord, Lowell and Newburyport are three examples of communities on the MBTA commuter rail system with lots to do, see, and eat walking or stroller-pushing distance from the train station. All three are on the North Station system of rail lines.

Concord, for example, has a sweet downtown full of shops and boutiques and restaurants steps away from the train station, the legendary Colonial Inn, a year shy of 300, the Louisa May Alcott home, and this week at the Concord Museum, a brand-new exhibit called "The Art of Baseball." It was guest-co-curated by author and baseball nut Doris Kearns Goodwin, and features classic old baseball paintings, sculptures, memorabilia, and special Red Sox items on loan from the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Carl Yazstremski's cap, Carlton Fisk's glove, Ted Williams' glove and the very bat Jim Rice used to hit his 301st home run.

It's one more reason to come visit a unique and special town where, as museum curator David F. Wood says, "You'd never know you're just 20 minutes from Boston when you're out here."

If you're looking for history more urban and industrial, take the train up to Lowell, where along the mill canals you'll find all kinds of museums celebrating industry, textile history, quilts, streetcars, steam locomotives and much more.

History's on offer, big time, in Newburyport as well, about 60 to 64 minutes by train from North Station. From the terminal, it's about a 15 or 20 minute walk by rail trail to downtown or down lovely and historic State Street, and the waterfront city’s downtown is rich with history. Newburyport is proud to be the birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard, celebrated at a maritime museum, onetime home to abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and home to rum runners and privateers and shipbuilders and more.

It's all history you can follow through sidewalk markers on the "Clipper Heritage Trail," as well as online.

Mayor Donna Holaday said her advice to visitors is to "be sure to bring your smartphone, and you can download the Clipper Heritage Trail app, which is Newburyport's answer to the Freedom Trail in Boston."

Newburyport also features a 1,100-foot-long boardwalk overlooking the mouth of the mighty Merrimack River, where bald eagles can be seen flying overhead, and brick sidewalks meander through all kinds of venerable 19th century mill and wharf buildings full of new life as shops, restaurants and more.

"We're an example of urban renewal done right - we have beautiful architecture," said Ann Ormond, president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

One more thing to think about: If you choose Friday as a day for your staycation visit, your ride on the MBTA will be completely free, thanks to the system-wide free fare day approved by MBTA overseers earlier this spring to atone to riders for weeks of terrible and cancelled service during the winter blizzards.


With videographer Mike Bellwin and video editor Bob Leone. Necn assistant chief photographer John J. Hammann, special projects producer Pamela Bechtold, and necn reporter Jack Thurston contributed to this report.

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Airfare]]>Mon, 13 Apr 2015 21:41:35 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-04-13-22h40m24s91.png

With family in Los Angeles and friends -- and weddings -- all over the country, Boston resident Madelynn Sirbu loves to travel, as often as every other month.

But, like all of us who fly, she has sometimes anxiously wondered as airfare prices rise and fall just when to book a flight. “I've gone through the hassle of seeing the prices go up and go down so much, and then after a while, I’m just, like: I'm just going to buy it. Then my friends wound up buying a ticket for $100 dollars cheaper, and I get so upset,’’ Sirbu said.

She’s since become one of the first 500,000 to download a free new iPhone app that became available about two and a half months ago to solve that problem, called Hopper.

The big idea for flyers: “They can really find a great price and walk away confident that they did as well as they could,’’ explains Hopper vice president Alex Mozdzanowska (prounonce moze-da-nose-ka).

She took us thorugh the example of someone who knows they want to fly sometime from Boston to Seattle. By scouring vast airline databases, Hopper shows, by date, when you'll get the best airfare (days shaded green on the calendar) up through yellow and orange to red, the most expensive. Once you click on an actual day to look at a routing, Hopper will give you super-straightforward feedback like: “You should book now because Hopper hasn't seen a price this low for the past two weeks. This isn't a great price but you will likely pay more if you wait.’’ Or it may say, “You should wait for a better price, but book before June 27.

Hopper, and its big data geniuses in Kendall Square, Cambridge, where the company is based, glean this buy-or-don't-buy advice by scrutinizing prices for, and searches, for millions of seats, covering every major airline except Southwest (which doesn’t share flight prices with the so-called global distribution networks) and, for now, American, with whom Hopper is negotiating.

“We collect about 2 billion data points a day, and we've actually been collecting them historically and at this point have over half a trillion data points,’’ Mozdzanowska said. “It's quite a bit of data that we work on with this.’’ She said Hopper also checks its price trend predictions after the fact and has found it is about 95 percent accurate, and has been steadily modifying its algorithms and analysis to improve. The hardest prices to predict are on much more obscure or low-traffic routes. You can also set up an alert that has Hopper check a route every hour and notify you if a good price suddenly emerges.

“If they ever dip, it will tell you,’’ Mozdzanowska said. “It will notify you in real time and say, ‘Now is a good time. This price is unlikely to get any better.’ ‘’ Hopper makes its money from referral fees from airlines when people click on a price it shows to buy the ticket from the airline. Coming up next are a version that will work on Android smartphones, and potentially other features to answer questions like: I know I want to fly somewhere next month from Boston – what are the cheapest interesting destinations from here?

What Maddelyn Sirbu knows: She’s getting to save often $100 or $200 per trip, and building trips she knows she wants to take around the weekends when the prices are the best. “Going home, or seeing my friends around the country, I tell them, ‘This is the cheapest weekend. I'm coming to visit you.’’ And she loves arriving a little richer.

“It's the difference between a $500 and $300 flight,’’ Sirbu said, adding with a laugh: “It just makes you feel so much better once you get there.’’
 



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Generic Groceries]]>Mon, 06 Apr 2015 21:35:06 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Food+Drive+Generic+Canned+Goods+Generic.jpg

When it comes to grocery shopping, no one knows more than coupon queen Kathy Spencer of HowToShopForFree.net or Laurin Mills, founder of The Dinner Daily, a Westford, Mass., publisher of affordable menus designed around what’s on special this week at specific grocery chains.

Something Spencer and Mills agree on: You almost never go wrong saving money buying store brands rather than costlier national brands,

“Store brand products are often the same exact ingredient or product-- it's just packaged differently,’’ Mills said. “I think many of us thing of these generic store-brand products as mysterious or suspicious, and we just think they can’t be as good as the premium brand that they sit next to, because we tend to just, psychologically, think the more you pay for it the better it is.’’

Mills agrees and says she’s especially fond of Stop & Shop’s store brands. “I've tested a lot of generic brands and Stop & Shop, always, I’m just never disappointed with their store brand.’’

Mills tests out before sending them to her subscribers recipes made with what's on sale or special each week at specific store chains. She's learned that cheaper store-brand tomatoes or pasta or chicken broth have zero impact on taste. “For things like stews, casseroles, stir-fries where you're not going to be taking that ingredient and using it in isolation, it's going to be part of a greater recipe -- there really is no reason to buy the premium brand,’’ Mills said.

Mills said she has found exceptions, like breakfast cereal and store-brand breads that just don’t measure up to national-brand taste and texture. “Paper towels, trash bags, sandwich bags – I have noticed a difference in quality.’’

And Spencer said that “if you want Kraft mac and cheese, you want that very specific taste, or Velveeta [cheese], if you get a generic, it might not have that strong flavor.’’

But both have found many examples of store-brand products they and their families actually like the taste of better than national or brand names, including packaged coffee and peanut butter at Market Basket. Spencer said she learned “Stop & Shop had a French bread pizza that I bought because it was really cheap, and I didn't have a coupon for the brand name, so I bought that, and I actually liked that a lot better.’’

Bear in mind, Spencer has closets in her Boxford, Mass., home entirely full of food she got for free through creative couponing and exploiting price match guarantees, and has been known to drive down the street with 40 boxes of free ice cream she gives away to neighbors thanks to coupon deals she maxed out on. “A lot of times, if you use coupons, you can get the [name brand] product for less than you would for the generic, if you watch the sales, if you do the math with a coupon.’’

But if you can’t coupon like Kathy, or don’t have the time or inclination? Mills said she’s come to conclude, “Is it worth it for me to spend 25 to 30 percent more, just to have that brand name on the packaging? Most of us, when we look at it. it just doesn't make any sense.’’

So if you’ve been on the fence about going with a cheaper store brand instead of a brand name, these two experts would encourage you to go ahead and take the plunge. Most likely, you’ll save money and be just as satisfied with the product.

And if you’re disappointed? It will be a very cheap disappointment.
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Spring Cleaning]]>Mon, 30 Mar 2015 21:39:34 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/160*160/10554225775858519125264770397837n.jpg

Springtime means spring cleaning time, and as you dust off the broom, clear out the closets, and scrub the counters, you can also make sure your home isn't cleaning out your wallet.

A great place to start: Cleaning off your refrigerator’s coils, gently. The dirtier they are, the harder the machine has to work to keep cool. Clearing those dust bunnies could save you about 6 percent on your fridge's electric bill – and depending on how big a unit you have and how old it is, that could be a dollar a month or more you put back in your pocket.

Tony Botelho, the parts department manager at appliance vendor Poirier Sales and Service, says the key is to work gently and be prepared for a mess. “Just go back and forth, and have a vacuum by your side because it's going to get dusty and dirty down there."

Cleaning your vacuum is also a good way to save money but extending its life. Before you launch your spring cleanup, wipe down the canister inside and out. Use an old brush or comb to remove debris that may be stuck in the rollers, and check the belts for wear and tear.

Now’s also a good time to check and clean or replace your air conditioning filter. It’s not yet warm enough to have the air conditioner cranking, but it will be soon, and when it is, a unit with a dirty filter can suck 5 to 15 percent more electricity than a clean one, wasting you up to $20 a month. “The ones with a frame you can stick under the sink and clean them up,’’ Botelho said. “The ones with the foam, you just replace them. They're inexpensive, $3 or $4 for a filter. Very easy to do."

For your spring cleaning exercise, consider making some economical homemade cleaners. You can clean appliances, countertops and inside your oven with a solution of baking soda and water, polish furniture with a cloth dipped in cool black tea, and shine your silver with non-gritty toothpaste.

And as you de-clutter, think about donating unwanted clothes or furniture to Goodwill or the American Red Cross for a tax deduction, or head online to sell your goods, at sites like ThredUp.com for kids’ clothing, Gazelle.com for smartphones and other electronic devices, and Amazon.com for turning books into gift cards.
 



Photo Credit: jgayusky/Instagram]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: College Costs]]>Mon, 23 Mar 2015 21:14:49 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/college+campus+generic.jpg

Along with melting snow and the promise of tulips sprouting from the ground - springtime marks an exciting time for students: Gearing up for college. Those acceptance letters are rolling in -- but that also means dissecting the financial side of college planning and understanding what it’s really going to cost students and their families.

“My dream job is making medicine to help people’’ is how Said Nejmi explains his motivation for enrolling at Quincy College outside Boston, where he plans to study biotechnology. With three kids at home and a wife also going to college, financial aid is key.

“I registered for college last year, but it is expensive for budgeting, frankly,’’ Nejmi said. “I decided last minute to change my college for another college that is cheaper.’’

Patrick Kandianis, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Valore, owner of the Simple Tuition service, which focused on helping people better understand the real cost of college, said a lot of people struggle with the issue Nejmi has. “It’s hard to get an accurate understanding of what financing costs really are,’’ Kandianis said. “It’s basically like buying a house.’’

When it comes to comparing the net cost of colleges you or your child has been accepted to, first, when you get that “award letter” projecting your costs and offering financial aid and loans, check the fine print.

“Some schools package loans into their award letters,’’ Kandianis said. “So they'll have the costs, tuition and fees and other items that make up the cos, estimates for books or travel, and then they'll have any of the scholarship aid given them … If you do get an award letter, make sure that all the data, that it seems right. If it seems way out of whack, do a gut check and say, yes, this seems fair or unfair.’’

Jodi Then of American Student Assistance in Boston cautions that “there's no mandate that college financial aid award letters need to be similar or communicate information in the same way.’’ Besides making sure you've really got an apples-to-apples comparison on the cost of college A versus college B, Then stresses that you need to understand what the bill will be for several years, not just a one-semester or one-year total.

“To pay $10,000 for one year of college may not seem that bad,’’ Then said. “But when you look at it over four to six years, and you're now talking about $40,000 to $60,000 with interest, it paints a very different picture.’’ 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Electricity Suppliers]]>Mon, 16 Mar 2015 10:44:19 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/power+lines+generic+2.jpg

On top of everything else New Englanders have had to bear this winter, electric rates are now in many areas of Massachusetts and the region the highest they’ve been in a decade.

And that has alternative home electricity suppliers more visible than they’ve been in years, advertising on radio, on billboards, and on direct mail with promises to save you money.

It’s a trend that’s caught the eye of Massachusetts’ top law enforcement officer and consumer protection chief, Attorney General Maura Healey. “Customers have really been hit with their electric bills and utility bills, so with that has been more and more competitive suppliers, coming forward, soliciting folks, trying to get them to change over,” Healey said.

The backdrop for homeowners are “basic service” six-month fixed rates that jumped in Massachusetts by 37 percent at National Grid on Nov. 1 and at NStar, now EverSource, 29 percent Jan. 1.

With competitive suppliers, you still pay the utility to deliver you electricity. But you switch from paying the utility’s “basic service” fixed or floating rate for the cost of the power you use to buying that power from another company. Con Edison Solutions, Constellation, Gulf Electricity, Massachusetts Gas & Electric, Provider Power, and SparkSource are just a few of the companies competing with National Grid and EverSource to sell power to homeowners. You can find a full list here.

One of the most common deals on offer is a 12- or 24-month fixed-price electric rate, with or without fine print, at a price that’s typically less than the current winter rates for National Grid and EverSource. But, Healey said, “It's all about: Buyer beware. Be careful of what it is you're getting and signing up for.”

The price a competitor is charging for power now may be well below what Grid and EverSource charge when their next rates are set April 1 and July 1. “Come summer, people are going to see their rates drop, so you don't want to find yourself on the hook for a year-long contract where, come summer, your rate would have dropped already.’’

Because of complicated issues relating to gas supply and competition between power plants and home heating utilities for a constrained supply of gas coming into New England, National Grid’s per-kilowatt-hour fixed rate basic service price soared to 16.3 cents this winter. That is by far the highest it has been in a decade, 30 to 40 percent more than the winter rates it’s charged in prior years, and close to double the summer rates of many years.

One problem Healey said her staff has repeated seen are “teaser rates” that give you a 30- or 90-day discount from current utility prices, only to soar after the introductory period ends. “Stay away from teaser rates,” Healey said. “They're always a problem for consumers. They lure you in with a teaser rate that sounds good, only to see that explode in time.”

And there are some shady operators out there. Just Energy Group Inc., for example, just paid $4 million to settle “deceptive marketing” charges with Healey’s predecessor, Martha Coakley, whose prosecutors alleged Just Energy used door-to-door salesmen and high-pressure telemarketers who promised bogus savings and sometimes even signed people up without their OK.

“Not all competitive suppliers are bad actors -- I don't want to suggest that,” Healey said. “But folks have got to be careful … Beware of competitive suppliers who may be looking to trick you into what sounds like a better deal, but in the long run, isn't.”

For some people, knowing with certainty what you’ll pay for electricity for the next 12 or 24 months may have some value, even if you wind up paying more than you would sticking with your utility. Some consumers who have timed the market right may indeed score some savings.

But it may be worth thinking about this: If you feel certain you can predict what utility electric rates and spot-market energy prices will be over the next year, you’re aren’t just qualified to decide whether to switch to a competitive electric supplier – you could go to work as an energy trader and make millions. For a lot of other consumers, the boring but safe option -– with a far lower downside -- may be to go with the rates utilities negotiate and regulators approve.

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan.



Photo Credit: File]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Energy Costs]]>Mon, 09 Mar 2015 08:20:35 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/20150116+Hundred+Dollar+Bill.jpg

It has been a long, cold, seemingly endless winter for Eastern Massachusetts, and at the same time, electric rates have soared this winter for many New England homeowners and businesses because of the region's increasing dependence on occasionally scarce naturally gas for electric generation.

Some lucky businesses, however, are finding problem one -- the cold -- is helping them solve problem two: Soaring power bills.

One of the latest examples is Curtis Liquors in Cohasset, Mass., a big package store with a big selection and big electric bills that just got nearly 40 percent bigger when National Grid's rates soared late last year.

Having paid $40,000 in electric bills last year, owner Rick Curtis was eager to zap his rate shock. "I like anything free, believe me,'' Curtis joked when we spoke to him Friday afternoon.

What he just installed to lower electric costs exploits something free and all too abundant in New England this winter: Cold air from outside, which a Freeaire system just installed by Freeair/MV3 LLC brings into his walk-in beer cooler to offset the need for electrically generated refrigeration.

As MV3's Ken Strachan demonstrated the system, it was 19 degrees outside, and 38 degrees inside the beer case, and the cold air coming through filtered vents was providing just about all of the artificial refrigeration.

Linked to a "smart sensor" that cycles cooling on and off, the Freeaire/MV3 system doesn't replace any of the electrically powered condensors and fans and cooling apparatus. Rather, it enables Curtis Liquors to use free cold air 80 to 90 days a year to offset the operations of the giant, energy-sucking fans.

They wanted to keep exact numbers confidential, but Freeaire/MV3 and Curtis said that what Curtis is paying for the new system it will save on electric bills in less than a year. Of course, that is thanks in big part to a big subsidy from the utility, National Grid. "I couldn't refuse,'' said Curtis, who owns a second store in Weymouth and has been in the spirits business for nearly four decades. "I mean, National Grid is paying for 70 percent" of the total cost.

That funding comes from the little renewable energy and energy efficiency tax that all Bay State customers now pay on their electric bills, typically about $5 to $12 for most homeowners each month.

National Grid spokesman Jake Navarro said the company's support for Freeaire/MV3 installations extends what's been a 30-year commitment to energy conservation and efficiency. "We offer our customers incentives on a wide range of tools and technologies, from LED light bulbs to efficient furnaces to smart thermostats. We also enable our customers to utilize technologies that take advantage of using cold outside air during the winter to allow their refrigeration systems to work less frequently, which saves energy. This makes a great deal of sense for our customers - especially during a winter like this one - so we're proud to make it a more cost-effective option.'' Navarro said ngrid.com/ma-ee or masssave.com have information about dozens of other ways homeowners and businesses can get support for energy efficiency.

Beyond the utility subsidies, Freeaire/MV3 said many businesses can get low-cost financing for their share of the cost of an installation, so that they save money immediately. "In many cases, we can actually offer our clients positive cash flow on day one" because the monthly savings on electric bills exceeds the monthly cost of the installation owed by the business, Strachan said. Freeaire/MV3 also handles all the paperwork with the utility and provides round-the-clock monitoring and maintenance of cooling systems in case they ever break down.

Today, the system is cost-effective only for cooling areas of at least 1,000 cubic feet, and aimed at use by cold-storage warehouses, convenience stores, package stores, and others with large areas they're keeping cool.

But it's reasonable to wonder if this might ever become workable on the scale of a home refrigerator or freezer.

"You never say never in technology,'' Freeaire/MV3 president Dave Mac Isaac said. "But if you see what's going on out there today, the system would be very hard to make work that from a cost-benefit perspective'' because of the cost of ductwork and controllers to manage the flow of suitably cold air into a small home fridge. Of course, computers have shrunk in size from filling rooms to fitting in your palm, so Mac Isaac doesn't rule anything out. "In the future, if i can actually bring that down to the home, that would be a home run for everybody.''

Curtis just knows for now he's saving a lot of money and loves getting something -- cold air for his beer -- for nothing.

"Energy is at a premium. It costs a lot of money,'' Curtis said. "When you can save money and conserve resources, I think it's a natural.''

With videographer John J. Hammann and video editor Lauren Kleciak

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Winter Damage]]>Mon, 02 Mar 2015 12:53:43 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-03-02-10h39m09s21.png

This is not something anyone in blizzard-battered New England really wants to hear, but before too long, the plague of ice dams and roof collapses will be giving way to a plague of flooded basements as these record-breaking piles of snow start to melt.

On both counts, a lot you have to leave to professional roofers and plumbers—but there are a few things you can do yourself to address the issues.

We talked to Dave Seymour and Peter Souhleris of CityLight Homes in Peabody, Massachusetts, and the “Flipping Boston” real estate show on A&E Networks as they dealt with a major plague of ice dams at a home in Danvers.

They’d done one of the most important things—hire professionals tethered by ropes to do the dangerous work of shoveling snow off the roof and use a kerosene-powered steam heater to melt off chunks of ice from the roof and gutters.

“Don't be walking on icy roofs covered in snow, don't be hitting your gutters with hammers, don't be going up with a hatchet,’’ is maybe the most important advice Seymour had to offer.

Things you can do yourself: Knock off large icicles, gently, if you can get to them through a window. “Think about the weight” of the ice that you can remove, Seymour said. “That’s pulling down your gutters” and can even begin to pull out fascia boards if it gets too thick and heavy.

Souhleris says it’s good to sprinkle melting agents from windows onto frozen gutters – but be sure it is the right kind. “Calcium chloride, not rock salt, and the flakes are the best ones to use,” Souhleris said. “If it’s anything else, they’re just going to roll off.’’

Work now to get damp ceilings and walls drying now, by opening doors to rooms and running fans and even in cases of extreme wetness drilling small holes – far away from any electric or communications wiring – to get air circulating and drying out damp insulation. Once the ice dams are gone and the ceilings and walls are dry, you can have damage assessed and fixed. But, Souhleris stressed, don’t go hacking at ceilings you're sure where the leak's coming from. “I've had water leaks come from the other side of the building and land here, and I'm ripping this up and I'm saying, ‘I don't get it’ -- and the source is like 30 feet away,” Souhleris said.

Ice dams should not cause lasting mold damage once they’ve been cleared. “Mold is such a hot word,’’ Seymour said. “ ‘Oh my God, I’ve got mold – we’re all going to die.’ But in truth, the mold only grows if it has a continual source of moisture.’’ Once a melting ice dam is gone from a roof, the walls and ceilings below should be able to dry out.

Of course, with this much snow, right after ice dam season comes – oh, joy – flooded-basement season.

For advice there, we met up with plumber Kate McDonnell-Tynan of McDonnell Plumbing and Heating in Needham. She took us to a home that showed one of the smarter things you can do right now: Shovel away all the snow from around the foundation, ideally clearing a three-foot-wide path around the house.

“That can make all the difference, because if your foundation is cracked in any way, the water, when the snow starts to melt, the water’s going to find the crack or whatever the easiest route is, and the water's just going to flood in,’’ McDonnell-Tynan said. “So pulling it back just that little bit is going to make all the difference in the world.’’ Be sure, though, to exercise extreme caution clearing snow from around gas lines, electric power outlets, and other potential hazards.

If you’ve got a sump pump in your basement, right now is a good time to test it, McDonnell-Tynan said. Make sure it’s plugged in and the pipes and fittings and connections are secure, the discharge pipe is clear, and pull up the flapper – mimicking the action of flooding water pushing it up to make sure it goes on.

“You want to hear that noise. That is important, because then you know it’s going to work,’’ McDonnell-Tynan said. And we may not get too much of a respite in between ice dam season and basement flooding season. “Once we’ve had, probably, three or four high 30s/low 40s days,” McDonnell said, the sump pumps “are going to start to kick in.”

With videographer Nik Saragosa and video editor Lauren Kleciak.



Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Tax Mistakes]]>Mon, 23 Feb 2015 10:10:13 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/%5BNECN%5DTaxes.jpg

If the mail has been making it to your snow-bound home lately, chances are it’s had a steady string of tax forms and statements and documents you’ll need to make the April 15 filing deadline.

And even more so than many other parts of life, mistakes you make on your taxes can be costly mistakes – including missing out on credits or deductions or refunds or getting in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service and owing big penalties, back taxes, and interest.

We talked to Norman Posner of Samet & Company in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, a member of the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants, who said some of the most common mistakes he’s seen people make over the years are forgetting to include for their tax return an income or dividend or alimony or expense statement that the IRS has and will never forget.

"Keep in mind that all of this information that you receive gets reported also to the government, and so they will match it up," Posner said. "They’re going to have it in their system, and they will run it against your return, and they will match it up. So if you get it, you better report it."

Poor recordkeeping generally is a leading cause of tax mistakes and tax mistake expenses, Posner said, like not keeping clear documentation of charitable contributions, not subtracting the non-deductible value of a dinner or auction item you got at a charity event from the net charity deduction you can claim, or over-stating or under-stating business expenses for self-employed people. Posner said he has seen people be both too aggressive about what they claim, and also too timid, leading to paying unnecessary taxes. "It has to be ordinary, necessary and reasonable, and as long as it is, then you'll be able to deduct those expenses," Posner said.

Another mistake is not claiming the right kind of filing status, single or head of household or married filing jointly or separately. Most commonly, Posner said, married couples reflexively think they need to file jointly, without testing the numbers. "Married filing separately works, every once in a while," Posner said. “Not often, but every once in a while” such as years in which one spouse had unusually high or low expenses or income for the year that can lead to the two spouses paying, separately, less total tax than they would by filing jointly. A tax professional running preparation software should, Posner said, as a rule have it kick out two returns just to be sure a couple picks the most financially favorable filing status, because the nuances are so complicated there’s often no way to be certain which filing status will yield lower taxes without completing two returns.

Two things to look out for this year particularly: If you took the first-time homebuyer tax credit in 2008, don’t forget about your responsibility to pay back some of the tax credit with this year’s return. And likewise, if you converted an IRA to a Roth IRA in 2010, when it became more financially advantageous, that likely will have a tax impact this year and next.

Ultimately, Posner said, these hundreds, if not thousands, of "what ifs" are why people with anything more than minimally complicated tax returns are well advised to pay for tax-preparation software or tax-preparation professionals. "People are foolhardy to try to do a tax return manually, sitting there with a pencil and an eraser, because you'll burn out the eraser, and you'll probably tear the paper," Posner said. "There are so many calculations that go on, and sub-calcuations, and you don't stand a chance."

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Boston Staycations]]>Wed, 18 Feb 2015 10:44:41 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2015-02-18-10h43m37s65.png

What almost everyone in Greater Boston and much of New England really wants this week may be a vacation far, far away from the endless snow and soaring snowbanks.

But if a “staycation” is what you’re getting this school vacation week, we went out in search of a few affordable ideas for you to make it feel like an actual break – including one very likely to put some bounce back in your step. Literally.

Cowabunga’s has just opened for business in North Reading, Massachusetts, in a strip mall on Route 28. It’s a collection of 16 inflatable bounce houses and slides in a former 9,000-square-foot Sears store space that owner Matt Pearson and his wife, Kelly, have turned into a palace of rambunctiousness.

“School vacation week is a big deal for us,” Pearson said. “We've got the opportunity to take in all these kids out of school. They need something to do. They get a little bit of cabin fever, for February vacation especially.”

Admission is $10 for kids over age two. Non-walking babies and adults get in free. There’s no time limit – you can stay as long as you want per day and come and go during the course of the day – and you’re allowed to bring in your own peanut-free food or buy snacks and drinks at the location. Besides lots and lots of bouncing opportunities, there’s an indoor tricycle-motocross space, big games like pails to stack and topple, and even a hurricane simulator.

Down the way in Somerville at Assembly Row, the nine-month-old LegoLand Discovery Center Boston is ready for its first February break, and manager David Gilmore said, “We’re really happy that this is going to be our first school vacation that we really get to experience with the kids."

The main display of Boston landmarks made with hundreds of thousands of Lego bricks has just been updated to add New England Patriots players on duckboats parading down their version of Boylston and Tremont Streets, the Boston Red Sox truck outside Fenway Park preparing to drive down to Fort Myers, and a replica of the Lombardi Trophy made of over 2,000 Lego bricks inside their version of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

Gilmore said the venue is extending its hours during the school vacation week to be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. each weeknight, with the last admission at 7 p.m. Admission is $18.50 for kids and $23 for adults –- children must be accompanied by their parents or an adult mentor –- and during school vacation week there’s a free Master Model Building Academy, a roughly 30-minute class where kids get ideas and guidance on building ever more elaborate Lego displays.

Totally free for kids under 17 this week is admission to the extraordinary Mary Baker Eddy Library in Boston, including access to its 1930s “Mapparium,” an experience like being inside a giant globe looking at the world from inside the world. The library is offering several free art and workshop programs from Tuesday through Friday in the library’s grand spaces designed for kids from kindergarten through sixth grade, including presentations and programs about kids “making a difference” in their home communities. In the 3-hour daily arts and crafts program, library educational programs coordinator Marie Palladino said, “They’re making art, or pictures for children, in the Children's Hospital in Boston to decorate the wing.”

With videographer John J. Hammann and video editor Lauren Kleciak.



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Frequent Flyer Plans]]>Mon, 09 Feb 2015 12:19:30 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Delta-Plane-Generic.jpg

Big changes are underway at two of the world’s biggest airlines for their frequent flyer plan members, and unless you’re a big-spending frequent flyer, they’re likely to make mileage rewards often harder to collect.

Starting Jan. 1, Delta Air Lines moved to a system of crediting frequent flyers with miles according to how much they spent on their ticket, not the distance of their flight. United Airlines is following suit on March 1. And it’s not just that how many miles you get for your 1,200-mile round-trip depends on whether you spent $300 or $500 for the ticket – both airlines are moving to give much richer rewards to their silver, gold, and elite level members, up to 120 percent more miles per dollar than basic economy-fare travelers.

The changes have generated some backlash from travelers. “Realistically, I’d like to keep it the old way,’’ Clint Gharib, an investments expert from Atlanta, said in an interview Friday as he was flying back home from Boston’s Logan International Airport. “I can see the logic behind it. You reward those who pay more for the flight. They get a better reward. So from Delta's standpoint, I see it. From a traveler's standpoint, you'd prefer it the other way, I think,’’ Gharib said.

Delta and United say they are trying to offer more ways and options for passengers to redeem mileage credits – something flyers like Derrick Ogletree of Atlanta, a member of its Sky Miles plan, said he has found means navigating around blackout dates and other restrictions when trying to use Sky Miles to fly to his wife’s family in Montana. “You have to do it pretty far in advance, because if you do it like a month or so before, for whatever reason, seats -- you can't get the seats,’’ Ogletree said.

Melisse Hinkle of the travel website CheapFlights.com said the bottom line with the Delta and United moves is: “The reality for the casual traveler is that the value of frequent flyer miles is changing. It’s becoming harder to cash in on them.’’

Unless you’re a big-spending road warrior, Hinkle said, you generally should abandon hope as an occasional recreational flyer you'll amass enough miles for a free flight. Instead, plan on using what miles you get for smaller scale freebies – “discounts and perks, things like priority boarding, free checked bags. Even if you don't get status, you can still use your miles for potential upgrades’’ to business or first class. Discounted magazine subscriptions and even donations to charitable organizations like Make A Wish are also options for using miles you accrue.

“These programs are starting to become more about discounts and perks,’’ Hinkle said, “than getting a free flight.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Nik Saragosa.



Photo Credit: File - AP]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Cheapest Gas]]>Mon, 19 Jan 2015 10:47:46 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/NJ-Gas-Prices.jpg

For 18 weeks in a row, gas prices have been falling in Massachusetts and much of New England, but between each state’s cheapest and most expensive gas, you may see a spread of 60, 70 or 80 cents per gallon.

For business people like Valerie LaCount of Washington Park Florist in Chelsea, Massachusetts, consistently finding the cheapest gas is critical to the bottom line – especially for a flower business whose delivery people drive 100,000 miles a year.

Along with gorgeous roses and lilies, one of her best recent finds is a smartphone comparison shopping app from GasBuddy.com, which also operates as BostonGasPrices.com, which shows the prices of gas station by station as reported and confirmed by GasBuddy members.

“Initially, it shows up by distance, but if you hit this right at the bottom, it will then sort by price, so it brings down to whoever the lowest gas prices are in the area,’’ LaCount explained as she showed us how she uses the app.

The service helped her find the current holy grail of petroleum retailing -- $1.99 a gallon gas – at a station in Boston’s Roslindale neighborhood when she was making a delivery near there recently.

“It was amazing, and if it hadn’t had been for GasBuddy, it never would have happened,’’ LaCount said.

Mary Maguire of AAA Northeast, which runs its own weekly and daily price surveys, said those tools, GasBuddy, and others exemplify one of the most important angles to shopping for gas deals: Knowing and recognizing when you’re looking at a bad, good, or terrific price of gas when you pull into a station.

“Educate yourself about the low end of the price range,’’ Maguire said. “Knowing and shopping the low end of that range is extremely important.’’ Buying gas at stations that offer lower prices is one way motorists can fuel a virtuous price cycle, Maguire said. “Some retailers drop their prices far faster than others, and you want to give your business to the most competitive retailers. It not only saves you money, but they deserve your business if they're going to provide you with competitive pricing,’’ Maguire said.

In terms of whether there are especially good times or days of the week to shop for gas, AAA’s surveys confirm that those “Terrific Tuesday” and “Wacky (or Wild) Wednesday” offers do reflect a demand-and-supply price response.

“A lot of people tend to buy gasoline on Friday in preparation for the weekend and being out and about, doing some weekend traveling or a weekend trip, and a lot of people tend to buy gas on Sunday and Monday in preparation for their commute to work,’’ Maguire said. And so, surveys find, “a lot of retailers drop their prices mid-week when people tend to be buying a little bit less gasoline.’’

Valerie LaCount said she’s seen much the same thing as she’s followed GasBuddy day in and day out. But maybe her single most important piece of advice as an educated consumer: “Do not drive out of your way to fill up, because you lose,’’ LaCount said. “If you're saving two or three cents a gallon, even if it's 20 gallons, you're talking about 40 or 60 cents, and you've blown that by the time you've gotten wherever you're going. So stay on your route. Unless you're talking about a 20, 30 cent difference a gallon, it's not worth it.’’

With video editor Bob Leone, videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan, and assisting videographer Bob Ricci



Photo Credit: File - Getty Images/OJO Images]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Smartphone Warranties]]>Mon, 12 Jan 2015 12:57:58 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/Electronic+Warranties.jpg

Is buying a warranty to protect your new smartphone or tablet a smart deal, or a waste of money?

A lot depends, of course, on something you won't be able to predict: The odds you ever have to replace a stolen or broken device, and how relieved you'll be to have spent $80 or $120 a year to cover, in advance, much of the replacement cost of a $500 or $600 cost of a new device.

But if you've recently bought a new device and turned down the pitch for a protection plan, you've got a lot of company. Clarence Bethea, CEO of Upsie, a Minneapolis startup that sells device warranties through a smartphone app marketplace, said studies show 70 percent of U.S. consumers don't buy one, "because they're confusing, and they're expensive.''

Bethea said one of the most important things for consumers to know is that, with big-name device makers, you normally can wait until up to 30 to 90 days after you've bought a device to buy a warranty, giving you time to shop around and feel confident about turning down a high-pressure in-store sales pitch to get one.

With most reputable manufacturers, you should be automatically covered for up to 12 months for an inherent mechanical failure, such as the device just ceasing to work without you having done anything -- like dropping it on the floor or into a sink -- to damage it.

Depending on what charge card you used to buy it, you may have gotten through the card company automatic extended protection.

The major wireless carriers sell protection plans that typically run $7 to $10 a month, with a deductible that makes you responsible for the first $100 or $200 of the cost of replacing a device.

Bethea is in the business of selling warranties to people, so as you would expect, he agrees that "it's a really good idea to buy a warranty when you buy things that you may be carrying around, such as smartphones tablets or laptops.'' But he stresses that you need to be a smart and discerning consumer, and ask the right questions about what protection you're really getting for your money.

"You want to ask the question replacement? What does my replacement cover? Does it cover a new or refurbished product?'' -- basically, a used device that's been cleaned and buffed up and scrubbed of old data. Know who the company is that actually provides the insurance for the retailer or wireless carrier you're buying it through. "Who is behind it? How financially strong are they? Who do they work with to get their devices repaired? And lastly, cancellation -- can I cancel, and when can I cancel?'' Bethea said.

Making scans and photos of all the paperwork associated with fulfilling warranty protection is important, including your sales receipt and proof of purchase and any other paperwork.

Upsie sells device protection for as much as 50 to 90 percent less than wireless carriers or stores, largely because it shops around among multiple product insurance carriers to find prices consumers will like and will be willing to pay, rather than pushing overpriced sole-source insurance at the cash register as a profit-fattener, as many consumers who've turned down that coverage have come to suspect.

"The best warranty plans that we are seeing out there are the ones that offer you transparency., not just on terms and conditions, but also on price,'' Bethea said. "They also let you know, who's the carrier'' so you can judge that provider's reputation, financial strength, and track record with consumers.

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and assisting videographer John J. Hammann



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Financial Resolutions]]>Mon, 05 Jan 2015 09:44:45 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/tlmd_money_dinero_shutterstock_202243297.jpg

When it comes to making New Year’s resolutions, money resolutions –- save more, spend less, invest more for retirement – are right up there with eating and drinking less and exercising more for popularity.

But for actually achieving them, Jennifer Lane of Compass Planning Associates in Boston, who is also NECN’s "Ask Jennifer" expert, has some surprisingly low-key but powerful advice: "The first thing is to write it down." On a piece of paper or a Post-It Note, taped on a mirror or refrigerator or door where you’ll see it every day.

And don't just resolve to spend less and save more. Get specific. Lane recommends highly quantifiable goals like "'I’d like to put 1 percent more in my 401 (k)' or 'By the end February, I'd like to have another $500 in my savings.' If you write it down and put it somewhere where you'll see it, then you're much more likely to keep it on your radar screen and achieve it."

To save more, Lane stresses how valuable it is to really tally every dollar you’re now spending and identifying the spent cash that can become saved cash.

"People are often very surprised," Lane said, realizing that, for example, "I had no idea I was still paying for that monthly something-or-other subscription that I signed up for and I don't use. Or did you have any idea what you spent on lunch?" day in and day out over the course of a month and year.

I asked Lane what she would consider the number-one resolutions for people to make at the ages of 25, 35, 45, and 55.

"For age 25, it’s really credit and cash. You really want to build your credit by paying down your debt" and beginning to amass a cushion of savings. "Start it small. Make it an automatic direct deposit from your paycheck, $50, $20, $100, whatever fits for you."

At 35, Lane said, the top goal is a Roth IRA (non-taxed later) if you qualify or to "make sure you're doing your 401 k at least to the amount of your employer's match." At 45, Lane said, she would counsel people to "figure out how much you need to save for retirement and get that working. If you're not already maxing out your 401 (k), get the maximum into that account," which in 2015 can be a pre-tax $18,000 annually.

For 55-year-olds, Lane said the critical resolution becomes making sure that retirement account you’ve built up is properly balanced between stocks and bonds, offering both growth potential but protection against losing major chunks of what you’ve amassed. "A younger person can afford to lose money in the stock market and be very weighted into stocks. When you're 55 years old, you've really got to start learning about investments, making sure your portfolio is balanced," Lane said.

And whatever your goals around spending and saving are, making them specific, writing them down, and looking at them every day may well prove to be the key to determining whether they’re more than just good intentions.

With videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan and video editor Bob Leone 



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Student Discounts]]>Mon, 22 Dec 2014 10:02:03 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/College-student-generic-bac.jpg

With student loan debt hitting crushing levels – the average student today is graduating $28,000 in the red, many with tens of thousands of dollars more debt – a new smartphone app helping college students save money has attracted a lot of interest.

It’s called TUN, for “The University Network,” and in Boston and dozens of other college towns across New England and the nation, it collects and shows on a map all the businesses offering student discounts nearby.

“It’s just really easy to see that, like, this is down the street,’’ said TUN user Annabel Sanchez, a Boston University junior and mathematics major from New Jersey, who’s discovered great discounts from places she enjoys eating out when she can, like Sunset Cantina and Tasty Burger. Around the BU campus, she’s learned through TUN, “There's a lot of small businesses around’’ offering meal deals or discounts … It really is good for when I do want to go out. A couple of dollars here, a couple of dollars there, everywhere I go out to eat.’’

Besides cataloging discounts, TUN lets students collect points towards freebies by doing things like reporting to TUN businesses with student discounts that they had not known about; sending pictures or reviews of places they’ve gone and used TUN discounts; or doing a FourSquare-style “check-in” when they go to a restaurant or store on the TUN network.

“Everyone wins,’’ TUN founder and CEO Peter Corrigan said. “The merchants are getting customers that become loyal customers. The students are getting things at a discount. And students are getting free things when they help promote local merchants.’’

For companies hoping to get listed on TUN, Corrigan said, “It's free for small business. It's completely free. There are bigger companies that we work with that gladly pay money to work with us, but for the smaller merchants, it's completely free.’’

We met for interviews at one of the Boston businesses in TUN, the Fitness Together location on Hanover Street near Haymarket in Boston, which offers a 15 percent discount to college students. Less than two weeks after signing up, owner J. P. Krueger said, they landed their first young customer. Krueger said he sees great value in the app for his business. “College students, they love to work out, they create a great vibe in the studio. We have group classes that work really well for students that can't afford the personal training.’’ 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Last-Minute Gift Shopping]]>Mon, 15 Dec 2014 12:23:35 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/AP193159517772_edited-1.jpg

Do you know a proud present procrastinator like Keith Parent?

“Basically, I try to get it all done in one day,’’ Parent, of Palmer, Massachusetts, said in an interview Friday at Quincy Market in Boston when he came in for a day of sightseeing and dining. “I go to one store, try to fit as many things in my hand as I can, go to the cash register, bring it to my car, go back in, go to another department.’’

And the day of December he does this?

“It’ll be the 22nd, 23rd, or 24th,’’ Parent said. “Well, maybe the morning of the 24th.”

Shopping expert Annmarie Weir Seldon of TrendyMommies.com says it can actually make some sense. “There actually could be last minute deals. The retailers get nervous around the 24th. They want to get the merchandise out by 2015, so, men especially like to wait until the last minute. It's pretty smart to do that because on the 24th you may see even deeper discounts.’’

Seldon’s other tips:

Use a smartphone app from a store like Macy’s to check what available deals on the day you’re shopping, or Shop Savvy to see deals from multiple stores in a mall.

Sign up for push notifications of last-minute deals.

Look for ways to “layer” discounts, for example, looking for a one-day sale item, then adding a coupon you find online or a friends and family discount, then paying for it with a store credit card that offers a further discount.

And don’t rule out haggling, because you never know what you might save if you don't ask.

“Shopping at a smaller retailer, you have to ask,’’ Seldon said. “Maybe ask if you can get an additional discount.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Layaway]]>Mon, 08 Dec 2014 11:37:07 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/Layaway.jpg

Shopping "on layaway" -- it's something your parents or grandparents can definitely remember, but after falling out of favor in an era of widely available and cheap credit, this decidedly low-tech way of shopping on credit has been making a big, if quiet, comeback at several store chains.

"Our layaway business has definitely peaked higher this year, especially with the promotions that we've been running trying to drive the business,'' said Braintree, Mass., K-Mart manager John Lanni. "It's definitely very busy this year.''

K-Mart lets you buy anything in the store, put it in storage, and pay for it over eight to twelve weeks, usually for a $10 fee, but often that's waived, or the minimum deposit -- typically $15 or 10 percent of the cost of the purchase, whichever is higher -- is waived.

K-Mart's sister chain Sears has also brought back layaway in a big way. Ed Downey, who runs the Dedham, Mass., Sears, said, "A lot of people are taking advantage of it. We see that a lot in apparel, but also in the larger items. We have layaway available for appliances. We have layaway available in our electronics department.'' It's appealing obviously to people with poor or no credit -- especially after the 2008 meltdown led to drastically tightened lending standards -- but also those who just don't want to max out their outstanding balance. Downey said many of his layaway shoppers are working "with a limited reserve left on their credit card, and they want to hold that for something else, and at Sears, it's very important to us that we give you as many ways to shop as possible.''

You should, of course, be clear on the terms and costs. Most important, you will typically have to pay a "program fee" to use layaway. At K-Mart that's $10, unless waived, and it's important to run the numbers to know how big an effective interest rate that represents for, say, a $300 or $500 purchase you pay off over 8 or 12 weeks.

You should also be sure you know what kind of fee you will pay for a purchase you start but later cancel, such as a cancellation or restocking fee, and be sure you are clear on whether in that situation you'd get back payments you've made as cash or just as a store credit.

But as you're thinking through the upsides and downsides of layaway, one bonus Lanni cites that may matter a lot this time of year to many consumers: "We have shoppers that come in who don't want their gifts inside their house for a couple of months, so they use our layaway program just so the kids don't go rummaging through the basement and the attic looking for the gifts.''

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan.



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Holiday Tipping]]>Mon, 01 Dec 2014 09:28:43 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/vlcsnap-2014-12-01-09h27m22s149.jpg

With Christmas and Hanukkah coming it is a season of giving for many, and that will, or should, include year-end tips for service people in our lives.

It can be a bit of a fraught question, though, whom to tip and how much. So for expert advice, we talked to Jodi R. R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting of Marblehead, Mass. “Just like Santa says, you have a list, you check it twice, and what you're looking for are all the people who help you to make your life a little bit easier all year long,’’ Smith said.

To get organized, Smith encourages you to think of people in three categories: People who take care of your home. People who take care of “your dependents,” including children, pets, or aging parents. “And then,” Smith said, “You look for the people that help with you. So, hair care, nails, masseuse, physical trainers.’’

How much? The Emily Post Institute recommends that for people you see regularly, like a nanny or au pair, dog walker, yoga instructor, or personal trainer, tip them the equivalent of one week’s pay. “You’re usually paying them $50 a week? Another $50 is the amount of your tip,’’ Smith said.

For someone who comes every two or three weeks, like an occasional house cleaner, or a hairstylist or barber or manicurist, add one visit’s worth of pay for a tip, the institute recommends.

“You want to give it to them in the first week of December,’’ Smith said, “because then it will allow these people to use that money towards their holiday budgets.’’

For your letter carrier, however, remember that U.S. Postal Service ethics rules mandate: No cash tips. You can only offer the mailman or mail lady a gift worth less than $20.

If your household budget is pinched and you just don’t feel like you can afford tips right now, Smith said, “You want to make sure to acknowledge the person in some way, shape or form. You might not be able to tip them as much as you usually would, so in that situation, you give them a less expensive gift and a note card that tells them how much you appreciate them.’’ And then whenever your budget improves, return with a tip for Valentine’s Day or Memorial Day or whatever time of year you can afford to give them the tip you wanted to give them at the holidays.

As a rule, Smith said, “It’s really hard to overtip. If somebody's doing a great job, and you enjoy their services, and they're really there for you, then by all means, be more generous.’’

And one more tip about tipping: Make a note of whom you gave what this year, so you’ll remember your baseline for tipping them next year.

With video editors Lauren Kleciak and Bob Leone and videographer John J. Hammann
 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Holiday Shopping]]>Mon, 24 Nov 2014 11:08:15 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Macy%27s-Black-Friday-2013-1.jpg

“Black Friday’’ – it’s become shorthand for “discount-crazed mobs, just hours after Thanksgiving dinner, swarming the shopping malls of America.’’

But more and more people these days are saying, effectively, “no thanks” and “I don’t believe the hype,’’ and Black Friday itself is stretching into something more like “Black Friday Week” at retailers like Kohls.com and Amazon.com, which has already begun a “Black Friday Countdown” promotion with big daily deals.

Fueling this rethinking of Black Friday: DealNews calculates that 70 percent of all the advertised in-store deals will be available online anyway without having to go to the mall in the middle of the night. Adobe Digital Index has calculated the single best day for savings isn’t Black Friday but Thanksgiving, with an average discount of 24 percent off listen prices.

And the National Retail Federation found in a recent survey that 31.6 percent of all Americans plan to wait and see what the deals are on Black Friday before committing to go out and shop on Friday. That’s up 2 percentage points from last year.

Sears is among stores planning plenty of “doorbusters” and will open at 12:30 a.m. on Friday in Massachusetts, store manager Ed Downey said. But when we interviewed him Friday, there were already loads of epic discounts – like $1,100 off a top-end refrigerator and hundreds off various T-V sets, and Downey said, “We have a promotional strategy that runs throughout the entire course of December right up to January 1st and beyond.’’

A central push for Sears this holiday season: an all-month-long 10 percent rewards program for “Shop Your Way” members, up to $500, which gives them up to $50 in store credits to use by Jan. 31. “It gives them time to do shopping after Christmas,’’ Downey said. “They may want to take advantage of the after-Christmas sales. They may need to purchase things for the home. Whatever the case may be, it's their choice.’’

Another comparable program: CVS on Sunday starts a week-long deal where for every $30 you buy worth of specially marked products – but typically things you really use every day, like Kleenex or makeup or household and grocery products – you can choose a $10 gift card from CVS, American Express, Apple, Darden Restaurants, or Macy’s.

Many retail experts say for categories like toys, you’re likely to find better discounts closer to Christmas. When we asked Downey whether he could envision sales between now and Christmas and Hanukkah that are as good as or better than Black Friday, he said, “I expect that you'll see as the competitive environment gets a little bit tighter as it gets closer to Christmas … I think the possibility exists that they could see deals as good as Black Friday.’’ Or as good as the retailers haven’t been able to wait until Black Friday to start offering already.

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Abbas T. Sadek
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Holiday Travel]]>Mon, 17 Nov 2014 11:23:04 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/generic+airplane+1.jpg

Holidays mean holiday travel -- which for many people means "crazy, expensive holiday travel." TripAdvisor.com estimates 43 percent of all Americans will travel during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday by car, plane, train, bus, or other mode, and that's up 7 percent from last year.

For those of us looking to buy airplane tickets around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, or New Year's, it can easily be the most expensive time of the year to travel.

Anne Banas, executive editor of SmaterTravel.com, said it is "not completely hopeless'' to find some deals or chances for savings on holiday travel -- but it's certainly not easy, and you need to have your expectations set properly.

"Right now, we're seeing fares that are two to three times higher than normal,'' Banas said in an interview Friday afternoon at her Boston office. "For example, if you're flying on peak days around Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays, you could see a flight from Boston to Los Angeles $1,000 round-trip. Normally it's about one-third that amount.''

So her first key piece of advice: With Christmas falling on a Thursday this year just as Thanksgiving always does, don't try to fly when everyone else wants to fly. "A lot of people are going to want to maximize that weekend by flying out on a Wednesday and returning on a Sunday. Maybe go on Tuesday, instead, or fly home on Friday or Saturday morning. That's when you're going to find potentially lower prices.''

Even better, consider flying on the holiday itself. She took us through some searches on SmarterTravel's website for a round-trip to Philadelphia that clocked in a $516 round trip if you flew down Tuesday the 23rd and home on Sunday the 28th. By switching to flying down on Christmas day, the price fell to $347. Likewise, for a $518 or $598 round-trip to Buffalo, by flying on Christmas day, it dropped to $416. Other cities showed comparable savings.

"Sometimes you can be taking a little bit of a risk when it comes to weather conditions and flight delays, and if it's the case that you want to save money by flying on the holiday, try to book the first flight out in the morning, so that there's a chance if it is delayed, you'll still be able to get on another flight later in the day,'' Banas said.

Likewise, she said, the day you go searching on line for fares matters, too. In her experience, Banas said, "Most airlines release sales on Mondays and Tuesdays, and that's often when you're going to find the best deals of the week. If you look in the beginning of the week, chances are you're going to get some of the best deals on offer.''

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan
 



Photo Credit: File Photo]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Thanksgiving]]>Mon, 10 Nov 2014 09:43:48 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/184372303.jpg

It may feel like Hallowe'en is barely over -- but Thanksgiving is coming just two weeks from Thursday.

And if you want to make sure you can give thanks, give your family and friends a great meal, but not give over your next paycheck to the supermarket, shopping expert Laurin Mills has this advice: "One of the biggest ways you can save money on your groceries year-round, not just Thanksgiving, is you have to have a plan.''

Week in and week out, Mills is scouring those supermarket circulars so many of us just recycle to compile money-saving but delicious menus for subscribers to her TheDinnerDaily.com -- which gives you five weekly dinner menus to feed a family of four for $85 based specifically on what's for sale at Market Basket, Stop & Shop, Star, Hannaford, and other New England supermarket chains.

The same advice that applies the other 51 weeks of the year holds especially true for Thanksgiving, Mills said in a recent interview. "Waiting until the last minute will put you in a position that you have no choice but to spend the price that's in the store.'' So if you start drawing up a menu right now, Mills said, "You can start taking advantage of all these specials now. It will really make a huge difference in helping you save money.''

When you're making up that menu, Mills also advised: "Keep it simple. Look at all our sides. Do you really need to do 12 sides? Is there one side dish that gets stuck in the back of the fridge every year after Thanksgiving?''

Mills said at most supermarkets, you should count on spending 99 cents per pound or less for turkey, so the big money is likely to be in your side dishes and accoutrements.

One of the biggest money pits she's seen on the holiday sideboard are stuffing recipes, which "can be very involved. You can see recipes that call for exotic mushrooms, oysters, beef -- you know, there's a lot of things you can put into stuffing that make that recipe expensive.'' And if you're thinking about the ratio of your guests' happiness to what you spend? "Most people are going to enjoy the meal you're putting on the Thanksgiving table, whether you do your tried-and-true stuffing recipe, or you do the world's best stuffing recipe, and you're going to save yourself a lot of time, stress, and expense in the process.''

If you're looking for coupon savings, Mills said this time of year you are likely to find better deals at "manufacturer websites" like those for Butterball Turkeys or Stouffers or other name-brand makers of Thanksgiving prepared dishes and ingredients.

And when it comes to wine, if you and your family are not usually regular wine drinkers, think now about how much you may need to Christmas or Hanukkah and bringing as gifts to holiday parties. If you don't usually buy wine by the case, right now it may make sense to do so to take advantage of the 20 or even 25 percent full-cases discount many package stores and wine shops will offer you.

Finally, if you're feeling so tempted by those adorable napkins and plates and decorations with cartoon turkeys and Pilgrims and the like ... force yourself to go instead with regular napkins and plates. Just for one more year.,

"Try to stop yourself from doing it this year, and then after Thanksgiving, go out and purchase all of those items at upwards of 75 to 80 percent off, stock it up, and then,'' Mills said, "you have it next year.''

With videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan, segment executive producer Melissa Simas Tyler, and video editor Bob Leone.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Medical Expenses]]>Mon, 03 Nov 2014 09:48:32 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/doctor-health-generic-1200-02.jpg

For years, the soaring cost of health care has pummeled household, government, and corporate budgets alike, and experts have said one of the single biggest problems: Consumers can’t go price-shopping for medical procedures like they can for a car or television set, so there’s been little visible price competition for consumers to lower costs.

But starting Oct. 1, that has changed in a big way in Massachusetts, and the new law can save Bay State consumers big money. As of that date, all 13 health insurers operating in the state have had to make available online tools showing the net out-of-pocket cost to consumers -– based on their individual health plan’s deductibles and co-payments and their year-to-date spending – of procedures like MRIs, X-rays, colonoscopies, and common surgeries.

You can find your health insurer’s cost-comparison tool through the website www.GetTheDealOnCare.org

One day recently, Sue Amsel of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care took me through their “Now I Know’’ tool -– rival companies have similar services –- and showed me how based on where I want to go, an MRI knee scan could cost me as a Harvard Pilgrim subscriber anywhere from $343 to $1,700, depending on whether I wanted to go to a low-cost MRI provider in Brookline, Mass., or a prestigious Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital downtown.

The same day, thyroid gland tests were running anywhere from $23 to $95, echocardiograms $305 to $549, and colonoscopies $945 to $1,700.

Amsel cautions that in some cases, the tool won’t necessarily tell you your exact final cost. “What's not included is typically things like anesthesia, because we don't know what the person's going to have, and any additional tests over and above the standard’’ that the health plan pays for.

But what she also makes clear: There’s little to no correlation between how much you pay and how highly ranked the doctor is. Harvard Pilgrim will identify “honor roll” physicians ranked in the top 25 percent for patient satisfaction and readmissions and complications and other factors, and pulling up the ten top-ranked colonoscopy providers –- both the least expensive and the most expensive were on that list. And the same doctor could charge you a widely differing price depending on which of three hospitals she or he is affiliated with you choose to have the procedure performed at.

It’s one thing to now, theoretically, that the net prices we pay for medical procedures are often completely arbitrary. But now in Massachusetts, consumers can see just how arbitrary they are, and policymakers hope over time, as they gravitate towards high-quality low-cost providers who come up on their shopping tools, that can finally begin to break the relentless upward spike of health-care costs.

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Marc Jackson
 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Fireplaces]]>Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:36:02 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/Fireplace5.jpg

November’s almost here, and for many of us who are lucky enough to own one, that means firing up the fireplace and thinking about how to get the best value out of the wood we chop or buy.

But to fireplace expert Gary Ridge of American Chimney Pros in Wayland, Mass., by far the most important first step is to make sure you’re not going to burn your house down. That means getting it inspected and cleaned if you haven’t recently, having an expert look for “broken flue tiles, little cracks that open into the wood walls, and third-degree creosote. You look up and see really shiny, shiny black stuff that looks like tar. That actually is what catches the chimney on fire.’’

You can treat it with a $20 creosote chemical log to neutralize and remove the creosote, which, Ridge said, “I highly recommend, but that's not going to fix any structural problems. You can't just go out and spend twenty bucks on this log to get rid of the creosote and expect your chimney to be safe.’’

Once it’s inspected, one way to save money is to leave a little mess after your first fires. “If you leave some ash in there, it'll help protect the floor of the fireplace , plus it won't burn up the wood as fast. If it's all completely cleaned out, it's getting so much oxygen underneath it that it's just going to burn the fire up a lot quicker.

But if you think an open fireplace fire's going to reduce your gas or oil heat bill -- as a rule that'll almost never happen because open fireplaces pull more heat out of your home overall than they may pump into one room. Ridge said there’s nothing you can safely do to address that, “besides putting in an insert or wood stove, because basically, it's just heat going up. It'll heat this room up, but it's pulling all of the oxygen out of the other rooms to keep this fire going up the chimney.’’

For actual cost savings on your oil or gas bill, you want a properly installed “insert” in the fireplace that burns wood or gas and has two liners in it – one pulling in fresh, cold air down the chimney to fuel the fire, the second sending heated exhaust up a different part of the city. That way, it’s cold air from outside that’s ultimately going up your fireplace chimney, not air you paid the gas company or oil dealer to heat.

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Halloween]]>Mon, 20 Oct 2014 09:25:06 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/halloween+candy2.JPG

Count up all the candy, and all the costumes, all the pumpkins, and all the pretty home decorations, and you can quickly see how getting tricked out for Hallowe'en winds up being quite a treat for the nation's retailers.

The National Retail Federation predicts the average U.S. household will spend $77.52 this Hallowe’en, 3.3 percent more than last year. Across the country, the biggest categories for spending include $2.8 billion for costumes, $2.2 billion for candy, $2 billion for decorations – even a whopping $350 million for pet costumes.

“Every year, you see this big push for Halloween. It's a big spending time,’’ said consumer expert Annmarie W. Seldon of TrendyMommies.com “Kids love it, adults love it, and the costumes can get pretty pricey as well.’’

Her advice for holding down costs? For starters, don’t pay retail for getting dressed up.

“I think it's a great idea to go to a thrift store. They can have some very unique costumes, so if it's an avenue you'd like to take, certainly there are some unique costumes there.’’ Or rather than paying for new or used, settle for free or new to you. “Have a clothing costume swap. A lot of moms do that. A lot of play groups do that. You know: It's new to your child.’’

She also points out that your kid in a bedsheet or piece of cloth or all black can still make a big impression. “Another way to save on Halloween costumes is maybe just buy a hat or a wig, and that way, you can accessorize at home.’’

On the other side of Halloween, the giving, she recommends, “Buy in bulk when you're going to buy candy, because then you're getting some great savings, like a BJ’s. Or buy in bulk and share with a neighbor or friend,’’ Seldon said. And while it’s too late for this week, make a note on your August 2015 calendar: “Candy does have a shelf life, but it can last a couple of months, so I would start to think about it before school starts -- you know Hallowe'en is coming -- and maybe not wait to the last minute.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak, supervising field producer Melissa Simas Tyler, and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan
 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Applying to College]]>Mon, 13 Oct 2014 08:50:00 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/College6.jpg

All across New England this fall, thousands of high school seniors are feeling the growing pressure: Where should I apply to college? Where can I get in? And how many schools should I apply to to be sure I get enough options?

In recent years, some students and their families have reacted to the excruciatingly tight admissions yields – 85 to 95 percent of students applying to prestige colleges getting rejected – by massively ramping up the number of colleges they apply to. In an informal survey we did at Boston University earlier this month, it was easy to hear stories of students who had applied to 15, 20, up to 23 different colleges in hopes of getting into at least one and hopefully having some good choices.

But at $75 or $80 or $100 per application filed, that can wind up costing students and their parents well over $1,000, even before they start paying for tuition and student loan debt.

“I think it’s a growing problem,’’ said Elizabeth Heaton, a senior director and college admissions counselor with College Coach, a division of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, who works out of College Coach’s Newton, Mass., office. She’s a former University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University admissions officer and interviewer, and is often talking students and parents out of submitting 10, 15, or even 20 applications.

“I do think it's far too many because, in general, students really have no idea why the school's even on the list,’’ Heaton said. “When you have a list that long, it's really hard for them to pinpoint, what do they really like about each one of these schools on my list?’’

Her recommended number: seven, typically consisting of two “reaches,” or longshot aspirations; three “match schools” that your standardized test scores and school grades indicate you have a 50 percent chance of getting into; and two “safety schools,” or colleges that are ones you like and would get a worthwhile education from – but where your test scores and grades indicate you have a 90 percent chance of getting in.

Besides saving you potentially hundreds of dollars on application fees, this strategy, Heaton said, also helps ensure that you don’t jeopardize your chances of getting into a school for which you’re clearly qualified.

“There tends to be a tendency for students to really shoot high and then put all their attention into these 10 reach schools -- and then kind of wait until the end of the process to do the applications for the schools where they actually have a much better shot of getting in,’’ Heaton said. “As a result, they may not do a good enough job on those applications’’ and wind up not getting into the schools where they had the best shot of gaining admission – and wasting a lot of money and time in the process.

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan
 



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Home Heating]]>Mon, 06 Oct 2014 08:32:34 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/MSM+Heating.jpg

Across much of southern New England, many homeowners have yet to turn on the heat much at home, or at all. But you know that will be changing a lot and very soon.

What can you do in what's left of October and November to save money come December, January, and February?

"The concept we try to get across is: You wouldn't leave a window open all winter long, would you?'' That's how Bill Stack, an energy efficiency expert with the electric and gas utility NStar, likes to explain the basic principle behind one of the biggest ways you can save -- namely, plugging air leaks around doors, windows, and pipes or cables entering your home using weatherstripping, insulating foam, and similar materials. If you can see light coming in around a door, add self-adhesive weatherstripping to close that leak.

For a home heated by forced hot air, replacing the air filter twice a year will cost you as little as $8 -- $4 per filter -- and that combined with an annual tune-up by a heating professional can save you 10 to 20 percent on your heating bill by using gas or oil more efficiently to produce heat.

Another way to save up to 20 percent is a programmable thermostat that is scheduled to automatically drop the temperature when you're going to be away at work or school, then raise the temperature when you'll be returning. With a conventional dial thermostat on the wall, Stack said, "The problem with one of these is that people don't remember to reset them. That's what's great about a programmable thermostat. You can pre-program them.''

It's often debated just how low should let the temperature drop when you're away to maximize the benefit of lowering the temperature, and not let the house get so cold you waste energy re-heating it. Stack said it depends, obviously, on the specific conditions of your home or condo, but as a rule, "We recommend 64 when you're away and 68 when you're home,'' Stack said.

Opening up drapes and blinds to let in sunshine from south-facing windows -- then closing them again at sunset -- is a totally free and surprisingly effective way to reduce your heating bill.

And while it's smart any time of year, replacing old light bulbs with very efficient LED (light emitting diode) bulbs makes particular good sense right now. "With winter comes long nights, and you're going to be using your lights a lot more than you would during the summer months,'' so LED savings start piling up much faster in winter, Stack said. Many produce as much light as incandescents for 70 or 80 percent less electricity. That means you'll recoup the $8 or $9 cost of a 75-watt-equivalent bulb in about a year, and then have a lightbulb rated to last another seventeen years while consuming much less energy.

Paul Degnan, an NStar colleague of Stack's who welcomed us into his Canton, Mass., home to see the changes he'd made after getting a MassSave.com energy assessment two years ago, said, "It reduces my energy costs, which is good for the planet and good for my wallet.''

"All of the ways that we've addressed energy concerns have also improved the comfort level as well,'' Degnan said. "Anywhere we were getting drafts, we addressed, and it makes the house more comfortable to live in when the weather is lousy. I would easily say that I've saved over 20 percent on gas and electric costs.''

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Home Upgrades]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:20:07 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/peter+on+homes.jpg

Anyone who's undergone home renovations knows: You want to wind up with a nicer place to live. But especially after the collapse of housing prices after 2008, you also want to make an investment that will pay off when you sell your home or condominium.

That was very much on the mind of Sara Schecter and her family when they found a great fixer-upper on a pretty street in Marblehead, Mass. “Knowing what our budget was, what we could add to the house, and then come out and still be ahead’’ was a top concern as they gutted and redid a house owned by a couple who’d lived there for 60 years without upgrading much of anything.

“Everything needed to be done,’’ Schecter said.

As it turned out, the Schecters went four for four in what a Remodeling Magazine survey found to be today’s financially smartest home upgrades.

On top of their list – replacing wood siding with “cement board” siding. Remodeling found home sellers recoup 78 percent of the cost of cement board, a higher percentage than any other kind of fix-up.

“I didn’t know that,” Schecter said when we interviewed her. “We did it just for the maintenance purposes. We know how it expensive it was to paint a house.’’

Russell Busa, president of Sterling Homes Development Corp., who did the work for the Schecters, said there are lots of great reasons besides investment recoupment to put the siding on. “It’s a no maintenance product, comes prepainted, saves on any kind of insects. It's also fireproof material,’’ Busa said.

Number two on Remodeling’s list was a new front door, which can make a vastly improved first impression on any future buyer, and number three is converting unfinished or badly finished attic space into a bedroom.

“It adds a lot of value, because we actually have another bedroom here as well,’’ Busa said as he showed us around the airy third-floor space that has a play space and television-watching area for the three Schecter kids and a bedroom and bath – which make this one of the only four-bedroom, 2 1/2 –bath homes in this part of Marblehead.

Number four on the best remodeling moves in Remodeling’s survey is what they call a mid-range refreshing and updating of the kitchen. Busa credits the Schecters with smartly avoiding a mistake he’s seen others make over and over for home resale value: Going for bold or quirky colors and finishes that future buyers may dislike. “We’ll try to suggest to clients to keep more of a neutral color as you can see with the granite’’ they chose for their counters, and a plain palette of colors a future homeowner could easily accessorize with wall hangings or kitchen objects.

Making remodeling pay off has grown more and more important because the percentage of the cost of improvements recouped at the time of sale has been falling steadily – from 82.5 percent in 2003 and 87 percent in 2005 to just 57 percent in 2012, according to Remodeling. Along with big energy efficiency improvements, the Schecters managed to do exactly the right things for maximizing the return whenever they finally sell the house – and maybe best of all, Sara Schecter can say: “I’m very happy with the way it turned out.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan 

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Car Insurance]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:20:42 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/160*160/1060813314782884390868891859681013n.jpg

On top of all it costs to own a car and drive a car and fuel a car in Massachusetts, six years after the introduction of what officials call “managed competition,” it still costs a pile to insure a car in Massachusetts – on average, over $1,600 a year.

Finding ways to save, however, is not hopeless, and in our search for strategies, we went to the top – Tom Skelly, chairman of the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents and vice president of sales and operations at Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates Inc. in Wellesley Lower Falls.

Skelly said thanks to managed competition, the best place to start is to look around for every last discount now available. Of course, you can save money by using the same insurer for home as auto insurance. Beyond that, some insurers will cut your bill by a few percent if you have low annual mileage or you have a transit pass or you're a newlywed. High-school kids can save their parents by getting good grades or taking an advanced drivers' class.

“A policy sent to you via email and you want no paper at all? There's a discount,’’ Skelly said.

Liberty Mutual alone gives discounts to members or employees of 14,000 groups, employers, credit unions and alumni associations, and these discounts get very specific, like, down to what kind of degree you earned as a Boston College graduate. “If you went to BC Law School versus BC, there are two different companies that will give you a discount on that.’’

Another way many save is by dropping the “collision coverage” on an old car if the Blue Book value minus your insurance deductible means you’d get little or nothing if the car got wrecked – or if the gap is small enough and your available savings are healthy enough you feel it’s prudent to “self-insure” against the chance you’d total the car. An Insurance.com survey found that while Americans keep collision coverage on 96 percent of six-year-old cars, that figure drops, steadily, to just 60 percent of 10-year-old cars.

Skelly agrees dropping collision coverage can make sense for a lot of people but dropping “comprehensive insurance” coverage in Massachusetts may be a bad move because of one big factor: Busted windshields. “We always recommend you leave comprehensive on with a high deductible, because glass is covered with no deductible under the comprehensive section of the policy,’’ Skelly said.

Something you should never skimp on, though: Enough liability insurance if you hurt or kill someone in a crash. “What have I got at risk here? All my 401(k) money? All the money in the bank? All my assets. My house, my condo, my cars, any of my future earnings -- they're all at risk in the case of an accident.

Of course, the deepest discount of all: Going years and years without ever having accidents in the first place. “Driving well,’’ Skelly said, “is the best option to save money -- best discount you can get.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Mike Bellwin 



Photo Credit: 1013mm/Instagram]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Child Care]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:21:14 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/219*120/MSM+Child+Care.jpg

You can’t put a price on the joy that children bring their parents, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has put a price on what it will cost on average to feed, shelter, and care for them through age 17: $245,000.

“Having a child is one of the most amazing and joyful events -- and also one of the most expensive events that families will face,’’ said Donna Levin, vice president of operations and co-founder of Care.com, a Boston-based website all about helping families needing care for family members of all age make connections with potential caregivers. “When most people find out the cost of care, they are completely surprised,’’ Levin said.

At an average of $18,000 a year in their years before elementary school, a new Care.com survey found care for kids will typically cost families more than taxes or healthcare or food or housing.

Figuring out how to get a handle on those costs? For expectant parents, Levin said, “It starts off really simple. Start with a budget. Start to take a look after you pay your rent, after you pay utilities, after you pay for your car, actually, what's left?’’

Something Donna learned from her own experience as a mother of two that has been validated by Care.com research: Having someone come care for your kids in your home may be cost-competitive with conventional daycare.

Nationally, the company found, for a family with a 4-year-old and an infant, on average it will cost you $254 a week for family child care, $336 for a day-care center, $360 for an au pair, and $495 a week for a nanny, a considerably more experienced and trained caregiver than an au pair.

In Boston, in contrast, it averages $664 a week for outside-the-home daycare for a family with kids of those ages, but $531 a week for a nanny, according to the Care.com survey.

Depending on whether the nanny lived with you or not, you’d have to add on the cost of room and board and employer taxes and other fees. But for Levin, the important take-away message is that many people who might prefer to have one caregiver who builds a close relationship with their kids and them and looks after them inside their home, rather than having their children go to outside-the-home daycare, might find on a dollar basis, it’s a cost-competitive option, especially after factoring in all the intangible values.

The best explanation appears to be that around Boston, there’s a tight supply of licensed daycare, but lots of college students looking for extra money from child care like the Levins’ nanny, Rachel Rosa, a pre-med student at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

It’s an approach that takes a lot of thought and screening for the right person, of course, and clear understanding about just what you’re paying the person to do. “A nanny can live in or live out and you can specify a range of duties for that nanny -- pick up for the kids shuffling kids to activities and also doing some light housework around the home. We encourage you to put together a nanny contract,’’ Levin said. “If you have multiple children, if you're going to pay $600 dollars each per child for day care, having a nanny or au pair becomes a much more affordable option.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer John E. Stuart
 



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Retirement]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:21:46 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/tlmd_tarjetascreditojpg_bim.jpg

Few Americans ever feel like they’re saving enough for retirement. But a new survey from BankRate.com put some alarming new numbers on just how many aren’t saving anything for retirement – 36 percent of all working Americans.

An especially concerning 26 percent of those aged 50 to 64, the imminent retirees, have $0 put aside for retirement BankRate.com’s survey found.

“Many of the people that I talk to don't have really even the start to a financial nest egg, and it's scary,’’ said Jennifer Lane of Compass Planning Associates in Boston, who appears in our NECN “Ask Jennifer” segments.

In this Money Saving Mondays segment, Lane offers tips for how to make and stick to a commitment to save more for retirement, including:

- Track spending now. “By tracking expenses, you'll know how much you're spending. You'll notice where it's going that you don't want it to go, so you can actually take action. Step one is to track and see what you're missing and what you want and then keep tracking.’’
- Then, if recurring expenses drop, you'll know you can bank the savings for retirement. For example, “Your baby goes from an infant daycare to toddler day care, and I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh, it's only saving us $50 a month.’ But if you realize, ‘Wow -- there's that $50. Grab it and set up an automatic contribution.’’ Or “you get over age 27 and your car insurance goes down a little bit. Notice that, and start putting it into a Roth IRA.’’
- Don’t just have vague good intentions. Pick some numbers. “Saying I’m going to save money for retirement, it's never really going to happen. But if you say I'd like to put 2 percent of my pay into my retirement nest egg this year, or I want to save $5,000 or $10,000 – that, you'll be able to achieve. Having your goal be specific makes it much easier to achieve.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Saving for College]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:22:23 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/MSM+College.jpg

They’re just ages 10, 11, and 13, but already, Cassandra, Nick, and Molly Menounos have big dreams about attending big-name colleges -- Brown, Yale and Dartmouth – that are as expensive as they are prestigious.

They have, though, a powerful ally: Their 82-year-old grandfather, Nikitas Menounos, who emigrated from Greece to the U.S. in 1951.

He said, “I said to myself, whenever I have grandchildren, I want my grandchildren to be educated, because I didn't have the opportunity for me to go to college … Me and my wife, that's all we're thinking, to educate the grandchildren.’’

Already, he’s helped two of the Menounos siblings’ cousins through college and has sent up 529 savings plans for Molly, Nick, Cassandra, and their three-year-old little brother Luke.

They’ve learned from their grandfather to appreciate receiving something far more significant than toys for their birthdays. “We’ll buy them small things, and then we put money away for college in the 529s. When they were baptized, we did the same thing. Any holidays, Christmas, it’s the same thing.’’

College savings expert Martha Savery of the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority says the Menounos family approach epitomizes three of MEFA’s five pillars of smart college savings: First, have a plan or a roadmap. Second, commit to saving regularly through a 529 plan or the like. And third, involve grandparents, family, and friends if they'll help out and if you’re comfortable proposing they contribute cash to a college savings plan as an alternative to conventional birthday presents. “It's a great gift. It's a great gift. It’s lasting a lifetime,’’ Savery said.

MEFA’s fourth pillar is what Savery calls “saving where you spend.” So, for example, if your little one just finished up daycare and is now attending a less expensive preschool – or has moved from preschool to kindergarten – see if you can put the amount of money that move saves you into their college savings account.

Or just think about what spending $3 less a day on take-out coffee and putting that into a 529 could do: Just $100 a month invested and growing at 7 percent annual returns for 18 years will become, adjusted for inflation, nearly $25,000.

“It’s really not making huge life-altering changes,’’ Savery said. “It's really looking inwardly and saying, ‘What are we spending money on? And how can we take that and put it away into a college fund?’ ‘’

And number five for MEFA: Take advantage of the abundant help and counseling that they and other groups and organizations offer for designing and fulfilling a college savings plan, because that can make the difference between good intentions and actually getting it done.

With video editor Lauren Kleciak, videographer John E. Stuart, and supervising field producer Melissa Simas Tyler



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Autumn Shopping]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:22:54 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/Shopping7.jpg

We’ve all been feeling it some of these cool and crisp mornings lately in New England – the season starting to turn from summer to autumn.

And just like the weather turning, savvy shoppers know that what’s a good deal in stores is turning as well. “September and October are great months to shop, because these are not prime shopping months, so these are great months to get really good deals,’’ says Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com, a coupons, deals, and cash-back website.

Start with what’s likely to be the single most expensive thing you buy other than a home: A car. “The model-year changeover is happening,’’ Lal said. “So if you want a great deal, get a 2014 in September, and perhaps if you want to squeeze a few extra out of that purchase, do it close to month-end or quarter-end. That would be Sept. 30, when dealers are trying to meet their numbers.’’

Lal said the same logic applies to smartphones. “The new phone models come out in September, like the new iPhones coming out in September, so if you're looking to get a great deal, you may just want to get the old model at a great price in September.’’

If you procrastinated and didn't buy back-to-school clothes, it turns out you were smarter than you may appreciate. “The big shopping season for clothes is over in September and October, so anything that retailers have, they're trying to get rid of,’’ Lal said, and that also includes patio chairs, grills, lawn mowers, and other seasonal items stores are trying to clear out to make way for autumn and winter products.

Lal said if you’ve been thinking about a big item of jewelry, September or October may be a good time to buy, Lal said. “September or October are not gift-giving months. There isn't Valentine's Day or Mother's Day or Christmas or anything like that going on,’’ Lal said.

But at the same time, there are some things you should specifically "not" try to buy in autumn, like televisions or computers. “You're going to want to wait until Black Friday to buy the things that are going to be on sale then as opposed to now,’’ Lal said. “A lot of these things are used as doorbusters and headline items.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Mike Bellwin



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Back-to-School Shopping]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:23:26 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/saving+%21.jpg

If you’re a parent with school-aged kids in New England and you haven’t yet, you will have to soon: Go back-to-school shopping for notebooks and pencils and pens and many other supplies.

A recent National Retail Federation poll found Americans will average $95.63 for elementary school student on school supplies this year, $100.81 for middle schoolers, and $96.85 for high-school students. And with the so-so economic recovery, 34 percent of shoppers say they are buying more generic and store-brand supplies this summer to economize.

Looking for some tips, we recently went along with Bedford, Mass., mother of two and TrendyMommies.com consumer expert Annmarie W. Seldon and her daughters, Sophie, entering 8th grade, and Bella, entering 5th, as they did their back-to-school shopping at a Staples store.

“When kids get older, the lists get longer, and they're very specific,’’ Seldon said.

What you wouldn’t immediately know: Just how much homework and research she’d done ahead of time to know what’s a good price for various school supplies, and to know that you may not necessarily find them at the front of the store. “When you first walk in, those pencils are $2, but they need four dozen of them, so you have to go check out the different sections of the store that have the specific sale items, and maybe you'll get the bigger packages for less.’’ It presented a good math problem Bella solved: What’s a better deal, per pencil: 18 pencils for $5? Or 72 pencils for $14? Knowing pencils will get used up over the course of the year, they went with the 72-pack to save $6.

Seldon said she likes Staples because of its 110 percent price guarantee – if you can find an item cheaper at a dollar store or another chain, they’ll reimburse you for 100 percent of the difference in price plus and extra 10 percent on top of that.

By knowing her daughters had to get both thick-tipped and thin-tipped Sharpie pens, she knew she could get Sharpies with tips on both ends for $6 instead of $10 for separate packages.

They made a point of going to the far end of the store to the clearance bin to find a few more school necessities, like pencil gholders. “They tend to hide it in the back, so you really have to look” to get those deals, Seldon said.

And the biggest source of savings Seldon demonstrated: Being a Mom who can say “no” – nicely. She repeatedly reminded her daughters to “stick to the list” and not buy peripherals, no matter how adorable.

“I’m not mean, but just very focused. ‘Focused’ is the word when you go back to school shopping,’’ Seldon said.

She’s also learned not to over-buy in August but look for deals throughout the 180 days of the school year. “Kindergarten through fifth grade, you need those basic items all year round, the erasers, the glue sticks, the pencils,’’ Seldon said. “I know that people don't think to shop during Christmas break for items like these, but try and spread your shopping out throughout the year. You know that they're going to need some Crayola markers and Crayola crayons, so when you see them on sale, stock up.’’

Finally, with her list all checked off, she showed us one more trick to save a little more: Never throwing out a gift card or a returned-item card with a cash credit on it. “I put my cards in my car, even if they have little, low amounts, just in case,’’ Seldon said. It turned out a Staples card she had had for three years in her glove compartment still had $3.73 on it – adding another $3.73 to what she saved by being choosy, sticking to the list, and buying but not over-buying for the first day of school.

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan

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<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Coupon-Less Savings]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:23:56 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/MSM+Coupon.jpg

One day recently Kathy Trainor, a teacher mother of two from Taunton, Massachusetts, came shopping to the Target store, prepared to enjoy some significant coupon savings – but without having had to clip and compile any paper coupons.

What she was using is a not-yet-widely-known service called SavingStar.com that’s three years old and has quietly expanded to cover 58,000 stores from about 120 chains, including virtually all the big New England supermarket chains. It’s free, requiring only that you link your supermarket or other loyalty card to your SavingStar account. Instead of paper coupons, she clicks on deals that come through a smartphone app, and uses those to collect her savings.

“It adds a lot of value and it adds a lot of time to my day,’’ Trainor said. “I don't have time to cut out the coupons and then bring them to the store and then figure out which ones I use. Everything's right in front of me … I save quite a bit of money. This year I've saved probably about $100.’’

What’s new with SavingStar this summer is that it’s expanded beyond supermarkets and other stores with loyalty cards to which it links its deals to also cover big chains like Target, Walmart, Walgreen’s and Family Dollar and Dollar General stores that don’t have loyalty cards. With its new service, to get coupon savings on items you have bought at those stores, you take a photo of your receipt with your Android or iPhone confirming what you bought, and your SavingStar account gets credited with the savings on items eligible for coupon discounts.

“Everybody likes to save money in the grocery store, but not everybody's going to go to the Sunday newspaper and clip out coupons and carry them around. That's a pain,’’ said Michael Libenson, president of SavingStar.

On a typical day, SavingStar will have about 50 offers, including some offering as much as $5 off Goya products or $10 off Weight Watchers Smart Ones.

“Tuesday, we will have a healthy offer of the week. It might be on something like green peppers or corn or bananas. Every Thursday we'll put new offers up, and then every Friday we have a ‘Friday Freebie,’ and that’s good for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You get 100 percent back on that individual item.’’

Libenson has racked up over $200 in savings on his personal account this year and explains, “I can withdraw it anytime, either directly into my bank account or I can get it by PayPal, or I can get it in the form of a gift card. Or I can give the money to charity.’’

Libenson said SavingStar is working on continuing to expand beyond the newly added chains. “We are adding all the major club chains. Costco, Sam’s, and BJ’s, those are coming in the next couple of months.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Apartment Search]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:24:31 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/Jumpshell+Money+Saving+Mondays.jpg

As Aug. 1 and Sept. 1 deadlines for moving into new apartments loom, all too many apartment hunters in Greater Boston know that units aren't just expensive – they can be a big hassle and time-waster to get in and see to make a decision about where to live.

“We find that a lot of people spend 10 or 20 hours browsing online, but only get to see a couple of apartments” because it’s such a hassle to schedule visiting times with landlords and tenants, said Matthew Boyes-Watson, co-founder of Jumpshell.com. “You actually want to go visit that apartment? That's when a lot of time-wasting comes in, sending emails, waiting for responses, phone calls, coordinating times. So we handle all of that.”

One day recently, we tagged along as Boyes-Watson helped Will Ford and Jessie Williamson and two friends do in 60 minutes what often takes Boston apartment hunters a week to pull off: Actually set foot inside four different potential apartments in and around the Inman Square neighborhood of Cambridge. Working with landlords, apartment owners, and rental agents, Jumpshell.com sets up walking tours for apartment seekers defined by how big an apartment they want, where, and at what price range.

So, for example, “you can come to the South End and see several one-beds, all in the space of about 45 minutes,” Boyce-Watson said. Or, you could look at four or five or six two-bedroom apartments in Roxbury, or studio apartments in Charlestown.

“I was a little bit annoyed with Craigslist. You have to deal with a ton of different Realtors. It takes a lot of time. Someone said there was this website that put it all in one place, so I checked it out, and it seemed pretty cool,” Ford said of his apartment search. “I don't know yet quite about money, but definitely, it's saved me a ton of time. You can see multiple apartments, all in one afternoon, or even an hour or so.”

Williamson said: “There's a direct correlation between time and money, especially these days. Taking off work” to accommodate an opening to see an apartment “means that I'm not always getting paid for the time that I'm not there.”

One thing Jumpshell can’t solve for you: The sky-high cost of rentals in Boston, rivalled by many accounts only by New York and San Francisco. But, Boyes-Watson said, he’s been finding people who use the service come to feel they are getting much better value from spending $2,000 or $3,000 a month on an apartment when they’ve seen multiple examples of just what $2,000 or $3,000 gets you in and around Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. It’s a service that can leave you reassured, even if you feel like you’re wildly overspending for your apartment rental, you've got some confidence there wasn't a much better option you could have snagged for that level of monthly rent.

“When we let people come and see several apartments that match what their criteria are all at once, they can make a better-informed decision than if they're seeing one apartment and sort of making a guess,” Boyes-Watson said.

With videographers Sean G. Colahan and Daniel J. Ferrigan. 



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Dog Sitting]]>Tue, 30 Sep 2014 12:25:09 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/214*120/MSM+Dogs.jpg

If you’re a dog owner, you know that one of the big, hidden costs of a summer vacation far away can be finding a place for your dog to stay while you travel.

But a new service can cut the price of dog lodging in half -- and maybe find your pup some new friends. It’s called DogVacay.com, and it enables you to find fellow dog owners in your area who’ve signed up to be dog sitters and passed background checks and will typically charge $25 to $40 a day to take care of your dog.

Katie Moss of Arlington and her partner, Chris Paganelli, signed up to become DogVacay hosts after being very satisfied DogVacay customers for their dog, Charlie, a six-year-old who appears to be a whippet-Jack Russell terrier mix.

“I did a search online and came across DogVacay, which allows dogs to stay in other people's homes, and that sounded a lot better to me than having him stay in a cage for a week that we're on vacation,’’ Moss said. “Charlie is a rescue, and he does not like being in a kennel at all. He gets a little crazy.’’ And at a typical daily fee of $25 or $30, she said, “It was also actually cheaper than having him stay in a kennel.’’

Moss and Paganelli ask $36 a day to sit dogs, in part because she works from home and has lots of time to spend watching a visiting dog. “It's not really obviously for the money. We just like having dogs around, and I think it's great for Charlie to have other dogs since he's here by himself most of the time.’’

DogVacay takes a 15 percent cut of the sitters’ daily fee and guarantees owner to host payments. It’s available now in most of Massachusetts and parts of Maine and Connecticut, but not all of New England. Part of what you’re paying for is a $25,000 life-insurance policy on your dog, in case something horrible happens. But sitters like Moss will assure you, what you’re buying is a lot of careful love. “Instead of taking them to a kennel, and there might be 50 dogs there, we have two. So they definitely get special attention.’’

With video editor Lauren Kleciak and videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan
 



Photo Credit: NECN]]>
<![CDATA[Money Saving Mondays: Grocery Deals]]>Mon, 10 Nov 2014 10:38:45 -0500http://media.necn.com/images/213*120/1194537431.jpg

How many of us see those supermarket circulars and newspaper inserts week after week and know there must be good deals in there - but just can't find the time and motivation to wade through them all?

What, though, if someone translated that sea of newsprint into five weeknight dinner menus that could save you - no kidding - $30, $40 or $50 a week for a family of five?

“We plan your whole weeknight meal around using as many of those specials as we can” is how Laurin Mills explains her TheDinnerDaily.com service.

For a subscription fee of $4 a month, she sends you five weekly dinner menus designed according to what's specifically on sale at one of six major New England supermarket chains, including Market Basket, Stop and Shop, Shaw’s, Hannaford’s, Roche Brothers, and Whole Foods. She also includes links to online coupons, so that if you use, typically, just one week’s worth of coupons, your monthly subscription price drops to an effective $0.

Mills is a former Ernst & Young accountant who became a mom of three, and both roles have shaped The Dinner Daily.

“I’m an ex-CPA, and I looked at this as a way to really help people save on their food costs by getting the sales flyers, and the basis of our plan is really built around what's on special,” Mills explained. “That allows us to write a weeknight meal plan that, on average, costs no more than $85 a week for a family of five. People find that astonishing when we tell them that, but it really works.”

Mills is rigorous about re-checking the prices of her ingredients the week after they’ve been on special to validate her savings claims.
“People will spend $30 or $40 more for that same mix of ingredients, just because they're shopping when they're not on special,” Mills said, adding that over the course of a year $120 or $160 a month times 12 months “is a family vacation - just by shopping a list that's based on specials.”

Lisa Ratte, a Westford resident and friend of Mills who is a Dinner Daily subscriber, said she finds can consistently make dinners she, her husband, and two boys like for $3 to $4 per person per night, or $60 to $80 for five weeknight meals.

Working part-time outside her home as well as being the mom and chef of the family, Ratte said, “The biggest thing for me is just knowing that there's a plan, and the plan will save us money as well. It also saves me time, because I don’t have to go to the grocery store three times a week to figure out what I’m going to have for dinner. I have a plan for the week, and I stick to that plain and it saves me time and money.”

Ratte said she is happy to outsource deal-hunting at the supermarket.

“For sure, this has made me in tune to how much you can save by using the circulars - but it's done for me, so I don't have to take the time to do it, and it's done for the price of going out for a cup of coffee at Starbucks each month.”

Mills noted that “we have a ‘no red meat’ option for people that don't eat red meat and we also offer a vegetarian” menu built around deals. She stresses that as a mother trying to make sure her children get healthy options and learn to enjoy a wide range of foods, buying cheap does not mean buying junk.

To qualify on her menu list, Mills said, “Everything had to be healthy. We don't use processed ingredients. There's no cream of mushroom soup dumped on chicken” recipes, and each week includes a range of meal types – a casserole, a stir fry, something made on the grill, a big salad, a typical meat and two sides dinner, and more.

“It’s focused on three things,” Mills said. “Saving you money, saving you time, and promoting healthy eating.”


With videographer Daniel J. Ferrigan and video editor Lauren Kleciak



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>