Friday, April 29, 2011

The Surprising Truth About Your Credit Score

Word on the street is that you should never have too many credit cards open. I've been told this piece of advice numerous times. I trusted it completely, because it seems so logical. Yet this piece of conventional wisdom is wrong, and potentially damaging to your credit. Believe me, I was as surprised as you are about this. If you are about to close a credit card, read this post first. It might make you think twice.

Your credit score is based on your credit history with various lenders. Part of this is the variety of lenders and the length of time you have had credit with a particular lender. The longer you have a history with a lender the better. Credit cards that have been open for a long time help your credit tremendously, regardless of whether or not you use them.  Therefore closing a card that you have had for years can really hurt you in the long run.

Next time you think your wallet is getting too full and you'd like to remove some credit cards - don't cancel them. Just put them in a drawer. Need to cut back on spending? No problem. Take the card out of your wallet, do not use it but do not close it. Out of sight is out of mind, but still available to help your credit score.

Another interesting factoid: AMEX apparently dates all accounts with the date of the earliest account you opened with them. If you have had a credit card with them from 2002 and open another one today AMEX will report that second account as being open since 2002 as well. Weird but true.

The Freebie Code

My freebie code is a collection of strategies and rules to maximize your freebie enjoyment while minimizing the annoyances that sometimes come along with freebies. Learning from my mistakes and adopting the code now will save you a lot of hassle (unless of course, you enjoy spam emails...).

Rule One: Never, ever give out your social secuirty number or personal information. This is the rule that should never be broken. That free ipad is not worth having your identity stolen. If a freebie looks too good to be true and starts asking you for your banking information and mothers maiden name...listen to your gut and remember rule number one. Personal information is personal for a reason. The only people who need your social security number are the IRS, your employer and your bank and credit card issues. No exceptions.

Rule Two: Set up a separate freebie email account. Freebies usually ask for an email address and some proceed to spam the heck out of it. Even non-spammers will send you quite a few emails about special offers and sign you up for their newsletter. Some of these emails are useful, they have special coupons, future freebie info etc. But you don't want them clogging your regular or work email account. Create a separate email for freebie use. If you use gmail, you can forward this account to gmail and set it to filter into a separate folder that you check every now and then.

Rule Three: Be Decisive. Frebies and price cuts are often available in limited quantities only. If you take an hour to debate over whether or not you want an item you will likely lose your chance to get it.

Rule Four: Be Courteous. Never clear a shelf at a store. If there are many items when you come in, leave some for the rest of shoppers. If there are only a few left then go ahead and take them. This is just common courtesy. Don't be greedy. Share your deals with others after you've locked in your item. It won't hurt you and it will certainly help them.

Rule Five: Don't Be a Snob. Some people seem to think that the more they have to pay for something the better it is. Not true. Don't look down on things because they are free. Don't look down on others because they paid for something you got for free. Keep your eyes on your own wallet and habits and off of other people's bank accounts. Remember that you never really know what is going on behind someone else's closed doors. If you stop looking at what others have and how they spend you will become a happier person.

Rule Six: Look at Check Boxes Before You Hit Submit. Some companies automatically check boxes for you and you have to un-check them. Often these boxes are hiding in smaller fonts than the rest of the text. After a week of unending text messages from a service that shall not be named, I learned the value of looking at every single check box.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What I Got Free in the Mail This Week

I am sure you wonder how many of the free offers that I post are actually worth it. Are they really honest to goodness free? Are there catches? Are they just a scam for someone to spam you?

All are very legitimate questions. It takes some searching diligence and practice to be able to tell the real deals from the spammers and the fakes. I'll share of my hard earned experience and tips on finding the right freebies with you in future posts. For now, let me just tell you what I got for zero dollars in the mail this week:

3 small boxes of quaker toasted oat squares

Israel for Beginners: A Field Guide for Encountering the Israelis in Their Natural Habitat This comes just in time for the trip to Israel I am planning. It is from library thing's early bird reviewers program. Usually retails for around $13.

Two pencil skirts and a pair of underwear from American Apparel

My first free issue of Parents magazine

Some of these deals may sound familiar to you. That's because I posted them here!

This was a particularly fruitful week for mail in freebies to arrive, but still there are always plenty of freebies, both mail in and otherwise out there for grabs if you know where to find them. The key is to have patience. The Israel book was awarded to me by early reviewers in January. It took this long to get here. 3 months is a long time to wait, but I paid nothing for this book, was not going to otherwise purchase it, and had no dire need of it. So I promptly forgot about it until it showed up. Like so many other freebies, it made opening the mailbox just that much more exciting.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holiday Sales: My Passover Goodies

One of the best ways to get groceries and other household items on sale is to shop post holiday sales. Stores take in a lot of inventory that they usually do not carry for the holiday. They then proceed to price gauge customers on these items until the festivities are over. Then suddenly the prices drop as the store needs to unload the excess merchandise and clear shelf space for the next round of seasonal items.

Passover technically lasts for an entire week. Yet many traditional Jews only celebrate the first seder. In Manhattan, stores like food imporium take in a nice supply of Passover kosher items to supply demand for the first two seders and then proceed to drop the price to next to nothing on the third day of Passover. In some cases these items are things I use year round, yet because the store took them in for Passover they suddenly go on sale. Not only do I get items I usually cannot find around here, I get them for a song. If you have some time and are in Mnhattan today, stop by your local grocery store to check out the slashed prices. Remember, even though Food Emporium is a cahin, different stores often have different items, so hit up a few stores!

Here's my loot:
In case the photo is too crowded (it's a lot of stuff!) here's what I got:
2 26 oz jars of marinara sauce (I use this all the time for homemade pizza)
2 packs of mini marshmallows (Use these for baking)
1 pack of toasted marsmallows (snack for rest of Passover)
1 large jar grape jelly
1 can mediteranean pickles
120 oz vanilla syrup (flavor for my homemade yogurt and kefir)
1 pack of jelly rings
2 12 oz balsamic vinegars
1 12 oz white cooking wine
1 12 oz cooking sherry
2 8 oz potato pancake mix (usually I make this fresh, but it was so cheap, t was cheaper than buying the eggs and potatoes)
1 16 oz matzah meal (for making matzah balls)
1 7 oz hard candy

All for around $10. What a steal!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Deal Alert: $10 off $25 at Macy's

Macy's has a printable coupon for $10 off a purchase of $25 or more in store. Must be used between 4/15 and 4/16 until 1 PM.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Deal Alert: Free Ice Cream

Today is free ice cream cone day at Ben and Jerry's. Stop by your local Ben and Jerry's between 12 pm and 8 pm to pick up your free cone. Enjoy!

Travel Books: The Frugal Way

I love to travel. I'm sure a lot of you feel the same way but are held back by the hefty price tag. For most of us, travel seems like something for the retirement crowd or the jet setters: people with generous pensions or trust funds. Th rest of us dream about it, but assume we'll have to wait until the kids are grown and we've worked an extra job for several years in order to save up for a grand trip.

Banish these thoughts  and hesitations from your head! Travel is something you can do now. Those all expenses paid, luxury trips might be fun but they dilute a lot of the "real" experience of travel. Are you really going to experience another culture by never setting foot off a Sandles resort or an air conditioned tour bus? I think not. Get on the subway and barter in the local market. Take the kids. They'll love it.

To travel frugally (and with kids) you must prepare in advance. Not only does this help trim expenses, it gets the entire family really enthused about the trip. Big expenses like airline fairs can be cut down by using mileage to your advantage and by being flexible enought to take advantage of last minute deals and fair drops. If you are willinig to walk a little more and stay in a hotel that is not right in the center of the touristy areas you can save a bundle. Plus you get to see more of local life and your hotel room may include lots of bonuses like a kitchen. That means you won't have to pay for overpriced food and can prepare lunches to take with on longer day trips.

Cutting on the day to day expenses of being abroad is also important. Ever try taking a taxi in Zurich? You shouldn't. For this I cannot stress how important it is to have a proper travel book. You can take them out from the library or borrow from a friend if you don't want to spend money on one. But you must have one. A Frommer's guide is not what I mean by a proper travel book. It will definitely not save you money. It is meant for those trust fund kids and jet setters. Lonely Planet books on the other hand, are great for helping you see more sights for less. India (Lonely Planet Country Guide) is a particularly amazing example. The Rough Guide also puts out some good volumes. Head to your nearest bookstore to look at the actual books and decide which one is right for you. Then head online to read reviews. Finding the right book for each country is tough, but worth it!

I've been to quite a few places - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Switzerland, Canada, lots of places within the U.S., The Netherlands, Italy etc. and I've managed to do this all at a relatively reasonable price. By working with work trips/miles/and the right travel guides my husband and I made it possible. Seeing these other cultures has enriched my life and given me a whole new global perspective. I am glad I did not wait until I was too old and frail to climb the Castle of the Moors in Portugal. If I had kept waiting for "the right time" I'd never have gone. I am eagerly looking forward to my next venture - Israel!