3 Lesser-Known Auto Insurance Discounts You May Be Eligible For
By: Maurie Backman |
– First published on Aug. 19, 2023
For many people, owning a car isn’t a luxury — it’s a necessity. If you’re in this boat, then you’re probably painfully aware that auto insurance is an unavoidable expense, too.The average U.S. driver pays $1,553 a year for auto insurance, says U.S. News & World Report. But different factors will help determine what premium rates you end up with. These include the cost of your vehicle, your driving record, and where you live.You may be struggling to keep up with your auto insurance premiums on top of your seemingly never-ending string of bills. So if that’s the case, shopping around with different insurers might help you carve out a lower rate. But you may also want to look into these lesser-known discount opportunities and see if any might apply to you.1. A low mileage discountThese days, many people are working remotely and, as such, are not using their vehicles for commuting purposes. If you don’t put a lot of mileage on your car, then you may be eligible for a low mileage discount.Some car insurance companies will allow you to pay for your insurance by the mile. This type of arrangement could work to your financial benefit if you really only use your car for tasks like running errands or the occasional trip into the office or to see family. Talk to your insurer to see what options are available.2. A driver safety discountThe idea of having to sit through a defensive driving course may not seem so appealing. But the upside is that you might not only develop strategies for safe driving but also, score yourself a discount on auto insurance in the process.Some auto insurers will give you a discount if you take a driver safety course. But don’t just sign up for any course. Instead, talk to your insurer so you know which types of courses are approved. You don’t want to waste your time and money on a course that won’t result in money off of your premiums.3. A good student discountBeing a good student could result in scholarships that lower the cost of your studies. But it could result in lower auto insurance costs, too.Progressive, for example, offers a discount for full-time students under the age of 23 who can maintain at least a B average. In most states, that shaves 10% off of the cost of insurance.Talk to your insurance company about the discounts it has for students. And if there aren’t any, you may want to switch to a different insurer, especially if you have several years of studies ahead of you and you know you tend to get good grades.Auto insurance is a cost you can’t avoid if you need a car. But that doesn’t mean you can’t lower that expense to give yourself some breathing room. It pays to look into these discounts, especially if you’ve been struggling to keep up with your premium costs.
5 Things to Buy at the Dollar Store Instead of the Supermarket
If you’re looking to trim fat from your budget, shopping at dollar stores may be a good place to start. The days when everything at a dollar store actually cost $1 are gone, but you can still score steep discounts.You probably won’t be able to replace supermarket shopping entirely with your local dollar store, as dollar stores tend to have sparse selections of fresh groceries, particularly produce. But you can easily shave money from your grocery total if you buy these five things at the dollar store instead of the supermarket.1. Baking mixesDollar stores usually have a wide selection of mixes for baked goods like cake, muffins, and brownies. They’re often priced around $1 and tend to have a long shelf life, so you can stock up on a variety of flavors and keep them in your pantry.When you need a last-minute treat for a birthday party, bake sale, or potluck, you can quickly whip up a batch of goodies.2. Spices and seasoningsSpices and seasonings are notoriously expensive, so stocking up on the basics like oregano, chili powder, basil, and thyme at the dollar store is a good way to save money on groceries.One thing to keep in mind, though: Many shoppers report that the per-ounce prices on spices at discount grocery stores like Aldi or Walmart are actually cheaper, as dollar store products often come in smaller containers. But if you’re looking to stock your pantry with the basics, the dollar store can be a good starting point.3. Frozen fruits and vegetablesFrozen fruits and vegetables maintain almost all the health benefits of fresh produce — and research shows that they may contain even more vitamins and nutrients than their pricier counterparts. While the dollar store usually isn’t a good place to find fresh fruits and veggies, it often has a decent selection of frozen produce.One popular option is Dollar Tree’s Smoothie Starters, which contain a mix of fruits and veggies — like strawberries, bananas, kiwis, and spinach — that you can easily blend into a smoothie.4. Food storage itemsWhether you’re meal prepping or trying to make the most of leftovers, having a solid set of food storage items can help you stop wasting money. Dollar stores often have a good selection of name-brand storage items, including plastic containers, jars, and food storage bins.The best part: Dollar store containers are up to a third cheaper than you’d find at your regular supermarket, which is great news for your personal finances.5. CandyIf you have a sweet tooth, you don’t want to miss the candy aisle at the dollar store. Many dollar stores carry name-brand candies for way cheaper than grocery stores. Many families report that they like to hit the dollar store to buy candy before going to the movies or before a road trip. Dollar store candy can also be a good option for stocking stuffers or party favors.However, if you’re buying a large amount of candy — say for Halloween or Easter — you’ll often get a better deal at a warehouse club, like Costco.How to save money at the dollar storeWhile everything is priced at a few bucks or less at the dollar store, that doesn’t necessarily mean the prices are a bargain. Here are a few tips for saving money at the dollar store.Compare per-ounce prices. Dollar stores may be more expensive than grocery stores when you compare items on a per-ounce basis, since the sizes are often smaller. That may be fine for items that you don’t use often or if you’re a one-person household, but you may be better off shopping at a warehouse club or discount grocer if you have a large household.Check expiration dates. Because dollar stores have lower staffing levels than major supermarkets, there are fewer employees checking expiration dates. Be extra vigilant about checking sell-by dates at dollar stores, as you’ll waste money if you load up on items that are about to go bad.Avoid impulse buying. Dollar stores are a good place to stock up on pantry staples, but they may also tempt you to add a bunch of unnecessary items to your cart, like candles, cheap decorations, and toys for kids. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge, but if saving money is the goal, make a shopping list and stick to it.Whether you’re shopping at a dollar store or a regular grocery store, consider taking advantage of credit card perks by using a grocery credit card or a rewards credit card that earns cash back or travel points. Combining your savings at the dollar store with credit card rewards could give a big boost to your bottom line, provided that you pay the balance in full each month.
SNAP Benefits Will Increase in 2024. Here’s How Much a Family of 4 Will Receive
By: Emma Newbery |
– First published on Aug. 7, 2023
Are SNAP benefits enough?A monthly payment of $973 for a household of four equates to around $8 per person per day. While SNAP benefits aren’t designed to cover everything, it isn’t easy to feed a family on around $2.66 per person per meal. Indeed, research from the Urban Institute showed that the maximum benefits often don’t cover a family’s food costs. “Amid inflation, SNAP benefits did not cover the cost of a meal in 99 percent of counties in 2022,” said the report.The new benefit amount — a monthly increase of $34 for a household of four — is roughly in line with cost-of-living increases measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Its latest Consumer Price Index figures show that the cost of all items in June, 2023 was up 3% over the year before. However, inflation does not impact all aspects of life equally.The BLS data also shows that food at home increased by 5.7% year over year. The new SNAP benefits do not match this. Hypothetically, a 5.7% increase in benefits for a family of four would mean a new monthly payment of $992, rather than the planned $973.In addition, this year brought the end of the pandemic-era emergency food benefits throughout the country. According to CBPP calculations, this meant the average person received about $90 a month less in SNAP benefits. Even factoring in the increased SNAP benefit amount, many households have seen a significant drop in their food benefit amount, and the revised 2024 payments will do little to close this gap.How to make your SNAP benefits go furtherIt can take time and energy to provide healthy food for your family on a strict budget. The challenge is that in a busy household, time and energy are also limited resources. Even so, if you can carve out some time to plan your grocery-shopping trip, it can make a big difference.Here are some ways you might stretch your SNAP benefits a little:Use cash back apps and coupons: Look for cash back apps that work in stores that take your EBT card. You’ll usually need to download an app and then scan your receipt after you’ve been to the store. Pay attention to coupons, whether in store or online as these can often carry hefty discounts.Always shop with a list: Planning your food shopping is one of the best ways to reduce costs. Even more so if you use a cash back app or coupons. Check what offers are available on items you normally buy before you go shopping. Mark the items that qualify for rewards or discounts on your list, so you don’t miss them when you’re shopping.Look for double up programs: There are Double Up Food Bucks or other programs in various states that essentially give you two for one on all produce at participating farmers markets and stores. It’s a great way to get more fruit and vegetables for your SNAP dollars.Buy in bulk and batch cook: It isn’t always easy to find the extra cash for bulk buying when you’re eking out every cent. However, if you can manage it, you may be able to save both money and time. You might, for example, batch cook a stew and freeze portions for future meals.Unfortunately, food insecurity still impacts many American households. If you don’t have enough money to feed your family this month, look for additional help. Find out what food pantries and soup kitchens are operating in your area on which days, and whether you’ll need to present any documents. Call United Way at 211 for information about assistance programs in your area.
These 6 Industries Have the Greatest Risk of Layoffs During the Next Recession
By: Dana George |
– First published on Aug. 16, 2023
With a potential recession on the horizon, the research group The Conference Board, Inc. has released a study showing which industries are at the greatest risk of layoffs. Here’s what The Conference Board found.1. Tech companiesAccording to The Conference Board Job Loss Risk Index, the information services sector currently carries the highest risk of job losses during a recession. During the pandemic, tech companies had to hire as many new employees as they could to fulfill the technological demand of those working or studying from home.Once pandemic-related restrictions began to lift, tech companies found themselves with too many employees. As high-growth, highly leveraged companies, these tech businesses were more sensitive to interest rate hikes than most industries. As the Federal Reserve began raising the interest rate to fight inflation, the companies almost immediately lost value.By the end of 2022, more than 93,000 tech jobs had been cut from public and private tech companies. So far this year, another 158,535 workers at U.S.-based tech companies have experienced a job loss and been faced with making their money stretch as they look for a new position.2. Warehousing and transportation-dependent companiesAgain, the pandemic impacted how many new employees were brought on board. In this case, it was for companies catering to all the online shopping that occurred during the lockdowns. Once life approached normal and people began to visit brick-and-mortar stores, the need for warehouse and transportation workers diminished.3. Construction and repairOne of the more surprising findings of the Job Loss Risk Index is the probability that jobs in construction, repair, and maintenance are expected to be on the line. It’s natural for the housing industry to weaken during a recession due to construction’s sensitivity to interest rate hikes.Unfortunately, along with less demand for new construction projects, there is expected to be less demand for home repair and maintenance workers to look over existing structures, due to belt-tightening.4. Manufacturing companiesHow susceptible a company is to layoffs depends, in part, on what it manufactures and how likely consumers are to cut that product out of their budgets during a recession. For example, consumers will continue to spend on healthcare, utilities, food, and household items during an economic downturn. There are likely to be fewer layoffs in companies manufacturing those goods. Companies that manufacture non-essentials are at greater risk of cutbacks.5. Wholesale trade companiesLet’s say a company has built strong relationships within the lumber industry, and buys wood in bulk and at a discount. That company then sells the wood to furniture manufacturers for a tidy profit. Profits are divided between their next wholesale deal, business checking account, and the everyday cost of doing business.When a recession hits and Americans put furniture purchases on hold, there’s a trickle-down effect. Furniture stores suffer, furniture manufacturers hurt, and wholesalers feel the sting. As the industries they service begin layoffs, wholesalers begin their own layoff process.6. Real estate, rental, and leasing companiesAs mentioned, the housing market is extremely sensitive to interest rate hikes. During a recession, fewer potential buyers and renters are willing to take the leap, leading to job loss in sectors that facilitate purchases and rentals. Depending on how hesitant home buyers are, mortgage lenders may also feel the pinch.If you’re concerned about your jobEven thinking about a layoff is enough to strike fear into the average worker’s heart. If it’s something you find yourself worrying about, there are concrete steps you can take to prepare. Hopefully, you’ll never need to implement a “layoff plan,” but if you do, you’ll be ready.Here’s a good way to get started.Familiarize yourself with unemployment laws in your state.Losing a job is stressful for most people, and the last thing anyone wants to do following a job loss is figure out how they plan to pay bills. The good news is that unemployment benefits are available to those who have experienced a layoff due to no fault of their own.Weekly benefits are based on your income, and the maximum amount a person can collect per week also varies by state. For example, maximum weekly benefits range from $235 to $1,015, depending on your state.Take action: Learn everything you can about unemployment benefits in your state. The idea is to know how much money you’ll be working with.Create a layoff budgetA layoff budget is essentially your monthly budget on a diet. Go through your budget line by line to determine which expenses can be cut or reduced.Take action: Rather than wait until you’re in the middle of a stressful situation, decide now what can be slashed from your budget. It may be a gym membership, hobby, dining out, monthly subscriptions, or a multitude of streaming services.Build an emergency savings accountIf you don’t already have an emergency fund in place, use this time to stash away as much money as possible. The goal is to save enough to cover three to six months’ worth of bills. If you can’t possibly afford to put money away each paycheck, look for new ways to fund the account. For example:If you typically receive an income tax refund each year, that means you’re having too much withheld from your paycheck. Ask someone in your company’s human resource department to walk you through the process of having less deducted so earnings hit your bank account with each paycheck, rather than at tax time.Get serious about discount shopping. Today, there are some great coupon apps that make it easy to plan and save, directly from your smartphone.Look for a side hustle. These side hustle apps are designed for people who want to earn extra income, but also want to enjoy what they’re doing.Shop for cheaper insurance. According to Insurance.com, the average person can cut 19% from their current auto insurance bill by shopping around and switching insurance carriers. You can save even more by switching homeowners insurance and bundling.While job cuts are more common in some businesses than others, it can happen anywhere. If you take this time to plan for the worst and hope for the best, you’ll be in good shape to ride out a layoff.
5 of the Worst Things You Could Possibly Buy at Costco (According to Reviews)
By: Dana George |
– First published on Aug. 18, 2023
I’ve been off social media for several years. I don’t want to dislike someone because they post a political, religious, or health-related comment that I think is ridiculous. I don’t want to sit with a cup of coffee in the morning, my hair sticking up like an anime character, scrolling through the make-believe online worlds people create for themselves.What I do miss is reading other people’s insightful thoughts, which may help explain why I spend so much time reading online reviews. I’ve found some of my favorite reviews on Amazon. I am absolutely over the moon when someone writes that they had the worst day ever because the fly swatter they ordered didn’t arrive on time or a fabulously witty person writes a review like this one for a one-gallon jug of whole milk: “I was very dissatisfied that this product does not come in other colors. The white will work, but not after Labor Day.”Curious about what reviewers thought were the very worst products Costco sells, I headed back online. Here’s what I found.1. Kirkland Signature Stainless Steel 6 Burner Gas GrillIf I were going to buy a grill based solely on appearance, this baby would be right up my alley. But, because I read reviews, I know that complaints on the Costco website claim that the grill is:A fire hazardLikely to rust within six weeksSure to start a grease fireProne to propane leaksUnlikely to arrive with six burners that workIn all fairness, some people love their Kirkland Signature grill. After all, there are more than twice as many 5-star reviews as 1-star reviews. But it’s the low scores that appeal to me and those dramatic stories that have replaced my need for social media.2. Realgood Foods Chicken EnchiladasWho wouldn’t salivate at the thought of eating a chicken enchilada that reviews refer to as “the worst thing I’ve ever purchased at Costco?” The reviewer goes on to say, “The outside wrap tasted like cardboard. Really, like cardboard. They were awful.” Another uses the delightfully descriptive word “putrid” to describe the meal.And because some people are very good about finding the silver lining, another reviewer wrote that the dish is fine once it’s been smothered in everything from cheese to sour cream and hot sauce.You have to wonder how many people are willing to pull out a credit card to pay for food they have to smother to enjoy.3. Mohawk Home Waterproof Luxury Vinyl Plank FlooringThe best reviews read like a novella, complete with a story arc. This is a (dramatized) version of what one reviewer had to say:”We were really excited to be getting a new floor and purchased 101 boxes of vinyl planks. A very nice delivery driver helped my husband get them into the garage. From there, my husband carefully transferred the boxes to the job site. And that’s when the horror began.Our installer mentioned that all the cases had damaged edges and corners, but my husband thought he might be exaggerating. So, my husband and I began opening boxes one by one. Sure enough, every single one contained damaged pieces of flooring.”The couple was in a pinch, so they had no choice but to carry on with the installation. “The installer had to spend time cutting broken pieces off, and we ended up paying double in labor.”Worst of all, the reviewer claims that they are now “stuck with sub-par flooring.”She ends her review by adding, “Do yourself a favor and don’t make the same mistake I did. Choose another product.”We all know that one review may represent a fluke. However, this reviewer was not alone in her disappointment. Another said that every plank in the box they purchased was shaped like an arch — step in the middle, and the board sinks down to the floor. The reviewer cleverly added that installing an entire floor with these vinyl planks would be like “installing a bunch of mini speed bumps throughout my house.”A reviewer named Mark shared that at least one plank in each box had a bubble in it, requiring “a lot of wasteful cutting.” Several boxes had damaged corners from shipping, which meant Mark also had to deal with damaged plank corners.Just last week, a reviewer named Michelle wrote that they used this product in their new home and have regretted the decision since. Michelle’s concerns include noticeable water damage to the planks around their refrigerator and sink and how easily the floor is dented when anything is dropped.Taking out a mortgage on a new home is expensive enough. It’s easy to understand how a sub-par floor would pour salt in the wound.4. Alaskan Golden King Crab Legs and ClawsNormally, reviewers offer us a range of opinions. One may not like a sweater because it’s “too purple,” while another thinks it’s “too blue.” Every single negative review of the Alaskan Golden King Crab Legs and Claws complained about the same two issues. As someone who reads more than her fair share of reviews, I find this fascinating.Here’s the scoop: For $400 to $500 (depending on whether they scored a discount), customers expected to receive the gorgeous seafood array shown on the website; big, thick crab legs. Instead, they received a box of small broken pieces, each piece containing very little meat.The other complaint was even more surprising. Several report receiving little support from customer service when they attempted to make a complaint or request a refund.5. Kirkland Signature Nut BarsThe best thing about reviews is the way some people will sacrifice their pride to help another person save money shopping at Costco. While this reviewer says that the Kirkland Signature Nut Bars taste fine, they claimed to be left with “such bad gas that I get stomachaches.”Don’t worry, though! This clever soul found a solution. “I had to learn a yoga pose that helps you pass gas.”And there you have it.Whether you read reviews because they’re informative or because you find them entertaining, it’s really rather thoughtful that people stop by to share their experiences — even when you disagree with them.