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It's important that you don't out-think yourself by getting a gift that ends up costing somebody money down the road.

By Karen Datko Dec 17, 2010 12:13PM

This guest post comes from Len Penzo at Len Penzo dot Com.

 

I remember the worst gift I ever received. It was a vacation to the Bahamas that an old girlfriend of mine gave to me. It was one of those too-good-to-be-true ultra-low-cost package "deals" that was exactly that -- too good to be true.

Did you know the Bahamas had ghettos? I didn't either until we pulled up in front of our Freeport "resort."

To this day I also can't confirm that the sun has ever been seen in the Bahamas; while we were there it rained incessantly.

 

It turns out the whole experience was so bad that we ultimately came home after three days. Heck, I even wrote an article about my sad adventures on that trip entitled "4 lessons I learned on the worst vacation of my life."

 

Yep. Definitely the worst gift I ever received. Truth be told, it flat-out sucked.

 

Speaking of terrible gifts, British charity organization The Brooke conducted a study of 3,000 people regarding the most unwelcome Christmas gifts. I notice package-deal vacations did not make this particular list, but here were the top 10 items that did:

 

Call it a 'pantry challenge' if you like. Blog about it if you must. Just quit wasting food.

By Donna_Freedman Dec 17, 2010 9:00AM

Lunchtime at my friend's house in Alaska. Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, maybe? Or tuna salad with pickles?

But wait. Half a loaf of Italian bread sat on the counter, getting staler by the minute. The milk in the fridge was two days past its sell-by date. Although I'd bought eggs 10 days previously, I still hadn't eaten any. In the back of the fridge was a wizened apple that had probably been there since my visit last summer.

I heard the voice of my mother chiding me: You're not going to let any of that go to waste, are you?

 

How will your perks change in the new year? Here's what to expect.

By Money Staff Dec 16, 2010 7:49PM

This post comes from Emily Brandon at partner site US News & World Report.

 

US News & World ReportSeniors won't be getting a boost in their Social Security checks next year, but they will get some new Medicare benefits. Many employers also plan to tweak their retirement account investments to save money on fees and comply with new regulations. Here's a look at how retirement benefits are likely to change in 2011:

 

401k contribution caps stagnant. The savings limits for retirement accounts will stay the same next year because inflation wasn't high enough in 2010 to trigger an increase. Workers can contribute up to $16,500 to 401k, 403b, and 457b plans, or the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan in 2011. Those age 50 and older can make additional catch-up contributions of another $5,500 next year.

 

The idea is increasingly popular as state governments struggle to balance their budgets.

By Karen Datko Dec 16, 2010 7:30PM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner site Bargaineering.

 

As part of our "What If?" series, let's take a look at a favorite target of the fiscal hounds. Since the dawn of time -- or 1992, anyway -- online merchants have collected sales tax on online purchases only if the vendor has a physical presence in the buyer's state.

 

However, as many state governments ponder how they will get their budgets back into the black, collecting sales tax on all online purchases seems to be a popular idea.

 

Right now, people who buy online are supposed to pay the sales tax directly to their state, although very few do. But what would happen if online vendors were required to collect sales tax on all online sales?

 

Strategic use of gift card bonuses, savvy Black Friday shopping and other frugal hacks yields nearly 20 holiday gifts for almost nothing.

By Teresa Mears Dec 16, 2010 5:15PM

How much are you spending on holiday shopping this year? $100? $200?

Katiria Colon of Hollywood, Fla., did all her Christmas shopping for $6.32.

 

That's right. She spent less than $7 to buy presents for about 20 people: her husband, 8-year-old son Kyle, grandparents, mother, two sisters, two nieces, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, her boss and his wife, a cousin and the cousin's daughter, a neighbor family and her son's teacher, reports Marcia Heroux Pounds of the Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale.

 

More kids are asking Santa for necessities rather than toys. The requests show that the recession isn't over for many families.

By Teresa Mears Dec 16, 2010 2:45PM

Kids still write letters to Santa. Among the requests for Barbies and video games this year are some more poignant pleas: requests for clothes, shoes, and help with parents' bills.

Pete Fontana is the "chief elf" at the main post office in New York City, one of about 25 post offices around the nation that match families in need with people who want to help.

 

"The need is greater this year than I've ever seen it," he told USA Today. "One little girl didn't want anything for herself. She wanted a winter coat for her mother."

 

As part of a settlement with the states, some customers with unresolved complaints may be entitled to refunds.

By Karen Datko Dec 16, 2010 1:08PM

This post comes from Mark Huffman at partner site ConsumerAffairs.com.

 

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna gets a lot of complaints from his state's consumers in a year's time. But the many complaints generated by DirecTV in recent years made him sit up and take notice.

Washington became the first state to file suit against DirecTV, the nation's largest satellite television company, over allegations of unfair business practices. Now, the company has agreed to make restitution and pay $14.25 million to settle Washington's complaint and a separate action filed by 49 states and the District of Columbia.

 

You can make the process less stressful by learning 5 steps before you venture out.

By Stacy Johnson Dec 16, 2010 10:40AM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.

 

Diamonds are a girl's best friend, the saying goes. Odd, because they can be a man's worst enemy. They're expensive, they're complicated and, as a retail experience, about as far as you can get from Home Depot.

To make matters worse, because they're always a popular holiday gift -- more than a third of diamonds are bought in December -- when you go to the jewelry store, you'll be in a pack of other dazed men being preyed upon by commissioned salespeople. Not a pretty picture.

 

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