Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Southwest revamps its frequent flier program to reward travelers who buy more expensive tickets. Business travelers may benefit.

By Teresa Mears Jan 10, 2011 6:18PM

For years, Southwest Airlines has operated the simplest of frequent flier programs: Fly 16 segments in two years and you get a free flight.

No more. Southwest is revamping its Rapid Rewards program, switching to a points system similar to that used by other airlines. More expensive flights will yield more points.


Who wins? Business travelers.


Who loses? Travelers who buy cheaper flights.


The Consumer Price Index is the way the government measures rising prices. But what's your personal inflation rate?

By Stacy Johnson Jan 10, 2011 2:40PM

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


Inflation is a funny thing: The government keeps saying that prices aren't rising much at all, when you know good and well that they are.

And inflation can be scary. After all, if prices rise and your salary doesn't, inflation translates into a lower standard of living. That's tough enough when you're working and at least have the potential to make more money. When it gets truly frightening is when you're retired.


But does inflation have to be as scary as it seems?


Sometimes when it rains, it pours, and the emergency fund is depleted. What happens then?

By Karen Datko Jan 10, 2011 9:12AM

This post comes from Sierra Black at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.


I recently mentioned that my cat had died. Not only was his passing heartbreaking, it was expensive. But, as I said in that post, I was very happy to be able to write a check from my emergency fund and not worry about where the money would come from.

Since I'm still paying off debt, that $800 check represented most of my meager emergency fund. I'll rebuild it over the next few months, but in the meantime I don't have much of a cash cushion. I was just hoping that there wouldn't be any subsequent emergencies.


As luck would have it, there was.


Satellite and cable TV companies are just a few of the businesses that check your credit history. Here's why having a good score is a plus.

By Karen Datko Jan 7, 2011 6:42PM

This post comes from partner blog The Dough Roller.


For Christmas we ordered Dish Network for my wife's parents. They live in the country and don't have access to cable; satellite service is their only option. In the process of ordering the service, I learned that Dish Network runs a credit check that results in an inquiry on your credit file.


Even more important, it turns out that the price you pay for Dish Network service will vary substantially -- we're talking hundreds of dollars -- depending on your credit.

This is another example of how your credit score can affect many areas of your financial life. So let's take a look at why Dish Network checks the credit history of new customers, how the credit check will affect your FICO score, and the effect your credit will have on how much you pay for Dish Network service.


Being absentminded really paid off at the end of the year, thanks to my flexible spending account.

By Karen Datko Jan 7, 2011 4:53PM

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


If I leave a $20 bill in a winter jacket, only to rediscover it after it has been hanging in the closet for nine months, I consider that a windfall.


Now I can hear a lot of you out there already: That's not a windfall, you schmuck, that's just dumb luck.

Oh, sure. You'll say I didn't gain any additional money that wasn't officially mine to begin with anyway, but I disagree.


In reality, what I really did was rediscover a little money I had unwittingly lost the previous winter. Therefore, it's a windfall.


That's my story anyway and I'm sticking to it.


Why I love flexible spending accounts

Now let me tell you about my latest windfall.


It's getting better, but not for everybody.

By Karen Datko Jan 7, 2011 2:59PM

This guest post comes from Pop at Pop Economics.


I'm not really one to make predictions most of the time. When I do, they're often laughably false. But there's been a trend emerging in today's job market that many economists think will continue, and it's something that you really need to pay attention to if you're just starting out your career or are still in school. (Those of us who are midcareer are screwed. Kidding! Kind of.)

For the first half of this year, you're probably going to see a lot of news about how things are getting better in the job market, how employers have more job openings, and how hiring in some sectors (hello, software engineering!) is going crazy.


If you're outside of those sectors (hello, construction workers!) the market's going to feel just as bad as ever. Maybe even worse.


The phenomenon is called structural unemployment.


Free Showtime, BOGO Italian meals, $1 'chowda' plus more dining coupons.

By Teresa Mears Jan 7, 2011 12:36PM

If you're looking for something to do over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, consider visiting a national park.


The National Park Service is offering free admission Jan. 15-17 at the 100 national parks that charge an entrance fee. (Many national parks are always free.)


If this is the wrong time of year to visit a national park, put the rest of this year's free days on your calendar: April 16-24, National Park Week;  June 21, the first day of summer; Sept. 24, Public Lands Day; and Nov. 11-13, Veterans Day weekend.


The weather is too bad for outdoor activities? Customers who have cable TV can watch Showtime free this weekend, Jan. 7-10.


Fannie Mae unveils an interesting approach to consumer education, an interactive 'learning simulation' meant to help defaulting homeowners.

By Karen Datko Jan 7, 2011 11:04AM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis of MSN Money.


Are you ready for Foreclosure: The Video Game?


Well, ready or not, government-owned Fannie Mae has unveiled WaysHome, a free, online interactive game/movie and "learning tool."

The game, tool, or whatever it is, is composed of several films about three families in a neighborhood:

  • There's Jackie, a single mom with two kids, who is struggling to make her house payments.
  • A neighbor, Richard, is late on his mortgage and he's thinking about walking away from his home.
  • Miguel and his wife, Gabi, are underwater on their mortgage. They've refinanced two or three times and they owe more on the loan than the home is worth. Should they refinance?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.