Smart SpendingSmart Spending

What government giveth, government can taketh away.

By Karen Datko May 19, 2010 2:27PM

Isn't there some sort of moral statute of limitations on this: About 180 employees of a Georgia county have been told to return a total of $39,690 they were overpaid -- in 1994.


Is this another sign of how desperate some local governments are because of the recession?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains the situation this way:

The payroll anomaly dates back to Sept. 30, 1994, when the county adjusted employee pay cycles.

No apology, and a credit blot from collection remains. Will our cell phone companies ever change and let us trust them?

By Teresa Mears May 19, 2010 1:21PM

The St. Germain family of Dover, Mass., got some good news this week: Verizon will no longer try to collect the $18,000 phone bill the family has been fighting since 2006.


The wireless company stopped short of forgiving the bill. The collection effort will remain a black mark on Bob St. Germain's credit report.


But the family is off the hook for the $18,000 in data-download charges Brian St. Germain, then a college student, ran up when he tethered his laptop to his cell phone after a two-year promotional period offering free data had ended, The Boston Globe reported. When Bob St. Germain called to complain, the company offered to reduce the bill to $9,000, and sent that amount to collections when he refused to pay.


"Nice to see Verizon dismiss all the charges," Bob St. Germain told The Globe. "But it's still on my credit report. Someone has to take the next step."


Cut costs now on home-improvement projects that add to your home's value later.

By Karen Datko May 19, 2010 10:01AM

This Deal of the Day comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.


In a "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" scenario, the weak economy is having an unexpected impact on home renovations. With homeowners still finding it difficult to fund a major remodeling project through home equity, they are increasingly embracing smaller projects that will make them happy right now -- instead of insisting on improvements that will add to a home's resale value in the long run.

"There's no more faith in that saying, 'A dollar in, a dollar out,' that renovations will pay off when you sell," says William Hallisky, a vice president with Meridian Design Associates, a New York-based architectural firm. Owners are putting aside worries about beige paint or stainless steel appliances to appeal to buyers, and are considering small projects that will increase the livability of their space, says Hallisky. "It's more about personality, like, 'I would really like an orange refrigerator. Is that possible?'" he adds.

With the economy stumbling to its feet, spending on remodeling this year is expected to rise 5%, compared with 2009, to an annual rate of $121.5 billion, according to an April report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. That would be the first increase since 2006. If you are in the market to remodel, how should you make decisions that will leave you with more cash now (and later)? Here are some strategies to consider.


A buyer with exact change is a fantasy that ranks right up there with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

By Karen Datko May 19, 2010 8:23AM

This post comes from Kentin Waits at partner blog Wise Bread.


Warm weather invariably means spring cleaning, and spring cleaning means yard sales. There's nothing like declaring open season on clutter and taming those closets, attics and garages (if only to fill them again next season).

If you find yourself hosting a yard sale this year, here are a few common mistakes to steer clear of in order to increase sales and pave the way for a smooth de-cluttering.


Whether you own a business or work at one, customer service is crucial for success. Here's how the best companies pull it off.

By Stacy Johnson May 18, 2010 5:59PM

This post comes from partner site Money Talks News.


Every year Bloomberg/BusinessWeek and J.D. Power & Associates survey consumers to come up with the 25 best big companies for customer service.

What's interesting is that, despite the variety of businesses, the winners nearly all used some combination of only two techniques to get to the top: using the latest technology to better serve their customers, and creating employee loyalty.


Seeing how the top companies work tells you what you should look for as a consumer, as well as provides ideas to improve customer service at your business or workplace.


There are tricks to deciphering the weekly grocery ads. For instance, not everything in the circular is on sale.

By Karen Datko May 18, 2010 4:49PM

This guest post comes from Kris at Cheap Healthy Good.


Tuesday evening has rolled around, and it's time for some spur-of-the-moment food shopping. You saunter through the sticky sliding glass doors of your local grocery store, pondering what to purchase with the $15.09 you've budgeted until Friday. Then you spot it, lying prostrate and unused in a misshapen stack by the shopping carts: the supermarket circular.

Cackling like a maniac, you scuttle over to snatch the half-soaked, seven-page spreadsheet. You're hunched and focused, madly scanning the deli section when it hits you: You have no blessed clue how to read this thing. Sure, there are pretty pictures, and yes, the numbers look tantalizingly low, but do you have to buy seven jars of jelly to get the seven-for-$7 discount?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.

Just kidding. The answer is almost certainly "no."


Ever wondered what hotels do with slightly used soap? Two groups are recycling it to create new bars for the world's poor.

By Teresa Mears May 18, 2010 2:24PM

Have you ever wondered what happens to those little bars of soap in hotels after you use them once or twice? It seems so wasteful to throw them away, yet no one wants to reuse someone else’s old bar of soap.


The waste amazed Derreck Kayongo, a refugee from Uganda whose father had once owned a soap factory. Kayongo came to the United States 15 years ago to attend college. "I called my dad back home and told him, 'You wouldn’t believe what happens here. They throw away soap that is used only once,'" Kayongo told GlobalAtlanta.

"We laughed about it. But the idea stuck in my head. What if we took some of this soap back home, recycled it, made brand new soap and gave it to people who didn't have a single bar of soap?"


Last year, he finally was able to take action. He and his wife, Sarah Kayongo, founded Global Soap, which collects used soap from hotels in the Southeast, sanitizes it and makes new soap for use in refugee camps in Africa. Global Soap sent its first small shipment to Uganda in January.


If the Missouri model works out, the company's charitable foundation hopes to open hundreds of 'pay what you can' cafes.

By Karen Datko May 18, 2010 2:07PM

Ron Shaich, until recently the hugely successful CEO of Panera Bread, has launched a terrific social experiment. He's converted a Panera restaurant into a nonprofit where customers make donations rather than pay for their food.


The Saint Louis Bread Company Cares Café is just like a regular Panera store with two distinctions -- one major and one minor: The cashier lets you know what your meal would normally cost, and you put what you can into a donation box. The baked goods, except for the sandwich bread, are a day old.


So far, since the St. Louis area Panera location reopened as a nonprofit on Sunday, a third of the diners have donated more than they "owed," USA Today says. Those who can't pay are asked to donate time in the store.

"I'm trying to find out what human nature is all about," Shaich, who now runs Panera's charitable foundation, told USA Today.



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.