Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Here's how the IRS picks tax returns to examine more closely.

By Karen Datko Feb 9, 2010 9:41AM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.

 

Doing your taxes is never fun. Even if you ignore how you must spend a couple of hours filling out boring forms, finding documents and researching deductions, there’s always the fear that you’ll be audited. I remember having the most vanilla tax returns back when I was a teenager, the 1040-EZ, and even then I was irrationally concerned about an audit.

The reality is that very few people get audited -- just a couple percent each year -- and some of them deserve it. As much as we might like to think of the IRS as some cruel, emotionless monster trying to make the lives of hardworking Americans as miserable as possible, it's not. It's trying to collect tax revenue so the government can continue to provide the services hardworking Americans need.

How does the IRS decide whom to audit? It’s actually very straightforward.

 

Organic markets have been cutting prices. Should you buy?

By Karen Datko Feb 9, 2010 8:48AM

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

 

Going organic has become a lot less trendy in the struggling economy.

As consumers have cut back spending, one of the first places they’ve looked to save is in the organics aisle at the grocery store. Sixty percent of consumers say they have changed their organic purchasing habits since the recession hit, according to a December study from market researcher Mintel. Three percent have stopped buying organic altogether.

The single biggest factor: price. Consumers have nicknamed Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" for its high prices, and the store has struggled with that image over the last year, says Michelle Chang, an analyst who covers the supermarket industry for Morningstar. One thing that Whole Foods and other natural retailers have done to retain customers is cut prices to stay competitive. Whole Foods has also been pushing its lower-priced private label, which includes organics, she says.

 

When is the higher price of organics worth it? Here are five ways to shop within your budget:

 

A guide to using your coupon without demonstrating to the server that you're stupid or cheap.

By Karen Datko Feb 8, 2010 4:55PM

Lots of restaurants are so desperate for business right now that dining coupons are relatively easy to come by. (And we help you locate them every week.) That being said, there’s nothing wrong with using a little etiquette while you’re getting 20% off, or two dinners for the price of one, or a free appetizer or piece of cheesecake.

 

It appears that some of you have been acting like jerks. Hanna Raskin observes in a post at Slashfood that “coupon users tend to be among the most impolite diners.”

 

To avoid being that person, read her tips. Among them:

 

For most homeowners, insulation gives you the best bang for your buck, but you might want to start with an energy audit.

By Teresa Mears Feb 8, 2010 4:20PM

If you live in an older home, you may be looking at old windows, old doors, an old furnace and high power bills -- and wondering which improvement would save you the most money on energy costs.

 

Tax credits of up to $1,500 per homeowner, for 30% of the cost of energy-saving improvements, make 2010 a good year to tackle some of those jobs. But which ones will give you the best bang for your buck?

 

Looking for online love by Valentine's Day? How to avoid getting ripped off.

By Karen Datko Feb 8, 2010 11:32AM

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

 

Looking for someone to date can be as expensive as actually going out on one.

 

Subscribe to an online dating site and you can easily pay upward of $40 per month for membership; you'll pay more if you also want personalized coaching and other features to improve your odds of finding that special person. That adds up: The market for online dating is expected to reach $1.6 billion by 2013, up from $957 million in 2008, according to Forrester Research.

 

With online services reporting an increase in subscriptions, sites could raise their prices without losing customers, says Mark Brooks, principal consultant for Courtland Brooks, a consulting firm that works with the online dating industry. "By all accounts, online dating sites are leaving money on the table," he adds.

 

If you consider signing up as an investment in your future happiness, be sure to do your research before shelling out any cash:

 

Millions of people will overpay to file their taxes this year. Don't be one of them.

By Stacy Johnson Feb 8, 2010 11:09AM

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

 

Imagine owning a business where you charge people $50 to $200 to do something they could just as easily get totally free.

 

You would think such a business would be bankrupt in minutes, but you'd be wrong. Tax preparation and software services rake in hundreds of millions of dollars every year for tax help that could be had for nothing.

 

A poll is one thing, but what are your thoughts?

By Karen Datko Feb 8, 2010 9:24AM

This post comes from J.D. Roth at partner blog Get Rich Slowly.

 

On a recent Friday night, we had some good frugal fun. Kris and I got together with a group of my old high school friends to go bowling and eat pizza. It was just like the good ol’ days -- but with a bunch of grade-school children added to the mix.

 

Over pepperoni pizza and root beer, the conversation turned to the economy. I asked my brother Jeff how the family box factory is doing. “To be honest,” Jeff said, “we’re about to finish our best month since October 2008. And if you look at actual daily sales, this will be our best month since February 2008. It’s our best month in two years.”

 

“That’s great,” I said. “Maybe this means the economy has finally turned a corner.”

 

New voluntary program gives a bigger employee discount to those who meet certain health criteria.

By Karen Datko Feb 5, 2010 6:01PM

Upscale grocer Whole Foods has a new voluntary program to reward workers who don’t use nicotine and meet specific numbers for body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol during in-store screenings. Have the right numbers, and you get up to 30% off stuff you buy at the store. Kinda fat? You’re stuck with the regular employee discount of 20%.

 

It’s no surprise that CEO John Mackey, who has already railed against government involvement in health care -- let the all-knowing corporations take care of that! -- is getting more heat.

 

Jezebel appeared to be the first to share the news: Anna North wrote, in part:

 

DATA PROVIDERS

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.

ABOUT SMART SPENDING

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.

VIDEO ON MSN MONEY

TOOLS

More