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They don't necessarily mean the food is inedible

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 2:42PM

Anyone who has worked in a grocery store will tell you to look for the date on the package (and it's amazing how many shoppers don't). But what do terms like "sell by," "use by" and "expiration" mean about a product's freshness and safety?


They're not interchangeable, writes "vh" at Funny about Money in a post called "Is that bargain food safe to eat?" She adds that no matter what the date says, "If in doubt, throw it out."


According to Consumer Reports, the federal government requires only that poultry, infant formula and some baby food carry dates. Some states also have requirements.


Here's is what some of the dates mean:


The dos and don'ts for getting the most value

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 2:08PM

This guest post comes from Kris at Cheap Healthy Good.


There's no denying it: When it comes to food discounts, the vast majority of coupons are for sugary snacks and preservative-laden convenience products. You'd do better to lick a septic tank for the vitamins and minerals it provides, "Low in fat! High in niacin!" claims aside.


What's more, coupons can lure you to buy foods you wouldn't otherwise, and oftentimes, those items are significantly pricier than generic or competing brands.




There are ways around the coupon trap. By applying the little buggers prudently, you can (and will) save a few bucks off healthy foods every week. It'll compensate for the cost of labor and materials, and the time commitment shouldn't take away from more important things. Like cooking, sleeping, or wondering why your boyfriend can get his laundry NEAR the hamper, but never IN the hamper.


So, here are a few guidelines to help you along.


You can track developments in major class-action lawsuits

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 1:59PM

Remember that tainted-pet food scare? It's time to file a claim to benefit from a class-action lawsuit settlement if that consumer-safety debacle affected you and your cats and dogs.


There's also good news for those who purchased department store cosmetics over a somewhat recent nine-year period. As a result of another settlement, many stores will be handing out freebies like perfume and makeup. 

We know these things because we've begun reading a very helpful Web site called Not only can you find out how and where to file your claim, but these folks explain the legal intricacies of each class-action suit in a way that regular people can understand.


They're changing terms for responsible customers

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 1:54PM

Credit card companies are spending lots of money to tell you they're on your side.


Peter at Bible Money Matters has noticed the trend: Discover is pushing its cards as "a built-in easy-to-do budget and spending tracker," he said. He also got a mailing from Chase touting savings he could enjoy by using his rewards card, like discounts at Chase's online shopping portal.


We get irritated by the commercials claiming the card companies will bend over backward to help if you're having trouble paying your bills. (In all fairness, credit card companies do help some struggling customers with a variety of methods, like a temporary reduction in interest, to get them to keep paying. The companies don't want to write off the debt.)


Peter isn't buying all the feel-good stuff. He writes: "The credit card companies are not your friend. They just want your money."


Let's review some of the card companies' recent attempts to reduce their risk by assessing more interest and fees or getting rid of customers they no longer want.


How to use little sums to pay off debt

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 1:44PM

This guest post by "paidtwice" at I've Paid For This Twice Already won the personal-finance bloggers' March Madness competition hosted by Free Money Finance.


I have had several questions lately about snowflaking -- what is it, why do I do it, can we see examples of it -- so I thought I would write a quick primer answering those questions and more.


Snowflaking is a spinoff of the snowball approach to debt reduction popularized by Dave Ramsey. With the debt-snowball method, you figure out what amount you can pay to debt every month, and then you keep paying that amount, even as your debts shrink and your minimums get smaller.


To implement it, in a nutshell, make a list of all your debts, order them from either smallest to largest or highest interest to lowest interest (that is a debate in itself), and you focus all extra money above the minimum payments on a single debt -- one with either the smallest total or the highest interest.


When you eliminate a debt, you apply the payment you were making to that debt to the next debt in line until the snowballing effect of decreasing minimums and increasing amounts eliminates all the debts on your list.


Well, what are snowballs made of? Snowflakes!


What those dates on food really mean

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 12:29PM

Here's the funny but useful food story of the week: With the help of a food-safety expert, Chicago Tribune writer Julie Deardorff went through the old stuff in her pantry and figured out what to trash and what to keep.


Example: An undated box of dried mashed potato flakes, purchased in 2001 and taken along when its owner moved from Washington, D.C., to Chicagoland. (Why anyone would transport a box of potato flakes is not explained.)

The expert's opinion, as relayed by Julie: "The flakes are too dry to support the growth of microorganisms. No sign of bugs. Try it."


This little project started with a discussion about a seven-year-old can of Campbell's vegetable soup. As long as the soup can isn't rusty, damaged, dented or leaking, the contents are probably OK.


Alert: This post is not about refrigerated items. Also, stamping "best by" or "use by" dates on dried or canned foods generally is not mandatory -- and the date usually indicates quality, not safety -- but there are exceptions.


One place you don't want to look rich: A car dealership.

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 3:18AM

Shannon Christman isn't poor, but she is frugal, and sometimes other people confuse the two.

On occasion, salespeople have snubbed her -- and missed out on making a sale. Sometimes generous people offer help when it's not needed. Her thought-provoking post at Saving Advice should raise questions in any thinking person's mind about how quickly we make judgments about others. She also says, "The assumptions others make about my frugality -- usually that I have much less money than I actually do -- can be a benefit to me."


If you qualify, now might be a great time to refinance.

By Karen Datko Sep 27, 2009 2:53AM

A story at USA Today -- "Mortgage rates at 37-year low: Average 5.19% for 30 years" -- disrupted our partner blogger J.D. Roth's vacation reverie. All of a sudden, J.D., who's not an impulsive guy, is thinking about refinancing his home.

He checked and found a low rate of 5.085%, which would reduce J.D.'s payments to $1,111 and save him $275 a month. But wait. It could get even better, he wrote in a post at Get Rich Slowly.



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