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You won't find that extra customer service in most big-box stores.

By Karen Datko Oct 15, 2009 11:19AM

This post comes from Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar.


When I was in college, there was a local independent bookstore not too terribly far from campus. The name completely escapes me now, but I could still almost walk to it blindfolded.


It was a very popular hangout for the heavy-reading crowd and the store did all it could to maximize customer loyalty, both with students and people in the broader community.

They had book clubs, author signings, frequent-buyer programs, and countless other little perks, plus the staff was spectacular at finding books you’d never heard of that were just perfect for your reading tastes.


That store is now out of business.


Will deals be good enough for you to take the bait?

By Teresa Mears Oct 14, 2009 9:13PM

Retailers are trying a new tactic to lure you into stores for this holiday season: gift cards, or gift card promotions. Their goal: get people to spend money without offering the deep discounts offered last year.


We share MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston’s distaste for gift cards, and were particularly annoyed that our recent rebates from Verizon and Sears came in the form of Visa gift cards rather than checks we could deposit in the bank. We coped as best we could by immediately spending them on groceries.


Normally retailers expect gift cards to be used in the weeks after Christmas and Hanukkah. But this year they are hoping gift cards, or gift card promotions that offer discounts, will lure shoppers before the holidays, The Wall Street Journal reports.


No-contract Straight Talk offers limited- and unlimited-access plans.

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 3:59PM

Retail giant Wal-Mart has entered the prepaid cell-phone wars in a big way.


It has announced that its 3,200 U.S. stores will offer an unlimited voice, text and mobile Web plan for $45 a month, undercutting not only big providers such as Sprint and T-Mobile but upstart discounters like MetroPCS and Leap Wireless. While the $45 plan offers unlimited access to everything, a $30 plan includes 1,000 minutes, 1,000 text messages and 30 megabytes of Web access.  And 411 calls are free in both plans.


4.5 million vehicles recalled to address fire hazard

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 2:25PM

This post comes from Truman Lewis at partner site


For the eighth time in recent years, Ford Motor Co. is recalling millions of vehicles to fix a faulty cruise-control switch that can overheat and start a fire, even when the vehicle is parked and unattended.


The latest in a series of too-little, too-late recalls affects 1.1 million Ford Windstar minivans, model years 1995 through 2003, that could have the problem, as well as 3.4 million additional vehicles that have the switch, including Ford Excursions, Explorers and Rangers of various model years, going back as far as 1992.


With so many changes afoot, it's essential to study your health care options.

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 11:44AM

Oh, joy. It's open-enrollment season at work, when you get to pick your health care plan and other benefits for the coming year. Argh, I'll just stick with my current plan, you think. Who wants to read all that boring paperwork?


That could be a major mistake. Automatically renew your plan, and you might be surprised to find that family members are excluded in 2010 or your out-of-pocket health care expenses far exceed your grasp. (Plus, 10% of employers will drop your coverage if you don’t actively select a plan for next year, said Gerri Willis, personal-finance editor at CNN.)


All indications are the plan you have today won’t look the same next year. So, what should you be on the lookout for as you study your health care options?


After $48,000 in rent, she's finally selling her stuff.

By Karen Datko Oct 14, 2009 9:32AM

This post comes from Max Wong at partner blog Wise Bread.


Recently I did an intervention on Sarah, one of my dearest friends. It wasn't the first time. Over the last few years I have unsuccessfully attempted to get her to seek help for a problem that has cost her conservatively $48,000 and put financial and emotional stress on her family.


Recently, after more than five years of trying to manage her problem, she finally hit rock bottom. She once again had to borrow money from her family -- this time to pay for her daughter's health care. Sarah had $800 of the $900 doctor bill in the bank, but she'd already earmarked that money for the horrible monkey on her back. Sarah has a substance abuse problem -- but not with drugs. Sarah has a problem with self-storage.

Sarah used to have financial stability. But five years ago she made a major life change when she decided, at age 40, to adopt a child and become a single parent. Sarah sold her beautiful 3,000-square-foot home so she could afford to quit her high-powered job and be a stay-at-home mom until her daughter could start preschool. She moved into a 1,200-square-foot apartment in a good school district.


Debate rages on whether clotheslines hurt property value

By Teresa Mears Oct 13, 2009 4:17PM

Anybody remember wooden clothespins? We had the peg ones with little round heads, and the clip type, like the plastic clips people use today to close potato chip bags.


Buoyed by people’s desires both to be frugal and help the environment, clotheslines are making a comeback. That hasn’t been without controversy, The New York Times reported this week.


If you live in an older neighborhood in most cities, you can hang your wet clothes out to dry with impunity. But if, like 60 million Americans, you live in a homeowner association or other private development, your community’s rules probably ban clotheslines.


State legislatures are moving to change that. Florida and Utah for some time have upheld residents’ rights to dry their clothes outside. In the last year, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont have given their citizens the right to dry their clothes outside, The Times reports, and bills upholding the “right to dry” are pending in Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia.


Do 'pink' purchases really help the fight against this disease?

By Karen Datko Oct 13, 2009 3:33PM

Pink shoes on NFL players in support of breast cancer awareness was kind of cute. The players seemed to be making a statement rather than asking us to buy anything.

But what about all those pink ribbons on products ranging from Swiffer to chocolates? If we buy those products, are we really supporting cancer research and patient support? And, if so, by how much?


The fact is that anyone can stick a generic pink ribbon on a product and call it good or beneficial. And every October, many manufacturers do. It’s come to be an annual October event, like Halloween, or changing leaves, or reviewing your health care options at work.


“It's a life-affirming month, assuming that you can avoid what has come to be the tyranny of Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Suzanne Reisman wrote at BlogHer two years ago, indicating that nothing has changed.



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