Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Spending conservatively during the holidays is a good idea, except when it comes to your flexible spending account.

By Karen Datko Dec 22, 2009 2:38PM

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


Consumers with a flexible spending account, or FSA, may have just days left to use funds in these pretax accounts -- or lose them for good.


These accounts let you put aside pretax dollars for payment of out-of-pocket medical expenses. But the funds don't usually carry over year to year, so come Dec. 31, you could forfeit any unspent funds. (You may have as late as March 31, 2010, to submit expenses for reimbursement, depending on the plan.)

"Having $200 to $300 left at this point is not uncommon," says Tom Billet, a senior benefits consultant at Watson Wyatt, an employee-benefits consulting firm. "Then, panic sets in."


You never know when you'll need this service. Here's how to easily find one.

By Karen Datko Dec 22, 2009 1:05PM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.


When I bought my house a few years ago, I was introduced to the idea of a notary public. In most capacities, a notary public is a “public official” given the right to administer oaths and affirmations. In many of the cases where you’ll need a notary public to “notarize” a document, they are there to affirm that the person signing the document is in fact the person who is supposed to be signing it.

When you get a document notarized, you provide proof of your identity, you sign the document in their presence, and then they sign and stamp the document, usually with a raised seal (depending on the state).


More recently, I had to get a notary to notarize my Pennsylvania claim form after I found some unclaimed property about a month ago (an old Best Buy rebate, I think). It was a little trickier than when I still worked at a company, but eventually I found one. Now I’m going to write it down so I don’t make the same mistakes again.


Policies about the same as last year, says Consumer World.

By Teresa Mears Dec 21, 2009 6:44PM

With gifts come gift returns. It’s smart to know a store’s return policy when you buy a gift, in case your loved ones don’t love the gift you picked out as much as you do.


Consumer World says that most policies are the same this year as they were last year, partially reversing a trend toward more restrictive return policies. However, many stores have different return policies for different types of items, making returns more complicated.


With the ease of the Internet, more scammers are adopting a corporate look to take people in.

By Karen Datko Dec 21, 2009 4:34PM

This post comes from Mark Huffman at partner site


As in so many other fields of endeavor, we can thank the Web for introducing new efficiencies into the business of separating unsuspecting consumers from their money. A credible-looking Web site and a few inexpensive Internet ads are all it takes to get started in a theft-by-Net business with a more corporate look.


This year, our annual review of the top 10 scams finds more fast-buck artists functioning like legitimate businesses. The old tried-and-true scams -- advance-fee loans, phony lotteries, "free" cruises -- have by no means disappeared, but in 2009, clever marketers added a few new twists.


Families who cut back on holiday spending find other valuable benefits.

By Teresa Mears Dec 21, 2009 4:15PM

When Jen Singer looks at the presents under her Christmas tree, she keeps thinking she has forgotten something:


"How can it be that my Christmas shopping took me exactly one trip to Target and a few clicks of my mouse?" she writes. "What -- or who -- am I forgetting?"


A downsized Christmas is different, she says, at Momma Said. Her husband is buying her two tires for the mini-van for Christmas (and getting her the other two for her birthday). The gift exchanges with relatives have been pared to a minimum.


The industry blames falling sales on the economy, but are people questioning the overall concept?

By Karen Datko Dec 21, 2009 2:25PM

Annual per-capita consumption of bottled water in the United States peaked at 29 gallons two years ago. It dropped 3.2% in 2008 and is expected to decline again. Industry people cite the economy, says a report at MSNBC.

“We don’t think that anti-bottled-water activists have had any impact,” said Tom Lauria, spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association. “People love their bottled water.”

But we wonder if something else isn’t afoot. Are people seeing how wasteful it is to pay for a product they can get at home at no extra cost -- you’re already paying a water bill whether you drink the water or not -- as well as the environmental impact?


There's no place like home for the holidays -- and the airlines know it.

By Karen Datko Dec 21, 2009 12:58PM

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


Hoping to entice a few more budget-minded consumers to fly, many carriers have waived their advance-purchase requirements on tickets through early January, dropping select fares by more than 50%. (When policies are in place, fares rise precipitously within a week or so of departure, with last-minute bookers typically paying full fare or close to it.)

For example, a round-trip ticket between Dallas and New York City on Delta that sold Sunday for as much as $1,858 is currently going for $388 to $578, depending on your travel dates, according to booking site You'll save 69% to 79%.


Everyone else is just trying to figure out how to separate you from it.

By Karen Datko Dec 21, 2009 11:37AM

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


I’ve read a lot of stuff lately about how scammers take advantage of other people. (Here, for example, is a brief summary of seven psychological tricks con artist use.) It’s easy to think that those who lose their money are just unfortunate suckers. That’s not always true. Often they’re folks just like me and you who get talked into thinking somebody else knows more than they do.

On some level, the same thing happens all the time with bankers and brokers and real estate agents and even with friends and family. These folks may not be con artists, but we’ve all allowed these other people to tell us what we ought to do with our money. We let ourselves believe that they’re able to make better decisions about our financial situation than we are.



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.