How to Furnish a New Place With Patience and a Budget

Moving season is almost over. But if you’re one of the many people settling into a new home right now, you might feel like the furniture-buying season is just getting started. And that can get expensive.

After paying rent, a security deposit or mortgage down payment — plus all the costs associated with moving — furniture can come as an afterthought, leaving a less-than-ideal budget for the items that make your new place feel like home.

Even with lower-cost items from budget-friendly retailers like Amazon and Target, furnishing an entire space gets costly. And if you want higher-end items, a premium couch or bedroom set alone can run you several thousand dollars.

To save on furniture, try turning to your community and peer-to-peer resale platforms to find quality secondhand pieces, and also spacing out your purchases strategically.

First, see what you can get for free

Before you venture into the Ikea maze or go down a rabbit hole of online shopping, see what your local community has to offer. Ask people you know if there’s anything they’re getting rid of.

“Your friends and family may be moving, too,” says Henna Noor, a full-time student at the University of California, Irvine. Noor recently moved into her first apartment with a furniture budget of under $700 and scored a free couch from her girlfriend’s parents. “It might benefit them to get rid of an item without having to pay to move it or try to sell it before they go.”

Don’t be afraid to talk to your neighbors or make a request on social media; the people in your life are likely happy to help you navigate this exciting life change. Many neighborhoods also have “Buy Nothing” Facebook groups you can join to give and receive household items. However, you’ll likely need to find a way to transport the items, possibly by renting or borrowing a truck, or getting a friend to help you.

Try peer-to-peer platforms

Peer-to-peer resale platforms like OfferUp, Letgo and Facebook Marketplace feature thousands of secondhand items. You might be able to find some hidden gems sitting within a 5-mile radius of your new place.

“There are limited options at a store like Ikea,” says Miranda Escobar, a marketing manager at a tech startup in New York City, who moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn in April. “A peer marketplace opens you up to different, unexpected furniture styles.”

Escobar’s go-to is Facebook Marketplace, where she searches a single keyword like “dresser” and then refines the results by color, material, price and location. For example, she might search for wood items under $50 within 2 miles of her new address.

However, some locales have more listings than others, and it can be time-consuming to sort through the results. Not all items are priced to sell, either; some sellers are more motivated by making a profit than getting rid of old items.

“It can take hours of digging to find the true steals,” says Noor. Noor checked the OfferUp app daily for a week before her move, keeping an eye out for fresh listings from users who needed to get rid of items quickly.

Haggle respectfully

If you’re shopping at peer-to-peer marketplaces, garage sales or estate sales, take the opportunity to bargain. Note that the seller is often trying to get rid of the item, but also try to offer a price within a reasonable range — lowballing may not get you a response.

“I always compare with similar items on the market,” Escobar says. If it’s a name-brand or vintage piece, look up what it would cost to buy new or what other resellers are listing it for. Knowing the ballpark value of the item you want can help you negotiate more confidently with a seller and steer clear of listings with unreasonable prices.

Space out expenses

“Of course, you want to get your new place feeling like home immediately,” Escobar says. “But it’s better to be patient and wait for pieces at the right prices that really fit the space.”

Waiting on the lower-priority items can ensure you’re ready to snag pieces at rock-bottom prices from users who are up against moving deadlines; they’re likely to take the best offer available.

Patience is helpful when shopping retail, too: Out-of-season furniture is discounted in winter and summer to make room for new items arriving in the spring and fall, and most stores offer significant discounts around holidays like Black Friday and Labor Day. At thrift stores, furniture stock can change regularly, and waiting for the right deal on a secondhand piece could save you more than buying it new.

If you need something immediately, like a table for example, try finding an inexpensive placeholder piece to use for now, such as a low-cost folding table. You can always upgrade later when you have the funds.

Dalia Ramirez writes for NerdWallet.

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This May Be the Cheapest Road Trip in America

Road trips are a rite of passage for many Americans. These driving adventures are full of roadside attractions, eclectic diners and incredible memories. Yet, with high gas prices, many families are understandably reconsidering their vacation plans.

One way to keep your travel plans intact without breaking the bank is to focus on destinations with the lowest gas prices. We let the data speak for itself when determining where to road trip across America for cheap.

The current state of gas prices across the U.S.

As of Aug. 9, 2022, the average gas price is $4.03, according to data from the American Automobile Association. As expected, the average varies widely across regions of the U.S.

States along the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, New York and Maine are experiencing the highest gas prices, averaging between $4.41 to $5.42. Meanwhile, one section of the country is heartily below average, ranging from $3.57 to $3.75: the Southeast.

More specifically, the Gulf Coast has the lowest average gas prices in the U.S., with prices up to nearly 40 cents lower than the national average.

That makes this region a prime target for cheap road trips, and possibly even cheap rental cars for those travelers coming from far-flung locations. Though the costs of getting there and back from wherever you live might not make this as affordable of a vacation as turning left outside of your neighborhood, the region’s low gas prices might still attract those dedicated to a road trip vacation.

Consider driving the GATOR

You may not have yet heard of the GATOR, but this budget-friendly road trip, which runs along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, might just be a route to U-turn toward.

This recommended driving route, more formally referred to as the Gulf Alliance of Tourism Organization Representatives Road Trip, is the invention of Kay Maghan. As the Public Relations Manager of the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism board, she created the regional tourism partnership to “draw attention to the small- and medium-sized towns along the central Gulf Coast that are within a few hours of each other.”

Driving the GATOR, road-trippers can experience the local culture unique to the region, including great food, outdoor activities and historical attractions.

And, as Maghan adds, “Alligators.”

The GATOR itinerary map includes stops in smaller cities, many just off of Highway 10, along the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The GATOR’s three-state itinerary can be a great way to road trip for cheap in the U.S. (Image courtesy of the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism Board)

Here are some highlights along a GATOR road trip:

  • Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama: Tropical Falls at OWA theme park, water park and entertainment district.
  • Mobile, Alabama: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.
  • Coastal Mississippi (Ocean Springs, Biloxi and Bay St. Louis): Betsy Ann Riverboat cruise on the Gulf Coast.
  • St. Tammany Parish (Slidell), Louisiana: Honey Island Swamp Tours.
  • Jefferson Parish (Metairie), Louisiana: Wetland Trace Nature Boardwalk.
  • Lafourche Parish (Thibodaux), Louisiana: The Bayou Lafourche Historic Live Oak Tour.
  • Terrebone Parish (Houma), Louisiana: Chauvin Sculpture Garden & Art.
  • Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes (Lake Charles), Louisiana: Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, one of only 57 so designated scenic byways in the U.S.

How to save money on gas

If your travel guide is dog-eared for another road trip destination in the U.S., there are ways to save money on gas so your vacation plans aren’t derailed. Follow these cheap road trip tips.

Don’t buy premium fuel, unless required

As of Aug. 3, AAA’s data shows that the average gallon of premium fuel costs $0.75 more than regular gas. On a 20-gallon tank, that’s an extra $15 every time you fill up.

A separate AAA study found that 70% of U.S. drivers currently own a vehicle that requires regular gasoline compared to just 16% who drive vehicles that require premium fuel.

You might be overspending if you buy higher-octane gas when it’s not necessary.

Inspect and inflate your tires

There’s one quick way to derail a cheap road trip: car troubles.

Before heading out on your road trip, inspect your tires to ensure that there aren’t any punctures, bald spots or uneven wear. Inflate your tires to the manufacturer’s specifications, which are found in the driver’s manual or inside the driver’s door jamb.

Avoid idling your engine

Drivers are tempted to idle their engines to keep the car cool inside or to warm up the engine. If you aren’t driving, shut off the engine, conserve gas and do a little good for the planet, too.

Remove excess weight from your vehicle

Every extra pound in your vehicle requires your engine to work harder to move it down the highway. Instead, pack light and leave unnecessary items at home — this is one of the easiest money-saving tricks for travel.

Don’t accelerate too quickly

Quick acceleration burns extra gas. Rather, use a light touch when accelerating.

Plan efficient routes

Use your GPS to plan your route to minimize mileage and avoid traffic jams.

Find the cheapest gas nearby — and stack rewards

Numerous apps offer local gas prices so you can compare and find the lowest price. Sign up for gas station loyalty programs for additional discounts.

Apps like Upside, TruNow and GasBuddy offer rewards and savings when buying gasoline. These rewards are in addition to what you save from gas loyalty programs and earn from your credit card.

Use credit cards that earn rewards on gas

Certain credit cards offer bonus rewards on gas station purchases.

Consider renting a house on wheels

Road tripping in an RV rental can be a smart money move if you want to roll transit and lodging costs into a single budget line item.

The bottom line

Road trips can be a cost-effective way to travel and see America. You can avoid airport security and flight cancellations while traveling at your leisurely pace. But, with fuel prices much higher than last year, you need to find ways to reduce the cost of gas. Consider choosing a region with low gas prices, like the Gulf Coast, or follow the tips above to make driving more efficient and lower cost in areas closer to home.

Use a credit card that earns gasoline rewards to save money on gas at every fill-up.

Turn Your Quarantine Clutter Into Money

I placed more online orders than I can count in 2020. And I justified all of them.

My front porch was filled with boxes containing all sorts of things: furniture (I needed to redecorate), paper towels (I needed to stock up), crafts (I needed activities), board games (more activities) and a treadmill (I needed exercise).

But if I’m being honest, I bought a little too much.

Take a look around your place. If your quarantine habits were even a tiny bit like mine, you could turn that clutter into money. Here’s how.

Too much stuff? Sell it

Perhaps you purchased more than you ended up using, like board games or video games. Or maybe you bought new products to replace old items and were left with a drawer of discarded technology.

Whatever the case, you have more than you need. And there are lots of places to sell your stuff online.

Chelsea Lipford Wolf, co-host of the “Today’s Homeowner” TV show and host of the “Checking In With Chelsea” web series, says she made over $1,000 selling things online during the last six months of 2020 through Facebook Marketplace, an outlet for buying and selling locally.

You can, too. Look online for this or another marketplace that suits your needs. For example, Facebook Marketplace caters to local transactions, while other sites focus on product categories like tech or apparel. Read the directions to see how the site works and check for customer reviews or a Better Business Bureau accreditation before committing. Make an account, then get to work.

You can sell almost anything online — technology, furniture, clothing, video games and toys, to name a few.

Here are Wolf’s keys to making things sell:

  • Presentation. “You want the item you’re selling to be the focal point of your photo,” Wolf says. Clean it first, then take flattering photos in natural sunlight, preferably near a window. Get multiple angles.
  • Price. Consider what someone might pay for the item, then price it slightly lower to make it move. You can also check listings posted by other users to determine the going rate.
  • Particulars. Spell out everything in the description, including the brand and any imperfections. A more detailed listing means less back and forth with potential buyers. As the saying goes, “Time is money,” Wolf says.

Too much work? Consign

Depending on which site you use, you’ll have to write listings, package your items and send them either directly to the buyer or to the platform you used to make the sale. In some cases, you can deliver in person.

To save time and effort, take your stuff to a local consignment store instead. You’ll likely make less, but the store does the selling for you. Expect to pocket half of the selling price, Wolf says.

Other options? Give things away to family and friends. Donate to a local charity. And throw away items that have absolutely no use.

Too many temptations? Scale back

Once you’ve sold and donated what you can, fight the urge to impulse shop again. Keeping up your current habits could get you right back to where you started. One way to avoid that? Save first and buy later.

This approach is the exact opposite of putting something on a credit card and paying it off after the fact, says Pam Horack, a certified financial planner and the owner of Pathfinder Planning LLC, based in Lake Wylie, South Carolina.

Save money and wait to place an order until you can afford it in full. Horack says her family has a designated clothing account. When someone needs a new pair of shoes, the money comes from what they’ve set aside.

You can do the same with a general spending account. “If you don’t have money in that account, then you can’t buy it,” Horack says. “That needs to be your rule.”

There are also ways to stay busy without spending much, if any, money. Here are some of Horack’s ideas: Redecorate your house by moving around your furniture. Spend time outdoors. Finish up projects around the house. You’ll spend less and accumulate less stuff.

Too expensive? Buy used

But you can’t stop shopping altogether. For things you absolutely need, consider buying on the same websites you used to make extra money.

When you list products, you won’t sell them for as much as you originally paid for them. That means you can purchase things at a significant discount, too.

Consumers have been buying and selling used during the pandemic, according to Sara Beane, media relations specialist at technology marketplace Swappa. “Everybody is kind of strapped during this unprecedented time,” Beane says.

For example, the site saw a rush on laptops around back-to-school season.

Search used marketplaces by model and condition of the item. You’ll find many price points to fit your budget.

But before you hit the “buy” button, do some organizing, Wolf says.

“If you have so much stuff that you can’t see what you have, then you’re going to buy more than you need.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Courtney Jespersen writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

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Why You Should Hit the Store on the Day After Christmas

Customer service desks will be packed on the day after Christmas with consumers requesting refunds and exchanges, but store aisles will be packed with something else — deals.

Here’s why you should venture out on Dec. 26, and how to emerge with a bargain instead of a headache.

Seasonal staples will be on sale

After-Christmas shopping used to be mostly about returns and exchanges, according to Howard Forman, a marketing professor at California State University, Fullerton. Now, he says, good deals are driving people to the stores as well.

There are certain items that are discounted on the day after Christmas, and that includes anything seasonal, Forman says. Expect to save money on Christmas decorations, winter clothing, accessories like slippers and anything else that didn’t sell during the holiday season.

Gift cards are like free money

Shoppers also come out on Dec. 26 to cash in the gift cards they received. “They get the gift card or gift certificate on Christmas, so the day after, they get to take advantage of it by going to the retailers who are having these great sales,” Forman says.

It’s actually in your best interest to spend your gift card immediately after Christmas, for at least two reasons, says Shelley Hunter, the gift card expert for First, you’ll be less likely to forget about it or neglect to redeem it.

Second, you can get more mileage out of your gift card during after-Christmas sales, thanks to the deals we mentioned earlier. Gift cards are stackable with sales and coupons. If you use your gift card during a sale, you can get more items for the same amount of money.

“If you are a savvy shopper, you can extend the value of that gift card from whatever the person gave you to get a little bit more with it,” Hunter says.

And they’ll be on sale, too

The day after Christmas is a good time to spend gift cards, but Hunter says it’s also an ideal time to buy them, especially at restaurants. Many chains are offering a free coupon with purchase of a gift card, and most promotions last through the end of the year.

For instance, Red Lobster is hosting a Give a Gift, Get a Gift promotion through Dec. 31. You’ll get a bonus card (good for a free appetizer or $10 coupon) when you buy a $50 gift card. Bonus cards can be redeemed Jan. 1 through Jan. 28.

Technology makes returns easier

And if your main reason for venturing out on the day after Christmas is to make a return, lean on technology to get most of the work done at home before you get to the store. For instance, with Walmart’s Mobile Express returns, you can initiate a return on the store’s app for items shipped and sold by (some restrictions apply). Then, fast-track through the line when you arrive at the store.

Another helpful tool is Slice, a free app that tracks all of your online purchases. It captures receipts from your email inbox and organizes them so you can quickly access the one you need when you want to make a return.



The article Why You Should Hit the Store on the Day After Christmas originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

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Millennial Money: How to Just Say No to Gift Exchanges

Your college roommate. Your current roommate. Your book club. Your brunch crew. Your office secret Santa. Your cousins. Your siblings. Your parents. Your partner. Their parents.

As your social circle expands, so does your holiday shopping list. But what happens when you can’t afford to buy gifts for everyone?

One option: Cut back on gift exchanges.

Opt out of the office secret Santa. Don’t give your child’s day care provider a present. Tell your roommate/cousins/friends that you can’t exchange gifts this year.

This move may seem harsh, but if the alternative is going into debt, it could be the best move.

Last year, 65% of millennial shoppers bought gifts with their credit card. This year, roughly a third of them are still paying off that debt, according to an annual survey of holiday shoppers from NerdWallet.

Consult your budget

Now is a good time to make a budget, if you don’t already have one. Factor in your normal expenses — rent, electric bill and pallets of LaCroix — plus things like holiday travel. Now you know what you have to spend on gifts this year.

Your budget may allow for some gifts, but there’s a good chance you’ll need to make some cuts.

Work Secret Santa

This is a tricky one to navigate. One school of thought is to make the office exchange a priority.

“If there’s a work setting where everybody’s participating, you must participate,” says Jennifer Porter, a manners teacher and gift shop owner. “It shows goodwill. These are your colleagues. Pony up for that and feel good about it.”

But office size and dynamics come into play. If your office is large enough, you may be able to opt out without anyone noticing. Just don’t sign up. End of discussion.

It’s harder to bow out in a smaller office or team, especially if the whole group gets together for the gift giving. If it’s simply not in your budget, talk to the person organizing your office exchange.

“Let them know, so you don’t have to make a campaign about it,” says Elaine Swann, an etiquette expert and founder of The Swann School of Protocol. You can spare them extra details, Swann says, and spare yourself the need to tell all of your office mates.

Another option: Consider regifting. (Fun fact: 82% of millennials regift holiday presents, according to the survey from NerdWallet.)

Friend and family gift exchanges

Your immediate family is likely on your must-gift list, but extended family may not make the cut. The same is true for your closest friends versus your larger friend group — book club, brunch club, bros club and so forth. It’s OK to ask to scale back things to fit your budget.

You don’t need to put up a front with your nearest and dearest. Remember, these are the people who know you best.

“You can be a little more frank and transparent,” Swann says. “If there’s anyone who’s going to understand, it will be those you have a close relationship with. They will understand and almost expect it.”

Child’s teacher, day care provider

In this instance, less is more. There’s no need to tell the teacher they won’t get a present from junior this year. A heartfelt note from you and your child will be cherished as much as another gift card or coffee mug, if not more.

Having ‘the talk’

If you decide to end or opt out of a gift exchange, be honest and considerate. You want to halt the presents, not the relationship.

Don’t make up excuses or put off the conversation until a week before Christmas, Swann says.

“Be brutally honest, without being brutal,” she says. “Frankly say, ‘Thank you for thinking of me and wanting to include me, but I will not be able to participate.’ Resist the urge to over explain.”

You’ll likely find people understand — they may even be relieved. But if they’re not OK with it, give them space.

“Don’t try to fix it in that instance. Allow that person to go through the process of being disappointed,” Swann says. “Your role is not to get them over to your side. Your role is just to inform them of your intentions.”


The article Millennial Money: How to Just Say No to Gift Exchanges originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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7 Gifts That Help Your Grad Stash More Cash

If you want to give a graduation gift that is always appreciated, give cash. If you want to give a gift that will help your grad save cash, though, you’ll need to give it a little more thought.

Any of the following gifts would be appropriate for a college graduate heading out into the world, and most would work for high school graduates as well.

1. An Instant Pot. Your grad may be living on a rice-and-beans budget. Here’s an appliance that can make perfect rice every time and turn rock-hard dried beans into toothsome tenderness in 15 minutes — no overnight soak required. The Instant Pot takes the place of a bunch of other appliances, a huge plus for tiny apartments. The starter version (about $79) is a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, saute pan, steamer and warmer. More expensive versions add functions, allowing you to make your own yogurt, bake a cake and sterilize stuff.


2. Roadside assistance. If your new grad’s car is a jalopy, roadside assistance can help ensure he’s not stranded in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. It generally covers things like fixing a flat, starting a battery, opening the car if the keys are locked inside, delivering gas, and towing the car to a repair shop. Basic roadside assistance coverage typically costs $40 to $60 per year by itself, but it comes standard with some new car warranties, and some credit cards include the benefit. It can also be added on to many auto insurance policies.


3. A SodaStream. Help your grad save a ton of money, as well as the environment, by making carbonated beverages easily at home. Starter kits cost around $80 for the dispenser, soda bottles and coupon or rebate for the carbonator cylinder. You also can buy special syrups to create various soft drink flavors, but the sparkling water is lovely on its own.


4. Stainless steel bottles. Upgrade your grad from the cheap plastic giveaways he’s been using to the adult version: insulated bottles that can be used for hot beverages or cold. Klean Kanteens are a great option, with different tops to use as coffee mugs or water bottles. The bottles cost about $30, while the tops are $8 and $6, respectively.


5. WeMo smart plugs. Again, a way to save money and the environment: Put lights, electronics and appliances on timers. WeMo plugs ($30 to $40) are inserted into regular outlets and controlled via a smartphone app (or by voice, if the user has a digital assistant such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home). In addition to setting up schedules, these plugs can be turned off and on remotely or at random (with an “away” mode designed to confuse potential intruders) and synced to external events such as sunrise and sunset.


6. A popcorn popper. Give the gift of a healthy, cheap snack that’s almost universally loved and dead easy to make. Air poppers (around $25) are a great choice, or you can get collapsible silicone versions like the Lekue ($19) that pop popcorn in the microwave.


7. A wine preserver. A gadget that reseals a bottle of wine after it’s been opened is obviously a more appropriate gift for the college graduate than someone under the legal drinking age. But skip the oenophile versions that cost hundreds of dollars — your grad likely can’t afford the good stuff that could justify such a splurge. The budget Vacu Vin Wine Saver is well-regarded and typically costs around $10, so you can buy a few.

The article 7 Gifts That Help Your Grad Stash More Cash originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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5 Tips for Cooking an Inexpensive Thanksgiving Dinner

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can feel like a thankless job if you’ve destroyed your budget to do so. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By setting realistic expectations, shopping strategically and delegating tasks, this can be an affordable meal to prepare. Here’s how to pull it off:

1. Stick to the basics

First, drop the “Pinterest fantasy,” says Hali Bey Ramdene, food editor for The Kitchn. Your sanity and wallet will take a hit if you attempt the pear sangria and the sweet potato and Brussels sprout okonomiyaki and the apple-pecan pumpkin Bundt cake. Oh, and the turkey.

Use Pinterest and other social media sites as inspiration, not as a barometer of success. If you want to attempt a challenging dish, go for it. Otherwise, take advantage of the affordability of the Thanksgiving basics: turkey, potatoes and other vegetables.

Ramdene also points out that you probably don’t need a dozen appetizers and side dishes. “Think of the plate,” she says. A dish with just the essentials is a feast, when you consider a couple of slices of turkey, along with stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce. Would your guests even have room for the fancy Bundt cake?

2. Downplay social media

Just as Pinterest can set unrealistic expectations while you’re planning the meal, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat can up the ante come dinnertime. “Before, you just had dinner with your people. You fed them, and it was wonderful,” Ramdene says. “Now those people are taking photos of every single thing and narrating the dinner.”

Ramdene suggests gently asking guests to not use their phones at the dinner table. That way, they’re more present to exchange real-life experiences rather than Instagram stories. “The goal of Thanksgiving is to feed your family and be thankful together,” Ramdene says, “even if your potatoes don’t really look good with the Lark filter on them.”

3. Rethink the turkey

Look at your guest list and ask yourself if you really need to roast and serve a whole turkey. That’s a lot of food and a lot of work.

Instead, consider serving just a turkey breast. That’s what Katie Moseman, owner of the blog Recipe for Perfection, has done for the past three years. Moseman says a turkey breast is cheaper than a whole turkey and much easier to cook. Plus, it’s still tasty and attractive, with a “beautiful caramel brown exterior,” she says.

Worried about bucking tradition? “You’d have to have pretty fussy guests to complain,” Moseman says. “The carving the turkey on the table thing really only happens on TV.” As Ramdene puts it: “This is not a Norman Rockwell painting.”

If you’re feeding many guests and want to roast the whole bird, you’ll encounter a range of price tags and types. The Kitchn’s guide to buying a turkey may help you find one that fits your budget.

4. Shop wisely

That means starting now. Moseman scouts online and paper flyers of local stores and compares prices for the ingredients she’ll need. “A lot of times, the best deals won’t be found all at one store,” she says. So if you’re truly looking for the best bargain on each item, you’ll likely have to make a few stops.

As you create your “plan of attack,” as Moseman calls it, consider the value of your time, too. The grocery across town may sell pumpkin pies that are 80 cents cheaper than those at your neighborhood store, for example, but is that worth a 30-minute drive?

5. Enlist help

“Cooking Thanksgiving dinner by yourself is a falsehood,” Ramdene says. Save yourself stress and money by having guests bring dishes or beverages to share.

Ask guests with food intolerances or allergies to bring a side dish that’s safe for them to eat. That way, you’re not shelling out for specialized ingredients or sweating over a tailored dish, Moseman says.

Specify requests for other guests, too. “Don’t just tell guests to ‘bring whatever,’” Ramdene says. “If you decide to host, you’re like a taskmaster.” Ask for a dessert to share, for example, or a hot appetizer.

Chances are your guests will appreciate a chance to contribute during the giving season. “People like to show up and bring their best dish,” Moseman says. “It takes pressure off the host, it costs less, and they’re happy to say, ‘Here’s something amazing I cooked. Please compliment me.”

The article 5 Tips for Cooking an Inexpensive Thanksgiving Dinner originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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What to Buy (and Skip) on Black Friday 2017

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for shoppers. With huge sales and steep savings at nearly every retailer, Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — has long been touted as one of the best times of the year for buying just about anything.

But it won’t be all discounts and deals during the 2017 post-Turkey Day shopping bonanza. Use this guide to steer clear of the duds and get only the best bargains this Nov. 24.

Buy: Apple products

Traditionally, major retail stores such as Best Buy, Target and Walmart discount Apple products each year on Black Friday, and previous-generation models usually see the most dramatic deals. These offers may include price cuts, free gift cards with purchase or a combination of both. This year, look for deals on MacBooks, iMacs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TVs.

Target devoted an entire page of its 2016 Black Friday ad to Apple. All iPod models were 20% off, and the Apple Watch Series 1 started at $198.

Skip: Toys

Toys are one of the seasonal purchase staples, but you might want to think twice before checking them off your list on Black Friday. Historically, it’s best to wait until closer to Christmas to purchase dolls, action figures and play sets. You run the risk that certain items will sell out, but you may also be able to find bigger savings on what’s left.

Last year, in the final days before Christmas, select toys were on sale for as much as 50% off.

Buy: Gaming system bundles

Black Friday is for gamers just as much as it is for shoppers. This year, look for savings on video games and video game systems from retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and GameStop. You’ll find particularly great offers on gaming bundles. Traditionally, these include the game console plus a combination of games and accessories.

Last year, video game retailer GameStop took $50 off both the Gears of War Xbox One S Blue 500GB Bundle and the Uncharted 4 500GB PlayStation 4 Bundle (regularly $299.99 each). We expect gaming bundles to be on sale for $249.99 again this year.

Skip: Christmas decorations

You’ve likely seen the blowout post-Christmas clearance sales every year on Dec. 26 as you made your way to the store to return that gift that missed the mark. That’s when Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, tinsel and other seasonal trimmings reach super low prices (for obvious reasons).

If you can’t wait until after Christmas, hold off for a little while. Sure, you’ll see plenty of deals on artificial trees and rolls of wrapping paper on Black Friday — especially at home and craft stores — but retailers are particularly eager to slash prices closer to Dec. 25. In the days leading up to Christmas 2016, Big Lots took 50% off a selection of ornaments and decorations.

Buy: Electronics (TVs, tablets and smartphones)

Electronics deals are a Black Friday staple. In 2016, Walmart offered an impressive $125 deal on a 40-inch Element or Hisense HDTV. Best Buy discounted select Amazon Fire tablets by up to $30.

No matter where you choose to spend your Black Friday (or Thanksgiving), you’re almost guaranteed to find TV and tablet doorbusters. Another electronics deal to keep an eye out for is smartphones. Last year, some retailers offered free gift cards (in amounts as substantial as $250) with a qualifying phone purchase on an installment plan.

Skip: Bedding

You’ve got the entertainment center covered, but you should hesitate before stocking up on supplies to refresh the look of your bedroom this Black Friday.

The lowest prices on bedding and linens have been known to appear in January during what are called “white sales,” so hold off until then if you can. Discounts at this time can range from 50% to 75%. January 2017 white sales took place at retailers such as Macy’s, Kmart, Kohl’s and Overstock.

Buy: Video games, CDs, DVDs

If you’re in need of some affordable stocking stuffers, look no further than the video game, CD, DVD and Blu-ray department at most major retailers this Black Friday. You’ll find films and gaming titles deeply discounted from their original prices.

In 2016, Best Buy offered select Blu-ray+DVD+digital titles for $7.99 each. Walmart had certain video games for $27 each and a selection of over 200 DVD titles for $1.96 apiece.

Skip: Outdoor essentials

You won’t see too many grills or patio furniture sets plastered on the front pages of Black Friday ads this year. That’s because, not surprisingly, outdoor products and patio furniture are deeply discounted immediately after summer ends.

If you didn’t pick up these products at the close of this summer, wait until Labor Day sales roll around next year. Can’t wait until then? Another viable option is the Spring Black Friday Sale that home improvement store Lowe’s usually holds each year.

Buy: Home appliances

No secret here. Black Friday is well-known for its offers of huge savings on washers, dryers, refrigerators and major kitchen appliances. Look for similar deep discounts again this year.

Last year at Sears, a Kenmore washer and dryer were on sale for $274.99 each when shoppers purchased the pair. That was a 49% discount on the pair. Best Buy took up to 40% off major appliance top deals, and shoppers got a free Keurig K525 coffee brewer with purchase of two or more major appliances totaling $2,000 and up.

If you’re in the market for smaller appliances such as coffee makers, mixers, blenders or vacuum cleaners, expect deals this year from department stores such as Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and Macy’s.

Skip: Winter clothing

Fall and winter clothing generally isn’t the best value on Black Friday. Jeans, for instance, see big sales in October, and retailers frequently offer big clearance sales on jackets when winter gives way to spring.

Of course, if you need something to keep you warm before then, you’ll be able to find some bargains this Black Friday. Year after year, Macy’s and J.C. Penney have offered doorbuster deals on women’s boots. In the past, select pairs have been just $19.99 each.

Buy: Travel deals

Whether it’s hotel rooms, ski lift tickets or airfare, you can expect bargains on travel this Black Friday and Cyber Monday (Nov. 27). Check for deals from online travel sites and major airlines alike. In the past, most of these promotions were available for a very limited time. You’ll likely have to book during that window and travel during an allotted period.

Skip: Mail-in rebates

If you want to avoid some of the hassle related to Black Friday shopping, resist deals that require a mail-in rebate. Unless you’re disciplined enough to fill out the form and wait to receive the rebate, you could end up paying more than you intended. And even if you do follow through with a rebate, you’ll have to shell out a higher price at the register before getting some money back.

Always read the fine print; some kitchen appliances, electronics and other popular items may require you to fill out a mail-in rebate to achieve the advertised price. At Kohl’s, for example, some small kitchen appliances were available for $9.99 last year — but that was after a $12 mail-in rebate.

Buy: Online doorbusters

Finally, for the ultimate combination of convenience and savings, spring for online doorbusters this year. Plenty of big box retailers will be bringing their doorbusters online this Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

That’s good news for shoppers. But you have to take precautions when shopping on your phone or laptop, such as making sure you’re not on public Wi-Fi. Read more about how to ensure the safety of your online credit card purchases.

The article What to Buy (and Skip) on Black Friday 2017 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Three Ways to Cut Costs in College

Typically people think of spending—not saving—while in college. It’s true that once you choose where to attend school, your tuition and fees costs are fixed. However, at many schools tuition and fees may be less than half of your overall costs.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, public four-year, in-state costs in 2015-16 for students totaled $19,189 and tuition and fees was only 46 percent of the total costs; room and board was the remaining amount. Add in other costs, such as fun, clothing, and toiletries, and tuition and fees is an even smaller percent.

You can save money on these “other” costs while in college. Let’s look at three strategies used by college students and you can choose which one fits your lifestyle the best!

Small Items Add Up

We often pay attention to large purchases, but may not notice when we spend small amounts of money. However, small purchases that we make regularly do add up, and it can make a big difference over time. Look how much these purchases add up over a year. Do any of the following expenses resonate with you?

  • One snack item a day, at $1.25, is $465.25 in a year
  • Parking meter charges for eight hours a week ($8.00) add up $416.
  • A pack of cigarettes a day ($7.50 per pack) costs $2,737.50.
  • Lunch out five times a week ($8.00 per lunch) costs $2,080.

Multiple these amounts times four years of college and the amount of student loans needed to cover these costs is significant. Stepping down how often you incur these costs helps. Think about what small costs you have regularly and what action you’d like to take to save money.

Big Expenses Matter

Rent, internet fees, insurance, and cell phone plans are common, big dollar items for college students. Before signing a contract for any of these items, take time to comparison shop. For example, apartment leases vary significantly in college communities depending on where the apartment is located, amenities, size and more. Decide what you specifically need (versus want), compare prices, and consider alternatives before you sign a lease.

University of Illinois’ Tenant Union’s A Quick Guide to Renting Apartments has a housing cost comparison worksheet as well as an apartment hunting checklist that are both excellent tools to help you save money. Don’t forget to also comparison shop for other big expenses.

Plan Your Discretionary/Fun Spending

College is a wonderful opportunity to try new experiences and have fun. You want to have your money last all year so that you can continue to have fun in the spring, and not run out of money in November! Plan how much money you can comfortably spend each week. Here are some tried and true student strategies:

  • Decide how much you want to spend on Friday night (or for fun during the week) and carry cash for this amount. When the cash is gone, the spending stops.
  • Keep receipts in an envelope and add up the amount each week.
  • Use a budget sheet like Making it On a College Budget, or one you customize to fit your needs.
  • Use a budgeting app to track spending.

Here’s a bonus saving strategy! Peer Educators from University of Illinois Extension’s Financial Wellness for College Students program have compiled 55 Ways to Save Money from their own experiences. Take a look at this list and circle 10 or more tips that you can implement!

Whether you pay attention to small amounts, comparison shop for big items or plan your fun, you can spend less while in college and ultimately save money for yourself. Using these saving strategies will allow you to set aside money in a savings account for those unexpected costs and opportunities that are sure to arise. College is the perfect place to build your saving habits—you can do it and reap the benefits.

Kathy Sweedler, Consumer Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension

The article “Three Ways to Cut Costs in College” is from

Ask Brianna: How Can I Budget When My Rent Is So High?

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to

This week’s question:

“A huge portion of my income goes toward rent, and I already have a roommate and am not able to move right now. How can I manage other financial priorities, like paying off debt, with such high housing costs?”

For some readers, this question might summon a vision of 20-somethings in New York or San Francisco eating avocado toast in sleek, outrageously priced apartments. But not all cash-strapped renters live in major cities. And not all city dwellers struggling to afford rent lead lavish lifestyles.

In 2015, almost half of all U.S. renters were cost-burdened, meaning they spent more than 30%  of their income on housing, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. That’s largely because earnings haven’t grown at the same pace as housing costs. In New York, for instance, renters’ median household incomes rose 6.6% from 2005 to 2015, while median gross rents shot up 18.3%, according to the NYU Furman Center.

Maybe moving to a different apartment or city would be too expensive now. In the meantime, try these budgeting strategies so you can pay the rent, then make room to build savings and reduce debt.

First comes saving

The 50/30/20 budget recommends spending no more than 50% of your earnings on necessities like housing, food and transportation; 30% on wants; and 20% on debt repayment and savings. But when you enter your information into a budget calculator, rent might take up nearly the entire “necessities” category. That means you’ll likely have to cut back on your “wants” — but don’t scrimp on savings and debt repayment.

Saving now means building a cushion that prevents you from taking on more debt and that can help you afford to buy a place someday. To start, make sure you’ve got at least $500 in a rainy-day fund. That helps you avoid charging unexpected expenses to a credit card.

Next up is saving for retirement. If your employer offers a match on 401(k) contributions — say, up to 3% of your income — designate at least enough to capture the match.

Then comes slashing debt

Once emergency and retirement savings are on track, you’re ready to pay extra toward debt.

One way is to prioritize what to pay down based on interest rate. Aim to eliminate credit card balances first, which often have the highest rates. If you still have money left over, add to your rainy-day fund so it covers three to six months of essential expenses, and increase retirement savings.

Cut other expenses

Sure, you can try to cut back on boozy brunches or buying books to free up some cash. But limiting larger-ticket items, such as car-related costs, may get you further, says Eric Tyson, author of “Personal Finance for Dummies.”

The average loan payment for a new car was $509 a month in the first quarter of 2017, according to credit reporting agency Experian. You’ll save money by buying used, and by shopping around for cheaper car insurance. Often, larger cities have both pricey rents and solid public transportation. If that’s true of yours, take advantage of the latter by avoiding car ownership for now.

Searching for a better cell phone plan might also yield savings. Carriers often change their offerings, and plan prices are more and more competitive, Tyson says.

Re-evaluate your city

Finally, think long term. Rent doesn’t have to be the expense you organize everything around forever. Every year, take stock of whether your location makes sense for your career, says Jessica Landis, assistant vice president of financial planning at Janney Montgomery Scott, a financial services firm headquartered in Philadelphia.

You may live in a place that has lots of opportunities for professional advancement. “However, put a time frame on the high expense,” she says. “If the area or position is no longer serving you, consider looking for other options.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

The article Ask Brianna: How Can I Budget When My Rent Is So High? originally appeared on NerdWallet.