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  • Straightforward Prepaid Card Fee Disclosure Will Benefit Consumers and Boost Industry

    by Curtis Arnold

    There’s no lack of evidence these days about prepaid cards quickly making their way into the financial mainstream. Respected organizations like the Pew Charitable Trusts and Fitch Ratings have recently released studies documenting both the explosive growth of prepaid cards and some of the reasons to explain that rise – reasons that include a reduction in fees that now make prepaid cards increasingly attractive compared to traditional banking products, especially checking accounts.

    While these developments are welcome news, especially to the millions of unbanked or under-banked Americans, the prepaid card industry is missing a huge opportunity by not making the disclosure of fees easily accessible and simple to understand for consumers. According to Shane Tripcony, my partner at BestPrepaidDebitCards.com, “We have spent a lot of time reviewing prepaid cards terms pages, and I am happy to say that the fee information has gotten easier to find and read over the past year, so it does seem like the industry is heading in the right direction.”

    There are a host of reasons why making information about things like monthly account charges and the cost to add or withdraw money is very much in the industry’s self-interest. For one thing, doing so begins to erase the well-deserved predatory reputation prepaid cards have earned in the past. Long the last resort for consumers who couldn’t open checking or credit card accounts, prepaid cards were not only layered with steep fees, those fees were very hard for consumers to locate and understand.

    Besides addressing this image problem, an industry-wide commitment to present fees in a prominent place and in a format that is easy to navigate would also forestall any need for legislation. Earlier this year, Virginia Senator Mark Warner introduced a bill that would require prepaid card issuers to adopt standardized fee disclosure. While Warner’s proposal seems like a straightforward and common sense approach, legislation always carries with it the risk of unintended consequences. Proactively and voluntarily making simple fee disclosure an industry norm would avoid any unforeseen problems in the future.

    Already, some prepaid card issuers are seeing the wisdom in this. Not long ago, Chase Liquid adopted the disclosure suggestions formulated by Pew. It was a move that quickly won plaudits from consumer advocates like Pew as well as Senator Warner. It wouldn’t be a surprise if consumers, too, rewarded Chase for voluntary opting to be more transparent.

    Of course, if avoiding potential legislation and regulations while also improving the standing of prepaid cards in the public’s eye isn’t enough, there’s yet another reason for companies to go ahead and make it simple and easy to evaluate fees. It’s the right thing to do.

  • Are Prepaid Cards Making Checking Accounts Obsolete?

    by Curtis Arnold

    If you grew up in the 1970s, 80s or even 90s, you’ll remember hard it could be to have a private phone call. Plenty of households had just one phone with a cord, which made it nearly impossible to avoid eavesdropping siblings and parents. Of course, we all know what happened to landlines when cell phone technology became mainstream: Even a couple of years ago more than half of American homes had already ditched them, a number that has certainly increased by now.

    A similar extinction awaits traditional checking accounts. Why? The same sort of disruption that pulled the cord on millions of landlines is already underway in the world of personal finance, thanks to the rapid emergence and improvement of prepaid debit cards. The numbers alone show that checking accounts have already begun their walk into history. Indeed, between 2009 and 2012, prepaid card transactions grew at an annual rate of over 33 percent, with the total number of transactions reaching 3.1 billion in 2012 alone. Fitch Ratings recently declared that the rise of prepaid card transactions is likely to continue.

    There are a number of reasons to believe that Fitch is right and all of those reasons are very bad news for checking accounts. In part, the reason prepaid debit cards will make checking accounts obsolete is because the accounts themselves have become less and less attractive. Long gone are the days when checking accounts could be counted on to be gratis. In fact, 41 percent of banks say they will not offer free checking this year, an uptick of 8 percent since just last year. To be fair, banks are choosing to add fees in response to federal legislation that reduced what they could charge for regular debit card transactions and left a big hole in their revenue.

    But an even bigger reason the days of checking accounts are numbered is significant improvements in prepaid debit cards themselves. Long the last resort of people who couldn’t obtain bank accounts or credit cards – the so-called “unbanked” – prepaid debit cards were layered with outrageous fees. Some prepaid cards are still very bad deals (especially those with celebrity names on them) but the influx of cards from large financial institutions like American Express have vastly improved the consumer friendliness of these products. In fact, earlier this month the Pew Charitable Trusts released a study that found that many prepaid cards are more affordable than checking accounts.

    Besides the fact that checking accounts can no longer be counted on to be free, prepaid cards increasingly offer other features consumers find attractive. Since you can only spend money that’s already in a prepaid account, it’s impossible to either bust your budget or incur hefty overdraft charges. According to Shane Tripcony of BestPrepaidDebitCards.com, "The most common statement I get from current prepaid cardholders is their appreciation for that fact that they no longer get hit by overdraft fees with their card. It keeps their spending in check and does not allow for unplanned-for expenses. Some prepaid debit cards allow users to tap into a fee-free nationwide ATM network and others permit cardholders to write checks. "The bill paying and check writing capabilities without the threat of overdraft charges is what really helps prepaid cardholders," said Tripcony.

    Wireless provider T-Mobile can see the writing on the wall for checking accounts. In January the communications company jumped into financial services with the launch of Mobile Money a combination prepaid debit card, money management app and nationwide ATM network. For T-Mobile customers (non-customers can be subject to more fees), Mobile Money can be a basically free replacement for a no longer free checking account. And in a way, isn’t it appropriate that a cell phone company is helping to hasten the demise of a dinosaur every bit as obsolete as a landline?

  • 10 Teaching Kids About Money Truths

    by Christy Ross 
    1. Start early in life and modify to be age appropriate. Get young children (ages 3-6) involved in the grocery shopping and have them choose which items to buy based on a pre-set amount. As they get older (ages 7-13), concepts such as comparison shopping, growing your money through saving and investing, and borrowing money become important.

    2. Walk your talk. Impulsive buying and racking up credit card debt are behaviors that don’t go unnoticed by your children. Don’t shy away from explaining to your kids where all that money in a paycheck goes. It’s invaluable for them to learn that just because something looks good, it doesn’t mean you buy it.

    3. Don’t underestimate the allowance. Once your child starts school, introducing an allowance is a good idea. Treat their allowance as if it were their own paycheck and set aside 20-30% to savings. As they get older, you can start to allocate a portion of their allowance to pay for something that they really enjoy. They’ll learn about budgeting, savings and also comparison-shopping to find the best deal.

    4. Give them the power of earning money on their own. In addition to an allowance, encourage your child to earn money through projects or help them to brainstorm ways to make money. Once they start to earn money through their own hard work and effort, their interest in learning about money management also increases.

    5. Get your kids involved in budgeting. It’s helpful to include your children in planning for large family expenditures such as vacations and summer camps. How you came up with the budget number is just as important as what it is, especially if it was derived from a monthly savings that you’ve set aside each month.

    6. Encourage them to participate in saving or investing their money. It’s never too early to open a savings account so they can learn the concept of compound interest. Use allowance and earned money as a way to show how their income can be allocated to different buckets: short term spending (candy at the movie), long term savings (new mountain bike), and investment for their future.

    7. Set financial goals to teach savings and borrowing. Rather than buying the latest product automatically, show your child how to save for these items. Lend them money at a simple interest rate so they learn the concept of time value of money.

    8. Make it a game. Every kid, no matter the age, likes the challenge of a game. Make it a family game night and bring out the Monopoly or Life board games. There are computer games that teach kids the basics of running a business such as Zoo Tycoon and Sim Coaster.

    9. Start using online financial tools now. If your child uses a checking or credit card account, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t also track their spending and savings using the latest tools. New services like MoneyStream uses a simple calendar based system to show where money is going and analyzes past spending to predict future inflows and outflows. If your child is in college you can easily monitor the checking balance and know when to make a transfer (or give them a refresher course on managing their money).

    10. Check out more resources for teaching kids. There are many resources that provide guidance for teaching kids good money management skills. Moneyasyougrow.org, Warren Buffet’s SMCKids.com (Secret Millionaire’s Club), and Independent Means (www.independentmeans.com/) are just a few to check out.

    Christy Ross, the Chief Marketing Officer of MoneyStream and a mother of 3 boys, has built a long career in the financial industry. When she’s not balancing the demands of 3 busy boys (ages 6, 10, and 13), she’s helping financial technology start-ups grow. While sometimes missing the mark on walking the talk (don’t we all), she strives to help her kids become good stewards of their money and ultimately their life.

    MoneyStream is a new online service that puts people in control of their money today so they can have the luxury of planning for their tomorrows. MoneyStream is the only free online service that provides insights into a customer’s money, gives them the control levers to set, and then does the work for them, on their behalf. The service does this by linking to all bank accounts, credit card account, and biller accounts to provide the necessary data (statements, bill payment details, payment instructions, history) and then presents this in an easy to user calendar interface that allows customers to actively see where their money went, where it’s going tomorrow, and set when they want to be notified about it. MoneyStream’s smart technology quickly learns what the customer needs and acts accordingly. It’s like putting your money on “auto-pilot” making managing the day-to-day easier and enjoyable. www.moneystream.com/

  • Nine Wacky Deductions You Never Knew Existed

    by Joseph Raspolich

    When tax season rolls around, are you the type of person who leaves no stone unturned until every possible deduction is itemized? If you answered yes, then congratulations, you’re part of the greater majority. In these unstable economic times, it would be difficult to find anyone not willing to go the extra mile for a buck. We’ve scoured the seas (literally) in search of unknown federal tax deductions. While some of them sound outlandish, we guarantee that they’re all legitimate, so hold onto your tax returns because these aren’t your run of the mill tax breaks!

    A Whale Sized Deduction

    Thanks to an Alaskan whaling captain, whalers can deduct up to $10,000 of ship repairs and expenses. The catch is you must be of Native American descent in order to qualify because of nationwide hunting regulations.

    Kidnapped Kids

    If you’re the parent of a kidnapped child, by law you can claim them as dependents until they’re 18. Prior to this amendment, you had to stop claiming the child at the time of the kidnapping.

    Music Lessons for All

    In 1962, a provision was added to tax law which permits the deduction of clarinet lessons because an orthodontist argued that it can help a child’s overbite and therefore has a "medical purpose." That’s one way to fix a smile!

    Quit Smoking

    This is by far one of the most useful deductions. Any programs, patches, or cigarette cessation tools can be written-off. If that’s not a good enough reason to ditch the cigs, we don’t know what is.

    Furry Friends are Covered

    Most Americans already know that they can deduct moving expenses if it pertains to job relocation, but they neglect to include their four-legged friends. The costs associated with moving your pet can also be included in that write-off.

    Guard Dog on Duty

    Any business which uses an animal as a means of security can deduct a portion of the pet related expenses.

    The Risk is Worth the Gain

    Gambling pays big if you’re a foreign national. Winnings are exempt from the 30% withholding tax which Americans are required to pay. Lawrence Levy, Founder and CEO of Levy & Associates says, “A professional tax accountant will know the most about the different tax laws and possible deductions.” If possible, consult a tax account who knows the ins and outs of tax code.

    Swim into Savings

    That swimming pool you’ve always dreamed of may become a reality with a little help from the doctor. The cost of a home swimming pool may qualify as a tax deduction if you’ve got a medical condition requiring a swimming regimen. Of course, this must be confirmed by a board certified practitioner.

    Medical Massages

    Similar to the swimming pool deduction, you can itemize a massage if it’s deemed “medically necessary” by a doctor. Pretty much any expense directly related to combating obesity can be written off if a doctor has told you that your health is in jeopardy. In fact, the IRS ruled in 2002 that obesity was a medical disease, and as a result, bariatric surgery was added as a medical expense

    The official IRS website has a full list of credits and deductions you may be eligible for. When in doubt, however, consult a professional tax agency with the depth of knowledge to complete your taxes accurately.

  • Is Online Education the Best Option?

    by Sarah Daren

    When people think of a college education, more often than not, a campus and classes at lecture halls come to mind. However, with how regular a part of our daily lives the internet has become, new opportunities are arising for students who may be looking for something other than the traditional brick and mortar college experience. An online education can provide students with a different experience and the same credentials for, ultimately, a lower cost, but it might not be for everybody. At the end of the day, it is up to the student to decide what type of education they wish to pursue, but both types of learning have their merits.

    The Perks of an Online Education

    To begin, an online education is a lot better for students who will need the room for flexibility and personal convenience. The typical class format of pursuing a degree online allows the student to integrate other responsibilities into their day. This allows them the opportunity to focus on other things, such as employment, travel, family, significant others, hobbies, and other obligations that are important to them.

    The beauty of most online courses is that the classroom can be wherever the student wants it to be. It can be at a local cafe or right in the comfort of their own home, a library or a park, anywhere where the internet is available for their convenience. Classes at physical locations, on the other hand, require the student to put aside their other obligations to work their schedules around a pre-existing itinerary.

    Additionally, an online education provides a more focused feeling of learning for the individual. Instead of feeling as though you are just a face in a crowd at an enormous lecture hall, you will have direct access with your professor via messaging and emailing options that are directly related to the program. Some students may be uncomfortable with public speaking, some students may have difficulties with the transit to the classroom. No matter what the exact situation, an online classroom can help reduce the inhibitions that real life can throw towards students.

    The Perks of a Traditional Classroom Education

    The most immediate advantage that comes to mind is learned familiarity. From preschool to high school, students are already accustomed to working with other individuals and completing assignments in front of a desk. For these students, it is the prospect of an online education that can seem to be out of their comfort zone, as they are already used to the traditional format of learning. For students who have no trouble managing their personal schedules, then the rigidity of a classroom schedule can help them manage their time more effectively, while integrating their college development into their daily working routine.

    For some students, the comfort of having a conversation and debate in a traditional environment is right for them. The face to face contact with the right instructor can turn the classroom into a living stage of discussion and intellectual feedback. Such environments can allow for immediate expression and opinions between peers in a moderated and educationally driven location. Such conversations can help students measure themselves. Their participation in discussions and debates can be a direct indicator of whether or not they are heading in the right direction with their personal learning process.

    Finding Out Which is Right For You

    For the average student who does not want to deal with the rising tuition costs, an online education may be preferable. Sometimes the college experience is what can compel students to attend a university, but otherwise, the price can be very steep. Because online courses do not have physical amenities for students to make use of, the cost is often much lower. This is just another advantage for busy students who want to propel their career while managing the other aspects of their lives at a comfortable, personalized pace.

    Sarah Daren is a writer who creates informative articles in relation to education and technology. In this article, she talks about the state of modern day education and discusses the various opportunities for higher learning. She aims to encourage further education through military history graduate programs.

  • How to Use Tax Credits for Child Care Expenses

    by Stephanie Breedlove

    Families that hire someone to care for their children are understandably focused on finding the perfect person. So when the time comes to address payroll and employer taxes, it's easy to become overwhelmed.

    But the truth is that a little work up front is worth it because most families will qualify for the Tax Credit for Child or Dependent Care, which can offset a significant portion of their household employer payroll taxes.

    About the Tax Credit

    The Tax Credit for Child or Dependent Care is available to families if they have child or dependent care-related expenses. The wages paid to a nanny or personal attendant qualify because their services are for the well-being and protection of the family's dependent (under age 13). Other qualifying expenses include:

    • Taxes paid on the nanny or personal attendant's wages;
    • Fees paid to find a caregiver for the child or dependent;
    • Dues paid to a daycare facility;
    • Tuition for a day camp (overnight camps are excluded).

    There are no income restrictions for claiming the Tax Credit for Child or Dependent Care. Families just have to meet the work-related test – meaning care is needed for their child or dependent because both spouses work, are looking for work or are full-time students.

    How to Claim the Credit and What to Expect

    Families claim the Tax Credit for Child and Dependent Care by filing IRS Form 2441 with their personal federal income tax return. The form asks for the care-related expenses the family incurred for the year and calculates the tax savings based on a percentage determined by the family's income level.

    The expense limit is $3,000 for one dependent or $6,000 for two or more dependents. Because most families will receive a 20% tax credit on their care-related expenses, they can expect to see an annual savings of up to $600 if they have one child and $1,200 if they have two or more children.

    A Real-Life Example

    The Jones family lives in Texas and hires a nanny to take care of their 5-year-old twin daughters. They pay their nanny $28,000, withhold the appropriate taxes throughout the year and pay the subsequent employer taxes. Their cost as a household employer is the following:

    Gross Wages for the Nanny: $28,000
    Social Security Taxes: $1,736
    Medicare Taxes: $406
    Unemployment Insurance Taxes: $285
    Total Employer Taxes: $2,427
    Total Cost (before tax breaks): $30,427

    But because the Jones' both work full-time and their daughters are under 13 years of age, they qualify for the Tax Credit for Child and Dependent Care. Given their income level, the Jones' can receive a 20% credit on $6,000 of child care expenses. This credits $1,200 back to the Jones', making their employer costs shrink to $1,227 or nearly half of what they would have paid without the tax credit!

    As you can see, families should look at the Tax Credit for Child and Dependent Care as a reward for the hard work they put into successfully managing the household payroll and tax process. And most parents would agree, having an extra $600 to $1,200 during tax season can certainly be put toward the food, clothes and toys their kids want and need.

    Stephanie Breedlove is the VP of Care.com Homepay, where she helps families to simplify and understand their responsibilities as employers of caregivers or household workers. She is one of the country's leading experts on household employment tax and labor law. When she isn't busy keeping up with her two grown boys, Stephanie enjoys spending time outdoors in and around the Austin area hiking, biking and fishing.

  • Upcycled on a Dime: How to Make a Stylish Apron and a Chalk & Memo Board from Old Curtains

    by Kristin Hackler

    I'll bet that somewhere in the back of your linen closet is an old curtain or two that will likely never see a curtain rod again. They're most likely the big florals, ruffled edges and/or farmyard kitsch of old or inherited country curtains, and the only reason they haven't been thrown out yet is because there has to be something you can do with them, right?

    Well, if you're short on chic kitchen wear, then that old curtain can become a stylishly cute apron in almost no time. All you need are:

    • Curtain fabric
    • Scissors
    • Pins
    • Measuring tape
    • Needle and thread or sewing machine

    Step 1: Cut the cloth

    Start by cutting two rectangles of fabric, 18"w x 12"h for the bottom panel and 9.5"w x 10"h for the top panel. For this project I used an old curtain with a frilled edge so I could keep the frill across the bottom of the apron. If you don't have a frilled curtain, you can always cut some extra fabric later and stitch it on.

    I was very lucky with this curtain as I still had the old stay ribbons, which I repurposed as the waist and neck ties. If you don't have stays, cut a length of curtain about 7'w x 7"h, fold the fabric in half and fold the very top edges of the raw side down to create a clean edge and hem in place. Do the same for the neck tie, cutting a length of about 2'w x 7"h for a neck loop or two lengths of 1.5'w each for a neck tie.

    Lastly, I cut a bit of extra ruffle, about twice the width of the top panel, and folded it in a few places to create another ruffle across the top panel.

    Step 2: Pin hem and pin together

    Next, take your panels and pin the edges down to create a clean edge. Then arrange the panels with the waist ribbon placed centrally above the bottom panel and the top panel attached to the waist ribbon above that. Attach the neck loop or ties and then spread the apron out to make sure everything looks right.

    Step 3: Stitch and wear

    Once you have everything in place, stitch the pinned hems either with a quick run through the sewing machine or with needle and thread. You don't need any complicated stitches on this project; just a simple, single stitch will work fine.

    That's it! With only a couple hours effort and a few household tools you've gone from drab country curtains to useful kitchen chic.

    Chalk and French Memo Board

    If you still have some fabric left over, here's another easy project that can also help with your kitchen organization.

    For this project, you'll need:

    • An old picture frame with a particle board backing
    • Chalkboard paint
    • Foam board
    • Fabric
    • Ribbon
    • Tape
    • Assorted buttons
    • Needle and thread
    • Rubber cement and super glue

    Step 1: Chalkboard paint

    If you haven't already discovered the magic of chalkboard paint, this project will get you hooked. With just a couple applications you can turn just about anything into an instant chalkboard. In this case, I covered this "stunning" $1 thrift store picture with two hearty coats of chalkboard spray paint, giving the paint about two hours to dry between coats.

    Step 2: Create memo board

    While your chalkboard is drying, measure your picture frame and cut a piece of foam board the same length and twice the width of the picture, making sure your measurements are for the picture when it's in the frame so it will fit.

    Cut a rectangle of fabric for the foam board, being sure to leave about one inch of extra fabric on each side. Then coat one side of the foam board in rubber cement and attach the fabric. Fold the extra fabric over the back of the board to give it clean edges.

    NOTE: The back doesn't have to look pretty as it will be attached to the chalkboard when done.

    For the ribbon, take one length and run it from one corner to the opposite corner and then do the same for the other side, creating a big "X". Add the remaining ribbon at parallel intervals wherever they look best to you, taping the ends to the back of the board.

    Next, stitch a button onto each of the main ribbon intersections, sewing through the back of the board to hold them in place.

    Lastly, cover the back of the memory board in crazy glue or wood glue and attach to the chalkboard.

    From creating clothing items to recovering tired furniture and fabrics, old curtains can be brought back to life with nothing more than a little creativity and a stitch or two. What are some ways you've found to upcycle old curtains?

    Kristin Hackler writes for eBay.com on DIY home decoration, parenting and other family related topics. Kristin is a children's book author, journalist and mother of a one year old son. Find Kristin on Google Plus.

  • How to Earn Extra Cash by Participating in Paid Survey Panels

    by Satrap, BlogStash.com

    In the current tough economy, it may be prudent to look out for extra income avenues to compliment your daytime job. In that respect, the web definitely has a lot to offer. You can, for example, undertake freelancing work from various job portals or become an efficient seller of used stuff at eBay.

    What I'm going to offer you today is yet another option: getting supplementary income from those paid online survey panels.

    In the following, I will touch on a broad range of related issues, from the working model of paid survey panels to potential income waiting for you. You will learn also if certain panels are legit or not.

    How Does the Paid Survey Business Model Work?

    Surveys and opinion poll are not new. As explained in this article, you can trace its roots all the way back to 1970. But, I always feel that one has to gain a reasonable understanding on the working of any online moneymaking scheme before he or she can start to have faith in that particular model. One way to put this across effectively and efficiently is as follows:

    “The corporate world is always on the lookout for public feedback. It could be with regards to a new product launch or a fresh advertising campaign. From the cost point of view, it makes sense for them to get a third party company to gather these inputs, and the paid survey panels would be handy in this case.”

    The bottom line is that big businesses will not hesitate to pay huge amounts of money to survey panels for them to carry a comprehensive marketing research in order for them to get critical insight of the market.

    Essentially, the survey panels enjoy good compensation from these businesses. After taking into account on expenses related to administration and payroll, there is still a decent amount left to pay the participants of the corresponding surveys. While there is no specific guideline on how much could be set aside after all the deductions, you can generally assume that the payout amount can go anywhere from 10% to 50% of payment received from these corporations.

    After successful registration, members will start to receive invitations to participate and make money from these surveys.

    I hope the above explanation helps to clarify that it is a completely legitimate business. It provides a viable option for all parties involved. The big corporations get their market research done, the survey panels get to retain a decent profit from the outsourced work, and there is still some leftover amount to pay out to surveys participants.

    How to Find Legitimate Paid Survey Panels?

    While the above concludes the legitimacy of the working model employed by paid survey businesses, it does not mean that you should dive in without care. There should be sites that you want to avoid. Even though the general working model is completely legit, there is no stopping some unethical businesses trying to cut corners in order to fully capitalize on their positions. Thankfully, there are a few ways for you to quickly gauge if a certain survey panel is trustworthy or not.

    Don't pick any survey panel which demands upfront payment from you before any actual work is done. However, this is not to suggest that such action represents a scam. It just raises questions about the conduct of that survey panel, and my motto is: if in doubt, never venture further. There is a completely reasonable argument behind this decision. Since we are into this paid survey panel stuff to get extra income, naturally we want to avoid situations that go the other way round. By simply taking out survey panels that want your money first, you will naturally mitigate your risk of being sucked of more money than what you can make.

    Ratings and reviews are two good places to check. It should be easy for you to check on such information on the web. Unless you are sure that both ratings and reviews are entirely credible and favorable, never rush in to sign up with any new survey panel. The feedbacks left behind by past and present users reflect a more accurate indication of their reputation, rather than what is advertised on their webpage.

    With the two guidelines above, you can be sure to stay clear of any possible scam and become inadvertent prey of fraudulent practices.

    What Kind of Earnings Can You Expect from Paid Survey Panels?

    There is no one single survey panel that can guarantee its members full-time income, so it serves as a complimentary income source rather than a main income source. However, if you are able to maintain your discipline and stay focused, getting an extra $200-$300 a month is really not that tough to achieve.

    Ultimately, your income level is going to be dependent on the number of survey sites you register and the strategy you employ. It will be difficult to count on just one survey panel to sustain a regular payment of $200-$300 monthly. But if you continue to be on the lookout for new legitimate survey panels to sign up for, and make a habit of finishing the surveys in the specified time frame, you will get to that income level, or even more, on regular basis.

    Let me say this again, I would never take any survey panel as a replacement to my current major income source. But if you think that you can use that extra income to invest in a new hi-fi set or overseas holidays, then the online paid survey panel is a good place to go to!

    Satrap is the founder of BlogStash.com, a personal finance blog created for everyday folks. He also writes at SurveySatrap, a paid surveys review site where he shares tips on how to earn extra money with online market research studies.

  • 4 Ways to Save and Make Money This Summer

    by Shaye

    There is nothing more exciting than taking an awesome summer vacation with your family. You have worked many long hours for months upon months and now you are looking to get away from the hassles of your job and spend some quality time with your loved ones. However, you are looking for some creative ways to save and make some extra money this summer. You can always use extra spending cash while away from home. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a hard-working mother in the corporate workforce; check out these four unique ways of how to save and make extra money this summer.

    Dog Boarding

    If you are an avid animal lover and enjoy dogs, consider providing dog boarding services. Watching someone's dog while they are away from home is a viable option to make cash for a variety of reasons. Many people rather have their neighbors, friends and relatives watch their pets while they are on vacation versus spending hundreds of dollars to take their pet to kennel. Also, people want their pets to have a personal experience versus being locked up in some cage at a kennel. You'll get to play with someone's dog while providing a happy, loving and comfortable environment for someone's pet while they are traveling!

    Turn Off Your Air Conditioner

    If you live in the middle of the Mojave Desert or right off the coast of Miami, this may not be a viable option. However, for the average person, you should consider turning off your air conditioner when you are not home. Energy bills sky rocket during the summer months. Air conditioners have to work harder to keep your home cool during hot temperatures. If you are not home, you are simply wasting energy and money. Although you might come to a humid and hot home, it doesn't take long for most air conditioners to cool down your home. Also, try leaving some windows open or invest in buying portable fans to keep your home cool.

    Exercise Outdoors

    Everyone loves working out at a nice gym or fitness facility. However, during the summer, the weather is right to exercise outdoors. If you are spending several dollars a month on a gym membership or even indoor personal training services, consider freezing your account and going outdoors. Not only will you burn more calories, but also you will save a tremendous amount of money.

    Sell Old Stuff

    Summer is an awesome time to do some serious house cleaning. Go through your closets, dressers and other parts of your home to get rid of stuff you simply don't need anymore. Whether its older clothing, shoes, toys or books, there is a market for these items. Consider selling these items through the classifieds section of a local newspaper or host a garage sale.

    There are so many ways to make and save money this summer. Just be creative and be willing to try new things that you never thought of before!

    Shaye is a active single mom that has a desire for family, budgeting, healthy living, fitness, and travel! She enjoys finding new ways to save and budget all while staying fit and healthy. She has a beautiful son and one eccentric dog, but wouldn’t have it any other way. Follow her blog at http://simplyshaye.wordpress.com/.

  • Repurposed Planters

    by Jennifer Lutz

    Spring is the perfect time to clear out your garage and shed. But before you toss out your old junk, make sure you can't repurpose it first!

    As you clean out the garage, you may come across items that you just can't seem to let go of. Instead of letting them gather dust in a corner, try to find a better use for them. These old items often turn out to be perfect containers for plants. Here are some items typically found in a garage that can be repurposed as planters:

    Old Tins and Pails

    Perhaps you are a collector of vintage tin cans or you just have trouble throwing away those tin containers with adorable labels. If you can't put them on display in your home, show them off in your garden or on your windowsill as planters.

    Eclectic Kitchen by Philadelphia Media And Blogs Colleen Steixner

    Old pails are also great for planters! And don't worry if they look worn. Galvanized and rusty buckets add a fun vintage touch. Water cans, jugs and teakettles are also wonderful options. Perhaps you've been given an old teakettle as a family heirloom. Of course, you don't want to toss it (too much nostalgia), but you have no idea what to do with it. A planter is both a useful and lovely way to maintain a piece of family history, without cluttering up the garage.

    Traditional Dining Room by Sydney Media And Blogs A Beach Cottage

    Old Chairs

    Do you have any old chairs that you were hoping to fix, but haven't gotten around to? Don't throw them out quite yet! A nice chair can be used in your garden for two different types of plants. If the seat is already worn out, remove it completely and put a pot or some other repurposed plant box in place of the worn out seat to create a chair planter. For the rustic look of a secret garden, use the chair in place of a trellis for your flowering vines. Before long, you'll have a piece of living décor in your garden.


    Did you dig up that old bike you never got fixed? If fixing it is no longer worthwhile, park your old bicycle in the garden for a whimsical planter. Simply replace the seat with a basket and let it hold your plants. The rust on the bike will only add to its charm. Of course, secure the bike in place with its kickstand to make sure it doesn't roll off with your potted plant!

    Wheel Barrows

    What about the rusted old wheelbarrow that you forgot out in the rain one too many times? No need to scrap it! This is another great option for planting. Breathe new life into your old wheelbarrows by planting beautiful flowers or useful plants in them. Better yet, they are easy to move around your garden to catch more sunlight or simply to change the look of the garden.

    Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  shrinkin'violet 

    Baskets and Boxes

    Everyone loves receiving a gift basket, but what do you do with all the baskets you've collected? Truly versatile, baskets are not only welcoming, but they are also made of tough material that can outlast and outshine most plastic planters. The weave pattern on a basket serves double duty as a style statement and a drainage solution, so you don't have to worry about root rot from overwatering. If you have boxes instead of baskets, you can just drill a few holes on the side and bottom to allow excess water to escape.

    Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  cwwycoff1 


    Are you an avid cook who's collected too many cooking tools? Perhaps you have an extra colander given as a gift that you haven't used for a long time. You can use the colander as a planter, too! You can paint it a fun color or leave it as it is since it's easy on the eyes anyway.

    Artificial Christmas Tree

    If you're considering switching out your old artificial Christmas tree for a new one this year, keep in mind that the tree's foliage is still perfect for a variety of craft projects, even a planter! To repurpose your tree, simply snip the branch tips off, and place them in any of the containers mentioned above to create a planter arrangement. The branches will add a fun height and textural difference for an interesting addition to your outdoor décor.


    With a little bit of creativity, you can give your old treasures new life as planters that are unique to you and your home. Happy repurposing!

    Jennifer Lutz blogs about home décor for ChristmasTreeMarket.com. They sell artificial christmas trees and other holiday products.

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