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Bragging Bargain Hunter: Discount Store Edition

If you're anything like me, you love shopping but don't want to break the bank. I'm sure I've wasted the equivalent of time-as-money hunting for bargains, but something about the thrill of finding an expensive item for less really delights me. Of course, I'll spend money on things I really want, or items I need to last, but when possible, I can't resist a deal. My friends are always amazed by the scores I find at places like Ross, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx. Like I tell them, it's all about what you're looking for. I'd never expect to find a multi-year winter coat or my favorite skincare products, but I know exactly where to splurge and where to use these savings-havens. Ready to learn my secrets? 1. Planters, pots, and garden tools Everyone is obsessed with succulents and indoor plants these days, but have you looked at the price tags they fetch in boutiques? I've seen tiny terrariums for $30-$50! Instead of shelling out your hard earned pennies to hipsters, comb the garden shelves at discount stores--and don't neglect the kitchen aisle! I've found beautiful glass serving dishes perfectly suited for my miniature gardens, priced at $2-$5. Add in a couple of tillandsia from a garden shop, and you'll still spend a tenth of what the cool kids charge. I've scored amazing pottery for my outdoor plants for a fraction of what you'll pay at garden shops. I consistently see name brand spades, shovels, rakes, and trowels for a couple bucks, and have even found leather gardening gloves for a quarter of what you'll pay elsewhere. You can even find adorable garden accessories, like wind chimes, yard stakes, outdoor twinkle lights, patio furniture, and grill accessories. In fact, last summer I gave myself a budget of $400 to re-do my…
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A primer on Social Security spousal benefits

Robert Powell, Special for USA TODAY 10:00 a.m. ET Dec. 9, 2016 Social Security spousal benefits are subject to age restrictions.(Photo: iStockphoto)Q: I am 69, and I started drawing my Social Security benefits when I was 66. My husband, who is 62, is still working. My question: Can he draw on my Social Security benefits (receiving 50%) until he is 66? Can we get the forms on the Internet? He works the third shift and asked if I could help him since Social Security offices are not open at night. — Carolyn Farlow, RenoA: Bad news times three.First, if your husband takes spousal Social Security at 62, he doesn’t get 50% of your payment, he only gets 35%, because of early filing, says Andy Landis, author of Social Security: The Inside Story: An Expert Explains Your Rights and Benefits. “He would have to wait until 66 to start the Social Security to get the full 50% payment,” Landis says.Read Retirement Planner: Benefits For You As A Spouse[1], under “How much will I receive?”Second, Landis says if your husband files before 66 he has to file for both the spousal and his own Social Security. “That means there would be a permanent reduction in both kinds of payments,” he says.And third, since your husband is under 66, his work can reduce his Social Security even further, says Landis. Learn more at How Work Affects Your Benefits[2].After all those cautions, your husband might still choose to file for Social Security, says Landis. If so, you can get started at Apply for Benefits[3]. Before you do, you might run your situation through a free adviser such as that found at the Financial Engines website[4].Says Landis: “Congratulations for planning ahead.”Robert Powell is editor of Retirement Weekly, contributes regularly to USA TODAY, The Wall Street…
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Why only 38 cars earned IIHS top safety pick status

CLOSE IIHS has released their list of top safety picks for 2017 models. Here are their selections in the categories of small, mid-size, SUV, minivan, and large pickup. The Toyota Prius earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick+ honors after a series of evaluations, including this crash test.(Photo: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)After years in which automakers had to add high-tech features to get top ratings in its survey, the insurance industry's safety arm is focusing on what many drivers will consider one of the lower-tech aspects of their cars — headlights.The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said Thursday that it had stiffened the criteria for its highest safety honors, the Top Safety Pick Plus label, toughening standards for headlight performance.As a consequence, only 38 models from the 2017 model year have achieved the top score, down from 79 of 2016 models, IIHS reports. The group tracks about 200 models."We've raised the bar," IIHS President Adrian Lund said in an interview. "Automakers have not focused enough attention on whether or not headlamps are aimed such that they light up the road for the driver ahead of them."Interestingly, some luxury vehicles come with fancy headlights that shift with the curvature of the road in an effort to provide better illumination, but they don't always work better than the plain old-fashioned kind, Lund said. Many headlights are failing to provide adequate nighttime visibility or causing too much glare.AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext Slide[1][2]"Some lights with the newer technology are not doing as good of a job as older headlights," Lund said.For 2017, Toyota and its luxury brand Lexus led all manufacturers with nine models earning the Top Safety Pick Plus designation. It includes Corolla, Prius and Camry cars, the RAV4 crossover and the Lexus NX and RX sport-utility vehicles.Honda and…
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This device may allow a thief to steal your car

A keyless device acquired by the National Insurance Crime Bureau gained entry to, started and drove more than half of 35 vehicles in a test.(Photo: National Insurance Crime Bureau)A device that lets thieves steal cars that use key fobs has been identified by a national watchdog group.The device, which allows a person to open car doors, start vehicles and drive them away suggests the auto industry is entering a perilous new frontier in which tech-savvy criminals can bypass the keyless theft-prevention countermeasures installed on certain recent models.The National Insurance Crime Bureau said it had purchased the device "via a third-party security expert from an overseas company" that developed it "to provide manufacturers and other anti-theft organizations the ability to test the vulnerability of various vehicles' systems."The so-called Relay Attack device demonstrates how thieves in certain instances have recently stolen vehicles that were supposed to be extremely difficult to swipe. The boxy device, about the size of a smartphone, is used to capture a signal from a nearby key fob before using the signal to gain entry illegally.NICB said it tested the device on used cars at participating dealerships, an auto auction, employee vehicles and other cars.In 19 of its 35 tests, the device opened the vehicle. In 18 of those 19 entries, it was also able to start the vehicle and drive away.In other words, more than 50% of the time the device allowed the would-be perpetrator to steal the vehicle.“We’ve now seen for ourselves that these devices work,” NICB CEO Joe Wehrle said in a statement. "Maybe they don’t work on all makes and models, but certainly on enough that car thieves can target and steal them with relative ease. And the scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner."NICB believes thieves are using several…
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Cable TV bill too high? Here's how you can lower it

CLOSE Internet users can now stream live TV using DirecTV Now. The streaming service offers an extensive channel list cheaper than most cable providers. USA TODAY NETWORK The cost of cable television can be prohibitive for many consumers.(Photo: Getty Images)Nobody likes their cable company. And nobody likes seeing the seemingly constant increases in their cable bills.According to a September report from the Leichtman Research Group the average bill for cable television is $103.10 per month, a 4% increase from last year. And that's just for TV, Internet is not included even though many bundle them together.So what can you do as a consumer about these rising costs? Here are some tips on getting your TV and Internet bills down.Buy your own modemJust as you need a cable box to watch TV, you need a modem to connect to the Internet. Unlike the cable box, which is still hard to replace, you can easily replace your modem.Many of the larger providers including Comcast, Verizon FiOS, Time Warner Cable and Cox charge you an additional $10 per month to use their modem. Others like Optimum charge about $5.With the exception of Verizon, most let you buy your own third-party modem and there are a variety of options on sale at Amazon and others that provide the same speed and service as your cable company-issued modem.When buying make sure to confirm with your operator that it works for your provider and is certified for the speeds you want to get. Most providers have a list of approved modems. Here's where you can find the page for some of the larger providers: Comcast/Xfinity[1], Time Warner Cable/Spectrum[2], Cox[3], and Cablevision/Optimum[4].Word of note: the cable companies can help troubleshoot connection issues but if your modem breaks they won't replace it the way they would with their…
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Where does all your money go? Your paycheck explained

CLOSE The number of tax exemptions you claim on your W-4 form determines how much federal tax the government will take out of each paycheck and may effect whether you overpay taxes and get a refund. USA TODAY Take a good look at your paycheck to see where your money is going.(Photo: iStockphoto)Payday! Getting your paycheck is exciting, but it can also be a bit disappointing once you realize how much money you’re actually taking home. Why aren’t you making as much as you expected? Your paycheck stub has all the answers.Though not all paychecks are alike, there are elements that all employers must include. Let’s break it down:Gross Pay vs. Net PayLet’s say you are making $35,000 a year and you are paid every two weeks — that means you should be taking home $1,346.15 each pay period. But unfortunately, this isn’t the case. $1,346.15 is your gross pay, or the total amount you’ve earned before everything is taken out of your check. Then you are left with your net pay, which is the total amount of money you get to take home.What accounts for the difference between your gross pay and net pay? A ton of deductions and withholdings.Federal Income TaxesWhen you were first hired, you filled out a W-4 form and claimed the number of tax exemptions you have. This amount tells the federal government how much money to take out of each paycheck to cover your taxes. The more allowances you take the less federal income tax the government will take out of your paycheck.When it comes time to filing your taxes at the end of each year, the amount already taken out will go towards the total you owe. If too much money is withheld from your paycheck, you receive a refund after you file…
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