birthday
This year, I spoiled myself with the following treats the week of my birthday:

  • a Starbucks caramel machiatto
  • a Jamba Juice smoothie
  • a free entree at a local Italian restaurant

Although I certainly enjoyed the treats, the best part was that they were completely free. I used to avoid signing up for reward or loyalty memberships because I don’t shop enough to ‘earn’ cash back, discounts, or freebies. The difference with birthdays is that you don’t have to earn anything — you just have to be born! After the treats I’ve enjoyed for free the last few years, I’m convinced that free-to-join rewards clubs are completely worth the hassle of scrolling through a few more pieces of junk email.
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lake
We here at MoneyNing.com recommend low cost index funds for the individual investor. Sometimes we write out a good argument, and sometimes we get sloppy and simply state it as fact. This article illustrates what happened with one of our reader’s investment portfolio so you can judge for yourselves whether low cost index funds is for you.

MoneyNing,

Like you, I am in the west coast and when I get to the office, the US stock market already opened. Sometimes I check the performance of my stocks, and other times I do not (actually, I check it all the time). When I did check it this morning, I noticed that the money in my taxable account went down by 12%. I looked into the details and realized what happened. One of my stocks Wavecom (WVCM) just reported earnings and the stock went down 20%. Since I had a ton of money in this stock, I was hurt bad. Really bad. Panicking, I sold WVCM along with Apple (AAPL) because I was afraid Apple was going to report bad earnings too. I’m really pissed off right now because I checked after hours and Apple is up more than 10% since I sold it. I realized I was being dumb and really want to see if you can recommend some low cost index funds for me to own since I am clearly not cut out for stock picking.

Regards,
MoneyNing Reader

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free stuff
Getting free stuff from companies is always a huge perk, and I am not talking about a pair of free slippers for signing up with a new bank. I am talking about getting free food products, merchandise, and books from companies in exchange for a shout out or review.

Over the years, I have received over $1,000 in free groceries, books, website subscriptions, merchandise and more. Here are a few of my tips.

1. Be an Active Reviewer

Don’t expect to be asked to review a product if you do not have a healthy list of reviews. I have built up over 100 reviews on Amazon over the past few years. Before that, I worked as a book reviewer for a blog. Take a recent look at your purchases, especially Amazon purchases, and review as many as you can. Once you’ve built a reputation of being a good reviewer, then offers will start coming your way.
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federal reserve
For the first time years, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in December 2015. The interest rate hike wasn’t very big, and rates remain near historic lows. However, this move is considered the first interest rate hike in a series of interest rate hikes. While the Fed will likely take a long-term approach and raise rates somewhat gradually, the reality is that we are looking at a situation where higher interest rates will take effect soon.

Are you ready?

Higher Interest Rates = More Expensive Money

I’ve taken advantage of low interest rates in the last few years. I financed my car at 1.9%, and instead of paying it off, I’ve been investing the money I would have used — and seeing better returns. The loan I got to pay for my move last summer was also low-rate.

As interest rates rise, though, loans will become more expensive. Variable rates on credit cards are likely to go up, so try to pay down debt before the rates rise if you’ve been carrying balances.

Some mortgages rates will be higher as well. Car loans, personal loans, and other debt will become more expensive as rates rise. Start looking to refinance your mortgage if you’re hoping to lock in good rates. As rates rise, you won’t find as many good deals for your money.
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emergency
Emergency funds are necessary. We all need to be prepared for those unplanned rainy days. Therefore, it’s not a question of whether or not we need an emergency fund, but how much of an emergency fund we really need.

When speaking with others about their emergency funds, I’ve encountered funds anywhere from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. There’s really no magical number. Everyone’s situation is different and hence, the optimal size of an emergency fund will vary from person to person. Here are some tips to help you decide how much to put into your emergency fund:
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apartment with view
Apartment complexes are notorious for raising their rates on a yearly basis (and they have every right – just look at your lease agreement). If you’re already dissatisfied with your living situation for one reason or another, getting out at the end of your lease – before they raise your rent – might be a good idea.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of shopping around (and moving) every time your lease is up. For instance, if you moved for a new job, you may have needed to snatch up the first place you could find, rather than shop around for the best price, neighborhood, and apartment conditions. This is why most people who move to a new area move after the first year – they’ve had time to figure out what they got, what they want, and what’s out there. On the other hand, moving every year is labor-intensive, stressful, and may not land you in a better position than you started, so it’s important to weight all the information carefully. Here are a few works of advice if you think you’re ready for a move.
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