$ave Me

  Friday, 28 Mar 2014 | 8:32 AM ET

Home improvements with the most bang for the buck

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

Cleaning up on spring home improvement projects requires more effort than many homeowners anticipate.

Remodeling tends to pick up as the weather improves, and this year is no exception. During the second half of 2013, the National Association of Home Builders' Remodeling Market Index, which measures how busy contractors are, was at its highest level since the spring of 2004.

When the report was released in late January, remodelers were expecting an even busier spring, with more saying they had been called to bid on a job or were already committed to a project.

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  Wednesday, 19 Mar 2014 | 10:21 AM ET

Homebuyers eager for spring real estate price thaw

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

Consumers planning to jump into the real estate market this spring will need to reassess pricing, whether they are looking to buy or sell.

The spring real estate market has been off to a slow start, but experts foresee plenty of pent-up demand that could heat up the market as warmer weather arrives. Earlier this month, a report from Zillow.com found that 10 percent of U.S. renters say they would like to buy a home within the next year.

In February, asking prices were 10.4 percent higher than a year earlier, according to Trulia.com. Even without a bidding war in play, buyers have less leverage to negotiate lower prices. That, combined with stricter borrowing limits from lenders, could mean buyers have a smaller budget than anticipated, said Michael Corbett, a real estate expert with Trulia.com. Before starting a house hunt, secure pre-approval from a lender. "Otherwise, you'll end up looking at houses that aren't in your price range, and putting in offers that won't fly with the bank," said Corbett, author of "Before You Buy."

(Read more: As rates edge higher, mortgage applications slip)

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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  Thursday, 13 Mar 2014 | 8:26 AM ET

Spring break escapes that avoid the college crowds

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

With yet another round of winter in the East, it can seem awfully tempting to escape somewhere warm.

One look at prices, though, and it's clear you're not the only one with that idea. Demand is up for spring airfares this year, with domestic tickets costing $442, or 15 percent more than last year, according to Travelocity.

(Read more: Warm weather travel spikes as ice, snow return)

Travelers looking to escape the cold and avoid the crowds of families and college students celebrating their spring breaks will need to take evasive maneuvers. Hopper.com suggests avoiding the weeks of March 16, April 6 and April 13. That's when more school breaks are scheduled—and prices are as much as 28 percent higher.

It also pays to be flexible on your destination. While many spring breakers are headed to Mexico and the Bahamas, Fly.com reports that some of the best airfare deals right now are to places that cater less to those crowds (and college budgets), including Turks & Caicos (as cheap as $337 from New York), and Maui ($422 from San Jose). For those who can take an extended break, fares to Milan run as cheap as $619--about $200 less than to other parts of Italy and other Mediterranean destinations.

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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  Wednesday, 5 Mar 2014 | 9:24 AM ET

How to avoid overpaying for daily-deal discounts

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

If you want to drive a race car, scale an ice wall or learn circus acrobatics, buying a daily-deal voucher is, increasingly, the way to go. But getting the advertised 50 percent off isn't that easy.

Consumers have gotten used to looking for daily-deal vouchers, which means businesses have had to get creative with the terms to make money off the offers. A 2012 Rice University study found that 61.5 percent of businesses running daily-deal promotions made a profit from doing so, up from 55.5 percent in 2011.

One of the big secrets: The discount might not really be so steep. Before buying in, check the business' site and social media feeds for new-customer deals, coupon codes and other regular promotions that could undercut or even beat the daily-deal price.

Package deals may include extras (such as a dinner and coat check with those sold-out show tickets) that push the price higher than another shopper might pay.

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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  Tuesday, 25 Feb 2014 | 8:00 AM ET

Why spring is the best time to buy a fall wardrobe

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

For shoppers watching the runways, spring may be one of the best times to hunt for fall fashion bargains.

Spring fashion weeks in New York, Milan and other cities provide a window into designers' lines for fall, and experts say many of the trends parallel what's in stores now as well as on the clearance rack.

"There's already lots of spring merchandise coming in," said Connie Wang, senior global editor for Refinery29.com. "All of [last] fall's merchandise should be on sale."

Take shearling coats, which pop up on the runways at Coach, Alexander Wang and Ralph Lauren, among other designers.

"It's the one coat every trendsetter will own this fall," said Jeanine Edwards, editorial director of SheFinds.com.

Sites such as TheOutnet and Gilt have on-trend takes for as much as 70 percent off, such as a $2,250 3.1 Phillip Lim jacket reduced to $899.

Other easy clearance buys, per Edwards' and Wang's observations: Large-patterned plaids, hemlines that fall between the knee and ankle, and deep green or icy blue hues.

But while shopping clearances can yield better prices on pieces you'll wear for several seasons, it can be financially risky.

"Buying six months ahead, you aren't entirely sure what trends are going to stick or not," Wang said. Splurge on a hot item that doesn't make the cut, and you may not get enough wear to justify even a lower cost.

"Don't spend a lot unless you're excited about how it looks on you," she said.

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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  Tuesday, 18 Feb 2014 | 9:52 AM ET

Finding hidden values on a luxury cruise

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

With no end to winter in sight, travelers itching for a vacation to warmer climates may find that now is an excellent time to book.

Cruise fans call January through March "wave season," and it's often when cruise lines offer their best deals of the year. CruiseCritic.com managing editor Colleen McDaniel said usually anything under $100 per night is a good deal. But savvy shoppers can often snag deals under $75 per night, and occasionally, under $50.

If you're interested in a luxury cruise line, however, getting the best values requires looking for something other than price cuts. Luxury lines' offers trend more toward free or discounted airfare, extra excursions, onboard credit or included gratuities, which can be just as valuable.

(Read more: Travel trend: 'Get me somewhere warm now')

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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  Tuesday, 11 Feb 2014 | 9:08 AM ET

Don't let love blind you to bad V-Day deals

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

If you're splurging on Valentine's Day gifts, be smart about it.

Americans will spend $36.8 billion on Valentine's Day this year, according to American Express. The average cost per person: $213.

(Read more: The $10K question; How to buy an engagement ring)

One of the most common splurges? A dozen red roses—and no, it's not your imagination. Demand can as much as double prices this time of year, with a high-end bouquet costing more than $100. Plus delivery, which carries a surcharge if you want the roses sent on the Valentine's Day itself.

With that in mind, price-check both local florists and Web networks such as 1800Flowers.com and FTD.com. Those big players may offer special discounts of up to 25 percent, but the local florists who fill those orders have their own deals, too. Cutting out the middleman could save you as much as 40 percent.

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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  Tuesday, 4 Feb 2014 | 8:53 AM ET

Unexpected costs come with a $5,000 puppy

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

Whether you visit the shelter or buy from a breeder, adding a new puppy to the family may be more expensive than you think.

If you're inspired by the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, be prepared for higher up-front costs. Even a quick review of breeders' sites turns up prices that range from several hundred dollars to $5,000-plus, depending on breed and lineage. That's on top of the general $1,314 to $1,843 in first-year costs for any dog, including start-up supplies and training as well as food, toys and vet care, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

This week's $ave Me video details a handful of less-anticipated costs that could pad your pet bills over time. One to budget for: doggy day care, or a dog walker. Working long hours may necessitate hiring someone to look in on your pup, and services can cost $20 or more a day. Over a year, that's roughly $5,000 if you're not taking advantage of lower-priced monthly rates or tracking down other discounts.

(Read more: 7 tech tools to make tax prep less frustrating)

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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  Tuesday, 28 Jan 2014 | 11:13 AM ET

Super Bowl: The rare time a $3K TV is a bargain

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

When is buying a new TV an investment?

Compared to the going rate for tickets to the Super Bowl, buying a set that makes you feel like you're there can seem like the better deal.

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  Tuesday, 21 Jan 2014 | 12:55 PM ET

A 5-letter word to reduce student debt

Posted By: Kelli B. Grant

April 15 may not be the most pressing financial deadline this spring.

For families with college-bound students, university deadlines are approaching fast for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (aka FAFSA) and other state and private college aid forms.

Each year, billions of dollars get left on the table because families don't apply for aid, or fill out forms incorrectly, Carolyn Berkowitz, president of the Capital One Foundation, told attendees at a mid-January financial aid panel in New York City.

Getting forms in correctly and on time can make a big difference in your out-of-pocket costs for college and how much your child may receive in loans. Average aid awarded during the 2012-13 school year was $13,640 per full-time student, including $7,270 in grants that do not need to be repaid, according to The College Board. During that same academic year, the average cost to attend a private four-year college was $40,261, including tuition, fees, room and board, and $18,171 for a public four-year college.

(Read more: Coming up with $500,000 for college)

One of parents' big mistakes is waiting to file financial aid forms until they have prepared their taxes. Many colleges set January or February deadlines for aid applications. Miss them, and there may be less or no aid by the time you submit, said panelist Adam Stevens, college advisor for scholarships and financial aid at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Tardiness could even affect acceptance. "Students don't realize that [meeting the deadline] is another way to show you're serious," he said.

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @Kelligrant and on Google.

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About $ave Me

  • Spending money is easy. Finding ways to make the most if it requires smart thinking and strategic planning. CNBC.com Consumer Reporter Kelli Grant brings her expertise to the table to help viewers get an edge when it comes to putting their cash to work and making good financial decisions.