Personal Finance $ave Me

  Thursday, 21 Nov 2013 | 10:19 AM ET

Giving to charity: How much do they really get?

Giving to charity doesn't always mean that those in need will be on the receiving end of that money.

The average American donates about $2,500 a year to charity, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Households earning more than $200,000 a year give much more—roughly $14,000. But if you don't give wisely, not much of that money may make it to those in need.

»Read more
  Tuesday, 5 Nov 2013 | 2:53 PM ET

Cutting the $3,076 bill for dining out

The cost of a night out may add up faster than you think.

In 2011, consumers spent an average $2,620 on food consumed away from home and $456 on alcoholic beverages, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those figures are up 4.6 and 10.7 percent, respectively, from 2010.

To put that in perspective, the total represents about 6 percent of the average $49,705 in annual expenditures. But it's more than people shell out in a year for apparel ($1,740), gas ($2,655) or education ($1,051), according to government figures—and still more than you really need to shell out.

Get some of the best deals by checking in with a restaurant or bar via social media. Restaurants often reserve their best deals for loyal customers who follow them on Twitter or Facebook, or who have signed up to receive email newsletters, said Aaron Allen, an independent restaurant consultant. Chains including Pizza Hut and Burger King also offer deals exclusive to their apps.

By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @kelligrant

»Read more
  Tuesday, 22 Oct 2013 | 10:06 AM ET

What inflation? Halloween candy prices in check

The scariest thing arriving at your door this Halloween might be your credit card statement.

Spending on Halloween is down, but still in the triple digits. The average family will spend $108 on Halloween this year, down from $125 in 2012, according to American Express.

Broken down, that includes $24 on candy (unchanged from 2012), $52 for a costume (down 1.9 percent), $33 on decorations (down 5.7 percent) and $17 for a pumpkin (up 6.3 percent). If you plan to attend or host a party, add $60 to the tab. Visiting a haunted house? Another $48.

To keep costs down, pay particular attention to what's included with that costume. Companies are including less in the package, prompting consumers to spend more to get the pictured look. Adding in extras like a wig, shoe covers or a sword could easily double the bill.

By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @kelligrant

»Read more
  Tuesday, 15 Oct 2013 | 10:15 AM ET

Here's how to stretch your holiday spending budget

Are you ready for the holiday shopping season?

Although retailers have been talking up Christmas promotions for months, decent holiday sales are still a few weeks away. But preparing now can help you stay on track.

Last year, the National Retail Federation expected consumers to spend about $750 on gifts and other holiday purchases, and this year, that figure could be even higher. The industry group's retail forecast expects sales to rise 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion.

One strategy to stretch your budget: Cash in credit card rewards. Redeeming them for store gift cards is one of the more valuable ways to use points—and means you'll need to dip less deeply into your savings account for gift budgets. At Citibank, for example, 20,000 points is enough for $200 in store cards, or just $100 in cash.

(Do check, though. At other programs, like Chase Ultimate Rewards, points have the same value toward gift cards or statement credits, which gives you more shopping flexibility.)

By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @kelligrant

»Read more
  Wednesday, 9 Oct 2013 | 2:12 PM ET

Act now, save on health insurance for 2014

For a healthy, wealthy 2014, now is the time to take action.

Many companies have started or soon will start their open-enrollment period, when employees select a health plan and make choices about other benefits.

»Read more
  Wednesday, 2 Oct 2013 | 12:50 PM ET

$ave me: Spotting fake online consumer reviews

Relying on online consumer reviews to find a contractor or pick a blender may be dicey.

In September, the New York attorney general fined 19 companies $350,000 for writing fake online reviews for businesses. The problem is even more pervasive than that—a new study from researchers at Harvard Business School and Boston University estimates that nearly 20 percent of reviews on Yelp.com alone are bogus. Researchers at the University of Illinois put the number at of fake online reviews closer to 30 percent.

»Read more
  Monday, 23 Sep 2013 | 1:07 PM ET

Big grocery savings without extreme couponing

Bid farewell to some easy coupon savings.

More stores are tightening their coupon policies, eliminating policies such as doubling—which automatically doubled at checkout the value of manufacturers' coupons up to a certain amount. Kroger stopped that perk Sept. 22 in its stores in Kentucky, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, among other areas. Chains Dillons and Meijer also have scaled back.

»Read more
  Tuesday, 17 Sep 2013 | 11:30 AM ET

$ave Me: The price of a 0% credit card offer

On the five-year anniversary of the financial crisis, it's like the credit crunch never happened—at least if you're looking at the mail.

Zero credit card offers are back in full force, experts say. But the potential pitfalls of picking the wrong offer are still there, and potentially more expensive.

»Read more
  Thursday, 12 Sep 2013 | 2:09 PM ET

$ave Me: Fall travel prices drop with leaves

With Labor Day just in the rear-view mirror and Thanksgiving a blip on the horizon, early fall can be a cornucopia of travel bargains.

Experts say leisure travel usually dips once the kids are back in school. That means plenty of discounted airfares and hotels for people who can get away.

(Read more: Six standout airline perks—when money is no object)

Hawaii, for example, has a prime shoulder season through October, said Courtney Scott, a spokeswoman for Travelocity. You can get even-night packages, with hotel and airfare, for under $1,000. Early ski season deals kick in early November, with many resorts offering a third night free when you book two.

»Read more
  Monday, 26 Aug 2013 | 10:37 AM ET

$ave Me: Fast tricks to drive deals on a new car

Drivers in the market for a new car may find that now is the best time to buy.

Summer clearances are in full swing, with cash, lease and financing deals on the table from most automakers. The average discount off the sticker price for 2013 models is 13 percent, according to Edmunds.com. New 2014 models, in comparison, have a typical discount of 7 to 8 percent.

»Read more

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.