Updated on 09.17.14

How to Save Money at Your Desk in the Next Hour

Trent Hamm

As you read this, you’re likely sitting at a computer with internet access, or perhaps a mobile device of some time. You have a little slice of free time, so you’re seeking out some thoughts on money management or on life.

Instead, why not use this lazy hour to do something at your desk that can help you save money? Here are nine great suggestions for doing just that.

Find a better primary bank – and sign up
I’m often shocked to find that most people seem to be very unhappy with their primary bank. They’re charged unnecessary fees, don’t earn much interest, and are greatly inconvenienced by the customer service or the ATM network. These factors are not only an annoyance – they cost you real money that adds up to large sums over time.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are many banks out there with great customer service, large fee-free ATM networks, no ridiculous fees to simply maintain a checking account, and offer interest on even basic checking accounts. I use ING Direct’s Electric Orange checking, for example, after having abandoned checking and savings accounts with a particular large national bank, and that switch has saved me $50 a month per month in the years since the switch.

Shop around for a new bank. There are a lot of options besides ING – look at HSBC Direct, Everbank, FNBO Direct, and E-Trade are all good banks that have strong customer service, keep the fees from draining your money, and offer interest on the checking. Don’t base your decision solely on interest rates, though, as those vary quite a bit over time – instead, do some Google searching to find reviews on all the banks and keep a careful eye out for customer service comments.

Many banks allow you to sign up for both checking and savings services online, so if you decide to go the full nine yards, you can actually begin the process of transitioning to a new bank right at your computer.

Set up an automatic savings plan
While it’s a great idea to have a full-service bank for your primary checking, for many people, it’s good to have a savings account set aside for emergency funds or other specific savings goals. While I typically use a savings account at my primary bank for my emergency fund (because it’s easier to access), I usually hunt primarily for the best rate when I’m saving for a specific goal (like an appliance replacement).

One good place to do just that is with SmartyPig. Not only do they offer a strong interest rate if you set up an automatic savings plan with them, they also toss in discounts from specific retailers if you meet your savings goal. So, if you need to replace a washing machine in the next several months, set that up as a goal with SmartyPig, earn a good interest rate as you save, and get a discount on the item itself when you reach the goal. I’m currently using SmartyPig to save up for a replacement television by socking away just a few bucks a week.

Another great way to find a high-interest savings account purely for setting some cash aside is Bankrate.com’s savings account yield rate listing. It allows you to see the highest rates available nationwide for savings accounts – and since customer service and ATM access and other factors aren’t as much of a concern with a simple savings account, it can be a good idea to simply seek out the highest rate (though that can change over time – you should compare rates again every once in a while).

Read your grocery store’s flyer and prepare a meal plan and shopping list
It’s so easy to set up a meal plan and make a shopping list, yet many people skip it and head to the grocery store cold. Just a few minutes of prep work can save you quite a bit of money and also make your shopping trip shorter – and there’s no easier place to do it than right in front of your computer.

Visit the website of your grocery store of choice and download their weekly flyer. Browse through the flyer and identify a few interesting items that are on sale, and use those items as the backbones of the meals for your upcoming week – make a list of the meals, in fact. If you need help, use a recipe database like RecipeSource to fill in the blanks. Then, from that list of meals, make a grocery list that includes all of the items you need. You can create both the meal plan and the grocery list on your computer’s text editor or at Google Docs.

When you’re satisfied, print off the list and head to the grocery store. Shopping by grocery list is not only faster than wandering the aisles, it’s also cheaper – your eyes are on the list and scanning the shelves for specific items, which means you’re much less likely to be tempted by impulse buys. That saves you time and money in the store.

Do some strong research for an upcoming major purchase
Whenever you make a significant purchase – and I view significant as being anything over $20 or so – you owe it to yourself to do a bit of research into that purchase, whether it’s merely to make sure you’re buying exactly what you want or making sure you’re getting the right price. Doing this, though, can be a bit time consuming. Here are a few tips to get you started.

ConsumerReports.org is worth it (for me). I use Consumer Reports as the starting point of many of my major purchases (and an awful lot of my minor purchases, too). I use their data as the starting point for purchases and as a good indicator of the relative quality of a given item compared to the competition. You can sign up for the service for just $2.16 a month.

Hit Twitter Search and Technorati for specific comments from real users. Both of these tools reveal what real people are saying about specific items and companies.

Send some emails. Contact your friends and see if they have any recommendations on specific items and item categories.

Sign up for a swapping service
I enjoy watching movies and I especially enjoy reading books. Sure, I can use the library for these things, but I have to remember to return them and I can’t make my own markings on the books if I want to. I prefer to have a copy of my own to hold onto if I find long-term value in it, but I also like to have the flexibility to get rid of the item if I don’t want to keep it over the long haul.

So what do I do? I use PaperBackSwap to trade books by mail and SwapADVD to do the same thing with DVDs. It’s easy – just sign up, indicate ten books or DVDs that you’re willing to send to other people, and you receive two credits that you can use to request that books (or DVDs) be sent to you (they cost one credit each). When someone requests one of your books, wrap it up, send it out (it costs about $2), and you’ll get another credit. The end result is that you can swap DVDs and books you don’t want for DVDs and books you do want for about $2 a pop, which is a lot cheaper than buying them.

I’ve been using both services for years and I’ve had nothing but success with them. When I want to watch or read something new, those sites are my first stop – there’s nothing better than clicking a few times and getting the book or movie you want in the mail without paying a cent.

Set up a “deal monitoring” page
A while back, I wrote about a clever trick I use for automatically finding Amazon deals on my Google home page. That’s just the start – you can use the Google homepage to automatically find all sorts of deals you might be interested in using the same FeedSifter + iGoogle trick described in that article.

Follow certain Twitter search terms. Go to Twitter Search, type in the search terms you want, do the search, then note the “Feed for this query” link over on the right. You can put that link into iGoogle and automatically see those results on your iGoogle homepage.

Follow certain deal blogs. You can simply follow the feeds of good deal blogs as well, like MoneySavingMom, or filter their postings using the feed filtering trick I described above.

Keep a list of links to deal sites. Other deal sites like FatWallet do not offer a feed that you can track, so you may want to make a list of these bargain sites and include them on that page.

Doing all of these things enables you to see tons of bargains and deals at one glance when you open your web browser. It takes some time to set up, but once it’s working, you can see tons of deals very quickly any time you want.

Start a “deal” blog
If you want to carry that “deal monitoring” idea a bit further, why not set up a “deal” blog? You can easily start such a blog at Blogger to share the best deals you find with others. Just share the deals that seem to appeal to you the most along with a bit of commentary and you’ve started something that others might want to follow, plus you’re quite likely to discover tons of new deals via comments and people connecting with you. Put up an ad or two and you’ll earn a bit of money in the process.

A blog is a great way to share the things you discover with others, meet new people, and earn a few cents. Combining it with deal tracking is a great way to combine a money-saving hobby with a money-earning one.

Set up a Roth IRA
Many people out there think they should be saving for retirement, but it seems like a huge obstacle. How does one even get started on something like that? The truth is you can actually get started right at your desk. Many investment houses have Roth IRA plans that are easy to sign up for – all you need is a web browser. From there, you can set up a small automatic contribution from your checking account into that Roth IRA. This is exactly how I signed up for my Roth IRA through Vanguard.

The first step is to make sure a Roth IRA is right for you. Are you eligible for a retirement plan through your work and, if so, do they provide matching contributions into that plan? If that’s the case, it’s worth signing up for their plan just to get the match. Is your income under the limits for a Roth IRA? If you earn less than $100K, you’re fine, but if not, you’ll want to check the eligibility rules. Also, are you currently earning significantly more than you expect to bring in in retirement? If so, then the Roth IRA might not help you in terms of taxes – look for a normal IRA for your savings, or see if there is a 401(k) or 403(b) plan available at your place of employment.

Who should you invest with? There are a lot of different investing houses that offer Roth IRAs – do some research yourself and read the opinions of others. I use Vanguard for mine and I couldn’t be happier.

What should you invest in? For most people, a simple “target retirement” index fund is the best choice. It automatically balances your retirement savings for you, keeping you aggressively in stocks when you’re young and moving you to more stable bonds and cash as you grow closer to retirement. Most investment houses offer “target retirement” options.

Once you’ve made up your mind, though, signing up for a Roth IRA is actually quite easy. Just fill out the online forms, set up an automatic deduction from your checking account, and watch your retirement savings begin to build up.

Dig into your community calendar
Bored? Don’t know what to do this weekend? It’s likely that your community has quite a few free events going on this weekend, some of which might be of interest to you. Visit your town’s website – and the websites of towns near yours – and see what’s on the community calendar. Free concerts, free community festivals, cheap meals, and countless other things might be in the offing right under your nose – and it’s well worth a few minutes to find them.

Good luck!

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  1. Jimbo says:

    Very interesting and ironic that you consider anything above $20 a “significant purchase,” for which you are willing to invest a decent amount of time, but at the same time consider earning $30/hr (post-tax) a waste of your time, as you stated in your earlier post “Ten Dollars, Twenty Minutes.”

  2. Johanna says:

    You were paying $50 a month in bank fees? I’d be interested in seeing a breakdown of that, because that’s pretty remarkable.

    I have my accounts at a bricks-and-mortar bank, but I’m generally happy with them. They offer accounts that meet my needs without monthly fees, and they have ATMs all over, so pretty much the only time I ever pay an ATM fee is when I’m out of the country. I do get dinged with stupid fees for stuff I didn’t know about, but I think that’s added up to about $50 total in 2 1/2 years. And they pay very little interest, but I don’t keep that much money in my accounts anyway, and the ability to go in and talk to a real person when I have a question makes the lost interest worth it to me.

  3. teaspoon says:

    Have you checked out bookmooch.com? It’s similar to Paperback Swap, but with fewer frills. The selection isn’t quite as good, but it’s definitely easier to rack up credits. I use both, and like them both.

  4. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    I’ve recently set-up all of my primary checking and savings at ING Direct.

    I couldn’t be more happy to get away from Chase!

  5. That’s a great idea to look for ways to make extra money during one lazy hour. I actually started opening bank accounts for the bank bonus of $25 to $200 and after a while started blogging about it.
    It’s both fun and rewarding, knowing that my readers are making money. One thing I hate however is paying fees to a bank, so doing your research would save you and make you lots of money.

  6. Johanna says:

    And another thing: If anything over $20 is a major purchase worthy of research, I guess that includes most clothing purchases? If you’re looking for ideas for future posts, clothing (including shoes) is a topic I’d like to see addressed more. I know you wrote a post about clothes last summer, but that basically amounted to “Buy the cheapest clothes you can find, and don’t worry about labels” – and there’s way more to it than that. $15 for a pair of jeans is not a good deal if they don’t fit you right or if they fall apart after three weeks. Frugal tips for finding quality clothing would be appreciated. At least, they would be appreciated by me.

    On a related note, what do you do when clothing starts to wear out? For example, I have several old shirts that are starting to fray at the cuffs. I can’t bring myself to throw them out, because they’re still perfectly functional shirts, but I’d look like a bum if I wore them to work, and I don’t have that many occasions for wearing old, scruffy clothes (for instance, I can’t wear them for doing yard work or car maintenance because I don’t have a yard or a car). The standard answer is “cut them up and use them for rags,” but…I just don’t need that many rags. Thoughts? Anyone?

  7. IRG says:

    I use paperback swap, a lot and love it. Great selections, very conscientious members, instant credits and a terrific (for us city folks) option (for only a couple of dimes more) to print out the postage so that anything over 13 ounces, which normally requires a trip to the post office, can be mailed from any mailbox (or you don’t have to stand in line at the post office, as you do with stamped items).

    I save so much (a minimum of $4 via public transportation)in time and money on going to the post office this way, even with the extra amount, that it makes it really easy to answer requests in a very timely manner.

    FYI, Trent. The minimum media mail postage is $2.38 a pound. hardcovers can easily weigh two or more pounds (remember, wrapping weight has to be considered, too) at 2.77 and 3.16 (3 lbs.) So there’s really nothing to be sent out at $2.

    Unless your books are in great demand, on a consistent basis, so that you have credits available, you need to buy credits to purchase books.

    And they are the real bargain at Paperback swap. You buy credits for $3.45 per book (plus a $.50 handling fee for the “store” each time you make a purchase; it pays to buy multiple credits) so you can buy books–and they are shipped to you–for less than it costs for postage alone on sites such as Amazon.com marketplace, half.com and ebay.

    It is great for recycling books (as long as you have not highlighted or written in them; that’s part of the requirements, which is great) and for getting what you want for a lot less.(you can create wish lists and get automatic notification when something is available)

    Right now, our local thrift shops charge $3 per book and have a lousy selection for the most part (Our library charges $1 but has very little.). For $.45 more than that $3, you can get lots of really desirable books with this free membership and save lots of $$$.

    It has a feature that lets you send something as a gift as well.

    Paperback swap is really set up well and has all kinds of useful features that really distinguish it from other sites.

    One caveat: Some people (there always a few) have sent very smelly, smokey and actually moldy books. If you have any concerns, say you are allergic, you can email the book owner in advance to ensure that the book meets your specs. This is really great cause if you do this and someone sends you a problematic book, you’ll get a credit back.

    Most people are shipping from their home libraries, but some folks clearly are just getting rid of stuff they buy in bulk at flea markets, etc. The condition of the books in some cases is such that you know someone did not have it in their actual home.

    But as I said, that’s the exception. Most books arrive as if they’ve just come new from a bookseller.

  8. andrew says:

    I have looked into getting a Roth IRA, but I’ve noticed that you can get either a “Savings” IRA, or an “Investment” IRA. I’m just curious if you already put an article up discussing the differences between the two. If not I personally would love to see such an article. Or if there is one already, can anyone point me in the right direction?

  9. Raj says:

    Dumping an account at a large, nationwide consumer bank is a a great tip, but even better than a smaller bank with no ATM fee is opening a high-yield savings account that is strictly online. Beyond the ATM point, the cost of doing business for a bank that is exclusively or largely online is much lower, and oftentimes this is reflected in a lower or eliminated basket of fees.

  10. IRG says:

    For Joanna, with the frayed shirts.

    If you can’t wear them to say, clean around the house, and don’t need any more cleaning rags (and you don’t quilt), why not give them to charity? Assuming it’s only frayed cuffs, there are plenty of people who will buy them and wear them with the sleeves rolled up.

    As for frugal clothes buying, you have to define “frugal.” It really is relative. Especially as it applies to women’s clothing, which I assume you are referring to.

    I tend to buy just a few items of really good quality, almost always on sale, from companies known for the quality/durability of their clothing and their great customer service (Talbot’s, LLBean, etc.) as well as timeless styles. I shop the online sales, outlets and other places where they are discounted. (I always sign up for newsletters and to be notified of sales.)

    Some women swear by ebay but I’ve never really had any luck. I love etsy.com for really great and unusual looking accessories at very reasonable prices. It’s filled with pieces by artists, artisan and craftspeople and a lot of it is very sophisticated.

    Buying cheap stuff that does not fit…a waste of time and money.

    The only cheap stuff we buy? At-home, casual clothes or any outdoor/sports clothing we need. Then, we often find good stuff at say KMart, Target or Wal-Mart. But you really have to watch prices.

    Of course, clothing needs vary by occupation, where you live and work, etc. And your position at work. I now work from home and only have to meet clients quite casually. I had much more demanding clothing needs when I was the VP of a PR agency, meeting clients and wining and dining them, and attending trade shows and such around the country and doing public speaking (and yes, I have clothes from that period that still fit, still look great and aren’t dated!).

    But as a city dweller, who has only “clothes I wear to do the wash and clean the apartment in” and clothes to wear to work and/or out for dinner or a show…life is fairly simple. (My sister in law, who lives in Florida, needs far more clothes than I do in any given week since she’s a mom, works outdoors and also is always on the go with her kids. Lots of car travel. Event travel with the kids.)

    A few good jackets or suits that last for years and really good accessories (scarves, etc.) that look great but are not trendy.

    TJMaxx is one place that has some great stuff (you have to keep shopping it all the time). And though outlets are often full of overpriced stuff, they are also good sources, if you shop carefully.

    And, on occasion, I’ve purchased some great stuff at the Salvation Army (go to those in neighborhoods with wealthier folks; like the Upper East Side in Manhattan, for example)and Goodwill and Housing Works here in Manhattan.

    Depending on where you live, there are fabulous thrift shops that often have really great contemporary and vintage stuff.

    But again it’s very hit and miss. You just have to keep looking and see what’s available at any given time.

    One of my close friends has very little to spend on clothing and needs more than a few things each year. But she is on the lookout all the time. She’s always got her eye out for sales. She has made some incredible buys, even at traditional retail outlets. Ya gotta work hard, look hard and have a good eye.

    And a lot depends on your size. People at either end (small or large) of the size range tend to have the most difficulty finding stuff.

    FYI: Don’t expect the average guy (no offense, Trent) to have a lot of tips on shopping for women’s clothing. Especially at a discount.

    And remember, you generally do get what you pay for. Cheap stuff looks cheap and looking “cheap” rarely pays off. Plus, it falls apart very quickly.

    On the other hand, discounted quality merchandise that fits and is made well will last and save you money. You’ll also look more pulled together, which always works to your advantage, especially at work.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I hate seeing people wear ratty, falling apart clothing in public. At home, a different story. (One neighbor, who’d only seen me wearing my “laundry clothes” did not recognize me when I was dressed and headed out to a meeting!)

    FYI: Don’t forget to check out freecycle.org if it’s available in your area. I’ve both given away clothes on it and gotten some great things as well.

  11. Raj says:

    Dumping an account at a large, nationwide consumer bank is a great tip, but even better than a smaller bank with no ATM fee is opening a high-yield savings account that is strictly online. Beyond the ATM point, the cost of doing business for a bank that is exclusively or largely online is much lower, and oftentimes this is reflected in a lower or even eliminated basket of fees.

  12. Debora says:

    Completely off topic, but I’m a bit suprised to see a (Dutch) add for lending money on this site.

  13. Meg says:


    Make quilts out of them. I have made fun personal quilts out of old t-shirts and old jeans. There is no reason any piece of fabric can’t be turned into a quilt (except the willingness to do it) and the quilt can have a lot more sentimental value.

  14. @Johanna: I’d like to see posts about clothing too. How to know when to say enough, for example, or the real worth of items of clothing.

    I agree with Meg. I’m sewing a patchwork duvet cover from old shirts. If you’re that way inclined it’s a great hobby.

  15. Jenny says:

    I enjoy slickdeals.net for deals. ;)

  16. Those are great tips, but didnt you say a couple of posts back that $20 savings is less important than 20mins family. So why not leave the desk and go back to the kids? Confused.

  17. deRuiter says:

    Johanna post #6. Do you sew? If your shirts are SOLID COLOR MATERIAL you can TURN the collar and cuffs to make them look like new. It’s not difficult. You open the stitches at the base of the collar and remove from shirt, turn inside out, remove stitches, press both halves of the collar and reassemble with the “old” outer surface inside, same with cuffs. If you spend time with the British Priviledged Class (the ones whose children are taken to school by the chauffeur in the helicopter) you’ll see that they favorite shirts (bespoke, very expensive when new) are THREABARE at collar and cuffs. These men can afford new shirts, but cling to the old, quality shirts. It’s a status sumbol with them. Not suggesting you follow this custom this in middle class America! You can also darn your socks when they get a small hole and make them last longer. A NEAT darn will not be felt by the wearer. There are so many inexpensive, like new bed comforters available for next to nothing at yard sales that it isn’t a real cost savings to cut up clothing to make another, you don’t save any money.

  18. Anne says:

    Fatwallet does not have a general RSS feed to follow (as far as I know)…but you can subscribe to the “Hot Deals” Forum. I haven’t tried filtering this feed, but the subscription URL is http://feeds2.feedburner.com/FatwalletHotDeals . It looks as though feeds are available for some of the other forum categories as well; visit the forum you would like to follow to check its RSS availability.

  19. Jerry says:

    Good clothing vs. cheap clothing? For kids (up to a certain age), I agree with Trent. Get it as cheap as you can. Go to yard sales or thrift stores, and get barely-used clothing for 10% of the new cost. My son is 12; he would wear t-shirts in the winter if his mother and I let him. He frequently comes home covered in mulch from the playground. For him, 95% of the time we buy cheap, and don’t worry when rips don’t mend well or stains don’t come out.
    We differ in our philosophy on clothing for older kids and adults. (No surprise- no home office here, unlike Trent.) Don’t get me wrong- we get casual clothing for ourselves from thrift stores, maybe also yard sales. If we need to look better, then we buy clothing mainly from these sources: Land’s End (mail order), Kohl’s (department store), sometimes L.L.Bean (mail). We wait for sales and free shipping offers.
    I work in a laboratory and my wife works as a teacher, so neither of us can buy typical “office” clothing. That more expensive but too cheaply made and light material would get destroyed (by chemicals or equipment, in my lab; or by her kids in school). The clothing we buy lasts for many years, so we end up buying less, saving money in the long run.

  20. Will says:

    Hey Trent!

    I just wanted to show some gratitude for this article. I’ve been a regular reader for going on 1 year now. Your website was instrumental in changing my finance paradigm — I save aggressively but am not afraid to spend when I judge it worthwhile. In short, I’m totally at peace about money.

    In light of that personal change, many of your articles deal with attitudes or philosophy and so merely echo sentiments that I already have. I enjoy reading them because I like your simple and direct writing style. But ultimately they’re preaching to the choir.

    Articles like this are great for me because you’ve listed many useful specific ways to save money and improve one’s financial life.

    Thanks much!

  21. Jerry says:

    When it comes to saving money, the question might be changed to “Do I buy Good clothing vs. Cheap clothing?” [I know this is off topic for the article, but another commenter asked about saving money on clothes.] My wife has a sewing machine, so she fixes what rips or wears, and even sews clothes or fabric toys. When I have a long sleeved shirt (or pants) that wears out at the cuffs, my wife often can turn it into a short-sleeved shirt (or pants). The previous commenter mentioned turning cuffs or collars inside-out. Thank you for the tip.
    For kids (up to a certain age), I agree with Trent. Get it as cheap as you can, since the kids will outgrow clothing well before it wears out. Go to yard sales or thrift stores, and buy barely-used clothing for 10% of the new cost. We accept hand-me-downs from family & friends, and pass along the outgrown _decent_ clothes to other family & friends, or donate them. My son is 12; he would wear only t-shirts and sweat pants in the winter if his mother and I let him. He frequently comes home covered in mulch from the playground. For him, 95% of the time we buy cheap, and don’t worry when rips don’t mend well or stains don’t come out. We also do not let him get brainwashed by commercials, so he does not pester us with requests “needing” the latest Sponge-squid Spider-bat toy or gear or clothes. He can spend his modest allowance on that.
    We differ with Trent in our philosophy on clothing for older kids and adults. (No surprise- no home office here, unlike Trent.) Don’t get me wrong- we get casual or even better clothing for ourselves from thrift stores, maybe also yard sales, just like for our son. If we need to look better, then we buy clothing mainly from Land’s End (mail order), Kohl’s (department store), sometimes L.L.Bean (mail). (Not just my opinion. All are fair to highly rated in Consumer Reports.) We usually wait for sales and free shipping offers.
    I work in a laboratory and my wife works as an elementary school teacher, so neither of us can buy typical “office” clothing. That is more expensive but too cheaply made and light material which would get destroyed quickly by chemicals or equipment in my lab, or by her kids messy hands in school. I buy more classic style clothes, not trendy styles, avoiding the disposable short term fad culture (cheaply made, but costly, and out of style in months). My wife has less choice, having to pay more for comparable quality in womens’ clothing. That bias is a rip-off built into the industry. The better quality clothing we buy (mending as needed) lasts for many years, so we end up buying less, saving money in the long run.

  22. Kris says:

    Good Post… but significant purchases is anything over $20? So a tank of gas, a dinner out, a shirt, a pair of pants and cat food would all be considered significant purchases worthy of spending a bunch of time researching?

  23. Kate says:

    Ditto to the suggestion to turn frayed collars and cuffs–I used to do it all the time for my husband’s shirts when my kids were little and money for his dress clothes was tight.

  24. April says:

    re: Paperbackswap

    I found its use limited. I found that all the books I’m interested in have either a long waiting list or a waiting list that never moves (i.e., nobody ever posts that book for swap). The books that are listed look like book-of-the-month discards or impulse buys.

  25. Liz says:

    I would also recommend Schwab as a main bank. I started with them years ago for stocks and they’ve added a bank division in the past few years with no atm fees, no minimums, free checks, and recently rolled out a savings account option. Also they have great customere service and if you choose to buy stocks it’s an easy transfer.

  26. Kevin says:

    If you’re considering a major purchase, Google the item’s name along with “user reviews”. epinions.com and buzzillions are also handy.

    As for PaperBackSwap, I’ve gotten rid of a number of books there, but the titles I’m interested in never seem to be available. YMMV, of course.

    I too marvel at the $20 definition of a “major” purchase. Surely you jest. What is your time worth?

  27. AnnJo says:

    I started banking with the largest local bank during college (decades ago), and stayed with it when Bank of America bought it out many years ago, and I’m still quite happy with it:

    1. Zero fees. With a modest minimum balance, I’ve never paid monthly fees on my persoal account. I have a line of credit that serves as overdraft protection, if needed, so no overdraft fees. No bill-payer fees. A few years ago, I called up and said I was annoyed that they had started charging $11 a month on my business account, and was considering looking into other options. It was promptly removed.

    2. A bank branch is two blocks from my office, convenient for dropping off deposits (from which I also get my walking-around cash so almost never have to use ATMs). For my business account, I do one or two deposits a week, so I’d be spending $ on postage and envelopes, and risk lost or mishandled mail if I used an online bank.

    3. Telephone customer service is generally excellent, in my experience.

    4. I occasionally need services like notarial, wire transfers, cashier’s checks, all of which are convenient and free.

    5. The checking account interest rate sucks, but “escess” funds can easily be electronically transferred to my Schwab account for better rates.

    6. The online interface is smooth and seems quite secure (more so than any other financial institution where I have accounts.)

    7. Large checks clear quickly. This may not matter to most people, but in my business it does, and you would be surprised how long large checks from small local banks can take to clear.

    8. Over the years, I’ve done three rental property purchase loans at good rates and low or no fees, as well as two or three home refis and three or four secured lines of credit at excellent rates, minimum hassle, and no fees. The current rate on my HELOC is 2.99%.

    9. It has branches all over the country and even in some airports I’ve visited.

    10. It offers a low-cost safe deposit box.

    11. It provides a free $1,000 AD&D policy on the primary account holder, if you sign up for it.

    12. It offers some useful free services for international travelers.

    I’m sure everyone’s experience would be different; national banks are usually managed regionally and offer different services/fees in different areas, plus your amount on deposit, credit history, etc. probably all factor in to how you are treated.

    One last thing to keep in mind is that, although national banks may not be “locally owned” they ARE locally staffed.

    Clearly, a lot of people have found the big-bank brick-and-mortar services poor, and online banks obviously can offer higher interest rates because their costs are lower. But there are trade-offs, and using an online bank as one’s only bank will not work for everyone, either.

    People should make their banking choices by shopping around and rationally considering their own particular needs, without biases either for or against either style.

    PS: I don’t know what Everbank’s customer service is like on its banking side, but on its lending side, it was absolutely the worst banking experience of my life by a multiple of 10, and I’m not alone. If you don’t put money on deposit with them, they won’t have it to buy up loans with, and you will be saving some hapless borrower a ton of grief.

  28. littlepitcher says:

    1-What about online dvd sites or e-books? I personally never pay more than a dollar a book anywhere.

    2-Researching good growth stocks, for anyone who has already completed most of the above-referenced steps.
    Bail on the overpriced Berkshire and go for some tech and med.

  29. AnnJo says:

    A few more ways to save $$ in an hour of desk-time:

    1. Call one of your vendors (car insurance company, cable, bank, homeowners insurance, electric company), tell them you’re trying to sreamline your budget and ask them what changes in your service you can make that would save you some money. Ask about discount programs, rebates, longevity bonuses, customer appreciation bonuses, or any other way they have you could lower your bill either on a one-time basis or longer term.

    I did this about two years ago, and the savings were amazing. Almost every company I called had something to offer or suggest that saved money. In about an hour, I saved close to $1,000 over two years, and got a huge old energy-hog freezer hauled away out of my basement for free (actually, they paid me $35 to do it).

    2. Check the online unclaimed property listings for every state you’ve lived in during the last 20 years, especially if you move around a lot. When you overpay a tax, fail to cash a utility deposit refund or insurance claim check, etc., and mailed notices to you are returned or not answered, the money is turned in to the state’s unclaimed property office and can be retrieved for years. Sometimes even unused gift cards show up there. If you are the heir of someone who has died, check under his/her name too.

  30. Pat says:

    Re: Consumer Reports — in January our public library started offering it remotely full text and searchable (previously they embargoed the current three months). It is not the website, but the actual magazine.

  31. Great advice– I especially liked the swapping and deal monitoring ideas. I will have to give them a try.

  32. Beth says:

    I’m a librarian and my local library now offers free access to the Consumer Reports website for our patrons. Patrons can access it from home by going to the library website and entering their library card numbers for remote access.

  33. Kim Ruiz says:

    Speaking of switching banks, don’t forget to check local credit unions. We’ve only banked with credit unions our entire married life (nearly 20 years) and LOVE their low or no fees and rates. Many have expanded their membership to include new groups, so check out a local credit union to do your banking!

  34. When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new feedback are added- checkbox and now every time a remark is added I get 4 emails with the identical comment. Is there any method you possibly can remove me from that service? Thanks!

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