The Pursuit of Happier Shopping: Americans Aim for Affordability

<b>The Pursuit of Happier Shopping: Americans Aim for Affordability</b>“></td>
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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – According to Nielsen forecasts for 2010, consumers will continue to be frugal with their spending habits as the jobless recovery, like the government bailouts, hasn’t yet affected their finances. Considering this, it’s not a surprise that a lot of American consumers are putting more effort into learning how to better budget their finances and pay less when it comes to shopping. The lesson is a hard one, but it pays off if shoppers learn to make smart purchases that will help them get the most for their money.

Whether it be for high-end items or food, people are trying to stretch the value of their dollar. This is especially true with clothing. In a time when a pair of jeans can cost more than $100, some clothing brands realize the need for affordable quality clothing — and both loyal and new customers are heeding the savings.

The Wrangler brand is one of those companies offering value in a variety of durable men’s jeans, pants and shirts — all retailing for less than $20 and available nationwide at mass-market retailers like Walmart. Today, one out of every five pair of jeans sold in the United States bears a Wrangler label.

Even with this smart shopping, Americans continue to be cautious with every dollar they spend.

“While the economic climate has shown some improvement, retailers are not out of the woods yet,” said Phil Rist, executive vice president, strategic initiatives, BIGresearch. “With a variety of factors still up in the air, including uncertainty over job security, many Americans just aren’t buying into the talk of recovery and are looking for great prices and high quality in their product purchases.”

To help Americans feel more confident when making spending decisions, companies like Wrangler strive for customer satisfaction. As a statement of the brand’s commitment to high standards, Wrangler extends a full one-year warranty on all of its clothing with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee so consumers know they can count on the color, shape, fabric and construction maintaining the high-end look and feel — even without the high-end cost.

To learn more about the brand’s affordable offerings, visit www.wrangler.com.

Prepaid Cards Come Out on Top for Savings

<b>Prepaid Cards Come Out on Top for Savings</b>“></td>
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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – Economic woes have changed people’s mindsets about spending. Now, many Americans are relying on prepaid cards to control their spending and budgeting.

Branded prepaid cards (cards with an American Express, Discover, MasterCard or Visa logo) require pre-loaded funds, so they can’t be overdrawn. The cards can be used anywhere the logos are accepted.

A direct comparison study published in October by G. Michael Flores of Bretton Woods, Inc., a management advisory firm specializing in financial institutions, shows that those with checking accounts pay more for similar services than users of branded prepaid cards.

Flores’ research found that bank customers pay from $200 to just over $350 annually for a basic checking account. Users of prepaid cards with direct-deposit pay $110 to $210 annually.

Consumers who rely on check cashing services and money orders to meet their monthly obligations can also cut costs by using prepaid cards. Many prepaid programs allow automatic payroll depositing, so money is available on the card on payday.

“While prepaid cards should not be considered a replacement for checking accounts in all circumstances, we see that consumers are finding a number of ways to use the cards to promote fiscal responsibility and smart budgeting,” said Kirsten Trusko, President and Executive Director of the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association (www.nbpca.com).

“Families purchase prepaid cards and load spending allotments for the month, professionals have their paychecks directly deposited onto them to avoid the wait time of cashing a check or ATM fees, and under-banked consumers use prepaid cards to avoid the costs and hassles of check cashing services,” added Trusko.

The NBCPA offers the following tips for saving and budgeting with prepaid cards:

* Directly deposit paychecks onto the card for immediate access to funds.

* Load only the amount your family can spend each month.

* Use prepaid cards instead of checking accounts to make automatic bill payments and carefully monitor spending online.

* Give prepaid cards to teenagers to teach them the responsibility of using a card. Let them load cards with their own money.

* Make digital payments without the risk of credit card overdraft.

* Find easy access to digital payments, even as credit card qualifications become more stringent.

Teach Your Teen to Spend Smarter

<b>Teach Your Teen to Spend Smarter</b>“></td>
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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – If you are a parent with teenagers, you’ve probably had more than one conversation with them about money, especially in today’s economy. Likely, these talks have revolved around them asking for more money than you wish or can afford to give right now. Although it may seem impossible, teens can learn to manage their own money with a little discipline and guidance from mom and dad.

To make money-management conversations easier for parents who may be struggling themselves, Discover Card offers some tips:

– Show Them the Money. Depending upon your comfort level, you may want to offer your teens a look at some of the household bills. This will give them a clearer view of exactly how much things cost. Since many teens are in the habit of asking for money from their parents without understanding exactly how much all of those movies and clothes actually cost — and how they fit into the family budget — try keeping track of their expenses for a month. Have your teen tally up things such as movies, clothes, video games, and cell phones to show them exactly how much they are spending.

– Wants Versus Needs. Sit down with your teen, and help them separate their wants from their needs. Then, decide how much money you will contribute for their needs each month. Providing teens with a set amount of money for discretionary spending forces them to prioritize their purchases. One easy way to provide this cash to your teen is with Current Card by Discover, an innovative debit card that helps teens manage their spending and keep their money safe.

– A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned. Encourage your teen to save for big-ticket items they may want, such as a cell phone or a senior trip. If you are willing to contribute to the cost, explain exactly how much you will put in, and ask them to save for the rest. Be sure to make it clear that you will not increase your contribution if they cannot come up with their share of the cost, and help them set up a savings account, if necessary.

– Set the Record Straight. Have your teen keep a close record of how much money they spend and where. The Current Card makes this easy by allowing parents and teens to track spending activity online or through e-mail and text message alerts. Financial literacy information is also available to teach teens how to create and manage a budget.

To learn about more ways to help your teen spend smart and save more, visit www.CurrentbyDiscover.com.

Getting Your Budget Back on Track

<b>Getting Your Budget Back on Track</b>“></td>
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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – If you often look at your bank statement in puzzlement, trying to figure out where your money has gone, you’re not alone. Many Americans struggle to keep their personal finances under control.

But creating and sticking to a budget might be easier than you think. Here are some tips from The Neat Company (www.neatco.com), a developer of scanning software solutions that helps its customers save, track and manage information, including budgets:

– Save your receipts. You need to know where your money goes before you can budget. Save the receipts from every purchase that you make over the next month.

Some companies will help you track your receipts in digital format on your computer. For example, with a product called NeatReceipts, you can scan your receipts into a computer, then create lists and digital folders that track your expenses.

– Organize and store your bills and documents in one central location. Bills, financial statements and other important documents often end up in various drawers or cabinets, making finding them a challenge. Store all of your documentation in one place, either by using a software-based planning system or creating a filing system at home.

– Break down your spending. At the end of the month, review your receipts to see where your money went. You’ll likely be surprised when you see how you spent it. NeatReceipts offers several reports to identify where you spend your money -; food, utilities, household expenses and more.

– Take control of your spending. Once you see where you spend your money, you can determine where to cut expenses. For example, if you overspend on food, you might cut costs by eating out less, clipping coupons or eating a vegetarian meal once weekly. If you’re spending too much money on utilities, consider investing in energy-efficient appliances, turning off lights when you leave a room and waiting to do your laundry until you have full loads of dirty clothes.

Saying ‘I Do’ and Enjoying It Too

<b>Saying ‘I Do’ and Enjoying It Too</b>“></td>
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<p>(<a href=NewsUSA) – For many brides, the quest to plan the perfect day can quickly turn into a nightmare trip down the aisle. Here are a few tips to keep your wedding day bliss from turning into the honeymoon blues.

* Marriage Planning 101: Once the ring goes on, the race to plan the perfect wedding begins, giving couples little time to think about the marriage itself or how their wedding spending decisions could affect their future. But smart couples are now setting aside time to address pre-wedding issues such as what they will do when it comes to financial planning, spending money, raising children and family politics.

With nearly half of all newlyweds taking on debt to finance their “big day,” couples should take every opportunity to make their wedding-related and everyday spending count toward their future.

One unique new rewards program, uTANGO.com, offers couples $10,000, $100,000 and even $1 million in cash rewards to stay married and shop with uTANGO’s 250-plus merchants such as Expedia, Target.com, Nordstrom.com and BlueNile.

In addition to helping couples save for their future, uTANGO.com offers free advice from wedding, financial and relationship experts. By taking a proactive approach, couples can leverage their wedding spending to ease financial worries and start building toward their future.

* Destination USA: While destination weddings, especially to international locales, continue to be one of the hottest wedding trends in recent years, they can also present challenges such as increased costs, security concerns, language barriers and unreliable vendors.

A less expensive alternative is to pick a centrally located U.S. city like Chicago, known for fantastic wedding and party venues, choice accommodations and activities to suit any taste and budget. It may not be as exotic as Tahiti, but couples often find that more family and friends can attend and planning challenges are drastically reduced when the nuptials stay stateside.

* Managing wedding expectations: For many brides, planning the perfect wedding is a major life event decades in the making. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how wedding expectations can get out of hand in a hurry.

With wedding euphoria taking over, busy brides and grooms can quickly lose sight of spending, causing the perfect wedding to turn into fights over money. By managing expectations of what a “dream” wedding should be, it is still possible to have a lovely and elegant wedding without breaking the bank.

* Bridezilla-free zone: The term “Bridezilla” has been used to describe a difficult, unpleasant, perfectionist bride whose obsession with planning the perfect wedding day leaves frustrated family, friends, bridal vendors and even her groom distraught in her wake.

Belligerent Bridezillas beware: Horror stories of fist fights, hair pulling, kicking and screaming from out of control brides-to-be have put wedding planners, vendors and bridesmaids on the offensive. Some wedding vendors now go as far as to include language in their contracts reserving the right to cancel if the bride’s behavior is determined to be “out of control or abusive.” So, whether you hit the gym or hit the spa, have a plan in place to handle wedding-related stress and keep Bridezilla at bay.

* Just say “no”: Brides place such demands on their bridesmaids these days that it is not uncommon for them to decline, even when it’s one of their best friends. Not only is the financial responsibility of being a bridesmaid staggering, but the time commitment demanded by some brides is also daunting.

The massive to-do lists handed out by brides, coupled with the obligatory appearances for shopping, parties and showers, can leave bridesmaids feeling underappreciated, overworked and broke after the wedding is over.

Brides should be upfront about both time and financial expectations with their friends when asking them to join their wedding party and understand if the answer is no.

Martie Duncan is a nationally renowned wedding expert who has worked in the bridal industry for more than 20 years. Duncan has consulted on episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and the film “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and is currently editor in chief of the

uTANGO.com LifeMatters e-magazine (www.utango.com/LifeMatters).