Saturday, December 28, 2013

Making your smartphone battery last longer

We're a smartphone society now -- people do everything on their phones, from checking e-mail and Facebook posts to watching video and surfing the Web. All that comes at a price, though: bear attacksand woefully short battery life.
While there's little I can do about the bears, I can offer a near-dozen practical tips for extending the battery life of your phone, which reduces the frequency of charges (and hopefully let's you make it home at the end of the day before the juice runs dry).
Adjust the screen brightness. The default setting for your screen is probably brighter than it needs to be, and the display is the single largest consumer of battery power on your phone. Turn it down to the lowest level that still comfortable to see.
Sleep sooner. Your phone lets you specify how quickly to turn off the display and put the phone to sleep. You can extend the life of your phone significantly by ensuring the phone turns itself off quickly rather than staying on for several minutes every time you check the time.
Turn off notifications. Many apps enable display notifications. Most of the time, these are pointless and a waste of battery power since they force your screen to light up briefly many times throughout the day. Disable apps' notifications to extend  battery power.
Disable any antennas not in use. Never (or only rarely) use Bluetooth. Make sure it's turned off in your settings. The same is true of Wi-Fi, though if you're like most people, you probably use that quite a bit. If your battery is near death, though, and you need to keep it alive as long as possible, you can enter Airplane Mode (which turns off all the radios, including voice).
Minimize the gadgets your phone syncs with. The new Pebble smartwatch is great, but it imposes a battery penalty on your phone to the tune of about 10 percent of battery life per day. There are also Bluetooth headsets, your car and other high-tech conveniences that consume power. If you want to maximize battery life, minimize the number of gadgets you connect to.
Say no to location requests. Many apps ask permission to detect your location so they can provide more targeted information. That might be useful, but every time an app has to ping your GPS chip, it uses power. Unless you really need that location function, just say no.
Sync less frequently. Most smartphones are designed to check for e-mail and apps data every 15 or 30 minutes. If you can live with less frequent updates, extend those minutes to a full hour. This will have a noticeable effect on battery life.
Lower the volume. Turn down your phone's overall volume, including the ringer.
Turn off vibrate. You might need this feature -- especially if you leave your phone in your pocket all the time -- but making a mechanical vibrator jiggle takes a lot of juice. Turn it off for more runtime.
Keep it cool. A hot battery drains faster than a cool one -- so if your phone is hot to the touch, it's running inefficiently. That can happen when you leave it in your car, in your pocket or on top of another hot gadget, like a laptop. Running the phone continuously can also make it heat up.
Turn it off completely. If you know you won't use your phone for a while -- like in a meeting or at the movie theater -- shut it off rather than just quieting the ringer.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Rock Islands of Palau

Palau is an archipelago of about 250 islands, located in the western Pacific Ocean. It is its own country – the Republic of Palau, although geographically it is part of the larger island group of Micronesia. For over 30 years it was a part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific under United States administration. It finally gained its total independence in 1994. 

Palau is a beautiful tropical paradise, and one of the true unspoiled destinations on the planet. Most of the 100-plus islands are small low-lying coral islands, ringed by barrier reefs and uninhabited. The country's population of around 21,000 is spread across 250 islands forming the western chain of the Caroline Islands. 

The most famous of Palau’s sights are the Rock Islands – a group of green islands covered in foliage with a few bright white sandy beaches. Formed by ancient coral reefs, the bases of these limestone formations have been slowly eroded over millennia into quirky mushroom shapes. There are between 250 to 400+ islands in the group, according to different sources, with an aggregate area of 47 square kilometers and a height up to 207 meters.

The islands are for the most part uninhabited and are famous for their beaches, blue lagoons and the peculiar umbrella-like shapes of many of the islands themselves. The Rock Islands and the surrounding reefs make up Palau's popular tourist sites such as Blue Corner, Blue hole, German Channel, Ngermeaus Island and the famed Jellyfish Lake, one of the many Marine lakes in the Rock Islands that provides home and safety for several kinds of stingless jellyfish found only in Palau. It is the most popular dive destination in Palau. 

In fact, Palau offers some of the best and most diverse dive sites on the planet. From wall diving to high current drift dives, from Manta Rays to sharkfeeds and from shallow and colorful lagoons to brilliantly decorated caves and overhangs.

Although presently uninhabited, the islands were once home to Palauan settlements, and Palauans continue to use the area and its resources for cultural and recreational purposes. The islands contain a significant set of cultural remains relating to an occupation over some five thousand years that ended in abandonment. Archaeological remains of former human occupation in caves and villages, including rock art and burials, testifies to seasonal human occupation and use of the marine ecosystem, dating back to 3,100 BC and extending over some 2,500 years.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jerry Miszewski shatters highlining world record

Highlining pioneer Jerry Miszewski released video footage Wednesday of his recent highlining world record, where he successfully crossed a 704-foot highline 300 feet above the Cosumnes River Gorge near Sacramento, California. (The video is above, and although it is a bit long, it is worth the watch. If you are only interested in observing the difficulty inherent in crossing the line, start the video at 1:11.)
Miszewski shattered the previous record of 494 feet, which highliner Théo Sanson earned in June in France. Every highline is named after it is walked, and the line Miszewski walked was dubbed “the 13th Crossing” after he secured the record.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Jerry Miszewski prefers extremely loose lines, and even with 1,000 pounds of tension, there was more than 23 feet of sag in the middle of the highline. Photo by Travis Burke
Highlining is a new but rapidly growing sport with roots in rock climbing, where highliners strap themselves to dynamic webbing that moves and sways with the highliner’s motion and the wind. Although these lines are stretched over canyons and gorges, the sport is considered extremely safe, as the highliners are securely attached to the highline, and every line and knot has at least one fail-safe, including the highline itself, which is actually two separate lines taped together.
Although the sport is safe, it is mentally taxing to the extreme. When a highliner steps onto a line, which is 1 inch wide, he must immediately rid the mind of the fear and anxiety that naturally pops into it, given how high he is above the ground. To successfully cross, the highliner must enter an almost Zen-like state.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Jerry Miszewski correcting the tension on the main and backup lines before getting on. He always double checks his equipment to ensure safety. Photo by Travis Burke
“It forces you to calm yourself in the now in order to prevent any sort of unnecessary fighting. It’s a moving Zen sensation that encapsulates slacklining as a whole: less is more. You move less, the line moves less, making it more walkable,” Miszewski wrote in his blog about the record.
In total, it took Miszewski a week of attempts before he could secure the world record, and he started with great difficulty. When he first stepped on the line, he fell 76 times before he could even figure out how to take just one step.
Each attempt took about 90 minutes, and each attempt left Miszewski mentally and physically exhausted, meaning that he could only attempt the record every other day. In fact, after a failed attempt late in the process Miszewski decided to go camping with his wife and friends to totally disencumber himself from the task at hand.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
It was difficult to see Miszewski with the naked eye, so this photo was taken with a telephoto lens as Miszewski walked 300 feet above the ground. Photo by Travis Burke
“This proved to be exactly what I needed: a day in the sun on a lake with not a worry on my brain. Away from stress, away from discouragement, away from everything,” he wrote.
After Miszewski secured the record, he said it was the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. In fact, he is still recovering from the mental and physical strength it took to complete it.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Miszewski takes a break and talks to Dan Francis about the challenges of walking the highline. Francis was one of six people who spent hours over the course of two days stretching highline across the gorge. Photo by Travis Burke
“I am still ‘recovering’ per say. After doing a project like this, I like to change my focus for a while,” he told GrindTV. “It’s extremely overwhelming for me to devote so much of myself to a project like this. I will typically not slackline at all for several weeks after something like this.”
Miszewski is a self-described former “video game addict” who now owns a company called Balance Community, which sells highlining and slacklining equipment.
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Miszewski focuses on the end of the line and making smooth, fluid movements to try to keep the highline from moving as much as possible. “The more you focus on yourself and what you are doing at that very second, the better you will do on the line,” Jerry said. Photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Jerry Miszewski highlining 300 feet above the ground on a line that is only 1 inch wide; photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Frustrated and exhausted, Miszewski felt like the highline had powers over him that he couldn’t control. “Little did I know, it was me who was the issue, not the line,” he said. Photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Miszewski sits and chats with his wife and friends, who came to support him. Photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
During the world-record-setting crossing, Miszewski felt the best he had all week, and the highline was responding exactly the way he wanted it to. He also felt the energy of his wife and friends, who had come to support him, as he spent 14 minutes crossing the line. Photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
Miszewski watches footage of the world-record-breaking highline; photo by Travis Burke
Jerry Miszewski highlining
After he had secured the world record, Miszewski felt overwhelmed with joy, confidence, pride, and relief. “I did it! I crossed that horrendous highline,” he said. “It was the most rewarding moment I had ever experienced.” Photo by Travis Burke

Humpback dolphins discovered off Australia are new species

Scientists use DNA, other analysis to uncover fourth ‘Sousa’ species; new information will help determine management decisions to protect mammals

photo of yet-to-be named humpback dolphins  photo by Guido Parra
Two mammals from a yet-to-be-named species of humpback dolphins jumping in waters off northern Australia; photo by Guido Parra
A previously unidentified species of humpback dolphin was found in waters off northern Australia, a discovery that will provide scientific evidence for helping to manage and protect the marine mammal considered vulnerable and near threatened, the Wildlife Conservation Society announcedTuesday.
The humpback dolphin is distinguished by a peculiar hump just below the dorsal fin, grows up to 8 feet in length, and ranges in color from dark gray to pink and/or white.
Using physical features and genetic data from 235 tissue samples, researchers examined the evolutionary history of this marine mammal to determine the number of distinct species within its family.
Two humpback dolphins swimming together off northern Australia; photo by Guido Parra
Two humpback dolphins swimming together off northern Australia; photo by Guido Parra
The Atlantic humpback species is already recognized, and now the researchers are suggesting the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin be divided into three species, one of which is new to science and has yet to be named.
“Based on the findings of our combined morphological and genetic analyses, we can suggest that the humpback dolphin genus includes at least four member species,” said Dr. Martin Mendez, assistant director of WCS’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program and lead author of the study. “This discovery helps our understanding of the evolutionary history of this group and informs conservation policies to help safeguard each of the species.”
Mendez told the Washington Post that knowing the distinct species is “essential to an appropriate framework for conservation. You have to absolutely know what you are trying to preserve here.”
The authors of the study published in the journal Molecular Ecology propose the four species be broken down thusly:
Two humpback dolphins; photo from Wikimedia Commons
Two humpback dolphins; photo from Wikimedia Commons
The Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii), found in eastern Atlantic off West Africa.
The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea), ranging from the central to the western Indian Ocean.
The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis), inhabiting the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans.
The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa to be named later), found off northern Australia.
“New information about distinct species across the entire range of humpback dolphins will increase the number of recognized species, and provides the needed scientific evidence for management decisions aimed at protecting their unique genetic diversity and associated important habitats,” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program and senior author on the paper.
And clearly, the humpback dolphin family is in need of protecting.
The Atlantic humpback dolphin is considered “Vulnerable” according to the IUCN Red List, whereas the Indo-Pacific dolphin species Sousa chinensis is listed as “Near Threatened.” Humpback dolphins are threatened by habitat loss and fishing activity.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Exclusive: Microsoft investors push for chairman Gates to step down

NEW YORK/SEATTLE (Reuters) - Three of the top 20 investors in Microsoft Corp are lobbying the board to press for Bill Gates to step down as chairman of the software company he co-founded 38 years ago, according to people familiar with matter.
While Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has been under pressure for years to improve the company's performance and share price, this appears to be the first time that major shareholders are taking aim at Gates, who remains one of the most respected and influential figures in technology.
A representative for Microsoft declined to comment on Tuesday.
There is no indication that Microsoft's board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5 percent of the company's stock, according to the sources. They requested the identity of the investors be kept anonymous because the discussions were private.
Gates owns about 4.5 percent of the $277 billion company and is its largest individual shareholder.
The three investors are concerned that Gates' role as chairman effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes. In particular, they point to Gates' role on the special committee searching for Ballmer's successor.
They are also worried that Gates - who spends most of his time on his philanthropic foundation - wields power out of proportion to his declining shareholding.
Gates, who owned 49 percent of Microsoft before it went public in 1986, sells about 80 million Microsoft shares a year under a pre-set plan, which if continued would leave him with no financial stake in the company by 2018.
He lowered his profile at Microsoft after he handed the CEO role to Ballmer in 2000, giving up his day-to-day work there in 2008 to focus on the $38 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In August, Ballmer said he would retire within 12 months, amid pressure from activist fund manager ValueAct Capital Management.
Microsoft is now looking for a new CEO, though its board has said Ballmer's strategy will go forward. He has focused on making devices, such as the Surface tablet and Xbox gaming console, and turning key software into services provided over the Internet. Some investors say that a new chief should not be bound by that strategy.
News that some investors were pushing for Gates' ouster as chairman provoked mixed reactions from other shareholders.
"This is long overdue," said Todd Lowenstein, a portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management, which owns Microsoft shares. "Replacing the old guard with some fresh eyes can provide the oxygen needed to properly evaluate their corporate strategy."
Kim Caughey Forrest, senior analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, suggested now was not the time for Microsoft to ditch Gates, and that he could even play a larger role.
"I've thought that the company has been missing a technology visionary," she said. "Bill (Gates) would fit the bill."
Microsoft is still one of the world's most valuable technology companies, making a net profit of $22 billion last fiscal year. But its core Windows computing operating system, and to a lesser extent the Office software suite, are under pressure from the decline in personal computers as smartphones and tablets grow more popular.
Shares of Microsoft have been essentially static for a decade, and the company has lost ground to Apple Inc and Google Inc in the move toward mobile computing.
One of the sources said Gates was one of the technology industry's greatest pioneers, but the investors felt he was more effective as chief executive than as chairman.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Miss World 2013 Winner: Megan Young, Miss Philippine

Miss Philippines, Megan Young, was crowned the winner of Saturday night's 2013 Miss World pageant at the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Centre in Indonesia.

"I promise to be the best Miss World ever," the 23-year-old said as she was crowned by last year's winner, Wenxia Yu.
Young, who was born in the United States, beat out 126 other women vying for the crown in the 63rd annual pageant. The brunette beauty moved to the Philippines when she was 10 years old and has been living there since, working as an actress and television host.
Miss France, Marine Lorphelin, 20, placed second and 22-year-old Miss Ghana, Carranzar Naa Okailey Shooter, came in third.
The 2013 Miss World pageant was initially slated to be held in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, but was moved to the resort island of Bali amid security concerns.
Police said there were no demonstrations or protests during the pageant, where security was heightened in fear of an attack.
Leading up the pageant, the Islamic Defenders' Front staged protests over the revealing (in their opinion) clothing worn during Miss World pageants. Islamic protesters denounced the pageant, calling it insulting to have women wearing bikinis and form-fitting evening attire in Indonesia, the most populous mostly Muslim nation in the world.
The Jakarta Post said groups were calling for the government to completely shut down the competition, but instead, moved it to Bali three weeks ago.

Watch: President’s Al-jazeera interview: “We are being bullied”

President Mahinda Rajapaksa sat for an exclusive interview with Al-Jazeera where he discussed a range of issues including related to international allegations against his government.  The president said that there is a propeganda campaign against the country and certain big countries like to “bully” small nations like Sri Lanka. The president emphasized that there is very real democracy in Sri Lanka as demonstrated by the recently concluded Northern Provincial council elections, where the government lost to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The president said he knew his alliance is going to loose, but held the elections anyway.  ”Now let them deliver” said the president in reference to the TNA.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ways to Waste Your Money

Nearly everyone has holes in their budgets. And as with other kinds of leaks, you may have hardly noticed some of them. But those small drips can quickly add up to big bucks. The trick is to find the holes and plug them so you can keep more money in your pocket. That extra cash could be the ticket to finally being able to save, invest or break your cycle of living from paycheck to paycheck.
We've updated our popular list of money-wasters with even more tips and resources to help you cut unnecessary expenses from your budget. Consider these 28 common ways people waste money. If any of them sound familiar, start plugging your budget holes right away.

Carrying a Balance
Debt is a shackle that holds you back. For instance, if you have a $1,000 balance on a credit card that charges an 18% rate, you blow $180 every year on interest. Carrying a balance can also cost you down the line in the form of a lower credit score that will trigger higher interest rates on your loans.
Get in the habit of paying off your balance in full each month - or at least limiting your balance to 25% or less of your available credit.

Buying Brand-Name Instead of Generic
From groceries to clothing to prescription drugs, you can save money by choosing an off-brand over a fancy label. And in many cases, you won't sacrifice much in quality. Clever advertising and fancy packaging don't make brand-name products better than lesser-known brands. For example, a 30-day supply of cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor costs about $154, but a generic version costs half as much, according to DestinationRx, which creates drug-comparison tools for insurers and consumers.
QUIZ: Are You Saving Enough for Retirement?

Paying Late Fees and Missing Deadlines
istockphotoIf you pay a stack of bills every month, it's easy to overlook one or two every now and then. But if you miss a credit card payment by even one day, you will pay a late fee of $25 ($35 if it's the second time in six months). Your credit score could also take a hit if you pay your bill late. Your history of on-time payments accounts for 35% of your FICO credit score -- more weight than any other factor. If you pay the bill within 30 days of the due date, the lender might not report the delay to the credit bureaus. But if you let the bill go longer than that, the card issuer is more likely to inform the credit agencies and turn over your case to its collections department.
If you have a good payment record -- especially if you have paid on time for an entire year -- call your card issuer and ask that the late fee be waived. To avoid missing deadlines, set up payment alerts to be delivered by e-mail or a text message from your credit card company.

Buying Insurance You Don't Need
You only need life insurance if someone, such as a child, is financially dependent upon you. That means most singles, seniors and kids don't need a policy.
Other policies you can probably do without include credit-card insurance (better to use the premium to pay down your debt in the first place), rental-car insurance (most auto policies and credit cards carry some coverage) and mortgage life insurance (a regular term-life insurance policy is more comprehensive). See 5 Insurance Policies You Don't Need for coverage that isn't worth buying.

Overspending on Gas and Oil
There's no need to spring for premium fuel if the auto manufacturer says regular is just fine. You should also check to make sure your tires are optimally inflated to get the best gas mileage. And are you still paying for an oil change every 3,000 miles? Many models nowadays can last 5,000 to 7,000 miles between changes, and some even have built-in sensors to tell you when it's time to change the oil. Check your owner's manual to find the best time for your car's routine maintenance.
To lower your gas costs even more, consider one of our picks for the 15 Most Fuel-Efficient Cars, 2013.

Keeping Unhealthy Habits
Smoking costs a lot more than what you pay for a pack of cigarettes. The average price per pack of cigarettes in the U.S. is $6.03, but the health-related costs per pack are $35, according to the American Cancer Society. Over a year, those added costs can amount to $12,775 for a pack-a-day smoker.
Another habit to quit: indoor tanning. There is now a 10% tax on indoor tanning services. As with cigarettes, the true cost of tanning -- one of the most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation -- is higher than the price you pay each time you go to the tanning salon.
Once you kick your bad habits, you'll save even more if you institute these six healthy habits.
QUIZ: Test Your Financial Fluency

Paying Too Much for a Mutual Fund
ThinkstockMutual fund fees can weigh down performance. The average diversified U.S. stock fund charges about 1.3% a year in expenses. If your fund isn't beating its benchmark, you're better off buying a low-cost index fund or exchange-traded fund that matches the benchmark. For example, you'll pay an annual expense ratio of just 0.05% to invest in the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI), which tracks the CRSP US Total Market Index. On a $50,000 investment, that's a savings of $625 per year over the average managed fund.
It is possible to outperform a benchmark with a well-managed fund (although it's not guaranteed). Stick with no-load funds, which can save you more than 5% in sales charges. See our favorite no-load mutual funds in the Kiplinger 25. And watch out for other nickel-and-diming, including low-balance fees or charges for paper statements.

Passing up Tax Breaks
There's a good chance you're among the millions of taxpayers who overpay taxes each year by overlooking deductions to which you're entitled. Failing to maintain a file of tax receipts throughout the year, rushing to file your taxes at the last minute, and fearing an IRS audit are all reasons that may keep you from claiming perfectly valid deductions. See if you've missed one of these commonly overlooked tax breaks. If you have, by all means, claim it! That money is yours. Just be sure you have the documentation to prove it.

Opting for a Low Insurance Deductible
ThinkstockA low deductible may seem appealing as you ponder a costly claim down the line, but you'll pay a lot more in higher premiums. Boosting your deductible from $200 to $500 can reduce your collision and comprehensive auto insurance premiums by 15% to 30%; raising it to $1,000 can save you 40% or more. If your homeowners insurance deductible is $500, increasing it to $1,000 can lower your premiums by up to 20%. Besides, when you have a low deductible, you might be tempted to file claims more frequently for small amounts. Insurers don't like frequent claims on your record and can punish you with higher rates.
Before raising your deductible, however, make sure you have enough cash in your emergency savings account to cover it if you ever file a claim. You won't have to rely on costly credit cards to bail you out.

Leaving Your Money in a Low-Interest Account
If you're stashing your cash in a traditional savings account earning next to nothing, you're wasting it. Make sure you're getting the best return on your money. Search for the highest yields on CDs and money market savings accounts. And consider using a free online checking account that pays interest, such as ones offered by Ally Bank and EverBank.

Coupons for the Sake of Couponing
ThinkstockIt's tempting to go hog-wild clipping coupons. But remember that coupons only save you money if you use them for items you were going to buy anyway. If you buy something you didn't need, you didn't save money -- you bought something extra. Most coupons are for brand-name items, so be sure to compare prices with the generic brand. Learn how to save money on groceries without coupons.

Paying ATM Fees
Expect to throw away nearly $4 every time you use an ATM that isn't in your bank's network. That's because you'll pay an ATM surcharge, and your own bank will hit you with a non-network fee. Consider switching to a bank, such as Ally Bank, that doesn't charge ATM fees and reimburses you for fees other banks charge. Another way to avoid fees if there's not an ATM in your bank's network nearby is to get cash back when you make a purchase at the grocery store or drugstore.
QUIZ: The Personal Finance Quiz

Not Pulling the Plug on Electronics
iStockphotoU.S. households waste $100 a year, on average, to power devices while they are off or on standby mode, according to Energy Star. Electronics that have a clock or operate by remote are typical culprits. The obvious way to pull the plug on your energy vampires is to do just that -- pull the plug. Or buy a device to do it for you, such as a Smart Strip Power Strip ($25.75 at, which will stop drawing electricity when the gadgets are turned off and pay for itself within a few months.

Paying for Things You Don't Use
Do you watch all those cable channels? Do you need those extra features on your phone? Are you getting your money's worth out of your gym membership? Are you taking full advantage of your Netflix, TiVo and magazine subscriptions? Take a look at what your family actually uses, then trim accordingly. You can get help tracking your expenses to identify where you're regularly spending on things you don't use with our Household Budget Worksheet or these 7 budgeting sites.

Not Reading the Fine Print
iStockphotoThought you were being smart by transferring the balance on a high-rate credit card to a low-rate one? Did you read the fine print? Some credit-card companies now charge up to 5% for balance transfers. Also watch out for free checking accounts that aren't so free anymore. Some banks now charge fees unless you meet certain criteria, such as maintaining a minimum balance. Your bank might also charge you as much as $10 a month to download information into Quicken, the personal finance program, or tack on a fee every time you use a teller for deposits or withdrawals. Cell-phone contracts also are full of fine print about fees for various services and early termination of a contract.
For more pesky charges you might not be aware of if you don't read the fine print, see How to Wipe Out 33 Pesky Fees.

Mismanaging Your FSA
For some people, that means failing to sign up for their workplace flexible spending account. Contributions to an FSA come out of your paycheck before taxes -- so you don't have to pay taxes on that portion of your income. Then you can use the money tax-free to pay for such things as health care deductibles, co-payments, dental work and child care. You can set aside up to $2,500 in a health care FSA and up to $5,000 in a dependent-care FSA to cover child-care costs for kids under age 13.
Other people contribute to an FSA but fail to use all the funds in their account. FSA funds can't be carried over from year to year. As a result, employees leave an average of $86 behind in their use-it-or-lose-it FSA each year, according to WageWorks, an employee-benefits provider. See these 7 Smart Uses For Your Flex-Account Money so you don't leave any funds behind.

Paying Full Retail Price
iStockphotoConsidering that most consumer goods go on sale at various times of the year, there's little reason to pay the full retail price for something. For example, apparel is dramatically marked down at the end of each season and during sales events over long holiday weekends, such as Labor Day. Furniture is discounted as much as 60% during clearance sales in January and July before new styles are released in the following months. Prices on TVs and computers are slashed on Black Friday -- and the list goes on.
Plus, you can always use sites such as and to find coupon codes to score a discount at the checkout when you shop online. You can buy discounted gift cards for your favorite retailers at Gift Card Granny to get instant savings (a $100 gift card for just $90, for example). And you can try your hand at haggling to get a lower price. See Secrets to Successful Haggling for tips.

Sticking With the Same Service Provider
Hey, we're all for loyalty to trusted service providers, such as your bank, insurer, credit-card company, mutual fund, phone plan or cable plan. But over time, as prices and your circumstances change, the status quo may not be the best deal anymore. Smart consumers are always on the lookout for bargains.
See our tips for reshopping your auto insurance, determining whether your checking account is still right for you, saving money by switching cell-phone plans and getting a better deal on cable TV.

Buying New Instead of Used
iStockphotoMany pre-owned items can cost up to 50% to 75% less than the price you'd pay if you purchased them new. Often you can find "used" goods that have hardly even been used. And with some items -- such as tablets and smart phones -- retailers or manufacturers refurbish and repackage them so they're practically new again. Of course, there are some things you're better off buying new, including mattresses, linens, shoes and safety equipment, such as car seats and bike helmets. But here are 11 things that you should consider buying usedbecause you often can find them in good or almost-new condition at a fraction of the price you would pay to buy them new.
9 Ways to Get Rich Quicker

Buying When You Can Borrow
Be honest: How many times have you bought something you've used only once or twice? In an age of social networking, collaborative consumption is the next big thing. At, you invite contacts to join your network of borrowers, then post an ad to share or borrow just about anything, from a circular saw to a photo scanner to a Vespa scooter. It's a great way to audition a product before buying, if you must. (It's available in about 100 cities.) You can also trade baby, kids' and teen items, and books and DVDs for all ages, at

Paying Credit Card Annual Fees
ThinkstockA great rewards-card offer may strike you as worth the annual fee of $50 or more. However, there are plenty of rewards cards without an annual fee. See our picks for the best cash-backtravelgas and retail, and airline rewards cards -- many of which don't have an annual fee (or the fee is waived during the first year).

Saying Yes to Rental Car Add-ons
When you rent a car, the fees can add up quickly. One of the heftiest fees can be rental car insurance, or collision damage waiver, which can cost $20 to $30 a day. Rental car agents are trained to make this insurance sound nonnegotiable, but you probably don't need it. If the car is for personal use and you have collision coverage on your auto policy, you're covered. (Your credit card may pick up the deductible -- or become your primary coverage if you don't have any other insurance.)
There are plenty of other charges for add-ons, such as a GPS, which typically costs $13 a day. Bring your own. And think twice about paying for a full tank of gas ahead of time. You can fill up cheaper yourself, and you may not use a full tank anyway. See How to Avoid Unnecessary Rental Car Fees to learn more about the extras that companies want to charge you for and whether you really need them.

Paying for Credit-Monitoring Services
ThinkstockA credit-monitoring service can charge $15 a month or more to track your credit files. But you can get a report from each of the three bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- free every year Stagger your visits to the site so you get a report from one of the bureaus about every four months. You'll keep up with any changes without paying the fees.
Plus, a couple of services will send you updates from the credit bureaus free. Credit Sesame tracks data on your Experian report daily and will send you an e-mail alert if anything suspicious appears. (You need to sign up for alerts; notifications also appear on your account page on the site.) Credit Karma has a similar tool, which provides free daily monitoring of your TransUnion report.
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Paying for Warranties
Appliance and electronics salespeople will sell you on a product's merits and, after you commit, badmouth it so you'll also buy a service contract. Don't bite. Thirty-one percent of consumers buy extended warranties each year, according to a study by the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. Typically, you'll pay 10% to 20% more for an item to extend a one-year manufacturer's warranty through the fifth year of ownership, according to the Service Contract Industry Council.
Odds are you won't need the extra coverage because most major appliances don't break down during the extended-warranty period. Or you might already be covered. The four major credit card networks -- Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express -- provide up to a year of extended warranty protection for some cardholders, according to credit card comparison site See What You Need to Know About Warranties and How Credit Cards' Extended Warranty Coverage Stacks Up to learn more.

Not Planning Weekly Meals
ThinkstockIt's hard to make money-smart meal choices when you're rushing at work or at home -- or both. Without a weeklong plan, you risk wasting money at the grocery store or on fast food. By developing a menu of easy-to-prepare meals, you won't overspend at the grocery store by buying things that you don't need or that will just go bad in your refrigerator.
And if you have food at home that can be quickly turned into meals, you'll be less tempted to stop at a fast-food joint, which isn't nearly as cheap as it seems. A family of four can easily spend more than $20 on a fast-food meal, but they can prepare a meal at home for significantly less.

Paying Too Much for Shipping
If you do your shopping online, you often can avoid paying for shipping by having your purchases shipped to a retailer's brick-and-mortar store or by taking advantage of free shipping promotions. You can find free shipping codes at, or you can take advantage of Free Shipping Day in December, when more than 1,000 merchants will offer free shipping with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. See 6 Things to Know About Free Shipping to learn more ways to score free delivery.
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Going Overboard on Parties
BigstockphotoWhatever happened to inviting the neighborhood kids over to your house for birthday cake, ice cream and a few games? Now families are spending hundreds - even thousands -- of dollars on over-the-top birthday party venues, catered meals and elaborate gift bags for each guest. The truth is that most kids just want to spend time with friends playing games, opening a few gifts and indulging in a little junk food. So resist the urge to spend more than necessary. See How to Save Money on Kids' Birthday Parties for tips.
And then there are weddings. Don't get us wrong: We love weddings. We just don't like the $28,000 average bill that accompanies couples down the aisle. Starting your newlywed life under a crushing debt load is a bad idea. Rein in your wedding costs and do your marriage a favor. (And don't foist that outrageous price tag on your parents, who are trying to save for retirement and may have just helped you pay for your education.) See Wedding Bells on a Budget for advice.

Being Disorganized
Lost bills and receipts, forgotten tax deductions and clueless spending can cost you hundreds of dollars each year. Set up automatic bill payment online for your monthly bills to eliminate late fees and postage costs. Then get a handful of files to organize important receipts, insurance policies, tax documents and other statements. Or, better yet, banish the clutter entirely by converting your paper files to digital (learn how). Finally, consider going online to get your budget and finances in order. Here are our picks for four online tools that can help you track your spending, cut the clutter, save for goals and build a financial plan.