thOne of my most reliable frugal hacks is using discounted gift cards to pay both for everyday and special purchases. Depending on the card you can save as much as 35 percent. Only amateurs pay retail.

You can buy certain types of cards at a discount at places like Costco. My favorite way to get them is through the secondary market. One of those resellers, GiftCardRescue.com, has offered to sponsor this week’s giveaway: a $50 Target card.

GiftCardRescue.com sells cards for more than 600 merchants. Use them to save consistently on the things you buy regularly (pet food, hobby supplies, groceries, gasoline, meals out) as well as for holiday shopping or special projects. I saved more than $100 on gift cards for materials for a greenhouse DF is building. But I also keep a McDonald’s gift card on hand so that I can treat my nephews, and I never pay full price for toiletries (Walgreens), haircuts (Regis) or movies (Cinemark).

And yeah, sometimes I send away for discounted GCs for my weekly giveaways.

GiftCardRescue.com also buys unwanted cards, paying up to 92 percent of face value. So if a well-meaning relative gave vegetarian you some steakhouse scrip at Christmas, why not sell it and use the cash for something more suitable?

Easter is coming and Target is a great place to get basket makings and spring fashions for the kids (and the grownups). Even if you don’t have kids or celebrate that particular holiday you’ll likely find something you want or need at Target.

(For best-practice shopping tips, see “Target deals: How to save big at your favorite retailer,” a piece I did for Grandparents.com.)

To enter the giveaway, use your e-mail address to log in on the Rafflecopter widget below. After that, enter your e-mail address again to sign up for the  GiftCardRescue.com newsletter.

This is different from the usual giveaway procedure, so I feel the need to emphasize it. The winner’s name will be chosen by Rafflecopter. Leaving your name in the comment section won’t enter you in this giveaway.

The deadline is 12:00 a.m. PST Wednesday, March 4. GiftCardRescue.com will notify the winner, so make sure to use an e-mail you check regularly.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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thWhat was the best card of 2014? According to two reputable sources, it was the Citi Double Cash Back.

Both NerdWallet and Cardratings.com praise the card’s unique conceit: Consumers get 1 percent cash-back on the items they buy and an additional 1 percent cash-back when they pay off the card.

“It’s the first (and, so far, only) card on the market that provides a lucrative incentive to make monthly payments in full,” notes Lindsay Konsko of NerdWallet, who calls the card “a game-changing product.”

Citi also is putting EMV chips in all of its consumer and student credit cards, making them safer than the typical magstripes. Other card issuers are putting EMV in some of their products, and apparently EMV chips for debit cards are also on the way.


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th-1Credit card use is on the rise, according to the recent “State of Credit” report from Experian. But there’s a group of consumers who are bucking that trend: millennials, of whom increasing numbers are eschewing credit in favor of debit.

Problem.

Using debit and cash means you’re essentially opting out of the credit reporting system. Without a healthy credit score, you’ll likely pay more than you should for insurance and for auto or mortgage loans.

How much more? An average of $159,464 in extra interest paid over your lifetime, according to Credit.com’s Lifetime Cost of Debt Calculator.


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thOur Black Friday has come and gone, a reprise of last year’s experience at the loneliest drugstore in the world: Two of the stores we visited were practically tomblike.

The third, Play It Again Sports, held the possibility of new skis for DF at 50 percent off. However, it also held googols of optimistic winter sports enthusiasts (we have maybe a quarter-inch of snow on the ground) and determined-looking hockey parents. We backed off quickly due to our shared Claus-trophobia.

But at the other two? We walked in, bought what we wanted and walked back out. No pushing and shoving, no pepper spray and no buying things we didn’t need.

(Well, I did buy one thing I don’t need. More on that in a minute.)

That’s the kind of Black Friday I prefer, especially since a study from NerdWallet bears out what a lot of us already suspected: that those BF “deals” often aren’t as good as they’re made out to be.


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thWhen it comes to paying off holiday debts, who finishes last? If you guessed “low-income shoppers,” you guessed wrong.

According to a study from the NerdWallet personal finance site, the middle class takes longer than anyone else to finish paying for its Christmas celebrations.

People who earn from $50k to $75k take an average of 2.6 months to finish paying for holiday expenses. Compare that to folks who earn $50k or less and take an average of two months.

“Those who spend more in an effort to ‘keep up’ end up paying the price later,” says Matthew Ong, senior retail analyst at NerdWallet.

“Middle-class households could end up in a risky position this holiday season if they have ample credit to make purchases but incomes too thin to comfortably pay the bills later.”


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