Posted on 6/11/2013 13:58 EST
Staying connected while traveling without going broke is as easy as finding an Internet connection. Internet cafes abound and basic smartphones accept hundreds of free or cheap apps that ensure connectivity while exploring the world. Some apps are so popular they've become household names -- Skype, for example -- while lesser known options claim a following within the travelling community.
But first things first. Always, always remember to turn off cellular data once you've boarded the plane for departure. Although you may be able to make calls or access 3G or LTE networks overseas, the roaming data and call charges could leave you with a phone bill that doubles the cost of your trip. Breathe deeply, though: There are plenty of ways to stay connected cheaply while traveling.
Photo by gui jun peng/Shutterstock
Establishing connectivity. Open Wi-Fi connections are common in most cities around the globe. In case your hostel or hotel comes up short, head for the local McDonalds or KFC (these chains really are everywhere); chances are they have open Wi-Fi service.
What if your itinerary takes you to a small town or rural area? A personal hotspot that provides a portable Wi-Fi connection, known as a Mi-Fi, keeps you connected any and everywhere. Available from companies like XCom Global for $14.95 a day, a Mi-Fi is not exactly cheap but is surely less costly than staying connected with your U.S. carrier's international data plan while traveling. Be careful about the data you send over open Wi-Fi signals, though, because anyone can snoop. A virtual private network (VPN), such as the HotSpot Shield app, keeps your information secure even on open networks and is highly recommended.
Local offerings for similar services may be available at a discount. For example, an advertorial post on Trip Advisor shares information about a company that rents Mi-Fi hotspots for about $12 a day to travelers visiting major Japanese cities. The company maintains booths at the airport or delivers the device to your hotel.
Regardless which path you take, save Internet updates until you're hooked into a free Wi-Fi connection.
Making the Most of Internet Connectivity. Once you've established a link to the Internet, you have several options for staying connected while traveling. Email is ever popular, but a favorite app among travelers is WhatsApp (99 cents for iPhone users; free download for other devices and an annual 99-cent subscription after the first year). Once installed, WhatsApp lets you send texts, pictures, videos, and voice messages at no cost. A Fulbright scholar who spent several years in Russia suggests a free alternative to WhatsApp called Viber. The one drawback to each of these apps is that the recipient must use the same platform.
Photo by Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock
When it's time to actually call home, there's always Skype. Skype's rate of $2.99 a month for unlimited calls to U.S. and Canada cellphones or landlines is a real deal. All you need is an Internet connection to pull this off.
Staying connected in-country while traveling calls for a triband GSM phone. Swapping prepaid SIM cards into a phone is fairly common in much of the world. Rates are reasonable for local calls and in some places you'll only pay for outgoing calls and texts. You may already own a "world phone" such as the iPhone 5 or Galaxy S III, but you'll need to contact your carrier before heading overseas to unlock the phone so it can accept international SIM cards.
Other quick and easy tools for staying connected while traveling: Create a Dropbox account to store photo images. You can upload pictures directly from your phone into a gallery folder so that folks at home can view, but not edit or copy, them.
Skype maintains a fee-based Wi-Fi service that provides access to hotspots around the world.
Download any of the free "Wi-Fi finder" apps to point you towards the nearest hotspot.
The Google Translate app converts text or speech from one language to another, a handy device that lets you communicate (sort of) with locals. The Google Goggles app can be used to snap pictures of signs or menus and translate them into English.
Posted on 6/10/2013 13:31 EST
With beach season in full swing, there's no time like the present to pick up a pair or two of cheap water shoes or flip-flops. Proper foot attire at the shore protects feet against the blazing hot sand and debris embedded in the underwater floor.
Here are our picks for affordable beach footwear.
Photo by Narongsak Yaisumlee/Shutterstock
The ultimate in cheap summer flip-flops
is Old Navy's version of this all-time
classic. Prices start at a mere $3.94 a pair, and if you decide to purchase two or more, the price drops to $2.50 each. If your taste runs to a more stylish alternative, this retailer sells an abundance of options at reasonable prices. For an even cheaper buy, Kmart
sells classic and cheap flip-flops
for women at $1.99 a pair, available in six colors. Be sure to check out dollar store venues like the Dollar Tree, which offer these basics for a buck.
For a bit more flair, Target's in-house brand Mossimo flip-flops come in many stylish varieties for all members of the family and sell for less than $20 a pair. JC Penny carries lightweight Zori Print Flip Flops, available in fun and colorful prints, for only $3 a pair.
Cheap Sporty Water Shoes.
The best all-around
shoe for water activities protects both the top and bottom of the foot. The classic minimalist shoe is Vibram's Five Fingers, but with a starting price of $85 this shoe hardly counts as cheap.
Photo by pattarastock/Shutterstock
Fortunately there are a slew of cheap water shoes that serve the same purpose. OP Dominica, Wave Walker, Menhaten, and Footie varieties are available exclusively at Walmart and priced in the $10-and-under range for men, women, and kids. Consumer reviewers report this is an excellent lightweight, "water walker" shoe with a decent tread and ground feel. Kmart's in-store brand Athletech also features affordable water shoes for everyone in the family for less than $10.
Speedo water shoes are more sophisticated but still relatively cheap, with prices for men's and women's styles starting just below $20. Fans appreciate the durable rubber traction and overall comfort. An interesting fusion of water shoe/Croc is Target's Froggs, made of thermoplastic rubber and available in many colors for both sexes at $16.99 a pair.
Some outdoor enthusiasts prefer water sandals but these beach shoes are rarely available in the budget price range. We found one close substitute, an outdoor men's sandal from Kmart that goes for less than $10 and boasts some water-friendly attributes -- fine for boating, camping, and hanging around the shore but not designed for long periods of total immersion.
Posted on 6/7/2013 14:20 EST
Cruise into summer on a riding lawn mower. Surprise dad on Father's Day with a token gift or cement a friendship with refer-a-friend opportunities. Save money on used baby gear or use the cash-back from rewards credit cards towards something else on your wish list.
For homeowners with larger yards, a budget riding mower or lawn tractor will do just fine. See which models top our list and offer superior value-to-performance
New Blog Posts:
Father's Day is just one week away and there's no time to lose. Check out our suggestions for fun, inexpensive gifts.
programs can help you make a quick buck while helping out your pals. Learn about how these deals work and decide if you want to partake.
Baby gear is notoriously expensive but way less so if you're open to used stuff. Find out which items are suitable for reuse.
Rewards and cash-back
credit cards can be a boon to the disciplined and conservative shopper. Click through for the skinny on these credit card deals.
Posted on 6/6/2013 13:39 EST
In the right hands a frugal and disciplined shopper can use rewards credit cards to save on every purchase. Finding the best cash-back or rewards credit card for your shopping habits can be tricky, though. Each card comes with slightly different rules, unique rewards programs, and fees that can reach several hundred dollars a year. Luckily, consumers can turn to several resources to find the right card.
Sites like BankRate.com and NerdWallet.com offer filters that narrow the hundreds of credit card options to the few that best fit your situation. Your credit score is one factor that affects which cards or interest rates are available to you, a fact that CreditCards.com takes into account when helping you find the best cash-back or rewards credit card. By supplying your name, address, and Social Security number, the site returns a list of cards you qualify for. If you want the card with the most benefits and lowest fees, any of these sites can help.
Photo by stockyimages/Shutterstock
Regardless which card you choose, you should be earning something back on every purchase. The first decision to make regarding a new card is what type of rewards program you want. Rewards programs generally fall into three categories: cash back, miles for air travel, and points for hotels and consumer products. In each case you receive up to five percent of the amount spent using the card in the form of a reward. Cash back is clearly the most versatile option (you choose how to spend the money) but the miles and points programs often return greater value.
One of the better deals is Chase's Ultimate Rewards program, which covers consumers holding a variety of cards. Shoppers with the no-fee Chase Freedom card earn one percent cash back on every purchase, plus an additional four percent (up to $1,500 a quarter) on select categories, such as movie theaters and groceries, which rotate throughout the year. The percentage back is stored as points that can be redeemed for cash, gift cards, or consumer products. Chase Sapphire Preferred card holders (a rewards credit card with a $95 annual fee) earn points (two points for each dollar spent on dining and travel) that can be transferred to airline, hotel, or rental car programs in addition to a 20 discount (i.e., in required points) on travel booked through the Chase travel portal.
Similarly flexible programs are offered by American Express, Citibank, and Capital One. Barclays recently introduced several new cards and is slowly growing its credit card rewards program, which currently lets users apply earned points towards credit card payments.
Photo by Tatiana Popova/Shutterstock
Another type of rewards card is the store-specific credit card; think JC Penney, Macy's, Target and other brand-name credit cards. Some of these cards come with benefits at the associated stores, such as coupons, free shipping, or extended return periods. Several store cards also offer generous rewards programs. Frequent shoppers at Target get five percent off all Target purchases when using the company's REDcard, for example. Ace Hardware, Sony, and REI reward cardholders with one percent cash back on all purchases and a five percent cash reward for items purchased at the associated store.
For consumers who prefer a credit card with a low annual percentage rate (APR), rewards cards are not the best choice. Rewards credit cards often charge high interest rates, so it's costly to maintain a balance. If you happen to find yourself in debt to a credit card with a high APR, consider transferring the balance to a new card. Chase's Slate card has no annual fee, offers free balance transfers for the first 60 days the account is open, and a zero percent APR for 15 months. Heads up here: The interest rate can climb to 21.99 percent after that, so take advantage of the interest-free period and pay down your balance.
Savvy spenders use credit cards to earn thousands of dollars worth of rewards every year and know how to work around paying fees. But not everyone has the time or interest to track down all the information and execute the plays. If you're looking for a way to navigate the fine print, CompareWallet.com posts a credit card screener that lets you see the fees attached to which cards.
With any reward or cash-back credit card -- even the best -- avoid the temptation to spend what you don't have. Clearly there's a strong incentive to buy because you'll get as much as five percent back, but if you don't or can't pay the full bill on time you'll end up paying an extra 15 percent or more.
Posted on 6/5/2013 13:57 EST
Baby gear these days is downright expensive. Even cheap cribs start at around $150 and cheap electric breast pumps cost more than $100. The good news is that many baby items can be reused if you've already had one child, or if you're open to used baby gear handed down from friends and family or found in secondhand stores. Below are some items you may be able to reuse under the right circumstances.
Photo by Oksana Kuzmina/Shutterstock
Baby Clothes and Linens.
Baby clothes, burp cloths, swaddling blankets, cloth diapers, crib bedding, and the like are all perfectly fine to reuse. Just be sure to give any used baby stuff a good wash with hot water and you're all set. Granted, baby clothes get stained easily and often, so if it's something that you can't get clean or you don't think you'll actually use, then toss it.
Cribs can be reused with a few important precautions. If your kids will be close in age, then a crib used previously by an older child may be perfectly acceptable. However, the Consumer Product Safety Commission
cribs does not recommend using a crib older than 10 years. To be even safer, avoid any crib sold prior to June 28, 2011, when five new federal requirements went into effect, one of which prohibits the formerly popular drop-side
design. If you're planning to get a used crib from a family member or secondhand store, check the CPSC website to make sure the model hasn't been recalled and scour the crib to verify that it can be properly assembled with all the required parts (especially tiny screws).
As for the crib mattress, a BabyCenter article reviewed by the site's medical advisory board concludes that it's safe to reuse a mattress from a previous child if you've protected it with a removable cover and stored it in a clean environment. If you don't know the conditions a used crib mattress comes from, then you should invest in a new one. Several studies have linked an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, to bacteria from a previous baby's bodily functions that get lodged in the crib mattress or fungus that grows while the mattress is in storage.
Baby furniture such as rockers, dressers, changing tables, etc., is acceptable to reuse to outfit a nursery. As with a crib, though, make sure that all parts are included in this used baby stuff so you can assemble the pieces properly. You wouldn't want put a wobbly changing table or a dresser missing a leg in a nursery where it could potentially harm your baby.
Toys and Activity Equipment.
Toys and play yards (or Pack ‘n Plays, the brand name often used to refer to them) are generally safe to reuse, as long as they have been properly sanitized. Most toys can be easily cleaned up and reused (as long as they are age appropriate, of course) and play yards can be wiped down to be ready for your new baby. That said, the CPSC issued new guidelines for play yards earlier this year, prohibiting certain side rails that pose a strangulation hazard and mandating sturdier corner brackets and mattress attachments. Of course, you should also stay away from any used baby stuff that the commission lists among its recalls.
Photo by S_L/Shutterstock
There is a lot of debate over whether or not you should reuse a breast pump. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
differentiates between single-user
devices and hospital-grade
breast pumps designed to be used by multiple users. The FDA warns that sharing a regular breast pump with another woman can transfer infectious illnesses to you and/or your baby. You may be able to find a hospital-grade
breast pump available for rent or receive assistance from your health insurer or state health department to buy a new one. If you already have your own breast pump, buying a new tubing kit should be sufficient for you and only you to reuse it.
A car seat may be safe to reuse if you know its history. Guidelines from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
say that a car seat or infant seat must be replaced following a moderate to severe car accident, even if there's no visible damage. Car seats that have been in minor accidents, however, can be reused. A minor accident, as defined by the NHTSA, must match ALL of the following:
- The vehicle is able to be driven away from accident.
- The vehicle door nearest the car seat is undamaged.
- There are no injuries to any of the vehicle passengers.
- The vehicle's air bags did not deploy.
- No damage is detected on the car seat.
If you know where the car seat is coming from and know it has never been in an accident, then feel free to reuse it. Again, though, check the CPSC website for recalls. This is one piece of used baby stuff that experts do not recommend purchasing from a secondhand store, because you have no way of knowing whether or not the car seat has been in an accident.
Posted on 6/5/2013 10:17 EST
This week's top picks for family and kids deals include a hippie-inspired diaper bag, a kid's video camera and a baby food making cookbook.
1. Diaper Dude Diaper Bag 38% Off
2. GeoSafari Tuff Cam 78% Off
Kids can safely and easily shoot video footage using this durable, kid-tested camera. Camera includes 32MB of internal storage plus a 2GB SD card.
Educational Insights GeoSafari Tuff Cam
(Woot! $39.99, 78% off from $179.99 - $140.00 savings, 5 out of 5 stars at Amazon)
3. Baby Food Making Cookbook 40% Off
Posted on 6/4/2013 9:43 EST
Wanna make a quick buck? Just refer a friend to a company that compensates you for making the match. It's a win-win-win: The company gets a new client, you get some kind of payment, and the new customer often gets a bonus. But first, you need to know where to find the offers.
Online forums and blogs pitched to the frugal-minded are useful sources of so-called refer-a-friend links, and Groupon is well-known for $10 Groupon Bucks awarded for enticing a friend to sign up and buy a deal. When you're interested in opening a bank account, say, signing up for cable TV, or even buying beauty products online, looking for a referral link can be more lucrative than finding a coupon. Frequently the referee (that would be the friend), not just the referrer (that would be you), is rewarded as well.
Photo by Olaru Radian-Alexandru
RefAround.com is a relatively new site whose sole purpose is to act as a platform for finding and sharing refer-a-friend links. Although the membership-based site is still in beta-test mode, more than 200 programs are listed already. The most popular to date is Dropbox, which awards referrers an additional 2GB of cloud storage and referees an extra 500MB; more than 800 people have received these bonuses. Some programs posted on the site reward points (on the order of hotel chain points or frequent flyer miles) and others offer monetary payouts. Online brokerage OptionsExpress gives both parties $100, while Bank of America gives new members $25 if they sign up for an account after being referred and rewards the referrer with $50. A sister RefAround site in France boasts more than 45,000 members who have used 1,500 refer-a-friend offers to make, collectively, more than $1.3 million over a 12-month period.
Anyone can use the site to find a refer-a-friend deal but only members can add new refer-a-friend programs or promote their referral links and reap the rewards. Members also can friend each other and connect via Facebook to see which friends are already members and RefAround will recommend using a friend's link over a stranger's link to the same deal.
To become a member, just login and create an account using Facebook. If you don't want Facebook involved, you'll have to join the waitlist; founder Nicolas Davoust is keeping the membership base small while the site is still a work in progress. (The first 100 people to use the referral code "Cheapism" will be instantly approved. We do not earn a reward for this referral.)
Davoust is trying to involve users as much as possible. He's offering rewards, in the form of points that affect how often your refer-a-friend links are displayed, for reporting bugs, suggesting improvements, logging in daily, and -- you guessed it -- referring friends to the site. In an interview he said that free use of the site and the opportunity to earn rewards motivates users to report problems and "forget about complaining."
In our time on RefAround we noticed some areas that need improvement; member-submitted refer-a-friend program descriptions are often confusing, for example. But there's a lot of potential in the concept. Being able to host all your refer-a-friend links in one place is certainly convenient and letting them work for you to earn a little money on the side never hurts.
Posted on 6/3/2013 9:44 EST
Dad may say he wants only to fire up the grill this Father's Day, but surely he'd appreciate a thoughtful present. Having trouble finding a cheap Father's Day gift that won't get buried in his closet or sent back to the store? With the holiday coming up on Sunday, June 16, we've compiled a list of memorable yet affordable ($20 and under) ideas to consider.
For the penny pincher: Did you get your frugality from your father? Help him save money -- and his skin -- with the Blade Buddy ($20 on Amazon), a product that keeps disposable razor blades sharp for months. Given that those pricey little cartridges are typically thrown out after only a week or so, this cheap Father's Day gift is not only good for Dad's wallet (and yours) but also good for the planet. The brand alleges that razor blades and packaging account for 2 million pounds of waste each year.
For the Sunday funnies reader: Cartoonist Jeffrey Brown has followed up last year's popular Star Wars: Darth Vader and Son with a new book, Star Wars: Vader's Little Princess (less than $9 on Amazon). Whether you're the son or a daughter of a Star Wars fan, one (or both) of these hardcovers makes a fitting and cheap Father's Day gift. Darth Vader is portrayed as just like any other father dealing with lightsabers and the Force. In the new book, he tries to keep Princess Leia from spending too much time gabbing with her friends via R2-D2 hologram and forbids her from wearing that famous metal bikini in public.
For the griller: With this cheap Father's Day gift, a dad who always takes charge of summer barbecues can grill indoors, as well. The Cuisinart Sandwich Grill ($20) specializes in grilled cheese but can also cook omelets, fruit tarts, and French toast. Reviewers on Amazon say the green light on top reliably lets the user know exactly when the food is done, so it doesn't burn, and the nonstick cooking plates require no added grease, making for more healthful meals. The manufacturer offers a limited three-year warranty.
Google Nexus 7
For the handyman: Do you always call on Dad to fix a leaky sink or help hang a picture? Make sure he comes prepared with the Craftsman Evolv Homeowner Tool Set ($16 at Sears). The carrying bag contains a claw hammer, slip-joint pliers, an adjustable wrench, a torpedo level, a snap-off knife, a tape measure, and a screwdriver with 16 bits. All the tools are covered by the brand's lifetime guarantee.
For the mediaphile: Even cheap tablets cost a couple hundred dollars, but good, old-fashioned magazine subscriptions are usually a bargain. Make this cheap Father's Day gift more meaningful by selecting titles that cater to your dad's hobbies and interests. With the coupon code MPSBIG, you can get 12 issues of Car and Driver for $5, 10 issues of Men's Health for $15, 24 issues of Outside for $20, or 26 issues of ESPN The Magazine for less than $9 through MagazinesUSA. Choose one or two that will keep Dad occupied and content whether he's waiting at the airport or relaxing at home.
Posted on 5/31/2013 13:22 EST
As the temperatures rise across the country the need for a window air conditioner hits home hard. Enjoy the chill of an indoor workout while getting into shape with a discount gym membership. Save some energy for cleaning your abode with the goal of turning clutter into cash and opening up space for a laser printer in your home office. Then sit back and celebrate with an outdoor cookout and tasty treats from the grill.
If you don't already have one, now might be the moment to buy a room air conditioner for less than $300. Features and performance for budget, Energy Star models are discussed in our updated buying guide.
Jazz up your home office with a low-priced
monochrome laser printer. We researched models that sit in the cheap zone and zeroed in on features such as resolution and print speed.
New Blog Posts:
There are many options for getting rid of your clutter. Use our post to point you toward the choice that best fits your needs.
It's time to whip out the grill and start cooking. We have tasty BBQ recipes and tips that will tantalize your taste buds.
June is the month for deals on cookware, gym memberships, tropical vacations, and lingerie. Find out what other bargains are available now, as well.
Posted on 5/31/2013 9:54 EST
This week's picks for top travel deals include a Tuscan escape and a Costa Rica vacation.
1. Tuscan Escape 30% Off
Stay in a 12th-century castle while in Tuscany, Italy. This eight-day vacation deal includes round-trip airfare, castle accommodations, car rental and more.
(Groupon $1,399, 30% off from $1,999 - $600 savings)
2. Costa Rica Vacation 50% Off
Enjoy the beach and explore volcanoes in Costa Rica for eight-days. Includes roundtrip airfare, accommodations, transfers and more!
Costa Rica Vacation
(Groupon $899, 50% off from $1,799 - $900 savings)