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Jose Cirado and Louis Rocano grill hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken during a Memorial Day Barbeque in Queens, NY, in 2006. With summer inviting families to dine outdoors, Carlozo offers readers eight tips for buying the gas grill that makes the most sense for them. (Ashley Twiggs/The Christian Science Monitor)

So much at steak: 8 tips for buying a grill

By Lou CarlozoGuest blogger / 06.19.13

Summer kicks off the grilling season in many parts of North America, and while a gas grill is a home appliance of sorts, it's nowhere as easy to purchase as a toaster or a blender. On the one hand, you could spend as little as $68 for this two-burner gas grill at Walmart (with in-store pickup, a low by $107). Or, you could opt for the mighty Kalamazoo K750HT Hybrid Fire Freestanding Grill, which packs 75,000 BTUs of burger-searing firepower and boasts a 33" x 22" primary grilling surface. Its base sticker price? A cool $14,795: enough to buy a Walmart grill for you and 200 of your closest pals, and still have change for a brat run to the supermarket.

Before you get burned, seared, or otherwise broiled on your gas grill search, here's a handy buying guide to landing the grill of your dreams: this checklist will help you separate necessities from the frills.

Pick Your Fuel Source

Using propane tanks is convenient and always having a spare tank around eliminates having to leave the BBQ to make a propane run. But natural gas is another fuel option; it'll cost you less in the long run, but you'll have to run a dedicated line from your home to the grill, and cheaper grills (under $300) aren't usually built to accommodate this option. You can outfit your propane grill for $100 or less with a natural gas conversion kit, but keep in mind that the grill you choose will otherwise take one fuel source and not the other.

How Will You Use Your Grill?

OK, we wise guy: We know you're going to cook food on this thing. But have you stopped to consider how much food and of what type? A good rule of thumb is that your grill should hold enough food to prepare a meal for as many people as you regularly cook for. If that's two, a small grilling surface will do. But if you love to entertain, then surface size matters — and the bigger the better. What's more, not all grills are equipped with the capability to, say, cook via rotisserie. ( Continue… )

Nate Labadie of Commerce Township, Mich., mows with a riding lawnmower in May as volunteers mow the grass at O’Shea Playground. Maintaining your own garden is hard work, but with the right power tools — and the right prices — you can trim, plant, and cultivate to your heart's content. (Lauren Abdel-Razzaq/Detroit News/AP/File)

Five power tools you need for your garden

By Tom BarlowGuest blogger / 06.18.13

Who doesn't love a beautiful garden full of lush flowers and vegetables, or a lawn with perfectly uniform grass immaculately manicured? These outdoor landscapes involve hard work, planting, cultivating, weeding, pruning, and harvesting. Fortunately, we live in an age where power tools can alleviate some of the hard work that is necessary to bring about a handsome garden and lawn. We've already discussed the specifics to finding the best lawn mower deal, and now here are five power tools in particular that should find a home in the shed of those of us who aspire to orderly greenery.

String Trimmer

Weeds are the number one nemesis of the home gardener, but the string trimmer allows gardeners to regain the upper hand. This tool uses a rotating monofilament string to cut weeds off at their feet. The string trimmer is also the best solution for edging around sidewalks and driveways, and trimming close to tree trunks where the lawnmower doesn't reach.

What to Look for
 String trimmers come with straight and curved shafts. The curved type are good for trimming up close, while the straight shaft models are better for cutting when you need to reach further away from the body, such as up a hillside. The straight shafts are usually heavier and more expensive.

Trimmers vary in the diameter of the circle they will trim; a 12" cutting path is a good size for home lawn care use. Look also for bump feeding, in which tapping the bottom of the trimmer on the ground allows a new section of string to advance into the cutting zone.

String trimmers, like each of the power tools discussed here, come in three forms: gas-powered, corded-electric, and battery electric. Unlike older models, the modern gas-powered trimmer is not particularly polluting, but it still requires fueling, tug starting, and the occasional tune-up. ( Continue… )

Air conditioning units line the exteriors of apartments in Boston, Mass. Cooling your home throughout the summer can be expensive, but Carlozo says you can cut your air conditioning bills by making sure your unit is new and periodically rotating out your unit for a ceiling fan. (Josh Armstrong/The Christian Science Monitor/File)

Seven ways to cut your air conditioning bills

By Lou CarlozoGuest blogger / 06.17.13

Though we're technically still in the season of spring, June is off to a hot start in many parts of the country, and that means one thing for millions of sweltering people: air conditioning. And while we may take air conditioning for granted, it's generally an expensive luxury. Americans spend more than $22 billion a year on electricity to cool their homes with air conditioning — and use a whopping 183 billion kilowatt-hours, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy. That accounts for at least 15% of all energy used in some homes, and in warmer climates can represent up to 70% of a summer electric bill.

If you're shopping for a new air conditioner, you'll notice quite a few different sizes and models. But one thing's for sure: Savings are always chill. Here's a quick primer to staying cool and keeping your wallet from overheating when picking out an A/C unit.

What's a BTU and How Many Do I Need?

Chances are you already know that BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, and that the more BTUs an air conditioner cranks out, the stronger its cooling power. But here's the problem: Most American consumers aren't sure how to translate BTUs into the square footage of a room. (No disrespect to the Brits, but maybe we need an American Thermal Unit, where 1 AMU corresponds to 1 square foot.) ( Continue… )

Home theater salesperson Justin Standish, left, helps a customer with information on flat screen televisions at a Best Buy store in Nashville, Tenn. in 2008. Some 2013 HDTVs are already going on sale at significant discounts. (Mark Humphrey/AP/File)

Eyeing an HDTV? Here's how to get the best deals.

By Louis RamirezGuest blogger / 06.17.13

So your decade-old HDTV is on the fritz and you're now forced to decide between making the jump to a 2013 model or purchasing an older, but cheaper, HDTV. We know it's a difficult decision to make, and with select HDTVs hitting all-time low prices, we can see why you'd want an "older" model.

But what if we told you that some 2013 models are already seeing solid discounts? And what if these TVs provided better picture quality than any of their predecessors? Maybe you'd consider the latest and greatest? Well, we took a long look at the first round of deals on 2013 TVs and found that the prices are lower than you might expect.

2013 HDTV Prices Have Dropped 40%

CES 2013 may be a hazy memory at this point, but many of the TVs announced in Las Vegas in January are currently stocked at your local big box retailer. And the good news is that many of these sets are already seeing steep discounts, ranging from a minimum of 3% off the manufacturer's price to a surprising 40% off. These promotions include new sets from name-brand companies like Panasonic, Samsung, and LG. (We've yet to see noteworthy deals on major 2013 models from Toshiba and Sharp.)

What's especially surprising is that many of the discounts we're seeing are for premium or mainstream models. ( Continue… )

A father plays with his son on a beach facing the Adriatic sea, near the city of Durres, in April. One of a father's gifts can be sound advice about saving and spending money. (Arben Celi/Reuters/File)

Father's Day gift: a father's advice to his son about saving

By Tom CorleyContributor / 06.16.13

At age 9, Tom Corley saw his multimillionaire family go broke overnight after a fire destroyed the family business. He went on to head an accounting firm and write a book, “Rich Habits – The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals.”  Recently, after his son graduated from college and set off on his own, Mr. Corley wrote him this e-mail (with formatting added):

 

Hi Son. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about saving and budgeting since you moved into your apartment. I wanted to give you some financial advice that I wish someone had given me at age 23:

1. Live below your means – Set aside 20% of every paycheck. Live within that 80%. Do this no matter how much money you make. Surviving on this 80% forces you to live below your means. This enables you to accumulate wealth. This is a Rich Habit. Most have the Poverty Habit of living beyond their means. This is why so many in America are in debt with credit cards, student loans, auto loans and mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.

2. If you get a raise or bonus, set aside 20% of that raise or bonus in addition to the 20% on your regular pay. Same principle as in #1. This ensures that you stick to your savings strategy no matter how much money you make. Not doing this may lull you into increasing your standard of living through the purchase of more expensive things like a bigger apartment, an expensive home, an expensive new car, a boat etc.

3. Max out your contributions to your company retirement plan. If the company matches your contributions, great. That’s free money. Not doing this is a Poverty Habit and means you are foregoing retirement savings and the free money from your employer.

4. Know what you spend every month. Create a monthly budget and track what you spend every day in that month. Not doing this means you really have no control over your expenses and could cause you to spend more than you make.

5. The power of compounding is your friend and will help you accumulate more wealth. If you invested just $250 a month for the next 40 years you would have $500,362 (using a 5% return on investment) when you hit age 64. The power of compounding turned $120,000 into nearly $500,000. $600 per month will turn in to $1,200,900. Of course your net pay is going to rise during your career. If you stick to Rule #1 and #2, your savings will increase with your earnings.

Son, every young person thinks if they work hard they’re going to hit it big and make a lot of money but the reality is very few ever do. The bulk of wealthy people are wealthy because they were taught how to manage money by their parents or they learned about money from some mentor in life. Those who learn these Rich Habits accumulate much more wealth than their peers. Most of the wealthy don’t make a lot of money but they do save a lot of money. Wealthy people know where their money goes. They budget their expenses. This gives them total control over how they spend their money. In order to be wealthy you have to accumulate wealth, not wait until you make a lot of money. Focus on accumulating wealth and if you get a big payday one day – great. It’s icing on the cake. If you stick to the 80% Rule above you will save a lot of money and you will be wealthy by age 45. You will be one of the few among your friends and colleagues because most parents don’t teach their kids the importance of saving, so nobody saves. Accumulating wealth is not about hitting it out of the park. It’s about getting singles. You get enough singles and you will win the game.

I love you

Dad

 

– Tom Corley is a certified public accountant, certified financial planner, and president of Cerefice and Company in Rahway, N.J. His financial self-help book is a byproduct of his five-year study of the daily activities of 233 wealthy people and 128 people living in poverty

Phil Schiller the senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple introduces the new MacBook Air laptops during the keynote address of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this week in San Francisco. Dealnews recommends buying the newest MacBook air, rather than going for discounts on the previous version. (Eric Risberg/AP/File)

Want a MacBook Air? New version is a better deal than the old one.

By Louis RamirezContributor / 06.15.13

Normally after Apple releases a new version of one of its devices, we recommend that shoppers save money by skipping the latest model and instead look for deals on the previous generation; often the new upgrades are minor and "older" models are barely a year old.

But when it comes to the latest MacBook Air, we're actually recommending that shoppers instead consider the 2013 model; the updates on this generation offer a significantly better performance and, thus, a far better value than last year's model. And even though this means you'll be paying more, you can still score a small discount by shopping smartly.

2013 MacBook Air Has Double the Storage Capacity

The previous generation 11" MacBook Air shipped with a standard 64GB SSD, which was considered paltry. This week, Apple gave the 11" MacBook Air one of the best upgrades it could receive: a faster and larger 128GB SSD. And because you can't manually upgrade the MacBook Air's hard drive, the new SSD alone makes the Haswell MacBook Air a much better value. (Last year, consumers had to pay $100 to double their storage capacity to 128GB on the base model.) Furthermore, Apple rates the new SSD 45% faster than last year's model, so you can expect to see a nice speed bump in overall system performance, too. ( Continue… )

Boston Market St. Louis-style ribs. Boston Market is one of many restaurant chains offering dads free food for Father's Day. (Boston Market/AP/File)

Father's Day freebies: Treat Dad to lasagna, froyo, and more!

By Alison BarrettaContributor / 06.14.13

Is it impossible to shop for your dad? You may have racked your brain and even consulted our Father's Day Gift Guide for the perfect gift to give the man who has everything, but to no avail.

However, all is not lost. If your dad doesn't need a new tool set or has enough ties to open up his own eBay store (and make a decent profit), give him a gift that will never go out of style: food. This Father's Day, several restaurants will be offering dads across the country all sorts of treats at no extra charge. Yes, that's right — your dear papa can reap the benefits of free food just for being the wonderful father that he is!

Below, we've rounded up the best Father's Day food freebies. Unless noted, these offers are valid on June 16 only:

The Spaghetti Warehouse

Freebie: Mamma mia! Dads who dine at The Spaghetti Warehouse for lunch or dinner can enjoy a free Lasagne or Original Recipe Spaghetti via this printable coupon. Each meal also includes sourdough bread plus a choice of bottomless salad or soup. Buon appetito, padre! ( Continue… )

Costco members fill up with discounted gasoline at a Costco gas station in Van Nuys, Calif., in 2012. Although Costco is known for offering steep savings at the pump, Carlozo says that, depending on your location, you could end up saving more at an alternate gas station. (Damian Dovarganes/AP/File)

Costco and gasoline: Are you really saving at the pump?

By Lou CarlozoContributor / 06.11.13

Ah, Costco! The Emporium of Everything, it's the one store that's got you covered from cradle (diapers) to grave (caskets). If you're a regular, you already know that this membership-only warehouse club isn't fazed by the most eclectic shopping list you can muster. But even Costco veterans might still not consider it a go-to locale for gasoline. The fact is that Costco — a chain now some 600 stores large — offers gasoline for about 6 to 12 cents a gallon below its local competitors' prices.

As such, Costco's gas sales have helped the company's bottom line, but how do Costco's gas prices stack up when you hold them under close scrutiny?

Cheap Gas Depends on Location

Much of the answer depends on where your Costco is located. In Chicago, the Lincoln Park Costco charges $4.49 per gallon for 1987 regular gas, according to GasBuddy. But that's no big bargain compared to many gas stations within a 45-minute drive of the place. Why is this?

For starters, Chicago (which has among the highest gas prices in the nation) also has rather high gas taxes within the city limits. So once you cross the border, gas prices drop sharply — a fact of life that applies even as you compare Costco stores to each other. In Bolingbrook, IL, located about 40 minutes southwest of Chicago, the local Costco sells gas for $4.07 a gallon, 32 cents a gallon cheaper than a Bolingbrook-area Shell and BP, located just a stone's throw away. ( Continue… )

Luggage waits to be run through the baggage system for testing at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia. Air travelers can escape costly baggage fees by calling hotels ahead of time to check what items they can leave at home. (David Goldman/AP/File)

The secret to fee-free flying: pick the right hotel

By Kelli B. GrantCNBC.com / 06.11.13

Air travelers looking to cut the weight of a checked or carry-on bag may find one offbeat solution helps: booking the right hotel room.

Consumers have more incentive these days to travel light. The 15 largest U.S. carriers collected a record $3.5 billion in bag fees during 2012, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That's 3.8 percent more than in 2011.

And it's not just travelers checking more bags. Of 52 airline fee changes tracked byTravelNerd.com in the year ended in January, more than half involved bags.

"It's become absolutely imperative to pack light," said Anne McAlpin, a packing expert behind PackItUp.com, who has seen increasing interest from travelers looking to reduce their load to an 18-pound carry-on.

Among recent changes, Southwest Airlines increased its fee for overweight bags from $50 to $75 for bags weighing 51 pounds or more. ( Continue… )

Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro is displayed at the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, Calif., in 2009. There's a great deal on MacBook Pro laptops this week. (Paul Sakuma/AP/File)

Buying a laptop? Score extraordinary deals this summer.

By Louis RamirezContributor / 06.10.13

Laptop sales are in the dumps. Windows 8 was supposed to give them a jump-start, but Redmond's new operating system turned out to be worse than Vista. In fact, analysts are now blaming Windows 8 for the lull in sales, which in turn is giving tablet sales such an upper hand that they're expected to surpass notebook shipments later this year. Even the mighty Intel can't save the laptop industry.

While this all may sound like a nightmare scenario for retailers, it's a blessing for consumers: this summer you'll be able to score some extraordinary laptop deals at Black Friday-like prices. And with new back-to-school sales surfacing each week, laptop deals are bound to break records. So forget about the summer BBQ. Here's why now is the perfect time to shop for a new laptop.

1. Windows 8 Didn't Live Up to the Hype

Despite all the fanfare, Windows 8 failed to live up to the hype. Yes, Microsoft sold over 100 million licenses of its shiny new OS, but Windows 8 didn't ignite sales. It also received an unprecedented amount of negative feedback, and it simply didn't sit well with consumers. Sales were so bad that Microsoft cut licensing costs for its partners. And while Microsoft's forthcoming OS update is expected to address many concerns, it's still unlikely that it will give laptop sales the extra boost they need. That means Microsoft, big-box retailers, and manufacturers are all on the mend, desperately trying to get consumers back in stores, preferably buying new systems. And what better way to lure customers than with low prices. ( Continue… )

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