Best Time to Buy a Computer, Where to Buy a TracFone and How to De-Smoke a Microwave

There was a time when grabbing the best prices was all about where and when you shopped. Savvy shoppers would wait all year to buy sheets, towels and other household linens during January White Sales. After Christmas Sales were notorious and reliable. But things have changed with the advent of online shopping and red-hot competition between retailers.

So, is there a best time to buy specific consumer goods? That’s the question posed in today’s first question from one of your fellow EC readers.

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Dear Mary: I’m looking at new computers. When is the best time to buy one? Stella

Dear Stella: There is something to be said for seasonal pricing of some consumer goods. For example, you will probably get the best deals on outdoor grills and lawn mowers in July and August as retailers are gearing up for Christmas and they need to clear space.

Our friends at Consumer Reports tell us that April is the month to get the best buys on computers, but I’m not completely on board with that theory because it is way too general.

The best time to buy a new computer is when you really need one. If your current machine is broken, or you need greater performance or it’s a gift, etc.,—there’s really no reason to delay the purchase. Research your options, make a decision and then shop around.

If you’re planning to buy an Apple product, by all means wait for the next big product announcement, if you can hold out. You might be able to get a deal on the model that will be going out of production.

If you’re looking at a PC, you might see some discounts in late summer and into fall, but I wouldn’t expect any major improvements in that technology that would warrant a big price drop anytime soon. Hope that helps!

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Easy Ways to Plan for College, Save Money, Read Books and Carpool the Kids, Too!

BIG FUTURE. Planning for college? BigFuture.CollegeBoard.org is a website set up by the College Board to help students navigate the often confusing and overwhelming world of choosing, paying for and getting into college. It’s a college-planning headquarters of sorts.

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BigFuture not only helps you find a school that fits your aspirations and your bank account, but also helps with personal decisions such as whether living on campus is a good fit for you or not.

You will find it to be a very comprehensive site covering scholarships, loans, campus visits, interviewing techniques, and so on.

SAVE UP. The purpose of SaveUp.com is to get people saving money again and out-of-debt. We like that! The site helps by offering incentives. The more you save and pay off your debts, the more incentives you win (credits towards prizes and free plays). They even have a powerball-like drawing each month to win $2 million—not that anyone has ever won it, but still.…

Savers and debt-payers earn credits at SaveUp by linking financial accounts, watching informational videos, answering profile questions, paying off debt and saving money. Then they can spend their credits to play games and win prizes like iPads, cash, Kindles, etc.

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What To Do With Leftover Green Salad

If throwing out perfectly delicious green salad were a crime, I’d be serving a life sentence. 

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It kills me to do it, but until fairly recently, I had no idea there was a second life for fresh green salad, dressed or not. Once tossed, passed and partially consumed, that’s it, right? Wrong.

GAZPACHO SALSA. Blend it with V8 Juice to create a thick gazpacho (a cold Spanish/Portuguese tomato-based raw vegetable soup). Add a little hot sauce, and serve with chips for an appetizer. Extend it even further with the addition of red pepper and cucumber. Seriously tasty, however it will vary depending on the contents of the leftover salad you start with. 

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Surprising Ways to Use a Slow Cooker that Have Nothing To Do with Food

They’re bulky and take up precious cabinet space, but we’ll never get rid of our slow cookers. They can be such a lifesaver those days when time is scarce and we just want to make a big batch of something deliciously comforting to get us through.

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A slow cooker, aka Crock-Pot®, is one awesome household appliance for hands-off cooking. If you have one (a recent study says at least 80 percent of us do) you may know what a great time- and money-saver it is. Surprisingly, your slow cooker is good for other tasks that have nothing to do with eating. Everybody needs a slow cooker!

RE-MAKE CANDLES. We all have those old candles that are lopsided or have holes burned through one side. Rather than toss them in the trash, toss them in the slow cooker instead. Once melted, fish out the old wicks and gather your heatproof containers. Tie a weighted candle wick (you can find these at any craft store or online) on a pencil laid across the container’s rim and let the other end dangle into the empty container. Carefully ladle the melted wax into the container without disturbing the wick and let cool. There you go, new candles!

HOMEMADE SOAP. Looking for a great homemade gift idea? This could be it! Homemade soap is wonderful because you can customize your soap bars with the scents and ingredients you prefer. While there are many recipes and instructions available online, you can skip the tedium with a clear melt and pour soap base. It’s detergent free. An hour in the slow cooker plus essential oil (20 drops lavender essential oil would be an awesome choice) plus colorant and any variety of botanicals and you’ve made your own beautiful soap products.

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Time to Hit the Road for a Family Vacation

Some of the best times we had when our boys were young were those spent on family vacations. Being together away from the normal routines of life creates an atmosphere just right for bonding and for making memories to last a lifetime.

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A great family vacation allows you to bond with your kids and bring your family closer together through shared experiences. But it also has to be a vacation that’s affordable, not exhausting, and embraces common sense.

Be realistic about rest. Here is the first rule of family vacations: Parents on vacation really aren’t. Unload any personal expectations that you will be relaxed and refreshed when it’s over so you won’t be disappointed when you’re not. And if you do get a little rest and relaxation along the way, consider it an unexpected bonus.

Be realistic about the cost. Consider the money you have first and then design a vacation that will realistically fit within that financial boundary. If you have a family of five and $500 to spend, don’t even think about a couple of days at Disney World.

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6 Gifts of Summer to Make for Christmas

Even if you don’t have an abundant garden this year, don’t worry. You can still make these wonderful gifts of summer to hold onto for Christmas. You can find everything you need at a local farmer’s market.

How wonderful it will be when you welcome the holiday season knowing your gifts are ready to go.

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FREEZER JAM. Mix 2 cups crushed fresh strawberries with 4 cups sugar, and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir one package dry pectin into 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 minute. Stir the boiling water into the strawberries. Allow to stand for 3 minutes before pouring into jars or other storage containers. Place tops on the containers, and leave for 24 hours. Freeze and store frozen until ready to give. Makes 5 pints.

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The Cost of Dipping Into a Retirement Account

More people are taking loans from their retirement accounts (401(k), 403(b) or what have you) than ever, simply because they can. Here’s the problem: Seeing one’s retirement account as a savings account or worse, a personal ATM machine. That’s so ridiculous I cannot even tell you. Sure it’s your money, but it’s not your money now. It’s for later. It is out of your reach, so you need to get it out of your mind.

Borrowing from the nest egg, from retirement savings

The beauty of an IRS-approved retirement account is that you get to save pre-tax dollars. It’s no secret that what you see in your paycheck is not the full amount you earned.

In fact, the amount in your paycheck is shrinking and many of our elected officials are trying to shrink that even farther by increasing taxes. You know what I mean if you live in California one of the most heavily taxed state with a governor who is threatening to once again increase sales tax, personal income tax, and taxes on small businesses. (Did I mention my husband and I left California for this very reason?) But I digress ….

A retirement account allows you to save your money before it gets taxed. If you take your money home, you have to earn about $1.00 to see $.75 in your paycheck. But if you put it that dollar into a retirement account instead, you get to deposit the entire $1.00. You get to invest the $.25 that belongs to the government. It’s not a gift; you will have to pay that $.25 to the government eventually. But for now you get to keep all the growth you will achieve by investing the government’s money! Get it? And it’s all locked up so it is safe from YOU. That’s the beauty of a retirement account.

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More Super Summer Slow Cooker Recipes

Slow cookers, what’s not to love? Up until a few days ago I was smuggly confident I had a very good handle on the slow cooker appliance—brands, sizes, prices and the best inexpensive options out there (see “Everybody Needs a Slow Cooker”). And now I just may need to add a fourth option—a casserole slow cooker.

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This is genius. The stone insert in a casserole slow cooker is a 9 x 13 stoneware casserole baking dish. It goes from the slow cooker base to the table for serving and it’s oven-safe, too. And you can leave the insert in the base set on warm to serve on a buffet table. The casserole slow cooker appears to be just perfect for making lasagna, breakfast casseroles, desserts and other casserole-type dishes that work best in that size and shape baking dish.

The Casserole Crock Pot comes in two versions—Manual Low, High and Warm Settings and Programmable Digital. I’ve just now ordered the manual version (half the price of the fancy model) and cannot wait to give it a test drive. Watch for my review and feedback coming up soon in a future post.

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