Paralyzed by Too Many Choices

A perfectly orchestrated backyard party took an ugly turn when the bounce house was emptied and all 15 little friends and twice as many adults gathered around to watch the 5-year old open a mountain of gifts.

That’s when the birthday girl melted into a puddle of tears.

Melissa’s embarrassed parents threatened punishment if she didn’t “stop right now!” which only made things worse. She ran to her room and slammed the door.

I’m sure a child psychologist would have had a field day citing poor parenting skills, hidden anger, deep-seated fear or some form of attention deficit. I saw it as much less complicated. Melissa was the victim of too many choices. I know because I feel the same way when I go to a supermarket or try to determine which cell phone plan is the best.

Best Inexpensive™ Water Filters—Pitcher, Under-Sink, Countertop

You need to stay hydrated, that’s for sure, but is the tap water in your home safe? It is considered generally safe if it comes from a public water system in the United States, such as one run and maintained by a municipality.

When drinking water leaves a treatment plant on its way to your house, it must meet strict safety standards. That doesn’t mean that your water is free of all contaminants, but that the levels of any contaminants don’t pose any serious health risk. And it sure doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. Or comply with your doctor’s orders should you have a health issue with chlorine and or fluoride, present in most municipal water.

Having some method of filtering the water you drink and cook with is the best way to assure great tasting water without the high cost of having to haul bottled water into the house. And you have choices for how to do that.

Based on lots of research, testing, and tasting here are my picks for the Best Inexpensive™ filtering pitcher, under-sink reverse osmosis, and countertop filtering system.

Ask Me Anything: Pre-Owned iPhones, Pet Stains, Carpet Cleaning Machine

Have you seen the latest iPhone X? Read about it? I nearly choked when I learned it comes with a price tag of $1,000 or more.

Granted, I’m no iPhone aficionado, but I cannot imagine spending that much on a mobile phone of any brand, size, or capability. Can you?

Debra writes, “It’s time for me to get a new smartphone and I’m having a hard time deciding. Since they are so expensive, I don’t want to make a bad choice. I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy 2 for about five years. Everyone else in my family has iPhones and they suggest I do the same even though they have no experience with Android phones. Also, I’ve come across certified used phones which are cheaper, but I’m a bit leery of going that route because I don’t know how safe it is. I would appreciate any advice you could offer.”

Answer: This is going to come down to your own personal preference, however as one who has never really bonded with any mobile phone (my family members are mostly at their wits’ end with me as I rarely even know where my phone is—let alone think I should answer it if I’m busy), I would be hardpressed to give you a specific recommendation. But I do have some thoughts.

7 Ways to Outsmart Retailers’ Clever Tricks That Get Us to Spend More

I blame my suspicious nature on my neighborhood grocery store. The store used to be a logically arranged market with bright lights and clean floors—a basic, friendly, functional place to shop.

Then the bulldozers morphed it into a big fancy supermarket complete with clothing, mood lighting and cushy chairs. And hidden cameras.

I have nothing against beautiful spaces and modern conveniences, but I’m no fool. I knew all of this effort was to one end: to get me to spend more. Take the “Three for $6!” special of the week. “Why not just say $2 each and drop the exclamation mark?” I muttered to myself as I placed one jar of spaghetti sauce in the cart. Before I could wheel away I had my answer: I saw several customers dutifully place three jars in their carts. Not two, not four, but three jars.

That response was no accident. In fact, that’s a simple example of how retailers use tricks to persuade consumers to buy more.

It’s been a few years since I had the privilege to interview Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping. Retailers hire Underhil’s company, Envirosell, to follow thousands of shoppers a year in person and on videotape, observing their every move.

Using this information, the stores find ways to get people to shop longer, spend more and return often. Underhill and his crew are so good at what they do, they can tell retailers what will entice people to enter the store, which way they’ll look once they’re inside, and more.

How important is consumer persuasion to the marketplace? “If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something,” Underhill told me, “and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse. Boom.”

No one wants the economy to get any worse, but we don’t want to overspend either. So our defense as consumers is to educate ourselves. Here are 7 tricks together with easy ways to outsmart those sneaky  retailers.

How to Shop with CASH at Amazon

I can’t think of many things worse than waking up on Dec. 26 with a raging debt hangover—an all-too-common after-Christmas condition.

The only reason you paid for everything with a credit card is that it was convenient. Besides, it’s not safe to shop online with a debit card, so what were your options?

Of course, you promised yourself that you would be paying the balance in full the minute the statement arrives, but who are we kidding here?

You were already carrying a balance on every card in your wallet, so now all of those new purchases will exacerbate the problem by plunging you even deeper into debt. Worse, you don’t even know for sure how much you spent because who keeps track when you pay for everything with a credit card?

Just imagine if you’d kept your promise that this year would be an all-cash Christmas—that you locked those credit cards away where they were safe from you. You’d be heading into the New Year with a much different attitude. No excuses, no hiding the holiday bills; no worries and no regrets.

I’ve got some good news for you. This year really can be an all-cash Christmas. You can do it and make your cash stretch even further when you take advantage of the lower prices when you shop online. You really can shop with CASH at Amazon, absolutely no credit card or debit card required.

All Things Considered, the Best Way to Re-sell Used iPhones and Electronic Devices

If you’ve ever wondered where old mobile phones and electronic devices like iPads and tablets go to die, it’s pretty simple.

Some get tossed into a recycle bin somewhere to be parted out and melted down. iPhones are often passed down to children to be used as iPod touch substitutes. A large number of mobile phones are simply abandoned and misplaced due to neglect. Thankfully, a growing number are finding a next life with a new owner.

As a result, the secondary market for electronic devices is on its way to becoming as robust as the primary market.

So let’s say you’re ready to order the new iPhone 8 or X. You paid a lot for your current phone and it’s still in great condition. Your plan is to sell that old phone to help pay for the new one. You have options:

6 Ways to Outsmart Picky Eaters

Got picky eaters? Don’t get mad, get clever! Use these simple techniques to get your kids to eat a greater variety of healthy foods without resorting to mealtime confrontations or worse, force-feeding.

BE PREPARED. Keep a cooler in the car that you stock with carrots, pretzels, yogurt, and water when you’re out with the kids. This trick will head off the “I’m starving to death!” syndrome that can cause an otherwise reliable automobile to veer off into a fast food drive-thru lane.

PLAN DINNERS. If planning menus for a full week is too daunting, start with only two or three days. Keep it simple but balanced. Whole-grain bread, rice, or pasta; a fruit or a vegetable; and a protein source like lean meat, cheese, or beans.

Spooky Tales of Extreme Debt

Scary stories and fiendish tales are all part of Halloween fun. But the last thing you expect is for those spooky stories and tricks to be played out in real life.

Debt has become the American way. So has denial. Super-high debt levels paired with serious denial can be downright terrifying. While not all debt situations reach critical levels, when they do, the response must be equally severe.

Kevin, 24, has $19,000 credit-card debt, drives a heavily-financed $45,000 fancy high-performance car ($580 monthly payments) and still lives at home because he cannot afford to move out. He can barely afford to eat because, in addition to his debt, he pays $2,400 a year for car insurance and $3,000 on gasoline—all on less than $32,000 annual income. Extreme debt.

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