Expert Explains

Christmas Price Index rising faster than the cost of living

seven swans a-swimming

In spite of relatively slow inflation, the cost of buying all the gifts in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has risen by more than six percent this year, according to the PNC Financial Services Group’s Christmas Price Index.
Highest ever Christmas Price Index
Each year PNC adds the current costs of all the gift items mentioned in the iconic Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” including drummers drumming, pipers piping, Lords a-leaping and maids a-milking. That total cost came up to $107,300 this year, an increase of 6.1 percent from 2011. It is also the highest price-tag on the twelve gifts […]

VA swamped in backlog of claims


The Department of Veterans Affairs, a.k.a. the VA, is swamped with a growing backlog of claims, a recent probe found. As a result, many veterans are waiting a year or more to receive the benefits they earned in the service of their country.
VA backlog grows 2,000 percent in four years
According to a new report from the Center for Investigative Reporting, the average wait time for veterans filing  claims is 273 days. For those filing initial claims,the wait is even longer, between 316 and 327 days. If those first time filers are in major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and New […]

LA chapter expelled from the Better Business Bureau


It is getting very difficult to know who consumers can trust anymore. The Better Business Bureau has, for the last century, been held up as the one bastion of integrity consumers can turn to for the real scoop on businesses. Now, however, the Southern California chapter has been stripped of its BBB status for its alleged “pay to play” scheme, offering higher ratings for paid members.
Largest Better Business Bureau chapter ousted
BBB of the Southland, the nation’s largest Better Business Bureau chapter, served the greater Los Angeles area. However, in the wake of an ABC investigation, it has been expelled from […]

Never give up on your Peeps


Colored eggs and chocolate bunnies be damned, for many, no treats say Easter quite like the chick-shaped marshmallow confections knows as Peeps. This Easter, the pop-culture holiday sensation will be 60 years old, with no intention of retiring.
Power to the Peeps!
Just Born Inc. has been making Peeps since 1953. And while growth has been slow compared to other companies, it has never lost money and closed with record profits in 2012. Sweet things, it appears, are resistant to recession.
In that time, the humble, unassuming marshmallow chick has gained pop icon cult status. A new holiday TV ad for the confections […]

Secret menu items hiding at fast food franchises


Are you tired of the same old Big Mac for lunch? Why not try a Monster Mac, featuring eight all-beef patties? Don’t remember seeing it on the menu? That’s because it isn’t! It is one of the many hidden or secret menu items available at your favorite fast food chains. You only have to know to ask for it.
Secret menu items buzzing on social media
It is a trend picking up steam, mostly driven by buzz on the social media. Most of the major fast food chains now have such hidden items. Panera Bread bakery-cafes, for instance, offers bread-less “Power Bowls” […]

Bill Clinton does about-face on Doma, and good on him


Former President Bill Clinton is appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which he signed into law, essentially barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages by defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Flip-flopping on Doma?
As the Supreme Court prepares to take another look at the law later this month, Clinton says he now believes it to be unconstitutional. Under it, he said, “same-sex couples, who are legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia, are denied the benefits of more than a thousand federal statutes and programs available to […]

Survey: most would trade privacy for lower auto insurance

Klondike bar

More coveted, apparently, than a Klondike bar, a new survey illuminates the things some people would do for a discount on their auto insurance. You might be surprised the lengths to which some would be willing to go to lower their rates.
I saved on auto insurance by switching to Big Brother
In this time of economic uncertainty and high fuel prices, most Americans, it seems, would trade a little more cash in their pockets for their own privacy.
The survey, commissioned by, asked 500 licensed U.S. drivers what privacy-compromising hoops they would jump through for their insurance companies, assuming it meant […]

Community college graduates out-earning those with BAs


Educators, parents and politicians alike keep telling us to get that sheepskin, that a middle-class income is not obtainable without at least a bachelor’s degree. Yet, according to new research, more and more community college graduates are out-earning those with fancy schmancy bachelor’s degrees.
Community college graduates surge ahead
A new study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that nearly 30 percent of graduates of two-year colleges — those with associate’s degrees — are earning more than those entering the workforce with four-year bachelor’s degrees.
Other recent state-wide studies have come to similar conclusions, according to CNN, hinting at […]

Horse meat scandal has sentimental underpinnings

Horses and cows are both made of meat. Image

Several reports of horse meat in products sold as beef has sparked a red hot controversy in the European Union. The practice is fraud, as food packagers try to cut corners with the less-expensive horse flesh. The problem no doubt needs to be addressed. But is the controversy so heated simply because of consumer duping?
Horse meat where cow meat should be
Earlier this month, DNA tests proved that the so-called “beef” in European-sold Findus brand lasagne was actually 100 percent horse meat. That sparked an investigation into all the beef products sold in Europe. It is even now being learned how […]

Food activists want FDA to limit sugars in drinks


A Washington-based nutrition activist group has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require beverage bottlers to limit the amount of high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners in their products.
FDA urged to regulates sweeteners
The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed the petition on Wednesday, February 13. It was signed by health advocates and scientists across the nation.
Contributing to obesity epidemic
The consumption of sugary soda and other drinks by Americans has risen sharply over the last 50 years, according to the Boston Globe. Now, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest, that is linked with an […]

Are paid dating sites better than free ones?

online dating

Looking for love on line is convenient, relatively easy and allows love-seekers to meet more potential matches much more quickly than would be possible otherwise. But it can also get expensive, even before the dating begins, if you choose to use a paid dating site over one of the free ones. But is the expense worth it? Do paid dating sites give members a better shot at finding a match than their unpaid competitors?
Do you get what you pay for on dating sites?
The most common argument for using paid sites, like or eHarmony, is that they attract a more […]

Monopoly has a new cat and still teaches values

Monopoly cat

One of the most popular and enduring boardgames, Monopoly, enjoyed its 78th birthday on February 6. Hasbro, which sells the game, marked the day by retiring the old flat iron token in favor of a new cat. Meanwhile, it is still a great way to teach your kids some fundamental personal finance lessons.
History of Monopoly
Charles Darrow, “an unemployed steam-radiator repairman and part-time dog walker from Philadelphia,” sold the Monopoly game to Parker Brothers in 1935, and it soon became a runaway hit. Darrow based the game’s city location on 1920s-era Atlantic City, though many of the street names were altered. […]

Let the U.S. Postal Service dinosaur live


Some of my friends believe it’s time to let the U.S. Postal Service go, that it’s a dinosaur that has outlived its time. The USPS’s recent announcement that it will cease delivering mail on Saturdays beginning in August has re-sparked such rhetoric. But I for one can’t imagine an America without a post office. Besides, I always thought dinosaurs were pretty cool.
Hurdles for the U.S. Postal Service
The USPS has faced many challenges in recent years. The obvious, of course, is that most people now send texts, emails, IMs, Tweets, status updates and Skypes instead of letters. Not to mention that […]

Postal Service says it will cut Saturday deliveries in Aug.

If the Postal Service has its way, your mailbox will remain empty on the weekends

The U.S. Postal service has announced that it will discontinue the Saturday deliver of mail, except for parcels, in an effort to cut costs.
Most Americans agree with U.S. Postal Service
The announcement, made February 6, says the change will begin on August 1. However, it may meet resistance from Congress, which has not, as yet, approved the change. In a poll, however, 70 percent of Americans approve of the move.
“The American public understands the financial challenges of the Postal Service and supports these steps as a responsible and reasonable approach to improving our financial situation,” said Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. […]

Americans pay more for gasoline, but drive less

oil cans

Since the economic slowdown, and with rising gas prices, Americans have kept their eye on fuel economy. They have been using less gasoline and driving more fuel efficient vehicles. In spite of those efforts, they are paying a larger part of their income for gasoline than they have in three decades.
Gasoline takes a larger cut of income
According to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, American motorists paid a record amount for gasoline in 2012, in spite of driving fewer miles and the increased fuel efficiency of today’s vehicle models.
The average American motorist spent $2,912 at the pumps […]

Large firms charging poor people more for auto insurance

State Farm

A new report from the Consumer Federation of America asserts that some large insurance companies are often charging higher auto insurance premiums for those with lower income, even if they have a clean driving record.
Low-income consumers pay more for auto insurance
“We were finding that low-income people with low-income jobs and less education were being charged more than even people with auto accidents that have higher income jobs and more education,” said J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America.
The Consumer Federation of America is a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. Its report finds that larger insurance companies […]

Debt collectors using social media, feds alert


Federal financial regulators are looking into ways to limit how debt collectors and banks can use social media in tracking down delinquent borrowers or attracting customers.
Social media slips between regulatory cracks
The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, established more than 30 years ago, protects consumers from many abusive collection practices. However, those laws were established long before there was such a thing as the Internet or social media. Therefore, the rules have been spongy on the matter.
Mark Schiffman of the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, an international trade association of debt collection firms, said “the rules on it are not […]