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Best and worst supermarket chains


A new tally of supermarkets names a Northeastern regional chain as the best grocery store in the nation.

Consumer Reports has crunched the data and found Wegmans to be the top pick. For those who are not familiar with Wegmans, this is a store that has been consistently adored through the years by people who shop there.

In second place, we have Trader Joe's, the national alternative grocer that is a real crowd pleaser and distinguishes itself by doing natural and organic food for less money.

In third place, we have the Southeastern regional chain Publix, which has topped the American Customer Satisfaction Index for some 20 years. They're followed by Costco Wholesale, Sprouts, Market Basket, Fairway Stores, WinCo, and Aldi.

At the other extreme, the lowest score was earned by Walmart!

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How to spot fake online reviews

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The power of collective wisdom is an amazing thing. Thanks to technology, you can tap into endless online reviews to help you do everything from book sweet accommodations at an unknown hotel in an unfamiliar city, to discover a gluten-free soufflé joint right in your own backyard!

Some of the more popular reviews sites out there include Yelp.com, Kudzu.com and TripAdvisor.com. Yelp excels for reviews of independent eateries, Kudzu is great when you want reviews of service businesses, and TripAdvisor is the preeminent stop for hotel reviews.

But how do you know which online reviews at those sites are legit and which aren't to be trusted? After all, many businesses have family or friends write glowing reviews and present them as unbought and unbossed advice when in fact they're very much an inside job.

Money Adviser, a special imprint of Consumer Reports, recently ran an article that had some eye-opening info about Angie's List. Historically, I've been neutral on Angie's List. But while Angie's List says they are a consumer-driven service supported by membership fees, Money Adviser  reveals that 70% of their revenue comes from ads purchased by the companies being rated!

So they're playing both sides. It's hard to give unbiased reviews -- even if your heart is in the right place -- when somebody's paying all that money.

On another note, Wired magazine created a mocking flowchart titled 'Should I Trust This Yelp Review?' that exposes the tiresome absurdity of sorting through reams of fake reviews to find a real one. It's like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack!

As usual, Clark has some advice on the situation to help steer you right. And you won't even have to tax your brain with flowcharts.

  • Spot the easy red flags. One easy way to get a feel for whether or not you're reading a legit review is to read a poster's reviews of businesses, products, or services other than just the one you're looking for. If they use the same cut-and-paste language in every review, you have an indication that they may be a paid reviewer putting out false information.
  • Look for at least 2 dozen reviews for a given business. You want to see a lot of opinions before you can know that there's a credible trend happening. A handful of stray reviews won't cut it. Generally, at least 2 dozen reviews is a good guideline.
  • Throw out the excessively positive and negative.  Let's face it: There are people who will find something to be grumpy about no matter what. And others love life and always write in superlatives. But over time, you can glean the collective wisdom. If every single review you read about a business is glowing, or every single one is negative, then you know something's wrong.
  • Know the special considerations for travel reviews. TripAdvisor.com is a great site for hotel reviews, but again you've got to be careful. As Clark says, "I don't pay attention to any reviews written by British people because they aren't accustomed to our hotels and indiscriminately love everything. Ditto for New Yorkers who are used to cramped conditions and think any room is spacious even if it's the size of a shoebox. Nor do I pay any attention to whiners about room service. I never order room service! What I am looking for is the preponderance of opinion."

What other tips do you have for ferreting out the good reviews from the bad? Write in below and let us know!

Credit Unions Offer Creative Mortgages To Save You Money

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Years ago, credit unions weren't the best place to look for a mortgage. But that was then and this is now. Today, credit unions are a great source for mortgages, especially if you're looking for something more creative.

Pentagon Federal Credit Union has some unusual loans that you typically won't find from a bank or mortgage broker and could save you money in the right situation.

For example, they have a 15/15 ARM. It's a 30-year loan, but the rate is only fixed for the first 15 years. You get a lower interest rate than you would with a traditional 30-year loan. And because the typical person keeps a loan for around 7 years, this can save you money. If you do stay put in the house, the loan resets at prevailing rates 15 years down the road.

Other credit unions are offering a 5/5 ARM. The rate is set for 5 years at today's rate, but unlike a 5/1 ARM, the rate resets five years down the road and stays put for another 5 years. For many people, these rates would work very well too.

When it comes to mortgages, the difference between a credit union and a bank is the credit union wants you to get out of debt, while the bank wants you to stay in debt. So credit unions do more creative products with the whole design being to get you debt free instead of paying the bank forever and ever.

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Textbook Costs Need To Be Controlled By Students And Professors Alike

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There's a revolt on college campuses against the unholy alliance of textbook manufacturers and college professors. They're each creating an inexcusable burden on student who have to spend a few thousand dollars a year on textbooks!

The Seattle Times reports Tacoma Community College has a pilot project that provides assistance to professors to come up with online resources to sub in for textbooks.

The pilot paid for itself in less than a year and is now saving students collectively hundreds of thousands of dollars at the school.

That's lead to a groundswell in Washington state. Professors are now under pressure in the University of Washington state system to use online resources and Internet versions of material to reduce costs of books in classes.

I know I'll hear from the professors who let me know why I'm undermining the educational process. Please go to the Clark Stinks messageboard and make your voice heard.

But the reality is students no longer buying their textbooks. I think about myself, working through graduate school on a free ride from IBM for all college expenses except books. So I would go through a course without the textbook about a third of the time. It put me at a disadvantage, but that was the situation I was in. Today's kids can't afford expensive books either.

So the push that's starting in Washington state is strong and it needs to spread from sea to shining sea.

Professors who still favor traditional textbooks should consider using a past edition of a book that would be widely available for students if they absolutely insist on having the printed form.

And students, you need to get organized. Don't just go like sheep. Fight back and push the instructors to think about the burden they're placing on you. They may not even know.

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How to Get Out of Debt Quickly in 5 Simple Steps

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Being in debt can be a stressful experience. No matter what your circumstance is, if you signed for a loan, you are obligated to pay it back even if you have a life altering experience like losing a job, getting into an accident, or even if you have increased expenses due to having a child. Many people try to get out of debt, but life slaps them in the face hard enough that they give up. That doesn’t have to be the case. There are others, like myself, who are getting out of debt every single day, and not only that, but they are getting out of debt in a short period of time.

Here are 5 simple steps to help you eliminate your debt pronto


1.    Make a conscious decision to stop borrowing money
If you want to get out of debt fast, you have to stop using debt to fund your lifestyle. This means no more financing furniture, no more signing up for credit cards, no more test driving brand new cars that you don’t have the cash to pay for. This will help you focus solely on the debt that you currently do have so that you can develop a game plan to pay it off quickly.

2.    Establish a starter Emergency Fund of $1000
You might be wondering, ‘Why is having an emergency fund important’? Well, if you don’t have any money in the bank and an emergency does happen, how are you going to pay for it? For most people, credit cards become the funding source for those emergencies. If you are trying to get out of debt then you need to put a buffer between you and debt; that is exactly what an emergency fund does.

3.    Create a realistic budget and stick to it
Developing a budget that tracks your income and your expenses is crucial to getting out of debt in a short period of time. It will help you gauge where you are with your finances so that you can move forward toward your goal. It will expose whether you have money left over, which is called a surplus, or if you are in the negative, which is called a deficit. The goal is to increase your surplus and use that money to pay down your debt. Below are two ways that you can do this.

The first way is to earn some extra cash. If you are in a commission-based job then this means that you need to make more sales, which will probably involve having to work more hours. If you are in a salary job and you are limited in the hours that you can work, then you might need to pick up a second job. When my wife and were toward the end of paying off our consumer debt, I was able to get a second job delivering pizzas which gave us the extra income we needed to hit our deadline of 18 months.

The second thing that you can do is trim your expenses. Go over each line item on your budget and ask yourself, ‘how can I make this number smaller?’ It may involve cancelling services that you rarely use like a gym membership, Netflix subscription, etc. It might even involve reducing the amount of times that you eat out at restaurants each month. The amount that you slash depends upon your commitment level to getting out of debt.  The more committed you are, the easier it will be for you to give up some of the unnecessary amenities in life. You might not even need to sacrifice much if you can find these items or services for less. Check out Clark’s Free and Cheap List to help you with this process.

4.    Organize your debt
This is paramount to mapping out a plan to pay off your debt. There are two approaches that are worth considering.  The first is where you list your debts smallest to largest regardless of the interest rate. This is the method that we used to pay off $52,000 in debt in 18 months and it worked great because it helped us build momentum. When we paid off our first debt it put wind in our sails. Even though we had higher interest debts, this gave us something that was very powerful: the belief that we could get out of debt quickly if we stuck to the plan.

The other method is called laddering. This is where you list your debts, starting with the highest interest rate first and end with the debt with the lowest interest rate. This method makes the most mathematical sense, because you will save the most money in interest over time.  Regardless of which process you choose, the key is to stick with it.

5.    Throw any excess cash at your debt
When we were getting out of debt, there were several times where extra money fell in our laps that we had not factored into our debt elimination originally. We decided to take this cash and use it to tackle our debt. Some good examples would be a tax refund, selling a car, an inheritance, winning a bet, etc. The more cash you can put towards your debt, the faster it will disappear.

Debt doesn’t have to be forever. Develop your financial game plan and start your journey toward being debt-free today.

Check out more money related tips from Deacon on his blog WellKeptWallet.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Cell phone overage fees are going away

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The prevailing business model from the major cell phone companies has been to lure you into a bear trap and fee you to death. But that’s changing quickly. And pesky overage fees are the next to bite the dust.

T Mobile CEO John Legere is no stranger to causing commotion, and he’s doing just that at the expensive of the other major US cell phone carriers. He announced on his blog last Wednesday that T Mobile is doing away with all of their overage fees. And he’s also asked Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint to join him. That request was mostly met with a curt, “no comment.”

These fees cost consumers an estimated 1 billion dollars a year according to T Mobile! We’ve been hearing complaints from listeners for years on surprise fees that can add up to incredible dollar amounts. Some of those have fees have even been in the thousands of dollars. To see those overage fees gone for good would be a boon for consumers and would create more transparency as well.

The wireless revolution is in full swing at this point. From the small discounters like Freedom Pop and Republic Wireless to the major disruptor T Mobile, the landscape of mobile is already vastly different than it was just a few years ago. But did you know that you can still overpay? If you sit on your hands and do nothing it’ll cost you big-time. The real savings come when you switch to one of the deal-oriented carriers and say adios to the behemoth companies.

Also, Republic Wireless is launching their new, far cheaper phone. They now add an inexpensive handset  to their already impressive plan offerings which start at just $5 a month! So don’t just sit there and take what the overpriced big guys offer you. And if you’re in a contract, there’s a solution to that as well.   Go save yourself some money!

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