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Personal finance tips: The risks of medical credit cards, and more
Three top pieces of financial advice, from saving on back-to-school purchases to not going broke on a gluten-free diet
 
School supplies don't have to break the bank.
School supplies don't have to break the bank. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Saving on back-to-school purchases
Back-to-school shopping isn't the "frenzied one-day spending spree" it used to be, said Kaitlyn Krasselt at USA Today. Families are expected to spend an average of $670 on school supplies, clothes, and electronics this year, but more parents "are shopping strategically online and picking up additional in-store items when necessary," spreading out their purchases over time. For the essentials, experts say the best way to save is to avoid brick-and-mortar stores altogether and wait for Labor Day sales. In the meantime, late July and early August can be a great time to cash in on deals for classroom supplies, while big-ticket items like laptops are likely to go on sale in August, "when 62 percent of all 2013 laptop deals occurred."

The risks of medical credit cards
Don't let plastic you can use at the doctor's office put your finances in critical condition, said Crissinda Ponder at Bankrate.com. For uninsured Americans with steep medical bills, medical credit cards may appear to be an attractive financing option for their health expenses. The cards, which can be used only for medical costs, are similar to ordinary credit cards, with minimum monthly payments, reporting to credit bureaus, and attractive sign-up offers. But experts say the cards should only be used as a "last resort," because "the interest rate can be shockingly high." Consumers should instead try to negotiate with their health-care provider to reduce their medical bills or seek financial assistance at a nonprofit hospital. If those avenues fail, it's probably best to rely on regular plastic.

Don't go broke on a gluten-free diet
A gluten-free diet doesn't have to break the bank, said Gerri Detweiler at Credit.com. Though eliminating cheap wheat-based staples like bread and pasta can drive up your grocery bill, there are simple strategies to make a gluten-free lifestyle more affordable. First, "stop wasting food." The average household already wastes about $2,300 in food each year. To reduce waste, buy salad greens on the stem, not pre-chopped, and store them in plastic bags with as little air as possible. Next, avoid gluten-free branded snacks, which are not necessarily healthy and are often overpriced. Finally, "make the freezer your friend." Frozen vegetables can cost half the price of fresh ones, and buying meats when they're on sale, and freezing them for later, can save you big bucks.

 
Sergio Hernandez is business editor of The Week's print edition. He has previously worked for The DailyProPublica, the Village Voice, and Gawker.

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