Prepping for wedding season
Are you one of the estimated 69 million Americans invited to nuptials this year? asked Melanie Hicken in CNN.com. If so, steel yourself. Wedding guests expect to spend an average of $539 per wedding this year, according to a recent American Express survey, up more than 50 percent from last year's average. But there's no reason to break the bank traveling to your best friend's destination wedding with a gift in tow. "It's your budget, and nobody should ever get upset with you about your budget," said Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post. If you can't graciously skip out, then save — and shop — early. Book travel and hotel rooms as soon as possible, and don't wait until big-ticket items are the only ones left on the wedding registry.
A seller's market
Potential homebuyers have been disappointed in recent months at the limited inventory of available homes, said Ann Carrns at The New York Times. The housing market is coming back to life, but with supply this tight, you have to be aggressive. Feel free to make a lower offer if you have plenty of time to shop around. But if you find a house you love and don't want to let it slip away,"make your offer as strong as possible." Offering a sizable earnest payment will signal to sellers that you're serious. And if you can afford it, opt for a conventional mortgage rather than an FHA loan. Conventional mortgages typically require larger down payments, but having one might help your offer since they set fewer requirements for the property's condition than FHA mortgages do.
Where to stash your cash
Today's low-interest rates make it difficult for savers to earn on their parked funds, said Matt Krantz in USA Today. But don't let that unfortunate fact tempt you to risk money you can't afford to lose in the stock market. A good rule of thumb is that if you'll need your savings within three years, steer clear of stocks. That means accepting lower returns. Short-term Treasury bonds are a safer option, but the yield on the five-year Treasury is just 0.7 percent. The best bet among less-than-ideal options might be high-yielding online savings accounts, some of which offer interest rates of up to 0.8 or even 1 percent. "But don't expect to get rich off these accounts, or even keep up with inflation." And remember, those rates, as low as they are, can still fall.