TIME Money

Americans Are Optimistic About the Economy Again

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Middle-income America hasn't been this upbeat in years

The days might still be short and gray in much of the country, but when it comes to money and finances, Americans today have a sunnier outlook than we have in a long time.

A new Gallup survey on how Americans feel about our standard of living hit the study’s highest-ever level since the organization began tracking the metric seven years ago.

Every month, Gallup asks Americans if they’re satisfied with their standard of living and if they think that standard is going up or down, then calculates the answers into a single-number index. In December, that number was at 50 — an all-time high. By comparison, the index was at 14 back in October and November of 2008 when the Great Recession was at its worst.

In another all-time high, 81% of respondents say they’re satisfied with their current standard of living, a jump of 12 points since hitting a recession-era low in late 2008.

And we’re even more optimistic about the future. Today, Gallup finds more than six in 10 Americans say it’s “getting better” when asked about their standard of living — the highest-ever recorded in response to this question, and almost double the one-third of Americans who selected this answer back in October 2008, a record low.

“People’s outlook for their standard of living going forward has improved much more than their current satisfaction with it,” Gallup says.

In a second recent survey, the America Saves campaign finds that our collective willingness and ability to save is significantly higher than it was last year immediately after the holidays.

“[This] suggests that Americans are now feeling better about their financial condition,” Stephen Brobeck, a founder of America Saves and executive director of the Consumer Federation of America (the nonprofit behind America Saves), said in a statement.

The America Saves data show this greater interest in and ability to save is driven primarily by households with an annual income of less than $75,000.

“Our new data suggest that low- and middle-class Americans are feeling more optimistic about their financial situation now than a year ago,” Brobeck says.

In its analysis, Gallup suggests that freer spending, perhaps helped along by low gas prices, could be contributing to our collective optimism. The America Saves data offers clues that this could be the case: Compared to a year ago, the income bracket reporting the biggest jump in how effectively they’re able to save money is households earning less than $25,000.

“Instead of being distracted by heavy holiday spending and debts, they are . . . interested and active saving today,” Brobeck says.

TIME Money

Why You Should Never Buy Stuff When You’re Sad

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

When retail therapy backfires

If you lose out on a plum assignment or get passed over for a promotion, your first tendency might be to head to the mall or click over to Amazon for a pick-me-up in the form of some discretionary splurging. It’s a common response, but a new study says it’s not the best one.

In fact, researchers warn that those purchases could leave you feeling worse about yourself, not to mention leaving a hole in your wallet as well as make you less resistant to future temptation.

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research finds uncovers some interesting findings about how we cope with failures. A big personal or professional disappointment disrupts how we see ourselves, and we often respond unconsciously. Say you get passed over for a big promotion. You might go out and buy the luxury watch or designer handbag you were going to reward yourself with anyway, as if to say, “See? I don’t need them to look successful,” in an attempt to bolster your bruised ego.

But there’s a catch: The researchers suggest that, instead of cheering you up, anything you buy that’s associated with whatever you’re trying to forget actually just serves to remind you of that flub or failure. Instead of being a consolation prize, it acts as a trigger that makes you feel even worse, chips away at your self-control and even impairs your ability to focus on completing difficult tasks.

In experiments, subjects were asked to think about a past intellectual failure, then choose a copy of brainy-sounding Scientific American magazine. Afterwards, they reported that selecting the magazine made them dwell on that past incident when they felt dumb. When researchers offered these subjects chocolate candy, they found that those negative feelings led to lower self-control, with subjects less able to resist the offer of junk food.

“After experiencing a setback in one area of their life, consumers might be better off boosting their sense of self in a different area of their life,” the researchers say. For instance (if you must indulge in retail therapy) they suggest following up an experience that makes you feel dumb with a purchase intended to make you feel better about your social standing rather than one aimed at make you feel better about your intellect.

TIME Budgeting

The 1 Task Americans Just Can’t Accomplish

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And, worse, it's a serious oversight

When it comes to budgeting, we have good intentions—really, we do. It’s just that somewhere between the idea of keeping track of our money and spending within our means and the execution of that pretty important task, we fall short.

According to a new survey from Bankrate.com, 82% of Americans say they keep a budget. That’s up from just 60% in 2012. Sounds great, but we really shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back just yet.

When Bankrate asks exactly how people keep their budgets, it finds that about a third just scrawl it out on paper—and almost 20% say they budget just by keeping track in their heads. “Mental accounting is really unreliable and prone to mathematical mistakes and rationalizations,” says Claes Bell, Bankrate.com’s banking analyst. ” In survey after survey, Americans show a lack of basic knowledge about some critical issues.”

Bankrate’s survey finds that fewer than 40% of Americans have money for a $500 or $1,000 emergency like a medical bill or car repair. To pay for an unexpected expense, about a quarter say they’d cut back on their spending, 16% would hit up family or friends for a loan and 12% would load up their credit card.

“In part this is a reflection of the economic struggles many Americans have gone through since the Great Recession,” Bell says. “Many households simply haven’t had the ability to set aside an emergency fund.” But now that the economy is on the upswing again, he says we really ought to stop making excuses and trying to keep track of our spending by memory alone, in order to sock away a rainy-day fund.

“I do think people really underrate the importance of having a cash reserve on hand to cover emergencies,” Bell says. “For many, a financial downward spiral is just one emergency-room visit away.”

Bell says people should take advantage of websites or apps that help you make and stick to a budget. Not big into technology? Even a basic spreadsheet is a step up from pencil and paper (or relying on your memory). Using a computer lets you track your spending over time and save that information so you can go back to it later — because are you really going to save and file all those pieces of paper you’d be using instead?

Keeping track of your budget electronically also means you’re less likely to make a mistake in the math, Bell points out. “Also, some budgeting tools and apps allow you to connect their services to your checking accounts and credit cards so you actually see how your spending compares to what you budgeted, automatically and in real time,” he says.

TIME

America’s Most Outrageously Expensive Places to Live

Courtesy: City of Palo Alto

Think your town is pricey? Think again

If you’re trying to pinch pennies, you might want to stay away from New York City, Bellevue, Wash., Scottsdale, Ariz., and, oh, just about anywhere in California. According to a new analysis of Americans’ spending patterns by Mint.com, the 10 cities in the country where people spend the most are much, much bigger drains on your wallet than the national average.

In the Golden State, it helps to be made of money: the Silicon Valley area is especially spend, with Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale all on the top 10 (Palo Alto is number one), along with Fremont, Irvine and San Francisco and San Jose.

Mint’s analysis looks at the average transaction amounts rather than the volume, so bigger cities don’t necessarily take a bigger hit (that doesn’t seem to help the Big Apple, though). While the average transaction for Mint users nationwide is $171, that number soars to more than $345 in Palo Alto, almost $240 in New York City and more than $235 in San Francisco.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, housing and auto expenses are highest in New York City, and healthcare costs are highest on the West Coast, in the San Francisco-Oakland and San Jose areas, two cities that have the second-highest home and auto spending, as well.

Nationwide, the top merchant frequented by Mint users is Amazon.com, followed by Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Target and Starbucks, respectively. And for anybody who thinks it’s literally impossible to walk into one of those big box stores for one thing and not spend a bundle, you’ve got plenty of company: The average Wal-Mart transaction is more than $53 and the average Target ticket is more than $55.

And we make a lot — a lot — of food purchases: The top three spending categories by the number of transactions were all food-related: groceries, fast food and restaurants, respectively.

If saving the most money possible is your top priority, don’t despair, though: Mint also dug up the cities where Americans spend the least. You might want to check out a handful of cities in the middle of the United States: Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, Ind. and two cities in Texas — Fort Worth and San Antonio — were among the five places where Mint users spent the least, along with Orlando.

 

TIME Saving & Spending

The Disastrous Black Friday Mistake You Must Avoid

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Shop smarter—or else pay for the consequences

Going into the holiday season with a budget is a good start, but it might not be good enough. A new study shows that misestimating how much of a deal they’ll get on Black Friday and underestimating how long it will take them to pay off their holiday splurges will cost American shoppers.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average holiday shopper spent a little less than $770 last year. It predicts a total increase in Americans’ holiday spending of just over 4% for this year.

But shoppers could find themselves with sticker shock, a new study from NerdWallet.com warns. And middle-class shoppers could bear the brunt of it. According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll for NerdWallet, families in the $50,000 to $75,000 income bracket won’t pay off their debts for an average of nearly three months. Poorer families will pay off their debts a little more quickly, in an average of two months.

Odds are, even these estimations are optimistic. Other studies show that people tend to take longer to pay off their holiday bills than they anticipate. And, odds are, many of these shoppers aren’t starting from scratch but adding onto an existing balance — one that averages nearly $16,000, based on NerdWallet’s look at household credit card debt.

And the cost of servicing that debt keeps going up. The average APR on a general-use credit card is a tick under 16%, according to Bankrate.com. For store cards — you know, the kind many of us open over the holidays to get the one-day discount on purchases — it’s even higher. They have an average APR of over 23%, higher if you have marginal credit.

New data from Experian shows that more of us are signing up for those store cards and the higher rates they charge; both the amount we borrow and the number of cards we have has risen over the past year.

“Middle-class households can fall into a costly situation this holiday season, where they’ve been extended ample credit but have incomes too thin to comfortably pay the bills later,” warns NerdWallet senior retail analyst Matthew Ong. “Many are still struggling to reconcile a typically middle-class standard of living with stagnant incomes,” he says.

Adding insult to injury, NerdWallet also finds that those Black Friday deals many of us think we’re going to score might not be so hot after all.

In an analysis of 27 major retailers’ ads, more than 90% of them listed “sale” prices identical to last year’s Black Friday prices. This isn’t always apparent at a quick glance; the site found that retailers use tricks like misleading original prices and make shoppers jump through hoops like requiring mail-in rebates.

Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

TIME Saving & Spending

The Problem With Millennials, In One Staggering Statistic

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It's almost unbelievably bad

New data about how much debt today’s students are graduating college with just came out. The results are ugly, but that’s not the worst of it.

The Project on Student Debt conducted by The Institute for College Access & Success says the average debt load carried by last year’s crop of four-year nonprofit college grads is $28,400. That number is several hundred dollars higher than last year and roughly ten grand more than the average a decade ago. Roughly seven in 10 students today graduate with debt, a figure that has ticked up in that time period, as well.

This number would likely be even higher if for-profit colleges, which were included in previous tallies but left out this year because many failed to provide data, were included, since their students tend to leave school burdened with debt at a higher rate — 88% indebted with at average of nearly $40,000 in 2012.

That’s bad — but that’s not the problem. You might think these young adults would be worried about paying off a new car’s worth of debt they’d accrued before getting their first full-time job.

Nope.

A new study from Junior Achievement USA and PwC US conducted by Ypulse finds that 24% of millennials think their student loans will be forgiven.

“It’s a scary statistic,” Junior Achievement president Jack Kosakowski tells CNBC. The survey doesn’t explore why roughly a quarter of young people have such an optimistic — and for the majority, unrealistic — expectation.

In many cases, the payments they expect to be forgiven are significant. “Loan payments are also rising, taking a significant chunk out of Millennials’ pay checks when it comes time to pay up post-graduation,” the report accompanying the survey says. “One-third of those with student loans are shelling out over $300 per month and five percent are actually paying more than $1,000 per month.”

Although 60% of respondents to the PwC/JA survey say financial aid is a consideration in their school choice, the survey also finds that today’s high school seniors are relying on an average of just over $8,200 in contributions from their parents and more than $6,600 in student loans to help fund their first year’s tuition. Their average contribution from savings or earnings: less than $1,400. (These students also spent almost $200 of their own money, on average, on back-to-school shopping. School supplies, followed by clothes, were the most common purchases.)

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TIME Saving & Spending

5 Ways Money Can Buy Happiness, Backed by Science

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You have to be a spend wisely, though

The old saying that money can’t buy happiness? Not true, it turns out. But you have to spend strategically if you expect the Benjamins to put a smile on your face.

Buy moments, not stuff. According to Dan Gilbert, Harvard University psychology professor and author of Stumbling on Happiness, the key is to spend your money on experiences rather than material things. Material things, even if they’re expensive or you wanted them badly, tend to lose their luster after a while, literally and figuratively. Memories of people, places and activities, however, never get old. In a survey, Gilbert found that 57% of respondents reported greater happiness from an experiential purchase. Only 34% said the same about a material purchase.

Spend on others. In a study published this year, Harvard University researchers conducted experiments and found out that spending money on others (called “prosocial” spending in academic jargon) boosts people’s emotional and physical well-being.

“The benefits of prosocial spending… extend not only to subjective well-being but objective health,” they write. Despite people’s intuitions and inclinations to the contrary, one of the best ways to get the biggest payoff personally from a windfall of $20 is to spend it prosocially.”

Buy small splurges. Dropping a ton of cash on someting extravagent doesn’t give you the same bang for your buck because, no matter how special it is at first, you get used to having it over time and it becomes just another object. “Giving yourself inexpensive indulgences is a clever way to gather up lots of bursts of happiness,” a recent Business Insider article suggests, citing Gilbert’s research.

Buy what you like. No keeping up with the Joneses — that’s not going to make you happy. “There are a lot of reasons someone might buy something… but if the reason is to maximize happiness, the best thing for that person to do is purchase a life experience that is in line with their personality,” Ryan Howell, an associate psychology professor San Francisco State University, tells Forbes. Howell recently co-authored a study finding that when people spend money just to project or uphold a certain image, it doesn’t bring happiness.

Spend with others. You might think spending money on things or activities you do by yourself will make you happy, but a recent study in Psychological Science says that tactic can backfire. “To be extraordinary is to be different than other people, and social interaction is grounded in similarities,” says Gus Cooney , Harvard University research assistant and lead author of the study.

Doing things with friends or family, even if it’s not as exciting, makes you happy because it fosters a sense of togetherness and connection between you and other people. “The guy who had the extraordinary experience had a harder time fitting in,” Cooney tells The Atlantic.

TIME

This Is the Most Depressing Number in Personal Finance

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It's the shocking amount we spend to be in debt

How much do you think you’ll spend servicing the cost of borrowing on credit over the course of your life? A few thousand dollars? Maybe 10 or 20 grand? The real amount will floor you.

How about almost $280,000 ($279,002, to be exact). In many parts of the country, that’s enough to buy you a house and a car. It’s more than the $245,340 the government estimates it will cost to raise a child born in 2013. And this is for people with middle-of-the-road credit scores. If medical bills or a job loss torched your credit, you could be paying much more for the privilege of borrowing money.

A lot of people only think about their debt in monthly terms — how much their mortgage or car payment is, or how much they need to pay to make the minimum payment on their credit cards. But a new tool from Credit.com pulls back the curtain and shows how much we’re really paying over time.

The penalty for having poor credit is steeper than the benefit that comes from having good credit. “If you have really bad credit, you’re at a definite disadvantage,” says Gerri Detweiler, president of consumer education at Credit.com.

According to Credit.com, somebody with top-notch credit would pay $209,590 in interest, while people with bad credit would be on the hook for $369,054, on average. “However, this is over an entire lifetime and everyone has the opportunity for a fresh start,” Detweiler says. Even bankruptcies come off your credit file after 10 years, and most other negative information doesn’t last that long.

Those figures are national averages; the calculator lets you add in where you live, what range your credit score falls in and details about your debts. Playing around with the variables can show you, for instance, how much you might be able to save in interest payments if you hang onto your car for a few more years, put a little extra towards your mortgage principal or credit card balance every month, or take steps to pull your credit into a better tier.

One thing the tool doesn’t do, though, is factor in the enormous amount of student loan debt many Americans today carry. For the more than seven in 10 students who graduated with an average of $29,400 in debt in 2012, according to The Institute for College Access and Success, that amount can inflate quickly if loans are deferred or put into forbearance.

“For some students, their student loan is like their mortgage,” Detweiler says.

TIME Saving & Spending

The 10 Most Livable Countries in the World

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A surprising number one pick

This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247WallSt.com.

Based on the most recent release of the Human Development Index by the United Nations Development Programme, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most and least livable countries. Data from the Human Development Index is based on three dimensions of human progress — having a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and having a good standard of living. According to the index, Norway is the most livable country in the world, while Niger is the least livable.

One factor that influences a country’s development is its income. The U.N. used gross national income in its calculation of the Human Development Index to reflect the standard of living in a country. In the most developed countries, gross income per capita is generally quite high. All of the world’s 10 most livable countries had among the top 30 gross national incomes per person. The top-rated country, Norway, had the world’s sixth highest gross national income per capita of $63,909.

At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s least developed countries typically had very low incomes. Six of these 10 least livable nations were among the bottom 10 countries by gross national income per capita. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had the lowest gross national income per capita in the world, at just $444 last year, was the second least developed country worldwide.

Click here to see the 10 most livable countries

Similarly, these countries also generally had extremely high percentage of their populations living on just $1.25 a day or less, adjusted for purchasing power. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Burundi, more than 80% of the population lived on less than $1.25 per day.

Life expectancies, another factor considered in the Human Development Index, were also far better in highly developed nations. Switzerland, Australia, and Singapore were all among the top rated countries with life expectancies greater than 82 years for individuals born in 2013. By this metric, the United States is a relative laggard. The median life expectancy at birth in the U.S. of 78.9 years was ranked just 38th worldwide.

For individuals born in the world’s least developed nations, the average life expectancy was far lower. In all but one of these nations, a person born in 2013 had a life expectancy of less than 60 years. Sierra Leone, the fifth-lowest ranked nation, had the worst life expectancy, at just 45.6 years.

Sadly, among the factors contributing to these low life expectancies are, almost certainly, high mortality rates for infants and young children. Sierra Leone, which had the lowest life expectancy, also had the highest mortality rates for infants and children under five, at 117 deaths and 182 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Education also plays a role in determining development. In all but one of the most developed countries, residents aged 25 and older spent an average of more than 12 years in school. By contrast, in all of the world’s least developed countries, adult residents had less than four years of education on average.

ALSO READ: America’s Most (and Least) Educated States

The most and least developed nations also tend to be clustered geographically. Five of the 10 most developed countries are located in Europe. All of the least developed nations, on the other hand, are located in Africa, where political turmoil, health crises, and lack of infrastructure are far more common.

Despite their low scores, however, several of the world’s least developed nations have worked towards improving their economies in recent years, and their Human Development Index scores have improved as well. Mozambique is perhaps the best example. While it is still the 10th lowest rated nation, its score had risen by 2.5% per year between 2000 and 2013, faster than almost all other countries globally. Burundi’s score also rose substantially, by 2.3% per year in that time.

To identify the most and least developed nations, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the latest Human Development Index figures published by the U.N. The index included three dimensions made up of select metrics. The health dimension incorporated life expectancy at birth. The education dimension was based on the average and expected years of schooling, for adults 25 and older and newly-enrolled children, respectively. The standard of living dimension was determined by gross national income per capita. We also considered other statistics published by the U.N. alongside the index, including inequality measures, mortality measures, poverty rates, and expenditures on health and education as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP). All data are for the most recent period available.

These are the most livable countries:

1. Norway

> Human Development Index score: 0.944
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $63,909 (6th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.5 years (13th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 17.6 years (6th highest)

According to the Human Development Index, no country is more livable than Norway. Relative to the country’s population of just 5 million, Norway’s economy is quite large. Norway had a gross national income of $63,909 per capita last year, more than all but five other nations. Oil revenue has helped Norway become quite wealthy and accounts for a majority of the country’s exports. Like several other highly-developed countries, and Scandinavia in particular, 100% of retirement age Norway residents receive a pension. Norwegians also enjoy particularly good health outcomes. There were just two deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012, tied for the lowest infant mortality rate.

2. Australia
> Human Development Index score: 0.933
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $41,524 (20th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.5 years (4th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 19.9 years (the highest)

Australia had one of the longest life expectancies in 2013, at 82.5 years. Residents 25 and older had also spent more time in school than adults in any other country, at 12.9 years on average as of 2012. Australia’s per capita gross national income of $41,524 last year was roughly on par with other highly developed countries. Additionally, at 5.2% last year, the country’s unemployment rate was far lower than similarly developed countries in Europe as well as the United States. Australia’s economy has benefitted tremendously from a mining boom in recent years, although the economy is currently rebalancing as iron ore prices have dropped and gorwth in China — a major trade partner — has slowed.

3. Switzerland
> Human Development Index score: 0.917
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $53,762 (9th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 82.6 years (3rd highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 15.7 years (28th highest)

Known for its political and economic stability, Switzerland also had the third highest life expectancy out of all countries reviewed, behind only Japan and Hong Kong. Switzerland’s gross national income was $53,762 per capita in 2013, higher than all but a few countries reviewed. Switzerland also scored among the highest in terms of gender equality, with exceptionally high female labor participation and educational attainment rates. In addition, there were less than two teen pregnancies per 1,000 people reported in 2010, nearly the lowest adolescent birth rate. Foreigners, however, may not necessarily have option of moving to this highly livable country. Switzerland, which is not part of the European Union, recently approved quotas and other controls on immigration.

4. Netherlands
> Human Development Index score: 0.915
> Gross nat’l income per capita: $42,397 (17th highest)
> Life expectancy at birth: 81.0 years (18th highest)
> Expected years of schooling: 17.9 years (5th highest)

The Netherlands is among the more equitable countries measured by the United Nations, with a Gini coefficient far lower than that of the United States and a number of other highly developed nations. The country also scored well in gender equality due to its low maternal mortality rate, low teen birth rate, and the high level of female representation in parliament. Last year, 37.8% of representatives in parliament in the Netherlands were women, well above the 18.2% in the U.S. Congress.

For the rest of the list, please click here.

TIME Saving & Spending

The Secret to Getting a Ridiculously Cheap Thanksgiving Flight

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Every travel agency is saying something different, but there are some tips that aren't up for debate

For years, travel search engines have scoured through their dense databases to determine the best day to book your Thanksgiving flights. This year, like every year, there’s a lot of mixed messages on what to do if you’ve procrastinated on booking tickets. Here’s what the big players are advising for cheap domestic U.S. air tickets:

  • Kayak: Book in early November, about two to four weeks before Thanksgiving.
  • Skyscanner: Two weeks prior to Thanksgiving.
  • Orbitz: This Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday. If not then, then before Nov. 18.
  • Cheapair: It depends on way too many things.

So what’s the takeaway? It’s better to be safe and book flights now, but you if you’re a risk taker, you can wait until the beginning of November to book your flights. But try not to wait until the week of Thanksgiving. It’s also important to weigh the risks of an unexpected fare hike in light of what your benefits of waiting actually are. These hyped “savings” are usually only about 5 to 10% less than the average fare, which amounts to $15 to $30 if your ticket costs $300.

In fact, since airline fares are notoriously difficult to understand, often the better question to ask is what not to do when you’re booking Thanksgiving flights.

Here are a few tips that travel search engines all agree on:

Don’t book a departure flight on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (Nov. 26), or a return flight on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 30).

Airfares increase as flights get fuller, and the Wednesday and Sunday flanking the Thanksgiving holiday are when the most people are traveling. A simple airfare search shows just how much more expensive it is to book travel on one of these days. In some cases, fares are up to twice as high.

If you have to book for Wednesday or Sunday, then book your tickets as early as possible.

If you’re locked into a Wednesday departure flight, aim for a Friday or Tuesday return flight, which is around 25% cheaper than returning on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, according to an analysis by Cheapair.

Booking a return flight on Sunday results in the most dramatic airfare spike, and there’s not really much you can do to save money other than to book your departure flight on Thanksgiving Day. But the tradeoff of sacrificing a chunk of your holiday is a discount of only about 10%, so it may make more sense to pick a different day—even if it’s Wednesday. In general, having a Sunday return flight means you’re stuck with a sky-high ticket price.

Consider booking a departure flight or return flight on Thanksgiving Day—or both.

If you depart and return on Thanksgiving Day, your fare may be up to 30% cheaper than the average price, according to Kayak. And even if you only depart (and not return) on Thanksgiving, those savings are particularly meaningful when applied to longer, more expensive flights. For example, flying the JFK-LAX route departing on Thanksgiving instead of the day before can save you nearly $100.

Don’t book flights in groups.

If you’re booking as a family and there are only a few flights left in the lowest fare category, it’s possible the airline will bump the entire party up to the next fare category, according to Cheapair. That doesn’t mean you can’t travel as a family, though: you just might have to book each person’s ticket individually.

Check other smaller airports nearby.

There’s often regional and even international airports near the ORDs, JFKs and LAXs of major U.S. cities. If you’re in Chicago, for example, consider Chicago Midway Airport instead of O’Hare; if you’re in Los Angeles, consider Long Beach Airport instead of LAX. Both are cheaper airports than their neighboring giants, according to Cheapflights.com, which ranked the nation’s 101 most affordable airports.

Check smaller airlines.

The five biggest U.S. airlines—American, United, Delta, Southwest and JetBlue—all increased their base fares slightly despite lower fuel prices and a worldwide fear of Ebola. While the effect on consumers is not yet clear, it’s also worth checking out smaller airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Virgin.

Read next: The Old Advice on When to Buy Flights Is Wrong (And So Is the New Advice)

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