TIME Saving & Spending

The Secret to Getting a Ridiculously Cheap Thanksgiving Flight

Aerial view of airplane
Stephan Zirwes—Brand X/Getty Images

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)

TIME Food & Drink

Here’s Why Millennials Need to Learn to Love Frozen Food

Why Millennials Need to Develop a Taste for Frozen Food
Evan Sklar—Getty Images

Though they have an aversion to it, they'll find it'll be a staple in the elderly care programs they will eventually join

On Oct. 21, senior citizens in Merrimack, N.H. participating in the Meals on Wheels service waited eagerly to be delivered platters of frozen turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes, corn, kidney beans and flax-seed bread. Those with slightly more traditional palates opted for a dish of liver and onions—frozen, too. But tell any millennial about the menus of programs like Meals on Wheels, a global delivery service of mostly frozen dishes to the elderly, and the response isn’t likely to be as welcoming.

It’s no secret that millennials have an aversion to frozen food. The marketing of TV dinners targets empty nesters, and those dropping frozen meals in their grocery carts are getting older and older. Younger generations are instead flocking to services like GrubHub, which delivers hot restaurant meals, or AmazonFresh, recently launched in New York City, which delivers fresh groceries.

In fact, research suggests that millennials have a fear of the lifestyles commonly associated with frozen food eaters: lonely elderly people whose only social interactions are with delivery volunteers, or physically limited seniors who stockpile food in the freezer in lieu of grocery shopping. Millennials have made it a goal to avoid that kind of life, studies say. According to a report by Edelman, millennials distinguish themselves from Generation X and the Baby Boomers by living more often with others, a testament to a shared fear of being alone. And a collective desire for a healthy lifestyle has made them more conscious in resisting the forces of aging, according to research by Nielsen and the National Marketing Institute.

The inescapable reality, though, is that someday millennials will age. While millennials’ preferences for convenience and health have driven the evolution of online food delivery services, the options for seniors, particularly those who are alone, low-income or face dietary restrictions, remain unchanged.

Part of the reason is science: flash freezing meals not only is convenient, but it also prevents bacterial growth, according to Greg Miller, CEO of Magic Kitchen, which serves many elderly customers. Additionally, Miller said that when thousands of dollars are spent to analyzing their specially-made meals’ nutritional content, freezing the meals is often the only viable option for elderly who require, for example, a week’s supply of low-sodium meals. “There’s always going to be a need for this particular group of individuals,” says Ellie Hollander, CEO of Meals on Wheels, which partners with companies like GA Foods and Golden Cuisine to craft similarly specialized meals. “That’s not going to be replaced by [online food delivery services]. That’s just a fact.”

Still, some reports have argued that America’s “love affair” with frozen foods is over. That may only be true for the commercial frozen food industry, which includes brands such as Lean Cuisine, Marie Callender’s and Healthy Choice. The industry’s sales are in decline: U.S. revenue fell 2% between 2013 and Aug. 2014, the first drop in recent years, according to Nielsen data. Similar to research on millennials’ preferences, a 2012 survey found that shoppers were turning away from commercial frozen food for nutritional reasons. But that doesn’t mean the demand for senior services’ frozen foods—meals individually tailored to dietary needs—is also melting. It’s actually the opposite: Miller says Magic Kitchen has grown more than 40% year-over-year, while Meals on Wheels now serves over 1 million meals each day.

Part of that demand growth is attributed to fewer federal investments in the Senior Nutrition Programs authorized by the Older Americans Act, which was passed in 1965 to provide community services to elderly citizens. As a result, seniors’ nutrition appropriations, which subsidize meal delivery services, have plummeted since 2009.

The lack of federal funding will only boost the proportion of American seniors who face “the threat of hunger,” which was 15.3% in 2012, according to a recent report by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger. The percentage, which has risen from about 11% in 2001, also varies widely across state, but the lowest rate is still 8% in Minnesota. (Click on states in the map below to learn their exact rates.)

The figures are perhaps the most unsettling for millennials, some of whom, barring significant changes, will inevitably find themselves someday as senior citizens unsure where to obtain their next meal. Worse, demographic trends are making it harder for millennials to escape this fate. The 60+ U.S. population is projected to double between 2010 and 2050, with the proportions of single-person American households higher than ever, according to the Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the prevalence of cooking meals at home has decreased significantly across all socioeconomic groups since the 1960s, according to NIH research.

In other words, the stars are aligned for some millennials, whether they believe it not, to subscribe in their sunset years to elderly food services that serve frozen meals. And that’s only if they’re fortunate enough to obtain access to programs like Magic Kitchen or Meals on Wheels that carefully craft dishes to meet their nutritional needs.

Still, services popular with millennials now, like GrubHub or AmazonFresh, have the opportunity to remain popular with millennials by tapping into the expanding market of elderly meal services. In fact, both GrubHub and Amazon aren’t opposed to filling the smaller yet critical market of individualized elderly meal plans. “We’ve found that we have a wide range of customers,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in response to AmazonFresh’s target demographic. “Our job is to listen to our customers, invent on their behalf, and let them decide.” A GrubHub spokeswoman similarly said that while GrubHub is “focused on the opportunities within our current market,” that doesn’t mean “[an elderly meal service] isn’t something we may look into in the future.”

After all, data makes clear that senior services are in need assistance, too. And these programs, like Meals on Wheels, are more than ready to adapt to the digital platforms currently serving their future customers. “[Meals on Wheels] is a great public-private partnership,” says Hollander. “And there’s no reason why we can’t be excited that [services like GrubHub] may become partners as that same population ages.”

TIME Saving & Spending

Here’s Exactly How You Waste $1,700 Every Year

Money in jeans pocket
Image Source—Getty Images

If you do this, you might as well be lighting a pile of money on fire

Traffic congestion isn’t just a frustrating part of commuter life; it’s expensive. A new report finds that every household with a car-commuting member loses $1,700 a year in time and gas burned thanks to bumper-to-bumper traffic.

If you think that’s bad, it’s going to get worse: Researchers predict that annual cost will soar to $2,300 by 2030. Between now and then, the total tab adds up to $2.8 trillion.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research found that last year alone, wasted time and gas from sitting in traffic cost us $78 billion, and it warns that we’ll face greater congestion in the future because our population is growing and we’ll buy more cars, adding to the rush-hour standstill. (The study was commissioned by INRIX, a company that makes traffic-navigation software.)

Researchers say traffic jams also generate indirect costs. The group estimates that $45 billion worth of costs incurred by freight stuck in traffic gets passed along to consumers, and the carbon from the gas we burn has an annual cost of $300 million.

An expanding population and economy are the main culprits, says INRIX CEO and cofounder Bryan Mistele. More people and a higher GDP make car ownership more ubiquitous and more affordable.

And while you might think recent decreases in the price of gas might help, researchers say this actually hurts our traffic prospects in the long run: Cheaper gas means people are more willing to plunk down the money for a car and more likely to get behind the wheel, rather than considering alternatives like consolidating trips or carpooling. This, of course, means more vehicles clogging our roads at any given time.

According to the American Automobile Association, idling burns about a gallon of gas an hour even if you don’t go anywhere. So, what can the average commuter do?

Unfortunately, the answer for many right now is “not much.” Mistele suggests that in-car software or smartphone apps can help by giving drivers real-time congestion information and suggesting alternate routes. (That’s true, but sometimes even an alternate route will leave you staring at brake lights as the clock ticks.) Workarounds like alternative work hours are telecommuting can help, if you’re one of the lucky few who has that kind of job flexibility, but many of us don’t. Alternatives like public transportation, walking or biking will work for some, but will be inconvenient for anybody trying to haul a little league team or a warehouse club-sized package of paper towels across town.

Along with trying to consolidate trips and carpooling, the AAA recommends resisting the temptation to speed up as soon as there’s a bit of a break, then jamming on your brakes again a minute later. “It takes much more fuel to get a vehicle moving than it does to keep it moving,” the group advises, so try to keep a slow and steady pace if you can. Get the junk out of your trunk and remove unused third-row seating to lighten your load and improve your mileage.

TIME Saving & Spending

Young Adults Have Basically No Clue How Credit Cards Work

Close up of teenage girl texting on mobile in bedroom
Cultura/C. Ditty—Getty Images

Cause for concern?

Almost two-thirds of young adults today don’t have a credit card, but maybe that’s for the best, given their sweeping lack of know-how about this common financial tool.

Although Americans of all ages are less reliant on debt since the recession, millennials are far and away the most credit-averse age group. Bankrate finds that, among adults 30 years old and older, only about a third don’t have any credit cards at all. New research from Bankrate.com finds that 63% of millennials, defined as adults under the age of 30, don’t have any credit cards. Among those who do, 60% revolve balances from month to month, and 3% say they don’t bother to pay at all — more than any other age group.

There’s a good possibility that these young adults aren’t irresponsible, though, just misinformed. BMO Harris Bank recently conducted a survey that found almost four in 10 adults under the age of 35 think carrying a balance improves your credit score (it doesn’t). And roughly one out of four say they don’t check their credit score more than once every few years. Perhaps that’s because a third of them think checking your credit score hurts your credit (again, it doesn’t). BMO found that 25% of young adults don’t know even know what their credit score is.

And young adults also think it takes much less to get a good credit score. BMO finds that, overall, most Americans think a score of 660 or higher is a “good” score. In reality, that may have been true pre-recession, but it isn’t anymore. BMO says a good score is one that falls in the 680 to 720 range. Millennials, though, believe than anything above a 625 means you have good credit — a misconception that could cost them in the form of higher interest rates on credit cards and loans.

Millennials are also more likely than any other age group to think that store credit cards don’t count towards your score and that the credit card companies control their scores.

In reality, it’s up to the individual to maintain their credit score, and if millennials continue along not bothering to learn the essentials of credit and how to use it responsibly, they could end up paying for it in the form of lost borrowing opportunities or higher interest rates, Jeanine Skowronski, Bankrate’s credit card analyst, warns in a statement.

“The responsible use of credit cards is one of the easiest ways to build a strong credit score, which is essential for qualifying for insurance policies, auto and mortgage loans, and sometimes even a job,” she says.

MONEY Retirement

Live a Little: Your Kids Will Make Their Own Money

Some of us are saving too much. Really. Here's how to live a little and not shortchange your retirement.

The only thing worse than saving too little is saving too much. Most people who oversave do so at a stiff price in terms of the lifestyle they enjoy. Forgoing travel and nice meals to wind up with a modestly larger estate for heirs is a lousy trade.

Lawrence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economics professor, was among the first to begin raising this red flag. He recognizes that the vast majority of the population is undersaving. The U.S. has one of the lowest savings rates in the developed world, and fewer than one in five retirees has as much as $250,000. Those who diligently save in a 401(k) plan, on the other hand, are doing much better—and along with some others may be overdoing it.

He blames the retirement industry for spooking people into saving too much and shortchanging their daily lifestyle. From his blog:

“Economics has an enormous amount to offer the financial planning industry. But the industry has ignored economics, providing millions of Americans with what I and other economists view as truly awful advice.”

Around 1.5 million Americans will retire each year through 2025, according to the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute. More than half of preretirees expect to live less comfortably than they had planned. Granted, a small portion of that is due to scrimping and saving—but if you suspect you are in that crowd, here are some ways you can avoid compromising your lifestyle unnecessarily:

Don’t plan for perfection. Most advisers and savings models rely on Monte Carlo simulations to estimate how long your money will last under various scenarios. You want to end up with a plan that gives you an 80% to 90% chance of not outliving your money. Reaching for, say, 97% certainty gets expensive in terms of the money you must save and may leave you cheaping out for no reason.

Writes Christine Fahlund, senior financial planner for T. Rowe Price: “If you are acknowledging that between 10% and 20% of the time, if you use this strategy, that you might run out in advance, now you are in a good place because you are not leaving too much money on the table.” You want to use that money to enjoy retirement, knowing you can always adjust along the way.

Lock in longevity insurance. An increasingly popular strategy is to use a portion of your savings to purchase a deferred fixed annuity, known as longevity insurance. If you spend $200,000 on this insurance at 65, you can begin collecting around $5,000 a month for the rest of your life at age 85. This provides absolute certainty for how long the rest of your savings must last. There are other considerations like emergency funds and potential healthcare costs. But if you have those bases covered, you can go broke throwing an 85th birthday party.

Stop saving at 60 Saving in small increments over three or four decades is smart because compounding works magic in the later years. But any money you put away past the age of 60 will have little time to grow if you retire at, say, 67. Putting away $5,000 a year for seven years, or a total of $35,000, would result in just $44,200 with a 6% average annual return. Is the $9,200 gain over that span worth the all the cruises you passed up?

Delay Social Security Every year you delay Social Security between ages 62 and 70 results in a certain benefit that is 8% higher. In today’s low rate environment, that’s the best deal around and basically means that if you are in good health and do not need the income you can spend more freely in your 60s knowing the added benefit will pay for some of it. Your kids will make their own money. Don’t play it so safe that you fail to enjoy your retirement years.

Related:
Our Retirement Savings Crisis—and the Easy Solution
Boomers Are Hoarding Cash in Their 401(k)s, Here’s a Better Solution
Why Gen X Feels Lousiest About the Recession and Retirement

 

TIME Saving & Spending

6 Ways Coupons Actually Cost You Money

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Michelle Pedone—Getty Images

Turns out, frugal living can have some pretty serious pitfalls

September is National Coupon Month and you’re ready. You have your mobile apps updated, your favorite sites bookmarked, your filing system ready to go — and you should really just stop. Put down the circular for a minute. Yes, coupons can save you money, but if you just assume they’ll always give you the best deal, think again.

Frugal-living bloggers know a thing or two about coupons, so we asked some to identify situations where a quote-unquote great deal can end up taking money out of your wallet. Here’s why and how they say even avid couponers can get tripped up.

You ignore generics. “If an item is available in the bulk section or as a generic store version, it’s usually less expensive than the coupon-discounted price on name brands,” says Sara Tetreault, who blogs at GoGingham.com. For example, she says she recently passed over a coupon for fluoride rinse because even with two bucks off, the price was still more than the house brand. The same holds true for dollar stores. Yes, there’s some stuff you probably don’t want to buy there, but some items will cost less there than at a grocery or big-box store, even with a coupon.

Your deals expire. “I once bought several duplicate coupons for deodorant, thinking I would stock up for several years,” says Julia Scott, founder of BargainBabe.com. She got them from a coupon website, planning to combine them with an in-store sale nearby — but by the time she got those coupons, the sale that would have made the purchase worthwhile had ended. (Scott points out that it’s technically illegal to sell coupons, so sites charge processing fees instead.)
You buy too much. “Another time I stocked up on so much shampoo but ended moving a few months later and it wasn’t worth it to drag the bottles, which cause a huge mess if they open, across the country,” Scott says. Likewise, if you’re buying coupons, some sites will make you buy a certain number to get the deal. “So you often end up buying extra coupons to make the minimum,” she says.
You do construction. “One thing that’s struck me when I’ve watched Extreme Couponing is that the people profiled always have shelf after shelf of products in their basements, and shelves aren’t free,” says Katy Wolk-Stanley, who blogs as The Non-Consumer Advocate. If you have so much stuff that you have to buy other stuff just to keep it corralled, you’re probably not netting the big savings you think you are.
You stockpile, then forget. “I have stocked up on items — plastic wrap, water pitcher filters — and stored them in our basement only to buy them again because I forgot we had them,” Tetreault says. That stockpile is only saving you money if you remember what’s in it — and could you find a better use for that space in your basement where you’re storing giant bricks of paper towels an an army of salad-dressing bottles? “After getting burned by this a few times by this, I stopped buying items that had to be stored outside of the kitchen or pantry and only purchase items we need,” Tetreault says.

You drive out of your way. This is Couponing 101, but it’s still something you can forget in the excitement of a huge sale: If you have to make a separate trip to score your bounty, you’re spending money on gas and wear and tear on your car.

TIME Saving & Spending

The Huge Mistake Most Parents Are Making Now

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Blend Images - Terry Vine—Getty Images/Brand X

Hey kids, hope you’re saving your pennies. They might not have gotten around to telling you yet, but there’s a good chance your parents expect you to fork over your own money to help pay for college. Even if they don’t, there’s a good chance you might have to dig into your own pockets anyway, because even though more parents are setting aside money for their kids’ college funds today, many are still way behind on their savings goals.

A new study from Fidelity Investment finds that just over a third of parents have asked their kids to set aside money to help pay for school, a jump of nearly 10 percentage points in only two years. Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning for Fidelity Investments, says there’s a serious disconnect between parents’ intentions and actions.

Even though 85% of parents think kids should kick in something towards their educational expenses, fewer than 60% of those with kids already in their teens have bothered to bring it up, and only 34% have actually come out and asked their kids to contribute.

“With the cost of college rising, it’s increasingly unrealistic for parents to cover the full cost of college,” Bernhardt says. “Families are still struggling. They are on track to save just 28% of their college goal.” Even though more families are saving, and the dollar amounts they are socking away are greater, that 28% is actually a drop compared to previous years.

In spite of these grim numbers, parents today are actually more optimistic about their goals. Respondents told Fidelity they expect to cover, on average, 64% of their kids’ college costs, up from 57% two years ago. What’s more, 44% think they’ll meet these goals, up from 36% in 2007, when Fidelity started conducting the survey.

Most of them won’t, which means today’s generation of kids could be equally unprepared when it comes time to paying for college. “It’s critical that families have open conversations and discuss together how they will approach funding their college education,” Bernhardt says.

Bernhardt calls a dedicated savings vehicle like a 529 plan “a great way for parents to keep their college savings separate from other savings goals.” Today, 35% of parents have a dedicated account for college savings, nearly 10 percentage points more than when the survey began in 2007. About half of the parents in Fidelity’s survey who said they have a plan for retirement savings have a 529 set up, versus only about 10 percent of those who don’t have a savings plan.

Having a strategy for accruing college savings makes a big difference. “Parents with a plan are in better shape with their college savings,” Bernhardt says.

These parents say they’ll cover an average of 71% of their kids’ college costs; those without a plan estimate that they’ll only be able to pay for a little more than half. On average, parents who have planned to save are already almost halfway towards their goal, while those without a plan have only scraped up about 10% of what they want to save. Parents with savings plans have an average of $53,900 socked away, versus the average $21,400 families without a savings plan have amassed.

TIME gratuity

And America’s Best Tippers Live In…

Dollars and cents
Finnbarr Webster / Alamy

Data from the mobile payments company Square reveal some huge regional differences in the generosity of customers

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published at Fortune.com.

By Miguel Helft

tipping-data-map5

New Yorkers are stingy with their cabbies (though not quite as stingy as their neighbors in New Jersey). Indeed, New Yorkers are among the worst tippers in the country in a number of categories — but not when it comes to personal hygiene. For some reason, a visit to the barber or stylist inspires generosity in the Empire State. Folks in Seattle and Portland reserve that same kind of giving spirit, no surprise, for their baristas, and Floridians and Texas extend it to their bartenders.

The observations derive from tipping data collected for FORTUNE by Square, the San Francisco-based mobile payments company, whose smartphone and tablet credit card readers have become a feature of thousands of small businesses across the country.

Interestingly, some tipping trends are fairly uniform across the country. Beauty and personal care professionals tend to receive the biggest tips — on average closer to 20% than to 15%. Taxis and limousines skew lower, with average tips below 16% in many states. Tips at restaurant bars show the most variability, with New York fast-food joints receiving an average of 14.77% and bars and lounges in Texas getting 19.66%.

For the full list, please go to Fortune.com.

TIME Saving & Spending

This 1 Mistake Could Cost You Hundreds of Dollars

istock

Read the fine print—or pay

Everybody hates bank fees, but what’s even more worse is not knowing when or why you’re getting dinged with those charges.

In a new study, the website WalletHub.com finds the average checking account has 30 different fees that can ding you, and banks aren’t always transparent about the details. “Some banks disclose their fees only after a customer has opened an account,” the site warns. “Others disclose their fees in inconspicuous sections of their websites.”

In particular, those $35 overdraft fees that can be triggered by buying something as small as a cup of coffee can really pack a wallop, yet many of us don’t bother paying attention to the fine print that spells out the details of how financial institutions process transactions. We should, though — a new interactive tool from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows how seemingly insignificant differences in transaction-processing practices can make the difference between having enough money in your account to tide you over until your next payday or getting socked with more than $100 in fees.

Pew looks at three different variables: Letting people overdraw their balances when they make purchases or ATM withdrawals versus declining these attempts, processing transactions in the order they happen versus in order of highest-to-lowest dollar amount and offering a $5 “grace period” threshold before an overdraft fee kicks in versus no threshold.

In a trio of scenarios, Pew follows three hypothetical customers in a scenario many Americans are all too familiar with: navigating the demands of daily expenses with less than $200 until the next paycheck comes. In each case, everything is identical for the variable under scrutiny.

The differences are huge. For instance, a customer whose bank processes transactions in the order they happen winds up getting hit with a single $35 fee — while her alter ego who banks with an institution that practices high-to-low transaction ordering gets nailed for FOUR $35 fees when conducting the exact same transactions.

The other two examples show a similar disparity. For many of us, the difference between ending the month 10 bucks in the black versus more than $80 in the red is huge, especially if our spending habits are such that this happens frequently.

Consumer advocates criticize banks for their overdraft practices, pointing out that the customers who pay the bulk of these charges tend to be younger, minority customers who are poorer to begin with and often don’t have the financial education to know a raw deal when they see one. Fewer than 10 percent of bank customers are responsible for three-quarters of overdraft charges, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “[This] is especially pertinent as the CFPB continues to study overdraft and will release new rules based on these studies in 2015,” Pew says.

The CFPB says it’s still looking at how these fees impact bank customers. “We need to determine whether current overdraft practices are causing the kind of consumer harm that the federal consumer protection laws are designed to prevent,” CFPB director Richard Cordray said in a statement last month, saying the agency’s most recent research “compound[s] our concerns” about whether overdraft practices leave vulnerable customers at risk.

Until the CFPB acts, it’s buyer-beware out there, so don’t forget to read the fine print.

TIME Saving & Spending

One (More) Shocking Way Colleges Are Ripping Off Kids

Marking up movie theater popcorn is one thing, but jacking the price of a laptop by more than 100% is another, especially when the would-be buyers are college kids. As students get ready to head to campus, college stores are making laptop shopping a buyer-beware endeavor.

An investigation by DealNews.com found that college bookstores hike prices on the laptops and tablets they sell by an average of 35% over the regular sale prices of retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and Staples. DealNews looked at prices for the cheapest tablets and laptops, plus the most expensive laptops, available at the online stores of five public and one private college, then compared those to back-to-school deals offered by other retailers on identical or very similar machines.

Not every single one is a rip-off, but more than two-thirds are, and some of the markups are pretty egregious.

DealNews finds that the University of Virginia sells a first-generation iPad mini for a staggering 135% more than the $199 sale price the site found on more than one occaision over the summer. The $469 price the campus store is charging is so high that even if you wanted to buy the newer model iPad mini, you could get it straight from Apple for $70 less.

As a matter of fact, if you’re a college kid (or the parent of one), you should probably just steer clear of the campus store entirely if you’re looking for electronics.

“Another example that stood out… were these headphones,” says DealNews’ Louis Ramirez. Although they cost $130 on Amazon, the University of Berkeley Student Store slaps a $49 markup on top of that.

We found other examples in just a cursory browsing of the sites supplied by DealNews, so it’s likely this just scratches the surface of a bigger issue in electronics markups.

One school site is selling a 32G Sandisk USB thumb drive for about $45. Wal-Mart sells the same model for less than $17. A wireless mouse sold by one school for just under $30 sells for half that amount at Office Depot. One Dell laptop “deal” on a school site was no cheaper than the price on Dell’s own website, and two schools’ “sale” prices on iPads are still $30 more than you’d pay at Wal-Mart.

College stores’ problems with electronics sales don’t end with the inflated prices, says Ramirez. While some schools sell up-to-date technology, the site’s investigation found that “others were selling older previous-generation tech at current-generation pricing,” he says. If you think you’re getting a deal, make sure to clarify the model — you could be paying top dollar for last year’s closeout.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that “student discount” translates to the best deal. Just like regular prices, you have to shop around because all student discounts aren’t created equal. “Campus stores aren’t the only retailers that offer student promos,” Ramirez says. As long as you have an active student account (one that ends in .edu), a number of other retailers offer discounts.

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