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Ten ways to be a cheap date

Ice skating

By Jessica Horton, Copywriter

As Valentine’s Day approaches, you’re probably racking your brain for ways to have fun with your honey without breaking the bank. These days, women – and men, for that matter – can appreciate the art of a cheap date.

The following tips prove frugal and fun can go hand-in-hand – and with any luck, you and your date will also!

  1. Two-for-one. Challenge yourself and your date to have a coupon-only day! There are a lot of good deals to be found. If you have an idea for a place you want to go, visit their website for specials and discounts. If you can’t think of anything, check out sites such as Groupon and Living Social or grab the coupon book from your mail.
  2. Get thrifty. Thrift stores are fun for many reasons. First of all, you’ll never get bored people-watching. And secondly, you’re bound to come across some interesting items if you look hard enough. Think of it as a treasure hunt. And the person who makes the best “discovery” wins!
  3. Frolic in the park. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the great outdoors the way you did as a kid – swing on the swings, feed the ducks and throw the Frisbee around.
  4. Soak up some culture. Visit a local museum or art exhibit. Admission fees are usually minimal, and it’s a great way to explore your own city. On the plus side, you won’t have to worry about the conversation falling flat – just move on to the next exhibit!
  5. Go fly a kite. Hopefully your date won’t say the same! Pick up a kite at a local drug store or dollar store and then head out on a breezy day for some good, frugal fun.
  6. Get starry-eyed. Stargazing can be romantic and magical on a mild, clear evening. Just make sure you have bug spray and somewhere comfortable to sit. Bring along some tasty treats and a bottle of bubbly if you’re really looking to impress!
  7. Set the stage. Go see a local theater production. Even if it’s at a local high school or church, you’d be surprised how fun these events can be.
  8. Hit the rink. Whether it’s ice skating or roller-skating, this one is a classic – even if you’re not in middle school! So let your hair down, lace up those skates and have fun!
  9. Show your best side. Lend a helping hand by volunteering at a soup kitchen or retirement home. You could even head over to an animal shelter and pet the cats or play with the pups. There’s really nothing more enjoyable than getting to spend time together while putting a smile on someone else’s face.
  10. Whip up some love. Host a dinner where you each create your favorite dish for the other person. You can either cook your dishes together or separately, but the end result will be a delectable evening that’s heavy on love, and light on green.

For more financial tips for couples, download our free Love and Money eBook. Use this valuable resource to help make finances a delight, rather than a drain, on your relationship.

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The high cost of tax refund loans

The hefty fees may not be worth the quick cash

It’s tax time and that means a pay day for many American workers expecting a refund from the IRS.

After a tough economic year, many cash-strapped taxpayers may be feeling a bit desperate and don’t want to wait longer than necessary to get their money. Unfortunately, this could drive consumers struggling to make ends meet to seek a refund anticipation loan.

Basically, a refund anticipation loan is a short-term cash advance that uses your expected tax refund as collateral. The loans allow you get your money a little bit earlier, but at a hefty price.

According to consumer advocates, refund anticipation loans fees translate into high Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) of anywhere from 50 percent all the way up to 500 percent!

Low- to moderate-income taxpayers are usually the target of tax refund anticipation loans. These consumers end up paying a total of more than $900 million in fees for their easy money.

Although the IRS does not take an official stand on refund anticipation loans, it also does not endorse the practice.

Unless someone is facing a true financial emergency, the fees are just not worth the convenience. Instead, taxpayers should consider taking steps to ensure they receive the maximum amount owed to them:

  • Double-check your work. According to the IRS, even a small mistake can cause problems with your tax return, which might lead to delays in processing your return and receiving your refund.
  • Use Free File. This service offered by the IRS enables low- and middle-income taxpayers to file electronically for free and have their refund deposited directly in their checking or savings accounts in about 10 business days.
  • Take tax credits. The IRS offers a number of benefits and tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you earned $49,078 or less in 2011, you could be eligible. Visit IRS.gov to learn more about other tax credits and benefits.
  • Remember your charitable donations. The IRS might just be the only group that will give you extra credit just for being nice. The value of all donated items including clothes, furniture, and cash is deductible. Proof of the donation is required.
Finally, if you are anticipating a tax refund for more than $500, consider reducing the withholding on your W-4. More money on your paycheck may be more beneficial to your situation.

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About Money Management International

Money Management International (MMI) is a nonprofit, full-service credit counseling agency, providing confidential financial guidance, financial education, counseling, and debt management assistance to consumers since 1958. MMI helps consumers trim their expenses, develop a spending plan, and repay debts. Counseling is available by appointment in branch offices and 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by telephone and Internet. Services are available in English or Spanish. To learn more, call
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