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Save money with tips from department store employees

Love to shop? Join the club; in 2011 we spent about $4.7 trillion (yes, trillion!) in retail sales, according the U.S. Commerce Department.And who hasn't overspent at one time or another? With new merchandise refreshed every season, every month–or, at discount retailers like Target and T.J. Maxx, every week–department stores can be a minefield if you go in uninformed. Especially since stores are designed to make you drop as much cash as possible.Floor layouts, salespeople's strategies and even storewide sales tap into our most basic consumer impulses. But not this fall: To help you engage in smarter retail therapy, we asked two former department store employees to reveal their juiciest secrets so you save more.1. Start at the Back of the StoreOne evergreen retail strategy is to bury the best discounts–clearance items, especially–in the rear of the store, so you'll encounter racks of beautiful new merchandise before you get to the real nuggets.

Furthermore, stores will try to influence your purchases by advertising their current sales, even the smallest ones, heavily throughout the store, says Abby*, a former salesperson at a high-end New York City department store. "A lot of times, the best deals are not during the big advertised sales," she says. "Usually the best sales items are on a rack toward the back or slightly hidden."

2. Befriend Your Salesperson

Salespeople aren't just trying to make sales on the spot. They're motivated to keep customers apprised of future deals, too, because they have sales goals to meet during those promotions. Ask a clerk to put you in her client book and to call or email you about other sales as they happen.

A lot of stores will let even let you come in a week or so before the actual promotion and hold the merchandise you're interested in, then email you when the sale begins. That way, you get the item at a discounted price before the sale officially starts; the industry term for this is a 'pre-sell.' "They'll swipe your card, save the info, keep your merchandise packaged up in a special area, and give you a claim ticket to come back once the sale begins," says Abby. Of course, the secondary motivation for a pre-sell is to get you back in the store to spend more, so make sure to return armed with the will power to pick up only what you already purchased.

3. Aim to Save at Least 30%

"Generally speaking, a sale isn't really worth it unless you're saving at least 30%," says Abby. "And there's always a sale happening in which you can save at least 30%." So if you're the type to cringe when you have to pay full retail, wait for the stuff you're coveting to be introduced into the sale rotation. (Again, getting extra chummy with your salesperson means you might get tipped off to just when that is.)

4. Request a Price Adjustment

If you spent more on a full-price item than you're comfortable with and having retail remorse, go back within seven days and check to see if that item's been marked down, says Lisa*, a former high-end department store manager. Most stores will honor a price adjustment within that time frame, as long as you've kept your receipt and it's a hard markdown (meaning the sale price is clearly indicated on the tag). The most foolproof way to avoid losing your receipt? Ask to have it emailed to you, and pull it up on your smartphone when you need it.

5.  Beware of Bundled Promotions

Avoid buy one, get one deals (known in the industry as BOGOs) and similar bulk sales that are designed to encourage you to buy more merchandise than you ordinarily would. If you're spending more than you intended to, you're not really saving, Lisa reminds us.

6.  Don't Look to the Right

Research shows that most shoppers are right-handed and instinctively look to the right, so that's where stores put the newest and most expensive stuff. To encourage that instinct, stores will often add extra lights and music to that area to entice you to come closer. The answer? Go into the store with an idea of what you need, and don't get distracted by display tricks!

*Names have been changed

LearnVest is the leading personal finance site for women. Need help managing your money? Our free Money Center will help you create a budget. Our free bootcamps will help you take control of your money, cut your costs or get out of debt. And our premium financial plans—managed by LearnVest Certified Financial Planners—can help you chart a course for the future you want.

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10 financial secrets of happy moms

I've been known to be a bit of a complainer about my family's financial situation.With my husband out of work and my freelance income in constant flux, my household exists in a permanent state of financial anxiety.At least we're in good company: it seems like all our friends are in similar straits, though some folks just seem to have a can-do attitude about money management. We're all scrimping and saving, but not everyone has the desperate, fearful attitude that marks my interactions with the cost of living.One thing I have done to reduce anxiety a bit is to ramp up my bargain shopping. I'm afraid of food-borne illness and passionate about ethical farming, so I still buy meat at Whole Foods--but I no longer get chicken breasts, only thighs (much cheaper!), and I buy in bulk.(We talked about whether buying organic is worth it more in this story.)My other shopping is parceled out among the stores that are cheapest: diapers, wipes, milk, eggs from Costco, weekly specials (organized with their new smartphone app) from Safeway, flour from the restaurant-supply store or Trader Joe's. I keep a constantly updated list that tells me where things are cheapest.Basically, I ease my anxiety by shifting my obsessing to a specific, hobby-like activity.Turns out, lots of other moms have systems in place to help keep them sane throughout the year, too. We've rounded up ten of the best ideas we've heard.(P.S. Those are my kids in the photo above! They're pretty happy all the time.)

  • Start With the Basics
"My husband and I nearly lost everything after a three-year economic crisis. A financial coach gave us four specific strategies: Set up a $1,500 cash reserve that's our "credit card" for emergencies. We budget, which means we pre-allocate our spending in each category and adjust as needed. We take out cash for all our needs and never use the ATM card--it gives both us and our kids a concrete visual about money. And we committed to paying off debt, which has gone quicker than you'd think. After just five months, this has become second nature, and I'm amazed at how much it has changed us."-- Lynn, 47, California (mom to Miles, 8, and Audrey, 6) Photo courtesy of Lynn
  • Get Friends on Board
"A long time ago, a friend told me to take care of the singles and the hundreds will take care of themselves. I think of that every time I want to make a small splurge."-- Jenifer, 39, Connecticut (mom to Frances, 9, and Kathleen and Woody, 6)"When friends ask us to go out to this or that fabulous restaurant, we tend to say, 'Come over, we'll make dinner, you bring some wine.' Too many times I've eaten some $20 pasta dish only to think, 'Wow, I could have made that at home for $2.'" -- Darien, 50, California (mom to Annika, 10)
  • Create a System That Works
"We got out of crazy debt by consulting with a debt-management expert and holding each other's credit cards. I mean that literally: I have his credit card in my wallet, and he has mine. So neither of us can make a big purchase without asking the other--er, I mean discussing it."-- Lea, 33, California (mom to Amelia, 2)"My husband and I keep separate accounts. We both pay into the household budget, and we have separate retirement accounts; whatever we have on top of that, it's up to us to decide how to spend it. This has cut down dramatically on nagging and judging each other."-- Judy, 39, New York (mom to Indy, 15 mo) Photo courtesy of Lea
  • See the Good in Simple Things
"The answer for me wasn't to just stop spending. When you have a kid, or even when you're single, you still have to pay bills. So rather than feeling like a jerk every time a dollar left my hand, I look at what I have to spend, decide how to spend it and know what credit is for. It seems obvious, but really, it took some doing to get here."-- Dee, 55, Idaho (mom to Angela, 25)"I navigated a Byzantine system to get both my kids into good public schools. I'm Queen of the WORLD!"-- Lynn, 43, New York (mom to Bess, 6, and Sam, 4)"When I stress out about finances--and believe me, I do--I stop and think about how I am this minute. I am fine. I have food in my belly and a roof and the kids are wearing clothes."-- Jenifer, 39, Connecticut (mom to Frances, 9, and Kathleen and Woody, 6)
  • Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
"Money and I are good friends because I refuse to feel social pressure to buy something simply because everyone else does. Here in San Francisco, you can feel like a freak if you don't own a Prius, but I've stuck to owning used cars that were fuel-efficient and donating some of the difference in price to green causes."-- Darien, 50, California (mom to Annika, 10)Photo courtesy of Darien
  • Save for What's Important
"I pay myself first. Since I work from home, I have a SEP-IRA, which is a tax-deductible retirement account, and a 529 to save for my daughter's college. I pay those first, and plan the rest of my budget based on that lower number."-- Judy, 39, New York (mom to Indy, 15 months)Find out more about 529s here, and we have more resources for retirement for stay-at-home and work-from-home moms here.Photo courtesy of Judy

Tell us--what are your money secrets that keep you and your family happy?

LearnVest is the leading personal finance site for women. Need help managing your money? Our free Money Center will help you create a budget. Our free bootcamps will help you take control of your money, cut your costs or get out of debt. And our premium financial plans—managed by LearnVest Certified Financial Planners—can help you chart a course for the future you want.

This article originally appeared on

Keeping your kids healthy throughout the school year

By now your kids are probably geared up for school, and everyone is in the process of getting used to a new schedule (hopefully). The last thing you need is to have your child wake up one morning with a high fever or, even worse, that dreaded call from the school nurse telling you to pick up your ill child ASAP.Come on! School just started!Still, many parents find themselves dealing with a sick child early into the school year. Think about it: Schools are filled with kids (some of whom may be sniffling and snotting), and as any mom knows, when one kid comes down with something…anything … it can and will spread like wildfire.Therefore, it's not uncommon for kids to miss school (and for to you miss work, by extension) within the first couple of months due to colds, strep throat, the flu or stomach bugs.To keep your child healthy throughout the school year–from the beginning to the end–here's what you need to do.Schedule These AppointmentsYou may have booked these doctor visits over the summer to get them out of the way (kudos!), but if you didn't, do it now.

  • Well-child exam. One of the easiest ways to know your child is off to a healthy start is to take him in for a visit with the pediatrician or family doctor. "Routine physicals will vary based on age, but as a standard, your child should be examined from head to toe," says Nancie Fitch, D.O., Regional Medical Director at MedExpress in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The doctor should check your child's eyes, ears, nose, throat, listen to his heart beat and breathing, check reflexes, do screenings for vision, hearing and hernias, and possibly perform blood and urine tests, Dr. Fitch says. Any needed immunizations will also happen during this visit, so don't forget to bring the shot record. As feared as they may be, immunizations protect your child again common childhood diseases and illnesses. (Plus, getting them done now means you won't get the "deadline" letter from the school nurse!)
  • Sports physical. Speaking of letters, if your child participates in sports, expect to provide a doctor-signed note of approval to the school. The sports physical, performed during the well-child exam or at a visit to a clinic, is extremely important for children preparing for competition and practice, says Kevin R. Campbell, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. The exam screens students for cardiovascular abnormalities, lung problems and hernias, which may make sports unsafe for them, Dr. Campbell says.
  • Eye exam. Although the general checkup included a brief eye exam, it's a good idea to have a more thorough screening performed by a specialist, as a child's eye health is critical to her learning experience. "The health of the eye can affect how the brain processes visual information, which in turn, can affect a child's ability to focus and digest information," says Cal Roberts, M.D., a clinical professor of ophthalmology and the Chief Medical Officer at Bausch + Lomb. An eye exam can also possibly detect non-eye-related health issues. (We talked more in depth aboutchildren's eye health here.)
  • Dental exam. Your child's oral health can affect her academic life in a number of ways. Cavities can be painful and may cause difficulty concentrating, and black or discolored teeth may put kids at risk for teasing or make them feel self-conscious, says Shehzad Sheikh, DMD, a family dentist at Dominion Dental Care in Sterling, Virginia. Kids should have a dental exam every six months. (There's more about your kid's dental health here.)
  • Specialty appointments. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, allergies and asthma account for more than 14 million school day absences annually. If your child suffers from allergies or asthma, an appointment at the beginning of the school year to discuss any concerns or needed medication changes can help prevent or reduce flare-ups and school absences. Other appointments to consider scheduling (if they're needed) may include the dermatologist or an ear, nose and throat specialist.

Keep Up the Good Health

  • Suds up. Handwashing is one of the most important parts of preventing illnesses. Teach your child to wash his hands for at least 20 seconds (have him sing or hum the "Happy Birthday" song twice) before eating foods or snacks, after using the restroom, after recess, and after blowing his nose, coughing or sneezing. For those times when there is no soap and water available, give him a small bottle of hand sanitizer to keep in his backpack.
  • Feed 'em right. Children who eat a well-balanced diet are less likely to get sick and more likely to have quicker recovery times when they do. To ensure your child is getting the nutrients she needs, follow the USDA's MyPlate guidelines and have her drink plenty of water. Breakfast is especially important for students. "After a night of rest the body needs fuel to get all our systems going," Dr. Fitch says. She recommends kids jumpstart their day with a meal that consists of protein, carbs and a fruit. (If you have a picky eater, try these healthy food substitutions that your kid will hardly even notice!)
  • Work up a sweat. As with proper nutrition, exercise helps boost the immune system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children and teens get at least one hour of physical activity per day. However, with many schools reducing recess time (or slashing it altogether), a lot of kids aren't getting enough exercise. To get your child's heart pumping, make it a habit of engaging in some type of physical activity–a family bike ride, a dance-off, a game of volleyball–on most days of the week.
  • Get some shut-eye. During sleep, the body releases hormones that aid growth, build muscles and repair cells and tissues. So, if your child is short on slumber, her body won't work to its full potential, meaning it may have a harder time fighting off infections. The National Sleep Foundation says children ages five to 12 need 10-11 hours of sleep and teens need 8 ½ – 9 ¼ hours of sleep. You can encourage healthy sleep habits by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, making cell phones, TVs and other electronic gadgets off limits an hour or two before bedtime and establishing a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Prevent lice. The CDC estimates 6 to 12 million lice infestations occur each year among children ages 3 to 11 in the U.S. You can reduce your child's chances of catching these tiny critters by telling her not to share scarves, hats, combs, brushes, hair bows or other hair accessories.
  • Watch their backs. Sure, backpacks make it easier for kids to tote essentials to and from school, but Joshua Evans, M.D., a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Michigan, says some kids experience back pain because they're lugging around an entire locker's worth of books, school supplies and personal items. To keep your child's back straight, pick a backpack with two wide, padded shoulder straps and show your child the proper way to wear it–using both straps, with the straps tightened so that the backpack lies flat against the back. Another way to save your child's back: lighten the load. "A child's backpack should never weigh more than 10-20% of her body weight," Dr. Evans says.
  • Keep stress in check. Stress not only affects children psychologically, it can also cause physical effects, like stomachaches, headaches, changes in eating habits and problems sleeping. While you can't eliminate all stressors in your child's life, you can reduce her stress level (and help her manage it better) by making sure she isn't overscheduled, taking time to talk with her and listen, encouraging physical activity and modeling healthy ways to deal with stress. When children have minimal stress, they're more likely to have a better academic year and better health. (Another way to be on lookout for this is to know the ten signs that your child may be too busy.)

LearnVest is the leading personal finance site for women. Need help managing your money? Our free Money Center will help you create a budget. Our free bootcamps will help you take control of your money, cut your costs or get out of debt. And our premium financial plans—managed by LearnVest Certified Financial Planners—can help you chart a course for the future you want.

This article originally appeared on

How to prepare for a storm: 7 tips from our DealPros

With hurricane Isaac well on its way, this can be a scary time for everyone waiting in its path and for those that have friends and family in those areas as well.  While storms rage out of control, there are things that we can control and do to prepare for potential emergencies and disasters. Here are a few tips from our DealPros on how you can prepare for a storm. Get ready to batten down the hatches.  DealPro Tip #1: Stay Updated With The Path of The Storm. This tip comes from Heather of Family Friendly Frugality. Heather says "Tropical Storm Allison came inland and battered us with rain. I was fine that time. Than it DOUBLED BACK and that is when I was flash flooded and forced to evacuate my home." Knowing the path of your storm is very important. Read more about Heather's story and How to Prepare for Hurricane Season hereDealPro Tip #2: Get a Weather Radio. This tip goes along with the first tip, but it's especially important to note this because a lot of people may not think about the possibility of losing power. You may not have the internet or TV available in the midst of a storm, so it's important to have a weather radio on hand. This tip comes from DealPro Merissa of Little House Living. Read more of her tips on Preparing for a Tornado hereDealPro Tip #3: Pack Your Prescriptions. Amber from Coupon Connections talks about creating a 72-hour kit for emergencies, and one of her main tips is to pack your prescriptions. In a hurry, these could easily be forgotten, so make sure they are on your list to grab. Read more about what Amber recommends you bring in your 72-hour emergency kit here.DealPro Tip #4: Have Two Emergency Supply Kits - one for your home and one for your car. This is a good reminder for any emergency from Renae of How to Have it All. Disasters and storms could hit whether you are at home or in your car, so it's important to be ready. Check out what Renae recommends you keep in your Disaster Preparedness Kits hereDealPro Tip #5: Have LED Lanterns, Flashlights and Batteries on Hand. You never know how long the power could be out if a storm hits your area, so always have plenty of these in stock. Christina from Northern Cheapskate shares this tip and more on Preparing for a Power OutageDealPro Tip #6: Keep Your Pantry Stocked. Tiffany from My Litter suggests keeping a good stockpile of non-perishable goods on hand to be ready for storms. Check out how she stocks up her pantry and the coupons she recommends heading to the store with on her Hurricane Preparation Coupons postDealPro Tip #7: If The Authorities Say Evacuate, Then Evacuate! This is probably the most important tip coming from Dian of Grocery Shop for Free. If it's time to get out, then be safe and get out. What are some of your tips for preparing for a storm?

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