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9 things for shoppers to watch this holiday season


Halloween? That’s done. Now the holiday shopping season kicks into high gear. So, what’s hot this year? And what changes should shoppers expect during the busiest time of the year? Here are nine things to watch:

Will shopping on Thanksgiving creep into late afternoon this year? Most retailers held off until 6 p.m. or later last year, but with Macy’s opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than last year, some others may edge up to 5 p.m. or even 4 p.m.

Nearly one-third of shoppers ventured out on Thanksgiving evening last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

$uper $hopper


Whether or not you’re into coupons, you’re in luck! ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports, has rounded up ways to save that will also save you time, because you don’t have to use coupons to get great grocery deals.

If you don’t sign up for loyalty cards and use them every time you shop, you’re missing out on members-only coupons and special offers. Here’s how to maximize your savings: Scan store circulars at Spoofee.com or SundaySaver.com for featured sale items to put on your list. Those are “loss leaders” designed to get you into the store, and you’re unlikely to find them cheaper anywhere else. Typical loss leaders include staples such as cereal, bacon and detergent. Also, see whether your store rewards you for spending more. Safeway’s and Stop & Shop’s programs, for example, give you discounts on gas at partnering stations.

Condominium living


Jamie Warosh understands the advantages of condominium living.

“We had the time to do other things in life versus spending our whole weekend at home doing yard work,” recalled Warosh, who owned a two-bedroom condo in Kenosha County with her husband, John, before moving to a single-family home.

The best ways to sell your stuff


Your basement and attic may be bursting with possessions you no longer want, and you might be surprised by the amount you can pocket if you know the best ways to sell your stuff.

You’ll make the most money by matching your goods with the best places to sell them, whether it’s an auction house, a consignment store, a website or a yard sale. Just keep in mind that the IRS may want a cut of your profits. It taxes the proceeds from the sale of collectibles as capital gains, generally at a rate of 28 percent.

5 Spot: Dress your porch for fall


By the end of summer, flowers start to look kind of nasty. To get your patio ready for fall, pull out all the raggedy flowers and put them in the compost. Then, replace them with simple but stunning fall displays. Pumpkins and gourds always look festive.

For a fun treatment, top a planter with a riser of some sort, plop on a pumpkin, then ensconce the treatment with a wire orb. Thread in some bittersweet or other fall vine, and, boom, you have a killer display in minutes.

Protect yourself after a data breach


Payment systems being hacked at Home Depot.

Target data breach.

Kitchen counters that last


Quartz withstood almost everything in Consumer Reports’ recent tests of kitchen counter options —stains, hot pots, abrasive pads and knives — and unlike granite, it doesn’t need to be resealed. Its combination of beauty, durability and easy maintenance makes it a great choice for busy kitchens. Granite performed almost as well.

Both materials are a bit pricey. Laminate is still the budget-friendly choice. Its looks have improved, thanks to better printing.

Chipping away


Your next credit card likely will have a secure microchip in it.

But it still might not work when you travel abroad. Huh? What? Matt Schulz,

5 Spot: Don’t thwart your retirement


When financial times get tough, some people make regrettable decisions — such as taking early withdrawals from 401(k) accounts. The number of Americans doing so hit a record in 2010, and in 2011 the IRS collected about $5.7 billion in penalties on roughly $57 billion withdrawn early.

Early withdrawals can do more long-term harm than short-term good. The longer you leave your money alone to grow, the more powerful your compounded growth becomes. Check out what time, patience and an average 10 percent return can do to a steady series of $10,000 annual investments: After 10 years, you have $175,000. After 20 years, $630,000. After 30 years, $1.8 million.

Finances key to post-recession couples


SYCAMORE, Ill. — When Brittani Click first met her fiancé, Matt Holliday, she wouldn’t have called herself a responsible saver.

But after frequent financial talks and with a little less than two months left to go before saying “I do,” Click has learned from her future husband’s frugal ways.

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