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My Credit Card Experiment

I've been conducting a credit card experiment over the last year and a half. I've been carrying a minor balance on a single card, and periodically I call up and ask the company to reduce my interest rate. As of last week, they have now done it three times in a row. Each time I call and ask (in my case, the calls are roughly six months apart), I get another 2-5% rate cut. I went from having a card with a painfully high rate (it's an Amazon rewards card, if you must know) to one that's pretty reasonable. My goal is to keep driving the rate down until I hit single digits or the company stops listening to me.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group did a study in 2002, in which fifty consumers called their credit card companies and requested lower rates. Over half of those who called were rewarded with lower rates, in some cases vastly lower, like cutting the rate in half. (Read more about the study.) The study encouraged consumers to use this simple script when calling the credit card company:

Hi, my name is [Your Name]. I am a good customer, but I have received several offers in the mail from other credit card companies with lower APRs. I want a lower rate on my card, or I will cancel my card and switch companies.

The study also suggested that some bold consumers followed the above script with a request for a 10% drop in interest rate, just to see what would happen -- I guess they're better at haggling than me.

In my case, I just call up and suggest that, gee whiz, I've been getting a lot of offers in the mail (which I really don't, because I opted out years ago), and I've got this balance, and sheesh, I'd like to see about getting a lower interest rate so I don't have to transfer my balance...and voila, they transfer me to someone who is "authorized today only" to give me a lower rate. It's like magic.

Anyone want to join me in this experiment? I challenge you: call the number on the back of your card, spend a maximum of 5-10 minutes on the call, and see if you don't get a lower rate.

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Learn the Price Tag Hacks That Can Score You Extra Deals at Costco
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You’re pretty much always guaranteed to find a bargain while shopping at Costco, but you can score even bigger savings by keeping your eyes peeled for certain price codes, according to self-proclaimed Costco expert Len Rapoport. Writing for finance website ToughNickel, Rapoport broke down the secret signifiers on price tags that can inform shoppers which items are marked down, specially priced, or only available in limited quantities.

Regular items typically have prices ending in $.99, but Costco reportedly uses $.97 tags to identify products that haven't sold well and are now marked down for clearance. These indicate that you're getting an even better deal than usual.

The same idea goes for items ending in $.88 or $.00, which Rapoport says are usually displayed "on a flat truck" or in a special area of the store and are code for manager markdowns on returned (but still sellable) goods. The store is trying to get rid of the product extra-fast—and you might be happy to help them out, and save a few extra dollars while you're at it.

While price tags labeled with an asterisk in the upper right-hand corner don’t signify a discount, they do let you know that the item in question won’t be restocked, meaning it's a good time to stuff your cart with any remaining inventory before it disappears. (These products sometimes pop up on shelves again if they’re seasonal, so fear not if you missed out on splurging on Christmas decorations.)

Skeptical shoppers might think these hacks sound too simple to be true, which is why Snopes investigated Rapoport’s Costco claims. Store employees and managers alike verified his $.97 and $.00 discount and markdown theories "are in most cases correct," adding that, "It’s not really a code, more just a set of rules that we follow to track pricing and be consistent throughout the region."

They also agreed that asterisks are indeed used on tags for “deleted,” or discontinued items. "Sometimes that means Costco couldn’t get the same product at the same purchase price, or it didn’t sell very well, or a repackaging is coming," Snopes explains. "After the warehouse sells the product it has on hand in the store it won’t be restocked, so the average shopper should take it as 'get it now because that’s all there is.'"

Here’s to a future filled with sweet savings on everything from 36-packs of paper towels to electronic massage chairs.

[h/t ToughNickel]

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10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Stick to Your New Year's Resolutions
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New Year's resolutions have a habit of being broken more than any other goals. This year, impress your friends and show yourself resolved to follow through with these 10 scientifically-proven ways to honor your commitments to self-improvement and healthy change.

1. TO FEEL MORE FULFILLED, VOLUNTEER.

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People who volunteer as little as two hours each week report greater happiness, sense of purpose, and increased health. One study in Social Science and Medicine suggests that volunteering might contribute to happiness levels "by increasing empathic emotions, shifting aspirations," and helping people to re-evaluate their own life situations. Moreover, volunteering is protective in older adults against cognitive and physical decline.

2. TO INCREASE DISCIPLINE, REDUCE "ACTIVATION EFFORT."

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If this year you’re planning to learn a language or unpack that ukulele, you might want to take advantage of "happiness researcher" Shawn Achor’s "20 second rule." The author of The Happiness Advantage discovered that just 20 extra seconds of "activation effort"—the energy it takes to get started—is enough to cause most people not to do an activity. He found that if he reduced the time it takes to do something new by 20 seconds, such as moving the guitar next to the couch instead of hiding it away in the closet, he was more likely to do it every day.

3. TO BE MORE CREATIVE, MAKE ART WHEN YOU'RE HAPPY.

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Contrary to the popular notion that tortured artists make the best art, a recent study in the journal Nature found a link between increased creativity and positive emotion. Lead author Malinda McPherson found that "emotion has a huge effect on the way our brains can be creative," she told The Atlantic. Her research with jazz musicians found that positive emotion was related to a "deeper state of creative flow."

4. TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE, TAKE MORE BREAKS.

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If this is the year you aim to become more productive, the best thing you can do for yourself is to take more breaks. That’s right, do less to do more. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that frequent, short breaks that begin as early as a couple of hours after you begin work are most effective at refreshing employees. Overwork leads to exhaustion and an increase in stress hormones, which can create cycles of burnout.

5. TO EXPERIENCE GREATER HAPPINESS, TRAVEL MORE.

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Research shows we are happier when we spend our money on experiences and travel versus obtaining material things. Don’t forget the axiom, you can’t take it with you when you die… People’s greatest regrets at the end of their lives tend to be the things they did not do. And another study in Psychological Science, in which participants were fed chocolates, found that we tend to focus most potently on the "last" of an experience, so end your vacations on a high note.

6. TO QUIT SMOKING, DON'T GO AT IT ALONE.

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While there is an undeniable physical addiction to break with smoking, the National Institutes of Health has found that smoking cessation counseling programs and/or cognitive behavioral therapy are the most effective way to ensure you can quit. Of course, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which may include weaning off cigarettes through nicotine gum, nasal sprays, patches, or lozenges, improves quit rates by as much as 50 to 70 percent over no NRT therapy, so the two methods together may give you mega quitting power.

7. TO LOSE WEIGHT, STOP FOCUSING ON WEIGHT.

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Focusing on how much you weigh can defeat the process of trying to lose weight, according to an unlikely source: neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, author of Why Diets Make Us Fat. She asserts that our brains control our body weight at a "set point" within 10-15 pounds, because the brain is hardwired for survival. The brain perceives diets as a threat to survival and increases stress hormones, which are also linked to increased weight gain. Aamodt says to concentrate on a slow and steady regime of regular exercise, good food choices, and stress reduction instead. But don’t rely upon exercise alone. Try mindful eating—pay careful attention to your feelings and attitudes about food and choose opportunities to give your body what it needs versus what it craves.

8. TO SAVE MORE MONEY, RESTRICT YOUR ACCESS.

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When you make it harder to take out money, you save more. According to a study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, participants who committed to a restricted access savings account, versus a control group that did not, saved more money than the control. You can set up a savings account that penalizes you for taking out money over a certain dollar amount or more than a specified number of times per month. You could also take a set chunk of savings and invest it in a Certificate of Deposit (CD), which has a fixed investment period of usually several years, and a fixed interest rate, so you’re guaranteed not to lose any money.

9. TO FORM NEW HABITS, GIVE THEM MORE TIME TO STICK.

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Pop-science has erroneously spread the belief that all it takes to forge a new habit is about one month of consistent activity. A British researcher found that, in fact, it’s closer to 66 days. Luckily, you can miss a day in there, so long as you lay out a plan in advance that sets out concrete actions you can take on a daily basis, and do not feel pressured to "perform."

10. CHOOSE A RESOLUTION THAT DOESN'T REQUIRE WILLPOWER.

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The secret to successfully following through on any of these resolutions is to start with those that don’t require willpower. A body of research has found that when people must exert extreme willpower, a function of the prefrontal cortex, it exhausts other functions such as mental endurance and the will to follow through. Willpower is a mental muscle that must be trained, so consider choosing a resolution that adds something to your life (such as joining a book club or making more homemade smoothies), rather than taking away (such as cutting out sugar or drinking all at once). Or, make strengthening your willpower your resolution.

This story originally ran in 2016.

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