• Money

    25 freebies for your birthday

    And itís not just ice cream on the house -- you can score dinner, drinks, clothing, cosmetics, e-books and even lingerie on your special day.

    Matthew Geniesse is the king of birthday freebies. Last year the Southern California resident redeemed about $300 worth of goods and services on his natal day including golf, bowling, ice cream, lip gloss (he gave it to his girlfriend), tanning, a car wash, Guitar Hero play, chili, a movie, appetizers and desserts. Oh, and free drinks. Lots of free drinks. (He was with friends, so he didn't have to drive.) "A day without paying one dollar," says Geniesse, 35. "I just didn't want (it) to end."
    How can you get some of that? Sign up.

    Locally and nationally, birthday freebies are there for the taking. Hamburgers, pizza, burritos, deli sandwiches, lingerie, e-book credits, garden seeds for your urban homestead -- these and other gifts are handed out by national chains through birthday club programs designed to reward loyal customers.

    Not a customer? Not a problem! The word "free" will get you in there at least once, companies figure. Maybe even more than once: When I signed up at Qdoba Mexican Grill, they e-mailed me a coupon for a free order of chips and salsa.

    Give your name, get some goodies

    6 questions you and your partner need to ask each other before you share a credit card. If you don't, you could be in for money trouble and heartache.

    You've shared dinner, vacations and maybe even an apartment with your sweetie. But one of the biggest steps you can take with your significant other is sharing financial responsibility through a joint credit card.
    "This is a huge commitment," says Kim McGrigg, a spokeswoman for Money Management International, a national credit counseling company. "I think it's something that most people just don't take seriously enough." Merging finances cannot save a relationship, but it can easily destroy one.

    You don't have to be hitched to get a joint credit card. Bank of America spokeswoman Betty Riess says her company, for example, has "no special policies about issuing joint accounts to unmarried couples." Gail Hurdis, a spokeswoman for Chase, says any two people can choose to get a joint Chase credit card account.

    That said, it's probably best if your own policies are stricter than those of the credit card companies. After all, a financial mistake on a joint credit card can haunt you long after a relationship has ended. So if you're not married, but you're thinking about opening joint credit, be sure you've talked through these six important questions before you sign on the dotted line.


    Spring. It's the season of invigoration, a time to ditch dusty financial items and habits and start fresh with just what you need to succeed. Here's what you need to do, to get and to ditch over the next few months.

    To do:

    1. Organize paperwork. Vital documents scattered to the four corners? Assemble a simple, effective filing system, says Jonathan Kennedy Jr., president of Endeavor Capital, a Richmond, Va., financial planning firm. "All you need is a three-hole punch and dividers. Have one binder for utilities, one for financial statements, one for credit cards and one for miscellaneous. Keep the previous six months of bills on hand and get rid of the rest." You'll be left with a few neat notebooks on a shelf, rather than drawers full of papers and files.

    2. Redefine and prepare for goals. Bet you can't remember when you last thought about where you want your money to take you, and then mapped out an effective route. Do it now. "Fewer than 5 percent of Americans have a financial plan and those with one are almost three times as likely to hit their financial and retirement goals," says Bryan Link, CEO of the online goals-based planning service SimpliFi. "As simple as it sounds, getting a plan in order makes things easier."

    3. Blend investment accounts. If you have assets in IRAs, 401(k)s, SEPs, SIMPLE Plans and the like, consider combining them. Why? Two reasons, says Kennedy. "One is that the fewer accounts you have, the less you'll pay in fees." The other: "The more money you have working together, the more velocity you can get behind that money, i.e., the faster the money will grow." He suggests engaging a financial professional, setting up a brokerage account to take custody of the assets, updaing asset allocation strategies and transfering assets to achieve them.

    4. Scavenge for winter. The amount of money you dropped for gifts and other holiday expenses last year should still be clear in your memory banks. Get ready for 2011's costs by starting immediately. "Take some of the pressure off of your end-of-year shopping sprees by saving the money earlier in the year," says Taren Coleman, an investment adviser from Bethesda, Md. Sock away $200 each month beginning in April, and you'll have $1,800 by December.