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The Sunday Business section this year switched its focus to personal finance, looking at everyday issues and offering tips to enrich your life. Here's a look back at some highlights.

December 30, 2007

MAY 20 / If you object to high legal fees

Prepaid legal plans can help you avoid getting overwhelmed by lawyer bills. Individuals can buy into prepaid plans on their own, but most people sign up through the workplace. Here are some tips:

* Consider your needs: People usually tap into the plans for help with such things as buying or selling a house, estate planning, adoption, name changes, divorces, credit problems, identity theft, immigration difficulties and tax audits. Many plans cover misdemeanor offenses such as traffic tickets, but most don't handle felonies.

* Be prepared to pay more: For time-consuming or complex matters, clients may be charged additional fees but usually at a discounted rate. It all depends on the fine print in the contract your employer signed. Benefits representatives or vendors can answer questions.

* Be an advocate for yourself: Ask questions and make sure your lawyer returns your calls and follows up on correspondence.


JUNE 17 / Ring up the right cellphone plan

When it comes to picking a cellphone plan, there is a dizzying array of choices. Here are some tips to figure out the best service for your needs:

* Read the contract: You usually can get discounts on handsets by signing one- or two-year contracts with a carrier, but look out for hefty penalties if you try to get out of those contracts early. You may be able to avoid contracts by paying full price for the phones.

* Shop before you buy: For handsets, check online to see what's available with the calling plan you choose before you visit the store.

* Watch the extras: Pay close attention to add-on features. They can be simple -- $5 for 200 multimedia messages to $40 for unlimited messages with AT&T -- but can add up quickly if you also want a data plan for e-mail and Internet access or fee-based content such as live television, video and music downloads.

* Try the trial: Take advantage of the trial periods each company offers, ranging from 14 to 30 days.


JULY 1 / Cut the bills, not the wedding bliss

If you're a bride on a budget -- or just want to start married life without a lot of debt -- there are ways to cut the wedding bills without stinting on the bliss:

* Buy a used or discounted gown: Seek out store sample sales, at which designer dresses can be marked down as much as 80%. Or search for "used wedding gown" online and you'll get countless hits leading to once-worn gowns.

* Choose in-season or impostor flowers: Buy peonies in the spring and they're $7 a stem. Insist on them in the fall and it'll cost $14 to $19. A certain variety of rose looks similar but costs just $3. Likewise, the sought-after lily of the valley runs $5 a stem -- more than double the price of the look-alike white wax flower.

* Use digital music: Instead of paying $1,000 for live music, compile playlists of your favorite songs to play on a digital music device.

* Limit the guest list: Reception costs are calculated on a per-person basis. Cut the list -- and cut your expenses.


JULY 29 / Go green to save green in long run

You can fight global warming and trim your household expenses at the same time. Some measures require an investment upfront but will save you plenty of money over time. Here are a few ways to go green without spending a lot of gold:

* Compact fluorescent light bulbs: Changing 10 60-watt bulbs will save the average homeowner in California more than $373 over the life of the new bulbs and prevent more than 1,700 pounds of carbon emissions.

* Appliances: Energy-efficient appliances can save $80 a year for the average homeowner, who spends $1,900 on power bills. For example, a new Energy Star-rated refrigerator uses 40% less energy than a traditional one that was manufactured in 2001.

* Heating and air conditioning: A programmable thermostat set 8 degrees lower in winter and 4 degrees higher in summer for eight hours during the day and 10 hours at night will save the average homeowner $150 a year.


SEPT. 16 / DIY home selling means homework

Selling your home without a real estate agent can potentially save you thousands of dollars in commission. But be forewarned: Do-it-yourself home selling is not for everyone. Homeowners should consider whether they have the time and energy to handle calls and visits from potential buyers, make up fliers and put up signs. And they must decide whether they can pay for ads. If you're ready to try, here are some tips:

* Research the market: Websites such as those operated by Trulia Inc., CataList Homes Inc., Zillow Inc. and ZipRealty Inc. offer free information about recently sold homes, average time on market, price trends and other market information that was previously available only to brokers.

* Seek out help: Discount brokers will help on a fee-for-service basis as will services such as Assist-2-Sell Inc., Corp., FSBO Inc., Help-U-Sell,, Redfin Corp. and RealUmbrella Inc. Be ready to hire an attorney if the transaction is complicated.


SEPT. 30 / Here's help on finding extra help

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