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Fools rush in for the lottery

To honor April Fools' Day and all fiscal foolishness, has put on its website a lottery simulator to illustrate the long odds facing ticket buyers, and the site's founder, J.D. Roth points out that nearly any common investment would do far better.
     Yes, an office group did win $319 million in the Mega Millions jackpot recently, but everyone else who played didn't.
      According to a press release, when Roth played his own lottery simulator set to twice a week for 1,000 years, it added up to: $104,000 spent on playing, resulting in $11,554 in winnings. The return on his investment? Down 88.89 percent.
     Put $100,000 in bonds for $30 years, though, and you're likely to get back an inflation-adjusted $200,000; with stocks, $750,000, he writes.  "Do something boring with your money," he says. "Take advantage of the extraordinary power of compound interest to get rich slowly."
     To try your luck in the 1,000-year lottery, go to, scroll down to the chart to pick your numbers and let 'er rip.

Your bank wants to help -- really!

     Overdraft charges and credit card late fees can be as infuriating as they are expensive, but there is a way to avoid those -- and  your bank will help.
     Sign up for automatic alerts to your cell phone or e-mail account that let you know your daily balance, when a credit card bill is coming due, and when your payments are posted.
     It helps keep those due dates from flying past unnoticed, and gives you a heads-up if there's a problem.
     You also can get alerts for recent transactions and unusual activity -- a healthy way to stop identity theft and fraud before it escalates.
     Banks will even send you a monthly statement electronically, so you can balance your checkbook while sitting in a doctor's waiting room.
     One caution: NEVER respond to an unexpected e-mail or message from the "bank" requesting your account number, Social Security number or other identifying information. If the sender is really your bank, it already has that information.

What can you get for $5?

     What can you get for $5?
     How about a singer doing "Happy Birthday" a la Marilyn Monroe for you, or a St. Patrick's Day greeting, complete with Irish music?
     More pragmatically, you can get 30 days worth of personal tax advice, a healthy weekly menu plan (with foods you like to eat), or a logo for your business.
     You can get a motivational text every morning, or a blues song written just for you.
     All these services, and thousands more, are available at, a freelance website "for people to share things they are willing to do for $5."
     It works like this: People post on Fiverr a "gig" they are willing to do for $5; the site notifies them when the service is ordered and pays them $4 when it's done.
     Those who want to contract for the services pay through PayPal or by credit card, then are put in touch with their new "employee" to get the job done.
      Categories for services include gifts, graphics, video, social marketing, travel,  writing, advertising, business and technology. For instance, you can get help programming your iPad, setting up a blog or deciding which television to buy.
     Under Fun & Bizarre, you can hire a person to hold a sign saying anything you want in Times Square, and send you a photo of it. You can get a Tarot card reading, learn how to bend spoons with your mind or have a Sean Connery sound-alike leave the message on your voicemail.
     And that barely scratches the surface.
     In other words, what can you get for $5? Just about anything.

'Park it' for free April 16-24

     Travelers will have 394 chances to get something free in the week before Easter (plus another couple days).
      During National Park Week, April 16-24, entrance to all national parks is free throughout the week. Find out about the parks and plan a visit at
     Once in the parks, visitors will find lots of other free things to do besides hiking and picnicking. Rangers give free and entertaining talks, kids can become Junior Rangers, and many places have guided tours.
     The park service points out it's a good time to "add some superlatives to your life list: the world's tallest trees (sequoias), longest cave (Mammoth Cave), largest carnivore (Alaskan Brown Bear), or the United States' highest peak (Mount McKinley), lowest point (Death Valley), or deepest lake (Crater Lake)."
      On Saturday, April 16, the park service says, many parks will have projects that volunteers can take part in; April 23 is the 5th annual Junior Ranger Day.
     If you can't make it in April, other fee-free days this year are June 21 (the first day of summer), Sept. 21 (National Public Lands Day), and Nov. 11-13 (Veterans Day Weekend).

Finding the freebies

 Getting a free meal or an extra night in a hotel when traveling can only make things nicer. Now, discount online travel service Priceline is making it easier to find those little bargains.

  At, people can click on the kind of "freebies" they would like in a hotel, such as free nights, free breakfast, free parking and free upgrades. Results will show which places have deals,   the dates when they are likely to fbe available and the lowest prices. Or, put in the city you want to visit, and a list of hotels with "freebie"deals will show up.

  In case you're flexible on where you want to travel, Priceline also did a survey on cities where hotels have the most deals. The top 10 cities were Houston, Paris, San Antonio, Istanbul, Rome, Atlanta, San Diego, Miami, Thira, Greece and Indianapolis.
     It may take some looking around to find what you want: While hotels were most likely to offer free parking and Internet service, hotel guests appear to most want free nights and room discounts.