Past Nuggets of Wisdom
Even our early advice was often right on the money. Some tips that are truly ageless:
- “An ounce of originality is worth a pound of swank.”
- “…it is so easy to be extravagant and buy recklessly when one can say, ‘Charge it.'” (September 1890)
- Children “should learn to appreciate the fact that the greatest happiness does not always come with the greatest wealth. Give them a suitable allowance when they have reached what may be called years of discretion.” (September 1899)
- “It is oftener the trifling outlays frequently repeated that prove ruinous than any conspicuous extravagance.” (January 1900)
- Having a small garden can be profitable: vegetables and fruit can be produced from 1/2 to 2/3 the cost of buying them. (May 1903)
- “Shoes soon lose their shape and appearance of newness. If two or three pairs are worn interchangeably, all look fresher, as well as wear longer.” (March 1908)
- Buy furniture “just as it comes from the factory — unsanded, unpainted, and unstained” — to save money. (The chairs featured in the article cost 65 cents each!) (February 1909)
- “Stocks, even good stocks, are speculative; they always have been and the always will be.” (November 1929)
Got an Hour or Less? Save $1,500-Plus
- Stop buying bottled water: At $1.50 per 20-ounce bottle, a family of four that goes through 20 bottles a week could save about $1,560 annually. The equivalent water from the faucet? Maybe $1. And it takes just seconds to fill a glass or a reusable water bottle.
- Drain away phantom power: The electrical draw of appliances when they are plugged in but turned off accounts for 5 to 10 percent of a home’s electricity bill. Plugging occasionally used printers, DVD players, and stereos into power strips and turning the strips off when not in use could save at least $50 per year — and maybe as much as $240. (Setup: 15 minutes. Flipping power strips off: a nanosecond.)
- Hang your laundry to dry: The dryer is the second most energy-sucking appliance in the home behind the fridge. Run your dryer half as frequently and line-dry those loads, for a savings of $32 per year. (Bonus: Line-dried clothes won’t look worn or pill as quickly, and are unlikely to shrink.)
Nab a Great Deal
- Learn the sales cycle at your fave stores (every six weeks? every Wednesday?). The easy way: Ask a salesclerk.
- Shop liquidation sales — but wait until the last days for the best deals. Pay with plastic: If the item turns out to be broken, the Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute charges for items that were not delivered as agreed.
- Hit the swankiest neighborhoods for top bargains on thrift-store goods. Ask what day they put out newly donated items, or stop by early in the week (most people drop off duds on the weekend, and it can take a day or two for them to hit the racks).
- Dollar stores can help you save big, but be wary of time-sensitive products like over-the-counter medicines and food.
- Look for the Good Housekeeping Seal. If you buy a Seal-backed product that proves defective, we’ll replace the item or refund your money.
Beyond Coupon Clipping
- Stock up on grocery staples right after Thanksgiving. It’s prime time: More food coupons are issued in November and December than in any other season.
- Beware of eye-level impulse buys: Grocers often place overpriced items at eye level on the right-hand sides of the aisles.
- Don’t buy premixed: You can pay up to 50 percent more for foods with sugar, spices, or sauces already mixed in. Juice in cartons can cost a hefty 60 percent more than frozen concentrate.
- Check drugstores, warehouse stores, clubs, and dollar stores for great deals on milk, granola bars, cereal, and juice.
- Try amazon.com for nonperishables. Its “Subscribe & Save Program” typically gives 15 percent discounts (plus free shipping) on items such as paper towels.
Philip Friedman/Studio D
Give Yourself (Good) Credit
- Know your rights. The CARD Act of 2009 severely restricts or prohibits credit card issuers from a) raising your interest rate retroactively, b) charging you over-the-limit fees without first warning you that you’ve reached the end of your credit line, c) applying your payments to the portion of the bill with the lowest interest rate, d) charging you a late fee for a payment received before 5 p.m. on the due date, or if they fail to send you your statement at least 21 days before the due date, and e) jacking up rates on your credit card because you made an unrelated financial misstep (like paying your electric bill late).
- Reduce your interest rate: When you receive one of those applications for a lower-interest credit card in the mail, call your own credit card company and ask the customer service representative to match the deal. Not sure what the best offers out there are? Check bankrate.com.
- Don’t own more than one rewards card. With several, you may not accumulate enough points on any one to make it worthwhile. Find one no-annual-fee rewards card. Pay the bill in full each month, and the “gifts” will be truly free. (Do a search at billshrink.com for a card that matches your spending habits to maximize the points you can earn.)
Hidden Fees — Exposed
When you spot a questionable cost on a bill — such as an unexplained “maintenance charge” or an unexpected “activation fee” — here’s how to fight back:
- Gain power from knowledge. Always ask if there are any fees when you’re agreeing to a service, upgrading your cell phone, applying for a credit card, etc. Don’t get hooked in the first place!
- State your case clearly. “This fee was never disclosed to me,” repeated politely but firmly, just might do the trick. Remind the company that you’ve been a loyal customer, but that you can always take your business elsewhere.
- Let your fingers do the talking: Skip the lengthy phone call in favor of a well-worded e-mail. Log in to your online account and send a message via the customer service page, or look on the company’s website for a Contact Us link.
- Haul out the big guns: File a formal complaint with your state’s consumer-affairs office or the appropriate federal office (say, the FCC for cell phone concerns). Or, e-mail your grievance to us at email@example.com, and we may be able to help.
Spend Less, Give More
- Keep a gift closet or shelf and stock it with items you find on sale so you won’t be scrambling — and overspending — for a hostess gift or surprise reciprocation present at the holidays. Store items you’ll regift here, along with gift bags.
Slash Medical Bills
- Fill prescriptions at Internet stores for savings. Check nabp.net for legit businesses.
- Go to caregiversmarketplace.com to receive money back on vitamins, skin-care products, and more.
- Local pharmacies often have savings clubs. At Walgreens, a $20 to $35 enrollment fee gets members a 90-day supply of any of more than 400 generic meds for less than $1 per week.
- AAA and AARP members get lower rates on eye-care costs — AAA’s deals include 30 percent off exams and glasses.
- Dental schools offer cut-rate care so students can, um, cut their teeth on procedures like cleanings and cavity fillings. All work is supervised, and it can be up to 70 percent cheaper than at a regular dental office.
Peter Dazeley/Getty Images
3 Steps to Better Savings
- Keep emergency money (ideally, three to six months of living expenses) in a regular savings account as a security net. Annoyed by the too-low interest your bank doles out? Use bankaholic.com to find out who’s paying more.
- A simple way to save: If you have your paycheck direct-deposited to your checking account, arrange for your bank to automatically transfer a set amount to your savings each month.
- For the lowest fees, credit unions offer hard-to-beat packages to members. Membership is often linked to the workplace, but some credit unions are community-based. Many accept relatives of members.
I.D. the Risks of Identity Theft
In 2009, identity theft cost victims an average of $373 (not to mention the emotional toll of having privacy violated). Protect yourself:
- Read all your mail, even if it looks like junk. If a thief opens a credit or banking account in your name, a statement may come to you.
- When banking online, always go directly to your bank’s website; never use a link in an e-mail.
- Shred financial records in a cross-cutting paper shredder before you toss them.
- Review monthly bills, checking for any charges that look questionable. Smarter still: Save your receipts and match them to your statement at month’s end.
- Only give out or write out your social security number to individuals or on documents when you absolutely must — in many cases, just the last four digits is enough. Don’t keep your social security card in your wallet.
- By law, you’re entitled to one free copy annually from each of the big credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Order from this website: annualcreditreport.com (or call 877-322-8228). Sites with similar sounding names, like freecreditreport.com, aren’t actually free.
- Check your report carefully. One 2004 study found that 25 percent of credit reports contained serious errors. If something’s wrong, it’s up to you to contact the bureau and clear it up.
- Don’t fall for phishing. Never respond to an e-mail requesting your personal info.
- Choose credit cards over debit cards. Credit gives you leeway to dispute charges (typically 45 days). With debit, the charge is taken out of your checking account right away, and it can be more difficult to recover unauthorized charges.
- Cancel inactive credit cards, or start using them — or, at the least, set up monitoring alerts through the bank’s website to e-mail or text you if there’s any activity at all.
Save Money When Moving
- Get rid of everything you don’t need — and be merciless. That old piano, for example, may cost more to move than it’s worth.
- Stock up in advance on cartons and crates from grocery, hardware, and appliance stores. Movers usually charge for containers they supply.
- Do your own packing.
- Compare insurance rates.
- If your new house is nearby, ask if your cleaner delivers. Then, send out everything that needs cleaning — draperies, rugs, extra clothing — before you move, and have them returned to your new home.
- Move on a weekday. Fees can be as much as 50 percent higher on Saturday or Sunday. Also, pack everything yourself and save at least 10 percent.
Turn Trash into Cash
- Bring unwanted stuff to stores that sell secondhand such as Play It Again Sports (sporting goods; playitagainsports.com), GameStop (video games; gamestop.com), Plato’s Closet (teen clothes and accessories; platoscloset.com), or Music Go Round (instruments; musicgoround.com).
- Sell it yourself online on ebay.com or amazon.com. Or advertise locally at craigslist.com or backpage.com. Trade in working electronics for store credit at radioshack.cexchange.com, or for cash at myboneyard.com.
Rob Friedman / iStock
7 $mart Questions to Ask at the Store Before You Shop
The answers can help you save hundreds (or more) a year.
- Do you have a mailing list or newsletter that announces sales early?
- Where are coupons available?
- Do you accept competitors’ coupons, expired coupons, or multiple coupons per order?
- Do you match competitors’ prices?
- Do you have a price-guarantee policy? (If the price drops within a specific post-purchase period of time, the store will refund the difference.)
- Do you offer rebates?
- Do you have a loyalty program that allows me to earn back cash or points on purchases?
Don’t Get Tripped Up by High-Cost Travel!
Fly on the cheap.
- Hunt for airfares on Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, and travel on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, if you can, for the lowest rates (often 20 percent less than Saturday or Sunday flights).
- Use a search engine, like kayak.com, but always check the fares on the airline’s website, too, particularly to find web deals on smaller, low-cost operators like JetBlue, Southwest, Frontier, AirTran, and Virgin America.
- Sign up for e-mail alerts at airfarewatchdog.com, which specializes in unadvertised sale fares. Also, register for frequent flyer newsletters from your fave airlines to get in on discounted fares as soon as they come out.
Accommodate Your Budget
- Book a suite, rather than a couple of rooms, for your family — there are even greater discounts on weekends when business travelers are scarce.
- Rent a furnished home, through sites like homeaway.com and vrbo.com. Or even consider a house swap (also through these sites), and stay for free!
Go Designer for a Day
Who knew? You can rent high-end duds for a special event.
- Onenightaffair.com leases red-carpet-worthy gowns for $45 to $175 for five days (plus, get ’em altered to fit for an extra $20 or less).
- Bagborroworsteal.com is a members-only club ($5 to $10 to join) that’ll lend you pricey purses and totes at reasonable weekly or monthly rates.
- Borrowedbling.com rents out jewelry for a flat monthly membership fee that starts at $30 (bagborroworsteal.com has baubles, too).
Easy Insurance Break
- Many insurers will cut your homeowner’s insurance rate by up to 15 percent if you have burglar alarms or deadbolt locks. Some give discounts to seniors and families of nonsmokers.
Drive Down Car Costs
Transportation-related expenses account for 17 percent of what the average household spends in a year. Don’t leave your cash in the dust:
Roll Back Gas Costs
- Slow down! Driving at 65 mph uses 15 percent more fuel than driving at 55 mph — that can be like adding 40-plus cents per gallon to the price of gas.
- Unless your fuel-door sticker suggests premium gas, stick with regular.
- Avoid excessive idling when warming up your car. It takes more gas to idle your car for a minute than to turn it off and start it again.
- Check your tire pressure monthly. Low pressure can slow down your ride, to the tune of an additional 3 percent or so in gas mileage (look at the sticker on the driver-side door to find your car’s correct tire pressure).
- Chuck all the junk from the trunk: An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle reduces mpg by about 2 percent.
- You’ll save money at the gas station if you: (1) pump your own gas (rather than go full-service), and (2) pay cash.
Cut Down on Car Maintenance
- Keep wheels from tiring: Have them rotated every six months (or 6,000 miles) to distribute wear evenly. This occasional $25 (plus a monthly inflation check) could double your tires’ life.
- Be slick about oil: Some quick-lube places recommend an oil change every 3,000 miles, but most cars only need one every 5,000 to 7,500 miles — a savings of up to $360 over five years. Look at the manual for the manufacturer’s recommended oil-change interval so you don’t violate the terms of your warranty.
- Know that clean saves green: At your next inspection, ask if the oxygen sensor is working properly. If not, a new one can improve mileage up to 14 percent.
Own the Car Lot
- When negotiating for a new car, go to edmunds.com to get the manufacturer’s invoice price (the amount the dealer pays); offer the dealer that price. He may sell you the car for as little as $100 more in order to get a profit called a “pullback” from the manufacturer.
- To buy or lease? Buy your next car if you expect to drive it for at least five years; you think you might drive it for more than 18,000 to 20,000 miles a year; or you’re in the market for a used car. Consider a lease if you want a more expensive car than you could otherwise afford, or you want to drive a new car every two to three years
Get a Good Lease
- Don’t accept a lease without doing research. Visit leasewizard.com to find out going rates.
- Don’t get an open-ended lease, in which the amount you’ll owe for depreciation is the difference between the residual value and the market value of the car when the lease is up. A closed-end lease is better because you and the dealer agree beforehand on what you’ll owe.
- Don’t underestimate your mileage allowance. Most leases are based on your driving 12,000 miles, and charge 8 to 20 cents per extra mile. If you think you’ll be driving more, buy extra mileage up front; you might pay as little as 5 cents a mile.
- Don’t lease for longer than the warranty. Stretching the lease can lower payments, but if you need big repairs after the warranty runs out, you’ll be stuck paying for them.
- Don’t buy gap insurance through the dealer — it’s cheaper from your car insurer. This coverage protects you from a full loss if the car is stolen or destroyed and pays out the difference between the present value of your car and the residual value, plus what you still owe on the lease.
- Don’t keep the car longer than you want it. If you need to get out of your lease, advertise on leasetrader.com for $89. When a buyer takes over your lease, each party pays the site $149.
- To minimize leasing costs, look at several leasing packages from at least a couple of dealers, check your credit union for cheap leases to members, and drive carefully — there’s a charge at the end of the lease for unusual wear and tear on the car.
3 Haggling Hints
The keys to getting lower credit card rates, and discounts on clothing, appliances, and even cars are to:
- Do your research on the market, so you know what the going rate is and can say, “I’ve seen it here for less.”
- Subtly point out flaws (“I see a slight scratch here”) or other reasons they want to sell the item to you right now, such asking how long they’ve had the item in inventory.
- Flatter ’em! “I’d much rather spend my money with you because I’ve been loyal for years, your store is convenient, you’re so polite,” etc.
Real Entertainment Value
Bundle your phone, cable, and Internet — you could save $100 to $675 per year! (But read the fine print for contract rules before agreeing.)
- Watch movies and cable TV shows for free! The following websites stream cost-free video. (See Connect Your Computer to Your TV for how to make the PC-to-TV connection.)
- And while you’re at it, enjoy free web-based music with:
- It only takes spending $27.40 a day to fritter away $10,000 per year. Mint.com will show you exactly what you’re spending your cash on (shopping? groceries? fast food?) — and help you come up with a budget you can stick to.
Pay Less for Pets
- Watch what he eats. If you can’t easily feel your pet’s ribs, it might be time for a diet. Most pet food labels list recommendations for un-spayed or -neutered active adult animals — a “fixed” pet needs 25 to 30 percent of that, which will cost less, too.
- Humane societies, animal shelters, and vet schools often provide quality routine services, like spaying or neutering, for less. Your local health department may sponsor rabies shots for as little as $5.
- Consider ordering your pet’s meds online (1800petmeds.com, drsfostersmith.com, kvvetsupply.com) — you can save up to 50 percent — or see if your vet will match the online price.
5 Costly Gardening Gaffes
Do these, and you might as well plant your coins in hopes of growing money trees.
- Using seeds that are past their prime — check seeds’ expiration date before planting (or chucking) them.
- Not getting the right soil — plants won’t survive if the soil pH is unsuitable, or if nutrients are missing.
- Thinking bigger is better — when you’re buying vegetable plants for transplant, look for small to medium-size plants that exhibit good color and pert leaves. The tallest or one that’s already budding may not settle in as well.
- Working with dirty tools, which can transfer plant disease around the garden.
- Crowding your flowerbed or vegetable patch. Plants start small but will spread out, and if you place them too close together, their roots won’t have enough room. Follow the directions on the flag that comes with seedlings.
Beware: Charity Scams
- Before you donate, look up a charity’s financial report and exactly where your gift is going at charitynavigator.org.
- If donating a used car, sign over the title right away — if you don’t, and something happens (say, the car is involved in an accident), you may be liable.
- Don’t give out your credit card number to solicitors, and never write out checks to individuals, only directly to a charity.
Three musts for teaching your child the value of cold hard cash
- Give them some! If kids don’t have their own money, they can’t learn responsibility. Children as young as 8 can handle a small allowance ($1 or $2 per week), and tweens can manage more ($10-plus).
- Teach them budgeting 101. Have kids write down how much they spend during a week. Point out that when you spend a little at a time, you may not have enough saved to buy a bigger, more coveted item.
- Give incentives for saving. Set a rule that a certain amount of allowance (say, a third) must be put in the bank. Explain interest, and if you can, offer “matching funds” if your child’s account reaches a certain level.
3 Mortgage Rip-Offs
- Document preparation and administration fees. Ask your bank or mortgage company up-front to waive these charges; the loan origination fee more than covers these costs.
- Credit report and courier fees. Beware of inflated charges; some companies may tack on as much as $65 for obtaining your credit report and $100 for courier fees. Before you sign with a lender, say you won’t pay more than the going rate for these services — $6 to $12 per credit report, and about $20 for overnight delivery.
- Extra title insurance costs, such as title-search and binder fees. Your insurance fee should cover these; look for a title insurance company that doesn’t charge extra.
You can’t take out loans for your golden years, so how you save now really matters:
- Don’t cut back on retirement savings in hopes of providing your kids with a full ride to college. Aim to save enough in a 529 plan to cover about half your expected college costs.
- And don’t speed up repayment of your own student debt. Look into consolidating your loans to stretch out the payments if that frees up the money you need for a 401(k).
- If you’re young or middle-aged, don’t increase your mortgage payments at the expense of your nest egg.
- Don’t stuff all your spare cash in your 401(k). Contribute as much as is needed to get your company’s full match. A good option for some extra savings (if you have any) is a Roth IRA.
Don’t Click “Buy” Until You Read This
- Use comparison-shopping websites such as pronto.com, shopping.com, and thefind.com.
- Never shop online without first looking for a discount. Google the name of the retailer plus the words “coupon code.”
- After you buy something at a store that has a price-protection policy, use priceprotectr.com to be alerted if the price dips.
Bookmark These Now!
Check out these bargain hunters’ websites:
- Retailmenot.com, couponcabin.com, and fatwallet.com offer printable and online coupons.
- Cellfire.com lets you load coupons on your cell phone and add them to a grocery-store savings card.
- Honesty.com helps you know if you’re really getting a good deal on eBay, so you won’t overpay.
- Gasbuddy.com and gaspricewatch.com track the cheapest gas stations in your area.
- Markdownalert.com sends you e-mails with the latest sales in fashion, home decor, and more.