Consumer Reports: Nickel-Squeezing Tips

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Consumer Reports compiled a grand list of staff and reader tips on how to save money. Enjoy!

Lawn care

  • Grow annuals from seeds. It's much easier to buy flats, but seeds are very inexpensive.
  • Rather than buy plants, trade plant clippings with friends. They're free!

Bills & saving

  • I pay most of my bills electronically through credit-card debit or bank debit. I'm never late and I don't have to pay penalties.
  • The Web site at www.billshrink.com can help you analyze your cell phone bill to determine whether you'll save money with a different plan.
  • Call up your Internet, phone, and cable companies and try to get a better deal. I cut my Internet bill in half that way.
  • Don't go to coin machines that charge to convert your change to bills. Some banks offer that service free.
  • Set up a direct deposit into a savings account. You'll soon get used to not having that amount available in every paycheck.
  • I put in a drawer every $5 bill I get as change.

Helpful hints

  • Borrow books and videos from the library rather than paying at a bookstore or video store. At my library, I can sign up for just-released books.
  • Don't buy liners for your wastebaskets. Just reuse plastic grocery bags.
  • My sister-in-law is a hair stylist. In exchange for a free cut, I'll do a couple hours of yard work or baby-sit their youngest.
  • Many plumbing fixtures have a lifetime warranty. I call and get parts sent free. (Some of my fixtures are 20 years old.)
  • Use newspaper instead of paper towels to clean exterior windows and glass doors.
  • Instead of throwing out the plastic from the dry cleaner, I tie a knot at the bottom to close up the hanger hole and use it as a trash-can liner.
  • Failed a car emissions inspection? By law, emissions controls have an 80,000 mile/8-year warranty. Many parts might be free.
  • Fix a broken umbrella rather than buying a new one by sewing the fabric back onto the metal arm. It's just attached by a thread.
  • Skip the live, big-name concert and buy the concert DVD instead. They cost around $20—not $80 to $400. There's no parking charge and no guy behind you singing along.

Travel

  • When you travel, take your own sandwich on the plane and fill up your water bottle after you go through security.
  • I've gotten half off weekend rentals from Hertz and Avis on their Web sites.
  • I put a fare alert on a travel site and it e-mailed me about two incredible deals: a $350 round-trip ticket from Newark to Rome, including taxes, and a $365 fare from Kennedy to Rome. I probably wouldn't have stumbled across these without the alert.
  • Book a breathtaking campsite for as little as $25 a night at www.reserveamerica.com, a gateway for many state and federal park services. You can take your own tent or rent a rustic cabin.
  • I asked a hotel if it would price-match a deal I found online. It did, saving me $30 or so a night. The first agent said no. The next day, a different agent agreed. I've also found different prices when I call a hotel directly vs. the central 800 number.
  • A calendar on a site like Expedia shows you the fare or room rate within a range of a given date. Altering your trip by a few days can save a bundle.
  • Rent an apartment on vacation. You live like a local and it's cheap.

Household items

  • I occasionally wash my sponges in my dishwasher's utensil holder when I do a load of dishes. They last a lot longer and don't get that "off" smell.
  • Measure laundry detergent using the manufacturer's enclosed cap or cup. It's very easy to add more detergent than you need pouring freehand. This is especially important for the new concentrated detergents.
  • Cut your fabric softener sheets in half.
  • Clothes with the label "dry clean recommended" can typically be machine washed. (But don't launder a garment if the label says "dry clean only.")
  • Store wool sweaters in old cotton pillowcases instead of expensive and environmentally unfriendly plastic bins. The cotton lets the wool breathe, which helps sweaters last longer but still keeps moths out.
  • Can't stand ironing? Buy no-iron shirts instead of taking them to the cleaners.
  • We no longer buy tub and toilet cleaners, counter cleansers, and the like. We use white vinegar and baking soda for a lot of cleaning.
  • Make your lipstick go further by scooping out the last bit with a lip brush.
  • Flatten the toilet paper roll a bit. It doesn't spin around as much and waste paper.

Shopping

  • Stores often match competitors' coupons or advertised specials. When you shop at your favorite stores, carry other stores' coupons and flyers and ask for the same deal.
  • When I shop online, I always check Google for a coupon for the site before I check out. Just yesterday I saved $15 and got free shipping on shoes.
  • Many businesses give affiliation or age discounts, so always ask. Even my vet gives a senior discount.
  • Try to negotiate everything, not just cars. It's as simple as saying to a sales clerk (managers are better), "Is there something you can do about the price?" This is especially effective if you can find a minor defect in the item or if you're buying several items.
  • When we need office furniture, like bookcases, we buy it used.
  • Take stock before you shop. I have three bottles of Windex under the sink because I didn't look before I bought.

Food

  • In the supermarket, I look at the unit price. Many items such as tuna have a quantity surcharge—the bigger container has a higher unit price than the smaller one.
  • I bring coffee to work in a thermos.
  • Once or twice a year I won't buy as much food as usual and I try to empty the freezer and cupboards before buying more. The freezer, especially, is full of food I forget.
  • Avoid bottled water. Buy a decent water bottle for everyone in the family, put their names on them, and refill.
  • Cook more at home and make enough to freeze. Later, when you don't have time to cook, you're not tempted to buy prepared food, which costs more.
  • Buy wine and beer by the case, which is cheaper. Either stock up for yourself or split with friends.
  • I eat breakfast at home instead of buying it on the road or at work.
  • Bring a bag lunch to work. And bring your own snacks too; those trips to the vending machines can add up.
  • Buy kitchenware (pots, pans, knives, etc.) at kitchen-supply wholesalers. Many are open to the general public.
  • Grow your own vegetables and herbs. You'll save a lot (think about the cost of a bunch of parsley or thyme) and you'll use them more since you'll have them on hand.
  • We cut our grocery bill in half by planning next week's menu and shopping with a list.
  • If you don't want to cook, get takeout instead of dining in the restaurant. There's no table service, so there's no tip, and you can resist adding dessert to your order.
  • Eat half the restaurant meal and save the other half for lunch or dinner the next day.

 

 

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