Super Saver’s spectacular win on a muddy track at the Kentucky Derby may have been just the right message for Americans who themselves are still battling the muck of an up-and-down economy.
Millions are looking for ways to shave dollars and dimes from their daily expenses. For more tips, go to www.aarp.org/savemoney. Here are the first 99.
1. Use up to 60 percent less energy by boiling water in a microwave rather than on an electric stovetop. When you do use the stovetop, make sure pots and pans fully cover the heating element. A 6-inch pan on an 8-inch element translates to an energy waste of more than 40 percent.
2. Improve freezer efficiency by keeping the thing as full as possible—with bags of ice, for instance. But keep a 1-inch open space on each side of the interior for better air exchange.
3. Lower your thermostat in the winter. For each degree that you drop, you cut your heating bill by 3 percent. To feel more comfortable at lower temperatures, place pans of water near heating outlets or radiators. Water-filled air retains heat better, and the added humidity reduces itching and dry skin.
4. Mix your own garden dirt. Those “enriched” bags of soil boost flower and vegetable growth—at about $8 a bag. Instead, for each one part of dirt or topsoil mix in about two parts of compost—shredded from leaves and branches and available for free at many municipal recycling centers.
5. Save on a flush in an old toilet by putting a plastic bottle full of water, weighted with pebbles, in your tank.
6. Get a rain barrel. Connected to your home’s storm gutters, it will collect water for later use on your lawn, vegetable garden or car.
7. Stop that dripping faucet. Sixty drips a minute will waste about 6,428 gallons of water per year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
8. Shower quickly and save. A 15-minute shower a day costs about $310 a year, even with a low-flow shower head. Cutting the time by a third will save about $100 annually.
9. Buy torn bags of mulch. Home centers usually set these torn bags aside, then sell the day’s mishaps at a big discount. Your best chance to get these deals is at the end of a weekend shopping day. Bring duct tape to close them, and a tarp to keep your car trunk clean.
10. Rent that extra room or space in your garage, basement, backyard. Visit sparefoot.com or storeatmyhouse.com to list its availability and your asking price for free. SpareFoot gets a transaction fee equal to half the first month’s paid rent (a spare bedroom can fetch $150 a month). The site also sells legally vetted lease agreements for $19.
11. Save on printer ink by using the Century Gothic font, which a recent study showed consumes about a third less ink than industry-standard Arial. That saves about $20 a year for a home user printing 25 pages a week.
12. Do it yourself or hire someone? You can get estimates of the difference in cost for a home improvement project at diyornot.com, as well as advice on whether you should go it alone.
13. Get your castoffs picked up for free by more than 60 nonprofit furniture banks nationwide. (Your items generally need to be in good condition.) Find one near you at nationalfurniturebank.com.
14. Boost your knowledge with free online college courses. (You may need to buy books or download special software.) Yale, MIT and Stanford are among dozens of universities offering no-cost knowledge. Visit education-portal.com and click on “OpenCourseWare” for a list of offerings by topic.
15. Sell your junk, but first get an idea of what it’s really worth by going to itaggit.com, an online “blue book” for pack rats and collectors. The site analyzes recent sales at online markets.
16. Free photo editing online is available at citrify.com, where your uploaded photos can be tweaked with nifty effects like teeth-whitening and wrinkle-removing. Pixorial.com provides free video online editing and up to 10 gigabytes of free storage.
17. Sell your books. At cash4books.net or sellbackyourbook.com, you type in an unwanted book’s ISBN number to get an offer. If you like what you see, fill out a prepaid mailing label, box the books and send them off. Payment comes by check or as a credit to your PayPal account.
18. Volunteer techies give free advice on common computer problems at fixya.com.
19. Don’t dump, recycle. Join the local bulletin board at freecycle.org and post what you want to give away or something you’re looking for. No money changes hands, and your unwanted stuff won’t add to a landfill. If there’s no group in your area, the website tells how to set one up.
20. Ask Doc for a discount. Before your appointment, visit healthcarebluebook.com or call a local health insurer to find out what it pays area doctors for a similar consultation or test. Then aim for that number, which is usually lower than the doctor’s charge. Try to negotiate directly with the doctor—not office personnel—in person and before treatment is given.
21. Get dental work for a fraction of the cost from dentist-supervised students at a dental school. Find a school at ada.org by clicking on “Dental Schools.” For low-cost, federally funded care, go to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research website.
22. Request an itemized bill when you’re hospitalized. A daily bill helps you track whether you’re getting the medical supplies, drugs and services that have been determined necessary for your treatment, and to cry foul if they haven’t been provided. It also lets you spot and protest outrageous charges, such as $30 for a “thermal therapy kit” that is really just an ice bag.
23. Bring your own drugs. Some hospitals quadruple the price you would normally pay for prescription and over-the-counter medications, so find out in advance what you’ll need and get them yourself. But ask the hospital if it will allow this. Many hospitals don’t.
24. Free treatment and medication may be available if you qualify for a medical study for a chronic condition such as diabetes or allergies. Find studies at clinicaltrials.gov or call local medical schools. Check the study’s credentials.
25. Try haggling over the price of your hearing aid, which typically sells at a retail markup of almost 120 percent. Most of the 15 percent of people who ask for such a deal get one.
26.“Scratch and dent” stores sell groceries and appliances discounted by 50 percent or more. They buy up truckloads of items that are damaged, are near or beyond their sell-by dates or season (think Halloween in November), or just didn’t sell well. See a state-by-state list.
27. Save cellphone minutes by skipping long-winded voice-mail greetings and instructions. Press * when calling Verizon customers, the number 1 for Sprint users, or the # sign for AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers. If you’re not sure of the provider, try this order: 1, then *, then #. When you hear a beep, you’ve got the right one.
28. Trade in electronics like old cellphones and computers at wireflytradeins.com or tigerdirect.cexchange.com and get a charity write-off, cash or gift cards. Costco, Best Buy and Sears also have electronics trade-in programs.
29. To save on groceries, check out mygrocerydeals.com, where you can compare prices in supermarkets in your area by product, category or store. Another site is groceryguide.com. You must register to use the sites, but both are free.
30. Buy gift cards for up to 30 percent off their face value at plasticjungle.com, giftcardrescue.com and giftcardsagain.com, where the cards are sold by gift-getters who don’t want them.
31. Group-coupon websites prove there’s power in numbers. Provide your e-mail and city and you’ll get a daily local offer. If a set number of people sign up, you get the deal. Sites include groupon.com, socialbuy.com, scoopst.com and angieslist.com.
32. See plays for free by volunteering as an usher. Many theaters will let you see the show if you help with the paying patrons. Check with your local theater, and wear comfortable shoes—you may end up standing for the performance.
33. Yard sales in your area can be found at yardsaletreasuremap.com. The site tracks sales that have been posted on craigslist.com, then gives you the when, where and driving directions.
34. Owner’s manuals are often missing when you buy bargain electronic devices or appliances at online auctions or garage sales. Manufacturers may charge for the manuals, but you can get many for free at retrevo.com, manualsonline.com or usersmanualguide.com.
35. Get rewards for online shopping from ebates.com. You register and then click to visit any of about 1,000 partner retailers. You can collect a reward of from 1 to (very occasionally) 40 percent of your purchase amount. The money arrives as a check or a credit to your PayPal account.
36. Promotional codes can get you discounts of up to 50 percent when you check out at online shopping sites. Though some codes are for returning loyal customers, others are up for grabs—you just have to know where to find them. Try these websites: retailmenot.com, couponchief.com, currentcodes.com and freeshipping.org.
37. Snag great stuff at secondhand shops. Donations are often local, so head for thrift stores in wealthier neighborhoods. Find stores at thethriftshopper.com or thrift-shop-directory.com. Also, shop early in the week—many donations come in over the weekend. And watch for hidden bargains. Thrift stores often set prices by category, say, $3 per shirt no matter what the brand.
38. Avoid high ticket prices for plays, concerts, sports matches, exhibits and other events in eight major U.S. cities by getting a free membership at goldstar.com. This online seller of half-price tickets levies a service charge that averages about $4.50 per ticket. The theater chooses the seats. Other websites such as ticketloot.com can also get you through the doors at a lower price.
39. Keep your eyes glued to the register at the supermarket. Some stores have a “scan guarantee policy,” which means you get the item for free or at a discount if the price the register displays is higher than the real price.
40. Take advantage of discounts offered through “your” organizations. AAA, AFL-CIO unions, AARP and college alumni associations are among many groups that offer savings. Read their mailings closely and check their websites.
41. Need a phone number? Call 1-800-GOOG-411, give your location, and speak a name or business category. You’ll get a list of matches, and the service then will dial your choice. The big advantage over 411: It’s free.
42. Find free Wi-Fi hot spots, particularly useful when you travel, at jiwire.com. The searchable site lists almost 300,000 hot spots, both free ones and those that charge, in 144 countries.
43. Kids eat for free—or at a discount—at dozens of chain restaurants. But check ahead, because often kids must be under a certain age, or you must order from special menus at specified times. Find spots at familyfriendlyamerica.com and coupondivas.com—whether you’re on the road or at home.
44. Get group airfares by putting together at least 10 travelers on carriers, including Southwest, United and American. Also ask tour operators and cruise lines about deals for groups.
45. Join a B&B club and pay $10 to $20 for a room, with breakfast, in the homes of travelers like you. In return, you offer your spare room to people on the road. Call Evergreen Club at 1-800-962-2392 or Affordable Travel Club at 253-858-2172. Of course, be careful when you allow strangers into your house.
46. Avoid booking fees by using a computer. Virtually every U.S. airline adds a hefty surcharge if you book by phone or at a ticket counter.
47. Free admission to more than 100 museums, zoos and science centers is yours on the first weekend of each month if you have a Bank of America ATM, credit or check card. Get details at museums.bankofamerica.com.
48. Older train riders get discounts in the U.S. and Canada. Amtrak cuts 15 percent off most fares for riders 62 or over, while Via Rail Canada offers 10 percent off the full adult fare for travelers over 60.
49. Drive for free by signing up at autodriveaway.com for cars that need to be relocated. There’s no rental charge, only a $350 refundable deposit, and the first tank of gas is free. Also call rental car companies about one-way deals to relocate their vehicles.
50. For free sightseeing excursions—with a local resident’s educated perspective—in select cities around the globe, visit globalgreeternet work.info. There’s also the new europetours.eu, which offers no-cost walking tours with locals in European cities and Israel. For similar offerings, call the chamber of commerce in your destination.
51. If predawn flights are getting tiresome, check out sleep-and-park packages that combine a night at an airport hotel, a shuttle to the terminal and parking at the hotel for 7 to 14 days. These deals often cost about the same as parking at the airport. Parksleepfly.com, stay123.com and parkingaccess.com let you compare rates.
52. Birding overseas? Log on to birdingpal.org. It will link you up with a birdwatcher who’ll happily share the ornithological wonders of the country you’re visiting.
53. Flying with luggage? Ship it ahead instead, using a ground service like FedEx or UPS. Most big airlines charge up to $25 one way to check a second bag, and more for additional or overweight bags. Calculate whether shipping makes sense for you at fedex.com or ups.com.
54. It’s not always true that online prices are cheapest. Often you can save a lot by negotiating with a human.
55. For cheap gas, you can compare costs at a variety of websites. A few sources: gasbuddy.com, gaspricewatch.com and autos.msn.com/everyday/gasstations.aspx. To locate low-cost stations selling alternative fuels in your area, visit altfuelprices.com.
56. Just 10 seconds of idling your car’s engine uses as much gas as restarting it. Two minutes uses enough fuel to drive a mile. So turn your engine off.
57. Buying a car? Contact the dealership’s Internet sales department to ask for the “best quote” (which could be lower than posted website prices). These sales reps often have more negotiating room, because commissions are often based on number of cars sold, not value of the deal.
58. Fuel efficiency drops about an average 5 mpg for each 10-mile speed increase over 55 mph. Jackrabbit starts and stops reduce it an additional 3 mpg.
59. Facing car repairs? First visit repairpal.com to find out what the job should cost. The site gives free quotes based on surveys of thousands of shops.
60. For every 100 extra pounds it carries, your car can lose 1 to 2 percent of fuel efficiency. Remove unneeded items from your trunk.
61. Planning a road trip? To estimate the cost, enter the vehicle’s year, make and model at fuelcostcalculator.com or costtodrive.com.
62. To find the price the dealer pays for the car you want to buy, visit truecar.com or the True Market Value section of edmunds.com. When buying new, haggle up from the dealer’s invoice. When buying used, start negotiating at $1,000 to $2,000 below the asking price.
63. To learn about problems and repair costs concerning the car you are thinking of buying, go to carcomplaints.com. There you’ll find out what owners of that model have to say.
64. An existing car lease may be key to a deal for you. Find a driver who wants to end a lease early without paying the balance due or early termination penalties. If you assume the lease, you can avoid the usual hefty down payment. Websites such as leasetrader.com and swapalease.com connect the two sides of such deals.
65. “No-haggle” dealerships may ease stress, but experts say their cars typically sell for $500 to $1,000 more than at a dealer who actually deals. Go to a traditional kind of lot and stand your ground.
66. Save $20 an hour and pay less for parts by going to an independent mechanic. Service by a qualified independent is unlikely to invalidate your car’s warranty. But read it carefully, follow the maker’s maintenance recommendations and keep records of service.
67. Sell stock and mutual fund shares. Selling equities at a loss cuts your tax liability by offsetting capital gains, but this year you might consider selling winners. After 2010, the maximum capital gains rate is scheduled to go up to 20 percent, from 15 percent.
68. Max out on employer matches of IRA or 401(k) contributions, or you could be leaving money on the table.
69. Free online calculators can help you make decisions on tough money issues like retirement, investing and insurance. At choosetosave.org, operated by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, you can find several specialized number-crunchers.
70. Get a tax credit of up to $1,500 by installing qualifying energy-efficient windows, doors, a water heater or roofing. Do the work by the end of 2010, but if you did it last year, check if you are still eligible. Find details at energystar.gov.
71. If you turn 70 1/2 this year, you’ll have to take money out of your 401(k) or IRA by April 1, 2011. Do it this year, not next. Some experts say income tax rates may rise next year, which would mean a bigger bite out of your withdrawal.
72. Book time this summer with your tax preparer, who may give you a better rate during the slow months. Aim at getting a tax-cutting plan in place for the rest of the year.
73. Redeem that bond. The Treasury says that $17 billion worth of U.S. Savings Bonds no longer earn interest but remain unredeemed.
74. Owed money? The National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators is holding almost $33 billion of unclaimed stocks, bank accounts and other assets. Go to missingmoney.com or unclaimed.org to see if any of it has your name on it.
75. Bundle insurance. If you roll your homeowner’s, automobile and any liability coverage into a package with the same company, you may save between 5 and 15 percent of what it would cost to purchase separate policies.
76. Consider dropping collision coverage if you can afford car repairs or replace cars frequently.
77. If you carpool, havelow mileage, or commute by rail and park your car at a station, discounts may be available from your auto insurance company. The same is true for teenage drivers who get good grades.
78. Nonsmokers, exercisers and people who maintain a healthy weight can enjoy as much as a 50 percent saving on life insurance.
79. Pay annually, rather than in installments, and you could save as much as 8 percent by avoiding fees.
80. A homeowner’s reduction of up to 10 percent is often available for people 55-plus because they may spend more time at home and can better monitor and maintain their property.
81. Think about raising your deductible from $500 to $1,000 to save up to 15 percent on a homeowner’s premium.
82. Inventory your possessions annually and adjust your coverage. If you gave away expensive jewelry, remove that rider, which typically runs $1.75 to $2 in premiums per $100 in annual coverage.
83. Long-term policy holders may earn a cut in premiums of as much as 10 percent. But that discount may come after years of increases, so check if you might do better elsewhere.
84. Security improvements such as an alarm or fire sprinkler system may cut your homeowner’s insurance cost.
85. Standard amounts of insurance are worth checking out. For example, a $250,000 life insurance policy may have a lower premium than a $200,000 policy simply because the company’s standard policy is $250,000.
86. Consider ditching a second or third car—along with 33 to 40 percent of your premium.
87. A safe-driving course may get you auto insurance discounts of up to 10 percent. Washington, D.C., and 36 states mandate discounts for people who take a course, which usually costs between $10 and $30. Ask your agent—restrictions may apply.
People can be quite ingenious. Here are a dozen tips from savers around the country.
88. Look at each $1 bill you get and note the letter of the alphabet in the circle on the left half. (These seals denote Federal Reserve regions and run from A to L.) Save bills with a letter of significance to you for specific purposes, such as C for a gift for Carol, or B for a new bicycle. You can easily save $500 or more a year without missing a dollar here and a dollar there. —Leita Spears, Waldron, Ark.
89. Freeze your credit cards—literally. Soak them in water and put them in the freezer to prevent you from using them. —Kip Kiebke, Hartford, Conn.
90. Round up in your checkbook. When I write a check for $13.63, I write it as $14.00 in my checkbook. I do the same thing with debits. At the end of the month, I calculate my savings and transfer that to an online savings account. The change really adds up, and since I don’t see the money, I don’t spend it. —Dawn Carrington, Charleston, S.C.
91. Wait 24 hours before you buy anything that costs more than $100. If you still want it the next day, buy it. Most of the time, you’ll forget what it was. —Marcia Brixey, Silverdale, Wash.
92. Don’t buy canned goods at the grocery until at least half of the ones on your shelf are gone. I find that I often don’t use the cans at the back of the shelf just because I can’t see them. —Balika Haakanson, Kodiak, Alaska
93. Keep condiment packages given to you when you eat takeout food. Don’t steal them, but save them. They add up. —Anna M. Aquino, Kissimmee, Fla.
94. Buy the huge popcorn at the movies for about $6. A small bag is about $4, so instead of buying four small ones, we buy one huge bag, split it and save $10. —Cathie Ericson, Wilsonville, Ore.
95. Take online surveys from legitimate market researchers in your spare time and make $100 or more a month. —Tricia Meyer, Indianapolis
96. Stick with basic recipes when you cook. New ones almost always add costs for new spices, specific cuts of meat and other fancy ingredients or equipment you’ll never use again. —Tonya Gustafson, Seattle
97. Go barefoot more. You’ll buy fewer shoes. —Jan Patenaude, Marble, Colo.
98. Turn off call waiting. It saved me $5 a month, or $60 a year. —John Ulzheimer, Atlanta
99. Make all your kids wear white socks. When they lose a sock
or wear a hole in it, keep the other as a spare. With three kids, it saves our
family about $40 a year. —Julie Parrish, West Linn, Ore.