What’s so great about this frugal renaissance that we’re experiencing is that there are more ways to save on everyday purchases than ever before.
In fact, there’s money waiting to be saved on almost every purchase we make. Some are no brainers, but I bet there are ways to keep more of your cash that you never knew about.
To help you preserve what’s in your pocket, here are 25 broad categories of items (I’m covering much more ground this way than being super specific) for which you should never pay full price.
If you’re buying the latest gossip rag in the checkout line — either sporadically or on a regular basis — you need to reevaluate your priorities. These magazines sell at the cover price, which can be anywhere from $2.99 to $9.99 per issue. You don’t have to give magazines up all together, but if you like reading a particular title, consider a subscription. You can save up to 93% off the cover price — I know the savings can be that high because I just renewed a subscription for 93% off — if you shop around. When my Entertainment Weekly subscription expired earlier this year, I declined to renew it for the deal they offered, which would have cost me over $120 for two years. However, while reading an EW app on my iPad recently, I saw an ad for a two-year subscription (that comes with a digital issue) for $34.
If the bankruptcy of Borders has taught us one thing, it’s that people don’t like to pay full price for books. And who can blame them? Generally I only read a book once, so why pay the premium price? I almost exclusively buy my books on Amazon — the lowest-priced used copies, too (who cares what it looks like) — and then resell them when I’m done. It’s almost like getting books for absolutely nothing.
3. Video Games
I don’t need to have the latest and greatest title, so when I’m looking for a new video game to play, I head straight to the discount or clearance section of the electronics department. However, if you do like to have newer games, Amazon is a great way to cut the costs at least a little bit.
My favorite store, J. Crew, tends to be a bit pricey, so it’s very rare for me to buy anything at retail. Instead, I shop in the clearance section and dig for the best deals. Other ways to cut costs on clothing include shopping at wholesale clubs, using coupons, signing up for your favorite brand’s e-mail deals, shopping discount sites (JackThreads and Shop It To Me are my favorites), and giving thrift stores your undivided attention.
Like I said, this list will include a few no brainers — and this is one of them. From coupons (but be careful that you’re not buying more than you need — buy two, get one free isn’t a deal if you only need one!) to the store’s “club card,” instant savings abound. But there are hidden deals that are waiting for you, too. Items that are about to expire may be heavily discounted along with damaged items. I buy canned goods and opened cereal boxes (don’t worry; the bag inside is still sealed) for well below original prices. Most grocery stores almost always have a clearance section, too, so be sure to find out where that is.
6. Dining Out
My husband and I enjoy eating out, but we never ever pay full price for a meal. We research happy hours to find drink and appetizer deals (often half off — and enough to fill us up), purchase Restaurant.com certificates at 80% off, check-in on Foursquare or Scoutmob, or redeem coupons we’ve received in the mail or online. There are a million-and-one deals at restaurants near you. Why wouldn’t you patronize the ones that will save you money?
I’m always baffled that there’s still a marketplace for condoms. I see them all kinds of places for free. They’re available at bars, doctors’ offices, clinics, street fairs and festivals, and more. I have a huge fish bowl full of condoms in my living room, and I pick up extras whenever I see them. Also, if you have a flex spending plan, you might qualify to get free condoms from your local drug store.
Whether you’re going to the theater, a concert, or a sporting event, there are tickets available for less than they’re sold at the box office. The first place I look is Craigslist because the sellers are local and I can often pick them up same day; I’ve scored low-priced tickets just minutes before a baseball game because at that point the seller just wanted to unload them. If you have more time to spare, StubHub should be your go-to source for discounted tickets on any event in your area.
9. Gift Cards
Retail stores never offer discounts on gift cards because cash is king — and they don’t want to lose real dollars. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. There are many sites on the web — like Plastic Jungle and Gift Card Granny — that offer gift cards to popular retailers at up to 50% below face value. Another site, You Never Lose, is sort of the same concept except buyers get to bid on the gift cards, which can result in savings up to 95% off.
Staying at a hotel for full price is a fool’s game. With sites likes Priceline, Orbitz, and Hotels.com, there are many opportunities to pay less for your lodging. If you want to save even more money on accommodations, however, consider staying with a local when you travel via Airbnb or HomeAway. I can tell you from personal experience that using these alternative options will not only save you hundreds of dollars, but you often get better amenities and service than you do at hotels. Plus, you might make a new friend in the host — nothing wrong with that.
11. Outdoor Activities
My husband and I love to go on new adventures, but we never identify opportunities and seek them out. Rather, we wait for them to come to us via Groupon or LivingSocial. Thanks to these daily deal sites we’ve enjoyed horseback riding, camping, paintball, river tubing, white water rafting, and much more way below what it would have cost us if we had booked our trips privately.
12. Vacation Packages
There’s one piece of advice that I hope you’ll heed when planning a vacation — do not book through a travel agent (sorry, travel agents); you can do much better on your own. By using a combination of sites — Priceline for airfare, Airbnb for lodging, Groupon for activities — you’ll save more money than if let someone else do the work for you. Remember to still compare prices, though. Just because these are discount sites doesn’t mean they have the best discounts. The only way you’ll know for sure is if you compare across the board.
13. Car Rentals
When I took my husband to Chicago for his birthday last year, I got gouged on a car rental. Not only did I not book in advance, but when I arrived there were no cars left. When I finally secured a reservation, I paid three times as much as I should have (and gave the Enterprise guy the stink eye). My advice is to book online and use a discount code that you find through an Internet search. If you can’t find a code online, the Entertainment Book is always full of car rental coupons. You can even get the Entertainment Book at a discount if you buy after the first of the year. Aside from car rental coupons, there are hundreds of dollars worth in other deals inside. It will more than pay for itself if you use it regularly.
How many ways can you save on appliances? At least eight, according to Darwin's Money's post 8 Ways to Save Big on Appliances. Methods include scratch-and-dent discounts, holiday weekend sales, and good ol’ fashioned haggling. Of course, it’s always nice to have a friend who works at Sears, too. Nothing beats an employee discount.
If you have the means to grow flowers but you still buy them, there’s probably no hope for you. Seriously, all it takes is planting a couple seeds; most likely, nature will do the rest. If you don’t have the means to grow your own, consider picking them in a nearby park or field. If you must go to the store to find an arrangement, shop local, at the source, and stick to one type of inexpensive flower. Also, dead people don’t care what kind of flowers you buy, just so you know.
16. Around-the-House Services
Hold off on calling that expensive gardener or handyman, because you may be able to find someone inexpensive on Craigslist or a site like TaskRabbit. These sites are full of listings from people who are ready, willing, and capable of handling your odd job for much less than it would cost a “professional.” That’s not to say that the people listing help ads aren’t professional, though; it may just be that they’re out of work and looking for any way to make a few bucks. Still, be safe and ask for references. You don’t want to hire a dud and end up paying double.
17. In-Theater Movies
Movies are expensive these days, so much so that a trip to the cinema is almost prohibitive. To reduce the costs of a ticket, sign up for the theater club card (which will help you accrue discounts), use your student, senior, or military IDs if you have them, and plan to attend matinees instead of evening shows. I try my best to stick to AMC Theaters before noon so I can score $6 tickets. That’s half the price of what an afternoon or evening movie costs.
18. DVD Rentals
How Blockbuster is still in business at all baffles me. The company filed for bankruptcy two years ago, and last year the geniuses at Dish Network decided to throw money at the sinking ship. Still, business continues to suffer because truly innovative entrepreneurs figured out a way to allow people to rent DVDs for less. I love DVD rental kiosks (especially Redbox and excluding Blockbuster Express) because not only are the DVDs affordable ($1.29 at Redbox opposed to $2.99 at Blockbuster!), but there are often discount codes available that will lessen the fee or make a one-night rental absolutely free. You can find available codes online. Then all you have to do is enter it at checkout.
Want to know where to get lots of the music you love for free all the time? Turn on the radio!
Of course you can use discount travel sites, but don’t forget to compare those prices with the airline’s official website. Sometimes there are special deals that are available exclusively from the source instead of a third party. Also remember that some airlines, like Southwest (my favorite), don’t participate in discount travel sites, so if you’re sticking strictly to Orbitz or the like, you’ll never even know what some other airlines have to offer. In addition, the cheapest day to buy tickets and the cheapest days to fly.
What are the three best times to buy a car? End of the calendar year, end of the model year, and end of the month. The first two are self-explanatory — dealers want to unload inventory to make room for the new stuff. The third, however, has to do with individual salespeople. At the end of the month, car salespeople are eager to meet their quotas so they can earn incentives and commissions. Get a salesperson who’s hungry, and you could drive away with a big bargain.
Clean, cold water comes out of every faucet in America. Why are we still buying it in bottles?!
23. A Tan
Another abundant, natural, and no-cost resource is our sun. Instead of paying for a membership to the tanning salon, lay out on the lawn for 20 minutes. Not that I recommend long-term exposure to UV rays — they’re dangerous! But if you must, at least get them for free.
24. Cell Phones
You can list your phone on Craigslist or eBay to sell them — which works — but you may not be able to unload them for as much or as quickly as you want. Instead, try ExchangeMyPhone, a site that lets you sell your smartphones and iPads instantly. ExchangeMyPhone pays people for their old, new, or broken cell phones, and repairs or recycles them ethically. The money you make from the sale will offset the cost of a new device, too. Great for the environment and your wallet!
25. Baby Food
Once babies are on solid food, they eat much of the same stuff we do — fruits, veggies, proteins, etc. Why are you buying individual jars of baby food when all you have to do is puree foods in a blender or processor? This method cost significantly less, produces less waste (no jars!), and it’s much healthier for your baby than that mush that sits unrefrigerated under nutrient-stealing florescent lighting on the supermarket shelves. We can all agree that that’s not the best thing to feed your pride and joy, can’t we?