Use these smart money-saving strategies to cut everyday costs on shopping, insurance, travel and more.
-Between ticket prices and a tub of popcorn, a trip to the movies can take a serious bite out of your budget, but you can view the latest releases for far less than you pay at the box office by working your connections. Start with warehouse clubs, which typically offer discount movie tickets. Costco recently promoted a ticket 10 pack for $85 while Sam's Club offers a 4 pack available only through its stores. Triple A and many grocery stores offer limited promotions with free movie tickets and popcorn vouchers. If you go to a particular movie theater, consider joining their loyalty program. Points may be redeemed for free concession upgrades or tickets. Carmike Rewards and Regal Crown Clubs are free while AMC Stubs cost $12 per year. But members receive $10 back for every 100 they spend. Finally, many credit card rewards programs allow card holders to use their points for movie passes. Among them, American Express, Chase Freedom, Disney Visa, and Visa Platinum. Some cards such as Citi ThankYou and the Capital One Sony card award extra bonus points for entertainment expenditures. With discounts readily available, you can enjoy family movie night without waiting for the blockbuster to come out on DVD.
-Keeping your family fed can burn a giant hole in your pocket, but especially if you prefer organic fare. Here's how to keep your favorites in the fridge without blowing your budget. First, make a plan. The average American throws away about $30 worth of food per week. That's bad for the planet and your pocketbook. Plan your menu before you shop to limit impulse buys and bring leftovers for lunch. Second, make the most of coupons. Nearly all grocery store, warehouse club, and drugstore websites promote weekly specials with coupons you can print, and redeem, and store. Free sites like couponmom.com and the crazycouponlady.com provide a roundup of the deepest discounts by retailer and state. Finally, buy in bulk, cook, and freeze. Set a few hours aside on a Sunday to prep for the week. Double the recipes and freeze a portion for later. If weekends are booked, make the most of your slower cooker. Toss in the ingredients in the morning for a healthy affordable meal that's ready when you walk in the door. With a little creativity and a lot of planning, you can cut your grocery bill down to size and still keep your whole family eating well.
-Fuel economy may not be top of mind when you're carting kids from birthday parties to soccer practice. But with the average U.S. households spending nearly 3,000 a year at the pump, it pays to get the most miles per gallon. Here are three ways to save. First, make sure your tires are aligned and properly inflated. Less work for your engine means less gas. Low rolling resistance tires can further improve gas mileage. Second, lighten up. A cluttered car means extra weight and lower gas mileage. For every 100 pounds you haul, your fuel economy drops by 1 to 2 percent. If you're packing for a road trip, place the bags inside the vehicle instead of strapping them to the roof, which creates additional drag. Finally, don't run your vehicle idle. If you're parked for more than a minute or two, turn the engine off and restart it when you're ready to roll. A few simple steps can help reduce the number of times you fill up your car. The environment and your wallet will thank you.
-When it comes to auto insurance, you can [unk] without compromising your coverage. First, if you've moved closer to your job, participate in a carpool, or started working from home, you're putting fewer miles on your car. Auto insurance companies like that. You may be eligible for their most favorable rates, which could save you up to 25%. If your car is getting older, you may be paying for more coverage than you need. Look up the Kelley Blue Book value of your car. If your premium is more than 10 percent of that number, think about dropping comprehensive and collision coverage. Just make sure it's okay with your lender if you have a loan on the vehicle. You may also save by bundling auto insurance policies for all of the cars in your household, teens included, through the same carrier. The road to lower auto insurance rates is never long if you know where the shortcuts lie. In most cases, all it takes is a phone call.
Let's face it. Cable TV is a want, not a need. Here's how to keep your favorite shows but pay much less. First, call your cable company's customer service and see what they'll offer to keep your business, including those special rates reserved for new customers. Come armed with offers from other service providers and be prepared to walk if they don't match. Second, pick and choose. Your plan may include HD programming, and DVR, and the premium channels. Save a bundle by eliminating just one. Use sites like Hulu to access TV shows you would normally record. If you watch only one or two premium movies a month, drop the premium package and just pay for the single rental. Triple play deals sound great, but they usually cost more. Figure out the service level you actually need and price the least expensive packages separately. Cable TV is often the first to go when finances hit the fan, but you need not cut the cord completely to make your bill more budget-friendly.
The internet is a bargain hunter's greatest tool. Coupons and teaser deals abound. But they don't come knocking on your door. To get the best discounts, put your search engine to work. First, consider discount gift cards. Consumers who get a card they don't intend to use can sell them for up to 50 percent off the card's face value. Then, you can buy them at sites like giftcardgranny.com and cardpool.com. Second, get cash back simply by accessing your favorite online retailers through a site like Ebates.com. It features 1,600 stores. Other options include CashReporter.com and FatWallet.com. Finally, track the best deal. Huckster.com offers a button you can download and add to the Bookmarks on your browser. Shop as usual, and when you see an item you like, including the color and size, click the "Huck it" button. Huckster will notify you by text or e-mail the minute the item goes on sale. Shopping online not only saves you a trip to the store, but a few extra bucks for your piggybank, as well.
A new suitcase shouldn't drain your savings before you board the plane. I would really use luggage that's sturdy, functional, and price to please. Here's how to get it. First, consider hard shell luggage. Not only is it lighter than nylon, it's often cheaper. Many polycarbonate suitcases could be had for $200 or less compared twice that amount for high-end nylon bags. Rolling duffel bags sold by companies like L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, and Samsonite are cheaper still; often retailing for less than $80. Second, look for discounts online. Overstock.com, eBags, and Amazon.com sold two- to five-piece sets for more than half off the suggested retail price. If you prefer to buy in store and your heart isn't set on a specific color or brand, book the discount retailers. Stores such a Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Tuesday Morning also save you big. Most carry luggage for up to 70 percent off, but their inventory is sporadic. Finally, consider a bag you can carry on the plane and learn to pack light. You'll save a fortune in baggage fees.
-Your desktop dinosaur takes 15 minutes to reboot. Time for a new computer. Maybe two. Here's how to get them for less. First, time your buy. The deepest price cuts on computers often happen mid summer when back to school sale start kicking in. Retailers are also anxious come September to clear out the current year inventory for next generation models. Second, handle like a pro. Many big bucks retailers are authorized to lower prices, but you have to know to ask. You can also research independent vendors who are selling the computer you seek for less than the competition. Many leading retailers will usually match their price. Finally, keep it simple and don't let pushy sales clerks talk you in to more muscle than you need. Before you hit the stores, know what you need then focus on the least expensive models that meet your standards. Computers are a big ticket item. But if you roll up for sleeves, you could get the model you want without compromising quality