How to Save On…
How to Save on Prescription Drugs
Opt for mail order. Most employers’ prescription-drug plans offer access to mail-order suppliers, such as Express Scripts and Medco, but not all participants take advantage of the services. For people who regularly take medications (like birth-control pills or drugs for high cholesterol or allergies), these programs can yield substantial savings, since you get a long-term supply. A 90-day supply of some brand-name medicines can cost as much as $100 less than three separate 30-day prescriptions at the corner pharmacy. Talk to your benefits manager for more information.
Be cautious about free samples. If you take the packets of meds your doctor doles out, be aware: Freebies are often available for only the most expensive brand-name prescriptions used to treat chronic conditions. So ask your doctor if she has considered generics or a more established (and less expensive) brand-name alternative, says Jan Engle, an executive associate dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy.
Split your pills (as long as your doctor approves). If you’re taking 20 milligrams of a cholesterol medicine, for example, ask your general practitioner to prescribe the 40-milligram dose, then use an inexpensive pill-splitting device from the drugstore to cut each pill in half, says Engle. Most of the time, you’ll pay the same price but get double the doses. Note: This doesn’t work with gel caps, time-release medications, or capsules.
Check out assistance programs. Discounted or no-cost medicine may be available from government programs, nonprofits, and other entities. Go to the clearinghouse website of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (pparx.org), where you can search by the name of the drug or the company that manufactures it. If you suffer from certain ailments, such as cancer, seek out disease-related associations (like the American Cancer Society; cancer.org) for additional resources.
How to Save on Going to the Movies
Buy in bulk. You can purchase four-packs of tickets at a discount ($2 to $3 off a ticket on average) from eight different major theater chains at bulktix.com. And Costco members can buy tickets at the warehouse club that may be cheaper than a local theater’s admission prices.
Redeem credit-card perks. Call your issuer to see what promos you can use. Chase Freedom (yourchasefreedom.com) currently offers cardholders two tickets for the price of one at select theaters. Visa Signature users who spend $25 or more on tickets get 20 percent off buying at fandango.com/visasignature. And several cards, like American Express (americanexpress.com), let you use your points to buy tickets.
Join free loyalty clubs. Become a member of AMC theaters’ MovieWatcher Rewards program (amcentertainment.com) and you’ll get two points for each ticket you purchase (you can earn a maximum of four points per visit). Once you’ve accrued 10 points, you’ll score a free popcorn; 30 points gets you a free ticket. Or sign up for the Regal Crown Club (regmovies.com), which rewards you with one point for every dollar you spend on tickets, four points per dollar of concession purchases. Rack up 150 points and you’ll earn a free ticket.
Hit daytime screenings. Head to an AMC theater all day on Monday through Thursday or before noon on Friday through Sunday and get half off your ticket. (A typical matinee costs around $7.50, versus $5 or so for these showings.)
Come springtime, cruise to a drive-in. Many of these 1950s icons are still in business (there are approximately 380 nationwide; find one near you at drive-ins.com), and they offer retro prices to boot. Catch new releases starting at about $7 per person or $10 per car.
How to Save on Winterizing Your Home
Hunt for air leaks. A total home energy audit includes this service, but it’s pricey—around $350. Instead, try the Black & Decker Thermal Leak Detector ($50, amazon.com), which identifies drafty areas in a home. Once you seal the problem spots, you could save up to 20 percent on energy costs.
Don’t overinsulate. Depending on where you live, you may not need insulation with the highest R-value (a measure of its ability to resist heat flow). For example, outfitting an 800-square-foot attic in Florida with high-quality R-60 fiberglass loose fill would cost about $2,480, whereas using R-30, which is sufficient in warmer climates, would run only about $1,120. To find out how much insulation you need, go to energystar.gov.
Change your filter only when it’s dirty. Install a whistle on your furnace ($1.70, amconservationgroup.com) that alerts you when your filter is partially clogged and will soon need to be replaced, says Ed Pollock, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Opt for a weatherproofing kit. If you buy plastic shrink wrap, weather stripping, and electrical-outlet sealers individually, you’ll pay about 30 percent more than if you buy them in a set ($58, amconservationgroup.com). Use all the components and you’ll reduce your energy costs by up to 20 percent.
How to Save on Computers
Pick up a refurbished machine. Computer makers, including Apple, offload these items for highly discounted prices—often about 25 percent off—on their websites, says Brian Barrett, a reporter for the technology blog Gizmodo.com. “Like new models, these products usually carry a warranty,” says Barrett. “And they go through strict quality control, too.”
Don’t be brand loyal. Most machines are similar to one another in terms of quality, including brands that you might not be familiar with, such as Asus and Acer, which can sell for hundreds of dollars less than leading names, says Dylan Tweney, a senior editor at the tech website Wired.com.
Skip the extended warranty (usually). If a desktop is going to break, it will probably do so within the manufacturer’s warranty period. A laptop, however, is more fragile and often requires repairs later in its life, so a warranty good for three more years can save you money down the line. But don’t buy it from a store or the manufacturer; get it from an independent provider, like Squaretrade.com. For example, you’ll pay $130 at a retailer, but only $50 online. And consider getting a warranty with accident coverage. You’ll pay 50 percent more for this protection, but you’ll be covered if you drop your machine.
Don’t buy more memory than you need. The minimum amount of RAM that comes with most computers is enough to handle basic tasks, such as e-mailing photographs and watching a video, says Barrett. If you need to perform more advanced functions, such as video editing, find out how much more memory you will need (the software should say how much is required), then upgrade at a lower cost (typically $50 to $200) after you buy your computer.
How to Save on Jeans
It's no secret that designer denim can cost a pretty penny. But even if you're willing to splurge on the good stuff, there are a handful of insider tips and tricks that can help you find the best deals—and get the most bang for your buck. Read on for our tips on how to sniff out a bargain, what materials to look for, and even which washes will last you the longest.
Look for blended fabrics. Pairs last longer if they contain at least 2 percent spandex. “That material doesn’t just hug your curves—it also helps maintain the shape of the jeans over time,” says Kathryn Finney, author of How to Be a Budget Fashionista).
Choose a dark wash. “Denim companies launder items repeatedly to lighten the color,” says Rachelle Moley, trend manager for Lee Jeans. Deeper shades are handled less, so they last twice as long.
If you have a go-to style or brand, buy online. It’s often cheaper. Subscribe to the e-mail lists of denim makers to receive insider deals. For example, Levi.com offers coupon codes good for 20 to 30 percent off an order, plus free shipping on orders of $100 or more, and Gap has offered sales of up to 30 percent off. Or order from sites that offer free shipping, like amazon.com (on orders over $25) and zappos.com (yes, it sells more than shoes).
Stock up now. Retailers know this staple tops consumers’ fall shopping lists, so they offer the best prices in August and September, says Randy Allen, associate dean of marketing and corporate relations at Cornell University.
How to Save on Yard Care
Service your mower (no procrastinating!). Putting off that annual tune-up, typically priced at $60 to $100, can cost you big. Repairing a neglected machine can run two or three times that amount, says Ed Cole, a spokesman for Toro.
Help your plants thrive. If you are over- or underfertilizing, the costly flora you buy may not live to see the fall. Have a local extension agent test your soil’s nutrient content so you can learn the specific needs of your shrubs and flowering plants. (Find an agent at csrees.usda.gov/Extension; a test can cost up to $20.)
Turn off your automatic sprinkler system. In-ground systems use about 50 percent more water unnecessarily, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. So opt for watering your yard with a soaker hose. Or attach a sprinkler to a hose when your plants need a drink.
Stick with concentrated weed killer. It only looks pricier: Roundup concentrate costs less than $4 a gallon once you add water, versus more than $23 a gallon for the ready-to-use kind.
How to Save on Your Grocery Bill
Purchase oranges, onions, and potatoes in bags rather than individually. You’ll pay roughly half the price, says Kati Neville, coauthor of Fix, Freeze, Feast (Storey, $15, amazon.com). Even Real Simple’s food editors do this, since those items are staples that will get eaten before going bad.
Don’t buy nongrocery items at the supermarket. Health and beauty goods are usually cheaper at mass-market retailers, like Target. And you’ll find the best deals on paper products at warehouse clubs.
Opt for frozen seafood over fresh. Vacuum-packaged salmon, flounder, and tilapia fillets and bags of frozen shrimp cost 20 to 40 percent less than their counterparts at the fish counter. (If that sounds unappetizing, consider that most “fresh” fish has been previously frozen during transport.)
Buy ground beef and chicken breasts in bulk or family-size packages and you’ll save big: 20 percent on ground beef and 50 percent a pound on chicken.
Find out an item’s cost per unit (CPU). It’s listed on the shelf sticker next to the price. It will tell you what an item’s cost per pound or ounce is, which can keep you from getting hoodwinked by packaging.
How to Save on Gardening Supplies
Shop early. Supply and demand rules at garden centers, and the selection is greatest early in the season. In the spring, you’ll find one-gallon boxwoods costing about $8 each, but by the end of summer, large plants costing $30 or more will probably be the only ones left, says Marty Ross, a syndicated gardening columnist in Kansas City, Missouri.
Stick with one tool. Part knife and part trowel, a hori hori knife ($32.50, leevalley.com) is a gardener’s best friend. Use it to plant, to grub, and to remove deep-rooted weeds. Buying tools for those specific jobs can cost around $40.
Cash in on compost. “Many municipalities pick up yard waste and turn it into free compost,” says Ross. Ask the office of your town if your community participates.
Purchase cell packs. Buying one large marigold plant for $8 can give your garden a head start, but a four-pack of smaller ones costs half the price and each of the tiny plants will grow to the size of the large one in just a few weeks.
Plant tough varieties. Daylilies, asters, and hostas are all vigorous and low-maintenance, which means you won’t have to make another trip to the nursery for replacements.
Attach a timer to the spigot. A sprinkler or a soaker hose left running wastes a lot of water. Spend $15 now on a mechanical water timer (homedepot.com) and save on tomorrow’s water bills.
Buy native flora. After one season, they’re completely established, so a nasty freeze shouldn’t zap them. Purchase cone flowers (native in much of the country), or go to plantnative.org to learn what grows naturally in your region.
How to Save on Cell Phone Plans
If you send or receive more than one text a day: Sign up for a texting plan (prices start at around $5 a month; most companies have comparable plans) and you’ll avoid the average 20-cents-per-text charge. Have a teenager who texts at least six times a day? Enroll her in an unlimited-messaging plan.
If your phone usage spikes after dinner: Ask about extended calling hours. For an additional $5 to $9 a month, some carriers, such as Sprint and AT&T, offer packages that allow you unlimited calls after 6 P.M. or 7 P.M., compared with 9 P.M. for most typical plans.
If you talk for fewer than 200 minutes monthly: A prepaid plan is for you. “Thirty percent of mobile users who are not on one should be,” says Allen Hepner, executive director of the New Millennium Research Council, a telecommunications think tank in Washington, D.C. Big savings come with T-Mobile’s Pay As You Go plan (130 minutes for $25) and Virgin Mobile per-minute packs (200 “anytime” minutes cost $20).
If London is calling you (or vice versa): Go to aitelephone.com, which offers rates starting at less than 1 cent a minute to more than 200 countries. Choose a plan (prepaid or receive a bill), then dial from your cell using a 1-800 number. Calling Moscow, for example, costs 1½ cents a minute, compared with $1.60 a minute with Verizon Wireless.
If you signed up for phone insurance: Slash this cost immediately, even if you’re clumsy. That $5 to $8 monthly charge adds up, and you’ll still have to pay a $50 deductible if you need to replace a broken phone. The replacement, which is often just a refurbished used phone, will cost about the same as a new one.
How to Save on Car Expenses
Forget that "every 3,000 miles" rule. A survey by AAA found that 95 percent of drivers had oil changes too frequently. Only heavily used cars, such as taxis, need one after 3,000 miles. Normal usage typically requires an oil change every 7,500 miles, says Perry Stern, editor at MSN Autos.
Shop around. For out-of-pocket repairs that could cost several hundred dollars, get three estimates. Tell each company that you're shopping around so it will quote you au competitive price, says John Paul, resident car expert at AAA, and feel free to haggle.
Stick with the dealership for tricky repairs. It sees the same makes and models, so it can be better than an independent auto shop at fixing, for instance, a mysterious rattle, says Paul.
Fix windshield chips immediately because a small chip can lead to a full crack. A repair can be done in your driveway for less that $100 (search "mobile glass-repair service" and your ZIP code online to find a company). The cost of replacing a windshield: $500 to $1, 200.
Skip the extra warranty. Car dealerships make big profits from them. Standard warranties generally cover you for three years or 30,000 miles (whichever comes first), and some car are covered for their lifetime, 10 years, or 1000,000 miles, which demonstrates their reliability.
Review your insurance annually. Monitor the value of your vehicle as it ages, and drop collision coverage when the annual premium approaches the car's worth.
For how to save money on gas, go to realsimple.com/gascosts.
How to Save on Home Repairs
- Get free DIY advice. Go to youtube.com and type in “askthebuilder” for how-to videos on simple procedures, like replacing a faucet or a light fixture. See when to do it yourself when to hire a pro to help you decide if you should take on a project.
- Be flexible. "Ask a tradesman if he has a hole in his schedule, then inquire about a discount if you book during that time," says Amy Matthews, a licensed contractor and the host of Sweat Equity, on the DIY Network.
- Learn the lingo. Before calling a contractor, check out sites like moneypit.com and diynetwork.com. You’ll be better informed―and less likely to get taken―if you can speak his language.
- Don’t succumb to “Your roof is falling” tactics. If your basement floods, say, a cash-hungry contractor might try to talk you into a drainage system that costs around $7,500. But in the majority of situations, you can guard against indoor deluges just by cleaning and extending gutter downspouts and grading soil away from the foundation. That’s why you should solicit at least three quotes. And if you anticipate spending more than $10,000, hire a home inspector (find one at ashi.org). He will help you figure out exactly what you need done and how to avoid hidden costs.
How to Save on Medical Bills
Ask for freebies or discount coupons. Your doctor may distribute samples of everything from over-the-counter cold medicines to asthma inhalers or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder medicines.
Request a three-month prescription. This option, given mostly for medications that treat chronic conditions, like diabetes and arthritis, can reduce costs up to 33 percent (compared with paying monthly).
Consider generics. According to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a person under the age of 65 could save an average of $46 annually by substituting generics for brand-name drugs.
Enroll in your company’s flexible-spending account. Yes, it’s a bit of work, but you can pay for out-of-pocket expenses with pretax dollars.
Try mail-order pharmacies. Those affiliated with your insurance company save you time and gas and cost about a third less than retail pharmacies, says Charles Coté, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association.
See a dental student for checkups. Many dental schools have clinics that treat patients. Fees are about 50 percent less, and your care is supervised by a dentist.
Never assume you’re covered. Just because your surgeon is in-network doesn’t mean your anesthesiologist is. An out-of-network visit can leave you stuck with a large bill long after the anesthesia wears off. But for true emergencies (like a possible broken bone, poisoning, or a heart attack), seek medical attention at the nearest facility―you’ll be covered.
Negotiate with your doctor. Some offices offer a cash-paying system that uses a sliding scale, such as a discount based on your income or a volume discount for siblings, says Jennifer She, a pediatrician and a coauthor of Heading Home With Your Newborn (American Academy of Pediatrics, $16). It’s also worth asking if there’s a discount when you pay in cash.
Get silver-amalgam fillings in your back teeth. They’re half as expensive as white composite fillings (stick with these on teeth up front), and they can last up to four times longer, says Stephen Halem, a clinical researcher at the Forsyth Institute, an independent dental-research center in Boston.
Avoid a no-show penalty. Many doctors’ offices charge this fee, which can run around $25 (about the price of an insurance copay). So if you don’t plan to attend, make sure you cancel your appointment in advance.
Stay healthy. Some employers and insurers offer wellness incentives that can save a few hundred dollars for employees who visit the gym regularly, eat healthily, or enroll in smoking-cessation classes. Keep in mind that excess pounds are strongly associated with high blood pressure and heart disease, among other chronic illnesses that require daily medication and frequent visits to the doctor.
For tips on how to navigate the ER, see In Case of Emergency.
How to Save on Pet Expenses
Groom midweek. Friday through Monday is the busiest time at pet salons. Many charge 20 percent less for midweek appointments, says Charlotte Biggs, president of the Pet Care Services Association, an industry trade group.
Pay attention to changes in routine. Pets are creatures of habit, so take any changes seriously. Excessive panting can indicate a heart condition; increased water consumption could be a sign of kidney disease. The early fix is usually a change in diet. Later the condition might require hospitalization and result in a big bill.
Don’t skimp on food. Cheaper brands have possibly harmful preservatives, such as BHT, and fillers, like corn, which may cause allergies, says Biggs. These can cause skin reactions and may require a vet visit and a prescription diet. The first two ingredients on the label should be animal proteins, not by-products, grains, or vegetables. The cost can run to $1 a pound, versus 50 cents a pound for lesser-quality food, but you’ll save in the end.
Adopt. Instead of buying from a breeder for $1,000 or more, donate $100 or so to a shelter and you’ll get a pet that has been vaccinated and spayed or neutered (procedures that can cost from $150 to $300 each). Find a local shelter at Animalshelter.org.
Consider pet insurance. Starting at $15 a month for a cat and $22 for a dog, policies at sites like Petinsurance.com will cover annual checkups, vaccinations, accidental injuries, and some illnesses. This can translate into major savings, since some ailments cost thousands of dollars to treat, says Karen Halligan, a veterinarian and the author of What Every Pet Owner Should Know (Collins, $16, amazon.com).
How to Save on Clothing Basics
Search clearance sections. Type “clearance” into the search field of a retailer’s website. Hanes.com and Jockey.com, for instance, regularly offer discounts of 50 percent on bras, panties, and tights. Hue.com, known for its legwear and lingerie, has a clearance section that offers many items for nearly half price.
Register with shopittome.com. Check off your size, favorite brands (choose from 537 labels, such as Ann Taylor and Levi’s), and clothing preferences (dresses, denim) and you’ll receive a weekly or daily e-mail alerting you to online sales.
Get a store credit card. Certain big retailers give special discounts to cardholders. Kohl’s sends out 30 percent off coupons four times a year, Gap cardholders get 10 percent off the first Tuesday of the month, and American Eagle gives 20 percent off on your birthday.
Log on before you hit the stores. About to head out to Nordstrom (or Bloomingdale’s or Lord & Taylor)? Go to the store’s site first to look for specials, like unadvertised in-store sales and buy-one-get-one-free offers. You may also find printable coupons you can take with you.
Time shopping to coincide with sales. Gap and Banana Republic, for instance, both mark down midweek. Shop on Wednesday and you’ll find a large selection of sale items. Ask favorite stores about their policies.
How to Save on Your Dry-Cleaning Bill
Apply makeup, hair spray, and perfume before getting dressed. They can all stain fabrics. Allow these products to set for at least five minutes before pulling on your clothes.
Abate odors at home. If your sweaters are a bit stale (but not stained), use heat-activated dryer sheets, such as Dry Cleaner’s Secret ($19.50, amazon.com), to freshen them up.
Spot-clean. If you get a small stain, treat it immediately with a product like OxiClean Spray-A-Way ($5, oxiclean.com) and save yourself an emergency trip.
Check your local newspaper for coupons and deals. Cleaners generally offer discounts (10 to 33 percent off) in the spring and fall.
Practice moderation. Overcleaning can decrease clothing’s longevity, so dry-clean only when necessary. You might get away with cleaning a wool suit once or twice a year, and wool sweaters and skirts may be worn up to six times before you need to send them out.
How to Save on Seasonal Items
Mail flat rate for heavier items. Choose this two- to three-day shipping option (for domestic destinations) from the U.S. Postal Service and pay the same amount regardless of box weight. For example, sending an 11-by-8½-by-5½-inch box from New York to California costs $11.35, whether it weighs 20 pounds or 70.
Send out holiday postcards. If you choose the standard 4¼-by-6-inch size, you’ll save 13 cents a card (using a 32-cent stamp instead of a 45-cent one).
Say so long to expensive wrapping paper. Cover your gifts with butcher paper (about $16 for 500 feet) instead of “designer” paper (about $30 for 30 feet).
Stock up on wine by the case to present as hostess gifts. Most retailers offer a 10 percent discount on larger orders; just ask the next time you’re at a wine shop. Some will even let you mix different brands in one box.
Top gifts with yarn. Pass on the $10-a-yard ribbon options and score a huge bundle of yarn―more than 70 yards―for just $2 to $6.
Stick with serving a signature punch or cocktail. Stocking a full bar can be quite costly―around $265 for wine, beer, liquors, and mixers to serve 25 guests.
Ditch disposable stemware. It may seem cheap (about $10 for 10 Champagne flutes), but the price of plastic can really add up, since you’ll have to buy it for each party. Instead, visit a restaurant-supply store (visit yellowpages.com to locate the nearest one). You’ll find reusable glass stemware for around $1 a glass.
Search Craigslist.org. People who have just moved often give away large boxes (perfect for a dollhouse or a tricycle) through the site.
How to Save on Winter Gear
For parkas, fleece, and other clothing:
Shop large chain stores, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, to find the best deals. In 2007 the average price of an insulated parka from a chain store was around $130, compared with an online purchase of $191 and a specialty store’s average price of (gulp!) $206. And don’t forget the outlets. REI’s online outlet ( rei.com/outlet) will net you discounts of up to 50 percent off.
For ski equipment: Check out a ski swap. These events (often organized by ski resorts) feature booths run by businesses and people who are looking to unload new and used skis, snowboards, and other equipment. Potential savings? Up to 80 percent off retail. (Log on to goski.com for a directory of resorts in the United States.) Renting equipment? Reserve in advance. By booking ahead of time at rentskis.com, you’ll get up to 20 percent off the walk-in price.
For snow shovels: Seek out holiday sales. Prices are about 5 percent lower during December.
For firewood: Check local newspapers for firewood suppliers, then cut and split your own or hire a neighborhood kid to do it. This will cost you about $25 a cord, compared with $250 to $300 for a logger to deliver split wood to your door.
For boots, backpacks, and other outdoor gear: Snap up deals in January. Post-holiday clearance sales discount items 20 percent or more, and some online retailers offer free-shipping promotions.
How to Save on Halloween Supplies
Steer clear of the costume aisle. Try some of these homegrown options instead.
- Dancing With the Stars: Cover a tutu and leotard with glow-in-the-dark star-shaped stickers.
- Breaking News: Staple torn newspaper sheets to old clothing.
- Sick and Tired: Put a bicycle tire around your neck and a thermometer in your mouth.
- Stick in the Mud: Wear an all-brown outfit and sew a large twig onto your chest.
- Smartie Pants: Glue rolls of Smarties candies onto a pair of old pants.
- Iron Chef: Wear a chef’s hat and carry an iron.
- Quarter Pounder: Carry a quarter in one hand and a hammer in the other.
- Tickled Pink: Don a head-to-toe pink ensemble with a pink feather boa.
Sweeten the deal. Drugstore “fun size” candy assortments average about 14 cents apiece. Oriental Trading Company (orientaltrading.com) offers lesser-known brands, like Wonka’s Laffy Taffy, at 12 cents a pop.
“Change” your approach. Younger tykes love to get money, so dole out loose coins in a small Baggie with a note reading, “Spend it any witch-a-way you want.”
Head straight to local farms. You’ll save $5 to $10 per gourd, since grocery stores mark them up at this time of year. (Go to localharvest.org for listings in your area.)
Give them a hand. Create a deliciously macabre (but fun) centerpiece by stuffing latex gloves with cotton balls, then adorning them with faux nails or costume rings.
Liven up your home with glow-in-the-dark paint. Decorative lights can cost $26 per string, so use the water-based paint ($5.95 for one ounce, glonation.com) to personalize pumpkins.
Be a bloody good host. Turn drinks ghoulish by adding red food coloring to ice trays before freezing the water, then plop into clear drinks. Word to the squeamish: It gets creepier looking as the ice melts.
How to Save on Shoes and Boots
Conduct a quality check
. Before buying, examine where the sole meets the upper; you shouldn’t see glue or loose stitching, says Meghan Cleary, editor of the shoe blog MissMeghan.com. “You also don’t want to see bumps, loose threads, or awkward construction where two pieces of leather or fabric meet,” she says. Next, look for discoloration or unevenness in the material, whether leather or man-made, as it will only get worse with time. Finally, make sure the heels don’t wobble.
Scrimp on... Shoes that don’t require a lot of construction (rain boots, flip-flops) and trend pieces that you won’t wear next season.
Shop the best sales. Cleary likes Bergdorf Goodman’s end-of-season clearances (bergdorfgoodman.com). Joyce Chang, editor of Shoeblog.com, recommends Saks (saks.com). For year-round bargains, try outnet.com, yoox.com, 6pm.com, and shoebuy.com.
Give ’em a rest. Avoid wearing the same good leather shoes two days in a row. Perspiration can take 24 hours to dry, and that moisture, along with the bacteria in sweat, can damage leather, says Eileen Lewis, director of fashion strategies for e-retailer Zappos.com. You have more leeway with shoes made of a synthetic material, like sneakers.
Expand your options. A cobbler can stretch the width of shoes for about $10 and boots for around $18, but the length is tougher. Boot calves can be stretched, for about $40, or have elastic panels inserted, starting at $90―just in case tight ones are on sale. (Who can resist?)
How to Save on Hosiery
Every retailer has its own pricing scheme for hosiery―more so than for any other type of clothing, says Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst for the NPD Group, a market-research firm. Since the price for the leggings you’ve been coveting might vary greatly, browse several places with large selections. (Try stores and websites like bloomingdales.com, lordandtaylor.com, mytights.com, barenecessities.com, and onehanesplace.com.)
Look for special markdowns. Department and chain stores often have deals (like buy two pairs, get one free) on midpriced and high-end stockings. Hue.com offers 25 percent off in March and November. And heavy wool tights are usually deeply discounted at the end of winter, so stock up then.
Buy from secondhand stores. Jesse Garza and Joe Lup, founders of Visual Therapy, a New York City styling company, say thrift stores can be a gold mine for unopened hosiery from high-end designers. You can find unique stockings, like pure cashmere pairs, costing just a few dollars.
Pay more for stockings in classic colors and styles. If you wear tights at least three to four days a week and can afford to splurge, invest in a few high-quality pairs from Wolford or Fogal (cost: $40 and up); they should last several years.
How to Save on Workout Essentials
Get a new routine for less.
Go to fitsugar.com for free workout and stretching videos. And instead of shelling out $15 for every new fitness DVD, Netflix customers can stream yoga, cardio, and Pilates videos for no additional charge on their PCs or TVs.
Forgo fancy gadgets. Who needs expensive watches or pedometers? Download the free RunKeeper app to your iPhone to track your distance and pace and the number of calories burned.
Invest in quality. Clothing from top brands (Nike, Brooks) is pricier than discount-store brands but often will last longer, saving you money in the long run, says Gregory Florez, the founder of FitAdvisor, a health club in Salt Lake City.
Mark your calendar for sales. Sporting-goods stores and gyms usually discount fitness gear 40 to 60 percent twice a year. (Equinox gyms cut prices in May and September.) Looking for a good sports bra? Shopittome.com/running will tell you when bras in your size are on sale at various sites.
How to Save on Watches
Trade up. Provided that your old timepiece is in good condition, bring it in to Tourneau or many smaller jewelry stores and apply the value of the trade-in toward a new one. A gold or stainless-steel watch could net you up to 50 percent of its original value.
Shop independent jewelers. High-end companies, such as Rolex, Cartier, and Patek Philippe, rarely discount their own wares, but oftentimes you can find lower prices—up to 15 percent off—on these brands at independent jewelers. “Smaller retailers can’t afford to have pricey pieces in stock for a long time,” says Noel Poirier, a spokesperson for the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors. These retailers may also offer up to 20 percent off more affordable watch brands. Check out retail prices online and inquire within.
Go with a metal strap. Metal watch straps can stay in good condition for a lifetime, while leather ones can crack or wear out after a couple of years, says Mark Bernardo, managing editor of WatchTime, a consumer publication. (Grosgrain ribbon and rubber straps also have a limited life span.) Watches with metal straps may also have more resale value, so factor that in before buying.
How to Save on Home Decor
Shop the "as is" section. If you don’t mind taking home an item with a barely-there scratch or a piece that’s already assembled (is that a bad thing?), this area—found in Ikea stores and some mom-and-pop furniture shops—is your holy grail. You’ll typically save up to 70 percent.
Buy paintings and prints from emerging artists. Ugallery.com showcases works by art students from colleges nationwide. Art is searchable by medium, genre, and price (don’t miss the “under $100” section). Best of all, the site allows you to try out a piece for a week to see how it looks in your home with no penalty and free return shipping.
Get deals on antiques online. A recent search on shopgoodwill.com turned up a vintage desk lamp for $6 and an old-fashioned sewing machine for $16. Also visit icollector.com for bargains on everything from Persian rugs to pottery.
Go with custom furniture. A local carpenter may charge less to build a no-frills piece, like a bookcase without moldings, than what you would pay for a similar item in a chain store, says New York City–based designer Elaine Griffin. Paint it yourself to save more.
How to Save on Dining at a Restaurant
Get savvy about menu tricks. How you navigate the menu can affect the amount you spend. For example, if the restaurant doesn’t print dollar signs with the prices (think 15 instead of $15), imagine that they are there. Otherwise, you will tend to spend 8 percent more per person, according to a recent study by the Culinary Institute of America and the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. And think twice about selections printed on a menu’s top right-hand corner. Your eye goes there first, “so that’s where many eateries list their most expensive plates,” says Gregg Rapp, a menu consultant based in Palm Springs, California.
Doggie-bag your vino. You get the best deal when you order wine by the bottle. But what if you don’t finish the Chianti? No problem. All 50 states now have laws allowing you to take it with you. Check with the restaurant to find out how to package it and transport it home.
Buy a gift certificate. Go to Restaurant.com to purchase one that’s redeemable for $25 but costs you just $10.
Make a reservation. Even if you never wait for a table at your favorite haunt, use the no-cost booking service Opentable.com. You’ll earn points toward dining cheques—gift certificates you can redeem at any of the site’s 13,000 partners.
How to Save on Last-Minute Travel
Hit the road (on the cheap). If booking a plane ticket is too pricey, try taking the bus. (Yes, you heard us right.) New “premium” coach companies, like Megabus.com and BoltBus (boltbus.com), combine low prices with amenities such as onboard Wi-Fi. Travelers can land fares for as low as $1 (!) for a one-way ticket from New York City to Boston or Washington, D.C., though $15 to $20 is the average.
Embrace the new. Recently opened hotels typically reduce their rates to attract customers. Check out Hotelchatter.com, a daily webzine, for information on the latest bargains.
Go where the deals take you. Want to take off somewhere—really, anywhere—next weekend? Go to farecompare.com/dealfinder (a ticketing and travel-advice site) and choose your departure city, the month, and how much you want to spend. The site will show you where you can fly in that price range. A couple of hints: For the biggest savings, leave on a Saturday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. And do your booking midweek. Airlines often announce sales Tuesday morning that must be reserved by Thursday.
Search for vacancies. Cruise lines insist on being solidly booked before setting sail, so they usually offer steep discounts (as much as 60 percent off) starting as early as three months before the departure date and up until two weeks before sailing. Check lastminutecruises.com for specials.