10 Ways to Spend Smarter
Buy a Houseplant That Blooms Throughout the Year
If you spend $20 a week on fresh flowers, that adds up to $1,040 a year! Real Simple’s resident green thumb, Madaline Sparks, suggests one of these flowering plants, all available at logees.com. (For bigger sizes, check your local garden center.)
Angel Wing begonia: This popular plant is easy to care for and widely available. Cost: $15 for a four-inch pot; $9 for a 21⁄2-inch pot.
Kalanchoe: This hearty succulent (shown here) is great for people who have trouble remembering to water their plants. Cost: $7 to $8 for a 21⁄2-inch pot.
Flowering maple: A bushy plant with hardy blossoms. Cost: $8 for a 21⁄2-inch pot.
Share a Babysitter With a Neighbor
If you spend hundreds a month on childcare, consider splitting the services with a friend or family member. Maureen Dempsey, a 34-year-old mother in Brooklyn, saves about $400 a month by splitting the cost of a nanny. Four days a week, Dempsey drops off her 15-month-old daughter, Clemens, at a friend’s house, where a sitter watches Clemens and another child of the same age. “Besides saving us a bundle, this arrangement gives my daughter a built-in playmate,” says Dempsey. To find a sitter share in your area, post a message on care.com, a website where parents and providers can list their needs.
Dust Off Your Library Card
If you can no longer justify paying $22 for the latest hardcover, request the book at your local library. Don’t have a card? You and one-third of Americans. Get one now (it’s free). There are more than 16,000 libraries nationwide, and some offer much more than books. Your local branch might allow you to:
1. Borrow newly released movies, the latest cable-TV shows on DVD (Mad Men, perhaps?), and CDs.
2. Download e-books from your library’s website. The loan period is usually two weeks.
3. Listen to podcasts of library lectures you don’t have time to attend. (One example: The Los Angeles Public Library offers a free download of “An Evening With Toni Morrison.”)
4. Try out a Kindle, models of Amazon's e-reader start at just $79.
5. Check out puzzles and games, like Clue, Monopoly, and Yahtzee.
6. Borrow a museum pass. Many city libraries have city passes, which will get you into local attractions, including zoos, aquariums, planetariums, and more for free.
7. Get free delivery. Some libraries can send books, games, and CDs to you via a mail-order program.
Skip the Cineplex and Download Movies Online
If you can no longer justify paying $10.50 for a movie ticket, hit up iTunes for special deals. Here you can find $3 movie rentals and the free Single of the Week, which is posted every Tuesday. And if you’re looking to expand your music collection, check out the following $12 compilations (simply search for the compilation name). The songs aren’t by the original artists, but in most cases they sound as if they’re performed by a decent cover band at a local bar. (And $12 for 100 new songs on your iPod isn’t a bad deal, considering the originals would set you back $99.)
100 Country Hits, $12: Features occasionally twangy covers of songs by Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Shania Twain, Lonestar, and more.
100 Hits of the 80s, $12: Includes covers of your most embarrassing favorites, like “Footloose,” “Karma Chameleon,” and “Eternal Flame.”
Music From Chick Flicks, $12 (for 50 songs): Download hits from Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing, Legally Blonde, Muriel’s Wedding―you name it.
At hulu.com, an online video service that offers free downloadable hit TV shows and movies, users can choose from more than 900 prime-time TV hits, as well as classics and movies such as St. Elmo’s Fire and Men in Black. Looking for newer releases? Go to redbox.com to see if the company has a rental kiosk near you. Each Redbox kiosk holds up to 700 DVDs, which, via a touch screen and a major credit card, can be rented for $1 a night. Afterward, return the movies to any Redbox location.
Scour the Web for Great Home Decor Deals
's home editors spend a of of their time trolling the Web for affordable finds. If you're desperate to spruce up your living space, check out a few of their favorite resources and learn what, in particular, to look out for when it comes to saving big.
Best for: Hand-appliquéd pillows and global goods. Most items are $50 or less.
Inside scoop: Co-owned by former Elle Decor editor Marian McEvoy.
Best for: Finding out about blowout sales on home items from well-known vendors.
Inside scoop: Sign up for the site’s daily e-mail, which is chock-full of sale alerts.
Best for: Inexpensive modern table lamps, consoles, side tables, and coffee tables.
Inside scoop: Great sale section, with tableware as low as 95 cents.
Best for: Handmade items, like hanging terrariums and letterpress stationery, from 10,000 unique sellers.
Inside scoop: Supply can be limited, but at least you’re cutting out the middleman.
Best for: Tableware and tile. This 61-year-old company still makes ceramics in its original factory.
Inside scoop: Find items at 75 percent off retail in the overstock section.
Best for: Surprisingly inexpensive outdoor furniture, plus deals on everything from mattresses to TVs.
Inside scoop: The weekly Red Line Deals page features the deepest discounts.
Best for: Home-office products (like decorative file folders), shelf and drawer papers, and stationery.
Inside scoop: Check for sales after major holidays.
Best for: Affordable accessories from all over the globe, like baskets from Bali and lanterns from India.
Inside scoop: Don’t miss the selection of pretty throw pillows (see photo above).
Negotiate Lower Fees With Your Health-Care Providers
If you seem to have a steady intravenous drip of medical bills, become your own advocate. According to a 2005 Harris poll, roughly two-thirds of people who asked for their fees to be lowered were successful. “The medical billing system is irrational, and there is a lot of room for adjusting prices,” says Mark Rukavina, executive director of the Access Project, a health-advocacy organization based in Boston. He offers these tips.
1. Inquire about the fee and whether a discount is available before the procedure.
2. Ask, “Can you provide any financial assistance?” or “Do you have a sliding scale?” And explain why you need help. Were you recently laid off? Are you coping with multiple medical issues? The more details you can give, the better.
3. Offer to pay in cash, up front. Doing so may cut 10 to 30 -percent off your bill. (This is commonly referred to as a “prompt-pay discount.”)
4. Look into an extended payment plan. “Most providers will let you stretch out payments over 12 months, sometimes more,” says Rukavina.
Use Online Coupons
If you must shop, shop smart. Bookmark these websites for the best deals:
- couponcabin.com, coupons.com, and coolsavings.com. Search for promotional codes from your -favorite retailers. You may get free shipping or be able to knock a few dollars off the total bill.
- cybermonday.com. This site features year-round deals from more than 500 retailers. Don’t miss the Deal of the Hour, which appears every 60 minutes on Monday.
- extrabux.com, ebates.com. If these sites list your desired merchant, you can receive rebates of up to 30 percent.
- freeshipping.org. See if you can get your item delivered for free at this site, which links shoppers to free-shipping deals offered by more than 700 online retailers.
- shoppingnotes.com. Register a product that you covet and get an e-mail when it’s on sale. swapagift.com Have an unused gift card? Sell or exchange it here.
Continue Giving to Charity
Visit thehungersite.com and click (for free) the yellow donate button on the home page daily and you’ll ensure that 23 pounds of food a year is donated to the poor by the site’s sponsors.
Freeze Your Gym Membership and Work Out at Home
Most large gyms will let you put a membership on hold for up to three months. Just think: no commute! No lines! No sweaty guy on the next tread-mill! The following videos are available at amazon.com and netflix.com.
Yoga lovers: Try Yoga for Stress Relief ($20), featuring yoga veteran Barbara Benagh and the Dalai Lama. More than 20 practices address different stress-related issues (stiff neck, back pain), and there’s also a meditation guide.
Pilates devotees: Check out 10 Minute Solution: Rapid Pilates, with Lara Hudson ($15). The succinct workouts target different body areas. (Use water bottles in place of the needed hand weights.)
Cardio addicts: Get a kick from 30 Day Shred With Jillian Michaels ($15). Michaels, the star trainer on The Biggest Loser, knows how to keep motivation high.
Work Out at the Local Playground
It's another alternative to your gym membership. Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, in San Diego, recommends these moves.
Platform step-ups: Find a bench or a platform that’s the height of your knee. Step up with your right leg, pulling yourself up with the back of your thigh and buttocks. Balance for two to three seconds, then step down. Step up 10 to 12 times on the right leg, then 10 to 12 on the left. Rest for 30 to 45 seconds before doing a second set. Work up to three sets, for a total of 15 reps on each leg.
Monkey-bar movement: Practice swinging from one bar to the other. (This will prove more chal-lenging than when you weighed, oh, 60 pounds, so build slowly.) Work up to swinging forward over 6 to 10 bars, then backward, without letting your feet touch the ground.
Swing-set crunches: Sit on a swing and pump your legs. As you swing back, contract your abs and pull your knees to your chest. As you swing forward, stretch your legs in front of you. Continue swinging and crunching for 60 to 90 seconds; rest for 30 seconds. Repeat up to three times.
Host a Casual Tapas Party
If you're tired of shelling out at restaurants but don't want to give up your social life, invite friends over for a casual tapas party. These small Spanish dishes are easy to prepare and affordable. In keeping with the Spanish theme, serve sangria, which can be made from (cheap) red wine. Put a Gipsy Kings CD on the stereo (a copy of The Best of the Gipsy Kings is about $15 on amazon.com), or download some flamenco tracks to your iPod (try Flamenco! by Pepe Romero), and olé, you've got an inexpensive fiesta.
Looking for more fun summer party ideas? Find creative themes, menu ideas, decorating tips, and entertaining shortcuts.