Search for deals. At outlet malls, ask at the information booth for coupons that give you additional savings at the regular retail stores, suggests Jill Fairchild, founder and publisher of the Where to Wear series of shopping guides. Also, look for coupons, discount codes, and information about local designer sample sales at these websites: dailycandy.com, topbutton.com, and thebudgetfashionista.com. Try overstock.com for outlet-level bargains online.
Request the designer’s discount. “Often you will get the same discount, typically 10 to 15 percent, when buying furniture,” says Jennifer Litwin, author of Furniture Hot Spots (Lyons Press, $15, amazon.com) and a reviewer for Consumers Digest. If not, ask for perks, like free delivery and permission to try a piece out at home for a few days before buying.
Consider used instead of new. The value of a car can fall by 15 to 40 percent within the first year. Look for certified preowned cars (reconditioned and with a warranty) that are about two years old and have about 20,000 miles, says Alex Rosten, manager of pricing and market analysis for Edmunds.com, which provides car reviews and comparative pricing.
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Dining and Entertainment
Look online. You can find discounted tickets to shows and plays in New York and other major cities, including Las Vegas and London, on goldstarevents.com, broadwaybox.com, and playbill.com, says Pauline Frommer, creator of Pauline Frommer's Travel Guides series of shopping guides.
Ask to BYO. At restaurants, see if you can bring your own wine and pay a corkage fee (anywhere from $10 and up), A good host won't flinch. "I'd thank you for choosing my restaurant first, whether you brought your own wine or not," says Richard Coraine, chief operating officer of restaurateur Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group. Also, bottled water can be marked up by as much as 300 percent, so order tap.
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Home Decorating & Renovations
Buy designer. Select a high-quality paint marketed under a decor-focused brand name like Ralph Lauren (sold at the Home Depot) or Benjamin Moore's Pottery Barn line, suggests Elizabeth Franklin, founder and chief executive officer of the Franklin Report, an online guide to home-renovation and maintenance-service providers. These manufacturers employ designers to select the color ranges and schemes for the rooms in the brochures. Consider it off-the-shelf decorator advice.
Cut out pictures. Frame pages from an art or architecture book. (Samflax.com has some inexpensive frame options.) "Anything looks like artwork under glass," says Franklin.
Think opposites. Upgrade air conditioners in winter and heating units in summer. "You'll be robbed if you wait until it's hot to call the air-conditioner guy," she says.
Consolidate home-renovation projects. Don't do just the bathroom if you plan to make over the kitchen and the bedrooms in the near future. "The bigger the project, the lower the margin the contractor has to make money off it," says Franklin.
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Entertaining at Home
Slow-cook. You don’t have to serve lobster to have a memorable dinner party. Stewing uses inexpensive cuts of meat, but the results taste great and you get to spend more time with your guests, says Patrick Cuccaro, general manager of Affairs to Remember Caterers, in Atlanta.
Skip costly desserts. Serve premium ice cream instead, Cuccaro suggests. Or fill a fluted glass with an inexpensive Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) and drop in a scoop of sorbet.
Buy wine by the case. Many stores will give you a 10 percent discount, says Bob Luskin, proprietor, Bell Wine & Liquor Shoppe, in Washington, D.C. You may not want 12 bottles of the same Chablis, of course, so ask the manager if you can mix different wines in a discounted case.
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Maintain low debt balances. It will translate into a higher credit score. "Keeping low balances means you're a good manager of credit," says Barry Paperno, customer-service manager for MyFICO.com, a site that lets consumers obtain credit reports and FICO scores from all three big credit bureaus. Lenders frown on a person's having too many cards, but don't cancel all unused credit accounts. "If you close them but maintain the same amount of outstanding debt, your debt-to-credit-limit ratio goes up, and that's not good for your score," he says.
Pay bills on time. Nothing is too small to screw up your credit―not a library fine, not a parking ticket. Pay everything on time, even if it's a bill for $5.
Start simple. Beginner investors should start with index mutual funds, such as one pegged to the Standard & Poor's (S & P) 500 Index. "Index funds are a no-brainer diversification," says Dayana Yochim, personal-finance expert for the Motley Fool (fool.com), an investor-education website. Because the fund is automated (it mechanically follows the performance of the index), "investors aren't saddled with big fees to cover a high-level fund manager's salary." Check out the Vanguard 500 Index mutual fund (vanguard.com).
Reshop your life insurance. "Prices have gone down over the past 10 years and continue to go down, so if you bought a policy several years ago, you might be able to get a better deal now even though you're older," says Kimberly Lankford, finance columnist and author of The Insurance Maze (Kaplan Business, $19, amazon.com). Try insure.com or accuquote.com, which is good for finding insurers who won't balk at preexisting medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers.