Things always seem to be expensive exactly when you need them. A bikini in May? Zero percent off. A tank of gas before your Saturday errands? Not cheap. That January vacation in the Caribbean? No one would call it a bargain. American women spend trillions on consumer goods and services every year, and a lot of them pay full price simply because it’s convenient.
But by planning ahead, you can get great deals. Wait for the right day or month instead of shopping on the fly, and you’ll see the annual savings start to add up.
2 of 7Sang An
The estimated average weekly grocery bill for an American household is $90, according to the Food Marketing Institute, a food retailer and wholesaler trade association in Washington, D.C. By using a store's discount card, you can shave about 18 percent off that cost. Try not to bring along the kids, who may ask for treats you weren't planning to buy. You can also save with coupons: Check sites like CoolSavings and shop on double-coupon days if possible. Avoid buying prepared and packaged goods (e.g., Consumer Reports found that two pounds of carrots cost $1.29, compared with $7.16 for the same amount of precut carrot sticks). And stock up on freezable foods after their peak times. Gary Foreman, publisher of the Dollar Stretcher website, notes that prices for turkeys are slashed after Thanksgiving and Christmas. GasAn American family with one car and one SUV or minivan consumes about 1,200 gallons of gas each year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. At any time, however, the price of a gallon of gas can vary by as much as 20 cents within a metropolitan area, says Brad Proctor, founder of GasPriceWatch, a consumer-advocacy website. To get the best bargain, avoid buying gas on weekends, when most people travel or run errands and gas stations raise prices accordingly. Also, stay away from stations on toll highways. To find the lowest price near you on any given day, go to Gas Price Watch or Gas Buddy and enter a ZIP code. If you can stick to pumping once a week, says Proctor, you can often find the best prices on Tuesdays.
3 of 7Sang An
Wait for the paperback (which typically comes out six to nine months after the hardcover, at about half the price), or check sites like Powell's Books, Strand Book Store, Amazon.com, and Overstock.com for used and overstock books. If you buy a lot, consider an annual membership card from a chain like Barnes & Noble ($25) or Books-A-Million ($20), which will give you 10 percent off most in-store purchases. Remember, though, that you have to spend plenty of money on books annually (at least $250 at Barnes & Noble and $200 at Books-A-Million) to break even. Of course, the library offers the best deal: It's free, as long as you remember to return the book before those 20-cents-a-day fines start piling up.
Health ClubThe International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, an industry group located in Boston, says that on average it costs $150 to enroll and $50 a month for a single adult membership. If you go rarely, it may be cheaper to buy a few day passes. See if you can join through your company, which can shave an average of $65 off the enrollment fee and $7 off the monthly charge. Even better, ask if your local gym is running a sale: Some hold once-a-year anniversary sales, others will cut prices at the end of a month when a quota needs to be met.
ElectronicsThere is no set yearly schedule for sales on computers and consumer electronics, says Glenn Cunningham, director of the electronics store at Amazon.com. Instead, these items go on sale when manufacturers introduce a new version or need to sell a lot quickly to impress investors. To take advantage of these sudden, deep discounts, decide exactly what you want to buy, then go to a site like Slick Deals, FatWallet, or Techbargains, where you can check for the day's latest discounts. The latter two let you set up free e-mail alerts that tell you when a specific item―or something in a general category, such as "Dell laptop"―has gone on sale.
4 of 7Sang An
Americans spend nearly $7.8 billion on dry cleaning each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, much of it for low-priced orders (like shirts) and must-haves (suits for work). For expensive projects, like drapes, which run about $200 in a typical cleaning order, or bed linens, which can cost several hundred dollars, it’s best to have them cleaned in January, July, or August. Those are slow times for cleaners, when many offer discounts of about 15 percent on large items. If your local cleaner doesn’t advertise discounts during those times, try negotiating one.
You can save 30 to 40 percent on public-transportation costs by signing up for an employer’s commuter-savings program, which lets you buy tickets or fares with money that’s deducted from your paycheck before it’s taxed, says Laura Wheeler, the consumer-trend expert at the industry group WageWorks Center for Commuter Studies, in San Mateo, California. Suggest one of these programs to your employer if it isn’t currently offered―it saves the company money, too. If you take public transportation often enough, it also might be smart to buy a monthly pass. Divide the cost of the pass by the number of times you’ll use it; if that amount is lower than the cost of a single ticket, buy the pass. There are some public-transportation systems that sell discounted advance tickets. The Long Island Rail Road, in New York, for example, offers 2 percent off tickets ordered online.
5 of 7Sang An
For a family of four, going to the movies even just once a month can be a big expense. Cut your costs by buying corporate bulk tickets, like those offered by Regal Entertainment Group, the biggest theater chain in the country. Regal sells blocks of 50 “VIP Super Saver” tickets that let you see films that have been showing for at least 12 days. At $7 each, these tickets are up to 40 percent less than regular tickets (depending on the region). You can also find price breaks through Working Advantage, which offers discounts of up to 46 percent on movie tickets and DVD rentals through more than 4,000 companies and organizations, or through Entertainment, which charges $35 to $45 for books of coupons for movies and live events.
At up to $2.50 each, calls to directory assistance can really inflate a telephone bill. To stop throwing away that money, try looking up numbers in the phone book (store a magnifying glass next to it if you have trouble reading the tiny type) or on free websites, such as WhitePages.com and SuperPages.com, that provide U.S. business and residential numbers. Not near a phone book or a computer? Both Google and UpSNAP offer free directory assistance that replies within a minute to a text-messaged request sent from a mobile phone.
6 of 7Sang An
Only 5 to 10 percent of an airline’s seats are reserved for frequent fliers, so if you want to get restricted frequent-flier tickets―the ones that eat the fewest miles―book about 11 months before your trip, says Tim Winship, founder of Travelocity, a site that provides information on mileage award programs. If you are paying for your seats and are willing to risk bad weather, it’s much cheaper to travel to popular destinations during “shoulder” seasons (just before and after peak travel times). Shoulder trips―February in Europe, April in the Caribbean and ski country―can save up to $400 per person for a one-week vacation. Check sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and SkyAuction for deals. And you can save if you book your hotel and flight as a package. Kari Swartz, a travel expert at Expedia.com, says that customers who book a package to one of its top 50 domestic and international destinations save an average of $193. You may also be able to get discounted tickets through your company’s corporate-travel program or through Kayak, which compares prices on different travel and airline sites.
The most obvious sales on holiday cards and gift wrap comes on December 26, when prices drop by 50 percent. On that day, suggests Deana Ricks, coauthor of Cheap Talk With the Frugal Friends, buy plain, one-color wrapping paper that you can use for any occasion, as well as items like seasonally colored Hershey’s Kisses and M&M’s that you can freeze and use for other holidays―red for Valentine’s Day, for example, and green for Saint Patrick’s Day.
7 of 7Sang An
Four weeks at a typical sleepaway summer camp costs $3,200, and an average camp raises its price 5 to 10 percent a year, according to Jeff Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association, a New York City–based organization that offers guidance in choosing a camp. To lower costs, lock in your rate the year before. For a month or two after the end of each summer session, many camps offer early-bird specials, letting you sign up for next year's camp at current prices. (This deal generally doesn’t apply to one-week specialty sports camps.) Some camps may even let you lock in a lifetime rate if you're willing to commit to―and pay for―several years in advance.
New CarBuying used is almost always a better deal, but if you have to know that you're a car's first driver, buy new in the fall. Automakers release new models in September, when they generally slash prices on the previous year's cars. You can save a lot by buying last year's model, especially if the car has been extensively redesigned, says Phil Reed, the author of Strategies for Smart Car Buyers. You can save even more money by waiting until December and buying one of the last old models on the lot.