Smart Information Column
Issue 1, 5 November 2000 (Updated 11 December 2003)
13 Smart Ways to Save Money
I know that many people often ask me where to get stuff cheap and get freebies and offers. If you hate to waste money, want to save lots of money, and buy at prices far cheaper than retail in most cases, read these 13 tips and keep them in mind the next time you go shopping.
1. Use a price search engine. www.shopper.com, www.pricegrabber.com, www.pricescan.com, www.pricewatch.com, mysimon.com
You can search for the lowest online prices for just about every item - from DVDs to computers to home appliances. Try to pick a company out of state and with free shipping among the lowest prices listed to avoid taxes and shipping fees. Remember to read the user reviews of each company to avoid bad ones!
2. Use a coupons & rebates & freebies page. www.dealcatcher.com, www.dealnews.com, www.fatwallet.com (forums).
Fatwallet.com is probably the only site you'll ever need because of their FORUMS. Here, the two most important forums are: HOT DEALS and FREE STUFF. Honestly, you can forget about any other hot deals and freebies website if you visit Fatwallet - you'll find more great deals than any other site.
Here, Fatwallet.com's users will post the latest ways to get the best deals on cameras to cell phones to cars and more. Read it everyday to track the hottest buys and how to work it.
When you're bored, sign up for all of the free offers in the Free Stuff section - you can get everything from free flashlights to watches to cash cards along with dozens of free magazine subscriptions (past magazines include Rolling Stone, Fitness, Car & Driver, Reader's Digest, TV Guide, and more).
3. Create a 'junk email' account at www.yahoo.com and others sites that offer free email accounts when filling forms to get free stuff, register at non-essential websites, etc. That way, you won't get junk mail delivered to your private, personal email address (which you should NEVER give out to anyone by close friends and family).
Either way, turn on the junk mail filter available at most of these free email websites to keep the clutter down.
4. Subscribe to free trade magazines. www.yahoo.com -> search "trade magazines"
Suprisingly, a large number of publications are completely sponsered and paid for by the money from the advertisers. As such, you only need to ask for the free trade magazine subscriptions (fill in fake info to make you look important to them), and voila! lots of free subscriptions.
The computer industry related ones are particularly interesting for this group if you want to keep up with the happenings in this industry.
Naturally, once you've gotten on their mailing list, they'll send lots of junk mail (so maybe send all of it the work address! ;)-, but at the same time, lots of offers for free stuff (like what I've gotten in the past, free maglights, swiss army knives, clocks, watches, pens, etc. etc.) If you're not on anybody's junk mail list, you won't get a lot of freebies, so naturally, just sign up for tons of the free trade magazines and watch it go!
Send junk mail to work and emails to a junk email account, fake everything else if you want to keep the mailbox from exploding from spam.
5. Fatwallet.com. Read it everyday.
6. Ad banners and referal websites for cash.
Many web ad banner exchange and referral programs offer you a sound way to make money just by putting up a few advertisements or links on your website.
A careful look at the various websites that always seem to popup when you don't want them to, and how some searches only bring up sites that seem to contain only advertisements and no content will help get you started.
The idea here is to whip up some websites that attract people to them for whatever reason, and everytime a person visits, the ad/referral pays you.
7. Rating products and businesses bizrate.com, epinions.com, www.deja.com/usenet/, consumerreports.org, www.pcmag.com, www.pcworld.com, www.cnet.com -> User Hardware reviews
If you wonder whether a business or product is any good, these places will let you find out what others think. Any problems will be noted quickly over the Net today, and you can avoid the hassles of being ripped off by a bad company / product. Avoid the bad ones if you can, and watch out for low-ball prices (eg. Digital Dog in NY is really BAD - they toot some of the lowest prices on digicams, but rip you off by not shipping for months, if ever).
8. Cars www.carsdirect.com, www.carpoint.com, www.caranddriver.com, www.roadandtrack.com, edmunds.com, kbb.com
There really isn't any reason today that you should walk into a car dealership and pay sticker price.
READ that again, =no= reason why you should pay sticker price on any car!
In the past, it used to be go in and haggle. If you couldn't haggle well, then you got a bum deal that everyone laughed at you for.
Happily, today, places like carsdirect.com give you a fixed, low price right away that you don't have to haggle over (just point to the printed price from carsdirect if the dealer tries to squeeze you out of more) and you'll know right away how much all those added goodies (sunroof, turbo, etc.) will cost you ;)
Takes the 'fun' out of buying a new car though ... (I fought my dealer for three long hours before they gave up and gave me thousands off my baby!)
9. Black Friday sales. The day after Thanksgiving where retail stores start to break even and make a profit for the year is THE LARGEST and BEST shopping day of the entire year. Get in line, wake up early (lines starting at 3am for BestBuy 6am sales - yes! 3am or earlier!), and make sure you get the Thursday newspaper for a listing of all local sales so you can plan your hunt! (For example, while the cheapest Toshiba laptops usually go for $899 during the year, $750 around Christmas, this year's 2003 BestBuy sale had them for an incredible $499! Save hundreds and resell what you don't need on eBay.com for a good profit!)
10. Try not to break the bank, but use a rebate credit card while buying.
It can be addicting, so try to limit your buying to a few things a month or quarter despite the maddening prices online.
You can save yourself even more money during the purchase by using a no-annual-fee, credit card that pays you cash back. You must pay them off every month in full or else the 2% rebates won't even cover the 20%+ APR interest rates charged on carried balances.
DiscoverCard, GE Rewards, and Waldenbooks Visa all give you up to 2% of your charged amount back to you during the year. Thus, if you charge $10,000 on them during the course of a year, you get ~$200 back in cash.
It's a great thing especially if you can charge all of your expenses - car payments, groceries, gas, car repairs, food, books, clothing, etc., etc. As long as you pay off the balance in full every month, you get money back while those suckers that carry balances from month to month pay you through their interest charges!
At the same time, unlike writing checks or use debit ATM cards or cash, you get to keep the money in your savings account for another month or so (until they send you the bill), where it earns additional interest!!
There are a lot of dummies out there carrying balances on their credit cards, and if you're smart, you'll use no-fee, rebate cards to siphon some of that interest paid for you as cash rebates.
11. Free $$$ for bank and trading accounts.
Some places really do offer something like $50 for opening a $100 checking account (50% interest rate, APR!), or like Etrade, $100 for $500 (20% APR!) to open an account. You really don't have to do anything with it for the 3-6 months they usually require you to keep it open, and with the case of Etrade, you can let your money sit in their money interest account rather than in the yucky stocks (horrible performance this year) and rest assured that your money is making money in insured money accounts which perform as well, if not slightly better, than the 2-3% savings accounts pay you today.
Naturally, you simply close the accounts at no cost at the end of the period, and pocket the huge bonus (which is larger than interest alone would normally pay you on money kept in a savings account anyways). Low risk and easy to do.
12. Free IRA accounts. While most banks charge you for maintaining an IRA account, online at Datek and Etrade and others, they offer free IRA accounts with no fees at all. If you don't like stocks, you can simply keep all the money in safer mutual funds and so forth while stocking away the $2000 IRA maximum you're allowed.
If you're savy and bid at the very last moment, you can often get very, very good deals on new and used items here. The best place to bid online, and I wouldn't even recommend anywhere else. Make sure the seller is rated with 30+ positive stars (read their feedback,don't just look at the number) with low negative feedback points to be safe. Pay through PayPal or other online credit card payment to ensure payment gets sent promptly (and with paypal, you're protected along with Ebay's buyer protection as well - read both sites for more info).
Best bet is to wait until the last couple of seconds before putting in your bid to make sure you don't raise the prices on yourself before the end of the auction, and seach on item descriptions as well as try various combinations of key words to find items that are at a bargain, but often described in ways that make them hard to find (thus a bargain because others won't be looking at it or bidding it up).
Payment methods that work?
PayPal.com & BidPay.com - I'd just not bother with anything else except a snail mailed United States Postal Service Money Order for those that don't accept online payments - checks and other forms of payment short of cash are too risky.
Shipping methods that work? USPS priority mail, UPS/FexEX/ETC tracked & insured as necessary.