Living through a recession doesn’t require that you become a full-time cheapskate — but you do have to budget smarter and spend purposefully rather than by accident and habit.
Bonus: By plugging the leaks of wasteful spending, you can redirect that money to things that are very important to you.
Medication costs. The prices of drugs not covered by insurance can vary widely among pharmacies, so you can save hundreds of dollars by comparison shopping. Start online at Destination Rx (www.drx.com), which searches for the cheapest prescription prices from pharmacies and other retailers in your area and also makes suggestions that you can discuss with your doctor about cheaper generic options. My favorite deals come from discount retailers Wal-Mart, Target and Sam’s Club, which have expanded their discounted prescription-drug programs to offer 90-day supplies of more than 1,000 generics (350 for Sam’s Club) for $10 or less.
Eyeglasses. Pay as little as $8 for prescription eyeglasses, shipping included, from Zenni Optical (www.zennioptical.com). The site lets you choose from hundreds of different frames. While they aren’t as well constructed as designer frames, they’re ideal as a backup pair or to expand your eyeglass wardrobe. Another eyeglass site, EyeBuyDirect.com, has glasses for $7.95 and lets you upload a photo of yourself and “virtually” try on glasses by superimposing frames on your photo.
Important: To order, you’ll need to provide your prescription (get it from your ophthalmologist or optometrist). You’ll also need to know your pupillary distance (the distance between the centers of your pupils) to ensure a proper optical fit. Your optometrist should be able to give you that number, but most online retailers also provide instructions for measuring it yourself.
Cable “triple-plays.” Many telecommunications companies aggressively push their “triple-play” packages. If you agree to buy cable-TV, phone and high-speed Internet services from the same provider, you get a discount. But this isn’t always the best deal. You can often save more buying à la carte from different providers.
Example: As part of my $99 bundled service, I was paying $13 a month for unlimited long-distance phone service. That sounds good — except that I was only making one hour’s worth of long-distance calls, which worked out to 22 cents a minute. I could have gotten an à la carte plan that charged $86 for cable, local TV and high-speed Internet plus long-distance for five cents a minute.
Annual savings: $120.
Best: Analyze your usage pattern, then compare rates from competing cable and telephone service providers in your area.
Premium TV. Subscribe to premium channels for only part of the year. This way, you can best suit your viewing habits.
Example: I like certain HBO series that run for only six months each year. I also watch more movies in the summer while network shows are in repeats. I subscribe to the appropriate premium channels only during those time periods. Since I’m not required to choose an annual package, I can add or subtract services at will. I save about $100 a year.
Cell-phone service. Consider a prepaid, pay-as-you-go wireless phone plan instead of a long-term contract. The price for prepaid phones, and minutes to load on to them, has dropped. If you are using your cell phone for less than 400 minutes a month, you can save money with a prepaid phone.
How it works: You can buy a prepaid cell phone at discount retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, for $15 to $140, depending on the features you want. The phones come with plans offered by providers such as TracFone (www.tracfone.com)… Net 10 (www.net10.com)… T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.com)… Virgin Mobile (www.virginmobile.com). I switched my two cell phones last year and saved $565.
To compare the best prepaid cell-phone plans, go to ConsumerSearch (www.consumersearch.com/prepaid-wireless).
Books. Get discounted books when you travel. Buy a book in a Paradies Shop airport bookstore, and return it within six months to another airport bookstore for a 50% refund on your purchase. For more on the Read & Return program, visit www.theparadiesshops.com.
For audiobooks, a three-month subscription to www.audible.com saves you up to 75% off CD audiobook retail prices.
How it works: You pay $158.40 a year to purchase and download a dozen books. You can choose from more than 60,000 titles, including the latest best sellers.
Razor blades. High-quality razor-blade refills have become shockingly expensive — up to $3.50 per blade — and most people replace them at least every couple of weeks. You could buy cheap disposable razors, but the more expensive razors and blades really are superior. I quadruple the life of my blade by drying it carefully after each use. Blade dullness is caused by rusting more than by contact with whiskers.
Clothing. With so much merchandise backing up due to slower sales, department stores are marking down items as soon as five weeks after putting them on the sales floor.
Note: Shop late in the day on Thursday because that’s when stores begin markdowns for the weekend.
Other strategies: Haggle. Retailers want to make sales, so you can negotiate in most situations. If a shirt is missing a button, ask the floor manager for a discount — he/she usually has the discretion to give you up to 15% off.
For shoe deals, go to the DSW site (www.dsw.com), which offers thousands of discounted designer brands for men and women, free shipping on orders of $35 or more, and allows you to make returns directly to DSW retail stores to avoid return-postage fees.
Eating out. Even many upscale restaurants are offering bargains and using technology to advertise deals.
Good resource: Restaurant.com. You search for restaurants in your area and buy $25 gift certificates for $10 with your credit card, thus saving $15.
Supermarkets. Sales run on a roughly 12-week cycle. That means you can save lots of money by buying enough of any sales item to last for three months.
Coupons. Instead of spending time searching through the Sunday newspaper for products, save the inserts in their entirety. Write the date on the corner of the front page. When ready to shop, go to CouponMom.com and search its free grocery coupon database. The site tells you the date of the insert where the coupon appears.