25 smart ways to cut costs

Penny Pincher's GuideWhether you just love a bargain or the economy has dealt you major money stress, this guide is for you. Cutting back doesn’t have to mean recycling aluminum foil or saving crusts of bread for casseroles. We’ll show you how to save real money–without feeling the pinch.

Sign up for frequent-buyer cards

Not the “buy 15 pairs of socks, get one free” variety, but cards that earn their space in your wallet.

Play the price-match game

If your stove just died, don’t go to a store and buy the first one you see. Decide on a model, call around for the lowest price, and then ask your favorite retailer to match it. Most will. A few days after your purchase, check the local stores’ circulars. If one of them puts the stove on sale, your retailer should be able to give you a price adjustment.

Stock up on low-cost legwear

Off-price catalogs and Web sites label their hosiery “slightly imperfect,” but even textiles experts can have trouble finding any flaws.

Curb your return-item costs

Shipping costs for returned items add up fast, and those 15-day return windows fly by. To avoid the charges, shop from catalogs and Web sites which let you return to brick-and-mortar stores.

Switch to store-brand baby formula

The Food and Drug Administration tightly regulates all formula. So Kmart, Target, CVS, Wal-Mart, Kroger, and other store formulas are just as good as the name brands. Annual savings baby’s first year: $500

Shop around for insurance

Identical auto policies vary from company to company by an average of $515 for six months of coverage. Compare your policy with other companies to get the best deal.

Cut back on cable

Do you really need nine different Discovery channels? Or the Disney Channel your teenagers haven’t watched in years? Scale back your cable package.

Put a dent in those premiums

Raising your car insurance deductible from $200 to $500 can slash your collision and comprehensive auto coverage by 15 to 30 percent, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Couple that savings with discounts for mature drivers, carpooling, antitheft devices, and multiple policies–and make sure you’re not covered for 20,000 miles per year if you’re driving only 10,000. Annual savings: $500 or more

Gas up for less

Exxon MasterCard gives you a 3 percent rebate on all gas at Exxon or Mobil. The Shell MasterCard takes 5 percent off.

Fill 'er up--with low octane fuel

Pumping premium into a car that doesn’t need it is like pouring money down the drain–it won’t improve performance. Check your owner’s manual; using the lowest grade your car can handle can save $100 or so per year.

Go the distance on car maintenance

Most car handbooks suggest you change your oil, air, and fuel filters every 3,000 to 7,500 miles. Experts recommend service every 5,000 miles; follow their advice and save about $60 every 15,000 miles.

Dump the clunker insurance

If your car’s best days are in its rearview mirror, consider dropping or reducing the comprehensive and collision coverage–the biggest chunk of your bill. Some insurance experts suggest scaling back as soon as the premiums climb higher than 10 percent of the car’s market value.

Shed light on your electric bill

If you set one load of wash per week on a drying rack instead of tossing it in the dryer, you’ll save $25 in a year. Also, make sure your refrigerator–which accounts for 15 percent of your electrical bill–is set correctly: between 37 and 40 degrees for the main section, and zero to five degrees for the freezer.

Let the answering machine screen your calls

You really did live without caller I.D. once and you can do it again to save $60 or more per year.

Cut the high cost of heating

If last year’s bills left you reaching for another blanket, install a programmable thermostat before the cold weather hits again. (This will run you about $55.) You’ll save about $110 on your bill over the course of the winter.

Plug in compact fluorescent bulbs

Install them on the porch, in hallways, and other hard-to-reach places, and they won’t need changing for six to 12 years. Though these bulbs cost more than ordinary ones, you’ll save over their lifetime.

Leave the light off

If you keep a 75-watt bulb on for eight hours a day, it costs you $18.62 in a year. Switch off six lights and you’re really on to something–triple-digit savings. But don’t turn the lights on and off constantly; this costs more than just leaving them on.

Rely on basic hand lotions

Chemists’ tests show no difference in the moisture concentration of hand creams, regardless of price (you’re paying for the perfume). So smooth on Vaseline Intensive Care instead of Clarins Jeunesse des Mains to save nearly $20 per bottle.

Hold the soda

That pasta dinner at a local restaurant will cost you almost 20 percent less if you skip the soda, coffee, or tea, and drink water instead. A family of four will save about $6 (four sodas at $1.50 each) at every meal out.

Forget fortified cereals

Unless you’re planning to fast for the rest of the day, you don’t need a pricey cereal that contains “100 percent of the recommended vitamins and minerals.” Eat good old-fashioned corn flakes instead, and fortify your annual savings by $21.

Put a freeze on takeout

You wouldn’t be tempted to order takeout if there were a hearty chicken stew or lasagna in your freezer, ready for the microwave. So set aside one Sunday per month for a marathon cooking session with a friend. Split the cost of the groceries and crank out 14 freezer meals for your families.

Be a coupon clicker

For deals you won’t find in the weekly paper you can check out our coupon section!

Eat one less pizza per month

If you go out for pizza every week, give it up just once a month and eat at home. In a year, you’ll save $150.

Swing by the supermarket discount zone

So what if the cereal box is crunched on one corner? In the marked-down sections of most stores, you can save from 50 to 70 percent on everything from bananas to canned goods.

Beware eye-level impulse buys

Stores often place overpriced items at eye level on the right-hand side of the aisles. Don’t fall for it.

Feel free to share your money saving tips below!