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Home  > Article

Stand Tall While You Spend Small

By D. J. Knowles

Being cheap is state of mind and a great way to turn your economics around without denying yourself the simple pleasures of living.

Mary Hunt, founding editor of the Web site Cheapskate Monthly defines the oft-maligned cheapskate as dignified.

"A cheapskate has a balanced, honest and dignified approach to money management. It's someone who doesn't spend more than they earn or let money and material possessions rule their thoughts and desires.

"A cheapskate does not buy on impulse," says Ms. Hunt.

Penny-pinchers use products and services resourcefully. This can range from timing a shower to having leftovers for lunch to washing and reusing disposable plastic bags.

Here are 25 ways to release the cheapskate within you or to stop spending and start filling that cookie jar.

Air fares:
The more flexible your travel plans, the more you'll save. Use the Internet to search for the cheapest tickets and buy them online. Travel on low-fare airlines and through substitute airports. Cut costs even more by traveling off-peak days such as Saturday and Tuesday through Thursday. Buy your tickets in advance.

Car rental:
Shop around for the best basic rates. Inquire about additional charges such as gas, drop-off fees and extra-driver rates. Find special offers. Check with your insurance carrier and credit card company to avoid duplicating coverage you might already have.

New cars:
If you can, buy the car with cash or make a large down payment. Get the lowest financing possible. To find the best rates offered in your area, check's auto loan search engine. Do your homework before negotiating on a vehicle. Research the vehicle's fuel economy, maintenance needs, insurance and repair costs by checking new-car guides at Web sites such as Edmund's, CarPoint, Autopedia or AutoSite. Comparison-shop and be sure to let the salesperson know you are doing that. Some fees can be negotiated, such as the "dealer prep" charge. Try to get the dealer to drop the fee. It's just more profit for them.

Used cars:
Before you buy a used car, always compare the seller's asking price with the average retail price in a car price guide such as Kelly Blue Book. Have a mechanic check the car, especially if the car is sold "as is." Buy from people you know and trust. They are more likely to sell at a lower price and point out any problems with the vehicle.

Auto leasing:
Don't lease just because the payments are low. After all, in the end, you won't own the car. If you do decide to lease, know the fair market value of the car and then haggle price and terms with the dealer just as you would if you were buying. Make sure you're clear on all the fees and terms, especially excess mileage penalties and "wear and tear" fees. Use this auto lease payment calculator to determine how much this lease really is costing you.

Keep your engine well-maintained and your tires at the proper pressure to save on fuel costs. Look for a gas station that supplies free air. Combine errands into a single trip and use the family's most fuel-efficient car when doing extensive driving. Compare prices at different gas stations; pump the gas yourself; and use the lowest octane possible for your car. Check out this calculator to find out if you can save by driving to a cheaper gas station.

Auto insurance:
Shop around as rates vary widely. Call at least four agencies. You can lower your rates by raising your deductibles on collision and comprehensive coverage to at least $500. If you have an old clunker, drop the coverage altogether.

Homeowner/renter insurance:
Raise your deductibles. Always make sure that you purchase enough coverage to replace the house and its contents. Make sure your new policy is in effect before dropping an old one.

Life insurance:
For insurance protection only, buy a term insurance policy. Don't cancel your whole life, universal life or other cash value policy before 15 years, or your life insurance costs could be doubled.

Select a free checking account or one that has no minimum-balance requirement. If you cannot find a bank with free checking in your area, consider an online bank. Check with your bank to see if it will lower checking fees if you use direct deposit.

Do not pay ATM fees. It's throwing away money. Always use your bank's ATM or get cash back from point-of-purchase sales at places such as at the grocery store. This strategy is particularly effective when traveling, and eliminates the late-night drive in the rental car through unfamiliar territory searching for a network ATM.

Rather than stashing idle cash in low-yielding checking or savings accounts, put your money in short-term certificates of deposit or money market accounts. Internet banks offer some of the best yields. Want to know which financial institution is paying the highest yield? Check out Bankrate's savings and CD search engine.

Credit cards:
To eliminate all interest charges and fees, pay off your account each month. If you do carry a balance, switch to a card with a low interest rate. Bankrate's credit card search engine will help you find the best deal on a card. Limit yourself to two credit cards. Read your monthly billing statements carefully making sure you pay on time and don't exceed your credit limit. Those penalty fees are the worst.

Your first house need not be the "dream home." Lower your expectations -- start with a townhouse or condo. Just start building equity. If you are a first-time home buyer, find out if you qualify for special mortgage and down payment programs in your neighborhood. Get the shortest-term mortgage you can afford. The monthly payments will be higher, but you'll save thousands of dollars in interest charges. Go with a low-rate mortgage and the fewest points. To find the best rates in your area, check Bankrate's mortgage rate search engine.

Mortgage refinancing:
Consider refinancing your mortgage if you can get a rate at least 1 percent lower than your existing mortgage rate. But first, look at your current payment, figure the costs of refinancing and see how long it would take you to recoup the charges. Use this refinancing calculator to decide whether refinancing will save you money.

Home equity loans:
Generally, the interest paid on home equity loans is tax deductible. Using home equity loans or lines of credit can be a cheap way for homeowners to consolidate expensive, high-interest debts like credit cards and reap the tax savings. Use caution -- if you cannot make the payments, you could lose your house.

Major appliances:
Consult Consumer Reports for information about specific brands and how to evaluate them, including energy use. Once you find a brand, call a few stores and ask for the prices of specific models. After each store offers you a quote, find out if it is the lowest price they can offer. Haggle!

Make sure your appliances are energy efficient, especially air conditioners and furnaces. Enroll in a load-management and off-hour rate programs offered by your electric company. Get a home energy audit to find ways to save on heating and air conditioning. Some utility companies do the audit for free or for an affordable charge. Try the new generation of compact fluorescent light bulbs. They use 70 percent less electricity and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. They screw into the same sockets and produce the same quality of light as incandescents.

Local telephone service:
Check with your phone company to see if it offers a flat rate or measured service plan. Get the cheapest plan possible. Get rid of optional services such as three-way and call waiting. Check the phone bill to see if you have any optional services that you really don't need or use.

Long distance phone costs:
Long-distance calls are cheaper if made in the evening or on weekends. If you make a lot of calls, consider a long-distance calling plan. Check rates with three or four companies to see which has the least expensive plan for the type of calls you make. Every few months shop again. Rates are changing regularly and if you often make calls outside your local area, you can save a lot. Save on fees by having your long-distance carrier bill you directly rather than through your local telephone company. Or, buy a long-distance phone card with rates of 3.5 to 5 cents per minute.

Always shop with a list. Compare price-per-ounce or other unit prices on shelf labels. Stock up on items you regularly use during sales. Use coupons, but only for products you normally buy.

Prescription drugs:
Ask for a generic equivalent; it's much cheaper. Pharmacies' charges vary, so comparison shop regularly. Consider using a mail order pharmacy, which often sells for a lower price.

Start holiday shopping early and spread it out over a few months instead of a few days. If your state offers "tax-free" shopping days during the summer -- get a jump on birthday and holiday purchases then. ALWAYS send in for the rebate on a purchase, whether it's $2 or $50. It all adds up.

On the job:
Give yourself a raise by contributing to your company's 401(k) program. Not only will you be wisely sacking money away for retirement, but you'll pay less tax each pay period. Retirement contributions are not taxed until they are withdrawn. Plus, most companies contribute to the 401(k) accounts of participating employees. That's a raise.

Go to matinees of first-run movies. You'll still get the big-screen experience but at a significant savings. Try out a dollar theater, a local film festival or even a drive-in. To really save, rent movies. Better yet, check out your local public library for free movies to borrow or work as a volunteer at a local fair or festival -- you'll get in free.

Article courtesy of

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