20 rules to live by for cheapskates

20 rules to live by for cheapskatesToday, to be called a "cheapskate" is more like of a badge of honor. I'm betting a lot of people in Congress would be delighted to be called cheapskates, unlike this situation in the 1920's. And advice columnists today would probably suggest that a guy who doesn't spend too much on a date may be a guy who knows how to manage his money. In that spirit, I consulted my colleagues here at WalletPop and asked them to give me their best advice for living like a cheapskate.

The results were fast and furious. Not surprisingly, our staffers have all kinds of clever ways to save money. Below are WalletPop's 20 rules for cheapskates to live by:

Use technology to help you compare prices and look for coupons.Josh Smith, our resident tech guru and the editor of Notebooks.com, says that if you have a smart phone, "there are plenty of apps that will scan the bar code --- ShopSavvy is one -- and will find the best prices for you. And if you're online, visit RetailMeNot.com and enter the store name to see current coupons."

Think ahead with your child's friends' birthday parties.Bonnie McCarthy, who writes a lot about family and money, suggests that people buy "cool gifts that are age-appropriate to your own darling children." That way, "the next time they're invited to a birthday soiree, you'll have a well-priced gift ready to go." That's a definite help with the "time is money" factor. Plus, if you do buy gifts ahead and really put some thought into it, you might find some good choices on sale, making your inner cheapskate even happier. And you have to love Bonnie's other advice: "Let your child make the birthday card, or craft a simple tag to put on the gift. Unless there's money inside a birthday card, it will be quickly tossed aside by even those with the best manners, and those cards cost upwards for $3 a piece!"

Skip the Groupon and mass e-mail coupon sales. Yes, they're loads of fun, concedes Vera Gibbons, who writes about women and money for WalletPop, but she says, "People are buying all sorts of stuff they never thought they wanted, and there's way too much impulse-buying going on. I know social buying websites like Groupon.com are extremely popular right now, but we're ending up with all sorts of stuff we never thought we wanted, from horseback riding lessons to harbor tours."

Do everything in your power to achieve or maintain a great credit rating for a huge financial payoff. That's advice from Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, also known as the Money Coach. "People with perfect credit save or earn hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime compared to people with bad credit," Khalfani-Cox says. "How so? Individuals with outstanding credit get the best possible rates and terms on all kinds of loans and credit -- credit cards, business loans, student loans, mortgages, auto loans and so on. They also save money on insurance -- life and auto -- plus, those with stellar credit are better positioned to be hired for good jobs and secure lucrative promotions."

Offer cash.Martha White, a prolific writer who covers a lot of banking and credit card issues at WalletPop, says, "I make a practice of asking mom-and-pop places of all stripes if they'll knock a bit off the sticker price if I pay in cash. I've done this successfully at everywhere from clothing boutiques to auto repair shops." It won't work, obviously, at a national chain, where the prices are more or less set in stone. But if you're dealing with a small business owner who probably resents paying an interchange fee for all transactions made through credit and debit cards, he or she may just go for it.

Embrace the slow cooker. Martha again, this time with a cooking tip. "Not only can you get by with buying tougher cuts of meat that need coddling at a low temperature for hours, but if you have beef stew or chili or pulled pork waiting at home, you're not going to drop big bucks on takeout or pizza."

"Always ask for what you want," says Laura Heller, who mostly covers retail and tech issues for WalletPop. "Nicely. An upgrade, an exception to a policy, a discount, no-interest financing. Even at national retail chains, you just might get it."

Stop reading. No, not really, but Julie Tilsner, who writes about kids and family issues, among other things for WalletPop, suggests, "Never buy a new book again. Read everything in your bookshelves first (this would hold me for a few years at least), and then either swap your books, go to the $1 bookstore or dust off your library card."

Stop eating. Again, not really, but Tilsner, once again, has some advice for those people who really, really want to save some money. "When out with the kids, never buy yourself a meal," she advises. "You'll get plenty to eat when they eat a third of theirs. And always order form the kids' menu, duh."

Buy your glasses online. And buy old cars and drive them into the ground. That advice comes from Tom Barlow, a frequent contributor at WalletPop, who covers just about every topic under the sun. He also does a lot of writing for DailyFinance.

Think about the real cost of what you buy.Sarah Gilbert, who focuses on food and environmental issues for WalletPop, says, "Yes, that squirt gun is just a dollar, but what about the subsidies for petroleum to make the plastic? How toxic is the environment for the workers in a plant that makes $1 squirt guns? How well do you think the emissions are managed if they can only charge 25 cents or something like that for each unit? How about packaging? What's going to happen to it? And will this only last long enough to use a half dozen times before it ends up in the trash? Is all of this worth it? This usually keeps me from buying ... almost everything."

Think "dollar stores." "Always, always start by shopping the dollar stores," suggests Ira Teinowitz, who covers Washington for WalletPop. "Especially useful products there are reading glasses, batteries, over-the-counter drugs (non-aspirin, ibuprofen and generic Sudafed)."

Don't buy what you can't use up. "It goes for everything in your life," says our man at large Jason Cochran, who covers a wide variety of money-saving topics on WalletPop and is our expert on travel. "Don't keep subscribing to HBO if you only watch a movie a month. If you rarely haul yourself to your gym, figure out how to exercise at home. Don't splurge on a hotel room with a fantastic view if you're going to be out exploring all day. And don't buy food in bulk if you don't eat it up and it can spoil. If you spend only for the stuff you actually use, you'll be astounded how much fat can be trimmed from your budget."

Bring your lunch to work.I haven't asked him, but my guess is that Lou Carlozo, managing editor at WalletPop.com, put this idea in practice a lot when he was a staff writer at The Chicago Tribune. Anyway, he suggests this for the time-crunched and pasta-loving worker bee: "Make one lasagna at home and have it for your sack lunch every day in the week."

Make those subscription services break into a cold sweat. "Anytime I subscribe to a service like cable TV, phone, newspaper subscription, I call them either after the next bill or every few months, asking if they have any deals I could take advantage of," says Aaron Crowe, WalletPop's Money College editor. "If not, I tell them to cancel my service, which usually prompts their computer to ask me to hold while they get a supervisor to talk to. I'm then offered half price or some such deal so that they'll keep me as a customer."

Look at your shelter costs."Rents can be negotiated, especially if the unit is empty," points out Ann Brenoff, WalletPop's real estate guru. "Offer to move in a week sooner if the landlord knocks something off the monthly rent for a year. Vacant units 'cost' the landlord money, and if you're a tenant with a job and a good credit record, you have some wiggle room. And never use an apartment rental service that charges a fee. All they do is comb the various listings, something you can easily do for yourself."

And if you're buying a house, consider this advice from our other real estate guru, Diane Wedner: "With the housing market in a persistent slump, some agents are willing to give sellers -- reluctant to list in a down market -- a discount on the typical 6% commission sellers pay agents on a home sale. In bigger metro areas, that ain't chump change. For example, 6% of a $300,000 sale is $18,000. Getting the agent's commission down to 3% would be $9,000."

Save money by buying expensive paint. It may sound goofy, but as Tom Kraeutler, WalletPopper and host of the syndicated radio program, The Money Pit Home Improvement Show, insists, "Always buy good quality paint, even if it costs a little more. Cheap paint doesn't last, and since most of the work is labor, your cost-per-year is a lot less if you buy better paint."

Save money by spending a little more. Inspired by and piggybacking off Tom's idea, I'll throw in one of my own. I've tried to save a lot of money over the years, and while that mindset is great, it can backfire if you aim too cheap on important purchases. Like the car insurance I bought for cheap back in my '20s, car insurance that, when I wound up in a wreck, turned out to be worthless (the office workers or whomever I sent money to, had all left the country, according to someone I spoke with at the attorney general's office). There are plenty of instances where saving money -- like on baby cribs, smoke alarms or sump pumps -- can be very costly if something goes wrong. And there have been numerous occasions where I spent cheaply and then, for the life of the product, found myself feeling like I had wasted my money, since I hadn't been happy with the purchase. Which goes along nice with our next point ...

Think before you buy. This advice comes from Jean Chatsky, WalletPop blogger and author of a gazillion personal finance books like You Don't Have to Be Rich and Not Your Parents' Money Book. She wisely advises, "Pause before you buy anything and ask: Do I need it? Where will I put it? What happens if I do buy it? What happens if I don't?"

Be strategic in your shopping.Linda Doell, a regular contributor to WalletPop, recommends taking the credit and debit cards out of your wallet and leaving them at home. "If you don't have those with you, you'll avoid the temptation to use them," Doell suggests. "Figure out what you need in cash each week -- for coffee, lunch, tolls, bus fare -- and keep only that amount in your wallet. Once it's gone, you're done spending for the week."

And Jennie Phipps, a regular at WalletPop and a columnist on retirement issues for Bankrate.com, advises, "Go shopping with a calculator in hand, and figure out the price per unit. Bigger isn't always cheaper." She also advises: "Think used. Gently used cars, clothing and furniture can all be great bargains."

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop, usually covering banking and credit card issues. He's also the co-author of the book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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