From cars to vacations to health care, incorporate these high-impact saving strategies into your life. TODAY financial editor Jean Chatzky and CNBC personal finance correspondent Sharon Epperson explain how to start saving.
Cars: Buy online Did you know that many car dealerships now have two sales teams? The one you’ve traditionally dealt with helps showroom customers. The other deals with people who initiate contact and negotiate over the Internet.
Edmunds.com senior consumer advice editor Philip Reed says the traditional sales force is paid mostly by commission, which gives salespeople an incentive to get you to pay as much as possible. But Internet salespeople usually receive a salary, plus a bonus for the number of cars they sell, which motivates them to move vehicles quickly.
Result? You can save $1,500 to $2,000 on the price of a $25,000 car just by going online. Internet salespeople will send you quotes, help you find financing and even set up a test drive, Reed says. And because you don’t sit through the two-hour showroom negotiation, you’re not pressured into buying things like paint protection or a high-end alarm system.
Checking: You still can find it for free You might have read that some banks are looking to tack on fees to make up for lost revenue after a rule goes into effect July 1 requiring banks to have customers opt in to get overdraft protection. That won’t take away free checking altogether, but you may have to look harder to make sure you don’t pay extra fees — even if that’s just a few dollars a month. Go to checkingfinder.com to find free checking accounts at community banks or credit unions that may actually pay you about 3 percent to 4 percent interest, as long as you make at least 10 to 15 debit card purchases and one automatic transfer or direct deposit per month.
Clothing: Rent dresses (yes, really!) If prom is in your daughter’s future — or if you have invitations for weddings or other spring social events piling up — you may be calculating the hundreds of dollars you’re likely to spend on dresses.
Leave the money in your bank account and rent instead. Rent the Runway, a Web site started by two Harvard Business School grads, rents designer dresses from more than 40 big names (Catherine Malandrino, Doo.Ri, Lela Rose) for about 10 percent of the retail price. A $1,250 Herve Leger rents for $150; a $440 Badgley Mischka for $50. The site solves the size problem by shipping two sizes simultaneously, and it deals with wear and tear by tacking a $5 insurance charge onto each dress. After eight to 15 wears (with cleanings after each), the dresses are retired. The site just added 5,000 items to satisfy demand and will offer accessories and bridal wear, including bridesmaid dresses, in the months to come.
Insurance: Pay premiums annually Paying insurance premiums monthly — for home, car and life policies, for example — may ease cash flow problems, but, ultimately, that could cost you more than you think. Switching from monthly to annual payments can save you money because some insurers charge fees for monthly billing.
Paying monthly, quarterly or semiannually results in what are known as “fractional premiums.” The higher cost of such premiums amounts to an annual interest charge of 9.5 percent to 29.7 percent, according to insurance broker AccuQuote. Insurers usually don’t disclose the effective annual rate of these fractional payments, but you can figure it out yourself with a calculator like the one at accuquote.com/modal.cfm.
Health care: Ask for a break Even if you have good health insurance — and especially if you don’t — you’re well aware that your plan won’t pay for some services (or portions of services). You can save substantially by asking your doctor for a discount on those items, says consumer specialist Carrie McLean of eHealthInsurance. Insurance companies pay doctors and hospitals an average of only 40 percent of the full bill you’d receive if you were paying on your own, so the fact that they are willing to accept so much less than full price from insurers (including Medicare) gives you a lot of wiggle room in negotiations. “By offering to pay upfront or creating a payment plan with your doctor or hospital, you may be able to get discounts of up to 30 percent of the full charge,” McLean says. If you’re uncomfortable having a conversation about money directly with your doctor, then discuss billing with the office manager instead.
Vacation: Swap homes A faraway vacation may seem like an extravagance in these tough economic times, but what if you didn’t have to pay for a hotel? What if you swapped houses with a colleague, college buddy, friend or family member?
That could cut the cost of the trip significantly, giving you access to a kitchen, so you can eat in and save more, and possibly a car, too. If you don’t have a friend or relative who’ll swap, Web sites such as Home Exchange.com, Roofswap.com and Intervac.com can help you find free lodging. You can get to know the homeowners and look at their homes before agreeing to swap. HomeExchange.com has approximately 30,000 listings in about 130 countries. You’ll incur some costs: To use Home Exchange.com, you must buy a three-month membership for $47.85 or a full-year membership for $119.40.
Pets: Get hands-on Karen Halligan, author of “What Every Pet Owner Should Know,” suggests checking your pet for lumps weekly. Why? “You pick up on growths, tumors, lumps and bumps, see if their teeth are looking bad or their coat is abnormal,” she says. Catching problems early can mean the difference between an inexpensive office procedure and chemotherapy that costs thousands — and it can save your pet’s life. How do you do it? In a well-lit area, start at your pet’s head and work down to his tail. Be hands-on so you’ll get used to what your pet looks, feels and smells like when he’s healthy. Then, when something changes, you’ll know you should call the vet.
Colleges: Save while spending Need to jump-start your child’s college fund? At upromise.com, you can sign up for rebates on everyday purchases. The money will accumulate in an account until you invest it in a 529 college savings plan or a high-yield savings account, use it to pay down a student loan or request a check to apply it toward college expenses.
“8 Super-Smart Ways to Save” by Jean Chatzky and Sharon Epperson is reprinted with the permission of USA WEEKEND magazine.