Our guide to discounts, sales and deals on everything from bank fees to treadmills.
Buy The Last Best Camera As Soon As The New Version Comes Out
"If there's one industry where you won't have to worry about your product not working with accessories due to it being the last model, it's cameras," says Darren Murph, managing editor for the technology blog <a href="http://www.engadget.com/" target="_hplink">Engadget</a>. To score the best deal, wait until Canon or Nikon releases their new model, when the old cameras go on closeout sale. But act fast, says Murph. Manufacturers schedule their product launches about a year or two in advance, so by the time we hear about the new camera, they only have about a month's worth of the old inventory left to sell. Put the money you saved on a camera toward a new smartphone because Murph says that Android devices are often outdated within 18 months. "After that time, you can't count on Google to support your phone with future updates."
Get Your Hemlines Shortened After The Holidays
January and February tend to be the slowest months for tailors, says David Eisele, the president of the Custom Tailors and Designers Association. If you save your alterations for after the holidays, you'll not only avoid long lines but also have more luck negotiating a discount (sometimes as much as 25 percent off).
Never Pay Another ATM Fee
If you use another bank's ATM, you know that you'll probably have to pay a surcharge (the average is $2.33) to that bank and possibly another few dollars charged by your own bank for using an unaffiliated machine. All of these fees can add an extra $5 to $10 to your withdrawal. But with online banks like ING Direct, Ally, Charles Schwab and USAA, you won't have to walk or drive miles out of your way to find a free ATM; some of these institutions allow for use of large networks of fee-free cash machines, and others (like Charles Schwab) reimburse you for all ATM fees--and pay a slightly higher interest than brick-and-mortar banks, without additional service charges.
Tone With Friends
Group training sessions and semiprivate training are growing fitness trends, reports the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. The average cost of a one-on-one session ranges from around $50 to $100 (depending on who the trainer is and where you live), but a group workout can cost 30 percent less per person. Check with your gym to see if this type of package is already available, and if not, negotiate privately with your trainer. The added benefit of splitting sessions with friends is that you'll all have more motivation to work out.
Check Gas Prices Before Renting A Car
Everyone knows that the prepaid gasoline option offered by the car rental agencies is way more expensive than gas you can get on your own... right? Not always, says Robert Sinclair Jr., who handles media relations for AAA New York. Since the economy has slumped, rental car agencies have been more willing to make deals, and their rates tend to be only a few cents more than you'll find at the local gas stations. Sinclair says that a good way to check gas prices near the rental agency is with <a href="http://fuelgaugereport.aaa.com/?redirectto=http://fuelgaugereport.opisnet.com/index.asp" target="_hplink">AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report</a> or the Fuel Price Finder (only available in select areas). Make a note of that price (which is updated every morning at 3 a.m.) before leaving home, and if the rate the rental agency offers is around the same, take the deal -- without guilt.
Stop In At Macy's While Visiting Your Out-Of-Town Relatives
Macy's offers a "<a href="http://www.macys.com/store/about/visitor/index.jsp" target="_hplink">visitor savings pass</a>" with a 10 percent discount on all merchandise to shoppers who can show proof that they live out of state (a driver's license will suffice). This applies equally to travelers from Delhi or Moscow as well as to those from the next state over. Ask for the pass at the customer service center before you start shopping.
Use Gift Cards From Your Wedding To Furnish Your Baby's Nursery
Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and West Elm are all part of the same corporate family. This means that a <a href="http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/gift-card/?pkey=e%7CGift%2BCard%2BTerms%2Band%2BConditions%7C2%7Cbest%7C0%7C1%7C24%7C%7C1&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-NoMerchRules-_-" target="_hplink">Williams-Sonoma gift card</a> you received for your wedding can be put toward a crib at Pottery Barn Kids, or if you're really forgetful, <a href="http://www.pbteen.com/products/hampton-classic-desk-hutch/?pkey=cview-all-desks-study" target="_hplink">a desk from PBteen</a> (the cards don't have an expiration date).
Download Your Loyalty Cards To Your Phone
Make sure that you never miss drugstore, grocery store or gas station discounts that are only offered to loyalty cardholders by downloading all of your cards to your smartphone. You can do this with the <a href="http://keyringapp.com/" target="_hplink">free Key Ring app</a>, which saves the numbers electronically and lets you pull them up as a scannable bar code at the register.
Take A Free Tutorial Or Workshop Online
You can find online tutorials for everything from <a href="http://www.oprah.com/style/Day-to-Evening-Makeup" target="_hplink">makeup application</a> to <a href="http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Yoga-Expert-Seane-Corns-Video-Archive" target="_hplink">yoga</a>, often created by professionals. While searching for a lesson on flower arranging (something we've always wanted to try), we came across <a href="http://www.eddieross.com/eddie_ross/2009/01/beauty-in-numbers/comments/page/2/" target="_hplink">this informative tutorial from Eddie Ross</a>, interior design consultant and former style editor of Martha Stewart Living. Many local recreation centers offer these types of lessons for around $30 to $45 per class (including materials). In one instance, Ross says that he bought his flowers for around $30 at a corner deli (you can get yours at the supermarket).
Fill Up With A Reusable Cup
Don't leave home without your mug. Coffee shops like <a href="http://www.starbucks.com/responsibility" target="_hplink">Starbucks</a>, Seattle's Best Coffee and <a href="http://www.peets.com/who_we_are/community_recycling.asp?rdir=1&;" target="_hplink">Peet's</a> all offer 10 cents off the drink price to environmentally conscious customers who bring in a reusable cup.
Digitally "Clip" Coupons While You're Shopping
With the free mobile app <a href="http://www.couponsherpa.com/" target="_hplink">Coupon Sherpa</a> (iPhone and Android compatible), you can search for the name of national retailers or grocery stores to find coupons that can then be immediately scanned or input at the register. The GPS on your phone allows the app to find discounts specific to your location.
Use Online Deals Before You Lose Them
The average price of an online deal from Groupon or LivingSocial increased to $29.60 in August, but an estimated 20 to 30 percent of vouchers still go unused. To keep track of your deals, sign up for Couptivate, an online service which imports all of your purchases, organizes them and sends you reminder emails to use them before they expire. <a href="https://www.couptivate.com/" target="_hplink">Couptivate</a> CEO David Magier stresses the importance of tracking coupons for spa and luxury services, because the convenient appointment slots can be quickly taken by other deal purchasers, often leaving none left during the weeks before the expiration date.
Buy Indoor Exercise Machines When The Weather Lures People Outside
Look for sales on stationary bikes, treadmills and other indoor exercise equipment in March, when the weather starts to improve and people head outside to get fit, says Jeanette Pavini, <a href="http://www.coupons.com/" target="_hplink">Coupons.com</a> household savings expert. If you have a machine you never use, bring it to <a href="http://www.playitagainsports.com/" target="_hplink">Play It Again Sports</a>, a national seller of new and used sporting goods, and they will consign it for you. The store also accepts smaller items like softball bats, golf balls and ski boots, and for these they'll either give you money back or a discount on any brand new or used item in the store.
Ask HR To Help You Trim Your Phone Bill
The one-time price of a smartphone is insignificant compared to the cost of its data plan (which can range from around $60 to $120 a month). Before you start analyzing different phone models and carriers, call your employer's HR department. Many medium- to large-size companies have a deal with at least one U.S. carrier, says Darren Murph from <a href="http://www.engadget.com/" target="_hplink">Engadget</a>. "If you sign up with that carrier through your company, you may get a 10 to 20 percent discount on your phone bill."
Avoid Peak Hotel Rates
For hotels in big cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco that are business travel hubs, Fridays and Saturdays are considered off-peak, says Jill Rosenberg, manager of groups and executive travel services for AAA New York. On the other hand, weekends can be peak times for popular tourist destinations. If you're traveling to, say, Northern California, you'll get the best deals on accommodations by staying in a wine country B&B during the week and a San Francisco boutique hotel on the weekend. Many hotels have started offering last-minute or day-of discounts via social networking sites, so keep an eye on their updates. If you're already booked and you see a better rate, many will honor your discount at the front desk (and some booking agencies, like <a href="http://www.hotels.com/" target="_hplink">Hotels.com</a>, will do the same).
Fly During The Dead Zones
When looking for the cheapest time of year to fly, it's important to keep two things in mind: the start of the U.S. school year and the approach of colder weather. Those industry-designated "dead zones" are the most unpopular times to travel, says <a href="http://www.farecompare.com/travel-advice/cheap-airline-tickets-dead-zones/" target="_hplink">Rick Seaney, CEO and co-founder of FareCompare.com</a>. He advises booking your next vacation for the period during the last week in August through the first week in December (not including the week before Thanksgiving). You'll save even more money by searching for flights on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, which Seaney says are the least expensive days to fly.
Know The Laws Around Canceled Flights
Even if your flight was delayed for three hours, the U.S. government doesn't require airlines to pay a penalty fee or to compensate you for "damages" (e.g., a nonrefundable hotel charge). However, you may be entitled to a refund on your ticket. There's also been a long-standing rule that airlines are required to provide "denied boarding compensation" to passengers bumped from an oversold flight, and the Department of Transportation says that the Obama administration recently increased the amount of money we might be eligible for (up to $650 for short delays; up to $1,300 for longer ones). More good news: In the case of a canceled flight out of an E.U. airport, you'll be able to take advantage of passenger-friendly European laws that may entitle you to a hotel stay, meals and a compensation fee -- even if you're an American citizen flying a non-E.U. airline. Check with the airline representative as soon as you hear that your flight won't be taking off.
Consolidate -- But Not Too Much
If you don't have an airline-branded credit card that covers the cost of a checked bag, the best strategy is to pack light and pack together. When traveling as a family, Rick Seaney from FareCompare.com suggests combining most of everyone's gear into one large bag (the rest into carry-ons) -- as long as the suitcase weighs less than the 50-pound limit. Unfortunately, this strategy backfires if, say, you're going skiing and everyone's bringing wool sweaters. Baggage policies vary, but the overweight penalty fees tend to be more expensive than the cost to check another bag. For example, American Airlines charges $25 each way for the first checked bag and $35 each way for the second, adding up to $120 for a round-trip. However, a single overstuffed bag that exceeds 50 pounds will cost an additional $100 each way for a round-trip total of $250. And if the bag tips the scales at over 70 pounds, the charges will climb to $200 <em>each way</em>.
Find The Best Gas Prices In Your Area
<a href="http://gasbuddy.com/" target="_hplink">GasBuddy</a> is a free app that allows you to check gas prices at local stations. You input your zip code and scroll through prices that have been input by other drivers (you'll know how recent they are by the time stamp of the posts). It's important to note that like other crowdsourcing applications, GasBuddy also depends on the kindness -- and honesty -- of strangers. (Although there are more reliable ways, including <a href="http://www.fuelpricefinder.com/" target="_hplink">FuelPriceFinder.com</a>, to check fuel prices before you hop in the car, GasBuddy is currently the best way to look them up when you're already on the road.)
Take Advantage Of Government Mortgage Refinancing Programs
Homeowners who owe more than their homes are currently worth now have more time to take advantage of the <a href="http://www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/22721/HARP release 102411 Final.pdf" target="_hplink">Home Affordable Refinancing Program</a>. This program started in 2009 but was just recently extended to 2013 and also now applies to more people whose loans are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Here's how this will save you money: If you borrowed $200,000 at 6 percent three years ago, refinancing now at 4 percent would cut the monthly payments by $282, says Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at <a href="http://www.fhfa.gov/webfiles/22721/HARP release 102411 Final.pdf" target="_hplink">Bankrate.com</a>, a personal finance website. Find out more about HARP at <a href="http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/pages/default.aspx" target="_hplink">MakingHomeAffordable.gov</a>.
Order Granddad's Liquor
While mixologist Jim Meehan believes in adding seasonal juices and locally grown garnishes to the drinks he creates at his <a href="http://pdtnyc.com/" target="_hplink">Manhattan speakeasy, PDT</a>, he says the smaller-is-better mentality doesn't apply as well to spirits like bourbon, whiskey or scotch, which can take 6 to 16 years to fully mature. "A bottle of Famous Grouse is an affordably priced blended whiskey that often has far more complexity than the local organic whiskey that's been aged two years," says Meehan. He suggests sticking with old brown classics like Jim Beam and Dewar's. In his <a href="http://www.amazon.com/PDT-Cocktail-Book-Bartenders-Celebrated/dp/1402779232" target="_hplink">new bartender's guide</a>, Meehan includes a recipe for a stately old-fashioned whiskey cocktail made from 2 ounces of Wild Turkey, one Demerara sugar cube and two dashes Angostura Bitters (muddle, stir, strain over one cube into a chilled rocks glass and garnish with a twist).
Stock Up On Meat At Year's End
Meat, poultry, fish and eggs account for about 22 percent of the average grocery bill, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You could slash that by going mostly vegetarian, <a href="http://www.oprah.com/food/Dinner-with-Dr-Oz-and-Family-Vegetarian-Cooking" target="_hplink">like Dr. Oz and his family</a>, or you could buy meat only when it's on sale. Data compiled by the USDA shows that the price of meat fluctuates from month to month, but it's almost always a few cents per pound cheaper in December than January. Look for deals during this time on ground beef, turkey, sirloin, ribs, ham and pork chops.