Published: Monday, 13 Dec 2010 | 8:06 PM ET
YONKERS, N.Y., Dec. 13, 2010 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — While Americans are loosening their financial belts to accommodate holiday spending, come January the bills will roll in. But where will they find the extra dollars to pay down their debt? A new report in the January 2011 issue of ShopSmart, from the publisher of Consumer Reports, features the top ways consumers can save in the New Year.
"Every year, ShopSmart publishes hundreds of tips to help consumers slash their bills," said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart. "So to help them kick off 2011 right, we pulled together our best cost-cutting measures that could save hundreds of dollars." Get insider deals. Follow your favorite brands and retailers to get the scoop on special sales, freebies, and other promotions by signing up for alerts at their websites and "liking" them on Facebook. Also, follow Twitter’s @EarlyBird Service for limited-time offers.
Find the lowest prices using the best search engines. Whether you’re buying costly electronics or small stuff like books, they’re a great shortcut to big savings. ShopSmart put the top 25 to the test, with PriceGrabber.com, Google.com/products, and Nextag.com as three favorites. Also try newcomer Bing.com’s shopping tab. When shopping around, use at least two of those sites to check prices.
Grab more freebies. Go to the Samples Center (click on "Free Samples") at Beauty.com to add three products to any order, gratis. And it’s easier than ever to time your beauty purchases to give-away days by going to sites like GWP Addict (www.gwpaddict.wordpress.com) and MyGiftwithPurchase.com. Search by brand name or retailer, or scan the site to see what store is giving things away. More samples can be found at StartSampling and at manufacturers’ and retailers’ websites, including Procter & Gamble’s PGEverydaySolutions.com and Walmart.com.
Also check out Freebies4Mom.com, FreeStuffTimes.com, FreeMania.net, and ThunderFap.com.
Get coupons on your phone. First came phone coupon apps such as Coupon Sherpa and MobiQPon, but stores are now getting into the coupon game. Major retailers, including Target (sign up at http://www.target.com/mobile), are now offering mobile coupons. Some supermarkets have coupon apps, too. Go to http://www.vzspendsmart.com and search for local stores. Even the Valpak, that mailbox staple, offers an app. Go to your phone’s app center and search "Valpak." Use your phone to make sure that sale is a good deal. You can do this with shopping apps like PriceGrabber or check out bar-code scanner apps like RedLaser and ShopSavvy. Use them to scan bar codes on electronics, groceries, and other products so you can compare prices at the store with those online. (Consumer Reports offers a bar-code scanner with its app, which includes product ratings.) Change your font and cut printing costs. Our computer engineers printed 27 percent more pages per ink cartridge using 12-point Times New Roman instead of Arial. Calibri is another ink saver. By comparison, Tahoma, Franklin Gothic Medium, and Verdana are ink hogs.
Take advantage of stores’ price guarantees. Many major retailers have policies that promise to match or beat competitors’ prices, even after you’ve purchased an item. (Many retailers will also give you a refund if the price of the item drops at their own stores.) Some stores, including Sears, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, will even beat a competitor’s price by 10 percent. Just be sure to act fast; many policies limit refunds to seven to 14 days. And read store policies online for loopholes. Another way to get the lower price is simply to return the item and rebuy it, if you haven’t already used it.
Pinpoint local sales. Local search engines can help you find the best prices, coupons and sales. Check out CouponMap.com (for restaurant savings), TheFind.com (for apparel and home decor), Google.com/products (for checking inventory on the go), Local.Yahoo.com (for discovering local businesses), Krillion (for electronics and appliances), and Milo.com (for national-chain shopping).
Get fit free — or for a whole lot less. Don’t spend big bucks on a gym or personal trainer. Instead, use these fitness apps: Gym Buddy, $2.99; Hundred PushUps, $2.99; iHeartRate, $2.99; iMapMyRide/ iMapMyRun, free; FitnessBuilder, $9.99; iTreadmill, 99 cents; and Lose It, free.
Switch to store-brand everything! Or at least give these products a try. Every year ShopSmart tests dozens of store-brand items and we find that many of them are just as good or better than brand-name products. In 2010, we tested wines, foods, cleaners, and vitamins and found that store brands can save you up to 60 percent. Just remember to compare ingredients labels on foods and vitamins to make sure you’re getting what you expect. If you can’t part with your big-brand items, make a trip to Walmart or Target. This year we compared prices of over-the-counter drugs and hair products and found that they were up to 50 percent cheaper at those big-box retailers than at local supermarkets around the U.S.
Slash your cell-phone bill. Not a heavy cell-phone user? Then consider a prepaid cell-service plan as they cost $25 a month or less. In a recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, cell-phone users with prepaid plans gave high scores to service from TracFone and T-Mobile. If you’d prefer a monthly plan, find the best deal for you at http://www.billshrink.com or http://www.myvalidas.com.
Shop the supermarket sale cycle. Food staples like cereal and chicken hit their lowest prices once every 12 weeks. Make a note when you see sales and you’ll know when to load up on those items.
Go to Costco for glasses and contacts. In a recent survey of more than 30,000 Consumer Reports readers, Costco got high marks for quality, follow-up service, and pricing when it came to eyeglass purchases. It had the fewest problems that required a return trip for fixes. Costco also has great deals on contact lenses.
Save on software. If you’re about to buy a computer or you’ve just purchased one without an office software suite, save yourself $150 and grab OpenOffice.org 3.
The free program includes word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database, and graphics software, and is compatible with Microsoft Office.
Pay with a credit card that pays you back. American Express Blue Cash, Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards, and Chase Freedom are some of the best cash-back cards, based on a recent analysis by our finance experts for local stores.
About ShopSmart magazine: Launched in Fall 2006 by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, ShopSmart draws upon Consumer Reports’ celebrated tradition of accepting no advertisements and providing unbiased product reviews. The magazine features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and "best of the best" lists. ShopSmart is ideal for busy shoppers who place a premium on time. ShopSmart has a newsstand price of $4.99 and is available nationwide at major retailers including Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Borders, Kroger, Safeway and Publix. ShopSmart is available by subscription at http://www.ShopSmartmag.org.