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Savvy Savings Ideas
The Savvy Consumer

By Teresa McUsic

With gas prices sky high more people are looking for ways to cut back. Here are some of my favorite ways to get around the high cost of living:

1. Check for cheaper gas. For those of you willing to do a little online research, gas consumers rule at several websites by posting the daily gas prices to thousands of stations on the Internet.

My favorite site is www.gasbuddy.com, which recently broke its record of 4 million hits in a day as consumers scramble to find cheaper gas. This website has consumers send in text messages of prices at their local gas stations and includes a map for travelers. Other places to check for gas prices include www.GasPriceWatch.com and  www.FuelMeUp.com


2. Grocery game. A free online service that shows how to maximize newspaper and online coupons with sales prices and double coupons at your local Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger and Tom Thumb stores is at www.couponmom.com. The web service provides a listing updated weekly that shows grocery items on sale, sale prices, regular prices, when coupons for that item came out and what your total savings would be. It’s an easy way to check on sales and coordinate them with coupons available for a deeper cut into your grocery bill.

3. Turn loose change into gift cards. For all of you with loose change gathering dust around your house—an estimated $218 million in the D/FW area alone—you can now convert that jar of coins into gift cards or e-certificates to places like Pier One, Starbucks and Amazon--for free.

Coinstar, the nation’s leading coin-counting kiosk provider, has a Coin to Card program that for no charge will convert your change into gift cards and e-certificates. Among the retailers are Amazon.com, DisneyShopping.com, Pier One, Starbucks Cabela's, Eddie Bauer, iTunes and Timberland. (Note: not all cards are found at all Coinstar machines. Go to www.coinstar.com, type in your zip code to find the nearest location and what cards are available at that location.)

4. Online defensive driving. There’s an easy way to save up to 10 percent on your auto insurance that will only take you six hours of your spare time, cost as little as $25 and can be done in your own home: take an online defensive driving course.

The Texas Education Agency has approved 17 online defensive driving courses recognized by insurance companies in the state for a reduction in your insurance premium. For a list of the courses, company names and toll-free telephone numbers go to www.tea.state.tx.us/drive/online.html.

The online courses approved by the TEA also can be used as a way to dismiss speeding tickets. I recently took the course at ASenseOfHumorDriving.com, based in Hurst, and got a 100 percent on the final, my best score ever.

5. Cyber-coupons. Before you make that next purchase, whether online or in a store, take a minute to see if you can find a cyber-coupon. Start by putting the retailer’s name and “coupon code” into your favorite search engine like Google or Yahoo, then check the coupon collecting websites that pop up for coupon codes that give dollar amounts or percentages off your purchase. Another way to get coupon codes is to sign up with online retail merchants, who routinely send coupons to their regular customers.

6. Cheaper drugs and eye glasses  Zenni Optical offers eye glasses for as low as $8 at its website www.zennioptical.com. The company, based in San Rafael, Calif., offers a guarantee of refunding 50 percent of the cost (not including shipping and handling) if you aren’t satisfied. They offer many choices in adult and children frames and sunglasses with a shipping and handling charge of $4.95 no matter how many pairs you order. Online reviews of Zenni are a mixed bag—something to consider before you shell out your $12.95. Another place for cheaper glasses is the wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club.

For those with a low annual income (less than $19,000 a year for a single person;  $24,000 for a two; and $36,000 for a family of three) and no prescription drug insurance,  check out the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at (888) 477-2669 or www.pparxtx.org. Caregivers and doctors can also use the website to help their patients.

The program is sponsored by a coalition of 1,300 national and state partners including pharmaceutical companies, health care providers and community groups such as the United Way, the National Urban League and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

7. Free Credit Report. A good credit report can actually translate into saving money by getting cheaper loans for cars, home or other needs. If you haven’t checked your credit report this year, or ever, it’s easy to do either online, via telephone or by mail. The free reports don’t include credit scores, but you can buy them cheaply at the credit bureau websites.

For those who want to see your credit report instantly, go to www.annualcreditreport.com. Take care in typing in the exact website name. Or to get you’re your report in the mail, call toll-free (877) 322-8228.  Calling is simpler as you are only required to give out your name, address, phone number, Social Security number and birthday. You can also fill out a request form at the website and mail it in to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. Request forms can be downloaded at www.ftc.gov/credit or by calling the FTC helpline at (877) 382-4357 and asking for its “Your Access to Credit” brochure that includes the form.

8. Credit card shopping. The U.S. Citizens for Fair Credit Card Terms runs a website, www.cardratings.com, that compares more than 1,000 credit card offers, including those with rebates on gasoline of up to 5 percent.  It’s time to start shopping, if your cards have any of the following gotcha’s: Interest rates increase when your credit score goes down, balance transfer fees without a cap that are based on a percentage of transfer, interest accruing on cash advance from day of transaction without 25 day grace period, variable interest rates instead of fixed.

Happy saving.