Save Money on Gas, Food and Travel: 13 Smart Tricks

Last Updated Jan 7, 2011 5:10 PM EST

With 2011 promising increased costs for everything from gas to food to travel, here are 13 ways to trim some of these everyday expenses.

Gas

Analysts at JPMorgan Chase have forecast that oil prices will surge to more than $120 a barrel before the end of 2012, mainly due to demand from emerging markets. That may lead to higher prices at the pump for the next year or two. In fact the former president of Shell Oil said gas prices could reach $5 per gallon by the end of 2012. Ways to save:


  • Fill 'er Up at Major Warehouse Clubs. BJ's, Costco and Sam's Club have gas stations at select locations, with discounted prices for club members. The prices are typically five to 10 cents less per gallon than nearby service stations. The deal is offered only to club members, who pay at least $40 to $50 for their basic annual membership.
  • Pay with a Gas Rewards Card. You can use these cards like any other credit card, but they reward you specifically for fuel purchases by offering cash back each time you fill up the tank. Several credit card companies offer these cards: The Capital One No Hassle Cash Rewards gives 3% cash back for fuel purchases and the Discover Open Road gives 2% cash back. There are also brand-specific credit cards â€" like the Shell MasterCard and Hess Visa Card, which offer 5% cash back when you fill up at those specific gas stations. You can comparison shop for the best gas rewards cards at Credit.com.
  • Download Gas-Saving Apps. There are new smart phone applications that help you track your fuel consumption. There is a free application made by the creators of GasBuddy.com. It's called "Find Cheap Gas," and helps you with exactly that. Gas Hog costs 99 cents, calculates your car's fuel economy and provides tips on ways to make your car more fuel-efficient.
  • Get Grocery Rewards. Many grocery stores have rewards programs tied to fuel discounts. Bi-Lo, for example, a grocery chain in the South, gives member card holders 5 cents off every gallon of gas, 10 cents for every $100 they spend, and so on. Kroger and Lowe's Foods offer gas rewards programs that are tied to customer discount cards, too, and reward customers in a similar fashion â€" the more you spend, the more you save on gas.

Groceries

A drop in supply and rising input costs like fuel and animal feed will lead to higher food prices in 2011. The USDA estimates a 2 to 3 percent increase this year. Dairy products will experience the biggest increase, around 5.5% - followed by a roughly 3% rise in fruits and vegetables To trim your grocery bill:


  • Buy Private Labels. Many grocery stores carry their own private label brands, which cost up to 50% less than name-brand items.
  • Join a Food Coop. Many neighborhoods have food coops that, in return for a membership fee or volunteer shift, give members access to discounted fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. Find a coop near you via the Coop Directory.
  • Stack Coupons. Coupon aficionados can tell you all about this trick. Wait until items go on sale, then refer to your collection of coupons to stack a store coupon on top of a manufacturer's coupon to earn steep discounts. You might even get overage, which is when the store owes YOU money after your coupon discounts exceed the actual price.
  • Get the App. Just like with gas, there are various apps that can help you save money at the supermarket. Grocery IQ was called "Best in Class" by USA Today; it can locate free coupons while you're roaming the aisles, and then help you apply them to your grocery bill at checkout.
  • Take Inventory Before Shopping. We waste 40% of our food every year, according to the USDA. That's partly because we forget to consume what we already have, then let it expire and chuck it out. Or we simply buy more than we need. Avoid both of those scenarios by checking your cabinets for items you already have and making a list of items you need - then make a conscious effort to plan meals around the existing ingredients you have so that items don't go to waste.

Airfare


Airline tickets are also rising, partly due to the increase in oil prices and partly because more people are traveling as the economy improves. American Express Business Travel says domestic coach fares will rise by up to 6% this year. A few ways to save:


  • Call Directly. Call up the airline and ask for specials. Sometimes being friendly with an agent earns you extra savings.
  • Remember Travel Agents. They're still around and can come in quite handy when planning a trip. These experienced travel experts know a thing or two about where the discounts are.
  • Fly When It's Cheapest. Many airline websites show fare options for alternate dates. For example: Many families travel on President's Day weekend, so prices tend to jump between Feb. 12 - 17; you'll likely do better better by traveling in early or late Feburary. And for well-traveled itineraries, Bing Travel (the site formerly known as Farecast) also predicts whether airfares are likely to rise or fall.
  • Break Up the Flight. Direct flights are often the priciest. If you have some flexibility in your trip, having a stop between your departure and destination city could reduce your ticket price significantly.
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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter at @farnoosh.

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