With "the R-word" -- recession -- hovering, and inflation accelerating, every little bit helps when it comes to saving a few dollars.
And you can do just that with the aid of the Internet, AOL Consumer Adviser Regina Lewis explained on The Early Show Friday.
She alerted viewers to several Web sites that help them get more bang for the buck.
GIFT CARD SAVINGS
Grocery prices are up almost across the board. People really feel it: Food accounts for about 15 percent of the average household budget. A big driver of higher food prices is wheat, whose costs has risen 44 percent. Cereal is one of the most obvious examples, since wheat makes up about 24 percent of the total cost of getting it consumer-ready. One of the ways manufacturers are trying to hide the price increase is by making cereal boxes smaller.
The best way to get around rising grocery prices is to stick to a list, so you avoid impulse buys. Also: Play the coupon game!
Print out coupons at home from sites such as coupons.com. They'll tally your total savings in the upper-left corner. Lewis saved $8.75 on items she was actually going to buy on her next shopping trip. After all -- manufacturers want you to have these, but only if you use them on their products. Retail 101!
Also log on to the Web site of the specific grocery store where you do your shopping. You might get a better deal on items such as milk and eggs -- you'll learn what's on sale, and perhaps the store is offering to double or even triple coupons you present. Don't fall for two-for-one offers if the price of one is the same as half the cost and you don't really need two. And be realistic about buying in bulk: If you're buying stuff you're not going to use until 2009, especially if you're putting it on a credit card, you're amortizing Windex!
We're not all natural coupon clippers. But, there's a bunch of folks out there who do it as a sport! Actually, it's a business, and those folks resell them on thecouponclippers.com. They literally take newspaper circulars, chop 'em up, and resell the coupons. You might buy, say, five dollar-off coupons for 25 cents. So, for 25 cents, you'd save $4.75. Plus, you''d have to buy five Sunday papers to pull it off any other way. Coupons from thecouponclippers.com arrive in the mail.
mapquest.com: click on gas
You could find there's a difference of as much as 50 cents per gallon in prices at the pump along your typical daily route. So, if you're filling a 20-gallon tank, that's $10-12 a week, twice, so you're talking $20-$100 a month!
The best part about the site is that it's regularly updated; if a station doesn't send in its latest prices within 48 hours, the station no longer shows up in search results.
Imply type in an address or zip code, and MapQuest will give you regular updates of the lowest prices in a radius of up to 50 miles. The gas stations are plotted on a map. You can also find listings for alternative fuels like such as diesel, bio-diesel, and hydrogen.
Gas and diesel prices are updated as many as seven times a day, but not every station sends in updates every day.
The site also now has a Gas Price Calculator: Enter your trip distance, your car's miles-per-gallon and the cost per gallon of the gas station you picked from the site. Hit "calculate," and you'll quickly get the approximate cost of your trip.
"Buy off-season" is the old rule. A new twist is that you can get a major selection even before a season ends! For instance, PriceGrabber has 854 ski jackets listed. They're practically giving many of them away! Popular brands, such as Spyder and Bogner & Nils show up, heavily discounted. Forty-percent off a $365 men's jackets is a $140 savings!
The perfect "one-size-fits-all" gift, a gift card, isn't always just right, and you usually can't redeem a gift card for cash. That is -- unless you go online to swap it or cash it in. Lewis checked on swapagift and learned she could currently get $32.50 for a $50 GAP gift card. There is, she says, almost no other way to get cash for gift cards.
Each month (especially this month!), people fall out of love with an estimated 9 million cell phones; they're tossed out or thrown in the junk drawer. But CashMyPhone will pay you for your old mobile. Log on, locate your make and model, and get a quote in seconds. Prices usually range between $3 and $115. That's a big range, but it's worth a shot.
Expect to be "up-sold" on purchasing a better replacement phone through the site (a "trade"), but if you're after cold cash, they'll send you a check within 30 days.
All phones have to be in working order, so don't send in any that can't make a test call. Lewis has an old one that's water damaged. It wouldn't make the cut.
You don't need to send in accessories (chargers, etc.) Also, make sure you take off all your contacts and the call history before handing it over, just in case they're is not erased. The phones, ultimately, are refurbished and resold, mostly in developing countries. Win, win!
The site is also taking iPods.
You book, prices drop -- it's NOT game over! This could be one of the Web's best-kept secrets: On Yapta, you can plug in your itinerary (before or after you book) and it will alert you if/when prices drop.
All major airlines offer a refund or travel credit when fares drop below the price of a ticket purchased at an airline's Web site. So, if you lock in your price today, and then tomorrow or 10 days from now, the fare goes down, you'll instantly know about it.
When you get your itinerary, just e-mail it to them at email@example.com. It's literally, just a matter of forwarding what the airlines send you. It couldn't be easier.
Don't be surprised if there's a fee to change/re-book your itinerary or have a credit issued. Airlines usually charge $75 or $100 for that, which can in some cases negate your credit altogether. But there are carriers, including United and Jet Blue, that charge no change fees. Yapta lists all these particulars on its site by airline (http://www.yapta.com/faq/) and will automatically calculate the amount of refund or voucher you may be entitled to, deducting any change fee levied by the airline. In other words, if your $400 roundtrip ticket is suddenly $299, you might have $100 bucks headed your way.