Want to glide like Michael Phelps, keeping the water--and your lifestyle--smooth and calm? You can, but it requires a few key strategies, listed below. While the outcome won't be a gold medal, it will be silver (and green) in your pocket!
Negotiation: A Win-Win
Call her the Negotiating Queen: Victoria DiPietro-Snyder knows how to get what she wants. "We needed to do work on our patio," the 38-year-old Blackwood, New Jersey, business owner says, "and my neighbor had a contractor who got top dollar for his great work." Though he was her number-one choice, she also knew she probably couldn't afford him. That's when she started doing research, getting bids from five or six other contractors. Then she called her first choice and got his bid, which was $7,000 more than any other. "I simply told him he was the one I wanted and I asked if he'd consider doing the job for $7,000 less, since that's how much the other bids were," she says. "Perhaps in a better economy, he'd have been insulted, but instead he was happy to have the work."
1. Getting Started: Think haggling over a price is tacky and manipulative? Think again, says Jeff Yeager, author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. "Your first goal is to develop a mindset that accepts that negotiation is not only a legitimate strategy but also a smart way to save money." Adopt that attitude and then do what Yeager suggests:
Think Friday. "The best deals are usually made at the end of the week, especially before a holiday weekend," says Yeager. Why? Salespeople often want to make their quotas.
Start at an electronics store. If you're new to negotiating, test your skills next time you need a camera or a computer. There's so much competition in this field, all you need to do is say, "I'm going to check your competitor." You could get 10 percent off or more. Then try offering to pay in cash instead of credit; you might get a free service contract thrown in.
Shop locally. For things like a roof or car repairs, use an independent business, which has more negotiating room than a national chain.
Ask if a promotion applies. Many salespeople cannot tell customers about special discounts unless the customer asks.
2. Golden Rule: Be polite. "The key to successful negotiation is to build a working relationship," says Denis Cauvier, PhD, organizational psychologist and coauthor of The ABCs of Making Money. "Let the salesperson be part of a deal that will make him or her a winner too."
3. Super Saver: Be patient and sign in when you shop, says Kim Ritter, a marketing manager in Fairfield, Iowa. "When I shop online, I put items in my cart and then wait up to a day before I check out." More often than not, during that waiting period, the vendor will send an e-mail code for a discount that's anywhere from 25 to 40 percent off. "It's an incentive for me to complete the order," she says. "And I'm offered discounts more than 50 percent of the time."
Freebies: Life's Little Extras
Hannah Eddy, a 21-year-old college student in Denver, has one daily habit: checking MileHighontheCheap.com to see if there are any great freebies that can enhance her social life. Her habit recently paid off when the website held a random drawing for free tickets to a Cirque du Soleil show.
"I couldn't believe it when I got an e-mail telling me I'd won," Hannah says. "A friend and I had a great evening of fun that I never could've afforded otherwise."
1. Getting Started: We're not talking life's necessities here, but rather the extras that make it nice when times are tough. Go online and check out your favorite websites or sites like HeyItsFree.net, Offers.com/Free and CitiesontheCheap.com. You'll be privy to the world of free movies, theater, sports events, car washes and dining.
2. Golden Rule: Stay focused on what you and your family want! It's easy to get caught up in signing up for everything that's free--a lot of stuff you probably don't need, and you'll be wasting valuable time! And, adds Laura Daily, co-owner of MileHighontheCheap.com, set up a special e-mail account only for freebies. That way your real inbox won't get inundated and you can keep track of your requests.
3. Super Saver: Freebies abound for birthdays, so sign up your whole family at FreeBirthdayTreats.com, and enjoy free meals, ice cream, car washes and more.
Bartering: Keep Your Cash, Share Your Talents
For the past 20 years, massage therapist Ellen Mills has been plagued with constant dental problems. "I never had the money to get good dental work," the 58- year-old Floridian says. This year, when two teeth became infected, she knew she had to do something.
When a colleague recommended ITEX ( Itex.com), a bartering franchise in Florida that had dentists on its list, Mills called and joined, offering her massage and aesthetics services for barter dollars. ITEX offered her $2,500 in bartering credit so she could start the dental work immediately. Today her teeth are fixed. "I'm a totally different person," she says; "I feel great and I'm so much more self-confident."
1. Getting Started: When cash is really tight, think bartering. "Membership in our exchange has gone up 25 percent each year for the past two years," says Catherine Cohen, owner of Premier Barter in Phoenix. "Women, in particular, have been taking their talents to barter exchanges when money isn't rolling in."
First identify what you need that you can't or don't want to pay cash for. Then ask yourself what you can offer. The answer to the first will determine whether you join a barter exchange or go it alone, like working out a deal with your local mechanic, exchanging an oil change for something you can do, like baking a birthday cake. Exchanges to check out: SwapTreasures.com, FavorPals.com, SwapTree.com (for trading books, movies, music and video games), and PremierBarter.com (to set up an exchange in your area).
2. Golden Rule: Know your worth. Don't initiate a trade until you know what your services are worth in a cash market.
3. Super Saver: Wendy Thomas, a mother of six in Merrimack, New Hampshire, says you can barter for just about anything. She holds workshops on thrifty living in exchange for store gift certificates, reviews books for a website in order to receive more free books than she could possibly read (it's her passion), and gets free food samples for her blog ( SimpleThrift.WordPress.com) so that her family recently had s'mores made with gourmet marshmallows--a real treat for a family that "stretches hamburger until it screams."
Rewards Programs: Spend and Save
Visa, American Express, MasterCard, Discover--they all sought Agnes Huff as a business customer when she opened her small PR firm in 1999. But Huff ultimately chose AmEx for these reasons: It's accepted almost everywhere, and their membership rewards were good not only on multiple airlines but for car rentals, cruises, restaurant meals and purchases. Best of all, she'd also get a $100 credit every year for a travel-related purchase--just for being a cardholder--that could pay her $75 annual fee (with $25 to spare).
For 10 years she's saved her rewards. This past Thanksgiving, she took her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandkids on a seven-day cruise to Mexico without spending a penny. Value: $5,000. "Even better," she adds, "when I booked the cruise on my credit card, it was then credited for point redemption, so I ended up getting 5,000 new points."
1. Getting Started: Retailers, pharmacies, grocery stores and other businesses all offer frequent customer rewards programs. All you have to do is sign up--after you read the fine print, of course. (Is there an annual fee? Do points lose value if they aren't used within a certain time frame?) And make sure the rewards program offers what you value most: discount coupons, cash rebates, or points that can be spent at the gas station, on air travel, at hotels or at a store you shop at often.
2. Golden Rule: If you're going to use a credit card program, use the credit card that gets you closest to your goal. Debbie Withers, a 48-year-old mother of three, charges everything on her AirTran Airways A+ Visa so the family gets free vacations. But recently when a department store offered 20 percent off for using their card, she opened an account, bought what she needed at the discounted price, then went to Customer Service and paid off the department store balance with her AirTran Visa. "I keep track of everything I charge," she says, "and pay off the AirTran card every month."
3. Super Saver: Be sure to monitor your account. "Go online and check regularly," says Withers. "Many places will not notify you that your points are close to expiring." And never pass up a supermarket customer rewards program. Josephine Geraci, 44, who lives in Lloyd Neck, New York, says in the past year she's saved almost $3,500 on groceries with her rewards cards from her local Pathmark and Waldbaum's.