Posted on 8/31/2012 17:41 EST
September brings Labor Day sales and the first hints of fall chill. And with seasonal changes come questions about what's worth buying this month, whether to opt for that extended warranty, keeping pets healthy and you solvent, cutting laundry expenses, and whether to join Sam's Club or Costco. We covered all these topics in new blog posts this week and posted a buying guide for MP3 players.
Hard to believe, but there are times when a cheap MP3 player
proves more useful than your smartphone. We rounded up a few models in the under-$60 range that provide quality sound, oodles of storage, and unbeatable portability. Anyone who works out, travels, or just needs to carve out some private space in a crowded room should check out our findings.
New Blog Posts.
What to Buy in September.
Labor Day weekend sales herald the end of summer and the beginning of seasonal sales and deals on big ticket items. Whether you're in the market for a new refrigerator or simply want to stock up on summer clothing at bargain prices, be sure to scan our tips for cool September deals
Ten Ways to Save Money at the Vet.
Having a pet can be almost as costly as having a child! Well not quite, but in actuality a sizable portion of your pet's budget goes to the veterinarian. You might be surprised at what you can do to curb vet costs
The Great Debate: Sam's Club or Costco?
We all know that Sam's Club and Costco
dominate the warehouse club shopping landscape. But which is the better of the two? Check out our comparison and decide for yourself.
Are Extended Product Warranties Worth It?
Labor Day shopping lists often include electronics and appliances and decisions about the optional extended warranty. Read our analysis
before signing on the dotted line.
How to Save Money on Laundry.
Laundry expenses can punch holes in your budget but you can plug them up. Check out these money-saving tips
for keeping your washables clean.
Posted on 8/30/2012 16:05 EST
Think big-ticket items in the month of September. As the first hints of fall blow in so do sales on major items. The Labor Day holiday may present the best discounts on select big-ticket items until Black Friday rolls around in November. Here are the September deals to look for:
Mattresses, Bed and Bath Supplies.
Labor Day sales kick off the action early in the month. This is one of those holidays when mattress retailers offer deep discounts on piled up inventory. You may also find some better- than-normal
deals on bed and bath supplies, such as linens and towels, during Labor Day sales and throughout the month.
Planes, Bikes, and Automobiles.
Looking for a cheap mode of transportation? September ranks high when it comes to snagging low prices on holiday airfare, a bicycle, or a car. Life Hacker
recommends buying plane tickets about eight weeks prior to your travel date. September puts you a bit more than eight weeks out from Thanksgiving, so start looking for cheap ticket prices now if you plan to travel for the holiday. Check out Cheapism's list of cheap airlines
to learn about prices, policies, and perks.
If you aren't looking for next year's debut models, cars are much more affordable this month than at any other time during the year. The key is to look at last year's models that are taking up space on the car lot. Dealerships want to move these cars out fast this month to make room for 2013 vehicles that will be arriving in short order. Cheap hybrid cars are no exception; for Cheapism's recommendations look here.
New model bikes are released every September so this is a good month to find deals on older model bikes. Like cars, retailers are looking to clear space for the new wheels and are offering unbeatable deals on current inventory.
September is also a good month to buy big appliances (think washer, dryer, refrigerator, stove). New 2013 models will be hitting showrooms soon so retailers are eager to sell off prior year models. While still new and perfectly functional, they aren't of the moment -- a small sacrifice for a better deal.
Plants. Real Simple
reports that summer plants, trees, and shrubs can be had for dirt-cheap
prices this month because garden centers are stocking up on fall and holiday plants. With cool temps blowing in, September is a great time to fill out your landscape.
Summer Gear and Lawn Mowers.
Where August saw sales on patio furniture, lawn mowers, BBQ grills, swimsuits, and other summer gear, this month will see those discounts deepen. But beware -- the selection will be thinning so shop early and snatch up a deal when you see it, otherwise someone else will.
This is your last chance to get low prices on summer produce such as peaches, plums, nectarines, peppers, mangoes, green beans, lettuce, and tomatoes. And if you want to brighten up your home, summer flowers will be at rock bottom prices this month, too. September will also see fall produce hit the grocery stores with low selling prices. Look for cheap apples, beets, grapes, pears, squash, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, figs, and dark leafy vegetables like spinach.
Posted on 8/30/2012 16:00 EST
Laundry day is one of those unavoidable facts of life that costs you time and money and drains resources. According to The Simple Dollar, the cost per load at a laundromat is $3.12 and the cost per load at home is 97 cents (not counting equipment costs). These tallies include travel (to a laundromat), energy (to run the washer and dryer), and water (in a home setting) but exclude the cost of laundry detergent and fabric softener.
These necessary ingredients up the ante. Tide Original costs $15.08 at Amazon for 100 fluid ounces, which theoretically lasts through 64 loads of laundry and adds 23 cents to the cost of each wash. For 240 Bounce Fabric Softener Sheets you'll pay $14.97 at Amazon, or 6 cents a load.
The grand total for each load of laundry: $3.41 at a laundromat and $1.26 at home. Multiply that by the number of loads you do each week, and, well, that's a lot of change.
Here are some tips for wringing out excess costs:
The Scoop on Laundry Detergent.
Laundry detergent and a washing machine go hand in hand. You can't use one without the other. But the way you use laundry detergent determines whether you'll save money or spend more than you need to.
For starters, study the scoop (or cap, if you're using liquid laundry detergent). You'll notice lines on the side of the scoop indicating the amount of laundry detergent needed for loads of different sizes. It's easy to use too much and a 40-load box (or bottle) can quickly shrink to a 15-load box (or bottle). Never mind that using too much laundry detergent stresses your clothes and the washing machine.
Experts, such as Tidy Mom, say you don't need the full amount of laundry detergent to get clothes clean. A fraction of the recommended amounts, and certainly no more than half a scoop for full loads, will get the job done.
You can save money on laundry detergent with store brands and bulk sizes. Check out a warehouse club like Costco or Sam's Club for lower prices.
Washing Machine Tips.
Aside from cutting back on detergent, there are other paths to saving money on laundry. First, don't do small loads. The washing machine uses almost the same amount of energy for small loads as for large loads, so don't waste energy (yours and nature's) and money on a less-than-full
load. Take care, though, not to overload the washing machine. Running a load that's too full will stress the machine and cause it to work less efficiently.
Another useful money-saving tip: use cold water for every load. Washing machines use much more electricity to heat up the water and washing with cold water cleans just as well.
Finally, MSN Money says you can cut costs by using the lowest wash cycle possible – even for full loads – without sacrificing performance. Choose the high spin setting to remove much of the moisture from your washables and cut down on drying time.
The cheapest way to dry a load is to hang everything on a line. This isn't practical for anyone with a small home or when the weather is cold and stormy. But if this is a feasible option, add half a cup of white vinegar to the washing machine so the items dry softer.
When you do opt for a dryer, consider using fabric softener, which reduces static, smells fresh, and, uh, helps soften the washables. Fabric softener in the form of dryer sheets is fairly cheap, and you can lower the cost by cutting the sheets in half.
Be sure to keep the dryer free of lint. After every load, clean out the lint trap that's usually found near the door at the front of the dryer. MSN Money suggests cleaning the exterior lint filter, which is located on the back of most dryers, every four to six months for even better efficiency.
And finally, avoid over-drying your washables. When they're dry, they're dry -- don't use more energy than necessary.
If you're in the market for a cheap washer and dryer to save yourself trips to the laundromat, check out our cheap washing machines and cheap dryers buying guides for energy-efficient and affordable models.
Posted on 8/28/2012 11:24 EST
About a year ago Cheapism sent a researcher to Sam's Club and Costco to determine which warehouse club gives frugal shoppers the best deal. Although you can't go wrong with either, we found that Sam's Club holds a slight edge over Costco because it offers more in-store benefits, a larger brand selection, and smaller unit packaging that's more manageable for people with smaller households and/or limited storage.
We recently returned to both clubs to update our findings and found that Sam's still dominates, but still only slightly.
Sam's Club vs Costco Membership.
Sam's Club membership fees in 2012 remain at the 2011 level: a Business Membership costs $35, the individual Advantage Membership goes for $40, and the Business Plus or Advantage Plus memberships sit at $100. The Advantage plan offers the same array of benefits, including a primary card that covers an additional named cardholder of the same household, auto-related
perks, and Click N' Pull, which lets members shop online and pick up at a store of their choice the next day.
Costco raised membership prices for 2012. The Gold Star and Business memberships each cost $55 (up $5) and the Executive level costs $110 (up $10). The Gold Star and Business memberships at Costco boast nearly the same services and perks as last year, such as discounts on auto and home insurance and car rental, check printing, online investing, low pharmacy prices, identity protection, small business 401(k) plans, merchant credit card processing, and payroll services. Members can earn a Costco gift card by refinancing boat or RV loans, but the ability to open a high-yield savings account or CD is no longer possible.
Sam's Club's Plus Membership and Costco's Executive Membership come with additional discounts. At Costco, for example, Executive members get 2 percent back on all purchases, but if they don't spend enough to earn back the $110 membership fee by year's end, Costco makes up the difference.
Sam's vs Costco Pharmacy and Health Services.
Both Costco and Sam's Club offer numerous health and wellness services to members, such as on-site
vision exams, discounted glasses and contacts, and free hearing tests. Costco also checks and cleans hearing aids for free and replaces the battery if necessary. Both clubs offer health screenings -- osteoporosis and heart screenings at Costco (flu shots, too); a different screening focus every month at Sam's Club. New this year at Sam's: a personalized prevention health plan developed by a health care professional worth $229 that costs members $99.
Pharmacy services are cheap at both clubs. For members without insurance, Sam's charges $4 for a 30-day supply on select medications or $10 for a 90-day prescription. Advantage Plus members at Sam's Club also receive 8 percent off name-brand medications and 40 percent off generic medications not included in the $4/$10 plan.
Costco vs Sam's Coupons.
Costco coupons still outshine Sam's Club coupons. Costco mails and emails coupons to all members. Sam's Club offers only eValue coupons that are loaded onto Advantage Plus and Business Plus members' cards and redeemed at checkout.
Costco vs Sam's Delivery and Warranty.
Big ticket purchases are a big reason to join a warehouse store like Sam's Club or Costco. Sam's Club delivers and installs most relevant products for fees ranging from $59 to $159; electronics can be installed for $89 and technical experts are available 24/7 at no charge. Business Plus and Advantage Plus members at Sam's get an extra year warranty with the purchase of any warranty.
Costco does not deliver, although shoppers can arrange a television installation for $89.99. Free technical support is available to members and a second-year manufacturer's warranty is provided for televisions, computers, and projectors at no additional charge.
Other discounted services both warehouse clubs offer members:
- Tire and automotive services, such as free flat repairs, battery testing, and wiper blade installation at Sam's and discounted auto insurance and car purchases from select dealers and online defensive driving courses at Costco. Both warehouse clubs sell and install discounted tires.
- Photo developing.
- Online shopping.
- Credit cards, financial and small business services.
Both retailers offer a wide range of grocery items, clothes, baby items, and seasonal home decor. Products and prices differ slightly, but are comparable overall. Additionally, Costco offers travel discounts on vacation packages, car rentals, and amusement park tickets.
Do you prefer Sam's Club or Costco, and why?
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There's nothing you won't do for your pet -- but wait until you see the vet bill. According to a poll conducted by AP-Petside.com and reported on NYDailyNews.com, vet visits during 2010 cost pet owners an average of $505 and more than $1,000 for serious illnesses. Although pet insurance is an option, most pet owners pay for everything, from screenings to major surgery, out of their own pocket.
Veterinary expenses might leave you feeling a bit ill yourself, so here are some preventive, money-saving tips.
Get Ahead of Problems with Regular Checkups.
It may seem like a no-brainer
, but keeping your pet healthy is the easiest way to avoid costly procedures and prescriptions. Take your pet to the vet's office for an annual checkup and all the necessary vaccines. A thorough examination can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in potential procedures and drugs through early detection of common diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and dental problems.
Exercise for Physical and Mental Health.
A run in the park keeps your dog's weight in check, social skills well honed, and sense of well-being
positive. Daily playtime with a laser pointer or toy helps your cat remain vigorous and her natural hunting instincts sharp. Be it a dog, cat, hamster, or other companion, pets that don't engage in physical activity get bored and sometimes depressed, which could lead to destructive habits and behavioral problems. Check out a local dog run and/or look for a cheap but reliable dog walker or sitter. Regular playtime with your pet will keep him happy and healthy, and save you hundreds of dollars in chewed-up
Buy the Best-Quality Food You Can Afford.
You try to eat healthy food so why shouldn't your pet? Make sure your furry friend is getting the proper nutrition by choosing high-quality
pet food. The supermarket brand probably doesn't cut it, but there are pet food brands that do. Read the labels carefully and look for high nutritional content. If you feed your pet the equivalent of fast food every day, you can expect to see (and pay to treat) health problems similar to those experienced by human fast-food
Be Extra Careful Outdoors.
Fleas, ticks, animal attacks, and car accidents -- all problems that can easily be avoided by taking extra caution outdoors. When your dog is outside, make sure the leash is on firmly and securely and try to avoid areas with motor traffic or wild animals. As for cats, experts
note the average lifespan of an indoor cat is 12 to 18 years while outdoor cats typically don't live more than five years.
Don't Delay Treatment.
If you sense a problem with your pet, call your vet immediately. Subtle signs like behavioral changes, lethargy, or lumps in the skin can indicate big problems. Health issues are more easily treated when caught early, so don't delay in getting proper care for your pet.
Shop Around and Compare Prices.
Some pet owners may be surprised to know that different veterinary offices charge different rates, so shop around. Good sources for cheap pet care include non-profit
organizations, animal shelters, and clinics run by vet schools (if you're lucky enough to live near one). Locate animal hospitals or shelters run by humane societies and animal welfare groups such as the ASPCA
, and the Humane Society
. There may be other local non-profit
animal hospitals near you.
Itemize the Bill: Get Everything in Writing.
The easiest way to cut costs on your vet bill is by eliminating extra fees. Whether for a regular checkup or specialized procedure, ask for an itemized quote. You'd be surprised at the small items you get charged for and how much they cost. Examine the estimate and see if there are unnecessary services or fees that you can waive. Don't be afraid to ask for an explanation of the service and its price; you may find a handful of disputable fees hiding behind a lump charge.
Avoid Emergency Fees: Visit the Vet During the Day.
While an emergency is, by definition, unplanned, try to take your pet to the vet during office hours. Many animal hospitals and veterinary offices charge hefty night or emergency fees, so if your pet shows any sign of illness, rush to the vet as soon as possible. The quicker you get there, the more options you may have for getting medical attention during the day. Some vets may refer your pet to an emergency animal hospital, which could mean hundreds of dollars in additional charges -- especially for services rendered during off hours.
Don't be afraid to negotiate fees. If you get a detailed quote, you'll be armed with knowledge and may be able to whittle down the cost of critical, high-priced
services. Vets realize that most consumers pay out of pocket, so they may be flexible. Always ask if there are more affordable treatment options.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask Questions or Get a Second Opinion.
If your gut feeling warns you that something isn't right with the vet's care or course of action, don't be afraid to ask questions or seek a second opinion -- especially if a major procedure is recommended. Another doctor may suggest a less-invasive
treatment. Services such as X-rays
can be unnecessary and expensive, so make sure whatever the vet does is in the best interests of your pet, not the doctor. If you have any doubts, check with the Better Business Bureau or your state's Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to see if any complaints have been filed against the vet.
A combination of healthy diet and preventative care can help your pet live a long life. In many ways, pets are worth a million bucks, but by following these tips, you won't have to prove it.