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Good, better, best money-saving ideas

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Kay's Web site includes a links page where you can get coupons online in addition to regular manufacturer's coupons. Other sources for local offers are www.smartsource.com, www.hotcoupons.com and www.valuepage.com.

If every year brings an increase in the premiums you pay, take action. A former insurance broker, Kay offers these tips for cutting your insurance costs sensibly:

Good: "Call your insurance agent to find if you qualify for any discounts," says Kay. For example, car insurance companies often offer discounts for nonsmokers, good drivers -- even nondrinkers. If you keep your vehicle in a closed garage instead of a carport or driveway, you might qualify for a discount. For a homeowner's or renter's policy, you might get discounts for having an alarm system, smoke alarms and more.

Better: Get competitive quotes. "Most people don't," says Kay. "Especially homeowners. It's tied up in escrow and paid through their mortgage payments and it automatically renews every year." It's never too late to get competitive bids on any insurance product.

Best: Increase your deductible, says Kay. Although this means you could pay more out of pocket in the event of a car accident or fire in your home, you can save a significant amount of money by not expecting the insurance company to cover every small loss.

Sure, you could start chopping wood for the fireplace, but is that really the best way to save on your fuel bills?

Good: Keep the thermostat set a little lower in winter or a little higher in summer than usual. It won't take long for you to get accustomed to the slight temperature change, and even a few degrees' difference can mean money in the bank.

Ask your energy company if it offers time-of-day rates. By using less energy during peak hours, you can pay less on your utility bill. This requires coordination with other family members. Kay says her electric company installs devices on appliances such as air conditioners that will switch off the unit during high-demand times. By agreeing to have her air-conditioning unit switched off if necessary, Kay gets a rebate of $50 per month on her utility bill. "I've never noticed a difference," she says.

Shut-off timers for porch lights and water heaters can save money on utilities, but require an upfront investment in the device. Check with your local utility company regarding how much money this strategy could save.

Best: Go through a complete homeowner's checklist to make sure your home is running at optimal utility efficiency, recommends Kay. This means changing all filters regularly, ensuring you have the right amount of insulation and caulking your windows.

When it's time to replace that washer or air conditioner, think energy efficiency as well as initial price, says Kay.

Good: Before you buy any appliance, call the electric company to see if it has rebates available for special models, says Kay. It sometimes makes such offers to encourage you to buy an energy-efficient model.

Better: Take advantage of the Internet. Kay suggests going to Google Product Search to find great deals. "(You'll) find the very best price on the make and model and style that you want," Kay says. "Once you've found the best price, print it out and take it to a local vendor and ask them to match it."

Best: Buy barely used. "Some people upgrade their appliances like they do their cars, a new one every year," says Kay. "I purchased a 1-year-old washer and dryer for 50 percent off." It still had a warranty. For smaller appliances, Kay suggests going to garage sales and swap meets. "You wouldn't believe what you can buy from people who have been watching QVC a little too much," says Kay. And don't forget eBay, the online auction site, which is a great place to get appliances. Make sure you're buying from a reputable known source that has a good rating, Kay cautions.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Jan. 24, 2008
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