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Extreme savers share their secrets

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Melissa Ragan, a teacher in an inner-city public school in Lawrence, Mass., also loves Paperbackswap.com. She uses the site to get books for her special-needs classroom.

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Ragan is also a Freecycle devotee. Freecycle.org, a membership organization with thousands of local chapters, helps people give away unwanted goods, such as brand-new baby clothes, computers and furniture, to other "freecyclers" so that it won't end up in landfills.

Most of the time, it's not worn-out Salvation Army merchandise. Not long ago, the Boston chapter featured an entire Ethan Allen living room set free for the taking. You can "ask" for something specific, and often, you'll get it. People frequently ask for exercise equipment, like treadmills, and find treasures within a day.

Not surprisingly, uber savers are also crazy about Craigslist.org. Chris Grande, a financial planner and managing partner of Heritage Financial Group in Medford, Mass. bought a $5,000 leather living room set for only $200 when he noticed the classified ad on his local Craigslist site.

Finding ways to save
1. Saving on retail
2. Groceries
3. Automobiles
4. Giving
5. Commuting & housing
6. Phone services & other necessities
7. Travel

2. Groceries
What does the high price of food mean to the average frugal grocery shopper? Eat locally. Produce, meat, poultry and eggs grown nearby have always been better for the environment. Now, because of high fuel prices, buying local is also the smartest way to shop.

Purchase produce in season and frequent farmer's markets, where you'll find the best deals on the freshest fruits and vegetables. Invest in a freezer, if you have the space, and buy your meat locally as well.

Uber saver Mike Hegarty, a CPA in Des Moines, Iowa, says he saves $500 a year on meat by purchasing whole animals from local farms.

In case you've never done it and you're having a hard time visualizing it in your garage, when you buy a quarter of a cow from a local farm, a butcher cuts it into the familiar hamburger, flank and sirloin steaks and packages it for you. An extra bonus: Local farms often raise all-natural or even organic beef, pork and chicken.

If you're really devoted to cutting your grocery bill, try buying through a co-op. To do this, you'll need to form a "buying club" with friends and neighbors; forming a group will allow you to order food at wholesale prices from co-op distributors like Associated Buyers in Barrington, N.H., or Rainbow Natural Foods in Aurora, Colo.

You'll need to put in some effort, says Erin Fallon, a Strafford, N.H., housewife who's been purchasing organic groceries through a co-op for years. One group member gathers orders and collects money; then the women meet at another member's home to divvy up food once a month. The effort is well worth it, though. Fallon says she saves $300 to $500 a month.

3. Automobiles
Need a new car? The good news is that with demand down, automakers are unlikely to raise their prices this year, says economist Gus Faucher with Economy.com.

When buying, take a tip from master saver Carter. Michele Carter and her husband, Richard, negotiate with dealers for each other's cars.

"Dealers have to get on the phone and actually negotiate with someone who is not emotionally invested in the purchase. So far, this has helped us not get taken," she says.

 
 
Next: ... Consider buying a car at an auto auction.
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