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Extreme savers share their secrets

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When Michele Carter fell in love with a 2006 Saab last year, she could see that the dealer wouldn't reduce the price for her "because they could see that I was sold on the vehicle." So she turned to Richard for help. He talked the dealer into reducing the price of the extended warranty by $1,000 and persuaded him to throw in Bluetooth for free. Carter was thrilled with her new car -- and the price.

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A ream of information exists on how to get the best price on a new car. But what's the cheapest way to finance it?

Wellesley, Mass., financial planner Steve Doucette advises that you figure out which car you want and wait for the manufacturer's year-end zero percent financing deals.

Or consider buying a car at an auto auction. There are two kinds -- government-run auctions open to the public and dealer auctions, where used-car dealers get many of the cars they sell on the lot.

Financial planner Chris Grande admires a friend who bought a used Mercedes at a dealer auction, saving at least $4,000 in the process. In order to get access to dealer auctions, you'll need to go with a friend who has a dealer license and is willing to do a favor for you.

In addition to actual car dealers, tow-truck companies, auto body shops and others also have dealer licenses, Grande says.

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

4. Giving
Sarah Auerbach, a stay-at-home mother in Acton, Mass., and her husband, programmer Laird Nelson, like to donate to charities. But they're saving to buy a larger home.

Tired of reactively contributing in response to mailed solicitations, they visited their accountant for advice on how much to give annually. Then they listed several favorite causes and assigned weights to each -- for instance, 15 percent for women's rights, 10 percent each to several local hunger-fighting organizations, and so on. Then they did the math and figured out how much money they'd be giving to each of eight or 10 nonprofits.

To spread out the expense, they designated payments to one or two charities monthly.

5. Commuting and housing
Hegarty, the Des Moines CPA, saves money in a variety of ways. He and his family clip coupons and turn off lights. But a self-proclaimed cheapskate, Hegarty believes the "small stuff" doesn't really pay off. It's the big stuff, like making wise choices about where to live, that really counts.

Hegarty and his wife, who have four children, chose to buy a $150,000 farmhouse some miles outside of the suburbs rather than living in "$250,000 to $350,000 yuppie neighborhoods with my friends," Hegarty says. "That saves us $1,500 a year in (property) taxes and $6,500 a year in mortgage interest."

Hegarty acknowledges, however, that living some distance away from town costs him an additional $800 a year in gasoline and additional wear on his car. The Hegarty family plans trips to town in order to run several errands at once. He figures this careful planning saves them $500 a year in gasoline.

Their choice to live in a modest house allows Hegarty's wife to stay home with their kids, rather than working full time for a $50,000 salary.

Next: So-called 'sluggers' ... line up to catch free rides ...
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