We give away $100 each month to Bankrate readers who come up with the month’s best money-saving tip, as rated by their fellow readers.
So far, we’ve given away a grand total of $7000! Here’s a list of the winners and their top-rated tip. And, check out the tips in the running to win our contest this month.
Save money by reflecting sun away from windows
“When you are faced with unwanted heat coming through windows, yes, you can buy lots of different things on the market to keep the heat out. But if you go to the camping section at your discount store, for approximately $1.98 you can buy a solar camping blanket, all folded up. One blanket will do three typical windows and reduces heat by 40 percent or more, making the house dramatically cooler. If you use air conditioning, this makes it work less hard. I did put a piece on the exterior of my window air conditioner to repel the heat, and that helped it work without so much effort.”
Jacque Zirtzman, Manchester, Iowa
Save by teaching your teens about budgeting
“After attending a local financial seminar about budgeting, we decided to include our teens with how we handle household money. Here is what we recommend. Give them a set amount of money … but wait! With more money comes more responsibility! Give your teen enough money to cover food (nongrocery), entertainment, savings, charity and clothing. We started with $100 a month. They must be responsible for buying their own clothes, paying for any food they eat out and also cover their own entertainment expenses. Most important, they have to give 5 percent to savings and 10 percent to charity.”
Holly and Dwayne Johnson, Grayson, Georgia
Save with meal planning
“Every month I complete a grocery shopping list for items for the coming month. I have put together a list of all the meals my husband and I eat regularly then put them on the calendar based on the amount of time it takes to cook the meal. Monday through Friday get easy meals that allow me to cook them in 20 minutes or less and all meals that take more than 20 minutes are saved for the weekends. This way we buy all of our groceries at one time, saving on our grocery bill, (we store meat in our deep freeze until it’s time to use it) saving on our gas bill with less trips to the store and saving my time by having quick meals already planned out for the week.”
Leslie Damann, Evergreen Park, Illinois
Save on children’s snacks
When packing kids lunches, it is much cheaper to purchase a large box or bag of a snack item and package it yourself into snack-size zipper bags than buying the prepackaged snack size packs
Bonnie Piniero, Weymouth, Massachusetts
Say NO to mileage rewards credit cards
Instead of using an airline credit card that accumulates mileage, use a cash-back rewards card. The miles accrued on a credit card often have blackout dates and deadlines. Instead, earn money from your cash-back card and use the money to invest or buy the ticket after shopping for the lowest price.
Louie Gevero, Bellerose, N.Y.
Buy your summer clothes now
Buying your summer clothes at the start of the winter season can save 50 percent to 75 percent on your wardrobe costs. Most retailers are making room for their winter lines and clearing out their summer stuff.
The reverse works as well. We have winter clothes in our closets that we bought last January and February at substantial discounts. You’ll get a ton of satisfaction out of wearing a $40 item for which you paid $5.
Brian Thomas, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Baking soda in the laundry
Adding a little bit of baking soda to your regular wash load makes clothes cleaner, brighter, fresher smelling and costs a lot less than some expensive laundry detergents. It’s also good for pre-treating grease and oil stains.
Maria Lee, Oceanside, N.Y.
Don’t be afraid to bargain
My husband bought new tires, and just by the outright offer of a cash transaction the priced dropped $75. Who knew just saying “and if I give you cash?” could be a coupon in itself! So do yourself a favor, speak up, the worst that happens is nothing and you pay what you were going to anyway!
Megan McKeever, Bellmawr, N.J
Save electricity and water
Because regular use of the dryer is hard on fabric and uses a lot of electricity, I hang my clothes to dry in the laundry room. I have a dehumidifier there that keeps the basement from being damp and helps speed the drying of my clothes. The dehumidifier has the Energy Star logo, which means it is a model that uses less energy, thereby saving money. I use the water that the dehumidifier collects to refill the toilet tank or to water the outdoor plants on dry summer days.
Betsy Kiger, Arlington, Va.
Stretching one meal into two
When eating out, reserve half your meal and box it up for lunch the next day. This will save you the time it would take to pack a lunch and the money it would cost — plus calories!
Nora Davis, St. Louis, Mo.
Time well spent on lists and fliers
Use a list at the grocery store, and stick to it. What’s even better is if you spend five to 10 minutes carefully reading the coupon and sale items flier to see what matches up with your listed items. Although you may feel shy doing this and you may have to buy different brands each time you shop, that five or 10 minutes may save you $5 to $20 each trip!
Sean Bixler, New York, N.Y.
Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Start a recycling program at work! I recently purchased a small waste basket and placed it in my office breakroom. I have encouraged all my fellow employees to place all aluminum cans, plastic bottles and glass bottle into the recyling bin instead of the garbage. When full, I take the recyclables to the recycling center and trade them in for cash! Depending on where you live this could add up to a tidy amount of extra monthly income!
Amanda Baxter, Crescent City, Calif.
I love gardening but it often costs a lot to buy new pots and seed starting kits. I began using my old milk jugs and plastic lettuce containers to start my seeds. They make great terrariums for seeds to start growing, and I reduce the amount of plastic that I have to throw out.
Jessica Cartledge, LaGrange, Ill.
Treat your credit card like a debit card
My wife and I treat our credit card like a debit card. Any amount that we charge to our credit card is transferred to our high-yield savings account that is currently paying 5 percent. At the end of the bill cycle, we pay the bill online via our savings account on the day the payment is due. Not only are we earning interest of around $10 per month, we are using our rebate card that pays 3 percent on all purchases. We are averaging monthly checks of $35 from our credit card in rebates. We are now charging every bill that we can to the rebate card to earn the interest and the rebates.
Patrick Hardy, Cumming, Ga.
Turn off the TV
The best money-saving tip I’ve discovered is getting rid of that ever-increasing cable bill. When I moved into my new apartment three years ago, I decided to buy some rabbit ears and forgo the cable for awhile. So what happened? I saved $60 per month, $2,160 over three years, and lost five pounds. The rabbit ears bring in seven network and local stations, and I don’t even miss cable. Why pay for TV when you can watch for free? Live a better life, turn off the TV.
Courtney Heins, Los Angeles, Calif.
Adjusted airfare refund
If you book a flight far in advance of your departure date, monitor the price of your exact flight. If the price happens to fall below what you paid prior to your departure, contact the airline and ask for a refund on the difference you paid. My last trip to Hawaii resulted in a $120 refund, which turned into additional spending money!
Brenda Miller, Villejo, Calif.
Check your receipt after you have checked out
It is a good practice to check the price of the items on a receipt after you have checked out. A lot of times, the price scanned on the register does not match what is advertised or posted in the store. You could save a lot if you can catch all these errors. There is also a growing trend — especially in supermarkets — that if you catch the price discrepancy, the first item is free and subsequent items will be price adjusted.
Hon Chu, Oviedo, Fl.
Always check for a coupon before checking out
When buying via the Web, use a search engine with the keywords — “coupon” and the store’s name. More than likely, multiple offers/codes will appear to help save you money — everything from free shipping, 20 percent off the total purchase or buy one, get one free. Every little bit helps.
Stephanie Zukerman, Schaumburg, Il.
Deluxe therapeutic bed for $20
I wanted to replace my dog’s eight-year-old bed. I bought $20 worth of shredded memory foam and replaced the filling. Now she has a new therapeutic bed suited for an older dog, and I had enough foam left to make a second bed and extra pillows. My dog thinks this tip is a winner, and her joints and little bones agree!
Elena Del Rio Parra, Atlanta, Ga.
Vinegar for cleaning fruits and veggies
Create your own vegetable-cleaning spray by filling a spray bottle with one-part vinegar and two-parts water. Put your fruits and vegetables in a colander and spray them well to remove germs. Rinse with cold water and your food is ready to eat.
Frances DiMarco, Brecksville, Ohio
Odor-free cat litter
I buy the least expensive scoopable cat litter. Then I add a small box of baking soda and mix it in. This little orange box runs about 37 cents, and completely eliminates odors for a fraction of the cost of the name brand litters. My mother-in-law noticed the difference immediately!
Shaunna Privratsky, Fargo, N.D.
Sell your airline rewards!
If you have an airline credit for free travel and can’t use it, sell it. Some airlines such as Southwest allow people to transfer free travel vouchers. You can try selling your free flight credit on eBay, through your local newspaper or a free-ads paper. Many people will pay $200 to $300 for your round trip credit. Often, people find themselves traveling on short notice and most airlines don’t offer good discounts for short notice flights.
Ron Hale, Linthicum, Md.
Editor’s note: Some airlines do not allow selling or transferring of vouchers. Check with your airline first.
Check eBay first
Whatever I am looking to purchase, I check eBay first. I have run into amazing bargains for everything from baby clothes to flooring for my home.
Monique L. Farmer, Omaha, Neb.
To see your electric bill take a nosedive, make it a habit to unplug non-essential appliances when not in use. When away from home or on vacation, these appliances can add dollars to your electric bill. It’s worth the extra savings.
Aggie Cooke, Alexandria, Va.
Get the last drop of gasoline!
When you’re finished pumping gas in your tank, turn the pump off and then squeeze the pump handle. You’ll get the extra little shot of gas that was left in the hose. You’ve already paid for it so you might as well take it!
Dan Lia, Clearwater, Fla.
Install a pellet stove!
Many technologies exist to help you heat your home without running up a huge power bill. For instance, pellet stoves use pellets made out of sawdust and other waste materials. It’s very economical to burn. Installing such a stove to either heat your house or supplement your existing heating system will save money on your fuel bills. Some models are designed to be inserted into your home’s fireplace.
Lynn Bulmahn, Waco, Texas
End dropped calls!
Experiencing dropped calls on your cell phone? There’s no need to get a new phone — even if your phone is a few years old. Take your phone to your service provider and request a software upgrade. Typically, the service is free. Dropped calls can occur when the software version is upgraded on the cell phone towers but not on your cell phone.
Stephanie Evans, Lithia Springs, Ga.
Most cell phone providers charge a fee for dialing 411 information. Typically, it costs about $3 per call. I found out that I can get the same service at no charge by calling 800-FREE-411, or 800-373-3411.
Reginald Johnson, Bowie, Md.
DIY holiday postcards!
If you send out holiday cards, don’t buy generic expensive cards form stores or catalogs. Buy sheets of blank glossy postcards, which are about $10 for 100, and design your own personalized greeting on your computer! You save money by printing them with your own color printer, and you don’t have to buy envelopes. Plus, postcards generally require less postage. This has really saved me a lot of money over the holiday season.
Felicia Hubber, Missoula, Mont.
It pays to shut down!
Contact your energy provider to see if they have any energy savings programs that you can participate in. FPL has an “On Call” program that enables them to occasionally cycle off our A/C system for brief periods of time when necessary. In return, we receive a credit on our monthly electric bill, even if they never cycle off your equipment. There are no out-of-pocket costs to participate in this program. And because your A/C already cycles on and off during normal operation, the main difference you’ll notice from On Call is getting paid for it!
Dana Clore, Tamarac, Fla.
More bang for your book!
It’s frustrating — when selling back used books to a college bookstore, the bookstore will generally give you a mere 5 to 10 percent of the original price and sell it again at 75 percent of the full price. To get a better price for your used book, find out which classes will be using it, go to a class five minutes early and announce to the students that you are selling it for less than what the bookstore is charging for the same used book. This gives both you and the students who are buying books a better price. Everybody wins.
Michelle Norek, Quincy, Mass.
Slash your bills — call and ask!
Last week I called my high speed Internet company and asked them to lower my monthly payment and keep my services the same. I was able to get a $20 discount on my bill for a year just by asking. I also called my satellite company and had them reduce my payments by $10 a month. Once again, I kept the same services.
Auna Sawicki, Haltom City, Texas
Small back-to-school savings + recycling!
When my daughter goes back to school she always needs a pencil case. Rather than purchasing her a new one every year, I allow her to pick out of my stash of new makeup bags that I get as a “gift with purchase.” It’s a small savings but it allows her to have a unique pencil case and saves one more thing from going to the landfill!
Danielle Snyder, Erie, Pa.
Don’t just throw it away!
If something you purchased breaks or is damaged by you, your kids, or malfunctions for any other reason — don’t just throw it away! I’ve found that by writing the manufacturer (or, e-mail to save on postage) you can usually get your money back or a replacement. In the past few months, all five of my requests for replacements and/or refunds were granted by the manufacturers. They weren’t all brand new items, either. Don’t worry if you don’t have the receipt. Many manufacturers just need a model number or a proof of purchase.
Melinda Egan, Riverton, Utah
Defensive driving discount
Complete a defensive driving course and then ask your insurance company for a discount. The course can be taken online for about $40 and can be completed in one afternoon. I saved $150 per year on my car insurance and the discount stays in effect for three years!
Diane Miller, Athens, Ga.
If you are having something installed such as a furnace, ask the vendor to separate the cost of the equipment from the labor costs. Otherwise, they will combine them and you will pay taxes on labor. Normally labor is not taxable if written separately. Check your state’s tax rules because some might differ.
Melany Day, Indianapolis
Pay less interest
If you take your monthly mortgage payment, divide it by 12 and add that much to your monthly payment, you can cut seven years off a 30-year mortgage — depending on your interest rate.
Shannon Mesarch, Brook Park, Ohio
Stay ahead of your bills
If you have a low recurring payment, such as a student loan or car insurance, pay double one month and then make the regular payment as usual. The result is that you will always be a month ahead giving you a cushion in case the mail is late, or something unforeseen happens.
Richard Cavallaro, Rochester, N.Y.
Third-party fees you should see
When sitting at your closing, ask to see invoices from all third parties involved. We all know that courier fee isn’t really $30 to $55; and we also know that the credit report isn’t $50 to $100. Ask for your invoices. I do this for a living and am asked to prove several things but the title company is never asked.
Atonia Rogers, Indianapolis
Pouring half a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by half a cup of vinegar, will open a clogged drain by dissolving the gunk on contact. This will save money spent on expensive clog removers and is environmentally friendly as well.
Stephanie Romac, St. Clair Shores, Mich.
Cheap pool chemicals
Rather than using expensive pool store chemicals, use grocery store products. Sanitizer or chlorine is just unscented bleach; “pH Increaser” is baking soda; and laundry borax can be used as a pH buffer. Buy in bulk when on sale and use coupons.
Virginia Borden, Sterling Heights, Mich.
Protect your wardrobe
The secret to maintaining the vibrant color of your clothes and protect them from fading is to soak clothes in a vinegar and water mixture prior to washing. Vinegar sets the color and protects from fading too quickly. This works great with black jeans.
Lisa Penn, King of Prussia, Pa.
Full freezer uses less power
Keeping your freezer full will help it run more efficiently. If you have empty areas, place plastic bottles filled with water. The bottles work double-duty. You’ll be more prepared for electrical outages because the ice will keep things frozen longer and have a safe emergency-water supply.
Dolores Dong, Charleston, S.C.
Don’t miss out on government benefits
Go to www.benefits.gov and fill out the benefits questionnaire. It will locate any government programs you may qualify for. The list is complete with names and addresses of agencies, programs and what you need to do — or be — to qualify. I pulled up over 65 programs I had no idea existed! Try it! It’s FREE!
Monique Noreiga, Hermosa Beach, Calif.
When booking airline travel, be sure to compare the costs flying from the various airports around your area. Don’t just settle for the closest airport. I’ve saved bundles of money by picking a major airport 100 miles south of my hometown instead of the one 100 miles north of it. And, I’ve cut costs by agreeing to take a smaller feeder airline from my hometown’s small airport to a major airport. You can also save by traveling at different times of the day.
Lynn Bulmahn,, Orange City, Fla.
Save money on regular online purchases
Once you find something that you would like to purchase online, complete a quick online coupon search for that store and you will receive instant savings on something you already planned to purchase. A coupon search is easily completed on any search engine by typing the name of the store and the word “coupon.”
Jamie Juntunen, Kapolei, Hawaii
Save on prescriptions
People with low incomes and senior citizens should see if they qualify for a prescription drug discount card put out by the drug companies. On your prescription label, it should name the pharmaceutical company (Pfizer, Lilly, etc). Look on the company’s Web site for a link to “prescription savings.” My mother qualified, and now gets her cholesterol medicine for $6 a month instead of $30!
Becki Harris, Logansport, Ind.
Cancel your land line
Most cell phone companies offer coverage and plan choices that meet most regular phone needs. So why not cancel your land line and use your cell as your main phone number? If you count on your land line for Internet access, see if your cable or satellite company offers it. You can save several hundred dollars.
Anthony Lazaro, Durham, N.C.
Big tax refund = loan to Uncle Sam
If you’re getting a large tax refund it means you’ve given an interest- free loan to the government. Change the withholding status on your W-4 form to more accurately reflect your actual tax. The extra money in your paycheck can then be invested earlier in the year to earn you even more money.
Kevin Tanguay, Bronx, N.Y.
Beef up your 401(k)
Each time you receive an incremental raise, contribute half to your 401(k). If your raise is 6 percent, increase your contribution by 3 percent. You’ll still see an increase in your net pay and your 401(k) will grow much quicker. Continue to do this until you’ve reached the maximum contribution allowed.
Vicki L. Robinson, Palmyra, N. Y.
Saving money on magazine subscriptions
If you are hoping to subscribe to a magazine, a trip to your doctor may be the answer. Doctors’ waiting rooms usually have a variety of magazines with the special subscription cards inside. These special offers can knock 40 to 60 percent off of the annual subscription rate. Check with the receptionist before you take anything but they probably won’t mind.
Shakeel Khan, Hanover Park, Ill.
Save on printing costs
If you own your own business, use a computer program such as Microsoft Office to create your own letterhead. If you have a quality printer, it will look professional. You’ll save by not having to go to a professional printer for letterhead.
Andrew Gerth, Kansas City, Mo.
Shop at garage sales
I live in a very affluent area of Atlanta and I frequent garage sales as much as I can. I have gotten a Coach purse for $1, Pottery Barn and William Sonoma items that costs more than $100 — for $1 or $2. Your best bet is to go on Fridays — the best stuff is there early and you can find a great deal. Go a couple of weeks and you will be hooked — it’s amazing what people are willing to give away.
Traci Rogers, Alpharetta, Ga.
Online bill payment
Check with your bank to see if they offer online bill-paying services. Many banks are now offering free online bill payment as a way to entice new customers. If your bank does charge for this service, threaten to move your business elsewhere. You’ll save money on stamps and you’ll always have confirmation that the payment was received by monitoring your account online.
Derek Espeer, Kansas City, Mo.
Save on gift wrap
When buying wrapping paper, choose carefully. I buy a beautiful yet versatile type so that I can use it for several occasions instead of one. Plus, it doesn’t get torn up sitting in the closet until next year. I bought an off-brand “Old world style” silver wrapping paper and used it for Christmas, a birthday and an anniversary.
Andrew Gerth, Kansas City, Mo.
Shop around for home insurance
With the cost of homeowners insurance skyrocketing, I went to my state’s Department of Insurance Web site, which I found by doing a search on Google. There I found a Homeowner’s Insurance Rate Guide that listed all the companies doing business in my state by county, name, phone number, financial rating, premium rates, complaint index and type of policy they sell. I switched carriers and reduced my annual premium by several hundred dollars.
Susan Wallace, Prosper, Texas
Cut the grass at cut-rate prices
Lawn mower repair shops often have used, reconditioned mowers for sale and the prices are often competitive with even the best discount store chains. They also stand behind what they sell, should anything go wrong. I recently purchased a shiny, like-new self-propelled mower, in tiptop condition, with all the latest features for less than a new, barebones model would cost at a discount store. And, discount chains usually cannot service what they sell as they lack repair facilities.Lynn Bulmahn, Orange City, Fla.
Use your closing date wisely
When you use a credit card to make a purchase, use a card whose statement closing date has just passed. For example, on the 14th, use a card with a statement closing date of the 9th or 10th. That way, the balance for today’s purchase won’t be due until the end of the billing period for the following month.
MJ Stigliano, Rahway, N.J.
Save on medications
Call several pharmacies to compare the cost of a prescription if paid out of pocket, not using an insurance plan. Some will charge your full deductible amount, no matter what the prescription costs. It may be less expensive to simply pay in cash. Also, often you can save more by buying in multiples of 100.
Patricia Sparks, Kissimmee, Fla.
Ask for clearance items
Always ask for clearance items in a home appliance store. You won’t usually find them advertised. They are often simply discontinued models. We got a great deal when we replaced a water heater and couple of faucets. We specifically asked if any of these items were on clearance and got a $259 heater for $25 and a $209 faucet for $75.
Seema Rao, Fremont, Calif.
Let ’em know who’s the boss
You always have the choice to take your business elsewhere, use that choice to your advantage. I recently had my radiator replaced and it failed within two weeks. The dealer told me that the radiator was covered by the warranty, but not the installation costs. I would have to pay for the installation of the new replacement radiator. I told him that I was not happy with this arrangement and that I have been a loyal customer for over eight years. I then told him that if he wanted me to continue to be his customer in the future, he would waive the installation fee. If he no longer wanted me as a future customer then he would make me pay for the installation. It was his choice. I got the radiator installed for free!
Dave Hajdasz, Meriden, Conn.
It pays to write a letter
If you feel that you have been genuinely ripped off, write a reasonable letter to the company. Businesses want to keep their customers happy. I received $600 in airline vouchers when I wrote to the airline about the deal we got when we agreed to be bumped from an overbooked flight. I also picked up a free vacation day for several co-workers and myself by writing to our personnel office about an unfair benefits change. If you feel you are truly in the right, don’t let others tell you nothing can be done.
Suzanne Summers, Falls Church, Va.
Get more from your health insurance
Many medical insurance plans do not cover costs for new glasses, dentistry, massages or health spas. However, most carriers do have agreements with providers of these services to offer significant discounts. Before paying full price for a service not covered on your policy, contact your insurance company to find out what other health-related partners they’ve contracted with and start saving.”
Jennifer Maslowski, New York, N.Y.
Rack up the frequent flier miles while you dine out
Some frequent flier programs allow members to register for their dining program, in which they give you 10 miles for every dollar spent at participating restaurants. Go to the airline’s Web site to see if they have a dining plan and register for free. Pay the restaurants with a credit card that earns additional miles to really make the most of these programs. You can easily earn hundreds of miles per meal!
Benita Crittle, Pepper Pike, Ohio
Free airline tickets
When you are traveling and your flight is overbooked, the airline will ask volunteers to give up their spot. If you agree, you will usually have to wait a couple of hours for the next flight, but in compensation, they will often offer round trip tickets good for one year and sometimes even money. If you can handle the inconvenience, you just got yourself a free trip and some extra spending money.
Ryan Reyes, Fontana, Calif.
Saving on gas
When filling up your gas tank, try to fill up during the cooler times of the day such as early morning or later at night. Since the gas is cooler it is more condensed and you will get more gas for your money.
Miguel Morales, Tucson, Ariz.
Scratch and dent
When shopping for a major household appliance (washer, dryer, oven, refrigerator, etc.), browse the yellow pages for companies that sell “scratch and dents”. These companies buy slightly tarnished appliances from major retailers at rock bottom prices and pass the savings on to you. The appliances may have a minor scratch or dent that is not visible to the naked eye. Savings can be more than 50 percent off the manufacturer suggested retail price.
Ryan O’Connor, Ellicott City, Md.
To prevent long distance companies from “slamming” you (notifying your company that you want to change your long distance company without your authorization or knowledge) just call your telephone company and ask for a “pic freeze” to be put on your account. This freeze prevents ANYONE from changing your long distance company without your approval. This is never advertised.S. Hurston, Bothell, Wash.
Save money and gas
After the pump stops automatically, do not try to “top-off.” The amount of pressure needed to deliver fuel is not enough in short bursts. Therefore, the dollar meter runs but you are not getting the fuel for those last few drops.
Andy Ginsburg, Las Vegas, Nev.
Save time and money by paying electronically
Many credit cards and utilities now have free electronic payment options that allow you to make payments instantly online or have the money deducted from your bank account automatically. So there’s no longer a need to run out and buy stamps or write checks just to pay your bills!
Mark Cantor, Mayfield Heights, Ohio
Don’t be shy … ask for a better deal!
I discovered that my cell phone plan was no longer the best offer out there. I called my cellular service provider and asked if they could match the offer that I had seen. They immediately offered to not only beat the rate, but also to increase my minutes and throw in free long-distance. My cell phone bill is now half of what it was plus all the extras. It doesn’t hurt to shop around and ask your current provider to match competitive offers.
Kristy Wilson, Middletown, Ohio