In many households, the cable-Internet-phone connection has become a major cash drain. With cable TV, for example, you often are encouraged to buy a costly package to receive popular channels, such as ESPN. As a result, the average viewer pays for 93 channels but watches only 15 of them. Get serious about the services you really use. Check out the competition. If you can cut your bill from $50 a month to $20, you can save $360 a year.
Internet phone hookups. If you still have a landline, you may be able to slash your bill by switching to an Internet phone service. Top national providers AT&T and Vonage tap your cable or DSL broadband Web connection, allowing you to place and receive calls on your existing phone without having to turn on your PC.
Cheaper cell service. The average wireless phone user spends about $60 a month, including taxes and fees. If you talk for 200 or fewer minutes per month, you may save by switching to a prepaid plan charging 25 cents a minute or less. Prepaid plans generally charge 10 cents to 60 cents a minute, and compatible phones cost $30 to $300. Compare plans at myrateplan.com.
Chattier cell phone users may save by buying their next service plan at Amazon.com. Wireless providers typically offer their best deals, usually via rebate on Amazon, says Edgar Dworksy, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. One catch: Some Amazon plans, such as T-Mobile's, are for new customers only. If you like your current carrier, ask it to match Amazon's deals.
1. Pinpoint stealth energy drains. Consumer electronics, such as PCs, printers and home stereos, continue to draw power while they're plugged in—even if they're turned off. With the Kill A Watt ($30 at Amazon.com), you can measure the stealth electrical usage of any appliance or electronic device.
2. Plug the power leaks. Buy a Smart Strip Power Strip ($31 at www.smarthomeusa.com). Plug in your devices, and the power strip will stop drawing electricity when the gadgets are off—and pay for itself within a few months. Alternatively, the Isolé IDP-3050 Plug Load Control Power Strip ($90 at www.wattstopper.com) detects motion and will turn off gizmos after you leave the area.
3. Control your thermostat. Using a programmable thermostat to adjust the temperature will save energy when you're away or asleep. Prices range from $30 to $120, but you'll cut your heating and cooling bill by 10 to 20 percent.
1. Shop before you book. No travel Web site has a lock on low prices, so you'll find more bargains if you check multiple sites. Booking Buddy can facilitate your hunt. Using your travel data, it searches dozens of sites—including some you may not know about.
2. Swap homes. Instead of spending money on hotels, trade your home for someone else's by joining a swap club. Post a home-exchange offer at HomeLink International ($80 a year for Web-only membership) or INTERVac. Swaps can sometimes take weeks to negotiate, so plan in advance.
3. Try housesitting. Watering plants and running errands while homeowners are away can cover the cost of your stay. Subscribe to The Caretaker Gazette for $30 a year and scan more than 1,000 online ads for rent-free pads, such as a mountain cottage in California.
1. Buy and sell at Craigslist.org. This virtual trading post, with classifieds from 190 communities worldwide, lists freebies and low-cost deals on everything from antique furniture to sports equipment. For really big savings, homeowners are listing real estate for sale to avoid broker commissions. Recent for-sale-by-owners: a $1.5-million house in the San Francisco Bay area, a four-bedroom Queen Anne in Seattle for $725,000 and a $235,000 condo in Boston.
3. Stay on top of price cuts. Amazon.com will credit your account if the price of an item, such as a digital camera, drops soon after you buy it. If you enter your purchase information at Refundplease.com, the site will keep tabs on your item and notify you if you're due a refund.
2. Google for help. When you're at a store, send a text message to 46645 (Google's number) and enter the letter "f" followed by the name of the product you're shopping for. Google will reply with a text message quoting the online prices. To compare prices at local stores, go to Shoplocal.com.
3. Save on appliances. Before buying a washer, go to the manufacturer's Web site, such as www.maytag.com, where you'll often find printable coupons and rebates that your local salesperson might not mention.