NEW YORK (Money Magazine) - The key to household savings is to find out where the money is leaking and try to contain it.
This might be trying to lower long-distance and cable bills by switching services, to more efficient appliances. There are ways to save on your pet, and on cool things for your kitchen. Think seasonally to maximize all your saving plans.
Auto and home insurance
Price check - Rates for both are expected to go up 9 percent this year, on average, because of increases in medical costs, repair costs and jury awards. To steer clear of a big hike, make sure you shop around for coverage. Even if you're getting a discount from your property/casualty insurer for being a longtime customer, you may be able do better, says Jeanne Salvatore of the Insurance Information Institute.
Small things add up - Raising your deductible from $500 to $1,000 will shave as much as 20 percent off your bill; raising it to $2,000, 25 percent or more. Safety precautions (from small fixes like buying the Club for your car, to larger ones like installing a monitored security system in your home) can save you another 5 percent to 15 percent.
Buying all your property/casualty insurance -- that's car, home and umbrella policies -- from a single carrier can net you another 10 percent.
What's your score? - Pay close attention to your credit score too. The closer you are to 800 the better. If it's over 700, check out an insurer like Allstate or Progressive that rewards good credit with better rates.
If your score's not topnotch, patronize insurers like American Family Insurance and State Farm that don't give your credit score as much weight as, say, your driving record.
Are you average? - According to J.D. Power & Associates, the American cell-phone user talks an average of 541 minutes a month and pays $61. But you can pay less.
If you make most of your calls after work and on weekends, take advantage of the many unlimited-nights-and-weekends plans and buy fewer minutes.
AT&T Wireless, for instance, offers 350 weekday minutes and unlimited night and weekend minutes for $30 (plus taxes and surcharges) a month.
The clan plan - If you're a clan of big talkers, consider a family plan. For $160 a month, Sprint will give you five cell phones, 2,500 minutes, unlimited nights and weekends, and free calls within the Sprint PCS network. There's a one-time $36 activation fee for each phone, but the cost boils down to a monthly $32 bill for each person. Not bad.
High and low savings - Eye-level shelf space is prime real estate on a supermarket aisle, and manufacturers pay a premium to place their goods there. So when you're perusing the aisles, look to the top and bottom shelves for the best deals.
Make sure it's a sale - And don't assume that the items at the ends of the grocery aisles are on sale -- 60 percent of them aren't.
You're guests won't know - If you're shopping for a dinner party, you'll save 30 percent over local gourmet stores if you go to wholesale clubs like BJ's and Costco for Camembert cheese, prawns, duck breast and other goodies.
A fancy, high-tech security system does not guarantee that your home is theft-proof. "If someone wants in, you can try to deter them as much as possible, but stuff is stolen even from the Louvre," says Rick Ostopowicz of the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association.
Reasonably secure - That's why a bare-bones system combined with commonsense measures is perfectly acceptable. ADT's basic SafeWatch EZ system, for instance, starts at a reasonable $99 for installation, plus $27 a month for 24-hour monitoring.
The lights on, but ... - Then you can simply make sure it always looks like someone is at home by putting your indoor lights on timers, parking your car in the driveway and investing $20 to $50 in motion sensors that turn on outdoor lights when activated.
One ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy - When you're looking for a security system, read the fine print for extra charges. Some companies will bill you $25 every time they call the police.
If your system is prone to false alarms -- 94 percent of all triggered burglar alarms in 1998 were false, according to the Department of Justice -- you may decide that's a cost you're not willing to bear.
And keep in mind that in some areas, the police won't respond until they receive a verbal verification (from a neighbor, for instance) of a suspected break-in.
Fair weather deals - Grills, patio furniture and all sorts of other household goods get marked down close to their peak season. When summer rolls around, you'll see discounts on corncob holders and checkered tablecloths.
Who's cooking this year? - Cookware and cutlery sales typically come around Easter and Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for pots and pans, keep your eye on department store circulars:There's always one piece of a Cuisinart or Calphalon set being marketed as a loss leader (to get you into the store), and it's generally a steal.
At the end of July, for instance, you could buy a Calphalon 10-inch nonstick omelette pan at a 40 percent discount from Macy's. Pick up these individual pieces throughout the year, and eventually you'll assemble a whole set.
Organized yet? - Seasonal shopping also works for other household goods. "Spring and fall -- that's when clothes go in and clothes go out, so generally you can expect sales for closet and storage items in September and in March," notes Carol Kappenhagen of New York City's Gracious Home.
A white-sale in winter - Bedding gets the deepest markdowns in January, when old patterns and fabrics have to go to make room for new ones.
Broadband is cheaper - If you're still using a dial-up service with a separate phone line at home -- as 65 percent of Americans are -- you stand to slice your bills in half by switching to broadband, which is as much as 50 times faster.
DSL service, which works over your existing phone line but won't interfere with any incoming or outgoing calls, is typically $10 to $15 a month cheaper than cable broadband. (Cable is often faster than DSL, but it's typically more expensive too.)
Most large DSL providers like Verizon and SBC Communications offer introductory rates of $30 a month that jump to $35 after the teaser expires in three months to a year.
Little provider, big savings - Steer clear of the big providers like AT&T and Sprint, says Allan Keiter of MyRatePlan.com. The best independent providers -- like ECG Long Distance and 1Plus -- charge less than 4¢ a minute with no monthly fees, 3¢ a minute less than the big guns.
Unless - If your monthly long-distance bill is $50 or more, look into bundled offers like Verizon's Freedom plan, which offers unlimited local and long distance for $60 a month, plus taxes and surcharges.
Or go online - Vonage, a company that routes calls through your Internet connection, charges $40 a month for unlimited local and long distance plus all the necessary hardware. The downside with Vonage: When your Web connection goes down, so does your phone line.
Pets and pet care
The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that we will spend a record $31 billion on our pets this year. How do you cut those St. Bernard costs down to Chihuahua size?
Rx discounts - First, buy your pet medications online or through a discounter rather than your vet. You'll pay just $67 if you buy the flea and tick medicine Frontline through 1-800-PETMEDS and save $15 over what a vet or retailer will charge (shipping is free).
Pet clinics - Another move: If your local pet store sponsors a clinic, use it for shots or simple treatments for things like ear infections -- it's cheaper than a visit to the vet, says Cameron Woo, publisher of The Bark magazine.
Bulk bites - Also, buy pet food from large specialty retailers like Petco and Petsmart (either online or at the store). Grocery stores are convenient, but they charge more, says New Jersey veterinarian Charlotte Lacroix.
Pure-bred bargains - Buying a pet can cause sticker shock too, especially if you're in the market for a particular breed -- some purebred Labradors cost upwards of $2,000.
You can save significantly by adopting a pet through a breed-rescue organization, suggests Woo. These groups (there's one for every breed) save abandoned pets. The donation you may be asked to make -- about $100 -- is far less than what you'll pay a breeder or pet store.
Alternative energy providers - If you're like us, you've been pounding the walls over your monstrous summer utility bills. Weren't deregulation and competition supposed to bring lower rates? So we thought.
Only in Texas, where several alternative energy providers have survived, have residents saved money by shopping around. According to Harvey Michaels of Nexus Energy Software, alternative providers pop up in other areas, but often discontinue residential service. Check energyguide.com to see if there are any, for now, in your area.
Energy Star ratings - But you can knock an easy 30 percent off your energy bill by purchasing appliances and electronics products that have earned the Energy Star logo from the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Administration. (It's a star next to the word "energy.") Energy Star appliances are engineered to consume, at a minimum, 10 percent less power than their peers.
Long life, less power - Next, replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. They're more expensive than normal bulbs ($5 to $15 each), but they use 20 percent of the power and have an estimated five-year lifespan.
Don't worry: They give off warm room lighting, not that creepy office glow. Also, check with your local utility -- some will offer rebates on the cost of the fluorescent bulb, says Michaels.
No sipping - Finally, turn off any electronic devices -- your TV or computer -- left on standby. It could save you a few cents an hour, says Chris Olert of New York City's Con Edison. A nickel saved each hour means $438 in your pocket at year-end -- enough to buy a new Panasonic air conditioner with the Energy Star logo.
Best deals for the home
- Weber Genesis Silver B Grill
Snag big end-of-summer savings on gas grills now. The Weber Genesis, which normally costs $549, is available for $449 at Ace Hardware stores, Amazon.com and Sears. But hurry: Most retailers won't reorder this season, so when the last grill goes, that's it.
- Herman Miller's Aeron chair
For $699 -- $100 less than the going rate -- you can buy the Highly Adjustable Standard Lumbar Pillow version of the super ergonomic Aeron chair at ultimatebackstore.com, with no shipping fees. Pay an extra $70 (for a total of $769) to upgrade to the latest version, the Highly Adjustable Posture Fit Aeron with a rear Y-strap for extra back support. A brand-new one goes for $869, so you still save $100.
- Makita 12-volt cordless drill
Tool hounds agree: If you're going to buy a drill, you can't go wrong with a Makita. These babies are not cheap -- a 12-volt cordless model carries a regular price of $342 -- but we found it for $124 (including a $25 rebate) through mail-order outfit Home Lumber Co. There's no tax unless you live in Illinois or Wisconsin, and no shipping charges. Call 800-262-5482 or go to homelumbercom.com.
Plant your perennials in the fall (rather than in April), and they'll bloom faster and grow bigger come spring. Burpee Seeds holds a pre-season sale on numerous perennials through September. Save 28 percent when you order three or more of the selected plants -- and shipping is free when you spend $30 or more.
Epicureans: KitchenAid sells what are called "refurbished" appliances on its website. Refurbished doesn't mean icky or defective: "Most were sent out on a photo shoot, used on TV or fall into the category of 'buyer's remorse,'" says a spokesman for KitchenAid.
And all products come with a six-month replacement warranty. The best selection -- and prices -- are at kitchenaid.com, where a six-quart stand mixer goes for $220, a savings of nearly 50 percent (shipping is included).
Check out the website's closeout sales for discontinued items too: We found last year's retro-looking juicer for half-price at $149.