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Personal Finance > Five Tips
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Save on life's necessities
5 Tips: Cutting your everyday costs
August 19, 2004: 11:43 AM EDT
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Tired of paying up for life's necessities? There are many ways to save on the things you need every day.

Here are 5 Tips to help you cut costs and put more money in your pocket.

1. Snag back-to-school savings.

School is plenty expensive without have to pay for pricey textbooks. Log on to www.cheapesttextbooks.com, which scours the Web for deals on new and used books.

If your bundle of joy isn't packing off to college just yet, but you're still looking to save, check out wholesaledirectschoolsupply where you'll find deals on everything from art supplies to safety scissors.

Laptops can sink your back-to-school budget. Instead of buying from a big electronics store, consider buying a discounted refurbished model online. Refurbished products are those that been returned to the manufacturer for one reason or another.

Dell, Apple, Sony and Gateway all test and repair laptops if there is a problem and then put them back on the market at a discounted price. Warranties can range from a few days to a year. Refurbs are offered at manufacturer's Web sites, as well as www.ubid.com and www.overstock.com.

2. Get cheaper drugs.

If you're looking to save big on drugs, you've got to shop around. A recent study by the Sutherland Institute, a non-profit public policy group, found that doing a little legwork made a very big difference in price.

At in-store pharmacies, prices for the five most commonly prescribed drugs varied greatly, from $586 at Rite Aid vs. $473 at Costco, a difference of $113 -- keeping in mind that a Costco membership costs an additional $45.

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CNNfn's Gerri Willis shares five tips on different ways to cut costs for everyday life.

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Thirty 40mg tablets of Pfizer's Lipitor, the top-selling drug in the U.S., sold for $119.99 at Rite Aid compared with $94.99 at Drugstore.com. Americans who bought Lipitor illegally from a Canadian prescription Web site got the best deal at $71.66.

Switching to generics is another way to save. Uninsured patients who opt for generics can save 30 to 60 percent or more depending on the drug. Patients with insurance can save about 50 percent (on average) because generic drug co-pays are typically half of brand-name drug co-pays.

Of the more than 10,000 brand-name drugs listed by the FDA, 8,000 are available in generic form. So if your doctor prescribes a brand name drug, it pays to ask if there's a generic version available.

If some of the drugs you take aren't available in generic form yet, there's still hope. Robert Epstein, Chief Medical Officer at Medco, says $30 billion in brand name drugs are scheduled to go off patent in the next 3 years, including some very widely prescribed drugs.

Blockbuster anti-depressant Celexa is coming off patent in 2005. Duragesic, the very popular pain patch, is also coming off patent next year. And in 2006, the 3 Z's -- Zoloft (anti-depressant), Zocor (cholesterol drug) and Zithromax (antibiotic) -- get their turn. To track monthly generic drug approvals, go to www.fda.gov.

3. Slash your phone bill.

Sprint, AT&T and MCI have been raising long distance rates as sales slump. But you don't have to take it lying down. You can take your business elsewhere.

According to Allan Keiter, president of MyRatePlan.com, if you're spending money for long distance you don't use every month, you can do much better. His company helps consumers find more attractive alternatives. See the table for a look at what the long distance packages major telephone companies are offering (most require a monthly fee).

Long-distance programs
Major Carriers
Monthly ratePer minute cost
Sprint$5.95$0.07
$8.95$0.05
AT&T$4.95$0.07
$0.00$0.10
MCI$4.95$0.05
Note: Sprint and AT&T have two different plans available, MCI has just one.

But why pay anything at all? If paying zero sounds good to you, ECG (Enhanced Communications Group) offers long distance service nationwide with no monthly fees attached. You don't pay anything if you don't use your long distance. Their 2.75 cents a minute rate for state-to-state calls is also extremely competitive.

If you're served by one of the bell companies for local calls, long-distance with CogniState is available to you. The company offers a rate of 3.45 cents a minute state-to-state, and there are no monthly fees with online billing. If you do want a paper bill, their monthly charge is $1.99 a month, which is waived if you spend $20 or more.

To shop around for cheaper phone service, check out www.myrateplan.com, www.saveonphone.com and www.billsaver.com.

4. Get insurance discounts.

There are discounts to be had on car insurance, so don't miss out on any of them. Safe drivers pay less. If you've had no accidents in the last three years and no moving violations in the last three years, you'll qualify for discounts.

So, too, do drivers with low annual mileage and long-time customers. Does your car have air bags or anti-lock brakes or daytime running lights? You're due a discount. Ask about group insurance -- professional organizations and alumni groups often qualify for discounted rates.

You may also want to think about dropping collision or comprehensive coverage on older cars. The reason? It may not be cost effective. The rule of thumb is don't insure unless the car is worth more than 10 times the amount you would pay for coverage. To find out the value of your older car, go to Kelley Blue Book.

For new cars, check out insurance costs before you buy a car. Your insurance premium on a new car is based on the sticker price and the costs of repair.

Looking to take a chunk of money off your home insurance? Install burglar, fire and smoke alarms. Most insurers will knock 5 percent off your premium. Sprinkler systems and alarm systems that notify police can save you even more.

5. Cut your tax bill.

Are you paying too much in property taxes? There's only one way to find out. That's by checking up on your home's assessed value.

According to the National Taxpayer's Union, as many as 60 percent of properties in the U.S. may be over-assessed. There may be mistakes, miscalculations or assumptions made in your property records that are costing you money in taxes.

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Find out what similar homes in your neighborhood have been assessed at. To do this, you'll have to pay a visit your town or city's assessment office. There, you'll be able to look over your information card, and cards for similar homes in your neighborhood.

Check for any glaring errors in your property report. If there are any, the assessment office will generally correct it quickly. If there are no problems with accuracy, but you find you've been over-assessed, you should appeal.

Typically, you'll need to notify the assessor's office in writing about your intentions. When it's time to make your case, come armed with your property card and data on homes comparable to yours in your neighborhood. Pete Sepp, spokesman for the NTU, says success rates for fighting assessments are as high as 50 percent.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's Open House, weekdays from Noon to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.com.  Top of page




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