50 Smartest things to do with your money
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Savvy consumer moves
From getting the most out of your frequent flier miles to buying a used car.
June 7, 2005: 10:18 AM EDT
By David Futrelle, George Mannes and Cybele Weisser, MONEY Magazine
50 Smartest things to do with your money

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - Being a savvy consumer isn't easy these days. Here we have thirteen great ideas to get you started. One thing to keep in mind is that bargaining never goes out of style.

Splurge with your miles

Use your frequent-flier miles to buy a business- or first-class seat. Coach seats on domestic flights are so cheap that they're rarely the best use of your miles -- and those reward seats are scarce to boot. You'll spend 25,000 miles for a free seat worth $150 on a coast-to-coast flight, whereas 100,000 miles gets you a $3,000 business class seat to Europe and a shot at a good night's sleep.

Get your credit-card fees waived

Ask your issuer to waive that $30-to-$70 annual fee. The ability to take your business elsewhere confers great power. Use it. Many issuers will blink if they think you'll walk. Missed a payment just once? Cite your on-time record and ask them to kill the late fee.

Pay to replace your stuff

When you insure your home, make sure your policy includes replacement-cost coverage, not the default, called actual cash value. It'll cost about 10 percent more but will pick up the full price of rebuilding and refurnishing your home.

Dicker with the doctor

For routine and scheduled procedures like orthodontics, MRIs, colonoscopies or medically prescribed physical therapy, call your insurer and find out what it considers a "reasonable and customary amount" for the treatment. Then ask your doctor to match it. He or she probably will. Patients who ask get a lower price about half the time.

Buy used instead of new

Buy a used car instead of a new one, and let someone else pay for the depreciation. In a car's first year, that averages 30 percent, according to Edmunds.com. What that means: For about $25,000, you can buy either a new Toyota Camry or a 2004 Lexus IS300. What's smarter?

Get stability control on your car

On your next new car, get electronic stability control, a safety feature helps prevent skids and spins. Studies show it reduces SUV single-vehicle crashes by 67 percent. It's standard on vehicles ranging from the Audi A3 to the BMW Z4, and a $500 option on others. For a list of ESC-equipped vehicles, go to www.esceducation.org.

Say no to over-priced wine

Never spend more than $20 on a bottle of wine (special occasions excluded). True aficionados know that some of the wine world's greatest pleasures can be found at the lower end of the wine list. If your snobby friends look askance at you for bypassing some overrated white Bordeaux in favor of an unpretentious but inexpensive pinot noir with a lovely fruity nose, get new friends.

Back up your data -- often

Buy an external hard drive and copy all the precious data on your computer. How devastating would it be it to lose all your family photos, financial records and music files? Don't wait until your hard drive dies to find out. The easy-to-use Maxtor OneTouch II external hard drive is $160 to $300 (depending on capacity) at www.compusa.com.

Shred so it can't be read

Buy a paper shredder. When it comes to identity theft, real-world thieves eyeing your trash cans like hungry raccoons are a bigger threat than Internet hackers. Invest in a cross-cut shredder, and turn your financial documents into confetti. Personal shredders can go for as much as $90; Amazon.com sells the Fellowes Shredmate Cross Cut Shredder for just $50. (For more identity-theft tips, click here.) Plus: Free confetti!

Get rewards you will actually use

Switch your airline miles or other merchandise rewards to a credit card with rewards you'll actually use -- like cash back. Search for a no-fee card that suits you at www.cardweb.com or www.bankrate.com.

Change your oil

You'll improve your chances of the odometer setting records by doing so on the automaker's suggested schedule. Don't sabotage your diligence with cut-rate oil. Look for the American Petroleum Institute's seal of approval on the bottle.

Get a fast connection

Upgrade to a broadband Internet connection. A high-speed connection via cable TV or DSL phone service costs more -- expect to pay about $30 to $40 a month compared with monthly dial-up rates of $10 to $24 -- but you'll save time and money banking online, researching your investments or booking a vacation.

Don't carry a credit card balance

If you have cash wallowing in a money fund or bank account at 1 percent and a credit-card balance at, say, today's average rate of 13 percent, write a check for the balance immediately. That's a 13 percent return -- with no risk.

50 Smartest money moves: Great ways to better yourself

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