In the orchard of frugality, consider these the low-hanging fruit. ¶ They’re things you buy all the time, either because you have to or because you want to. But since you’ve been buying them for so long, you may not realize there’s another, better, cheaper way. Here are five things you’re spending too much money on and how to get them for less.
1. Movie theater tickets
A night at the movies is enough to put you in the poor house. God help you if you’re planning to take the whole family or see something in – gasp! – 3D.
Try discount theaters showing films that have been out for a while: McKinley 6 Theatres in McKinley Mall, 3701 McKinley Parkway in Blasdell, where tickets are $2 or $4 for 3-D; Movieland 8, 200 Thruway Plaza in Cheektowaga, where tickets are $2 every Wednesday and Friday or $4 the rest of the week; and Four Seasons Cinema 6, 2429 Military Road in Niagara Falls, where tickets are $3 on Tuesdays. They have great deals on concessions, too, which can be the most expensive part of going to the movies.
The Hamburg Palace, 31 Buffalo St. in Hamburg, often shows first-run movies for $5 on Mondays, $6 the rest of the week ($5 every day for seniors and children). At Transit Drive-In, 6655 S. Transit Road in Lockport, you’ll get two (sometimes three!) movies for less than the price of one. Tickets are $9 per person, ($4 for kids age 5 to 11) and kids 4 and younger are free.
To save at other theaters, see a matinee (which is priced lower) or use a coupon from the Entertainment Book, which can save you $2 per ticket at Regal (plus a free admission on your birthday), up to $3 per ticket at the Screening Room in Tonawanda and up to $5 per ticket at Dipson Theatres. There are also coupons in the Entertainment Book for buy-one-get-one-free tickets at Movieland 8 and Four Seasons. AAA members also can get discounts of $1 or $2 per ticket at Regal Cinemas.
2. Bottled water
A single bottle costs at least $1, but even if you’re paying $6.99 for a 24-pack, there’s a cheaper way. You can spend the same amount on a reusable bottle you only have to buy once, then fill it up at home each morning and at drinking fountains throughout the day. Real Simple magazine gives high marks to the BPA-free Tritan bottle from Design for Living ($7).
As a nice bonus, Consumer Reports found that, since tap water is scrutinized more closely than bottled water, tap water is likely safer and cleaner. More than half of today’s bottled water comes from municipal taps anyway. And the resources wasted to manufacture plastic bottles (and the number of them that end up in landfills each year) is shameful.
Cooking at home is infinitely cheaper than eating out, but the occasional meal at a restaurant is a nice treat. To do it without breaking the bank, keep an eye on daily deal sites such as Groupon, Sweetfind and Living Social for vouchers offering 50 percent or more off a restaurant’s regular prices. Coupon books like Buffalo’s Elite or Entertainment are filled with coupons for buy-one-get-one-free entrees. Or buy discounted vouchers at Restaurant.com. Right now you can get $15 worth of food for $6 at restaurants such as Buffalo Joe’s in Williamsville and Lorenzo’s Ristorante in Lockport or $10 for $25 worth of food at Squire’s Tap Room in the City of Tonawanda or Acqua Restaurant on Niagara Street.
To save even more, go during lunch instead of dinner, when meals have a lower price point. Order water with lemon and an appetizer instead of paying for a drink and entree, and check restaurant reviews in The Buffalo News’ Cheap Eats section or online at UrbanSpoon.com so you don’t waste a trip dining out on something of poor quality.
4. Online purchases
There is so much more to shopping online than just putting items in your virtual shopping cart and clicking “go to checkout.”
First, you should be looking for the best prices by searching the items you want on a price comparison Web site, such as Pricegrabber.com. Then, look for coupon codes (check RetailMeNot.com) and free shipping (try FreeShipping.org).
Then sign into a shopping portal to get cash back on your purchases. Websites such as Fatwallet.com and ebates.com get a kickback every time someone shops at one of their partner retailers through their site, and they pass a portion of that kickback on to you. UPromise.com offers a portal that allows you to put that cash back directly into a 529 plan or some other college savings account.
Gas stations use gasoline as a loss leader to lure you into the attached convenience stores, hoping you’ll spend money on snacks and other high-margin items. Since gas margins are so thin and stores don’t actually make money on straight gas purchases, it’s rare to see gas on sale.
Other than using a gas card with cash-back rewards or a loyalty program like Noco’s Friends and Family plan that offers a discount of 10 cents per gallon, there aren’t many ways to pay less for gas. So the best way to save money on gas purchases is to use less of it. There are two keys to doing that.
The first is to drive less. Plan your trips so you can bundle stops at several locations into one trip, preferably along your regular commute to or from work or school. Carpool. See if you can work from home one day per week or work four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour ones in order to conserve commuter miles. Walk, bike or take the bus.
The second is to use less gas while you’re driving. Hyper-milers have perfected the art of economizing gas. Try a few of their techniques by never speeding (burning rubber burns gas quickly), coasting often and braking as little as possible. Stagger your work schedule by an hour each morning or evening to try to avoid rush hour, which can leave you idling at zero miles per gallon. You’ll also want to clean out your trunk (the more weight you carry, the more you’ll pay for gas), drive a fuel-efficient car such as a hybrid and keep your car in tip-top shape (clean air filter, properly inflated tires) for the best mileage. Learn more at CleanMPG.com.