(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)
Looking to cut back on your expenses? By shopping smart, you can easily save money on these every day items.
Most people run low on checks and automatically reorder them from their bank. The problem is, you're probably paying more than you should be. Banks often charge about $20 (including shipping) for a box of basic checks, but you can get them way cheaper elsewhere, says Karen Hoxmeier, founder of Mybargainbuddy.com.
Checkadvantage.com and Checks.com, among others, offer 100 checks for $4 to $5, plus free shipping. And Hoxmeier has a coupon on her site for checks in more than 200 designs for $5 plus free shipping. Since you have to provide your bank account information, just make sure the check-ordering website is protected by a third-party security vendor like McAfee and/or Norton, and is certified by the Better Business Bureau.
2. Phone charger
You get home from vacation, reach for your mobile phone and it dawns on you — your charger is exactly where you left it… plugged into the wall of a hotel or guest room hundreds of miles away. Sound familiar?
If you don't mind waiting two to five business days for shipping, skip the manufacturer retail store where you will pay double for a replacement, and buy online instead. Approved by tech geeks everywhere, affordable electronics site Monoprice.com offers an iPhone 4 cable with wall adaptor for $8 (iPhone 5 cable is slightly pricier at $9 plus a $5 wall adapter). Compare that to the Apple store, where you’ll fork over $19 each for the cable and wall adapter.
Can’t go a day without being connected? Head to a discount store, like Best Buy or Walmart, where off-brand iPhone cables are sold for around $15 and cables for Android devices run anywhere from $5 to $20.
Best course of action: Anticipate the probable disappearance of your charger and order a couple back-ups on a site like Monoprice at your leisure.
What if we told you toothpaste doesn’t have to cost more than $1? “Toothpaste sales are frequent enough (about every two months) that even if you’re brand loyal, you should never pay full price,” says Teri Gault, CEO of Thegrocerygame.com, which maintains its own databases of regular and sale prices in more than 92 major grocery stores the country.
Once you find a sale on your preferred brand, buy two or three tubes to get you through until the next sale cycle. “Every brand and type goes on sale, usually half off," says Gault. "And with coupons and instant rebates stacked at drugstores and supermarkets, toothpaste can be $1 or even free.”
If you like the more expensive formulas, all the better, she adds. “The pricier the better, because they go on sale as promotions and have coupons.”
(MORE: The 7 Best Money-Saving Coupon Apps)
Toothpaste isn't the only product you can save on at the pharmacy. You'll find similar discounts on other health and beauty items, like deodorant and shampoo and conditioner.
As any deal hunter or coupon clipper will tell you, paying full price for groceries is a sin easily avoided — especially when it comes to meat, according to Gault. “Meat is usually at least a 200 percent markup at regular price,” she says. “However, most of the meat people regularly buy goes on sale for 50 to 67 percent off. There are usually one to two featured sales per week on the front of the circulars.”
And don’t worry, even though you’ll be paying less, the meats are in no way inferior. “These are not set to expire, but sales events, like loss leaders,” meaning grocery stores expect to lose out on profits for a given product just to get you in the store — where they hope you'll buy more stuff. So if you stick to your grocery list, buying meat on sale is a win-win.
Tip: You can usually spot a loss leader if the sale stipulates a limit on the number of sale items you can buy, says Gault.
5. Bottled water
Short of natural disasters and airplane travel, there is no reason to pay for a bottle of water — period. Granted, it’s convenient (and the flavor is consistent), but when you stop and think how much money you’re wasting, you’ll break the habit in no time.
Americans spend $4 billion a year on bottled water, with the average person spending 240 to 10,000 times more per gallon for bottled water than they would for tap, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Think you’re paying for superior purity? Not quite. In fact, 20 percent of bottled water is just tap water put in a plastic bottle, and 40 percent is derived from tap water sources — sometimes treated, sometimes not, says the NRDC.
So get yourself a reusable water bottle, fill up at the sink and quench responsibly on-the-go.
6. Over-the-counter medication
Your headache will not know the difference between brand name and generic pain relievers, as long as they have the same active ingredient in the same amount. So instead of spending $7 on a brand name pain reliever, go for the store brand version for $4.50.
The same rule applies for all over-the-counter meds. The Food and Drug Administration requires all generic medications to deliver the same concentration of medicine to your bloodstream, and only the inactive ingredients can vary, meaning the binding materials, dyes, preservatives and flavoring agents, says C. Michael White, professor and head of the Department of Pharmacy Practice, University of Connecticut in a recent Grandparents.com article comparing generic vs. brand name medication.
(MORE: 7 Tips for Saving Money on Prescription Drugs)
Every over-the-counter medication displays the amounts of active and inactive ingredients on the label, so read carefully before you buy.
7. Plumbing fixes
You’ve always suspected it… and now a pro adds his two cents: “One thing that I see people pay way too much for is ordinary run-of-the-mill plumbing services,” says Mark Horner, a professional handyman for 25 years in Dallas, Texas. “Plumbers count on you thinking they have some type of special knowledge. In some cases, this might be true. But more than 50 percent of the time, anyone with common sense can fix the problem.”
Just what kind of problems is he referring to? Things like clogged drains and sinks that need replacing. For just $28 on Amazon, you can buy a drain snake (that works manually or can be fitted with a power drill) and judging from the manufacturer’s how-to video, using it is a pretty easy process.
As for installing a new sink, the main tool you’ll need is a faucet wrench ($16 on Amazon), says Horner. “The No. 1 piece of advice here is, don’t forget to turn off the water to the faucet. Most faucets have a water turn-off valve under the sink for both the cold water and the hot water.”
For more easy, how-to plumbing instructions and videos, visit diynetwork.com.
Never again accept a price hike for subscription services like cable TV, newspapers or magazines. According to Hoxmeier (and squeaky wheels everywhere!), subscription prices are always negotiable. Assuming you want to keep all your channels and continue receiving your reading material at the same rate, call your provider and ask if there are any specials.
No cable deals strike your fancy? “Tell them you are considering changing providers to get a lower price, but won't bother hassling with it if they can give you a better rate,” says Hoxmeier.
And for newspapers and magazines? “Never, ever pay the amount they put on the renewal invoice,” she adds. “Tell them you can't renew at that price because it is beyond your budget and you're afraid you're going to have to cancel unless you can get a lower rate. They will pretend to talk to a manager and come back with a lower rate — ‘just this once.’ (Do this again next year. ‘Just this once’ is never really ‘just this once’.)
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This article is reprinted with permission. © 2016 Grandparents.com. All Rights Reserved.