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All That Gas

19 Apr

I hope no one had to pay the tax man. But if you didn’t or are lucky enough to get a refund, it’s a good idea to squirrel away the money you saved or received, especially if you plan on traveling this summer. Filling up even one tank of gas is expected to make quite a dent in your wallet. While a couple of weeks ago, the Lundberg Survey, a market research firm that specializes in fuel prices, reported gas prices may have reached a peak; except for minor dips, they’ve gone up since this article in Bloomberg Business Week.

But there are several ways to help save money when it comes to gas. I sometimes drive hundreds of miles a week, luckily most of that is in New Jersey where gas prices are lower than in most places. But I am always looking for savings, from old-school ways such as properly maintaining your car and modifying (or at least trying to modify) driving habits to newer methods like incentive programs and smartphone apps.

“Every driver is impacted by the increased cost of fuel” says Cathleen Lewis, director of Public Affairs for AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. “There are several easy things drivers can do to stretch each tank of gas and find the lowest fuel prices when it is time to fill up.”

The Old School

Lewis says 17 percent of all cars have all four tires properly inflated, and a survey found only 85 percent of Americans do not properly check their tire pressure. She says, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, properly inflated tires can improve fuel economy by up to three percent. So how do you make sure your tires are properly inflated? Some gas stations have built-in gauges in their air pumps; if they don’t, you can buy one in any auto parts store for a few dollars—I even saw one in a QuickCheck. Check the tires when they’re cold, not after they’ve been driven several miles. You can usually find what the proper pressure should be on the driver’s side door jamb or in the owner’s manual.

And tires aren’t the only part of the car that may save you fuel. Proper maintenance of the whole vehicle can help. Lewis says warning lights can signal problems that can decrease a car’s fuel efficiency.

How you drive can also effect how much fuel you use. Driving the speed limit and going lightly on the pedals can help save.

“If there is a red light ahead, ease off the gas and coast up to it rather than waiting until the last second to brake,” Lewis says. “Once the light turns green, gently accelerate rather than making a quick start.”

The U.S. Department of Energy reports aggressive driving can lower a car’s fuel economy by up to 33 percent.

Another way to save is planning your errands ahead of time. If you know you have to go to the dentist, the supermarket, the gym, figure out the most efficient way of driving to them and schedule your day so you can do it all in one trip. According to AAA, several short trips starting with a cold engine each time can use twice as much gas as a longer multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm.

If you happen to pick up groceries or heavy loads on those trips, it may also be best to make that the last thing you do. The lighter your load, the less effort your car needs to move and thus the less gas will be used. So if you are driving around with a set of golf clubs, it may be best to leave them at home.

The Apps

I’ve been using GasBuddy, which tells you prices near your location—and it is free. You can choose to sort them by price or distance or see them on a map. It’s not always accurate: I saw a gas station where the price was 10-cents lower than all the others; it turned out to be closed. However, you can earn points toward free gas by updating prices at stations you do come across.

AAA has its own free app (you don’t need to be an AAA member, although I recommend it—I’ve locked myself out of my car a few times).  AAA’s TripTik has a more high-tech way of determining stations with the best prices based on credit card transactions at more than 100,000 stations nationwide. It also has the same GPS capability as GasBuddy.

Incentives

Stop & Shop, a large chain in the Northeast, allows you to earn 10-cents per gallon off your gas for every $100 you spend on certain items listed in their circular each week. You swipe your Stop & Shop rewards card before you pump and it instantly lowers the price. However, not all locations or gas stations participate, so visit Stop & Shop’s Web site for more information.

And many credit cards have programs that earn you points, even double points on gas purchases. If you redeem those points for cash, you can get some of that money back. Be careful of ones with high interest rates and annual fees. One site that can help you compare is creditcards.com. However, cash seems to be king these days—stations are charging more to pay with a credit card and sometimes the difference is so substantial, it’s best to keep some green on hand
when driving.

And with the money you may be able to save, hopefully you can enjoy better or even more vacations this summer. Happy travels!

 

Ok, I’ll Jump on the Jason Wu Bandwagon

11 Jan

I reported and was excited to hear that Jason Wu would be the next designer collab with Target. And because I was busy with my day job Tuesday, I defer to the lookbook on one of my favorite sites, as always, Racked. The clothes and bags look great and I love that everything is under $60 (one of my favorite and affordable outfits I’ve pictured here). But thanks to Pulsed, I have something you can use now. I’m not usually a coupon person, but what the heck. Jamba Juice is offering select 12 oz. and 16 oz. smoothies for $1 and $2 (plus tax) through January 19.

Meanwhile, Target currently has the Bullseye Bodega (if a real bodega had what Target has stocked, it would be a Costco). It’s not the same as the pop-ups that the retailer set up throughout New York City some time back. What it is: multipacks of everything, supersized shampoos, etc…. You get the idea. So if you don’t belong to a warehouse club, hit Target now. I even saw some infant items and kitchenware as well.

 

 

 

All Wrapped Up

21 Dec

So you’ve bought your Christmas or Hanukkah gifts and now you have to wrap them–or you’re still waiting to shop last-minute. If the stores where you shopped or plan to shop don’t have free gift-wrapping, don’t buy wrapping paper or bows or even tape at a Hallmark store–even Target or Walmart. This is an area where you can–and should–save money. If you haven’t been to a Dollar Tree, now is the time to go.

If you are inept at wrapping, they have tons of gift bags, packs of tissue
paper or shredded paper filler and even pre-decorated gift boxes. But if you can wrap, there are 10-yard rolls of paper (they aren’t all ugly or tacky), plenty of tape, gift tags, stickers (in packs of no less than 30), cards, tape-on bows and regular spools of ribbon. And not only are they all a dollar, sometimes they’re two or three or even four for a dollar.

What popped into my mind when I went was, if you’re really tight on money, why not give homemade baked goods? And Dollar Tree has tins and decorated cellophane bags that are perfect for that.

And if you haven’t gotten those stockings hung or decorated a tree, they have a variety of sizes in stockings and plenty of ornaments.

The only negative is the service. But you get what you pay for. I think it’s worth trading good customer service for the value. And don’t just consider going around the holidays; they have wrapping paper and cards for all occasions and even party supplies, including balloons. Again, everything is a dollar or less. You can’t beat that!

 

If the Shoe Fits….

16 Dec

That is actually the title of my first contribution to Loehmanns.com. So I encourage you to check it out. I want to put out a disclaimer: I’m not paid, so this is my own opinion. Also, follow Loehmann’s on Twitter @Loehmanns because that’s how you’ll find special discounts, some good for a short time. Like right now, take 35% off everything on Loehmanns.com now through Saturday at 2 p.m. Following your favorite stores on Twitter is a great way to find special discounts in general. That’s my advice for this week.

A Deal with a Mouse

5 Dec

I’ve been meaning to post about a wonderful deal from a talented guy. Sam Wilson of With a Mouse Design, who I’ve known for years, is offering 20 percent off custom design work. While it may be a little late for holiday cards, it’s never too late to get a head start on next year or still get invites to your New Year’s eve party. And with the new year approaching, if you need anything related to your business, including cards, media kits, logo design, advertisements…. why wait for next year to get those tax deductions!

Sam has done work for companies like Nike, Target, Sony and American Express, so you can be sure you will get the best work possible. See some of what he’s done by visiting WithAMouseDesign.com. Just “Like” With a Mouse Design on Facebook by clicking here and mentioning the promotion. The work must also be completed by December 31, so no procrastination!

 

 

Take a Ride Without Being Taken for a Ride

30 Sep

DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan taking a spin

There is much hype about the upcoming New York City bike share program. I just happened to walk into the press conference September 14, where Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner, announced that Alta Bike Share would manage the program. That includes maintaining the bikes and installing the solar-powered stations.

As a motorist, I’ve been critical of the city’s bike lanes because I think they cause more congestion, but probably more so because I don’t live in Manhattan; I
can’t schlep a bike in my car every day (if I drive in). So bike sharing eliminates that problem for me. And it could potentially eliminate having to pay for several subway or bus trips at $2.25 a pop. (And who knows how much it will be when the bike share program launches next summer?) I’m not doing the math–you don’t have to: It’s obviously a bargain! However, pricing and station location details are being worked out and the DOT is asking for the public’s input. So
far, the city plans to have 10,000 bikes distributed among 600 stations in Manhattan as well as parts of northwest Brooklyn. Right now, you can let the department know where you would like a station by clicking here. More about
the pricing later, since that’s what I like most.

The program is privately funded and Alta is in charge of finding corporate sponsorship. In Boston, New Balance is the sponsor of what is called the Hubway. And I figured, since I was in Boston this week, I’d try it out. My take: It’s great!

For the ladies (or those who carry bags), there is a place to park your purse on the front of the bike, safely secured by a bungee cord. I just wanted to get that out of the way.

The New Balance Hubway launched in July with more than 40 stations. It will eventually include 61 stations and 600 bikes. It is easy to use: Just swipe your credit card and get a code, which you punch into the bike’s dock to release it. One-day passes are $5, annual memberships are $85. With either, you can enjoy unlimited 30-minute-or-less free trips (for costs above the 30 minutes, visit TheHubway.com. In Boston, there are so many stations, typically with 10 bikes each, according to the city, you can easily return a bike and just take it out again to start another 30-minute journey. It’s also great because the bikes lock in electronically; with your own bike, you have to worry about properly securing it at your destination.

Boston is a little less congested than New York, which makes street cycling a bit easier. But it also has the Emerald Necklace, more than 1,000 acres of park space designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central and Prospect Park fame), that has off-road bike paths throughout the city, making the experience even
more enjoyable.

And the city of Boston has made a concerted effort to enforce biking rules and educate the public. In New York, I see bikers disobeying the rules all the time. I hope that the DOT is committed to joining with the NYPD to make it safer once the program is in place.

According to Alta, there were 50,000 rides in the first five weeks of the program in Boston and more than a million rides in Washington in its first year, which is just wrapping up.

Now, back to the money-saving part: Boston’s T (for those who don’t know, it’s the city’s train system) costs $1.70 per ride with a Charlie Card (the Beantown version of the MetroCard). So, if New York City’s program costs anything near Boston’s, think about the savings! There are just so many benefits.

“Bike share is a new, affordable form of public transportation that will help connect New Yorkers to their own neighborhoods, to other neighborhoods and to public transit,” says Alison Cohen, president of Alta Bicycle Share. “At the same time, it will make New York City a healthier, cleaner, greener and safer place.”

And speaking of safety: The only downside is you need your own helmet. In Boston, when you buy your membership online, you can also add a low-cost helmet to your order. It’s not mandatory, but not a bad idea to have one.

It just so happens that Alta will hold a demonstration of the bike share program this Sunday (October 2) at the Atlantic Antic street fair in Downtown Brooklyn.

For more information on the NYC Bike Share program, visit nycbikeshare.com.

I’m Making the Rounds on Fox Stations Nationwide

2 Sep

Apparently, my appearance on My9 has been making the rounds on local Fox stations around the country. Here, I am informing viewers in Chicago earlier this week! And September 1, Atlanta residents who tuned into “Good Day Atlanta” also received some good freebie tips!

Watch Me on My9 News August 15

15 Aug

Before I post my next deal, I wanted to quickly mention (as I have for days via Twitter and Facebook) that I will be discussing freebies on My9′s The 10 O’Clock News tonight (Monday, August 15). Due to the preseason Jets game, it may actually air at 11 p.m. Click here for a preview…. and set your DVR!

Ask and You Shall Receive (Or Simply Threaten to Switch)

19 Jul

You may not be able to do much about the rent being too damn high (cliché, yes, but I couldn’t resist a Jimmy McMillan reference), but you can do something about the cost of your cell phone, cable and Internet service. I recently had a problem with my phone. I have T-Mobile‘s HotSpot @Home, which for $10 allows you unlimited calls, texts, etc., through your Wi-Fi or any Wi-Fi connection (Starbucks included; I got it because I have no reception in my apartment). But for some reason my phone wasn’t connecting properly and I ended up going over my minutes. When I called, T-Mobile agreed to wipe out the overage and give me an extra 200 anytime minutes for the remainder of the billing cycle. But when I checked my statement the following week, I found the charges were still there. I called back and, to my surprise, T-Mobile offered me a new plan: unlimited everything for about $3 less than what I was currently paying. It even included the HotSpot service. Plus, the representative backdated it to include the last billing cycling, so I ended up saving on my last bill! (Disclaimer: You must agree to a new two-year contract.)

That’s only my first anecdote: I recently had to downgrade my cable plan. And, to my surprise, a basic package for one television with DVR plus Internet was about $120, including tax. And I didn’t even get OWN (I’m embarrassed to say that I’m loving Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals–guilty pleasure), among other channels I enjoy. So–you guessed it–I called. I asked the representative why it was so expensive. After all, if I were a new customer
I could get the $99 “Triple Play” that included phone service for an initial period (and that is one way to go). However, I didn’t get an answer. So, I threatened
to cancel and switch to
FiOS. (If you live in an
area with FiOS, your cable provider does not want
to hear that.) Well, they
said they’d transfer me to a “retention specialist.” Bottom line: When you call, just ask for a representative and ask them to transfer you to a retention specialist. Tell them what you want and what you’re willing to pay for it. They will bend over backwards to make it happen. That specialist upgraded my Internet speed, upgraded my plan to include the higher tier of channels and added three months of free DVR service. He even backdated it. Now I’m paying less than I was before. Plus, he told me to call back in a few months to ask if there are any other promotions.

So, if simply calling and asking doesn’t work, just threaten to switch providers. I even got a free phone upgrade in August using that method.

If you have a money-saving suggestion, Tweet me @SamiLiebman.