10 Financial Challenges and Saving Solutions

Steals and deals on gas, food, phones and more.

By Mary Rowland from Reader's Digest

Was there ever a time when any one of us turned our backs on a bargain? Probably not. But today there’s even more reason to hang on to your dollars. The U.S. economy is cooling down, according to the Federal Reserve Board. At the same time, Americans are piling up more credit-card debt than ever before, and our savings rate is negative, the first time since the Great Depression.

So we’ve rounded up ten financial challenges, and come up with solutions to help you keep more of your money.

1. That SUV of yours seemed like a good idea at the time, but now you’re paying way too much to fill ‘er up.

Solution: First, look for the cheapest gas prices in your area before you head for the pump — they may vary by as much as 20 percent within a few blocks and can change frequently. Gasbuddy.com collects price information for the U.S. and Canada from 173 websites. Gaspricewatch.com collects prices on 128,000 gas stations from 123,000 volunteer spotters.

Be careful about how you use debit and credit cards to pay for the gas. Sure, gas company credit cards offer rebates on gas, usually from one to five percent. But they often carry high annual percentage rates and limit you to a particular brand of gas. Some even offer teaser rebates of up to ten percent, which may be available for only 30 days. A better choice is a general-purpose credit card, with rebates wherever you buy gas.

Avoid using your debit card. When you buy gas on a debit card, your bank “locks up” as much as $100 for as long as several days or until the station owner processes the transactions. If your bank account is running low, you may bounce a check or two.

An easy way to save on gas? Properly inflated tires. Check them weekly and shave up to 9 cents off a $3 gallon.

2. You stop at the supermarket a few times a week to pick up something for dinner, tossing in pricey items as you go.

Solution: Order groceries and staples online and get them delivered to your door. E-grocery stores became one of the biggest disasters in the dotcom debacle a few years back. But a handful of them are beginning to resurface, with more sure to follow.

Some sites are still regional, but amazon.com announced the nationwide opening of its grocery store this summer, with 14,000 nonperishable items, some hard to find and many discounted. Amazon offers free shipping on orders over $25.
To see which e-grocer operates in your neck of the woods, check out safeway.com, peapod.com, freshdirect.com and netgrocer.com.