Save Big Bucks Without Blinking

With apologies to Benjamin Franklin, there are actually three constants in life: death, taxes, and the desire to save money. With the holidays coming up, the need to pinch pennies is even more important than usual. has some great suggestions on how to squeeze every dime until it shrieks.

If you could magically reduce the amount of data you use with your smart phone without reducing how much you use the phone itself, how fast would you sign up? Simon Hill, a writer for tech sites like Tech Radar and Android Authority, says this very thing is possible – and it’s not magic, but a free app called Onavo. The way it works is this: Onavo runs in the background of your phone while you browse, Tweet, Vine, email and more, and runs compression technology to reduce the amount of data each task takes up. This allows you to do even more with what you have, and will help you avoid data overage charges if you haven’t been grandfathered into an unlimited data plan. It also tracks exactly how much data each app eats up, so you can see whether it’s your Twitter habit or email obsession that’s costing you. Onavao is available for iPhones, iPads and Androids.

When looking for airfare, empty your browsing history.

There are many tips floating around the web about finding the cheapest airfare, each one so much more specific than the last that it wouldn’t be surprising if soon someone says that 42 seconds past 10:37am every Tuesday is the best time to buy airfare – but only if you wear polka-dotted socks and pat your head while scrolling through the prices.

Alexa von Tobel, founder of Forbes contributorLearnVest and author of Financially Fearless, has a simpler airfare-seeking tip. “It’s a basic thing,” she says, “but clear your cache when you’re searching for airfare. They’ll see you’re searching and they’ll raise the prices.” She’s referring to the airlines, and while she couldn’t say exactly how much your browsing history can cost you, this blogger saw a $50 price difference on the exact same day.

Get gift cards for a discount – and use them yourself.

Von Tobel says that come holiday season, if you need a way to cut costs, look for gift cards at a discount. There are a number of gift card exchange sites – CardCash, GiftCardGranny, even an exchange center on – that allow recipients of unwanted gift cards to sell them to people who actually want them. You can then buy them at a discount, and sometimes a really good one: for instance, CardHub has a $100 Macy’s gift card going for $50 right now. Buy it now and look especially generous to whomever you choose to gift it to come Christmas – or, even better, save it for yourself and pair it with the store’s next 40% off-whole-store deal. You could get $160-worth of goods for just a $50 initial payment – and still have $4 left over on your gift card!

Time your shopping – for everything.

Just as pumpkin spice lattes have a prime season, so do most consumer goods, and you can save bundles by timing your purchases around these seasons.

“I’m in the market to buy a rug right now, but if I wait till after holidays, it will be 50% off,” von Tobel says. “Furniture and bedding [is cheap] in January, coats [are cheap] in March. Know what time to buy things,” she says, noting that she put a “when to buy” calendar in her new book., too, is a particularly good source of what to buy when.

This trick works just as well for large items as it does for smaller items. RentHop co-founder Lawrence Zhou says that even rent cycles have a cheap season. “Move in the wintertime: the apartment market slows down,” he says, noting that this is a trend in major cities across the country and not just New York City, where this has long been a rumored savings trick. “Prices are anywhere between 10 to 15% cheaper.”

Make sure your smartphone really is working for you.

Tech writer Hill says that your phone can do a lot more than you think it can – even though you’re likely already using it as a phone, browser, email service, GPS, camera and more. “I pretty much use my smartphone for everything. I think it’s the ultimate conversion device,” he says, noting that your smartphone can double as an instrument tuner, a baby monitor, and coolest of all, a universal remote control.

After downloading a free app like Dijit or RedEye, “you can just point it at your TV just like you’d set up a universal remote, and it will work with DVRs, satellite and cable boxes,” Hill says.

If you’re really savvy, your phone can even help make you money: apps likeGigwalkField Agent and TaskRabbit help connect you to people needing random tasks and errands and are willing to pay to have them done. (Tasks range from on-the-spot consumer surveys to picking up someone’s groceries or dry cleaning, and can net you anywhere from a few dollars per task to $30 for an hour’s worth of work – depending on the task, of course.)

And when you’re through with that smartphone, sell it on the secondary market.

If your smartphone – or old camera, laptop, tablet, desktop or even game console, for that matter – is in good condition when you’re through with using it, recoup the cost of your new phone by selling the old one on the secondary market. Sites like Gazelle and USell let you sell your old electronics, and the better condition they’re in, the more money you’ll get. An unlocked iPhone 4swith 16 gigs of memory and in good condition could, as of this writing, net you $160.

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