'Stingy Scoundrel' Spills His Secrets

Author says never renew subscriptions and negotiate medical bills.

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Today's guest post comes from Phil Villarreal, a contributing editor at the Consumerist, reporter at the Arizona Daily Star and film critic at OK! Magazine. His humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is now in stores.

Alpha Consumer readers, I’m sorry to report that you’ve been scammed. Instead of getting to benefit from the wise financial advice of Kimberly Palmer, you’re stuck with a guest writer. And the least trustworthy type of guest at that—one with a book to peddle.

I crammed Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel with all sorts of unholy money-saving tips, few of which can be used by an upstanding member of society. I think of it as the complete opposite of the morally righteous personal finance advice you'll hear from the likes of Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman. For the sake of humor, I dispensed with my senses of dignity, honesty and honor to explain how to save money in the most underhanded ways possible—for the sake of entertainment purposes only, of course.

Still, some practical advice did seep through, and Kimberly asked me to pick it out from the garbage pile. So off we go, with four of my favorite perfectly honest, pretty much non-embarrassing ways to save money:

Negotiate medical bills. The birth of my daughter, Emma, set my bank account aflame. My wife, Jessica, and I nicknamed her the Million Dollar Baby, and all told we were stuck with $4,000 out of pocket. Luckily, Jessica’s friend told her that if you call medical billing offices and offer to pay your entire bill immediately, most have a policy that they’ll knock 25 percent off your bill. I got to work on the phone, and sure enough it worked with the hospital, pediatrician, anesthesiologist and obstetrician, and with minimal effort I was able to bring Emma’s price tag down to $3,000.

Never renew a subscription to anything. Don’t even open a magazine renewal notice you get in the mail. Check online for special offers for new customers, then call customer service and demand those rates. Renewal rates are always more expensive, but the beancounters are hoping you won’t notice. This also works for health memberships, cable and Internet subscriptions.

Price match at grocery stores. Chains such as Walmart gleefully match competitors’ advertised prices. Peruse print and online ads, jot down annotated prices on sticky notes, then affix them to your products for the sake of convenience. You can still use coupons to knock even more off your tab.

Mine your junk mail for free money. Old-fashioned snail mail is far more lucrative than e-mail spam. My favorite mail offers come from banks offering $100 or more if you open a checking account. These usually come with stipulations that you opt for direct deposit (I tell HR to send $1 a paycheck into such dummy accounts), keep the account open for six months or use your debit card for a certain amount of required purchases. In the end it’s free money with minimal hassle. Also keep a lookout for coupons packets. At my old apartment complex, often the local Indian casino would send out certificates redeemable for $5 in cash. I’d dig through the trash can near the locked community mailbox bank and emerge with $200 or more in free casino bucks.

So there you have it. If you want to learn how to save thousands of dollars on engagement rings, get free emergency room care or never have to pay for an on-demand movie at a hotel again, you’ll have to buy the book, or at least find it on a bookshelf and read it in one sitting on one of those comfy Barnes & Noble couches.