To Elisabeth Leamy, Good Morning America's consumer correspondent, pinching pennies by skipping coffee or bringing lunch to work is barely worth the trouble. (She says she ends up eating her bagged meal by 11 a.m. and buying a second one in the midafternoon, anyway.) Plus, she likes supporting the local coffeehouse with her green tea habit. She also likes saving money—but only when she can save a lot of it.
That's why she tells people how to save thousands of dollars at once, instead of a few bucks here and there, in her new book, Save Big: Cut Your Top 5 Costs and Save Thousands! By negotiating with everyone from real estate agents to doctors to grocery stores, Leamy estimates that she shows readers how to save close to $2 million—more than the cost of all of the lattes anyone could safely drink.
Plus, she notes, many people are already pinching pennies but are still struggling to spend less than they bring in. "Little things aren't enough right now," she says. "People tell me that they're skipping lattes but are paying bills late, and that slams your credit score, and then you pay much more than you would otherwise," she says.
Leamy focuses on five big-ticket areas: homes, cars, credit, groceries, and healthcare.
Buy a house, but pay fewer fees. Leamy points out that generally speaking, buying a home allows people to save a lot of money, because it forces them to save by investing in their home each time they write a mortgage check. Plus, homeowners receive tax benefits unavailable to renters. To keep as much money as possible in your bank account, she recommends negotiating discounts with your Realtor, lender, and settlement company.
Real estate agents, for example, are often willing to accept a 2 percent fee instead of the traditional 3 percent, especially if house hunters do much of the work themselves. As for lenders and settlement companies, they will often cut buyers a break on various fees, such as application fees or document preparation fees, if asked.
"Negotiating in our culture is always a little awkward, but some of these dollar amounts are too big to let embarrassment get in the way," says Leamy. Plus, she says, mortgage professionals are increasingly getting used to it these days.
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Stick to used cars. New cars lose so much of their value in the first few years of ownership that they're not worth purchasing, Leamy says, especially when you can buy a certified used car that will last. "Cars these days are really well built, so the risk is lower than it used to be," she says. Leamy suggests investing time in the research phase of your purchasing process so you're sure to buy a reliable vehicle. In fact, she even says it's worth paying extra on the car to increase the chances you're getting a good one.
Leamy also recommends bringing cash to the dealership to avoid paying interest on a car loan. "Paying interest on something that is definitely going down in value is a horrendous waste of money," she says.
Defend your credit. Keeping a clean credit report—and high credit score—means you'll pay less for any type of loan you take out, including massive mortgages. That's why Leamy suggests ordering your free credit report once a year through annualcreditreport.com to make sure it is correct. If you're taking out a $250,000 mortgage, for example, a credit score of 785 instead of 635 could potentially save you $87,480 over 30 years, depending on prevailing interest rates.
Keep a grocery stash. By stockpiling groceries, you'll not only be able to purchase more items when they're on sale and save them for later (just stick meat and bread in the freezer), but you'll also be able to make use of Leamy's other big idea: Skip shopping trips. She says that many people can get by on the food they already have for a week, so why not skip shopping once a month or once a quarter? If you're used to shopping very week and spending $7,500 a year, then skipping the trip once a month could save you $1,800, or 24 percent of your annual grocery bill.