Save on Every Single Purchase With These Tricks

Antonio Guillem /

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic clobbered our economy, many Americans were struggling to make ends meet. And now, more than ever, it’s important to know all the tricks to avoid creeping costs. Start with this rule: Never pay retail.

These savvy tactics help you make every penny count. A dollar you don’t spend on needs or wants can be working for you in an emergency fund, a health savings account, retirement savings or a college plan for your kid.

1. Use a cash-back shopping site

Computer with "Cash Back" on screen.
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Sites like Rakuten and TopCashback typically get a finder’s fee when they send shoppers to any of thousands of retailers with links on their portal. They split those fees with consumers, so you get a rebate of from 1% to 30% on what you spend through their sites. Swagbucks Shop, which offers shoppers several ways to save, has a cash-back option, too.

How it works: On a cash-back site, type in the name of a retailer, click through to the site and sign up. You’ll typically need to accumulate a minimum amount in rebates ($25, say) before you can cash them in.

After finding the best price and accessing it through a cash-back site, you can add yet another layer of savings if you …

2. Use a rewards credit card

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pathdoc /

Why would you not pay with a rewards card? It’s free money — or hotel or airline points. If you handle the card wisely, the benefits are potentially great.

There are two reasons not to use a rewards card:

  • You tend to carry a card balance. In that case, your priority is finding a card with the lowest interest rate possible.
  • The card has an annual fee. You don’t want to spend more on fees than you’ll reap in rewards although, in some cases, the rewards are enough that it’s worth paying to own the card.

As always, use credit cards wisely: Pay off your entire account balance each month. Otherwise, interest rates can eat up any benefit and can throw you into debt.

Money Talks News’ credit card finder helps you choose a card that’s right for your personal circumstances.

3. Pay with discounted gift cards

Target gift card
Perry Correll /

You’ll find tons of gift card resellers offering to buy cards consumers don’t want or can’t afford to keep.

How do you save money using gift cards, you ask? Here’s how: Buy gift cards at a discount from these resellers and then use them to do your shopping. Suppose you’ll be shopping at Target, for instance. Buy discounted Target cards to use at the store, effectively saving 2% to 20% or more on your purchases.

A couple of sources for discounted cards:

  • Aggregator sites like Raise, which point you to good deals. Also at Raise, you can sell gift cards you aren’t using.
  • Multipacks of discounted gift cards, found at warehouse stores like Costco (membership required).

4. Use shopping tools

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Shopping apps are another path to savings. Ibotta’s mobile (Android or Apple) app offers rebates for purchases. Use it while shopping to:

  • Upload receipts.
  • Link your store loyalty cards for automatic tracking.
  • Amass points for gift cards and cash (through Venmo or PayPal).

Programs like Drop and Target’s Circle let you track your purchases and receive discounts and/or points to cash in for rewards.

5. Look for coupons
Sharaf Maksumov /

Coupons can save you a bundle, both online and off. Find them through:

  • Coupon websites: A few are RetailMeNot, and
  • Store websites: Download coupons to your store’s loyalty card.
  • Regional publications: I look forward to my monthly local “Good Deals” magazine, with coupons for all kinds of stuff, from ice cream cones to bathtub restoration. Watch for a shopper publication in your area.
  • Valpak: You may receive the familiar blue envelope in the mail; if not, visit and insert your ZIP code.
  • Social media: Follow your favorite retailers, and they’ll often mail you coupons regularly.

6. Be a preferred customer

Ikea Family
AlesiaKan /

Everyone’s a VIP these days. To claim your “special” status:

  • Sign up for email lists with favorite companies. You’ll be notified of sales and may get one-time discount codes, too.
  • Join the club. Establishments offering membership programs can include free products, discounts, birthday freebies and other goodies. When you check out at a store, ask if a rewards club exists.
  • Sign up for a store loyalty card. These can earn discounts and possibly points for more savings.
  • Rewards with every purchase. Some retailers go over and above, offering rewards with each purchase you make.

If you’re not a member of Costco and have been wondering whether you should be, check out this special promotional offer for online signups.

7. Hit the dollar store

Trong Nguyen /

Certain items should never be purchased at a dollar store.

But if you follow these shopping secrets, dollar stores can have plenty of great deals on other things you need. (Really, how much do you want to pay for a mop bucket, greeting cards, reading glasses or other necessary or handy items?)

Recently I helped my daughter clean and repaint her rental unit. The mop, sponges, cleanser, white vinegar and other supplies all came from a dollar store.

8. Buy secondhand

A woman sells items at a yard sale
Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko /

“Used” doesn’t have to mean “shoddy,” as our veteran thrift shopper explains, sharing his best tips.

At thrift stores and yard sales, you may even find clothing with department-store price tags still attached and unopened shrink-wrapped gift items.

Consignment stores are a happy medium between secondhand stores and retail stores. The managers at these places can be discriminating, so you’ll spend less (maybe a lot less) for new-looking goods.

A few more possibilities for pre-owned goods:

  • is the grandaddy of local secondhand sales sites. Letgo and its affiliate OfferUp are newer additions to this rich world of previously-used items.
  • Facebook has local sales pages: Type in your city or ZIP code and search terms like “yard sale” or “garage sale.”
  • The Freecycle Network has thousands of chapters in the United States with goods people offer free of charge. Or, post an “ask” for something you’re seeking.
  • The Buy Nothing Project, a hyper-local version of Freecycle, is a nonprofit effort to get neighbors to give to neighbors. I’ve seen great stuff offered for free, and, as with Freecycle, you can ask for things you want.

9. Use social buying sites

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Need the chimney swept or your windshield replaced? Can’t afford pricey restaurants? Social buying sites — Groupon and LivingSocial are two — offer discounted products, services, activities and even travel packages. The prices can be downright startling, and they offer a cheaper introduction to fun activities like ceramic painting, laser tag or bowling.

Pro tip: For even more savings, access Groupon and Living Social through a cash-back shopping site. Go to Rakuten and others mentioned above and type in “Groupon” or “Living Social” in the search box to enhance your savings.

10. Buy in bulk

Tyler Olson /

You don’t have to join a warehouse club to pay less by purchasing in bulk. Other places for bulk pricing:

  • Ask a supermarket manager if you can get a price break for buying an entire case of canned goods.
  • Produce auctions are a great source of sometimes unbelievable deals. Search online for “produce auction near me.”
  • Restaurant supply stores often are open to the public.
  • Check prices in your supermarket’s natural foods section for spices, rolled oats, cornmeal and other bulk goods at substantial discounts.
  • “Ethnic” markets often feature larger-sized options, especially for staples like rice and beans.

And of course, you’ll find discounts at Costco, Sam’s and BJ’s. See “10 Best Buys at Warehouse Clubs” for ways to use your memberships to the fullest.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

The 10 Most Affordable Cities for an Early Retirement

Senior couple walking in the forest
Kzenon /

This story originally appeared on SmartAdvisor Match, by

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Americans into an early retirement: In fact, the majority of the seven-percentage-point drop in the labor participation this past spring can be attributed to unemployed people who have prematurely decided to exit the workforce for good, according to a paper from the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago.

And though less than 1% of workers in the U.S. ordinarily retire before 50, according to data from the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, the rise of the “Financial Independence Retire Early” (FIRE) movement has Americans searching for ways to leave the labor force in advance of what may be the typical age range.

That’s contingent upon such factors as lowering your tax burden and living expenses while also enjoying low housing costs as a percentage of income while working to have the wherewithal to grow your nest egg. With all that in mind, SmartAsset crunched the numbers to uncover the most affordable cities for an early retirement.

To do so, we analyzed 100 of the largest U.S. cities across the following metrics: effective income tax, health insurance costs, cost of living, housing costs as a percentage of income, various other taxes, crime rates, medical facilities and unemployment rate.

For details on our data sources and how we put the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section at the end.

1. Gilbert, AZ

Gilbert, Arizona
Tim Roberts Photography /

Gilbert, Arizona, finishes first in three separate metrics included in this study:

  • Low housing costs as a percentage of income (18.75%).
  • Low violent crime rate (just 97 incidents per 100,000 residents).
  • Low property crime rate (just 1,203 per 100,000 residents).

Gilbert also finishes strong for its September 2020 unemployment rate of 6.3%, ranking 20th overall for this metric.

2. Chandler, AZ

Chandler, Arizona
Mark Skalny /

Housing costs in Chandler, Arizona, represent 19.87% of income, the seventh-lowest percentage for this metric in the study.

The average effective property tax rate is 0.55%, the 10th-lowest overall. In addition, the violent crime rate in Chandler is low, with just 228 incidents per 100,000 residents, the eighth-lowest rate for this metric across all 100 cities we analyzed.

3. Scottsdale, AZ

Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona, has an average effective property tax rate of 0.51%, the sixth-lowest of the 100 cities in this study. It also finishes 13th for housing costs as a percentage of income, at just 20.54%.

Scottsdale has a slightly higher sales tax than the other two Arizona cities in the top three, finishing in the center of the study for this metric, at 8.05%. This indicates that making everyday purchases may prove a bit pricier, even if you’re saving on housing.

4. Boise, ID

Boise, Idaho
Charles Knowles /

Boise, Idaho, has a sales tax rate of 6.00%, which ties for the seventh-lowest rate for this metric in the study.

Though Boise ranks in the bottom 10 for its fairly high income tax — with an estimated burden of 21.04% for a retiree with a $50,000 income — the city finishes fifth for its low property crime rate (just 1,579 incidents per 100,000 residents) and 12th for its low unemployment, at 5.9% in September 2020.

5. Lexington, KY

Lexington, Kentucky
Henryk Sadura /

Lexington, Kentucky, has a fairly high income tax. The effective rate for a retiree with $50,000 in income is 23.86%, ranking third-highest for this metric in the study.

The city fares better in some of our other metrics, though, including tying for seventh for sales tax, at 6.00%. Lexington also has housing costs that represent 20.38% of income, the 11th-lowest rate across all 100 cities we studied.

6. Plano, TX

Plano Texas
Epiglottis /

Plano, a suburb of Dallas, is tied for the study’s lowest effective tax rate for a retiree with an income of $50,000, at just 16.33%. It also has affordable housing. It ranks eighth for housing costs as a percentage of income, at 20.02%.

In addition, Plano is a relatively safe city, finishing in the top 10 for both violent crime incidents (148) and property crime incidents (1,683) per 100,000 residents. That said, Plano doesn’t fare as well in terms of property tax, where the average effective rate is 1.71%, a bottom-quartile ranking for this metric.

7. Colorado Springs, CO

Colorado Springs, Colorado /

Colorado Springs has the second-lowest average effective property tax rate in this study, at 0.43%. Colorado Springs’ unemployment rate for September 2020 was 5.9%, which ties for the 12th-lowest rate in the study.

The city has a sales tax of 8.25%, putting it near the middle of the pack for this study (tied for 51st). It also ranks within the top 30 of the study for relatively low housing costs as a percentage of income and average annual cost of a silver health insurance plan for a 60-year-old in the city.

8. Henderson, NV

Henderson, Nevada aerial photo
Khairil Azhar Junos /

Henderson, Nevada, is tied for the lowest effective income tax rate for a retiree with an income of $50,000, at 16.33%.

The city is also affordable when it comes to housing. Housing costs represent 20.36% of income, the 10th-lowest rate in the study, and the average effective property tax rate is 0.57%, the 15th-lowest rate in the study.

9. Fort Wayne, IN

Fort Wayne Indiana
Travis Eckert /

The Fort Wayne, Indiana, cost of living — the amount needed to cover a single person’s basic needs — comes to $18,904, the third-lowest amount in our study.

Housing is also relatively affordable in Fort Wayne, as housing costs there on average make up just 18.92% of income, also a third-place ranking in our study. That said, the taxes in Fort Wayne are fairly high. The effective rate for a retiree making $50,000 is 20.82%, in the bottom quartile of our study.

10. Mesa, AZ

Mesa, Arizona
Tim Roberts Photography /

Mesa, Arizona, has an average effective property tax rate of 0.52%, the seventh-lowest rate for this metric in the study.

The city also finishes in the top quartile for both of its relatively low crime rankings — it places 13th for property crime incidents (1,869 per 100,000 residents) and 23rd for violent crime incidents (377 per 100,000 residents). The downside is that sales tax in the city is fairly high at 8.30%, ranking in the bottom third of the study for this metric.

Data and Methodology

Man analyzing data on a laptop
fizkes /

To rank the most affordable cities for an early retirement, we looked at data for 100 cities. Specifically, we compared them over the following 10 metrics.

  • Effective income tax rate. This is the estimated income tax rate for a retiree with $50,000 in annual income. That income is split between $15,000 from Social Security, $10,000 from a private pension, $15,000 from retirement savings like a 401(k) or an IRA, and $10,000 in wages.
  • Average annual cost of a silver health insurance plan. To find this number, we used the Kaiser Family Foundation health insurance calculator. We estimated the cost of a silver plan for a 60-year-old in each city, not including any subsidies.
  • Cost of living. This is the cost of living for one person. Data comes from the MIT living wage study.
  • Median housing costs as a percentage of median household income. This is median housing costs divided by median household income. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Average effective property tax rate. This is annual property taxes divided by median home value. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2019 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Sales tax. This is the combined state and local sales tax rate.
  • Property and violent crime rates. This is the number of violent property crimes and violent crime rates per 100,000 residents. Data comes from the FBI UCR report and is for 2019.
  • Medical facilities per 1,000 residents. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns Survey and is for 2018.
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for September 2020.

In order to create our final rankings, we first ranked each city in each metric. We then found each city’s average ranking, giving a half weight to both crime metrics and a full weight to every other metric.

Using this average ranking, we created our final score. The city with the best average ranking received a 100 and the city with the worst average score received a zero.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

7 Things I Never Buy at Costco

Woman shopping for toothbrushes
Dmitri Ma /

There are many things I always buy at Costco. But there are also things I never buy there.

Not everything the warehouse club sells is a bulk bargain.

I’m not hating on Costco, though. I’m just using the beloved retailer to underscore the potentially high cost of being loyal to a store and failing to comparison shop.

I’m talking about not just comparing the price of one brand with another sold at the same store, but comparing the prices of one retailer with those of another.

I don’t do this unit-based price research for everything I buy, but I do it for items my household uses routinely. You’d be surprised by what you learn this way.

To illustrate, I’ve examined several types of purchases that I never make at Costco. Read on to find out where I do buy these items and why.

1. Cereal

Rido /

Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat, Special K — whatever cereal brand your household fancies, you’ll likely find it at Costco for less than it normally costs elsewhere. But that assumes you’re above generic and house brands.

Chains like Walmart and Aldi sell their own versions of a lot of big-name cereals. I’ve done the math on several that my household eats and always found them cheaper than Costco’s options.

Aldi has even better cereal prices than Walmart, in my experience, although I’ve only ever found generic Grape Nuts at Walmart. (The retailer’s Great Value brand sells them as “Crunchy Nuggets.”)

Wondering what else you might be overlooking at Aldi? Check out “My 7 Favorite Things to Buy at Aldi.”

2. Sandwich, storage and freezer bags

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We use a lot of resealable clear plastic bags in my house, so it bothers me to reach for a box at the store and not know that it’s the cheapest option that’ll do the job.

I’ve done the math on several types and sizes of these bags. Walmart’s Great Value brand always wins.

As with cereal, part of the problem with buying plastic sandwich and storage bags at Costco is that my store only carries one brand, which is a brand name: Ziploc.

Ziploc sandwich bags from my Costco, for example, cost roughly 10% more than Walmart’s Great Value version the last time I compared prices. And the price difference widens for larger and fancier bags.

3. Manual toothbrushes

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To be fair, not buying toothbrushes at Costco isn’t so much about price as it is about selection, and I do buy electric toothbrush heads at Costco because of their price.

I prefer manual toothbrushes that carry the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance, though. I’ve not seen them at my Costco store, so I usually order them online or grab them at Walmart or Target.

4. Trash bags

Travis Wolfe /

One of my household’s trash cans requires oversized trash bags — roughly 25- to 30-gallon bags — preferably with drawstrings.

The last time I checked, the cheapest option that fit the bill at Costco (33-gallon bags by Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand) was 2.5 cents more per bag than the cheapest option at Aldi (30-gallon bags by Aldi’s Boulder brand). That translated to Aldi’s bags costing 13% less.

For a list of Kirkland Signature products that are worth considering, check out “11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco.”

5. Shave gel

Jacob Lund /

Shave gel, like manual toothbrushes, is something I never buy at Costco due to a combination of selection and price.

My sensitive skin prefers shave gel or cream with as little fragrance as possible. The most affordable such option I’ve found is the Therapeutic Shave Gel from Target’s Up & Up brand. It lists fragrance as its second-to-last ingredient and costs me $2.69 at most. (By federal law, cosmetics ingredients must be listed in descending order of prominence, meaning listed in an order that reflects how prevalent they are, with the ingredients that constitute the largest percentages of a product listed first.)

6. Shampoo

Iakov Filiminov /

Suave’s Daily Clarifying Shampoo is about as basic as shampoo gets, but it does the job just fine for me. Not to mention I can buy a 30-ounce bottle for no more than $2 at Walmart.

Good luck matching that price at Costco. Even the chain’s house-brand option, Kirkland Signature Moisture Shampoo, costs several times as much for a 33.8-ounce bottle.

To be fair, though, I do buy conditioner at Costco.

7. Grains

Nataliya Sdobnikova /

My little household can’t always use up a 12-pound bag of rice or even a 5-pound bag of quinoa before its expiration date passes, so we don’t risk wasting food or money by buying it from a warehouse club.

The bigger rice eater of the household grabs that grain wherever is convenient for him, while I tend to buy quinoa at Walmart — which carries a house brand of organic quinoa.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

10 Cheap and Safe Countries for Retiring Abroad

Senior old woman tourist backpackTeodorLazarev /

How about an extended international vacation? That seems to be the choice for more and more Americans who are moving to other countries.

The Social Security Administration reports that more than a half-million people are receiving their benefits outside the United States.

Among the many reasons to take this plunge: adventure, friendlier tax laws, lower cost of living, less crime and a change of pace.

Investopedia compiled a list of affordable countries that rank high for safety using this data:

  • Safety. Based on the 2018 Global Peace Index by the Institute for Economics & Peace, a nonprofit think tank, this index uses 23 qualitative and quantitative measurements to rank 163 nations for “peacefulness,” from the calmest (No. 1, Iceland) to the least-peaceful (No. 163, Syria.)
  • Affordability. Numbeo’s 2019 Cost of Living Index identifies affordable locations, ranking them by comparing their cost of living (including groceries, restaurants, transportation and utilities, but not housing) with costs in New York City. If a country’s score is 92.40, for example, its cost of living is 92.4% of New York’s.

The following, in alphabetical order, are Investopedia’s choices for a cheap, safe retirement abroad.