One year ago, we decided to begin using the front page of the Monday metro section to bring you ideas on how to save money in a tough economy. Our Here's the Deal feature has been popular with readers. Our staff writers have provided a load of ideas for saving on groceries, cars, electric bills, cable TV, dental care — you name it. Here's a look back at some of our favorites over the past year. You can read the full reports — and even more money-saving tips — at tampabay.com/heresthedeal.
Flexing online power to get a good car deal
This was our first feature, written by Stephanie Hayes, who had just gotten a great deal on a car by harnessing the power of the Internet. Her first lines: "Last time, I did that thing people do. Go to dealership. Point to nearest passable automobile. Grunt. Agree to pay 437 percent interest." This time, Stephanie contacted dealerships via email, then played salespeople against each other. Even then, she still had to get tough when sales staff got weaselly when she arrived to make the buy. In the end, it worked out: She saved thousands.
Couponing as a second job
One of the best examples of the power of saved money was a January piece by Loretta Rieman about how she used a year of coupon savings — more than $3,700 — to fund a dream vacation to the Vatican and other historic sites. "It was a trip of a lifetime," Loretta wrote. "It was so much fun preparing for the trip knowing that I was paying for it through my couponing efforts — which turned out to be better than a second job." Loretta shared her couponing tactics — everything from matching coupons to buy-one-get-one-free deals to using online couponing sites to find more deals to getting in good with store managers.
Surviving financially through major surgery
Staff writer Bill Levesque chronicled last year how he navigated the complex world of medicine after a cancer diagnosis.
"Six surgeries. A dozen hospitalizations, some a month in duration. Two stints in intensive care. Blood transfusions. Chemo. Radiation. Chemo again. Drugs. Months out of work," Bill wrote. "It's hard to believe that my wallet and I survived."
Bill's account included advice on how to find emotional stability (rely on family, look for support groups) as well as financial (always double-check copayments and look for errors in medical bills).
Using online advice to repair appliances
In September, staff writer Patty Ryan told us how she used online advice to help her fix her washer and dryer — which she called Mom and Dad with great affection.
A snapped belt and a broken coupler were fairly easy fixes for Patty — who saved hundreds by not having to buy new units or have a repair person out to the house.
"My hands got dirty but my clothes got clean. It was that simple," Patty wrote. "No waiting till Monday for an appointment. No worrying about cost overruns. No adding clunky metal debris to the landfill. From then on, I started viewing machines — my dishwasher, my mini refrigerator, my gas oven — as less menacing, less mysterious."
Flea market tour
Senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin took us on a tour of local flea markets earlier this year.
"There are people who wouldn't be caught dead at a flea market," Susan wrote. "Too grungy, too lowbrow — too flea-y, they think. Then there are folks who don't consider a weekend well spent without a trip to one of these emporia of the everyman. Fortunately for us, Tampa Bay has a wealth of flea markets that offer great bargains on everything from books to kids' clothes to microwave ovens, RV chairs and 8-by-10 rugs."
The Wagon Wheel. The Mustang. The 49er. The Big Top.
From Pinellas Park to Oldsmar to Port Richey — Susan shared her impressions of each market and provided hours, addresses and special features.
What can you get for old technology?
In February, staff writer Jay Cridlin wrote a thorough piece on how to make money off older electronics — antiquated cellphones, CDs, computers, game systems and TVs.
You're not likely to get rich selling your old stuff. And if you have VHS tapes or old TVs that weigh more than a safe, you'll likely make nothing.
But there are ways to make a few bucks, especially with cellphones, iPads and other electronics that people may covet.
In search of discounts
Staff writer Katherine Snow Smith was our most prolific Here's the Deal writer, giving us six pieces with great money-saving advice.
Her first was simple: It pays to ask.
Katherine told us of her experiences asking for discounts or deals — whether it be at hotels or restaurants with disappointing service or while on the phone with company representatives.
Saving on spices
In April, food and travel editor Janet Keeler gave really useful advice on how to save money on spices. Do you really need to spend $8 on a big package of spice so you can use just a little in one recipe to never use it again?
Nope, says Janet. She has plenty of ideas on how to save — buy generic, get small amounts from specialty stores, keep your pantry organized so you don't buy spices you already have.
Sleeping in airports
One of the more peculiar and fun features came from staff writer Ben Montgomery, who shared tips he had learned about sleeping in an airport on a recent trip.
"Look," Ben wrote, "you're trying to sleep in an airport. It's not going to work very well, and you're going to get maybe a few hours of broken sleep at best."
But Ben did have some great advice for those travelers who have to choose between a few hours of shut-eye between flights in a costly hotel, and finding a comfortable spot to snooze in the airport before boarding.
How to avoid the loud vacuum cleaners. How to find a comfortable spot (like, what about the shoeshine chairs?) And how to keep your things from getting stolen while you're sleeping.
We're all going to die
Death and taxes, right? Andy Meacham, who writes our Epilogue feature, gave us lessons on getting ready for the inevitable.
To save money on funerals, caskets or cremation, Andy offered a number of tips, none more important than planning ahead.
As spring turned to summer, we started to provide savings advice for the season.
Jessica Vander Velde told us how she cut her $200 electric bill to less than $100 — even in the hot summer months.
Health editor Charlotte Sutton had advice for buying the sunscreen that actually works at protecting our skin for reasonable prices.
And Dan Sullivan provided lots of good advice for getting the lawn mower in shape for summer — without spending a ton.
If you missed those timely features over the past few weeks, make sure to check them out on our Here's the Deal website: tampabay.com/heresthedeal.