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Booklet filled with tips on shopping and saving

(ran LT NT CT, CI)

A consortium of business, government and consumer officials has come up with a package of spending tips it says could save the average American family about $1,000 a year.

In a pamphlet titled "66 Ways to Save Money," the Consumer Literacy's Consortium focuses on purchases where consumers spend the most money but often do not have adequate information to compare prices. These include major appliances and prescription drugs.

At first glance, the booklet appears to be little more than a list of rather obvious tips. But Robert Krughoff, a consortium member and president of the Center for the Study of Services, explained the consortium's goal this way: "There is a lot of consumer advice out there, and we felt it was important to pull together what we thought were the most important things that people could do fairly easily and put them in simple, direct language."

Mary Levy, director of the U.S. Consumer Information Center's publications division and also a consortium member, said that the booklet's simplicity was one of its attractions and that the topics were chosen with great care.

"While most people are aware of many of these tips, it is hard to keep them in mind on a daily basis," Levy said. "But you have to consistently apply them and think about them and when you do, the results are fairly significant."

Many consumers remember to comparison shop when they see money leave their hand, she said, as when they buy clothing in a store. They may be less likely to think about ways to save in the long term, such as choosing an energy-efficient appliance, or about shopping for the best deal on such expenses as credit card fees or insurance.

"We would like to get the tips into every household in the country," she said, adding that the consortium hoped to distribute about 1-million copies in the coming year. "We think it will result in about $1,000 of savings" for every family who follows these tips.

While the pamphlet is written for a general audience, some issues are particularly important to seniors. Here's a sampling:

Prescription drugs: Since brand-name drugs are usually much more expensive than their generic equivalents, ask your physician and pharmacist for generic drugs whenever appropriate. Pharmacies charge widely different prices, so call several to compare. If you take a drug for a long time, consider calling mail-order pharmacies, which often charge lower prices.

Food: You can save hundreds of dollars a year by shopping at the lower-price food stores rather than at convenience stores, and you'll spend less if you shop with a list, avoiding the often expensive impulse purchases. Compare unit prices on shelf labels and stock up on those non-perishable items with lower per-unit costs.

Utilities: To save hundreds of dollars a year on electricity, make certain that any new appliances you buy, especially air conditioners and furnaces, are energy-efficient. You can do this by checking the Energy Guide Label required on all new appliances. Some utility companies have programs to help reduce the costs of buying new appliances.

Also, enroll in load management and off-hour rate programs to save on electricity costs. A home energy audit is another way to save on heating and air-conditioning costs. Ask your electric or gas utility if it can do this audit for free or for a reasonable charge, or if not, whether they can refer you to a qualified professional.

Air fares: You can lower the price of a round-trip air fare by as much as two-thirds by making certain your trips include a Saturday evening stayover and buying the ticket in advance. Watch for fare wars and be prepared to act quickly.

Savings and investments: Before opening an account in any financial institution, compare interest rates, which vary a lot and over time can significantly affect interest earnings. Also find out whether your money is insured by the federal government. An increasing number of products offered by these institutions, such as mutual stock funds and annuities, are not insured.

For a single copy of "66 Ways to Save Money," send 50 cents to Save Money, Pueblo, CO 81009. Make your check or money order payable to the Superintendent of Documents.

Mary Beth Franklin is a Maturity News Service columnist.