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Your Inflation Survival Guide

NBC10 Boston Consumer Investigative Reporter Leslie Gaydos is here with our inflation survival guide - money-saving tips to help you keep costs down

With inflation at a 40-year high, we are all struggling to make ends meet these days.

NBC10 Boston Consumer Investigative Reporter Leslie Gaydos is here with our inflation survival guide - money-saving tips to help you keep costs down

Inflation Survival Guide Part One: Get Organized

With inflation rising, people are struggling to make ends meet, but there are some steps you can take to make your money go farther.

We're seeing higher prices at the grocery store, the gas station, department stores, restaurants -- just about everything is costing more these days.

And you can only tighten the belt so far.

"Look holistically at your budget to see if there are any places where you can cut back so you have more flexibility to adjust for these higher prices that we are seeing,” said Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet.  "That means looking at things like subscription services that you’ve signed up for,  any kind of streaming, restaurant meals, all those wants that we spend money on.  If there is any way to cut back there, then we can have more to put towards these higher prices."

One way to potentially save a lot of money is to get organized. You will likely buy less if you know exactly what you have on hand, and avoid buying duplicate items because you can’t find something.

"Organization is actually a huge part to saving money,” said Palmer.  "And in some cases, if you can just dedicate, say half an hour on a weekend, or planning your meals for the week, for example, that makes it so much easier to avoid the last-minute take-out orders. Ordering take-out is a huge expense area that people often get trapped in and it adds up so quickly."

Keep an inventory of what you have in your refrigerator and use it before you have to toss it. And make a list of the things you need to pick up.  

"If you can plan ahead your own shopping trips, you can consolidate and actually do as many as possible at one time, it can really help make sure that you are minimizing the amount of gas that you buy," said Palmer.

"In some cases, you can even coordinate with neighbors and friends and actually go together to carpool for some of those errands."

Organize your coupons and discount codes and create an online file so you can find them when you need them.

And plan ahead. Shop for birthdays and holidays early so you can watch for sales and get the best prices. 

DealNews.com posts the best deals and sales they find every day on just about everything. You can set up an alert if you’re looking for something specific,  so you know when to buy at a good price.

"If you want to look at feature deals, or the ones that are the most popular or most recent, you can easily sort the feed by that," said Julie Ramhold, a senior analyst with DealNews.com.   "You can also filter into specific categories, so if you’re wanting to see what kind of clothing deals we have on the site, you can easily sort by that. You can filter for electronics, and see if there is a TV deal or a new cellphone deal or something like that."

And get your bills in order while you’re at it.

"If you miss just one bill payment, it can trigger late fees," said Palmer. "In the case of a credit card for example,  it can even trigger a higher interest rate on any existing debt." 

Inflation Survival Guide Part Two: Leverage Technology & Stack Savings

Apps and websites can help you be a savvy shopper and maximize your savings.

With the high cost of everything these days, you probably don’t want to hear that sales aren’t that great either.

“Not only are prices going up, but we’re seeing sort of lackluster deals than we would normally see or you know, we're just seeing a lack of them in general in certain areas,” says Julie Ramhold, a senior analyst with DealNews.com.

“Some manufacturers, some companies in general are trying to cut costs or they are trying to save money where they can so they may not be willing to drop the prices as low as what we hope to see this time of year or what we are used to seeing. “

So it’s more important than ever to be a savvy shopper, and apps can help.

“We really encourage people to let the apps do some of that work for you,” said Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet.  "For example,  the Flipp app, that’s Flipp for grocery shopping, you just put in your zip code and it lets you know what the sales are that week. So instead of having to go through the coupons yourself in the newspaper, you can use the app to shop those and maybe in some cases adjust what you’re buying based on what’s on sale that week. That can really help stretch your budget."

You shouldn’t be buying gas without first checking the GasBuddy app, so you know you’re getting the best price in your area.

“The other thing to consider if you’re making any big purchases,  you want to always shop around and compare prices,” said Palmer.  “The ShopSavvy app can be really helpful for scanning bar codes  when you’re in a store to make sure you’re getting the best price.”

If you’re shopping online, always look for promo codes. 

“Some retailers make it easier than others,” said Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert at RetailMeNot.com.  “Some make it so easy that they will alert you at the cart that there is a promo code available and enter it for you automatically.”

Sites like RetailMeNot.com have a list of codes available for different retailers.   And install a free shopping browser extension like Deal Finder or Honey.  These extensions automatically apply promo codes and coupons to your cart when you shop online.

“Another thing that I like to find and when I get it, it’s great, is free shipping promo codes,” said McGrath. "Even if you’re saving $6-$7 on that shipping cost, that’s a decent chunk of change."

Be sure to stack your savings by using cashback websites like Rakuten, Ibotta or BeFrugal. You’ll get money back when you make a qualifying purchase.

"The best thing about using sites like Rakuten or Ibotta, you just install that browser, activate cash back,” said Ramhold.  “It will open up a ticket for you and basically they are just tracking to see if you make a purchase.  You’ll see cashback in your account in a few days, as long as it’s in a category that they support.  Some stores will offer double or triple cash back sometimes, and if you’re already planning to make these purchases, it’s a good way to really stack those savings.”

“The other thing to think about is if you have a cashback credit card,” said Palmer. “In some cases, you can earn bonus cashback for your grocery and gas spending, so  it’s a really good idea to optimize that as well.”

And don’t forget to sign up for preferred customer or rewards programs at your favorite stores. Retailers tend to be very generous to their rewards members with special deals and sales because your loyalty is valuable to them.

Inflation Survival Guide Part Three: Negotiate & Think Outside the Box

Take a look at the essential services that you’re paying for and find opportunities to reduce those payments. It takes some effort, but calling and asking for a better rate or plan can pay off.

During high inflation times like these, sticking to a budget is crucial, but not easy.

"It’s really hard to say I need to cut back and to actually do it, but unfortunately that’s just the reality that a lot of people are facing right now," said Kimberly Palmer of NerdWallet.

“We have to make some difficult decisions, and in some cases that does mean not going out to your favorite restaurant as much as you’d like to.”   

She recommends trying to find areas to cut back on that you won’t miss as much, like those recurring monthly costs that we’ve signed up for, but don’t use much, like streaming services.

 And take a look at the essential services that you’re paying for and find opportunities to reduce those payments. It takes some effort, but calling and asking for a better rate or plan can pay off.

“If you see a competitor’s offer, call your provider and see if you can get them to match it,” said Julie Ramhold of DealNews.com. "If they won’t match that offer,  there is a good chance that they may give you an introductory rate as if you were a new customer and you can lock in a lower rate for another year or two.”

And don’t be afraid to negotiate -- it never hurts to ask.

“Whenever you come to an agreement, ask the other side, is that the best you can do?” said Jeff Cochran of the Shapiro Negotiations Institute.   “Just a very passive statement like that or question can get the other side to open up and say, 'we can do a little bit better.'" 

Even if you can’t negotiate a lower price, you may be able to get more value for your money.

“In the retail environment, we’re not always going to move the price of items, but we may have an opportunity to improve our position with add-ons,” said Cochran. " Is this the best you can do on this flat-screen television set?  Well, you know, the price is set by the manufacturer, but perhaps we can include a certain level of warranty. Perhaps we can give you the gold standard warranty for the price of the silver package."

If you’re checking into a hotel,  ask if there are any upgrades that you’re eligible for.  Buying your favorite wine? Ask if there’s a discount if you buy a case.

Scout bargains at drug stores and convenience stores, on Facebook Marketplace and eBay. And don’t forget about the dollar store.

”The dollar store is really helpful for certain kinds of purchases,” said Palmer.  “ And so, if you need paper supplies for example, or you have a kids birthday party coming up and you need party supplies, it’s really helpful for those kinds of items.” 

And think outside the box. 

“We’ve been hearing a lot about people not only shopping their own closets, but actually coordinating with their friends and having get-togethers where they are swapping clothes,” said Palmer. "They feel like they are getting something new,  but it’s free because you are trading with friends…that can be really helpful as well for stretching clothing budgets."

And back to that all important budget. Stick to it as much as possible and try to be intentional with your spending,  so you resist making impulse purchases.    It can be difficult to stay on top of your spending, but remember,  if you falter, you can always rework your budget and get back on track.

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