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Smart Buying

Save Money on Practically Everything, 2011: Shopping and Entertainment

Shop sale mail

Sign up for alerts sent to your in-box.

ShopItToMe.com notifies shoppers of online discounts. Subscribers tailor their accounts to include preferred brands, sizes and mail delivery days (Mondays and Thursdays are best). The site then dispatches regular customized e-mails, complete with pictures of sale items. Clicking on a photo takes the user to the retailer's Web site.
Recent sale: Men's J. Crew wool-cashmere grid-stitch cardigan for $120. Retail: $168.
SAVINGS: $48
Recent sale: Kate Spade Wheeler Coulston leather shoulder bag for $200. Retail: $475.
SAVINGS: $275

Gilt Groupe is a shopping site that offers designer goods at up to 70% off. E-mails remind users of upcoming sales, which usually start at noon eastern time -- the juiciest deals sell out within hours.
Recent sale: DKNY men's reversible wool coat for $279. Retail: $700.
SAVINGS: $421
Recent sale: Magaschoni wool coat for $229. Retail: $698.
SAVINGS: $469

Groupon.com e-mails subscribers a daily coupon for 50% to 90% off a product or service. But there's a catch: The promotion applies only if enough members purchase the voucher. This encourages users to invite friends or family to buy the deals. If a sufficient number cash in, the deal goes through and credit cards are charged.
Recent deal: Meat, apparel and other manly products from Man Cave for $29. Retail: $61.
SAVINGS: $32
Recent deal: Gourmet coffees, teas and gifts from Joe's Coffee House online for $15. Retail: $35.
SAVINGS: $20

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ANNUAL SAVINGS: $480 (assumes $40 per month saved)

Scan and save

Smart-phone apps can show you competitors' prices.

Use smart-phone applications to scan an item's bar code with your phone's camera (you can also enter product codes manually), and then compare the price with prices at other retailers. Top shopping apps: Google Shopper (available for Android phones), RedLaser (iPhone) and ShopSavvy (Android and iPhone). Using ShopSavvy, for example, we found that a Hoover WindTunnel vacuum cleaner selling for $130 at Best Buy was available for $99 (with free shipping) at Amazon.com. At Staples, ShopSavvy discovered that an HP LaserJet P4014n printer selling for $800 was $526 at DocumentIO.com (an online tech seller that offered free shipping). If you show a competitor's price to managers at some stores, they may just match it on the spot.

If you search for the store you're visiting with Coupon Sherpa (iPhone), the app will produce any available in-store coupons, which you can show on your phone's screen at the register. Need some cash to pay for your deal? Find a nearby, in-network ATM using MasterCard's ATM Hunter app (iPhone and BlackBerry) and avoid bank fees. And all the apps listed are free.

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TOTAL ANNUAL SAVINGS: $360 ($30 per month saved)

Score tickets

Shop all the Web sites to guarantee the lowest price.

Use RazorGator.com, StubHub.com and TicketsNow.com to find seats for games and shows. The trick is to check each resale site and original sellers because price differences can be dramatic. Examples (prices are for two tickets):
Event: Cleveland Cavaliers versus the Atlanta Hawks, in Atlanta. Best Price: StubHub, $115. Comparable Seats: Ticketmaster, $214.
SAVINGS: $99
Event:Orchestra seats at Broadway musical West Side Story. Best Price: TicketĀ­master, $258. Comparable Seats: RazorGator, $605.
SAVINGS: $347
Event: Taylor Swift concert at the Staples Center, in Los Angeles. Best Price: StubHub, $350. Comparable Seats: TicketsNow, $550.
SAVINGS: $200

TOTAL ANNUAL SAVINGS: $745 (based on two sporting events, one show and one concert)

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Treat yourself

Buying gift cards at a discount is easy.

Gift cards are great when you have no idea what to give your sullen teenage nephew for his birthday. They're even better when you can buy them at a discount and use them yourself. PlasticJungle.com, GiftCardRescue.com and GiftCardCastle.com buy unwanted gift cards from consumers, sell them at less than face value and ship them free. GiftCardGranny.com compares offers from several such sites, plus eBay, to help you find the best deals. Recently, PlasticJungle listed a $100 gift card usable at Banana Republic, Gap or Old Navy for $89; GiftCardCastle offered a $100 iTunes card for $88.
ANNUAL SAVINGS: $360 (if you use three cards a month at a $10 discount each)

Party diva

Wow your friends with a high-class bash on the cheap.

Want to give a cocktail party for 50 without breaking the bank? Elizabeth Mascali, coauthor, with Dawn Sandomeno, of Plan to Party (Yorkshire, $20) and www.partybluprintsblog.com, offers alternatives to a fancy-schmancy approach.

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Invitations (30): Personalized cards at $1.25 each, $37.50 (free shipping with promotion) from the Tiny Prints Web site, plus $13.20 for postage: $50.70. Electronic invitations at www.punchbowl.com: $0.
SAVINGS: $50.70

Flowers: Centerpiece ($125) plus two smaller arrangements ($40 each) from a florist. Total: $205. Do-it-yourself: Three dozen red carnations ($22.50 from a grocer); leaves to line vases ($5 from a florist); one 6-inch square vase and two 4-inch square vases ($14 plus $20 shipping from www.save-on-crafts.com). Total: $61.50.
SAVINGS: $143.50

Servers: Three pro servers, five-hour minimum, $30 an hour plus $20 tip each: $510. Three college students with experience, five hours, $20 an hour plus $20 tip each: $360.
SAVINGS: $150

Food: Filet of beef, caramelized onions on a crostini from Twofiftytwo Restaurant, $3.75 each, 50 pieces: $187.50. Do-it-yourself: roast beef on a croustade, $1.45 each, 50 pieces: $72.50.
SAVINGS: $115

Ambience: Two crystal candleholders from Neiman-Marcus ($175) and two candles, $1.50 each, for the serving table: $178. Six dozen glass votives with candles from quickcandles.com ($40 plus $10 shipping): $50.
SAVINGS: $128

TOTAL SAVINGS: $587