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Smart Buying

Score the Best Deals on Big-Ticket Buys

With big expense can come big savings. These tips will get you the most out of college, cars and homes.

New cars

Summer is a great time to nab a bargain.

Ford Fusion. As dealers make room for the redesigned 2013 Fusion, the 2012 midsize (starting at $21,500) is selling for 19% off the sticker price, on average, according to TrueCar.com. The base model gets 23 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.

SEE ALSO: How to Score Even More Deals

Nissan Quest. Whether you’re carrying kids or cargo, the Quest minivan (starting at $26,815) gets the job done with fold-flat second- and third-row seats and safety features such as available blind-spot warning. It gets 21 mpg overall. Recent discount: 11% off sticker price.

Jeep Liberty. A redesigned Liberty will debut early next year, but the 2012 model (starting at $24,320) has been selling for 11% off sticker price. Popular with off-roaders, it gets you where you’re going with 210 horsepower and fuel economy of 18 mpg overall.

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College degrees

Earn a diploma for thousands less.You'll pay plenty for a top-tier college. But if you're interested in the following majors, you can get a great education at a value alternative (prices are the annual cost of undergraduate tuition and fees).

Jounralism. Northwestern University: $56,560. University of Florida: $15,526 in-state, $37,803 out-of-state.

Theater. New York University: $60,907. Purchase College SUNY: $21,405 in-state, $29,815 out-of-state.

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Architecture. Cornell University: $55,501. Iowa State University: $16,151 in-state, $28,023 out-of-state.

Business. University of Pennsylvania: $55,136. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: $17,628 in-state, $37,454 out-of-state.

Second homes

Four spots where you can still get a steal.

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Northeast Michigan. Michiganders look for bargains on the “sunrise” shore of Lake Huron.
Average price: $87,125
One-year change: +10.3%
Change since 2006: –25%

Pocono Mountains. The northeastern Pennsylvania vacation area is a big draw for New Yorkers and Philadelphians.
Median price: $106,500
One-year change: –16.8%
Change since 2006: –33%

Big Bear City, Cal. Southern Californians come for the lake and skiing.
Median price (1,500-square-foot home): $160,500
One-year change: –5.3%
Change since 2007: –60%

Panama City, Fla. The panhandle features white-sand beaches on the Gulf of Mexico.
Median price: $216,850 single-family; $185,000 condo
One-year change: +17%; +9%
Change since peak: –38% (2006); –51% (2005)

Big box mortgage

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Land a home-loan discount from Costco.

Ten participating lenders have agreed to cap their fees to process, approve and complete mortgage loans for Costco customers. Costco Executive members pay $600 or less and GoldStar members pay $750 or less for a mortgage, compared with the marketplace norm of 1% or more of the loan amount. (You’ll still have to pay closing costs.) The lenders consistently undercut market leaders on the annual percentage rate (interest rate plus fees) by 0.125% to 0.250% for conforming loans and 0.250% to 0.375% for jumbos, says John Alexander, director of Costco Mortgage Services with First Choice Bank. Visit www.costco.com and search for “mortgage services.”

Refurbished appliances

They’re as good as new and come with a warranty.

Save up to 80% on the cost of small appliances, electronics and tools by buying them “certified factory refurbished” through manufacturers or their authorized dealers. Returned or overstock items are inspected and serviced, tested and repackaged, and typically carry warranties of 90 days to two years. Recent examples: One-third off a KitchenAid stand mixer ($230 at www.shopkitchenaid.com) and a Dell Outlet Inspiron laptop ($333 versus $475 new at www.dell.com).