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Leisure Spending

Travel and Cars

Europe for less, credit-card bonuses, Web-site bargains, off-lease vehicles

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I earn points on my Bank of America WorldPoints credit card for every dollar I spend. For a trip I'm planning to Asia, I saw that it would have cost me 85,000 points plus $250 in taxes and fees -- the equivalent of more than $1,000. I wouldn't have earned frequent-flier miles on my flight, and I couldn't find a great one anyway. So I decided to cash out the 100,000 points for $1,000 and buy the ticket myself. While looking for the right flight, I stashed the money in my ING Direct savings account, which earns 4.5%. When I charge the flight to my card, I'll earn points on my card and miles with whichever airline I fly. -- Mim King, Lexington, Ky.

KIP TIP: Visa and MasterCard charge a 1% fee for purchases made in a foreign currency. Most major credit-card issuers pass along that fee, plus an additional 2% when a purchase must be converted into dollars. Capital One's no-fee Platinum Prestige MasterCard (877-304-2066; www.capitalone.com) charges neither fee and has a low, 7.9% variable rate.

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Swap Homes

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Our family vacation to Europe proves that being financially astute doesn't necessarily translate into pinching pennies. We used frequent-flier miles and saved about $2,200 on airfare. Then we exchanged homes for a month's stay in Europe. That saved us another $3,200, for a grand total of $5,400. -- Kim Allen, Sarasota, Fla.

KIP TIP: To join a home exchange, check out HomeLink International ($90 per year for a Web-only membership) or Intervac ($79 per year for the Web only). The Caretaker Gazette ($30 per year) has online ads for house-sitting gigs, or you can subscribe to a bimonthly print version for $29.95 a year.

Airfare Bargains

As a young newlywed couple short on cash, my husband and I have saved hundreds of dollars a year by flying from Houston instead of from Austin or San Antonio, both of which are closer to our home. -- Melody and Deonte Thompson, Pflugerville, Tex.

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KIP TIP: To find low-cost airfares, go to Kayak.com. It will search more than 120 sources for the best fares on flights leaving up to three days before and after your ideal travel date. In a rush? Site59.com puts together last-minute weekend packages.

'Be My Housemate'

When I go on extended travel, I often sublet my home. I post an ad on Craigslist.com saying "Be my housemate for a week and then have the entire home to yourself." By living with the person, I put my mind at ease that he or she is trustworthy, and then I have someone to look after the house. The rent helps offset the cost of my travel. -- Felix Wong, Fort Collins, Colo.

Timeshare travel

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I bought a one-bedroom timeshare for $1,500 through an ad in the paper ten years ago. By purchasing a membership with RCI, a timeshare exchange, I can trade the unit for others worldwide. I've gone to Disney World twice, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and tons of other places. I have two small children and would never have been able to afford these vacations otherwise. -- Robin Gonzalez, Atlantic Highlands, N.J.

KIP TIP: To save money on fees when selling a timeshare, use online resale sites, such as the timeshare users' group at www.tug2net.com, www.redweek.com and www.myresortnetwork.com.

Timing Is Everything

By buying at the end of the model year, I was able to save quite a bit on a new car. I did research online at Edmunds.com and on the dealerships' Web sites. I found out about a $1,000 dealer incentive on the model I wanted, and I ended up buying a 2006 Acura TSX with a navigation system last December. I got it for $26,300 (the sticker price was about $30,560). -- Paul Chi, Arlington, Va.

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KIP TIP: Save on gasoline with the BP Visa (888-312-7427; www.bpchase.com). You get a 5% rebate on all BP purchases, including car washes and convenience-store items, plus 2% back on most travel and dining purchases and 1% on the rest of your spending.

Save on Insurance

With regard to auto expenses, our family uses online evaluation tools to do an annual review of our vehicle insurance rates. A recent switch to less-expensive auto insurance saved us almost $1,000. -- Kim Allen, Sarasota, Fla.

KIP TIP: Compare auto-insurance rates online at InsWeb.com, Progressive.com and StateFarm.com. Or get prices from an independent agent (go to www.iiaba.org to find one in your area).

Classic Roadster

In 1999 I bought a new BMW Z3. The moment I drove it off the lot, it was worth about $2,000 less. I sold it four years ago and bought another classic European roadster -- a 1991 Alfa Romeo Spider. It had 42,000 miles on it, but I got it for $8,000. Today I could probably sell it for $6,000. With less-expensive insurance, better gas mileage and a lower depreciation rate, I figure it has saved me $10,000 over the Bimmer. -- Felix Wong, Fort Collins, Colo.

KIP TIP: When buying a used car, look for vehicles that have come off-lease. You can expect to save 30% to 50% off the sticker price of luxury models after three years. And pricier makes usually have four-year warranties, so it's likely that the coverage has yet to run out.