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Smart Buying

Spending

EBay profits, online deals, rebates and promotions galore

Search for the Best Deal

Even as a teenager, "the idea of getting something for nothing always appealed to me," says Bob Murdoch, now a vice-president with a commercial flooring contractor in Brielle, N.J. "I liked finding a way to beat the system."

Murdoch uses Google's Froogle function to scour the Internet for deals. "The best prices usually come from the shakiest dealers, but it gives you a starting point."

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Murdoch charges almost all of his purchases on rebate credit cards, and he has also figured out a way to boost his credit score by 40 points and qualify for lower interest rates. Murdoch discovered that he could lower his credit utilization ratio -- the amount of available credit that he's actually used -- by checking the balance online and paying his bill three days before the card issuer generates his statement.

But his biggest coup was challenging the property valuation of his house, which he and his wife, Gina, purchased in 1996, during a market slump. After Bob made his case, the local tax board lowered the assessment from $310,000 to $236,500. That saved the Murdochs $1,000 in taxes the first year and more than $15,000 over the past decade, says Bob, 40.

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Their home, which is near the seashore, has recently been reassessed for more than $1 million -- and once again Murdoch is contesting the assessment.

Online Bargains

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I have saved thousands of dollars a year by comparing prices and purchasing over the Internet. When my daughter wanted to buy a pot-bellied stove for her mountain home, the one in the store cost $2,295 -- plus tax, delivery and $400 for installation. When I searched for it on eBay, there it was, almost new, for $560 plus $180 air freight. Installation cost $200. Such a deal! -- Gay Burch, Las Vegas, Nev.

KIP TIP: Before you buy on the Internet, go to PriceGrabber.com, Pronto.com, Shopping.com or Shopzilla.com. Search for a product and you'll get a list of prices from various online retailers. To compare prices at local stores, try Shoplocal.com.

Free Wedding

Funds were low for our wedding reception, so we decided to advertise for businesses willing to sponsor it. In return, we would thank them in our invitations and include their information in our thank-you cards. Our cake was half off, the decorations were free, and a wedding planner helped us plan for a crowd of 300 and even made the centerpieces. All free. -- Lori and Tom Miedl, Independence, Ohio

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Rebate Madness

Sign up for a retailer's free program, such as Staples Rewards, and buy all of your office and school supplies at the store (if they're for business use and you get reimbursed, so much the better). You don't need to get the store's credit card to earn points and certificates. Also sign up for e-mails, which often have one-time-use coupons for up to $20 off. Pay with a credit card that gives points or cash back to boot. The card may also have a buyer's assurance program that extends a product's warranty. -- Bob Murdoch, Brielle, N.J.

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KIP TIP: The American Express Blue cash-rebate card lets you earn 1% on gas, grocery and drugstore purchases, plus 0.5% on other spending up to $6,500. After that, you get 5% cash back on gas, groceries and drugstore products, with no cap (800-223-2670; www.americanexpress.com). There is no annual fee.

Win-win

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I have a rule that I can spend online only what I earn online. For example, I went to eBay to sell clothes that no longer fit my kids, then used the profits to buy Denver Broncos memorabilia for my husband. I've cleaned out my closets and garage and keep my earnings in a PayPal account. It's win-win -- a clean house and no dent in my checking account. -- Kristina Brown, Liverpool, N.Y.

KIP TIP: A number of coupon sites comb the Internet for discounts, sales and special promotions. We like Alex's Coupons, CouponCabin.com and Keycode.com.

Mind Games

Every time I see something I "need," I pass it up and keep a running tally in my head of what I almost spent. Later I take that amount from my wallet, plus any loose change I have, and put it in a jar. I'm able to save about $600 a month. On the first day of the month, I use that money to pay a bill. And I always have enough left over to treat myself to that one thing I really wanted. -- Gloria Solis, Anaheim, Cal.

This special report was compiled and written by Jessica Anderson, Mary Beth Franklin, Amy Esbenshade Hebert and Kim Lankford.

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