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Best Bargains of 2011

Our annual guide to markdowns, discounts and strategies to save you money.

Get the best bang for your buck, on everything from stocks and credit cards to cooking and cars.

The deals are divided into three categories: steals you should snag now, the best websites for finding discounts, and ways to create your own best bargain.

Hawaiian
Island Hop

. Head to

 in mid September and save $782 over a mid-July trip. The tour of

,

,

 and the

 from

 includes 12 nights’ lodging and round-trip airfare from
 , city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850.
 for two. Cost: $2,849.

An Exotic Chinese Adventure. Visit

 and

 in November and spend $2,731- compared with a mid-July price of nearly $4,000. The trip for two includes round-trip airfare from

, a flight from Beijing to Shanghai, and hotel stays for three nights in each city. Book at Trip-Masters.com.

Cook out, Eat in. Eating in restaurants is pricey. Cooking at home is a chore. Split the difference by attending a meal-prep session at a professional kitchen operated by Dinners Done Right or Make & Take Gourmet. The companies provide ingredients, utensils, recipes, containers and food prep. You assemble the meals and bring them home to freeze and cook later. Cost: about $4 to $6 per serving.


. The
Impala
 species of antelope, Aepyceros melampus, closely related to the gazelle and found in the savannah and bush country of E and S Africa. It is the antelope most commonly depicted in illustrations and in motion pictures.
 gets a refresh for 2012, but the ’11 is selling for an average of 22% below the starting sticker price of $25,215, according to

. The Impala gets nearly 30
miles per gallon

 on the highway.

. Last chance to get the classic Cadillac cruiser; the
DTS

 bows out this year. At 19% below the $47,600 starting sticker, you can justify extras such as the lane-departure warning and blind-spot alert package ($695).

.

’s biggest SUV has three rows of seats and 20 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row—but with gas prices high, sales have been slow. Pick up the Armada (starting at $38,885) for 17% off sticker.

. The Aveo will be replaced by the Chevy Sonic for 2012, so dealers are pushing it off the lots at 19% off sticker price (starting at $12,725). The
subcompact
  
n.
An automobile smaller than a compact.

Noun 1. subcompact – a car smaller than a compact car
subcompact car
 gets 27 mpg in the city, 35 on the highway.

Cheap Tunes. Just because you play songs on

 doesn’t mean that you have to buy them from the

. As Amazonattempts to attract music customers, it often undercuts iTunes prices. Its MP3 Daily Deal offers a deeply discounted album, usually to the tune of $3.99. Recent offerings include rapper

’s debut Reasonable Doubt and

.

Best Time to Buy Furniture. New furniture hits showrooms in August, according to the American Home Furnishing Alliance. That means you can save 10% to 50% in July as retailers make room for the new inventory. January is another good time to buy, as new inventory arrives in February.

Lock in Your Kids’ Tuition. In 13 states, you can still prepay in-state tuition years in advance, protecting yourself against future tuition hikes. See whether your state offers a prepaid-tuition plan at the
College Savings Plans Network

. If your student wants to attend a private school, look into the

 529 Plan, which offers a similar arrangement for more than 270 participating private colleges.

 Stock (
XRX
 
). Best known for its photocopiers, Xerox acquired

 in 2010 and is now a major player in computer services for businesses. Through Affiliated, Xerox, which generated $22 billion in sales last year, runs corporate technology departments and manages company benefits. At $10, the stock trades at just nine times estimated 2011 profits, which analysts see climbing 14% this year (all prices are through June 3).

 Stock (
WLP

WLP Wafer Level Packaging
WLP Women’s Learning Partnership
WLP Workplace Learning & Performance
WLP World Library Partnership, Inc.
). WellPoint, the largest

 health insurer, is in a better position to cope with health care reform than most of its rivals. Its
immensity
  
n. pl. im·men·si·ties
1. The quality or state of being immense.

2. Something immense:  
—revenues should exceed $59 billion, this year—gives it leverage with health providers. At $77, the stock sells for less than 11 times estimated 2011 earnings.

 Stock (
CVX

CVX Comunidad de Vida Cristiana
CVX Code Veronica X
CVX Critical Viscosity of Xenon
CVX Carrier, Experimental
). Profits are
gushing
  
v. gushed, gush·ing, gush·es

v.intr.
1. To flow forth suddenly in great volume:

2.
 for Chevron. Analysts expect earnings for the integrated energy giant to rocket 38% this year. Meanwhile, the company has been selling off refining assets and recently acquired

, which gives Chevron a major foothold in the

 formation. At $101, the stock sells for eight times earnings.

Fire Sale on ETFs. The cost of owning—and buying—exchange-traded funds keeps coming down. The annual expense ratio for Focus Morningstar US Market Index (
FMU

FMU Fuel Metering Unit
FMU Flexible Manufacturing Unit
), an
ETF

See exchange-traded fund (ETF).
 that tracks the entire U.S. stock market, and Focus Morningstar Large Cap Index (
FLG

FLG Fedde Le Grand
FLG FMS-Like Gene
FLG Flaming Lotus Girls  
), a fund that tracks large-company stocks, is 0.05%. The largest (and oldest) ETF,
SPDR

See Standard amp; Poor’s Depositary Receipt (SPDR).
 S&P 500 (SPY), charges 0.09% annually. Meanwhile, a growing number of discount brokers, including

, Fidelity,

 and

, are letting their clients trade selected ETFs without commissions. And

 customers can trade all 15 FocusShares ETFs, which Scottrade sponsors, for no charge.

0% Balance Transfers. Cut your credit card interest rate to 0% for 21 months by transferring a balance to the Citi Platinum Select

 or Citi Diamond Preferred Card—among the longest offers available. Note that there’s a 3% transaction fee.

Free ATM Withdrawals. Open a checking account at Ally, Schwab Bank or E*Trade (all

See Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
-insured) for a rebate on fees at any U.S. ATM. None of the accounts requires a minimum balance or charges a monthly fee, and all offer free online bill pay. Or open an account at one of about 1,000 banks and credit unions that belong to the Allpoint network, which includes 43,000 surcharge-free ATMs worldwide.

Manage Your Tech-Files for Free. When you upgrade to a new computer, it probably won’t come with

, and you’ll pay $115 (at

) for the basic suite. Instead, try

 Google Docs or

. Both offer basic word processing, spreadsheets and multimedia presentations.

 Storage. Need a place to store and share files?
Windows Live SkyDrive

  (25 gigabytes of free space) lets you upload music files, documents, photos and videos. Bonus: You can create and edit Microsoft Office files in your SkyDrive browser window and save them directly to your account—no Office download required. You can also use Dropbox (2GB free; $120 per year for 50GB) or

 (5GB free; $20 per year for 20GB).

Get a Steal on Security. You don’t have to pay $70 a year for security software.
Avast
  
interj. Nautical
Used as a command to stop or desist.


[From Middle Dutch hou vast, hold fast : hou, houd, imperative of houden, to hold + vast
 Antivirus and

 Security Essentials for Windows get good reviews from tech experts and offer basic defenses, including malware protection.

Sign Up with an Online Tutor. Tired of trying to teach your kid the difference between sine and
cosine
 see trigonometry.


See sine.


COSINE – Cooperation for Open Systems Interconnection Networking in Europe. A EUREKA project.
? Ask your school or local library whether it provides access to free online tutoring, such as

  and

. These sites offer tutors in a range of subjects and let students and tutors communicate online.

Take the
Schlep
 or schlepp also shlep   Slang
v. schlepped also shlepped, schlep·ping or schlepp·ing also shlep·ping, schleps or schlepps also shleps

v.tr.
 Out of Shopping. Compare prices and find bargains on sites such as

 (or follow @dealnews on

 for daily alerts),

, and Amazon.com. DODTracker.composts daily deals from multiple sites.

Cheap Date. A coupon from

 gets you discounts of up to 60% at more than 18,000 restaurants. Regular promotions on the site bring the cost down even further, to as little as $8 for a $100 coupon (deals are limited to one coupon per party).

Lowest Airfares. Enter your flight itinerary at

/travel, and the tool will tell you whether you should buy your ticket now or wait for the price to drop before your trip.

Cheap Car Rentals. Use the “Hot Rate” feature at

 to find last-minute discounts in selected cities, or bid on a car at

. The car model isn’t revealed until after you book and pay, but you’re guaranteed a vehicle in a general category from a major agency.

Bring the kids, get the freebies. How much do you hate buying a $12
entrée
 or en·tree  
n.
1.
a. The main dish of a meal.

b. A dish served in formal dining immediately before the main course or between two principal courses.

2.
a. The act of entering.
 for a
picky
  
adj. pick·i·er, pick·i·est Informal
Excessively meticulous; fussy.


Adjective

[pickier, pickiest] Brit, Austral & NZ
 6-year-old? If the answer is “a lot,” visit

. These sites point you to restaurants in your area where kids eat free (usually at certain times or on certain days).

Down to Earth Athletic Shoes. Find low prices on athletic shoes online. For example, at

, New Balance, 993 running shoes (retail price: $145) cost $103 if you join its VIP free-shipping club for $1.99. At Holabird Sports, the same shoes cost $100. For discounts on kids’ shoes, check out

 

Cool Skiing Discounts.A hot summer day is the perfect time to land a discount on ski and snowboarding gear. Check local sports shops for preseason sales, and in early fall,
scour

 Web sites, such as

,

, and

, for lift-ticket discounts that could knock $20 or more off the daily rate at selected resorts.

Salvage Savings at Home. Look for prices up to 60% off retail for architectural salvage: materials, components and trim removed from demolished or renovated homes. For a directory of stores, visit

 and click on “Salvage.” Or snag donated building materials and home goods, new and gently used, for 50% to 90% off retail prices at
 nonprofit ecumenical Christian organization that enables low-income people to own affordable, livable housing. Headquartered in Americus, Ga., it was founded in 1976 by businessman Millard Fuller and his wife.
 ReStores. To locate one, visit Habitat.org/restores.

Thrift Shop for Your Home Online. Search online for consigned home furnishings to find stores in your area. At sites such as

, you’ll typically find a higher markup than at thrift stores, but the furniture comes from manufacturers, interior designers and high-end retailers as well as homeowners, and the store may even provide design help.

Ditch Full-Price Appliances. For discounts of 20% to 60% on scratch and dent items—blemished or returned (but unused) appliances, electronics, tools, and more—visit a

 clearance center or ask at an appliance dealer or big-box store.

Sign up for Private Sales. For steep discounts on luxury travel, check

. It holds short-term “flash sales” on high-end hotels and other services. If enough people buy a deal at Trip­Alertz.com, the rate drops from an already-discounted member price (membership is free). Offerings recently ranged from a stay at a

 resort to a rocket-plane ride into space.

Scout Out Student Discounts. Globe Student Discount points students (and parents) to deals on computers, travel, books, student health insurance and software. With

, college students register a credit or
debit card
 card that allows the cost of goods or services that are purchased to be deducted directly from the purchaser’s checking account. They can also be used at automated teller machines for withdrawing cash from the user’s checking account.
 and use the card to get cash-back deals.

Shop and Save on Amazon. Most orders of $25 or more qualify for free shipping (generally within five to eight days).

With that deal, there is no real need for Amazon Prime, which offers free two-day shipping and access to 5,000 instant movies and TV shows for $79 a year. Why pay for shipping when you can get it free? And the movie selection pales compared with the choices at

.

Swap Your Digs. With Home­Exchange.com, enjoy free lodging in houses and apartments at destinations worldwide—as long as you’re willing to share your home, too. The site has more than 40,000 listings in 144 countries. The annual membership fee is $119.

Deal Alerts. Instead of going to deal sites, get alerts via Twitter by subscribing to deal aggregators such as @deals­plus and @CheapTweet. Or subscribe to Deals on

 (now available in

,

,

,

 and

 through your Facebook account) or

 Offers (in

;

, Cal.; San Francisco; and
 see New York, city.


New York City

City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S.
). You can get also get an instant discount if you note your location with a mobile phone using Facebook,

 and other mobile social networks. But in exchange for the discount, you give up precious privacy because these coupons show in real-time where you’re located.

Mobile Money Saver: Coupon Sherpa. Use Sherpa to get in-store coupons, which you can show on your phone’s screen at checkout. Available on

 only.

Mobile Money Saver: ShopSavvy. You can scan an item’s bar code with your phone’s camera or enter product codes manually, then compare prices at other retailers. Available on

 and iPhone.

Mobile Money Saver: ShopKick. Download this app to find deals at stores, and earn points for gift cards and other rewards just by walking into a store and scanning (or purchasing) products. Available on Android and iPhone.

Mobile Money Saver: Scoutmob. Get discounts at restaurants, coffee shops and stores in your city with this

 competitor; if you use the deal, you get incentives for return visits. Available on Android and iPhone.

Mobile Money Saver: HotelPal. Book a hotel room at the last minute or on the go. The app uses GPS to locate the best hotel deals in your area, or you can type in a zip code. Available on Android and iPhone.

Group Savings. Sign up for daily deal e-mails for discounts of up to 90% off
goods and services

. At Groupon, a certain number of people have to sign up in order for a deal to “tip,” so sharing it on your social networks helps everyone get a
markdown

. At

, persuade three of your friends to buy the deal and you get yours free.

Fun-Fact: Consumers spent $873 million on deal-a-day offers in 2010, and that may surge to $4 billion by 2015.

Go the Mile with AAA.. A membership with AAA ($65.50 a year) provides discounts of 7% to 30% on everything from prescription glasses to hotel lodging.

 Membership. You pay $50 a year for membership, but low markups combined with coupons make discounts on bulk goods, tires, TVs and even caskets hard to beat.

As for jewelry and large appliances, the warehouse is probably not your best option. Go to a jeweler for diamonds, unless you’re prepared to get an independent appraisal. And Costco’s selection of large appliances is limited— shop the sales at major appliance stores.

Escape to an Outlet Mall. Some luxury and designer items, such as Coach bags, and high-end kitchen goods, such as Le Creuset are great deals at factory stores.

On the other hand, lower-quality outlet-only merchandise, such as

’ 346 line or Gap factory-outlet clothes may not be worth it.

Rebates from Plastic. Get something back from your credit card.

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC TYO: 8648 ) is the largest commercial bank in the United States in terms of deposits, and the largest company of its kind in the world.
’s no-fee Accelerated Rewards

 card lets you redeem points for cash, travel or merchandise. You earn 1.25 points for every dollar you spend and receive a $50 credit after your first purchase.

Fun Fact: Did you know that credit card users earn more than $11 billion in rewards each year?

Benefit from

. For people age 50 and older, join AARP ($16 a year), and get up to 30% off hotel stays, car rentals and prescription drugs.

Ask for a discount. A store just might take less for an item it wants to unload—say, an already-marked-down sale item—or give you a break if you offer to pay cash.

Be willing to walk away.. If you don’t get the price you want, head for the door. Chances are you’ll get a better offer before you hit the sidewalk.

Send in Your Rebate. Only 47% of respondents in a recent poll say they send in rebates always or often.

Make a Tech-Deal. One in seven buyers of major electronic items haggle on price, and half of them win a discount.

Think Outside the Brand-New Box. For affordable electronics, you can find refurbished gadgets for 10% to 75% off, depending on the item. Enter “Special Deals” into the search bar on Apple’s Web site to find

,

 and computers. Recently, a used

 cost $899—about 25% off the original price—and included a one-year
limited warranty

. Amazon also sells used tech items.

Fund a 529 College-Savings Plan. With these state-sponsored accounts, your earnings grow tax-free and escape taxes altogether if you use the withdrawals for qualified educational expenses. If you live in a state that offers a tax benefit for contributions (as do 34 states and the
 federal district (2000 pop. 572,059, a 5.7% decrease in population since the 1990 census), 69 sq mi (179 sq km), on the east bank of the Potomac River, coextensive with the city of Washington, D.C. (the capital of the United States).
), go with that plan. If not, we like the index-fund portfolios in the direct-sold version of the

 Bright Start College Savings Program. For more advice, we picked our favorite 529 plans, state-by-state.

Do the Math on Textbooks for Your Kids. A textbook that costs $100 new will likely cost $75 used, $50 or $60 as an e-book and $40 to $50 as a rental, says Rich Hersh­man, of the

. You could resell a new book for about half the price you paid—as long as it hasn’t been replaced by a new edition.

Trim Green Fees. When the recession hit a few years ago, playing a round of golf became a luxury for many. To lure players back, courses offered greens-fee coupons—printed in local newspapers and offered in coupon books or even online (search for a course name plus “discounts”). Now golfers have grown used to the savings, and courses in many areas are stuck in a price war. You’ll typically save $10 to $30 a round.

Best Time to Buy Airfare. Fly on Wednesday and you’ll get the best price, according to

. Traveling over the holidays? You may save if you fly on the holiday itself.

Best Time to Buy Cars. For the best combination of discounted price and good selection on a new car, shop in September, as dealers clear the lots for the newest models. For used cars, you’ll find the best selection and best chance to negotiate in April.

Best Time to Buy Clothing. If new togs haven’t sold in about six weeks, stores start lowering prices. Weekend sales usually start on Thursday, and that’s when the selection is best.

Best Time to

. December is a good time of the year to buy a computer; deals range from 15% to 50% off.