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How to save money on everything

TOC staffers share our best penny-pinching tricks.

When shopping retail, ask your cashier if there’s a discount available. I’ve saved up to 20 percent because a friendly salesperson simply swiped a friends-and-family barcode.—Marissa Conrad, associate Features editor

Sign up for text-message coupon subscriptions at restaurants near your workplace. They often include offers you can’t get another way. Bonus: Finding a deal helps me make up my mind about where to eat lunch!—Zachary Whittenburg, Dance editor

Comb through the listings on Craiglist—“free” under the For Sale category and “beauty” under the Services category—to find cheap hair color (you usually pay only for the cost of the product used) and free haircuts from salons. Many have their own training programs that stylists go through post–beauty school, so it’s less of a crapshoot than going to the schools themselves, where you may get a real beginner.—Amy L. Hayden, Kids editor

If you’re upgrading your smartphone, don’t toss the one you’re retiring. will buy it to refurbish and resell. My husband just sold his crappy three-year-old iPhone 3S to Gazelle for $67. It even sends you a box with postage included!—Liz Plosser, managing editor

Visit Google Shopping ( or to run a quick scan of hundreds of online stores for the best price on an item—just choose to sort by price. Then, Google a coupon code for that item. For example, when I found the perfect Chilewich floor mat, I searched the Find to locate the cheapest online store, Googled that store name plus “coupon code,” and got a 20-percent discount using digits I pasted in at checkout. I saved about $200 from the rug’s original price!—Erin Osmon, Web editor, Time Out Chicago Kids

Go vegetarian some of the time. When I go out to eat, I notice that (often great) meatless entrées are around $5 cheaper. I’m not a vegetarian, but it depresses me that some Midwesterners don’t even question whether meat needs to be part of every meal.—Lauren Weinberg, Art & Design editor

Join stuff-swapping network Freecycle ( both to get rid of things you don’t need and grab things you want. Items I’ve gotten for free on this list: a Pachinko machine ($300 or more on eBay), an antique sewing machine and an entire collection of Woody Allen movies on VHS. (I knew holding on to my VCR would pay off!)—Amy L. Hayden, Kids editor

Amazon Prime, which gives you free two-day shipping and $3.99 overnight shipping, requires a paid membership after a free one-month trial. Sign up for free club Amazon Mom (they don’t check if you have kids, but there is a waitlist) and you score three months of Prime privileges, plus an extra month per every $25 order placed in Amazon’s Baby Store (up to a year). Thanks to diapers for two babies, we’re racking up the perks!—Liz Plosser, managing editor

If you’re contemplating joining a gym, sign up at the end of the month. The membership teams have quotas to meet each month, so they’ll often waive initiation fees and/or lower your monthly rate to get you to commit ASAP.—Kevin Aeh, Shopping & Style editor

Just because a special isn’t posted at a bar doesn’t mean everything is full price. Ask. Usually there’s some beer, wine or cocktail that’s a few bucks cheaper on a given night.—Novid Parsi, chief senior editor

Tuesdays around 2pm are the best time to buy plane tickets, according to (legit) website Why? It’s related to when airlines refresh ticket prices.—Liz Plosser, managing editor

When traveling, my husband and I have saved hundreds of dollars by skipping hotels in favor of apartments we’ve found on Airbnb (, where individual homeowners can post vacation rentals.—Lauren Weinberg, Art & Design editor

Most salons, spas and mani/pedi joints run specials from Monday–Wednesday.—Jessica Herman, associate Shopping & Style editor

Make your own baby food. The price of one four-ounce container of organic squash in the baby-food aisle: $1.59. The price of one squash at the supermarket that makes 32 ounces worth of puree: $1.30.—Liz Plosser, managing editor

Ask around to find a stylist operating out of his/her home. Yes, it’s illegal (most are unlicensed), but it’s also nearly half what you’d pay in a full-service salon. My partial blond highlights are $55 with my guy; usually they’re more than $100.—Laura Baginski, Features editor

Many Chicago residents know to check out free museum passes at the public library, but good luck getting any at Harold Washington. Try one of the smaller neighborhood libraries for a much better shot at scoring free admission to the Art Institute, Shedd and more.—Novid Parsi, chief senior editor

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