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Live Well On Less

Get the kids involved.

Feeding a child's appetite for store-bought sweets can get pricey. Instead, turn snack time into a family event. "Every Sunday my children and I bake a batch of cookies or brownies, and I put them in their lunches for the week. Not only is this a fun, free activity but it saves money that I would spend on prepackaged snacks," says Janice Kaplan, 37, of Gainesville, FL. "We brainstorm new ideas together, and it becomes a low-cost way for my family to have fun together."

Put the Web to work for you.

I recently decided I wanted new bedside lamps for my husband and myself. I found cool spotlights that matched our bedroom decor on the Pottery Barn website, but the color I liked was sold out, and the $79 sticker price was a shock. When I plugged in "Pottery Barn" and the item name on eBay, I found a seller in Mississippi hawking a pair of the lamps — in the coveted bright red, new in box! — for $55. Even with the $19 shipping fee, I saved myself 50 percent by searching the unparalleled auction site before buying retail. Tip: Request that eBay email you when a specific item you're looking for comes up for sale.

Butter up your favorite brands.

Companies love hearing from loyal customers and will often send them coupons or free samples, reports Brock, who once scored several bottles of aftershave from his favored manufacturer. Pen an enthusiastic letter or e-mail to the customer service department of your favorite conditioner, snack food, or cleaning product; it could save you cash while you continue to enjoy name-brand products. "When my daughter was born, I figured out quickly that a certain brand of diapers fit her best," says Jeannie Patro, 34, an editor from Milwaukee. But they also happened to be a more expensive name brand, so Jeannie went to the company's Website and signed up for their online customer network. "They send me newsletters and coupons every few months, and if I combine them with a sale or double-coupon offer at my store, I can save 10 or 20 percent off the regular price," she says.

Vacation in not-so-hot destinations.

"We recently went to Minneapolis for a weekend and stayed at a luxe hotel with a great spa for $200 a night, which was a lot more affordable than a comparable place in Chicago or New York," says Rae Meadows, 37, a novelist in Madison, WI. "I got a pedicure, my husband got a facial, and the treatments cost about 15 percent less than usual, so we even felt okay about ordering room service every morning." Check Internet travel sites like Travelzoo and Expedia for discounted rates and package deals.

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