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LI is expensive. Here's how to live better for less money.

Robert Sinclair, manager of media relations for AAA Northeast, has some tips on how to save money when it comes to buying a vehicle. (Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin)

Life is expensive.

Life on Long Island is very expensive.

Finding ways to make more money is only part of the equation. The other side is spending less. 

Money is a finite resource. Many of us pay the most pressing bills and try to squeak by.

Instead, try thinking of yourself as a business, where conserving and allocating capital efficiently is crucial to success.

These tips can help free up funds and open up options for saving, investing or simply living a little better, whether it's for a vacation, a child's education, retirement savings, a 65-inch 4K TV or a cherry-red SUV. 

Discounts for the asking

Long Islanders are not known for their reticence. So ask for a discount. For seniors, first responders, veterans, active military, military dependents, educators, students and others, just asking can unlock savings on everything from autos to restaurants.

One example: Educators -- employees of public or private schools, colleges and universities -- can go online at General Motors' website at gmeducatordiscount.com to get an authorization number to bring to their local General Motors dealership. That educator discount, worth more than $2,600 on a 2019 Chevy Silverado 1500 pickup truck, for example, can be extended to a spouse or dependent children or stepchildren under the age of 21. GM also has discounts for college students, military personnel and first responders (paid or volunteer firefighters, police, EMTs and 911 dispatchers).

Ford has special offers for military and first responders, and other automakers have similar programs.

Prefer to travel on two wheels? Motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson offers discounts for active duty and deployed military.  

You'll need some food to hold a tailgate party with your new pickup. King Kullen, Stop & Shop and other grocery chains offer discount programs, including digital coupons (no clipping required); Stop & Shop has a points program to save you money on gas.  

Wild by Nature sends Wild Card loyalty program members discount certificates worth 5 percent to 20 percent off a purchase, depending on how much they spent in the previous eight weeks. If you spend $100 a week, you'll get a coupon good for 15 percent off. Seniors 65 and over get 10 percent off every day. Uncle Giuseppe's Marketplace offers shoppers 65 and over a 5 percent discount on Wednesdays.

A variety of other retailers offer discounts if you know to ask. For example, P.C. Richard & Son has programs for veterans and active military, first responders, seniors 65 and over and Long Island hospital employees, says Joe Morrone, director of VIP sales. Discount seekers can present credentials to the store manager.

Hit the road 

Apps like Gas Buddy (gasbuddy.com) and  Waze (waze.com) can help motorists track down cheaper gas. The average price for regular gas on Long Island was $2.86 a gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA. A recent scan of prices on Gas Buddy showed a Syosset station selling regular for $2.89 a gallon, but one just a few miles away in Farmingdale at $2.49. That's a saving of more than $4.80 on 12 gallons. For a car that gets 20 mpg and is driven 12,000 miles per year, that's an annual saving of $240. 

If discounts are the wind beneath your wings, sign up for frequent-flier programs. Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and Frontier Airlines, carriers that fly from Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, all have frequent-flier programs and affiliated credit cards that can rack up free flights.

For instance, Frontier offers 40,000 bonus miles redeemable for up to two roundtrip tickets to Frontier credit card holders who spend $500 on purchases within 90 days of receiving the card and pay the $79 annual fee.

Commuter railroad delays are inevitable. But discounted fares can soften the anguish. The Long Island Rail Road offers discounts for monthly and weekly riders and groups of 30 or more. Monthly ticket holders save about 50 percent based on 42 one-way rides per month. Discounts are available for active-duty military, seniors, children and children traveling with an adult (see new.mta.info/fares-and-tolls). 

A family fare deal lets up to four children aged 5-11 ride for $1 each when accompanied by a fare-paying adult during off-peak or afternoon peak hours.

Eat for less

If you work 235 days a year and save $5 a day by packing your lunch instead of going to a cafeteria or a restaurant on just 200 of those days, you would save $1,000.

The triannual Long Island Restaurant Week, longislandrestaurantweek.com, offers the opportunity to dine at top restaurants as you minimize the sticker shock. Three-course prix fixe  dinners are $29.95 at about 250 restaurants expected to participate in the fall event, scheduled for  Nov. 3-10. 

Eating ramen noodles at home may save money, but sometimes you've got to live.

 Get the points

Avoid fees and interest by paying off balances monthly. The average annual interest rate on U.S. credit cards as of May was 15.13 percent, according to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve. Paying off your balance is the equivalent of getting a 15 percent return on an investment without the uncertainty of buying stocks. Overall, American housholds carried an average credit card debt of $8,390 in the first quarter of 2019, according to a study by WalletHub.

Get paid for spending. Take advantage of credit-card rewards, including cash back, free hotel stays and airline miles. Websites like The Points Guy, thepointsguy.com/, can provide guidance. If you put $2,000 a month on a credit card that has a 1 percent cash back feature and pay off the balance monthly, that's $240 in your pocket over the course of a year.

Go to the library

Still think public libraries just lend books? Think again. These days, they are rich resources for movies, music, TV shows, audiobooks and events. Free streaming movies, music, ebooks and audiobooks are available through apps such as Hoopla. Some libraries  lend patrons GoPro Cameras and Google Chromecast devices. Libraries screen movies, and host concerts and author events. They sponsor free classes in English as a second language and provide language-learning programs through Rosetta Stone and other companies.

But, as the TV infomercial pitchmen say: "Wait! There's more!"

Some libraries offer notary public services and limited attorney consultations. The Port Washington Public Library and others on Long Island provide access to 3D printers.

Many libraries lend passes for dozens of regional museums, including the Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

General admission for an adult to the Intrepid is $33; children 5-12 have to pony up $24. Cost with the library pass: $0.

 


 

Head back to college

Miss the campus life? Stony Brook University and Farmingdale State College allow adults 60 or older to audit most credit courses during the fall and spring terms on a space-available basis. The $50 per course registration fee includes a campus ID card and library privileges. SUNY Old Westbury offers an even sweeter deal: Seniors 60 and over can audit classes for free. 

Adelphi University discounts its $175 per course auditing fee to $100 for senior citizens and $75 for Adelphi alumni. Adelphi also offers a 20 percent discount on undergraduate courses to Northwell Health and NYU Winthrop Hospital employees. 

Hofstra University offers lectures and other events free to the public and discounts many campus music and theater performances from $10 to $8 for attendees 65 and over. Check other campuses for deals.


 

See a show

 
Broadway and Off-Broadway shows offer discounted tickets online and through the TKTS booths, but for those willing to forgo the buzz and glitz of Manhattan, Long Island stages present quality shows at a fraction of the price and often with actors who have Broadway credits.

In addition to the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, consider Studio Theatre in Lindenhurst, EastLine Theatre in Wantagh, Gateway in Bellport, Argyle Theatre in Babylon and Smithtown Performing Arts Center. 

For instance, tickets for the 8 p.m. show of "Saturday Night Fever" on Aug. 17 at Engeman cost $80 and include complimentary valet parking. Tickets for the "Book of Mormon" at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in Manhattan start at $99 for rear mezzanine and range up to $477.50 for the evening show on Aug. 17. Then consider the cost of mass transit or tolls and parking and Long Island productions become an even bigger bargain.

In the same vein, Long Islanders willing to lower their sights from top-tier professional sports can find less expensive diversions closer to home. The Long Island Ducks in Central Islip play in the unaffiliated Atlantic League. Tickets go for $13 to $15 at the intimate ballpark, and parking is free. Likewise, basketball fans can save by going to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to watch the Long Island Nets, a G League affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets. 

Websites like Groupon, groupon.com, and Rakuten (formerly known as eBates), rakuten.com, offer discounts or cash back on goods and services. Organizations like AAA and AARP also offer discount programs.

Let's say you want to rock out at the Paramount in Huntington or the NYCB Theatre in Westbury. Recent Groupon deals marked down tickets to an Aug. 10 show by "Motor City Madman" Ted Nugent at the Paramount from $49.75 to $25 and an Aug. 16 "Elvis Tribute Artist Spectacular" at NYCB Theatre from $41.75 to $25. To paraphrase Elvis: That's a hunka hunka burning savings.

 Stay connected

Major mobile phone networks like Verizon, AT&T and the expected combination of T-Mobile and Sprint offer discounted services that run on their networks, such as Verizon's Visible, AT&T's Cricket and Metro by T-Mobile. Some deeper discounts can be found among the many mobile virtual network operators that piggyback on the major networks, such as Ting and Mint Mobile. 

For instance, Mint Mobile runs on the T-Mobile network and offers low-cost service to users willing to prepay, swap out their SIM cards and do a little tinkering with settings.  A six-month plan with unlimited talk and text and 12GB of 4G LTE data per month costs $210 plus tax, which works out to $35 per month plus tax. Before switching, check with the new carrier to make sure your phone is compatible.
 

Get free stuff, fix-it help

Free is hard to beat. Trolling for items left curbside is hit-or-miss. A more efficient path may be to check websites like freecycle.org  and longisland.craigslist.org. Both list items available on Long Island. Among the recent free items on craigslist: a children's swing set, firewood, a rooster and a baby grand piano. 

That broken bicycle or haywire heater may have more life left in it. Volunteers will fix items for free at pop-up Repair Cafes scheduled for 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 7 at Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Oct. 26 at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Wyandanch.  For details, see the Repair Cafe Long Island Facebook page, facebook.com/search/top/?q=repaircafelongisland, or call 516-938-6152.

It's not free, but Habitat for Humanity's ReStore in Ronkonkoma sells donated building materials, furniture and appliances at a fraction of the retail price. For details, go to  habitatsuffolk.org/information/restore.
 

Live the spa life

The New York College of Health Professions, which teaches holistic health care in Syosset, offers 50-minute massages by student interns for $35. Seniors 60 and over pay $25, and veterans get one free massage a month. That compares to a national average price for a one-hour massage in 2018 of $72.23, according to the American Massage Therapy Association.

Long Islanders also can save by having beauty-school students style their hair and manicure their nails.

Long Island Beauty School, with salons in Hempstead, 516-483-6259, and Hauppauge, 631-724-0440, offers a broad menu of student-provided services. Cosmetology educator Diane DiFilippi said at the Hempstead salon a haircut costs about $10, not including blow dry, and hair coloring starts at $25. The Hauppauge salon has similar prices. 

 

You can keep Fido looking good for less, too. Port Washington-based North Shore Animal League of America offers grooming and veterinary services that run about 20 percent below typical prices in the region, says Joanne Yohannan, senior vice president of operations.  The facility, with about 16 full-time veterinarians, registered almost 33,000 patient visits in 2018.

Improve your smile

Stony Brook University's School of Dental Medicine provides discounted care to about 16,000 patients each year, says Dr. Steven M. Zove, associate dean for clinical affairs. The school offers fee reductions for veterans, children with disabilities, the elderly and others. "We're champions of the underserved on Long Island," Zove said, though the school tries "to accommodate everybody." The school charges about $115 for a three-surface composite filling compared to about $270 for dentists in private practice. A crown would be about $700 versus $1,300. Dental students who do the work are supervised by experienced specialists. Call 631-632-8989 or go to dentistry.stonybrookmedicine.edu/dentalcarecenter to schedule an appointment.

 


 

Do you have money-saving tips that we neglected to mention? Send your ideas to ken.schachter@newsday.com.

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