Saturday, May 30, 2009

Best Frugal Cars: Honda CRV

see also: Toyota Rav4 – My favorite “Performance” Frugal SUV
Honda CRV : My Second Favorite Frugal SUV

The Honda CRV is another great choice for a frugal SUV. Many car reviews place the CRV and Rav4 neck-to-neck as I've done here. While I personally chose the Rav4 I think the CRV is still a great car and a excellent choice depending on your needs. In terms of handling and ride, it is more comparable to the Rav4 Base or Limited models with less aggressive yet excellent "car-like" handling and a cushy smooth ride. Its 4-cylinder 2.4-liter engine has 5-speeds versus the 4-speed in the 4cyl Rav4 engine which is nice. However, the CRV's 166-hp engine has less horsepower and torque than the Rav4's 179-hp engine and we could feel the difference in our test drives. The CRV just didn't seem to have the same power and pick up as the Rav4 and we could feel a more substantial drag in the CRV even when going up small hills. In terms of mileage the Rav4 actually gets better mileage 22 city/28 highway for the 4cyl 2WD compared with the CRV's 20 city/27 highway for the 4cyl 2WD .

In terms of looks, the CRV has a curvy and streamlined appearance. All in all, I really like the CRV's exterior which I think looks like a less expensive version of many Lexus SUV's. I especially like the back end which opens upward and doesn't have the spare tire like the Rav4. The only thing that I really don't like is the thick black underside of the bumper which comes up in the front and back. I think this looks cheap and clashes with the rest of the streamlined look of the CRV.

The interior of the CRV was beautiful for the most part but had some major drawbacks for us in comparison to the Rav4. The dash was nice and I loved the steering wheel which I found very comfortable to hold. The front seats where also very supportive and comfy. Another plus was the cargo space which has a slide out shelf which splits the cargo area into two spaces for more organized storage.

There were several drawbacks to the CRV interior for our needs. The most major drawback for us was the lack of a sufficient arm rest for the front seats. This was a big issue for my hubby who drives with one hand and rests his right arm on the center armrest. The Rav4 has a permanent center console with storage and a comfortable armrest. In comparison, the CRV has a fold-up console with drink holders and a very small fold-down armrest which is not comfortable for long journeys. If you don't use the center armrest when driving, this may not be a big deal for you and the positive point to this design is that you can fold up the center console for pass through (say if you have a long item in back or want to reach the front seats from the back.) A second negative we found were the back seats which we felt were overly firm and bench like in the non-leather models. Lastly, it may seem like a small complaint but I hated the interior door handles. I liked most of the CRV's interior and though it looked classy but thought the door handles looked too modern - like something out of Star Trek - and were made of cheap looking plastic. Check them out in the picture - they look even worse in person and I feel clash with the rest of the interior.

That said, many of the drawbacks we found to the CRV were based on matters of personal opinion and our needs. The CRV is an excellent SUV for many people especially if you want a smoother ride, good handling, and more streamlined appearance. With a starting price of only $21,500 it is an excellent frugal car choice.

Photo Credits: Honda website

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Best Frugal Cars : Toyota Rav4

Toyota Rav4 – My favorite “Performance” Frugal SUV

I’m breaking up my favorite frugal SUV review into two parts because I have a tie between the Toyota Rav4 and the Honda CRV both of which are great cars with excellent reviews but have different pluses and minuses.

The Toyota Rav4 is my personal favorite and the one we purchased. I call it my favorite "performance" frugal SUV because its 4cyl 179hp engine has more torque and, in my opinion, is noticeably peppier and sportier to drive than the 166hp CRV. For true performance you can also get the Rav4 with a V6 269hp engine (the CRV only comes in 4cyl). This V6 version is one of the fastest cars Toyota makes with excellent reviews for performance, speed, and gas mileage.

I think the Rav4 has a sportier more masculine look than the curvaceous CRV. As shown in the picture above, the Rav4 has a more traditional SUV exterior with some sleek curves and an exterior spare tire. I'm actually not a fan of the spare tire or side opening back door but love the rest of the Rav4's exterior. I also like the curves of the CRV but the hubby thinks it looks like an “egg” or “mommy mobile."

The Rav4 comes in 3 models – Base, Sport, and Limited. The Base model is the most frugal starting at ~$21K (you should be able to get it for ~$19K). This is a great deal if you don’t need a moonroof or other fancy options.

The Rav4 Sport model starting at ~$24K is my favorite for performance and good looks. The Sport model’s sport suspension makes this baby really fun to drive and great at cornering. It feels less like an SUV and more like a sports sedan. Really, it’s so fun to drive I seriously get disappointed every time I have to park and turn it off! It also has an exclusive Sport interior I love with a dark charcoal console and sporty black fabric. With a moonroof, 6 CD changer, and other options not found on the Base, it is a great choice for a little bit of luxury and performance.

The Rav4 Limited model, starting at $25K and going up to $31K with all the bells and whistles, pushes the frugal envelope. Personally, I prefer the interior and performance of the cheaper Sport model but if you like leather and a cushier ride (the Sport’s suspension makes it a tad bumpier) then check out the Rav4 Limited.

Photo Credits: Toyota website

Friday, May 15, 2009

Best Frugal Cars

My hubby and I recently bought a new car and did tons of research and test driving. I wanted to share with you some my favorite frugal cars in this next blog series.

And, yes, buying a used car is often a better frugal decision but not always. It’s a good idea to balance the risk of buying a used car with the difference in price, financing options, and upgrades between the used vs. new versions to decide what is best for you. Enjoy the ride!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Fine Art of Bargaining

My frugal tip for this week is to learn the fine art of bargaining. Many of us hate to bargain or think we can only bargain on a few items such as a car. Bargaining can be fun, however, if done right. Also, especially in this economy, you can often bargain for discounts on items or services you may have thought were at a fixed price.

Case in point, this week my hubby bargained for a discount on a smog check for our car. In our area smog checks go for $78-$100. This seemed ridiculously expensive since there is little labor involved so we were determined to get a discount. My hubby made a few calls, used his bargaining skills, and we ended up only spending $35!

What's the trick of bargaining? Honestly, I'm still learning myself and would love to get feedback from all of you. Bargaining, like any type of negotiation, is an art of relationship building. Sometimes you connect with the person you're bargaining with and it's easy while other times it can be tough or uncomfortable.

Here are a few tips that work for me:

1. Be nice.

Many people, especially men, think you have to be super tough when you put on your bargaining hat. Just remember, salespeople are just like everyone else. Nobody likes a jerk and people generally want to do business with others who treat them with respect. You can be firm in your price demands in a determined way without being rude which leads me to my next tip.

2. Act disappointed.

I often find this is the best way to bargain. A good salesperson wants the sale and wants to give good service and make their customer happy. It’s also human nature that we don't want to let others down. Saying things like, "Gosh, Joe, I really wanted to do business with you and was hoping you could do better than this price…" with a disappointed tone of voice can do wonders in the bargaining process.

3. Avoid yes or no questions.

I've read some other sources for bargaining tips that say to ask the salesperson "Can you give me a discount on this?" I, however, find this often doesn't work well because it makes it too easy for the salesperson to just say "No." In my experience, it works better to not ask this in a question format. Instead, I follow step #2 and act disappointed and voice my demand for a discount as a complaint not a question, for example, "Gosh, I really hoped there would be a discount on this" and then wait for the salesperson to respond. The salesperson may still say there isn't a discount but if they have to explain it instead of simply answering "no" it leaves the conversation open for more bargaining.

4. Give them some competition.

Never let the salesperson know that their product or service is the only one you are considering. Let them know there are other options and cheaper options out there. Sometimes, depending on your own conscience you may even find it helpful to fib a bit that a competitor is cheaper or has offered a lower price even when they haven’t.

5. Offer more business.

Depending on the product/service let the salesperson know if they give you a good price you may become a repeat customer and/or bring in your friends.

6. Be ready to walk.

The best deals usually come when you are about to walk out or hang up the phone. Sometimes, if you haven't agreed on the deal you need to just leave it. Give the salesperson your contact info and make it clear you are still interested and would like to do business with them if they can come down to your price. Depending on the product/service they may end up giving you a call back. This is another reason why you want to follow step #1 and be nice so even if you don't agree on a price that day you still leave the relationship open for possible future negotiations.

Bargaining is a fine art and skill and each of us may have different techniques that work. What are your bargaining tips or stories? I’d love to know!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Free Stuff : Redbox

I’m a huge movie buff and in addition to my Netflix membership visit my local Redbox frequently. If you haven’t seen one already, Redbox has movie kiosk dispensers in many grocery and drug stores around the country. They are a great place to get cheap movie rentals. Only a buck a night for a movie. Pretty good deal but I prefer, you guessed it, free!

Redbox has lots of coupon codes for free movies you can find on the Inside Red Box site. This site tracks all the Redbox codes and members post updates on which codes work, limitations, etc.

I have a secret as well to share with you. Most codes are supposedly for one time use. However, Redbox tracks if you’ve used the code by your credit card. That means that each code works once per card so if you have a lot of credit cards you have that many more free movie rentals! It even works for gift cards with a Visa/MC logo. Inside Red Box talks more about this trick here. And no need to feel too guilty. I’m sure Redbox knows about this site and the multiple credit card use by frugalites. I bet they actually encourage it to drive traffic to their kiosks so other paying customers get interested. And even us frugalites have limited credit cards so eventually you'll find yourself paying $1 for a movie once in a while. So be a walking advertisement for Redbox and have fun movie watching!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Free Stuff : Walmart

Bet you couldn’t imagine anything more frugal than shopping at Walmart. Well, how about getting free stuff at Walmart! Walmart is well known by frugalities as a great resource for free product samples. All you have to do is go to the Walmart free sample page, find the samples you want, fill out your shipping info and these little goodies will come straight to your door in the mail in a little blue Walmart box.

These samples are just that - samples, mostly toiletries, so don’t expect big ticket items or to save tons of money. However, it’s a great way to stock up on small pouches of shampoos, deodorant, and other toiletries for travel. Since companies are always coming out with new products, scents, etc. there is a never ending supply of new samples to choose from and collect. Thanks to these freebies I don’t think I’ve purchased deodorant in the last 4 years!