Skyrocketing gas prices and the plummeting real-estate market are having a cascading effect on the economy, right down to the price of wheat and -- gasp -- coffee. We're all feeling it and looking for ways to save.
Here are a few tips from Bee readers to help you get by in a tight economy without feeling strapped or changing your routine ... very much.
Make your home energy efficient by checking out tips on energy companies' Web sites.
You also can find rebates on things like compact florescent light bulbs. Modesto Irrigation District customers can buy $20 worth of Energy Star-quality bulbs and get a $10 rebate. Energy Star-labeled products use up to 50 percent less energy than conventional products. Find the form and more information at mid.org.
Other energy companies offer rebates, too. PG&E, for example, will give customers $35 for recycling their old, working refrigerators. Find out more at pge.com.
Before gassing up, check out modbee.com, gasprices.com and gasbuddy.com for the lowest prices in town. Gas evaporates faster when a vehicle is hot, so park in shade. Also, keep your engine tuned and tires filled to optimize fuel efficiency.
Use less gas and spare the air by bicycling to work, the video store and maybe even the grocery store (if you're picking up just a few things and have a bike basket). You might be surprised by how close they are and how quick it is when you aren't stuck in traffic.
Commuters can save time and money by using FasTrak to pay tolls on the Bay Bridge and other Bay Area byways. Commuters can buy tags at Costco, Safeway and other retailers and get free tolls when registering. Get more information at bayareafastrak.org.
Consider cable TV/Internet/telephone service package deals from cable or phone companies. You can get digital phone service, which is provided by a broadband Internet connection, high-speed Internet and digital channels for much less than you'd pay separately. Shop around at buytelco.net. Then ask local providers what deals they offer when you bundle with phone and TV service.
Try a TracFone. Rather than pay for a regular phone service, Bee reader Sherry King saves by buying her son minutes when he needs them.
Check out movies and books from the library rather than rent or buy them. A library card is free.
Bee reader Barbara Ball went basic with her Comcast service, which has saved her $47 a month. Now, she rents one newly released movie a week and finds she's still saving money. With less to watch, Ball is saving time and money. She has turned those extra minutes into "me time," taking walks in the park.
Rather than spending money to get into shape this summer, run, cycle, swim at the park. Even smaller cities have lots to offer, like Riverbank's new $2.5 million sports complex. Or shop yard sales and the newspaper's classified ads for used equipment.
Bring your children. Freedom Neighborhood Park at Maid Mariane Lane and Sharon Avenue in Modesto has water features for children to run through in warmer months.
Most cities have public pools, and some are even heated, like Modesto's Burris Pool at 1325 Sonoma Ave., which offers children free classes. Hours vary by season; call 571-5119.
Cities also present loads of free events and concerts. MoBand offers a classic summer series of shows in Graceada Park. Many other cities hold similar concerts. Check out your city's parks and recreation department Web page to find out what's happening near you.
Pay attention to what you throw away. The most expensive food is what you don't eat. While food costs generally rise about 2.5 percent a year, they rose 4 percent last year and are expected to rise 3 percent to 4 percent this year, maybe more. Throwing away food is like throwing away money.
Make extra servings when you cook and wrap leftovers in single-serving portions so you can take them for lunch. This will save time and money.
Supermarkets are also offer more sale items these days, so look for sales and use coupons. Discount grocers like Grocery Outlet buy and sell food and other products at a discounted rate, but what's is in stock varies. Asian and Latino food markets tend to have lower prices on speciality goods and bulk spices.
"A wise person once told me that you never order sodas! The drinks are what hit the pocketbook hard," said Bee reader Maralee Clifton.
Try wine tasting rather than going out for drinks. O'Brien's Market has tastings on various Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Taste a flight of six wines for $5 to $10. Then get a discount on the bottle. Tresetti's has tastings every Tuesday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. It's $10 to taste, which includes a $5 credit toward a bottle of wine tasted that evening.
Cafes and restaurants are increasingly featuring local talent for customers. Queen Bean in Modesto, for example, hosts open-mike nights Sundays.
Check out thrift stores for clothes, dishes, toys and more. Not only are they less expensive, they generally benefit charities and have unique things. Superior Thrift Store at 1135 N. Wilson Way in Stockton has gotten high marks on yelp.com. Goodwill and Hope Chest are great places to find jeans, said Bee reader Joann Ewert, who brings a measuring tape because sizes can be hard to find.
Tell your stylist you're trying to save money. Day spa owners like Terra Lairez of Oakdale already have started offering discounts. They understand times are tough and would rather keep your business than let you go somewhere cheaper. Also, don't be afraid to ask the color and product used on your hair so you can do your own touch-ups.
Many health insurance companies offer mail-order prescriptions. So you can get a three-month supply with only one co-pay.
Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2382.