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Five cheap lessons learned in 2009

What a long, cheap trip it's been! As we look forward to 2010, let's take a look back at some of the things we learned about scoring deals and saving money.

Four HDMI cables for less than $10? That's one important lesson for 2009.

Hey, has anyone seen 2009? It was here a minute ago. Under the sofa cushions, maybe? No? Dang, guess it's gone for good. That was fast!

Because this is my last post until 2010, allow me to share some of the things I learned this year:

1. Never overpay for HDMI cables Actually, I learned this in 2008, but it bears repeating. If you pay more than a few bucks for an HDMI cable (you know, the kind that connects HDTV to receiver, Blu-ray player to HDTV, and so on), you're getting screwed. Witness this deal from a four-pack of 6-foot HDMI cables for $9.91 shipped. If you just walked out of Best Buy with a $30 Belkin, take it back!

2. Always look for coupon codes Do you often find yourself wishing for a big, juicy coupon code for the checkout page? A quick bit of Google searching may produce one. Or hit up Web sites like DealLocker and RetailMeNot to browse their coupon collections. I can't tell you how many times I've scored an unexpected discount, free shipping, or some other savings.

3. Negotiate whenever possible Once in 2008 and again in 2009, I called my cable provider (Comcast), threatened to cancel, and managed to negotiate a lower rate. Your mileage may vary, but I saved $15/month for six months, or $90 altogether--not a bad return for a 10-minute phone call! To learn more, check out this excellent post on cable-bill negotiation over at Get Rich Slowly.

4. Deals expire without warning Many commenters have told me how frustrating it is to get all excited about a deal, then discover that the price has jumped or the product has sold out. It's frustrating for me as well. Part of the problem lies with the timing of CNET's newsletter delivery, which often happens after a deal has disappeared. Alas, I have very little control over any of this. The best advice I can offer is to bookmark and visit the actual Cheapskate site ( around 10 a.m. ET daily. That's when new deals are typically posted, usually within minutes of my finding them--meaning they're still good at that time. Meanwhile, I've compiled a "naughty list" of stores that seemingly never have enough stock (i.e. their items sell out too quickly), and in 2010 I'll do my best to avoid them.

5. Bing Cashback sucks Another frequent topic among commenters was Microsoft's Bing Cashback service, which is kind of like a Discover card for online purchases: you get money back when you buy items via the Cashback portal. (To put it another way: Microsoft will pay you to use Bing.) Without getting into gory details, I'll simply say I've tried Cashback--and I don't like it. It's confusing and misleading, and the $10 PayPal credit I was promised for making my first purchase has yet to materialize. Bing's customer service response? "You'll have to take that up with PayPal." Um, it was your promotion, Bing. Anyway, here's some related reading: "Is Bing Cashback Costing Users Money? Sometimes, Yes."

Well, that's it for me this year. I'll see you back here in 2010! In the meantime, have a safe, happy New Year celebration--and feel free to share your own "cheap lessons" in the comments.

P.S.: Yes, I know CNET needs to take down that "100 Days of Deals" banner. Most folks are on vacation this week, but I'm sure they'll get to it soon. Patience! :)