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Sunday, September 1, 2019

A few of AARP's 'great ways to save' sound stupid, but others may actually harm you

The July/August 2019 issue of AARP Bulletin includes a 10th anniversary list of 99 ways to save money.

Buying cheapest meat and poultry
could affect health of older Americans


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- At first glance, many of AARP's great, favorite or timeless ways to save money seem to make sense.

For example, getting dental work for less from dentist-supervised students at a dental school is a practical way to save money, as I discovered using Hackensack University Medical Center's dental clinic in Hackensack.

But I take exception to AARP claiming you can do so "for a fraction of the cost."

Travel savings

See national parks free is another tip, this one listed under "Travel" in the July/August 2019 issue of AARP Bulletin.

But then you'd have to coordinate your vacation with "free entrance days" listed at nps.org, where you'd find only 5 free days listed, and no free entrance days available in February, March, May, June, July, October or December.

Another travel tip is looking for Restaurant Week promotions "during a slack season for tourism," but again, you'd have to coordinate your vacation to take advantage of the savings.

I've long enjoyed the steep lunch discounts during Restaurant Weeks in Manhattan in winter and summer.

And on a recent 4-day vacation in Miami, I was delighted to discover the Miami Spice restaurant promotion there runs for 2 whole months (Aug. 1 through Sept. 30).

Another travel tip is to use ATMs overseas for the lowest exchange fees on foreign currency, but AARP doesn't mention you can get the best exchange rate by charging your purchases to a credit card with no foreign-currency exchange fee.

Auto savings

"Buy gas on Mondays," AARP says, claiming "it's the cheapest day in 29 states," according to GasBuddy.

What do you do in the 21 other states? Walk?

AARP doesn't tell you Costco Wholesale gas stations in every state sell top-tier gasoline for about 20 cents less per gallon every day, and if you use a no-fee Costco Visa credit card to pay for fuel, you get another 4% back on each dollar.

In New Jersey, you don't have to be a Costco member to use the gas station at warehouses in Teterboro, Clifton and Wayne.

A wildly exaggerated illustration from the AARP article on saving money. No. The money you might save won't come anywhere near filling a real shopping cart.

Food savings

Eating healthy doesn't figure into AARP's tips on saving money in restaurants and at supermarkets.

AARP members are urged to get discounts of 10% at Bonefish Grill on food and non-alcoholic beverages, and 15% on their check at Denny's, but the latter sells mostly crappy, low-quality food, so that's no bargain.

Under "Slow Cooker Savings" on Page 17 of the AARP Bulletin, you are urged "to make tough cuts of meat tender and flavorful," noting "stew meat" averages $5.60 a pound vs. $8.30 for sirloin steak.

But what you save at the market you might have to spend at the doctor's office after many years of eating "mystery meat" raised on harmful antibiotics and growth hormones.

You're also urged to "max out couponing," but the vast majority of grocery coupons are for food of questionable quality or with lots of salt and sugar, and few are for organics or antibiotic-free meat and poultry.

AARP also suggests you only buy organic produce after looking at the annual Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists from the Environmental Working Group.

This advice ignores year-round discounts on organics, wild-caught fish and many other items at Whole Foods Markets, if you are an Amazon Prime member.

And when you use your Amazon Prime credit card at Whole Foods, you get 5% cash back.

Money savings 

The July/August issue of AARP Bulletin repeats advice from Allan Roth, a so-called financial planner, about "a friend with over $200,000 in a bank account that paid no interest."

Roth urges his friend to move the money to a "high-paying ... savings account ... paying 2.25%" and make about $4,500 a year."

Really? How many AARP Bulletin readers have $200,000 just laying around to park in a savings account for an entire year?

Roth's advice is useless to the vast majority of AARP members, and to call him a "financial planner" is a disservice to older Americans who belong to AARP.

And the same exact Roth advice appeared in the December 2018/January 2019 issue of AARP The Magazine. 

It wasn't worth repeating.

And AARP doesn't mention such cash-back credit cards as the Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express, which returns 6% cash back at supermarkets; or Citi's Double Cash Card, good for 2% back on all your purchases.

Travel advice

Pauline Frommer is quoted as saying "travelers who buy airline tickets on Sundays save some 20% over those who buy midweek, according to a study by the Airlines Reporting Corp.

Gee. How many times have you seen advice to save money by buying airline tickets on Tuesday?

Members' advice

An AARP member in Atlanta, Ga., urges others to "butcher the meat bill" by buying family size packages of mystery beef, pork and chicken.

Again, if you're eating meat and poultry raised with harmful antibiotics and growth hormones, you're health might suffer because you could become resistant to antibiotics prescribed to cure an infection. 

An AARP member in Idaho urges you to do without cable TV by buying a $20 antenna and getting "27 channels for free."

An AARP member in New Mexico claims "our 14 solar panels can produce more electricity than we use," but in the Northeast and many other parts of the country without sunshine nearly every day, 14 solar panels would be far too few.

Another member, this one in Minnesota, says she called the manufacturer after her bathroom faucet corroded within 10 years of use, and she was sent a brand-new faucet free of charge, saving $152.

But she didn't mention most manufacturers only warrant the faucet to the original homeowner.

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