March 16, 2010— -- Living large with less isn't as difficult as you may think. Just ask the social media experts who shared their high-tech tips for frugal living at this year's South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin.
Using Twitter, Facebook and dozens of sites online, they've found ways to score big deals on hotel rooms, airfare, clothing, food and all kinds of other items.
"We're talking about having a more luxurious life without spending a lot of money," said Nichelle Stephens, who maintains the personal finance blog Keeping Nickels. She and her fellow "frugal warriors" shared their social media tips for saving money. Here are five:
Of the millions of tweets generated by Twitter each day, Hayes Davis, co-founder of CheapTweet, said that thousands are about deals on products.
His site, which launched in 2008, searches all of Twitter for the best deals and then pulls them on to one site.
The deals range from $25-off coupons at a local restaurant to 30-percent-off sales at the Gap, to free photo books from Kodak and more, but he said unless you already know about them an individual can't find them online.
"Just like any search engine, CheapTweet makes it much, much easier to find all this stuff in one place," he said. And you don't need to be an active tweeter to use it. Anyone can just visit the site to see the stream of deal-related tweets.
Faye Penn, editor of Brokelyn.com, a budget-living guide to Brooklyn, N.Y., recommended searching online for a coupon code before making any purchase. She said that though the Internet is full of "deal noise" and false promotions, sites such as RetailMeNot aggregate coupon codes from across the Web to help you find the deal you want.
Galvanize a Group
Penn also suggested using Twitter to leverage group power.
"Twitter offers the average person a real opportunity to form a group based around their interests and you could parlay that into deals at local businesses," she said. "Twitter is a really easy way to establish collective buying power."
Say you're a sushi lover who wants to save money on your tuna sashimi. Penn recommended starting a sushi club for your local area and tweeting about the cuisine. Once you've amassed a solid number of followers, she said you could reach out to local businesses suggesting they make promotional offers.
It doesn't matter whether you're interested in coffee, decorating or other tips, she said; local businesses will want to be a part of whatever conversation you've created on Twitter.
Groupon.com also uses the logic of bulk buying to help people score great deals. Each day the site offers a special promotion, but it only materializes if a minimum number of people sign up. By rallying their friends to join the group, individuals increase their odds of getting the deal.
One man's trash is another man's trash. So Stephens said to just start swapping.
Web sites like BookMooch and Freecycle help connect people interested in unloading or finding items. BookMooch creates a community of bookworms who can share online the books they have and are interested in reading. The Freecycle Network comprises thousands of groups of people interested in giving and getting in their local areas.
Another option is to use Twitter or Facebook (or both) to organize a clothing swap, Stephens said. Local bars are often interested in hosting such events, she said, but homes and offices can work as well.
Emily Farris, a lifestyle editor for the Kansas City news site KCFreePress.com, suggested creating a Facebook page for the event. Not only does it help keep track of who's coming, but it lets interested swappers know who in their size is coming.
With plenty of Web sites that tell you when a product has hit a desired price, Penn suggested signing up for fare alerts and purchasing when the price is right.
Kayak.com features airfare alerts and ShopStyle.com offers price alerts for a range of brand-name clothing and accessories. Twice a day, Gilt Groupe offers members (membership is free) the option to buy select luxury items for as much as 70 percent off.
And sometimes the best option is the most direct one.
"The most undervalued section of Craigslist is the wanted section," said Farris. She said she's had great luck finding items that she needs by posting ads on the site. After her dog ate through her laptop's power cord, for instance, she said was able to find a discounted one on Craigslist, saving her the expense and inconvenience of a trip to the Apple Store.
"You can't get what you want unless you ask for it," she said.