Here are some of the top lessons I've learned over the past three years as a consumer writer. • Haggle. This is by far my favorite...

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Here are some of the top lessons I’ve learned over the past three years as a consumer writer.

Haggle. This is by far my favorite. It has helped keep more money in my pocket than any other. This is a skill I had to practice. But having mastered it, I have used it whenever possible — with plumbers, movers, store clerks, car dealers, banks and credit-card companies. I’ve learned that most things and services are overpriced and, of course, negotiable.

Check for discounts. There are hundreds of discounts out there, and you’re bound to qualify for one or more, whether it’s because of your age, where you work, that you’re in school or in the military, or simply that you belong to certain organizations such as AAA.

Complain more. Don’t let it slide when businesses mistreat you and fail to deliver what they’ve promised. Take names and numbers. It may require making several calls. But if more people complain about poor service, things can actually change. Remember, there are Web sites where you can vent, including Consumerist, and

Read the fine print. Stop blindly signing agreements. Take time to familiarize yourself with the terms you are agreeing to.

Do your homework and get second opinions. So often I have interviewed people who are upset because a contractor, mechanic or the like took advantage of them. When I ask, “Did you check out the person first?” the answer is often no. Check references and make calls. It can be time-consuming, but the cost of not doing it can be high.

Get help. Give up the notion that you can do everything yourself — taxes, financial planning, lawyering. Internet resources and software make it possible — but we can’t do it all. It’s important to know when to get a professional.

Save for a rainy day. This latest economic downturn is a testament to why you should always save and have enough money to cover at least three months of living expenses. Losing a job or having to go on medical leave is stressful enough. Don’t add an empty savings account to the mix.