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CONSUMER ADVOCATES OFFER TIPS TO SHOPPERS

Don't buy rain insurance.

Avoid coffee and soda pop.Purchase a car on the last day of the month.

Those are some tips served up Monday as Ralph Nader and other consumer advocates launched "Frugal Shopper Week" to help Americans save money in tough economic times and let certain merchants know consumers won't be pushed around.

"What this really adds up to is developing an astute consumer culture," said Nader, considered by some to be America's top consumer crusader.

Nader held a news conference to put forward a cornucopia of common-sense ideas to help people save money on food, insurance, health care and other necessities and live a more spartan, waste-free life.

"When you save money in the marketplace, it's the equivalent of giving yourself a raise," he said.

Robert Hunter, president of the National Insurance Consumer Organization, said Americans spend too much on insurance - about $3,000 a person a year.

"We try to insure everything and we shouldn't," Hunter said.

He said everyone needs health insurance, but not all people - singles, for instance - need life insurance. Hunter advised consumers to stick with catastrophic coverage, which is intended to prevent economic devastation in the event of the unseen, and comprehensive coverage, which is cheaper than piecemeal policies.

He said a person doesn't need a separate flight insurance policy if already covered by an adequate life insurance plan.

"You aren't worth any more (dead) from an aircrash than a heart attack," Hunter said.

He also advised against contact lens insurance and rain insurance, which pays vacationers if it rains a lot on their sojourn.

"Don't buy what you don't need," Hunter said.

Michael Jacobson, who directs the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said Americans eat out too often.

"In 1991, Americans spent about $180 billion on food away from home," Jacobson said. "We could have saved $90 billion if we ate those meals at home."

He said restaurant food tends to be high in fat and sodium, as do processed foods like microwave dinners.

More tips: Grow a big garden; buy less meat and more beans and don't waste money on junk foods, like "soda pop, hot dogs and coffee."

"It has no nutrients whatsoever," Jacobson said of coffee, the morning staple for many people. "In theory, one could drink water and save a lot of money."

Jacobson said an occasional meal on the town or cup of java is all right - but nothing extreme. "You can clearly save a tremendous amount of money," he said.

Ron Moore publishes the Skinflint News, a monthly newsletter out of Palm Harbor, Fla., for the thrifty consumer. It costs $1 an issue.

One tip he offered in a recent edition was this: buy a car on the last day of the month, not the first. The reason, Moore contends, is that dealers must pay interest to the bank on the money they borrowed to have the vehicle sitting on the lot. They are more motivated at the end of the month to offer a good deal to a buyer in order not to have to pay another month of interest.

October's Skinflint News has a sure-fire way to tell if an egg is fresh: Put it in a bowl of water. If it sinks, it's fresh.

Nader said saving money is important as the economy slogs along and income growth stays low. Also important is buying smartly, avoiding shoddy products and goods backed by "heavy" service contracts. If no one buys junk, he said, no one will make it.

"The cumulative effect is to improve the overall quality of the marketplace," Nader said.