saving!If you’ve been hiding in a cave for last few years and haven’t heard of, think of it as one big comment card for every type of business in your local area. Read how others rated their customer experience, or write your own praises or constructive critiques about the service you received.

When I say every type of business, I really mean Yelp! can help you find the best dentist, mechanic, dry cleaner, spa, restaurant, bar or whatever in your area.

Now more than ever in my home, we’re relying on Yelp! to help stretch our dollars. Here are a few ways Yelp! has helped me and my partner save money:

1. Menu selection: If I’m meeting a friend somewhere new for lunch, I’ll look up the restaurant on Yelp! and read what people have said about their dishes. Usually people rave about a few dishes in particular and rail against some others. I now reduce my chances of ordering an unsavory waste of money.

[Note to drinkers: reading reviews also gives you an idea of what cocktails to skip. Nothing is more heartbreaking than shelling out $7 to try a new cocktail and then wonder if you’ve been served cough syrup instead.]

2. Price comparisons: Savvy Yelp! reviewers write down how much they paid for their service. Zac and I have many bike repair shops to choose from in our area, but reading Yelp! reviews from a search for “bike tune-up” helped us find which place had the best price and service.

You can also do searches by price and product. For instance, let’s say you wanted to find a bar that sells $2.50 pints of beer. Enter “$2.50 pints” in the search box, and you’ll find out where to go.

3. Vacation plans: Travel books assume places to check out are one size fits all, but that’s clearly not the case. You can run searches for “mature crowd, music venues” or “vegan, clothing store” or “kinky” (don’t do that one at work!), and you’ll find places that locals truly enjoy. No more wasting your money on lame, outdated ideas from a travel book.

4. Get the business to improve service: The best way to use Yelp! is to write your own reviews. Smart businesses pay attention to their Yelp! presence, and if lots of customers are unhappy, you’ll start to see changes. For instance, sometimes on Yelp! you’ll see a “Message from this business” note in response to Yelp! reviews. To keep customers happy, one popular sandwich shop in my area posted a note advising customers to call-in their orders ahead of time, because if even you don’t see a line at the shop, there’s going to be a long wait for your sandwich.

Unfortunately, there are some people who abuse Yelp! and have unreasonable expectations about the service they want. Irrational reviews are easy to spot, and users like me tend to flag these reviews for removal.

5. Scam alert: Some Yelp! reviewers are not shy about pointing out a scam. Although, if the allegations are not true, the business could sue you for libel. If you have your suspicions about a business, see what other Yelp! reviewers are saying.

I’m sure there are many other ways to save money with Yelp! If you have an experience to share, please feel free to post them here.

Happy money saving!