Let's cover how to own a domain name for as little money as possible over a long-term period (ie. longer than 1 year). By doing some basic price comparisons and moving your domain around periodically, you can obtain some non-trivial amount of savings.
The money-saving method is simple: register a domain with the cheapest registrar, then transfer it to a cheaper registrar before the domain expires. Then simply repeat by transferring your domain to the cheapest available registrar at least once per year.
Let's go through it, step-by-step:
Find the cheapest place to register your domain's TLD.
Go to the TLD List homepage, and search for your domain's TLD. The TLD is the part that comes after the dot, so if you want to register the domain cheeseandrice.com, type in com.
Click on the TLD name to get to the TLD detail page (for example, .com's detail page). The table at the top lists the registration, renewal, transfer, and WHOIS privacy prices for popular registrars and providers. Find the registrar with the cheapest Register price. If you're interested in keeping your name and contact information private, take into account the WHOIS Privacy pricing.
Here's a screenshot of the .com TLD's pricing on TLD List:
Click on the registrar with the cheapest Register price and purchase your domain on their site. For our example domain cheeseandrice.com, the cheapest registrar would be 1&1.
When making the purchase, if you're prompted to select the number of registration years, make sure to choose only 1 year. And avoid any upsells presented to you with during the checkout process (1&1 and GoDaddy are notorious for their upsells).
Before your domain expires, transfer it to a cheaper registrar.
Notice how 1&1's Renew price ($14.99) is much higher than their Register price ($0.99) for the .com TLD? This is how they try to get you in the door, and then hope that you'll just renew your domain with them instead of transferring it before the expiration date arrives. But you're smarter than that.
So bust out your calendar and set a reminder to transfer your domain about 1 week prior to its expiration date (ie. 51 weeks from the day you registered it). Why? You want to have a little breathing room for the domain transfer process in case something goes wrong. You don't want the domain to expire and then be forced to pay a hefty restoration fee to get it back.
When you're ready to transfer your domain, go back to your domain's TLD detail page on TLD List and find the registrar with the cheapest Transfer price by clicking the Transfer column header:
Using our example domain cheeseandrice.com, we see that 1&1 also has the cheapest transfer price. But our domain is already registered there, so we'll choose to transfer to Namesilo, which has the next cheapest price in the list ($7.39).
So click on the registrar with the cheapest transfer price. On their website, find their Transfer Domain page, enter your domain name, and go through the checkout process, again choosing only a 1 year registration and avoiding any upsells.
Note: before you place the order for the transfer, you'll also want to "unlock" your domain name at your current registrar. This essentially allows the domain to be transferred, and can be done using your registrar's domain name control panel.
Then, after you complete your domain transfer order with the new registrar, you'll receive an email asking you to confirm the transfer by entering the EPP code for your domain. Go to your old registrar's control panel, find your domain's EPP code, and enter it on your new registrar's confirmation page to validate the transfer process. In some cases, you may be required to provide this code during the transfer order checkout process.
Also Note: if you were using the old registrar's DNS to point your domain to a website or host email, you'll want to setup your DNS records with the new registrar once the transfer is complete.
Rinse and repeat.
Before your domain expires again next year, repeat step 2 above and again transfer it to the cheapest registrar. For our example cheeseandrice.com, this would mean transferring it back to 1&1 for $0.99 (plus $0.18 ICANN fee). Note that 1&1 currently limits it's $0.99 .com price to 1 per customer, so you'll need to sign up for a new account when making the transfer.
Must I Wait Until My Domain is About to Expire to Transfer It?
Nope! The minimum time you'll have to wait is 60 days after you register or transfer your domain (per ICANN's rules). After that 60 days is up, you can transfer at anytime.
When you transfer a domain, an additional year is added to your domain's current expiration date, regardless of when you transfer. To be clear, the new expiration date is not set 1 year from the transfer date, but instead from the current expiration date. So, for example, if my domain, cheeseandrice.com expires on December 1st, 2015, and I transfer it on May 1st, 2015, its new expiration date will be December 1st, 2016.
How Much Money Can I Save?
It really depends on the registrar pricing for your particular TLD. But let's consider our example domain cheeseandrice.com and exactly how much money we'd save over 5 years with this method versus yearly registration with 1&1:
Yearly registration with 1&1
|1st year at 1&1:||$1.17|
|2nd year at 1&1:||$15.17|
|3rd year at 1&1:||$15.17|
|4th year at 1&1:||$15.17|
|5th year at 1&1:||$15.17|
Transfer between Namesilo and 1&1
|1st year at 1&1:||$1.17|
|2nd year at Namesilo:||$7.39|
|3rd year at 1&1:||$1.17|
|4th year at Namesilo:||$7.39|
|5th year at 1&1:||$1.17|
1&1 prices include $0.18 ICANN fee
So in this example, the savings amounts to $43.56 over a five year period for a single .com domain.
Is it worth the effort of changing registrars every year? Again, this really depends on the registrar pricing and if there's a significantly discounted registration or transfer price for your domain's TLD. Plus, it has to be worth your time and effort of performing the yearly domain transfer.