Pay Retail? Me? Not.

One of my favorite sites to check before I make an online purchase is RetailMeNot. No joke, I don’t make a single online purchase without first checking this site for a discount code.  It’s just one of the hundreds of online coupon code mills, but it’s more organized and you don’t get annoying pop-ups.  They have printable coupons, when they’re available, and they will text the coupon to you if you want to save the paper (Save money & trees!).  There’s a comment link under each code/offer which let’s people share whether or not the code worked and when.  They have an app now which is very useful for in-store coupon codes, too.  And because you’re a savvy blog reader you should also check out their savings blog.

I don’t bother with the other coupon code mills. FatWallet looks like a mess to me. If RetailMeNot doesn’t have it, it probably doesn’t exist.

 

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Track your budget

Although I love to shop, I’m always on top of my finances.  As you may or may not know, I’m cheap. So I use the free budget tracking website Mint.com.  It’s owned by Intuit, the same company that makes TurboTax and QuickBooks, so it’s trustworthy.

Set-up is super easy. On your first log-in you input all of your log ins and passwords for bank accounts, credit cards, loans, retirement accounts, mortgages, student loans, store cards, etc. Mint downloads all of your transactions and you (or Mint) assign a spending category to each transaction. On future downloads, Mint will use your previous category assignment to categorize new transactions. Mint also does a pretty good job of recognizing merchants and assigning the right category. You can always change the category and add your own. You have the option of splitting transactions into multiple categories, too.  Cash transactions can be manually added as well.

After a couple months of using Mint regularly, the software gets to know your spending habits. It does some magical calculator math and determines your budget for you. Trust me, it’s a bit shocking. But it does make you more aware of where your money is going.  You have the ability to change the budget limits and the software lets you set financial goals.

Mint keeps track of your payment due dates and alerts you on the site and by e-mail. It recommends ways in which you can save money. It also shows your your net worth. Eek!! Nothing like a good slap in the face from a stupid computer.

I fully recommend Mint. I’ve been using it for years and I’m 100% satisfied. I log in at least 5 times a week and I know where every penny goes.

Discount your Costco Membership

If you have a Costco near you and you aren’t a member, you’re missing out.  When you think of Costco, you probably think “bulk food”…giant barrels of peanut butter and a ten pound block of cheese.  Costco is so much better than that now.  They sell everything.  Diapers, mattresses, jewelry, computers, toys, brand name clothes , prestige cosmetics and fragrances, movie theater tickets, bikes, TVs,  cell phones, gift cards, prescription eye wear, and even caskets!  Costco has you covered from birth to death and all the time in between.

I use my Costco membership so much that it’s free.  I’m an “Executive Member”.  My “2% Rewards” earnings on my Costco purchases earns me a fat check right before my renewal date.  The check is good for anything at Costco, even my membership renewal.

The bulk (lame pun!) of my grocery purchases are made at Costco. I buy all of my frozen and fresh meats, frozen seafood, eggs, cheese, and some produce there.  I haven’t found the bulk quantities to be a waste of money or food.  I take my lunch to work everyday and I cook dinner most weeknights.  I’ve also split a purchase with a friend or relative when I knew it would be too much for me to consume or use before it expired.

I buy a lot of household products and all of my contact lenses there.  I often find designer clothes and sunglasses while roaming the warehouse.  I bought my TV there, too. (The same TV that Best Buy was selling for about $30 more.)  I also buy gift cards for local and chain restaurants there.  They’re typically $100 worth in gift cards, at a cost of $79.99. And because I’m a cheap bitch, I buy most gifts there, too. They sell everything!

A regular Costco membership is $55.  The Executive Membership is $110.  If you think you’ll be spending at least $2800 there annually, go with the Executive Membership. In the end, it’ll be cheaper.  You’ll be amazed at the selection at Costco and you’ll be amazed at how quickly that cart adds up. Making your 2% reward pay for your membership is much easier than you think.

Put your cash to work

I’ve heard of a small movement in which people live solely on cash.  They only pay cash for their necessities.  And they keep the extras to a bare minimum. They don’t use credit at all.  I don’t think that’s very smart.

I completely agree with not buying something unless you have the cash for it and cutting out the extras. I wish I were able to stick to those ideas a little better. However, use credit cards to your advantage. You could be earning cash, gift cards, flights, etc. There are so many cards out there that will make your money work for you.  You just have to know what you’re looking for and what works for you.

  • I don’t apply for any credit card that has an annual fee. I’m cheap. I’d rather not pay for my freebies.  However, the earnings potential goes up greatly when you have a card that has an annual fee.  As far as I know, none of the major airlines offer a no annual fee credit card. But if you know you’re going on vacation, it might actually be worth it to pay a fee for a card that’s going to earn you free flights.  Just do the math first.
  • I use my credit card as much as I possibly can. Unless a store doesn’t take major credit cards or there’s a transaction fee or I have a better deal with a store credit card, I use my credit card that earns cashback for every single purchase I make. I’ll use it for ANYTHING.  I charged the maximum amount ($5000) that the car dealer would let me charge when I bought my car (I had the cash to cover it).  I’ve used it for a 59 cent bag of M&M’s.  I have no shame. I earn at least 1% cashback on every purchase and sometimes up to 5%. If they’ll give it, I’ll take it.
  • I pay my credit card off every month. If I don’t pay off the entire statement amount, I pay interest. My interest rate is 12.99%. I’m no calculator, but that appears to be about 11.99% higher than my 1% cashback earnings.

You can still live the “Envelope Budgeting” lifestyle with a credit card. You just have to have a lot of self-control and a little spending savvy.

Caffeine Free

Before Starbucks appeared on every corner, you couldn’t get coffee down my throat.  Now that it’s all posh and popular, I time out my mornings so I can make sure I have time to get my fix before I have to be at work.  Yes, it’s a total rip-rip off. I pay $3.70 for about 10 cents worth of product.  But still, I must have it. In my defense, I’ve cut down my double tall iced non-fat lattes to once (okay, maybe three times) a week.  I always fund them with my registered Starbucks gift card.

It’s almost Christmas and you’re probably going to get a couple Starbucks gift cards as gifts. Register them! You can even combine the value of all your cards onto one card. Even better, you can download the Starbucks mobile app and you don’t even need to carry the plastic cards anymore.  You will always have your card with you, even if you’re only carrying your phone. So evilly convenient.

There are levels to this program.  Any average Jane can become a “registered” member. Those who earn five stars level up to Green. And those of us who are addicted (and earn 30 stars in 12 months) level up to Gold.

There are multiple benefits to registering your Starbucks card for the My Starbucks Rewards program.

  • Birthday presents! Starbucks wants to reward you just for being born.  You receive a free drink or food item on your birthday. The drink is any size, any price.  Even these weird ass concoctions. Get crazy with it! (All levels)
  • Free drinks and food!  You receive one star per transaction. When you earn 12 stars, you get a free drink or food item. (Gold Level) As I said, you get one star per transaction. If I’m feeling extra cheap, I break my order into multiple transactions when I’m ordering more than one drink. I have no shame.
  • Free refills! Get brewed and iced coffee and tea refills at no charge during your visit at a single participating store. (Green & Gold Levels) You can sit in Starbucks and pretend to look important on your laptop all day long and keep refilling that cup at no charge!  This is actually great in the summer when you want to chug iced tea all day as you stroll the outdoor mall. Just keep going back to the same store for your first purchase and your refills.
  • Discounts! Opt to receive emails or texts when you sign up. They send coupons and deals a couple times a month for stuff like $1 off, BOGO, & free shipping.  If you download the app, they just kind of magically appear. (Gold Level)
  • Lost or stolen card replacement! If some bitch ever steals your card (or you happen to misplace it) you can get a replacement card with your restored value. (All Levels)
  • The Gold Card! Once you’ve leveled-up to Gold, Starbucks prints your name on your very own gold foiled gift card and mails it to you. If you actually use it (I think I shredded mine), you’ll enjoy the priceless benefit of not having to tell the register person your name when you order! There you go. I just saved you some breaths and some money!!!

Cheap Eats

Restaurants like to boost their sales in the final month of the year.  To entice you to buy their gift cards, they usually offer a “bonus” gift card for use at a later date.  This can be a pretty decent savings if you are a regular at a restaurant offering these bonus cards.  You’re going to eat there anyway. Why not get some savings? Nobody said that you actually had to give the cards as gifts.

  • PF Chang’s is currently offering a $20 bonus card, when you buy $100 in gift cards. Adding to that deal, if you’re a Bank of America customer, BankAmeriDeals is offering 10% cash back on PF Chang’s purchases. My net payout on $120 in gift cards would cost me $90. That’s pretty much an entire free meal for two.
  • California Pizza Kitchen is also giving out a $20 bonus card with the purchase of $100 in gift cards. And just like PF Chang’s, if you’re a Bank of America customer, BankAmeriDeals is offering 10% cash back on your spending in CPK.
  • Roy’s is offering a $25 bonus card when you buy $100 in gift cards.  If you’re going to Hawaii in the next couple months and can use the bonus card, you can have an extra good meal.
  • The Cheesecake Factory’s offer is pretty weak, but if you eat there regularly, you might as well take the free slice of cheesecake they’re offering for each $25 gift card that you purchase. (Side note: I went in to buy a $25 gift card last night. My receipt included a survey code that netted me a $10 eGiftCard. A free $10 gift card AND a slice of cheesecake. Score!!!)
  • Yard House will give you a $10 bonus card for each $50 gift card that you buy.
  • Panera jumped on the bandwagon, too with a $10 bonus gift card when you buy $100 or more in gift cards.  That’s a free meal.
  • Chili’s is offering a $10 bonus card when you buy $50 in gift cards.
  • Sweet Tomatoes/Souplantation will treat you to a free meal pass for every $50 in gift cards that you buy.
  • BJ’s offer is damn near offensive. Don’t waste your money. Who the hell wants some stupid glass?

Always check out the gift card bonuses offered at your favorite restaurants. And make sure to check out the fine print on the bonus gift cards before you buy. They usually are not valid until January 1 and they tend to expire shortly thereafter.