Posts filed under 'General'

10 Items I Never Pay Full Price For

red_sale_bagAs an adult, once I began managing my own finances, I always watched my budget closely. I clipped coupons, carefully shopped the sales, and made sure I mailed in those rebates. I considered myself a pretty savvy shopper. However joining Buxr has changed my life! Now I won’t go anywhere or buy anything without checking the site for coupons first! In fact, there are many things I absolutely will not EVER buy at regular price. Here are my top 10:

  1. Groceries may be the the number 1 way our family saves money. We’ve always planned our menus around what’s on sale, buying the seasonal items that are at their peak quality and best price. We use grocery coupons as much as possible on the items we buy regularly, but never buy any item only because we have a coupon for it. Using our loyalty cards at grocery stores gets us instant savings on many items plus high value coupons mailed directly to us, as well as cash-back coupons that print with our receipts. Another benefit of shopping with a loyalty card is the discount we get when we buy fuel. We always buy paper goods and other staples in bulk at warehouse clubs or whenever they’re on sale.
  2. For clothing, I always check out the sale section in the stores or online, and combine my purchase with a coupon as often as I can. I usually get advance sale notice and some extra coupons through the mailing lists from my favorite stores, so I can plan ahead. A lot of casual wear is also available at the warehouse clubs, because they get special purchases that they can offer at reduced prices.
  3. Gift cards can be bought online below face value at sites like Plastic Jungle or Gift Card Granny, and usually have no expiration dates. I can also sell any unwanted cards that I received as gifts. Then I can wait to combine the discounted gift cards with advertised sales.
  4. Dining out is a nice treat for our family, and we never pay full price for a meal. We purchase Restaurant.com certificates only when they’re 80% or 90% off, and redeem coupons we’ve received by mail, email or online. I signed up every member of the family for the mailing list of our favorite restaurants, so everyone gets a free coupon for their birthday.
  5. Magazines are very high on my list to cut costs. I used to think that I was saving money over buying single copies by signing up for subscriptions. That was before I discovered that I could get so many of them for free or only a few dollars a year.
  6. Books are my passion and everyone in the family likes to read, but I hate to pay a lot for them. Nowadays I see new hardcover books in the grocery store for 40% off list, great prices on Amazon, and even better ones on eBay, where I can often buy a used book lot shipped for under a dollar a book. I can sell them or swap with friends after we’ve read them. Any others that I can’t find at a cheap price, can be checked out from the public library for free.
  7. Video games are cheaper on Amazon or if you buy them used at the game stores. You can always find perfectly good last-generation games on clearance in the electronics department as soon as the new titles are released.
  8. Classes and activities that we would enjoy are offered so often for half price or less on the daily deal sites. We signed up at various sites to get a daily email of their offers in our area.
  9. Movies in the theater have gotten so expensive that I never thought we’d be able to save so much on them. But there are lots of free screening opportunities, discount tickets through daily deal sites or bought in bulk online, theater card discounts, and lower-cost matinees. Several theater clubs post weekly coupons on their Facebook pages for free or BOGO refreshments.
  10. Movie DVD rentals are cheap to begin with, but there are so many discount codes available that you can often get one night’s rental for free. Family night with a movie and pizza (bought with a coupon, of course!) is one of our favorite treats.

What’s on your list?

1 comment April 23rd, 2012

Are Home Heating Costs Freezing Your Budget?

house-insulation

Did you know that heating your house in the winter can account for more than a quarter of your home’s total energy costs? And weather analysts are projecting that many parts of the U.S. will have periods of below-average temperatures with above-average snowfall this year. If you add higher fuel costs to that prediction, those expenses can really impact your budget. The US Energy Information Administration projects that this winter, from October 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012, the cost of propane and heating oil will be 9-10 percent higher than last winter. But, while you have no control over the weather or the price of fuel, you can definitely control your energy costs. Here are some tips how to lower your heating bills:

Insulate

  • About 15% of an average home energy bill goes to heating water. You can save by setting your hot water heater’s temperature to 120 degrees, and add an insulation jacket for as little as $20. That will prevent the water heater from working overtime to keep standing water warm, and cut heat loss in half, for a savings of 4% to 9%.
  • Keep the warmth of your forced-air heating system moving in the right direction by sealing and insulating the air ducts. Pay special attention to duct work in unheated areas like attics, crawl spaces and garages. A system that loses warm air to leaks on the way to your rooms, can add up to 20% to your bill.
  • Most older homes could use additional insulation, particularly in the basement and roof. Insulation degrades over the years, and newer options are more energy-efficient. Add insulation in attics, floors over unheated spaces such as your basement, any crawl spaces, and your garage. You actually lose more heat through poorly insulated floor spaces and basements in the average house than through drafty doors and windows. Add more insulation that has an R-Value according to these recommendations, specific to your location and type of heating system. The savings can be as high as $500 a year!

Seal

  • You may be able to cut heat loss in half when you seal and weather strip windows and doors, ensuring a tight fit to reduce drafts. Don’t forget the weather-stripping on your attic and basement doors to prevent heat from escaping there. Seal the openings where pipes, cables and other utilities enter your house. The cost to buy sealing products for $25-$50 will more than pay for itself with an energy bill savings of up to 20%, according to the EPA. Sealant, caulking and weatherstripping are all easy to use for do-it-yourself projects. Check out the EPA’s do-it-yourself guide for advice on closing off air leaks here.
  • Installing exterior or interior storm windows can reduce heat loss through the windows by 25-50%, and glass fireplace doors help stop heat from being lost up the chimney when the fireplace is not in use.

Service

  • Schedule a tune-up for your heating system annually by a qualified professional. Natural gas, propane and oil heating systems create combustion deposits when they burn, that can build up and make the system both unsafe and inefficient.
  • Clean your furnace filters; dirty filters slow air flow and make your heating system work harder. This increases your energy bill and shortens the equipment’s life.
  • Install a programmable thermostat and set it to conserve heat during the night or while you’re away from home, and then warm things up shortly before you awake or return. For every degree you set your thermostat back over eight hours, you’ll save about 1 percent on your heating bill every year. You can try to remember to turn it down manually 10 degrees when you go to sleep or leave the house, but using a programmable thermostat does that for you automatically.

Free heat

  • During the day, you can open shades and curtains on west- and south-facing windows to let in the sun’s natural warmth, and then close them at night.
  • Turn your ceiling fan to run on a low speed in reverse (clockwise), to push rising warm air back down from the ceiling. Limit the use of ventilation fans over stoves or in bathrooms so hot air will not be drawn out of the house unnecessarily.
  • Keep shade trees from blocking the sun’s rays into your house by pruning any branches that block the sunlight.
  • Move furniture away from any exterior walls to put some space between you and the cold walls. This makes the house seem warmer and leaves room for the warm air to circulate around the furniture.
  • Leave the oven door open after baking, after you’ve turned it off. This adds warm air to the kitchen area.

Other ways to keep warm

  • Close off the attic, garage, basement, spare bedrooms and storage areas. Heat only those rooms that you use. Add area heaters to warm just the occupied rooms and keep the rest of your home at cooler, more economical temperatures.
  • Put an extra blanket on the bed when you turn down your thermostat at night. An electric blanket is much less expensive than heating your bedroom.
  • Wear warm layered clothing indoors during cold weather, so you can set your thermostat to the lowest possible comfortable setting. Some of the new lightweight synthetic fabrics are the best for thermal layering.

This option doesn’t really save money, but you can ask your gas, oil or electric company to put your account on a level billing contract. This spreads your utility costs out over the year with equal monthly payments to help you budget for the heating season and make your heating bills more affordable.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the typical family spends as much as $1900 a year on home utility bills, but a large portion of that is wasted. You can view or download their online booklet of tips to save energy and money, up to 25%. If you haven’t already taken advantage of it, a tax credit up to $500 is available for energy-efficient home improvements installed before December 31, 2011. See this link for details, and look for IRS Form 5695 when it becomes available in a few months, at tax preparation time.

Add comment November 14th, 2011

Sweet daily deals, sour aftertaste

Groupon Pole Dancing DealThe growing number of new group deal sites gives money-saving buyers a false sense that every day can bring them fantastic deals equivalent to Black Friday. Since 2010, more than 600 such sites have been created, offering what appear to be extreme savings of half off or more on everything from products to services.

The ease with which shoppers are able to take advantage of the offers presented to them in daily emails by simply clicking a button, prevents them from researching the value of the deals before committing to buy. This kind of impulse buying goes against the idea of having the discipline to shop with a list and stick to it, encouraging you to buy more than you need. And, even worse – analysts estimate that, while consumers who buy these deals will spend more $1.25 billion dollars this year, 20%-30% of them will go unused!

Have you ever experienced buyer’s remorse over any of these deals? We’ll tell you what makes these deals so attractive, what you should know about group deal sites to avoid bad deals, and what to do if you regret your purchases.

Why the deals seem so irresistible

  • Daily emails bring the deals to your inbox, you don’t even have to search for them. Subscribers receive targeted or personalized offers available in their area.
  • It’s online shopping with just one mouse click from the email message, you don’t even have to go anywhere or search for the products online.
  • The limited number and time limit on each deal creates an urgency to grab the deal or be left out. The sites promise savings of 50% or more if enough people sign up and pre-pay before the offer expires. But it’s very likely that, if you miss this deal, you would still get another opportunity to buy it when a similar offer turns up on a different deal site.
  • At some sites, there’s also the option for buyers to share with friends to get their own deal for free. So if you didn’t get the offer directly, your friends will talk you into it anyway.
  • The offers introduce consumers to experiences like skydiving or pole dancing, that they might not otherwise consider if they weren’t deeply discounted. This makes buyers focus on the savings, instead of the fact that this is money they otherwise would not have spent at all.
  • The extra charges or restrictions may not be apparent in the glowing deal description, until you read the fine print. For example, shoppers who used Groupon to sign up for an FTD Valentine’s Day voucher last February discovered that prices on the special voucher-redemption page were $5 to $10 higher than those on the regular FTD site.

How you can avoid wasting your money

  • Use a bit of self-restraint. It’s only a good deal if it’s something you really need or use regularly. Think the purchase through carefully before committing. If a deal for classes is too popular, it will be difficult to schedule and use the voucher before the expiration date if classes fill up.
  • Don’t grab something you don’t need because you want it at the moment, deep savings on boot camp workouts aren’t for you if you hate to exercise.
  • Research the site you are buying from, as well as the business redeeming the offer – see how long they’ve been around, what are their policies, and if they have any complaints posted online or with the Better Business Bureau. You haven’t saved anything if you never get the deal you bought. It’s easy for anyone to start up a deal site, but many of them don’t survive.
  • Compare the offer to market prices to be sure it’s really a bargain, check out the merchant’s regular promotions, and find out whether the voucher has to be used in a single transaction or at a specific location. A recent Tippr offer for $100 worth of product from VistaPrint for $35 sounded appealing, but it’s actually not a good deal. The voucher would apply to full price items plus shipping, and the company frequently offers the same items for free if you just pay the shipping costs.
  • Send the deal site offers to a separate email address. Don’t even check the emails unless you have extra money to spend.
  • Decide how you will use the deal and how you will pay for it. If you charge it on a credit card with an ongoing balance, you’ll pay more for everything you buy.
  • Determine whether you’ll be getting a gift card or a coupon before you buy. Gift cards cannot expire for at least five years, as required by federal law, but codes and vouchers don’t fall under that law and can be short-dated. Check out 10 things daily deal sites won’t say at SmartMoney.

If you regret your purchase

  • Offer it to coworkers, neighbors, friends or family.
  • Check policies of the deal site, many of the larger sites have a “no-questions-asked” refund policy and will refund the purchase value within 30-60 days. They will also refund if the merchant fails to honor the offer.
  • Recycle. Now group deal resale sites are popping up, operating as clearinghouses, to link unhappy deal holders with potential buyers who wanted but missed those particular deals. However, if you’re a buyer looking to score some of these the second time around, it’s important to make sure these resale sites also offer some form of guarantee or protection if the coupons turn out to be bogus or used. Avoid sites that don’t manage the sales, if you have to contact the seller on your own, the risk of fraud is greater and you have no protection at all.

Don’t forget that group deal offers are just marketing strategies and a form of advertising by merchants, to bring in more customers for times or products that are slow in their business. In the essence, these deals are designed to solve the retailer’s problems, not yours. But if you’re careful, you can still use group deal sites to stretch your budget and get some great offers. Follow our tips, and you can avoid those impulsive buys that you’ll later regret.

Add comment August 29th, 2011

Where to Get Student Discounts

Student DiscountHere’s a crash course for students who want to make their budgets go further by taking every opportunity to get discounts. There’s an amazing array of savings from software and books to entertainment and travel. So many offers are tailored specifically for students, they just have to know where to look.

Software

  • The Academic Superstore offers thousands of discounted hardware and full-version software titles. They’ve partnered with companies like Adobe, Microsoft, Sibelius, Sony Media Software, and Wacom, to provide excellent service and prices.
  • A similar site is JourneyEd, where discount pricing is available for college and K-12 students on software, hardware, books, and bags.
  • Autodesk offers discounts and free design program downloads for students, and Adobe allows 80% off their Creative Suite as well as other free tools like ColdFusion and Flash Builder.

Textbooks

  • Textbook prices have gone up along with tuition costs, and rental can save up to $500 a year. Students have access to thousands of textbooks at a fraction of the cost of buying them new or used. A few good textbook rental sites include Chegg, BookRenter, eCampus, and Campus Book Rentals. Most of these sites offer free shipping both ways. Course Smart provides discounted e-textbooks for online or offline study.

Hardware

  • Dell offers up to $200 off for students, in addition to back to school promotions of 5%-15% off select models.
  • HP Academy offers up to $250 off select PCs. Additional HP savings for students can be found here.
  • Lenovo also has student pricing on computers, software and third-party products.
  • Sony offers students savings and performance upgrades at this link.
  • Student deals on Asus gear are found here.

Auto and Travel

  • Visit the General Motors College Discount site to request your authorization number for a vehicle discount. Print it out and bring it to your salesperson at your GM Dealer, along with proof of program eligibility. This discount can be combined with other available incentives and GM Reward Card earnings.
  • The Student and Youth Travel Agency has partners around the globe to get students of any age and anyone else under 26 the cheapest, most flexible flights and top-rated accommodations.

Rewards

  • Edhance offers deals and cash back up to 50% exclusively to college and university students, who can register up to five credit or debit cards, and start saving.

Discount Cards

So far, all of the previous options are free for the asking. Three student discount cards – Student Advantage, ISE, and ISIC – each have an annual fee, but are well worth the price. The types of discounts vary, so your choice should be made according to your needs.

  • The Student Advantage card costs $22.50 per year and is the most visible in the US, saving students money near campus and online every day on food, travel, school supplies and more.
  • The International Student Exchange Card (ISE) is the gold standard for student travelers, and costs $25 per year. To qualify, you must be a student (no age restriction) or a non-student between the ages of 12 and 26 years old. The ISE card discounts have a few shopping discounts, but are mainly for flights, hotels, car rentals, and attractions. ISE holders receive special rates on train and bus tickets, and get free HostelRes Card (normally $18) with any Eurorail pass purchase. This offers a complete package of transportation and a place to sleep for students backpacking through Europe. Card holders are covered to up to $2000 in medical benefits and up to $5000 in evacuation costs from any country, if a medical emergency arises. Other benefits include worldwide toll-free assistance for lost passports, legal issues, and arranging travel documents. In North America they even provide a roadside assistance program.
  • International Student Identity Card for K-12 and college students costs $22 per year. It includes offers on travel, shopping, museums and more, worldwide. Some of the participating discounts are at 24 Hour Fitness, Virgin Megastores, Amtrak, the Apple Store, Target.com, Motel 6 and more.

If you attend any school, college or university, you’re automatically eligible for a discount on items and services at many businesses near the campuses. To qualify, all that’s required is proof of your student status, like a school issued email address (.edu) or a copy of your student ID. Students can take advantage of discounted entertainment through the college’s performing arts center; museums and professional organizations or subscriptions offer substantial discounts for full-time students. And, through July 2, students can even get a free entree ($6.99 value) at IKEA with their student ID and this coupon.

Add comment June 27th, 2011

Are Loyalty Programs Worth It?

rewardtags2These days, discounts and savings are on the minds of most consumers. Driven by the economy, they’re always looking for more ways to stretch their budgets. One way you can increase your savings is to sign up for loyalty or rewards programs with the various businesses where you shop regularly. If you’re wondering whether these programs will really save you any money, here are some details to help you decide how to manage them and if they are beneficial for you.

Loyalty programs are not a new idea.  They’ve been around since the 1930’s, when shoppers first began collecting S&H green stamps in order to redeem them for catalog merchandise. By 1980, the first airline offered a frequent flier program.  Since then, rewards programs have become more sophisticated, and now you can sign up for them almost everywhere – book stores, pet stores, grocery stores, office supply, airlines, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and fast food, and banks. Some programs let you accumulate rewards at the same store, while others may earn additional rewards like gasoline discounts.  But you could end up spending more money than you save if you’re not careful.

What to remember

  1. Choose free programs – If you have to pay for a rewards program the cost may offset any savings . Even if the store offers a paid rewards program, they usually have a basic one available for free. You’ll still get some good discounts and special offers; and if you don’t use them enough, you haven’t lost any annual fees.
  2. Pick retailers where you already shop regularly – Going out of your way just to use a rewards program is counterproductive, a waste of your time and fuel. But you should compare prices to be sure they aren’t higher than stores without rewards cards. Grocery stores, for example, even mail their loyal customers targeted coupons for the items they buy regularly. You can increase your savings by combining these with sales and manufacturers’ coupons, even loading coupons onto your loyalty card electronically and skip clipping them.
  3. Avoid single store reward credit cards - Many retailers also offer co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn rewards for all your purchases, and even give you a sign-up bonus. You’ll save more if you can use those cards at other places, putting all your charges on the same card.  Rewards program credit cards have higher interest rates, however, so you’ll have to pay the balance off every month or the interest charges will cancel out the earnings.
  4. Avoid impulse buying - Don’t be tempted to buy something you don’t need just because they sent you a good discount coupon. Never buy more just to reach a particular points level or reward premium, that defeats your whole savings effort.  You may think you are saving 40% off, but in reality you’re spending 60% more than you otherwise would have.
  5. Use your loyalty cards for every purchase - That way you’ll get the maximum benefit of the program. If you forget to carry them, you can usually get your discounts or bonus credits anyway by providing your phone number at checkout.
  6. Do some research – Make sure you find the best match for your needs. For example, if you’re a frequent traveler, you could get a specific airline credit card to augment the miles you earn by flying. If you only accumulate miles by spending, you might be better off with a cash back or general points credit card so you can buy or convert points to tickets without restrictions. Coffee shops and fast food restaurants often give customers a card that gets stamped each time they visit, until they reach a particular goal. When the card is completed, they get a reward. Ask your favorite spots if they offer such rewards; it can save you some extra money since you go there anyway.

A recent study shows that 75% of all shoppers have at least one loyalty card; and the average American household signs up for 18 of them, but actively uses only half that number.  If you find that you have too many cards to carry around, you can better organize them if you download free apps for your smartphone that will store all your cards. Cardstar and Keyring both allow you to scan your membership and reward cards with your smartphone device to consolidate them. Whether you’re at the grocery store, making travel plans, or visiting your favorite coffee shop, you won’t get caught without them.

But remember that store loyalty programs can be a double-edged sword – while regular customers are rewarded with the incentives of high-value coupons and discounts,  they’ll constantly be tempted to buy things they don’t need, simply to get good deals. If you’re not already a frequent shopper or the business is out of your way, just pass it up.  You don’t want to become a compulsive customer who is blindly loyal to a company and its products (or its reward program’s incentives) without any comparison shopping.

Add comment June 20th, 2011

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