Posts filed under 'General'

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

Halloween costumes that won’t scare your budget

milk+cookiesCostumes are a big part of celebrating Halloween, and a little creativity can help your family enjoy getting dressed up without spending much money.  The most popular costume for kids this year is a princess, for the 6th year in a row, according to a recent poll by National Retail Federation. You’ll also see quite a few dressed as spider-man, witches and pirates. Pop culture costumes are the top picks for young adults, and they’re very easy to do.  More adults than kids plan to dress up this year, and they’re even going to dress up their pets!

There are plenty of high quality, affordable Do-It-Yourself ideas, and Wisebread has rounded up a huge collection of them. You can do a lot with old clothes (too small or too large), a little paint and cardboard boxes, or just an old sheet! There are some homemade costumes posted at Parenting and Parents.com. It only takes an exacto knife and a little felt, cardboard box, paper towel tube, and hot glue gun to make a milk and cookies costume pair that the kids can wear with regular clothes underneath. Don’t forget the milk mustache!

More Easy and Creative Ideas

  • Repurpose a Spongebob Squarepants cushion into an adorable toddler costume by opening the seams for arms, legs, and head as described here, and then stuff it after Halloween to restore it to a cushion.  You’d be amazed at how many things you can find in your own closet or from the dollar store. 
  • Browse magazines and online costume retailers for possible masks – cut out or print a face and make holes for the eyes and mouth. 
  • Box of tissues (for any age): Find a cardboard box that’s large enough to fit over your body and cut holes for your arms and legs. Paint it or cover it with wrapping paper. Add the logo of your favorite tissue company. Take a old hat and cut a slit into the top. Stuff some tissue underneath, with one sticking out, so people can pull tissues out of your head.
  • Q-Tip: Dress all in blue, and cover a cap and your shoes with cotton balls.
  • Beekeeper: Add netting all around a hat and wear khaki clothing. Glue fake bees all over the  hat and clothing. Decorate a container to look like a beehive, and use it as a candy collector.
  • Nerd: This is an easy one - wear slacks and a shirt buttoned up to the top, and add accessories like a pocket protector, calculator, and thick glasses (use old frames and wrap the bridge with tape).  Part hair in the middle and use gel to slick it down. 

Check out Disney Family World, All You, Real Simple, or Favecrafts for more easy costume ideas. Martha Stewart has directions for babies, adults, and even some that your kids can make themselves. It’s very easy to put together a cowboy costume using brown paper grocery bags for the chaps and vest, with a mop-maned horse to complete the outfit. Make a learning experience for younger kids by choosing storybook costumes and reading the books together.

Getting the Most for Your Money

Even if you end up having to buy costumes, you can still save some money and your budget won’t be haunted by high prices.

  1. Check out the sales and coupons for Halloween gear on Buxr, or buy something on sale after Halloween to use next year.
  2. If you have more than one child, pick gender-neutral costumes that all of the children can wear.  That way, you can save them for next year and use them more than once.
  3. Trade the costumes you’ve bought before with other families to get something “new” each year at no cost.
  4. Try to incorporate items that can be used again for another purpose.  For example, ordinary sweats can be temporarily decorated with tape and then used through the year. 
  5. Add accessories like superhero weapons that can be cut from cardboard and covered with aluminum foil.

With these suggestions, you can scare everyone (except your budget) and have a frightfully frugal good time!

Add comment October 11th, 2010

Are Sitewide Discounts Really Sitewide?

fine_print_3Practically every company specifies a few standard exclusions like gift cards, or requires the buyer to join a free rewards program or spend a specific amount in order to achieve their promotional discount. But sometimes a ”sitewide” discount doesn’t really include “everything” and the fine print may have a long list of exclusions. So it always pays to check out the list of exclusions before you shop. Sometimes the manufacturers are prohibiting the stores from discounting their products. Whatever the reason, savvy shoppers always look for this information before placing their orders.

One of the best examples of true “sitewide” savings is at Kohl’s. When their offers say “take an extra xx % off everything sitewide” they really mean it, and every shopper can apply these offers to all merchandise. Kohl’s charge customers receive mailers with extra  discounts 12 times a year, and those discounts are deducted automatically whenever they pay with their store charge card, even without using the promo code printed on the mailers.

At eBags, however, it’s a completely different story. Percent-off and dollars-off discounts are never applicable to certain brands or collections within certain brands. Their exclusion list contains 71 items!

Bed, Bath and Beyond has 24 brands on their coupon exclusions list, while the Sports Authority list excludes 61 brands. Shoes.com may occasionally offer a promotion on some restricted brands individually, but for sitewide discounts their posted exclusion list contains wallets, bags, and 34 shoe styles.

Technology products and HP ink cartridges are typically excluded from Office Depot promotions and printed on each coupon, so the rare offers that include them are very popular with shoppers.

Discounts described as “sitewide savings on select items” are deliberately contradictory.  Coupons from Borders Books, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and  Michaels Arts and Crafts are frequently offered, but always include a lengthy list of exclusions printed on the coupon.  Even worse, however, are the stores offering discount promotions that simply say “some exclusions may apply” and the list is nowhere to be found! That was exactly the case in a tweet for an online code from Dick’s. Famous Footwear does have exclusions, but they are posted on their website and easily found, unlike the Reebok Store site where no list was available.

In a recent discussion on Buxr, members of the community reported numerous problems with discounts at Newport News, when published discount codes did not work after filling their carts with merchandise. The company later apologized, but it was not an isolated incident but rather a frequently reported occurrence. 

Even more frustrating were shopping trips to Babies”R”Us stores, where customers were told that the items they were buying were not considered “baby” items and did not qualify for the advertised discount. Why on earth would any product in that store not be considered a “baby” product? It seems only natural that to save their image the retailers must adopt the rule – “Do not exclude the product type directly listed in your store name!”.

Add comment July 26th, 2010

Presenting Carnival of Money Stories

dollar-rhinoWelcome to the 50th Carnival of Money Stories! For those unaware, the Carnival of Money Stories is a series of weekly posts hosted by various blogs in which the participants share their stories/experiences with money.

When I read a blog carnival, I usually scan the entries and read those with titles that grab my attention. This approach has a problem since a lot depends on how creative the writer is with the blog title. To help you make a more informative decision about what to read, for this carnival I decided to include with each entry a sentence or two that highlight the writer’s style and give you an idea of what to expect. I also grouped the articles by different areas of finance and started off the whole thing by selecting five “editor’s choice” articles, which are the ones I happened to enjoy the most out of all of the submissions.

By the way, if you have a blog and write about money – Carnival of Money Stories is looking for future hosts. You can apply at the official carnival site.

Editor’s Picks

We called up HP and asked if there was anything they could do. We don’t want to recycle a perfectly good printer that simply needs two parts the size of a deck of cards – it is a waste and it’s not environmentally friendly. HP told us that was the only option.
Hewlett-Packard Hates the Environment and Your Wallet ( @ Lazy Man and Money )

Yoda says: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try…” Put a stop to your trying right now and do! We all are faced with difficult circumstances. Yes, some are more difficult than others, but we must move past them, talk less about trying and have more doing in our lives.
Wisdom of Yoda: Personal Finance Lessons (@ Christian PF )

He was the perfect renter. He paid on time, cleaned up after himself, and stayed over at his girl friend’s house more often than he was ever around ours. He stayed for a little more than a year. Dude, if you’re reading this, we miss you.
Need Money? Have an Extra Bedroom? ( @ Budgeting is the Fun Stuff )

“We could buy it in honor of Irvin,” we said. “He would be so proud of seeing his grandkids and great grandkids enjoy an Airstream!” So we bought it, and spent money on it and spent more money on it. And could easily spend a bunch more money on it.
Airstream Saga Continues: Jan and I Second Guess Our Decision (@ Personal Finance by the Book)

I read a dated (2002) report on some things with Quicken Security. What I found most interesting was this statement from the abstract: “I’ve found that the password protection used by Quicken is easily reversed with the purchase of a $30 password cracking application.”
Passwords Security | How To Safely Store Passwords ( @ Money Help For Christians )

Your Home

I can’t believe it, someone’s actually selling a house in our area instead of foreclosing! The heavens have opened and are smiling upon us ;) It sounds sad, but seriously – this gives our neighborhood so much hope. We’ll actually be able to tell what our houses are WORTH now since they’re pretty much exact molds of each other.
Our Neighbor’s House Is For Sale! ( @ Budgets are Sexy )

I have learned my lesson. I would rather pay $1,000 and not lift a finger—I was so anxious the night before and so defeated for the two days it took to move that I don’t want to ever feel that way again. This is another one of those times where money helps. It’s one of the good reasons we have for wanting to have more of it.
Paying for Movers: Is it Worth It? ( @ The Writer’s Coin )

One of the major reasons why people seem to want new homes… is because they want more space, more room, more square footage—more home. Of course along with “more home” comes more upkeep, more heating and cooling expenses, and more square footage for potential future repairs
5 Tips to Make Your Home Seem Bigger ( @ The Sun’s Financial Diary )

Your Business

You might be thinking this is simple stuff, anyone can figure it out. Yet, you would be surprised at the chiropractors I speak with who either don’t know how to figure simple stats or if they know how, simply don’t keep any numbers for their practice.
Chiropractic Math and The Struggling Practice ( @ Chiropractic Marketing Mastery )

Your Kids

If the schools are really unacceptable, I would consider homeschooling. Why not? The money you save by living in a cheaper house could obviate the need for one parent to work. I would hate to do this myself, but there are many passionate homeschoolers.
Kids & Costs: Another point of view ( @ Funny about Money )

Your Taxes

Based on US pop culture it is easy to think that every rich, James-Bond like American has an account in the Cayman Islands worth millions of dollars. Apparently the IRS has been watching these movies as well, as they are going after these accounts, which number in the tens of thousands.
IRS Closing in on Tax Cheaters ( @ My Dollar Plan )

Your Budget

The concept that saving a little everyday will add up to a lot over time is definitely sound. However, the fallacy in “eliminating the latte factor will make you a millionaire” is that those who cut out their morning coffee or newspaper usually do not save that money at all.
3 Reasons Why Keeping Your “Latte Factor” Will Help You Save Money (@ Wisebread )

A budget that doesn’t balance is not sustainable. That’s a mathematical fact. You can ignore it for a while, but the piper will eventually get paid. We would rather pay on our own terms rather than those that will inevitably be forced upon us at some point in the future.
What If Your Budget Doesn’t Balance? ( @ Balance Junkie )

As someone with a bunch of regular expenses, I know that they add up. I also know that you’d have to pry my laptop from my cold, dead fingers before I’d voluntarily give up the internet. In my husband’s case, cable is a necessity. How do you choose between one recurring expense and another? Prioritize.
Recurring Expenses Will Kill Your Budget-Choose Wisely ( @ Free From Broke )

But what if you arenʼt aware of the bad things youʼre doing that are wrecking your finances in the first place? If you arenʼt sure of the cause of the problems, but trying to fix them, itʼs like putting a band-aid on a major wound.
5 Ways You Are Wrecking Your Finances ( @ Single Guy Money )

Credit Cards

As you can see, cash advances are a pretty convenient way to get quick cash. However, these types of withdrawals are discouraged because of the high rate of interest applied to these balances, associated fees, and the method with which some card companies used to incur interest and apply payments.
Credit Card Cash Advance: Bad Financial Move or Good Emergency Plan? ( @ ptMoney )

Record Keeping

The best filing system is your filing system, one tailored to your needs and tendencies. If you prefer a year-based system, use a year-based system. If it’s easier for you to find and file documents based on asset, you’ll want an asset based system.
How To Organize Electronic Financial Documents ( @ Bargaineering )

Miscellaneous

So to make things simple, we can blame: bad luck, bad preparation and bad choices. But under bad luck, bad health is cited as the #1 cause of bankruptcy! I was a bit surprised by that because this was one time one could actually blame the heavens or fate for one’s dire straits.
Personal Bankruptcy: The Only 3 Reasons Why People Go Bankrupt ( @ The Digerati Life )

I have been thinking about it for a while and I realized that my money and how much or little of it I posses doesn’t define me. I am not defined by money and I try not define anyone else by theirs. I see no problems in displaying my net worth because if you want to judge me by the number of zeros on my bank account I don’t need you around.
Mind Over Money ( @ Suburban Dollar )

Stay Under Your Minutes: Nothing drives me more crazy then to see a big fat charge on my cell phone bill because we went over our minutes. If this is an habitual problem, you’ll want to either change cell phone plans or cut your talk time.
15 Ways to Slash Your Cell Phone Bill ( @ Dough Roller )

Image credit: ChesisBest @ Flickr

14 comments April 19th, 2010

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