UPDATE: This post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #152
Last week’s Two for Tuesdays edition was called the “Vice Edition” because it was about quitting bad habits. This week’s edition is called “The Food-Poisoned Wife Edition” because, well, my wife was sick today with bad stomach monkeys and I stayed home to care for her and our 2 boys (a two-and-a-half and a 7 month-old). Wow. What she, and any mother goes through on a daily basis is more than I do in a week! High praise to all the people who are able and willing to raise children while the spouse goes off and “works.”
We took an early-morning walk downtown, which was having an arts and wine festival. We walked around quite a bit and worked up a really big hunger. I hate paying for generally poor quality food at extremely high prices. Saving money is NOT something you do when you go to one of these things.
But we decided to take the plunge anyway. I got a ribeye sandwich, something I had never had before. My wife got a teriyaki bowl with rice and chicken. We found a place to sit down. Everything is going smoothly. My 7 month-old was asleep, his brother was hungry and we were ready. Except I forgot something. I went to go get it and then…
My son took my sandwich out of its wrapper and dropped it meat-side down on the bus stop bench we were using for a picnic table.
$8 down the drain. But me, being a frugal guy and all, decided to eat it anyway. And, boy, that was the best steak sandwich I’d ever had! So, in a sense I saved money by not buying a “clean” sandwich.
Now, on to the tips.
Buy local. Not only is doing so supporting your local merchant, but it’s also saving you gas. At nearly $4 (and already over in some places), you cannot afford to drive 20 miles to your favorite mall or super grocery store. Buy your staple goods once a month (or less) at Costco, Sam’s or some other discount store, but buy your fresh veggies and fruit from a local merchant.
There is a third benefit. You’re not only supporting your local farmers and other merchants, you’re not just saving gas. You’re doing more. By selling much of his inventory at the local grocer, your farmer is not having to ship his goods to farther-away locations. This is saving the planet.
Find a local farmers’ market here. And if you shop carefully, you can also save money versus a big-box supermarket like Safeway or Albertsons.
Buy an Entertainment Book. These things are terrific! You’ll save the cost of the book the first or second time you use it. Seriously. They have coupons for everything from dining to shopping to travel plus movies and events. We buy one of these each year and save a TON of money above and beyond the cost of the book.
In response to Two for Tuesday’s #5, a couple readers made comments suggesting some coupon and deal sites. I finally found some time to take a look at DealTaker.com and I can say without reservation that the site rocks!
There are dozens and dozens of coupons, coupon codes, and deals at literally hundreds of online stores.
If you cannot find a deal you can use, then you’re living under a rock. Which, as a Money Hacker, might not be so bad.
Here’s a great deal on TurboTax Online.
In Money Hacks #5, we discovered a web site that divulged online shopping coupon codes (retailmenot.com) and we talked about the American Express Blue Cash credit card that, if used wisely, could garner you $500 or more cash back in a single year.
This week, we’re going to find out how to utilize an excellent dining rewards program and fill you in on a cheap alternative to a whole-house or portable air purifier that will also save you money on your energy bill.
I found the following rewards program through my favorite money journalist of all time, Andrew Tobias, author of The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need. I’ve been reading Andy’s work for over 20 years and he is nothing if not prudent, frugal, and kooky all at the same time.
(Look for a comprehensive review of the aforementioned book in coming posts. I’ve read several editions of this book, which Andy updates every so often to include the latest technologies, trends, tax laws, and economic and stock market outlooks.)
In his latest iteration of the book, Andy talks of a dining rewards program called iDine. Sign up is free. Here’s how it works. Register up to 5 credit cards with the site after you sign up and each time you use one of those cards at a participating restaurant (it also works at select hotels), you earn up to 20% off your entire bill. You need not tell the restaurant that you belong to the program, nor do you have to carry any membership cards.
On your next credit card bill, you’ll see a credit for up to 20% off your bill for that meal, including tax and tip!
The first $49 in rewards you earn is taken by iDine to cover their costs. So, at 20% savings, it will take you $245 in restaurant bills to start to accumulate rewards. I know it’s not terribly frugal to eat out, but it is one of life’s pleasures, in my opinion. My family eats out several times a month, so after a few months, I’m “earning” 20% on my restaurant bill, bills that I’d incur anyways.
So, if you eat out often, it behooves you to take a look at iDine. After all, it costs you nothing out-of-pocket to join.
Our household air is filthy and loaded with particles that can harm our lungs. Regular vacuuming helps a great deal, but so does a whole-house air filtration system.
Here’s a tip that will cost you about $10 every few months, rather than the thousands of dollars in initial cost and hundreds in maintenance that a whole-house filtration unit would cost.. Your furnace can be used as a whole-house filtration system. Rather than using the really cheap air filters from Home Depot or Lowes, splurge and get yourself a “Filtrete” filter from 3M. They’re about $10 and will generally last a season. So, for about $40 a year, you can filter your air of most allergens and other harmful particulates that a whole-house filtration unit would do.
If your air is especially dusty, you can run the fan all the time, creating a great filtration system as well as an air-circulation system. Doing so can also allow you to turn down your thermostat a degree or two, since the hot air won’t just stay at the ceiling; rather, it will be forced to circulate throughout your house.
Make sure you change your filter when it needs changing, as these filters do restrict airflow a little when new but a lot when clogged with all the gunk in your air. You’ll be amazed at how much junk these filters catch.
BONUS TIP: To lower your thermostat another degree or two, buy a humidifier. Moist air “feels” warmer than dry air because of the evaporative effects (your body stays warmer because it doesn’t perspire as much in a humid environment).
Last week, we covered two tips for saving money on car insurance and life insurance. Today, we’ll delve into online shopping sites that endeavor to help you save your hard-earned dough as well as show you a credit card that can earn you $500 or more in cash rebates.
Online shopping, if you’re not careful, can blow your budget big-time. It’s so convenient to order from Amazon that it’s easy to overspend or spend money you didn’t plan on spending. I cannot help you with self-restraint, other than to tell you to keep your goals in mind whenever you pull out the credit card.
It’s also easy to lose sight of the reason you’re shopping online — better prices (that, and convenience). Here’s a site that can help you save money by using coupons that you may not know exist or that aren’t widely available or publicized:
Type in the store for which you need a coupon, and RetailMeNot.com looks up all available coupons. It has a database that is populated by readers of the site. It’s kind of a social networking site for online coupons.
You may not always find what you’re looking for, but you’ll be surprised by the number of times you use the site and get really great coupons.
We all know that credit cards, if not used wisely, can kill your finances. A late charge here, a missed payment there, next thing you know you can’t pay your bill, your credit score has just taken a hit, and you’re maxed out.
My take on the credit card companies is to beat them at their own game (if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I work for a bank who makes a ton of money from credit cards). The industry is so competitive that you’re bound to find a credit card that offers you just what you need without all the associated hassles.
Remember this, though: Pay off your balance each and every month. Don’t get suckered by incentives the credit card company may offer you to carry a balance.
There are hybrid strategies for combining two or more cards that offer what I’m about to tell you so that you can maximize your savings, but remember that I want the money hacks that you use to be easy to implement. I certainly don’t want you to have to keep meticulous track of each credit card transaction you make. I also don’t want you to think too much about this. Remember, the $500 you earn in cash rebates from this card is the easiest money you’ll ever make from a credit card company.
So don’t complicate this easy money with a strategy that takes a lot of work. Oh, sure, you could save another $100 or $200, but at what cost in terms of time?
Finally, before I get to the punchline, I think you should carry only one or two cards in your wallet, firstly because I want you to maximize the utility of the cards, but also because of the real threat of theft. No need to complicate your life by losing your wallet and having to call 3 or 4 credit card companies.
Money Hacks wants to help you simplify your finances.
So, without further delay, go get yourself Up to 5% cash back with Blue Cash® from American Express.
Here’s how it works. On every day purchases, like at supermarkets, gas stations, and drug stores, you get 5 percent cash back after you spend $6500 (up to this limit, your cash back rebate is 1 percent). On all other purchases, you get .5 percent to 1.5 percent (subject to the same threshold). If you follow my “Automate My Finances” philosophy, you’ll easily spend this amount of money in a given year (after all, it’s only a little over $500 per month, and with the price of gasoline and groceries, you’ll spend this in no time).
Like I said before, there are hybrid strategies for maximizing your cash back rebate. Here’s how you can make it work (though I think you still ought to try to simplify things as much as possible). Use the American Express Blue Cash card for “every day purchases” (gas, groceries, drug store) and another rewards card for everything else. You could, for example, combine use of this card with a frequent flyer card.
As icing on the cake, Kiplinger and Money magazines and a lot of other financial blogs (Free Money Finance, for one) have proclaimed this card as the best credit card to carry for cash rebates. American Express is highly-regarded as a credit card company.
One more thing: There is currently no limit on the rebate you can receive.
That concludes this edition of Two For Tuesdays. Come back next week for two more money hacks that will save you money.
So far, we’ve discussed ways to save on bulk purchases using Amazon’s new Subscribe and Save program, as well as a novel way to time the use of coupons you gather throughout any given 30-day period. We’ve also covered going to the library to save money buying books and opening an online savings account in Two for Tuesdays #1.
In this, our third edition of Two for Tuesdays, we’re going to explore ways to save money on used appliances using Craigslist. Often times, the sellers on Craigslist simply want to unload used kitchen and laundry appliances that they’ve replaced with new models and it’s simply easier to put them up on the site for little or no money than it is to cart them off to the dump or a consignment shop.
Here’s a typical deal: FOR SALE CHEAP!!! – $100
Best guess is that these appliances really are in good condition and they’re offered at a steal of a price. Best thing about Craigslist is that you’ll get to look at the merchandise before you buy it, unlike eBay.
Bring your truck!!!
With gasoline prices at or near record highs (they’ve come down a bit in the Bay Area), we can all stand to save a little at the pump. One of the biggest scams the auto and oil industries have played on us unsuspecting consumers is that of the Premium versus Plus versus Regular gasoline choice. This tip may not apply to all automobiles; in fact, it won’t apply to the majority of drivers.
However, it’s so important for those of us driving supercharged or turbocharged vehicles that I cannot neglect to mention it.
Back in the old days of carburetors and the absence of computer controls, you had to pay attention to the octane rating (Premium is 91, Plus is 89, and Regular is 87) of the gas you purchased. The rule of thumb was to buy the minimum octane necessary to achieve “knock-free” acceleration. “Engine knock,” or “ping” was basically caused by too low an octane rating given the car’s ignition timing and other factors.
Today’s cars are technological wonders when it comes to minimizing engine knock. Essentially, your engine, with the help of some sophisticated electronics, can self-adjust to the conditions it’s presented with. In short, if you use a lower-octane gas than the manufacturer “recommends,” your engine will change its timing such that the ping is eliminated. The downside is that your engine will make less power.
But if you’re trying to save money, which is what this site is all about, you won’t be stomping on the gas pedal anyway.
So here’s my recommendation: Save 20 cents a gallon (typically) by buying 87 octane rather than 91. This will save you 3 bucks per fill up on a 15-gallon tank, or about $150 a year (assuming 300 miles driven per week and 20 mpg, which isn’t too far off for most cars and is a pipe-dream for you SUV drivers).