Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reap the Rewards!

I'm a firm believer that everyone should get something back from "the system" (so to speak). Here are two methods that I use and have found most valueable!

If you use a credit card already, I suggest switching to a cash back card. Here is a selection of options from CitiCards. You can also search and compare others here. There are a few caveats to this though:
  1. DO NOT pay an annual fee. That shit is whack. Er, I mean. It's not worth it. There are plenty of cards available without annual fees.
  2. If you don't pay off your balance in full at the end of every month, you are negating your cash back by making yourself pay interest on your purchase. Treat a credit card as if it's cash that you already spent out of your checking account.
  3. DO NOT get a credit card if you don't think you can control yourself. This is a BIG warning!
MyPoints is a GREAT (THE BEST) rewards points website. You can opt to receive emails that give you points for just clicking on their links. You won't get any other spam from this site besides their emails. The points collect fairly quickly and you can also earn them by going through their website and clicking on their earnings links before you make a purchase online (they don't have every online store available for earning opportunities, but they have a wide selection). I would say I redeem from them about 3 times per year, usually a $25.00 gift certificate, but check out their other rewards as well. The rewards come extremely quickly in the mail as well! And now my caveats:

  1. Don't purchase things online JUST to get points from the site. That's wasting money. I'm pretty sure a lot of you shop online enough to earn a good amount of points just from your regular shopping.
  2. If you choose to accept their emails, create an email filter that will automatically send them to a certain folder so you don't miss the emails. They're always sent from the same email address.
  3. If you join, I'd kindly ask that you put my name as your referral :) Mypoints username is annieacid, email is mommieskullfish at
There are plenty of other rewards programs and credit card rewards out there. There are:
  • Gas rebate credit cards (I have one through AAA and get 3% back on all gas purchases made at the pump)
  • Hotel and Frequent Flyer rewards. Sign up for the free programs. Even if you think you'll never use the points, you may be surprised. If you're a frequent hotel visitor like me, they'll come in handy! Hilton Honors is the one I use the most.
  • Frequent purchase rewards. This is very basic. Some establishments I frequent use these programs, where they stamp a card every time you purchase something and you get a reward after so many purchases. Don't be afraid to ask at the places that you frequent. Rita's Water Ice even gives double stamps (at my location, anyway) on Tuesdays!
  • Walgreen's (if you have them where you live) has a good "Free After Rebate" program every month. The warning though is not to do this if you know you're not reliable enough to send in for the rebate! I've been doing this for about a year and have barely ever had to buy toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, or toothbrushes. I also have gotten some cool things I wanted to try for free.
Have a Rewarding Day!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Saving on entertainment

It's time for the weekend - how will you spend your money?

If you're going to a restaurant:
  • Drink water instead of paying for a soda/iced tea/etc.
  • Share a meal (we all know the portions are huge anyway, and everyone can afford to skip half the calories and fat in a restaurant meal)
  • Skip the appetizer and/or dessert
  • Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink (those damn things are expensive!)
If you're off to the movies:
  • Can you persuade your friends to go to an earlier showing? Matinee prices are better!
  • Skip the concessions (does anyone even buy that stuff these days?)
  • I hope this is a movie you REALLY want to see, or else you'll be wasting your money. Can you meet your friends after the movie if you're not really interested in it?
Pre-plan for your entertainment:
  • Ask for movie, restaurant, or amusement gift cards/tickets as gifts for Christmas and Birthdays. We get a $50.00 movie gift card for Christmas every year, and it lasts almost all year. We stretch it by going to early showings and only seeing movies that are "epic" or "must sees" in our opinion.
  • Look into purchasing pre-paid movie tickets. They're available through a lot of membership organizations (i.e. AAA), schools, and sometimes your place or work.
  • Look for coupons in flyers or on the internet for places you frequent. Visit their websites, and join their mailing lists if they offer one. You're likely to get a coupon once in a while.
  • Do any of the places you frequent offer "frequent buyer" programs. We love Rita's and they have a buy 10, get one free card we always remember to have stamped when we go.

Avoiding Unneccessary Spending

I know you want it, but do you NEED it? Here are some things to keep in mind when you're considering a purchase.

Ask yourself some important questions:
  • Do I need this? (usually, if the answer is "no", you should rule out the purchase unless you have a lot of extra money lying around)
  • How often will I use this? (The answer should be 50% of the time or more in order for this to be worth the money)
  • Can this purchase wait? (Considering the purchase for a week or at least a few days will usually lend you some kind of perspective on whether or not it's worth it)
  • Can I use something else instead? (something you already have, or something less expensive)
  • Can I borrow this from someone? (this is a good question to ask in the case that you will need the item on a very limited basis, i.e. a tool, a dress/suit you will only wear once, an appliance)
Know your inventory, and keep things organized:
  • Clothing - Do you really need another little black dress, or another funny t-shirt? You probably have enough shoes already as well.
  • Groceries - Make sure you know what's in the pantry, fridge, and freezer. You might already have the thing you think you need, but it's buried back there. Do you have the ingredients to make the thing you need or want, and can a substitute be made easily? Remember, the internet is great for recipes, even basic ones. For example, I now know how to make brown sugar from granulated sugar and molasses (which I happen to have).
If you decide you need it or MUST HAVE IT lest ye go mad:
  • Put it on a wish list. Kaboodle is a great wish list site, and you can use it to list all the things you want/need and go back and re-evaluate later to see if you still want/need it. I have done this and I find I take A LOT of things off my wish list that I thought I REALLY wanted or needed.
  • Comparison shop for price. Use the internet and store flyers.
  • What features do you really need (this usually applies on electronics/appliances)? Don't buy any more than you need just because it's "cool"! If you'll never use that feature, don't pay more for it.
  • Don't overlook thrift shops, garage sales, or eBay. Take time to look in these places before purchasing retail.
  • Put out word of mouth that you're looking for the item. You might find that someone has one they don't want, or knows where to get one inexpensively.
Above all, self control is key!

Budgeting Basics

budg·et (bŭj'ĭt): An itemized forecast of an individual's income and expenses expected for some period in the future.

Budgeting is one of the basic skills required for frugality to really become effective. Some people are overwhelmed at the prospect of a budget, but it needn't be difficult!

(I find a spreadsheet the easiest way to keep this information organized, but you can do it any way you find works for you.)

Step 1:
List all of your monthly expenses (for fluctuating expenses, go with a high estimate of what it would be every month). Leave out groceries and gas.

Step 2:
Calculate and list your monthly income.

Step 3:
Subtract your monthly expenses from your monthly income. The result is the amount leftover that you have to work with per month (i.e. spend on groceries, gas, etc).

With these very basic steps, you'll be in the know about where you actually stand with your financial situation.

I also recommend keeping track of all of your expenditures (yes, everything, even the snack from the snack machine). I have been doing this for years, and it's a wonderful tool to show me how much I SHOULDN'T be spending on certain things, and to let me know when I need to put a hold on spending for the month. It also keeps me in check when I go to the grocery store or when I want to make a purchase. It lets me know whether or not that money is actually available to me.

Check in on your bank balance weekly, so that you know a close approximation of how much is in there. This will also give you perspective on what monies are available to you.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Random Tips of the Day!

Random, but helpful tips!

- Don't wash your clothes after each wearing (excepting underwear and anything that smells or has had something dropped on it). I usually re-wear my pants once (at least) and once in a while my shirts. You can hang your clothes in the bathroom while you're showering to "steam" them clean.

- Start stashing those gifts! We get good stuff when we see it on clearance or in good condition in thrift stores or garage sales and put them away for Christmas and Birthdays. I find that book stores (B&N and Borders) have GREAT gift books in clearance, especially for kids, art enthusiasts, or people who like to cook.