Saving Money

Flying to Europe for (Almost) Free

Flying to Europe for (Almost) Free

I've literally been waiting for about 9 months to write this post. I've been putting little teases on Facebook ever since I started this little mission to fly to Europe for free, culminating with last week's announcement that I finally booked my three Europe flights and the total was $68.40. I think I just confused most people and overwhelmed the ones I tried to explain it to. But I never wanted to blog about it until I'd actually booked and confirmed all my tickets. I guess, the MOST responsible thing to do would be to wait until I actually fly, but guys... when I get back from this epic trip you're going to be completely inundated with Europe posts, so we might as well get this over with now ;)

Traveling for Cheap

2014-06-13_0002The blog is going to be short today! Fate has stepped in this morning and I'm attending Katelyn James' marketing workshop this afternoon (what!?) and need to get some things in order before I do that. I've mentioned in the past that Erik, my family, and I are planning a trip to Europe next year. I've never been and am SO excited. But one of the things I do before any trip or major purchase at all, is to do a lot of research into how to save money! If I CAN save money, you can bet I'm going to try it out. So I began researching ways to save money on a trip to Europe.

That lead me to discovering MillionMileSecrets.com and other travel blogs like it. I've always heard about earning travel points through credit cards, but found through my first credit card and through other people's opinions that the points were minimal and didn't add up to much at all. Well, I think sometimes that's true if you're just willy nilly using your credit card that you willy nilly applied for because you just needed a credit card.

The key is to purposefully apply for a certain credit card and then purposefully spend a certain amount of money with that credit card to earn the rewards.

I read lots and lots of blog posts on these websites and saw all the amazing places the writers had visited for practically free (not ENTIRELY).

It was all very intriguing. And seemed a little too good to be true. But I know that people think the same thing when I tell them I use coupons to get things for free, so I was willing to believe.

So I applied for my first travel card. It had a sign up bonus of 100,000 American Airlines miles if you spent $10,000 in the first three months. A trip to Europe takes 60,000 miles. So this sounded like a good first card to put my efforts toward.

I learned to "manufacture spending." If you really blow $10,o00 just to earn the points, you're not saving anything! But if you use the card to pay for the things you already normally buy and pay it off immediately, all you're doing is earning free points.

I used the card to pay for our mortgage, car payments, student loans... all the big expenses we pay every month, normally directly paid through our bank accounts.

But I learned that there are other ways to pay these things. The option I chose was to use my travel credit card to purchase gift cards in high amounts that I could load onto a bill pay website (Bluebird or Serve) to pay these normal bills, essentially with a credit card.

You can get the details on HOW to do all this through the website I listed above. I'm still new to it, but it has officially been three months and I have officially earned a TON of miles:

2014-06-13_0003It was so exciting to log in to my account and see this after planning and plotting for three months! Especially since all I'd done was rearrange the way I pay for things. I realize I haven't USED the points yet to prove that I can, but I'll write another blog post about that when the time comes ;)

Until then. I've received my second travel card and am working on THAT sign up bonus currently to help pay for hotels. We'll see how cheap I can make this Europe trip by the end. It's an exciting prospect.

Again, check out that website, but feel free to leave me questions in the comment section and I'll answer them as best I can! There will be more "getting to Europe for cheap" posts in my future I'm sure.

How to Save Money Online

how to save money online

how to save money onlineSince my "How to Coupon for Normal People" post went a little nuts and is still riding the "pin it" train on Pinterest, I figured this is obviously a topic people are interested in! I can certainly understand why. When I first saw the Extreme Couponing TV specials, I was hooked. If other people are getting things for free, I don't see why I shouldn't be too! Today I'm going to give you three easy tips on how to save money online. There are a LOT of options in internet land, so you might want to take one step at a time until you feel pro enough to combine ALL these methods to save even more.

1. Cashback Portals

The first and easiest way is through portals. How easy are cashback portals? So easy that I've trained my husband to do it before he makes his online purchases. You just need to remember to do it. Sticky notes on your monitor are great for this. Try "SPEND LESS MONEY" or whatever motivates you :)

What is a cashback portal? It's a website where you make a typical log in account and use it to direct you to the websites you're already shopping in. When you use their links, the portal rewards you by giving you a certain percentage of cash back. So they might be offering 5% cashback on Amazon purchases, so long as you click the link to Amazon from their website. A pretty small price to pay for some extra money. And it adds up fast if you make a lot of online purchases.

There are a lot of cashback portals. For a while, I thought Ebates was the only one. I was not doing my research. Shame on me. Ebates is a great one, but it's not necessarily the most rewarding.

Evreward is a great website that lets you search for the store you're shopping in to see all the ways to maximize your money there. Here's an example scenario for you... let's say I want to buy something from Target.com.

I start off by searching "Target" on Evreward.

how to save money onlineOkay, here are the results.

Notice in the yellow box on the right that they are suggesting that I shop at these other similar stores. If I'm buying a blender at Target, odds are that Macy's has it too and since it looks like Macy's has a better savings right now, I should probably go check them out. But we'll stick with the Target example for now.

how to save money onlineIf I'd just blindly used Ebates, I would have earned 2.5% cash back, whereas if I do it through ShopDiscover, I'll get 5%. That's good to know. And since I'm currently earning American Airlines points, it's nice that this website shows me how many points I'll earn from that as well (though at Target, I'd probably use my Target credit card for an additional 5% savings instead). 

2. Coupon Codes

target2

Still on Evreward... below the portals and credit card point offers, you have your good old fashioned sales and coupon codes. The bread and butter of online savings. If it says "NO CODE REQ'D" that just means it's a sale and they'll link you to that page of the website.

I find it very handy to have all this information in one place. I used to hop around from portals to coupon code sites like Retailmenot.com, but this is much more streamlined.

3. Gift Cards

Now, hold your horses. Before you assume this is a cop out trick, I'm not talking about gift cards that someone buys for you and now you've saved money because someone else spent it instead. I mean, earning your own discounted gift cards.

Raise.com is a great website that I only recently discovered for buying and selling gift cards. I used to use Ebay to buy gift cards and coupons for less than they're worth to save money (the Bed Bath and Beyond employee was stunned when I not only had a coupon for every dish in our dining set, but that I'd gotten the coupons from Ebay for a couple dollars that wound up saving us over $100). But something about Raise.com feels more official to me. I never had any issues with schemers on Ebay and they do have buyers protection, but Raise has a great selection and is really easy to use.

All you do is search for the store you're shopping in. Last week I made a lot of purchases at Home Depot, so I bought one of these cards for 8.2% savings. You can hunt around too and see if Lowe's has a better option for you. It's usually easier to find coupons for Lowe's (go to your post office and ask for them) so even if their gift card savings are lower, it might be worth it.

how to save money onlineI like how Raise does "egift" cards. When I purchased mine last week, they'd emailed me the gift card code in about an hour. I used it on the Home Depot website, selected "pick up in store" and went out and picked up my purchases from the store so I wouldn't have to wait for a delivery.

Make sure you're using a rewarding credit card to purchase these gift cards to maximize your earnings! For the longest time, Erik and I used an Amazon Chase card to earn points on Amazon, but since we're planning a trip to Europe next year, we've switched to travel reward cards.

These are just a few ways to save money online. Try them out! Not one of these things is difficult and soon enough you'll be combining all three methods to save as much money as possible.

If you have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

Couponing for Normal People

Couponing-0002 copy I talk to people about couponing ALL the time. I can't believe I haven't done it here already. First off, once upon a time, I was planning my wedding and naturally, obsessed with TLC and all their bride shows. This was about the same time the Extreme Couponing shows all popped up. I was fascinated and amazed and feeling really left out of the cool secret to not paying for things. So I went online and started reading everything I could about couponing. My uncle David even bought me a bunch of books on the topic, I think because he was so amused when I started getting things for free. Feeding the addiction so to speak.

It didn't take long to learn. The books, all the reading, it was just extra. You don't need to devote your life to coupons to become a couponer. And I think that's what people are afraid of the most. SO many people tell me that they'd love to get into it, but... they just don't have the time. Well, I did this as an eighth grade English teacher during my first year of teaching. I can't imagine a more busy year of my life work-wise, so if you're saying "ah, but I have kids," don't let that be an excuse. If saving money is a priority, this is extremely simple when you add it into your routine.

Here is the basic principle...

Manufacturers issue coupons. Stores issue coupons. Stores have sales. When you combine these money-saving methods, you can legally buy items for free and even sometimes make a profit.

First of all, your holy coupon bible should be The Krazy Coupon Lady. This site started with two women who figured out couponing tricks and shared it with people, but now it's an entire network of couponers, discounts, store sales, blog posts with DIY ideas, bank accounts with the highest interest rate, anything you could imagine on how to save money. Go there. Get lost. It's a great site.

Something that really amuses me is when people say, "But where do you get all those coupons!?" like there is a secret coupon supplier out there that we all know and you don't. So, for the sake of those people who have never even attempted couponing before and want to know what to do from the very beginning, here's a little list for ya.

1. Subscribe to Your Sunday Newspaper

If you're in Richmond, it costs me about $12 a month to order the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Obviously you can go buy the paper somewhere else on Sundays if you don't want to subscribe, but I found I would forget sometimes and then be missing a whole week in my coupon arsenal. When you get really pro, you can start ordering two or three Sunday papers if you're constantly needing more coupons. Luckily, my parents don't use their coupons at all (I've tried, trust me) and if I ever need an extra, I can just make a visit :)

2. Find and Save the Coupons

Couponing-0002

You are looking for little booklets of coupons stuck in between all the Kohl's, Target, and grocery store advertisements. They're either going to be called Red Plum, Smart Source, or P&G brandSaver. You won't always get them all and sometimes there are two Smart Source, so just be thorough when you check through the ad section.

3. Organize the Coupons

Here is where the craziness can sometimes start. Everyone thinks "woo I'm a couponer!" and starts cutting out all the coupons. The Krazy Coupon Lady is a big advocate of the glorious coupon binder and it's one of her first lessons for beginners. I went with it for about a year. I discovered that with a huge binder full of coupons that were all expiring at different times, I was getting really confused. And there were too many categories for me to know where things really belonged. All of my energy was going into this ridiculous binder and cutting coupons for things I was usually not ever going to buy.

So here is what I now do. I don't cut anything until I need it. When my paper arrives, I take out the coupons, usually Sharpie the date onto the front cover because they print it so tiny on the spine, and I put it in an accordian organizer.

Couponing-0003Couponing-0004

And that's it. That's all I do. Because you'll learn, the secret to couponing is patience. You probably shouldn't buy anything the first week you get your coupons saved. It takes some time to accumulate your arsenal.

4. Check Coupon Matchup Sites

Coupon matchup sites are sites that match a store's weekly sale with coupons you can combine to get a great deal. This means you don't have to fumble around with weekly ads and checking to see if there's a coupon for that. People do this every week. You never have to do that.

Here is what I do. Every week, I go to KCL's website and check the weekly coupon matchups for the stores I like to coupon at. For me, those stores are CVS, Walgreens, and Target. Major emphasis on CVS. I go to those stores because they're really close to my house and I find CVS the easiest place to coupon at. Nobody there has ever given me grief about my crazy coupon habits. They usually just applaud me. Sometimes literally.

Coupon matchup sites are key for those of us with lives.

You must get to know them and know them well. If you're trying to do this for groceries, (which honestly, I hardly do anymore because I'm lame and didn't find it extremely worthwhile) then you should find local coupon matchup sites that are about the stores and sales in YOUR area. Since I focus on chains like CVS, I can just go to KCL and read her matchups. Here's what her CVS list looks like this week.

5. Make a List

Couponing-0005

From the matchup site, I copy and paste into Word the deals that I'd like to get. Things that I know we'll use. Cereal. Shampoo. Deodorant. Advil. Chocolate. Those kind of things.  And I always go for any "money making" deals where CVS or Walgreens or whoever will give me reward money that actually makes me profitable for the purchase. It happens all the time and I'm not lying.

Then, going off my list, I find all the coupons necessary to get the deals I want. Here's an example:

Tresemme Shampoo or Conditioner, 32 oz $4.00 Tresemme Styler, 8-11 oz $4.00 Use $5.00/2 Tresemme Products, excludes gift packs and trial/travel size, Limit 2 identical coupons in same shopping trip from RP 11/17 (exp 12/15)

So to buy this shampoo, I need the $5/2 Tresemme Products coupon from the RedPlum 11/17 coupon (and I need to do it before it expires 12/15). I go back through my accordian file, to that date, and find the coupon.

Some of the coupons will be online and with the matchup site, they'll even provide you with a link so you can go print it off. Easy peasy.

6. Stick to Your List

Coupons are EXACT. If you have a General Mills coupon for Honey Nut Cheerios, it's not going to work for regular Cheerios. Also, when you're picking up items, read your coupon carefully. If it says 14oz or larger, you cannot buy the 12oz pack of chips. You have to follow all the rules or it won't work.

7. Use Your Store Card and Have Mercy on Your Cashier

Always have the store loyalty cards. They send you coupons for doing this, some of them electronic which is extra convenient, and it gives you automatic savings whether you have a coupon or not.

And be nice to the cashier. Sometimes I ask the cashier to do things like break my purchase into multiple transactions because that's the best way to save money. And even more rarely, sometimes the cashier can't get the coupon to scan or thinks you're trying to scam the store. Just be patient. You're not scamming anyone. The store gets paid by the manufacturer who issued the coupon and just because the store was running a promotion that day that made it free for you doesn't mean they're getting less money. The people who give you grief don't understand what you're doing and probably are just annoyed you're asking them to do more than scan an item. I had ONE bad experience where I was following the rules completely (at Target) and the manager refused to honor my coupons. She said getting things for free was not allowed. And actually it was. I'm sure if I'd been buying something else she wouldn't have even noticed. But from then on out, I brought the store's coupon policy with me. Naturally, nobody ever hassled me after that.

Those are the basics. And even that was an extremely long post. I hope I didn't lose you. If you have any questions or more specific coupon-related topics you'd like me to write about, please leave it in the comments. Your feedback is highly appreciated! :)