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3 Pieces of the Money-Saving Puzzle that All Work Together

3 Pieces of the Money-Saving Puzzle that All Work Together

Lately my wife and I have been on a kick: a money-saving kick. This has involved thinking carefully about every purchase we make and how we can maximize our savings without venturing into extreme couponing territory. From these exercises and experiments I’ve realized that there are three elements that work beautifully together to save you the most money possible: loyalty offers, coupons, and credit card rewards.

Here’s how they each work and how they can be combined:

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Loyalty offers

It seems most places now offer some sort of loyalty-rewards program. They come in many different forms. For example, the “buy X get 1 free” model seems popular among many restaurants, while other retailers might offer a points-per-dollar based system for earning rewards. Walmart also offers a unique twist on a loyalty program through their Savings Catcher app that reimburses you the difference in price should the app find a better deal from a nearby competitor.

Nine times out of ten these programs are free to sign up for and, if you frequent the location enough, they can serve you quite well. Those that do charge an annual or monthly fee to join are less likely to pay off unless they’re places you visit a lot. To be fair, if they are charging they usually make up for it with better perks, so it’s really a question of how much use you’ll get out of it.

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Coupons

Everyone knows about coupons, but have you ever realized how many different ways there are of obtaining them these days? While weekly mailings and newspaper circulars are still going strong, mobile coupons, e-mail blasts, and promo codes from sites like RetailMeNot are great sources for more money-saving offers. Sadly, you’ll likely have to read the fine print to see if a given coupon or promo code will actually work for your purchase, but it’s always worth a try — especially if you’re shopping online where no one will judge you for attempting to use 50 different coupons.

Credit card rewards

Depending on what kind of card you have there could be several different ways to put it to good use. Some cards offer a flat amount of cash back or points no matter what you’re buying, while others will give more for purchases made in certain categories. That’s pretty well-known, but what’s less talked about are the bonus offers that many cards offer for specific retailers and restaurants. Typically these offers are hiding somewhere on the cardholder website, so it’s probably worth logging in and poking around. Lastly, you may be able to use your cash back to purchase gift cards at a discount, so watch out for those offers as well.

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Using them all together

The problem with most coupons is that they aren’t “stackable,” meaning that you can’t use them with any other coupons or offers. However, that rarely applies to earning loyalty points in addition to using your coupon and should really never apply to earning credit card cash back in addition. Thus the unstackable suddenly become stacked when you play your cards (pun intended) correctly.

Last week I reached the pinnacle of this theory when I was able to a) use a coupon for my purchase at Sears b) while earning Shop Your Way points and c) earning 5% cash back since “department stores” are this quarter’s bonus on my Discover It card. Similarly successful scenarios include using your rewards credit card to reload your Starbucks Gold Card and taking advantage of Frappy Hour (half off drinks) or perhaps using a coupon at Red Robin, earning Royalty points, and paying the bill with your cash back credit card — the possibilities are endless!

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The key is to plan ahead and think your purchases through so that you can figure out how to reach maximum savings. In some cases there might be multiple routes so, if you’re truly dedicated, there may be a bit of math involved in choosing which one you’ll take. While it might take extra thought on your part when you’re first getting started, you’ll be a money-saving pro in no time.

In conclusion

Today there are several different mediums for savings, but why stick to just one? In many cases you can double or triple down on your savings by taking advantage of loyalty programs, coupons of all kinds, and credit card rewards all at the same time. Best of luck on your savings adventures.

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Published on September 17, 2018

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

How Being Smart With Your Money Leads to Financial Success

Achieving financial success is not something that just happens. Maybe if you win the lottery or something, but for the average person like you or me, it comes from a series of small steps you take over a long period of time.

With each step, you form a new smart money habit. And with each smart money habit, you build towards financial independence.

So what sort of habits can you form to get on that path? Let’s take a look at smart money habits you can start today to get you closer to a financially independent future.

1. Avoid being “penny wise but pound foolish”

It’s tempting to try saving a couple cents here and there when buying small items. However, that’s not where the real money is saved. You’re putting in extra effort for something that doesn’t move the needle.

You get the most bang when you’re able to cut down on your bigger bills. For example, finding a lower interest rate for your mortgage could save you $50+ per month. And cutting your transportation bill by purchasing a cheaper car or taking public transportation can provide large gains as well.

So, look at your recurring expenses such as housing, transportation, and insurance, and see where there’s wiggle room. It’s a much better use of your time than trying to pinch pennies here and there on smaller purchases.

2. When you want something big, wait

Impulsivity can get you in trouble in most aspects of life. Finances are no different.

It’s human nature to see something and want it right then and there. It starts as a kid in the checkout line at the grocery store, and it continues on through adulthood.

We get an idea in our head of something we want, and it’s hard not to go out and get it right then.

A good example is wanting a new car. Perhaps you’ve had your car for several years. It’s crossed the 100k mile mark. Maybe maintenance is due, and you’re annoyed that you need to replace the timing belt or purchase new tires.

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So, you get the itch.

You start digging around online, and you realize you could trade in your current car for something newer and more exciting… all for a few hundred bucks a month. Then you get obsessed.

Here’s where you have to take a step back.

Your newfound obsession is clouding your judgement. Rather than giving into the impulse, wait it out.

Set a timeframe for yourself. Maybe you come back to the decision three months down the road. See if the obsession lasts.

It might, but often, a funny thing happens. Often, you forget about it. And often, you find that the new car wasn’t a need at all.

The impulse faded. And you just saved yourself a ton of money.

3. Live smaller than you can afford

You finally get that big raise. And you want to celebrate – and why not?

You’ve been looking forward to this forever. And after all, it was all due to your hard work.

That’s fine, splurge a little. However, make it a one-time deal and be done.

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Don’t get caught in the trap that just because you’re now making more money, you should spend more.

Too often, people get more money and feel like they that gives them the means to buy a bigger house, a bigger car… you know the drill. Resist.

The fact is that living smaller than what you can afford is one of the fastest ways to build savings.

But if you constantly upgrade as you begin to make more, then you’ll never get ahead. You’ll just build up more debt along the way and have just as little wiggle room as before.

4. Practice smart grocery shopping

Food… it’s one of the biggest portions of any budget. And if you’re not careful, it can be one of the biggest drains on your wallet.

But luckily, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you stay smart with your money when buying groceries.

Create a grocery budget

Set a strict weekly grocery budget. When you know how much you can spend on groceries, you can then plan your weekly menu around it.

Once you know what all you need, you can go shopping and keep a running tally as you shop to ensure you’re on track.

I tend to do this in my head, rounding for each item. However, writing it down as you go would probably work best for most people.

Make a list… and never deviate

Never go to the grocery store without a list. If you go to the store with a ballpark idea in mind, you don’t have a true ide of what you need.

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You’re not well-researched. You don’t know what the sales are. As a result, you’re going to make decisions on the fly.

These impulse decisions will lead to overspending, which will derail your grocery budget.

Eat before going grocery shopping

It’s also important to eat prior to going to the grocery store. Hunger is a powerful force.

If you’re shopping on an empty stomach, everything is going to look good. In particular, you may find a lot of ready-made, processed snacks will look enticing.

After all, you’re hungry now and that food is easily available. So subconsciously, you may lean towards those items.

Unfortunately, not only are those items typically less healthy, but they’re likely more expensive. You pay for convenience.

However, when you eat prior to shopping, then you’ll shop with a clear mind. Your hunger won’t cloud your judgement, influencing you to make poor decisions like a cartoon devil resting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

This makes it much easier to stick to your grocery plan.

5. Cancel your gym membership

Now that you’re all set on your food, it’s time to get smart about managing your budget in terms of physical fitness. And let’s begin by avoiding the gym. The gym bill, that is.

The average gym membership costs around $60 per month. That’s $720 a year.

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Yet, two out of three gym memberships go unused. That means two-thirds of people who have a gym membership are literally giving away almost a thousand bucks a year. It’s crazy!

I recommend seeking an alternative. One good alternative is to look into fitness streaming services.

Streaming services allow you to stream hundreds of workouts like Insanity and p90x, right in your own home for around $10-20 a month. That’s $40-50 less a month than the average gym membership.

Of course, then there’s the free option. The internet is full of free workouts that you can do on your own with minimal or no equipment.

For example, there’s the Couch to 5K program, that I personally used a decade ago to ease myself from couch potato to running my first 5K race. If I could do it, anyone could.

Then there are free resources like reddit that have limitless information on workouts. The Fitness subreddit has done all the research for you, populating workout tips and detailed workout routines for anyone to use in their wiki.

There are several routines that require no equipment. And you can join in on the subreddit to become part of the community, making it easier for those seeking comraderie and encouragement in their fitness goals. All for free.

It’s baby steps… And baby steps can start now!

I’ve never met anyone that can’t stand to be a bit smarter with their money. And on the flip side, anyone can get smarter with their money. But remember, it doesn’t happen all at once.

Begin by fighting your impulses. Prepare for the week and be smart at the store. And cut monthly expenses like gym memberships that are overpriced and you probably aren’t getting your money’s worth out of anyway.

The devil is in the details. And the details can change your lifestyle and prep you for a financially independent future.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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