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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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Last Updated on March 4, 2019

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

How to Use Credit Cards While Staying Out of Debt

Many people will suggest that the best thing to do with your credit cards during these tough economic times is to cut them up with a pair of scissors. Indeed, if you are already in huge debt, you probably should stop using them and begin a payback strategy immediately. However, if you are not currently in trouble with your credit cards, there are wise ways to use them.

I happen to really love my credit cards so I will share with you my approach to how I use mine without getting into deep financial trouble.

Ever since about 1983 when I got my first Visa card, I continue to charge as many of my purchases as possible on credit. Everything from gas, groceries and monthly payments for services like my cable and home security monitoring are charged on credit. Despite my heavy usage, I have maintained the joy of never paying any interest fees at all on any of my credit cards.

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Here are some tips on how best to use your credit cards without falling into the trap of paying those nasty double-digit interest fees.

Do Not Treat Credit Cards as Your Funding Sources

Too many people treat their credit cards as funding sources for major purchases. Do not do this if you want to stay out of trouble. I use my credit cards as convenient financial instruments so I do not have to carry around much cash. In fact, I hate carrying cash, especially coins. When you buy things on credit, the purchases are clean and you will not get annoying coins back as change.

I do not rely on my Visa, MasterCard or American Express to fund any of my purchases, large or small. This brings me to my golden rule when it comes to whether I will pull out any of my credit cards either at a retail or online store.

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I never purchase anything with my credit cards if I do not have the actual cash on hand in my bank account.

If I really cannot pay for the item or service with cash that I already have at the bank, then I simply will not make the purchase. Remember, my credit cards are not used as funding sources. They are just convenient alternatives to actual cash in my pocket.

Make Sure to Always Pay Off Balances in Full Each Month

The next very important part of my overall strategy is to make absolutely sure that I pay the balances in full each and every month no matter how large they are. This should never be a problem if the cash has been budgeted for my purchases and secured in the bank. I have always paid my full balances each month ever since my very first credit card and this is why I never pay interest charges.

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Using Credit Cards with Rewards

Most of my credit cards are of the “no annual fees” type, including one MasterCard on a separate account I keep at home as a spare in case I lose my wallet or incur any fraudulent charges. However, I do use a main Visa card which does have an annual fee because all purchases on that card reward me with airline frequent flyer points. For me, the annual fee is worth it since I do travel and I get enough points to redeem many free flights.

You have to decide for yourself if you will charge enough purchases on credit each year without paying interest charges to warrant a credit card that rewards you with airline points (or other rewards). In my case, the answer is “yes” but that might not be the case for you.

I occasionally use a MasterCard or American Express card on small purchases just to keep those accounts active. Also, I have been to the odd retailer that accepted only a certain type of credit card, so I find that having one from each major company is quite handy. Aside from my main Visa card which earns the airline points, the rest of my cards are of the “no annual fees” variety.

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So this is how I use my credit cards without getting into any financial trouble with them. This strategy is recommended only if you are not in debt, of course. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind once you’re out of debt so that you can keep your credit cards active and treat them responsibly.

What are your credit card usage strategies? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what methods you use.

Featured photo credit: Artem Bali via unsplash.com

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