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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 September 2, 2020

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

2. Keep Goals Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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4. Short Term Vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

  • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
  • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
  • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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5. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

6. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

1. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

Use compound interest when setting financial goals

    Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

    Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

    4. Measure, Measure, Measure

    All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

    If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

    Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

    The Bottom Line

    Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

    and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

    More Tips on Financial Goals

    Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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