January 6th: Free Lunch!

I love it when lunch is free, especially when it’s a real lunch, like at a restaurant with waiters.  Today, I went to Outback for lunch, where my salad, steak, sides and drink totaled $21.20.  Last year, I made extensive use of Outback’s gift card promotion, where if you bought $100 in gift cards, they gave you a $20 bonus card.  Whenever I went out in a large group, like Thanksgiving with my parents, I bought a gift card before we sat down so that I could get the$20 bonus card, and then we paid with the gift card.  You’re going to spend $100 anyway, so why not get the free $20?

So, I used one of the $20 bonus cards and paid the balance with a Outback gift card I recieved last year, making my meal completely free.

Total savings for the day: $20

Total savings this year: $107.98



January 5th: Savings Fail :(

Sorry, guys.  I didn’t save any money today.  In fact, I needlessley spent full price.  I had lunch with some friends at Fudruckers – where had I prepared in advance could have been free through their Club Fudd – and then dinner at the Cheesecake Factory which had I looked, I probably could have found a coupon.

I did get 5% cash back on both purchases through one of my credit cards, and at the mall I didn’t buy anything, but sadly, I don’t count those things as savings.

Total savings for the day: $0

Total savings this year: $87.98

8.5% Discount on Everything? Shop Online.

No one likes spending more money than they have to – so why pay state sales tax?  It’s an instant discount that can save you a significant amount of money on big-ticket items. Here’s how it works:

B&M (Brick and Mortar) retailers charge a state sales tax, which varies from state to state, wherever they have physical stores. No B&M? Usually, that means no sales tax.  New York is home to a fantastic electronics retailer, J&R – they have very good prices on electronics and will price match most competitors.  But the best thing about them is that they do not have any physical stores in Texas, where I live now.  That means I can order from their website and not be charged sales tax when they ship to my house here.  I’m in the market for a new laptop, and when I do finally make that $1,100 purchase, I will definitely not be shelling out another $93 for sales tax.  Combine that with cash back from any of the Ebates-type websites (currently around 4%) and that is really a deal.

For stores like Target and Walmart, who have B&M stores everywhere, shopping online will not help you avoid sales tax.  In some cases, states are forcing online retailers (like California is trying to do with Amazon) to collect sales tax, but that is mostly the exception and not the rule.  And websites like Drugstore.com, Buy.com and others with no storefronts at all?  All tax-free!


January 4th: Free Lunch

Today I saved $5 at Corner Bakery through their December gift card promotion (Buy $25 Get $5 Free).  Next, I got a present for my Aunt (some fancy shampoo) and used a Folica.com voucher from PlumDistrict.com which saved me $30 (I paid $20 for the $50 voucher). Of course I compared cash back rates first at a website I just found yesterday – CashbackHolic – which got me another 6% cash back by going through Mr. Rebates.  Finally, I got free delivery from Domino’s through my shoprunner account, which saved me $1.50.

Total savings for the day: $36.50

Total savings this year: $87.98

January 3rd: Free McFrappe

Last month, McDonalds had a promotion going on – for people who bought a $20 McDonalds gift card, they got a 2012 calendar with coupons at the bottom of each month.  I used one of the free McCafe coupons from the calendar for a savings of $2.59.

Total savings for the day: $2.59

Total savings this year: $51.48

January 2nd – TP and Shampoo for Months

I started out my day with some online shopping at drugstore.com and used my drugstore.com dollars (earned from my contact lenses haul last month) combined with free 2-day shipping from my shoprunner.com account (also free) to get 12 rolls of Cottonelle.

Next, I went to CVS to stock up on some more toilet paper and Pantene products.  I don’t need any hair stuff right now, but it is always good to add to my stockpile, and I do need more Charmin so this was not a wasted trip.   The current deal they are running is Spend $30, Get $10 back on select products.  Out of the list of products eligible, I use Pantene Shampoo and Conditioner, and Charmin Toilet Paper.

To spend $30, I bought 6 bottles of Pantene Conditioner (on sale for 3/$9.99) for $18.98, and 2 packages of Charmin toilet paper for $10.98, for a total of $30.96. Then I gave the cashier 3 coupons for $3 off 2 Pantene products, and 2 25 cent Charmin coupons, both found in this Sunday’s paper.

$30.96 – $9 – $.50 = $21.46 – $10 ECB = $11.46 final cost.

This means that in essence, I got 6 bottles of shampoo completely free.

Afterwards, I met a friend for lunch where I used a daily deal I bought from Sweet Jack, which was free because I used referral credits to buy the $20 voucher. My lunch was $17, but free with my voucher.

Total savings for the day: $19.50 (CVS) + $9.99 (Drugstore.com) + $17 (Lunch) = $46.49

Total savings this year: $48.89

Cash Back Websites

I’ve always been a big proponent of cash back websites like Ebates – go there before you shop online, and get a percentage of what you spend back – my next check should be about $100.  The major cash back players are:

BUT – I just found out about Evreward– a site that lets you compare the cash back amounts that you will get at each site. I ordered some stuff from Sports Authority last week and I checked Evreward beforehand.  They listed cash back amounts at Big Crumbs (2.4%), Ebates (6%), and Mr. Rebates (5%), along with a bunch of other credit card rewards comparisons, but failed to list Fat Wallet.

It also lists credit card cash back amounts, like for Citi Thank You points, ShopDiscover and all of the others.  This is a pretty useful tool that I will be using in the future.

…and an update. 

Just came accross an even better site: CashbackHolic.  Instead of Evreward’s handful of cashback sites to look through, CashbackHolic has dozens.  To be fair, some of the amounts were off (they had Bloomingdale’s cash back at Bank of America listed at 5% – the actual value was 3%) and some of the cash back sites were pretty obscure – but it just replaced Evreward as my go-to cash back info source.

New Year, New Challenge

As it is the first day of the new year, my 2012 challenge for myself is to calculate how much money I have saved every day. So today, January 1st, I saved:

$2.40 at breakfast with a B1G1 kolache coupon from my Entertainment Book.

Total for the year: $2.40

Quick Start Savings Part II: The Stockpile

After you get a handle on your current financial state, you need a stockpile.  A stockpile is a hoarder-esque cabinet of every non-perishable good you would possiblt need.  I currently have a years supply of:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body Wash / Soap
  • Deoderant
  • Toilet Paper
  • Napkins
  • Detergent
  • Cleaning Supplies
  • Tissues
  • You get where I’m going with this…

The key to a stockpile is to find free stuff and buy a ton of it.  A few months ago CVS had a fantastic deal on Tide detergent – each 42 load bottle cost me around 30 cents after Extra Bucks and manufacturer coupons. I bought 15 bottles, which will probably last me a while. Most of my cleaning supplies were bought at Target – their prices, combined with Target store coupons and manufacturer coupons made them free.

Food is a little trickier due to expiration dates.  One of my staples is diet soda, which only lasts a few months (regular soda lasts much longer).  Cereal is pretty hard to find for free, but if you stack coupons it can be as little as $1 per box. Check out local saving blogs and national blogs to find out what’s free (or very cheap) each week.

To start a stockpile, you need to start clipping coupons, which can be found in a variety of places:

  • Sunday Paper (my #1 choice) – you can buy the paper for $2 at the store, or you can get it delivered for about 50 cents a week – I recommend getting multiple subscriptions.
  • Junk Mail – that stuff you throw away contains coupons – look for the Red Plum and SmartSource inserts, money mailers, etc.
  • Dedicated coupon websites like coupons.com
  • Manufacturer websites
  • Store websites

Ask your friends and neighbors to keep an eye out for coupons, and keep all of your coupons in a binder, sorted by category. Click here for more information on making your binder.

Quick Start Savings Part I: Current Financial Status

Faced with a financial crisis, be it unemployment, looming medical bills or any event that will radically alter your standard of living, you need a quick start plan to get into a savings routine.  This is happening to more than a few prople right now, and here is the plan I’m proposing.

Part 1. Current Financial Status: What is going on with your money right now?

  • Get a mint.com account – load all of your credit cards, bank accounts, etc, and go through the last few months of uploaded expenses.  Where are you spending your money?
  • Figure out the bare minimum amount of money you need to survive. This includes:
    • Mortgage
    • Insurance
    • Utilities
    • Car Payment
    • Cell Phone and/or Internet
    • $100/month for food
    • Medication and other vital expenses
  • Look at your savings (if you have any) and figure out how many months you can get by spending money on just the necessities.

However long that is, it’s time to start cutting back on your expenses. Some easy places to save a ton of money are:

You can save money on your mortgage and utilities, but those are more complex, and will be discussed later. Next, you need to start building your stockpile.