Retail Therapy Without the Guilt (or Expense!)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we spent a pretty good chunk of change in our recent living room remodel. So, in keeping with our Mustachian ways, that means we’re tightening our wallets a bit over the next month or so, to even out that additional expense.

That being said, you can imagine how pleased I was today when some FREE MONEY just showed up in my inbox, allowing me to do a little shopping without the guilt or cost that normally comes with such activities.

How? Well, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of airline and hotel loyalty programs. But as it turns out, many retail outlets have their own loyalty programs as well. And West Elm, where we purchased our new couch, is part of a loyalty program called “The Key”.

I took the 30 seconds or so to sign up for this program before I punched in my credit card details for the couch purchase, and poof! Three months later, a credit for $67 showed up in my email. Even better, I could choose from between 7 stores (including Pottery Barn, West, Elm, and William-Sonoma) for where to spend it.

keyrewards

So, after perusing the many beaded pillows and terrariums and finials and all other matter of stuff that pretty much no one on Earth *actually* needs, we settled on two items from Williams-Sonoma: a wine decanter (to replace an old one that cracked) and a spoon rest for the stove (which I’ve been talking about getting for ages).

The subtotal came out to just under $58. I applied a coupon code I found online for free shipping, and then with tax, my “total” was $62.73. I added the certificate number from my email, and voila — my purchase was free. I didn’t even have to enter a credit card number!

The lesson here is always to take a couple minutes to research your “reward” options, especially on large purchases. Our typical order-of-operation goes something like this:

  1. Check for coupon codes using Honey or RetailMeNot
    • If not, check to see if you can get bonus points for purchasing the item by going through a travel shopping portal (like Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping).
  2. Check to see if there’s a statement credit available through Amex Offers, if you’re an Amex card holder.
  3. Check to see if you can get free shipping by meeting a certain subtotal amount or through a service like ShopRunner, which is a free benefit of many Amex cards.
  4. Check to see if you can sign up for a loyalty rewards program through the merchant, or if they participate in an umbrella program, like Plenti.
  5. If the retailer gives you any sort of discounts to use in the future with your purchase (like with Kohl’s Cash, or Old Navy Super Cash), mark them on your calendar so you don’t forget about them.
  6. If it was a really large purchase (over $300 or so), keep your eye on the price of the item over the next 60 days or so, then avail yourself to your credit card price protection benefits if the item’s price decreases.

So take the extra time, and you might just run into a free shopping opportunity yourself!

How to Cyber Monday Shop Like a Boss

‘Tis the season for unabashed consumerism….fa la la la…oh, hi there!  If you’re like me, you may have departed with a significant portion of your hard-earned moo-lah to take advantage of great Black Friday deals today.

BUT if you’ve still got some shopping left to do, particularly online shopping, let me share my secrets for how to get the most bang for your holiday-buying buck.

  1. Fill your online cart, sign in, then leave it for another day.

The first step in making sure you get the very best deals when online shopping is to have some patience. A lot of retailers now use a marketing strategy called “abandoned cart re-capture,” a practice whereby the retailer will email you about items you left in your cart — and often include a coupon to further sweeten the deal.

katespade

If there are a few items that you have your eye on, go ahead and fill your cart, and proceed to checkout through the step where you either sign in or provide your email address. Then, simply close the tab on your browser.

If you’re lucky, within anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours, you may receive some goodies in your inbox. I’ve seen brands as varied as Kate Spade to Dick’s Sporting Goods use this tactic; you just never know when it might pay off. Alternately, if you’re not quite sure what you want to buy yet, but you do at least have a specific retailer in mind? Many retailers will give you a one-time use coupon code for subscribing to their email list.

  1. Shop through a rewards portal.

The other real advantage to filling your cart in advance is that, so long as you have cookies enabled on your browser, the items should still be there if you open the retailer’s website in another tab or window. This makes it very easy to shop via a shopping portal for your favorite rewards-earning credit card or travel loyalty program.

For example, I made a purchase today at Petsmart. But first, I went to the Southwest Airline Rapid Rewards Shopping website, logged in, and did a quick search for the retailer I wanted.

southwestshopping

And what did I find but the ability to earn 4 points per dollar spent, so long as I launch the retailer’s site through their link. (If you have an Adblock software on, you may want to disable it first.) Note that these bonus points are in addition to any points that you may get by spending money on your credit card — so if I made a $20 purchase, I could end up with 80 RapidRewards points from the shopping portal and 20 Chase points for using my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, all on the same transaction.

One final note on this: a lot of shopping portals like this have recently changed their terms of service to say that you won’t receive points if you use a coupon code on the transaction. In my experience, though, you often still do. So go ahead and give it a try anyways, just don’t be mad if it doesn’t work out if you’re also using a coupon code.

  1. Coupon codes are your friend.

And speaking of coupon codes, these are like the cardinal rule for saving money online. Even better, the process of finding coupon codes has gotten much easier recently, with the invention of browser add-ons like Honey, which will automatically detect when you’re on an e-commerce checkout page and attempt to try any coupon codes they have in their database for that site.

Using Honey usually picks up the biggest codes, but if you’re not seeing any good discounts, I recommend also checking on RetailMeNot. And of course, don’t forget to add in any of the one-time coupon codes you got during step one.

  1. Do what it takes to get shipping for free.

I’m pretty much of the opinion that you should never actually pay for shipping these days. It’s just too easy to get it for free.

For everyday items, there’s always Amazon Prime, which not only gives you free shipping, but also usually gets you those shipments within two days. Between the free streaming shows, free Cloud storage, and free shipping benefits, our annual Prime membership more than pays for itself.

For sites other than Amazon, though, you may want to see if you’re eligible for free ShopRunner services through an existing credit card. AmEx cardholders in particular can get access free 2-day shipping at more than 140 retailers through the service.

shoprunner

If you don’t have either of these services, be on the lookout for the “free shipping threshold.” Often times, sites will offer free shipping once you reach a certain amount in your shopping cart – say, $50. Shipping may cost you anywhere from $5-$15, on average. So if you find yourself with $40 in your cart that will require $10 in shipping costs, you may consider getting yourself a “freebie” item to make up the deficit between your cart and the threshold. The cost to you will be the same either way.

Finally, if none of the above works, but the online retailer has a brick-and-mortar presence in your area, you may want to see if they offer a “ship-to-store” option. At sites like Wal-Mart and many others, they’ll waive your shipping fees if you’ll go pick it up in person, rather than having the item delivered to your house.

  1. Use Honey or other sites to get cash back on your purchases.

Once you’ve made your purchase, you’re all done, right? Wrong. Those same browser add-ons that helped you find a coupon code may also give you cash back for clicking on them during the checkout process. Honey, for example, gives you between 1%-11% cash back on most purchases in a currency they call “HoneyGold.”  You can redeem HoneyGold for Amazon gift cards once you’ve accumulated a decent amount.

So there ya have it. One final thought, though: remember that every time you make a purchase, you’re voting with your dollars. Across all my Black Friday shopping, I voted not to endorse any businesses that does business with the Trumps, and participated in the #grabyourwallet boycott. I’d encourage you to do the same.

Introducing the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card!

We just got a new credit card! It’s always exciting in the miles and points game when you’re approved for a new card and can start dreaming about all the benefits that go along with it.

Today, it was the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. The card comes with a $450 annual fee, which is quite hefty, but look at all you get:

  • 100,000 Chase Ultimate Reward points for spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months of card ownership. This benefit is made even more attractive by the fact that cardholders will receive a value of 1.5 cents per point in the Ultimate Reward travel portal (as opposed to 1 cents for most Chase cards, or 1.25 cents for the Chase Sapphire Preferred), making this benefit worth AT LEAST $1,500 in travel benefits.  Of course, through transferring to travel partners, you can get even more value here.
  • $300 statement credit for travel expenses per calendar year.  Yes, calendar year, not cardholder year. Meaning you can get it now, and then again in January, without needing to pay another annual fee.
  • $100 statement credit for Global Entry. We already have Global Entry, but it makes a great gift, meaning we can save $100 from our Christmas budget
  • Priority Pass lounge access.  This was pretty much the only remaining useful benefit on the Citi Prestige card, which we’ll be cancelling as soon as we close out this whole Singapore Airlines booking debacle. But now we’ll still have that access as well. I value this at around $60 a year in value for us.
  • Lots of other consumer & travel protection benefits and concierge type services.

So, we’re going to pay $450 for this card, and get a minimum of $2,260 in value.  This is why we travel hack!

One worthwhile side note though – this card, like all Chase and Citi cards – is governed by the 5/24 rule.  This rule states that they’ll only approve you for a new card if you have less than 5 cards opened in any 24 month period with that bank. So if you’re already pretty heavy into travel hacking…this may not be an option for you.

For anyone just starting out though, these are pretty amazing benefits. Just remember to cancel the card before your 1-year mark, or be prepared to pay the $450 annual fee once again. Happy travels!

More Freebies: Check Your Ticketmaster Account!

Hat tip to my friend Richard H. for discovering this one – but as a result of settling a class action lawsuit about their ridiculous ticket fees, Ticketmaster is handing out goodies to people who purchased event tickets on the site between 1999-2013.

If you login to your account and visit the “active vouchers” section, you can see if you have any freebies waiting as well.  I found nine vouchers good for two general admissions to eligible events, and nine discount codes worth $2.25 each, which can be used on future purchases.

The vouchers do note that “these codes can be used only against eligible events, which are still being finalized,” so I guess we’ll have to wait and see what that means.  But seeing as how the vouchers don’t appear to expire until 2020, it looks like there should be plenty of opportunity to use them. The class action information page also has the option to sign up for email alerts when new events are added to the list of eligible events.

Sweet!

Free Car2Go Membership – can be used in US, Canada and Europe!

As any frequent traveler knows, rental cars kinda suck. Picking them up is often a hassle, followed by the tricky tango to make sure you don’t get hit with any extra fees or unnecessary “upgrade” charges, and then you may end up having to pay a pricey parking fee at your hotel on top of it as well.

As such, most of the times when I travel, I try to avoid getting a rental car if at all possible and use public transit, ridesharing and taxis instead. Sometimes, though, it just can’t be avoided —like when you want to do day trips that are outside of a city center, as we did on last year’s Hawaii trip, where we spent the majority of our time at our beachfront resort but also spent one afternoon driving the Road to Hana.

Luckily, there’s yet another option called Car2Go. Car2Go has been around for several years now, and you’ve undoubtedly seen the compact white and blue smart cars (and their primo parking spots) around many US cities.

Once a member of the service, you can use a Smartphone app to “unlock” any nearby car, choose your rental period, and then enter a 4-digit pin on the car’s digital console in order to get the key and begin driving. You can choose to rent the car by the minute (at $0.41 cents/minute), hour ($14.99/hour) or day ($84.99/day). Car2Go covers gas, insurance, and parking associated with city meters and/or their designated private spots.

Up until now, though, we had never signed up — the $35 one-time membership fee, combined with no immediate needs for the service had dissuaded us. But right now, the service is waiving the sign-up fee, making it completely free to join. Just use code C2G15 at checkout, and they’ll remove the sign-up fee and also throw in your first 15 minutes free.

Considering that there are no monthly or annual fees associated with being a member, this is a great thing to do now, just as a back-up plan if you ever need it. With service available across much of the US, Canada, and Western Europe, it’s nice to know you can quickly and easily take advantage if you ever needed to.

Also, just as an fyi – I don’t get any sort of referral or kickback for this post, or if you use the above promo code. Just sharing the code for others’ benefit. So enjoy! And don’t forget to tell us about your Car2Go experiences in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Car2Go.

So You Got Laid Off….Now What? (or, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”)

As some of you may know, my former company and I had a parting of ways not too long ago. It happens. And when it did, I did what every good millennial would do – I Googled “what to do when you’re laid off.”

And what surprised me about that was how little the internet had to say on such a topic.  Sure, there were a ton of articles about asking for references or starting a job search, but there was very little else to help guide people through the rest of the stuff that comes with unexpected unemployment.

So, now that my own period of “funemployment” has come to an end (I’ve been gainfully employed again for over a month now, le sigh), I thought I’d try to fill that void with some nuggets of wisdom I learned over the past few months on how to deal best with the overall situation.

What To Do On Day One: Money, Money, Monnnn-ay

The day you leave your old company, you’re likely to be upset, angry, scared, or a bevy of other negative emotions.  That’s natural. But if your first instinct is to drown your sorrows in booze and/or badmouth your company to anyone who’ll listen, it’s time to take a step back.

On Day One, more than any other day, you basically need to turn into a robot and get some logistical shit done in order to make sure you’ll be able to survive financially for however long your non-working period lasts. That includes:

1.  Ask for severance, and negotiate your severance package, if possible. Remember, even if your company has no legal obligation to give you severance, it never hurts to ask, especially if they want something in return from you — like a non-compete or non-disparagement contract. Severance can turn unemployment into “funemployment,” real quick. However, if you feel there was anything fishy with the way you were let go, don’t sign anything until you’ve had a chance to talk to a lawyer.

2.  File for unemployment benefits, stat. In Texas, it takes at least three weeks for the Workforce Commission to even process your claim, so you need to get this going ASAP.  And remember, you’re eligible for unemployment regardless if you were laid off, were fired (so long as you weren’t fired for cause), and even sometimes if you quit — so it’s worth checking out, no matter your situation.

3.  Request a forbearance on your student loans. Losing your job makes you eligible for a 6-month break in student loan payments. The interest will still accrue, but it reduces your monthly expenses in the meantime.

4. Cancel any unnecessary recurring household services (e.g. maid service, lawn care, grocery delivery, laundry,  cable, etc.) to reduce your costs during your period of no-paychecks.  Similarly, if you have any auto-deposits set up to savings or investment accounts, put those on pause for the time being.  If you have kids that are in daycare, see if you can reduce the amount of days they attend and/or have them go on sabbatical without losing their spot in the facility. (Though realize you may still want them to attend at least a couple days a week so you can get more stuff done.)

5.  Do the math.  The math as to whether you should actually go back to work at all, that is. Maybe read up on some Mr. Money Mustache in the meantime. What you find may surprise you.  Maybe you can afford to only work part time.  Or go into business for yourself.  You won’t know unless you do the math.

What To Do In Your First Week: Begin the Hunt

In the first week after you get laid off (assuming you did the math and it makes sense for you to keep working at all) you’ll do most of the groundwork that will set you up to find your next job – however long that process may take.

1.  Update your resume and your LinkedIn.  I’ve hired a LOT of people in my career, so here are some basic tips: you’re allowed ONE page of resume for every TEN years of work history you have. Under each job heading talk about the IMPACT your work had, instead of rehashing your job description, and include actual metrics if possible.  Finally, proofread your resume at least 10 times, and get a couple friends to do so as well.

2. Create a system for how you’ll apply for jobs. Yes, a system. It’ll help you stay organized, which is something you’ll need when a recruiter calls you three weeks after you sent in your application and you have no idea what position she’s even talking about. I created a spreadsheet that listed the date I applied, company name, position, a link to the job posting, and a section for notes where I could record recruiter information and interview dates. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to work for you.

As for where I did my search, I found Indeed to be the most comprehensive resource, followed by LinkedIn. I like that you can set up saved searches on each, and then, once you’ve gotten through the backlog of matching positions, you only have to check “new” postings for your searches each day.  If you’re in the Bay area, you may also try checking our Hired, but it isn’t widespread elsewhere just yet.

Finally, set a goal for how many jobs you’ll apply to.  Mine was at least 10 per week.

3. Figure out your health insurance situation.  In most cases, your health insurance benefits with your old company will run through the end of the current month.  Which means, if you’ve been putting off any pressing doctors appointments, get them scheduled FAST before your benefits expire.  If you have prescription coverage through your old benefits, see if you can accelerate the date you pick up your prescription so as to get a bit of a stockpile before you’re cut off.

Then, check out your options, which will probably involve choosing between going on a spouse’s plan, applying for insurance through the Obamacare marketplace, or paying for COBRA benefits. If you’re risk-averse and/or have any known conditions, make sure your new coverage is set to start as soon as your old coverage expires.

But, if you’re willing to gamble a bit more…know that you can elect to pay for COBRA retroactively. You have 60 days once you’ve received your COBRA eligibility letter to sign up, so if you’re fairly confident that you’ll be able to find & start a new job within the next 60 days, you can let it ride and go without coverage in the meantime, and only sign up for COBRA if a need arises, like you get sick or are in an accident. Just keep in mind that if a need does arise in those 60 days and/or you haven’t started a new job at the end of them, then you’ll be locked into COBRA coverage which is generally pretty expensive.

4.  Update your social media channels. You may feel like you don’t want anyone to know that you got laid off, or alternately you may want to talk shit on your old company far and wide. Neither are very productive.

Confidently announce on your social channels that you’ve left your old company and are looking for a new opportunity.  Make sure you phrase the announcement in a way that is positive, and doesn’t infringe on any confidentiality clause you may have signed related to your severance, if any.

5. Work For Your Spouse.  If you’re married and your job loss just turned your spouse into the sole breadwinner of the household, a big part of your job just became making their life easier and more pleasant, in order to help them make sure they don’t suffer a similar fate at their workplace.

Wake up when they wake up. Make them breakfast. Pack their lunch. Clean the house and run errands for them while they’re at work. Have dinner ready when they get home. While you may have never harbored fantasies of becoming June Cleaver, if you are no longer bringing home the bacon, you have no excuse not to be a helpful homemaker during your unemployment – and that goes for men and women equally.

What To Do In Your Second Week: Explore New Things

By week two of your newfound freedom from work, you’ll hopefully have gotten through the backlog of already posted jobs available in your desired location, and only have to sort through the handful of new ones that match your search criteria each day.  Assuming that will only take you a couple of hours a day, that opens up a lot of free time in your schedule. But before you give in to the Siren’s call of Netflix, consider that you now have the opportunity to do all the things you always say you wish you could do, but don’t have time to do.

1.  Get in an exercise routine. It’s so tempting to sleep till 10 and wear pjs all day when you’re not working.  But if you manage to get to the gym (or just take a walk in your neighborhood, if you cancelled your gym membership to save money), you’ll feel more energetic and possibly even get in a habit that will continue once you start back to work as well.

2. Start a project. If you’re anything like me, you have a mental to-do list of projects that just never seem to get done around your house. Organizing the garage. Making an upholstered headboard. Writing the great American novel. Now’s your chance. Usually just getting started is the hardest part.

3.  Be a tourist in your own town. There’s a whole other shocking world that takes place during business hours that your job was likely preventing you from enjoying before. Check out area museums, parks, botanical gardens, libraries, pools/lakes, etc. A lot of them either have free entrance, or offer discounted entrance on certain days of the week or for locals.  I spent a good part of my summer at Barton Springs. Whee!

4. Spend time with family. Whether it’s staying home with your kids who are normally in daycare, or visiting nearby relatives and friends, taking a couple days in between the job searching to reconnect with loved ones while you have some extra time available to do so is never a bad idea.

What To Do In Your Third Week and Beyond: Interview, Followup, Repeat.

1.  Interview. In my experience it took about three weeks to start getting much response to my applications. But then I got my first nibble, then another, and another, until by the end of my fourth week I had 6 different interviews in one day.

Since so many early interviews take place over the phone these days, it’s especially important that you have your 1-2 minute “elevator speech” down pat.  Review the job description for each job before the interview (using the handy-dandy spreadsheet you created in week one) and then customize your own work history to match as closely as possible to what they’re asking for. Also remember to ask smart questions (almost every interview will end with “what questions do you have for me?”) and always write a quick followup thank you email to every interviewer and recruiter you speak with.

2. Follow Up. Sometimes you feel like you have a fabulous interview, and then just nothing.  You don’t hear from the company at all.  If this happens and it’s been at least two weeks from your interview, it’s perfectly acceptable to email your recruiter (a recuriter is preferable, but the person you interviewed with is an acceptable alternative if the company doesn’t use recruiters) to ask for an update.  It’s certainly better than waiting in the dark.

Also, use your network.  If there’s a job you’ve found that looks like exactly what you want, try to find a friend who has a connection to someone who works there. Then, use LinkedIn to ask for an introduction.  A lot of companies offer their current employees bonuses for helping to find candidates that actually get hired, so you’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help you get a foot in the door.

3.  Repeat.  When you’re not interviewing, keep up your steady stream of new applications.  It’s very easy to become complacent and think you’ve applied to enough new places once you start getting a good number of interviews, so do your best to avoid falling into this trap.  Nothing is ever a done deal until you have a countersigned offer letter in your hot little hand.

Also take time to research the companies who express interest in you.  Glassdoor is a good resources for company reviews and salary info, and plenty can be gleamed about company culture through most corporate websites.  You can also get a better sense of salary ranges at the company to help you negotiate the best possible package when you do get an offer.

What To Do Once You’ve Got a New Offer: Party Time

  1. Negotiate The internet is chock full of advice on how to negotiate a salary, and a lot of it is conflicting. Here are the basics though: a) ask for time to consider the offer, and get a firm date you need to reply to them by; b) inform all the other recruiters/employers that you are actively interviewing with that you’ve received an offer, and what the deadline is; c) try to determine how much wiggle room there is in your offer, if any.

If you feel there is some wiggle room, a good standard rule is just to ask for 10% more salary. If they balk (and they may) see if they’re willing to negotiate on softer factor like % bonus, sign on bonus, stock, stock vesting schedule, or vacation days. You also should think about negotiating a severance package now — to prevent your current situation from happening again. Try to give your recruiter a few different potential options they can work with, and you may be surprised at how much you can improve your situation.

2. Travel.  Once you’ve lined up your next gig, it’s time to celebrate, and as any regular readers know, for me, that means travel.

Once you start your new job, you’re gonna be at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of how many vacations days you’ve earned, so travel before your start date to make sure you’re rested and ready for your first week. And, if you’re still in the saving money while unemployed frame of mind, man, have we  got you covered  on that front  for traveling  on the super-cheap.

3. Prepare. In the last week before you start back to work, think about all the things you can do to set yourself up for success.  If you need new business clothes, go buy ’em.  (The credit card bill won’t come due until after your first paycheck anyways, and you can only make a first impression once.) Restart any of those household services you cancelled when you first got laid off — you won’t have time to be making a hundred phone calls to do so once you start back to work. Clean your house, like, really deep clean it. Go grocery shopping. Make a few freezer meals. Get yourself on your new sleep schedule.  Basically, just prepare  yourself both practically and mentally for having a lot less free time in the near future.

So, that’s it.  A layoff is certainly not the end of the world, unless you let it be. Hopefully, by following these tips, you’ll find your next opportunity at a better company, making more money, with better coworkers, and better perks, just like I did.  Good luck!

What tips do you have for the recently job-challenged?  Share ’em in the comments.

How To Save Money/Points Even After You’ve Booked Your Stay

The Hotel 1000 in Seattle

So you’re planning a trip. You’ve researched. You’ve squirelled away points or (gasp!) actual dollars, and now you’re ready to book your vacation.

Now you might think that once you press the “confirm stay” button on your booking method of choice, you’re done, with nothing left to do but count down the days til you get to leave, but in fact, a smart traveler isn’t quite done.

Even after you’ve booked, you can save money & points by continuing to check up on your trip.  Here’s how:

1. Periodically Check Your Hotel Rate For Decreases
We’re going on an Alaska cruise next year that departs out of Seattle. Since we always like to get to our departure city the day before a cruise leaves, that means we needed a 1-night hotel stay somewhere in the city.

After looking at my options, there was one hotel that stood out above the rest — the Hotel 1000 Seattle.  With all the newest high tech hotel gadgets, bubbles upon arrival, complimentary luxury car service, a highly-rated spa, and much more, we just had to check it out.

One problem – the Hotel 1000 isn’t a member of any hotel loyalty programs, and we hate having to pay cash. But, of course, as we have a healthy stash of Chase Ultimate reward points, even that wasn’t a problem – we exchanged 25,694 UR points for a nightly room rate, inclusive of taxes of $321.18.  Not a bad deal – still a redemption rate of roughly 1.2 cents per point.

But a month later, the hotel rate had fallen to $294.99.  And as the Chase points redemption rate is tied to actual cost of rooms, the points rate had fallen too. So I called up Chase, and within about five minutes, my original points had been refunded, and I was able to book at the new lower rate of 23,599 points — saving myself 2,095 points that I can now use elsewhere.

And you can generally use this trick even if booking with cash, though if you book a non-refundable rate, you’ll generally do better asking for an upgrade than a partial refund. A particularly good use of this tactic is on cruise bookings, where they’ll happily rebook you at the lower rates (or upgrade you accordingly) all the way up until the time final payment is due. In fact, it saved us over $400 on our last cruise.

2. Sign Up For Additional Promotions

If you’re booked on a cash stay, you should spend the weeks or months leading up to your stay keeping an eye on any special promotions that you can find from your hotel’s loyalty program.

IHG in particular often has a number of promotions running at once, as does SPG. And as long as you’ve signed up before you’re stay, you may be in store for extra points just for clicking a few buttons.

Once you’ve already got a stay or two booked and upcoming is also a great time to request a status challenge – it’ll make it easier to meet the minimum stay requirements and pick up a snazzy new elite status along the way.

3. Check out the Hotel Upgrade app

I don’t know how this app really works, and I sure don’t get how it makes money.  But it’s dead simple to use. Choose your location, and if your hotel is listed, you can sign up for a little bonus gift – like extra points or an automatic upgrade.

Like I said – dead simple. Unfortunately, they don’t have too many properties included, but if they do happen to have yours, why not pick up a little extra?

What tips do you have for saving money even after booking?  Tell us in the comments.  Header photo courtesy of Hotel 1000.

The Lazy Way to “Extreme” Coupon

photo 2 (12)As some of you all might remember, around a year ago, I tried my hand at the “Extreme Couponing” game.  I went as hard as I could for a couple months there, but found that (due to a lack of stores that double coupons in my area and my general preference for eating fresh, organic, unprocessed foods) I could only ever manage to reduce my grocery bill by about 20 – 25% at the most.

So I took a look at how long it was actually taking me to collect coupons and decided I needed to do some cost – benefit analysis.  The result is that I now do “bare minimum effort” couponing these days, and still manage to save about 10% off my weekly grocery bill, and often up to 20% off most online purchases.

If you’re like me, and want to save money but maybe not enough to actually be “extreme” about it, here’s how you can do it too.

1.  Stock up on staples during Catalina deals.

A “Catalina” is the machine that prints coupons at the register.  What a lot of people don’t know is that most of the major conglomerate consumer packaged good companies (P&G, Nestle, General Mills, Unilverer, etc.) offer targeted deals via these magical machines several times a year.

These deals are generally structured as “Spend X amount on our brands, and get a coupon for Y off your total grocery bill on your next visit.”

So, for example, a recent one I did was spend $30 on P&G products and get a $10 coupon.  So, I bought a mega-pack of Charmin toilet paper, a large bottle of Downy fabric softener, a few boxes of Puffs tissues, and a Covergirl foundation.  I would have bought all these items – toilet paper, laundry products, cosmetics – at some point anyways.  But by stocking up during the Catalina deal, I get it at effectively 33% off, not to mention that the stores will routinely do additional sales on top of the Catalina.

In short, stocking up on your staples during a Catalina deal generally means you’ll get your staples at about 40-50% of their usual costs.  So how do you find out about these fantastic deals? They’re usually advertised in the weekly circular for the store, and often the store will have in-store signage in the relevant areas as well.  In other words, you just need to be a little bit observant, and you should be able to cash in on the savings.

Total effort: 2-3 minutes per week, $100-$150 a year

2. Download these apps, then use them.

There’s a plethora of apps these days that will pay you money to upload a picture of your receipt from your grocery trip.  Ibotta, SavingStar, Snap by Groupon, Checkout 51, Shopmium, BerryCart…just to name a few. (Links are to my personal referral code, btw.)

These aren’t “get rich quick” apps…if you’re like me, it’ll take you a year or so to build up about $60 across the apps.  But they’re dead simple.  You just scroll through AFTER you’ve done your shopping, see if any of their offers matches what you bought, and voila, you’ve earned anywhere from $0.10 to $2.00.

I like these after-the-fact apps, because they don’t encourage me to buy more than I usually would, which is a phenomenon I noticed when I used paper coupons. And unlike most paper coupons, which usually subsidize bad-for-you processed foods, the apps usually have fresh and generic offers to get you to use the app at all, so you can make money on produce, pantry staples, etc.

Total effort: 5 minutes per shopping trip, total savings around $60 – $100 a year.

3. Never buy non-grocery items at full price.

If you’re buying something online, you have the option to double-awesome your purchase. First of all, go to whatever website you need to buy something for through a travel shopping portal, like Rapid Rewards Shopping or MileagePlus Shopping.  These portals will give you extra miles/points for whatever you buy often at a tune of 3-5 points per dollar, which, when combined with a points credit card, can help you rack up travel points FAST.

Then, check RetailMeNot and Google for promotional codes.  No matter what the website, you’re likely to at least find a code that gives you free shipping, but sometimes you can get 30-40% off as well. Always, I repeat, ALWAYS look for a coupon when online shopping.

But not all of our lives can be lived online.  Sometimes you need something right away.  But IRL stores are not immune from our coupon craze.  I use the Coupon Sherpa app to find in-store coupons that I can serve up on my phone.  Just a few days ago I took my mother to Old Navy and got 20% off her purchase, then picked up some craft supplies at Michaels where I got 40% off a single item.

Total Effort: 1-2 minutes each time you shop.  Total savings: $300-??? a year depending on how much you shop.

All in all, I now spend maybe 10 minutes a week total “couponing” and still get about 50% of the benefits that I got when I was spending several hours a week couponing.  That’s a win for me.

What “lazy” couponing tips do you have?  Share in the comments.

Becoming More Mustachian…

We’re taking financial advice from this guy? Yeah. Yeah, we are, actually.  Photo credit: Twitter..

This post may be old news to those of you who are already long time fans of the Mr. Money Mustache blog.  But the hubs and I recently started reading it and found it really jived with our existing philosophies on work, hobbies, and money.

If you’re not familiar, MMM’s basic idea is that most retirement and savings advice is wrongly geared at an overly-consumerist lifestyle.  If you can cut down your spending (by walking and bicycling instead of driving expensive cars everywhere, by enjoying the outdoors and recreation instead of expensive entertainment, by doing your own chores and home improvement projects instead of hiring others to do so) you can dump that money into aggressively paying off your mortgage and investing in low-fee index funds. Doing this can allow you to retire early – way early, like, in your 30s.

(Click “continue reading” to see more Mustachian thoughts!) Continue reading “Becoming More Mustachian…”

A Newbie’s Attempt at Extreme Couponing

photo 2 (12)For the past few weeks, instead of immediately trashing the weekly circulars that get shoved in our mailbox, I’ve actually taken the time to cut out relevant coupons, and print a few others out from Coupons.com.  Slowly but surely, with the help of blogs like Living Rich with Coupons, I’ve managed to get a decent little collection of coupons going.

Last week was my first attempt doing my weekly grocery shopping with coupons, and I’ve found that it takes you a little longer in the store – in addition to getting what you need to buy from your weekly list, you stroll the non-perishable aisles to do a quick check as to whether you have a coupon match to anything that’s on sale.  (Note: there are actually numerous sites that do this for you, but I’ve found I rarely have the coupons they list in their matches…I probably need to start getting a Sunday paper…)

On my first trip, I managed to save $15, which sounds like a lot, but the majority of that was from a $10 off a 70-count bottle of Claritin, which we had been running low on anyways.  The only real “win” was a bottle of salad dressing (the kind we normally use) that would have normally cost $3.50, I managed to snag for $0.50.  Exciting, but it seemed like kinda small potatoes.

Today, however, as my coupon horde has continued to grow… (click “Continue Reading” to see more!)  Continue reading “A Newbie’s Attempt at Extreme Couponing”