I'm Famous!

Today, I'm a guest writer for one of my favorite blogs, Get Rich Slowly. Check out my article on how to get what you want simply by asking for it here. Many thanks to J.D. for this opportunity.


Self Employment via eBay

For the last year or so, I've had a vague notion of wanting to be self-employed, but truthfully, I don't have a good idea of how to go about doing it. I have a vast liberal arts background, but virtually no business education or experience. Since I live in an expensive city and have yet to buy a home, I have a hard time imagining making enough money on my own support the lifestyle I want to live. You could argue that since I don't yet have a mortgage, this is the right time to take that risk, but when it comes to money, I'm just not a risk taker. For me, money=freedom, and I have no desire to jeopardize my freedom.

I'm an extremely introverted person, so any business I run would almost surely need to be internet-based. Being introverted means that spending a lot of time around other people is exhausting, so sitting in front of a computer by myself all day strongly appeals to me. So one idea I'm currently toying with, which has crossed my mind before, is being an eBay Power Seller.

I've only read one chapter of eBay Power Seller Secrets so far. I've learned that a Power Seller is someone who makes at least $1,000 a month and has a feedback score of 98% or higher. I'm not sure if selling products is the right niche for me because I'm not a big consumer, but I know that whether I choose to pursue the power seller path or stick with my current tendency to sell an item on eBay every couple of months, I will learn some valuable tips from this book.

Here are a few key points I've picked up:

-Your customer feedback rating is key to attracting customers. Unlike the feedback you get as an Amazon seller, where you only get feedback ratings when you sell items, whenever you make a purchase through eBay (or Half.com), the seller has the opportunity to leave feedback on you. Generally, if you pay for your item quickly, you'll receive positive feedback. Customers often won't pay attention to whether your positive feedback rating came from buying items or from selling them. So if you want to quickly build a solid reputation for yourself, start purchasing everything you want or need through eBay or Half and pay promptly.

-Don't sell items you aren't familiar with. If you don't know your merchandise, you won't be able to accurately describe products and answer customer questions. You also won't price items correctly, which can leave you vulnerable to selling valuable items for less than they are worth or not selling less valuable items that you've overpriced. If you really want to sell something you aren't familiar with, the least you should do is check completed auctions to see how other sellers described items like yours and what they sold for.

-Don't sell items whose condition is questionable. You don't want your customers to be disappointed when they receive their purchase in the mail. This will lead to negative feedback, which will deter future customers from bidding on your auctions.


Saving Money at the Dentist

Dental hygiene may not be the most savory topic, but you only get one set of (adult) teeth, and they're awfully expensive to fix if you don't care for them properly. Unfortunately, I have a lot of firsthand knowledge on this subject, but with any luck, I can prevent you or your kids from sharing my fate.

My teeth have soft enamel, which basically means that by the time I was 20, I'd already had more than my share of fillings, plus a root canal and a crown, even though I don't think my dental habits were any worse than the average person's. However, I had braces as a child, and if you've ever had braces, you know how difficult it is to keep your teeth truly clean. (Of course, nowadays, there seem to be ways for kids to avoid braces altogether, like Invisalign and oral surgery.)

What I learned from my experience is that taking good preventative care of your teeth will save you a fortune. I brush my teeth a minimum of twice a day, more often if I've eaten a lot of sugar, and I never miss a night of flossing. Dental floss is incredibly cheap compared to the price of a filling.

If you have children, and particularly children with braces, teaching and enforcing excellent dental hygiene will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars down the line and will save your child hours of agony in the dentist's chair. I only wish someone had been stricter with me when I had braces. Flossing with braces is a time-consuming ordeal, but I'm sure it would have been better than getting over 20 fillings in the span of a few years (on a single visit I once showed up with 11 new cavities!), enduring the excruciating pain of an abcess for a week, and having a root canal. I even broke a tooth once while on vacation because cavities had weakened my tooth so much. Imagine having to wait a week to see a dentist and in the meantime having to patch a gigantic hole in your tooth with a makeshift product from the drugstore. Yuck! Despite never missing a regular six month dentist visit for a thorough cleaning and checkup, my daily habits, or lack thereof, really destroyed my teeth.

If that's not enough to convince you to take care of your teeth, consider that a single cavity can cost $160 or more to fill and a root canal+crown can cost $800 or more. Dental floss costs as little as $2 a pack at Costco and lasts for weeks. Also, not flossing can often be the hidden culprit behind chronic bad breath. If you have a significant other, they'll probably be greatly appreciative of your flossing and more likely to get cozy with you.

Since I adopted my new dental hygiene habits, I've spent a lot less money and a lot less time in the dentist's chair. When I was a kid, it was difficult to get the floss between your teeth and it almost always made your gums bleed. These days, dental floss is comfortable and easy to use--Glide is my favorite brand. If you start flossing regularly, your gums might bleed at first, but don't be alarmed--it's normal, and it will go away quickly as your gums get healthier.

I'm going to go brush my teeth now!


Toaster Ovens

A good way to save on your energy bills is to use a toaster oven. If you're making a small pizza or you just want to bake a few cookies, you'll save a lot of time using this method as well since you don't have to wait for a full size oven to preheat. I also like to use a toaster oven to reheat a lot of my food because microwaves can make things soggy or, in the case of bread, stale. Toaster ovens also serve the function of a toaster, of course, so you don't need to own both. You can purchase a basic toaster oven at Target for about $30. Make sure to purchase one with a built-in timer and automatic shutoff or you will end up forgetting about and burning a lot of your food (I speak from experience!).


Saving Money on Pet Ownership

Pets can be expensive. I've read articles detailing just how much they can cost over the course of a year or a lifetime, and the costs can be significant. It's all about balance, though. You can cut back on other areas of spending to make pet ownership affordable. Also, I think that any pet owner will tell you that you can't put a price tag on the amount of joy and companionship a pet can bring into your life.

The first step to saving money on pet ownership is to adopt. There are so many unwanted pets out there that need a home and are available for free that I don't think it makes sense to pay for one. Unfortunately, some top-dollar pets are produced by unscrupulous, unethical people who treat animals in a way that would horrify any animal lover. By paying for a pet, some consumers actually unwittingly contribute to animal abuse. When you adopt a pet from a shelter, you do exactly the opposite.

If you want more than one pet, getting two of the same kind (i.e. two cats) will help save you money because both pets can share the same food, supplies, and toys. You'll also give your pets a playmate and constant source of companionship.

Just like with any other regular purchase in your life (like toiletries), look for coupons and sales on items like pet food and stock up when you can get the items at a good price rather than waiting until you really need them and will likely get stuck paying the highest price. If you regularly visit the same pet store, sign up for their newsletter to receive special coupons.

I don’t buy my cats toys anymore since they are more interested in playing with the trash than the toy. Crinkly paper, bags, and empty boxes provide lots of fun for the cats. They also like Q-Tip sticks (I remove the cotton first) and milk jug rings.

Another tip: Shots are expensive for cats and most vets will tell you that they need them every year, but there is a strong theory that they only need them every few years (at least, if they are indoor-only cats). Don't take my word for it though because I'm not a vet--do your own research before making any major decisions about your pet's health.


The Cost of Being Sick

I've had a cold recently. Normally when I get sick, I do nothing but get extra sleep and wait for my body to heal itself. However, with the holidays so close at hand, I've felt compelled to get well so I don't disappoint anyone who is expecting to see me this Christmas.

It pains me how expensive just a simple cold can be. Here's a rundown:
Sudafed - $4
Nyquil - $4
Tylenol - $4
Cough Drops - $1
Sudafed PE - $4
Afrin Nasal Spray - $9
More Sudafed - $5
Mucinex - $13
Saline Nasal Rinse - $13
Doctor Visit Copay - $35
Parking at Doctor - $2

Total Cost: $94

As often happens when buying medicine, I ended up wasting some money. I wasted the Afrin because my doctor advised against using it (it causes rebound congestion) and I wasted the Sudafed PE because it didn't help me. Overall, I tried to minimize by costs by using up all my existing medicine before purchasing anything new and waiting out my cold for a good week before going to the doctor. I could have saved around $5 if I'd been willing to purchase store brands of Afrin and Sudafed.

I'm lucky that I'm a salaried employee and didn't also lose money for the days of work I missed.

Photo by zingersb


Saving Money on Wrapping Paper

Wrapping paper is one of those items you don't need to ever pay full price for as long as you do some simple advance planning. Each year at after-Christmas sales, you can purchase what will become next year's Christmas wrapping paper for a fraction of its original price (as much as 75% - 90% off). Within the Christmas wrap you can also find discounted ribbon for both Christmas and the rest of the year (silver and white match almost everything) and wrapping paper that will pass as non-holiday paper (last year I got one that had a shiny blue and green striped pattern).

I also recently found some $1 gift wrap at Goodwill so I picked up a couple rolls.

Finally, when I receive a gift, I save and reuse any gift bags, tissue paper, ribbons, and wrapping paper that don't get destroyed in the process of opening the gift.

Christmas sales are just a couple of weeks away, so don't forget to hit the store and stock up!


Saving Money on Furniture

There's no reason to pay big bucks for furniture. While finding secondhand furniture can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, it can save you thousands of dollars.

The recliner pictured here cost me $50 at Salvation Army. It's a La-Z-Boy in nearly perfect condition that would have cost me a few hundred dollars new. I also found a nearly new couch for $50, and paid someone $40 to transport them to my apartment in their pickup truck and move them in for me.

Along the way, I had a near miss (a couch I wanted that someone else bought before I could find someone to move it for me) and many frustrating visits to thrift shops where there was nothing good available or the items I liked were overpriced (I couldn't fathom spending $500 on a couch at a thrift shop). It can be difficult to find items that are nice, cheap, and match your decor. In the end though, I'm glad I went to the extra trouble. Even the cheapest full sized couch at Ikea costs $400.

As an added bonus, when you make a purchase from a store like Salvation Army, Goodwill, or St. Vincent, your money will go to a good cause. That's socially responsible spending at its finest.


Saving Money on Frappucinos

I really like Starbucks’ frappucinos. But they cost almost $4 per drink (and most have 300+ calories, depending on what size and flavor you order and whether you add whipped cream). Though the bottled frappucinos that you can buy at the grocery store don’t have the same flavor or texture, they do stave off my cravings for the most part and get me four drinks for the price of one.

However, I’ve found an even cheaper way to satisfy my tastebuds.

Brew several cups of coffee, using 1T of grounds for every 6oz of water.

After the coffee has brewed, add 1T sugar and 1T half and half for every 8oz of coffee and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Refrigerate and enjoy! This recipe has a little less cream and sugar than the bottled frappucinos, but I always thought they were too sweet and creamy so I’m actually happier with my homemade version. This recipe has about 100 calories per 12 ounces, while the bottled frappucinos have 200 calories per 12 ounces and a long list of somewhat unidentifiable ingredients. With this recipe, you not only save money, you also make a healthier eating choice.


Best Personal Finance Primers

These are the books I read when I was just starting to learn about personal finance. I found all of them to be easy and fast reads and simple to understand.

The Secrets of Wealth by Fabio Marciano
A basic overview of everything you need to know about personal finance.

The Only Investing Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias
A basic overview of everything you need to know about investing.

Mutual Funds for Dummies by Eric Tyson
If you're still confused about index funds after reading the two books above or just want to better understand what you're doing with your investment money, check out this guide.

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T. Harv Eker
Learn about the false assumptions you have about money and wealthy people that may be holding you back in your own quest for financial security and freedom.


Does a Home Garden Really Save Money?

Genovese basil

I think it's a common conception that growing your own food saves money. After all, you can get 30-50 seeds for $2-4 and grow 30-50 edible items from that. That's practically free food, right?

First, you need to factor in the cost of gardening supplies. For a small container garden like the one you see here, the costs are as follows:

Garden spade - $4
Fertilizer - $6
Organic insecticide - $6
Four bags of dirt - $32
Three bags of Perlite - $24
Nine large containers - $0 to $90
20 small containers $0 to $10
12 packets of seeds $0 to $40
Watering can - $0 to $10
Gardening book - $25

In my case, the total cost of my container garden so far has been $195, and it has produced lots of basil, about 30 peas, nine cherry tomatoes, and one zebra tomato. You don't have to be a math genius to realize that my container garden has been a money pit. However, a lot of the costs are start-up costs, and if my garden is more successful in the future, I might get closer to breaking even. There are many ways to reduce your container garden costs, however, and I wasn't aware of all of them when I started out. Here are some important money saving tips:

Fertilizer and insecticide: not essential. In fact, these haven't helped me at all. I wouldn't buy them again.
Dirt: wait for a good sale and buy a bunch. Shop around to see if a small local nursery or a large chain has the better prices.
Perlite: Same goes for Perlite, though I'm not sure it's necessary.
Containers: Especially if you live in an apartment complex, keep an eye on the alley. Where I live, people throw out flower pots and large plastic containers all the time (you'll need to drill drainage holes in the containers, but that's easy. If you don't have a drill, borrow one). Also ask friends for containers and hit thrift shops. If you can't scrounge up everything you need with these methods, most nurseries will sell you cheap black buckets. There's no need to spend $10 and up more per container unless you're really concerned with aesthetics. I can't believe how much these new containers cost!
Small containers: These shouldn't cost much, but they can be free if you save yogurt cups and use those. Don't forget to poke holes in the bottom for drainage.
Seeds: You can save money on seeds by saving seeds. This doesn't always give you useable seeds though, so you'll need to do some research if you want to go this route.
Watering can: This one is easy. Just save a plastic milk jug and use that. If you don't drink milk, buy something else that comes in a jug and when the liquid is gone, you'll have your free watering can.
Books: Borrow from the library. However, you may find it necessary to have a book that's always around that you can refer to whenever you have a problem. That's why I bought one.


Experiment: Turning a Profit on Ebay

<I recently purchased these shoes at Goodwill. They look brand new, or close to it, are a designer brand (Kenneth Cole Reaction) (designer by my standards, anyway), and were only $6 for the pair (they probably cost $60 or more retail). I normally recognize that a good deal isn't really a good deal when you aren't going to use it (the shoes were too small for me), but this seemed like a good way to experiment with buying something at less than its value and attempting to make a profit reselling it.

Of course, only about half or less of the shoes listed on Ebay actually sell, as far as I can tell, and these shoes are not New In Box, or even New - No Box. They are Other. I'm listing them for $0.99 or $15.00 Buy it Now with a shipping fee of $7.00 so that at a bare minimum I will pretty much break even if I manage to sell them.

I am fully aware that reselling shoes on Ebay is not the way to riches, and that the time I'm putting into this is probably better spent on something else, but I feel compelled to run this experiment anyway. I also realize that these shoes may not even be in style which would reduce the value I see in them (I am pretty disconnected from the fashion world).

I have a love-hate relationship with Ebay in that I historically have only sold about half or less of what I've listed. Also, I only win a few of the items I bid on because someone, somewhere always seems willing to pay way too much for the stuff I'm interested in. Why is that?

Update: I ran my shoe sale from the Sunday before Thanksgiving until the Sunday after Thanksgiving--not necessarily the best time to list items. On one hand, people have holiday shopping on the brain. On the other hand, many people are traveling and away from their computers.

I was very happy with the result, though. My shoes sold for $18.50! That's quite the profit. I'm feeling inspired to try another experiment. I wonder what I'll find on my next Goodwill trip?


How I Saved $120 at CVS

Where I live, Savon Drugs, possibly the most wretched drugstore I've ever visited, has been switching to CVS. In the process, they've been cleaning up their stores, lowering everyday prices, and giving out tons and tons of fantastic coupons. If you haven't gotten any coupons in the mail or in-store, you may be able to snag some on eBay, especially the $30 gift card with prescription transfer coupons.

The first set of coupons I collected from CVS came in the mail. I got a flier for three coupons worth $5 off a $10 purchase and a coupon for a $25 gift card if I transferred a prescription or brought in a new one. I noticed that many other people in my apartment complex had tossed out these fliers, so I nabbed them from the mail recycling pile, giving me a total of 12 $5 off a $10 purchase coupons. For quite a few days (until I got sick of it and ran out of things I needed), I went to CVS and purchased exactly $10 worth of goods (before taxes, Extra Care savings or manufacturer's coupons. After the goods were rung up, I presented my $5 off $10 coupon, any manufacturer's coupons I had, and my Extra Care card, which is CVS's customer loyalty card that entitles the user to certain sale prices not available otherwise. On each trip, I came away spending only $3-5 for a bag full of loot that I would normally pay full price for.

I wanted to make this opportunity really worthwhile, so I stuck to purchasing essential items that I buy anyway (mostly toiletries and a few groceries), deciding to stockpile them while I could get them at a discount so I wouldn't have to shop for them or pay full price for them later.

A couple of weeks later, a new coupon came out for a $30 gift card with a prescription transfer. Since I hadn't picked up my prescription yet, I used the $30 gift card coupon instead of the $25 one. I also snagged a $5 off a $20 purchase coupon from the newspaper and some store coupons that CVS was handing out. I used all of these along with my gift card to get an unbelievable amount of stuff totally free.

All in all, here's what I got. At regular price, these items add up to about $165 before tax. By carefully planning each purchase to take advantage of sales, coupons, and my gift card, I acquired all of this stuff for $45, a savings of $120. Given that CVS sells many items for higher prices than I normally pay (I buy all my toiletries at Target), I'd estimate that I probably truly saved more like $100.

Additionally, as part of CVS's Extra Care program, you earn 2% back on all non-prescription purchases. Not including the purchases I made in December, I've earned $1.35 in cash back.

Prior to this experience, I thought coupons were a waste of time and effort. Now I've been converted and have started taking advantage of all sorts of other coupons that come my way.

My CVS Spoils and their regular, non-sale, pre-coupon prices:

1 Sunsilk conditioner - $4
29 zone bars (a type of protein bar) - $38
1 Package of 5 cloth headbands - $6
1 Herbal Essences shampoo - $4
1 CVS brand Pepto Bismol - $3
1 Box of 10 candy canes - $1
1 Large pizza - $6
1 Red nail polish - $2.50
1 Tom's of Maine toothpaste - $4.20
1 Pantene conditioner - $4.50
3 Dove deodorants, 2.6 oz - $10.50
1 CVS brand Cetaphil - $7
1 Half gallon ice cream - $6
1 Marshmallow pumpkin - $1
1 Loreal Vive shampoo - $4
1 package gummy worms -$0.50
2 bars Dove soap - $3
1 ten pack fun sized Kit Kats - $1.50
2 bottles contact solution $16.60
1 vo5 shampoo - $1
1 Garnier Fructis shampoo - $4
1 Herbal Essences conditioner - $4
1 twelve-pack Coke - $4
1 prescription - $10 (with insurance coverage)
1 Pantene shampoo - $4.50
1 large body wash - $7
1 package of 4 razors - $1

Grand total, before tax*: $165
Actual money spent, including tax: $45

For those of you who may take moral issue with this type of deal-getting, my advice is to not engage in it. However, my personal stance is that if CVS makes all of these coupons available, they have to assume that people will use them. Every coupon I used was a legitimate, original coupon.

*Calculating sales tax on these purchases is not worth my time because not all items were taxed and coupons affected the taxable totals. I've already tossed most of these receipts, too.


Saving Money with Coupon Codes

I recently purchased two domain names through Go Daddy. I know that they sometimes mail out coupons with Amazon packages, but I didn't have one on me, so I did a quick Google search for "Go Daddy coupon codes." I found quite a few codes, including the one I used for $2 off each domain name. A search that took me about 30 seconds saved me $4. That's $8 I don't have to earn.

Searching for coupon codes isn't always this fruitful - often the codes I find through a Google search are (very) outdated. When this method doesn't work, I find that Dealcatcher is a good site for finding up-to-date deals and coupon codes.


How to Get Free Zagat Guides

Zagat Guides are a convenient way to locate a new restaurant, especially if you will be dining in an unfamiliar part of town or unfamiliar city. They retail for anywhere from $5.95 to $25.95 depending on the city and the edition.

However, you can get them for free if you help write them! The guides are a composite of real diners' opinions. If you go to Zagat's website, you can register and rank any restaurant you've eaten at in any city. Then, when the new edition is published (this occurs yearly), you'll get a free copy of that guide in the mail!

I recommend ranking restaurants for your city, the America's Top Restaurants book (where you can again rate restaurants from your city), and any cities you visit frequently. This year, I'll be getting three guides. I'm especially excited about America's Top Restaurants because it will save me a lot of time wading through Citysearch when I'm traveling.

Saving Money on Travel-Sized Toiletries

With a little advance planning, you can avoid ever having to purchase overpriced travel-sized items. Here's how I do it.

Companies are constantly giving away free samples of new products. I request free samples of everything I think I might use. It usually takes 6-8 weeks to receive the freebies, but I usually have a constant stream of them coming in, which means that I always have enough shampoo, conditioner, and lotion for traveling.

Usually, these items come in small flat plastic packages, not bottles. I didn't have any trouble getting through airport security with these in my carryon (just put them in your quart ziplock bag with your other toiletries).

Another thing I do is use old film canisters to store items like lotion and face cream. I haven't tried taking these through security in a carryon, though. With film canisters becoming rarer these days, your best source may be to simply ask for a few from the photo department the next time you're at the drugstore. The canisters are airtight and leakproof, and hold a surprising amount of product.

Also, I often take hotel shampoos and conditioners with me when I stay at hotels. I hate the stinky shampoo they provide, but I dump it out and save the bottles to fill with my own products. Whenever I acquire a travel-sized bottle, I tend to hold on to it and refill it as needed.

When Should You Replace Your Toothbrush?

When I was growing up, I learned that the American Dental Association recommended replacing your toothbrush every three months. I don't think I ever religiously adhered to this guideline, but I do think I unnecessarily retired quite a few toothbrushes because of it. I always thought it was odd that my dentist only gave me one toothbrush every 6 months, though. If changing your toothbrush was so important, why didn't he give me two? I'm sure toothbrushes are very cheap, if not free, for dentists.

On the other end of the spectrum are those people (and you've seen their toothbrushes) who seem to use their toothbrushes for ten years. The bristles are splayed out everywhere like an automatic car wash brush. At this point, the toothbrush has lost its shape and probably most of its effectiveness.

I have been using the same toothbrush for the last year, and it looks very much the same as it did when I started using it and still works just fine. I'm inclined to think that you don't really need to replace your toothbrush on any specific schedule--that's just the industry line to get us to buy more. As long as your toothbrush still looks similar to how it looked when you bought it, I say keep using it. Just make sure you clean it once in a while, for cosmetic reasons, and if you're worried about germs, dunk it in some boiling water every few months. And when you're finally ready to retire a toothbrush, save it to clean difficult parts of the shower. I find toothbrushes to be better than larger brushes for cleaning grout and shower window ledges.

When the Savings Aren't Worth It, Part 2: Getting Glasses Made by Costco

Though I primarily wear contacts, I recently decided to get new glasses. I'd been wearing the same pair for four years and, while they are a fairly classic style, I felt unattractive wearing them. I also didn't think the prescription was good enough for me to wear them while driving at night if need be, and I was having trouble reading in them.

Finding glasses frames that look good is always a painful ordeal. I went to Costco first for their low prices and didn't find anything after trying on about 75 frames. Then I went to a glasses store and found that all their frames were about twice as expensive and still none of them looked right. I returned to Costco with the decision to replace the lenses in my existing frames, but they charge you $15 to use your existing frames, and, more importantly, it was going to be two weeks until my glasses came back. With my vision, there was no way I was going for two weeks with no glasses. This time, I got lucky found new frames that I liked and I was on my way. I was going to get new glasses and new frames for a mere $130, less than the price of the most frames at the glasses store.

Two weeks later, my glasses came back, and I couldn't see straight out of them. I had to go back to the eyedoctor, get a different prescription, and send the glasses off again. Two weeks later, the new prescription turned out to be wrong, too. Two more visits to the eyedoctor to make sure my new prescription was right and more turnaround time for the glasses and I finally have new glasses I can see very well out of. The whole process took almost four months though, since I live 11 miles away from Costco and have been on several vacations which prevented me from picking the new glasses up as soon as they were ready.

Moral of the story? Next time, I'll go to a place that makes glasses in an hour, even if it costs more. (I might pick up some frames at Costco first, though.) Not only was the process of getting my glasses made at Costco very time consuming, it was also very frustrating. Every trip to Costco took at least an hour because they are so understaffed and slow, and the crowds are always maddening. One of their eyedoctors was incompetent. And while it's great that they redo your glasses for free if the prescription is wrong, it sucks that there is no way to speed up the two week process if you have to get your glasses remade. Costco's eyedoctors are considered independent from Costco's labs, so if the eyedoctor makes a mistake, they won't put a rush on your glasses order. They'll only do a rush order if the lab makes a mistake.


Discover Card $40 Enterprise Rent-A-Car Certificate

For me, Discover is not the greatest credit card to have. Some places (like Macy's) don't accept it, and their cash back programs are generally inferior to those of the other cards in my wallet. Here's a detailed analysis of why.

First of all, here are the details of the Discover Platinum cashback program:

Earn 5% Cashback Bonus on purchases throughout the year by participating in each Get More program. In addition, earn a full 1% on all other purchases after your total annual
purchases exceed $3,000; other purchases that are part of your first $1,500 earn .25% and other purchases that are part of your second $1,500 earn .50%. Purchases made at select warehouse clubs, discount stores and their affiliates earn .25%. Rewards are redeemable in $20 increments. Rewards have no expiration date; however, certain circumstances, such as account closure and inactivity for more than 36 months, could result in forfeiture of some or all of your Cashback Bonus. Full terms and conditions will be sent with your Card.

So why do I have this card? My parents like Discover, so naturally when it was time for me to get my first credit card, I went with what I knew. Now, it's my oldest credit card, which helps my credit history. It also has a considerably longer repayment period than my other cards.

I don't use it often, but they do have occasional good deals that make me happy. For example, right now their Get More program gives you 5% cash back on all purchases made at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders, Circuit City, Crutchfield, Napster, and Waldenbooks. The caveat with the Get More program is that you have to register for each and every promotion several times a year, and keep track of the ever-changing promotions. Registering your card only takes five seconds, but is an extra step that Discover is counting on many people to forget.

However, this program allows you to get cash back on purchases that other cards do not. Last winter, they offered 5% back on doctor visits, which got me $15 back on my expensive eye doctor appointment and contact lenses. I like taking advantage of the Get More programs in addition to the other cashback card I have that offers cash back on drugstores, grocery stores, and gas, month in and month out, no additional registration required.

So once I accumulate my $20 cash back with Discover, I then take redeem it with Enterprise, where I can double my $20 and get $40 off an Enterprise reservation. What a steal!

Well, maybe. I called the special reservation number to use one of these certificates for the first time and asked to apply it to an existing reservation, a $150 weeklong rental. The Enterprise representative cheerily informed me that Discover "stipulates the pricing" on rentals using these certificates and that my weekly rate would go up to $157, meaning that after my $40 discount I'd be paying $117. I went ahead and took it, because I rarely rent cars, but was a little annoyed that my $40 certificate was really only worth $32. I suppose if I were making a more last minute reservation with a higher price, Discover's "stipulated price" might help me, though.

The other reason it's not such a steal is this: I get $3.75 back for the first $1500 I spend. I get $7.50 back for the next $1500. Only after that do I start getting a full 1% back on everything. Assuming I never participated in a Get More program, I'd have to spend $3,975 to get $20 cash back or $40 at Enterprise (or another of their merchant partners). That's not such a steal, after all.

Saving Money on Frufru Drinks

One of the best ways to save money at restaurants is to drink water. But I really like wine, coffee, horchata -- and most of all, I really like boba tea. All those artificial flavors and colors and sugar are terrible for you, I know, but it tastes so good! I generally shell out around $3.50 for a 16 oz drink. If my boyfriend and I each get our own drinks, we pay a total of $7. However, if we agree on a flavor, we can upgrade to a 20oz for about 50 cents. Yes, we each get 6 oz less to drink, but I often don’t finish the whole drink anyway.

If you grew up in a family with mulitple kids, you’re probably already familiar with this concept. My parents would always get two extra large sodas at fast food restaurants and the five of us would share. I really hated sharing straws, but my dad saved a ton of money over buying five individual drinks.

So the next time you’re buying a drink with someone you’re close to, consider getting the larger size and sharing and you’ll each save a couple bucks.

Citi Cards $100 Gas Rebate Certificate

Citi Cards is currently offering a $100 gas rebate certificate for enrolling in their credit protector program. I’ve noticed lately that lots of credit cards are offering incentives to enroll in these programs (most noticeably, Chase’s $20 check). While the $20 checks are a faster, easier way to score some extra cash, the $100 gas rebate certificate is by far more rewarding.

What is a credit protector program? Essentially, it allows you to suspend payments in your credit card for a while in the event of certain major life changes, like getting married, having a child, or getting fired. How sweet of them, right? Of course not. If you don’t watch out, you’ll get screwed in the end, which is exactly what the credit card companies are counting on. The main thing to pay attention to is the monthly cost of signing up for a credit protector service. Usually, they are free for the first 30 days, and after that you pay 89 cents a month for each $100 of the closing balance on your credit card. At that rate, your $20 bonus check will get eaten up pretty quickly.

How do I beat the system? I only sign up for credit protector for cards that I don’t really use. These cards are generally ones that I applied for solely to receive an opening bonus like Thank You points or frequent flyer miles. If you don’t use the card, you don’t incur any credit protector fees, but you do get to keep the nice bonus.
There isn’t a lot of fine print on the online offer page or on the gas rebate certificate itself. For example, it doesn’t say that you have to use the same card that you enrolled in credit protector to purchase the gas. It doesn’t say that you actually have to be the one to purchase the gas, either. The main way they try to make it difficult for you to get your $100 is by requiring that “receipts for purchase of gasoline and this certificate must be sent within 30 days of gasoline purchase and no later than December 31, 2006.” Personally, I do not spend $100 on gas in a month, so I am asking my boyfriend to save his receipts too. Still, I have a feeling it would be a problem to send in receipts with someone else’s name on them, so he’s going to pay cash for his gas.

This promotion expires at the end of the year, so sign up soon if you’d like to take advantage of this free money offer. As with all rebates, make sure to read all the fine print, follow their instructions exactly, and keep records of everything you mail in.

Photo by arbyreed

Saving Money on Restaurants

I love to eat out. Trying new and unusual (to me) foods is one of my passions in life. It's also an area where I could save a ton of money if I would quit eating out two or more times a week.

However, while I really like to save money (had you noticed?), I also believe in enjoying the money I work hard for. Since it will be a long time before I reap the benefits of most of the things I'm saving for (retirement, house), I think it's a good idea to have some short-term benefits to keep me motivated to work hard and continue to seek out ways to save money or get extra cash.

The good thing about my restaurant habit is that a lot of the food I like is cheap, sometimes as cheap as a much less delicious frozen dinner from the grocery store. Going out for foods like Indian and Thai helps keep my dining out costs down. Of course, I also like sushi and upscale restaurants, and those add up fast.

As long as I'm making a comfortable amount of money, I plan to continue my dining out habit. It's nice to know, however, that should money become tight, this is one area where I can cut back and save a lot of money.

Saving Money on Hobbies

This scarf was more or less free. I knit it on needles I already owned using yarn a friend gave to me during time when I wouldn't have been engaged in a money-making activity anyway.

If you have a hobby, get to know others with the same interest by joining a group of enthusiasts. Search for them on Google, Meetup, Yahoo Groups, and Craigslist. And if you can't find a group, try starting one. Not only will you have people to share your passion with and learn from, you're also likely to pick up freebies and deals as a result of your relationships. You'll probably end up with some new friends, too.

In my case, I find that hardcore knitters always purchase more yarn than they can use and end up giving stuff away or selling it for very little. In the time I've been knitting, I've only purchased six skeins of yarn. I got five more for free, and paid $3 for another. I've also acquired a pair of knitting needles and had a pair of socks and a shrug knitted for me.

Knitting and other hobbies can become expensive quickly, but there are simple ways to keep your costs down no matter what your passion.

Saving Money on Laundry

Most people won’t be able to pull this off, but it’s worth testing. I use a coin operated communal washer and dryer. They cost $1.00 each, according to the number of coin slots they have. However, I’ve discovered that by placing three quarters in particular slots, I can actually wash my clothes for only 75 cents.

Also, I save money because I don’t believe in sorting. When I buy a new item that’s especially bright or dark and therefore likely to bleed, I do wash it separately to avoid ruining my other clothes, and I’ve learned the hard way that washing it by hand isn’t sufficient to remove the extra dye, and that dye that doesn’t show up in a sink wash will still find its way onto your light clothes in a machine wash. But most of the time I just wash everything together in cold water with zero problems. Savings? $1.75, a scoop of detegerent, and an hour and a half of clothes sorting, machine monitoring, and load changing.

Saving Money on Energy Bars

I eat a lot of Luna Bars and Larabars. At about $1.30 each, they’re quite an expensive habit. I realize they are somewhat similar to granola bars, but I don’t care for granola bars. I’ve found a couple of ways to save on these items, however.

1. Buy in bulk. If you have a favorite flavor, buying the whole case of 16 or so can save you as much as 25%.

2. Stock up when you’re at an inexpensive store or find a good sale. Buying these items from stores like Trader Joe’s generates a significant savings over buying them at Whole Foods or a conventional grocer (where health products are always overpriced).

3. Make your own! Here’s a recipe I like. Each bar costs around 80 cents after you make 2 batches (to offset the higher cost of certain ingredients that last a long time). It’s also incredibly fast and easy.

1 c. carob powder

1 c. honey

1 c. peanut butter

1 c. sunflower seeds

1 c. sesame seeds

1 c. non-instant oats

1/2 c. shredded coconut

Mix everything together. Form into bars. Coat lightly in coconut.

As an added bonus, they have a considerable shelf life and are great for hiking and camping trips. Also, if you keep the ingredients on hand, they are a good food to prepare if you get stuck in some sort of disaster since they require no cooking and the ingredients are nearly non-perishable.

Saving Money on Books

1. I check my local library catalog online to see if they have the book I’m interested in. If so, I jot down the information for my next library trip. Some libraries will even pull books off the shelf and hold them for you so that you don’t have to spend any time at all hunting for them. My library charges a fee for this service, so I do it myself. I like to wait until there are several books I’m interested in before investing the time to go to the library.

2. I consult AddAll, a book price comparison search engine. Usually, the best deals are on Amazon or Half.com, but occasionally ABE Books or another vendor will have the best price. AddAll even factors in shipping costs.

I’ve noticed lately that Amazon seems to be pricing their books such that to buy your book from Amazon with free super saver shipping is the same price as buying the cheapest used book. So it may be worth it to wait until you have two or three items to purchase and get a brand new book from Amazon for the same price as a used book elsewhere.

When I was in college, I saved loads of money on textbooks buy avoiding the college bookstore as much as possible. (Confession: I actually worked there and felt bad for all the people who bought their books full price.) Online sites devoted exclusively to textbook sales are often almost as big of a ripoff as the college bookstore, but you can often get textbooks from vendors like Amazon for a fraction of their retail price. I also usually resold my books this way rather than taking the insulting pittance the bookstore buyback service offered. Splitting the cost of a textbook with a friend (ideally someone in the same dorm) is also a good way to save, as long as you are disciplined enough to study when it’s your turn to use the book.

Photo by quinn.anya

When the Savings Aren't Worth It, Part 1

There are several areas of my life where I could be saving money but choose not to.

1. Lightbulbs - I really hate compact flourescent bulbs. In fact, I even hate regular light bulbs. Both make my surroundings feel cold and cheap. I pay a premium for GE’s Reveal bulbs that emulate the quality of natural light (these are the purple-tinted bulbs). Yes, they really do look better and make my home feel homier. One of my friends has suggested only using energy saving bulbs in places like the pantry or the garage where the quality of the light isn't important or where lights tend to get left on for long periods of time by accident.

2. Frequent Visitor Cards - I cannot stand carrying around those buy ten, get one free cards that you get at various food and beverage establishments. I would even go so far as to say that I resent the companies who distribute them, because they’re just not that great of a deal. Personally, I make purchases at these places so infrequently that it’s not worth it to me to take up the space in my wallet for two years so that one day, I might save $4. However, if I were a frequent customer of one of these businesses, carrying the card would definitely be worth it.

3. Jeans - I almost always spend $60 + tax each time I buy a pair of jeans. I wear jeans every day, so I want them to be comfortable and reasonably in style. I’m not willing to cut corners here.

4. Shopping at Wal-Mart - I can’t support this company no matter how much I might save. Locking in employees overnight and preventing employees from unionizing are not things I’m willing to vote for with my dollars. I’ve read The Wal-Mart Effect, so I know that like it or not, my wallet benefits from Wal-Mart’s low prices. And I will admit that I do shop at other stores that have questionable business practices. But I have to draw the line somewhere, and I feel that Wal-Marts prices are too low and don’t reflect the true cost of the goods they sell.

What are some ways that you could be saving money but choose not to?

Saving Money on Toothpaste and Lotion

You’ve probably heard that you can cut open an almost empty tube of toothpaste or lotion and get a ton more product out than you thought you had left. But have you ever actually tried it?

I do this with every bottle of lotion I own. I cut off the top a couple inches down. Then I can scoop out lotion until the tube is totally empty. My lotions tend to last another week or two this way, and there’s no painful squeezing at the end.

To make sure the contents don’t dry out, I use the top that I cut as the new cap. Just pinch together the long part of the tube and put the short part of the tube that you cut off over it. Or, put the cut tube in a ziplock bag. If doing this makes you feel cheap, don’t let it! Instead, feel smart that you know this trick, and enjoy saving a few bucks a year since everything you buy that comes in a plastic tube will now last longer.

Another way I save money on lotion is by stocking up at after-Christmas sales. Bath and Body Works often has fantastic after-Christmas sales where you can get lotion at half price (and not just Christmas scents). I’ll buy three or four tubes of body cream and that lasts me until the next sale. Of course, the best way to save money on lotion is to not buy designer lotion, but if you don’t like any drugstore brands, now you know how to save money on a mall brand. This tip applies to men, too–if your girlfriend/sister/mom likes this store, go stock up at the holiday sale and save your spoils for the next gift occassion. You’ll save both money and last-minute gift-buying stress.

How I've Earned $1250 in Free Money This Year

We often hear about how much money people lose to credit card companies and banks every year due to interest, late charges, overdraft charges, and fees, but did you know that there is a way for you to actually make money from these institutions? Many credit card companies and banks give out opening bonuses and referral fees, and if you have a good credit rating, you'll probably be able to take advantage of most of these offers. The offers change periodically, but I like to keep up with the latest ones by reading My Money Blog. Here are some offers I took advantage of this year that really added up. The only time and effort it cost me to take advantage of these offers was a couple of minutes to fill out a credit card application, a few minutes to follow up and make sure I earned my reward, and a few minutes to cancel the cards and close the accounts that I didn't really want.

1. Rebate Checks from my Citi Dividend Card
My Citi Dividend Card gives me 5% back on gas, groceries, and drugstore purchases and 1% back on everything else. Too bad they've discontinued new applications for this card and I'm sure it will only be a matter of time before they cut me off (probably when my card expires next year, if not sooner). Since there's a $50 threshhold to cash out your rebate, I'm not cashing out any longer until my card expires, which will ensure that I get my entire cash back reward and also give me a fat bonus all at once.

2. Redeeming Thank You Points for Gift Cards
When I signed up for the Citi Diamond card, the Citi Professional card (twice), and the Citi AT&T card, I got 10,000 Thank You points for each card, which translated to $400 in gift cards. I chose to redeem my points for gift cards that are as good as cash to me: gas, Amazon.com, and Target. Total: $400

3. Taking Advantage of Credit Protector Freebies
I got $20 for each credit card I have with Chase and a $100 gas rebate certificate through Citi for signing up for credit protection programs. The programs were free for 30+ days, then had a monthly fee of $10-15. I made sure to cancel before the monthly fee kicked in. The credit card companies, of course, are banking on your forgetfulness. Keep a calendar and make some extra cash. Total: $140

4. Sharebuilder Account Opening Bonus
I signed up for Sharebuilder to get their new account promotion. The bonus gave me $65 since I have a Costco membership. If I didn't, I still could have banked $50. Following Jonathan's suggestion, I purchased less than $1 worth of stock, then took my bonus money and ran since I don't invest in individual stocks and certainly don't want to pay $15.95 per trade to sell them.

5. Trade King Account Opening Bonus
I earned $100 for opening an account, moving some money around and placing one trade. Net gain after trading fees: $90

6. ING Referrals
I convinced two friends to open an ING account. Total: $20. If I were a new customer, I also could have gotten $25 for opening an account. (Actually, I got a better, $50 promotion that was being offered when I opened my account a few years ago.)

7. American Express Business Credit Card
Just for opening the card and making a purchase, I got a $250 statement credit. Their customer service got very mad when I took my bonus and canceled the card immediately, but that's not my problem. I just don't feel guilty about taking money from a company that rips off thousands of consumers every year and feels no remorse about it.

8. MBNA $100 Opening Bonus Statement Credit
I made one small purchase, and a $100 statement credit was all mine.

9. Sony Card $100 Statement Credit
Have I mentioned that I love statement credits? They're the shortest path to free money.

All in all, I made about $1250 doing these things, and it was very easy. If you'd like to give it a shot, I recommend creating a spreadsheet to help you keep track of your new cards and accounts, when you opened them, what bonus they are offering, when you should receive the bonus by, and when you need to cancel the card by in order to avoid an annual fee (if there is one). Otherwise, you're likely to forget about one of your accounts and possibly incur some hefty fees. That's what the credit card companies are hoping for, of course, but you're in this game to win it! So keep you eyes peeled for offers, stay on top of your accounts, and beat the credit card companies at their own game.

Photo by evanleavitt

Saving Money on Common Household Items

Paper napkins and paper towels: I save money on napkins and papertowels by minimizing my use of them. They are a recurring cost, and I hate those. Dish towels, on the other hand, can last for years and years, often do a better job of cleaning up or preventing messes, and can be quite cheap if you buy them wisely. I don't use paper napkins at all, and I have a large stash of rags that I sometimes use instead of paper towels. Of course, it costs money to launder rags, and that's a hidden cost--I don't know how much it costs me to do a load of laundry. To cut my paper towel costs, I make sure to always buy them on sale. I don't buy the cheapest paper towels available, since they don't work well and I'm looking for the best value, not the cheapest thing out there. But I don't pay more than $1 per roll. I like Bounty, in case you were wondering (though if they weren't so expensive, I'd buy Viva).

Hand soap: Purchased individually, hand soap can cost anywhere from $1 for a standard 7 oz. dispenser to $20 or more for high-end soaps (a total waste of money, in my opinion). However, I purchased a 64 oz. container of Dial, which came with a full 7 oz. dispenser, for just $5 at Target. That's the equivalent of a little more than 10 bottles of soap for $5, or 50 cents per bottle. By purchasing your soap in bulk, you cut your soap costs in half, not to mention that you won't have to shop for it nearly as often. Combine coupons and/or sales with the already low cost of buying hand soap in bulk and you'll save even more. Just make sure you like the way it smells before you stock up!

Dish soap: I find that dish soap is too concentrated. Also, while I only need a drop or two to clean a dish, I end up pouring out far more. So to make my dish soap the strength I like it, I mix half a bottle of dish soap with half a bottle of water. If you don't have a spare bottle around to make the mixture right away, just wait until your current bottle is half empty then fill it up with half water. When the bottle runs out, make sure to keep it so that when you buy more dish soap you can create the half and half mixture right away. Dish soap is already inexpensive, so this tip won't make you rich, but every little bit adds up.

Cleaning supplies: Cleaning with baking soda and vinegar is very effective in some situations and very inexpensive. For example, I liberally sprinkled my very dirty cutting board with baking soda, poured vinegar over it, and let it fizz. Then I wiped up the mess with a sponge. I couldn't believe how well the solution worked! Stuff that had been stuck on the board for weeks came right off. My cutting board hasn't been this clean since I bought it. Note that I do not ever put meat or fish on this particular cutting board. If I did, a different cleaning method would be in order because the board would need to be sterilized.

How I Get Coupons for Organic Products

I purchase a lot of organic products, so the coupons that come out in the Sunday paper and that arrive in my mailbox are generally useless to me. I decided to try emailing or leaving comments on the websites of the organic product companies whose products I eat regularly, like Amy's, Horizon, and Luna Bar.

It seems that complaints may get better rewards than compliments. I complimented Horizon and Larabar. Larabar sent nothing and Horizon sent two 55 cent off coupons. I told Amy's and Luna Bar that I really loved their products, but that I hadn't enjoyed a particular product of theirs. Amy's sent me three coupons for a free product of my choice plus two $1 off coupons and two $0.55 cent off coupons, all because I didn't think one of their products had enough sauce. Luna Bar sent me six chai latte bars when I mentioned that the chai bars I purchased always seemed to be hard.

I also found printable coupons for the taking on the Soy Delicious website.

The moral of the story seems to be that if you want a coupon for a specific product, writing to the company will usually work. And if you have a complaint, you should always submit it! You never know what freebies you might end up with.

Saving Money on Wireless Internet

How much do you pay for internet service each month? For me, it was going to cost upwards of $50 (since I don’t already have phone or cable service), which I just can’t justify when I have full access to the net for 40 hours a week at work plus all weekend at my boyfriend’s house. There are definitely times when it’s convenient to be able to look up driving directions from home though, or when it’s nice to be able to watch TV while doing time consuming tasks like uploading photos.

I actually pay nothing for wireless internet, and I don’t steal it, either. How did I pull this off? I put up a notice in the mail area of my apartment offering to pay for access to any fellow resident’s wireless network. As it turns out, one of my neighbors pays so little for adding it on to her phone bill that she wasn’t even willing to charge me, but she was willing to share her WEP password. So now I have free internet for as long as she lives there, and I got to know my neighbor a little better, too.

I’m no computer geek, and I know there are probably some security issues involved in doing this. If you know what those are, please leave a comment.

Simple Steps to Wealth

Last year, a colleague of mine gave a speech where he explained that we would need $1 million to retire. At the time, I thought he was crazy. I knew that there was no way I'd ever be able to earn enough to save that kind of money. At that point in my life, I didn't even see the point in saving money because I thought that even if I saved $400 a month for the next 40 years, I would still have nowhere near enough money to retire. If that was the case, why save at all, except for emergencies and major purchases? So that was all I did.

Fortunately, I started reading books about wealth building shortly thereafter, and I quickly learned that saving $1 million by the time I was 65 was not only a reasonable and attainable goal but one I would probably be able to exceed. I learned that through both the everyday choices that you make in how to spend your money and learning a bare minimum about investing, almost anyone can have a comfortable retirement and even live comfortably along the way. In case you haven't yet had the same epiphany that I've had, I'd like to give you some simple, practical steps that you can take that will not only help you become more comfortable financially but just as importantly give you the confidence that you can do it.

First of all, don't ignore the small stuff. The kind of toilet paper you buy says as much about you as the kind of car you drive. At Trader Joe's, you can get 12 rolls of toilet paper for $3.50. I have yet to find a better deal or even a comparable deal at a mainstream store, even Target (though warehouse clubs might be cheaper). Looking for small savings on everyday purchases will add up to significant savings over the course of even one year, let alone over the course of a lifetime. In addition to finding out which stores have the lowest everyday prices on the items you most commonly buy, keep your eyes out for sales and coupons, and stock up on items you purchase frequently when you're able to get them at a discount instead of waiting until you need them and are willing to pay the highest price. Learning how to save money on the small stuff will increase your confidence in managing your money. Also, saving money is generally even more effective than making more money because you don't pay any taxes on the dollar you save when you use a coupon, but you pay as much as 50 cents on any extra dollars you earn.

Second, don't ignore the big stuff. It doesn't matter how much money you save on the small purchases if you don't put that money into a savings account. It's common knowledge in finance circles that you should save a minimum of 10% of your income in order to be financially successful. I've always taken that to an extreme and tried to save 33% of my income. When I only made $900 a month, I lived off of $600. If you don't think it's possible to save 10% of your income, or if you aren't sure how to save as much as you'd like to, just ask me or any financially savvy person you know. They will probably not only be able to help you with minimal effort, but really enjoy doing it. There are many simple ways to cut your ongoing expenses that will make it quite painless to save that extra money each and every month. As you watch your bank balance grow, you'll gain confidence that you can be one of the haves rather than the have nots. While you're at it, make sure to put your savings in an account that earns real interest, like a money market account or an online savings account. Right now, you can identify these accounts because they are paying upwards of 5% interest while bank savings accounts are paying less than one tenth of that. Two accounts I like and can vouch for are Fidelity's money market account and ING Direct's savings account.

Third, educate yourself. It's actually very easy to learn the basics of sound financial management and investing even if you are not a math or business-minded person. If you're reading this article, you're already on the right track! Several books that I recommend are The Secrets of Wealth by Fabio Marciano, The Only Investing Guide You'll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias, and Mutual Funds for Dummies by Eric Tyson and Jim Collins. Also make sure to educate yourself about credit cards, because this is one of the most common areas where people can get into serious financial trouble. It's actually possible to make a lot of money off of credit card companies if you know how to play your cards. Credit card companies are constantly giving out incredible bonuses for signing up for their cards. But whether you're trying to qualify for one of these promotions or whether you're just trying to avoid finance charges and interest, it's important to understand how credit cards work and how to avoid becoming a victim. Once you are armed with a basic knowledge of personal finance and credit card management, you'll feel like money controls you--you'll know that money is something you control.

Most people think that the wealthy own expensive things and drive fancy cars. But the true hallmarks of a millionaire are an online savings account, a well-used library card, a cabinet full of cheap toilet paper, and a wallet full of coupons. You can do that, right?

Is Craigslist Worth the Hassle?

Many folks swear by getting free or cheap stuff on Craigslist, but for me, it just isn't worth the hassle. This is partly because I live in a large city and most of the items listed on Craiglist at any given time will be a) already taken or b) too far away to be worth the effort.

I think that the kind of person who is most likely to have success on Craigslist a) owns a pickup truck or other large vehicle (for large purchases) b) is strong and has access to extra help (again, for large purchases) c) lives in a small city, d) has lots of free time to stay on top of ads and pick up merchandise, and e) is not picky.

I've gone to look at a couch I saw on Craigslist before and found it to be a real waste of time. The couch looked much nicer in the photo than it did in real life so I wasted about an hour driving back and forth to go look at it.

Ebates, Fatwallet, Citi Dividend Mall, and Airline Merchant Networks

Whenever you make a purchase online, it's a good idea to see what sorts of bonuses or discounts you might be able to get. By first visiting sites like Ebates, Fatwallet, Citi Dividend Mall (for Citi credit card holders) and the various airline merchant networks you can earn some cash back or frequent flyer miles on a surprising number of purchases. Many merchants are featured on all of these sites (such as The Gap) but some are only featured on one or two (such as Tiger Direct) so I find that it's helpful to look around.

When you sign up for Ebates, you'll get $5 cash back credited to your account, which you will receive after earning $5 more in cash back. I've made $60 in cash back from Ebates this year, in part because I was able to earn credit for some larger business purchases. Sometimes you'll find killer deals on Ebates. For example, I used them to try My Wines Direct and got $10 off my purchase plus 7% cash back.

FatWallet also provides a $5 incentive for signing up and works similarly to Ebates. However, I prefer Ebates because they get your cash back to you faster.

The Citi Merchant Network allows you to increase the power of you cash back credit card. I currently have the Citi Dividend card that gives 5% cash back on gas, supermarkets, and drugstores (unfortunately, this card has been discontinued so new applicants cannot get it and I'm sure they won't renew mine when it expires next year). By first going to Citi's website, signing in, and then clicking on a link to the merchant you want to shop with, you can get 5% cash back on all kinds of retail purchases (the offers vary; not all are this high). Airline merchant networks work similarly.

The key to all of these sites is the clickthrough. You must always visit Ebates/Fatwallet/Citi Merchant Network/airline merchant networks first, sign in, then click on their link to the store you want to visit in order to get your cash back. Some programs post your rewards sooner than others--you may see your reward in as quickly as a couple of days or as much as a month. I always worry that my bonus won't come through, but it always has.

I've tried to be thorough with this article, but if I've missed anything or there's anything that's not clear to you, please leave me a comment and I will get back to you asap. I would love to teach you how to get these deals.

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This site complies with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. This site is not specifically directed to children under 18. If this site has been informed or unintentionally collected or received information from a child under 18, we will immediately delete such information from our databases. This site shall not knowingly distribute any personally identifiable information erroneously collected from children under 18.

Policy Changes
With or without prior notification, we may find it necessary or be legally obligated to update this Privacy Policy from time to time. All changes will be posted at this site. Except as otherwise required by law, modifications to this Privacy Policy will not affect the privacy of data collected by us prior to the effective date of the policy change.