Monday, January 16, 2012

Savings Idea #6: Earn by Buying

There are many ways to earn money by selling off unwanted goods, as discussed last week. But you can easily earn money with little input with these Internet ideas.

Review your purchases at Epinions, and earn money on them indefinitely. Be sure to check in frequently, or lose your balance. Electronics and travel reviews are popular.

If you shop online and don’t use a shopping portal, someone’s losing money. You can shop through various charity portals; Box Tops for Education hosts 150 popular online retailers; click through the BT4E website and earn eBox Tops for your preferred school. Or you can get the cash back yourself. Our favorite online portal is FatWallet. The stores listed give you between 1% and 15% cash back on your purchases at their sponsored retailers, real cash which you can have delivered to your PayPal account or receive via check mailed to your home.

Register your grocery cards with Upromise, or your most favored credit card with a restaurant loyalty rewards program. These programs give you cash back, essentially, for purchases. Be careful, though; Upromise will send your earnings to the aforementioned escheats division in your state if you fail to login for 3 years.

Planning to get a credit card? Get one that gives you more; airline miles, hotel points, or cash back are all earnings that save you money in the long run.

Again, think creatively! Some stores, including WalMart, may pay YOU to take their goods home. Using coupons and store promotions, you can occasionally get the price of an item down to a negative number. WalMart, Kroger, and other stores return the change as a store gift card. This also works at drug stores with cash-back register rewards. If you have a coupon for an item that is going to earn you a rewards coupon on a future purchase equal to the amount of the item (buy a toothbrush at $2, get a $2-off reward), you can earn money by involving a cents-off MCP for that item.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Savings Idea #5: Use. Reuse. Repeat. (then Recycle.)

It sounds so simple to use and reuse what you have until it’s no longer useful. Each time I huddle under one of Granny’s quilts, I’m reminded that recycling and reusing is an old, old idea. When I compare our new modern home’s amenities to the storage and electrical output of our former home, I realize that they didn’t have as many outfits, sets of dishes, or electronics in 1935 as we do three-quarters-of-a-century later. They reused items until they had to be torn apart to be useful, and then they composted the remains out by the garage. Our old home has an in-ground trash bin outside for garbage pickup, which is roughly the size of our office recycling can (maybe 4 gallons). Clearly they used less, and reused more than we do; the lifecycle of their goods was, in many cases, a lifetime.

Over the last decades, retailers have ramped up their efforts, and are constantly trying to hurry that cycle along so that you buy new goods more often, resulting in “can’t live without” upgraded models and planned obsolescence. Many people have bought into this system, and when their shoes get dirty they buy new ones.

Granny’s philosophy was: If you’re going to throw it out, why not try cleaning it up first? Use and reuse until it’s dirt.

Case: My sons’ Robeez slipper shoes, bought with love by Grandma, were serving as the twoddler’s everyday wear inside the house. They resemble moccasins, and after a couple of month’s punishment and a few stomps in spilt milk, the soles resembled banana peels. They were dangerous. So I washed them with soap and water, and scraped the soles with a serrated knife, roughening the soles as ballerinas do. Ten minutes in the dryer on ultra-low, and these leather shoes were ready-to-wear once more. We got two more week’s wear out of them, and I'll donate these refurbished shoes when I get around to it.

If I have something I can no longer use, even if it's heavily used (like the Robeez) but not torn or badly stained, then I donate. Some balk at giving away heavily used goods, but I say to them: "Some poor people just watched their homes with all their possessions float downriver, get repossessed, crumble in an earthquake, or become a really big bonfire." Granny used to say: "Some poor people have nothing at all," and she'd know; she grew up in the Ozarks, and was a self-labeled "dirt farmer" before moving on to better things. People who have "nothing at all" will be glad for some shoes and clothes that aren't completely worn out.

I also buy items that do double duty. Kids’ toys, for example. A simple set of blocks can entertain a 6-month-old as a chew toy, an 18-month-old as a building set… but one with printed letters, numbers, and symbols can be used again to teach when the child is learning the alphabet. Later, the blocs return to their status as just a building tool. Boppy pillows. I collected several of these, I think 4, and they were useful when my kids were newborns. As crawlers, the Boppys came in handy to soften their space. Now, they are perfect first pillows for toddlers. A pillow, after all, is always a useful item around small children. I imagine them at five, snuggling the Boppy’s in the back seat on our way to a theme park.

But here’s why I bring up these Boppy’s: I was shocked to rediscover a use for them when my boys turned 16 months, because I’d gotten locked into the manufacturer’s vision for the product’s purpose. Now, we’re going through about 190 boxes, and I’ve finally got the “leisure time” (during the twoddler's naps) to sort through a couple a day. I can really consider whether to donate the item, refurbish the item (steam an old carpet, fix chipped goods), or repurpose the item. If it's broken or trash, I recycle the components.

Your Assignment: Look around your house and see what you can repurpose, refurbish, or recycle/donate before you buy a replacement.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Couponing: Where do you find the slippery papers?

More specifically, where do you get several copies of the same great coupon? Because the best way to make a deal work is to find the best deal and beat it to death with as many purchases as allowed by your budget, limits on the coupon (often 4 like coupons for P&G per day), or limits imposed by the store (my local CVS only takes up to 3 a transaction). In Zen Couponing, we stockpile, but it’s a very small pile.

I aim for 4-6 sets of coupon books. That said, if I see (as I do this Thanksgiving), that the black Friday inserts were not only widely unavailable but stolen from my paper in front of my house, then I may go a little farther afield in collecting other coupons. Everyone was ignoring the stack of free P&G inserts over the weekend, which I felt ok about helping myself to late in the game, so I ended up with 14. I aim for a max of 20 in this type of situation. Why 20? Because you can sell the “collection service” and mail them to the winning bidder cheap. But less than 20 of any one coupon is not a large-enough lot for which you can sell your clipping services, if you want to do so. I tried it -- listed 8 sets of coupons on ebay and sold ONE. Not worth the time and trouble, in my book. Still, as a guideline 20 is a really good haul. Getting those P&Gs on a hard weekend where I got few other coupons was satisfying, and will stand me in good stead when I find a really great deal on one of those products. It's a balancing act.

Because 99% of people don’t use their coupons, thieves who rob your paper’s innards – the very ones you’ve bought the paper for – are annoyingly smug. I imagine them thinking, as my old neighbor did about moving my trashcans at his pleasure, that “if you’ve got a problem with me taking your paper/moving your trashcans/trespassing on your property/etc., all you have to do is let me know!” Do let your carrier know, and try to arrange a different delivery location than the public sidewalk. They may be willing to put it in your door, or throw it farther onto the property to discourage petty thievery.

If you do miss some coupons, look in the freebie Gazette paper you normally recycle midweek. The same companies that put out the Sunday paper coupons – Red Plum (RP) and Smart Source (S) – print nearly identical ones for your local paper. You get an advance copy. So go dig last week’s copy out of your recycling bin, and take a look. Other copies of the gazette will be piled up around town, in strip malls, libraries, and public spaces.

Ask for them at stores you frequent. I picked up several at Giant, which doesn’t really print its own coupons. It slaps its label on the MCP, which is a tricky bit of footwork. You can’t use the coupon anywhere else, but neither is it really a store coupon, so you can’t combine it with another MCP. Safeway prints coupons in its weekly circular, available in the Sunday Paper, as do RiteAid, CVS, and other stores. Walgreens also prints its own booklets.

Third, order the Sunday paper. You’ll get the Sunday insert on Saturday, at least with the Washington Post – and by ordering a subscription you’ll save more than a dollar on the cost of a $2 paper. Every week. Right now the Post is running a special (11/11), where you can get a year for 59 cents an issue (70% off!). One common $1 coupon a week will cover it.

Next, you can ask neighbors, relatives, and friends. A recent episode of TLC’s Extreme Couponing noted that 99% of coupons go unused, so people won’t mind donating them.

Dumpster diving may be illegal in your state. Also, diving into dirty papers filled with bugs and possibly the sleeping homeless (paper is warm) is Extreme bordering on Crazy. Be Zen.

Keep an eye out at the store. Tear sheets (pads of coupons attached to the shelves), Catalina Coupons (register printed coupons), ValPaks delivered to your house… all are sources for coupons. These are of course mostly grocery coupons, but the ValPak has coupons for services as well, and often includes restaurant discounts.

Some stores, such as Safeway, allow you to download coupons onto your loyalty card. I haven’t tried this, but it seems like a nice paperless way to do business. It may also reduce errors and “coupon snipping”. However, it doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun.

You can print coupons on the Internet at various sites, but I caution you against allowing crawlers to watch your every move on the Internet. Printing coupons is limited to two prints per computer, so having several computers in our house seemed ideal. But in the end we decided to put my old laptop into service as a sole-purpose couponer. My favorite site is CouponMom, which allows you to view deals, gives you the coupon info., including the pub date, and lets you select deals and print a list.

Lastly, people do clip coupons and sell them as a service to others. That is, they are not selling you the coupon – that’s against the rules and technically invalidates the coupon. Nonetheless coupons are available for sale at various sites, including eBay. I bought the clipping service for 20 $2/2 packs Pampers, and they helped me get that great diaper deal a few weeks ago.

Finding coupons is not a problem. Organizing them might be.....