There’s nothing like the week after Christmas to get me started thinking about my goals for the new year. One of my biggest goals for 2012 is to pay off debt and save money toward my family’s ranching goal. I’m not a natural saver, but I found some helpful online tools this year and plan on using them even more in 2012. These easy tips won’t likely save you thousands, but even a few dollars here and there really add up!
Search online through Swagbucks
Swagbucks.com is an online search engine like Google or Yahoo, except that when you search through the site online you randomly earn points called Swagbucks. The site is free (and very reputable – almost all bloggers and deal seekers online use it) and easy to use and the points can be redeemed for gift cards, electronics and thousands of other things. I found that the best value for the points in the $5 Amazon.com gift card. Just by searching online like I normally do, I earn $5 to spend at Amazon once every month or month and a half. The site has dozens of other ways to earn points faster. Doing surveys, inviting friends, taking the daily poll and watching videos all help you earn more points. I know several people who paid for most of their Christmas gifts with Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks.
Use cash back sites
Whenever I make a purchase online I always check out Ebates.com and Shopathome.com to see how much cash back they are giving (and go with the site that’s giving the most that day). Almost all stores are part of these sites and give 3 % to over 20% back on purchases. To earn money through Shop at Home and Ebates, just sign up on their home page and then click through their site to go to the store you want to purchase from. The only downfall is that you have to wait 60-90 days to get your cash back check or PayPal deposit. But, hey, it’s like free money and it doesn’t cost you a thing to do it!
Shop with gift cards
Almost all Kroger grocery stores (like King Soopers or Dillons) sell gift cards to dozens of popular stores and give you points for money off fuel when you purchase them. Whenever I know I am going to make a purchase in a store, I buy a gift card or two to pay for it. For instance, I bought a $50 Cabela’s gift card for a Christmas present and earned 4 times the value in points on the purchase (the stores often have different promotions on gift card point values). So I earned 200 points, which equaled $0.20 off per gallon of fuel in a single purchase. So again, not a lot of savings, but a few dollars for a few extra minutes of effort is worth it to me.
Use financial software
There are many free financial software sites online. Keeping track of your finances helps you avoid costly mistakes and extra charges. One site I really like is Mint.com. The secure site is free to use (the ads are a bit annoying sometimes) and provides a snapshot of all your accounts in one spot. You can see your bank accounts, loans, and credit cards all at once. The site provides budgeting tools too and customizable email alerts about your accounts. My parents pay for software called Quicken ($60-$70 a year) and really like it – especially how easy it makes sorting their deductions for taxes.
Make a Menu Plan
I waste more money on groceries than on anything else I think! When I stick with a menu plan I know that I keep my costs much lower. Menu planning is often an inconvenience for my spontaneous mind, but it is truly worth the effort for you if you want (or need) to save money.
The thing that helped my planning most was making a list of all of the dishes my family likes for each meal. That reference has made planning my meals go much more quickly! Also, for inspiration, every Monday the website Orgjunkie.com hosts a list of hundreds of menu plans from bloggers all over the web.
Check out deal blogs
In 2011 I saved the most money by following the tips on money saving blogs. There are thousands of websites online that provide links to get free products and coupon matchups for local and national stores. For instance, by combining coupons with sales, I think I got enough free toothpaste to last the whole year! Some sites I like are The Thrifty Couple, Money Saving Mom, Mojo Savings and Motherhood on a Dime. Do an online search and you will find more deal sites than you can possibly look at it! These sites really take the effort out of finding good deals for products you need.
When trying to find deals don’t forget about the opportunity cost of your time. It’s not worth 2 hours of your time to save $0.50. (Don’t ask me how I know.) And, of course, it isn’t a good deal if you don’t really need it! Remember that ultimately, saving money is just a way to keep more of the money you earn and helping you get closer to your goal. Next week I’ll give you a few tips on earning more money in 2012.