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Just Started Using Checkout 51 – The Grocery App for Everybody! Really!

I’m not an avid coupon clipper.  In fact, I sort of suck at maximizing store specials, buying seasonally, or any of the other methods that truly help keep grocery shopping cheap.  My regular readers know that I’m not a classic “frugal blogger”.  But I do like easy money.

My friend, Anne, told me about this phone app about a week ago, Checkout 51, and I’ve already earned $3.00 of free money.  Really.  The links in this post are my affiliate links, but I only signed up to be an affiliate after I’d been using this app and then noticed that I told 5 friends about it in 2 days, lol.  This is a grocery store application that everybody can use.  Let me explain…

How It Works

1.  Download the app and sign up.
2.  Shop like normal (all grocery stores or even places like Wal-Mart or Target) and keep your receipt.
3.  Check the app’s current, weekly list for qualifying items after you have that receipt in hand.
4.  Claim free money if something you buy is on their list by submitting a picture of your receipt (super easy).
5.  Get sent money after you hit $20.

Checkout 51

Like I said, I am already at $3.00 in about a week.  And you don’t need to buy anything extra, just claim what matches anyway.  No need to change your spending habits or anything like that.  Oh, and if you use coupons to buy whatever it is that you are claiming, that’s fine.  They only care about what items make it to your receipts that are also on their weekly list.

Sample List

Here’s a sample list of qualifying items that are valid until 11:59 PM on Wednesday, July 9 2014.  Their lists change every week.

Pepsi
20 fl oz or more. Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Burger patties
Any frozen or fresh variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Hamburger buns
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Bell peppers
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Amy’s Organic Soups
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Earth Balance natural buttery spreads
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Wyman’s of Maine frozen fruit
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.25

Select Ken’s Vinaigrette Dressings
Valid on Blue Cheese Vinaigrette, Lite Strawberry Vinaigrette, or Lite Apple Cider Vinaigrette.
Cash back: $0.60

McCormick® Grill Mates® Steak Sauce
Any variety.
Cash back: $1.00

Carmex Lip Balm
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.30

World Peas
Any variety.
Cash back: $1.00

Buy 2: Nongshim Noodle Soups
Any variety. Excludes Bowl Noodles. Items must appear on the same receipt.
Cash back: $0.50

Buy 2: Blue Dragon Products
Any variety. Items must appear on the same receipt.
Cash back: $1.50

HALLS Drops Bags
Bags 17 count or higher, any variety.
Cash back: $0.50

Glade® PlugIns® Scented Oil Customizables™ Starter Kit
Any Glade® Customizables™ Starter Kit.
Cash back: $2.00

Glade Jar® Candle
Any variety.
Cash back: $0.50

Glade® Wax Melts
Any variety. Excludes Glade® Wax Melt Warmer.
Cash back: $1.00

Try It Out

Overall, it’s just a simple extra way to save a few bucks overall.  I think it’s ingenious!  Let me know what you think!

10 Tips to Save Money

Here’s an oldie but goodie from early 2011!  :-)

Here are my top 10 tips to save money:

1. Save Automatically.

Setting up automatic contributions is the best way, in my opinion, to save money. It is simply harder to spend money that you can’t see. I’d suggest starting by contributing the minimum to your 401(k) to get the maximum company match. Then take a look at Roth IRA’s. If you don’t qualify, think about saving automatically to an account that you can use to invest in whatever you wish.

2. Prioritize Your Spending.

It’s much easier to say no to a fancy new car if you know that you rather fully fund your Roth IRA. If you know you absolutely adore your smart phone, maybe it will be easier to save elsewhere, like a magazine subscription you barely have time for.  Prioritization is key.

3. Give up Expensive Habits.

Smoking comes to mind first simply since I saw a man in front of me at Kroger pay $7 for one pack! OUCH. Drinking, bar hopping, drugs, soda…any regular habit that costs money adds up fast. We’re saving about $250 a year now that we’ve given up our daily soda habit!

4. Find cheap hobbies.

Blogging and board gaming have been awesome for me. Blogging has actually turned into a money making opportunity and board gaming is only as expensive as allowed. We buy less than $250 worth of board games a year and we are entertained weekly. The trick is to find a hobby that you crave to be a part of that costs way less than the normal ways you spend your time.

5. Change to less expensive activities.

My husband has paused Curling (the ice sport) for the last 2 years and has saved more than $1000.  His hobby jobs and board gaming have taken up this time.  :-)  It is all about prioritization. If we ever needed extra cash, expensive activities would be the first to go.

6. Cook at Home More.

This only saves money if you learn to cook using inexpensive ingredients. My mom is the queen of a yummy one-pot meal. I personally have started jumping into all recipes that use ground beef or turkey as the main ingredient, lol.

7. Make Grocery Lists.

This is a life saver if you actually follow your list. You have control over what goes into your cart…if you keep that in mind, you can save hundreds of dollars every month or two.

8. Compare Prices for Your Different Monthly Services Annually.

I call around for cable, internet, and insurance quotes every year and have kept our bills at the same or better rates they were 5 years ago. A 10 minute call can really pay off.

9. Make Long-Term Goals.

Goals keep your mind from wandering when a nice but expensive what-not pops up. Our early retirement goal keeps me driving my cruddy Aveo simply so I can continue to save instead of making monthly payments.

10. Re-Evaluate Your Housing Costs.

We were paying $730 for a one-bedroom apartment that was 1000 square feet in 2006. We realized that we’d only have to pay a few thousand more a year to own a home and build some equity. Then we had a $740 a month mortgage and spent $2300 a year property taxes by early 2007.  Now we have paid that home off, use it as a rental, and bought our next home.  If you take into account the rental income, we’re paying less than $600 a month now for our dream home including the property taxes of both houses and our current mortgage payment.  Renting out a room on and off for the last 6 years helped a lot too.

What other everyday tips do you have for us?

Short-Term and Long-Term Savings Options

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The following is a guest post from Shelli Elledge at Written FYI.  Shelli is a business analyst whose interests are personal finance and healthy lifestyles.  Some of her financial ideas differ from the mainstream, but she offers additional viewpoints about saving and investment.  (Crystal’s Note:  She’s also a sweety, so be nice whether you agree or not with her non-typical option, lol.)

In many ways, savings, investment, and retirement plans are viewed differently than in the recent past few years.  Although the concept of saving for emergencies, large ticket items, and retirement is still the same, the tools are not as effective as they once were.  The traditional plans, including money market accounts, IRAs and pension plans, are under scrutiny as to their stability in today’s economic climate and are questionable as to whether they are user friendly.

Savings and Money Markets

Savings or money market accounts earn miniscule amounts of interest, and then the interest earnings are taxed at the end of the year.  This is nothing new.  It means that the earnings on these types of accounts do not keep pace with the rate of inflation.  To me, these types of accounts are not viewed as interest-earning but are simply a location to store one’s liquidity for temporary or short-term purposes.

IRA’s

Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) are retirement plans provided by various financial institutions.  There are several different types but the overall benefit is the tax advantage.  However, some of the disadvantages are that early withdrawals are penalized, mandatory withdrawals at certain age limits, meeting exemption requirements for withdrawals, and distribution amount requirements.  In a nutshell, the most unappealing part is the tracking, the restrictions, the penalties . . . well, you get the picture.

Pensions

Pension plans are not as common today as they used to be.  Many corporations have replaced it with the more-common 401k plan.  However, pension plans are still used by many government agencies as retirement plans for city, county, and state workers.

To put it another way, it’s the retirement plan that first-responders, firefighters, police men and women, and teachers, and other service workers rely on.  Yes, the same public service workers who protect and serve the public’s needs on a daily basis.  And it’s also the same type of plan that is being scrutinized in Detroit today because of that city’s dire financial problems.  Many retirees and future retirees are playing the waiting game and are anxious to see how the bankruptcy proceedings play out.  Although the immediate impact will be felt in Detroit, many other American cities are in similar situations.

Non-Typical

So, if the typical savings and retirement vehicles aren’t really so attractive, what choices do we have to house funds for long-term?  What I’ve done over the years is taken out whole life insurance policies.  I know . . I hear the groans now but don’t shut me off yet.

My husband and I both have term insurance policies as well as whole life insurance policies.  Term insurance is cheapest and we consider it a safety net in case we die.  After all, it’s the cheapest type of life insurance.  However, our whole life policies we have long considered avenues for long-term savings – with a death benefit.  Yes, it is more expensive but it does more things.

For example, we’ve used our policies to buy real estate because we’re able to access cash value in the accounts.  The insurance company considers them loans and we still pay them back, but the funds are liquid and it’s available for us to use.  There are no early withdrawal penalties and earnings on the funds housed in our policy are not taxed.  It forces us to put set aside funds, yes, just like we would set aside funds for a savings or retirement account.  But we are putting our funds in a life insurance policy, which is a financial tool that we should have anyway.

What sorts of accounts do you use?

Conscious Spending – Back in the Groove

Since we do want to build back up our $10,000 emergency fund as quickly as possible (you can click here to read about the dental bills that are wiping it out), we have decided to do several things:

  • Mr. BFS is signing up to officiate as many football games as possible between September and November.  That should bring in about $4000.
  • He is also looking into tutoring opportunities to use all of his teaching experience.  Those can pay between $18-$25 pretty easily.
  • I am looking for more babysitting and petsitting opportunities since I enjoy it.  That doesn’t make a ton, but it’s fun to me.
  • I may be taking a part-time marketing position for a friend of a friend’s air conditioning business since he needs some experienced help.  We’ll see how that turns out by the end of this week or after we get back from our cruise.
  • We are making sure to spend consciously.  That means we literally think about every purchase we make to ensure it’s worth it.

The Return to True Conscious Spending

Mr. BFS and I aren’t spendthrifts.  But if you’ve read my blog for even a week or two, you probably figured out that we are not in the “frugal blogger” niche at all either.  We save at least 10% for retirement, invest at least 10% (either real estate or stocks), save for large other goals, and spend the rest.  We truly believe it is possible to budget in a fun life even while you are responsibly handling your future.  We live that way.

So, in the last few years, we have pretty much stopped sweating the small stuff.  We have concentrated on the big picture and moved on with our lives.  For example, we saved up more than $100,000 over 18 months to pay off our first home’s mortgage and to put down 20% on our new home at the same time.  But we also splurge for $700 food bills each month, a $200 housekeeper, and $80 a month for lawn care.  We prioritize regularly to make sure that we are getting the most use and enjoyment out of our money spent.

Honestly, I think that is the mentally healthiest way for us to live since I am detail-oriented to a fault when I really get going.  BUT, we know we can shave off about $1000 a month in spending if we truly evaluate every purchase and only spend when it’s worth it to us.

So for the next few months at least, we are going back to our post-college selves.  We are asking ourselves “This or the emergency fund?” about everything.  So far, it has helped us avoid spending extra on convenience food, home stuff, and even a few little things that we just liked when we saw them on Amazon.  Gifts are becoming a little cheaper but very thought out.  We have started eating at home before we leave to meet friends somewhere.  I’ve even been limiting myself to a one-drink minimum ($4) plus water at the karaoke bar I have started going to with our friend, B.

This is Most Likely Temporary

Based on these last couple of weeks, I know that we can totally do this for the rest of the year.  But once our emergency fund is back up to $10,000, I bet we return to looking at the big picture.  Analyzing every expense is work.  It’s not difficult, but it also isn’t enjoyable.  It was necessary years ago, but not now.  I liked being able to aim for just not spending more than a certain target number.  I understand that we splurged regularly, and I am okay with that.  My main reason for not being a frugal blogger is that I think it’s generally a big time suck.

I value time way more than money.  I waste it just like everyone else, but I like knowing that I am wasting it by choice when watching Dr. Who or something.  Thinking about small expenses all of the time and avoiding $1 McDonald’s drinks is an excellent way to save up money fast, but in the end, I think that not worrying about stuff like that worked better for us.

We had to do it right after college to save up to buy our first house and get the life that we wanted.  It makes sense to do it when times are tough.  And we are choosing to do it now to save up $10,000 faster than we could by just waiting for it to accumulate.

Think of this as proof that conscious spending works.  But on the flip side, it is also okay to choose a less frugal lifestyle (without going overboard) if you have the money to do so.  I don’t think it’s healthy to live paycheck-to-paycheck since it’s super stressful and it all can crumble with one bad month.  But I also don’t think that it’s necessary to crack down on yourself forever even when you are saving appropriately anyway.  In short, finding your own happy balance is the key.  Temporary visits to different sides of that balance can work too though, lol.

What do you think?  Balance?  Spendthrifty?  Frugal?  What is your way of living?

Checking in on Our Automation – Our Finances in Review

For the last few months, I’ve let our finances basically go on auto-pilot since we do make enough to pay our bills and save some for the future.  I was watching everything like a hawk daily last year since we were buying the house, so I set everything up this year to make it pretty easy to handle again.

Automation Kicks Butt

We have automatic payments set up in our blog income account to auto-transfer biweekly paychecks to our checking account.  All of our bills (except the stupid water bill on the new house) are automatically charged to our credit cards or drafted from our checking account depending on what the billing company accepts.  The water bill has a 5% fee for having it auto-drafted, so I get the bank to send them a real check every month through bill pay.

Other than that, I only log on for about two hours every month to print off our credit card statements, enter everything into our budget, and once I verify all of the charges were ours, I set up the credit cards to draft their payment from our checking account.  I also use that same time to move any extra money to the savings account or investment that we are working on at the time.

So our finances are handled with about 2-2.5 hours of work per month.

Reviewing Our Finances

The odd thing is that even though this is working for us – in fact, it’s awesome for us – I still can’t help but to want to review everything in detail every few months.  I guess that’s great since it means that I am keeping an eye on everything, but it also means that my anal side is showing.  Oh well.

Here is what I’ve decided for right now:

  • Our emergency fund is going to take a $6000 hit in a couple of weeks for hubby’s dental stuff, so refilling our emergency fund is becoming a priority.
  • The automation is working well, but we could stand to review all of our little splurges and see if there are any painless cuts that can be made again.
  • We need to make up our minds on whether to fully fund hubby’s Roth IRA this year as planned or save that $5500 towards a down payment on another rental property.
  • Early next year, we’ll need to decide whether to start funding a SEP IRA or use that cash for rental properties too.
  • Overall, we are on track.  All of our bills are covered and we are hitting all of our basic savings and investment goals.  It would be nice to cut our bills down by $500 or so in food and entertainment splurges, but overall, we aren’t hurting ourselves.
  • I really, really miss late 2011 and early 2012…our income was just amazing back then.  But I am very thankful we are still doing well.

Do you automate your finances?  Do you check in on everything anyway too?

Re-Finding the Balance Between Saving, Investing, and Fun

For the past year, we really haven’t been able to stick to a specific plan for saving, investing, and putting aside money for fun.  From April through October 2012, we were stashing away as much cash as possible just to close on our new house that was being built.  From October through December 2012, we were rebuilding cash reserves and making an attack plan to pay off our rent house mortgage.  And from January to early April 2013, we were redirecting all extra money towards that mortgage which is now paid off.  So, for the first time in a year, we could really use a plan that isn’t all-or-nothing.

The New Plan

Mr. BFS really misses the balance that we had up until this time last year between paying our bills, saving for our future, and budgeting in the fun stuff .  He wants to get back on track.  I agreed that it was time to step back and breathe a little.  So here is our new spending and savings plan…

Step One – Cover the Stuff in Our Budget

Here is our current budget of necessary expenses, chosen luxuries, and the new-to-us car savings goal that we need to be able to cover every month no matter what…

  • Income Taxes – $2500
  • New-to-Us Car Fund – $500
  • Home Mortgage – $990
  • Home Insurance/Property Taxes/HOA – $750
  • Rent House Home Insurance/Property Taxes – $275
  • Health Insurance – $360
  • Life Insurance – $30
  • Car Insurance – $55
  • Electricity – $175
  • Water – $60
  • Natural Gas – $40
  • Gasoline – $150
  • Eating Out – $250
  • Groceries – $250
  • Sprint – $150
  • Cable/Internet (DSL) – $120
  • Medicines – $20
  • Toll Roads – $25
  • Housekeeping – $175 (average over the year)
  • Lawn – $80 (average over the year)
  • Miscellaneous – $200
  • Cash – $100
  • Total Expenses = $7255

Then comes the fun part.  :-D  We bring in about $8000 a month from the business and at least $2000 from rent house and reffing income that Mr. BFS brings in.  So, in a normal month, it looks like we’ll have about $3000 extra to leverage how we wish.  Here is what we came up with.

Percentage Breakdown

Here is how we are allocating the monthly extra until our 2013 Roth IRA’s are taken care of:

  • Roth IRA’s – 60%
  • Emergency Fund – 10%
  • Rental Property Maintenance Fund – 10%
  • Mortgage Payoff – 10%
  • Vacation Account – 5%
  • Fun Money Accounts – 5%

Long Term Plans

We aren’t 100% on all of our long-term plans, but we do know we want to be financially independent as soon as possible.  That mostly means that we want to work towards complete debt freedom and funneling more into our retirement planning.  With that in mind, when the Roth IRA’s are fully funded, we will be opening a SEP IRA and Mr. BFS will start investing in some of our favorite stocks again.  In fact, we may end up doing it this way every year – fully fund all of the Roth IRA’s and then move on to putting as much into the SEP IRA and stocks as we realistically can while still having fun with 10-20% of the extra too.

Anyway, thanks for reading along as we figure stuff out.  How have you been doing?  Anything you want to just let out?

I Succumbed to Groupon

Yep, I didn’t Groupon.  Then I tried it once.  And now I think I am a Groupon regular.  I wouldn’t call myself an avid user yet, but I definitely have figured out the draw…

My First Groupon

Okay, so my first Groupon was actually a gift that I simply repeated.  My younger sister wrote Mr. BFS and me a really sweet thank you note in January when she moved in…and accompanying the note was a $10 Groupon to Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt (OLFY).  You already know that I think frozen yogurt is crack (and my sister knew too since she reads my blog, lol), so that was like the best thank you gift ever!

We ended up using the Groupon together later the same week and it worked just as advertised.  We got our yogurt, checked out with the Groupon, and successfully got $10 of credit for a $5 Groupon purchase overall.  So my younger sister sent me a referral link a few days later, I signed up, and I bought a $5 Groupon for $10 at OLFY that we used a couple of weeks later.  Yay for yummy firsts!

(Side note:  If you end up wanting to try Groupon out after this, please feel free to use my referral code:  http://www.groupon.com//raf/UserReferral_rp/121015/10r1act/lk/uu46873974)

My Groupons to Date

Since January, I have bought 5 other Groupons.  Having more friends that live close by has led to more activities including seeing movies in actual theaters instead of just our media room (although, we do enjoy Redbox movie nights very frequently too).  So all 5 of my other Groupons so far have been to movie theaters.  :-)

  • I bought 2 Groupons for $8 that covered 2 movie tickets to our local Movie Tavern.  So, a ticket for hubby and me twice for a total of $16, which is half price ($32 total value).  We used those pretty quickly.
  • Then I bought 3 tickets to the Studio Movie Grill for $19.50 total that covered three evening shows and a free drink with each ticket ($36 value total).  My friends and I used those the same night.
  • Finally, I have 2 Groupons for 2 movie tickets each waiting for the Alamo Drafthouse that I bought for $18 (a $40 value).  They expire towards the end of April, but I think we will be using them at the end of March for a group outing.

How to Use a Groupon

They try to make it really easy.  Here is how it boiled down for me:

  1. Go to Groupon (hopefully via my referral link) and enter your location.
  2. Either browse the results or try searching for a specific category or place.
  3. When you find one that interests you, click on the title or the green button that says “View Deal”.
  4. READ ALL OF THE DETAILS so you know exactly what you are buying and when it expires.  Remember, READ IT ALL!
  5. If you find one you want, click “BUY” and it will take you to a checkout screen.
  6. If you have a gift code, check the box that says “Use a promotion or gift code”.
  7. If not, fill out your checkout info and submit by clicking “Complete Order”.
  8. Once your order is complete, you can print your Groupon or find it in “My Groupons” anytime you log into your account.
  9. Follow the instructions on the Groupon for redemption you will be good to go!  One of my close friends usually uses her smart phone to get her Groupons redeemed since the bar code is scannable.  I print mine out since I am always worried about my cell phone battery.  Either way, it works.

Tricks of Grouponing Correctly

I know you’ve probably heard of amazing deals AND horror stories about group discount sites.  I have.  Some of my friends and family swear by Groupon while a few people I’ve spoken to seem to think they are like payday bad credit loans.  There seems to be some definite rules that you have to set for yourself:

  1. Don’t buy a Groupon for anything that you wouldn’t have done anyway, UNLESS
  2. You specifically are buying a Groupon to try something new that you already had on your mind.

If you don’t already go to that movie theater, event, or restaurant AND you never even thought about it before you saw that Groupon in front of your face, DON’T BUY IT!  You probably won’t use it.  It only turns out to be a good deal if you use the suckers an have a great time for like half price.  :-D

Do you Groupon too?  Why or why not?  :-)