Last week I started to make some gift purchases. I knew I wanted to maximize every dollar by playing with rebates and cash back offers and so far it has been quite profitable.
I started with my Amazon wishlist where I had been keeping the long list of the stuff the kids had mentioned wanting over the past few months. I created a general budget $600 or $200 for each child. I used Amazon to collect the wishlist items but I also shopped around at other places to compare prices and make sure Amazon was actually the best deal, sometimes they are not but usually they are.
I eventually decided that I would need at least $500 for Amazon purchases. Rather than add the items to my cart and spend the money immediately I went through a couple steps to ensure the most bang for my buck.
I checked my Benefit app to see what the rebate was for buying a gift certificate (GC) through them (3% or $15 cash back). Just by going through them and buying a GC first I save $15. Not bad right? Well, I also decided to do the math and see what I would get back if I bought the GC at Giant Eagle or Kroger. The rebate would be fuel and not cash but if it was more savings than its a no brainer since buying gas to run my car is kind of essential. Giant Eagle came out ahead. If I bought the GC there than I would get $1.00 in fuel perks. That $1.00 can used for up to thirty gallons of gas so that is a $30 rebate.
So 3% with benefit or 6% with Giant Eagle? I chose 6% with Giant Eagle. Also the 3% with Benefit is contingent upon you using your checking account via direct draft and not a credit card. By going with Giant Eagle I was able to use a rewards credit card with 1.5% cash back. I don’t carry a balance so the cash back is just butter on the biscuit.
So….now I am up to 7.5% (or $37.50) off my $500 purchase just because I took 20 minutes to go to the store to buy a gift certificate. But the story does not end there. Now I am ready to make my purchase and there are options for earning rebates there too. Ebates offers up to 7% back and there are a host of other sites that offer options like this. You simply go to Amazon through their link on their site and they earn a commission on your purchases which they then share with you…usually 50% of the commission.
What I tend to do is use Hubpages for my Amazon purchases. I have a number of articles I published to the site and whenever someone clicks on the affiliate links I get 50% of the commission generated and this counts for my own clicks and purchases as well. I just got a check this month from them for $56 and quite a bit of that was cash back on my own purchases made in the previous three months. I use Ebates or Giving Assistant for other online stores.
So far I have only ended up spending $446 dollars of that $500 but by going through my hubpages account to make the purchases I earned $21.86.
Here is the breakdown:
- $30.00 earned by getting a gift certificate
- $7.50 earned by using a cashback credit card
- $21.86 earned by shopping through a source that offer rebates or commissions
I got that $500 gift certificate for $433. Booyah!
I am looking for ways to save money this winter on heating costs. Last winter our peak bill was close to $600. That about knocked our socks off. It of course reminded us that we should have looked through a year’s worth of utility bills prior to buying this house. I don’t know for sure if we would have passed on making the purchase but we probably would have. But now we own it, and we do love it, so it is time to stem the bleeding.
I am going to make a challenge of reducing the bill and get the family involved. Every dollar we save compared to the previous year’s bill will be divided five ways (five family members). Hopefully the kids will be more serious about turning off lights and unplugging gadgets before they leave the home for school each day. For my part I have a couple ideas…
We already installed a new thermostat last year because our other one was ancient. We may actually go ahead and get a smart thermostat that will adjust when no one is home and that we can control from our phones. I am thinking about getting Honeywell’s smart thermostat. It has great reviews and it is much cheaper than the Nest.
We were ready to redo the insulation in our attic just a few weeks ago and go from batting insulation to spray foam. But then my husband realized that the batting was not going to budge without HUGE amounts of work so we are now thinking about having more insulation blown in instead. And if we have money leftover from not doing the spray foam we might add insulation to our garage doors.
We bought some oil filled radiators to heat specific areas such as upstairs bedrooms rather than turning up the furnace. I also saved money on them by using the Benefit app to buy gift certificates and get an automatic rebate and then using Giving Assistant to make the purchase which resulted in another rebate. Double dipping! Anyway, we are impressed so far with their ability to heat a room pretty quickly and then sustain that heat even after they are turned off. It was some obscure frugality newsletter from 20ish years ago that mentioned them and inspired to me to try.
I plan to buy some nice down comforters and duvet covers for each family member. It is a side goal to make my bed as luxurious and comfortable as that of a posh hotel. Why not ooh and ahh when you get in bed every night instead of doing so only when you go on a nice vacation??
I will be adding more thermal curtains to some bare windows. We have four windows that are still bare or have minimal (ie too thin) curtains. I am not sure if this will help because the house has all new windows and doors and they are super nice and high quality so there are no drafts. The fact that the previous homeowner had recently spent many thousands of dollars on new windows and doors is a clue we should have picked up on, LOL. If the new curtains don’t help with warmth at least they will look nice.
Other frugal wins for the week:
- We are doing a small kitchen remodel with a budget of $1500. More than half that went to buying new kitchen counters. We opted to buy our counters from Menards while they were offering an 11% rebate so we will be getting almost $90 of that money right back. You have to use the rebate money at Menards but that means I will be be able to get all new drawer pulls and cabinet knobs for FREE! There might be some left over for paint brushes too.
How did you do?
- Made an offer on an old debt and settled it for 50% off! Yay! This old debt stems from changing cell phone carriers. We had a two year contract and mistakenly changed carriers a measly one week early. They would not budge on the early termination fees for three phones (over $300 each) so I decided not to budge on paying them. This did not have much of an effect on our credit score or our ability to buy our house but it still nagged me. It will nag me no more.
- Used a $10 mobile coupon on a $50 purchase at Tractor Supply to stock up on feed for our homestead rabbits. This resulted in a nearly free bag of feed. We just got another in the mail for 10% off our total purchase so it might be time to buy supplies for the quail and chickens we hope to add soon.
- On a related note, I happened across a comment in a homesteaders group about rabbits loving to eat sweet potato vines. Well, we have TONS of sweet potato vines in the garden so we have been supplementing heavily with those as well as the rest of our carrots. Free pet food and we get to eat the sweet potatoes.
- Looked up online coupons for our local drivers education center and found one for $60 off. That brought the total cost down to $340. This is a mandatory requirement for license holders under age 18 in the state of Ohio and our oldest just turned 16.
- Made $20 selling something on Craigslist.
- Earned 2% cashback via Giving Assistant on a purchase made through Etsy.
- Bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker at Bed, Bath and Beyond on a whim. I had just thrown away a 20% off coupon because I almost never shop there and I failed to look on Amazon to compare prices. I overpaid by $20. Ugh.
- Ate out at restaurants way to much this month. This is summer and fall in a nutshell for us. We are working more and running around more which means more meals on the go.
Being eco-friendly is more about changing the way your family uses energy than buying new things to reduce usage. Remember, every item we buy requires energy to manufacture, package and ship. Even though a product helps you save water or electricity, energy is expended to create it.
If you want to make your home a greener place to live, there are easy ways to reduce energy use without making a single purchase.
Choose Utility Providers Wisely
Who supplies your energy and where the energy comes from can have a profound impact on your eco-footprint – and your monthly bill. In deregulated energy areas, people can choose from numerous providers and dozens of plans. Some of those plans are now powered by renewable energy.
Simply taking the time to compare providers, rates, and plans can lower your monthly expenses and reduce carbon emissions. Companies like the one found at this link are helping consumers compare electric rates and find providers that offer green energy plans.
Here are a few more tips related to utility providers:
- Look for providers that offer rebates for green updates so when you do make a purchase you can offset the price.
- Use account features that show your daily and weekly electricity usage. Some providers will even show you what’s using the most energy in your home.
- Sign up with a provider that’s invested in renewable energy. Research their involvement in green energy, investments they are making and what they’re doing to support more efficient infrastructure.
- Ask if the provider offers time-of-use plans. These plans charge slightly different rates depending on the season and time of day. If you use energy mostly at night when demand is lower you could end up saving money.
Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling is the biggest chunk of the electric bill for most Americans. It’s easy to push a few buttons on the thermostat to make your house warmer or cooler, but it’s not very energy efficient. There are plenty of ways you can cool off without air conditioning and warm up without a heater.
These good habits can also help you become less dependent on the HVAC.
- Use the programmable thermostat if you have one. It can save you up to 10% on electric bills.
- Put the thermostat at the most efficient settings. In the summer keep the temperature around 78 degrees and bump it up a little when no one is home. During the winter keep the temperature setting at 68 degrees or as low as 60 degrees when you’re away.
- Change or clean the air filters every two months.
- Clean the vents and make sure nothing is blocking the airflow.
- Close the vents in rooms that are rarely used.
- Use fans instead of decreasing the temperature. It can create a wind chill effect that makes the room feel up to four degrees cooler.
- Make sure the fan is turning counter clockwise in the summer so the air pushes straight down.
- Have the HVAC system serviced annually and make sure you’re changing the HVAC filters on a regular basis. It will cost a little money up front but professional servicing can help the system run more efficiently and increase its lifespan.
In the Kitchen
More energy is consumed in the kitchen than just about anywhere else in the house. Between the power-hungry appliances and cooking kilowatt-hours add up fast. Make these small adjustments and you’ll see a big change in your bill.
- Check the refrigerator and freezer temperature settings. The refrigerator can be set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit without any concern of bacteria growth. Freezers should be set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Keep the refrigerator and freezer as full as possible so it takes less energy to cool.
- Clear frost out of refrigerators and freezers so they run more efficiently.
- Clean the vents at the bottom of the fridge for maximum efficiency.
- Wait until the dishwasher is fully loaded before washing dishes.
- Skip the heat dry setting on the dishwasher.
- Don’t preheat the oven unless a recipe specifically says to do so.
- Use the microwave, toaster oven or a crockpot instead of the oven whenever possible.
In the Laundry Room
Another place where a disproportionate amount of energy and water is used is the laundry room. Dryers, in particular, require a significant amount of energy each time they’re run. With the tips below you can keep using your washer and dryer while reducing energy usage.
- Only wash and dry full loads of laundry.
- Line dry as many items as possible.
- Wash clothes in cool or cold water to reduce energy usage by as much as 90%.
- Only use the sanitary washing cycle if necessary.
- Use the high spin or extended spin setting on the washer.
- Use high efficiency detergent when possible.
- Dry loads of laundry back-to-back so there’s no cool down period.
- Use the moisture sensor to cut down on drying time.
- Put a towel in with lighter fabrics to reduce the time needed to dry clothes.
- Clean the lint filter before using the dryer.
- Had a GREAT month of July. The extra paycheck and lots of overtime meant the best month of the year for us.
- Did all the back to school shopping early this morning during the Ohio sales tax holiday weekend for school supplies and clothing. I hit up a big box store for the supplies and for underpants because I had $55 in gift certificates (which I won!). Then I hit up a thrift store for the rest of the clothing.
- Picked up $130 for testing a product all of last month. It was a product I use every day (even if typically another brand) so it was worth my time to do. The prepaid Visa I got was used immediately to pay towards our monthly cellphone bill.
- Harvested lots of zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, swiss chard, carrots, and peppers from our garden. Still to come…watermelon, potatoes, and pumpkins.
- Eating out…when we work overtime or take on side hustles we always eat out more.
- $40 in library fines…grrr!
How frugal have you been??