Saving money doesn’t mean you have to stay at home reading library books and eating beans and rice. Personally, I put away a fair chunk each month and still manage to travel, eat out, shop, and have plenty of fun things to look forward to. How do I do this? By using some key tools and resources that enable me to live like I’m not as budget conscious as I really am.
Here are my top sites and app recommendations to help you participate fully in life, while still putting money into your savings account.
See the world is not just for the rich!
I love to travel. In fact, I try to leave the US once a year for some foreign land — preferably somewhere I know someone lives so I can also stay for cheap! Last year I went to London. My flight was $400 round trip! Year before I went to Berlin. My plane ticket? $150! I owe these hot deals to my travel heroes at Travel Zoo. Every week they send me the top twenty deals in the world of budget travel. Everything from Alaskan cruises to tours of the Galapagos. If you’ve got the itch and not a lot of cash, sign up for their weekly top twenty and you’ll be packing your bags before you know it.
The everyday smart shopper
Craigslist and Ebay
I need things. Sometimes very specific things, like a 1972 license plate from Mississippi for my garden license plate mural. Ebay is the answer — $7 including postage. Sometimes more general things, like a headboard for my guest bedroom — $30 on Craigslist (delivered!). Before you hit the antique store or the retail palaces near you, check out these tried and true bargain sources.
Nothing’s cheaper than free! Many cities have a freecycle network where you can list things you need to get rid of — such as outgrown baby clothes or your old microwave — and find things you might need. I painted my current house in entirely donated paint, for instance. Simply do an internet search for “freecycle” and your city’s name, and you’ll likely find the network that sponsors this great idea (sometimes a website, sometimes a loosely monitored yahoo group). Each group operates on a different set of rules, so get to know your local freecycle’s guidelines, and start collecting — and giving! — free stuff.
Remember, you have to act fast to claim listings, and don’t be afraid to ask for what you need!
Tapping into the social thing
I work hard, and I like to reward myself with a little trip to the spa or a nice dinner every now and again. But whenever I treat myself it shouldn’t have to feel like I am lopping off a limb. That’s why I adore social buying sites like Groupon.
Here’s how it works: local businesses offer an amazing deal, that is only “real” when a specified amount of people agree to purchase it. This was the retailer gets a guaranteed amount of sales, and consumers get stupid cheap discounts — usually around 50% off or more, and almost always for treat-style products and services like a great meal or a massage.
Groupon is the industry leader for group buying sites, but other sites are quickly gaining momentum and adding markets, such as LivingSocial and BuyWithMe. These types of deal sites are expected to keep growing, so keep your eyes open for more great savings opportunities!
Quite simply, Dealigg is a site where users submit and vote on deals. This isn’t the best source when you need something specific, but I’ve often found things like a one-day-only free meal coupons or 50% off a camera. The deals are crowd sourced so you can find some great insider stuff, though deals are usually short lived.
Save where you’re planted
You might recognize this name from the blue envelopes that arrive in your box addressed to “current resident,” with a have a huge array of coupons for local businesses. Well, no need to wait. Just enter your zip code and watch the coupons appear — pages and pages of them.
I never leave the house for my weekly errands without checking Valpak first, and haven’t paid full price for an oil change or coffee-shop coffee in months. I also always check their entertainment deals when I have company in from out of town, enabling my guests to see museums and the symphony for amazing prices.
Yowza is a “mobile coupon” iPhone app whose moment has arrived. I must admit, I wasn’t that impressed with Yowza when I first got the application, though I loved the idea. I figured if I lived in a more exciting city I’d have more opportunities for deals. But I’m happy to say that over the past few months they’ve made great strides — even here in ho-hum metro Detroit. And now every time I check in with their location-based app, I get about 6 to 8 nearby deals. If you’re checking your phone for texts and calls anyway, why not just check for a deal?
So there you have it, just a little peek into my Pandora’s box of penny-pinching prescriptions. Trust me, saving money can be fun! Especially when you see the rewards of expending a little more effort and a lot less cash!
R. Rebecca Carter is a writer for Quicken Loans and writes about personal finance, FHA loans and home refinance. When she’s not balancing her checkbook or rearranging her 401k contributions, you can find her walking her dogs and planning her next budget vacation.