Monthly Archives: October 2011

How owning an extra freezer can help you save money

If opening the freezer compartment of your refrigerator unleashes an avalanche of frozen food, you know the challenges of cramming groceries into this small space. The limited storage area severely restricts your ability to stock up on frozen foods when they go on sale or to buy them in bulk. That’s why I suggest investing in a chest or upright freezer.

In a blog focused on saving money, it might seem strange that I’m encouraging you to spend money on an optional item. But I believe you’ll save money in the long run because of the added buying power a dedicated freezer space provides.

Because I have a chest freezer, I can buy beef in bulk from a local farmer. He sells half of a steer for $2.99 a pound. While that is higher than what I’d pay for ground beef at my local supermarket, it’s considerably cheaper than store prices for the steaks, stew meat and roasts that come with my order. Plus, I can buy beef from a trusted member of my community who doesn’t use antibiotics, steroids or hormones to enhance his cattle.

Stand-alone freezers also come in handy for meat and other items that go on sale at the supermarket. I can stock up on chicken breasts, pork ribs, pizzas, ice cream and frozen vegetables when they reach their buy prices. If there’s a hunter in your family, having a chest or upright freezer gives you storage space for that meat, and you only pay the cost of processing it.

You’ll find two main types of stand-alone freezers. Chest freezers get their name from their design. Similar to a treasure chest, they have a horizontal lid that lifts up. Inside, you find a large storage cavity that typically offers some hanging storage baskets and possibly a dividing wall to help you organize items. Upright freezers, on the other hand, look much like refrigerators, with horizontal shelves for organizing food and a vertical door. Chest freezers typically offer more space per dollar than uprights, but it can be harder to find and dig out items buried at the bottom of their storage space. Chest freezers also require more floor space than uprights.

Freezer prices vary by size. If you can afford it, I’d recommend buying at least a 15-cubic-foot freezer. If you have a household of more than four people, consider a model with 20 cubic feet or more. Large retailers selling chest and upright freezers include Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sears and Best Buy. Right now, Home Depot has the cheapest 15-cubic-foot model, a Maytag priced at $314 with free shipping. Plus, you can get 5 percent cash back on your purchase if you go through the Ebates website to order. (Learn more about using Ebates.) You’ll spend about $3.18 a month on electricity to run this model, but you can easily save that much when buying one family pack of chicken on sale. Look for the bright yellow Energy Guide label in stores or online to see the operating costs of other models.

Sometimes, spending money helps you save in the long run. Such is the case with chest and upright freezers.

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Coke Rewards offers free merchandise, magazines and more for soda fans

In the world of soda, most consumers fall on one side of the fence or the other: Coke or Pepsi. Count me among those who prefer Coke products. My current favorite is Diet Cherry Coke, which to me is one of the least “diet-tasting” sodas out there.

As a true bargain hunter, I typically wait for sales to stock up on my soda of choice, but for a while, I didn’t realize I was missing out on another form of savings—the My Coke Rewards program. Although the Coke Rewards logo appears on my Diet Cherry Coke boxes, I didn’t pay much attention to it. One day, curiosity led me to check it out online, and I’ve been a loyal participant ever since.

The idea behind the Coke Rewards program is simple: Coca-Cola products you purchase contain a rewards code. You enter these codes into your online account, and the program keeps a running total of your accumulated rewards points. You can redeem these points for merchandise, magazines, free soda, discount coupons, gift cards or entries into contests. You can also donate points to support charities.

On Coca-Cola 12-packs, you’ll find the code under the flap you remove to convert the box into a “fridge pack.” On single and two-liter bottles of Coca-Cola products, the code is under the cap. In shrink-wrapped cases, it’s inside the shrink wrap. Any product bearing the Coke Rewards logo will have a rewards code. Participating brands include Sprite, Minute Maid, Powerade, Mello Yellow, Nestea and Barq’s.

Like most rewards programs, there are rules. For example, your points expire if your account does not have any activity for a 90-day period. You can only earn 120 points per week, but that would be a lot of soda! To learn more about program rules, bonuses for referring friends and more, check out the Coke Rewards frequently asked questions page.

Learn about special promotions and program updates by monitoring the Coke Rewards Facebook page.

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Earn free frequent flyer miles by reading product ads

In a previous post, I explained how you can earn frequent flyer miles on major airlines by using designated websites to complete your online shopping. I promised future tips on other methods for earning miles. Today, I’ll share a way you can earn miles without spending a dime.

e-Miles rewards you with frequent flyer miles for the time you spend reviewing advertisements and special offers on its website. You can also get bonus miles for purchasing the products advertised on e-Miles. Once you’ve accumulated 500 miles, you can deposit these into your account with Delta Air Lines, US Airways, Continental Airlines, Alaska Airlines or Air Tran Airways.

To sign up for e-Miles, you’ll need to complete a short online form. Be sure to have your frequent flyer account number handy for the airline on which you want to earn miles. Choose carefully, because it can be difficult to change to another designated airline later.

You can earn 275 miles just for completing the enrollment process. After that, e-Miles will send you emails to let you know when it has new ads for you to view. You go to the e-Miles website to see the ads and earn your miles. You will typically be asked two to three questions after viewing the ads.

While many ads are static web pages, some are video ads. Those you receive are based on the information you provide about your interests when creating your profile. When setting up your account, you can choose the frequency of e-Miles email notifications.

I’ve been an e-Miles user for a few years, and I’ve never had any trouble getting the miles I earn deposited into my frequent flyer account. I’ve earned thousands of miles without buying anything, and I cannot recall receiving any ads that I found offensive. For those who like to travel, e-Miles offers an easy way to get frequent flyer miles for free.

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To get the best deals, track “buy prices” on your favorite items

When you see an item you like on sale, you may snatch it up and assume you’re getting a great deal. But one store’s sale price may be equal to or higher than the regular price at another retailer. To make sure you take advantage of the best deals on products you buy frequently, you need to determine their “buy prices.” This is the price at which you can take action and buy the item, knowing you’re getting it at its lowest cost.

For example, I’ve determined my buy price for Coca-Cola 12-packs is $2.50 each. This price is offered by CVS every so often in sales ads, and I’ve never found another store in my area that beats this price. When I see that sale at CVS, I stock up so I don’t run out of soda before the next sale rolls around. At Kroger, I know 99 cents per pound is the best price on bone-in, split chicken breasts, so I buy extra when this sale runs and store them in my chest freezer. This is a lower price than I could get at my local warehouse club.

Since costs can vary by geographic area, the best way to determine buy prices on your favorite items is to track them over a period of several weeks. This may seem like an overwhelming task, so start small. Pick three to five items you use often, and then note their prices when you see them in the stores where you normally shop and in sales ads. Follow the prices for at 6 to 8 weeks. Then, jot down the lowest price you’ve seen for each item in a small notebook you can carry with you when shopping. This will allow you to buy with confidence when you see store specials, or wait for a better price.

Over time, you can develop a substantial list of buy prices. Having them written down prevents you from guessing incorrectly about which prices are a good deal. I’ve tracked the buy prices for chicken, canned soup, pet supplies, ice cream, toiletries and more. A little homework can save you a lot of money in the long run.

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Save money by buying online and picking up items in the store

Whether you want a movie on DVD, a new vacuum cleaner, a replacement water heater or an Apple iPad2, your first inclination may be to run down to your local store and buy one. But taking this approach can lead you to miss out on savings you’d get by prepaying for the item online.

As I mentioned in a previous post, you can get cash back for transactions you conduct with many major retailers by starting your shopping at the Ebates website. By going to Ebates and purchasing your item online, you can get the cash back and still pick up the item at your local store. For example, this week I had to buy a new water heater. I went through Ebates to access the Lowe’s website, then purchased the item and elected “store pickup” at checkout. By doing so, I got $7.29 back that I wouldn’t have received if I’d simply driven to Lowe’s and bought the item off the shelf. If I’d preferred to earn miles for my purchase instead, I could have used the Delta Skymiles Shopping or a similar website to complete the same purchase.

Lowe’s isn’t the only company allowing you to buy items online and pick them up in the store the same day. You can also do this at Home Depot, AutoZone, ToysRUs, Finish Line, J&R and Walmart. Sears promises to have your item ready for you within five minutes. Best Buy says your order may be ready within 45 minutes. When possible, order early in the day or the night before you want to get the item so you can minimize your waiting time at the store.

Most stores send you an email confirmation of your purchase that you take with you when picking up the item, and they may send an additional email to tell you when the item is ready for pickup. Have your driver’s license handy in case the store wants to confirm your identity. Some websites give you the option of specifying other people who are authorized to pick up your order for you.

In addition to the cash back or frequent flyer miles you can earn for shopping online, you may also be able to apply Web-only discount coupons to your order.

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Earn frequent flyer miles on everyday purchases

If you only travel by air once or twice a year, it can take a long time to accumulate enough frequent flyer miles to earn a free ticket. It’s easy to boost your mileage balance from the comfort of your home, however, through a few different methods. I will address these programs in this and future blog postings. Today, let’s focus on earning miles while shopping.

Major airlines offer you miles for purchases made with companies participating in their bonus miles programs. Typically, you go to the airline’s shopping website, and click a link to access the site where you wish to shop. This launches a tracking mechanism that records the amount of your purchase and credits you with bonus miles based on that amount.

For example, Delta’s Skymiles Shopping site is currently offering deals like these:

United Mileage Plus deals include:

The American Airlines AAdvantage E-Shopping Mall has:

Mileage amounts offered at specific retailers change periodically. To earn miles, you will need to create an account at the shopping sites and provide your frequent flyer number. There is no charge for using the sites and no fee to get the bonus miles.

If you return an item for which you received bonus miles, the corresponding amount may be deducted from your frequent flyer account.

If you have a credit card which earns frequent flyer miles, you may be able to get two sets of bonus miles for a single transaction. For example, a Gold Delta Skymiles cardholder would get 30 miles for a $30 purchase made on the Home Depot website (1 mile per dollar on all card purchases), plus 120 bonus miles for using the airline’s shopping portal.

To get the most out of these shopping programs, bookmark the portal site for your favorite airline’s shopping program and make a habit of going there each time you make an online purchase. If you forget to go through the virtual mall to get to your shopping site, you can’t earn miles.

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American Express offers prompt, flexible service and valuable rewards

This is not a column encouraging you to get a credit card. In fact, unless you can pay your balance off in full each month, I’d recommend avoiding credit cards, as they can tempt you to purchase things you don’t have the cash to cover. But if you’re a disciplined person who uses credit cards for rewards like frequent flyer miles or cash back, I’d recommend including an American Express product in your wallet. Here’s how the company shows it cares about its customers.

Timely service: I have contacted American Express by e-mail several times in recent months and been stunned by how quickly they respond to my messages. While some businesses with an online presence take days to get back to me or never acknowledge my question at all, American Express typically sends me a reply within 10 hours.

Transfers: American Express offers a variety of different credit cards. The company has allowed me to transfer between cards without filling out a new application or incurring any transfer charges. They simply switched me from one card to another and mailed me new cards to reflect the new rewards program I’d chosen.

Rewards: Whether you want to earn airline miles, free hotel stays or cash back, you can find a lot of different rewards options in the American Express lineup of credit cards. The Everyday Blue Cash Card has no annual fee and earns 3 percent cash back at supermarkets, 2 percent back at gas stations and department stores and 1 percent cash everywhere else. The Gold Delta SkyMiles Card earns you one airline mile for every dollar spent. While it does have a $95 annual fee, it allows you to check your first bag free on every Delta flight. You also get a bag free for up to nine people in your reservation. So, if you and a spouse or friend take one roundtrip a year on Delta and check one bag each, the card has paid for itself, and you’ve gotten the benefit of extra miles.

While there are several benefits to having an American Express card, one downside is that they are not accepted everywhere. You will need to carry a Visa or MasterCard in your wallet as well if you want guaranteed access to credit when shopping.

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How to save big money on brand-name makeup

My efforts to save money often lead me to purchase generic products when buying canned goods, cleaning supplies and other items. But there are certain times when a generic item doesn’t make the grade in my book, and that’s the case when it comes to makeup. I’ve used Mary Kay products since I began wearing makeup as a teenager, and I don’t plan to switch to something new.

Mary Kay isn’t cheap, however. A tube of medium-coverage foundation from a Mary Kay distributor will cost you $15, about double the price of Cover Girl or Maybelline foundation sold at Wal-mart. The good news is you don’t have to pay full price for Mary Kay makeup if you’re willing to buy it on eBay.

I recently won an eBay auction for Mary Kay foundation and got two tubes of foundation for $3 with $4 shipping—that $7 total is about 75 percent off the retail price.

A check of recently completed listings on eBay shows other bargains, too. One buyer got a tube of Mary Kay concealer for $4 (shipping included), saving 60 percent off the retail price. Another purchased a stick of eyeliner for $5.25—the same purchase from a distributor would total $10. A tube of Mary Kay Ultimate Mascara sold for $6.30, less than half of the retail price.

Other makeup brands sold on eBay include Lancome, Clinique and Sephora, so you can get a bargain on your favorites, too.

When buying makeup on eBay, keep these tips in mind:

Shop early. Don’t wait until you only have a day or two of makeup left to start bidding. Shipping can take a few days.

Bid with patience. Determine what you’re willing to pay for the product and keep trying to get it at that price. If others outbid you, move on to another auction. Use eBay’s completed listings tool to see what price the item you want typically sells for on eBay. (Contact me for help if you’re not sure how to do this.)

Buy in bulk. Some of the best deals on Mary Kay makeup come when you buy multiple packages of the same item. Use one product now, and save the other for later. I have never had any problems with makeup I’ve stored for months. If this option makes you uncomfortable, buy in bulk, and split the cost and products with a friend.

Check sellers’ feedback ratings. While eBay has a great buyer protection policy, you can save yourself some headaches by shopping with the best sellers to begin with. I don’t bid on any item offered by a seller who has less than 99 percent positive feedback.

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Walgreens’ Register Rewards program not worth the effort

I recently highlighted how you can use the CVS Extra Bucks program to get cheap and free items without spending a lot of time clipping coupons. Walgreens has a similar program called Register Rewards. Unlike the CVS program, you don’t have to register to participate in Register Rewards. While this is an admirable feature of the program, it fails to deliver a good overall experience.

With Register Rewards, Walgreens offers select items at a sale price each week, then gives you extra savings in the form of a coupon you can use on most merchandise during a future shopping trip. Here’s why I think the program isn’t as good as the CVS Extra Bucks promotions:

Prices: Walgreens generally charges more than CVS for similar products. This week, Walgreens had Softsoap body wash for 2 for $4 with Register Rewards; the CVS price with Extra Bucks was 2 for $2. Even when items are on sale at Walgreens, you can often get them cheaper at a discount retailer like Walmart.

Expiration dates: CVS usually gives you a month to redeem the Extra Bucks coupons you receive. Walgreens only gives you two weeks. Sometimes, Walgreens doesn’t have anything on sale I want within two weeks, and I have to use the coupons on something else.

Bonuses: CVS gives you bonus Extra Bucks on a seasonal basis, based on how much you’ve spent in the store in the preceding months. Walgreens can’t offer this feature since you don’t register to use the Register Rewards program.

Signage: I have lived in two different states this year and shopped at Walgreens stores in both locations. I consistently find the stores do a poor job of putting up signs to help you identify which specific products are included in the Register Rewards program that week. For example, there may be 15 types of Colgate toothpaste on the shelf, but only one specific type and size qualifies for the reward.

In-store coupons: To get sale prices on many of its items, Walgreens requires you to redeem coupons you must clip out of its weekly ads. This is just silly. If it’s on sale, just give me the sales price without the hassle.

The disadvantages of shopping at Walgreens and using its rewards program far outweigh the benefits. I recommend spending your time targeting savings at other stores.

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