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  • Ways to Make & Save Money #18: Upromise

    You can read the rest of the Ways to Make & Save Money series here.


    Upromise is best known as a vehicle for accruing college savings, but it’s really just another cash back site that rewards you for shopping through their links and buying specific products. You don’t even need to have a college savings account in order to save money through the program, because you can convert your savings to cash by submitting this form (pdf).

    The main way to save money with Upromise is to use it as a cash back shopping portal, just like Ebates or Mr. Rebates. If you use multiple cash back sites like I do, you’ll want to use a site like Evreward to see which site is giving the most back. Sometimes it’s Upromise, sometimes it’s another site. For a while, Upromise was the only site to offer cash back at iTunes so we always went through them.

    Upromise also has digital coupons that you can load to your store loyalty card – different stores are available in different areas, but I’ve registered my Ralphs (Kroger affiliate), Vons (Safeway affiliate), CVS and Rite Aid cards. Upromise digital coupons are administered by SavingStar, and many of them are the same. It looks like some of the e-coupons may be stackable, but I use them rarely so I have no personal experience.

    You can save money in many other ways with Upromise, ranging from dining at specific restaurants to opening a Sallie Mae savings account. You can also get family members to register their credit cards or use your personalized shopping link so they easily can contribute to your Upromise savings without additional cost.

    Once you’ve got some savings in your Upromise account, you can transfer the funds to select 529 programs, pay off select student loans, or withdraw the funds via check.

    Unless you use Upromise a lot, you won’t save a ton of money. But it’s a painless and easy way to add some additional funds to your child’s college fund, or to your savings account.

    Thank you if you join(ed) Upromise using my affiliate link!

    This post contains affiliate links that help support this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you for clicking through them! You can read CFO’s full disclosure here.

    Way to Make & Save Money #17: Use Your Credit Card Wisely

    You can read the rest of the Ways to Make & Save Money series here.

    It’s easier to keep spending in check when you only use cash, but long-time readers might recall that cash just doesn’t work for me. I love the convenience of my credit card and I pay off the balance every month and I don’t spend foolishly so credit cards work for me. Ditto for my husband.

    What I’ve discovered, though, is that there are a few tricks to getting more out of my credit card. Since every card is different, you’ll need to check the benefits associated with your card. But here’s what works for me and my American Express Blue Cash card:

    1. Cash back. Each year, after the first $6,500 of spending, the Blue Cash card gives us back 5% of our spending on grocery, drugstore and gas. Everywhere else, we get 1.25% back. That’s a good deal for money we’d spending no matter what. (Note: These amounts might differ by card since Amex has issued new kinds of Blue Cash cards since we got ours.)

    2. Maximizing cash back. I realized that I can increase the amount I get back by spending more at the 5% stores and less at the 1.25% stores – not by changing my shopping habits, per se, but by purchasing gift cards for the “everywhere else” stores whenever possible. That means I regularly buy Target and Amazon gift cards at Ralphs (our Kroger affiliate), and spend the gift cards instead of using my credit card. There are gift cards for lots of other stores and restaurants too. That gets me 5% back from American Express instead of 1.25% (and an extra 1% or more back via Ralphs Rewards).

    3. Dispute charges when appropriate to get your money back. A couple of years ago, I placed an online order with Gymboree. I got the shipping notification but weeks later, my order still hadn’t arrived. Gymboree said they couldn’t track it so they couldn’t do anything for me and told me to file a dispute with American Express. When I called Amex, the customer service rep didn’t bother with a formal dispute – he just credited my account for the $30+ purchase and told me that if the package eventually arrived, it was a gift from American Express. I was just blown away by their customer service. Now I really feel protected when I make online purchases with my Blue Cash card, because I trust American Express not to let companies take advantage of me.

    4. Shopping protection. In addition to great customer service, the Blue Cash card offers protection against theft and accidental damage for up to 90 days from the purchase date, within limits (e.g., max of $50,000 per year). Using the Blue Cash card for purchases can also extend manufacturer’s warranties up to one year. I’ve never actually used these services but they could definitely save us money at some point.

    5. No-interest loan. When you pay a credit card balance off every month, you’re essentially deferring payment for your purchases until the payment due date. In essence, the credit card company is giving you an interest-free loan. The company still makes money, because merchants pay them in order to be able to accept credit cards. But as a consumer, I don’t pay anything extra for using a credit card so I get up to 30 days worth of interest in my bank account – which these days probably adds up to just a couple of dollars a month, but at least it’s something. (Obviously, if you carry a balance, there’s nothing free about it.)

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    Ways to Make & Save Money #16: Stock your gift box and wrapping center at after-Christmas sales

    You can read the rest of the Ways to Make & Save Money series here.

    One way I regularly save money (and have done for years) is by keeping a “gift box” and a “gift wrapping center.”

    The gift box is a box where I keep items that can be used as gifts throughout the year – most of them are suitable for a kid’s birthday gift, but there are also items for secretaries and friends. In the last few years, my “box” has grown to include some shelves in the closet, since board games and such items are rather large. But I’ve never had to rush out at the last minute to pick something up – if I do make a special purchase, it’s well thought out and deliberate.

    The gift wrapping center is a collection of wrapping paper, gift bags, ribbon and tape. I use it throughout the year to package the items I’m giving away. I have one of those tall wrapping paper bins for the rolls, and a couple of boxes for the ribbon. Most of the gift bags have been saved from gifts received – I remove any tags, then fold and stack them inside a large Macys shopping bag. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say I haven’t paid full price for wrapping paper, tissue paper, gift bags, ribbon or tape in the last ten years.

    After-Christmas is a great time to stock your gift box and wrapping center. Hit the post-holiday sales and pick up toys, gift sets, and wrapping items for 50% off. Save even more if you can wait an extra week. For those items you plan to use throughout the year, avoid holiday-specific packaging or themes. It’s easy to find solid-color or not-necessarily-holiday wrapping items that can be used year-round. In fact, my favorite wrapping paper this past year was a roll I bought at Target during last year’s Christmas clearance that’s a series of thin stripes of multiple colors, including purple and pink so it was cheerful yet didn’t scream Christmas at all.

    Over the years, I’ve probably saved a hundred dollars with my gift wrapping center. I can’t even begin to estimate the savings from my gift box – it must be hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars at this point!

    Ways to Make & Save Money #15: Shop Selectively at Daily Deal Sites

    You can read the rest of the Ways to Make & Save Money series here.

    A recent phenomenon on the internet is “deal of the day” sites like Groupon, Eversave, Jasmere, Plum District, and so on. These sites offer a different discounted deal each day, and you can get tremendous bargains if you shop carefully.

    I have to admit that at first, I wasn’t too excited about these sites but then I bought some great Groupons and I turned into a convert. For example, I was able to order two dozen cookies from Insomnia Cookies for just $22, including shipping, and it was the perfect birthday gift for a foodie friend who literally has everything she wants. That was an online deal, so it didn’t matter where I lived, since I ordered the cookies online and had them shipped to my friend.

    Many deal of the day sites offer such online deals, which you can purchase regardless of where you live. There is usually a minimum number of deals that must be purchased to activate the deal with the seller, and there is often a maximum number as well.

    Many of the daily deals are regional or local. For example, I live in Los Angeles, and usually the daily Los Angeles Groupon is for a local merchant – a couple of months ago, I bought a voucher for a dozen Mrs. Beasley‘s cupcakes for $18, or half off. Most of the other cities on Groupon also feature local deals, but there are always some cities that have online deals that anyone can use regardless of location. Of course, it can be tedious to find the best online deals, and of course some sites list the best online deals each day. I find that it gets repetitive, so I try to post them only if they’re truly exceptional.

    The most important thing to remember is to only buy deals that you really, really want and will definitely use. The vouchers usually have a pretty long expiration date, so you will have plenty of time to use them. But if you’re buying a voucher just to buy one, then you could easily end up spending more money than you normally would have. I find that it’s usually better to let a deal go by, because another one will likely come along later, than to snatch one up and regret spending the money.

    Disclosure: This post contains affiliate and referral links. Thank you if you join(ed) any of these sites using them!

    Instant Cash Sweepstakes Update

    I’ve written about Instant Cash Sweepstakes before as part of my Ways to Make & Save Money series, and I wanted to highlight some changes they recently made because I won $50!

    ICS is a market research site that offers tiny cash payouts for taking surveys – usually 1 to 9 cents every three hours or so, with four questions per survey. With each survey, you win coins and tickets, and it used to be that your tickets would be entered into a daily $50 sweepstakes. You could use your coins to buy more tickets, but I always found it inconvenient, because you couldn’t just convert all of your coins to tickets and it took too long to buy small batches of tickets.

    But one of the recent changes ICS made recently is to make it easy to convert all of your coins to tickets, and by last week, I’d accumulated over 30 million coins. So I entered them all into the daily sweepstakes one day and won the $50 daily prize. šŸ˜€

    Instead of buying more tickets for the $50 daily prize, you could go for another of the recent changes and use your coins to enter the $2 drawing that’s held every four hours.

    As I mentioned in my last post about ICS, it’s taking me less time to earn money through them than through other methods like MySurvey, and I like that I can earn it consistently, even if it’s just a few cents at a time. ICS pays out through PayPal very promptly, which I appreciate.

    If you’re new to ICS, I’d love it if you’d sign up using my referral link – your pennies + my pennies will help me reach my savings goals that much faster. Thank you!

    Ways to Make & Save Money Update: I’m still enjoying ICS

    A few months ago, I recommended Instant Cash Sweepstakes as a way to make free money online. It’s a very simple site to use – you just answer a few multiple choice surveys, and every few surveys, you earn a few cents. I’ve won anywhere from 1 cent to 9 cents. You can withdraw your cash winnings as soon as you hit the $2 mark, which has been taking me about three weeks. When you don’t win cash, you win tickets and tokens, which can be used to buy more tickets. The tickets go into a pot for a daily $50 drawing. I haven’t won the $50 yet, but I’m holding out hope because My Good Cents has won it multiple times.

    It’s taking me less time to earn money via ICS than through other methods like MySurvey, and I like that I can earn it consistently, even if it’s just a few cents at a time. I’m not waiting for surveys to become available, like I am with MySurvey or Pinecone.

    No, I’m not going to become rich through ICS, but it’s a worthwhile investment for a few minutes of time a few times a day.