Let’s talk about gift cards.

Acquiring Gift Cards

Where do most of your gift cards come from? For instance, we enjoy going out to eat, but we don’t enjoy the expense, so we utilize our cash back rewards on our credit card (Discover, which we love) to obtain gift cards. We haven’t paid out of pocket to eat at Chiptole, Panera, Red Lobster, or Red Robin in years. The nice thing is you get a bit of a bonus turning the cash back into a gift card. Typically for $45 of your cash back reward you can get a $50 gift card.

We don’t get many gift cards from friends/family, but when we do it tends to be for Target since it’s our favorite store. My mom gets a bit mad at me if I don’t spend the gift card on something non-essential, but I do it anyway and use it to buy groceries. Who cares when it all evens out in the end anyway?
Keeping Track of Your Cards

How do you keep track of which gift cards you have and their balance? Well, if you have a smartphone there’s an app for that called INSERT NAME HERE. For some retailers it’s able to obtain your balance automagically, but others you might have to manually populate.

Storing Gift Cards

Where do you keep all those gift cards? My wallet is only so big, so I keep the restaurant ones on me while the other cards I have live in a cute little metal card holder at home by my coupons.

Spending Those Card Balances

How do you treat gift cards you receive? Do you spend them right away, hold onto them for awhile, never spend them at all? If you do use them, do you buy something you really want, or just buy anything because hey, free stuff!?!

I find that I treat gift cards almost the same as I do my own money regardless of their source. As a result, I tend to hang onto them for awhile until there’s a purchase I find worthwhile. Case in point – I’ve got $31 of iTunes credit that has been sticking around since who knows when (probably several years ago when one Valentine’s Day my husband gave me a $50 iTunes gift card). I’m super stingy about spending gift card money in general. I view it as my money just the same as if I was spending from my own wallet, so I’m careful about what I buy. As for iTunes in particular, I’ve come to find there are very few apps out there that are worth purchasing when a free alternative works just as well. That being said, I have purchased apps before, and will again, but I’m very particular about it. As for music, I like the quality and price that Amazon offers. Needless to say, I’m willing to bet my iTunes credit will be sticking around for awhile.

If you have tips on how to acquire discounted gift cards, please share!

Recently I saw a deal for a reduced annual subscription to one of my favorite magazines, ShopSmart, which is issued by Consumer Reports. I always find some great tips in that magazine and truly enjoy reading it. I was tempted to purchase the subscription when I stopped myself. I can read this magazine for free at the library; I don’t need to spend $15 on a subscription for a magazine that takes me less than an hour to read and would quickly find its way to my recycle bin.

I think this is how people get themselves in trouble financially as little purchases over time do add up. Particularly subscriptions which tend to stick around far past their usefulness because it’s so easy to allow the company to keep deducting that amount from your account. This is why as tempting as it is I’ve been able to stop myself from buying a premium subscription to the streaming music services I like to listen to at work. Sure, the semi-frequent commercial interruptions can get a little annoying, but is it really so bad I need to add an unnecessary expense to my budget? I don’t think so.

What subscriptions do you have, and more importantly, are they still adding value to your life or would you be fine without them? It’s worth re-evaluating them to see if you can free up a little money in your budget if you’d like to save more.

iPhone6

I ordered the new iPhone 6 (which will arrive on my doorstep on Friday) and I don’t feel the least guilty about it even though I feel like I should. I’ve noticed a growing trend on finance-related blogs where the writer has switched to a lower-cost cell phone provider to save money. While I think that’s great, particularly if you’re barely making ends meet and/or are unable to save for retirement, I don’t get the impression that’s always the case. It’s almost more of a game to see how much one can cut their budget. And that’s admirable, for sure, but it’s just not for me because I love my iPhone way too much. I guess you could say for me it’s a priority, and if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you cut back on the things that don’t matter so you can spend on those that do, like my iPhone.

Of course, I would love if my cell phone bill decreased. As it stands now I’m on a grandfathered plan that limits my text messages, but to change to a new plan I’d not only lose my unlimited data (although honestly, I rarely exceed 2GB of data in a given month), but more importantly my bill would increase. I’m trying to keep my costs to a minimum while still enjoying my iPhone. I would seriously consider switching to one of the lower cost providers at some point if some of my concerns were addressed, namely:

Phone Availability
I really really don’t want to switch to a Motorola smartphone, or any Android phone for that matter. I don’t care for the platform. Although if I was forced to make the switch, I think a Samsung Galaxy S would make it bearable for me.

Reliable Signal
I just don’t believe for half the cost of my normal provider I’m going to get just as good signal coverage, particularly because many of the discount providers use the Sprint network and in my area, at least (Chicago burbs), I’ve heard horror stories regarding dropped calls, slow speeds, and whatnot.

That being said, I will be keeping tabs on these other providers and would be willing to switch when my contract is up in two years. A lot can happen in that amount of time. In the meantime, I’ll be looking to sell my iPhone 4S to recoup some of the costs of the new phone.

What things are you willing to splurge on?

Checkout51

Do you put aside a little time here and there to clip coupons or look for deals online before making a purchase? I try to do it, but I know that for many people working full-time and raising a family it can be tough to find the time. There never seem to be enough hours in the day! This is why I like certain smartphone apps that I don’t have to spend more than five minutes using to be rewarded.

Checkout51
This app awards you money in exchange for showing proof via scanning your receipt that you purchased items they are offering cash back on. I don’t ever look at the app until I’ve returned from a shopping trip, then I pull it up to see if I happened to buy anything they are featuring. If so, I scan my receipt, check off the offers that are included and I’m done. I’ve already built up $4 of credit in just over a month. The only drawback is you need to have amassed $20 before they will transfer the money to your PayPal account.

Groupon
Did you know the smartphone app has coupons that can be used when you’re out shopping? It’s under the Coupons heading and you can pull up the coupon on your phone while in the store and have them scan it. I’ve done this at Michael’s to get a quick 20% off. There are a bunch of stores in there so it pays to pull it up and do a quick search before heading to the checkout.

Shopkick
This app awards you points for checking into stores and scanning products. The points can then be used to get gift cards. I typically get 35 points (and on some special days more) just for pulling up the app when I walk into my SuperTarget (where I shop weekly) and more points if I feel like scanning stuff (which often I don’t). There are other stores in the app like Walmart, Macys, etc. Right now I’ve got enough points to get $10 worth of Target gift cards for spending very little of my time using the app. I will say, though, that it is very particular with certain stores and it’s best to temporarily turn on bluetooth so it can pick up your location. I have to be at a certain point within the store before it realizes I’m there (so there’s no cheating trying to check in as you drive by).

Obviously none of these things are going to make your rich, but these little amounts DO add up over time and why spend more than you have to on everyday items and groceries when you can use those savings on something fun?

Other Ways to Save

If you have more time on your hands, I recommend checking out the following sites as well:

Free Stuff Finder
Not every deal posted here is free, but I follow the new posts via my feed reader to see what’s on sale and if it’s something I need or have been wanting to buy anyway, I consider that a win-win!

Totally Target
If you’re a Target addict like myself, this site is a must visit! I’m always learning about different deals and match-ups that has me getting the stuff I need at a discount, or sometimes even free!

Walmart Savings Catcher
I have to give props to my blogging friend, Kay, over at A Pair of Bartlett’s for making me aware of this one. Basically you enter your Walmart receipt (it has to be less than seven days old) at the site and within 72 hours you will find out whether anything you purchased at Walmart was cheaper elsewhere. If so, they give you back the difference on a gift card. I can’t comment on how beneficial this one is yet since I haven’t heard back from the receipt I entered yesterday, nor do I shop at Walmart a ton, but it definitely has potential especially if you’re buying groceries there.

Feel free to share your favorite apps and sites that help you save money! I’m always looking for more ways to save.

State_Farm

I don’t know why, but life insurance is a hot topic with some folks. Some strong opinions about what kind of life insurance is best, how much you should have, and what it’s intended use is.

There are two main types of insurance:

  • Term
  • Universal/Variable/Whole Life

Universal/Variable/Whole Life Insurance

Let’s talk about the universal/variable/whole life first. These combine an investment with insurance and they build cash value. I’ll be honest, I cringe when I hear someone mention they have one of these policies. If you want an investment vehicle, there are many other (much better) ways to do so. Investments should be kept separate from your life insurance needs.

Here are some of my thoughts around why I don’t care for whole life type policies. First, the benefit amount (when you die) is generally low and not enough to cover the amount you should have. Another reason is the fees involved. There’s a reason why insurance agents push this type of policy, they get some sweet commissions off of sales and the annual fees associated with administering the policy are high. When you run through and figure all the fees involved, your rate of return (which is low to begin with) is reduced even further.

In my opinion, you’re better off putting your money into a term policy for your life insurance needs. For investments, put your money in an investment account. With a little research you have a shot at better annual returns than that universal life policy. Remember, the stock market has a historical rate of return around 8% over the long term. Go ahead and try to find a policy that will give you that.

Term Life Insurance

Term is pretty straight forward, it’s just what the name implies. It’s in effect for a set period of time and only pays out in the event of death. It’s the simplest and cheapest form of life insurance you can buy. And the type of policy I would say everyone who should have life insurance should have. No, not everyone needs life insurance. We’ll get into that later.

How much?

As far as how much is a good amount of life insurance to carry there are several things to consider. Are you younger, older? Is your home paid for? Do you have a lot of financial obligations? For me it comes down to how much of an impact your missing income will be to the household. Generally, the younger and more obligations you have, your replacement should be higher. I shoot to be covered for 7-10 times my annual income. If my income were to disappear today, I want to ensure Nicole and the kids have enough to cover what my income would have been needed for. But maybe you’re retired, your home is paid for, your kids are financially independent and you have regular monthly income which would pass along survivor benefits. Probably not a big deal for those in that type of situation to even have life insurance.

Where to buy?

All of my coverage as well as Nicole’s comes through my employer. They have really good term rates for myself and spouse coverage. I price it out at open enrollment time every year and it’s a better deal than I can find elsewhere. That may not be the case for everyone so do your homework.

But there are plenty of places out there to shop including; State Farm, Progressive, AIG, USAA, Met Life and many many others. Personally, my first stop would be State Farm. I’ve had State Farm for insurance since I started driving and have the same agent to this day. We’ve priced it out a few times over the years. Sure, there are a few places who are a little cheaper. But to me State Farm is worth the few extra bucks. The times we’ve had to deal with them, it’s been really effortless on our part. Their help and follow-up has been great and they work to not make things an inconvenience to you. You’re damn right, I’ll pay the little extra for better customer service no matter what the industry.

Conclusion

You’ve heard me say it many times in other posts, do your homework. Check into the different types of coverage, ask a lot of questions and research a good insurance provider.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with State Farm, nor am I employed by them or compensated by them to publish content found on this site.