Pinching Pennies Until They Scream, or at Least “Squeak”

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Image courtesy of pixabay.com

Many of  you know that I left behind a very good paying job in the Boston area when I moved to the southwest to chase my simple dreams. I had a pension into which my employer put 10% of my income, in addition to my 403(b), and my rent was definitely lower than it could have been for the area I was in, and the building. (Some people might think $1100/month for a studio is a lot, but then again, they didn’t see my studio or have the awesome guys living and working in the building who took care of everything, or the reservoir out back.)

Some days, I look back and think “what was I thinking?” when it comes to how I spent my money. What seemed so important  at the time, whatever it was I thought I needed (I now know it was, I wanted) – I can’t even remember what most of it was. I made more than three times what I make now. Ok, wait a minute. I need to retype that to really let it sink in. I made more than three times what I make now.

So, how am I surviving?! Well, I am really paying attention to where my money goes, and where it doesn’t. I’m not doing the envelope system as Dave Ramsey advocates, because, to be honest, I don’t feel comfortable carrying a lot of cash on me in a city that definitely has its crime problems, even in the good areas. I do, however, have a very small pink notebook that I carry in my purse. On two of its pages, I have written down what my budget is for each category, and then I subtract from it when I have spent money in a particular category. This is the first month I have been doing it this way, so we shall see if what I have predicted or budgeted for each category is actually realistic or not.

I’ve also utilized a few apps and websites to help me whittle down even pennies. Some of you may have heard of some of these, but if not, you should definitely check them out! By the way, some of the links I have mentioned below are referral links – please note, I am not getting paid by any of these companies to discuss them or include their links. I’m just simply telling you my opinion of them, and I will be adding referral links to my page from time to time as I find what I consider good ways to or make a few extra pennies.

Ebates – I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post, but it’s worth mentioning again.  You can either use the app on your phone, or add it as an extension to your browser (I use chrome) and if you are shopping for things online, and go through ebates first, you get cash back. The percentage of cash back differs from store to store, and you get paid quarterly as long as your cash back balance is at least $5.01. Payment is made either by paper check or paypal if  you have an account. It’s like finding extra money somewhere on the ground or in a coat pocket you had forgotten about. It’s your money you are spending – why not try to get some of it back if you can? And yes, this is my referral link.

Ibotta – this is a FREE app that allows you to search for items that have rebates on them at a large variety of stores! Places like Walgreens, Walmart, Sprouts, Smith’s grocery store, you name it. You “unlock” a rebate and then take a picture of the UPC code, as well as your receipt. You can get $10 just by signing up, and then when you hit $20, you can withdraw your cash, either via paypal or to redeem gift cards for places such as Amazon. It’s not that much work, and honestly, you’re already spending the money, so why not snap a few pictures and get yourself some money back in the process? Please check out my referral link and use referral code: ergflfx !  You will get $10 just for signing up, and I will get $5!

Receipt Hog – this is another FREE app that has you take pictures of your receipts that are no more than two weeks old.  You accumulate points based on the amount of the receipt and if you keep meeting targets (such as uploading receipts every week, no matter how small the dollar amount), you get more “pulls” on their “slot machine.” Pulls on the slot machine can get you actual $ or as has been the case for me, more coins. Once you reach a certain amount of coins, I believe it’s 1,000, you can redeem for gift cards for places like Amazon. For me, I buy some of my pet’s food or other things on Amazon, so it’s like getting a discount coupon down the line to save me money. Available for Androids and iPhones!

Grocery store apps for digital coupons and fuel rewards. There is a grocery store in ABQ called Smith’s, which is what I consider something close to Safeway, like we had in Page.  In addition to viewing their weekly ad, so I can see what’s on sale, I can also download coupons to have sent to my rewards card, so not actual physical cutting of coupons, yay!  Then, if you use your rewards card at the fuel pump, you save $.03 for every gallon, just in every day use. But once you have earned 100 points with your reward card, you save $.10 per gallon of gas! However, one way to quickly rack up points without spending $100 is to fill out the survey that is mentioned on your grocery store receipt. That gets you 50 points, and you can do it once a week. So, you could spend $50 on groceries, and then fill out the survey and get 100 points in one week, thus saving yourself $.10 per gallon.  I have a smaller car than most (a Mazda2) but think about the savings, added up over time, if you were to have a big SUV or truck!

Answering surveys online and on my phone. For Androids, there is an app called Surveys on the Go. It is also available via iTunes. The surveys only pay about $.50 or $1 each, but they also only take about 1-2 minutes, if that. I’m up to $4.75, and once I get to $10, I can withdraw my cash. Every little bit will then go to my credit card balance. We all pull out our phones to kill time, sometimes, such as at the grocery store. I figure, why not earn money at the same time? I also do surveys through SurveySavvy (which also pays you monthly to install their software on your devices such as tablets or phones so that they can observe your online behavior for market research.) I’ve downloaded it onto my phone, and after a few initial snafus (it seemed to be slowing down my phone, but a phone update seemed to cure that problem), it seems to not have any effect on the speed of my phone.  There is also another website called Opinion Square, which rewards you in points for completing surveys, which can then be redeemed for gift cards, for again, places like Amazon!  SurveySavvy has been having some problems lately with their site, so for the current time, I’m actually liking Opinion Square better. If you want to join it, drop me a line or comment below and I can email you from Opinion Square so we both benefit!

I’ve signed up to be a mystery shopper via the Secret Shopper app. I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but will let you know what I think of it. It will allow me to get out into the world and earn a small bit of cash at the same time. I know someone whose husband did it a lot at one point back in the northeast, and they could at least enjoy a family night out to dinner that cost them very little if nothing.

Finally, I received a flyer in the mail the other day about donating plasma. As a new donor, you make $50 each time for the first 5 times you donate. After that, the amount goes down based on how much you donate (being vertically challenged, I’m at the lower end of the donation level, so I will likely only get $20.) However, I’m told the plasma center runs promotions every month. I’ve donated twice, and they say that you can donate up to 2x per week, but I will not be doing that for a few reasons. First, you can’t donate two days in a row, and well, my days off are now going to be Wednesday and Thursday. The actual act of donation takes me about 30 minutes or so – I stay hydrated the day before (and try to every day, honestly), as well as afterward. Plus, there is the admin side of things – they only open at 7 and I’m told there are people usually waiting in line already at that point. I have to be at work every day by 11, and my mornings also consist of taking care of The Herd, which includes Morgan’s “walk the crazy out of her” walks. So I will likely only be donating once a week at the most. I also am a bit  leery of giving away too much of my plasma without allowing my body time to regenerate it.  I also value my veins, a lot.  In Europe, they only allow you to donate every two weeks. Is it a bigger industry in the United States? Possibly. They pay you on a prepaid debit card, which I’ve used for both groceries now, as well as pet food. Whatever I save from spending out of my own bank account for these items, I will then put toward my credit card balance.

I’m also starting the basics of meal planning, which I will write about in a future post too. It’s what prompted me to start looking at the weekly ads for Smith’s and Sprouts.  People who have gotten out of debt swear by it, so I figure, if  I can’t beat ’em, why not join ’em?!

As you all know, a penny saved is better than none. And five dollars saved is better than none. It all adds up, in my book. It’s like that “latte factor” we all hear about so often.   You may not agree with all of these ideas, but for now, they are working for me, and as of now, anyway, the US is still a free country where people can do what they want (God help us get through the next 4 years!!)  I haven’t started looking for a second job yet because I know I will be leaving this apartment by mid to late April, and may end up moving closer to my full-time job. (I will talk about those thoughts in a future post). If I’m going to work two jobs, I want them to be conveniently located near each other so as to save on gas and time away from my furballs.

And FINALLY, a friend has asked me to help with some legal transcription – yay! She lent me her foot pedal and I’m downloading the software to get it all to work with my laptop as I write this post. I can’t wait to get started – I used to take a lot of dictation, and I’m looking forward to learning about the subject matter at hand (for confidentiality reasons, that is all I will say.)  I hope to not let her down and make some extra cash in the meantime so I can BEAT, BEAT, BEAT THE HELL out of my credit cards.

And yes, I have made headway on my debt this month – I will update you about that and my budget probably next week. I need to get a full paycheck under my belt to properly budget – for right now, I’m just estimating the amount of taxes and things that will be deducted from it. (I didn’t get paid for Thanksgiving because I didn’t work it and it fell on a Thursday, which is one of my official “weekend” days.) Starting in January, I will also be on the company’s medical insurance, so that will affect my bottom line.

So many future posts!! Thank you as always for reading, and Morgan and the rest of The Herd say they are sending “slobbers and kisses!” to all of you! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Journey Through Debt: A Shopping Ban, You Say?

What the heck is a shopping ban, you might ask? And why in the world would one ever want to do one??

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image from Pixabay.com

So I got the idea from Cait Flanders, who decided to put herself on a two-year shopping ban, after having paid off $30,000 of debt in just two years. You can listen to her talk about it on her Budgets and Cents podcast.  I’ve taken a really good, hard look at my finances, and have decided there are just some things I have to do. The operative word in that last sentence is HAVE. If I want to be serious about paying off my consumer debt, meaning my credit card debt, auto loan and then that pesky private student loan I have, I need to get SERIOUS. Every video I watch on YouTube about people getting out of debt and how they have done it – they all include the word or concept: SACRIFICE. You can’t get out of debt without changing your ways.

So,  when Cait went on a shopping ban, she did give herself a list of approved items that she could buy if she needed to during the shopping ban. So I’ve been thinking of what that list would include for me and here is what I have come up with:

  1. nutribullet/ninjabullet/magicbullet blender system (or something similar).  Right after I posted about my debt hurdle last week, mine died. I used to have a cheaper one made by Oster which only lasted a few months – the motor on it was just not very powerful. The NutriBullet is a bit more expensive (I paid about $85-90 for mine about two years ago), but it is super powerful and I do drink a lot of smoothies. It’s a good way to get a lot of veggies and fruits and protein powder in your diet if you don’t want to eat a ton of salads. And I have to admit, I like salads, but I definitely like something that is a bit heartier at times, like rice or pasta.
  2. Jacket or sweater for Morgan. Pets get cold too, and I understand sometimes it can get down into the single digits in ABQ. So if she seems like she is getting cold out on our walks, then I will get her one. For right now though, she seems just fine!
  3. Plane ticket to Florida for May 2017. It’s my brother’s wedding and I have been saving for it since I first heard about their plan. I almost have enough money saved for the ticket now but am hoping that flight prices come down. I’m going to keep looking pretty much every day. And did you know that you can use Ebates to go to sites like Orbitz or Travelocity, and then earn money back on your ticket?! (Seriously, I’m loving Ebates!)  And I may need to get a rental car unless I split one with my mom and her husband, which they have offered to do. Just depends on which airport I fly into, I think.
  4. Still mulling this one over – a dress for my brother’s wedding. I say this because as of right now, I have two dresses and I wore each one this past year for each of my nephew’s weddings. I’m sure that if I do buy something, I can get something that isn’t too expensive, and there are always second hand shops. If need be, I could get it altered. It won’t have to be anything too fancy because the wedding will be on the beach.
  5. I will occasionally let myself buy a ticket to a movie or museum type-thing. But honestly, there are a lot of free museums and places I can go to here in ABQ, and there really isn’t one movie that I am just dying to see. Not something that I would want to spend full price on. Unless the new Fast and Furious movie comes out, because well, that I would go see as a first run movie. (No judging!!)
  6. Renewing the domain name for my website when it comes up, but I don’t think that’ll happen until summer 2017.
  7. Necessities such as food for me and the furballs, toiletries, and gas for my car.

Honestly, when I look around at my place and my lifestyle, I don’t think I need much. Nor do I think I want that much either. Because, let’s be honest, needs and wants are very different, even though we can often get the two confused. I have plenty of clothes, and I wear scrubs to work, so there’s nothing to buy for there. I have lots of extra blankets and pet beds, etc. I use milk crates as my bookshelves of sorts, and milk crates also act as the base of my bed. (I have a four-inch latex mattress topper on top of them and it works just fine for me and the furballs.)  I’m also planning on selling a few things also, to free up some cash and room in my apartment.

Also, As I’m looking toward the future and when my lease is up, I’m even considering apartments that don’t have kitchens, because I’ve realized that since living here, I don’t use mine a ton (because of the insect problem I wrote about in an earlier post. It’s getting better since they’ve sprayed, but still, I’m DONE with dealing with that.) So if that happens, a fridge will be on the approved list of items, and probably a toaster oven. But if I do move to a full-fledged studio, then I won’t need those. I even watched this video on youtube about a lady who moved into a place that only had bathrooms in the hall – she seemed to make it work and also seems happy with her choice!

How long is my shopping ban going to be for? I’m not sure yet. I should probably keep it in place until at least when I move to another apartment. In fact, I think that’s what I will plan on doing. See how much I can save or pay off debt in the meantime.

Btw, an update. I have bought a magic bullet since I started writing this post. However, I bought it online through Kohls.com, which was offering an even stronger one than I had before (this is 900 watts, the last one was 600, and it kicked ass), at 30% off. I then used an online discount code for an additional 25% off, and shopped through ebates.com to get an additional 6% in cash back! If you haven’t heard of ebates, check it out, and please use my referral link! If you’re buying stuff online, you might as well get it through ebates, so you get some more money back into your pocket.

Would you ever put yourself on a shopping ban? Why or why not? 

As always, thanks for reading!