BUILD YOUR FINANCIAL JIGSAW PUZZLE
Lately my wife and I have been on a kick: a money-saving kick. This has involved thinking carefully about every purchase we make and how we can maximize our savings without venturing into extreme couponing territory. From these exercises and experiments I’ve realized that there are three elements that work beautifully together to save you the most money possible: loyalty offers, coupons, and credit card rewards.
Here’s how they each work and how they can be combined:
It seems most places now offer some sort of loyalty-rewards program. They come in many different forms. For example, the “buy X get 1 free” model seems popular among many restaurants, while other retailers might offer a points-per-dollar based system for earning rewards. Walmart also offers a unique twist on a loyalty program through their Savings Catcher app that reimburses you the difference in price should the app find a better deal from a nearby competitor.
Nine times out of ten these programs are free to sign up for and, if you frequent the location enough, they can serve you quite well. Those that do charge an annual or monthly fee to join are less likely to pay off unless they’re places you visit a lot. To be fair, if they are charging they usually make up for it with better perks, so it’s really a question of how much use you’ll get out of it.
Everyone knows about coupons, but have you ever realized how many different ways there are of obtaining them these days? While weekly mailings and newspaper circulars are still going strong, mobile coupons, e-mail blasts, and promo codes from sites like RetailMeNot are great sources for more money-saving offers. Sadly, you’ll likely have to read the fine print to see if a given coupon or promo code will actually work for your purchase, but it’s always worth a try — especially if you’re shopping online where no one will judge you for attempting to use 50 different coupons.
Credit card rewards
Depending on what kind of card you have there could be several different ways to put it to good use. Some cards offer a flat amount of cash back or points no matter what you’re buying, while others will give more for purchases made in certain categories. That’s pretty well-known, but what’s less talked about are the bonus offers that many cards offer for specific retailers and restaurants. Typically these offers are hiding somewhere on the cardholder website, so it’s probably worth logging in and poking around. Lastly, you may be able to use your cash back to purchase gift cards at a discount, so watch out for those offers as well.
Using them all together
The problem with most coupons is that they aren’t “stackable,” meaning that you can’t use them with any other coupons or offers. However, that rarely applies to earning loyalty points in addition to using your coupon and should really never apply to earning credit card cash back in addition. Thus the unstackable suddenly become stacked when you play your cards (pun intended) correctly.
Last week I reached the pinnacle of this theory when I was able to a) use a coupon for my purchase at Sears b) while earning Shop Your Way points and c) earning 5% cash back since “department stores” are this quarter’s bonus on my Discover It card. Similarly successful scenarios include using your rewards credit card to reload your Starbucks Gold Card and taking advantage of Frappy Hour (half off drinks) or perhaps using a coupon at Red Robin, earning Royalty points, and paying the bill with your cash back credit card — the possibilities are endless!
The key is to plan ahead and think your purchases through so that you can figure out how to reach maximum savings. In some cases there might be multiple routes so, if you’re truly dedicated, there may be a bit of math involved in choosing which one you’ll take. While it might take extra thought on your part when you’re first getting started, you’ll be a money-saving pro in no time.