By BOB CUNNINGHAM
My family and friends often give me a hard time about being frugal. When I first revealed to them that I had a personal finance blog, they asked if I had written a post yet on cheap eats or the wonderful world of coupon clipping.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending money, or that I’m not willing to splurge on occasion. I am, and my wife and I do. What I don’t like is feeling as if I have wasted money. Spending $500 or more on the latest cellphone, for instance, just seems like a bad investment when I can go out and obtain a perfectly functional phone – for talking, texting, and taking basic photos – for less than $100.
My adult kids, ages 27 and 24, want the fancy phones. Like the old fart in those Consumer Cellular ads, I’m happy with my basic phone.
Either way, there are numerous ways to save small amounts of money on a consistent basis… and when you do these consistently, I believe you will be genuinely surprised by how the little discounts, rebates, and cash back add up.
I do clip coupons, but I’m not obsessed. Mainly, I look for discounts on grocery brands I buy, and restaurants we frequent. I also constantly am asking for discounts. When I recently had the oil changed in my car, I requested “the best deal you can give me. Been a customer here a long time,” and got a discount for a coupon I didn’t have and was afforded an additional 10% senior discount despite being ‘only’ age 53. If I hadn’t asked, I’d have never received either courtesy,
Also, I’m a big believer in taking advantage of cash-back credit cards. The process is really quite simple – apply for and (hopefully) get approved for a credit card that offers either a flat cash-back rate for all purchases, or quarterly “specials” with as high as 5% back on certain categories, or both. The categories, usually featured for three months at a time, include restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, or department stores among others.
The idea is to use the card each and every time you shop – for virtually all of your weekly purchases. Concentrate solely on what you would spend anyway. Don’t spend more just to utilize the card. Defeats the purpose.
Then at the end of the month, you use your checking account funds to pay off the card. You never want to carry a balance on the credit card, because you will then be wickedly guilty of stepping over dollars for dimes. After all, how much sense does it make to get 5% back on groceries, but pay 20% or more interest monthly to carry a balance for those very same trips to the store.
None, of course.
Do this right, by using credit cards as the point-of-sale tool and your bank account to pay the credit card balance in full each and every month, and those 5% purchases here, and 1.5% there (and elsewhere) start to add up nicely.
Although it certainly isn’t recommended for younger adults who are trying to establish themselves as financially healthy long-term, my wife and I like to eat out. We rarely do fancy dining, but we like Applebee’s, El Torito, Panera Bread, and the like several times a month. Currently, our Chase credit card pays 3% cash back on all our restaurant purchases (including fast food, although we don’t do much of that). Generally, in two months we have accrued enough cash that we get a dinner on Chase courtesy of a gift card to most any chain eatery we choose.
Over time, you can acquire a few cards, each of which might be dedicated to a different part of your overall budget – one for dining, one for groceries, one for gas, and one for miscellaneous. The common denominator among all of them remains paying the balances in full each month, thereby NEVER paying interest on these purchases.
It’s like earning a rate of return on your expenditures, rather than just your investments. Best of both worlds.
Thanks for reading.
DISCLAIMER: This post represents the author’s opinions only. In no way should any part of the content of this post be interpreted as official financial advice, nor does it represent an intention to solicit readers into a specific company or investment. Results are never guaranteed. Utilize the information as you see fit, make all money decisions at your own risk.