Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Friends With Benefits

When trying to keep a budget and cut costs there is a small group of friends that are always there to help me out… membership cards and coupon. Whether its groceries or office supplies, oil changes or admission fees, I am always looking for ways to reduce the price of items and services. Sometimes I am able to save a little, sometimes I save a lot, and occasionally I can either get something for free or make money purchasing it.

No, I am not one of those extreme coupon people on TLC although I do get a kick out of watch that show. I simply take about 20 minutes each week and go through the circulars, mailings, and emails that I get, clip or copy them, and put them in an envelope. That’s it. It doesn’t take much effort at all and that basic process, combined with the free membership cards, usually averages about a thirty percent savings at the super market every week.

Over the course of the year, with regard to total dollars, that is the most significant chunk of my savings. However, there are other areas where I can save a significant amount at a much higher percentage. The most common of which are office supplies. Thanks to Staples, I am able to save anywhere between 50-75% on anything ranging from printers to paper to bottled water. This is also the place where they have paid me to buy supplies.

Again, this is very simple and requires minimal effort. What usually happens is that they will promote a 100% rebate offer for a product (most recently it happened to be 4x6 photo paper). So, if you are willing to wait a month for reimbursement they will essentially give you the product for free and credit your rewards account for the purchase. But you can take it a step further. By utilizing a coupon that takes a percentage off your total purchase (rebate items are not sale items so they are not exempt) you can essentially get a rebate back for more than you paid for the product.

Of course, as I have previously written about, sometimes I come across free items and free contests. If it’s free, and I don’t have to set aside time to do it, I am definitely interested. No time, money, or effort is a great, and rare, combination.

The other side to this cost saving equation is where some effort is definitely required. Usually, this is when you are looking for a specific item or brand and you have to shop around to find the best price. There is a simple way to ensure success: know the price match policies. You can look around and think you found the best price but, sometimes, you may forget to check a certain store or maybe that item goes on sale the following week. It’s a great safety net that can put money back into your pocket.

One last thing to remember is that while the savings on any given day or on any particular item may not seem like much it really adds up. Keep track, a rough estimate is fine, on how much money is left in your pocket by taking the time to pay attention to prices and using the system to your advantage. You would be surprised how quickly the dollars add up by simply investing a little effort and even less time. Or think about it this way… how much are you saving during an average week? How much time are you putting into this? With those two figures in hand, what is the hourly rate you are getting paid?

Let me, and all who happen to read this, know of your experiences. How do you save money? Where do you find the best deals? What is the best deal you have ever gotten on an item?