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Five things you should always do when shopping online

piggybank_360.pngBuying things online can save time, money and the headache of dealing with crowds at the store. We talked about ways to save more money when shopping online in a post earlier this month. Before you get click-happy on your next virtual shopping trip though, make sure you’ve taken some time to explore all of your options.

Retailers, by their very nature, want to part you from your hard-earned money. They’re especially good at it online. It pays to shop around and to avoid getting drawn in with add-ons and suggested products.

Here are five things you should always do before you fill up that online shopping cart:

Five things you need to stop paying full price for

piggybank_360.pngYou’re a bargain hunter and deal go-getter, we get it – we are too. But, are you still paying full price for certain items because you just can’t wait to get your hands on the latest gadget, toy, or recently-released product? If you’re not too keen on paying a premium for some of those must-have goods, you will need a shopping strategy to keep that budget in check.

Here are five things you need to stop paying full price for:

#1: Books and magazines

Gone are the days where you would walk into a bookstore to pay the full price for the new release from your favorite author or the cover price for the latest issue of a magazine. Unless you have stock in the pulp and paper industry, steer clear of the bookstore and magazine racks. If you have an eBook reader, pick up the digital version of a book you want to read on Amazon for less than the cover price of the physical equivalent. You can also save money by opting to buy a used copy of a book from an online retailer instead of buying new.

Many magazines offer tablet-compatible digital versions for less than the cover price of the physical version. If you still prefer the feel and ease of a physical magazine, be sure to take advantage of free trial offers and discounts on subscriptions to reduce the cost-per-issue of your favorite reads.

#2: Gift cards

It’s easy enough to just pick up a gift card from the Apple store on your way back from a shopping spree or head to the store at the mall for a gift card as a last-minute present. However, you may be paying much more than necessary when you buy direct. Check out the selection of discounted gift cards at warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club or head to sites like CardCash where you can buy and trade gift cards online.

#3: Clothing

Unless your designer clothing splurges are intentional, there really is no reason to pay full price for that new wardrobe. Take advantage of online-only specials from your favorite brands and retailers, and use shopping apps like RetailMeNot to find the best deals and coupons on those clothing purchases.

#4: Concert and Event Tickets

Skip the box office and long lines to get discounted tickets to your favorite sporting event, concert, and attractions from sites like StubHub or ScoreBig. These sites, and others like them, sell tickets at up to 60% off regular prices. They offer everything from tickets to Broadway shows to SeaWorld passes.

You may be able to find some great deals on tickets to local events on Craigslist or local classified ads but the risk of ticket scalping runs high. Do your homework when you’re buying tickets from an independent seller and stick with authorized sellers and resellers to avoid an embarrassing moment at the gate.

#5: Cell Phones

Get paid for your old smartphone and upgrade on sites like ExchangeMyPhone or buy a refurbished phone from your mobile service provider to save money on the cost of the new gadget.

Whether you want to stick with something simple or buy something with all the bells and whistles, there really is no reason to pay the market price for any type of phone — even that Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy the neighbors already have. Be open to the idea of buying a refurbished or open box item to save big on the cost of your new toy.

What are some of your best shopping finds? Share in the comments below!

 

Five easy ways to save more money when shopping online

piggybank_360.pngLet’s face it. Shopping online offers the ultimate in convenience — no crowds, no lines, no high-pressure sales tactics — and makes it easy to compare prices within seconds. Whether you’re shopping for new furniture or updating your closet for the season, make sure you really are getting the best deals on that purchase with some strategic buys. Here are five simple ways to save even more money when loading up that virtual cart:

#1: Keep up with flash sales. Many retailers host flash sales throughout the week and these can be a great way to secure some deep discounts on popular items. Scope out the latest deals on sites like Myhabit (Amazon’s fashion site) and eBay daily deals for rock bottom prices on high-end goods and everyday items.

#2: Seek out online coupons. Many retailers accept online discount and offer codes that aren’t always published on the site. For example, Best Buy, Banana Republic, and Target stores run ongoing specials and deals both in-store and online. However, you could get a deeper discount just by catching one of the latest free shipping or coupons available at third-party sites like RetailMeNot. One of the great things about RetailMeNot is you can get a personalized list of offers from your favorite stores when registering on the site. The site does a great job of updating current coupons at hundreds of major retailers and users post feedback about their success rates and experiences.

#3: Use a shopping app. We’ve talked about some of our favorite shopping apps in a previous post and there are dozens of other apps that can help you keep track of the latest deals and offers. When you’re in need of some serious retail therapy, use Amazon’s mobile app to find the best price on those coveted items.

#4: Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk can save you in shipping costs and is a great way to pare down the cost of frequent online purchases. Consolidate your purchases whenever possible and take advantage of free shipping offers when making those larger purchases. Stocking up on household items, groceries, personal care items, or even crafting supplies by buying in bulk can save you money on the purchase and save you money on gas from frequent trips to the store. Check out sites like Stockn’ Go where you can buy cases of items and cash in on bulk savings deals.

#5: Get social. Many brands and retailers post online-only or exclusive coupons on their social media sites. Start following your favorite brands and stores on Twitter and Facebook to cash in on some of those web sales. Giveaways, instant coupons, and online promos could help you save a little extra on that next purchase. Just make sure you’re following verified accounts to avoid shopping at a fraudulent site.

What are some of your best tips for saving money when shopping online?

 

Five credit cards with the best perks

piggybank_360.pngWhile it’s wise to pay cash for most of your purchases and avoid feeding a credit card habit, there are some situations where paying with a credit card makes sense. Case in point: Going plastic to earn cash back rewards or frequent flier miles on those purchases.

Booking travel, buying a new refrigerator or even taking care of that grocery bill with a rewards card could pay off in more ways than one. With so many different types of credit cards out there, it’s often hard to decide which is the best for you.

We did some digging and found several credit card rewards programs that offer some excellent perks. Here are five rewards cards that might interest you:

Best Grocery Rewards Credit Card: BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card

Earn rewards on those grocery and gas purchases with the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card. You earn 2% on grocery store purchases and 3% on gas for the first $1,500 charged to the card. You can also earn 1% cash back on other purchases and if you’re already a Bank of America Customer, you’ll be working up to a bonus that’s deposited directly to your checking or savings account.

Best Travel Rewards Credit Card: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Frequent travelers don’t want to miss out on this travel rewards card that offers unlimited earning potential and no expiration date on miles you’ve worked so hard to earn. Unlike many travel rewards cards out there, you’re not limited to a certain airline or hotel chain with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. And, there are no blackout dates when you want to cash in those miles so you can trot the globe at your leisure.

Best VIP Travel Rewards Credit Card: Visa Black Card™

If you’re a jetsetter at heart and want the VIP experience on your next adventure, use your Visa Black Card™ and enjoy privileges like unlimited VIP airport lounge visits, a subscription to a members-only magazine and 24-hour concierge service. This one does have an annual fee of $495 but you earn 25,000 bonus points when you spend $1,500 in the first 90 days and can earn rewards for luxury travel experiences and gifts.

Best Cash Back Rewards Credit Card: Chase Freedom Card

This is a good card for those in need of some instant gratification — you’ll earn a $100 bonus after spending just $500 within the first three months of opening the card and 5% cash back on up to $1,500 on qualifying purchases with the Chase Freedom card. After the introductory period, you’ll continue earning 1% cash back on all other purchases and don’t have to pay an annual fee the entire time.

Best New Car Rewards Credit Card: BuyPower Card from Capital One 

Saving up for a new car? If you have your eye on a new Chevy, Buick, GMC or Cadillac, start making purchases with the BuyPower Card from Capital One to earn rewards towards a new vehicle. The card offers 5% earnings on your first $5,000 in purchases each year and unlimited 2% earnings on every purchase after that.

Six simple ways to save money on your next grocery trip

piggybank_360.pngThe cost of groceries may be one of your biggest household expenses and sometimes it can be difficult to pare down the grocery bill. If you’re trying to save more money and want to get your grocery costs under control, think beyond coupon clipping and scouring weekly ads for deals.  You can save a significant amount of money on groceries with a little planning and strategic buys.

Here are six super simple ways to save money on that next grocery run:

    1. Get planning. Meal planning will make it easier to refine that list so you aren’t loading up your cart with whatever tickles your fancy. Get in the habit of planning the meals for the week and drafting up recipe lists. Make your list of ingredients from that and do a quick fridge and pantry inventory check to see what you already have on hand. This will prevent overbuying and also help you narrow down your grocery pickup list to just the essentials.
    2. Don’t fear generic. Generic brands of staple items like flour, rice, oatmeal, and even some household supplies have lower price points and you won’t be missing out on much except fancy packaging. Save the splurges for gourmet foods and other specialty items and stick with generic for the basics.
    3. Reconsider buying in bulk. Buying in bulk only pays off under two conditions: 1) you will use up the item before the expiration date and 2) you actually enjoy the brand or product. Don’t buy in bulk just because the time is available in a multi-pack. If you’re not familiar with the product and don’t go through large quantities each and every week, you could be wasting your money. Buy dry staples in bulk and consider the cost per item before loading up the cart.
    4. Shop online. If you always end up coming home with more than planned on each trip to the grocery store, consider shifting gears to the world wide web. Shopping online can save you time and money, and you might be able to set up subscriptions for items you buy regularly. AmazonFresh is now available in select cities and Amazon.com’s Grocery & Gourmet Food section is set up with subscribe and save options where you can save on everything from breakfast items to meal essentials. Netgrocer delivers groceries for a flat-rate shipping fee and offers a wide selection of products.
    5. Consider the cost of convenience. Do you buy pre-washed salads and pre-cut vegetables to save time? Buying fresh and taking some time to cut and store produce on your own could save you a significant amount of money each week — especially if you’re on a health kick and are loading up on fruits and veggies. Remember that frozen fruits and veggies have the same nutritional value as fresh foods and generic brands could be a smarter choice.
    6. Don’t forget e-coupons. More grocery stores are accepting online coupons that you can download from the store’s own website or print from a third-party website. Take a few minutes to search for e-coupons before you head out. Or, use a smartphone app like Grocery iQ to make your grocery list, sort your list by aisle, and capture coupons with a screen tap.

 

What are some of your tried-and-true methods for saving on groceries?

Three budgeting apps to make money management less stressful

When even the idea of putting together a budget makes you cringe and you just don’t want to buckle down and draft that spreadsheet, don’t worry — there’s an app for that. We talked about the basics of budgeting these past few weeks and recommended a few great apps that can help you track your spending. If you’re ready to take control of your finances and get that budget in order, using an app every day is a great way to get started.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best budgeting apps that can make managing your financial life that much easier:


mintss1Mint

If you’re a newbie to the budgeting scene and want to dive right in and start tracking your spending and analyzing your spending habits, Mint is the way to go. Available for free on Android, iOS and Windows Phone, Mint displays your finances using colorful pie charts and graphs and a streamlined categorization system.

The app does a great job of organizing your purchases by category and helping you set savings goals. Planning a winter getaway? Need to save for a new car? Just plug in your goals and savings start date, and watch those savings grow. If you have a hard time keeping track of bill due dates, make use of the built-in bill reminders system that will text or email you of upcoming payments.

 

Who it’s great for: Budget-fearing folks; visual learners looking for a simple way to view expenditures; beginners that want to set up their first budget; anyone needing a nudge to pay bills on time.


Budget Ease

It’s described as the ‘true’ envelope system where you can set up spending categories in a snap and have better control of your money. One of the great things about this app is that it breaks down expenses by a ‘budgeted’ amount and a ‘spent’ amount, giving you a more accurate idea of how much you intend to spend versus how much you actually spend.

The app lets you create envelopes for bills so you don’t end up spending money on times you haven’t planned for — a great feature for anyone who tends to go over budget regularly. If you’ve always had a hard time figuring out how to organize your cash outflow each month, use this digitized envelope system to categorize everything to a tee.

 

Who it’s great for: (Real) paper envelope budget aficionados ready to go paperless in the digital age; Type A personalities who prefer rigidly-organized systems; budgeting gurus looking for a no-frills smartphone app.


LearnVest

Need that extra push to keep your budget on track? LearnVest app users not only track their spending and set up savings goals on a smartphone, but can also take advantage of the free phone call with a LearnVest Expert to make some progress in the financial department. The LearnVest Action Program will help you create a comprehensive money management plan that includes budgeting and investments.

You can link the app to accounts for real-time data updating and see the progress you’ve made with your financial goals at a glance. While there’s currently only an iOS app, keep an eye out for an Android version coming in the near future!

 

Who it’s great for: Goal setters who want to make and chart progress on multiple financial goals; budgeting newbies who need expert advice; anyone who fears budget spreadsheets and prefers an on-the-go approach instead.


What other budgeting apps do you swear by? Let us know in the comments below!