Increase your savings with grocery apps: Wal-Mart Savings Catcher

I really don’t like dealing with coupons anymore. Having to hunt them down, print them out, keep track of them all. It’s just annoying. Lately, I’ve been looking at different savings apps to see if there was a better way. I’m happy to report that there is! Over the next few weeks, I’m going to review a number of savings apps that I think are worth the download.

One of my favorite apps is the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher.shareasimage

I hate having to go to multiple stores to get the best deals. I don’t want to hunt through multiple circulars and spend a whole day tracking down the best deals at each store. The Wal-Mart Savings Catcher does all the work for me.

It’s simple. Purchase your items at Wal-Mart, scan your receipt and the Savings Catcher does the rest. The app checks the sales circulars for all the stores in your area. That includes grocery stores, pharmacies, and Target. If the app finds a lower price, you get a credit for the difference. This credit can be placed on a Wal-Mart e-gift card. The gift card is then emailed to you so you can use it next time you are in the store.

On my last shopping trip, I saved $1.31 on my purchases. It’s not a lot of money but when combined with the other apps I use, I saved $3.31 on that small trip.

The only downside is that you don’t know what you are going to get credit for unless you know an item is on sale somewhere else. For example, I bought coffee and ended up receiving 80 cents off the coffee. Had I known it was a deal, I probably would have bought more. It was a nice little bonus for buying things I needed any way.

If you shop at Wal-Mart, get the app. It’s available for iPhone and Android. If you are shopping anyway, you might as well upload your receipt and see if you’ve got some extra savings!

UPDATE: You do not need a smart phone to use the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher! You can actually enter your receipt information right on the website.

Do you use the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher App? What’s the largest savings you have received on one receipt?

How no turned into yes in three days

Today’s Wednesday guest post is written by Liz Neunsinger. Liz and I share a passion for education and getting our financial houses in order. I’m so happy that Liz is sharing her story about how she and her husband both got on the same page when it came to their finances, even if it took him a bit longer to jump on the bandwagon. Her story shows that we can all change our ways. We just need a place to start.

tugging at money

The most important thing I learned about my marriage came when we decided to get out of debt.

My husband and I married in 2010. At first, we didn’t combine our finances. Neither of us had a clue about how much debt the other brought to the marriage or how much the other made. We paid bills willy-nilly and were getting by. Savings or investments? Forget it! We were all over the place with no path and no goals.

About 8 months after the wedding, I had the opportunity to attend Financial Peace University (FPU) through my work. This was the 13 week FPU course offered in 2 days of intense study. My husband couldn’t attend with me. The first day I listened hard. Wide eyes and dreams floating in my head, this was what we were going to do!

I went home that night and spoke at 100 miles a minute for 3 hours about how great this course was and how it was going to change our lives! We needed to combine our debt, combine our finances, and get on a plan. Finally, when I took a breath, I asked what he thought. “No.” he said so matter-of-factly. My heart sank. We were not on the same page. He didn’t want to combine finances because he didn’t want me to pay for his debt. He didn’t like the budget restricting his purchase power. Bottom line, without his willingness, this plan was going to fail.

I went to the next day of FPU with a sad heart. I listened and dreamed, but it wasn’t the same as day 1. The next day went by. On the 3rd day after we talked about a budget, my husband said, “OK, let’s do it.” Immediately, I realized what happened. He needed a few days to think about and research this new plan. He needed time to ponder. I, on the other hand, was impulsive and excitable. I was ready with little thought. This nugget of information has been the pinnacle of communication in our marriage ever since on EVERYTHING! When I want something, I tell him what I want and he researches it for days. When he wants something, by the time he tells me about it he has already researched it and chosen what he wants. I’m very amenable to his request because I know it’s calculated. Then we budget for it and purchase it.

The best thing that could have happened to us is to decide to get out of debt. Not only has the budget been a monthly map to staying debt free, but the lesson I learned about how to communicate with my husband has kept us strong for 4 years. By the time we talk in depth, we’re both in a mindset to have the discussion, which leads to the best outcome.

When you talk to your spouse, how can you use your personality styles to get you both on the same page? How can you help your partner understand your side before passing judgment? What can you share with your spouse about your communication tendencies that will help them talk with you?

To follow Liz and her adventures in education and finances, check out her blog Study Paycheck.

Are you making these budget mistakes?

no-sale

 

1. Not making a budget

Do you ever feel like you don’t know where you money is going? A budget can help you do that. The first time you make a budget, it’ll take you about an hour. Now my budget takes me about 10 minutes. Most things don’t change month-to-month so there is very little that changes each month. Once you work out the kinks, creating a new budget is pretty quick. Is financial security worth an hour a month? You could do your budget while watching TV.

2. Making a budget but not living by it

When you make a budget and stick it in a drawer, you might as well not make one at all. You just wasted 10 minutes of your life. Managing your budget doesn’t have to take long. I spend about 15 minutes per week updating my check register and paying bills that are not set up automatically. I have a spreadsheet set up in Google spreadsheets that I use as my check register so I can access it from anywhere.

3. Not having a goal

It’s extremely difficult to stay on budget if you don’t have a goal. Set a goal. It could get getting out of debt, saving an emergency fund, saving for retirement, saving for a car or a vacation. Whatever your goal is, get it down on paper. Put it on your wall. Keep that goal in the front of your mind. It makes it so much easier to stick to a plan.

4. Not working with your spouse

When we got married, the official said, “And now you are one.” We went from “his” and “hers” to “ours”. We made decisions together. If you can’t share common dreams and goals, how can you develop a plan to get there? Don’t start with the budget. Start by discussing what you want your life to look like. Once you agree on that, it’s easier to develop a plan to get there, together.

5. Planning for tomorrow when you can’t survive today

I see this all too often and it frustrates the crap out of me: people who are saving for retirement or purchasing company stock but can’t pay their bills. The argument I always get is “well I’ll need money for retirement!” You bet your life you will because you are going to need it to pay off all that debt you are accumulating today! If you take a few years off from retirement saving to get your mess cleaned up, you’ll easily be able to put 15% of your income into retirement each year. You’ll free up cash flow and end up with more money in the end. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face!

6. Creating a budget so tight you go insane

This is often the one that kills budgeting for most people. The reason that people think budgets are restrictive, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things is because they make their budgets that way. How do I know that? Because my husband and I did that when we first started. Our budget was so tight, after a few months we completely fell off the deep end and bought anything we could get our hands on. I’m talking stupid with zeros on it. Budget yourself some BLOW money. Remember that you make this budget. You can put what you want in it. Don’t build it the way I think you should or the way someone else thinks you should. You need to build your budget the you can live with it. The first goal is to track your money.

7. Trying to do too much at once

I mentioned goals earlier. Some people have lots of goals. Saving for retirement while trying to get out of debt and save for a new car, while also trying to buy a house will get you nowhere. Pick a goal. Stick with that goal until you accomplish it, then pick the next goal. Rinse, repeat as needed.

8. Trying to create a one-size-fits-every-month budget

When we first started budgeting, we thought we could make one budget and then reuse it every month. That did not work. Things change. Life changes. Budgets should to. I start with the previous budget and update it for the current month. I add in the actual utilities for the month and add any items that might come up in that particular month, like the quarterly water bill or semiannual auto insurance payments. There are also things like weddings, showers and birthdays that might need to be added to the budget. Budgets are also flexible. If something happens during the month, sit down with your budget and adjust it. Decide where the extra money will come from. Remember, this is YOUR budget.

9. Believing that the only way to work your budget is to decrease spending.

Jeff and I have cut our budget a lot. We don’t have cable TV. We keep the heat down. If I cut the grocery budget anymore, Jeff’s going to start an anti-vegetarian protest. We realized that if we want to pay things off faster, we needed to increase our income. We both have side businesses that bring in extra money. Think about what you can do to make some extra cash. Walk dogs, mow lawns, shovel snow, do repairs for folks. Think about the skills you have and see how you can apply them to make extra cash.

10. Believing that it can’t be done

When I asked readers the first word or phrase that came to mind when they heard the word “budget”, many people responded with various forms of hopelessness. I remember that feeling. I remember thinking we could never get out of debt. I remember thinking we would be broke forever. I remember thinking that payments were normal and someday they would just go away, that credit cards were a way of life. I also remember how it felt when we built our thousand dollar emergency fund. It was like a 2-ton weight had been lifted. We made a lot less money then and that was a huge accomplishment. Then we paid off the first credit card. It wasn’t huge but that little win helped propel us to where we are today. Will it be easy? Probably not. But when the stress of payments is stronger than your desire for stuff, you can get there. We still have a long way to go in our debt-free journey and it’s not always easy, but we have so much more peace now. The financial stress is gone. We have a plan and we live by it.

What mistakes did I miss? Add your own in the comments.

Take control of your spending!

There appears to be a stigma about budgets. It has become a dirty word to many.

People tell me budgets are restrictive. They can’t do what they want if they have a budget. A budget is limiting. It is controlling. 

Who would make your budget? Your mom? The mailman? The guy next door?

YOU make your budget!

Since you make your budget, you can put whatever you want into it.

Yarn habit? Yup!

Action figure collection? Sure!

Want to go on vacation? You can budget for that too!

The only limitation on your budget is your income. Now for some people that might be a problem. For the vast majority of people I council, they make enough money to pay all their bills and there is money left over.

It’s time to take control of your spending!

Where did all my money go last month?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Those of us on a budget never need to ask that question because we made a spending plan before the money went out the door and tracked our spending during the month to ensure we stayed within budget.

A budget

Can you budget for fun things? Absolutely, just make sure your budget aligns with your goals.

If you read the blog, you know our goal is to get out of debt. But that is really just part of a bigger goal. My husband would like to transition out of his full-time job at 55 and focus on his passion. In order to do this, we need to pay off our debt so we can ramp up our retirement savings. We have chosen to make this a priority so we made the decision to cut back on other things.

Do we still budget for some fun stuff? Of course, but that budget is very small compared to our total income. We each get $50 per month for blow money (some people call it mad money). We can spend this on whatever we want. We also budget $100 per month for entertainment. This two items combined represent about 2.5% of our total budget. Typically, we don’t even spend it all, but it gives us breathing room to have a bit of fun while we are on this journey to become debt free. It also doesn’t stop us from achieving our goal. Currently about 50% of our take home pay goes toward our debt snowball.

What are your goals? Does your spending reflect those goals? If not, a budget could help you get there.

You can read more about how to construct a budget here.

Just remember that a budget is just a spending plan. You design it. You control where your money goes.

The 28 Day Budget

28-day-budget

There are 12 months in the year but most of us get paid 26 or 52 times per year. There are these magical extra paychecks that we can put to use to help us achieve our goals, yet it never happens. But what if it could? What if we change the way we thing about budgeting to make those extra checks work for us? Welcome to the 28 day budget!

Christmas Shopping…Check!

Tonight, I did most my Christmas shopping. That’s right, and I did it all online. Jeff and I were sitting here trying to figure out how to get all of our shopping done with our busy schedule. It didn’t look promising. We always end up waiting until the last minute to shop and, therefore, can’t shop online. Not this year. I opened up the laptop and logged into Upromise. I hit a few stores and after about two hours, I was done with most of my list.

I did the majority of my shopping at Red Envelope. I got a ton of gifts and got a pretty good deal. My purchase was originally $403. The site was having a 20% sale if you purchased more than $125. That brought my purchase down to $325. My rewards from Upromise will be $52, bringing my total purchase to $277. Not bad.

When Christmas shopping this year, don’t forget rebate sites like Upromise and Ebates. They can really add to your savings. Ebates let you accumulate rebates and then receive the cash. Upromise allows you to do a number of things with your earnings. You can save them for college for yourself or a family member or you can use them to pay off a Sallie Mae student loan. Now you can put rewards into a Sallie Mae savings account which will give you a 10% bonus on your earnings each year. If you don’t like any of those options, you can also request a check. The rebates you earn vary by store but most major online stores participate in one of the two programs. Many sites participate in both programs.

What sites do you use to get the most bang for your buck when shopping online?

Do you Black Friday?

I have never been one to wake up at 4am for anything, especially Black Friday. It’s too early, too crowded and unless you are looking for the 10 laptops that Best Buy is selling for $3 each, the deals aren’t that great.

My husband, the techie, seems to think that Black Friday as a day is almost dead. I’ve been getting emails for the past two weeks about Pre-Black Friday, Not-Black-Friday Friday, and Super Not-Black-Friday-Black-Friday-on-a-Thursday Sales. It’s pretty insane. All these retailers trying to get your cash before the Black Friday sales begin. With the internet, most of the sales have already been leaked so other retailers can try to do better beforehand.

I also learned a few months ago that retailers have to order their holiday merchandise in April. In April of this year, the economy looked like it was growing at a good clip and economists had a rosy outlook for the rest of the year. Retailers, therefore, ordered a lot of inventory. The economy has cooled a bit and many retailers are now worried they are going to be stuck with excess inventory this holiday season. I think this is why we are seeing so many early sales. Retailers understand that the days of huge credit card Christmases are over for many people and there are very limited dollars out there this season. Those retailers are going to be scrambling for your business.

So what is my plan? I’ve put my budget together and I’m going to start my list. I will be checking Amazon’s deals on Thanksgiving via my smart phone since they generally have some interesting deals. I will then check the retail sales figures the Monday after Thanksgiving. If the numbers are worse than expected, the sales are going to get much better in the coming weeks. If the numbers are good, but not great, the sales will continue after Black Friday is over. If the numbers are somehow great, I’ll be doing most of my shopping online. I have signed up for emails from all the retailers I plan to shop with and I’ll be checking my ebates.com and Upromise.com accounts for bonus cash back offers.

I will be sleeping in on Black Friday and enjoying my day off. Where will you be? How do you do your holiday shopping? What’s your plan to be the best deals?

How do you spend?

I think part of the reason that I don’t spend much money is because I don’t put myself in situations where I can spend money. I only go to stores when I have something specific I need. I’m not one of those people who will just walk the mall because I know I will find something I need want. Whenever I go shopping, I make a list of the stores I’m going to go to and what I’m going to purchase there. I try to bundle a bunch of shopping needs into one trip and I try to calculate how much I think I’m going to spend. Doing this usually makes me look at my list again to make sure I really need everything I’m going to buy. When I think I’m going to spend $300 on an outing, it makes me reexamine my trip.

In order to not spend, I try not put myself in situations where I will spend. My weakness is kitchen stuff. I love to cook and I have lots of gadgets and things I would love to buy. I try to keep myself out of situations where I can buy these things. I avoid going into William Sonoma or the kitchen department at Target. If I go into a store with my list, I know exactly what departments I need to go into and only go into those departments. When I go to the grocery store, I skip isles I don’t need to go down. It saves me time and money.

Why frugal?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days updating  the layout of my blog, including adding more pictures. It was a nice reminder why we live a frugal life. I’ve been thinking about this post for a few days and then I noticed that Katy had also written a post on the topic.

People ask me all the time why we are so frugal. We don’t spend money on fancy cars or expensive clothes. We don’t have the latest and greatest new thing that comes on the market. We don’t eat expensive dinners out or go to lots of shows.  So why are we so frugal?

To have moments like this:

Pointing to Naples

This is Jeff on the balcony of our room pointing to Naples. Being frugal got us here. We saved for this trip, which is something we’ve wanted to do since we first got together twelve years ago. We decided that this year, our tenth wedding anniversary would be the perfect time to go. Was it an expensive trip? You betcha. Did we enjoy every moment we spent together in Florence, Rome and Naples? Absolutely. Jeff and I love to experience life together, whether it’s at home or in Italy. We put more value on our time than our money.

We all have different reasons for being frugal. We’ve spent the last few years paying down our debt so we’d have more money in the future. I have one year left on my contract at work, so for the next twelve months the plan is to try to live on my husband’s income and use all of mine for to pay down debt and save. When my contract is up, I won’t have to worry about finding another full-time job. I can figure out what I want to do and see where life takes me. That’s the beauty of being frugal. We don’t need two full-time incomes. Yes, we could probably do a lot more traveling or have nicer cars if I continued to work full-time, but then I wouldn’t be around to make dinner or volunteer my time. I wouldn’t be as relaxed as I am today. I like the flexibility that our lifestyle provides. Plus, if we traveled all the time, I’m not sure pictures like the one above would be as special.

My little cash experiment

I’ll start by saying that I really want to go on vacation. A real vacation. Over the past twelve years, Jeff and I have gone on one real vacation. That was our wedding in Vegas. All of our other vacations have been local, a family visit or a few days for an event. I decided that this year, I would start saving for a major vacation. I want to take a cruise to Italy. I’ve always wanted to see Italy and I’ve been looking at the cruises that visit the country. It looks like a lovely idea and it’s a lot of money.

Since we are still paying down debt, I did not want to divert any of those funds for the trip. I needed to find a new way to cut back my spending to save for this. In January, I started using cash again. I’ve done this periodically through the years to help tame my spending but always went back to the debt card. This time, I put my debt card away (aka one of the cats stole it) and have been using cash for the past month.

Each time we get paid, I take out a certain amount for gas, groceries, eating out and other things we’ll need for the next two weeks. I based this amount on what we’ve been spending in the past using the debit card. I can only use the cash I have. Once it’s gone, I’m done spending. When I’m about to take out money for the next two weeks, I count up how much money I have left. I deduct that amount from what I take out of the bank, bringing my total back to the fixed amount I should start my two weeks with. The money I saved goes into my vacation account.

In the first month, I saved $97.00. I’ve got a few days left until we get paid again and I’ve still got about $60 left. I’m going to need a few things this week and gas but I’m hoping to still put $30 in the account. I always tend to spend more at the beginning of the month, since that’s when we make the big trip to the warehouse club to stock up on cat food, litter and other things we need for the month. The majority of the money I put in the savings account last month was from the 2nd half of the month. I would be thrilled to put $30 in for the first 2 weeks.

I know $100 doesn’t seem like a lot, but when your total biweekly allotment is $300, I cut my discretionary spending for a four week period my over 16%. Not too shabby. It’s funny when you are holding something in your hand and realize that this could be money for Italy. I’ve put a lot of things back in the past month.

Credit and debit card issuers state that the average person spends 8-10% more when using plastic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a purchase and not even known how much I spent. I know I had the money to cover it, so who cares right?

I know that if I would have had my debit card on me, I would have purchased a new vacuum last month. Mine needs a ton of repairs and it would be more cost effective to get a new one. Instead, I bought an $8 broom and dust pan. I’ve got all hardwood floors and it actually takes me less time to sweep, plus the broom gets into all the crevices in the floor. Oh how we think about things when we’ve got greenbacks in the wallet and a cruise on the mind!