How to potentially save a fortune on a big-ticket appliance

Old OvenOur oven was old when we bought our house, but it worked. Then we got 8 more years of life out of it. During that time, only a couple burners worked consistently, we replaced some missing knobs and the heating element in the oven had to be replaced. That cost us about $100, which wasn’t too bad at the time.

Recently, we’ve spent more time trying to get the burners to work than we do actually cooking food on them. Not cool.

We started looking around for a new oven, and they’re not cheap. We thought we found a pretty good deal on a slide in, but when we had measurements done it turned out the only type of oven we could fit into our space would be another drop in. They cost more because there aren’t a ton of them made anymore.

I found one that would work at Lowe’s for $1349, with a regular price of $1499. They would have to order it for us. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but I had already resolved myself to the fact that we would be spending somewhere between $1000 and $1500 for a new oven. We didn’t want a top of the line one since we’re putting it into an older kitchen.

It was at this point that I remembered the Sears Outlet store in the area. I decided to do some searching on SearsOutlet.com to see what was available at the local stores. Nothing.

However, I did find the same model that Lowe’s had at several other Sears Outlet stores around the country and for a lot less, like $700 off the list price of $1499. We’d have to pay about $212 to have it shipped, but it would still come out to be much less than what we would have paid somewhere else.

So how do you buy an appliance sight unseen? Below are some tips.

  • The prices at Sears Outlet stores are low because they’re usually open box, refurbished, or scratch and dent. SearsOutlet.com includes pictures of the items on their website in most cases so you can see the exact appliance that you would get.
  • If you have a question about the item, call the store and ask some questions. We did, and the guy was very helpful. He looked it over and told us exactly what he saw wrong with it, which was pretty much nothing.
  • Even though ours was a display model, it still came with the same warranty that we’d get if we bought it brand new at the store.
  • The price you see online isn’t the price you have to pay…you can pay less. SearsOutlet.com has a “Make an Offer” option. I put in a price and it showed the probability it would be accepted. After submitting, I got a counter offer immediately and saved another $25 or so off the list price.
  • If we needed to return the oven, we could take it to our local Sears Outlet store. We wouldn’t get the $212 shipping charge back, but we’d at least get the cost of the oven back worse case.
  • After accepting the offer, I picked a delivery date and they delivered it about a week or 2 later.

So that’s how we bought our new oven for 25% off the Lowe’s sale price. Our total cost was about $1012 before taxes, which included the shipping charge. We installed it Monday and have enjoyed it the last couple of days. If you’ve got a Sears Outlet store near you, you could do even better without the shipping charge, assuming they have what you’re looking for.

So what do you think? Would you buy a big-ticket item sight unseen? Let me know in the comments below.

Looking for a good deal today?

Woot! Logo

If you’re like me, you may look at buying something for a while before you take the plunge. For me, I need to know that I’m getting the best deal possible.

One of the places that I check on a daily basis is the deal-a-day website Woot.com. Originally, when I had started shopping their site, they only offered up one item each day in a few different categories. Now, they offer up deals in several different categories.

Their strategy is pretty simple. Put a new item up at a deeply discounted price each day. The item is up for 24 hours and may sell out before the time is up. Oh, and shipping is always $5 no matter how big the item.

We’ve bought several different things out there including a laptop, television, and memory foam mattress. We’ve been pretty happy with what we’ve bought so far and their customer service is great.

The one thing about Woot (and other deal-a-day web sites) is that you don’t get a wide selection each day, but you do get a good deal. It’s helpful to keep an eye on the site so you get an idea of the types of items that show up in the rotation. Then when you’re ready to buy something, you’ll know whether they’ll eventually offer it up for sale.

There is one exception to the “deal-a-day” and that’s when they run a Woot-off. This is when they’re clearing their shelves of all the items that haven’t sold when they were originally up for sale. Items will go on sale until they’re sold out in a Woot-off. After that the next item goes up. These types of sales can sometimes run for days with different items up for only minutes at a time.

Of course, every item may not be a deal, so it’s best to do your research. Do some checking around the internet to see if you could get the same thing at almost the same price somewhere else. If you can, then it may not be worth buying it from Woot. Don’t forget that thinking you’re getting a deal can sometimes cause you to make a purchase without fulling researching it to make sure that it’s what you want.

Where do you shop to get a deal? Is there anything that you’re looking for that you want help finding a deal on? Let me know in the comments below.

Discounted gift cards – Save money on everyday purchases

How would you like to get $80 worth of stuff for $60, without looking for a sale? Or get some money for those gift cards that are just lying around with a few dollars left on them?

It wasn’t until recently that I finally took the leap and tried using a gift card reseller to save some extra dollars. We had 3 gift cards that had a balance on them and hadn’t been used in a while. We’d have to go out of our way to go to these stores and we’d likely pay more for whatever we would buy than if we bought it someplace else.

So I decided to sell them and get some cash through ABC Gift Cards. I was a little hesitant when I read the reviews online, but I gave it a shot anyhow since I didn’t have much to lose. I entered the cards on their site, reviewed their offer, chose my payment method and mailed the cards in. About a week later I got an email with an Amazon gift card code for the amount they offered. So far, so good.

The next step was to try buying one. I decided to buy one for a store my wife likes through CardCash.com (sister site of ABC Gift Cards). About a week later, it showed up in the mail. The total savings was 21% off the face value. Not bad at all.

I recently submitted another order for some cards for stores that our daughters like to get clothes from (Gymboree and Justice). Total order cost me $82.28 and I’m getting $105 worth of gift cards. That’s also an average savings of over 21%.

Why wouldn’t we do this all the time for clothing purchases at least? I’m not sure. If you’re looking for a way to boost your budget, this might be a great way to do it.

What do you think? Do you have any other unique money savings tips? Leave them in the comments below.

Photo by 401(K) 2013

Ebates: Earn cash back while shopping online

ebates

I’ve discussed the Google Chrome extension Honey in the past. It helps you find and test promotion codes on web sites when you check out to make sure you’re getting a great deal. They recently released a new version that really enhances how it works and can tell you about deals when you visit a site before reaching checkout.

Promotion codes are great, but cash back is better. That’s where Ebates comes in. With Ebates, you earn cash back when you shop at a ton of different online stores. Their site can also help you find promotional codes that you can use to get a discount while you’re shopping.

Seems too good to be true, right? How can they give you cash back for shopping online? Most online stores have a referral program. When you refer someone to a site using a unique code and they make a purchase, the online store will give the referer a portion of the amount spent. This is generally called an affiliate or partner program. Assuming this is how it all works, then Ebates simply gives you back some what they get and everyone is happy. The trick is you that you have to start  your shopping trip through the Ebates site or you won’t earn anything.

When it comes time to get your money, they can either mail you a check or deposit your money in your PayPal account. You can even refer friends and get a bonus for referring them when they’ve spent a certain amount.

So, friends, check it out and let them know that Adam sent you. You can start today by clicking here or any other Ebates link in this post. (All of the links use my referral ID.)

Let me know your experience with Ebates in the comments below. Have you found ways to save or make money without changing your habits? Let me know that below too.

Tired of fundraisers? Check out Great Lakes Scrip!

SCRIP

If you’re tired of fundraisers, join the club. Whether you’re the one peddling overpriced goods for your kids or the one being hit up to buy them, it’s never fun. There is always some guilt when you ask someone to buy something you know is a horrible deal because it will “help the kids”. Take the guilt out of raising money with Great Lakes Scrip.

The Scrip program works like this. You buy gift cards for the things that you buy everyday. A portion of the gift card purchase is then routed to the school or organization of choice. There are different percentages for different cards and they run promotions from time to time where cards have higher percentages than usual. There is no markup or special cost to you or anyone who buys the cards, including the organization. Pretty simple right?

You’re probably wondering what the catch is. How are they able to give your organization a portion of the gift card purchase without charging anything extra? The way I understand it is that Great Lakes Scrip purchases the cards from companies at a discount and then turns around and sells them to you at full price. The difference between what you pay and they pay is what goes to the organization on your behalf.

Our daughters go to a private school and we’ve used this program for the past couple of years to help pay for their tuition. Our school has it set up so that the money earned can go to the school’s general fund or go towards our tuition. We chose the tuition option of course. Whenever we need to get a gift card, we go out to shopwithscrip.com, find the cards we need and process the order. We can pay for them electronically from our checking account at a minimal fee of $0.15 per order, or take a check to the school. The physical cards are delivered to the school within a week of when the school processes the order.

For those moments when you need something a little more quickly, you can look for the ScripNow option. Once you process your payment, an email arrives in your inbox with a link to the electronic gift card that you can print out. This is great for those last-minute purchases to Amazon.com or when you’re in a store and want to get one to cover your purchase. We did this to buy carpet from Lowe’s. Our total was around $1500 and we got about $60 put towards tuition. It may not sound like much, but it only cost us $0.15 to process the order electronically and we got $60 in return.

Finally, some of the cards have a ReloadNow option which allows you to add additional dollars to a card you already have. They don’t process as quickly as ScripNow, but within one business day, the card is usually reloaded. This is great for gas cards or other cards that you would use regularly. We use it for Speedway cards. At a 4% rebate and $3 a gallon in gas, it’s like saving 12 cents a gallon. At $4 a gallon, it goes up to 16 cents a gallon.

If you or your family are in any way involved with a nonprofit organization and are looking for a creative way to raise funds all year-long, I would encourage you to check out the Scrip program. You can start by checking out the How Scrip Works page. If you’re interested in learning more or starting a program for your organization, club, school, or other nonprofit, you can request more information here.

Where to Save Money on Electronics and Accessories

Monoprice.com

If you’ve ever purchased a high-definition television, Blu-Ray player, or some other electronic, you’re most likely asked by the sales associate or check out person if you need cables, surge protectors or other miscellaneous items to complement your purchase.

If you answer yes, you’ll probably be directed to the most expensive complementary items they have because “those will give you the best quality.” Of course, you don’t want to degrade your new high-end electronics with a crappy cable or surge protector, right? Well, in many cases expense doesn’t always mean quality. (Side note: More expensive HDMI cables will not give you a better picture because they send a digital signal. The picture will either appear as it’s supposed to, or it will be choppy, pixellated or non-existent. In the digital world, there is no in between. You’ll know as soon as you hook it up.)

To save some serious money, your best bet is to get your cables and other items someplace else. My online “Radio Shack” for random electronics and accessories is Monoprice.com. They tend to have ridiculously inexpensive cables (HDMI, USB, audio), printer cartridges, adapters, and even speakers. I’ve been shocked by the number and variety of items they have.

Below are a few of the items that I’ve purchased with comparative prices and percent savings over the next cheapest option at the time of writing. I tried to find the cheapest option on each site that was equal or served the same purpose.

  • Micro USB cable (6ft)
    • BestBuy.com – $5.19
    • RadioShack.com- $5.99
    • Monoprice.com – $1.41 (72% savings)
  • USB Car charger
    • BestBuy.com – $4.25
    • RadioShack.com – $6.64
    • Monoprice.com – $1.34 (68% savings)
  • HDMI cables (6ft)
    • BestBuy.com – $5.59
    • RadioShack.com – $8.99
    • Monoprice.com – $3.54 (36% savings)
  • Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter for Apple MacBooks
    • BestBuy.com – $16.24
    • RadioShack.com – $24.99
    • Monoprice.com – $13.56 (16% savings)
  • Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter for Apple MacBooks
    • BestBuy.com – $3.91 (41% savings)
    • RadioShack.com – $19.99
    • Monoprice.com – $6.72
  • Inkjet printer cartridges (HP 57 Color Cartridge)
    • BestBuy.com – $43.99
    • RadioShack.com – $49.93
    • Staples.com (Value version) – $32.99
    • Monoprice.com (Remanufactured) – $15.34 (53% savings)

It’s important to note a couple of different things about the prices above. First, these are comparing the online prices. If you went into the store, you probably wouldn’t be able to find the same items at the same prices. Second, BestBuy.com had one of the items cheaper than Monoprice.com, but it was from another seller and wasn’t a Best Buy item. That was the case for many of the other items as well on BestBuy.com. Finally, Monoprice.com sells remanufactured printer cartridges. Many people may not feel comfortable using remanufactured cartridges. However, our printer is well over 10 years old and I can’t justify purchasing a genuine cartridge for it that costs more than it’s worth. At this point, if a remanufactured one were to damage the printer beyond repair, I’d just go buy another one.

Even with shipping, purchasing these types of items through Monoprice.com is oftentimes much cheaper than buying them at your local electronics store. The only downside is that you won’t have them immediately. So if you plan on running out to get a new TV before the Super Bowl, you may want to order your HDMI cables a couple of weeks ahead of time so you aren’t overspending in the store just to get everything hooked up in time.

As far as customer service, I have no complaints. I had an adapter that worked perfectly…the first time. I pulled it out later and hooked it up and no matter what I did I couldn’t get it to work. They set me up with a return, I mailed it back, and they sent me another one. I didn’t have to do a bunch of troubleshooting or anything. It was pretty much no questions asked.

Potential Savings: As you can see above, savings can range anywhere from 16% to 72% as of when I checked the prices at writing. You may have better luck depending on what it is you’re looking for.

Saving Money for Non-Budgeters

SavedPlus

Everyone wants to save money, but some people don’t have the discipline to “pay themselves first”. If you don’t balance your checkbook or put away a set amount of money with each paycheck, then SavedPlus might be a simple solution to help you save money without having to change your habits.

The way it works is simple. You choose a savings percentage between 5-20% that you want to save with every purchase you make. Then as you spend, that extra percentage gets moved from your checking to savings account. So, if you set your percentage to 10% and go to the grocery store and spend $75, an extra $7.50 will be moved to your savings account. You can change the percentage from the mobile app or web site whenever you’d like as well as check your account balances and set up goals.

To keep you from pulling too much from your checking, you can also set up a maximum transaction amount so that it doesn’t save an extra 5% of that new flat screen purchase as an example. In addition, you can choose to exclude single transactions if you want. To keep you from overdrawing your account, you can also set up a minimum balance for your checking account so that it stops transferring money if your balance gets too low.

In order to use this service, you give your checking and savings account information along with your debit and credit card info so it can catch all of your transactions and move the money from your checking to savings. How much does it cost to use this service? Nothing. It’s free. You don’t have to open any accounts with them since they use the accounts you already have.

For those of you who balance your checking account and keep close tabs on what you spend, this may not be for you. It would drive me crazy to try to keep track of the extra transactions. But for those who keep track of what is in their checking account by just looking at the balance occasionally, then this may be a perfect way to starting putting away some extra money for a rainy day or retirement.

For more information, you can check out their site, the FAQs, and the How It Works page.

Potential Savings: I haven’t personally used this service, but it seems to be getting some attention. According to their website, average users save $350 a month or $4200 a year. That’s quite a bit of coin for not having to change your habits.

Do you need an Ally?

Ally Bank Logo

We’ve been using an online bank for the majority of our banking for several years. We started with ING Direct until they were purchased by Capital One. We don’t really care for the large banks and figured they’d screw up a good thing, so we decided to switch to Ally Bank. We’ve been with them for a few years now and have no real complaints. Below are some of the reasons that we use Ally and online banks in general.

  • ATM Fee Refunds – With ING Direct, we had to use certain ATMs to not be charged a fee. With Ally, we can use whatever ATM we want, and they will issue us a refund for the fees we pay at the end of the month.
  • Paper Checks – We didn’t have a need for them that often, but they are handy to use occasionally. At the time ING Direct didn’t offer paper checks, but Ally did. Whenever you need more, you just let them know and they’ll send them to you at no charge.
  • Interest Rates – Face it, no one is paying great interest rates, but Ally is usually at or near the top. I’m not the type of person to go around and switch all my banking because someone else offers a .01% better rate. As long as we’re near the top, I’m okay with that.
  • Multiple Checking Accounts – At the time, we could only open one checking account with ING, but we wanted multiple. We like to put money from each paycheck into a “bills” account so that it can be pulled out automatically each month when it’s needed. In order to not go over the 6 withdrawal limit of a savings account, you have to use  a checking account. Plus, we got a debit card for the account and could use that with a lot of the places we pay each month. We also decided later to set up an account for myself and my wife. We keep our finances together for just about everything, but we also have our own little account that we use for our own personal spending. It’s our “no judgement” zone.
  • Tons of Savings Accounts – As far as I know, you can create as many as you want. You can create them for any savings goal you might have and then set up transfers so when you get paid, money is automatically transferred to your savings.
  • Instant Transfers – Did an emergency pop up that you need to take care of and need the money transferred fast? You can do it instantly from one account to another, even on the weekend.
  • Overdraft Protection Using Your Savings Account – You would never do this of course because you keep really good track of your checkbook. Let’s just say you were out and your car breaks down. You can’t transfer money from your savings to checking right then. If you tie a savings account to your checking account. When you pay the bill, Ally will transfer the necessary funds from the savings account to your checking account to cover the transfer. This saved us once when my wife lost her debit card for our shared account, and needed to purchase something. She simply used the one for her personal account and we took care of cleaning things up later.
  • Online Chat – If you’ve ever got a question, you can load up chat on Ally’s site and they can help you right away.
  • Online Bill Pay – Who doesn’t offer this? The nice thing about Ally’s is that they don’t take the money out of your account until the day the check is supposed to be delivered. That means you get a little extra time to earn some interest.

I will admit, they were little late to the mobile game. When their original mobile app came out, it wasn’t that impressive. It has improved over time and now allows for eDeposits where you can take a picture of a check and it deposits it into your account. This keeps us from having to run to a brick and mortar bank, deposit the check, and then transfer it up to the account we want it in.

I know there are some other online banks that have created fancy sites that show you a bunch of graphs and do automatic savings of one sort or another. Honestly though, I like to keep things simple and know exactly where our money is and where it’s headed. Ally has worked well for us and if you’re looking to dip your toes in the water of an online bank, give it a try. It might be a great place to put that emergency fund you’ve been working on.

(For what it’s worth, we have one account at a brick and mortar bank. We keep $5 in the account to keep it open. The only reason we have it is for those times we want to deposit cash or a check made out to one of our daughters. Once we make our deposit, we transfer the money almost immediately to Ally.)

Tracking Your Finances, the Easy Way

Mint.com Logo

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a variety of checking, savings, retirement, and investment accounts, all at different institutions. On top of that you may have credit cards, a mortgage, or a car loan. It can be overwhelming to get a complete financial picture. That’s where Mint.com comes in.

I love using this service, even if it’s only to give me a rough idea of our net worth from time to time. After you create your account, you will add in all of your different financial accounts. They’ve already got integrations with tons of different financial places. I was surprised to find my local credit union available. For each place that you want to add, you provide the necessary credentials to allow them to read the information. I know at this point, a lot of people would probably freak out. For some reason, I haven’t been that concerned about it. They are well established and have been around for quite some time. If you’re concerned, do some research and judge for yourself.

So, you’ve added your bank accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, and your mortgage. You can even add your car and that collectible Elvis painting in the attic. It factors it all into your net worth. Here are some of the things that I really like about Mint.com and I’ve found useful.

  • On the lefthand side when you log in, you get the running total of your accounts in one place. It updates when you log in and you get warnings if they couldn’t connect for some reason. If you scroll down to the bottom, you’ll see your net worth. Hopefully it doesn’t scare  you to death.
  • Each week Mint sends out a nice summary showing all of your accounts and how much they’ve increased or decreased. It also gives you your net worth and tells you how much it has increased or decreased. I’ve set it up to also send the same email to my wife so she is able to stay up to date with all of our finances as well.
  • It’s incredibly easy to set up goals. You simply pick what you want to accomplish, when you want to accomplish it by, and which accounts are linked to the goal. For example, if you wanted to save $4000 for a vacation, you enter that in, choose the account you’ll be using to save the money in and it will tell you how much you need to put away each month to reach your goal. If you want, you can put in how much you plan to save each month and it will tell you when you’ll reach your goal. Each month, you’ll get another email showing you the progress of your goals.
  • The Investments tab does a nice job showing you comparisons as to how your doing against each of the major indexes in a nice graph. You can also check performance, value, and allocation in graphs as well.

Mint.com Investments

  • The Trends tab is kind of like the Investments tab. Instead of being for just your investments, it covers all of your accounts. You can analyze your debt, net worth, income, and spending, all in nice looking graphs.
  • If you open up the Accounts window, you’ll see a button for Emails & Alerts. You can create alerts for large deposits, large withdrawals, low balances, bank fees, interest rate changes, going over budget, and a ton of other things. These alerts don’t usually go out right away since they only update information about your accounts on an occasional basis.

There are a few features that are available that I don’t use. One of them is the Transactions tab. On this tab, you can see all of your transactions and categorize them. This helps with some of the other graphs that  tell you where you’re spending money. Honestly, I don’t have the time to go through and categorize them all. Another tab I don’t use much is the Budgets tab. Here you can say how much you want to allocate to different categories and it will tell you how close you’re getting to hitting that amount. Green is good, yellow is a warning, and red is overspending. Of course, this requires that all of your transactions are categorized correctly.

Finally, you’ve got the Ways to Save tab. I have to imagine this is how Mint.com makes their money. From here, they try to connect you up with different financial products like credit cards (stay away), checking, savings, investments, and more. Do some additional research before jumping into something because they suggest it.

I’m sure by now you may be skeptical, or you may not have gotten this far because you were so eager to check it out for yourself. If it’s not for you or after using it you’re concerned about security, you can always delete your entire account. Did I mention that they’ve got a mobile app for your smart phone too?

Saving Money with the Click of a Button Is So Sweet

Honey

How many times has this happened to you? You’ve spent hours filling your virtual shopping cart with a ton of items (hopefully ones you need) and you’re ready to check out. That’s when the promo code box appears. You think, if the box is there, then there has to be a promo code out there somewhere that will save me some money. But where do you start searching? You can start doing web searches and maybe get lucky.

But what if you could just click a button and several promo codes are tried for you automatically without you having to do a web search. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!?!?! You’re in luck if you’re a Chrome browser user. Simply go to http://joinhoney.com/ and install the Honey Chrome extension into your browser. Then when you check out on one of their supported sites the “Honey” button will appear near the promo code box. That’s when you click it and watch the savings roll in.

Or do they? I’ve had Honey installed for quite some time and I usually only shop on Amazon.com. I’ve clicked the button each and every time I checkout and I have yet to save anything. However, it also hasn’t cost me anything to try. To be fair, they do point out that most promo codes are for specific items, which I probably haven’t purchased.

Potential Savings: I wish I had some sort of guess as to what you could save. My only suggestion this time is download it and try it. It doesn’t cost a thing. Please leave some comments if it finds some savings for you.

Featured Image courtesy of piyato / FreeDigitalPhotos.net