Yes, You Can: Actually Save Money Using Your Credit Card

If you believe using a credit card is nothing more than an expensive exercise, it is probably time for a rethink, as there are a number of ways you can come out on top when you use your card instead of cash.

Not convinced?

Here is a look at the positives attached to using a credit card you might not have even thought about, as well as the extent of some of the credit card benefits you may not have realized you could get.

No Scissors and Coupons Required: You Can Save Cash with Cards

There is a fair chance that you are one of those people who quite happily cuts out a coupon to use at your local store or restaurant, as it seems that well over 80 percent of us are noted to be occasional to regular coupon users.

That stands to reason, as most of us are not likely to turn down the chance to get some money off, or maybe even a free gift. The same mentality can also be applied to using your credit card, as there are literally hundreds of card-linked offers out there that you can take advantage of nowadays.

Sites like Upgraded Points specialize in hunting down enticing credit card offers. Reward schemes like cash back, unlimited purchase discounts and cash back rewards are the kind of deals that card issuers are offering. Other cards offer discounts at certain participating restaurants and gas stations, while others offer free flights or hotels.

If you use coupons to get money off, or like getting something for nothing or for little effort, it makes sense to use your credit card to unlock some of these rewards, unless you are happy missing out.

It is also worth pointing out that it is a lot less hassle to get your hands on credit card rewards, as you don’t have to cut any coupons out, and there are no codes to scan. Once you have signed up for a rewards scheme, just pay with your card and the rest will happen automatically.

Even More Savings: You Can Get Some of Your Money Back

Cash back deals are always worth looking out for and this is a prime example of how using your credit card could actually save you money.

If you see a cash back program being offered with your credit card, it is always worth signing up for the program, as you could get some of your hard-earned cash back to spend again in another way. You get rewarded just for using your credit card when you pay for your groceries or almost anything else you use your card for on a regular basis.

Although many of these schemes offer you cash back, as the description implies, this can also be offered to you as discounts, travel vouchers, hotel and travel rewards, and plenty of other ways to spend what is effectively “free” money from the card company.

Getting a percentage of the cash back that you had to spend anyway is a real no-brainer and a persuasive reason to use your credit card, so that you get the maximum benefit from your cash spending.

Retail Reality Check: You Get Easier Returns

There is almost nothing more frustrating than purchasing an item that doesn’t turn out to be right for you or just not what you expected it to be. In reality, there is one thing more frustrating than that: when you discover the retailer is not playing ball and won’t accept a return for whatever reason.

If you can’t get your money back, or only get offered a store credit, which you probably don’t want, that can turn out to be a costly experience. If you paid for the item using your credit card; however, it makes it easier for you to get your money back and cancel the transaction.

If something is faulty, not as described, or there are other viable reasons you don’t want to keep what you’ve purchased, the extra layer of consumer protection you get when you pay by credit card gives you more options than if you paid by cash or debit card.

There are certain rules and limits relating to cancelling a card transaction, but they are normally far more generous than other methods of payments. Using your credit card could save you money in this scenario, as you are less likely to get stuck with something you don’t want or are unhappy with in the end.

It is fair to say that saving money isn’t the first feature that springs to most people’s minds when talking about credit cards, but when you look into what they offer, there is actually a good chance your card could do just that. Start by finding out what your credit card provider offers, so you can take advantage of the benefits using your card could bring.

About Erin Bradshaw

Erin Bradshaw knows from experience how credit cards can be the root of all evil, but now almost debt free she can also see their positive sides. She writes about a range of personal finance matters in her online articles as she shares her own views, experiences and tips for managing your money better.

A Financial Frame of Mind: Drawing the Line Between Frugal and Obsessively Cheap

Michael Jackson was known for the lavish shopping sprees that he went on for his own amusement. According to unauthorized biographies by Randy J. Tarraborelli and others, though, Jackson could be grasping when it came to compensating the music producers, attorneys, managers, security agents and other professionals whose skills he depended on.

Michael Jackson’s life carries an important moral lesson on the line between frugality and cheapness, generosity and flash.  If your particular brand of financial philosophy hurts anyone — you or others in any way, you’re probably doing something wrong.

What are some of the other tests to apply to yourself?

What is your bottom line — price or value? It’s an important test to apply. If you find yourself picking a cheap, low-capacity computer solely for the price savings to be had and don’t feel like thinking about how you lose out on productivity, you could be crossing the line from frugality to cheapness.

Do you want to save to spend, or just save to save? Those who are frugal love to spend, but only on the things that they personally consider important. They may not shop for clothes or gadgets, but may spend on a college course or a great vacation. The frugal person does want to spend, but wants to do it on their own terms. A person who is cheap saves for no good reason.

Is there any elective spending that makes you happy? If you tend to lean towards cheapness, there is probably no kind of spending that does. Every elective expense leaves you with a feeling of guilt and dread. If you have a healthy attitude to money, though, there are likely to be plenty of things that you can think of, that you would spend on without feeling bad.

Are your choices short-sighted ones? Would you buy a cheaper home for the saving right now, even if it means a poor long-term investment? The inability to loosen up for a better investment is a hallmark of obsessive thrift. When it comes to investments, it’s important to take the long view.

Is your thrift more about smartness or brute force? People who tend towards frugality spend less money by being smart about their shopping. They might always buy quality brands, but choose the previous year’s model to save money. They might spend some time couponing, and always be careful never to pay credit card interest. When you’re cheap, you usually go all out, and simply shut down your spending. Your purchases will tend towards unreliable, low-cost brands, or not buying anything, at all.

Do you like spending to make others happy? Frugal people usually do. They find their careworn minds loosening up when it comes to an opportunity to spend a little money to make someone happy. If you find that you’re unable to happily spend for any reason, there’s a problem.

Finding the will to change

Whether you hold on to your money or blow everything to impress others, you basically value money itself, rather than the power to create happiness that it represents. While being tight-fisted can make you happy in a narrow sense, it can have devastating consequences on your life and the lives of those who depend on you. It’s important to step back, take a look at what your relationship with money does, and gradually develop the will to change. If you’re willing to give yourself enough time, and to begin a careful move towards moderation, you’ll find that it leaves everyone far happier.

Start by spending on others

Buy the best gifts for your loved ones on birthdays and on holidays, going as far as you can afford. Look for good charities to give to, and don’t claim a tax break. Tip well, and be generous when you pay people who work for you.

Certainly, you shouldn’t spend any more than you can actually afford. It’s important when you begin to loosen up, that you are aware of exactly where you’re headed financially. If you aren’t used to being free with your money, it could end in overreach.

Make solid, logically defensible choices

One of the best ways to make the change is to carefully begin paying for greater quality in every purchase. Whether it’s a car where you get greater protection or better quality foods that are more nutritious, upgrades where you can easily calculate the value that you’re getting for your money are an excellent way to begin.

Look for the irrationality

A careful look at your motivations for not wanting to spend money is usually the ultimate way to change. It can take a painful look at yourself to be successful. In the end, though, it’s worth it.

Sheldon Roberson came across frugal living a few years ago, and was instantly hooked as she realized how it could assist her as an investor. She encourages others to learn about these lesser-known ideas and writes on the topic for a small number of blogs.

3 Important Actions To Take Before Trading Online

When it comes to trading online, there are many different brokers and websites that specialize in helping people to trade stocks, commodities, or even currencies. This even goes above and beyond the ability of many individuals to manage their own 401(k) or Roth IRA accounts from the comfort of their own computer or home office. Technology has allowed for some amazing advances, however even with all of these opportunities it is important to take 3 major actions before you start even your very first trade online.

3 Trading Online Steps

Action #1: Do Your Homework/Research

One of the first steps you need to take is to slow down and make sure you do some serious research before committing to any specific company for trading online. The terms of an IRA account from one company to another are not the same. The cut certain Forex brokers take off each trade is not the same. While some of these differences can seem extremely small, sometimes being just a dollar or two, or a single percent, over the course of 30 or 40 years of investing that can lead to massive differences in the final amount.

The entire responsibility of using the best providers for your online trading fall squarely on your shoulders and it is always worth taking a next or week or few weeks to do your research to make absolutely sure you are only doing business with the absolute best of the best.

Action #2: Find Broker Software You Like

Online trading can be tricky even in the best of circumstances. Whether you are looking at trading stocks, speculating on commodities, or trading on the ever volatile Forex market, having the best broker software is critical to success. No matter which of these markets you’re dabbling in you want to make sure you are using an online program that is accurate, extremely fast (preferably real time), and very easy for you to read a lot of information in a single glance.

While every single person is going to have their own preference, the most important thing here is that your information is accurate and up to date and that you are absolutely comfortable with being able to use that software. If you can find a broker software that you are comfortable with, and that will definitely give you better results.

Action #3: Understand How Markets Are Different

When you are looking at trading online you also need to make sure you don’t make the mistake of thinking all markets are the same. Stock markets are the most stable by far and are driven much more by information and fundamental reports as opposed to technical chart patterns. Commodity trading requires much more knowledge of how speculation and technical chart analysis works in order to consistently profit.

The Forex market, where currency pairs are traded, is by far and away the most volatile and risky of all of the markets and should only be traded by professionals or after you have spent a great deal of time taking advantage of practice software to make sure you have it down.

In Conclusion

There’s no question that trading online has its own risks, but the opportunities are amazing and by following the 3 basic actions in this article you will be truly ready to go.

Lending Club 6 Month Update

While I didnt write about it for quite a while on the site, I joined lending club a while back.  For those of you unfamiliar, lending club is peer to peer lending, where people put up an amount they want to borrow, which is then graded by the site, and assigned an interest rate.  Investors like me can then look over the notes, read what each person wants to borrow for (the majority that I’ve seen are for credit card consolidation) and loan them an amount of money in $25 increments.

For my trial run with lending club, I decided to invest $300 the first time, and decided that if I didnt like it or had a lot of charge offs, I’d write it off as a failed investment and expensive lesson and just close my account and walk away.  Thankfully, it didnt work out that way, and I can now say that this is the highest return account in H and I’s very tiny portfolio (which mostly consists of savings accounts).  H and I have savings accounts with balances much larger than this, and lending club account is still generating 10x times the interest.  I guess that will just be what it is, then.

I after about 3 months and nothing really went sideways on me, I decided to put more of my cash stash in there, and started up a second portfolio in lending club.  This one has been fairing a bit worse in terms of interest generated, but it’s larger so it throws off more cash each month.  At this point, i’m very close to being able to use my repayments and interest payments to purchase a new note every month – which will be super cool!

 

As you can see, everything has gone relatively smoothly with the lending club in terms of the return im getting.  The one complaint that I do have with the service is that it takes up a lot of time.  When you make the first investment, they’ll pick out some sample portfolios, tell you the interest that you’ll get, and you can easily place all your notes.  However, once you’re purchasing them one at a time, it seems like it takes a lot longer than I feel like it should.  It takes time to select a note, etc and then once all that is done, sometimes the notes dont get funded/issued for whatever reason.  At that point you’ve got to go back into the service and pick out a new borrower for the money.  While not the worst thing ever, sometimes I wish it was quicker – I swear I’ve had to repick a borrower about 6 times for the same $25.

Readers: Do you use lending club?  Have you considered giving it a try?  Given the small returns you’re getting from a traditional savings account and the returns from the stock market that seem all over the place, I’ve found this is a good place to store a portion of my capital.

Saving Money Tip: Make Your Own Fabric Softener

 

Greetings everyone!

Today I’m going to share another tip I use to save money (and increase self-reliance) around the house: making your own fabric softener.  It is very simple to make and very, very cheap.  You may not even need to buy anything!

First, why would I want to do this? There  are a few reasons. I’ll save money, I’ll get all the perfumes, dies and additives (some of which some people are allergic to) out of my fabric softener, I will learn to make something new and useful (always cool) and I’ll become more self-reliant.

FabricSoftener

Now, on to the process.  First, we need to gather our ingredients: vinegar, baking soda and water.  You can also use an essential oil of your choice for scent (I use peppermint).  How do I make it, you ask? Great question, and pay attention cause here we go.

Step 1: Mix together 1 cup of baking soda and 1 cup of water in a large container (more than 1 gallon).  The baking soda won’t completely dissolve, but don’t worry.  You’ll get an assist from the next step.
Step 2: Slowly add in 6 cups of vinegar. The mixture will fizz, a lot. Stir this for a bit.
Step 3: Add in 6 cups of water and continue to stir until baking soda is dissolved.
Step 4: (Optional) Add 10-15 drops of your favorite essential oil for scent.
Step 5: Store.  I used 2 mason jars that I had on hand (one was half gallon size)

Useage: Use 1 cup of this in place of your old fabric softener.  This stuff works great, I’ve been using it for about 3 weeks now.  It’s very simple to make and obviously easy to use.  There are very few drawbacks if you use regular fabric softener already, but I must admit that I’m rather fond of the snuggle bear.  I know it’s just an advertisement to make sure I keep buying the product, but seriously, how can you not like this bear?!

That’s all for this saving money tip folks.  Do you plan on giving this tip a try, or is it too out there for you?  Where do you draw the line when trying to save some coin?

The Five Eco Principles – Water Efficiency

While in Chicago in April, I had a chance to visit the museum of science & industry.  The experience was great, and my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed the museum.  We were both intrigued enough to pay the extra ~$25 or so to see the smart house.  We were not disappointed, and left with some good ideas about things to re-use and things to purchase made from re-used items.  Recently, I thought it would be a good idea to share the principles with the readers, and figure out how you can best take advantage of them.  Today is the fourth one, focusing on Water Efficiency.

It looks like i’ve forgotten the Overview of the process, so ill give it to you here

I have written a bit about floodplains and conservation, but have yet to write about efficiency.  In the western US where I come from, water is always on everyone’s mind.  If you want to farm, feel free, but it’s going to be difficult if you dont have the water rights to your property.  (Drinking) Water is a limited and precious resource, and should be treated as such.

It is my feeling that our water is being mis-allocated and at times wasted every day.  Part of the problems is lies in ignoring the environment when designing our neighborhoods, homes and other appliances.

The first one that comes to my mind is the lawn.  Yes, I am well aware that everyone enjoys having a good looking, green front and back lawn. In some places that get plenty of rain, this isn’t a big deal.  Using rainwater supplemented by the occasional sprinkler system to keep the lawn green is fine, so long as most of the water comes from the rain.  This does not happen where I live.  There is ~12″ of rainfall per year.  An amount this small should not be wasted on making sure that everyone has a ‘nice looking’ lawn.  There are plenty of ways to keep your lawn nice looking without using scarce resources.  Xeriscaping is a great option, and can have great results.  Xeriscaping involves design with plants that are low on water, including flowers, bark, and other drought resistant grasses.  They can save water and be nice looking!

xeriscapeImage credit: www.raisethehammer.org

Also, if you’re still looking for some sort of ‘lawn’, you can plant grasses that are native to the area.  Grasses such as this have already adapted to conditions in your area, and are well suited to deal without water (in my case).

In addition to the lawn options outside the home, there are also many options for becoming more efficient with your water inside the home.   There is alot of “low hanging fruit” to harvest in regards to your water usage.  One of the first ones is to turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth and washing your hands. There is no reason to leave these on, literally throwing valuable water (and money) right down the drain.  It’s a simple step that can pay back big in water saved and money saved. If your city or water utility uses “stepped” billing, the savings could be large.  For instance, if your water utility charges you 5 cents per gallon for the first 1,000 gallons, and 8 cents per gallon for gallons 1,001 – 2,000, and removing the water waste from these habits (conducted in the home at least 2 times per day), that can add up over 30 days and can possibly move you easily under 1,000 gallons per month.  Money saved!

Another opportunity  is the toilet.  We all use them, and we all have them.  A ‘typical’ toilet uses 3.5 gallons per flush, while some of the more efficient models can use as little as 1 gallon per flush.  What really piqued my interest is the double flush toilets, and their potential for water savings.  Dual flush toilets are basically what they sound like, with the toilet having a button for ‘solids’ and a button for ‘liquids’.   According to how stuff works, the most modern dual flush toilets use less than 1 gallon per flush for liquids, and just over 1.5 gallons for flushing solids.  Over the lifetime of the toilet, this can represent a huge savings not to be ignored.  Stats from toilet abc’s show that you can use less than 1/3rd of the water of a traditional 3.5 gallon toilet.  As it says on the site, the government is looking to come up with an “energy star for toilets” rating, which will probably be a good thing, given the success of the energy star label.

dual-flushSource: Amazon.com

Now that you’ve got plenty of ideas on how to save water, where do you start? I suggest starting with the things that provide the highest return.  For example, the cost of turning off your water while brushing your teeth and washing your hands is $0, and the benefits are enormous compared to the time invested.  You will be surprised at how quickly you can form this habit.  After that, I’d move to the toilet.  You can install a double flush mechanisim for ~30, or put in double flush toilets from the get go and save some money.

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