Some people are “pound wise and penny foolish.” That is, they focus their savings efforts only on big items while letting small amounts of money slip through their fingers. Having tallied up my “penny savings” from last year, I can tell you that small amounts of money can quickly add up to big savings.
Last year I decided that I would keep track of the small amounts of money I made or saved during 2007 to determine if these “money savers” were really worth my time or if I should be focusing my time on other things. I tracked coupon savings, rebates, certain discounts, money made from online surveys, and spare change. Each category had some ground rules, which I’ll explain below. First, here are the savings in each category (rounded to the nearest dollar).
- Coupon Savings: $1,100
- Rebates: $80
- Discounts: $700
- Surveys: $300
- Spare Change: $250
- Total Savings: $2,330
Let me elaborate on the ground rules for each category and how I calculated my savings. You’ll see I did nothing special or tricky. Anyone can do this.
Coupons: The majority of coupons that I clip come from the Sunday newspaper and are for groceries, toiletries, paper products, and pet items. However, these are not the coupons that save me the most money. I don’t live near a store that doubles coupons, so I only get face value for my coupons. I’ve also stopped using as many grocery coupons because I’ve been actively experimenting with store brands and find most of them to be quite good and cheaper than the national brand, even with a coupon. I also don’t use coupons for items I wouldn’t normally buy, unless it’s for something I’ve wanted to try. I don’t buy things just because I have a coupon. Even though grocery store coupons aren’t my biggest money saver, they still save me an average of $10 per grocery trip.
I save the most money by using coupons for online merchants and travel, coupons that I receive in the mail or email, and coupons that I find “off the beaten path.” Coupons for online merchants are easily found by doing a Google search for the merchant or using a site such as DealCatcher.com or CouponCabin.com. I’m can usually find a coupon for my online purchases, either a percentage off the price, free shipping, or a set dollar amount off. Some sites will let you “stack” coupons and use two or more on one order. I also make sure to sign up for special deals from my favorite merchants. Some send coupons in the mail, others send email coupons. These are usually high dollar or high percentage off coupons which, if I have a need at the time, save me big money. I also use coupons when I travel. I find coupons for rental cars, hotels and restaurants, either at the above mentioned sites or by visiting the website of the travel provider. I’ve also signed up for offers from my preferred hotels and rental car agencies.
Coupons are everywhere if you keep your eyes peeled. I get a magazine from my insurance provider that contains coupons for its partner merchants. I find coupons for local merchants and restaurants on pages of the newspaper other than the Sunday inserts. There are coupons in mainstream magazines and trade publications. Coupons come in the ad packs that you get in the mail. A lot of these “off the beaten path” coupons are high value and good for things you wouldn’t necessarily think of. For example, our veterinarian puts a coupon in the local coupon mailer good for 50% off a routine examination and it’s good for existing customers. I’m able to use one every year for our dog and it saves me quite a bit. Just keep looking and you’ll find coupons everywhere.
Rebates: I didn’t save as much in rebates this year as I have in the past, largely because we didn’t buy many big ticket items this year with rebates attached. But I still sent in the ones I came across and saved $80. The key to getting your rebates is making sure you follow their directions exactly, write legibly, and keep records of the items you submit and whom to contact if the rebate doesn’t come.
Discounts: This category is made up of two types of discounts that I primarily use: Rewards card discounts and membership discounts. Rewards card discounts are those that I get by using loyalty cards are grocery stores, pet stores, office supply stores, restaurants, etc. It seems like every store has a card these days. Most have certain items each week that are discounted for card holders, although some offer a flat percentage off the price of your order. (Incidentally, holding a rewards card for a merchant is a good way to get coupons for that merchant.)
Membership discounts are those that I receive for being a member of certain organizations. Automotive clubs, professional organizations, insurance providers, and other organizations offer discounts if you use their partner merchants and present your membership card. Although I have to pay to join some organizations that offer discounts, I don’t subtract the membership fee from my savings because I would have joined the organization anyway. I don’t join any organization just for the discount. In most cases, it’s not worth it. I join because they provide information or services that I need. The discounts are gravy.
Surveys: I wrote about this in my article about “Get Paid To” sites. There are some legitimate online companies that pay you to do surveys. SurveyPolice.com keeps a listing of which companies are the most reliable and actually pay out. There are also local research companies that might need your opinion because you work in an interesting field or you use their products. Most of my survey money comes from focus groups that I’m invited to because of my job, but I do make a bit of money from the online companies. These don’t take much time to do and pay between $2 and $20, depending on the length and the company involved.
Spare Change: I don’t spend change. If I’m given thirty-five cents back from a purchase, I keep it and put it in my change jar. I also keep any change that I find. When the jar gets full, I roll the change or take it to the bank and use the coin sorter. The key to making the most of this is not to pay to have your change counted. Many banks will let you use their coin sorter for free if you have an account with them, but some won’t. In that case, you’re better off rolling it yourself and hauling it to the bank. Don’t use the machines in grocery stores because most keep 10-20% of your total as a usage fee. I was able to increase my change savings this year by not spending most of my $1 bills and adding them to the jar. I never missed the dollar bills.
To some people, $2,330 might not seem like a lot of money. But to me, it’s almost three mortgage payments. That’s huge to me and well worth my time. I’ve always saved money wherever possible, but seeing it on paper proved to me and my family that watching these pennies really does add up. Sure, it doesn’t equate to getting a second job. If we were really in debt or in a financial crisis these savings would help, but another source of income would be required. In that case, maybe clipping coupons, hunting discounts, and doing surveys wouldn’t be worth my time. I’d need to be out making “real” money. But given our current financial picture, saving the pennies stretches the money we earn quite a bit further and gives us more money to have fun with.
Image courtesy of Johnny Huh