Tag: Points and Miles

My Holiday Haul and Other Seasonal Savings

This past weekend I wrapped-up (literally) the last of my Christmas shopping.  It doesn’t come naturally, but thanks to the power of caffeine and coupons, I’ve become more strategic about where, when and how to snag each stocking stuffer to get the best deal.

Because winter weather in the Midwest can be unpredictable, I stick with brick and mortar stores for most of my seasonal shopping.  If I lived in a warmer climate, I wouldn’t leave my laptop.  Here are just a few of the ways I maximized at the mall:

  • My mom requested a Keurig (like mother, like daughter). After scouting out stores, I chose Bed Bath and Beyond for this buy.  Here, I was able to use a 20% store coupon stacked with an 8% cash back bonus by linking the credit card I used to pay with the Ebates app on my phone.  Ebates also offers in-store cash back at other major retailers, including Macy’s, Old Navy and Dick’s Sporting Goods.
  • The Bed Bath and Beyond closest to me also has a World Market inside the store.  So I was able to pick-up some gourmet staples like Southern cornbread stuffing, truffle and Parmesan mashed potatoes and pumpkin lava cake mix for pennies, thanks to a 75% off post-Thanksgiving sale stacked with store coupons and the Ebates app.  Now my pantry is stocked and ready for any potlucks that may pop-up this winter.
  • Maybe it’s my Walking Dead obsession or the current political climate, but I’ve become concerned with making sure my family is prepared for emergencies. So under the tree they’ll find a survival kit from Wise Company.  The only online purchase I made this year, I found MrRebates.com to offer the highest payout for this purchase, at 8% cash back.  While MrRebates’ payouts aren’t as consistent as Ebates’ dependable quarterly calendar, I often find their rebates to be more.
  • I picked up an assortment of gift cards for our secret Santas. Costco and Sam’s Club offer discounted restaurant, movie theater, gym, spa and travel gift cards, most of which are at least 20% off face value.  We have Costco’s Executive Membership which offers an additional 2% cash back and thanks to the company’s move to accepting Visa credit cards, we’re also earning Southwest miles on our purchase.
  • Other restaurants and retailers offer gift card bonuses and other perks during the holidays.  Ryan and I are weekend regulars at our neighborhood Einstein Bros., which has been offering a $5 bonus with their $25 gift cards.  Einstein allows you to purchase gift cards with gift cards, so I turned over as many as I knew we could use before they expire at the end of February.  Panera has also been offering a $10 bonus with the purchase of a $50 gift card.  And don’t forget to use the Mileage Plus X app at Panera.  I’ve never had an issue getting the five miles per dollar redemption even on the purchase of gift cards.
  • And I didn’t even have to pay for wrapping paper thanks coupons from Hallmark’s Crown Rewards loyalty program.

The holidays are stressful enough.  Don’t max out your credit cards, but do maximize every dollar finding gifts (and better yet, experiences and memories) that will bring joy to your loved ones this year.

Wedding Planning Savings

Before starting this post, I asked Ryan how we thought we saved money planning our wedding.  His response:  We didn’t.  It’s true, ours was definitely not a budget wedding.  We looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I don’t regret a single dollar spent on those memories shared with family and friends.

But we didn’t burn Benjamins just because; we were thoughtful about how we spent money.  We were intentional to use it in ways that were meaningful to us or provided a great experience for our guests.

Here are a few ways we were able to save or maximize spending on our special day:

Save (on) the Date

Ryan took the leap on Leap Day and about five minutes after he dropped down on one knee, he also proposed a date in March the following year.  Giving ourselves a year to plan gave us an opportunity to take our time and shop around.  Like any shopping, last minute always equates to more expensive.

March is also considered off-season for weddings, which meant a savings of more than 25% off our reception venue as well as better deals from other vendors.  Choosing a date between November and March could mean more money in your budget for a top shelf bar or that swim-up suite on your honeymoon.

Spend Your Way to Paradise

Any big ticket spending is a great opportunity to churn credit cards for hotel points and frequent flyer miles.  Before you drop a single dollar on your nuptials, do some research on the right card(s) for getting you where you’d like to go on your honeymoon, for free.  In my post We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, I detailed my experience travel hacking my way to Oahu and Maui.

Ditch David’s

Since most of our wedding party came from out of town and out of state, we wanted to decrease their financial burden by picking up the tab for their attire.  By looking around online we were able to find a tailor who sold a quality suit for the same price as a rental.  With a little negotiation, we were able to get him to include ties, give us a group discount, and also have him provide on-site alterations the day before the wedding.

I’m already a J. Crew devotee, so that’s where we purchased my matron of honor’s dress.  She and I both looked on-line and identified our top choices.  Timed to arrive around her family coming for a visit, I ordered the ones we liked best using a portal for cash back (my current faves are Ebates and Mr. Rebates.com).  She tried them on while in town, and then I returned the rejects to the J. Crew store down the street.

Coupon, Lady

Be strategic about making wedding purchases around major sales.  I was obsessed with Hey Lady shoes, which are pricey but insanely comfortable and rarely on sale.  I followed the brand on social media, and then placed my order when they offered a great Cyber Monday discount.

And stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby regularly offer 50% off coupons that can be used on paper goods or wedding décor items.  And there’s currently a rebate for Jo-Ann on the Ibotta app.

Get the Most from Your Vendors  

Find vendors who multi-task or offer package deals.  Our reception DJ was also an acoustic guitarist who played before and during our ceremony.  And the salon where I had my hair and make-up done offered a complementary pre-wedding cut and color when you booked a bridal up-do and make-up with a practice session.  The same is typical for photographers.  Ask if they’ll include a free engagement session or throw-in an hour at the rehearsal dinner.

Early in our planning I had a consultation with a high-end florist.  During our conversation, they shared that they secure their rentals through BBJ Linen.  I used that information to order specialty linens direct, without the middle man mark-up.  I didn’t end up with that florist, but I was able to save additional money with our florist of choice by ordering vases online through a discount retailer.

Icing on the Cake

Add the word “wedding” to any purchase and it immediately increases the price.  One big way we saved but provided a high-end experience was by skipping the traditional tiered wedding cake and ordering party cakes in ten different flavors from a local gourmet bakery.  This shop advertises the base cost of its wedding cakes at $10/person, and we were able to serve our guests the flavor(s) of their choice for a fraction of that cost.

Don’t be afraid to skip the traditional.  We had a short ceremony without any readings, songs or crowd participation, so we didn’t bother with paper programs.  We also skipped toasts and tosses, so we didn’t spend money on special glasses or a garter.

Like every other way you choose to spend your money, your wedding day is a reflection of your values and who you are as a couple.  Whether it’s a full Catholic mass with 350 witnesses or a barefoot beach ceremony with only an officiant, make the day uniquely yours!

Wedding Season Savings

September seems to be month for weddings in my social circles.  I love fall, with its crisp, cooler temperatures; pumpkin-spice everything; a return to hoodies, corduroy and boots; and football (which I like for tailgating or napping to on TV, not for watching) – so I can totally buy-into the fall wedding trend.

But even for guests, weddings are expensive.  According to a recent study, millennials spend on average $893 to celebrate their friends’ nuptials.  Costs include multiple wedding-related events from 11engagement parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties and rehearsal dinners; plus attire and accessories; and transportation and travel accommodations.

While some of these expenses are unavoidable unless you decline to attend entirely, here are a few ways to save on or maximize on typical wedding-related expenditures:

  • While it’s best to wear what’s already in your closet, renting a designer dress and accessories can be far less expensive than buying something new. I’ve had awesome experiences with Rent the Runway, which offers $30 off a first time order and promotions throughout the year.  You can select 4 or 8 day rentals, which include a back-up size.  Everything arrives clean and ready to wear in a velvet bag, which you return with free shipping.  During wedding season and around winter holidays, dresses go quickly, so reserve your dress well before the RSVP deadline.
Gift giving
  • Bed Bath and Beyond is one of the most popular registry retailers. The store is constantly bombarding my mailbox with coupons, some for 20% off a single item and others for $5 off a $15 purchase.  Since they never expire and you can use multiple coupons per purchase, I hoard them.  If you’re not already getting these by mail, you can download the 20% off coupon at Groupon. In addition to the coupon, there are two apps that offer in store rebates at Bed Bath and Beyond: Ebates and Ibotta, and you claim them BOTH.
  • Ebates recently launched rebates for select brick and mortar stores. Bed Bath and Beyond and its sister-stores World Market and Buy Buy Baby are among the brands part of this program (others include Sephora, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Express and American Eagle).  To get this rebate you will need to connect your debit or credit card number to your Ebates account before shopping AND remember to link the offer on the app once in the store.
  • Ibotta offers an additional $5 rebate for any purchase over $50. To get this rebate, you’ll scan the bar code on your purchased item with your phone and take a photo of the receipt.  I’ve been doing this at the complementary gift wrap bar, which you should be using, if you’re not already.  Don’t love the tell-tale Bed Bath and Beyond branding on the wrapping paper?  Just flip it over and use the silver side on the back for a posher look.
  • Enjoy being able to toast the newlyweds with a glass or three of champagne by taking Uber. To make maximize this expense, make sure your Uber and SPG accounts are linked to earn points for free hotel stays to reward yourself for making safe and smart driving decisions.
  • For a destination wedding or any wedding that requires you to travel, check out my post We’re Not in Kansas Anymore for beginner tips on traveling for free using hotel points and airline miles.

Cheers to love, weddings and saving money!

We’re Not In Kansas Anymore

Last month my girlfriends got together for brunch and pedicures.  As much as I enjoy a professional polish, it’s a budget breaker I reserve for special occasions.  In between stories of kids (theirs) and careers (mine), I thought back to the last time I had a salon pedicure:

Hawaii was at the top of my mom’s bucket list, so in celebration of her 60th birthday, I promised her we’d go.  Newly married and just starting out on our journey to becoming debt free by paying off a combined $85,000 in student loans, I didn’t want to ask my husband for family funds to pay for a girl’s trip.  So, I hit the internet in search of savings.

I learned about credit card sign-up bonuses on the BoardingArea blogs.  A sign-up bonus from the United branded Chase card was a start, but only netted a round trip flight for one of us.  So, I discovered Opinion Miles Club, and for months spent the first thirty minutes of each day taking surveys and giving my opinion in exchange for hundreds and eventually thousands of Mileage Plus miles.

Christmas 2013, I gifted my mother a wrapped pineapple and our flight confirmations.

After the holidays, I applied for the Marriott branded card, and earned enough points for four nights at the JW Marriott on Oahu.  But we had more days to fill, so I took more surveys, discovered online shopping portals and dining programs, and may or may not have joined a wine club to earn more miles for two intra-island flights between Oahu and Maui.

Short on time and out of points, I used Rocketmiles to book hotels for the rest of our trip.  With Rocketmiles, even though I was paying out of pocket for paradise, at least I was earning miles for future flights.

After more than a week of Haleakala sunrises (her), sleeping in (me) and lots of mother-daughter snorkeling, we ended my mom’s trip of a lifetime with a pedicure in the hotel spa before heading back to the Heartland.  Before our plane even touched down at the Kansas City International Airport, I was already planning my next big adventure using points and miles.

Since Hawaii, Ryan and I have continued to travel hack our way around the world.  The following year, we signed up for a Southwest branded Chase card and focused our spending, survey taking and portal shopping to earn the coveted Companion Pass.  We also strategized our way to several free flights across the pond.

Travel offers opportunities to see, taste and do things most Americans only see on TV.  It pushes your boundaries.  It leaves you amazed by the beauty of people and our planet.

Enrich your life and find yourself in travel.  You don’t have to be rich to travel, but when you travel, you are rich.