Tag: shopping portals

Resourceful Ways to Maximize Every FSA Dollar

I am fortunate to work for an organization that provides a generous benefit package, including access to a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).  If you’re unfamiliar with FSAs, they’re an elective employer-sponsored account that allows an employee to set aside a portion of their earnings tax-free for qualified health care expenses.  (Some FSA programs even include child care among the qualified expenses.)  The downside of an FSA is at the end of the plan year, unspent funds are forfeited.

Even after several years of taking advantage of this benefit, I’ve still never mastered calculating the perfect amount to set-aside annually.  I either end up over – or under – the amount needed to cover all of my out of pocket health care costs.  But these are “use it or lose it” funds, so in those surplus years I’ve found some practical and creative ways to spend those extra dollars:

  • Medical, dental and vision co-pays and prescriptions. Of course, if you are also lucky enough to have a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Health Reimbursement Account (HRA), try to reimburse through this account first before tapping into your FSA.
  • In 2011, regulations changed to exclude over-the-counter medications, except when prescribed by a physician. No longer can you use that remaining balance to stock-up on pain reliever or allergy medicine, but items like saline nasal spray, Neti Pots and hot or cold wraps for pain, remain on the approved list.
  • In addition to eye glasses and contact lenses, contact solution is an eligible expense. I use that tax savings to justify splurging on a hydrogen peroxide based cleaning solution, which has helped me extend the life of my contacts.  And if you have a big balance close to year-end, you could consider spending it on Lasik.
  • Items specific to infants and the elderly seem to be the most universally covered. I don’t have dentures, but I do have a removable retainer, so I make sure to submit my receipts for the denture cleanser I use to sanitize that.
  • Family planning items are on the approved list, including condoms and contraceptives as well as ovulation predictor kits and pregnancy tests. And while I’ve found that not all vitamins and supplements are covered, prenatal vitamins are.  A little extra folic acid and DHA in your daily vitamin can’t hurt, even if your current lifestyle is more centered around happy hours than play groups.
  • Channel your inner survivalist or favorite Walking Dead character and order a comprehensive emergency and first aid kit for your home and smaller versions to keep in the trunk of your car and your desk at work. Another item I wouldn’t have necessarily bought otherwise was a good thermometer.
  • It may be winter now, but in preparation for those pool days ahead, go ahead and fill your medicine cabinet with sunscreen, which is covered. Occasionally, I’ve also found lip balms and acne treatments marked as FSA eligible.

Like all other purchases you make, be sure to maximize your FSA expenses by using a shopping portal to earn points, miles or cash back.   MrRebates.com and Ebates both currently feature generous rebates when shopping at Walgreens.com, which has a FSA eligible landing page and qualifying items clearly marked:

walgreens-fsa-example

And while my FSA administrator has provided me with a debit card to use for qualifying purchases, I use my personal credit card to earn even more points and miles (you know, in order use that sunscreen I just bought someplace tropical).  Just be sure before submitting your receipt or other documentation that it clearly indicates what items are eligible for reimbursement and the purchase date falls within your plan year.

A healthy body and healthy finances are symbiotic.  Invest in taking care of yourself.  It will pay dividends.  

Donate Generously, Without Spending a Dime

This season of thanksgiving gives us a dedicated time to reflect on our blessings, and give back to those in need.  Red kettles and bell ringers greet you at every store and year-end solicitations start filling your inbox and mail box.  But instead of giving them your loose change, here are a few ways you can be the change:

Gift the gift of time.  Find an organization and mission that speaks to your heart and use your talents contribute to their cause.  Cook and serve meals, teach a computer class, mentor at-risk youth, or help rebuild neighborhoods.  And don’t forget to log your mileage when driving to and from volunteering, which you can deduct on your taxes if you itemize.

Collect travel toiletries to give to a shelter or your local Ronald McDonald House for use by families away from home and in the hospital with a sick or injured child.  I never use hotel lotion, but it’s one of the items most coveted by those who are homeless and spend all four seasons out in the elements.  Shampoo, soap, conditioner, combs, cotton swabs and toothpaste are also appreciated.

Use coupons combined with sales to pay pennies for non-perishables and hygiene products to donate to food banks.  Look for deals on diapers, baby food and formula, items which are less frequently donated but are always needed.

Give blood or donate plasma.  Before I started working in health care, I thought blood transfusions were just for blood loss due to injuries or surgical procedures, but cancer patients, those with severe infections and other life-threatening ailments may also need their blood supply replenished.  And consider joining the national bone marrow registry.

If you can’t sell it on eBay or Craig’s List, donate it.  No matter the condition, there’s never a need to send your old outfits, books and home goods to the landfill.  Donated paperbacks that won’t sell or clothes no longer wearable are frequently sold to textile recyclers and eventually be resurrected as industrial products or trendy new apparel with hipster appeal.  Not only are you helping others and saving the planet, but you can also include in-kind donations among your charitable deductions when you itemize on your tax return.

Ebates and Mr. Rebates only offer cash back on Amazon purchases from select departments.  If your purchase isn’t one of those rotating departments, consider logging-on via AmazonSmile.  By using this portal, Amazon will donate 0.5% of the sale price to your charity of choice.  You can log-into AmazonSmile using your Prime membership, and don’t forget to use the MileagePlus X app to earn United miles by first buying an Amazon gift card before checking out.

There are lots of ways you can make a difference in the lives of others besides making a financial contribution.  This holiday season and all year long, do what you can to make the world a little better and a little brighter for those less fortunate.

Building a Basic Wardrobe That Isn’t Basic

It’s autumn in the Midwest.  With falling leaves and dropping temperatures come scarves, sweaters and boots.  This weekend, I took the opportunity to pull out of storage my cold-weather staples and flip my summer wardrobe to fall.  Since I keep a capsule wardrobe my seasonal shift was as simple as putting away a few pairs of shorts and switching out tees for long-sleeved layers.

My creation of a capsule wardrobe was motivated in equal parts by my desire to save money and my love of sleep and the extra time this style affords me in the morning.  When literally everything in my closet coordinates, there’s no wasting time wondering if things go together.  Some of the world’s most successful people, from President Barack Obama to Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have adopted a capsule wardrobe in an effort to make one less decision every day.

Here are my tips for building a basic wardrobe that isn’t basic:

  • Know what works for your body and what to wear that has you feeling your very best, whether that be powerful, put-together or pretty. I like skirts and dresses on others, but they just don’t work for me.  So as much as I love a pencil skirt in the store, I stick to pants.  And personally, ballet flats leave me feeling blah.  So along with my morning coffee (French press, please) I need at least a little heel to put a perk in my step.
  • Mix and match pieces that easily coordinate with each other. I work in a professional setting, so black and tan trousers are my go-to staples.  I like Nordstrom’s Halogen brand.  When a little more formality is needed, I can throw on a blazer.
  • For tops, I stick with neutral solid colors that can pair with either pant. The Tippi from J. Crew is a light-weight three-quarter length sleeve sweater that can be worn all year long.  This all-season piece is available online year-round and different colors are released – and go on sale – throughout the year.
  • Like pants, I keep it simple with two pairs of shoes for work – in tan and black patent. Do make sure all your shoes have the same heel height and will work with all the pants in your closet.  And don’t forget to invest in tailoring for a polished look.  Some stores even offer the service for free with purchase or for store card holders.  I’m a fan of Cole Haan 40mm wedges.  This 1.5” heel gives a little bit of height, but pants tailored to this length could still work with those old flats still lingering in your closet.
  • Buy high-quality pieces that will last years and take care of your investment. I look for pants I can wash and iron at home.  During summer months, I wear my sweaters twice between dry-cleaning and in the winter I add an extra day with Dryel.  And don’t throw away a pair of pumps because of a scuffed heal.  Adding an insole will keep the inside in good shape (and smell!) and a cobbler can keep your old shoes looking new.
  • Mix up your uniform with accessories. Skip the trendy choker and go for classic jewelry that will never go out of style.  Scarves are great for the colder months and you can rock statement necklaces throughout the year.
  • For special occasions, either keep an multi-purpose little black dress at the back or your closet or try Rent the Runway instead of buying something new for every event.
  • Don’t ever pay full price! Sign up for email notifications.  Use the Wish List feature on your favorite store app to save items you love and then check back frequently for sales.  And always use a shopping-portal – my current faves are MrRebates.com and Ebates, which even offers cash back in a few select brick and mortar stores.
  • Keeping your closet and drawers organized and clean will help fight the urge to shop. Avoid that paralyzing feeling of not knowing what to wear by having all your options visible and easily accessible.  Your days are stressful enough, make this first decision one that sets you up for success!

Adopting a capsule wardrobe can help you be intentional about how you spend both your time and money.  Use the changing seasons as a chance to make your life better by living more with less.

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:

Style
  • 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.
Transportation
  • 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!