As we head into the holiday season, with all its extra expenses, here are six cost-cutters we’re putting to use right now.
1. Earn money for spending money. If you’re not already taking advantage of one kind of “cashback” program or another (or several), now is a great time to try. If you tend to put a lot of purchases on a credit card, make sure you’re using one that is giving you the most bang for your buck, so to speak. Instead of a card with an obscure rewards program that will give you points toward things you otherwise wouldn’t necessarily buy, go for one that gives you cold, hard cash. This Nerdwallet article reviews the best of the current offerings. Cashback programs like Rakuten work a little differently: You download an extension onto your internet browser and when you shop at specific stores (Target, Chewy, Macy’s and more), you get cash back through PayPal or a check in the mail. A lot of major retailers have their own rewards programs, too, so if you regularly shop at the same places, check to make sure you’re taking advantage of all their cost-saving offerings.
2. Find coupons without cutting coupons. Sure, you can still cut physical coupons if you find the process, I don’t know, meditative? But if you want a quicker way to save money on regular purchases—and since physical coupons don’t work for online shopping anyway—download a coupon-finder like Wikibuy, a browser extension which will automatically search for deals on purchases you’re about to make online. Rakuten, mentioned above, also has a function like this.
3. Start meal planning. We’re not good at it either, but there’s no way around the fact that planning meals in advance saves big money on groceries (and all the more so if you opt for generic ingredients instead of name brand). If you’re short on inspiration, start from our easy weeknight recipes. And here’s a pro tip: Get the kids involved in the planning and (if they’re old enough) assign one meal a week where they do all the work.
4. Stop paying for entertainment. Wait, what?! Didn’t we say without cutting fun? Yes, streaming services like Netflix, Prime, and Hulu can feel indispensable when everyone is stuck at home, but there are cheaper options out there if you know where to look. Check out this list of free movie (and TV) streaming services. Some are powered by ads, while others may be accessible through your local library system.
5. Apply for SNAP. Formerly known as the Food Stamps program, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is designed to help families get the food they need. Under the Families First Coronavirus Act, SNAP gained additional flexibilities—like making funds available for online grocery purchases—and many states (but not all) have continued to extend those changes. If you need a boost to get through the month with So Many Hungry People, don’t hesitate to check your eligibility and sign up.
6. Use a budgeting app. Not all of us are spreadsheet people (ahem). But apps like Mint, YNAB (You Need a Budget), and PocketGuard make budgeting pretty straightforward. The apps all take slightly different approaches to budgeting, so it’s a good idea to browse around until you find the one that suits you, but in general you’ll be able to set budgets (and get reminders if you’re veering off-track), assign purchases to different categories, and get advice on working toward whatever financial goals you’ve set for your family.
“Sure, you can still cut physical coupons if you find the process, I don’t know, meditative? But if you want a quicker way to save money on regular purchases—and since physical coupons don’t work for online shopping anyway—download a coupon-finder like Wikibuy.”
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