22 Mar

How to Save Money at Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World

Photo courtesy of my handsome husband Alex Opalinski

To say I love Disney World would be an understatement. My husband and I got married there after all! You can blame his family for giving me Disney fever. While a trip to Disney is never a steal, there are plenty of ways to cut costs at the world of the Mouse. Here are my favorite ways to save money on a Walt Disney World vacation:

BYOP – Bring Your Own Ponchos!

Many convenience items, like ponchos, have huge markups in the parks. Stay dry and save major moola by buying your own $1 ponchos and stowing them in a pocket or purse. This is crucial during the rainy summer and early fall seasons! I recommend stashing a few per person. They come folded into ridiculously tiny squares and you can toss them at the end of the day instead of trying to re-fold.

Book early for free and reduced dinning plans.

Fall is the season of the free dining plan at Disney, though offerings and times can jump around from year to year. Our most recent booking for a summer Disney trip offered one free quick service meal and drink per person per day. The catch? Book early and stay on Disney property! We had to book by the end of February to land this deal. Here’s a little pro-tip: if the deal says 6-night/5-day stay, try selecting only 3 or 4 days anyway and see if you still land the deal. While Disney pushes longer reservations, some deals will allow a limited number of guests to take advantage of the extra perks even on shorter stays. If you’re unsure, check the details page.

Drink for free!

Free water, that is. It’s good for you, tastes delicious in the hot, humid Florida summers, and a nice, cold glass is absolutely free at Disney’s in-park food kiosks and restaurants. Scope out vendors with the shortest lines if you don’t plan to purchase any specific food items.

Purchase Disney gift cards ahead of time

Buy Disney gift cards at Target using your Target Red Card and you’ll save 5%! Don’t qualify for a Target credit card? You can sign up for a Target debit card and still take advantage of 5% off your Target purchases. Not only will you save money on your gift cards, it’s a great way to set an in-park spending budget and stick to it. Check beforehand to see if the restaurants you plan to visit will accept gift cards as payment.

Take advantage of your annual pass discount.

Lucky enough to be an annual pass holder? Prepare for discounts galore! You’ll have access to special deals on reservations plus up to 20% off merchandise and 10% off select dining at Disney World. Ask before every purchase if your discount applies; the worst they can say is no! To make sure you’re getting the best deal on reservations, book over the phone. When we held annual passes we called to make a reservation because of a technical issue when booking online and the cast member found us an even better deal not yet advertised online.

Pay with a Disney Visa card.

While the point of this blog is paying off debt, not raising it, if you qualify for a Disney Visa card and can stick to a pre-determined budget that you pay off immediately after your vacation, this is a great way to earn cash back! Chase, who manages Disney’s credit card services, frequently offers deals such as $100 back if you spend $500 within a set number of months after opening your account. Plus you receive reward points for each dollar you spend. Pay for your hotel, tickets, and in-park purchases with your Disney Visa and you can easily rack up $100-$200 in Disney gift cards by the end of your trip! Then use your earnings to fund your next trip or purchase souvenirs online you passed up in-person in the parks.

Happy Vacationing!

04 Oct

Earn $5 Amazon Credit Instantly

Earn $5 Amazon Credit

Want to earn the easiest $5 you’ve ever made? (Not counting all those times your dad shoved money into your hands when your mom wasn’t looking.) To promote their mobile app, Amazon is offering a $5 credit for new app users who sign up through a friend’s referral code. And it just so happens that we’re friends! Or at least we are now. Wouldn’t you want to be friends with someone who gave you $5?

Visit this Amazon App link on your mobile phone to download the app and earn your money.

The Fine Print

To save you the hassle of reading through the Terms & Conditions, here are the most important requirements for receiving your $5:

  • You must be a new app user who hasn’t made a purchase through the Amazon app in the last 12 months and who hasn’t already received this promotional offer.
  • You will need to install the latest version of the Amazon App and verify your phone number.
  • $5 promotional credit applies to orders of $10 or more.
  • Only items sold by Amazon.com are eligible. Gift cards are excluded. Amazon may exclude other products at their discretion. Buyer pays any applicable shipping, handling, and tax costs.
  • Cannot be combined with other offers.
  • Valid for 90 days from the date it is added to your account.

Still have questions? See the full Terms & Conditions on Amazon’s website.

21 Sep

How to Save Money at Starbucks 

Save money at Starbucks

1. Bring your own cup for 10 cents off. Sure it’s only 10 cents, but every little bit counts! Not to mention you’ll help reduce the waste of a paper cup. Just make sure your mug is large enough for the size you want!

2. Earn free drinks with the Starbucks rewards program. Membership is free and purchases earn you stars toward free drinks. I get 2 or 3 lattes in an average week and have already redeemed 2 free drinks in just a couple months. Download the smartphone app and link your debit or credit cards (and your spouse’s!) so you’ll still get points no matter what payment method you use. Watch for mobile alerts on special offers that earn bonus stars. Double star day is a great way to earn extra stars on your morning coffee. Plus, you’ll get a free drink for your birthday!

3. Earn $10 with Visa Checkout. While this offer seems to come and go, I’ve used it two different times for an instant $10 gift card. It will be promoted on the website or on the mobile app whenever they run this promotion. If you don’t have a Visa Checkout account you’ll be asked to register and link any Visa card. Then load at least $10 (Starbucks minimum amount) onto your account to score your extra $10.

4. Split a venti with a friend. Craving the same drink order as your hubby or BFF? (Or the stranger behind you in line? Maybe you’ll make a new friend!) Order a venti and pour half into a separate cup. It’s like two tall drinks for less than an actual tall! Plus fewer calories than drinking a single venti and you won’t explode from caffeine overload.

Bonus Tips

If Starbucks isn’t in the budget this week, there are a few alternatives you can try. Making your own lattes costs 1/3 of a Starbucks brew and lets you control exactly what goes into your coffee.

No time to whip up your own drink? McDonald’s offers surprisingly good lattes and frappes with a lower price tag. Just make sure to specify 2% milk to cut back on calories and let them know if you want whip cream added! (The answer is yes, yes you do.)

11 Aug

Earn Money From Your Receipts

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Paper receipts may feel like nothing more than a lot of extra clutter in your purse, but you can turn those currently useless slips into a little extra cash to pad your wallet for your next shopping spree. Here are my current favorite money making services for submitting your shopping receipts:

1. National Consumer Panel

Because you need to scan almost every item you purchase, National Consumer Panel (NCP for short) is not only a great way to earn rewards, but also a good way to track your cash flow. The recent addition of their mobile app makes it easier to track you purchases and lets you redeem your points instantly for gift cards. Surveys and bonus points for submitting at least once a week help you reach your goal faster. We’ve been using the app for a little less than a year so far and just traded in our points for a $25 Amazon gift card.

2. Ibotta & Checkout 51

Ibotta and Checkout 51 are both smartphone apps that offer cash rewards for purchasing certain items. When you reach a certain amount, you can cash out your rewards. Ibotta offers a long list of ever-changing items and I’ve cashed out $40 since I started using them a year ago (I often forget to use it for several weeks so my rewards haven’t grown as quickly as they could). Checkout 51 is similar and I prefer their interface, but for now I’ve given up on them due to a short list of eligible items and not including store brand items on the list. Brand rebates are great if you plan to purchase those items anyway, but often store brand items still have the lowest price.

3. Receipt Hog

I’m new to this one so I can’t say how long it takes to cash out, but Receipt Hog is one of my favorites so far. All you do is take a picture of your receipts and earn reward points or free spins on the prize wheel. No list of eligible products to remember, no barcodes to scan. Just snap a picture and you’re done!

4. Wal-Mart Savings Catcher

Not only do they offer low prices, Wal-Mart will price match competitors and pay you back the difference if you overspend. Every receipt has a barcode and QR code at the bottom. Enter the barcode number online or scan the QR code into the Wal-Mart Savings Catcher app on your smartphone. That’s it! Within a few days any available refunds will be added to your account and when you’re ready you can load them onto a Wal-Mart gift card.

5. Shopkick

While you technically don’t need a receipt for this app, I couldn’t resist mentioning Shopkick. It’s by far the most fun money-making app I’ve used, and you can cash out for gift cards at lower denominations than previous apps, making your rewards feel like they add up faster.

All you need to do is open the app when you’re in an eligible store and you’ll get points for visiting. Scan the barcodes on certain items throughout the store and you’ll receive extra points (and look slightly crazy in the process, but you get used to it eventually). Occasionally certain items offer bonus points for purchasing them (don’t forget to scan the receipt!) but it’s optional. It’s essentially free money for shopping. I often redeem the points for $2 – $5 gift cards at Wal-Mart, Target, or Starbucks to cover my morning latte or pick up a random grocery item for a recipe.

Bonus Tip

A lot of stores and restaurants offer survey opportunities on the bottom or the back of the receipt. Sure it’s time consuming, but you can get free food and entrees to win prizes. Lately I’ve challenged myself to take more receipt surveys to maximize my savings.

If you have a favorite app or tip for maximizing your earnings while shopping, I’d love to hear it! Drop me a line in the comment section.

13 May

Living on One Income: How We’re Cutting Expenses

Living on One Income

Image courtesy of Ppiboon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thing I realized from being unemployed for over a year is that we cannot survive in our current lifestyle on one salary. My husband’s take home pay of $2,000 a month plus a few hundred dollars (at most) from my various odd jobs doesn’t cut it when our monthly rent alone is $1,092. That’s over 50% of our current income!

We knew we needed to make some major changes if we wanted to have any hope of paying off my massive debts, so we sat down and began identifying the ways we can cut our expenses over the coming months. Our goal is to reduce our most basic, necessary bills enough to cover with one salary. Then when I finally find a job, be it full or part-time, that money can go toward other expenses.

What is a Necessary Expense?

While food, water, and shelter are the three requirements we need to survive, in today’s modern world you need a bit more than that to get by. Our current “necessary” bills are as follows:

  • Rent & Renter’s Insurance
  • Utilities (Power & Water)
  • Internet
  • Cell Phone Plan
  • Car Insurance
  • Health Insurance