Free is for Me!

January 27th  marked the beginning of the last year of my 30’s. Getting older and finding random gray hairs can be slightly depressing. Although, I was reminded of how joyous another birthday could be every time I opened my e-mail and found a special gift just for me. These gifts were coupons for free stuff! I got them from various corporations because I am enrolled in their membership clubs. The membership clubs offer reward programs which are usually based on a point system.  You accumulate points based on your spending totals. Once you have spent a certain amount of money you will receive a coupon for a free item or a discount on your next purchase. Many of the corporations will give you an extra bonus for your birthday by giving you something for free.  As the saying goes, “Free is for Me!” `

Since January is my birthday month, I have received coupons for free meals from IHOP and Houlihans, wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, ice cream from Cold Stone, a beverage from Dunkin Donuts, and my choice of an appetizer or dessert from Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I also received $25 in coupons from DSW and $15 from Best Buy. This is only a partial list of membership rewards I received. Signing up for membership clubs at many stores and restaurants is free and normally an introductory gift is given just for signing up.  The corporations use their membership clubs to keep customers aware of new product offerings and sales. The preferred method of communication is e-mail. If you do not want the store promotions intermingling with other personal or business e-mails, I suggest setting up a separate email account for your club memberships.

Receiving these coupons can be an extra little perk, but they can also save you a significant amount of money over time. I have a dog that eats expensive food that doesn’t go on sale often. I am enrolled in the Petco rewards club. Every time I reach $100 in purchases, I receive a coupon for $5 off my next purchase. That is an 8% savings on a $60 bag of food.

Being a part of these memberships clubs has shaped the way that I think about spending. I almost never want to pay full price for anything. I seek ways to find discounts and keep more money in my pocket! Below is a list of some stores and restaurants that offer membership club rewards. Go sign up and enjoy your savings!

  • Benihana
  • Best Buy
  • Buffalo Wild Wings
  • California Pizza Kitchen
  • Chili’s
  • Cold Stone
  • Dairy Queen
  • DSW
  • Dunkin Donuts
  • Houlihans
  • IHOP
  • Longhorn’s
  • Panera
  • Petco
  • P.F Chang’s China Bistro
  • Olive Garden
  • Outback
  • Red Lobster
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Starbucks
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Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

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Negotiation is a powerful tool that consumers do not use enough. Salespeople know the majority of buyers would rather not engage in haggling over price. Initially, it can be uncomfortable talking about cost and your unwillingness to pay the stated amount. I would shy away from negotiating because I didn’t want to appear as if I couldn’t afford the item I wanted to buy. I was actually concerned about how the salesperson would view me. One day I realized this was a bunch of psychological nonsense. There is a psychology to selling and I was playing right into the hands of the person that wanted to take me for every dime possible. I will offer you this useful advice, if you are scared of negotiating….get over it!

You work hard for your money, don’t give it away easily. As I said, there is psychology to selling goods and services. It is all designed to create a transaction that is most beneficial for the seller. Use the tool of negotiation to make the playing field a little more even. Negotiating is a skill but anyone can master it. It will require that you do a little homework, but the small amount of time you spend doing research can potentially save you a significant amount of money. You will need to gather information from a few different sellers/providers about the price of the goods or services that you are looking to purchase. If the seller/provider that you choose to do business with doesn’t have the lowest price, use the information you gathered to negotiate a better deal.

There are a few rules to remember when negotiating. First, have a predetermined amount that you are willing to spend. Always exhibit confidence and stand firm in your decisions. Lastly, if you don’t think you are getting the best deal or what you want, don’t be afraid to walk away.

There are certain situations that are notorious for negotiating, like buying a car. There are other situations where negotiating can be used as well, such as having work done around your house. I recently tried this myself and was very happy with the outcome.

I needed to have the fence that surrounds my backyard replaced. When having any type of work done it is best to get three estimates so that you can make an informed decision. That is exactly what I did.   I was shocked by the huge difference in the estimates I received, but decided to use it to my advantage.

The three estimates were:

Company A-$3,008

Company B-$2,554

Company C- $1,925

I ruled out the estimate from Company A, because it was significantly higher than the other two. Even if I negotiated a lower price I thought it would still be inflated. I wanted to contract with Company B because I believed they would do the best work. Despite that, I couldn’t  ignore the $629 difference between them and Company C. I wasn’t going to do business with Company B unless we negotiated a lower price.

I contacted Company B via e-mail and attached the estimate I received from Company C. I explained I would like to do business with them but I received another estimate that was significantly lower. I asked that we split the difference between the two estimates and contract for $2,239. I received an e-mail back from Company B, stating that Company C neglected to include the $150 cost of a necessary permit in their estimate. Based on that Company B stated they would do the job for $2,314.

This prompted me to do a little more research and I found out my township didn’t require a permit for the type of fence I was going to have installed. I e-mailed Company B back with this information and requested that the full amount of the permit be removed from their estimate. My request was granted and I was very pleased when we agreed on a final price of $2,155. That was $399 off the original estimate I was given.

I saved all that money because I wasn’t scared to negotiate. I did my homework and I went into the discussions prepared. I did not cave when I received resistance to my first counter-offer. Like with any skill, you will get better and more comfortable with negotiating the more you practice. So don’t hesitate to use negotiation when you can. Don’t forget to share your stories with me. I would love to hear them!

Start Managing Your Money

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There are many conversations that take place around money. The topics range from making money, not having enough money and all the ways we find to spend money. Another topic that needs to be added to the conversation is managing money.  I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance and Marketing from Drexel University, and I understand that thoughts of managing money can be scary. For many the phrase “managing your finances” sparks thoughts of investing in stocks, bonds and other financial instruments. Some believe that this is a science that they will never master and usually shy away. There is no reason to be scared.

You can take small steps in your journey of understanding and mastering your financial situation. You don’t need to aspire to be the next Wall Street superstar, but you can be a successful manager of a household budget. In the past 20 years I have gone from not having 65 cents in my pocket to buy a soda on a hot summer day, to being a financially stable homeowner with a luxury car parked in the driveway. I have learned a lot during this time and I want to share it with you.

I want to start with having you evaluate your current financial state. If you are making more money than you can spend, this blog may not be for you. For the other 99% of America, I have practical tips that can improve your financial situation and increase your quality of life. Yes, I am saying that improving your financial outlook can make your life better. Think about it, what if you could decrease the stress in your life that is associated to money? Wouldn’t your life be better?

I want to help you learn about managing money in a way that may be new to you.  It will take some effort but I assure you that implementing some practical techniques will pay off. So let me help you, make your finances simple!