Let’s talk about gift cards.

Acquiring Gift Cards

Where do most of your gift cards come from? For instance, we enjoy going out to eat, but we don’t enjoy the expense, so we utilize our cash back rewards on our credit card (Discover, which we love) to obtain gift cards. We haven’t paid out of pocket to eat at Chiptole, Panera, Red Lobster, or Red Robin in years. The nice thing is you get a bit of a bonus turning the cash back into a gift card. Typically for $45 of your cash back reward you can get a $50 gift card.

We don’t get many gift cards from friends/family, but when we do it tends to be for Target since it’s our favorite store. My mom gets a bit mad at me if I don’t spend the gift card on something non-essential, but I do it anyway and use it to buy groceries. Who cares when it all evens out in the end anyway?

Keeping Track of Your Cards

How do you keep track of which gift cards you have and their balance? Well, if you have a smartphone there’s an app for that called GoWallet. For some retailers it’s able to obtain your balance automagically, but others you might have to manually populate.

Storing Gift Cards

Where do you keep all those gift cards? My wallet is only so big, so I keep the restaurant ones on me while the other cards I have live in a cute little metal card holder at home by my coupons.

Spending Those Card Balances

How do you treat gift cards you receive? Do you spend them right away, hold onto them for awhile, never spend them at all? If you do use them, do you buy something you really want, or just buy anything because hey, free stuff!?!

I find that I treat gift cards almost the same as I do my own money regardless of their source. As a result, I tend to hang onto them for awhile until there’s a purchase I find worthwhile. Case in point – I’ve got $31 of iTunes credit that has been sticking around since who knows when (probably several years ago when one Valentine’s Day my husband gave me a $50 iTunes gift card). I’m super stingy about spending gift card money in general. I view it as my money just the same as if I was spending from my own wallet, so I’m careful about what I buy. As for iTunes in particular, I’ve come to find there are very few apps out there that are worth purchasing when a free alternative works just as well. That being said, I have purchased apps before, and will again, but I’m very particular about it. As for music, I like the quality and price that Amazon offers. Needless to say, I’m willing to bet my iTunes credit will be sticking around for awhile.

If you have tips on how to acquire discounted gift cards, please share!



I ordered the new iPhone 6 (which will arrive on my doorstep on Friday) and I don’t feel the least guilty about it even though I feel like I should. I’ve noticed a growing trend on finance-related blogs where the writer has switched to a lower-cost cell phone provider to save money. While I think that’s great, particularly if you’re barely making ends meet and/or are unable to save for retirement, I don’t get the impression that’s always the case. It’s almost more of a game to see how much one can cut their budget. And that’s admirable, for sure, but it’s just not for me because I love my iPhone way too much. I guess you could say for me it’s a priority, and if it’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you cut back on the things that don’t matter so you can spend on those that do, like my iPhone.

Of course, I would love if my cell phone bill decreased. As it stands now I’m on a grandfathered plan that limits my text messages, but to change to a new plan I’d not only lose my unlimited data (although honestly, I rarely exceed 2GB of data in a given month), but more importantly my bill would increase. I’m trying to keep my costs to a minimum while still enjoying my iPhone. I would seriously consider switching to one of the lower cost providers at some point if some of my concerns were addressed, namely:

Phone Availability
I really really don’t want to switch to a Motorola smartphone, or any Android phone for that matter. I don’t care for the platform. Although if I was forced to make the switch, I think a Samsung Galaxy S would make it bearable for me.

Reliable Signal
I just don’t believe for half the cost of my normal provider I’m going to get just as good signal coverage, particularly because many of the discount providers use the Sprint network and in my area, at least (Chicago burbs), I’ve heard horror stories regarding dropped calls, slow speeds, and whatnot.

That being said, I will be keeping tabs on these other providers and would be willing to switch when my contract is up in two years. A lot can happen in that amount of time. In the meantime, I’ll be looking to sell my iPhone 4S to recoup some of the costs of the new phone.

What things are you willing to splurge on?



Do you put aside a little time here and there to clip coupons or look for deals online before making a purchase? I try to do it, but I know that for many people working full-time and raising a family it can be tough to find the time. There never seem to be enough hours in the day! This is why I like certain smartphone apps that I don’t have to spend more than five minutes using to be rewarded.

This app awards you money in exchange for showing proof via scanning your receipt that you purchased items they are offering cash back on. I don’t ever look at the app until I’ve returned from a shopping trip, then I pull it up to see if I happened to buy anything they are featuring. If so, I scan my receipt, check off the offers that are included and I’m done. I’ve already built up $4 of credit in just over a month. The only drawback is you need to have amassed $20 before they will transfer the money to your PayPal account.

Did you know the smartphone app has coupons that can be used when you’re out shopping? It’s under the Coupons heading and you can pull up the coupon on your phone while in the store and have them scan it. I’ve done this at Michael’s to get a quick 20% off. There are a bunch of stores in there so it pays to pull it up and do a quick search before heading to the checkout.

This app awards you points for checking into stores and scanning products. The points can then be used to get gift cards. I typically get 35 points (and on some special days more) just for pulling up the app when I walk into my SuperTarget (where I shop weekly) and more points if I feel like scanning stuff (which often I don’t). There are other stores in the app like Walmart, Macys, etc. Right now I’ve got enough points to get $10 worth of Target gift cards for spending very little of my time using the app. I will say, though, that it is very particular with certain stores and it’s best to temporarily turn on bluetooth so it can pick up your location. I have to be at a certain point within the store before it realizes I’m there (so there’s no cheating trying to check in as you drive by).

Obviously none of these things are going to make you rich, but these little amounts DO add up over time and why spend more than you have to on everyday items and groceries when you can use those savings on something fun?

Other Ways to Save

If you have more time on your hands, I recommend checking out the following sites as well:

Free Stuff Finder
Not every deal posted here is free, but I follow the new posts via my feed reader to see what’s on sale and if it’s something I need or have been wanting to buy anyway, I consider that a win-win!

Totally Target
If you’re a Target addict like myself, this site is a must visit! I’m always learning about different deals and match-ups that has me getting the stuff I need at a discount, or sometimes even free!

Walmart Savings Catcher
I have to give props to my blogging friend, Kay, over at A Pair of Bartlett’s for making me aware of this one. Basically you enter your Walmart receipt (it has to be less than seven days old) at the site and within 72 hours you will find out whether anything you purchased at Walmart was cheaper elsewhere. If so, they give you back the difference on a gift card. I can’t comment on how beneficial this one is yet since I haven’t heard back from the receipt I entered yesterday, nor do I shop at Walmart a ton, but it definitely has potential especially if you’re buying groceries there.

Feel free to share your favorite apps and sites that help you save money! I’m always looking for more ways to save.


We recently took a day trip to an amusement park in Indiana where my brother decided he wanted to purchase a souvenir. As we browsed the gift shop, I couldn’t help but notice how tacky everything seemed and I wondered whether the souvenirs in this particular shop, which I’ve visited nearly annually since I was a small child, had always contained the same cheap junk and I only recently began to see it for what it truly was, or if they just didn’t care anymore.

When I got home I was still thinking about souvenirs in general. I think it’s pretty normal for people to want a memento from a place they’ve visited, but ever since I’ve gotten into digital photography (you can visit my photo site here if you’re so inclined), I feel like my photos are my souvenirs for the most part. My husband and I did start a tradition of collecting magnets from places we’ve visited. They cover our refrigerator and are a daily reminder of all the places we’ve been together. I like this because a) they’re inexpensive and b) they take up no additional space. In fact, the only other times I can even think that we’ve purchased souvenirs other than a magnet was when we got married in Florida and purchased two Mickey Mouse souvenirs and when we went to New York we purchased a commemorative coin at the Statue of Liberty for Joe’s son.

My point is, you don’t have to break the bank collecting souvenirs that will likely just clutter up your home.


Alternate title: How I got a $79 purse for free

I’ve been drooling over this particular purse (the Kipling Callie Crossbody in Pearlized Grey) since I spotted it at Macy’s weeks ago when we were shopping for towels for our master bathroom. I love Kipling’s products and own an awesome backpack I use all the time when we go on vacations or nearby excursions. They are made very well, but they are pricey.

Kipling Callie Pearlized Grey

Usually I’m pretty good about forgetting about the stuff I see that I “want” because I see a lot of stuff I wouldn’t mind having. I almost never buy anything over $20 immediately because more than half the time I completely forget about it in short order, meaning I really didn’t want it that bad. Honestly, friends have commented on my incredible patience waiting to buy something I want. The last point-and-shoot camera I bought was researched heavily and I waited a couple of months for a good price before purchasing it. Sometimes the hunt is half the fun!

Another example of my incredible patience is how badly I want to upgrade my phone. I currently have an iPhone 4S that I bought in October 2011 which means I’m eligible for an upgrade. I’m not sold on the iPhone 5, however, so I’ve been biding my time to see what the iPhone 6 will bring to the table. I definitely want something with a larger screen, so if Apple fails to deliver I might get a Samsung Galaxy phone instead. But I don’t want to jump the gun even though my current phone is starting to drive me crazy with it’s increasingly poor battery life and how much slower it’s gotten with each iOS update. That means waiting until October before being rid of my current phone but it will be worth it because I will be getting something I know I will love and use for years.

Getting back to the purse…

When I first spotted it I was willing to break my don’t buy it immediately rule because it appeared to be on sale (20% off the $79 tag price), but when I asked an associate they said it was ringing up full price. Back to the display it went. I didn’t care to drop that kind of money on a purse when I was making more money than I do now so there was no way I was going to buy it for $79 plus tax.

When I got home I started researching it online to see if I could find it elsewhere cheaper, but Macy’s was the only game in town so I figured it must be exclusive to them (it wasn’t even on the manufacturer’s website in that particular color). I tried to put it out of my mind but I kept thinking about it (a sure sign that I really wanted it).

Fast forward to this past weekend. I was browsing Groupon‘s coupons (say that 3 times quickly) and found a Macy’s 25% off coupon. After discussing it with my husband, I decided to apply for a Macy’s credit card to get an additional 20% off so the purse would only be $51.19 (including tax). Now, I don’t recommend this approach and have pretty much never opened a store card just to get a discount. However, we have excellent credit and no large planned purchases on the horizon so it wouldn’t be a big deal for us.

We were on our way to Macy’s when something told me to check Amazon again and wouldn’t you know it, suddenly they had it (I confirmed on CamelCamelCamel.com that it was a new item which is why I hadn’t found it before). Not only that but it was only $50.82! Obviously, I was all over that!

I almost opened an Amazon Rewards card (via Chase) as they were offering me a $50 instant discount, but the application was confusing as it asks for your annual income and it didn’t seem like I could add our total household income since the card would be in my name and they only wanted my employer’s name and phone number. So I logged in as my husband and was going to apply as him but they were only offering him a $30 credit, probably because we purchase more from Amazon on my account. Then I started reading the comments about how Chase rarely approves people instantly and sometimes they have to wait weeks to get the credit. At that point I was completely turned off to applying for a card and decided to forgot that route.

I logged back into my account and realized I could use my Discover card cashback bonus to pay, and since it was over $100, I ended up doing that and not having to pay one cent out of pocket. I opted for free super-saver shipping but the delivery period was when we plan to be out of town so I ended up signing up for an Amazon Prime trial so I could get the 2-day free shipping. The purse was out of stock, however, so the two-day shipping is based on when it will be back in stock. However, that will still get me the purse before we leave on vacation so there isn’t a package sitting outside my house for days.

So I gave into the want this time but I came out no poorer. I guess that only works, however, if you keep it to a minimum. Obviously my cashback bonus can only grow if I’m not constantly spending it. But I hope my story above demonstrates that you can still get things you want and stay frugal as long as you’re willing to be patient and keep your wants to a minimum.

Incidentally, I’m trying to see whether the Amazon Prime membership is worth the $99 annual fee. We don’t order from Amazon too often, so I worry that having the membership will just encourage us to spend more. However, I like that they have a lot of streaming video content, allow you to borrow one free Kindle book per month, and just started offering free streaming music with the membership. If anyone has an opinion on Prime, I’d love to hear it.


Sometimes trying to save money ends up backfiring. Let this tale be a lesson to all so you can learn from my mistakes!

I’ve been wanting to replace everything (rugs, towels, shower curtain) in our master bathroom for years now, but it was more a want than a need. It recently became a need, however, when I noticed the rubber backing on the rugs started coming apart. We had been using the rugs for over ten years so I felt like we had gotten excellent use from them. Now it was time to find something different. Our current color scheme had been mismatched for awhile – blue rugs and bath mat, white curtain with matching blue, as well as pink and purple, flowers, and faded purple-ish towels. It wasn’t sophisticated, but it worked.

At Target I spotted some eye-catching bright green (guacamole, according to the tag) towels and matching rugs. They also had a cute shower curtain that matched perfectly. We ended up buying everything one weekend and took advantage of a coupon where you received a $5 discount. After washing the towels I immediately regretted buying them. They were cheap ($5 for each bath towel and $4 for each hand towel) and it showed. Not only was there far too much dryer lint to come from such thin towels, they were fraying after the very first wash! Not only that, but they shed all over the place. A week later when I was cleaning the bathroom I swept up a thin layer of towel pieces. Ridiculous!

As for the rugs, when I finally got around to switching them, I was disappointed in how thin they were compared to the current rugs. There was no cushion to them, so we decided to return them and keep looking.

Unfortunately we had an extremely difficult time finding suitable rugs. We looked at many stores – Macy’s, Carson’s, Sears, Kohl’s, Meijer, Walmart, IKEA, and even Bed Bath & Beyond. While each store had many towel colors to choose from, their selection of rugs was paltry. Sears really had nothing at all and I’m pretty sure that’s where we got our original blue rugs that we loved so much.

We ended up going back to Target and re-purchasing the rugs. For the one in front of the sink I put a memory foam rug, purchased from Kohl’s on sale, underneath for cushioning. It’s not the greatest solution, because it’s smaller than the rug, plus because our bathroom is so small, I have to flip the rug over in order to close the door, but whatever.

This, my friends, is what happens when you try to spend the least amount of money on things. I have no doubt that these towels aren’t long for the wear, nor are the rugs. Had I just conceded to spend a little more upfront, perhaps I would have chosen a different color scheme that had better quality towels and matching rugs to begin with. On top of that, I had forgotten that I could have gotten a free gift card through my Discover card cash back for Kohl’s or Bed Bath and Beyond and not spent anything out of pocket! Lesson learned!

Oh, and on top of that we never found a matching bath mat so we’re still using the blue one that doesn’t match anything. We’ll probably have to get a white one.
In the future I’m considering getting white towels instead of any colored ones because I noticed that there’s a lot of products containing chemicals that damage the color anyway. That’s why our purple towels were nearly pink and had weird orange streaking in them, and one of the new green hand towels already has yellow streak marks on it. So frustrating!

Where do you buy your bathroom decor?


I went through a phase several years ago where I often bought candles whenever we’d go to the mall; mostly tea lights from Yankee Candle. For some reason, however, I didn’t burn a lot of the candles I purchased, so they sat in our hall closet for years untouched. In my mind I was saving them for… what exactly? I’m not sure, so recently I decided I should make a concerted effort to use and enjoy them before they get so old the scent fades away. Not only that, but they are taking up unnecessary space and lately the amount of stuff we have in the house is starting to get under my skin. Clutter is my kryptonite, so most of it is organized (due to my tendency to every so often completely reorganize the hall closet, bathroom cabinets, or what have you) and largely out of site, but just knowing it’s there is enough to trigger a bit of anxiety.

This same reason is why I recently decided to pay less attention to deal sites. I love a good deal (who doesn’t?) but I’ve stocked up on so many non-perishables that the garage is starting to look a bit ridiculous. We have a bunch of big packs of toilet paper and paper towels in there, not to mention countless bottles of shampoo and conditioner, among other toiletries, stashed away in the bathroom. We could go a good six months to a year on our current stockpile.

Taking advantage of stocking up when these things are on sale has definitely saved us money, but it’s starting to take a toll on my sanity. Therefore I have decided to make sure our stockpile is nearly depleted before taking advantage of any further sales. This is tough for me, because every time a sale comes along I want to jump on it, so I have to keep reminding myself that another sale will come along well before I’ve run out of whatever it is. Plus, once things look less crowded I will feel less like the things are taking over every inch of space.

Can you relate to this at all? How do you take advantage of sales, and do you find yourself stockpiling a bit too much?



Have you heard of a website called camelcamelcamel? Perhaps not. This site gives you some fantastic insights into whether the price of something at Amazon.com is a good deal or not. All you have to do is the following:

1. Locate the item on Amazon.com
2. Copy the Amazon.com URL from the address bar of your browser.
3. Go to camelcamelcamel.com
4. Paste the Amazon URL into the search box.
5. Click the Find Products button.

Ta-da! Now you’re given a pricing history of that item you’re coveting and you can see whether the price Amazon is currently asking is really a good deal or not like in the below example (click to make larger). You can also gauge by the pricing history whether that item is likely to decrease in price anytime soon.


On top of that, you can have the site keep track of the price for you and email and/or send you a tweet via Twitter when the price reaches your desired amount. It’s as easy as filling out the Desired Price, Email, and/or Twitter boxes and clicking the Start Tracking button (click the image to make it larger).


You’ll get an email confirmation as well that leads back to your private tracking page so you can make adjustments or cancel the tracking once you’ve purchased the item.

I use this service all the time for big-ticket items to ensure that I’m not overspending on the things I want. You do have to have some patience, however, as sometimes it could be months before the item you want reaches your desired price. But it’s definitely worth it to save a few bucks on those items you don’t really need right away.