Monday, November 26, 2007

Heads Up, Paypal Discounts

Just thought I'd let you all know that Paypal is running another of their crazy holiday promotions. This time, you get 20 percent off at a bunch of online merchants. Basically, you pay full price now and the 20 percent gets deposited into your account in January. There's a maximum of $50 in rebates.
Check our list of participating merchants for details, and happy shopping.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

7 Tips for Responsible Black Friday Shopping

By now, most of the major store Black Friday ads have leaked. So, what should you do next? We've listed 7 tips and strategies for smart and responsible Black Friday shopping.
1. make a list of the items that you think you may need or would like to buy. For even better results, do this first without looking at the Black Friday ads so you don't get suckered into a deal.
2. If you typically buy gifts for family and friends, decide on what to buy them now. Making a last minute buying decision, especially after Black Friday, could result in higher costs or unnecessary shipping and rush delivery fees.
3. it's time to look at the ads and compare. Research your prospective purchases online and understand the items before you buy. Often, Black Friday products are priced low because stores are trying to get rid of excess inventory or discontinued models.
4. If you have to go into credit card debt to make your online purchases, is a mail-in rebate really your best option? You'll hopefully eventually get the rebate cash you deserve, but the credit card interest you rack up in the meantime may negate those savings. It may be worth it to pay a bit more and not worry about rebates. Some stores like Best Buy have foregone rebates altogether. Good for them.
5. If you still are convinced that using a rebate is your best deal, be sure to plan on taking the rebate money and putting it back where you took it from, i.e. your credit card, savings account, etc. Counting on a rebate check to pay your electric bill is not a good financial decision.
6. If you go to a store to get a deal, stick to your list. Don't fall for other promotions without researching them first. Those other deals may not be as smart for your wallet.
7. Finally, remember that many Black Friday deals are not deals at all. They may be a good price for a retail store, but many items are often cheaper online. As Cyber Monday approaches, we'll have a better idea of where to get the best deals, both offline and online.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thoughts on Working from Home

Hank asks:
Hello. I was wondering if you can do a column or post on legit home-based
Well, first of all, what I'm about to say is probably not what you are looking to hear. Working from home is not easy. While telecommuting in general has risen in popularity, many who telecommute first worked in an office setting and then, after gaining the blessing of their supervisors, moved some or all of their job to their home. That being said, here are some ideas of things that you could do from home. Perhaps our readers will have more ideas.
Everyone has at least one subject where they know more than anyone else. Why not offer consulting services over the phone or via an online chat platform like Skype.
Similarly, if you're a good writer, you could publish electronic books (Ebooks) on subjects where you are an expert. Clickbank is perhaps the most popular site for helping you publish your material online. Even if you aren't an expert in an area, careful research could yield you some promising results.
If you prefer to write shorter articles, try a site like Associated Content. They pay a few dollars for articles, stories, or reviews on just about any subject. If you run or have thought about running a blog, you could rework some of your blog posts and submit them for cash.
One of the most popular businesses to run from home is buying and selling merchandise. In many cases, you could buy items in bulk and then resell them on sites like EBay or Amazon Marketplace. This probably works best if you stick to a nitch market, such as GPS receivers or handbags.
As a general rule, don't pay money for any home-based business opportunity. These are generally scams or pipe dreams. While their claims about getting rich may be true, they are likely very hard to attain and much of the information that is being sold is freely available.
There are many other ways to make money at home. Some companies, especially those with a strong online presence, will hire remote technical support or customer service representatives. The online bargain shopping site Dealnews, for example, has advertised for remote dealwriters paying $9 an hour. Find an area that you're interested in and start searching.
as I said, working from home isn't easy, but it certainly is possible, with the right motivation.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Free Money Offers from Banks, it's Not all Bad

In my Email inbox today, I received an offer from Bank of America offering $75 free for opening a new checking account on their online site. If you happen to have a credit card from them, you could probably get a similar offer, but I digress.
Sometimes, people will not fulfill these offers because they are skeptical that the money is real. But generally speaking, it is. But how can the banks afford to do this?
First, it's important to read the terms of the offer. This particular one says that one needs to deposit at $25 and keep the account open for 50 days. Then, the $75 will be deposited. There was no special language about needing to keep the account open after that time, though we have seen this before, so be careful.
So what are they getting for your free $75? First, they're obviously hoping that you'll like the service enough and want to keep your account. Certainly, many will not cancel out of laziness or a desire to not switch bank accounts every few months. But if you're someone like me who just wants to get the $75 and jet, they still have other opportunities to rope me in.
While signing up for the account, I was offered no less than four or five other services, all written to sound appealing. Sign up for a free trial of a credit score watch system. Identity theft protection. Indeed, if I said yes to even one of these offers and kept the service or forgot to cancel, they'd get their $75 and more back in a heartbeat.
Bank of America also wanted me to sign up for a savings account. In fact, it was highly suggested. I say this because the box next to savings was selected by default when I filled out the form. Be sure to understand the complete offer and not sign up for any services that you don't want. Since the offer says nothing about a savings account, I unchecked that box.
Also, by signing up for this account, I certainly, through some loophole in corporate legality and ethics, gave Bank of America to sell my name to anyone who wanted it. There was a way to opt out of this, but it involved calling a toll-free number, again something that most lazy people won't do.
In summary, the free $75 is probably real, and I'll look forward to receiving it next month. But, it's important to not fall into the trap of signing up for additional services and stick to the offer that is making you money, not costing you.

Amazon Winner

Wow. What a great response to our gift certificate giveaway.
If you didn't win or if you're looking to knock out some early Christmas shopping, maybe an Amazon Gift Certificate is just what the doctor ordered.
Angela and Connor just had a new baby, and certainly have a lot of things to buy, so we're glad that our random number generator picked them as our contest winner. Congratulations, and watch for the certificate shortly.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Sometimes Misleading Bargains at Warehouse Clubs

Mavis asks:

Is it really cheaper to shop at costco? i feel
like they suck the life out of me every time i visit.

When Sam's Club first entered our area, I, like many, bought a $35 membership and thought I was saving money. After all, some of their over-sized items just looked huge, and the size alone made me think I was getting a better deal. Anyone who has sold candy for a fund raiser knows the value of Sam's and other warehouse clubs when trying to make a few bucks. But for everyday grocery shopping, the deals may not always be at the clubs.

Let's check some prices. Sam's Club in our area has Kellogg's Special K - 38 oz. for $7.88. Now, compared with the regular price of Special K, it's probably a good deal. But grocery stores have two things going for them that the clubs don't--sales and coupons.

If your grocery store has Kellogg's cereal on sale for $2 a box, for example, you could buy nearly 4 boxes of Special K for the same price as the warehouse size. In addition, the smaller boxes mean that your cereal will stay fresh longer, since you won't have a huge box open. The club may run a sale on cereal, but saving a dollar on a $8 box of cereal isn't nearly as good as saving a dollar on 4 $3 boxes.

Also, don't forget about the coupons. You don't find coupons in the newspaper or online to save money on a 38 ounce box of cereal. But if you find a 50 cent or $1 coupon on a normal-sized box and can obtain three or four copies of that coupon, you've just tripled or quadrupled your savings.

This is just one example, but perhaps it will have you thinking a bit more the next time you consider visiting a warehouse club. Is everything at the clubs a bad deal? Certainly not, but with some practice, you should be able to save more elsewhere.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All About Testspin

In our contest post from yesterday, We mentioned Testspin as one way to earn a little extra money, which generated a fair amount of interest from the comments we've received.
In essence, Testspin is one of a growing number of survey sites that will pay you to do online research questionaires. If you hear anyone telling you that you'll get rich from taking online surveys, laugh them off. It certainly isn't the financial cure that even some of the survey sites themselves make it out to be.
Basically, upon signing up to the site, you'll be asked to fill out a profile. This profile is used to match you to possible surveys. You don't get paid for these, but they will vastly increase your chances for future surveys.
Then the fun, or sometimes frustrating part, begins. Watch your Email for survey invitations. We've quoted part of one below so you have an idea of how they're written:
Dear Testspin Member:
TestSpin on behalf of its client is conducting an important research study. We are interested in getting some feedback from some of our members. This survey should take you about 15 minutes to complete. For completion of this survey you will receive $2.00 deposited directly in your TestSpin bank account approximately 4 weeks after the quotas have been filled and the study has ended. Please read the questions carefully and provide accurate responses, your responses may be reviewed from time to time as it is important that we provide valid data to our clients and maintain the integrity of our panel.
IMPORTANT: There will be several questions asked to find out if you qualify and you must qualify and complete the entire survey for us to deposit your gift certificate
So you can see a few things from this Email. First, the pay isn't great. $2 for their 15 minute estimate is $8 per hour. On the bright side, this particular survey didn't actually take me that long, so $2 for 5-10 minutes of work wasn't as bad.
Also notice the section about qualifying questions. Survey companies are usually looking for specific groups of people. You will generally be asked a few questions to see if you qualify. There's nothing more annoying than filling out part of a survey only to be told that you didn't qualify. No qualification means no rewards, Amazon gift certificates in the case of Testspin.
Finally, when signing up for any survey site, it's important to note the minimum amount required to get paid. For Testspin, it's only $10 which I find reasonable. Others require higher amounts of $50 or more, so an amount of dedication is required for these sites.
If you have other questions about surveys or want to post experiences of your own, leave a comment.

The Hidden Gem in Airfare Search Sites

When searching for low airfare, it's hard to find the best deal. Sure, that's a worn-to-death statement, but it's true.
We prefer the less conventional route when searching for cheap travel online. Say it with me now. Just rolls off the tip of your tongue, doesn't it?
These guys don't let you book on their site, but that doesn't matter. The search features are simply some of the most powerful I've seen. You need to register for the site, but it's free.
This site is a dream come true for the flexible traveler/. Flying out of my home airport of Kalamazoo is expensive. But searching every airport within 300 miles of Kalamazoo opens up lots of options. While some of the scenarios that the site spits out are a bit absurd, it comes with some of the cheapest fares in the world, many with flights that won't be hard to catch. How crazy can you get on this site? I'll post more later on.

Black Friday is Coming

Why do we put ourselves through this misery every year? To save money, of course. Check out, our favorite of the Black Friday sites. And yes, some store ads, including Sears, FYE, and Harbor Freight, are already posted.

Cutting off the Vonage

So a few years ago, I switched from a landline to Vonage. $24.99 for unlimited long distance sounded like a good deal, and it probably was for awhile. But since the advent of Skype's unlimited calling plan for $29.95 a year, paying an extra $300 for another phone number just seemed silly. $300 vs $30. Seems pretty simple.
All of this to say that I got bored enough to write a Skype calculator. If you're not familiar, you can call phone numbers in the United States and Canada for 2.1 cents per minute (plus a connection charge) with Skypeout. Or you can pay the $29.95 for the annual subscription. I wrote the calculator to make it easier to determine which would be cheaper for you.
Try it out, and let me know what you think.