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money monday

helpful holiday shopping hacks

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Holiday shopping season is in full effect now, and it can be an expensive for last-minute shoppers. I thought I’d share some of my new and old favorite ways to save both online and in-store. These tips are great all year – no need to save just during a few winter months each year!

I’ve no doubt blogged about Swagbucks ad naseum at this point, but it’s because it’s my favorite way to save not only on Christmas presents, but on every day purchases all year. When you use them as your search engine (or take advantage of their other points-earning opportunities, like taking surveys, watching videos, playing games, or online shopping) you have the chance to win points, which you can then redeem for gift cards, cash back, or prizes. I almost always go for the Amazon gift card (although I do occasionally opt for a little Starbucks treat) and use my gift card balance to buy gifts or groceries (PrimePantry is a must-have, folks!) Start searching at Swagbucks now – when you sign up with a referral code, you’ll get additional points added to your account. this is a newer one for me, and to be honest, I’d forgotten that I’d even set it up until they sent me a message letting me know that there had been a price drop on the laptop stand I ordered at Amazon. It works by scanning your email inbox to look for online prices, then reaching out to the retailer on your behalf when there’s a lower price available for a product you’ve purchased. I was a bit surprised that it took so long to see a refund because I order from Amazon fairly regularly (but maybe because I often use camelcamelcamel, I order when the prices are low anyway,) but hey! A few more bucks back in the Amazon gift card bank to churn somewhere else.

eBates is my first stop when online shopping, because it’s a super easy way to get cash back on purchases just by starting your shopping trip through eBates’ link, rather than the retailer’s direct website. Because they’ve started airing commercials on TV, this one isn’t such a little secret anymore, but it’s still a great one – I’ve gotten nearly $200 back over the few years I’ve been using it! They also display lots of promo codes for additional savings as well. (If you’d rather accumulate this to be wrapped up in your Swagbucks balance, they offer a similar “points”back system when starting your shop through their search.)

RetailMeNot has gone downhill a bit for me in the past year or so, or maybe stores aren’t offering as many discounts as they did previously. At any rate, it’s easy to whip out your phone while waiting in line to do a quick search on their mobile app or website for an in-store or online coupon!

What are your favorite ways to save, at the holidays or anytime? I’m always looking to pad that savings account!

November 9, 2015

Everything Old is New Again {money monday}

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I have been on this spending kick again lately. I want to buy ALL THE THINGS! But then I also stop, think about it, and realize that I want to move, and then I stop wanting to shop. Sort of.

I’m trying to allow myself one “fun purchase” per pay period (this time it was a sweet little dress from Altar’d State, a store with perfect clothes but a message I don’t love) and it’s working well, sort of, but I want more. Like this tumbler! And earrings. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before – it really never ends.

Since that post on conscious spending, I think I’ve done a good job at it. I’ve made choices to eat at home and pack lunches (or bring leftovers) for work, except for special occasions. Instead of mindlessly wandering the malls, I’m in a routine of hitting the gym for classes, cleaning, and grocery shopping on weekends.

During my cleaning jag this weekend, I found a way to make it feel like I was getting new things – I started cleaning out my car.


I live fully by this motto, but my car has gotten out of control. This weekend I took a bag upstairs that was full of things I’d packed up at work last …. (summer) and started going through it. Lo and behold, two of my favorite tumblers and my lost suit blazer. While roaming Kroger earlier in the day,  I had found myself wanting a fun new tumbler (even though I have no reason to get one.) Finding new/old cups satiated my need though, and made me stop browsing around.

With summer coming around, I’ll get to switch out my winter wardrobe for summer clothes (plus, with a trip back to the mitten coming soon, get to dig through my “extended storage” still at my parents house.) Maybe this will make me feel like I’m getting a new summer wardrobe, when really I just haven’t seen the clothes for awhile.

In other “everything old is new again” news, we went for a day trip and stopped into an antique store over the weekend. The Walkman I had as a kid was next to a shelf of vintage cameras! How did this happen?!

Do you shop your closets or cabinets for new finds? What’s your most horrifying antique store find?

Stay in touch! twitter@anortherngirls

March 10, 2014

Savings & Debt Payment check-in {money monday}

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Today I logged in to my Capital One 360 account to flip some money from my birthday savings to the checking account to buy my plane ticket for Los Angeles and was super pumped to see this:


Having set up the automated savings last month has really made it easy, and I didn’t even realize I had that much socked away. It hurts a little to not have that almost-$700 sitting in my 3% interest earning checking account, but this way it’s much easier for me to spend it specifically on LA vacation details. In addition to the automatic savings that comes out of my paycheck, I dump extra windfall money here as well – ATM fee reimbursements, interest earned in my regular checking account, eBates cashback, GymPact earnings, secret shopping payments, things like that. If you’re looking for a “special occasion” savings account, Capital One 360 has been really easy and convenient for me and since I don’t carry this debit card around with me, it’s very out of sight, out of mind money. (Plus I like the graphs.) I would love to have all of my money pooling up in my 3% interest checking account to just accrue, but psychologically, that isn’t working for me right now. I need dividing lines.

Beyond saving for Disney, I’m still trucking away at these stupid student loans. I discovered Student Loan Hero via Stephanie at Empowered Dollar, which is a tool that lets you add all your student loans (and even syncs with the NSLDS and Fannie Mae) and displays all of them in an easy to read format. The only thing I don’t like about it so far is that you can’t change your loan priority.

This fall I am really trying to refocus on paying down my debts. On the 14th, I made the last payment on my dental work (thank God) so that’s another $40 I am getting back in my budget. Here’s my pretty, up-to-date, and sad year-to-date graphic:

debt update 10/18/13

Sad because I have some big expenses coming up and I know I won’t be able to hit the debt payment goal I had hoped to. I will need new running shoes before Disney (and probably won’t have enough Swagbucks to buy them,) plus holiday trips to see family in Cincinnati and Gatlinburg, I need new brakes AND tires, and I’m still replacing tings in my wardrobe since things are so ill-fitting.

Little by little. I’m getting there. Adulthood is expensive.

What is your best money hack?

October 21, 2013

Ways to Save on Fitness {money monday}

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A few weeks ago, I presented reasons why I have kept my gym membership even though I’m working to pay off my student loans. Even though I prefer to work it out in the gym, it’s not the only way to work out! There are some great cheap or even free resources available as well. If you’re not comfortable being active in front of others, these are also great ways to exercise in more private arenas.

  • Create a Home Gym – I do have some equipment at home which I’ve gotten using Swagbucks and Amazon to slowly built a yoga/stretching area in my room. They have all kinds of weights, yoga equpment, and workout DVDs. If I had the room, I’d love to work out to these DVDs by Richard Simmons and Pure Barre – and Carmen Electra’s Fit to Strip series was popular in my college dorm 😉
  • YouTube – If you don’t want to invest in any DVDs, YouTube is a great resource! If you like Zumba, there are tons and tons of videos – some of them are full length at an hour of moving and grooving, or find your favorite songs and create your own playlist to work through. You could also pull on the legwarmers and hit it with a full-length Sweatin’ to the Oldies session (one of my guilty pleasures….) No matter what your pleasure, you can probably find it on YouTube, including Tone It Up and Tae Bo.
  • Community Classes – some gyms or studios offer classes open to the public at discounted rates or even at no charge. My local lululemon store has a free yoga class on Saturday mornings that I sometimes enjoy going to, and even my fancy-schmancy gym offers a 25 days for $25 deal twice a year. If you’re looking to get some variety into your already established and comfortable routine, these can be good options too. If there’s a healing arts studio near you, check them out too – the one in my town offers yoga classes (as well as acupuncture and massage therapy) on a sliding scale.
  • Phone Apps – my iPhone is my greatest aide in running and other types of workouts. I not only use it for music, but also to log my workouts. I like Nike+ Running to track miles and routes when I’m not on a treadmill, and I really like Sworkit to help me stretch out. One of my favorite new fitness apps, and definitely one of my favorite ways to tone up at home, is the new Blogilates app. If you aren’t a mobile user, all of the workouts are also on the website and YouTube channel. She even created a new beginner’s calendar. This is a FANTASTIC workout that will definitely leave you feeling it the next day. In addition to tracking and videos, I also use my phone to make money while losing weight. DietBet (which is also available on desktop computers) rewards you by putting up money that you’ll lose 4% of your body weight in 28 days. If you win, you split the pot with everyone else who does it. I also really like GymPact, which charges you if you fail to work out. You don’t even need to go to a gym anymore – just strap it to your body and let it track your home workout for 30 minutes. Use code “GymPact$5” when signing up to start for free!

What’s your favorite way to work out on the cheap? Any apps I should check out?

September 9, 2013

Why I Have a Gym Membership {money monday}

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I’ve been reading personal finance blogs for about four years now and one of the big things many of them talk about is creating a home gym to cut down on the fees you’d encounter with a gym membership. Since I moved down south, I’ve had a gym membership, even though it’s very pricey at 8% of my monthly income. I’d talked a lot about wanting to switch to a more affordable gym, and I got questions about why I wouldn’t just ditch the gym altogether and create a home workout environment. I would someday love the convenience and value of a home gym, but right now it’s not practical for me. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Motivation: part of what really got me going into a routine in the first place was the fact that if I didn’t get in the gym, I was just losing out on $78 every month. If I had a home gym, it would be so easy to push it off – I’ll work out later, I’ll work out extra long tomorrow – etc. I know that’s true because I have some yoga equipment for home workouts and I’ve used it twice since I bought it. The act of having to get out of the house to go work out really helps me plan it into my day.
  • Safety: While I would love to be one of the runners I see out on my drives to work, I just don’t feel safe enough going on a solo run. My city has recently been plagued with some abductions and murders and while I know that the chances of it happening to me are very slim, I’m more than a little jumpy and cautious after being in the wrong place at the wrong time once already.
  • Group Classes: This summer I’ve been maximizing my time in group classes, averaging 4-5 every week between restorative yoga, Zumba, and Les Mills classes. While I could buy Les Mills or Zumba DVDs to do at home, it’s much more fun to be in dance classes, and the amount I’d have to invest into the props used for restorative (not to mention I’d have no idea what to do without an instructor) would probably be at least two months worth of gym fees. It’s also like having a personal instructor without the added cost – the teachers I take from are happy to make modifications to ensure I’m still getting a full and effective workout. Were I to try it on my own I’d probably hurt myself or make it overly easy.
  • Moving: This is honestly the biggest reason I don’t have a home gym. In the last year, in 365 days, I’ve moved four times. The idea of moving around more DVD’s or hand weights or anything else on top of the other things that come with me when I move makes me want to die a little bit. And since part of moving around has included downsizing with every move, it hasn’t made sense to invest in things that I’d have to purge out anyway.
  • Space: my last move saw me go from a two-bedroom apartment with one roommate where I had a moderate amount of living space to a three-bedroom apartment where the only space that I really have is my 10×10 bedroom. Definitely no room for anything but my yoga mat and foam roller.
  • Machines: I really love working out on machines. Weight machines, ellipticals, even the Technogym stretch things are great to me. I’d never be able to find a place for these in an apartment, let alone afford to purchase even one or two of my favorites.

Do you work out at home, in the gym, or a combo of both? Why?

August 26, 2013