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By Charles Passy

George Costanza has nothing on me.

Sure, the hapless “Seinfeld” character (played by Jason Alexander) may have gained a measure of fame — or infamy, depending on how you view it — for his “double dipping .” But I’m a quadruple-down kinda guy myself.

Costanza was literally diving his hand into the bowl of sour cream and onion. In my case, the dipping is metaphorical —as in combining two, three and, yes, four ways to save on a single purchase. Other cheapskates refer to this coupon-clipping methodology as deal “stacking .” But whatever you call it, it’s how I brought down the cost of a planned summer fishing expedition from $140 to $51.94 — a savings of 63%.

In a sense, there’s nothing new to double-dipping. It’s as old as the heyday of supermarket double-coupon promotions some three decades ago. Ironically, those promotions have been disappearing of late — some shopping experts say the advent of “extreme couponing ” has prompted retailers to guard their bottom line and limit the savings. But I would argue that it’s never been easier to double (or quadruple) down. Thanks to the Internet, the deals — and deal-stacking strategies — are always just a couple of clicks away.

How easy is it to do? Let me walk you through my fishing trip purchase…

First dip: Going to Groupon ($70 savings). These days, whenever I’m looking to eat out or take in a show or sporting event, I almost always check out Groupon to see if there’s anything that matches my mood or pleasure. (Of course, I’m not alone: Groupon is now a $5.8 billion company — and a growing one, too, with sales increasing 7% in 2013.) In this case, the daily deal site was offering an afternoon trip for four aboard a New York fishing party boat at 50% off the list price of $140.

Second dip: Taking advantage of a Groupon promo ($14 savings). Going to Groupon is a guaranteed way to save unto itself. But Groupon offers a fair number of ways to boost the savings, from promo codes to mobile-only deals. (Heck, you can get $10 off just for signing up right now — at least in New York City.) So, when I made my fishing trip purchase, I was able to take advantage of a promo for 20% off any local event or activity. Groupon spokesman Nicholas Halliwell says the company is “always looking to help our customers save money,” but he notes that the extra-savings deals are always changing — another recent one was 20% off any home services — so consumers need to stay on top of the site. (And for the mobile-only deals, you’ll need to download the Groupon mobile app, he notes.) You can also find news of Groupon promos through such savings sites as DealCatcher and RetailMeNot .

Third dip: Making the purchase through Ebates ($3.22 savings). Oh Ebates , how do I love thee? Let me count the savings. Sorry for the poetic silliness, but Ebates really brings out the goofy fanboy in me because it’s so ridiculously easy to use — and it indeed delivers the dough. (Which perhaps explain why Ebates members made some 1.6 billion purchases through the site in 2012.) If you’re not familiar with the site, here’s the gist of it: Ebates connects users with 1,700 online retailers and gives them a percentage-back savings (from as little as 1% to as much as 40%) in the form of a quarterly rebate check. Generally, the savings are small — in the case of Groupon, it was a 4.6% rebate based on the $70 price for the fishing trip — but the money adds up over time. I’ve been a member of Ebates for a few years (it costs nothing to join) and I’ve saved a respectable $291.17 using it. And I’m due to receive another $42.59 — the $3.22 Groupon rebate included — on my next check in May. (By the way, Ebates says some fanatics take their fandom to a whole other level, especially for business-related purchases. “We’ve given out checks in the tens of thousands of dollars,” says Ebates senior vice president Mark Moran.)

Fourth dip: Making the purchase with a Capital One cash-back credit card ($.84 savings). If you’re not using a cash-back or reward credit card to make any and all purchases, here’s my simple question: Why not???!!! Seriously, Ebates is easy enough, but using a cash-back card is a no-brainer. You can strategize here, too, finding the right card to maximize your savings — some offer higher bonuses (up to 5%) on certain spending categories, often on a rotational basis. But I’m inclined to agree with Samuel L. Jackson that playing the pick-the-right-card game can get a little tiresome, so I go with a Capital One card that guarantees me 1.5% cash back on every purchase. In this case, that meant an additional savings of under a buck for my fishing expedition, but the point with such cards is how the savings add up over time. Given that I charge everything on my card (and, yes, I pay my bills on time, so I’m not assessed any interest or penalties), that typically amounts to more than $500 in savings annually. In other words, those 84-cent rebates do add up.

Of course, you may not want to go fishing. For that matter, you may not find the deal or item you want on Groupon. But the idea behind my quadruple-down strategy is that it can be applied to all types of purchases. For the “first dip” you can go to another daily-deal site (say, LivingSocial) or simply a discount online retailer (say, Walmart.com). For the “second dip,” you can take advantage of just about any extra-savings promotion (a case in point: Walmart.com offers both “Value of the Hour” and “Value of the Day” extra-savings deals). For the “third dip,” you can look to an Ebates competitor (ShopAtHome.com is one example). And for the “fourth dip”? Well, you can ignore Mr. Jackson — as intimidating as he may be — and pick anything from an airline miles reward card to a card that lets you redeem your rewards for a doggy poop-bag dispenser — seriously .

Still, it should be noted that a deal is only a deal if you really want the item. “The pitfall is the impulse buy,” says Joanie Demer, a savings guru better known as The Krazy Coupon Lady . I admit that I’ve bought more than a few Groupon coupons on a whim, and the coupons ended up expiring. The good thing with Groupon is that the coupons at least retain their non-promotional value after the fact, so even if I don’t go fishing during the promotional period through mid-July, I have $70 to use toward a fishing trip at a later time.

Of course, if I catch any fish to enjoy for dinner, that’s yet another savings “dip.” Can you say quintuple-down?

Charles Passy covers personal finance, consumer spending and all things food and drink for MarketWatch in New York. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesPassy.

 

By Anisha Sekar

Whether you’re saving for that summer vacation or still recovering from big spending over the winter holidays, spring is the perfect time to reassess your finances. You’re already doing your taxes, so you probably have money on your mind anyway. Save some extra cash this spring by heeding the following tips.

1. Shop for savings account interest rates.

A savings account is supposed to be the simplest and safest way to keep your money secure and earn interest. However, national interest rates aren’t so great, so you can’t count on financial institutions to offer you very much. This makes it all the more important to know the interest rate of your savings account. No matter how bleak the situation looks, you should compare savings accounts to find the best account for you.

2. Negotiate your bills.

How much are you paying for cable? Companies tend to hook customers with low monthly fees, and then they raise costs after about a year. So chances are you’re paying a lot more than what you initially signed up for. If this sounds familiar, contact your provider and negotiate a better price.

When negotiating, don’t start off by asking the provider to lower your bill a specific amount. They might just tell you no. Instead, tell them that you can’t afford your cable package anymore, and you’d like to cancel and switch companies. If they want to keep your business, they might offer you a lower rate. Success with this strategy varies, but you very well could bring your bill closer to the promotional offer you originally signed up for.

Use similar tactics for your Internet and cellphone bills. However, keep in mind that this strategy is most effective if you’re actually willing to walk away. Do your homework beforehand, and have a backup plan if things don’t go your way.

3. Check for checking account fees.

Most major banks have strict checking account requirements that, if not fulfilled, will result in sneaky monthly fees. Requirements usually include a minimum monthly balance, minimum monthly deposits or a minimum amount of debit card usage, and the fees range from $3 to $12 a month. Either make sure you’re meeting the requirements to avoid these fees, or consider a different checking account with requirements that better fit your finances.

4. Set up alerts to monitor account fees or fraud.

One of the worst ways to lose money is by letting someone else spend it for you. From now on, make sure you’re protected against identity theft – a crime that led to $24.7 billion in losses in 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. To help protect yourself, you can use one of the many fraud-monitoring tools on the market.

Mint, for example, compiles all your accounts in one place, so it’s easy to check your financial transactions, and you can use its mobile app to review your account history at any time. It should be easy to check your recent activity to spot any fraudulent activity.

5. Maximize your rewards by choosing the right credit card.

When looking for a new credit card, don’t rely only on commercials or the (many) envelopes that arrive in your mailbox from credit card companies. Instead, do some online research to find the best cards for your lifestyle.

As you search, consider each card’s rewards and interest rates as well as factors that affect your rewards-earning potential – such as your status as a student or small business owner. Opening or closing too many credit cards at once can ding your credit score, so taking the time to find the right card is important.

Spring is the season for new beginnings, so challenge yourself to change the things that don’t serve you financially. If you’re up for the doing the dirty work, a bit of spring-cleaning in your financial life can go a long way.

Anisha Sekar is a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, your source for unbiased recommendations on everything from health care to credit cards. You can read more of her work on the NerdWallet blog.

 

By Danielle Warchol

Like most holidays, preparing for Easter can put a dent into your budget if you aren’t careful. If you have children, you probably know that buying new clothes, gifts, or other Easter accessories adds up very quickly, and can cause unexpected stress to your monthly budget. Here are a few ways to celebrate the holiday without it costing you a fortune:

Reuse Easter Baskets and Accessories

Instead of buying new items each year consider reusing items such as Easter baskets, plastic Easter eggs, or plastic grass for the baskets. If they’re in good condition, there’s no need to go out and buy a new basket every year.

Coupons

As with most major commercial holidays, there will mostly likely be coupons for Easter related products. It might be a coupon for a bag of candy or for some little toys or knickknacks to put into a basket. If you’re looking to save some money on your Easter purchases, see if there are any coupons available for your local stores.

Holiday Sales

Additionally, many stores will also have Easter holiday sales. A lot of clothing stores know that Easter is one of those holidays where people rush out to buy new spring clothing. Grocery stores also like to have sales on Easter related foods such as ham, eggs, and pies. The closer it gets to the holiday, the better the sales. If you need to buy a couple of pairs of Easter clothing or some items for your Easter dinner, try to find a store that’s having a sale on the items you need.

After Holiday Sales

As you probably know, most holiday items are usually 25% – 75% off a couple of days after the holiday has passed. If you’re looking to stock up on non-perishable items for the next year, this is the time to buy them. If you need to replace you children’s’ Easter baskets or some holiday decorations, you’re bound to get them for a great discount.

Dye Eggs Without Kits

Many kids love Easter because it means the one time of the year when they get to decorate eggs. A lot of people default to buying egg decorating kits from the store, but many of those kits are composed of items you can find in your own home. All you need are a couple of bowls, containers, vinegar, food coloring, and eggs. Before you head out to spend $10 on an egg decorating kit, check to see if you have items at home. If your kids want to decorate the eggs after dying them, let them use crayons or stickers on the shell.

Don’t Buy New Clothes

There are many people who rush out to buy a new outfit for Easter dinners or events. If you’re on a tight budget, there are a couple of reasons why you should think twice about buying a new outfit. For one, are you (or your children) actually going to wear your Easter outfit again or is it only for the holiday? Do you already own something you can wear instead? If you do need to buy new clothes, consider checking out stores that are having massive sales or thrift stores.

Potluck Dinner

Some people invite a lot of friends and family over for Easter dinner, and while that can be a great event to host it also becomes expensive when you have to feed an entire houseful of guests. Instead of stretching your budget to buy food for everyone, suggest holding a potluck where everyone brings a side dish. This is a great way to have everyone get involved in the dinner and it will also hopefully save you some money.

Keep Dinner Simple

Additionally, you can try to keep dinner simple instead of going all out and hosting a luxurious, expensive affair. A lot of people want to impress their guests during the holidays by serving exotic or expensive foods. But do you really need to serve scalloped potatoes with specially imported cheese? Or do you need to have 10 different side dishes even though half of them won’t even be touched? Keeping your dinner plans simple will also keep your grocery budget simple.

Small Gifts

If you have kids, you probably know how much of a hassle it can be to try to buy them suitable gifts around the holidays. It’s not entirely necessary to buy huge gifts for their Easter baskets. You can fill the baskets with small $1 to $5 items instead. If you’re planning on handing them plastic eggs – or holding an Easter egg hunt – fill those plastic eggs with small gifts such as a couple of dollar bills or wrapped candy.

Free Events

Another great way to save some money is to see what free events may be hosted in your town or city. Some local libraries or community centers offer free pictures with the Easter Bunny while others host free Easter egg hunts. Finding free Easter events can be a great way to have some family fun while also saving some money on holiday expenses.

 

By Jeffrey Strain

The flu season only has a few more weeks left, and some people may be wondering whether or not this late in the season it still makes sense to get a flu shot. Health officials in the US are urging anyone who still hasn’t gotten a flu shot to go out and get one. This includes everyone over the age of 6 years old and pregnant women. This is because this year’s predominant flu strain is the H1N1 virus which has killed and hospitalized more adults under the age of 65 than in normal years. A California report from the state’s department of health says that there have been 405 people who have either died or been admitted to intensive care due to the flu who are under the age of 65 so far this season, which is more than any season since the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.

Officials still aren’t certain why there have been an increase in the number of people under the age of 65 who have been admitted to hospitals for the flu, but they note that these are the people who are the least likely to get a flu vaccination. Those between the ages of 18 and 64 get flu shots at a 34% rate while 62% of those 65 and older get them.

Even though it’s late in the flu season, it still makes financial sense to get a flu shot. Depending on your health coverage, you might be able to get the shot at no cost, but if that is too inconvenient, you can get one at most drug stores or pharmacies for about $20. That small investment can save you a lot of money if it helps prevent you from coming down with the flu.

In many ways you should look at getting a shot as an insurance policy. While there is no guarantee that the shot will 100% prevent you from getting the flu since there are a number of different strains going around, if it does (or even lessons the symptoms), it can save you a bundle of money. Here are a few of the ways:

Doctor Visit

It’s important to remember that the flu is not getting a cold. It’s much more severe and will likely keep you from doing your normal routine. More than likely, you’ll make a doctor’s visit to seek some type of relief which will cost you the time and the cost of the visit. If the symptoms happen to be more severe, you might even have to be checked into the hospital. Just thinking about all the costs involved with that should make $20 seem like a huge bargain.

Medicine

Even if you manage to stay away from the doctor’s office, you will likely shell out money for over-the-counter medicine to try to reduce the symptoms that you do have. The cost of these will likely end up being more than the $20 it would cost to get the shot. Even worse, these medicines are rarely discounted during the flu season, (you should always buy your supply of them in the off season to save money) meaning you’re likely to pay full retail price for them.

Lost Wages

If you come down with the flu, there’s a good chance that you will end up missing a few days of work. That means either losing the wages for those days or taking sick leave or vacation days that could have been used at other times. Either way, it means that you lose money or time that could be used for better things.

Baby Sitters

If any of your children end up getting the flu, then there’s a good chance that you will either have to miss work to take care of them, or hire a babysitter to do so. Either way, you end up losing money either from your own pay (or lost vacation days) or having to pay someone to look after them.

Lost Productivity

Probably the most costly part of getting sick this way is your lost productivity. Even in the best case scenario, if you end up catching it and are able to still work, you’re going to be a lot less productive than you would be when healthy. Much more likely you’ll end up wrapped in a blanket on the couch barely able to move for a week as you try to sleep it off.

When you take all this into account, financially you should make sure to get a flu vaccine each and every year as soon as they are available. But even this late into the flu season, it still makes sense to spend a little money so that you don’t end up spending a lot of money and time fighting something you could have avoided. No matter what, be diligent and take the easy measures available to avoid getting the flu in the first place.

 

By Meg Favreau

Anybody who has ditched plans to eat a salad to scarf down a plate of nachos instead (like I did, um, yesterday) can tell you that even though we humans usually know what’s best for us, it’s sometimes difficult to actually do the right thing.
This is especially true when it comes to saving money — for emergencies, for retirement, or for almost anything else. But there is some good news. Studies show that once we do set money aside, we’re likely to leave it there. So how do we get ourselves to save in the first place? By automating! Here are six easy ways to do just that.

1. Sign Up for Your Company’s Retirement Plan

If your company offers a 401(k) or 403(b), this is one of the best options for automatic savings. Not only do these retirement plans automatically put money you earn into a retirement account before you have the opportunity to spend it, but most employers offer a contribution match. That means that for every dollar you contribute (up to a certain amount), or employer will deposit an equal amount into your account. That’s essentially free money, and it’s one of the biggest benefits you can get at a job. Take advantage of it.

2. Split Your Direct Deposit

If you have direct deposit, most employers will allow you to split your check between multiple accounts — so, instead of depositing all of your money into your checking account, you can set some to automatically go into savings.

3. Set Up a Regular Deposit to Savings

Even if you don’t have direct deposit, many banks will allow you to set up regular automatic deductions. For example, I have a checking account with a traditional bank, and I have a savings account with an online bank. I can set my savings account to automatically deduct from my checking account on every payday. The effect is the same as splitting a direct deposit — the money is in my savings account before I even know it’s gone.

4. Pledge to Save Certain Cash

You’re probably most familiar with this concept in the form of a piggy bank– at the end of the day, many people automatically put the change in their pockets into a jar, often to save for a specific goal, like a vacation. But there’s no rule saying that you have to stick to coins. Instead, pledge to set aside every $5 bill that comes your way — or even every $10. This is a great way to reach medium-term savings goals, like buying new furniture.

5. Use a Cash-Back Credit Card

You should only follow this suggestion if you’re able to pay your credit card off in full every month and you won’t let credit card rewards and 0% balance transfer offers become an excuse for spending more than you normally would. If you fit this criteria, start making your purchases on a cash-back credit card. Then, at the end of every month, deposit that cash back directly into your savings.

6. Automate Your Bills

Most utilities, businesses, and even lenders now allow you to set up automatic payments. There are two ways that this helps automate savings. First of all, automatic payments ensure that you pay your bills on time, saving you from late fees and possible dings to your credit. Secondly, sometimes you can get a discount for paying automatically — for example, some cell phone providers will knock $5 off of your monthly bill if you sign up for the automated system. If you do begin paying automatically, just make sure to check your billing statements regularly to ensure there aren’t any mistakes and you’re not being charged for services you aren’t using.

7. Sign Up for Your Financial Institution’s Round Up Program

What if you could make yourself save a little bit every time you make a purchase? Several banks and credit unions offer “round up” programs that do just that. Every time you use a credit or debit card registered with the program, your financial institution will automatically deposit the remainder of your change into a savings account. To get started, ask your bank or credit union if they offer this benefit.

How do you automate your savings? Share your favorite money-saving tips for America Saves Week – an annual celebration of good savings behavior and financial responsibility.

Meg Favreau is the Senior Editor of money-saving blog Wise Bread — an award-winning website dedicated to help you live large on a small budget.