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Your Reward Card Guru’s Guide To Frugality

by Jason Steele

Generally, as your reward card aficionado, I am tasked with finding ways to earn rewards on your spending. Nevertheless, your rewards representing a few percent return on your spending at best, will never be more valuable than the actual money that you spend. When you get excited about a card that delivers a .5% more return than the card you have, you have to be a rather frugal person, and I am.

In an age of declining economics, here are a few of my favorite tips for frugality:

Eating Out Frugally

The obvious advice is to not eat out. I won’t insult your intellegence by offering it. What I will do is offer some great tips for minimizing meal expenses that are a less obvious than “skip desert.”

First, always look for coupons. I am not big on clipping “10 cents off” coupons for my grocery store, but ” one get one free” at my favorite restaurant gets my attention real quick. Here are several of my favorite places to find these deals:

  • The Entertainment Card – This is the biggest and best of the coupon books, with additions in most major and secondary metropolitan areas.
  • Restaurant.com – This is a fantastic company that offers $25 “gift certificates” for $10. Actually, the trick is to sign up for their promotion e-mails where they routinely offer the $25 certificates for $3 and sometimes even $2. The only catch is that you have to spend $35 to get the discount, and most restaurants exclude alcohol and/or some nights of the week. In the end, I usually end up with a bill that would have been over $40 with tax an tip for something around $20 after tax and tip. To eat out for two at a nice restaurant for $20 is a good deal in my book.
  • Local alternative newspapers – New York has the Village Voice, Atlanta has Creative Loafing, and Denver has Westword. Even if this is not your “scene” you can still find some great restaurant reviews and coupons in these papers. Often, the paper is actually available in the restaurant you are eating at, and it takes just a second to find the coupon. Two for the price of one deals are common.
  • Restaurant Week – Many cities have a restaurant week in which all of the top restaurants offer a fixed price meal at a great price. Denver has one coming up with dinner for two for $52.80. While that doesn’t sound that cheap, many of these restaurants are places where a complete dinner for two could easily cost over $100. For me, this is really my only chance to enjoy such expensive meals.
  • Join you airline’s dining program. You will not get a deal on the food, however you will get frequent flier miles that have some value. For the super frugal, cross reference the places in the dining rewards program with the ones in the coupon books I mentioned. It is like getting a triple word score in Scrabble !

Drive Cheap

A big pet peave of mine is car payments. I hate them. I will always seek a car that I can afford to pay for with cash rather than take out a car loan. I know that I will own the car outright from day one, and that gives me a lot of flexibility going forward since I never have to worry about a car payment. Once you choose not to pay a car payment, you can save that money towards your next car. When you do, you will be earning interest on your money, not paying. Besides, the interest on car payments is higher than almost every other type of loan, and it is not tax deductible. If you have to have a really nice car, be creative and find the car you always wanted in high school. I am sure someone has a used one in great condition if you look hard enough, and sometimes it is more unique and enviable than having a new car.

Cheap Entertainment

Again, I could insult your intellegence by telling you to take walks in the park or something rather than spend money. Instead, here is my advice: Drop cable TV. Most people are giving their cable company $50 a month or more and what are they getting? Movie channels, 24 hour news, and few other minor channels. Your $50 a month is $600 a year, close to $1000 a year of most people’s pre tax income! Get a Netflix subscription for $15 a month and rent dozens of movies that may or may not ever show up on cable. Get news and other shows you are missing from the internet. Right now, many programs like “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” are availible for free on the web, without commercials!

Remember that whole “digital conversion” thing you have been hearing about? The secret is that the new, digital picture that you get for free over the air is incredible. Not only is there no “snow” that you normally associate with broadcast television, but all of the channels are in high definition with surround sound. Did I mention it’s free? In my house, I was surprised to get over 30 channels, many of which I did not even know were availible.

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