Camping out in a tent, watching people scramble for the last television – sounds like a typical Black Friday, doesn’t it? If you’ve never experienced the tradition of Black Friday planning and shopping, you might only have these examples on which to base your experience. For those of us who love the deals and the energy, however, Black Friday offers a yearly ritual that gifts us a head start on holiday shopping.
While a lot of commerce has turned to online stores, there’s nothing better than getting bundled up to go shopping in actual stores. With a perfect cup of coffee or hot chocolate in hand, you’re ready for anything. Any veteran of Black Friday knows, however, that the best shoppers have a strategy.
We’ve put together some tips that will make you into a Black Friday pro, even if you’ve never braved the craziness before.
Get in the right mindset
Bring your friends, pack some snacks and some tasty drinks; this is a long haul. If you go into Black Friday shopping with an aggressive mentality, you might think that will give you an edge. The reality is that it will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. It’s better to go in relaxed with backup and some treats to refuel. Some of the best holiday season memories are built around the strangeness and warmth of shopping at 3am, as weird as that sounds.
And speaking of – my one absolute “must visit” place on Black Friday is Kohl’s. I’ve mentioned this in past Black Friday posts, but seriously if you want the best of the best deals, Kohl’s is where they’re at!
Black Friday Planning with Kohl’s
Plan, plan, plan
You cannot go into Black Friday department store shopping without a strategy or coupons. Check your local paper the Sunday before Thanksgiving for all the best ads and coupons for Black Friday. If you don’t get the Sunday paper in your area, it’s worth buying one by itself, just for this season. In addition,check out sites like Slickdeals, which houses all of the coupons and hottest deals online in one convenient place. Slick Deals in particular lists the best buys, biggest discounts and strategies for each store. Finally, Slick Deals has a real-time forum where people can contribute information, like what deals are sold out and what prices are better elsewhere!
Make your money work twice
A lot of department stores have a rewards program; Kohl’s, Old Navy and JCP all give you store cash for each dollar you spend. This can be redeemed in increments for anything in the store. One of the best strategies I’ve ever used personally was buying as much of my gift list as I could from Kohl’s on Black Friday. This earned me about $500 in Kohl’s Cash, which I then redeemed during their Christmas sales, saving over $500 and finishing the majority of my list. If you can get some or all of your gifts from a place that offers this type of program, I highly recommend it.
Know what you’re getting for your effort
Those incredibly cheap televisions they have at the front of the store? Those are last year’s model, which if that sale doesn’t bother you then go ahead and fight for them. The same goes with toys during Black Friday; they’re often the hot toys of the holiday season past – the new hot toys will go on sale in December. Basically know when the discount isn’t worth the hassle!
Don’t forget to treat yourself
Last year, I scoured as many ads as I could to find places where the rewards program cash was huge. This lead me again to Kohl’s where I picked up a handful of kitchen appliances I had been wanting – an air fryer and a pressure cooker. In this case, however, these items also had rebates and discounts. After I got my Kohl’s Cash back and sent in the rebates, I got these items for free. In fact, I came out a little bit ahead on each one. The point is, don’t just pay attention to what’s on your list if you find a deal that is just beyond good!
Rethink Black Friday
If you’ve only got a negative impression of the Black Friday rush, I urge you to think twice. It can actually be fun if you let it, and the deals you can get are beyond compare. With a little planning, utilization of coupon codes and sites like Slick Deals, you’ll find that department stores are enjoyable no matter how late (or early!) you go.
Black Friday brings with it some terrific deals but also terrifying mistakes to avoid. I’m not saying there will be pits to jump over or fire to avoid; rather, these hazards are of the shopping-mistake variety.
With some tips and tricks and a little planning, you can avoid these easy-to-fall-for mistakes people make every year on Black Friday, saving you valuable time and money. Here’s what not to buy, places to avoid, and alternatives to both.
If you’ve ever considered mystery shopping, you know it can be kind of…confusing. There are companies that claim to be mystery shopping firms but are really scams. Then there are mystery shop companies that never have any offers and just wastes your time. The fact is that if you’re doing it right, mystery shopping can be fun and earn you some free meals, items and actual cash. The trick is getting into it the right way.
Using this tutorial, you should be able to get started with mystery shopping, avoid predatory companies and start enjoying all the cool perks of the gig.
Earn Freebies and Cash By Mystery Shopping
How to start with mystery shopping
The first thing you want to do is ensure that you know what mystery shopping entails. Most shops will require you to purchase goods or services for which you will be reimbursed down the line, and usually compensated on top of that. With that said, it can be a month sometimes before you’re paid out, so setting aside some funds for the sole purpose of this gig is a great idea.
Open a separate bank account or simply keep a ledger of mystery shopping expenses. This way you can see what you’re spending on shops and set aside some of your earnings to pay for future shops. For instance, we went to a local restaurant a few weeks ago, a shop that reimbursed us for the dining experience and paid us, but we won’t get paid for that until the end of the month. Dining out can be expensive with kids, so reinvesting into your side gig can keep costs from spilling over into your normal budget.
Check out the MSPA Americas’ website. Basically the who’s-who of mystery shopping partners and programs, the MSPA will get you started with companies and opportunities in your area, and help you avoid scammers.
Avoid Mystery Shop Scams
Once you know how to avoid scams, start finding opportunities. We were only signed up with Bestmark for a long time, and it allowed us a handful of jobs a month, usually restaurant visits, but hardly enough to really make money. Once we started to really look for local gigs, we found that we could actually earn additional, relevant income from mystery shopping. A few places to look are:
The best is always going to be Google. Search for your area and find quality companies with shops in your area.
Craigslist is another place where you might find companies scouting your area for shoppers, but be especially wary and only go with these opportunities if you can verify it’s from a reputable company.
Bestmark is a A+ Better Business Bureau company and is the largest, most reputable mystery shopping business there is. We’ve had dining, electronics shopping, cellphone shopping, and service opportunities through them and they always pay.
Secret Shopper is last but not least in our list of reputable, online mystery shopping groups. They also have global opportunities if you’re not in North America.
Take Notes as a Shopper
Keep track of your shops, the companies you worked for and dates you went. This provides you a sort of resume from which you can solicit your own shops. If you know a company in your area is more selective about which shoppers they hire, this can give you an edge.
Be persistent. The best gigs and most opportunities go to the shoppers who are on-the-ball, respond quickly and complete shops regularly. Apply for as much as you can reasonably do, but don’t apply for things you will likely flake on, as that will impact your ability to get future jobs. Finally, complete the exit surveys and questionnaires as thoroughly as possible. Use good grammar, write in-depth, and do a fantastic job and you’ll be much more likely to get more work.
Other things to consider when getting started with mystery shopping
If you’re diligent, you’ll make extra money fast with mystery shopping. That said, be aware of a few things:
You will need to apply to forums, look for jobs regularly, and complete tasks to the best of your ability to make good income this way; no being lazy!
There will be some weeks where there doesn’t seem to be anything going on and you might get discouraged, but the best season for mystery shopping is around the holidays. This is where your diligence pays off, because by slogging through the summer, you’ll be one of the first people picked for good opportunities around Christmas and the New Year.
Never EVER get with a company that requires you to “make a deposit” or send them money to get you on a list or get started. These are always scams. A reputable company will only ever pay you out directly and will never ask for money from you. This is different, however, from shops that require you to make a purchase of dinner or a retail item and then reimburse you later on; these are often how you shops will go.
If you can’t get out to locations, some companies like Bestmark and Market Force have “phone shops”. These opportunities allow you to call a company and ask a few scripted questions. They’re quick, and usually pay $3-5 dollars each, which isn’t bad considering you can do them from home in your pajamas!
If the payment comes before the shop, or it seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are scammers that will pose as representatives of actual, reputable companies that will send you a huge check in advance of a shop, or just a big payment for a mundane task. These are scams, and you’ll need to be wary. Nobody is paying $100 to walk into a Best Buy and look at televisions!
If you get offers through text or phone calls, chances are good it’s not legit. Market Force has a tightly controlled app that they communicate with their shoppers through, and Bestmark communicates via email which links to their secure forums. Each company is different, so learn the channels of communication through which they operate and you’ll be safe.
Mystery shopping is a fun, simple way to earn some nice rewards
With a little effort, attention to detail, and persistence, you can get continual cash flow on the side for shopping at places you’d normally go. Free or cheap meals, discounts on goods and services or freebies are all part of the gig if you’re good at it, and seasonal upticks in business can mean some awesome potential around the holidays!
Be diligent and wary of scammers, write great reviews and make sure you’re applying for everything you can find and you’ll get the hang of mystery shopping in no time.
Do you have any experience mystery shopping, either in-store or on the phone? Do you make good money doing it? Let us know in the comments; our newbies would love your tips!
There are apps for everything now, so it makes sense that coupons are going the digital route. From grocery stores to fast food, there’s a discount app or several out there that will scratch whatever particular itch you’ve got going on. Some take some planning to make the most of them and some are automatic but no matter what, each of these are worth the time investment in the money you’ll save.
The Best Money Saving Apps and Extensions
Apps to Help Save Money
I’ve written an Ibotta review in the past and I use it every time I go to the grocery store. It’s a handy little application that allows you to save on things on your meal plan (you are making a meal plan, aren’t you?). You simply search, find what you’re looking for, and then buy it! Sometimes there are caveats like needing to buy something else as well (for instance, pizza with soda) but generally they’re things you were going to buy anyway, and you get a pretty amazing amount of cash back.
Simply snap a photo of the receipt and then the bar code on the purchased product and voila! The savings appear in your Ibotta account.
What’s more, you can use the Ibotta app when you’re shopping online to get automatic savings on the purchases you make through the app on the retailer’s store. Sign up through this link and get $5 deposited into your Ibotta account automatically!
Some stores also allow you to connect your customer loyalty account with the Ibotta app so you can circumvent the entire process of scanning receipts, which is very handy.
Find&Save is an interesting website that partners with local newspapers, media outlets, and retailers in your area to bring you solid deals. While it started as a website, it’s now also added an app as well. In addition to constantly updating their deals and coupons, they also have great leads on back-to-school and holiday sales at over 500 major retailers.
This one is an interesting blend of useful app and fun technology. It’s a points-based rewards program and a discount app all mushed together that sends you deals based on your shopping preferences. One big difference here is that ShopKick uses your GPS to reward you for simply going into a store. If you walk into a brick-and-mortar store with your GPS on using this app, you don’t even need to buy anything to get rewards points. Finally, it uses your location data to ping you with nearby deals, which is especially nice around the holidays when certain stores might have short windows of very juicy sales.
This is an interesting one. You download the app and scan in every receipt, every time, and you’re given an amount of points based on each item from participating vendors. You can then use those points at a huge variety of other vendors like Sephora, Best Buy, AMC Theaters and many, many more. The best part of Fetch Rewards is that it might pick up some items that your other apps can miss, so definitely give it a try.
More Money Saving Apps
SavingsStarworks a lot like Ibotta – you can link in your participating grocer’s rewards card directly to the app. Then you select whatever rebates are relevant to your purchases and shop, checking out and scanning your rewards card as normal. Instead of the discounts being taken off your bill, they’re added to your Savings Star account and once you hit $20, you can cash out through Paypal or your bank. You can also upload receipts too, just in case your store doesn’t have a rewards card.
In the same vein as Ibotta and SavingsStar,Checkout51 scans your receipts for savings you might have missed. Essentially it compiles a wide variety of coupons and then applies them in reverse, giving you money in your account rather than taking it off your total at the register. These various apps are useful independent of each other because some will definitely be better depending on where you like to shop and where you live.
KeyRing is great because it’s a decluttering app and a coupon app all in one. Download KeyRing and start scanning in all of your store loyalty cards and then throw them away because the app holds them for you. Then you can browse discounts specific to the store and have the cashier scan your phone rather than a clunky piece of plastic hanging from your car keys.
This app allows you to search your local area for great discounts on dining, shopping, or entertainment. One thing that differentiates Coupon Sherpa from other apps is that you typically need to print out these coupons to use them, which is helpful for people who are making grocery lists and trying to avoid impulse purchases. At the same time, the app has digital savings and gives you location-based savings information, so it’s win-win either way.
InboxDollarsis such a great way to make and save money! Not only can you access coupons via the app, but you’ll actually get paid to download those coupons!
Honey is a free browser add-on that simply discounts whatever you’re shopping for online. Click through to a store, and it will automatically scan for available discounts and pop up a little box asking if you want to apply them. It’s really super easy, and with their rewards program – Honey Gold – you can get rewards points, even if the store doesn’t have coupons available. Check out Honey and get started earning rewards and saving money on the online shopping you already do!
I’ve spoken at length about how much I loved Ebates and just because it changed its name to Rakuten doesn’t mean I love it less. This site allows you to get great discounts at various retailers online, as well as returning some of your purchase back to you in the form of quarterly payouts. Some retailers offer 1% cash back but some like Dell have 5-10% back, and when you’re making a sizeable purchase, that can translate to a lot of money. Check out Rakuten through our referral link and earn $10 back on your first $25+ purchase in addition to whatever you get back naturally from Rakuten.
Similar to Rakuten and Honey, RetailMeNotoffers another way to find discounts at online retailers through their app or browser extension. Having several of these will allow you to figure out the best possible savings for your needs by comparing and contrasting available discounts.
Find the discounts, wherever they might hide
Using these apps – particularly together – along with making a shopping list and meal plan will help you save a tremendous amount of money. Some give rewards, some save directly on your receipt, and some give you a nice payout each month. Regardless of how you use them, there’s at least a few that will benefit you, so check them out!
Did we miss any great coupon, savings or rebates apps and extensions? Let us know in the comments which are your favorites and we might add them in!
As much joy as parenthood brings, it also requires parents to shell out big bucks for childcare. In the United States, the average cost of Monday-through-Friday daycare adds up to a staggering $11,666 per year, or about $972 each month. Remember, that’s the average price tag — some parents will pay even more to have someone look after their child while they work.
Surprisingly, there’s another option, and it’s one that’s just as reputable as the local daycare center or a well-reviewed nanny. On top of that, it doesn’t cost nearly as much as traditional avenues — and your family might get a bit of a cultural experience out of it to boot.
What Is It?
Since World War II, Europeans have been enlisting the help of au pairs to help raise their children. The program started as women began coming into their own and seeking ways to make a living. At the same time, middle-class families struggled to find help because the number of available domestic workers decreased at the time. As such, the idea of an au pair came to be, and it helped both groups to get on their feet.
Nowadays, the idea of the au pair has made its way from Europe to the United States and beyond. Typically, families hire a childminder from another country who can provide great care while teaching the little ones another language or the culture of another country.
Saving Money with An Au Pair
What Does an Au Pair Do?
An au pair might, at first, seem comparable to a nanny, but they’ll come to your home through a government-regulated agency to ensure both you and the au pair are well taken care of throughout their stay.
For starters, an au pair is tasked with sharing his or her culture and language with the family with whom they stay. Let’s say you want your children to learn Spanish — hiring an au pair from Spain would be a great way to make sure. These assets are the most valuable that an au pair provides, and they separate them from a typical nanny. Of course, you can hire a nanny who speaks another language, but an au pair makes it part of their mission to enlighten little ones about other parts of the world while providing care.
To that end, the rest of an au pair’s to-dos look a lot like a traditional nanny’s. In most agreements, the au pair will work for 45 hours a week, during which they can helm the childcare services you need — everything from infant care to cooking to light cleaning can be included. Don’t expect your au pair to do full-on house cleaning, however, as their contract will ensure that they’re only handling child-related cleaning. This duty list can include laundry and toy pick-up, for example, but they won’t be deep-cleaning any of the spaces in your home.
Au pairs are great resources for families on the go too. Since they’ll live with you — more on that later — they can come with you on trips to help you take care of your brood. All of these services come with a longer commitment than what you can get from some nannies. Your au pair will likely sign a one-year contract, so you can rest easy knowing that your employee won’t just quit and leave you in the lurch.
How Do I Get an Au Pair?
As previously mentioned, the state department regulates au pair programs to ensure that both families and hired childcare providers are safe. You’ll have to make sure your home has the potential to accommodate an in-house childcare provider. Au pairs will move in with your family for the duration of their contract, so they should have their own bedroom with a window and closet as well as access to a bathroom.
You’ll also have to provide him or her with a weekly stipend of about $200, full board and at least 1.5 days off per week. Some au pairs will come to America to learn English while they provide childcare — if your contract requires it, you might have to drive your au pair to and from such lessons as well.
Meet with an Agency
A slew of agencies exist to connect families with the right au pair. Most of the time, you’ll post online and share a bit about you and your family. Then, you can peruse available childcare providers — and they can search for your profile too. Once you find one with whom you connect, you can suss out the details of your contract with the agency. Usually, they charge application fees, and you’ll have to pay a bit more once you find the right person for the job.
Even with the agency costs, application fees and weekly stipend, hiring an au pair can be a much more cost-effective option than nannies or daycare centers. Plus, you and your children will benefit from the cultural experience — and you might just make a lifelong connection with the young man or woman who comes to care for your children. It’s a wonder that au pairs are so often overlooked as a way to care for children — now that you know the secret, you might just be ready to find a foreign caretaker to look after your little ones.
Jennifer Landis is the Mindful Mama behind the blog of (almost) the same name – Mindfulness Mama. She hopes to help other mamas make more out of mom life by sharing her expertise in parenting, budgeting basics, and healthy living. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.
The dreaded rush to get the kids prepped for back-to-school time is upon us. New clothes, new backpacks, new pencils – new, new, new. It all costs money and you might end up in an argument or two before the end of it.
Serious question – is wine an acceptable addition to a back-to-school list (for me, I mean)?
Fortunately, with a little preparation and planning, you can get everything your kids need, some of the things they want, and still have cash left in your wallet. And maybe a little sanity left in your mind!
Budget-Friendly Back to School Tips
Start by planning
At this point you should have a list of things your kids need from their school. It may be tempting to just run to Target or wherever and pick it all up and be done. This is the worst thing you can do. A tiny bit of planning, forethought, and restraint can save you a tremendous amount of stress and money.
Scour your house first
Your kids have random school supplies all over your house; it’s their nature. You very rarely will need to buy crayons, pens, pencils, markers, or cases year-to-year unless your child is an avid artist. This alone could save you $10 or more.
Create a detailed list
Once you know what you need, make a list and stick to it. The smartest way to go about this is to schedule an in-store pick-up. This will help you avoid impulse buys, especially at places like Target where they layout is designed to make you impulse-buy. Go in with blinders on, buy only what you need and get out. Not today, Satan!
You can also shop online
Shopping online is a fantastic way to avoid impulse purchases. No silly little things to buy near the register if there are no registers!
Involve your kids
Kids love new stuff; honestly, we all do. It’s not reasonable that you can buy every new and designer thing they want, but if you talk to them about what they want the most you can come to a reasonable agreement that leaves you both happy.
Starting as soon as the weather gets nice, start hitting up garage sales to get gently used clothes at a bargain price. Kids grow up quickly and nobody wants totes of old clothes lying around. You can typically even find designer kids’ clothes at insanely low prices just because nobody wants them once they’ve been outgrown.
Cutting coupons and running across town because markers are .25c cheaper at Walmart than Target is not worth it, especially with gas being expensive. Instead, plan on comparison shopping for your bigger ticket items; laptops, shoes, backpacks, uniforms, etc.
So now that you have your plan of attack established, you can save money in a ton of different ways. There are sites that give you money back, some that save you money, and a few others in-between.
Buy discounted gift cards
We all get gift cards we don’t want sometimes. Did you know there are places online where you can sell those cards at a discount for cash you can use anywhere? It’s true, and these places naturally allow you to buy discounted cards as well. Check out Raise.com to learn more!
All of these sites function the same way, allowing you to pick up gift cards below their market value, which basically means free cash for you just for shopping at a specific place.
Buy online through Ebates (Rakuten)
We use Rakuten (what used to be Ebates) for virtually everything we buy online and we’ve covered that a few times in other articles. The premise is that they offer you discount codes and cash back when you buy from major online retailers through the Rakuten link. You can save quite a bit of money this way and then you get some cash back, too. Sign up through our link and you’ll get $10 in your Rakuten account after your first $25 transaction through a Rakuten link! We bought our most recent laptop through a Rakuten Dell link and earned about $80 back, in addition to the discount code provided. It’s a huge deal, so take advantage of it!
Along the same lines as thredUP, Schoola is a site that offers clothing at a discounted rate. The greatest part of Schoola however is the fact that 40% of their sales go to a local school of your choice. There’s no downside here, and our link will also net you $10 off your first purchase!
Don’t shy away from dollar stores
Especially when your kids are younger, they’re not going to care if their Spiderman lunchbox came from Target or if it came from Dollar Tree. Use this to your advantage as long as you can, but also remember that you can get basic school supplies that are good quality from these places all the time.
Basic is best
When I was a kid, Lisa Frank stuff was what everyone wanted. The markup on those folders (through my adult eyes) is absurd when just a few folders in my favorite colors would have been fine. Get your kids in the habit of expressing themselves not through what they buy but just being themselves. A life lesson and savings all rolled into one! If your kid is a doodler, some basic notebooks and folders will be covered in their own artistic expression in no time, and it will have more personality than an expensive notebook ever could.
Plan for next year now
If you’ve got kids in school, you have an idea what they’ll need for next year. They might need some specific things going from one grade to another, but the notebooks, pencils, and art supplies remain the same. Here are some tips to help you for the next back-to-school season.
Take advantage of the post-season
Walgreens is one of my favorite places to shop, especially after a seasonal sale has ended (looking at you, Halloween candy). The same is true for back-to-school sales, where in the weeks after you’ll find stores scrambling to get rid of merchandise. This means savings up to 70% or more on things you will absolutely need again. You can always use spiral-bound notebooks, pencils, pens, folders, crayons, markers – the list is endless. The same 3-subject notebooks that are $2.99 at the start of BTS season are .45 cents after. They’re not going to spoil or go bad, so why not buy them now and keep them in a designated spot until next year?
Have a designated homework spot
Create a quiet, organized place for your kids to do homework, study, read and write. This not only builds consistently good study habits, but it also helps you keep track of all your school supplies. Make sure that all your notebooks, books, and writing instruments go back to this spot and you won’t need to scramble around your house for next year’s BTS rush.
Set up swaps
If you go to a school with a uniform – an increasingly popular prospect – see if you can swap your gently used uniforms with those of other families. Your 6th grader might have outgrown their clothes but the family down the street could have an 8th grader who doesn’t need their uniform anymore, and their 5th grader needs new outfits. Nobody likes having to buy new uniforms, so see what you can set up with your friends and neighbors.
Like with most things, planning is key to ensure that you don’t waste time or money. While back-to-school shopping with your kids can be a great bonding experience, be careful you don’t end up getting coerced into buying hundreds of dollars more than you intended. Plan ahead, set boundaries, opt for simplicity, shop online when you can, and go through websites that reward you for spending smartly. You’ll earn your degree in savings in no time flat!
What are some of your favorite back-to-school season savings tips?