Swag Bucks, the gateway site

Every year around New Years I set some goals for myself for the upcoming year.  They cover various aspects of my life, but I try to make them quantifiable – like save an extra $2,000 in savings account or finish graduate classes.  This year one of my goals was a bit more simple – learn how to save money in different ways.  I am reasonably disciplined with saving my money, but there are only so many ways you can stretch my small salary.  My intention was to learn a bit more about couponing and maybe score a freebie or two but by the end of January I stumbled upon Swag Bucks and since then I’ve made a lot more money than I thought I would when I set that goal.

Now Swag Bucks is really no get-rich-quick site, but it is a fun and legitimate site where you earn points (swag bucks) for doing a variety of things you’d normally do online – like internet searches, playing games, watching videos and commercials.  You can also earn points for shopping online, as well as get a nice bonus if you order from Groupon or similar sites.  I was essentially paid $10 when I signed up for a one-month FREE trial of Netflix.  Give me free movies for a month AND $10 in Amazon credit?  Count me in!  (Side note – only bad thing about that is that I wound up loving Netflix and am now on month four!  But there have been other free offers that I’ve successfully canceled after receiving my swag bucks)

After you earn enough points you can cash them in for a variety of prizes, such as gift cards to places like Amazon and Home Depot, for various prizes on their site, or you can even convert your earnings to cash by having it deposited into your PayPal account.  If you like donating money to charity but never seem to have enough money to help you can use your swag bucks for that as well – every month they highlight a different charity and make a lump sum donation at the end of the month.  While your 100 swag bucks (about $1) may not seem like much, combined with the everyone else’s donations it turns into a nice sum.  This month they are highlighting the ASPCA, and in previous months they’ve collected for the Japan Hurricane fund, the US hurricane fund, and for the Wounded Warriors.  It’s a great way to give back for those who can’t really afford to donate much.

When I first started Swag Bucks I really didn’t understand what it was all about, so I just did a few things here and there and still managed to earn $10 in Amazon gift cards the first month ($5 Amazon gift cards – AGCs – are the best value).  By the second month I was able to earn $25 in AGCs and then everything clicked – I’ve earned about $75 in AGCs every month since then.  I call Swag Bucks the “gateway site” because after learning my way on Swag Bucks I’ve found out about a host of similar sites and have been able to earn quite a bit there as well.  For beginners, though, I highly recommend Swag Bucks- the site is very user friendly, the customer service is great, and they really focus on the social aspects (they post daily blogs, release codes, and have a very active Facebook page), which makes the experience much more enjoyable.  That’s not to say that there aren’t glitches and issues, but if you learn not to sweat the small stuff you should have a good time!

So go ahead and sign up for an account at http://www.swagbucks.com/refer/RuebixPenguin (sorry the link won’t show up – this blog site won’t let me.  But if you decide to sign up I’d REALLY appreciate it if you’d copy and paste the link.  I’m more than happy to help you learn how to earn lots and lots of swag bucks!) and be sure to check my posts over the next few days as I give some beginners tips, tell you how to make an easy $25 each month, and then explain a bit more for the advanced swaggers!

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So, what’s this blog going to be about?

There are lots of different ways that you can save money, and you can pick and choose what works best for you.  The nice thing about learning to save money is that every dollar saved, no matter how you did it, is a dollar saved.  So if it is too hard to think about giving up that $3 coffee every morning you can still save $10 on a pair of shoes you are ordering or cut $100 off your car insurance.  Little changes can add up to big savings.

As I mentioned before, once you start saving money it makes it very hard to overpay for anything, so I try to save money in a variety of ways.  Diversify, if you will.  Some I’m better at than others, and I absolutely have things that I know I overspend on (at last count I had something like 15 Vera Bradley pieces…all gotten on sale, of course, but a weakness of mine nonetheless!), but it’s very easy to do a few things every day that help you save, and I’ll do my best to share some of those with you.

Most of my money-saving tips will probably fall into the following categories:

1) Smart Shopping
Smart shopping is both a blessing and a curse.  Everyone loves a good deal, but buying too many good deals is going to wind up costing you more than you save.  I tend to shop around before I buy anything, and I keep an eye on certain websites for great deals I don’t want to miss out on.  The internet has made comparison shopping so easy, and if you have a smart phone you can do a quick check before you buy something at the store as well.  Smart shopping can include sale offers online, using internet-printed coupons or online codes, learning the grocery store cycles, buying offers from discount sites like Groupon, as well as many other ways.  It takes some discipline to not go overboard on all the great offers out there, but never overpay if you don’t have to!

2)  Money-earning websites
There are so many scams out there ready to prey on those who are looking to get rich quickly or work from home that your natural inclination may be to automatically distrust any website that offers money.  Surprisingly, that simply isn’t true and there are a ton of websites out there that offer legitimate ways to earn gift cards, prizes, and even cash.  You will not get rich from them, you cannot quit your job and support your family, and they are not necessarily quick or easy, as the amount of time you put into them will directly impact the amount you can earn.  But it is quite possible to earn an easy $25 a month for just a few minutes a day, up to several hundred each month if you are willing to put in some time.  My personal best if $190 in one month (mostly in the form of Amazon gift cards, with some money going in to my PayPal account, which is the same as cash), and I have a full-time job so I’m not spending that much time on these sites.  I will talk about these sites soon and give my reviews of their pros and cons, but I strongly suggest checking these out.  Just using a different search engine a few times a day could earn you $120 in Amazon gift cards a year.

3) Negotiating (aka Haggling)
This probably sounds like the most intimidating way to save money, but it really is quite easy and can save you a lot.  Let me start by saying that I would never try to rip someone off or pay less than an item is worth, but the truth is many things have been marked up to start with and simply asking for a discount will often get you one.  So ask.  Worst thing that will happen is they say no.  I was able to get my mortgage company to waive the $195 application fee, and talk Home Depot into coming down more than $600 when I was looking for a new door.  I even remember that when I was 25 and buying my first “new” used car, I had the dealer drop $25 off the cost so that I’d feel better about buying the car from him.  He’d told me there was no wiggle room in the price, but that $25 was a small victory for someone making her first big purchase!  If done right, both you and the seller can feel good about the deal you make. 

 4) Couponing
Ok, I am definitely NOT an extreme couponer.  I don’t even buy the Sunday newspaper (let alone 8 of them).  But I do glance through the Red Plum insert I get in the mail every week, my monthly Clipper magazine (a local, free ad magazine), and quickly skim the ValuPak inserts before I toss them in the recycling bin.  Occasionally I’ll find coupons for things I’ll actually use or restaurants I eat at (Rita’s Water Ice almost always has some Buy 1-Get 1 Free coupons available in March/April/May each year), so I tear them out in case I decide to use them.  There are several sites that will let you print the coupons you need, and many companies will offer high-value coupons if you “like” their Facebook page.  You don’t need a binder full of coupons in order to save some money!

5) Freebies
Freebies are tons of fun, but much like Smart Shopping I advise using some restraint!  There are tons of bloggers out there that will let you know about every available freebie out there, but I try to only participate in the ones that I will actually use.  If you ever need some entertainment, visit the Facebook page of whatever poor company just finished their giveaway of the day and see the angry people lash out at the company because they missed out on their freebie.  Please don’t be one of these people.  Look at it like a contest with higher-than-average odds.  I’ve missed out on some nice offers but have gotten some great ones too.  In the past few months I’ve gotten a free Swiffer, a Gilette razor ($13 value), a Neti-Pot (worth about $8), a full tube of my favorite toothpaste ($4), a Target travel makeup bag with free samples, a Pyrex potholder, Clinique mascara, as well as a host of coupons for free items (Eggbeaters, Cottonelle moist wipes, hair coloring for my mom – she saved $22 with those!).  It definitely makes going to the mailbox fun.

6) My Favorite Websites
While not all of my favorite websites have to do with ways to save money, many of them do.  There are some great bloggers that I follow as well as sites that keep track of all the latest sales, and others that let you earn cash back for every purchase you make.  I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel here, so I’d rather tell everyone about these great sites instead of copying them.  But I highly recommend http://www.damnyouautocorrect.com for a laugh.

7) Life Audits
Life audits are what I consider all those other little things that you have to deal with on a daily basis – health and car insurance, bank accounts, cell phone plans, etc.  I am definitely no expert on life, but sometimes by just taking the time to reevaluate what you need and what you are currently using you can find a way to save some money.  I’ll be happy to pass on some on my experiences, and maybe others will have some good advice for me as well!
These categories give a guideline to what I’ll be talking about, but as the blog title suggests, there will be a little bit of everything thrown in here.  Hope you enjoy and can find something useful in it!

Living the Fun and Frugal Life

Well, now that I explained who Ollie is, it’s time to talk a bit more about what this blog will actually be about – living the fun and frugal life.  As I mentioned earlier, this blog will be about a little bit of everything – but nearly everything I do involves a degree of fun and frugality.  With the economic downturn over the past few years there is a lot of interest in ways to save money, but I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember.  In the words of Lady Gaga I was born this way – I’ve always had a knack for finding good deals and I enjoy giving others tips on how to save as well.

Now there are already tons of mommy blogs and couponing sites out there, and I have no desire to just rehash what is already available on all those other sites.  But what I can do is point you in the direction of some of the sites that I think are really great.  My friends tease me about being an “extreme couponer” but in reality I hardly ever use coupons and certainly don’t have a stockpile of goods in my closet.  Most of the ways I save money just involve a little bit of common sense, the willingness to do a bit of research, and just a touch of haggling.  When I watch those couponing shows I’m struck by how much work it seems to involve and while I do get a bit of a thrill every time I get a good deal, I don’t want to spend hours preparing for it.  That cuts into the “fun” part of the fun and frugal life.  To me, the benefits of saving money include an increased financial security (most important) and also the ability to spend the extra on the things and people you enjoy.  Whether those include material goods or experiences is up to you, but learning to enjoy the little things in life goes a long way in the fun and frugal life.

My philosophy is simply why pay more than I have to?  If a pair of shoes is $40 at one store, but if I spend a few minutes searching online and can find them for $30, and earn $1.50 cashback on my credit card purchase, why would I waste that $11.50?  Once you start saving money it makes it difficult to overpay for anything, which results in you saving more money.  It’s like a nice snowball effect.

As I get this blog up and running I’m hoping to be able to add some tips from my own life about things such as buying my house, traveling, paying for education, etc., as well as introduce you to some great resources that I use to save/earn money.  It seems like every week I’m finding some new website that helps me to save money or earn money, and I’m happy to pass on those tips to anyone who is willing to listen.  I hope you enjoy it and can learn something!

A Little Bit of Everything

I’ve been trying to think of a witty way to start my blog all week and have been getting nowhere, so now I’m just going to jump in.

Why is my blog called Ollie’s Best?  Must be all the best stuff written by Ollie, of course!  Well, no, I’m not Ollie and as I’m just starting out I don’t want to put that much pressure on myself to come up with my best (as I mentioned, it took me a week to come up with the first line).  When I first started toying with the idea of a blog I read a few articles with tips, almost all of them mentioning it was best to keep your blog narrowed and focused.  But when I thought about what I most wanted to write about I realized it included a little bit of everything.  As much as I tried to narrow it down, every thing that popped into my head to write about seemed a bit random.  With the advice of successful bloggers floating through my mind I thought maybe I could keep different blogs for different subjects, but realized that was highly unrealistic as it will be difficult enough for me to keep up with one.  So how to make a little bit of everything work?  Then I thought of one of my favorite NYC restaurants – Ollie’s.  It is a chain of tasty, inexpensive Chinese restaurants throughout the city, and I’ve been going there since I was a kid.  They have tons of great options on their menu, but I normally go with the Little Bit of Everything soup because I can’t make up my mind.  This soup lives up to its name – they throw a little bit of everything into it, and the result is tasty, satisfying, and best of all, inexpensive.  If it works for Ollie’s then I’m hoping it could work for me as well.  So ladies and gentlemen, I present to you – Ollie’s Best.  A little bit of everything to live a fun and frugal life.

And in case you’re ever in NYC and stop by Ollie’s, I suggest you try out the Little Bit of Everything soup: