How to save $30 in 30 seconds

9043339700_994df91382_zI’m not a huge fan of coupon clipping. I find that shopping store sales, buying produce in season, and stocking up when I find a regular household item at a drastically reduced cost are all more efficient ways to save cash. For instance, when I was at Target the other night buying school supplies, I noticed that the Mack’s ear plugs I buy — which I pay $6 for at CVS — are sold for $4 at Target. So I pretty much cleared Target out. I wouldn’t make a trip to Target just to buy low-priced ear plugs, though, if I had to pick up a prescription at CVS. All coupon fliers go straight to the recycling bin. It’s not worth the mental load to keep track of them. And I am not the only person doing our household’s grocery shopping.

But I have found one coupon trick that almost always saves me money. I buy a lot of clothes and other items online. Online retailers often have some sort of promotion going, but they won’t necessarily advertise it on the website. If you’re shopping online, before checking out, Google the name of your retailer and “coupon code.”

Often RetailMeNot is the first site to come up, but there are some other sites that aggregate coupon codes, too. You can see what promotions are going on and try the coupon code at checkout. I did this last week while making a photo book at Shutterfly. I Googled “Shutterfly coupon code” and found that there was a 40% discount lurking out there on the web that was expiring that day. I typed it in, and sure enough, the new price was 40% lower. Since I was buying fancy photo books as an anniversary present to my husband, I saved a fair chunk of change in 30 seconds.

If cutting coupons requires an hour of scissor-work on Sundays, it’s not worth it. If all you have to do is a quick web search, it probably is.

What’s the fastest way you’ve figured out to save money? What’s the most you’ve ever saved for time invested? To be sure, the $30 saved on photo books doesn’t come close to the total amount saved by negotiating the price on my car, or refinancing our mortgage when interest rates dropped, though $30/30 seconds is the equivalent of $3600/hour — which is more per hour than the $2000 I saved in one hour of research and negotiation on the car purchase.

Photo courtesy flickr user torbakhopper


12 thoughts on “How to save $30 in 30 seconds

  1. This will probably sound strange, but probably doing my taxes by hand, without software, has saved me the most money. I spend at least a couple evenings each year cranking through the numbers with my HP48 RPN calculator. It helps me understand and remember the ins and outs of the tax code (child tax credit starts phasing out at $110k so 401(k) contributions should be optimized to that number; 15% federal tax bracket ends at $69k) to make optimal work-life trade-offs.

    Should I work 29 hr/week or attempt to work 40 hr/week? Knowing that my marginal tax rate is + phaseout is 47%, my childcare credit is already maxed out, and my husband’s employer makes me pay a significant medical insurance premium if I average over 29 hours… maybe 29 hours is better than 40?

    1. @TG – I think the answer to that last question depends on your reasons for working. If it’s solely about money — an utterly valid reason to work — then the phase outs and marginal returns on any hour worked matter a great deal. On the other hand, if it’s about building/maintaining a career for future returns when childcare costs can be much lower, then the money-per-hour matters less and the career-building returns per hour matter more (assuming, in the case described, that a partner’s income can support the family). And if you absolutely love what you do — you’d do it for leisure if you weren’t getting paid — then that is a different calculation too!

      1. The idea that people love their jobs is utterly foreign to me after years of layoffs in a depressing technology company. Thanks for your comment and reminding me that there ARE people in the world who don’t work solely for the money. (and I’m not being sarcastic here, just tired of dealing with an employer who has no sympathy for parents of children with medical issues)

  2. I search for coupon codes too.

    On groceries, I save the most by:
    1. Cleaning my frig out before shopping day to know what I have.

    2. Planning meals. I hate coming home from the grocery store and having “nothing to eat” for dinner. I plan ahead to have an easy prep meal on days when I’m not walking in the door until 6. That way we don’t eat out a lot or eat a lot of processed food. That’s money in the bank right there.

    3. I don’t cut many coupons, except those from our grocery store circular that must be used that week. (It’s too much work for me to sort through other coupons to find the tiny print of the expiration date.) I’ve gotten to know my grocery store clerks, who will often scan a coupon for me.

    4. I plan meals around what’s on sale/in season.

    I realize that this sounds like a lot of work, but after more than 20 years of cooking I have a fair number of meals I have down pat, so it’s like: Chuck roast is cheap this week, I’ll make roast beef sandwiches in the crock pot on Tuesday when I have a board meeting.

    5. Washing and prepping produce in easy grab and go bags for lunches. (Versus letting it die hidden away in the vegetable drawer.)

    6. Don’t send my husband to the store. He buys every new product and giant sized containers of snacks. He’s pretty frugal in other areas, but for some reason, he has impulse control issues in places like Sam’s Club.

  3. I always search for online coupons. Savings add up. As for coupons, I do print out coupons (mainly for household goods, not foods) and I always Target’s coupon section before heading there. It may not be big savings but it’s pretty easy for me to print/clip and plan my trip. Like you, I won’t go out of my way but I do try to remember the lowest price points on certain items.

  4. I love your math!
    For the most part, I do “bin” the coupons. But on big ticket possibilities (i.e. Crate & Barrel) I now photograph the coupon details and save in Evernote – which is easily searchable and mobile.

  5. This is going to sound like an ad, but I use a Target debit card, which gives you an automatic 5% discount. We can easily spend $100/week at Target (we buy a lot of groceries there + we have a little one) so that’s $20/month x 12 months = $240/year for filling out a piece of paper and letting them data mine me (and send me coupons = more savings!). Also we stock up on things that we consume a lot of (DH has a wicked Dt. Mt. Dew habit) when they are on sale. Also – and this is terrible – my MIL loves to buy the baby stuff so we just save all our big baby purchases for when she comes to visit!

    1. I also use the Target Debit Card. Another trick: free shipping for any online purchases through Target. You can get a lot of stuff they don’t sell in stores, and it’s perfect for shopping for baby and wedding registries. Most people register at Target for these occasions.

  6. Our grocery store has gift card promotions for Shell, Amazon, Home Depot, etc. where you get up to $1 off per gallon when you buy gift cards. Currently, we can get $25 off gas (we have a truck) when we buy $200 in gift cards.

  7. I have been using this trick for several years, and it’s how I discovered Retail Me Not before they got really popular. I don’t ever buy anything online without Googling a coupon code.

    I do a lot of photo stuff through Walgreens, and they are always running a deal. You can usually get something for about 40% off. The only site I found it doesn’t work for is Amazon, which is unfortunate as I do most of my shopping there. But Amazon prices are cheaper any way.

  8. We got the Amazon credit card, since we were more likely to use those “points” than travel points in the near future. And seriously, we’ve earned hundreds of dollars back on our purchases since that’s our regular-use credit card (nearly all day to day expenses go on it).

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