Saving with Spare Change Apps

spare change appsThere have been a number of spare change apps come out in the last couple of years. Apps such as Acorns, Digit, and Qapital all have the goal of automatically saving your spare change. You have probably read a review of some of these apps on other personal finance blogs. Almost all of the reviews I’ve read seem to think these apps are a great idea. I’m going to give the other bloggers the benefit of the doubt and assume they are not just giving  the apps a good review due to being an affiliate of the apps.  To be clear, I don’t have any problem with bloggers being affiliates for the apps. I’m an affiliate myself, I just think in some cases it might keep the bloggers from mentioning the cons of the apps. I do think  there are positives to the spare change apps, but there are some significant negatives as well.

One of the main things I didn’t like about these apps when I first learned about them is that they took random amounts of money out of your account and put it into savings. I like to have more control over my money and want to know exactly how much is going from my checking account to the app account. The Acorns app has a $1 monthly fee. That might not seem like much, but when you’re saving such small amounts that could easily equate to a 5% fee or more. Digit and Qapital don’t have monthly fees which make them a better option in my opinion.

My biggest complaint about these apps is that the amounts put into savings are too small. I used Qapital for about a month and a half and it put $36 into the app savings account. Such a small amount of savings is not going to add up very quickly. It would be a lot easier to just set up an automatic transfer from checking to savings of $100 a month or whatever amount you can afford. Personally, I just send money to my IRA or 401k whenever I have some spare money and I haven’t had a problem maxing out my IRA. If instead of sending the money to a no interest savings account the apps sent the money directly to my IRA or to pay my student loan I would find these apps much more appealing. Since that would prevent the app from making money on their savings accounts I don’t see this kind of change taking place.

I realize that some people suck  at saving  money or have just never started saving money and they might find it easier to use one of these apps. Even though it is super easy to transfer money from your checking account to your IRA I know a lot of people will find it to be too much of a bother. For those people, these spare change apps could be a good deal. I think the apps might also be good for parents who are trying to teach their teens to save.

If you are already in control of your personal finances and have already developed a savings habit then I don’t think you should bother with these apps.  You could use one of these apps to save money in addition to the money you regularly save. Personally, I don’t think it is worth my time to save money with these apps since it is another account  I need to monitor and will use up more of my limited time and mental bandwidth. Since I already save (or pay down debt with) a large percentage of my income it is doubtful the apps will result in any extra money saved for me.

All of that being said I do have a Qapital referral link for those that are interested. If you sign up through the referral link and make a deposit towards your goal we will both make $5.  If you would like a referral link via email you can leave a comment or send me an email and I’ll send you a referral link.

Do you think spare change apps actually help people save money?


How I’m Getting 3 Hotel Nights in Las Vegas for $47.51

Welcome_to_fabulous_las_vegas_signThis week I’ll be in Las Vegas from Tuesday to Friday. This trip was planned about a month ago. I had some airfare credit on  Southwest from volunteering to be bumped last year that was about to expire and decided to use it for a trip to Vegas. With my airfare covered a hotel room was the only major expense I needed to pay. I originally only planned to stay two nights in Vegas. Then I found out my mom had also planned a trip to Vegas with a couple of my aunts and they would be arriving the day after I left. Therefore, I decided to stay another night which will allow me to have lunch with my mom and my aunts at the airport when they arrive. I felt it was worth paying for an extra day in Vegas in order to get to meet them. I also get the value of another day to do stuff in Vegas and as I explain in this post the extra day isn’t going to cost me much.

I had several options to choose from to get cheap or even free hotel rooms in Vegas.  I have Starpoints that I could have used to book a free room at a Four Points. I decided not to use the Starpoints since hotel rooms are already cheap in Vegas I could get a lot better value from my Starpoints using them elsewhere.

I also could have used some of my Chase Ultimate Rewards to book three hotel nights. I decided not to use my Ultimate Rewards for a couple of reasons. One is that when booking through the Chase site your Ultimate Rewards only cover the base hotel cost and taxes, they don’t cover resort fees. I’d still have to pay the resort fees out of pocket. I could write a rant post about resort fees, but I’ll save that for another day. Another reason for not using my Ultimate Rewards is that although I can use them to pay for a hotel without paying anything out of pocket it isn’t really free to use them.  Ultimate Rewards can be redeemed for cash so using them to pay for a hotel basically costs you the amount you could have gotten by redeeming the points for cash. For example, if it cost me 2800 UR points to book a hotel which I could have redeemed for $28 in cash then I’m basically paying $28 for the hotel. When you add the foregone cash to the resort fees then the hotel night from using my UR points wasn’t really free. Using the UR points would still have been an okay deal, but I had a better option.

Wyndham Rewards currently has a promotion awarding you with $100 in Wyndham gift cards when you stay two times with them during the promotion period.  I stayed at a Wyndham property once during my April hike and once during my July hike and satisfied the terms of the promotion. The $100 in Wyndham gift cards is awarded as four $25 gift cards and only one gift card can be used per each hotel stay. Also, the cards have to be used by October 31, 2016.   That makes it a little difficult to take advantage of all the gift cards since you need four different stays to use up the gift cards.

I mostly solved that problem by booking one night at three different hotels. Wyndham has a lot of properties in Vegas making it easy to stay at three different hotels. It will be a little bit of a hassle to have to check in three different times, but these are small properties so I don’t anticipate a long check-in line like you sometimes have at the mega hotels. My first night I’m staying at a property that doesn’t have a resort fee and I’ll only be paying $7 and change for my room. The other two nights I’m staying at properties that have casinos and I’ll be paying $20 and change each night for my room. I could have saved a little more money by staying at non-casino properties. However, the casino properties had much better locations for my purposes so it was worth paying a little extra. After all, $20 a night is still pretty cheap.

My only other expenses will be bus, food, and gambling.  The bus will be pretty cheap. I’m going to get a 24 hour pass for $8 the first day and I might get another 24 hour pass for the last day. The max I think I’ll spend on the bus is $16. Food will be cheap since I like cheap food. I don’t consider food a travel expense since I eat out all the time when I’m at home too.  I’ll be sure to eat at In n Out at least once and I’d like to try Shake Shack while I’m there too.  I also have a couple of free buffets from playing My Vegas Slots.  If I’m not too unlucky gambling the entire trip should cost me less than $100 out-of-pocket.  Although I’m far from a master at travel hacking, I hope this shows how it is possible to travel without spending a lot of money.



How I Got a $100 Gas Card for $76

I was able to get a $100 gas card for $76 by stacking four discounts. This post will provide an illustration of how I got this deal. Although you probably won’t be able to do the same exact deal described in this post following the process outlined in this example will allow you to buy other gift cards at a significant discount.

The first thing I did was buy a discounted Ebay gift card at Office Max. Since I get 5% cash back at office supply stores using my Chase Ink card I consider this a $5 discount off $100. If you would like to apply for a Chase Ink card please consider using my Chase Ink Referral Link.  I’ll get points for referring you and you will get 60,000 Chase Ink points (worth $725 towards travel or $600 cash) after spending $5000 in three months after opening the card.If you don’t want to get the credit card it is also possible to buy Ebay gift cards for 5% off at Target when you use your Redcard. You will want to be careful if you choose that option since some people report getting their Redcard shut down for buying too many gift cards. A safer option is to buy an Ebay gift card directly from Ebay when they have them on sale. They seem to offer their cards at a discount every month or two

The next thing I did was visit eBay through a cash back shopping portal such as Splender or iConsumer. At the time I bought my gift card iConsumer was offering 3% cash back.  It is usually around 1% cash back. That isn’t much, but if you’re going to make the purchase anyway you might as well save a little money.

The third thing I did to save money was to buy the discounted Ebay gift card to buy a discounted gift card on eBay. At the time eBay was offering $100 gas cards for $92.

The fourth discount I received was from eBay Bucks. If you’re enrolled in eBay Bucks you get 2% back in eBay Bucks on most of the purchase you make on eBay. They occasionally have promotions offering an even greater percentage back. At the time I bought my gas card they had a promotion offering 10% back in eBay Bucks. That is as good as I’ve seen them offer for general purchases, although they sometimes offer even higher percentages back on specific categories.

Here is how the math works out. The $100 gas gift card  was on sale for $92 for a savings of $8. I used an Ebay gift card that I bought with my Chase Ink which I consider to be a 5% discount. Five percent off $92 is $4.60. The cash back shopping portal paid me 3% cash back which is $2.76. Ebay gave me 10% back in eBay Bucks.  Ten percent off $92 is $9.20.  So $92-$4.60-$2.76-$9.20= $75.44.  I went ahead and rounded up to $76 since some of the discounts or rewards earned from the purchase are not in the form of actual cash. Either way that is a pretty good discount on gas. Of course, I use a gas rewards card when I fill up to save even more money.

The deals aren’t always that great, but stacking the discounts and cash back it is possible to save a nice amount on lots of gift cards. In fact, I have bought gift cards off of eBay and turned around and Sell gift cards for cash at  or Sell Your Gift Cards For Cash at! I wouldn’t recommend that as a way to make money,  but it is a good way to help meet minimum spend to earn a credit card bonus.

Let me know if you have any questions about any of the discounts or cash back.

Going for a Hike

CAM00151I will be heading out for a hike starting tomorrow. I’ll be hiking in Shenandoah National Park to make up some of the section of the Appalachian Trail that I missed when hiking in Shenandoah. It is a 13.5 hour drive to Virginia from here. A few years ago I could make that drive straight through. Nowadays, I don’t think it would be safe for me to drive that long in one day. I’ll be driving 7.5 hours tomorrow and doing the remaining six hours the next day.  I’m able to get a room for free with my Starwood points so there is no hotel expense to worry about.

Once I arrive at the trail I plan to hike out and back on the trail returning to my car at the end of the day.  Then I will sleep in my car or perhaps hike in to a shelter if there is one close to where I’m parked.  My daily hiking miles will be determined by the distance between parking areas and how far I feel I can comfortably hike. I’m out of shape right now so the daily hiking miles will be low to start out. Having the car will allow me to go to town if I need more food or just need a night off the trail. I think hiking with the car will allow me to ease back into hiking.  Once I’ve returned from the hike I’ll share how it went. I think it will be a fun and frugal trip.

How I Prepared and Filed My Federal and State Taxes for Free

agi The past few years I have been able to prepare and file my taxes for free through either the IRS Free File site or through my tax season employer. Since I’m not working at the tax job this tax season it looked like I was going to need to use the IRS Free File site to do my taxes. The only drawback to using the Free File site is that using it I have to pay to file one of my state tax returns. Free File allows me to file my federal return and my Missouri return for free, but I have to pay for my Kansas return.

Luckily, I found out about MyFreeTaxes at United Way. They allow anyone who makes less than $62,000 a year (AGI) to file their taxes for free through their site. The $62,000 income cutoff is the same cutoff the IRS Free File site uses. The income cutoff is set to allow 70% of taxpayers to qualify to file for free. The MyFreeTaxes site uses the H&R Block online site to do the actual preparation and filing of the return. This worked out well for me since the past few years I’ve used H&R Block through the Free File site to do my taxes which allowed me to import some information from last year’s tax return to the current tax return. Since the return was prepared and filed using the same online H&R Block software I’ve been using the last few years it was easy for me to use. It was kind of a pain preparing my taxes this year since I had to figure out my income and expenses for three different businesses. Even though I didn’t pay any estimated taxes for these businesses I still got a roughly $3000 refund this year since I had a lot of taxes taken out at my jobs and took less than my full ACA subsidy during the year. Getting a big refund was a nice surprise since I was thinking I’d be getting a very small refund if I got a refund at all. The refund should show up in about a week or two. Another smaller nice surprise is that I didn’t have to pay to file my Missouri or Kansas taxes. I was able to prepare and file both my federal taxes and two state taxes for free.

If your income is less than $62,000 a year I’d recommend using MyFreeTaxes to prepare and file your taxes. I’ll keep using them to file my taxes as long as I qualify. If I’m able to increase my income enough that I no longer qualify I won’t complain about having to pay to file my taxes.

Top Cashback $20.16 Referral Bonus, Upromise $20 Bonus, iConsumer Free Stock Bonus MembersDoing  my online shopping through cash back shopping portals is one of the ways I save money on purchases and lower the cost of items I buy for my Amazon FBA business.  I earn hundreds of dollars a year by using these portals. Now that my FBA business is growing I expect I’ll make over $1000 cash back this year. Using an online shopping portal is an easy way to save money and to make a little money. There are lots of portals out there and they are all competing for new members. In order to get new members they offer bonuses when you sign up for a new account. Here are some of the best deals from shopping portals I currently use.

Be Frugal is offering a $10 bonus when you sign up through my referral link and earn at least $25 cash back within 90 days of creating the account. I would get a $10 bonus as well. I just signed up for Be Frugal in November and I should be getting my first payout from them next month. So far they have tracked all my purchases correctly.

Iconsumer is a new portal and they have a bit of a twist on the normal shopping portal. In addition to paying cash back they pay you shares in the company.  Currently they are offering 100 shares of stock when you sign up through my referral link.  I would get 100 shares as well. They state that they will be offering their shares at 9 cents a share. If that price happens then your shares would be worth $9. There is some risk to this offer since they haven’t yet been approved by the SEC to issue shares. Even if they are approved to issue shares they may end up selling for less than 9 cents a share.

Upromise is offering a $20 bonus when you sign up through my referral email.  You would need to make a $20 purchase through Upromise after signing up to qualify for the bonus and I’d get a $20 bonus as well. This bonus isn’t as convenient since I can’t post a referral link. You need to request a referral email if you’re interested in signing up. I’ve been a member of Upromise for years and have never had a problem getting paid.

TopCashBack offers a $20.16 referral bonus to me if you sign up through my referral link.  You wouldn’t receive a monetary bonus for signing up through my referral link, but you will be able to refer people yourself after signing up and you will receive the satisfaction of helping support the blog. 🙂 I’ve been a member of TopCashBack for a couple of years and haven’t had any problems with my purchases tracking or getting paid.

If you have any questions about any of these referral bonuses or about the cash back shopping portals leave your question in the comments.