Giveaways: Budget Stretcher or Waste of Time?

Giveaways are nothing new.  Just read a handful of blogs and you’ll likely find plenty of giveaways.  But are they worth the time and effort?  Can you ever win something good?

I’ll be honest, my husband and I are digging out of a hole of debt.  The good news is that we’ve paid off over half of our debt.  Yeah!

However, we’ve reached a point where we firmly refuse to acquire any new debt.  Meanwhile, our car is 10 years old and has 150,000 miles on it, our 10 year old needs braces, and we’ve just had nearly $2,000 in medical and dental work. . .

Our money is stretched to the max.

GiveawaysSo, I decided to try my hand at giveaways.

Right now, we just don’t have a lot of extra money to pay for presents and fun items for the kids, so I thought giveaways could be a good way to get some of the luxuries we can’t afford.

So far, in three months (December through February), I’ve won 5 prizes:

  • A $50 Visa gift card
  • A board game for my 10 year old ($29.95 RV)
  • A $10 bookstore gift card
  • A movie
  • A book

During these past three months, I entered 47 giveaways, meaning I won 10% of the giveaways I entered.  Not bad.

How Much Time Do I Spend Entering Giveaways

I know there are some people that spend A LOT of time entering giveaways, but I don’t have time for that.  Instead, I enter giveaways once or twice a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time.  I often enter the giveaways when my kids are watching television in the afternoon (they get an hour a day of tv time), or in the evening when I’m too tired to do anymore work.  (Unlike just vegging and watching Netflix, entering giveaways has the prospect of giving me something back.)

I don’t enter giveaways just to enter giveaways.  Instead, I focus on ones that offer cash or gift cards (though these are the most competitive and difficult to win), ones that have products my kids would like or that would make nice gifts, and ones that offer homeschool curriculum.

If you want to start entering giveaways, deciding what you would like to focus on winning is a good way to limit the amount of time you spend entering giveaways.

Where I Find Giveaways to Enter

To maximize my time entering giveaways, I try to enter ones that have low entries.

I have found some Facebook groups to join where people advertise their giveaways.

Another site I love is Tightwad in Utah.  She lists low entry giveaways that are ending in the next week.

If you’d like to enter giveaways and don’t really care if they’re low entry or not, you can use this link or this link to find linkies for giveaways from a wide array of bloggers.

Finally, if there is a blogger who routinely offers the types of giveaways you’d like to win, make sure to come back and visit the site regularly.  Chances are that entry requirements for the giveaway are to like the site’s Facebook or Twitter pages.  Just do this once, and for every subsequent giveaway on that blog, you’ve already met those requirements.

I don’t expect to get rich from entering giveaways or even to be able to supply all of my kids’ presents.  However, it is nice to get free stuff in the mail, especially if some of it can be used to offset the expense of Christmas and birthday presents.

Do you enter giveaways?  Why or why not?  If you do, how much success have you had?  How much time do you spend entering giveaways?

5 Ways to Save When Online Shopping

Online shopping is a multibillion dollar industry and it continues to grow for a couple of reasons. Aside from the obvious fact that it’s extremely convenient to shop at home in your PJ’s and avoid all the crowds, another major benefit to shopping on the web is that it can save you money.

Not only does the act of simply being present in a physical store result in more impulse purchases, but the Internet and new technologies today give us access to a multitude of tools that can help in significantly reducing the overall cost of our shopping carts. Here are five great strategies for saving money and shopping online:

Sign up for emails.

When you’re included on a store’s email list, they will often send you special promotions on a weekly and sometimes daily basis as well as alert you when they are having a sale. Try to limit your online shopping to when a store is having a sale. if you’re tempted or overwhelmed by all the emails you get, throw them in a separate email account and open that account only when your budget allows for it.

Utilize social media.

“Like” your favorite stores on Facebook because a lot of them post coupons to their Facebook pages and sometimes they even announce sales early. Also, follow brands on Twitter or Instagram, or use hashtags (#discounts #coupons #shopping etc.) to search for deals.

Use coupons and promo codes.

Possibly the biggest way people save when online shopping is by using coupons. If the website you’re on has the option to enter a coupon or a promo code, then chances are they are out there somewhere! Check out resources like Groupon Coupons to search through thousands of coupons at major retailers, like Sears or Fox Rent-a-Car. You can even sort by category if you have a certain item in mind but want to browse through different brands. Another easy way to search for coupons is just by simply performing a Google search.

Let the items sit in the checkout cart.

Surprisingly, many people are unaware of this trick. Simply by keeping items in your checkout cart, stores will often reduce the price of these items or send you a coupon after a couple of days to entice you to complete the checkout process. This requires some patience but it can definitely pay off!

Try to get free shipping.

A lot of stores offer free shipping when you spend a certain amount of money. If you’re close to reaching that amount, think of buying an extra item or two that you might need in the coming months so that you’re not wasting money on shipping fees.

2 Best Places to Start Fixing Your Finances

When I first started trying to get my finances under control, I had no idea where to start. I tried to follow a patchwork of ideas like pay yourself first and only spend X percent of your income on rent, but at the end of the month there would always be more month than money. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong until someone asked where my money was going every month. Aside from food, rent, cell phone and credit card payments, I had absolutely no idea. It was such a simple question and the answer ended up keying my turn-around financially but it took me a while to realize that mattered.

So if you’re trying to turn your finances around and save a bit of money every month instead of wondering where it all went, here are the 2 best places to start fixing your finances.

Fixing your financesTrack What You Spend

As I found out, the most important thing is tracking your finances. When I started turning my ship around, there wasnt a lot of good financial tracking software like their is now. I started with a blank sheet of paper and a stack of bills, working those and my online logins to figure out how much I was spending every month. It’s much easier now, with the online trackers for your finances such as mint and apps that are more investment focused, like personal capital. Once you start tracking your income and expenses, you’ll know where you need to cut and how much you can use to save or pay off debt each month.

Cut the Excessive Expenses

Once you get your expenses written down, I’ve found it’s most valuable to lower your structural expenses as much as possible at first. This includes things like rent, car payments, car insurance, electricity, water, cell phones and cable tv. I’ve found that many people way overpay for cable TV (Calling up and getting a discount usually works wonders) and if they switch to an MNVO like ting or republic wireless they can usually lower their phone bill by 66% or more per month. For a family of 2 if they switched phones and totally ditched cable, that’s an immediate savings of 200+ per month. Once that’s done, add all that money to your savings or debt repayment. Then it’s time to move on to your car expenses. Consider selling your car and trading in for a cheaper one that you own outright, and can carry less insurance on. This will get rid of your car payment completely and hopefully lower your insurance by a significant amount as well. Better yet, try getting a bike and getting rid of your car completely.

In my opinion, those are the low hanging fruit – things you can easily change and your day to day existence wont be changed much one way or the other. The best part about this is you can spend a day or 2 over the course of a week and you should be able to easily pocket 500+ per month in savings – that’s 6,000 per year! Like you, I could use the extra 6k per year.

Once you get your structural issues fixed in your finances, it’s time to move on to your habitual purchases. Is there anything that you spend too much money on and dont get a lot of value from? Do you spend too much on fast food, or alcohol? Or maybe you buy too many books you’ll never be able to read, or too many movies on blue-ray you cant watch?

Now is the time to deal with those, and the easiest way that i’ve found is to get a budget set up and spend that in cash every month. Say you want to limit your blu-ray purchases to 25 bucks per month – get that amount in cash at the beginning of the month, then when the cash is no, no more blu-ray until your cash re-ups at the beginning of the month.