Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to Cut Textbook Costs


 
 
College tuition costs are rising, room and board costs are going up, and you need $190 for your Biology textbook. Seriously? How can a single book cost that much?! Staring down the barrel of textbook costs may have you facing $500-$700 just for bound paper and words, just for one semester, depending on what you are studying. Sciences students will have a higher number of pricey textbooks that they need but Humanities students may be able to purchase less expensive paperback novels for their classes. Regardless of what you study, textbook costs add up and they are often not covered by grants and scholarships. But there are many simple ways to save on textbook costs and keep focused on learning what’s in the books rather than worrying about what they cost.

Buy Early
Usually book lists are posted by professors online a few weeks before the semester begins. Keep an eye on your school’s online bookstore, the professor’s Blackboard page, and other communications from school. As soon as the book list is posted, nab your books. If the start date for classes is approaching and the list has not been posted, email the professor to get the book list. The sooner you get the list, the more time you have to allow for the book to arrive when you order online and the more likely that you can get a used copy before they all get bought up and you are left scouring the school bookstore for the sole remaining $190 new biology textbook two days before classes begin.

Buy Used
How can you get that $190 Biology textbook for $57? Buy it used. Used books are the best value in textbooks and you can often find books that are almost-new in quality. When buying used, whether in person at the school bookstore or online, remember to check out the book’s condition. Does it have a lot of highlighting or writing? Are sections of pages falling out? Is the spine broken or intact? Getting a book with some writing, underlining, or highlighting is not going to detract from studying but too much can be hard to read. Pass on books that have broken spines that can cause pages to fall out. And if there’s writing in the margins you’d better hope that the guy who had this copy of Hamlet last semester understood Shakespeare's prose and complex character relationships, but maybe he didn’t so don’t count on them as free crib notes. A used book can often cost more than half of the cost of the new book, depending on how many years the book has been out and the volume of used books available. A used version of a book that was just released last semester may only save you $20 but hey, that’s still $20 in your pocket that can cover burritos for a few days.

Buy Online
The best prices for books are online and I use Textbooks.com because they have stellar prices on new and used books, they offer free shipping for orders over $25, and offer even cheaper books through their marketplace sellers. You can also sell back your textbooks to Textbooks.com after the semester ends and they can even guarantee a buyback price if you originally bought the book from them, which leaves you with a little beach money for the summer. The upside to buying online is that you can get better prices on books and there are more used books to choose from than just the school bookstore. The downside of ordering online is that you have to allow time for items to arrive before classes start. Ordering direct from Textbooks.com will get you your books faster but ordering from a marketplace seller can take 7-10 days, so make sure you order early and have time to get your books before class begins so you’re not that confused guy in the back of the class with no textbook. They also offer ebooks for some books if you prefer to read on your computer or Kindle. Compare prices with other online textbook stores such as Chegg.com, Amazon.com, and Half.com to get the best deal you can.

Rent It
Depending on how well you take care of your books, renting a textbook may be a smart option. The school bookstore may offer rental options, as do online bookstores. You pay a low rental charge, usually less than the cost of buying it used but not always, and you agree to return the book by a date at the end of the semester in a good condition. Usually you can make a few highlights or marks in the book, but if you are a rabid highlighter or have a dog that thinks that books are chew toys, this is not the option for you as you are responsible for the full cost of the book if it is not returned on time and in good condition. If you never even crack the spine of the book except to do a couple reading assignments and otherwise leave the book alone, renting it may be your best bet.

Check It Out
Another reason for getting that book list early is that you may be able to snag a copy of the textbook you need at the local library or from the school library. This works best for humanities classes which require a large number of novels or non-fiction books that you do not need to keep all semester, just during the time that you have to complete the reading and assignments. When I was in graduate school I checked out about half of my books from the local or school library each semester and saved hundreds of dollars. Of course, you have to make sure to renew the book and your library may limit the number of renewals you can get, so be prepared to have to return the book and then check it out again the next day. As long as it is not a very popular title you shouldn’t have a problem getting renewals. If you really need the book an extra two weeks to finish out the semester or an assignment you can always just pay the late fees after you return it, which is still cheaper than buying the book.Textbooks may be in higher demand to check at the school library because other students will need the same books, so go to your local library or use inter-library loan to get the book. Again, if you have to request the book via inter-library loan make sure that you have time for the book to arrive before you need it for class. Then bask in the glory of your free textbook and snub your nose at the other students and their empty wallets. Sure, you can’t highlight in this book and you’d better not lose it, but free is free. Use sticky notes to make notes in the book and mark pages instead of highlighting and it won’t mar the book.

Use the Previous Edition
Textbooks are often edited and re-released with a new edition every couple of years. Sometimes these new editions are drastically different than the previous one, sometimes they just have a shiny new cover and a higher price tag. If a new edition for the textbook you need just came out, chances are that the professor says you need it. But check the syllabus for a note from the professor about which edition is required or email them to ask if you can use the previous edition that is half the price. If the professor says that the previous edition works just fine for the class, remember that the assignments on the syllabus will list page numbers and chapters from the current edition so you may have to take a few extra minutes to find out that chapter 2 in the new edition is the same as chapter 4 in the old edition. When in doubt, ask the professor and they will help you find the right pages for your assignment.

Buying used books can save a ton of money and take a bite out of those textbook costs. To get the best prices and to find the best deals on textbooks, think outside the box and the school bookstore. You may even get them for free from the library! Taking the time to plan ahead and checking multiple resources for textbooks can really pay off.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Avoiding Debt Collector Scams

Today we have a guest post from Frank McCourt on avoiding debt collection scams. My friend just got a call from one of these con-men so this is very timely. Keep on guard!




There you are, sitting at home minding your own business when your phone rings. It seems to be a debt collector. The collector tells you that you are in debt and you need to pay fast or face some serious legal action. But wait, you don’t remember taking out any loans, what is this person even talking about?

You have just fallen victim to a debt collection scam. Each year thousands of people fall victim to fraudulent debt collectors. This scam comes in a number of different ways, but the most common aspect is that the consumer is in debt and needs to pay it right then or there will be repercussion.

These crooks will use any means necessary to get into your wallet, using manipulation and fear tactics to set you into a state of panic, where you are more prone to giving in. They don’t stop there either, it has been noted that they even use phishing scams in order to gain your personal information. For instance, they will call your house, leave a voice mail telling you to call them back, and then when you do, there will be an automated system asking for you to enter your social security number, leaving you to be a victim of identity theft.

How do you go about avoiding these situations? First off, always ask the debt collector to provide official legal documents that prove you have this debt as well as their name, company, street address, and phone number. Never provide them with any information regarding the debt, including credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or any other personal information until you know for sure the person you are talking to is a legitimate representative of a debt collection agency. If you did accidently let something slip, contact your bank immediately. Remember that there are Federal telemarketing laws set in place, and a rude collector would be in violation of these laws if they were to be abusive. If it turns out to be a legitimate debt collector and they are abusive, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. If you’re concerned that the debt may actually be legitimate, contact your creditor, they will be able to tell you who the creditor authorized to collect the debt. If they keep badgering you, try to get their address and send them a letter demanding that they stop calling you.

Real debt collectors have to stop calling you if ask them to do so in writing, if you do end up doing this, keep a copy of the letter for your own records. Last but not least, report the call to your Attorney General’s office, they can help determine your rights under your states law. Fraud.org and the FTC are also good places to report fraudulent activity.

Remember that even if you are in debt, you shouldn’t let debt collectors walk all over you. Collectors have strict guidelines must follow and will be imposed penalties for any violations. If you do need help with debt, there are several organizations out there that can help you.

About the Author: After almost getting caught in a Wellsfargo bank scam a few years back, Frank McCourt made it his mission to familiarize himself all of the scams that con-men might ambush him with. He's happy to say that the only organization stealing his money is the company that holds his student loans. And that is entirely legal.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

July Update and Post-Travel Money Pit




July has been a very busy and expensive month for me. Great and filled with fun memories and family, but expensive.

My husband and I started out the month by flying to England to meet up with my family, host my little sister's bachelorette party in London (the Brits call it a hen party) including seeing the Book of Mormon on stage in the West End (it's really, really funny), sightseeing, eating out a lot, and celebrating my brother-in-law's birthday with a tasty French meal and seeing the Phantom of the Opera. There's so much to see and do and London is a lovely city, but expensive and we really lose out on the exchange rate. Prices may look the same but have a different currency sign in front, meaning that for Americans everything costs twice as much.

After five days in London we drove up to Cambridge in a strange left-side-of-the-road and circling muliple times around roundabouts caravan. While in Cambridge we visited with my little sister's new in-laws, walked around the city, decorated the marquee tent for the wedding reception, worked on last minute wedding items, stress argued with eachother, had a lovely wedding for my sister and her hubby, danced the night away at the reception, went punting down the river Cam (it's like a gondola in that you push the boat along with a long pole), wrangled with the airline to fix my flight so I didn't have a 6 hour layover on my way home, sat on the tarmac in the rain for an hour anyway, and finally returned home. Overall, we had a really lovely time and even though traveling with family can be stressful, I was glad we could all be together and celebrate my sister's marriage.

We went over budget by about $280 for the trip to England, which is pretty good considering I realized about a week before we left that we had planned poorly to have only $1000 USD spending money. We figured $100 a day would be enough (albeit tight) to cover food and miscellaneous expenses for two people, especially since we were staying in rental houses and could go to the grocery store and eat at the house for many meals. But with the US dollar only being worth .59 GBP we essentially only had $500. Yikes. I totally forgot about the exchange rate. We ate out a lot with family every night while in London and tried to keep costs down by eating at the house as much as possible, but we ran through almost all of our money before we left London. We had already pre-paid for the play tickets and housing (well, we are still paying back my family for the housing) so at least we didn't have to worry about those costs while we were there. We didn't buy souvenirs for ourselves (aside from the jeans my husband bought because he forgot to pack some and we had luckily won 50 GDP at the casino in London) and only got a couple small items for other people.

Returning home, we found ourselves with a number of extra expenses for the month, some of which we knew we would have to pay and others which were unexpected:

  • Parking our car at the airport- $168
  • Paying our friends for dog-sitting both dogs while we were gone- $460
  • Taking a dog to the vet the day after we returned because he had a skin infection + follow up appointment and treatment for ear infection (and no, we haven't yet signed him up for pet insurance, drat)- $253.78
  • Higher cable bill because they charged us for someone to come fix the cable box when it was their fault (currently disputing)- extra $60
  • Higher electric bill because it's summer in Louisiana- extra $50
  • I dropped my phone and broke it - $300 to repair
  • Assorted medical bills waiting in the mail for us-  $253.09
  • Our microwave broke and we had to replace it- $54.11

That's an extra $1810.98, including the overage spent on the trip. It makes me hyperventilate.

I can't put any of these things on my credit card since it's maxed out. Yes. Here I am, a personal finance blogger sharing with you my major money problems. This is why I blog anyway, because I am trying to share my shortcomings and victories. Life happens and this is exactly why I need more money saved in an emergency fund.

We knew some of these expenses were coming and I worked extra hard in June on side hustling so that we would have the money to cover things like the dog sitting expenses. Unfortunately, we only had $60 in savings (due to depleting the money for car repairs, etc months ago and not rebuilding it). The rest of these payments have to be paid out of our monthly budget and luckily we budget a month ahead so we have buffer money in the account and are not overdrawn.

We have paid around $630 already for these expenses out of extra side hustle money or our regular budget and are still $1180.89 in the hole, borrowing against next month's money (September's money since it's August now). My plan for digging us out of this hole is to trim expenses in our regular budget and work my ass off side hustling. Update: Oh thank God. I just realized that I got an extra paycheck this month so I have a full paycheck that I can use to right this sinking ship and put money aside for savings to help prevent this in the future. Hallelujah!!!

So here I am in all my glory, over spent and stressed (though very relieved now). I share this because I want to be accountable and also because I am sure many of you can relate to overspending on a vacation and unexpected expenses that you didn't have enough money in savings to cover. Yay real life. Anyone have any freelance writing they need done?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Maximize Your Savings with Travelocity Top Secret Hotel Deals


Snagging a great hotel deal while traveling is the holy grail of vacationing, next to getting a flight for free with airline miles. Some of the best hotel discounts to be found are by booking a top secret hotel deal with Travelocity or similar travel sites. These promotions offer deep discounts by allowing you to book a hotel room at a ridiculously low price because they hide the hotel name and brand until after you have booked and paid so that the hotel chain doesn’t have to compete with their competitors over that low price.

You can use these secret deals to your advantage by finding out the exact hotel and location offering the secret discount deal. That way you can book nearby friends and family, get points for staying at the chain you have a frequent traveler card with, or just stay at your favorite chain with the soft sheets and great smelling shampoo. Booking a great price at and getting frequent traveler rewards is a stacked deal!

Top Secret Hotel Deals at Travelocity
Travelocity offers top secret hotel deals in major cities across the country and around the world, but they are not offered in all cities. To find out what is offered in the city you are traveling to, go to the Travelocity website and click on the hotel tab, then search for the city and dates you are staying. Scroll down in the search results and you will see the orange image and link for top secret hotel deals. Click on the link to open the top secret deals, then run your search again in a new tab so that you can compare the results for the regular and top secret deals.

Comparing Results and Finding Your Hotel
When you have both the top secret/name your price and regular hotel prices showing, compare your results. Say you want to stay at a 4 star hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans. In both the secret deals window and the regular price window, narrow your search to four star hotels in that part of the city. Depending on the location you may have many results or just a few. Next, select one of the secret hotel deals and click on its name to read a full list of amenities. Then go to the regular hotel results and check the boxes for the amenities that your selected hotel has to narrow the results. If that doesn’t narrow to a few results, then look to exclude those hotels that have amenities that your hotel doesn’t have, for example being pet friendly or on-site spa services.

Match it Up
Click through the remaining results to see what the hotels offer and try to match up those amenities to the amenities offered by the secret deal hotel. If you think you have a match, check the regular price for the room. If the regular price of the room is about the same as the secret deal price, it is probably not the correct hotel. Alternatively, if the hotel room is $250 a night and the deal is offered for $88 a night, it may not be the correct hotel either. Look for a discount of 40-50% though you may find a discount of more or less.

Through this comparative process, I narrowed down 23 hotel results to find the one that matched the top secret deal and found a $179 a night room for just $82, and I am 80% sure that I figured out the exact hotel! While it is not exact, comparing the results can help you narrow down the secret hotel deal to one or two hotels. Then you can book the secret deal knowing where you will likely end up and where you can use your frequent traveler card. Enjoy those savings and those soft sheets!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Got Paid!



Online surveys and mystery shopping get a bad rap. Many people think that they are just scams but there are really some great (and legitimate) companies out there that will pay you for your time and effort. And to prove it, here's what I earned from online surveys and mystery shopping last month, among other endeavors. I completed these mystery shops and surveys in the previous month (or earlier) and received the payment this month. Some of these mystery shops required me to pay something out of pocket to purchase a good or service (which I get to keep) but I was reimbursed for my purchase and was usually paid an additional fee. The amount I earned from mystery shops includes the reimbursement for my purchases.

Mystery shopping usually requires that you purchase something specific from the store you are evaluating for which you are then reimbursed. I usually charge those purchases onto my credit card so that I get rewards points and so that it does not use up my grocery budget for that month. When I am paid for mystery shopping I pay myself back and transfer the amount of money I spent on those mystery shopping purchases back to the credit card. The remainder is my profit.

May 2014
Freelance Writing- $135.00
Blogging/ Ad Revenue- $15.00
BARE International- $16.85
Trendsource/MSI Services- $11.53
Intellishop- $38.19
Corporate Research International/Stericycle- $62.40
Beyond Hello- $20.00
Service Sleuth/HS Brands International- $37.68
Bestmark- $3.00
Sinclair Customer Metrics- $30.00
Valued Opinions- $20 visa gift card
Saving Star- $5.48
Pact- $11.86
Ibotta- $10.00
Shopmium- $4.78 (use referral code HGCCMKWQ for a free Lindt chocolate bar when you sign up!)
Gigwalk- $5.00
Usertesting.com- $10.00
Total: $436.77

What did I do with this extra income?

So I have skipped posting this for a few months but I have keep hustling over those months, rest assured. With this money I earned in May I made payments to my sister and my mother toward housing costs for our upcoming family trip to England for my sister's wedding. We have been paying at least $748.94 every month month just to debts! I throw more at debt when I can too. What a crazy number considering that's about a quarter of our monthly income (not counting the side hustles, thank goodness for side hustles). The good thing is that we have been making progress and hopefully we will have some of these things paid off and can keep the debt snowball rolling!

Did you make any extra income last month? What are you using your side hustle money for?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

How I Feed my Hungry Husband and Myself on $450 a Month......Usually



I was out for a run and listening to the Dave Ramsey show a couple of weeks ago and he was advising a caller about setting up a budget for his first household with him and his new wife. Dave mentioned budget items such as rent, utilities, and groceries, but then said that the average two person house will spend $500-$1000 on groceries and eating out a month. My first reaction was "OMG! That's so much money!" (Well, actually I cursed out loud while running but let's keep this PG). Don't believe that number? Check out this You Need A Budget comment thread amd this very neat calculator from Mother Jones. Many people have separate grocery and eating out budgets and rolled together you can get a pretty big number, of course depending on where you live and the purchase choices you make.

In 2010 the USDA said that the average family of two between the ages of 19-50 have a grocery budget that ranges from $347.50 on a frugal plan, to $550.60 on a moderate plan, and $688.60 on a liberal plan. And let's remember, food prices have increased over the past few years.

We would love to spend hundreds more a month on groceries and eating out (and my husband would eat steak daily and be a very happy man) but then we wouldn't be able to pay other bills, much less try to dig our way out of debt! So we budget $450 a month for food money for the two of us. That is up from the $400 a month we had for a while but I got a raise and we struggle to keep inside our food budget each month so I increased it a bit.

Our $450 budget includes groceries, cleaning & household items, and eating out . And you know what, it's a small budget. I coupon and shop sales, try not to buy a lot of pre-packaged or expensive items, but food costs a lot (especially for my always hungry husband). I often see food as a line item that I try to cut as much as possible because it is a variable (though necessary) expense. But because it is a necessary I also know that our budget for food can rise and fall depensing on needs and how much we are cooking at home, so we try to plan ahead to bring lunches and snacks with us and to cook at home as much as possible. We certainly are not perfect about keeping inside our food budget, but we try!

In order to try to make our checkbook balance we gave ourselves a tight grocery budget and we make it work. And to show how it works, I thought it would be a cool experiment to share with you all what we spent our food money on each month. Yes, you can eat healthy on a budget. Yes, you can still eat meat. Yes, stocking up when you have a coupon and an item is on sale is totally a smart shopping strategy. We are all looking for a way to stretch our dollars and saving on groceries is a great way to do it.

So here's what we spent our food money on over the last month. We grocery shopped under budget and bought healthy foods, but added eatingh out expenses busted our budget last month. How does it compare to your grocery budget? Please share in the comments! I'm all for a little budget voyeurism.

Winn Dixie & Albertsons
Sara Lee wheat bread- $2.69 (on sale)
2 Butterball lunch meat @$4.59 - $1.00 coupon= $8.18
dry onion soup- $1.00
2% sharp cheddar cheese slices- $2.99 (on sale)
Colby jack cheese slices- $2.99 (sale)
Frozen spinach- $.88 (on sale)
8 Cadbury eggs- $.25 (on clearance) = $2.00
Tyson frozen chicken fajita strips- $6.99 (sale)
2 bunches of bananas- $1.48 ea= $2.94
Vidalia onions- $1.83
Diet Dr. Pepper 20oz- $1.59
Pot poast- $8.84 (on sale)
Red onion- $1.03
Sliced portabello mushrooms- $3.99
3 bags Green Giant sweet potato chips- $1.00 ea (on sale) - $.50 coupon= $2.50
2 bags Luxury shell pasta- $1.67 (BOGO on sale)
Skinnty Girl agave sweetener- $3.49
Aquafina Splash mixed berry drops- $3.29
2 2.5lb packages boneless skinless chicken breasts-$8.52 ea (on sale) = $17.04
Asparagus- $1.87 (on sale)
Gallon Skim Milk- $4.55
M&M chocolate bunny- $1.00 (clearance)
Bag of jellybeans- $.62 (clearance)
Newspaper- $2.00
2 dozen large eggs- $1.25 ea (sale) = $2.50
bag of Bugles- $1.50 (clearance)
Sunflower seeds- $1.00
Quick oats- $3.59
2 Chobani greek yogurt containers- $.88 (sale)- $1.76
2.5 lbs ground beef- $8.61 (sale)
Jenny-O turkey bacon- $3.49
Hillshire Farm turkey keilbasa- $3.49 (sale)
seedless red grapes- $8.17 (sale)
roma tomatoes- $.77
jalapeno pepper- $.04
5 lb flour- $2.49 (on sale)
Purevia stevia- $2.49
2 loafs Nature's Own Whole Wheat Bread- $4.49 (bogo sale)
Quaker chocolate chip granola bars- $2.50 - $1 coupon= $1.50
Tic Tac- $1.29
Libby's Pumpkin- $1.99
2 cans black beans- $.89 ea (sale)= $1.78
Worcestershire sauce- $1.69 (sale)
Mio- $3.00 (sale)- $1 coupon = $2.00
big bag of Mahatma rice- $4.99 (sale)
Triscuits- $2.50 (sale) - $1 coupon = $1.50
2 3pk chicken breasts- $10.98 (bogo sale)
2 beef roasts- $14.20 (bogo sale)
2 1lb Oscar Mayer smoked turkey lunchmeat- $4.99 (bogo sale)
Toufayan whole wheat pita bread- $1.00 (sale)
lowfat cottage cheese- $2.69
gallon skim milk- $4.65
18pk eggs- $2.89
Kraft shredded parmesean- $4.79
shredded cheese- $3.00 (sale)
colby jack cheese slices- $1.99 (sale)
beef ramen noodles 6pk- $1.00 (sale)
2 bags Luxury tri-color rotini- $.83 ea (BOGO sale)= $1.67
can tomato sauce- $.44
can whole kernel corn- $.68
4 cans black beans- $.68 ea (sale) = $2.80
2 cans diced tomatoes- $.68 ea = $1.36
can chili beans- $.70 (sale)
2 Crystal Light liquid- $3.99 ea - $2/2 store coupon -1 $1/1 manuf.  coupons= $3.98 for 2
2 packages Butterball turkey sausage- $2.50 ea (sale) - $1/2 coupon= $4.00 for 2
Sanitas tortilla chips- $2.00
3.2lb Ground beef value pack- $9.69 (sale)
gallon of skim milk- $4.65
18pk large eggs- $3.19
Pillsbury Pizza Crust- $2.79
Breakstone sour cream- $1.49 - $1 coupon= $.49
2 Kraft block cheese- $4.49 for 2 (bogo sale) - $2/2 coupon= $2.29 for 2
some other items I forgot to include because I threw away a receipt (drat!)
=$254.40 (includes tax)

Target
groceries including crackers, big ol' thing of olive oil, cereal, popcorn, chips, dishwashing detergent, etc.- threw away receipt again
= $63.40

Smoothie King
Smoothie- $5.98

Dunkin Donuts
Chicken Apple Sausage Breakfast Sandwich- $4.02
Medium Iced Coffee- free with coupon

Little Caesars
Large Cheese Pizza and Cheesy Bread=$10.36 (includes tax)
Large Cheese Pizza- $5.45

Raising Cane's
2 Box Combos with soda= $15.22

2 Sodas at the movies- $9.80
Popcorn (free with coupon)

Starbucks Grande Iced Coffee- $2.67

Chai Latte- $3.27

Taking my folks out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant= $113.10

$60 spent in cash at restaurants in the French Quarter and for delicious cajun food in Baton Rouge when my folks were visiting

Red Bull at Gas Station- $2.18

Popcorn, Dippin Dots, and hot dog at baseball game- $12.50

Sushi/Hibachi Dinner to celebrate friend's graduation- $51.67

Auntie Anne's pretzel- $3.70 (mmmmmmm......)

Five Guys- $10.77

Hello Sushi lunch date with hubby- $28.58

Grand Total: $687.07

So much for sharing how we stayed on budget last month! Grocery-wise, we were under budget at $317.80. We got healthy foods, meat, snacks, and essentials for the month and didn't pay an arm and a leg at the store thanks to shopping sales and using coupons. I am getting back into couponing more recently and while I have used some this past month I know I can do better!

The real budget buster this month was eating out. My parents came into town last month and we went out to eat a lot to give them an opportunity to experience Louisiana's culinary delights that I don't know how to cook at home (at least not well): alligator po-boys, gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish, boudin balls, blackened catfish, beignets, and other delicious treats.

We also attended a celebration dinner at a Hibachi restaurant for a friend who just graduated from LSU which was an added expense though worth it to celebrate her accomplishment!

The extra meals out really add up and are usually not so healthy, so we are planning to eat out way less next month and I am meal planning to make sure we have delicious, healthy, and cost-effective meals at home.

What is your family's grocery/food budget? How did you do with sticking to your budget last month?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Use Scantopia to Make Money and Get Coupons from Scanning Barcodes

 
 
Scantopia is a cool new app which allows users to make money, enter jackpot giveaways, and win coupons just from scanning barcodes of everyday items. You don’t have to upload your receipt information or even have to buy the item you scan, just scan the barcode of an item and voila, Scantopia will give you cash, tokens to enter their weekly sweepstakes, or coupons that they will email to you. The Scantopia app is free and available for download for both iPhone and Android (use code CU-J74-3A when you sign up).
 
Whether you are at home or at a store, launch the Scantopia app on your phone and start scanning anything with a barcode. The app will recognize most grocery items but even if it doesn’t recognize it you can still get credit and can tell the app what it is. Each barcode you scan will win a prize! That prize may be cash from $.05 to $1.00 or more, tokens to enter their monthly sweepstakes and jackpot giveaway, and/or coupons that they will email to you. You can scan 15 items every 7.5 hours before you run out of energy. When you run out you can wait a half hour to scan again (a half hour wait equals one unit of energy) or you can ask friends who also use Scantopia and Facebook friends to give you more energy. Every day there are special super scan items which pays cash to the first group of people who scan that particular item from their home location (they give you $1 when you set your home location via GPS). You can cash out via Paypal when your balance reaches $3.00 minimum.
 
When you scan items, you win tokens which can be used to enter Scantopia’s progressive weekly jackpot or their “weird sweepstakes”. The progressive jackpot grows with each scan by a Scantopia user, up to $1000! You can put the tokens you earn that week into the progressive jackpot or you can use them to enter Scantopia’s “weird sweeps”, which offers gift cards to Walmart, books, cookware sets, workout videos, and even a giant 5lb gummy bear. The prizes rotate often. Both the progressive jackpot and the weird sweeps tell you how many entries are in each so you can maximize your chances of winning.

In addition to winning cash and sweepstakes tokens, Scantopia gives you coupons. You can win coupons by scanning items or you can just go directly into the coupons and deals section of the app, select the coupons you need, and Scantopia will email them to you. This is a great resource for extra coupons and you don’t need to scan items to get them.