How I became a Smarter Shopper in 2014 | Live Work Travel USA
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How I became a Smarter Shopper in 2014

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you already know that I really like to write about shopping smart and taking advantage of the many opportunities here in the United States. That’s why I experiment with a lot of things on the side. Little side projects that either help me earn more money or save money on purchases that me and my wife do anyway. I even managed to get a Bermuda trip for my family for next to nothing, applying what I’ve learned in the past year.

Let me share with you what I’ve experimented with the most in 2014 and how successful or profitable each of these experiments have been.

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Affiliate Marketing

By having a blog like Live Work Travel USA there’s a lot of opportunity to earn a little side income by either selling ad space or signing up for services like Google AdSense.  The other very lucrative opportunity to create a passive income stream is Affiliate Marketing.

I’ve signed up for multiple affilate networks like CJ.com (Commission Junction), Linkshare.com and ClickBank.com.  The latter never really worked for me. I just couldn’t find any good offers on this network yet, that would be interesting for my blog audience. I also haven’t tested these offers myself yet, so it’s impossible to recommend to somebody.

Commission Junction and Linkshare are bringing in a few dollars every month and I have only scratched the surface of all the partners that are on both of these networks. It’s just a matter of finding something that you can relate with or personally tried out and then recommending it to others, ultimately earning a commission for the referral.

Successful bloggers and entrepreneurs like Pat Flynn from SmartPassiveIncome.com earn a killing from affiliate links. BlueHost alone pays Pat a 5-digit sum every single month.

The other very interesting affiliate platform is the Amazon Affiliate Program. You earn between 4–8% for bringing customers to their platform if they buy within a 24 hour window after clicking your link. And it doesn’t really matter what they buy. You brought the customer to Amazon, you get a commission on everything they buy. With Amazon being a very trustworthy online merchant, this program is one of the best out there.

Cashback sites

I am a HUGE fan of these sites. Why?  You don’t have to run an own site or blog in order to take advantage of it. They are the affiliate and they are sharing their comissions with you. They actually give you the lion share of the commission and just keep a fraction of it for themselves.

I’m talking about sites like Ebates.com*, BeFrugal.com* or TopCashBack.com*  There are many more, but these are the ones that I personally use for ALL of my online purchases. And it’s not pocket change. You can for example get 10% back on Groupon purchases, and we all know that Groupon is already heavily discounted.

If you’re signed up for several cashback sites like me, I have a neat site for you to quickly find out who gives you the most cash back. The site is www.CashBackMonitor.com and I started using it about a month ago.

Gift Card sites

I never paid much attention to these gift card sites until early 2014. I must have heard it in a podcast, because I started exploring it and after testing it out, I really became a big believer in it.

We shop a lot at Marshall’s, a store that is already super cheap and offers a ton of quality products, big name brand clothing and gourmet food. I was very excited to find out, that I can get Marshall’s gift cards with a discount of up to 18% by purchasing them through sites like Raise.com*, Cardpool.com or ABCgiftcards.com.  Of course there are many more and to keep the research time to a minimum here’s a great site that compares all these gift card offers for you:  www.GiftCardGranny.com. It’s a search engine just for gift card offers.

When you look up a store at GiftCardGranny, ignore all the ebay offers. I don’t trust these insane rebates of ebay sellers. I ony rely on offers from real gift card websites like the ones mentioned above. I tested them, it works, I recommend them.

Now, I can see how it is a little awkward to receive these obviously used gift cards in the mail with the strange amount written on it with a Sharpie. But don’t worry, the money is on there. And if you have trust issues like me, there is of course a website to check the balance of every gift card. The site is from World Pay.  If, for whatever reason, World Pay can’t pull up your gift card’s balance, check the website of the store the card is for. For Marshall’s I would for example google “check Marshalls gift card balance” and you will get to their own page to look up a balance. At Raise.com you have 60 days after you bought the card to claim a refund.

Gift cards are a huge part of my buying strategy now, but it requires a little planning ahead.

Rewards Programs

It was probably the first thing that my wife and I started doing when we arrived in the US back in 2005. Getting these rewards accounts for stores that we went to a lot, like CVS (pharmacy) or Harris Teeter (grocery store chain on the East Coast).

However, we didn’t always remember showing our little keychain card and then we lost them or took them off because they became annoying.

My wife has always been a lot better with using these cards and sometimes you only get a certain deal if you have this card. The membership doesn’t cost you anything. All you have to do is sign up for it once and to remember showing it to the cashier when you pay for your stuff.

Or type in your rewards number if you prefer to shop online.

For me, the game changer was when I learned that you can also just use the phone number that is tied to your rewards account. I was glad to learn that I don’t have to carry these stupid little cards around all the time and still earn rewards points. You either give the cashier your phone number or type it into the card payment keypad yourself.

And if you pay a little attention to the amount of rewards that you’re gathering over time, you can go on a nice little shopping spree every now and then.

Easy money, all you have to do is signing up for it and remembering to use it.

Credit Card bonuses

Holy Moly!!! 40,000 miles just for signing up for a credit card and spending 3,000 dollars within 3 months? I could reach that amount only by paying for groceries and gas for 3 months.

Banks in the U.S. must be crazy for giving these incentives, because people like me are taking full advantage of it and once we got the sign up bonus we usually cancel the card again.  But banks are in the business of making money, so they can’t be that stupid and I’m sure it is still very lucrative for them to pay that much for a new customer. There are plenty of people out there who will sign up, forget a payment, carry a balance and just keep paying the bank those ridiculous high interest rates.

Here’s the deal, if you want to be smart about it:  Sign up for a card, set up automatic payments right when you get it and always pay the full balance each month. Problem solved and you now earn a ton of points and miles by always using your credit card for every purchase.  I never pay cash unless I have to. Because cash doesn’t give me any money back. It’s that simple.

Once you cashed in on your sign up bonus or have it transfered to your rewards account, most banks charge an annual fee, that can be from 50 up to 450 bucks every year. I usually cancel the card before that happens and keep the sign up bonus, but for some cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, the $89 annual fee is actually worth it when you get 2 points back on every dollar you spend with it. Works for every category! If you rather not pay an annual fee, just cancel the card before the first year is over.

Another great example is the AMEX Blue Cash Preferred, that gives you a whopping 6% back per dollar on groceries up to $6,000 in purchases for the year. That alone is reason enough to keep this card forever and pay the $75 annual fee, because we spend about $700 on groceries each month. Do the math, that’s over $400 in cashback every year just by using this card. I gladly pay the $75 fee, because no other card even comes close to that amount.

You get the picture. If you want to learn more about taking full advantage of credit card bonuses which is sometimes also referred to as “Travel Hacking”, check out this article.

Where did I earn the most?

Without a doubt, I got the most through credit card sign up bonuses. Runners up are cashback sites and discounted gift cards.

The least lucrative so far have been affiliate programs, even though I keep trying hard to make it work.  This article for example has several affiliate links (*denoted with an asterisk), but it’s all sites that I am happy to recommend to others, because I personally use them all.

The cherry on top

3635826141_517ec0c935_mWhat’s great about all these money saving opportunities above is, that you can also combine them pretty good. Here’s an example:

Buy a discounted gift card for ToysRUs on Raise.com, after you clicked through via TopCashBack.com and pay with your credit card that gives you an additional 2% back.  Then visit ToysRUs.com, again via TopCashBack.com and pay with the gift card that you bought for your purchase.

You just earned cashback twice, points on your credit card and got a great additional discount through your gift card. The cherry on top would be if this purchase is part of an initial spending amount for a sign up bonus of a new credit card. It doesn’t get any better than that!

What does all of this have to do with living, working and traveling in the USA? I believe that in no other country in the world you can take advantage of so many opportunities like in the USA.  Money saving and money making opportunities.  Americans are heavy consumers and businesses want everybody to shop until they drop.  Often times with HUGE incentives like these insane credit card bonuses that banks throw at you.

I can only suggest that you take full advantage of it, because that’s serious money on the table. We’re not talking pocket change anymore.

I hope you got something useful out of this very long post.  I am experimenting with a few other projects as well, but I am not ready to talk about it yet until I have further explored these techniques.  Stay tuned…

Photo credits:
NickiMM / Foter / CC BY
GViciano / Foter / CC BY-SA

One Response to “How I became a Smarter Shopper in 2014”

  1. Hi Dan,
    We like your site and post topic and we love the opportunities in our country too!

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