Unless you’ve got Bill Gates-bucks, you can’t afford to just waste your hard-earned dollars. (And let’s be honest: even Bill Gates probably doesn’t burn $20s…)
But if you’re doing, or not doing, any of the following things, you might be as good as flushing cash down the toilet.
These are all pretty simple fixes. Implementing them probably won’t give you $20s to burn, but it will definitely help put a little more wiggle in your budget.
Here are the seven ways you could be throwing money away, in no particular order:
You don’t bother with rebates. The average American gets about $150 rebates each year, but about 40 to 60 percent go unclaimed, leaving an estimated $500 million of rebate monies in limbo.
If the savings offered by the rebate deal were enough to entice you to buy something, send in the rebate! You definitely won’t get the money back if you don’t make your claim. Before you leave the store, read the rebate form carefully, to make sure you completed the qualifying purchase and in case you need another original copy of your receipt.
In addition, it’s wise to keep a copy of your receipt, rebate form, UPC and any other pertinent info, as well as noting the date you mail the rebate. It’s rare, but it happens that the six- to eight-week period comes and goes without receiving your rebate, and with this documentation you can follow up with the merchant.
You haven’t checked for “missing money” in your name. Each U.S. state has a treasury that holds funds from uncashed checks, closed bank accounts, unclaimed casino winnings, utility deposits, escrow accounts, and so on. It’s really simple to find out if your state has anything in your name. Try MissingMoney.com, or Google “[your state] treasury unclaimed property.” In most cases, you’ll find an unclaimed property link somewhere right on the homepage. Click on that and enter your name. Remember to try other variations of your name if it has changed. And if you don’t find something now, try again in six months or a year. There is always new property being turned over to the treasury departments.
I live in Pennsylvania, and my state treasury alone has over $3.5 billion in unclaimed property. Last year, I found they had almost $1,500 in my husband’s name from an escrow account dating back to 2008 when we refinanced our mortgage. We had to print and fill out some forms and get them notarized, then about three months later we got a check for the full amount. That unexpected windfall helped pay for our family’s summer vacation last year!
You let it go when a product or experience doesn’t meet your expectations. Whether it’s a can of beans or a box of markers or lunch at your local Chick fil A, if there’s a problem or you’re not satisfied, speak up.
Manufacturers and companies want to keep your business, so they’ll want the chance to make it right, usually in the form of a replacement, freebie, coupon or other discount. They also need to know about quality assurance issues so they can … For example, if that can of beans had something funky in it, call the “questions or comments hotline” on the label. They may be tracking a known issue that could lead to a recall.
I’ve lost track of how many things I’ve contacted companies about, and sometimes they make good on replacing a messed-up something that wasn’t even their fault. My son unknowingly pulled all the sticky stuff off the Hog Wild sticky target he just got for his birthday, and I reached out to the company thinking maybe they would give me a discount on a replacement, and instead they sent me not one, but two new sticky targets.
As the old saying goes, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Be squeaky, my friends.
You’re not tracking prices on Amazon. Did you know items change price all the time on Amazon? Using a price-tracking tool like CamelCamelCamel.com, you can not only see the fluctuations in a specific item’s prices, including historical highs and lows, but you can also set an alert to let you know if and when an item drops below a certain price point.
This is great for things you can wait on, but can also be helpful for something you might need to order soon or now. If you can see in the price history that the item is at a good price right now, you can feel confident buying it and knowing you’re getting a good deal. On the other hand, if you can see the price changes often, you might take a gamble and wait another day or two to see if the price comes down.
Price-tracking tools are especially helpful for Christmas and birthdays. Add your gift ideas to your tracking list, and buy when the prices are low. The hardest part will be keeping the gifts hidden until it’s time to give them!You shop online without cash back. Websites like Rakuten (formerly eBates) pay you back for shopping online. All you have to do to earn this free rebate is to start your shopping trip at Rakuten, then click on your selected retailer. They work with more than 2,500 popular websites – from Abercrombie to Zales – to offer you up to 40 percent cash back on stuff you were already going to buy anyway. Many shopping categories are covered, like travel, eyeglasses, tech services, subscription boxes, etc. Every three months, you’ll get a “Big Fat Check” (or a PayPal deposit) for your quarterly cash back.
You shop online without price protection. Paribus monitors your inbox for order and shipping confirmations, and works with certain merchants to get you back the difference if an item you buy gets cheaper within a designated time period. Paribus has helped users claim over $29 million in savings.
Paribus doesn’t price match on Amazon, but they will help you get a little consolation gift, usually in the form of a $5 credit, if an item with guaranteed delivery arrives late.
You’ve lost track of – or are missing out on – rewards programs. You already know all about rewards programs. You’ve got a keychain full of store rewards cards, right?
Do you also take advantage of loyalty programs at other retailers, like Best Buy and Michaels? Did you know your favorite drive-thrus, McDonalds, Panera, Chick fil A and Dunkin’ all have rewards programs? Are you a frequent flier, or a revered guest at your favorite hotel chain? Does your bank offer rewards on your debit or credit card? You could be missing out on great discounts and freebies by not participating in a loyalty program with a merchant that you frequent.
Download the apps. Log into them often for deals, discounts and giveaways, especially around your birthday. Check out a points-management site like Points.com. You can choose from more than 110 loyalty programs, and keep track of all your accounts in one place. Even better, you can trade points you’ll never use for points you will, which is especially helpful if you’re just a few hundred points away from a specific reward level. This site even lets you “purchase” gift cards, memberships and discounts for as little as 500 miles or points, and gives you additional earning opportunities for certain rewards programs.
What would you do with a few more bucks in your budget?