The Money Pinch, part 2

Alright, saving money.

So, I’m by no means an “Extreme Couponer” but I am fairly reasonable about using the internet to try to find what deals I can.  Here’s some examples that other brides could hopefully apply as well.

1.   Using deal sites like Groupon, LIving Social, TravelZoo and Google Offers.

The key with these deal sites is patience, and knowing what you’re looking for.  You can’t be one of those impulsive people that snaps up any random deal that looks cool–figure out what you need, and then check often to find it.  The best “categories” of deals for deal sites that I see pretty often are for paper goods and travel.

First, paper.  Across the three above deal sites, you can almost always find at least one deal on paper products.  Right now, Living Social has $17 for $70 at Vistaprint, plus 30% off site-wide, AND free shipping if you spend at least $25 on top of your $70 voucher.  So what does that translate to?  You could get 70 of these pretty invitations (probably enough for at least 130 guests), customized, on their most premium-weight paper, with matching customized envelopes, and matching customized envelope seals shipped to you for a grand total of $45.  And this deal isn’t at all uncommon.  Similar deals come up for Zazzle.com, and many other smaller paper sites regularly.

Second, travel.  We’ve gone on two vacations now using Living Social deals and have always been really impressed.  Unsurprisingly, we used LIving Social for part of our honeymoon as well, for a four-night stay at Hatchet Caye resort in Belize.

We’re going here 🙂

If you look at Hatchet Caye’s website, four nights for two people all-inclusive (which is what we’re getting with our deal) costs $2,400.  We paid $1597, so that’s already saving $800 -win!  But it gets better.  Living Social and TravelZoo are great about adding “extras” to their deals.  So ours also came with our flight transfers from Belize City to Placencia Belize (that’s another $350 saved), our ground transfers from the Placencia Airport to the Ferry Dock (another $15 saved), a sea turtle snorkeling excursion for two ($150 saved), and 25% off all spa services.  So, basically, we’re getting a five-star, all-inclusive resort on a private island in Belize for the same price as a three-star hotel in a busy resort town like Cancun.

Beyond paper and travel, they also routinely feature discounts on photobooths, desserts, jewelry, and even occasionally get a great deal from a national retailer like Amazon.com.

2.  Airline Credit Cards and Airline Miles, Generally

I’ll preface this by saying a) this will probably only work if you have pretty good credit to start with and b) this totally isn’t worth it if you’re the type of person that routinely leaves a balance on their card.

However, if you have decent-to-good credit and usually pay off your balance from month-to-month, then playing the credit card game can really pay off.

We LOVE our Rapid Rewards Visa card.  It’s my go-to card, and I’ve managed to earn five free flights so far this year, PLUS earn a free companion pass for Carl for all of 2013.

Unfortunately, Southwest doesn’t fly to Belize. But, both American and United do, and wouldn’t you know, both offer a miles card that has a $0 annual fee for the first year and comes with a good deal of travel miles just for spending a certain amount in the first few months of having the card.

The American Airlines Citi card gives you 30k miles for spending $1k in the first 3 months of getting the card.  If you make it your go-to card for that time period, this shouldn’t be hard.  And guess how much two flights from Miami to Belize cost in AA miles?  30k.  By ordering this card, spending $1k (and not carrying a balance) then cancelling the card after my trip, I’m essentially getting about $600 worth of flights for free.

The United Airlines Chase card gives you 20k miles for signing up and making your first purchase, then 5k more if you sign up an “additional authorized user”.  Flights back from Belize to Austin (via Houston) cost 17.5k miles per person.  So, we’re about 5k miles short–but this is where “airline miles, generally” come into play.

Pretty much all airline reward programs have dining or shopping programs.  (Some also have partner programs with market research companies, meaning you can take online surveys to earn miles without spending any money at all.)  The dining programs tend to work by you forking over your credit card info, and them being able to “track” when you dine at their participating restaurants.  The shopping programs mean that instead of going directly to whatever site you need to buy something from (for example, target.com) you first click through the airline’s shopping portal to get to the website.  In both cases, you can usually earn between 3-5 miles per dollar you spend.

However, you can find even better deals for certain vendors.  For example, on United, you can sign up for the American Cellars Wine Club, and get six wines shipped to you for $42. Carl and I drink a lot of wine anyways, so for us, this expenditure is not really anything out of the ordinary–if we didn’t buy these bottles here, we’d probably buy them at the grocery store later (and maybe even for more money.)  But doing it this way earns us 2,500 miles.  If we order a second shipment (for about $12 a bottle–again, fairly standard or even below-average for a bottle of wine) then we get an additional 4,000 miles.  And boom–we now have enough miles for our return flight, basically for free (assuming we would have bought that amount of wine for ourselves anyways, and that we cancel the card within one year.)

If, like me, you also travel fairly frequently for work, you can REALLY start to have these loyalty programs pay off for you. Always enroll in the loyalty programs, and try to stick with the same chains that make the most sense for you.

Through gaming the airline credit cards and general travel reward programs, we’re getting our night-of-the-wedding suite at the W for free (Starwood points), our flight to Miami free (Jetblue points), our hotel room in Miami free (Hhonors points), and both our flights to/from Belize for free.  Net savings: around $3,000.

3.  Always search for online coupon codes

If I’m buying something online, I always–ALWAYS–search for online coupon codes on sites like Retailmenot and CouponCabin.  You can usually find at least free shipping, and about 3/4 of the time you can find at least some percentage off some of your cart.

For example, when the rental place we went to wanted $12 a piece for burlap table runners, I looked online.  I found a 40% off any one item and free shipping coupon for Joann’s Fabric using one of the above sites, and whatdyaknow, they were having a sale on burlap.  I got the amount of fabric I needed for about $30, including shipping.  Meaning I saved around $150 by buying the supplies online, then spending and afternoon with my maid of honor, making them.

But wait!  It get’s better (infomercial voice)!  Because I clicked through the Southwest Rewards shopping website to get to the Joann site, I also got 4 points/dollar and so I also managed to 120 airline miles–not a lot, but every bit adds up.

And don’t ever assume that a store is too small or “not the type to give coupons”. If you’re dealing with a small local store and can’t find any coupons on the big sites, try just visiting the store’s Facebook or Twitter accounts.  You’d be surprised at how many times this works.

4.  Ask for a custom package

This goes two ways: if someone offers you a package, work to make it custom to get rid of what you don’t need and reduce the price.  Alternately, if you’re buying more than just one thing/service from someone, ask for a package discount.

We’re renting shuttle buses for our weddings since our wedding is slightly out of town and, let’s face it, most of our friends are drunks.  So since we’ll need two shuttle buses, and our getaway car, and a limo shuttle for myself and my bridesmaids early in the day, I asked for a custom package.  Voila! 10% off everything.

In either case, it never hurts to ask.

5.  Invite less people.

This one’s pretty straightforward.  Less people = less cost.  Our rule was that if we didn’t have someone’s phone number in our phone and/or we hadn’t seen them in at least a year, they probably weren’t getting an invite.  We ended up inviting 150ish, and think we’ll probably get 130 final count.  It actually makes you less upset when people tell you they can’t make it, because each time someone declines, you can just think of the cost falling off of your budget sheet–woohoo!

So that’s it, my five top tips for saving money on your wedding (though most of them can be applied to every day living as well.)  Hope they’re helpful!

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3 thoughts on “The Money Pinch, part 2

  1. Don’t cancel the airline credit cards once you get the vacations — it can lower your credit score. Instead just keep it open and use it every couple of months (or to pay a single bill, like your Netflix or something) and pay it off every month. It will help your credit score to have more available credit at your disposal. Susie Orman told me.

  2. The only issue is that after the first year, both cards charge around a $95 annual fee. From what I’ve read, the more important thing is to not decrease your available credit, so if you can time the closure with upping your limit on another card, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on your score.

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