The Best Digital Tools for Saving Money

In our increasingly digital world, there’s an app, website or browser extension for just about everything, including money management and shopping. It’s easy to do all your banking online, transfer money to and from accounts, and review and make adjustments to your investments. As for couponing, cash-back programs and digital promo codes make savings instant and accessible without clipping or storing.

Since most of us never leave the house without our smartphones and spend much of our time in front of a computer, using these tools is all the more effortless. Read on for the best digital tools to streamline your finances and savings potential!

Money Management Apps

 

budget.jpg

Mint. This all-in-one money manager helps you budget and track expenses. View your accounts, credit card statements and recent transactions, and keep track of your upcoming bills on one easy-to-use interface. Mint also allows you to view your credit score, and facilitates management for your investment accounts. Mint is available on desktop and mobile devices, so you can stay on top of finances no matter where you are. It’s free to create an account, and your security is always guaranteed.

Level Money. One of the hardest challenges of budgeting is knowing how much you can properly put aside each month for fun spending. Level Money helps by creating a budget for you to determine how much per month you can use for splurging after taking care of rent and bills. Their app tracks your spending and keeps your balances and totals easily viewable so you don’t lose track. Set savings goals, view all your bank and credit card accounts and even get bill predictions for the next month.

Wally. Say goodbye to overstuffed wallets full of disorganized receipts. Wally’s personal finance app not only keeps track of every purchase you make, but allows you to scan and store receipts. With a colorful and orderly interface, this app makes it easy to track how much you have and how much you’ve spent. You can also categorize expenses with customizable fields, which helps organize your budget better.

Digit. Stashing away money for savings every day isn’t an easy task. The days of collecting spare change into jars are dwindling, but as per the new norm, there’s now an app for that. Digit works with your bank account to analyze your daily spending and calculate an amount that can be put into savings every few days. With no account minimum required, unlimited transfers and a no-overdraft guarantee, this app is a smart choice for a risk-free way to start saving.

Shopping Tools

Application_for_online_shoppers.png

Coupon Sherpa. The purpose of the coupon is to save you money, but you don’t have to dedicate hours to clipping, stashing and saving them. Getting in the habit of checking for coupons for specific stores you plan on visiting is easy with savings sites like https://www.couponsherpa.com/. This site and app has a huge selection of online coupon codes, in-store offers and even grocery coupons. Their search interface makes it easy to look for specific stores, even if you’re already in the checkout lane.

Honey. This browser extension does the couponing for you. Whenever you shop online, Honey scours the internet for coupon codes or discounts that are applicable to your order and automatically applies them. Honey works with popular online merchants like Amazon, Expedia and Groupon, but also for restaurants and clothing retailers. Plus, you can also earn cash back for shopping with this extension. You can install Honey for free on all major browsers through https://www.joinhoney.com, including Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

Group Buying Sites. One of the best ways to save while still enjoying local activities and dining out is to check out group buying sites like Groupon or LivingSocial. These sites feature new deals every day for restaurants, activities or products near you. Often the savings are up to 70% off, with coupon codes making the savings even more considerable. Most group deal sites are available as mobile apps, too.

Rewards and Cash Back Earners

15816574788_c6fd1defc1_b.jpg

Ebates. Ebates is a popular cash-back shopping portal that helps you earn extra income every time you shop online. What shoppers may not know is they also have a browser extension that, like Honey, scans sites where you shop online for cashback offers and automatically applies promo codes to your purchases. You must be a member to earn rewards through Ebates, but it’s free to join and use.

Paribus. How many times have you made a purchase one day, only to discover the price on the item drops a few days later? When you use Paribus, you receive a price adjustment without any extra work! Paribus tracks your online shopping receipts and seeks price adjustment refunds when an original price drops. The service takes 25 percent of what you receive if they successfully find you a refund (and nothing if they don’t). If you don’t track prices after you make purchases, Paribus is a no-brainer way to get a little money back with zero effort.

Shopkick. The Shopkick app lets you earn rewards points, or Kicks, when you shop at participating locations. You earn Kicks just for walking into a store, and then on every item you purchase. The Kicks can later be redeemed for gift cards to a variety of popular stores or even restaurants like Starbucks. It’s comparable to a credit card rewards program (without pesky balances and APRs), and the app is completely free.

Ibotta. This handy rebate app allows you to scan barcodes, upload receipts and earn cash back for shopping at popular grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies and even specialty stores. Your earnings go into an Ibotta account which can then be transferred to Paypal or converted into gift cards. The app also allows you to earn bonuses and works with many popular rewards programs to ensure maximum savings and cash back.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

6 Things That Troubled Brick And Mortar Stores Need To Do

In an ever changing retail landscape, Gander Mountain is the latest victim to consolidation in the brick and mortar landscape.  They filed for bankruptcy and will be closing about 20% of their stores.  For now.  As has been the case with many other retailers, this is often the first wave of many.  Can Gander Mountain make it?  That remains to be seen.  What’s clear is that troubled brick and mortar stores need to make changes if they do want to survive.  While there are no guarantees, here are some potential changes.

Cut Locations

This is the first and most obvious solution.  Stores that aren’t making money are the first to go.  Even profitable stores might need to go if the profits are trending downward.  Stores need target more than just the obvious choices here.

Shrink Store Layouts

Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to close a store altogether, but instead cutting square footage might help. Stores will probably see some loss of sales, but if they can cut expenses by 50% while only losing 20% of sales, it could be enough.

Examine Mergers

Over the past year, it seems that sporting good stores are among the hardest hit retailers.  While there is likely a need for physical sporting goods stores, the market doesn’t need half a dozen chains.  Companies may need to examine whether industry consolidation is a viable alternative.  Otherwise, the market may make the decision for them.

Form Partnerships

I’ve seen multiple department stores form partnerships with other brands.  They do so by effectively renting floor space.  As an example, JC Penney has quite a few ‘Sephora’ store-within-a-store locations within their footprint.  This reduces overhead, and if it’s a good fit, customers heading to the mini-store will shop at the big store.  I’ve heard that Kohl’s is looking for such partnerships as well.

Revise Your Merchandise Mix

I was recently at a local mall that I haven’t been to for awhile, and came across an f.y.e. store.  This is an entertainment store.  When this location first opened about 15 years ago, it was massive, and it sold just about every DVD and CD that you could find.  This came about during the heyday of ‘disc’ sales.  This marketplace has shifted, and so has the store.  They are now in a much smaller spot (about 20% of the original size), and while they have some DVDs and CDs, they now focus on items such as toys, vinyl, and other entertainment niche products.  It remains to be seen whether this will be enough for them to survive, but I applaud the company for trying.

Have Special Events

Back when Disney first opened mall stores, the iconic Disney name was enough to draw shoppers in.  After the allure

Image from morguefiles via veggieretz

faded, they realized that they actually had to work to draw in shoppers.  Now, our nearest Disney store often has events that you can’t replicate online.  This attracts shoppers, young and old, that will go to dress up as their favorite Princess, something that you can’t do on the web.

Readers, what changes do you see stores making or needing to make to stay afloat?  Please let me know your observations and ideas in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Shopping Malls Dying While Shopping Centers Thriving

The shopping mall has been in a steady decline for a while.  As of 2014, no new enclosed malls had been built since 2006.  That’s a far cry from when the shopping mall reigned king.  Yet, while shopping malls have hit some hard times, new shopping centers are still being built at a brisk pace.  So why are shopping malls dying while shopping centers are thriving?  Here is my theory.

Online Shopping Has Changed The Retail Landscape

It’s no secret that online shopping has taken a big chunk out of traditional brick & mortar stores.  It seems every year, online sales records are shattered.  Cyber Monday 2016 was record breaking.

I know I love shopping online when I have the opportunity.  For me, as long as I can get what I want better or near the same price, I’ll buy online more often than not.  I will even pay a little more sometimes.  I figure my time saved in not having to go get the item (plus gas) makes up for the cost.

Brick & Mortar Stores Are Not Going Away

In spite of more and more shopping being done online, people still go to stores.  Parking lots still get full on busy days.  Even throughout the year, there are some places that are always packed.

I don’t ever see a time where physical stores go away.  You’ll always have people that want to browse.  There will always be items that simply don’t lend themselves to buying online.  Some items are impulse buys and even drone deliveries will often take too long compared to buying something on the spot.

You’re always going to have stores.

My Theory On Shopping Malls Dying While Shopping Centers Growing

Around where I live, we have several shopping malls within a 15 mile radius.  While most stay busy, there isn’t talk of

Image from Morguefiles courtesy of Jusben

any new ones.  There are a couple that, while not struggling, are definitely showing some signs of stress.  Renovation projects at nearby malls are infrequent and cosmetic.

Meanwhile, shopping centers are still going up like crazy.  Within just a few miles, it seems a new shopping center goes up every month and are full almost immediately.  And, it’s not like older shopping centers are dying.

So why is this?

My theory is that online shopping has taken enough of a chunk to where shopping at the store is no longer the event that it used to be.  Back before online sales, if you needed to go out, you could make a whole day of it.  Going to ten stores to buy all sorts of different things was not out of the norm.  So, why not drive to one place and have it all right there for you?  The mall was perfect for this.

Malls Are A Burden

Now, with online shopping, people still need to go out, but they no longer need to spend all day shopping.  Instead of spending a whole day shopping, they might need to just stop at one or two places.  When having to run into just one or two stores, the mall suddenly becomes very inconvenient.

Even if the frequency of these types of stops increases, meaning that people make more per month, people would still rather run in and out.  Who wants to deal with parking, making a long walk in, having to walk all around a big mall, just to make one or two stops?  Nobody.

Everything that once made the mall the center of retail is now working against it.

Do Malls Have A Future?

With all of this, can the decline of the mall be reversed?  Who knows?  I certainly don’t see any movement that would suddenly reverse the trend of online sales, but there could be something else to change the landscape.  It’s hard to tell.

I think that the stagnation of malls will continue.  What you might see is that more and more malls will contract as they continue to age and owners realize that the cost of upkeep is no longer worth it.  Big box retailers seem to be struggling, and as they traditionally act as anchors to shopping malls, this is an ongoing risk.  As more big retailers close, the mall could die off quickly.

Malls typically also take up many acres of real estate.  Depending on the location of the mall, there might not be a big chunk of land, so a mall parcel could be very attractive.  Think of all the houses that could be built.  Or office buildings.

Or even shopping centers.

Readers, how are malls doing where you live?  Do you find yourself making less frequent visits than you once did?  What are your thoughts on the future of the once mighty shopping mall?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Avoid Walmart Site To Store Around The Holidays

Amazon has pretty much set the bar for online shopping, especially if you’re a Prime member.  Click, order, and a couple of days later, you have a box with your items.  It works great.  So great that other retailers have had no choice but to offer online ordering.  Walmart Site to Store is one such offering, where you can order from the retail giant and pick up at a nearby store.

You’d think that a company the size of Walmart, one of the biggest in the world, would have this process down.  However, as our recent experience shows, thinking this is kind of, well, wrong.

Christmas Gift: New Bikes For The Kids

Both of our kids learned to ride bikes without training wheels this last summer.  Our youngest, age 5, actually caught on first, which then pushed our oldest, age 7, to get it down.  Our daughter was riding a bike that we bought secondhand, and she loved it, but by the end of summer it was apparent that she was too small.  This wasn’t a big deal as we only paid $15 for the bike (and we can probably turn around and sell it for that).

We actually, toward the end of summer, went out and bought her a new bike in a bigger size.  Instead of giving it to her, we actually kept it aside, hoping that we could line up new bikes at the same time.

See, we knew our son’s bike was also too small for him, but we didn’t want to get him a new bike until he learned to ride without training wheels.  The size of bike he was moving up to didn’t even come standard with training wheels!

Once he learned, it was toward the end of summer.  We hatched a plan that we would let them ride it out for the rest of the year on their current bikes.  Then, we would give them new bikes for Christmas.  This seemed like a great plan so we hid our daughter’s bike in the basement.

Ordering Another Bike From Walmart Site To Store

As we got Christmas gifts together, we started looking around for bikes.  We drifted toward buying one from Walmart. We’ve looked at getting them more expensive bikes from a bike shop, but have steered away from them. At their current age, they’re going through them rather quickly, so the more expensive bikes seem more appropriate in a few years.

We looked around at Walmart, for a couple of reasons.  They had a good variety.  We found one that looked nice and had good reviews.  Plus, we had a gift card that my wife had gotten a while back at a charity auction.

This all added up to a purchase that looked like it made sense.

We ordered the bike in early December, with an estimated arrival date to the store about a week before Christmas.  This was perfect.  One reason that we did Site to Store is because they will assemble the bike for you.  The bike we had stashed away for my daughter had also been selected this way for this reason.  That worked out great for us.

All together, this should have given us plenty of time for the store to get the bike, assemble the bike, and for us to pick it up.

But, you’re hear reading, so of course you know it didn’t turn out that way.

The First Delay

The initial estimated date came and went.  At this point, we still had a few days before Christmas but a late arrival date would be workable.  This would just mean that I’d have to assemble the bike myself.  I really didn’t want to, but since just about every Christmas since we started having kids has involved me putting together something big, I knew I could make it work.

Well, that didn’t happen either.

The Second Delay

After the date passed, they updated the estimated date.  The new date was December 27th.  They were going to miss Christmas!

Thankfully, this wasn’t the end of the world.  See, we live in Michigan and it’s winter.  This means that it gets dark by 5pm and it’s either really snowy, really cold, or both.  All these factors together and kids just aren’t riding bikes now.  They probably won’t be for at least a few months.

So, we figured that we could just tell them that they were getting another present and surprise them when it came in.

Great plan, right?

The Third Delay

Image from MorgueFile courtesy DuBoix

After we got the new arrival date, we made even more progress.  Or so we thought.  They provided real time tracking data!  Which is just like Amazon!  We could see exactly where in the country it was, and watched it move closer and closer until on the 27th it actually arrived at the store!

Success, right?

Wrong.

The status changed to “Processing In Store – Not Ready For Pickup.” And it stayed at that status.  And stayed and stayed and stayed.

I called a couple of days after and had them pull up the order.  They told me that they were running behind on getting everything ‘sorted out’ and asked that I please be patient.  The lady said that I should probably be getting my pickup notification “within a day or two.”

But a day or two passed, actually five more, and no notification.

Finally, A Bike

I looked again at the tracking info and found something more interesting.  The bike had been shipped to the store via FedEx from another store.  So, I called back and spoke to the same woman and explained that it didn’t come in out of their regular delivery, but via FedEx.  She looked around and she still couldn’t find our bike.

BUT, she did find that they actually had the bike in stock.  So, she was able to pull the bike, and as it happened, the assembler was there and got it all put together.  They assured me that the bike they found was not mine.  I guess they have ways of tracking.  I’m not sure I actually believe them!  LOL.

In any case, within an hour after that call I finally did get an e-mail and the next day I went in and picked up my bike.  The same lady that had helped me on the phone was there to get it, so her and I laughed that we had finally gotten this done.  I have to say, for as crazy as an experience as it was, she was extremely helpful.  Quite honestly, without her help, I probably would have never gotten the bike and would have ended up cancelling the order.

Two Happy Kids

We did end up presenting the bikes to the kids on the very last day of their holiday break, so we felt that it worked out in the end.  They were happy and I know that in the end, their enjoyment and their smiles will make the painful memory of getting the bike fade away.  But we did learn a couple of lessons.  First, don’t order something before the holidays using Site to Store that you actually need before the holidays.  Second, nobody beats Amazon at shipping.  Nobody.

Readers, did you have any close or missed calls with getting your stuff?  Let me know how everything went for you in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.