Why We’re Spending $2,540 On Gift Cards In A Single Week

Over the past week, we have spent $2,540 on gift cards.  You might think I’m crazy.  I’m not.  Maybe we’re going nuts for Christmas this year?  Nope.  We’re actually cutting back.

So then why are we spending all this money on gift cards?  Because….we’re going back to Disney World!

What does one have to do with another?  Well, read on.  I’ll first go over the trip, then make clear why we dropped some serious bank on gift cards.

Recapturing The Magic

Long time readers might remember that we went to Disney World in 2015.  We had a great time.  During that trip, we stayed for eight nights.  We stayed at a deluxe resort.  We dined with a Disney meal plan.  It was a fantastic time with all of our family.

My wife is our trip planner, and from the moment we got back, she was planning our next trip in her head.  She wanted us to go while both of our kids were nine or under.  Why?  Because tickets get much more expensive after they turn ten.

We went on a fantastic spring break trip to Tampa last year during the kids week off of school.  We loved it so much that we booked the same rental for the same week in 2018.

It was early fall when my wife brought up the idea of modifying the trip so that we could go back to Disney World.  We looked through the numbers and made it work.

We’re still going to our rental place, but for five nights instead of a week.  Then, we’re going to Disney World!

Trip Variations

It’ll be different than last time in a few ways:

  • Length – We’re staying at Disney World for five nights.  It’s still a longer total trip, but less time at Disney made it more affordable.
  • Resort – Last time we stayed at a deluxe resort to get the best experience.  This time, we are staying at a moderate resort.
  • Dining – Instead of using the Disney meal plan, we’re paying our way.  We’ll still be eating at restaurants around the parks, but we think we’ll save money.  We found that with the meal plan (which was free as part of a promo last time), we were eating all the time.  We ate meals when we weren’t hungry because we felt we had to.  This time, we’ll eat less frequently.  Plus the kids can split meals and such.
  • Driving – We flew down to Disney World on our last trip.  Since we’re going to Florida near Easter, flight prices were not affordable for us, so we are driving.

Where Gift Cards Come In

It’s the holidays.  For some reasons, holidays find great deal on gift cards.  They mark them down so that you shop at the store.  So deals are bountiful and we took advantage.

Meijer

We do most of our grocery shopping at Meijer.  Now, Meijer has a whole display of gift cards.  You can buy gift cards for just about anywhere.  Amazon, Home Depot, Applebee’s.  And also Disney.

Meijer is running a special where, for every $100 you spend on gift cards, you get a $10 credit on your next bill.  Each person registered in their in-store rewards program can spend up to $1,000 to get this reward.

So, we each spent $1,000 on Disney gift cards and each got $100 towards future shopping trips.  By spending $2,000, we are getting $200 in groceries for nothing!

Target

This was another great find.  One day per year around the holidays, Target offers 10% off their own gift cards.  Each person can buy up to $300 in gift cards at 10% off.  You can then use those gift cards to buy other gift cards, including Disney cards.  So, we each bought $300 of Target gift cards for $270.  We then each ‘spent’ those on $300 of Disney gift cards.

Grand Total

So, when it’s all said and done, we spent $2,540 and ended up with:

  • $2,600 in Disney gift cards that we can apply toward our trip costs
  • $200 in Meijer gift cards that will pay for 2+ weeks of groceries.

By spending $2,540, which was money we were going to spend regardless, we ended up with $2,800 in spending power.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Offset

The only downside is that we lost a little bit of money on cash back rewards.  Had we spent the equivlant $2,540 directly with our travel agent, we would have gotten 3% cash back on our credit card.  That would have given us $76.20.

Our card gives us 2% cash back at Meijer, and 1% at Target, so we’ll end up with $45.40 in rewards.  So, while we’re gaining $260 in freebies, it does, in a sense, cost us around $30.  But we still come out ahead.  Plus, I always look at the cash back as extra, in that we never count on it.  So, either way we’re still coming out ahead.

All in all, we are pretty pleased with how things turned out.  I love when we can find ways to save on spending that would happen no matter what.

Readers, have you ever used gift card promotions as a way to keep money in your pocket?  Let me know what works for you in the comments below.  Thanks so much 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.

The One Way Our Christmas Budget Fails

We have most areas of our Christmas budget down to a science.  Saving is pretty easy.  We estimate our spending, divide by twelve, and set aside an equal amount each month.  That works out great.  Sticking to the budget works, for the most part.  But there is one area that we still can’t get right.  Tracking our spending is the one area where the Christmas budget fails.

I Can Track Just About Anything

Every year, when Christmas shopping starts, I start off filled with hope. For what, you ask?  Well, hope that I can finally get the tracking down to a science.

This should be pretty reasonable, after all, considering I have a pretty solid tracking system.  I have a spreadsheet where I track all spending.  Want to know how much we paid for electrical service in 2011? I can find that out.  Curious about what our new roof cost back in 2013?  I can track it to the penny.

But what did we spend for Christmas last year?  Well…..that all depends.

Why The Christmas Budget Fails

See, tracking Christmas spending is just a failure.  It starts off good, but usually by 10am on Black Friday, it’s done. Why?

  1. Multiple People on the same bill – We budget our spending by person that we have to shop for.  This sounds easy but when we have multiple people show up on the same shopping trip, it’s difficult.
  2. Shopping within the household – You’d think that we could just go line by line and break things up.  In theory, this works.  But, in practice it doesn’t.  If my wife buys something for me on any other bill, I can’t see it.  In fact, she puts those purchases on a credit card that I’m not allowed to track.  Therefore, I can’t even match an actual charge to the budget.
  3. Returns – My wife loves to buy that perfect gift for someone.  And, then she finds something even more perfect.  So the original perfect item goes back.  Of course, when she returns the item at the store, she’ll sometimes buy something else for someone else.  Confused yet?  Yeah, me too!
  4. Non holiday spending – Unfortunately, we don’t just buy Christmas gifts every time we go out.  If we buy a gift for someone at Target, chances are good that we also bought something we need for someone in our family.  It’s not like we can just add up the receipt totals.  Nope, that’d be too easy!
  5. Amazon Purchases – We buy stuff from Amazon all the time.  This includes holiday gifts.  So, not only to do we sometimes have gift and non-gift purchases on the same order, sometimes we’ll have a bunch of orders that are charged that have nothing to do with Christmas.  And, since they bill as they ship, it’s not as easy as just checking against your orders list.

What We Do

In the end, I try.  Every year, I try for a couple of days.  Honestly, though, usually by Cyber Monday I’m done.  By then, things are already off the rails.  I try my best try.  But, in the end, here’s how it works:

  • Estimate – We keep running estimates of what we spent on each person
  • Total It Up – We total up these estimates, and track them against our credit card statements.
  • Give It The Sniff Test – If our credit card totals and our estimates line up within reason, we call it good.
  • Pay the bill – We apply the Christmas Budget savings toward the credit card bill.
  • Call it done!

In the end, this isn’t the best system.  But it is what we have come up with, and it works.  We always feel we’ve spent within our budget.  It’s just that we can’t exactly say how we did it.

I suppose that if we tried hard enough, we could get to the bottom of it and get that detail.  But, I’m just not sure it’s worth it to be truthful.  I’d say we’re probably 90% accurate, which I would have to chalk up as good enough.  As maddening as it can be the moment I ‘give up’ tracking, it ends up being OK.

And, honestly, having the money available is what gives us the luxury to be a little bit lax and feel OK with it.  Another reason I’m glad we save money throughout the year for Christmas.

Readers, how do you track your spending?  Do you track to the penny?  If so, how do you do it?

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.

Why Writing Checks Is Inevitable

I remember back when I first went out on my own.  You wrote a check for every bill.  Gas.  Rent.  Car payments.  Cell phone bills.  Credit card payments.  It was the only way to do business.

Now we use electronic payments for just about everything.  Our utilities are deducted each month.  The same goes with the mortgage and cell phone payments.  Just about everything is done electronically.

Even so, we still use the dreaded checkbook.  It’s inevitable!

20 Checks In 6 Months

I was surprised to see that we’ve written twenty checks over the past six months.  That’s almost a full book of checks.

I took a look and found the following breakdown:

  • Grooming Places – 4 – My son and I go to a barber, and they don’t accept credit cards.  So, we write a check.  In addition, when my wife goes to get her nails or hair done, tips can’t go on a credit card.
  • Kids Activities – 3 – Certain parts of things that our kids do seem to be easiest handled by check.  Paying for equipment or such seems to end up being done by check.
  • School – 3 – Buying a t-shirt through the PTO.  Paying for a lost library book.  Again, the school doesn’t accept credit cards so business is handled by check.
  • Passport – 3 – My wife and I both got new passports, so there were fees to the government and the clerk’s office to get things handled.
  • Painting – 2 – We recently had our house painted, and paid some up front and the rest upon completion.  Both were done via check.
  • Family – 2 – We owed money for split costs on items to family members, and it was easiest to write a check.
  • Gift – 1 – A gift for a family member’s Confirmation was done via check.
  • License Tab Renewal – 1 – There’s no charge to use a credit card at the office, but they tack on a couple of bucks if you renew via mail with a credit card. So this just saved us time and money.
  • City – 1 – We get an annual pass to our local beach, and it’s either cash or check.

Cash Would Work But We Really Don’t Do That Either

In a good many cases above, it seems like cash would work.  But, in addition to writing less checks, we rarely buy things in cash.  So, it seems the fallback is to use a check.

Maybe a better option would be to keep some cash on hand and use those for things like the barber, family, gift, and city.  This would have reduced our check count by roughly another 50%.   But we really don’t like keeping a bunch of cash on hand around the house.  I guess a check just feels like it’s a somewhat safer and easier alternative.

Readers, how many checks do you write on average?  For what do you still write checks?  How has your usage changed over the years?  Let me know your experiences and thoughts 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.

Do You Believe These Money Myths?

There are a lot of different things you’ll read when it comes to your money.  The personal finance world has lots of people with many opinions.  I’m one of them!  But with so much out there, it can often get confusing.  What do you believe?  What’s true and what’s a suggestion?  I don’t have all the answers.  But there are a few money myths that I’ve seen come up more than a few times.

#1: Always Pay The Higher Interest Loan First

The higher the interest rate means that less of your payment goes to your principal.  This is true.  So, you should always pay the highest interest loan first, right?

Not always.

I think you have some flexibility here.  If you have a loan with a low balance, maybe consider paying that off first.  It will free up some cash flow.  Plus, paying off a loan will give you a ‘win’ on your scorecard.  Those can be very important and might be worth a few bucks in higher interest in the short term.

#2: It’s Too Late To Start Saving

Many people start saving for retirement or their first home right out of the gate.  If you’re one of those people, then congrats.  But if you’re not, don’t worry.

It’s never too late to start saving.  I don’t care how old you are.  Many people who give this answer are just making excuses to continue bad habits.

I don’t care if you have friends that are your age who are already retiring and you haven’t saved a buck.  You should and you can start making a difference.

#3: You Have To Choose Between Paying Off Debt Or Saving Money

I’ve read at least a thousand pieces over the years on this topic.  Which is better if you have extra money?  Paying off debt?  Or saving/investing?

I’ve never understood why people think it has to be either or.  It doesn’t.

If the answer isn’t clear or you don’t have motivation toward one, why choose?  Try a mix of both.  Either one is going to help you in the long run.  And, you might find that one excites you more than the other.  If that happens, then you can make adjustments.

#4: Having An Emergency Fund Is Good Enough

OK, so you saved $1,000 for an emergency fund.  You’re covered, right?  Wrong.

The fact is that even if you’ve built yourself a cushion, there is still work to do.  What if you have an emergency greater than $1,000?  How will you restore your fund if an actual emergency depletes your fund?  What if someone comes to you with an emergency of their own?

Be prepared.  Think ahead.

#5: Following Someone Else’s Budget Is Your Ticket To Success

A budget that works for someone else may not work for you.  Everybody has different circumstances and different needs.

Also, many people are at different stages of how they can handle a budget.  Someone who’s never used a budget should start simple. If they tried to use the budget template of someone that’s had one for twenty years, it probably won’t work.

Budgets come in all shapes and sizes.  There is no one size fits all.

#6: Focus On Cutting Spending To Save Money

This isn’t bad advice.  It’s actually really good advice.  However, it may not always be the best advice.

After all, the advice here only focuses on one side of the equation.  Spending.  This is great, but there’s also opportunity that comes by making more money.

Consider that we all have limited time in our lives in which we can focus on saving money.  If your time allows you to cut $1,000 per month in expenses, that’s great.  But what if you focused that time on earning more money instead?  If you could earn $2,000 per month with the same effort, then focusing on cutting expenses could actually be costing you $1,000 per month.

#7: The Stock Market Is Always Going To Go Up

It may seem like this is true given that it pretty much has for the last ten years.  But it doesn’t.  And it won’t.  Don’t believe people on CNBC that tell you that ‘this time it’s different’.  And that the market can go up forever.

It’s not and it won’t.

Everybody needs to keep an eye on the market and recognize that it’s not a one way only road.  The experts that tell you that it can only go up probably have a plan in place.  And when the market starts going down, they’ll have executed their plan before they go back on the air and talk about the downturn.  Trust me on this.

The fact is, they don’t care about your money.  They care about theirs.  Don’t get the two confused.

Readers, what advice have you heard that may need some corrections or clarifications?  What do you think about the items I mentioned?  Please let me know your thoughts 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.