This is the second of a series of articles about how the impoverished American can overcome proposed budget cuts by utilizing other services and methods.
Donald Trump’s proposed budget would cut funding that provides low-income Americans with affordable housing. Specifically, the $3-billion Community Development Block grant program would be cut entirely. Of that $3 billion, 70 percent must be used to benefit low- or moderate-income persons. It prevents or eliminates “slums or blight” and addresses “community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available.” I repeat, “for which other funding is not available.”
That’s not all, though. The entirety of the Section 4 Community Development and Affordable Housing Program funding -- the measly $35 million of it -- would be cut. That $35 million was distributed as grants in the following manner last year:
The HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the largest federal block grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households, would also be cut from Trump’s budget. The HOME program awarded nearly $1 billion in grants in 2016 that built affordable homes all over the country.
The Self-help Homeownership Opportunity Program, which awards grants to nonprofit organizations that build affordable homes with volunteer labor (like Habitat for Humanity), would also cease to exist. So affordable home builders would have fewer funds to build fewer affordable homes, and fewer Americans would realize the American Dream.
You might say the government shouldn’t be in the business of providing affordable housing, but if you say that, you’ve likely never been near a project or witnessed people sleeping on the sidewalk or under bridges. And just because you don’t see it everyday doesn’t mean it’s not happening. This money is an investment in America. It provides (or if cut, provided) funding to decrease the number of homeless Americans -- 8.6 percent of which are veterans.
But now that affordable housing is on the chopping block (actually it’s always been) and there will be fewer affordable homes to go around, a lot of low- and moderate-income Americans will have to find a way to pay a higher percentage of their income in rent.
There is still hope, though. The proposed budget cuts have to get through the Senate after all, and those programs are still at work building affordable housing throughout the country. Here are three ways you can pay less in rent despite budget cuts to housing and urban development programs.
Bet you didn’t think that would be the first suggestion to save money on housing, but a mortgage on a single-family home is currently a cheaper monthly payment than a lease in most of America. I can see how much cheaper here. The Economist provided a review of America’s housing market in five interactive charts back in August of 2016, and the ratio of home prices to rents was below the long-run average.
In my area, even considering the low rent I pay because I share a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, buying a home is 23 percent cheaper than renting. I know what you’re thinking: “But I don’t have enough for a 10-percent down payment.” Well, you don’t need it necessarily. There state and local, down-payment assistance providers who will loan or grant you a portion of your down payment if you live in the home for a certain period. You could end up putting down the minimum three percent down by coming up with one percent yourself and getting the other two percent as a grant if you live in the home for three years.
A good rule is to never pay more than 25 percent of your monthly income to your mortgage, home insurance, and property taxes. Use a mortgage calculator to determine the maximum amount you can spend on a home, and don’t let a lender tell you different, because they will.
I attended a Home Stretch homebuyer education course to get a better understanding of the homebuying process, and you should too. Registration fees for many of the courses are waived during the month of June for National Homeownership Month, and you can even complete the course on nights or a Saturday.
These classes tend to be offered by your state’s housing finance agencies, which you can find with a Google search of “<your state> housing finance agency.” I just searched “Home Stretch homebuyer education course near me” and registered in minutes. The class was very helpful, explaining the importance of inspections, budgeting and saving for a down payment, shopping for mortgages, working with a realtor and closing the sale. You even get a manual to take home, but the best part is you’ll get the business cards of people who can help you with the homebuying process. And since these folks already take time out of their day to help first-time homebuyers, you can trust them to look out for your interests. Sure they leave their business cards for a reason, but most of them wouldn’t present at the class if they weren’t interested in helping homebuyers.
The first thing you can do before you even start shopping for a home is start saving for a down payment by putting together a budget. The more money you can put down the lower monthly mortgage you’ll pay. And you should shop for a mortgage. There are so many banks out there, which means there’s plenty of competition for your money. Don’t take the first mortgage you’re offered. You should take the best of three or four options.
People think they can handle the homebuying process without a realtor, but a realtor doesn’t cost the homebuyer anything. Their fee comes out of the seller’s fees, so there’s no reason not to employ a realtor. It’s important to have someone looking out for your interests, and just because that realtor is from the same agency as the seller’s realtor, that doesn’t mean they’re trying to screw you over. In fact, it could work in your favor.
The one thing that does cost you money is the home inspection, which is worth the $400 to $600 you’ll pay. If you waive an inspection and buy a house that’s on land being eroded and have to repour a foundation, you will have wished you paid $500 for an inspection. And always be there for the inspection. It’s probably some of the most important information you can get before buying a home.
Also your responsibility is to investigate the neighborhood where you’re buying a home. The first rule of real estate is location, location, location. Go to open houses (they’re good practice) and afterwards talk to the neighbors to get an idea what the neighborhood is like. Come back at night and check the crime statistics online. Most police departments publish a crime map on their websites. If not, call them and ask what crimes have been committed in the area lately and how often. Zillow has a 10-point rating system for the schools in the area, but it’s not a bad idea to drive by them and the parks to see what kind of shape they’re in.
Even with average home prices increasing due to a lack of supply and low interest rates, it’s not a bad time to buy considering the proposed cuts to housing and urban development budgets. Supply is expected to increase but still won’t satisfy demand, and while it’s a seller’s market, taking advantage of the relatively low interest rates before they climb could save new homeowners thousands. Homes are only going to get more expensive, albeit at a slower rate, so you might as well get in while the getting’s still good.
If you can afford to purchase a home outright, negotiating a contract for deed on a home is still better than paying rent. Paying rent doesn’t allow you to create equity in your home, but a contract for deed does. You’re going to own that place someday, but be careful to read your contract for deed carefully. Some are written so that just one missed payment can void the contract. Then all the work you put into the place that wasn’t yours yet is lost to holder of the deed. A lot of condos and townhomes can be found on a rent to own basis, and can still be cheaper than renting.
If you don’t qualify for a mortgage, you can still make renting more affordable if you rent a spare bedroom. Yes, renting more space than you need is more expensive and costs more to heat and cool, but you can make a whole lot of money in a whole lot of places renting that spare bedroom by the night using Airbnb. There are stories of Airbnb hosts making $1 million annually, but you’d need pretty nice digs to do that. But if you’re struggling to make rent (which is likely why you stumbled onto this piece), an Airbnb business can be a lifesaver.
If you’re a natural clean freak and don’t pay for water or laundry, an Airbnb business is perfect for you. All you have to do is figure out how much you can afford to pay in rent, because if the third month comes along and you don’t have half the rent because you couldn’t get enough people to reserve your spare bedroom, you won’t have a home for very long. Generally, if you're paying more than half of your income on rent, that's an unsafe place to be. But if you're going to rent your spare bedroom, you can stand to pay half of your income in rent. Whether the owner will accept your credit based on your income is another story, though.
The beauty is Airbnb does most of the work for you (for a small fee, of course, generally 3 percent of earnings). Take some pictures of your clean home and describe it, you and the location. Be honest. Don’t expect people from out of town to know what they’re getting into. You don’t want to host the people that give you bad ratings because of your location, even though they actually choose the location. If you’re in an urban area where gunshots are regularly heard, make sure people know that before they wake up to gunshots. Even community demographics can be helpful, because some people are racists, and you don’t want to host those people. Being thorough in the description of your home and location can save you from bad ratings down the road, and your rating will affect how many reservations you secure and what price you can charge.
Before you get ahead of yourself, though, call your city hall and ask them if there is an ordinance governing short-term renting or home sharing. Airbnb is not legal everywhere. Some cities have outlawed “transient lodging” or “short-term rentals,” with hefty fines accessed to those who are caught.
New York City started fining Airbnb hosts in February, but has issued only a few fines since. Basically, it’s a really hard law to enforce in large municipalities where city employees are already overwhelmed. But neither GCN Live nor I advocate illegal home sharing. I’m actually trying to change the ordinance in Bloomington, Minn. outlawing short-term rentals less than 30 days by forcing hosts to pay the same percentage in lodging taxes that hotels pay. It’s only fair, and it won’t cut too much into hosts’ profits. The city council doesn’t seem to be interested in taking me seriously, but if I get enough people to help me persuade them they’ll have to address the issue.
If home sharing is illegal in your city, move. If you can’t afford to move, you can use the following as a template to get the ball rolling on legalizing home sharing or short-term renting in your city. Of course, you’ll have to find the law governing transient lodging or short-term renting in your city code and alter it accordingly. Otherwise, you can use this to draft a letter or email to your city council:
To Whom It May Concern:
I think Bloomington’s ban on transient lodging is wrong, and I have a solution. First of all, what people do with the homes they own or rent is up to those people and their landlords, and the City of Bloomington, or any municipality, should not be allowed to limit a person’s ability to make a living.
Secondly, the current law is nearly impossible to enforce, because despite monitoring websites like Airbnb, there will still be transient lodging made available through Craigslist, WarmShowers, and other websites. People will find a way.
There’s no reason why the City of Bloomington shouldn’t profit from transient lodging, though. If every Airbnb or similar host paid the applicable lodging taxes for their location, hotels would have little reason to complain, as the people renting Airbnb rooms are more likely to camp than pay for a hotel, and the hosts would be paying the same taxes as the hotels.
I propose the following alteration to the City of Bloomington Code of Ordinances subsection 14.577.
14.577 ILLEGAL RENTALS, OCCUPANCY LIMITS AND NO SUBLETTING
An owner may adopt standards that reduce the maximum allowed occupancy of a dwelling unit from the standards set forth herein. The maximum permissible occupancy of any licensed rental dwelling unit is determined according to the 2012 International Property Maintenance Code and as follows.
(a) Not more than one family, except for temporary guests, will occupy a licensed rental dwelling unit.
(b) No one will lease, license or agree to allow the occupancy, possession or tenancy of a licensed rental dwelling unit to more than four unrelated persons.
(c) Tenants of a licensed rental dwelling unit must not lease or sublet the dwelling unit to another without the prior approval of the property owner.
(d) No one will lease, license or agree to allow the use of a dwelling unit, or portion thereof, for transient lodging, unless applicable lodging taxes are paid.
I believe that tax is seven percent for the City of Bloomington. You can find the applicable codes here: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/lodgetax.pdf.
Since Airbnb hosts must pay taxes on their Airbnb income and fill out a W-9 or other appropriate tax form, collecting the tax would be as simple as applying that seven percent to the Airbnb income already reported each year. Let me know your questions or concerns.
If a member of your city council or an administrator from city hall doesn’t get back to you in a couple of weeks, contact them and ask when it will be addressed. If they say the council isn’t interested in addressing the issue, ask them when the next city council meeting is and attend. There’s always a time for public comment at those meetings, and it’s a good way to get media exposure for your cause and recruit other supporters. There really is strength in numbers, so if you show up to the next city council meeting with 20 people behind you, and every one of them takes the time to speak their mind on the issue, your city council members will have little choice but to refer your suggestion to the ordinance committee for review.
It takes months to accomplish anything in city government, so be prepared for a lot of waiting. Take solace in the fact you’re trying to improve your community by increasing tax revenue for street and sidewalk repair, etc.
So there are three ways to pay less in rent despite housing budget cuts. Next up in our series on how to navigate federal budget cuts, we’ll look at how to get around proposed cuts to energy and transportation.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Costa Report, Drop Your Energy Bill, Free Talk Live, Flow of Wisdom, America’s First News, America Tonight, Bill Martinez Live, Korelin Economics Report, The KrisAnne Hall Show, Radio Night Live, The Real Side, World Crisis Radio, The Tech Night Owl, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show, USA Prepares, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Home Talk
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles about how the impoverished American can overcome proposed budget cuts by utilizing other services and methods.
Donald Trump has proposed to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) by $190 billion over 10 years. The entire SNAP budget in 2016 was $70.9 billion, and the program provided an average of $125.50 per month in food per person enrolled.
Executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, Colleen Moriarty, informed that a proposed cut to SNAP that size would result in 120,000 Minnesotans losing SNAP benefits. There are only 400,000 Minnesotans utilizing the program, which is seven percent of the state’s population. That’s roughly half the national rate -- 13.4 percent of all Americans utilize SNAP benefits to obtain food -- two-thirds of which are children, seniors and the disabled. Trump has also proposed cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) in the amounts of $15.6 billion and $200 million, respectively.
Moriarty was en route to Washington D.C. to accept a national award from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) when she spoke to GCN Live on Tuesday. FRAC is “the leading, national nonprofit working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States.” Moriarty’s receiving the award because of her SNAP innovations like a one-page application for seniors, securing state funding to give beneficiaries an additional $10 to spend at farmers markets, and a help line to answer calls from all counties in Minnesota. She’s concerned that the Trump administration seems to be targeting children and seniors to fund increased defense spending. She called Trump’s proposed budget cuts “devastating,” adding later that “this administration seems intent to target the people who need help the most.”
Trump’s budget still has to get out of the Senate, though, so it’s unlikely the cuts will pass as they’re proposed. But Senate Democrats won’t be successful in fighting for all the funding programs like SNAP, WIC and TANF have received in the past. They’re going to have to compromise, which means the programs will be available to fewer Americans. This guide will provide five ways to feed yourself and family if you lose SNAP or WIC benefits.
Moriarty believes those who lose their SNAP benefits will spillover to food banks, but she doesn’t think there’s enough donated food to go around.
“The emergency food system cannot accommodate that. It would break the system….I think some people say...let the charitable organizations handle it, but just five percent of all funding is a charitable response, and most of it comes from the federal government,” she said.
Regardless, if you were on SNAP and got kicked off, you still have to find food, and you most certainly qualify for a monthly visit to your local food bank. If you don’t have a food bank in your town, try a neighboring town. Food banks are very welcoming of everyone in need, so if you let them know you drove 30 miles to get there, you’ll almost certainly come home with food. This won’t replace the $125.50 you were getting from SNAP, as a typical, monthly visit to a food bank results in less than $100-worth of food for a single person.
I do qualify for food bank benefits given my income, and my first trip to a Minnesota food bank resulted in more than enough food for one person for one month. This was the case in Montana as well, and I suspect this will be how food banks will support the increased number of families that will have lost SNAP or WIC benefits. By cutting the number of items a single person can take home, food banks will be able to help more families, seniors and starving children.
The value of the nearly 40 items I was able to take home was roughly $103.49, mostly due to a five-pound bag of shredded cheddar cheese ($25), three loaves of bread ($9.95) and five packages of meat ($20.74) -- all of which I can freeze.
Meat is expensive, which is why it’s the best value at food banks. Only a few options have fallen in price since last year (chicken and bologna are two), and with budget cuts to agriculture looming, you can expect prices to continue rising. More on that in a later article, though.
If you don’t eat meat, there are vegetarian options like tuna, vegetarian refried beans and dairy proteins like cottage cheese. If you’re vegan, you probably weren’t on SNAP or WIC in the first place. If you were, at least you’ve nearly replaced the $125 monthly food allowance you had. If you can’t make it to a food bank, many offer delivery service as well. If you can make it, sign up for any nutrition or cooking classes offered. You’ll get some great information, healthy recipes and take home even more groceries.
But there’s an even better way to get more, lean protein in your diet that’s so easy even your children can do it.
Fishing licenses are cheap and easy to obtain. For as little as $15 you can fish all of Illinois’ freshwater for an entire year, and the average price in the Midwest is $20 annually. California has the second-highest annual, base fee of $47.01, but you pay even more to catch certain fish in the state, likely making it the most expensive license in the country.
TakeMeFishing.org is a fantastic place to get all the information you need about acquiring a fishing license, and in some cases, you can even apply and pay online. Many states even offer free or discounted fishing licenses to Veterans, the disabled or impoverished. I have a friend in Minnesota who lived down the street from a lake (almost everyone does), and he and his kids caught so much fish they cleaned it, froze it and had enough to donate to the needy.
You might think you need a bunch of expensive gear to fish, but that’s not true at all. You can use a stick, some fishing line and a hook to start. If you want something that will last, though, visit your local pawn shop. You can almost always find fishing rods and sometimes tackle at a reasonable price. If not, you can get an entire fishing tackle kit for $10 at most retail outlets. And you’ll need a fillet knife and sharpener, which you can also find at a pawn shop. For a tackle box, just use what you can find and throw it all in a five-gallon bucket. That way you can turn the bucket over and have a seat while you fish.
When it comes to bait, just dig up some worms where you see fresh, moist soil. You can also use your first catch as bait if it’s not worth eating. Fish eyes tend to work well because they reflect light, but they can be a pain to cut out. Try to utilize the scales of the fish to draw the eye of other fish. Here’s an instructional on how to fish. Here are some knots you should know. Here’s how to fillet a fish.
The most tolerable freshwater fish to eat and easiest to catch tend to be Sunnies, Crappies and Bluegills. Catfish aren’t terrible, but you have to be careful about their fine bones, so chew slowly. If you manage to hook a trout or walleye, you’ll be eating pretty well for quite some time.
If the fish are biting, you can generally take home one, one-person meal per day per person fishing ($5) minus the license fee ($15-$50) and fishing tackle expenses ($11 pawn shop rod + $1 in fishing line + $10 in fishing tackle), which comes out to a payback period between eight and 15 days, depending on the fish, of course. That’s a pretty good deal considering fishing season never ends if you have an ice auger ($40), which makes the payback period just eight days longer. Don’t forget to check Craigslist and the pawn shops for augers as well.
If you live in a duplex, quadplex, or condo and have any lawn space, get together with your neighbors and ask your landlord if you you can install a community or urban garden somewhere. Try to convince her by saying it would mean less lawn for her to mow, and it would increase the value of the property.
While the biggest problem with community and urban gardens is loss to the grazing of animals and humans, I think you’ll find there’s always a bit of food out there when you need it. If you’re worried about losing food to grazers, plant foods they wouldn’t eat raw, like peppers and onions. You can also ask your landlord to install a motion-activated light overlooking the garden. That should spook some animals, and if you put up a security camera, some humans. The security camera doesn’t even have to be hooked up; it just needs to look like it’s sending a signal somewhere.
Since you and your neighbors likely keep different hours, get a rough idea of when everyone is available to do some gardening. You’ll find it gives kids something to do, too. Be sure to place the garden where it gets the most sunlight. And try to put the garden in a place where every tenant can see it from a window in their apartment.
If you live in an apartment building downtown, you probably don’t have room for a community garden. But there are a lot of foods you can grow indoors, including everything you need for a salad (carrots, mushrooms, lettuce, mandarin oranges, tomatoes) and guacamole (avocados, tomatoes, lemons, onions, cilantro). You can also grow herbs like basil, chive, ginger, mint and rosemary, and fruits like strawberries, grapes, figs, papaya, mulberries, watermelon, nectarines, peaches and apricots.
You can grab window sill planters at Wal-mart for under $5 each and seeds for about $3.50 per package. Harvest times vary by plant, but you can expect to harvest onions every three weeks, lettuce once a month or so, and carrots every two months. Fruit takes a lot longer, and here’s a guide for herbs.
Americans throw away 40 percent of their food, so if you’ve lost your SNAP benefits and can’t make the four previous recommendations work for you, there’s plenty of edible food to be found in dumpsters. Here’s a guide on how to prepare for dumpster diving.
While I’ve only ever “dove” in a dumpster for flowers, I worked many years in grocery stores and know the delis in those stores toss a lot of perfectly edible food out at the end of each night. So be aware of your local grocers’ business hours. If you get there just as they close, you’ll end up with a plethora of fried foods ranging from day-old chicken to pizza sticks right on top of the trash. If you get there early, I bet you can even convince one of the high schoolers working in the deli to wrap the food in a separate bag so it doesn’t get trashy.
Any restaurant that offers a buffet will also create a lot of edible trash, so frequent those places around closing time and see what you can score. And don’t just look for food in dumpsters. People throw away all kinds of valuable things that can be resold.
So there are five ways to feed yourself and your family despite budget cuts to food assistance. Next up in our series to help you make it through the budget cuts, we’ll look at how you can work around the proposed cuts to housing and urban development.
If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Costa Report, Drop Your Energy Bill, Free Talk Live, Flow of Wisdom, America’s First News, America Tonight, Bill Martinez Live, Korelin Economics Report, The KrisAnne Hall Show, Radio Night Live, The Real Side, World Crisis Radio, The Tech Night Owl, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show, Free Talk Live, The Easy Organic Gardener, The Magic Garden, The Paul Parent Garden Club Show, USA Prepares, American Survival Radio, Jim Brown’s Common Sense, Home Talk
Online banking has all but made the checkbook register obsolete. You can check your balance on your smartphone, view it online or even print it, but the lost science of registering debits and credits hasn’t gone away, and it shouldn’t.
The importance of logging your debits and credits hasn’t changed. They still teach it in middle school family and consumer science courses, but fewer people stick with it. My sister still keeps her checkbook register up-to-date despite writing two checks per month for rent and utilities. Everything she buys with her debit card gets logged in the checkbook register, and it’s no surprise she’s better with money than her brother who doesn’t -- until now.
I don’t write checks. I pay my rent in cash and my bills online. I setup automatic payments for all my bills, so I never spend time with my money. This is a big mistake. It’s the number one easiest way to save money according to CNBC guest contributor Brittney Castro. Just sitting down with your money once per week to monitor debits and credits and budget for the week can put you in a better place financially.
If you’re like me and don’t have a checkbook but want to log your debits and credits on paper, you can print blank registers here. I’d rather use my phone to manage my money. I am logging my debits and credits on my iPhone using the Spending app. It’s also available for free on Android devices. It allows you to log debits under the following categories: eating out, clothes, entertainment, fuel, general, gifts, holidays, kids, shopping, sports and travel. You can also add a category of expenses and income. I added my Airbnb income for example.
You can view your debits and credits over the week, month or year. The best part is, turning your phone sideways reveals a pie chart of your expenses. This way you can see what’s costing you the most money and where you can start saving. Hit the cash flow tab and a graph reveals your income, so you can see those weeks you took some time off from work, or in my case, hosted more or fewer Airbnb guests. This is much more helpful than a checkbook register because it allows you to more easily see where you’re wasting your money. I’m a sucker for eating out, but since I’m new to my city, I think it’s only natural to be trying restaurants to see what you like and what’s worth the money you’re paying. Still, if I want to save money, I’ll have to cut out some of that spending.
Using the Spending app to budget for your week or month isn’t the only way to better manage your money. It takes a lot more than monitoring your debits and credits to reach your financial goals. After I get my check today, I’m heading to my bank to withdraw some money to put in an online savings account. Remember those days your money in your savings and checking accounts actually made you money? Well, those days aren’t all gone. You just have to do more research and move your money around more often. Luckily, Jeff Rose has already found the top online saving account interest rates for you. Some online savings accounts require a large deposit to open the account, but many can be started for as little as $25, and while 27 cents doesn’t sound like much, it’s still 27 cents you didn’t have before, and will be a few bucks by the end of the year.
Cutting your transportation costs is the easiest way to save money if you commute 12 miles or so to work everyday like me. I intend to start riding my bike to the bus stop to save even more money this summer, and, eventually, I’ll do the entire 25-mile commute on my bike to get in great shape. But the gas rewards card is a thing of beauty. I keep two of them on me at all times, so regardless of what gas station is nearest I have a way of earning points and saving money. That moment after you swipe your card and the screen on the pump reads “We’re lowering your prices,” or “Use $2.96 in rewards?” I get all warm and fuzzy inside. It feels like you’re cheating the system, and speaking of…
Sign up for every free, rewards program you can find. My favorite is Ebates, which I’ve been using for almost 10 years. During that time I’ve been paid $113.72 just for shopping at my favorite stores online. You can even install an extension for your browser, so anytime you happen upon a store that’s an Ebates partner it will ask you if you want to enable Ebates cash back. Just click the button and you’re on your way to free money for every purchase you make.
Another extension I’ve attached to my browser is Honey, which scours the internet for coupon and promo codes that apply to the store you’re visiting. It’ll tell you how many coupon and promo codes are available for that store, for what they can be used, and allow you to save money on your order right there and then. There’s no need to open a new tab and search those ad-happy coupon and promo code search engines anymore. Just install Honey.
If you travel a lot, open an Expedia account and start earning rewards points worth airline miles and discounts on hotel rooms and car rentals. You can even find discounted tickets for activities on your trip. The other day I was offered a free flight if I booked a hotel along with my flight through Expedia. I don’t book through anywhere but Expedia now, because Ebates gives me 10 percent cash back on top of any discounts I get with my rewards points.
If you travel for business, a travel rewards credit card will probably be a good thing to have in your wallet. Nerd Wallet has put together a fine list of the best available travel rewards credit cards, but if you intend to apply, be sure to note whether the credit card has an annual fee. If you travel enough to accumulate enough miles to use during the fee-free, introductory year, you can jump ship after just one year and move to another travel rewards card. If not, just pick one that doesn’t have an annual fee.
Finally, the most rewarding and money-saving rewards program and credit card are with the same company: Amazon. I buy a lot of books, technology and vinyl records. Most of my birthday and Christmas gifts are purchased on Amazon. In fact, I just sent my mom her Mother’s Day gift using Amazon (they do gift wrapping for $4 if you’re wondering and include a short, personalized message on a card). I also sent my sister her birthday present using Amazon, and neither of those gifts cost me a dime. Here’s why:
I got hooked on Amazon at a young age. I was really into Ebay when I was in high school, but when some of the items I purchased came with defects and weren’t returnable, I started using Amazon pretty regularly. I’m pretty sure the first credit card for which I ever applied was my Amazon Rewards Visa Credit Card through Chase.
My new, shiny Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Credit Card came in the mail just a few weeks ago. Since I’m an Amazon Prime member, I get five percent cash back on every Amazon purchase to be used on future Amazon purchases. I also get two percent back on purchases at restaurants, gas stations and drugs stores, and one percent back on all other purchases. While the interest rate is high, it doesn’t matter because I pay it off each month. So that’s how I ended up taking care of my sister’s birthday and Mother’s Day without spending a dime of my own money.
I cannot stress how rewarding Amazon Prime has been for me. I became a member when I was a sophomore in college because I was tired of paying way too much for textbooks at the bookstore. Instead, I managed to save a ton of money buying them on Amazon and had them shipped in two days for free thanks to my Prime membership, so I rarely fell behind in classes because I didn’t have a textbook. I even made a bunch more than most of my classmates selling my textbooks because I used Textbook Wheel, now First Class Books, instead of selling them back to the bookstore. Never buy textbooks from or sell textbooks to your university bookstore. We live in a global economy. Your campus is not the best place to get the books you need for classes or the money you need to celebrate passing your classes.
I’m just now taking advantage of Prime Pantry -- Amazon’s online store for mostly non-perishables. Here’s a breakdown of what I got:
The best part is all of it will be delivered for free to my apartment within four days. The real value is I got to compare prices from the comfort of my computer desk and didn’t have to stand in line at the grocery store checkout. Oh, and did I mention that my Amazon Prime membership includes video streaming of movies and shows and free, two-day shipping on any Amazon warehouse-fulfilled item?
So keeping a checkbook register is all well and good, but the internet and smartphones allow for so many more ways to save money, whether it’s by logging your debits and credits, transferring money to an online savings account that actually pays interest, saving money through online rewards programs or buying the things online you already buy at the store. Welcome to the online banking and shopping era and enjoy the savings.
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