Now that we know Donald Trump's budget would increase the deficit and do little to improve the economy according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, you can expect fixed costs like energy and transportation to cut into the average American’s income even more so than in the past. In fact, the Trump administration made a $3.7 trillion mistake in its budget, which is far larger than the $776 billion and and $303 billion mistakes the Obama administration made with its budgets.

Energy cuts focus on energy-efficiency research

While the bulk of Trump’s proposed cuts in energy are research programs at the Energy Department ($3.1 billion, an 18 percent cut in budget) seeking ways to decrease carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants and more efficient batteries for electric cars, programs that actually help Americans save money on energy will also be eliminated.

 

The Energy Star program, with which you’re likely familiar, costs about $50 million annually, but will be cut from the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget despite the EPA estimating that the program helped American consumers and businesses save $34 billion in energy costs and prevent more than 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That little blue label won’t be there to tell you whether the appliance you’re looking to buy meets the EPA’s standards because those standards no longer exist.

 

The same goes for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which funds energy audits of homes inhabited by low-income Americans and the installation of energy efficient additions like attic insulation and plastic over windows. Those workers are doing a lot more than installing plastic over windows, though. They also address health and safety issues by fixing broken windows, replacing faulty water heaters, repairing holes in roofs as well as installing other protective measures.

 

WAP cost $193 million in 2015, and the it estimates that for every dollar invested in the program, it returns $1.65 in energy-related benefits. In the past 31 years, 6.2 million low-income families have taken advantage of the program, which also produces “non-energy” benefits of an additional $1.07 per dollar invested. By lowering energy bills on average of $413 per year, low-income Americans have more income with which to stimulate the economy. But not anymore, which is likely why the CBO doesn’t see any improvement to the economy in Trump’s budget.

 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) received $280 million in 2015, and its budget will also be cut entirely. ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment, so cutting it would put more strain on technology businesses, resulting in higher costs for consumers.

 

The loan program that has made fuel-efficient vehicles more affordable, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, would also be cut. Luckily, according to its website, the program has $16 billion in loan authority remaining, despite loaning Ford Motor Company $5.9 billion in 2009. The scrapping of the program will also make it harder for the average American to afford fuel-efficient vehicles.

 

Finally, Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy to support innovative clean energy technologies that are typically unable to obtain conventional private financing due to high technology risks through the issue of loans. Those loans will no longer be made available.

 

So that’s what’s happening to the U.S. energy budget. No more investing in American energy unless it comes in the form of decayed dinosaurs. But with fossil fuel exploration and drilling increasing, the price of fuel should go down, right? Well, the real price of gasoline and diesel fuel is already below nominal prices, which means they’re likely to increase to at least the nominal price.

Transportation budget cuts make Americans more dependent on cars, fossil fuels

Then there’s the U.S. transportation budget, or lack thereof. While shifting air traffic control to a nonprofit organization would transfer thousands of workers off the government payroll, it could impact smaller airports providing cheaper flights, which means more expensive rates for you. The elimination of $175 million in subsidies for commercial flights to rural airports will hurt rural Americans especially.

 

Also being eliminated is funding for many new transit projects and support for long-distance Amtrak trains, which, of course, would make Americans more car-dependent, and by design, more fossil-fuel dependent. Worst yet, the roads Americans will be forced to drive won’t be getting any better. The Republicans’ budget would cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program despite skyrocketing demand. The Department of Transportation received 585 eligible applications from all 50 States, and several U.S. territories, tribal communities, cities, and towns throughout the United States, collectively requesting over $9.3 billion in funding in 2016.

 

So how do we as Americans manage to get to and from the places we need or want to go with energy costs, both in the form of electricity and fuel, and transportation costs, both in the form of planes and trains, increasing? Well, here are 5 ways to save money despite budget cuts to energy and transportation.

1) Bicycle

If your roundtrip is under 10 miles, you need not drive. Get out the bicycle, put on the padded underwear and a helmet and take your share of the roads. I recommend wearing padded underwear if you intend to cycle for an hour or more. It generally only takes an hour to go 10 miles on a bike, and with a caddie and saddlebags, you can carry a towel and fresh clothes to change into once you arrive at your destination. Do not wear a backpack! You’ll regret it the moment you get a mile from home.

2) Carpooling

Not all of us live close enough to the places we frequent to do so on bicycle. But there are other people taking a similar trip. Mobile devices with unlimited data have made social circles a whole lot bigger than the water cooler at the office. Just because no one in your office goes by your house on their way to work doesn’t mean you can’t carpool.

 

Carpooling apps are becoming more popular in metro areas, with New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. already being served by Via. But growth of carpool communities is dependent on us as Americans to make them viable options. Apps like Duet and Waze need demand to be useful, and if we’re all set on wasting money and killing the Earth by driving our cars to work everyday, they might never be available in your area. So sign up to either drive or ride with all the carpool apps and share them with your friends on social media so we can grow the carpooling communities and all save on transportation.

 

In the future, your self-driving car will simply go out and drive people to work while you’re at work or asleep. Until then, we’ll have to take the wheel, both figuratively and literally.

3) Work from home

More and more Americans are working from home these days, as employers look to cut costs like rent and energy, and employees look to cut transportation costs. If you do most of your work on a computer or over the phone like me, you can probably negotiate a work-from-home agreement with your boss. You might not be able to work from home everyday, but a few days per week will still save you money on transportation costs. And there’s nothing really like working in bed to the sounds of Rick James on vinyl.

4) Buy an electric vehicle

This isn’t going to be feasible for the average American, but for the first time ever, a car doesn’t have to be a liability anymore. Buying an electric vehicle is an investment that will pay for itself. The payback period depends on the car, of course, but it could be as little as eight years for a Kia Soul EV and as many as 30 or more years for the mysterious Tesla Model 3. And if the average American drives 13,474 miles annually, a Model 3 owner will have paid for her car in 30 years. That’s seven years before Model 3 owners will have to worry about investing in replacement batteries given the 484,669-mile projection for the batteries’ ability to retain at least 80 percent of their capacity.

5) Invest in solar or wind energy

Regardless of where you live, there’s likely an opportunity for you to harness solar or wind to create energy and lower your energy bill. And until Republicans pass a budget, there are still tax incentives and rebates available to you for installing solar arrays and wind turbines. You might as well take advantage of them while you still can, as both technologies have become more affordable to install. Solar installations have dropped nine percent in a year, and wind turbines have dropped more than 60 percent in price since 2009.  

 

The energy companies are doing their best to deter customers from installing renewable energy sources, though. Many are charging flat fees just for hooking up a solar array or wind turbine, and then they’re taking the extra energy you don’t need, but that you provide, and selling it to others. That’s why you should consult an electrician and find things you can run directly from your renewable energy sources if your energy provider is looking to take advantage of you.

 

Maybe your solar panels charge a battery or generator that runs the lights and electricity in your newly built shop or garage. You can always rewire your solar array or wind turbine into the grid, so don’t give in to paying those flat fees to use your own energy. If we discovered farting in a can could run lights for an hour, the energy companies would find a way to suck the fart out of that can and make you pay rent on the can. Don’t let them get your farts.

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Published in News & Information
Tuesday, 30 May 2017 19:57

A sports fan's guide to cheap TV

If you’re a sports fan, you probably feel like you must watch your favorite team play almost every game of the season. That means you’re likely paying hundreds of dollars for cable or satellite service every month. Service in my area runs from $109 per month to $170 per month because I have to purchase almost 200 channels I won’t watch just to get my regional sports channel.  

Just because we’re sports fan doesn’t mean we should let cable and satellite service providers take advantage of us, though. You can watch almost every game your favorite baseball team team plays, whether you’re in their area or not, as well as NFL regular season and playoff games, MLB, NBA and NHL playoff games, and NCAA men’s basketball tournament games for less than $55 per month. And that includes your internet bill! Here’s how:

Buy the Right TV Antenna for Your Area

Getting your sports fix all starts with the right TV antenna for your area. Do some research to determine where the television broadcast towers are near you. If you live in rural America, a traditional antenna mounted to the roof of your home would be best. These have a range of up to 150 miles and are still very affordable, with options under $40. Here are some options compared.

If you live near a city you can save a few dollars and some installation hassles by purchasing a 25-mile or 50-mile, indoor antenna. I bought a 50-mile, indoor antenna that I stuck to a wall in my apartment and receive more than 40 channels, most of which display in perfect HD. This cost me less than $25 and took less than 10 minutes to find the best location for the antenna. That’s a one time cost to watch every NFL playoff game, including the Super Bowl, every MLB playoff game, including the World Series, every Stanley Cup Finals and NBA Finals game, and select NCAA men’s basketball tournament games -- all in stunning HD -- for as long as you or the antenna lives.

Invest in Internet and Protect Yourself with a VPN

You can save a ton of money on television by investing in your internet connection, and I’m not talking about paying for the highest bandwidth. You only need a 15 to 20 mbps download speed to stream 4K UHD video, so anything more than that is overkill, unless you’re downloading a lot of media. Regardless, you should protect your online history with a virtual private network (VPN).

A VPN shields your IP address location from internet service providers and other spying eyes. You can change the perceived location of your IP address to anywhere in the world, which allows you access to foreign versions of Netflix and other streaming software. You can even use the VPN on other devices like your phone or tablet. The best part is, a VPN subscription runs around $5 per month or less, and allows you to get around MLB.TV’s blackout restriction.

Using a VPN to Get Your Local MLB Team’s Games

If you live in the area served by your favorite MLB or NHL team’s regional sports channel, you can’t watch any game on that channel via MLB.TV or NHL.TV without a VPN. Don’t make the mistake of paying $45 per month for Sling TV for two months to basically watch your regional sports channel, and on a minute-or-so delay at that.

The real trouble with watching your local team on your HDTV is that you can’t run your VPN on your TV. You can run an HDMI cable from your computer to your TV, but why use two devices to watch TV when you could use one?

Run Your VPN Through a Wireless Router

There are certain routers that allow for open-source, firmware installations that will allow you to shield the IP addresses of your entire network of devices. Then, when you connect your smart TV to the internet, it will take on the location you set using your VPN through your router’s client software. This will allow you to utilize the MLB.TV and NHL.TV apps on your TV or Roku device instead of connecting your computer to your TV every time the game is on.

The problem is that open-source software like DD-WRT and Tomato takes time to write, and new routers are introduced so often that it’s difficult for these coding communities to keep up. Translation: There aren’t many routers you can buy in a store that will be compatible with this open-source software. So if you’re not tech-savvy or just don’t want to take the time to “flash” your router and install the open-source firmware, you can buy routers with this open-source software preinstalled. Then it’s as easy as plugging it in and entering your VPN information in the client software and setting your preferred location.

If you’re willing to take the time and want to save a few dollars, a good place to start is by reading the forums at the DD-WRT and Tomato links provided above. I would suggest buying a router with open-source firmware pre-installed, though. Finding a router that’s compatible with DD-WRT or Tomato is harder than you’d think. While model numbers are printed on the router box, version numbers are not, so when you see a model number that’s the same as one that’s compatible, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily compatible.

The savings are worth the struggle, though. You could save $700 per year or more by cutting cable and employing these methods. Here’s a breakdown of what you'll spend and save by investing in a digital antenna and VPN compared to cable and satellite providers:

  • $10.94 per month for MLB.TV through September (single-team package)
  • $3.33 per month for VPN
  • $39.99 per month for internet
  • $24.95 for digital antenna

= $54.26 per month during baseball season

= $43.32 per month the rest of the year

With NHL.TV = $67.76 per month during hockey/baseball season (roughly two months)

With NHL.TV = $56.82 per month during hockey season (roughly six months)

Yearly total without NHL.TV = $595.48

Yearly total with NHL.TV = $749.72

The Xfinity Double Play is the cheapest cable or satellite option in my area that includes my regional sports channel. That runs about $109 per month after tax for the first 12 months, or $1,308 for the first year, and a lot more after that. So without NHL.TV I’d save $712.52 annually. With NHL.TV, I’d save $558.28 each year. I’m either saving 54 percent or 43 percent on my TV and Internet bills, and the only games I wouldn't get are those on ESPN and NBCSN. 

So just because you’re a sports fan doesn’t mean you have to pay for cable or satellite service. You can save a ton of money on your TV and Internet bill just by taking these few, easy steps. The best investment you can make is in your internet service and the cheapest investment you can make is in a VPN. Don't let increasing cable and satellite costs make you sacrifice your love of sports. Force the cable and satellite companies to be more competitive with other options by using those options.

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Editor’s Note: An update follows.

If you run into some trouble getting your router VPN configuration working, visit here. To find out if your setup is working, visit a site like WhatIsMyIPAddress.com and see if the location you set up in your DD-WRT admin panel is the one identified by WhatIsMyIPAddress.com. Then do a speed test at SpeedTest.net.

There will be quite a bit of bandwidth lost due to the VPN running on your router, but it should still be fast enough to stream HD video.

I’d recommend only running your VPN through your router when you’re watching the game. This is as simple as removing the command from your router’s admin panel that connects your router to the VPN, saving the text in a Word, Text Edit or Notepad document, and rebooting your router. When you’re ready to watch the game, simply paste the text back in the router management tab labeled “Commands,” save startup, and reboot. This will lengthen the life of your router, too, as running the VPN through the router makes your router work harder and hotter.

Don’t expect this workaround to work forever, but take advantage of it while you can.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Tech Night Owl, Free Talk Live, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show, Erskine Overnight, Home Talk, The Josh Tolley Show, The Tom Chenault Show, View From The Couch

Published in News & Information

It’s no secret that attending a Major League Baseball game is expensive despite being the cheapest option ($31) when compared to the NBA ($55.88), NHL ($62.18) and NFL ($92.98). I’ve been to 16 of the first 24 Minnesota Twins home games, but just experienced my first pair of doubleheaders over the last four days -- one a split doubleheader and one a traditional back-to-back. I doubt I’ll see many more split doubleheaders, as taking a break between games tends to leave seats empty during the second game.

Getting into the ballpark isn’t prohibitively expensive. You can get into Angels Stadium in Anaheim for less than $10, and standing room only tickets at Target Field in Minnesota are usually $11. But eating and drinking beer, liquor, soda or water at the the ballpark is expensive.

The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies have the most expensive beer in baseball, followed by Minnesota in second, according to Fortune. That doesn’t include tip. My research revealed that you can buy 16 ounces of Bud Light, Miller Lite or a Bud Lime-A-Rita for $7 at Target Field. You can expect to pay close to $5 for a water and more for soda.

Doubleheaders don’t have to be doubly expensive, though. I enjoyed two games, a meal and three drinks for less than $35. Here’s how you can save money at the ballpark.

Don’t Exchange Your Ticket for a Different Game

When your game gets rained out, don’t exchange your ticket for a different game. Generally, if you have tickets to the makeup game, you’ll get free admittance to the second game of the traditional doubleheader. That’s not the case for split doubleheaders, though. Do your best to make it to the makeup game because they tend to be attended by fewer people, making for a more intimate game, shorter lines for the concession stands and bathrooms, and you’re more likely to get a foul ball, an autograph, or a chance to meet Tony Oliva, which happened to me Thursday.

You’re also more likely to win something if you attend the second game of a doubleheader. Professional sports organizations give away free stuff every game. At Minnesota Twins games, the big winners are those who get scratch-off tickets from the Minnesota Lottery. But there’s plenty of other door prizes to be had. I won a large, two-topping pizza from Papa John’s on Thursday.

The organization will say you can exchange your ticket for a ticket of equal value for another game, but equal value is what they declare, and face value of tickets changes depending on demand. So, if you have a ticket to see the last-place Royals play the Twins and exchange it for a game against the Yankees or Red Sox, don’t expect to get the same seats or even the same section. You are at the discretion of the corporation at that point, and you never want to be in that position.

Check the Promotions Schedule

If you are going to exchange your ticket for another game, check the promotions schedule first. You can get something free like a shirt, hat or bag just for showing up early, or take advantage of discounts on food. You can get a hot dog for a dollar at Target Field every Wednesday. Here’s every team’s promotions schedule ranked for 2017.

Pack a Bag

Although you’ll spend a few more minutes in the security line on your way into the ballpark, the wait is negligible when considering the value of having a bag with you at the ballpark, especially during a doubleheader. I take my laptop to the game in case I want to work (like I am now), a microphone in case I want to do a live broadcast (I do live, uncensored play-by-play of select games), a solar charger for my phone and computer and my preferred scorecard and pens to keep score.

I recommend taking a backpack to the ballpark as opposed to a satchel or purse. Your lower back will thank me if you do a lot of walking to or around the ballpark, as side-swinging bags tend to cause more back and hip pain. Backpacks also have plenty of hidden pockets, and security guards aren’t going to take the time to investigate every interior pocket, which brings me to my next point.

Don’t Drink the Beer

Beer is the biggest ripoff at the ballpark. While you’re getting 20 ounces of beer for around $8 at Target Field, you can get a hefty shot of liquor for $9 that will pack a bigger punch. My biggest suggestion is to not drink beer at the ballpark, and you can avoid doing so by packing your own booze.

While outside liquor is not allowed at any ballpark, I say you risk it. The worst that could happen is security discovers your stash and throws it out, but it’s highly unlikely if you use a backpack. You can use those interior pockets of your backpack to sneak in a flask of liquor. You generally won’t have to worry about your bag being scanned for metal, so your flask doesn’t have to be plastic unless you’re keeping it on your person. I forgot to finish all the water in my water bottle before entering Target Field on Sunday, and the security guard didn’t even take notice. That could have been filled with vodka, as it was visible on the outside of my pack. If you’re using interior pockets, though, you can bring in anything you want, including a pre-mixed cocktail. Just don’t drink too much or give your fellow fans a reason to have you removed.

Pack a Lunch and a Water Bottle

You can bring your own food to the ballpark, so you never have to spend money on peanuts, sunflower seeds or hot dogs (unless it’s $1 dog day at Target Field). I usually pack a snack for every game, but for doubleheaders, I pack a cold lunch like a protein-rich sandwich.

You’ll burn a lot of calories and give your legs a workout just walking to and from the ballpark and your seat, and you’ll most likely sweat, so having a water bottle will allow you to take advantage of the free tap water at the ballpark instead of paying nearly $5 for bottled water.

If you fail to pack a lunch and/or liquor, I suggest getting both in one drink. Most ballpark bars will make you a Bloody Mary with a few fixings like olives, celery, a pickle and, perhaps, beef sticks and cheese. The Twins offer a Bloody Mary with either a cheeseburger slider or slice of pizza at Hrbeck’s Bar for $24, and it will fill you up thanks to an eight-ounce, Bud Light beer back.

If you don’t drink Bloody Marys, order liquor on the rocks. It’s the best deal you’ll get at the ballpark, especially if you order doubles. Bartenders tend to pour heavy drinks (about three full shots) when you order doubles, which run around $15 for bottom shelf liquor before tip. The more games you attend the better you’ll get to know the bartenders, and them you, so despite the expensive price I recommend you tip your bartenders. They’ll remember it, even if you don’t tip 20 percent. I do a dollar per shot as a base and go up from there.

If you intend to eat at the ballpark, try these recommended dishes so you know you’re at least getting something unique or well-received for the insane amount of money you’ll spend.

Don’t Pay for Parking

The easiest way to avoid overpaying to see a baseball game or doubleheader is to not pay for parking. The closest parking garage near Target Field costs up to $25 for event parking and the most expensive parking in baseball is in Boston and New York for $35.

If you don’t live near public transit or need your car after the game, use apps like Park Whiz or Best Parking to score cheap deals on parking. I can park half a mile from Target Field for $6 during every night game, and a few blocks further away I can score parking for $4. I’ve parked for free at public parks and walked 25 minutes each way as well. If I pack my bike in the trunk of my car, I can cut my time to the ballpark down to 10 minutes or less and lock it up at one of the many bike racks available right outside the ballpark.

Taking public transit is my favorite way to get to and from the ballpark, though. For $3.50 I can get dropped off right at the ballpark and returned a block away from my apartment. I can read or work on the way to or from the game instead of driving, so I can actually make money during my commute. It’s also safer than driving, and if I want, I can take in a few drinks at a nearby bar before boarding.

My entire day for two games at Target Field on Sunday cost me a total of $29. Since I purchased the Spring Ballpark Pass for every home game except Opening Day for $99 in advance, my average price per ticket was $6.60 and will continue to fall for each game I intend through May (six more games brings it down to $4.71 each). If you buy tickets to the rainout, you got a free ticket to the second game of the doubleheader, so that’s $11 for both games at Target Field. Add a double (really a triple) bourbon on the rocks for $17 including tip, and I’m right around $30 and you’re under $30. My transportation puts my total at less than $35, and if you don’t pay for parking or are willing to do some walking, and now you can save money at the ballpark, too.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: View From The Couch,  Free Talk Live, Flow of Wisdom

Published in News & Information

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.

Log Your Debits and Credits

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.

Open an Online Savings Account

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.

Cut Transportation Costs

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…

Take Advantage of Rewards Programs and Rewards Credit Cards

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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