3 Easy Ways We've Learned to Stretch Our Finances (No Coupons Necessary!)

The past few months, Michael and I have learned a lot about finances and budgeting, since, up until recently, we were never quite sure what the next month might bring us as far as a paycheck. We couldn't bet on having money later and so we learned to be intentional with our money and trying to make each dollar count and stretch further.

One of the things that has been especially helpful for us during this time has been to get creative. One of my favorite avenues has been to find ways to make extra money--and here's the beautiful part--by doing things we already do. There are multiple opportunities out there that offer rewards for things you're already doing, and I've tried my hardest to tap into that and maximize that as much as possible. It might require a wee bit of time up-front researching, but I think the rewards pay off: Free money is free money!

Here are my top three suggestions for ways to get rewarded for doing things you already do:

Swagbucks Search Engine
What are Swagbucks? Basically, Swagbucks.com is a new search engine, with the perk that they reward you for searching with them. Since you do it already, probably at least a couple times a day, why not get rewarded for it?

A coworker had recommended it to me and I thought I'd try it out. I've been using it for about a year and have cashed in reward for $50 worth of Amazon.com gift certificates. It's been a nice way to pay for some of our little extras and not have to pay out-of-pocket for the whole thing.

Here's how it works: You sign up for an account with them, and they pay you with points as you perform your searches through Swagbucks. When you rack up enough points, you can cash them in for gift certificates or selected products. Swagbucks uses Google and Ask.com to generate its search results so it's not really any different if you already use either of those. I was able to go into my internet settings and set my search toolbar to automatically direct any searches through Swagbucks so that it's almost completely seamless. (Here's a more in-depth article I wrote about using and understanding Swagbucks.)

If you want to sign up, follow this link. If you do, it'll show that I referred you, and I'll get extra points for doing that! (Come on, show the love!)

Cash-Rewards Credit Cards
If you're disciplined about using credit cards and have the money to pay off your balance each month, I think there is no reason why your credit card shouldn't be paying you. I've had a rewards credit card for the past 5 years or more and have received hundreds of dollars of checks as well as gift cards for things like my camera. It's a nice little perk when a $50 check shows up and covers unexpected expenses like buying new car tags or getting an oil change, things I often forget to budget for anyway.

After doing some research and recently switching my own credit card, we're now using a Citi Cash Returns. It's 1% reward on everything you buy, and they automatically cut you a $50 check after you rack up $5000 worth of expenses. Discover and American Express also have some good cash rewards programs. Or you can sign up for a store-specific rewards card like the Target or Gap card, which rewards you with points or gift certificates to their stores. That might be a good pick for you if you want to reward yourself with a fun, free shopping spree every once and awhile. Personally though, I like the flexibility of cash.

In my researching different cards, I've found that 1% back on most purchases is pretty standard, but if you know of anything better, please let me know! I am hoping in the next couple of years, rewards percentages will increase but for now,  1% is better than nothing.

High-Yield Savings Accounts
Michael and I are starting to save up money for some of our big down-the-road purchases, including when we're in the market to buy a home. With our money just sitting there (for who knows how long!) it was important to me that we take as much advantage of that as possible and tried to find as high a savings rate as possible.

The two routes that I have found for nabbing the best savings account rate is either to use a high-yield online savings account or check out local credit unions' rates. (You can also look into CDs and Money Market accounts, but like I mentioned before, I like the flexibility of having access to my money and sometimes those lock you into time periods without giving you much more of an interest boost.)

For about two years, I kept my savings online in a high-yield online account from FNBO. When I first opened it, I was making a pretty nice rate (about 5%, I think). As the economy tumbled, so did their rates (down to 1.5%, which is still 3x the national bank average), so I started looking around for something better.

That's when I looked into credit unions here in Atlanta. I found a local credit union that offered 2% interest that we were able to qualify for because my dad works for the US Postal Service. (Some credit unions are harder to join than others, but oftentimes you just have to live in that area or work--or in my case, be related to someone who works--in a particular sector.) Even though the interest rate was only slightly higher, we decided to transfer all our savings over, especially since this would give us local access to all of our money. Another bonus of joining the credit union is that we also earn 1.5% on our checking account, too. (Here's a good site for researching and comparing online savings accounts rates.)

All told, through these miscellaneous tactics, my rough estimates are that we can expect to get an extra $500 in rewards, cashback and interest payments over the course of the year just by doing these three little things. See how little things add up? (I'm a little impressed myself at how much it amounts to!) Try it for yourself and see what little ways you can save a little bit more cash, without clipping a single coupon!

Do you have any advice to share about some ways you've found to cut, save or add money to your bottom line?

Related Posts
Why we moved to Atlanta--and left a well-paying job, in this economy

{ wallet from urban outfitters }


  1. I am not sure if you have to have an account with PNC but they have a credit card called Everyday Rewards. You can earn cash back based on what you buy: Up to 4% on gasoline at the pump, 3% on cinema and movie rentals, 2% on groceries, resturants and fast food, Up to 1% on almost everything else, Automatic Redemption (earn $100 cash back and receive a check in your next statement)

  2. @Christina - Oh, thanks for the tip! I am not familiar with that card. I'm going to look into it right now. It sounds better than any of the ones I've been able to find! Thanks!

  3. Love your tips! I've been trying Dave Ramsey's snow ball method to paying off debt. I'll be debt free in April with the exception of student loans. I can't wait to pay those off! I've found Southernsavers.com recently for couponing and find that planning out my groceries based on coupons + what's on sale really helps.

  4. Hi Elizabeth, you can try Ebates.com. They give you a certain percentage off your total purchase from retail e-sites.

  5. Yep, you're right Cindy! I did a follow-up post to this incorporating Ebates. You can see it here if you want more info: http://bit.ly/kJruqH

    Thanks so much!

  6. I know this is an old post, but I thought I'd comment anyway. Another thing I do is use mypoints.com. They send you emails everyday, and all you have to do is click on them. I earn about $50 a year that I redeem at Christmas for giftcards. Also, there's a website called plastic jungle where you can buy gift cards at discounted rates for places you already go. (I buy them to my grocery store!) Hope these might help!


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