Why I'm Digging Google+

I am not a huge fan of social media. It's something I do because I should, but Google+ is changing my mind. I started one several months ago and have ended up checking it and interacting with it almost every day. G+ has some features that make it a lot easier to use and more intuitive for me, plus I can customize it in ways that you just can't with other social networks. Here's what I'm really loving about G+ and why I willingly use it for more than just business.

8 Reasons Why Google+ is Awesome

  • Communities

    • You can use the search function to search anything you like, including communities. Communities are a great way to follow interests and find people who share them in a way I can understand. I'm looking at you Facebook.

  • Circles

    • I can create as many circles as I want, which helps to keep track of my contacts. Plus, when you want to post something that's only relevant to one group, you can choose to only share it with them. Makes it a lot easier not to spam people with content they don't want to see.

  • Fave, Share, Comment

    • Now you can interact with posts and share them easily. You can choose to +1 something, actually comment on it, or share it. When you share, you have the option of adding your own comment and you can post to your page, select circles or even repost to one of your communities.

  • Track activity on your posts

    • This is especially useful for businesses, you can easily see who is interacting with your posts. Plus the share options make it easier than ever to interact with them.

  • Easily use several accounts or pages

    • I have multiple accounts - personal and business - and all it takes to switch account is to click your top right icon and pick the account you want to deal with. No signing in and out, just one click. It makes it really easy to get everything done in one go.

  • Intuitive page design

    • I find everything on G+ really easy to read and see. It looked a little like the new Facebook layout to start, but I find the way the page is laid out easy to interact with, plus it populates very quickly. 

  • Alerts at the top for activity

    • Like any other Google feature, all you have to do is click the bell icon and it shows you immediately everyone who has added you to a circle, interacted with your posts, or messaged you. No fishing for information.

  • You can still use hashtags, but in a useful way

    • Unlike Twitter, where is still don't really get hashtags, you can use them on G+ in a way that not only makes sense but also allows you to easily see what's going on. For example, I just participated in a Thursday link round-up meant to get to know other bloggers by using #growingcircleshop. When you click the hashtag, you can see everyone's post in a simple layout so that you can interact with everyone that's used that hashtag. Twitter's hashtag list is just plain weird and I hate interacting with it. 

Last year, I heard a lot of talk about how Google+ was doomed to fail and that no one was going to use it. Now, I actually think it's going to be a major contender - not just because Google is pushing it, but because they're making it so easy to use across multiple platforms. They're making it so easy it's going to be hard not to use it soon. My advice is to set up your account now and start enjoying the benefits. Add me to one of your circles so we can connect. Now get going!

Using Coupons the Lazy Way

So You Want to Coupon But Don't Have the Time or Patience...

this lens' photo
That's okay! I see shows like Extreme Couponing and I am always in awe. There are some incredibly talented and organized people in the world who know how to work a deal! However, I am not one of those people nor do I have the desire to be. All I want is to get a discount on the things that I buy, make a little money on the side, and do it in less than 15 minutes a week. The ideas I have offered below can take as much or as little time as you feel like spending, so it's really up to you how much you want to save. I also have referral links for any of the websites mentioned below, so just send me a message if you want to sign up.

Over the years, I've tried a lot of options to see what worked. Many were too complicated or took too much time. Many just didn't offer me the options I wanted. So I've worked out something that is simple for me to do and often results in multiple ways to save or make a little money for very little effort. Below are screenshots of these sites from my own personal accounts. If you are busy then you know what it's like to come home and realize that you've run out of milk right when you need it. Shopping can be a chore so I don't like to spend too much time worrying about it, but I do want a deal. Here are my suggestions. Let me know what you think of this lens and what your tips are!

How I Stack My Coupon Savings to Maximize Earnings

The Basics

As I mentioned before, I have been working for years to find a solution that I feel is rewarding and not too difficult. Here is what I have come up with. I use what I like to call the stack method. For me this means using multiple opportunities to save on the same items. This maximizes my earnings for buying things that I already buy.

The Basics

To start, I follow the same advice you hear from any frugal shopper: don't buy anything you won't use just because you have a coupon! It's good advice for life. Instead, you can make your list based on what you would like to eat for the week or based on what is on sale according to grocery circulars. It depends on how much you like to plan and check sales.

The second step is to use a rewards credit or debit card. Only rely on a credit card if you can pay it off every month. If you are responsible, this is a great way to get rewarded for making purchases you already plan on making. If you have several (like many people), make sure to sign up for the monthly categories for shopping at specific types of retailers and take advantage of the rewards.

Use what you buy! I am very guilty of wasting things - food, cleaning supplies, pet supplies, the list goes on. Those of us who are Americans are especially guilty of this. Trying to be more mindful of how we use things is good for the wallet, the planet, and my delicate constitution! I am slowly getting better through years of consciously working on it, but I always have room for improvement. Now, I see what's in my pantry and under my sink before rushing out the door.

These three steps set the groundwork for all of my savings. I consider buying exactly what I need and getting rewards for it to be the base layer for savings. From here, I use a few more websites to quickly get the most out of my spending.

Step One: No Clip Coupons

I discovered SavingStar.com about a year ago and have never looked back! Savingstar is a really simple website that allows you to register your frequent shopper cards for your favorite stores and automatically reimburses you for buying items on their list. The coupon amount gets added to your account and you can put it in your bank account or redeem it for gift cards. I have never had a problem redeeming my cash. If you find a deal you like, all you have to do is click "I Want This" to have it automatically load to your card. You don't have to print or clip anything! Easy right?

I can use this to buy or substitute anything on my list in just a few minutes and it is next to no work. I love that I don't have to worry about more paper getting lost in my purse, folding over barcodes, or things not scanning properly. Just swipe your card at checkout and bam! Just visit savingstar.com. It's free and takes less than 10 minutes to create your full account. 

Stack Auto-Coupons with Printable Coupons

Reward Sites

Want a big tip? If you use Savingstar, most of those same deals are also offered with extra coupons if you use Swagbucks or Mypoints. Discounts tend to have a schedule and shelf life that makes it easy to stack them, so if you find a deal on Savingstar that you like there is probably another coupon you can use to save even more money. That means you get a double deal without even trying. All you need to do is search the websites to print them out.

What's even better than that? If you redeem coupons using reward sites, they will award you 10 points for every one you use. For example, if I use a $1 coupon I printed from Swagbucks, they also give you 10 cents. That is a total of $1.10 - 10 cents each time!

This is a great deal on some items. When I run out of cereal, I browse around SavingStar to see what is on sale. When I find something I like, I just click a button to load it to my card. Let's say that it's for 50 cents. Then I might go to Swagbucks to see if they have an additional coupon. Look, they do! Maybe this one is for 40 cents, so I quickly print it out. Once redeemed, they award me 10 cents. So my cereal was $1 off without even trying. Then I get rewarded for using my credit card. It doesn't get any easier than that.

Pros: Get good deals quickly.
Cons: No search feature that lets you search to stack coupons.

Find a Coupon Website

If you want to find a coupon website, throw a rock. There are a million out there. My favorite ones are those that also offer other things such as shopping discounts, paid surveys, or paid games. The two that I use are Mypoints.com and Swagbucks. They both have lots of ways to earn and save money. Not to your taste, simply pull up a search engine a do a search for coupon websites. You should be able to find one you like within minutes.

Use Reward Shopping Links

Shop Through the Right Links for More Savings

Want to use another level to stack your savings? Use reward shopping links. There are several ways to do this, but it works best when shopping for retail goods.

Shopping Sites

These websites reward you with points for shopping through the links on their shopping pages. Again, Mypoints and Swagbucks are my go to for this, but another great site it Ebates.com. When I'm prepared to buy something online, I just quickly glance through these sites to see who has a savings link or who offers the most.

Credit Card Rewards Center

Make sure you use a rewards credit card for a start. Also make sure you sign up for the monthly specials attached to that card. Now, for bonus points, see what discounts your credit card company is willing to offer. This is great if you don't feel safe using a shopping site or would like to cash out a rewards bonus for a particular card. Most card companies have a center once you sign in online that shows you what stores they offer the discounts through, so always make sure to check before you check out!

Last Check!

One last thing! Always search online before you buy. There a many websites that only deal with online codes for shopping. Make sure you're not missing a free shipping, BOGO, or free item with purchase offer by checking these sites. Many of them also offer discounts for first time customers so it pays to shop around.

Go All The Way!

Use Your Manufacturer Coupons and Frequent Buyer Cards

If you are a creature of habit, you probably buy the same things week after week. I try to take advantage of this. Businesses are always looking after their bottom line too, and the best way for them to do that is to keep customers happy and recruit more of them. Since everyone is online now, simply go to the manufacturers website and sign up for the newsletters. They often send coupons and alerts right to your inbox. Also, carefully check packaging when you buy these products to make sure you're not throwing anything important away.

Now, if you are like me and tend to rush out the door to get things done then you know it's hard to remember where you put those things! Since I'm known to hurry and can never remember where I've put my own head, I made a specific spot for coupons, reminders, and everything else. I print them out or clip them immediately and then stash them in a dedicated folder in my car. I keep it in my center console so it's out of the way, but always next to me when I'm about to dash into a store. I try to remember to check it one last time before I go and am almost always glad I did.

In the same vein, I also keep all my rewards and frequent shopper cards next to that same folder. I hate when I get into my favorite coffee or sandwich shop where you have to buy 50 to get one free, only to remember that my last 49 punches are on a card hidden behind my desk! As you can see, I have quite a few. And if we're being honest, I have a lot more than the picture shows. Having them with me when I go out has saved me a lot of regret and frustration.

Frugal Finds

Here is a collection of websites that focus on the art of being frugal.

The Dollar Stretcher
The Dollar Stretcher is a site that I have been getting emails from for years. The website is full of reader supplemented tips on easy ways to live more frugally.
Frugal Living @ About.com
Another great reference site for frugal living and how to find great deals.
Fabulously Frugal
Saving money can seem hard since it takes quite a bit of the glamour out of life. This site is great for adding in a little shine by helping you focus on your goals without giving up everything.
Broke Grad Student
While no longer a grad student, this blog offers great stories about the journey to pay off grad school debt and enter the "real world" in all it's costliness.
Man Vs Debt
This is a no-nonsense blog from a straightforward guy who is all about simplifying his life to do what he loves and shedding the financial baggage along the way.

Deal Alert: 100 GB of Onedrive (Skydrive) for $1

If you have joined the Skydrive/Onedrive crowd, you know how useful having your documents, songs, and pictures synced to multiple devices can be. You receive 7 GB upon registration and that has worked well for me when it comes to my school folder. However, I don't have enough space for much else. Enter Bing.

I've been using the Bing Rewards program for several months now. I set my goal for the $5 Swagbucks reward and it takes 475 points for me to redeem it as a Gold Member. This effectively makes less than 100 points on Bing = $1. It's a great deal for anyone who searches a lot, which I do for school and general curiosity.

Now Bing is working with the new Onedrive to offer a rewards opportunity that probably won't last long. Right now, you can redeem 100 points for 100 GB of Onedrive space for an entire year. That same subscription costs $50 a year on the Onedrive website. That's a huge savings on money you earn just for searching! I just snapped up my reward and have been able to load my entire photo album, the rest of my documents, and some music to my Onedrive account.

Sign up for your free Bing Rewards account now to start earning on your web searches and take advantage of this huge deal on Onedrive.