Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.
MashupMom.com is one of the better coupon and sale aggregating blogs out there (meaning that most of the content posted is either sales at various stores or coupons for various products). I have mixed feelings about such sites. On the one hand, I do appreciate that they’re showing readers ways to save money. On the other hand, I know from personal experience that without a good financial backbone, coupons and sales become just a way to acquire even more stuff and put yourself in an equally bad (or arguably worse) position than you were before.
Those same caveats came to mind when I read Mashup Mom’s (actually Rachel Singer Gordon) book Point, Click, and Save. The book is absolutely loaded with fantastic ideas for saving money online… but the vast majority of those tips merely reduce the price of things people don’t necessarily need. In other words, this book can save you a lot of money if you use it in a reasonable way (seeking out ways to save money on things that you’ve already decided that you want), but it can also just cause you to accumulate more stuff and not save any money at all (if you’re the type of person who will buy four more sweaters because they’re 50% off today).
Let’s dig in and peek at some of the advice on offer.
1 | Let’s Get Started
This opening chapter largely outlines the points I make above. In short, the advice in this book works best when used in the context of a larger strategy of spending less than you earn and building towards bigger goals in life. In other words, these tactics won’t help you get ahead if you merely use them as a tool in a never-ending race to acquire more and more stuff. While this chapter is far from a personal finance guide, it does make clear that these tips alone won’t make you rich or even save you money if they’re not used with sense and restraint.
2 | Change the Way You Shop
Here, Gordon talks about some of the basic tactics for more financially effective shopping: stocking up on non-perishables when they’re on sale, making meal plans and shopping lists, using coupons, signing up for customer rewards programs, and so forth. The real secret, though, is just one word: planning. The more forethought you put into your shopping, the less you’ll spend for what you need.
3 | Get Connected Online
Gordon mostly just lists a ton of websites where you can seek out deals, coupons, freebies, work-at-home opportunities and such – in other words, sites that mostly just list such opportunities. These are great resources to start with, particularly if you’re looking for something specific. (I usually find it’s a bad idea to go rummaging through such deal sites if you don’t have something specific in mind that you’re looking for, because the bargains can tempt you into buying something unnecessary).
4 | Get in the Game
This chapter explains how exactly to go about hunting down deep discounts on the staples you already buy – and then, of course, stocking up on those items once you find the discounts. The trick usually involves “stacking” – holding onto coupons, then waiting until a local store offers a great discount on the item. This requires some time – you not only have to keep track of coupons, you also have to keep track of store flyers and cross-match them. However, the rewards can be tremendous, such as getting 20 bars of soap for free (I did this once, stacking a Lever 2000 coupon with a huge sale at a CVS a couple years ago). Just stick items like that in your closet and use them up over time.
5 | Get It Online
Here, Gordon summarizes the many, many ways you can save money using the internet, from simply shopping for bargains to using it to replace your CD collection (using free internet radio) or your cable box (using sites like Hulu). There are many, many wonderful free services out there, from photo organizers (I love Flickr) to word processing programs (I love Google Docs).
6 | Fantastic Freebies
I generally don’t use freebie sites because, frankly, most of the freebies are things that I have no interest in having at all – and it’s not worth the time for me to hunt down the one or two freebies out of hundreds that I might be interested in. However, Gordon does mention my favorite site for free things of all – Freecycle. I often browse the listings here because every once in a while, someone gives something amazing away on here simply because they can’t use it.
7 | Make Money at Home
Just as there are countless ways to save money online, there are countless ways to earn a little, too. Gordon outlines a lot of these, but they all have the same thing in common: if you just dabble with them, you won’t earn much, and you’ll never earn a good rate with some of them no matter how much time you put into them. I know of people who have done quite well, though, capitalizing on skills they already have and selling them online, like a few people who sell lots of handmade goods via Etsy.
8 | Make Bonus Income with Your Online Activities
This is more or less an extension of the previous chapter, except here Gordon focuses on things where companies are paying you to gather data, like taking surveys or using a search engine that monitors what you’re doing for marketing data. Some of these things require little effort, but they earn very, very little and for me, the privacy concerns of many of these things outweigh what you might earn. Still, for some, this is another avenue of putting a bit more change in your pocket.
9 | Organization, Balance, and Planning
Here, Gordon moves back towards general personal finance advice, discussing some of the online options for saving and managing your money, like online banks (ING Direct and SmartyPig, both of which I use, are mentioned) and other money management tools. She also encourages people to get involved reading personal finance blogs (The Simple Dollar is mentioned) and get a grip on their overall money picture, which is really key.
Is Point, Click, and Save Worth Reading?
This book does exactly what it promises: it outlines ways to save money on purchases online and make a bit of income online as well. It’s written in an upbeat (and a bit cheeky) tone that made for enjoyable, light reading.
Is it worth reading? It mostly comes down to a question of whether you’re already adept online or not. If you’ve already got a good familiarity with online shopping sites and can comparison shop easily online, this book won’t offer a lot for you.
But it’s perfect as a book. The obvious audience for this book are the people who aren’t as adept on the web, who don’t use it as a tool for comparison shopping. Those are the people who are well-served by reading this book, and I highly recommend it to them.
Just be sure you don’t use the tips to buy mountains of stuff you don’t really need.