About a week ago, my wife said (paraphrased), “We use a ton of websites to save ourselves a lot of money directly. Why don’t you write about those? You could just keep track of what sites you visit to save money over a week, how much they save, and whether or not this pays for our internet connection?”
A great idea. So that’s just what I did. Here are seven websites I used to directly save money over the last week, my exact purchases and savings, and how much cash they saved me. I’m not including banking or investing sites here – just sites I use to literally spend less money.
PaperBackSwap is arguably our biggest regular saver (and one I’ve waxed ecstatic about on The Simple Dollar before). My wife and I both spend multiple hours a day reading – it’s our most constant hobby – but between the library, PaperBackSwap, and my wife’s use of ManyBooks.net on her Kindle, we basically haven’t bought a book in ages.
In a nutshell, PaperBackSwap works like this: you sign up, list ten books you’re willing to trade by mail, and the site gives you two credits. A book costs one credit – you “spend” one of those credits on the site to get any book they have listed sent to you. Every time you send a book to someone else, you get a credit.
Here are the books I’ve requested in the past week from PaperBackSwap (and a nice peek into my current literary tastes):
We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
The Human Stain by Philip Roth
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
… and I also ordered The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion to be shipped to my mother, but I won’t count that one.
Assuming each used book is worth $2, that means I’ve saved $12 this week because of PaperBackSwap. While this isn’t entirely, perfectly accurate (I likely would have used the library and gotten other books), these books are now mine for as long as I like and I can mark up the margins and such as much as I want (which I often do if I’m really trying to understand a book).
While I love using PaperBackSwap and SwapADVD (below) for trading books and DVDs, respectively, there’s really no similar service for video games. At the same time, I like to play a wide variety of games for my Wii and for my Nintendo DS, particularly interesting puzzle games that make me think. Most games, though, intrigue me for a while, then I grow bored with them, so unsurprisingly, I want to trade them off. I used to take them to used game sellers, but I’ve started using SwapTree.com instead.
SwapTree is sort of like PaperBackSwap in that you’re swapping items online. The only catch is that it actually forces you into a direct one-on-one trade. If you list an item, someone else must have it already on their wishlist in order for you to trade it. There’s no way to get rid of a lot of stuff you don’t want (like when you clean out your book collection) and build up credit on there. You have to want something right now.
As a result, I prefer other services for trading some things, but this service works really well for video games.
In just the last week, I traded Resident Evil 4 (a shooting game that bored me to death) for Zack and Wiki (an adventure/puzzle game in the Monkey Island/King’s Quest mold). In essence, this was a free game. If I had bought it used (and traded in RE 4), it probably would have cost me $5-10, so in that respect, SwapTree saved me about $7.50 (or so).
The FatWallet.com Forums are the best place to keep an eye out for extraordinary tech deals. If you need a particular piece of computer hardware, be patient and keep an eye on these forums. A friend of mine picked up an ultra-portable 7″ laptop with solid state storage and ridiculous battery life (7 or 8 hours) for $299.
My story from the last week? The MicroSD card in my phone stopped working, meaning I couldn’t store many pictures at all on my cell phone. So I wanted an ultra-cheap MicroSD card to replace it, preferably one at least a gigabyte in size. Bingo. I saved $3 from about two minutes of web surfing.
If I go on a book tour (a possibility), I might also go for one of those ultra-small ultra-light laptops just for writing while on the road. Guess where I’ll be watching for the right deal on it?
Coupons.com is the site my wife and I use most frequently for coupons. My wife is actually the maven here, more than I am – she searches the site a couple times a week for coupons, particularly for ones that match our upcoming shopping list. For example, she found a $3 off Pert Plus coupon that we used to replace the shampoo and conditioner in our downstairs shower (the one that guests use) – it was free after the coupon.
At Coupons.com, things are pretty straightforward. It’s basically like going through one of those Sunday newspaper flyers online, except you just mark the ones you want and at the end you click on a “print” button and the ones you selected pop right out of your printer, easy as pie. We find it useful to use it after we’ve got our shopping list ready to go so we can find coupons that match it.
I tried to keep track of the Coupons.com coupons we used in the past week and came up with a total of $7 saved – two instances of the Pert Plus coupon, and two $0.50 savings on yogurt.
SwapADVD is a sister service to PaperBackSwap where you can trade DVDs by mail. When you sign up, you just list ten DVDs you own that you’re willing to trade and the site gives you a credit, which you can use to request any DVD on their site. Whenever someone requests one of your DVDs, mail it out, and when they receive it, you get another credit. You can list as many DVDs as you want. My DVD collection is tiny, so I’ve never sent out a DVD via SwapADVD (yet – I have several I intend to swap soon) – instead, you can actually transfer extra credits from PaperBackSwap into SwapADVD (and since I’ve shipped out quite a few books via PaperBackSwap, I just pulled some of those credits into SwapADVD). I prefer it to Netflix simply because there’s no monthly fee at all. Once you have the DVD, just hold onto it as long as you want with no cost, then when you finally do watch it, just trade it again.
Anyway, over the last week, I’ve requested Road to Perdition, Adaptation, Thank You for Smoking, and Crash, just so that we have a few new interesting films to watch on those rare evenings when the kids go to bed early and we want to cuddle up with a glass of wine and a good movie.
Assuming a used DVD is worth $3, that means SwapADVD saved us $12 in the past week.
Home Depot’s Home How-To Site
I’m absolutely atrocious at home improvement tasks, but we’ve been wanting to install a ceiling fan in both my office and in the kids’ bedroom. I’ve been really hesitant to work on the project and wanted to hire someone to do it (if you’ll remember, I was trying to talk myself into it just a little over a week ago), but I finally bucked down and went for it, using their wonderful guide to installing a ceiling fan, including an excellent summary video. This guide directly saved me the cost of hiring someone to do it – $40 or so, perhaps.
Home Depot’s Know How section is excellent. There are useful guides on all sorts of projects, and I’m trying to build up the courage to use it to replace a toilet. Almost always, I’m glad I’ve done it myself afterwards, but I have a lot of apprehension about it beforehand – guides like these help push me towards the goal.
Upcoming Events Calendars
My family and I are constantly on the lookout for interesting things to do that get us out and about in the community (and in neighboring ones), enjoying new things, meeting new people, and so on. The problem is finding interesting ones – it’s easy to go to places that are expensive and have fun, but there’s always free stuff going on.
That’s why we hit the community calendars of several area communities to see what’s going on, particularly the Ames, Iowa and Ankeny, Iowa ones, along with a huge number of community calendars for small towns in Story, Polk, Marshall, Boone, Jasper, and Dallas Counties. We’ll even go further for interesting stuff, such as Pella’s Tulip Festival in the spring.
Community events provide a great deal of our entertainment. Let’s assume each community event saves us $5 as a family if we choose to do that instead of something else. In the last week, community calendars saved us $20 – it pointed us to a free public fireworks display on the 4th, towards a farmers’ market, towards a cultural festival in a nearby small town, and towards a free concert, too.
Find and bookmark some community calendars near you and check them out when you’re planning your weekend. You might just find some interesting stuff free in the community.
Totaling It Up
Let’s look at the total savings!
FatWallet.com Forums: $3
Home Depot: $40
Community calendars: $20
We used the web to directly save $101.50 in the past week in free (or vastly reduced) entertainment, coupons, and home improvement tasks. This easily pays for the cost we put into it.
What about that time investment? Our time investment for this stuff is surprisingly small. We have all of these sites bookmarked and we only use them when we have a specific purpose in mind (“How do I fix that leaky toilet? I need to replace that SD card! My bookshelf is getting thin! Is there anything interesting to do Sunday afternoon?). When you know what you’re going in for, it doesn’t take long at all – just a moment or two, and it’s certainly quicker than doing the equivalent things offline.
Give some of these services a try – I hope you’ll find them as useful (and cost-saving) as we do.