Updated on 07.31.10

Review: Point, Click, and Save

Trent Hamm

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book or other book of interest.

point click and saveMashupMom.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.

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  1. mo says:

    Just started using a local (Mpls) site, pocketyourdollars. Like this book is talking about. True it’s only been 3 weeks, but I’m loving this.

    Before: I hated going to the grocery store, knowing I was spending too much, could be getting a better deal etc.
    After: Really enjoy going and knowing what I’m buying is the best price possible.

    Before: Never had any “extra” food in the house.
    After: Am starting to accumulate some basic things I know we will use. You are very right, if you don’t need it, complete waste of $$$, even if it is a good deal.

    Before: Hardly ever tried new products, didn’t want to “waste” money, if I wasn’t SURE it would be what I liked.
    After: With sales and coupons, new products can cost just a dollar, or free sometimes. Example, a good razor, been buying dollar store, awful razors, I think this is what I actually started this for! To be able to buy a 4 blade smooth shaving razor.

    I just love when she, the site “owner”? says things like “stock up on these” this is a rock bottom price or “these usually are less” etc.
    Very helpful.
    She does most of the work, matching sales and coupons for me.

    Thanks for all your help too, been reading your site for a couple of years. You got me starting to reuse the plastic bags, I double wrap food to put in the freezer. Stays better, doesn’t get those ice crystal things, and taste wierd. Just rinse them out. I actually keep a stash of the reused ones in the freezer.
    Just one of many of your ideas I have used.
    Thanks again.

  2. Sounds like it would be a great read for someone looking to get into this game–but I would also caution against what the reviewer already does.

    This world can suck you into buying a bunch of stuff you don’t need if you’re not careful.

    There is nothing frugal about getting a great deal on an item if its an item you never would have bought in the first place.

  3. Bree says:

    I agree that even if you are frugal by nature it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of a good deal. I started couponing recently and I eventually had to sit down and make a list of things that I would stock up on at a good price (paper products, soap, dry goods, etc) and at what price. The list helps me to remind myself of why I am doing this in the first place.

  4. WendyH says:

    I do a ton of reading/research online and do a lot of organizing and planning. 5dollardinners is a good resource for grocery shopping/menu planning templates, I’ve taken this as an example and made a grocery list template in order of my store’s layout (Cub typically has store maps available)

    I just rarely purchase anything online, regardless of how much I can “save”. I am more interested in keeping my money local than getting a “good deal” in most cases. I also don’t think it’s ethical to go and try on sized items, then order online from a different company because they are cheaper.

    I find that for grocery/household items a price book works better in my situation to track sales and store coupons (you can view store fliers online, then pick up at the store). I find limited use for manufacturer’s coupons because it’s just 2 adults, and we don’t eat a lot of the packaged food that most coupons are for (probably less than 1 out of 20 coupons is for something I’d consider purchasing).

    @ Mo – PYD is a good site for anyone in the Twin Cities shopping area. Another good resource is Fare for All, a cooperative food purchase program run through the food shelves (no income restrictions, anyone can purchase). I believe they have programs throughout Minnesota.

  5. Brittany says:

    Please stop mentioning freecycle as merely a place you can get things. It goes both ways. If you aren’t willing to give on freecycle (or post on your blog that people should donate to freecycle), then don’t take (or advocate taking). As a regular reader, I’ve read at least a dozen articles about taking from freecycling and about a dozen more where giving would have been appropriately mentioned but wasn’t. Frugality is about effective management of your resources, not taking advantage of the generosity of others without ever giving back. You’re disappointing me in this department, Trent.

  6. Leslie says:

    I am a regular reader of Rachel’s site. I like her style of writing… fun, upbeat, but with just the right amount of “cheekiness” (as you put it) thrown in. I keep coming back to her site even though most of the stores she focuses on aren’t in my area (she focuses on Illinois chains and I’m in Alabama). I adore that she doesn’t take herself too seriously all the time. Reading her posts has helped me think outside the box on some of my grocery shopping.

    I agree that sometimes these types of sites can make you buy stuff you don’t need, and that can definitely be a drawback… UNLESS you have a plan for those items. I think a plan and control are key. Donations are a great way to get rid of those things you pick up for free, knowing you won’t use them. I keep a separate box strictly for those items that are actually free, but I know I won’t use. My daughter always has a full bag of groceries to take for school food drives and we are able to donate to local food banks and humane society shelters.

    My current financial situation limits what I can actually give in dollars, and I’ve never been able to give as freely as I’d like, but I can take a few extra moments to clip those coupons and give “free” items to those organizations that serve those that truly need it.

  7. Lynn says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with coupons. I’m not sure if they’re an exasperating way of getting a bargain or a tool of the devil. Down here in Australia, there is no such thing as a coupon and I sort of miss them. But I am also of the mindset that everybody should get the same price – I get rewarded by going to the correct store, not by buying the right paper or many papers.

    Our two major grocery stores here advertise in the same paper and have different items on sale…I could choose to go to either store to get my deal…I don’t have to bring in a piece of paper to get the deal.

    So I guess I’m still ambivalent about the mighty coupon.

  8. Christy says:

    Gordon probably mentions this in the book, but another tip for online savings is to search for whatever store you’re shopping at and “coupon code” or “promotion code”. (like “Lands End coupon code”), I have saved lots of money this way.

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