Many years ago, when I changed careers in order to focus the bulk of my time on my kids, and after that when I changed careers again to be able to continue that focus, my income was cut down significantly. I’d say it was cut in half, but that would be generous. As a freelance writer and photographer, my benefits are phenomenal and unable to be matched by any full-time career I could’ve had, but being well-off financially from my income isn’t necessarily one of them. Thankfully, my husband carries our medical benefits, and he and I both agree the most important benefits we could reap would be the ones that we’ve chosen to focus on; that alone was worth the sacrifices we have both chosen to make all along the way.
However, having made these choices along the way doesn’t mean we don’t need ANY money at all, and every little bit more helps us. Therefore, I work pretty hard to be frugal and to save however and wherever I can. I try to also pass along those types of life lessons to my kids as we go along. A few years ago I added couponing to my arsenal of money-saving ways and I’ve seen huge benefits from the time that I’ve put into it, which varies depending on how busy I am at work.
Recently though, I’ve added two new apps to that arsenal as well: Walmart’s Savings Catcher app and the Shopkick app. I’d heard of them both a while back, but sometimes I just can’t add another thing to my head to have to think about, and leading up to the holidays, which is my busiest time at work, is one of those times. After the holidays though, I have more time to think, and when I saw those apps mentioned again, I had the time to ask my nine year-old to help me figure out how they worked, and she did, so now thanks to her, I can save us even more money than before. All of that money saved goes towards providing the kids with the opportunities we are lucky to be able to provide them with because of my freelance schedule, so I feel even better about my work, my focus and my money-saving ways.
As an added benefit, I also feel great that I’m providing my kids with hands-on learning when it comes to teaching them financial literacy. As kids who have to pay their own way for a lot of the “extras” that they want (we fully cover their needs and extra-curricular activities), it’s great to see them thinking frugally as well, finding ways to cut costs and stretch their dollars to the fullest, thanks to what we’re teaching them. My oldest daughter decided a little over a year ago that she “needed” a good camera, as in a really good, expensive camera, the kind I dream of myself. We determined that this was a want, not a need and that if she wanted it, she would have to save for it. Nothing made us more proud of her than the day after Christmas this year when she used her almost two years of savings of hundreds of dollars to purchase a camera worth almost $1000, at a savings of more than half the original price, utilizing a sale, a price-matching policy, and a store rewards card in order to make it happen. The employee in the camera department was stunned when she reached her final price. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said.
She’s only 15. That’s good financial literacy and a great life lesson taught, in my book.
Now, I have my kids hooked on my two new apps, and I’m completely obsessed with the apps myself. The Walmart Savings Catcher app is one in which you do your shopping at Walmart as you normally would. Now I know there are two schools of thought on Walmart: those who shop there and those who refuse to. We shop there, but if you don’t, then you can skip this portion of the post and move on to the Shopkick portion.
To use the Savings Catcher app is very simple. You do your shopping, use whatever coupons you normally would, and then when you are handed your receipt you use your phone to scan the little square at the bottom by using the Savings Catcher app. You have about a week’s time to scan but I try to do mine right away or I’ll forget. Once I get to my car, oftentimes what’s been in my head in the store is now gone and I’m on to the next thing. Once you’ve scanned your receipt, your work is done. You’ll get an email that it’s been received on their end and in a few days’ time you’ll receive another email which will tell you whether or not they’ve found any of the items you purchased at Walmart anywhere else near you for less. If so, you’ll receive that money back in the form of an e-Gift card. In a few days’ time I had accrued almost $10 in money back. So I could shop, use my coupons, not have to run from store to store to get one thing here and one thing there just to get a cheaper price. To use the e-Gift card that has been emailed to you once you say you’re ready to redeem your points, you just have the cashier scan it at the register and it’s applied to your purchases. Or, you can redeem the e-Gift card as an online purchase as well. Easy peasy.
Shopkick is a different sort of app than Walmart, in that you need not purchase anything at all to earn money. You just need to walk into a store. Sometimes you need only drive by the entrance of the store. And if you’d like to take it one step further you can use your phone to scan some UPC codes on some items they’re asking you to scan. If you’d really like to bulk up your points, you can make your usual purchases and if that store gives points for purchases, you’ve earned them.
Let me explain further: Last week was our school vacation week. We had no significant plans. Everyone had a sleepover somewhere. Everyone had a dentist appointment. We did a day of community service. It snowed. Again. That was it. Nothing huge going on here. So I downloaded the Shopkick app. It said that if I went to my local mall there were four or five stores there that gave “walk in” points. And points for scanning. Some gave points for purchases but I wasn’t buying anything. But, we had no big plans so we took our phones, walked around the mall, in and out of stores and earned points. We scanned a few things here and there for extra points. In two days’ time I had over 1000 points. I bought my kids a donut one day and we ate out at the food court another day. Big deals for us, since I usually say “no” to both those things, but it was vacation week and if that was the extent of our day, I could handle it.
What do you do with your points? It’s up to you. You can redeem them for hundreds of items. I found a great blog post that lists all the things you can redeem your points for and how many points you need. I’m up to 2400 points and I haven’t had the app a week yet. I had my daughter download the app on her phone and told her she could spend her points however she wanted. She’s set a goal to earn a gift card at American Eagle since she’s always wanted to shop there and we never have. I had my husband drive me through the parking lot of the mall on our way out this weekend, just so he and I could earn the points at one of the stores where the app reaches out into the parking lot (and into the food court, we discovered as well) so I actually didn’t even have to walk in to get the walk in points. We went to Best Buy to pick something up we’d ordered and earned 80 points each just for walking in. The stores we utilize regularly are on the app. As we did our payday shopping this week at places like BJ’s, Walmart and Target, we got points just for walking through the door. If we chose to scan (which we did), we earned more.
Combining all kinds of rewards you can earn money and points literally coming and going. I earn money back at Walmart with their app when I leave, and I used my coupons at the register to save $9.00 right away, and I used Shopkick going in. Same thing at Best Buy. I receive their store’s loyalty points for my purchases and I earned points for going in on Shopkick also. If my purchases meet the Shopkick app requirements (I think it had to be $50 or more which it wasn’t) I’d earn more points on that app too.
I’m going to wait and see just how long I can stand to let my points add up before I turn them in on Shopkick, and I’m starting fresh again with my Savings Catcher app points now that I used my gift card last week, but I’m pleased with the savings I’ve seen already and I’m pleased with the lessons I’m instilling in my kids early on. If there’s free money to be had out there, it’s important to teach them to find it and to use their resources wisely. It’s a good habit to start them on at a young age. I know my daughters are always proud when they’ve bought something they had to save for, but I know they’re even more proud when they know they saved a good amount of money using a coupon or a sale. Using a money-saving app when they’re old enough to have a phone of their own will feel good also.