4 Best Coupon Matchup Sites for Groceries – Our Real-World Test

Every time I read a blog about extreme couponing, I’m in awe at the author’s grocery shopping skills. By stacking (combining) coupons with sales, these super-shoppers save over 50% on every product they buy. But when I try to copy their strategies, I just can’t find that many deals — even after hours of cross-checking coupon inserts against my local supermarkets’ sale flyers.

But there are couponing sites that promise to make it easier to save money with stacking deals. Their staff members do the work of matching sales with coupons so you don’t have to. But can these sites really find the kinds of deals you can’t unearth on your own?

To find out, I did a head-to-head test to see which coupon sites could find the best savings on a basket of groceries at local supermarkets. Comparison points included features, accuracy, and ease of use to discover which coupon matchup site is the best of the bunch.

Pro Tip: Before you head to the grocery store, download the Fetch Rewards app. With Fetch Rewards, you can scan your grocery receipts and earn points you can redeem for gift cards to your favorite stores. For more information, see our Fetch Rewards review.

Best Coupon Matchup Sites Test

To be included in the test, sites had to be able to do all of the following:

  • Find Stacking Deals. Each of these sites does one particular thing: match grocery coupons with sales. There are no other sites related to couponing, including coupon-clipping services, price-comparison sites, and printable coupon sites like Coupons.com.
  • Search Multiple Stores. Coupon matchup sites are the most valuable when they can find the best deals across all the supermarkets in a given area. So sites that focus on one particular store, such as I Heart Publix, didn’t make the cut.
  • Include Stores in My Area. I wanted to be able to check out the deals I found personally, comparing them to the store flyers and, if possible, to the prices in the store itself. Since I live in the northeast, I had to rule out the popular Southern Savers, which specifically looks for deals in the southern United States.
  • Are Still in Business. Surprisingly, one of the best-known coupon matchup sites, The Grocery Game, shut down in 2016. However, posts on social media complaining about this site’s disappearance led to the discovery of a couple of other sites that do the same job.

After some fairly extensive searching, four sites met all the criteria. To conduct the test, I visited each site and searched for stacking deals on five items I regularly buy: breakfast cereal, orange juice, canned soup, my favorite conditioner, and oxygen bleach. Note that coupons for fresh foods, such as produce or eggs, are rare.

I checked each site’s deals against my piles of supermarket sale flyers and coupon inserts to ensure they were legitimate. Then I rated each site on a 5-point scale for three factors:

  • How easy it was to search
  • How accurate its deals were
  • How much savings they offered

Finally, I averaged these scores to come up with a total score. So, which coupon matchup site came out on top?

1. CouponMom.com

There’s a lot going on at CouponMom.com. This free site has an extensive database of printable coupons from various sources and multiple tools to search for stacking deals. You can look for grocery, drugstore, state-specific, store-specific, and product-specific deals.

Ease of Use

The landing page for CouponMom.com is pretty cluttered, with moving ads, pointers to specific deals, and search boxes. Amid all this chaos, it’s hard to figure out where to go first. Since I was looking for five particular products, I started with the box labeled “Search Deals,” where you can search for a product by name.

I typed in the first item on my list, cereal, and got a list of dozens of cereal deals at different stores nationwide. But when I started clicking to see details, I found that most of these were cash-back deals from Ibotta. There was no clear way to weed these out and see only deals that required nothing but the store loyalty card and a coupon.

So instead, I went to “grocery deals by state,” selected “New Jersey,” and clicked the deal pages for specific stores in my area. I had to sign in to an account to view those, but setting one up was free and took only a few seconds.

The links for Aldi and Stop & Shop did nothing but display my local stores’ sale flyers. But the page for ShopRite was much better. It presented a list of products with columns for the sale price, how many I’d have to buy, available coupons and rebates, final price, and percentage saved.

The column showing the available manufacturer coupons used a somewhat confusing shorthand. The site provided a key for some of the abbreviations, such as “S” for SmartSource and “RP” for Red Plum, but it didn’t explain others, such as “SV.” On the plus side, CouponMom.com provided direct links to all the printable online coupons it found, which was handy.

I was then able to sort the list using a keyword box at the top. I entered each of the products from my shopping list in turn to see available deals. That part was easy, but it didn’t make up for the inconvenience of only being able to view actual deals for one store.

Ease-of-Use Score: 2 out of 5

Accuracy

When I checked the sale prices CouponMom.com listed against the store circulars, they were mostly correct. But one of the four wasn’t in the flyer. The only way to check its accuracy would be to make a trip to the store, an extra step coupon matchup sites are supposed to help you avoid.

As for the accuracy of the coupons themselves, there was only one to check. It was right in the SmartSource flyer where CouponMom.com said it would be, but getting a single coupon right isn’t much of a test. So this site loses one point on accuracy for giving me so little to work with.

Accuracy Score: 4 out of 5

Value

CouponMom.com could only find deals on one of my five test products (cereal) and only at one store. Moreover, one of the four deals it found wasn’t a stacking deal, just a sale price I could have found on my own by leafing through the store flyer. Two of the others were Ibotta deals, leaving only one that was useful.

That deal was $3.89 each for two family-size (16.9- to 19.1-ounce) boxes of Kellogg’s Special K cereal. Combined with a printable coupon for $1 off two, that yields a purchase price of $3.36. That works out to a unit price between $0.18 and $0.20 per ounce, much more than I typically pay by shopping sales and buying store brands.

To me, that doesn’t look much like extreme couponing. At best, it’s mild to moderate couponing.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.3 out of 5


2. GrocerySmarts.com

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com has two primary features: printable coupons and searchable deals. For some reason, it sorts its coupons into four groups, with different brands in each group. Fortunately, the site helps by providing a list of the latest coupons from the past 10 days or so and telling you where to click to find each one.

Ease of Use

Searching for deals at GrocerySmarts.com was pretty simple. First, I clicked on the drop-down menu at the top of the page and asked to see deals in New Jersey. The site then displayed a second drop-down menu with a list of stores to choose from.

Unfortunately, this list didn’t include any of the supermarkets where I usually shop. The only stores on the list were CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. Also, I had to view deals from each of these stores separately rather than looking at them all on one page. That cost the site 1 point on its ease-of-use rating.

On each store’s page, I used the search feature on my browser to look for the merchandise on my list. But I ran into a snag. It lists some cereals, such as Cheerios, by brand name only and doesn’t include the word “cereal.” I had to scan the whole list to ensure I was seeing all the cereal deals.

GrocerySmarts.com presents its deals for each store in one long list. There’s one column for the product, one for the sale price, one for the applicable coupon (if any), and one for the final price. Instead of showing the savings percentage, GrocerySmarts.com simply rates each deal as 3 stars, 4 stars, extreme, or free.

The list also tells you where to find the coupons you need for a given deal. If there’s a printable coupon, the site includes a link to it. It also shows which goods qualify for Ibotta deals and provides links to those.

If the coupon is in a newspaper insert, the site identifies the insert with an abbreviation similar to the ones used on CouponMom.com and the date. If there’s more than one available coupon for the same product, the site lists it multiple times.

To use the site to create a shopping list for a given store, click the Start button at the top of the page. Click to highlight the specific deals you want, then click on Shrink to hide all the lines you didn’t select. You can click the star at the top to quickly highlight all extreme and free deals. There’s also a field at the bottom to jot notes on your shopping list before printing it.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com couldn’t find deals on anything but cereal, and most of them were Ibotta rebates. The only deal that I could use was at CVS. It relied on a SmartSource coupon for $1.25 off three boxes of Life, Cap’n Crunch, or Quaker Oatmeal Squares. This coupon was correctly labeled and identified.

But the site’s description of the sale wasn’t quite accurate. It said the only brand on sale at CVS was Cap’n Crunch at $1.99 a box. But when I checked the CVS sale flyer, I found it applied to Life and Quaker Oatmeal Squares as well.

If I’d simply relied on GrocerySmarts.com for my info, I might have rejected this deal altogether since Cap’n Crunch isn’t a cereal we like.

So even though the sale price, coupon, and math were all accurate, this site loses a point for its inaccurate description. And it loses a second point for giving me so little to go on in the first place.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

I docked GrocerySmarts.com 3 points for value because it could only find deals on one of the five products on my list. Also, because it searches so few stores, the deals it did find weren’t at the stores where I usually shop.

The final cereal price it found was $1.57 per box for three 12.5- to 14-ounce boxes. That works out to between $0.11 and $0.13 per ounce. It’s a better price than CouponMom.com’s but no better than the usual price for the store brand. That cost the site one more point on value, resulting in a weak final score.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


3. The Krazy Coupon Lady

When you visit The Krazy Coupon Lady (KCL), you see updates on the latest hot deals at all kinds of stores. In addition to supermarkets and drugstores, this site covers department stores, restaurants, specialty stores, and even online deals at Amazon.

KCL provides lots of details about these featured deals, including photos and a couple of paragraphs of text. From the main page, you can also link to coupons and deals sorted by brand or store. Under “Couponing Resources” at the bottom, there are general guides to couponing and guides for specific stores.

Ease of Use

The primary way to search for deals on KCL is by store. You select a specific store from the main page, then click on the weekly coupon deals box (the first available box on the page under the app banner) to see a list of the latest deals from that store. You can then use your browser’s page search feature (control or command plus F) to look for individual products you want.

But weekly deals aren’t available for all stores. For instance, when I clicked on Stop & Shop, the last update was over two months old. The page for Trader Joe’s simply said, “There are currently no active deals.” (Since then, both these stores have disappeared from the site entirely.) And the page for Rite Aid showed one recent deal but no weekly list. I docked the site one point for this.

The weekly deals list includes details about each offer. It shows the sale price and provides links to printable coupons, downloadable store coupons, and Ibotta deals. A few of its deals also include manufacturer coupons from SmartSource, which are marked with the abbreviation “SS.” I couldn’t find any deals using coupons from Red Plum.

The site includes check boxes next to each listed item. You can click these boxes to add a product to your shopping list, but it’s not immediately obvious where that list is stored. I eventually found out you have to click your profile picture in the top right corner to access it.

But there’s a notification on the site saying this feature will soon be available only in the KCL app. That takes a lot of the functionality out of the website, costing it one more point.

Ease-of-Use Score: 3 out of 5

Accuracy

After checking KCL’s pages for all my local stores, I couldn’t find a single deal on any of the products on my grocery list. So to test the site’s accuracy, I simply searched for the “SS” abbreviation and checked the coupons it listed against my SmartSource insert.

Some of the coupons KCL identified were real. It correctly located manufacturer coupons for Eggland’s Best eggs in the May 2 insert and Nivea lotion in the May 16 insert. But it also cited two other coupons in the May 16 insert that I couldn’t find.

In short, KCL got only two out of four manufacturer coupons right, for an accuracy rate of just 50%. But when I checked some of its links to digital store coupons on the ShopRite site, they were all accurate. That bumped its score up from 2.5 points to 3.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

This one was an easy call. KCL didn’t find me a single deal I could use — not even those other sites identified. That makes it a dead loss as far as value is concerned, so it earned no points.

Value Score: 0 out of 5

Overall Score: 2 out of 5


4. Living Rich With Coupons

Like KCL, Living Rich With Coupons (LRWC) displays a long list of recent deals on its main page. It includes offers from a wide variety of stores, including supermarkets, department stores, and online retailers. There are links at the top of the page for categories including coupons, online deals, and stores.

Ease of Use

This site allows you to search for deals in several ways. If you click the Filter by State drop-down on the landing page and select the name of your state, LRWC filters its long list of deals to include only those available in your area. But this option is only available for nine states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Alternatively, you can also click on Stores in the main navigation and select a store to see a list of that store’s weekly sale prices, including coupons you can stack with them. The site has deals for national big-box stores Target and Walmart, warehouse stores Costco and BJ’s, dollar stores, drugstores, and regional grocery chains like ShopRite and Kroger.

To find deals on a specific product, such as cereal, you can click on the site’s Grocery Price Comparison Tool and enter the product name in the search box. The site pulls up a list of all the stores that have deals on that item, and you click on the names of the stores you want to search.

LRWC then presents you with a list of all the stacking deals on that product sorted by the stores you selected. For every sale, it includes a lengthy list of all possible coupons that could stack with it. The site provides direct links to printable online coupons. For coupons inserts, it lists the flyer, the date, and the coupon’s expiration date, a handy feature most coupon sites don’t have.

But I noticed one odd quirk in LRWC’s list. It didn’t provide the actual sale prices for every store in its list. For instance, it said CVS had a BOGO (buy-one, get-one-free) deal on raisin bran, but it didn’t say what the regular price was.

Even when it did list the sale price, LRWC didn’t always crunch the numbers to tell you what the purchase price was after stacking the sale with a coupon. These problems cost the site 1 point for ease of use.

When you click an item in the Grocery Price Comparison Tool, the site adds it to your saved shopping list, shown on the right side of the screen. Clicking the print or email icon pulls the list up in a separate window. For each deal on the list, LRWC shows the store, the product, the sale price, how many you must buy to get that price, and all possible coupons to pair with the sale.

You can edit the list before printing or emailing it to yourself. You can remove items you don’t want to see, such as coupons you don’t intend to use, or change the quantity of a product you want to buy. You can also manually add goods you didn’t find deals on, with or without custom notes.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

LRWC found deals for all five of the products on my shopping list. Its best cereal deal was from Stop & Shop: Kellogg’s cereals for $1.50 per box, which could stack with any of nine different coupons.

However, there was a problem with the deal. According to the Stop & Shop sale flyer, the price was only good for three days, Friday through Sunday. By the time I ran my test, it had already expired. LRWC neglected to mention that detail, costing it one point for accuracy.

LWRC also listed sales on Kellogg’s cereal at several other stores. But for some reason, it didn’t match them with the same list of coupons it had found for Stop & Shop, even though they would clearly work. This oversight cost it one more point.

In a few cases, LWRC found deals I couldn’t verify. Some were allegedly “unadvertised” sales, so I had no way of checking them without going to the store. I didn’t add or take off points for these.

However, other deals were clearly wrong. For instance, LWRC claimed ShopRite was selling Campbell’s Slow Kettle Soups for $1.99, but that price was not in the sale flyer. That could have been the regular price, but LWRC also paired it with a digital store coupon I couldn’t find on the store site. That cost it another point.

All the other sale prices LRWC found seemed to be accurate. But while checking them, I noticed there were other deals it missed. For instance, it said I could buy Florida’s Natural orange juice for $2.99 at ShopRite, then add a coupon for $0.98 off two to bring the price down to $2.50. But it didn’t notice the same store had larger cartons of Minute Maid OJ for just $1.88.

Also, in some cases, LRWC’s math was wrong. For instance, it said a sale of $1.88 per box on Quaker cereals paired with a coupon for $1.25 off three boxes would yield a purchase price “as low as $1.55 each.” In fact, the purchase price with this coupon is $1.46 per box. I knocked off one more point for this.

As for the coupons, all the printable ones I checked seemed to work. The one coupon that came from SmartSource was also accurate. A few were from a flyer labeled only as “Save,” an abbreviation I couldn’t identify, so I don’t know whether these coupons were accurate or not.

Accuracy Score: 1 out of 5

Value

Of all the sites I tested, LRWC was the only one to find deals for all the items on my list. Unfortunately, not all the deals it found were legit, and it missed some that were.

For instance, if LRWC had paired the $1.88-per-box sale on cereal at Walgreens with the $1-off-two coupon it found at Stop & Shop, it could have given me a purchase price of $1.38 per box. Since the sale covered boxes up to 13.7 ounces, that would have come to a great price of around $0.10 per ounce. But LRWC missed that deal, so it gets no credit for it.

The prices it actually found were:

  • Cereal: $1.46 per 11.5- to 14.5-ounce box ($0.10 to $0.13 per ounce)
  • Orange Juice: $2.50 per 52-ounce carton ($0.05 per ounce); missed a better deal of $1.88 for 59 ounces ($0.03 per ounce)
  • Oxygen Bleach: $4.99 for a 48-ounce container ($0.10 per ounce)

Out of the five sites I tested, LWRC found me the best price on cereal. Its price for oxygen bleach is also pretty good. However, its OJ deal is lackluster, and it missed a better one I could have found just by checking the sale flyer.

Value Score: 3 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


Final Word

Of the four sites tested, GrocerySmarts.com and Living Rich With Coupons tied for the best overall score. Both were easy to use, but GrocerySmarts.com was more accurate, while LWRC found better deals overall.

But neither of these sites was the perfect coupon-stacking resource I was hoping to find. In most cases, the stacking deals they uncovered were no better than the prices I usually get on my own without coupons.

Of course, what works for me isn’t necessarily what will work for you. If your local stores have better sales than mine or if you regularly buy more products you can find coupons for, these coupon sites could save you some significant money. Just double-check all the deals you find to make sure they’re legit.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll stick to other methods for saving money on groceries. Between my grocery price book, store loyalty cards, and buying store brands (especially at discount stores like Aldi), I think I can find prices good enough to give the extreme couponers a run for their money.

Source: moneycrashers.com

How to Track Your Small-Business Expenses for Tax Deductions

As a small business or startup, keeping track of your expenses is essential. Come tax time, your business-related purchases qualify as tax deductions, reducing the total amount you owe on your return — but only if you’ve kept a record of them.

Thankfully, there are a variety of expense tracking options for you to choose from, whether you’re interested in accounting software or prefer to go the manual route.

What is Small-Business Expense Tracking?

Small-business expense tracking is how you record and manage any business-related purchases you make, such as:

  • Office supplies
  • Business travel expenses
  • Marketing and advertising costs
  • Software subscriptions
  • Home office furniture
  • Tickets to professional events and conventions

During tax season, the IRS considers many of these purchases as write-offs, allowing you to deduct them from your tax return. However, for these items to qualify as tax deductions, you will need to have a record of the purchase in the form of a physical or digital receipt.

You should keep track of your business expenses if you’re a small-business owner, startup founder, freelancer, or otherwise self-employed.


Why Track Business Expenses?

Tracking your business expenses comes with many benefits, including:

1. Reducing Your Small-Business Taxes

If you work for yourself, you already know the amount you have to pay in self-employment taxes each year can be significant. If you can reduce it, even by a small amount, that equates to more money in your pocket.

Keeping records of your deductible expenses is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to reduce your tax return. By simply hanging on to your business-related receipts, you can save yourself a lot of money.

2. Demonstrating an Accurate Profit Margin

Tracking small-business expenses also helps to give you a more accurate understanding of your business’s profit. By monitoring both incoming and outgoing cash flow, it’s easier to see how much your business is making after your costs have been deducted.

If you only monitor profit, you’ll never really know whether your business is financially viable or not.

3. Organizing Your Business Records

Keeping clean, clear, and well-organized business records is the best way to understand and track your company’s growth over a long period of time. Tracking expenses can help you to:

  • Determine where you have opportunities to reduce your small-business expenses
  • See how your costs have increased or decreased based on the market or seasonality
  • Decide when and how to scale your business
  • Negotiate or reevaluate expenses

Even freelance records are important because they separate business costs from client-related expenses that qualify for reimbursement.

Plus, if you ever encounter a legal issue related to your business, detailed records will strengthen your case and show that you run an honest and lawful company.


How to Track Small-Business Expenses

You have a variety of different options when it comes to choosing a method to track expenses, from accounting software and applications to business banking accounts and manually recording costs.

Choose the method that works best for you and your business based on your needs, budget, and preference.

1. Accounting Software and Apps

One of the easiest methods for tracking expenses is by using accounting software. Many platforms can connect with your bank account to automatically identify and record business purchases as well as allow you to upload photos of receipts or manually enter expenses.

Some of the most popular business expense tracking platforms include:

Most of these platforms offer both a desktop version and mobile app, facilitating expense tracking in the office and on the go. This is especially convenient if you’re tracking business expenses while out of town.

Accounting software platforms and apps work best for businesses that want to use them to manage multiple aspects of their business, such as invoicing, facilitating payments, time tracking, and payroll.

Most accounting platforms also come with a monthly or annual fee, which typically qualifies as a tax deduction.

2. Business Banking Accounts

Keeping track of your business expenses is a breeze if you only make purchases using a company credit card or debit card. This way, all your purchases are in a separate bank account, making your expense reports easy to compile, review, and organize.

If you choose to open a business bank account through an online bank like Lili, make sure to keep it separate from your personal finances. Only use your business credit card or debit card to make business purchases. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of having different accounts.

If you decide to go this route to manage your business finances, it’s recommended you open:

  • A business credit card
  • A business checking account
  • A business savings account

This way, you can deposit payments from clients and customers into your checking account and use it to pay for purchases made on your company credit card. Leftover business income can go into your savings account. This setup keeps your business finances completed separate from your personal assets.

3. Manually

If you only have a handful of clients or your expenses are relatively few and far between, keeping things simple may be the best option. Tracking expenses manually is as simple as creating a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel and inputting expense details as you make purchases.

You can make your spreadsheet as detailed or as simple as you’d like. For example, you can include item descriptions, dates, and amounts as well as a total before and after taxes. Or, you can simply list items and their costs.

You can also use free spreadsheet software like Google Sheets if you don’t have a Microsoft 365 subscription.


Keeping Digital Receipts

Digital receipts are easier to track than their paper counterparts, but if you use multiple email addresses, bank accounts, or payment methods, keeping your expense records organized can be challenging. Three popular options include:

1. Expense Tracking Software

Most expense tracker apps and platforms help you to store digital receipts by either automatically recording them through your bank statements or letting you upload them yourself.

Many apps also allow you to categorize your business purchases, making them easier to input and record when preparing your income tax return.

Although apps and software are generally more expensive compared to other methods, they handle a lot of the administrative work for you. So, if you’re looking for a hands-off approach to keeping your digital expense records organized and well-managed, an app is probably your best bet.

2. Company Expense Email

An effective method is to use a single email address — preferably one associated with your business — to make all of your business-related online purchases. All the digital receipts associated with your company will be directed to your business email inbox.

To record paper receipts as well, take a picture of them or scan them and forward the image to your email address.

You can make this inbox accessible to your bookkeeper or accountant directly or forward your receipts to them as you make purchases. Even if you do your own bookkeeping, having your tax-deductible expense records in one place (and organized by date) will make your life easier.

Additionally, you won’t have to pay any additional costs outside of what you already pay to host your email account.

3. Cloud Storage

Your third option is to scan or take pictures of receipts and upload the images to the cloud storage of your choice, such as:

For digital receipts, you can take a screenshot, save it as an image, and upload it manually. Although not the most convenient option, cloud storage is typically free, which makes it an ideal choice for the budget-conscious.


Keeping Paper Receipts

Paper receipts are harder to manage than digital versions, but almost every small-business owner will have at least a few of them. Paper receipts usually come from:

  • Restaurants
  • Gas stations
  • In-store purchases
  • Cash purchases

And, unfortunately, identifying the debit in your bank account isn’t enough of a record to ensure that your purchase qualifies for a small-business tax deduction. You’ll need a copy of your actual receipt to document the amount, date, and item details of the expense.

Unfortunately, paper receipts are easy to lose and damage, so you need to store them carefully. Keep track of physical copies of purchase records by:

1. Scanning Receipts

Scanning or taking pictures of receipts is the safest way to keep a record of them. It’s much harder to lose or spill coffee on a digital record of a purchase than a physical one. This way, if you misplace a receipt or accidentally put it through the washer, you have a backup.

Scan or take a picture of a receipt as soon as you receive it to reduce the chances of it being lost or damaged.

You don’t even need a paid app to scan receipts, because there are a variety of options for both Apple and Android devices that allow you to scan and save documents for free.

2. Using an Envelope or Folder

Another option is to store receipts in a designated envelope or file folder in your office or filing cabinet. It’s best to store receipts by tax year so you know which ones will apply to your current return.

The hardest part of using this method is that you’ll need to make a habit of taking paper receipts from your pocket, wallet, or purse and putting them in the proper place. If you lose them, you won’t be able to claim them as write-offs.


4 Tips for Small-Business Expense Tracking

Regardless of how you track your small-business expenses, there are ways you can optimize the process to make it simpler and more straightforward.

1. Keep Business and Personal Purchases Separate

Even if you don’t have a business bank account, you can still keep business and personal expenses separate.

For example, let’s say you go to Costco and purchase groceries for your family and office supplies for your business at the same time. Instead of making one large purchase, separate your items into two transactions — one for your household items and another for your business purchases.

This makes it much easier to calculate the total amount of your write-off, including taxes, fees, or discounts, instead of having to try to extract the information from a larger bill.

2. Ask for Receipts

When tracking expenses for business purposes, you need to make a habit of asking for (and keeping) receipts. This goes for any retailer that doesn’t provide digital receipts, like gas stations and restaurants.

As a small-business owner, you need to get used to asking for receipts and keeping them safe until you have a chance to scan or store them safely.

Any receipt you don’t ask for is an expense that you can’t claim when you file your taxes.

Even if you aren’t sure whether a purchase will qualify as a deductible business expense, it’s better to ask for a receipt and talk to your bookkeeper or accountant afterward rather than miss out on a potential deduction altogether.

3. Get Digital Receipts

Many retailers offer both digital and physical receipts. Whenever possible, opt for a digital receipt. They’re easier to document, track, and store than paper receipts.

Because stores send digital receipts to an email address, use a designated email address for business purchases. This will keep your personal inbox clean and your business expenses in one place.

4. Organize Your Expense Records

Keep your tax deduction records organized by year, category, and item to make filing your tax return simple and stress-free. If you keep receipts organized as you make purchases, it will be much easier to sort through and calculate them later on.

And, if you use an accountant to file your taxes, they’ll appreciate a straightforward and clean expense report to reference.


Final Word

Tax deductions are crucial for small-business owners. But you won’t qualify for write-offs if your business purchases aren’t sufficiently recorded and documented. Tracking your expenses using accounting software, business bank accounts, or manually will help you to prove purchases, stay on top of costs, and keep your records organized.

Keep copies of both paper and digital receipts to make your next tax return more affordable and easier to file.

Source: moneycrashers.com

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express Review

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is a popular small business credit card with a fairly standard rewards program and no annual fee. Like many other Amex business credit cards, the rewards program is based on Membership Rewards, a proprietary portal that allows you to redeem for a wide range of merchandise and cash equivalents.

Blue Business Plus is meant for business owners with good to excellent credit. It competes with a number of other popular small business credit cards, including  Capital One Spark Miles for Business. Blue Business Plus also competes with American Express’s color-coded business card family, which includes the Plum Card, Business Green Rewards, Business Gold Rewards, and the Business Platinum Card.

Key Features

These are the most important features of the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express.

Welcome Offer

Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of card membership.

Membership Rewards and Redemption

Get rewarded for business as usual. Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners. The 2X rate applies to the first $50,000 in purchases per year, and 1 point per dollar thereafter.

You can redeem accumulated Membership Rewards points for general merchandise, travel, transportation (including Uber rides), gift cards, statement credits, and other items at Amex’s Membership Rewards portal. Point values vary by redemption method, with merchandise generally worth $0.01 per point and statement credits worth $0.006 per point.

Introductory APR

There is a 0% introductory APR for 12 months from account opening date on purchases. For rates and fees of the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.

Regular APR

Following the end of the introductory period, variable regular APR applies. It’s currently 13.24% to 19.24% variable, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.

Important Fees

Blue Business Plus has no annual fee or fees for additional employee cards. Foreign transactions cost 2.7%. Late and returned payments cost up to $39 each. See rates and fees.

Spend Above Your Credit Limit

Blue Business Plus comes with a spending limit. However, cardholders can spend above their credit limits without first applying for a higher limit, provided they pay off the amount spent above the limit in full by their statement due date. Above-limit spending is not unlimited – according to American Express, it “adjusts with your use of the Card, your payment history, credit record, financial resources known to American Express, and other factors.”

Additional Business Benefits

Blue Business Plus comes with a nice lineup of business-friendly benefits, including digital receipt storage, expense tagging and tracking, and the ability to designate an employee as your account manager and dispute resolution point person.

Credit Required

This card requires good to excellent credit.

Advantages

  1. No Annual Fee. Blue Business Plus doesn’t have an annual fee. That’s a nice contrast to other popular small business cards.
  2. Long Introductory APR Period. Blue Business Plus’s 0% APR introductory period lasts for 12 months from account opening. That’s much more generous than many fellow competing business cards, and in line with top low APR consumer credit cards. Once the introductory APR period ends, variable regular APR applies.
  3. Good for Business Owners Without Stellar Credit. Although Blue Business Plus requires good to excellent credit, it’s not the most exclusive card out there. If you don’t have major blemishes on your credit record, there’s a good chance you’re going to be approved for this card. That’s certainly not the case for more exclusive American Express business products, such as Business Gold Rewards and Business Platinum.

Disadvantages

  1. Has a Foreign Transaction Fee. Blue Business Plus comes with a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so it’s not ideal for business owners who frequently travel abroad. If you’re looking for a piece of plastic that doesn’t penalize you for setting foot in other countries, try one of the Capital One Spark cards.
  2. Points Accumulate Slowly. Blue Business Plus earns just 1 Membership Rewards point per $1 spent after the first $50,000 in purchases each year. That’s a slower rate of accumulation than some direct competitors, including Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card.
  3. Point Values Can Be Low. Come redemption time, Membership Rewards points’ values vary based on what they’re being redeemed for. Merchandise redemptions are usually worth $0.01 per point, but cash equivalents can be worth much less – $0.005 or $0.006, in some cases. By contrast, the Capital One Spark family’s miles or cash back points are always worth $0.01 apiece, while Chase Ink Business Preferred‘s points can be worth as much as $0.0125 at redemption or even more when points are transferred to travel partners. If you’re looking for a generous business loyalty program, look to that card.

Final Word

American Express has a somewhat deserved reputation as an issuer of gold-plated and platinum-plated cards with luxurious fringe benefits, impeccable service, and generous loyalty features. Many of the company’s high-end cards live up to this image – but not all of them.

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is a middle-of-the-road rewards card that doesn’t require massive revenues or an off-the-charts credit score – a true business credit card for the rest of us. Blue Business Plus’ broad appeal does come with some drawbacks, including a so-so rewards system, but there are worse cards out there. If you don’t qualify for a more generous American Express card at the moment, it’s not a bad place to start.

For rates and fees of the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.

Source: moneycrashers.com

10 Ways to Save Money on School Uniforms for Kids

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1 in 5 public schools required students to wear uniforms as of the 2017-18 school year. These can be anything from identical outfits marked with the school’s name or logo to a basic color scheme, such as plain white shirts and tan pants.

According to 2011 research from the University of Nevada, Reno College of Education, a school uniform policy can have many benefits for students. It can make it easier to get ready for school, boost self-esteem, reduce bullying, and improve classroom discipline. But it has one big downside for parents: the cost. According to CostHelper, a school wardrobe of four or five uniforms can cost anywhere from $100 to $2,000.

One reason uniforms often cost more than regular clothes is that parents have less choice about where to buy them. If you can only get your kids’ school wardrobes from the official school store, you must pay whatever that store charges. However, you can get around this problem with the right shopping strategies. The first tip to try: shopping secondhand.

Ways to Save With Secondhand School Uniforms

Clothes are one thing it nearly always pays to buy secondhand if you can. With school uniforms, that’s doubly true.

Since young children grow so fast, their outgrown uniforms can still have lots of life left in them. Naturally, these previously worn uniforms don’t look brand-new, but neither do most school clothes after a few weeks of wear. Secondhand school uniforms cost much less than new ones, and in some cases, they’re free.

1. Try Uniform Swaps

If you have two children attending the same school, the younger kid can wear the older one’s hand-me-downs. But if you have only one child or your kids go to different schools, you can end up with clothes in good condition and no one to hand them down to.

A uniform swap is a way to expand your hand-me-down family. By pooling resources with other parents, you can pass on your child’s outgrown uniforms to younger students at your school and receive uniforms from older students in turn.

Some schools hold official uniform exchanges. For example, at St. Catharine School in Ohio, you can trade in gently used school uniforms for larger sizes or pick up other people’s trade-ins at significantly reduced prices. Other schools, like St. Stephen’s Academy in Oregon, give parents points for their trade-ins, which they can use for purchases or donate.

If your child’s school doesn’t have an official uniform exchange, hold a clothing swap party of your own. Invite other parents over, lay out all your outgrown uniform items, and see who can use them.

If you don’t have the space to meet and exchange clothes in person, start a social media group where parents can post photos and descriptions of their kids’ outgrown clothes. When you find someone who has the size your child needs or needs the size you have to give, you can contact each other to arrange a pickup.

2. Shop at Thrift Stores

If you live in or near a large city with a large student population, there’s a good chance you can find outgrown school uniforms at local thrift stores. Check the stores closest to your child’s school to maximize your chances of finding them.

Even in smaller cities and towns, thrift stores are an excellent place to look for basic pieces that are often part of a school uniform. Dress shirts, solid-color polo shirts, and chino pants are likely to show up on their racks. You can’t count on finding the pieces you need in your child’s size, but if you do, they’ll be significantly cheaper than new clothes.

To find thrift stores in your area, do an Internet search on “thrift stores” or “thrift shops” with your town’s name or zip code. Also, check the websites of the largest store chains — such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Value Village — to find their nearest locations.

3. Find Sellers Online

If you can’t find suitable secondhand clothes for your child’s uniform at local stores, try looking online. Start consulting your local Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace groups in early July, and look for new listings every other day or so. That gives you roughly two months to find all the pieces you need to build a complete school wardrobe for your child. Just be sure to contact sellers quickly when you find something you need so someone doesn’t beat you to it.

Another reliable source for secondhand uniforms online is eBay. You can create saved searches for each specific garment your child needs, such as “navy shorts size 8,” and receive daily emails of all new listings for your saved search. You can pick up pieces one at a time or — if you’re lucky — find a lot of uniform clothing all in the same size.


Ways to Save on New School Uniforms

The biggest downside of secondhand shopping is that you can’t be sure of finding what you need. If the start of the school year is approaching and you still don’t have a complete school wardrobe for your child, don’t panic. There are ways to buy new uniform-appropriate clothes and still keep costs down.

4. Buy the Minimum

For starters, don’t buy more of any component than you really need. Your child may need a clean shirt for school every day, but kids can usually get away with wearing the same skirt, pants, or sweater several days in a row. Jackets and ties can go even longer between cleanings.

How many pieces your child needs depends on how often you intend to do laundry. Mothers discussing their kids’ school wardrobes on Mumsnet generally say they include:

  • Five to 10 shirts
  • Two to five sweaters
  • Two to five skirts or pairs of pants or shorts

On top of that, you can add one or two school blazers and one or two dresses or jumpers if your uniform includes these pieces. And your child also needs at least one pair of school shoes and enough socks and underwear to last the week.

If you shop smart, you can put together this minimalist kids’ wardrobe for less than the $240 average parents reported spending on back-to-school clothes in a 2019 National Retail Federation survey. CostHelper says it’s possible to find pants and skirts for as little as $5 each, tops for as little as $3, and shoes starting at $15. That’s less than $100 for the whole wardrobe.

5. Visit Cheaper Stores

If your school’s uniform consists of basics like solid-color tops and pants, there’s no need to buy them at the official school store. Many major retail chains sell uniform-appropriate clothes for kids at quite reasonable prices. In fact, several retailers offer lines of kids’ clothes designed explicitly for this purpose, such as:

6. Shop Online

If stores in your area don’t carry the school uniform pieces you need at prices you like, try shopping online. Some online retailers specialize in school uniforms, and others have sections devoted to them. Good places to shop online include:

  • Amazon. The e-tail giant has an entire section called The School Uniform Shop. It provides links to uniform-appropriate garments from many popular brands, including Nautica, Izod, and Dockers. Alternatively, you can search for “school uniforms” to find apparel for girls and boys. Check out these Amazon savings tips for more ways to save.
  • French Toast. Online retailer French Toast deals in school uniforms for all ages, which you can search by school or gender. The site also offers two- and three-packs of identical shirts or pants for a discounted price per piece.
  • Lands’ End. The school uniform shop at Lands’ End offers sturdy clothing in all sizes, from toddler to adult. Clothes are covered by the brand’s unconditional lifetime guarantee. There’s even a selection of adaptive garments for kids with disabilities. This apparel combines easy-to-use magnetic closures with decorative buttons for a uniform look.
  • Lee Uniforms. For teens and young adults, the Lee Uniforms store on Amazon offers school- and work-friendly pieces. The selection is limited, but the prices are excellent.
  • SchoolUniforms.com. As its name implies, SchoolUniforms.com specializes in uniform basics, from blazers to plaid pleated skirts. Garments come in a range of sizes to fit children ages 3 and up, including plus sizes.

When shopping for uniforms online, you can save still more by using a mobile coupon app like Rakuten or Ibotta. If you prefer to shop from a computer, install a money-saving browser extension like Capital One Shopping to help you find great prices and available coupon codes.

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links provided.

7. Wait for Sales

If your school has an official uniform store, call that store and see when it plans to offer discounts or promotions. In many cases, uniforms go on sale in October, after most parents have already bought their kids’ clothes for the year. You can save money on school uniforms by buying just enough pieces to get through September and waiting until October to stock up.

If the school uniform is a generic outfit available from many stores, keep an eye out for sales at all the stores in your area. Consider signing up for emails from your favorite local stores to let you know when uniform clothing goes on sale. Sometimes, these emails also provide coupons, which can boost your savings still more.

Timing your purchases can help at department stores too. Clothes often go on sale at the end of the season — for example, summer clothes in September or winter coats in March. If you plan ahead, you can save by buying school uniforms for next year during these end-of-season sales.

If you’re unsure when and where school uniforms are most likely to go on sale in your area, create a Google Alert for the term “school uniform sale” with your location or zip code. Whenever a new sale pops up, you’ll receive an email about it. You can also use the term “school uniform clearance” to learn about end-of-season clearance sales.

8. Check Out Clearance

Even when a department store isn’t having a sale, there’s usually a clearance rack you can check for marked-down clothing. Since school uniforms tend to be plain clothes without a lot of eye appeal, there are often at least a few pieces that don’t sell and end up on the clearance rack.

For example, the frugal-living bloggers at Life Your Way and Joyfully Thriving both report finding uniform pieces for less than $5 on the clearance racks at stores like Gap and Macy’s.

9. Buy Bigger Sizes

If your child is still growing, there’s a good chance the uniforms you buy now won’t fit by the end of the year. However, you can make them last as long as possible by sizing up.

Choosing clothes with an extra inch to spare in the legs and sleeves gives your kid room to grow into them. Some uniform pants and skirts come with adjustable waistbands, so they’ll accommodate your child’s growth in width as well as height.

And if you find a great price on a particular piece your child needs, you can buy next year’s sizes now. Assuming they plan to attend the same school for the foreseeable future, you know they’ll need the same uniform next year, so buying multiple sizes at once lets you get them all at the best possible price.

10. Buy to Last

If your child has stopped growing but still has a few more years of school to go, you can save money by choosing quality clothing that will last. These well-made pieces may cost more upfront than cheaper brands, but they pay off in the long run. A $50 blazer that wears out after one year costs $50 per year, but a $100 blazer that lasts for four years costs only $25 per year.

For example, clothes from Lands’ End come with a lifetime guarantee. If they don’t last your child until graduation (or they outgrow them), you can return them for a full refund. Clothing from Dickies, available at Walmart, is also guaranteed for its “expected life,” though they don’t define the term. Clothes from Target’s Cat & Jack line come with a one-year guarantee.

Another way to make school uniforms last as long as possible is to choose the darkest colors allowed. On light-colored clothes, minor spots or stains show up more vividly, making them unfit for school wear. Darker-colored clothing, such as maroon, navy, or forest green, hides these minor flaws.


Final Word

Saving on school uniforms doesn’t end when you’ve made your purchases for the year. If your kid’s uniforms become unwearable due to rips, stains, or lost buttons, you’ll have to replace them in a hurry — possibly at full price. To avoid this problem, handle school uniforms with care to make them last as long as possible.

Always follow the washing instructions and line dry or dry flat when possible to avoid wear and tear from the dryer. Treat stains promptly, repair rips, and replace buttons.

If your sewing skills are up to it, you can even get another year or two of life out of garments by letting down the cuffs or adjusting the waistband to fit your child’s larger size. Following all these steps reduces waste, so you can also pat yourself on the back for being green.

One final tip: Label all your kids’ school clothing with their names. When all the students in a school wear the same outfit, it’s easy for them to grab someone else’s sweater or jacket by mistake. Sewing in a name tag or writing on the care tag with a permanent marker increases the chances misplaced clothes will find their way home again.

Source: moneycrashers.com

15 Ways to Save Money Landscaping Your Yard

If you have a yard, you’ve probably daydreamed about what you want it to look like someday. But landscaping costs keep many homeowners from breaking ground.

Whether you want to improve your curb appeal, make your yard more functional, or plant your own botanical oasis, landscaping doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little creativity and forethought, you can have the outdoor space you’ve always wanted without emptying your wallet.

Landscaping Tips to Save Money on Outdoor Living

You don’t need to hire a professional landscaper to have a beautiful backyard. You just have to get your hands dirty. From planting perennials to making your own compost, homeowners have many options when it comes to saving on landscaping costs.

1. Choose a Purpose for Your Space

How you plan to use your outdoor space determines how you landscape it. Decide whether you want to tailor your landscape design to:

  • A play area for kids or pets
  • An outdoor dining and lounging area for yourself and guests
  • A productive herb or vegetable garden
  • A butterfly or bee garden

You can choose more than one, budget and space permitting.

But knowing how you plan to use your yard allows you to make a budget and avoid overspending on unnecessary purchases. It also helps you determine where you can cut costs and what your most significant expenses will be, such as putting in sod or building a ground-level deck.

2. Work With Your Yard

Work with the yard you have instead of trying to create something completely different. For example, if you have large, naturally occurring rocks and boulders in your yard, having them moved costs a lot of money. Rather than paying for removal, work around them by turning them into a rock garden or using flowers and mulch to create an attractive feature piece.

The more you need to change your yard, the more costly landscaping becomes. Uprooting trees, leveling terrain, and relocating rocks are all expensive endeavors. Instead of making your yard into something it isn’t, work with what you have.

3. Salvage Existing Wooden Fencing or Decking

Fences, decks, and patios are crucial components of many yards. And without proper maintenance, they can fall into a state of disrepair. But just because your outdoor wooden structures are looking a little worse for wear doesn’t mean you can’t salvage them for your new landscaping project.

Rather than spending a fortune on replacing an old fence or deck, fix it yourself by:

  • Repairing or replacing damaged and broken boards
  • Pressure-washing aged wood and chipping paint
  • Giving everything a good scrub
  • Applying paint or stain and waterproof sealant
  • Maintaining it each year

A quick trip to a home improvement store like Home Depot to rent a pressure-washer or buy some sealant is bound to cost a lot less than paying a contractor to rebuild your outdoor structure.

4. Choose Fence and Deck Materials Based on Climate and Need

Sometimes, salvaging your wooden fence or deck isn’t practical in the long run. If you need to replace or rebuild a fence, deck, or patio, save some money down the road by choosing materials suited to your climate.

For example, in areas where it’s either particularly hot or humid, wooden structures often need to be maintained and replaced more frequently since they’re constantly exposed to harsh elements like the sun or rain, which can damage and destroy them.

Instead, explore options with a longer lifespan, like brick, concrete, composite, vinyl, or metal. Do a cost-benefit analysis to determine how much you could save in the future for maintenance and replacement costs by choosing an alternative to wood.

5. Use Natural Elements

Found natural elements like rocks and stones are inexpensive alternatives to store-bought pavers and edging. You can also use tree stumps as stools or tables and natural mulch like grass clippings, shredded leaves, or pine needles in your flower beds.

These elements add a rustic and natural appeal to your yard and come at little to no cost. Pick up free rocks in new housing developments or by browsing online marketplaces like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Repurpose dead trees by turning them into furniture. And simply empty your lawn mower bag for free mulch.

6. Create a Lush Lawn

If you have sparse grass coverage or weeds have overtaken your yard, you need to put in some work to grow a healthy lawn. But you don’t need to hire an expensive landscaper to bring your grass back to life. You can take care of weeds by pulling them by hand or using a lawn-friendly weed killer.

For dead or thin grass, try reseeding your lawn to bring it back to life. You can also promote its growth using a high-quality fertilizer, which can also help kill weeds.

Just ensure it’s a match for your soil type and United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone, a measure of a region’s climatic conditions (such as heat and humidity) that helps gardeners determine the likelihood of a plant’s growth and survival.

Local home improvement stores and garden centers only carry plants and materials suited to your zone, so if you buy locally instead of online, you can find products suited to your zone without much effort. And you can always ask a store employee for assistance with choosing materials for your soil type.

If your lawn is too far gone, you may have to plant new grass, which takes a lot of time and effort. It involves stripping your old grass, laying down landscaping fabric and topsoil, and seeding or putting in squares or strips of pre-grown grass, which is called sod.

You can hire a landscaper to install it for you, but doing it yourself can potentially save a lot of money. According to Angi (formerly Angie’s List), it costs between $0.35 to $0.85 per square foot on average to buy sod, depending on what type of grass you get and prices in your area. You also may need to purchase fertilizer, landscaping fabric, and topsoil and rent equipment to grade the lawn.

Hiring a landscaper costs between $1 and $2 per square foot. So doing it yourself could potentially save you several hundred dollars. But it may not be worth it.

Angi also notes that it takes around 40 hours of work, though Home Depot says it only takes two to four hours. Either way, cutting corners could prevent your grass from taking root, costing you more money in the long run. So if you aren’t confident in your abilities, it may save you money to have a pro do it. Get some estimates from professionals and compare the costs of DIY.

Regardless of the state of your lawn, getting it back into tip-top shape is key to having a front yard with curb appeal or a backyard oasis.

But keep maintaining it after you complete your landscaping project. Just like most front yard and backyard landscaping, slacking on lawn care only costs more money in the long run. If you don’t stay on top of grass and weed issues each year, your lawn only gets worse with each season. Remember to weed, seed, fertilize, and water your grass to keep yourself from having to pay for extensive and expensive renovations in the future.

7. Landscape With Native Plants

Native plants are the plants that grow naturally in your hardiness zone. Native plants tend to thrive in your climate and soil, which means they’re low-maintenance and easy to grow, unlike potentially finicky nonnative plants.

Because native gardening often requires less maintenance, it helps save on costs for things like fertilizers, pesticides, and water while still growing healthy and strong. It’s particularly useful for novice gardeners since it can prevent you from wasting money on plants that aren’t suited to your soil or zone or take a lot of extra effort to grow.

As a bonus, they also attract birds, bees, butterflies, and wildlife since they provide familiar shelter and natural diets to various creatures in your region.

You can find native plants by perusing the Native Plant Database or talking to someone at your local plant nursery.

8. Plant Perennials

Unlike annuals, which only bloom for one season, perennial plants come up each year. For example, bulbs like crocuses, daffodils, and irises are typically perennials and sprout each spring. Perennials can also be herbs, ground cover plants, fruit bushes, and vegetables.

Because you only have to plant perennials once, you don’t have to purchase new flowers or plants each year. And they tend to multiply, so over time, you can separate the plants and bulbs and use them in other parts of your garden or trade them with others.

9. Plant From Seed

If you’re growing a garden or flowers, planting from seed rather than buying established plants and sprouts is a lot cheaper, although it requires more work on your part. For example, a packet of basil seeds typically costs between $1 and $3 compared to a single basil plant, which can cost anywhere from $5 to $15, depending on the variety. However, seeds can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to sprout.

You can either sow seeds directly into the ground or start them indoors based on their growing season and germination period.

If you choose to grow indoors, you must purchase some supplies upfront, like starter trays, a grow light, and a growing medium. But you can reuse many of these tools each year, saving you from buying it again each season.

If you plant them outdoors, you just need a garden bed or planter and some soil.

10. Build Your Own Garden Beds

Flower beds and veggie gardens are simple DIY landscaping projects. Putting in a new garden doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You can use flower beds or planters around trees or features as natural edging or start a simple herb or vegetable bed in an unused corner of your yard. Some popular options include raised planting beds and container gardens.

Depending on lumber costs and whether you can make one from found wood or old containers you already own, DIY planting beds can be much more cost-effective than buying prefabricated beds. And they’re definitely cheaper than hiring someone to build them for you. That’s especially true if all you want is something simple to house your veggies or keep flowers from spreading.

For more information on using found containers or repurposed materials as plant beds, read our article on saving money on gardening.

11. Join (or Start) a Plant Swap

Plants are probably part of your landscaping plan, whether you’re planting ornamental grasses, succulents, flowers, herbs, or veggies. Unfortunately, plants come with price tags — unless you join or start a local plant swap or seed exchange.

In a plant swap, local gardeners and plant enthusiasts trade their extra seeds or propagated plants. They give you a chance to diversify your garden for free as long as you have sprouts, seeds, or established plants of your own to barter with. Seed exchanges are also sometimes offered as part of the non-book-related free services at public libraries.

You’ll also meet fellow green thumbs who can offer tips and landscaping ideas that may help you to save money and have a more successful garden.

12. Buy Trees Late in the Season

Depending on what type you want and how common they are in your area, trees can come with hefty price tags, especially during peak gardening and landscaping season.

But unlike many flowers, herbs, and vegetables, you don’t have to plant trees early in the growing season. And if you wait, you can save big.

Many garden centers and nurseries offer discounts as the season progresses, with the most significant being in the late summer and early fall. And as long as you get your tree in the ground with enough time to establish roots before winter, waiting a month or two to buy and plant it doesn’t do any harm.

13. Make Your Own Compost

Compost does wonders for your garden. It helps improve your soil structure and fertility and provides beneficial nutrients.

Instead of spending money buying compost to boost your garden beds’ productivity and health, save money, reduce your waste, and help the environment all at once by making your own in a compost heap in your yard or composting container by using discarded organics like kitchen waste and grass clippings.

14. Build a Fire Pit

Fire pits are a popular garden idea that adds to the atmosphere and usability of your yard. They’re perfect for enjoying cool summer evenings and roasting marshmallows. But when purchased from a retailer, they can cost a lot of money.

Instead of buying a fire pit, build your own using rocks, bricks, concrete, or metal. Depending on the materials you use and the size of your fire pit, it could cost you less than $100 to build.

Just ensure you’re legally allowed to have one and that it meets your city’s rules and regulations. For example, most fire pits have to be a certain distance from buildings and permanent structures like fences and sheds.

15. Buy in Bulk

One of the best landscaping tips is buying in bulk to reduce your costs for supplies like soil, mulch, sand, river stones, and crushed rock. If you’re planning a large-scale yard renovation or soil amendment, calculate how much material like soil, rock, and mulch you need and put in a large order instead of making multiple one-off trips to the garden center.

Save even more by asking your neighbors if they need anything and split delivery costs on the order.


Final Word

Landscaping your yard can improve your home’s outdoor living experience and motivate you to spend more time outside. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can have a beautiful and inviting yard while keeping costs low.

To keep enjoying your yard year after year, continue maintaining it regularly by seeding, fertilizing, and weeding the lawn; tending to plants and trees; and repairing and sealing fixtures like fences and decks. That will keep you from having to take out a personal loan just to cover landscaping costs in the future.

Source: moneycrashers.com

People Say to Give Up These 4 Things and Retire Early — They’re Wrong

If you’re not already rich, the race to early retirement can feel like it’s marred by sacrifice. Give up this, give up that — like the only way to retire before 65 is if you suffer now.

Sure, you want to be able to enjoy early retirement, and that means having enough money saved to do so. But you also want to live your life now in a way that brings you joy.

A study from annuity.com found that people would be willing to sacrifice several of life’s greatest conveniences to be able to achieve FIRE (financial independence, retire early):

The study shows that 20% of people would forgo having children, 27% would live without a pet and 28% would give up dining out just to have their retirement party a decade or two earlier. Some people would even move into a tiny home or sell their car!

But we know there are better ways. You don’t have to give up the things you love just to retire when you’d like to. Here are a few things people suggest giving up to accelerate their retirement timeline — and why we think you shouldn’t.

1. What They Say: ‘Give Up Your Vehicle’

Between car payments, insurance and repairs, having a car can be a big expense. And people eyeing early retirement do tend toward a minimalist lifestyle, so getting rid of your vehicle can be a tempting expense to cut.

But unless you live in a city that’s bikeable or has great public transportation, you’re going to need your own way to get from point A to point B. So instead of selling or letting your lease run out, here are a few tips to cut your car expenses down:

  • Buy a used car. Even though the average interest rate to finance a used car is higher than a new car or leasing one, financially you can save thousands of dollars over the course of a few years.
  • Cut your car insurance costs. By checking quotes every six months, you can save an average of $489 a year on your insurance payments. A website called Insure.com makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

2. What They Say: ‘Give Up Online Shopping’

Online shopping can be an account drainer — it’s so easy to put things into your cart, click a few buttons and wait for your package to arrive a few days later. And if your aim is to save a lot of money over the next decade or two, online shopping can be a major roadblock.

But here’s the thing — you can still shop online. You just need to be smart about it: Never overpay, and get cash rewards.

That’s exactly what this free service does for you.

Just add it to your browser for free*, and before you check out, it’ll check other websites, including Walmart, eBay and others to see if your item is available for cheaper. Plus, you can get coupon codes, set up price-drop alerts and even see the item’s price history.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new TV, and you assume you’ve found the best price. Here’s when you’ll get a pop-up letting you know if that exact TV is available elsewhere for cheaper. If there are any available coupon codes, they’ll also automatically be applied to your order.

In the last year, this has saved people $160 million.

You can get started in just a few clicks to see if you’re overpaying online.

3. What They Say: ‘Give Up Dining Out’

While the world was in quarantine, we learned to be more self-reliant in the kitchen, and many of us saw a significant drop in our dining-out expenditures (take-out, maybe not so much). So it’s understandable that 28% of people say they’d give it up entirely to reach their early retirement goals.

But for the other 72% who love going to restaurants and ordering delivery, financial independence isn’t off the table. There are just some strategic moves to make so you can keep supporting your favorite local spots and give your family a break from all the dishes.

First, look for discounts: You can find them on Groupon or with a AAA discount. You can even buy discounted gift cards on websites like Restaurant.com. If you have kids, check out restaurants that let them eat free on certain days of the week.

Next, make sure you’re getting cash back every time you go out to eat (or swipe your debit card in general).

If you’re not using Aspiration’s debit card, you’re missing out on extra cash. And who doesn’t want extra cash right now?

Yep. A debit card called Aspiration gives you up to a 5% back every time you swipe.

Need to buy groceries? Extra cash.

Need to fill up the tank? Bam. Even more extra cash.

You were going to buy these things anyway — why not get this extra money in the process?

Enter your email address here, and link your bank account to see how much extra cash you can get with your free Aspiration account. And don’t worry. Your money is FDIC insured and under a military-grade encryption. That’s nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

4. What They Say: ‘Give Up More Living Space’

The tiny home — or small space — lifestyle has become increasingly popular among the retire-early crowd. It’s cheaper to own, likely includes no mortgage and is less expensive to upkeep, as well.

In fact, 17% of people surveyed said they would live in a space smaller than 700 square feet, if it meant they could retire early. For a single person that may be fine, but for couples or families — it might just not be enough.

Instead, you could keep the space you love and find ways to save money and make money with it:

Stop overpaying $690 on homeowners insurance

Luckily, an insurance company called Policygenius makes it easy to find out how much you’re overpaying. It finds you cheaper policies and special discounts in minutes.

In fact, it saves users an average of $690 a year — or $57.50 a month. It’ll even help you break up with your old insurance company. (You’re allowed to cancel your policy at any time, and your company should issue you a refund.)

And just because you’re saving money doesn’t mean you’re skimping on coverage. Policygenius will make sure you have what you need.

Just answer a few questions about your home to see how much money you’re wasting.

Make up to $300 a month from your empty garage

Extra rooms in your house don’t need to be left empty. You can rent out unused storage space — your shed, or your garage — to your neighbors who need it. A website and app called Neighbor can help you earn up to $300 a month, on your terms. Use this calculator to see how much your available storage space is worth.

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

*Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the extension using the links provided.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

14 Best Grocery Coupon and Cash-Back Apps to Save Money

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, U.S. households spent 9.5% of their disposable income on food in 2019, with 4.9% being for food at home. Additionally, grocery store prices also saw a 3.5% increase between 2019 and 2020.

There’s nothing you can do to avoid food spending altogether. But you certainly don’t have to pay full price the next time you shop. There are numerous ways to save money on groceries, and you don’t need to sacrifice products you enjoy to find savings.

One effective way to reduce grocery costs is to use your smartphone. Apps that help you save on groceries have grown in popularity, which is excellent news for any frugal shopper. The next time you restock your kitchen, download a few money-saving grocery apps before heading out the door to start saving more.

The Best Apps to Save Money on Groceries

There are several app categories that help reduce grocery spending. Mobile coupon apps, grocery-store apps, and various cash-back rewards programs are popular examples. Using a combination of these apps and looking for in-store deals, you can maximize every dollar you spend on groceries.

1. Grocery Store Apps

The best way to save money on groceries is often to use store apps from your favorite grocers. Many supermarkets highlight in-store deals and coupons through a mobile app. Some stores even have loyalty programs that link to your mobile account, letting you redeem savings at the register.

Some of the best grocery store apps that have coupons and reward programs include:

If you stack a store rewards card with mobile coupons and deals, it’s even better. For example, if you do most of your grocery shopping at Kroger, you can sign up for the rewards debit card to save 2% on Kroger brands and earn fuel rewards. Target also has a mobile app that highlights coupons and store promotions, and you can shop with a Target RedCard to get 5% off most in-store and online purchases.

Between in-app coupons and your rewards card, you’re already starting to reduce your grocery bill without having to change stores.

2. Coupons.com

Coupons.com is a popular couponing website that’s essentially a database of free printable coupons and online promo codes. On the website, you can find and print coupons for a range of categories, including:

Coupons.com usually limits you to printing one or two of each coupon. It’s still an effective way to save, but if you want to earn rewards for grocery shopping, the Coupons.com app for Android or iOS is also worth using.

If you were a fan of SavingStar, Coupons.com acquired them in 2020. As such, through Coupons.com’s app, you can now earn cash-back rewards for buying specific offers, including groceries.

Simply activate rebates in the app by tapping on them, shop, and then take a picture of your receipt with the app to earn cash back. Alternatively, link store loyalty cards from companies like Publix or Safeway to automatically earn cash back for eligible purchases.

Unlike many reward apps, Coupons.com doesn’t have a minimum redemption requirement. You get paid through PayPal, and between paper and online coupons and cash-back rewards, Coupons.com is a comprehensive tool to save on groceries and everyday essentials.

3. Ibotta

Ibotta is another way to earn cash-back rewards for buying specific products from Ibotta partners. The app doesn’t focus on groceries. It also has deals for categories like health and beauty, travel, entertainment, and sports. But grocery delivery and rebate deals are still a significant portion of available offers.

Ibotta partners with more than 300 retailers, including grocery stores like Kroger, Meijer, Walmart, and Whole Foods. You can also find Ibotta deals at warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club.

Saving money with Ibotta takes four simple steps:

  1. Find Offers. Like other receipt-scanning apps, you preselect rebates before shopping. You can find rebates under the “find offers” tab within Ibotta and search by categories to narrow your search to groceries.
  2. Shop. After you select rebates, you’re ready to shop. Check Ibotta offers for any specific terms to ensure you buy the right brand, size, and quantity. Rebates often have specific requirements, and your purchase won’t credit if you make a mistake.
  3. Verify Purchase. Snap a photo of your receipt with the Ibotta app to verify your purchases.
  4. Redeem Cash Back. Ibotta deposits cash into your rewards account within 48 hours of submitting proof of purchase. You can cash out after reaching $20. Cash-out options include PayPal, Venmo, and gift cards to companies like Amazon, Starbucks, and Target.

Ibotta also lets you link store loyalty cards to your account to automatically earn for eligible purchases so you can skip selecting rebates. Loyalty card linking works at over 100 stores, including Hannaford, Meijer, and Wegmans.

Like other cash-back reward apps, it’s best to stack rebates with other discounts, like coupons or a cash-back credit card. For example, if you find an Ibotta rebate for $0.75 off Cliff Bars at Walmart, look for manufacturer coupons or Walmart store coupons for extra savings. If you then shop with the Capital One Walmart Rewards credit card, you’re maximizing your savings for that product.

It might take a few grocery trips to reach the $20 cash-out minimum. But Ibotta has some of the best offer variety and highest-paying rebates in the grocery rewards app industry, so it certainly has worthwhile saving potential.

Read our Ibotta review for all the details.

4. Fetch Rewards

Fetch Rewards is another receipt-scanning app for Android and iOS that works almost exactly like Ibotta. But while many Ibotta offers require shopping at a specific store, Fetch Rewards only requires buying specific brands to earn points. That means you can shop at your grocery store of choice without having to drive around town or miss out on offers from stores you never shop at.

Fetch Rewards partners with brands in several categories, including groceries, cosmetics, magazines, alcohol, and baby products. But groceries at the largest category, including recognizable brands like:

  • Betty Crocker
  • Heinz
  • Hershey’s
  • Knorr
  • Kraft
  • Oscar Mayer
  • Pepsi
  • Sabra
  • Yoplait

Once you purchase products from a Fetch Rewards partner brand, you take a picture of your receipt with the app to verify your purchase. Points credit in your Fetch Rewards account after the receipt processes, which typically takes a few hours. You can redeem points for dozens of free gift cards, including Amazon, CVS, Burger King, Dunkin’, Old Navy, and Target.

Receipts that have at least one participating brand pay a minimum of 50 points, or $0.05. Additionally, Fetch Rewards has a page where you can find higher-paying special offers that pay bonus points. For example, special offers might pay 2,000 points ($2) for buying a pack of Tyson chicken breast or 1,000 points ($1) for buying McCain frozen smile potatoes.

One advantage of Fetch Rewards is that you only require 3,000 points, or $3, to redeem many gift cards. Realistically, that means you can enjoy your first reward within a shopping trip or two, depending on how many eligible brands and special offers you buy.

You won’t score massive discounts with Fetch Rewards, but it’s another simple app to save money on groceries if you don’t mind scanning your receipts. The redemption minimum is also one of the lowest out of all reward apps.

Read our Fetch Rewards review for more information.

5. Checkout 51

Another way to turn grocery receipts into cash rewards is to use Checkout 51, a free grocery rewards app for Android and iOS.

With Checkout 51, you select rebates before shopping and upload receipts for proof of purchase. You can also link loyalty cards to your account from over a dozen partners, including Dollar General, Hannaford, H-E-B, Meijer, and Publix. It’s fairly similar to other reward apps.

However, Checkout 51 focuses on groceries for rebates and works at hundreds of stores, including:

  • Aldi
  • Albertsons
  • BJ’s Wholesale Club
  • Costco
  • Kroger
  • Meijer
  • Publix
  • Walmart
  • Whole Foods
  • Winn-Dixie

Additionally, Checkout 51 has a pick-your-own-offer section where you choose grocery essentials like bread, eggs, and produce to earn cash-back rewards for buying. These rewards usually range from $0.25 to $1, but it’s nice to reliably earn cash back on grocery essentials alongside specific products from brand partners.

Checkout 51 offers update every Thursday at 12am. So during the week, you might find that certain offers disappear as more shoppers claim them. That means it’s essential to check for new rebates on Thursday morning, select them, and shop that day to earn rewards. (Don’t wait for the weekend since grocery prices are higher on the weekends and sales usually happen on Wednesdays and Thursdays.)

Overall, Checkout 51 rebates are competitive, and you can redeem many offers multiple times, which is useful if you bulk-shop. Checkout 51 has a $20 cash-out requirement and pays through check. PayPal payments are also coming to the app and are currently in testing.

Reward variety is a downside for this app, but grocery-specific rebates and offer variety still make Checkout 51 one of the best grocery rewards apps around.

Read our Checkout 51 review for all the details.

6. Receipt Hog

If you’re already saving receipts to scan with other apps, add Receipt Hog to your smartphone.

With Receipt Hog, you turn everyday receipts into rewards just by taking a photo of your receipts with the app. But the type of receipt you upload determines the reward you earn:

  • Coin Receipts. Earn coins for uploading receipts for grocery stores, pharmacies, pet stores, dollar stores, supercenters, convenience stores, and alcohol stores. Coins are redeemable for free Amazon gift cards and PayPal cash.
  • Spin Receipts. Receipt Hog has a slots game where you can earn bonus coins or cash prizes for getting lucky. Spin receipt categories include apparel, department stores, home goods, office supplies, and electronics. Spin receipts don’t pay coins, so you have to get lucky to earn with this receipt type.
  • Sweepstake Receipts. Every receipt you scan grants you one entry into a monthly sweepstake where Receipt Hog gives out additional coins and cash prizes. You can also upload receipts from gas stations, restaurants, bars, and cafes for additional sweepstake entries.

Coin receipts are the most common type of receipt. You need 1,000 coins to redeem a $5 reward. Typically, receipts pay between five to 100 coins, with more expensive receipts paying a higher number of coins.

Realistically, it takes dozens of receipts to earn a $5 reward unless you get lucky on the slot game. But if you’re already scanning receipts with other apps, the extra 30 seconds of using Receipt Hog helps you save even more. And for non-grocery receipts, Receipt Hog provides the chance to at least earn something for scanning them versus throwing those receipts out.

Plus, there’s always the chance you get lucky with the slots or monthly sweepstake and earn a few hundred dollars’ worth of bonus coins.

7. The Coupons App

The Coupons App is a free couponing app that’s available for Android and iOS. While the app isn’t exclusively for grocery coupons, it’s still an immensely valuable tool to save on groceries and everyday shopping.

The app works with hundreds of retailers and lets you search, save, and use coupons right from your smartphone. You can also search for local deals and enable notifications to alert you when a nearby retailer has couponing opportunities.

But if you’re looking for an app to save money on groceries, The Coupons App has you covered. Several notable retailers the app regularly has coupons for include:

  • Aldi
  • Costco
  • Dollar Tree
  • Family Dollar
  • Kroger
  • Publix
  • Safeway
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart
  • Whole Foods

Mobile coupons and weekly ads update daily to keep you in the loop about in-store deals. You can also create a grocery list within the app with the corresponding coupons you plan to use. If you frequently buy the same brands, you can set up tracking to receive brand-specific coupon notifications to ensure you don’t miss out on savings.

Other features include a gas-finder tool to save money on gas, an Amazon price tracker, and weekly cash giveaways.

The grocery list tool coupled with brand-specific coupon alerts is a useful money-saving combination. At the very least, it’s worth recreating your existing grocery list on The Coupons App and tracking coupons so you can passively collect coupons for your favorite brands.

8. Flipp

Flipp brands itself as an all-in-one savings app and says users save an average of $45 per week. That translates to over $2,000 in annual savings, which is quite a bold claim for a free app to make.

But if you want to save money on a tight budget and maximize grocery store savings, Flipp is worth downloading. The app lets you browse thousands of digital flyers from more than 2,000 retailers to find weekly deals to build your grocery list with.

Plus, Flipp has several other money-saving features:

  • Add Loyalty Cards. Save store loyalty cards to access during checkout to ensure you always earn points.
  • Mobile Coupons. Find and save coupons to your store loyalty cards for easy use at checkout.
  • Find Deals. Search for weekly flyer deals and trending offers on categories like groceries, household essentials, and electronics.
  • Shopping Lists. Create a grocery list or general shopping list. Flipp automatically finds any corresponding deals for the products you add.
  • Price Matching. Since Flipp provides access to thousands of flyers, you can search for specific products and compare prices between retailers. That makes it easy to price-match at checkout if the store allows price matching.

The price-matching feature is what makes Flipp so powerful. It’s difficult to manually track weekly flyers to find the best deals in town. With Flipp, all you have to do is search for specific products and compare flyer prices to see if there’s an opportunity to price-match.

For example, if you find strawberries are cheaper at Walmart but you prefer shopping at a nearby Target superstore, use Flipp to show the Walmart flyer and strawberry price when cashing out at Target. Since Target matches prices with Walmart on identical regularly priced products, you save money. It also lets you shop at your favorite store without worrying about missing deals at a grocery store across town.

Flipp is available for Android and iOS. Popular Flipp retailers include Kroger, Walmart, Meijer, and Family Dollar, but it also works at dozens of other superstores, grocery stores, and drugstores.

It takes some time to look through the app for coupons and price-matching opportunities. But even using Flipp’s weekly ads section to find in-store deals at your favorite grocery store helps you save money without much effort.

9. Coupon Sherpa

If you want a grocery coupon app that keeps things simple, Coupon Sherpa is a perfect choice. This free app lets you access thousands of mobile coupons while on the go, and there are also hundreds of grocery coupons available at any given time.

Coupon Sherpa also lets you search for nearby stores with available coupons or search for store-specific coupons. These features are handy when planning an upcoming grocery trip, and the in-app coupon map highlights local stores with the most couponing opportunities for the day.

Coupons scan at the register from your smartphone, and there are online-only coupon codes as well. Popular grocery stores Coupon Sherpa usually has coupons for include:

  • Aldi
  • Albertsons
  • Food Lion
  • Kroger
  • Meijer
  • Publix
  • Wegmans
  • Whole Foods

You won’t find extra features like weekly sales flyers or cash-back rewards, but that’s not Coupon Sherpa’s strength. Instead, Coupon Sherpa helps experienced and novice couponers quickly access coupons while on the go, ultimately saving time and money.

10. BeFrugal

If you want the best of both worlds when it comes to coupons and cash-back rewards, BeFrugal is a must-use resource for savvy shoppers.

In terms of grocery coupons, BeFrugal partners with Coupons.com to provide a database of printable coupons. You can also access weekly ad flyers to find deals at companies like:

  • Dollar General
  • Family Dollar
  • Meijer
  • Shop ‘n Save Food
  • Target
  • Walmart

Admittedly, the coupons and flyer selection on BeFrugal isn’t incredibly comprehensive. However, according to BeFrugal, you can earn up to 40% cash back at more than 5,000 stores, which is what makes this platform stand out.

Earning cash back is also simple. Once you create a free BeFrugal account, you browse the website or Android and iOS app to find brands to shop. When you want to shop at a partner store, BeFrugal redirects you to their website. After you make a purchase, you earn cash back. If you use Rakuten, another popular cash-back rewards website, it’s the same process.

Cash back accumulates in your BeFrugal account once the retailer verifies your purchase, which typically takes around seven days. You withdraw cash back through check, direct deposit, PayPal, or Venmo or choose free gift cards to retailers like Amazon, Kohl’s, Starbucks, and Walmart. There’s no minimum requirement for direct deposit, PayPal, and Venmo. Most electronic gift card rewards start at $5. Cashing out by check requires $25.

Some notable grocery partners include:

  • Instacart
  • Postmates
  • Sam’s Club
  • Target
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart

Instacart and Postmates are notable because online grocery shoppers can also use BeFrugal to earn cash back. Plus, new BeFrugal members get a $10 sign-up bonus if they earn cash back within one year of joining.

If you’re only looking for grocery coupons, other mobile apps are better choices. But for online grocery delivery and other online shopping, BeFrugal is a reliable way to score cash-back rewards and save. At the very least, use the $10 bonus to offset some of the delivery cost.

11. Mealime

One common way to overspend on groceries is to let good food go to waste.

According to a 2020 study published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, the average U.S. family wastes an astonishing 31.9% of the food they buy. That translates to annual U.S. consumer food waste of approximately $240 billion (about $740 per person). And every time you waste food, you waste money, which also offsets any progress you’re making with your grocery savings.

Food waste is either a sign of overspending or a lack of meal planning. If you want to reduce food waste, the first step is to understand what’s in your kitchen and utilize every ingredient.

Thankfully, Mealime helps you stay on track with recipe planning, letting you shop efficiently. With Mealime, you plan weeks of meals in just a few minutes and can choose recipes to fit over 200 different preferences and dietary restrictions. You can also add your own recipes by importing recipes from website URLs, using the Mealime browser extension, or entering ingredients and directions manually.

Once you create a meal plan, a grocery list automatically generates to save even more time. Plus, since Mealime knows how many people you’re cooking for, its grocery lists reduce food waste by making sure you don’t over-shop, saving more money per year.

Mealime is available for Android and iOS. Most features are free, and the $5.99-per-month pro version provides nutritional information and exclusive recipes and lets you view your previous meal plans.

Ultimately, Mealime isn’t as comprehensive as meal-planning services like $5 Dinners that send out weekly hand-picked recipes to suit your tastes. But if you’re confident in the kitchen and want to simplify grocery shopping and avoid wasting food, Mealime is the perfect app.

Even reducing your food waste costs by $10 per month is $120 in annual savings. And you can take comfort knowing you’re being a more socially responsible consumer.

12. SnipSnap

If you currently shop with paper coupons, SnipSnap is the perfect solution to simplify your life and to avoid forgetting coupons at home.

Once you download SnipSnap for Android or iOS, you take pictures of your paper coupons to transform them into digital coupons on your phone. You don’t have to waste time clipping coupons, and SnipSnap can digitize any printed coupon offer you have.

Additionally, SnipSnap has other helpful features:

  • In-Store Reminders. SnipSnap sends a push notification if you enter a store and have eligible coupons you can use.
  • Discover Feature. If you don’t have coupons, the discover tab lets you snip coupons from SnipSnap’s featured coupon catalog. You can also search its database to find store-specific coupons.
  • Expiration Warnings. SnipSnap notifies you when your coupons are close to expiring.
  • Store Success Rating. Check coupon success scores for different retailers to gauge how easy it is to redeem coupons at various retailers.

The in-store reminders feature is handy since it helps ensure you use as many coupons as possible when you shop, saving you more money. Plus, you can find digital coupons to avoid printing coupons, saving you money on ink.

Ultimately, SnipSnap is the modern version of a coupon book.

13. Dosh

One downside of many rebate apps is that you have to preselect products before shopping to earn rewards. That requires time, and if you forget to preselect offers before shopping, you don’t earn a penny.

Thankfully, Dosh takes the traditional rebate model and makes it passive. Once you link the credit and debit cards you shop with to your Dosh account, you automatically earn cash back for shopping at hundreds of Dosh partners. There’s no need to preselect offers or scan receipts since Dosh monitors your spending once you link your cards.

Dosh also works with popular grocery stores, warehouse clubs, and supplement stores like:

  • GNC
  • Instacart
  • Kroger
  • Sam’s Club
  • Target
  • Walmart
  • Uber Eats

Additionally, Dosh partners with numerous fast-food chains, clothing stores, and cosmetics companies and adds new partners regularly so you can earn for a variety of purchases.

You withdraw cash back once you reach $25. Redemption options include direct deposit, PayPal Cash, and Venmo. Cash-back rewards vary between brands and are subject to change. But you typically earn an additional 1% to 2% from most partners. Dosh rewards are also stackable with cash-back credit card rewards and coupons.

Exclusively shopping for groceries with Dosh means it will likely take months to reach $25. But if you use linked cards for all your spending, you can reach the $25 redemption minimum more quickly.

Dosh is free for Android and iOS. If you want a humble source of passive income that helps you save money on groceries and everyday purchases, Dosh deserves a spot on your smartphone.

Read our Dosh review for more information.

14. Shopkick

Shopkick is a mix between a rewards app and mystery shopping side gig. With Shopkick, you earn kicks, the in-app point system, by completing various tasks, including:

  • Walking into specific stores
  • Purchasing certain products and uploading a receipt with the Shopkick app
  • Scanning product bar codes
  • Watching videos
  • Shopping online through the Shopkick app
  • Linking your credit card to Shopkick and making purchases at eligible stores

A typical grocery trip with Shopkick might have several opportunities to earn. For example, you earn 15 kicks for walking into a Walmart, 10 kicks for scanning the bar code for Huggies diapers, and 120 kicks for buying a Shopkick offer of Jack Link’s beef jerky.

It takes 250 kicks to get to $1, and you can redeem most rewards at 500 kicks. Shopkick lets you redeem kicks for PayPal cash or free gift cards to retailers like:

  • Amazon
  • Best Buy
  • eBay
  • Nike
  • Sephora
  • Starbucks
  • Target
  • Walmart

Rebate apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51 usually have higher-paying offers than Shopkick. But Shopkick is unique because you can earn rewards without spending money through tasks like walking into stores or scanning bar codes. If you want a versatile and potentially free way to save on groceries, you can stack Shopkick with other rewards apps to earn rewards even faster.


Final Word

The most effective ways to save money on groceries start at home. Creating a family meal plan, reducing food waste, and getting creative with leftovers can help you make the most of what you buy. If you also shop at less expensive grocery stores, like Kroger instead of Whole Foods, you’re also taking steps to cut costs.

But apps that help you save money on groceries are worth using. You also don’t have to download every grocery app that’s out there. Diligently using one rewards app is better than downloading several apps you never open.

Pick one or several grocery apps that catch your eye and take an evening to create accounts for them.

You can also get creative and try other methods to save money at the grocery store and beyond. For example, GetUpside lets you earn cash back on gas and select grocery stores. Similarly, if you order groceries or meal delivery kits online, you can earn cash back by shopping with Rakuten.

Over time, you’ll discover which apps work best for your area and favorite stores and avoid paying full price ever again.

Source: moneycrashers.com

3 Ways to Listen to Free Music Online – Downloads, Streaming & Radio

Back in the day, there were only two ways to listen to recorded music. You could tune your radio to a local station and hear whatever song happened to be playing, or you could go down to the record store and buy a copy of your favorite songs on a vinyl disc.

Today, that sounds quaint. According to The Guardian, digital music downloads overtook sales of physical recordings on CD or vinyl way back in 2012. More recently, even digital downloads have lost ground to music streaming services. In 2020, streaming accounted for 85% of all the music industry’s revenues, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

All this technology has made listening to music significantly cheaper. According to a 2017 Nielsen report (via Digital Trends), the average consumer spends only $156 on music each year. Savvy consumers know there are several ways they can get most of their digital music for free — leaving more money in their budgets to enjoy a live concert or two.

How to Listen to Music for Free Online

There are three primary ways to get your favorite music for free online. Which one you choose depends on what you’re looking for.

1. Streaming Music Online

Today, streaming services are indisputably the most popular way to listen to music. With a streaming music service, you don’t own the songs you play, but on the plus side, you’re not limited to the number of tracks you can fit on your phone or MP3 player.

Streaming services can take several forms. Some are subscription services that play music selected for you, some are more like radio stations, and some simply play tunes on demand. However, many online music sources blur the boundaries between these categories.

Internet Radio

Internet radio stations work the same way as old-school radio: They select songs, and you listen to whatever pops up. But instead of being limited to the few stations in range, you can choose from a vast list of specialized stations that suit particular musical tastes. Also, if you hear a song you really can’t stand, you can just skip it — something you can’t do over the airwaves.

Some services take this personalization to its logical extreme by creating custom radio stations to suit a user’s tastes. Instead of a live DJ choosing which tune to play next, algorithms select songs for you based on which artists and music you say you like.

Advertising funds the majority of Internet radio stations. But some let you upgrade to an ad-free experience for a small monthly fee. Choosing a paid version also lets you skip songs more frequently. Most online radio stations limit users of free accounts to six skips per hour.

There are multiple internet radio stations to choose from.

Pandora

Started in 2000, Pandora is one of the top streaming sites on the Internet. Its music-picking algorithm, known as the “Music Genome Project,” analyzes the songs you like best and then presents you with other songs that share similar qualities.

According to Digital Trends, Pandora’s music collection is pretty decent, with about 40 million tracks for its on-demand service. However, the main reason to listen is its “magic algorithms,” which do a fantastic job of picking out songs to match your tastes. You can listen on a range of devices, including computers, smartphones, TVs, and car audio systems.

Pandora’s basic service is free. However, you can pay to upgrade to ad-free listening with Pandora Plus for $4.99 per month. On-demand listening via Pandora Premium costs $9.99 per month for individuals, $14.99 for families with up to six members, $4.99 for students, and $7.99 for military members.

LiveXLive

Formerly known as Slacker Radio, this service relaunched as LiveXLive in 2017. The new name reflects its focus on providing live music streams. The service earns an Editors’ Choice designation from PCMag, which praises its “curated stations” hosted by experienced and informative DJs.

Along with its extensive music collection, LiveXLive offers live news from ABC and pop culture tales called “Slacker Stories.” It also hosts videos featuring music news, interviews with artists, and even live performances. It’s easy to use on multiple platforms, with apps for Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku.

A free account comes with 128 kilobits per second audio and the ability to skip up to six songs per hour — and plenty of ads. You can remove these limitations and upgrade your speed by upgrading to Plus ($3.99 per month). Going up to Premium ($9.99 per month) gives you access to on-demand and offline listening.

Last.Fm

At Last.fm, you create a custom profile that’s continuously updated with info about what artists and genres you’re listening to. The site uses this feature, which it calls “scrobbling,” to make personalized recommendations for new music. It also has a social media component, introducing you to other music lovers who share your tastes.

A basic subscription to the site is free. An ad-free version with extra features costs just $3 per month. You can listen to Last.fm on the Web or through its desktop and mobile apps. The apps can also track what music you listen to from other streaming music services and use that information to enhance your profile.

Jango

One of the newest players in the Internet radio field is Jango. Like Pandora, this service creates custom radio stations based on your musical tastes. You select your favorite artists, and Jango plays music from those artists and similar ones. You can fine-tune the playlist by rating songs you especially like or never want to hear again.

Jango also has hundreds of ready-made stations. Some are based on different genres, such as country, classical, or hip-hop. Others focus on more specific themes, such as today’s top 100 hits or Christmas songs.

You can listen to Jango over the Web or via an app for Android or iOS (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch). The service is 100% free and supported by ads. However, if you link Jango to your Facebook account, you will hear only one commercial per day. The mobile apps sometimes offer ad-free listening as well.

Subscription Services

A subscription streaming music service is like a library filled with songs users can check out but not keep permanently. Most subscription services make money by charging a fixed monthly rate in exchange for unlimited listening. But many also offer free accounts funded by advertising.

Amazon Music

There are two ways to listen to Amazon Music. If you have an Amazon Prime subscription, it comes with access to a limited catalog of 2 million songs. This basic, ad-supported service has thousands of stations and playlists, and you can listen offline with unlimited skips. You can also use Alexa, Amazon’s smart assistant, to control playback and discover new music.

If you want more music, you can upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited. It gives you ad-free, on-demand access to 75 million songs in HD. Over 7 million songs are available in Ultra HD, and the service also includes access to exclusive Ultra HD remastered albums. Amazon Music Unlimited also gives you access to other audio, such as podcasts.

Your first 30 days of Amazon Music Online are free. After that, it costs $9.99 per month for Prime nonmembers or $7.99 per month if you have a Prime subscription.

Spotify

Named the best all-around music streaming service by Digital Trends, Spotify is by far the most popular on-demand streaming service in the world today. There are several ways to use it:

  • Discover new music through the site’s curated playlists.
  • Create playlists from Spotify’s collection of more than 50 million tracks.
  • Browse playlists created by others, including friends, performers, and celebrities.

All music on Spotify is free, but upgrading to a Spotify Premium subscription for $9.99 per month gives you several extra perks. You get better audio quality, ad-free playback, and the ability to save songs for offline listening. You can also play songs on demand in the mobile app, a feature that’s unavailable with a free subscription.

You can listen to Spotify over the Web or via its iOS and Android apps. It also runs on certain gaming consoles, smart speakers, and car audio systems.

YouTube Music

The free version of YouTube Music is like a cross between a radio station and an on-demand streaming service. It invites you to name some of your favorite artists and uses that information to recommend albums, curated playlists, and custom playlists for you.

But unlike most online radio stations, YouTube Music lets you move around these lists at will, skipping forward or backward. Ads are relatively infrequent, according to Gizmodo, and it’s possible to skip some of them. You can also search for specific artists, albums, and tracks by name, save your favorites to your library, and create playlists.

YouTube Music also has some extra features most music services don’t provide. For instance, you can switch back and forth between audio tracks and music videos with the tap of a button. The service can also search for a song based on its lyrics.

All this is available free over the Web and on Android and iOS. However, upgrading to YouTube Music Premium for $9.99 per month lets you listen ad-free and stream in the background while your device is off. If you subscribe to YouTube Premium for streaming video, you get access to YouTube Music Premium for free.

Deezer

Though it’s not as well known as other streaming services, Deezer is surprisingly full-featured. This service provides a blend of on-demand streaming, live radio, podcasts, videos, and exclusive content — all for free.

On the Web or your desktop, Deezer recommends playlists for you based on your favorite artists and genres. You can also search a library of 73 million for specific tracks to create your own playlists. Deezer also provides synchronized song lyrics. However, the free service is available only on desktops, mobile devices, and a few home devices. It also limits skips.

If you upgrade to Deezer Premium ($9.99 per month) or Deezer Family ($14.99 per month), you get ad-free streaming, an offline mode, and unlimited skips. You can also connect on up to three devices at once, including smart speakers, smart TVs, wearable devices, game consoles, and car audio systems. You can try Deezer Premium free for 90 days.

Free Trials

Some streaming music services don’t have free ad-sponsored versions, but they do offer free trials. These give you a chance to test the service and decide whether it’s worth coughing up the cash for a monthly subscription.

Apple Music

With a library of over 75 million songs, Apple Music is the ideal streaming service for anyone who relies on Apple devices. It’s the only service you can control with the Apple Watch or voice commands to Siri, Apple’s smart assistant. Windows users can also use Apple Music via iTunes on their computers, but it doesn’t work as smoothly, according to Digital Trends.

Apple Music allows you to store up to 100,000 songs in your personal streaming library. If you’re an iTunes user, you can find many of your songs already available in the streaming library when you first sign up. The service also includes Apple Music 1, a 24-hour radio service curated by noted DJs and musicians.

The free trial period is 90 days. But according to Insider, you can double this to six months by signing up through an account with Best Buy. After the trial, choose from three service tiers: student at $4.99 per month, individual at $9.99 per month, and family at $14.99 per month.

Tidal

Both PCMag and Digital Trends agree that Tidal, a streaming service owned by top rap artist Jay-Z, has top-notch audio quality. It also offers exclusive content for hardcore music fans, such as timed releases from top artists like Beyoncé, live streams, concerts, and backstage footage. It even provides early access to certain concert and sports tickets.

Tidal offers a library of over 70 million songs and 250,000 music videos. However, as Digital Trends notes, it’s not easy to discover new music, and the interface can be buggy. Also, Tidal doesn’t provide lyrics, unlike many other services. You can listen on computers, mobile devices, smart TVs and streaming devices, smart speakers, and car audio systems.

The free trial period lasts 30 days. After that, Tidal Premium is $9.99 per month for individuals and $14.99 per month for families. Tidal HiFi, with lossless-quality sound, is $19.99 per month for individuals and $29.99 per month for families. But there are discounted subscriptions available for students, military members, and first responders.

SoundCloud Go

This service is the streaming counterpart to SoundCloud’s music download service. Digital Trends calls SoundCloud Go the best way to discover new indie music thanks to its vast library of 120 million user-created tracks. Its higher-tier SoundCloud Go+ adds another 30 million tracks from major labels and ad-free listening.

The service has nearly 200 million active users each month, and tons of lesser-known artists upload their newest songs regularly. However, unlike many other services, it doesn’t use algorithms to help you find music, so it can take some work to search through all the content to find your new favorites.

The free trial period is seven days for SoundCloud Go and 30 days for SoundCloud Go+. If you like it, you can pay $4.99 per month for SoundCloud Go or $9.99 per month for SoundCloud Go+.

Free Streaming on Demand

Some sites don’t require a subscription to stream music — you just go to the site, pick a track, and listen. For instance, on YouTube, you can type in the name of just about any song and find a video version of it.

The artists or their labels post some of these. But some are amateur videos created by fans, and some have just the music accompanied by a blank screen or lyrics. For example, a search for the popular song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor turned up Trainor’s official video, a live performance of a jazz cover version, and numerous fan-created videos and parodies.

YouTube is an excellent place to find that obscure song you heard years ago, even if you’re unsure of the title or the artist. Just type in the most memorable line from the song, and let YouTube’s search engine do its thing. Using this method, I tracked down two old novelty songs: “Put the Lime in the Coconut” by Harry Nilsson and “Right Said Fred” by Bernard Cribbins.


2. Free Music Downloads

In the age of the Internet, it’s very easy to download music illegally. However, if you prefer to stay on the right side of the law — and support your favorite artists and the music labels that support them — you need to dig a little deeper to find free music downloads that are also legal.

Amazon

In addition to its streaming service, Amazon has a massive catalog of digital music for download, including more than 5,000 free songs. Many of these are obscure tracks by relatively unknown artists. But there are also a few gems by better-known performers, such as the rock band Foo Fighters and the folk artist Carole King.

Finding free tracks on Amazon is a bit tricky since the site keeps trying to redirect you to Amazon Music. Your best bet is to search the Internet for “find free music downloads on Amazon” and follow the first non-sponsored link you find.

SoundCloud

The primary SoundCloud service is sort of like YouTube for recording artists. Any user can upload music to the site, making it available for other users to download or stream.

Not all the music on SoundCloud is free, but you can find free tracks by both major and lesser-known artists. You can search the site for specific artists or genres or just browse the selections of trending music. SoundCloud’s services are also available through mobile apps for iOS and Android.

SoundClick

Much like SoundCloud, SoundClick provides a place for independent artists to make their music available directly to listeners. Founded in 1997, this site now offers millions of tracks spanning a variety of genres. You can find hip-hop, electronic, rock, alternative, acoustic, country, jazz, and even classical.

You can stream unlimited tracks via SoundClick or download them in both MP3 and lossless format. As a subscriber, you get your own profile page and custom playlists. You can follow your favorite artists, connect with other users, and support artists through tips.

Free Music Archive

Created by independent freeform radio station WFMU in New Jersey and now owned by the Dutch music collective Tribe of Noise, the Free Music Archive is a collection of free legal music tracks submitted by users and partner curators. All music on the site appears under Creative Commons licenses, which let artists make their work available for various uses without surrendering their rights.

Digital Trends calls the archive “a veritable treasure trove of free content” you can search by title, artist, genre, and length. The site also hosts a wealth of podcasts and some live radio performances from big-name artists.

Jamendo

Another site that distributes free music under Creative Commons licenses is Jamendo. Around 40,000 artists from more than 150 countries have contributed more than 500,000 tracks, available for streaming or download, to the site.

According to Digital Trends, this site offers a streamlined user interface that makes it easy to browse and find new musicians. Even though most artists featured here aren’t well known, it’s easy to find the most popular tracks based on their user ratings, so you don’t have to sift through countless songs to find the good stuff.

If you need music for commercial purposes — for instance, in a video you want to distribute for profit — Jamendo offers a licensing service. For a monthly fee of $49, you get an unlimited number of tracks for commercial online use.

NoiseTrade

NoiseTrade is a project of the award-winning lifestyle magazine Paste. The “trade” in the name means artists give you their music on the site in exchange for your email address and postal code. It’s a win-win for users, who get free tracks or entire albums, and for artists, who get to build their fan bases.

Digital Trends describes this site’s interface as simple and clean. You can easily search tracks, browse recommendations, promote your favorite artists via social media, and send them tips with a credit card.

ReverbNation

Many well-known artists, including Imagine Dragons and Alabama Shakes, built their fan bases from scratch by sharing their music on ReverbNation. The site hosts over 3.5 million artists representing a mix of genres, like rock, R&B, indie, hip-hop, country, and folk. Its Discover feature can help you find up-and-coming artists in genres that interest you.

DatPiff

Hip-hop artists have long used mixtapes to spread their work. In that tradition, DatPiff offers access to a variety of new free music from both new rappers and mainstream artists like Drake and Future. According to Digital Trends, it’s the leading place to download new tapes, view release schedules, and listen to compilations created by fans.

Audiomack

A newer, up-and-coming player in the mixtape realm is Audiomack. It focuses on hip-hop, rap, and trap music from both newcomers and established artists like Kodak Black. Some artists on this site allow only online streaming of their songs, but there are still plenty of downloadable tracks.

CCTrax

Another genre-specific site is CCTrax. Although it hosts tunes from various genres, it has an unparalleled collection of electronic music, including dub, techno, house, downtempo, and ambient. Many of the singles and albums are licensed by Creative Commons and free for use in other works.

Musopen

Classical music lovers can find lots of free recordings, sheet music, and even textbooks at Musopen. Most classical music pieces are in the public domain, so it’s perfectly legal to distribute them for free. The site has a vast library of royalty-free recordings you can search by composer, performer, form, instrument, or period.

Live Music Archive

For live concert recordings, Live Music Archive is the place to go. The site is a collaboration between the Internet Archive, a nonprofit repository of digital media, and Etree.org, a community for sharing concert tapes. Recordings date back to 1959 and span a wide variety of genres, including rock, reggae, and jazz — and over 15,000 Grateful Dead shows.

According to Digital Trends, this site can be tricky to navigate. There’s no search function, but you can filter results by artist, title, or date. When you find what you want, you can stream it or download it in MP3 or FLAC (free lossless audio codec) form.


3. Broadcast Radio

Even in the brave new world of digital media, there’s still room for the old-fashioned kind. In fact, according to a 2019 Nielsen report, more Americans tune in each week to old-school radio — over the airwaves — than any other platform, including TV and all Internet-connected devices.

Far from killing off broadcast radio, the Internet has revitalized it. A couple of decades ago, you could only listen to your favorite radio station when you were in range of its antenna tower, which made it hard for smaller stations with less power to compete. Today, as long as you have an Internet connection, you can listen to any radio station that has a livestream.

For example, if I want to listen to my local NPR station, WNYC, I can just type “WNYC.org” into my web browser and click the Listen Live button. It’s a lot easier than fiddling with the radio knobs to hit the right frequency and allows you to listen to local radio, even when you’re traveling.

TuneIn

The Internet can help you discover new radio stations as well. At TuneIn, you can find and listen to Web streams from 100,000 radio stations around the world. Sports, news, podcasts, and talk radio are also available.

You can listen to any station on TuneIn with a free subscription. But your stream will include all the ads played on the radio station. With a premium subscription, which costs either $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year, you can listen to many stations ad-free and reduce the number of ads on others.

In addition to its website, TuneIn is available to download as an app for iOS or Android devices. You can also listen via car audio systems, smart speakers, game systems, smart TVs, streaming devices, and wearables.

iHeartRadio

Another site devoted to traditional radio is iHeartRadio. You don’t need a subscription to tune into radio stations or search for one by location. The site also gives you access to podcasts and playlists based on genres, decades, or moods.

With a free subscription to the site, you can build Pandora-style custom stations based on specific songs or artists you like. You also gain full access to IHeartRadio’s podcast collection as well as a custom library in which you can save your favorite stations, music, and podcasts.

For $4.99 per month, you can upgrade to a Plus subscription. It allows you to skip as many songs as you like, play songs and albums on demand, and save and replay songs you hear on the radio. With an All-Access subscription ($9.99 per month), you can also create unlimited playlists and download songs for offline listening.


Final Word

Despite all the Internet has to offer, digital music may never entirely take the place of physical recordings. There are even signs the old-fashioned record store is making a comeback. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, more than 40% of all profits for sales of physical recordings in 2018 came from vinyl LPs and EPs.

The world of modern music isn’t so much about digital versus analog, recorded music versus streaming, or custom radio versus curated stations. Rather, it’s all about choice. Music lovers today have more options than ever for listening to music exactly the way they want. And thanks to the Internet, they also have plenty of options for how much they spend on it.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Other Uses for Life Insurance You May Not Know About

Did you purchase a life insurance policy years ago to protect your loved ones? Just over half of adult Americans have a life insurance policy, and more say they’re interested in purchasing one. However, needs can change later in life when the kids are grown up and a retirement nest egg seems big enough to absorb financial shocks. Those nearing and in retirement may see less reason for their life insurance policy than when they first purchased it and may see the premiums they pay as burdensome.

But for many, there are potential benefits to continuing a life insurance policy or purchasing certain types in retirement, when it comes to taxes, estate planning and long-term care. Here are some ways to use a life insurance policy that you may not know about.

What Are the Tax Benefits of Life Insurance?

The tax benefits of a life insurance policy are potentially even more valuable now that the “stretch IRA” is no more. In 2019, the SECURE Act  (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) eliminated the option for most non-spouse beneficiaries to stretch out RMDs (required minimum distributions) over the course of their lifetime. Now, most non-spouse beneficiaries must drain tax-deferred retirement accounts within 10 years of the original owner’s death. Depending on how much is in the account and the beneficiary’s tax situation, this could mean an increased tax burden and a faster end to the tax benefits of the inherited account.

In contrast, life insurance proceeds paid to beneficiaries are generally income tax-free. In fact, some individuals should consider using life insurance to help transfer wealth to the next generation. Life insurance policies can provide business owners additional opportunities, such as paying off business debt, funding buy-sell agreements related to someone’s business or estate, or funding retirement plans. 

What Are the Long-Term Care Benefits of Life Insurance?

It’s estimated that 70% of Americans age 65 today will need long-term care at some point, and the costs can be staggering: The median annual cost for an assisted living facility is $51,600 and the median

annual cost for a private room in a nursing home is over $105,850. Yet, many Americans nearing and in retirement do not have long-term care insurance. Many people who do want to plan for long-term care costs may not want to invest in traditional long-term care insurance, because premiums can rise significantly, and there are typically no benefits if the owner ends up never needing long-term care.

As a result, traditional long-term care insurance has become less popular in the last decade. An alternative option is to use a life insurance policy with long term care benefits. These policies combine the benefits of long-term care insurance with those of permanent life insurance through the purchase of an optional rider. They can still provide a death benefit if the owner passes away without having needed long-term care. If the owner does need long-term care, a certain amount of money or time is allotted to cover costs. If this amount isn’t used up, some policies can offer a “return of premium” guarantee upon death or termination of the policy. If a remaining amount is passed on, beneficiaries may be able to enjoy it tax-free, depending on the policy.

Unlike traditional long-term care insurance, this type of life insurance policy’s premiums don’t rise. However, some require lump-sum payments at the start, which can make purchasing a policy difficult for some.

The Bottom Line

While your financial planning needs may change as you near and enter retirement, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your life insurance policy is obsolete. There are many potential benefits to life insurance beyond its traditional use to look into when creating a retirement or estate plan. A professional can help you understand how your particular policy works, and if any of these strategies could apply to your financial plan.

Harlow Wealth Management is an independent financial services firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of investment and insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. Harlow Wealth Management Inc. is an SEC Registered Investment Adviser and an insurance agency registered with the state of Washington and other states. They do not provide tax or legal advice. Legal and tax advice should come from qualified professionals who can provide advice on these topics.
Insurance guarantees are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing company. Life insurance riders may be available for an additional annual premium; riders may not be available in all states. Life insurance policies are subject to medical underwriting, and in some cases, financial underwriting. Optional LTC benefits are NOT a replacement for long term care (LTC) insurance. Living benefits and LTC riders are not available on all index universal life products. Accelerated death benefits and LTC riders are subject to eligibility requirements.

CEO, Harlow Wealth Management

Chris Harlow is a Certified Public Accountant and CEO of Harlow Wealth Management, serving metropolitan Portland and southwest Washington to help clients craft their financial strategies for retirement. Chris’ past experiences have instilled in him a dedication to guiding clients through tax and retirement strategies. He has passed the FINRA Series 65 securities exam; holds life insurance licenses in Washington, Oregon and Arizona; and has his CPA license.

Source: kiplinger.com

Varo vs. Chime: Which Online Bank Is Best?

Tired of looking for a branch or navigating a clunky app when you need to manage your bank account?

For anyone who’s ready to walk away from traditional branch banks, an industry of online challenger banks has blown up over the past decade. Technology companies have swooped in to respond to the need for more mobility, better apps and lower fees.

Varo and Chime, two of the top players in the online banking space, compete for customers with no-fee bank accounts and high-yield savings you can set up and manage from your smartphone.

Which is a better fit for you? See how they compare:

Varo vs. Chime Comparison

Varo (previously Varo Money) and Chime each offer checking and savings accounts through user-friendly mobile apps and online banking. Here’s how we rated each company.

Chime and Varo offer most of the same account options aimed at simplifying banking and savings for anyone who’s ready to say goodbye to traditional banks.

  Varo Chime
Checking Account A A-
Savings Account A+ B
Convenience B+ A-
Mobile Banking A B
Small Business Banking n/a n/a
Fees $2.50 + third-party fees for out-of-network ATMs; up to $5.95 retailer fee for over-the-counter deposit or withdrawal $2.50 + third-party fees for out-of-network ATMs; up to $5.95 retailer fee for over-the-counter deposit; $2.50 + up to $5.95 retailer fee for over-the-counter withdrawal
Average Grade A B+
Full Review Varo Bank Review Chime Bank Review

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Chime Overview

Chime is the leader in online banking, offering a no-frills account with features meant to simplify your money management and help you reach savings goals.

Chime Features and Fees

Chime offers fee-free online spending and saving accounts. It includes built-in automatic saving features, SpotMe fee-free overdraft protection, access to two fee-free ATM networks and more.

Chime is known for fee-free services, so you won’t pay for much. You’ll just pay a $2.50 out-of-network ATM fee, plus any fee charged by the ATM operator. And you could pay up to $4.95 to withdraw or deposit cash through your debit card at a Green Dot retail location.

Chime Bank Review

Is Chime right for you? Read our full Chime review to learn more about its features and see what it has to offer.

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Varo Overview

As of July 2020, Varo is the first banking app to gain approval for a full bank charter in the U.S. That means it’s its own bank, unlike other banking apps, which provide technology and work with national banks to provide the financial services and accounts behind the scenes.

It hasn’t yet taken full advantage of its status to offer a full suite of financial services, but it does offer services beyond its original stripped-down checking and savings account, including a forthcoming credit builder program and small cash advance loans.

Is Varo a good bank? Read our full review to learn more about its features and decide whether it’s a good fit for you.

Varo Features and Fees

Varo offers an online, app-based checking and savings account with built-in automatic savings tools, optional overdraft protection called Varo Advance, access to a network of fee-free ATMs and more. It also offers cash advance loans and is developing a credit builder program called Varo Believe for qualifying customers.

Nearly all Varo features are fee free. You’ll just pay $2.50 to Varo to use an out-of-network ATM, plus third-party ATM fees. And you could pay a third-party fee up to $4.95 to the retailer if you deposit or withdraw cash over-the-counter at a Green Dot location. If you use Varo Advance, you’ll pay a fee between $0 and $5, depending on how much cash you draw.

Varo Bank Review

Is Varo a good bank? Read our full Varo review to learn more about its features and decide whether it’s a good fit for you.

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More Details: Chime and Varo Bank Account Features

Both accounts offer these features:

Fee-Free Checking and Savings Accounts

Both Chime and Varo include a debit account (a.k.a. checking) and optional savings account, both with no monthly fees.

Automatic Savings Tools

Both accounts include simple ways to automatically build your savings account by setting rules to move money from checking to savings when you get paid and when you shop.

High-Yield Savings

Both savings accounts offer higher-than-average APY on your savings account balance.

Chime offers 0.50% APY on savings with no minimum balance requirement.

Varo offers 0.20% APY on savings to any customers, and you can earn 3.00% APY in a given month if you receive at least $1,000 in direct deposits, maintain a minimum balance of $5,000 and keep both of your accounts above a $0 balance during that month.

Early Direct Deposit

As with many online banks, both accounts make your paycheck available up to two days early if you get paid through direct deposit. The money is available in your account as soon as your employer processes payroll, which could be up to two days before the scheduled payday.

Overdraft Protection

Through Chime’s SpotMe overdraft protection program, the company will spot you up to $20 with no fee as long as your account has at least $500 per month in direct deposits. That limit can go up to $200 based on your account activity.

Through Varo Advance, you can add instant overdraft protection through the app with a small cash advance loan of $20, $50, $75 or $100, for a fee of $0, $3, $4 or $5, respectively.

Cash Deposits

With both Varo and Chime, you can deposit money into your bank account at more than 60,000 retail locations with Green Dot, which is a function many online banks don’t allow.

Bill Pay

With either account, you can pay bills through ACH transfer by giving companies your bank account and routing numbers, or mail a paper check.

Secure Deposits

Both companies provide FDIC-insured accounts up to $250,000 (the typical amount for any bank account). Chime partners with The Bancorp Bank and Stride Bank, N.A., and Varo Money is backed by its own Varo Bank.

Instant Money Transfer

With both Chime and Varo, you can send money instantly with no fees to others who use the same app. Varo Bank also works with Zelle for money transfers to folks who use other banks, though it admits the connection isn’t always reliable (and is working to fix that).

Second-Chance Banking

Neither company uses ChexSystems, which many traditional financial institutions use to determine your eligibility for a bank account, so a bad banking history won’t necessarily disqualify you for these accounts. Neither company checks your credit report for a banking account or credit builder card, either.

A woman with a yellow blouse and red book bag uses an ATM machine.
Getty Images

Free ATM Withdrawals

A Chime account gives you access to 38,000 fee-free ATMs in the United States through the MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance networks. Varo’s account connects you to more than 55,000 fee-free Allpoint ATMs in the U.S.

Live Customer Support

Talk to a real person from either company via chat in the app, email or on the phone seven days a week.

Reach Chime customer service via email at [email protected], or by phone at 844-244-6363 during business hours: Monday through Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Central, and Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Reach Varo customer service via email at [email protected], or by phone at 800-827-6526 during call center hours: Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern, and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Push Notifications

Stay on top of your Varo account balance with optional notifications anytime money moves in or out of your account. Chime gives you the option to receive  a push notification when a direct deposit hits.

Credit Building Programs

Both companies offer a new, secure way to build credit.

Chime’s Credit Builder Visa credit card is a secured credit card with no annual fee, no credit check to apply and no minimum required deposit (an unusual feature for a secured card). It works like a debit card that lets you build credit.

Through the program, Chime members can move money into their Credit Builder account to back the card, make purchases with the card and have the balance automatically paid off from their Credit Builder account. Chime reports activity to credit bureaus, so the card is a less risky way to build or rebuild your credit.

Varo’s forthcoming Varo Believe program is nearly identical, backing a secured credit card with a dedicated amount of your choice from your Varo Bank account.

What They Don’t Offer

Neither platform offers these features:

  • Joint accounts or additional authorized debit card users.
  • Other financial products, like personal loans, auto loans and mortgages.
  • Refinancing.
  • Small business banking services.
  • Paper checks (though you can use bill pay to have the banks send checks for you,

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A woman peaks up from a book.
Getty Images

Which Is Better: Varo or Chime?

Chime and Varo bank account features are nearly identical, with details that could sway you one way or the other.

Checking

Varo Bank Account: A

Chime Spending Account: A-

Both banks offer a fee-free checking account for deposits and spending. In both cases, you’ll automatically apply for this account when you set up your account in the app (or online). You can fund it through direct deposit or transferring money from an external bank account.

Both Chime and Varo eschew traditional banking fees, including monthly maintenance fees, minimum balance fees and overdraft fees.

Both accounts let you get your paycheck up to two days early compared with a traditional bank, because they release the funds as soon as your employer initiates the deposit.

Both accounts come with a Visa debit card you can use for transactions anywhere Visa is accepted, and for ATM withdrawals. Both are also connected to the Green Dot network, so you can deposit or withdraw cash at retail locations around the U.S.

Overdraft Protection

Both Chime and Varo charge no overdraft fees and offer optional overdraft protection — but eligibility and details vary.

  • Chime SpotMe: Chime will spot you for an overdraft up to $200 and take it out of your next deposit. To be eligible, you just have to receive $500 in direct deposits every month.
  • Varo Advance: You can opt into overdraft protection as you need it with Varo Advance, a small paycheck advance you select instantly through the app. Choose an advance of $20, $50, $75 or $100, and pay a fee of $0, $3, $4 or $5, respectively. You’ll choose an automatic repayment date anytime between 15 and 30 days of the advance. To qualify, you have to have at least $1,000 in direct deposits within the past 31 days.

Savings

Varo Savings Account: A+

Chime Savings Account: B

Both Varo and Chime offer optional savings accounts that facilitate automatic savings and yield competitive interest rates.

Funding the Account

You can only fund a Chime Savings account by transferring money from your Chime Spending account — not through direct deposit or an external bank account. To add money from another source, you must first deposit it into your Spending account, then make an instant transfer.

You can deposit money into a Varo Savings account from your Varo Bank account in the app or directly from an external account through ACH transfer.

Savings Account Interest Rates

Both Chime and Varo savings yield interest at an annual percentage yield (APY) above the 0.06% national average for savings accounts reported by the FDIC.

Chime Savings offers a 0.50%% APY with no additional requirements.

Varo Savings offers a 0.20% APY with no requirements. You can earn up to 3.00% APY on balances up to $10,000 by receiving at least direct deposits of at least $1,000, maintaining a minimum $5,000 balance and keeping both your Bank and Savings accounts above $0 for the month.

Automatic Savings

Chime and Varo each let you select one or both of two savings “rules” that automatically move money into your savings account. Varo’s options are slightly broader than Chime’s.

  • Chime: Save when you get paid by transferring 10% of any direct deposit of $500 or more into savings. Save when you spend by rounding up Chime debit card transactions to the nearest dollar and depositing the digital change into savings.
  • Varo: Save Your Pay lets you set a percentage of your direct deposits to automatically transfer to savings. Save Your Change rounds up every transaction from your Varo Bank account — including debit card purchases, bill payments and transfers — to the next dollar and deposits the difference into your savings account.

Convenience

Varo: B+

Chime: A-

All online-only banks are convenient relative to traditional branch banks, unless you prefer face-to-face service from bank tellers at a brick-and-mortar bank.

Each bank’s mobile app lets you manage your account 24/7, including mobile check deposit and money transfers, and live customer service agents are available if you need questions answered.

Varo and Chime accounts offer features many online banks don’t, including cash deposits via Green Dot, early paycheck access and flexible overdraft protection.

Mobile Banking

Varo App: A

Chime App: B

Chime and Varo both offer mobile banking apps that are more user-friendly and easier to navigate than what you’ll get for most traditional bank accounts. However, both are pretty simplistic, lacking the budgeting tools you’d find in a lot of mobile apps.

In both apps, you can:

  • View and manage your accounts.
  • Transfer money between savings and checking, to and from external accounts, and to other customers of the same bank.
  • Deposit checks using your smartphone camera.
  • Locate in-network ATMS.
  • Freeze your debit cards.
  • Manage overdraft protection.
  • Contact customer support (via chat or email).

Push Notifications

Both apps give you the option to stay on top of your bank account balance by receiving a push notification every time money moves in or out of your account — via deposit or withdrawal, debit card purchase, or over-the-counter or ATM cash withdrawal. Chime also sends daily account balance alerts.

Small Business Banking

Neither Varo nor Chime offer small business banking accounts or products and services.

Account Fees

Both companies tout fee-free banking that eliminates many of the costs associated with traditional banks — largely because they don’t bear the expense of running brick-and-mortar locations.

You’ll pay no maintenance fees, overdraft fees or foreign transaction fees, and you can avoid ATM fees by using in-network ATMs.

With both banks, you’ll just pay for:

Out-of-network ATM: $2.50 for using an out-of-network ATM, plus any fee the ATM owner charges.

Cash deposit: You’ll pay a retailer fee up to $5.95 to deposit cash via Green Dot.

OTC cash withdrawal: You’ll pay a retailer fee up to $5.95 for a cash withdrawal via Green Dot. Chime also charges a $2.50 fee for over-the-counter withdrawal, while Varo does not.

Varo Advance: You’ll pay between $0 and $5 to use overdraft protection with Varo, while Chime’s SpotMe overdraft protection is free.

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How They Differ: Choosing the Right Bank for You

Overall, Chime and Varo offer similar banking products that will likely appeal to the same types of banking customers — but each has slight differences that might appeal to certain customers.

Who Should Join Either Bank?

You might prefer either account over traditional banks if:

  • You prefer the easy access and mobility of online banking.
  • You regularly run your account balance close to $0 or live paycheck to paycheck.
  • You’re often paid through direct deposit — you could benefit from an early payday!
  • You’re often paid in cash but want an online bank account.
  • You want an easy way to save money automatically.
  • You want a flexible and secure way to build credit without the risk of accruing debt.

A traditional bank or credit union is probably a better fit if you want to manage your checking, savings, loans, credit cards and investment accounts all in one place.

Who Should Join Varo?

Varo is better than Chime if:

  • You want to build an emergency fund. Varo’s Save Your Pay rule lets you set aside any percentage of your paychecks you want, so you can set it above Chime’s 10% Save When You Get Paid rule to help you reach your savings goals faster.
  • You want to make the most of your savings. Varo offers six times Chime’s interest rate on savings for qualifying account holders, though the rate comes with balance requirements.
  • You live in the Mountain states. Although services in general tend to be limited in this region, Allpoint’s ATM network has a little more coverage than both MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.

Who Should Join Chime?

Chime is better than Varo if:

  • You run on a tight budget. Chime provides overdraft protection with just $500 in monthly direct deposits compared to Varo’s $1,000-deposit requirement. It covers you up to $200 compared to Varo’s $100 and doesn’t charge a fee for the service.

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FAQs

Are Chime and Varo the same?

Chime and Varo are distinct companies operating online banking apps, but they each offer similar services.

Is Varo Bank a good bank?

Varo Money is a reputable and popular banking app backed by FDIC-insured accounts through Varo Bank. The mobile bank is a good option for anyone who likes online banking and has simple banking needs that don’t require all financial services to live under one roof.

Is Varo an actual bank?

Yes, Varo Bank, N.A. received approval for a U.S. bank charter in July 2020 and is an FDIC member. Varo Bank is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the financial technology company Varo Money, Inc., which operates the Varo Money banking app.

Which bank is better: Current or Chime?

Current is an online bank account that offers many of the same features as Chime and other neo bank competitors. Current stands out for offering “savings pods,” which help you save toward specific goals, and separate accounts for teens; but it charges fees to access those unique features.

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Bottom Line

You can sign up for either Varo or Chime by downloading their mobile apps or visiting their websites.

Neither account requires a minimum opening deposit, but you can connect an external bank account to transfer money in right away or set up direct deposit to fund your account when you get paid.

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Our Bank Review Methodology

The Penny Hoarder’s editorial team considers more than 25 factors in its bank account reviews, including fees, minimum daily balance requirements, APYs, overdraft charges, ATM access, number of physical locations, customer service support access and mobile features.

To determine how we weigh each factor, The Penny Hoarder surveyed 1,500 people to find out what banking features matter most to you.

For example, we give top grades to banks that have low fees because our survey showed that this is the No. 1 thing you look for in a bank. Because more than 70% of you said you visited a physical bank branch last year, we consider the number of brick-and-mortar locations. But more than one-third of you use mobile apps for more than 75% of your banking, so digital features are also considered carefully.

Ratings are assigned across the following categories:

  • Personal checking accounts
  • Personal savings accounts
  • Small-business banking
  • Convenience
  • Mobile banking

Credit card and loan products are not currently considered.

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers and digital media.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com