Plastiq: welcome convenience or just an easier way to rack up more debt?

I’m probably a little behind the times here, because I just learned about Plastiq a month ago. As you probably guessed, I’m always looking for ways to get more bang for my buck with cash-back, rewards, and discounts. Hoping to get some rewards points, I was looking to charge my tuition to my rewards credit card then pay off the balance with my savings. However, as is pretty typical here, my university doesn’t accept credit cards for tuition payments. For them this is just a cost-savings measure, but I think it does students a favor too since they can’t rack up credit card debt by charging their tuition. Until now.

plastiq

Plastiq is a web-based service that let’s you pay for things you can’t normally charge — like tuition, taxes, utilities — with your credit card. 

At first I thought that sounded great. I was going to get my rewards points after all! Until I read the fine print and noticed this:

Plastiq charges a fee of 1.99% - Plastiq FAQ

So if you’re like me and using a 1% cash-back card or my American Express points card, any point-seeking is quickly negated by paying more than you have to for something. To be fair, I don’t think 2% is a big deal — but my summer school tuition was $3,500 and it just didn’t seem reasonable to pay $70 just to charge it to my credit card.

I’ve been in the habit of paying off my credit card bill in full for years now, but I know I’m not the norm. I wonder if facilitating the use of credit cards for big purchases you otherwise had to save or find alternate funding for will just make it to easy to go into credit card debt — and credit card debt is so expensive!

With most credit card interest rates 20%+ in Canada, the last thing you ever want to do is carry a balance — particularly if you’re also paying Plastiq an additional 2% just to use their service.

When’s the last time you paid 122% of the price for something?

I appreciate the convenience Plastiq offers but I couldn’t make myself sign up, because there was no win for me: it just makes things cost more. Maybe if there was some rewards bonus offer or something else, you could make it justified, but as for now I really don’t see any payoff for the user. If anything it just creates more debt.

Have you ever used Plastiq? What are your thoughts on letter people use credit cards for everything?

Jonesing On A Budget Part II

I recently shared my first post on this topic, Jonesing On A Budget Part I: Don’t Downgrade Your Lifestyle, Live It For Free, a few days ago and now I’m happy to present Part II! Here are some more tips to enjoy the champagne life on a beer budget ;)

imgreseBates – Want cash-back for your online purchases? Simply register with eBates and click through to your regular shopping on sites like Amazon, Sephora, and even Enterprise rent-a-car. There’s some overlap between Swagbucks and eBates as far as retailers go, so I usually check both sites before I buy to get the best deal. However, I do find eBates has a lot more options so generally if I’m buying something from any online store other than Amazon, I go through eBates. Depending on the retailer, you can get anywhere from 1% to 7% cash back. eBates will pay out your balance monthly if it’s over $5. They pay via PayPal or cheque (I choose cheque because it’s usually small and it costs $0.50 to transfer a small balance to your bank account on PayPal and I’m just too cheap for that)

Jonesing on a budget: Make all your online purchases with a no-fee, cash-back credit card like the MBNA cash-back card and you’re essentially getting 2% to 10% cash-back on your spending. Furthermore, often eBates will offer coupons on its retailers so you’ll get a discount and the cash back. You’re almost getting paid to shop. Almost.

imgres-1Airmiles – Airmiles is the dying points system but it’s not quite useless yet. I once used my airmiles to get a KitchenAid mixer, but since they introduced an expiry date on their points, it’s unlikely I’ll ever accumulate enough to make a purchase like that again. Instead, I’m all about the little and quick wins when it comes to rewards system: iTunes gift cards. 95 Airmiles will get you $10 in iTunes, and since songs and apps only cost $1, it goes pretty far!

Jonesing on a budget: Airmiles are pain to earn, but if Safeway is your local grocery store you will get 1 Airmile for every $20 spent, plus tons and tons (and tons) of bonus offers. If you want to speed up the process further, go through Airmiles shops. Best I’ve found: discount magazine subscriptions via Rogers magazine service. I ordered my subscription to Women’s Health, and not only do I get the magazine for less than $3/mo, I received 20 bonus Airmiles for signing up. If fitness isn’t your jam, MoneySense magazine is on the list! Note: this only works if you’re already spending $5/mo to get your magazine from the store, otherwise I really doesn’t make sense to spend $36 for 20 airmiles ok?

imagesGroupon – Yes, Groupon still lives. I’d forgotten about this great option until a spa gift card I wanted popped up and I grabbed it. I used to be an avid Groupon user but twice I let purchased Groupons expire and then I had to cut myself off, but now that I’ve found making a plan for something first THEN checking Groupon has resulted in some great savings.

Jonesing on a budget: buy your Groupon for a restaurant (50% off) through Swagbucks (3x the Swagbucks per dollar spent), and make your reservation through Open Table (100 dining points). BAM! Discount, Swagbucks, Dining Points! You are officially a rewards system master!

trendtrunkTrendTrunk – this awesome site is one I found when searching for a way to get my hands on some cheap lululemon. Lulus generally hold up well even secondhand, so I don’t hesitate to buy when I find something cool in my size. TrendTrunk has tons of designer brands available secondhand, and they handle the transaction between you and the seller. This is infinitely preferable to searching for cool clothes on Kijiji or eBay!

Jonesing on a budget: Use trend trunk to sell your secondhand clothes, then go ahead and buy someone else’s pre-loved clothing with the money you make, effectively costing your $0. Designer duds for free – who can say no?

imagesTitan Bingo – there’s probably no way more fun to earn money online than to do so by playing games. There are number of sites out there depending on what you enjoy, but Titan Bingo is one of the best all around sites. Head over to Titan Bingo for more information and to start playing!

Jonesing on a budget: you get a  40 welcome bonus just for signing up! Where most games and hobbies cost you money to get started, it’s nice to begin with a little in the bank =)

Happy frugal living the high life!

 

Jonesing On A Budget Part I: Don’t Downgrade Your Lifestyle, Live It For Free

Hands down the hardest part of paying down my $20,000+ student loan debt was adjusting my spendy lifestyle to one of thrift and austerity. Effective? Hell yes. Fun? Not so much. But deprivation can be the birthplace of innovation when it comes to getting smart about your money. You might think you have to give everything up, but I don’t think that’s true. Actually, you might not have to give anything up at all.

Can you keep up with the Joneses at a discount — even free?

No, before you get excited, there is no shortcut to discipline. You have to manage your money wisely and if you want to manage your money in a way that maximizes the amount of free stuff it gets you, you have to be even more careful.

Damnable Downside: the more you spend, the more rewards you’ll get.

This isn’t fair, and IMO just the “rich getting richer” via serious credit card perks, but even a small or moderate spender can reap serious rewards if their efforts are concentrated in the right place. However, DON’T buy things you don’t want/need/like just to get points or because it’s on sale. Stores will ALWAYS be trying to trick you into doing this so you have to be vigilant.

Now the good news is when I started this post, it was so long I actually had to split it into two parts.

imgresAmazon - There is a 95% chance something you want to buy is cheaper on Amazon, particularly if you live in the US. As a Canadian, our Amazon catalogue is limited and maybe that’s why I find most people don’t take advantage. If you think Amazon is just for books, change your thinking: I’ve bought everything from vacuum cleaners to microwaves to yoga towels on the site. Amazon is a great place to get everything you want at a great price without having to hunt around multiple stores.

Jonesing on budget: Subscribe to Amazon Prime so your get FREE 2-day shipping on all your orders. You might hesitate at the price, but it’s been my experience that the discount on items from Amazo,n coupled with never paying shipping charges, are savings that far exceed the cost of a prime membership.

imgres-1Swagbucks - Swagbucks might be my ultimate secret to affording the things I want on a student budget. I constantly redeem Swagbucks for Amazon giftcards, and then I go shop on Amazon and get 1 to 2 Swagbucks for every dollar spent, building up my account all over again. Occasionally, I let them build up significantly for a “big” purchase (like how I recently cashed in a handful to get a FitBit for $60 instead of it’s regular price of $100 — that’s 40% off!) but often I will just use one or two $5 gift cards to supplement a purchase.

If you’re not using Swagbucks yet, click here to sign up.

Jonseing on a budget: install the Swagbucks search bar into whatever browser you use and turn regular searches into buck-earning binges. Redeem Swagbucks for amazon gift cards (see above) or Starbucks gift cards (see below) or even PayPal cash.

imgres-2Open Table - Now that I’m employed full-time again, I’m blessed once more with one of my favorite things in the whole wide world: business lunches. Not only are these free in themselves (thanks, work!), when I book them through OpenTable I get points towards free dinners. Result? Free business lunches which turn into free personal dinners.

Jonseing on a budget: If you’re in charge of booking working lunches, look for restaurants offering 1,000 points instead of the standard 100 points. Since you only need 2,000 points to get a $26 restaurant gift card (in Canada), you get there fast with these bonus reservations.

imgres-3Starbucks Rewards –  What I really like about Starbucks is gift cards are everyone’s go-to gift from a quick thank-you to birthday gifts when you don’t know what to get someone. I know I receive about $100 in Starbucks gift cards per year and by loading them onto my card and spending wisely, I get tons of free rewards. More often than not I’ll always have one or two free drinks on hand.

Jonesing on a budget: Buy drip coffee until you get to 12 coffees and redeem your free reward for a treat like a latte or food. When buying coffee for other people, or buying coffee + food, note that you will ONLY get 1 star for your whole purchase, despite buying multiple things. Solution? Make the cashier ring them in one at a time. If you feel dumb, pay for yours, walk away, and then come back and say, “my colleague just texted me for a coffee” and place your second order. BAM! 2 stars! (yes, I really do this because I really want those stars)

imgres-4American Express Points – I’ve been a fan of American Express as my travel card since back in the day when I had the Platinum card and got to charge all my work travel to it (my work spending was so high, I once charged more than I earned in a year — I miss those days of majorly reimbursed spending!)  but I have since downgraded to the Gold card. Points are SO EASY to redeem for travel or are transferable 1-for-1 to Aeroplan. You can also cash them in for gift cards and other rewards. Another perk is the card doubles the manufacturers warranty on purchases you charge to the card. So that FitBit I bought with Swagbucks on Amazon was paid for with my American Express, which means I have a two year warranty on it instead of one. This means if it randomly breaks 1.5 years from now, I call Amex to get a new one. Not too shabby!

Jonesing on a budget: Charge all travel related spending to your American Express card, namely hotel stays, car rentals, and flights. You can instantly credit your own charges with your points. Additionally, the gold and platinum cards offer car rental insurance. Since this typically runs $25/day and I rent cars as much as 30 days per year, being able to skip this cost on my car rentals is HUGE savings.

What rewards programs do you use to get your favorite splurges at a steep discount or even for free?

The $0 Weekend

Time for another fun weekend free of cost! Weather is miserable yet again in Calgary, so I’m spending time indoors, which always makes it easier to be frugal. If the weather is bumming you our or you just want to cut costs, here’s something to occupy your time!

The $0 Weekend

1. Watch Call The Midwife on Netflix

I’ve had this on my to-watch list for awhile but it wasn’t until this week that I finally gave it a try. The first season is only 6 episodes, so I’m already halfway through. The story takes place in 1957 London, and centres around midwifery in the city’s poor east end. If you dig period pieces like I do and are looking for something to fill the void Downton Abbey has left in your heart, you’ll be a huge fan.

lonely2. Read The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

I used an Amazon gift card to get my payout, so if you’ve saved up enough Swagbucks, this is totally worth the splurge. If not, see if you can get it from your local library or borrow from a friend (it’s a bestseller right now and seems to be on shelves everywhere, so I’m sure you know someone that’s picked it up!). Marina Keegan was a 22 Yale graduate with a promising writing career ahead of her, but was tragically killed in a car accident only 5 days after graduation. The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of short stories and essays written by Marina during her undergraduate degree. Not only is this a beautiful and honest collection of the the naive, but-oh-so-self-aware musings of a 20-somethings, it’s also a poignant reminder that no matter what plans we make for ourselves and how promising we are, dreams can disappear in an instant.

3. Learn to properly contour your nose via Maskcara

I know I’m not the only one that’s been doing this all wrong.

4. Spring clean your closet and start building a grown up wardrobe. 

This is a great how-to list from AJ Wears Clothes. You might think at first glance that building a grown-up wardrobe costs money, but the first six steps don’t cost a penny! It’s all about getting organized, taking stock of what you have, and then making a plan for what you need to buy in the future. I haven’t bought new clothes in more than 6 months so it’s time for me to go through my closet and get rid of anything that’s old/ugly/torn/unflattering/doesn’t-fit and start making a plan for an update =\

5. Remove the salt & water stains from your winter boots before storing them for the summer. 

 

Have a happy frugal weekend!

From Employed Grad to MBA Student, A Tale of Two Spending Reports

After sharing the details including costs of my MBA in my last post, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how my spending has changed since going back to school. I’ve been tracking my spending for a few years using Money 4 by Jumsoft (linking because everyone always asks what program it is!), so it’s relatively easy to take a look back and see where my dollars were going.

Comments on the charts before we begin!:

  • In March of last year, I still had student loan payments, which show up as Debt in the March 2013 pie chart! I do not have any debt payments now.
  • Savings don’t show up on the chart, as they’re measured as transfers between accounts rather than purchases. The exception is Investment which refers only to stocks purchased during that month.
  • Bank charges refers almost entirely to PayPal fees, this the odd transaction of withdrawing money at a restaurant ATM for a surcharge (I understand this is a personal finance sin, I sometimes do it anyway)
  • Job Expenses in March 2013 and Online Business in March 2014 are the same thing and refer to the costs associated with running the blog, namely paying staff writers.
  • In March 2013, Food referred only to groceries and dining out fell under Leisure. In 2014 I changed how I track this and dining out is now part of Food in the March 2014 pie chart.

Flashback to March 2013

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 3.45.05 PM

Well, no one can say I wasn’t having a really good time spending nearly 1/4 of my money on Leisure! Those days are gone.

…Now in March 2014

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 3.46.30 PM

Nearly half of my spending now is on my needs. This isn’t a great situation to be in, and I certainly wouldn’t encourage it if you have a choice, but for students it’s not uncommon to have most of your money go to meeting your basic needs. If your spending report looks more like my March 2013 one and you’re in classes full-time, you’re either really rich or digging yourself into a very deep hole. Right now, I don’t have a lot of money to spend because I don’t have a lot of money! Thankfully the situation is temporary: I only have one more year of my MBA left, and then I can return to work full-time. As for now, I can’t spend like I used to!

What’s different?

I pulled the Dining Out out of Leisure in 2013 for comparison, nixed similar spends (turns out my clothing spending was about the same both months, despite huge difference in income) and laid it out for comparison:

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 4.11.47 PM

Coffee and dining out are way, way down and groceries are up! Investments have been scaled back, and so has leisure, while spa appointments (“Personal Care”) have been axed entirely. Travel? That minor charge in 2014 is just new passport photos — I can’t even afford to renew the actual passport! Oh, student life.

While I hate downgrading my lifestyle, I am happy I managed to do so without feeling too deprived. Living frugally isn’t so bad! Nevertheless, I’m still looking forward to working full-time this summer so I can bring some fun back into the budget.