ScoreCard Research Betsy Mikel - The Penny Hoarder

Some people love the thrill of blackjack, skydiving or drag racing. I love the thrill of saving money at CVS. It’s excitement, disbelief and accomplishment, all rolled into one.

I get such a rush watching a big total reduce to just a few dollars. On a recent visit to the store, I saved 97% while buying stuff I actually need. While the difference isn’t always that dramatic, I generally save at least 60% on my purchases.

But it’s not fair to keep all my CVS saving secrets to myself. Here’s how to save money at CVS, reducing your bill by the double digits every single time you shop.

1. Never Shop When Desperate

The best way to score deep discounts on toiletries at CVS? Never shop when you run out. Instead, shop when the price is right. Just as you should never grocery shop when hungry, you should never drugstore shop when you actually need something.

If you wait until you’re squeezing the very last bit of toothpaste out of the tube, you’ll likely spend more than if you had bought it last week during a great sale.

Keep an eye on the weekly sale flyers and shop when CVS has a great toothpaste deal (which luckily, is often.) Even if you don’t need it right now, having a tube or two of toothpaste on hand is never a bad idea. When you run out, you can “shop” your own medicine cabinet.

2. Throw Brand Loyalty Out the Window

If you insist on buying a particular brand of deodorant, body wash or laundry detergent, you won’t be as successful in hacking your way to CVS savings. For maximum savings, let the sales and special offers drive the brands you buy.

Though you may find a great deal on a product you love, you can save bigger bucks if you’re open to buying any brand. Even if your favorite product is on sale, a competing product might be even cheaper. You’ll save more when you look at every price tag, then go with the lowest one.

3. Get Strategic About ExtraCare Bucks

All pharmacies have rewards cards, but I find the ExtraCare Rewards Program to be the best money-saving card of them all. One big reason: ExtraCare Bucks, or ECBs.

These are essentially CVS gift certificates ranging from $1-10 that print on the bottom of your receipt. They usually expire in 30 days, but you can use them right away. In fact, you can even divide your items into two transactions and use ECBs from transaction one to bring the price down in transaction two.

So how do you get ECBs? Each week, certain items are designated “Extra Buck Offers.” Smart CVS shoppers review the week’s ad before visiting the store and stick to items that have ECB offers.

Once you get going, you can start “rolling” your ECBs. You know you’ve reached true CVS savings nirvana when you hand over a stack of ECBs from your last shopping trip, which gets your price down to just a few dollars. And then even more print out to use next time.

4. Scan Your ExtraCare Card Before and After Every Trip

Every CVS has a red machine that looks like a price checker (and indeed, it is. You can also scan products here to verify their prices.)

The first thing you should do when you walk into a CVS is scan your card at this machine. It will spit out a whole bunch of random coupons. You might get something like “$5 off $15 oral care purchase” or “$3 off $11 personal cleansing.” You never know what you’ll get. Many of these coupons are triggered by what you already buy (and since you’re religiously using your ExtraCare card, CVS knows.)

Use the coupons on the spot or save them for later. These coupons are especially valuable because you can combine them with other offers to save even more money.

Before you check out, don’t forget to hand your card to the cashier. Every three months, you’ll get back 2% of what you’ve spent in the form of ECBs, so you want to make sure every purchase you make qualifies for that 2%. Keep in mind that certain items don’t count, such as gift cards, alcohol and stamps, but almost everything else does.

5. Register for Extra ECB Offers

Snag extra ECBs by taking advantage of additional CVS programs. If you have prescriptions, get them from CVS and sign up for the ExtraCare Pharmacy & Health Rewards. You’ll get $5 ECBs for every 10 prescriptions you fill.

The ExtraCare Beauty Club is another great way to rake in the ECBs. You get $5 ECBs for every $50 you spend, plus $3 ECBs every year on your birthday. Even if you don’t buy a lot of makeup, several other items are included in Beauty Club such as shampoo, body wash and face wash.

Look for one-off ECB offers as well. CVS may ask you to take a survey and reward you with ECBs. Right now, they’re pushing their mobile app and will give you $3 ECBs if you download it.

6. Add Your Email to Your Account

You’ve reviewed the weekly CVS circular and know your plan of action. But wait! Don’t head to CVS until you’ve received this week’s additional email coupon.

Once you’ve registered your ExtraCare card, be sure to go online to add your email address to your account. You’ll soon start receiving additional coupons almost every single week. These coupons tend to be 20% off your entire order, $5 off a $20 purchase or $3 off a $15 purchase.

So when you shop sale items, then use these coupons along with your ECBs, you’ve got potential for huge savings.

7. Stick to Your List

There’s a reason you’ll find such great sales at CVS. Take this popular offer CVS frequently runs as an example: $3 ECBs on a $7.99 razor, cutting the price almost in half. Razors are notoriously expensive, so this is a great way to get customers in the door. And those ECBs are a great way to entice customers to come back.

Once you’re in the store, CVS knows you’ll likely throw other things into your basket besides that razor. Don’t do it! You’ll end up spending more than you need to.

Plan your strategy and know exactly what items you’ll buy before you step foot inside the CVS. Exercise restraint. Just because you can also pick up your favorite candy, a frozen pizza and a carton of milk while you’re trying to maximize your savings doesn’t mean you should. Of course, if those items are part of your shopping list or strategy, go for it.

Putting It All Together

Just one of the above tips can save you some cash. But if you’re strategic in your shopping, keep a close eye on the sales and maximize your ExtraCare Card benefits, you’ll be well on your way to blissful extreme savings at CVS.

Here’s my best score so far: I combined the ECBs I had in my wallet, the weekly email coupon and several coupons that printed off the machine (while only purchasing sale items, of course) to bring down my total from $46.63 to $1.27 before sales tax -- a savings of 97%. It was so epic, even the cashier was impressed. And now I’ve got a small stockpile of toiletries I know I’ll need soon. Let me know if you need some toothpaste!

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Did you know you can check out more than books and DVDs from your local library?

Literacy isn’t the only thing on a public library’s agenda. Libraries aim to improve access to information and provide education for everyone in their community.

Book learnin’ on how to become a carpenter or play the guitar can only take you so far. To truly master these crafts, you need tools and instruments. That’s where public libraries can help. They offer patrons of all income levels more opportunities to learn and get involved in their communities.

Check out a few unusual things you may be able to borrow from your public library.

1. Passes to Museums and Zoos

Many public libraries circulate free passes to local museums, zoos, state parks and other activities. These often cover the whole family, and some require a child under 18 to be part of your group.

Libraries that offer museum passes often have a limited number available and lend them on a first come, first served basis. It might be tough to snag one, especially during school vacations and over the summer.

If you’re itching to visit a museum for cheap, you can also take advantage of free and discounted museum days.

2. American Girl Dolls

Can’t fathom spending more than $100 on a doll? See if you can borrow one from your public library.

Though this isn’t a common item, the few public library programs across the United States that lend dolls to young patrons are extremely popular and limit the rentals to one week. Some even include a journal, so you can see where else the doll has been.

The Arlington Public Library in Virginia has an American Girl Lending Program. You can also borrow a doll from East Village branch library in New York and the Allegheny County Library Association in Pennsylvania.

Some of the dolls arrived at their temporary library homes via private donations, and the American Girl company donated others.

3. Telescopes

Budding engineers or scientists who don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars on instruments and tools can sometimes borrow them from a local public library.

Many libraries lend science tools such as microscopes, binoculars, meters, globes and even human and animal skeletons.

“Sometimes you need tools in order to do cool science projects,” Celeste Choate, the Ann Arbor, Michigan, associate director for services, collections and access told USA Today when the library began to circulate science tools. “Not everybody can afford a pH meter.”

4. Musical Instruments

Libraries lend all sorts of instruments to patrons, from banjos to guitars to electric keyboards and more.

The Ann Arbor Library circulates the most comprehensive and unusual collection of musical instruments, which includes an LSDJ Game Boy (a modified Game Boy that makes music), Otamatones (a Japanese instrument that’s nearly impossible to explain) and Boomwhackers (percussionists will love ‘em).

Some libraries, like the Seattle Public Library, have music practice rooms you can reserve. Make all the noise you want as you learn to play!

5. Hammers, Drills and Rakes

Tackle a few DIY projects or finish those nagging home improvement tasks without dropping your entire paycheck on tools.

Many libraries have a few basic tools on hand. Others, like the Oakland Public Library, have more than 3,500 tools, books and how-to videos and DVDs available to borrow.

Tool lending libraries also extend beyond public libraries.

Dedicated tool libraries in New Orleans, Louisiana; Portland, Maine; and Phoenix, Arizona, lend or rent tools. Use this map of tool lending libraries to find one near you.

6. Board Games and Puzzles

Fine tune your mad Scrabble or Monopoly skills at your public library.

Several libraries keep board games collections for patrons to play. Some allow you to check them out, but others require you play within library walls to minimize lost pieces.

Several libraries also circulate video games.

7. Cake Pans

Bake a Darth Vader, Elmo or T-rex cake for a special occasion without buying the pan. A lot of libraries have extensive cake pan collections. This one is more common than you’d think!

Here’s just a handful of libraries that lend cake pans:

If you’ve got a theme party coming up, it’s worth a call to your local public library to see if it has a collection you can borrow from.

8. Pedometers

Community health organizations or health-care companies often donate pedometers to libraries to encourage participation in their health and wellness initiatives. See if your library is one of them.

While you’re at it, check your library’s audiobook database, so you can listen while you log your steps.

Many public libraries partner with a company called Overdrive to offer audiobooks you can download to your iPhone, Android or another MP3 device. They magically disappear when the rental period ends.

9. Wi-Fi Hotspots

Cutting out internet can help you save significantly on monthly expenses.

But if you work from home or are on the job hunt, it’s not easy to go without. While most libraries have public computers, you’re limited to using them during the hours the library’s open.

That’s why some libraries have come up with a way to lend internet access to patrons.

The New York Public Library allows patrons without home internet to check out Wi-Fi hotspots for six months. (Keep in mind this program is intended for patrons who can’t afford internet, not those who don’t feel like paying for it.)

Other libraries — including those in Chicago and Seattle — lend Wi-Fi hotspots for three-week periods.

Tips for Checking Out

If you don’t have a library card, you won’t have access to any of these items. So get one!

Also keep in mind many of these bizarre collections are popular — the library wouldn’t offer them if there weren’t a demand. So check with your library to see if you can place a hold or get your name on a waiting list.

Even when you do reserve materials, be prepared to wait awhile. That waiting list could be months long.

Some libraries don’t allow holds on popular items. So the best way to snag that sought-after museum pass is to be the first in line when the library opens.

Lastly, nothing from the library is truly free if you don’t return it on time. The fines for these overdue items may be much heftier than those for returning a book or DVD a day late. Double-check the rental period — which is often different from that for books — and be sure to return everything on time.

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Kaiku and Visa Clear Prepaid for working with us to bring you this content.

I recently added a new card to my wallet: the Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card. I didn’t have much experience with prepaid cards, but the more I looked into it, the more budgetary sense this card made.

I think the concept of a prepaid card is simple: Load funds onto the card, and use it just like a debit card. If you’re trying to stick to spending a certain amount on groceries, entertainment or travel, one of these cards can be a great tool for limiting yourself to a specific amount.

Unlike a credit card, you can’t carry an interest-generating balance from month to month. And unlike a bank debit card, for prepaid cards meeting the Visa Clear Prepaid standards you can’t spend more than your account balance by overdrafting -- which we all know could lead to hefty fees. Sounds appealing, right?

I recently completed a 21-Day Challenge in which I used my Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card, part of the Visa Clear Prepaid program, to stick to my grocery budget.

Along the way, I discovered a few handy features that reeled me in. Here are some of my favorites!

1. No Fees If You Load $750 a Month

The Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card is essentially a modern-day spin on envelope budgeting. If you use it enough, you can avoid surprise fees. You just need to direct deposit at least $750 each month, and the $3 monthly fee is waived.

If you plan to use your card to help you stick to your budget in a certain category or for all your day-to-day expenses, this can be a no-brainer.

2. Access to ATMs Outside Your Bank Network

I don’t like to carry cash, but sometimes I find myself out with friends at a cash-only bar. And of course, my bank never has a nearby ATM.

Inevitably, I have to use an out-of-network ATM, so I get slammed with a $2-3 fee from the ATM and a $2-3 fee from my own bank. I’m literally throwing dollars down the drain — just to use my own money!

With a network of 55,000 Allpoint ATMs across the country, Kaiku gives you access to lots of ATMs where you can withdraw cash and avoid fees. Use the app to find one nearby.

I discovered I could use my Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card to withdraw cash at several ATMs at no charge, including ATMs at 7-11, Target and CVS. Even my favorite cash-only bar just down the street from my apartment has an in-network Kaiku ATM. Win!

3. An Easy Way to Deposit Checks to Your Card

Waiting in lines and filling out forms are on the top of my list of least-fun things to do, which means I don’t enjoy trips to the bank. So I do most of my banking online and use my bank’s mobile app to deposit checks.

The Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card was clearly designed for people like me, because their app has a feature where you can snap a photo of a check to send the money to your card. Who wouldn’t love that feature?

4. Simple Money Transfers to Friends

Sometimes it’s easy to split costs with on activities with your friends, but not always.

But if your friends also have Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Cards, you can easily send them money you owe for shared expenses.

Kaiku calls these card-to-card transfers, and you can set them up through the app. They’ll instantly move money from one card to another, so there’s no waiting for the transfers to go through.

You can also schedule recurring payments to a friend or family member. So if you need to pay a roommate a certain amount each month for rent or cover your portion of the family plan phone bill, just set up automatic transfers through the Kaiku app.

5. Auto-Pay for Your Bills

One of the easiest ways to avoid late fees on bills is to schedule auto-pay.

The Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card has a Bill Pay feature so you can make recurring payments to your gas, cable or electric company.

If you just need to make a one-time bill payment, you can do that, too. It’s all done through the app.

6. Budget Tracking

Staying on track with a budget usually entails cutting out some fun. That’s why we sometimes go over budget a little bit — maybe we eat out a few more times than we planned to. Or we decide to just go for those concert tickets because… well, why not?

Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card tracks spending in “fun” categories and lets you know if it’s time to scale back.

When you log into the app, you’ll see the “Funds-Ometer” at the top. It tracks your average spending in certain categories like eating out, bars and entertainment. The Funds-Ometer compares your 60-day spending average and lets you know if you’re spending more than usual.

As I started using my Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card more, I realized it could also be a helpful tool for day-to-day spending. It’s different than other prepaid cards because the benefits extend beyond the physical card you keep in your wallet. When I used my card alongside the app, I was surprised to discover that Kaiku offers many of the same mobile banking features as my bank.

Your Turn: Have you tried using the Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card? What did you think?

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

When I left my job to freelance full-time, my teeth were not high on my priority list.

I had previously visited my dentist every six months on the dot for regular cleanings. But leaving my job also meant leaving my dental insurance. My teeth would just have to hang in there until I figured out what to do. (And thankfully, they did.)

Sure, I would commit to regular brushing and flossing. But anything beyond that just seemed too expensive. Now that I was on the hook to cover my own health costs, even routine visits to the dentist seemed like a luxury.

What’s a self-employed girl to do? Become an expert on dental plans, that’s what.

After a Dental Hiatus, I Drag Myself to the Dentist

More than a year into self-employment, I finally decided to take my teeth to the dentist for a cleaning.

I consulted freelancer friends to see how others handled dental care. It seemed no one bought dental insurance because it was far too pricy. So what did most people do? Everyone I spoke to paid out of pocket.

I figured I’d have to do the same. I called my dentist’s office and was told a cleaning would be $140. Ouch.

While scheduling my appointment, I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t have any cavities after so much time away from the dentist’s chair. I couldn’t bear to ask how much fillings might cost.

The tooth fairy must have known what was up. Just a couple of weeks before my appointment, I found out about :DentalPlans. (That colon before the name is part of their logo; it looks like a smiley face. Fun, right?)

Even though I didn’t fully understand what dental savings plans were about, I was game. Why? Because allegedly, their plans could cut the cost of every trip to the dentist in half.

So… What’s a Dental Savings Plan?

First, what a dental plan is not.

It’s not insurance, which covers routine services (usually a couple cleanings a year) and up to a certain amount if you need other work done. My last dental insurance covered $1,000 of additional work.

With a dental savings plan, you pay an annual fee, then get a 10-60% discount on most dental services such as exams, cleanings, fillings, root canals and crowns. You still pay out of pocket for those services, but you pay significantly less than you would without the plan.

Here’s a simple way to look at it: You essentially pay the membership fee to be part of a club. And the club perks are steep discounts on dental services.

I visited :DentalPlans to look into their options (they give Penny Hoarder readers 15% off and two months for free when you use the code "HOARDER"). When I searched for my dentist and compared plans, the Careington Care 500 Series rose to the top as the most affordable. For $144.96 a year and a $20 processing fee, the discounts were huge: a whopping 74% savings on a routine check-up, and 70% on a cleaning.

Even though I’d have to pay to join the plan, the amount I would save on some of these procedures would make it worth my while. If my math was correct, the plan would pay for itself after just two cleanings. :DentalPlans even offers a 30-day money back guarantee, so I had no excuse not to give it a shot.  

The percentages and prices displayed on :DentalPlans appeared to be an estimate or average of all the dentists who accepted the plan, so I called my dentist to double-check. Did they accept Careington Dental Plans? Did they really give these huge discounts? They sure did, and they assured me that I’d save a bunch if I became a Careington dental plan member.

So I signed up, which only took a few minutes, and printed out my membership card. I didn’t need to be pre-approved or share my dental records or anything of that sort.

Still Too Good to be True?

I brought my Careington Dental Plan Card to my appointment, still apprehensive this little slip of paper would slash my bill in half. As my dentist snapped on his gloves, he told me I was one smart cookie for buying into the plan. He assured me I would save tons of cash.

He may have regretted bringing it up, as this comment opened the door for me to bombard him with questions.

While I understand you probably shouldn’t talk as someone is poking your teeth with a periodontal probe, I was curious, and still not convinced. I needed to know more about these dental plans. Before I allowed my dentist and the hygienist get to work, I asked lots of questions.

Do dentists pay to be a part of the plan?


Why would a dentist agree to be a part of the plan and offer a discount when it’s better when people pay full price?

To bring in new clients who might not have come in otherwise.

Can anyone join the plan to get these discounts?


What was the catch here?

None, he said. It’s a great way for someone who doesn’t have insurance to save a whole bunch of money at the dentist. He told me twice there is absolutely no catch.

And I asked one more question because I was legitimately curious: Do people ever fall asleep while they get their teeth cleaned? If so, do they keep their mouths open?

Yes, I learned many people do indeed doze off and in the process close their mouths. So the dentist either has to wake them up or prop their mouths open.

Let’s Talk Final Numbers

Once I had asked every question I could think of, I let the dentist get back to polishing my pearly whites. My cleaning was over in a jiffy, and I had zero cavities. Phew!

The grand total for my exam and cleaning came to $140, but I only had to pay $46. The exact numbers are as follows:

dental care

To recap, I paid $144.96 for the plan, plus a $20 processing fee. And just one cleaning in, it had already saved me $94 off the cost of my appointment.

So it still has a ways to go before paying for itself -- technically, I’m still down $70.96 -- I’ll come out ahead after my second cleaning. Plus, if I’m unlucky enough to need further dental work, it’ll be even more worthwhile.

It still seemed too good to be true, so I kept my Sherlock hat on and asked the receptionist even more questions. She assured me that the Careington Dental Plan is simply a great way to save money at the dentist. She even has the same plan herself. With the family plan (a bit more at $199.95 per year), she gets discounts on dental care for her whole family.

We rely on our teeth all day long to chew our food and help us enunciate our words. It’s ridiculous that great dental care is so expensive. So few Americans regularly visit the dentist because many can’t afford it.

But after my experience, I’ve got hope for those of us who are self-employed or don’t have dental insurance. Our teeth can finally get the attention they deserve.

You can sign up by calling DentalPlans at 1-855-423-9414. Or you can click here to sign up online. Use the promo code "HOARDER" to save 15% and get the first two months for free. 

Your Turn: Have you tried using a dental savings plan to save money on visits to the dentist?

Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to :DentalPlans for working with us to bring you this content and for providing the discount code. 

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Kaiku and Visa Clear Prepaid for working with us to bring you this content.

Red wine manchego cheese. Dark chocolate açai blueberries. Sea salt caramel gelato. Every time I go grocery shopping, these delicacies beg me to bring them home.

More often than not, I toss these off-the-list items into my cart. I’ll admit a twisted rationale is at play. I’m already saving money by cooking at home. So I convince myself that buying just a few of these little fancy-pants treats is a-ok.

Problem: These little treats add up and can make a big dent in my grocery budget. Plus, when I feast on fancy cheese, chocolate and ice cream all week, all the good-for-me fresh produce will go uneaten. By the week’s end, I’m literally throwing away money.

When asked if I would be interested to try out the Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card for one part of my life for 21 days, I excitedly accepted the challenge. My grocery budget desperately needed an overhaul, and this was the perfect nudge I needed to get back on track.

Why the Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card?

While I could try the envelope method to set aside a certain amount of cash for my grocery budget each week, I don’t like carrying paper and receipts. I don’t find envelope budgeting a convenient way to keep tabs on how much I spend. I’m used to banking online, where I can see all my transactions listed.

The Kaiku Card is a prepaid debit card that has much of the same functionality as my bank debit card. I could log into the Kaiku website or app at any time to see my transactions and check my balance. I could even deposit checks by snapping a photo or transfer funds from PayPal, just like I do with my bank.

But the prepaid Kaiku Card offered something my debit card didn’t: I could set aside a specific amount to dedicate to grocery spending. I loaded $150 onto my card for my 21-day grocery budget challenge. And when I spent it, that was it. I’d be cut off. No more spending more than I had budgeted.

The only cost to me was the $3 monthly fee, since I chose a fee-free load option. But if I could stick to my $50-a-week budget for groceries, that $3 would be nothing compared to what I had previously spent on dressed-up junk food.

Getting Your Card and Loading It With Funds

It’s free to get the card. Just go to the Kaiku website, fill out some personal contact info, and sit tight for seven to 10 days until it arrives in your mailbox. Go online or call to activate it. Then there are a few ways to add money to your card.

  • Take cash to a Visa Readylink location. This is the fastest option because you’ll be able to use the card instantly, but vendors will charge a fee of $2.95 to $4.95 to load your card.
  • Deposit a check onto your card by snapping a picture with the Kaiku app. If you’re not in a hurry, wait up to 10 days for the deposit to go through and you won’t have to pay a fee. Or, if you want instant access to your funds, you can opt to pay between 1% and 4% of the value of the check, with a minimum fee of $5 (it varies by check type).
  • Sync your bank account and transfer funds straight onto your card. These transfers take two to four business days. Kaiku won’t charge you a fee, but be sure to check in with your bank for potential fees.

I chose to transfer funds from my PayPal account. If you go this route, be sure to add your Kaiku card as a bank account, not as a debit or credit card. Once you activate your card, you’ll get all the details PayPal will need so you can add your Kaiku card as a bank account, including the bank name, routing number, account number and account type.

PayPal will need to confirm the Kaiku account, which takes two to three days. They’ll send two small deposits (each between $0.01 and $0.99) to your Kaiku card. Then you log into your PayPal account and confirm the exact deposit amounts to verify you’re the owner of the account.

When all was said and done, it took me a couple of weeks to receive my card and add funds. Then I was ready to get serious about stripping down my grocery spending!


Saving More Than I Thought Possible

For these 21 days, I knew I’d be under the radar. I couldn’t mess this up. I had to write a blog post about my progress on the challenge, so I was determined to succeed.

I could have gone mad crazy with the coupons to keep my grocery spending low, but I didn’t want to derail my eating habits and buy processed food. So I looked for other ways to save on fresh, healthy food.

First, I downloaded a rebate app, which gave me coupons on grocery store staples like milk, bread and eggs. I instantly saved $0.20 on bananas and got a $0.50 bonus for redeeming my first offer.

Second, for these 21 days I bought all my produce from a fruit and vegetable market in my area. The prices are dirt cheap because the produce is just at its peak. I used to buy all my fruits and vegetables there, but the market is a bit out of the way, is always crowded and means a separate trip since they don’t sell other groceries. For this challenge, I decided those inconveniences were worth it to stay under budget.

Last, I stuck to my shopping list. To spend just $50 a week for all my groceries, I couldn’t splurge on those extra just-for-fun treats. It’s called grocery shopping, not treat shopping.

I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep my spending low enough to complete the challenge under budget, but exactly 21 days after I started, I was surprised to see I still had $15.54 leftover. Maybe I had some wiggle room for a couple pints of gelato after all!

Kaiku app budget


How the Kaiku Card Helped Me Stick to My Grocery Budget

When I’ve used prepaid debit cards in the past, I would only have a general idea of the remaining balance. Not the case with Kaiku, especially with the simple and straightforward app.

The ability to track my spending on my phone was huge. My phone is my lifeline, so it was a huge plus that I could use the app to stay on track. Since I was using my card exclusively for groceries, I could see exactly how much I spent throughout the 21 days.

I also appreciated a few of the other features that the card provided:

  • No overdrafts permitted, so I couldn’t spend more than the $150 I had budgeted
  • Deposit or share insurance to protect my funds, e.g. FDIC/NCUSIF
  • Visa’s Zero Liability fraud protection*, which provided added security if I lost my card or it was stolen.

What I Learned About Budgeting

Throughout my 21 days, I learned a “secret to success” that many already know: Tracking helps you hit your goals. Want to improve your diet? Keep a food journal. Want to meditate, write or exercise more often? Make note of every time you do it. And to stay on budget? Track what you’re spending.

My Kaiku Card provided me a log of transactions dedicated to my grocery spending, so I was much more aware of exactly how much I spent. My spending naturally decreased because I kept much closer tabs on how much I spent every shopping trip.

That’s not to say I’ll never toss a hunk of delicious fancy cheese or a bag of dark chocolate-covered almonds into my cart ever again. But now I hope those small splurges will be more infrequent and mindful — making each and every bite that much more delicious.

Your Turn: Have you tried out the Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card yet?

* Visa's Zero Liability Policy covers U.S.-issued cards and does not apply to certain commercial card transactions, or any transactions not processed by Visa. You must notify your financial institution immediately of any unauthorized use. For specific restrictions, limitations and other details, please consult your issuer.

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

What if you could shop for a living? No, we’re not talking mystery shopping, or even working as a personal stylist. This job entails shopping at thrift stores, garage sales and even other people’s closets.

Vintage has long been back in style, especially because every piece is so unique. If you find a piece of vintage clothing from the ‘50s, ‘60s or ‘70s, there’s a good chance you’ve found the last one on Earth. And if you learn how to find those one-of-a-kind, highly sought-after vintage pieces in the wild, you can resell them online to make a profit.

Sound easy? That’s not entirely the case. Selling vintage clothing on Etsy isn’t a way to make a quick buck. But when you have a passion for paying homage to fashion of decades past, the work doesn’t (always) feel like a job.

That’s exactly the case for Lora Conrad, the owner of Hungry Heart Vintage. Over the past few years, she’s built her Etsy shop into a profitable business. Conrad sells about 20-30 pieces a month through her shop, as well as a few more through private purchases.

She gave us some insight into how she got started, how she finds and prices her pieces, and how she’s built her Etsy business into a job she loves going to every single day.

Scrounge High and Low

When asked how she finds her pieces, Conrad says, “Lots and lots of scrounging!” Estate sales, flea markets, garage sales, antique malls in the middle of nowhere, you name it.  Conrad is always on the hunt for new pieces she can breathe new life into and sell.

One surprising way she acquires new pieces is through private appointments. “People don’t realize that, much of the time, I get my inventory because someone has just passed away,” she said.

“Private buying appointments are by far my favorite ways of acquiring vintage,” she said. “I love taking the time to sit down with people as we go through their old clothes, or more often, their late loved one’s clothes. I get to learn all about the women who wore them, and when I leave I feel like I’m leaving with more than just dresses. I’m leaving their homes with bits of their family history that will live on through others.”

When she first started selling vintage, Conrad didn’t anticipate this would be part of her job. “But it makes me happy when I can help people through that time, even in such a miniscule way,” she said.

Embrace Seasonality

Swimsuit season arrived a couple months ago — including in Conrad’s shop. She constantly keeps her shop fresh and lists what’s in season.

That means swimsuits and party dresses in the summer, cardigans and scarves in the fall. If she finds a stellar vintage coat on a summer thrifting adventure, she won’t post it until cooler weather arrives. It’s not just that she can get more money when an item is in season. It also keeps her selling costs as low as possible.

Etsy charges $0.20 for each listing. If it doesn’t sell within four months, it costs another $0.20 to relist the item. By posting in-season pieces that will likely sell within four months, Conrad only needs to pay the listing fee once.

She also runs promotions, especially during holidays like Black Friday. Running a 20% off promotion during the already high-shopping holiday season brings more customers to her shop and moves more product off her virtual shelves. While this entails much more work — more shipping, more back and forth with customers, and more time to keep her store stocked — Conrad finds the extra revenue she makes during this time provides a nice buffer for the post-holiday shopping slump.

Build Your Brand

Conrad doesn’t spend all her time on her Etsy shop. She’s also active on Facebook and has 1,700 Instagram followers, where she shares not only new listings, but also sneak peeks of what’s coming soon and behind-the-scenes photos of her workday and “shop assistants” (a dog and two cats.) This puts a face on Hungry Heart Vintage, so her customers can get to know the woman behind the shop.

Though it’s more difficult to track the value of the time she spends building the Hungry Heart brand, Conrad does occasionally make sales through Instagram.

Conrad also blogs about how to blend vintage and modern style. She’s kind of like a vintage clothing advisor. “Vintage clothing isn't just for vintage enthusiasts, and just because something is old doesn't mean it has to be styled that way,” Conrad said in a recent blog post.

Dedicate Yourself to the Details

Glowing reviews attract more people to your shop. And on the other side of the coin, a bad review can turn someone away. The best way to acquire those happy customers, then entice them to leave you a five-star review? Go above and beyond their expectations.

To begin with, Conrad spends a great deal of time preparing clothes for sale. Cleaning and repairing is time consuming. “Some pieces need to be soaked and hand washed several times to get the decades of dirt out,” she said.

Then Conrad gets extremely detailed in how she describes each item. She includes measurements as well as information about fit, material, brand and condition. She always lets customers know about any imperfections and provides a range of photos for each item.

After the sale, Conrad artfully packages her orders and writes notes to thank her customers.

“Packing takes quite a bit of time, but that’s on me,” Conrad said. “I love packing up orders and making them look pretty, so I’m happy to spend a lot of time on that.”

With review after review from her customers thanking her for a pleasant shopping experience, Conrad has built the trust that will bring new customers to her shop.

Develop a Pricing Formula

One of the trickiest parts of selling vintage clothes is pricing. Some pieces are more rare than others, so are worth more. Some pieces Conrad finds for cheap, others she has to pay more for up front. Many require a great deal of time and money (dry cleaning, new zippers or buttons) to bring up to selling condition.

So how much does she make on the stuff she resells?

“It’s hard to say from piece to piece,” Conrad said. “Sometimes you find a treasure on its way to someone's dumpster or in your neighborhood thrift. Other times, between the cost of purchasing the items, plus the cost of cleaning supplies or having it professionally cleaned, repairs, the mark up is fairly slim.”

Since so much wildly varies in how much she pays and invests in each piece, Conrad doesn’t aim for a certain margin every time. And she doesn’t even bother with trying to factor in her own labor hours. “The only formula I use to mark up items is, L=0. That’s ‘Lora pays herself no money per hour for her labor.’ “

Just like other successful Etsy sellers, Conrad does not deny how much work she puts into finding, preparing and selling her pieces. “I’ve never tracked the hours it takes to see a piece through from start to finish, but I know I’m done when my lower back hurts.”

But as a self-defined “independent, stubborn, loner workaholic,” she wouldn’t have it any other way. “Starting a business from nothing is totally terrifying, but the moment I made my first sale I knew I did the right thing.”

Your Turn: Do you sell vintage clothing online? What advice do you have for new Etsy sellers?

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Chances are you probably have a smartphone. And those don’t come cheap.

So why not put a dent in your phone bill and use the thing to earn some money?

We searched high and low to put together this list of free apps that will help you make money. You can earn rewards that are redeemable for cash and gift cards by doing some pretty simple, mindless tasks on your phone: playing games, browsing the web, taking surveys, watching videos, taking photos and more.

While these apps will definitely make you a buck or two, don’t expect to make enough to quit your job.

Still, those pennies and dollars definitely add up. Using these apps could be a great way to sock away some extra cash for a big purchases or holiday shopping.

Get Paid to Kill Time

Got a few minutes while you’re standing in line or waiting at the doctor’s office? Instead of spending your downtime on Facebook or scrolling through Instagram, why not download one of these apps to make a few bucks? These apps pay you to take surveys, play games or test out new tools.

1. Swagbucks

This is a definitely a reader favorite, because of the wide variety of ways to make extra cash beyond taking surveys. The company is also famous for handing out free points (they’re called SB) at random just for being a member. It’s free to sign up and you’ll get a $5 bonus when you take your first survey.

You can redeem your SBs for cash via Paypal or gift cards to a number of popular retailers, including Amazon. Sign up for Swagbucks here.

2. i-Say Mobile

Take surveys on your phone with through i-Say, and get points you can redeem for PayPal cash or gift cards to Amazon, iTunes and other stores.

You’ll earn about $1-2 by taking 10-15 minute surveys. i-Say also has a loyalty structure, meaning once you get going and take more surveys, you get bonus loyalty points. Check out our full review here.

3. Perk Pop Quiz

Trivia fiends will love this one. Download the Perk Pop Quiz app and pick from one of the many trivia categories -- The 90's & the 2000's, Music & Movie Quotes and Famous Slogans are just a few.

The more correct answers you rack up, the more points you get. You can redeem those points for gift cards to Amazon, Starbucks, Nike, GameStop, Target and other stores.

4. InboxDollars

Like playing games on your phone? Why not get paid to do it? Sign up for InboxDollars and you can immediately cash in on their $5 new member bonus.

Then you’ll get paid to play games like Solitaire, Bejeweled and Wheel of Fortune. You can also earn money by taking surveys. Once you’ve racked up $30, you can request a payout via check, which you can expect in a couple of weeks.

Here's our ultimate guide to InboxDollars.

5. ESPN Streak for the Cash

Sports-obsessed? This one’s for you. With the ESPN Streak for the Cash app, you make predictions for upcoming games in 10 different sports.

If you keep a long streak of correct predictions going, you get cash rewards.

6. Google Opinion Rewards

Google Opinion Rewards lets Android users earn free apps, music, movies, games and books through the Google Play store.

Get credits in exchange for taking short, anonymous surveys on your phone. Credits vary depending on the length of the survey.

7. GrabPoints

With the GrabPoints app, all you have to do is watch videos or GrabPoints TV on your phone to accumulate points. Other ways to accumulate points: Take surveys, download and test apps, play games and refer your friends to join.

Redeem your points for gift cards to Amazon, Target, iTunes, Gap and more. For now, GrabPoints is only available for Android. An iOS app is coming soon.

8. User Testing

Before new apps launch, companies pay users to test them out. Sign up at to apply to become one of their testers and take a sample test. Once approved, test apps on your phone and get paid for what you think.

For every 20-minute session you complete, you get $10 via PayPal within seven days. For this one, you’ll need to try the apps, and then submit a voice recording with your feedback.

Save and Make Money on Groceries

If you’re a true Penny Hoarder, you likely cook at home more than you eat out, which means a big part of your budget goes towards buying groceries. Take advantage of these apps, many of which can help you get money back on groceries you already buy.

9. Ibotta

Ibotta is a simple cash-back app that works at tons of retailers, including grocery stores, liquor stores, even restaurants. Just download the app, choose your store, select your rebates and go shopping. When you get home, snap a photo of your receipt through the app and the money will appear in your account in 48 hours.

You can cash out for gift card or a PayPal deposit. Plus if you sign up through this link, you can collect a $10 welcome bonus.

10. Nielsen Homescan

Sign up to become a Nielsen Consumer Panelist, then use your phone to scan what you buy at the grocery store. You’ll accumulate points with each scan. The longer you stick with it, the more points-earning potential you have. You can cash in those points for gift cards or items from the NCP catalog (items include electronics, jewelry, household items and toys.)

Bonus: Even if you don’t actively scan your groceries after every shopping trip, Nielsen Mobile Panelists get paid $50 a year just for keeping the app on their phones.

11. Walmart Savings Catcher

This one only works if you shop at Walmart. But if you do, definitely take advantage of Walmart Savings Catcher.

Scan your Walmart receipts, and the app will compare sale prices of items you bought at other stores in your area. If it finds a lower price elsewhere, you get the difference as a Walmart eGift Card. You can print out the gift card or save it on your phone to use during your next Walmart trip.

Get Paid to Share Data

Companies want to learn how consumers use their phones, and they’re willing to pay you if you allow them to peek in. These apps run in the background, anonymously transmitting your data to companies. And allegedly, they don’t slow down your phone or drain your battery.

Information these apps collect includes the times of day you browse the web most, how long you stay on websites, which websites are popular and which ones aren’t.

12. Screenwise Panel

Join the Screenwise Panel and download the app to earn an instant $6, then earn $3 for each week afterwards.

If you use it during your birthday month, you get $5 more. Cash out these rewards for gift cards at Amazon, Best Buy, Gamestop, Starbucks, CVS, Walmart and other stores.

13. Media Research Panel

Sign up for the Media Research Panel and agree to let the company collect data about your cell phone usage.

You’ll be paid $5 per month, per device. Simple as that! Plus they’ll send you a $5 bonus after the 12th week.

Sell Photos, Books and Clothes

Instead of physically taking your items somewhere to sell them, stay at home and sell from from the comfort of your couch.

14. Bookscouter

Want to clear out your bookshelves? Bookscouter will let you know which buyback company will give you the most bucks for your books. Scan each book’s barcode, compare vendors to see which one will offer you the most cash, then fill out your info to get a prepaid shipping label.

15. Decluttr

Decluttr is a simple mobile app lets you sell your old CDs, DVDs, Blurays, video games, game consoles, phones and other media for cash. You'll get a quote as soon as you scan an item's barcode.

The best part? Decluttr sends you a free shipping label. Just put your stuff in a box and ship it -- your money will appear in your account within 24 hours of Decluttr receiving it.

16. Letgo

You can sell just about anything on this intuitive app.

Just take a picture, type up a short description and Letgo puts it's on the market in a matter of seconds.

17. eBay

You already know you can make money by selling everything from coupons and used books to other people’s clothes on eBay. But did you know the site has an app you can use to snap a photo, write a description and upload a listing?

It’s an easy way to become an eBay seller in just a few minutes. Just keep in mind that the site keeps a percentage of your sales.

18. Foap

Turn your smartphone photos into cash with Foap. It’s a stock photography website, so you need to have an eye for taking quality photos.

Once you download the app and sign up for an account, you can add your photos to the marketplace. When someone buys your photo, you make $5. So if 20 people buy the same photo, you make $100.

19. Popular Pays

If you’re Instagram “famous,” meaning you have thousands of followers, get the Popular Pays app. Brands will pay you to take photos of their products and broadcast them to your followers through your Instagram feed.

Prices vary depending on the brand and how many followers you have. You can also get stuff like free coffee if you have at least 500 followers.

Do Odd Jobs

You can make a bit more cash with apps that require you to do a little work. These apps are middlemen between you and big consumer brands that want to check in on their products in various stores and ensure consistency. It’s kind of like doing market research — and you’re the collector of the data. Keep in mind that these apps need to track your location to find jobs, which can drain your battery.

20. Field Agent

Becoming a Field Agent is kind of like mystery shopping — except you don’t have to buy anything. Download the Field Agent app and look for assignments in your area. You may be asked to take photos of displays in stores, scan barcodes and record prices. You’ll be paid $2-8 for these short jobs, and can collect your cash via PayPal.

21. Gigwalk

Similar to Field Agent, use Gigwalk to find small, paying gigs in your area. Large companies want to keep tabs on in-store displays, see if products are available and check to see if prices are correctly displayed, and Gigwalk helps connect them with locals. So you’ll visit stores, snap photos and respond to questions.

Gigs can take anywhere from five minutes to a few hours to complete, and pay anywhere from $3 to $100 via PayPal. To get offered those higher-paying gigs, you need to prove yourself as a reliable and active Gigwalker.

22. iPoll

Next time you’re out shopping, pull up iPoll to see if you’ve got any opportunities to snap photos, take surveys or offer your opinion to earn cash. iPoll gives you “missions” to complete at grocery stores, retail stores and other shopping locations.

You can redeem your rewards for gift cards, airline miles and magazine subscriptions, to name a few. Bonus: Right now they’re offering a $5 sign-up bonus.

23. Rewardable

Download the Rewardable app and look for tasks nearby. You might be asked to snap photos of signs of a display in store, report on how well shelves are stocked and record the prices. The tasks take a few minutes and are worth $4-7.

There are also smaller tasks that help you earn “acorns”; these jobs are easier to complete, but are worth less. Rewardable pays out your earnings via PayPal.

Get Paid to Shop

While you’re already out shopping, keep these apps handy to make a few extra bucks.

24. Mobee

Mobee is a mystery shopping app that asks you to rate the customer service, cleanliness and other criteria at stores in your area. Once you complete a “mission” by answering  five to 10 questions, you get points you can redeem for gift cards, prizes or cash.

We tried a Mobee mission at Subway that paid $8. Though the payouts aren’t as high as other mystery shopping companies, we can’t complain about a free sandwich!

25. shopkick

Shopkick pays you simply to enter certain stores such as Macy's, Target, Best Buy and JCPenney. You get “kicks” to walk in the store, scan barcodes and make purchases. You can redeem your kicks for gift cards to Target, Starbucks, Sephora and other stores.

Passive Income: Make Your Phone a Billboard

These apps all fall into the passive earning category, meaning you don’t have to do anything special to rake in the rewards. It’s an easy way to make a few extra bucks without much work.

To earn from most of these apps, you simply agree to be served ads on your phone’s locked screen. So if you don’t mind seeing ads every single time you pick up your phone, this is a great way to make some passive cash. These apps are all Android only.

26. AdMe

With AdMe, you keep your Android lockscreen as-is, then get served ads once you unlock your phone. You’ll get $1 upon sign-up, then will slowly rack up more cash as you normally use your phone.

It’s hard to say how much you’ll make. AdMe knows people try to game the system by constantly unlocking their phones, so they’ve got a secret algorithm that factors this in and minimizes fraud. They simply tell you to use your phone as you normally would, and they’ll reward you. Once you hit a $10 balance, you can get your cash through PayPal.

27. Bing Rewards

Want to get paid to search? Sign up for Bing Rewards and go to your dashboard on your phone. Use Bing as your search engine and make an extra $5-10 per month.

You get paid in gift cards for stores that include Amazon, Target, Sephora and Starbucks.

28. SlideJoy

With SlideJoy, you’ll see an ad, news story or promotion every time you look at your Android phone.

You’ll get around $6 per month, depending on how many advertisers they have that month. Payouts are through PayPal.

29. ScreenPay

ScreenPay sends offers or promotions to your Android lock screen. You can boost your earning potential by referring friends to join and by sharing more info about your interests and demographics.

When you join, you’ll get credited $1, then $3 every month afterwards. Once you hit $5, you can cash out through PayPal.

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Sponsorship Disclosure: A huge thanks to Kaiku and Visa Clear Prepaid for working with us to bring you this content.

I enjoy small, everyday luxuries. I don’t mind treating myself to a latte, grabbing dinner out with friends or picking up a bottle of wine after work. But too many of those indulgences would leave me broke. So each month, I try to stick to a budget with strict limits for hitting the grocery store and just-for-fun expenses like coffee shops, restaurants and shopping.

But there’s a problem with my budgeting plan: I secretly know nothing will happen if I don’t stick to it, and there’s no real incentive to keep me honest.

Even if I only go a few dollars over each category’s budget each month, those expenses add up. And I know if I had budgeted better, all those pick-me-up lattes or fancy cheeses could have gone towards something much more luxurious — like a plane ticket to somewhere exotic.

Why Budgeting is a Challenge for Me

I use an online money manager to set my budgets and track spending, but there are no real repercussions for going over my limits. Even though the service warns me if I’m getting close to blowing my budget, I get a clean slate on the first of every month. I always have my debit and credit cards on hand, making it super easy to pick up a coffee, eat lunch out with coworkers or grab a few bags of chips at the corner store.

I’ve considered the cash diet — taking out a certain amount every single month and spending only what’s in my wallet — but I’ve never been a huge fan of carrying cash. Since those purchases don’t show up on my statements or in my money management service, cash feels like toy money. I can spend it however I want, then I’ll forget about it minutes later. This frivolous approach certainly isn’t helpful when trying to stick to a budget.

I’d like to set a firm budget for my groceries and treat yo’ self expenses, track my spending and cut myself off when I’ve hit my limit. Enter prepaid debit cards.

How Prepaid Cards Help You Stick to Your Budget

If you want to limit yourself to spending a certain amount in a certain category each month — say, $150 on groceries — you can simply load up that exact amount on a prepaid debit card. Swipe your card at the grocery store just as you would a debit or credit card.

But unlike your credit or debit card, you won’t be able to spend more than you have. When your balance hits zero, you can’t use credit or overdraft protection. You’ve only got whatever you’ve loaded onto the card for the month, which might make you think twice about tossing something extra into your cart you don’t really need!

Which Prepaid Card Should You Choose?

When I started looking for a prepaid card, I was surprised at all the options -- and each card has different features and limitations.

I was excited to learn about the Visa Clear Prepaid program; cards that qualify for the program are required to clearly communicate their monthly fee plans, so you’ll know exactly what you’re signing on to pay. The Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card has a flat monthly $3 fee that covers a few cool features:

  • No overdrafts permitted, so you can’t incur extra fees or spend more money than you have
  • Deposit or share insurance to protect your funds, e.g. FDIC/NCUSIF
  • Visa’s Zero Liability fraud protection*, which provides added security if your card is lost or stolen

Plus, you’ll never get hit with sneaky fees. The Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card has:

  • No fees for declined transactions
  • No fees for cash back
  • No fees for customer service
  • No fees for in-network ATM withdrawals or balance inquiries
  • No fees to close your card
  • No fees for replacing a lost card

The main fees include the $3 monthly fee, which you can avoid by loading $750 per month onto the card (like direct deposit), and $1.45 for out-of-network ATMs. For more information on fees, you can visit

You can use the card to make one-time or recurring bill payments, get cash at more than 55,000 AllPoint ATMs and even transfer money to friends who have the Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card. You can use the card anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted: supermarkets, clothing stores, drug stores, restaurants, online retailers and gas stations, just to name a few.

Join The Penny Hoarder 21-Day Challenge

To test this prepaid card as a budgeting tool, we’ve partnered with the Visa Clear Prepaid program to launch a 21-day challenge for the Penny Hoarder community. For 21 days, I’ll be using the Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card for all my grocery purchases.

Since I tend to overbuy at the grocery store, I plan to use my card to purchase only the groceries I need. Instead of ending up with more food than I can possibly eat, I’ll stick to the necessities — and stick to my grocery budget. I hope that limiting myself to only using my prepaid card will help me be more mindful of my spending.

Ready to get serious about budgeting for one of your everyday expenses? Join me in the 21-Day Challenge! Here’s how to get the card and get started.

How to Get Your Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card

Signing up for your Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card is super simple. Go to the Kaiku website, click Get Card, fill out some basic info and they’ll mail you a card. (Bonus! You get to pick from a few fun colors.) It will arrive seven to 10 days later, and you can call or go online to activate it.

Then, it’s time to decide how much money you’re going to load -- I chose to add $150, my grocery budget for the next 21 days. You’ve got a few options to put your money on the card:

  • Take cash to a Visa Readylink location. This is the fastest option because you’ll be able to use the card instantly, but vendors will charge a fee of $2.95 to $4.95 to load your card.
  • Deposit a check onto your card by snapping a picture with the Kaiku app. If you’re not in a hurry, wait up to 10 days for the deposit to go through and you won’t have to pay a fee. Or, if you want instant access to your funds, you can opt to pay approximately 4% of the value of the check, with a minimum fee of $5.
  • Sync your bank account and transfer funds straight onto your card. These transfers take two to four business days. Kaiku won’t charge you a fee, but your bank might.

My Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card is on its way and I’m looking forward to getting my grocery budget back on track! Will you join me in the 21-Day Challenge?

Your Turn: How would you use a prepaid card to help you stick to your budget?

* Visa's Zero Liability Policy covers U.S.-issued cards and does not apply to certain commercial card transactions, or any transactions not processed by Visa. You must notify your financial institution immediately of any unauthorized use. For specific restrictions, limitations and other details, please consult your issuer.

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Walking into Anthropologie instantly transports me to a happy place. The carefully curated window displays. The gorgeously styled mannequins. The one-of-a-kind flowy dresses, vintage-inspired jewelry and adorable tschotskes. It even smells good when you step inside an Anthropologie store.

But nothing at Anthro — even that lovely dreamlike scent — comes cheap. (Those candles they’ve forever burning in the stores are $28 a pop.) That’s the one not-so-great thing about Anthropologie. One look at the price tags, and I’m instantly jolted from my happy place into reality.

As much as I love the Anthropologie look and style, I refuse to pay full price for their items. So what’s an Anthro-loving girl to do? Over the years I’ve gathered a handful of pro tips from my own shopping experiences as well as from friends who’ve worked there.

Here are my top nine ways to save money at Anthropologie so I can kiss those preposterously steep price tags goodbye.

1. Join the Club

Joining Anthropologie’s loyalty club, ANTHRO, is free. You’ll get a few snazzy perks like access to a personal stylist, a chance to shop new arrivals before everyone else and invites to exclusive in-store events.

But the best perk is a discount code on your birthday every year. If you sign up at least 30 days before your birthday, you’ll get a 15%-off coupon via email. For more details, check out this in-depth FAQ about the birthday discount from fan blog Endless Anthropologie.

When you join, you’ll also be added to the email list. Brace yourself for Anthropologie inbox overload. They send tons of emails, including sales and promotions.

2. Get a Job

If you have a serious Anthro addiction, it might be worth working a few shifts a week at your local store. Then you can take advantage of the generous employee discount. That employee discount also applies at Free People, Terrain, BHLDN and Urban Outfitters. Here’s exactly what Anthro employees get, straight from their own website:

  • 40% off of regular-priced apparel, accessories and shoes in stores and online. Apparel and accessory exceptions
    • 25% off Urban Outfitters beauty, men's and women's watches
    • 25% off Anthropologie estate jewelry
    • 25% off BHLDN merchandise
    • 25% off FP Pet Project
  • 25% off all regular-priced home/apartment merchandise, Anthropologie infant/child
  • 25% off Terrain regular-priced merchandise in stores and online
  • 20% discount at the Terrain café for employees and one guest. Excludes alcoholic beverages and the purchase of gift certificates.

The discounts don’t apply to sale items, with one exception: Three times a year, Anthropologie hosts employee appreciation events at every store in the network. Employees get to buy not only regularly priced items, but also redlined sale-priced merchandise at 40% off at all Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, BHLDN and Urban Outfitters locations and websites.

3. Snag an Inventory Shift

Don’t want to get a job at Anthro? You can still get a huge discount if you work an inventory shift. While taking inventory on every single item in the store can be dull, it’s not a bad way to make a few extra bucks for a few hours of work. Plus, you’ll get to purchase one item for 40% off.

It’s no problem if you’ve never worked for Anthropologie. Each store usually brings in extra temporary help for inventory, so give yours a call to get details.

4. Keep Your Receipt

Sometimes you just gotta have that dress, even if it’s full price. But save your receipt. Anthropologie offers price adjustments within 14 days. So if an item you’ve purchased goes on sale, you can bring in your receipt to get back the difference.

Even if the item was already on sale when you bought it, keep that receipt. Anthropologie may continue to discount it, and you’ll still be eligible to receive price adjustments on those additional price cuts.

5. Never Skip the Sale Room

While sticking to the sale section is the oldest trick in the book, the Anthropologie sale section is extra special.

Always tucked away in a room in the back, it’s often chock-full of gems. Here’s why: Many Anthropologie items can only be purchased online. But all items can be returned in-store. Oftentimes, those online returns go straight to the sale room so the store won’t have to ship them back to the warehouse.

I’ve found deeply discounted $300 shoes, $170 jeans and all sorts of other goodies in the sale room that came from online returns. The sale room is also a great place to score items that have been discounted because of imperfections such as a missing button or small snag.

6. Shop with Discounted Gift Cards

Someone else’s gift card trash is another’s treasure. You can buy discounted gift cards on several legitimate sites to bring down the price of your Anthro purchase.

I found gift cards for 18% off on Raise, 3% off on Gift Card Zen and 3-5% off on Gift Card Granny. Don’t forget to check Craigslist, too. I found someone selling a $325 gift card for $175 — though I admit that seems almost too good to be true and I’d take a few measures to ensure the gift card was valid before handing over the cash.

7. Build a Wish List Online

You’ll need to create an Anthropologie account to save items to your wish list. If any of the items go on sale, Anthropologie will email you. It’s even worth including sold-out items, because sometimes they pop back into stock.

8. Shop by Brand on eBay

I recently bought a brand new, tags-still-on Anthropologie dress on Ebay for $80. It was originally $300.

Yet since eBay sellers know Anthropologie items are so sought after, they’re not always honest. Search “Anthropologie” on eBay, and you could get ripped off; sellers may simply include the store name in the listing title so the item shows up in search. The real way to tell is by brand name. Search by the brands that Anthropologie sells, such as Sweet Pea, Language, Velvet and Weston Wear.

As Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are owned by the same company, there’s sometimes confusion about which brands are sold where. The following brands are NOT sold at Anthropologie: Free People, Lux, Kimchi and Blue, Angie, Matty M, Truly Madly Deeply and ICE, according to self-proclaimed Anthropologie obsessed eBayer eelbay9.

“An excellent indication that the item IS from Anthropologie is the presence of the gray Anthropologie hangtag, and/or a picture of the item from the actual Anthro website or catalog,” recommends eBayer siouxsie322. “Another good sign is if the seller lists the original retail cost of the item, i.e. "retailed for $118."

9. Follow the Fan Blogs

Anthropologie has such a committed group of customers that a couple of blogs are entirely dedicated to the store. Follow them to stay in the loop about discounts and promotions.

  • Breakfast at Anthropologie: Sophie frequently posts about sales, plus curates the “best of sale” posts when items get discounted.

The bohemian chic Anthro style can be costly. Buzzfeed recently published a list of ridiculous things you can buy at Anthropologie, which was so funny because it rang so true. It included a $3,000 armoire.

But if you shop like a pro, you’ll never have to pay full price at Anthropologie ever again. Unless you reaaaaally must have that just-your-style piece. And in that case, keep your receipt!

Your Turn: Do you have additional tips for saving at Anthropologie?

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Saving money has always been one of my hobbies.

It started out as a necessity during my penny-pinching college years. Then I never grew out of it.

Why would I pay full price when with a little research, patience and masterminding, I can pay a fraction of the cost?

For a period of time, I got super into couponing. When I first started to ramp up my coupon game, The Krazy Coupon Lady was my savior. I quickly learned the tricks of the trade and my friends started calling me the Coupon Queen.

Thanks to KCL, I was able to snag a pair of $120 Sorel boots for $10. A $40 cast iron pan for $16. I learned how to save 97% at CVS. I even learned how to stack coupons, shop sales cycles, roll offers and use rebates to make money couponing.

Here’s why I love KCL and why you should check out the site if you want to learn how to save an impressive amount of money on almost anything.

1. Find Freebies Galore

Because so many companies want you to fall in love with them and become a loyal customer, the Internet is littered with products free for the taking. All you have to do is give them your email and mailing address. But who has time to find these freebies? Or knows how to? KCL does.

The KCL team scours the web for freebies and posts them on their blog. Recent freebies they’ve posted include free address labels, light bulbs, coffee and dog treats. They always let you know the fine print, like if you have to pay for shipping or cancel a membership at a later date to avoid a subscription fee.

To get the scoop on all the freebies they post, like Krazy Freebies on Facebook.

2. Go from Newbie to Pro

The world of couponing can be crazy overwhelming with confusing lingo, coupon policies and restrictions. While it is possible to pay next to nothing (and oftentimes literally nothing) at grocery stores, drug stores and online, you need expert coupon know-how that takes time to cultivate.

To help get you started, KCL has an amazing beginner’s guide. The simple step-by-step guide breaks down different aspects of couponing and teaches you how to get yourself organized and avoid mistakes. Anytime someone asks for my best couponing tips, I send them straight here.

3. See Only Deals You Care About

Most coupon websites post several times a day, making it tough to keep up with all the deals and promotions. Some of the deals are regional or may not be relevant to you. KCL posts just as frequently — in fact, perhaps more than other coupon sites — but they make it easy to narrow down the deals to only ones you care about.

Since I’m not as aggressive of a couponer these days as I once was, I limit my coupon wizardry to one store: CVS. I love KCL’s comprehensive CVS section and don’t need to look anywhere else to find deals. They’ve also got sections dedicated to other drug stores (Walgreens, Rite Aid), grocery stores (Trader Joe’s, Publix, Safeway), clothing stores (Old Navy, JCPenney, Kohl’s) and more.

4. KCL Does All the Work

You get the best deals when you stack a coupon from the Sunday circular with a sale. But it’s unlikely this Sunday’s coupons will match up with this week’s sales. You might need to wait a few weeks for something to get discounted, creating a prime time to use a coupon. You also need to remember to use coupons before they expire.

It takes a ton of time to scour every store’s sale ads and match them up with the coupons you’ve got on hand. Fortunately, KCL does all that work for you. Each week, they’ll post what’s on sale at each store and which coupons will score you the best deals. If a coupon expires mid-week, they’ll let you know to take advantage of that deal before then.

You’ll have to keep each week’s circular organized and learn to read how KCL lists the deal combinations (For example, RP 5/31 stands for the Sunday Red Plum insert that came on May 31), but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy peasy. They even post the final price you’ll pay so you know exactly how much you save.

I still can’t believe how much work must go on behind the scenes at KCL to match up all the coupons and sales, but I definitely appreciate how much time it saves me!

5. Deals Come to You

Saving money isn’t just about coupons. KCL also posts promotions, discounts and limited time offers from online retailers. I’ve scored great discounts that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise if I hadn’t seen them on the blog.

How do they manage to find so many great deals? KCL not only has a team that scours the web for them, but also a huge following of fellow coupon and deal fanatics. If one of their fans sees a great deal, they’ll share it with KCL, which then broadcasts it for everyone to know about.

The downside is that these often go fast. Exceptionally sought-after products might sell out in a few minutes just from traffic from KCL. Sometimes you get the deal, sometimes you don’t. But I’ve been lucky enough times to appreciate that they broadcast these deals.

6. Honest Recommendations

Couponing comes with a stigma, which is unpleasant for anyone who plays by the rules. People see you with a stack of coupons and think you’re gaming the system. Unfortunately, many couponers are dishonest and pull not-cool tactics to save an extra buck.

For example, some people photocopy printable coupons, which is illegal. This is not something KCL encourages. If you want more printable coupons, they’ll tell you how to do it legally. They also discourage their community from being greedy and clearing out the shelves.

Though saving money is one of my absolute favorite hobbies, I don’t want to do so dishonestly. I appreciate that KCL takes the same stance. They stick to each store’s coupon policy and never recommend anything shady to get a deal. I trust that any deals they post won’t get me into trouble or make me feel queasy.

7. A Story of Creating Something Out of Nothing

Since I’m a natural-born storyteller and entrepreneur, I can’t help but love the story about how Krazy Coupon Lady came to be.

Founders Heather Wheeler and Joanie Demer were friends and young moms in Boise, Idaho who wanted to save more money on groceries. They began to coupon before it was cool, then started a blog in 2008 to share their tips and tricks. It picked up so much steam, they were able to quit their jobs and make Krazy Coupon Lady their full-time gig!

These women started couponing out of necessity and were able to make it work. I especially love that Heather became the sole breadwinner of her family and paid off more than $50,000 of debt in two years. And when Joanie’s husband lost his job and insurance, then her daughter was hospitalized, she was able to keep costs low through couponing while her family worked to pay the medical bills and get out of doubt.

Once upon a time, I visited KCL multiple times a day. Thanks to the website, I was able to get many of my necessities and few fun non-essentials at a fraction of their full-price cost.

Even though I still love a good deal, I’ve scaled back on my couponing these days. But I still have the coupon knowledge I gained from my dedicated KCL days and know exactly what I’ll need to do if I want to get serious about couponing again. When I’m ready to dive back into extreme savings, I know KCL will be there waiting for me with deals galore.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite couponing site?

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Don’t have $2,375 to spend on a French Crystal Beaded Chandelier or $3,845 for a Weathered Teak Dining Table? (If you do, you probably don’t read The Penny Hoarder.)

You may think you have no business stepping foot inside a Restoration Hardware because of the store’s mind-bending prices. But if you know a few hacks and tips to shopping at the store, you need not pay full price for anything at Restoration Hardware. Ever.

Here’s how to find rustic, designer RH pieces for a fraction of the cost.

1. Know the Sales Cycles

If you hold out until that Salvage Wood Trestle Table goes on sale, you might wait forever. Restoration Hardware rarely slashes prices on individual items. But they do have regular sales cycles, so wait for the next one if you’re eying a big purchase. Their annual promotions (which typically run Monday through Thursday) include:

Restoration Hardware also runs promotions on specific categories, such as 60% off lighting, 20% off outdoor furniture or 50% off rugs. Keep an eye out for coupon codes on sites like Or even call your local store to ask about upcoming promotions. You can also sign up for their email list to be notified of the next sale.

2. Put Your Name on the Floor Model List

To make room for new stock every six months or so, each Restoration Hardware store sells their floor models at 60% off.

If you’re in the market for an item displayed in-store such as a couch or lamp, your best possible chance to score a deep discount is to be get your name on the floor model sell-off list.

You’re likely not the only one who hopes to walk away with a deeply discounted ottoman, so if you live close to several stores, it’s worth a phone call to each one to try to get dibs.

3. Score Free Shipping When You Order In-store

Restoration Hardware rarely offers free shipping promos online. But when you place your order in the store, certain items ship free. The free shipping doesn’t apply to big pieces like furniture and lighting, but smaller items such as hardware, towels and some bedding ship free.

4. Place One Order for Flat Shipping

No matter how you place your order, you can’t avoid shipping costs for furniture and lighting. The good news: Restoration Hardware has a flat $199 shipping fee for these items. It doesn’t matter how heavy each piece is or how large your order is. So it’s wise to place one giant order and just pay for shipping once.

Got a friend who’s also picking up a few items? Combine your orders, ship to one address and split the shipping. (But then you’ll have to flip a coin to see who has to carry their Slate Fire Table home.)

5. Leverage the RH Credit Card

If you use it wisely, the RH Credit Card can help you stretch your budget for large purchases. For the first year you have the card, you’ll benefit from two great perks: No minimum payments and no interest. So you could splurge on decorating your bedroom, then chip away at the total throughout the year.

Warning: Be careful here. If you don’t pay off the card’s balance within that first year, the interest rate jumps from 0% to a whopping 25% on your remaining balance.

All cardholders also get access to the RH Reward program. For every $500 you spend, you’ll get a $25 Restoration Hardware gift certificate. While this might not be as lucrative as some other credit card rewards programs, this is a good option if you already plan to spend a lot at the store.

6. Road Trip to an RH Outlet

Restoration Hardware sends all their damaged items to one of their 17 outlets across the United States and Canada. Their qualifications for “damaged” can be liberal — it can mean a missing tag, a microscopic cushion tear or small nick. RH outlet stores do not ship or place items on hold, so you’ll have to show up in person to survey the goods, then buy on the spot.

Restoration Hardware has several outlets in California, as well as locations in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Canada. See the full list to find the closest outlet near you. You can also sign up to get outlet-specific emails to be the first to know about special promotions.

7. Buy Used and Knockoffs or DIY Your Own Look-Alike

A $2,075 Belgian Sisal Rug at 60% off? Still not cheap. Restoration Hardware runs steep, even when you manage to save a lot. A few other ways to get the Restoration Hardware-esque style without spending RH prices include:

  • Search Craigslist to buy pieces off people who are moving or upgrading to new furniture. Score the best deals towards the end of the month, when people who are moving are eager to clean out their places.
  • Find knock-offs at a range of big box stores, from Target to Pier One to World Market. There’s even a Restoration Hardware Lookalikes Facebook group, so you don’t have to spend time scouring the web to find those look-alikes.
  • If you’re particularly crafty or handy, get that distressed RH look with a bit of elbow grease and creativity. Check out this Restoration Hardware DIY Pinterest board for ideas, and then try making your own furniture.

We hope these tips will help you score that Restoration Hardware statement piece — or at least find one that looks like it came from Restoration Hardware — to make all your friends jealous.

Your Turn: What’s the most you’ve saved at Restoration Hardware? How’d you do it?

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.

Hueskee Lewis and the News. Jamie Skee Curtis. Skeeonardo DiCaprio. What do all these not-quite-right sounding pop culture references have in common?

They’re all teams that play in The Skee League. And thanks to their enthusiastic (and paying) participation, Director of Chicago League Operations Mike Fraser can say something truly spectacular: He makes money when people play skeeball.

Wait, skeeball? That Chuck E. Cheese arcade game in which you roll wooden balls down a lane into circular targets? Yep, that’s the one. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s kind of similar to bowling. But instead of knocking down pins, the goal is to sink balls into 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 100-point targets. And it’s kind of a weird way to make money. But make money off skeeball, Fraser does.

He hasn’t always been in the skeeball business. It’s something he fell into a few years ago, and then he just kept rolling with it. “I figured it would be a fun way to meet some people while earning some extra walking around money,” Fraser said. “It ended up taking off and taking over my life completely.”

While he didn’t share his exact income, running the skeeball league is Fraser’s full-time “job.” Through his work, he’s learned quite a lot about running an arcade game-centric business.

Think getting paid to hang out at a bar and play games with your friends sounds fun? Here’s how Fraser got into skeeball at the ground level, how he built his unconventional business and what he recommends if you want to follow his lead.

1. Start a League

Here’s one way to get people to pay to play your favorite game: Organize a league, recruit teams and charge membership dues. If you’ve got an untapped market on your hands, even better. The Skee League is and always has been the only social league of its kind in Chicago.

Obviously, the more teams you get to buy in, the more money you make. And that means a lot of moving parts. Keep in mind that organizing any sort of sports or recreational league isn’t necessarily way to make a quick buck.

“The league concept is great, but without any structure or organizational systems in place, it’s complete chaos,” Fraser advises.

2. Offer Ridiculously Good Value (and Good Times)

First and foremost, Fraser wants people to have a good time. But he also wants them to be repeat customers and come back “skeeson” after skeeson. The less time he has to spend on recruiting new members, the more time he can spend on scaling the business.

Fraser works hard to make sure league members get their money’s worth. From keeping members up-to-date with email newsletters, weekly “skeevivor” tournaments and the end-of-season Skeeapalooza event, he’s always cooking up some skee-related fun.

“Put in direct comparison with other social sports leagues, The Skee League is more expensive to join,” Fraser said. (Each member pays $100 per six-week season, and each team has three members.) “But you’ll be hard-pressed to find league members who don’t feel like they’re getting a good value. I put my heart and soul into creating great experiences and developing a fun communitskee. That is something I will never compromise on.”

3. Make a Serious Investment to Scale

After a couple of years running the league on two machines owned by an arcade game coin operator —meaning he had to essentially rent them during league play — Fraser decided to take his business up a notch.

He bought his own skeeball machine -- not a purchase one takes lightly. The machine weighs 400 pounds and is six feet tall.

“The machines aren’t cheap, ranging between $3,500 and $7,000 depending on make and model,” he said. Despite the cost, he had a plan: It was an investment to help him scale.

Fraser installed the machine at a bar where he opened a second league location. This league is more profitable because he doesn’t have to pay for players to roll. Additionally, the coin-operated machine is open to the public during non-league nights. So Fraser makes money every time someone gets inspired after a couple of beers to roll a few rounds of skeeball.

4. Build Additional Revenue Streams

As any good entrepreneur knows, expanding your reach to new customers is good for business — especially when they end up falling in love with your product. So Fraser’s always on the lookout for new ways to get people rolling.

Now that he owns and operates his own skeeball machine, he has more opportunities for revenue. He just launched private parties and corporate events. People can rent the machine for a period of time or can pay to host their own tournaments.

Fraser will soon start selling The Skee League merchandise online (a.k.a. SKEE-Commerce) to bring in more revenue from T-shirts and other skee-ball swag.

5. Be Prepared for Hidden Costs

While every $5 bill someone feeds into Fraser’s skeeball machine goes straight to his pocket, there are plenty of hidden costs. At some point, the machine will require maintenance. “It’s kind of like a car,” he said. “Your real costs begin when things start to break down.”

Other hidden costs include state and city licenses, transportation, printing, marketing, office supplies, trophies and prizes. Then you have to factor in that he’s at a bar for six to eight hours a night during league play. These can be long nights, all in the name of skeeball.

Though skeeball might not have made Fraser a millionaire (yet), he has a true passion for his work and his “coworkers.” He’s built a loyal following of league members and a community of skee-obsessed friends. There’s even one couple whose love blossomed over the course of several skeesons — and now they’re married! Who knew skeeball could not only be a way to make money, but also the secret to true romance?

Your Turn: If you had to make money off an arcade game, which one do you think would be the most profitable?

Betsy Mikel is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter. She loves biking all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria.