I recently finished a great book – Pogue’s Basics: Money. Be Freaky Frugal and get it from your local library if you want. Anyway, the book taught this old dog a few new tricks! One of the tricks is using discounted Gift Cards for regular purchases – especially online purchases.
Before Mrs. FF and I moved to downtown Philly, we belonged to BJs where I’d go once a month to buy food, paper goods, and toiletries. Now that we’re in a smallish apartment, we can’t fit the supersized stuff from BJs. Plus BJs is a hike by car.
We generally rely on Trader Joe’s and Aldi for basic groceries and paper products. Their prices are great and they’re biking distance. Gotta love’em.
But we refuse to pay the rip-off prices for toiletries at drugstore chains like Rite-Aid and CVS. The prices suck even with coupons.* I finally understand why you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a drugstore in Philly – the store’s margins are so ridiculous they need almost no sales volume to be profitable.
We also try to avoid driving places – we prefer to walk or bike as is the Freaky Frugal way. So I hate driving to Walmart for toiletries but I LOVE Walmart prices. Buying Walmart online seemed like a logical solution since there’s free 2-day shipping on orders over $35. I use discounted Gift Cards which generally give me 5% or more off the purchase. I combine this with cash-back rewards sites (3%) and cash-back credit cards (2%) for a whopping 10% off. Cha-ching!
Although the amount of money we save each month is relatively small, these regular savings can have a big impact on your financial independence.
Finding Gift Cards
I’ve used a couple of good sites to search for discounted Gift Cards. These sites aggregate different Gift Card vendors so you can find the cheapest vendor for a particular card.
- Gift Card Wiki: Seems to have the most statistics and has reviews of Gift Card vendors.
- Card Bear: Has a nice feature that shows whether you should buy a Gift Card or wait for better prices.
You can also sign up to be emailed when a Gift Card discount hits a certain threshold. I use this to wait for good prices on Walmart Gift Cards.
Tips for buying and using Gift Cards
I’ve learned a few things the hard-way.
- Make sure the vendor has a decent money-back guarantee period. Look for at least 60 days and carefully review the terms of the guarantee. The terms aren’t always what you’d expect from a “100% Money-Back Guarantee”.
- Buy email/electronic gift cards whenever possible – they’re easier to deal with. No need to wait for snail mail.
- Check the balance of the Gift Card as soon as you get it. You can do this at the store website where you’ll use the card.
- Use the Gift Card ASAP. I buy Gift Cards no earlier than a week or two before I first use them.
I’ve had one problem so far – a Gift Card I bought from Raise.com. I tried using it over and over again, but Walmart always cancelled the order even though the card showed a balance of over $18. Argghh!
Maybe there’s some kind of fraud detection when the card is registered to the original owner in a different state? I don’t know but for whatever reason it didn’t work.
I contacted Raise and I eventually got a refund after several back-and-forth emails. Raise pointed out that its 1-year money-back guarantee “only covers your purchase price for gift cards that are not active, or have an inaccurate balance.” None of that was true for me but they made an exception which I really appreciated.
Thanks for reading! Would discounted Gift Cards work for you?
* At least use discounted Gift Cards if you do buy from a drugstore chain. For example, you can currently get 13% off a Walgreens Gift Card!