Money-Saving Cell Phone Alternatives

Internet PhoneHow many cell phone minutes do you use each month? Chances are it’s a lot fewer than you’re paying for.

But even if you do talk a lot, cell phones aren’t always the cheapest way to make those calls. Sure, there are times when only a cell phone will work. But if you do a lot of your calling from home, switch to one of these alternatives to save big each month.

I’ll start with the cheapest option and work up to the most expensive (but still cheaper than buying minutes from the cell phone company.)

Google has a service creatively known as “Call phones from Gmail” that lets you call any phone in the US and Canada from within Gmail. They recently announced it will be free for all of 2013. I tried this out the other day after getting fed up with AT&T’s poor cell phone reception in my apartment, and the calls were crystal clear. The caller on the other end said it sounded like I was in the other room talking.

All you have to do to start making calls is install a plugin and log into Gmail. They also offer free video chats, which I didn’t test.

Another option is magicJack Plus. While the original magicJack required a computer to use, this one works with or without a computer. And that’s a game-changer, because who wants to wait for a computer to boot up before making a call? Just plug the device into your modem, and after a brief registration you’re up and running. You can even transfer your current number.

They’re doing a free 30-day trial right now, so check it out. After that it’s $20 a year.

Finally, there’s Ooma. Don’t ask me how they came up with a name like that, but according to Consumer Reports, Ooma is tops in call quality bar none. That includes land lines from AT&T, Verizon and others.

The most expensive of the three, it’s also pretty darn convenient. You don’t need a computer up and running to use Ooma. Yes, it works through the internet, but it plugs straight into your modem. Just like MagicJack, you plug your home phone into the Ooma device and start talking.

Ooma costs anywhere from $130-$150 for the device, although I saw it on sale at Costco for $100 recently. The only other costs after that are about $45 a year in government taxes and fees. You may be able to save that in one month by reducing your cell phone minutes.

My take: If you don’t mind using a headset and sitting at your computer, the first option is best. But if you like using an actual phone and enjoy the flexibility to move around the house, the other two are better options.

All three of these services offer unlimited calls over the internet for basically zero dollars. If you’re on the fence about reducing your cell phone minutes, take the leap and give one of these a try. Talking over the internet is a heck of a lot more cost efficient that busting your budget with the cell phone company.

The call quality is much better, too.

Related posts:

Low-Cost Options for Cell Phone Service

Ways to Save on your Cell Phone Bill

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Two Strategies to Use Every Time You Shop

Our baby, Elaina

Our first child was born this past November. As other first-time parents know, babies come with a multitude of expenses.

I’m not sure how many Walmart runs I made that first week, but by the end I knew I didn’t want to see that place again for a while.

During that first week I also found myself in another big box store in search of a specific baby item. This store happened to have a generous price-matching policy through Christmas, which I saw advertised all over the store.

I found the item and noticed the price was a little high compared with prices I’d seen online. I weighed whether it was really worth paying an extra $29 to have it immediately.

In this case, because the comfort of my wife and baby was at stake, there was no question in the end that I was walking out of the store with that item in hand.

As I was standing in the aisle though, I got an idea: Let’s see what other stores around me are charging! I whipped out my phone, opened the ShopSavvy app and scanned the bar code. (Long-time YLL readers will recognize this concept as showrooming.)

There on my screen appeared the lower internet price I’d found earlier.

Then I remembered the price-matching signs I’d seen just minutes before. Would they match the online price? I had nothing to lose.

At checkout, the cashier wanted a few more details about the lower price I’d found. After answering his questions and showing him the results on my phone he let me know that yes, he would give me the lower price!

Then my mother-in-law handed me a coupon she found in their ad at the entrance for $10 off. I ended up getting the item for $10 less than the lowest online price I found!

So what are the lessons here? First, download and use a price comparison app on your phone. ShopSavvy and RedLaser are both excellent choices. Now that comparing prices is so effortless, you have no excuse for not doing the research.

Second, always ask about the store’s price-matching policy. Even when you don’t see one advertised. Bricks and mortar retailers are wary of losing business to online sellers. They’ll often give you a break, but only if you ask.

Now why didn’t I tell you which store I was in or what the item was? Because that’s not important. What is important is that you use the tools available to you to get the best price. Use these two tips to do just that.

More Stores Pushing Loyalty Programs as a Way to Save

Your key ring could soon be very full.

Businesses are hurting. We’re just not spending at the levels we were before the recession started.

Companies large and small have tried luring new customers by offering deals on Groupon and other daily deal websites. These deals have succeeded in getting people in the door, but what they’ve found is that the deals attract mostly bargain hunters and cheapskates. These people come in once for a deal and never return.

Obviously that’s not what retailers want. We know it costs significantly more to attract new customers than to retain current ones. And studies have shown that current customers spend more than new ones. So from the retailer’s point of view, keeping current customers coming back is the gold standard.

This has led businesses to a promotional strategy that’s booming right now: loyalty programs. They come in all shapes and sizes. Among the more popular programs is also one that’s been around for a while: Amazon’s Prime, which offers unlimited free 2-day shipping on most products for $79 a year. Prime’s appeal is that it offers something we all want: free shipping. Amazon has positioned itself as the Walmart of the web with free shipping and good customer service to boot.

Another example is McDonald’s monopoly game. Who doesn’t love Monopoly, right? You go back time and time again, peeling off those little game pieces and filling out your game board. If you’re lucky you’ll win a free Big Mac along the way. I’m not even sure anybody’s ever won the big prize, but that’s beside the point. When businesses make loyalty fun we gladly come back for more.

A final example is the airlines’ frequent flier programs. Many of them have several tiers based on how much you spend each year. The more you spend, the greater your access to benefits like early boarding and plush airport lounges.

Large companies aren’t alone in the game. Over the coming weeks and months you’ll start to see mom-and-pop stores and independent restaurants offering simple loyalty programs to encourage return visits. As an example, a pizza shop might offer a free pizza after you buy seven. You could see spas offering free services after so many visits. These programs will be built to reward existing customers for coming back.

Compare these programs with other types of loyalty I talked about recently: loyalty based on habit or inertia. Your loyalty to a business should be based on how you’re treated and the value you receive.

Some companies actually penalize customers for their loyalty. Among them are cable and cell phone providers, banks, and most auto insurers. They routinely reward new customers with discounts while sticking it to their long-time customers. It’s funny (or sad?) that companies with horrible customer service reputations are most often guilty of this.

Ask yourself why you’re loyal to the companies you do business with. Are you getting a good deal or is inertia at work?

Loyalty programs are a good way for companies to reward repeat customers and maintain their customer base. You benefit too, but only if you’d buy the product or service anyway. If not you’re just throwing money away.

Bottom line: Don’t assume you’ll benefit from loyalty. Use these loyalty programs to sweeten the deal for things you already buy.

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5 All-Natural Homemade Beauty Products That Will Save You Money

We all want to look good, but some people spend way too much money on beauty products. From wrinkle creams to lotions and potions that promise glowing skin, there is a wide variety of beauty products available today. While it is nice to have a vast selection of beauty products to choose from, many of these products can be quite expensive and can contain harsh chemicals that are bad for your skin. The reality is that many of the beauty products you find on the shelves of stores can be replaced with homemade versions that won’t break the bank or damage your skin. If you want to save money while looking good naturally, here are 5 great homemade beauty products you can create yourself.

1. Yogurt And Fruit. Yogurt and fruit may sound like a yummy treat, but these foods can also give you a great exfoliating facial treatment. A fruit and yogurt facial can be just as effective as an expensive store bought kind.

2. Lavender And Rosemary Hair Oil. If you want to give your hair daily protection while leaving it smelling beautiful, try making a lavender and rosemary hair oil. Simply blend together the lavender and rosemary and rub the oil on a brush before brushing your hair. When blended together, lavender and rosemary makes a nourishing hair treatment.

3. Face Mask. A face mask is the perfect way to bring back the health of your skin. Most store bought face masks can be quite expensive, but it’s super easy to make a face mask at home. For a refreshing apple face mask, simply blend applesauce and wheat germ together and you have an instant face mask. Or, blend together an egg, an avocado, a carrot, and some honey and you’ll have a face mask that is chock full of the vitamins needed for healthy looking skin.

4. Hand Sanitizer. If you want to make a quick hand sanitizer that will leave your hands moisturized and clean, simply blend a little aloe vera gel with some rubbing alcohol and a few drops of your favorite essential oil. This mixture will create a cleansing hand cleaner that is gentle on your skin without costing tons of money.

5. After Bath Or Shower Body Oil. If you want to create a great after bath or shower body oil that will leave your skin hydrated and smelling good, all you need to do is blend olive oil with your favorite scented oil. Almost everyone has olive oil in a cabinet somewhere which makes this soothing after bath or shower oil really simple to make.

Looking good doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. With just a little creativity and imagination, you, too, can create all natural homemade beauty products. Not only are homemade beauty products cheaper than store bought brands, but they do not contain harsh chemicals that can damage your skin or hair. If you want to save money while giving your skin or hair exactly what it needs to look and feel healthy, try creating one of the above listed homemade beauty products.

Gracie Coster enjoys writing about fashion, health, and term life insurance quotes.

[Editor’s Note: Thanks for the guest post, Gracie! As a guy, this is a topic I know nothing about. For anyone looking to save on beauty products, give a few of these a try!]

Warehouse Clubs: Why They Make Sense for Most People

I want to start by announcing that my wife and I are expecting our first child in November! We’re both beyond excited for the opportunity to be parents. It will truly be an adventure because for one, I’ve never changed a diaper. I also have no idea what it’s like to have to comfort a screaming baby at 3 in the morning. That said, I’m going to approach this new chapter in my life by being humble, learning everything I can and committing to being the best father I can be. 

As a new parent, I realize I’ll be spending a lot of time in Costco. Diapers, formula and baby wipes are just a few of the many things I’ll be buying there. I’ve heard that babies go through about 12 diapers a day when they’re first born. That means over 1,000 diapers in the first three months alone. 

But the truth is, my wife and I have been members of all three national warehouse clubs (Sam’s, BJs and Costco) at some point during our marriage. Some of you might wonder why, as a two-member household, we would pay up to $55 a year for the privilege of shopping somewhere. There are several reasons, which I’ll discuss briefly below. I’ve also included the percent of the yearly membership fee, out of $55, each category would pay for.

  • Prescription glasses. This is probably the best reason I have for why it makes sense to be a member of a warehouse club. Consumer Reports has consistently rated Costco among the best places to buy glasses
    based on price, quality and service. You can get a complete set of glasses for about $150, compared with $200 or even $300 at independent shops. Percent of membership paid: 100%
  • Contact lenses. I wear contacts once a week when playing basketball and usually go through a box of the disposable ones in about a year. While comparison shopping online recently, I found that the lowest price for the contacts I needed was $45 per box. I called Costco and asked for their price: $30 a box. Buying my contacts there instead of from an online seller saved me $15 per box, or $30 total. Percent of membership paid: 55%
  • Low-carb shakes. My wife likes to drink chocolate-flavored shakes for breakfast sometimes because they fill her up and they’re convenient. The cheapest place outside of the warehouse clubs I can find them is Walmart, at $7.00 for a 4-pack. At BJs they were $16 for a 12 pack, saving us $1.66 per 4-pack. Assuming she drinks 120 shakes per year, we save $50. Percent of membership paid: 91%
  • Allergy medication. My wife has minor allergies and normally takes an over-the-counter allergy pill each day. At Sam’s we bought a generic version of Zyrtec, which had a year’s supply of pills for $16. Compare that to drug stores, where you’d pay over $100 for a year’s supply of even the generic version. This one purchase not only pays your annual membership fee but saves you money every month as well. Percent of membership paid: 100%

These are just a few of the ways we’ve saved by having a warehouse club membership. We’ve experienced these savings even though we’re only a two-person family (for now). When the baby comes, we’ll save even more on the things we buy.

Are you a member of a warehouse club? Has your membership paid for itself yet?

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Why I Love Yard Sales

I’ve always loved yard sales. As a kid, my mom and I would ride all over town, on the lookout for those cardboard signs that led to mounds of “treasure”. This allowed us to go on bargain hunts and ultimately save money, but it also provided bonding time for my mom and I.

I loved sorting through the boxes and tables together, looking for old Nintendo games and baseball cards, or anything that would catch the eye of a 10 year-old boy.

My bargain-hunting ways have continued into adulthood. I find time and again that yard sales are perfect for finding things I would have otherwise bought new. For example, this past weekend I found a CD case to replace the one in my wife’s car that was falling apart. The price was marked 1 dollar but I was able to negotiate it down to 50 cents. Had I bought this at retail I would’ve paid $15 for it, easily.

I’ve also found yard sales to be a great source for numerous other things including: clothes, kitchen supplies and other household items.

Back in the day we had to depend on the newspaper classifieds to find yard sales. But today there’s a tool called that makes the process much more interactive. After entering in your zip code you can see the upcoming yard sales in your area on a map. Their database pulls from Craigslist so you don’t have to look up each address individually to see how far away it is. You can then use their route planning feature to make an itinerary.

What I love about this tool is it allows you to see what is available at each yard sale, based on the Craigslist post. So if you’re looking for baby items, you don’t have to drive all over town looking for them. You can simply target the yard sales that have baby stuff available.

Because not all Craigslist listings have an exact address, they’ve included a section where you can browse more listings. Just click the “Other Ads” tab and cycle through. This is an excellent way to find neighborhood sales. They have apps for Android and iPhone as well.

Something I didn’t consider growing up is that yard sales offer more than just bargains. They allow you to:

  • Practice your people skills and the art of negotiation
  • Interact with your neighbors if the yard sale is near your home
  • Get exercise while walking around
  • Enjoy the nice weather during the warm summer months

Yard sales allow you to stretch a buck, but they offer so much more than that. If you haven’t already, plan to go at least once this year.

What do you like most about yard sales? 

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