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Bank of America's Add It Up program gives free cash for shopping online

Bridget_Bar2 Piggy-bank The past week you might have overheard an advertisement or two about Bank of America's new Add It Up program. Basically if you have a Bank of America debit or credit card, you can earn free money just by shopping online from more than 270 stores -- most of them big brand-name merchants. You can earn up to 20 percent back on your purchase, depending on the site you are shopping from.

To make sure you get the cash back, you have to visit the stores by first logging into the Add It Up website and following the link for the store you want to shop at. (Don't close your browser in between, or you'll have to start over to earn the cash back.)

And there are a ton of really good stores: Target, Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters, Victoria's Secret, Gap, Overstock.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Toys 'R' Us, The Apple Store, Dell, TigerDirect, OfficeMax, Best Buy, Nike, Expedia, Priceline, Holiday Inn, Marriott.... the list just keeps going! You can even get cash back from Match.com (wouldn't guess that one).

David Owen, Bank of America's senior vice president of checking and debit products, said in a phone interview that the bank is launching a very aggressive campaign to get the word out about the program. Other financial companies offer similar things, like ways to earn points, but this program is cash back on either debit or credit cards.  "We step back and say cash is king right now," he said.

The online stores for Wal-Mart, Sears, Staples, Target and Home Depot will double the amount you get back from now until July 12th.

On around the 25th of every month, the savings that have accumulated will be paid to your account. And you can combine Bank of America's other programs with this -- like the Keep The Change program, which rounds your purchase to the next dollar and puts the extra change in your savings. The cash back will be applied to the rounded up amount, so badda-bing, even more savings.

I usually don't shop online. Since I have such a great mall and many big box stores within 10 minutes from my house, I rather shop in person to browse and touch what I'm going to buy and avoid the hassle of shipping. But perhaps in some cases it would be much more worth it to shop online to get the cash back, especially if it is for a big-ticket item.

What about you? Would you go online to shop instead of driving to the store if it meant getting 20 percent cash back?

Posted by Bridget Carey at 09:28 PM on March 30, 2009 in Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (3)

Lighting up

Nirvi Bar (fixed) It's supposed to be cheaper, in the long run, and better for the planet if we use those compact fluorescent light bulbs in place of traditional incandescent bulbs, right?

I forked over the extra money for some of the swirly style bulbs recently, hoping the savings would show up in my electric bill.

I put one in the front porch light, which is a special fixture designed to turn on whenever the sun goes down. Since the light is on all night, I figured the savings would be fairly noticeable -- and the long life of the fluorescent bulbs would save me the trouble of changing the darn thing very often. (It requires a step stool precariously perched on my front steps.)


The supposedly long-lasting fluorescent bulb burned out within a month. Guiltily, I put an old-fashioned, soon-to-be outlawed incandescent bulb back in there, and it's been going strong for weeks and weeks.

But this may not have been a case of operator error. Today, the New York Times reports my thankless, expensive attempt at savings wasn't a fluke.

Are you using compact fluorescent bulbs just fine at your house?

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 01:48 PM on March 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Reality of a $20 Vacation

Amanda Bar
Tents This past weekend, as my partner-in-crime Bridget mentioned, we went up to Crystal River, Florida for some snorkeling, manatee hugging, and camping.  We considered this an "alternative vacation" from our original plans of going to Universal Studios.  There were six of us altogether (Chrissy, Julian, Jenny, Brandon, Bridget & me) and only two of us had any real camping experience.  The camp site (Encore Crystal Isles) turned out to be more of an RV park than what I was expecting, but we had our own little plot of land at the edge of some wilderness reserved for about $25 a night, and with amenities such as an on-site bathroom & shower and a convenience store I wasn't going to complain too much (after all, I wanted my camping experience to be authentic, but not that authentic...).  Despite the sudden late-chill that brought the temperature down to around 50degrees - a contingency I did not plan for with my wardrobe - it was a relatively comfortable night.  Though just as a future reminder to myself: next time go for a slightly more expensive sleeping bag than the Wal-Mart $9.99 brand...it may be cheap, but it certainly wasn't insulated.

Pontoon The location for the snorkeling and manatee-viewing was a mere five to ten minutes from our campgrounds, at the Crystal Lodge Dive Center.  Due to the cool weather we all decided to rent wetsuits for $10, and we all chipped in to get a pontoon boat ($25 per hour, with a 2-hr minimum).  We spent about 2 1/2 hours making our rounds through the various sites along the waterways, such as a couple of beautiful springs that pumped out these pockets of crystal clear water amid the river's normal green hue.  Unfortunately it seems as if the manatee herd had moved on from the area by the time we arrived, but I can't say my enjoyment of the experience was diminished very much from the lack of some manatee bonding-time.  In fact, we all had so much fun from the trip that we're already making plans to do a similar adventure in the Florida Keys!  For myself I paid only $20 for the entire experience - $15 at the dive shop for my wetsuit as well as my portion of the pontoon boat rental, and $5 for my portion of the campgrounds rental.  Sure, I had to buy a sleeping bag and a snorkel/mask set ($9.49 at Wal-Mart) in preparation, but as far as pricing goes for just the actual experience...my mind boggles at the price differences between camping and going to a theme park.  For tickets & a hotel stay we had been going up to and beyond the $200-mark for a weekend trip to Universal, so (while I don't claim to be a math major) we could go camping ten times over before we reached the cost of one vacation at a theme park.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 11:04 AM on March 24, 2009 in Entertainment , Savings , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (6)

Window shopping: a real bargain

Nirvi Bar (fixed) I spent the weekend doing my taxes, figuring it was the only real way I can make some money fast without getting another job.

More on that in a future post.

But feeling proud and anticipating a refund -- all that interest on the mortgage does nearly guarantee a little green each spring -- I hung out with some friends on Sunday, and I even let myself eat a meal out.

But when Kelly got a glass of wine at the little French cafe and bakery with her lunch, I stuck with my rich-but-cheaper coffee. 

When Leslie and her mother ordered takeout from a diner, I got a $2 cup of decaf and not a thing more.

And I got a really good lesson.

Leslie and her mom hit the mall and a movie Sunday afternoon. They were glowing, though they escaped the stores without spending a thing.

They had the same cheery looks as those that might be triggered by a trunk full of shopping bags.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 10:08 AM on March 20, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Spring Break on the cheap: Sea cow adventure vs. Islands of Adventure

Bridget_Bar2 I don't do the outdoors. I don't camp. I don't hike. I don't even like jogging outside. But to save money on vacation this year, it seems my friends and I are doing a little camping trip next week.

Myself, along with roommate Amanda and another friend who lives in Jacksonville were planning on going to Universal Studios next weekend. But when you add up the price of a two-day, two-park ticket, plus wanting to stay at an on-site hotel for the free express pass that lets you skip lines (after all, it'll be a crowded spring break weekend), everyone was getting discouraged.

So our friend came up with the idea to do something totally different to save money. What if we took a road trip to see the parts of Florida that we never see? We are real theme-park junkies, so the suggestion of doing a road trip that doesn't include Orlando is a pretty big deal for us.

Mantees The plan is to go to Crystal River on the west coast and check out the large population of manatees they have there. Maybe rent a boat or kayak. Maybe even drive 30 minutes to Weeki Wachee Springs to see the mermaids. Then we'll camp and have a mini adventure cooking our own food. We're now bringing along more friends, and the costs are very minimal. I already have a sleeping bag and friends already have tents and gear.  

We're dividing up the lists of supplies so no one over spends or buys something someone already has. Most of the snacks I'm bringing is stuff I already had in my pantry.

I'm a little worried that I'll be miserable in the outdoors compared to being in a nice hotel room. But it's only for one night, and this campsite has showers and bathrooms and a convenience store. Maybe this cheap never-been-done-before sea cow adventure will end up being more memorable than the expensive been-there-done-that Islands of Adventure.

Posted by Bridget Carey at 08:53 PM on March 15, 2009 in Entertainment , Savings , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Park-ing it

Nirvi Bar (fixed) While my desire to save money has an amazing pull on my wallet, I'm not (yet) at the point where that urge overcomes my need to be social -- and leave my house, dear as she is.

I rarely go out to brooding dinners that involve multiple glasses of wine anymore. I have tried to forget where the mall is. I try to meet friends for coffee or a single drink that I sip ever so slowly.

But this weekend, I rediscovered one of the best places to go out, ever. Parks. Stuff we already pay for with property taxes. There are dozens and dozens of them. (Insert sound of hand smacking forehead here.)

This weekend, I spent a mere $24 for an entire day of fun with my friends. We took a water taxi over to Peanut Island in Palm Beach County ($10), shared picnic lunches (I brought stuff for sandwiches and indulged in store-bought tabbouleh, hummus, potato chips, fresh fruit and drinks my friends hauled along) ($5), and had a margarita ($6) and half a plate of fries ($1) which cost me another two bucks including tip.

On the island, there was snorkeling (bring your own gear), swimming, grills, picnic tables and sparkling clean bathrooms. The ambitious can even camp. We enjoyed free music courtesy of the party boats lined up on one side of the small island, which also has short trail along its entire coast.

I came home socialized, sun-kissed, and with cash to spare.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 07:34 PM on March 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0)

To Slay Zombies, or to Slay Prices?

Amanda Bar

Games While I don't have any religious reasons to give up shopping, I've been making an effort to curb one of my biggest indulgences: buying video games.  It's a problem that I've discussed before on this blog, and needless to say the condition is chronic (and not of the weed variety).  So recently I've taken to renting out games at Blockbuster since, hey, it's gotta be cheaper than simply buying the games off the shelves.  Or not?  Perhaps it's the state of our economy, but renting video games and movies - and going to theaters, for that matter - has become ridiculously more expensive than in the good 'ol days.  And I should know all about the Blockbuster good 'ol days...I used to work there in college!  Just this weekend I went and rented Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (...ahem...) for $8.99, totaling to $9.53 with tax.  Not only that, but instead of the standard 7-day rental period, games are only 5-day rentals...a fact that really irritates me, since it seems I only get to play each rental for a fews hours over the weekend before it's due back.  But lo and behold, what is this I see?!  In the "pre-viewed/played" game bin I found a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV for $14.99.  I could own a relatively new game (GTA IV was released on April '08) for only $6 over the rental price!

Samurai And yes, I comprehend that certain games - just like certain movies - are really only good for a rental period.  Bikini Samurai Squad, for example, is a game I really can't see myself playing for more than a  few days.  Or while I'm sober.  Or while others are present to witness the fact that I'm playing a game where the D-cupped protagonist is killing zombies in a bikini.  But, ya know, I understand and appreciate the fact that I'm not this game's target audienceGrand Theft Auto IV, however, is a game more my style.  Not only is it well-reviewed by critics and gamers, but GameStop (my usual one-stop shop for pre-used games) is selling used versions of GTA IV for $34.99, which is $20 more than what Blockbuster was offering it for.  So even should I tire of playing GTA IV, I figured that I could sell it back to GameStop for nearly the same price I bought it for at Blockbusters!  So while I'll still wrestle over other game purchases - the $34.99 and up variety - $14.99 for an XBox 360 game is too good a bargain compared to current rental fees.  Unless it's, ya know, Bikini Samurai Squad or something.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 09:21 PM on March 2, 2009 in Entertainment , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (1)

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