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Usually when financial advisors talk about saving, we’re talking about the effort to put away money for the future.  That kind of saving is paramount to the ongoing success of your financial plan, but we must admit it’s not always fun.  Today we’re talking about a different kind of saving.  The kind that always feels great – getting a bargain on what you buy.

While I’m certainly not a candidate for Extreme Couponing, I do love to find a deal and have been known to put my husband through more than his fair share of the “Guess how much I paid for this?” game.  Half the fun is revealing the artistry it took to relentlessly whittle away at the retail price by combining sales, discounts, coupons and rewards.  The high that comes from scoring more for less actually drives our shopping behavior even more than the desire to pay lower prices overall.  Need proof?  JCPenney gambled back in 2011 on lower prices and did away with sales and coupons altogether.  It not only failed to increase sales, it actually caused sales to plummet to the tune of $6 billion dollars in lost revenue.  It’s going to take a lot of coupons to dig them out of that hole.

We all have our ways of soothing the craving for saving.  You might buy in bulk, drive miles out of your way for the cheapest gas or skip the ice to get the most out of your beverage.  Here are few of my favorite tools to add to your arsenal, along with a couple that might come with more fine print than they’re worth.

The Best   

RetailMeNot: The RMN website and app offer deals for anything from clothing to restaurants, to oil changes and travel.  It’s best for finding promotional codes for online shopping, but you can also find free shipping, printable coupons, details on sales and more.  User-provided feedback shows you which deals are working best for other customers.  I rarely shop without at least checking RMN first and more often than not, I’m glad I did.

Ebates: As implied by its name, Ebates offers cash back rebates from online retailers. I’ve seen as much as 12% cash back on some purchases.  Get deals by shopping directly from Ebates’ site or app, or install a plug-in to your web browser which automatically notifies you when you’re on a site that has an ongoing offer. Rather than reducing the initial purchase price, you receive cash back in the form of a check or via direct deposit to your Paypal account.  What’s great is that you can use Ebates along with any promotion codes you have to double up on your savings.

Snip Snap & Reach: These two apps are independent from each other but what I love about them is that they keep you from having to carry around paper coupons.  Snip Snap ues your phone’s camera to take a picture of your coupons and converts it into a digital format with a scan-ready barcode.  The Reach app is essentially the local savings magazine in an app format.  No more filling up your wallet with a fist full of torn out coupons!

The Rest

Plenti: The Plenti reward card earns you points by shopping at hundreds of different stores, gas stations, or grocers.  For example, you might earn 2 Plenti points for every $1 you spend at Nordstrom if you go first to Plenti’s website and activate the deal.  Every 1,000 points equates to $10 of savings but here’s the rub – points can only be redeemed with Plenti’s partners (currently AT&T, Exxon, Macy’s, Mobil, Rite Aid and soon Chili’s).  Plenti hopes to expand the list but won’t include any direct competitors of their existing partners; so don’t expect to see Shell or Verizon anytime soon.  Even with American Express creating a Plenti card that comes with 5,000 points (~$50) it’s hard to see the major appeal here when the spending options are so limited.

Amazon Subscribe & Save:  This service delivers non-perishable goods like paper towels, deodorant and toothpaste to your door on a recurring basis.  Subscribers can set each product on its own delivery schedule ranging from every 1 to 6 months.  Ahead of each delivery you can add, remove or postpone items.  Once the order ships (for free), charges appear on your card less the 15% Subscribe & Save discount.  I’ve used this for about 6 months and have enjoyed the convenience but I’m no longer convinced by the savings.  I ensured each item’s price was competitive when I signed up for the service but the prices continually fluctuate and many prices now equal or exceed the store price.  If you are considering this or already subscribe, make sure to review your selections every so often.

For even more ideas for how to save on things like gas, parking and dinner for the kids, check out this list.  I’m sure you all have your own expert tips on how to save – if so, please share them with me at dseurkamp@taaginc.com.  I’d love to hear them. Now go forth, save and have a great week!