Nov 282008
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Today is Black Friday, though I’ve barely heard that phrase this year and don’t know of any actual deals going on today.  Still, I have a feeling that if my regular Frugal Friday readers aren’t out shopping for deals, they’re probably still in recovery mode from yesterday’s National Day of Overeating.  So I’m just going to drop some quick news/tips/whatever with y’all.

I’ve written about the Safeway PowerPump Gas Rewards at Morgan Hill Review and about their doubling of points on gift card sales here in last week’s Friday Frugality.  They did finally get things together and credit me for the missing gift card purchases last week.  But on Monday when I went shopping I received yet another surprise: the coupon pictured above, left.  The coupon reads “$2 off your total shopping trip when you buy ANY 1 card.”  I did purchase a single small gift card on this purchase so I’m not sure if the coupon was triggered by that gift card purchase or my repeated calls to their customer service line, but I was still glad to use it on my Thanksgiving shopping trip and look forward to getting another one before the promotion ends at New Year’s.

The second tip has been sitting around my “to write about” file for a few weeks now, but its deadline is coming up soon so I’m dropping it in here.

About six months ago I wrote a comparison of the different coin counting machines available in my area and came to the conclusion that Coinstar was, by far, the best.  The primary motivation behind this choice was the ability to get the full value of your coins when exchanging them for a gift card instead of cash.  Well, now Coinstar’s gotten even better…

Now through December 7th, 2008 when you cash in $40.00 or more in coins at any Coinstar machine and redeem your coins for a gift certificate you will receive a small form to complete and mail in.  Then, within a month or so, Coinstar will send you a bonus gift certificate for the same company valued at $10.00.  No strings attached (except, of course selling your personal info to Coinstar).

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Nov 212008
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Earlier this week I wrote (on one of my other blogs) about Safeway’s PowerPump Gas Rewards program and how you can use it to save a ton of money on gas. I know not everyone has a Safeway (or Safeway gas) in their area, which is why I wrote the article on my local blog. However, I have since learned that Krogers (and possibly other members of the Safeway corporate “family”) have similar promotions in place. Now, that’s not enough to retread the entire program here on Philaahzophy so if you want the basics visit the link above.

Through the end of the year Safeway is offering even more gas rewards when you do something you’re likely to do this time of year anyway: buy gift cards. Not only do gift cards (with a few notable exceptions like pre-paid credit cards, Safeway cards, and event tickets) now count towards your accumulated spending for the purposes of gas discounts (they didn’t under the old system), but through either Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve (I’ve seen both on promotional materials) you’ll receive an extra $0.10 per gallon discount every time you accumulate $100 in gift card purchases.

Since the PowerPump gas discounts are now cumulative this means that one can actually receive a free tank of gas relatively easily. For example, my household spends about $150/week on our standard groceries, we also pick up one or two prescriptions a month from the Safeway pharmacy (each of which earns a bonus credit), and now I’m buying gift cards there as well and getting bonus rewards for every $100 spent.  Combine all of that with dropping gas prices and free gas is no longer a pipe dream.

Not only are gift cards a perfectly acceptable gift in the modern age, but I actually purchase them for stores and restaurants I regularly patronize as well, thus earning Safeway gas rewards when I eat at Chili’s, McDonalds, Jack in the Box or Subway and even when I shop at Home Depot, Target and my favorite “store” of all: eBay.  One word of warning, however…

When I purchased $90 of gift cards on Tuesday (and nothing else on the transaction) I swiped my card through the machine, but was not credited for the purchase.  After talking to store management I was told they couldn’t access the Safeway Club Card account so I would need to call the toll-free number (1-977-723-3929) and address the issue with them.  I dutifully spent my time and energy doing that and was assured my account would be updated in 24 hours.  Alas, after today’s shopping trip no credit had occured and I had to call again this afternoon.  Again, I have been assured that the credit would appear within 24 hours, but we shall see…

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Nov 062008
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I was looking for a “rare” horror collection containing a story by F. Paul Wilson this week when I stumbled across a great way to save serious cash. The book is called Heroic Fantasy and it contains (amongst other things) a short story titled Demonsong that is the first tale in F. Paul Wilson’s “Secret History Of The World”. I’m in the process of collecting everything Wilson has ever written so that I can review it for The F. Paul Wilson Project.  But wait, I’m getting off track here…

I googled the book’s ISBN and, of course, Amazon was the first result.  Amazon had four copies available.  Unfortunately their prices ranged from $31.50 to $350.00!  Google’s second result was a site called  I’ve heard of various “online book exchange” sites befor, but never used one.  I tend to be a hoarder of books that I’ve read.  But I poked around this one a bit hoping I could swap something for Heroic Fantasy and save myself $30.00 or so.  Here’s how it works…

  • Register your email and snail addresses
  • Start listing books you have available for swap
  • (Optional) Once yo ulist 10 books you receive two free Book Credits (explained below)
  • When someone sees a book they want that you have the system sends you an email with the book name and the person’smailing address
  • You pack up the book and ship it off to them.
  • When they receive the book yu recieve one Book Credit
  • You can exchange your Book Credit for any book on the site

It’s a great system as your only expense is shipping off the books that people have requested from you.  When you request a book you pay absolutely nothing!  Considering even used paperbacks are pushing $4 and you can mail off a book media mail for less than $3 it’s quite a bit of savings.

Of course, I didn’t have 10 paperbacks I was ready to part with yet, so I poked around a bit more and discovered that you can buy Book Credits for only $3.45!  I purchased 3 credits and scooped up the ‘rare’ book I was seeking as well as a couple of other treasures.

If you’re a voracious (or even regular) reader and aren’t extremely picky about the condition of your books this site could be a savings godsend. They also have three sister sites SwapaCD, SwapaDVD and SwapaGoat which work on the same system.  So if you’re a music or movie junkie there’s something for you as well.

If you enjoyed this post, and/or found it useful, please take a moment to either Stumble it or add it to your favorite bookmarking site. Thanx!

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Apr 292008
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While doing a little research for a recent article about coin counting machines I stumbled across a rather interesting post. If you’re not familiar with coin counting machines you probably haven’t been paying much attention. They’re found in most chain grocery stores around the country (usually tucked right by the doors) as well as many other locations.

Although Coinstar is the most popular type there are other companies that provide these machines including Coinmaster.  Both Coinstar and Coinmaster charge a service fee of 8.9% in return for providing the service of counting your coins for you.  However, Coinstar allows you to purchase online gift certificates to companies like iTunes, DisneyShoppiing, Eddie Bauer, Circuit City and Amazon without a service fee.

Apparently, some people are so put out by the service fee that they’ve developed a way to manipulate the Coinstar machines into waiving it-

  1.  Enter your coins and allow the machine to count them as normal
  2. When it’s time to select your payout choose one of the gift certificate options
  3. Quickly unplug the phone line going to the machine

The machine will attempt to dial out to Coinstar in order to create your gift certificate, be unable to do so, and instead give you the cash receipt.  However, since you didn’t agree to the 8.9% deduction you won’t be charged for it and will instead receive the full value of your cash.

The problem with this is, of course, that Coinstar is now not receiving any revenue in exchange for the service it is providing.  Should a large enough number of people use this little trick than these coin machines will start to disappear.  According to the New York Times it takes more than two years for an individual Coinstar machine to turn a profit.  So, while it may seem like 9% is a lot of money, would you rather have to roll the coins yourself?

My advice: go for the gift certificate – no fees, and if you’re reading this you probably shop online at least occasionally.

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Feb 292008
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Last month I worte an article titled Maximizing Savings By Playing The Gift Card Market which has proven to be one of my most popular. Consider this a Friday Frugality Follow-up (man, I just loves me some alliteration 😉 ).

According to a report from my local CBS affiliate, KPIX channel 5

Since January 1st California merchants have to give you cash back for anything under $10 if you ask for it. Merchants count on you not using it. Last year $8 billion went unused on gift cards, so a law was passed to give ‘you’ the cash back but as we found, the law isn’t always followed.

Unless you know to ask for it, stores usually won’t offer it but if you ask for it, they legally have to give you the cash back.

Many consumer friendly businesses would already honor a request for cash back from a gift card when it was such a minimal amount, but this is excellent news for Californians, despite it being a government edict.

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