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Treasure Hunt, Anyone?

Getting Started

A cousin of mine dreamed about going to an island in the Caribbean someday to find buried treasure. He never did that. My wife’s approach is simpler, and keeps us a lot closer to home. Her father taught her never to discount ‘little things.’ They add up to a lot, and here are just a few examples.

Maybe you already know some of the money-saving/money-earning tips I’m going to mention. If so, great! Just skim over (or skip) what I’ve written, pat yourself on the back that you’re already a treasure-hunter, and keep up the good work. But if you still need a little help finding those small treasure troves that add up, then keep reading. It will be worth your time.

Tip #1: Recycle.

If you live in a state that pays you for returning empties, collect as many cans and bottles as you can . . . and keep your eye out for other treasures along the way.

Case in point: We used to live in Michigan, on the shore of Lake Michigan. Now, that state has a recycling program that requires you to pay a deposit on all cans and bottles when purchasing such products, and then refunds your money when you turn in those containers later on. The big secret to cashing in? If you save and return cans or bottles you’ve purchased, you just get your money back. BUT, if you return someone else’s containers, well then, you get paid the refund money that those people left lying around without having to spend any money of your own. AND, at 10 cents per item in Michigan, it’s still the highest fee in the U.S.! Other states, like Maine and Hawaii, also pay you to turn in drink containers. Is your location one of them?

An actual treasure hunt recalled

Years ago, one evening before dusk, we were walking along that Michigan beach and came across a pile of pop and beer cans that had washed ashore. Now, when I say ‘pile’ I mean just that: hundreds of cans, two black trash bags full, in fact! At ten cents each, that little haul amounted to over $20 in our pockets the next day.

But as those pesky TV ads say, “Wait! There’s more!” Not ten feet from those cans, my wife felt something flap against her ankle in the water and looked down. Floating near her was a dollar bill. Hmmm! She stooped down, snatched it up, and seconds later saw another dollar bill, and then another. While I went back to the car for trash bags to collect those cans, she kept sifting through the surf, and by the time I got back she’d collected about twenty of those dollar bills, and soon I was in on the hunt.

Then things got really interesting. We saw a $5 bill and then a $10, and not long after that . . . a $20. We spent the next half hour reaping a money harvest, until large pieces of wood in the rough surf whacked our legs and it was too dark to keep looking. The next day I went to a local bank and exchanged all the dried-out currency for fresh new bills—totaling $220!

Tip #2: Shop at store chains that reward you for doing business with them.

Here are four of the many ways to cash in when you purchase.

Some store chains offer savings programs, either for those with their credit cards or as a general practice. It pays to check the fine print, but often those kind of offers pay off (pun intended). In 2015, for instance, my wife and I collected over a hundred dollars from one department store chain, and in 2016 our total from them was $63. Not a bad return on pir spending, especially since we'd planned (or needed) to purchase the items you bought anyway.

Some grocery stores offer deals as well. Any time you purchase something at one of their stores, an item that costs less somewhere else, they'll credit you with the difference! You just scan your receipt or use a special app on your phone at the register and cash in whenever you shop!

Another option is offered by most grocery store chains. There are coupons on-line that match special deals printed in their fliers. Just click on the items you plan to purchase and those reduced prices ring up automatically at the cash register! Don’t forget the in-store specials either. For example, from time to time, the grocery chain stores near us offer DiGiorno frozen pizzas at the bargain price of two for $10. That’s a $3.96 savings over the regular price and it also equals or beats the price at most big-box store chains.

Still more grocery options

A third, even less-known, option is “Checkout 51.” This app offers specific grocery items at a discount, no matter where you buy them! Often it’s 25 cents off the purchase of bananas, but the bargains can be on lots of products. Just check their weekly menu for ones you think you may want. Then, after purchasing those items, click on the ones you bought and scan your store receipt. It’s that easy. All you have to do is accumulate $20 or more in savings, and then collect your money. A special bonus is that those savings through Checkout 51 come to you, even if you also save money through other coupons or deals, like at Walmart!

Tip #3: Complain . . . Nicely!

If you encounter a problem, contact companies where you already do business. To begin, thank them for their usually excellent service, and then let them know about the trouble you experienced. Often, you’ll receive an apology and a coupon or similar offer of help. Here are just a few illustrations of how such activity has paid off for us.

Last year our car developed a problem. The rubber mounting on the rear latch actually melted! My best guess (and that of our service rep at the dealership) was that a short circuit had occurred, heating up the rubber and leaving the latch nearly unusable. What to do in that case? Since there was no recall for that particular problem (even though our rep said he’d come across several other cars with the same issue) we decided to go ahead and replace the latch—at an estimated cost of $420.

Once the work was done, however, our service rep said he’d give us 10 percent in exchange for our inconvenience, and that if a recall was ever issued we should see him to learn how to get all of our money back.

Well, I decided to take things a step further, so I wrote a letter to the company’s home office (with a copy to our local rep) detailing the problem and the cost involved. I stressed that we’ve owned three different cars from that manufacturer, starting in 1989, and that we’d experienced excellent performance—except for this problem with the latch,

The result of that contact? A women exec in California sent me a polite e-mail, apologized for the malfunction of the part and offered us a $250 credit toward any future service work. All I had to do was send a copy of the receipts for work done and a check would be issued. Two months later I did just that, following a 150,000 mile service call. . . and 10 days later I received a check for $250!

Again, just this last month I planted some grass seed in an area of our lawn that had become bare. The product I used contained mulch, grass seed and fertilizer—and was guaranteed to grow under “any conditions in almost any climate” . . . provided I watered regularly and the daytime temperatures ran between 70 and 90 degrees, which they do where we live. So I planted and watered that company’s seed. But grass only sprouted on 75 percent of the area, so I planted the non-productive spots a second time and waited some more. Still no grass.

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After that I sent an e-mail to the company, praising some of their products I’d used previously, but relating the less than stellar results received from this particular seed product. 24 hours later I got a return e-mail that offered several additional tips on improving growth from that seed, plus an apology, and an address where I could mail a copy of my receipt (or the bar code from the product) and receive a full refund!

More illustrations. We shop at Staples a lot and are part of their rewards program. As a result, we mail in all rebates that are offered on items we buy, and also turn in our used ink cartridges for even more rewards.

The same is true at Sears. Just the other day, for instance, I bought a replacement water filter for our refrigerator. The shelf cost? $49.95. BUT we had rewards points, and for some reason the chain was giving an additional $6 in points if we purchased anything for $6 or more. So, that filter actually cost us only $37, plus tax.

Tip #4: Negotiate with companies with which you already do business.

Every six months or so, my wife contacts our cell phone company to check on the best package available to us at the moment, and often saves us money. We did that with a major newspaper as well, several times, whenever our rate was about to go up. That resulted in our current lower rate being extended. And if you don’t get results, threaten to cancel your subscription. Suddenly they treat you like you’re a new customer, and offer to do whatever will retain your business.

Here’s an illustration of that fact. At the end of February this year, for some unknown reason our cable TV went haywire. Suddenly we got a black screen, followed by a dialog box that announced we weren’t entitled to view the channel we’d just been watching! Oh, really? So I called the number on the screen and talked with a technician, who managed to restore our service after working on the problem for thirty minutes, using two different approaches.

Once the problem was solved, she asked if there was anything else she could do to help. When I suggested a credit on our account for the inconvenience, she said, “Unfortunately, I can’t do that. I’m not in the billing department. But, to make up for the trouble you’ve experienced, I can offer you free use of all the HBO, Showtime, and Starz channels for three months.” How long do you think it took me to say ‘YES!’ and offer a sincere ‘thank you’?” Now we have access to 17 extra TV channels until the end of May.

Tip #5: Make wise use of your credit cards.

In addition to shopping around for cards that give the most benefits, there are some extra perks available—if you know about them, and are willing to spend wisely.

We use American Express cards for most purchases. That in turn gives us Sky Miles (both free flights and companion flights, as well as no-fee baggage), but AMEX also offers protection against fraud and poor service (we’ve made good use of those extras on several occasions). In addition, AMEX doesn’t charge fees for international use when we travel.

Another example. One of our bank credit cards now offers bonus points: 3% on purchases at restaurants, 2% at gas, grocery and drug stores, and 1% on everything else. Those points are tallied automatically and show up on-line at our banking website. When our point total hits 2,500 or more—we simply log in and arrange to deposit $25 (or more if our point total is higher) in either our checking or savings account at that bank.

Pay attention to balance transfer offers on your cards as well, especially if the offered rate is zero and the fee is no more than 1 or 2%!

Tip #6: Take advantage of perks offered by restaurants.

Most restaurants, whether part of a chain or not, have special deals available. At MacDonald’s there’s an app, of course, and doing their receipt survey on line gives you a BOGO deal (don’t forget ‘senior drinks’ too, if you’re age-appropriate). Panda Express has a receipt survey that gives you a free third entrée. Culver’s Club gives you a free meal when you join, and periodic coupons for free frozen custard and/or meal discounts. First Watch has a club as well. Join it and you get a free meal up front, plus e-mailed coupons for $2 off, that same $2 offer on some register receipts, and a free meal each year on your birthday. In addition, twice annually they offer you this: buy a $100 gift card and receive cards for another $20. That’s a 20% refund on your purchase. Most restaurants offer similar gift card arrangements. So, if you’re going to eat at one of those restaurants anyway, you might as well spend a little up front and let them pay you to eat now and then!

Tip #7: Take advantage of opportunities that charitable companies make available.

An insurance company from which we purchase several kinds of policies is a church-related organization, and the IRS requires that non-profit firm to donate a significant number of dollars each year to charitable causes. So, every few months we designate an organization of our choice to receive a portion of the dollars we spend for insurance. In our case, we give to a congregation we attend each summer. Now, that’s not money in our pockets, but it is money that helps others do good things, so we get an extra benefit from our premiums. In addition, our premiums for long-term health care insurance are all tax-deductible, although the allocated amounts for charity are not.

Some Miscellanous Tips:

Don't forget to check mortgage rates now and then. We’ve refinanced our house twice, and are currently paying half the original percentage and monthly amount. And, since we signed up for auto-pay and agreed to payments twice each month, we saved an additional half-percent on the mortgage!

Also, look into a line of credit. If the rate is low, that’s a great way to have emergency cash available and/or pay down higher credit balances.

Then too, remember to buy only those products you planned to purchase anyway. That way, when you get them with one of the special deals I’ve mentioned, you’re saving extra.

And, if all else fails, keep in mind what someone in a group once said. When a person announced that she’d just won $100 in the weekly lottery, a second person said, “Well, I win $52 in that lottery every year.” When the first person asked how that could be, person number two said: “Easy. I never buy a dollar ticket each week.”

Moral: If you have to spend, then do it in ways that save you money. But if you can get by without spending any money at all, then you really save.

Happy treasure hunting!

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