Written by Beth Castle
As a big fan of the budgeting ideas expressed in Knuckles & Twine, I was honored when Sara asked me to write a guest entry about a new (to me) app that I’ve been enjoying lately called Shopkick. I’ll go into more detail about why I love Shopkick below, but in penning this post my mind also wandered to other frugal “splurges” that my family enjoys, and Sara graciously agreed to let me highlight some additional inexpensive (or even free!) indulgences.
I’m the mother of two sweet boys ages two and under, and I stay home to care for them while my husband’s sole income provides for the family. Needless to say, in a high cost of living area like Los Angeles, we live very frugally to make that happen. Over the years we’ve worked hard at organizing our budget, and we don’t really have a lot of disposable income. Because of that:
Shopkick is a real treat! I first read about the app in a homemaking magazine I have a subscription to, and I eagerly downloaded the app to my iphone about a month ago. The idea is that you collect “kicks” by simply walking into participating stores and/or scanning highlighted products once inside. Once a certain number of kicks is attained, you can cash in your total for gift cards. (I know, right!?)
Now, I’m a skeptic when it comes to free money, but think from the perspective of the stores/products that participate. People don’t really watch commercials anymore, so there are a lot of ad dollars to be tossed at an app like this because it specifically leads to foot traffic as well as eyeballs on select merchandise. Makes total sense to me. Foot traffic and eyeballs are suitable answers when my suspicious brain inevitably asks “what’s in it for them?”
The app uses your location to highlight compatible stores in your area (think Target, Best Buy, Office Depot, Macy’s, etc.) and clearly tells you how many points you could earn by walking in the door (note: be sure to have your app open when you enter or it won’t count). Some stores also host products that you can scan using the camera on your phone for additional kicks while you’re shopping. One can earn extra kicks by linking a card and purchasing certain products through the app, but I haven’t used the app that way.
It’s pretty effortless to use as I run errands with my kids throughout the week, and without really going out of my way it took me about three weeks to earn enough kicks for a $10 Target gift card. Other prizes include gift cards to iTunes (my husband’s preferred incentive), Sephora, Starbucks, and even Princess Cruises. (…though that prize would take a LOT of Target runs. Heh.)
To have approximately 10 bucks a month to spend on whatever I want is a treat indeed!
Though free gift cards may be the ultimate reward for someone on a tight budget, below are several more of our favorite indulgences and activities:
Museum freebies — Nearly all the museums in the city have free days. Our personal favorites are the Gene Autry Center, which is full of cowboy goodness and free the second Tuesday of every month and Kidspace Children’s Museum, which is free the first Tuesday of every month from 4-8pm. LACMA even has a ground breaking program that allows any child 17 or under to visit the museum at any time with an accompanying adult both completely free. Read more about that here.
Redbox Tips – You guys, Redbox is an extremely inexpensive way to see movies, but you gotta use it like an adult. Meaning: check it out the night you’re going to watch it and responsibly return it the next day. After talking to several people, I’m convinced Redbox makes a fortune off of our laziness because it sounds like most folks rent a flick and either don’t get around to watching it right away, or forget to return it immediately. To rent a Blu-ray for a night it’s a buck fifty and a standard DVD is $1.20. That ain’t bad, but I can do you one better. Once you have an account, Redbox often sends you promo codes for a “rent one get one free” deal. Here’s an insider tip: you don’t have to rent 2 flicks to use the code! You can rent your choice film completely free simply by applying the code to that thing before checking out. We always upgrade it to Blu-ray for like 37 cents. Total. Niiiiice. (The moral is to ALWAYS try coupon codes. Always.) We haven’t paid more than 50 cents for a movie rental in years.
Keep an eye on Groupon and Living Social – I had to take a break from these sites because for a while it was too tempting to spend money on stuff that I just didn’t need. Sure it was a great deal, but when you’re on a tight budget it can be dangerous to peruse a list of “wants” (as opposed to “needs”) and then rationalize an unnecessary purchase from there. However, if you have a particular purchase in mind, these sites can be a real tool. For example, I like to get my hair cut every few months and I prefer to go to a nice salon rather than a discount barber. There are always haircut deals on these sites. I get $60+ cuts for a significant discount each time simply by perusing the salons offering deals. Also, we don’t eat out often, but when we do decide we want to splurge on a meal out we can see what’s in our area and get around 50% off our meal, give or take.
Babysitting swap – Okay, okay, this last bullet point might not apply to everyone, but I think it’s worth mentioning. The going rate for babysitters in our area is $10-15 per hour. We just can’t afford that. We went to a wedding last year and paid our babysitter over $100 to watch our (mostly) sleeping baby while we attended the festivities. Totally worth it for an occasion, but not something we can do all the time. Once our son was able to sleep through the night a bit better, we arranged swaps with another family. We would put our kiddo to bed, then our friend would come sit at our home while our son slept and we went to dinner. The next weekend, I would return the favor by hanging at her place while her kid slept and she and her husband had a date. I really think that’s the only way we could afford to go out. I can’t wait until my new baby sleeps better and we can comfortably begin these swaps again. Quality alone time with my husband is more than a splurge, it’s an investment. If we don’t have the funds to spend on a traditional date we just go walk around somewhere and talk to each other.
I hope some of those ideas help inspire some of your future splurges. It may take a little bit of patience or planning sometimes, but finding creative ways to treat yourself within your budget feels so much more satisfying than blowing money you don’t have on an impulse buy.