Three Small Ways to Go Green and Save Some Change

Saving the environment and saving your wallet have many things in common, one of them being that others might frequently remind you that the only way to really make a dent is to completely overhaul current behaviors.  But while that may be true, that doesn’t mean that small changes aren’t a step in the right direction.

Here are three small ways in which stores are helping customers to be green and save some change:

Skip the Store Bag: More and more, cities and/or states are requiring supermarkets and other food stores to charge customers for bags, be them paper or plastic.  Although these bag taxes are generally only a few cents, with California imposing the highest at 25 cents, it certainly adds up.  To avoid the charge, just don’t use the store bag.  You can bring your own shopping bag, but you can also just throw the purchased items in your backpack or purse or even carry it in your hand.  Also, stores that are known to give a discount to customers who do not take their paper or plastic bags have continued to apply that rule even when a bag tax kicks in.  In Washington, DC, for example, a 5-cent bag tax went on effect this past January.  But as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have both maintained their 5-cent discounts as well, not taking a bag from one of those stores really offers a 10-cent discount. Continue reading

This Week’s Five Loyalty Deals

Loyalty programs are already set up to reward customers for their frequent patronage by offering points, miles, or exclusive discounts.  But sometimes there are periodic promotion periods in which the reward system is ramped up either to pick up sales during a down time or simply to encourage continued customer loyalty.  Either way, there are savings to be had or extra points or miles (eventually converted into extra savings or a freebie) to be earned.

Here are five loyalty deals for this coming week or longer:
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The MarketPlace is Not Unique, but Isn’t Bad Either

MasterCard has been heavily advertising its new MarketPlace online portal, and it in fact offers some valuable deals.

When it comes to online shopping, portals for discounts, cash, points, or miles already abound.  These are websites that, if you visit an online store through one of their links rather than by typing the store’s name directly, you can get a credit towards your account with the portal.  Even before the MasterCard MarketPlace, there were already many around, including Borders Rewards Perks, Fatwallet, ShopDiscover, Bank of America’s Add It Up, Amtrak’s Points for Shopping, and AAdvantage eShopping, to name just a few.  But one thing the portals have in common is that they all require payment by credit card at the online store, and the portal owners are paid a commission on the purchase their facilitated.  As a credit card company, MasterCard has launched MarketPlace as a way to cut out the middle-man and get a cut not only for the usage of its credit card, but also for the referral through its portal. Continue reading

To Get Your Money Back, Persistence is Key

A few weeks ago, I came across the Consumerist‘s 2010 March Madness-themed bracket for “Worst Company in America.”  It is currently in the Elite 8, with strong contenders including Bank of America, Comcast, and Ticketmaster (to see the full bracket, click here).  This competition is great, as it gives consumers a vehicle for expressing their dissatisfaction with service received from less-than-great companies.

But the fact is that none of the consumers will get their money back simply by voting against companies – the only one who can give you your money back is the company that has disappointed you, and they will only know that if you get in touch with them directly.  And persistently. Continue reading

Concierge.com’s analysis of several frequent flier programs – So You Can Choose What’s Right for You

This month, concierge.com has a fresh article outlining the pros and cons of various frequent flier programs available, which can help you sort out your mileage accounts and maximize your savings for free trips.  To read the article, click here.

At Money Under Your Futon, we strongly encourage readers to sign up for airline frequent flier programs when traveling.  They are free, and can potentially prove useful even to the very occasional traveler, since, in most of the US-based airlines’ programs, miles do not expire as long as there is an activity in the account.  And even if they do, you are no less worse off than if you hadn’t signed up in the first place.

In a previous post, we provided an introduction to frequent flier programs, summarizing how they work and their benefits.  But with each airline running its own program, deciding for which one to sign up can be daunting.  A previous concierge.com article we covered offered some tips to get the most out of your miles.  With this one,  you can get more guidance on choosing the right frequent flier program for your travel habits and goals.

A Look into the Tuition and Fees Deduction (vs. the Education Credits)

April 15th is fast approaching, and you still haven’t figured out which deductions or credits you can take for education?  Here at Money Under Your Futon you can find the summarized, cramming-two-days-before-the-exam version of the IRS publication 970, which explains in detail each of the education benefits available for 2009 income taxes.

Last week we wrote about the three education tax credits offered this year: the American Opportunity, the Hope, and the Lifetime Learning credits (to read the article click here).  Today, we add to it a break-down of the Tuition and Fees deduction.  The general rules for this deduction, in terms of what qualifies as an educational institution and payments on whose behalf can be deducted are the same as for the credits.  As explained in the previous article:

An eligible educational institution [is defined as an] institution eligible for the Federal Student Aid (FSA) program administered by the Department of Education. 

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DC Area: Today, Get a Little More for Donating Your Clunker

If you are in or close to Washington, DC, today might be the perfect day to donate your clunker and get a little bit more for that.  In general, donating your car can be a good deal, as it should ideally lower your gas and maintenance cost and offer a hefty tax deduction through itemizing.  But today, Zipcar is offering a little more to boost the incentive.  From 6 to 8:30pm tonight, Zipcar will be hosting an event in DC to collect car donations for WAMU 88.5 – the American University Radio that airs NPR every weekday morning, – and will be giving a free membership for one year and $75 in driving credit in exchange.  Also, if you refer a friend to donate a car, you get $50 in driving credit as well. 

The event will be held at WestEnd 25 (1255 25th St, NW) tonight, April 8, 2010, and the email address to get more information or RSVP is rsvpdc (at) zipcar (dot) com.  If you do not live in the DC area or can’t donate your car today, it might still be worth asking about other events or visiting Charitable Auto Resources, who will be coordinating the donation processing in this event and works to help charities nation-wide receive cars.

Cash for a Clunker Appliance

Similar to last year’s cash for clunker program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has allocated $300 million for rebates to eligible residential consumers when they recycle their used appliances and purchase new energy-efficient ones (otherwise known as ENERGY STAR appliances).  Each state is in charge of designing  and implementing its own unique Appliance Rebate Program, and the Department of Energy (DOE) has already approved all of them.  A handful of states (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Rhode Island) have started their programs, but most will launch theirs later this month.  Click here for details of the program available in your state. Continue reading

A Break-Down of the Three Education Credits Available this Tax Season

With taxes due in just 10 days and the recent political debate on how to support higher education, many Americans are left wondering whether there might be anything in this year’s tax form that might help them out.  Several of you have probably heard of the American Opportunity credit, the Hope credit, or the Lifetime Learning credit, but given their differences in eligibility and benefits, we are guessing many Americans are confused about which ones they can take and for which purchases. 

If you want to know all the nitty-gritty about the education credits available to you, check out the IRS publication Tax Benefits for Education (publication 970), chapters 1-4.  Or, if you just want a summary of those 30+ pages, continue reading this post.

First things first, all three credits cover eligible expenses associated with education in an eligible institution.   The eligible expenses vary by credit and may be expanded for students in the Midwestern disaster relief area, but for all three credits, an eligible educational institution has the same definition: institutions eligible for the Federal Student Aid (FSA) program administered by the Department of Education. 

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This Spring, Earn Amtrak Points Two to Three Times as Fast

Last fall, Amtrak was giving away double points to Guest Rewards members for any train trip taken during the promotion period.  On March 22, the same promotion was back, and members can currently earn double points for train rides taken until May 7, 2010.  The kicker for this promotion, however, is that rather than ending on May 7th, Amtrak is increasing the bonus points after that – offering triple points from May 8 to May 29, 2010 to celebrate National Train Day (May 8).

Since Amtrak points are awarded per dollar paid rather than per mile traveled, these promotions are a way to offset any points you might be losing by buying a cheaper fare – this way, you can save money and earn more points.  To learn more about Amtrak Guest Rewards, click here, and to earn this double or triple bonus, log into your Guest Rewards account and sign up for the promotion using code 32210.

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