Tricks and tips for saving money 

Last week, I was lucky enough to go on a girls' getaway with my best friend Kristin. We had an incredible time, filled with constant chatter, miles of walking, delicious food, beautiful sights and the peace that comes from being able to catch up with your best friend.

But the sweetest part about it? I paid for the trip simply by making a few adjustments to our home economics. With the new year around the corner, I thought I'd share some of the tips I've collected along the way.

COUPONING

I started getting serious about couponing back in March when I took a course with Divas with Extra Dollars. It was basically a lesson in how to read coupons and stack them to get the most for your money. Once you're in the group, you can also buy fliers in bulk and, thus, save a lot on everyday items like Tide and Pampers.

While I found the course enlightening, it didn't especially apply to me, as we just don't use a lot of the food and items for which there are regularly coupons available. However, it did prompt me to start scouring the weekly fliers and using digital coupons. Honestly, I've saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars, particularly by buying meat and seafood when it's on sale and freezing it until I need it. I've also gotten aggressive with manager specials (which usually occur when items are marked down because their expiry date is approaching). I'm here to tell you, yogurt nearly never goes bad. And, if unopened, neither does cheese.

IBOTTA

This is a free app on which you search for coupons at stores like Kroger and Target, as well as percentage-off deals at places like Amazon and hotels.com. So far, I have saved nearly $100 just by using Ibotta, and I actually find the app kind of fun to use.

This is how it works: You download your offers, make your purchases, and then redeem your offers by taking a photo of your receipt on your phone and scanning the barcode on the items that you bought.

It is an adjustment to remember to save your receipts and scan the items when you get home, but once you get into the habit, it's easy.

So far, my sweetest redemption has been $26, which I earned simply by going through Ibotta to book a three-night stay on hotels.com.

HOTELS.COM

This is so simple and, yet, almost no one knows about it. If you book 10 overnight stays on hotels.com, you get the 11th for free. As an example, Kristin and I were away for five nights, three in an apartment I found through the website, two in a hotel. As such, I only need to book five more nights (and the website is very generous as to how much time I have to do that) before I get a free night stay, whose value will be based on an average of the hotel prices I previously paid.

I was long skeptical of hotels.com pricing, and would always compare its prices to the ones found on the individual hotel websites, if I could access one. I have never found there to be a hike in pricing. Plus, hotels.com also gives free perks once you've earned status, like $20 at a minibar or free WIFI.

CALL YOUR PROVIDERS OFTEN

Two weeks ago, I called ADT and asked them if there was anything they could do about reducing our bill. Before I knew it, they had reduced our payment by $40 per month, something they were able to do because of what they called "loyalty credits." They then locked in the new fee for five years. All told? That's a savings of $2,400 over five years.

Same went for reducing our Verizon bill. Same thing for Spectrum. It was simply a matter of calling them and seeing what new plans they have on offer. With our Spectrum bill, it not only went down, they threw in HBO for free.

As my mom always says, "If you don't ask, you don't get."

GET A CREDIT CARD

I know this seems like a strange way to make money, but, quite simply, you do -- as long as you pay off your bill every month. The trick is to pay every bill and make every purchase you can using one credit card. This results in points and/or status that translates to free stuff. For example, we have a Delta American Express, which earns us sky miles. I put every last thing I can on it, including our house and car insurance. As a result, we get free flights with the points we amass. We also get upgrades and lounge access.

Key here is finding a credit card that works for you. If you're not into flying, find a card that results in cash or free groceries or free hotel stays or free gas. Yes, you will likely have an annual fee, but it will easily be offset by the points you earn.

Anyways, this is how I was able to pay for my free trip last week. I'd love to hear of tricks and tips you have. Please email me at tara@swayessay.com

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