Stash More Away: SMARTYPIG.COM
(Also available in app form)
The graphics are a little too cute for my taste, but the FDIC-insured savings account at this site has one of the best interest rates going (it’s currently 1.35 percent). And when rates rise, it will keep up. I also like that the site focuses on your goals. When you sign up, it asks what you’re saving for (25 percent of users say travel), how much it will cost and how long you’re giving yourself to get there. Then it will prompt you to set an amount that will be drawn automatically from your savings or checking account monthly or biweekly. Sound too childlike? It’s not—the average user is in her early thirties and working toward a goal of saving $3,500 for travel, home improvement or holiday gifts.
This simple approach is grounded in behavioral finance: Research has shown that setting a goal and breaking it down into benchmarks is the way to save successfully. You can also make your goal public, giving friends the opportunity to cheer you on (again, behaviorists have documented that this works) or kick in some cash themselves. Once you reach your goal (or if you haven’t but decide you want to withdraw the money anyway), you can use the cash to buy a gift card at a discount from a major retailer; amounts vary from 3 percent at Amazon to 5 percent at Marriott to 14 percent at Macy’s. You can also put the money on a debit card to use as cash or transfer it back to your checking account at any time.
Spend Less: DEALERY.COM
When Groupon debuted, I signed up immediately. Every morning, when the -e-mail landed, I would drop what I was doing to check it out. But I’d rarely buy, so after a while I started skimming. Then I stopped looking. When I’d hear from a friend about the 50 percent off she landed at this restaurant or that yoga class, I’d be peeved. And now the Groupon copycats—LivingSocial, KGBdeals and the like—have made the search more complicated. Bargains are out there, but finding them can take a lot of effort.
That’s why I’m high on Dealery: It operates in 87 U.S. and Canadian cities, has partnered with the big social buying sites and aggregates all the offerings in a single place every day. So if you live in Chicago, you don’t have to go to kgbdeals.com to snag the one-month membership plus personal-training session at GoTime for $35 (a $205 value) or to tippr.com to get 50 percent off Indian food at Viceroy. Dealery makes a commission on the products it sells.
Use Your Miles (And Other Loyalty Points) Before They Expire: USINGMILES.COM
On international flights, I fly business or first class. I justify it because if I sleep on the plane, I don’t lose the next day to jet lag—and I pay for these trips with miles. This has become much tougher to do. For my last few flights abroad, I had to ante up the dreaded anytime miles (double the usual number) far in advance to get the tickets. Was it a good deal? At that point, who knew. Next time, with this site, I will.
Enter all your loyalty-program account numbers, and the site starts pulling together your information, updating your balances each time you sign on, letting you know how close you are to achieving elite status and telling you what your points are worth in dollars. Then, if you want to book a flight or hotel, you can do so directly from the site (that’s how UsingMiles makes its money). When the site returns prices and availability, it will also let you know if you can travel free. And because award travel is sporadic, you can set an alert to notify you if a seat becomes available. By seeing both the prices and the miles it takes to fly free, you get into the habit of viewing points and miles like money. That way you can decide whether it makes sense to buy a cheap ticket or save the miles for another time. But if you can buy a cheap ticket and use the miles for an upgrade worth thousands of dollars, you’re reaping significant value. (And if you’re unsure, the engine will make a recommendation on using the miles or not.)