How I Save Money, While Still Spending What I Need: Rakuten, Shop Cash, & Points
Rather than making you read some long intro, I am going to get right to the point.
I love to save money where I can, but I do not stop myself from being what I need and some of what I want. Adjusting my spending habits is one of the goals I am constantly working on. I've spent the better part of the last few years unlearning bad money habits and rewiring my brain to prioritize the smart ones.
Basically, I taught myself to lean into my financials and I learned how to love tracking my money. It was painful at times, and it isn't second nature yet. But I can see the progress in my decisions each day, so I know the hard work is paying off.
Here are a few ways I've improved my financial situation over the years:
Use Intuit's Mint App (changing soon to just intuit).
Have "no spend" months in which I only spend the very basics it takes to live normally.
Use a credit card with excellent points and cashback incentives for all purchases (literally, all).
Started shopping almost exclusively through Rakuten and get a check in the mail each quarter.
I accept accountability checks and challenges on my spending habits for loved ones.
I dedicate at least 30 minutes every week to reviewing my financials. During which I
I review every single charge each month to force myself to consider where my money goes.
I consider the spend categories and their weights.
Check all my accounts.
Pay or schedule bills.
Assess if I am on track with the financial goals that I set for myself.
We cook 85-95% of the time. This ends up savings tons of money over a year.
I take financially savvy people's advice. Things like:
Most of the above list
Listening to financial podcasts (the latest for me is MarketFoolery)
Reading money books (Why Smart People Make Dumb Money Decisions, Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Millionaire Next Door, etc.)
Reading financial news every week (I am trying to work towards every day but if I am being honest my mind still glazes over sometimes.)
Experiment with investments (safely and with low risk)
Create multiple income streams.
And never stop creating and creating and creating...
There are a few categories I never skimp on, though. I call them my untouchables because I am willing to give up most things in order to spend on these categories:
My health - health food, exercise, etc. I don't go crazy here, but I do invest in the occasional Sakara meal plan to get a ton of great tasting veggies and I do keep a fitness membership that works for me. I also invested in building a home gym and have never regretted it.
Dogs. They make us better people and we don't deserve them. So, I spare no expense for my dogs' health and happiness. I will caveat this with I do not spend frivolously. Meaning, they have one or two of everything they need, they eat excellent food, and they will always get any medical care suggested.
How I Play the Points Game
I have to be careful with this one. Because credit cards have gotten me into a bit of trouble.
But I learned.
If I follow my financial to dos above, I can stay in the clear. The real danger for a credit card for me is when I am not closely following what I spend.
But the freebies are too good to pass up, so I go through the grueling process of teaching myself to be responsible with credit cards. I now have 2 and I stick to those 2.
I picked the ones that align best with my priorities and goals. I travel a lot and have experienced the tremendous benefit of being loyal to 1 airline, 1 hotel chain, and 1 rental car company. The impacts compound and you end up getting a lot for free or steeply discounted while still having nice accommodations. It's a win-win. So, I use the Delta Amex card system as my personal card.
I also use the Chase Business card. I know many people who just use Chase for everything and it's true that they have great perks. But those people also do not get the benefits of loyalty to a brand and so their accommodations are good and work fine, but mine are nicer and I love it.
Whatever card or system you chose, stick with it and make it work for you. For example, I only purchase anything with a credit card so that I get a kick back on all my purchases. My philosophy is, if I am going to spend the money anyway, why not do so in a way that gets me a return?!
Which is also the reason I use Rakuten, Shop Cash, and a few other cashback systems out there.
How Rakuten Saves Me Money (Shop Cash is Similar)
I stumbled across Rakuten by accident. I was listening to Contrarian Thinking by Codie Sanchez and it was one program in a long list of ideas she suggested we check out. I happened to write it down and follow up. And that small decision put $392 back in my pocket in 2023. That may not seem like a lot, but I also know I was leaving money on the table because I did not use Rakuten nearly as often as I could have (and should have).
Rakuten is an ecommerce data company that tracks your purchases and sells that data to brands. They care about consumer shopping habits, not your personal identifiers. They want to know what you shop for, how long you shop for it, when you shop, what triggers the decision, and what type of content or offers inspire the final purchase.
If you feel a little scared at the idea of a company tracking your habits, you either need to get over it or never shop online or with a card ever again. You better be ready to use cash and where hats and hoods in stores for the rest of your life. You should actually just start buying from the Amish. Because there is no way we can participate in our society and think we won't be tracked. Groceries stores have cameras trained on shoppers all the time. They are only partly monitoring for theft. A big part of those camera's jobs is to give brands data on how you shop.
With this knowledge, the only logical thing is to work the system to your advantage. If your data will be collected and distributed anyway, why not make money from it? That's what Rakuten lets you do. You get cash back on every purchase based on what brands are willing to trade for your data. You can even install a plugin on your computer, so you are prompted by Rakuten to take advantage of the deal when you are on any site within their brand set. It's great because you don't even have to think about it.
Other Money Savings Hacks I'm Learning
Most of what I focus on lets me make money or get money back for doing what I am already doing. I am trying to exhaust all of those measures because that is a form of passive income.
For example, my most recent interest is in short term CDs. Whenever I have a large sum of money, I am looking at what CDs are available through Chase and USAA (sorry, not sorry, Gronk!) and how high of a return I can get.
I'm sure more tricks will pop up and I will share them in another post.
Happy spending and even better, happy saving!