Photo: Flickr via Groupon
Oh, email inbox. You cluttered hot mess.We hear that chime indicating that someone likes us–really, really likes us, and wants to tell us something right now–but when we click over to you, it’s just a Top 10 List from Guilty Pleasure Weekly, or SignThisPetitionDotCom.
Your instinct might be to cull this list to the very bones, or to at least create a separate folder (with rules automatically shunting specific addresses to a “read-later” outpost) or even a separate email address for sales and other non-essential emails.
While these are fine ways to deal with the mess, believe it or not, there are a few marketing emails that, when used correctly, can actually enhance your bargain-hunting.
Because let’s face it–the one thing every mum secretly wishes she had was a replica of herself, someone to handle the home front or the bargain hunting or the office, while the other takes care of the kids and family. So while it might seem counterintuitive, we argue that, instead of clearing out the inbox clutter completely, you instead stuff that email in-box with five types of emails that can actually make your financial life a little bit easier.
1. ‘Sales’ Email From the Stores You Shop Most
For me, this means parenting/kid-store places. For instance, I live 10 minutes from the Carter’s Outlet. The last time I shopped there, the cashier asked if I had an email promotion code. I stepped aside, used my smartphone to go to their site and sign up for the emails, et voilà, within minutes I had the code.
This little manoeuvre ended up saving me $30 on the 3T- sized, ballet-monkey-festooned pajamas I had to buy anyway. The downside, of course, is that now I’m hammered with nearly-daily emails exhorting me to return to the scene of the crime to get more 3T-sized, elephant-heart-bedecked pajamas that I don’t need.
That’s where the separate folders come in handy. While email discounts to the shops you frequent will be mostly helpful, don’t be tempted to impulse-buy just because you got an email with “$5 Dresses!” in the subject line. Instead, when you sniff summer in the air, and realise everyone’s swimsuits are too small, do what I do and head over to the secret bargain folder, see what sales are current, grab your coupon code and go.
2. Your Most-Used Airline
If you know you’re taking a trip soon, and the dates are flexible, go ahead and sign up for marketing announcements from your favourite airline–particularly if it’s an indie darling, like Virgin or JetBlue. They’re notorious for having limited-time sales; my mum will often email me an announcement for one a few days after it was sent, then complain she couldn’t get the deal listed.
Yes. That’s correct: You have to jump on these things right away to take advantage of them. That’s why you want to limit the amount of time you’ll allow yourself to get them–once you have booked your flight, click “unsubscribe.” (Of course, if you only fly major carriers, you can just sign up for a service like Kayak’s flight tracker, which is a site that tracks multiple carriers all at once.)
3. Coupon Sites
You saw the story in The New York Times about the crazy coupon ladies, right? I’m obsessed with them. They’re ca-raaaazy, with their second-freezer-in-the-garage and spare-room-stacked-with-tuna-fish. But you know what else they’re doing? Pulling in six-figure incomes and saving enough to count their coupon-clipping work as income.
Seriously, if you can organise these coupons to use them on command–and make a quick assessment of brand-name “bargains” that are actually more expensive than your usual choice–then being on a weekly list is a great option. You just want to set aside a block of time before your regular shopping trip to plan ahead: Which coupons will you use, can you shop on double-coupon day and are you sure you need everything you’re purchasing? Like my grandma said–It’s not a bargain if you don’t use it.
I’m signed up with Couponmom, a site that offers grocery deals by state, drugstore deals and restaurant coupons.
4. Cheap Event Roundup
When I lived in New York, I was on a list from the theatre Development Fund that would release cheap tickets to shows for theatres who needed to “paper the house” (also known as getting butts into seats).
When I moved to San Francisco, I hooked up with Goldstar Events for their weekly roundup of theatre, sports and miscellaneous bargains. But my heart really belongs to Johnny Funcheap. Whoever Mr. Funcheap is, he collects all the free events (and sometimes advertises cheap tickets) in my area, and has saved more than one weekend from crashing boredom.
I guarantee you have similar sites in your area (Try Googling “the name of your city AND family-friendly event lists” for starters), and if you’re a family who always needs to be on the go to avoid the dreaded I’m-booooored-itis—you owe it to yourself, and your family, to figure out how to make it affordable to go to ballgames, street fairs and concerts. We saw OK GO! for free, not to mention the mochi pounding party at the Asian Art Museum that we won tickets to–not the kind of awesome adventure I’d have thought to go to without a little help!
5. Web Calendar Reminders
This is a little bit of a different idea, one that might make you wonder “what does this have to do with my financial well-being?” But being organised–not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and, yes, financially–can save you hundreds of dollars a year in late fees, interest payments on emergency credit-card use and overdraft charges.
You probably already use an online calendar, such as Google Calendars or upstart Cozi–to keep your family’s activities in order. Take a moment to go through your bills and note the due date of each various payee. Likewise for monthly charges for gymnastics class, occasional expenses like rec centre signups, preschool tuition and even birthday parties (so you can shop ahead for gifts). Then click “remind,” and allow the program to email you a few days ahead of each bill.
Voilà! No more late payments and no more last minute, budget-busting shopping trips for birthday gifts makes mum a very, very happy person.
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