This posts contains referral links. I will receive bonuses for sign-ups through these links.
While inflation has never been fun, the recent sharp rise in costs in the U.S. — on gas, groceries and other areas — is hitting American consumers hard.
Obviously, there’s not much we can do on an individual level to stop inflation.* However, you can fight inflation by using frugal hacks to get things more cheaply.
Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun, so some of my readers will already be using these tricks. But plenty of people read tips about new ways to save and have never gotten to them. And others are only just now making a concerted effort to save.
So I figure this information will be helpful for newcomers to frugality and a good reminder for anyone who’s just been procrastinating a bit.
* Though there’s one notable one I’ll mention at the end
Discounted gift cards
These sites sell gift cards at discounted prices, so you can spend less while getting the same buying power.
This can be huge for the things whose costs have risen the most, such as food and gas, but it’s also a good way to save on in other areas, from necessities like personal care and pet supplies to non-necessities that are nevertheless routine spending, like restaurants/delivery apps and movies.
The discount varies by store, I’ve gotten as much as 23% off PETCO gift cards, but grocery stores rarely offer more than a 2% discount (usually just 1%). Still, when sitewide additional discounts are applied, it can definitely boost your savings.
Unfortunately, gas cards are (not shockingly) basically constantly out of stock. But that may change, so you should check in at least occasionally.
There are a number of discounted gift card sites, but I recommend Raise and CardCash because they tend to have the best deals in my experience, although their perks vary.
Raise frequently has specials that let consumers take anywhere from an extra 3% to 7% off sitewide. And currently, new customers can take 15% off their first order. Even when that special ends, there is just about always a 10% discount for new customers. And that would be a great way to save on your groceries.
CardCash’s discounts tend to be higher than Raise, but the sitewide specials aren’t as frequent. That said, Raise’s sitewide offers tend to have a cap on savings (usually $20 to $30), but when CardCash has sitewide offers, there’s no limit on how much you can save.
If you’re interested in signing up for CardCash, use my referral links in this post, and we’ll both get $5 off a purchase.
My Raise referrals links will also net us both $5 off — but you may get a better deal going through a cash-back shopping site like Mr. Rebates. Besides offering 1% cash back, this site and others like it have the new customers offers for the current special (15% off) and, when that offer expires, the usual new-customer deal of 10% off.
Speaking of cash back sites…
Use cash back shopping sites
If you need to make a purchase online, it behooves you to check cash back shopping sites to see whether the store is listed there.
Cash back shopping sites are websites that have affiliate deals with stores. They get a commission for (eligible) purchases made through their site, and they pass a large portion of those commissions on to their customers.
And the only difference between using a cash back site and your normal shopping method is that you go to the cash back shopping site and click their link for the store, rather than typing the URL directly into your browser.
I prefer Mr. Rebates to Rakuten, but the latter does do a daily feature where you can get 15% cash back at a rotating list of stores. So it’s worth checking both to make sure you’re getting the highest cash back possible.
A couple things to be careful about with this method of shopping:
- Coupons not on the site: If an offer is on the store’s website, but not the cash back site, it’s probably fine. But coupons sent to you directly or ones applied by the now-ubiquitous coupon plugins may void cash back.
- Don’t mess around in other tabs: Regardless of which tab it’s in, don’t click any links, ads or search results (including images in search results) after you use the cash back site’s. If you accidentally do, go back to the cash back site and click their link again.
- Gift cards: A lot of stores won’t provide cash back if you use a gift card. You can always try to combine GCs and cash back shopping, but just don’t count on the rebate.
Save on gas
Since discounted gift cards aren’t an option, you should really consider the app GetUpside.
This app works with certain gas stations to offer cash back on your fuel purchases. You just go into the app to check for nearby gas stations. Click on one, then go there within four hours. Upload a copy of the receipt and you’ll be credited usually one to three days later.
Right now, gas savings is all over the place. In the past, it’s been six to 11 cents cash back per gallon. These days, it’s a little lower, but can still be as high as 6 cents. Plus, if you use my referral code (2TKBA) you’ll get a one-time bonus of $4.22 on your first purchase.
As a note, using grocery store fuel rewards will lower your cash back or negate it completely. So especially on the first purchase, pay the standard cost per gallon, and save the rewards for another time.
The app also has restaurants and even some grocery options, so take advantage of all the ways to save.
Circle K is currently offering a system called Easy Pay that could be big savings.
You get a card at any Circle K and link it to your checking account. Thereafter, just swipe your Easy Pay card and enter your PIN to pay, and you’ll get $0.10 off per gallon.
But for the first 100 gallons or 60 days, you’ll get 30 cents off per gallon.
Warehouse club stores
Sam’s Club and Costco both offer discounted gas at many of their locations. Depending on how often you fill up, the savings could easily pay for the $45 (Sam’s Club) or $60 (Costco) membership fee.
Groupon and LivingSocial frequently offer deals for Sam’s Club (and go through Mr. Rebates for 6% cash back), and the offer is usually for a $45 Sam’s Club gift card when you sign-up. So essentially, it’s free — plus cash back.
If you can’t find that offer on Groupon or LivingSocial, do a search for Sam’s Club membership. I was able to find the deal mentioned in sponsored results.
Groupon sometimes offers Costco membership deals as well (though those aren’t eligible for cash back).
And of course, it’s important to remember that gas won’t be your only potential savings. The stores sell plenty of food and personal care/household goods as well. Just always check pricing. Sometimes the bulk discount is the same as (or more than) you’d pay at a regular store.
Word to the wise: If at all possible, only gas-up your car during the week. A few weeks back — about two weeks after the high gas prices started — I went to Costco on a Saturday. Even with eight pumps available, the line of cars went out the parking lot and into the street. As in, about eight to 10 cards were still in the suicide lane, waiting to get into the parking lot.
I’d have been waiting a minimum of 20 minutes, but probably longer. Besides my impatience, I was pretty low on fuel, so I decided to just pay a little extra elsewhere.
I have an entire post about the wonders of the CarePass. But here’s the gist: You pay $48 (plus tax) for a year’s membership, and in return, you get $10 in Extrabux every month.
This means you’re getting $72 a year of free items. Granted, you want to shop judiciously, since CVS prices tend to be higher than Walgreens. But definitely not $6 more.
The membership also includes free shipping on a lot of items on the site. And as long as one item in your order qualifies for CarePass free shipping, the whole thing ships free.
Most of us run out of (or are low on) at least one drugstore item a month, so it’s hard for the Extrabux to go to waste. My usual buys are lotion, contact lens solution or toothpaste. But it’s also saved me on razors, vitamins and probably other items I’m not thinking of.
If you decide to buy online, go through Mr. Rebates for 1% cash back.
Store receipt rewards
By now, most people have probably heard of Ibotta. It’s a good program, but it usually requires the purchase of specific items. And it’s definitely worth checking to see if any of your items on listed that day.
But did you know that you can get bonus points just for having a receipt?
Two things I like about Fetch compared to Ibotta:
- The app scans your receipt for you, so you don’t need to scroll through all the products to find out if any are eligible.
- You get points for basically any receipt — be it grocery store, restaurant or gas station.
Each time you upload a receipt, you’ll get at least 25 points. But if the program finds certain companies’ products, you’ll get more. I’ve gotten points for Suave items, Yoplait and once even Dole (despite it being strawberries, not juice).
It’s worth noting that you can link your email account and your Amazon account in Fetch. If you do this, just tap e-scan, and the app will check your inbox for any digital order receipts and will check your Amazon account for any new shipped orders.
If I see a spare receipt someone has left or thrown on the ground, I’ll usually grab it and submit it on Fetch. I highly recommend this practice because, in addition to helping prevent litter, sometimes people buy high-value items. Once I got something like 800 points because the person had purchased a health product that now escapes me.
Use my referral code (PNT6C), and we’ll both get 2,000 points for your first receipt upload. If you have more than one receipt, hold back a day or so on the extras.
Incidentally, when I signed up, I got bonus offers two other days that week if I scanned a receipt that day specifically. I don’t know if they’re still doing it, but the bonuses added up to about 1,000 points. So it’s definitely worth waiting a day or two to see what’s offered. some big bonus points for scanning receipts.
This rewards site offers two cents per receipt uploaded. And yes, you can upload the same receipt to multiple programs. There aren’t any options for bonus points on specific products. But if you’re already standing over the receipt with your phone out, why not take an extra 30 seconds to upload an image to Inbox Dollars.
I also like this program for the paid emails. You’ll get three to four (or more) each day, and all you have to do is open the email and tap the link. You’ll receive two cents each. It doesn’t sound like much, but it does add up.
Use my referral link, and get a $5 sign-up bonus.
This reward site has a slew of ways to earn points called SB, which can be redeemed for gift cards or PayPal payments. And one of those options is to upload receipts.
The setup is a bit more like Ibotta, where you have to add specific items to your list before scanning a receipt. However, there is always an item that is for 2 SB per receipt uploaded or per e-receipt.
Use my referral link for Swagbucks, and we’ll both get 300 points called Swagbucks.
This site offers three points for any receipt, which works out to a little under two cents ($0.018) per receipt scanned.
Use my referral link and get a $10 welcome bonus, in the form of either a $10 Amazon gift card or a $10 Visa gift card.
This app works a little differently from the ones above.
Like Ibotta, you can only get points for certain products at stores, though these include a range of store types: grocery store and drugstore, obviously, but also pet stores, auto parts stores and more.
And unlike any of the other programs, you can get points for finding products in the store and scanning the bar code.
In some cases, you can even get points for walking into a store. For example, CVS will always give you 10 points. Walgreens intermittently offers up to 50 points. (And it’s worth noting that often you only have to be in the parking lot to open the app and get the points.)
There are also videos you can watch, but the real points come from scanning and buying things.
If you’re interested in joining, use my Shopkick invite code (YAY045035) and we’ll both get 250 points.
Use cheaper household supplies
Many of us love cleaning products that do a lot of the work for us. But the ease comes at a price — and in the end you may not actually be saving that much energy.
For example, toilet bowl cleaners or tank drop-in tablets are lovely. But if you just pour some bleach (from the dollar store, naturally) into the bowl and let it sit for a few to several hours, discoloration will disappear and, at most, you’ll need a very light swipe with the toilet brush for hardwater stains.
As a bonus, you won’t deal with the chemical smell of tank drop-in tablets. And as another bonus, if you have trees around your house, pouring bleach helps keep roots from encroaching into the sewer line.
Meanwhile, vinegar has a ton of uses, but one is as a great glass cleaner. Just like Windex, it leaves no streaks, but it’s better for your pocketbook (and the environment). Don’t forget they sell this at the dollar store too.
And vinegar, dish soap and water is a much cheaper weedkiller than Roundup — and also much better for the environment.
If you can’t imagine parting with your Scrubbing Bubbles, good news: mixing vinegar and blue Dawn in a 1:1 solution (and shaking it) will give you essentially the same product. This is vouched for by my mom, who used it on the very gross guest house fridge after my in-laws moved out.
You can switch out chemical-y surface cleaners for baking soda. It’s lightly abrasive, so you still shouldn’t have to scrub much. I use it for counters, sinks and even my stovetop, and I don’t have to apply much pressure at all to get them clean.
And speaking of baking soda, if your skin is relatively low maintenance, baking soda can also be a great facial cleanser, as it cleans and lightly exfoliates. And it’s much cheaper than most face washes out there.
For spills, you can save money by skipping paper towels and just keeping rags (which can be washcloths or even just strips of old clothing) or dishtowels (which can be gotten at the dollar store for the same cost and even a cheap roll of paper towels) around.
Rather than disposable Swiffer cloths, get some microfiber towels for dusting or even to affix to a Swiffer itself. You can get a six-pack at Home Depot for about $4 or find them cheaply on Amazon. (As an Amazon affiliate, I am compensated for purchases through my links.)
Rewards credit cards
If you’re using a standard credit card, you’re leaving money on the table — especially now that things cost more.
You should look into a rewards credit card. And if you already have a rewards card, why not check out sign-up bonuses and consider getting a new one?
While there’s a lot to be said for travel credit cards that get you miles/points for free flights and hotel stays, I’m going to focus on cash back cards, since money is an issue.
I use the Citi Double Cash card, which gives you 1% when you purchase something and another 1% when you pay it off. But I also have the Chase Freedom card, which each quarter offers 5% on two to three rotating categories and 1% cash back on all other purchases. (This quarter it’s Amazon orders and streaming services, but in the past it’s been groceries, gas, department stores, etc.)
While some rewards cards do have annual fees, plenty of them don’t. Meanwhile, quite a few have sign-up bonuses of $200 or more — for spending as little as $500, though admittedly more often it’s $1,000 to $1,500.
NerdWallet is good for checking your best options. While the site does receive commissions for sign-ups through its links, I think the reviews are very fair.
Halt inflation: Buy less, way less
This one is a little harder because it’s not completely at the individual level.
According to NBC News, one of the three major factors causing inflation is the combination of high demand and ongoing supply-chain issue. And unlike previous periods of high inflation, consumers aren’t cutting back. They’re just biting the bullet and paying more.
If demand doesn’t slow down — especially as supply issues mean items are less available — there’s nothing to stop prices from rising indefinitely. But Americans show no sign of letting up on purchases.
I’d argue the pandemic is at least partly at fault. Not because it helped cause the supply chain disruptions (though, of course, it did), but because people have been through a lot these last two years. So those of us fortunate enough to be in decent to good financial situations are less willing to deny ourselves things we enjoy — whether that’s tangible goods or just finally going out on the town or traveling.
And now that companies are having to finally pay better wages, a lot of workers are finally getting more money coming in. And they want to celebrate that.
So demand from our sector stays the same.
Meanwhile, lower-income households — who are, of course, the ones most suffering in the wake of inflation — were already at bare bones budgets. They don’t have anything to trim because they’re already buying just the necessities. So their demand can’t go down either.
So if Americans truly want to get inflation back down to normal levels, the majority of people with any money to spare would need to cut back on spending. They would need to get frugal and be more conservative about going out or exploring the rest of the country/globe.
This means that a single individual’s actions won’t be enough. But much like being eco-friendly, enough individuals doing it will be enough cumulatively to make a dent.
Unfortunately, much like trying to be more eco-friendly, it’s unlikely that enough of us will do it to make the size of impact that we’re hoping for. But in both situations, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
But if anyone can get Russia out of Ukraine or has a Dolorean we can retrofit (and a fluency in Russian) to go back and try to keep this from happening, it’s probably honestly our best shot.
How is everyone coping with higher prices? Did I leave out any ways to beat inflation?