Friday, November 28, 2008

My Own Black Friday or How I Got Free Christmas Gifts!

Several years ago I allowed myself to become a slave to credit card debt. You want to talk about bondage? Debt, and specifically unsecured credit card debt, is nothing less than slavery, in my humble opinion.

Oh, it happened innocently enough, I suppose, like it does in most people's lives. I was living a very busy life, traveling a lot with work, owning too many credit cards and consequently not keeping up with my bills or my budget the way I should have. And the truth of the matter is that I, like many other Americans, was simply living beyond my means and overspending, trying to buy love and attention and respect, and with plastic it was just too easy to do.

Well thanks to God's grace and some clever accelerated debt reduction planning courtesy of Mary Hunt's book Debt-Proof Living: The Complete Guide to Living Financially Free, a subscription to her Debt Proof Living monthly newsletters and the tools on her website, I pulled myself out of that mess and pledged that I would never again allow that to happen to me. And even though we are now free from all debt except our mortgage - and are on track to pay that off soon - I still subscribe to Mary's newsletter and website even today.

Yep, I was literally enslaved by debt there for awhile. And all the stresses that went with that. And boy did that come with some stresses.

But not anymore.

Oh no. Now ... I am working it the other way around.

Oh, I still use my credit cards. And I have two of them in fact. And I use them for everything. Food, gas, household shopping, utilities, telephone, cable, entertainment, doctors, prescriptions, virtually everything.

Only now, as I use the cards I treat those purchases as a debit card and deduct the amount spent out of my checkbook, so that when the bill rolls around, the balance that is due is paid in full. We don't carry credit card balances anymore. But we do use the credit card company's money for a month as an interest free loan, while our money sits in the bank and draws interest for us, thank-you-very-much.

Ah, but that's not all. The very best and most important part of this now is that both of those cards are rewards cards, so that we earn points for every penny we put on those cards. One card earns points toward merchandise we can exchange it for. The other card gives cash back rewards.

If you don't think there's much to these rewards listen to this.

Last year I attended a business related conference that was in Tampa, and since it was so close to Orlando, hubs came with me and we turned in into a vacation. That vacation was actually when I started this blog - to track my diet as I was trying to lose weight before that vacation. Well, we can tell where that went haha.... But anyway... not only was part of that trip tax deductible because of that, but, wait'll you hear the rest!

Prior to our trip we used a credit card for all of our expenses that gave us Disney rewards points. By the time we went on vacation, those points paid for both of our multi-park, multi-day admission tickets for Disney World and provided us with $1500 in spending money for our trip - money we used for meals at most all the Disney restaurants where we ate, to buy Disney t-shirts, souvenirs, merchandise and gifts and such and part of it was used for an exceptionally elegant and romantic seven course dinner at Disney's Victoria & Albert's Restaurant at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa - an outstanding but very high dollar experience that we would have never been able to afford otherwise. Those points sure came in handy and cut way back on any out of pocket expenses we had to come up with.

But, it doesn't stop with the credit card rewards. Hubs and I also drink Coca Cola and Pepsi products - too many actually, but that's a whole 'nother story - and so I enter the package codes online to save points for both of those. Last year we used our Coke Rewards Points to cover both of our admission tickets for Universal Studios Orlando. How about that?!

~ ~

Why am I telling you all this? Because you can do this too.

While I admit, you can't do this now, for this Christmas season, you can certainly start planning for next year. But a warning.

You MUST be disciplined. You MUST treat all your purchases as a debit and account for the money out of your checkbook as soon as you make a purchase. And you MUST NOT carry any debt whatsoever ... you MUST pay off the balance every single month the bill comes.

This year with me still not working, money tight in general, and the shape of the economy knowing things were going to be equally tight for Christmas, we continued to use our cards for everything, not for a vacation this time, but so that we could earn points to use for Christmas gifts. We borrowed money from the credit card companies, we earned points from our purchases, we paid off our bill every month and carried no debt, and between our merchandise rewards points, our cash back bonus points, our Coke rewards and our Pepsi points, I simply have to show off our bounty! So please, I hope that you will allow me bragging rights a bit as I present to you below all of the free - yes, I said FREE - Christmas gifts we have been able to get this year (and I still have some cash yet to spend!)

I am not a slave any longer. Sometimes revenge can be so sweet.

A $25 gift card for Subway Sandwich ShopThe movie 1408 (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) starring Samuel Jackson and John Cusack that'll go in the movie basket I make every year

A Field & Stream Men's Sportsman's Watch Gift Set that includes a watch, one of those multi-tool gadgets and a magazine subscription to Field & Stream

LeapFrog Learn & Groove Alphabet Drum

A Heart Citrine & Trillion Garnet Pendant Sterling Silver Necklace- happens to be the birthstones of the couple for the woman I intend this gift for

A Brighton Collectible Tuscan Etched Heart Charm Bracelet

A Campbell Hausfeld Professional Digital Tire Gauge

Two Veggie Tales Board Books - Peas and Thank You! and Bob Lends a Helping . . . Hand?

A Numi's Bouquet Bamboo Gift Set with Clear Teapot and Nine Flowering Teas

A Libbey's 9 Piece Mojito Cocktail Set

Melissa & Doug Wooden Sandwich-Making Set

Silly Circus Jack in the Box

Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Baby's First Blocks

Sassy Car Wash Bath Toy

Victorinox Swiss Army Ranger Pocket Knife

And, a 3 Pack Holiday Stick Scents Diffusers Set

Not a bad haul so far, eh? And still some money left to spend yet!


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