THERE’S A LITERARY rite of passage that requires every financial blogger to write at least one article about free money. Far be it for me to break with this tradition.
Titling an article “free money” will catch most readers’ attention. After all, we all want something for nothing. You know what they say: “Money found is twice as sweet as money earned.” It’s also a topic that’s a bottomless well of ideas limited only by the creativity of the writer. I will bound my creativity by limiting my ideas to those that don’t involve coffee, index funds and Roth IRAs.
1. Dispute credit card charges. Everyone knows you should dispute fraudulent credit card charges, but three years of endless travel have taught me that credit cards also offer the chance to dispute charges for unsatisfactory products and services—an opportunity most cardholders never exploit.
If you pay for a product or service that you find unsatisfactory, disputing the charge may be an option. There is a gray area involving fine print I’ve never read, as well as a gray area of morality that I won’t address. Put simply, if you honestly feel wronged, dispute the charge and let fate be the arbiter. Consider two examples.
First, in March 2020, I booked and prepaid for a bed at a youth hostel in New Orleans. When COVID-19 hit, I canceled my stay for obvious reasons and asked for a refund. The hostel did not close and therefore refused. I could have reviewed all of the New Orleans public health notices and the hostel’s fine print. Instead, I just disputed the charge and won.
Second, I used GoDaddy to buy a domain name and hosting services for my website. When I found GoDaddy had used a bait and switch regarding its website builder, and now wanted to charge me an additional $100 or I’d lose a month’s worth of work, I canceled and asked for a refund. GoDaddy refunded the hosting charge but refused to refund the charge for the domain name. I could have reviewed GoDaddy’s terms and conditions. Instead, I just disputed the charge and won.
Note: This is a compelling reason to use a credit card rather than pay with cash, a debit card or Venmo.
2. Veteran’s discounts. Some businesses give them, some don’t. But either way, don’t rely on businesses to post them, because many times they don’t. Instead, simply ask for a military discount.
If the organization has a published discount, you’ll get it. If it has an unpublished discount, you’ll get it. If the organization doesn’t have one but the person behind the counter is a veteran, or connected to a veteran, or just plain patriotic, maybe you’ll get one anyway.
This tactic has worked for me quite often. Veterans should have zero qualms about using it. It’s a benefit that you’ve earned, often with blood. Make sure you have your military ID, Veteran ID Card or DD-214 handy. If you’re with your spouse, confidently ask for two discounts. It’s a benefit your spouse has also earned. What if you aren’t a veteran? Don’t even think about it.
Bonus tip: If you’re a veteran, get a Veteran ID Card, so you can get free access to all national parks.
3. Amazon credit cards and gift cards. I’ve opened two Amazon credit cards over the past two years. An American Express card gave me an immediate $200 credit, with another $100 after spending $1,000, which enabled me to buy a new HP laptop for $50. Meanwhile, an Amazon Visa card gave me an immediate $100 credit, which made for some very economical Christmas presents.
Separately, if you currently have an Amazon gift card, there may be an offer to get a $10 bonus when you reload your gift card with $100 using a credit card.
4. Sidewalk money. When I say this, it isn’t another euphemism for free money. Instead, I’d direct your attention to money that’s quite literally lying on the sidewalk. I like to walk for exercise—11,000 steps a day. If I see a penny, a dime, a double sawbuck, a Visa gift card with $42.72 left on it or a $20 gift card for Jack Stack BBQ, I pick it up. Every now and then, I visit a Coinstar kiosk with the cash I’ve collected, but I avoid the 11% vigorish by converting my loot into an Amazon gift card (see No. 3).
5. Sell books on Amazon. I’m not talking about books from my bookshelf that I’ve previously bought. When you sell them, you actually lose money. Rather, I’m talking about books found on the sidewalk (see No. 4), in the garbage, in free libraries, in thrift stores and at garage sales. I don’t bother trying to resell bestsellers, instead focusing on technical manuals and more obscure titles. I always add photographs to my listing. When buyers pay $95 for a used book, they want to be able to see it. I generally shoot for a minimum $10 margin.
Bonus strategy: Since the beginning of the pandemic, I haven’t had a haircut and figure I’m at least $125 richer. It’s all getting a little out of control, but until the wife says it’s an issue, it’s free money.
Michael Flack blogs at AfterActionReport.info. He’s a former naval officer and 20-year veteran of the oil and gas industry. Now retired, Mike enjoys traveling, blogging and spreadsheets. Check out his earlier articles.