Do you ever think twice about those free samples you sporadically receive in the mail? Probably not. But if you knew they could save you big bucks, you would reconsider before trashing them. For Caitlyn Sweat of San Diego, those little samples that accompany junk mail turned out to be money savers. Sweat is just 18, but knows the value of a dollar. She's worked since she was 12 years old and even managed to graduate high school early. All along the way she's been saving money wherever she can.
Sweat wrote in to our contest with this tip:
Living from paycheck to paycheck can be a stressful experience. That's why I enjoy signing up online for free samples. You can sign up for everything from dish soap to free underwear! The best part is they come in the mail, so every day is like Christmas!
We chatted with Sweat about this and other things she does to save.
Bankrate.com: How did you come up with your tip?
Caitlyn Sweat: When I was a lot younger, my mom was a single mother, so it was only me and her in the house. I was able to get a job but I wasn't able to really help out around the house, you know, with money. So, we sat down one day and kind of brainstormed and we thought, "OK, we're both trying to get jobs, we're both doing our part. How can we knock some money off of our budget, how can we cut back?" So, my mom found this website and showed it to me and it was like page after page after page of free samples. You register and you have to give them some personal information and then they'll probably email you and spam you forever, but they would send us these free samples in the mail and this happened for months. We got everything; we got a Tide bleach pen one time, we got underwear in the mail one time -- it was a little bit of everything, so that was really cool. It made life a little easier because when you're in a tough spot financially, it's really hard to be happy and chipper all the time. I would come home from school, Mom would come home from work, we'd check the mail and say, "Hey! We got a surprise today." So that helped us keep our spirits up and it helped us keep some money in our pockets.
Bankrate.com: How much money would you estimate you've saved by signing up for free samples?
Caitlyn Sweat: I would say, maybe, $200 -- that's really a rough guess. We made those little sample packets last.
Bankrate.com: Overall, would you consider yourself a "frugalista?" Do you look for other ways to try to save money?
Caitlyn Sweat: Yes, absolutely. I actually just moved out of my mom's house and being a young college student and trying to make my way in the world, I'm looking at every opportunity I can to save money or find a good deal and be a little frugal.
Bankrate.com: Do you have other money-saving tips to share?
Caitlyn Sweat: Carpooling with people -- that's a huge win. I've noticed gas is getting really, really expensive and carpooling not only helps with morale -- you get to be with your friends and co-workers and get closer with them -- but it also saves you a ton of money. I would also say that people think sometimes you have to buy really gross food when you don't have a lot of money to spend, but it's not true, you don't have to live off Ramen noodles. In the long term anyway, that's going to end up being a lot worse for you and cost you a lot more money because you're going to get sick from that and you'll have to pay hospital bills or whatever, if it gets that bad. So eating healthy, although it might be a little bit more money right upfront, in the long run it saves you a ton of money.
Do you have a money-saving tip you want to share? Enter our Frugal Sense contest on Facebook!