Posted by: thatjen | July 23, 2008

TightWednesday: Something for Nothing

We’ve just returned from an evening out on the town* – entertainment, drinks, dinner – and all for $3. Oh, all right, it was a movie**, popcorn, and a vat of soda, but it was still only $3. Counting parking and babysitting.

How’d we do it? A variety of strategies: my parents provided the free babysitting (my mom has been begging us for Natalie time since she doesn’t see her as much in the summer), we bought the smallest, cheapest (albeit grotesquely sized) snack combo , we got validated parking, and we used gift certificates to pay for the movie and snacks.

“Feh!” you say. “Nothing revolutionary there.” Ahhh, but there was, at least for me. I recently learned that in many states it is illegal for retailers to refuse to accept gift cards, even if they are expired! Some laws reduce the value of an expired card, but many declare that they should be honored at face value (take a look at this list for details by state). This was an absolute WINDFALL for me, because as a teacher, I get a fair amount of gift cards but as a somewhat scatterbrained individual I don’t always use them before they expire. As something of a pack rat, I don’t usually discard them either… so we now have a variety of cards I thought were useless that turned back into money!

Even if you live in a state that doesn’t protect the value of gift certificates, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Going into the theater, I wasn’t 100% sure we’d get our tickets for free. I’d read about the laws a couple of months ago, and was pretty sure it applied to DC, but wasn’t sure if there were hurdles to jump to redeem expired certificates. Furthermore, I was concerned that even if it WERE a law, the theater might be unaware of it and refuse. So I was willing to pay if necessary. But good retailers, especially in a bad economy, don’t want to alienate customers. I never even had to bring up the law – the cashier and the manager were both happy to give us the tickets. We’ve been more proactive about asking for freebies, discounts, and concessions in the past few months, and quite often it has paid off, so I figured the same might work here – and it did! (Sadly, so far it’s not yielding much on our quest for legal services for a second parent adoption, but we ARE asking, just in case.)

What’s the closest you’ve come to something for nothing lately? And do you have any tips for keeping track of gift cards? We throw them in a drawer and try to remember we have them….
*For those keeping track at home, I think this is our 3rd official date since April, 2006… but we’re planning our 4th for next week!
**WALL-E. Yes, it’s the first movie we’ve seen in a theater since Natalie was born. Yes, it’s a kids’ movie. We love Pixar. Shut up.
And a total aside? How ANYONE could see WALL-E and then LEAVE TRASH NEXT TO THEIR SEAT boggles my mind!!!!!


  1. Oh, one of my favorite topics!!! I ❤ gift cards and living where I do – they do not expire or lose value (but sometimes one does have to “remind” the retailer I’ve found). We also return things we truly will not use – even if the intention was good. We sell things we are not going to need again within a reasonable period of time, including text books from teaching.

    Something for nothing = I rented a car to take our trip to OH last month and put it on a credit card with points. I got an amaz*n giftcard and bought something for our kitchen we’ve been waiting for. I got it from a merchant with free shipping so all $25 went to the item(s).

    And a friend of mine collects all the “free 8*10” coupons she gets for her son’s birthday and uses them to get enough pictures for her in-laws and parents, too. She doesn’t drive out of the way – just schedules the session when she’s got other business in that direction!

  2. I bought a washer and dryer for free ! sort of…
    I bought them on thursday. Went to the store on saturday with my bill for an adjustment (“scratch and save” event…yes..i’m that cheap…) and scratched 30% off, then went online for the store consumer survey and won a gift card of 500 $…

  3. I’ll say you got something for nothing, R! Way to go!

  4. I love getting something for nothing. A major way I do this is through a local parenting listserv where people get rid of baby/kid stuff. This week I scored (for *free*): an infant tub, two sets of alphabet tiles, and a Maclaren Volo.

    I think it helps that housing here is so expensive and everyone needs crap out of their homes….

    (also, CVS, people. Coupons and Extrabucks…I saved twenty dollars on my purchase last time.)

    and what are your other tricks for asking for discounts and stuff???

  5. We thought the same thing when we saw WALL-E!

    My favorite free thing to do is usher for theatre. I’m on the volunteer list for theatres in the area. Most of them now allow you to sign up for shifts online or via email, sometime even at the last minute. I’ve seen TONS of free theatre this way, although there’s always the chance that I’ll have to stand instead of get a seat.

  6. Summer festivals and events…we only have warm weather for about 3 months a year, so we max out on all of the free festivals in our city. In addition to the fun of the festivals themselves, there are usually companies hawking new products which they give away for free or hand out coupons for – so far: $80 off a flight with a local airline, free bottles of vitamin-water (okay, I turned that down – I am very wary of items which may upset my constitution when there are a million people and two portapotties available), oodles of contests for $$ and cars, handmade chocolates. My students also give me giftcards – usually of the bookstore variety, but sometimes the organic food market or restaurants. Oh and my favourite: a coupon booklet of 10 $2 coupons to the coffee shop I visit most often at work – so free coffee for a few weeks.

  7. I recently cashed in my credit card points for gas gift cards, a Target gift card, and a Border’s gift card. This is the card with which we buy sperm (and pay for other fertility-related stuff), so it felt good to get something back that did not come in a tiny little vial or have to go in my vagina.

  8. Speaking of gift certificates and getting something for nothing…

    I use the Discover card which gives you money back. Instead of cashing it out, I leave it there for the entire year. Around November I’ve usually accumulated about $100-$200. This can be redeemed as cash back on your account or in the form of gift cards for several retailers.

    Some retailers give you double the value (redeem $20 of your cashback and get a $40 giftcard). So with $100, I can get five $40 gift cards! These giftcards are great for giving as Christmas presents and they didn’t cost me a thing (I pay the entire balance each month, so I’m not paying interest charges).

    This is one of my favorite freebee Christmas gift strategies.

  9. A few weekends ago, we had a whole bunch of “something for nothing”s in a row — it was great.

    A cookbook at a cooking demonstration at the grocery store; random free pint of ice cream (plus coupon) at tar*get (I think they were promoting a new brand?), and free spices & crate (like, for packaging; it’s really nice looking, and filled with more spices) from our favorite spice store, when we bought a bunch of spices there for a friend’s wedding, because they know we love to shop there, and do it a lot. (Note: building relationships with your merchants = good idea.)

    And this is the point where I’m embarrassed to say that, though I noted the move over here, and really honestly thought I’d added it to my reader… apparently I hadn’t. So! Time to get to catching up…

  10. I try to charge work trips on my personal credit card to get the points. As long as I file the reimbursement quickly I can pay the cc back before any interest accumulates.

  11. I used to work at a hotel and we offered tons of discounts for different groups. The only catch being that the customer had to ask for the specific discount while checking in. Our manager chewed us out for offering a discount if the person said the room was too expensive. So asking for discounts is definitely not a bad idea.

    When I was pregnant with my son we signed up for a baby registry event with BRU. They have one every Saturday, starting before the store opens. It was free and there was breakfast, games, and for people who signed up, a box of free samples of various baby things. I think there was mostly useless stuff in there like a single diaper and a tiny tube of diaper cream, but there was some stuff we still use like a four ounce avent bottle and a pacifier.

  12. Things for free? FREECYCLE!!!! I got books and pamplets to teach me how to fix our plumbing… for free!!! (Okay, so this is not really the fun kinda stuff you meant, but with the money we saved we CAN take a cheap vacation!!!!!!)

    Keeping track of gift cards? I keep them in one slot of my purse. I have a gift card slot, a discount card slot, and an ID & crap slot.

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