Archive | September, 2014

Save $ at Home Improvement Stores w/ Discount Gift Cards

29 Sep

We’ve been experimenting with discounted gift cards as a way to trim expenses, particularly during make ready cleaning, repair, and maintenance work.

Saving Discounted Gift Cards

(photo by Judit Klein)

What are discounted gift cards?
Perhaps you received a gift card for a store you don’t frequent. Instead of going to waste, online exchanges will buy your gift card and sell it to somebody else for less than face value. The seller liquidates the value of the card for cash, and the buyer gets a discount.

Where do I buy discounted gift cards?
We personally use Cardpool and Raise, and like them equally. There are some subtle differences in how they operate:

  • Cardpool uses the same discount % per store at any given time, while Raise allows the seller to set their own price.
  • Cardpool has more gift cards in standard denominations ($25 and $50) and I see more remnant amounts ($29.15 and $69.77) with Raise.
  • Cardpool separates physical vs. electronic gift cards using separate tabs, but Raise will list them all together with different icons indicating card type.
Save $5 when you use the above referral links on your first purchase.
(You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do!)

Selecting a Discounted Gift Card
My current strategy is to buy a home improvement store gift card before each vacancy – roughly $200 per vacancy or $350 for a “first time” vacancy. Check both sites before you buy because changes in supply and demand could show different prices on different days.

For our recent purchase, Raise had the better discount. I chose a physical gift card since we needed the flexibility to make in-store and online purchases.

Raise Home Depot Card Options

(Click to view full size)

A bought a $181.63 Home Depot gift card that cost me $161.80 (no tax, free shipping). That $19.83 might not seem like much, but applying it to our mortgage pre-payment saves another $40.77 in interest. Imagine the potential of applying this technique to an appliance purchase!

When I received the card (egifts can arrive in hours, physical cards in days or weeks), it was actually store credit instead of a traditional gift card, but the functionality is the same.

discounted home depot card

Additional Considerations
Using discounted gift cards, we could consistently save 10-11% on our home improvement store purchases – as long as we have advance notice. It’s also easy to buy too much or too little, but at least most cards won’t expire.

This process can easily be applied to your personal expenses too. As long as I plan ahead, I regularly save 10-20% on my Starbucks habit. 🙂

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How We Saved $1,454 on Our Property Taxes, Part 2

22 Sep

Earlier this year, Corey successfully protested the tax valuation of our investment properties – this series shares his experiences and lessons learned along the way. The information below is definitely Texas-specific, and possibly county-specific, so please take caution when applying it to your local area.

Step 1 – File a Notice to Protest
After reviewing our tax appraisal notice, we needed to schedule a hearing with the Appraisal Review Board. Form 50-132 requested owner information, property details, asked us to declare the reason(s) for our protest.

Notice-of-Protest-Reasons Checked v2

Our reasons would determine what evidence could be presented at the hearing. We wanted to get our hands on the appraisal district’s documentation first, but we couldn’t do that until after the protest form was filed. The solution: check both over market value and value is unequal to give us the most flexibility later.

Make a notation if you’d prefer an evening/weekend slot (if available). Be sure to make a copy of the completed form before you turn it in – you’ll need it in Step 2.

Tip: protesting multiple properties in the same appraisal district?
File Form 50-131 to schedule the hearings on the same day.

Step 2 – Request the Appraisal District’s Evidence
Next, we sent a separate letter (template below) requesting the documentation the chief appraiser will use at the hearing to justify our valuation. This provides 2 HUGE advantages for the property owner:

  1. At least 2 weeks to review the appraisal district’s rationale for the valuation, and prepare any counter-arguments.
  1. The evidence the appraisal district can introduce at the hearing is now restricted to only those materials.

We would be provided different documents depending on whether we protested market value (comparable sales report) or unequal appraisal (equity comparable report) – another reason to check both boxes when you file!

Next Appraisal Protest Post: Compiling Your Evidence

[Month DD, YYYY]

Via Hand Delivery
[Name], Chief Appraiser
[Name] County Appraisal District
[Address]
[City], [ST] [Zip Code]

Re: Request for property appraisal information at [Property Address], [City], [State] [Zip Code] (account #) Property [#]

Dear Sir/Madam:

Enclosed please find the Property Tax – Notice of Protest Form 50-132 regarding the above described improved real property.

Additionally, pursuant to section 41.461 of the Texas Property Tax Code, please provide a copy of the data, schedules, formulas and all other information the chief appraiser plans to introduce at the hearing to establish any matter at issue.

It is my understanding that information, “not made available to the protesting party at least 14 days before the scheduled or postponed hearing may not be used as evidence in the hearing,” according to 41.67(d) of the Texas Property Tax Code.

Please notify me when a copy of the above referenced information is available and I will make arrangements to pick it up and remit payment for it.

Sincerely,

[Signature]

[Name]

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