Dollars and Sense: Oregon Society of CPAs

Are you taking advantage of offers for discounts or free merchandise? Many people are watching their spending these days, and your dollar will go a lot farther if you can get more for less money.

Ask for samples

A surprising number of companies will send free samples or coupons just for the asking. You can contact most companies through their websites or write to them using addresses on their packages. Some store’s websites include current coupons, so look for your local market online and see what’s available.

Also, check sites that offer free coupons or samples for a variety of products. Note that on some of these sites you may be asked to “register” by providing an email address or other information; keep this in mind if you don’t want to receive a string of email advertisements in the future.

Remember, also, that you should never provide your credit card or bank account information, your Social Security number or other personal details to any online or email promotion unless you’re completely certain that you’re dealing with a legitimate offer. The Federal Trade Commission site provides details on common online scams.

Get discounts on medications

Pharmaceutical companies often offer price reductions on a variety of medications for those who meet certain income limits or other criteria. Many of these programs are open only to those without prescription drug coverage, but if you do have insurance your insurer may have similar programs, so be sure to ask.

During the depths of the recession, some pharmacies began offering some medications for free and a few have extended these programs indefinitely. Be aware, though, that taking medications without your doctor’s knowledge may be harmful.

Soak up some culture

Movies, concerts and sporting events have all become high-ticket items, but it’s still possible to expand your cultural horizons at little or no cost. Before spending $10 or more for movie entry, check local event listings for free concerts or performances in your area.

If you’re traveling, the cultural affairs offices in many cities provide information about free entry to museums or other cultural activities; contact them or check their sites for more information.

Additionally, active duty military, National Guard and Reserve members and up to five family members can enjoy free museum entry at 1,500 museums nationwide from Memorial Day through Labor Day through the Blue Star Museums Initiative.

Make the most of your rewards

If your credit or debit card features bonus points for purchases, make an effort to use them, especially if they expire. These points are a nice dividend, but if you’re tempted to open a credit card account based on their points program, be sure to read the fine print to find out how much they are costing you. In some cases, the cards with the most attractive points programs also feature high membership or interest costs, so determine in advance whether you think you’ll get your money’s worth.

Also, if your loyalty cards for certain hotels, restaurants, stores or other merchants are taking up space in your wallet, consider putting them to work. By doing most of your buying at one place, you can load up on points that lead to discounts or freebies later.

Dollars & $ense is a column on personal finance prepared and distributed by certified public accountants, produced in cooperation with the Oregon Society of CPAs and the American Institute of CPAs. The state organization’s Web site is

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