"Goals are dreams with deadlines" -- Diana Scharf

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How I Sent Flowers to My Mom...and Made Money in the Process

When I went to college, I moved 3,000 miles away from my family.  My parents always knew I would go away to school, so they weren’t surprised when I left sunny California to attend college on the East Coast.  But my extended family felt a little abandoned.  Even now, eight years later, they still plead with me to move back to California.  The long distance is difficult, especially now that my grandparents are getting older and their health is declining.  There are days when I feel very guilty for having moved so far away and for missing so many family functions as a result of the move. 

As much as possible, I’ve sent flowers to female family members for every major occasion or life occurrence (birthdays, Mother’s Day, after a surgery).  Admittedly, there are cheaper ways to acknowledge special occasions.  Sending flowers is notoriously expensive, especially around major “Hallmark holidays.”  However, it’s one of the ways that I let family members know I’m still thinking of them despite the distance.  Maybe I'm just trying to appease a guilty conscience, but I think it truly makes them happy.  One of my grandmothers – the really frugal one -- always calls to thank/scold me, saying “You shouldn’t have wasted your money.  Too expensive.”  But, as soon as she hangs up with me she calls my mom to brag that she received flowers. 
I think this means that I should keep sending the flowers. 

Nonetheless, there’s a financial implication to this gesture of caring.  Spending $50-$70 to send a bouquet of flowers will definitely add up quickly.  Just recently, I discovered a way to send flowers for free. 

In my day-to-day shopping, I use my credit cards on a regular basis*.  I know that many personal finance experts would discourage this.  However, I pay off the balance in full every month so I don’t see the harm.  Discover is my card of choice because it has a great cash rewards program**.  Last year, I earned over $500 in Discover cash rewards.  Those cash rewards can be redeemed as a statement credit, direct deposit, or a merchandise card.

My mom recently had a minor medical procedure performed, and I thought it would be nice to send her some flowers.  Here’s how I did it without spending a dime of my own money.  In fact, I actually earned a few dollars that I can use in the future.  I've even included visual aids so you don't think I'm making this up!

How I Sent Free Flowers:

1. As of March, had a $40.03 balance of available Discover Cashback (ie, rewards credit), accumulated from earlier purchases on my Discover card.

2. Redeemed $40.00 of Discover CashBack for a $50.00 ProFlowers merchandise card. 

3. Logged on to www.ShopDiscover.com, and selected ProFlowers from the retailer list.  Noticed that ProFlowers was offering 20% Discover Cashback for all purchases initiated through ShopDiscover.  Clicked through to the ProFlowers website.  (See below for more on using ShopDiscover).

4. Selected a cheerful flower arrangement for my mom.  It was nothing extravagant, but I thought she would like it.  It was originally $49.99, but was marked down to $29.99 for an Easter special.  It also included a free vase, which I liked (the last thing I wanted was for my mom to dig around for a vase while she was supposed to be recovering).

5. After shipping/handling and tax, the order total was $50.24.  Redeemed my $50 ProFlowers merchandise card.  This left a balance of $.24, which I paid with my Discover card. 

6. A few days later, received an email from Discover informing me that I had earned $6.00 of additional rewards credit by using ShopDiscover.   Wait...what?!!!  Apparently, the 20% rewards credit was applied to the merchandise total of $29.99 (ie, the cost of the flower arrangement), even though I only paid $.24 on my Discover card.  How awesome is that?!

7. Once my next statement arrives, my Discover rewards balance should reflect an additional $6.00 earned from using ShopDiscover and ProFlowers.  Once I’ve accumulated enough rewards, I can redeem the rewards and send another free bouquet of flowers...just in time for Mother's Day!

*I try to pay with cash at mom-and-pop businesses so that the credit card fee doesn’t eat into their profits.

**Discover currently has a three-pronged rewards program.  As with all rewards programs, this is subject to change without notice.  This is my best understanding of the rewards program:

1.       1% Program: The first $3,000 of purchases earns .25% Cashback.  Once you’ve spent $3,000, every purchase earns 1% Cashback. 

2.       5% Cashback Bonus Program: Earn 5% Cashback on certain categories of expenses (ie, groceries, travel, home improvement), according to a rotating rewards calendar.  For instance, cardholders earn 5% Cashback on up to $1,500 in restaurant and movie purchases made from January 1, 2012-March 31, 2013.  There is usually a limit to how much Cashback you can receive through the 5% program. 

3.       ShopDiscover: Discover calls ShopDiscover its “online shopping mall.”  Discover partners with hundreds of retailers, all of whom offer 5%-20% Cashback if you access their website through www.shopdiscover.com and pay with your Discover card.  Typically, the Cashback percentage only applies to the merchandise total (ie, not taxes or shipping).   It's also only available for online purchases. 

Once you accumulate at least $20 in Cashback rewards, there are several ways to redeem your rewards: statement credit, direct deposit, or merchandise credit.  If you choose statement credit or direct deposit, you get the exact value of your reward.  For example, if you have $50 in reward credit, you can get a $50 statement credit or have $50 deposited into your bank account.  I usually choose the merchandise credit because you get a better bang for your buck.  There are several retailers – such as ProFlowers and Banana Republic – that will offer a $50 merchandise credit in exchange for $40 of Discover rewards credit. 

 *** This post is not sponsored or endorsed by Discover Card is any way. 

If you use credit cards,  what are some of your favorite rewards programs?

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