Call it what you want — a recession or not, there's no question Americans are looking to get more bang for their buck... and cash is king. While there are online scams offering "get rich quick" schemes or promising tax refunds (one of the most popular "phishing" scams), there are also some savvy, legitimate resources worth taking advantage of. Here are five sites that can put $50 in your pocket fast:
1. Click for coupons
Total monthly savings: $50
Grocery prices are up almost across the board. People are really feeling it when you consider food accounts for about 15% of the average household budget. Rising prices are in large part driven by wheat — up 44%. Cereal is one of the most obvious examples, since wheat makes up about 24% of the total cost of goods for cereal. One of the ways cereal makers are hiding the price increase is to make the box smaller. Consumers are paying as much as 36% more than last year for common kitchen staples, like eggs, bread, milk, and chicken.
Money saving blog WalletPop breaks down where your food budget is seeing the biggest hit. According to WalletPop, grocery prices are up substantially from this time last year. Orange juice is up 13.3% and lunch staples like American sliced cheese, up 8.3%; peanut butter, up 9.4%; and potato chips, up 7%. If you drink cola with your lunch, that's up, too, 12.4% year-over-year.
An obvious way to get around rising grocery costs is to stick to a list, so you avoid impulse buys — and above all, play the coupon game. You can print coupons at home from sites like couponmom.com. Manufacturers want you to have these, but only if you need them to pick their product — that's retail 101.
More from TODAY.com
Idina Menzel 'got chills' when asked to sing at Super Bowl
Oh! Say, can you see ...
- 'Biggest Loser' win came down to a single pound: Meet the winner
- Watch the TODAY team 'Rise to Shine' in our very own Super Bowl ad
- Bobbie's Buzz: New and notable twists on classic beauty favorites
- The Super Bowl commercials of 2015: Watch all the top ads here
- Idina Menzel 'got chills' when asked to sing at Super Bowl
Also, shopping once per week would yield $50 a month in savings. If your store doubles coupons, $100. And this is conservative. True bargain bees are all over this site — a quarter million of them are regular users.
Coupon shortcuts on the way: Soon, you won't even have to print coupons. A new technology will launch later this month (www.shortcuts.com) in which you'll select the coupons you want and they'll instantly be transmitted to your grocery membership card (81% of people have these). It's like turbo-charging your card with extra savings. It is expected that even sometimes coupon-shy men will get in on the action.
Coupons on demand: You heard it here first — coupons can be requested & downloaded right to your cellphone and you'll scan it across the scanner. Acuity Mobile (www.AcuityMobile.com) debuted a prototype on TODAY. Think of it as coupons on-demand.
2. Cash in old cell phones
Total cash for old cell = $5.00-$50.00
Log on, locate your make and model and get a quote in seconds. You do need to know your exact model — simply pop out the battery and look behind it. If you're satisfied with the price they offer (anywhere from $5 for a regular cell to over $50 for a higher-end Blackberry), request a postage paid box. The phone must be able to power up and complete a call and you'll need to send in the charger as well. Cellforcash.com will mail you a check within 30 days. The site takes the old phones, refurbishes them and resells them in developing countries. It's a win, win.
3. Cash in a gift card
Total cash out: $75.00 SEARS card currently going for $48.75
$26 billion worth of gift cards were sold this past holiday season alone. Thousands will go unused by consumers. You can't redeem them for cash in-store, but you can online. Generally, you can expect to receive about 65% of face-value. I spoke with a top executive from swapagift.com and he says business is booming.
So, if I had a $75 Sears gift card, I enter this info on the site and in seconds, I receive an "instant" quote. There is a $1.99 fixed fee, but they make their money on the spread between what they pay you for the card and the price they re-sell it at. So, on the flip side, if you're doing a kitchen renovation and wanted to really get the cost of a new dishwasher down, you could buy three $100 gift cards on this site for $90 each (the current going rate).
Essentially, you'd be getting "discounted cash." If the dishwasher is $300, that's $30 off right off the bat before any other sales or discounts the retailer may offer.
4) Save at the pump
Total monthly savings: Save 30 cents per gallon X 2 tanks per week = $48.
Are you picking the cheapest path? In many cities across the country, going one block or one mile could save you precious pennies at the pump — as much as .30-.50 cents per gallon. If you're filling up on a 20 gallon SUV once or twice a week, it adds up fast.
To use Mapquest's Gas Prices feature, type in an address or zip code and it will give you gas stations with the lowest prices within a 50 mile radius. The stations appear plotted on a map. In a given area prices (updated up to 7 times a day) range by as much as 50 cents per gallon.
5) Cheap seats guaranteed
Total cash back for $400 (original fare) - 275 (new fare) = $125 - $75 (change fee) = $50
The average airline ticket fluctuates by 400%. Who can keep up? If you book your airline ticket and the prices drops, it's not game over. You've got a move to make after the purchase. Plug your itinerary into Yapta.com and it will alert you if and when prices drop. Because of something called "guaranteed airfare policy" you're eligible for a refund if the fare price decreases on any major airline.
When you get your itinerary, just email it to Yapta at email@example.com. It's just a matter of forwarding what the airlines send you. Couldn't be easier. Even after deducting any change fee levied by the airline, if your $400 round trip ticket is suddenly $275, you might have $50+ bucks headed your way. Yapta does all the math & alerts you accordingly. No more feeling like you paid more than the person sitting next to you.
For more smart financial advice and tips, visit Reginalewis.com.
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints