Unconventional ways to saveIt's coming. That moment when you realize it's time to buy a new car, pay for your child's education, retire, replace your refrigerator… and the list goes on and on. It's a fact of life that major expenses are going to come up. They just do. Sometimes you get years to plan ahead – as with college tuition bills – and sometimes you're left scrambling for spare change – that time your air conditioner gave up the ghost on the first 90-degree day of the summer. Either way, your finances are going to take a hit. 

Luckily, there are a number of unique tools out there to help you either prepare for specific upcoming expenses or at least take some of the pinch out of saving for a rainy day. 

Now, nothing can take the place of good financial planning and smart traditional saving, but adding one or two of these tools to your financial toolbox certainly can't hurt. In most cases, they cost you nothing to use.

Save without really saving

Does it get any better than saving for something without putting any of your own hard-earned cash in the piggy bank? It sounds too good to be true, right? Trust us, it's not.

You're probably familiar with cash-back credit cards that offer you a percentage of your purchases back in the form of statement credits, bank account deposits or paper checks. These are excellent tools, but they don't typically qualify as the kinds of things you'd bank on as you save for a new car or college tuition costs.

But there are, in fact, a couple of cards that CAN help you save for those major purchases. One of those is the GM BuyPower Card from Capital One® - Duplicate (this card is not currently available on CardRatings), a special kind of cash-back credit card through which all of your "cash back" automatically accumulates toward helping you offset the cost of a new or leased Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac or upgrade options on those vehicles.

For the first $5,000 you put on the card, you'll earn an impressive 5 percent back on all those purchases (if you do the math, you'll see that alone is worth $250). After you hit that $5,000 spending threshold, you're rate drops to 2 percent on all your purchases. You can continue to earn cash back at that 2 percent rate without a cap and without an expiration date, which means that if you're several years out from needing to purchase or lease a new General Motors vehicle, you have the opportunity to rack up a fair amount of cash to apply toward that hefty expense.

Since you can't redeem your rewards for anything except as it relates to the purchase or lease of a new vehicle, there's no temptation to use your rewards for something else. Think of the GM BuyPower Card from Capital One® - Duplicate as a piggy bank that can only be opened when you're ready to get behind the wheel of a new car. Sweetening the deal, your rewards can be combined with other GM offers and incentives.

By the way, a number of other car manufacturers offer similar credit card savings plans, including Chrysler, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes and Toyota, so don't write off this option even if GM isn't your car brand of choice.

"Great," you may be thinking, "but I'm actually more concerned about paying for my kids' college than I am about paying for a new car."

In that case, you may want to consider the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card, another niche cash-back credit card – this one designed to help you save in your investment accounts. Think 401k, 529 college savings plans and others.

With the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card there's a $100 bonus offer on the table after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of opening an account and you'll earn 2 percent back on all your purchases, again with no cap or expiration date on the rewards. You do have the option to redeem your rewards in a few ways besides simply into a Fidelity-connected investment account, but the novelty of this card is that easy savings structure that helps you put money toward retirement or college costs or other long-term investments without actually putting any of your income toward those financial goals. 

As with the GM BuyPower Card from Capital One® - Duplicate and purchasing your next car, the Fidelity® Rewards Visa Signature® Card isn't the sole savings vehicle you'll want to depend upon for your entire retirement of college savings plan, but it is a nice bonus option. If you're going to be making purchases with a credit card anyway, why not make them with a credit card that helps you save for major expenses down the road? 

Pay without really paying

Did you know that there are credit cards out there that actually help pay your bills at no cost to you? 

Got your attention, right?

Wells Fargo credit cards, including the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® card (See Rates and Fees) and even the Wells Fargo Secured Visa® Card have a special feature tucked into the fine print that will help wipe out part of a bill for you. 

You know that cell phone insurance you're carrying because you KNOW you're going to drop your new iPhone in your dog's water dish at some point? If you pay your cell phone bill with your Wells Fargo credit card, you're automatically covered by up to $600 in cell phone insurance. And that coverage extends to other phones on the same cell phone plan, so if your son decides to test whether his phone can withstand a skateboard rolling over it (curious minds want to know, after all) you're covered for that, too. Go ahead and cancel the insurance you're carrying through your cell phone provider and save yourself that chunk of change each month.

One more way credit cards can save you money

Don't forget about the price protection written into many credit card agreements out there. In many cases, your credit card issuer will reimburse you if a product you purchased with the card goes on sale or otherwise drops in price within a certain time frame after your purchase.

Many retailers offer the same type of protection – usually called a "price adjustment" in the retail world – but the time frame is extremely short at about two weeks or maybe a month. Many credit cards, however, will offer that protection for as long as 120 days or even six months. It's a credit card perk that costs you nothing, but can save you money.

If you don't think you're the type to keep up with price changes and jump through the hoops of following up with your credit card issuer for the price adjustment, you might consider one of several services that are out there, such as Paribus, that track your purchases for you and initiate the refund process with your credit card company on your behalf. In the case of Paribus, the only payment you make for this service is a percentage of the refund they secure for you; it isn't new money out of your pocket. 

>>> See also: Get money back if a price drops weeks, even months, after your purchase

When it comes to credit cards, it's easy to think of them as ways to spend money but not so easy to think of them as ways to save money. Whether you're looking for simple ways to save toward a future major purchase or just looking for ways to save a little money on your monthly bills or everyday purchases, there are a number of credit cards out there that are worth a look.

Interested in other credit card options? Don't get bogged down in details. Take advantage of the tools out there – like the CardRatings credit card comparison tool or expert reviews – to help you make your decision.

Featured Partner Cards