Holiday shopping and rewards programs
In my last post, I explained how you could still get as much as $20 in rewards before the holiday shopping deadline. But that's only half the equation when it comes to that heady mix of rewards programs and holiday shopping.
Rewards programs aren't just to earn gift certificates for free shopping. They can also reward you for the shopping you were going to do anyway. Since the holidays tend to be when the most concentrated bursts of spending occur, it only make sure you know where to go for "rewarding" online purchases.
It's important to choose the right programs when you're looking to earn by shopping. For quick, easy rewards without spending money, Swagbucks is my absolute pick. But if you are looking to get some bang for your Internet-spent buck, it's not the way to go.
The right program for you may depend on your goal. Some people prefer money-back programs, which give back a portion of the money spent. The checks from these can be snowflakes against debt, or toward a large purchase. On the other hand, some people are perfectly happy earning points toward gift cards. They use these as gifts, to buy gifts, or simply to treat themselves to something otherwise outside the budget.
Personally, I like both kinds of programs, and so I participate in both. This gives me a couple of advantages: variety and comparison shopping. The basic fact is that no one program will cover all the stores you shop at. But if you work with two or three programs, there is a better chance that your purchase will earn you some sort of reward.
That said, you don't want to stretch yourself too thin among the various rewards sites. Do too many and it will take forever to actually earn anything. And rewards points are no good if you can't use them.
I suggest that you sign up with MyPoints and Ebates. If you feel comfortable adding a third program, Inbox Dollars should be your next stop.
As the name implies, this is a points program. My favorite ways to earn through the site are to read emails, do searches (you only need to do about one a day), and to use coupons printed through the site. You can also earn by free trial offers and, of course, shopping through the site.
I love this program and have been a faithful user for just under a decade. I use it mainly to earn points for free. But it can also give a good return for online purchases. It has quite literally hundreds of merchants to do business with. The sheer expanse of names is a tad dizzying, and it keeps growing.
And just like the merchants list, the rewards list is long. Very long. There are restaurants, computer stores, movie chains, clothing shops and more. You choose which reward to go for. Your choices are generally $25 or $50 gift cards, though some merchants offer $10 or $100 cards.
It's fabulous, and, in my opinion, it's the only points program you should bother with. And if you do take my advice, feel free to use firstname.lastname@example.org as a referral. I can always use more points for my holiday shopping rewards!
Ebates is my favorite cash-back site. Maybe this is because it gives you $5 just for signing up. Okay, that's definitely part of it. But the other part is that it has shops that the other sites don't. In fact, it may be the only site I've seen with a more extensive merchant list than MyPoints.
The only downside to Ebates is that it only pays out quarterly, and only if you have earned over $5. So, unlike MyPoints, you can't cash out whenever you like. On the other hand, you're getting money, not a gift card. I figure that more or less makes the two sites even.
Inbox Dollars is also a great program. The main reason it ranks third on my list is because the other two are so terrific. Also, they have lower payout thresholds than this site.
Like Ebates, Inbox Dollars deals in regular cash. Because of this, you need a minimum of $30 before you can request a check. Like MyPoints, you can earn by reading emails. But unlike the other two, if you refer new members, you keep benefiting as they earn. You can also head on over to the survey center for some extra money. They have a seemingly never-ending supply of the questionnaires, so if you don't qualify for the first one, be sure to persevere.
Inbox Dollars does only have 58 merchants to shop through, which is important when considering your holiday shopping. But it's always worth checking to see if your store is on there. Sometimes this site beats out Ebates on cash-back.
Check out one or more of these sites, so that your only reward for holiday shopping won't be a huge January credit card bill.