Sanity savers I: Rewards Programs
This "Sanity Savers" series is designed to explore the many ways that we frugalites avoid feeling deprived while we save up and pay down debt.
MyPoints, Swagbucks, Inbox Dollars, Surveyhead: Oh, how I love thee! Let me count the ways...
The latter two programs probably don't much apply for the purposes of this post. We're looking at ways to avoid feeling deprived -- sanity savers, if you will. But the last two programs give real money, rather than gift cards or other rewards.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with cash, but most of us take any extra money and put it toward debt or an emergency fund. So it's unlikely you'll be using those funds for a small indulgence that offsets your otherwise-frugal routine.
So, while I suggest you take a look at both Surveyhead and Inbox Dollars, this post will just feature MyPoints and Swagbucks. They are my two favorite (non-cash) rewards programs. They are the ones I've had the best results with, but they also have the best options for rewards.
MyPoints has a lot of gift card options that offer potential indulgences:
- Get a meal out with at one of over 20 restaurants.
- See a movie at a Regal Cinemas theater.
- Buy books at Border's and Amazon.
- Get lotions and other pampering products at Bath & Body Works.
- Get some new clothes, shoes, and jewelry at TJ Maxx, Kohl's, Bloomingdales, JC Penney, Macy's, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
- Upgrade some technology at Amazon or Staples
- Get some household items at Target, Kmart, Overstock, LL Bean, Land's End, and Pottery
- Or get a Visa gift card and spend the money at whatever store you like.
That's a lot of ways to treat yourself. And, I think we can all agree, the occasional treat makes the day-to-day frugality far more bearable.
Swagbucks offers a very different set of rewards, though. Gift cards are a small section of the prize store. You can get band and movie memorabilia, comics, books, sports cards and a lot of other random items. You can also buy video games, consoles and electronics -- but these are invariably cheaper to buy through Amazon.com.
And that's when we come to the main attraction of Swagbucks, for me, anyway: the $5 Amazon GCs. These take only 45 SBs, so they add up quickly.
Amazon has such a variety of merchandise -- including other stores' gift cards -- that the Amazon GCs are the obvious non-money focus for Swaggernauts. (If money is your goal, though, you can get $5 in Paypal funds for 70 SBs.)
I've already listed (most of) the things you can do with rewards programs. But that's not really how I use mine. Instead, most of my rewards program points go toward holiday gifts.
That may not be as obvious a sanity saver as a meal out or new clothes; but I count it as one without hesitation. I like giving presents. When you're being frugal, gifts are always difficult.
Holidays are when I come closest to feeling deprived. It's not just about seeing things I might want; it's seeing things that I want to get others, only to realize I can't afford them. The rewards programs let me give nice presents, even in limited circumstances.
There is one other major way that rewards programs allow us indulgences. That's when we reap the benefits of other people's reward programs. Several years ago, I introduced my mom to MyPoints. Ever since, I have been the recipient of many gift cards from the site. When Tim came into my life, he started getting them too.
Sometimes it's a Regal Theaters GC. In that case, we get to see any movie we want. A rare treat. While we get AMC tickets through My Coke Rewards, we cannot use them until the "no passes" admonition drops off the new releases. Additionally, a gift card means we can afford some popcorn to go with the film.
Other times, we get a restaurant gift card. A California Pizza Kitchen or Red Robin GC will just about cover a meal out for us -- and I'm a huge fan of any food I don't have to cook.
I'm sure you've noticed from the examples: My favorite sanity savers are ones that provide a night out. I firmly believe that the occasional date night can make a huge difference in a relationship. It can be particularly important when you're slashing expenses throughout the budget.
Money is one of the top arguments between people in relationships. A night out together -- one that doesn't wreck the budget -- can be more than just a sanity saver. It can be a relationship saver.
Which rewards programs do you favor? Why? Do you use these to avoid feeling deprived, or for some other purpose?