There are two great ways to be rewarded for playing around online: cash back sites and rewards programs. Here’s what you need to know.
Cash back sites
Is there anything better than getting paid to shop? Well, besides world peace and an end to hunger and all that…
Cash-back programs are about as simple as they sound. You sign up for the program. Then, once you need to buy something online, go to the website and see if the store is a merchant. If you shop the merchant through the program’s site, you’ll receive a percentage of total back.
There are some perennial favorites, but each program will have some merchants that the others don’t. I recommend signing up at more than one site, so that you can do a quick comparison for the best deal.
If you do choose just one program, make sure it’s this one. Mr. Rebates has more than 2,000 merchants; and it tends to have the highest cash-back awards.
Here are a few perks of the program:
- $5 sign-up reward
- You earn 20 percent of whatever your referrals make. (This does not affect their rewards.)
- Monthly payouts
- Payment via check or Paypal
The only cautions here are pretty basic. First, you can’t cash out until you have at least $10 in your account. You also have to request a payout. The system will not automatically send you the money. This means you have to keep a more active watch on your account.
Until I found Mr. Rebates, this was the program I touted. The idea is the same, but Ebates has slightly different policies.
For example, each person you refer gets you $5. It’s a nice, quick way to earn a few extra dollars. On the other hand, it doesn’t have the long-term promise of Mr. Rebates. Still, if you refer people who aren’t big online shoppers, Ebates‘ system could mean more money, more quickly.
With Ebates, you only need $5.01 in your account to qualify for a check or PayPal. If you know someone who doesn’t shop online very often, this could be a better deal than the 20 percent at Mr. Rebates. Ebates also automatically generates a check for you once you have enough in your account. So you don’t have to keep an eye on your account balance.
The main drawback of Ebates is the wait. Ebates pays out four times a year. Your earnings over a three-month period are accrued. If they meet the minimum amount, you get a check. If they don’t, you’re out of luck for another three months. The long wait can be aggravating.
Still, there are a few merchants in this program that aren’t on Mr. Rebates. So it is worth checking out.
Extrabux will give you a $5 sign-up bonus. It’ll also give you a $5 bonus for each referral — plus 5% of any rebates your referrals receive within the first year.
Short form: A good sign-up bonus ($10), a good referral bonus (sorta) and the potential for rate matching (sorta — seriously, read the review).
This is somewhat unique. First of all, except during certain specials, TopCashBack doesn’t give you a sign-up bonus.
Also, unlike other cash back sites, TopCashBack gives you its entire commission. Most cash back sites simply pass a large portion back to you. TopCashBack says that it will use the money it gets from advertisers.
Why is that a big deal? It might not be. The following is pure speculation because I haven’t used TopCashBack (or had rebates go missing) enough to say how this works, but here are my thoughts.
If a rebate goes missing, you have to report it to the site. If it’s under a certain amount, you’ll usually just get a courtesy credit. The site will pursue the commission on its own. If it’s larger, the site will open a claim before it gives you any money.
So if a cash back site is relying solely on ads, it may have less wiggle room to give out courtesy credits. Again, this is a thought experiment, not based on anything I’ve experienced. It’s something to think about, though.
That said, full commission means high cash back percentages. It also has some interesting holiday specials that let you instantly win $0.25 to $100.
This is the program I have tried for the shortest period of time, but it’s also my favorite! It’s easy and addictive. Soon, you want to win Swagbucks just because it’s a fun to see on the screen.
It’s strange, but it’s also immediate, positive feedback. Tim and I both got stuck in the habit of saying, “Yay! Swagbucks!” when we get one. Silly, but fun!
How it works:
Check out my Swagbucks for beginners post for a more thorough look. But here are some broad strokes.
Perform searches through Swagbucks (or the search engine toolbar) and be randomly awarded as points called SB. The denominations vary, but generally you’ll get 10. In addition, there are near-daily “swagcodes” given out on the blog or elsewhere. Check the Swagbucks widget on the front page to see if there are any current codes.
As your account total builds, you can cash your SB in for various goods.
My results: Beyond belief. I’ve gotten thousands of dollars of gift cards from this program: gaming consoles, electronics, collectibles, clothing, books, boring household stuff and more!
- The best tip I can give you is to download the toolbar and search for every website you go to. Even if you know the URL, take the extra 3-5 seconds and look it up first.
- If you don’t want to endlessly check the widget about swagcodes, become a fan of Swagbucks on Facebook. If you see a lot of people saying, “Thanks TSG [The Swag Guy]” you’ll know there’s probably a code floating around.
- Once you start doing well, mention it to friends, family or your own blog readers and see if you can accrue some referrals. It will boost your earnings!
- There are other ways to earn swagbucks — shop & earn, special offers, etc — but I wouldn’t recommend them. Other programs offer much better incentives.
I have officially been using this program for more than 15 years. Kind of startling to realize, I admit, but it’s been a great decade! I’ve used the gift cards in so many ways. One Christmas, my aunt and uncle (who love gardening) got a $25 Home Depot gift card. Amazon GCs financed several Marvel-themed T-shirts that Tim wanted for Christmas. My mom and I hoarded points for over a year, then cashed them in for about $200 in Wal-Mart cards. We took these to Sam’s Club and bought all the food for my wedding.
The sheer number and diversity of merchants on this site is simply astounding: restaurants, Visa gift cards, salons, department stores, e-tailers, and plenty of others. There’s something for everyone!
How it works:
The basic premise is pretty simple: Earn points, redeem for gift cards. Just by filling out a profile, you’ll earn 250 points.
Probably my favorite part of this program is that there are just so many ways to earn points: reading email, using coupons, shop & earn, special offers, searches, referrals and more.
In my opinion, the best points come from reading emails. I say “best” because they’re free and easy to get. I receive at least 2-3 emails a day. One is usually an announcement, but the others will net me 5 points. If you open the Surveymail, you’ll get at least 10 points. (If you qualify, you’ll get 50.) In all, I get over 100 points a week (usually closer to 150) just from reading my emails. Since $10 gift cards cost 1500-1800 points, you’re looking at quick and easy rewards!
My second favorite route is using coupons. It seems almost too good to be true. You get points for being frugal. But the program works. Go to Coupons.com through MyPoints, print out coupons. Each one will get you 10 points. If you redeem 10 or more each month, you get a bonus 25 points.
- While you can earn points by shopping, I would recommend against it. The cash-back sites (discussed later) tend to offer a much better return.
- I’m not a big fan of the special offers. They are alluring because they offer a lot of points. But most of them are trial offers, so if you’re not organized, you’ll get dinged.
- If you are hell-bent on doing the special offers, mark the deadline for cancellation on your calendar.
- There is one time when the special offers are worthwhile. That’s when you’re signing up for services you actually want. When Tim and I moved, we signed up for DirecTV and got 5,000 points. That’s nearly enough for a $50 gift card.
- If you decide to do the search program, be sure to click through on one of the links. You won’t get credit for the search, otherwise.
Okay, I admit it: I play favorites. Inbox Dollars is lower on my list than the other two. But, in some ways, it’s actually superior.
How it works:
First of all, Inbox Dollars pays cash. That’s always a plus. There is a payment threshold: $30. You can’t request a check before then. But the site also starts you off with $5, just for signing up. That’s a lot more than Swagbucks or MyPoints offer new members.
Like MyPoints, Inbox Dollars gives you rewards for reading emails. You get 2 cents per email, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But most frugal people know: Pennies add up. (Of my first check, which was $41.54, $18.58 came from emails.)
You can also get paid for shopping and trial offers. If you refer anyone, you will receive money based on the rewards they complete. (It does not take away from the amount your referrals receive. It’s only based on how much they get.)
Probably the best deal, though, are the surveys. Inbox Dollar‘s surveys will net you 50 cents each. That means that you only have to qualify for one a day, and you can get $30 every two months!
- The same caveats exist for this as for the others. Don’t get too frisky with the special offers unless you’re very organized. Also, be sure to keep up on your emails. They will expire.
- If you don’t qualify for one survey, you can keep trying on a few more. So don’t give up too easily.
- Once you get your first check, you’re officially a Gold Member. I’ve only recently gotten around to requesting my check, so I can’t say much about it yet. I’ll report back if I notice an uptick in referral rewards — which is one of the main, hyped benefits.