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Those "stupid programs" (and why you should join them)

I've always been interested in "programs" that reward loyalty through points and savings, and I look for ways to use these programs to my best advantage.  I've joined (and un-joined) quite a few of these programs in the last few years.

My husband, Joshua,  is one of the most practical, straight-shooting guys around.  He used to think that my spending time keeping up with these programs was a colossal waste of time. He was not a believer. Then, one year, I decided to track my rewards/earnings/bonuses from all of these programs over the course of twelve months.  Surprise: they came to over $3,000.  I showed him the results. Needless to say, he's a believer now.

Many of these rewards are seasonal or are offered once or twice a year, like certain bank account bonuses or credit card rewards.  I'll post about those as they come up.  But, right now, I want to talk about the ones that I use year-round.

I use these little programs to create pockets of "perks" and extras in our budget. I don't rely on them for real income or basic necessities, but we definitely enjoy them as low-effort side projects that significantly add to our slush funds.

Ok, before I dive in and tell you which programs we've been successful with, first let me tell you how I decide which ones to participate in.
  • The program is not spammy or shady, does not promise you the world, and is backed by a recognizable company or organization.  As a frugal blogger, I'm besieged with requests from affiliate marketing companies to post offers that capture your emails, medical information, personal data, etc. with promises of immediate iPads, gift cards, etc. Needless to say, I won't post those spammy, suspect offers or programs.  I won't post an offer that I wouldn't participate in myself, and I'm very protective of my privacy.  If an offer sounds too good to be true, it's probably too good to be true.  I have a special gmail address for any program or offer that I use (gmail has excellent anti-spam filters), and I never give out any financial information or medical info.  (Remember, even though I do screen deals that I post on Daily Cheapskate, it's ultimately up to you to discern which offers to respond to.)
  • You don't need to wait too long to get an initial reward.  I'm very results-oriented and I like to see the fruits of my labor after about a month or so.  If I need to wait a year to get any rewards of value, the program isn't worthwhile.  That's not to say that I won't save up rewards for a big payoff at a later time, but I still like to see the rewards start accumulating about a month in to the program.
  • You don't need to work hard to accumulate points.  Most programs give you several options for earning rewards.  I'm always going to choose the easiest, least intrusive ones and forget the others.  I've got a busy life and so do you, and no one wants to spend a ton of time on these things.  On occasion, if there is a reward offered that's worth the trouble, I'll go the extra mile, but otherwise, I don't want to break a sweat or spend too much time doing it. 
Ok, now here are the programs that I do recommend.

Swagbucks.  I'm always surprised to meet anyone who hasn't joined Swagbucks yet, but apparently, you guys are out there. Swagbucks  is the King of No-Brainer Ways to Get Free Stuff. Swagbucks is effortless to join, use, and the rewards come quickly and easily.  Basically, you get points for searching through the Swagbucks search engine (which is Google-based) and after 450 points, you get to redeem a $5 Amazon e-gift card. The points accumulate very quickly; I currently have hundreds of dollars in credits sitting in my Amazon account because of Swagbucks and have gotten a ton of free stuff that way.  If you are more ambitious with extra time (I'm not) you can do other things to earn points, like take polls, surveys, refer friends, etc., but the fantastic thing about Swag Bucks is that you can earn points by doing something you would already be doing, searching through a Google-based engine.  My $0.02:  because Swagbucks does occasionally throw in some spammy offers, I'd skip everything else and stick to searching.

My Coke Rewards.  This rewards program is great for people who like to drink soda (us) or like to serve soda when they entertain.  During the week, we toss our Diet Coke caps and codes into a drawer in the kitchen that's the designated rewards/rebates/stufflikethat drawer.  Once every other week, I take out the caps and codes and enter them into our two MCR accounts. (If you've got kids, this is a great errand that you can assign to them.) I redeem the points for free soda, as needed.  Thanks to this program, we spend less than $40 per year overall on soda, and we do drink a heckuva lot of soda.  The exceptions to this schedule are when My Coke Rewards runs double-point promotions (like last week) or at the end of the year, when they offer special deals on their rewards.  I did spend a little more time on MCR in the last month because of all of their incredible December specials, and I have over thirty (yes, thirty) coupons for free 12-packs to show for it (that's about 6 months of free soda for us).  Oh, and a free $25 Target gift card as well, which will go into our gift card slush fund.  The thing I like most about MyCokeRewards is that the rewards beget more rewards; i.e. after I redeem the coupons for the free 12-packs, I can use their codes to get points to redeem for more rewards. Etc.

Recyclebank.  I've been a member of Recyclebank since November 2010.  While I'm not the greenest person in the world, I do really like this rewards program, mostly because the points accumulate very quickly and the rewards have been excellent.  If you do happen to be a greenie, you will love this rewards program, as it's chock full of quizzes, videos, games, and all sorts of little educational vignettes about the Green Movement.  My two past favorite rewards from Recyclebank were the $1 off any two Bumble Bee products coupon (hello near-free tuna), the $5 off $40 purchase at Sprouts (neither one is offered any longer).  My current favorite rewards are the $2.00 off any Regal Theater movie ticket coupon, and the tons of free magazine subscriptions.  They also periodically post gift card rewards that we put right into our gift card slush fund. (Parenthetically, I'll also throw EcoBonus in the mix for the die-hard Whole Foods shoppers, though I do find myself using Recyclebank much more.  EcoBonus does have some nice high-value organic coupons.)

Shopkick.  This is the program that got us our free and heavily discounted iPads, (in combination with other Target gift card offers).  You install Shopkick on your smartphone and then you basically get rewarded just for walking in to stores like Target, Best Buy, Old Navy, Macy's and others.  So if you're in a mall, just stop into three or four stores that you'll pass anyway, and you can rake in points. You can also get rewards for scanning certain UPC symbols in-store (I can't be bothered with that) and referring friends. The best rewards are the gift cards, and you can earn them very quickly.  We have always opted to redeem points for Target gift cards, and rather than use them right away, we kept the iPads in sight as our goal. Finally, we had enough to cash in for iPads on Black Friday.  I got my iPad for free last year and I got Joshua's iPad Air for less than half price this year (and also got another $100 Target gift card, which went right back into our slush fund).

Kellogg's Family Rewards.  Like these other rewards programs, it's very easy to build up points quickly and redeem them for rare, high-value coupons and other rewards.  And some of you might be hearing "Kellogg's" and thinking that you don't eat enough cereal to join the program. I'll confess this:  my husband and I barely eat any cereal at all.  But we do have a well-stocked freezer full of Morningstar Farm products and L'Eggo waffles, all purchased at half-price or less with high-value coupons that I got from KFR.

MyCokeRewardsSwagbucksRecyclebankShopkick and Kellogg's Family Rewards are, IMHO, the Rolls Royces of rewards programs, but there are two other major shopping "programs" that I feel compelled to recommend as well, as they've saved us tons of money with so little effort.

Target RedCard.  Get yourself a Target RedCard.  Even if you don't live near a Target in your neighborhood, or don't shop at Target normally, you want to have one of these.  Target has got a ton of fantastic deals both online and in-store.  No matter what the item, you will always get 5% off and free shipping when you pay with your RedCard. Right now, you get 90 days to return a general item (excluding electronics, those are 30 days) that you've purchased at Target, but paying with Target RedCard gives you an additional 30 days to return an item.  Target has one of the best, most stress-free return policies in the retail world. When shopping in-store with a Target Debit RedCard, you can withdraw up to $40.00 from your checking account and save yourself a trip to the ATM (between this feature, online BillPay and being able to deposit checks on my phone, I have not been to the bank in 8 months).  There is no annual fee for either the Target Debit Card or the Target Credit RedCard.  Personally, I prefer theTarget Debit RedCard, because there was no hard credit check pull when I applied, and the money comes directly out of my checking account. I never have to deal with a bill.  You need to enter a PIN every time you use it, so your checking account is protected. Yes, I know about the Black Friday security kerfuffle, but keep in mind that no one was responsible for any stolen charges (Target and the banks covered all of them) and they have tightened up their security measures considerably.  While your shopping for yourself, you can be giving back to others; you can donate 1% of purchase totals made on your Target RedCard to your favorite school.  It costs you nothing.  Zero. Zip. Nada.  When you fill 5 prescriptions at Target, you'll get a coupon that will let you take 5% off anything you purchase all day at Target on the day of your choosing, and this is in addition to the 5% you get back with your RedCard.  Target has so many opportunities for saving money: Mobile coupons and Target store coupons which you can stack with manufacturer's coupons, Cartwheel savings,  weekly gift card dealsprice-matching, etc.  You can also get ShopKick points every time you walk into a Target store.  Every single one of these opportunities is stackable with your Target 5% RedCard savings. Every single one.  Target will also send you exclusive coupons at home each month once you're a RedCard member.   I save a fortune shopping at Target over the year, and much of that is due to my using the Target RedCard.

Amazon Prime Shipping.  Yes, I know $79 $99 is a lot of money.  It is one of the few paid programs that I feel is so unbelievably worth it.  It works together with Swagbucks if you opt for Amazon gift cards as your Swagbucks rewards.  You also get a huge library of free movies with Amazon Prime (we watched the first three seasons of Downton Abby on our Amazon Prime account).  Best of all, you get to take advantage of all the Amazon deals that I and tons of other frugal bloggers post regularly, because when Amazon has a great price, Amazon has a GREAT price.  Believe it or not, last year, I did about a third of my Pesach shopping on Amazon!

Have you tried the Amazon Prime free one-month trial yet?  Sign up here, and then, after one month, decide whether you can live without Amazon Prime. It costs you nothing to try.


So that's it folks, 5 + 2 = 7 programs that have made me a happy camper over the last few years.   The next time someone tells me not to waste my time on those "stupid programs," I'll show them my iPad and offer them a soda.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Anonymous1/03/2014

    I installed Shopkick on phone and found coupon codes on line. I cannot find a place to enter them.

  3. You mean Swagbucks? Upper right hand corner of the screen, towards the center.

  4. Anonymous1/04/2014

    Not Swagbucks. I am familiar with that. I just found out about Shopkick from reading this post last night. Googling it to find out more about it brought up a site (http://www.businessinsider.com/shopkick-iphone-app-demo-2010-8#here-we-are-in-times-square-eww-1) that had codes listed on it. I could not figure out though how to enter them. I figured you may know as you have been doing Shopkick. Thanks and Shavua Tov.
    BTW I sent a tweet to you but am new to this and wasn't sure how I get a response back on it. Am willing to be educated. I do receive your messages on my phone and appreciate all of the help.


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