You just gonna toss that bottle cap?

Yesterday I bought three 12-packs of Diet Coke for $6.99. That is not a typo. I took advantage of a buy-two-get-one-free sale and “bought” one of the two with a “free 12-pack” coupon that I got from My Coke Rewards. I’ll be all set for quite a while as regards my caffeine of choice.

Before you hit “submit” on the Comments button, let me assure you that I already know carbonated soft drinks are not good for me. I already have a dental hygienist sister who is happy to point this out. But what’s life without a little sin?

My Coke Rewards is a pretty simple program. Each bottle cap from a Coke product (which includes Minute Maid bottled juices, Powerade and flavored Dasani water) has a code worth three points. Multi-can packages bear codes worth 10 to 25 points. It costs nothing to sign up.

I’m not getting paid to write this, by the way. I’m writing because I like the program. It gets me free soft drinks, free movie tickets and occasionally other free items as well.

Those of you who think it isn’t worth the effort: Have you priced movie tickets lately?

When I was really broke a few years ago, one of the Christmas gifts I gave my daughter was half a dozen movie tickets. Among other presents I’ve “bought” this way are a movie-themed T-shirt, a NASCAR cap (a friend’s son is a big racing fan) and a couple of magazine subscriptions.

Apparently I’m not alone. While I was doing interviews for a column called “Free gift codes – yes, really!” I was told the company sees a big jump in redemptions late each year. “We assume it’s people giving Christmas gifts,” a Coca-Cola spokeswoman told me.

Bottle bonanza

It generally takes me a couple of weeks or more to go through a 12-pack of Diet Coke. (Depends on how many deadlines occur in a given week.) Yet personal consumption doesn’t affect my points-gathering much because  most of my codes come from someplace other than my fridge.

A friend of mine saves caps for me. I’ve found 12- and 24-pack boxes in the recycle bin at my building; if I can reach them, they’re mine. (The fact that I own one of those Gopher tools ensures that just about all of them are within my reach.)

I regularly find codes when I’m out on walks. If they’re still attached to bottles, I recycle the bottle when I get home.

When I lived in Seattle the cashier at my favorite teriyaki joint let me take codes off boxes while I waited for my food. She even lends me her scissors. (Once I tried to decline, saying that having a bladed instrument violates the conditions of my parole. Apparently some jokes don’t translate well, or at all — the young woman merely looked puzzled.)

The lion’s share of my codes used to come from the University of Washington campus. The plastic recycle bins at the library are bottle bonanzas, since students + homework = caffeine. Additionally, campus trashcans have a section at the top just for bottles and cans. If a Coke product bottle was peeking out, I’d grab it. These days I tend to get them while dumpster wading.

All together now: Eeeewwww, pick up soda caps from a dirty old street? Pull bottles out of a recycle bin? I’d never do that!

Fine. Don’t do that. It leaves more for me and anyone else who likes free stuff.

Just another (slightly sticky) frugal hack

I know I’m not the only person who harvests codes, because I’ve gotten feedback from MSN Money readers. One woman picked up a staggering 375 bottle caps after a community festival. I wish.

If you decide to do this, here are some tips:

  • Some caps are sticky; hand sanitizer is a good thing to have if there’s no water source.
  • Keep an old plastic bag in your purse or backpack (see “sticky caps,” above).
  • If you’re reaching into a trashcan, give it a tap first to shake loose any squirrels or wasps attracted by the sweet smell of Barq’s.
  • Ask family or friends to save caps or box codes.
  • Check the recycle bin/lunchroom trashcans at your workplace. Several readers told me they or their partners do this; in some cases they also cash in for the 5-cent bottle deposits.

You’re limited to one account per person, five accounts per household and 10 accounts per physical address. In other words, get your partner and/or roommate and/or kids into the act.

Yes, it takes time to get enough codes for many freebies, especially since you can enter only 120 points per week. Thus it takes about a month (485 points) to get an AMC theater ticket plus a free fountain drink; for 900 points you can get two tickets plus one fountain drink. The magazine subscriptions I gave cost 100 and 133 points. The 12-packs are 240 points.

But if you like getting free stuff in the mail? Definitely worth it.

If you’re unemployed, underemployed or trying to pay down debt? Sending for freebies is one way to stretch your budget/allow for some fun. I’d have as many as a dozen movie tickets stockpiled — and they don’t expire. (Now that I live in Anchorage, which doesn’t have any AMC theaters, I use my points for free 12-packs of Diet Coke and hang on to the coupons until there’s a sale worthy of frugal-hacking.)

If you’re looking at a lean holiday season? Some of those premiums make great stocking stuffers or presents. (Just ask the kid with the NASCAR hat. He practically wore it in the shower, according to his mom.)

Incidentally, there is a way to get some extra codes: By referring new users. Anyone who wants to sign up for the program can leave a comment and I’ll send a referral link to the e-mail associated with the comment. Or write to me at SurvivingAndThriving (at) live (dot) com and I’ll shoot you the link.

It’s not a huge bonus, just 10 points. Then again, any extras look good to somebody who’s willing to pick bottles up off the ground. And even if you think that’s disgusting, at least give me props for recycling litter.


66 Comments

  1. Lots of people around here dig in the trash and recycling for bottles they can take to the redemption centres, so what you’re doing is no different. I don’t judge. Some people do wear rubber gloves though.

    • Yea i work at a redemption center and i am allowed to take the caps

    • Russell Palmer

      I have been saving my Poweraid bottles for quite a while, and have a few 55 Gallon trash bags full. What is a way I can get money for them? They all have caps.

      • Donna Freedman

        You can get My Coke Reward points for them, but not cash. One way to get around that would be to trade in points for gift cards and then sell the gift cards to friends, or on the secondary market.

  2. Donna Freedman

    If there were a deposit law here in Seattle I bet there would be a lot less litter on the streets. I believe this because people frequently dig for cans in the recycle bins behind my apartment building. If they could get a nickel for every soda/water bottle they see as they walk to the recycling center, I have no doubt they’d pick them up, especially with the price of aluminum so low.
    I don’t actually have to dig in the trash cans, since bottles are left in separate containers. However, when I do see a bottle in the trash I will take it if I can reach it without touching anything else in there. In fact, I pull out bottles that aren’t Coke products and put them in with the recycling. Kind of my give-back.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

    • Gipssy T Lupin

      Donna if you are interested in some free caps, I have amassed such a large amount of caps that I will never be able to enter them all unless they remove the limits. I would be willing to give some away or donate them to a charity. If you or anyone is interested, please contact me.

      • Actually, if you are, can you contact me? I Just Started and yeah, i go to the library and cash them in, but i put them in for the free groceries and stuff because my mom kicked me out and i have no job so i rely on this.

        • Gipssy T Lupin

          I am getting ready to send Donna’s caps and I can send you some, too. I need a address to send them though. Maybe general delivery at the post office? or do you have a place to stay? Whatever it is I will try to send you as many as I can. Just reply with where you want me to send them.

          • Susan Lengyel

            I would be happy to take some caps off your hands if you still have some. If you still are trying to get rid of some just let me know how to send you my address. Thank You!!!

  3. Elizabeth

    Have you traded in for any movie tickets recently? I looked into it in May but they said they’d expire 6/30 so I took a pass. But maybe it was just the fountain drink coupon that had an expiration…or maybe the website description was wrong? If there’s no expiration, that’s my new favorite prize!

  4. Count me in!

  5. Donna Freedman

    @Elizabeth: Yes, I recently sent away for tickets and I don’t think there was an expiration date. I didn’t check the free-soda ticket; maybe it does expire? Right now I’m in Anchorage and the tickets are on top of my microwave oven in Seattle, so I can’t check.
    The 12-pack coupons I got did have that 6/30 expiration date.
    I like the magazine subscription prizes because not only do they require relatively few points, they are gifts I don’t have to wrap and mail plus they are gifts that make the recipients smile 12 times that year.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  6. priskill

    I think it’s great to harvest stuff that is being tossed. Whenever i hit drive thru fast food, i happily pick up all the change that has been dumped and forgotten, although i usually hand it to the cashier — they give me an odd look, to be sure. Like your daughter, I do pick up pennies.

    I have to say, people are funny about the whole Rubbish and ground thing — my beloved mushrooms are grown in, ahem, less than hygienic conditions. All those farmer’s markets feature foods that have only lately been parted from vast fields of organic fertilizer (the polite term) and people rush to pay extra for them. We’re all carefully washing our hands, right? So i don’t get the sqeamishness . . .

  7. Really? Shame on me for never reading the inside of the twelve pack boxes. I love stuff like this. I had noticed the codes on the inside of the bottle caps as well but not really paid attention.

    Please send me a referral so that I can sign up and you can get credit. Thanks for the great information (and the great blog!)

  8. Donna Freedman

    @Cathy R: Done. Thanks. But a note of warning: Picking up caps can become addictive. :-)

  9. I love Coke! What a fun post. I’m saving my Coke rewards to get something big, so I just keep adding my 24-pack codes until they total in the thousands. BTW, Wal-Mart’s got a rollback of only $5 for 24-packs. I love how you collect codes from all sorts of places. I know you’ll see people paying for codes on Mechanical Turk.

  10. Sharon V.

    I never realized I could get anything good from Coke. Could you send me a referral link?

  11. Machelle

    They also have My Coke Rewards for Schools, which is awesome! I run the MCR program at the school where I work. Parents either send in their codes and I enter them under our school account, or parents can donate some of their own points to our school’s account (sometimes MCR will run a special where any donated points are doubled!). From MCR, my school recently “purchased” two 4′ x 6′ bulletin boards, which arrived within a week and no shipping charges. With ever tightening school budgets, we are so grateful to have this program. I hope Coke continues it for a very long time!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Machelle: Thanks for that information. I wasn’t aware of the kinds of things schools could buy.

  12. Amanda

    I am a diet coke addict, and I never realized they come on the boxes as well as under the caps. May I have a referral please?

  13. Kay Horning

    Donna, I am a Probation Officer and I also teach a Financial Management Class for some of my clients. I just wanted you to know that in every class, I hand out a copy of your Surviving and Thriving on $12,000 per year and the following year’s update, to my students. It is not only very informative, but inspirational as well. I feel that a lot of people have been in situations similar to that, where the light at the end of tunnel seems far, far away. But your strenth and perseverance are remarkable. I just wanted to say THANK YOU for sharing your story with everyone, and to let you know that I am very happy that you were able to find inner strength and happiness during a rough patch in your life.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Kay: Thank you so much for letting me know that! The positive feedback helps me grin and bear the trolls who show up over at Smart Spending.
      Consider having your students look at some of the archived “Living With Less” columns, too. Topics like “An emergency fund out of thin air,” “When you’re too broke for the basics,” “9 sneaky tips for saving more” and “In case of layoff: A financial fire drill” might be useful. Here’s the link:
      http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Commentary/ByAuthor/Donna-Freedman.aspx
      Again, I appreciate your kind words. I hope you’ll keep reading.
      Best regards,
      Donna Freedman

  14. Informative post. I have had far too much diet sodas in my life (I’m not going to lecture you, as you already know the pitfalls!), and it’s interesting to know the details behind this program. These days, if I get a diet coke, it’s from a fountain.

    By the way, for whatever reason I liked your line: “Fine. Don’t do that. It leaves more for me and anyone else who likes free stuff.” That seemed to resonate with this blogger who enjoys frugality.

  15. About four years ago (my freshman year of college), I was going to school in a town where I had cousins and uncles, etc. I have one cousin who’s just two days younger than me (we joke we’re twins sometimes) and he was on his high school football team. I went to see his team play in the playoffs and the refreshment stand was selling Cokes by the bottle. I collected probably 200+ after the game … my family that I went with was waiting around to talk to my cousin, so I entertained myself by picking up bottle caps.

  16. Donna Freedman

    @Sara: I’m envious. My best day ever was just under 200, when I was on campus for a really long time. Usually I get between 75 and 125 at UW — but now that I’m not a student, I don’t get over there as often.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  17. Donna, could you send me the referral link? Thanks.

  18. My hubby thinks I’m crazy to stalk the recycle bins the night before trash day. This past week I scored 35 Coke rewards points. My mom saves her box codes and caps, but I much prefer the box codes, as I don’t have too much time to enter a gazillion bottle codes.
    I gave snapfish photo books redeemed from Coke rewards to my mom and mil last Christmas, and I’ve gotten free movie tix and three magazine subscriptions from the program as well. I love it!

  19. McCoyote

    Me, me, me!

  20. Donna Freedman

    @Laura: At least one Smart Spending message board reader admitted that she, too, hits the recycle bins during her morning walks. You’re not the only one.
    I wish box codes were easier to get, but there it is…I’m a fast typist so it doesn’t take me long to enter the cap codes. I just keep picturing sharing those movie tickets with my daughter and son-in-law.
    And like you, I do Christmas gifts. Last year the family my sister and I adopted had “movie tickets” on the wish list. It was a single dad with one son, so I put in four movie tickets and four fountain-drink coupons as part of the loot.
    Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  21. Hi Donna, can you please send me a referral code? Thanks!

  22. Donna Freedman

    @19thandfolsom: Done! Thanks.

  23. Last year, high school honor students “caught” me taking bottles from the trash, emptying the contents into a sink and pocketing the caps. One girl blushed and turned pale, looking as though she would faint when I answered her question about “WHAT” I was doing. You would have thought I was her mother the way the shame and embarassment washed over her.

    My only two magazine subscriptions come from Coke Rewards. I share the coke coupons with my daughter who really cannot afford Cokes. The checkers at the grocery are amazed I get free drinks and start collecting the caps themselves.

    I am going to swing by the local park and lake today to see what I can snag if the bees will allow me. Yeah, my reacher will be useful in the big barrels.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Practical Parsimony: You have to wonder why those students would care.
      Last week I went for teriyaki and scored 50 points from the bottom of two Costco-sized packs of soda. The next day when I put stuff in the recycle bin I found 20 more points on boxes sitting right on top of the pile. I love the easy ones — no bees!
      Two recent giveaways on this site have come from My Coke Rewards. I give Christmas gifts that way (magazine subscriptions, NASCAR hat, et al.). And my daughter, my son-in-law and I go to the movies for free with the tickets I score.
      If you don’t mind occasionally getting your hands a little sticky, it’s a great program. I’ll stick with it as long as they offer it. Hope they extend again this year.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  24. This program has been continuing for a few years now – which has been great! It means you may actually have the opportunity to get something you’d like. I have been working on this program since it started and gotten some great gifts for family – a Coke hoodie (it was for me but turned out One Size-size was a bit too big), blown glass ornament, folding tote bag, silver Coke box, and a red and white ceramic set of bowls for the kitchen! We’ve also used them for some other goodies; free movie rentals, and during the Olympics one year won a few free 2 liter bottles! I don’t spend my points on the sweepstakes but there are lots of opportunities there too!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Kristi: I just got a Redbook subscription for my niece for Christmas with 50 points. And I’m giving away a few goodies on the site courtesy of My Coke Rewards.
      As my friend Meghan says, “If it’s free, it’s for me.”

  25. Send me a referal please! I have a ton of bottle caps I’ve been saving but haven’t signed up yet. Glad somebody can benefit from it! :o )

  26. Darla

    Would love to have the referral!

  27. It has been over a year since you wrote the article on the My Coke Rewards. Is the program still in operation? If so, is regular Coke allowable or is it only for Diet Coke? I’d like to participate if it is still available and give you the extra 10 points. I love reading your posts.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Robin: Thanks for your kind words. Yes, the program is still operating and it’s for all beverages produced by Coca-Cola, including Powerade and Minute Maid bottled juices.
      I’ll send you a referral link. Thanks!

  28. Here is a great article on collecting MCR points http://www.squidoo.com/mycokerewards and also check out http://www.whatyagive.com for free coke codes and more!

  29. Send me that referrel so we can help each other!

  30. I was a grad student when I discover Coke Rewards, grad school means living on a budget, and lots of night studying. At nights, I rummaged through lecture room bottle recycling thrash cans faithfully and stopped after I got enough points for a Wired subscription and a $25 restaurant certificate – which I used to take my girlfriend to a nice restaurant. It can get annoying at times, picking caps only to see, someone’s used the code, or a few letters are off, then it’s guess the blanks.

  31. Jacqui B.

    Donna – Please send me the referral for the Coke Rewards program. Thank you!!!

  32. shirley ehrlich

    i work at a little shop that throws out the cardboard boxes for 24 cans of coke and diet coke! ARGH!!!!! !@#$%^&*(

    IF I HAD ONLY KNOWN!!!!!!

  33. shirley ehrlich

    please send referral so I can act on this, right away!

  34. Judi Thelander

    OMG! I am not alone! I always save my caps to redeem the codes and have been doing so for years!!! My family & some co-workers thought I was crazy until we started going to movies for free! AND, I ‘cash’ in my bottles/cans when I go to the state next door and come home with $10-$14! It adds up over time. The down side is I drink my Diet Coke like water so the 120 points allowed are mine and then some. I didn’t realize you could have more than 1 acct per household, so I’m gonna get another acct going because I have been getting extra cans/bottles from work!
    Love your site here! I’m learning alot!! Thank You!

  35. Vickie

    I love Diet coke, so count me in. I also like to save money, so this sound like a great new fun project! Please send me the link – and thank you so much for your writings. They inspire me.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thanks, Vickie. The link is on its way. Hope you enjoy the program as much as I do.

  36. Nancy kastrup

    Really interested in this! Please give me the link on how I can put codes in and such. Thank you

  37. Great post, Donna! I am a long-distance runner and pick up many MCR caps and such during my daily runs. I recently “cashed in” for a $50 coupon for a pair of $100 Nike running shoes. A perfect circle! For anyone who enter codes on mobile devices, where the numbers and the letters are on different screens, use O (oh) and 0 (zero) interchangeably to save a little time and frustration.

    • Donna Freedman

      You win the prize for “most appropriate use of MCR points.” :-)

  38. Could you send me a referral link please?

  39. Carolyn

    The post that keeps on giving! Please send me your link & I’ll sign up through you. Thanks for the info!

  40. Linda West

    I’ve saved Coke lids for several years, and I buy at least one Coke a day. I must have hundreds in a big plastic bag. I knew they were worth something. My problem is that I’ll have to have a reader to give me the number so I can type it and send alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll of ‘em somehow, some way. Didn’t know about the numbers on cases, too. Mine come just one beautiful ice-cold Coke down the hatch at a time. I remember my dad’s office in the early ’50s had a “buddle-a-boom” (how it sounded going down the delivery chute) Coke machine that dispensed one ice-cold Coke at a nickel each in the City Office in Boulder City, Nevada (just south of Vegas) where it was hottttttttt in the summer. Nothing matches an ice-cold Coke! I’ve known for a while that there was a reason/reward for keeping the caps. Don’t know if they expire. Don’t know if they have value, like points for a bicycle or encyclopedia. But there must be a better reason than just having more Coke bottle tops than any live person on the planet. I have hundreds. Doubt if that’s enough for the purchase of a home or a swell car, but it might buy a kid a bike, or a set of Encyclopedia Britania. Let me know. What would you do? Thanks for letting me tell you about my compulsion. psssssssssssssssssst. I haven’t told anyone else.

    • Donna Freedman

      They do not expire! You can enter up to 100 points per week and save them for various items. If you don’t want anything for yourself, you could:
      –Redeem for items and donate them to shelters or group homes
      –Trade them in for gift cards, then sell the gift cards on the secondary market (see GiftCardGranny.com and hit “sell gift cards” to see what yours might be worth).
      –Use them to enter sweepstakes. You may already be a winner!
      Thanks for reading, and I’ll send you info on how to join.

  41. let’s say for example I get 120 points this week, will my 120 points still be there the following week so I can add on to them or will they reset?

    • Donna Freedman

      The points don’t expire unless your account becomes inactive for a long period of time. (I think it’s several months.) I generally save them until I get to 1,100 and then trade in for two AMC movie tickets, two soft drinks and a large popcorn — which I send to my daughter and SIL, there being no AMC theater in Alaska. Sometimes I cash in for a free 12-pack (250 points) or a coupon for $3 off a 12-pack (160 points).
      I hope the program works as well for you as it does for me.

  42. Michael M.

    I have hundreds of caps waiting to be entered. Too tedious a task for my old eyes. I sure could use a mini scanner with an app/or something to enter my codes. Plus it almost seems criminal to just throw away old caps in pretty much pristine condition.

    • Donna Freedman

      If I lived anywhere near you I’d offer to enter them all in exchange for being able to keep half….Maybe you can strike a similar deal with some young person who wants to cash in for, say, movie tickets or a Nike gift card.

  43. Natasha Byers

    I would like to get the link to use soda cap codes please

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