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.
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.
The cashier at my favorite teriyaki joint, bless her heart, lets me take codes off boxes while I’m waiting 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, however, comes 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 is peeking out, I’ll grab it.
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 Smart Spending blog and Living With Less column 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. Right now I have a dozen movie tickets stockpiled — and they don’t expire.
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.
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.