Get free gift cards and build a bank account.

These two goals are the subjects of my recent work at MSN Money and Get Rich Slowly — and they complement each other.

“Free gift cards — yes, really!” gives tips on rewards programs that give points for clicking on e-mails, doing Internet searches, taking surveys, attending Twitter parties, shopping strategically and even drinking Coca-Cola products.

I interviewed people whose careful use of these programs really paid off. Myself, I’m a big fan of My Coke Rewards and Swagbucks. Yesterday I mailed two movie tickets plus coupons for two free soft drinks and a free popcorn off to my daughter and son-in-law. I got the treats from My Coke Rewards.

The MCR program also offers lots of prizes, including restaurant gift cards. I prefer the movie package — that way, Abby and Tim can see a movie at night if they miss the cheaper matinee and they can have popcorn without breaking the budget.

Each month I cash in Swagbucks points for Amazon gift cards, which I stockpile for birthdays and holidays — and, lately, for myself. Before I left for Alaska I ordered new wool socks and long johns, and recently I ordered a big jar of glucosamine — none of it cost me anything but a few minutes of my time each day. (And since I have to do Internet searches anyway for my job, why not make it pay?)

Now: What to do with the money you save on those birthday and Christmas gifts, or socks and underwear? Bank it, of course. My current column at Get Rich Slowly, “Stealth savings — sneaky ways to fatten your bank account,” offers additional ways to boost your emergency fund, your new-car fund and the like. When times are tight, this could help your “the rent is due” fund.

Once you get in the habit of doing these things (yay, automated savings!) you learn to adjust your budget accordingly. Even folks who think they can’t save may find that they really can. Be sure to read the comments section, since readers offer some tips of their own.

Should you sign up with a rewards program or start a stealth savings regimen, please drop me a note in a few months and let me know how it’s going. The e-mail address is SurvivingAndThriving (at) live (dot) com. If I get enough inspiring stories I’ll turn them into a blog post.

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  1. Points-building can take so long at some websites (MyPoints, I’m looking at you) that it’s easy to throw in the towel, but persistence really does pay off. During the last couple months of 2011, when I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing much at any site other than Swagbucks, there were times I considered dropping several programs from my routine, but I kept at it and by mid-January I’d requested $160 worth of gift cards to everywhere from Amazon to Walgreens and Target — and last night I requested even more. I know that won’t happen every month, but a few times a year is all it takes to make me happy.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Hops: Me, too. I just started up with Superpoints and since I’ve been too busy to take surveys the points were accumulating somewhat slowly. But suddenly I have almost 150. It takes 500 to cash in for an Amazon card (although I may choose Jamba Juice because DSIL loves the stuff).
      Speaking of which: Anyone who’s interested in joining Superpoints can e-mail me at SurvivingAndThriving (at) live (dot) com and I’ll send referral codes until I run out of them. (Apparently you get more, eventually.)
      Superpoints sends me a daily “Lucky Mail” e-mail with 1 to 25 points in it, and you can click the “Super Lucky Button” 30 times in a row (or in one day) to see if you win any more. I do this when I’m on hold with a phone call, or when I’m needing some kind of break. As you say, it does add up eventually.
      And, of course, if anyone wants a Swagbucks account please consider using the widget here on the site; it’s on the right, down near the bottom. Click on “sign up” and they’ll start you out with 30 points. Advance thanks to anyone who joins either program.

  2. maryegankirk

    (just want to make sure you get my thank you!)
    this is so late, but super thanks for the Retail Me Not giveaway I won before the holidays! the items were great budget stretchers for under the tree; R LOVED her new silver ‘grown-up’ bracelet and I am thankful that I was able to give her something to ease her into her teen years.

    thanks again, and keep up the good work — it is a boon to all us frugalites out here! (is that proper English?) : ‘ )

  3. maryegankirk

    also, can you shoot me a superpoints referral code? thanks!

  4. Since I have been folllowing your articles since you began on msn, I have followed much of your advice. I do the sbs, cokerewards, and superpoints. Thank you from all of us who have increased our net worth because of the information you provide.

  5. Another place to earn points–your health insurance carrier. We have Humana, and the Humana rewards programs gives you points for taking surveys, signing up for the program, etc. I signed up and did a couple of surveys and got 3,000 points, which was enough for a $30 gift card to Panera. On one hand, the points add up quickly when they put something on the website to earn points; on the other hand, there are only a few times per year when they put the surveys up or whatever. Still, maybe worth checking out with your carrier.

  6. I love Swagbucks and they add up fast. I get a point for having the toolbar everyday and I get a point for taking the daily poll and do all of my searches (that I would do anyways of course!) and I get at the very least $5 bucks Amazon a month. Lately I’ve been really strapped for cash so I have been getting the $5 PayPal. Sure it doesn’t sound like much but believe me it helps tremendously! Oh and My Coke Rewards? I have sooo many magazine subscriptions completely free:) Most are around 200 pts and it is really easy to get that amount quick if your a soda drinker. My household has decided to cut down on soda though but hey I buy water so maybe when it’s on SALE I’ll buy Dasani to continue getting my Coke Rewards. Thanks for all your giveaways your a great writer Donna. If I could spare the money I would surely order that magazine.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Msjbelle: Thanks for your note. Keep checking back, because I will probably offer All You subscriptions again. And check back this Friday for a giveaway that includes both the sublime and the ridiculous.

  7. Great post Donna. I signed up for Swagbucks, but have slacked off on using it lately. I should look into MyPoints as well.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Ellen: I agree with others that MyPoints can be slow going unless you take a lot of surveys and/or buy stuff. But stick with it.
      I use Swagbucks all day long — and incidentally, I often post hints for Swag Codes on the Surviving and Thriving Facebook page. It is not permissible to share active codes but it’s OK to suggest where they might be found.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  8. Hello,
    I just ran across this blog and I love it! Please send a code for swagbucks. I can’t wait to try these out and I look forward to reading this daily !!!

  9. Swagbucks is great, especially if you coupon and use the coupons off their site. Sometimes I forget about it, but I still end up earning points because of the coupons i use!

  10. That’s the drawback to being in Canada…..can’t use the coupons…:-( So, I’m finding swagbucks very slow going. I do the poll most days and have the toolbar & use it but it’s still very few points at a time. Oh well, Canada is behind everything else, maybe they’ll start a decent one for here.


  11. You already know what I’m up to, I’m one of your favorite people to stalk. I’ve already got over $100 saved up for Christmas 2012. I’m doing the happy dance or is it the frugal dance?

  12. I’ve been using Swagbucks for a while as well now, I really like it. I wrote an article a little while ago about it on my blog. So far, I haven’t cashed in my points yet, I’m trying to save up for something big, hopefully soon, keeping my fingers crossed!

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