Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thrift Week Day Seven: MyPoints

To wrap up our Online Edition of Thrift Week, I'd like to introduce you to a site that's a little different from all the others. Most of the Web sites I've covered in the past week have been sites that can save you money. MyPoints.com, by contrast, is a site that can help you earn extra money. Not very much, and not very fast, but it doesn't take much time, either, and it can occasionally help you find savings in the process.

MyPoints.com is what's known as an affiliate marketer. The way it works is, when you want to buy something, instead of going directly to the merchant's Web page, you link there through MyPoints. It has a network of merchants in a wide range of categories—including clothing, restaurants, and electronics—that will give the site a kickback for each customer it steers their way. MyPoints, in turn, will kick part of that kickback back to you, in the form of "points." For example, when you shop at the Apple store, you can earn one point per dollar; at Sears, you get five points per dollar; and at some more obscure sites, such as AboutAirportParking.com, you can earn a whopping 15 points per dollar. Once you accumulate enough points, you can cash them in for various rewards. For example, you can turn in 3,950 points for a $25 credit at Amazon.com. Other favorites of mine are the $50 L.L. Bean gift card (6,350 points) and the $10 Starbucks gift card (1,650 points). In the unlikely event that you don't like any of the reward options the site offers, you can also trade in your points for cash: 4,550 points gets you $25 via PayPal. However, you get better value for your points by choosing gift cards, and higher-value cards typically give you the best exchange rate. Another perk is that most of the gift cards or certificates you can get through MyPoints are for sites that are themselves part of the MyPoints network—so you could, for instance, cash in 3,450 points for a $25 L.L. Bean gift card, link to LLBean.com through the MyPoints site, spend that $25, and get 1 point per dollar spent, immediately earning back 25 points.

A down side is that the site usually does send you gift cards through the mail rather than electronic codes—so after you cash in points, you have to sit around for a few weeks waiting for your card to arrive before you can use it. (And if you're an eco-friendly type like me, you then have to fret over what to do with the plastic card, which isn't coded for recycling. I've got a whole stack of these things tucked away while I try to figure out some way to reuse or recycle them.) Even if you do opt for an e-certificate, you may have to wait up to a week for the payment to show up in your inbox. So unfortunately, you can't wait for a great sale to pop up on one of your favorite sites and then cash in points for that specific site; by the time you get your reward, the sale might be over.

Now, it might seem that, for us ecofrugal types, who don't do a lot of shopping, the benefits of a site like MyPoints are limited. After all, if you only get points for buying things, then someone who doesn't buy a lot will take a long time to accumulate enough points for a reward. However, although shopping is the quickest way to earn money through MyPoints, it isn't the only way. There are several others, including:
  • Sign up to receive e-mails from MyPoints partners. Yes, this is basically volunteering to receive spam—but since you have to deal with a certain amount of spam anyway, why not get paid for it? I get about three of four of these e-mails in my box every day, and one or two of them will be "gimme" e-mails, which will give me five points just for clicking on a link to the company's website. I'll also occasionally get an offer that's worth more points, maybe 10 or 15, just for printing out a coupon or filling out a quick survey. The rest of the e-mails require you to actually buy something in order to get points, so those I just delete.
  • Fill out surveys at the MyPoints SurveyZone. I also receive e-mails from MyPoints with survey offers, but even if you're not keen to have your inbox invaded, you can just visit this area of the site any time you have a little time to kill. Typically, you can get about 50 points for completing a survey, although some longer surveys offer more. However, you won't be able to complete every survey you start; the majority of the ones I attempt screen me out within a minute or two because I don't fit into the target group. (Often this is because of my ecofrugal habits, like not going to the movies.) However, I still get a consolation prize of 10 points for attempting a survey that I can't complete, so this is a good way to rack up 50 points or so during a 15-minute break.
  • Do searches with the MyPoints toolbar. This is a little app that you can download and use in place of Google or your preferred search engine. The difference is that hits from MyPoints partners will show up at the top of your search results. This can actually be handy when you're shopping online, since it makes it easy to find the sites where you can earn additional points for buying. But you can still get points for searches even if you never click on any of the results. You get 100 points for downloading the toolbar, 10 points for doing more than 10 searches in a given month, 50 for doing more than 25, and 100 for doing more than 40. (The toolbar doesn't work with all browsers; I had to quit using it when I switched from Firefox to Google Chrome.)
  • Download and print coupons. These are the same coupons found at Coupons.com, but if you print them out from the MyPoints site, you'll get 10 points every time you cash one in.
  • Invite other users to join the site. They'll give you 25 points for each person who joins. Both you and your friend get a 750-point bonus the first time your friend makes a purchase (of at least $20) through the site, and you continue to earn a bonus of 1 point for every 10 points your friend earns. I have never taken advantage of this feature myself, as I have a strict policy of never spamming my friends, but I can see how it would be a good way to rack up some quick points. If you sign up 10 friends and each one makes a purchase right away, that's $7,750 points—enough for a $50 gift card—right off the bat.
A final benefit of MyPoints.com is that it can occasionally help you find useful sites. For example, last time I needed to buy a pair of glasses, I decided, on the basis of this article I read at the Dollar Stretcher,  to try buying them online. Since this was going to be (I thought) a fairly significant purchase, I decided to check on MyPoints for a suitable merchant. It steered me toward Goggles4U.com, where I was able to buy a complete pair of glasses—frames and lenses—for only $30, including shipping. (The site now offers even cheaper options—as little as $10 a pair—but it's no longer linked to MyPoints.) I was very satisfied with the selection, very satisfied with the ordering process, and very satisfied with my new glasses. I now think that buying glasses online, if you have a simple prescription, is definitely the way to go (especially if your vision plan, like mine, will only pay a measly $45 per year for new lenses).

Now if only I could cash in MyPoints for a Costco membership, I could really kill two birds with one stone....
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