Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Getting my fix for free

One of my hobbies, which I don't believe I've ever discussed in detail on this blog, is filling out online surveys. I enjoy surveys partly because I'm just a nerd who actually likes taking quizzes and questionnaires, and partly because I appreciate the chance to influence the folks who design products and services. (If even one asinine reality show fails to make it to TV because of my input, it will all be worthwhile.)

But an additional perk is that these surveys bring in a little extra money for me. I belong to several survey panels, including Harris Poll, MySurvey, Opinion Outpost, and Global TestMarket, and I also get some through MyPoints. I receive maybe a dozen survey invitations a day, of which I actually qualify for maybe three or four, and they take anywhere from five minutes to half an hour each (usually around 15 or 20 minutes). In exchange for my input, they award me points that I can cash in for gift cards or PayPal deposits. Last year, I earned about $375 doing this, so it's not much of an income stream, but it's a nice little bonus for doing something I enjoy anyway. And because the money comes to me in the form of gift cards, or goes into my PayPal account rather than my checking account, I can feel free to treat it as "fun money" and spend it on little extra treats, rather than part of our regular household funds that I shouldn't "waste" on anything frivolous. (When you've been in the habit of living frugally as long as I have, you get to a point where you actually have to trick yourself into spending money instead of saving it, rather than the other way around.)

Each survey site offers a different selection of gift cards and other rewards, but one of my favorites is a Starbucks gift card. In fact, the main reason I prefer to get my occasional coffeehouse treats from Starbucks is that I can pay for them with my survey rewards. Given my druthers, I'd prefer Dunkin Donuts to Starbucks—partly because there are two of them within a mile of my house, while the nearest Starbucks is across the river in New Brunswick, and partly because they use Fair Trade beans in all their espresso drinks. But since none of my survey sites offers a Dunkin Donuts gift card as a reward, I've been settling for Starbucks cards instead.

To get some extra mileage out of the deal, I took one of the first gift cards I earned and registered it at My Starbucks Rewards, which gives me a free drink on my birthday and access to occasional coupons and special offers. (There are additional perks when you get to "gold level," but that doesn't happen unless you buy 30 drinks in a year, which I almost never do.) I can still cash in points for additional gift cards, because I can log into my account and transfer the points from the new card to my registered one—but it's a bit of a hassle, and I end up accumulating a pile of depleted cards that can't easily be recycled. So I prefer, when possible, to cash in my survey points for PayPal cash and use that to fund my Starbucks account. That way, I can indulge my once-a-month Starbucks habit without having to spend any "real" money on it.

I was thus quite pleased to discover, on a recent visit to Dunkin Donuts, that they are now offering a rewards program of their own, called DD Perks. Their card works much the same as the Starbucks card—load money onto the card, pay with it in the store—but the rewards pile up much faster. In addition to giving you a free drink on your birthday, it also gives you one when you join and one for every 200 points you earn (the equivalent of spending $40). I figured with one of these, I could use my survey rewards at Dunkin rather than Starbucks, support Fair Trade, and get a couple of free mochas into the bargain.

So after registering my new DD Perks card, I cashed in some survey points to fund it. It took several weeks for my reward request to go through, but yesterday the money finally showed up in my account, and I went to the DD Perks site to add cash to the card...and discovered that they don't take PayPal. Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, Diners Club, even something called JCB that I've never even heard of, but no PayPal.

So here I am with this nice shiny new card and no way to use it. I could just fund it using one of my credit cards, but I'd feel silly spending my own money at Dunkin Donuts when I can continue to go to Starbucks with "free" money. I could check all my survey sites again and see whether they offer a reward option that's a prepaid Visa card, which I could then use to fund the DD Perks card, but that leaves me once again stuck with a bunch of of extraneous slivers of plastic to deal with. Or, I guess, I could just hold onto the card in the hopes that eventually they'll add a PayPal payment option.

I guess that even if I never get to use the card again, I'm not really in a position to complain. I already got a free drink just for signing up, so if I walk away now, I'm ahead of the game. But it does seem a bit silly of Dunkin Donuts to give me something for nothing, and then make it unnecessarily difficult for me to fund the card so they can get some business out of me in return.
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