It’s no secret I love to get free things—money, services, products, gift cards, etc. I love to get for free the seemingly impossible, like a free credit score without having to sign up for a trial period, or free college money without applying for scholarships and without having to buy fundraiser-type products, or free gift cards in higher-than-five-dollar denominations (think $10, $20, even $50).
I have high standards of what I allow in my personal email inbox, my wallet, and my life and have purposefully weeded out the good from the bad by trial and error. I have put together this page of resources with show-and-tell images into my personal accounts because I want you to enjoy the same benefits I have enjoyed over the years. Rest assured that I have recommended each of these services to my closest friends and family members, and even more so, I use them myself! I like to be upfront with people, and so some of these links are referrals for me. However, I can guarantee you that I have reaped great results. Many have even given me something to write about for my Frugal Confessions Fridays!
So here is my list of my tried and tested frugal tools I keep in my own tool belt. Enjoy!
Free Money I Have Accumulated
Upromise: As a broke college student I wanted to give my niece a gift that would not cost anything and that would be meaningful financially for her future. That’s a tall order! But then I found Upromise, which offers just that. Since 2002 my $0 gift has turned into $182.22 worth of free money. That’s right—it hasn’t cost me a dime. If you put your credit card/store card information into your account (as well as family and friends’ information) the accumulation occurs automatically as you purchase what you were going to purchase anyway. In the event that the beneficiary to the account decides to not go to college, you can change the account beneficiary at any time and give it to another college-bound teenager. You can also split the benefits by whatever percent you would like (my niece has a little brother, so I allocate a certain percentage to each of them). What a great program!
How I Rack Up so Many Free Gift Cards
MyPoints: I have been a member of MyPoints since July 12, 2008 and have redeemed 28,000 points for mainly CVS gift cards. This is how I fund and supplement the Drugstore Game in our household. To save time and energy and earn as many points as possible, I do a search in my email of “mypoints” once per week, then zip down the line of stacked emails (there are usually 15-20 to go through; read the email, click the link, then delete the email and move down to the next one using your arrow buttons). Half of the offers are points just for reading the email and clicking on a link. Sometimes I score points for products I would buy anyway (once I purchased a $5 Christmas gift with free shipping and received 3,500 points! That doesn’t happen often, however).
Swagbucks: A search engine that gives reward points? Oh yeah. I have been a member since 2009 and have cashed in on four movie tickets, a $50 gift card to help the tsunami relief effort in Japan and am about to cash in on a $50 Southwest gift card.
Recyclebank: We are lucky in that we have curbside, mixed-stream recycling pick-up that gives us points towards gift cards. Even if your area does not offer this, you can sign up for an account and complete quizzes to earn points towards gift cards. FYI: It takes a long time to reap gift cards with this program! I signed up in 2011 and have 4,460 lifetime points that have been redeemed for two free Spec’s bags of coffee and a $10 Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon. Still, I would recycle anyway, so it’s a good deal for me!
Nuride: If you carpool and are in Connecticut, Hampton Roads (VA), Houston (TX), Massachusetts, Richmond (VA), San Antonio (TX) or the Washington DC metro area, take advantage of this program to log in your miles and score coupons/occasional gift cards. I currently have 7,300 points, and have redeemed for two HEB $5 off $50 coupons.
My Coke Rewards: I have been a member since 2010 (I think…) and have reaped $75 in Nike gift cards, movie tickets, and Oprah/Martha Stewart Magazine subscriptions. This is from Paul drinking cokes, my mother saving all of her 2 liter bottle caps for us (thanks Mom!) and the occasional score from the work vending machine operator. They’ve done promotions in the past where you can enter a certain number of points and get a free photo book (the points stay in your account), lots of sweepstakes, discounts on rewards, etc.
Free Custodial Savings Account with Tax Advantages
You can open and contribute to a custodial savings account for a minor (you just need the child’s social security number). Unlike a 529 college savings plan account, the money accumulated in custodial savings accounts can be used for anything once the child takes control of it at the age of 21. Custodial savings accounts are taxed at the tax rate of the child’s tax bracket, and up to $950 of the investment income (money you make from interest and other investment earnings in this account) is tax-free each year. Furthermore, opening these accounts for grandchildren could be a tax effective way to give away your estate as you can contribute up to $14,000 of gift-tax free per child/custodial account each year.
This account currently has an interest rate of 0.90% (for deposits of up to $24,999), and 1% for deposits of $25,000+. Great ways to use this account are to stash monetary gifts given to your child from holidays and birthdays, an account for depositing your tween/teenager’s paychecks or money from extra chores around the house, or to stash a percentage of their allowance money in order to teach them the importance of savings and the magic of compound interest.
Lists I Subscribe to in my Personal Email Account
The number of emails I receive in my personal email account has been out of control. Recently I weeded out the junk from the items that were worth my precious time. Below are the ones I have kept.
Brad’s Deals: This is a daily email newsletter with some pretty hot deals—you definitely want to sign up for this with the holidays just around the corner. I have scored $5 Vera Bradley purses, a $10/$10 at Shutterfly coupon, and a photobook for $2 (included shipping). In fact, this is where I first found out about SuperJeweler.com below!
SuperJeweler.com: This site has amazing $5 weekly deals with free shipping that appear in my inbox (and I gladly accept them!). I have scored a beautiful turquoise dangly earrings for $5, and a pair of beautiful pearl drop earrings (freshwater) for $5. They look beautiful!
Magazines.com: These guys are always sending out promos to their email list for free $5 gift cards/coupons (the gift cards are the most valuable). If you go to the website and sort the magazines from low to high prices you can get some items for free using these promos. Be careful, as sometimes the coupons specify that they can be used for magazines only (the site also has a selection of books). Also, sometimes they sign you up for automatic renewal. You can change from automatic renewal to manual in your account settings. Did I mention that shipping is free, even for the books?
ZenniOptical: This site is just awesome. I never owned a pair of prescription sunglasses because I didn’t want to shell out the $200-$300. That is, until I ran across this website! Three years ago I ordered a pair and paid $17.90 (including shipping). Still looking great!
Free Financial Tools I Use
Personal Capital: I am so excited about this free tool and free personal consultation! I just finished signing up and going through the consultation last month with Michelle, and was given specific and actionable information about how to invest moving forward as well as great information on our current investments. For example, we are paying approximately $116 per year in fees (pretty good), and are projected to pay approximately $5,000 in fees over the next 20 years. Personal Capital also identified weaknesses in our portfolio, such as low percentages of stocks in emerging markets (Brazil, China, and India), and heavy weighting in the tech and financial industries (which both took a beating in the last recessions). Aside from the free consultation, I also now have a free account where all of my investments and accounts are in one place (checking, savings, retirement, mortgage, etc.).
Credit Karma: This is a fantastic free resource that uses soft credit pulls (so that it does not affect your credit score) in order to give you your credit score. I also receive periodic emails with credit alerts when new accounts have been opened under my name, and my overall credit report card. Other tools available on the website include a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) calculator and a credit simulator, which will “simulate” how certain financial transactions will affect your credit score over time
Free Digital Prints
Ever wonder how I managed to put together our pre-wedding/wedding/post-wedding/honeymoon scrapbook with all the fixings (the book itself, pretty papers/backgrounds, tape, stickers, printouts of all of the photos, etc.) for under $70? The biggest reason is because I scored almost all of the hundreds of photos for free (just paid shipping). The second biggest reason is because we used a student photographer at a local university who gave us all of our photos on a CD and complete rights to print them however we please. Below are deals for you to score your own free digital prints.
25 free prints from CVS (Added bonus that you can ship to your nearest CVS location for free!)
Free Grocery Store Game/Drugstore Game Services
CouponMom.com: This is a free resource. The way I use this is if I need to find a specific coupon in my stack then I use her coupon database searcher and it tells me which date and which mailer to look for (for example, a search for “mustard” shows that there is a French’s Dijon Mustard valued at $0.75 in the September 9, 2012 S2 (Smart Source, 2) mailer).