Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Saving Money Online for Shopaholics: Cashback Programs

I've already mentioned that I'm a bit of a shopaholic. Not too much, but there are always things I need (or want) and the vast opportunities for spending money online, both in local shops and internationally, are...well, vast. We'll be going into exactly where and how to shop so as to not empty your bank account in one fell swoop in a later post, but in the meantime, let me introduce you to a concept that will help you recoup some of your losses in the long run.


Many popular online stores in the US, UK and elsewhere participate in cashback programs. It works this way: you register at a cashback website (or several), and when you wish to make a purchase at a certain online retailer, you go to the cashback site, search for the store's name, and click through a link on the site to go to the store you want. You will later (sometimes quite a while later, so be patient) receive a percent of the purchase price, without shipping costs, as a rebate. Sometimes the cashback sites also have coupon codes or exclusive deals as well. Once you reach a certain sum in rebates on the cashback site (usually about $10), you can request a refund via Paypal. The percent of the purchase refunded is subject to change - often you will be notified of double cashback at a given store via email from the cashback site, especially around the holiday season.

As the refund is given via Paypal, most sites are open to shoppers the world over.

Some important guidelines when using cashback websites to shop:

  • Don't sign up to too many cashback sites. You'll lose track of where you shopped with each site, and  it will take you very long to cash out at any one site. I'd put the limit at 3, unless you shop heavily online at sites abroad.
  • Keep in mind the cashback is only on the price of the item(s), not the shipping costs. Shipping to Israel can be expensive; think long and hard if it's worth it. If you're shopping at a website with free international shipping (yes, there are such beasts!) or are shipping a bunch of stuff to your mother in the old country for her to bring on her next visit, you may be able to take better advantage of cashback offers.
  • Always compare cashback sites for the percent offered on a given store. Different websites have different %s of cashback. You can make the comparison easier by going to Cashbackholic and plugging in the name of the store.
  • Always compare the cashback offer with promotions offered at the online store. You often can't use exclusive offers and coupon codes offered at the store itself along with cashback (unless stated so expressly at the cashback site), and it's always better to take the larger discount. Also, money you don't spend in the first place is always better than cashback sometime in the future. 
  • Have a list of where you shopped and through which cashback site. That way, if for some reason your cashback doesn't come through (a not uncommon issue), you'll know whom to nudge.
Here is a list of cashback programs I have either personal or secondhand (as in, I know someone who uses it personally) knowledge of.

(NOTE: links are often referral links)

Ebates  - one of the more reliable cashback sites, but the returns are often lower than others. Still, there's a lot to be said for getting your cashback promptly and without having to email the support and nudge. You also get $5 just for signing up!

Extrabux - Has some of the highest cashback offers and a large variety of stores, however you may need to run after them to see your cashback. They always do pay, though. You also get a $5 signup bonus and have the option to add a purchase manually, to be confirmed by the staff later (this can take a while).

Mr. Rebates - a very reliable site with good cashback offers. Also includes a $5 signup bonus upon registering.

BeFrugal  - also has offers other than cashback, but not all are relevant to shoppers outside the US. And a $5 signup bonus.

TopCashback  - has very good cashback percentages, fairly reliable. There are also cashback offers for signing up to various programs, but I'd be wary of those if you need to give credit card details and have never tried them myself.

For shoppers at UK websites, here are a couple of British cashback sites I've heard many good things about (though have not shopped with personally):

Pouring Pounds - you get a £2.5 signup bonus.

Quidco

I'd love to hear about your experiences with cashback websites. Please, no referral links in the comments!

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