Thursday, December 29, 2016

"Found" Money: Rewards Earned in 2016

A year ago, I had recapped what money I had "found" in 2015.  It was a lot of work because I really hadn't been keeping an ongoing tally of all my found money sources.  This year, this post will be much easier to put together since I did, indeed, keep an ongoing tally sheet that I updated every night!

In 2016, I earned much less in gift cards from Swagbucks than I did in 2015, because I decided that I was tired of obsessing about clicking on those darn videos all day. As nice as it was to have a lot of gift cards to apply to Amazon purchases, I was tired of dreading having to meet my 1st and 2nd daily goals every day. So I did as much or as little as I wanted to, depending on my mood of the day.  I stopped running the apps on my phone because they kept on showing me political campaign videos, and even if I didn't watch them, it bothered me that they were showing me those in the first place.  Also, I switched from ordering Amazon gift cards to only ordering Walmart gift cards, and they were applied toward my grocery budget ONLY.

We continued to use credit cards for most of our purchases, no matter how small (at least in my case. Greg likes using cash so I can't track what he spends it on, but he was much better this year. MUCH MUCH better!).  I like the Rewards, of course, but also the paper trail. I tried to track every penny that we spent this year and it's much easier when I can get an alert from the credit card company!  I have set up alerts on all of them so I get an instantaneous (in most cases) email with the detail of every charge that hits our credit cards. It helps to make sure we're not being swindled and also with my accounting. I don't mind all the emails :)

So without further ado, here is what I counted as "Found Money" in 2016:

  • Swagbucks: this year, I decided to spend much less time trying to earn Swagbucks. There's more to life than having to click a video every 15 to 30 seconds and trying to qualify for surveys that waste your time because you give them all this data for free and then they disqualify you. So my earnings plummeted. In 2015, I had earned $595.  In 2016, I earned $330.  Still, not too shabby :)  I picked (2) $25 Target gift cards but the rest were all Walmart gc and all the gc were used for groceries only.  I still have over $50 in Walmart gc that I haven't spent and that will be spent in 2017.

  • Bing/Microsoft Rewards: at some point this year, the rewards program switched from Bing Rewards to Microsoft Rewards. I tend to still call it Bing Rewards because it's easier to say and faster to type, lol.  In 2015, I had earned $60.  In 2016, I earned $90 and Greg just redeemed $10 for a total of $100 for our household. My $90 were all redeemed in Amazon gift cards and I used them to reduce the cost of gifts and other things I buy on Amazon.  Greg spent his on an Xbox game.

CREDIT CARD REWARDS: $704.94, including the rewards I haven't cashed in yet (note: we don't pay any membership fees and we don't carry balances). All of our rewards from USAA Visa and American Express were converted to gift cards that I used to purchase groceries at CVS and Publix.  The Rewards from Discover and Amazon Chase Visa were used on Amazon to purchase various items.

This year, I made a concerted effort to create new "cheat-sheets" that I laminated each quarter and that we carry in our wallets for reference. Like so:

  • American Express Blue Cash: with Aldi finally taking credit cards, I can pay for most of my groceries with my Amex so we earn 3% back on most groceries.  Well, not for what I buy from Save A Lot (because they don't take Amex) or Target (because I use my Target Mastercard for 5% back instantly) or Walmart (because free with Swagbucks gift cards!). But still...  Greg and I charge our gas purchases to it (2% back) but not my daughter as she's not an authorized user on that account.  In 2015, we had earned $288.44 with it and that was including the $200 promotional statement balance we had earned when we opened the account.  In 2016, we earned $300 in gift cards that were redeemed and we still have $27.36 that hasn't been redeemed yet!  That doesn't include the statement credits from various American Express Deals that I didn't track.

  • USAA Visa Rewards: As I explained a few days ago, I feel very bamboozled by USAA that had offered 10% in Rewards as a promotion when they switched their card from Mastercard to Visa, only to find out recently that it wasn't 10% in dollar amount but 10% in corresponding points, which are worth much less than the 10% I envisioned. I don't know, maybe I just don't understand how those programs work, but I felt very misled by USAA. Anyhoo, in 2015 we had been able to order $300 in gift cards via their Rewards program, whereas this year, when we actually used the card more, we were only able to redeem $50 in gift cards with another $25 that could be redeemed now but that I haven't yet. So $75 in 2016.

  • Discover Rewards: Greg and I each have a separate account and I redeemed all of our rewards on Amazon.  For my account, in 2015 I had earned $162.41 and in 2016, I earned $134.85. It helped that this whole year, my daughter was an authorized user on my account so she charged her gas, and whatever other expenses that I authorized, on that card.  For Greg's account, he had earned $32.66 in 2015 and earned $62.79 this year.  So total in 2016: $197.64.

  • Amazon Chase Visa Rewards:  all those rewards were redeemed on Amazon. I read that it's more advantageous to apply them to your balance, and then charging the whole amount and then earning MORE rewards. I know it makes no financial or frugal sense, but I like seeing the discount when I buy stuff!  In 2015 we earned $81.88 but that actually included the $80 in Rewards that they gave me for opening the account!  In 2016, we earned $74.03.

  • Target Mastercard: I didn't get to record how much we saved at the register in 2015 by using that card, but it was likely more than this year since I pretty much stopped shopping there this year. I don't have anything against Target but their food prices have increased by a lot, I think that sales are worse than before, I never find anything interesting on the clearance shelves anymore, their Cartwheel offers have gotten worse in my view, and it's just too far when I can get much better prices at Aldi which is just as far.  That being said, we saved $30.91 this year by using that card.  It would have been $15 more had I not used the $300 gift card that I had purchased for 10% off in December 2015, because I used that gift card to pay for a lot of non-grocery items this year.

LOYALTY CARDS/CUSTOMER REWARD CARDS: $464.98 plus many, many, MANY food & drink freebies!
  • Walgreens Balance Rewards:  I redeemed $15.00 in Balance Rewards and I have another $10 waiting to be redeemed.

  • CVS ExtraCare Bucks (not including Consumer Advisory Panel): I received $119.98 in ECBs this year, which might not sound like a lot to people who roll their ECBs, but I have learned to stop chasing every deal and only buy what I need.  All the ECBs were applied against my grocery budget this year, as I purchased eggs, cereal, nuts, and Greg's Diet Dr. Pepper from CVS almost exclusively.

  • Ace Hardware Rewards: I received $20 in Rewards.

  • Dunkin' Donuts DD Perks: I received 4 free drinks.

  • Auntie Anne's Perks: I received 3 free pretzels.

  • Starbucks Rewards: I redeemed 1 free breakfast sandwich and received a birthday freebie offer which I didn't redeem.

  • Panera Rewards: I received a free pastry, a free half salad, and I was twice the recipient of the Free Bagel a Day for a Month reward, which has been used a total of 27 times as of 12/23.

  • My Coke Rewards:  I always am on the lookout for Coke product caps on the ground when I'm out and about, but this year I found fewer of those than last year, I think.  Also, I tend to spot Coke 12-pack wrappers on the side of the road when we're driving around and either I can't stop safely or Greg refuses to it. Greg the Thwarter, that's what I'm going to start calling him!  However, thanks to my daughter and awesome readers who sent me the codes they found but don't use, I was able to redeem my points for (2) $10 Amazon gift cards and (2) free 12-packs of Coca Cola products!

  • McDonald's app freebies: I downloaded the app at some point this summer, I believe, and got several 100%, "no purchase necessary" freebies!  I tried to redeem most of them. I also took advantage of freebie offers that did require a purchase.   I received: 5 breakfast burritos, 1 vanilla cone, 1 4-chicken nugget order, 1 6-chicken nugget order, 1 10-chicken nugget order, a cheeseburger, a free medium shake, a free coffee, and 3 free chicken sandwiches.  Needless to say, I spent more money at McD this year than I had in the past, mostly because I tended to avoid ours that had a terrible way of always getting my orders wrong, but this year they've been awesome.

  • Murphy USA: Murphy puts out printable coupons for one or more freebies every month and I think there was only 1 or 2 months when I couldn't redeem any of them. I usually can redeem at least one. Apparently I didn't track them, though, so let's say that I redeemed 10 freebies this year.

  • RaceTrac Insider/Sodapalooza Freebie Coupons: as RaceTrac introduced their new Reward program and app back in April, they started phasing out their RaceTrac Insider program. However, we still received several freebies from it. Also, we received and redeemed several coupons for freebies when we purchased our Sodapalooza cups this year.  In this category,  we received 16 freebies AND a free week of Sodapalooza refills in September.  We refilled our cups many times!

  • RaceTrac Rewards:  It's been quiet this month but last month, we were getting freebies almost every day!  I tried to account for all the freebies Greg, myself and my daughter redeemed but I didn't get all of them. Still, I know that we redeemed at least 65 freebies via that app since April!  RaceTrac has definitely earned our loyalty with all their awesome promotions. Plus, it's the station closest to our house and their prices are the best in our immediate area.

  • Wawa Rewards: I don't get my gas at Wawa. But when they announced several freebies back in October/November, I decided to download their app and invest $5 in a gift card that I loaded up to the app so I could qualify for the freebies.  I didn't redeem all the freebies that they offered because that would have required me driving to Clermont almost every day for a period of time, and I'm not going to spend $5 in gas to get a free drink! Other times, they were out of the freebie that they were offering on a particular day. However, I was able to redeem 7 freebies and I still have my $5!  Also: I discovered that their sandwiches are very tasty and that it's a good place to meet my BFF, weirdly enough, to have a hot or cold drink and/or snack and chat on their outside patio for a very reasonable price.

  • Kohl's Yes2You Awards and Discover Deals Kohl's Cash Awards:  Oh boy, did we luck out this year, as we have 2 Discover Cards and for several months either one or both our accounts had a Discover Deals offer that I have discussed in the past that in essence gave me $10 or $20 in free Kohl's cash to spend!  This year, we received $195 in Kohl's cash through both these programs, including $5.00 that was earned in 2015 but that I didn't receive until early January. In the meantime, I received $0.00 in Kohl's cash from actual purchases because I only bought what I needed and I never needed more than $50 OOP at a time :) I might not even make it to the VIP level this next year as I don't think I spent $600 at Kohl's this year.

  • Kohl's Promotional Gifts: I received $39 in promotional gifts, including $10 for Black Friday that I sent to my BFF since I wasn't going near any stores on Black Friday!

  • Staples Rewards: This year I earned $46 in Staples Rewards. I didn't keep track of my purchases but I think I purchased mainly ink and toner and tried to buy it when there was a triple or quadruple reward points offer on those. I also turned in several ink cartridges.

  • Gold'n Plump and JUSTBare chicken: in the past, they had sent me several freebies out of the blue but this year they didn't send me anything AND they changed their coupon program so you can only print the coupon once AND JUSTBare stopped sending coupons altogether. Also, when I sent the required UPCs to receive an outdoor thermometer for free from Gold'n Plump, they sent me a broken one. When I contacted them about it, they said they'd send me a new one but they never did and didn't reply to my subsequent emails. So I'm over both brands. I used to drive to Target just to buy GnP/JustBare chicken and Driscoll's berries but I stopped going to Target mostly because it just wasn't worth my time and money anymore, due in great part to the changes in the GnP/JUSTBare programs...

  • Redbox: Redbox is another company that changed their program. First off, I received way fewer freebie offers this year.  I noticed that the account that is linked to the Playpass program receives much worse offers than the account that isn't linked to it at all. Secondly, you can no longer use a R1G1F code to just get 1 movie for free, they fixed that loophole.  Listen, if I'm going to have to pay to see a movie, I might as well rent it on Amazon and save myself the time and gas expense to go get the movie and then to return the movie.  Plus, honestly, all the movies that came out in 2016 sucked. We had zero interest in 99.99% of them. So all being said, I think I redeemed 1 freebie code this entire year.

  • RaceTrac: my favorite!  Hold on to your hats. I hadn't counted how many survey freebies I had redeemed in 2015, but I did in 2016 and that came out to....(drumroll).... 168 freebies!  We're talking bakery items, fountain drinks, or hot roller grill items. All for telling them that we loved gassing up at our stations that already have some of the lowest prices around and are darn convenient for us!

  • Dunkin' Donuts: I haven't been to DD as much this year as I did in 2015, mostly because I can get free coffee and donuts from RaceTrac almost every day and I don't think DD coffee is all that great.  I still have some survey reward codes that I haven't redeemed yet. But I did redeem codes for 3 free donuts in 2016.

  • Subway: I have Subway fatigue so I haven't been picking up food from there as much as in the past, and so I haven't bothered taking the surveys since their reward codes expire within 30 days and many times I don't feel like making a special stop just to get a free cookie.  So I redeemed only 2 free cookies this year.

  • Panda Express:  Their survey allows you to receive a free item with the purchase of an entree. My daughter loves Panda Express, I don't. I filled out 2 surveys and obtained 2 survey reward codes but we redeemed only 1 since my daughter usually doesn't buy an entree anyway.

  • CVS Consumer Panel: this year, I was asked to participate in several short surveys. I received a total of $29 in ECBs!

  • Driscoll's Consumer Panel: once again, I qualified for the Gold Level for most of the year and so I earned $1.00/1 coupons for most of the year. However this year I bought most of my berries at Aldi. They weren't as good as Driscoll's, but it saved me a trip to Target.  I have lots of containers that I have saved and with which I will take surveys in early 2017 to try and get to the Gold Level as soon as I can (I need 17 surveys completed) because I will try to redeem them at Publix once in a while as they sometimes carry Driscoll's berries but not all the time.

  • Mail-in rebates and online rebates: this year I received $237.04 back in rebates!  That includes $120 that I received from Ace for my purchase of LED bulbs. I was able to keep that rebate, as per the CEO of Ace Hardware, despite him also authorizing the full refund of my purchase (accounted for later on in this post).

  • Rebate apps: some of them might say that they are refunding coupons, but in my book those are called rebates while coupons are something that are deducted at the register. I didn't plan my shopping around rebates for the most part. I just did my shopping and then checked if I could redeem any rebates. All in the spirit of trying to NOT buy too much that I didn't actually need.
    • Ibotta: I redeemed $25 earlier this year and I currently have $42.45 in my account. 
    • MobiSave: I received $25.30 in my Paypal account.
    • SavingStar: I redeemed $64.41 this year and I currently have $7.30 in my account.
    • Checkout 51: I redeemed $13.75 earned this year (the $6.75 balance was earned and accounted for in 2015) and I currently have a balance of $4.75 in my account.

  • Betty Crocker and Pillsbury Newsletters: I didn't keep track of them but I was indeed able to claim several free samples this year. Off the top of my head, I received free taco boats, some free taco seasoning, a free box of Totino's pizza sticks, and I know there have been others.

  • SampleSource: I didn't track the specifics but I was able to get several free samples from SampleSource this year.

  • PinchMe: Same as with SampleSource. Several free samples received this year.

  • BzzAgent: I was able to participate in a product testing for no bake lasagna noodles so I received the noodles for free. Recent emails make me believe that I might also be able to participate in some electric toothbrush campaign but I haven't received anything yet even though they're asking me for my review... hmmm, I've emailed them but haven't heard back.

  • Swagbucks: via some inbox offers, I was able to participate in a couple of in-home product tests for feminine products.

  • Some magazine site: I qualified for a free 1-year subscription to Kiplinger's Magazine.

  • Amazon's KindleFirst program: I was able to download one free book every month.

  • Amazon's Kindle Lending Library: Greg was able to borrow several ebooks for free via this program this year.

  • Amazon Digital Credits:  I only picked the $1.00 digital credits when they were available. I never took advantage of the $5.00 Prime Pantry credits since I don't use that.  I received and used $26.21 in digital credits (including $13.21 resulting from the e-book class action lawsuit settlement) and a $10 credit valid only for in-app store purchases that we never redeemed.

  • Cash that I Found: I found cash in the ground, but that was mostly small coins. I found $20 tucked in my old camera case that I hadn't used in years, as well as $11.62 from my 2015 Spare Change Jar (redeemed at CoinStar) and $9.07 of loose change at the bottom of my purse when I cleaned it earlier this year.  Total: $45.91

  • Items refunded or replaced for free when I contacted Manufacturers and CEOs: I should have kept a tally of those as well but I didn't. Off the top of my head, I know that I received
    • a refund for a package of Dole Mixations that had gone bad from Dole ($2)
    • a free replacement cable for my Kindle charging cable from Amazon
    • a free speed gear assembly and free wheel for my bike from Schwinn after the Walmart assembly guy didn't install my gear assembly properly (Walmart never replied to my complaint, by the way)
    • and a full refund of my LED bulbs for my whole house (40 bulbs so a refund of $272.41) from the CEO of Ace Hardware when he learned of my terrible, no good, very bad experience with his website and store (plus I got to keep the bulbs AND the rebate that had had sent for).

  • In-store satisfaction guarantees
    • I'm pretty sure I returned something at Aldi this year (cream cheese?!) and used their double satisfaction guarantee to get a refund AND a new brick of cream cheese and there might have been more instances as well, but I didn't track them.
    • At Publix just recently, I received a full refund on an earbud case that I was purchasing and got to keep it too because there were 2 different price tags on the shelf for the exact same item.  Woohoo! I think there was another occasion when I was able to claim that guarantee this year, but I forget what it was.

So all in all, I think this has been a fruitful year for me as far as "snowflakes" or "Found Money" (however you want to call it) is concerned and I'm glad that I tracked all the stuff that I did track!  I shall continue to track this in 2017 as well.

Did you track your "Found Money" this year?


  1. Wow! You did great! No, I haven't kept track of any found money. Too lazy!

    1. Hmm, I don't think you're lazy. I think you had a very good excuse not to bother with it this year. It was enough to drive to all those doctor appointments, chemo, radiation and all your problems with the pharmacies!

  2. Wow, great job keeping track. I found $65 during 2016. Driving down a dark deserted road last winter I thought I saw money on the road. Stopped and it was a $20 bill. This summer walking down a sidewalk near my workplace I found $40. The $5 was change found here and there. Canada has 1 and 2 dollar coins which are always nice to find :).

    I too received numerous freebies in the mail, only $10 in swagbucks (I do very little searching) and a few Starbucks freebies on the phone app and registering gift cards. Gotta love free.

    1. I would be thrilled to finding $20 and $40 on the ground! I can't believe you spotted the $20 in the dark while driving!! I was just wondering the other day why it seems that the only coins I seem to find regularly are pennies and I've come to the conclusion that when people spill their change, they bother to pick up the silver coins (nickels, dimes and quarters) but leave the poor pennies behind.

      Way to go, Theresa!

    2. Thankfully, Canada phased out pennies so now finding change is worth bending down to pick up :).

    3. Oh and we have polymer banknotes so they are more pliable which is why, mid-winter I could see the $20 flapping on the street :).

    4. Maybe I should be vacationing in Canada and sprinkling the few Canadian coins that Greg brought back from one of his trips!

  3. Great job!! I'm going to keep track of found change this year. Or, well, I'm going to collect found change and count it up at the end of the year. I'm not sure I'll declare every penny when I find them. ;) But your found money is really amazing and I love how you keep track of everything.

    1. Thanks! It was actually fun to keep a running total of those things. More fun than doing the dishes, that's for sure :)
      Good luck in 2017, I hope you find lots of change!

  4. The only "found money" that I count is change that I find around the house or in the laundry. I will count it up sometime this week, but it won't be accurate because I have been dipping into it for parking money. I resolve to keep better track of "found money" this year, including rebates.


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