Get Paid to Shop: Make Money While Buying Holiday Gifts

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Holiday Shopping
Andrew A. Nelles/AP
By Kristin Colella

NEW YORK -- You're probably used to shelling out big bucks during the holiday season, but did you know that you can actually earn money while you shop? From taking on mystery shopping assignments to using websites and apps that offer cash back for purchases, there are several ways to keep your bank account afloat in the coming weeks without skimping on great gifts for your nearest and dearest. Here are a few ideas to consider as you set out on your holiday shopping sprees.

Shop on Cash-Back Websites

If you're planning to buy some of your holiday gifts online this year, we suggest shopping on sites that offer you cash back for your purchases. One of the best is, which partners with thousands of retailers such as Best Buy (BBY), (AMZN), Kohl's (KSS) and Macy's (M). Ebates earns a commission from these retailers when you make a purchase, then shares part of that commission with you. There's no sign-up fee, and you'll receive a check in the mail each quarter for the money you've earned. Not bad, huh?

Other sites that offer cash back for purchases include Upromise, which allows you to earn money for college through your online purchases;, which allows you to earn 10 percent cash back at more than 1,000 retailers (membership costs $12.97 a month) and offers free shipping and return shipping; and, which offers up to 30 percent cash back at more than 4,000 online stores.

Become a Mystery Shopper

Another great way to earn cash while hitting the malls this holiday season is through mystery shopping. Businesses hire mystery shoppers to visit their stores anonymously and report back on product quality and the overall customer experience. If you're instructed to make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, you'll typically get reimbursed and you'll often get to keep the product.

"You can earn money while you're out doing your holiday shopping by evaluating a makeup artist by getting a free makeover, test-driving a new vehicle, or trying out restaurant fare with a friend," says consumer-savings expert Andrea Woroch.

Freelance-writer Anne Violette of Houston says that she takes on a few mystery shopping assignments during the holiday season to make some extra cash. "Although it doesn't pay big bucks -- some shops pay between $25 and $60 -- I've gotten a lot of discounts on things I have needed, such as sunglasses at Sunglass Hut (LUX), free coffees at Dunkin' Donuts (DNKN), free oil changes for my car and other cool things," she says. "While out shopping at the mall, you can pick up a couple of easy assignments and it only takes about 15 minutes to do the mystery shop and then another half hour worth of your time at home to fill out the review."

Just be aware that there are many mystery shopping scams out there. The Federal Trade Commission suggests checking online comments and reviews about a company before working for it and avoiding companies that ask you to pay them money or require you to wire money as part of a mystery assignment.

Woroch recommends visiting the Mystery Shopping Providers Association to search for legitimate opportunities.

Use a Cash-Back Credit Card

For an easy way to earn extra dough while holiday shopping, consider making purchases with a credit card that offers cash back. Just keep in mind that interest rates for cash-back credit cards tend to be higher than standard cards, so they're best used if you intend to pay off your balances in full each month. Also be sure to check if the card has an annual fee; if it does, you'll have to decide whether the rewards make the fee worth it.

Matthew Goldman, CEO and founder of Wallaby, a company that offers a variety of products to help you maximize credit card rewards, suggests checking out the Chase Freedom card, which offers 5 percent cash back on up to $1,500 at, and select department stores through Dec. 31 and unlimited 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. The card offers no annual fee and a zero percent introductory annual percentage rate, or APR, for the first 15 months, then a variable 13.99 percent to 22.99 percent after that. Goldman also recommends the Discover It card, which carries no annual fee and offers 5 percent cash back for online shopping and department stores purchases up to $1,500 through December. You can also earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases and receive a free FICO credit score on your monthly statement. The APR is zero percent for the first 14 months, then 10.99 percent to 22.99 percent after that.

Join a Rewards Program

Many stores offer attractive rewards programs that allow you to rack up points for every purchase you make, then earn store credit for accumulating a certain number of points. For instance, the Kohl's Yes2You Rewards program allows you to earn 1 point for every dollar spent, then gives you a $5 reward for every 100 points you accumulate. The Dick's ScoreCard program allows you to score 1 point for every dollar you spend at Dick's (DKS), then gives you a $10 reward for every 300 points you earn.

Download Apps That Help You Earn Cash

One great cash-back app available on iOS and Android devices is Shopkick, which allows you to earn free gift cards just for shopping. Once you download the app, you'll get points for walking into stores such as Target (TGT), Macy's and Best Buy, and you'll rack up even more points when you scan items and make purchases. You can then redeem your points for gift cards. The one caveat? Don't let the app sway you into buying more than you can afford.

"You might start justifying unnecessary purchases by thinking about all the rewards you're earning," says Kendal Perez, marketing manager for Kinoli Inc., the company that owns such money-saving websites as and "Use the app wisely to help earn rewards on items you already planned to purchase or try on."

Of course, the season of giving also means helping out those in need. The Charity Miles app, available on iOS and Android devices, allows you to earn money for charity from corporate sponsors simply by walking, running or biking. Here's how it works: just turn on the app, select a charity and press start. As you walk through the mall or bike or run to your favorite shopping destination, the app will track your distance and the money earned. Bikers earn up to 10 cents a mile, while walkers and runners earn up to 25 cents a mile. Participating charities include Habitat for Humanity, Feeding America, Autism Speaks and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

16 Black Friday Myths Busted
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Get Paid to Shop: Make Money While Buying Holiday Gifts
There's no stopping the holiday creep, and this year we expect the majority of Black Friday sales to commence on Thanksgiving Day, and some of the best deals might even sell out before Friday. Since there are only 26 days (three full weekends) between Black Friday and Christmas, we expect some Black Friday sales as early as two weeks before the namesake day.
Doorbusters are exceptionally low-priced items meant to generate buzz and lure shoppers into stores on Black Friday. Most retailers have very limited quantities of these products, and it's likely that only the first few shoppers in line will snag them. However, we expect to see more retailers offer guaranteed doorbusters, which won't be as scintillating, but have traditionally still been quite good.
While doorbusters are advertised in advance to bring shoppers in-store, over the years the competition between retailers has become so fierce that these hot deals have increasingly also made their way online. Data from previous years has shown that up to 70 percent of in-store Black Friday deals were also available online for the same price -- or less! Because Amazon (AMZN) and other sites will price-match even the hottest in-store offers from brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy (BBY), Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT) many feel pressure to release deals online as well.
Watch the evening news and you'll see plenty of Black Friday mobs, fights, and brawls. Fortunately, most holiday shoppers will never witness such events. Sure, there will always be reports of overly-aggressive shoppers on Black Friday, but a majority of consumers express feeling a sense of camaraderie while waiting in line predawn. Plus, no store wants instances of violence associated with their name in the news, so they will do everything in their power to keep things orderly (including beefing up their staff).
Black Friday is the best time of the year to go on a shopping spree, but not every sale you encounter will merit its best-of-the-year branding. Some general categories see better prices later (like winter apparel, which will drop significantly in price come January), while there will always be average prices nestled in among those doorbuster deals. To save during Black Friday, know what you want, be flexible if you can, and don't bite if the price doesn't seem right.
Amazon is every big-box retailer's worst nightmare because it always undercuts the Black Friday sales of many brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, big-box retailers such as Best BuyHome Depot and Meijer have started price matching Amazon's Black Friday promotions.
Everyone loves a secret sale, so on Thanksgiving Day retailers will release additional Black Friday deals that weren't in their earlier circulars. Moreover, some retailers will respond to competitor pricing and make last-minute price cuts to compete.
Once upon a time, Black Friday ad leaks were actual scans of ads that were questionably posted online for shoppers to analyze in advance of the big day. Now, stores wield their ads strategically, releasing sneak peeks for rewards members or previewing the ads for select media, all to control the flow of information to their greatest benefit.
Though you'll see consumers flock to the Apple Store (AAPL) on Black Friday, the truth is Apple's holiday sale is among the worst. Traditionally, it has offered discounts of up to 10 percent on select devices, but last year Apple ditched the discount and instead paired products with Apple gift cards. Unfortunately, the sale was disappointing and retailers like MacMall, Best Buy and Walmart offered significantly better deals. As a result, this year we're again advising shoppers to avoid the Apple Store. Unless you're in the market for an Apple refurb -- which is a great way to save money on Apple devices -- there's no reason to shop from Apple during the holidays.
Black Friday is a blockbuster event for low-end goods from stores and manufacturers you may not be familiar with. However, in recent years several retailers of high-end clothing and other items have broken the age-old trend of skipping Black Friday promotions. But rather than offer promotions from their main brands, luxury retailers have let their outlets do the dirty work. Stores like Last Call by Neiman MarcusBarney's Warehouse, and Saks Fifth Avenue Off 5th are a few outlets you can expect to participate in Black Friday sales.
Stores tend to tighten their return policies during the holidays, making it hard for consumers to return items. Some retailers will go so far as only offering store credit on returns, even if you have a receipt. A handful of stores are also tracking serial returners and banning them. And if you don't remember to ask for a gift receipt, your recipients might be doubly unhappy: they'll likely receive a store credit for only a portion of the purchase price.
Black Friday may get all the attention, but last year Cyber Monday managed to trump Black Friday in terms volume of Editors' Choice deals, which is our designation for the best sales of the year with price lows never before seen. And it was precisely those types of deals that flooded our homepage last Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is no longer a holiday that shoppers can afford to skip.
While a number of online retailers advertise week-long Cyber Monday sales, the best deals appear on Sunday and Monday only, with some holding over to Tuesday. Just as we saw with Black Friday, many of the best Cyber Monday deals have crept into the preceding day, in this case Sunday. Last year, for instance, we posted four times more Editors' Choice deals on Sunday and Cyber Monday combined than we did for the remainder of Cyber Week.
Unfortunately, submitting an online order -- even after entering payment information -- doesn't guarantee that the items you purchased will be yours. Retailers occasionally display inaccurate inventory and will sometimes let consumers buy an item that is out of stock; this is a particular problem on Black Friday, given the speed of transactions. Moreover, a store may decide to cancel all orders for items at mistakenly low prices. Best Buy notoriously did this in 2011 when it mistakenly offered a $100 iTunes gift card for $60; the store then canceled all orders and asked customers to instead purchase the deal for the intended price of $80.
Unfortunately, the only guaranteed way to safeguard your personal information this holiday season is by paying with cash. However, we understand not everyone can reasonably do this. So the best way to avoid data hacks this holiday season is by taking multiple precautionary measures when shopping online. Pay with credit rather than debit, update your passwords and watch billing statements to ensure your card hasn't been used by thieves elsewhere. Should a security breach occur, immediately contact your bank and report your losses.
Bargain bin devices have a reputation for being bottom-of-the-barrel items that nobody wants, be it movies, laptops or apparel. However, this past year budget products have been showing more flair than usual. That's because some of these items, such as entry-level 42-inch HDTVs and ultra-cheap laptops, simply cannot get any cheaper. So to make them more appealing, retailers have given them more panache. For laptops, that means you'll find budget machines with better-than-average specs. In the case of TVs, it means finding budget 42-inch sets from name-brand manufacturers, instead of just off-brand models. Ultimately, it's a win for shoppers because you get more value for your dollar.
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