I find it so difficult to believe that Christmas will be here in a bit over a month. How does the time get away from us? It will be 2010 before we take a moment to sit down and look at a calendar!
For this Christmas, I have known for awhile that I wouldn't have the money on hand that I've had in the past several (working) years to spend on gifts. So I have spent a lot of this year preparing. I haven't been shopping much until recently, but I've been setting us up to be able to "purchase" most of our gifts for nothing or very little. And, amazingly, we've managed to be successful!!
What I've done is focus on points programs that don't really cost anything. One of the programs is not one that most people can access, but most of them are out there online, and anyone can take advantage! First, I have MyPoints. If you look at the guidelines for the program, you are allowed up to two accounts per household, so I set up an account for myself and one for my husband. The best part is that if you initially set up only one account, you can then refer another household member for bonus points! If you are not a member of this program, it's fairly simple. You receive emails almost daily that advertise and direct you to specific websites. By clicking on the link they provide, you basically earn 5 points per mail. They also offer frequent surveys worth at least 10 points, and something called the MyPoints FrogPond where you can receive 25 points for simply giving your opinion on a site. If you shop online, you can go through their site and earn even more points. It's only a few points at a time for the most part, but it adds up quickly and I've been able to get more than I even anticipated with my MyPoints. If you aren't a member, I'd love to refer you - just give me your email address and I will send you an invitation.
Another program I love is ZoomPanel. This is a survey company that sends me a survey every 2-3 days. Every survey for which I do not qualify earns me 5 points; the surveys that I get to complete can be worth 50, 75, or even 100 points. In addition, I've tried many products through this company and given them my opinions. You can redeem these points for a multitude of items in their gift catalog - and they have some really nice stuff!! Again, I'd be happy to refer you - just send me your information.
One of the most popular programs out there is SwagBucks. You earn SwagBucks for simply doing something you probably do every day - web searching! You can download the toolbar or go to the website and perform your search. Randomly (generally 1-2 times per day, depending on how frequently you search), you receive SwagBucks when you get your results. Most of the time it's 1 at a time, but I have gotten 2 and 3 bucks several times, and once I even got 20 just for searching! You can redeem these bucks for many gift cards (I tend to do the Amazon $5 e-giftcards and get 1 or more a month), paypal "cash" or other items. It's a great deal, because I'm always searching anyway. I've managed to get several things for my kids from Amazon.com with my free gift cards. This is most definitely worth checking out! Go to Swagbucks, sign up, and start searching!
The program that not everyone can join is called Food Service Rewards. It's a restaurant program where you earn points based on the products you buy. I've been able to order some presents for my kids through this program, but since it's limited to restaurants, I won't go into the specifics. Just realize that you never know where you will find a points program that you can use to earn money or gifts - always look into anything you find because you never know when it will be a wonderful deal for you!
There are other survey companies out there that either save up your points that can be redeemed for cash - I don't even know of or belong to all of them. I also know of a site called Inbox Dollars where you earn .03 for each email that you read/click on. You can't cash out until you have $30, so that takes a very long time, but it's worth doing in the long run. I figure I will hit the $30 level about once a year. Maybe for next Christmas..... :)
A program that has been an amazing help in paying for Christmas isn't an online program at all. It's through my Citibank credit card. I'm not as happy with their Thank You Redemptions program as I used to be, because they no longer give 5 points per dollar for certain types of purchases, but they still provide 1 point for every dollar spent. The points are then redeemed on their website for a variety of gifts and gift cards. I've only used my points for the gift cards, and this year I was able to get 2 $100 Visa debit cards to finish the shopping for the kids. Those came in SO handy! Sadly, I can't earn points as quickly as I used to when grocery and gas spending added up five times faster, so I'm not advocating Citibank like I used to, but I do still use the card. I just make sure that I pay it off every month. Especially now that they've taken away the bonus I loved, I will not pay them a dime in interest. I charge quite a bit each month, but always pay in full, which helps the points to really be "free."
I know there are lots of credit card rewards programs out there, so look around and see what you can find. It might be worth changing cards to take advantage of the program that works well for you and gives you the most benefits.
So there you have it, and a long blog post to boot! My (almost) free Christmas shopping. I'm loving being able to give the kids things they want and not spending too much money. Christmas doesn't have to put you into debt or cause financial stress. A few minutes each day will give you several gifts by the end of the year. And keep your eyes peeled - you never know what freebies you will find out there!