Swagbucks 5th birthday blowout (and a HUGE bonus code for new members!!!)

Have you RSVP’d for Swagbucks’ 5th Birthday Blowout Feb. 25?

It’s easy to do, and when you RSVP you’re automatically entering yourself to win one of five $1000 CASH prizes.

The whole birthday celebration will be a big one – they’re giving out 135 Swag Bucks worth of codes, and they’re giving away four more $1000 cash prizes on the 25th when they celebrate.

You can find the RSVP link on the Swagbucks homepage – just look for the birthday image and click on it to be taken to the RSVP page.

If you’re not a member of Swagbucks yet, join me and use the code 5THBIRTHDAY during registration – you’ll start with 120 Swag Bucks! Just in the past week I’ve earned $25 in gift certificates just for using Swagbucks!!!! So click here to join – I promise, this is the web’s easiest way to earn gift cards, cash and prizes online!

How to pay off your student loan debt while buying stuff you normally buy. No, really!

Turn Your Everyday Spending into College Savings!

I can’t believe it’s been 17 years since I was filling out the FAFSA and applying for my student loan. I was certain that by now I would be making a bajillion dollars a year as a world-famous writer and that my education would have been paid off.

Um, yeah, of course I haven’t paid it off. Life happens. Hardships led to Forbearance and Deferment, and before I knew it, I found myself looking at my student loan balance ten years later and facing a balance that was greater than the amount I initially borrowed.

I’m being smarter about it today. I make payments every month. I make sure to pay off an amount greater than the interest tacked on to my loan every month. And this year, I started doing most of my online shopping withUpromise. And Upromise has helped me slowly chip away at that student loan and clear off a path toward debt independence.

It started out just as a site in which you could save for your kids’ or your friends’ kids college expenses. You’d sign up, you’d put in your reward cards, you might save a penny a year. Whoop-dee-doo. But a few years ago, Sallie Mae acquired Upromise – and the acquisition opened up a whole lot more opportunities and easier ways to save for college OR pay down your student loans through Upromise.

Here’s how it works now:

1) Open a new account at Upromise – The Smart Way to Save for College
2) While logged in to Upromise, you shop online from an overwhelming list of online retailers, including Best Buy, Old Navy, OfficeMax, Walmart, drugstore.com, Expedia, Sally Beauty Supply… way too many to name. Next to the retailer you will see exactly what percentage of your dollars spent will go back into your Upromise account. Stores can range from 1 to 25%, but are typically around 2-4 percent.

3) About 30 to 45 days later, you get money put back into your Upromise account.
4) Use the money any way you want – receive a check, open up a 529 savings account for the kids, or have Upromise make payments directly to Sallie Mae to pay down your student loan with Upromise.

Now, here’s the mindset you need to get into to rack up the money and pay off your loan sooner:

1) Take fewer trips to the store. So you have your list for the drug store ready. Let’s say you need deodorant, cotton balls, vitamins, shampoo, toilet paper and a bottle of Zyrtec. These are all non-perishable items you can buy online from drugstore, Walgreens or Walmart. By planning a couple of days ahead, you can buy that stuff online through Upromise. So stay in your jammies and shop online. Not only have you avoided the stress of having to wade through 12 different aisles to find what you need, you’re also gonna get some money back from it.

2) Buy online; pick up in the store. Best Buy started it and most merchants have followed: Buy items through Upromise for in-store pickup. Again, you are making an easier shopping trip for yourself and you are buying stuff through Upromise.

3) If you need it and can buy it through Upromise – The Smart Way to Save for College, do it. In addition to pharmacy items, you can also buy clothing, non-perishable food, electronics, pet supplies, contact lenses, baby formula, laundry detergent, baby and bridal shower gifts, basically anything that doesn’t spoil or melt can be purchased online. There will probably be a time when cold-shipping is more common and you can buy your cheese and deli meat online too, but we aren’t quite there yet.

4) Take advantage of free shipping offers. Many sites have a minimum purchase requirement to qualify for free shipping. It really doesn’t take that much to come up with $25 or $50 worth of stuff to chop off those shipping costs. Walmart.com is currently offering free shipping for all its pharmacy products and has a line of “Home Free” shipping products that come to you for free if you spend $45, so I’ve been going there to buy low-carb bars and snacks. I also use Drugstore.com to buy groceries, supplements, allergy medications. You just need a minimum purchase of $25 for free shipping, and it’s not hard to rack that up!

Upromise also has a “daily double” that is announced every day at midnight EST, in which you can get double savings from your purchase. It also prominently displays the merchants that will give you the most bang for your buck.

I’ve been using Upromise since the beginning of last year to shop for everyday items, and I’ve earned about $200 to pay down my student loan. Upromise makes payments to Sallie Mae loans on a quarterly basis if you get more than $25 in savings.

So is Upromise the way to get your loan paid every month? Not really, but it does help chip away at that loan a lot sooner. There are other ways to add to your savings. I do not recommend you get the Upromise Credit Card that promises you’ll save even more for college, since I think it defeats the whole purpose of paying down debt in the first place. But you can refer your family and friends to shop through Upromise and help you out. I haven’t had any luck with that; your mileage may vary.

If you get a statement from Sallie Mae every month and you are not signed up with Upromise, you need to get on that train and ride it now. Because I don’t know where you come from, but here, 100 bucks is nothing to shake a stick at.

You’re going to buy this stuff anyway; why not earn something from it?

Join Upromise!

Brad’s Deals: Get more out of your daily-deal accounts!

I just clicked on to BradsDeals for the first time. Within a minute, I purchased a $10 Amazon gift card for only $5!!! Any site that has that kind of awesome deal on my first visit is definitely worth talking about.

I’m a member of a lot of daily “deal” sites – but sometimes those emails can be overwhelming! Also, places with Groupon-like deals will often post a deal for a particular city that can also be used where you live! Things like movie rentals, restaurant gift cards or online gift cards are out there for the picking – but if you’re like me, you just don’t know how to sift through all those local deals to find any one that you might be able to use.

Thankfully, BradsDeals scans through many of these offers for you, so you can land some nice half-price discounts on great places.

It’s also an excellent place to look for online coupon codes! My big rule about online shopping is “never buy without a coupon code.”  For instance, right now Brad’s Deals has dozens of target couponsbed bath and beyond coupons and pottery barn coupons that can help you save on shipping or items you and your family need. I’m particularly stoked about the Bed Bath and Beyond coupons, because spring is here and I’m determined to get a good bird feeder!

You can also find plenty of printable in-store coupons so you can save on your groceries, too!

Give it a shot and see if you like it!

This is a sponsored review for BradsDeals. All opinions are mine unless attributed otherwise.

Five Smartphone apps that really pay you

The Smartphone has enabled brands to connect with people and provide incentives more easily than ever. There is a HOST of smartphone apps out there that promise you quick cash and rewards and often end up being a real hassle to deal with. I’m here to take out the hype and share with you some smartphone apps that really have earned me money, gift cards and prizes.

I earn them my checking in to local businesses, scanning products in the store, endorsing my favorite products and even just walking into stores.

I’ve been using smartphone reward apps for almost two and a half years, and here are some of the best ones I’ve come across. I use these on my Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket with Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread), so your mileage may vary.

Please note that I have included my referral links with all of these products. These really are great products and I have spent a lot of time working with them to find the best out there, so if you want to sign up, please do so through the links n this post. In return, you can invite your friends and readers and get referral bonuses as well!

1. CALYP – Once called Blue Calypso, CALYP (pronounced “k-lip”) is a program you can use on your PC or smartphone to endorse products on Twitter, Facebook, email, text messages or your blog.

Getting a CALYP account is easy. You can set up an account through Facebook or Twitter. Immediately you’ll see a list of a few dozen products you can choose to endorse. Simply pick out a product, tap the “share” button, and decide which of your social networks you’ll send it to.

The more online places you endorse, the greater your earnings will be. You’ll always earn -something – and instead of being paid per click, you just get paid per share.

CALYP will send you payment via a debit card, and your earnings will be deposited once a month. They sent my debit card this week; I plan to use it to buy Amazon gift certificates or even use as rainy-day money. You can also level up and get more money per share, along with  additional perks, which get you discounts at all kinds of places. Right now I’m easily making 80 cents for every share, which gets me some solid, extra pocket money once a week.

The good:  This is, by far, my FAVORITE rewards app. The products available for endorsing are QUALITY products. You will not be sending out messages telling people how to get white teeth, gain 10 jillion followers in a day, or about the latest Acai-Pomegranate-Magic Potion that all the talk show hosts are using. Also, you aren’t given incentives for additional points by downloading adware-filled apps or signing up for any programs. You just endorse products you like and share them with your followers.

Products I’ve endorsed through CALYP include: Dingo rawhides, Blue Buffalo dog food, L’Oreal and the latest album from DEVO. Since you can only endorse four products a day, it’s a guarantee that you’ll be able to find four things you use every day that you will be proud to endorse.

The bad: CALYP is still kind of new, and I’ve found it to be buggy at times on my smartphone. However, the team has AWESOME tech support and will quickly help you if you have a problem. The good outweighs the bad on this one a thousandfold. To get started with Calyp, visit here.

2. WeReward: This is a fun Smartphone app from the folks at IZEA, one of the top sponsored-content companies in the world. WeReward is like FourSquare, except checking in can actually earn you money. You can also fill out very brief surveys to earn, and you can also take photos of yourself in stores or restaurants and with products to earn. It’s kind of like a brand scavenger hunt! It’s very fun, and I’ve earned more than $300 from them.

The good:  You can rack up points and cash them out VERY quickly. Each point you receive is worth a penny, and once you reach $10, you can immediately cash out your earnings through Paypal.

The bad: Some people think this is bad, but I don’t: any IZEA product requires you to submit your social security number. This is bona fide income, and if you earn $600 or more from IZEA during the year you will get a tax form and you will need to file it as income. I actually find peace of mind with this, because it lets me know that IZEA is playing fairly in the game. To download WeReward for your Android or iPhone, go here.

3. Shopkick:  This is a fun app that rewards you for scanning products in store and even walking into stores! It also includes coupons that the cashier can scan from your phone’s screen. The interface is cute and simple and the app has never closed on me, and I’ve earned gift cards from Target and Best Buy just for scanning.

The Good: The prizes are great! You can win gift cards to Best Buy, Macy’s, Target, Old Navy and a whole bunch of other places. Also, you can register your VISA with shopkick so you can earn points for purchases in certain stores.

The Bad: Shopkick has a lot of bells and whistles and pointless badges that take your point-earning time away. I’ve also had difficulties with the walk-in, sometimes having to walk in and out of a store two or three times to get my kicks. Also, it can sometimes be really difficult to scan products in store, either because the lighting is wrong, the bar code or QR is difficult to get to, or a number of other reasons. But the app works perfectly more often than not, and if you have a great smartphone, you should have very few problems. To join Shopkick, go here.

4. Checkpoints: This is another scan-to-earn app. There are no walk-in points, but for scanning products in-store, you can earn points and coins to use to play one of two games. The games can allow you to win extra points, and you can use your points to make donations to your favorite causes, or get airline miles, gift certificates or other prizes. You can also download apps to earn more coins.

The good: This is the only rewards app JUST for your smartphone (at least to my knowledge) that gives out Amazon gift cards. I actually cannot remember the last time I have used my own money to add to my Amazon balance, because I keep earning gift cards from Checkpoints, Swagbucks and other places online.

The bad: The “Easy points” section of the app allows you to download games and apps to earn extra coins. The main problem is that many of these “easy points” are riddled with adware. However, in most cases you can just open the app once and then uninstall it to get your points. You can opt not to download these extra programs, and checkpoints, in and of itself, just has ads in the app, no surprise pop-ups. It’s worth it to me to earn the extra Amazon cash. To join Checkpoints, click  here and use the code “bellesouth” to start off with some extra points.

5. Swagbucks Search Swidget and Swagbucks TV Mobile: LOVE these two apps because it makes earning a lot easier. I use swagbucks as my default search engine on my phone now. It’s not a browser add-on; it’s basically just a widget you place on one of your screens to search just as you would with Google. Essentially it’s a shortcut to the swagbucks search engine from your phone. The Swagbucks TV Mobile app allows you to watch all those swagbucks videos on your phone. You can even set it to stream continuously, put the phone down for a little while and in no time you’ve got more points in your account! Swagbucks is an awesome way to earn Paypal cash, gift cards and prizes. I can’t think of a shopping blogger who doesn’t use it. If you don’t have an account, sign up here.

I know having a smartphone is expensive, but when you combine these programs, it really does make it easy for your smartphone to pay for itself! These are all paying you for doing things you would do anyway – shopping, searching, walking into stores, playing games. I hope I’ve provided you with some great tools to get started and find new ways to pay for your stuff!

Are there any smartphone rewards programs you use? I’d love to know!

Get a $20 rebate in Mastercard’s ‘Here’s To Mom’ Promotion #Heres2Mom #cbias

Are you finishing up your shopping online? Stop for a second! If you sign  up with Mastercard’s Here’s To Mom holiday promotion between now and 12/31 and make $200 in online purchases with your Mastercard, you can be rewarded with a $20 Mastercard gift card!!!

I signed up a couple of days ago at this link; registration only takes a minute! Then all you have to do is use your registered Mastercard to make $200 in online purchases, and Blammo! You get a Mastercard gift card worth $20 sent to you! Easy-peasy, right?

I’m already on my way to earning that $20. I used my card to pick up some gifts, as well as to catch some awesome discounts and promotions at one of my favorite online boutiques, sneakpeeq.com. I’m very stoked that I was one of the lucky 10,000 to get a free Shoprunner account, so I’ll probably head over to drugstore.com and get some stocking stuffers!

Even if you’ve completed all your gift shopping you can still go online to buy everyday items! Head over to Walmart.com and enjoy free shipping on vitamins, meal replacement bars, toothbrushes and over-the-counter medicines from the pharmacy section. Head to drugstore.com and make at least $25 in purchases to enjoy free shipping on TONS of everyday items. Purchase groceries at Amazon.com or Meijer.com! Buy food and rawhides for the dog! There are tons of places online where you can buy everyday items and quickly earn your $20!

This promotion is all about rewarding Moms for all the hard work they put in during the holiday season. The shopping, the card-addressing, the envelope-licking, the night-long conversations with Santa to make sure all letters and lists are checked twice. There isn’t enough you can do to reward The Mom, who gets the award for Most Stressed Woman each December.

Keep in mind some rules to this promotion: You HAVE to make the purchases using your registered Mastercard, the purchases HAVE to be made online, and they HAVE to be made online AFTER you register your card. So, no Paypal transactions, no offline purchases, and no retroactive credit.

If you’re concerned at all about not using Paypal and giving your card directly to the online retailer, make sure the retailer is secure (you w ill see a locked padlock icon in the corner of your browser.) I recommend going with reputable retailers who have good reputations for being secure.

If you’re still concerned, I’d suggest going to your local Walmart, Walgreens or other similar retailer and purchasing a prepaid Mastercard. These do cost from $3-5 up front, but right now, Greendot is having a promotion in which you get a $5 credit for purchasing one of their cards. So it pays for itself! Add the $20 rebate from Here’s To Mom and you’ve got even more cash back!

To see how others are participating in this promotion, follow the hashtag #heres2mom on Twitter. This promotion is open only to U.S. residents and expires 12/31/11, so get in on it now!

You can also get more info on this and other Mastercard promotions at Mastercard’s Facebook page.

This is an excellent promotion, a great way to earn some extra cash back and save even more money. Remember to spend wisely, buy only what you can afford, and take care of you and yours!!!

This is a sponsored post as part of a shopper insights study by Collective Bias. All opinions are my own.

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