Monday, May 31, 2010

Getting the most from Swagbucks

I've already discussed Swagbucks in this blog (see: legit free stuff part 2), and I strongly recommend using it. If you've signed up, or are thinking of signing up, here are some tips for making it work for you.

be patient
I have been on Swagbucks about 3 months, and I've found it takes me 2-3 weeks to get enough SB for a $5 gift card payout (hands down the best reward on the site.) Sometimes you get lucky, though (I actually made $10 worth this past week alone!)

play often
Doing a search on SB every 4 hours or so is the easiest way to get points (once you get some points for a search, wait another few hours before trying again.) Don't spam or keep refreshing the same search; you'll get served with the "rules" screen and eventually booted from the site.

There are a few things you can do daily to earn small amounts of points. They have a toolbar you can download, and at least once a day just opening your browser yields 1 SB. I use Firefox most of the time, so I just installed it (and other such rewards toolbars) on IE. I only open up IE when I feel like paying attention to those particular sites. You should also participate in the daily polls (1 SB per day) and the "no obligation special offer viewing" (1 SB per day. Go to Ways to Earn > Special Offers and click on the red "Go Now" button. Skip everything and get 1 SB.)

special offers
Swagbucks has tons and tons of "offers" you can complete for points. Some of them are sketchy, but some of them are quick, easy, and painless. I avoid anything that involves downloads or credit cards, but there are plenty of email mailing lists (hint: make a hotmail, etc account just for these types of things) and other random sponsored activities you can do with little trouble. They change often, so I check at least once a week. Lots of "install this Facebook app" ones have popped up lately, so I made a "just for games" FB account to install them. Instant easy points.

Get matching points from people you refer with banners or your referral link (points for their searches only, up to 1000 SB.)

Yes, it involves pestering everyone you know, but if you don't want to do that, just place a link or banner on your blog or website. You never know when someone is going to click it. Try not to spam people. I start by addressing my friends personally, telling them how much I've made from the sites and suggesting they join. If they don't want to, shrug and move on.

shop & earn
Swagbucks gives you 2 SB per dollar spent in certain online shops when you click through to the website via their shop & earn page. The key here is not let this cause impulsive purchases, thus totally defeating the purpose of getting *free* stuff. However, if you shop online often anyway, see if the sites you frequent are listed on the Swagbucks shop & earn area. I get many of my household items (cheaply) from It's a poorly designed site, but occasionally has epic discounts and free sample pack offers (hint: be on their email mailing list and keep an eye out for sample offers and discounts.) If I start by clicking through Swagbucks, I'll get (essentially—see below) 2% back. It takes a month for them to clear (which is kind of annoying), but hey, nice surprise a month later.

These pop up usually at least once a day (mostly on weekdays) somewhere around the Swagbucks site/blog or on their Twitter/FB. You just copy and paste the code and into the box on the homepage. Each code yields a predetermined number of points and is valid for a limited time (usually a couple hours.)

analysis: what are you really earning?
If you exchange your Swagbucks for $5 gift cards (450 SB), that means that each SB is worth $0.011. If you just do those minimal daily tasks, you'll earn $0.033 a day. That sounds like shite, I know, but over the course of a month, you've made $0.99. A rewarding search usually yields between 8-14 sb (you have a greater chance of winning a higher amount on Fridays), and you can get that at least 2-3 times a day. Let's say that without special offers, swagcodes, shopping, or referrals, you can get a minimum of 30 SB per day. That amounts to $9.90 a month. Sounds a little sweeter, right?

To sum up: Play often, get referrals, always check SB shop & earn before making any online purchases, look for swagcodes every few hours, check the special offers once a week or so. Then use your gift cards to buy something useful, like boxed macaroni & cheese.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Joys of Repurposing

It's always inconvenient when you find yourself with a lot of something you don't really need, but a lack of something you do need. When you're broke, you find all kinds of creative ways to hack stuff together. :) Some of my favorites:

coffee mugs
As popular marketing fodder and being small enough to put into your purse at a diner, coffee mugs tend to be very prolific in any given household. If you're like me, you only actually use 1 or 2 favored mugs, so the good news is they can be used to hold just about anything. I have several on my dresser to organize my makeup (my lipsticks are upside down—so the color name is visible—in some short mugs, and my eye and lip liners are in a taller mug), a large one on my desk for my pens and pencils, and a few in my bathroom holding cotton balls and q-tips. I also have a few more in my room holding various small things, like foil-packed medicines and such.

Another thing that springs up all the time. Who doesn't have some lame free radio station t-shirt rotting away in the back of their dresser? There are lots of things you can do with them—if it's ratty, cut it up and make washcloths (you should stop buying sponges anyway, they're a waste and just get throw away). If it's still in good condition, you can use it as a pillowcase (or even sew it up and stuff it to make a real pillow). You can pretty much sew them into anything—tote bags, other clothing items, or use them as stuffing/filler for other projects. A t-shirt-stuffed t-shirt pillow would be awesome. :p

still-good parts of broken stuff
I had this great tea cup and saucer that I picked up for $1.99 at Goodwill. Unfortunately, I broke the tea cup during a move. I still had the perfectly good saucer, so now I'm using it as an incense tray. Small plates or cups with chips or cracks that are otherwise okay can be better used as jewelry/trinket trays.

bottles, cans, jars
Cleaned pasta sauce jars are great for holding stuff like dry beans/lentils, rice, etc. An empty beer can makes an awesome toothbrush holder. A wine bottle can make a great vase or ashtray. (The long neck is perfect for inserting cigarette butts, and the low oxygen environment snuffs them out pretty quickly. Just make sure you've cleaned all the alcohol out first.)

Check out Lifehacker and Instructables for tons of tips and tutorials for repurposing and making your own stuff!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Earn More part 1: ICS

The unfortunately named Instant Cash Sweepstakes is a recent discovery of mine. I normally steer very, very clear of survey-type sites (and anything containing the words "instant" or "sweepstakes"..."cash" I like), but I'm really impressed with this site so far. It's self-contained (no pop-ups or constant redirections), well-designed (unlike every other survey site that hasn't been updated since 1998), quick, easy, and even a little bit fun.

The basic concept of survey sites is you're getting paid a little bit to help with various company's market research. It's usually a mind-numbing clusterfuck trying to fill one out, and then you realise you could have spent the same amount of time rummaging through couch cushions and gotten more money. That's usually when I start breaking stuff.

ICS has only 3 questions per survey, and you can only fill out 5 surveys every three hours. You either get paid in "tickets", "coins" (which you exchange, money (starts at 1-3 cents at a time; increases the higher your level), or a combination thereof.

The best thing? You get rewarded for being smart and answering properly. They have "Trust Levels" which increase with every survey you submit that appears honest (they periodically have surveys which ask you about your profile info to make sure you aren't mindlessly clicking.) If you come across the same survey twice, fill out the same answers each time. You can write surveys, too, which I like. It flexes the writing muscles. :D

I really just wish they had picked a better name. It's like they picked the 3 top words associated with spammy, fake, spyware-laden, pop-up redirection sites. CLICK THE PONY AND GET $100

You know what I'm talking about. Anyway, it's worth a look.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Spend Less part 2: Use less

Okay, duhhh, right? But you'd think such a simple concept wouldn't be lost on so many people. Every time I see someone tear off 14 sheets of toilet paper, blow their nose with the corner of 1 sheet, then chuck it all in the trash, or completely saturate a sponge with dish soap to wash one glass, I want to strangle them. There should be a mandatory kick to the crotch for anyone throwing away food because they took more than they could eat.

The fact is, most people are using more of everyday products than they need to, and throwing away perfectly usable stuff simply out of laziness. Here are some easy tips to help avoid me punching you in the face.

start small
Take the least amount of soap, or shampoo, or tissue, etc possible. You can always add more if you find you need it (you probably won't.) If you can reduce your consumption of household things by half, they will last twice as long.

eat less
The problem of overeating is a rant for another day, but in the meantime, when serving yourself food, use a small bowl or plate and finish that before taking more. Promptly put away leftovers in proper containers (not a ceramic bowl with a sheet of saran wrap over it...that's asking for trouble.)

use all you can
Cut open lotion and toothpaste tubes when they appear to be empty—I guarantee there is still enough inside for at least 3-4 uses. Use bar soap instead of liquid soap (it's cheaper anyway) and save the slivers inside a stocking or washcloth. Bars of deodorant usually have a large chunk stuck in the base after it's "empty"—scrape it out, warm it up, and mold it back into a lump (or better yet, use a rock-type deodorant in the first place! I strongly recommend LUSH's Aromaco. I've had the same tiny piece—that I got for free!—for over a year.) You can do the same thing with lip balm (next time you get a little mint tin or something, save it for this purpose.)

don't waste food...ever
If you find yourself tossing out a lot of expired food every month (or worse...just letting it sit in the fridge to rot), there are a few things you can do. First, take note of the stuff you aren't using, and stop buying that stuff. Second, make small, frequent trips to get groceries, rather than buying a lot at once. Check the dates of everything you buy and try to get stuff that expires later (but don't forget about it during that time!) At least once a month, take inventory of your cupboards and fridge and move near-expiring items to the front.

There is nothing wrong with stocking up on food, especially if you find a great deal on something you like, but remember that NOTHING is truly non-perishable. If you're going to stockpile food, you need to rotate that stock. Saving a bunch of pasta for 2 years becomes wasted money when you finally reach for it and realize that bugs have eaten through the box. Same goes for the tofu you got on sale that rotted in the back of your fridge.

Basically, avoid any kind of unnecessary waste, and think before you put something in the trash. If you overstocked something that you know you aren't going to be able to use, offer it to someone else. They'll probably be very grateful.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Legit Free Stuff part 4: Network!

Networking is a fancy way of saying, "Get a lot of friends who can help you do stuff." I always thought it was just for, you know, "business types", but even just having a big group of friends can open up a lot of doors. Even if you just start a skill-trade with a few people, you can easily acquire things you need (did I mention haircuts?), and offer your own skills without ever exchanging cash.

Many great things have come to me from the connections I've made at my jobs. I got a couch, dresser, vacuum cleaner, and a huge bag of bath stuff from my old manager when she moved back to Japan. Plus, I have several contacts in Japan who can help me out should I find myself there. Keep your eyes and ears open, and remember to give back as good as you get. The karma will come back to you eventually.

Oftentimes, all it takes is just admitting that you're having a hard time financially, and people will want to help you. I've been offered food, rides to work when I didn't have money for train fare, etc. It's less about being a mooch than it is about giving and receiving help—remember that thing about giving back? At the very least, let anyone who does you a favor know how much you truly appreciate it, and let them know that you'll be there for them when they need it.