I Went Christmas Shopping With Fake Money
Of all the post-holiday letdowns, the one I hate the most isn't the scale or the January weather or the household clutter: It's getting that credit card bill and finding out what my Christmas gifts from my spouse cost us.
In the spirit of avoiding that particular letdown, my husband and I made a new pledge this year: No use of the marital credit card to buy each other's presents. Instead, we would try to come up with gifts for one another completely off the books, using "fake money" like rewards points, rebates, store credits, pocket change, PayPal balances and coupons. Or we could make gifts for one another, but with three little kids running around, neither one of us has much time to be crafty.
I was about 97% successful in shopping for my husband with fake money. He was somewhat successful in shopping for me that way, and he's still working on it -- he bought himself an extension by transferring some money from our savings account to his PayPal account, and is hoping to pay it back if and when some of his items listed on Ebay sell.
I got my husband a video game worth about $60, a CD worth $8 , some bungee cords worth $8, and a cool wireless photo card worth about $60. Also, I filled his stocking with candy and nuts. And hey, I just remembered that I FORGOT to give him a $22 bag of Kona coffee I hid away in the freezer (bought on Free Shipping Day and with a rebate). Not an extravagant haul (I was much more spoiled, since besides a few modest gifts I received a long coveted Kindle e-book reader.), but not exactly lump of coal territory either.
Here is how I bought that stuff while only using about $3 of "real money":
- Swagbucks. Late last year, I signed up for this program, which pays you to let Web search data aggregators eavesdrop on your Google searches. After about 14 months, I had accumulated around 700 "SwagBucks," which I traded in for Amazon gift cards. I also transferred a little money to PayPal. I ended up getting $65 in Amazon gift cards, which paid for the video game, part of the CD, and I think something else I got for someone else. (The remaining $3 of the CD, which was marked down to $5 in an Amazon Lightning Deal, was the only money I spent on our credit card.)
- Amazon Promotional Credit: I took advantage of one of Amazon's free magazine offers, where you can send in a form to request a credit for the value of the subscription instead. This put a $10 credit on my account, which allowed me to buy a pack of bungee cords marked down to $7.99 on another Amazon Lightning Deal.
- PayPal: While my husband and I agreed that we would not use payment from our regular jobs, we each had received payments for random small transactions through PayPal. For instance, the pittance that I earn through Google Ads for my personal blog goes into PayPal, as do the payments and reimbursements I get for occasional mystery shopping jobs. Any Ebay sales we make also go into PayPal. (Confession: There was some money laundering going on here. I paid for several mystery shopping transactions and postage on an Ebay sale with our credit cards, but was reimbursed via PayPal.) I used PayPal to get the photo card and the coffee for my husband.
- Store Credits: I used Register Rewards to buy a can of peanuts and some chocolates, I used CVS Extra Bucks to get him a huge Reece's Peanut Butter cup, and I used a $5 Catalina coupon at Jewel-Osco along with a coupon to get him some pistachios.
- Coupons: I used $10 Fannie May coupon from the Sunday paper to get him half a pound of fancy chocolates (and paid the $1.50 remaining after the coupon with pocket change), combined manufacturer's coupons with a Walgreen's store coupon to get some free Toblerone bars, and used "buy one, get one free" Reece's coupons with a "buy one, get one free" sale to get some of those for free. I also gave my husband another $10 Fannie May coupon to spend on me, and while I was typing this I ate some of the half pound of chocolate-covered caramels it bought. Thanks, Epu, and thanks Fannie May, because these things are friggin' delicious!
I also used fake money to get gifts for some other people on our list; there were plentiful free photo items available through Shutterfly, Kodak Gallery and others, as well as various $10 off a purchase of $10 or more at stores. And, I got all our wrapping supplies for free: wrapping paper and tape from the Hallmark store using the generous $5 off $5 or more coupons they put out (now expired), and tissue paper and gift tags from CVS during a free-after-Extra-Bucks offer.
Meanwhile, my husband got me several books from his office book exchange without spending any cash. As for the Kindle and other goodies he got me, he did use cash and the cash transferred to his PayPal, but is planning to replace it. I have to cut him some slack since, as a frugal blogger, I hunt down bargains and freebies as my job, while he is stuck in an office most of the day and many evenings to boot.
I feel that this experiment in fake money shopping was successful, so we're going to go for it again next year, this time with a whole year to plan. Actually, we might try to get one another's birthday gifts with "fake money" as well. I'd love to get to the point where I could fund ALL my Christmas shopping with fake money; I'm not counting on it, but who knows? Here are some unturned stones that we could still try:
- Resale income: I actually brought a bunch of maternity and children's clothing over to our local consignment shop in order to generate cash for my husband's gifts, but I have not yet collected the proceeds. Assuming I make a little cash there, I'll set it aside for future gifts. Also, I haven't gotten around to putting various household stuff up for sale.
- Referral program earnings. I recently started referring friends to Alice.com, the Web site where you can buy toilet paper and stuff for regular prices and have it delivered free. I haven't earned a ton from this -- $21 in the first month -- but over the course of the year this could certainly add up to another video game. Another referral program that I haven't tried but want to is children's clothing seller Boden, which pays you $5 in store credit for every friend's address you hand over. Just click the "Recommend to a Friend" link on the upper right of the Boden home page to get in on this program, and of course don't be spamming people!
- Rebates: I have been shopping through Ebates, Mr. Rebates and Shop at Home whenever I buy online, so I'm starting to have small balances accrue in those accounts. Most of them pay a check when you hit $20 or so.
All these little rebates and such don't seem much when they trickle in. That's why I like the idea of saving them all for one purpose -- they certainly seem worth the effort when I put them together and am able to make my husband happy without spending any of our hard-earned paychecks.
If any readers out there used creative means to gift their spouses this year, be it crafts, money laundering or the ever-appreciated "backrub coupon," I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
Disclosure: I used my referral links to the various stores and reward programs I used, so if you would like to sign up for any of them through this post, I will receive a small payment or credit. And then I'll have more virtual pocket change to apply to the hubby's gifts next year, so I should really have him write you all some thank-you notes!