Christmas Shopping With Fake Money: Time to Get Started

Photo: Carrie Kirby

Last year, I wrote about Christmas shopping for my husband using "fake money" and it generated some excitement among readers who wanted to try it themselves for Christmas 2010. This post is laying down the gauntlet: If you want to shop with fake money for this holiday season, it's time to get moving!

The "fake money" I used last year came from Swagbucks, an Amazon promotional credit, my PayPal balance, store credits, coupons, and free offers. This year, I have a bigger goal: Do all my holiday shopping with fake money.

Why do I feel that I can do this? Well, I have a lot more fake money this year. A little thing called Groupon gained steam since last holiday season, and I have earned many, many Groupon Bucks by promoting the excellent daily deals here and on my other blog. And I have a lot more points called SB from Swagbucks than I had last year too, thanks to readers who have signed up through me. (Seriously. Thanks, readers.)

Here's what I am doing now, before the first green leaf has changed color, to prepare for Dec. 25:

  1. Sign up for free Amazon Prime, which will allow me to ship my fake-money purchases for free. Right now you can get a year of free Prime through Amazon Student (if you have a .edu email address), or three months if you sign up for Amazon Mom. That would end before Christmas, but you can extend it by a month every time you spend $25 on certain products.
  2. Build up my SB. SB earned for your own searches build up gradually over time, but you can really rack them up if you install the toolbar and watch for new Swag Codes to be released, then use those to encourage your friends or contacts on Facebook and Twitter to sign up through you.
  3. Trade in SB for gift cards — and not spending them. Since there are limits on how many gift cards you can redeem during each two-week period and on each day, it's a good idea to start trading in SB for gift cards now in order to shop later.
  4. Watch Groupon with an eye for gifts. Groupon will give you $10 for every new member who signs up through you and makes one purchase — and some deals go for as little as $5. Once you have some credits, keep an eye out for items that will make great gifts. Don't tell the people on my list, but a lot of them will be getting cashews and such from The Nutty Guys this year, since it's been featured several times on various cities' Groupon deals. (There are lots of other daily deal sites too, many of which also pay affiliate fees or credits.)
  5. Accumulating freebies that might go in gift baskets. Even though I'm busier than ever, I still stop into CVS and Walgreens to grab freebies using "the drugstore game," and some of the items I get are quite valued by those I love. My Grandma is notoriously hard to buy for — but her eyes lit up last Christmas when she got my basket of ThermaCare wraps and Metamucil.

So, who's with me? I'd love to hear your ideas on how to Christmas shop for free this year.

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.

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Guest's picture

These are great ways to earn Xmas $$. I left this goal by the wayside but I'm going to pick it up again. I'll have a few Amazon cards, MyPoints gift cards and Lightspeed Panel cards by then, and I've got a ton of stuff from Walgreens for gift baskets, all free or pennies on the dollar. Sadly, ToysRUs is going out of business here so it looks like I'll get some deals on toys too.

Guest's picture

Great stuff. It's also a great way to budget for Christmas and encouraging earning free money if you limit your spending to the fake money...

Guest's picture

Those are some great ideas to cut costs and enjoy the season without having to use debt to finance a holiday! Frugality at its finest! :-)

Guest's picture

Carrie, thank you thank you. I used your concept (from last year), redeeming survey points for gift cards as straight up gifts for always-cash-strapped-relatives. So thanks, your system really works.

(We have 22 family members to buy for this round and less than $275, including postage, to pull it off. Postage is the killer. If anyone has any ideas on that one, I'm game. Actually we're cutting costs to about 90% by using older gummed stamps from Henry Gitner on the boxes. Not sure how the post office guys will take it, but it is legal. Until now they liked us.)

Here are a few other methods we've used. Look for freebies throughout the year. Wisebread, for one, has daily deal offerings. These made a nice goody package for my bro in law's dog last Christmas. Free with rebate items (jump drives in this case) worked well for the college aged niece and nephew. Free with purchase items became stocking stuffers. We combine low cost/free items with traditional home made goodies. (Some old fashioned treats like watermelon rind pickle, candied orange peel, and apple peel jelly transform things you'd normally toss and are really good.)

Normally, baking money comes from grocery cash or ingredients squirreled away over time. Presentation packaging is collected after Christmas at crazily discounted prices. So even though not free, it's fairly painless.

Also, not totally free but pretty close... Last year I brewed dandelion wine for the first time. (No fancy equipment or speciality yeasts.) Lovely. This year's batch went into pretty recycled glass bottles, decorated with computer generated labels (plain paper trimmed and attached with left over clear contact paper), then nestled into wooden cheese boxes surrounded by excelsior. The only real costs were the raisons, lemon, orange, sugar, and lots of time. Other items were on hand.

Guest's picture

I save up gift cards throughout the year and cash out points from sites like Mypoints and Cokerewards for gifts. It really helps with my Christmas budget!


Guest's picture
Sharon Moore

MyPoints has always been my way of shopping with fake money. I managed to get about $300 worth of gift cards last year; half from just reading emails alone, some from answering surveys, and the rest through small purchases throughout the year. As a person who's been on a 2-year lay off, I found that I was at least able to give cards to at least 5 close family members and keep one for myself.

Guest's picture

To those who have shopped with points and other "fake money," I'm now doing a column on this for the Chicago Tribune. I'd love it if you could email me to share more details about your own personal "fake money" shopping stores. ckirby at tribune dotcom.