Ebates doesn’t pay me to write blog posts, but they really do pay me to shop!

Christmas is fast approaching, and while the arrival of my new baby has set me back in the planning/shopping department, I’m happy to say my gift budget is still intact. This isn’t because I have the abundant resources and superior discipline required to squirrel away a portion of each paycheck in preparation for the holidays. And it certainly isn’t because I earn extra income from writing a blog (I don’t…not yet anyway. Note the lapses between post dates and the lack of advertisements in the margins of my site). No, the only way I’ve managed to dedicate a separate pool of money to our annual Christmas shopping is by earning cash back on all of the transactions we make throughout the year.

One of the best ways to get cash back from purchases made online is through Ebates, a site that offers varying percentages of cash back at different online retailers. They compile your total cash back, and send you a quarterly check with your earnings. It really is that simple, and most of the time, it’s the way to go**.

Signing up is simple, just go to ebates.com, choose your gift card bonus, and enter your email address. Yes, I said gift card bonus. I was skeptical about joining at first because I thought this had to be a scam, but I assure it is not. You will receive a gift card after you’ve made purchases through the site totaling $25 or more. I chose the $10 Target gift card myself, because Target is where I do most of my couponing. After you enter your email address, a field will appear for you to create a password, and there will be a clickable question ‘did someone refer you?’ You can click here and enter the email address of a friend who already uses Ebates to help that friend earn a special cash back bonus. If none of your friends use Ebates, please feel free to say I referred you: ilaughed@thatsnotmustard.com. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a special cash back bonus, but a referral is not required in order to sign up.

After submitting this information and clicking ‘Join’, you’ll be directed to the Ebates home page, where you’ll see how much cash back you can earn at each participating retailer. There is currently a promotion going on with double cash back being offered at several stores. I don’t recognize all of them, but a few of my favorites are there. Just click on the store where you’d like to shop, then click ‘shop now’ to proceed to that site. Conduct your transaction the way you normally would, and the cash will be added to your Ebates account within a few days!

On the Ebates home page, you can see your account information halfway down in the column on the right. The money will show up as your ‘cash pending,’ and when the quarter ends, if your pending cash exceeds $5, you’ll be getting a check (humorously referred to by the site as a Big Fat Check, even if it is only for $6). If your pending cash does not exceed $5, the money will roll over into the next quarter. The only other information you’ll need to enter is your address so they can mail your gift card and your check.

**I once came across a price that no longer applied when I accessed the store’s site through Ebates, but the difference between the two prices was roughly equivalent to the value of the cash back. I’ve also noticed that on some purchases, I can earn more cash back by going through my credit card mall (I’ll explain more about this in a future post). There are a select few retailers I use who are not available through Ebates, but I’ve still found the site to be worth checking every time I make an online purchase. Lastly, there are a few exceptions to the cash back rules, ie purchases made online but picked up from the merchant store do not always earn you cash back, and rewards from the purchase of subscription services won’t be applied until the final payment for the subscription is made. There always has to be fine print involved, but none of this strikes me as actually being a catch. Considering the fact you never pay anything to use Ebates, the absolute worst case scenario is that you’ll earn fewer cash back dollars than you’d hoped for.

If you haven’t already discovered Ebates, I hope you’ll join in time to use it for your holiday shopping. You won’t get rich by any means, but it’s money you wouldn’t have had otherwise, and in my experience, four quarters’ worth of Big Fat Checks goes a long way toward providing Christmas gifts for my family.