Smart Buying

Easy Ways to Earn Cash Back When Holiday Shopping

Give yourself the gift of saving by taking advantage of cash-back sites, apps, credit cards and rebates.

Wouldn't it be nice if you got paid every time you bought something during the holidays? Well, you can—if you shop right. In fact, there's more than one way to earn cash back on purchases during the holidays, when the average shopper is expected to spend $805 to celebrate the season, according to the National Retail Federation.

"This time of year, you'll see a big storewide discount, and if you're making a fairly big purchase, that's when the cash back can really pay off," says Brent Shelton, founder of deal site FatWallet.com. "The more you're spending, the more cash you're gonna get back."

Cash-Back Web Sites

Almost half of your holiday shopping is likely being done online. And all it takes is a couple of extra clicks to save using cash-back Web sites, such as Ebates, FatWallet.com and Splender, which allow you to recoup a portion of the money you spend on qualifying purchases. Simply register for free with each site. Then, click on any of the sites' retail partners to start shopping. If you buy something, the cash-back site earns a commission and shares part of it with you.

Cash-back deals vary greatly, so how much you stand to earn while shopping depends on a lot of factors. You can beef up savings by shopping around and buying based on the best deals you find. (Plus, you can combine cash-back rewards with coupons and other discounts to score even bigger savings.) For example, on FatWallet in early December, we found cash-back rewards ranging from less than 1% at Victoria's Secret to 27.5% at Angie's List. Some retailers offer rewards in dollar amounts rather than percentages. Verizon, for example, was offering $150 cash back in early December.

How do you get paid? All three sites mentioned earlier issue payments by check or through PayPal. At Ebates, you can also opt to send your cash-back check to a charity, organization or family member.

When do you get paid? It depends on the merchant. It may credit your account within 48 hours of purchase, but it can also take up to 90 days to do so. If it's been more than 30 days, you should check in with the cash-back site. At Ebates, once the credit is available you get paid quarterly whenever you earn more than $5. With FatWallet.com, you can request a payment any time you have accumulated $10 or more. Splender holds your cash-back for 45 days, in case you return the purchase. After that, you get paid on the last business day of every month, if you've earned $10 or more.

Cash-Back Mobile Apps

If you prefer to do your shopping on the move, try a free cash-back app. FatWallet's Cash Back mobile app works just like its site, but is more focused on shopping by store rather than by deal. The Ibotta mobile app is different. You have to complete "fun tasks," such as answering survey questions, watching video ads and checking out recipes, in order to unlock possible cash-back rewards before you do your shopping. Then, if you're shopping online, you select the store you want to go to and click the button to get a redemption link emailed to you. Once you get the email from Ibotta, click on the link to open the retailer's site and start shopping.

Your cash-back rewards typically appear in your account within seven days, but again may take up to 90 days to clear, depending on the merchant. You can collect your cash back from Ibotta via PayPal or Venmo, once you've earned at least $20, or in the form of gift cards starting at $10 from iTunes, Starbucks or other select retailers.

You can also use Ibotta when shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. After you do your in-person shopping, you have to verify your purchase by scanning the barcode on the item and submitting a photo of your receipt. If you buy through one of Ibotta's preferred partners, you can skip the receipt pic.

One warning about Ibotta: If you don't use the app for a year, you are subject to inactivity fees of $3.99 a month, which will be drawn from any earned cash-back rewards available in your account. (If you have a zero balance in your account, you won't get hit with fees.) You can avoid these fees simply by unlocking rebates. Otherwise, you should cancel your account.

Cash-Back Credit Cards

Your credit card might also offer cash-back rewards. According to CardHub.com, a credit-card research firm, cash-back amounts have been on the rise, up 14% in the last quarter of 2014 over the same period a year earlier.

Kiplinger's picks for the best cash-back credit cards are the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card and the Citi Double Cash card. The AmEx card pays 6% cash back on up to $6,000 a year in supermarket spending, 3% on gas and retail purchases, and 1% on everything else. It comes with a $75 annual fee, though. The Citi card pays 1% any time you use it and another 1% when you pay the bill, for a total of 2% cash back on all of your spending.

Mail-In Rebates

Yet another way to earn cash back from your holiday shopping is by taking advantage of mail-in rebates. For big-ticket items, Shelton says mail-in rebates are typically for $25 or $50. Smaller rewards might be as little as $5. You can even find free-after-rebate deals, usually available for computer software. For example, at Newegg.com, if you purchase McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2015 online before December 19, it costs $29. But after you mail in the rebate form with the original UPC barcode from the bottom of the box, you get back a $29 prepaid Visa card—essentially bringing your purchase price down to $0.

Most Popular

2021 Child Tax Credit Calculator
Tax Breaks

2021 Child Tax Credit Calculator

See how much money you'll get in advance under the new child tax credit rules for 2021.
April 14, 2021
Monthly Payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Begin in July
Coronavirus and Your Money

Monthly Payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Begin in July

After doubts about whether it was up to the task, the IRS says it's on schedule to start sending monthly child tax credit payments this summer.
April 13, 2021
Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs
Coronavirus and Your Money

Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs

People have lots of questions about the new $3,000 or $3,600 child tax credit and the advance payments that the IRS will send to most families in 2021…
April 14, 2021

Recommended

6 Money-Smart Ways to Spend Your Third Stimulus Check
Coronavirus and Your Money

6 Money-Smart Ways to Spend Your Third Stimulus Check

If you don't have to use your third stimulus check for basic necessities, consider putting the money to work for you. You'll thank yourself later.
March 20, 2021
36 Best Amazon Prime Benefits to Use in 2021
Smart Buying

36 Best Amazon Prime Benefits to Use in 2021

At $119 for Amazon Prime, get your money's worth by taking full advantage of your membership. Here's a list of the best Prime perks.
March 17, 2021
What to Do When One Spouse Spends Too Much in Retirement
spending

What to Do When One Spouse Spends Too Much in Retirement

If one partner takes a less conservative approach to money, it can wreak havoc on a marriage. But the problem can be addressed by agreeing on bigger f…
February 10, 2021
Refer a Friend to Your Bank or Credit Card—and Reap Rewards
Making Your Money Last

Refer a Friend to Your Bank or Credit Card—and Reap Rewards

Some major card issuers are giving referral bonuses to eligible cardholders.
January 27, 2021