Personal Finance, Saving Money

Getting Household Items Without Touching Your Cash: Strange Spending

Like most people, I used to factor groceries, toiletries, and household items into my regular budget. The cost of those items had to be deducted from my cash flow. That was before I discovered how to pay for most of my household needs without ever dipping into my regular income. Thanks to online surveys and, I haven’t paid for very many household items in several years.

I’ve been doing surveys and focus groups for many years. When I first started, I just did the sites that pay a few cents per survey. That was really a waste of my time, but every so often I would get invited to participate in a special focus group that paid more. Many of these focus groups pay in gift cards. I’m also fortunate that my main occupation makes me a good candidate for many other types of focus groups that pay very well. Some pay cash, but most pay in Amazon cards. After a while it got to the point where I was earning more Amazon cards than I could spend. I only need so many books or DVD’s, so I went looking for other things I could buy at Amazon.

In recent years Amazon has enlarged their selection of food, toiletries, pet items, and household items like cleansers and detergents. Since these are things I always need, I started using my gift cards to buy them. Within about a year, I had reduced the amount of money that was coming out of my “regular” income to buy household items by about half. Lately the amount coming out of my regular budget has been about a quarter of what it used to be. This leaves me a lot more cash to save and spend on other things.

Now, you can argue that it’s all income and it doesn’t really matter where it comes from, I’m still spending the same amount. That’s true. I’m still spending $X on groceries and household items. The total number spent hasn’t really changed. But because I’m able to spend gift cards, I’m able to keep my cash and put it in savings or direct it toward other bills. When the novelty of the gift cards wore off and I had bought about all the “fun” stuff I wanted to buy, the cards were piling up without getting used. That was money that I couldn’t use in any other way and, until I discovered that I could buy other things I needed from Amazon, it was going to waste. Now I can make full use of both the cards and my cash. I still save up gift cards sometimes for something fun like a new iPod or a video game, but buying things I need is a great use for this extra income.

(I use the same philosophy when paying for much of my travel. If a site or group doesn’t offer Amazon cards, I will redeem for gas or restaurant cards that I can set aside until I travel. Then I break them out and use them for my travel expenses, greatly reducing the amount of cash I need to use.)

It’s all income, but by directing the types of income to their best uses, I’m able to better manage my cash while still getting the things I need. It requires a little extra work for me to earn this money, but many of the things I’m asked to do don’t take longer than a half an hour and some pay as much as $100. Now that I can use gift cards to cover some of my basic needs, it frees up my cash to do other, more important things. It beats letting the gift cards sit in a drawer and gather dust, resulting in unusable income.

This is part of a new series of articles which look at strange, offbeat and unusual ways to save and make money. Anything that’s a little odd, uncommon, or contrarian is fair game – as long as it’s legal.

15 thoughts on “Getting Household Items Without Touching Your Cash: Strange Spending

  1. I get most of my gift cards through swagbucks. I try to buy things that are “spend to save” items like indoor herb gardens. I think I might start saving the rest for the holiday season.

  2. Can you mail me on where you are doing these surveys and focus groups?

    I have done a few local focus groups for $75-150, but I don’t meet the criteria for them now.

  3. The author takes efforts to write such an article, without mentioning the website where she takes mentioned surveys. Isn’t it a shortcoming of this article?

  4. I would also love to know more about the focus groups the author is doing. I have done in person focus groups but often I have to decline the invitation because they are held during my work hours.

    Can you email me the details for the companies you do online focus groups with?

  5. Please e-mail me the sites that you use. Sometimes I hesitate to do that stuff because it can create more trouble than it is worth. Its hard to know what sites are truly helpful and which ones waste your time and distribute your personal information all over.

  6. I would like to know what survey sites you go to because I tried one survey site that took a long time to get through and there was some bogus reward at the end. Now they email me about 10 times a day. Drives me nuts!

  7. I used to do surveys that sent me $25-50 checks, but after awhile didn’t hear from them, but I sure loved getting that money. I think it is great to earn money that way and find wise ways to spend it. I try and cash in all available rewards around September or October to be able to use for Christmas presents or for date night splurges.

    Another off beat way is to communicate with the websites of your favorite foods, etc. I got 6 coupons in the mail the other day for free full sized products. The is also money that stays in the budget, not being spent.

    There are so many wonderful ways to make money on line these days which can be very helpful to those who are staying at home by choice or lay-off. It would be good if you could do an article on these sites too.

  8. What a coincidence. My wife and I were just talking about this today. I also do a lot of surveys that pay me in Amazon credit. We buy the occasional book or DVD and a couple of other things, but I never seem to be able to find enough on Amazon to use the credit I am building up. Counting a gift card I will get shortly, I now have $1,000 in credit in my Amazon account. I told my wife (and daughter) today that we really need to start looking to Amazon before we buy anything that isn’t needed right away. They sell virtually everything so if we can shift spending from Target or WalMart or even the supermarket to Amazon, we can use that credit without it costing us anything out of pocket, which would then free up that money for other uses, just like the author here describes.

    While at WalMart today, we looked at a car charger for our iPhones. It was $23. I went onto the Amazon app while I was standing there and found an even better one for $3.98 so I ordered it. Bingo. Credit used and money saved in the process.

    When I got home, I added an order for some socks and underwear rather than buying them from WalMart. Mundane every day stuff but why spend cash or put it on our credit card if I can use the gift card credit I already have?

  9. Sorry for not replying! Summer vacation and all…

    Anyway, the site I use the most for the lower paying surveys is They have many different survey opportunities each day. You can choose to cash out for Amazon or many other gift cards or PayPal. The thing is, it’s sometimes these lower paying surveys that are “screeners” for the higher paying, ongoing, focus groups. So, sometimes you may do a single survey, get paid the .75 or whatever from QuickRewards and then be offered to participate in a group that goes on for a year or longer and pays you $20-30 per month in amazon cards or more. I’m currently enrolled in five of these type of groups. You can also get these types of screener surveys from other sites like Opinion, Global Test Market, Sunshine Rewards, Survey Savvy, My Survey, and others. Go to Survey Police for a listing of survey site and recommendations as to their reliability. Sometimes the cheaper surveys are just one time surveys and yes, sometimes you do get burned with these sites, but sometimes you “hit gold” and get into a better paying focus groups. It’s hit or miss and your mileage may vary. I’m usually in at least four of five of these things each year, though, so as one ends I usually get lucky enough to get into another. They are out there, but they may not be easy to find or your demographics may not match whatever they are looking for.

    Unfortunately, the groups/projects that pay me the most (upwards of $100) are not the kind of thing I can publish. They are offered to me directly by manufacturers or vendors in my industry and are not open to the public. My main occupation makes me someone that they want to talk to and test products for them. I get invited through email, snail mail, or sometimes at conferences or meetings. I just sort of stumbled into this kind of thing. If you’re high up in your occupation or in charge of choosing products for your business, it can’t hurt to sign up to be contacted by manufacturers in your industry, or to look around at conferences, etc. to see if anyone is setting up focus groups. Read your junk mail, too, because sometimes something that looks like a product pitch may be an invitation to do a survey or join a panel.

    Hope this helps some of you.

  10. If you have a huge stack of Amazon gift certificates that you can’t use/have already given some away, why not make money with them on one of those other gift card resale sites? Even if it’s a $25 card that you sell for $20, it’s cash. Or if there’s another type of item you’d like, from another store/restaurant, trade it on one of those gift card sites.

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