Imagine you are taking the trash out and you find a trail of gift cards leading to a giant tree sprouting $10 bills. What would you do with that kind of discovery?
Money may not grow on trees, but it’s about that easy to collect free gift cards — and even cash — without doing anything outside of your normal routine. Every time you shop for the things you need, there is an opportunity to earn gift cards or cash to buy the things you want.
How to earn free gift cards and cash
There are several strategies you can use to get rewarded in gift cards or earn cash back when you shop. And the best part is, these opportunities require almost no effort on your part. Think of them like your generous uncle who always sent something of value in your birthday cards each year. Following these tips is as easy as running to the mailbox to get the card.
Use rewards apps and sites
Several rewards apps and sites actually pay you for shopping. Some require that you scan your receipts, while others don’t even require that you spend money in the stores you visit at all. Some pay you in gift cards, while others pay you in cash. What do they have in common? They’re all super easy to use and offer generous rewards.
With Ibotta, you can pay directly with the app to earn cash back instantly at over 30 retailers. Just enter your checkout amount in the app at qualifying retailers and present your gift card code to the cashier to earn up to 10% off instantly. It works at places like AMC, Sephora, Bed Bath & Beyond, and more.
You can also add offers to the Ibotta app to shop at more than 300 retailers and either scan your receipt or link your loyalty account to get cash back. Or, use Ibotta to shop online at more than 140 retailers.
Rakuten (formerly Ebates) is an impressive site because it’s affiliated with more than 2,500 stores, and that includes major retailers like Amazon, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Walmart. You can get up to 40% cash back when you shop online just by visiting Rakuten’s site first and clicking through to the store you want to visit. You’ll even get a $10 bonus just for signing up. You can see how much you’ve earned in your account, and you’ll get paid out quarterly either by check or PayPal.
With Dosh, you just link your credit card on the app and shop as you normally would, in-store or online. It’s that easy! It’s super secure, and you’ll earn up to 10% back at thousands of retailers and restaurants. You can even travel with Dosh and earn up to 40% back on hotel stays. And you’ll get paid for referring your friends. Cash-out via PayPal, transfer money into your bank account, or donate to charity from the app.
When you use ShopKick, you can earn points (called kicks) for doing a number of shopping-related activities. You don’t even need to spend to earn. Once you collect enough kicks, you’ll be able to redeem them for free gift cards for stores like Target, Starbucks, and Amazon. Here are some of the things you can do to earn kicks:
- Visiting stores
- Scanning barcodes
- Watching videos
- Making online purchases
- Linking a credit card and shopping in store
- Shopping in store and submitting a receipt
The amount of kicks you earn depends on the task and the retailer.
With Swagbucks, you can earn rewards for watching videos, taking online surveys, and shopping online. Redeem your points for free gift cards to stores like Walmart and Amazon or cash through PayPal. The best part is, you’ll get a $10 bonus just for signing up, and it’s totally free to use. The points you earn depends on the activity. Redemption values start as low as 300 Swagbucks for gift cards, a $3 value, so you won’t have to wait too long to be rewarded.
Apply for a cash back card
One of the easiest ways to rack up extra cash quickly is to apply for a cashback credit card. And with continued use, you’ll reap the rewards beyond the welcome offer. You’ll need a good credit score to take advantage of most cards out there, but plenty of the best cashback credit cards have no annual fee and allow you to get cash back on everyday purchases. Used in conjunction with the apps and sites we mentioned above, a cash back credit card can be an especially lucrative tool. Here are some of our favorites:
|Card name||Welcome offer||Rewards rate|
|Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card||Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening||1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day; and 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel (terms apply)|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back||5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases|
|Chase Freedom Flex℠||Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening||5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories you activate (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery service); and 1% cash back on all other purchases|
|Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||Earn a one-time $200 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening||3% cash back on dining and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), popular streaming services, and entertainment; 5% back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases; 10% cash back on purchases made through Uber & Uber Eats (through 11/14/2024); and 1% cash back on all other purchases|
Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card
With unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases, this is an excellent choice for everyday spending. There’s a $0 annual fee and a 0% introductory APR for new purchases for 15 months (then 19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)), which can make it helpful if you want to avoid high interest.
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
This card offers up to 5% cash back. The welcome offer is particularly generous — new cardholders earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back. There’s a $0 annual fee and a 0% introductory APR on purchases during the first 15 months (then 20.49% - 29.24% Variable) with this card. It's a great choice for anyone who wants to earn serious cash, but it’s especially useful if you already have a Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card, since you can transfer your points to your premium card to make them more valuable.
Chase Freedom Flex℠
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ is a great card for a user who keeps track of their spending and doesn’t mind activating the bonus categories each month. The bonus categories are often places you would spend a lot of money anyway, like gas stations and grocery stores.
You can earn 5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories you activate (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery service); and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus there’s a $0 annual fee, a 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 15 months (then 20.49%-29.24% Variable), and contactless pay for users who are always on the go.
Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
This card is a unique card that has a $0 annual fee and is great for people who enjoy dining and entertainment. That’s because you’ll get 3% cash back on dining and at grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart® and Target®), popular streaming services, and entertainment; 5% back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel; 8% cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases; 10% cash back on purchases made through Uber & Uber Eats (through 11/14/2024); and 1% cash back on all other purchases. There’s also a 0% introductory APR on purchases for the first 15 months (then 19.99% - 29.99% (Variable)).
How to maximize your rewards
Now that you know all about the cash back credit cards and rewards apps available to you, let’s discuss how to make money using these tools.
Use multiple apps
Since some of the apps we discussed reward you differently and not all apps cover the same retailers, make sure you’ve got a few in your arsenal and are using them strategically. For example, if you’re about to make an online purchase at Target, you should check to see which app or site is going to give you the best return on your spending.
Use multiple cards
Different credit cards are best for different types of spending, so you should have at least one everyday card and one specialty card in your wallet. For example, you might use the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card to pay for your night out and get 3% back, but if you use it for your bills as well, you’ll only get 1% back for those transactions. That’s why you should have an everyday card with a more lucrative rewards rate.
Having multiple cards in your wallet won’t do you any good if you don’t use them strategically, so choose your credit card wisely for every purchase.
Use credit cards to pay your monthly bills
Assuming there are no fees involved, use your credit card to pay necessary expenses like healthcare costs and utility bills. These costs can add up quickly, and so will your rewards if you use your card wisely.
Get the most value out of your points
While it might be appealing to use your credit card points for gift cards, sometimes the value is not as great as if you were to use your points for a statement credit or for travel. Always do the math to make sure you’re getting the highest possible value out of your points redemption.
Always pay your balance in full
Paying interest on a credit card negates the potential for rewards, so pay your balance in full whenever possible. Budget and save for large purchases so you can put them on your credit card and avoid paying interest. It can be easy to lose sight of your budget during that 0% introductory APR period, but don’t fall into that trap. Always make sure you’re on track to pay your balance in full once the introductory period is over.
The bottom line
While you need to use a little strategy to get the most out of cash back credit cards and rewards programs, the ongoing effort needed to learn how to save money is minimal. Spend a few minutes deciding which app you’ll use for which stores and which card you’ll use for which purchases, and you can pretty much proceed on autopilot from there. Happy shopping!
Seriously Powerful Cashback Card
Chase Freedom Flex℠
Earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
5% cash back on rotating quarterly categories you activate (on up to $1,500 spent) and travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery service); and 1% cash back on all other purchases