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  • Ways to Make and Save Money #8: Instant Cash Sweepstakes

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    You can read the rest of the Ways to Make & Save Money series here.

    Instant Cash Sweepstakes is a market research site that offers cash payouts for taking surveys. The payouts are tiny – 1 to 4 cents, usually per session (you can take multiple surveys per session; the number per session varies). You can cash out via PayPal when you have at least $2 in your account. Each survey earns you “tickets,” which are entries into a daily $50 lottery, and “coins,” which you can use to buy more tickets.

    Some of the surveys are true market research. Most of the surveys are kind of silly, and written by other ICS users. And the rest of the surveys are used to gauge your truthfulness – ICS gives you a “TrustScore,” which you’ll see displayed at the top right corner. I’m not quite sure how it works, since I started with a 9, went down to a 6, and finally got back to a 10.

    It took me a little less than three weeks to reach the $2 payout level for the first time, and my money was in my PayPal account within hours. ICS definitely won’t make you rich, but it’s not a bad way to spend a few minutes a day if you believe, like I do, that every penny adds up.

    Plus, by inviting people to join ICS, you’ll increase your payout because you’ll receive 100% matching of their prizes. So, if they win 4 cents, you win 4 cents. If they win the $50, you’ll win the $50. In fact, Kimberly of My Good Cents has won $700 since last April. This is no longer the case, alas.

    If you’re new to ICS, I’d love it if you’d sign up using my referral link – your pennies + my pennies will help me reach my savings goal that much faster. Thank you!

    Updated: 10/4/2011

    Morning Coffee: Look for a Daily Grill deal

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    The Daily Grill has locations throughout Southern California, and in other areas of the country as well. I’m never around to be able to post the info in a timely fashion, so I’ll just tell you to keep an eye on the Daily Grill Twitter feed today and every Tuesday. They generally have a Twitter phrase of the day that gets you a deal in the restaurant (dine-in only, I think). In the past, they’ve given out free dessert and free burgers, so if you like the Daily Grill, Tuesday is the day to go.

    I keep wondering when Amazon’s Holiday Toy Lightning Dealsare going to end, but today is not that day. Today’s deals just started with Strawberry Shortcake, and will continue with Transformers at 8 a.m. PST, a tea set at 9 a.m., and Star Trek at 2 p.m. The last deal of the day will be at 4 p.m. I finally gave in yesterday and picked up the Twilight Board Game and New Moon Board Gamefor $3.99 each (unfortunately, the New Moon game is back up to $14.99 now). The games would make for a fun girls night in!

    Reminder: This is the last week to get free-after-rebate batteries at Staples. The rebate checks should be mailed in January.

    CalItalian at SlickDeals explains how to make $10 while buying 8 bottles of Smirnoff Vodka.

    Check your email for an offer from Snapfish – I got one for a free 11×14 calendar collage poster when you buy a gift certificate from Snapfish. Because there’s no code needed, I think only people who got the email and click through that link may receive the poster. I am thinking of ordering myself a gift certificate, since I can easily spend $10 at Snapfish during the next year. (The offer expires 12/24.)

    Download the song “I Don’t Really Hate Christmas” from the Phineas & Ferb soundtrack for free from Walmart. (Via Frugal Dr. Mom.)

    Frugal Hacks reports that you can earn bonus money from Associated Content if you post new articles before year’s end.

    Consumerism Commentary shows that if you own your own business, it really pays to have a professional look things over.

    Five Cent Nickel has a list of codes for free in-flight internet service on various airlines.

    Common Sense with Money explains how you can get two $5 off Huggies diaper coupons.

    Get a printable coupon for 20% off at The GAP – it expires 1/30/10, so you can use it in the after-Christmas sales. (Via Bargain Briana, whom I want to thank for letting me win free Snapfish prints!)

    Get a printable buy one, get one free coupon for Steaz tea (redeemable at Target only). Expires 2/28/10. (Via Swag Grabber.)

    Coupon Geek has links to some good printable coupons, like Chinet and Skinny Cow.

    A blog I’ve been reading for years – Fabulous Financials – is no more, but for all the right reasons. Single Ma’s pretty much achieved all of her financial goals! I’ll miss her though. Good luck, Single Ma!

    Free Money from Lending Club

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    I haven’t mentioned peer to peer lending in a while, mainly because I haven’t been thinking much about investing. As a refresher, peer to peer lending sites allow people like you and me to lend money to other people like you and me. The borrowers sometimes can’t get loans through traditional means (like from banks), or sometimes they’re just looking for a better rate. Lenders can pick and choose who they want to lend to, taking on the risk that they’re comfortable with.

    I mentioned Lending Club a while back, when they gave me some money to play with as a lender. I invested conservatively, in borrowers with the highest grades and therefore the lowest risk. So far, they’ve all paid consistently and my rate of return is over 8% – pretty awesome in this economy.

    Now, Lending Club wants to give everyone money. Right now, when you sign up to be a lender, Lending Club will deposit $64.62 into your account for you to invest (because bank profits were $6.462 billion last quarter). Last time I checked, you only needed a minimum of $25 to invest in a loan (investments are pooled until they total the amount requested by the borrower), so you could invest in two loans with the bonus money and find out what peer to peer lending is like for yourself. Some restrictions apply (for instance, residents of certain states cannot become lenders). Offer expires 12/31.

    Disclosure: The email I received from Lending Club instructs me to tell you to use this referral link so you can get the bonus, but as far as I can tell, I don’t benefit from it.

    Review and sign up opportunity: Pinecone Research

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    Update: I’m sorry, but it appears the link is no longer working and that they are no longer accepting new members. However, given your interest, I will definitely let you know when I get another email like this!

    I first heard of Pinecone Research several years ago, in a very positive way – they paid $5 per survey and always paid in a timely, reliable fashion. I think it was the first time I’d heard about getting paid for doing surveys online, and I was intrigued, but Pinecone membership was restricted and they weren’t accepting new members at the time.

    Fast forward to a little over a year ago, and I managed to sign up for Pinecone after spotting an ad on Slickdeals. Now that I’ve been a member for a while, I thought it was time for a proper review.

    The first thing to note is that they now pay only $3 per survey. If you’re going to be sitting around watching TV anyway, you might as well get paid to answer a few questions at the same time. But, each survey does take 5 to 20 minutes, and when time is precious, $3 may not seem like much.

    At the end of some surveys, you’ll be asked if it would be okay for the company to send you a product to try out. You’d test it out, and then complete another survey (and receive another $3). In my experience, I’ve also gotten to keep the product, so I have no idea if there are ever instances when you have to send it back. Sometimes the company sends the product, sometimes not. I was hoping I’d get the last one I agreed to, but I haven’t seen it yet and am actually kind of bummed about it.

    I wish I could tell you what it was, but to become part of Pinecone, you have to agree to keep the products you learn about confidential. I take it very seriously because I wouldn’t want to be the cause of a major product development leak. All I will say is that Pinecone seems to work with major, well-established companies, who are looking for input on products they are developing.

    It’s been my experience that Pinecone pays very reliably, by paper check or Paypal. I usually get a Paypal deposit within two days of completing a survey. However, I get surveys very infrequently, and I’ve wondered if it’s because of my demographic.

    If you are interested in Pinecone, you’ll be happy to know that they’re currently taking new members. I got an email giving me carte blanche to invite all of my friends – and we’re all friends around here. Just keep in mind that only one person per household may register.

    Go here if you’re interested in signing up with Pinecone.

    Amazon Selling Tips: Shipping

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    This is the third and final part of a series on selling at Amazon.com Marketplace. Read my introduction to selling on Amazon and my tips for listing your items.

    Before I list my shipping tips, I want to make a recommendation for your own security. When an item you’ve listed on Amazon.com Marketplace is sold, Amazon will send you an email with the subject heading, “Sold – Ship now!” I recommend checking your orders and verifying the information in the email that Amazon sent to you. A few months ago, Mercedes at Common Sense with Money wrote that after she had removed a listing for a DVD player, someone sent her a fake “Sold – ship now” email. Her post includes tips on how to spot fake emails.

    In order to avoid being scammed, I highly recommend logging in to your Amazon seller account to verify that you’ve received payment for the item. In fact, I immediately initiate a transfer to my bank account so that I get the money sooner rather than later. Amazon automatically sends out payments every 2 weeks, but you can initiate a bank transfer every 24 hours. (New customers have to wait for the first automatic disbursement.) You can also choose to get paid in Amazon certificates. Read Amazon’s info on getting paid.

    Once you’ve verified that your item has indeed been sold, you’ll want to know the following:

    • Amazon helps you pay for shipping. You should definitely read Amazon’s info on shipping credits, but basically, they give you a certain amount of money to cover your shipping costs. Depending on the item you’ve sold, the shipping credit might yield a little profit if the item won’t cost much to ship. Or the shipping credit might be just a fraction of the shipping cost, and you’ll have to pay for the extra.
    • Media Mail is your friend. When I first started selling at Amazon, I didn’t know what Media Mail was (read the Postal Service’s explanation). It’s been great for me, since I only sell books, CDs, DVDs, and video games, all of which can be sent at a reduced rate via Media Mail – although sometimes if an item is especially light, First Class Mail will be cheaper. If you sell other types of items, especially heavy ones, the Postal Service may not be your cheapest option like it is mine.
    • Package your item well. You want to make sure that you take reasonable steps to protect the item in transit (read Amazon’s packaging guidelines). For me, that usually means a layer of bubble wrap or a padded envelope. I invested in a giant roll of bubble wrap and a 100-count box of 9×12 envelopes from Staples and have been using it for quite some time. And since I began playing The Drugstore Game, I sometimes buy some padded envelopes when they’re super cheap and use them for books that are too big to fit in a 9×12 envelope. Some people make their own boxes out of cardboard, although I have to admit that when I’ve been the recipient of such an item, it does strike me as unprofessional.
    • Consider getting a post office box to use as your return address. I began renting a post office box when I started selling on Amazon and eBay because I wanted the added sense of security of not giving strangers my home address.
    • Be careful about selecting Expedited or International Shipping as options. You’ll get a bigger shipping credit if you offer expedited or international shipping as an option and the buyer chooses it. Expedited shipping generally means Priority Mail for me, and it also means I need to check each “Sold – ship now” email for the shipping speed, since once in a while I do get an order with expedited shipping. I used to offer international shipping, but stopped after a first-hand lesson in the risks. I sold a book that took over eight weeks to arrive in Europe, long enough that when the seller contacted me, I felt obligated to refund his money. Shortly thereafter, he informed me that the book had just arrived. He was more than willing to pay me again, but Amazon told me that he had to initiate it, so I had to send him an email with instructions and hope that he followed through (thankfully, he did). I’ve since decided that for me, the risk of shipping overseas simply isn’t worth it.
    • When sending something via Priority Mail, pay online. You can pay for certain types of postage, including Priority Mail, online at the USPS web site. If you’re sending an order via Priority Mail, paying for and printing the label through the web site will save you a little money, and also get you free delivery confirmation.
    • Always remember to send your orders out within two business days. Marketplace terms require shipping within two business days, so keep that in mind when you list items. If you’re not sure if you’ll be able to get an item out in a timely manner, don’t list it.
    • Communicate with the buyer. I don’t always follow this rule myself, but I do try to send shipment notification emails through Amazon’s “contact buyer” option. This is especially helpful when shipping via Media Mail, since it can take two weeks for an item to be delivered and not all buyers realize this. I always include a general time frame of when the buyer can expect the item to arrive (for Media Mail, I say 4 to 9 days but possibly two weeks).

    I am by no means an expert on selling at Amazon.com Marketplace, but I hope you’ll find these tips helpful, especially as a starting point. And if you have experience selling on Amazon, please share your experience – and especially, any tips that I missed!

    Read an update on shipping here.

    Don’t forget to sign up for the Trans Union Class-Action Settlement

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    I hate to leave money on the table, so when a colleague sent me an email in June with a link to an LA Times article (no longer on their web site, unfortunately) on the Trans Union class-action settlement, I knew I’d be signing up for my fair share.* As you know, however, I’ve been busy, and I haven’t gotten around to registering yet. But the deadline is rapidly approaching, so it’s higher on my to-do list now.

    Here’s the lowdown:

    The complaint alleges that Trans Union LLC and Acxiom Corporation violated the law by selling lists containing personal and financial consumer information to third parties for marketing purposes. The settlement is for expediency, and not an admission of wrongdoing.

    Anyone who had an open credit account or an open line of credit from a credit grantor (such as car loans, bank credit cards, department store credit cards, other retail store credit cards, finance company loans, mortgage loans, and student loans) located in the United States anytime from January 1, 1987 to May 28, 2008 is eligible to apply for a share of the settlement.

    Class members must choose from one of the following benefits:

    • Sign up for six months of credit monitoring services.If you select this option, you can also register to possibly receive cash benefits in the event of a cash distribution or file an individual lawsuit against the defendants.
    • Sign up for nine months of enhanced credit monitoring services.If you select this option, you will not receive any further benefits, including a cash payment, and you will not be able to file an individual lawsuit against the defendants.
    • Register to possibly receive a cash payment. If you select this option, you can also sign up for six months of credit monitoring; however if you receive a cash payment, you cannot file an individual lawsuit against the defendants.

    I am going to register for the cash payment, as well as the six months of credit monitoring. I’ll have Marc do the same – I’m assuming that because we have separate accounts as well as joint accounts, and did so during the applicable period, we are both eligible for our own share of the settlement. Maybe we’ll get two unexpected checks in a year or two.

    You can register for benefits at the Trans Union class action web site but you have to do so by September 24, 2008.

    *Class-actions can be a great source of “free” money. It’s not truly free, since the company is compensating you for a harm you suffered, but it’s free in the sense that it’s money you never expected to see again. A couple of weeks ago, we got a $16 check from a Countrywide class-action settlement related to mortgage application fees, and we should eventually get settlements for the diamond and Bar/Bri (bar review course) class-action lawsuits. Eventually. Unfortunately, these things take time.