Saving Money Through Portals

Our first post mentioned using a shopping portal without explaining how useful they are, so we thought it would be helpful to put together this primer. Cashback portals are an extremely easy way to save money on things you were already planning to buy. It can be tempting to buy more than you need because “it’s on sale”, but as long as you can control that urge (and don’t mind signing up for a few sites), this is one of those few situations in life where you can reap rewards with almost no sacrifice.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of portals and knowing which one to use is difficult.

Where to start:

  • Start by going to CashBackMonitor, an excellent website that shows you the rates offered at all the different portals for a particular store.

  • On CashBackMonitor, either type in the name of the store you wish to shop at in the search bar or click the homepage links for some of the more popular stores.

  • You’ll be presented with a few lists presenting the different cashback offers and can click through to the one(s) you find most appealing. Be forewarned, if you don’t have every credit card under the sun, you may not be eligible to use some of the portals (namely, the BarclayCard, Discover Deals, or Chase UR portals).

Which portal should I use?

  • Not all portals, and not all points systems, are created equal. Anything run by a company you’ve heard of (Chase/BarclayCard/any of the major airlines or hotels) is going to be reliable. I’ve had great experiences using TopCashBack, Ebates, Splender, and others, but your experience may vary.

  • You’ll need to sign up for the portal you choose. None of these should take your credit card information and you just need an e-mail address to sign up.

  • 1% back cashback does not equal 1 American Airlines mile, so choose your portal (and portal bonus) based on what has the most value to you. Airline miles can be extremely valuable if you’re trying to fly business class to Asia or Europe, or could be worth nothing to you if you like to stay home.

Is this really worthwhile?

  • If, like me, you do most of your shopping online, you could save significant sums of money, putting you closer to your early retirement goals.

  • For example, this year I chose to buy my contacts online through 1-800 Contacts. I signed in to TopCashBack, clicked through the 1-800 Contacts link, and bought an annual supply of my daily contacts for ~$500. The portal paid me 14% back in cash, meaning I got back nearly $70 for something I had to buy anyways. Barring any setbacks, that $70 gets me one day closer to early retirement. If I do this every year for the 20 years I plan on working (assuming, admittedly rashly, that the bonus payout will remain the same), that’s almost one month less of work just for a few clicks when buying my yearly supply of contacts.

Things to know:

  • Keep your receipts and have patience – some portals are better than others at paying out quickly. Delays mostly seem tied to reporting issues with the actual stores ( Hotels.com is notoriously slow, in my experience). Don’t panic if a payout is missing, just keep track of it and contact support for the portal once you think a reasonable amount of time has passed (usually 4-6 weeks).

  • Look out for bonuses or promotions on the portals themselves. Around the holidays, a lot of the airline portals will offer a spend bonus (extra miles for reaching certain spend thresholds). These aren’t typically reflected in the numbers provided on CashBackMonitor so it pays to stay on top of that. Some portals will also add a small % bonus on your payout if you elect a specific type of payment option (like electing to receive an American Express gift card instead of a paper check).

  • Final Tip: Some airline and hotel portals that earn points in their respective programs will qualify to extend the expiration date of your points. Instead of losing all your points gains through expiration, or paying to buy points (DON’T!) to avoid that nightmare, you can earn a few points by clicking through a portal and push out that expiration date.

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