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Budget Basics 101 // Cash Back Websites

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If you could get paid to shop, would you?

When I learned about the various ways to earn a passive income by shopping through cash back websites, I jumped at the opportunity. Don’t be alarmed, this isn’t one of those weird, too good to be true scams. If you are smart about the way you shop, these sites have the potential to add hundreds of dollars back into your budget and provide you with savings on everything from household items to travel accommodations. This week I am sharing with you the top three sites I’ve found to be most helpful and the pros and cons of each. I’ve used each of these sites at various times for various reasons and it has forever changed the way I shop.


Ebates is probably the best known cash back website. I joined in 2015 when my husband and I were expecting our daughter. We had received money and gift cards at one of our baby showers just in time for Cyber Monday shopping. I was searching online for coupons for baby items we were purchasing and stumbled across Ebates. I had heard the name Ebates in the past but was truly clueless as to what the site was actually for. I learned that by signing up, I would have $10 automatically added to my account. Once my account was set up, I learned that I could generally earn 2%-5% cash back for items I was already purchasing online (although Ebates now offers cash back for some in store transactions too). I found out that Ebates has a referral program too so that meant a little bonus was added to my account for each person who signed up via my affiliate links. I immediately sent out links to close family members and friends to earn a little extra. So far I’ve earned $129.96 through Ebates – not a fortune, but it has been helpful.


  • Sign up bonus of $10
  • Sign up was easy
  • Earning cash back is easy
  • Great referral rates
  • Cash back online and in select stores and restaurants
  • Cash Back Button makes it easy to see which sites offer cash back
  • Custom coupons (when redeeming cash back for a certain retailer, always check for Ebates specific coupons – typically their coupons can be stacked with coupons provided by the retailer)


  • Payout is quarterly
  • Lower cash back rates compared to other sites


I’ve been using Swagbucks for about 7 years and initially discovered it while attending a couponing class hosted by a friend at church. Essentially Swagbucks is a rewards site in which users earn Swagbucks in exchange for completing various activities. If you’d like to add “money” to your account, you can do so by taking surveys, daily polls, performing web searches, redeeming coupons and my personal favorite, shopping online. To me, it’s not worth it to spend time doing many of the activities on Swagbucks because they don’t pay very well. However, if you have the time, it may be worth it for you. I created an account for my husband (I didn’t find this to be a violation of the Swagbucks terms of use) and we primarily use his account as I earn 10% of what he makes since he signed up via my referral link. Once a Swagbucks account reaches 500, bucks can be redeemed for various types of gift cards (you can wait until you reach 2500 and receive money sent directly to your PayPal account which is my favorite option). Since I’ve been using Swagbucks, I’ve earned $67.10 which may not seem like much but it has been helpful. My goal with Swagbucks is to earn gift cards to stores we regularly shop at (Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club) and to buy small household items so we can remove those costs from our regular budget (and of course, I buy those items online so I can earn my cash back!). With Swagbucks gift cards we’ve been able to purchase baby wipes, soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant and we occasionally order a Starbucks gift card.


  • Sign up bonus of $5
  • Cash back is easy to earn
  • No payout calendar (it’s up to you to decide how fast you want to earn and how soon you want to cash out)
  • Swagbucks can be redeemed for gift cards and cash
  • Custom coupons (when redeeming cash back for a certain retailer, always check for Swagbucks specific coupons – typically their coupons can be stacked with coupons provided by the retailer)
  • There are various activities you can do to help you earn your payout threshold of 500 Swagbucks
  • Referral program allows you to earn 10% of your referral’s earnings for life


  • You must earn 2500 Swagbucks if you want to receive actual money
  • Swagbucks can take a while to add up
  • Referral rate is lower than other cash back programs


TopCashBack is one of the newer cash back sites but is also typically the highest paying. Whenever I make an online purchase, I check between all 3 sites to make sure I’m getting the best deal. TopCashback also has it’s own coupon codes that can usually be stacked with those offered by retailers and it sometimes provides cash back for retailers that Ebates and Swagbucks don’t (again, it’s best to check all 3).


  • Sign up bonus of $10
  • No payout threshold – once your purchase has been confirmed, you can request payment immediately.
  • You can earn additional cash back by cashing out via various gift card options (American Express, Amazon, Gap, Nike and Hotels.com to name a few)
  • Custom coupons (when redeeming cash back for a certain retailer, always check for TopCashBack specific coupons – typically their coupons can be stacked with coupons provided by the retailer)
  • You can donate your cash back to charity (it looks like The American Red Cross is the only one currently available)
  • Good referral rate


  • It takes a while for purchases to be confirmed
  • User dashboard isn’t as easy to navigate as other sites

How to make the most of your online purchases: 

  • Buy used gift cards from Raise.com and use them toward products you are already purchasing
  • Review all 3 sites for the best cash back value and coupons
  • Take advantage of free shipping if it makes sense
  • Take advantage of buying online and picking up in store (As a mom of a 1 year old, I LOVE this!)
  • Plan ahead and shop during holidays (This is where it’s important to budget for the future – the best deals I’ve found have occurred on Cyber Monday).
  • Sign up for emails (I suggest creating an account for store emails and only check it while shopping to learn what sales coupons are available. I have about 3 retailers whose emails I receive daily and this allows me to learn the pattern of when coupons and sales are available and helps me plan the best times to shop at those stores.)
  • Sign up for text messages (Most retailers will send you a coupon within 24 hours of signing up for text alerts.)
  • There’s an app for that (Most retailers will give you some kind of coupon or freebie once you download their app. Personally, I don’t like having a ton of apps that I don’t regularly use so if I need a coupon, I’ll download the app, retrieve the coupon and then delete the app.)

Join me next week for additional ways to save with my top 3 cash back apps and be sure to check out the rest of The Frugal Family series below!

More in this series


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