I’m a bloodhound when it comes to finding a good deal. I get such a rush out of it that I think even if I was wealthy, I would still try to avoid paying full price for anything online. Today, I’ll discuss the different ways I’ve been able to save money over the past seven years. All it takes is a little time (which is admittedly precious), patience, and consistency.
I don’t know if the websites I use are restricted to US-residents only, but there may be similar versions of cashback, discounted gift card, and promo code sites for other countries.
I’m starting with the one that I have rarely heard anyone talk about. Raise is a website/app for buying and selling gift cards. I use the website to purchase discounted Ulta and Sephora gift cards, which are typically around 5% off, but occasionally there are sellers who are eager for the cash and will sell upwards of a 20% discount. This means a gift card worth $25 at Sephora would only cost $20 to buy. In addition, Sephora allows customers to use up to two gift cards per order. So, if I have an order that will cost me a total of $50 and I happen to have two $25 gift cards that I paid $20 each for, that means I would have only paid $40 out of pocket for that order!
How it works is that I purchase the gift card I want to buy. After my payment is processed and finalized, Raise emails me the link (it will also show on the account details page) with the gift card number and pin.
When I’m checking out at Sephora, I input the gift card details in the “Payment Method” section. If my subtotal exceeds the amount on the gift card, I can still add a second form of payment to cover the rest. If my subtotal is less than the amount on the card, I can use what’s leftover again later. That’s it!
Email links usually come quickly for me. I think the longest I’ve had to wait was a few hours. I’ve also never had an issue with the gift card amount being less than specified, or having leftover funds on the card go missing later.
According to my Raise history, I’ve saved $211.31 to date. It may only be a few dollars off at a time, but it adds up. Periodically, Raise will release promo codes that knock an additional 5 or more percent off a Raise purchase. So, that 20% discount from one seller could turn into 25% off with a promo code. There are other kinds of deals that Raise offers, such as Raise Cash, but that gets a little more complicated and it’s best to learn about those avenues directly from them. Also, I believe all Sephora and Ulta cards are for electronic delivery, but Raise also offers physical cards for stores that only allow gift cards for in-store purchases, so always check that before paying.
Using a discounted gift card is just the start of how I stack up savings. I believe there are other websites that sell discounted gift cards, but I only have experience using Raise. MyGiftCardsPlus is another place I buy gift cards sometimes, but it works differently.
Rakuten, Swagbucks, and MyGiftCardsPlus
I’ll start first with Rakuten, formerly known as Ebates. Rakuten is a cashback website/app, meaning you get a certain percentage of money back with every purchase. I think of it as though Rakuten is an Influencer who companies have paid to entice me to make a purchase, which Rakuten then gives me a portion of that back.
The cashback rate from specific makeup brands tends to stay the same, but Sephora and Ulta fluctuate more frequently, generally between 2-6%. Rakuten also has random days when hundreds of websites get a boost in the percentage of cashback, along with designated times for “15% off week,” like for their site anniversary and holidays. There are plenty of websites that offer this kind of service like Mr. Rebates and Ibotta, but I haven’t looked into them because managing two is plenty. I don’t want more than what I currently use. And yes, they do require some monitoring.
I find it easiest to use browser extensions for cashback purposes because if you linger too long on a website, it can deactivate, which you wouldn’t know if you merely used the cashback link. Sometimes during the payment process, if the website has a hiccup in loading, it can also cause deactivation or it not going through as having used Rakuten (or Swagbucks). So, I tend to check the list of store visits to make sure it went through, otherwise you have to contact customer service to get it fixed. It’s easy to contact them via Rakuten (though I haven’t had to do that since they used to be Ebates, so I don’t know if this is still the case), but Swagbucks is a bit of a pain. Their customer service sends general responses without even reading the details of the case half the time and it makes me wonder if it’s worth the few dollars, but I’m stubborn about certain things and this is one of them.
So, how it works is if I go on any website belonging to an affiliate of Rakuten, the browser extension will notify me. I just click to activate cash back and it will redirect the page. I know it worked when the icon becomes blue and says it’s activated. With Swagbucks, the symbol with a yellow circle turns into a green circle. You cannot have more than one cashback site activated at a time. The browser extensions also show promo codes that can be used at checkout, as well as list different products on sale. Raise is actually affiliated with Rakuten (and sometimes Swagbucks), so you can get a little cashback (I’ve only ever seen 1%) when buying a gift card from Raise!
I’ve gotten $654 from Rakuten since signing up in August 2015. They have a referral program for everyone and an ambassador program for influencers, but my savings total is purely from my own cashback spending. They’ve had different sign up bonuses over the years and the photo below shows the current one. I know how referral programs work, in theory, but I don’t have any first hand experience with them.
An important thing to know about Rakuten is that you only get paid 4 times a year (every 3 months). You can choose to have the money sent in the form of a check that will be mailed to your home address or via PayPal.
Swagbucks works like Rakuten regarding the cashback process of making a purchase through an activated link and getting credit for it. However, Swagbucks only pays in the form of gift cards, not cash, though a PayPal gift card is also an option.
Everything is listed in SB. Every 100 SB is worth $1, and I can claim a gift card technically at any time, but gift card redemptions start at $5 or more, depending on which one I try to get. It can also take minutes to several days for the gift card link to be emailed, though it’s usually a day or two.
The cashback process from Swagbucks is a small part of what they do. They offer surveys for SB, viewing videos/ads/websites for SB, playing games for SB, in-store purchases, bonuses for downloading certain apps or signing up for different subscriptions, using their search engine instead of search engines like Google and Mozilla Firefox, entering codes found via their social media, a daily poll for 1 SB, different team events, raffles, etc. Over the years, the different ways to rack up SB have gotten to be so overwhelming that there’s plenty I still don’t even know about, even though I’ve been using Swagbucks longer than Rakuten. The site has gotten more complicated to use as well. For quite a few years now, I’ve basically just claimed my daily SB and used the cashback feature if it’s significantly higher than what Rakuten is offering. All the other avenues are just too much effort to be worth the time for me.
One other way I gain additional SB is when buying a gift card via MyGiftCardsPlus, which was started by Prodege LLC, the company behind Swagbucks. If I know there’s an event coming up that I’m likely to spend a decent amount of money on, such as the Sephora VIB sale or Ulta’s 21 Days of Beauty or some upcoming holiday event, I will sometimes purchase a gift card ahead of time. Unlike Raise where I spend less money for the gift card, with MyGiftCardsPlus I’m buying the gift card at full value, but I get SB added to my account. This can sometimes be the boost to being able to then redeem another gift card from Swagbucks, if for instance, I currently have 700 SB and the MGCP purchase would give me 300 SB added to my account. Then I would have 1000 SB and be able to claim a $10 Sephora Gift Card. Gift Cards purchased from MGCP have taken minutes to days to be emailed to me, though mostly minutes to an hour.
But as I said before, this is only if I know I’m going to be spending money soon. I’m not saving money if I buy a gift card just because it gives an extra few cents bonus or there’s suddenly 3% more cashback at a retailer. Because if I do that, I’m likely going to buy things I normally wouldn’t. If I know I want to place an order and then activate cashback or buy a gift card prior to completing that order, that’s when I’m actually using these sites to my advantage rather than being tempted into extra unnecessary purchases. I know I personally have to be careful not the be tempted by any and every sale or discount that comes my way.
RetailmeNot and other Promo Code Websites
RetailmeNot is a promo code browser extension/website like Honey and Karma (Karma was previously named Shoptagr) that cycles through their list of company and user submitted promo codes to check if you can save any additional money off your purchase and/or if there is a better promo code than whatever you entered on the website.
I always check for promo codes and in the past I’ve saved up to 40% off on deals I didn’t realize were going on and wasn’t informed about despite being on different brands’ email lists. I’ve gotten free shipping, free items, bonus reward program points, etc. Promo codes have saved me a ton of money over the years and it’s actually shocking to me when I’m unable to find one at all.
RetailmeNot used to be my #1 source in the past, but since I’m buying more from indie brands and less from mainstream ones, I don’t use it as often. Plus, the promo codes listed via Rakuten tend to be satisfactory to me. I’ve noticed that Karma tends to have more indie brand promo codes than the others, which is especially useful since it’s mainly mainstream brands and huge companies that are associated with cashback sites, so it’s nice to still get a discount in those instances.
I used to have Karma in order to build a wishlist and get notified as soon as the item on my list changed in price. However, I’ve been unable to get that feature to work properly after I disabled and re-enabled that browser extension. In addition, Karma started to get very annoying, like whenever I clicked the button to close it and it would reopen the site in another browser tab (as if activating its cashback feature despite me trying to use Rakuten or Swagbucks), so I changed the settings so I have to manually click the extension icon in order for it to pop up. I am much happier with it now.
If all else fails, I do a general google search to see if any other coupon site has a valid promo code. Sometimes I get lucky, but usually if it’s not on RetailMeNot or Karma, I won’t be able to find one elsewhere.
Remembering Common Sale Dates
Oh, how it drives me nuts when I pay for an item and then just days later there’s a sale. It has happened enough times for me to start paying attention to when all businesses will likely have a sale, like Black Friday or specific holidays. I also try to keep track of when specific retailers and brands have their friends and family sales or anniversary sales.
Ulta’s Platinum/Diamond tier Appreciation Day tends to be in August or September. The 21 Days of Beauty starts at some point in mid March and again in early September.
Sephora tends to have their Spring sale in either March or April, as well as an end of Summer Sale in August. Occasionally they also have a “Sale on Sale” when items in their sale section get an additional 20% off.
There also tends to be great deals during one’s birthday month. Knowing these kinds of dates enables me to estimate if I should get something or wait a few weeks, provided the item I want isn’t likely to sell out. However, it’s not uncommon for certain items from Sephora to suddenly go “out of stock” just before a big sale and end up returning during the last few days of the sale. When that happens, make sure to select the option to be notified when the product is back in stock.
The absolute ultimate money savings combo is when I buy a discounted gift card, activate cashback, use a promo code for additional savings, and top it all off with an additional price deduction when using a company’s reward program. Plus, if you get cashback or rewards automatically on your credit card purchases via your credit card company, that’s an extra win! This has happened to me a few times, though I can’t remember which orders were the best ones at the top of my head, but here is an example. Some of the products in my order were deeply discounted because Ulta wasn’t going to carry them anymore, plus I used a promo code, I activated cashback, and I redeemed 2000 points. I paid about $36 for $170 worth of products at the sale price, not even including what the total would be at full retail.
Anticipating when to wait for a sale is helpful, but sometimes brands spring them on us without warning. In order for me to not miss a sale going on, I periodically check the Featured Deals at the top of Temptalia’s blog. I also follow beauty deal Instagram accounts like BeautyDealsBff and TrendMoodDeals. There’s an ongoing Sephora forum thread keeping track of deals as well, called “Deals Too Good to Pass Up” that I used to check a lot until I followed those IG accounts. Here is the current iteration as of today.
Another more recent example of utilizing a combination of money savings and perks of reward programs is when BeautyDealsBFF posted about the Nars Cheek Quad that was released early for Platinum and Diamond Tier Members at Ulta. There was a 20% off influencer promo code going on that would bring it down to nearly the same price as a single blush (which I almost purchased the day before). Each blush in the quad is nearly the same size as a full-size pan too. All four shades in the quad were colors I debated purchasing at one time or another, so I jumped on the opportunity.
First, I went to Raise and saw they had a “Black Friday in July” 5% savings bonus using the code JULYBF. So I paid $22.40 to get a $25 Ulta gift card.
Then I went to Ulta and added the items to my cart (including the current Ulta Nars Free Gift with Purchase).
Overall, the total would have been $41.18 with tax included. The promo code BeautydealsBFF shared brought it down to $33.38. For the remainder of the balance, I paid it with the $25 Raise gift card and $8.38 leftover was paid via a VISA gift card that I got from my credit card company as part of the credit card reward program. I didn’t pay that Raise gift card in full so, I essentially spent $22.40 out of pocket to get the Nars Quad, three Nars minis, and because I activated the 1% cashback for Raise and 3% cashback for Ulta via Rakuten, I’m getting cashback for those as well. And as Diamond Tier at Ulta, I get free shipping on orders over $25 so I didn’t have to pay for that either.
Utilizing Point Systems/Reward Programs
I could talk about different reward programs for ages. Some are better than others. For instance, one that bugs me is that Coloured Raine’s program allows you to exchange points for a coupon of $5 off a $30 purchase, $10 off a $40 purchase, or $15 off a $75 purchase. If you claim this coupon, you have to use it in place of a promo code. Coloured Raine’s sales are usually between 30-50% off, but instead of marking down everything on the site, you have to enter the sale code in the promo code spot, which is always going to give a higher discount than the reward program coupon will give. This means that the reward program coupon is only good for full price items, but why even bother using the coupon when you know you can get the item for even less money during the next sale? It’s nearly pointless except for new launches, which are few and far between with Coloured Raine. Puritan’s Pride is a health site, but I like that when I get enough points to redeem a discount, I can do it and still use a promo code.
My favorite kind of reward programs are the ones where I can exchange points for a certain amount of money off my order total. I don’t think anyone does it better than Ulta with their periodic 5-10x points events, offers to add a certain number of points to your account if you spend a specific amount of money, etc. I’ve talked about Ulta’s Reward Program before, and how you get the most money for the points at the 1000 ($50) and 2000 ($125) marks. I try my best to save up to 2000 points, but in the event that I really want something but am over budget, that’s when I will redeem 1000 points.
Ulta’s success forced Sephora to completely revamp their reward program and allow point for cash options too. However, it’s much harder to accrue points at Sephora since they don’t have point multiplier events above 4x and it’s usually on skincare or perfume, not makeup. 2000 points at Ulta could only take $200 on a 10x day, but 2000 points at Sephora really is closer to having spent $2000 (or I guess $500 if you really love skincare and expensive perfumes).
2000 points at Ulta gives $125 and could take $200-$2000 spending to accumulate.
2000 points at Sephora gives $100 and could take $500-$2500 spending to accumulate.
We can clearly see which program is better. At Sephora, the value is worse at the more achievable level of getting $10 off a purchase in exchange for 500 points, but you’re not even allowed to do that during a VIB sale. I know because I’ve tried. Ulta hasn’t been giving out 20% off coupons like they used to, but in the past I would wait for that coupon and then use my reward points. Oh, how my wallet thanked me.
Even though the 2500 point option at Sephora is better than the 500 point one, I’m not waiting an eternity for that to happen. So, I have redeemed the $10 off several times since it’s so rare that anything in the reward section is of interest to me or attainable. Here is an example of when I put it to decent use. When I ordered The Pat Mcgrath Paradise Venus blush, I activated cashback, exchanged the 500 points for a $10 discount, and used a gift card that I got from Raise which was a promotional deal that I spent $3 to obtain a $15 gift card. So, I paid $18 out of pocket for the $38 blush.
It cannot be forgotten that reward programs aren’t free money. I still spent money in order to gain a little back, so I have to be careful not to buy things just to earn more points. Spending less will always be the best way to save the most money, but if I’m going to make a purchase, at least I can do all I can to make it count!
*DISCLAIMER: This post was not created to endorse any of the money saving websites discussed. I don’t know what (if any) ramifications there could be by filling out a survey with semi-private information or having browser extensions that keep track of every online store I visit and every purchase I make. I am just sharing the strategies and resources I found to spend less on my online purchases; they’re resources I’ve used for many years with little to no issues.
Also, the links in this post are normal non-affiliated links. Everyone who signs up to websites like Rakuten, Raise, and Swagbucks, automatically get referral links generated for their accounts. I did not link mine because that is not the purpose of this post. I shared my tips solely to be helpful.
Also, I did my best to explain how to use these websites, but reading the FAQ and/or TOS of each site will ensure you know anything I may have forgotten to mention.
That’s all for today! I wanted to post this before August because a lot of the big sales start from August onward, but I will be out of the country by that point. Thank you for reading!