The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

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Online Surveys: Earn or Burn?

By Vicki McClure Davidson


Online surveys: Earn or Burn?
Online surveys: Earn or burn? 

We've all received those junk emails, claiming that you can make a gazillion dollars from home for just a few hours a week (and a fee for the CD/manual/training course/whatever).

Yeah, right, and I still believe Elvis lives incognito in a room at the Lexus.

Truth be told, while there are a huge number of cons and scams out there, preying upon the fears or naivety of consumers, I've found a few legitimate Internet survey companies.

My absolute favorite is Skeptically, I signed up on this site about a year and a half ago. They have not yet disappointed me.

This survey company/site emails varying surveys to me each week. Many aren't surveys, but are instead a viewing of an advertisement... could be for heartburn medication, glamour photos, magazine subscriptions, vacation getaways, cosmetics, pet food, you name it. At the bottom of the email is a posting of when the offer ends and a linked button that will take you to the client's web site. But there is usually another button (my favorite) which instructs, "Now that you've read the BonusMail, click here to receive 5 points." Woo hoo! Since I get between 2 to 7 emails a day from MyPoints, even without spending a dime, I steadily accrue points. It's pretty much a "no thanks, I'm not interested" button that doesn't trap you like a spider in a web or maliciously disables your Back button when you try to exit. No obligation, no intimidation, no inconvenience.

These points from MyPoints are ultimately redeemed for gift cards (called "rewards") that are specific to more than 70 merchants: Subway, Sears, Starbucks, Target, Pier 1 Imports, Borders, CVS Pharmacy, Old Navy, Pizza Hut, Omaha Steaks, etc. If you should take advantage of the offer in the email, additional points are earned. These extra points are of varying amounts depending on how much money you spend, but they can exceed several hundred. Last Christmas, through MyPoints, I purchased a few new DVD movies for my husband and son, received a discounted price, no shipping fee, and about 200 points for each transaction. And I had planned on buying these DVD titles anyway. Score!

About now, you may be asking yourself: But does MyPoints actually send you the gift cards and are they REAL gift cards that will be honored (and I won't be embarrassed or hoodwinked by having them be declined when I go to use them?) Yes, they do send them and yes, they are real, I'm pleased to say.

When you have enough points to actually redeem them (average amount needed for a $10.00 gift card is approximately 1,400 points), within a week or so, you will get your selected gift card in the mail. And, by Jove, it is a bona fide gift card!

Last Christmas, I participated in enough surveys, viewed enough ads, and took advantage of several and eBay partnership offers to be able to build up my points and get several gift cards that I used as Christmas gifts for my teen son. He was thrilled beyond words to get one for Starbucks and the other for Burger King. Collectively, they were valued at $45.00, an amount I would never have been able to justify spending with our limited budget. Win-win, eh?

But there was one huge score, bigger than I ever dreamed.

Earlier this year, I received an email from MyPoints to take a survey about menopausal hot flashes, something that I get sporadically. I qualified with the survey (earned extra points), and received an email that a representative would be calling for more information and to schedule a screening. If I participated in the study, I'd get even more points. Hoping it was legit, but rather wary, I supplied my info (and did not give them a bogus phone number like I sometimes do... likely I'm having a nasty hot flash during those times).

The next day, a nurse at a local women's clinic contacted me and I was scheduled to participate in their group study for a new medication that was being tested nationally. It was intended to alleviate the symptoms of hot flashes for menopausal women and this effort was being funded by a major pharmaceutical company. Not only would I be PAID $75 per visit (7 visits over 2 months), but I would get a free mammogram. Zowie—I hit the mother lode! I've NEVER had a mammogram (lack of insurance makes us procrastinate, right?). This was like a gift from the gods. Long story short, I didn't qualify for the actual study (not enough hot flashes per day), but I was paid for the one visit and had my free mammogram performed at one of the best, most modern hospitals in our area. From that one MyPoints experience, I reaped more than $300 in cash and medical services (my blood pressure was also taken free of charge), plus all my points. Woo hoo! Sadly, these mega-offers don't pop up every day, but I'm a strong supporter of MyPoints as a result. And, my mammogram revealed a clean bill of health, so now I also have peace of mind and you can't put a price on that.

One more thing: Charitable donations to the Red Cross are also offered. Rather than you ordering a rewards gift card, the Red Cross will instead receive a cash equivalent. Click here to go to and read more about

Another favorite Internet survey company of mine is Harris Polls. However, they send decidedly fewer emails each month (about 1 or 2 a week on heavy weeks, whereas may send five to me in a single day), and most surveys with Harris Polls are worth only 30 points. The longer surveys are usually worth 100 points, but the longer surveys are not sent as frequently as the shorter ones.

I've not yet redeemed my accrued Harris Poll points (they're called Hi Points). It takes so bloody long to build up any amount of significant pointage that the item/gift I've chosen is usually replaced by the time I have enough points for it (I'm still hoping to get that waffle iron). As of this writing, I have never redeemed my Hi Points, but when I do, I'll report on my experience and/or satisfaction. The "prizes" that Harris Polls offer seem over-valued and often, nothing really appeals to me. But they change the reward items frequently, so even if my coveted waffle iron is gone for a few months, it may return.

The whole gift card concept with MyPoints caters to a broader scope of tastes, not to mention the mailing cost is significantly lower for them. So, hands down, my druthers are currently with

Other survey companies have come and gone. Some were too stupid, too weird with their site navigation, had me fill in myriad little bubbles to "not subscribe," or out-and-out lied and had NO surveys, just goods and services to buy. I lost patience quickly and canceled them. The ones that claimed to "pay" the most have been the most disappointing or annoying.

There is one that I can't seem to cancel correctly. I have yet to earn anything of worth after a year, but hey, if I spend $50 or $100 on something offered by one of their sponsors/clients, I may "earn back" 50 cents or a dollar. Good grief, this is NOT "earning"... it is discounting. Big difference. If I have to spend money to get a few points or a pittance in money back, I'm not interested. Seems sleazy and highly deceptive to me, but I recently figured out how to unsubscribe. So, all is good again in my inbox.



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