Last updated: November 6, 2018
It's true. I've been doing it for years.
You can earn cash discounts for buying things you need anyway that are often already deeply discounted by comparing prices, price matching, taking advantage of sales, using a coupon, and getting rewards on my credit card.
Add cash back to that and you usually have a real sweetheart of a deal.
How much can you earn?
It all depends on what you buy, but rebates can range from 1% of your total purchase amount, all the way up to 30% or even 50% for higher-margin products. There are often cash back boost promotions as well that can double or even triple the normal cash back rate a store offers.
$1,203.45 – My lifetime earnings
I've been using cash back websites for quite a few years now and I've really been able to rack up the cash.
Whenever I book a trip through Priceline, Hotwire, or an online travel agent I get cash back.
When I made purchases on Ebay – cash back.
New tires purchased out of the USA – you guessed it, cash back!
It all adds up over time to a significant chunk of change.
There were a few purchases in there that were related to my business along with a small amount of money for referring a few people, but over 90% of that grand total is just from regular purchases I've made online over the years.
How it works
It's really simple actually.
Whenever you've decided to buy something online, log into one of the cash back websites listed below using the free account you can create in a few seconds, and use the search box on the cash back site to look for the name of the store you're planning to buy from.
If the cash back site has a partnership with that store, it'll show you how much percentage-wise you'll earn for your purchase.
Click on the special link from the cash back website to the store you're buying from (tip: you can even do this after your items are already in your cart).
Now your purchases will be tracked and your reward will show up in your online account in a few days to a week's time. They do this to make sure you don't return the item.
Finally, you'll need to wait about 30-60 days or so until the cash back "clears" and becomes available for payment.
Now, as long as you've setup your payment details properly and you've reached the minimum payment threshold (typically around $10), you'll be paid out either by cheque or via Paypal.
The payment threshold, payment schedule, payment method, and time to clear can vary.
The good news is: I've always received any cash back that I've been entitled to. These sites actually do pay you, it just takes a little patience.
Canadian Specific Cash Back Sites
1) Great Canadian Rebates
This is the oldest and still the best cash back website in Canada. It was launched in 2005 and has been going strong ever since.
I've racked up almost $450 in cash back from them alone and continue to check them first for all my Canadian online purchases.
They even give you $2 in free cash just for signing up and they have the highest payouts when compared to all the other Canadian options.
I checked 4 or 5 stores across all the Canadian sites and they had an equivalent or better cash back rate every time. And, if you refer some friends, they'll throw in 15% of your friend's cash back as an additional credit to you.
Ebates has been around a long time in the USA, but they're a relative newcomer to Canada
And it's a good thing, too, now that DealGuild is defunct.
It's good to have more than 1 major player in the cash back game so there are more stores available and you can choose the higher cash back rate between them.
One big perk is that they give $5 free just for signing up, so creating an account can be worth it just for that. If you refer a friend, they give you a straight $5 cash back credit as well, but there's no ongoing bonus whenever you friend makes more purchases.
Swagbucks isn't strictly a cash back program because you earn points you can exchange for gift cards instead of straight-up cash.
These points can be earned by doing all kinds of things, like surveys, playing games, or searching the web.
Of course, they also have an online shopping section that lets you earn Swagbucks for every dollar you spend at popular stores.
Swagbucks can be easily redeemed gift cards at Paypal, Amazon.ca, Starbucks, and more – so they're basically as good as cash.
4) MBNA SmartCash Mall
You can combine that with any of the sites listed above to get even more of a rebate on your online purchases.
In addition to the regular points you get when making purchases, they've also launched an eMall exclusive to their cardholders. It works just like a cash back site except the extra money gets credited to your rewards balance on top of the 1% you're already earning.
You can get your cash as a direct deposit, cheque, or statement credit to your Mastercard account.
What makes this a good deal is that I noticed some of the cash back rates they offer are higher than what other sites are offering. Some are lower as well, but it's a decent alternative and the convenience of not having another account to manage on top of your credit card rewards can be a definite plus.
USA & Other Cash Back Sites
As Canadians, a lot of the online stores we shop at either have roots in the USA or we're purchasing directly from across the border. For that reason you don't want to limit yourself to just Canadian cash back sites when making an online purchase.
Checking the following sites when shopping at US and international-based retailers can earn you a lot more cash back.
And some of them even list Canadian stores as well so you might want to check your favourite stores before making a purchase.
TopCashBack originally started in the UK and has since expanded into the USA.
Their claim to fame is that they give 100% of the affiliate commission they receive from their partner stores directly to their users keeping none of it for themselves.
They also have no minimum payout thresholds and don't charge any fees.
I have no idea how they make money themselves with this arrangement, but they've obviously figured out some way to do it, so good for them.
I did my own comparison of a few USA stores and they do indeed offer the highest payout almost all of the time making them my first choice.
They have a very simple site but they consistently offer some of the highest rebates I've seen, plus they have a good collection of accompanying coupons to use.
They also offer merchant reviews, cash back reliability ratings, and a lot of very visible information so you know exactly what to expect when purchasing from a specific merchant.
Founded in 1998, I think Ebates has been around the longest of all the USA cash back sites.
They've also managed to swallow up a few other competing sites and continue to offer some of the highest earning percentages and friend referral bonuses out there.
In addition, they offer cash back at Amazon.com, which not all of the others do!
ShopAtHome not only gives you cash back for shopping, but you can earn money by taking surveys. Plus they give you $10 just for signing up.
You can choose to receive your cash back via cheque, Paypal, or an Amazon.com gift card.
Using the link below, you can also sign up for ShopGold Rewards, which works similarly to Swagbucks: earn points towards gift cards by completing easy tasks, like watching videos, doing surveys, and buying stuff.
The site also has a large library of coupons and promo codes to increase your savings.
Tips to make your cash back experience better
1) Clear your cookies first
Cash back sites often deposit cookies on your computer to track your purchases and award you your cash back.
The thing is that if you click another link to the same store or have an old cookie lying around from another cash back store, it could theoretically override the newcookie from your chosen cash back site, and the other site will get credited for the purchase.
You can either clear your cookies first, or just do your shopping using incognito mode (Chrome) or InPrivate browsing (Microsoft Edge) to start with a clean slate (no cookies) and do the entire purchasing process in that window.
This will also delete all cookies that are made during your purchase once you close the window, so you won't have to worry about it later on. Don't worry, as long as you fully complete your purchase without closing the window first you'll get credited for your cash back.
2) Compare cash back rRates
Some people use one cash back site religiously, but, like for most things in life, it pays to shop around.
Unless you're adamant about simplicity, you should have at least 2-3 cash back accounts that you check whenever you make a purchase.
Here are a couple of resources that help you check dozens of sites all at once:
3) Don't forget services and financial products
When people think cash back, they usually think of buying a physical product.
But there's actually a whole range of other intangible products and services that pay as well.
4) Read the fine print and check exclusions
Most of these sites have a "More Details" link you can click that gives you additional information about the terms of the cash back being offered for a particular retailer.
This will tell you if certain product categories earn a smaller percentage or if there are any exclusions like gift cards, etc.
5) Things that can potentially invalidate your transaction
There are some things you can do that will prevent you from getting your cash back.
Here are the most common things:
Using a coupon found on another site
Sometimes the better coupons out there are specially coded so that they can't be combined with other discounts or payouts.
Coupon codes from other sites generally do work, but if you want to be safe instead of sorry, then you should probably avoid them.
Trying to combine cash back with any other 3rd party offer
By 3rd party site I mean a site that isn't the store you're making your final purchase from.
For example, you can't combine bonus Air Miles from airmilesshops.ca with cash back. You have to choose one or the other.
Clicking a bunch of links before making your purchase
You run the risk of another site getting credit for your purchase when you do this.
If you happen to do this by mistake, clear your cookies and start again.