Old Bottle Caps Can Mean Free Holiday Gifts

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Yup, I pick up sticky soda bottles off the street. And I turn them into holiday stocking stuffers – for free.

Yesterday, I bought four 12-packs of Diet Coke for $8.19. That’s not a typo. I took advantage of a buy-two-get-two-free sale and “bought” one of the two with a free-12-pack coupon that I got from My Coke Rewards.

Yeah, $8.19 for the one 12-pack is a rip. I’m vacationing in Alaska, where everything costs more. But now I’m all set for my caffeine of choice.

My Coke Rewards is a pretty simple program. Each bottle cap from a Coke product (which includes Minute Maid bottled juices, Powerade, and flavored Dasani water) has a code worth three points. Multi-can packages bear codes worth 10 to 25 points. It costs nothing to sign up.

I’m not getting paid to write this, by the way. I’m writing because I like the program. It gets me free soft drinks, free movie tickets, and occasionally, other free items as well.

Those of you who think it isn’t worth the effort: Have you priced movie tickets lately? When I was really broke a few years ago, one of the Christmas gifts I gave my daughter was half a dozen movie tickets (which come with free fountain soda).

Among other presents I’ve “bought” this way are a movie-themed T-shirt, a NASCAR cap (a friend’s son is a big racing fan), and a couple of subscriptions.

Bottle bonanza

It generally takes me a couple of weeks or more to go through a 12-pack of Diet Coke. (Depends on how many deadlines occur in a given week.) Yet personal consumption doesn’t affect my points-gathering much because most of my codes come from someplace other than my fridge.

A friend saves caps for me. I’ve found 12- and 24-pack boxes in the recycle bin at my building – if I can reach them, they’re mine. (The fact that I own one of those Gopher tools ensures that just about all of them are within my reach.)

I regularly find codes when I’m out on walks. If they’re still attached to bottles, I recycle the bottle when I get home.

The cashier at my favorite teriyaki joint, bless her heart, lets me take codes off boxes while I’m waiting for my food. She even lends me her scissors.

The lion’s share of my codes, however, comes from the University of Washington campus. The recycle bins at the library are bottle bonanzas, since students + homework = caffeine.

All together now: Eeeewwww! Pick up soda caps from a dirty, old street? Pull bottles out of a recycle bin? I’d never do that!

Fine. Don’t do that. It leaves more for me and anyone else who likes free stuff.

Just another (slightly sticky) frugal hack

I know I’m not the only person who harvests codes, because I’ve gotten feedback from readers who do this. One woman picked up a staggering 375 bottle caps after a community festival. I wish.

If you decide to try, here are some tips…

  • Some caps are sticky, so hand sanitizer is a good thing to have.
  • Keep an old plastic bag in your purse or backpack to store your finds.
  • Reaching into a trash can? Give it a tap first to shake loose any squirrels or wasps attracted by the sweet smell of Barq’s.
  • Check workplace recycle bins and lunchroom trash cans.

Yes, it takes time to get enough codes for many freebies, especially since you can enter only 120 points per week.

If you’re unemployed, under-employed, or trying to pay down debt, sending for freebies is one way to stretch your budget or allow for some fun. Right now I have a dozen movie tickets stockpiled – and they don’t expire.

Some of those premiums make great stocking stuffers or presents – and are definitely worth it if you like getting free stuff in the mail.

More stories from Donna Freedman:

Stacy Johnson

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