Working in the darkImage by bellissimac via Flickr

If you’re like me, you berate yourself quite a bit for spending too much time on the internet. Why can’t you do something productive?

But often the time I’m spending online is time that I would have spent elsewhere a few years ago. When researching my first book, I spent a lot of time in the library. Now I do all my research online.

I used to read cookbooks for recipes. Now I search for recipes on ingredients.

Everything is now online! And I’ve discovered a neat tool that can put some money back into my pocket for all the time I’ve spent.

amazon - Making Your Web Surfing Pay for ItselfBut don’t worry: I’m not about to launch into a big ad for some company that wants to sign you up. It’s simply a company that lets you randomly win “points” whenever you search the web, which you can then use to cash in for Amazon gift cards, Starbucks cards, iTunes cards, or even electronics. Even if you only use it yourself, you should be able to earn about $50 in Amazon cards in a year.

It’s called Swagbucks, and here’s how it works. You sign up for it (totally free), and then download their toolbar onto your web browser. It’s just like a Google toolbar. And then, everytime you want to search for something, you type the search terms into their toolbar. Every so often, about 25% of the time I think, you’ll win some “Swagbucks”. These stay in your account until you choose to redeem them.

In the last week alone, I’ve redeemed a $5 Amazon card and a $10 Starbucks card. I know other friends who have saved up all year and earned an iPad.

swagbucks 125x125 - Making Your Web Surfing Pay for ItselfYou can also earn Swagbucks by clicking through their links to online retailers. When you need to buy something at Target, if you click to Target through Swagbucks, you earn Swagbucks as part of your purchase. I’ve been trying to figure out how Swagbucks makes its money, and I think it just must be part of advertising for these companies. But it sure is a sweet deal!

Here’s why I joined: I run one of the youth departments at our church, and we need prizes and incentives for the teens. So I’m going to save up all of my Amazon cards, and then go and do a big purchase of some Christian fiction soon so that I’ve got stuff the kids will like (our girls are really big on Beverly Lewis right now). And it doesn’t cost me a dime!

If you want to earn something for your church library, you can do the same thing.

Then, if people sign up for Swagbucks under you, you earn the same Swagbucks that they do. If you’ve signed up under me, for instance, and you suddenly “win” 10 Swagbucks for a search you did finding a crockpot recipe for tonight’s dinner, I get the same 10 swagbucks. So we both win! So if you are all interested in joining, sign up under me and then you help my youth program, too!

And if you get all your friends to sign up under you, you earn stuff from them!

I think it’s a great way to help out our churches and schools, because we’re earning things that we didn’t have to actually pay for. Another friend of mine saves up all her Amazon gift cards to buy all of her Christmas presents.

I know things that sound too good to be true usually are, but I haven’t found any downsides to this yet. I didn’t have to pay anything or sign over any crucial information, and I don’t have to give anyone my credit card. It really seems like they’re just trying to get people to migrate over to Swagbucks so that they can get the advertising dollars from the retailers.

So if you’re interested, sign up right here and see for yourself! And then we can both win!