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Shopping Portals: Earn Cash Back Rewards and More

Every time I shop online, I think of it as an opportunity to save for college. My friend, Jen, considers it a chance to rack up hotel or airline points. No matter what you wish to save for, there's probably a shopping portal that will help you reach your financial goal a bit faster.

What are shopping portals? They are basically themed websites that act as gateways for hundreds of online retailers. When you access a store through one of these portals, a small percent of the amount you spend is given back to you as some sort of cash back reward. The best part is that there is no added cost or fee for the shopper. In fact, many portals even help you find coupons and other savings offers.

Are you ready to give a shopping portal a try? Here are four of my favorites:

1. College Savings
Shopping alone won't pay for Junior's tuition at Harvard. But every little bit that you can put away certainly helps. When you purchase items through Upromise and its 800 retail partners (including family favorites like Lands' End and Target), a small percent (usually 2% to 3%) of what you spend goes into an account. You then decide if you want the money to go into an eligible 529 college savings plan or toward paying off your student loans. You can also simply request a check.

2. Cash Back Rewards
Credit cards aren't the only way to earn cash back rewards. You can also get them with a portal like Ebates. After shopping at a partner retailer, a small percent of the sale is deposited into your Ebates account. Then, four times a year the company sends you a check or deposits the money into your PayPal account. The website will even donate the money to charity, if you prefer. An added bonus: Ebates is currently running a Father's Day double cash back offer.

3. Charity
There's no reason to feel guilty about shopping when a portion of the sales go toward charity. Click on sites like iGive or CharityMall and on average 2% to 6% of what you spend gets donated to philanthropy. With iGive, you can choose to donate to one of more than 44,000 causes. All of the money raised at helps fund cancer research. The one downside is that this is one donation that you won't get to write off.

4. Travel Points
If you love to travel, then you don't want to miss out on yet another opportunity to gather airline and hotel points. All you have to do is go to your favorite carrier's or hospitality chain's loyalty website and look for its shopping tool bar. Many of the biggies have one, including United Airlines (Mileage Plus Shopping) and Marriott (ShopMyWay mall). Once you've made a purchase, program points are automatically added to your account. Many of these companies allow you to double dip on rewards by using their branded credit cards.

How quickly will your rewards add up? My Upromise account is still fairly small. But that's probably my fault because I sometimes forget to use its toolbar. But my friend Jen does most of her shopping through Marriott's site and she's already earned a free week at one of its hotels in Puerto Rico.

Do you use a shopping portal? What's your favorite?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Airplane in the Sky image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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The Best Coupon and Deal Sites
Food Safety: Shopping Tips for Families
College Savings: Common Mistakes Parents Make

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