surprise money

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In Your Office's Vacation Policy
More and more companies are allowing employees to "sell" back their unused time off at the end of the year, according to The Wall Street Journal. The money is treated like an extra paycheck—with regular tax deductions—but you can also choose to receive it as a 401(k) contribution or donate it directly to charity. For the average American, that's an extra two days' pay each year.

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At Your Local Gym
There's a new way to motivate yourself to hit the gym, and it's almost as powerful as your friend announcing that she ran into Ryan Gosling there. Some health insurance companies will pay you to work out. UnitedHealthcare, for example, reimburses members $20 for every month they visit a fitness center or YMCA at least 12 times. (Planet Fitness, one of UnitedHealthcare's participating gyms, offers memberships for $10 per month.) Similarly, Anthem will reimburse up to $200 in fitness expenses each year, provided that users exercise at least three times a week for 44 weeks out of the year. Aetna members should check with their employers, since they determine whether a reimbursement is offered. Even if it isn't, they can still snag up to 50 percent off gym memberships when they sign up using Cigna offers a discount of up to 40 percent through its website,

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At the App Store
Angry Birds they aren't, but these two apps are equally addictive. In fact, we learned about the first one, Shopkick, when an enthusiastic shopper told us about it as she used it to pay for her groceries at Target. After you download the Shopkick app and create a login, you'll start receiving "kicks," or points, every time you walk into select partner stores, such as Best Buy, Macy's and Crate & Barrel. The "kicks" can be redeemed for gift cards to these stores. Using Target as an example, each store gives out anywhere from 60-130 kicks per visit, with about 2,000 kicks equaling $8.

While Shopkick focuses on major chains, LevelUp tends to partner with Mom-and-Pop shops and individual franchises. Once you download the app, you can load money onto it using your debit card and use it to pay at various partner restaurants and stores—such as Auntie Anne's or Quiznos Subs. Most shops offer anywhere from $1-$10 when you use LevelUp in their store for the first time, or for spending a certain amount. The average user saves $25 per month with the app, said LevelUp spokesperson Jenelle Tortorella.

The challenge with these apps is making sure you only buy items you need, instead of rationalizing impulse buys with, "But this gift card will give me $5 off!"

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On Your Credit Card
Most credit-card companies offer rewards or loyalty points in exchange for every swipe, but about $1.6 billion goes unclaimed each year. In January, Discover launched a free "Cashback Concierge" service for anyone who holds its Discover card. The concierge reviews how you use its cards, then recommends the best ways to maximize your rewards and walks you through the whole process in an online tour. The card offers 5 percent cash back on a select group of items, but that selection changes every three months—April through June is for home-improvement purchases—and 1 percent on anything else.

Some cards keep the same cash-back benefits year-round. American Express' Blue Cash Everyday card offers 3 percent back at the supermarket and 2 percent back when you get gas or shop at select department stores.

Often, the biggest benefits can be gained using credit-card companies' shopping portals on their websites. Mastercard's MarketPlace functions almost like Groupon or LivingSocial. When users log in, they're instructed to type in their zip code, which will pull up the deals closest to them, like $30 for a car-maintenance package that includes three oil changes and two tire rotations, or $49 for $2,000 worth of Invisalign invisible braces and teeth whitening.

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