Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rudimentary Rules Regarding Rebates

A few years ago, my husband and I did the Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) madness for the first time. We checked all the ads and decided what (if anything) was worth standing in long lines outside (thankfully is was Arizona, so it wasn't cold) in the middle of the night so we could fight our way into the store when the mobs rushed the doors and take as few elbows as possible when reaching across crowds for it. Then there's always the risk that your item is long gone before you even walk through the door. A large portion of these items advertised at too-good-to-be-true prices invovle Mail-In Rebates (MIR), at least in the computer industry. Though we didn't come home with everything we went for, we did get some sweet deals (or at least would become sweet once we received our rebate checks). After sharing our adventure with the rest of the family in town and getting a much-needed nap, we began on the paperwork that would make our deal worth all of our trouble. I had my first lesson in rebates.

Since that first experience with rebates, here is what I have learned:

Finding Rebates
Watch for items at the store or in ads that say "Try me Free." An example of this is the Sure deodorant offer I listed recently. The package has all the information you need to make the rebate submission or will refer you to a website that does.

You can search the internet for rebates for products you buy or would like to buy. Let me know if you find one and I will post it on this site! I have listed a few to get you started in the spreadsheet at the bottom of this post.

Note: Walgreens and Rite Aid have their own rebate programs that work really well and are much easier than MIRs. I will talk about them in the future. If you're dying to know about them now, check out their websites.

Buying a rebate item
For individual MIRs (not Walgreens or Rite Aid rebates), make sure to buy only one item with a rebate in your transaction, as you will almost always need to send the original cash register receipt in with the rebate.

Double check the offer to be sure that you have the correct item.

Use coupons when you can. Coupons will usually more than cover the cost of the stamp to send in your rebate. Also, rebates don't cover taxes, so your coupon can pay for or offset taxes. Anything more is just bonus. Lots of people wonder if you will get the full purchase price of an item back when you use a coupon. The answer is yes. Your receipt will have the full purchase price on the receipt. Coupons are usually subtracted at the bottom of a receipt, but the receipt will not specify what the coupon is for.

That said, if you use lots of coupons (in general), it is a good idea to make sure that your total out of pocket is at least what the full purchase price for the rebate item would be. The only time that I have ever heard of this being a problem is when you use CVS Extra Care Bucks to pay for your whole transaction (they ring up as a coupon), you don't spend any money out of pocket, so the rebate company doesn't think you paid anything for your item (even though you did pay your hard-earned ECBs). If this doesn't make any sense, don't fret. You probably won't ever be in this situation.

Requesting a Rebate
Keep your stuff together. I have an envelope in my coupon organizer that I put receipts I am saving for rebates right after I check out. Don't throw away your item's packaging, because you're probably going to need some of it.

Make your submissions as soon as possible, otherwise you will inevitably lose your receipt and UPC or just plain forget. The reason why rebates are such great deals is that lots of people who buy an item with the intention of requesting a rebate fail to do so. Companies know that.

Read the offer thoroughly. Note the date that the offer must be postmarked by. Note what information needs to be included. Will they accept printouts of the rebate form or do you need an original? Do they want you to circle your purchase? Follow the directions. Make sure you bought the correct item.

Write very clearly. If they can't read your address, they can't send you a check. It's that simple. Also, double check to be sure that you addressed your envelope correctly.

Document your rebate for your own records. If there is a discrepancy or your rebate is contested, you will need the information that you submitted. You can make a copy of the items your sending (receipt, form, UPC) or scan them into your computer. Lately I have been taking a digital photo instead. If you do a photo, just make sure it is clear enough to read all the important numbers.

Following Through
Keep your rebates organized. If you do several rebates, it will be easy to forget when you sent them in, how much they're for, and when you should expect them. I suggest making a simple spreadsheet to keep track of your rebates. You could start from when you first find an offer (I have some listed in the spreadsheet below), then update it when you make the purchase, request the rebate, and receive your check.

Your check will be for the purchase price on the receipt. Most rebates say on the form that the rebate is up to a certain amount of money. Those prices are usually higher than a price that the item would actually be at your store. You will not get this exact amount of money, just the purchase price at the store you bought it from.

If the estimated time has elapsed and you have not received your check or any communication from the company, contact the company yourself.

Here is a spreadsheet for your Rebate Records! I even started you out with a few!

Note: This link will open a Google Document. To save it to your computer, click on the "File" menu (within the Google Documents) and choose to export the file in whichever format is your favorite!

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