Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rebates: Heaven or Hell?

For frugal people, rebates can be heaven or hell.

They are heavenly when you save substantial amounts of money. I especially like them for computer hardware and software. There are lots of stories about building your own computer which warn you that you can get a high quality computer custom fitted to your taste by building one yourself, but you won't save much money. That warning is a bit misleading. It's always grounded on a building experience whcih involved buying all the components over a very short period of time -- sometimes a week or even a weekend. If you follow that procedure, you are not likely to get large discounts on your parts.

By planning ahead, you can buy components slowly when they really go on sale. For example, if you know you're going to assemble an ultraquiet PC sometime in the next 12 months, it makes sense to watch the Fry ads and pick up an Antec case when it comes with a large rebate. The case will not go obsolete on you very quickly. Other components can be picked up later as you look for good deals while making sure the parts will be compatible with one another. Acquiring components this way might take a few weeks or even a few months, but the final computer can cost you as little as a third of the price for a comparable, fully assembled PC that comes loaded with crapware which takes two days to uninstall.

Rebate hell opens its jaws when you have to fill out forms that are complicated and difficult to understand. Working in front of the opened jaws means you have to make sure you enclose proper originals or copies of receipts, UPC codes, your birth certificate, or whatever and then get all the stuff postmarked much sooner than you first thought necessary. Falling into the jaws means you do everything you were supposed to do and the company never sends you your check.

That said, my rebating experience has been mostly positive. Fry's, Best Buy, CompUSA and a number of other merchants have been very good to me. By this I mean I always got my money. The offices -- Office Depot and OfficeMax -- were much more problematic for me and eventually I stopped buying rebated items from those merchants because of the hassles.

So this brings me main subject of this post: The rebate angel might be Staples!

This year I shopped at Staples for the first time and bought a copy of TurboTax. The program came bundled with other software that would be free after rebates.

The rebate application was the simplest, quickest filing procedure I ever encountered. Just copy some numbers from your receipt and you don't have to mail anything in. They match your online application with their own information about the purchase, and bingo, you are done!

Right now, I feel like Staples will be my store of choice anytime I'm looking for rebated items. I'm assuming I will get my check in the usual four to six weeks.

If I don't, you darn well will hear about it!

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