Over the past 12 years or so I have saved thousands of dollars with grocery coupons. I make no secret of the fact that if you know when and how to use grocery coupons, they are like free money. When you consider the fact that 99% of them are thrown away, it is pretty easy for grocery coupon users to get a lot of free money with very little effort. Friends and family members who do not share my love of couponing are more than happy to give me their unused grocery coupon circulars, and I save even more!
But I will admit that I have not been an avid user of rebates. I know there are shoppers who know how to work the rebates to save as much or even more than I do with grocery coupons. When you combine the two strategies, you can really save big bucks. So I have tried rebates in the past and found that I managed to misplace receipts and rebate forms, missed deadlines or overlooked required details. In spite of making an effort, I would get a card in the mail that simply explained I had not met the requirements of the rebate offer. Until recently, I hadn’t tried any rebates for about five years.
But the rebating world has changed. Stores seem to recognize that many of us are “rebate-impaired” and they are working harder to get our attention by offering very easy, streamline rebate programs. Not only are they easier than in the past, but they are extremely generous, offering many items that are free with a rebate. Rather than waiting for shoppers to discover the free rebate offers, some stores even take the time to tell shoppers which items are free after a rebate! It doesn’t get much easier than that to save money. The key is to know where these programs are and how to maximize their savings.
So a few months ago I decided to give rebates another try. I know that my mental block regarding rebates probably had more to do with my disorganization than the rebate itself, so I set out to find an easy rebate system that would work for me.
I am happy to report that my simple system has worked for me, and I have saved over $160 in four months by completing a few simple forms (and I’m not stopping, so the savings continue every month). True to their word, the retailers promptly sent me my rebate money. I did not fail any rebate tests by receiving “rejected rebate” cards. Best of all, the rebate process has not taken me very much time at all. So if you consider yourself to be “rebate-impaired,” keep reading so you can start saving more money, easily. I thought I would share my rebate secrets with those of you who consider yourselves to be “rebate-impaired.”
I tested two types of rebates. One type is rebates offered directly by the manufacturer for various grocery items (purchased at any store). The other type is drugstore rebates, which are offered by individual drugstore chains like Eckerd, Rite Aid and Walgreens. This column will discuss how to find good grocery rebates and my next column will explain how to use the drugstore rebate programs.
To make sure I got a good return on my time investment, I decided not to do any rebates that offered less than $10 for each completed rebate offer. You may want to decide what your personal rebate minimum is to make the most of your time. When you find a qualifying rebate, follow these simple steps to eliminate wasted time and paperwork frustration:
Begin by addressing the envelope to the rebate center immediately.
Tear out the rebate form and put it in the envelope.
Write your shopping list and find any grocery coupons that are available for the rebate items, and put them in the envelope.
Fold the envelope and put it in your coupon organizer, wallet or purse.
As soon as you shop and receive the receipt, put it in the addressed envelope (instead of putting it in your wallet or shopping bag, which you would have to spend time searching for later).
When you get home, fill out the rebate form and cut off any required UPC codes from the packages (which only one out of five rebates required).
Stamp the envelope and mail it. You can find generous grocery rebate offers in the Sunday newspaper coupon circulars, from tear pads posted on store shelves, at the customer service counter at your grocery store, and on the websites of food manufacturers. Look for the word “promotion” or “special offers” on manufacturers’ websites to see if they have printable rebate forms available.
Combining rebate offers with sale items and coupons can really stretch your savings. I received a $10 cash rebate for buying 20 cans of vegetables, broth and tomatoes. Because the items were on sale and I had coupons, I ended up making a couple of dollars after receiving the $10 rebate!
In addition to cash rebates, you may also want to take advantage of free merchandise rebates if they did not require much effort. I found a couple of easy rebates for merchandise my sons wanted. One son liked a free Curious George computer game that he saw on the back of his cereal box. The offer only required cutting out the UPC codes from two boxes of cereal (purchased on sale with coupons) and mailing them with the rebate form (no receipt required, which was fortunate because I hadn’t saved it). My other son wanted a Campbells cookbook that featured stories of NFL football players he saw advertised. By cutting out three UPC codes from Campbell’s products (again, purchased on sale with coupons) and sending in $1, I got the cookbook that had easy recipes I liked, too!
You can find grocery rebates in many places, including the grocery coupon circulars, store displays, and the customer service counter at your grocery store. You can also go to the websites of your favorite manufacturers and look for their Promotions section. They will frequently have rebate offers with printable forms right on their sites.
Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABC News’ Good Morning America. You can find more of her savings tips in her book “Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom” and on her website at www.couponmom.com. Copyright 2006 Stephanie Nelson