Free After Rebate
Rebates are money-back offers that are provided by a retailers or manufacturers. They are used as an incentive-type promotion that gives the consumer an after-purchase discount. Unlike a discount that is given up front with a sale or a coupon, the consumer must pay the marked price for the product and then complete certain steps in order to receive the rebate. When the amount of the rebate equals the price that the consumer paid for the product, then that product is actually free. While they are offered by retailers and manufacturers, rebates are most-often processed by third-party rebate clearinghouses.
How can retailers and manufacturers offer rebates, even 100% rebates, and still make money? There are a couple possible ways. One way is that only a percentage of people will claim the rebate. We know of no public statistics on this, but it’s probably less than 30% based on other studies and observations on consumer behavior. So the retailers and manufacturers can still make a profit on the majority of consumers who don’t claim the rebate. It is simply inconvenient to claim a rebate, so most people don’t do it. Don’t let that be you if you really want the product for free. Another way that retailers and manufacturers can make a profit with rebates is by using it as a loss leader. The promotion is intended to get people in the store so that they buy other products. Often other products will be for sale, but often other products will also be marked up. If you’re a budget shopper, then don’t fall for that either. There are of course other ways that rebates can produce a profit. For instance, if the rebate is offered by a manufacturer then it doesn’t affect the profit for the retailers. That incentivizes the retailers to promote the product as a free promotion which can boost their overall sales, and the manufacturer makes their profit by distributing in high volume through the retailer. Yet, from the consumer’s point of view, the main idea is not to let the promotional strategies trick you into spending more. In order to get products that are free after rebate and still save your budget, you’ll have to only buy the loss leaders and products on sale that you need. Then you’ll have to follow up to receive the rebates, almost with “type A” persistence.
There are some common acronyms or initialisms that are used with rebates:
- MIR means mail-in rebate
- FAR means free after rebate
When Rebates Are Not Actually Free
There are a couple of caveats to rebates, some of which will require spending money, which means that some rebates are not actually free. Although they still provide a significant discount. Here are some situations where you might have to spend money to claim a rebate:
- When the rebate does not offer a 100% reimbursement.
- When you have buy postage, paper and envelopes to claim the rebates.
- When the rebate is not a cash rebate. Rewards and store credit are not actually free as described below.
- You may still have to pay sales tax and the rebate will not reimburse the sales tax, only the purchase price.
- You may have to pay for shipping if the product is purchased online (although many of them come with free shipping).
- Some software rebates are only good for software upgrades, which means you must have the previous version of the product in order to claim the rebate on the new product. If you don’t have the bar code from the packaging of the previous product then you may be out of luck.
- When you don’t actually qualify for the rebate and you can’t take the product back to the store because you’ve removed the barcode to claim the rebate. (Be careful with this one, be sure to read the fine print of the rebate before you make the product un-returnable).
Even with most of these caveats, the rebate could represent a discount of 90% or more, which any frugal shopper would still appreciate as long as they need the item they’re purchasing. Also, there are cases where these caveats don’t apply. If you find a cash rebate, good for 100% of the purchase price, which can be claimed online or without paying for postage, then it is actually free. They do exist, but most of the time you will at least have to pay for postage and sales tax. You can also profit from products that you get free or nearly free after rebate, as described below. Also, on a rare occasion the rebate will be worth more than the purchase price of the product or the store may offer a gift card with the purchase of an item that is free after rebate. It doesn’t happen that often, but it has happened before.
An additional caveat with rebates is that many of them offer a pre-paid gift card instead of cash. This is slightly limited in comparison because the card cannot be redeemed for cash and there are certain expenses, like taxes or utilities, for which the gift card cannot be used. However, I still consider these to be free since I can still use the gift card as cash on things that I would pay for regardless of whether I claimed the rebate or not. Gas and groceries are two things that I will always need, and the gift cards can be used for those purchases.
How Do I Find Rebates? How Do I Find Products That Are Free After Rebate?
Like any promotion, a rebate offer can be advertised through multiple channels of communication including circulars, the newspaper, direct mail, social media, email, product packaging, and in-store displays. The trick is to be alert and open to these types of advertisements, sometimes having to vet out other ads in order to receive the rebate offers when they become available. The more you search for rebates, the more you’ll recognize patterns for the ways these promotions are announced. You’ll also become familiar with the manufacturers and retailers who make these offers more frequently than others.
Most often the retailers and manufacturers who offer rebates fall into the categories of grocery, pharmacy, office supply and electronics. Household appliances often come with a rebate, but large ticket items like refrigerators are almost never free after rebate (we’ve never seen one at Actually Free; it would be more likely to win a refrigerator or large ticket item in a contest or sweepstakes). The most common product that is free after rebate is software, followed by other computer accessories and office supplies. (There are also other ways to get software for free as you’ll find under “web freebies”). You may find variations in the ad copy for rebates, such as “$40 with a $40 rebate”, “$0 after rebate”, “free after rebate”, “free after mail in rebate”, “price – rebate = free”, “free after instant rebate” and other variations. Rebate offers are much more common during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the Christmas shopping season. However, they can possibly be found throughout the year.
See the following blog posts for more information on rebates offered during Black Friday and the Christmas season:
- Cyber Monday Freebies 2016
- Black Friday Freebies 2016
- Cyber Monday Freebies 2015
- Black Friday Freebies 2015
- How I Got Over $2,000 Worth of Christmas Gifts For Free, 2014
- Cyber Monday Freebies 2014
- Black Friday Freebies 2014
- How I Got Over $1,400 Worth of Christmas Gifts For Free, 2013
- Cyber Monday Freebies 2013
- Black Friday Freebies 2013
If you discover a retailer or manufacturer that offers rebates on a regular basis, opt-in to their email list and follow them on social media. Then you’ll be more likely to receive the offers as they become available. Sometimes an offer will only be available through a specific marketing channel. For example, a retailer might make the offer available through email and not social media. This could depend on where they want to increase their following.
Some common retailers who offer products for free after rebate include the following:
- Fry’s Electronics
- Micro Center
- Tiger Direct
Do you know of another retailer that should be on this list? Let us know. Whenever these retailers have a specific page that lists rebates, it will be included in the Free After Rebate Directory. Other retailers were previously on this list but have been removed as they gradually replaced free after rebate promotions with “free after rewards” promotions. This is described in more detail below.
Websites that aggregate shopping deals and discounts, such as Slickdeals.net and Dealigg, will often post MIRs and FARs as they become available or as they’re discovered. You can check these sites on a regular basis, get on their email lists, and follow them on social media to be notified of when rebates become available. Whenever a shopping site who frequently lists rebate offers is discovered by Actually Free, it will be included in the Free After Rebate directory.
Community-edited and user-edited websites and blogs, such as RefundSweepers.com may also collect and post rebate deals as they are discovered. There is also a place for these websites in the Free After Rebate directory.
Rebates may also be found on sites that list coupons, many of which are listed in the Coupons Directory.
Do you know of additional resources or methods for finding rebates? Please let us know.
Rewards Programs Have Gradually Taken Over Some Of the Rebate Market
The list of retailers above used to be a much longer list. Retailers such as Walgreens and Office Depot used to be on the list, and they may still offer an item for free after rebate once in a blue moon. Yet these retailers and others have gradually replaced “free after rebate” offers with “free after rewards” offers, and these offers are not actually free . . . at least not without an additional step as I’ll explain.
Despite the ad copy which says you can get certain items for free “after rewards”, these are not actually free because you’re not getting cash back. In other words, the money you’ve spent purchasing these items is not replaced or reimbursed. A “free after rewards” offer is actually a variation of “buy one get one free”, which is not actually free, albeit a little more flexible. It’s actually a “buy one, get equal store credit to purchase whatever” offer. When you have to buy something it’s not free. However, these can still represent significant discounts which the conscious shopper can use to their advantage.
Also, “FREE AFTER REWARDS” OFFERS ARE ACTUALLY FREE WHEN COMBINED WITH “FREE AFTER REBATE” OFFERS to give you a super package of combined freebies! The opportunity doesn’t happen very often. But when it does, it’s awesome. The strategy is similar to stacking coupons.
For instance, let’s say that an office store offers seven different items for “free after rewards” and a software item that is “free after rebate” during their Black Friday sale. You’d purchase all the items for free after rewards first. Perhaps in total they would cost $50, giving you $50 in rewards to spend on something else. If the software that is FAR costs $50 or more, then you could use the rewards credit to purchase the software and complete the steps in claiming the rebate. In this case you didn’t just get a $50 product for free after rebate, you got $100 worth of items for free after rewards AND rebates. If you don’t need a particular item, and even if it’s free, sometimes I might suggest not to purchase it to avoid the hassle. However in this case, I’d purchase the software whether I needed it or not, because it would mean that I get the other 7 items that I wanted for free, as it would for you too.
Read More about Rewards Programs.
How to Claim a Rebate
There are a couple different methods of claiming rebates which mostly depend on the retailer, manufacturer and/or clearinghouse that is processing the rebate.
Staples Easy Rebates are claimed online. You must first create an account, then fill out a form and enter the code that is found on your receipt from the purchase. Usually a check is sent to you in the mail and you are not required to pay postage. (These are cool, we like these).
Most of the time the process for claiming rebates is a little more extensive.
First you should read the fine print for the rebate to make sure you or your purchase qualifies. Did you make the purchase with in the specified time period? Did you purchase multiple products for free after rebate only to find that the manufacturer will only let you choose one of them? You might see “one item per household” in the fine print. Are there any other conditions that could prevent you from receiving the rebate? If there are, don’t mail the receipt anywhere and don’t damage the packaging because then you can’t take it back to the store.
There some ways around certain rebate conditions. If you missed the time period to qualify for the rebate then you might be able to get the store to backdate the receipt OR if the store sold out during the promotion you can still ask to buy the product and then pick it up when they get it in stock. A rain check wouldn’t apply in this case because then you’d be purchasing the product after the rebate period is over; so you want to actually pay for the product and get a properly dated receipt even if you don’t walk out of the store with that product at that time. If the fine print says “one item per household”, then you could potentially use the address of a family member or friend to claim an additional rebate. Most rebates will not be sent to PO boxes. You may also want to use a different email address in this case if it asks for one.
After you’ve read the fine print, you’ll fill out the rebate form. Sometimes the retailer will give you the form when you purchase the product. Sometimes you’ll have to go to the retailer’s website, find the form, print it out and then fill it out by hand. If you have to fill it out by hand, make sure it is legible, otherwise they won’t know where to send the rebate and you won’t receive it. Sometimes you will go to the manufacturer’s website, fill out the form online and then print it.
Legibly label the envelope with the proper address before sealing the form inside it. You might think that goes without saying but it happens all the time. It’s worse after having stamped the envelope, or multiple envelopes due to claiming multiple rebates, and then sealing the form inside without labeling the envelope first. If you’re going through the “assembly line” with multiple rebates it can happen.
Once you’ve labeled the envelope and filled out the form you’ll insert the form in the envelope along with other items that the rebate requires. When it is kept simple you’ll include the original receipt and the bar code from the product packaging. However, the rebate may ask for other items, especially when one product has more than one rebate from the same manufacturer. Sometimes the store will print a rebate receipt and you can use that instead of the original receipt. You can you only use a copy of the receipt when the rebate clearly specifies that you can, otherwise you cannot use a copy of the receipt. Sometimes it’s best to just make the one purchase independently of other purchases at the store so that you still have the original receipt for other purchases. Sometimes the rebate will require a “proof of purchase” which may or may not be the same thing as the bar code.
When you’re certain that the envelope contains all the items you need to claim the rebate and the envelope is properly labeled, then you’ll seal it, stamp it and mail it. Generally you’ll receive the rebate in 4-8 weeks, but some rebates take longer.
Make Money From Products That Are Free (Or Nearly Free) After Rebate
You can profit from products with rebates by purchasing the products, claiming the rebates and then selling the products in “like new” condition on sites like ebay. College students have done this to make extra cash for college, and there’s no reason it can’t be applied by other individuals who aren’t in college. In most cases you’d have to describe the packaging as “damaged” since the rebates often require that you remove the bar codes, but the product itself is still new. And you’ve received it at a discount of 90% or more, which is a better margin than most wholesale resources for ebay.