Make redeeming rebates as easy as cashing a check

Rejoice for Rebates

by Shaunna Privratsky

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Beating Rebate Rejection

I think I am going to turn in my title of "Coupon Queen." Instead, I'd like to be known as the "Ruler of Rebates." Over the last six months, I have cashed in on $200 worth of rebates. Most of the products ended up being free, which is a feat that not even dedicated coupon clippers can match.

Rebates are based on a simple plan. You buy the specified products, send in the required proof of purchase, and receive your rebate check in six to eight weeks. The problem that many people encounter is following the rules. Here are some tips to make rebate redeeming as easy as cashing a check.

First, read all the instructions. There is usually a set time period to buy the item. The good news is that the stores typically run those products on sale or offer coupons, so you are saving even more.

Make sure you purchase the correct size of the item. It will tell you what is acceptable. Also, you must buy the requested quantity. I recently did a rebate for ten Kellogg's brand items. With the store's sale price and doubled coupons, the items are completely free, once I get the $10 check.

Keep your receipts! You must have the original store receipt with the purchase price circled. One reason some rebates are rejected is if the ink is too faded. If your receipt is hard to read, carefully trace over the specific item, the price and the date to ensure your rebate is processed properly.

Next, determine what proof of purchase you need from the packaging. Most simply use the UPC symbol or have you write the UPC number on the rebate form.

Fill out the original rebate form, using your best printing. Most rebates will not accept typed forms or address labels. It is a good idea to photocopy the rebate and date it so you can check on it if there is a problem.

Now that you have everything, send your rebate to the right address. Although the same company processes many rebates, the box numbers and even the zip codes vary. You may need to add extra postage if the envelope is heavier or bulky from the UPC symbols.

Now all you have to do is wait for the check. This is one reason why some people don't want to bother with rebates. They feel the wait is too long, or they forget about it and never receive the check. I keep a list of all the pending rebates I have sent in and the approximate dates the checks should arrive. If the rebate doesn't come, I get the photocopy and call the customer service number.

Rebates are particularly helpful on large ticket items. I watched the sales ads for about a year, looking for a flat panel computer monitor. We had been using the bulky one that came with our computer package back in 2000. It worked well, but it took up virtually the entire desktop surface. If we needed to write something on a sheet of paper, we had to use another surface or perch the notebook on our lap.

The day finally arrived. Office Depot was offering $150 off an LCD flat panel computer monitor. After the mail-in rebates, the monitor would only be $79. It sounded too good to be true, but after reading the fine print on the rebate requirements, I took the plunge. I copied everything, including the receipts and the original ad. I had to call several times, but eventually I got the $50 and $100 checks.

Meanwhile, the monitor is only about 2" thick and takes up very little space. The desk is much more convenient for my writing and my children's homework. In fact, our computer room has become the central location for homework and catching up on our day.

Since the old monitor still worked, I was reluctant to throw it out, especially since there is a disposal fee of $25 on old electronics. Instead, I was able to sell it to a pawnshop for $15!

Almost every week, there is another rebate offered in the Sunday paper. If we can use the products and it is a good bargain or totally free, I go ahead and purchase the items. I fill out the rebate form as soon as I get home, so that I don't misplace the receipt or accidentally throw out the UPC symbols. By doing this, we have enjoyed free soda pop, cereal, bread, beef hot dogs, sausages and snacks for the last three months. The checks have arrived promptly and usually go towards more groceries. It sure helps with today's high costs and two teenagers, not to mention all of their friends.

So take another look at rebates. Once you master the rules, you will enjoy huge savings on items you would have bought anyway. Take advantage of the free offers and you, too, will rejoice for rebates.

Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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