Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Rebate Mania

I'm a consumer, just like most of you.

I'm also cheap, frugal, and try to be a good steward of my hard-earned income. So I look for the best deal I can find on most items of import or reasonable cost. The Sunday ads are a favorite pasttime of mine, combing the pages for items of interest and pondering the price tags that are listed.

Electronics and office supply stores are a magnet for me. Not sure why...perhaps its because I use a lot of gadgets and office supplies in my life, like to look at audio-visual equipment that I will probably never be able to afford, or just have this notion in the back of my mind that I'll walk in one of these mega stores and bells and sirens will go off and I'll be announced as the 5 millionth customer and win my pick of stuff! Or not. Whatever the case, I occasionally enjoy browsing through the aisles of these types of establishments and just looking for stuff I might need, want, or otherwise admire. A good sale price is always an eye catcher for me.

Gone, however, are the days when something is just "on sale." Oh, no, that apparently was too easy for me the average consumer. Somebody in a marketing meeting somewhere dreamed up an idea that no longer makes purchasing an item the end result of the shopping experience. Welcome the sick, twisted, demented notion of "The Rebate."

No longer can you simply buy a widget that normally costs $40 for the on-sale price of $25. You pay the $40, and then embark upon a "rebate redemption" journey that sounds good up front (the store's task is to make sure it sounds good...they're getting their $40 after all), but may drive you to the point of frustration where you just ignore the rebate after all. "Besides, isn't my time worth something? At least $15?" Good reasoning on our part. Underhanded, sneaky, and coniving business practices on the part of the store.

Of course, I'm on to them. They're hoping I'll forget, blow it off, or miss the deadline. That the rebate will just seem like too much work, and after all, I'm busy - I bought these products to make my busy life more efficient. Why take the time to sort through the paperwork? I would guess that a lot of folks don't follow through on the small rebates. By the time you put a stamp on an envelope and send it in, your $1 rebate is almost cut in half! Its doubtful that many of these companies will openly admit how much they're raking in from the rebate system (remember, they don't have to put anything on sale any longer...just throw out a rebate price). But I'm willing to wager that its generating an enormous amount of cash.

Case in point: yesterday, I stopped in my local office mega store to purchase a tax software package, something I do every year. But guess what? If you purchase a tax package, you get a truckload of stuff "FREE." So I got the software, a "free" ream of paper, a "free" paper shredder, and a "free" additional software package. There was even more "free" stuff I turned down, mostly software that I already have or don't need.

Last night, I sat down to fish through the rebate forms. It turned into a process that rivals my entire tax preparation process for 2004! I have rebate receipts, the orginal receipt (only have to make tons of copies of that), UPC codes (some of these products have multiple codes...which ones do they want?, etc.) For me to get these items "free" and to get my $5 tax software rebate, I have 7 envelopes to mail for 7 separate rebates. My favorite part: the shredder isn't one's two! You have to send in two forms, both to the same address, and you get two checks in return! Oh, and once I finish my taxes and file electronically, I have yet another rebate to prepare so I can get my electronic filing free!

But I have an announcement to make. The companies doing this stuff will not win at my house! If there's a rebate to be had, I'm on it. I'll make copies of receipts, cut out UPC's and box tops, fill out forms, download PDF files, key in codes through satellite uplink, or whatever hoops they invent to jump through. Bring it on - I'm getting the best price you offer!

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