Extreme Couponing Leads to Extreme Rebating

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Before this experiment in extreme couponing, I'd always used some coupons but had never really taken advantage of mail-in-rebate offers. I guess I've sent in less than 10 grocery rebates over the last 30 years. I never seemed to have the UPC or the bottle cap or the label - or if I had those, I don't have the receipt. Or, in the days before I embraced stockpiling, I had just purchased the item and wouldn't be purchasing it again before the rebate offer expired. I was so anti-rebate that I never even glanced at the hang tag rebates or rebate forms on packaging. All that has changed now that I'm living in the extreme couponing world. In fact, it might have been a mail-in-rebate that pushed me into this whole thing.

Right around the middle of January, I was clipping a few coupons and I noticed a mail-in-rebate for supplements that TW had just purchased. (Buy $25 worth of product, receive $5 back.) I clipped that rebate along with the coupon next to it. If TW was going to start buying these particular supplements, it would be dumb to NOT take advantage of this rebate. And so we did. (I sent in the rebate form a couple of weeks ago and am anxiously awaiting my check ... keep your fingers crossed, I am still unsure as to how often companies actually SEND those rebate checks.)

Right about the same time that I saw that rebate, I saw another one for Purdue Shortcuts. This is not a product we buy very often, though I have occasionally tossed one into the cart to help make quick dinners quicker. It's expensive and my commissary doesn't always have this product. But I cut it out anyway because it would be worth it to grab a package at a local grocery store since the mail-in-rebate would make it free. Meat for free! Big win, right? (I sent that rebate form a couple of weeks ago, too. I will get a check, won't I?)

And there lies the problem. I bought $25 worth of products we were already planning on buying. If that rebate doesn't come, it's not really a huge loss -- just a disappointment. But that chicken -- I bought that solely because of the rebate. If that rebate doesn't come, I've wasted money. Sure we used the chicken, but it was a lot more expensive than if we had just bought the food we normally buy. That unknown factor -- will the money come, or won't it? That's what keeps me from being a big rebater.

I read Susan Samtur's book, Supershop Like the Coupon Queen, because I wanted to be convinced that rebating was the way to go. From seeing her on TV years ago, I remembered that she saves every single bit of packaging from products she buys so that she can take advantage of rebates. Even after reading her book, I just can't get into that. It doesn't make sense to me. Rebate forms always say that your products need to be purchased between some specific dates. How can having the UPCs and cash register receipts for products you bought three months ago help you with that rebate? It can't! If you're a stockpiling couponer and the rebate is that good, then odds are high that you'll have time to purchase the products, with coupons, at your buy price, before the rebate expires. That seems like it would make more sense than hanging your hopes on yesterday's purchases.

There are some rebate programs that ask you to save UPCs or points -- Coke Rewards, Pampers Points, Fast Fixins' are just a few. Those make sense to me. If you buy those products regularly, you have an ongoing opportunity to save money. But how often do those types of programs come along? If you've saved a year's worth of yogurt cups, is a yogurt company going to suddenly let you send those in for money, coupons, or products? I am skeptical.

One mail-in-rebate opportunity that I am interested in is the one for Caregivers Marketplace. TW's mom lives with us, and we do buy some of those products every year. When we have purchased five (or more), we can send in one form plus the UPCs and receipts and get back a fairly nice rebate. This program works for us because we can purchase these all year, as needed, and send them all at once.

So here I am, torn between seeing some opportunities and being skeptical of the opportunity itself.

I prefer rebates like the one I took advantage of Monday, at Staples. I bought two packages of printer paper, a package of pens, and printer ink. I submitted the rebate forms online when I got home and I can track the progress of my rebates online. In fact, that very evening I received an email from Staples telling me that they were processing my rebates. That's the best kind of rebate for me -- one I can submit online and track online.

Besides those mail-in-rebate offers, I've sent rebates for Snapple that I would not have normally bought, (this was purchased during the big ConAgra sale), and I bought a tub of Land-o-Lakes butter with olive oil to take advantage of a BOGO free offer. This was also not butter I would normally have purchased -- the sale was minimal and I had a coupon, but I bought it primarily to give the mail-in-rebate process another try. I'm mailing that one off tomorrow, and I'll let you know if my rebate comes back.

I'm holding onto another possible rebate offer -- for a Febreze product. This is something we might buy and if one of the drugstores has a super good offer, then I'll take advantage and send in the rebate. If they don't, then I think I'll skip this one. Or maybe those rebate checks will start flowing in and I'll be inspired to buy this product just to take advantage of the rebate? Only time will tell.

We hit some rough patches in last week's couponing. At CVS, one of our ECB's didn't print, (I was kind of glad to see that it didn't print for a bunch of people, I thought I'd messed up somehow), and since it was only a .79 ECB, I wasn't heartbroken. CVS made up for that with an unadvertised ECB for EOS Lip Balm. Free EOS makes my family very happy.

At Walgreen's, two of my RRs didn't print -- one was my fault, I bought the wrong-sized item. No big deal since the item was already on clearance and something we buy anyway. But the second one annoyed me -- I stocked up on more air freshener purely for the RR. I'll be returning those products, because without the RR, the deal wasn't good enough for me to hold onto them.

At Jewel, I was hoping to get a super-awesome deal on Tribe hummus by using $2 coupons on a product that was on sale for $1.79. Unfortunately, my store won't take those coupons. Darn. Free hummus would have made for an awesome week.

On the other hand, our biggest shopping spree at the commissary was super small. TW said the only thing she needed in order to stick to the week's meal plan was milk. I needed dishwasher detergent. And, I was pretty sure we needed shredded cheese -- we always need shredded cheese.

So we had a very short list, but I brought along some coupons for other items that I thought we might be able to stockpile at a low price and the coupons we'd need to purchase for the P&G mail-in-rebate offer we found at the commissary last week. We needed to buy $30 worth of P&G products, in one transaction, to receive a $10 gift card. Here's what we bought:

P&G Products

  • Gain Detergent $6.25
  • Tide Stain Remover $5.17
  • Cascade $4.39
  • Gain Fabric Softener $3.20
  • 2 Fabric Fresh $4.13
  • 2 Air Effects $2.21
  • Total Cost: $31.69
  • Coupons I used totaled $8.92
  • Total Paid: $22.77
  • I'll get back a $10 gift card
  • Final total, after rebate: $12.77

That's a really good price for all of that product -- even without the gift card offer. I had some high value coupons (two items were completely free and one was only 20 cents.) The only P&B item that we really needed was dishwasher detergent, and I would not have normally purchased this brand during this trip because it wasn't on sale and other brands would have been less expensive (even without a coupon.) But, since I needed to hit my $30 mark and I knew in the end the rebate would be worth it, I went ahead and bought it. The rest of these items are stockpile items. Things we do buy but didn't need right at this moment.

In the end, our big grocery trip cost $63.08. We used 17 coupons and saved $20.08 (that's 25%) with those coupons. I was pretty pleased with that -- particularly since we've got three months worth of microwave popcorn and I've got pizza rolls in my freezer again. (Mmmm, pizza rolls.)

TW asked me if we're saving money, which is the question I have been asking myself. The answer is: yes, no, maybe. We're spending exactly the same amount that we always spend on grocery items. But, we're also stockpiling -- our cabinets are overflowing, and our freezer is so full that I saw a kid trying to wedge my pizza rolls into the freezer in between two packages of frozen chicken. Our freezer has never been full before. We also have items that we'll be donating to the local food pantry.

Ask me again in just a few more weeks. We should be spending $63 every week, rather than $100+ most weeks and $63 sometimes.

What were your biggest deals last week? Are you looking forward to any big sales? Have you used rebates to help reduce your food spending?

~Denise
BlogHer Community Manager
Life. Flow. Fluctuate.

Original for BlogHer

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