Over the next couple of weeks, six finalists will be auditioning for the opening of “staff writer” at Consumerism Commentary. Each will be providing two guest articles to share with readers. After the six writers have shared their guest articles, readers will have an opportunity to provide feedback before we select the staff writer.
This article is presented by VCMcGuire, a regular contributor to the New York Times and other publications.
I hate shopping. A lot. I have been known to buy the wrong thing, for the wrong price, just to get out of the store.
Buying gifts is the worst. Here’s what happens on a typical shopping trip before Christmas. I’m standing in a store, holding something in my hand, and I’m thinking, “Will this book/sweater/candle show my grandma/father/spouse how much I love them? Do I really know them well enough to know what they will like?”
This is followed closely by another glance at the price tag, and the realization that this month’s credit card bill is going to be bigger than our mortgage payment. Right about then, somebody usually starts hanging on my arm and asking if we can please buy a soft pretzel now, Mom?
That’s when I either convince myself that my father will love that shade of fuschia, or I walk out of the store empty-handed.
Thank god for online shopping. I can do it at home. I can find the best price. In most cases I can find the perfect color and size. And by spending a few extra minutes, I can often get a pretty good discount on my purchase. My goal is to get a discount big enough to cover the shipping charges.
I do this by using a third-party cash back site to get a rebate. I’m a member of several rebate sites, and most of the online stores I buy from participate in at least one of these programs.
But how can you find out whether, say, Macys.com, participates in any rebate programs?
I use a site called Ev’Reward. (Flexo reviewed Ev’Reward back in 2006.) This site lets you plug in the name of a store and find coupons, or rebate sites that will give you a kickback. Online coupons consist of a code you can enter before you buy, and your savings are instantaneous. Rewards sites usually require you to sign up for an account, then click through from their site to the retailer. Once you have accounts with a few rewards sites, though, this is pretty fast. The downside is you have to wait to get your rebate–usually about 90 days from the date of purchase. This gives the retailer time to make sure you’re not going to return your purchase.
I’ve tried a number of rewards programs, and I’ve got my list narrowed down to about four that I use on a regular basis. I don’t participate in any rewards programs that cost money to join. And I don’t use any of my travel reward accounts for this purpose. I get miles and hotel points when I travel, but I would rather have cash money as a rebate for shopping, not miles or points.
Here are my favorite rewards sites, and a summary of their advantages.
- Fat Wallet. Unlike most of its competitors, Fat Wallet has no minimum balance before you can withdraw your money. You still have to wait a couple months for the rebates to clear in their system, but then you can request to be reimbursed through Paypal. The site has a lot of other good features, like a thriving discussion board for bargain hunters, that make it worth a longer visit.
- Mr. Rebates. This site often has the highest rebates for specific merchants. Recently, the minimum withdrawal was lowered to $10, making Mr. Rebates more attractive. This site also has the best referral program. You don’t get anything when you initially refer a friend, but you get 20% of all their rebates for as long as they’re members. If you refer a few big-time online shoppers, you can earn a steady trickle of passive income.
- Ebates. Ebates also has relatively high rebates compared to other sites. Another plus is that they automatically send your rebates quarterly once you reach the $10 minimum pay-out. That means you don’t have to remember to come back and request to be paid. Ebates also has a referral program. When you refer a friend and the friend makes a purchase through Ebates, you get a $5 bonus, but there’s no ongoing kickback for your friend’s future purchases. I recently bought a bunch of school uniforms for my kindergartener from JCPenney.com, and got 3% back from Ebates.
- Upromise. This site’s kickbacks for online shopping are usually much lower than the other 3 I’ve mentioned, but it’s worth signing up anyway. You can register grocery store rewards cards with Upromise, and get a few cents in your Upromise account when you buy selected products. You can ask friends and family to sign up for Upromise accounts, naming your kid as a beneficiary, although some of my relatives were understandably skeeved out by the idea of letting yet another company track and analyze their spending. The rebates accumulate in your Upromise account until you roll them into a 529 college savings plan. We all know college is wicked expensive, so every little bit helps. I’ve been participating in Upromise for a few years now, and I’ve saved a few hundred dollars–enough to pay for a single textbook. Maybe.
So, with the holidays approaching, I’m looking forward to avoiding the malls and getting rebates on all my gift purchases.
I’ve probably missed some good rewards sites, and I know there are other sites besides Ev’Reward for looking up online discounts. What are your favorites?
This is a guest article by VCMcGuire, one of six finalists interested in being Consumerism Commentary’s staff writer.
Updated March 21, 2011 and originally published November 18, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.