Get Free Stuff With Online Rebates

Though I have been a serious grocery coupon user for more than a decade, I have to admit that I do not take advantage of grocery rebates on a regular basis.

They always seemed too time-consuming to me. Most require using special forms, cutting out proof of purchase seals, saving receipts, and meeting a deadline. Even when I thought I had completed every detail correctly, I would get a card in the mail that simply explained I had not met the requirements of the rebate offer so I gave up.

I have changed my mind, though, since trying the new easy drugstore rebate programs that are available. These programs are monthly, all-in-one programs that allow you to redeem rebates for several products at one time. They do not require you to cut out proof of purchase seals or fill out multiple rebate forms.

Major drugstore chains like Walgreens, Eckerd and Rite Aid issue monthly booklets that list all of the products with rebates available in that month. Shoppers can buy one or several items, and send in the completed rebate form for all of the products at once. Some of the items are actually free after the rebate, which the drugstores clearly highlight to make them easy to find.

So this year, one of my New Year's resolutions was to give rebates another try. Because my previous failure probably had more to do with my lack of organization than the rebate itself, I set out to find an easy rebate system that would work for me.

I am happy to report that I have saved more than $120 in three months by completing a few simple forms. The money has come in the mail, I have not received any "rejected rebate" cards, and to be honest, I haven't spent very much time on it. So I thought I would share my rebate secrets with those of you who consider yourselves "rebate-impaired."

I decided to complete only those rebates that offered a payout of at least $10 or more for each rebate to make it worth my time. These are the steps that worked for me:

1. Once I found a good rebate offer, I immediately addressed the envelope to the rebate center and put the rebate form and shopping list (with any coupons that applied) in the envelope. I folded the envelope and put it in my coupon organizer.

2. As soon as I was given the receipt after my purchase, I put the receipt in the envelope instead of in my wallet or in the shopping bag (saving me the time of searching for it later).

3. When I got home, I filled out the rebate form and cut off any required UPC codes from the packages (which only one out of five rebates required). I did not take the products out of the bag and put them away until I had done this, and put the bag of products in the middle of my desk, which forced me to complete the form quickly!

4. All I had to do at that point was stamp the envelope and mail it. No digging receipts out of my purse, no searching for the rebate form, and I did not overlook any required details.

Shoppers can learn more details about these rebate programs at www.eckerd.com, www.riteaid.com and www.walgreens.com. Look for the rebate section link to browse offers and print the rebate offer booklets for the month. You can also get the booklet at the store in the same rack as the weekly ad. Use the weekly advertising circular so you can time your rebate purchase in the week the item is on sale to really save. You can also download and print the rebate forms directly from the site.

The rebate sections truly make getting free items a no-brainer. For example, Rite Aid has a special list of "Freebates" on its site. With a few simple clicks, I learned that my favorite mascara was the featured free rebate item this week, which saved me $4.99.

Save even more by using coupons for the rebate items if they are available. For example, one drugstore's ad this week shows a twin pack of toothbrushes on sale for $1.99, and then has a chart next to the item subtracting the $1.00 mail-in rebate, showing a final cost of 99 cents. Because I have a grocery coupon for that item for $1.00, I realize this item would essentially be free to me.

Each program has its own unique features. For example, Rite Aid's "Single Check Rebates" program allows you to enter your receipt information online so you don't have to mail in your information if you'd rather provide it online.

Although you must mail in your Walgreens rebate form, the site allows you to track the status of your rebate online.

You can save even more by electing to have your rebate amount put on a Walgreens gift card instead of taking it in cash. It will give you a 10 percent bonus on the card, making your $15.00 cash rebate worth $16.50 when you elect to receive it as a Walgreens gift card.

Because I plan to do the Walgreens rebates every month, it makes sense to earn an extra 10 percent by having the rebate amount put back on a card, which I will use to pay for my rebate purchases the following month.

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