In the Forums...
Posted: August 10, 2003
Written By: Dan "Tweak Monkey" Kennedy
Hot Deals vs. Not-So-Hot Deals
Before you go hunting for the best deals, you need to know what separates hot deal from a not-so-hot one. There are several factors to consider here, namely how difficult a deal is to obtain, how much money must be initially fronted to obtain the deal, and how good the final price actually is compared to the item's normal selling price.
For the first couple points mentioned, there is a grey area where one decides if it is worthwhile. For example, in the case of the Columbia House deal (buy 5 DVDs @ $24.95), there was no rebate to speak of and the only difficulty or confusion involved cancelling the accounts once you've received the DVDs. If I did not cancel the account within 30 or so days of receiving the product, CH would've sent me more DVDs at a greatly inflated price. You can cancel online or over the phone and it is a painless process. At roughly $5 per DVD, this was a great deal by any means -- some of the DVDs I purchased sold for over $20 in stores at the time.
It's up to you to decide if a deal is worth the extra effort or putting the money up. Note that most MIRs (mail-in rebates) do take several weeks (6-8) to receive, but most do eventually arrive. Before you get yourself into an apparent hot deal, check going rates of the item on different sites. Check out Price Watch or Price Grabber for PC / electronics, and check eBay for most other items. If you can find a better price at one of the sites mentioned, or a similar price, why go through the trouble of rebates and price matching? Deals forums like those mentioned later are invaluable to deciding how hot a deal is -- the community users will analyze the deal before you have to get your hands dirty.
Also, always take into account shipping rates and/or sales tax before thinking a deal is so great, and always check for coupon codes before buying online. We'll cover this more in detail later.
I call freebies that are typically worth less than $5 "junk freebies". The one thing that separates a "junk freebie" from a "good freebie" (below) is the risk involved. Junk freebies are virtually risk free. You do not put up any money for a rebate, submit credit card information, or sign up any services. They almost always involve filling out an online form and/or survey, and are only successful about 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time, you either miss out on the deal or you sign yourself up for spam.
For junk freebies, one should have a junk e-mail address (e.g. a Hotmail address they only use for such a service). Don't use your main e-mail account because many of these promotions are made possible by selling your e-mail address or information. Be careful with private information as well (a fake phone number never hurt anyone. ;)).
The kinds of items you receive for these deals vary greatly, but include t-shirts, food/candy samples, party favor type items, and coupons. Some items are borderline "junk", like subscriptions to a magazine you're not really interested in, or free books on topics you really don't care about. Basically, junk deals are low risk and it won't matter much if you miss out on them, but they are usually worth the effort.
Unlike the junk counterpart, the better freebies are acquired with more risk and effort. These deals generally require a combination of rebates (usually both mail-in and instant). For a good example of such a deal, check the CompUSA or Office Depot ads in Sunday's newspaper. They'll have plenty "Free after Rebates" deals on CD-Rs and various software/hardware. Assuming you meet the required items to obtain a rebate like these, you will probably have to wait at least 6-8 weeks for the rebate to arrive. With stores like Office Depot and CompUSA, it will seem like an eternity before the rebate comes and most likely you won't even remember it by the time it does. Be patient though, as it will eventually come (~95%+ of the time). Thankfully they have various sites to check up the status of your rebate (listed on the rebate forms usually).
There are still many good freebies out there that do not require you to take a risk. For example, I've scored many subscriptions to some great magazines (Automobile, Maxim, Stuff, Playboy, EGM, various PC magazines) completely free of charge. Keep in mind when you sign up for such magazine deals though that they will make your life hell if you give a real phone number and e-mail address. If you must be honest, just wait until they call and ask to be removed from their contact list. And yes, they will call!