Use This Old-School Method to Get Money Back on Products You Buy

A woman checks the mail as she arrives home after work.
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You know what makes any day 10 times better? Checking the mailbox and — instead of a bill — finding there’s money waiting for you.

That’s the sweet, sweet joy of a mail-in rebate.

What Is a Mail-In Rebate Exactly? 

When you see a tag on the thing you’re buying promising you money, that’s not a scam. It’s a mail-in rebate. A rebate is an offer from a retailer or manufacturer to give you money back after buying a particular product. For you, it’s an indirect way of lowering the price. 

Instead of seeing the savings immediately (like when using a coupon), you fill out a form, submit proof of the purchase and the company mails the savings back to you — usually in the form of a check, prepaid debit card or store gift card.

It often takes weeks — sometimes a couple months — for retailers or manufacturers to process rebates and mail you your money. Seeing it finally show up in your mailbox is always a pleasant surprise.

Mail-in rebates are offered on all types of products. You may find them more often on electronics, home appliances, automotive goods, beauty products and over-the-counter medications.

How to Decide If Mail-In Rebate Offers Are Worth It

Though mail-in rebates can knock a significant amount off the price of an item, be careful not to be lured into buying something just for the rebate.

Stores may advertise the after-rebate cost to entice you to buy, but you’ll be required to pay the full price upfront. Make sure you can afford the item without the rebate. Think twice about going over budget or charging the item on a credit card just for the sake of getting a fractional payout eight weeks later.

Another thing to consider is what form of payment you’ll receive. You won’t be getting actual cash in the mail. A prepaid debit card that you can use anywhere is great as long as it doesn’t charge fees and you are mindful of the expiration date. Getting payment via a store gift card is only good if you plan on buying something else from that retailer in the near future — or at least before the credit expires.

This graphic shows you how to decide if a mail in rebate is worth it If you receive the rebate in the form of a check, you may have to wait just a bit longer for the funds to clear your bank account. If you don’t have a bank or are using a check-processing service, you’ll forfeit some of your savings to cover the check-cashing fees.

With mail-in rebates, pay attention to the fine print. If you don’t heed the instructions correctly, you could forfeit your rebate. You may have to save your receipt, cut out the product’s barcode or print a special form. 

The company will likely have a certain window of time for you to redeem your rebate. Some retailers have moved the process online, so you can request to have your money sent without wasting a stamp.

Like with any advertised savings, make sure you’re not just chasing a good deal. Saving 50% is wonderful, but you could save 100% by not buying something you don’t need.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.