Robert Willams shares his strategies to save money using box tops, labels, and more to cash in on product refunds.
Taking advantage of refund offers—even if you don't buy the products—is just a matter of careful planning and a few minutes work each week. I save all the national brand food and detergent labels and packages I can get my hands on (because some sponsors purposely make offers in which unusual parts of a package must be returned, it's necessary to save entire boxes). I file all these packages (you can knock them flat to save space) alphabetically according to brand name in large boxes in the basement and I can find any given package in seconds.
How do I learn about all those refund offers? I spot some (and the more plentiful cash-off offers) while scouring through the magazines and newspapers I collect from relatives and neighbors. By the way, I save the papers and sell them to a scrap paper dealer for sixty cents per hundred pounds. It's no fortune but it makes good ecological sense and brings in stamp money. I also recycle the magazines by giving them to a local nursing home.
Although I do get many blanks from this reading matter, such coupons add up to only a small percentage of all current offers. This is where a subscription to one of the many refund bulletins now published comes in handy. I tried several before I found a bulletin that really paid for itself in convenience and service. It's called Friendly Neighbors and it's published by a very nice lady who makes it her business to find out and tell her readers about all current offers.
Neightbors is divided into two sections. The first is a list of refunds in the order in which they expire, with all the information you need to use the offer. The second part is about five pages of advertisements from many people who want to trade, buy or sell spare coupons, boxtops, trading stamps and other unusual items.
Since I can receive only one refund (all blanks tell the customer that more than one refund to an individual constitutes fraud) from each offer that interests me and no refund from the offers I don't care for, I use the ads mentioned above to sell or trade extra refund blanks, cash-off coupons or box tops and, so, benefit from some offers several times. Recently I traded two hundred or so cash-off coupons for the same number of refund blanks. Although I already had most of the blanks I received several I could use and I'll save the others to trade later.
When I first started refunding I spent too much time looking through piles of blanks for offers. So I devised a system using two files. In one file I put one of each refund offer and all of the cash-off coupons I think I will use. These are filed alphabetically according to brand name. I even keep the coupons in an envelope so I can take them to the supermarket with my shopping list.
The other file is inactive. In it, I put "spare" coupons and blanks that I intend to trade. It's important that this file also be carefully kept in alphabetic order. Sometimes I see advertisements in Friendly Neighbors wanting thirty or forty all-different refund coupons in exchange for an excellent trade. With my extras filed by brand name I can pick out my end of the swap in seconds.
There are other time and money savers that I use while refunding or doing any business through the mail. I buy No. 10 and the smaller, personal size envelopes in quantities of five hundred or a thousand. This saves much money and many trips to the store.
I also buy stamps in rolls and sheets. Rolls of regular six-cent stamps and sheets of current commemorative stamps. When I have to make out a stamped, self-addressed envelope, I use a commemorative stamp and keep it when the envelope comes back. When the commemorative issue is no longer sold at the post office—usually within just a few months—I take mine to a dealer and sell them.
When making out those self-addressed envelopes, and for all return addresses, a rubber stamp comes in handy and saves much time. It costs little and can be used for years.
All the little angles on refunding that we use to save and make money become increasingly important as we learn to get by on less and less.
Refunding is "penny ante" to some people and they can't be bothered . . . but there's an old adage, "A penny saved is a penny earned," and the refund trail is many pennies. I know a woman near here who made the money for a down payment on a cottage on Lake Taneycome and she has since earned enough refunding to make the monthly payments. I know others who finance their vacations this way, buy luxuries, supply lunch money for the kids or just put an extra treat on the daily table.
I'm in the middle years and I'll tell you, if I knew when I was a bride what I know today I could have had my house paid for with what I've thrown away in the trash.
Many refund offers expire December 31 each year and you try to get everything you've accumulated during the holiday rush into the mail between Christmas and New Year's Day . . . and it takes a while for the companies to get them all back to you. Last March I had a single "pay day" of $100 in cash, free food and merchandise when the 1969 refunds caught up.— Lois Choate, Editor-Publisher, Money Tree.
Friendly Neighbors, formerly published by Carol Bionda, is now
edited by Jeanette Turniansky. Jeanette tells us she will continue the
newsletter's refund coverage and add other features on living better for