June 29, 2006


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You paid money for that?
Many geeky gadgets are free after rebates
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Keeping up with the latest gadgets and gizmos can be pricey.

Waiting just a month or two before buying a new product can cut the cost drastically, but then you’re not the first on the block to have one.

Fortunately, the costs for some geeky purchases can be kept down with the miracle of the mail-in rebate. Companies rake in huge amounts of money from buyers who forget to send them in or send the wrong stuff, but you can be one of the proud few who gets that check back in four to six weeks.

Most rebates require just three things: a rebate form (either printed at the register, available elsewhere in the store or printed from the company’s Web site), the receipt or packing slip (usually a copy is acceptable) and the UPC symbol cut out of the box (usually a copy is not acceptable).

Some gear is even free, plus a stamp, after that mail-in rebate. Deals are always changing, but there are a few things you can consistently find for 39 cents net.

• USB hubs: Maybe you bought one too many USB devices and all your ports are used up. Maybe you can’t be bothered to reach all the way around to the back of your PC to plug things in. Maybe you’re designing a postmodern, high-tech tribute to Boston’s nicknames. Whatever the case, is your need so urgent that you NEED to go pick up the first one you can find today for $39.99? As I write this, eCost.com has not one but two different 4-port USB 2.0 hubs that are free after rebate. Now, eCost does charge you a “handling fee” that’s separate from their occasional “free shipping,” which is slimy, but if you’re buying some other stuff anyway, it’s insignificant.

• Antivirus software: Okay, I really don’t like antivirus software to begin with — it slows your machine down, is often buggy and can’t substitute for a little education about what e-mail attachments to not open — but if you’re gonna spring for it, at least don’t pay for it. McAfee, Symantec and other antivirus peddlers are constantly throwing their boxed products out there to hook you and get you to pay for an update subscription. There’s usually one “upgrade” rebate that requires you to have a previous version of the same software or any version of a competing antivirus program to get the full amount back. All you need for proof is a photocopy of the installation disc, so even if you bought Norton Antivirus back in 1999 and long ago burned the receipt for warmth, you can get that upgrade rebate. Or, you know, get a Mac.

• Canned air: If anything should be free, it’s air, right? Especially when you need to clean out your keyboard or the inside of your PC. Fortunately, a can of compressed air, complete with tubular polymer fluid dynamic direction device (basically a plastic straw) and ozone non-depleting propellant, is often sold for a few bucks with a rebate of a few bucks. Check the weekly circular of your friendly local big box electronics or office store and every couple weeks you’ll find the deal. The catch? The sales usually start on Sunday mornings and you have to get there right when the store opens to have a chance of picking up a can. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to cut the UPC out of a pressurized metal can, so you can usually just write the number down on the rebate form rather than messing with scissors.

Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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