Mrs. Picky Pincher, a fellow blogger and regular commenter here, wrote an interesting post recently about why rebate/deal sites make her super uncomfortable.
As I understand it, her main gripes are the fact that they aren’t worth the time and that they encourage consumption.
After I read her post, I felt inspired to write my own thoughts about the topic, so, here we are!
I can definitely relate to some of the feelings she has about rebates/deals (we’re talking about things like Ebates, Swagbucks, Ibotta, Inbox Dollars, shopping deal sites, etc.).
In fact, my reservations about those types of sites are the reason that I’m a frugal blogger, not a deal blogger. There’s a lot of affiliate money to be made by promoting deals and bargains, but like Mrs. Picky Pincher, I don’t think those things are the backbone of a financially responsible lifestyle.
Do I like freebies and occasional deals and cashback programs? Yup.
But that’s not the foundation my frugal philosophy is built on.
Instead, I’m way more interested in things like contentment, mindful consumption, waste avoidance, DIY, repairing vs. replacing than I am in chasing bargains, which is why that’s mostly what I blog about.
On the other hand, I think there are some rebates/deals/points that have their place.
Anyway, here are four somewhat random thoughts on the topic.
1. A deal shouldn’t cause a purchase.
Mr. FG and I always use a reward credit card, and I use cashback sites like Upromise, Ebates, and TopCashBack. But we always, always use these systems to buy things we’d buy anyway.
The credit card rewards don’t bring about increased levels of consumption for me; they just provide me with rewards for the consumption I was already going to do.
Southwest airline miles for buying my groceries at Aldi? Yes please! Cashback on work clothes I was already going to buy for Mr. FG? I think I will.
The travel rewards from our credit card were a large reason that we were able to send Joshua and Mr. FG on a California trip for just $500 out of pocket (airline tickets, car rental, hotels, food, and all). And we got those rewards just by making everyday purchases and paying the card off every month in full.
But deals and rewards are only truly frugal when they’re applied to a budgeted-for purchase that was already going to happen.
2. You don’t have to choose between deals and non-consumerism.
At this point in my life, I don’t have much time or energy for chasing down a lot of deals, but that’s partly because I have more money than time right now.
For a number of years, though, that wasn’t true (even when I had four small kids!). While I cooked at home, gratefully accepted hand-me-downs, vacationed off-season and so on, I did also do more deal hunting.
In those days, I did programs like Inbox Dollars, I signed up for free trials that gave rewards, I ordered Christmas presents for my kids when ecommerce started up and companies offered $25/$25 purchase discounts, and so on.
It wasn’t that I was becoming an avid consumer…we just didn’t have a lot of money to work with, and small discounts and deals made a big difference for us. I used those programs to buy things that were needs, and also to provide us with a few luxuries we couldn’t afford otherwise.
(For instance, I remember getting some free cereal with doubled coupons, and the boxes had vouchers for free movie tickets on them. Theaters weren’t something we could much afford then, but we were able to go with the free tickets.)
So, even though I do less deal-hunting than I used to, I’m hesitant to be too judge-y about it, given that some of those programs/deals were super helpful for us back in the day.
When you have some income margin, it’s easy to be all, “Those $5 surveys aren’t worth anyone’s time.”. But when you’re working with a small income, a $5 check is nothing to sneeze at.
3. Sometimes a deal doesn’t look like a deal.
A lot of the really frugal choices out there don’t come dressed with a “50% off!” label.
For instance, high-quality items frequently cost more up front, but then end up being cheaper in the long run (my Vitamix, for example).
The $75 bike on Craigslist might not come with any cashback or rewards, but it’s still going to be cheaper than the brand new $500 bike.
The $50 washing machine repair job is far less expensive than a new washer that’s on sale (even with credit card rewards!).
The food at Aldi (which has very few sales or promotions) is almost always cheaper than the sale food at other grocery stores.
And of course, skipping a purchase is always cheaper than buying an item you don’t need (even with a deal).
4. Freebie/deal hunting shouldn’t come first.
If you want to have the largest impact on your financial situation, focus on the big stuff first. If you’re busy deal hunting and but you eat out every night, that’s not a winning situation.
Or if you’re super into signing up for free samples, but haven’t bothered to shop around for car insurance, that’s a little backwards.
Take care of the bigger stuff first, and then if you have extra time and energy, feel free to do some deal-hunting. But don’t mix up the order.
(Related: sometimes upping income is also more important than freebie/deal hunting. But I know upping income is not always possible.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. How do you feel about freebies/deals? What role do you think they should play in frugal living?