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Cheapskate rewind: Cashback services explained

Straight from the files of "Sounds too good to be true," these services really will put money back in your pocket.


I'm a bit under the weather today, cheeps, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to revisit one of my favorite money-saving topics: cash-back services.

Back in February, I offered a deep dive into BeFrugal, Ebates, TopCashback, and other sites that promises to pay you back a percentage of your purchases, usually with no more than a few extra clicks along the way.

I was then, and remain, a huge fan of these services, so if you'll indulge me a sick-day rerun of sorts, here's that story again. My big question for you: Have you tried a cashback service yourself? If so, what was your experience? Good, bad, other? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Three important things you should know about cashback services

Some things in life are too good to be true. Weight-loss pills, for example, and those free Olive Garden dinners that always seem to be popping up on Facebook.

Most people feel the same way about cash-back services, at least initially. Every time I mention them, whether to friends or a lecture group or savvy blog readers, I'm met with the same skeptical reaction. A free rebate for doing almost nothing? Yeah, right.

But in truth? Yeah, right! Cashback services are awesome, and you should be using one -- maybe even more than one. Start by reading my post on "How to get a discount on nearly everything you buy online," then continue on for three important things you should know about cashback services.

1. You can triple-dip.

Suppose you're able to save five percent on a big purchase using a cashback service. Score! But you can get an even better deal if you work a little harder.

For starters, using a cashback service doesn't prohibit you from applying other discounts, specifically discount codes you've received via email or found online. Once you get to the checkout page, just insert the code like you normally would. Obviously your rebate will reflect the discounted price, but ultimately you want the lowest total price you can get.

Coupons at Checkout CouponFollow

Not sure how to find coupon codes for a particular store? Google is a great place to start, but you can also use a browser plug-in like Coupons at Checkout or Honey. These will automatically find (and insert) viable codes for whatever store you're shopping.

Finally, don't forget the old-school option: a cashback credit card like Discover. These cards typically give you a 1 to 2 percent rebate on all purchases, so why not leverage them for an even bigger total cashback percentage?

In other words: cashback service + cashback credit card + coupon code = triple-dip savings. You can't always land this fish, but when you do, it's oh-so-sweet.

2. You can shop around for the best rebate.

Although Ebates, FatWallet, and TopCashback are probably the best-known cashback services, there are many, many more. And within all of them, cashback rates can vary.

Ebates often offers holiday-themed cashback bonuses. Ebates

Suppose, for example, you're looking to buy something from Apple. While Ebates and FatWallet are currently offering 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively, TopCashback has (for a limited time) raised the ante to 3 percent for all iPhone and iPad purchases.

Needless to say, it pays to comparison-shop among cashback sites so you're always assured of getting the maximum rebate. There's a bit more hassle involved this way, as you have to sign up for and keep tabs on more services, but that extra effort can yield bigger returns.

Of course, the last thing you want to do is spend time bouncing around from one cashback site to another to see which one has the best rates. That's why I recommend visiting, which compares the rebate percentages for various cashback services.

3. They work.

Still skeptical? That's okay -- cashback services really do seem too good to be true. But I've tried a number of them, and although the waiting was the hardest part (typically there's a 90-day delay before you can get your payout), every single one delivered as advertised. No shenanigans, no shady practices.

I will note that I've heard from a couple readers who encountered problems. One pointed me to an admittedly misleading offer on Ebates, while two others didn't receive confirmation of their purchase from a recent TopCashback deal I shared right here. (I had a similar experience with a different TopCashback service, and although it was slow to be resolved, it was eventually resolved.)

Even so, I can't recommend the cashback option highly enough. With very little personal information up front and just a few extra clicks in your shopping process, you stand to get extra money back. Kind of a no-brainer, if you ask me.