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The Cheapskate FAQ

Everything you ever wanted to know about how this blog works--and then some. Read it, then bookmark it!


After more than six years writing the Cheapskate blog, I've been asked the same questions more often than I can count.

Alas, time doesn't always permit me to answer each reader's inquiry, so I've put together this FAQ page (at the ingenious suggestion of CNET's George Latourette).

The primary goal of the Cheapskate is to spotlight one killer deal (and maybe a bonus deal or two) every day of the week. I love cheap stuff, and I love sharing deals even more.

Think of me as your buddy who walks into the office every morning and says, "Man, did you see this? So-and-so is selling the whatsajigger for only 36 bucks! It was $94 last month! Killer deal. So, who brought the donuts?"

OK, end of introduction. On with the FAQ!

I live in Canada, Great Britain, or somewhere else outside the U.S. Can I still get these deals?

Short answer: probably not. Longer answer: there's really no way for me to tell if a particular product is available outside the U.S. for the same price as it is here. But in my experience, most companies limit their sales promotions to the 50 states.

The thing is, I rarely have any direct contact with the company that's offering the daily deal. So if you want to know about international pricing, you need to make your own inquiries. I wish I could do more, but I just don't have the bandwidth.

Why do you write about products if you haven't tried them first?

I've been a technology writer for a long time, and I'm intimately familiar with just about every consumer technology there is. I don't need to own every single laptop to know if one particular model is a good deal. If it's selling for, say, 67 percent less than usual, that's a good deal--even if the product has some mixed reviews.

Speaking of which, I always look for both professional and user reviews before recommending a product. If everyone says it's junk, I don't cover it, no matter how low the price.

Also, I think most people take it as read that when something's really cheap, a few compromises are to be expected. You're not going to get a thousand bucks' worth of performance and features from a laptop priced at $300.

Ultimately, it's your responsibility to gauge whether something is good enough for you to buy. I'll provide specific pros and cons where I can, but I believe it's the buyer's responsibility to do the research.

I had a problem with the product I ordered, the software I downloaded, or the vendor I patronized. Can you help?

I wish I could, but the reality is I'm not customer service. I'm just the guy who said, "Hey, check out this deal!"

Unfortunately, some companies prove to be unhelpful or unresponsive, and for that I apologize. If you've really gotten a raw deal and can't get satisfaction through the usual channels, let me know. While I don't have the bandwidth to step in on these kinds of things, nor do I have any contacts other than what you can already find online, I may try to help if the situation is particularly egregious.

I missed out on a deal. Is it too late?

I'm afraid it probably is. As I noted earlier, deals often expire without warning, and hot ones tend to sell out fast. In the latter cases, however, it's not uncommon for a vendor to release more inventory later that day or the next. So if something is sold out in the morning, check back later--you might just get lucky.

Also, keep in mind that there's always another deal just around the corner--sometimes an even better one. I've posted what I thought was a great deal on a tablet, only to see it selling for $15 less the very next day.

I didn't get my activation e-mail for the software giveaway. What should I do?

Check your spam filter. More often than not, you'll find the e-mail there. Typically, I don't post a software promotion unless I've registered for and received the license code myself. In other words, I always field-test the system before writing about it.

That said, servers often get overloaded when a software vendor does a giveaway, so it's not uncommon for registrations to go unfulfilled. If that happens, your only real recourse is to e-mail the vendor and politely explain that you never got your code. Even then, you may not get an answer. It happens. It sucks, but it happens. At least you're not out any money.

This isn't the full version of the software, it's a trial. Scam!

Most software giveaways work like this: you download and install what is technically the trial or demo version of the program, then unlock the full version by entering an activation code--which is usually provided via e-mail. (Some vendors put the code right on their giveaway site, so all you have to do is copy and paste it.)

If you don't apply the code, then, yeah, you've got yourself a trial version--one that will ask you to pay to unlock it. This isn't a scam, folks. That's typically how the software vendors make their money; they let you try the product and then hope that you'll pay for the full article.

With their giveaways, however, they're generously giving you a license code free of charge. It's your responsibility to actually use it.

I'm seeing a higher price than the one you advertised. Bait-and-switch!

Um, no. I'm not actually selling anything myself, nor am I in cahoots with anybody. The price was accurate at the time I wrote about it.

If you're seeing a higher price, it's because the deal expired. It happens all the time; a laptop is $329 in the morning, but at 1 p.m. the reseller discontinues the sale price and bumps it back to $389. Unfortunately, in most cases I have no way of knowing when (or if) this is going to happen.

I know it's frustrating, but, please, believe me when I say I'm not trying to trick you. What would be the point?

This coupon code doesn't work. Liar!

It worked when I tried it--and I always try it before writing up a deal. But some coupons expire after a certain number of uses, and there's no way for me to tell how many uses or what the current tally is.

Also, some codes expire at a specific time--and, again, there's usually no way for me to know what that time is. Fun as it would be for me to mess with tens of thousands of readers, I just don't operate that way.

Rebates suck. Why don't companies just give us the discount up front?

Because they're counting on customers to either forget to mail in the rebate or make a mistake on the form and weasel out of sending you a check.

I know many readers seriously hate rebates, and I try to avoid rebate-based deals as much as possible. But sometimes, well, it's just too good to pass up--like a $70 security suite that's free after rebate. As long as you're ordering from a reputable company and you make sure all your paperwork is in order, you stand to save big.

Just can't stand rebates? Then this deal isn't for you.

How much did that company pay you to write about their crap product?

Nothing. It just doesn't happen, despite what some very suspicious people seem to think. In my 25-plus years at this, I've been offered payment to write a review exactly twice, and both times it was from small, foreign software companies that didn't "get" how the review process typically works. It was more confusion on their part than nefarious motives.

Yeah, I've picked a few lemon deals over the years, but it certainly wasn't because I was paid to do so. It's because I'm occasionally stupid. (Some would say more than occasionally.)

A while back you posted a deal about x product. What was it called again?

I can barely remember what I posted yesterday, let alone three months ago. If you're looking for a product I wrote about in the past, Google is your friend. Use this search parameter: product name broida. So, for example, if you're looking for a travel router I mentioned, you'd Google this: travel router broida. Most of the time that should reveal the post you're looking for.

I subscribed to your newsletter, but I'm not getting it. What gives?

Here's how the newsletter works nowadays: After I publish my daily deal on the Cheapskate site proper, I log into the newsletter system and push that sucker out as quickly as possible. The process takes about 10 minutes, and it's usually another 30 minutes or so before the newsletter starts hitting inboxes.

The time that all this transpires varies from day to day, but generally speaking it's between 8-10 a.m. (ET). But sometimes I don't post until noon or even later, so if your newsletter doesn't arrive at the "usual" time, don't panic.

That said, spam filters have been known to block CNET newsletters, even ones that you've whitelisted previously. So that's always a good place to start if you're not getting the Cheapskate on a daily basis.

I used to read the Cheapskate via RSS, but it no longer works. What happened?

A recent change to CNET's site made a few changes to RSS feeds at the same time. All you have to do is resubscribe to the new Cheapskate RSS feed.

If all this doesn't answer your question or solve your problem, hit up CNET's Customer Help Center and send an e-mail. They'll get you straightened out.