Cool Ideas

"Try It Free" Offers to Get Free Groceries

by Stephanie Nelson

If you believe the expression "There's no such thing as a free lunch," you should learn about relatively easy ways to get free grocery products that you can, in fact, eat for lunch. Food companies frequently have "Try it Free" promotions for products as a way to encourage new shoppers to try their products. The basic requirements generally include mailing in a brief form, a UPC barcode from the package and a receipt proving that you bought the product. Years ago companies also required shoppers to mail in a stamped, self-addressed envelopes but I rarely see that requirement anymore.

I occasionally complete mail-in rebates, but do so very selectively. If I am already buying the product on sale with coupons, and the rebate is at least $5 or more, the few minutes of paperwork is worth the return. This year I bought over $200 worth of free products at grocery stores and drugstores by taking this casual approach to rebating, which is the equivalent of earning $300 in a part-time job (based on pre-tax dollars). I do not try to find every rebate offer out there, but I do pay closer attention when I see "try it free" and generous rebate offers. Two hundred dollars is real money to me!

I was shopping with my fifth grade son recently, and a big bag of frozen chicken wings caught his eye (which he had probably seen advertised on television). He asked if we could get them, and all I saw was the full price of $7.99 per bag on the shelf. It wasn't on sale and I didn't have a coupon for it. As I was debating whether or not to be a nice, generous mother, I noticed a "Try It Free" mail-in form on the package. That was all I needed to throw the item in my cart! He liked the product, I mailed the form in, and everyone was happy. I made a copy of the form and my receipt, with the form's promise that I would receive my refund in eight weeks. Because it only took me about five minutes to fill out the form and address the envelope, I consider the minimal time spent to be a good investment for a $7.50 return (factoring in the sales tax and cost of the stamp). However, if I do not get my refund, you can be sure you will hear about it!

The redemption on mail-in rebates for food items is typically lower than 2%, according to a 2004 study done by the University of Florida. The study found that the higher the rebate value was, the more likely people were to buy the product. It also found that the longer consumers are given to redeem the rebate, the less likely they are to actually send in the rebate requirements (because they lose the paperwork or put it off so long that they forget about it). In the case of the chicken rebate, the value was relatively high ($7.99 for one item) and the deadline to mail it in was June 30, 2007, eight months after my purchase. The marketing folks at the chicken wing company gave me plenty of time to forget to mail the rebate form in! Go against the statistics and discipline yourself to send in any rebate information immediately. Pretend the deadline is tomorrow.

Look on packages for "try it free" offers, as I did with the chicken. If you would like free Banquet chicken wings ($7.99), Banquet Crock Pot Classics dinner ($5.99) or Banquet chicken drumsticks ($7.99) you can print the rebate forms from conagrafoods.com/promotions (this specific promotion ends 6/30/07 but they may offer new promotions). Also look for rebate offers in the Sunday grocery coupon circulars. I have also found mail-in rebates fairly easily by searching food manufacturers' websites. Search your favorite product names in a search engine to find manufacturers' sites, and look for a section labeled "promotions," "special offers," "coupons," or "rebates." You will most likely find a few good offers and you will be able to print forms directly from the website. You can also stop by the customer service counter at your grocery store to see if they have rebate forms available for current offers.

Stephanie Nelson has shared her savings tips on ABC News' Good Morning America, Good Housekeeping Magazine and hundreds of local radio and TV stations. You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at www.couponmom.com. Copyright 2007 Stephanie Nelson.

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