Apple Calls – and Raises? – Staples’ Back to School Deal

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Staples’ current offer of a $100 prepaid card for students buying select laptops, which has since become the most popular post on this blog. As I argued on that post, despite all the hype, I don’t think it’s such a great deal, particularly since the offer is limited to 4 laptop models. But here’s a similar offer that might be worth getting excited about if you’re already Mac fan: Apple is giving a $100 Apple gift card to any student who buys a Mac (except for the Mini) by September 20, 2011.

The downside of this promotion as compared to the Staples’ one is that you get the reward as an Apple gift card, which can only be redeemed on the Mac App Store, the iTunes Stores, and the iBookstore, while the Staples deal offers a Visa prepaid card, which can be used anywhere. On the other hand, Apple’s offer applies to all new iMacs, MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, and Mac Pros – both laptops and desktops – while Staples’ deal is much more limited.

a screenshot of Apple's deal: Who qualifies? You might!

Then again, even the cheapest Mac is more expensive than any of the laptops that qualify for the Staples offer. But let’s be honest: if you’re an Apple fan, you’re likely not in it for the money. So if you’re going big anyway, you might as well get the $100 gift card with your purchase.

To qualify for the gift card, you must use the Education Pricing discount that Apple usually offers to college students, parents, and faculty, which means you’ll get the discount plus the $100 card. To get the deal, you can buy your new computer online through the Apple Education Store, at an Apple store, or at your campus store. If you buy your new computer through one of the first two, the gift card will come with your purchase. If you buy on campus, just visit www.apple.com/promo within 90 days of your purchase to claim your gift card. There’s a limit of 2 gift cards per person during this promotion.

While Macs are definitely not the cheapest computers out there, I’m highlighting this offer in Money Under Your Futon because this blog isn’t just about saving; it’s about finding ways to save so you can live in style. If you’re a Mac fan, you clearly care about style. And if you’re eligible for this offer, you need all the deals you can get.

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Just Because Staples and Dell are Offering $100 Off Doesn’t Mean You Should Jump for these Laptops

While I was watching TV the other day, a Staples commercial advertising a $100 prepaid Visa card to students buying specific laptops caught my attention. Qualifying for the rebate card is fairly easy, as you only have to show a valid student I.D. or acceptance letter, and the prepaid card will be mailed to you eventually.[1]

This seemed to me like a great deal at first, so I decided to check out the eligible computers. There are only 4 models eligible for the prepaid card promotion, though to Staples’ credit they all come from different manufacturers – Dell, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba – and are of different sizes, giving buyers some options. However, they are all at least $579 without the rebate. I am not a computer expert and I can’t evaluate the specifications of each of the models in this promotion, but I think that while $499 (including the rebate) isn’t bad at all for a laptop, it doesn’t qualify as an amazing deal unless you are looking for exactly one of these 4 laptops. Even Staples is selling some other laptops for less than that, and I’m guessing most people don’t need more than a simple laptop for school or post-school work.

Along the same lines, Dell is offering $100 off its XPS 15 and XPS 17 laptops (promo code 932N$0ZCCHWZB9, sent to my inbox). These, however, are fairly advanced laptops with 3D capabilities and HD screens, starting at $799 without the discount. Chances are that, unless you work with graphics or are a computer aficionado, if you’re looking to save money these are probably not the computers for you – as enticing as a $100 discount may seem.

With all the back-to-school deals around, flexibility will likely save you more money than a $100 prepaid card or discount on these select laptops ever could. That said, if you’ve been eyeing any of the 4 laptops eligible for the Staples prepaid card, or Dell’s XPS series, this may be a good time to buy. Neither promotion has a published expiration date, but acting soon is probably better.

And if you do make a trip to Staples to check out their laptops, here’s another published offer that’s actually a good deal, albeit less flashy:  300 free printed labels with the coupon linked here. This could be useful for labeling your own stuff (including your new laptop!), or for making return address labels for job applications, thank you letters, and “please send money” requests sent to family.


[1] The terms and conditions for this offer seem to have been hastily written, and the exact timeframe in which the card will be mailed is unclear. Per the T&C: “Visa prepaid card will be mailed 15 days 4 to 6 weeks after submission of easy rebate.” Also, the webpage listed on the Staples website for the easy rebate redemption, http://www.StaplesEasyRebate.com, is incorrect and leads nowhere; the correct page is www.StaplesEasyRebates.com (with an “s” in the end).

Three Small Ways to Go Green and Save Some Change

Saving the environment and saving your wallet have many things in common, one of them being that others might frequently remind you that the only way to really make a dent is to completely overhaul current behaviors.  But while that may be true, that doesn’t mean that small changes aren’t a step in the right direction.

Here are three small ways in which stores are helping customers to be green and save some change:

Skip the Store Bag: More and more, cities and/or states are requiring supermarkets and other food stores to charge customers for bags, be them paper or plastic.  Although these bag taxes are generally only a few cents, with California imposing the highest at 25 cents, it certainly adds up.  To avoid the charge, just don’t use the store bag.  You can bring your own shopping bag, but you can also just throw the purchased items in your backpack or purse or even carry it in your hand.  Also, stores that are known to give a discount to customers who do not take their paper or plastic bags have continued to apply that rule even when a bag tax kicks in.  In Washington, DC, for example, a 5-cent bag tax went on effect this past January.  But as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have both maintained their 5-cent discounts as well, not taking a bag from one of those stores really offers a 10-cent discount. Continue reading

Rewards in Checking: Bank of America

Barring the rare interest-yielding accounts, it is hard to get much out of your checking account besides the money you already deposited into it and some checks.  But using programs associated with you bank may get you a little more.  Two weeks ago, I wrote on how to make the most of your Citibank account using the ThankYou network, and today I will cover Bank of America.

Bank of America hosts Add It Up, an online shopping portal offering cash back for purchases you make through it.  Of course, there are several other similar portals, such as ShopDiscover, UPromise, and each of the airline portals, and Add It Up won’t always have the best deal.  However, it is worth a visit when you online shop, since the top cash back offer varies by retailer and the cash back earned through Add It Up is deposited directly into your Bank of America checking account – unlike ShopDiscover, for which there are thresholds for cash back redemption, and UPromise, which has a threshold and only makes transfers quarterly. (Click here for a previous post comparing different cash back offers and here for last week’s NYTimes’ Your Money column’s explanation on online shopping portals).

Moreover, unlike most other online portals, Bank of America has a good range of in-store partners as well – at least until the end of 2009.  Once you register your Bank of America checking account for the Add It Up program, you can get a 5% cash back for purchases you make at Staples, Barnes & Noble, Sephora, Macy’s, and Radio Shack stores and at Olive Garden and Burger King restaurants.  This offer runs until December 31, 2009, and is limited to $250 in cash back.  Once you enroll in the Add It Up program, just use your Bank of America check/debit card when shopping at these stores and the bonus will be credited straight into you checking account.  And don’t forget that you can always combine these cash back offers with store coupons.

With Add It Up, it is almost as if Bank of America is paying you to do your holiday shopping – or at least giving you a discount for doing so.

Don’t Worry If You Missed Out on Black Friday

While Black Friday is the traditional opening day to holiday shopping, this year retailers may have held back from unleashing their best bargains and deals.  So if you were recovering from food coma on Friday, there is still plenty of holiday sales and promotions to look forward to in the next few weeks.  Below are a few tips to help you make it through to 2010:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute – Retailers will be stocking less inventory this year, so if you wait too long, the only thing you’ll see are “Out of Stock” signs.
  • Don’t wait for the lowest price, but for the lowest price you are willing to pay – Sometimes these two may be the same, but often times they are not.  Whether a transaction is a bargain can be subjective.  And the lowest price always comes at a cost.  For example, you might get your netbook for only $200, but it might have a different color or slightly less memory.  Nothing is too trivial to make or break a deal.  You’re the one doling out the dough, so as long as you are willing, go for it.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a retailer to match a competitor’s lower price for the same product – Apparently, Wal-Mart and Target are happy to do so.  Competition are fierce this year, so I would not be surprised if it also works for places such as Best Buy and Staples.

Get Rewarded for Recycling

Printer ink cartridges can take up to 1000 years to decompose.  To encourage recycling (and cut costs by reusing), many ink companies include postage-free return envelopes with their ink cartridges.  But if you want a bigger nudge for helping the environment, try Staplesink recycling program.  Staples gives $3 in store credit for each ink cartridge or toner (any brand) dropped off at one of its stores, up to 10 per month.  The credit is not provided immediately; it is sent to your inbox within a month and you must show your Staples Rewards card (Staples’ free loyalty card) at drop-off to receive it.  But for $3 and helping the environment, giving your email address and waiting a couple of weeks is a small price to pay – and you have over two months to use the store credit once it gets to you.