I don’t recall retailers going after our tax rebate checks so aggressively the first time Bush did this, but this time the pleas to spend our money are almost deafening. Are these deals really a good use of your money?

Rebate Check Offers: Good Points
These rebate check offers can be a good thing if you can spend them at a store where you were already planning to make a purchase and they have an offer that will let you stretch your dollar. For example, if you needed to replace your computer, washing machine, printer, etc, you could use the offer to save money there. Several stores are offering 10% bonuses for converting your rebate check into a gift card. That may make it possible to cover the entire cost of the purchase without dipping into non-rebate funds, or at least reduce the amount you need to spend out of pocket.

Grocery stores are also offering to convert rebate money into gift cards. If you use these deals to stretch your grocery dollars, you could shave a little off your grocery budget.

Rebate Offers: Bad Points
Of course, these deals are really ways to get you to spend more. For example, if you convert a $1200 check into a $1320 gift card, but really only need to spend $1200, you’re stuck spending the “bonus” at that store. If you don’t need anything else, it’s wasted money.

You’re also locked into spending the money at one store. I considered the Ralph’s grocery store offer, but I spend less than $40 a week there. It would take me a few months to spend down a $330 card. Even though it would net me an extra $30, I don’t want to be locked into spending my money there.

Spending Strategies
If you’re planning to spend your stimulus check at one of the places offering a bonus, use these strategies to shop smarter:

Compare prices. Before buying your gift card at a store, shop around at other stores selling the same product to compare prices. If you find that the price is lower somewhere else, then the bonus might not save you money.

Don’t convert the entire amount. If you don’t need to spend $1200 on your planned purchase, convert a lower amount to the gift card. For example, convert $600 to get a total of $660, and then make your purchase. That way you avoid being locked into spending the whole check in one place if you don’t need to.

Buy the gift card with a cash rewards credit card. Credit Addict discovered that Kroger doesn’t require the actual check (since many of us received direct deposits.) Instead, you can pay cash or even charge it. If you can, use a cash rebate credit card to buy the gift card. Just make sure you pay off the card at the end of the month. Not all retailers offer this deal – Sears requires the actual check.

Look for price reductions rather than bonuses. A local mattress store is advertising an $800 discount on a mattress set, bringing the price down to $1200. You may see similar offers from retailers that don’t do gift cards. Before you convert your money, look for a store that simply offers a great discount and lets you pay any way you want.

Obviously, paying down debt or shoring up your emergency fund is the best way to spend your stimulus check, but if you need to make a big purchase or want to stretch your dollars, use the above strategies to make the money go further.

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