Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

I have written in the past about how coupons and sales cause us to behave in ways that waste our time. (You can read these rants in Coupons: To Clip or Not to Clip? and Sucked in by a Sale.) I have a new chapter to add to the legion of examples in which we waste so much time to save money.

My daughter wears contact lenses. Earlier this year, she went to the eye doctor for her annual exam and she ordered new contact lenses. A full year’s worth.

When she got home and told me, I asked her why she ordered so many. Why not just six months? Did she have the storage space in her room for a year’s worth of contact lenses? (We certainly don’t have space for them in the bathroom.) And what if her prescription changes during the year?

She explained that the contact lens company was offering a $200 rebate if you purchased a full year’s worth of lenses. I was briefly mollified, but only briefly, because the next thing I knew, the receipt and rebate form were on my desk. In other words, if I wanted to get the rebate, I was required to put in the effort.

Muttering audibly, I went to the website and entered my info and scanned the documents and did everything required. A month later, I received via e-mail a virtual Visa card worth $200.

Remember the good old days when rebates came as checks in the mail that you could just deposit in your bank account and be done with it? I hate when a rebate comes in the form of a gift card. The burden was now on me to use this card by the expiration date.

Since it was not a physical card, I started using it for various on-line purchases. I kept track of how much was left on the card so that I would be sure to use it all up.

The card expires tomorrow and I still have $6.81 left. I’ve had that balance left for months. I’m fairly certain that I will not be able to use it up, as I rarely order such a small amount in an on-line purchase. (I tried using it for a partial payment on Amazon but it didn’t work.)

It has been such a waste of my time to (1) apply for the rebate, (2) keep track of the balance, and (3) monitor my on-line purchases to see if they come out to $6.81 or less with tax added. Although $200 sounds like a nice gift, it is really just another way to induce consumers to spend more money than they need to, just like coupons and sales do.

I’m now adding “rebate” to my list of dirty words.