Category Archives: Philosophy

Menards Free Stuff – The Verdict

Over the course of a 2-year experiment, I “bought” almost $5000 in free-after-rebate merchandise from Menards.  Two garage sales and a flea market later, it’s time to analyze the data: Does it really work?  Was it worth it?  How much did I make?  Read on to find my answers…

The Menards rebate system has been one of the major tactics I have posted about on this site.  As you can read on the About Me page, a few years ago I was unemployed and looking for creative ways to make money and/or get free stuff.  I stumbled upon the Menards mail-in rebate program that frequently features free-after-rebate (FAR) items in their weekly ads.
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Through some testing I found that you can use the in-store rebate checks to buy more FAR items, effectively recycling the original money over and over.  When you want to end the chain reaction, just use the remainder of the rebate checks on purchases you would have made anyway, and voila!  You just got all that stuff for free.  A more detailed overview of the tactic can be found here.

Many times ad flyers overlap, making for pretty decent hauls.

Many times ad flyers overlap, making for pretty decent hauls.

MY EXPERIMENT

As soon as I confirmed some basic plausibility (e.g the checks can be used on anything; even new FAR items) of the system I decided to run it like an experiment.  I love quantifying value (hence this website!) and I wanted to see how much one could actually make by getting this free stuff and hopefully selling it secondhand (or using it).  Here were my parameters:

  • Get only and all items where the rebate amount matches or exceeds the purchase amount.*
  • Get the max quantity of items eligible for the rebate offer.**
  • Sell items at 50-75% discounts from retail (to move product fast).

*There were some exceptions, as discussed here.
**In rare cases there were not enough items in stock.  Also in rare cases, there were FAR items with no limit.  In this case I would get as many as I presently had rebate checks to cover.

And some assumptions:

  • Stamps for sending in rebates, garage sale signage, and flea market fees are counted as expenses.
  • Travel costs to and from the store do not count as expenses as these cost were negligible in my situation.

THE RESULTS

Acquiring stuff
After 2 years (July 7th, 2013 – July 5th, 2015) the total retail value of the FAR items I purchased was $4946.46.  Without the few restrictions I put on my purchasing, this figure would have easily been over $5000.  This puts the total amount of stuff you could acquire for free at around $2500/year.

The furthest “in the hole” I was (i.e. the most spending done before getting some rebates back) was $1039.04.  However, I happened to start during a long rebate delay period, which seems to happen in the middle of every summer.  Once I got the ball rolling and got some rebates in the mail, it seemed like around $400 was all that was needed to perpetually re-use the rebates.  I have since used about $850 in rebates for non-experiment purchases at Menards, leaving only $185 to be paid back (by using rebates to make personal/family purchases I would have made anyway).

Selling stuff
In August of 2013 we had a garage sale.  I only had about $350 in product at the time, and selling it around 50-75% off retail price I made around $50.  We had a second garage sale a year later and I made closer to $155.  My big plan to liquidate a lot of inventory came in June 2015 when I got a booth at a flea market in my area.  A full report of that event can be found here.  At the flea market my Menards stuff netted $201.81.
flea-market1
When anyone in my house would take any product out of inventory for personal use, I would charge the family my sale price for the item  (No, I didn’t actually demand $1.50 cash from my wife when she took a spray bottle of carpet cleaner!  This was just done on my tracking spreadsheet.)

Between both sales, the flea market, and the few self-purchases, my total revenue to date is $405.31.    I estimate I still have 70-75% of my total inventory from the 2 years, which would suggest I have the potential to make another $945-1215 in revenue.

ANALYSIS

My data lends itself to two main conclusions:

  1. The system works.  You can make money doing this.
  2. It’s probably not worth it.

The system works
You can make money doing this.  All of the details of the rebate system work out so that you can perpetually buy more and more free stuff with the store’s own rebate checks.  Since Menards has a lot of generally needed products, it’s not hard to “pay yourself back” when you’re ready to stop the rebate churning.  The rebate program is very forgiving about mail-by dates and the ad flyers are online, making it easy to find the deals.  If you have a Menards close to where you live or if you frequently drive past one, getting the merchandise and sending in rebate forms can be accomplished without much extra time or hassle.

Selling the items also works.  A lot of the products are cheap, expendable items that people generally use: paint brushes, cleaning supplies, gloves, hand tools, kitchen gadgets, etc.  Of course some items sell better than others but in general, the stuff goes.  I tried putting a few of the higher volume items on craigslist, but never got any bites.  Impulse buys at garage sales and flea markets seems to be the best bet to offload your free stuff.

It’s probably not worth it
I just explained how the system works and that you can make money.  So why do I say it’s probably not worth it?  The answer is simple: efficiency.  No one part of the process is overly onerous but looking at it as a whole, it is just too much work for the return.

But it’s close.  In fact, until I packed it all up and brought it to the flea market, it still felt like it was worth my while.  But once the volume of stuff became hard to physically manage, getting it moved and set up properly to sell became a big project.  If one half of the program -getting the stuff or selling the stuff- could be cut out of the equation I would probably say it was worth the effort.  But as it stands, for me it is not.

That’s not to say it isn’t worth it for everyone.  For someone who spends their summers hanging out at flea markets anyway, or someone who lives on a busy intersection, the selling part might be a lot less trouble than it was for me.  In this case the scales could be tipped enough that the value exceeds the costs.

Another idea would be to limit purchases to only very small items like drill bit sets, paint brushes, saw blades, etc. and to avoid the gallon jugs of cleaning supplies and mini blinds, for example.  Doing this would cut way down on the hassle of storing and transporting the stuff.  It would also reduce the total number of trips to the store.

MOVING FORWARD

I have forced myself to take a break from Menards free stuff.  It can be pretty addicting to walk out of a home improvement store every week or two with 5 full bags of free stuff.  I quit cold turkey and knowingly missed some good deals. I need to liquidate more inventory before I even think about getting more free stuff.  I might give craigslist a second try or put a few items on amazon.  If nothing else I will do another flea market early next summer.

When I am ready to start churning rebates at Menards again I will change my tactics.  I now know which items sell the best and which ones are a pain to store and transport.  I think a smaller, leaner rebate churning program at Menards could make almost as much profit as my experiment did, but with a fraction of the hassle.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to leave Menards Free Stuff as a featured value tactic on the site.  Maybe some reader will be in a better position to sell the product, and would therefore find the tactic valuable.  Maybe someone will find a different retailer or website where the same tactic could be applied.

Buying almost $5000 of merchandise for free was sure fun It’s time to ease up for now, but something tells me I haven’t sent in my last pile of rebate forms…
rebates-to-distance

Limiting Myself on Free Menards Stuff

(This is a data recovered post, originally published on June 10th, 2015.)

As some of you may know, I am in the midst of a value tactics experiment.  For almost two years now I have been buying free-after-rebate (FAR) items from Menards on a semi-weekly basis.  (Details of the system can be found on my Menards Free Stuff tactical page.)  I don’t just buy some of the items; I buy all the items.  And not just one or two of each; I max out the quantity limit for a given rebate offer.  But… and here’s what this post is about… that’s not entirely true.  Allow me to explain:

There are several reasons why my experimental data is slightly tainted.  I haven’t always bought absolutely all of the current rebate items.  There are a few scenarios where my purchases were either limited or self-limited:

  1. I got there too late and the items were sold out.
  2. There was a ‘no quantity limit’ rebate offer and I either didn’t have enough rebate checks to cover say, 450 three-piece caulking tool sets, or I simply didn’t want to store 150 of xyz item.
  3. There are a few items which routinely appear on a free-after-rebate sale that I simply don’t buy anymore, per my personal policy.

My personal policy regarding the items from reason #3 came about for practical reasons.  Sometimes 10-foot sections of vinyl rain gutters are offered FAR.  Storing a 10 foot long stack of items that I would probably sell for $1 each is simply not worth the hassle for me.  Another example are the 1-gallon jugs of driveway degreaser, deck wash, and non-tintable latex paint which seem to go up on a FAR offer several times a year.
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At my first two garage sales where I had Menards stuff these were not good sellers.  Besides, they are so frequently on sale that if I ever sold out of them I could quickly replenish my stock.  It’s another case where the work of lugging around large, heavy items is not worth what I could sell them for.  So as a personal policy I decided to stop buying all one-gallon FAR items about 9 months ago.

Sure, it would be nice to have a 100% accurate picture of how much free stuff one could possibly acquire from Menards over a certain period of time.  But what good is data that represents an unrealistic situation?  I’m taking this project to an extreme that has probably never been matched, and I still haven’t completely maxed out the opportunity.

My advice is to use my results as a general guideline to see whether or not this type of tactic is worth it for you.  If you decide to try something like this and make some extra money, conserve some of your garage space and your wife’s good graces, and don’t overdo it … too much 🙂

Are you too disorganized for this stuff? NO!

“I’m too disorganized to do this stuff.”  No you are not!
Yes, this is my actual workspace.  Do I look organized to you?
Friends and relatives often tell me they wouldn’t be able to manage having multiple credit cards at once because they are simply not an organized person. As I pointed out in this post, the majority of my tracking and recording isn’t necessary to get the full benefit of the tactics presented on this site. That being said, there are a few vital things you need to keep track of:

If you’re playing the credit card game there are two absolutely required things to keep on top of: on-time payments and bonus spends. Making a late payment is devastating to your success with the credit card game.  Likewise, if you miscalculate something fail to make the required bonus spend, your card has just lost its most valuable benefit: the sign-up bonus. In other tactics presented on this site mistakes tend to be less costly, but there are a few you’ll want to avoid, such as missing the post-marked deadline for mail-in rebates.

Aside from avoiding these few vital errors, your level of organization and detailed tracking is up to you. Some people track every cent spent on vacations; some only redeem airline miles when they can max out their value; some coordinate app parties with their spouse to maximize card benefit duration. Others, like my parents, are very hands off. They get the few cards I recommend to them, set up automatic payments, and never look back (until they want to redeem their points!) My personal preference is to focus on recording and tracking progress, and to avoid long-term strategizing. Your level of organization is, to a large extent, a matter of personal preference.

If you still think you are too disorganized or forgetful to “get in the game” you might be interested to know that I myself am by nature extremely disorganized, prone to being late, forgetful of appointments, and generally irresponsible.  This has come back to bite me on several occasions, but I try to learn from my mistakes. The only reason I manage to keep it all together most of the time is because I force myself to be organized . . . if only in this one aspect of my life. The way I see it, making a few entries in a spreadsheet or calendar (painful as it may be) is potentially worth hundreds or thousands of dollars in value. In my opinion, that’s a trade-off that is worth fighting against my nature for a few minutes a day.

I may eventually post a blank version of the spreadsheet I use to keep track of credit card payments, miles expiration, annual fee dates, etc. Until then, feel free to send me any tips or examples of your record keeping.

Read my response to the similar nay-sayers’ comment, “Value tactics are not worth the time when you consider all your tracking and recording,” in this post.

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Tracking is the Key (and why you shouldn’t do it)

spreadsheetOk, I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.  The title should have read, “…and why you don’t have to do it.”  You don’t have to because I already did it for you!  Let me explain…

Sometimes a friend or relative will hesitate using the tactics on this site.  They will say something like, “Sure, you get a bunch of free money, stuff, and travel- but look at all the time you spend on it!  It’s just not worth it.  And besides, I’m not organized enough to make it work.”  They are referring to the time I spend reading other blogs, studying fine print, entering data into spreadsheets, analyzing my spending, etc.  It’s true I spend more time than I probably should staring at giant spreadsheets.  But there are several good reasons why I obsessively record and track everything related to the value tactics I employ:

  1. I run this website.  Before I publish a recommendation to the whole world, I need hard data that proves it really works.
  2. I was originally a doubter.  When I was introduced to the credit card game I was skeptical it would all work; when I started the gas savings game I wanted to find out if it was worth it (it was); etc.
  3. It’s a hobby.  Keeping track of all this stuff is very enjoyable to me.  Yeah, I know, it’s a pretty OCD hobby, but I love it!

Life is busyYou don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  I record, track, and summarize the results of my own experiences with these tactics so you don’t have to.  Use the data presented on this site to make your own determination if something is worth doing or not.  It will save you time, energy, and headaches.  But of course, if you want to make giant spreadsheets and stare at them late into the night, make graphs and print out reports, go right ahead!  You may find it’s fun to see exactly how much value you can create by using the tactics outlined on ValueTactics.com.

Check my personal results tracker on the sidebar, read my weekly updates, read about individual tactics, scour the web for others’ results, and make your own decision whether a given tactic is worth it or not.

I’ll respond to the second part of the nay-sayers’ comment, “I’m not organized enough to make it work,” in another post.  Don’t miss any new posts: Follow me on Twitter, like me on Facebook, or subscribe to the RSS feedThanks for reading!

What is value?

Value was once described to me as the difference in price between what you paid for something, and what you were willing to pay.  This is a good definition but I would like to modify it slightly.

Let’s say my wife and I take a 4 night vacation to the Hyatt Regency Spa and Casino Resort in Aruba.  Standard rooms are $565/night in April and airfare is  $505 per person, bringing the total for airfare and lodging to $3270.

However, for our trip we’re using two pair of free-night vouchers which we had from each signing up for the Chase Hyatt Credit Card.  We are using American Airlines miles to book the flights so we’re only paying about $200 in taxes and fees for the airfare.  We are getting a $3270 vacation for only $200!  (This is a hypothetical example but a friend of mine and his wife took almost the exact same trip, all with the sign-up bonuses from 2 credit cards each).

However, according to the definition above, the value is only the difference in what we paid ($200) and what we would have paid.  This is where I diverge from the definition.  In this example, let’s say we weren’t going to take the vacation at all if we had to pay for it.  So our willing to pay price doesn’t apply.  But what if someone had magically offered us the same trip for $500, out of the blue?  Even though we hadn’t planned on the trip or budgeted for it, we probably would have paid $500; such an amazing deal would be hard to refuse.  So how much would have we paid for the same trip?  For the sake of this example, let’s say $1000 would have been our threshold.  In this case we were willing to pay $1000 but we only paid $200, so according to the definition we derived $800 of value.

We followed the definition of value to the letter, and only came up with and $800 value for a trip that should have cost $3270 but we only paid $200 for.  If that seems a bit off to you, I agree.  Of course there is no definite way to accurately measure this sort of thing.  Many things we would intuitively assign value to are intangible and hard to define.  So to keep things simple, here’s how I do it:

In the example above we took a trip for $200 that would have cost your average non-ValueTactics reader $3270.  We would not have taken the vacation if we had had to pay full price, though, so according to the definition of value, we can’t count the full price as value.  HOWEVER, in my mind the enjoyment of the trip is amplified by knowing we got it for far less than it should have cost.  To me, that adds value.  FURTHERMORE, the fact that we took a vacation at all when we wouldn’t have been able to afford one otherwise makes it even sweeter, adding yet more value.

It’s impossible to assign a numerical value to these intangible benefits, but it’s apparent to me that they add value to the experience.  So when I am tracking the amount of value gained by, for example, booking a trip with points and miles, I call it even and go with the full retail price minus my actual out of pocket expenses.

Therefore, in the example of the Aruba trip, $3270 – $200 = $3070 value!  To me, this seems like a logical way of tracking how much value I create and capture from these tactics.  In this example, my wife and I got a $3070 vacation by applying for 2 credit cards each.  That’s worth it to me!