Buying Guide

By Nathaniel Stephan
Last Updated: October 9, 2019
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Buying is the fun part. What's even better is not paying full price.

After a decade of buying and selling online professionally, I have learned and developed strategies to cut down the price of everything I buy online.

Below are the lynch pin strategies I use to save money online. The strategies can be used for anything you buy online.

Stack Discounts to Save Money

There are a handful of small discounts that can be used together. Used on a single purchase, they don't seem like much.

Consistently using them over a few years, or for business purchases, can result in saving hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Combined them with site specific strategies and you'll be shocked by how much money you can save.

Loyalty Programs

In exchange for signing up, stores will give points of money back on future purchases. Stores do this to get you to come back and make future purchases with them.

You can expect the rewards to be around 1% of the purchase price of what you buy. Shipping and taxes will not be included in that.

For example, eBay Bucks are generally worth 1% back. They are credited as a gift certificate quarterly. Occasionally there are promotions that can increase the percentage to as high as 10%.

Adorama Rewards are an example of a program that uses points. 1 point is received for every dollar spent. At 400 points, you will get a $5 reward. That equates to 1.25% cashback.

Cash Back Portals

Cash back is better than rewards tied to points that can only be used on one site.

One of the ways websites make money is through affiliate links. These links have a tracking code that gives the referring website a percentage of a completed sale.

What cash back portals do is they split the percentage they receive with you. All you have to do is sign up and use their link to navigate to the store you want to shop at.

The site I recommend is TopCashback because they offer the highest percentages back. Previously I used eBates (now Rakuten), which has better customer service, but lower payouts.

If you use an ad blocker, you will need to turn it off. Leaving it on will prevent the tracking from working properly. Without tracking, you will not get any cash back.

Percentage of Cash Back

The percentage of cashback you will receive is determined by what the store pays. You can check the cash back for stores before signing up for a site.

Electronics and camera gear is going to be 1-2% back. Outdoor gear will be around 5-8%.

If you travel frequently, there are many flight and hotel booking sites that give 4-10% back.

TopCashBack

TopCashback Account Cash Back
Cash back I have accumulated from TopCashBack.com over several years.

Code: https://www.topcashback.com/ref/tcbnathaniel

I use TopCashBack.com despite it being an ugly site. I have never had an issue getting paid in the several years I have used the site.

One time I had to contact support, and I thought their response time was a bit slow.

I'm willing to look past the minor downsides of the site because the cashback can be twice as much as Rakuten pays.

You can signup for TopCashBack.com here

As I'm currently writing this the cashback percentages are:

SiteTopCashbackRakuten
eBay2%1%
Adorama1%1%
AliExpress6%2.75%
KEH Camera1%*1%

*You could get 2% back if you don't use a coupon code, but the current coupon code is better.

Rakuten (Formerly eBates)

Rakuten Cashback Account Accumulated
Cash back from a couple years of using eBates.

eBates has been owned by Rakuten since 2014. In 2019 the site branding was changed from eBates to Rakuten.

To ease concerns you might have, Rakuten.co.jp is the largest e-commerce site in Japan. The parent company Rakuten, Inc. is a public company traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

The only issue I ever had was my first purchase did not register because I had an ad blocker on. Just like TopCashBack, I never had any problem getting a payout.

eBates was so successful, they were running commercials on TV.

Commercials are expensive. A good looking website is expensive. Support staff is expensive.

I stopped using eBates because I decided I would rather get a larger percentage of cashback. If you're concerned about the legitimacy of the cashback process, give Rakuten a shot.

You can sign up for Rakuten here.

Promo Codes

If you don't have one, do a search before you checkout.

There usually aren't great promo codes for photography gear because the margins are low. The exception is if you are getting prints.

For non photography related purchases it is easy to save 10+%. For instance, I buy whole coffee beans from FreshRoastedCoffee.com. After a minute of searching, I've been able to find discount codes for 10%, 15%, or 20% off.

Sites that list the promo codes will usually make you click to see them. This is so they can forward you to the site in order to make an affiliate commission.

My recommendation is to look up codes in a different browser than you will be making your purchase in. That way you will not have any issues with your cashback tracking.

Discounted Gift Cards

Ever get a gift card to a store you didn't want anything from? It is an incredibly common occurrence.

As a solution, there has been an explosion of gift card brokers online. These sites will buy unwanted gift cards for less than the balance. They then turn around and sell them at a small markup.

Both electronic and physical cards are available. Electronic cards can take as little as a couple minutes to get. Physical cards generally take a few days by mail.

Discounted gift cards aren't great for photography gear. There is not usually a constant supply of gift cards for stores that sell photography gear.

What they are good for is things such as clothing, chain restaurants, entertainment, and travel.

What About Fraud?

You should be concerned. Out of the hundreds of gift cards I have purchased, 2 ended up having no balance, and I did not receive one order.

All three times I had a problem I got my money back. Sites will having varying lengths of time they will guarantee the gift cards they sell.

The best way to avoid problems is to:

  • Use the gift cards as soon as you get them.
  • Use the entire card balance on a single purchase.

Cashback Credit Cards & Signup Bonuses

It should go without saying that you should only use a credit card if you are going to pay the balance off in full. You won't save any money if you are paying interest on a balance.

The best example of the savings you can get is the B&H Photo Payboo credit card. The card will refund the sales tax for purchases made at B&H for buyers select US states. The highest percentage back is 10.10% for residents of Washington!

Cashback or Points

Cash is almost always more valuable than points. There are so many restrictions with points that you may not get to use them for what you want.

The exception for points is if you travel frequently. Racking up points for free upgrades, access to airport lounges, and other benefits may be worth it for you.

Signup Bonuses

Some credit cards will offer signup bonuses. They are generally something like spend $3,000 in your first 3 months of opening a credit card account and you'll get a $250 cash bonus.

What's great about these is that a new camera body or lens can meet most or all of the spending requirement in one transaction.

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