While most of her friends and relatives are busy enjoying spare time activities, Linda Letsom is busy scouring advertisements in newspapers and magazines for manufacturers' coupons and refund offers. In return Letsom will receive cash back, free items or coupons for free items based upon purchase of the company's product.
When she isn't searching for new ways to get extra cash or gift items, Letsom is organizing garbage in her garage. Letsom is a refunder.
Refunders are people who collect UPC codes, register tapes, and other proofs of purchase required to verify purchase of a company product. Refunders mail in these items to the manufacturer to receive cash rebates, free toys or duplicates of the same product. But some companies have begun to offer companion offers, giving free bread with the purchase of jams and jelly, free ground beef with the purchase of spaghetti, etc.
But it takes a uniquely organized person to be an effective refunder, according to Letsom, who in the beginning of her refunding career saved Farmer John bacon wrappers "forever and discovered they never give refunds."
The trick, said Letsom, is to watch the ads closely--discovering which manufacturers give the most rebates, then save entire labels from their products. It's not only food items that Letsom saves. In fact, most of her refunding comes from toothpaste, detergent, deodorant and cleaning products, she said.
"You have to save everything. After you've done it a while (refunding) you learn what different companies ask for. I have a corner of my garage that I have shelves on and I have a filing cabinet on cat food, for example. I save the labels and I know on which products I need to save weight or label.
"A lot of them want the universal product code (UPC). Some want net weight. Some of them want box tops and some want ingredient lables. After time, you can see some consistency, but when you first start you need to save everything, condense it and flatten it."
Seems like a lot of trouble for a few free toys or a free jar of jam . . . right?
Worth the Effort
Wrong, said Letsom, 41, mother of two teen-agers, who has through the year managed to obtain Christmas toys for her children and relatives. She's an office manager who does this on the side, she said because, "It's exciting to go to the grocery store and spend $100 and they give you back $40 from your coupons."
The idea is so popular, in fact, that this weekend a refunders convention will be held by the women's ministry of New Life Community Church, 18800 S. Norwalk Blvd., Artesia. Registration for the Saturday event, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall, is $6. Proceeds will go to support mission projects.
The convention provides refunders the opportunity to meet others like themselves and exchange ideas on how to be more successful. Refunders also bring in extra forms or proofs of purchase they hold to exchange for those they might need. The convention has been held at the church for the last three years and attracts nearly 100 Southern California and Arizona residents.
Inspired by Article
Like Letsom, many of the members of the group, got their start by redeeming coupons for cents off manufacturer's products. Then, about 10 years ago, Letsom read an article about a "coupon queen" and she began looking for refund forms instead of just coupons. She reads a local newspaper column on refunding and is active in refunding reform. (Some supermarkets look upon the refunding habit as a nuisance and don't make refund forms available, she said. Some companies refuse to accept duplicates of register tapes so a consumer has trouble sending in proof-of-purchase to more than one manufacturer.)
But overall, refunding is a "profitable" business for Letsom and others like her. "I could put in five or six hours easily a week. This (refunding) is what I do instead of sitting in front of the television. It's a lot more profitable and it helps pay for vacations."