We have donated over 500 reams of paper to our local school this year, and most of it has been free or almost free. On some of the purchases we even made money! It feels great to be able to give back to our schools when they constantly face shrinking budgets.
Getting Started with Staples Rewards
To get started with earning free or cheap School Supplies, it’s best to have a small budget of $50 to $100 you can use to start with. Most of their deals involve “Easy Rebates” so you will spend the money up front and get a refund in the form of a check or a Visa Prepaid Gift Card.
The first step is to sign up for an account at Staples Rewards. The account is tied to your phone number and e-mail address, and they issue “Rewards” monthly which are basically gift certificates you can use in-store or online. You automatically get 2% back on everything you purchase (except for gift cards and postage); the Rewards are issued monthly as long as you’ve earned at least $5. When you use a Reward certificate in-store, you get a one-time “balance coupon” that allows you to use the remainder on another purchase before expiration. If you use the certificate online, be sure to use the whole amount as it will not be usable again. The easiest way to earn Staples Rewards credits is through their ink recycling program, where you can earn $2 for every empty ink or toner cartridge you recycle (up to 10 a month). If you spend over $500 in a calendar year at Staples, you will be upgraded to “Plus” status and you can then recycle 20 cartridges a month.
Staples recently required spending $30 on ink/toner every 6 months to keep earning this credit, but this small purchase is worth it considering you can earn $480 annually for recycling. Spend over $1,000 in a year and you are “Premier” and now earn 5% back on all purchases. This 5% comes in handy to offset taxes on your free school supplies.Staples recently added a new “online recycling program” where you can print a prepaid UPS label and then ship your cartridges for free! No trip to the store needed to get your credit.
Where to get the cartridges for recycling? You might want to check with friends or family, or even your employer to see if they want to get rid of cartridges. Some enterprising Plus/Premier members even buy bulk empty ink cartridges on eBay for the sole purpose of recycling to get Staples Rewards credit.
Staples Weekly Deals
OK now that you have Staples Rewards credit or some cash you’re willing to roll into rebates and/or Rewards, what to do? The best place to check is the weekly Staples Ad online or in your local newspaper. Additionally every week they post special deals online at that usually involve free or cheap paper. The week this is being posted they have 4 reams for 1 cent after rebate and 4 half-cases (5 reams) for $1 after rebate. These coupons usually say Limit one per person, but they generally allow up to 4 rebates per household per week! You’ll see the rebate limit details on the coupon special every week, but be sure to check. Some store cashiers are a stickler for the terms and will limit you to one of each type of coupon, therefore you have to come back into the store or make another trip later. But most stores are friendly and happy to get the business, especially if you tell them you’re donating to a good cause.
Staples Easy Rebates
The vast majority of Staples rebates these days are what they call Staples Easy Rebates and they’re super easy to redeem with no hassle. There is nothing to mail in, no hassle with UPC codes, etc. You just go to the website, enter a code from your receipt or your online order number, and the system automatically determines your eligible rebates and sends them to you. Just to be sure to wait about 4 hours after your purchase to allow for it to propagate to their backend systems, otherwise when you submit the rebate the site will say it can’t find eligible rebates and you’ll have to wait a couple days for it to catch up. Not to worry though, it will find the rebates and e-mail you for confirmation. If you do ever have any issues with Staples Easy Rebates, they have an easy to use online chat system available to talk to a representative who can fix the rebate submission.
Making Staples Deals Sweeter
Unfortunately Staples lately has been cracking down on the extreme deals that were historically available. Staples usually has a percentage-off or dollar-off coupon available for in-store or online, and you used to be able to use this coupon with the rebates so each item would definitely be free after rebate (even with tax) or sometimes a moneymaker (price + tax – coupon – rebate == $MM). In Q3 2015 they have recoded the POS registers so this is no longer allowed by the system.
While the Staples-specific deals are not as attractive, you can still get plenty supplies for free or almost free. But if you know where to look you can do even better! For example, this year you could do the following:
- Target had a sale on eBay gift cards at 10% off. Buy $100 eBay gift card at Target for $90.
- eBay then had a sale on Staples gift cards at 15% off. Buy a $100 Staples gift card at eBay for $85.
You now have $100 for Staples $90 * .85 = $76.50 or almost 25% off and you still have $5 left for eBay. This will definitely make up for any extra tightening Staples continues to do on the Rewards system. The only downside is that you have to watch for these types of deals to become available. We’ll be posting them on our blog under the Deals category.
If you wanted to do even better, there are two extra bonuses you can do:
- Buy a discount Target gift card online. Some places I’ve used successfully in the past are Cardpool and Raise. I’ve seen Target gift cards available for up to 6% off, which if you follow the purchase above means your Staples cost is really almost 30% off.
- Sign up for a Target RedCard. This allows for 5% off on most purchases at Target and Target.com. The trick here is that you normally need to pay with your Target RedCard to get the 5% discount, but if you have linked your Redcard and target.com account, and pay online with a Target gift card, you get the 5% discount! So now you are over 30% off on your Staples dollars.
What to do with Staples Prepaid Visa Gift Cards
Staples used to send all their Easy Rebates via check, but the larger ones (like on cases of paper) are all Prepaid Visa Gift Cards. My favorite way to unload these is by buying Amazon Gift Cards since you can buy them in any amount starting at 50 cents. We shop there all the time so I am sure they’ll be used up. Another fun way to unload them is to just roll the Visa Gift Cards into new Staples purchases! The Staples register will let you use multiple Gift Cards until you meet your total. Have only $10.56 left on your Visa Gift Card? Swipe it, sign the screen, it will use up the whole balance, and prompt you for the next card!
We hope this writeup inspires you to take advantage of the various Staples (and eBay, Target, etc.) offers to get free or cheap school or supplies or even donate to your local library or nonprofit. If we missed a trick or angle, please let us know! We’ll be updating this post and continuing to post new deals as they become available.