July 26, 2010

How to Save $700 on a DSLR

Yes, you can save $700 on a DSLR. Here's how.

First off, I don't have a $700-off coupon code to share with you. However, by combining several offers, we can save that much. As it is, it's kind of absurd that filmmakers and photographers can get moving images this good out of cameras this cheap. But why spend $2,500 on a camera when you can get the same camera for $1,800? We're going to buy a DSLR from an authorized dealer on eBay and combine a number of incentives to achieve this, but one of the incentives (Bing cashback) is expiring this Friday, July 30th. Again, after Friday, you will pay as much as $200 more for the same camera simply because that discount program is no more. I'm not getting paid by Bing or anything, but it's going to be a while before someone comes along with pockets as deep as Microsoft's.

Before we get going -- is it legal to combine several offers? I think so. Maybe. (If one of more of these offers includes fine print that disallows combinations, I'm not aware of it. It's not like we're stealing cameras off the back of a truck, but read the fine print for yourself if you're concerned.) Does this method work? Absolutely -- I bought my own Canon 5D using this exact approach. So, if you were eyeing a DSLR but were on the fence, think about it this way: you're going to get such a deal on the camera that you should be able to sell it used for what you're paying new.

The steps outlined here and the links below are for those of you residing in the United States -- this may be possible in other countries, but I don't have any experience buying a DSLR from Liechtenstein, so I can't say whether or not this is valid in other countries. However, the following method is not DSLR-specific in any way -- you can save hundreds on basically anything.

Let's take a Canon 5D Mark II as our example camera. If you walked into a store and bought it at retail price, it would be $2,500 plus tax (when I bought it a year ago, it was $2,700). Now technically if you buy something on the internet from another state, you're still supposed to pay sales (or "use") tax. How exactly you go about doing this depends on your state, but since we're being cheap here we're going to say you "forgot." Buying an item from an out-of-state online retailer offers a significant discount over a local brick-and-mortar thanks to this loophole; while the exact amount of the "discount" varies by state, for the sake of this calculation we're going to go with an 8% sales tax. So, buying a 5D at your local camera shop would cost you $2500 + 8% sales tax = $2700.

The Savings Breakdown

From $2700, we'll save:

  • $200 by forgetting to pay 8% use tax
  • $200 by using Microsoft's Bing cashback (8% off)

Right off the bat, we've already saved $400 just by buying a DSLR using eBay and Bing. Furthermore, there may be authorized dealers selling DSLRs for less than retail price, which means you can save even more -- for example, I've seen 5D Mark IIs recently go for as low as $2,360 (including shipping) from authorized dealers, so if you get lucky and spot one of these (which is $140 less than retail), you'll have saved $540.

But we're not done -- if you want to keep pushing it, here are a few more savings you might be eligible for:

  • $30-80 by using Ebates (optional; see below)
  • $50 via eBay Bucks (optional; eBay Bucks is currently in Beta and you have to be invited to be eligible)
  • $25 by using your credit card in Paypal instead of a bank transfer (depends on your credit card; see below)

So, let's see, $540 + $80 + $50 + $25... By combining all of these offers, you could have saved $695. That's 26% less than what you'd pay for the camera if you walk into your local Best Buy. Even in a worst-case scenario, if you "only" save $400 with this method, you'll still have saved 15% -- which can go towards lenses, a shoulder support, etc. Note that the actual amount you save will depend on which DSLR you buy -- these figures are percentage-based, so you're not going to save $700 on a $800 T2i (if you can find a way to do that, by all means let everyone know in the comments).

This method trades the convenience of a brick-and-mortar for a few extra mouse clicks and some slightly questionable practices (like buying from an out-of-state dealer to avoid sales tax). If you've got money coming out of your ears (or sitting in your burger), it's probably not worth your time to jump through these hoops. But since I've been living frugally for a bit, it was worth it for me to follow this method. In fact, if that $700 figure seems hypothetical and unrealistic to you, here's my Bing cashback account:

Note this is not all from one purchase; that total is from using Bing to buy a 5D, a number of used lenses on eBay, some audio equipment and several other components of my DSLR camera package. But, of course, this is just the Bing savings alone. It's too bad the program will be discontinued in a few days.

Before we go step-by-step, some notes on the "optional" programs named above:

Ebates gives you $5 just for signing up, but it's not the easiest program to use when it comes to eBay. Here's why: their cashback amount is variable (between 1% and 3%), so you don't actually know how much you're going to save; furthermore, there's no definitive way of knowing whether you successfully got an eBate until a few days later (we're going to be working with multiple browser windows, so the cookie-based Ebates step can be a bit uncertain). However, Ebates does have a lot of other savings offers that are less confusing than eBay's variable rate (e.g. 10% off Old Navy, 7% off Finish Line, 4% off HP, etc etc).

As for the credit card savings, this depends entirely on whether you have a rewards program for your credit card; I used $25 for this hypothetical savings because that would be a 1% reward -- perhaps your card offers more (or gives you airline miles, or some other perk). Either way, I recommend using your credit card for a purchase of this size, instead of doing a bank transfer (which is what Paypal defaults to). While Paypal has their own purchase protection policy, if you use your credit card, you'll be doubly protected.

Okay, ready? Let's go step-by-step through the Bing process, since it's the most important one.

Bing Bing

  1. Open a new window or tab in your web browser (keep this page open, so you can follow along).
  2. You'll need a Bing cashback account, which requires a Windows Live login (Hotmail, Xbox LIVE, etc). If you don't have one you can sign up free.
  3. Once you've got a cashback account, point your browser to Bing.com.
  4. Search for "Canon 5D". It doesn't matter what brand or model you put into Bing, because you're going to use my customized searches in a second to focus on authorized dealers. This step is just to get you from Bing to eBay.
  5. You'll see the following screen:


  6. Click on "Bing cashback" to the right of the green eBay URL. When you are redirected to eBay, you should see this graphic on top:


Now that we've been referred to eBay by Bing, we're eligible for 8% off.

If you want to try to save an additional 1-3%, now is the time to head to Ebates. Register and click on their eBay link. You'll get an eBay screen that, for some reason, shows a bunch of "freeshipping" items. The Bing cashback icon should still appear at the top of the screen.

Now that our Bing and eBates cookies are active, we want to make sure we're getting a 100% genuine camera from an authorized dealer.

Finding Authorized Dealers on eBay

Many people shy away from buying electronics on eBay because there are a lot of shady stores selling gray market products or worse. However, one just has to know where to look. Reputable camera and electronics stores often sell products on eBay in addition to their physical location and/or online store. This is your chance to save, since 8% off coupons are nigh impossible to come by for most camera stores.

To ensure we find these reputable sellers, I've set up advanced eBay searches using Boolean logic in an attempt to eliminate gray market sellers. These links should only display USA-based authorized dealers (see below for a way to double-check). I've also eliminated used cameras and bid-only auctions (to get the Bing cashback discount, you must "Buy it Now" instead of bidding on an auction). Again, you may want to open these links in a new tab or window in order to keep these instructions handy. If you're not sure which camera is best for you, this might help you decide. Here are the DSLRs for which I've set up customized searches, use whichever link corresponds to the camera you're interested in:

When you arrive at eBay from the links above, make sure the green "Microsoft cashback" banner still appears on top. Actually, the banner doesn't matter so much as the little golden dollar sign next to the item title -- as long as that's there, you're good. A few listings might not be eligible for Bing cashback, so make sure the one you buy has the golden coin with a dollar sign next to it. You'll also see the Bing cashback badge when you click Buy it Now and go through to Paypal. If you're enrolled in eBay Bucks, that badge will display right below the Buy it Now button.

I've arranged the search results by price (lowest to highest), but you'll want to scan the different listings to find the best deal (some will come with lenses, some will be body-only, and others will come in larger packages with multiple bundled items). Also make sure to note the shipping fee -- some are non-existent and some are exorbitant. And, of course, if you're looking to dodge sales tax (for now, I mean; of course you're going to pay it when you do your taxes at the end of the year, right?), look for an out-of-state dealer.

Once you've found your item, be sure to search the item's listing page for "USA Warranty," "Authorized Dealer," or something similar that affirms the seller is authorized to sell the particular brand of DSLR you're buying. I tried to customize the search as much as possible, but it's by no means infallible, so make sure they state somewhere in their listing that they're authorized. If it's not clear, note the name of their store and check to see if they appear on the camera manufacturer's list of authorized dealers: Canon, Nikon, Panasonic. You can also send the seller a message through eBay asking them to clarify.

Once you're satisfied, click "Buy it Now," and the camera -- and the cashback checks -- should be in the mail.

Claiming your cashback can take a bit. In the case of Bing and eBates, the credit should show up in your online account within 48 hours, but you won't be cut a check (or sent money through Paypal, depending on how you signed up) for up to 60 days. When all is said and done, however, you will have bought a 100% genuine product from an authorized dealer, saved 15-26% in the process, and avoided dealing with real-world hassles like traffic (not to mention salesmen trying to sell you extended warranties).

Did you save money using the above methods? Do you know of any other discounts people should know about? Let us know in the comments...

Your Comment

5 Comments

This is awesome. Just bought a 7D and Bing emailed me to say $120 cash back is pending. Used a CC to save an additional 1.25%.

July 26, 2010

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Smithy

THANK YOU!!!

July 27, 2010

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James P

Seriously, thank you.

July 28, 2010

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L

Nice saving there Smithy, well done!

August 17, 2010

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I dont speak on many websites that come across but I ACTUALLY felt I couldn't avoid the opportunity with this one. Nice post. I can only wonder what will you be writing in the long run.

January 10, 2011

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