Save Money: Cheaper 3-in-1 USB Cable, Easier Rebates

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Last week I told you about the Magic Cable Trio, a 3-in-1 USB charge/sync cable with connectors for micro USB, mini USB, and Apple devices (like the iPhone and iPad).

I loved the idea, but not the $19.99 price. Thankfully, eagle-eyed reader Russell spotted a much cheaper alternative on eBay: the 3in1 Universal USB Data Cable Adaptor for Apple Android SmartPhone Cell Phone.

Not quite as glamorous-sounding as "Magic Cable Trio," I grant you, but ultimately it's the same product: a USB cable with a standard USB plug at one end and three popular connectors at the other: micro USB, mini USB, and Apple iDevice.

That means you should be able to sync and/or charge just about any gadget in your bag.

This cable, sold buy Hong Kong-based BossKnow, looks like a Frankenstein version of a standard Apple cable: the mini-USB and micro-USB connectors poke out from either side of the 40-pin iDevice connector. It's definitely not as elegant as the Magic Cable Trio, which uses nested plugs.

On the other hand, the 3in1 Universal is priced at $2.87--shipping included! (I honestly don't know how the vendor can make any money on this, as just the shipping from Hong Kong must cost more than that. But who am I to argue?)

Thus, if you were interested in the Magic Cable Trio but didn't want to shell out $20, here's your chance to get more or less the same thing for 1/6 the price. I'm sold!

How to Get Shopping Rebates Without Jumping Through Hoops

I'm a big fan of saving money. (Today's economy being what is, that's a no-brainer.) That's why, when I buy something online, I always hunt (i.e. Google-search) for a coupon code I can use during checkout.

Alas, most of the time I come up empty. Either there's no code for the store in question, the code doesn't apply to what I'm buying, or it's invalid or expired.

That's why I'm a new fan of sites like Ebates, which make saving money more of a sure thing. Ebates is a cash-rebate service that works much like a Discover card: you get money back on almost everything you buy.

How much money? It varies from store to store, but usually it's a few percentage points. Like to buy cosmetics from Lancome, for example? Do it through Ebates and you'll get back 7% of the purchase price. Shop Barnes & Noble and get 4% back. Heck, you can even get 1% from the Apple Store and 3% from Groupon.

That may not sound like much, but it adds up. And because Ebates issues its payouts every three months, you could end up with a decent chunk of rebate if you shop online a lot.

Using Ebates is surprisingly hassle-free. After signing up for an account (which is free), you just head to the site and then click through to the store you want to shop. After you make your purchase (at the regular price), Ebates calculates your rebate and adds it to your account. As noted earlier, you get rebates every three months, which can come via check, PayPal, or even a donation to your favorite charity.

By the way, it doesn't matter if the item you're buying is on sale or you do have a coupon code--you still get your rebate!

Ebates isn't the only cash-back game in town; others include BigCrumbs and FatWallet Cash Back. Want to know which site is offering the biggest rebate for a particular store? Head to CashReporter, which aggregates the discounts for all the popular rebate sites.

If all this sounds too good to be true, well, I've yet to find a downside. My overall take: If you like to score a good deal, shop online. And if you want to make a good deal even better, start your shopping at a site like Ebates.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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