Being a teacher in the summer leaves a bit of time to experiment. If you’re also a personal finance nerd, this means that looking into how to save money on your Maclean’s subscription can kick off an epic quest that leads to grand prizes of great foreign magazines for pennies – or even for free!

One of my first stops when I want to piggyback on someone else’s frugal research is Redflag.ca. The forum there is full of gems aimed at a Canadian audience. So naturally when I fired up the Google machine to aid me in my Maclean’s discount journey, I came across all kinds of interesting ideas. While it appeared that Canadian magazines can be a tough nut to crack in terms of saving ridiculous amounts of money, there was this really cool thread on how to snag great deals on US-based magazine subscriptions.

This is NOT like a 15% off promo code.

I got Forbes and Wired subscriptions for exactly $0 (opportunity cost of about 10 minutes of my time).

I got Men’s Fitness, Entrepreneur, and The Atlantic for an average of about $0.15 cents per issue.

Now, before anyone points out the inherent flaws in my argument – yes, I realize there are ways to get all-in-one digital subscriptions for an even lower price. However, I’m old school in sometimes preferring to hold a paper copy of something in my hands. I don’t why I’m built this way, I didn’t choose to belong to a bygone era, but the inner nerd isn’t always a logical creature. One other consideration is that I prefer to display my magazines in my classroom after reading through them – my students mostly just enjoy the pictures, but I’m hoping some of it will sink in by osmosis.

Shout out to RedFlag forum member Pathfinder35 for putting together a great Q & A on the topic!

7 Steps to Free Magazines

How to Get Cheap and Free Magazines in Canada

1) Open up a RewardSurvey account. There are a couple others that I read about but this is the only one I can speak to personally. It felt super scammy to me at first, but it seemed legit from all the reviews I read. After six months I have nothing but good things to say.

2) Fill out a few 5-minute surveys. When I say 5 min, I mean probably less than 5 min, but I’m being safe so no one complains about it taking more than 3.5 min.

3) Collect 20 points per survey. The one hiccup here is that you can’t just do twenty surveys at once. You can do two right off the bat (enough for almost any magazine subscription), but then they only arrive weekly. I’ve got enough points in my account now that I don’t bother filling anything out because even a nerd can only read so many magazines.

4) After filling out a survey RewardSurvey will automatically bring you to a page where you can select the free magazines you wish to receive. There is no catch here other than the fact the selection isn’t superb (however it is always changing, so your favorite title might come around sooner or later). Pick a magazine and ignore all the “$2 offers” that ask you for a credit card. There is no need for a credit card at any point in this free magazine process.

5) Choose a valid (real) US address to use. If you happen to have a family or friend with a US address – great, you’re home free. If you don’t know anyone with a US box or address don’t panic, there’s a way around this obstacle. Simply use a US library address. It can be any library that you Google, just use the address for the time being – you’re going to be changing it anyway.

6) Sign up with RS (or a similar company) using that address as your shipping address. Once again, there is no credit card needed at any point with RS, so there won’t be a problem with a discrepancy between the billing address and the mailing address.

7) Wait a few weeks, then go the specific magazine’s website. DO NOT go back to RewardSurvey at this point. Once at your specific mag’s website, go to the subscriber services/customer support page and log in with your email or subscription number. Change the US address you put in to your real Canadian address.

It’s that easy. There is no extra charge for shipping to Canada, the magazine just might take a while to get here.

I wasn’t sure just how this was all possible, and I’m always kind of suspicious about “deals” like this, but upon further reading it sounds like magazines sometimes look for quick ways to boost their subscriber numbers in order to appeal to new/more advertisers. RewardSurvey and similar sites are able to scoop up a bulk order for super cheap, and then make money on the difference between what survey companies pay them for you to complete a survey, and the miniscule amount per magazine subscription they paid out.

Some people even take this a step further and when a specific magazine comes on RS such as The Economist, they order it using several different accounts (different family members for example), then call into the subscriber services and get all of the subscriptions tacked on in a linear fashion so that they might have 48-months-worth of subscription instead of 4 x 12-month subscriptions. This is a level of mag-jitsu I have not attained yet.

7 Steps to Getting Any Magazine for Next-to-Nothing

One might reasonably ask why there is any need for cheap magazines, when you can get free magazines. The problem is that places like RS have a limited selection, so you might need to plunk down the equivalent of a Venti Mocha-frappa-americano-with-sprinkles for a subscription of 2+ years.

Here’s the short and sweet path I followed to getting cheap US-based magazines mailed to my Canadians address.

1) Decide whether you want to purchase a subscription as a one-off, or if you are prepared to input your credit card for a re-occuring subscription. If you want to get the absolute lowest price, there are sites such as Blue Dolphin Magazines that will let you scrape rock bottom in return for a chance at your automatic subscription. Essentially they’re betting that you will forget to cancel the subscription before your auto-renewal clicks in and you buy the magazine for full price at the end of your initial great deal. I know myself too well, so I decided to go with a slightly less cheap (we’re literally talking $0.05 per issue difference here) option and use my PayPal account so that I didn’t even have to input my credit card at all. I know that I’d be the guy who is not organized well enough and would forget to cancel the auto-renewal on my credit card once I put it in. There are many places that will sell you one-off subscriptions for super cheap prices (again, they’re trying to build subscription numbers, so they push deals like these off to the online discount sites). The one I settled on using was DiscountMags.com. They had great reviews and they’ve worked just fine for me. Amazon.com also seems to be fairly popular.

2) Wait for a promotional holiday. Cyber Monday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, July 4th, etc. This is when you can really snag a great deal.

3) Look for an extra promo code to layer on top of your holiday discount and also on top of the fact the magazines are already absurdly cheap relative to what we pay here in Canada.

4) Get the same valid US mailing address you used in the above free magazine example.

5) Make your purchase with your Paypal or credit card account. I have read that sometimes there are issues when inputting an US mailing address. The obvious option is to get a Paypal account. The other thing that is recommended in several places is to enter the Canadian postal code and province in the fields marked for “Street Address” and “Street Address 2” fields. Then select Ontario for a city and enter in 00000 for the zip. All indicators are that a Canadian credit card will work most of the time, this is simply a Plan B.

6) Just like with our free magazine strategy, wait a few weeks (quarterly subscriptions take longer), then go the specific magazine’s site. DO NOT go back to DiscountMags.com or whatever other online discount sales site that you purchased the magazine directly from. That’s important enough to reiterate. This won’t work if you try to make an address change at the sales site – it has to be the specific magazine’s subscriber services page. Then just simply change your mailing address. A couple of my magazines took one or two issues to kick in, but they’re all coming now.

7) For the odd magazine, using the subscriber services page might not work. In this case it’s fine to call in to the help line. Many Americans move to Canada every day and ask that their magazines be sent to their new address. The mags already have your money, I’m pretty sure the low-wage support person will not care about changing the address as long as you’re cool and polite.

8) Sit back and enjoy your almost-free reading material from some of the best writers in the world. At this point I now have more magazines than I can actually keep up with, but it’s a good problem to have. If nothing else it’s great material for my students to make collages out of!

As a side note, I’m actually considering paying the “real” subscription fee for magazines that I truly enjoy and often read cover-to-cover such as The Atlantic. I’ve recently subscribed to the Washington Post as well, which joins my Globe and Mail and National Post subscriptions. I don’t always get to all of these periodicals, but I’m becoming more and more concerned that if we don’t financially support these entities to some degree, we’re going to quickly lose all journalistic standards. That appears to be a road straight to chaos and a scenario ripe for manipulation. Fortunately I’m now at a point in my life where a monthly newspaper subscription is a much smaller chunk of my personal financial pie than it would have been five or ten years ago. I figure that a small amount of lifestyle inflation is a reasonable price to pay for supporting journalistic efforts. Think about the value of solid fact-based reporting going forward if you want to make your contribution to an intelligent democracy (**gets off soapbox**).

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