How I bought a new M1 MacBook Air for under $700 (before tax)

In November 2020, Apple launched their next-generation M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops. A few weeks later, I went against my own advice about not accumulating shiny new tech products and pulled the trigger on a new M1 MacBook Air. Coming from an aging 2013 MacBook Pro 15, my new M1 MacBook Air with Apple Silicon is game-changing in terms of the boost in portability, speed, and battery life. The level of optimization that Apple has packed into this machine is unreal at a $999 price point, and I would gladly have paid $100s more when considering the alternatives. But being my frugal self, I found a way to buy this value-packed piece of hardware for even less.

Here's how I was able to buy a new M1 MacBook Air from Apple for under $700 before tax:

  1. Around Black Friday, Target offered a deal where you receive a free $20 Target gift card for each $100 Apple gift card that you purchased in-store or on target.com. Here is the thread on SlickDeals. Best Buy also offered a similar deal. Apple allows up to $800 in gift cards to be used towards any purchase in the Apple store or on apple.com, and Target allows unlimited gift cards to be purchased although they must be purchased individually. So I bought 8 of the $100 Apple gift cards on target.com and received a total of $160 ($20 x 8) in Target gift cards, which for me are as good as cash. I recommend that you buy these gift cards online and not in-store as several commenters on SlickDeals reported that their Apple gift cards were showing up with zero value. Scammers had scanned the codes while the cards were still on the shelf and then redeemed them before the actual purchaser could. Although this deal has expired, keep an eye out on SlickDeals since since similar deals tend to pop up every few months.
  2. A friend-of-a-friend who works at a local Apple store hooked me up with Apple's Friends and Family discount, which reduced $150 off the $999 starting price. While obviously not everyone has a friend who works for Apple, you most likely do have a friend or relative who is a student and can help you to get $100 off the MacBook Air using the education discount. Just make sure to compensate them for their help with their beverage of choice 😀. My friend at the Apple store was able to use the 8 x $100 gift card codes with no problem.

With these discounts applied, here's the math:

$999 base price + $4 (recycling fee) - $150 (Apple employee discount) - $160 (Target gift cards) = $693 total cost before tax

How you could save even more

If you use a credit card to purchase these gift cards and use rotating categories, you may be able to get as much as 5% cash back on top of these savings. For example, Discover's 5% cash back calendar includes purchases on target.com through the end of 2020. Or you could use your Chase Freedom Unlimited or Flex card and pay with PayPal on target.com to get 5% cashback during the 2020 Q4 holiday season.

How I frame and justify big purchases like a Macbook Air

As I talked about in my article, How NOT having the newest iPhone would have earned you $9,000+ over the last 10 years, I typically advise against making frequent purchases of shiny new electronics like iPhones and MacBooks. If I'm making a big purchase like a car, phone or laptop, I need to be able to justify it. In this case, my late 2013 Retina MacBook Pro 15 had crossed the 1,000 cycle mark and was starting to show its age. Although still a member of perhaps the most rock-solid era of MacBooks ever made, my battery was draining in under an hour and a replacement battery would cost $200. With the launch of the blazing-fast, ARM-based M1 chips, the cheaper and lighter MacBook Air suddenly became powerful enough for my design and development usage. This, combined with my stacked discounts mentioned above and Apple Silicon's ARM-based architecture being hailed as a revolution in laptop performance and efficiency made it an easy-to-justify purchase in my eyes.

With my previous machine lasting 7 years, I expect my M1 Air to last at least 5 years before I find the need to upgrade. Assuming zero resale value (which is unlikely), my machine would cost about $11.50 per month amortized over 60 months. Considering how essential this machine is to building my side projects (like WalletBurst!) and how much of a joy it is to use, this might be the highest utility spending in my budget.