Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Bargain Hunting

My friend S just asked me to please share how I find the sales. Most of it comes naturally from years of my parents' frugal training, so I kind of have a nose for a deal, but I will try to break down my basic shopping strategies.

1. Shop in advance. When the Nugget went into his 5T clothes, I immediately started shopping for size 6. I keep a notebook of birthday/wedding/baby gifts I'll need and start looking at least 2 months ahead. The less time you allow yourself to shop for something (say a party that afternoon or a baby shower this weekend), the more you tend to spend. If you have time, you'll be more aware of what's a good bargain vs. the stress of needing SOMETHING and needing it NOW.

2. Plan out your priorities. I like the Nugget to have new shoes and not too many plastic things. So I save my splurges for soft comfy shoes for his growing toes and a single Klean Kanteen. On the flipside, I almost never pay retail for his clothes, and he owns just that one water bottle, not 15. Those are MY priorites, but everyone needs to identify their own. Perhaps yours are professional-grade art supplies for your budding artist or Mustela toiletries for your sensitive-skinned child. Figure out what is worth full price to you, and what you can pick from the bargain bin.

3. Get friendly with those aforementioned bargain bins. Every store has a system for their clearance. Target keeps several end-caps for their markdowns. Gymboree has some round racks and stacking plastic bins for their deepest discounts. Check these spots before you check-out; often you can sub a full-price item in your cart for something from the discount spot.

4. Don't buy something "just because" it's on sale or you have a coupon. If you don't actually need it or thought it was kind of ugly but they were practically giving it away, just leave it there.

5. Before making any online purchase, go to Google and type in (store name/product coupon code) and see what pops up. Most of the time you can at least get a 10-15% off or free shipping.

6. The #1 rule for coupons is clip them ONLY for things you buy (or want to try) ANYWAY! Actually, all my shopping nowadays is with a purpose. I sometimes come away empty-handed, but each foray into a shop is for a specific item or because that store is having a killer sale.

7. Get a coupon keeper from the Dollar Tree and label each divider. My sections are Baby, Food, Clothing, Toiletries, Target, and Misc. When I clip something or get something in the mail, I try to put it right in the keeper. The keeper lives in my purse. It used to live in my car, but I'd always forget it there. I go through it about once a month to pull out and recycle the expired ones.

8. Maximize your coupon sources. Find your favorite restaurants and stores online. "Like" them on Facebook, join their e-clubs, and sign up for their mailing lists. Keep a zippered pouch in your purse for all those annoying frequent-buyer cards. If you're anal like me, alphabetize them so you can find them easily at the register. If you frequent just a few stores (for me, Target and Old Navy), consider getting their credit card. Store credit cards, when used wisely and paid off each month, are a great source of recurring deep discounts and sale notifications. Flip through magazines, and you'd be surprised at how many coupon codes are hiding in the advertising section. Coupons.com is another good source.

9. Aim for the triple-threat: coupon, sale, gift card. When I can finagle this trio, I make Hubby high-five me. Yes, it's usually unattainable, but if you're striving for this, you are usually saving money. If you have a coupon, try to wait until the store is also running a sale. For example, I saved a 20% Gymboree coupon from Parents magazine until I saw that Gymbo was running their Big Red Balloon Sale (up to 70% off regular prices). I walked away with a pair of shorts and 2 pairs of pants for less than the retail value of the shorts alone.

10. Be shameless. When I get a coupon for a free panty from Victoria's Secret or a free travel size lotion from Bath and Bodyworks, I know it's because the marketing department thinks I'll go in for the freebie and get suckered into buying additional items. But I don't! Never turn down a freebie. JC Penney has amazing ones in their mailers $10 off any purchase $10 or more. I don't like JCP clothes usually, but they have a baby section chock-full of Carter's. So I walked in with the intention of finding something as close to $10 as possible and found a 2-pack of Carter's knit baby pants on sale for $9.99. Voila, part 1 of Baby Cupcake's Christmas gift. They were regular price $17.95! When you have coupons/points/bucks that are basically free money/store credit, write those in on your calendar so you don't forget to use them.

11. Try not to pay shipping. I wanted a travel potty for $24.95 from One Step Ahead, but the shipping was going to be $15 unless I hit the $85 minimum. I asked my friends if they wanted to join my order, we got over that $85, and we all got to benefit from the free shipping. Sometimes, the free shipping minimum is set such that you could buy items A and B and with shipping it will be $50. But if you buy A, B, and C, you hit that minimum, and your total is actually $45. So click through, and before you commit to buy, make sure you aren't getting hosed on shipping.

12. Buy in bulk. Identify the things you go through often - if you're loyal to certain toiletries, a 3-pack on Amazon will likely be cheaper than picking them up once a month at the grocery store. I try to get children's birthday gifts once a year from an online retailer, and I always ask if there's opportunity for a bulk discount.

13. Check Etsy for a homemade option. You'd think that handmade would be more expensive, and sometimes it is, but about half the time, it's way cheaper than the mass-produced, and you can feel good about your purchase too. Etsy sellers are usually great about that bulk discount; it never hurts to ask!

14. I love buying items second-hand. There are traveling consignment sales, garage sales, Craigslist, eBay, half-priced bookstores, diaperswappers.com, freecycle, and Once Upon a Child. When you buy used, you are helping save the planet, giving a discarded thing new life, and we often find that, "they just don't make'em like they used to". That said, there are some things that just aren't safe to buy used - like cribs, painted toys, and car seats (unless of course, you know the original owner and are willing to scour the internet for recalls).

15. I try not to take the Nugget with me. Hubby knows that part of date night each week is usually devoted to a quickie bargain hunt, and my grocery time is Saturday morning. Kids need your attention and you will be too focused on getting out of there instead of getting the best value.

16. If you have outlets nearby, put aside a little cash each month for an outlet trip. Outlets offer incredible savings, but they are a big upfront spend for a greater gain over several months.

Now who wants to go shopping with me?! Add your own tips or questions to the comments.

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