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  • My New Favorite Way to Save: Price Matching

    As I mentioned on Facebook the other day, I shop at Target all the time but just price matched for the first time ever there.

    I loved it!

    And I will definitely do it again.

    See this basket?

    Lego gift basket

    I just put it together for a fundraiser at school, after collecting money from other parents and purchasing the Lego sets at Target. The giant box at the back of the basket is the Lego Star Wars Sith Fury-class Interceptor, which had a shelf price of $89.99. I was standing in the store, talking to a mom I’d run into, when it suddenly occurred to that it might be cheaper at Amazon and that I could price match if it was. And it was! When I looked it up on Amazon on my smartphone, it came up $71.36.

    Naturally, I headed over to Guest Services, and asked them to match Amazon’s price. They have to look up the item on the Target-owned iPad to verify the price, and I was told that for Amazon, the item has to be “sold and shipped by Amazon.” (Luckily for me, the Lego set was sold and shipped by Amazon at the time, because it’s over $130 from a third-party seller right now!)

    It seems like once the Target team member has verified the other store’s price, it’s a simple matter to change the price when ringing up the item. My receipt shows the item at the price-matched price, and underneath that, it says “Regular Price $89.99.”

    You can read Target’s full price-matching policy here.

    Do you price-match?

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    Staples Rewards Program Update

    Staples is one of my favorite places to shop because they have incredible deals, especially during back-to-school season. But they recently updated their Rewards program, so I wanted to highlight those changes before the summer sales start.

    The biggest changes are that as of March 15, 2013, Staples Rewards members now earn 5% back in Rewards on everything, plus they get free shipping on all orders from Staples Rewards are issued monthly if the value of the Reward is at least $5; otherwise the monthly value rolls over to the next month or until the end of the year.

    Another big change, which Jamie pointed out, is to the Ink and Toner Recycling programs. You still receive $2 back in Staples Rewards per cartridge, but you must have spent at least $30 (after coupons) in ink and toner purchases at Staples over the previous 180 days. Ink Recycling Rewards are issued monthly, separately from your other benefits. There’s a limit of 10 recycled cartridges per month.

    If you spend $500+, you’ll be upgraded to Staples Rewards Plus status, and if you spend $1,000+, you’ll be upgraded to Premier status. Plus and Premier members can recycle up to 20 cartridges per month. Premier members also get double the amount of time to redeem their rewards.

    The really important thing to remember with Staples Rewards is that all coupons, discounts and Rewards used are deducted from the item price before earnings are calculated. For example, if you use a coupon on a free-after-Rewards item, the amount you receive in Staples Rewards will be the post-coupon amount. However, it has been my experience that Staples Easy Rebates are awarded in full even if a coupon is used, so I recommend using your Rewards on rebate deals and not on Rewards deals. Learn more about Staples Easy Rebates here.

    Happy shopping!

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    CFO’s Impressions of 2012’s Deals

    Looking back on this past year, I have a few observations of what it was like to bargain-hunt in 2012, compared to previous years:

    Smaller packages – It’s been a trend for the last few years now, but for some reason I really noticed it this past year. Manufacturers have been selling less product for the same price – so for example, instead of 12 ounces of cereal in a box, there are now 11 ounces. It’s really not a huge difference, but it adds up – for manufacturers across the millions of product they sell, and for consumers, if every package of food they buy now contains 1 ounce less than it used to. At some point, you have to buy more food to make up the difference.

    More people looking for deals – With the economy so bad for everyone, I thought there were more shoppers looking for deals in general. More than once, I saw a customer in front of me question the cashier about a sale price. TLC’s Extreme Couponing show made a lot of people coupon-crazy, which was good and bad. Good, because people – especially cashiers – seemed more accepting of coupons. Bad, because from what I heard, the show frequently portrayed improper coupon usage.

    More coupon policies – The proliferation of coupons spurred stores to come out with official coupon policies, even if they’d never had one (like Ralphs). I like coupon policies because they are supposed to set clear guidelines, but unfortunately, sometimes they’re vague – and even worse, many stores’ employees don’t know the policy and try to enforce illogical and/or arbitrary rules. It’s nice to have the policy to refer them to, but frustrating because you shouldn’t have to do it in the first place!

    Daily deal sites have established a rhythm – Now that they’ve been around for a while, daily deal sites have well-established terms of use, and there is a general stability to the deals they offer. There’s a lot of temptation with daily deal sites offering 90% off cute items every day, but if you exercise some self-control, you can get some real bargains. My favorite deals of the year – on and offline – may have been the Ecomom and Abe’s Market vouchers that I picked up for half off at various daily deal sites, and used to buy grocery items I would have bought anyway.

    You have to work harder for premium coupons – By premium, I mean high-value or rare coupons. And I say you have to work harder, because now you often have to join a program (like Kellogg’s Family Rewards or Recyclebank), like a company on Facebook, or follow a company on Twitter.

    You need social media for a lot of deals – Pepsi offered free Amazon MP3 credits via Twitter, lots of manufacturers offered coupons only if you liked them on Facebook, and companies started requiring pinning on Pinterest to enter contests. Daily deal sites offer free credits when you publicize their sites through social media and your friends sign up using your referral links. Plus there are lots of apps that will pay you – not just ibotta, but others I haven’t used personally like Viggle and Endorse.

    Prices have gone up – I’ve reluctantly increased my stock up price on many items, like toilet paper, cereal and butter (and those are just the things that come to me off the top of my head). I can occasionally get a great deal that hits or comes close to my old target price, but not regularly, the way I could a couple of years ago. I just hope this isn’t a trend that continues through 2013!

    What are your impressions of shopping in 2012?

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    SoCal Grocery Shopping Alternatives

    I’ll be discussing whether to continue shopping at Ralphs after the changes to their coupon policy and Ralphs Rewards go into effect next month later, but for now, I wanted to discuss shopping alternatives and options. As I mentioned this morning, there are other stores in Southern California that double coupons now, but the only other store that doubles near where I live is Vons/Pavilions. So I’ve been thinking about other stores and other ways to save money:

    Farmers Markets – Prices at Farmers Market may not be the lowest available, but I find that although they don’t have the “organic” label, the produce is generally grown without chemicals, and the prices are lower than “organic” foods. It’s a “happy medium” for me, and the produce is generally so fresh that it lasts much longer than produce bought at a store.

    Target (and/or Walmart if you live near one) – All of the Target stores near me have expanded grocery sections now, which include fresh produce, fresh meat, multiple freezers, and more food on the shelves. It’s been my experience that Target’s sale prices are nowhere near as low as the sale prices at Ralphs and Vons, but I’m not sure that will continue without doubles. In fact, I’m thinking that Target might have some bargains after sale, manufacturer coupon, and Target coupon. Plus, Target price matches, so that might help get the best price.

    Sprouts – I’ve never set foot in a Sprouts, but I believe they accept manufacturer’s coupons, and often have sale prices comparable to those of Ralphs and Vons.

    Jons – Jons has an official coupon policy (yay!), and they accept all manu coupons except printables for free products. They have great produce sales, although I do find that their sale prices on many general grocery items are not rock bottom (though the level that constitutes rock bottom has been rising so that may not be true anymore).

    Ethnic markets – There are ethnic markets all over LA, and although I haven’t frequented many, I’ve heard over and over again that they have great prices on their specialty items.

    Shop at multiple stores – It’s always been the case that you’ll save the most money by buying the best deals at multiple stores each week, but it may be even more the case now that Ralphs won’t be doubling coupons. We shall see!

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    My Shopping Trip Today: Ralphs (2x!), Rite Aid, Walgreens, CVS, & More

    Monday is now my Shopping Day in my new time management system, so I headed out this morning after dropping my younger son off at preschool. Three hours later, I arrived home with my trunk looking like this:

    Here’s how it all got there:

    Stop #1: Ralphs #1
    See this week’s Ralphs match ups here.

    I bought:
    3 boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
    4 boxes of General Mills Cereal Treat bars
    3 Dannon Danimals Crunchers (listed on the receipt as “Crunchables ^_^)
    2 Keebler cookies
    2 Brawny single rolls
    1 Arrowhead water 8-pack (I had a $1.50/1 coupon that Ralphs had mailed to me)

    Total after coupons and tax: $15.45
    Received: $2 Catalina for Daytona Mega Sale

    Click through to see the rest of my shopping trip