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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.com. 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!

    Banner ad via MySavings.com.

    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

    Tips for Shopping with Kids

    A week ago, when it was still winter vacation from school, I took my oldest son shopping with me and he was so good about it. We picked up a lot of bargains at multiple stores, including cheap cereal at Vons and $0.49 packs of batteries at Ralphs.* In retrospect, I realized I had done quite a few things to induce his cooperation and good behavior – things that I ought to keep in mind for future shopping trips:

    1. Mental preparation – I told my son the day before that we would be going shopping the next day, and that the plan was to drop his brother off at preschool and then head to some stores. That mentally prepared him for the next morning, so that things got off to a smooth start.
    2. Pick a “good” day and be flexible – My son woke up in a good mood (he usually does), but if he had been cranky, I probably wouldn’t have started our marathon shopping session right after dropping his brother off. Maybe we would have stopped for breakfast first, or some other activity he enjoys, to get him in a better mood. If he had been in a particularly bad mood, I would have aborted my shopping plans entirely for the sake of my own sanity.
    3. Plan a fun stop – I didn’t actually plan this ahead of time, but when I saw Starbucks near Whole Foods, I realized it was time for a snack. My son gets very moody when his blood sugar drops, so we popped into Starbucks, where he enjoyed a cake pop (his drink was water that was in the car). Next time, when I’m (hopefully) better prepared, I will try to plan for a stop at a park so he can run around too.
    4. Explain what you’re doing – I always explain to my kids that I shop the way I do to save money so that we have money for other things, like their toys, or to put into savings for the future. My first-grader is beginning to grasp the value of a dollar, and even my younger son understands that money is not an unlimited commodity.
    5. Offer lots of praise and thanks – I told my son repeatedly while we were out that he was behaving well, and I really appreciated his cooperation. If I recall correctly, we went to seven different stores in about three hours, and he was a real trooper.

    *Side note: I’ve been able to get free AA and AAA batteries at the drugstores, Staples, and Target. But I take advantage of sales like the current one at Ralphs to get other sizes, which I’ve never been able to find for free.

    Working on my home instead of shopping

    These last few weeks, I’ve been feeling reluctant about going shopping, even when the deals are good. I finally realized that I didn’t like the idea of bringing more stuff into the house, even when it’s stuff that I know we will use, when I feel like there’s too much stuff in the house already.

    So I’ve been concentrating on getting my house in order and I feel better for it. In the last week, I’ve filed three months and shredded three bags worth of papers. I’ve thrown out stuff we don’t use. I’ve scrubbed my foyer floor and gotten it cleaner than it’s been in years.

    I keep looking around for more stuff to get rid of, but a lot of what I see is stuff that needs to be used up. So that’s part of what’s keeping me from wanting to shop too – we already have so much, and even a rock bottom price isn’t enough to lure me into a store. Pretty much all the shopping that I’ve been doing has been for perishables, or to replace things that we’ve used up.

    I don’t know if this is a cyclical thing or if I’m going to feel this way long term now. Either way, though, I’m okay with it, even if it does end up costing us a little more money in the long run. I’ll always have some extra stuff around, and maybe once I’ve gotten rid of stuff, I’ll find that I have a greater storage capacity.

    The important thing, though, is that I want my home to be a peaceful haven. And if that means not stocking a lot of extra stuff, then I’ll keep my shopping to a minimum.