Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bargain Hunting 101

I am a rookie bargain hunter. I thought I was clever at finding sales, but I now realize I have much to learn. So after some guidance from Coupon Katie (, Knoxville’s savings queen, I’m on a quest for big savings and what I can get for free. On her website, Katie usually details the best deals each week at three of my new favorite stores: Kroger, Target, and Walgreens. She’s done the work of finding the deals and even links to where to print additional coupons; how hard should this be?

My first stop is Kroger. Before I leave for the store, I load a $3 Huggies coupon from onto my Kroger card. Since Huggies are on sale for an additional $.78 savings, my total for a pack of diapers should be $5.21. However, at check-out I realize the cellfire coupon had not loaded yet and I don’t get the big savings I was expecting. I suppose I need to give the system more than two hours next time; ugh. However, I do score one free item here. In the 10 for $10 clearance bin, they have lots of small tubes of Colgate toothpaste and I have a $1 off any size Colgate manufacturer’s coupon. After digging in the bin to find the kind I like, I’m triumphant.

Next stop: Target. The promotion that has caught my eye in this week’s flyer is “buy two bags of M&M’s for $2.50 each and get a free cloth shopping bag” (worth $1.99). With an additional coupon for $1/2 that I printed from, my total will be $4. Since I’m all about avoiding plastic bags and my kids will do anything for M&Ms, I’m on the hunt.

I start in the candy section; sounds reasonable, right? But they don’t have the specific bags of M&Ms advertised here. An associate directs me to the Halloween section, all the way across the store of this Super Target. When I scour those shelves, I can’t find it there either. Another associate gets on the walkie talkie and finds the candy is on the end of aisle 16 (how would I have known to look there?) and the free bags (if they have any left) are back in the candy section. Determined, I hoof back across the store, pick up the chocolates, and grab the LAST free bag. I suppose next time I should plan my trip earlier in the week.

As for a freebie at Target, I had printed an online Target coupon for $1 off any size Chex Mix, hearing that they usually stock small bags (that sell for a dollar) at check-out. I scurry past all 20 something aisles and don’t see a single bag of Chex Mix. Are you kidding me? When I bug yet another associate, she goes to one aisle, gets down on her hands and knees and reaches back for what must have been the last small bag of Chex Mix left in the store. Was this really worth it?! At least it was free.

The next morning I resume my quest for bargains at Walgreens, hoping to squeeze this errand in between school drop offs. Only after I have two of my kids out of the car do I realize this store doesn’t open til 8am; it’s 7:39am. Back in the car we go to the 24-hour Walgreens 8 minutes away. Since I’m not familiar with the store, it takes me 30 minutes to try to locate all the fabulous register rewards items Coupon Katie had highlighted. Someone else nearby must follow her tips too because they’re all out of the toothbrushes, lotion, soup, chapstick, and cough medicine that I’m looking for. I leave the store discouraged and empty handed.

After the second school drop-off, I decide to try my luck one more time at another Walgreens in the name of research. My main goal is to test out this Register Rewards program. In the weekly flyer, you can find which items are marked register rewards and what those rewards are. For example this week, if you buy Vaseline Sheer Infusion Lotion for $7, you get a $7 reward that you can use like cash on a future purchase. The key is that what you buy with that reward must be at least $7; you can’t gather 10 items that equal $7.

At this store, I notice they don’t label the products that earn register rewards. You would only know if you had searched the weekly flyer. Maybe that’s why I do find the soup, toothbrush, and lotion that I’m seeking. I’m hoping these goods will still ring up the register rewards, but I’ll only know if I buy them. Sigh.

With a coupon in the flyer and a coupon I printed online, I get two cans of chicken noodle soup for free. I get two toothbrushes for free as well (spend $3, get $3RR). With $1.50 online coupon and the register rewards (spend $7, get $7 RR), I actually make $1.50 on the lotion. I use my register rewards to get Halloween candy and paper towels (also on sale). In summary, I spend $19.48 on goods that regularly would have cost $42.53. It was a bit of a hassle, but I’ll definitely do this again.

My final two places where I’ve recently scored free stuff are Brewster’s Ice Cream Shop and Premiere Athletics. In the library coupon books they earned from summer reading, there is a free kid ice cream sundae at Brewster’s. Since one of the boys is still less than 40 inches tall, he gets a free cone there any time. And because I have three coupon books, I can get free ice cream for the boys two more times. My biggest freebie this month can be found in the school coupon book: Premiere Athletics is offering a month of free classes for new students til the end of 2009 (value: $56). I’ve signed my youngest boy up for this to see if he likes it and so far, so good.

Thus far my experience as a rookie bargain hunter has been tiring and sometimes disappointing, but with a few lessons learned, I’m getting the hang of it. So if you have any tips for other ways I can get free stuff or discounted goods I haven’t thought about, please comment below. Save on!

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