Friday, August 29, 2008

About Me - The Deal Diva

Ok, so you’ve found this blog, and as you begin to read through all these posts about extraordinary money-saving deals, inevitably, you are going to begin to think…”What kind of person is this?”…”Who has the time for this?”…”How can this be true?”….”Where’s the catch?”…and, more specifically, “Does this person have a life???”.

First things first. Before you begin reading these posts, let’s begin with my story, and how I learned to be a deal hunter.

My Story – How I Became “The Deal Diva”

Have you ever heard a story on the evening news about a person that bought an entire shopping cart full of groceries for mere pennies? Or, how about a magazine article featuring a savvy coupon clipper that gets almost everything she buys for free - complete with a photo of her standing in her basement storage room, a beaming glow of accomplishment on her face, as the shelving behind her strains under the weight of rows and rows of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, diapers, and pantry items – all attained for free or dirt cheap? Whenever I saw these stories, I disregarded them as an anomaly. Getting things that cheap must take hours of work – clipping coupons, sorting coupons, searching through store ads, finding coupons from previous weeks, searching online, and aligning the stars.

My first step to becoming a deal hunter began several years ago when I found a local Twin Cities Yahoogroup message board dedicated to sharing deals encountered while shopping in the metro area. At that time, a number of local grocery stores offered double coupon days where they would double an unlimited number of coupons up to a value of $1.00. Members of the group would scan the grocery ads each week and look for deals on grocery items free or cheap. For instance, if there was a $1.00 coupon in the Sunday paper for Crest toothpaste, and the grocery ad has Crest toothpaste on sale for $2.00, the coupon on double coupon day would be worth $2, which would make the toothpaste free. If you had several copies of the coupon, you could get several free tubes of toothpaste. Now, imagine the scenario if you had the $1 coupon and Crest toothpaste were on sale for $1.50. On double coupon day, the coupon would take $2 off your total and the remaining $0.50 credit would go to other groceries you were buying. What if the toothpaste were on sale for $1? You get the picture. I was hooked.

As time went on, I learned a few valuable lessons from the grocery experience:

1) You can only use so much toothpaste! What once was a fun game to see how much money I could save, quickly became a growing problem in our storage space. Our shelves were bulging from floor to ceiling with enough toiletries, dish soap, and spaghetti sauce to cleanse and feed a third world country. When you begin to hide your purchases from houseguests who might stumble upon them and think you’re either nuts or storing up for the apocalypse, you know you may have gone a bit overboard. That’s when I learned that if it’s not something we could use within a short period of time or something we could donate to help those in need, then it’s not really a sensible deal. See “The Diva Motto” on the homepage for more detail.

2) You need to have a life! Spending time clipping and organizing coupons does take time. I am a busy mom and wife with a full-time career in the finance industry - the free-time I have is precious. Fortunately, when I was learning the ropes on deal hunting, I was newly married with no kids. There was plenty of free time to devote to this “hobby” as well as to my hubby. Once our boys came along, things changed dramatically, and suddenly, there was hardly time to make a quick trip to the grocery store for milk, let alone look for coupons. I learned that I had to get smarter in my approach, and I began leveraging the information I found online from fellow couponers and bargain hunters. Over the past few years, several bargain hunting websites, message boards, and blogs have popped up where members provide tips and advice on deals they have found. Some are even organized by store, so that with one quick glace, you can find all the store specific deals. Suddenly, the time it takes to deal hunt is drastically reduced.

3) Give back to others! By far, the most valuable lesson I have learned, is that it is extremely rewarding to help others find deals, particularly those in need. This is done by passing up deals on items that you do not need, leaving plenty of items on the shelf for others (rather than cleaning the store out of the discount item), donating your excess bargain purchases to charity, and posting your success stories online to help others learn how to find great, money-saving deals.

My goal with this blog is not to post every single deal I find so that you can get in on it, too. There are plenty of other sites out there that do just that. Often, deals come and go in a flash, and they can vary by store location. It’s impossible to get in on every deal. My goal with this blog is to provide examples of the types of bargains I have found to help you learn the thought process behind finding deals along with the techniques to recognize deals to help you save money.

Enjoy the ride, as you spin the deal!

Look What I Got for $15.37!

Today was another great rebate overlap day at Walgreens. Today and tomorrow, both the August and September EasySaver rebate books are in effect. Last month, I used the overlap days to stock up on diapers. This month was just as successful. In addition, Walgreens published a printable coupon on their website for $10 off a $40 purchase today and tomorrow only.

Here’s what I got for a grand total of $15.37 after coupons, rebates and Register Rewards: 3 – 12 packs of Pepsi, 2 – 12 packs of Mountain Dew, 1 jumbo pack of Pull-ups, 1 case of Walgreens baby wipes (400ct), 2 John Frieda hair sprays, 1 Chemistry conditioner, 2 Glade Scented Oil warmers, 2 Glade Scented Oil refills, 3 boxes Kraft Mac & Cheese, 2 plastic serving trays. Whew…that’s a lot of stuff!
Spin the Deal

Here’s the breakdown on how much I saved by item:

1) Pepsi/Mountain Dew (bought 5): Reg. $20 for 5, Walgreens ad coupon, Paid: 5 for $11.00 ($9.00 saved)
2) Pull-ups Jumbo Pack: Reg. $12.49, Sale $9.49, Sunday paper coupon $2, Register Reward $2, Paid: $5.49 ($7.00 saved)
3) Walgreens Baby Wipes: Reg. $10.99, Clearance priced, Paid: $6.49 ($4.50 saved)
4) John Frieda Hair Spray (bought 2): Reg. $6.49 each, Sale: Buy 1 Get 2nd ½ Off - $9.74 total for two, Register Reward (when you buy 2) $9, Paid: $0.74 ($12.98 saved)
5) Chemistry Conditioner: Reg. $7.99, August ES coupon $3, Sept ES rebate $7.99, Paid: $-3.00 ($10.99 saved – Walgreens paid me $3 to buy this.)
6) Glade Scented Oil Warmers (bought 2): Reg. $4.79, Sale: Buy 1 Get 1 Free, Sunday paper coupon: Buy 1 Get 1 Free, Paid: $0 ($9.58 saved)
7) Glade Scented Oil Refills (bought 2): Reg. $4.79 each, Sale: $1.99 each, Sunday paper coupon: Buy 1 Get 1 Free, Paid: $1.99 ($9.58 saved)
8) Kraft Mac & Cheese (bought 3): Reg. $1.49 each, Walgreens Ad coupon, Paid: 3 for $2.07 ($1.93 saved)
9) Plastic Serving Trays (bought 2): Reg $2.00 each, Walgreens summer clearance 75% off sale, Paid: 2 for $1.00 ($3.00 saved)

The total for all of the above came to roughly $25.00. The $10 off $40 was applied before coupons. This brought the total out of pocket to just over $15. In total, I saved $68.56 off the regular price. Including the $10 off, that's about an 84% savings!

If you are new to deal hunting, you may be thinking two things:

1) This seems pretty overwhelming and must take a lot of work to research the deals and look for coupons. Is the juice really worth the squeeze?

2) How do I find these deals?

These are the questions I had in my mind when I first started learning about the great bargains people would post about online on personal finance websites. After spending time reading about other techniques and success stories, I learned that not only was it quite easy, but it was also a great deal of fun. In reality, it only takes a few minutes to research the deals once you know where to look for them. In a future post, I will cover the details on where to look for deals and how to make them even more attractive by applying every possible savings opportunity to the transaction.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Fare Deal at the Fair

It’s that time of year again. Navigating the rows and rows of rides and games in the midway, wading through droppings in the animal barns, gawking at the faces of state fair royalty carved out of a block of butter, and then there’s the food….oh the food.

Visiting the Minnesota State Fair has been a Diva family tradition since Junior D was 2 months old. Each year, as the kids grow (and hopefully their patience – as well as ours, God willing), our challenge is to stay longer than the previous year and see every possible attraction. This year, we’ve managed to defeat last year’s visit by hoofing it through the fair for a record-breaking nine hours.

Here are some tips for having a fun, family day at the fair without breaking the bank:

Plan Ahead: Most fairs offer discount admission and parking if you purchase the tickets in advance, rather than at the gate. Check the newspaper or the fair’s website for details on advanced ticket purchases.

Discount Fare: In the past, we’ve purchased a Blue Ribbon Bargain Book, which is a thick book filled with over $500 worth of discount coupons for food vendors and attractions at the Minnesota State Fair. If you look at a map beforehand, and plan your route through the fairgrounds carefully, you can save a considerable amount of money on fair food.

Discount Days: Some fairs have specific bargain days, such as Thrifty Thursday, where the admission, ride tickets, and food are reduced.

Pack a Cooler: By far the thriftiest tip for a full day at the fair is to pack a cooler with snacks and drinks. The bottom storage basket under a stroller is the perfect spot to store a small cooler. No stroller? Coolers not allowed in? Leave it in your car, and head back out to the parking lot for a picnic lunch.

Above all, enjoy the great family tradition of the fair, and don’t be afraid to splurge on a treat or two throughout the day. We packed a cooler of sodas and a thermos of lemonade for the family, and then splurged on our favorite fair fare: cheese curds, French fries, and cotton candy. The money we saved just on not buying drinks for a family of four at $4 each for the entire day more than made up for our fare indulgences at the fair.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Drowning in Diapers

This is the story of a former Diaper Diva. Store-brand diapers??? No way. Not on my child. Would I be caught dead bringing discount diapers to daycare? Heck, no! They’re cheap. They don’t fit right. They irritate little Baby Diva’s bottom. The list goes on and on. In reality, a diaper is a diaper. Sure, generic diapers don’t have the latest Disney character on them. Sometimes the tabs rip, or there’s a bad one in the bunch. But, given their intended use, does it really matter? Would it change your mind if they were free? Read on…

After years of gathering coupons from relatives, clipping coupons out of the Sunday paper, and hunting for deals on name-brand diapers, I’ve finally given up the game.

Walgreens Diaper Extravaganza

This summer, Walgreens has been running a fabulous diaper deal on the Walgreens brand jumbo pack diapers. Buy 1 pack for $7.99, get the 2nd pack ½ off. That’s $11.98 for two packs of diapers…about the average non-sale price for one pack of name-brand diapers. Then, there have been several Walgreens coupons to make the deal even more attractive.

Option #1: Walgreens Easysaver coupon - The July and August ES booklets each included a $5 off 2 coupon for Walgreens diapers.

[Regular Price (2 packs): $15.98]
Sale Price $11.98
- July Easysaver Coupon: - $5.00
Total for 2 Packs: $6.98

Option #2: Walgreens EasySaver coupon + Walgreens Register Rewards - In July, Walgreens ran a promotion where every 3 packages of diapers purchased in one transaction generated a $5 Register Rewards (to be used for a future purchase). Combining this with the Option #1 deal, and purchasing a set of 4 packs, would result in the following:

[Regular Price (4 packs): $31.96]
Sale Price $23.96
- Register Rewards - $5.00
- Easysaver Coupon: - $10.00
Total for 4 Packs: $8.96

Option #3: Walgreens Easysaver overlap coupons - For a short period at the end of July, both the July and August Easysaver coupon booklets were in effect. Stores would honor both coupons on the same purchase. By combining both coupons during this period, purchasing 4 packs, as well as receiving the July Register Rewards promotion, the result would be:

[Regular Price (4 packs): $31.96]
Sale Price $23.96
- Register Rewards - $5.00
- July Easysaver Coupon - $10.00
- August Easysaver Coupon: - $10.00
Total for 4 Packs: - $1.04

A $1.04 profit for buying diapers? I’d say it’s worth the switch to store-brand. I stocked up while Option #3 was in effect. Here’s a picture of Baby Diva drowning in diapers. Baby Diva’s bum is no worse for wear than it was when outfitted in Huggies and Pampers.

But wait, the deal doesn’t end there. Walgreens is currently promoting its new RX drug program. Available at the pharmacy counter is a $50 coupon booklet filled with additional Walgreens coupons. Included in the booklet is a $2 coupon good on one pack of Walgreens diapers. Most stores allow this to be combined with the Easysaver coupons.

So….Option #4: Warning, this is for the die-hard only, assuming this was done during the overlap period at the end of July:

[Regular Price (4 packs): $31.96]
Sale Price $23.96
- Register Rewards - $5.00
- RX $2 Coupon: - $8.00
- July Easysaver Coupon - $10.00
- August Easysaver Coupon: - $10.00
Total for 4 Packs: - $9.04

That’s a $9.04 profit for buying 4 packs of store-brand diapers vs. roughly $48 for 4 packs of name-brand diapers.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dad Wants Free Gas

For the past few years, Dockers has run some spectacular promotions during the Father’s Day sales blitz. They usually involve buying $100 of Dockers merchandise to get free rewards. A few years back, the reward was a free portable DVD player (which has saved the Diva family’s sanity on several long car trips). This year, there were multiple Docker promotions through various stores. The deal that we took advantage of was the Sears Dockers Shell Gift Card offer. Here’s how it worked:

Standard Deal:
Buy $100 of Dockers men’s apparel and/or accessories at Sears during the June promotion period and mail in the form to get a $75 Shell Gas Card in return. Limit one request per person, two per household. Separate qualifying purchases on separate receipts required.

What great timing! Daddy Diva had just changed jobs, which involved a move from a business casual environment to a business formal environment. We were definitely in the market for a wider selection of dress shirts and ties.

Spin the Deal:
In addition to the gas card promotion, Sears was running a 40-50% off sale on all men’s Dockers apparel. That’s a $167 value for $100. Or, if you double the deal, that’s a $334 value for $200. So, to make the most of this spin, I chose the items with the highest percentage off.

The Ultimate Diva Deal:
As I shopped the Dockers section at Sears, I noticed that there were quite a few racks of Dockers shirts, pants, and ties on clearance for 75% off. Taking a quick look at the offer form, I verified that sale or clearance merchandise were eligible for the gas card offer. Since we could do two separate purchases per household, I split my purchase into two and headed to the checkout counter with a gigantic armload of clothing. Here’s the final breakdown:

Mommy Diva’s Purchase:
2 Men’s Dress Shirts – Reg. $30 each, Sale $14.99 each: $29.98
8 Men’s Dress Shirts – Reg. $40 each, Sale $9.99 each: $79.92
Total: 10 shirts, Reg. $380 value:

Daddy Div
a’s Purchase:
2 Men’s Dress Shirts – Reg. $30 each, Sale $14.99 each: $29.98
4 Men’s Ties – Reg. $30 each, Sale $17.99 each: $71.96
Total: 2 shirts, 4 ties, Reg. $180 value:

Total Purchase:
12 shirts, 4 ties, Reg. $560 value: $211.84
Minus: Mommy Diva’s Shell gas card: - $75.00
Minus: Daddy Diva’s Shell gas card: - $75.00
Grand Total out of pocket:

Mommy and Daddy Diva’s Shell gas cards came in the mail this week. And, as an added bonus, they even included $10 off Sears coupons with each gas card.