Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Avoiding Budget Busters During a Crisis

No matter how diligent you are in searching for deals and saving money during ordinary times, once a family crisis strikes, all thoughts of frugality go right out the window.

Just this past weekend, I made a spur-of-the-moment trip out of state to gather with family for our father’s heart surgery. With only a few days advanced notice, I quickly packed up the essentials and headed for the interstate without even knowing for certain how long I would be gone. Fortunately, by giving some forethought to the likely expenses to be incurred during the trip, I was able to pack wisely and avoid busting the budget.

Here are some tips to help keep your expenses on-track during a crisis:

Use Gift Cards: Remember those gift cards collecting dust in the back of your kitchen drawers? Often, we forget to use these because we either don’t keep them handy or the stores are not conveniently located in our hometown.

On my road trip this weekend, I used up both of my $75 Shell gas cards, which covered the gas for the entire trip. I hadn’t used them yet in my hometown because there isn’t a Shell gas station anywhere along my normal routes, but I knew that the interstate would be dotted with them.

Use Catalinas: When heading out of town unexpectedly, make sure to take a quick inventory of any unused Catalinas and their expiration dates. I used $11 in grocery store Catalinas to stock up on nutritious granola bars and fruit to pack in the car for the trip. These would have expired while I was gone, and I would have been out $11. By using them up in advance, I prevented them from expiring, and saved additional money on costly, unhealthy fast food stops along the way.

If you have Catalinas for stores that are located near your destination, take them along to offset unexpected expenses during your stay. Catalinas from Walgreens and CVS work great for picking up necessities while away from home.

Choose Your Hotel Wisely: If time allows, do a bit of research beforehand, and select a hotel with good reviews, nice amenities, and reasonable rates. During a stressful event, it may be worth a few extra dollars to stay in a hotel with positive reviews and creature comforts. Amenities such as free breakfast and free wireless internet access are great ways to save money. Also, if you are visiting a loved one in the hospital, ask whether the hotel has a discounted rate for families of hospital patients. We saved almost half off the lowest published room rate by asking for the special rate.

Tap Your Emergency Fund: Finally, in times of crisis, it’s important to have an emergency fund to fall back on, when needed. An emergency fund protects you when the inevitable happens, and it’s Baby Step #1 in Dave Ramsey’s Seven Baby Steps to Financial Peace.

In addition to the family crisis stress, my car was damaged while parked in the hotel parking lot. With little hope of finding the offender, it’s likely I will have to cough up the $500 deductible to get my car fixed. If we didn’t have the extra money available in savings to cover the unexpected expense, our emergency fund could serve as a backup resource to cover the expense, and would help mitigate additional stress at an already difficult time.

What things have you done to protect your budget during times of crisis or an unexpected trip?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Good Deal Gone Bad

There’s nothing worse than that sinking feeling that sometimes occurs after scoring a great deal. You know the feeling - that tiny nag that rapidly evolves into a gut-wrenching ache as it swoops in and bursts your post-bargain bubble of bliss.

You hastily scan your receipt only to find that your $5 coupon – the icing on the cake – was never credited on your receipt.

Or, you’re all set to submit a rebate for reimbursement, when suddenly, after a frantic search, you realize that you’ve lost the receipt.

It’s happened to the best of us. Whether you are a novice coupon-clipper or a seasoned deal hunter, getting burned on a deal is inevitable.

Here are 7 tips to help prevent getting burned followed by some advice on how to remedy good deals gone bad.

1. Know the Deal – Part 1 - Coupons: When using coupons, make sure that you are following the purchase requirements (brand, quantity, size) to the letter. Not doing so can cause the register to beep upon scanning the coupon, and the cashier to either reject it, or to simply go on to the next coupon without noticing, thereby causing you to lose out on the value of the coupon.
2. Know the Deal – Part 2 - Catalinas: Catalinas are coupons that generate at checkout based on purchasing qualified items and can be used on your next store purchase. Before purchasing items that generate a Catalina, be sure you know the details behind the Catalina deal (qualifying item, quantity, offer period). Also, check that there is a Catalina machine at the checkout. Some stores may only have Catalina machines at the front registers. Finally, after the Catalina generates upon checkout, make sure the cashier notices the Catalina and hands it to you before you leave the register.
3. Know the Deal – Part 3 - Rebates: When purchasing items for a rebate offer, read through the terms of the rebate before making the purchase. Make sure it is worth your time. Some rebates are straightforward to redeem, while others require laborious efforts. Certain rebates require removing UPCs from products that can only be removed after consumption of the product. In these cases, make sure that you will be able to consume the product, or transfer it into another container, before the rebate redemption period expires. Also, whenever possible, assemble the rebate submission (cash register receipt, proof of purchase, rebate form) shortly after making the purchase, take a photocopy, and then mail it out before there is time to lose any of the submission pieces.
4. Know the Store: Having a good understanding of the store coupon policy is key to not getting burned on a deal. Find out in advance whether the store accepts Internet coupons, expired manufacturer coupons, or limits the number of identical coupons redeemed per transaction. Also, when shopping at stores like CVS or Walgreens, which match number of items to number of coupons, make sure that you purchase enough items so that when combining store and manufacturer coupons, the register allows all coupons to scan without beeping or manager intervention.
5. Know the Expiration: Whether using a coupon or doing a rebate, check the expiration date to make sure that the coupon or offer is valid. Most rebates have a specific purchase period as well as a separate redemption deadline.
6. Be Attentive at Check-out: Although it pays to be friendly and get to know the store cashiers, when you are working on a complex deal, it’s important to stay on top of your game and focus on the transaction. Simply flash the cashier a friendly smile followed by a warm “hello,” and then get ready to focus. This tip is particularly important when you have a large quantity of items and/or coupons. It’s easy to get distracted with chit-chat or digging through your purse for your wallet, but focusing on the transaction ensures that you receive credit for everything you are entitled to. Watch prices closely as items are scanned, and watch that every coupon scans successfully and lowers your total.
7. Be Friendly: Didn’t I just mention that we need to curb the friendliness? Well, yes, and no. Being friendly to the cashier increases your chances for a positive outcome on a complex or questionable transaction.

And, finally, here are some tips on how to overcome a good deal gone bad:

1. Check your Receipt IMMEDIATELY: Before leaving the store, it is critical to check your receipt. Make sure all discounts were applied as expected. Verify that all coupons were deducted from your total. Ensure that you have your Catalinas in-hand. If anything looks incorrect, go back to the cashier, manager, or service desk for an immediate adjustment.
2. File your Receipt: Select a specific pocket in your purse or a section in your wallet to file your receipts as soon as you receive them. This prevents them from getting lost or thrown away by accident, and makes them easily accessible for returns or rebates.
3. Make Photocopies: Finally, when sending in rebate submissions, take the time to photocopy everything in the envelope. If there is trouble with the rebate, your photocopies will serve as backup proof of purchase.

Scoring the perfect deal isn’t always easy, but being prepared and vigilant can go a long way towards making every deal, a good deal.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stumbling Upon A Deal

Deal Diva Rule #1: No matter where you are or what you are shopping for, ALWAYS keep your eyes open for a deal.

This past week was a hectic week in both my work life and family life, including being assigned a new project at work with an accelerated deadline for completion, planning for Baby D's 2nd birthday party, and scheduling heart surgery for my dad. With everything going on in our lives, it's often difficult for us busy moms to make room for "me"-time, including finding time for this quirky deal hunting hobby. That's why it's particularly important to keep your eyes open for deals everywhere, because these days,
you can't go anywhere without stumbling upon a deal.

Here's some of the deals I stumbled upon this week:

Holiday Gas Station:
Everyone needs gas, right? Gas stations are great places to find deals. While I filled my tank, I took advantage of an 8 cents off per gallon coupon that I received from shopping at Cub Foods, which saved me almost a buck. Then I used a coupon from our local newspaper website (www.startribune.com) to get a free Holiday breakfast sandwich with any purchase.

On to Target to pick up birthday cards. Have I mentioned how much I love Target? Thanks to Ginger at ATS, I can be even more prepared with what deals to look for when I make a Target run. The biggest deal I found was free Johnson & Johnson Buddies bar soap. They were on sale for $0.99, and I got 6 bars free by using the 2 - $3 off 3 Johnson's coupon in last week's Sunday coupon insert. While I was there, I also stocked up on Barilla pasta (clearanced at $0.38 a box), Vitamin Water (50% off), adorable kid's dinner trays (75% off at $0.74 each), and a few last minute toys for Baby D's birthday (50% off). Backpacks were only 30% off yet, but they will soon go to 75% off, and then I'll pick up a few for the boys.

Cub Foods:
Thanks to Rachel at Common"cents"ical, I stumbled upon a few great deals at the grocery store while picking up Baby D's birthday cake. Powerade Zero was on sale for $0.79. If you buy 6 bottles for $4.74, you receive a coupon for $4 off your next grocery purchase, making it $0.74 net for 6 bottles. Glade Wisp Flameless candles were $6.99 with a $3 coupon off your next purchase. Using the $5 off coupon from the recent Sunday insert resulted in a $1.01 profit. (BTW - These flameless candles are great with little kids in the house!) Finally, Glade Plug-ins were $1.69 with a $2 coupon off your next purchase. This was a no-brainer, even without coupons. Fortunately, I had a Buy 1 Get 1 Free coupon, which netted me two free Plug-ins and a $2.31 profit.

So, whether you are running your normal weekly errands or stopping for gas, it pays to keep a lookout for bargains. As you can see, they are easy to stumble upon anywhere.

What deals have you stumbled upon this week?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Shopping at Walgreens "Pays" Off

The deals at Walgreens have never been better. In fact, by combing several deals right now, it really pays to shop at Walgreens...literally. Here's what I got today - all free when you take into account future rebates and Register Rewards.

  • Tylenol PM Geltabs $3.49 - $2.00 MC - $1 ESC = $0.49

  • Walgreens Acid Reducer $6.99 - $2 RXC = $4.99

  • 3 Robitussin @ 3.99 each - (3) $3 MC = $2.97

  • Pert Plus Shampoo $3.79 - $1.50 MC

  • Revlon Nail Polish $4.79

  • 2 Tostitos bags $7.00

  • 2 Xcel Laundry Soap B1G1Free $2.99

  • 2 Xcel Fabric Softeners B1G1Free $2.99

  • 1 Gallon Milk $3.29

  • Fiber One Bars $2.00 - $0.50 MC

  • 2 pk Baking Pans $3.99

Total Before Coupons: $53.29

Total After Coupons: $37.29

Additional Reductions:

  • $10 off $40 purchase Walgreens.com coupon: -$10.00

  • (2) $4.50 Register Rewards from Crest ProHealth prior purchase: -$9.00

Total Out Of Pocket w/Tax: $18.88

Future Rebates/Rewards From This Purchase:

  • Walgreens Acid Reducer $6.99 ESR + $0.70 (ESR 10%) + $0.70 (W Card 10%) = $8.39

  • Pert Plus Shampoo $3.79 ESR + $0.38 (ESR 10%) = $4.17

  • Received Robitussin $10.00 Register Reward = $10

Grand Total Today's Purchase:

  • $18.88 OOP - (Future Rebates/Rewards Total: $22.56) = -$3.68

That's right...I earned $3.68, and a cart full of goodies, just for shopping at Walgreens. How did I do it? Here's a little insight on how the Deal Diva spun this deal.

Spin The Deal Strategies:

  1. Look for opportunites to combine a manufacturer coupon (MC) with a store coupon.
  2. Use manufacturer coupons on rebate items. Walgreens EasySaver programs provides a rebate on the full price paid regardless of whether coupons were used.
  3. Check the Walgreens website for "hidden" rebate items. This month there were 3 additional "Free After Rebate" items that were not in the ES catalog.
  4. Check the Walgreens website for "$ off total purchase" coupons. The $10 off $40 is usually only valid for two days, so act fast. Also, buy grocery items to bring grand total up to the minimum required to use this coupon.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Walgreens Register Rewards FAQ

Every week, Walgreens offers bonus savings on select items that can be used on future purchases. When you purchase these select items, along with your receipt, you will receive a coupon called a Register Reward. The Register Reward (RR) is a manufacturer coupon, and it is good for a certain dollar amount off of your next shopping order at Walgreens.

Here’s an example: Walgreens ran a promotion recently where you purchase one package of Huggies diapers, and you receive a $2 Register Reward off a future purchase. The next time I make a purchase at Walgreens, I can simply hand my Register Reward to the cashier, and it will scan just like a coupon and deduct $2 off my total purchase.

Here are a few FAQs:

Q: Are there limitations to the number of Register Rewards per purchase?
A: Register Rewards are limited to one reward per purchase per offer. For instance, using the Huggies offer example, if I buy one package of Huggies, I will receive one $2 Register Reward. If I purchase more than one package, I will still only receive one $2 reward total.

Q: What if I want to earn several Register Rewards?
A: You can only earn one Register Reward per purchase per offer. If you would like to stock up on an item with a Register Reward offer, you will need to make individual, separate purchases of the offer item. Using the Huggies example, if I wanted to stock up on Huggies and earn Register Rewards for each package, I would have to do separate transactions for each package. If I bought 4 packages of Huggies over the course of 4 transactions, I would receive a total of 4 Register Rewards each good for $2 off a future purchase.

Q: Can I purchase items for different offers in one transaction?
A: Yes. To expand upon my Huggies example, let’s say there was another offer for $5 in Register Rewards when you buy one Revlon product. I could purchase a Revlon product and a package of Huggies in one transaction, and I would receive one $5 Register Reward from Revlon and one $2 Register Reward from Huggies.

Q: When I redeem the Register Reward, are there any restrictions on what I can use it for?
A: Generally, no. You do not have to use it to buy more of the same product from the original offer. With the exception of a few items (gift cards, tobacco, lottery tickets, dairy), you can use it on almost anything Walgreens sells.

Q: How long is a Register Reward valid?
A: Register Rewards expire two weeks from the date they are issued. Keep them handy, and use them up to purchase advertised deals the following week or EasySaver rebate items.

Q: Can I use Register Rewards from a previous purchase to purchase the same items on a future purchase?
A: Yes, but I would not recommend it. Let’s say I wanted to buy two Revlon items in two transactions to generate two $5 Register Rewards. I could use the $5 Register Reward received from the first transaction to pay for the Revlon item in my second transaction; however, I will not get another Register Reward at the end of the second transaction. So, if you are making multiple purchases to stock up on an item, do not use Register Rewards from the prior purchase of that particular item.

You can, however, use Register Rewards from previous offers to pay for your items.
Here’s one last example to illustrate this. Assuming in my first transaction, I purchased Huggies and Revlon and received a $2 Huggies RR and a $5 Revlon RR. In my second transaction, I just purchase a Revlon item. I can use the $2 Huggies RR towards the Revlon item, and at the end of the transaction, I will still receive a $5 Revlon RR for the second transaction.

Look What's Free This Week - 09/08/08

This week there are some great bargain opportunities for those just learning how to “spin the deal.” Below are step-by-step deal strategies on how to get in on these particular deals. Use these as a basis for learning the basic techniques.

Also, don’t forget the wonderful “free after rebate” items in the Walgreens September EasySaver catalog. Pick up a catalog at the door inside Walgreens or download an electronic version from their website. If you have never done a Walgreens EasySaver rebate before, I highly encourage you to give it a try. It is an easy, hassle-free program, and another great way to pick up free items plus an additional 10% bonus on all rebate items. Here are 9 free items for September:

Deals for the week of September 8th, 2008:

Deal #1 - Walgreens: Crest Pro-Health Mouthwash 500ml – FREE

Spin the Deal Strategy: Buy a bottle of Crest Pro-Health Mouthwash on sale for $4.49. After you pay, a Register Reward coupon will print for $4.49 off your next Walgreens purchase. No coupons necessary. It’s as easy as: Rinse. Spit. Repeat.

Deal #2 - Walgreens: Robitussin Cough Syrup – FREE + $7 Profit

Spin the Deal Strategy: Buy 3 Robitussin on sale for $3.99 each. Use 3 of the $3/1 printable coupons.
After paying $0.99 each for the Robitussin, a Register Reward coupon will print for $10 off your next Walgreens purchase.

(Note: If you are new to Walgreens Register Rewards, please read this FAQ.)

Deal #3 – CVS: Ambi Bar Soap – FREE + $3 Profit

Spin the Deal Strategy: Buy 3 bars of Ambi bar soap for $1.99. When you pay, you will receive $9 Extra Care Bucks off your next CVS purchase. No coupons necessary, but you must have a CVS ExtraCare card in order to get Extra Care Bucks.