Black Friday shopping tips

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Black Friday. Do you know it? Do you love it? Maybe not as much as I do. I look forward to this day all year. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, I peel myself out of bed around 4am, and head off to find those bargains! Here’s how I make the most of the day:

1. Check out BlackFridayAds.com a few days ahead of time. That way you’ll have a little more time to plan your approach, think about the people you need to buy for, and then only buy what you need. Black Friday is only a frugal event if you plan carefully, stick within your budget, and don’t get carried away.

2. Pay close attention to which stores open first, and plan where you’ll go first, second and third. Figure driving time and map out the most efficient route.

3. Write out a list for every store, with the highest priority items at the top of the list. Include name brands and even a photo of items (cut apart your ads and tape pictures to your lists.) This makes it much easier to spot items on shelves.

4. Plan to bring another adult or teen with you and arm both people with a cell phone.  Communication is essential when you’re separated in the midst of a crowd of people.

5. Bring a couple of big mesh bags. Without a cart, you’ll be able to move more quickly through the stores–sometimes there are huge traffic jams, and you will be just standing still if you’re trying to maneuver a cart. I usually leave my coat in the car, and stick my credit card/checkbook/ID in my FRONT jeans pocket so I don’t have to carry a purse.

6. Divide the list for each store into two parts– you and your shopping partner can each shop and then meet at the checkout. Have one person just grab a few things, then go stand in the checkout line while the other person finishes shopping. If you can hit the checkout line within 15 minutes of the store’s opening time, the line won’t be too long yet.

7. If your partner gets to the head of the line before you get done shopping, he/she should call you and just let the next person in the checkout line check out first. Whatever happens, your partner shouldn’t step out of the line– just wait at the front, letting people by, until the partner arrives.

I know lots of people just prefer to avoid the chaos and sleep in that morning. But shopping the day after Thanksgiving helps my stretch my Christmas dollars, which is really important with 10 kids to shop for. I wouldn’t want to shop like that every day. But once a year is fun. I love working out an efficient plan and seeing just how much I can get for my money. It’s also fun to sneak the loot in the house when I finally get home around 11 am. If I’m really energetic, I’ll even get a gift or two wrapped before I collapse for a nap in the early afternoon.

(This article reposted from a previous year.)

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More tips

My 2007 Black Friday shopping trip

Walmart 2008 Black Friday Deals

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$200 at the grocery store all month? (I might be insane)

Two years ago when we did 30 Days of Nothing, we spent $318 the whole month on food. Of course besides that we had our regular bills for utilities, gas, housing, etc. But we cut out all non-essentials. No clothes, books, eating out, or other extras. I felt good about what we saved that month, especially considering that at that time we usually spent $600-$700 a month on groceries, and another $100 or more on books.

These days I usually spend $900 a month on groceries. I’ve been hoping that in September I could get by on $400 for the month. Only problem is, I just tallied up our groceries for August. I spent $1100, $200 more than usual. It’s the stock-up urge: grab more of this, get another one of that — I don’t want to spend money in September. Problem is, the challenge is meaningless if I just shift all our expenses to August or October.

I decided I’ll just consider $200 already spent for September. That’ll leave us $200 to spend in the month. Yeah. $200 for the whole month. Fifty measly bucks a week. I usually spend that much before I walk 50 feet in WalMart, let alone all the way to the back of the store to grab eggs. I may be insane.

But here’s the thing: even though I spent a bit more than usual in August, I bought with economy in mind. I bought good, healthy, versatile, long-lasting items. Our cupboards are bulging with food — it’ll be at least 2 weeks before we run out of much of anything. (Oops, except I already ran out of powdered sugar making cocoa mix today to take camping, and my son just informed me we’re also out of plastic wrap. Eeek). But the point is, we have a ton of food and a huge garden. Even if we only spend $200, we won’t be starving anyone. And — don’t worry — if we truly need to spend more, I will. I may go waaaaaay over my measly little budget.

But I’m gonna aim for $200, and I’m stoked. I’ve got the start of a meal plan for the month-I am planning a bunch of new recipes to try to keep things interesting. (Frugal food does NOT have to be boring, after all.) I am excited that so many of you have mentioned that you’ll be playing along too. feel free to grab the button to mention on your blog. First thing Monday morning I’ll be putting Mr. Linky up at the top of my blog so that everyone who is playing along can link up. And of course everyone can visit around and see what other people are doing with the challenge. Remember, the rules are up to you. You decide what’s ‘essential’ to your family. Decide what to give up. Decide what to keep. You can even decide to do the challenge for a shorter or longer period of time if you’d like. It’s up to you. So come on– take the challenge!

Doesn’t work for me: Walgreen’s

When Shannon turned Works for Me Wednesday on its head this week, asking us instead to tell about something that doesn’t work, I instantly knew my topic.

Walgreen’s.

More specifically the deal-hunting at Walgreens that involves many flapping coupons, spending much good money on fancy name brands, and waiting for rebates that come many weeks later and sometimes are disallowed entirely.

I know that many frugal blogs talk about the wonderful deals that are to be had at Walgreens. But after trying this for three months in a row, I have to admit that this particular money saving strategy is doing nothing but frustrating me.

Yes, I’ve saved some money. But I’ve also been coaxed to buy name brand products that I would never waste spend my money on otherwise. I’ve spent literally hours cruising the aisles with fists full of coupons. My little girls are starting to whimper when we even drive past Walgreens. And the stuff I end up buying is so….small. Call me strange, but when I walk out of a store having just spent $50, I want to be holding more than one bag. I hate the sinking feeling that I would have been much much better off having bought my Colgate, Prell, and toothbrushes at the dollar store, coupons be hanged. And I would have gotten done much sooner.

I WANT Walgreens coupon-stacking/rebates to work for me, I really do.

But after my latest shopping fiasco, I’ve got to face the facts.

It all started last week when I realized the soccer field was only two blocks from Walgreens. I decided that my little girls would be much happier playing on the swings and watching big sister’s soccer practice than cruising endless aisles at Walgreens. So I handed my teenaged sons a cell phone and asked them to play with the little girls while I zipped over to make the most of the May rebates at Walgreens.

Around and around I went, matching coupons and reading fine print and trying to make sure I got the maximum money back. Besides about $10 worth of rebate items, I was also hoping to get a $10 ‘register reward’ for buying 4 Colgate products. I was especially pleased about this deal because I also had coupons for Colgate to jack up my savings. I only had a few more things to find when my cell rang. It was my son.

“Hey!” he said. And then he called the name of my 3 year old and I heard odd screaming fading in and out. He called her again, sounding distracted. More odd wavery screaming.

I called his name, starting to panic, trying to get him to talk to me. But he didn’t seem to be listening to me. I called his name louder. Panic was rising in my throat. Was she hurt? I knew it wasn’t irresponsible to leave my 3 and 5 year olds at the park with their 13 and 16 year old brothers, but the mom guilt kicked in…

When still he didn’t answer me, I left my cart in the corner and jetted out of the store and hopped into the van, trying to fight back the fear that the three year old was really seriously hurt. A minute later I was pulling into the parking lot. To see my little girls swinging, screaming happily as they went back and forth. The big boys were protectively in position behind them.

Augh.

I called out to my son to hang up the phone. He looked at me, puzzled, utterly oblivious to the fact that he’d called me.

Relieved but still rattled, I jetted back to the store to gather up my coupons and my last couple items. At the checkout, the cash register accepted all my coupons (yeah!) but then refused to spit out my coveted $10 register reward. ?? The teenaged clerk sighed and called his boss, who arrive by turtle 20 years 6 minutes later. It was then that I learned you aren’t allowed to combine coupons and register rewards. I’d saved $3 with coupons only to lose my $10 reward. Not only that, but on closer examination, it turned out I’d bought the wrong Colgate products, so wasn’t eligible for the reward anyway.

I was now 10 minutes late to pick up the kids, so instead of arguing, I scooped my bounty one teeny $40 bag up and hurried off to get the kids, who were thankfully still happy and well.

On the way home I consoled myself with the fact that at least I still had about $10 of rebate money coming …eventually.

Except when I got home, I discovered that somewhere in all of that hassle, I’d lost my receipt.

Bye-bye rebates.

I am, however, the proud owner of a bottle of plaque-revealing mouth rinse, which I never in a million years would have bought without the promise of a rebate. Oh, and some lightbulbs–only a buck, and yes, we do use those. And more toothpaste. Toothpaste that cost 3x as much as I would have spent at the dollar store.

Yes, I realize that with a little better concentration and a firm grip on my receipt, I would have saved a bit of money. But I am left with the overwhelming feeling that really, sadly, Walgreens rebate/couponing does not work for me.