Sunday, March 22, 2009

Let's get started.

First things first: the easiest and most effective thing you can do to start tracking great deals—for both brick & mortar stores and online retailers—is sign up for email lists, request catalogs and enroll in every loyalty program you come across. You may think you won’t ever use it if, say, you seldom shop at Kohl’s, but trust me: once in awhile, you’ll get an offer for a discount or other deal exactly when you need it that ONE time you will go to Kohl’s for a pencil skirt, or a cardigan, or some candles for the living room.

Yes, you’ll get a lot of emails from retailers, and you’ll get a lot of catalogs in the mail. Sort through the emails, and keep track of the better deals and how long you have to use them before they expire. You’ll delete a lot you’ll never use, but you’ll also develop a feel for how often they run sales, and how good the deal you’re offered is. As for the catalogs you receive via snail mail, use them for ideas to put together outfits you like—for less money than those outfits in the catalogs would cost you—or decorating tips for your home. When you’re done, just remember—recycle, recycle, recycle. An example: I recently saw an open-shelf china cabinet in a Pottery Barn catalog that I loved, but the shelf cost around $600. Out of my budget. However, with a little searching, I found an almost identical shelf unit at IKEA (in a lighter finish wood that I like better) for $129. That’s why I always flip through those catalogs before tossing them in the recycle bin. It’s a minor annoyance, but those emails and catalogs have been instrumental in saving me a substantial amount of money over the years.

Once you’ve done that, your number one rule should be that you never buy something—online or in person—without some kind of discount or gift with purchase. Before you purchase anything online, go to one of the many online coupon sites such as Ultimate Coupons or Coupon Cabin, and search for coupon codes for the online retailer you’re shopping. You’ll almost always find either a free shipping code or some other discount (usually 10-15 percent). If you’re shopping in person, check the stores’ websites before you go to see if they have any printable coupons for use in the store, and also check the first section of your local newspaper for coupons (Sundays are when you’ll likely find them), or offers for gifts-with-purchase (GWP) for cosmetics and fragrance. Clinique makes a night cream I can’t live without, but I don’t buy a new jar until I know they’ve got a GWP promotion in effect at one of my local department stores. The freebies I get are good for my travel kit, and I can usually find some use for the free cosmetics bag that inevitably comes with it.

Always make sure you get something in return for your business, whether it’s a discount or a gift. And if you’re savvy—and this is what I’ll show you in future posts—you’ll learn how to use those discounts in combination with sales so that you maximize your spending dollar. I’ll post more about loyalty programs in a day or two, but in the meantime get busy signing up for those emails and catalogs!

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