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So you say you want a deal?

Money saving shopping tips from A Better Life columnist Stephanie Bernaba. Extra tips included that are not found in the magazine!

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By Stephanie Bernaba

Shopping retail has become so confusing. Discounts on certain days, for certain items, (or only at certain times), make shopping less and less of a pleasurable activity. With discounts coming and going so quickly, it’s like you can never win. What’s a mom got to do to get a great deal?

Well, I have a few tips for you. And while they’re not 100% foolproof, they may just help you save a few bucks.

Find coupon codes

There is often an active coupon code for your transaction. Googling your retailer plus the words “coupon code” may help you find one that’s active, though I’ve found that RetailMeNot.com is the best place to find active, redeemable codes.

The ‘cart’ trick

Sometimes when we shop online, we have to leave our carts. Either life gets busy, or we’re not really sold on an item, and we want to continue looking. Leave it in your cart. Leave your computer for a few hours. In many cases, you will receive an email stating a) it looks like you left an item in your cart, and b) here’s a discount to entice you to complete the transaction. From what I’ve seen, the discounts are usually between 10% and 20%, and have convinced me to try items I was unsure about. Sometimes it pays to wait.

Order one more

Sites like Amazon.com, Jet.com, and Staples offer discounts for ordering more than one of the same or similar items. If it’s something you plan to rebuy anyway, it makes sense to purchase two or more. You also save on shipping.

Get a Groupon

I used to avoid Groupon, thinking Groupons were only offered by failing businesses. It was probably an erroneous assumption, but, after using it a few times, I’m hooked. Installing the app on your phone sends relevant offers right to your home screen. I’ve bought meals, gifts, and even started my gym membership via a Groupon. Once you add a method of payment to your account, it’s one click, and you’re through. And don’t worry about using the Groupon right away – they will email you to notify you of a pending expiration, so your deal doesn’t go to waste.

Always try the coupon

I’ve been in situations a few times where I just plain missed the deadline for a coupon that was either emailed to me or sent to my house. Instead of trashing it, bring it to the store and hit the service desk or see a cashier, and explain the situation. They may still be able to honor it (it does happen), or trade your expired coupon for their current deal.

Try clearance first

Before you head to the department of the item you want, head to the clearance section. I’ve found just the items I was looking for without having to pay full price. Pro Tip: Check the prices on all clearance items. If there is more than one of a particular item, check the tags on each. Since clearance status is determined at different times, you may be able to find the exact item, on the same shelf, at a lower price.

Keep a close eye on social media

Following a business on Facebook or Twitter can help you get on-the-spot discounts. For example, Mohegan Sun will give you a phrase to say at one of their buffets to receive a discount. You can be alerted to “Free Cone Day” at ice cream shops, special events, and which nights your kids dine for cheap (or free!). Sometimes simply retweeting a business’s tweet will win you a discount code. And this is also the best way to find out about limited-time offers.

It never hurts to ask

If you are adamant about getting a deal, when you get to the cashier, ask about discounts. “Are there any deals I may not have seen in my inbox?” Or “Should I check my email for a current offer?” Oftentimes, they can apply some discount towards your purchase.

Shop off-season

The month after a clothing, sporting goods, or holiday season closes, you can find great deals at most retailers – and online. If you need the item right now (à la my recent emergency winter coat replacement), or you’re willing to wait for the season to return to use it, you can save so much money. Also, try online clearance shops. One of my favorites is Nordstrom Rack. You can snag amazing items cheap, and what’s best is, if the item doesn’t work out, you can still return them to the store. Always check the return policy on clearance items, though. Some retailers are very strict.

Avoid the bait and switch

If you’re trying to get into a service for a while, like salon or spa services, it’s best not to go with the place that offers foot-in-the-door pricing. What’s foot-in-the-door pricing? “New customers get 50% off!” Why? Because, most often, that price goes way up after your initial service or consultation. Find providers that will honor your loyalty, like the Butter Spa in Providence – after your first booking, your subsequent bookings (made at the time of service) are offered at a discount.

Register at the site

I know what a huge pain in the neck it is to register at a new site. I know how many emails you already get, and why you don’t want more. But I also know that in order to stay on top of the deals, and many times special perks, it pays to be on their email list. After registering for the first time, users often receive discount codes for their first purchase, and can save all year long. You are also notified of special items, and if something you wanted comes back into stock. If you can handle the extra inbox items, it’s a great way to pay less.

Stay “loyal”

If you’re a professional coffee drinker like myself, loyalty cards are worth carrying around in your wallet. After your ninth coffee, the tenth is on them. Also, if you frequent stores (like one of my favorites, Savers) that offer a discount after spending a certain amount of money, it makes sense to carry the cards. Frequent diner cards have their merits as well, in the form of free appetizers, desserts, and sometimes even entrées.  Once you get on their list, you can also receive perks like free food on your birthday. One of my favorites is from the Showcase Cinema. Since our family is large (there are five of us), we earn free popcorn and movie tickets regularly. Also, having a Plenti card will give you money back at places like Macy’s, Mobil, and Rite Aid. I’ve walked into participating retailers and used my Plenti points to pay for entire purchases. You can even apply Plenti points balances to your Macy’s credit card bill.

Buy it online

Ever gone into a store and tried on a clothing item, but found it too expensive? “I’ll wait,” you say, and return it to the rack. Next time, try this: Either note down the item, size, and color, or take a picture of the hangtag and take it home. When you get to a computer, hit up the website. You can find that the same retailers online sometimes offer better deals than buying them in the store. Sometimes you can even find the same item deeply discounted, on clearance, or as a closeout. I know! It makes no sense. But do it!

Hit the outlet

Ever fall in love with something extra fancy like perfume or designer shoes at a store? Ever say to yourself, “I wish I could have that,” and then leave it on the shelf? Hit the outlet! Many of your favorite stores have outlets that sell the very same items you loved. In addition, the outlet stores that carry many brands (like Watch Station and Perfumania) offer incredible discounts across the board. I recently purchased a $200 watch at Watch Station for $56. That price could not be beat in the store or online. You don’t get the fancy box and bag (unless you pay for it – they can be purchased for a fee), but you get what you wanted, and at a great price.

Stephanie Bernaba, of Richmond, is Sales and Marketing Manager for Rhode Island Parent Magazine. She is also an independent journalist specializing in life in the digital age and entertainment. View her recent work and digital portfolio at www.whiteorchidmedia.com.